Dawn light filtered into the stadium, greeting the masses of cheering fans assembled in the stands. White flashes of light intercepted those natural beams as the media took hundreds of pictures of the gathered competitors.
No matter how hard he tried, Ash couldn't keep still. He was buried in the sea of competitors, trying his best to avoid the media's attention while allowing himself the occasional glance at Mr. Goodshow. The pudgy man was wearing a light blue suit and the most nicely-polished shoes Ash had ever seen. He was talking with a man in a black suit whom Ash didn't recognize.
Ash himself was wearing a white t-shirt, jean shorts, and running shoes. His Ball holster was strapped around his waist, just over his belt. He had taken the liberty of marking Piplup's Poke Ball with a black Sharpie the night before. He had packed several different colors of Sharpie, not wanting to make the embarrassing mistake of calling one Pokemon's name and throwing out another. Piplup's Ball sat nearest the front, surrounded on either side by five other empty Poke Balls.
While trying to sleep the previous night, Ash had taken to formulating his strategy for tackling the Tournament. He knew that, in order to have a chance at winning, he had to be one of the first sixteen people to reach the Hall of Legends in Kalos. That meant he couldn't spend time dawdling around. However, he still had to spend lots of time training. After all, Mr. Goodshow had said that the Kings and Queens of the Battle Centers were among some of the toughest Trainers around. Even though he had confidence in his abilities, Ash wanted to be ready.
An air horn drew Ash's attention back to the stadium. The unknown man standing beside Mr. Goodshow had sounded it, and was now raising a megaphone to his mouth.
"Good morning, competitors and spectators!" The man's voice was loud and burly, and set off a chorus of screams and foot-stomps. The man smiled slightly before silencing the crowds with another air horn blast straight into the megaphone.
"My name is Bruno Saturn, and I am one of the runners of this Tournament! I am here right now to present to you the rules of this competition, along with some tips and recommendations! It is your decision whether or not you choose to follow my advice, but, seeing as I am a highly talented Trainer, I suggest that you do." A smug look spread across his face.
Holy Arceus, he's arrogant. Maybe he's related to Gary?
Bruno cleared his throat, a noise that sounded rather disgusting through the megaphone, before continuing. "Now, the rules. These rules were formulated by the Pokemon League and are designed to ensure that each and every one of you has a fair, fun, and challenging experience while competing in this Tournament. First and foremost, we allow any competitor to travel with any other competitor! That's right- travelling groups are allowed! However, we ask that these groups do not exceed six people in size. Just remember that you are still competing with these people for a place in the top! With the exception of your chosen starter Pokemon, only Pokemon that you catch or hatch during this Tournament will be allowed in battles. Your caught Pokemon will be monitored, and if your team doesn't match up to the registry, you will be disqualified. Pokemon obtained from gifts or trades will not be accepted. The use of any person, object, organization, or location besides those designated by the Tournament as acceptable is not allowed and will result in instant disqualification. For the final rule, it is up to the Battle Center Kings and Queens, as well as the Region Kings and Queens, to determine the rules of battle. The only rules that they cannot change are the ones dictating that the battle must be six-on-six and that Legendary Pokemon are not allowed."
He paused upon finishing the rules, allowing the competitors time to absorb them. After a couple of moments had passed, he continued on. "If at any time you need a reminder of the rules, they are listed on the first page of your Competitor's Manual. Now, for the advice. As a Trainer with over 25 years of experience, I feel that I am perfectly capable of giving out the best advice possible. So, that is what I'm going to do. Be grateful that you are having the opportunity to get such help, competitors."
If he gets any more arrogant, he'll die from it. Arceus, don't these people get that being famous doesn't automatically make them smart? I wish they did.
"Mr. Goodshow already told you all this, but I'm going to reinforce it. You must train hard. Harder than you ever have before. If you don't, you will never be able to defeat any of the Battle Center leaders, let alone a Region King or Queen. You must use all of your knowledge and talent as a Trainer to bring out the very best in each of your Pokemon. They will be your greatest allies for what is to come. You must be prepared for anything. The Battle Center leaders will try to trick you with things you never expected. If you aren't expecting the unexpected, you'll get crushed. Even though you can re-challenge a Battle Center any number of times, the goal is to be fast. Having to re-challenge a Battle Center will waste you time you can't afford. Don't forget about type matchups. It may seem to you that they don't matter, but they do. When dealing with super strong Pokemon, sending out a type that is weak against the opponent's won't do you anything but harm. Finally, the most important piece of advice I can give any of you is to do your best, and then demand more. Only the strongest, smartest, and most resilient Trainers will make it to the final sixteen. Keep trying and fighting for what you want, and one of those final people just might be you."
Despite Ash's distaste for the arrogant man, he had to admit that the advice was good. A lot of these Trainers had never truly experienced anything close to what they were about to face. He hoped that they would take Bruno's advice to heart. Just because he didn't need it didn't mean nobody else did.
Bruno Saturn lowered the megaphone and passed it to Mr. Goodshow. "Thank you, Mr. Saturn!" he said, his husky voice blaring through the megaphone. His words were greeted with claps and cheers of approval from the spectators. Bruno blasted his air horn again, something he seemed to thoroughly enjoy doing. At least it worked.
Once the crowd had quieted down, Mr. Goodshow brought the megaphone to his mouth. "Now that Mr. Saturn has brought the Tournament rules to light, it's time to begin! At the end of a twenty-second countdown, I will fire my gun. When that happens, the doors will open and the Quest to Be the Best will begin! The 2,500 remaining competitors will then be free to go where they please on their quest to get the necessary Victory Stamps! Are you ready?"
More cheering. More clapping. More air horn.
"Alright!" Mr. Goodshow called. "Start the countdown!"
The screens spread across the stadium came to life, displaying a timer in the center of a Master Ball. Ash got into a running position as the timer began counting down from 20. The noise level in the stadium grew to unprecedented levels, threatening to pop Ash's eardrums. His heart hammered against his chest, his whole body trembling with anticipation.
Once the timer reached ten, the crowd began counting down with the timer. Ash fought to keep himself from running forward and starting at that moment.
As the gunshot fired and the doors swung open, the mass of Trainers rushed forward. Everyone was sprinting, with the group quickly forming a division between the faster and slower competitors. Ash had never felt more alive in his entire life.
As the competitors broke out onto the dirt pathways of the Plateau, they all geared their direction toward Victory Road. The competitors began a loud chant as they approached the legendary strip of pavement. Ash quickly joined in, not even caring about the modest nature required of his position.
As soon as the competitors had reached the end of Victory Road, people began breaking away. Some started running off into the forest, while others turned around completely and went back. Ash knew that if he kept following this route, Route 22, he'd arrive in Viridian City. Knowing that the Gym there was long-since abandoned and shut down, Ash figured that a lot of the competitors were assuming that there was a Battle Center there. Ash knew better than to think that, knowing that the Pokemon League wouldn't put a Battle Center somewhere so obvious.
Person by person, the clusters of people began to diminish. Some of the slowest people ended up having to stop to catch their breath, and never ended up re-joining the group. Trainers continuously broke away to head for Viridian Forest, likely planning to either train there before heading to Viridian City or to skip the city altogether and head to Pewter. One guy ended up stopping to tie his shoe, causing about five other competitors to trip over him and fall. Two of them continued on, one remained to scream at the guy, and the final two stopped to treat the scrapes on their knees. Ash laughed a little as he passed the scene.
Despite being in good shape, Ash was beginning to grow tired. The majority of training he had done for his own benefit had been to increase his strength rather than his endurance. He was beginning to realize now that deciding to lift weights rather than run a half marathon was probably a bad idea. Despite the sweat running down his back and the ache in his legs, he kept running. He noticed, however, that he was beginning to fall into the back parts of the group.
No matter how much he wanted to continue, it eventually got to the point where he could not. After about twenty minutes of running, he was forced to stop. He veered off to the edge of the path and hunched over, breathing so hard his lungs hurt. The next time an opportunity to run a marathon came up, he was going to take it.
By the time he had recovered, the majority of the remaining runners had gone by. That left a few stragglers, who were so red in the face they all looked like over-sized Charmeleon. Ash shook his head. It was great to try, but not great to end up in the hospital. An ambulance that was trailing the runners caught his attention, and he smiled. Clearly the Pokemon League had predicted that there would be those competitors who would try just a bit too hard.
As he passed, the ambulance driver gave Ash a concerned look. The Pokemon Master nodded and waved him on, giving him a thumbs up as he returned the nod. Two Officer Jennys on motorcycles followed after the ambulance, likely ready to break up any riots that happened. A single red-faced runner jogged about six or seven yards behind the cops, looking like he was in some serious pain. Ash screwed up his face as he passed, noticing that his knee already looked a bit messed up. Not good.
Once everyone had gone by and the path was cleared, Ash crossed it. He almost immediately found himself among the forest. Whether or not this was considered part of Viridian Forest, he wasn't sure. Finding a nice shady spot to sit in, he began thinking about where he wanted to head first.
He started by listing all of the places he could think of where everyone would assume Battle Centers were located. He figured that people would assume places like the Viridian Gym, Mt. Moon, and Diglett's Cave would house Battle Centers. And while they were good places to hide out, they were too obvious for the Pokemon League. Ash tried to think about places that were less obvious. Perhaps an active Gym? The basement of the Celadon City Department Store? Maybe even hidden within the depths of Viridian Forest? All of the possibilities swirled through Ash's head, creating a torrent that gave him the worst headache.
"Hey! Yo! Dude!"
Ash glanced upward, spotting a boy half-hidden in the trees glaring down at him. The kid didn't look any older than thirteen, making Ash wonder just what he had done to earn himself a spot in this Tournament. He was wearing an orange tank top and blue and white striped shorts that reached down beyond his knees. A dark blue baseball cap was turned backwards on his head. He looked like a douche.
"What?" Ash asked, irritated that his train of thought had been interrupted.
The boy snorted. He sounded like he had a wall of mucus five inches deep built up in there. The thought of it made Ash feel nauseous. "What the fuck are you doing, spying on me?" he snarled. "Privacy, man!"
Ash laughed. "Spying on you? Seriously? I'm just sitting here thinking!"
"Yeah, about all the nasty things you're gonna do to get me to drop outta this tourney! It ain't gonna work, man! I ain't backin' out of this tourney. Never, man, never!"
Ash rolled his eyes. Sensitive little twerp. "Look," he said, trying to keep his cool. "I'm not spying on you, nor am I plotting against you. I'm sorry if it seemed that way." Ash lowered his head, trying to calm himself down. He slowly began to succeed.
"I don't believe ya!" The boy's voice was getting shrill.
Ash ignored him, focused on calming himself down before he went up the tree and smacked the stupid douche. He finally succeeded, using the "count down from ten" method to calm his nerves. Almost as soon as he did, however, he was hit by a wave of anger.
The impact was so strong it almost knocked him over. Upon recovering from the initial impact, Ash realized that he still felt as calm as before. With a jolt, it dawned on him that he had just felt the boy's anger hit him.
"The fuck..." he murmured, staring at his hands.
"What did you just say!?" the boy demanded. Ash could literally feel the fury rolling off of him.
What's going on? Why can I suddenly sense his emotions? Is it because I have Aura, or am I just dreaming?
"Hey! I'm talkin' to you!"
It can't be real. I can't possibly be feeling his emotions. I mean, I believe in things like turning into Pokemon and erecting walls of aura. But sensing emotions? That's impossible. That only happens in movies.
Still, there was no denying the fury that was radiating from the boy. Beginning to feel alarmed, Ash scrambled to his feet and started running, not even noticing the cramps that immediately sprung up in his legs.
"Yeah, you better run!" he called after Ash.
Ash tore through the forest, feeling more confused and alarmed than he ever had before. What was happening to him?
Wake up, Ash! This isn't real! It can't be! Sensing emotions isn't possible, even for an Aura Master! Wake up! Wake Up! WAKE UP!
It was then that he ran into her.
Misty trudged through the forest, the adrenaline rush she'd felt at the start of the Tournament beginning to fade. As it did, she felt the anger and sadness she'd been feeling for the past few days return. She still couldn't come to terms with what Ash felt toward Daisy. As if that issue wasn't enough, there was also the case of him having gone out to talk with Serena in private. She remembered how angry she'd been when Brock had told her about him finding them sharing a close moment just outside the Pokemon Center. If she thought she couldn't get any more pissed at Ash, she was wrong.
Despite her anger, however, she still harbored deep feelings for him inside of her. She had been able to deny her feelings for Ash Ketchum for years, up until the very moment when she'd seen him again. The moment he hugged her and she drew in his familiar scent, she fell in love with him all over again.
Why did she have to fall in love with him? Why couldn't it have been a guy who wasn't interested in fourteen billion other girls at once? Why couldn't it have been a guy who wasn't rich as fuck and world famous?
Misty wondered how many girls Ash had charmed with his fame and fortune. She shook her head and laughed as she thought about how happy Ash must be with all of his funds. He had the ability to get any girl he wanted. All he had to do was drive up in his Ferrari, wave a few hundred dollars around, and bingo.
Except that wasn't enough for Misty.
She didn't want fame or fortune. It was why she turned down a position in the Elite Four two years prior. All she wanted in her life was a guy who could love her and care for her for who she was. She wanted a guy who wanted her not for her looks or her riches, but for her.
Was Ash that man? At one point, she wouldn't have hesitated in answering yes to that question. It was why she chose Ash over Rudy back in the Orange Islands.
Now? She doubted it. He was too absorbed in his money and fame to be a good husband for her.
Misty wondered if he and Serena were dating now. Perhaps that was the reason he had gone after her that night. Lied about why he was leaving so early. It made her heart burn with jealousy as she wondered that. She hated it. Hated that she felt so jealous over this man. Hated that she was still head over heels in love with him. Hated that she cared about who he was dating.
A bush rustled beside her. She broke into a run, not wanting to deal with whoever or whatever it was. She knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted to be Ash Ketchum's girlfriend. His wife. She wanted to kiss him and hug him and talk to him into the late hours of the night without having to worry about returning to her own place of residence. However, she also knew what was right. She knew that she should let Ash date who he wanted. If he wanted to be with Daisy or Serena, she should let him. She shouldn't meddle. Her heart was torn in two, the two sides warring over what she wanted and what was right. She knew she had to make a decision soon, or else she'd never come back from this.
Was it even possible to make a decision?
Misty wasn't sure. But she was going to try. Hell, even if it meant having to live with this for another month more, she'd try. She had to. Deep down, she knew that she'd come to terms with what was the right decision soon. It was going to be hard, but it had to be done. It just couldn't be done now. Not when she was such a pissed-off mess.
It was then that he ran into her.
A man sat shielded by shadow. His fingers tapped impatiently against the polished wood of his desk, his tightly-buttoned shirt threatening to choke him. His eyes flicked to the clock every now and then as he waited impatiently for the arrival of his spy.
The man was just reaching for his phone when there was a knock at the door. In a gruff voice, he called for the person to enter.
The tall, heavy door creaked open. A tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in a suit stepped inside. His eyes glittered with an emotion not even the man could understand.
"Well?" the man prompted. He gestured for the man to start speaking.
The other man cleared his throat. "Sir, the Tournament started flawlessly as expected. Our insider is currently being heavily monitored and is reportedly heading for Viridian City."
"Excellent." The man clasped his hands over his desk, an eerie smile creeping up on his face. "It is quite pleasurable to hear that everything is going as planned. Has the insider been informed of what his duty is?"
"The insider is well-informed and appropriately supplied for the assignment, sir."
"Well done," he praised. "If you keep this up, you just might get a promotion."
The man beamed. "Really, sir? Thank you!"
The man's boss grumbled. "I said might. Not will."
The man's gaze lowered. "Oh," he said, sounding thoroughly disappointed. He had been dying for a promotion for over four months now. He desperately needed the pay increase and bonus that would come with it. Raising his gaze to look at his boss, he asked, "Is there anything else I can do, sir?"
The other man's eyes glittered menacingly. "First, you may clean the shit out of your ears. You have been having difficulty understanding me lately. Then, continue monitoring the insider. Report straight to me if anything significant happens. If everything goes as planned, we should be able to move forces out by the end of the month."
Dipping his head respectfully, the lower man acknowledged his orders. "Yes, sir." He then proceeded to leave the room, quietly closing the door behind him so as not to disturb the Pokemon sleeping at his boss's feet.
As soon as the grunt's footsteps had faded, the man extended his hand and locked the door from his seat. He smiled as he heard the click of the lock. Several months ago, all he'd been able to do was lock the door. Now, he could do so much more. He was beginning to understand the concepts of mental torture, something he was sure would come in handy in the near future. He was going to get those grunts into shape, that was for sure.
Below his desk, his beloved Pokemon partner raised its head and purred questioningly. The cream-furred creature tipped its head to one side, catching the jewel on its head in the light and making it shimmer.
Chuckling, the man patted the Pokemon's head.
"Don't worry, Persian," he assured the Pokemon. "We won't be stuck in this shithole for much longer. Soon, you and I will conquer the world, and leave everyone trembling at our feet begging for mercy. All we must do now is wait."
The Persian purred and lowered its head again. Wait. It could do that.