((Edit - 12/29/08: Found out how to circumvent the error- posting has resumed. Chapter two up in full.))
So, here it begins, the GARhalla writing group's first foray into the fanfiction world, the product of our blood, sweat and half a year of caffiene-fueled overnight brainstorming sessions. I'll try not to drag on, but some things bear explaining. This is something of an AU. The storyline draws its basis almost entirely from the Pokemon anime, and everything from the anime canon, up until the end of Battle Frontier (disregarding the events of the MFTV movie Mewtwo Returns), makes up the past of this universe. The moment Ash Ketchum returns to Pallet Town after his Frontier conquest, the storylines diverge. This universe's Ash has decided to remain in Kanto and use the remainder of the year to train for the upcoming Indigo League tournament, in hopes of claiming the championship he'd failed to obtain after his first year of being a trainer.
We are greatly encouraging reader criticism on this story, as it is our first. Basically, if you see something wrong, if you see something you don't like, if you see dead people, we wanna hear about it. The same, of course, goes for the more positive stuff, though that's secondary. So, friendly neighborhood reviewers, have at it.
That just about covers it. If you're curious about anything else, click the link in the signature; you should be able find what you're looking for, along with chapters one and two, if you're interested.
On with the show.
- Boss Coffee, GARhalla Head Writer
Prologue: The Best and the Brightest
A soft wind swept along the dirt path, lazily stretching its whispering fingers throughout the town of Pallet. Perhaps it was this wind that made the day seem so momentous. Perhaps it was the fact that the movement of life seemed always to pull things from this quaint town, often never to return. The valley town on the Kanto coast was something of a jumping-off point; a pastoral hideaway from which so many had, in the past, set out on the journeys that had defined their very beings. Most people regarded Indigo Plateau as the birthplace of pokemon champions, but in reality, it was always Pallet.
All too often, those who journey have eyes only for the end, the finale, the prize, and as they close their fists and take what is theirs, all else is forgotten. Many of those who championed the league have lived out their entire lives on the spoils, the sponsorships and endorsements, in the end only as victorious as they are unfulfilled. They are those who speak only of the end, and ironically, those who are doomed never to reach it.
It is only the true champions who remember the beginning.
"I want to be the be~st... there ever wa~s... to beat all the re~st... yeah, that's my caussse..."
Ash Ketchum sung absently, shaking a dangling foot and bobbing his head in time to the tune playing through his brand new Silph PokeGear. The pricey piece of technology was a gift from his mother upon his return from his Battle Frontier challenge. He hadn't quite puzzled out all the functions yet, but he could make calls, listen to music and tell the time of day, and that was good enough for him.
As the familiar beats of Ash's favorite song continued to pulse through his ears, a warm noon breeze overtook the branches of the tree in which he was perched, ruffling his already unkempt clothes and hair and stirring him from his musical reverie. Pikachu, snoozing in the branch above Ash's, perked up up his ears as he noticed the slight movement from his friend and the sudden cessation of his off-key singing. Leaves rustled over Ash's head as the small, yellow pokemon leapt down from his branch and into his trainer's lap, receiving an affectionate scratch behind his banana-shaped ears for his trouble.
A contented sigh drifted from the boy's lips as he gazed out at the entire spread of his tiny hometown from his spot in the tree.
Home again, home again...
The tall, leafy tree on the wide, sloping hill behind the Professor's laboratory, a long-standing fixture on the Oak ranch, had been Ash's favorite spot since his earliest recollection. Whether he was snacking on an apple beneath its branches at the age of five, or hiding amongst them after shirking his chores at the age of ten, Ash always considered the large tree synonymous with home. Now nearly fifteen and back under the great shadow of its myriad branches once again, he almost felt as though he'd never left.
"But we did leave, didn't we, buddy..."
"Pika?" Pikachu responded quizzically, cocking his head to the right as he did.
Realizing how odd his question must have sounded out of context, Ash laughed.
"Indigo. Orange. Silver. Ever Grande. ...and Battle Frontier," he mused aloud.
Pikachu was becoming more confused by the second, but decided to brush it off. He'd long ago accepted the fact that his best friend was an oddity, even amongst humans, and it was best not to read too far into his ramblings. Still, Pikachu could understand the gist of what his trainer was talking about, and covertly rolled his dark eyes as he realized Ash was about to launch into yet another of his (mostly self-)motivational speeches.
Ash flexed his dangling legs and pumped them quickly forward, hurling his body off of the thick branch and landing in the grass below. Pikachu touched down easily on all fours in front of him, pivoting on his hind legs to look his friend in the eye.
Ash's right hand balled into a tight fist as his eyes traveled over the tiled roofs of the houses and shops of Pallet, finally coming to rest on the pokemon laboratory. Reaching into one of the cargo pockets of his baggy denim-pants, he yanked out a crumpled, red-and-black hat emblazoned with a blue Pokeball symbol and pulled it on over his shaggy, black hair.
There was a brief moment of silence. Then he exploded.
"This is it, Pikachu! This is where we show 'em all how far we've come, what all our hard work has added up to! Do you remember when we left this place the first time? You wouldn't listen to a damn thing I said, and probably for good reason," the dark-haired boy chuckled, grinning.
"Pi-kaa," Pikachu noted in an almost markedly sarcastic tone.
"Still..." Ash continued, "we toughed it out together. We fought through everything, against every odd, and made it all the way to Indigo Plateau."
"Pikaa~pi!" Ash's partner pokemon interjected again, this time with a bit more energy.
"Sixteenth place. Pretty good for an amateur. Damn good for a first-year. But not good enough. I, we, set out to be the best, to be a master of pokemon with the best pokemon at my side. You guys were definitely the best, but that year I just wasn't up to snuff.
This year will be different. After almost four years of training, we've all come such a long way, and this year I think we can hold our heads high here, in our home region, in our home league and conference, because this year..."
Ash pulled open his vest, revealing six Poke Balls on his belt. Throwing his arms wide, he cast away all of them at once. The six red-and-white orbs hit the grass before him, revealing their occupants in a blinding flash of white light. Alongside Pikachu now stood Charizard, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Kingler, Muk and Tauros.
A fierce grin came across Ash's face, his expression mirrored in some way by each of his pokemon.
"...we're gonna be the BEST."
South of Pallet, miles out over the ocean, a heavily shadowed figure sat in a dimly lit, windowless room, contemplating his next move in a very complicated game of chess.
Brushing a strand of long hair out of his face, the person behind the shadows contemplated the common use of his current situation as a simile for an insurmountably difficult situation.
Like playing three-dimensional chess against an Alakazam...
He almost laughed, but stopped himself.
"You may just as well have indulged yourself, master," the Alakazam "said" in its telepathic monotone. "Verbal restraint is meaningless when one's opponent is psychic. ...Bishop to E-7b; check."
"Indeed." The figure's voice was electronically distorted, but noticeably masculine. "A passing shortcoming in logic; how very unlike me. King to-"
The surface of the right arm of the mystery figure's leather-upholstered desk chair vibrated harshly, interrupting the calling of his next move. A red light was blinking on the integrated console, accompanied by a staggered series of buzzing noises from the small speaker set therein. The pattern was indicative of a high-priority call.
The long-haired man sighed.
"A moment's pardon, Tzu. I must take this."
"Again, you hardly needed to vocalize that thought," responded the Alakazam, Tzu.
"Forgive me my propriety," the mystery man drawled sarcastically.
"Once more? How many times must I repeat myself? I was under the impression that you were considered a genius."
Another sigh, and the man slid open a small panel on the armrest, removing a bluetooth earpiece and wedging it over his right ear before tapping a button on the console. The vibration and buzzing ceased, and the red light changed to green.
"This is the Boss. Speak," the mystery figure said in his deep, electronically-modified tone.
"Sir," came a man's voice through the earpiece, "this is Professor Sebastian."
"I am aware," the shadowy 'Boss' responded. "What is so urgent?"
"As you know, sir, my branch and I have been monitoring the area around the Seafoam Islands for the presence of Articuno. Our external search has revealed little we do not already know, but recently, our observation of the aerial infrared sweep has revealed something interesting. As I'm sure you are already aware, the core temperature of the islands fluctuates violently in regular intervals: a great chill beginning halfway through spring that declines slowly through summer and fall, only to peter out entirely in winter. This flux has occurred without fail in this precise manner for as long it has been recorded. However, as we approach the end of May, the full force of the chill has yet to hit. I believe that this can mean one of only two things. I believe Articuno is either dead, or-"
"-or it is with child." The Boss finished for him. "Most unusual; I was under the impression that the Omega pokemon, the so-called "legendaries", were one-of-a-kind."
"Yes, sir. You are correct on both counts, but as Namba's previous research with Lugia proved, there are certain exceptions."
"I was aware. It's good to hear you've been doing your homework. Anyhow, this is indeed most interesting news, but I assume that you made this call not only for the sake of sharing with me this enlightening little morsel. What is it that you require?"
"How typically astute of you, sir. The ice caves under the islands where the bird nests are somehow impenetrable to our aerial sonar. Apparently, their constitution and construction naturally inhibit sonic mapping."
The Boss nodded.
"Understandable. The bird's choice of quarters would of course provide the best of protection and seclusion. I trust your sonar has at least found you the most viable entrance?"
"Indeed. I ordered a reconnaissance group to map out the interior of the caves, but the islands' innards have proven both more labyrinthine and treacherous than any of us could have assumed. I need more support, both human and pokemon, as well as the adequate supplies and equipment, before the expedition can continue."
"Very well," the Boss replied, "I shall see to it that your team gets the resources it needs. Boss out."
He terminated the communique with the press of a button.
"Well," Tzu telepathically intoned, "I believe our game will have to be postponed. A pity. My ego was due for a good stroking."
"Another day, perhaps. You may go."
The Alakazam nodded his large head and exited the room without another word.
Closing his eyes and lacing his fingers, the man known as 'the Boss' turned over in his mind the information he had just received, internally catalouging the facts into specific channels of his brain and examining their effects on his plan as a whole. The news of a possible second Articuno was indeed fortuitous, but its effect on his strategy at large was fairly minimal. An infant Omega-type raised from birth as a Rocket warrior would be a powerful ally and a great boon in future endeavors, but he could not allow himself to be too distracted by the new development. There were still many more Omega pokemon to capture, and all available resources needed to be channeled into their pursuit. That said... the new Articuno could be instrumental in subduing some of the more powerful of them. Perhaps... Yes. The pregnant Articuno's capture was now first priority. This was the most viable course of action; the power of a Rocket-controlled Articuno was well worth the delay and change in the overall strategy.
His eyes snapped open as he unlaced his fingers.
He turned his chair towards a monitor display, a hologram system that projected an array of individual screens across a single, giant pane of smoked glass. He called up one of many holographic keyboard layouts onto the smaller pane of glass before him and, grinning catlike, cracked his knuckles.
There was much plotting to be done.