The much longer part two! In which we get some answers as to why Surge is the way he is.
As for questions that deal with plot points, I'll only say, just keep reading. They will be answered eventually.
Pikachu hit the ground, face-first. As heattempted to scramble up, he found himself pinned down by a clawed foot.
“I win again,” Combuksen stated, leaning down. “You’re... really helpless without using electric attacks, aren’t you?”
“I’m really good at them,” he grumbled, squirming in a vain attempt to break free. “I could beat you so easily if you’d let me use my Thundershock!”
“You’d have a better chance, sure, but that’s not why I’m training you,” the Fire-type said. “Your electric attacks are much weaker than Raichu’s; you can’t fight him on those grounds... if you want to win, you have to do it with physical attacks.”
“... Only, he’s much stronger and faster than I am,” Pikachu said glumly.
Combusken, not one to mince words, nodded. “Yes. He is. And that’s why we’re going to keep trying until you manage to figure out how to fight. Over to Trapinch, now!”
Pikachu grumbled. As a Ground-type, Rick’s second Pokémon was totally ammune to his electric attacks, so there was absolutely no doubt that he’d be forced to fight in other ways... and, the thing’s jaws really hurt, especially when they closed on its tail. Trapinch’s sarcastic comments didn’t make the process any more bearable, either.
Today wasn’t quite as bad as his previous encounters, however. The Ground-type could only move so quickly on its stubby legs, and Pikachu found that speed was a huge advantage for him; Trapinch couldn’t land a hit, and multiple quick jabs slowly wore him down.
“Not as terrible as usual,” was Combusken’s only praise. “Now see what you can do against Onix.”
“... wait, what?”
Geodude, who’d been watching the sparring, blanched. “That’s... not a great idea,” he said, glancing at the Fire-type. “Not only are we immune to electricity... normal attacks won’t be enough to penetrate our skin. There’s absolutely no way for Pikachu to win.”
“Exactly.” Combusken beckoned both Pokémon forward. Luckily, the place he’d picked for the training was outside the Vermilion city limits, because the Rock-type probably would’ve smashed a few buildings on his way over.
“So you get that this is a bad idea?”
“Nope,” the Fire-type replied, waving for Onix to attack. Pikachu was just barely able to doge a swipe from his spiked tail.
Geodude blanched. “No offense to the big guy--he’s my friend and all--but he... has a bit of a problem with taking fights way too seriously. I really wouldn’t...”
“I would,” said Combusken, watching the fight intently.
Pikachu flattened himself as Onix’s tail nearly took his head off. The next moment, he was forced to scamper aside as the Rock-type threw itself forward in a vicious tackle. He took off, sprinting as hard as he could to get away, but his opponent was just fast enough to keep up wherever he tried to hide. The Electric-type cast a pleading glance at Combusken, but his self-appointed trainer’s eyes held no mercy.
Oh, why did my partner have to be stupid enough to trust me to these guys?
He flinched as the spike from Onix’s head whistled by, missing him by mere inches.
... These two are nuts! They’re really trying to hurt me!
He had to escape... but there was nowhere to hide. He could only run--but he wasn’t fast enough. Not enough to get away.
I need more... more speed... more speed...
But was it even worth it? Why shouldn’t he just give up? Tell Combusken where to stick all his brutal training methods? It wasn’t like he particularly wanted to beat that Raichu. He’d felt sorry for the guy, even.
No... he didn’t really want to fight, but it was worth it and there was a reason--his partner. Ash. Surge had humiliated the boy. That was what he’d be paying back, if he...
... A little faster...
“Look!” Geodude cried, stretching out one arm. “What’s that pink haze all around Pikachu?”
Combusken threw back his head and laughed, dancing from foot to foot, as he did when particularly excited. “You weren’t there back on the ship--that’s how that Skarmory beat me, and everyone else. It gradually makes the one using it faster, and if it goes uniterrupted, soon they’re practically untouchable. The humans called it ‘Agility!””
The Electric-type hadn’t realized what was happening, putting it down to the fact that Onix was getting tired and slowing down in its attacks. Only at Combusken’s shout did he pause to ponder the fact that he was moving very quickly... literally running rings around the rock snake. Pikachu grinned, twitching his tail as he sped along. A short hop was enough to propel him to Onix’s tail segment, from which he dashed up the length of the Rock-type’s body, perching on his head.
“Look what I can do!” he called, triumphantly. “Nothing can match that speed!”
“We’re done here,” the Fire-type agreed, and lowered his voice to murmur to Geodude. “... now we’ll see if it’s enough.”
Ash hadn’t exactly been looking forward to Rick’s confident announcement that Pikachu was ready for a second go at Surge’s Raichu... mainly because he didn’t feel like he was. His self-confidence wasn’t helped when Brock returned, reporting that Simmons had clammed up the moment he’d been asked about the Gym Leader’s peculiar behavior.
“So we have no idea if he’ll go off again?” the boy squeaked as he was dragged towards the Gym, suspended between both his friends.
“Nope,” Rick admitted, “but if you win, you won’t have to worry about it so much. And besides, we’ll be much readier to intervene if things get hairy.”
“And there’s always Will... wherever the heck he went,” Brock added.
“We can’t really count on his plan, since we don’t even know what it is,” the other argued. “Ash will just have to win the match. That’s all there is to it. Surge’s problems aren’t really our problem.”
“Um, okay...” The Trainer himself looked less than certain.
Simmons met them at the door. As usual, he looked anxious.
“You have to--”
“Don’t start,” Rick interrupted. “We know we shouldn’t be here, yeah, but we’re gonna challenge him anyway.”
“... No, I mean, you really have to go,” the aide stated, unabashed. “It’s not--”
Further explanation became entirely unnecessary as Lt. Surge himself emerged from the arena room, manhandling the door just as severely as the first time they’d seen him. There was only one major difference: the man swayed as he walked, leaning heavily against the wall whenever a chance presented itself. When he drew close enough that they were able to catch a whiff of his breath, they realized why.
“You’re drunk!” Ash exclaimed in a tone of shocked indignation. He can’t even take my challenge seriously?
The Gym Leader blinked, turning unfocused eyes to the boy’s general direction. “Shure I am,” he drawled. “Why the hell not? What’s the point? To anything?”
“What about your job? Being Leader, it’s--”
“A load of crap!” Surge barked. “I used to be a leader. Back in the War. Worked my way up from nothing, see? I earned my rank! By blood and sweat and... and...” He lost his train of thought, which just seemed to make him more angry. “And for what? To come back to my home, the place I’d spent years fighting for--risking my own hide--and do you think any of them stopped to thank me? Oh, they were glad the War was over, all right, praising the wisdom and courage of their politicans--the same *******s who’d gotten us into the mess, in the first place... oh, they were just fine with sending us all off to die, but they dropped us once everything was over. D’you know why I ended up in this Arceus-damned Gym? Not pity, oh, no. They wanted to keep me quiet! They thought they could buy me off with a nice job and a decent living. They thought I’d forget! But they can’t keep me down... I’ll never forget, or forgive!”
He concluded his rant by producing a nearly-empty bottle from some deceptively large pocket, taking an enormous swig, and hurling it against the opposite wall. The breaking glass was all that could be heard in the Gym for one long moment. Rick’s first glance was not to Surge, but to Simmons. The Gym assistant’s eyes were pleading, though to whom or what was unclear.
Brock made to speak, but Ash silenced him with a gesture, stepping forward. The boy took a deep breath, adjusting his cap.
“I don’t really understand what you’re talking about, and I won’t pretend to,” he said slowly. “I’m sorry you feel the way you do, Lt. Surge, but you’re still sitting between me and this Gym badge. I challenge you... if you’re up to it.”
The Leader chuckled. Once again, it was entirely joyless. “Up for it? I remember you, punk. I don’t even need to be awake to take you down, never mind sober. Fine, fine... if it’ll get you to leave...”
“C’mon, Pikachu! Show us what you’ve got!”
“Raichu, just go out there and finish it....” Surge yawned and rubbed at his eyes. “So I can get back to what I really want to be doing.”
Without more specific direction, his Pokémon reverted to its favorite method of attacking, and began charging for what promised to be a devastating Thunder.
That was exactly what Ash had been waiting for.
“Now’s your chance! Agility!” the boy called. Pikachu threw himself into the move almost before he’d been ordered to, dropping to all fours and sprinting in a wide circle around his opponent. The bolts of lightning from Raichu’s attack were just barely too slow, each one arcing and striking the ground a few inches behind the running Pokémon.
Confused but not altering its strategy, Raichu knelt, gathering more power. Up on the platform above, Surge didn’t appear to realize what was happening, waving for his Pokémon to keep attacking. Ash, meanwhile, gripped the restraining bar tightly, and whispered, “C’mon...”
The second Thunder lagged even more badly than the first, due to Pikachu’s gradual increase in speed. Raichu blinked, finally realizing what was happening. Casting a single glance towards his owner to confirm that the Leader was still effectively out of it, he watched the yellow blur that was his smaller foe, then ran forward, drawing back a fist.
Pikachu grinned, exultant. The two failed Thunders had given him all the time he needed to get up his speed; the bigger Electric-type looked like he was moving in slow motion. Ducking under the punch, Pikachu gave Raichu a sharp rap in the stomach before darting away again. Several more blows followed, each a counter to the Leader’s Pokémon’s attempted attacks.
It took Surge a couple of minutes to realize he hadn’t won yet. Rubbing his eyes as he glanced down at at arena, his mouth twisted into a perplexed frown. The alcohol in his system wasn’t helping him think of what had gone wrong.
“How’d that little rat get so fast...?” he wondered aloud. He’d probably intended it as a mutter, but it came out a lot louder. Ash bit back an explanation, contenting himself with a grin and a thumb’s up towards Pikachu.
“Doesn’t matter,” Surge soon decided, even more audibly, instincts taking over through the haze. “If you can’t keep up in speed, we’ll find a way to compensate with superior power! Raichu, I know it’ll hurt, but use Volt Tackle!”
“... That doesn’t sound good,” Rick said, leaning forward to watch with great interest.
The Leader’s Pokémon stopped attempting to hit Pikachu, and knelt. Whatever move he was using, it appeared at first to be yet another Thunder, as he gathered electricity around his form... however, instead of releasing it, Raichu simply continued to hold it there, with a concentrated effort that left him gritting his teeth.
Ash stared in bewilderment, then yelled, “Don’t touch him, Pikachu!”
But his Pokémon was moving too quickly... The Trainer had barely spoken before Pikachu darted forward to deliver another jab to his foe.
The effect was immediate and spectacular. The moment his tiny fist made contact with Raichu’s body, he became merely a conduit for all of the electricity forecefully repressed to run along the bigger Pokémon’s form. A bright flash momentarily blinded everyone in the room, during which all they could hear was an eerie sizzling noise.
Pikachu’s first thought was an unprintable curse at Combusken.
So much for not having to work on my electricity. Oooh... ouch...
Whatever attack Raichu had just used hurt worse--far worse--than even his Thunder had. If he didn’t do something, Pikachu knew the pain alone would knock him out in a matter of moments. He’d lost again, and let Ash down. There was nothing he could do...
... no, wait a minute. There’s always something.
He closed his eyes, partly out of pain, partly to concentrate. The attack was the same typing as himself, after all. He could feel the path of the electricity through his body... perhaps he could block it off and redirect it?
There was only one way to find out. He had to try it.
When the humans could see again, they saw the two Electric-types standing frozen where they’d been moments before. Both Pokémon had their eyes tight shut, and a series of sparks running all along their forms--seemingly the result of Raichu’s attack. As far as could be determined, both of them were effectively incapacitated.
“So that’s Volt Tackle,” Rick murmured. “It appears to be almost as damaging to the user as the one being attacked... a very risky move.”
“They’re both out of it,” Brock commented. “Who won?”
“According to Gym regulations, in the event of a draw, no Badge is conferred,” said Simmons in a shaky voice, as if he were unable to believe what he’d just seen. “So, unless the challenger’s Pokémon is able to recover in the next sixty seconds...”
“I knew it,” Surge boasted, producing yet another bottle from Arceus knew where. “Raichu and I, we went through the War. Saved my life countless times, he did. They made me evolve him right away, because they needed power, and boy did they get it! We’ve seen it all. Your little rat has potential, but until you find a good Thunderstone--”
“Look!” his assistant interrupted, stretching a finger towards the arena.
Pikachu was stirring, its tail twitching slightly. As all the humans watched in utter silence, the Pokémon slowly lifted both arms. All at once, the multiple sparks coalesced into a single tiny ball, right between his ears. Pikachu let out a tiny cry, and the ball dissapated, becoming a multi-pronged bolt of lightning that leapt into the air and arced back down, striking the arena well away from the two contestants. With his system purged, the Electric-type rubbed at its eyes, looking suddenly very weary.
“I don’t believe it,” Surge growled. “A textbook Thunderbolt? How could something that wimpy manage to pull off such a high-level attack?”
“Well-played,” said the man who had just entered the arena.
Everyone whirled to face him. Two people recognized him; the other three knew the boy who stood quietly at the newcomer’s side.
“Will!” Ash cried.
“... George?” Surge whispered, looking very much like he’d just seen a ghost.
“Yes,” the man answered, stepping further into the light. They could recognize him now, of course: he was one of the two candidates all over the news lately. His voice was just what it was in his ads: deep, and utterly mesmerizing.
For some reason, his presence accomplished what nobody’s ever had, to date: it caused the Gym Leader to stuff his bottle out of sight, and appear almost shame-faced. “... How long have you been there?” he asked slowly, taking care to pronounce each word properly.
The politician stepped forward slowly, mounting the stairs to the arena. “Not long enough to see you do anything embrassing...”
“I didn’t need to. I heard about all of your antics in town,” Carini clarified.
“... Oh. Well then.”
“I’m not judging you. I know only too well how you feel, Vince... you know that.”
At the airing of his first name, Surge’s rancor returned, all in a rush. “Oh yeah, you know,” the Leader said sarcastically. “Because your life has just been so terrible since we got back. Because people have spit in your face, and called you a murderer--”
“Yes they have,” Carini said without raising his voice. “They did it to all of us.”
“Not that it mattered to you!” the Leader raged. “You’re a damn traitor, that’s what you are! You’ve joined them! The ones who declared the War to sake their own greed, and made you and me and everyone else they forced to the front lines pay for it! I ought to--”
“Be quiet,” the politician said abruptly, and even though it still wasn’t anything near a shout, Surge’s rant was choked off. All eyes were on the man, even Pikachu, who couldn’t possibly all the dynamics in play.
“It’s cynicism like yours, old friend, that’s a symptom of Kanto’s decline,” Carini continued. “And you do me a disservice by suggesting I’ve somehow turned my back on you. Why do you think I chose the career I did? I was just as angry as you are that the Libertarians refused to acknowledge what we soldiers had been through. The War had torn families apart, crippled and injured youg men... but to preserve a collective illusion that it hadn’t happened, they chose to spend nothing, to leave those whose lives they destroyed adrift and alone. You chose to draw back from everything and everyone you had loved, to eke out your days here in misery and the company of drink, taking it out on your challengers. I did not. I decided that things had to change... that I was the one to change them. The difference between you and me is not that I’m a traitor, but that I haven’t lost hope.”
Slowly, the boys’ heads turned to Surge. The Gym Leader’s face looked frozen, halfway between a snarl and a frown.
“But it’s not too late,” the politician said quietly. “The Federalists have a real chance for the first time. I could win the election. I could change the way veterans are treated. I can’t erase the past twenty years, but I can try my best to make it right. And... I could use your help, and all of our old friends’.”
“Make it right...?”
“The chief executive does have a little influence on government policy,” said Carini with a slight smirk. “I think I could force through a tiny tax increase for a proper Veteran’s Affairs department... something to take care of our former soldiers.”
Something flared in Surge’s eyes, but just as quickly died again. “... Assuming you win. The Libertarians have had a monopoly all this time.”
“That can change. It won’t be easy, but it can.”
The Gym Leader sighed, glancing once at the bottle that had somehow returned to his hand. With a contemptuous shrug, he smashed it against the platform he stood on, and drew himself up. The boys could see, faintly, the bearing of an officer, buried under two decades of self-destruction.
“You said you could use my help. What can I do?”
“How did you mange that, back there?” Rick asked Will in an indredulous tone.
Surge and Carini had both disappeared to talk privately. Simmons, invited to join in, had trailed along obediently, visibly relaxed and relieved by his boss’ change in attitude.
“Simple research,” the boy responded with a grin. “I already knew that Carini had been through the War from the biographies floating around everywhere. It only took a little checking to verify that he and Surge were in the same unit. I figured if anyone could get through to him...”
“Well, it worked pretty well, I’d say,” Brock interjected. “I mean, I never thought I’d see him apologize to Ash... and I heard him planning to go apologize to some woman.”
“I’m just that good,” said Will immodestly. “Anyway, how’d the actual fight go? Did Pikachu actually... win?”
“It wasn’t even close, up until that Volt Tackle,” Rick commented. “I’m pretty impressed. Didn’t think the kid had it in him. Pretty soon, he might not even need my help...”
“He’s already done well without your help,” argued Brock. “You told him not to worry about upping Pikachu’s electric attacks, but that ended up being the decisive factor of the match.”
I didn’t expect it, Will admitted to himself. Perhaps I underestimated what Ash is capable of. Does that mean... I might be able to go work for Mr. Carini, after all?
Vincent Surge was alone in his Gym, Simmons finally having gone home for the night. His former Sergeant had acted fifteen years younger all that day, so overjoyed that his boss was out of his slump.
I guess he has a point, the Leader reflected, not for the first time. I was... kind of a jerk.
His old fellow-officer’s words had lfted a veil of pain and rage from around him, turned all of his negative feeling into a faint and tender hope. George had always been good at that, of course... Surge’s often reckless bravery had inspired the men to first charges, but it was the other man’s rhetoric that kept them moving forward when obstacles made them falter.
He’d told Ash he was sorry; he’d apologized to Raichu... but Vincent’s eyes kept returning to the telephone mounted in the corner. The one person whose forgiveness he needed to ask most of all was one call away... but what an effort to pick it up and dial.
But the healing would never truly begin unless he summoned the effort. Surge grabbed the phone, sharply jabbing the series of numbers that he’d never forgotten.
The rings--five of them--seemed to drag on forever, before someone finally picked up. “Hello?”
In a panic, he realized he couldn’t even remember the sound of his voice. Maybe she’d moved away a long time ago. Maybe he’d never find her. Maybe--
“Is this... is this Delia Ketchum?” Surge croaked.
There was total silence on the other end for an agonizing minute. Then:
“... Vince? Is that you?”
He found a chair and sat, leaning back, a slight smile flickering briefly onto his face. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s me. I know it’s a lot to ask, but if you could hear me out for an hour or two... I think we have a lot to talk about.”
Apologies for the delay. I knew I'd be busy in September, and planned to finish a chapter beforehand to post sometime. However, I didn't finish it to my satisfaction.
“I’m not so sure if I’m down with the idea of that Carini guy coming with us,” said Rick slowly. “I don’t want to be dragged in to all this election stuff...”
“Neither does he,” Will argued. “That’s why he’s skipping the obvious route to Celadon, the main road, and taking the shortcut through Rock Tunnel--to slip away from all the reporters and analysts for a while. It’s home to some Pokémon we haven’t encountered yet, so Ash and I at least ought to take a look. It’s also pretty treacherous--so all of us could use each others’ help to get through in one piece.”
The older boy grunted. “Plus you’re in love with the guy.”
“No I’m not! Just because I admire his politics--”
“Let’s not talk about politics,” Rick interrupted. “Fine, fine, he can tag along, but I’m ditching him the moment we get out of that cave, and let me tell you, you’re gonna have to make a choice.”
“Why’d you take me back here?” Ash asked slowly, glancing around. Pikachu was digging into his shoulders with its hands and feet, on edge.
The source of the Electric-type’s unease seemed to be a line of curious yellow stones than lined a back shelf in the Gym’s storage closet. Surge and Raichu went over; the Leader gave the nearest of the objects an affectionate pat.
“These are Thunderstones, developed by the Silph Company,” the man explained. “Raw electric power packed into a container, essentially. When released, it’s enough to completely overwhelm any Pokémon.”
“That sounds dangerous!”
Surge chuckled. “Not for Electric-types. If they’re capable of breaking down and redirecting the power in the stone, they won’t only be unharmed, but they’ll evolve. That’s how I got my Raichu, long ago, and, by the way it dealt with that Volt Tackle, I’d say your Pikachu is more than ready.”
Ash furrowed his brow. “You want me... to evolve him?”
“Sure!” the Leader said. “That’s one strong Pokémon, but it could become an even more fearsome battler if it had the power of a Raichu. I respect you both, kid, which is why I want to give you the chance to get even better than I did.”
The boy glanced at the Thunderstones, frowning slightly, then craned his neck back to look at Pikachu, now positively trembling with obvious fright.
“No... no, I don’t think I can do it,” he said quietly, glancing at Surge. “He doesn’t want to. And I don’t want to force him... even if I’ll get more powerful. That’s not who I am.”
The man nodded slowly, then abruptly grinned. “Usually, I say anyone who doesn’t evolve their Pokémon as soon as possible is crazy, but... I can’t really argue with that. Raichu wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t given a choice, all those years ago. As you know, it’s cost the both of us. If I could go back and change it... but I can’t, of course.”
They were silent for the short trek out of the Gym, back into the daylight. Ash waved towards his friends and the politician guy, standing on the road.
“I want you to have something,” said Surge abruptly, pulling a Pokéball from his belt and pressing the release button on the side. The boy peered closely at the Pokémon that emerged, expecting some sort of Electric-type; however, this creature was blue-green, back dominated by a shell and a long tail that looked almost like a wave.
“It’s Squirtle, a Water Pokémon,” the Gym Leader explained. “He belonged to... to someone I liked very much; but I haven’t used him in my battling. You’re definitely the right person to have him, instead, and I know she--uh, they--would agree.”
“Wow, awesome!” Ash exclaimed, bending to pat the Squirtle on the head. “I can use him to counter any Ground-types Pikachu can’t handle! Thanks!”
Surge waited for the boy to take the ball from him, then smiled. A more observant person might’ve noted the peculiar sadness in it as he looked down at the pair.
“Take care of old George, will you? He’s a good friend of mine. And, take care of yourself. I’m sure I’ll keep hearing about high you climb.”
“You bet!” Ash said, nodding several times. “I’ll protect the old guy for you, to pay you back!” He lifted one hand in a wave before rushing towards the group, leaving Surge looking after him.
“What was that all about?” Rick asked, glancing back at the Gym as they all started to walk towards the northern city limits. “I didn’t take him for the touchy-feely type.”
“Me neither, but he was super-nice. He offered to give me a Thunderstone! And then he gave me this great Squirtle--it looks really strong!”
Will lifted an eyebrow, glancing towards Carini, but the man merely shrugged. “It’s not like him either, and I’ve known him for years. He’s really taken a liking to your friend for some reason...”
“Well, anyway, let’s get going!” Ash cried, waving the group onwards. The only person to benefit from Surge’s uncharacteristic behavior also seemed to care the least.
They kept a fast pace all the way to Cerulean City, spurred by Carini’s desire not to stay in one place long enough to be recognized. His cell phone kept ringing constantly, however, until he eventually turned it to vibrate.
“My handlers,” he explained briefly. “They think I should be hitting the campaign trail, but really, overexposure is going to sink Neilson...”
This and other bits of political talk usually ended in irritated glances from Rick, and eventually the man fell silent. Conversation turned to more casual topics as they skirted Cerulean and headed west, battling past some tangled bushes and trees that blocked a poorly maintained road which lead towards the Rock Tunnel.
“Need to add in more money for infrastructure,” Carini mumbled as a branch whipped him across the face, leaving a long, shallow cut in its wake. Luckily, nobody heard him.
Somewhat on the plus side, the route appeared deserted. This was probably due to the fact that nobody in their right mind would go through Rock Tunnel when they could just stick to the main roads... or so Brock kept saying.
“They’ve got Onix in there,” he usually added. “And as someone who’s fought one of those things in the wild, let me tell you, they are nasty.”
“Oh, we’ll be fine,” said Rick blithely. “We all took down yours easy enough, right?”
“... well yes, but--”
Brock found himself speaking to thin air, the group having walked right past him.
“I’ve been through here before, and let me tell you, it’s probably the darkest cave you’ll ever see. There’s no natural light whatsoever,” Carini was saying. “There’s a Center right by the entrance, just waiting to scalp you alive with its prices on flashlights...”
“Sounds kind of like Mt. Moon.”
“Except worse,” the man stated. “But, there might be another way. I remember that Vince and I had to come through this place once, and he had his Raichu constantly charge a weak Electric attack. It created a large amount of light. We ended up calling it Flash.”
“Hey, I bet Pikachu can pull it off!” Ash exclaimed. “Great!”
“It probably isn’t a good idea to introduce that much light when the native Pokémon aren’t used to it!” Brock shouted. But nobody was listening to him.
“You know, it probably wasn’t a good idea to shine so brightly when all of these guys don’t like it,” Geodude commented.
The party had been in Rock Tunnel for perhaps three hours. In that time, what seemed like every wild Pokémon inside the cave had been disturbed and subsequently attacked; by now, the humans were forced to send out everything they’d had on them. A solid Rhydon had been Carini’s sole contribution; the essential dynamics of the group, however, remained unchanged.
“Who cares? They’re all weaklings! Just like you wimps!” Gyarados roared.
“Oh, shut up. And don’t you dare knock the Machop into me next time,” Treecko groused.
“Can we just hurry up and get out of here? I’m hungry,” Charmander complained.
“... and I’m tired,” Pidgeotto whined.
“... and I don’t know how long I can keep this Flash up,” Pikachu added.
“Just stay focused on moving forward, guys,” Combusken encouraged. “The sooner we get out of here, the sooner we don’t have to deal with any of this.”
“Assuming we survive that long,” Trapinch muttered.
“It’s so hard to get accurate data on things that insist on attacking you over and over again,” Will grumbled.
“Maybe, but you are learning how they fight, which is the most important bit, really,” Rick offered, whilst narrowly ducking beneath a chunk of rock hurled by an irritated wild Geodude.
“I’m afraid the fighting is gonna break this thing.” Ash eventually shook his head, and stuffed his Pokédex back into his pack.
“If I was petty, I would be saying ‘I told you so’ right about now,” Brock said, clearing his throat for emphasis.
“I do have to apologize for all this.” Carini glanced around, frowning faintly. “The denizens were much less restless when Vince and I came through the last time. This time I underestimated them, and neglected to bring my full team...”
“Just get us out of here, and you’re forgiven,” all four of them said, more or less at once.
An hour later, Carini halted and squinted. “I think this is the last turn. Then there’s just a straight shot to the exit.”
“And we haven’t had any trouble at all,” Rick offered, grinning at Brock. “So much for your dire predictions, huh?”
At that exact moment, as life itself would seem to demand, there was a grating sound, stone against stone, from just ahead. Something rounded the corner--an Onix, but a tiny specimen, relatively, no longer than five feet. It almost ran straight into the group, before it halted, drawing itself up slightly.
“What in the heck...?” someone started to ask.
Their Pokémon, on edge from constant sniping, acted without hesitation. Gyarados, closest to the intruder, bulled forward, coils closing around the rock snake. The pair thrashed and wriggled, forcing the rest of the party to stand clear.
“Oh no. Oh no. This is NOT good,” Brock said.
“A tiny Onix is bad news?” asked Rick, puzzled.
“It’s about the worst thing that can happen to people in a cave,” the former Gym Leader answered, beckoning frantically. “That was a newborn.”
Carini grasped the implications quicker than the boys, mouth dropping open. “Oh, Arceus...”
Pieces of the cave’s ceiling and wall chipped and fell under the force of what felt like a sudden earthquake. An immense cloud of dust billowed up, obscuring most of the passage. There was a familiar roar, though this time it held a pained note; Gyarados was flung back by something, coming back into view briefly before crashing into cave’s wall. Very painfully.
As the dust began to settle, the cause of the Water-type’s condition became abundantly, frighteningly clear. No less than six full-length Onix towered before the group, and from the roars around the corner, these weren’t the only ones.
“... Mating season,” Brock whispered. “They’ll kill anything that even gets near their young. And we’ve done even worse...”
“If we get out of here alive, I’m never ignoring you again,” Rick mumbled.
“We’ve got to run for it!” shouted Carini. “See if our Pokémon can hold them off or clear a path! We’ll be crushed if we just stand around!”
“Let’s just hope,” Will whispered, grabbing at Ash’s arm.
“And we’re the ones stuck risking our necks, as usual,” Trapinch grumbled. “I wish I could just run away and yell at someone else to do all my fighting for me.”
“These guys will probably eat you if you try to waddle away, as slow as you are,” Treecko smirked. “So you’ve really only got one option, yeah?”
“We might be outnumbered—and outsized—but we can still put this off!” shouted Combusken, trying to sound more sure than he felt. This wasn’t too difficult, considering that he was pretty certain they were all about to die.
“They’re Rock-types, right?” he continued, fairly desperately. “Blast them with water and grass attacks! It should weaken them enough for the rest of us to get the advantage!”
“… but I have to be touching them for Absorb to work.”
“… I don’t think my Water Gun is gonna cut it,” Squirtle added.
While they were equivocating, the Onix-clan struck. The fact that their targets were, for the most part, cowering in fear didn’t make it too difficult. By the time the dust cleared, the humans’ Pokémon were either knocked flat or hiding in corners.
Combusken, floored by a rouge piece of rock, staggered to his feet, clutching his head. At first he thought he was hallucinating—there were flashes of red light all around the tunnel, and his comrades were vanishing before his eyes. When he realized what was going on, he cursed.
Our partners think we’re in danger, and they’re calling us back! But they’re not far enough away yet—the Onix will catch them, and…
Things were different in his case, though. He knew that the Pokéballs had certain settings, and that the one binding him to his was weak. When the beam came for him, he refused its call. Someone had to buy time.
“Hey! Yeah, that’s right, you!” Combusken bellowed, waving his arms frantically. “It’s me you should be chasing after! I’m the one that wants to attack your young!”
A complete lie, of course—and it was probably more his dancing than his words that got their attention. Either way, with perfect hive-mind, all the Onix turned to face him.
Accepting that discretion was the better part of valor, the Fire-type immediately turned tail and ran down the tunnel. There was no way to fight that many. He could only hope to lose them somehow, and double back to rejoin his friends.
He was just craning his neck for side-passages when the rocks began to fly. One chunk struck him squarely in the back of the head, and he stumbled.
It was a fatal mistake. In the next moment, the Onix were on him.
When Combusken regained consciousness, there was sun in his eyes. Blinking slowly, he took a look around, taking inventory of the familiar and concerned faces.
“If I’m dead, this is kind of a letdown,” he muttered. “You’re all here too.”
“You’re not,” came a voice from behind. “And… you’re welcome.”
Craning his neck, the Fire-type located the speaker: a green Pokémon, with leaves jutting from its arms, legs, and the very top of its head, that was leaning against a tree, arms folded, chewing on a long blade of grass.
The aloof attitude was quite familiar.
“Sort of,” the other smirked. “Grovyle, now. I kind of had to evolve if I was gonna be fast enough to save your sorry neck.”
Combusken blinked, thinking back. “They’d caught up to me when I passed out… I thought I was a goner.”
“You almost were,” the Grass-type agreed. “But I resisted being called back, too, and played dead for just a bit. Once they’d barreled off after you, I didn’t have too much trouble slipping under their guard. It was a bit hairy carrying you all the way back down the tunnel, but I was quick enough to pull it off.”
Leaning down, Grovyle prodded him on the forehead. “No way I’m gonna let you die until I’ve proven I’m better than you are. And don’t you forget it, hear?”
Combusken laughed, closing his eyes again. “Got it.”