The Journey Never Ends
Chapter 17: Blossoms and Forget-Me-Nots
“What, aren’t you coming inside with me?”
“Well,” Ash hesitated. “Maybe you should do this by yourself.”
“It’s almost like you have something to hide. You know, the thoughts going through my head are probably worse than what actually happened,” Allie joked.
“I have my doubts about that.”
Flower petals were floating through the air, carried by a warm, sweet breeze drifting through Celdaon City. Happy people were strolling up and down the streets with shopping bags and ice cream cones. Allie and Ash were standing across the street from a huge round building shaped like a giant rafflesia.
The excited girl grabbed her companion’s hand and gave her best pitiful expression. “Come on, I thought you were here to support me no matter what. I promise that nothing will change my opinion of you.”
Ash looked down into her pleading eyes and sighed. His free hand reached up and gently lifted her chin. “This isn’t always going to work.” He winked at her.
“Come on then.” Grinning, Allie turned herself under his arm and led him across the street, with Pikachu running along beside them. The trainers walked around the building until they reached a small brick building attached to the gym. Several women were gathered around staring into the building at the small glass bottles lining the shelves.
Allie pushed the door open, pulling a resigned Ash through it. The shop was surprisingly empty for the amount of shoppers in the city. A young woman with purple hair looked up from the cash register and smiled weakly.
“Look who it is,” she said, a mischievous expression creeping across her otherwise innocent face. “Little Ashley Ketchum.”
Ash hung his head in defeat. “Ten years, Erika. Ten years. It doesn’t matter to you; you’re never going to let me forget it.”
Allie, meanwhile, was completely bewildered. What the heck were they talking about? she wondered.
Erika laughed and stepped out from behind the counter. “Is your girlfriend aware that you’re a cross dresser?” the florist asked, turning her attention to Allie.
Allie couldn’t help laughing in surprise at the ludicrous thought of Ash wearing a dress. It took her a moment to realize the other thing Erika had said. Looking down, she saw that her and Ash’s hands were still locked together. Her face blushed bright red as she made eye contact with Ash and he removed his hand from hers.
“First of all, I just did that because you refused to battle me,” Ash countered. “And second, the two of us aren’t dating. This is Allie Dogwood,” he introduced the girl.
“Nice to meet you,” Allie said politely. “You’re the gym leader, right?”
“Indeed. I’m Erika. You look like a Pokémon trainer,” the woman guessed.
Allie nodded eagerly. “If you’re not too busy, I’d like to have a battle against you.”
Erika looked around the small shop sadly. There was only one person other than them inside it. The shelves were nearly empty, with only a few glass vials remaining on them. It was apparent that the store had fallen upon hard times.
“I’m rarely too busy these days. This shop isn’t what it used to be,” Erika sighed. “Hold on for a second.” The young woman walked over to the customer, who promptly shook her head and walked out the door. Erika followed her and removed the “Open” sign from the window. “Follow me.”
Erika led the trainers through a back door. They walked through a short corridor and emerged into a large greenhouse. The atmosphere rapidly became more hot and humid. Grass type Pokémon frolicked amidst the beautiful flowers and exotic plants. Allie was astonished by the natural beauty. Despite the biodiversity, there was hardly any smell in the air.
A Gloom hobbled slowly over to them and hugged Erika’s leg. Allie thought it seemed emaciated and weak compared to others from its species. Erika bent down and stroked its petals lovingly.
“What happened to the perfume store?” Ash asked Erika curiously. “It was always so lively.”
The gym leader smiled at him weakly. “That’s nice coming from someone who once belittled my business. A few months ago, many of the greenhouse Pokémon became very sick. Then they all stopped producing the scents we use in the perfumes. Nurse Joy managed to heal them, thank Arceus, but they haven’t had their distinctive smells since then.”
“And without perfumes, your customers stopped coming,” Ash surmised.
“Yes. I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve worked with plant Pokémon my entire life, but I couldn’t figure out what’s wrong. I feel so useless.”
Ash extended a hand to her, which she took. “I know you. You did your best, I’m sure it will get better.”
Erika stood up and smiled, her eyes twinkling. “Thank you, Ash.” She turned to Allie. “I’m ready for a battle whenever you are.”
“Let’s go,” Allie grinned, reaching to her belt.
“Alright, the only problem is that I only have one Pokémon right now who’s ready for battle. Gym battles are usually at least two-on-two, but if the champion approves, we’ll do battle,” Erika said with a glance to Ash.
“Given the circumstances, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” Ash decided without any additional thought. For no apparent reason, he suddenly bent down and pulled a piece of grass from the ground. He looked incredibly closely at it, then pulled his XTransceiver out and began taking pictures. The female trainers looked at him confused, but he waved them off. “Do you mind if I have a look around the greenhouse, Erika?”
“Feel free,” the young woman said, surprised at the question. “Just be careful not to damage any of the more sensitive plants.”
“Thank you, I’ll be incredibly careful.” Ash turned to Allie. “Good luck in your battle.”
“You’re not going to watch?” the girl pouted, slightly hurt by his lack of support and interest.
“I’ll be cheering you on, don’t worry. I just have something I want to check on.” And without so much as another glance, he spun around and disappeared behind a wall of bushes and trees. Pikachu followed at his trainer’s feet.
Allie sighed. Erika rested a comforting arm across the girl’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about him. He does some questionable things, but he’d go to any length to do the right thing. Ten years ago, he wore a dress to get a battle, and nearly died trying to save Gloom from a fire. Without Ash’s determination to battle me at all costs, this building would have been destroyed and many Pokémon would have died. I tease him about it, but I’m so grateful to him.”
“I suppose,” Allie said, still bothered by Ash’s absence.
Allie followed the gym leader through overgrown trails and between trees. They finally reached a small, grassy battlefield marked by white chalk lines. A single blue bench was in the center. Erika directed Allie to go to the other side of the field. Another young girl walked out of a row of flowers holding a watering can.
“Ah,” Erika smiled. “Kelly, would you mind officiating this battle?”
“Okay,” the girl said, skipping towards the battlefield. She was tall and pretty, and about Allie’s age. Her brown hair was tied in a braid, and her clothing was covered with dirt and leaves.
“This is one of my remaining assistants,” explained Erika. “I can’t afford to hire many these days, but Kelly wanted to stay involved with the gym. All of the girls who work here are also trained Pokémon League referees.”
The girls greeted one another, before Kelly’s face became suddenly serious. “The Celadon Gym Pokémon battle between Allie Dogwood and Miss Erika will now begin,” she said in a sharp and official tone. “Each trainer will use one Pokémon. Substitution is not allowed in this battle.”
“This looks like a job for you Ruby,” Allie whispered to the fire fox’s Pokéball. “Let’s take home our second badge!” she shouted, throwing the ball to the center of the field. The Vulpix leaped out of its Pokéball, bursting with excitement.
Erika pulled a Pokéball from her jeans pocket. But as she looked up, Gloom stepped away from her side and onto the battlefield. The small purple and red weed Pokémon slowly walked halfway between its trainer and Ruby. “What are you doing, Gloom?” Erika asked anxiously, nervous for her beloved Pokémon.
“Gloo, Gloom ,” it chanted, clearly intending to battle.
“But you’re still weak,” Erika protested.
“Gloom!” the Pokémon insisted. It pointed at the Vulpix.
“Please, you can’t fight right now.”
“The gym leader must make a decision on her Pokémon or forfeit the battle,” Kelly cut in from her spot at the center of the battlefield.
The gym leader and her Pokémon stared deep into each other’s eyes, and finally Erika relented. “Just… be careful. Please.” Gloom nodded solemnly and turned back to face Ruby.
Meanwhile, Ash and Pikachu were navigating the tight service hallways which wound their ways below the greenhouse and circulated air. The smells of fertilizer and nitrogen were wafting through the dark, damp passageways.
Pikachu stopped and sniffed the air. “Pika-chu,” the electric mouse said, pointing in front of them.
As they turned a corner, the partners saw a large fan standing in their path. It was spinning slowly. Something was glimmering on one of the blades. Ash careful reached towards it and pulled it off, being very careful not to let his hand get too close to the fan. He held it up to his face to get a better look.
Ash felt his stomach drop as he looked at the small plastic case. A single letter, written with red ink, was the only marking upon it. He hastily pulled out his XTransceiver and opened an app.
Holding the item up to the camera, he said, “Computer, analysis.” The device immediately began beeping and flashing as it searched the Pokémon League database for information.
“Small case containing trace amounts of unknown substance,” it said. “May have once been filled with more of substance.”
Ash turned the item over and over in his hand. For the entire league network to not turn up a single result was seriously disconcerting. He pulled out a small plastic bag and sealed the mysterious device inside. The champion looked down at his partner.
“I know buddy. We’ll get to the bottom of things eventually.”
Ash pulled a long lever down and the fan began turning even faster. As he pressed a series of buttons on a control panel, the air system began venting and cleaning itself.
A sudden burst fresh air blasted through the gym. Gloom was lying on the ground, completely exhausted after only a few minutes of battle. Standing over it was Ruby, awaiting her trainer’s final orders. Erika had an anxious expression on her face.
But as the clean air was absorbed into Gloom’s body, a remarkable change appeared. It fought to its feet, a look of pure determination in its face. The thin, weak body began returning to its normal appearance, and the wilting red flora on Gloom’s head stopped sagging. Color returned to Gloom’s entire body, and as everyone looked around in surprise, they saw the same change occurring in the trees and flowers.
Within minutes, the entire greenhouse underwent an incredible transformation. No longer were the plants clinging to life; lush color and life returned to the building. Tears of joy were forming in the corners of Erika’s eyes.
“Are you ready Gloom?” she asked, beaming.
“Gloo, Gloooooom,” it cried back, jumping up and down with excitement.
“Great, then use acid!” the gym leader shouted, her battle spirit returned to her.
Purple ooze sprayed from Gloom’s flower. Ruby had no chance of dodging it, and the poison hit her directly. Allie gasped as her Pokémon recoiled. Ruby was suddenly having difficulty standing, and her sharp teeth were clenched in pain.
“Use ember,” Allie ordered.
Gloom spun out of the way of the small fire. At the beginning of the battle, such a performance would have been impossible. But now it handily evaded the attack.
“Now attack Vulpix with sleep powder!”
“No, get out of the way!”
But the glistening powder enveloped Ruby. Her eyes blinked sleepily, and the small fox rolled over and curled into a ball. Even Allie had to cover her mouth with her sleeve to keep from being affected. Gloom’s flower began glowing as it absorbed energy from the sun through the glass ceiling.
“Now Allie, I wonder. Have you ever seen a solarbeam?” Erika asked combatively. “If not, this should be an impressive way to lose this battle.”
“Ruby! Ruby, wake up!” Allie shouted futilely. It was to no avail, the fox remained fast asleep. “You have to finish the fight Ruby!”
The entirety of Gloom’s flower was a stunning white. It lowered its head, preparing to use its final move.
Please Ruby. Please don’t let it end like this. I know you can do it. Use flamethrower, please, Allie thought desperately. Please…
As the blast of sunlight erupted from Gloom, Allie clenched her eyes in fear for her Pokémon.
“Pix!” Allie heard suddenly. A huge jet of fire sprung from Ruby’s mouth. By some miracle, by that beautiful and wonderful connection between a trainer and her Pokémon, Ruby had awoken and followed through her trainer’s command. The flamethrower eclipsed the solarbeam, and Gloom straight on.
The burned Pokémon landed at its trainer’s feet, and Erika immediately bent down to comfort it.
“Gloom is unable to battle. The challenger has won!” Kelly shouted enthusiastically, losing her profession manner and jumping up and down in excitement.
Erika solemnly returned her Pokémon to its ball, then stood and smiled at Allie. “You are an amazing trainer, Allie,” she said. “The bond between you and your Vulpix is one of the strongest I have ever seen. You still have a lot to learn before you’re ready to battle some of my fellow gym leaders, but you have incredible potential. Therefore, I have no regrets in presenting to you the badge of the Celadon City gym. Congratulations.”
Allie, who was holding and hugging Ruby, quickly set the small fox down on the ground. She held out her hand and received the small metal pin. It was a rainbow colored flower.
A clapping was coming from the side of the field. Ash Ketchum was sitting on the bench with Pikachu applauding his companion. No one had noticed his reappearance, but he had apparently seen the conclusion of the battle and was beaming at Allie. He walked over to where the three girls stood and put his arm around Allie’s shoulders.
“Congrats,” he grinned at her. “You’re up to two badges, and beating Erika is an impressive feat.”
Erika laughed. “That’s right, you didn’t even beat me!”
“Seriously?” Allie asked.
“I would have if Team Ro-” he stopped abruptly, a shadow flashing across his face. “I would have if not for the fire. Anyway, I still earned the badge.”
“Whatever you say Ashley Ketchum,” the gym leader teased. The entire group began laughing, and only stopped when a foul stench caused them all to choke on the air.
“What is that?” Allie asked Erika, holding her nose.
Tears were streaming down Erika’s face as she cried openly. “That’s the smell of Gloom before it’s made into a perfume. We’re going to be able to keep the store open!” She hurled herself at Ash and began hugging him. “I don’t know what you did, but you saved my gym and Pokémon again. I can never thank you enough,” she whispered in the champion’s ear.
Ash nodded, patting her on the back gently.
“Hey, Allie,” Kelly interrupted. “Did you know that Celadon City has a nationally recognized mall? The shopping here is amazing.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard a little about it,” she answered, finally returning Ruby to her Pokéball. “Why?”
“I think today’s events call for a bit of a celebration,” the gardener suggested. “Are you up for coming shopping with Erika and me? Ash is welcome, of course, but I figure he doesn’t really want to go.”
The relieved look on Ash’s face that he didn’t have to go showed that she was right.
“I don’t actually have any money,” Allie admitted. “I haven’t had enough battles to earn much prize money.”
Ash pulled a small plastic card from his pocket and spun it to his friend. “Credit card. A gift from me. Go treat yourself,” he told her.
The joy on Allie’s face was immense. Growing up on her own had always made a normal life as a girl nearly impossible; she had rarely shopped for things apart from necessities. The blonde girl new right away that she was going to have a blast.
“Come on,” Erika told them. “Let’s lock everything up and we’ll go check out some of the clothing styles. This’ll be fun.”
Ash watched as the girls hurriedly began closing up the gym, smiling to himself. There was something great about people doing something they loved together. The gym staff had only met Allie that day, and already they were planning a fun day on the town.
He followed them out of the perfume shop and watched as Erika locked the shop up. “Could I have a word with you Erika?” Ash asked the gym leader, making sure not to let the girls hear. She nodded.
The champion took her aside behind one of the trees outside the building. He pulled the black plastic container from his pocket. “I found this in your gym. I don’t know what it is, but I would bet it’s what’s been causing the plants to die.”
Erika stared at the item in the plastic bag while her hand went to her mouth. The logo on it was facing her. “This is impossible. It can’t be.”
“You can’t tell anyone yet. I don’t want to start a panic, but I’m going to show this to Professor Oak. Whatever it was doing to your gym seems to have stopped.”
“I-I can’t believe this,” she shook.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of this. But keep your eyes open, and call me if you see anything suspicious.”
The gym leader nodded, and the two elite trainers walked back over to their companions. Erika made an effort to smile, but Allie could still tell something was bothering her.
“I’m going to head out. I’ve got something to attend to. Great job again Allie,” he said again, patting her on the back. “Now go enjoy yourself.”
“Thanks Ash,” she smiled at him.
The three girls began walking to the Celadon shopping district, while Ash and Pikachu went in the opposite direction. Allie was amazed at the size of the mall. It was an enormous tower, hundreds of floors high. She was going to have the time of her life.
Ash slammed his head down on the table in front of him. It had been hours since the battle, and he was now sitting in his room in the Pokémon Center. He was again talking to Professor Oak over a video call. The piece of black plastic he found in the gym was sitting in front of him.
“Damn it! How can it not be in the entire Pokémon League’s records?” Ash swore. “And this is just another sign. They’re back. I know it.”
“Calm down Ash. Just send it to me and I’ll do my best to analyze it,” Oak said. His voice, as always, was serious but relaxing.
“Alright, professor, thanks.”
“How’s your protégée doing, Ash?” he asked, curious of Allie’s progress.
“She just earned her second badge from Erika,” Ash responded, a touch of pride in his voice.
The old Pokémon professor laughed. “That’s something even you didn’t do. But I do remember hearing something about a dress…”
“Pika, Pi!” Pikachu chuckled.
“Good bye, professor. I’m going to go send you what I found.” Ash rolled his eyes and ended the call.
Ash and Pikachu left the bedroom and went downstairs to the Pokémon Center’s transport room. In addition to the Pokéball transfer machine, there was also one for sending items to and from different places. Ash put the black case one the machine, and watched as the black plastic, and red letter “R” fade in front of him. He went on to the computer and chose to send it to Oak’s lab, then left the room.
It was late in the evening by this point. Only a few trainers were still enjoying dinner in the center’s bistro. Ash walked past all of them, not in the least bit hungry. A couple of Pokémon were playing on a playground in the center of the lobby. Pikachu looked over yearningly.
“Go ahead,” Ash told him. “Have a bit of fun.”
“Pika!” Pikachu thanked him.
As he used his key card to open the door to his room, the champion walked in slowly. It was time for bed; there wasn’t much of a reason to stay awake any later. Allie still wouldn’t be back for several hours, Pikachu was playing with new friends, and Oak’s analysis of the mysterious substance would take a few days. He took his jacket off and hung it on a hook. He began reaching for his shirt, but quickly stopped and spun around as he heard a giggle.
“What are you doing in here!” he was about to yell, but the words never reached his lips. For as soon as he saw the girl sitting on his bed and grinning at him, he felt his heart leap. “Is it… is it really you?” he asked incredulously.
The girl was curling her brown hair around her finger, smiling a smile he hadn’t seen for far too long.
“Is that how you greet me?” she laughed sweetly. Her blue eyes twinkled. “Hello to you too.”
For the first time in years, Ash was rendered speechless not by choice, but by joy. The two trainers stared at each other, taking the moment in.