Mirror Ash and Mirror Serena! The Perils of a Dangerous World!
~Prologue, Part 2~
The summer morning sunshine was out in full force as Ash and Serena travelled through the forest together, the former on the latter's back. Feeling rather disoriented at his unique position off the ground at first, Ash soon found that — in a funny sort of way — he actually kind of liked riding on Serena's back, even as an increasingly intense feeling of pain on his left knee reminded him why he was there in the first place.
As the minutes passed by, however, Ash could see his line of sight moving closer and closer to the ground as Serena finally began to struggle underneath Ash's weight.
"You can get off now..." said Serena, her voice strained and weak. "Please..."
Having just reached a grassy clearing surrounded by small trees and bushes, Ash let go of Serena and allowed himself to slip off the side of her back and land on his side onto the soft grassy ground below. Serena, panting in complete and utter exhaustion, threw herself onto the ground, taking in every moment of relief as she laid there.
"Wow," she said in-between breaths. "You... are... heavy!
Ash didn't really mean to cause this girl so much trouble, and he couldn't help but feel guilty as he watched Serena crawl over to one of the edges of the clearing, nearly directly opposite from where Ash had himself just rested.
"Why do you say sorry so much?" Serena suddenly asked as she rested herself against a nearby tree.
Ash felt a brief urge to look away from Serena before he realized that curiosity, not annoyance, defined her face now. Rather caught off guard by her question — one that he had never really even thought about before — Ash could only manage to say:
"I-I, um, well..."
"Don't worry about it too much," Serena interrupted. "It's not really a problem, you bein' on my back. I mean, I've carried things almost as heavy as you before."
"Mm-hmm. I lived on a farm for years, y'know; since I was little. We did a whole buncha stuff, and we had to carry a whole buncha stuff. It was hard, but it was kinda fun, too."
A somewhat sad smile started to appear on Serena's face, but it quickly disappeared as she started talking again.
"Oh, and that's also why I've got..." She looked down at the ground, hesitating. "...well, y'know."
Annoyance returned to Serena's face almost immediately as she rather loudly replied:
"An accent, of course!"
Serena sighed. "Y'know how I'm kinda lazy with my words and say some of 'em wrong?" she said. "That's 'cause of my accent. Northwest Johto accent, if you wanna be exact about it."
So that's where she comes from,
Ash realized to himself. He then noticed Serena looking down at the ground again, after which he somewhat hastily replied:
"I-I don't think you sound that different."
Serena looked back up at Ash and sighed again.
"You don't have to lie about it," she said. "I mean, it's not like I can hide it or anythin'; everybody knows about it. You're just too nice to talk about it."
Ash quickly realized that his comment didn't really make Serena feel any better, and a feeling of guilt quickly washed over him.
"I-I'm sorry—" he began to say.
" Serena suddenly shouted, startling Ash. "Jeez, you don't have to say sorry for being nice! What's wrong with you?"
That particular outburst ended up being too much for Ash to handle, who responded by burying his head underneath his knees and crying again.
"Oh, man..." Ash heard Serena say. "Look, I'm
sorry, okay? I'm sorry. Just stop cryin'... please?"
Ash, however, didn't stop. A few seconds later, he heard Serena get up from her resting place and walk over to where he was, sitting herself down next to him.
"Look... it's not bad that you're nice or anythin'," Serena's voice said. "'Cause y'know, you're the only one who's been nice to me this whole time, so... thank you. For bein' nice."
After a few more sniffles, Ash slowly emerged from his hiding place, his water-filled eyes meeting Serena's ones. To his surprise, there was no hint of annoyance or contempt in them this time; rather, they were surprisingly warm and open.
"Do they bully you, too?" Ash suddenly asked Serena, feeling oddly compelled to do so. She didn't respond, but Ash could see a flash of sadness appear on her face as she stared pensively into the distance; the answer was clear.
"Y'know," Serena started to say, meeting Ash's eyes again, "my grandma used to say to me: 'Serena! Y'know it's good to be strong, especially when you're a girl! But you don't have to act strong all the time, y'know! Why don' you try bein' a lil' nicer every once in a while? It doesn't hurt to be nice, Serena!'
She sighed yet again. "I didn't know what she meant by that, but I think I know now. I'm just too strong for my own good sometimes. I mean, I don't wanna be, but... sometimes I've gotta be."
"I think that you're a nice person, Serena," Ash told her.
"Nah, that's just you bein' nice again," Serena responded. "I mean, I've been treatin' you like dirt all day and I shouldn't have. You're not like the rest of 'em."
"But you can't be that bad," Ash replied. "I mean, you fixed my knee and let me get on your back and—"
"Y'know I was gonna just leave you there, Ash," Serena interrupted. "Like I said, I'm not nice."
"But you came back," said Ash. "And you said sorry for everything, too..."
Serena simply scoffed at him. "Like that
Ash then watched Serena stare off into the distance, looking rather angry. Not at him, he could tell, but rather about something else on her mind.
What a weird girl,
Ash thought. But she really isn't that bad...
kind of a crybaby, though," Serena suddenly piped up as she met eyes with Ash again, crossing her arms at him. "Tell me somethin'... you got any dreams or anythin'?"
"Like, what's your dream?" Serena repeated. "What do you wanna be when you grow up?"
Ash hesitated as he looked down at the ground again. "I, um, don't really have anything..."
"Oh, come on!" Serena shouted, startling Ash yet again; a brief flash of guilt appeared on her face before she took a second to relax herself somewhat.
"Everyone has somethin'
they wanna be," Serena continued, slightly calmer this time. "Are you scared to say it or somethin'? C'mon, what's your dream?"
"I-I..." Ash stuttered, the words sticking over and over again in his throat before finally:
"I-I want to be a Pokémon Master."
Serena didn't respond immediately, instead staring at Ash with an expression that he couldn't read. Before long, however, Ash could see her start to chuckle a little bit.
"Ha ha, that's so funny..."
Ash started to look down in shame again.
"...'cause that's my dream, too!"
Ash lifted his head up, amazed. "Really!?"
"Hm-hmm!" Serena replied, a proud smile appearing on her face. "I was born
with a Poké Ball in my hand! There's nothin' I'd rather be than a trainer, and then one day, the Champion! Guess that means we're gonna be rivals, huh?"
"Maybe," Ash replied, feeling depressed all of a sudden. "If I was any good at anything."
Serena sighed. "Lemme give you a lil' tip," she said to Ash. "If you really wanna be a Pokémon Master, then you've gotta stop being such a crybaby. Your Pokémon aren't gonna believe in you if you don't even believe in yourself!"
"Nuh-uh!" Serena cut him off. "No more of that crybaby stuff! You wanna be a Pokémon Master or not?"
"I-I do," Ash replied. "I'm... just not sure how. I'm not very good at this Pokémon stuff."
"Well, you're in luck," said Serena. "I may not look it, but I'd say that I'm pretty darn good at Pokémon battles. And I can't be havin' a crybaby rival, so y'know what? I'll help you."
"Yep!" Serena happily replied. "I'll teach you everythin' I know! Where do you wanna start?"
"Wait a minute; how long have we been out here?"
Serena shrugged. "I dunno; twenty minutes, maybe?"
"Oh no!" Ash practically shouted in response, his heart skipping a beat. "The treasure hunt's probably over by now! We've gotta get back before—"
"Oh, calm down!" Serena interrupted. "They're not gonna get angry if we're just a lil' late, 'specially 'cause of your knee and all. And I betcha half the guys here got lost too."
She then got up from where she was sitting before taking a few steps towards the bushes outside of the clearing.
"C'mon, let's beat 'em to camp, and make 'em
look bad instead of us!"
"O-OK..." Ash replied, carefully lifting himself up before limping over to Serena, reaching for her shoulders.
"Not on my back, Ash!"
Serena sighed as she extended an arm out to Ash instead, inviting him to her side for support.
"You really do say sorry too much," said Serena as Ash took her hand, prompting her to pull him over to her side. "But like I said, it's not a bad thing that you're nice..."
And with that, the two continued walking through the forest together.
* * * * * * *
"OK, so you're here... she's here... Leaf is here... so far, so good..."
Daisy was currently going down a list of all of the summer camp participants, having called everyone back from the treasure hunt with her megaphone.
Guess I didn't do too bad with choosing a treasure hunt, huh?
she thought happily to herself as she looked around to see children with many items cradled — or hastily stuffed — in their arms. I thought I was so screwed when I told them!
As she reached the end of the list, however, she noticed two people conspicuously absent from her count.
Hmm... it looks like Ash is taking a bit longer for the treasure hunt. Don't know about that straw hat girl, though. I'll give them a little bit longer.
Around ten minutes passed as Daisy waited. She saw the children become increasingly restless as the minutes went by, obviously wondering why they were all just sitting there.
"Leaf, have you seen Ash anywhere?" Daisy eventually asked the girl. "Or Serena? You know, the girl with the straw hat?"
"No," Leaf replied. "Is something wrong?"
"Um... no, I don't think so," said Daisy, not entirely convincingly as Leaf gave her a concerned look. Feeling quite anxious all of a sudden, Daisy turned to the rest of the campgoers.
"Have any of you seen Ash?" Daisy asked them, more urgently than last time. "Or Serena? Ash or the girl wearing a straw hat, has anyone seen either of them at all?"
To her horror, every single person either said or shook their heads "no".
* * * * * * *
"So y'know I said that I fell from a really tall tree once?" Serena asked Ash as the two slowly progressed through the forest.
"Yeah," Ash replied.
"Well, I really did. And I really didn't cry neither, even though I wanted to. Y'know why I didn't?"
Ash shook his head.
"'Cause I knew there was worse that could happen than falling from a tree," Serena replied. "And if I cried at that, then I'd cry at everythin' else, too. I'd never become Champion if I did that!"
"I guess that's true," Ash replied quietly, feeling rather downcast at Serena's answer before she suddenly stopped in the middle in the road, pointing towards a faint opening in the woods to her right.
"This way," said Serena. Ash followed along as she turned in that direction, only for her to abruptly stop again.
Ash felt Serena's body tense up next to him, her eyes locked at a faint black blob coming into view from the trees ahead of them. Before either of them could do anything, the blob burst out from the trees, revealing itself to be a large moth-like Pokémon with two large white wings, both larger than its dual-segmented purple body. Two red, blank eyes stared straight at Ash and Serena, its expression completely unreadable.
" Serena suddenly hissed at him, her voice sharp and authoritative. "This is Butterfree..."
She then let go of Ash, forcing him to support himself as she took two slow, careful steps towards Butterfree, right before falling on her knees with her hands outstretched.
"Um, Butterfree, ma'am... we're really sorry for botherin' ya. Now if you jus' let us walk away, you won't have to worry 'bout us again..."
"H-how do you know that it's a gi—"
Ash flinched at Serena's sudden and panicked outburst, but that didn't compare to his reaction to seeing Butterfree slowly start to approach the two.
" Serena cursed under her breath. "Ash, take my hand!"
Ash hesitated, staring at Serena's outstretched hand, then at Butterfree, and then at Serena's hand again.
He obeyed, grabbing Serena's hand as tightly as he could.
"When I say go... GO!
Serena charged back into the forest, dragging Ash along with her and forcing him to run in order to keep up and get away from the Butterfree that was now pursuing them. He winced with each step, feeling constant and intense pain on his injured left knee as he ran.
"Ash, I know it hurts, but you've gotta run!" said Serena as she pulled him harder. "That Butterfree's 'bout to have us for breakfast!"
" Ash shouted in surprise, his steps suddenly becoming ever so faster and his pain ever more tolerable after hearing Serena's words.
"They do this for fun!" Serena shouted back. "They're one of the most dangerous Pokémon you can ever meet!"
"How do you know all of this stuff!?"
Serena had just tripped on a rock that she didn't see, sending her and Ash flying straight towards the ground. The force of the fall broke them apart and sent Ash landing a few feet away from Serena, who moaned in pain as she struggled to recover from what was evidently the worst part of the fall.
"Serena!" Ash cried out, lifting himself up before turning around to help her.
"No!" Serena practically screamed at him. "Just get outta here!"
"But I can't—"
"Go, you idiot!"
Ash flinched at those words — even knowing why she said them — but nonetheless, he followed her orders and ran as fast as he could in the other direction.
"To your right!" Ash suddenly heard Serena shout, and with a sharp and painful turn, he obeyed and turned to his right.
As he kept running, Ash turned around to see a rustling of leaves moving past where he had just turned, followed by another rustling of leaves a short distance behind that. Serena's intentions were clear: she was trying to lure Butterfree away from him.
" Serena's distant voice sounded behind Ash, obviously directed at Butterfree. The sounds of the two became increasingly inaudible as Ash kept running, and by the time he stopped some seconds later — having reached the limits of how far he could run with the stinging, burning pain in his left knee — he could no longer hear them at all. His own fast and deep breaths were the only things that he could hear, and a feeling of solace began to wash over him as he took in the stillness of the forest around him, far away from the dangers that he had been fleeing from not long before.
That solace soon vanished, however, when a loud shriek suddenly filled the air, followed quickly by a dull thump!
in the distance, the sound of something hitting something very, very
Without thinking, Ash charged straight in the opposite direction as fast as he could, wincing with each step of his injured left knee. It took about a second for him to realize that he was doing something extraordinarily stupid right now, but a strange momentum kept him going, even as every other part of him told him to turn back.
He froze suddenly as he heard a loud, furious screech not far ahead of him. Butterfree,
Ash knew as he lowered himself into the tall weeds of grass beneath his knees, hoping to avoid its gaze. Inching closer, he stealthily made his way through the grass, and before long he found himself in view of a new clearing in front of him, where he found an extremely disturbing sight.
Ash found Serena there, slumped in a painful-looking position against a tree splotched with a sickening patch of red right above her. A trail of blood trickled down the side of her face from her disheveled honey blonde hair, grimly revealing which part of her body hit the tree first. She appeared disoriented if not nearly delirious, as though she was fighting off the inevitable unconsciousness that a lesser soul would have already succumbed to. Even in this state, however, Serena was able to spot Ash peeking out from the bushes, not far behind the Butterfree that was slowly but surely approaching her. She didn't speak — Ash didn't know if she even could right now — but in her eyes, Ash could easily tell what she was trying to say to him:
Run, Ash! Run away and don't come back for me again! What are you waitin' for already; get outta here and save yourself!
At first, Ash obliged, slowly retreating back into the bushes where he could sneak away unnoticed. But as he watched Butterfree get closer and closer to Serena, he found himself strangely unable to move away, and after a while he could feel the same momentum that brought him here drive his body forwards, rather than backwards.
Before he knew it, Ash found himself out of the bushes and into the open field, mere feet behind the Butterfree that was itself now right above Serena. And without thinking, he suddenly found himself reaching towards the ground, grabbing a nearby rock.
Ash, what are you doing!?
Serena said without words, her eyes wide in shock as Ash raised his arm into an arc, his hand shaking. Butterfree, noticing Serena's stare, turned around to see what she was looking at...
...right as the rock reached Butterfree, hitting it directly in its face.
The next second, Ash found himself looking straight at Butterfree, its attention shifted away from Serena to him. And even with its blank, unreadable glare, Ash could tell one obvious, very much immediately revelant fact.
It was pissed.
If Ash would've been able to see Serena's expression at that moment, he knew for sure that it would've said something to the effect of: You idiot!
But he never saw it, because he was now running back into the forest as fast as he could, not waiting for a second to see how Butterfree would respond to what he had just done. He realized that it hadn't been a moment too soon as he took in the sounds of wings fluttering furiously behind him, followed by the sight of a light golden powder suddenly surrounding him. Not knowing what this powder would do but certainly knowing that it couldn't be anything good, Ash covered his mouth and began holding his breath to avoid breathing in the fumes. This proved to be an increasingly difficult task as the powder reached him and began stinging his eyes, prompting him to close them shut. He was forced to run blindly through the forest now, not knowing or caring where he ended up as long as it was far away from Butterfree.
Before long, he began to feel the heat of sunshine on his face, just as the feeling of brushing against bushes suddenly became replaced with the feeling of open air. He continued running — taking in a deep breath of the clean air as he kept his eyes closed — but then he suddenly began to experience something else: the feeling of water splashing from underneath his feet, soon followed by the feeling of moisture seeping into his socks and shoes.
Stopping in his tracks, Ash opened his eyes to find an endless expanse of water ahead of him: the river at the very edge of Pallet Town and something that he had absolutely no hope of crossing. And turning around, he found Butterfree mere feet in front of him, the Pokémon having never missed a single step the entire time he had been running.
It was the end of the road now, in more than ways than one.
At least Serena's safe...
Ash thought to himself, his only solace as Butterfree moved to approach him, its intentions clear.
All of a sudden, Butterfree stopped, its antennae spiking up. Turning around to its right, a loud, panicked screech suddenly burst out out Butterfree as it swerved swiftly in the other direction...
...right before an explosion of white burst out of nowhere, consuming Ash's entire world with blinding light and blistering heat. And as Ash covered his eyes to shield himself, a familiar, frightening feeling washed over him... a feeling that he once had this experience before.
Eventually, the light vanished and the air returned to normal, prompting a frightened Ash to slowly move his arm from on top of his eyes and slowly open them. And once he did, a spectacular sight awaited him.
Right in front of him, a straight, burning line could be found running across the ground with black smoke emerging from its edges... smoke nearly as black as the line itself.
To the left, he could see Butterfree — or rather, what was left of it — flying in the air with a gaping, smoking hole where one of its wings used to be, blood slowly appearing along the edges.
And to the right, towering over everything around it, was the great dragon from Ash's dreams, along with its master; both of whom Ash could recognize from anywhere.
Professor Oak — the one and only, and in the flesh — stared at the wounded Butterfree with bloodlust in his eyes as his Dragonite gave a mighty roar that reverberated throughout the entire forest. Butterfree, clearly knowing that it was completely outmatched here, began to fly away, struggling with its one good wing.
"Dragonite, destroy that thing now!" Professor Oak commanded, even as the dragon already took several labored breaths to prepare another attack; alas, nothing came out of it.
" Professor Oak cursed as he helplessly watched Butterfree escape into the woods. Dragonite mirrored its trainer's frustration, giving another loud roar before resting itself down on the ground in defeat.
Ash knew. Not even a Pokémon like Dragonite could escape the crippling drawback of such a powerful move.
Before he could think about anything else, however, Professor Oak suddenly appeared just a few feet ahead of Ash, marching towards him with an almost frightening urgency.
"P-Professor Oak, I-I—"
The Professor stopped right in front of Ash, silencing him instantly with his fierce, towering presence. With ideas about what would happen next swirling wildly though his mind, Ash awaited his fate. Ultimately, however, Professor Oak had only one thing to say to him, a simple question asked with a quiet yet potent intensity:
"Where is she?
* * * * * * *
Ash had been reduced to practically crawling by the time he returned to the clearing where Serena was. She was still and silent, which scared Ash for a moment before a slow, barely visible breath confirmed that she was still alive.
She stirred in response, a light moan escaping from her as her head moved slowly in Ash's direction.
"It's okay, Serena!" Ash told her. "Butterfree's gone now. Professor Oak's here; just hold on a bit longer!"
Serena's eyes fluttered open, staring weakly into Ash's worried ones. It became increasingly difficult for her to keep them open as she struggled to say something, the words repeatedly dying in her throat.
"A-Ash..." Serena's almost startlingly weak voice finally called out. "I-I... I-I..."
Whatever Serena was about to say, she had finally run out of strength to say it, or to do anything else. She went limp within the next second, her head rolling to the side as she slipped into unconsciousness.
"Get out of the way!" shouted Professor Oak from out of nowhere, shoving Ash aside before he could even think about responding. Landing on his back, he could only watch helplessly from the ground as the Professor observed Serena's unconscious form, eventually reaching for her wrist.
"Thank God; she's alive..."
He then spotted the light patch of red on the tree above Serena, narrowing his eyes at the sight of it. Reaching a hand slowly behind Serena's head, he pulled it back a few seconds later only to find a large patch of fresh, wet blood on his hand.
"Dammit, there's no time..." Ash heard the Professor say to himself, barely enough for anyone else to hear. "We're going to have to fly."
The Professor then carefully scooped Serena into his arms, lifting himself up with an audible grunt before carrying the unconscious girl towards Dragonite.
"Dragonite, take her!" Professor Oak commanded, lifting Serena into the dragon's arms. He then darted over to Dragonite's side, preparing to mount onto its back.
"Get on," Professor Oak said to Ash before mounting. "Unless you'd like to find your way back home through the forest!"
He most definitely didn't. With what little strength he had left, Ash powered through to Dragonite's side, allowing Professor Oak to rather roughly lift him up to join him on the dragon's back. Ash practically sunk himself onto the Professor's back in exhaustion, prompting a sigh from the Professor as he himself grabbed onto Dragonite's neck.
"I suggest you hold on tightly," Professor Oak told Ash. "Very
"Tightly? W-what do you—W-W-W-WWWAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!
Ash held on for dear life as he suddenly found himself rising hundreds of feet into the air within mere seconds, the forest below him becoming little more than an indistinct blur of brown and green. Nearly feeling like he was going to be sick, Ash closed his eyes tight as Dragonite rose even higher, sending fierce gushes of air flying about as it flapped its wings in flight.
Eventually, Ash could feel Dragonite charge forward, the force of inertia pushing him slightly backwards as he continued to hold on. As Dragonite began to slow down somewhat, Ash — with some courage — slowly opened his eyes.
Ash looked at his surroundings in wonder, not believing how high in the air he was right now. He could actually see the sparkling blue ocean in the distance, far beyond the forests and mountains surrounding Pallet Town. And as Dragonite flew gracefully and effortlessly across the skies, Ash — for a few wonderful moments — almost felt like he was Dragonite himself: free, fierce, and powerful.
Looking below, Ash could see a faint flurry of dots on the ground, all heading towards Professor Oak's lab not far ahead of them. Daisy,
Ash figured, along with the rest of the campgoers, of course. For a while, he could swear that he could see the dots slowly grow larger as he stared at them, right before he felt Dragonite slow down and lower itself towards the ground near the lab, its flight ending as it reached its destination.
* * * * * * *
Ash felt tense with worry and anticipation as he sat on a bench in the hallway of Professor Oak's lab. He had been staring intensely at a certain door for the past several minutes: the door that Professor Oak entered with Serena in his arms several minutes ago and hadn't left since, except once to briefly give Ash a bandage for his left knee. Even with said bandage, he could still feel the sting in his knee as he constantly moved his legs around, becoming increasingly restless as he fought off the urge to get up and look through the door's narrow vertical window to see what was happening inside.
Finally, the door opened and Professor Oak came out, but Ash couldn't even get a single syllable out before the Professor turned sharply in the other direction, vanishing into a nearby corner shortly thereafter. Ash soon found himself staring at the corner, then back at the door, and then the corner again, before finally he burst out from where he was sitting and ran straight towards the door.
Reaching it, Ash peeked through its window to find what looked to him like a doctor's office of some sort, with almost blindingly white walls starkly juxtaposed against shiny, clinical-looking metal tables and counters. Also noticed by Ash was an equally shiny and clinical-looking bed in the right-hand corner, flanked by an array of machines and medical equipment that Ash could never hope to identify. But much more important was the occupant of said bed, which Ash could very much identify as...
She was still unconscious, except this time Ash could see bandages peeking out from under her matted, unkempt honey-blonde hair, both stained with tinges of red. The sight of the blood alarmed Ash until he noticed another machine right above Serena and her bed: a heartrate monitor, displaying a slow but steady heartbeat.
Ash sighed in relief — at least he didn't kill her — but his relief would be short-lived, for a pacing of footsteps sounded just behind him and within the next second, he found himself staring into the eyes of none other than Professor Oak.
"P-Professor! I-I, u-um—"
"Do you know what that girl's name is over there, Ash?"
Caught off-guard by the sudden and unexpected question, Ash wasn't quite sure how else to respond other than to give the obvious answer.
Professor Oak didn't have to change his expression an inch for Ash to know that it was the wrong answer. He continued:
"Do you know what Serena's last
Ash had no idea, so he shook his said no, dreading Professor Oak's response.
"Grace. As in Saki
Grace, the famous Rhyhorn racer. And that, over there, is her equally famous child, Serena Grace."
Every part of Ash's face exploded in shock at Professor Oak's words. Serena's... famous!?
"I see that you're starting to recognize our problem here," Professor Oak continued, having witnessed Ash's expression. "Now, what do you think will happen when a rich and powerful woman like Saki Grace sees her daughter lying there, knowing that she may never wake up?"
"Never wake up!?" Ash exclaimed. "But she's fine right now... r-right? She's breathing and everything!"
Professor Oak sighed. "Have you ever heard of a coma, Ash?"
Before Professor Oak could respond, a pair of hurried footsteps could be heard from the other side of the hall; the two turned around to see an exhausted-looking Daisy Oak approaching them.
"I counted everyone, like, three or four times downstairs," Daisy breathlessly said to Professor Oak. "Everyone's accounted for."
"Wonderful," Professor Oak replied in an almost startlingly flat and emotionless manner, his face barely moving an inch. "Now, would you care to explain how we got here?"
"H-How we... got here?"
"Oh yes," said Professor Oak, now practically staring daggers at his granddaughter. "After all, you were the one responsible for all of those children downstairs, correct? Including Ash here, and, of course, Miss Serena over there. And I'm sure that a certain important someone would like to know why her daughter is lying unconscious in bed with bloodstained bandages wrapped over her head, yes?"
"I-I, um... oh boy..."
As an increasingly distressed-looking Daisy struggled to find some sort of response for her grandfather, Professor Oak turned back to Ash, daggers now pointed at him.
"This is a family matter," said Professor Oak. "Leave us."
Ash did so without a moment's hesitation, practically running for the nearest exit.
* * * * * * *
About half an hour had passed since Ash joined the rest of his fellow campgoers in the waiting room downstairs. The room was consumed by whispered conversations, everyone no doubt speculating about what happened for their summer camp experience to end so abruptly. But Ash, knowing full well why, could only think about Serena's current state, and the likelihood that she would stay in this "coma" forever because of him.
Not far from where he was sitting, Ash spotted Leaf, who was currently staring into nowhere with boredom in her eyes, making an occasional huff!
of annoyance every so often. Having a question that he was sure only she could answer right now, Ash crawled over to her on his one uninjured knee and called out to her:
She turned around, flinching suddenly as she realized that someone was there.
Leaf appeared rather shocked to see him, much to Ash's confusion. He shook it off, however, as he pushed through with what he had come over to ask her:
"W-What's a coma?"
"A coma?" said Leaf, looking rather taken aback by Ash's question before composing herself. "It's, well... like a really long sleep that you never wake up from. It's kinda like dying, only worse."
Ash shuddered at the thought, while Leaf looked at him concernedly.
"Is that what's happening to Serena, Ash? Is she in a coma?"
"H-How did you kn—"
"We know," said Leaf simply. "You and Serena were the only ones who didn't come back."
Having received his answer and the horrifying truth behind it, Ash looked down at the ground in shame. "This is all my fault..."
Leaf looked at Ash with some concern in her eyes but said nothing, instead spending the next several moments looking down rather awkwardly at the ground herself. Eventually, however, Leaf looked back up at Ash and said:
"You know, Ash, if she really is in a coma, and if her mom finds out, then you should really figure out what you're gonna say."
"W-What I'm gonna say?" said Ash nervously, looking back up at Leaf. "To who?"
Leaf shrugged. "I don't know, the police?"
"The police!?" Ash nearly shouted, panicking. "W-Why them!?"
"Well, you see—"
"Don't scare Ash like that, Leaf!"
Both Ash and Leaf looked behind them in surprise to see Gary Oak approaching them, the boy ultimately sitting himself right between the two as he confronted Leaf with a startling fierceness in his eyes.
"He doesn't have to worry about anything," Gary continued, "because Serena's gonna wake up soon! Right, Ash?"
"R-Right..." said Ash, somewhere between tentativeness and awkwardness. Leaf, meanwhile, simply sighed.
"Leave it to Gary to not worry anything about everything," she said. "Where were you all this time, anyway? I was bummed out that you weren't here!"
"Well..." said Gary, hesitating slightly, "Gramps had me do something for him."
"We were, um, looking at a Pokémon."
Leaf sighed again. "Top-secret, huh? You and Professor Oak sometimes. Speaking of which, you know that Ash saw a Butterfree out there, right?"
Ash could see Gary flinch ever-so-slightly at the name. "A-A Butterfree?"
"Uh-huh," Leaf answered, her face looking increasingly serious. "Do you know anything about that, Gary?"
"No," said Gary, shaking his head. "Why would I know anything?"
Leaf suddenly started eyeing Gary intensely, as if trying to look directly into the very depths of his soul for the answers she was looking for. Gary, meanwhile, looked increasingly nervous at Leaf's stare before she finally replied:
"Because I think that Professor Oak might have something to do with all of this!"
"Yeah!" Leaf continued. "I mean, you know that Butterfree are really
dangerous, right? Like, people actually make sure that they don't show up in cities and stuff. Don't you think that Professor Oak's doing the same thing here in Pallet Town?"
"Exactly. So you know what I think? I think he let that Butterfree out on purpose!"
"What!?" Gary practically shouted, appearing completely flabbergasted at what Leaf just said. "Why would he do that!?"
"I don't know, but look. I know that he's your grandpa and all, but... I don't think that Professor Oak is all that he says he is. I mean, if you've heard what my mom says about him—"
"That's just one person, Leaf!" Gary countered. "You can't say that someone's doing something just because of one person!"
"She's my mom, Gary."
"And he's my gramps!"
For a few moments, neither one of the two children said anything, with Leaf retaining her serious expression while Gary appeared increasingly upset at how the conversation was going.
"Gary, are you totally sure you haven't seen anything weird?" asked Leaf, breaking the silence. "Because if he's doing something bad—"
"He's not!" Gary countered again.
"—then you might be the only one who can find out!" Leaf finished.
Gary blinked. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I think you need to go into Professor Oak's lab to see what's really going on."
"What!?" Gary shouted as loudly as he had yet, any sign of him holding back completely gone. "I'm not doing that! No way!"
"And if he is
doing something bad, you're just gonna let it happen?" Leaf shouted back at him, having begun to lose her composure herself. "What if someone else gets hurt next time? What if it's me, or Ash?"
"Leave Ash out of this, Leaf!"
Leaf ignored him and turned over to Ash, who, having listened to Leaf and Gary's entire conversation, had been reduced to practically a deer in headlights at this point, unable to move clear of their chaos if he wanted to.
"What do you think, Ash?" Leaf asked him, her voice calm and measured as if she had never been shouting at someone just a few moments earlier. "If you thought something bad was happening and that someone might get hurt, wouldn't you do everything you could to stop it?"
"Come on, Leaf; leave him alone!" said Gary, inching closer to Ash. "Don't you think he's feeling bad enough already?"
Before either Leaf or Ash could respond to him, the loud, shrieking voice of one of the other campgoers filled the room:
"Look, it's Professor Oak's Dragonite!"
The room exploded as everyone ran towards the window on the far side of the room, including Leaf who gave Gary a brief, serious-looking glare before following the others. Ash and Gary didn't join them, instead watching as everyone struggled for a looking spot at the small windowsill.
"Lucky," Gary said to Ash as he made himself comfortable on a nearby, newly-free chair. "She didn't bother you too much, did she?"
Ash shook his head, but he could still see some concern on Gary's face, right before a light but palpable boom suddenly shook the building.
"Wow, that was Dragonite's Hyper Beam attack!" squealed one of the children over at the windowsill.
"What was it aiming at, though?" asked another.
"I saw a little dot there a second ago," yet another child piped up. "It was moving kinda weird."
"I saw it too!" the first child said. "But I don't see it anymore; where'd it go?"
Ash could hear Gary sigh quietly next to him, looking rather depressed all of a sudden as the children continued their conversations.
* * * * * * *
The waiting room was marked by an almost eerie quiet as Ash sat there alone, the other campgoers having long since been picked up by their parents. He had lost track of how long he was there, but he could see that the sun had moved quite a bit from the window since the children were there before.
As he was in the middle of contemplating everything that happened to him today, he heard the door open some distance away from him. Turning around, he saw Daisy there, who did a double-take at the sight of him.
"Whoa, I didn't know you were still here, Ash!" Daisy said in surprise. "Your mom hasn't come to pick you up yet?"
"No," Ash answered simply. He could see Daisy frown somewhat at that answer before he decided to change the subject.
"I-It... wasn't too bad, was it? You and Professor Oak?"
Daisy sighed. "I'll live. But on a happier note, I've got some good news for you. Serena's going to be alright!"
"Yep!" Daisy replied with a smile. "Better than that, actually; she's already been patched up and everything! She's not awake right now, though, in case you were wondering. Her mom's on her way to pick her up tonight."
Ash felt himself flinch at that last part.
"She's... leaving already?"
"Well, yeah," Daisy replied. "Summer camp's cancelled now, so I guess her mom figured that there's no reason for her to stay anymore."
"Right..." Ash quietly responded as he felt his heart sink slowly at what he was hearing.
"I guess that you'll want to say goodbye to her, huh?" said Daisy, noticing Ash's increasingly sad expression.
Ash shook his head. "I want to say sorry to her."
"Huh?" Daisy blinked.
"If I wasn't such a crybaby," Ash replied, "then Serena wouldn't have gotten hurt and none of this would've happened. I ruined summer camp for everyone and it's all my fault!"
"Your fault!?" Daisy exclaimed. "Ash, absolutely none of this is your fault!"
She then paused for a moment as a sullen look appeared on her face. "It's mine."
"I... didn't have a lot of time to prepare for all of this," she explained. "That's no excuse, but... I rushed things and messed up on the cones. I guess that's why you never saw them and got lost."
Daisy sighed. "I failed you today, Ash, and I failed everyone else, too. Because if things had gone worse than they did, then... t-then..."
Ash could see tears start to form in Daisy's eyes, but she quickly wiped them away before suddenly kneeling down to Ash, meeting him at eye level with a very serious look on her face.
"I'm gonna make a promise to you, Ash," said Daisy. "I promise that I'll never, ever put you in that kind of danger again. Hold me to that, OK?"
Ash nodded, not really knowing how else he could respond to that.
"And in exchange," Daisy continued, this time with a much brighter expression, "I want you to make me a promise, too. Never blame yourself for something that's not your fault."
Ash sighed. "I'll try..." he ultimately responded, not entirely sure how well he could actually keep a promise like that.
"Alright!" Daisy replied, seeming confident enough in Ash's answer as she stood back up, smiling brightly at him.
"Don't let life get you down too much, Ash," said Daisy. "We all made some mistakes today, and yeah, some of them were pretty big. But we dodged some serious bullets, too. So let's celebrate a little! All's well that ends well, and may nothing like this ever happen again!"
Ash simply nodded, finding at least some conviction with the last part of what Daisy said.
"Oh, and I have something I want to show you," said Daisy as she reached into her pocket for something, ultimately producing a small, crumpled-up sheet of paper.
"I think that Serena wanted to give you this," Daisy explained to a rather confused-looking Ash before presenting the paper to him. Looking to see what was on it, Ash found something scribbled there rather messily to the point of being barely legible, but he could nonetheless make out:
103 Rue des coeurs étincelants
"It... looks like an address," Ash thought out loud, staring curiously at the region in particular. "Does this mean that I can write to her?"
"I think that you can!" Daisy replied, smiling happily at Ash. "Looks like the two of you are going to be the best of friends now, huh?"
Ash couldn't help but smile back this time, but it didn't last long as a series of loud knocks sounded near the door.
"Don't move!" Daisy suddenly ordered, right before she snatched Serena's paper out of Ash's hand and stuffed it rather crudely back into her pocket. Ash, shocked at what just happened, opened his mouth to say something before being ssshhh!!!
-ed by an increasingly anxious-looking Daisy.
"Anything you send to Serena, send it through me, okay?" Daisy whispered to Ash, looking nervously behind her every few seconds. "Don't let your mother know."
"Trust me," Daisy said before running over to the door, composing herself with a deep breath before opening it.
The one behind it — none other than Delia Ketchum herself — promptly let herself in.
"Hello, Ms. Ketchum," Daisy greeted with a smile on her face, albeit one that looked more... off
than Ash would've expected from her. Delia, meanwhile, didn't return it.
"Where's Professor Oak?" she asked, tenseness radiating from practically her entire body. "I need to speak with him right now!"
"He's, um... busy right now," Daisy answered, still smiling, albeit increasingly less so by the second.
"I'd imagine," said Delia, looking rather irritated at her answer. "But where
is he exactly, Daisy? I need to speak with him now!
"Well, he's probably outside, in the forest," Daisy replied, her smile having faded completely at this point. "You can try looking for him there if you like."
Delia gave Daisy a rather funny look at that answer before turning around to her son.
"Time to go home now, Ash," she said, walking over towards him before suddenly tumbling onto the floor, groaning and laying her hand on her forehead in pain.
... not another one!"
"Are you alright, Ms. Ketchum?" Daisy asked concernedly — although again looking more off
than Ash would've expected — as she walked over to Delia and offered a hand to her.
"It'll go away," Delia responded simply as she lifted herself up. "I mean, I'm sure that kids your age can... agh!
... relate to this kind of thing."
Daisy sighed. "No, I don't really think I can," she said, barely enough for anyone to hear. Delia didn't respond, turning her attention back to Ash instead.
"Come on, Ash; let's go," Delia told her son, stretching out a hand to him that he promptly took. As the two walked towards the door, Delia looked back at Daisy.
"Do tell your grandfather — wherever he is — that I need to speak with him now
"Will do," replied Daisy, giving a rather sad look at Ash as he and his mother left the room.
* * * * * * *
"So, did you manage to find a friend at summer camp?" Delia asked Ash as the two walked down the road outside, illuminated brightly by the light of the afternoon sun. Ash, who at one point shuddered at the very thought of making a new friend at summer camp, was now positively brimming with confidence as he answered:
"Yeah, I did!"
"Really?" said Delia, raising an eyebrow in surprise. "Well, then; what's their name?"
" Delia practically shouted as she stopped dead in the middle of the road, startling her son who felt his heart sink at her response. After a while, however, she relaxed herself, taking a deep, reserved breath.
"Whatever; I'll take that. Congratulations. Too bad you're probably never going to see her again."
"Yeah," said Ash, looking down in disappointment for more reasons than one. "But that's okay, because..."
Ash felt the words on the tip of his tongue, but then he remembered what Daisy told him and realized that it was probably best that they stayed there.
"Nothing," he ultimately said, earning a confused stare from his mother before the two continued down the road towards their house.
* * * * * * *
The day ended the same as it began for Delia: sprawled out on the living room couch fast asleep, wearing the very same pink bathrobe that she had been wearing in the morning. The TV watched her as the nightly news blared out from the speakers, loud enough to drown even Delia's rather loud and heavy snores.
For Ash, meanwhile, it would be much longer before he would be asleep. He spent the night in his room, the space illuminated by nothing other than the glow of the moon outside and the glow of the TV that Ash's eyes had been glued to for hours. He was watching an epic Pokémon League battle from long ago, recorded on videotape. Countless other tapes found their home in Ash's room, some neatly stacked inside the TV stand, and a handful of others scattered about on the floor. They were well-loved and well-worn, with the scratchy, spotty picture of the currently playing tape only barely holding itself together on the TV screen. They were much like Ash's dreams: faded, fragile, and fleeting... but not quite finished yet.
Ash thought to himself, staring determinedly at the TV screen, that's gonna be me. It's gotta be! I will become a Pokémon Master!
That last word lingered in Ash's mind as he threw in the towel for the night, clicking off the TV after fighting off many yawns. As he buried himself beneath his covers, he prepared himself for the next day, and for the many more after that before the one day he was waiting for above all others...
...the day that he would become a Pokémon trainer.
* * * * * * *
It was deep in the middle of the night. All was quiet in Pallet Town, with every light turned out and every citizen of the town fast asleep.
That is, except for one light, and for one particular person who was anything but asleep.
Professor Oak was currently toiling away at a desk inside his laboratory, observing a pile of documents that he alone in Pallet Town could even begin to decipher. As he flipped towards another page, however, a series of loud, hurried knocks sounded from the door on the other side of the room, interrupting his task.
Lifting his head at the disturbance, Professor Oak looked over towards the door and smirked.
"You're here early."
The door burst open, revealing none other than Delia Ketchum behind it as she furiously marched over towards Professor Oak.
"What the hell happened out there today?" Delia practically shouted at him, banging a clenched fist onto his desk. "Do you know how much trouble you could've caused me with that thing?"
Professor Oak, not even flinching at anything that just happened, merely scoffed in response. "Like you give a damn."
Professor Oak smirked again — this time in full view of an increasingly agitated Delia — as he returned his attention to the documents that he was working on before.
"I said what happened
out there?" Delia shouted again.
"Do you really want to know?" said Professor Oak, looking back up at Delia. "Alright, then... someone broke into the lab and released Butterfree."
"Someone... saw the lab!?" an absolutely horrified-looking Delia responded. "Oh, God... do you who it was, at least?"
"Yes, actually," Professor Oak replied. "But you needn't worry; they've been taken care of."
If Delia didn't look like she was on the verge of a complete mental breakdown before, she most certainly did now.
"...I don't even want to know."
Professor Oak shrugged. "You asked," he replied simply, ignoring Delia's pale-looking face as he shifted his gaze back downwards. "Is that the only thing you came here to tell me?"
"Not at all," Delia replied, her face becoming serious. "You know who came over to my house last night?"
"I can't possibly imagine."
Professor Oak looked up at Delia again, a wave of interest flashing across his face.
"Oh? And what kind of business would a Jenny have with someone like you, Delia?"
"What do you think?" Delia practically shouted again. "They freaking interrogated me!"
" Delia replied. "You and... whatever you do in that lab of yours."
"And what did you tell them, exactly?"
"Not a damn thing!" said Delia. "I mean, what could I even say to them, anyway?"
"Nothing of value, I'd presume."
"Samuel, I swear if you don't get all of this nonsense together—"
"Again," Professor Oak interrupted, raising a hand up to silence her, "you needn't worry. But I suppose that does explain why you weren't at summer camp along with the other parents."
"Huh?" Delia blinked.
"I thought that it might've had something to do with that crybaby son of yours, but I think I know now... you took another swim
last night, didn't you? If you know what I mean. Had to dry up with some of that morning coffee of yours again, right?"
A long, heavy silence came over the room as Delia stood speechless — catatonic, even — at what Professor Oak had just said. After a while, however, she recovered, and did so with a quiet yet potent vengeance that showed all over her now twisted, furious face.
"I'm leaving now," said Delia, turning towards the door behind her in a heavy, hurried strut.
"Know thyself, Delia!" Professor Oak called out to her as she left. "Or any victory you achieve will also be defined by loss!"
"Whatever," Delia spat back as she disappeared into the darkness beyond the door, slamming it shut behind her.
A light snicker escaped from Professor Oak as he got up from his chair and turned his attention towards other things, namely the large, hand-painted portrait of himself behind his desk that dominated practically the entire wall. Professor Oak, however, wasn't interested in admiring said painting, and instead he placed his right thumb on a seemingly random and innocuous spot on the wall next to it. An inexplicable beep sounded at his touch, followed by a "click!" as the painting popped open to reveal a secret compartment — or more like a hole — dug deep into the wall.
Inside the hole were three rather peculiar items. The first item was a thick black book, its length alone daunting to all but the most disciplined and scholarly of readers. On the front, emblazoned in stark golden letters, was its name: "The Art of War
, by Sunzi".
The second item, placed on top of said book, was a small black handgun, fitted with a suppressor and accompanied by a pair of magazines with which to load the deadly weapon with. A few boxes of exotic-looking ammunition were scattered about, including a conspicuously empty box.
The last item, situated at the very back of the hole, was a picture frame. It was placed face down on the floor, barely visible in the darkness of the hole.
Professor Oak reached his hand into the hole, grabbing for the item that he was looking for. Having finally retrieved it, he pulled it out and looked down at the object with a dark and serious face, thinking deeply about what he planned to do with it.
The faces of his grandchildren — Gary and Daisy Oak, much younger than they were now — smiled back at him. Pure happiness radiated from both of their faces, as if they didn't have a single care in the world.
At the sight of them, Professor Oak could only sigh.
"Ten years from now... it'll be one of you."
He returned the picture frame to its home — face-down as it always was — and closed the secret compartment door.