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Chapter 5: To Be the BestEdit

It was the twentieth day since Ash first set out from Pallet Town, way behind all the other Novices that had set out the same day. A lesser boy would have been embarrassed, but in his case it was the least of his concerns how others saw him. He had a quest to do, and he knew that in order to do that he would first have to learn much about pokemon tactics. After all, he could already imagine that sometime in the future – maybe not today, maybe not even this month – he would be face to face with Team Rocket, and then he will have no other choice than to fight battles the hard, harsh way – the way that Kay would never see even if she kept playing the pokemon make-believe video game for the rest of her life. No – this was something he could only learn by being out in the world and learning everything, perhaps the hard way, perhaps by watching others take it the hard way…

Which was why he and his Ralts were at the front row of the Viridian City Gym watching a contestant – this time one he did not recognize, and considerably older than he was – preparing to match with the gym leader, Giovanni. The latter had, from what Ash had heard, not lost a single match out of some hundred and thirty challenges thrown his way since Ash had first arrived in Viridian City two weeks ago, and who knew how many he had won before that.

Things weren’t all that different. The arena was still a soiled mess, with upturned rock and debris everywhere; contestants and audience both had clutters of soot and humus hanging off their hair and shoulders; and not a single battling pokemon was visible under the bright stadium lights.

Ash tried to connect with Ralts mentally, even though it was still quite painful to do so. ((Can you sense where the pokemon are?))

Ralts used that same link to reply, and it took all of Ash’s effort to not scream out and look like an idiot. ((Yes. Giovanni’s Dugtrio is smashing the challenger’s Scyther into a pulp.)) Ash recalled the characteristics of those pokemon. Dugtrio was a mole-like pokemon that could traverse the ground underneath like it was nothing; it was a master of the ground, which played directly to its advantage in this match up. Scyther was a brutal knife-wielding pokemon, but that didn’t mean that it could do any good with those blades in the pitch black tunnel system which Dugtrio kept changing. In fact, it was probably right this moment in trouble…

Ash sent out his psychic feelers into the ground, looking for that characteristic signal that indicated a Scyther. It had taken tremendous work for him to memorize the charts at the back of the psychic pokemon primer, but now it was starting to pay off. Once he linked telepathically to the Scyther, he started delving into its thoughts and emotions. The dominating emotion was fear. Fear that it was about to die in this subterranean cell, fear that it would take another hit – and another – from its opponent, fear that it was all alone against such a formidable enemy.

What this what his Charmander had been feeling when he had forced it to train against the water?

Suddenly Ash cried out in pain, attracting a worried look from spectators seated on both sides. Something had happened to Scyther; he could feel nothing from it. Much like it was asleep--

((Scyther’s knocked out,)) said Ralts.

Oh great, this match is over too, thought Ash as suddenly the Dugtrio rammed the pokemon from below, sending it through the meters of topsoil in a violent explosion.

Dazed, the contestant took out his pokeball and recalled the gravely injured pokemon before running out of the gym. There’s another victory for Giovanni, thought Ash. There’s no way we can challenge him, especially since it would be imprudent to go in without adequate preparation.

“Who will be my next victim?” asked Giovanni in a creepy voice that was calculated to make challengers back off so he could close the gym for the day.

Some were certainly terrified at the prospect, but the next contestant in line stood resolute, walking to the arena. “I challenge you,” he said, looking totally unfazed. He had taken only a brief look at the knocked-out pokemon belonging to the last contestant. With him came three pokemon which Ash recognized at a glance: a Pidgeotto (the intermediate form between Pidgey and Pidgeot), an Onyx (a giant snake-like pokemon comprised of a chain of boulders stuck together), and a Wartortle (a medium-sized water-squirting pokemon). Between the two hands he held three pokeballs. This is going to be interesting, mused Ash. From what Ash recalled in his studies, flying, rock, and water all had an advantage over ground types.

“Then you shall be my 900th unbroken victory, and counting,” said Giovanni with a smile that was devoid of any warmth. Nine hundredth? No telling how many pokemon had died in the attempt to win that badge, thought Ash.

Giovanni took out two pokeballs, each of which released a brilliant silhouette. “In addition to my Dugtrio, I choose Blastoise and Ivysaur!” What? But those aren’t ground pokemon! thought Ash. Were gym leaders allowed to use out-of-type pokemon? He had certainly not been aware of that before. The two flashes of light reformed into said pokemon; the first, a monstrous tortoise with water cannons on its back; the second, almost as large, but with a beautiful red bulb and razor leaves sticking out of its back. Wow, that’s certainly formidable, thought Ash. Like Charizard and Onyx, those two pokemon had experience levels comparable to their size; as they became tougher and older, they also became larger. The Blastoise was the size of a tank, and perhaps just as powerful. Yes, we are definitely going to put off our match against Giovanni.

The challenger whispered to his pokemon, “do your stuff,” and suddenly all three of them went their separate ways, preparing to attack. In his own box, the announcer began blaring away strings of positive attributes about each of the pokemon in preparation for describing the battle itself…

It all happened so very quickly. Giovanni shouted out his commands, of Blastoise, hydro pump the Onyx! Ivysaur, razor leaves, now! Dugtrio, sandstorm!”

The announcer began detailing, in a loud, clear voice, every part of the battle – as quite a few spectators had little idea just what was going on. “And immediately, a massive column of high-velocity water slammed into the massive rock-snake, sending it sprawling backward before it can recover! The challenger’s Wartortle had sprayed the ground above Dugtrio with a blast of its own water, forcing Giovanni to order a temporary retreat. Not to be thwarted, he counters with Ivysaur’s razor leaf move! Razor-sharp pieces of leaves broke off the Ivysaur’s back and whirled around in a maelstrom, before being picked up by Pidgeotto’s gusts of wind – my, that challenger has gotten some good training to be able to take care of that! – sending the leaves back, to ineffectually pick away at Ivysaur’s scaly body! As the Blastoise continues trading attacks against the Wartortle – giving it a considerable beating! – a frustrated Giovanni wonders what he ought to do next!...”

“Dugtrio, get that sandstorm going!” roared Giovanni angrily, irritated that this newcomer was doing so well. “Ivysaur, capture that bird in your vines! Blastoise, keep picking away at that Wartortle!”

“…But just as the Blastoise sends out another column of water, the Wartortle suddenly dematerialized, sucked back into its pokeball by its trainer!” The same pokeball split open, having been thrown elsewhere in the arena. “And lo, there it is again, on the other side of the field, ready to launch a surprise attack!...”

“Darn it!” Giovanni cursed, as the Pidgeotto successfully evaded the vine whip for the umpteenth time.

“…Suddenly we feel a tremendous rumbling – Onyx is preparing to fall on top of Ivysaur! And it would have ordinarily resulted in a one-hit K.O. against the walking plant – after all, its most sensitive spot is the bud – but with Giovanni’s pinpoint recall Ivysaur vanishes at the last moment in a flash of red! And Onyx hits the ground hard, totally missing its target, who is now on the far side of the arena to trade projectiles with the newcomer’s Wartortle! It looks like that Dugtrio Giovanni had been shouting at had finally gotten its act together; look at that sand screen! It’s all over the place! But this may not work in Giovanni’s advantage, seeing as how he is still giving the orders, and the challenger has said naught but a single word all through this match! Will Giovanni’s orders be effective in this field? Already Pidgeotto is blasting the dirt particles into Blastoise’s eyes – and now we can no longer see them duel! What’s it doing now, perching on the ground? Will it get hit hard? Blastoise looks ready to fire back!”…

Highly sensitive to vibrations, the Dugtrio came up from below in an attempt to knock it sprawling. Instead, it collided point-blank with Blastoise’s hydro pump that pushed it out of the ground and into a muddy pool, unconscious. “Dugtrio, return!” Giovanni ordered in a voice that carried an element of worry - the first time Art had sensed such a feeling from the gym leader.

“…Onyx is now ramming directly at the Ivysaur, but by recalling the latter at just the right moment, Giovanni saved the pokemon for the second time in the same match! And caused the Onyx to ram into the arena point-blank, shooting dirt and soil everywhere. Although it is made entirely of rock, how much more punishment is it able to take? In the meantime, the cloud of sand and debris is still growing! Soon maybe I won’t even be able to see anything… And now mud is mixed in as Wartortle begins to dig through the tunnel network, launching its water gun into the tunnel network. Has it spotted a target? Or is it attempting to flood it entirely?...”

Within a minute the entire arena had turned into a swamp. Blastoise’s immense size now caused it to sink into the ground, which had become much like quicksand.

“Oh did you all see that? Pidgeotto performed its wing attack magnificently, nipping Ivysaur’s bud at long last! Ivysaur is out cold, leaving Giovanni no choice but to withdraw it immediately! But at the same time the bird is in no condition to fight as it is sent hurtling into the wall by Blastoise’s powerful hydro pump!...”

Silently, the contestant recalled the Pidgeotto, the first pokemon to be recalled. The gym leader had only one pokemon left: a half-submerged, half-blind Blastoise.

“And now, its task complete, Wartortle is coming up to prepare a skull-bashing! Will Blastoise notice just in time to avert tragedy?...” As the Wartortle came up to prepare a skull-bashing, it was picked up helplessly and roughly hurtled at the Onyx. “That Blastoise may be half-over, but it’s still able to pack a rock-solid punch!...” went the announcer as the crowd ooh’d and aah’d.

Resilient shell impacted solid stone, and the former was knocked out. “…Onyx too is beginning to sink under its own weight as water practically exudes out of the oversaturated arena nonstop, flooded by both Blastoise and Wartortle. Onyx looks like it’s in trouble, having been bashed by Blastoise over and over, but as it is totally rock, it still has one chance to end this match favorably – with its invulnerability to water! Well, now it looks as if the match will end in a draw as both drenched, immense and highly resistant pokemon attempt to maneuver into a favorable position. But a stalemate is all that the challenger needs for an Earth Badge…” said the announcer as the dust finally began to settle, revealing an entirely mud-soaked front-row audience and what looked like a terrible battle zone.

“No, it’s over,” said Giovanni proudly. “Give it your Blizzard!”

That Blastoise knows Blizzard!?

The announcer was ecstatic. “If that is the case, then this will certainly be the end of the match! As most of you know, rock is weak against ice, and easily harmed by an ice and water combination, which is exactly what the amazing gym leader is pulling off right now!...”

Suddenly the air in the entire stadium began to cool rapidly. The challenger shook his head in utter disbelief as the water all over Onyx began to chill, then expand into the crystalline shape of ice. Cracks appeared all over Onyx’s back; it roared in pain before toppling over, defeated.

“Good work, you trained your pokemon very well,” some members of the audience consoled the loser. Since it was clear who was the underdog, Giovanni didn’t get much praise – other than the announcer’s lavishing, of course.

Giovanni looked at the contestant with a smile on his face. “You were close – very close. Good match!” The contestant barely noticed, rushing off to revive his pokemon. Giovanni turned back and exited the arena, presumably to immediately treat his pokemon before the next match. It was hard work, Ash realized, to constantly have to take challengers. However, he noticed that even more of the day’s schedule of challengers had decided to call it quits and leave…

Ash quietly left the room, fifteen-pound Ralts easily carried on his shoulder. He struggled to open up a telepathic channel, but it was getting easier each time. ((Well, we learned a lot today, didn’t we?)) Like the importance of learning unorthodox skills, the need to have pokemon able to carry on their own, the need to simultaneously synchronize the moves of all one’s pokemon, and the ability to quickly recall pokemon in danger. Such a long way to go, so little time…

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Up to this point, Ash had been journeying for quite a while now, so he decided to take a break in the Viridian City park. Though, he knew that even as they were taking a break, it would be totally wrong for him to do so and not be productive at the same time. After all, his sister was counting on him to save her life…

Tossing some food over to Ralts (who used telekinesis to bring the food right into its waiting mouth instead of using its tiny hands to grab the food), Ash declared, ((All right Ralts, we need to get ourselves some practice if we are to stand much of a chance against what we’re fighting. Since I’ve just taught you all I know about using telekinesis to launch small objects as projectiles, it’s your turn to teach me.))

((Well then, let’s get started with seeing how well you can last against a mental invasion,)) replied Ralts. Before the meanings of that had even sunk in, Ralts had widened the telepathic link holding them together. Suddenly visions of the past went flashing by Ash’s mind, some of them things that he never wanted anyone else to know, some of them he had forgotten entirely. Instinctively he tried to throw up a mental barrier to stop Ralts’s telepathic attack, but he failed miserably. Within seconds his mind had been battered to a pulp by the strength of the opposing force; his mind reeled from its internal torture and lay unthinking, watching helplessly as Ralts continued to suck information from his mind.

((Stop, Ralts, STOP! Stop, I said!)) cried out Ash in utter dismay and fear.

((Come on, you’ve got to overcome this, you know,)) Ralts responded. The next moment his mental intrusion intensified, to the point that Ash’s eyes had glazed over and he was starting to see stars. There was no way he could fight back with his mind…

Ash awoke with a start. Where was he? Oh right, still in the forest… That Ralts must have sucked out nearly everything about his life out of him, Ash realized, stricken. And of course, it’s now off to sleep again, acting as if it was perfectly innocent. I’ll show you—

Ralts awoke. ((What’s that?)) Suddenly it drilled into Ash’s head and sent him teleporting right on top of a Tangela. It was immediately squished, and slapped at him furiously with its blob of vines, whipping him all the way back until he reached Ralts’s side.

((Why’d you do that?)) he challenged, now very upset and feeling quite humiliated at not being able to take care of his own pokemon.

((It’s your fault you were thinking of harming me.))

((But.. I never wanted to be teleported, so how did it work?))

((Because in the moment I suddenly woke up, you had an intense fear of what I was about to do and wanted to get away as much as possible. So I happily obliged.))

((Why you--))

((Notice that your ability to handle telepathic communication is getting quite good,)) said Ralts, changing the issue and simultaneously flattering him. ((Now, let us progress to the next lesson: sensing others’ thoughts passively.))

((Like what you had been able to do earlier?))

((Yes. Once you master that discipline, you should be able to keep a field of seeking all around you via which you can sense if anyone is going to initiate a threat against either of us, or anyone else for that matter; and you will know who you can trust, or who’s trying to hide something from people in general, etcetera. I’m betting that will come in handy against tricky little devils of the likes of Team Rocket. Now we will break this telepathic connection, and you try to sense what the pokemon around you are thinking.))

((Is that safe?))

((Of course.)) Ralts then preemptively broke the connection between them. Ash sighed resignedly to listening to his guardian’s instructions, getting into a meditative pose and then attempting to pick out what was going on around him.

The first thing that he noticed was that of the Tangela. It was a very eerie feeling to have so many limbs, each of which were expert at wrapping around things, and to be composed of nothing but a tiny core around which countless layers of the same limbs wrapped around… Until then, Ash had never realized that he would be able to sense and feel what a pokemon did – this psychic power was working miracles! And as the Tangela began walking, Ash picked up on its thoughts – he focused on it – and could experience Tangela’s sensations of bobbling around alternatively on its rubbery-ball-like body and its tiny feet. Before long he was sensing what Tangela was thinking as well—

((Ash, I told you to do this passively,)) Ralts warned.

((Huh? I know, I was trying to--))

((Don’t try, do. What, are you going to try to rescue Kay instead of actually doing that?))

Ash sighed. ((Let’s try again.)) Closing his eyes again, he began concentrating on nothing in particular – which, as people who have tried doing that very well know, always turns into one of three things: thinking about trying not to think, thinking about something that sprung to their attention, or thinking about the philosophical consequences of nothingness. At any rate, it wasn’t very productive.

((Ash,)) warned Ralts again, ((you have to let yourself relax. I know it’s hard, since you’re so worried and uptight about your sister’s predicament, but it won’t do any good if you don’t calm down.))

Ash tried again. And tried. And tried. And kept trying, not leaving the spot for the rest of the day. That is, until it became night-time, and his stomach kept grumbling for food. It was then that he realized that concentration, while the psychic types’ greatest strength, was also its greatest weakness. For there was no way Ash could concentrate on not concentrating (or whatever) and at the same time keep getting his concentration stolen away by his desire to eat, which would always break down into lust for a particular food’s appearance, smell, or taste…

((You know what, Ralts, I don’t think I can manage this any more. We should go to a restaurant…))

((All right then, you lead the way. But at the same time I’ll be testing you…)) Moments later Ash gave up trying to go to the restaurant as Ralts thrust its mind right back into Ash and started reading his brain like a book.

((Stop that!))

((Why don’t you?))

((GRR!!)) Ash groaned in dismay. ((How about I teach you now? Remember all that about rock-projection? Well if I get into any trouble I’ll communicate with you and tell you. And then I want you to get me the heck out of there! You got that? You’ve seen what happened the last time Team Rocket showed up; I practically had the pants scared off me. So I’ll be counting on you to stay by my side and help me get out of trouble, okay?))

((Oh, so that’s why you’re letting me out of the pokeball, hmm?))

((Please Ralts, give it a break, how many trainers do you see around you who have pokemon out?))

((Err… None. But there aren’t currently any other trainers in this park…))

((Well, there, you get my point,)) Ash declared in an awkward triumph.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Four days later, Ash was still in Viridian City.

((All right Ralts, let’s practice this again!))

Earlier on, he had decided that regardless of how he would be fighting battles, he would have to be able to issue orders to his team if they were to succeed. And he knew that he wanted to be able to do this without anyone else – especially his opponent – from knowing what move he was using, and where. So he had laid out a grid with him at the origin, and in every direction around him he could specify a particular location up to a hundred feet with his new coordinate system method of planning. It was simple, really: going from left to right increased the first number, the X, going forward increased the Y, and going up into the sky increased the Z. It may be a bit counter-intuitive, but it was a lot better than having to project the image of what he was focusing on, as well as the surroundings, and pass all of that onto Ralts. Especially since it was unlikely any of his other pokemon would be able to fully discern such an image.

There were problems with doing this, however; it took quite some time for Ash and Ralts to get adjusted to using the system instead of their own intuitive grasp of left and right, high and low, near and far. By the time he had sent the information to Ralts and Ralts had decoded it, Ash realized, the target could very well have moved positions.

Upon spotting a tree in the thicket, he hid the object of his attention from Ralts’s probing mind, then communicated, ((ten-four-six))! Swiftly, but not immediately, Ralts sent a pebble directly into the tree branch Ash had set as the target. A perfect hit! But then, that was to be expected; they had had three days to perfect this tactic.

((Good work! I think it’s about time we left the park now.)) The next moment Ralts decided to beat its trainer in the head with some intense mind-reading practice. ((GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!)) Ash screamed in fury, immediately erecting a tough wall using his considerably developed psychic abilities. ((Heh – try to break that down,)) he challenged.

The next moment his self-confidence had gotten the best of him and the mental barrier fell apart of its own accord. Ash sweatdropped.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

“Hello there, what may I do for you?” asked the librarian when Ash arrived. This was Viridian’s largest library, and to add to the bonus, it was open 24/7.

“Do you have any books regarding the ability to get non-psychic pokemon to understand their trainers’ psychic signals?”

Instead of waiting for a reply, Ash opened up a channel into the librarian’s head. In mere seconds, a lot of active thought had flowed through the librarian’s mind, and as Ash very well knew, asking a question would bring up the answer into her mind. Why is he trying to do that? Training non-psychic pokemon to be half-psychic is very dangerous and will certainly cause a lot of pain to all of them – not to mention it may result in madness if not done carefully. We do have these books, or at least those related to making pokemon home in on signals. They’re in the basement, kept out of normal sight, but the path there certainly isn’t locked – that’ll be too suspicious. It’s likely that no one would know about the presence of those books. But dare I tell him where it is? He doesn’t look so bad – but then who would ever purposefully attempt to look evil? And yet it is dangerous information if it falls into the wrong hands and they find a way to apply its principles to pokemon…

“Never mind, you don’t have to tell me, I already know where it is,” Ash blurted, then hit himself on the head for being so overt. He paced away from the information desk – leaving behind a thoroughly bewildered librarian in his search for the stairs down.

There were a few people looking through the books in the basement shelves. Ash could never get around to understanding the classification system used. And that was upstairs, not in the basement where there was practically no ordering. People weren’t really expected to find what they were looking for here. So instead he took a different, invasive tack: He sent out feelers from his mind and into all of theirs, probing in their fresh memories for which sections of the basement contained books on which topics. Hence, it was with little difficulty for him to find what he was looking for, easily overlooked by people who were searching for something else entirely.

((Here it is,)) Ash silently said to his Ralts. ((‘The innate psychic capabilities of pokemon’, ‘Psychic-non-psychic pokemon interactions’, ‘The total psychic pokemon trainer’s handbook’, ‘Going psychic’, ‘Finding your latent psychic potential’…)) Ash grabbed all the books with relevant titles and held them, stacked one on top of another, in his hands as he proceed to a reading room.

He couldn’t finish them all in one day. However by nightfall he had uncovered most of the principal concepts that he needed to know in order to get this to all work out. For he did not feel inclined to perpetually shout out triplets of numbers in ordering his pokemon about; he wanted to do this in a way that would be less thought-intensive, not to mention sound less geeky. Though he doubted that the last trainer he saw matching against Giovanni had the psychic potential necessary to communicate with them that way, he believed – no, knew – that with such an ability tapped into, he could achieve a level of knowledge of the battlefield and control over it that few could surpass.

It was exhilarating to progress so quickly from just an idea, being unsure of whether or not it was feasible, to having a good idea of what it involved, to developing a plan for getting it to work out. And he already knew what his first step was. Since he only had one pokemon – his Ralts – he knew that it was absolutely vital to get himself a few more pokemon. He had set out from Pallet with a refreshed wallet and belt of five unused pokeballs. But that would be for tomorrow.

((Tonight I’m going to sleep in the library,)) said Ash, yawning and trying to hide it from irritated readers sitting right next to him.

((Now don’t give me another excuse to lecture you about the ethics and morality of taking advantage of such an offer and not sleeping at an inn…))

((You know quite well that you don’t know anything about money, since you never used them, nor worked for them,)) retorted Ash.

((No, but I certainly can telekinetically grab money for the taking…))

Ash sweatdropped.

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