The Den was pitch black. Tay had barely taken a step in before he had called upon his Raichu to give him some light. What he saw when the cave became illuminated made his stomach contort.
Dragonair, perhaps two dozen of them, had gathered on one of the highest ledges of the cavern and were glaring down at him with fire and loathing in their eyes. Tay blanched and cautiously stepped back. His Raichu squeaked with fear and nervously wrung its wiry tail with its paws. The Dragonair continued to watch them. They looked beautiful, statuesque, even, but they also looked dangerous.
Tay knew in his heart that he might not be able to take on these dragons should they attack. He had brought only three poké mon to the caves, thinking that would be enough. But a Raichu, a Growlithe, and a Dewgong would not last long against this lot. He took another step backward…
A Dratini jumped out of nowhere at Raichu. Before Raichu could blink it had been gathered up in a mighty Wrap attack that had Tay worrying for his beloved poké mon’s life. Raichu writhed and thrashed frantically, but the Dratini would not relinquish its lethal hold. Worry pounded in his ears as Tay reached for his bag - he fumbled to find Dewgong’s poké ball…
“RAI!” cried Raichu desperately, with what was likely its final breath. Tay grasped the poké ball…
“RAICHUUUUU!” A current of electricity surged forward from the mouse’s small body, but it might as well have been a tiny static bolt for all the affect it had on Dratini. The Wrap attack only became tighter.
“GO!” Tay shouted at length, and Dewgong burst forth from the depths of the ball; it slid across the damp rocky cave floor and waded into the fray. A well-aimed Headbutt sent Dratini flying, and Raichu sank to the floor, dazed but still hanging in there. Tay felt relieved for a moment, then he realized that the whole affair had enraged the on-looking Dragonair.
“Oh damn,” said Tay sardonically. He gathered up the still choking Raichu and bolted for the exits. Dewgong slid after him, sending a few Ice-Beams over its shoulder to keep their pursuers at bay. The Dragonair cowered at the sight of all that ice and fled back into the dark recesses of their lair.
Outside, Tay hit his knees on the grass and almost felt like kissing it. Raichu hopped down the embankment toward the distant Gym, gasping, wanting to put as much distance as possible between it and those dragons, but Dewgong remained at Tay‘s side until it was returned to its poké ball. Tay knew one thing - Raichu wouldn’t dream of going back in there again without a good deal of persuasion.
How could he possibly earn his Risingbadge if he refused to enter? Claire had told him that merely defeating her was not enough. He needed more hands on challenges (which was a load of pudding as far as Tay was concerned), more demonstrations of his true prowess as a trainer. Tay had tried to tell her that he had been training for seven years, but she was so adamant that at length he gave in and agreed to retrieve a Dragon Scale at the very center of the Den.
But he had barely made it past the entrance…
“Everything all right?”
Tay looked up, even though his heart told him to just keep staring at the ground. He could see the hem of an elegant cape and a pair of well-worn boots. His heart sank as he glanced even higher and saw the face of a very disappointed Gym Leader - she was beautiful, but formidable.
“Tay,” she said patronizingly, “how can you expect to take on Lance if you can’t make it past a Dratini of two?”
“Dratini? Or two?” Tay choked out. Indignantly, almost hysterically, he pointed back at the caves as he scrambled to his feet. “There was a whole flock of those buggers coming right at me… a-a-and they were not Dratini! They were Dragonair!” It took a lot of will power not to appear as irate as he felt.
Claire gave him a doubtful look. “Listen, I know this might be a blow to your ego, Tay, but -”
“No!” cried Tay incredulously, and, forgetting all gentleman-like displays, grabbed her arm and made to drag her back to have a look. Immediately, however, Claire had yanked her arm back and come dangerously close to slapping him across the face. She controlled herself, but her glare was rather more than a little unsettling. He faltered, perhaps because of the stony look she was presenting him.
“Tay,” she said angrily, “what in the world was that about!?”
“Claire, listen,” said Tay, “almost no one would have stood a chance against that many Dragonair… and they were angry…”
For the first time a flicker of concern appeared in the gym leader’s eyes, and Tay supposed that she might just believe him. She bit her lip and laid a hand on the poké ball at her waist which Tay knew contained her Kingdra.
“Y-you’re sure about this?”
Tay nodded. “Positive.”
“Then go back to the Poké mon Center. You’ll be safe there. I’ll deal with this.”
Tay had every intention of heading back to the Center. He also had every intention of returning to Dragon’s Den once he had retrieved a proper team of poké mon. Even as he and Raichu started down the embankment his head was filled with possible poké mon that he might bring to help Claire sort this out.
But just what is going on? said a rather neglected part of his brain. Claire seemed to have some idea of what I was talking about… Maybe this has happened before.
We’ll find out later, he told himself firmly, as he distractedly coaxed Raichu into its poké ball.
He made it to the Poké mon Center within a half an hour, and told the nurse there to look after Raichu for a short while. After that, he hurried over to the PC. From Professor Ivy’s lab he extracted three poké mon: a Stantler, a Haunter, and a Pidgeot.
As Tay arrived at Dragon’s Den he realized that the whole place was in an uproar. He signalled for Pidgeot to land and as he touched down he released the rest of his poké mon.
“Find Claire,” he instructed, and followed them all into the cave, from which there came a cacophony of melodious screeches.
The damp walls were covered with shadows and the lingering flames from the ongoing battle cast sinister silhouettes upon them. Tay saw Claire fighting off an onslaught from the Dragonair, but it was obviously a losing battle. She glanced at him and, far from the relieved expression Tay had imagined, she seemed dismayed by his rescue.
“Tay, GET OUT!” she shouted. “You don’t know how to handle this!”
“No, Claire,” said Tay, more to himself. Then, in a much more audible voice, he said, “I can help you!”
“Look at your poké mon! They’re losing!” She sounded almost… helpless. What had happened to the self-reliant, proud trainer he had met in the Gym? She wasn’t so tough now, was she?
“Tay! Help you poké mon!”
Tay looked to his right; his Haunter was being severely beaten by a barrage of Water Gun attacks. Beyond, his Stantler had been forced onto a sheer ledge - one more step and it would fall into the water. Growlithe and Pidgeot had teamed up and seemed to be making some headway, but Tay noticed that they were both rapidly weakening.
He realized that maybe he didn’t have as much room to talk as he had thought. Deftly, he leapt nearer to his failing poké mon.
“Stantler, return!” he called, just as it began to slip down into the murky pool. It gave a grunt of thanks as it dematerialised and flew into the ball.
Tay saw Growlithe fall, unconscious. Pidgeot was trying desperately to avoid a string of Ice-Beam attacks… And in his heart he knew that this was a lost cause. Jadedly, he recalled his poké mon and jogged to Claire’s side. The Gym Leader had finally lost, and was calculating the safest means of escape. Her own Dragonair seemed to be in an inexplicable state of turmoil. She quickly enclosed it within its poké ball and her eyes roved over the area for a way out.
Silently she gestured at a small alcove to the left. “There,” she whispered, her expression wild.
“No way,” replied Tay. “We’ll be trapped!”
Claire shook her head. “Trust me,” she hissed, and grabbed his hand.
Together they climbed up toward the alcove. Twice they were held up by the marauding poké mon, but Tay was able to drive them back with a lot of yelling and a small show of fireworks that would make a Charizard jealous.
They reached the alcove and hurtled through a small, almost invisible, opening. One after the other they tumbled out onto the grass and took off running, neither daring to look back. Tay didn’t know where he was going; he just followed Claire.
“Go back to the Center!” she demanded when they stopped to catch their breath. “Go back!”
“No,” panted Tay. “You need help.”
“You didn’t help me much back there,” she muttered bitterly.
“I distracted a few of them,” insisted Tay. “Anyway, you wouldn’t have defeated them by yourself.”
“I wasn’t trying to defeat them, it was self defense,” said Claire. In response to Tay’s questioning look she continued, “The elder Dragon Masters live in that cave. I wondered if they might need help. Or if they could calm the dragons. I was trying to get to their house.”
“They have a house in there? In the cave?”
“In the very center. They study poké mon there; particularly dragons.”
Tay looked sharply at her. He caught her eye and stared her down. “Do you know what’s going on?” he asked.
“I’ve heard of this sort of thing,” she said hesitantly, “but I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t even know what started it…” She sighed and looked at her boots, but Tay wasn‘t fooled. She continued, her voice slightly shaky now. “I need help, but not from you. It’s not safe. Go back. Now.”