Act ii Stage ii

In the Cellars of the Opera

Misty paced her room uneasily, unable to sleep.

She twirled a single rose from Rudi between her fingers, thinking hard. Their date had been wonderful, of course. Enchanting, as all of her nights with him had come to be. He'd brought up their parents for the first time, always a touchy subject between them, and the two had been able to talk freely about them for the first time in nearly ten years. It was nice to finally discuss her past without someone who truely understood it.

He’d been very sweet to her and had unabashedly asked for forgiveness for questioning her as he had. He claimed he’d been talking to Gary Oak too much, that Oak was convinced there was some killer ghost roaming the halls and that he’d gotten the headMasters convinced as well. Rudi thought it was rubbish, but he couldn’t help but become frightened for Misty’s sake when he heard she’d fallen unexpectedly ill, especially after listening to Oak ramble on about how this ‘ghost’ had taken a special liking to her. Misty kept as silent as she could and thanked Mew Rudi wasn’t very gullible. Ash was no ghost and he definitely wasn’t a killer. Misty wondered if she could eventually introduce him to Rudi so that the Stadium’s patron may have some say in Pokémon rights there.

But she couldn’t shake off the guilt she felt for leaving Ash behind. Saturday was their day; Friday was Rudi’s. And try as she might, she couldn’t figure out whether or not Rudi was aware of what she'd seen that afternoon. She didn’t imagine that he could—she didn’t imagine that he could ever have anything to do with the mistreatment of Pokémon, he loved his own so much—but he was important enough here in the Stadium that she wondered if he had to know. If he did, was he rebelling against it? He hadn’t mentioned anything about it tonight—or any night, for that matter. Would he confide such a thing in her, or would he wait to abolish it before letting her know what was going on? Or was he just ignoring it completely?

A soft knock on her door startled her out of her reverie. She opened it cautiously, wondering who on earth could be visiting her at midnight.

It was Ash.

She ushered him into her room quickly and shut the door. “Did anyone see you?”

He looked surprised. “Uh, no. I came out of the rafters just in front of your door.”

They stood staring at each other for a moment, before Misty said, “Well why are you here? Did something happen?” He’d never come to her before; they’d always agreed to meet at certain times in certain places, and they'd certainly never met in her room.

“I came to make sure you’re okay. My mom was worried that you moved around too much too soon.”

“I’m fine,” Misty assured him. “I was a little woozy at first, but that wore off hours ago. Tell your mother thank you for me.”

“I will.” He didn’t seem to know what he was supposed to say next. He reached up and fiddled with the corner of his glasses in lieu of something to do, and Misty found herself wondering what color his eyes were; she'd never even seen them. “So uh, how was your date with Rudi?” he asked suddenly, shattering her contemplation. Misty stared at him in surprise.

“It was fine,” she said automatically, then remembered who she was talking to. A smile crept over her face; she didn't need to glaze things over with Ash. “Oh, it was better than fine; it was breathtaking. Rudi’s such a gentleman; not like anyone I know around here. He's so courteous and charming and he really listens to me when I tell him things...”

Ash grunted in response, looking uncomfortable. Misty twirled the rose beneath her nose and wondered why he had really come. He wasn't prone to sticking around for no reason.

“Mom said he was really interested in you,” he said finally, though he didn’t meet her eyes. “She says you’re really lucky, since he’s got half the girls in the Stadium after him. And he’s rich.”

Misty laughed. “I'm not after his money, Ash. We were childhood friends, a long time ago. Our parents died together in a shipwreck when we were eleven, and we only recently started talking again.”

Ash looked aghast. “Oh, jeez. Um, I’m sorry. Are you okay? I mean, I know it’s been a while, but...” He didn’t know what else to say. Misty smiled at him reassuringly.

“I’m fine, Ash. Tonight was the first night we really brought it up, but I think it went well.”

Ash glanced at her and grunted something inaudible, then sank down beside her on the foot of her bed. “My dad was killed before I was born,” he said softly. Misty was too surprised to respond. “Mom told me everything she could about him—she kind of had to, really—but it’s never enough. I’m lucky he thought to write a lot of stuff down or I’d never have lasted as long as I have.”

Misty frowned. “What do you mean?”

Ash smiled sadly, then looked suddenly embarassed and pushed himself hurriedly to his feet. “I should leave you alone; it’s late, and you’ve had a long day. Is Monday evening okay again, same time same place?”

Misty rose after him, unwilling to end the conversation. “Well—yeah, but—”

“Monday, then.” He slipped out the door before she could stop him.

Misty released a cry of frustration and collapsed face-first on her bed. Ugh! He’d finally opened up to her, finally told her something about his past, and then he’d just left! Why? Why was he so reluctant to tell her anything about himself? Why did he immediately close up every time he let something slip? Why wouldn't he answer any of her questions? Why didn't he trust her, dammit!

She fumed for a moment, then found herself thinking about what he'd just said. He’d mentioned his father, something he’d never even hinted at before, and now Misty was desperate to learn more. She mulled over what he'd said carefully, trying to pull as much information out of this tiny revelation as she could, and frowned when she realized several things at once. One was that horror stories of the Electric Phantom grossly predated Ash's sparse twenty-two years. Another was that Delia Ketchum, as far as she knew, had never been married.


She managed to chisel a fair-sized chunk out of her homework the next day, though she knew it would only be piled back on during the weeks to come. This was her final year here at the Stadium, if she played her cards right, and the Masters teaching her advanced classes didn’t let her forget it. Her Training Battles had been growing more difficult lately as well, though Ash’s extra sessions made them more than easy enough to deal with. She was actually a little worried someone would notice her obvious advance in skill and demand to know where it had come from. She didn’t know what she would tell them if they did; she’d been giving all the credit to the 'mysterious Pikachu' when Brock asked. She hated lying to him, of all people, but she'd given Ash her word and she'd be damned if she was going to betray his trust.

It was late evening when she finally found the time to visit Delia. Her door was open and she was settled comfortably atop the far bed, reading a book. She looked up when Misty entered.

“Oh, hello, dear. Don’t tell me you’ve hurt yourself again already? I was about to dress for bed.”

Misty returned her smile and shook her head. For the first time she took in how young Delia actually was; she couldn’t have been more than forty, she was sure, even if she shared Ash’s youthy looks. That would make her...what, eighteen when she’d borne Ash? Misty was startled; Delia didn’t seem the type.

“Am I really that interesting? Or is something wrong?”

Misty grinned sheepishly and entered the warm room, shutting the door firmly behind her. “No, I'm fine. Sorry, my mind just got...sidetracked.” She blushed when she realized she was thinking about how young Delia must have been, and wondering how old Ash’s father was.

“Completely understandable,” Delia said with a smile. She shut her book on her thumb. “If you’re not hurt, have you come for some other reason? Is Ash hurt? Normally Pikachu comes to me if he can’t get here himself.”

Misty wanted to stop and ponder that, but she gave her head a small shake and sat on the bed beside Delia’s instead. “Actually, I just came to talk.” Delia looked interested. She inclined her head for Misty to continue, but Misty suddenly found she had no idea what to say. In fact, Delia might even think her rude to barge in here asking questions like this.

“It's about Ash, isn’t it?” Delia asked quietly. “I take your startled expression as a yes. Up until yesterday I was wondering why you hadn’t come earlier. I suppose Ash staved off telling you about me to prevent this.”

“Is he really that paranoid about me finding out stuff about him?” Misty asked. “He won’t answer any of my questions. Ever. All he does is drop these little hints and then switch topics, and it’s driving me insane.”

Delia smiled. “I know the feeling,” she admitted. “His father did the same to me, once upon a time. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you much.”

“Anything would be welcome,” Misty said thankfully, excited by the seemingly offhand comment concerning Ash’s father. Delia shook her head sadly.

“I’m sorry, dear, but I’d rather he told you himself. Just give him time. It was all I could give his father, and it worked out eventually.”

Misty stared at her, a wave of anxious disappointment welling up in the pit of her stomach. “You mean you won’t tell me either? Just basic things, like who his father was, where he came from, how you met, where Ash lives, why he hides in the shadows all the time—”

Delia continued to shake her head. “You must understand, Misty, this is all so new to him."

Misty frowned. "What do you mean? What's new about just talking to me?" Delia's answer was a sad smile.

"He doesn’t talk to anyone but his Pokémon, Misty. He doesn't want to and he doesn't need to, so he doesn't bother. You're...difficult for him. Pokémon are intelligent, yes, but their minds works differently. They don't ask him questions. He's not used to gauging the importance of his answers.”

Misty was aghast. “You mean I’m the only person he talks to?” She couldn’t imagine never speaking to anyone. Didn't he get lonely?

“Oh, there have been others scattered throughout his past, of course,” said Delia dismissively. “You’re certainly not the first person to have caught his attention over the years, but you are the first to have kept it for so long.”

Misty didn’t know what to say to that. She couldn’t imagine living alone even as a Trainer here. Only Brock’s good friendship had kept her sane over the years, since she found it so hard to make new friends, and she couldn't imagine a life without him, at least.

“I’ll tell you this, and then you have to promise not to ask me anymore, all right? With any luck, he’ll come to you in his own time.” Delia was watching Misty with a sympathetic expression. Misty tried to mask her disappointment with a nod, and frowned when the older woman continued. “Ash is not like you or me," she said seriously. "He’s not like anyone here. People don' that about him. He's had to live separately from them his whole life for his own safety, and he doesn't like to jeapordize that when he doesn't have to."

Misty was confused. "What do you mean, 'safety'? What does he have to hide?"

Delia smiled sadly. "It's a long story. He's tried to talk to people before, but it never worked out. But with you..." She stopped and met Misty's eyes, and Misty was surprised to see them filled with unshed tears. "I know he's hard to deal with, Misty, but please keep trying. For his sake, if nothing else. You're different, somehow. I think you can help him."

After all Delia had said, Misty was doubtful. “Why me? What could I do that a thousand other people here couldn't? I mean, I'm not even at the top of my class! Why is he even helping me? I'm not a horrible Trainer. I'm definitely not failing. Why not any of a thousand other Trainees? Why not—”

"It has nothing to do with Pokémon, Misty," said Delia quietly. She was looking at the book in her hands.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Misty demanded, exasperated.

Delia sighed. "He's never done it for the Pokémon. He does it for you."


Ash didn’t show up for their Battle Monday night, which worried Misty greatly. She didn’t know what else to do but wait anxiously, so she did. After about five minutes Brock burst suddenly through the door.

“Misty!" he panted. "I thought I’d find you here."

Misty dusted herself off as she stood. “Brock? What are you doing here?” Was that why Ash was late? Because he knew Brock was coming?

“There’s been an injury—a bad one. My night class was cancelled over it. Misty, I—I think it was that Ariados that got you that one time.”


She hurried over to him, frantic. That spider liked to travel in the rafters, as far as she knew. Had Ash not shown up because he’d run into it...?

“What are you talking about? Who was hurt? How do you know it was an Ariados?”

“It’s Max Haruka,” said Brock quickly. “You know, May’s little brother. Misty, I—I don’t think he’s gonna make it.”

Misty followed Brock down the hall in a stunned daze. “Max? Are you sure? But...he’s only ten or eleven, isn’t he? Oh Mew...”

“Some students found him unconscious in a hallway. We don’t know how he got there; he hasn’t woken up yet. Gary Oak keeps saying it was the Ghost.”

Misty froze, her eyes widening. No, it couldn’t have been Ash. That was ridiculous. He had gone out of his way to save her from that Ariados; why would he set it on someone else? But Mew, if it had gotten out again and Ash was missing...He had to have been involved somehow. Or was he the Bug's next victim?

“Misty?” Brock had stopped as well and was watching her curiously. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I—I have to see Delia.”

“What? Why?”

“I just—I do.” She had to make sure Ash was all right, and Delia was the only one who could tell her. Damn him and his stupid secrets. If he was hurt because he kept refusing to tell her where to find him...

“You can’t, Mist, there’s been a lockdown; it’s why I came to get you. We’re all supposed to be in our dorms until the Ariados is caught and put down.”

“You mean it’s still out?” Misty’s eyes immediately scanned the ceiling in alarm, but this hallway had a roof. There was no way it could sneak up on her. She was okay for now.

“You wanna stay in my room tonight?” Brock offered. He was watching her in concern. “I know you have a thing with bugs...”

Misty shook her head, her mind on the spider and how she could sneak to Delia’s room without being caught by it or the headMasters.

“Are you sure? I’ll let you have the bed.”

“Thanks, Brock, but I’ll be okay. It can’t get me in my room, can it?”

“I guess not. Just call me if you need me, then. I’ll sneak down to your room if I can.”

Misty smiled graciously. “Thanks, Brock. I will.”

She felt horrible when she snuck out of her room as soon as she was sure Brock was gone. She took the stairs to go down; the elevator was crowded with students too afraid to brave the open stairwell with a highly poisonous bug on the loose. Misty was terrified, but she forced herself to go on anyway. She had to find out where Ash was.

Delia’s room was abandoned. Misty cursed herself for wasting time; she should have known better. Any horrible injuries were taken to the infirmary. She supposed she was only kept there because her injury had been discreet, though how Delia had covered for her three day absence was beyond Misty.

As expected, the infirmary was packed, mostly by staff and Masters. Misty swam through the crowd uneasily, rattling off a nonsense story about having a headache whenever a Master asked her why she wasn’t in her room. Delia was one of the nurses attempting to clear the throng.

Misty sidled up to her and nipped at her shirtsleeve with her fingertips, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Rudi was one of the few privileged people surrounding the bed, and she didn’t want to have to answer any of his difficult questions right now. But he was listening intently to something Gary was saying and didn’t notice her.

When Delia saw who she was she quickly grabbed Misty’s arm and dragged her into an unoccupied corner. “Misty!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide. “Have you seen—?”

Misty shook her head. “I was hoping you had. Is this the same one that...”

Delia looked worried. “I think so. It must have gotten out again somehow; Ash tried to take it in a while back, but it wouldn’t listen to him. If he knows it’s out he’ll be trying to find it...”

“He didn’t show up for our Battle,” said Misty quietly, answering Delia’s unspoken question. “But if he’s hurt wouldn’t he—”

“Not while I’m stuck here. Pikachu would never be able to get to me unnoticed in this crowd, and I’m afraid I might be stuck here for quite a while. The poor boy didn’t make it.”

Misty gasped. Her eyes automatically sought out May; she was sobbing onto the shoulder of Master Drake, who was watching the head nurse pull a blanket over a small figure. Misty didn’t know what to say; there had never been a death in the Stadium before, as far as she knew.

“Misty, I want you to go down and see if he’s all right.”

Misty’s attention snapped back to Delia in surprise. “What? Go—down? Down where?” All of the dormitories were upstairs.

“Ash lives a mile or so beneath the Stadium,” Delia whispered quickly, looking around to make sure no one was watching them. Misty thought she saw Gary glancing in their direction, but he turned away again before Misty could say anything.

“What, straight down?” she asked, astonished.

“No, no, dear, I have no idea how far it is straight down, but it’s about an hour’s walk—”

“Through the rafters?” Misty wasn’t sure she could brave them again on her own, especially with an Ariados loose.

“No, through some stone passages. Listen, if you can just get down there I’m sure one of his fail-safes will find you and Pikachu will come...”

A few minutes later Misty was forcing her way back out of the infirmary while instructions on how to operate secret panels and hidden doors buzzed through her mind. She was startled out of her confused thoughts by the shadow of a man following her out of the crowd. It was Gary, and he didn’t look happy. Blood was seeping slowly out of what looked like four small scratches just above his cheekbone.

“You,” he growled, hurrying over. Misty had to force herself to stay put. If he suspected her of something— though only Mew knew what she could have done to arouse his suspicion—running would only invite him to chase her, and she’d be damned if she was going to lead the Master of security straight to Ash.

“Master Gary.” She didn’t have to fake the surprise evident in her tone. “I—”

“You were Attacked by an Ariados just last month,” he accused her. “You’re fine now. Someone must have treated you immediately or you wouldn’t have escaped unscathed—in fact, the way I’ve heard it told, you shouldn’t have escaped at all. Who was it?”

Misty was taken aback by his agitated tone, and by the fact that he knew so much about what had happened. She didn't think anyone knew the full story except Delia, Ash, and Brock.

Gary didn’t give her time to respond. He loomed over her and hissed, “It was Ash, wasn’t it?” He grinned at the astonished look on her face. “I knew it! He gave you the Ponyta too, didn’t he? He stole that thing, you know. He’s a thief. And now he’s actually killed someone—”

“Gary Oak!”

Rudi’s bark was sharp. Misty turned in surprise to see him overtaking the distance between her and the infirmary in long, angry strides, his flashing teal gaze fixed furiously on Gary. Glancing only once at Misty—she saw the concern for her in his eyes—he quickly placed himself between her and Gary and pointed a shaking finger at the Master. “I thought I told you I’ve had enough of this nonsense. Now I find you harassing a student about this stupid 'Ghost'—”

“This student has been helping him,” Gary growled, his voice low. “She’s even got one of his damn minions—”

Rudi threw up his hands in obvious disgust, his varied necklaces tinkling a soft objection. “Minions! Listen to yourself! You prattle on and on about Elementals and demons as if they still exist, as if they—”

“This one does!” Gary interrupted with a hiss. He pointed to the thin red lines on his cheek. “You see this? You think I did this to myself?”

“You know what? I think you did, Gary Oak. I think you’re crazy enough to try anything by now—”

“Crazy, am I? You’ll see how crazy I am when your precious little Waterflower girl doesn’t come home one night!”

Rudi’s eyes flashed dangerously. His voice was low and even when he said, “You leave Misty out of this, you son of a—”

“Oh, hit a sore spot, did I?” Gary’s crooked grin was smug. “Well I think it’s about time you caught on, Sir Trovita. You think she found that Ponyta in a gutter, do you? You think her team’s abilities quadrupled in just a few months naturally, huh? Or haven’t you even noticed?” His smile widened when Rudi’s lips compressed into a thin line. “Ah, so Mr. Moneybags isn’t as dumb as he lets on. Tell me, Miss Waterflower, what have you been feeding them? Illegal drugs? Boosted TMs? A few doses of Elemental tutoring?”

Misty was startled when she realized Gary’s vivid sapphire eyes were focused entirely on her. She lowered her eyes and fumbled for an answer, but Rudi didn’t wait for it.

“Leave, Oak. Now. If I see you near Misty or myself again I’ll have the headMasters fire you.”

Gary’s grin didn’t falter. “The headMasters know I’m right. Or did you think they kept me here for the company?”

Now, Oak. Before I have you physically removed.”

Gary shrugged and turned away. “I’m just saying, Trovita. If you won’t listen to me now, you will later. Don't blame me for trying to save you the humiliation.”

The first thing out of Rudi’s mouth once Gary was out of sight was a worried, “Are you okay?” Misty was surprised. She was terrified that Gary had aroused suspicions in Rudi that he might have been unaware of before, and she expected him to question her thoroughly about them.

“Um, yeah. Are uh, are you?” She didn’t know what else to say. Rudi grinned that grin he reserved just for her and brushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

“I’m fine. I wasn’t too late, was I? I saw him follow you out, but that place was so crowded it was hard for me to sneak away.”

That was it? No “Why were you there anyway, Misty?” or “Say, how did your Pokémon become so strong?” Misty was confused. Before she could stop herself she blurted, “You don’t want to know...” Then she kicked her brain. Hard. Her spirits dropped further when Rudi’s face twisted into a frown. She had half expected him to smile warmly at her like he did every other time she said something stupid in his presence. Which was fairly often, she acknowledged reluctantly.

“I’ve been taking it slow with you Misty because I thought—” He broke off there. Again, Misty was surprised. She knew he was moving things along slowly between them—hell, it’d been over a month now and he hadn’t even kissed her yet—but she hadn’t thought he was holding back for a reason. Her heart fluttered a little.

“You thought what?” she asked softly. He looked up at her from under his bangs.

“Well, I know...I mean, it is kind of obvious that your Pokémon have been getting some extra help...” He snorted suddenly, and turned to glare in the direction that Gary had disappeared. “I don’t believe that idiot for a minute. A ghost, for Lugia’s sake.” He turned his attention back to her. “But I mean, if there is someone’d tell me, right?”

Misty felt a smile tug at her lips. She held it back as best she could. “You thought...”

He shrugged, and Misty could tell he was embarrassed. “Well you’ve been here almost ten years, Mist, I wasn’t about to delude myself into thinking someone like you was still available at nearly twenty-one...”

Misty blushed at his comment and he blushed too, a faint red hue that tinged his soft sandy cheeks. “There’s no one,” she assured him, and felt her smile take control at the hopeful look in his eyes.

“Really? No one? Not even...” She raised an eyebrow and he smiled sheepishly. “Well I always see you and the son of that Pewter Gym Leader together—”

“Who, Brock?” She found herself laughing at the very idea. “Brock and I are just friends, Rudi. Good ones, but still. He’s into the pretty girls, like Nurse Joy and, I dunno, famous Gym Leaders who Train in their bikinis. He only jokes about dating me.”

“You're kidding," said Rudi seriously. "How could he be your friend and not recognize that you’re the most beautiful girl—woman—in this place?” Misty blushed furiously, her mind stuttering to come up with something to say to that, and Rudi used the oppurtunity to step closer. He smelled like seawater and coconuts and something unmistakably male all in one, and it made Misty's brain physically detach from her spine. She couldn’t repress a pleasant shiver when she felt his warm hand glide gently through her hair. “I mean it, Mist,” he breathed, and leaned down to her slowly. When he pressed his lips to hers Misty thought she might be floating, the butterflies in her stomach were so intense.

It was only a soft kiss, albeit a warm, wonderful one that left Misty’s head reeling. After a moment or two— or an hour, Misty couldn’t really tell—Rudi pulled away just enough to smile at her, his eyes bright. “We shouldn’t be doing this here,” he said reluctantly, his voice just above a whisper. “Not with that Bug still free. Can I take you back to your room? I don’t want it to sneak up on you in the hall.”

Misty could only smile and nod appreciatively. Rudi returned her grin and kissed her lightly on the forehead before wrapping his arm comfortably around her waist and leading her down the hall. They had scarcely gone ten steps before a voice halted them.

“Mr. Trovita, sir! The headMasters are calling for you; you’re wanted in the infirmary, quick.”

It was James, one of the headMasters’ personal assistants. Misty caught Delia Ketchum's eye as she squeezed out the door behind the Master.

“Can’t it wait a moment? I was about to escort Miss Waterflower up to her room.”

James looked hesitant. “Um, they told me it was urgent, sir. Something about a lawsuit...?”

Rudi’s grip around Misty’s waist tightened. He glanced down at her, then back at James, looking torn. After a moment he said, “I’m sorry, James, but this will only take a minute—”

“I can take her.”

Delia was hurrying over. Rudi watched her doubtfully for a moment before turning back to Misty, who smiled reassuringly at him. “It’s all right; I’ll be okay. It’s not going to be hiding in the elevator.”

Rudi’s frown flipped into a sheepish grin. “No, I suppose not. Are you sure, then? Really?” She nodded, still smiling. She couldn’t seem to stop smiling anymore, not wrapped in Rudi's arms like she was. Rudi smiled back. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He dipped his head a little, then stopped, hesitating, his eyes sweeping over Delia and James. After only a moment’s pause he continued, and pressed his mouth gently to Misty’s in a soft goodnight kiss. “’Night,” he whispered, pulling away, and reluctantly relinquished her to Delia. Misty’s side felt suddenly cold without his soothing presence there.

Delia whisked her away before she could say anything. Misty didn’t even attempt to swim out of her daze until she noticed that Delia had pressed the B3 button instead of the six. When she turned a questioning gaze on the older woman she was surprised to see Delia watching her with a stern expression on her face. It didn’t take her long to realize why.

“Oh jeez. Ash. Oh Mew.” She felt horrible. Any trace of happiness at sharing her first kiss with Rudi was quickly swept aside as a tidal wave of guilt smashed into her. “Mew, I swear I was going to go find him, but then Gary Oak came up to me and started threatening me about Ash—Mew, did you know he knew about Ash? He knew his name and everything, and it just threw me off; and then Rudi came...”

“I think Gary managed to pin him somewhere earlier.” Delia didn’t look at her when she spoke, just kept her eyes fixed on the flashing floor numbers. Misty’s hand flew to her mouth. So he was hurt...

“Oh, don’t worry.” Now Delia flashed her a wry grin. “If I know Ash he's probably fine, especially to put Gary in the mood he was in tonight. I just want to check, though, to make sure. Every now and then that Oak comes up with something devious.”

“You mean this has happened before?”

Delia’s reply was coupled with a heavy sigh as the elevator doors slid open on the third basement floor. “Oh yes. The Oaks have been after Ash's family for generations, since before the time of Gary’s grandfather. It’s only a matter of time before one becomes headMaster and just collapses the entire underground.”

Misty followed her through the deserted corridors, confused. “But you’re a part of Ash's family. Why don’t they come after you?”

“Oh, they only care about the one side. They’re lucky if they can get actual names; Gary’s just been extremely resourceful. He’s much more conniving than his father ever was. Here, dear, hold up this tapestry.”

Misty hesitated at first, then did as she was told. The tapestry was old and heavy; it depicted the ancient battle that had decided the present fate for both humans and Pokémon, and she knew she could be severely punished for so much as brushing her fingers against it, let alone lifting it off the wall. Delia, however, didn’t seem too concerned. Misty watched in fascination as she ran expert fingers along a thin crack, just one of many. There was a heavy grating sound and a section of the wall suddenly disappeared as if it had never been there.

“Rock Type,” said Delia in response to the look of astonishment on Misty’s face. She smiled crookedly. “Ash’s father spent most of his life making the underground accessible to anyone non-Rock. The last one had died off before he was born. It’s the only entrance I know about, though I don’t think I’m the only one. Come on, before someone sees.”

Misty followed her tentatively into the gaping hole, jumping when a grating sound announced the stone wall’s return right behind her. The pair was bathed in inky blackness. A warm hand suddenly wrapped around Misty’s wrist and Delia led her down a cool hallway. Misty could hear the woman’s fingers scraping along the gritty wall just beside them.

“How do you know where you’re going?” Misty couldn’t see a thing. Her ears were straining for any sign that the Ariados might be near.

“I don’t.”

“What? Then how do you...”

“I don’t.” Misty could hear the amusement in her voice. “I just keep going until he finds me. Sometimes I time myself. He’s much slower than his father was; I think the longest it’s taken him has been an hour, but he always comes eventually.”

“But if you’re not the only one who knows how to get down here, why doesn’t someone else come?”

“It’s a maze,” said Delia with a sigh. “I think there’s more to the underground Stadium than there is above. A lot of it’s been flooded by the lake, but Ash knows his way around all that.”

“If it’s so big, how does he know where to find us? Or even that we’re down here?”

There was a pause. “You know, I’m not entirely sure. But he’s befriended a lot of Pokémon over the years, both tame ones and wild mixed breeds that have lived down here all their lives. I imagine he uses them as a sort of network, like an elaborate alarm system. We can’t hear them, but you’d be surprised at the variety. There're Pokémon everywhere.”

Misty shivered and tried not to think about what could be behind her right now, or what could be watching them. She was sure she didn’t want to know.

Delia made small talk for another fifteen minutes or so while they groped blindly along. She seemed interested in Misty’s relationship with Rudi, but Misty couldn’t tell if her tone was disapproving or merely curious. She answered the older woman’s questions as honestly as she could, unable to keep her excitement from seeping into her voice. When the pair finally fell silent Misty thought she could hear something. She strained her ears and tried to think of what it sounded like.

“Footsteps,” Delia murmured, and Misty agreed with her. A soft rhythmic pounding was growing steadily louder. “Must be Ash.”

“Are you sure?” Misty wondered if Gary knew about these tunnels.

“Who else would run headlong through this pitch blackness? Going to trip and break his neck one day, I'm sure. Here, step over to the side. I think we’re in one of the smaller tunnels.”

“Should we call out to him?”

“I’m sure he knows we’re here. Have faith in him, Misty, and stop shivering. He wouldn’t be coming this way if he didn’t know where we were.”

Misty tried to stop shaking, but it was so cold and she hadn’t thought to grab a jacket in her haste. She backed up against the freezing stone wall and shivered at its dampness.

The footsteps grew to a deafening level, their rhythm rebounding off the stone all around them and throwing the echo every which way. They rounded a corner somewhere, and their volume doubled. Misty sincerely hoped Delia was right. She peeled herself away from the wall and squinted into the darkness, trying to make something out. The footsteps stopped abruptly, and Misty's ears rang in the sudden silence. Before she knew what was happening she saw a blinding yellow light flare to life just before her and she was forced to look away, blinking rapidly as tears leaked from her eyes. She could hear someone panting.

“Mom? Misty? What are you doing here?” Ash’s voice was incredulous. Misty peeked out from behind her elbow to seem him standing there a good twenty feet away, one hand on the wall beside him. A liquidy yellow substance was flowing through a groove beneath his hand, stretching both ways down the wall. Three more empty grooves flickered in its warm light.

“Us?" Delia demanded. "What about you? Didn’t you come here to get us?”

“What? Um, no...” He took his hand from the wall and approached them. It remained alight.


Ash met his mother’s hardened eyes with a frown. “I was on my way up to get that Ariados. Why? What are you doing down here? And—” He stopped and glanced at Misty.

“Nevermind her. Where’s Pikachu?”

“I don’t know. Off looking for the Ariados; I'm supposed to meet him. Why? Did something happen?”

Delia hesitated. “It’s May’s little brother. He—well, he's small, and he's not very strong...He didn't make it.”

Ash’s eyes widened behind his glasses, then lowered in a frown. He turned his head to the side and cursed.

“Gary’s gallivanting around saying it was you who let it out,” Delia continued, fixing him with a concerned stare. “Did you two—”

“That bastard attacked me,” Ash growled. “He’s the one who knocked the damn cage over. Idiot...He’s probably convinced himself it was all my fault, too. He's insane.”

“There’s never been a death before,” said Delia softly. “Not since before your father’s time. This might spur them into action. Real action.”

“I know. I’ll have to collapse some tunnels soon...” Ash’s eyes—what Misty could see of them—were fixed on the crease where the wall met the floor. He swung them up to her suddenly and crossed his arms. “So what are you two doing down here? They haven’t caught the Ariados yet, have they?”

“No,” said Delia sharply, “and you’re not going up to help.”

Ash stared at his mother in surprise. “What? Of course I—”

“No. It’s too dangerous, especially if Gary’s got the headMasters searching for you as well.”

“But I can’t just—”

“Let the Stadium handle it this time, Ash. They’ve already got the students in their rooms; no one else will get hurt.”

Ash and Delia glared at one another in silence for a moment before Ash looked away and shifted his footing. “I think this is a mistake—”

“I don’t care.”

“I think one of the search parties is gonna get hurt—”

“Just as easy as you could.”

Ash glared at her. “Can I at least take Misty up? Gary already linked her to you; seeing you escort her anywhere now will only confirm any wild suspicions he’s already formed.”

“Actually, I think it’d be better if she stayed down here with you.”


Misty was so surprised she hardly noticed Ash’s voice echoing her own. Stay—down here? With Ash?

Then her mind processed the possibilities and she discovered how vastly curious she really was. She could see where he lived—how he lived, if he was so alone—and she wondered if Delia was doing this for her on purpose.

“Mom, you can’t be serious,” Ash protested. “I mean—I—”

“Gary cornered her earlier.” Ash stopped babbling at his mother's words.

“He what?”

“He knows. If he doesn’t have a post at her room yet, he will soon. Sending her back up there now will only give him a hostage.”

“What?” Ash and Delia’s attention swung to Misty, who found herself laughing at such a ridiculous thought. “Gary wouldn’t do that. I mean, keep me hostage to who? And what...”

They weren’t laughing. Delia fixed her with a stern gaze and Misty felt real fear sweep through her. They would seriously hold her hostage just to get to Ash? But how was that legal? How did that work? And worse yet: Had they actually done it before?

“But—I can’t just—” She struggled to find the words to convey her shock. “What about tomorrow, then? I have class at noon; I can’t just disappear—”

“I’ll get you to class on time.” It came out as a mumble. Ash was glaring heatedly at the ground.


He looked up at her. “If Gary’s watching you this is no small matter. The guy’s crazy, Misty. If he can’t get the headMasters to use you as some sort of bait he’ll just do it himself.”

Misty felt her temper flare. “You’re talking to me like I’m some helpless little...girl.” She spat the word out vehemently. “I can take care of myself, Ash.”

“For how long?” he countered. “Do you really want to go to bed tonight worrying that he’ll break into your room? Because stuff like that isn’t beneath him, Misty. You don’t know him like I do. He hates me, and he’ll go to any length he can—even if it means hurting you—to catch me.”

“Why?” Misty demanded. “What have you done to make him hate you so much? What have you done to be banished to the forgotten underground of some ancient building? I mean, why do you even live down here? Why does Gary hate you? What did you do?”

The barrage of questions caught him off-guard, and he stared at her in surprise. Misty glared back. She was tired of all the secrets. She wanted to know.

Delia was watching Ash curiously. When Ash noticed he shot her a glare and stomped back in the direction she and Misty had come from. “Come on.”

“What? But—”

Ash glanced back over his shoulder and growled, “Stay here.” Misty was startled enough to obey. Delia shot her a comforting look and hurried past.

“Don’t worry, dear. You’re safer down here than up there, trust me.”

Misty watched them disappear around a corner, arguing furiously in lowered voices, then turned to look curiously at the wall Ash had lit up. She found herself puzzled by the yellow substance flowing smoothly through a roundish groove about an inch deep, cut right into the stone. It ran lazily all the way down the wall on either side, curving into intricate patterns with the three empty grooves. A glance at the wall opposite revealed four more unlit grooves in an identical pattern.

She couldn’t find any sort of light switch. When she cautiously poked at the substance she realized there really was no barrier over it, and jerked her finger back when it received a nasty electric shock. What the hell? What was that stuff? And what was keeping it in the wall?

"All right, follow me. It's sort of a long walk from here."

Misty jumped at the voice and whirled around, her finger in her mouth. Ash was standing a few feet behind her, looking harassed. His eyes focused on her finger and he frowned. “Oh jeez, you didn’t touch it, did you?”

“Why? What is it?” Misty asked around her finger.

“Electric current. Are you okay? Don’t touch it again; it’s strong enough to kill you.”

Misty didn’t need the warning; she had no intention of even setting foot near it again. Instead she focused on what Ash had said. “What's a long walk?”

“My...rooms.” He shifted his feet. “Hopefully Gary will cool down by tomorrow and you won't have to stay for too long. If not, I’ll have a talk with him while you’re in class.”

“That doesn’t sound like such a good idea.” Misty didn’t want them to fight again, especially over something she had done. Though she wasn’t quite sure what that was yet.

“Don’t worry about it; it won’t be the first time. Come on, it’s cold here.”

Misty followed him down the hall, her mind on the mysterious electricity running along the wall. Had he put it there? How? She tried asking him about it, but he shrugged her off and led her deeper down through the tunnels. It got so cold she found herself shivering as she cursed October to the very depths of hell.

“Here.” Ash shrugged off his dark jacket and handed it to her. “Don’t worry, it’s not much further now.” His jacket was warm and smelled like him; sort of like dust and static electricity. It felt homey.

Apparently he wore a black t-shirt under the jacket, and had wrapped some sort of rough bandage around each of his arms that disappeared under his gloves and stopped a little before his elbows. Misty could see what looked like burn marks and scratches in it; she was itching to ask about them, but realized he wasn’t in a question-friendly mood right now and knew she wouldn’t get much out of him. He didn’t seem all that moody though, like he sometimes got—Misty hated those times, when all he seemed to do was stare into some dark corner and think deep, mysterious thoughts he refused to share with her. Instead he seemed nervous. Misty wondered if it was because she was invading his territory, and felt guilt creep in over the curiosity. He’d done so much for her already; she hated that she might be making him uncomfortable by encroaching on his territory.

He led her through a maze. Each time they crossed to an unlit wall he simply touched it and it flared to life as the wall behind them blinked out. Misty asked him about it, but he looked away and mumbled some gibberish she knew wasn’t a real answer anyway. Guilt or not, he was beginning to frustrate her.

“This way.” He led her around a final corner and tugged open a thick wooden door that looked older than some of the more ancient arena ones. He beckoned her through it and stepped in after her, closing the door with a solid boom behind them. Everything was pitch black for a moment, before that eerie yellow electricity flowed from a point somewhere behind Misty to light up each of the walls. Misty glanced back to see Ash’s hand on an apparently blank patch of stone and frowned.

Then her attention was caught by the ancient-looking tapestry on the wall beside his splayed fingers and her irritation was replaced by amazement. It looked even older than the one on display in the Stadium, and it was much clearer. She could actually pick out the individual Pokémon as they rushed into the battle.

Her eyes grazed the rest of the room and widened considerably. It was a large room, made of cleanly cut stone but not damp like the halls, with a massive arched doorway in the wall opposite her and on each side. And it was red. Very red. Ancient tapestries hung from the walls and thick, intricate rugs covered the floor. A smallish Charizard dozed in the far corner, curled around a young Charmander. A few bats and Zubats hung from various crevices and peeked lazily at her from behind furled wings. Eyes glowered at her from the dark rooms beyond.

And books. Books were everywhere; piled up on the floor in haphazard heaps, spilling over each other on the ornate ebony desk opposite the Charizard, even supporting some of the great lizard’s weight. Most were thick and leather-bound, old yellowing pages covered in a strange, unfamiliar language. Misty peered at it curiously.

“Ash, can you read this?”

“Sort of. Yeah. Come on.”

There was a warm pressure on her back as he led her to the room on their left, which lit up to reveal another study of sorts only more blue and—was that a Feraligatr in the corner?—then left again through what she thought was a sitting room. She tried to stop and look around, her curiosity gnawing away at her stomach, but he wouldn’t let her. Instead he led her hurriedly through a maze of rooms; a kitchen, a brownish room, down a hallway, past what looked like water lapping at the base of some stone stairs, through some more rooms...

“It’s late,” he said when she tried to stop again. “I don’t have time to give you a tour, and it’s way too dangerous to wander around on your own. All of the Pokémon here trust me and me alone right now.”

“But I—”

He must have heard the frustration in her voice because his own softened. “Tomorrow, I promise. But right now Pikachu’s still out there with that Ariados and I just...I can’t right now, okay?”

She sighed and let him lead her along, though that didn’t stop her from taking in as much as she could about each room they passed through. He finally stopped in a room with no more doorways and rushed around her to scoop up an armful of dark clothes from the floor, which he tossed unceremoniously into a mound in the corner. He stood and looked around at the other bric-a-brac littering the thick carpet, then looked at her.

“I uh, don’t really have a guest bedroom, so you can have mine.”

Misty was startled. "But I saw a dozen other bedrooms on the way here—”

"Those blankets and stuff haven't been washed in like, fifty years. Trust me, my room's better.” He cut her off when she tried to protest. “No, I mean it. I have to stay up for Pikachu anyway. Will you be okay in here by yourself?”

Misty looked around. A large rumpled bed along one wall, a tapestry hung along the other, Pokémon gear on the floor, stacks of bookmarked books in the corner...She turned back to Ash, who was watching her anxiously.

“I think so...” It seemed so impersonal. Was this really where he lived?

“Good. Oh, good. Listen, I have to go find Pikachu and lead any hunts that have started away from here, okay? Normally I don’t use that light, and if anyone saw it...”

Misty nodded numbly and he gave her a lopsided grin. He took his jacket back from her and shrugged it on as he hurried toward the door. “Stay in there and you’ll be okay. I’ll be back as soon as I can. And don’t go snooping. The Charizard won’t like it.”

He closed the door behind him but didn’t lock it, which irked Misty. If he had she would have taken it as incentive to try and break out, but if he was going to actually trust her like this, well...

Then again, there was always his actual room to pick through, and what better place to snoop than that?