Even though the Thoughtless had definitely been cleared out of Lavender Town, no one could rest easy.
As part of his thanks for protecting the Tower, Mr. Fuji let Red and Gancena stay in a spare room at his home for however long they’d be in Lavender Town –and on any future visits. After Ash was calm, he also invited them to attend the upcoming burials for Marowak and Raticate, if they could. They and their Pokémon agreed readily, though Gancena was worried about how Ash might react when they got there. Gancena herself had been to wakes, but not burials, and thus couldn’t think of anything to say to Ash to prepare her.
As she lay in bed that night with Ash curled up against her, Gancena’s stomach tingled in a storm of uncertainty. The Thoughtless clearly worked both with and against Team Rocket simultaneously. It was just like Selene had said—they were augmenting the villain. If they were here, they would be in at least two other cities. Gancena’s tired leg twitched. The battle in the Tower had proven to be a lot, physically and emotionally.
Yet there was nothing to be done but sleep. She gently curled up further, making sure she was comfortable before closing her eyes.
The burials took place on the sixth floor of the Tower, at high noon. Gancena and Red arrived early, as promised.
Before Mr. Fuji and the Channelers began the ceremony, Haunter approached them once more. “Typically, a first bouquet is laid on the grave by family, friends, or Trainers. But since Raticate’s Trainer left town… May I ask you to do so in his stead?”
“What do you think, Red?” Gancena asked.
“Are you okay with it?”
“Yes. I’m more concerned about you and Ash.”
Red paused. “I’m fine. What do you guys think?” he asked Pikachu and Ash.
“Pika, Pi-i,” said Pikachu. Ash nodded vigorously, but said nothing.
“You sure, Ashie?” Gancena whispered.
Ash nodded again, faster than before.
Gancena sighed quietly. “All right.”
“And, furthermore…” Haunter added.
“We don’t like to give impersonal elegies if we can help it, but considering that poor Raticate’s Trainer isn’t here but you are…”
“I don’t really know Raticate personally, though,” said Gancena.
“Me, either,” said Red.
“You can mention that. I’m just hoping that perhaps one of you may speak for him on our behalf…?”
Gancena glanced over at the open grave where Raticate would be. She thought briefly of things to say, things that she didn’t have to ponder too closely. She didn’t want to spend Marowak’s burial trying to mentally craft a speech for Raticate, but she understood Haunter’s concerns.
“I think I can manage something. Just know that I’m not exactly a trained public speaker.”
“That’s all right. As long as your intentions are good and respectful, we’ll all notice the effort nonetheless.”
Gancena nodded, and took the rest of the time before the ceremony to think.
People crowded delicately on the floor in preparation for the memorial, avoiding the space of existing graves. Kneeling Channelers lined the path between graves and towards where Marowak would be buried. Both wild and trained Ghost Pokémon hovered all around the floor. A drum was brought to a point behind the open grave, with a mallet laid atop it. Incense was lit, and the air was soon heavy with a calm and melancholy scent.
Mr. Fuji and Shiimeji Haunter took their places near the open grave. The crowd went perfectly silent, and at Mr. Fuji’s nod, Haunter lightly picked up the mallet and gently tapped the drum in seven long, soft, solemn notes. He gently laid the mallet back on its place.
“My people,” began Mr. Fuji, “we are gathered to remember and mark the lives of two Pokémon lost in yesterday’s terrible battle. We start with Marowak, a beloved neighbor, friend, and mother.
“By nature, Marowak and Cubone are rather lonely Pokémon, and the families that have settled in and around the town aren’t much different. Yet this Marowak was always cordial, respectful, and sympathetic. She and even her little children have attended burials in the past, knowing that one day, she would have her own. But none of us imagined it would be this soon, and because of this attack. But she fought bravely and protected her children with her life, as a parent would.
“But as she said to her children before, she will still be with us in this very Tower in spirit.” Mr. Fuji bowed his head. “May she rest in peace.”
Two Channelers carried a small coffin down the aisle, the others bowing in prayer as it passed. Somewhere behind them, one of the Cubone started sniffling.
Mr. Fuji bowed to the pallbearers and stepped aside so that the coffin could be lowered into the grave. There was no dirt to dig on the higher floors of the Tower. Instead, the coffin would be covered in layers of stone, rested carefully on notches carved in the space above the coffin. Half-slabs were piled onto the space above Marowak’s coffin until the final full slab was slid on top of it all.
The three Cubone children then walked down the aisle, a bit faster than a typical funeral march. They each very carefully held one part of the first bouquet, but were still clearly making haste to deliver it to the place where their mother rested.
Together, they gently rested the flowers at the foot of her headstone. Haunter sounded off seven more notes.
Mr. Fuji kept his head bowed, and there was a moment of silence for Marowak, though the Cubones’ sniffs were still audible, and one’s back shook with effort to hold in sobs.
When Mr. Fuji raised his head, so did everyone else. “Marowak, may you also guide the other spirit lost yesterday to his resting place.” Mr. Fuji walked gently to the other open grave. Channelers near Marowak’s grave shifted their positions to create an aisle for Raticate.
The Cubone stayed near their mother’s grave. No one made them move.
“Now, we speak for a Raticate whose Trainer is currently absent. I cannot speak for him, nor can anyone, but one in the crowd has volunteered to try. Please come here, Gancena.”
Gancena exhaled slowly and stepped around the line of Channelers, consciously taking even breaths. Once she stood by the grave, she glanced briefly over the crowd and noticed a young woman in a kimono. Gancena thought… but she blinked away any questions so she could begin. At the other end of the aisle, Red gave Gancena a tiny nod.
Gancena spoke slowly, pausing after each sentence to keep her thoughts coherent. “I cannot say that I personally knew this Raticate. But my friends and I did meet his Trainer. Even though we knew nothing at the time, he was angry. Now I see that he simply didn’t know what to do, what to make of his companion’s sudden departure. I should hope—we should pray—that he will be able to come to terms with this unexpected and horrible event. But I assure him, Raticate, and all of you that his death will not be in vain. Those responsible will be punished.”
There was a small murmur among the crowd. Gancena couldn’t help but glance, first at Red, who nodded in agreement, then at Mr. Fuji, who frowned. Though she didn’t look, Haunter wrung his hands behind her. Gancena swallowed, but continued.
“Raticate, you are not alone. You are loved and will be missed.” She bowed her head. “May he rest in peace.”
At the end of the aisle, Channelers raised Raticate’s coffin and brought it down. When they were in front of her, she bowed to them and stepped aside, watching the pallbearers lowering the coffin and stacking the stones. She looked back at her friends as the last stone was placed on top.
She could see Ash, but she couldn’t make out the look on her face from their distance. Ash and Pikachu led the way through the aisle, with Red holding the first bouquet.
Red kneeled and gently laid it down.
Haunter sounded the drum seven times.
Even after the ceremony was over, the people remained still and in prayer for several minutes before slowly rising and preparing to move forward and on their way. Most stayed, speaking quietly to each other. Some climbed to the top floor. Others descended.
The three Cubone were still by their mother’s grave. Gancena, Red, Ash, and Pikachu watched them for a moment. Gancena was the first to glance away, at Mr. Fuji. He and the woman in the kimono were having a conversation.
“So now what?” asked Red.
“I suppose we can head to Celadon soon, assuming you’re ready, but we should talk to Mr. Fuji or Shiimeji Haunter first. Perhaps Mr. Fuji will be available soon…” Gancena lightly chewed the inside of her lip.
When Mr. Fuji and the woman finished, they both turned towards Gancena and Red and, to their surprise, approached.
“So you’re the ones who helped save the Tower,” said the woman.
“Oh! Yes,” said Gancena.
“Yeah, I’m Red and this is Gancena.”
“Yes, Mr. Fuji was telling me what you did, including the fact that Shiimeji approached you for a speech.”
“Ah, yes… How’d I do?”
“It was fine, under the circumstances. But I admit it was a little worrying to all of us when you made your promise of punishment. Though anger may be part of grieving, a burial isn’t meant to be a place or time for anger to fester, you see.”
Gancena realized that was what the crowd was murmuring about. She glanced at Red, who seemed a little worried. “Oh… sorry.”
“Forgiven. It’s more important, Gancena, that you don’t lose yourself in your battle against the Thoughtless.”
Gancena flinched. It was news, then. “I guess you heard from Mr. Fuji?”
“Blaine told me about them. But I didn’t expect that they would attack Lavender Town.”
Gancena’s suspicions were confirmed. “I knew it. You’re Erika, the Celadon City Gym Leader, aren’t you?”
Erika smiled. “I am.”
“Really!?” said Red. “Then… you’re the next Gym Leader I have to challenge!”
“Oh, you must be the one Lieutenant Surge warned us about,” she chuckled. “You must be remarkable to be so young and defeat the Lieutenant on your own. I look forward to seeing you in action.”
Erika’s smile faded. “But it may have to wait. Mr. Fuji just told me something very disturbing, and I think it’s important that you know. Are you aware that a Game Corner recently opened in Celadon?”
“No,” said Red. “Like an arcade?”
“A casino,” Gancena replied.
“Yes,” Erika confirmed. “They simply call it the Game Corner to lure in younger Trainers. As if that weren’t enough, while he was held hostage, Mr. Fuji caught overheard from the Team Rocket members that they themselves are operating it!”
Freakin’ knew it, Gancena thought.
“What!?” said Red.
“If what I heard is true,” elaborated Mr. Fuji, “not only is the Game Corner a financial front for the Rockets, but they entice their customers by offering rare Pokemon as prizes – but many of them were stolen!”
“I don’t believe it!” shouted Red. “We gotta do something about it!”
“Which is exactly why I’ve come to you. I’m not taking any chances – my Gym Trainers, the Celadon Police, and I will be raiding the Game Corner as soon as I return.”
“You’re not gonna find anything if you just raid the main floor,” Gancena interjected. “There’s a switch that opens a secret basement door.”
“And do you know where the switch is?”
“I should be able to remember, but I’d like to confirm.”
“Even if you don’t remember, we’ll find it. We have to,” said Erika.
“There should be a poster along the back wall somewhere that’s hiding it. It’ll probably be guarded.”
“Not a problem. We’re all ready to battle.”
“When can we go?”
“Anytime you’re ready. My people are preparing as we speak. They merely await me.”
“We should probably go as soon as possible, then.” Gancena crouched. “Ash, get up here.” Ash jumped onto Gancena’s shoulder.
“Pipi-kachu piika kachu pikachu!” she growled, raising a tiny fist.
“They sure will, especially since this is the second time we’re meeting them in two days.”
Mr. Fuji sighed softly. “I suppose, then, that this is goodbye for now.”
“I believe so,” said Gancena. “Tell Shiimeji Haunter… Tell him thanks for all his help.”
The Celadon-Lavender Underground Route was simple and plain, essentially a long hallway underneath central Kanto.
“We’ll be here a while,” said Erika, “but it’s still faster than going through Saffron, day or night.”
“How long do you expect?” Gancena asked.
“About an hour,” Erika answered. “It’s long, but easy compared to surface routes. Please tell me if you need to rest.”
“I doubt that’ll be a problem.”
Gancena was wrong. She held out as long as she could, but the monotony of walking down a uniform hallway couldn’t distract her from a slow ache building in her legs.
“Sorry, guys,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it. I was feeling a little tired, too,” said Red.
“We’re almost there, at least,” Erika declared. “Take your time.”
“The place is kinda plain, isn’t it?” she asked when she was seated.
“When this route was planned,” Erika explained, “the contractors were focused on efficiency. It was all they could do at the time. But now there are plans to expand down here, to add shops and services and proper rest areas. I think it’ll be good for travelers and entrepreneurs alike.”
“That sounds so great. When does construction start?”
“Shortly after Saffron’s entrance renovations, we hope. It’ll be the same construction group, but we do want to give them a little time to rest between such big projects.”
Ash stared briefly across the hall, got up, and walked over to the spot she was staring at.
“What is it, Ashie?”
She turned around, holding a small leather pouch.
“Hey, is that a wallet?” Red asked.
Erika looked. “It might be.”
Gancena approached. It looked like a simple clutch. She opened it, and there were nothing but gold coins inside. “Whoa.”
Red looked and said “Looks like a change purse. That’s a lot of small Poké.”
“They aren’t Poké,” Erika declared, taking a coin. “These are Game Corner tokens. Whoever it belongs to will have to forgive me, but I think I’ll be holding on to it for a little while.”
Minutes later, Gancena and Red were ready to carry on. The group soon ascended to a wide tree-lined path patched with tall grass. A bright, colorful city lay at the end. Gancena was surprised. She hadn’t known Celadon City was an exception to the coloring trend among Kanto cities.
“First,” said Erika, “we’ll head to my Gym and gather the Trainers. Then we’ll head to the police station together and finalize our plan there.”
The plan was laid quickly, leaving no time to take in the city.
The police selected a team that would split into two – one half for the Game Corner and the other for the Prize Hall, where the stolen Pokémon waited to be given away to the luckiest players.
One Officer would accompany Gancena and Ash into the casino. Gancena would watch for Thoughtless and point out where the switch was. The Officer would exercise authority to get to it if she had to.
Then Red, Erika, her Trainers, and the police would be signaled to start their raid. The police would arrest and gather as many Rockets as they could.
Gancena gave her best instructions on dealing with Thoughtless.
The Game Corner had no windows, but it was very flashy outside and well-lit inside.
Gancena immediately found herself a little thrown off. She’d expected the rows and rows of slot machines right in front of the entrance, but card game tables, roulettes, and dice pits were completely unexpected. On her shoulder, Ash blinked and rubbed her eyes.
But she did see a service counter lined up with the back wall roughly where she expected it to be. She also noticed multiple posters, with a uniformed guard leaning on the wall between them.
“There,” Gancena whispered. “It’s gotta be one of those.”
“Sit at a nearby slot machine in case any of your Thoughtless show up. Leave the conversation to me.”
“Got you covered. Stay with me, Ashie.”
Gancena got comfortable at the second-closest machine, watching as the Officer approached the casino guard. Seconds later, Ash jumped off her shoulder and leaned down to look at something on the floor. Gancena looked, too, and found a single Game Corner token, lost and alone.
She picked it up and examined it briefly as Ash returned to her lap. The design was completely inconspicuous, a simple, bold “CGC” pressed onto it. Staring at the flourescent reels of the slot machine, Gancena absently slipped the single token into its coin slot and pulled the lever.
At the same time, the guard said to the Officer, “What’s the matter?”
“The matter is that I need to inspect the space behind those posters.”
“May I ask why?”
“See, we have strong reason to believe that it’s a matter of one Team Rocket. If we’re wrong, we’ll be out of here faster than an addict runs out of tokens.”
The guard chuckled, but before he could reply, Gancena shouted.
“Are you seeeeerious!?”
Both the Officer and the guard glanced back to see Gancena standing straight up in front of her chiming slot machine, tokens pouring all over the floor, 7s blinking on the reels.
The Officer took the opportunity, tearing the posters to the left and right of the guard, finding nothing, but seeing the discreet little switch on the third one ripped away and flicking it while the coins continued to fall.
The guard looked back. “Hey!”
At the corner of the casino, part of the floor opened up to reveal a secret staircase. The guard fled that way.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” called Gancena, running after him.
The Officer pulled a walkie-talkie from her belt. “We’ve found the switch! Enter when ready!”
Gancena descended into the Game Corner’s basement and just managed to catch sight of the supposed guard running into another doorway. Ash jumped off Gancena’s shoulder and ran after him.
“Stop!” called Gancena.
As they entered that room, he was already passing through another, wider doorway.
A huge steel door shut. Ash banged into it.
“Ashie, are you okay!?” Gancena immediately called, kneeling by her Pikachu.
Ash shook her head and rubbed the spot she hit. Then she looked at Gancena and nodded. “Pikachu.”
Gancena got up and examined the door closely. She checked for a latch or a button, but there was nothing. She tugged futilely at its edge. “Yeah, that’s kind of how I thought that would go.”
“Who’s there!?” a voice called. “The hell’s going on?” A Rocket Grunt entered the room. “Hey, how’d you get in here!?”
“Same way as everyone else,” Gancena retorted.
Ash crouched and sparked.
The Rocket yanked a Poké Ball off his belt. “Go, Rattata! Take ‘em out with a Hyper Fang!”
The moment the Rattata appeared, it lunged forward to try and bite Ash. Without being told, she retaliated with a Thundershock, which made the Rattata stumble in its tracks.
“Freeze!” yelled the voice of another Officer.
The Rocket turned just as a Growlithe leaped and tackled him to the ground. The Officer was on his heels with a pair of handcuffs.
“Wait, wait, hold on!” the Rocket cried. “I’m in the middle of a battle here!”
“Gancena!” called Red’s voice.
“Pikapi!” called Pikachu.
“Get going,” the Officer said to her. “I’ve got this one covered.”
Gancena nodded. “Thank you. Come on, Ashie.”
They left the room and rejoined Red just as Erika was speaking:
“Everyone, scatter and inspect the entire area. Don’t go anywhere by yourself. Trainers, you have my permission to challenge the Rockets any way you have to. Now go!”
Multiple Growlithe sped ahead of their Officer Trainers. Gym Trainers and their Grass-type Pokemon moved forward together. Some scattered across the floor. Others descended a stairwell. Gancena and Red watched them go.
“Where to?” Red asked.
“The room I just came from is blocked off on the other side, and there doesn’t seem to be much on the other side … I think what we can see of this floor is covered, Red,” said Gancena. “Let’s move downstairs.”
They followed the noise. When they emerged on the second basement floor, they noticed a complex of conveyor belts. There were short walls around most of the belts. Some wound in different directions, but they all seemed to end on a mere patch of solid tile, where one could decide on the next belt to ride on.
“Oh, it’s that thing,” Gancena recalled.
“What about it?”
“Look how crazy it is. It’s probably to stall people like us.”
“Do we need to go through it?”
“Probably. There’s another stairwell already right here, but chances are there’s something on this floor worth our attention.”
“Then Mary and I will investigate,” said Erika from behind them, accompanied by a Trainer. “We should be able to find the path through. You two continue downstairs. I’ll join you when I can.”
“Sounds good,” Gancena agreed. Red nodded and immediately headed further downstairs.
There was another complex of conveyor belts on the next floor, though it was much smaller. Still, it caught the group off guard. “Uh…”
“Bell!” called a voice.
Standing on one of the divides between belts was a small Pokémon with a bell-shaped yellow face and a long, thin, stem-like body – a Bellsprout, beckoning them with one of its leaves.
“Bellsprout bell!” it said before jumping onto a belt leading to their right.
Red was the first to follow. “This way!”
It turned out the path across the smaller complex was mostly straightforward, though on one or two occasions, what looked like a step backward was what would lead them to the correct belt to move onto. Still, Bellsprout’s help made it faster.
One of Erika’s Trainers did battle with a Rocket. When Red and Gancena came to the other side of the floor, Bellsprout called to her. “Bell bell!”
“Great job, Bellsprout!” she said. “Keep watch for anyone else who needs to get through.”
Gancena saw another stairwell. “Red, down there.”
At the same time, Erika and Mary had unraveled the path across the propulsion system on the second floor of the hideout and found a stairwell leading upward and a lot of noise.
Across the room they found were literally dozens of scared and crying Pokémon in cages, lined in rows and stacked up. Two Rocket Grunts inspected them.
One turned. “Hey, Chief! We just got in this shipment of—“ he stopped.
“What is it?” the other asked, turning.
Erika glared and wordlessly released a Poké Ball. Inside was a Pokémon resembling a messy ball of purple vines. Dark eyes peered from a small gap in them. “Tangela. Bind.”
Tangela’s vines stretched rapidly and wrapped tightly around each of the Grunts.
Amidst their yelling, Mary asked, “You want me to get others to help these Pokémon?”
“Immediately. In fact, find as many of the others as you can. We’re making this our top priority.”
Red and Gancena emerged in a wide hallway with two doors in front of them, one nearby and one farther away. Both were ajar.
There was an airy noise from the door on the right. “Oh, shit.”
Gancena’s eyes widened. Both Pikachu pricked their ears and looked.
“Pika ka!?” Ash yowled.
“What’d that guy say?” asked Red.
“Something an eleven-year-old probably shouldn’t be repeating. Let’s get them,” she said, already aproaching the door.
She pushed it open to find a Zubat behind it, and it immediately released Supersonic waves.
Gancena held her ears shut, vision blurring. She tried to stumble backwards but somehow found herself hitting the wall by the door.
“Ash, use Tenderfoot!” Gancena shouted desperately.
“Piii!?” she heard Ash call.
She tried again. “Tender—Thunderfoal! Hey, Red?”
“Pikachu, Thundershock!” Red called.
Pikachu stood before the Zubat and attacked, sending it down quickly. The Rocket Grunt inside recalled it quickly and tossed another Poke Ball. Out came a round, floating purple Pokémon with holes all over its body.
“Koffing, Smog!” the Rocket commanded.
Koffing expanded a little before shrinking rapidly, shooting noxious gas out of every hole it had. Gancena and Red held their noses.
“Watch out!” Red managed.
Both Pikachu ended up with a paw over their noses, though they coughed a bit. Pikachu blindly let out another Thundershock, which hit the Koffing and paused its attack.
“Charmeleon,” Red coughed, “take a deep breath and use Ember!”
When Charmeleon was released, he did not say his name. He merely spat clusters of fire, burning away the smoggy gas.
“Tackle it, Koffing!”
Koffing charged through the remnants of its Smog and hit Charmeleon.
“Scratch!” Red immediately called, and Charmeleon swung his arm strongly at Koffing, scraping it and sending it backwards.
Koffing shot dark gas right at Charmeleon’s face.
“Flamethrower!” Red shouted.
Charmeleon turned his head, took a breath, and shot a flame at Koffing, burning through the remnants of the gas and setting Koffing aflame for a frightening second.
The Rocket Grunt glanced between Charmeleon, Red, Gancena, and their Pikachu. He then drew out Koffing’s Poké Ball and recalled it. “I don’t have time for this!” After reattaching the Ball to his belt, he stuck his hand in his pocket and tried to run past Red and Gancena.
The Lift Key! Gancena realized quickly. Without thinking, she tackled him to the ground. As she’d hoped, a card flew out of his hand and slid across the floor.
“Ashie, that card! Get it!” she shouted.
“No, no, nononono!” The Rocket panicked and flailed his arms, trying to grab at Gancena.
Ash swept up the card in her mouth and waited at the other end of the hall.
Gancena decided to try knocking the Grunt out with her Super Scope, but the moment she moved her arm to grab it, he took advantage of the opening and shoved her off. He started running towards Ash. “C’mere, you little rat!”
“Ashie!” Gancena shouted. “Thunder Wave!”
Ash, still holding the card, leaned forward on all fours and sent out what looked to be mild pulses of electricity. The Rocket fell over and hit the floor with an alarming thud, almost completely stiff.
The Grunt ground out words between twitches. “Little… bullshit… bitch! You’ll… pay…!”
“‘Scuse you!” Gancena shouted. “Geez. Let’s just go, guys. The police will take care of him when they find him.” She scooped Ash up, and Ash put the key card in her hand. After pocketing it securely, she stomped back up the stairwell, Red following closely.
“Okay, where now?” Red asked when they returned to the now empty floor.
“Okay, that key is for a lift—an elevator. It might be on the other side of the belts.”
They crossed again on a belt made to take people straight back to where they came. When they returned to the stairwell, Gancena looked at a hall they’d overlooked when Bellsprout called to them.
“Let me see if it’s through here.” Gancena dashed into the hallway and returned seconds later. “There isn’t a door here. Let’s try the second floor. It’s the only one we haven’t explored yet.”
They went up the stairwell, and immediately saw a pair of Officers overlooking the complex. People were returning holding caged Pokémon.
“Hey, you two. Erika found a room full of stolen Pokémon. We’re taking them out now. She wants as many of us as possible to go there. Come on; I’ll show you the way across.”
They were guided over the convoluted path, eyeing the process as it went. People handed crates off to each other. Some sat by open cages, comforting particularly frightened Pokémon. Erika was out of sight, but when Red and Gancena arrived on the other side of the propulsion pads, they could hear her voice directing the effort.
Gancena glanced around and noticed the door to the elevator, and a single Celadon Gym Trainer eyeing the buttons next to it.
“Red,” Gancena said. “There it is.”
“You’re right!” Red dashed over to the Trainer. “Hey!”
Gancena followed, and the Trainer said, “Hello again, guys. We should probably all focus on helping out those Pokémon. This elevator needs a card key.”
“You mean…” said Gancena, reaching into her pocket, “this card key? …Maybe?”
“Maybe! Where’d you find it?”
“We got it off a Rocket after beating him in battle. We’re going to try it out. Tell Erika we went ahead to scout whatever else is down there.”
“All right. Be careful, guys,” said the Trainer, rejoining the main group.
Gancena swiped the card. With a beep, the elevator doors opened. Red stepped in immediately, but Gancena glanced at the rest of the raiders before following.
“We can go to the first floor or the fourth,” Red announced. “You were right again. They didn’t put in a button for the third floor.”
“I think we’ll ultimately find what we’re looking for on the fourth floor,” said Gancena.
Red pressed the button, and they waited. There was a subtle shift, and the elevator was moving. Everyone was quiet.
When the door opened, there was a little bit of space and then another door. Nobody was there.
They approached, and when Red reached out to open the door, Gancena stopped him. “Wait. Let me… just in case.”
Red let his arm drop. Gancena lightly touched the door handle, and when she pressed down, she found no resistance. She preemptively drew out her Super Scope.
“Ash, get on me.” When Ash was situated, she continued. “I’m going to count to three really quickly and then we’re going in. Okay?”
“One, two, three.” In one burst of movement, she pushed the door open and took a few steps inside, aiming for a Thoughtless she immediately saw. She didn’t fire. Instead, she took a heartbeat to observe the situation.
It was a tall and wide room with fake plants lining most of the back wall and a long, polished wood desk in the middle.
On the other side of the desk sat a man in a suit, petting a content Persian. Three Thoughtless surrounded him. Gancena allowed herself a small shudder.
The man smiled. “So, you’re the children who’ve been interfering with our operations. And here you are again.” He pointed at Gancena. “You for the second time…” He pointed to Red. “And you for the third.”
“The Rocket Boss, I presume?” Gancena said. “You’re the only one with Thoughtless today.”
“Is that your name for them?”
“It’s the name for them.”
“Who are you!?” Red demanded.
“You really are a child. Telling you would undo everything I’ve worked for.”
“We don’t need to know who you are to stop you,” said Gancena.
“Good luck. Especially without the help of Lavender Town’s precious ghosts!”
Gancena allowed herself the ghost of a smirk, even as the Thoughtless around the Rocket Boss began to pulse.
“Ash, Thundershock,” Gancena commanded.
Ash unleashed her attack just as the three Thoughtless rushed forward. As the bolt made contact, the Thoughtless were slowed significantly, only pushing forward by static inches.
“Pikachu, Thunderbolt!” said Red.
The combined attack stopped the Thoughtless completely.
Gancena readied her Super Scope. As she aimed, she noticed that the Thoughtless were already fizzling away. She charged and fired – once, again, thrice.
The Boss’ brow furrowed and he glared at Gancena. “So it wasn’t the ghosts that saved the Tower.”
“They were extremely helpful, though, even though those Thoughtless are my responsibility. If you’re going to try to stop us, you’ll have to take us down the old-fashioned way. Red?”
Red stepped forward. “I challenge you to a Pokémon battle! If you win, we’ll leave. If I win, you’re coming with us.”
“It’d take more than that to bring me to custody. Persian, I think you should return. I’d hate for you to get messy over a skirmish like this,” said the Boss, drawing out a black and gold Poké Ball. Persian gave a small meow as he was drawn back into the Ball. Then the Boss pulled out a normal Poké Ball.
“Here. Try.” With a light toss, the Boss revealed a Rhyhorn, a short, gray, four-legged Pokemon with a short horn on its snout.
Before even thinking about reaching for his Poké Balls, Red took out and opened his Pokédex. “Rhyhorn, the Spikes Pokémon. Though this Pokémon has remarkable offensive and defensive capability, it is inept at turning while moving. Once it starts charging, it will not stop until it hits a hard enough object.”
Red looked back at Gancena expectantly. She answered, though there was a brief thought of what the Boss might think of them as a unit. “Pick Squirtle or Ivysaur,” she advised.
“Got it.” Red chose his Poké Ball – Ivysaur, who announced himself with an emphatic “Saur!”
“Let’s not waste time. Horn Attack,” the Boss commanded.
“Razor Leaf!” called Red.
Rhyhorn charged, and Ivysaur’s leaves only minimally slowed it down.
“Watch out!” Red called. Ivysaur leaped out of the way – and seconds later, so did Red and Pikachu, leaving Rhyhorn to crash into the wall behind him.
“The Pokédex wasn’t kidding!” Gancena said.
“Remember to stop if you’ve passed your target!” The Boss scolded. “Use Fury Attack. We’ll fix that later.”
With some trouble, Rhyhorn turned to face Ivysaur and charged again.
“Vine Whip, Ivysaur!”
Ivysaur revealed his vines, pulled them behind him, and sent them forward to strike Rhyhorn sharply across the face and shoulders. Though Rhyhorn ultimately shut one eye, it still reached Ivysaur, horn glowing, and struck Ivysaur five times in unusually quick succession, sending him backwards. Despite the brief flight, Ivysaur landed on all fours and stood his ground.
“Are you okay?” Red called.
Ivysaur nodded. “Saur!”
“Do it again, Ivysaur!”
Ivysaur struck Rhyhorn harshly and it slumped, squinting in pain.
The Boss wordlessly recalled Rhyhorn and sent out a different Poké Ball. Out slowly came a huge, long, snake-like Pokémon made of a chain of boulders. It had to duck its head to fit in the room, which only made it look bigger. It stared the group down and gave a long roar of “Ooooooooniiiiiix!”
Gancena snapped her fingers and pointed. “That. Was impressive.”
“Another Onix!” Red exclaimed. “Don’t worry, Gancena, I know how to beat this one. Razor Leaf!”
“Saur!” Another flurry of leaves flew at Onix, and though most of them hit, Onix was barely disturbed.
“Screech,” commanded the Boss.
Onix let out a different noise, one that was brief and high-pitched. Everyone on Ivysaur’s side of the room found themselves covering their ears. Red had no time to give another command.
Onix swung its massive tail and pulled Ivysaur toward it before squeezing.
“Ivysaur!” Red called. He paused for a second, then pulled Ivysaur’s Poké Ball. “Return, Ivysaur! I won’t let you get hurt like this!”
When Ivysaur was safely returned, Onix glared at Red, waiting his next move just as much as the Boss was.
Squirtle announced himself.
The Boss scoffed. “You couldn’t hope to defeat Onix with such a young Pokémon. Ivysaur, at least, had experience.”
Squirtle scowled and puffed out his chest.
“He’s not as young as you think! Squirtle, Water Gun!”
Squirtle sprayed a solid jet, and while Onix winced, it appeared to shake off the attack.
“Rage,” the Boss said.
Onix growled before lowering itself and lunging forward at Squirtle, hitting him. Squirtle immediately withdrew into his shell before landing.
Squirtle reemerged, but Onix attacked again, sending him across the room.
“Squirtle!” Red called.
There was an anxious pause, and then Red asked, “Squirtle… could it be time…?”
Squirtle watched as Onix poised itself. He jumped before Onix lunged again, its tail nearly scraping an emergency sprinkler in the ceiling.
Red and Squirtle glanced at the ceiling at the same time. Squirtle smirked. “Squir. Squirtle tle.”
“Okay. Watch for Onix’s attack!”
Squirtle waited less than a second. When Onix dove again, Squirtle leaped to the side and began to glow white.
“No way!” Gancena called.
The light faded before Squirtle hit the ground, and in his place was a darker blue turtle with long, furry, pale blue ears and a curly tail.
“Now, Wartortle! Hit the sprinkler!”
The Boss’ eyes widened. Wartortle jumped from the ground, then from Onix. He withdrew into his shell, spinning rapidly, and broke two sprinklers place in the ceiling. All of the sprinklers in the room began to spray.
Gancena cried out in surprise when the water hit her. So did Onix.
Wartortle breathed deeply and fired the strongest jet he’d ever sprayed, right in Onix’s face. It shook its head desperately and lurched forward, only to sag to the floor.
Onix was recalled from under the spray of the broken sprinklers.
Though the Boss scowled, he gave a tiny nod. He spoke to Red above the sound of the sprinklers. “It’s clear that despite needing help from older friends to battle, you treat your Pokémon with the utmost care. I admit I’m impressed with that.” He paused. “But neither of you could understand what I hope to accomplish.” He backed up. “Considering how much progress your friends have no doubt made by now, I’ll yield this time. But when next we meet, don’t expect me to hold back.” With a tap of the toe of his shoe, the wall behind him opened.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” Gancena shouted, running forward and around the table. The Boss stepped backward and into the secret compartment.
The wall slammed closed, and when Gancena got there, she pressed her ear against it, listening for movement. There was a faint hum that moved downwards.
“A secret elevator,” she declared, shivering. “Out of nowhere and everything.” She turned back around and tried lightly tapping her shoe around where the Boss had.
Red approached the wall the Boss had vanished into and ran his hand over it before hitting it several times. On the third try, Gancena approached him, rubbing her arms. “Red, Red, Red. I don’t think it’s going to break or open or anything.”
Red then went to the tiles where the Boss had tapped. “Well, we can’t let him get away! We gotta figure out how to open the elevator.”
“Pi-i, pikachu pika pi pika chu.”
Red sighed. “You’re probably right.”
“Can we at least get out of this room, then?” Gancena asked. “This was cool during battle, but right now, it’s not fun.”
“Yeah, let’s,” said Red.
Nothing beyond the Boss’ office was wet. Both Pikachu shook themselves off. Gancena wrung out her ponytail and the ends of her clothes, saying, “If the Boss escaped, then all that’s left is to get back to the others.”
“Right. The Pokémon probably still need help,” Red agreed, twisting his cap. “But, Gancena, he had Thoughtless with him. They weren’t bothering him or anything. Should we be worried?”
“Well… yeah, but not that much more than usual, I think. I’m kind of not surprised.”
Though it was still damp, Red put his hat back on. “Really?”
“Yeah. When I was first told about the Thoughtless, Selene specifically said that they would help villains with their plans first and then destroy the world. It benefits them.”
“So we’ll probably see him again.”
“Oh, Red, I know we’ll see him again.”
Commotion in Celadon City was at a record high less than thirty minutes later. Once the raid team had transported all of the stolen Pokémon to the Pokémon Center, there was chaos inside and a large crowd outside.
When Erika saw that Red and Gancena were soaked, her attention shifted to them. “What happened to you!?”
“Red had a battle that got a little rowdy. Set the sprinklers off. It was kind of awesome, except for the getting cold and wet part,” said Gancena.
Erika was quick to excuse herself from the crowd, telling each of her Trainers they could do as they like. The Gym would definitely be closed for the rest of the afternoon.
She whisked them away to her own home, a very calm little cottage not too far from the Gym but distinctly detached from the body of the city. It had many windows and only a few lamps. There were various plants everywhere.
Erika’s hospitality was very reminiscent of Rose, Gancena thought. She immediately offered to hang their clothes to dry and make them tea. She gave them towels to dry themselves off. She let them take their time to change and settle in.
Gancena took the time to inspect her inventory. Though her backpack got wet, the contents weren’t even damp, which was good. She gladly put on the spare shirt Rose got her, but ended up borrowing one of Erika’s offered robes due to her only pair of jeans being wet.
Then she turned her attention to Ash, who was licking her arms. “C’mere.” She began rubbing her with the towel. “Two freakin’ battles with Team Rocket in two days. How’s that for excitement?”
“Come to think, I’m actually a little mad about the slot machine. I’ve literally tried that thing on and off for years when I was playing the games and I never once got a jackpot. Try it casually while waiting for a raid and boom. And I didn’t even have a Coin Case or anything, so I didn’t have an efficient spot to put them.”
“Pika. Pika-Pika ka chu…” Ash said, gesturing.
“…I really gotta learn your language already,” Gancena lamented. She picked Ash up. “In the meantime, let’s try some tea.”
When she was finally able to join the others at a low table, Gancena sighed. Red was in a new change of clothes save for his jacket and hat. Pikachu and Ash had their own very tiny cups of tea. With Erika was her Gloom, a short, round blue Pokémon with perpetually closed eyes, a perpetually drooling mouth, and a perpetual faint smell that Gancena couldn’t decide if she liked or not. Regardless, she said, “Thank you for all of this.”
“You’re welcome. It’s the least I could do after all your recent efforts. I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay much longer—I’d like to continue helping the Pokémon from the Game Corner—but Gloom can act as a host in the meantime. She can help you with anything around the house. Please, rest as long as you like.”
“Thanks!” said Red.
“Thank you very much. I gotta say, I’m pleasantly surprised at how hospitable everyone in this region’s been,” Gancena added.
“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who travel and those who don’t,” Erika explained. “The ones who don’t are used to helping the ones who do.”
Gancena smiled and took a tentative sip of tea. To her, it tasted more like hot leaf juice than anything. She automatically grimaced. “Alas. Still haven’t acquired a taste.”
“I think it’s a good thing you tried anyway,” said Erika.
Red and Pikachu took several sips of their cups. “I think it’s just about finding your cup, Gancena.”
Gancena chuckled and watched Ash take a sip of tea and then ponder it. Then she asked Erika, “I need to ask before you go: You didn’t see any Thoughtless while you were down there, did you?”
“No, thankfully. What about you?”
“Three. With the Boss Rocket.”
“Yes. We ended up confronting him ourselves. Red defeated him in battle, but he fled. I’m sorry we didn’t get the chance to apprehend him.”
Erika paused and sighed. “…I am, too. I made rescuing the Pokémon the top priority. That was when we lost track of any other Rocket personnel.”
“It’s not your fault!” Gancena immediately interjected. “Anyone would have done the same. My point, Erika, is more about the fact that Thoughtless have been seen with Team Rocket twice now. They’re augmenting the team. You and the other protectorates need to be careful…”
“Thank you for telling me. I’ll definitely pass the message on.” Erika almost made a motion to stand up, but then she looked at Red. “But before I go… Red?”
Red gulped his tea. “Yeah?”
“You’re the only one taking the Gym Challenge, yes? Your defeat of the Rocket Boss is remarkable, particularly in light of the circumstances. So I would like to make an offer.”
“What kind of offer?”
“The League rules say that a Gym Badge is given to challengers who defeat a Gym Leader, unless the Leader has seen a Trainer perform exceptional feats. And I think you’ve done that today.” Her fingers slipped into a fold on the side of her kimono, and she pulled out a flower-like badge with petals of all the colors of the rainbow. “I think you’ve earned this: The Rainbow Badge.”
“Eeeeh!?” Gancena exclaimed. “Red, this is amazing!”
“You can take it now, if you wish.”
Red stared at it in awe. “…You really think I’ve earned it?”
Erika smiled very warmly. “Yes. The Badge is definitely yours.”
Red nodded, reached across the table, and gently picked up the Badge from Erika’s hand. It gleamed beautifully in the sunlight.