In that moment, the raven-haired teen knew only one thing: betrayal.
It was more than he could bear. On his knees, tears streaming in silver rivers down his cheeks, he cried out to his former friends.
"Why? Why would you abandon years of characterization like this?"
Serena spat at him.
"Like you would need to ask us. You're such an attention whore. Stringing me, and everyone else, along for years!"
"We're not going to be strung along anymore, Ash," said Clemont, his eyes hidden behind the shine in his glasses as he adjusted them. "That's why we gave away the story's biggest plot twist in the summary!"
Ash held his hands up to the sky. It was so red, it looked like it would rain blood.
"But I thought we were friends! Friends forever!"
"Not anymore!" said Bonnie, sticking her tongue out at him.
"What did I ever do to you to deserve this?" said Ash.
"Nothing that a realistic human being with real flaws and limitations wouldn't have done," said Clemont.
"We're just blowing your failures out of proportion to create cheap and easy dramatic tension," said Serena.
Everyone else turned to leave, but Serena stayed behind.
She folded her hands over her heart. A hint of remorse showed in her eyes.
"This is the part where I look like I have second thoughts about what I'm doing, so people think we might get back together at the end," she said.
Ash reached for her hand, but fell flat on his face.
"Please don't leave me!"
"I hate you, Ash. Probably."
Serena walked away. But that was not the final cut.
Pikachu hopped down from Ash's shoulder.
"No," Ash said, his sobs becoming desperate as he shook his head over and over. "No, not you, buddy. Not you, too!"
Pikachu stood before Ash's tear stained face. Slowly, he turned his head away.
"Pikachu, please! No!"
Raising his paw, Pikachu extended one middle finger. His cheeks began to spark.
"Buddy, what are you doing?!"
Pikachu fired the Thunderbolt, and Ash spasmed on the ground. His world came to an end.
~*~*~*Three Years Later*~*~*~
His raven-black locks swayed in the wind. In the pre-dawn hours atop Mt. Silver, he sat in silence. Any minute, the sun would appear on the horizon, marking the beginning of yet another day in desolate solitude.
At that moment, Charizard swooped through the air, coming up to the ridge from below. He carried the corpse of an Abomasnow in his arms. Proudly, he landed in front of his trainer.
Without opening his eyes, his trainer gave a single, stiff nod in acknowledgement.
"Nice work. Take it to the cave. Greninja and Sceptile will help you butcher it."
Charizard did not move. After a second, his trainer opened his eyes.
Eyes of pitch black turned to shining blue. His long hair stood on end. He looked into Charizard's mind. He saw what his faithful fire-type had seen only minutes before.
His shining blue eyes returned to their normal state, deep black and drained of color.
"Alert the others."
Charizard gave a small roar and took off again, flying a short distance to the cave below the ridge which they now called home.
Sitting there with snow drifting around him in the wind, sunrise grew ever closer. Minutes passed in a mere instant, tiny moments of peace compared to the years of isolation and torment he had endured.
The sound of the howling wind was joined by something else.
They came ever closer, the crunch of the snow and ice beneath them becoming louder and louder, until finally, they stopped.
His eyes still closed, he sat there before his long-awaited visitor.
A gruff, hoarse voice spoke.
"I found you."
There was a loud crunch and a rush of cold air as the visitor dropped to his knees.
The raven-haired trainer opened his eyes, and he saw the massive form of AZ on the icy ground before him, his hands reaching for the heavens, so close above.
"Wait, it was supposed to be Mewtwo who came here, not y-"
"It's been three thousand years…" AZ whispered, tears forming in his eyes.
"For centuries, I have wandered in search of you, and at last, I've found you. The one who will rise to save us all."
"It's been three years. I've counted."
AZ's hands fell to his sides. He lowered his head.
"Three thousand years…"
"Dude, three years. I've got marks on the cave walls to prove it."
Tears streamed down AZ's sunken, hard face. Before the silver rivers could reach his neck, they stopped, frozen in the bone-chilling wind.
"At last, the prophecy will be fulfilled!" AZ said through sobs.
Wiping his eyes on his sleeves, with rivers of ice breaking away from his red face, AZ looked up again.
"You must know of it. There's no way you couldn't."
"There's literally no way I could. I've been alone on this mountain for three years. You're the first person I've laid eyes on since…"
"Since your exile began?"
The raven-haired teen nodded.
"I know you have seen more than what your eyes show you," said AZ. "I have sensed it."
"It's been calling to me, through space and time. Three thousand years…"
"And so, I heeded the call."
"I was calling for Mewtwo, not you."
"I journeyed endlessly, always following the call. It led me here, at last."
"Kalos is on another continent. How could you possibly get here on foot?"
"My journey of three thousand miles began with but a single step."
"Onto a plane, or a ship, or something, right? Literally how are you here? Are nine-foot tall people common now?"
"The prophecy… it shall come to pass…"
"You are at the heart of a conflict which shall reshape the fate of the world as we know it."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"The one from whom everything has been taken shall rise again as the new lord of this world, the one who will bring this world back from the edge."
"The edge of what?"
AZ's eyes went wide with feverish, mad intensity. His voice shook as he whispered one, single word.
Gasping for breath, AZ fell sideways into the snow.
"My mission… complete at last…"
AZ raised a single, shaking hand. He shielded his bleary eyes from the rays of red morning sunlight now peeking over the distant horizon.
"At last, the dawn. The dawn of a new era. It's been three million years..."
The raven-haired trainer rose to his feet.
"You said the fate of the world hangs in the balance?"
"Yes. This world is yours to claim now."
Stepping past where AZ lay, he began to walk away. A few steps later, he stopped.
"Wait," said AZ.
Without looking back, the teen trainer responded.
"I know now what I must do."
"But… I haven't even told you what's happening…"
"I know. That's why I must go. If I let you explain everything, it might resolve all these plot holes."
Brilliant rays of red and orange sunlight illuminated the raven-haired teen from behind as he again began to walk away.
Behind him, there was another soft crunch as AZ laid his head down in the snow.
"My time… it has finally come…"
The young trainer paused. He turned his head to look back.
"You're, like, actually immortal, right? I know you're not dying."
"Just taking a nap," said AZ. "It's been three billion years…"
Shaking his head, the raven-haired trainer turned up his collar and left.
It was time to rise.
The stadium was in sight. Inside an active volcano, on an island in the eye of a perpetual hurricane, his destiny waited. Today was the day he would bring the masters of this world to their knees.
And they would beg.
On the back of Ho-oh, he swooped in, landing in the middle of a crowd gathered by the stadium entrance. Nobody reacted to his entrance with a legendary Pokémon. The world had changed, as he would soon learn.
"Thank you, my friend," he said to Ho-oh, stroking its beak lovingly before it took to the sky again, leaving a rainbow in its wake.
Making his way through what would soon be his nameless rabble of victims, he walked up to the registration desk.
"Name?" the lady at the desk asked him.
He eyed her levelly, his pitch-black eyes piercing her soul.
As he saw right through her, she gasped. A single tear rolled down her cheek. He edged closer to her.
"Red," he whispered.
In the staging area for the contestants, he waited. He recognized every single face among them. Through some unimaginable twist of fate, Serena, Clemont, Bonnie, Iris, Cilan, Dawn, May, Max, Misty, Brock, Tracey, Alain, Sawyer, Virgil, Cameron, Tobias, Paul, and Gary were all there.
He wondered if they could recognize him. They had all turned on him. The only thing that hadn't turned on him was the abyss. He had stared into it, and it had stared back into him.
And the abyss bowed before his might.
The crowd erupted into a gigantic mosh pit as death metal began to blare over the speakers, and a platform rose from the pit of boiling lava below. Holding a severed Garchomp head on a pike, a single man stood on the platform, wearing a mask made from a human skull.
The man growled into his microphone.
"Welcome, one and all, to the highest-stakes tournament in the history of the world! Today, we will crown a new champion of the universe!"
He lifted the pike with the severed Garchomp head high into the air, and the crowd roared.
"The winner will become the new lord of this world! The losers… will be slaughtered."
The crowd screamed for blood. A chainsaw revved in the distance.
"Our first match will be between Red and Tobias!"
The two competitors stepped onto their respective sides of the field. Tobias eyed his opponent with suspicion.
"You… I remember you. You're the boy I faced in the Sinnoh League some years ago."
"Am I, now?"
"That boy is dead. He died long ago."
"I suppose the prophecy is true, then! You really are the edgelord it foretold!"
"I'll show you just how right you are."
The announcer spoke again.
"This will be a one-on-one battle with no rules! Begin!"
Ash stared down the face of a Pokemon that had tormented him for years.
His torment was going to end today.
"Lucario, I choose you!"
The form of Ash's most trusted partner, the shiny Lucario he had raised from a Riolu, appeared on the field. So strong and so unbreakable was their bond that there was no need for words. Using aura, they communicated with their minds.
Ash smirked. It was already over.
Lucario mega evolved, then lazily raised one hand and fired an Aura Sphere. It ripped through the Luster Purge like a bullet through paper, then hit Latios with the force of an atomic bomb.
There was a brilliant flash. When the dust settled, Latios was reduced to a pile of blue and white ashes on the stadium floor.
Tobias fell to his knees.
The crowd roared.
"This battle is over!" the announcer growled. "Red moves on, and Tobias shall now face DEATH. BY. FIRE!"
A chasm opened in the stadium floor, and Tobias fell through it, into the maw of hell. His screams were silenced as he sank into the lava below.
Ash watched a dozen more pathetic trainers fall to their doom before his name was called again for the second round.
"Up next, Red versus Alain!"
Ash and Alain stepped onto the field. Alain's Mega Charizard stood by his side.
"I can see your face behind all that hair," Alain said. "I know who you really are, and you will not defeat me! I am the true edgelord!"
Ash licked his lips.
"Come at me."
Charizard charged. In one swift motion, Greninja came out of his ball, transformed, pulled the shuriken from his back, and cut Charizard in half with it.
The crowd roared.
Alain, and the halves of Charizard, were swallowed by the lava.
A while later, Ash came up for his third round battle.
Paul stood on the opposite side of the field.
"You know that no matter how edgy you have become, you don't stand a chance against me! I was a true lord of the edge long before you were!"
Ash shook his head.
"Oh, my sweet summer child…"
"What did you call me? Electivire, prepare for battle!"
"I'll show you what edge really looks like!"
Sceptile came out of his ball. Immediately, he mega evolved.
"Electivire, Thunder Punch!"
Sceptile easily caught Electivire's punch with his tail.
In a blindingly fast motion, Sceptile drove his leaf blades into both of Electivire's eyes.
The crowd roared.
Sceptile pulled his blades out of Electivire's eye sockets, and Electivire fell to the ground, dead.
The crowd roared.
The ground opened beneath Paul's feet and sent him to a fiery end.
The crowd roared.
Back at the staging area, there were only a few trainers left.
While Ash watched the next pitiful loser be sent to their doom, he noticed Bonnie sneaking around the corner. She held a syringe in her hand.
Just then, Ash's Tyranitar emerged from his ball without warning and mega evolved. With the unbreakable bond formed when Ash hatched him from an egg, there was no way he could not go back to his master's side when he returned to Mt. Silver.
Tyranitar plucked Dedenne off of Ash's back and ate him.
Bonnie scurried away around the corner. Out of curiosity, because the life or death battles taking place were so boring, Ash followed her.
When he came around the corner, he saw Jessie and James holding Bonnie down to the floor, Meowth standing over her, his claws drawn and held to her neck.
"What did we tell ya about messin' up dis mission! If ya don't stop dat twoip before he takes ova da whole planet, we's gonna do ta you what da boss is gonna do ta us!"
Bonnie screamed. Ash edged away.
Back in the staging area, he swept a lock of his raven hair over one eye so it would be at least twice as hard to recognize him, and he edged closer to Serena. Pikachu was on her shoulder. The little bastard.
Ash knew what was coming. He had the edge. He would soon get his revenge.
The field was reduced to only two.
It was him versus Serena in the finals.
They stood on opposite sides of the battlefield.
The crowd roared.
"Of course it has come to this," said Serena. "There was no way it couldn't."
Ash swept some more hair over his one covered eye. He grinned devilishly.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," he said.
"So, do you know how this is going to end?" said Serena.
"You know I do," Ash said edgily. "There's even less of a chance of either one of us dying than there is of this battle having a proper resolution."
"Hmph," Serena snorted haughtily, Pikachu hopping down from her shoulder. "We'll see about that. I'd say it's a toss-up between us making out in the middle of the field or me somehow betraying you even worse than before."
"You can't betray me now," Ash said, his voice ragged and edgy. "I have nothing left."
"Why are you here, then?" said Serena. "If you're such a nihilist now, then why do you care what happens to this world?"
Ash shrugged, his expression full of edge.
"Beats me. This whole tournament is kind of a plot hole."
"And that doesn't bother you at all?"
"Why should it?" Ash edged. "I have become truly ambivalent toward good and evil."
"What are you, Shadow the Hedgehog?"
Ash looked at her from behind his edgy raven locks and gave her a toothy grin.
"No. I'm Ash Ketchum, and I'm seeing RED."
Serena backed away a step.
"Okay, forget that I mentioned making out with you. That's not going to happen."
"Your feelings betray you, just as you betrayed me. You don't want to fight me. You don't stand a chance."
"You're a fool, Ash. You always were! That's why I loved you, and that's why I hate you! That's why Pikachu and I have become more powerful than you two ever were!"
Ash chuckled softly. He sent out Pidgeot, his one true friend, the only friend who had returned to him in his hour of need. Pidgeot mega evolved and let out a piercing war cry.
"You're nothing," Ash said to Serena. "We don't even have to worry about type advantages."
"Oh really? Let's see what you think of this!"
Serena held out a crystal in her hand.
"Is that a piece of candy or something?" said Ash.
"Far from it! It's much sweeter. It's the key to your demise!"
"And the only thing that will be sweeter than this dialogue is the sweet release of death," said Ash.
Serena held the crystal and did an incredibly cringeworthy dance.
Ash craved the sweet release of death more than ever.
"If you want death, you've got it!" she said. "Pikachu, 10,000,000-Volt Thunderbolt!"
The massive Thunderbolt split the air and ripped through the sky. It wasn't aimed at Pidgeot. It was aimed at Ash.
But before it could hit Ash, Pidgeot, his true best friend, got in the way.
And Pidgeot shook it off like nothing.
"Impossible!" said Serena.
"Pssh, I told you," said Ash.
Ash grinned so devilishly and so toothily that he went cross-eyed.
"The power of friendship."
"Pidgeot, Mirror Move!"
Pidgeot opened his mouth wide, inhaling for a mighty blast. Serena and Pikachu both cowered. At lightning speed, Pidgeot closed in, then spun around in front of Pikachu. He fired his own 10,000,000-Volt Thunderbolt from his cloaca.
The crowd roared.
When the dust cleared, Pikachu was lying unconscious on the stadium floor. Serena was staring at Ash in disgust.
"Was it really necessary for him to fire it from… there?"
Ash shook his head and shrugged apologetically.
"I keep telling him not to do that, but he thinks it's funny. I dunno. Sorry."
Serena held a hand to her heart. She stared at the ground, expecting it to open beneath her any second.
"But- I'm not supposed to die!" she said.
"You won't," said Ash. "I won. I'm the ruler of this world now. I'll make sure you-"
But just then, Serena was wrapped in an indigo light, and her feet lifted from the ground. Her eyes and her head rolled back as she passed out of consciousness.
"You fool!" the announcer growled. "Did you really think you could win control of the whole world that easily? This was all a ruse. I deceived you."
Ash blinked a few times, staring at the announcer.
"Honestly, I didn't see this coming," said Ash. "I thought the biggest plot twist was that none of the characters in this story are even the slightest bit in character. Isn't that subversive enough by itself?"
The announcer spoke again, this time without growling. His voice was a smug drawl.
"My my, haven't you become clever?"
"Only when it makes me look cool."
"How trite. It's a shame, really, that it had to come to this. You see, I had you do the dirty work for me, all while laying your own trap. Were you characterized consistently, either you would have anticipated this and we would have explored the psychological implications of knowing what was coming, or you would have been taken completely by surprise and we would have explored your shock. But instead, we're breaking the fourth wall."
"I'll break the fifth wall if it's what I have to do to defeat you!"
"We're already past that point, boy. Our audience is fictional. No one would ever want to read this."
"You'd be surprised."
The announcer shrugged.
"Regardless, it's time to finish this. Now, gaze upon the terror of your end!"
The ground beneath where Serena levitated opened up. Countless charred remains of people and Pokémon emerged from the gaping maw, all animated by the same light which ensnared Serena.
And then, something else emerged from below.
A purple-skinned creature on two legs, encased in machinery.
Ash gasped. He fell to his knees.
The announcer laughed. He removed his mask.
It was Giovanni.
"Foolish boy! Team Rocket recaptured Mewtwo! Your attempts to contact him telepathically allowed us to set this trap for you!"
"Now, this reanimated army of the strongest trainers in the world shall end you once and for all! Mewtwo's power is exponentially greater than it was before, and they're all under his control! You don't stand a chance."
All of Ash's Poke Balls opened at once. Every one of his Pokémon mega evolved and stood between him and the undead army.
Ash rose to his feet.
"That's right, pitiful boy!" said Giovanni. "Dance for me! Dance the dance of death!"
Ash ignored him. Lucario was speaking to him through his mind.
"We've got this. They've got nothing on us. You take care of Mewtwo."
A grand melee broke out, all of Ash's Pokemon fighting dozens of enemies at once. In the center of the battlefield, Mewtwo lowered to the ground and stood in front of Ash.
"So," said Mewtwo. "We meet again."
"It's been too long."
The two stared each other down.
"This is it?" said Mewtwo. "This is all the great Ash Ketchum can do? You intend to face me yourself?
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Do you intend to die?"
"You have no idea what you're up against."
"Is that so?"
From above, Giovanni laughed.
Ash closed his eyes. He smiled in mirth, savoring the moment.
When he opened them, he looked at Giovanni.
"While you were plotting, I studied meditation. While you were having your henchmen do all the work for you, I mastered the ways of aura. While you were reveling in your schemes, I cultivated inner strength. And now that the world is crashing down around me, you think I'm going to fall?"
Ash met eyes with Mewtwo. Mewtwo's eyes glowed.
"Kill him," said Giovanni.
Mewtwo raised an arm. A frighteningly powerful blast formed on his fingertips. The air crackled with raw energy.
Ash bowed his head. Hidden behind his raven locks, he smiled.
Mewtwo fired. The blast hit Ash directly, and a massive explosion knocked over many of the other combatants on the battlefield.
But when the dust cleared, Ash was still standing there.
"I told you," said Ash. "I mastered the ways of aura."
He looked at Serena's limp form, hovering in the air, trapped by Mewtwo's power.
"Forgive me, Serena," he edged, "but I must go all-out, just this once."
Ash's eyes glowed blue. Energy radiated out from his body, kicking up dust all around him. His hair turned a shade of blue, and a blue flame encircled his body. The stadium floor shook under his power.
"What?!" said Giovanni. "What is this? You can't do that!"
"Sure I can," said Ash. "It's easy. Once I mastered my aura powers, all I had to do was focus on a tingling in my spine."
"That's complete bullshit and you know it."
"It's not nearly as bullshit as what I'm about to do."
Giovanni's eyes widened.
"And just what are you going to do?"
"I'm about to unleash my rage."
Ash disappeared. In an instant, he reappeared behind Mewtwo.
"Nothin' personnel, kid."
With a single blow, he struck down Mewtwo, a powerful strike to his neck knocking him out of the air. At once, Serena, as well as all of the reanimated army, fell to the ground.
Giovanni was already in an escape pod.
"Damn it! My plan predictably failed! Looks like Team Rocket's blasting off again!"
The escape pod launched, and the rocket took off into the sky, disappearing with a twinkle of light and a ding.
Ash sighed and let his transformation fade. He ran over to Serena's side and knelt down next to her.
"I'm so sorry. He tricked us. He used us."
"It's okay. I forgive you. We can ignore everything that happened now. We have to, if this story is going to have any kind of resolution."
"He was right about one thing, though."
"You really are a fool."
"What are you talking about?"
"This story isn't going to have any resolution."
Serena reached into her bag and pulled out an envelope. She handed it to Ash.
"Giovanni gave this to me. He told me to give it to you at the end."
"Mhmm! Open it, and you'll see."
His hands shaking, Ash pried his fingers under the flap of the envelope and tore it open. He unfolded the letter inside and saw the message on it, written sloppily in orange crayon.