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A Master in the Making, Part 9 - Battleground: Inferno!

Zeth stared up at the flickering red light above the doorway to the rear 
of the pokémon center. Eva had been badly burned by that Flareon earlier, 
and now he was waiting for Nurse Joy to tell him if she was going to be ok. 
However, after hours of waiting, Zeth was starting to get a little nervous. 
Glancing over at his other three pokémon, he could tell that they were as 
worried as he was. Suddenly, the door opened, and Nurse Joy stepped out, 
followed closely by a Chansey. "Nurse Joy, is Eva going to be all right?" 
Zeth asked, fearing the worst.

Joy blushed with embarrassment. "Oh, sorry! I thought I had sent a 
Chansey to tell you how your Eevee was doing! Don't worry, Zeth, she is 
going to be just fine. She just needs to rest for a while. If you want to, 
you can go and see her. But don't take too long, she needs some sleep, and 
so do you."

Zeth nodded, then followed the Chansey into the back of the center. Eva 
was looking much better than before, although her fur was still crisped. 
She started to get up when she saw him enter the room, then winced and laid 
back down. Zeth turned on the translation feature on his pokédex, then set 
it on a nearby counter. "Hey, Eva, how are you feeling?" Zeth said softly, 
not wanting to disturb other patients.

The little fox looked a bit gloomy. {I'm ok, I guess.} The pokédex 
boomed out the words, and Zeth quickly scrambled to turn it down. Eva broke 
a small smile, then immediately went back to looking depressed.

"What's wrong, Eva? Are you still hurting from those burns?"

{No, it's not that. It's just that I'm probably never going to be on 
your team again}

Zeth was confused. "What are you talking about?? Nurse Joy said that 
you'd be just fine after you rest for a while."

{I know that, but you don't need to have a weak pokémon on your team. 
You need one you can count on. You gave me a chance, and I blew it. Face 
it, I'm the weakest pokémon on the team.} The little Eevee looked like she 
was about to break into tears.

Zeth shook his head. "Where did you get the idea that I would kick a 
pokémon off of the team, just because it wasn't as tough as another? You 
know I would never do something like that. And when did you become the 
worst? You lasted about as long as Sting did, and against an evolved 
pokémon that knew one of the strongest attacks! I think you did an 
excellent job!"

{You really think so? You aren't just trying to make me feel better?} 
Eva asked, starting to look a little less unhappy.

Zeth flashed Eva a smile. "You think I'm a liar, too?" he joked.

Eva looked very relieved at that. {Of course not, Zeth. If you think I 
was good, then I was good. I guess I was just upset because we lost.}

"Well, you don't have to be. We'll beat him sometime! But let's save 
that for later. Right now, we both need to get some sleep."

Two figures crept in the shadows outside the Ruby City Gym. If anyone 
had noticed them, they would have wondered why the two people kept circling 
the building. No one was around though, so Kat and Duke had no chance of 
being spotted. However, this was not their primary concern at the moment. 
For the past twenty minutes the duo had been trying to find an accessible 
entrance, to no avail.

"That gym is locked up tighter than a fortress," Duke commented.

"We'll just have to come back tomorrow," Kat replied. "We'll try again 
early in the morning, right after they open the gym for the day."

Duke nodded a silent agreement, then the two Rockets disappeared into 
the darkness.

Zeth woke up to the sound of his phone ringing. It was his mother, 
wanting to know why he had hung up the day before and never called back. 
After a long explanation about the previous day's events, Zeth hung up, then 
decided to call Professor Ivy, while he had the phone out. He dialed the 
number and was surprised when he saw the person who answered. "Brock! I 
didn't expect to see you there!"

"Hey, Zeth! Yeah, we picked up the GS ball for Professor Oak, but I 
decided to stay here. I've always wanted to become a pokémon breeder, and 
this was a great opportunity for me!"

"I bet! Professor Ivy knows quite a bit about that. Anyway, I was just 
calling to tell her how I was doing."

"She's not here right now, but how ARE you doing? Have you gotten to 
Cerulean City yet?"

Zeth had to laugh a bit at that, "No, I'm not. I'm not even in the 
Indigo League area anymore. It's a long story, so I'll just say that I'm 
now in Ruby City trying to gain a badge for the Obsidian League." He could 
tell that Brock was surprised, but he ignored the teen's shocked look. 
"Well, tell the professor where I am - I'll call back a little later." 
Brock nodded, and Zeth switched the phone off. He put the phone away, then 
stared out one of the center's many windows. [How am I going to beat that 
fire gym. Cal's pokémon are too strong!] He was about to go back and check 
on Eva, but as he turned, something caught his eye. [That's it!] He ran to 
collect his pokéballs.....

{Where are we going?} Talon asked, from his perch on Zeth's shoulder. 
The group was exiting the city limits, and Zeth had not told them where they 
were going yet. {And why did we leave Eva behind?}

"Take it easy, I already told her that we'd be back in a little bit. As 
for our destination: can't you tell where we're going?" Zeth nodded up at 
Mt. Ruby, which loomed over the travelers. "Ever hear the expression, 
'fight fire with fire'? What better place to find fire pokémon than in a 

Talon was silent for a moment, {I wish you weren't serious....} They 
reached the base of the volcano, and began searching for an entrance. {I 
don't see anywhere to get in, except the hole at the top.}

"I might have to climb then, unless..." He broke off and examined the 
volcano. After a few quick mental calculations, he began to run around the 

Talon nearly fell off his shoulder, {Could we slow down a little?} The 
bird actually did fall off, as Zeth came to an abrupt halt. {That wasn't 
what I meant!} He broke off as Zeth began to examine the rock face. {What 
are you looking for?}

"An opening, of course. The gym had it's doors right about here, and 
I'm wondering if the volcano does too." Zeth found a long vertical crack in 
the rock, and began pulling at it. After a few minutes of strained tugging 
though, he gave up, and leaned against a large jutting rock. "Well, looks 
like I was wr... ahhhh!" The rock he was leaning on gave way, and he 
tumbled to the ground. Suddenly, there was a low rumbling, as the crack in 
the rock started to widen. The two looked on in amazement as the seemingly 
impenetrable rock opened into a large tunnel. Zeth climbed to his feet and 
brushed himself off. "I guess I was right after all!"

The two of them worked their way through the dark tunnel, feeling a 
gradual increase in temperature with each step. They turned a corner and 
were blasted with heat. "Whew, that's hot!" Zeth remarked, shielding his 
face from the waves of heat.

Talon lightly pecked Zeth's head. {What did you expect? We're inside a 

"Yeah, I haven't forgotten." Zeth glanced back down the corridor. 
"Whoa! Look at that!" He pointed down the at the exit of the tunnel, where 
the huge center of the volcano awaited. It was not the cavern that Zeth was 
pointing at, though; it was the worn statues of fire pokémon visible around 
the perimeter of the room. As they neared the crater, more statues came 
into sight, then the most unusual thing of all. A large temple with 
engravings of more fire pokémon was built into the wall on one side of the 
volcano. Zeth worked his way over the uneven ledges to the front of the 
temple. "What is this place? It's amazing!"

A familiar voice came from inside the temple, "What? Is someone there? 
Can you help me?"

"That sounded like Cal! Come on, Talon!" Zeth rushed into the dark 
temple. "Cal, is that you? Where are you?" Inside it was pitch black and 
Zeth stumbled over a jutting rock. [This is no good.] He reached into his 
backpack for his flashlight and flicked it on, flooding the room with light. 
Cal was tied up in the corner of the room, struggling wildly to get free. 
"Cal! What happened?!" Zeth pulled at the well-tied knots as he listened 
to Cal's explanation.

"I came out here to train my pokémon as I always do, but I was followed 
by two members of Team Rocket. They took everything I had, then tied me up 
and left me here. They said that they were going to catch all the pokémon 
in the volcano. We have to stop them! There are dozens of strong 
fire-types around here, and if the Rockets get their hands on them, just 
think of all the pokémon they could steal with them!"

Zeth pulled the last knot out, "Team Rocket? Not them again... I just 
got my pokémon back from them, I'm not about to let them get them get the 
power to do it again! Come on, lets go stop them!" Suddenly, Zeth and Cal 
heard loud barking from outside the temple.

{Zeth, get out here!} Talon called. They rushed out of the temple in 
time to see a frightened young Growlithe fleeing out of one of the many 
tunnels lining the sides of the main volcano shaft. The fire dog was 
closely followed by the two Team Rocket members that Zeth had come to hate. 
Duke had two lumpy sacks slung over his shoulders, while Kat swung around 
what appeared to be a fishing net. She flung the net over the Growlithe, 
who struggled until it was hopelessly tangled. It tried to burn the net off 
with its fiery breath, but the net was obviously fireproof.

"Hey leave that pokémon alone!" yelled Zeth. "Talon, go stop them!" He 
tossed down another pokéball. "You too, Sting - cut that net!"

The surprised Rockets quickly called out their own pokémon. "It's that 
kid!" shouted Duke. "Go Magneton! Blast that bird!" The magnet started 
firing volleys of electricity at the agile Spearow.

Kat flung down her own pokéball. "Let's go Tentacruel! Wrap up his 
Beedrill!" Sting dodged away from the jellyfish, which took up a defensive 
position right above the trapped Growlithe. The bee pokémon would have to 
fight its aquatic foe before it could save the fire dog.

"Use Twinneedle, Sting! Talon, watch out for that Magneton" The 
Beedrill dove at the Tentacruel, but was driven back by a blast of acid. 
Seconds later, Talon was thrown back by the shockwaves of the magnet 
pokémon's Sonicboom, nearly sending him into the lava pit below.

Duke gloated, "Your bird is history, kid. Magneton, use Thunder on that 
Spearow!" Little lightning bolts crackled around the Magneton as it 
prepared to use the strongest electric attack. Meanwhile, the Tentacruel 
had managed to grab Sting long enough to slam her into the ground. As the 
jellyfish prepared to finish the stunned Beedrill off, the Magneton released 
the powerful charge it had built up.

The attack was a mistake. Although it finished off Talon, inaccurate 
attack also hit the Tentacruel, knocking it out instantly. With her 
adversary out of the way, Sting started slicing weakly at the net before the 
Magneton could gain enough energy for another assault.

The Rockets were enraged. "We won't let an accident stand in the way of 
victory!" Kat yelled, pulling out another pokéball. "I choose - aaah!" She 
was cut off by a blast of fire from the freed Growlithe. The young canine 
took a deep breath, then spat out a cyclone of fire that surrounded the 
Rockets and their Magneton.

The fire quickly died down, leaving behind a duo of very charred 
Rockets. Kat looked like she was going to explode. "You'll pay for this 
outrage, boy! You haven't seen the last of us!"

Duke just looked up and grinned. "Hey, Kat, here's our ride!" Everyone 
looked up at the Team Rocket helicopter that had arrived during the battle. 
It had descended as far as possible, and was now lowering two cables to the 
waiting Rockets, who clipped the ends to their specially designed pokéball 
belts. Picking up the two sacks, the evil duo signaled the helicopter to 
pull them up.

"Stop them!" Zeth called to Sting. "We can't let them keep those 
pokémon!" Sting, weakened from the battle, could only summon enough 
strength to shake her head sadly. She was out of this fight.

The Growlithe was not ready to give up, though. He shot off another 
column of fire that hit Duke in the chest, making him swing around wildly. 
He smashed into Kat, who lost her grip on her sack. The sack dropped and 
landed nearby but the Rockets were out of range for another shot. They soon 
vanished into the distance, still possessing half of their prize.

Zeth and Cal stared up into the sky. "Well, Zeth, at least you saved 
half of them." Cal sighed and walked over to the fallen sack. Pokéballs 
had spilled out, and the Growlithe was sniffing at each one, whimpering 

They quickly took inventory of the sack. Cal's wallet had been thrown 
into that particular bag, but apparently the Rockets had taken the money 
inside. Zeth was dismayed to find that there were thirty-seven pokéballs in 
the sack, because it meant that the Rockets had escaped with an equal 
number. One by one, they released the captured pokémon, who were glad to 
see Cal. [Must be friends of his. He probably feels terrible about the 
stolen pokémon.] The little Growlithe looked unhappy too. Zeth could 
easily see why. [We rescued some Ninetales, Charmanders, and even a 
Cyndaquil, but no Growlithes or Arcanines. The Rockets must have taken his 
family with them.]

Disappointed at the outcome of the battle, Zeth grabbed a few pebbles 
and tossed them into the bubbling lava pits. Reaching back for more 
pebbles, he picked up something hard and metallic instead. It was a small 
pin, shaped like a volcano with a ruby embedded in the center. 
Disappointment gave way to curiosity. "Hey, Cal? Do you know what this 

Cal glanced at it for a second then nodded. "Sure, I do. It's the 
Inferno Badge. I always carry some around with me, so the Rockets took a 
bunch of them. It probably fell out of one of the bags when they smashed 
into each other. You can keep it."

Zeth blinked, "I can? But I haven't earned it!"

Cal rolled his eyes. "Of course you've earned it. You defeated Team 
Rocket, and saved thirty-seven pokémon. That's a lot more important than 
some gym battle. Besides, the Rockets have all the badges anyway. Just 
consider it to be their going-away present."

Zeth smiled, "Thanks, Cal. I promise, if I there is any possible way, 
I'll get those fire pokémon back. I'm bound to run into the Rockets again 
someday, and next time they won't be so lucky." The little Growlithe 
started nudging Zeth's arm. "Yes? What is it?" Zeth asked, flicking the 
translator back on.

{Please, let me go with you! If you are going to see those people 
again, I have to be there! I need to save my family!} The young dog 
watched Zeth hopefully.

"Well, I don't know if I'll see the Rockets again right away, but you 
can still come with me if you want to. I'd be glad to have another 

{Thank you so much! I promise I'll do my best to help! You can count 
on me!} The Growlithe looked like he was about to explode with happiness. 
[He's pretty confidant that I'll be able to beat the Rockets again. I hope 
I don't let him down!]