Death. War. Destruction. The world of the future lies in ruins. I got the chance to go back and stop it from ever happening, only to discover that I was the cause. This is how I destroyed the world.


30. A Tangible Mirage

Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live ~ Chamfort (French playwrite, 1741-1794)


"We have discovered that there are a variety of external factors a poké ball can endure without breaking or causing harm to the creature contained within.

Most notably; if a poké ball is left within a vacuum, submerged in deep water, or frozen in ice it can remain in perfect condition for an estimated three years. This is because when exposed to harsh external influences, the poké ball places the occupant in a digital form of cryogenic sleep. They do not age, sleep, digest or perform any biological function. They just exist. Therefore it is perfectly possible to recover the pokémon after a period of time and for no damage to have occurred to the creature.

Lesser actions, such as being caught in fires or high/low temperature conditions leave the pokémon inside unaffected.

Though all our research fails to answer one question that has baffled scientists for over a century; how and why were poké balls originally created?"

- Excerpt 3/3 from 'The Limits of Poké Ball Technology' by Dr. R.E. Fuji and Dr. P.H. Blaine. (February 1st, 3004)


The pokémon centre staff didn't seem too happy when I returned to Lavaridge with the charmeleon needing to be healed.

In fact, they didn't let me anywhere near his room until they'd made me fill in a load of forms stating just how I'd found the creature, how injured he was before I'd caught him, and whether or not I'd actually been the one to inflict his scars upon him. Even after that, they still had to call in an expert in order to make sure his scars weren't made just before I captured him.

Well, that was stupid, I decided then and there. It was painfully obvious that his scars were old, yet apparently they had to go through all these checks to make sure I wasn't an abusive trainer, and also in order to try and figure out who and what could have inflicted such injuries on it.

Nearly half a day had gone by the time I was allowed to go and see my new pokémon. It had already had its operation, and I had to listen to a nurse explain to me how I would have to clean and replace his dressing, and how often I should let him out, along with how much exercise and strain he should put on it.

It would be a good fortnight before it was able to battle again well, though I knew it would be worth it in the end. Without the bullet in its hip, I didn't have to worry that the creature had an additional weakness, and the pokémon itself would hopefully be a lot calmer around humans.

Though I doubted that when the nurse led me into its room and let me see it strapped to the bed by its arms and legs, his snout muzzled and with an IV drip in his arm.

The nurse explained to me that they had to strap it down to stop it from attacking them, as apparently it had tried often whenever it came around. The muzzle was to supposedly stop it breathing flames on people, and the straps to keep him from slashing everyone.

It wasn't going to develop any love for humans anytime soon that was for sure.

I stared at the creature's unconscious breathing as I pulled up a chair next to it and scanned it with my pokédex. Supposedly it was nearly two and half years old and male, which put it as the second oldest in my party, behind Lacey. It also meant that I would have a fully grown charizard within half a year of capturing it, which I knew wasn't a bad thing at all.

Though that depended on me getting its trust first of all. Probably not the smartest thing ever; to capture a people-hating charmeleon whilst I was still trying to get Erra over her confidence issues.

Though I knew I couldn't pass up the chance with such a creature.

I waited around in his room for a little while and stared at the creature, trying to think of a name for it. The most obvious thing I thought of was to call it Scar, if only for the namesakes across his chest.

Though that was quickly thrown out the window. I wasn't about to give a pokémon a nickname that sounded like it had been thought up an unimaginative nine year old.

My eyes snapped up as the beeping of the machine dropped to a steady beat, and I saw the charmeleon's eyes begin to open.

It hissed something sleepily and its claws flexed, arm muscles straining to break free of its bonds.

"Hey," I whispered to it, placing my hand tentatively on one of its arms. "Don't try and do that; you'll break your bandages and open up your wounds again."

It hissed again at me and flexed its claws once more. His eyes narrowed to pinpricks and I saw him struggle even more, and knew that he had to want to plunge his claws into my throat.

I decided that my safest option was to have a translator try and explain everything to him. I released Lacey in a wider part of the room and saw her glance around before settling her eyes on the lizard, suspicion built into her very demeanour.

"I need you to try and tell him what I'm trying to say," I told her even as I pulled my seat away from the thrashing lizard. "He doesn't like humans much; when I found him he had that massive knife scar you can see, but he also had a bullet wound." Her suspicion turned to intrigue as her head spun round to me, surprise on her face. "Someone had shot him a while ago; the wound had healed, but there was still a bullet there. It's why we're back in Lavaridge; I needed to have the bullet removed from him, it was too big a weakness and risk to his health to have that continually grating against his hip."

She folded her arms and nodded, grunting something once as she looked at the creature. She was no doubt evaluating him; seeing whether or not he was worthy to join our team. She was still the strongest, and knew it, yet I had a feeling the charmeleon's ferocity and fiery abilities would be able to put it on a level par with her.

The nuzleaf grunted again, and this time she accompanied it by pointing at the charmeleon's hip. I stared at her, wide eyed until I managed to understand.

When I did, my first action was to offer her a sheepish grin. She was wondering where her training was; I'd promised to teach her how to use a gun, and had only managed to take her to a shooting range once.

"I've... uh, forgot so far," I admitted to her. She didn't look pleased in the slightest, and I couldn't blame her.

"I will teach you," I promised. "But I'm still trying to think of how you could make your wrists strong enough to handle the recoil. So far I've come up with nothing, and I might end up having to teach you something else instead. It'll still be just as deadly, it just won't be a gun."

She rolled her head, seemingly considering it. Finally she offered a small nod and then held a hand out towards the charmeleon in the bed, who had quieted and was instead watching us both in equal parts distrust and intrigue.

What was I meant to have her say to it? I pulled a face to myself and buried my chin in a hand, thinking about it all.

"Tell him... tell him that the bullet in his hip's been removed," I instructed her. "Let him know that it's not going to be a handicap anymore, and it's going to let him fight better, without a handicap."

She nodded once and began to communicate with the charmeleon in grunts, growls and hisses. I found myself listening in, wondering if I could pick up anything that was being said in the conversation. After all, when listening into foreign languages, you could always pick up the odd word if it was used well enough.

But this was like trying to listen for quiet at a music festival. No matter how much I tried to pick something up, there was just aimless noise getting in the way. I only just managed to notice that Lacey had finished talking to the charmeleon and was instead talking to me when I saw her arms past by my field of vision.

As I was forced to play charades yet again, I decided it was far past time I should capture I psychic. I had been up Mount Chimney a few times, and yet I hadn't encountered a single spoink or grumping that was supposedly native to the area. It was as if something didn't want me to capture one, or they were all hiding away from me.

After much fuss I finally managed to get the charmeleon's question, through Lacey. It wanted to know why I'd help it, and pointed out that I was human scum – Lacey took a great deal of pleasure in telling me that – and that he shouldn't have to be associated with me, along with a number of threats to my physical being if I even thought of attacking it.

I groaned and wondered just how I was meant to explain it to him. "Tell him that I want his help," I told her. It was, after all, exactly what I'd said to Lacey before, and I knew that if the lizard had any sense about him, he would ask her how I'd managed to get her help too. "Say... tell him what it's like being a trainer pokémon... and-" I glanced around ourselves to see if we were being watched or not. "Let him know how much I let you get away with. I'm sure he'd be interested to know I let you keep your hobbies."

I watched her explain everything once more, and the charmeleon seemed less aggressive with every small conversation they had. It was obvious he still didn't like the prospects of having any humans around, nor did he seem to favour the idea of working with one, but I think the fact that I had gone through the hassle of having the bullet removed from his hip created a small slither of respect in the creature for me.

Though that was quickly buried under a wall of aggression when he found out that I'd need to change his dressings every so often. Eventually Lacey just gave up trying to reason with the creature and just let me know that I'd need to subdue him every time they needed changing. Which meant that once a week, I'd be having a lot of fun wrestling with an angry, injured charmeleon.

That was something I looked forward to whole-heartedly.

I left the room when the nurse came back in and told me that the charmeleon would be ready enough to leave within an hour, provided I left him in his ball for a day, and then only let him out for brief spurts of exercise the day after.

Judging by the way he growled at that, I knew the first time I had him out again would be eventful.

I went back into town in the brief hour I had, and while I explored I let Erra out of her ball for a little bit. She seemed somewhat skittish about people being around her, though calmed a little when I praised her for her battle against the charmeleon. I told her that we'd be working with him from now on, and reassured her that he wouldn't attack again.

That lie meant that I'd have to keep those two separate for a while.

I ended up recalling her before I went back into the pokémon centre and passed the remaining time watching the television in the waiting room. It was set on the news channel and the remote hidden; no doubt it was for trainers to see what was happening in the rest of Hoenn. Most of it was aimless broadcasts about little events; the Hoenn government had secured funding for the next year's tournament, and already there were rumours about a celebrity guest appearing to open the event.

Other than that there were a few things; apparently the virus that had spread through Petalburg had long since passed, and only a few people were collecting symptoms – though they were in Rustboro and even Dewford. They had some sort of so-called expert on that only said the virus could have been passed through by human contact or through water, or even through the air or by getting into clothes that were shipped to other shops.

In other words, he didn't actually really know what he was talking about.

Then there was something about some sort of science experiment due to take place at the end of the year that I really should have paid attention to and some sort of religious conundrum about Arceus worshippers slandering people who worshipped a human god and vice versa, that people thought would burst into something more. After that there was a little bit about the trade economy between Hoenn and Sinnoh; something about the Hoenn volcano water being bought more and thus the stock prices going up and apparently there was an influx of diurnal pokémon appearing everywhere, due to the near-summer daytimes.

I only realised later that the news was a good way of finding out what was going on in the world. Perhaps if I'd paid more attention, I'd have had a few clues as to what was happening, and wouldn't have been taken by such surprise when everything finally revealed itself.

The first time I tried to change the charmeleon's dressings wasn't exactly an easy task.

I ended up trying to approach the creature for a good five minutes, each time being nearly assaulted with a big fiery breath. I was thankful that I'd had the foresight to leave Xander and Lacey out with me when I'd let the lizard out of its ball; the first thing it did was try and set me ablaze.

I would have thought that being soaked by a pressurised water blast from Xander would be enough to dissuade it, but if anything, it seemed to make it worse.

I growled to myself, feeling completely useless with bandages and gauze in my hands. Hitting the charmeleon in its weakened hip wouldn't help it gain any trust towards me, and extinguishing its tail-flame was a sure-in to make it hate me, if not make it contract some horrible infectious disease.

I shot a glance at Lacey and mimed my plan of action to her as quickly as I could. The lizard snarled once more, and for a brief second stabbing fear caught me; I convinced myself it had to have understood.

When I gathered my assumption was wrong, I decided that I would start teaching my pokémon a few signals to get points across in code. I pushed that thought aside as I approached the creature again and signalled Xander to be ready as the lizard bared its teeth at me.

Flames burst out of its mouth and I dropped to the floor yet again. I heard a violent hiss above myself as water met fire; turning to steam in the air itself. I lifted my head a fraction to see Lacey swipe the lizard across the back of its neck, deftly catching it and setting it down on the floor with gentle, almost maternal instinct.

"Good job," I panted as I made way towards her. "Keep an eye on him; make sure he stays asleep while I do this. If he wakes up again, smack him on the snout or something," I suggested with a shrug. "Just let me change these as quickly as I can."

I blew hair from my face as I set to work, figuring I had at best a few minutes. I didn't know how hard Lacey hit the creature, but knew that injuries like a blow to the back of the skull would only incapacitate most pokémon for a few minutes, whereas humans and most physically frail pokémon – like psychics – would be out for a good hour.

My hands slipped over each other as I worked against the clock of doom-bearing-angry-charmeleon. Every small noise it made had my heart leaping from my chest and my blood freezing on the spot.

Just once did I press too hard on the surgical scars, and the beast roared in pain, its whole body arching up in violent protest. Lacey, to her credit, reacted instantly, and smacked the creature again on the back of the neck, subduing it yet again.

With a bead of sweat dangling from a bit of hair in my vision, I spared a glance at her. "Why do I get the feeling you enjoy learning these weak points a bit too much?"

She smirked at me, malevolence flashing in those yellow eyes of hers. It made me smirk as I carried on working on the creature, remembering a time when I was like her; so eager to learn to destroy in the best ways.

I think that probably, that always remained.

But at the time I convinced myself I was moving past that – by beginning to care for other creatures and endeavouring to bring good to the world.

Perhaps really, I never did change. But I felt like I had, and that was one of the main things that kept me continuing on my torturous quest.

"Done," I wheezed as I wiped my forehead with an arm. I collapsed backwards and landed heavily on my backside, lazily sweeping all the used bandages away with my feet. I threw a grin at Lacey as I heard her grunt approval, and felt myself laughing at the incredulous look on her face.

"I grew up on and around battlefields," I explained to her, oddly reminiscent. "I've had to do quick patch-up jobs before now. Only problem being that I'm not a medic. I know how to replace bandages and stop most wounds bleeding, even dose people up with drugs and booze to fight pain. Anything worse than that, and I'm afraid I'm as clueless as Xander."

The lombre croaked in offence to that, and I leant backwards on the floor, smiling up at his disapproving frown. "Come on," I protested impishly. "You know it's true. You can heal yourself, but what would you do if I had a punctured lung and a busted spleen? I'm the human, and I don't rightly know how to treat that!"

Though the thought of suffering such injuries brought a contemplative frown to my face, forcing me to sit up and meet Lacey's gaze. "Do pokémon even have spleens?"

Both my pokémon laughed at me for that. The charmeleon stirred and all three of us tensed a moment before I allowed myself to laugh with them.

"Hey, I know about vital organs, and the best ways to kill something. Even ways to identify gender with a number of common pokémon," I defended, smiling softly and oddly; remembering such lessons fondly. "What does a spleen even do anyway?"

The charmeleon groaned again and this time managed to come to once more. I motioned for Lacey not to attack it as it got up slowly, gingerly testing the newly wrapped bandages around its hip.

"Good enough?" I asked it, watching it cautiously. "I'll need to do that again in a week and make sure it's not infected. If you don't attack me next time, I won't have to knock you out again."

It pressed a claw gently to the bandages, lifted its leg experimentally and twisted its body round in a stretch. Deeming it good enough, the creature looked back to me, eyes blazing and teeth spilling fire.

Hastily I recalled it, not wanting to try my luck at any time around then. With the snarling lizard gone, everyone seemed to relax, though Lacey outright snorted at me, obviously terribly impressed with how I handled him.

"Don't forget that you hated me as much as he did when we first met too," I reminded her as I collapsed to the floor, elevated heart rate and anxiety catching up with me. "I'll win him round too, don't you doubt that. Granted I don't think it'll be all that easy."

She grunted something that was lost underneath my sigh as I stared at the sky, aimlessly drawing shapes with the clouds. I heard Xander croak something and Lacey hiss a reply, and left them to their conversation as I let my thoughts float away with the clouds.

I began to think about what I could do with the charmeleon in terms of drills. It was blatantly the best course of action to have him train with his claws and his fire. I could probably have him train his fire against Xander's water blasts when I had him controlled enough, and probably Loki to train with him with claws. Or maybe even Lacey with her razor-tipped leaves.

Of course that meant managing to get the creature under control. I doubted threatening it would work like it did with Loki; it seemed to hate humans enough already. No doubt threatening it wouldn't make that any better. I knew tricking it like I did Lacey wouldn't be as likely to work either; the creature was smart, but not educated like she was. Its smarts were more towards survivability, hers were educated towards humans.

I thought that perhaps I could get it under control like Erra; a little bit at a time, coaxing it more and more into learning things, just like I had with Xander too.

Though it didn't seem patient enough for that, nor did I have the patience to train a pokémon around running from intensely fiery blasts.

I groaned as I pushed myself back to a sitting position and dragged my backpack towards myself. After some searching I managed to find the pair of face mask I'd bought in Lavaridge – it looked like a gas mask and staring at it, I was certain we'd used these exact designs in my own time. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised if the ones we'd used were remains of a massive production from the present.

I considered putting it on and scaring one of my pokémon, though quickly decided against it. Either pokémon would find it funny if I scared the other, though Lacey was likely to slice me, and Xander to snap my neck with water blasts. Either way, I knew I'd need to introduce Erra to me wearing it at some point; I needed to wear it to get through the sandstorms without getting sand in my eyes, nose or mouth, and she'd undoubtedly freak out if I approached her wearing it.

The mask was slung back into my pack haphazardly as I thought about it all. In sandstorms, only grounded pokémon, or those with skin as tough as rock or steel could manage to see, breathe and move without difficulty. It meant that I'd have to rely on Erra in the sandy regions, which didn't fill me with much confidence at all.

Honestly, I had that little faith in her courage that I would have completely skipped over visiting the desert town, if it weren't for the fact I was meeting Adryan there.

Really, looking at that, it was no wonder why she wasn't the most confident creature around. If I didn't believe in her, what chance did she have in believing in herself?

I shook my head and slung my pack over my shoulders, stopping to pick up the scraps of bandages I'd taken from the charmeleon. Both my pokémon watched me with interest as I flipped out my lighter and set fire to the bandages, my interest completely engrossed on the brilliant flames that devoured the rags even as I dropped them to the floor.

When I finally looked away I caught them both staring at me and gave them a shrug. "I don't want anything smelling his blood. I think only charizard, rhydon, onix and maybe some big-ass altaria are the only things around here that eat charmeleon, but I really don't want to take our chances with them. You guys are strong, sure, but I don't think we're exactly skilled enough to take down wild onix. Those things could actually sneeze and kill us."

I smiled to myself as they both grumbled and walked along behind me, understanding my logic. Though the one thing I failed to share with them was the fact that Kismet Plains was nearby, and people had believed some part of it had been destroyed by wild onix. The fact that people could believe it meant it could be true. If it could be true, then that meant there were likely to be onix slithering around nearby and I really didn't want to encounter any of those.

Or, for that matter, anything that was capable of swallowing me whole.

Over a week had passed before I found myself anywhere near the desert town of Sandstream. The sandstorms nearby the town were bad, but at least they were regular. Every day, without fail, they would start up about six in the morning, and they would only start to die out at about ten at night.

I figured it had to be something to do with the wild flygon, hippowdon and who knew what else that lived in the desert.

It wasn't as bad as I had first thought, however. My other pokémon could fight just as well in the sandstorms, as long as they kept within a close distance to me, so as to make sure they didn't get lost. However, with Loki being Loki, and Lacey often wandering off to kill things, I did end up having to send Erra to play scout quite often.

What surprised me the most though was the fact that Erra seemed to thrive within the desert conditions. It was almost like she knew that she was the only one accustomed to such climes, and by that, possibly the strongest member of our team in such an environment.

It added further fuel to my belief that her confidence and courage issues were all to do with her just believing herself to be weak. I had to somehow drill it into her that in fact anything capable of electrocuting a person or pokémon to death wasn't weak. Although, it seemed that the praise was only a temporary fix; it would wear off whenever something managed to startle her, which unfortunately, was quite often.

I needed some way of constantly reminding her of her strength.

On top of that problem, I also had the charmeleon. In over a week I had made little or no progress with the creature. The only improvement was that he didn't attack me when I replaced his bandages for a second time – though doing so was difficult in itself. I had to wait until the sandstorms had died down to do so, which meant that it was in the dead of night. I had Xander hold my torch on the lizard's pelvis, which meant I was one guardian down. As an added bonus the charmeleon's tail-flame worked as a useful second torch, and as a beacon warning me of his movements.

But those issues weren't the most problematic to changing the charmeleon's dressings. What was the worst were the freezing conditions of the desert. My fingers were numb with cold as I tried to bandage the pokémon back up. Once or twice I had to try and reheat my hands with its tail-flame – something he wasn't too happy about.

Though when the bandages were replaced, he seemed content enough with them and didn't try to attack me. Instead he skulked off to the side and remained apart from all of us, hissing and growling whenever one of us tried to approach.

I'd made progress in the fact that he wasn't trying to attack me every time he saw me. Instead it was only most of the time. However, trying to get him to listen to commands or even attempt a drill was near impossible, though he did recognise the command to burn something.

That something was usually me, however.

I decided to give him a bit of space and tried to be as friendly as I could to the creature. It wasn't having any effect other than a few growls, a few cuts down my arms and first-degree burns along my left thumb, but it did make him understand that I wasn't about to shoot him at the first chance I got.

During the day he also seemed to laugh at my inaptitude for heat. At least I wasn't alone; Lacey had also taken to looking like she was burning to a crisp, and I was fairly certain that the two of us had sunburn.

Undoubtedly certain when on the second day of travelling through the desert, Loki fell from and caught my shoulders with a painful slap. After about five minutes of howling and cursing every name under the sun, I swore that I would never, ever go anywhere without sunscreen again.

Though for all my complaining, the desert was a strangely beautiful place.

There were sand dunes that had to stretch hundreds of feet up from the ground, sometimes even seemingly threatening the very skies themselves with their presence.

I climbed the tallest one I could find one day in the desert and decided to stay there for the day, if only for the amazing views. Everything in the distance was slightly wavy and distorted through the heat coming off everywhere and the background blurred seamlessly from dull yellows to bright blues. Occasionally I'd see wildlife crawling around far below us; pokémon and other animals too; everything ranging from skorupi, trapinch to camerupt, to strange snakes with horns above their eyes and some strange creatures that looked like persian, except with more yellow fur and brown-spot patterns. Only the pokémon would ever come near though – everything else seemed to remain a distance away, or would flee as soon as I got close.

The time alone with Erra also gave me the opportunity to teach her more. I'd managed to get her to constantly produce the horrible screeching sound on command, and I had even managed to teach her to use the sunlight that reflected off her body. It took a bit of coaxing – and a bit of creative genius – but eventually I figured out that if she produced a small electrical charge, she could use it to make herself bounce the sun in a controlled direction. We practiced it a lot and eventually she was able to aim the bright flashes of light at pokémon's eyes and strike them when they were blinded.

On the other hand, my other pokémon weren't progressing as remarkably.

Xander still couldn't make rainclouds that large, and it was still taking him at least an hour to heal completely with sunlight. He could heal over small nicks and cuts in a matter of minutes, though his fatigue would still be present. Lacey still wasn't too brilliant with her golden-light psychic abilities and although I'd tried getting Xander to teach her to heal with sunlight, she seemed more interested in learning the leech seed trick she'd seen sceptiles use before.

I'd pointed out that I had no idea how to teach her how to use it, though she'd countered by showing me a large valley full of cacti.

Or at least, I first thought they were cacti. When we got close enough, the plants moved and I nearly had a heart attack before remembering that cacturne and cacnea were indigenous to the area.

After Lacey had tried to convince some members of the pack, fought against their alpha, lost and subsequently nearly had us eaten by sentient cacti, the charmeleon decided to strut forth and set fire to one of the younger cacturne. After that and some negotiation on its behalf – which I'm fairly certain was just him threatening to burn them all – the alpha cacturne agreed to teach Lacey the basics of the technique, from which she could learn and improve herself.

It was heart warming to see my pokémon helping each other.

Heart warming and frightening.

Though mostly frightening.

Meanwhile Loki seemed just as unable as Lacey to get a grip on any psychic powers. Although he seemed to be learning how to slash things open with his claws while he was hidden in shadows and he even seemed to be able to throw fiery punches without any heat damage to himself.

However, he couldn't actually produce the fire himself, so we'd taken to distracting the charmeleon and then having Loki bathe his hands in the pokémon's flame. As much as the lizard didn't like it, the process worked. The next step was simply having Loki himself produce the flames.

I decided that I would have Adryan try and help me with that. He was, after all, adapted to fire and I reasoned that if anyone I knew could help me with that problem, it was him.

By the time I'd reached the desert town of Sandstream, I'd hit the fortnight deadline for meeting Ayd and then some.

It was hard to believe that over two whole weeks had passed since I'd been in Mauville and got rid of that cursed makuhita ghost. I still hadn't given Adryan an explanation towards it and he did seem somewhat annoyed that I was running late. At first, I got the impression he thought it was just me trying to avoid him, though once I explained to him that I'd been trying to train a charmeleon that hated humans, he seemed to be a bit more understanding to my situation.

Although, running over time wasn't the most of my concerns at the time. With the lack of available water in the surroundings, we'd been left to kill the odd cacturne for the water they retained, as well as relying on Xander's own water production capabilities.

On the one hand, it was still fresh water, no matter how we looked at it.

On the other, we were essentially drinking Xander saliva.

It kept us going towards the remote town and gave me another mental kick in the backside to buy too many provisions, rather than too few. Alongside that, the whole time I'd been making my way to Sandstream I'd wondered just how anyone could build a town in the middle of a desert and not suffer the effects of the sandstorms.

When I got there, however, it seemed as if they didn't feel any of them.

The town was quite simple; cloth tents and stone buildings, with a large well in the middle of the town and a large community of darkly-tanned people dressed in simple cloths wrapped around their heads and long plain robes.

Even the pokémon centre's roof was barely discernable – built of a stone shaded slightly redder than the other buildings around it.

Though what struck me the most was that there wasn't any sand whipping around the air.

I squinted through my mask lenses and thought that it had to be a problem with them. When I asked Erra and she seemed slightly afraid of everything again, I chanced a quick glimpse out of my mask.

I found that the town had a quiet air; the sounds of the sandstorm distant in amidst the calm of the seemingly ancient town.

I stopped by the supplies store first and bought a few supplies I'd ran out of as I asked the worker there just exactly how it worked.

He explained to me that it was some form of technology capable of driving away the sand, yet allowing people and pokémon both to pass through unhindered. When I asked that if they had money for technology like that, why they lived in such rustic conditions, he told me that they were a simple community and that cloth and stone houses were a lot easier to repair and replace than large buildings containing loads of valuable possessions.

In a location where sandstorms were always present, as well as territorial desert pokémon, I couldn't fault their logic.

Afterwards I headed for the pokémon centre and checked in my pokémon with routine ease. I checked with the receptionist whether or not Adryan was checked in and after checking my trainer i.d, she told me that he'd left a message saying we were sharing a room.

I thanked the woman as she handed me the key and quickly left for my room. I had to hand it to Ayd; he really did think ahead. It saved me booking a room for myself and paying full price, with the added bonus of making sure I didn't have to share with a stranger.

On the other hand, it meant I was effectively trapped with him and I would have to explain everything soon enough, no matter what.

The thought made my hands shake as I tried to put the key into the lock.

I knew I wasn't ready for such a conversation.

Hell, I still wasn't even ready for such thoughts!

I took a deep breath and decided that if he asked, I would tell him that I'd gone without sleep for too long and needed an hour or two for a nap.

Maybe a shower too.

Or really anything that could delay me telling him.

I forced myself to open the door before I could decide to run away and stepped into the Spartan room.

Instantly I found myself thrashing as a towel wrapped round my face. With a yelp barely concealed as a growl I pulled the offensive white thing away from my face, glaring at the room with a clenched fist.

I found nothing to say Ayd was in there and heard no laughter, which meant he had to be out.

A scowl darkened my face as I slammed the door shut and saw the coat hanger redesigned to hold the offensive laundry item. I glared at it once more and stepped into the room, taking note of the fresh-shower smell. It meant that he had to have left fairly recently, which made me wonder just whether or not he'd used that towel before he'd set it up to attach to my face.

I tried not to think about what he'd dried with it as I chucked my bag on the unmade bed and looked round the room. I laughed to myself; it certainly looked like Ayd had been there for a few days – his stuff was lying everywhere around his bed, with various magazines and notes slung on top of and underneath his clothes.

Yet again I wondered just how he managed to cope as I picked up, folded his clothes and made his bed. I only caught myself afterwards and had to laugh about old habits.

After I'd unpacked most of my clothes and decided what needed washing I caught sight of a note attached to the television.

If you're reading this note... well that means you finally got here. (C'mon did you really think this was a suicide note?)

Anyway, gone into desert to get Irenui back. (Don't ask. Mating season.)

Back about midday.

~The awesome one~

I glanced at the clock in the room and saw that it was only oh-ten hundred hours. I frowned as I scrunched the note in one hand and thought about it. On the one hand, I could wait around for Adryan to come back and no doubt be forced to tell him everything that had happened with me that I really didn't want to share. On the other, I could find something to do to delay such an event.

I decided on the latter as I grabbed my dirty crap and took it down to the laundry room. It was almost by coincidence that one of the pamphlets in the room was advertising a place known as Mirage Tower. Apparently it was a strange structure built into the desert itself that appeared and disappeared depending on the weather conditions at the time.

I thought it nothing but a worthless tourist attraction until I saw the large picture advertising the trainer's incentives to go there. Apparently the place was a hotspot for finding fossils of some strange pokémon I'd never heard of, like lileep and aerodactyl. In addition to that, it was apparently an ancient tower built by a nomadic tribe of baltoy and claydol worshippers – supposedly the pokémon would still flock to the tower even then, as it was supposedly a spiritual haven for them, or something.

I stuffed the pamphlet in a pocket without thinking too much on it. If there was a chance for me to capture a psychic there, I knew I had to take it. After all, I'd encountered no wild psychics thus far on my journey and I really didn't want to have to face another demon again. If there was a chance for me to get something like a claydol as my psychic, I knew I had to leap at the opportunity.

As soon as all my washing was done I near enough bolted up the stairs and placed them away. I scrawled a quick 'Gone to Mirage Tower. Back tonight' on the backside of the note Ayd had left me and left the room quickly, collecting my pokémon as soon as they were ready.

I glanced at the clock in the waiting room. It was eleven hundred fifteen by the time they were done, leaving me thankful that they'd been more tired that injured. Supposedly the charmeleon was fine – apparently his scars would heal up fully within another fortnight, which would be about a week after I was allowed to let him battle again.

The news made me happy, if only to know that I'd only have to suffer two more anxiety filled dressing changes again.

Although, once he was fully healed it did mean he'd be able to attack me with a lot more ease. Every cloud was meant to have a silver lining, but mine all seemed to be swamped down by grey.

I don't think I was ever meant to be an optimist.

I found it strange that after only an hour of walking, I was able to find the so called 'mirage' tower.

It was an ancient looking structure; made of old sand-coloured stone with large gaps here and there, exposing the inside to the outside elements. Large windows were present on every level of the tower and there was a large structure atop the tower's roof – it seemed to be an ancient statue, though from such a distance I couldn't make out what it was.

Sand was gradually lapping over the tower's bottom floor, slowly threatening to bury it back underneath a dune. I watched it a moment and saw it rise just over an inch in about five minutes. I figured that meant I probably had about an hour until the door was buried again, though as long as I reached the top I could always just slide out the highest windows and onto the sand dunes outside.

The thought of it made me smile and I decided that would be my plan of action.

Erra clicked frantically from her position on my shoulder, calming only slightly when I pressed a hand gently on her head.

"I'll let the others out when we get in there," I told her. "It might be sand storming in there too, so we're probably going to be relying on you. You're strong enough to get us through, I know it."

She buzzed once as I approached the ancient doorway and spared a quick glance inside. It was dark, dank and filled with dust and sand, making me wonder if anyone had ever actually managed to find their way inside.

After I'd found my torch and switched it on I took a step inwards, wholly unnerved by the deafening quiet that encompassed the ancient structure.

Old statues stood as tall as the rooms themselves; figures of ancient pokémon and creatures I had never seen before in my life. Sand fell gradually from the roof above, making the structure seem completely unsafe and likely to fall at any given moment.

Though since I knew there was a sandstorm going on outside, I doubted that would be the case. The falling sand had to just be the remnants of swirling sand coming in and managing to slip through the cracks. Added to that, the statues seemed perfectly whole and they surrounded the room, acting as impromptu pillars.

I released all my pokémon but the charmeleon and let them look around the ruins with me. I didn't want to risk letting the fiery beast out anywhere that he could separate me easily and decide to take me out without many complications.

"I've never even heard rumours of some of these pokémon," I whispered as I traced a hand along a large stone sculpture, my mouth agape as I stared up at the creature's frightening size. It had two large wings and a jaw set with rows of large, sharp teeth and its face seemed infinitely frightening, even just in stone. I shuddered as I turned away from it and knew that I didn't want to encounter one of those on my own.

"C'mon guys," I said as I purposely left the statue behind me and ascended the ancient stone steps. The floor we came to was yet another large hall, decorated with more stone statues around the borders. It made me wonder just what the whole tower had been used as; it seemed to be one large prayer room on every level.

I checked the floor before I moved and saw a number of cracks and small holes leading down to the room below. Evidentially that was how the sand was managing to pour through.

I stuck my arm out lengthways to halt my pokémon. "Careful guys," I warned them, pointing my torch to the cracks on the floor. "The floor doesn't seem completely stable around here. Tread too hard and we might end up falling down and breaking something."

I heard them all grunt something behind me and saw Lacey and Loki both move off into the darkness with ease. Of course, they could see perfectly well in the dark, so they didn't have to worry about stepping onto broken floor in pitch-black darkness. Erra buzzed and hovered around near us, never going too far away from anyone. Xander however remained by my side constantly, stepping only where I did and crawling gently across the floor.

"Kinda make you wish we could see in the dark too, doesn't it?" I asked him conversationally as I jumped over a large gap on the floor. He hopped over it with considerable ease and looked up at me, offering a small answer.

"Yeah," I said with a shrug. "I suppose it would be easier if we could fly."

He croaked something and I nodded, if only for the semblance of conversation. A large empty space in between the statues caught my attention; large chunks of debris serving as the only remains of the statue.

I stopped before it and looked up, hoping to see something. Instead I found nothing but empty air and wall, though I found a small stone carving beneath where the statue should have been. Most of it had been worn away with time and sand, though what remained was a small inscription written in the unown cipher.

I crouched before it and took some time to try and figure out what it meant.

"Righters of time, the d.."

I frowned at it and brushed my fingers against it, hoping for some imprint to be left there. Instead there was nothing but smooth rock, leaving me clueless. I remained there for a few minutes longer, wondering just what it had to mean.

It could have been that it was ancient spelling, 'righters' instead of 'writers'. But was there something that recorded time? I knew of the legends of the Dialga; the pokémon capable of warping time to its will. Then there was the Celebi, who could travel through time, which I knew first-hand.

I gave up thinking about it as I stood up and moved away from the plaque. I knew I wasn't likely to ever be able to figure it out on my own; there were a lot of things that started with the letter 'D'. I was assuming it had to be pokémon, though for all I knew it could have been a tribe or anything.

Instead I distracted myself with a large statue of a claydol. Like all the others it stretched from floor to ceiling, though this one was easily twice as wide as any of the others. The markings on it had been carefully painted on, managing to make the creature look almost real in the dark.

I grunted an amused sound as I leant closer and pressed my hand against it. I wondered just whether or not it was real... if there was even the slightest chance it could come to life.

The statue wobbled.

Lacey hissed.

And I leapt out of my skin.

My torch clattered to the floor noisily as a scream gargled its way out of my throat. I looked back up at the statue in unease, already stepping away when I noticed something blaringly obvious about it...

... it wasn't moving.

I pressed a hand over my heart and started laughing, amazed at my own imagination and stupidity. I crawled towards the light of my torch, listening to the sounds of my pokémon behind me again.

Lacey hissed again.

My torch light went out.

And my stomach dropped in icy fear.

"Alright," I whispered, unsteadily getting to my feet. "This isn't funny," I growled at them. "Turn the torch back o... oh shit."

In the darkness surrounding us were numerous glowing red markings, each no taller than my knee, though each with the same pattern; one single curved line, like a mono-brow, and a circle with lines coming out on the horizontal, about a foot below the mono-brow marking.

Part of me celebrated the fact that we'd managed to find baltoy; my hopes of finding a psychic finally rewarded.

Although the other part of me wanted nothing more than to flee the tower, screaming doom all the while.

"I don't like this," I whispered, my eyes darting between each of the strange glowing marks.

I heard my pokémon reply in the limited darkness and tried in vain to find them. Everything was a strange shade of red and even finding Lacey's luminous yellow eyes proved to be difficult. More and more my pulse was racing and every possible bad thing that could possibly occur began racing through my mind.

Then all of a sudden, all the strange glows disappeared.

The hairs on the back of my neck all stood on end as I was flung into darkness, goose bumps trailing all the way down my back. This was unreal. Baltoy weren't meant to randomly attack, right? They were only meant to feed on things like sandshrew. Not humans!

The paradoxical quiet returned to the tower, my heart rate the loudest thing I could hear in the whole damn place.

I could see Lacey's eyes trained in the distance; the only light source in the whole room.

I couldn't see anything in the darkness. All I could hear was my breathing.

I scrambled on the floor for my torch, breathing heavily all the while. A gust of wind blew behind me and I shrieked, diving to the floor. Behind me I felt something appear and then vanish instantly, leaving behind a sense of discontent and hatred.

I shuddered. It was horrible.

I placed my hands on the floor, trying in vain to search for my torch. The stone beneath me gave way at different times, halting my progress more and more.

I felt trapped.


Isolated, even with my pokémon nearby.

Something slammed into my back and made me drop to the floor, groaning in pain. It felt like I'd been hit with a stone statue. Gingerly I lifted a shaking hand to my back and pressed it, hoping the damage wasn't too bad.

It felt bruised, but not broken. There was chanting in the background, somewhere, almost human in nature. It was like a constant murmuring, the words too low and fast for me to discern.

The chanting spread throughout the place, making it hard for me to hear anything but it. I managed to hear the beating of wings... Loki growling at something... something crying out in pain... and quiet.

I smelt fresh water and knew Xander was around there somewhere. Something slammed into my leg once more and I dropped my face into my fists, refusing to cry out in the dark.

The chanting became louder around us and the red glows appeared again.

This time though, they were from the air above us, circling round, moving in time with each other.

All at once there was a harsh blue glow, almost like eyes lighting up.

Blue and red spun around us, merging into one horrible flash of colour that never remained constant. The chanting grew louder and louder, pounding in my eardrums, making me completely unaware of anything else.

I tried focusing on the spinning lights, but everything became blurry. Slowly they blurred out of view, becoming nothing but one large smear before darkness overtook that.

My eyelids became heavy, my heart rate slow.

Then there was nothing at all.

I awoke with a gasp sometime later, completely in the dark and with my hip sticking painfully into the stone floor. I pushed myself to a sitting position with a groan and sat there holding my head, trying to make the world stop spinning.

All at once I remembered everything that happened and leapt to my feet, breathless and frantically worried for my pokémon. I called out their names as I stepped over the floor tentatively, but found nothing more than silence greeting me.

I groaned and dropped my head. I didn't understand it! Obviously the baltoy wanted to kill me, but why didn't they?

I dimly remembered the fact that I'd never let out the charmeleon and so wasted no time to bring him into the strange chamber with me. He hissed at me as soon as he saw me and once he noticed we were completely alone, his face curled up into a sneer.

"You know what, I don't have time for your shit right now," I hissed at him, stepping closer towards him. The light blaring off the flame on his tail and those licking his teeth gave me enough to see that we were in some sort of large chamber, much like the ones floors below. The main difference was that ours had no statues in it.

The lizard growled at me once more, making my anger spike again. "I've had it with you, understand that! I'm the one that made sure you got operated on; that bullet's been removed from your hip and you're able to fight a lot better now! I'm the stupid fucker that keeps changing your dressings, trying to make sure that you're healing right! I'm the one feeding you and making sure that you're still alive! And you just stand there growling at me, attempting to kill me at every chance you get!

"Well guess what," I seethed at it, pointing a finger up at his chin. "You're stuck here, just like me. We're trapped in this stupid chamber; everyone else is who knows where in this tower with a host of murderous baltoy out for blood. Now I don't give a shit if you hate humans, you're gonna have to work with me if you want to get out of here!"

Flames spilled out of his teeth, dripping into the empty air between us. I saw his claws move out the corner of my eyes and heard the deep, threatening growl coming forth from his throat.

As soon as I saw him try to attack me, I reacted. I did the first thing that came to mind.

I punched a charmeleon on the snout.

He yelped more from surprise than pain and grabbed his snout with both paws, blood trickling out from beneath. I tried to step closer to him, to apologise, but another growl made me back away. Flames burst out from his mouth and again I dropped to the floor, but this time the charmeleon jerked his knee upwards and caught me straight in the chin.

I fell to the floor, dazed, my eyes rolling around in their sockets. The charmeleon leered over me with fire circling his claws. After a long moment he sneered at me, pointed to the bandages around his hips and then skulked off into the darkness, taking my only light with him.

He decided to let me live because I'd helped him.

It didn't change the fact that he'd just abandoned me in some dank, dark chamber.

"Fine!" I yelled after him, pushing myself to my feet ungracefully. "Walk off on me, you ungrateful thing! I don't know why I bothered helping you anyway! You're nothing but an overgrown monitor lizard anyway!"

My arms dropped to my sides with a hollow breath as he vanished completely into the darkness. The pain of him abandoning me somehow felt so much worse than watching the wurmple or makuhita die – it was almost like he'd chosen death over living with me.

It didn't just sting, it ripped me apart.

I sunk to the floor and leant against a wall, staring out despondently after the creature. I cursed it and myself for a good while before I decided to get back onto my feet and search for my other pokémon.

I took a breath and forced myself to move further into the chamber.

Then something rumbled behind me.

I stopped dead in my tracks as a little whimper escaped my lips. Nervously I turned around; not wanting to see what was waiting for me.

There were eyes.

Six of them.

Floating and glowing bloody red.

I screamed and damn near shit myself as I jumped away from the thing, bloody red glow beginning to surround the entire chamber. It loomed over me and managed to illuminate ancient carvings on the wall.

I glanced at them quickly, only for my heart to sink even lower. The pictures were ancient; little side-on, two dimensional drawings of ancient people and pokémon offering sacrifices to some sort of huge figure wearing a large crown. I saw six eyes on the creature in the painting and felt myself gulp.

At least I knew why the baltoy didn't outright kill me; they were just sacrificing me to some ancient physical god instead!

"Uh... you don't want to eat me," I told the creature, backpedalling as quickly as I could. "Urm, I don't taste nice. I'm too thin and stringy. Like bones. I'm bony! And chewy! And full of complex carbohydrates!"

Who knows why I ever thought that would put it off eating me.

I felt a deep, booming laughter suddenly invade my brain, bringing with it the familiar pain of psychic intrusion.

[Good,] the voice bellowed in my mind, eyes lighting up with every word it spoke. [We happen to like bones. Nothing as delightful as the satisfying crunch they deliver.]

I jumped away from it as something large fell over, making a large impact on the ground. In the movement I managed to pull my gun on the thing, hands shaking as I tried to aim it at one of its eyes.

"Don't-" I started to warn it, and then realised; it was trying to eat me. I fired off five rounds in quick succession and watched in horror as they all just bounced off the creature's eyes.

I felt the laughter in my skull once more. [Foolish mortal. Does it believe its puny weapons are capable of delivering onto us harm? It is but the sample course. Its obedient servants will add more nourishment to our meal.]

Fury burnt through me at the mention of my pokémon. "What have you done with them?" I demanded of the giant, ancient claydol. "Tell me where they are!"

The voice was back again, dropping me to my knees with pain. [Or what mortal? What will it do to us? Attempt to bore us to death with dreary observations about its pathetic life? No mortal. Its fate is... unerringly tainted with the touch of the righters. It must be destroyed.]

I dropped my guard for a moment. "Wait, what?" I asked, bewildered. It was to no use as I found myself hurled by invisible energies against a wall, slamming hard against old and new bruises.

I moaned like a beaten animal and crawled to my knees, spitting up blood on the floor. Again I found myself flung into the distance, hitting another stone wall with harsh force. My head banged hard against the surface and the world spun, everything moving in random directions and nothing making sense.

I squinted my eyes as I lifted my head, struggling to see the ancient creature. It loomed over me again and I dropped my head to the floor, sobbed and struggled to keep myself from being sick.

Just as I thought I was done for, I heard a deep, fierce hiss in the distance. There was a loud, almost ancient-sounding noise like a scream, and one of the eyes closed, bathing a part of the room in darkness.

I lifted my head again, forcing myself to focus. I saw... fire?

It took a moment for it all to register. Fire meant that something was fighting it. Fire meant that something in the chamber was a fiery pokémon. The growls were familiar...

It meant that the charmeleon had to have come back for me!

The deep booming laugh of the claydol invaded my thoughts again, piercing straight through the blurry haze of my mind. [Do not be so foolish, mortal. Its pet only returns because they are trapped.]

I groaned and turned my head to the side, trying to see into the darkness. The claydol's eyes lit up and illuminated the dark corridors, showing me enough to see a stone door in the far distance, covered in scratch and burn marks.

I grunted a small, "Oh," as I dropped my head back to the floor. So the charmeleon only came back because it had no choice. It wasn't loyalty or friendship or anything like that; it just happened to assume beating the claydol would lead to a way out.

I crawled towards the wall and managed to push myself up against it, leaning unsteadily against it. "T-the eyes," I croaked, voice harsh and garbled. "Get... claydol's... eyes."

I stumbled against the wall as something screamed in the distance. There was more screaming, a little more darkness and then something wet landed before me in the darkness with a horrible splat!

My knees gave way underneath me as I tried to see what the thing was. Everything was swimming and I was certain I'd pass out soon, but I wanted to know what had landed there.

Finally my hands found it; large, wet and sticky, almost the size of my head. My vision swam as I stared at it, taking long enough to see the dark red colour of it in the darkness and the unseeing black pupil.

I laughed as I dropped the eye on the floor and fell back against the wall. The charmeleon had managed to rip out one of the damn things eyes!

"Good going!" I shouted like a drunk into the darkness. "Take 'em out! Rip out its eyes! Burn everything inside!"

Everything tilted to the side and it took me some time to figure out it was because I'd fallen over. I groaned and pressed myself back up, catching a little bit of the battle in front of me. There was a flash of fire and I hissed, waving my hands in front of my face. "Too much light," I groaned as I leant my head against the wall.

I figured somewhat slowly that I had to have a concussion. Everything seemed to be spinning around me and there was a dull ringing in my ears that didn't seem to stop. I heard myself laughing and tried to keep myself awake, forcing myself to try and concentrate on the sounds of the battle.

There was silence for what I thought was nothing more than a second, but then something was shaking me violently. I swiped at it drunkenly, not trusting myself to be able to move.

Then more pain came as a voice interrupted my thoughts. [Do not fall asleep!]

I started violently and backed away, pulling myself free of the grip. The voice sounded like that bastard claydol! It had to have survived! I convinced myself it had killed the charmeleon and it was going to torture me until it killed me.

Though something about the voice seemed softer... calmer... friendlier.

[Do not fall asleep, mortal,] the voice boomed in my head again. I blinked and waved my hands as six bright red lights appeared in my vision again, trying to bat away the bright light and the claydol they belonged to.

[You have a concussion,] it informed me, tone dull. [Stop moving or we shall be forced to psychically restrain you.]

Another drunken groan left my throat. "Who... you?"

[We are known as 'Myos',] the voice told me. [It is the name you may refer to us by.]

I blinked and caught hold of one bit of information. "'Us'?" I repeated, alarmed. "You're a claydol aren't you? That big fucker had friends, and now the charmeleon's dead and you're here to eat me!"

The voice chuckled in my head, soft and amused. [We are not here to consume you. We are Myos; a claydol. We are not one single entity – every claydol cluster refers to ourselves in plural. Your charmeleon is alive, though unconscious. He ripped open a wound whilst battling Tyraos.]

I distantly remembered being told not to let the charmeleon battle for a while. I winced at the thought of him opening those wounds up and knew he'd probably have to keep them on for longer.

"My pokémon," I grunted, reaching out at the voice.

[Your charmeleon is safe,] it replied instantly.

"No," I whispered, slapping at the empty air. "My... others. A lombre... sableye, a magnemite and a nuzleaf... that's nearly shiftry."

The light in my face intensified and I hissed, hiding away from it. The voice was back again, bringing yet more pain that managed to anchor me to consciousness. [They are in the tower, one floor below. We shall teleport them out with you.]

I tried to protest, but before I knew it everything was taken up by a bright blue light and I passed out once more.

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