Regret

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.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5808527/1/Regret

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28. Advancements

Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful ~ Mark Victor Hansen

-O-O-O-

"Pokémon are strange things. Some become instantly subservient when they're captured, some rebel as much as they can, and some will just kill their trainers on the spot.

Yet for all their hatred of the poké ball, pokémon can see it as a great solace from the world. They retreat in their for safety when they could otherwise be killed, and will – if possible – hide within the poké ball when they begin to evolve.

But for all the research conducted into poké balls, from their mechanisms of how they work, all the way through to how durable they are, there has been one area of research barely touched upon; what happens to a pokémon inside a poké ball, if the ball itself is damaged or destroyed?

It is an area of research looked down upon by many ethical committees, if only for the usage of live rattata in the experiments.

However, such research must be conducted. Is it not better for a few pokémon to die in lab tests for us to know the limits of our poké ball's strengths? Would we not rather have had a meaningless lab-rat die, rather than our own beloved pokémon who we'd raised for many years with love and care?

These are our reasons for carrying out such research. And these are our reasons for why we publish this report."

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

-O-O-O-

It felt decidedly strange to be travelling on my own again. Only a day had passed since I was left to make my own way once more, and I'd found myself continually missing the presence of human company.

Or more than that, the advice from others on what to do with Erra.

I'd noticed before that she was a lot calmer when it was only myself, Xander and Loki around, and that her static twinges were almost non-existent. Though when there was a loud noise, a stranger, or Lacey around, she would revert back to her twitchy, electric-discharging old self. If nothing else, it made me realise that in addition to being timid, she was downright terrified of anything that could potentially harm her.

There was also the nice little bit of knowledge that it was, at least partially my fault.

I knew that at some point, I would need to somehow have Lacey save her from a stronger pokémon, or a similar situation. The main problem with that was actually finding a pokémon that I could make Erra fight against, and then be able to get Lacey in without the pokémon killing anyone.

Like most things in my life, it was such a simple task.

Xander had still yet to re-emerge from his poké ball, and Loki was still managing to cause bedlam, even in the middle of nowhere. I also had Lacey sneaking off every so often, coming back with blood lining her hands, or patches over her skin – once even with flesh between her teeth. It was really no wonder why Erra was frightened around us all, and I'd still yet to see any success in getting Lacey to apologise to the creature.

It was all work, and I'd yet to see any rewards.

I groaned as I pulled myself to a stop, deciding to sit down on the floor itself and pried my boots off, rubbing at my sore feet. I'd been told by one of the nurses in the Mauville pokémon centre that Lavaridge was a fortnight's journey away, given measures that people usually travelled in groups of three, and only walked for about seven to eight hour a day. Of course, on my own, I reasoned I could move a lot quicker, and would travel greater distances in the same amount of time.

I fiddled around in my backpack and tried to pull out a map. I'd tried using the one supposedly built into the pokédex, but all I'd gained was a wall of text telling me a load of useless instructions, and more predominantly, to go online to learn how to use the map feature. I felt like throwing the damn thing into a ravine when I saw that, and instead swore at it for a good ten minutes before buying a map – it was a good thing I'd been in town at the time.

Small bits of sand flew around in the air around us, occasionally settling on the map. I knew more and more was getting stuck in my hair, if Lacey's was anything to go by. As I sat down and tried to navigate, she kept watch while trying to pry the little pieces of yellow dirt out of her bright white hair. If nothing else, it meant that we were getting closer to the desert that existed along this stretch of road.

With the map unfolded on my lap, I began tracing roughly how far we'd managed to travel. It seemed as if we'd made it almost three-quarters of the way towards the desert, and it looked like from there we would need to head west as soon as the ground became the slightest bit sandy. I reasoned it would probably take us another two days to reach Mount Chimney, and take the cable car up towards the top. Lavaridge itself was set on the volcano itself, far enough away from the lava, yet close enough to enjoy the hot springs, and spanned the distance from the low-lying floors up to mountainous cliffs.

Thankfully the main area trainers needed to frequent was nearby the cable car. It seemed that every town followed the same sort of idea; either the trainer areas where on the outskirts of town, or where in the middle, with the easiest access in and out of the town. It was probably both to minimise damage to the town itself and the people within, and so that people could live away from the hustle and bustle, where they would no doubt be likely to hear pokémon fighting day-in, day-out.

"We've got about three days until we hit the next town," I said, looking up at Lacey. She spared me a glance, nodded, and then turned back to picking sand from her hair. "There's a network of tunnels that go through the volcano apparently. It's supposedly blindingly hot in there, yet still cool enough for us to travel through and survive quite well." I leant forwards and placed my hands around my ankles. "You think we should give it a try? We might be able to get a good fiery pokémon."

She grunted something and shrugged at me. There was a noise in the grasses that caught both our attentions, and we both froze, staring at the source of the sound for a good moment. Only when it had passed did we both relax, and then Lacey grunted something again. Obviously she didn't care much either way.

I rubbed my feet again, trying to ease the pain. "I might need you to go off somewhere with Erra. I face, I might try to get you take her in there for a bit." I saw her turn her head slightly, able to focus on me and our surroundings at the same time. "She's terrified of you, if only because of that beating you gave her when we first caught her. She needs to know that you can be trusted to defend her. Otherwise, she'll never be able to fight, and we'd be worse off letting her back into the wild. You think you can manage that without killing her?"

She pulled her lip back in distaste a moment, grunted something, though nodded afterwards. She pointed up to the sky, moved her hand from the western horizon to the eastern one, and then held up two, scrawny fingers.

Two days. It was what she was saying she would need, if I wanted to her to carry out the plan. I had no doubt she was trying to get some extra time away from me, possibly to murder a few pokémon, possibly to escape off into the wilds. I knew that she could use the time to escape; it wouldn't be hard for her to kill Erra and escape. But I knew that letting her explore an area full of heat, fire, and no source of sunlight would mean that she wouldn't survive long, if she did decide to run.

I knew that she was still resentful to being a trainer pokémon, and would most likely try to escape if she could. I also knew that she wasn't an idiot, and wouldn't try to escape in an area she wouldn't be likely to survive in.

At least, I thought that most of the time. Occasionally I would see her look at me with some sort of sadness, yet one it seemed she was never suffering from. Other times it was pity, and then back to disdain or begrudging respect. The latter two made me think she would try to escape, yet the two former did make me think she would stick around.

"Two days then," I allowed her. "As long as you come back with Erra alive. Try not to freak her out anymore though," I added with a smirk. "If she comes back a complete state, afraid of even a slight breeze, I think it'd be a favour to put her out of her misery. I'll trust that to your judgement though."

I think something like surprise hit her eyes. No doubt she would have been surprised; I'd gone from distrusting her completely, to trusting her with not only my pokémon's lives, but mine as well. And now, I was trusting her enough to call whether or not one of my pokémon would be better off dead if circumstances permitted it.

To tell the truth, if circumstances were different, I wouldn't have trusted her. But I was at my wit's end with trying to get her to get over her fears. I hadn't tried much, couldn't think of much, and didn't want to wait forever. Since I was back on my own, my mind was constantly abuzz with theories and suggestions as to what I could save the world. Yet again I was drawing blanks, and even with talking with Erica, I'd managed to gain no insight.

I was back to thinking that I had to already know what I needed to do. That meant that needed to sort out everything I knew of my own history, and try to figure out what could be the biggest cause of it all.

I decided I'd try and work on it whilst my pokémon where running drills. I snatched Xander's ball off my bandolier and glanced at it. The glowing light on it had got brighter, though it still wasn't that noticeable in the daylight. Maybe at night it would be enough to act as a tiny torch.

It made me wonder about the light; did it get brighter, the closer the pokémon was to fully evolving? Chris said something about there being a lot of energy being given off during it; therefore it had to mean that brighter light meant more energy. It also probably meant that stronger pokémon would give off more energy, which could mean I'd end up with bright, lit up targets on my chest.

It almost was enough to make me not want any stronger pokémon.

Almost.

I'd survived all the shit I'd been through up until then, I was damned sure I could survive having a few glowing poké balls on my person.

Though I figured with my luck, I'd never get any strong pokémon. Instead I'd just end up with a load of epileptic hoppip, or a magikarp that couldn't swim.

At least it would be better than undead makuhitas.

It was increasingly obvious that we were getting closer to Lavaridge town. The sheer heat that surrounded us all was unreal! I was reduced to nothing more than a sweaty pile of goo quite often, and ended up routinely having to sit in the shade, or just in some small puddle or river that I could find. My pokémon were faring no better it seemed, as Loki appeared to have little energy left, instead dragging himself along the floor, Lacey seemed to visibly wilt – the leaf on her head had begun to do so – and Erra seemed unable to beat her wings together.

"This is just torture!" I groaned from my place on the floor. I was eagle-spread underneath a tree, my head buried half into a leafy bush, finding the slightest bit of relative cold in the burning hot area. "It's unreal!"

It also seemed I wasn't the only one that thought so. I'd bumped into a few trainers on the road, who like me, were suffering under the heat. Apparently Lavaridge was due to get even hotter when the summer hit in just over a month's time, and I couldn't help but want to get away as soon as I could.

My leg jerked as feather-light insect steps pressed against it, and only when I saw that it was Erra creeping did I relax. I reached up and wiped my soaked brow, only for it to become slick with sweat mere moments later. It was just too hot!

It also made me feel sorry for Lacey and Erra, having to go into the tunnels nearby.

We'd travelled far enough so that the cave network was only an hour's walk away. Lacey still seemed fine with the idea, if not slightly eager to be out of my way, and my command for some time.

Erra meanwhile was oblivious to it all. I'd put off telling her, if only because I knew she'd probably worry and give herself a heart attack by fretting about being left alone with Lacey for a while. I couldn't exactly shout at the creature for being so nervous, but I couldn't wait around for her to overcome it by some sheer miracle alone.

"Come 'ere," I grunted at her, holding my arm out for her to crawl onto. I felt the weight of her body and her spindly legs brush against my arm before I lifted it back up to myself, holding it and by extension, Erra, above my face."I've got a special mission for you."

Something like panic and surprise lit up in her eye. She buzzed once, loudly, and I gathered that she wasn't too happy about the idea.

"I need you on this," I told her, hoping she could understand enough. "There's a few things that Lacey's decided she needs from inside the caves, and she needs someone to help her get them. The only thing is, they're slightly magnetic, so you're the only one that can help her in any way."

It was quite amazing really, how lies could flow so easily off my tongue and make stories. If nothing else, it was a skill.

Erra buzzed again, her legs doing a strange dance over my hand. Little twinges of electricity shot down my arm, making it jerk, which in turn made her spark again. It was a vicious cycle, and one I could only break by petting the creature with my other hand, trying to calm her down as best I could.

"I'm letting you go with Lacey because I trust her. I know that you must, on some level, or you wouldn't cling to her like you do. She's promised me that there won't be a repeat of last time; she won't be brutalising you at all, as I've made it clear what will happen to her if she doesn't do her best to protect you."

Lies. Lies. And yet more lies. They were dangerous things; one became two. Two could become four and so on. It was quite something to realise how many of them I told on a daily basis, and how little truth I used when I was talking to someone.

I told myself it was what I needed to do to survive – to protect the world.

Erra seemed to calm down at my words, at least. She still twitched slightly, though I saw that most of the panic was gone from her stance. Instead she did look a little guarded, and the slightest bit apprehensive, but I couldn't blame her.

It was just a good thing she couldn't read minds. No doubt she would well and truly freak if I knew the trust I was telling her that I had in Lacey, was in fact, the trust that she would put Erra out of her misery if the magnemite's fears became too much for her to function.

"So can you do this for me?" I asked the electrical insect. "Can I put my trust into you for this?"

I watched her antennae flick back and forth a moment as her eye narrowed and dilated over and over. Finally she clicked once, buzzed and flew out of the bushes, hovering over me as she looked over toward Lacey.

I gathered that it must have been some sort of positive answer. It made the decision for me that I really needed to figure out a way to get Erra to convey yes and no answers. Lacey understood being able to make visual gestures, Loki would get excited or placated, while Xander would either croak at me, or just settle a creepy lotad-glare upon the back of my head.

Though soon enough it would be a creepy-lombre stare instead.

There was nothing left to do on our little break, so I called for my pokémon to stop whatever they were doing, and that we were heading on. Lacey nodded silently and walked into line next to me, while Erra stopped hovering long enough to drop down and skulk along my shoulders. Loki instead, took a while, and we only knew he was coming by the sounds of his demonic chatter in the undergrowth. Finally he emerged, little bits of fur and flesh caught between his teeth, and a brown and cream tail clutched in one of his hands.

Blood covered the bottom of it, and I recognised the pattern immediately. "I didn't realise there were zigzagoon around here."

Loki reared his head back with a gurgle of a growl, then cackled gleefully as he petted the dead furry tail. He reminded me of a bad movie villain more and more, and he now had the little furry thing to sit and pet as he gave an ill-timed monologue. Though at least he would have some extra credit as a villain, seeing as he was stroking a dismembered tail.

"Guess there's not any around now then," I grunted as Loki cheerfully played with the dead tail, occasionally whipping it against Lacey like a wet tail.

I gave it two minutes before she would destroy the tail before his eyes.

It took one.

"Come on Loki," I sighed as we continued to walk, even as the sableye knelt within the tattered, chunky remains of his new toy. I shot a look at Lacey and rolled my eyes at the smug look she held. "Did you really have to rip the damn thing up? Couldn't you have thrown it off into the distance or something? We could have got a laugh out of it if he started playing fetch with it."

I got another bored look, followed by one of confusion. Obviously she didn't know what fetch was, which was of no surprise to me. Though when she tried to press me for an explanation, I quickly dismissed it as a human thing. I got the feeling that if I did explain to her what it was, she'd go around throwing my stuff off into the distance, hoping I would play fetch with it.

More than likely I'd just kick her up the backside and make her get it. Provided of course, I could be bothered to check my food and drink for little poisons for some time.

Along the way I made little notes to myself about how everyone was doing in their training, and how it could be improved. I'd seen that Lacey was incredibly successful now with her poisoning, and she could quite easily pump toxins through her leaves whenever she inflicted wounds. Possibly the only way to better that would be if I could get her to spread it simply by touch, though I realised this was Lacey I was thinking about. If I taught her how to poison things by touch alone, nothing and no one would be safe.

Loki was getting better with his shadow-based moves, and I could see that he was turning intangible whenever something frightened him, or whenever there was a particularly loud sound. I'd also seen him watching the machop native to the area, and trying to copy the fighting styles they used. If he'd learnt something, I knew I needed to get him to keep training on it.

Meanwhile Erra was getting some improvement. Not only could I get her to shock things on command, but I could also get her to make that horrible screeching sound again. It made for good tactics; she could stun her opponents, and then shock them when they weren't expecting it. The only problem was that the noise she produced still made my ears ring for a good hour afterwards. Supposedly she could learn how to make light bend in enough ways to reflect certain attacks, or even to make her body hard as steel. I figured either one would be good for her – the more techniques she could use to defend herself, the more confidence she might have in regards to battle, or even daily.

Another thing to learn, it seemed.

Before I knew it we were staring up at the side of the volcano. I could see various little cracks along its surface, as well as what was obviously long-dried magma. It was a feat to see, and even from the ground itself the sounds of pokémon living on and in the volcano could be heard.

At the side of the volcano was a large brick building, with a long system of cables along its roof, stretching all the way up the side of volcano. A strange metallic sort of cart was already halfway up the cables, and I could see it bounce slightly every time it went through the system of pulleys.

That was reassuring.

In the base of the volcano itself was a large cavern hole of sorts, held up by a number of metallic and wooden planks. A crude sign had been erected next to it, labelling it as 'Fiery Path'.

I stared at it a moment, then looked toward Lacey. "This is where we part ways for a bit then," I said, and went to place a hand on her shoulder. At her sharp look, I quickly thought better of it, and instead just dropped the limb by my side. "Well, you know... take care and that. I'm trusting you on this, you know that, right?"

She hissed something and rolled her eyes at me. She took a soft look at the cave entrance, rolled her eyes back to me, then looked up at Erra before she nodded. She grunted something which caused Erra to click in reply, and then started to hover above my head.

"I can trust you to help her on this, right?" I asked the magnemite. "She'll keep you safe in there, but you need to trust in her. And when you come back, I'll start helping you to learn ways to make shields so that attacks and other pokémon won't be able to hit you, alright?"

She clicked happily in reply to that. No doubt that would be the inspiration to keep her going; suffer a few days with Lacey, learn to trust her, and then come back and learn how to keep attacks from hitting you.

Provided she managed to come back at all.

I waved them off. "Come back safe you two."

Lacey hissed something at me as she went to leave. If she were human, I had no doubt she would have flipped me off as she walked. Erra on the other hand, decided to hover around for one last moment, clicked something and then flew after Lacey, attaching herself to the nuzleaf quickly afterwards.

It was a strange thing to watch my pokémon go off on their own. Yet I knew that there may come a time where I needed them to scout out somewhere far away from me, or even to ensure safety up ahead or behind. As soon as they disappeared into the caves, I half expected to hear Erra shriek in pain as Lacey murdered her, and then never see the nuzleaf again.

Instead there continued to be silence. I wasn't sure what was more unnerving.

Loki continued chattering by my leg, letting me know something that I couldn't understand. His ease with the situation let me know at least, that nothing had gone wrong, and that no one had been killed.

"So it's just you and me for a little bit then," I said as I bent down level with him. "It's going to be about two days until they return, and I'm still not sure when Xander will be done evolving. So it's up to us two to keep each other safe. At least Lacey won't be around to rip up any of your new toys, eh?"

He made a small noise at that, and then sent a forlorn glance all the way back to where his zigzagoon tail was left.

I smiled at him and rubbed his head. "So try not to annoy anything, eh?"

Of course, I did forget I was speaking to Loki.

I thought I would be able to cope with the thought of my pokémon off in the wilds on their own.

It turned out I was wrong in that regard.

Every spare moment I had, I spent wondering about them both. What were they doing in the caves now? Had they managed to get far in? Had they managed to survive well in the caves? Was Lacey protecting Erra, or just leaving her to rot?

I began to think that maybe I shouldn't have let them out alone. It was too risky, and I was left only with Loki for company.

But I knew it was too late for regrets. What had happened, happened. If they came back, or if they didn't, I would take it and use it for the best.

I heard Loki scampering around in the undergrowth again, and left him to torment whatever creature he was. He'd yet to find a replacement for his pilfered tail, though had gleefully attacked quite a few pokémon. I'd also bumped into the odd trainer, who seemed confused as to why I was walking around with four poké balls, yet only one pokémon. After explaining to them what was going on, most seemed perplexed, others seemed dumbfounded. They couldn't seem to understand why I would let any of my pokémon out on their own, without my eye to watch over them.

The fact was, they couldn't be captured again. Added to that, they'd managed to live without me around before, I was pretty damn certain they could again.

Though of course, the other trainers didn't seem to see things my way. Then again, I didn't really care what they thought, and more often than not, if they annoyed me, I would just wait until they left, and then have Loki steal from them.

He got some fun getting to steal from people, and I got a little extra cash. Win-win situation.

Well, except for the people I was stealing from. But to be honest, I didn't really care about them.

Instead I busied myself on trying to find out where Loki was. I could hear him scampering about, and could smell something burning around us. No doubt he was pissing off some sort of fire pokémon.

Instinctively I clutched at Xander's poké ball. I hissed at my stupidity and watched as Loki leapt out of the bushes, wailing as loud as he could.

I leapt backwards and aimed Xander's ball without thinking yet again, instead dropping my hand and reaching down for my gun with my free hand as the creature that chased Loki made itself known.

Out of the grass burst a small, two foot tall camel. It was a light orange colour, with soft green fur covering its hump, and two deep set, almost dopey eyes that stared out from underneath beige eyelids.

I backed up another step and looked back to Loki. "You haven't pissed off this as well have you?" I asked. He grunted, and I felt my heart rate spike a little. "It didn't... it didn't happen to have a mother nearby it, did it?"

The numel snorted, enough of an answer for me. I felt my heart freeze over yet again, and considered running for it then and there. Camerupt were fierce creatures when angered, and could be some of the most maternal pokémon there were. There were some, like raticate, that would leave their young as soon as they were old enough to stop breastfeeding, and others, like elekid and smoochum that would need their parents around for large amounts of time. Numel fell in the middle, though it meant their parents would still be fiercely protective of their young, just not to the extent of a jynx or electabuzz.

As if to answer my fears, there was a loud screaming shout, of sorts, in the distance. The numel cawed and preened at the sound, and both myself and Loki backpedalled a few places.

I spared a glance down at the sableye. "You just had to ignore my advice, didn't you?"

He grunted something, holding one finger to his mouth in feigned innocence. I rolled my eyes at him and continued to back away slowly from the numel, knowing that if I ran, it would cause the camerupt to chase after us.

When the creature spotted us though, I started to think that maybe I should have ran. It stood taller than me, and had a shaggy dark orange fur coat. Both humps on its back were patterned to look open, and thick red sweat poured out of them, giving the illusion that the creature was spouting magma.

Its long neck twisted around, searching for its young. The adult camel held the same almost-dopey expression, though I could see its ears flickering in agitation towards me. The numel said something to it in their tongue, and I found myself entering a staring contest with a fire-breathing camel.

"Don't. Make. Any. Sudden. Moves," I hissed at Loki.

He rasped something small, and even that made the camerupt snort angrily.

"We just need to outstare it..." I whispered. I knew that if we managed to show the creature we weren't a threat for long enough, we'd be able to escape the camerupt from trying to burn us to a crisp.

Of course, Xander would have to display his perfect timing.

His ball started wobbling, and I could feel it vibrating more and more in my hand. I bit my lip as the camerupt snorted fiercely, and placed my over hand over the ball, praying in vain that I could keep the creature in.

Of course, my luck said that wouldn't happen.

In a burst of light Xander appeared in his newly evolved form. Gone were the six short stubby legs, and instead there were four; two hind legs that were loaded with muscles, and two longer forelegs, able to stretch from his shoulders down to the floor. Two large eyes rotated on either side of his head, and his throat would inflate and deflate with every small breath. His skin was a strange blue-green, and running down his back, from his head to his tail was a long dark green leaf.

He was a frog. A frog with a leaf on his back.

It took everything in me not to burst out laughing then and there.

He croaked.

The camerupt snorted flames.

"Oh shit," I hissed, hating the cosmos, karma, God or whatever the fuck decided to taunt me so. "We need to distract it!"

Loki grunted something, and his eyes lit up with that strange eerie light he used to confuse people. My heart lit up, thinking he would be able to distract the camerupt... except the light hit the numel instead.

It grunted something small, wobbling on its little feet. It looked up to its mother, eyes swirling, and made one long, pitiful moaning sound that seemed only to agitate the camerupt more.

More flames burst out of the camerupt's nose, and it reared back with a mighty roar.

"Xander!" I yelped instinctively, calling the lombre to action. He croaked once and blasted the camerupt with a jet of water.

Scowling, the pokémon hissed as water steamed off of its fur.

"Lose it!" I hissed before it could charge.

Xander croaked once more, this time as he used his long legs to bounce over a small jet of flames. He landed in front of me and Loki both, and breathed out a long stream of fog. It touched the air around us and brought a sudden chill, enough to bring goosebumps onto my skin. I heard the camerupt roar from behind the veil of the mist, unable to see us in the slightest.

I smiled. I could still see it perfectly, even with the mist swirling around us. "Good boy!" I praised the pokémon, though made no mistake in quickly calling them both back and running for it in the other direction.

Try as I might, I couldn't convince myself that capturing either of those two pokémon would be a good idea. Either way I'd end up with a camerupt trying to kill me, which wasn't exactly something I could hope for.

Breathless, panting and sweating profusely, I finally collapsed after a good ten minutes of running. I leant against a nearby tree, hunched over and looked back in paranoia. Thankfully, instead of an angry camperupt, I found nothing but empty forests and a few taillow fluttering around in the trees.

I laughed at the narrow escape to myself, and collapsed fully against the tree, still breathing hard. My hands found Xander's poké ball again, and with a flash of light I released him into the woods before me.

He croaked, neck inflating to stupid proportions, and I burst out laughing.

"S-sorry," I breathed, waving a hand in front of my face. "It's just strange to see you like this. I mean, you had the legs before, and you've still got the small bill over your mouth, but not this inflating throat."

He croaked once more, and I had to stop myself from laughing again. "So you've completely learnt to produce that mist then? Lacey managed to tell me something about how you'd learn something new when you managed to evolve. So did you manage to get anything out of it?"

He looked up at me, blinked and tried to focus on something. He breathed into the air once more, though this time I couldn't see any sort of mist or fog. Instead it seemed to hover above him a moment, and turned darker and darker until it was an obvious dark grey colour. Then suddenly, it began to rain from the small cloud, soaking the happy croaking lombre completely.

"You... you can create rainclouds?" I breathed, stunned. I knew the benefits that rain brought for Xander's species, and instantly my face lit up in a smile.

Xander croaked something at me, and I stared at him, confused. He repeated it twice more, and when I still had no reaction, his tongue suddenly leapt out of his mouth, punching straight into Lacey's poké ball and knocking the barely-caught breath out of me.

Needless to say, I was a little shocked.

"You never had a tongue like that before!" I near-enough shouted, amazed. "Where the hell did that manage to come from? Surely it didn't appear overnight?" I smiled at the small grunt Xander made, and thumbed Lacey's poké ball, understanding he was wondering where she was.

I explained to him what had happened, as well as what I'd learnt about Erra. The whole time he sat there, silent, his throat continually swelling and expanding. It was amazing that I actually managed to keep a straight face long enough to tell him that Lacey had taken Erra on a little training tour.

Amazingly though, I found that he seemed to agree with the idea. I didn't catch anywhere near the full extent of what he had to say to me, though after much time and effort I managed to gather the basics; pokémon could often learn well off other pokémon. It apparently was better for me to let Lacey try and train Erra, as supposedly that would get more results than just me doing it.

I couldn't help but smile at the thought of getting to plan out more things to do with my pokémon's training. I didn't know why, but after having joined the new world, I was starting to develop a habit for trying to plan everything out in advance – sorting out what techniques my pokémon would learn, when they would start learning them, even down to how long they would train for each day.

It was probably part of my army training, buried within me, making me plan for every possible occasion and event. Yet it didn't make me remember home, but it still brought me a strange sense of confidence and happiness.

Perhaps I was just becoming weird. Perhaps I had always been weird, and never been able to show it.

Or perhaps I began thinking too much on the little things, when the big things became too much to handle.

"You know," I said as I slipped down into sitting on the floor. "I've missed having you around," I confessed to the pokémon. "I mean, Lacey can be brilliant to talk to, but she's just so... I dunno. It's like she's still begrudging me for capturing her, so her opinions seem to be biased on letting me fail so that she can escape. Loki's just insane, and is likely to eat anything I try to give him to help him understand. And then we've got Erra, who seems to find everything terrifying in a world that's normally frightening.

"Basically, you're pretty much the only tie to sanity I have," I confessed with a sad smile.

Xander preened at the comment. His whole body seemed to rise, and I saw what looked like a smile spread over his face.

"Though it's still strange to see you as a lombre," I laughed, deflating him a bit. "Not only the whole inflating throat thing, but you're a four foot tall frog. Are all pokémon generally so freakishly large?"

His tongue smacked me on the cheek as answer. I yelped and fell sideways with the blow, taken by surprise. Xander rumbled a deep laugh at my expense, and I couldn't find it within myself to be angry at him. Maybe I did need hitting to bring back to sanity once in a while, though I didn't think my observational humour was so bad that I needed attacking for it.

"Careful," I warned him, nonetheless. "Carry that up, and I'll get Erra to zap your tongue the next time you try that. She's a lot faster than you. If not, I'll just drag you along by it. Or tie it in a knot."

He didn't seem impressed by that. Nor, did he seem to believe it.

I couldn't blame him. He seemed to understand that he was probably my one pokémon who I wasn't likely to attack or harm at any time. It may have been that I started off with him, that he was my voice of reason, or even that I looked upon him as family. I knew that through all my threats towards him, I could only manage to ever harm him in a playful way.

I knew it, and so did he.

It made me realise that there was a high chance that pokémon were a lot smarter than they let on, and that we thought. Maybe in another time, it could have been studied, maybe even by me myself.

But some things just weren't meant to be.

I remember waiting outside that entrance to Fiery Path with my stomach continually doing a little dance with butterflies and ice. It was like I was waiting for a date to show up, or something equally as silly. Yet this scared me more than any of those ever could; it was the fear alone that Lacey may have killed Erra and they weren't coming back.

It seemed like it only just managed to hit me then and there.

Lacey could have killed Erra... they could have both got horribly lost within the caverns... they could have been killed in there by an angry weezing... anything could have happened to them in there!

And ultimately, it would be my fault for letting them go in there.

By my hip, Xander made a low warbling sound that snapped me from my fears.

"I know I shouldn't be worrying," I muttered as I crouched low next to him. "But seriously, what was I thinking? I mean, this is Lacey! Lacey! We both know what she was like when we found her, why did I ever think I could trust her?"

He warbled again, his eyes flickering around in their sockets.

"I know she's not trying to kill us now," I continued, regardless of whatever my pokémon managed to tell me. "But why did I think she wouldn't try to escape? I mean, sure, if this works, it'll be brilliant, if only because it's a quick way of getting Erra to become more confident. Hell, maybe even Lacey could manage to teach her a few tricks. But seriously? How likely is it that they'll return? Lacey's constantly trying to escape what she thinks is nothing more than servitude, and I've pretty much given her an escape free of charge. I've possibly lost two pokémon through my idiocy."

I groaned and buried my face in the back of his slimy, scaly head. "Am I the biggest idiot or what?"

I felt his body vibrate with his answer more than I heard it. I ended up laughing at the feeling of it and pulled myself away, patting his head without thinking about it. "You know, I think we should find away to teach you how to hypnotise things. How awesome would it be if you became Xander the hypnotoad?

His tongue slapped me on the shoulder for that.

"Ow!" I yelped, leaping back and pressing a hand to my shoulder. "Okay, so you're not going to become some strange creature." I laughed once more and shook my head. "Thanks," I whispered, offering the pokémon a smile. "I know what you're doing. You're trying to distract me. It might not be working perfectly because I know what you're doing, but thanks nonetheless."

He croaked a long, low sound in reply. I smiled aimlessly, thinking it no more than him accepting the thanks, until he croaked again, this time with a tinge of excitement.

When buzzing filled the air, my heart leapt in my chest.

"Erra?" I breathed, moments before the insect landed on my shoulder, clicking happily as she scuttled over my body. "You're back!" I cried joyously, laughing insanely as she clicked a happy tune. Dimly I noticed no shocks coursing through my body, and turned my head to look at the creature. "What's happened? No shock treatment?"

By my side I heard the familiar sinister hisses of Lacey. I spun to face her with a wide grin, and caught myself before I hugged her. Instead I offered her a small nod with a beaming smile on my face.

"Hey," I whispered uselessly, raising my hand up in a small wave. "Nice to see you're back. Unscathed too." I smirked knowingly. "So how low is the population in there now?"

She smirked and gave me a small shrug. Her attention was drawn to the magnemite on my shoulder rapidly, and her smirk quickly became smug as she folded her arms at the creature.

On my shoulder, Erra clicked again and scuttled over my head, seemingly holding a conversation with the nuzleaf.

"Well, this is weird," I decided. "What did you do to her? She's not all twitchy anymore."

Lacey looked at me and rolled her eyes, no doubt sensing another five minute parade show coming up. After a small amount of time – with some help from Xander too – I managed to gather the gist of what she'd done.

Supposedly she'd talked to Erra for the better part of a day, coaching her in battle, and offering small pointers here and there. After that, she waited until the creature went to sleep, and snuck away to provoke another pokémon. When Erra awoke, she was alone, and Lacey had managed to goad a young slugma into attacking her. Although Erra panicked, apparently she managed to hold her ground, though when the slugma's pack – was it even called that? – came along, Lacey jumped in and ripped them to pieces.

She ditched Erra, made her realise she could fight on her own, then let her know that if she needed it, there was always help available for her.

It was scary that what Lacey did was exactly the plan I had in mind.

It made me feel better that it seemed to have worked – to a degree. Erra seemed to understand now that she could trust us, and that we weren't about to inflict another harsh beating on her again. She understood that she could defend herself if need be, and in so, seemed to have some confidence back.

Deep down, I knew it wasn't likely that she could jump into a fight and become a fierce warrior. But with what I was presented, I hoped for nothing more, and tried to convince myself that she would be able to fight any battle.

I laughed in simple happiness and petted the magnemite on my shoulder. "So what do you say we start you on some new drills, hm? I've read around enough and can help you learn how to make your body as strong as steel, and also a technique that can let you take a hit without getting hurt. What do you say to that?"

She buzzed happily in my ear, taking flight and flitting around Xander. He croaked at her, and for a moment I had an image of his tongue lashing out and snaring the insect in its grip. Thankfully it was nothing more than my imagination, and he seemed to start sharing a conversation with her.

With them distracted, I turned back round to Lacey. "So how did it really go in there?"

She shrugged and waved her hand a tiny fraction in the air. So what she said wasn't the complete truth then. No doubt it wasn't as simple as she said – though to be fair, I never once did believe that she'd managed to convince Erra completely by the use of only words and scare tactics alone.

I knew Lacey had a vast knowledge of poisons; I wouldn't have put it past her to have slipped Erra a strange sort of a drug that would have made her more complacent or something similar.

In fact, it was almost completely expected from her.

What I wasn't expecting, however, was for her to grunt at me and give me a small explanation. Or more so, a reason not to give an explanation.

She made a series of gestures, and her meaning was clear; I trust you enough to come back and serve you, trust me enough to not ask what happened.

I stared at her for a long moment afterwards, trying to interpret her words and the meaning behind them. Finally I managed to whisper, "You don't serve me."

She lifted an eyebrow and gestured towards the poké balls on my person.

"They're... a safeguard," I snapped, floundering for words. "You're not a slave Lacey. You know this as well as I do. If you were, you'd rarely get fed, I wouldn't look out for you like I do, and I wouldn't be helping you get stronger. Instead I'd just be pointing at pokémon or any random things and telling you to kill them. I've had this conversation with you before; you're not a slave, I just happen to need your help. Besides, I've seen the way you've looked at me when you think I'm not paying attention – you want to help me. Something in you wants to help me see this whole goal of stopping my future from coming to pass."

She folded her arms once more and snorted.

I smiled at her displays of rebellion. "It's nice to have you back," I told her, and gently patted her on the head.

She hissed once more and batted my hand away. I grinned at her dark look and left her to reacquaint herself with my other pokémon as I led them to the cable cart systems.

Amazingly enough I managed to get on the next cart going up the volcano-side, and had the cart to myself and my pokémon. The journey itself, however, was not so amazing.

Sure, the sights of the volcano and the lands around in the distance were breathtaking, but no one ever mentioned anything about the heat!

The cart did have air conditioning in there, and my pokémon didn't seem to mind too much, but I was positively soaked with it all. I stood underneath the cool mechanical breeze for most of the journey, and even still my back, face and neck were pumping out sweat like there was no tomorrow.

Heat was a horrible thing, I decided.

Once we were at the top of the volcano, it was a brilliant sight that struck us. I could see far off into the distance; past the green lands of the forests and the metallic structures of the towns. Far off to the east I could see the swirling sands of the desert, and even a few pokémon soaring high up in the skies.

After a few moments of watching the scenery I took the pathway along the volcano towards the town. The top of Lavaridge was on the same level as the volcano itself, and the town was built down towards the ground, complete with its own farmlands in and around the forests and fields beneath the main town. The buildings were all old and natural; stone and wood with thatched roofs. It was like something from an old painting, and the whole town smelt of charcoal and sulphur.

I was amazed that such an old, cultured town could exist in the middle of an industrially-advanced country. It was almost as if by being separated by forests and a volcano, the town had yet to indulge in the industrial hype the rest of the world had.

A bit of me wondered just how the town could ever have stayed so rustic and prospered.

Yet no part of me would ever have expected it to become the epicentre of so much in my life, and almost literally the last hope for life for so many.

 
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