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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29. Force of Fire

The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done ~ George Carlin

-O-O-O-

"We have found out a number of things in our research to poké balls and the states of creatures within. Our experiments first started with how much damage a poké ball could take before it broke [see page 12], after which we moved on to establish what happened to a pokémon when the ball containing it broke.

Our finds were conclusive, and in 100% of cases, the pokémon inside died.

The various degrees of damage affected the state of the pokémon within, though all were fatal. In the cases of cremation, the pokémon inside was found to have died through extensive burn injuries.

Crushing the poké ball results in the pokémon inside also being crushed. Pokémon with strong enough jaws – such as aggron or salamence – can even consume the poké ball. While pokémon will consume others for energy, it has been found that a pokémon still gains energy from consumption of a poké ball, though at a substantially reduced level. In desperate times, if a pokémon is hungry enough, it will consume a poké ball in the vain hope that it will achieve nourishment.

Though there are also limits a poké ball can endure without ever affecting the pokémon contained within."

- Excerpt 2/3 from 'The Limits of Poké Ball Technology' by Dr. R.E. Fuji and Dr. P.H. Blaine. (February 1st, 3004)

-O-O-O-

I decided quite quickly that despite the heat that the town made me suffer, I actually liked Lavaridge.

Unlike other places like I'd been to – namely Slateport and Rustboro – where the people were so busy with their daily lives that they would push past you and ignore you completely, everyone in Lavaridge was pleasant, and almost everyone there would happily stop and talk to you about mundane things. It seemed as if, unlike the big cities, they weren't afraid of strangers, nor were they afraid of pokémon. In fact, I could often see pokémon happily living within the town's limits, from little zigzagoon or rattata scurrying around, to zubat perched underneath wooden beams on houses, and even a nest of pidgey quite happily living atop the pokémon centre.

The town itself was nice, and almost everything was built into and around the mountain side, meaning there was a lot of climbing up and down stairs. It was no wonder why the people living there seemed in shape. The gym was on the lowest level – on the ground itself – and I'd managed to book myself a gym battle in there rather quickly. I had a whole two days to prepare from arriving in the town to my battle. The receptionist had told me it was because people would often leave travelling to Lavaridge until last – apparently most couldn't be bothered to trek to a town and then double-back afterwards.

Their relative laziness helped me though, so I couldn't complain.

It also meant that I'd be able to meet up with Ayd on time in Sandstream. He wasn't really saying much by text anymore, and I was lucky if I could get him to answer a question within a few hours. Meanwhile, it seemed that Mia was as insane as ever – I got a text from her saying about how she'd caught something called a whismur near Verdanturf, which had promptly managed to scream and burst someone's eardrums.

I found out by a little research that the creatures were actually deaf, as a result of their own high-pitched voices. When I'd pointed this out to her, she'd sent me back a picture in reply; a little drawing of me being stamped on by her stantler, and 'you suck!' written across the top in big, bright red letters.

From there I'd sent her a picture of Xander, calling her a toad, and our picture-insults had somehow turned into us both sending pictures of something random to each other, with an equally random caption. It was like people watching in two places at once, with added insanity.

Of course, it meant leaving my pokémon on their own for a few moments at a time. I'd tried getting Xander to summon bigger rain clouds, but to no avail. Apparently only pokémon with natural affinities for the weather, like dragonair and tyranitar could manage to turn the whole sky into a large rainstorm, intense sunlight or summon hailstorms. The best any other normal pokémon could manage was a small localised area of rain or sun, which meant I had to try and get Xander to try and produce rainclouds in specific areas, rather than try and make him produce large clouds.

Though trying to get him to summon them anywhere Loki was a bad idea. The sableye had a habit of deciding the localised rain was the most awesome thing ever, and would often end up doing a little dance underneath the rainclouds. It could only be described as cute until he decided to start throwing mud everywhere, which ended up with a frightened Erra shooting electricity everywhere, Lacey trying to strangle the sableye for getting mud stuck in her hair, and Xander trying to play referee between them all.

Well, at least they caused chaos as a team, if nothing else.

I made the effort not to groan as I tried to separate them all. I just hoped that their continued trying to murder each other would be helpful in the gym battle. After all, it had been a long time since we'd fought in one, and that had ended in complete defeat.

Though with only a recently-evolved Xander actually being of any use in the gym, I knew I wasn't going to have an easy run of it.

The two days I had to train for the gym seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. It felt like no time had passed until I found myself at the gym once more, this time with my stomach tense with nervous energy for the battle.

My battle was first thing in the morning, and inwardly I hoped that the early hour would give my team an advantage, somehow. After all, I did tend to wake them up before dawn on a daily basis and run them through drills or travel all day. Though somehow I doubted that the gym leader would slack off every day and be unprepared for an early morning battle.

I couldn't help but be paranoid about the battle, knowing I was going in with such a disadvantage. Two of my pokémon were seriously weak against fire, and I myself couldn't stand any form of heat. It was safe to get in and out of the gym as quickly as I could.

Though when I saw who I was to be battling against, I decided that in fact, I didn't want to leave.

She was tall – roughly my height – and her hair was an unnaturally loud shade of red. It was pulled back behind her head, though a fringe graced her face, falling slightly above her left eye. She wore cropped blue jeans and small blue pumps, while her top was black and cropped short enough to expose her stomach. I caught sight that she had a gleaming silver belly bar, and the faintest hint that she had a tattoo hidden on the small of her back.

Honestly, I had to keep myself from drooling like a lecher at her. Her assistant was telling me something about the battle layout of the gym, or something to do with the exits. It all went in one ear and out of the other. Finally I heard him grunt something out of annoyance before he near enough frogmarched me to the battlefield, and I found myself standing just as stupidly before the woman.

We were stood along a long corridor overlooking the battlefield itself, clear Perspex windows separating us from the outside. I spared a glance towards the battlefield to see two large metallic boxes, each with wide windows and obvious air vents on either side of the battlefield, attached to the corridor itself, which branched off from where I stood into two different directions, leading towards each strange box.

Below I could see the battlefield itself, and was amazed to see the steam rising off the floor. There were a few small holes on the sides that I recognised to be geysers, a small bubbling river of magma trickling down the close side of the battlefield, and a stream of clear water flowing down the other.

The gym leader turned away from a set of controls and smiled at me. "Hey," she said as she placed a small bracelet around a wrist. "Name's Flannery," she greeted.

I managed to get my senses together in time for me to introduce myself to her. She smiled and nodded, then gestured to the windows behind her.

"As you can see, we battle a bit differently here in Lavaridge. Pokémon can battle in much harsher environments than us; we're here to test your resolve as trainers, and just how well your pokémon can battle in such conditions." She folded her arms and gestured to the boxes on either side of the battlefield. "We can't make the trainers fight in the heat, because of health and safety and yadda, yadda, yadda, trainers can't all stand hot temperatures, more bureaucratic bull." Her hands opened and shut in pantomime, and she snorted softly as I chuckled at her attitude towards it all.

"Anyway," she said, clearing her throat. "That just means that you're also tested on being able to give your pokémon orders without you being in the immediate vicinity. You could find yourself trapped down a ravine, in a tree, or even on the third floor of a house with your pokémon only within hearing distance. You're still going to have to order them around, if you can. It in effect, tests your pokémons' loyalty to you; will they still obey you if they know you're not within immediate reach?"

I gulped at that. Xander, Loki and possibly even Erra would be perfectly fine. Lacey on the other hand... she'd already killed one gym leader's pokémon – I wouldn't have put it past her to kill another just as quickly, or as easily.

"So still up for the test?" Flannery asked me.

I nodded. "You bet," I told her, hoping I wasn't letting my doubts show through.

She grinned. "Good. Charlie will show you to your trainer's box. After that, take a few moments to get accustomed to it, and I'll guide you through the technicalities and regulations of the battle."

I nodded once more and turned around to face the gym assistant that had been there all the while. I vaguely remembered him giving me his name earlier, and tried to make it look like I'd never once forgotten he was even there. The problem was though, that he dressed according to the latest fashion of the time for most teenage men, and so he wasn't exactly memorable. I was pretty certain I could find one person in every ten in the city who looked similar or dressed exactly like him – sans the shirt marking him as a Lavaridge gym trainer.

He rolled his eyes at me, and I knew at once that it was obvious I'd forgotten who he was. As he led me to the trainer's box in awkward, near annoyed silence, I debated over whether or not it would have been a common occurrence. After all, I doubted there were many hot-blooded males who would be able to keep their focus on him after seeing Flannery. By his annoyance I gathered that either it was a common place thing, or he was still getting used to it happening.

He showed me into the trainer's box and slammed the door shut behind me. I snorted at his actions as I tried to familiarise myself with the box, and figured out one key problem instantly; there was no way I could get my pokémon out of there and onto the battlefield.

"Comfortable?" Flannery's voice suddenly said from above, scaring me enough to make me jump and yelp at once. I felt my face flush and hoped that she didn't notice that when I heard her laugh through the intercom.

I groaned. Obviously she did notice it.

"Sorry," she said, her voice coming through clearly. "It happens all the time, but there doesn't seem to be a way I can slowly let people know about the intercom systems. On the bright side, it never gets old!"

I rolled my eyes and grumbled under my breath. She was certainly sadistic.

"Okay, so you should be able to see a control panel in front of you," she said, directing my attention from a distance. There was, as she said, a large metallic control panel right in front of my eyes. It reached up to my waist and had a number of buttons and knobs over it, a large screen covering the middle and what seemed to be a large circular hole, probably just big enough to fit a poké ball inside.

"As you might have figured out, there's no direct way to get your pokémon out of the booth. That's where this system comes in handy. All you need to do is load your poké ball into the machine, and then you can use the screen before you to command the machine to release or return your pokémon," she explained to me with practiced ease.

I stared at the console a moment and thought about it logically. Obviously whatever pokémon I placed in there would have to battle first. That probably meant that if I wanted to recall one, I'd have to wait for it to give me the poké ball back first. There was also the problem about how quickly it could manage to recall a pokémon – I didn't want to be stood there hammering a return button, only for the machine to react about ten seconds later.

I weighed up my options and dropped Xander's poké ball in first. The machine beeped once and a display came up on the screen, confirming the pokémon's species, age and health condition.

I whistled. It was an advanced piece of machinery, I had to admit.

"Alright then," Flannery's voice came through again. "Press the release button when you want to send it out, and after that, the recall button when you want to bring the pokémon back. Recalling the pokémon will also eject the poké ball, and the machine will eject the poké ball automatically when the pokémon faints, dies, if your opponent is out of pokémon, or if the machine crashes or runs out of power."

I nodded and then looked around myself for some sort of microphone. "Does that happen often?" I asked the box, and hopefully Flannery too.

"About once every few months," she said, and I could hear the shrug in her voice. "Anyway, I'm going to load my pokémon now, and watch the screen change to confirm it."

I nodded superfluously and stared at the screen until it changed. The details about Xander became listed all on the left side of the screen, and on the right hand side of the split was another screen, simply saying 'registered pokémon', and then completely blank afterwards.

"Those details will fill in when I let my pokémon out, but all you'll get is details of my pokémon's species, as well as its age. Health conditions only show up on the battler's respective box," she explained.

"Anyway-" she cleared her throat and adopted a more serious tone. "You're challenging me today for Lavaridge Town's Heat Badge! I shall use four pokémon, and you're allowed to use all pokémon on your person. League battle rules apply, as well as the addition that attacking the opponent's trainer box is strictly prohibited and will result in forfeiting both the match and your trainer's licence. Good luck, and may the best trainer win!"

The computer before me beeped as white light filled the arena far below me. It spilled forth and formed the familiar shape of a snorting camerupt, though it did look like much less of a threat from a higher distance. At least we already had experience dealing with such creatures – even if it was mainly just distracting and fleeing from it.

And Xander also had an incredible advantage against it, which made me breathe a little easier. I pressed the button on the console in front of me to release him, and watched as white light poured out from underneath my box, forming the shape of my loyal lombre a good ten feet below me.

I heard him croak and realised that there had to be sensors or speakers that made me able to hear what was going on in the battlefield underneath. I reassured him as best I could, and tried to explain to him what was happening. I heard him croak once more, and he seemed completely lax to the fact that there was such a sudden change in everything.

That was typical of him though. Forever unbothered by everything, unless it happened to conflict with his morals.

"Alright Xander, you know what to do," I said, feeling remarkably stupid and like I was talking to myself. "Blast it!"

Flannery's response was instantaneous. "Cause an earthquake!"

I heard Xander croak just as the camerupt reared back onto its hind legs with a fearsome puff of air. Water gushed out of Xander's mouth and the camperupt slammed down hard on the ground, creating tremors enough for even me to feel in my box above the ground. Xander managed to trip over his own feet and his blast of water ended up sailing wide before hitting the very ground beneath him and knocking him over in the opposite direction.

The camerupt snorted with an agitated flick of its ear. It spat a small globule of flame towards Xander, which the lombre easily hopped over, regaining his footing easily on the shaken ground. The camerupt reared back again and Xander jumped instantly, seeing his mistake only seconds too late. Unable to move freely in the air, the camerupt caught him with an intense blast of flames that made him shriek loud enough for me to hear even at such a distance.

"Xander!" I screeched at him, pressing myself against the windows. I saw him there on the ground, struggling back to his feet, yellow blisters covering his body. "Try to heal yourself!" I barked. My eyes shot up to the roof, and seeing no sunlight, I cursed. "Make a raincloud above yourself!"

The camerupt was having none of it though. It reared back again and caused another earthquake, knocking Xander's feet from under him again. Xander hissed at the creature and blasted it with a jet of water, but it only seemed to annoy the creature.

Water dripped from the camerupt's face, evaporating off before it could hit the floor, and I was hit by a strange sense of déjà vu.

The fiery beast bleated a roar and charged Xander with speed something of its size shouldn't have possessed. It raced in head first and ploughed into Xander with unyielding force, and I felt myself wince at the sound of the impact.

I pressed my nose further against the glass, trying to see the state of my pokémon. Only then did I realise the monitor could show me his health condition, and with a quick glance at that I decided to recall him. He wouldn't be battling anymore today, and it would have been useless keeping him in any longer.

His poké ball popped out of the machine with a metallic clunk, making me think quickly about who to use next. Lacey was the strongest, but also the weakest here, and I doubted Loki could take down a fully grown camerupt. Erra would most likely freak out, which left me with a choice of three handicapped pokémon.

The machine beeped at me to hurry up my decision. I scowled at it and nearly threw Lacey's ball into the machine as some method of hurting it. It beeped another tone as it accepted her ball, and the button to release her started flashing.

I pulled a face of it and tried to think as quickly as I could. I needed some sort of decent strategy against the creature, rather than my usual beat it-until-it-can't-get-up approach. My finger hesitated above the button for a second until I had a small plan in mind, and I pressed the flashing annoyance, hoping Lacey would be fine with me at such a distance.

I should have realised that maybe she would be okay, as I did manage to leave her in the Fiery Path completely unsupervised. But after all, I didn't know what happened in there, nor would I for quite some time.

Once released she looked around herself a moment and visibly wilted under the heat. Though seconds later she pulled herself up again, and I assumed it had to be something to do with having been in the no doubt equally hot volcano.

Quick as I could, I explained what was happening to her. To my immense relief she simply nodded and simply focused her gaze completely on the camerupt.

Flannery's actions were instantaneous after that. "Burn it!"

"Dodge it!" I cried out.

I heard Lacey grunt as the camerupt reared back once more. She stood still and held her ground right until the camperupt breathed flames at her, at which point she rolled to the side and glanced at the passing flames with a smirk. The camel's ears flicked in annoyance and it breathed more flames at her, though this time she simply faded from view.

The camerupt roared in confusion, snorting flames as it looked around the field. Suddenly it cried out and fell to its knees as Lacey jumped away from the creature, her leaves coated in fresh blood and the backs of the pokémon's knees sporting large cuts.

I thought better about scolding her for that – getting her to attack its weak points would have been my next command for her, after all.

The camerupt snorted again and breathed heavy fire onto its wounds, cauterising them on the spot. Steam began to rise off the creature itself as fire licked the corners of its mouth, and the windows of my own box began to steam up slightly.

Below I could see Lacey struggling to keep standing, the leaf on her head wilted and sweat glistening across her skin. I hissed and realised that she wouldn't be able to stay around much longer if the camerupt continued to make the battlefield so hot.

"You know what to do," I said, trying to see as much as I could through the steam. "Poison it!"

I saw her nod and a flash of malicious glee appeared in her eyes. The leaves covering her wrists flicked out and began to secrete a strange liquid as she leapt at the camerupt, slashing as wildly as she could.

The camel roared and bucked at her, smashing her chest with two powerful hoofs. The nuzleaf fell back but pulled herself to her feet as quickly as she could, noticeably winded but attacking nonetheless. She slashed across the camel's flank, opening up another wound. I shouted for her to get away as more flames licked the camerupt's mouth, and she only just managed to roll backwards in time.

She pulled herself to her feet, panting though excitement and her joy were palpable on her face. The camerupt whined in front of her, bucking every so often and trying to cauterise to wound once more, though it did nothing for the poison seeping through its system.

It wasn't enough to kill it, though it was more than enough to slow it down. I saw that it was still standing, yet when Xander had been poisoned, he was struggling to stand and throwing up at the same time. It had to be because he was weak to poison, whereas camerupt had a natural resistance to it.

Though resistance or no, it would still wear the creature down.

I told Lacey to sneak attack once more, and she faded from view yet again. The camerupt fretted at the disappearance of its opponent, though a sharp command for it to focus from Flannery made it calm instantly. Its ears flicked in either direction as it breathed slowly, and just as I saw Lacey start to appear, the creature spun its head round and breathed white-hot flames across the nuzleaf's body.

She shrieked in pain at the fiery assault, and instantly I hit the button to recall her. I knew she wouldn't be able to fight after receiving such an attack full-force, and didn't want to expose her to more than was necessary.

As the machine popped out her poké ball, I punched an open palm. Two pokémon down, and I'd only managed to poison one of hers. It meant that I still had three more to go, with only two of my own left.

I decided that if miracles did exist, it was definitely time for one. I snatched Lacey's ball back from the machine and loaded Loki's as quickly as I could afterwards. Once he appeared on the battlefield, I heard him chitter at the change, then catch sight of the camerupt and let out a gleeful cackle.

Obviously he remembered his last encounter with one, and no doubt he wanted to get payback on its species.

Well, I could help him with that.

"Confuse it!" I barked. Below the sableye cackled his little demonic laugh and advanced on the pokémon, his eyes gleaming with sinister, eerie light. The camerupt bleated at him and spat fire in his direction, only for him to nimbly jump out of the way.

He laughed once more and latched onto the creature, eerie light pouring from his eyes and reflecting in the camel's own. It roared once more and bucked Loki off, spitting flames in every direction as the sableye placed his hands over his head and ran for cover, shrieking all the while.

Around me I heard Flannery's uncertain voice. "You do realise confusion is one of the least reliable strategies, don't you?"

I coughed and shook my head. "Uh, no. Why?"

I heard her sigh instantly. "Confusion doesn't make the pokémon harm itself all the time. Instead it's like a weird acid trip for them; they see everything and anything as a threat, and can harm themselves, or deal unchecked damage against anything in their way."

"Oh." I winced. Smart move soldier. You managed to rely on a strategy that could have backfired more times than you've escaped death. "Alright then, slash at its legs!"

Loki spared a glance at my box as if to check my sanity. Then with a feral growl he leapt at the camerupt, hissing as his teeth and claws raked across the camel's legs. It roared at the pain, kicking wildly as Loki hung on by his teeth and managed to open up yet more wounds. The fiery pokémon roared again and spat hot flames over its legs, and by proxy, Loki too.

The sableye shrieked as he leapt away, arms and chest aflame. I finally managed to get him to drop and roll, and as the creature pulled himself to his feet, I noticed that his claws were still partially aflame, though the pokémon didn't seem to notice it much.

When he did, instead of reacting pained, he simply seemed intrigued.

I pressed my nose to the glass of my box once more, wondering just what the hell was managing to happen. There was no way he should have been able to create and control fire that had just been breathed on him!

Unless...

The pieces slowly began to click in my mind. The trainer in the Mauville gym had told me that if a pokémon consumed elemental stones, it could use those elements to attack easier. Granted he had said that it would require specialist training to get Loki to be able to use the fire when he wanted, but I reckoned that being bathed in flames probably acted slightly like a catalyst.

Though using fire attacks on a fire pokémon wasn't exactly the best plan, I realised.

I told Loki to forget about the fire and attack the creature once more. He looked almost sad when he clenched his fists and the fire went out, though his sadness fuelled his attacks as he slashed at the beast once more, using his claws to climb atop the creature and begin punching and kicking at the large humps on its back.

The camerupt whined and dropped to its knees, shuddering in pain at the poison coursing through it and bleating at the sableye's assault. Finally it vanished in a beam of white light from the battlefield, and Loki shrieked as his platform vanished and he fell to the floor gracelessly.

Almost instantly the missing camerupt was replaced by another pokémon. It was a dark brown monkey about a foot taller than Loki, with a shaggy white banded marking around its neck, and a beige stomach, face, hands and feet. It had blue markings above its eyes and the tip of its tail was aflame, casting shadows in every direction as the creature bounced around on the spot.

It took me a bit to figure out just what it was; a monferno, a pokémon native to rainforests. I knew it was rare enough to find in Hoenn, as it was often preyed upon by sceptile, though it could flourish quite well in Sinnoh, and had done for some time.

The monferno hooted and leapt at Loki, its fists aflame. Loki shrieked and ducked under the initial punch, raking his claws across the monkey's chest. It became a shrieking contest quickly, with punches, kicks and claws attacking each other with brutal intensity. Large gashes appeared across both of them, though Loki began to cackle malevolently as he started to let the monferno's punches simply phase through him.

The monkey screeched in indignation and tried to set the sableye aflame. Loki stuck his claws in the creature's nose and yanked it down to his height before he kicked it hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out of it and knocking it to the floor.

Seeing his opponent crumpled on the floor, Loki jumped on top of it and began to do a little dance with his hands waving in the air.

Beneath him the monferno hooted and fire burst out all around it, making Loki cry out in pain as he fell from the creature, feet charred and smoking. The monferno shrieked and grabbed the falling sableye by his foot, spun him and threw him clean across the field, letting him fall with a mighty splash in the small river.

Steam rose off from the water around him, and I heard Loki gurgle slightly, attempting to lift himself back to dry land feebly. I sighed and pressed the button to recall him, understanding he was spent

The monkey hooted once more and bounced around gleefully. I glared at it from my box as I took back Loki's poké ball and stared at Erra's.

I took a breath and placed it into the machine, hoping she'd be able to cope. Lacey hadn't truly explained what had happened when she left the magnemite all alone, though I reckoned she'd probably freaked out for quite a while and attached herself to Lacey as soon as she'd seen her.

Inwardly, I already knew what was coming when I released her.

She started buzzing, the heat around her making it difficult for her wings to keep buzzing. As soon as I tried to speak to her, the buzzing increased tenfold and she latched herself to the windows of my box, crawling over the Perspex and trying to find a way in.

"Erra," I said through gritted teeth, trying to remain as calm as I could. "You need to battle. I can't be with you all the time, can I? Lacey said you managed to battle that slugma on your own, this is just like that again. Except I'm here, and the moment you're in trouble, I can call you back into the safety of your ball."

She clicked at me and I heard Flannery sigh from her box. My ears burnt as I tried to reach out to my pokémon again. "Come on Erra," I pleaded. "I know you're afraid of battling on your own, but you'll never be able to get stronger if you don't face these battles. Yes you might lose some, but it'll all make you stronger in the end. And then, you won't have anything to fear when you're strong enough to knock everything out with a beat of your wings."

She seemed to relax at that, and her wings beat a bit more excitedly. I nodded at her through the glass, once, slowly, and she clicked her reply to me. Slowly and uncertainly she pried herself from the glass, flitting down to the battlefield and hovering uncertainly before her foe.

I saw the way the monferno looked at her and winced. I knew it was unlikely she'd manage to win, and considered pulling out then and there, if only to stop her getting harmed and becoming more afraid. But I knew that if I did, she wouldn't learn, and if she didn't learn, she'd never get stronger.

Plus, I did try to kid myself a little, that there was still a slim chance of me actually managing to win.

Of course, that died instantly when the monferno bathed Erra in fire. She buzzed and shrieked at once, then collapsed on the floor, both clicking and buzzing weakly. I was reminded of the time when I'd caught her, with bloody goo leaking from her mouth, utterly demolished by Lacey.

This was near enough close to that time, and I knew it would be cruel to make her battle anymore. I hung my head and recalled her instantly, taking her ball from the machine and holding it in my hand.

I needed her to be strong. She needed herself to be strong. Yet I knew I couldn't just abandon her to get stronger on her own. I knew she had to suffer losses to become stronger in the long run.

And yet, I couldn't help but feel bad for her, and bad that I'd put her in such a situation.

The screen before me was flashing as it always had when I needed to change pokémon. I hit the button saying that I was out of useable pokémon, and it beeped once in reply.

Flannery's monferno was recalled in an instant, and the console beeped once more before the door to my box slid open, and I found the gym assistant stood there again.

I stared at him a moment, wondering just whether or not he'd been stood there all along. I went to ask him as such, though my words caught in my throat as I realised I'd forgot his name so soon after being told it.

Instead I just offered a small grunt and a nod, deciding that I'd play along with the usual act of defeated trainers not wanting to say much.

He led me back along the corridors, and I found that Flannery was waiting where I'd first met her.

"Good match," she said as she shook my hand. "It's a shame about your magnemite – I think her fear probably overloaded her and made her stop being able to do anything."

"Probably," I grunted. It was annoying in a way that I'd ended up with a pokémon that was afraid to battle. I needed something that could battle well, and battle whenever I needed it to. Instead I found myself with Erra, a pokémon with a reluctance to battle, all because she associated it all with the beating Lacey had given her when we first met.

You reap what you sew. And of course, I'd ended up with the justified results. I knew that when I caught anymore pokémon, I needed to make sure I didn't have any of my pokémon give them such a harsh beat down.

"Try getting your magnemite to battle weaker pokémon," Flannery advised me. "While she might not learn or grow much from those battles, it should make her more confident if she keeps beating pokémon. Though don't go after hatchlings, that's just overkill. And you'll probably get angry mothers after you."

I couldn't help but think back to Loki and the numel. I'd been there once before, and really didn't want to experience it again.

"I'll make sure I do that," I promised her. "And I'll probably stay clear of fiery pokémon for a while."

Judging by the way we were pretty much demolished, I doubted any of my pokémon would want to go near one either.

Flannery smirked at that, crossed her hands and drummed her fingers against her arm. I saw her nod for her assistant to leave just before she asked me, "So what's your opinion on icy pokémon?"

I blinked, wondering just what was up with the random question. I first thought of making some bad pun about how I thought they were cool, but quickly decided against it. Instead I thought about the question; what did I really think about them? Whenever I was around them, I felt calm... like I was at home, or the closest I could be. Come to think of it, I also felt the same sort of serene calm whenever I was around darker pokémon like Lacey and Loki, and even with the weavile that Chris owned.

I shrugged. "They're calming," I answered her, honestly. "Whenever I'm around them, I just feel happier and more relaxed, like... like-"

"Like they're an extension of your family?" Flannery answered for me.

I nodded, bewildered. That was pretty much it; I always felt calmer around them, like I'd known them forever, like a close relative or friend.

The gym leader grunted an amused sound as she nodded. "I thought as much," she said. "Attuned to ice?"

I blinked once more and nodded. "Yeah. How did you-"

"That's how I feel around fiery pokémon," she explained for me. "It's how everyone feels around their attuned natured pokémon. The Elites feel it to a greater extent, but they won't explain how. Anyway," she said with a shrug and leant against the windows behind her. "It explains a lot about that battle. Tell me, did your parents ever explain anything about your attuning to you?"

I shook my head. "They died when I was little. I only actually found out about it a few months ago; when I started this journey."

She sighed and shook her head. "Not the first time I've heard that, and it won't be the last. How much do you actually know about it then?"

I shrugged again. "Not much," I admitted. "I'm going around bugging the gym leaders for information about their own attuning, and from that I'm starting to build a bigger picture, but no one's come right out and explained everything to me."

She smiled. "Then I'm not going to either." She laughed as my jaw dropped and shook her head. "I started out as the gym leader here only a few years ago. When I started, I knew next to nothing about it, and didn't even know how to approach trainers before or after the battle. I've learnt everything myself, and that's the best way to do it. You get a scrap given to you here and there by someone else, but it's you that glues them all together for the bigger picture."

I folded my arms and raised an eyebrow. "Figure it out for yourself and you'll learn it, rather than be taught it and learn nothing?"

She barked a laugh. "Yup. Exactly that. That's how my grandpa used to say it too, with those exact words. I don't suppose you ever heard him giving a lecture or a conference?"

I shook my head. "No. Why?"

It was her turn to look stunned and just blink. "You're kidding... right? Almost everyone that comes here from Hoenn knows about my grandpa – he used to be one of Hoenn's Elite, until he retired and Sidney took over." She shook her head and smirked as I was about to speak. "And don't try to deny that you're from Hoenn; you've got the accent, even if it is extremely weak."

Well that could be from coming from sixty-three years in the future.

"Are you from around here then?" she pressed.

"Kismet Plains," I answered. It was roughly true, and Ayd had more or less confirmed that it did exist in this time.

She snorted. "Then I'm surprised you know much about pokémon at all. The mayor there still trying to reject everything pokémon and insist we prosper only from human effort."

"I don't know," I said quickly, and stumbled to think of an excuse. "I, uh, joined the army as quickly as I could to get away. It's not much fun being an orphan there. I haven't been back in a long time."

Not total lies at least. Just bending the truth.

She shrugged. "Fair enough. Anyway, what I'll tell you then is something quite obvious when you think about it, yet it plays heavily on a lot of things. You're aware that there are strengths and weaknesses to every form of adaptation, right?" She waited for me to nod before she continued. "Well, it just so happens it's not limited to the person. Pokémon bond with humans too, and while we can adapt from them, they can adapt from us. Our influence can make them smarter, stronger or whatever. It's why trainer pokémon are always so much stronger than the feral ones.

"With an adapted trainer though, the pokémon picks up some of their pros and cons," she explained. "You're an ice-adaptee. Thus, your pokémon are going to pick up on those trends."

I nodded, gathering where she was going. "More resistant to cold and able to form ice attacks faster?"

She grunted a small sound. "Among other things, yeah. But what people don't tend to say is that for every nature a pokémon has, they also become incredibly weak to their opposing nature."

She laughed at my blank expression before she held her palms out. "Say you're a fire," she said, gesturing her right hand. "Your worst weakness is water. When water comes along-" she smacked her left hand over her right and let it drop to the floor. "It gets rid of you completely. A person with fire adaptation like myself has all their pokémon incredibly weak to water, regardless of how resistant they may usually be. They're also weak to the other natures fire is usually weak to, but to a lesser extent."

I tried to get my head around it. "So ice pokémon take more damage from martial arts, steel and rock attacks, and fire too..."

Well, that left a few more weaknesses in my pokémon I'd never once considered. So not only were they weak to attacks they'd normally be, but my influence was making them worse.

Flannery grinned. "And guess what one of those ice happens to be incredibly weak to."

My mind went blank for a moment. There was a choice of four, and any one of them could be it. Though judging by the smirk on the woman's face and the expectant look in her eyes, I caught on quickly.

"Fire," I whispered, unsure. Her eyes lit up, and I found myself surprised that I'd answered right. "Fire?" I double-checked.

"Yeah," she confirmed. "And that's your lesson for today!" she said with a laugh. "Learn it well buddy; it's going to be something you're going to take with you all the time. I'll let you figure out every other element's by yourself, but don't distract yourself too much from your own problems." She smiled once more and pushed herself off the windows. "So you want to learn about the adaptations of fire too?"

I thought about it a moment. Ayd had explained a few things to me about it, but I reckoned that he didn't know it all. Or if he did, he was keeping things back. No doubt for the same reasons as Flannery, though probably also for the added reason that I'd only really just met him when he explained it to me.

"Go on then," I said. "Though I've already gathered that you don't feel the heat and feel the cold a lot more than normal."

She grinned. "We can also start fires with our eyelashes."

My jaw dropped open and instantly she burst out laughing. "Your face!" she exclaimed, falling back against the window and clutching her stomach. "Oh, that was such a picture!" she said and took a deep breath as she pushed off the window. "Right, so seriously now, at least you know about that part. Other than that, we have a habit for liking oxygen, like a real fire. Unfortunately, for some reason a lot of us tend to get asthma. I think it's something to do with the heat coming in and affecting our lungs in some way, but I don't know," she admitted with a shrug. "I'm not a doctor.

"Aside from that-" she folded her arms and looked like she was trying to think. "We're able to go longer than normal people without water. Because it cools us so much and makes us feel a lot colder, our bodies seem to be able to use what water we do have more than a normal person – just like how fire pokémon don't really drink as much as others. Oh, and we're pretty resistant to things like sunstroke and sunburn, but since we get colder than most people, we're pretty big sufferers of pneumonia. That's about it," she said with a shrug.

I nodded and thanked her. It explained a lot after all – I'd often seen Ayd going a long time without drinking, and even though he was slightly fair skinned, he always seemed to tan instead of burn.

"Don't avoid fire pokémon though," the gym leader told me. "What you should do is go to Mount Chimney and capture one. Capturing and training a pokémon of your opposing nature actually makes you better able to deal with your weaknesses. Trust me, I know-" she winked and laughed as she lead me back towards the main reception. I've trained a few water pokémon – granted ones that can learn fire attacks – but that's helped my pokémon become more resilient to it." She smiled and glanced down at me. "A few years ago, before I started training watery pokémon, your lombre's water attacks would have probably demolished me. And now my pokémon can shrug them off a lot better than they once could. Of course, it helps with camerupt – they're naturally able to endure effective attacks."

I nodded along with what she explained. I knew that Mount Chimney held a fair few pokémon, and was home to most of the fiery pokémon in Hoenn. Of course, with the added knowledge that I was likely to get my team greater hurt because of my own adaptations, I didn't much like the thought of having to be around the more powerful fiery pokémon.

Though the knowledge that I could make my pokémon not so easily defeated by fire was enough to spur me into going up to the mountain. It seemed pretty clear that my options were to go and capture both a fiery pokémon and a psychic. I knew I could have gone and captured more, but I didn't have the time or patience to try and train more than six of the creatures. I had little over half a year left, and didn't want to waste it trying to get a team of ten pokémon to average strength, when I could just have a team of six that could help me in my goal.

"Thanks for telling me all that," I said to Flannery as we arrived in the reception once more. "Though why did you get your assistant to vamoose before you told me that?"

She smiled once more and winked. "Because gym trainers have to go through exams every so often, filled with questions about their adaptation. You needed to know for a little bit of survival and progress. I'm not about to give out the answers for exams questions to people I know are taking said exams."

She looked around the reception and caught sight of a few trainers waiting before she smiled at me once more. "Right, now remember what I told you, alright? Do that, train a while, and then when you feel ready, come back for a rematch, okay?"

I promised her I would as I shook her hand once more and bid her goodbye. Back outside the cooler air hit me, and I rejoiced in it for a little time before heading to the centre and checking my pokémon in. Apparently I'd be without them for most of the day, though supposedly Lacey and Erra would need an overnight stay to ensure they were perfectly healthy.

I agreed to that and booked myself into a room for the night, and with the remains of my money stocked up on a few things for the next day.

I found myself the next morning up the steepest parts of Mount Chimney, trying to claim against a stupidly steep slope with a clicking Erra on my shoulder and Loki scampering ahead of us both, gleefully leaping up and down on the spot every few feet ahead of us.

It was strange, but Erra didn't seem to be as depressed or as clingy as I thought she'd have been. She was still reluctant to battle, but I was able to get her to fly around and not have to support her all the time. The little electrical shocks still hadn't come back, and I think that even though she still wasn't fully confident in her abilities, the gym battle had made her a little more confident in me.

When we finally reached the top, I got Erra to try and train on the weaker pokémon, as Flannery had suggested. It started off with her refusing to battle, and eventually only shocking things from my shoulder. I made sure to point out to her the weaker pokémon, and she seemed happy enough that she was felling everything before it could come too close to her.

In fact, she even managed to leave my shoulder to start battling, and I didn't have to resort to having her attacked. She began happily buzzing around Loki, the both of them working as a team to fell the wild pokémon that decided to attack us.

I wasn't going to point out to them that they were only training on pokémon far weaker than them as they seemed to be having more than enough fun living in the illusion.

I was also still on the search for a fire pokémon to add to my arsenal. We'd encountered a few numel, a small nest of charmander, a couple of slugma and a torkoal, and even at one point a magmar. I wanted nothing more than to capture the magmar, as it did look pretty strong, though it also had a baby magby with it. I doubted it would like me very much for capturing it and making it leave behind its child, and knew that Xander wouldn't like the idea much either.

The thought of being roasted alive by one pokémon and drowned where I stood by another made me opt to not capture the pokémon.

It was only when I decided to take a small break that a pokémon decided to show itself that I actually wanted to capture. Everything else had seemed too weak or needed to long to train up.

The first thing this creature did was try and roast my face, before I'd even so much as known it was there.

It was only by Loki's quick reactions that I managed to be pulled underneath the flames. They were, however, still hot enough for my face to feel burnt, and I felt sweat gush out from the intense heat they formed around me.

I heard Erra buzzing nearby in fright or anger, and something roaring at her. I sent Loki into help before I pulled myself to my feet and saw exactly what had tried to kill me.

It was a large, red pokémon that stood easily as tall as my shoulders. It was covered in red scales, save for its stomach, which were beige instead. Its arms were thin and sinewy, coupled with a set of three claws at the end of each. It stood on two thick legs which both ended with three webbed claws and another, single claw to the side, almost like a tiny thumb, and a large tail swept out behind the creature, the tip of which was bathed in a burning flame. Its face was almost draconic; it had black eyes buried in the bridge of its snout, and a single horn rose from the top of its head. Its mouth was pulled back into a snarl, exposing the rows of very sharp teeth, each bathed in flame.

My heart nearly stopped in shock. It was a charmeleon! I'd considered the possibility that there were some on the mountain, given we'd found charmander, but never once thought I'd actually managed to find one for myself.

It snarled as Loki ran at it and kicked the sableye without taking its eyes away from Erra. The charmeleon took a breath and let out a fearsome roar that made my own spine chill, and caused Erra to fly away as fast as she could, frightened to the core.

The beast turned on me, eyes narrowed and with flames bursting out of its slit nostrils with every breath. I knew I should have gone for a weapon, but reasoned with myself that it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Instead, quite stupidly, I threw a poké ball at it.

The lizard snarled and batted the ball away in anger, its gaze well and truly focused on me. Flames erupted from its mouth and I only just managed to hit the floor underneath them, cheating death for a second time in quick succession.

I heard Loki growl and looked up in time to see him attacking the beast's legs. The charmeleon stopped attacking me long enough to turn and focus on the sableye, and I caught sight of two marks across its chest; one long, serrated scar, almost as if it were made by a blade, and a small wound near its hip, one I knew instantly was from a bullet.

It was no wonder the beast had tried to attack me then. If humans had done that to it, I couldn't blame it for wanting to get revenge against any other it saw. No doubt pokémon saw humans as all the same; if it weren't for the scars on its chest, I wouldn't have been able to tell the charmeleon apart from any other.

I looked up to Erra and saw her flying around, inching closer towards the fiery beast but then darting back every time it snarled.

"Shock it!" I told her. "Keep your distance and let Loki handle the close range. Just make sure you manage to shock the charmeleon!"

She buzzed once more and I saw electricity pump out of the magnemite and into the charmeleon. Its head snapped round with a snarl, though Loki quickly leapt at the beast's head, grabbing onto its skull with his feet and pulling the creature's eyelids back as far as he could.

The charmeleon screamed in rage and breathed fire at Loki as he scampered away, cackling like an insane lunatic. Erra shocked the creature once more as it turned away and it froze, unsure of who to attack next. It knew it was trapped in a pincer movement, and didn't know what one to go for first.

Then it realised the best option; go for the one calling the shots. The charmeleon raced at me, and I only just had enough time to bring my arm up before its claws sliced through the flesh with ease. I yelped and fell backwards, clutching the wound, silently thankful it was only my arm and not my neck.

I let go of my wound long enough to lob another poké ball at it, and this time it managed to hit the creature in the face and suck it in. The ball wobbled only once before it burst open and shattered, sending small metal fragments flying everywhere.

The charmeleon snarled again, flames now spilling from its mouth and its claws. Loki screeched and leapt upon the beast's head again, punching it in the face and kicking the back of its neck with as much force as he could muster. The pokémon snarled and tried to beat him off, only for Erra to shoot it in the stomach with a blast of electricity. The pokémon practically screamed the heavens down at that, and I saw the electricity all circle around the bullet hole on the creature.

I figured the bullet still had to be in its stomach then. It was the only reason why it would have reacted like that; no doubt it was making it move and causing the beast more pain.

The thought of it made me wince in compassion. I knew how bad bullet wounds hurt, but also knew that at least it wouldn't have to have it removed in the field, if I had anything to do about it. I'd experienced that first hand, and didn't want to go through it again.

Just the thought of it still made me shudder.

I saw rage and determination spark in the creature's eyes and felt myself smile. It was a fighter, a warrior, and I felt a certain kinship with it in that moment. Despite bullets and knives, it would continue fighting if it could.

Which was why I felt disgusted with myself even as my next command left my mouth, "Loki, punch its hips!"

The charmeleon snarled again, and I found myself thankful it didn't understand my command enough. Loki, however, did, and with another cackle he bounced off the lizard. I signalled for Erra to shock it again as he did, and another blast of electricity struck the charmeleon in the temple as Loki scrambled around its feet.

The charmeleon roared again, and this time Loki leapt up and punched it in the hip, straight on the bullet wound.

I had to wince at the scream that came out of the pokémon at that. Even Loki looked shocked, and he stared at his own fists, as if wondering how he caused so much pain.

The lizard crumpled to the floor, holding its hip weakly, and a part of me felt sick with myself for reducing it to such a state. I lobbed a final poké ball at the creature without any enthusiasm and watched as the light greedily snatched up the pokémon.

When it finally stopped rocking and Loki handed me the ball, I stared at it in silence, for the first time ashamed of myself for exploiting a pokémon's weakness. It felt wrong that I'd taken advantage of such an injury – the pokémon was a fighter, and I'd stripped it of any dignity it had.

And possibly increased its hatred towards humans in doing so.

I motioned for my pokémon to follow me as I led them back to Lavaridge, intending to get the creature healed. It just came to show that not every capture came with a feel-good feeling, despite what most trainers thought.

 
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