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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26. Hope Within Shadows

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead~ Benjamin Franklin

-O-O-O-

"It's strange where we can find something that might help us. Sort of along the lines of 'every cloud has a silver lining', except on a much more practical scale. If your pokémon dies, you can sometimes find the strength to carry on, or even find strength you didn't know you had. You could find out an enemy is a friend or vice versa. The betrayal or the confidence can help you to accomplish a lot.

"Of course, then there's the times where our hope is shot to pieces, when we find out something that baffles us so. It could be something that makes us hate someone, distrust them, or merely doubt their motives or your importance to them.

"But if that person helps you, of their own free will, you should re-evaluate your perspective of them. Learn to trust them again, though this time take what you've learnt and remember it for future reference."

- Unknown, (Unknown date, 2568)

-O-O-O-

"You're lying."

It was an instantaneous, reflexive defence for my friend, and the words slipped out before I'd even thought of them. Though as soon as I heard them myself, I realised how much I believed them. Ayd just couldn't be a killer. I knew he couldn't be. Killers were warped individuals with small grips on the world, and unable to stop seeing anything in shades of grey.

I should know. I am one after all.

Chris looked at me, offered a small smile, and then stared back outside. "I wish what I was saying was nothing but a lie to scare you." The sadness in her voice told me that either she was telling the truth, or she was a formidable actress. "But I know Adryan. I know what stories he twists, and what to look for when he's not telling the truth."

I closed my open mouth and chewed the inside of my cheek for a moment. "You can't blame me for not completely believing you. I mean, sure, I've only known Ayd for a few months; he's bound not to have told me his life story, or anything close to it. But him killing someone seems a bit farfetched."

To my surprise, Chris smiled at my words. "At least you're smart enough to know you need to make your own opinions and hear things for yourself." She looked at me once more and sighed. "You can ask him if you like, though I'm not sure if he'd tell you. He hasn't even told me the full truth."

That caught my attention. "So you don't know it for definite?"

"I saw it," she told me, icily. "It took me a while to understand it completely, and a while longer to actually believe it myself. They were arguing about something, Adryan pushed him, which made Owen fall over and break his neck on the rocks beneath him."

I found the flaw in her argument. "So it could have all been accidental then?" But more than that, "And you agreed that Owen was ate by wild ditto. If he died by breaking his neck on a rock, why would too claim he was eaten by ditto?"

She shrugged. "I suppose, more than anything, it's a force of habit," she said, void of emotion. "We've constantly told people he was eaten by ditto, if only because that's what finally happened."

I stopped and stared. "What do you mean?"

"I saw Adryan pick up Owen's body and throw it to the ditto when he realised Owen was dead," she informed me. "If that's not killing someone, then what is?"

"But... why did you defend Ayd then?" I asked. It didn't make sense, if she was such good friends with both of them, to cover up the murder of one by the other.

She sighed and rolled her head on the doorframe. "There wasn't any way I could prove what really happened. More than that though, Adryan had saved my life countless times, I felt that I owed it to him to find out what really happened there – if there was something that happened that I didn't see. But I never had the courage to bring up the subject. And well... after a while, I just convinced myself that what I had seen was wrong. I told myself that Adryan could never do that to Owen, and after a while, I just believed it. I believed that nothing had ever happened, and somehow believed that Owen had died by nothing more than an accident."

I glanced at her and saw the way her body shook, almost periodically, as she breathed deeply, relaying her tale. I could tell she was telling the truth, and that she honestly regretted not mentioning anything sooner.

"Why the change now then?" I asked, confused. If she'd honestly buried it for so long, what brought about everything resurfacing?

She turned her head to look at me briefly, a small, sad smile on her face. "I guess I don't want to see history repeating itself. Even if it destroys our friendship, I think it's about time I found out the truth about what happened in there."

She seemed to believe it all. But even still, I found it hard to believe. Adryan just didn't seem capable of killing anyone, or being able to live with the guilt afterwards.

As much as I tried to picture it happening, I just couldn't. I knew that if I really wanted to know what happened, I'd have to ask Ayd himself.

I caught myself. What did it really matter if Ayd had killed someone? I'd known him for a few months, and in that whole time he'd never tried to kill me. As long as he didn't try to kill me, I knew that really, it didn't bother me as much as it would have, had I been from this world myself.

Though a larger part of me held logical reason; I was a killer myself. Who was I to judge?

"If he did, or if he didn't kill Owen; it doesn't matter much to me," I told Chris, perhaps sounding harsher than I had intended. "I've known him since after that happened anyway. I've either always known him as a killer, or always known him not as one. Either way, he's still the same person I've always known."

Chris' face went through a multitude of emotions, starting from shock, and ending with a somewhat impressed, appreciative look on her face.

"I like you," she told me, and snorted at her own words. "You're not afraid of speaking your mind, and you keep the people in your life for who they are, not what. It's a quality most people don't seem to possess."

I shrugged somewhat sheepishly. "Thanks. I guess." I couldn't be blamed for such a viewpoint after all. I was a killer, so was one of my pokémon, and another was an infant trickster demon. Added to that, I'd grown up in a world where even the lowest and worst of people had managed to save my life.

I was like a bright, shining light from a world overrun with the darkness of humanity. I became giddy with both an overinflated ego and sense of pride.

Though Chris did effectively manage to bring it crashing back down. "Do me a favour though, and hold off from asking Ayd anything about it for about a day." She sighed and turned back into the room, her eyes burning with resolve. "Like I said earlier; I think it's high time I sit down with him and really sort out what really went on that day. I've put it off too long."

I nodded. "Standing there evaluating my reactions isn't going to help things much either."

She laughed at that. "No it won't. Though I wouldn't be a good best friend if I didn't." She chuckled to herself, meeting my own blank face with a small grin of her own. Yet again I felt like I'd missed something, though chose to push the matter aside. Though at least it worked in distracting her from the more morose topic of conversation we had previously been on.

"Do pokémon's personalities change much after evolution? I mean, my lotad's pretty close now, and he's always been a loyal, helpful thing. But every source of information says he'll become mischievous when he's a lombre," I asked, it being the burning question that had brought me back to the house in the first place.

"Ah, I getcha," Chris said. She moved into the room and fell back into the same couch as before, though this time she put her feet up on the coffee table, as opposed to removing her arm. "They do change somewhat, but it's only really certain traits becoming more dominant. Just like how human children can become troublesome when they grow up, so can pokémon. The whole process of evolution in pokémon is the same as growing up in humans; we always keep the same basic personality, but we develop certain quirks as we grow up, whether through external influences, or just becoming more confident in ourselves.

"I mean, before I met Ayd, I'd never really seen the point in dirty jokes. I'd always thought they were the product of some perverse old man," she confided in me. "But after getting to know Ayd, I realised that they could actually be funny, and there wasn't anything wrong with them. So in a sense, he brought out my sense of humour. I've still got the same personality as before, though I'm able to take and make jokes better than before. Let's see your lotad then, I'll tell you how soon he's going to evolve."

I nodded and plucked his ball from my bandolier, calling him out into the more spacious part of the room.

... except nothing happened.

The ball bounced off the floor and rolled along, bouncing softly off the small step in the room.

Chris looked at me with an eyebrow raised. "You sure that's the right ball?"

I double checked myself, and found that the marking I'd left on it was indeed Xander's. I tried to call him out once more, and obtained the exact same result.

After the third try, I ended up just wildly shaking it, hoping something would happen.

It did, in the form of Chris jumping up and placing her hand over the ball, stopping me.

"Let me see that," she said, and managed to pry it from me before I'd even thought about agreeing. She turned it over in her hand a few times, and then finally glanced at the activation button on the front, and passed her thumb over it with a small smile.

"That's why," she said, and held it out for me to see. "Look around the switch; concentrate enough and you'll see something."

I looked at her face a moment, not believing a word she said. Reluctantly, and feeling somewhat foolish in doing so, I squinted at the ball, trying to make out something in particular. It took several moments, though when it did, it looked almost like...

"It's glowing?" I whispered, amazed.

"Yup," she said, and pressed the ball back into my hands. "Which pretty much rules out any doubt there might have been otherwise; your pokémon's evolving."

The thought brought a smile to my face as I stared at Xander's ball. The next time I'd call him out, he'd be a lombre, and thus, more powerful. One thing stuck out in my mind, and I found that I still didn't understand it, despite trying to think of an explanation on my own.

"So why does a pokémon disappear for a few days, or stay inside of its poké ball when it evolves?" I asked as I placed Xander's ball back.

Chris sat back down again. "Like I told you before; pokémon growth is a lot like humans. Except, we don't happen to grow extra limbs, organs or even lose them. Pokémon are different. They go through all that, and still manage to adjust to it all. What takes them longer is the fact that they're stronger after evolution. The flames they make are hotter, their electricity is more potent, or even the poison they produce is more toxic. Now think about it. If you were suddenly more powerful than before, what would happen?"

I shrugged. "I'd have fun with it?"

My response got me a laugh, but that was all. "Okay, stupid question to ask. They obviously can't control it all at first, so they're prone to accidentally loosing it all. So if they're wild, they find a secluded place in which they can adjust, and they won't be able to hurt anyone, or as few people or pokémon as possible. It's safer in a poké ball, because then they definitely can't hurt anyone, and they also don't run the risk of being preyed upon while they're vulnerable."

It meant that if a pokémon ever evolved outside of its poké ball, I ran the risk of being bathed in accidental flames or whatnot, or just never seeing my pokémon again. Everything I leant always gave me something to look forward to, at least.

"So why is this happening now then?" I asked her. "I was training Xander less than an hour ago, and he was fine then. Now he's evolving and won't come out of his ball?"

"Your training is probably what made this possible," she told me. "It's known throughout the whole world that pokémon evolve by learning from battling, but not as many people know truly why that is. What happens is that adrenaline triggers the evolutionary hormone in pokémon. When the pokémon's old enough, and enough of the hormone has been produced, the pokémon evolves."

I nodded. "Thanks. Ayd's only so much help. He tells me things, but never bothers explaining them," I told her. "I'm not sure whether I should be thankful to him for telling me things, or annoyed that he doesn't explain it all."

"Well, at least you've got me," Chris laughed. "Though I wouldn't be too sure about anything Ayd explained to you anyway. It'll either end in disaster, like when he tried explaining to us how to make budget healing items, and they damn well exploded on us, or they'll destroy your sanity, like when he explained to us mating habits of slugma."

Instantly I was tortured with the thought of two fiery red slugs having sex. My face scrunched up in repulsion and I couldn't suppress the physical shudder that came with it.

Instantly Chris was sniggering to herself. "And now you're suffering that mental image, I bet."

I pulled another face. "Why would you inflict that torture on anyone? It's just cruel!"

"What's cruel?" Ayd said from by my side, and I barely contained my startled yelp.

"The idea of slugma sex," Chris supplied.

Ayd laughed and sunk onto the couch next to her. "At least that's only the thought. I had to grow up watching it!"

Chris grinned and help up her hands. "Hey, if that's your thing, I'm not gonna judge."

I chuckled at her words, and then caught her eye. I gave her a small nod, and excused myself from the room.

"Don't leave on my account," Ayd quipped.

I floundered at him, lost for words. Thankfully, Chris came to my rescue, understanding why I was leaving her alone in the first place. "He wanted to see the ice pokémon enclosure."

I snapped my head instantly round to her, my mouth dropped open slightly. I was convinced that she was either a genius, or had some inside information on me. I gathered by the sly smirk and the wink she gave me that the latter was probably true, given the way Ayd seemed to share her smirk. The thought that they had talked about me behind my back made me the slightest bit annoyed, though also somewhat curious to know exactly what they were talking about.

"You'll like it," Ayd promised me. "There's a few native Sinnoh pokémon that live there, and one or two imported even from Kanto and further away."

"Ice types fetch a good price in Hoenn," Chris informed me. "They're extremely rare here; you can only really find them in the cave systems near Mossdeep City. Even around Fairfrost Village, which is home to Hoenn's ice gym, any sort of icy pokémon are extremely rare, even in winter."

I figured it pretty much definitely ruled my chances of catching an ice pokémon whilst I was within Hoenn. Alongside a psychic, I reckoned I'd probably never really get to have my own one. I knew that the best I could hope for would be to train Xander to use cold-based techniques, or somehow have Chris like me enough to give me one for free.

Though with the conversation she wanted to have with Ayd, I wasn't sure if they would be friends afterwards.

"Follow the cold," Chris told me, and when Ayd wasn't looking, mouthed her thanks to me.

Though I wasn't sure if he would be as thankful for letting the conversation happen.

 

The ice pokémon enclosure, as I found within a few minutes, was a delightful touch of cold within the heat of Hoenn. Unlike the bitterness I felt within the Petalburg Woods, this had a more refreshing feel of cold. It was only enough to make my hands and nose slightly cold, yet I loved every moment of it, and felt perfectly at home.

 

What amazed me was that the temperature wasn't from any sort of air conditioning, but rather, from the pokémon themselves. It was within a small section of the forests that surrounded Chris' farm, or ranch, or whatever she called it. There were a few hills here and there, a large pond that I felt was big enough to qualify as a small lake. There was even an artificial miniature mountain, nearly fifty foot high and quite obviously built by some native pokémon, given the claw marks underneath some boulders, as if they'd been carried by a pokémon, rather than marked.

There were a few pokémon around in the enclosure, though I couldn't count more than ten. A sealeo and dewgong barked at me from inside the miniature-lake, as a delibird scampered around the limits of the water, skating on patches of ice created by the pokémon living there, no doubt. I could see that in the shades of the tress there was a small snover, and on the 'mountain' I could see a snorunt being chased playfully by a swinub and a smoochum.

Strangely enough I could see a weavile there too, sat on a large rock nearby, sharpening its claws as it surveyed the landscape, analysing every small detail with a curious eye. I didn't doubt the creature's ability to attack without warning, and decided not to give it any cause to.

By my side was Lacey, who I could tell was analysing each and every one of the pokémon, no doubt wondering what poisons would be best to use on the creatures she hadn't encountered before. It gave me the image of her as a scientist, testing out the limits of pokémon to understand them better, further probing them in order to understand them as best she could.

I laughed and pushed the thought away. The last thing I needed to increase my insanity was the image of a nuzleaf in a lab coat. Instead I turned to her as I leant my elbows on a wooden fence, and asked the question that had been bugging me for a while, "When you evolved, did you change a lot?"

Her strange, yellow eyes narrowed on me, and I was sure I saw some sense of sarcasm in there. I was certain of the fact, when she pointed to both of her arms, and then her main body itself.

"Okay," I conceded. "Aside from the obvious fact that you grew arms, legs and a chest. I meant more personality wise. Were you a lot different then? Somehow, I can't see you being a murderous seedot."

Even if the thought alone brought a smile to my face.

She shrugged once more and pulled on a loose strand of white hair. She made a few gestures, and I found myself having to play guessing games once more. Thankfully though, it seemed like Lacey was getting better at pantomiming what she meant – or more that she'd taken to hitting me every time I got something completely wrong. Given that she was trying to learn how to naturally produce poisons from her body, I didn't want to suffer too much abuse from the pokémon.

Eventually I managed to put together what she was telling me; as a seedot, she was a lot more defensive and easily scared. Apparently those traits had carried on, somewhat, into her evolution, though she did become a lot more confident, and discovered that she actually liked inflicting pain. I didn't doubt the latter, and assumed it was mainly because nuzleaf were creatures of darkness, unlike seedot.

"So at least I won't need to expect the others changing much," I theorised. "Or you either, when you become a shiftry fully." I turned away from her and stared out towards the pokémon. "When's that going to be anyway?"

She grunted something unintelligible, though I saw her shrug out of the corner of my eye. I managed to find out that she'd started evolving almost two years prior, and figured that really it should only take another two, at most, for it to be completed, given how far along she seemed to be.

She hissed something at me, and it took me a moment to understand what she meant, which lead to another round of theatrics.

"Xander's evolving; that's why I'm asking you," I told her, answering her theatrical question. "I've never had one of my pokémon evolve before, so I didn't know what changes, and what doesn't." I smiled at the thought of Xander remaining the same, even as a lombre, and then was hit by the realisation of it all. "Great," I groaned, resting my forehead on my arms. "If pokémon don't change much, then I'm almost definitely going to have an over-attached magneton on my hands. Remind me; from now on, I'm only capturing pokémon that don't evolve, or that are fully evolved."

She grunted something similar to an amused laugh at me as I drew my head back up and stared at the pokémon in their specifically created landscape. I watched them as they carried on their lives, and found myself thinking of what Chris had told me.

She reckoned it wasn't an accident at all, and that Ayd had really killed Owen, and had planned it all out. But it didn't seem like it to me, rather, that it was all one horrible accident that ended incredibly badly. I knew that if I accidentally killed someone, I'd be tempted to hide the evidence, rather than admit to it. By that token, I supposed that most other people would too.

But the main problem was that I didn't know the answer for definite. Ayd could have killed him on purpose, or it could have been all accidental. I knew that really I shouldn't care, if only because I couldn't judge him. Added to that, I had Lacey as a pokémon, who used to kill people for fun, and had a lot more victims than Ayd, and probably myself too.

I realised quickly that my problem wasn't the fact that he could have killed someone, but it was more that I had no control over him. Lacey was a killer, yes, but she was obedient towards me, and I knew that she wouldn't kill me, if only through fear she herself would perish. Adryan on the other hand, had his own free will. I knew that if he was in fact a killer, he could do so any time he wished, and the only way I would be able to stop him would be to kill him myself. It made me realise that I didn't want it to come to that, and that if I had the choice, I would rather he live.

I shook my head to clear away the thoughts. I knew that if he really wanted to kill me, he would have done so already. He'd helped me the whole way alone, and I was sure that he himself would freak out completely if he learnt how many people I'd killed, if not moreso who I'd killed.

My thoughts were getting more and more ridiculous, and I knew it. I had to ask him what the truth was, if only to put my mind at rest. But I knew I couldn't ask him anytime soon after Chris had asked him herself, if only because I felt bad about making him go through it all twice.

It made me laugh at myself. In my own world, I knew that I never would have had any doubts about finding out whether or not someone was trustworthy. Hell, in my own world, I rarely cared what anyone else thought, and would kill them without second thought if they endangered me.

And yet, here I was in the new world, actually considering other people's well-beings, and even trying my best to find ways and reasons not to kill them. I wondered if it was like how I would have behaved if rather than growing up in my world, I grew up in the one I found myself in.

With a sigh I pulled myself back to the real world and threw a grin towards Lacey. "Ever think how differently things could have turned out?" I asked her. "Like what if I hadn't been pulled from my world, and instead was still there, with Alex in his rightful place? I mean, would he have captured you, or Loki, or any of the same pokémon I would?"

I turned towards Lacey, and once more I saw the strange look of pity in her eyes. I really was convinced that she knew something I didn't, and that even if she could speak, she wouldn't tell me regardless. There was just something in the look she gave me that told me she knew something I wasn't allowed to.

It annoyed, confused and intrigued me, all at once.

The nuzleaf grunted something, and I turned to her as she offered a small shrug and leant on the fence, like me. The pity was gone from her face, but I could see that she was thinking, no doubt considering the very question I'd asked her. The thought of it entertained me alone, and it wasn't the first time I'd had such thoughts. I'd usually end up thinking such things as I tried to sleep, usually for a good hour before I would be haunted by my nightmares of demons and my victims. It was, however, the first time I'd voiced the thoughts out loud, and it made me feel slightly better that it wasn't just me that would end up wondering about it.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the weavile leap from its rock and start to approach Lacey and me. I nudged Lacey in the side and made it clear for her to be on guard as the strange creature dropped to all fours and skulked up to us, occasionally stopping and sniffing at the air, as if reading our very beings by scent alone.

Finally it stopped before us both, sniffed again before it leapt onto two feet and let loose a challenging hiss. Lacey stiffened instantly, and I had to knock her on the shoulder to stop her from attacking the creature. After all, it no doubt belonged to Chris, and I didn't think she'd appreciate us attacking any of her pokémon.

"Leave it alone," I instructed her, and made the point of backing away from it. "It's probably just the leader of the little ice-gang here, and searching for a chance to improve its social ranking."

I heard footsteps crunching over the grass behind us, and craned my neck to see who it was coming. It was a woman I hadn't seen before, and she had chocolate coloured hair pulled back into a ponytail, with a few strands loose here and there. Her tan showed that she spend a lot of time in the sun, and dark brown eyes stared at me, evaluating me and possibly the reasons why I was here. Like Chris she wore a white apron, though hers was over a dark blue polo and brown slacks.

She smiled at me as she approached, and then gestured behind us with a nod. "Careful with Akshar," she said, and I heard the weavile hiss a response. "She's a bit territorial, and has a habit of picking fights with any strangers."

I nudged Lacey in the side. "Told you so."

The girl smiled once more, and I figured she couldn't have been more than sixteen, given the strange sort of cuteness she had when she smiled.

"I'm actually surprised she hasn't outright attacked you yet," she told me, and approached the weavile with a calm demeanour. "She's usually hasty in attacking people, if only to make sure they can't land the first hit. Isn't that right, Akshar?" she cooed as she rubbed the pokémon's head, and it made a strange sound, almost like it was purring, at her touch. It seriously warped everything and anything I'd learnt about the creatures being fierce, malevolent hunters.

"What can I say? Obviously I must have a way with the weavile," I quipped, shamelessly. Behind me, Lacey rolled her eyes and I'm fairly certain would have recalled herself in morbid shame by association.

The girl laughed at me. "If anything, you must just smell like one." She grinned and turned back to the creature, and with her attention diverted, I lifted an armpit and sniffed. As the girl turned back to look at me, I quickly dropped my arm and snapped my head round as if I were simply staring off towards the different pokémon frolicking around the grounds.

"I'm Amanda, by the way," she said with a brace-filled smile. I blinked and wondered how I hadn't managed to notice them before, and realised how little attention I happened to be paying to her mouth. Once I introduced myself, she blew a loose strand of hair from her face and glared at me. "So you're the one that's made me forfeit a drink, I take it?"

I rubbed the back of my neck sheepishly. "It wasn't exactly my fault. I think the electrike just decided that I was its territory or something. I should just be thankful it was that doing it, and not a fully grown arcanine, or something like that."

She chuckled at something. "That happened a while ago, to someone else that was working here. I think he was doing work experience or something? But anyway, there was this big arcanine here for a while that decided he was part of his territory."

I could guess where her story was going. "So it marked him then?"

She held her sides as she laughed even harder. "It took three weeks for him to get the stink out of his clothes. Every time he went anywhere near another pokémon, it thought he was an arcanine, so attacked him!"

I glanced at Lacey out of the corner of my eye. "Don't even think about it," I warned her. I wouldn't put it past her to try and get wild pokémon to attack me, whether for her freedom, or for her sadistic amusement. Or knowing her, most likely both.

Amanda gave Lacey the once-over and placed a hand on her hip. "So is she your first pokémon then?"

I blinked, looked at Lacey and then back at the girl. Not many people ever gathered any of my pokémon's genders, and even I had to resort to modern technology to discern them. When I asked her just how she managed to identify such a thing, she grinned at me.

"Female nuzleaf always have smaller leaves covering their hands than males," she informed me, and gestured towards Lacey's own hands. "Granted yours is becoming a shiftry, so hers are going to be quite long anyway, but the females only ever have them grow just long enough to cover their hands, whereas the males' leaves grow an extra half."

My mouth was hanging open in amazement. The fact that she could discern genders of pokémon by sight alone was quite something, I felt. I could identify most by sight alone, and yet never really learnt how to discern genders – apart from those in which it was physically obvious.

"That's quite something," I said, impressed. "I didn't know people could tell differences in pokémon genders just by the lengths of their leaves, or the like."

Amanda gave me another toothy grin. "Well, I want to be a pokémon breeder; I've got to know my stuff. I'm just lucky that Chris employs me – most people won't go anywhere hiring someone of my age, or with my experience."

I could understand the reasons behind that. I doubted a ten year old kid who'd never gone anywhere near a pokémon would be as able to milk a miltank as someone who had experience with pokémon.

"You never answered my question though," she pointed out.

"Oh, right," I said, having completely forgot in lieu of her intelligence. I went to tell her that in fact, my first pokémon was only Xander, and that he was just becoming a lombre, but a part of me decided to forgo the normal explanation of the truth. If people kept assuming things, as long as I didn't set them straight, I wasn't completely lying.

Though of course, bare-faced lying was commonplace to me. If everything of my so-called 'past' was all fabricated, why couldn't I include something about owning a pokémon in there, now that I knew more about them?

"She's my oldest pokémon," I told her, not answering the question directly. "Lacey's been with me for a while now."

The pokémon in question scoffed at my words, and folded her arms scornfully. I turned my neck sharply to look at her, which she met with a curled lip and a mischievous grin. Of course, in being unable to murder any of the pokémon on Chris' land, she would have to resort to torturing me for amusement, wouldn't she?

"You're a bad liar," Amanda told me, bouncing on her tiptoes impishly. "You're avoiding questions, rather than answering them. Sure sign of a liar."

I flushed bright red and shot another look to Lacey, who I'm sure was laughing at my back. "Well, uh, you see..." I attempted to explain myself miserably.

The girl smiled once more. "Typical man. Always trying to impress the girl." I stared at her, dumbfounded, and found that she began to chuckle at me again. "The benefits of working with Chris are, among other things, that she doesn't mince her words. She's quite often pointing out typical man-habits to me, and always explaining the typical things you guys do. I think she's taken me in as her little sister or something."

"Oh," I said, and felt myself deflate instantly. That pretty much ruined any thoughts I had of trying to impress anyone with my normal attitude. "So what's the new secret to success then?" I asked cheekily. "Act like I'm just not interested in the slightest, or hit the gym so much I don't have a neck anymore?"

She rolled her eyes at me and scratched the weavile behind the ears. "I'll let you know when you're making an effect. Be thankful we're not all like Akshar here. If she doesn't like someone, she tends to slice their face off."

The pokémon turned around to me, eyes half-closed in bliss and looking like it wouldn't hurt a ledyba. "So what made her like that then?" I asked. "I thought that weavile were pack animals, so wouldn't really go around attacking others."

Amanda nodded, grunting affirmation as she did so. "Normally they are. But Chris told me she got her in Sinnoh. Apparently her and her mate were the alpha pair of a clan. They were meant to protect the clan against any others, but supposedly a load of poachers came and hunted them all. As far as we're aware, Akshar's mate was attacked by them and lost an eye, and still tried to fend them off. Instead, most of the pack got killed, and only Akshar managed to escape."

I looked at the pokémon, and wondered how it would be so content to be around people after all that it had supposedly suffered. It would be like me being comfortable being looked after by a pack – or whatever they were known as – of the demons.

The thought of it alone made me shudder violently. Instead I drew my mind back to the weavile by asking, "How does Chris know all of this, anyway?"

Amanda smiled. "One of her pokémon is a xatu. When they're trained enough, they can bypass the mental barrier dark pokémon have, and can read their minds without problems. I know that some people say it's morally wrong to forcefully read something's mind, but when you've got a pokémon that's freaking out and trying to kill everything, your choices are to either find out what the problem is, or to put them down."

I knew what my answer to such a problem would have been. No questions asked, I would have put down any problem pokémon. If in anyway a pokémon was hindering me, or stopping me from completing what I needed to, I wouldn't hesitate to remove them from my way.

Except, I knew that if it were one of my pokémon, I'd make sure that killing them was one of the last options I'd consider. I figured that if I felt that way, no doubt Chris would feel the same, and somehow, she must have considered all the pokémon that she looked after to be her pokémon.

"So what other pokémon do you have?" Amanda asked suddenly, turning away from the weavile. I considered it a stupid move; exposing her back to an obviously dangerous creature, with past history of distrust towards humans, but to my surprise, the weavile simply licked her claws and turned to walk away.

I glanced towards Lacey and considered what she would do to someone, if their back were turned to her, and I wasn't around to stop her. No doubt the end result wouldn't be pretty.

"I've got a lotad that's evolving into a lombre, as well as a sableye. I've also got a magnemite I just captured," I said, and saw the way Lacey tensed at the mention of Erra. "She's a little over-affectionate though; she either ends up clinging to me, or to Lacey."

The nuzleaf hissed at the mention of it alone. She wasn't happy about having a magnemite being tangled in her hair, and had no qualms about pointing out her annoyance of the creature.

"Can I see her?" Amanda asked. "Your magnemite, can you let her out?"

I fumbled for her ball, taken aback by the strange request. Though regardless I let the pokémon out, and shattered the gentle calming noises of rustling tree leaves and distant pokémon sounds with the harsh buzzing from Erra's wings. She latched onto my arm instantly, clicking as she climbed up my arm with her strange, spindly insect legs.

"Hey," Amanda said, stretching out her hand towards the bug. There was a small pellet of food in her hand, and she offered it tentatively to Erra.

Instead of accepting it, Erra just clicked irritably and scuttled away, deciding instead to rest on my head. Small sparks of static raced down my ears and my neck, making all the small hairs stand on end.

Once more Amanda tried to offer her food, and instead Erra buzzed again, though this time got up and flew over to Lacey, attaching herself to the nuzleaf.

"She's not over-affectionate," Amanda informed me, placing her hands on her hips. "She's just timid."

"'Timid'?" I repeated, confused. "But she's not running away, or hiding."

Amanda rolled her eyes at me. "Timidness isn't just measured by hiding in fear or running away from people. That's why she clings to you and your nuzleaf – she's just afraid."

I took her advice and thought about it. In a way, it made perfect sense. It was most likely why I had to resort to getting her attacked by the wingull first, before she would attack, and probably why it took so long to try and get her to train.

"So, how do I stop her being timid?" I asked.

Amanda rolled her eyes. "You can't stop it; it's part of your pokémon's personality. All you can do is install in her a sense of confidence that will let your pokémon battle. Should your pokémon be acting like that?" she asked suddenly, and pointed behind me.

The smell of burning hair caught my nostrils, and I turned in time to see Lacey trying her best to pry Erra from her chest. The magnemite was tangled within Lacey's hair, buzzing wildly and discharging electricity everywhere she could as the nuzleaf tried in vain to remove her.

I raised my eyebrow and turned back to the girl. "And you see why I find it hard to believe my pokémon's timid? She seems more attached. She gets like this whenever we start trying to train as well."

"She's obviously afraid of being on her own around new things. She must only attach herself to your pokémon because they smell like you," she told me.

I considered the thought. Lacey usually smelt of some strange spices, as well as fresh-cut grass. Loki always smelt of sulphur, Erra warm and coppery, like coins that you had held onto for too long, and Xander had a wet, slimy amphibian smell to him.

Overall, I figured I probably stunk like week-old meat next to any of them, and hoped that it was their scents managing to cover up my own, rather than the other way round.

"You mentioned that she takes a while to start training as well," Amanda said, placing a fist under her chin. "All in all, it sounds like she's rather afraid of battling, as if there's something that makes her reluctant to fight. Tell me; how did you capture her?"

I thought back to it, and remembered her defending herself well, with my ears managing to bleed with that horrible screeching sound she produced – which I still couldn't manage to get her to reproduce. I remembered trying to get Xander to soak her, and after that, us all being abused by the horrible screeching sound she made.

And more prominently than that; Lacey smashing Erra's skull against the ground, again and again.

I winced. No wonder Erra was afraid of getting back into combat. Though it made me wonder why she would attach herself to Lacey after enduring something that made her fearful to battle.

When I explained it all to Amanda, she pulled a face. "I'm not sure then. Either your magnemite's trying to fry your nuzleaf, and can't do so because of the nuzleaf's partial grounding, or she's just trying to brown-nose as much as possible to make sure she doesn't receive such a beating again."

I turned to the fighting pokémon and saw them in a new light. The sparks coming off Erra were no more than those she would make when rested on me, and I knew that if they only felt like static to me, Lacey would barely feel them. It meant that realistically, the latter explanation was the most likely. "She must be sucking up to Lacey then," I decided. Though I couldn't blame her. If I had to work with someone or something that had beaten seven shades of shit out of me, just like Lacey had to Erra, I knew I'd be kissing ass too, all to make sure it didn't happen again.

"Oh well, I'll take this over them trying to murder each other. And my peacemaker's evolving so can't come out of his poké ball..." I groaned.

Amanda smiled once more. "Just be thankful that's the limit of their craziness. I have a wailmer that forgets he needs to hold his breath when he goes underwater and a zangoose that seems to think any sort of serpentine pokémon is a seviper, so tries to rip it to shreds." She sighed and shook her head. "Anyway, I should really get back to work. I've spent too long standing here chatting to you, and I'm meant to be feeding the pokémon."

I offered her a smile. "Maybe I could help? Seeing as I am the cause of you running behind."

She pulled at her collar and glanced at my pokémon. "Maybe if you recall your pokémon – I can't see it going well if you have them around you. And most importantly, you need to do exactly as I'm telling you if you want to help. Anything goes wrong, and I get the blame."

I grinned shamelessly. "You could always tell Chris that I could carry out your punishment?"

Lacey's grunt of disgust was louder than Amanda's mortified cough.

 

It was about an hour later that I had finished helping Amanda feed most of the pokémon, and she had thanked me for my help before skipping off towards the house, claiming her shift was nearly over. She also asked me what I was up to for the next few days, and when I answered I wasn't sure, and probably travelling to Lavaridge, she seemed upset. Though she did brighten somewhat when I told her that I'd see her tomorrow, if she was working, and she promised me she'd be looking forward to it.

 

It was becoming dark, and I was sat on a hill overlooking a part of the grounds, watching a few pokémon scampering around in the wilds. Loki was by my side, and seemed to be interested in the small bugs chirping and bouncing around. He picked up a fallen branch from a nearby tree, and with a throaty rasp he held it above his head and begun to chase the bugs, attempting to crush them with the branch.

I could only laugh at his foolishness as I thought about when it would be safe to go back into Chris' house. I honestly didn't think it would be safe anytime soon, and considered just checking into the nearby pokémon centre when I heard footsteps coming towards me.

Loki seemed to hear them too, and dropped his guard for a moment to see who it was. Upon identifying them, he brandished the branch as a weapon once more, raced towards them and smacked them on the foot.

"Ow!" Ayd yelped, drawing his foot away from the sableye. "I told you!" he swore at me. "See, you say in jest that you're going to kill me, and then your demonic little imp tries to bash me in with a tree branch!"

I looked at Ayd, down to Loki, who had dropped the weapon and was playing innocent, and then back up. I couldn't figure out whether or not Ayd was joking, but his tone was too sharp for my liking, and I jumped to my pokémon's defence in a heartbeat.

"He's just playing," I said, calling over Loki with a gesture. "If he really meant anything, he'd be attacking you with his claws and teeth," I told him as I placed Loki on my lap and scratched him behind the ears.

"Yeah, I suppose," Ayd grumbled as he walked towards us. "Sorry," he mumbled, and dropped down on the grass next to me.

I figured his conversation with Chris hadn't gone too well, or he just wasn't too happy about relieving the experience. Either way, I felt I had to ask, if only for the pretence that I didn't know what was happening.

"What's wrong?" I questioned him, knowing in my gut that he wouldn't actually answer me.

He shrugged. "It's nothing really. Any reason why you're still out here?" he asked, and I knew he'd figured I had at least some clue towards what Chris had spoken to him about.

I played ignorance, and hoped it would work. "I've spent so long out in the wilds now, being inside doesn't feel right to me. If I'm inside for too long now, I start feeling cramped. And it helps that outside, I can let my pokémon out for a bit."

Thankfully Ayd nodded, seemingly accepting my lies as gospel. "So where are the others?" he asked, gesturing to Loki, and then the poké balls on my bandolier.

"I decided to just spend some time with Loki, for now," I said, and grinned as the creature in question made a contented growl. "Lacey's back in her ball – I don't exactly trust her completely with the cover of night, and Erra's attachment issue is a bit much to deal with – even if I now know it's because she's just timid, and sticks to me because I'm safe, or because she doesn't want another beating like Lacey gave her."

Thankfully Ayd skipped over that titbit of information, and instead asked, "And Xander?"

"He's evolving," I said with a small smile. "I can't get him out of his poké ball yet, so I'm guessing he's not fully done yet."

"Well, congratulations," Adryan said, drawing his legs in and hugging his knees. "From what I went through with my pokémon, it'll probably be a few days until you can get him out of there again."

I gave a sideways smile, happy we'd landed on a conversation that could distract him from a conversation that obviously pissed him off. "So how many pokémon have you had evolve then?"

He opened his hands and then began to count on his fingers. "Ten," he informed me, finally. "Though three of them have evolved twice."

I guessed they were his flygon, dusknoir and demon. I knew that eventually Xander would evolve again, and that Erra could evolve twice. "Do the secondary evolutions take a lot longer?" I asked, my mind drifting to Lacey, and her current mid-evolution state.

He gave a shrug. "It's different with different pokémon. Irenui was in her poké ball for a fortnight, Willow for nearly a month, though Ripper only went away for a few hours – I can only guess that's because he's a lot older, so knew how to control the power better."

The information lifted a weight off my shoulders. When Lacey were to evolve, it could potentially be only a few hours. I didn't like the thought of her being out of action for a fortnight, much less a month. She was my strongest pokémon, as well as my biggest lifeline to sanity.

The sheer thought of it alone made me break out into nervous sweat. It didn't help that it was a warm evening, and I sat there fanning myself with my hand, breathing deeply to try and relieve some of the heat.

I didn't think much of it, until Loki looked up at me, sniffed, and then hissed suddenly. The hairs on the back of my neck all flared up at the sound, and I knew instantly that something was horribly wrong.

"That was weird," Ayd commented in the same moment I leapt to my feet.

"Where is it?" I hissed, heart racing a mile a minute.

Loki growled, low and feral, though I barely heard it over my frantic breathing. The world suddenly went from hot to cold, and I felt goosebumps race down my spine.

"Not again... not again..." I wailed, clawing at my face in a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable from happening.

The world became hot again, and I fell back a step or two, overcome with the heat. Sweat poured out of me, and I was certain I'd pass out from the sheer heat pulsing around me. I barely heard Ayd shout something over the pulse thudding in my ears, and felt like the whole world was far away; like I was trapped, isolated in the middle of nowhere.

Then the screams started again.

The horrific, nightmarish screams of the makuhita's death pierced my eardrums, sending cold, chilling turmoil into my gut.

There were no electrical lights above me this time to flicker on and off. Instead, the very sky itself seemed to flicker between light and dark. I collapsed into myself, shaking terribly and holding myself in some feeble attempt of a foetal position.

I was going mad.

I had to be.

Sure Veronique had seen everything happen in the Slateport gym before, but there was no way that the freaking sky could flicker like a set of lights!

Throughout it all, the screams didn't stop.

I scrunched my eyes shut and buried my head underneath my arm, deciding that if I couldn't see the haunting presence, it wouldn't be there.

Yet the screams carried on.

Closer, and closer.

And then suddenly, it sounded like they were coming from right in front of me.

I bit back a whimper of a scream, trembling like a frightened puppy at the looming presence I knew was standing over me. I could feel the cold coming from it, and could feel myself being sprayed with phantom blood.

There were other sounds around me, as distant as the sun on a cloudy winter night.

Something splashed my face, and I couldn't resist the urge to wipe it away. I squinted my eyes open, almost dreading the sight of the liquid that would meet me.

It was black.

And bubbling.

And the headless freak was standing right in front of me!

I screamed and rolled away as quickly as I could. The thing lumbered forth with another deadly scream, and I backed away again and again, deaf even to my own screams of protest.

It screamed again, and suddenly the very ground beneath it turned lifeless and black. My screams seemed to be drowned out by that of the creature, and something burst from the ground with a fierce anger, enough to make the headless-ghost-freak leap backwards a few paces.

There was a deep, low groan, like something I should have only heard in the worst of my nightmares. I caught sight of a single red light, flashing like a brilliant torch in an otherwise impenetrable darkness.

Ripper, my mind managed to process, even as my jaw hung slack. The makuhita rose up with a fearsome growl, collecting itself for an assault. It swung at Ripper, and to my amazement, actually managed to hit the ghost.

Ripper hissed something that fit in perfectly with the eerie scenario. It swiped at the makuhita, knocking it backwards and flat on its back in one single blow. The makuhita screamed protest once more, though this time, Ripper seemed to be ready.

There was a horrible, low moaning sound, though it sounded like it was from more than one person. The makuhita screamed once more, and I joined in with its screams as I saw the markings on Ripper's stomach change, and swirling black mass-like vortex burst into life within its chest.

The very sight of it alone filled me with more dread than anything I'd ever thought. I knew I'd gladly take dealing with the makuhita countless times more if it meant never having to gaze into the swirling vortex again.

The makuhita seemed deathly frightened of the vortex, and with good reason. Ripper seemed to fade from view, into the everlasting darkness beneath him. The makuhita screamed its haunting, horrible scream once more, though this time it seemed to be much worse. It broke off halfway, and the creature's scream turned to a deathly gurgle, as if someone had slashed its neck open.

The bright red light of Ripper's single beacon eye shone around the makuhita, and I understood why it was screaming. The strange vortex grew around it, and I watched with mute horror as the makuhita was dragged into it, its headless body flailing all the while.

Finally, with one ultimate, spine-chilling scream it was ripped apart, piece by piece; atom by atom. I saw it all, and was splashed with more of its horrific, black boiling blood as it disappeared forever into the swirling mass of darkness that was Ripper's stomach.

Then just like that, the world seemed to become a normal temperature again. I could make out Loki's grunts and snarls, as well as Adryan shouting something I wasn't quite coherent enough to understand.

Finally, I saw Ripper's eye appear above me again, and the faint, yellow markings curve into something akin to a smile. His eye lit up once, flashing a brilliant crimson, as he spoke in a deep, low voice that seemed to come from everywhere at once, yet from so far away.

"Thou doth not have to fear of death for considerable time yet."

I blinked, stared up at the pokémon, and then did the only thing that made sense at that moment in time.

I fainted.

 
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