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.


41. Identities

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation ~ Oscar Wilde


"Who are we, if not for the impressions we give? We behave one way to one person, another to another. Are we one single identity, or all of them that we show?"

- Carmine Jacobs, psychologist and Undella Town Gym Leader 3003 – 3019. (September 29th, 3005)


Everything was going to change soon.

I held Lacey's poké ball in the air and glared up at it, trying to see through the metal in the vain hope that I could see the pokémon inside.

She was going to come out of the ball fully evolved soon. I'd decided to give up on my gym-badge chase. My goals were on trying to stop whatever I needed to stop; my only leads were that strange company I'd heard so little about; the ones releasing chemicals into towns. I'd heard the strange man on the boat into Slateport saying something in a foreign language – while I didn't know what he'd said, I knew that it certainly sounded suspicious.

I knew I could change things. Lacey was a meticulous, devoted killer. She'd spent a long time waiting in that cottage of hers where I'd caught her, slowly planning out things to kill people. She could plan far ahead. With Alistair able to translate, I could use her to help me see what I needed to do.

The pokémon by my side hissed violently. I smiled a little and laughed slightly before I reached out and scratched it behind the ears. Akshar, the supposedly territorial, violent weavile that Chris owned purred happily, rubbing her furry cheeks against my hand.

I snorted a small laugh, breath forming mist before my eyes. I embraced the cold and wanted nothing more than to stay there forever, happy in the cold, never having to endure the heat again.

When I left the ice enclosure, it took me two steps before I was withering under the heat once more.

"I hate Hoenn's heat," I muttered to the heavens. I fanned my shirt in a futile attempt to get some air onto my body before I let Scar out to join me. "I'm still figuring out the logic in calling out a fiery lizard when I'm already boiling hot," I grouched to him. He looked at me, cocked his head and let out a tiny conversational hiss.

"Whatever," I said with a roll of my eyes. "Look, I wanted to talk to you anyway. Plus, I've got time to waste, seeing as Chris' boyfriend is round. Her parents were only here a couple of days ago, now her lover… I'm getting the feeling I should really scram and let her live her on life. I need to get going and sort out what I'm doing anyway."

Scar growled and nudged my forearm with his head. I grunted a small laugh of realisation. "Okay." I waved a hand at him. "I get it. I'm babbling. But I feel I've got to explain things to you – you guys are hidden away in your poké balls whenever I'm talking to other people."

He growled impatiently again.

"Alright," I said with a laugh. "Okay, plan from now; we're going to find out what we need to do to make sure everything goes the way that stupid celebi wants it to. I'm not sure what it involves… bar a load of recon and intel gathering on my behalf." I stopped walking and turned to face Scar. "Alistair told me about what you used to be for your clan."

The lizard's eyes narrowed quickly, acrid smoke slowly seeping out of his nostrils. I held my palms up in surrender and shook my head at him.

"I've got nothing bad to say," I told him. "It's just… I think I'll need you to take that role on again… for me. I need someone-thing to keep me in line, what with all the…" I waved a hand above my abused elbow and let Scar gather the message. "So I need to make sure I'm being kept on the straight and narrow to what needs to be done. Lacey's too psychotic to take on this role, Loki too immature, Alistair's too bound up in his own code of honour, as is Xander. With both of them, they'd try and stop me from killing someone in cold blood if I needed to.

"Erra…" I whistled and placed my hands behind my head. "I took her to the pokémon centre for a check. After she tried to attack everyone there and got sedated, they found out she's been injected with some experimental chemical. After that, there was a load of scientific mumbo-jumbo that I really didn't understand. But it all boils down to some sort of chemical that's blocking her emotions… or something. It's like it's producing too much adrenaline and suppressing everything else, bar her long-term memory. That's why she doesn't attack us.

"Apparently it could take up to another few weeks for it all to work out of her system," I explained to Scar. "After that, they said there could still be some lingering traces of it in her system… which means anything could be happening. But anyway, as I was trying to say originally; you're the one pokémon I can actually trust whole-heartedly to do what needs to be done and make sure it's the best for everyone, not just a select few."

He growled happily and nudged his head against me once more. I snorted a laugh and pushed him away, smiling all the while.

Scar growled again. I just sighed and stared up at the sky, watching some of the flying pokémon soar around Chris' ranch. I knew I needed to get back into being a soldier… the only question was whether or not I would be able to ease back into it.

I growled as I ran a hand through my hair, swearing as my fingers got caught between the strands. It wasn't taking long to memorise the maps and figure out where I needed to go – the only problem was that it was taking longer than I would have liked.

I was out of practice. I knew that. On some level, I had made peace with that. But panic was beginning to set in again. Less than four months to struggle blind against the future. Every second had to count, surely.

Once more I sighed and squeezed my eyeballs. They tingled with the strange pain of excessive strange, yet I'd been reading for less than an hour. I shook my head and pushed past it, tracing a finger across the maps again. I had to head towards Fortree City. It was next on the gym circuit, but that was no longer my concern.

It was more because of something Chris had told me. She'd mentioned that it was one of the highest points in Hoenn. The highest point meant that I'd be able to see a lot of the world. I could scope out Hoenn from there and hopefully build an idea of strategy if something went wrong. I knew what the future entailed. I knew what places had supposedly fallen; I had the knowledge of mundane, near-primitive methods of building defence when compared to the modern day I was in; with the technology available, it meant there had to be methods to build steady foundations.

Once I was sure I'd memorised it, I folded up my maps and stuffed them into my bag. I took another moment to go over everything in my head again before I was sure I was ready to go.

As soon as I hit the hallway the distant sound of giggles hit my ears. I rolled my eyes and made loud gagging sounds as I entered the living room to find Chris and her boyfriend sharing a seat, in the middle of what looked like a tickle fight.

"Jealous," Chris accused me with a wink. She floated along in nothing but a long black, shirt – one that looked like it definitely had to belong to a man. I didn't need to guess where that came from.

"I'm stuck on trying to figure out whether making a joke about him being jealous of you is going to end badly for me."

I shot a glance at Chris and had to laugh. It would definitely end in pain for him.

Blue eyes, brown hair that flopped in an unruly mess around his head, a thin layer of stubble and a well-built body; he looked like a normal sort of man… for a nurse.

Granted, I was still slightly expecting him to turn out to have some sort of freaky amputee-fetish.

"There will be bad pain for you, Jonathon," Chris warned him with a flirtatious grin. "Remember that robo-arm has a few wondrous settings that I can use to harm you."

He turned several shades of white at the thought alone. He quickly disguised it and leapt out of the chair with a grin, putting his hands on Chris' hips and leaning into her back.

I didn't hear what he said and I was pretty sure I didn't want to hear what he said.

"Shush!" Chris berated him, shoving him away playfully. "We've got a kid in the room! You'll ruin his childhood innocence!"

"Hey!" I yelled at her. "Not a kid! Seventeen here! And innocence?" I laughed scornfully at the idea. "I don't think I've ever heard of that word being used to describe me."

"Yeah, military kid here," Jonathon said, waving his hand at me. "They usually just rush in and blow things up. No one needs innocence when you're able to blow things into little tiny smithereens."

I rolled my eyes, all in good-nature. Apparently Jonathon used to be in the navy and there was supposedly some sort of mostly-friendly rivalry between members of the navy and army. I didn't understand it and didn't want to admit I had no clue what a navy was – in my future, we'd never really needed to delve hundreds of feet below the ocean for recon. No one could pilot them, let alone repair them and they were generally viewed as death traps, only to be used in dire emergencies.

A little bit of research told me all I needed to know about the navy.

"You're just jealous I get to do the cool things," I shot back. "Instead you're stuck for months on end under the sea with someone trying to dock in your port."

He laughed. "Like I've never heard that one before. Becoming a nurse doesn't help things either." He put his arms around Chris' stomach from behind and squeezed. "Yet I end up with the gorgeous girl and army boy's still stuck blowing things up. Explosives and girlfriends don't mix, you know? You either get itty-bitty chunks of girlfriend, or left at home cradling the dynamite stick." He blinked as Chris and I both laughed. "Not a euphemism, by the way."

Chris' laugh died as she pressed a hand to her head. "Please don't start calling it that, whatever you do. You're so dumped if that happens."

He pouted and rubbed his cheek against the side of her head. "Can I at least start shouting 'kaboom!' when-"

I clamped my hands over my ears. "Not listening!" I yelped. "So don't need to hear anything you're saying. Going now. Fortree will be nice and safe, far away from sickeningly-sweet couples that I'm forced to share a house with."

"Prude," Chris accused me. She detached herself from her boyfriend long enough to give me a quick hug. "You know what you're doing from here on in, right?"

I nodded as I pulled away, heading for the door. "Yeah, off to Fortree to find a way to… well, you know."

She smiled. "Right. You know I'm on the other side of the phone if you need anything, right? Next time, don't hide away, thinking I'm going to go all crazy about anything."

Jonathon appeared in the hallway and sat on the bottom of the staircase. "Yeah, I'm sure he'd never think you're crazy. I mean, you've never threatened to make your arm suddenly have the strength of three machamp, just to crush your enemies."

I held back a laugh and raised an eyebrow. "You have enemies?"

She blew a breath, clearly flustered as a blush covered her face. "This is why I let people I know never meet each other. At least this is still so much better than when Ayd was here. I should never have had to endure my best friend and my boyfriend discussing my breasts."

I couldn't hold back the laugh. "They what?"

"Don't you think Chris should wear low-cut tops more often?" Jonathon asked me. "Adryan agreed; she shouldn't hide what she's got."

My laugh became a nervous chuckle at the deadly look Chris got. "So urm, I think that's up to her. I know better than to side against her in an argument."

The woman in question rubbed her temples. "I'm going to start developing a complex soon, aren't I? I'm going to spend all day worried that I'm actually an angry, violent harpy, just because my friends all typecast me as one."

I craned my head to wink at Jonathon. "Good luck!" There was an evil smile that crossed my face as his own fell. "I'll see you soon Chris."

"Sure thing," she said as she pulled me into another hug. "Come back soon, alright? Next time, don't wait until things are bad. And let me know if things go bad with… everything."

"Will do," I promised her.

Jonathon waved at me. "See ya again army drone. Nice meeting ya."

I tried to think of a comeback, only to fail completely. Instead I just bid him goodbye too and headed towards Mauville, silently hoping that everything would work out nicely and neatly for once.

The forests near Fortree freaked me out. It was like after a certain point they became one large, all-encompassing mass that threatened to swallow up everything that tried to move past them.

It made me put a little bit more effort into slicing through the large, broad-leafed plants that all seemed to be in the way. After restocking in Mauville, I was thankful I'd bought the machete; though I did curse myself continually for wandering aimlessly away from the path cut through the forest.

It was all because I'd seen a little bit of green from the corner of my eye and heard a lot of buzzing. My heart felt like it was trying to kung fu its way out of my chest as I stalked what I thought was a celebi, only to find out it was just a scyther stalking through the grass.

Then I tried to capture it and got just a little bit lost in doing so.

"Damn scyther," I muttered to myself as I wiped my sweaty brow. I cursed once more and stared up towards the skyline, trying to see any trace of a town in the distance. All I could see was green, with the occasional hint of blue sky or brown tree bark poking through. "Ignore your instincts and don't make a note of where you're going as you track the deadly predator with blades for arms. I'm such a credit to my army!"

I spat on the floor in frustration before hacking my way through the undergrowth again. Scar had managed to fight off the scyther enough for it to flee back into the undergrowth, leaving us alone in the ever-growing forest.

"And of course, I'm wandering through a forest that has to be densely packed with predators, talking to myself and giving away my position."

I stopped walking and managed to stop myself from hitting my forehead with my hand. I'd made the decision to go back to being a soldier to get where I needed to go. It just seemed without the harsh commanders overlooking every inch of training I did, alongside the constant threat of death looming over my neck; I wasn't much of a solider.

Then again, it wasn't like we were ever given the opportunity to have time off and understand who we really were. It made me wonder what I'd be like if I'd never been chosen by that celebi; if it had never picked me from the thousands it undoubtedly had.

Maybe I'd still be lost in my own world, part-hating, part-fearing pokémon and gunning them down freely.

Or maybe I'd just be dead.

When my chest started vibrating, I was fairly certain that was something both worlds would have in common.

I managed a short curse until I realised just where it was coming from; my poké ball bandolier. I snatched Lacey's poké ball off it instinctively and dropped it just as it exploded in a brilliant flash of white light.

Then just like that, Lacey was stood before me. Her arms and legs were dark brown, twisted and knotted; branching off into large, hideous claws and just generally looked like they belonged on a creepy tree in the middle of a haunted forest. Thick, shaggy white hair grew out of her entire body - bar her arms, legs and her long, pointed brown nose.

Her deadly yellow eyes rolled round to me and the corners of her mouth twitched into a little grin. She lifted up her hands to analyse them; three thick fern leaves grew from each wrist, with vines snaking from their stems, up her arms and under the white hair that covered her body.

"You're back," I said, her grin rapidly becoming contagious.

She rolled her eyes and I just had to laugh. It was great to have her back, even if it was graced with silent sarcasm. The joy quickly faded though as I remembered everything that had happened; everything that I needed to tell her.

Then suddenly she just grunted and nodded at me. I felt an eyebrow rise as she grunted once more, then just decided to point at my head, then at hers.

"Oh, right," I muttered. Shiftry could read minds. It meant I had two mind-readers on my team.

I wasn't too fussed with the knowledge that she could read my mind. I would have just been a little worried if I could read hers. No doubt it was full of deprave, murderous thoughts, far worse than what my own brain could ever come up with.

Then Lacey slapped me in the head.

"Ow!" I yelped and ducked away from her. She smirked, grabbed me and began to rifle through my backpack without a single grunt of explanation. "What're you-?" I managed to ask before she whirled me round, an accusatory glare on her face.

It took a chorus of charades for me to realise she wanted her plants that she'd kept in my backpack for so long.

"That gym in Fallarbor," I told her. "They took almost everything from my backpack. I'm guessing all your poisons were taken too."

She glared at me for a long moment. Finally she sighed and glanced around, taking long, creepy steps through the forest around us. She moved like a demonic creature from an old horror film; stalking through the night for her prey. Except this time it was day and she was hunting plants.

She took off suddenly, passing through the overgrown plants as if they weren't even there. I cursed and called out after her, following after her as quickly as I could.

All I found, however, was a little area of forest that looked like it had never been disturbed.

"Great," I muttered as I spun around on the spot. My pokémon had been out and evolved for less than five minutes and I'd managed to lose her completely. I swore at the heavens and wondered why my luck was so poor. It shouldn't have been possible to lose a white-haired pokémon in the middle of a very green forest.

When I finally found the missing shiftry, relief managed to flood completely through me.

"Hey Lacey," I growled as I stepped up behind the pokémon. "Don't go doing that again. Seriously, at least-"

The pokémon turned round and revealed that it wasn't Lacey.

Unless she'd suddenly managed to lose an eye and have it scar over within a few minutes.

"Oh," I gasped as I began backing away quickly. The shiftry looked pissed. Very pissed. I didn't want to get in its way anymore. "Well, uh, wrong pokémon. I'll be going now."

When two more shiftry appeared around me, I was fairly certain my nerves packed their bags and fled.

When I was surrounded, I was certain I was screwed.

I cursed once more as I found my route through the forest blocked. The many shiftrys had all somehow managed to not only throw me far away from their nest, but also managed to hide from me.

I wouldn't have minded, if my own pokémon weren't with them.

I growled and punched a tree in frustration. Pain blossomed up my fist and arm, cooling my anger for only a second.

[Is harming you going to allow us to find the dark woodlander?] Alistair probed, his tone slightly sarcastic. [If that is the case, perhaps I could be of assistance, sir?]

I rolled my eyes in his direction. "Thanks for the offer; I'll keep it in mind. In the meantime, we've got to somehow sneak past a load of creatures native to the forest. You couldn't find out where Lacey had disappeared nor why she'd done so, may I remind you."

[I have told you once before sir, my psychic abilities are lacking,] said my gallade as he analysed marking in a tree. He seemed to look over them once and decided they weren't worthwhile before he turned back to me. [Searching for her is even harder in a location full of creatures of darkness. It is like something is making my senses hazy and foggy. Finding one specific creature is hard enough within this haze, searching for something that is a part of the haze is impossible, sir.]

My hands gripped the sides of my head at his words, the pain reduced to only a dull throb. I guessed that meant it wouldn't be long before I didn't feel any pain when my pokémon were talking telepathically.

"You could have just said you can't do it, you know?" I muttered, throwing him an angry glance.

[I am aware of that. But I am also aware that your understanding of most pokémon-related subjects is rather dire. I am only trying to educate you, sir.]

I bit back a retort at that, forcing myself to stop thinking at the same time. I couldn't fault his logic, as much as I didn't want to admit it.

"Right," I sighed and glanced around our surroundings. "We've tried going in that way, and that," I said, pointing at two o'clock and ten o'clock. "We've been blocked off both times. We also got kicked out somewhere around five o'clock. I'm guessing that means the shiftry have some sort of guard border positioned in a large circle."

[Many clans do such,] Alistair told me. He spun full-circle, his cape of skin fluttering behind him. [It stands to reason that their colony would be somewhere very nearby. Though the unusual activity is that they have formed a circle around us, sir. Most colonies do so around the individuals they wish to protect. I am aware pokémon of darkness do this… though they also circle their prey and attack it all at once.]

I felt myself gulp at that. "R-right," I said shakily. "So either they want to eat us, or they're trying to protect us. Lacey's in there with there… which doesn't sway the argument either way," I admitted with a sigh.

[They know something about you though,] Alistair mentioned. My head snapped round to the pokémon, watching the way his clawed fingers grabbed at either of his elbows. [It is a complicated form of telepathy; I have taken your memories and attempted to understand what they were saying.]

I blinked. "You can do that?" I asked, awed.

[It is taking a large amount of energy to perform such a task,] he answered me. [But yes, I can. Though, it is not without its problems. I can only liken it to you trying to repeat a foreign language you heard and do not understand to a translator. Mistakes are going to be bad in translation.]

"So?" I probed. "What were they saying about me?"

He shrugged. [I cannot translate it perfectly. What I do understand is this; they are asking the dark woodlander we know why she follows you… one who, 'feels strange to each sense', as they describe it.]

"Time travel must do something funny to you," I mumbled. "You think I'm not quite right and so do they apparently. Shiftry are meant to be able to read minds; maybe that's why they know something about it.

"It also makes trying to get past them all the harder." I squatted and began poking at the ground with a stick, slowly trying to form an idea. "What about Erra? Is there much you can understand when she's around? Her thoughts, what are they like?"

Alistair tapped a claw to his elbow. I knew full well he'd been able to read Erra's mind; I'd let her out on our way to Fortree and Alistair had visibly recoiled from the magnemite. At first I thought it was because of the way she tried to tear into a tropius, but I realised when he was anywhere near her, he seemed almost… freaked out, for want of a better term.

[Her mind is addled,] the gallade told me. [Her thoughts are buried under a rush of pure instinct. It is like she is seeing red, according to human phrasing. Whatever she was injected with, it is making her produce adrenaline all the time. It gives her a boost in power, but it means that she cannot identify friend or foe, save for those she knows through long-term memory.]

I nodded. "I got most of that from the people at the hospital anyway. They said it should wear off soon. But if her thoughts are clouded…" I tapped a finger against my chin and thought about it. Slowly a plan began to form in my mind.

"Erra can distract them. If she flies in, all guns blazing, they'll be put off by the noise, the attacks and her thoughts, won't they?" I asked rhetorically, already sketching out a few basic diagrams into the dirt. "While she does that, we can use her as cover to rush past. I can recall her if things get too dicey and use you and Scar to help me if more shiftrys come at us. Xander and Loki can be kept as back up."

I was certain that Alistair rolled his eyes behind me. [A question, sir. Would it not be better if the lombre and the dark ghost were used as a diversion too?]

I shook my head. "Scar and you both have the advantage. Scar with his fire, you with your martial arts prowess. Xander and Loki don't have as much of an advantage and they're also weaker than you. I'm only using Erra because she's so doped up at the moment."

[Very well, sir.] I felt the gallade nod behind me. [I will follow your plan. Do understand though, that I will not kill any of the dark woodlanders unless the sitation calls explicitly for it. I cannot kill a creature that is just trying to defend its home.]

That wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear. It was what I had expected though.

"Fine," I said reluctantly. I took a breath. "In three, alright? Three… two… on-oh shit."

Suddenly there were a number of shiftry all stood before us, eyes gleaming a murderous yellow in the sun.

"I know this is going to sound bad," I mumbled, "but I can't actually tell if any of them is Lacey or not."

I saw Alistair give me a side-long glance. [You cannot tell your own allies by sight alone?]

My arms flailed sideways as much as they could without antagonising the shiftry surrounding us. "We're surrounded by a group of pokémon that all look the same, alright? It's not my fault all pokémon look alike."

I felt another glare on the back of my head.


Before I could come up with a smart comment, one of the shiftry stepped forwards and gestured for us to follow it. I remained in place and raised an eyebrow.

[They want us to follow-]

"I got that much," I muttered to my pokémon. "What I don't understand is why they want us to follow them."

The lead shifty grunted at us, gesturing wildly with its arms. Each movement made the leaves attached to his arms whip little, light breezes of cool air over us all.

[Their leader wishes to speak with us, sir,] Alistair translated for me. [Apparently our ally has requested aid from the leader of this colony.]

I stood there and blinked in numb shock. "Wait… Lacey asked another pokémon for help? She didn't just run in, hacking and slashing until she got what she wanted?" The absurdity of it all made me laugh. I glanced up at my pokémon and managed to whisper, "It's not a trap, is it?"

He shrugged. [I cannot read their minds, but as far as I can tell, their words are sincere, sir.]

I grimaced and glanced between all of the shiftry, unable to tell the difference between any of them. "Alright," I said slowly. "We'll follow you. Take me to your leader."

I snorted a laugh at those words. Alistair just looked confused, at least until he caught my train of thought. Then he just looked like he wanted to slap me around the head.

I didn't like the fact that we were being lead into the middle of hostile territory, much less the idea that we were surrounded on all sides.

But Lacey was with them and as far as I was aware, she was trying to help me.

I wasn't sure if that was scarier than walking into a clan of shiftry.

I knew it wasn't when I caught sight of their leader. It didn't look anything like an actual shiftry. Almost all the white hair had vanished, all that was left were a few sparse strands here and there. Its body was a dark brown and knotted and twisted, like a tree made from nightmares. Its eyes were no longer yellow, now a dull orange and its face was twisted into something that looked permanently damaged by hate.

There was one thing that defined it as a leader; it stood taller than any of the other shiftry, carrying itself with more dignity than any of them.

It also had a stick. A big stick. Like a staff. It had a skull on the top – I wasn't sure what it once belonged to.

By its side was another shiftry. I squinted at the pokémon as it smirked at me. It was the only thing that let me know it was Lacey. I was certain no other pokémon could make a smirk look so reassuringly dangerous.

The leader grunted something slowly, it's voice sounding a lot like nails being scraped down a window.

[The leader welcomes you here, sir,] Alistair translated for me.

I nodded. "Well, uh, thanks for having me, I guess. And you know, not cutting me open and decorating your forest with my entrails. What do you want me for anyway? I mean, why would Lacey be seeking you for help?"

I had to wait for it to finish speaking and Alistair's translation. I was just a little bit shocked by what I heard.

It turned out that the elderly shiftry before me was the same one that had been tutored by the previous poison gym leader's father.

I'd always thought that would have been Lacey.

Instead it turned out that she used to be this elder shiftry's apprentice. Their entire clan had lived in the Petalburg Woods once, until they met a pokémon that warned them they needed to move away. Lacey decided to stay and found the little cabin I discovered her in. Apparently she'd learnt all she could have from her shiftry-teacher and moved on to murdering the owner of the cabin, then poisoning any travellers that came by, occasionally learning from the poisonous pokémon of the forest.

I was silent for a good while. What could I really say to everything I'd learnt? 'Teach me to poison things'? It didn't seem like something that would go down well.

"What pokémon?" I found myself asking. "You said you were convinced to leave the forest by a pokémon. I'm guessing it had to be pretty strong, to force a clan of shiftry out of the forest. Especially if my guess is correct and you've got a few nuzleaf and seedot hiding in the trees and forests around us."

The elder shiftry's expression changed, almost like it was raising an eyebrow. I saw Lacey smirk to herself, seemingly pleased with what I'd said.

Then her face fell as the elder gave a one-grunt answer.

And my heart stopped when Alistair gave the translation.


That damned stupid little time pixie had organised these pokémon to leave the forests! It had managed to make Lacey fall into a perfect place for me to find her!

All at once I remembered that Lacey seemed to know a lot more than she let on. My brain couldn't process it. Had Lacey been in cahoots with the celebi, even before I'd arrived in this world?

[The Celebi warned us,] Alistair translated word-for-word. [It told us that dark times were ahead.] The elder raised a leafy hand.

And the shiftry surrounding us closed in.

Alistair seemed to hesitate in translating the rest. [We do not trust The Celebi. A pokémon that cannot die is not a friend to those that can. If The Celebi asks us for aid, we shall not help.

[We shall eliminate that which The Celebi seeks to protect.]

My heart stopped as Lacey's smirk grew.

She'd sold me out! The whole time she'd been travelling with us, it was nothing more than a ruse, all to lead us back to these shiftry, just to kill me! Just because these pokémon wanted to piss off a legendary!

I glared at Lacey. She just smirked back at me and placed a hand on the elder shiftry's shoulder.

She squeezed the pokémon's shoulder.

And she winked at me.

My heart stopped again.

Then Lacey snapped the elder's neck.

There was silence in the entire clearing.

And suddenly, war broke out.

A dozen war cries echoed all around me, shiftry screaming for their fallen master. They all ignored me and Alistair, heading straight for Lacey, seeking vengeance.

She smirked and grabbed the fallen elder's staff, smashing it through the skull of a shiftry that got too close to her. One leapt up behind her and grabbed a fistful of hair from her back. She hissed and kicked it away, a violent crunch sounding on impact. She ducked below an assault of sticks and plucked a berry from the floor, concealed by her foot and smeared it over the bottom of her staff.

She cackled and slashed the shiftry nearest to her. Bright red blood blossomed down its chest as the staff tore open a wound. The pokémon snarled at Lacey, swearing vengeance.

Then suddenly, its face contorted in pain and it fell to the floor, convulsing and dying.

I didn't need to guess what had happened. Lacey had poisoned the end of the staff with something that killed once it was in the bloodstream.

Still, poison or no, she would be overrun by shiftry soon.

Scar's poké ball exploded in light before I'd even consciously thought about it. He didn't even need to be told what to do before he set a shiftry ablaze, turning white hair into a brilliant burning orange in under a second.

"Watch out for Lacey!" I shouted after him. "She's the one with the staff!"

Scar spared me a glance as if to say 'No shit' before he leapt at a nuzleaf, tearing into the grassy pokémon.

I felt a breeze grace my head and ducked. A fist punched through the air where my head had been, the shiftry it belonged to looking pissed. I twisted on the floor, kicking it in the shin as I leapt away. The pokémon hissed, gripping its injured shin and undoubtedly swearing deadly payback.

Then its head fell off its shoulders.

[Are you okay, sir?] my gallade asked as he calmly wiped blood from his arm-blades. I'd barely managed to swallow and nod before he somersaulted backwards, bringing his blades down and cleaving a shiftry's arms from its body.

I blinked and saw my gallade smirk at me.

[I said I do not wish to kill them. Rendering them unable to cause damage is a far better solution sir, so long as they can survive afterwards.]

I was slightly amazed that he managed to relate such a message to me even as he kicked a nuzleaf square in the chest and sliced the nose off another. Meanwhile I was still scrambling on the floor, trying to find my weapon and avoiding any shadows that came near me.

I growled to myself. Out of practice. It wasn't good.

I grabbed the emergency cord on my bandolier and pulled it down hard. Three poké balls exploded as one, deafening and blinding us all for a moment.

Unlike Scar, Xander and Loki didn't leap into battle instantly. Xander took a moment to glance around, analysing what was going on, whilst Loki rubbed his hands together gleefully and bounced excitedly on the spot.

Erra took a second before she latched onto a nuzleaf's nose and pumped it full of electricity. I could hear Erra buzzing gleefully as the pokémon underneath her shrieked in pain. Then suddenly Erra dashed forwards, mandibles clicking as she plunged into the pokémon's face, tearing away one of its eyes with a horrible wailing protest from its victim.

The sight made me flinch and turn away. Xander soaked a shiftry that got too close to him as Loki scampered behind the same pokémon. The sableye growled and leapt up the shiftry, using its back hair as footholds. Once atop the creature, Loki reached down and pulled its nose upwards, slashing wildly at the pokémon's face as he did so.

I little bit of pride flooded through me that Loki had remembered what I'd told him; attack the nose on shiftry and nuzleaf.

A nuzleaf leapt at me and I blasted a round into its chest.

I didn't have the time or patience to disable them by pinching noses.

I don't know how much time passed before everything seemed to retreat back into the forests. Numerous dead bodies lay around us, bleeding into the ground and covering the air in a foul stench.

"We should probably just leave these for scavengers," I said as I idly counted my remaining ammunition. I stopped and glanced up at Lacey, watching her wade through the corpses of her once-brethren. "Unless, you know, there's something that you want to do with them?"

She glanced my way and shrugged.

"Right then," I said and recalled most of my pokémon. I left out Alistair and Lacey, wanting to talk to the latter and be able to understand it through the former. "Don't you want your stick?" I asked Lacey.

The shiftry glanced at the strange staff in her hands, shrugged and then snapped it in two.

Obviously not, I gathered.

"Ri-ight," I sighed. "We should leave. Before something bigger smells all this blood and tries to eat us."

We walked in silence until we found a small stream to clean off most of the blood. That proved harder than we first thought, seeing as carvanha seemed to populate the water. Once they caught the scent of blood, they suddenly began splashing out of the water, gaping maws all trying to tear pieces of bloody flesh from our bodies.

"So," I said once we were clean and clear of carvanha. "What was all that about?"

Lacey glared at me and shrugged.

"Don't try pulling anything like that on me!" I hissed at her. "You could have led us into a trap back there. All those shiftry – ones you knew seemed to think you were delivering us for some sort of feast!"

I heard Alistair make a sound behind me, almost like he was clearing his throat. [As amusing as the analogy may be to you, sir, I do believe comparing our butchering of the tribe to a meal gone wrong is in rather bad tastes.]

"Right," I said with a roll of my eyes. "So are you going to talk or what?" I growled at Lacey. "You know something about the celebi, don't you? You've known all along exactly what's going on and you're refusing to give me any sort of explanation! Excuse me if this is selfish, but you're holding out on information that stupid imp has about me! What is it? Am I gonna die horrifically, huh? Am I gonna murder The Rayquaza or something?"

Lacey shook her head and uttered one single syllable.

I didn't need Alistair to translate that for me.


"'Don't' what Lacey? Don't make you tell me what I have a right to know?" I cursed and kicked at the ground, uprooting a clump of grass and sending an oddish scurrying away. "What if that had gone wrong, huh? What if all those shiftry had just killed us, rather than delivering us to the leader? What if they'd managed to reduce us to chunks instead of us being able to fight our way out?"

[I had confidence in you.]

I didn't know what was freakier – Lacey having confidence in me, or hearing it from Alistair. I shuddered and rubbed my arms furiously, trying to rid myself of the goosebumps that flourished over my skin.

"That's not good enough," I muttered. "Keep secrets if you want to, fine. But at least tell me what that was all about back there! Why did those shiftry seem to know about that stupid celebi?"

Lacey shut her eyes, turned away from me and mumbled barely audible sounds. It was still enough for Alistair to translate though.

[The Celebi often appears in forests. They are its domain – where it is safest. Nearly a year ago, It appeared in our forests. This was not unusual. What was strange was that it sought our tribe out. We are creatures of darkness – we are immune to all but the most powerful psychic techniques.

[That is why it sought us. We are among the few denizens of the forest that are dark. The Celebi thought that the bonds of the forest were enough to make us believe It.

[We are not so stupid.]

She glanced back at me, her eyes narrowed and for once, her lip twisted in… uncertainty?

[The Celebi are immortal creatures – blessed with time travel and charged with maintaining the plan given to them by the Old God.]

"'Old God'?" I repeated, confused. I'd never heard of such a term before. I'd always thought that different pokémon worshiped the different legends, much like humans did.

I realised how stupid that assumption was in that moment. Pokémon undoubtedly knew exactly what the legends were and whether or not they deserved to be worshipped. Just because humans revered The Groudon or whatever didn't mean pokémon did too.

[The first God,] Alistair whispered into my mind. I whipped round on him, alarmed that Lacey hadn't said a thing. It was coming purely from here.

[The God that created us all, then withdrew from the world when boredom set in.] I saw him give a quick glance to Lacey and an almost imperceptible nod. [That is all we shall say on such a topic. We have our Gods, as you humans have yours. Our God created pokémon, sir, to inform a human in detail is akin to blasphemy.]

I nodded slowly, not fully convinced. "Right," I said hesitantly. "So… about the celebi then Lacey?"

She nodded and begun talking again, Alistair translating once more.

[All pokémon know of The Celebi and that they cannot only see the future, but also live in it. They create many plans in order to ensure the future remains on course, whilst also going back in time to make small changes, all in order to make sure the world remains in balance.

[The last time They interfered was in Sinnoh. They tasked various different pokémon with small, meaningless things.]

I blinked. "How 'meaningless' are we talking about?"

She shrugged. [Moving your nest three feet to the left. Hunting an hour later than you normally would. Simple, little things like that. They spread these small tasks around Sinnoh in order to ensure their future would remain the same.

[The Dialga and The Palkia were to appear on The Summit of Sinnoh. The Celebi wished this to happen. However, their small interferences caused The Giratina to appear, enraged and seeking vengeance. It sucked a considerable amount of pokémon and people alike into The Anti-World.

[We later found out that The Celebi knew all along this could happen. Their actions have larger consequences than we think. All to make sure something happens ten, twenty, even a hundred years ahead. The future does not matter if we are not here to witness it, or even to create life to live in it.]

So the celebi were manipulative bastards. I laughed to myself. I'd figured that much out already. One thing bugged me though.

"But, I've heard about everything that happened in Sinnoh," I pointed out. "All the reports say that it was some kid who rose to be a Champion that managed to stop it all from happening."

Both of my pokémon started laughing at that and I felt like I'd said something stupid.

[A human cannot take on The Giratina, sir," Alistair informed me. [No matter how powerful he may be, no matter how many strong pokémon he may have, The Giratina is the ruler of The World of Distortion. It is, in layman's terms, a God, sir.]

"So what happened then?" I asked.

Lacey shrugged. [It's likely that the child was sucked into The Anti-World with many others. He was likely the only survivor – the only person to emerge unscathed. Afterwards, The Giratina was quelled, most likely because He annihilated the threat He saw. Doubtless, the child claimed he had bested The Giratina.]

I managed a small laugh. "I'd probably do the same thing."

Lacey nodded. [Precisely. The Celebi alter things in the present for their own goals. We never know whether it is for the best, or whether it is for their own amusement. When The Celebi visited us, it told us to be on the lookout for a trainer… from the future.]

"Me," I said needlessly.

The shiftry nodded again. [Exactly. The Celebi told us we were to protect you whilst you journeyed through the forest – to ensure you emerged unharmed. It was the most detailed thing The Celebi had ever requested – we had expected it to ask us to sleep for an extra hour on a certain day. The Elder, who you saw before, was suspicious, so he read The Celebi's mind.

[The Celebi may be able to travel time, but it is a psychic. My species are dark-hearted and able to read minds – psychics are unable to tell when we poke around in their brains. They become arrogant, thinking us stupid and often leave themselves exposed.

[The Elder found out everything I have told you and after The Celebi left, he relayed such information to me, as I was his apprentice – I was to take charge of the clan after him. This is how I know all this.]

Lacey stopped talking a moment and stared off in the direction of her former clan. [The Elder decided that we should not follow The Celebi's plan. We knew that much always went wrong whenever The Celebi planned something – we did not want to be a link in the chain that caused another catastrophe. The Celebi told us that dark times were ahead, but we did not believe such tales. The Elder decided to move our clan elsewhere – he did not wish to antagonise the Powerful Ones, as has happened in Hoenn before.]

I wanted to ask what she was talking about. My best guess was something to do with the stories of how The Rayquaza had appeared and stopped The Kyogre and The Groudon from fighting. I gathered that something there had been changed through the time-pixie's interference.

[I remained though,] Alistair translated for me as Lacey began to speak again. [I do not believe The Celebi either. I think that something bad will happen. But… I am not here to stop such a thing. I only wish to see what happens – to understand how far the chain goes. If we understand that, we can stop The Celebi from causing more harm to the world.]

I found myself speechless for a moment. Slowly the ability returned to me. "So… if you don't want to change the world, or anything like that… why do you help me?"

She shrugged. [A part of me is curious to see if you will be successful or not. Another part of me does so simply to keep up the pretence that you are in charge. However, I do respect you… to a degree. I doubt many other humans would be able to bluff so well about poké balls being able to kill the creature inside.]

She winked as I chuckled nervously. "So, uh, you figured that out, then?"

She smirked. [It was not hard. You forget that you also have other pokémon and have encountered other trainers. It is not difficult for me to talk to them and get a clear answer.

[Regardless, in answer to your question; I led you towards my former clan to help you understand. You have been worrying about whether or not you can do what you claim you are tasked to accomplish. I may be helping the world reach ruin by doing so… but you needed to understand what you are capable of. With me missing, you managed to create a plan to find me. You are able to create and execute plans, despite thinking you could not. Now you know such a thing, stop being such a moany bastard and actually do something.]

I flinched then burst into laughter at her words. "Right," I said. "No more moaning about anything. I'll shut up and get on with my task."

[Good. Lacey smirked once more, then shook her head and glared into the forests. [Now, out of my way. All this conversation has left me with the urge to do violence.]

"R-right," I said and sidestepped out of her way. She nodded and brushed past Alistair and I, murderous intent palpable.

As she left, Alistair tapped me on the shoulder. [It is not right, sir, to let her run off and cut down innocent victims. There should be a duel, or at least reason behind such brutalities.]

I just shrugged. "Maybe, but Lacey's… Lacey. You're not going to be able to change her, believe me, I've tried. It's best to just let her be who she is, just like how you remain by your code of honour. Take that away… and you wouldn't be you, would you?"

The gallade seemed to consider my words. [I suppose not,] he finally said.

"There you go then." I nodded at him and stared after my murderous pokémon. She'd managed to show me that regardless of how much I'd changed, I was still a soldier at heart.

In a perverse way, she'd actually been nice to me.

All in order to see whether or not something bad would happen to the world.

I didn't think much more of it at the time, at least not until a few days later.

That was when all the poké balls stopped working.

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