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.


39. Limits

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes ~ Charles Swindoll


"The worst thing about people with problems; they only ever see what's affecting them. They lash out at everyone around them, just because they can't possibly understand. If you're ever in this situation, you have to be careful, for one wrong action… one wrong word and everything is destroyed, be it friendship, love, or something else."

- Si Colojeest. Criminal profiler. (January 3rd, 3001)


The escape we made through Meteor Falls was in a number of ways, so much worse than escaping that damned underground complex at the gym. While we weren't randomly bumping into people operating a clandestine torture facility, we jumped at every small sound, fearing that it was someone that knew what we'd done, or possibly one of the five missing people that just vanished into thin air before I could kill them too.

Added to that, it wasn't exactly helping that Erra was tearing through anyone that we came across. Even Mia's pokémon weren't safe from the drug-addled magnemite. I decided to only let her out periodically, allowing her to tear through large numbers of random wild pokémon, easing the slack for the rest of us and at least creating an air of carnage around us that seemed to put off most of the other wild pokémon from attacking us – the larger ones still came after us and the scavengers seemed to be feasting on everything we left in our wake.

"I don't like this," I remarked about a day into our excursion. Erra had torn through a number of golbat – one of which Mia's lairon was quite content to eat, rather noisily.

"I don't complain when your pokémon feel the need to eat the carnage," Mia pointed out with a frown, barely perceptible in the low light. "If you've got a problem with it, maybe you should just keep such thoughts to yourself, huh?"

I looked over at her sharply, surprised and confused for a split second. "Not that," I said with a shake of my head. "It can carry on for all I care, at least it's some sort of noise, other than the little rocks falling down here and there when we've got something stalking us for the dead presents we leave them. What I don't like is Erra's behaviour… it reminds me of something or another, but I just can't think clearly enough to realise what it is."

Of course, suffering from withdrawal symptoms from whatever drug I had in my bag, in addition to the lack of sleep and food didn't help my cognitive processes much, either.

"You'll probably think of it soon enough," Mia reassured me. "But at the moment, running away from whatever could be chasing after us from Fallarbor… it's probably not a good time to sit around and think about everything, is it? I mean, we need to get to Rustboro really, really soon. We need to get ourselves checked out; who knows what we could have caught while we were in that place? And personally, I'm half-tempted to douse myself in holy water and set fire to myself, given that we let that freak out with us."

I stared at her for a second, my mind slowly trying to unravel the quick-fire speech she had given me.

"We didn't know what he was when we let him out with us," I reassured her. I tried to place a hand on her shoulder, yet at the slightest hint of contact she flinched, yelped and smacked me away, all at once. I nodded to myself and drew my hand back. "We were trying to help him – we couldn't exactly have asked him for his life history then and there. We were being held there – as far as we were aware, everyone else there was as innocent and as much of a victim as us."

"I suppose," Mia sniffed. "But… it's not something we can just pretend never happened, is it? We killed people in there! They might have had friends, or family, or whatever that didn't know what they were doing in their job! We're killers. That's something we can't ever pretend doesn't exist."

I glanced at the floor, finding a little patch of dirt incredibly interesting. The sound of Mia's lairon eating noisily was the only thing that kept us from dropping into a complete awkward silence. "Don't pretend it never happened then," I advised her. "You think I wander round, pretending it never happened? I don't. I just force myself not to think about it." I snorted softly to myself. "It's the stereotypical male reaction to anything we can't cope with; bottle it up, force it down, do anything so long as we don't need to talk about it and so that we can function on a daily basis.

"I force myself to think about other things during the day; tactics, training my pokémon, hell, even the different ways the clouds in the sky make a big, pretty picture! As long as it stops me from thinking about the people I've killed. I suffer that enough when I try to sleep – that's why I force myself to keep going until I'm ready to pass out – no energy, no time to lay awake thinking." I sighed and nodded forwards. "Anyway, enough of the sharing. Let's just keep going."

"Wait!" Mia hissed as I passed her. "You want me to bottle up everything I'm feeling? Think happy thoughts until I go to sleep? Is that what you're saying?"

I winced and hoped no one else was nearby in the caverns. "I'm saying that you need to find a way to deal," I told her. "The knowledge of what you've done won't ever go away, but eventually it becomes easier to deal with. Pulling the trigger becomes easier every time, but living with the consequences is a constant. Let's get moving," I said sharply as I turned away from her, moving too fast to balance and instead sprawling face-first into the cavern wall.

"We should stop a moment," Mia said tenderly as I cursed in pain. "There's a difference between pushing yourself to your limits and being just plain stupid. I'm not an idiot, you know? I'm perfectly aware that you've got a drug problem and that you're spending a lot of time thinking about when to get a fix."

I leant my arms against the wall, doubled over but managed to crane my head enough to look at her and roll my eyes. "Is this the part where you tell me drugs are bad and that I should give them up and live a life free of sin?"

It was her turn to roll her eyes. "Fuck no," she snorted. "Yes, I'm your friend; yes I should probably be saying something like that. But truth is; getting over an addiction's harder than people think. You can't just go cold turkey whilst we're already weak and trying to navigate through a serious of mountainous tunnels. You'd be a danger to yourself and to me too. The best thing for you right now is probably to keep going, try and put it off as long as you can, then only use when the need's too great and when we're somewhere slightly safe."

I narrowed my eyes at her. "You're awfully cold and knowledgeable about this, aren't you?"

She gave me a ghost of a smile. "Dad's a parole officer. Since some of the people he sees are recovering addicts, he needs to understand what they're going through. Even when addicts are prescribed other drugs to get over the one they're on, they're told to take them at regular doses, slowly weaning themselves off it. That's the best plan for you here, too. But after we get out of here, you really need to get some help; otherwise you'll hurt yourself, or even someone else." She laughed a small, nervous little sound. "I got loads of similar lectures when I was growing up, if only to make sure I never wanted to try the stuff myself. At least now I can tell people what they need to do in such situations, huh?"

I arched an eyebrow and pushed her words aside. "Yeah, sure, seek help. Otherwise doom and destruction. Got ya. Can we move on now then? I'd rather get to Rustboro sooner rather than later – I'm sure you're of the same opinion?"

She nodded silently and recalled her lairon, replacing it with her stantler instead. I let Scar out of his ball and had him lead the way, illuminating a little of the tunnels as we slowly made our way to what we hoped was freedom.

Then, what sounded like a gentle whisper of the wind tickled my ears.


I jumped nearly a foot in the air and glared accusingly at Mia. "Did you say something?" I snapped.

She looked back with innocent, confused eyes. "I didn't say anything. I didn't even hear anything."

I grumbled to myself as I turned around, following after Scar. Mia and I fell into an uneasy silence after that, the only sounds our footsteps, Scar's claws raking over rock and Charles' heavy hoof-steps.

Then again, it was like the wind was whispering to me.


I frowned and felt my ears burn fiercely as I tried to ignore the strange voice. It didn't sound anything like Mia's voice and was far too light to have come from anywhere nearby. I told myself it was nothing more than someone further in Meteor Falls somewhere, having an argument of some sorts that somehow reflected perfectly on me. Or even a distant echo of my own argument with Mia.


I gritted my teeth and had Scar barbecue an unfortunate pokémon that had crept too close to us. He obliged quite happily, filling the air around us with the horrible stink of burning flesh and fur. Smelling that seemed to tether me to reality, giving me some sort of focus that what I was hearing wasn't real.

When it whispered my name, my spine went cold and I freaked out.

"Alright, who's saying all that shit?" I screamed at the dark, my voice bouncing all around. "You think you're funny? Well come here and I'll show you just how funny my fist is when it meets your face!"

"I don't think it's a person," Mia whispered nervously. I whirled around and glared at her, furious and shaking until I saw the way she glanced around herself with palpable fear. "You remember when we left that horrible base? We had that haunter following us?"

I blinked until realisation dawned and punched me in the gut. "That thing's still following us? But… how? I've got to have expelled that drug it was tracking by now!"

"We killed its trainer, didn't we?" Mia asked me. "Wild haunter have a habit of tormenting their victims, whispering horrible truths to them to slowly drive them insane. They feed off paranoia and fear. I think this one's decided that it wants to make us its new meal."

"Brilliant," I growled. "Just what I needed. A psychotic haunter out for my blood. As if I haven't already had to deal with some sort of ghost hell-bent on my death!" I glowered at the darkness before finally folding my arms mutinously and glancing at Scar. "Can you sense it? Burn it and scare it off? Maybe even make it skitter on to the afterlife or wherever haunter go?"

"We could capture it," Mia suggested. "It's free from trainers now, seeing as we –I – killed its last one. If it's going to be following us, we might as well capture it and make it fight for us."

"Good idea," I said. "It can be yours then. I've already got a ghost and a rather poisonous pokémon."

She looked confused at that. I figured that I'd probably never got round to explaining just how much Lacey knew about potent herbs and poisons.

"Alright," Mia said with a small nod. "Guess I'll capture it… but I can't see it in here," she said with a frown. All these mountains… they're naturally filled with loads of gems that glow purple. Any light gets on them; they make the whole place seem purple. That means in the light, the haunter's going to be camouflaged. And of course, we're not going to see it in the dark."

I looked round at the dark cavern apprehensively and failed to suppress a shudder. "Brilliant," I muttered. "I'm starting to think my life isn't complete without something stalking and trying to kill me."


I frowned and tried my best to ignore the delicate whispers that had graced my ears for little over a few days.


"Isn't there any sort of way we can tune it out?" I whined, placing my hands over my ears. Loki, from atop my head, cackled and mimicked the action. I'd kept him out with us, hoping the sableye could find and start hissing at the haunter again, letting us see where it was. Instead, he'd glanced above us, growled at the ceiling and then carried on about his business. It made me assume that the damned haunter was hiding in the ceiling, leaving us unable to fight it at any given time.


"I wish there was," Mia grunted, sagging on her stantler. She looked completely wiped – almost like the haunter's words were draining her. Her cacnea waddled alongside her, grunting occasionally and more often than not, finding a geodude that we hadn't spotted and promptly smashing it to pieces. Watching the little cactus pokémon made me smile – in a way it reminded me of the really short, angry people who would often begin cursing like a maniac over something inconsequential.

"If your sableye – which is dark and ghostly – can't block it out for you, the haunter's probably going to keep on whispering all these nothings to us until we reach daylight," groaned Mia. "At first it wasn't so bad, but now it's every few minutes. It's really getting me down."

I didn't mention to her that I wasn't hearing it every few minutes, rather every now and again. Maybe it hated her more, for killing its previous trainer, maybe it thought she would be easier to break, or maybe it just couldn't pressure me as much. I didn't know what the explanation for it was, nor - to be totally honest - did I really care.

"Give up…"

I stopped suddenly and glanced around. That one was new. Before that, everything the haunter bothered me with was only one word. Either it was learning, or it knew something.

"'Give up'?" I echoed. "And do what; turn myself in to the police?" I asked the darkness. "Because I'm really looking forward to spending the rest of my life behind bars."

Mia bit her lip. "That's even if it gets to trial – for all we know we could be one of those many prisoners who disappear each year."

I blinked and glanced at her. "What do you mean by that? Are prison guards killing them and making it look like they've disappeared? Or have they escaped or something?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. But after everything in that gym, it's making me start to think that maybe there's places where the worst of the worst are taken… maybe even treated in such a way that normal legal systems wouldn't approve of."

"Can't say I'm all that surprised," I muttered. "People can and will go to major lengths in order to make sure certain people can't do certain things again, or even at all. Even the most law abiding, mild mannered person can still be so disgusted by someone's actions that they'll be able to kill someone… even torture them. You're so adamantly against killing people and unable to cope with the repercussions of it, yet you were still able to do it, when push came to shove."

She pulled at her sleeve and looked away from me. "Do you have to bring that up?" she mumbled. "After all you've done to talk to me and calm me down after it, bringing it up not two days later isn't going to help me much, is it?"

"I'm not… sorry," I said guiltily. "But I couldn't think of a better example. If you want something slightly different, there's still you flipping out and wanting to string up the guy we pulled out of that gym too. I thought he was a nice enough guy when we were saving him… it just really goes to show how little we're able to judge people, huh?" I snorted to myself. "At least this time it wasn't under the guise of a feeble old lady."

Her head snapped towards me. "Huh?"

I threw her a sheepish grin. "Long story. Short version; little old lady managed to fool me into thinking she was harmless, then she shot me. The ego damage was actually a lot worse than the bullet wound."

"And is that the future we've got to look forward to?" she asked me. "Everything becoming so bad that even old ladies will blast us to bits?"

"Not blast us to bits," I clarified fruitlessly. "Just more… seek bloody vengeance on the people responsible for the death of a family member."

"Okay." Mia managed to laugh a little. "That sounds a bit like my nana. Except she's seventy-three and wheelchair-bound. But she's one of those rich old coots that likes to spend her time shooting pidgey for fun. It's actually pretty funny to watch her shooting a shotgun; the recoil makes her wheelchair slide backwards. One time -" she started laughing at the memory, clutching at her side, "-one time she went a little crazy and fired her gun like a maniac. She kept sliding further and further back, then ended up sliding all the way downhill. She ended up falling out of her chair and into a bush!"

I smiled a little at the sound of her actually laughing again. It seemed like she was finally making the first tiny steps into becoming her old self again. "Your family sounds as mad as you," I said.

She ended her laugh with a snort. "A little. I had to learn it from somewhere, after all. Did you never have any crazy old aunties or a grandpa that would lose his false teeth?"

"Not really," I said with a shake of my head. "My parents died before I can really remember them – all my other family probably before that. No one ever came to see me, so I'm guessing that they were all dead, or they thought I was. No actual family, just a big camp of soldiers and a few families. You'd have the camp mother, of course – the one woman who would be almost maternal towards everyone else there – and every other soldier was like a brother or sister… but we were all very high on self-preservation. Unless a kid or a pregnant woman was in danger, it was generally a case of leave them to die if you might end up getting hurt by rescuing them."

There was silence in the cave tunnels for a little while, until finally Mia sighed. "Bummer," she whispered. "So why are you here anyway?"

I stared at her a moment, confused. "'Here'?" 'Here' as in these caves here, 'here' as in with you or 'here' as in within this time period?"

"I meant as in this time," she clarified. "And I'm really starting to feel like I'm playing a part in some sort of sci-fi film. I shouldn't be talking about time periods like this. Next I'll be trying to work out temporal paradoxes to see the possible reasons for why you're here."

I felt my head spin and my brain stop working for a moment. "You can actually work those sorts of things out?"

"Well there are loads of actual scientists trying to work on things like this; physicists defining them. Grandfather paradoxes, multiple universe theories, even that the universe will protect a person from creating a paradox," she explained. "I'm just a little bit geeky enough to like researching these things online… I wanted to know if it were ever possible." She managed to smile and chuckle at my expense. "You realise if any scientist found out about you, they'd love to cut you open and find out just how you managed to come back eighty years, right?"

I shuddered at the thought. "Please don't tell me you're planning on trading me in to a bunch of insane scientists," I begged. "Surely they can find a celebi and have a few fun experiments with one of those?"

"Celebi are legendary for a reason; they're only ever seen for a moment so brief you're half convinced it never happened. If they were ever captured, they're powerful enough to tackle large quantities of pokémon and still come out on top." She pulled herself atop Charles, held onto his antlers and guided him forwards gently. "There's been a load of research that says there were almost a thousand pokémon native to the ocean before the last time The Groudon rose. Supposedly it woke up a month before The Kyogre and managed to wipe out almost all the ocean-bound pokémon by just drying up the seas."

So in other words, I was lucky enough to meet a celebi face-to-face for more than half a second – a pokémon which could possibly wipe out almost a thousand different species within a month.

A pokémon that just so happened to have taken me from the future in order to stop things from ever going badly.

A pokémon that could no doubt quite easily crush me if I ever disappointed it.

Like, say by failing to stop the world from falling into ruin.

"I really don't like pokémon," I muttered. Atop my head, Loki snarled and pulled back my eyelids until I yelped and snatched them back from him. "Except you, of course. You crazy, ghostly imp. If I didn't like you, there'd be no way I'd have ever been able to suffer you."

"I'm sure he can't be that bad," Mia defended as she recalled her cacnea and offered my pokémon a wide grin.

My face fell. "I passed out in that bunker and he woke me up by spilling fluid on me."

She didn't seem to follow. "So he used a watery technique?"

"He peed on me."

"Oh," she whispered, giving my pokémon a shocked glance. He smiled back at her and filled the caverns with his cackles.

I found out after I shot up whilst inside the caves that my hand seemed to becoming infected. Ironically, it seemed the drugs I was injecting into myself, whilst screwing up with my body and with my mind, seemed to also be holding off most of the infection. Mia told me it had to be some sort of chemical they must have used to ensure euphoria, whilst fighting infection.

I didn't know what to make of that.

It would have been better if there was something that could have made me lose all attachment to the stupid drugs I was injecting into myself, yet there seemed to be no such thing.

"The wall looks angry," I commented one day, when we were nearly out of Meteor Falls. "It's… bulging. And kinda… spinny."

I saw Mia shoot me a look. Then another Mia appeared beside her, sporting a look of equal distaste. "That's because you're high," they spoke in unison. Another appeared above them both, her head floating around the others and glaring accusingly at me. "I guess I should just be thankful you're not doing this alone in an alley somewhere."

The four Xanders beside me croaked as one. Their heads left their bodies, spinning around me in a brilliant circle, pupils wide and black.

"When did… when did you learn to multiply yourself?" I grunted at him.

The many Xanders looked at me, all with the same accusatory stare. They inhaled as one, though water only hit me from one direction. I spluttered and flailed at the offending lombre, though only managed to lose my balance and fall on my face.

"Behold, the wonders of my saviour," the Mias grunted, ashamed. "If this were a film, I'd have been saved by the dashing hero and whisked off my feet for a life filled with marriage, amazing sex and a few children running around. Instead I got a teenage soldier from the future who just so happens to also have a drug addiction."

The Xanders all croaked something and made the Mias sigh. "I don't really mean it. I'm just a little pissed that we're still hiding out in these caves, even now. I thought we'd have been in Rustboro by now. I didn't think that all the hardships would still carry on after we managed to get out."

I stared past them all and on the yellow eyes glaring at us from the darkness.

"The eyes… they watch us," I mumbled as I wrapped my arms around myself. "They're angry."

The Mias all filed into one, large, floating head. "Great, more drug-filled rambling."

The eyes behind them all rumbled in anger. It was the wakeup call everyone in front of me needed; they leapt up shrieking and pale, dancing around within the shallow dark and trying to find the strange noises.

Everything blurred around me. Rocks spun into ground, ground spun into pokémon and pokémon into human. It was a horrible mess of colour; sounds only audible from some distant place, like they were being filtered by a wall of sand, yet the eyes remained a constant within. Staring at me. Watching me. Breathing green fire.

"Dragon!" I yelped and stumbled over my feet in an effort to get away. The floor moved beneath my feet and I fell flat on my face again. I lay there for a moment, cursing the ground and the way it span underneath me. It spun and spun, with only the strange cold of the dragon's green fire tethering me to reality.

"You have got to be kidding me," the Mias all groaned from somewhere above me. They stumbled backwards, kicking rocks and grit out of their way, only to stop before my legs and make a stand. "Just what I always wanted to do when I travelled Hoenn," they muttered sarcastically. "Get abducted and fight off a salamence. Brilliant."

I grumbled and pushed myself over, so that it was my back on the floor and not my face. The yellow-eyed beast trudged into view; a long blue neck that ended in a strong-skulled head, two small wings poking out of a large, bluish-white scaled body and a short, stumpy tail stretching out from behind.

"Not evolved," I grumbled before I rolled over and hurled my stomach out over the rocks. I dimly heard the Mias grunt in disgust before one of the Xanders soaked me with water in some strange effort to bring me back to reality.

I glanced back upwards and saw only one Mia. She split into four briefly before coming back to only one again, face full of controlled fear and her arms shaking ever so slightly.

"Protect him," she commanded Xander, who croaked an affirmation. He sat just beside my chest, breathing rhythmically, trying to suppress his own fear.

In my drug-filled state, I could do no such thing. Instead I just shrieked and tried to climb across the spinning floor and away from the angry dragon.

The sound of two poké balls exploding deafened my ears for a short while, until the dragon began roaring again. Xander bounced in front of me and shook his short, stubby head, letting me know escape wasn't the best option.

I snarled at him and tried to push past, only to fall on my face again. The world spun out of control as I glanced back at the dragon and found Mia fending it off to the best of her ability, with only two of her pokémon between her and certain death.

"Saskia, pin it down!" Mia shrieked as she jumped away from another blast of green fire. "Wrex, take the fire!"

The cacnea puffed up and fired a number of needles into the screeching dragon. It hissed wildly and pounded at the cave floor, shaking us all and throwing rocks down from the ceiling. The lairon darted forwards and bite into the dragon's foreleg, tearing out a chunk of blue-white flesh and covering the floor in brilliant red blood. The dragon roared and snapped its neck at the lairon, nearly taking its head clean off.

As the dragon started chasing the lairon, the canea vanished from view, appeared on the dragon's back and buried two thorny arms into the back of its neck. Blood splashed out and coloured the cacnea red as the lairon dug its claws into the earth and threw dirt into the dragon's yellow eyes. It roared again, bathing the lairon in green fire and setting it aflame with an eerie green glow.

"Wrex!" Mia yelped as she recalled the pokémon in a flash of light. Before the poké ball's glow had ever faded, the salamence bent its long neck back and snatched the cacnea from its back, crushing it within its large, draconic jaws. The cacnea squealed in pain before the salamence spat it out and crushed it underneath a large foot, spraying thick red blood everywhere.

As Mia recalled her injured pokémon, I managed to fumble for a poké ball. In a flash of light, Scar appeared, growling fiercely and snorting acrid smoke from his nostrils.

However, once he saw the state I was in, he turned all his attention away from the dragon and just glared at me.

"Don't just stand there!" I yelled at him, squinting as his head threatened to grow and spin around the room. "Get that shelgon-salamence thing!"

He snorted once more and poked me with a clawed toe. Xander puffed up and hissed back at him, though the lizard just remained impassive to it all as the dragon advanced on us all.

"This isn't good!" Mia yelped as another of her pokémon appeared in a flash of light. Already stamping at the floor, Charles reared back and growled at the dragon. "Hypnotise it!"

I barely heard the pokémon snort a reply as the world seemed to wither and blur. Everything turned into a soft haze, spinning around in a gentle sort of brown mesh. Everywhere I looked, I seemed only able to see the stantler's two large antlers, giving off little waves like a hot surface giving out heat.

"You aren't supposed to look at it!" Mia hissed at me as she grabbed my armpits and attempted to drag me away. "Only the dragon! We've got about a minute or two, we've got to move!"

I nodded and flailed uselessly at the floor, unable to get to my feet. Finally Scar rolled his eyes and lifted me without much effort, digging his claws into my arms hard enough to draw blood. I hissed at him, though he only glared back at me and sniffed distastefully at me. His claws tightened around my abused elbow, slowly squeezing more and more, cutting off the blood and making it all go numb.

"Hey!" I yelped and tried to pull my arm away from him, only to overcompensate and stumble into Mia. She sighed and pushed me back into balance, telling me to sober up quickly or get left behind.

I glanced back to Xander as Mia managed to recall Charles even as we jogged away from the sleeping dragon. The lombre just looked up at me as he hopped along behind us, gave a small little shrug as if there was nothing he could do about it all, then accepted being recalled by Mia without a single protest.

"Now we really need to get to Rustboro quickly," Mia muttered, her voice cracking with worry. "I'm not sure how long Saskia will last, just in her poké ball. Being squished isn't going to do much good for her health."

I nodded and focused on making my feet move in tandem with Mia and Scar's. With my arms and weight supported by both of them, I felt just a little bit more than useless.

Really, that should have been enough to make me go cold turkey. It was obvious that even Scar and Xander had their protests about it all – that should have been more than enough to make me realise how bad things had gotten.

Unfortunately, it took a lot more.

It was night when we finally got out of the tunnels and arrived just on the outskirts of Rustboro. The way the entire city had little bits of yellow light shining out of windows was probably one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen in my life; after all I'd been through.

"Where to first?" I asked as I rubbed my elbow. I felt even more conscious about my habit since Mia saw me whilst I was skipping through the clouds and knew there had to be a lecture about it all. I pretended that I couldn't remember any of it, yet I recalled perfectly the large, almost fully-evolved shelgon nearly managing to set us ablaze or consume us all.

"Pokémon centre," Mia grunted. She looked completely wiped; large bags under her eyes, her clothes torn and muddied, hair in a mess and paler than I'd ever thought possible. "It's been just over a day since Saskia got squished by that thing. I haven't checked her yet because I'm too afraid that will make her injuries worse. Hopefully she'll be okay."

I nodded to her wordless prayers. "Alright, pokémon centre first. My pokémon could do with being checked too. Who knows what those people in Fallarbor did. But hey-" I managed a small grin, "-at least we've got the money for the best suite in the pokémon centre now, right?"

Mia's glare was cold enough to freeze fire. "That's not funny."

"I know, but… forget it," I sighed and dropped all attempts to cheer her up. I figured that once she knew her pokémon were fine, she'd be a little bit more back to normal.

Though that meant we spent the entire walk to the pokémon centre in complete silence. Neither of us had much energy to do anything, what with everything that had gone on. The haunter was still stalking us too, though with the noise of the city, its violent whispers were almost inaudible.

When we finally got to the pokémon centre, we were told that our pokémon were going to be fine. It seemed to lift a massive weight from Mia's shoulders. Apparently her cacnea would just need to be kept for a few days for extra treatment, then she would be able to battle again. All our other pokémon were fine, if not a little worn down and beaten – though I was told that it seemed Loki had a wedding ring in his stomach.

I pretended not to know where that had come from. It was another case of people I'd killed having family; another potential victim to add to my count.

I pushed the thoughts away as Mia and I left the pokémon centre and headed instead, to the hospital. We had to wait around in accident and emergency for a little while, though after ten minutes, it seemed that Mia had grown tired of waiting for people to go in and have chess pieces removed from awkward places. She pulled aside a nurse and had a quiet word with her, then not five minutes later we were seen by doctors.

"You're hand's slightly infected," I was told by the woman; a short lady with jet black hair, wearing a pair of bright blue scrubs. She looked up at me, scrutinising me with knowing brown eyes as she peeled my makeshift bandages away, revealing the horrible, yellow gooey puss that was concealed inside.

"This looks like a stab wound," she said as she began to try and clean it. "How did you manage to get this?"

I bite back the sarcastic retort that came to mind. "The world's full of a few bad people," I mumbled, mostly to myself. "Travelling around as a trainer, you happen to bump into a few of them."

"Other pokémon trainers?" she guessed, clicking her tongue with a shake of her head. "You wouldn't believe how many people we treat that have been injured by pokémon trainers. Most of the time it's just pokémon related injuries, but occasionally it's the trainers themselves. Out in the wilds, it's obviously easy for people to carry on as if there's no laws to contain them – after all, if you've got a team full of pokémon that could easily destroy a city, why bother with a few pesky laws?"

I winced as she dug a cotton bud deep into my hand. "Tender subject?"

She sighed and shook her head. "We've all got our pokémon-related demons. But for all the bad they do, pokémon trainers are still a necessity. It's better for them to be out there reducing the numbers of wild pokémon out there, rather than letting them run free and destroy everything. They're practically a godsend in Kanto places like Vermillion, where there are seasonal migrations of gyarados that come close to the town."

I could only just sit there and nod along. It was strange that I was receiving philosophical advice from a nurse, yet what she said made complete sense. People feared pokémon, yet needed them at the same time.

I wondered how long it would be before they started to just fear them.

"Take on of these pills, twice a day," the nurse informed me as she handed me a prescription, after having bandaged my hand. "Take it to the counter just down the corridor from here and you'll find the pharmacy. In two weeks, your infection should be completely cleaned up."

I nodded and pulled at the fresh bandages subconsciously. "Thanks," I said as I turned to leave.

"By the way," she said as I got to the doorframe. "I noticed those track marks on your elbow. If you don't mind me asking; how often are you using?"

I flushed bright red and rubbed my elbow self-consciously. "Urm, I don't know what you mean," I lied, plain-faced. "I've got a… uh… beautifly. It's a bit vicious sometimes and keeps stabbing me in the elbow – I think because it gets kinda sweaty there or something."

The nurse raised an eyebrow and nodded without any trace of her believing me. "Right, I must have been wrong then," she said and dropped her gloves into a rubbish bin. "But you know there are help groups that you can go to, right?"

The mention of help groups made me remember the one I visited in Fallarbor. Never again was I going to one of them.

I thanked the woman and found out they'd text me the results of my blood tests within two weeks. It wasn't exactly something I could ever claim I was going to look forward to. But I tried my best to ignore the many 'what if' thoughts and tried to think of the good things that would be no doubt happening – like Lacey finally turning into a shiftry.

That lasted all of three minutes.

I found my way outside of the hospital and found Mia leant against the wall in a small courtyard opposite the accident and emergency. Her head was hung low and hidden in shadows, and even from a distance I could see the way her shoulders shook. Instantly I assumed whatever she'd learnt had to be bad news.

"You okay?" I asked as I caught up to her. Instantly I winced and cursed myself, realising how stupid the question must have sounded.

Mia just shrugged and wiped at her eyes. "I suppose. I've been better. Having a nurse take a very intimate swab tends to make things seem a lot more realistic though." She sighed and hugged herself, shaking in large, violent outbursts, rather than little tiny tremors. "I'm just so fed up of this all now," she hissed, digging her fingernails into her elbows deep enough to draw blood. "I mean, before, I might have been insane, but I wasn't ever one of these people that shies away from anything, just because it makes me think of something that happened before! I lost five of my pokémon only a little while before I came to Hoenn, yet I didn't hide myself away from other pokémon. I know it's different now, but why the hell do I have to be so flinchy when it comes to people touching me now?"

I forced myself not to shrug and inwardly wondered how I managed to end up in situations requiring subtlety and tact – two things I'd never once really claimed to own.

"Well, Mia… you see…" I started and trailed off instantly, clueless as to what I was to say. Really, in such a situation, there was nothing I could say.

"Don't," she growled. "Just don't. I don't want to hear about how this is different and that I shouldn't feel bad about this. I've just had those lectures from the nurses. But the thing is, they don't actually understand anything I'm going through. It'd be like me trying to comfort you after you warped back through time and found yourself in a new world."

"Actually, I wouldn't have minded that too much," I told her. "I got it, to some degree, but it was a heavy case of 'adapt so you can save the world'. Not exactly the best settling speech there is really."

"That's what I mean!" she declared, pointing a finger at me. "Everyone seems to think they know exactly how to treat someone in certain situations, yet they don't seem to realise we're all individuals and might like another method! Everyone keeps telling me that my reactions are natural. Are they? Are they really? I hate myself right now, just because I've turned into this weird woman that shrieks every time someone touches her and thinks everything bad is going to happen again! I can't stand the fact that I react like that, yet I can't help but do so!"

She sighed and dropped her head again, shaking her head to herself. "I just want everything to go back to normal again. But nothing will ever be normal again."

"It will be," I promised her. I reached out and tentatively put a hand on her shoulder – she flinched, but held herself long enough for me to squeeze it reassuringly. "See?" I coaxed her. "For all you just went on about, you're proving now that your boundary issues are something you can force yourself to overcome."

"Maybe," she grunted. "But forcing things to happen isn't natural. How many times have you forced away a feeling or a thought, only for it to come back and hit you later, ten times as badly?"

"Too many to count," I said. "But that's the way I deal with things."

She grumbled a reluctant acceptance to herself before rolling her shoulders and staring at the sky. "I'm surprised it's not raining. It's always a gloomy, rainy night when things like this happen, aren't they?"

"When someone has a crisis of conscience and needs reassurance? Only in fiction," I said. I followed her gaze and tried to stare up at the stars, though the harsh city lights managed to block out a lot of the night sky. It was probably the only thing that made me miss my own world – at least there; you could always see the starry skies.

"How long's it been?" Mia whispered, her eyes wide and sky-bound. "Since we got caught in that horrible place?"

I scratched my head as I tried to figure it out. "We were in Meteor Falls for about nine days," I said. "Though in that gym… I've got no idea. I could have been out for hours or days when they knocked me out, then the first thing they did really was make me drugged up."

"Ten days. We were there ten days," she told me, her voice hollow. "Nineteen days." I saw her whisper words soundlessly to herself, yet failed to comprehend any of it. Her face fell for only a moment before she took a deep breath and looked back up at me, her eyes puffy and bloodshot. "So what are you going to do now then? Once your pokémon are healed, I mean. Are you staying in Rustboro, or moving on or what?"

I blinked, suddenly aware of how little I had planned. "Well, I hadn't really thought about it. I mean, after everything, I thought that maybe-"

"You'd stick around with me?" Mia guessed, a grin threatening to tug at her lips. "I appreciate the thought, I really do. But I'm going to be here a few days until Saskia's better, then I'm going to hunt down that haunter and capture it. I haven't heard it really for a little while; I'm thinking there's a number of people in the city with dark pokémon that are scaring it off. I know it sounds weird, seeing as it's been stalking us and all… but I want to capture it and see if I can show it that I'm not really some fiend full of bloodlust that murdered its trainer heartlessly."

"That doesn't sound weird," I reassured her. I wondered whether I could have attempted that with Aaron's shedinja… though something told me that murderous ghost was far beyond reasoning with. "But I've honestly got no idea what I'm going to do now. Maybe head towards Mauville and try to get the badge there? Regardless, I want to make sure you're alright before I go and work up the courage to face another gym."

"There's also that to think about," she said with a gesture towards my elbow. "Some gyms are pretty strict with policies; they'll get any trainers that challenge them to go for a load of blood tests, their pokémon too. All to make sure that the pokémon aren't being abused with a load of steroids, as well as checking that the trainer isn't a drug-addled fool."

I groaned and pulled an arm over my face. "Brilliant. Just brilliant. Add to all my problems, why don't you? I swear, just hearing about that makes me need another fix."

Her face fell instantly. "Don't joke about things like that."

"Who's joking?" I muttered.

"Don't even go there," Mia growled. "I turned a blind eye to it whilst we were in the caves, but I swear if I get any idea that you're going to end up hurting someone, I will restrain you and throw you into rehab myself!"

I rolled my eyes. "Your threats are becoming a lot less inventive."

"Who's threatening?" she shot back. "If that's the only way I can help you, it's the way I'll take. Don't become a junkie, that's all I'm asking. I don't want to see you in the streets, mugging people or selling yourself just for another fix."

I just grunted and turned away from her. It was my life, I figured, which meant it was mine to do with as I saw fit. Whilst I did agree with her, I didn't like it being pointed out to me. I knew I needed to get myself off the drugs, yet I couldn't help but want to use them again. They brought me peace, which was something I never really ever got to know. Even if it was artificial and potentially life-threatening, it was still letting me just… escape.

"I'm going back to the pokémon centre," she finally told me. "Stand there and hate me for saying these things if you want, but I'll be there if you want to talk."

I grunted and shrugged my shoulders, keeping my back to her until I finally felt her sigh and walk away. I knew it was bad of me to act up like that to her, yet I just couldn't find the energy to care. I didn't want anyone telling me what I had to do with my life. It was all too much the same of everything I'd ever had to endure – as a soldier it wasn't too bad, it was my life and my job. But after that, it was a case of 'you must save the world', 'you must do this to help people', 'you mustn't do that, or people will suffer'. At the time, it just seemed to me that no one ever seemed to think about what I wanted.

It took me a while to fully realise what an idiot I was being by thinking such things. Mia was only really trying to look out for me, yet I treated her only with silent, selfish tantrums.

I finally gave up giving the air the cold shoulder a little while later and made my own way back to the pokémon centre to collect my own pokémon. The walk there cleared up my mind enough to make me want to apologise to Mia, yet when I checked in on her, I found her asleep by her cacnea's bed. I left her to sleep and made my way back out into the town, unable to figure out just what there was I could do with myself.

I tried letting out my pokémon, if only so I could try and train them and attempt at normalcy. Erra was still attacking everything that moved, which meant I couldn't let her out within the city limits. I tried letting Scar out of his ball, though he took one look at me, sniffed and turned his nose on me, then tried to eat a bouncer. I couldn't figure out what had caused him to suddenly turn on me, but wasted no time on quickly recalling him to his poké ball – the fact that the bouncer unleashed a vengeful machamp on us sped things up a little too.

Loki meanwhile was just being Loki – though it seemed he remembered Rustboro well enough; he tried to break into a number of shops that he saw. I finally gave up and recalled him too, just in case I managed to bump into the owner of the weapons shop I'd robbed.

Even Xander, it seemed, couldn't be bothered with me either. He gave me a dirty look once I let him out of his poké ball, crawled around me slowly, almost as if he was analysing me, spat a mouthful of water in my face and turned his back on me. When I asked him what it was for, he refused to answer me, instead giving me the cold shoulder until I recalled him too.

I was convinced my pokémon all hated me. I couldn't understand what had happened – why we had gone from being like a family, to me suddenly being the black sheep and hated by them all. I couldn't take the stress of it all. Everything was buzzing in my head, reasons, accusations, plots and excuses. The shock and horror of it all just made my urge to escape all the greater.

I was convinced that artificial bliss would give me the answer I needed.

Though I wasn't expecting what happened next.

The moment I loaded the syringe, a poké ball on my bandolier exploded with enough force to send me sprawling over myself. I yelped and rolled backwards, landing in a graceless heap at the feet of Scar.

He looked down at me, acrid black smoke pouring from his nostrils. I stared up at him for only a moment, though it was enough for him to make his move.

In one fell swoop, he snatched the syringe out of my hand and snapped it in two.

My mouth fell open as the clear liquid dripped to the ground from the broken shards of glass in Scar's claws. He sneered to himself, sounding pleased, which made the shock I felt turn to anger.

"What the hell was that for?" I yelled at him.

Then he stabbed me in the arm with the needle.

I screamed and fell backwards, eyes wide and fearful as I clutched at the broken syringe. Fingers shaking, I pressed the area carefully, trying to pull the damn thing out. He'd thrust the needle in all the way, leaving me with less than an inch of broken glass to grip.

I didn't even have time to question him before he pressed a claw to his poké ball and vanished with a flash of red light.

There was nothing I could say at the time that would have come close to expressing just how confused I was. Instead I grit my teeth and pried the needle from within my arm, hoping that it wasn't buried anywhere near enough to cause damage.

Blood trickled down my arm when I finally pulled it all out. My fingers looked like ribbons and pain threatened to overwhelm me completely. I sat there for a little while, hyperventilating and wondering just what on earth could have happened. My own pokémon had released itself, stabbed me with a syringe I was planning to inject with, then retreated back into his poké ball?

It just didn't make sense.

There was only one person I knew that would have any idea of what had happened, though I wasn't sure whether or not I would manage to get any help. I wrapped my injured hand up as best I could before I found my phone and dialled the person I really didn't want to face.

It took five rings for her to finally answer.

"Three weeks. There had better be a damn good reason for you not even sending a damn text to let me know what was going on! You do not take advantage of your friends like that!"

I winced and held the phone at arm's length until most of the screaming had died down. "Hi Chris," I said meekly.

"Don't you 'hi Chris' me!" she shrieked at me. "Do you know what you've put me through?"

"I'm sorry I ran up your bills," I muttered down the phone.

"'Bills'?" she parroted, her voice becoming even more irate. "Do you think that's what this is about? Yes I'm pissed that you've made me lose a bit of money, but you've been gone for three weeks without a word! Did you think that I wasn't going to worry? I haven't been able to get through to you; neither has Adryan! What the fuck has been going on for you disappear for three weeks?"

I looked at the track marks on my elbow, the blood trickling down my arm, at the broken syringe on the floor and couldn't stop the sob that burst out of my lips.

"I need help."

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