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.


22. Slateport

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves. ~ Abraham Lincoln.


"Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and gambling. Sex, swearing, laughing and crying. People don't seem to understand that almost everything can become an addiction. People can become addicted to trying to be happy just as easily as some can become dependent on alcohol. It's just that society sees some as normal, whereas others are frowned upon.

If you want to have sex as often as possible, then you're not treated as an addict. It's only when you cross an invisible line that society's set out for you do you get classed as a nymphomaniac. If you like to drink, you're an alcoholic if you drink before or after certain times, or if you drink over a certain amount in a certain amount of time.

Society deems some worse than others. What society doesn't seem to realise is that anyone, anywhere, can become addicted to anything.

And when there's no self-help group available for you, why should you ever bother trying to overcome it?"

- Sean Sinclair, public activist for more government funding towards addiction-help groups. (March 17th, 3001)


The next morning I awoke to find that Mia had already left. I was amazed that I had managed to sleep through her crawling out of the bed next to me, and leaving the room, though she left a note saying that I took so long to get to sleep, eventually she just had Charles hypnotise me into sleeping.

I didn't know whether to believe it or not. I couldn't remember it happening, though wouldn't have put it past her to do something like that.

Her note said that she was heading on towards Mauville, and then across to Verdanturf before doubling back and heading up to Lavaridge. Apparently Verdanturf didn't have a gym or anything of the like, but supposedly she had cousins there that she was going to visit.

Though I discovered that while I was out, she'd taken the time to scrawl over my chest with bright red lipstick. I couldn't make out any of it, though I could tell she'd lined me with insults.

Nothing towards that was mentioned on her note, though she'd hastily added a line at the very end: 'Oh, and I found the earrings I've been looking for sticking out of your bag. Since you stole them, I took the liberty of stealing your shoelaces.'

I blinked at the note and groaned, falling back onto the bed once more. A quick glance at my shoes told me that she had, indeed, stolen my shoelaces out of the boots themselves, which meant that I would have to wander around with loose, flapping boots until I found somewhere that sold replacements.

After that, I made the conscious decision to always have at least three sets of spare laces in my bag.

I groaned and pushed myself out of bed, my thoughts drifting back to how Mia had supposedly used her stantler to put me to sleep.. Just how could a pokémon make you sleep so deeply? It didn't make sense, though I saw Loki quite happily laughing at me, so assumed that he'd woken before me and taken great pleasure in my involuntary tattoos.

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," I grunted, rolling my eyes when even Lacey tried not to snigger at me. I made the mental note to get them back as once again I had to shower around a still-sleeping Xander.

Once I was dressed and I'd got everyone downstairs to get some food – and also bought a set of shoelaces of a random trainer, who happened to give me weird looks when I explained why I needed them. I could only gather from their reaction that they'd never encountered anyone with the twisted sense of humour Mia possessed. I didn't doubt that, and wondered if I was the only one who had ever encountered someone as strange as her.

As I sat down to eat, I ended up with a mental debate about what to do with the day. Mia had told me that the gym used steel pokémon, and I was unlikely to win in there, but I felt I had to try it, regardless. I didn't know when I would next be in Slateport, and had to take the chance. If I had to influence anyone to try and change something, I doubted they'd listen to me if I only had two badges.

I made my way to the gym quickly and managed to get myself a battle in four day's time. While I was a bit pissed at having to wait a whole four days for my battle, the woman at the desk explained to me that because Slateport was such a large industrial area and had many ties to close, neighbouring towns, there would often be large influxes of trainers coming into town, wanting battles. It didn't help that ships ran every day from Slateport to Lilycove, as well as to Dewford, which brought even more trainers in. She told me I was lucky I'd come at such a time, as supposedly there would often be up to two month's waiting time when the new trainers were all released into the world.

I was confused by that, so she explained to me that at the beginning of summer each year, every school would have a graduation ceremony, of sorts, where they would have every ten year old that wanted to go around travelling from their school, and they would give them each a pokémon to journey with. Supposedly they were quite often common, local pokémon, and they would always have a choice of one of three, though the richer schools would often have rarer pokémon, or even imported ones to choose from.

I was amazed by that. Even more so when she told me that it was all based on a matter of paperwork and grades obtained in the classroom. Supposedly the best studying students, as well as those that were attentive enough during school hours would get to go and travel, whilst those that were too easily distracted, or those that weren't smart enough to understand basics of pokémon would be disallowed.

They were releasing ten year old kids into the wilds, based on how well they could do math! I was flabbergasted by that, though the woman told me there were always practical elements to school lessons, and the kids would always know the basics of what they needed when they went travelling.

I cursed and realised it was no wonder that so many kids died each year when they went travelling. Nearby there was a mother with her ten year old son, supposedly travelling with him to his first gym in order to make sure he was safe and practical enough to survive on his own. She heard it all, and I saw that she agreed with everything I said, and then phoned up someone – possibly the school her son was from – and started laying into them over the phone.

I slunk away after that. I think I'd managed to cause too much of a controversy in there, and felt that maybe if I didn't go back until the day of my gym battle, it would all have blown over.

Instead I quickly headed down to the beach, after hearing from a few people that some trainers went down there to battle amongst each other. I needed some money, and knew that if I fought a few, I should be able to come away with more money than I lost.

It also provided a lot of opportunities for my pokémon to cause havoc. Loki decided it was the most fun thing ever to scamper around the beach and destroy people's sandcastles – which quite often ended up with them challenging me to a battle for recompense. Most of the time it was only new trainers, though sometimes there were twelve year olds that had been travelling for two years, and they almost always wiped the floor with me.

That wasn't exactly an ego boost.

After one I just buried myself in the sand – I was considering whether to do it literally or not – when I noticed that Lacey had snuck off somewhere. Initially I paid it no mind, merely thinking that she had decided to find somewhere a bit more peaceful to sit in. Xander and Loki didn't seem too eager to tell me anything, so I just assumed that she wasn't doing anything bad.

She returned an hour later, a smug grin on her face. I didn't know what to think, so instead I went for the blunt answer of asking, "What have you been up to?"

She grunted something unintelligible, and gave me what I only could assume was an innocent grin. It wasn't exactly reassuring in the slightest.

So when a bunch of kids started screaming, I thought the worst.

"Who have you killed?" I hissed, snatching her arm and pulling her down to the sand. She croaked something and gave me a sharp look, and I thought that maybe this time, she hadn't actually killed anyone. Maybe a big kingler had chased after a few kids that got too close to its baby krabby or something.

Though I found out quickly that they were screaming about a little pond they all liked to play in. Something had happened in there, and now there were dead krabby, finneon and magikarp all floating along the surface of the water.

It didn't take a genius to figure out what she'd been up to.

"Lacey!" I hissed, and had to restrain myself from outright hitting her. "What the hell do you think you're doing? You can't just go around poisoning things! People tend to notice when you do things in public view!"

She grunted something again and folded her arms. She reminded me of a grumpy teenager, rebelling against a parent's rule.

"There's consequences to what you do!" I growled at her. "You think people never looked for the statues in your little basement of horrors? I don't know what you think of humans, but we're not stupid enough to forget someone's died, or not notice there's a pool full of dead pokémon!"

She grunted something again and gave me a sharp look, followed by her sitting out on the sand, watching with sadistic glee as people ran around, trying to get their kids away from the pool water. I only hoped that whatever she had placed in it wasn't poisonous to humans, otherwise I'd have a child-murderer in plain sight.

I didn't know what to do with her. I hoped that my little argument with her might have put her off killing things for a little while.

So I quite rightly almost had a heart attack when someone turned up dead on the beach the next day. Thankfully it turned out to be a swimmer that had pissed off a tentacruel, and had been stung to death by the creature.

I was at my wit's end with her. I couldn't keep her from murdering things, because it just seemed like she was addicted to the thrill of it. At least Loki was young and didn't understand killing was a bad thing. Lacey just liked doing it, and couldn't seem to stop herself. I doubted there was a 'Murderers Anonymous' group anywhere in Hoenn, so I couldn't exactly expect her to get over her addiction that easily.

Yet, I couldn't just let her murder everything in sight, as she'd likely kill someone or a trainer's pokémon. Eventually I told her that once a week, she could sneak off into the wilds and satisfy her murderous urges – as long as it was only wild pokémon.

Though admittedly, I did start to think of other ways she could satisfy such urges. I figured people wouldn't miss guilty criminals that had somehow found a loophole to escape, or anyone similar. As long as people didn't miss them, I considered that maybe it was okay for her to kill them.

Though I didn't say anything to her about it. I was still trying to stop her from just murdering everyone on the beach that came too close to us. Instead I just used her in a few battles against stronger trainers, and although she got beaten quite often, when she did win, it seemed to satisfy her.

I also ended up earning more money than I lost, so it wasn't all bad.

Even Xander started to become a mischief-maker. Whenever we'd see someone fishing, he'd dive into the sea and start tugging on their fishing lines. The fishermen would start to celebrate and reel in their big prize, only to find out that he'd tangled their line up with another fisher's line, or just to have swam off and left them catching nothing.

It proved to me that he was becoming a lombre – I knew that they were jokesters and would happily play pranks on people, just for their own amusement. I started to dread the day he would evolve, realising I could end up with Loki and Loki-Mark Two on my hands.

That was a scary thought.

The four days until the gym battle passed extremely quickly, and it seemed like no time had actually passed when I found myself at the gym again, this time waiting for my own battle. I hadn't been introduced to the leader, even after waiting around in the gym for a while, and instead was shown around by one of the trainers that worked at the gym.

When I was finally shown to the battlefield, I found that despite all how busy the gym seemed to be, it was surprisingly devoid of life. The only person in there apart from me and the man showing me round was a woman stood in the centre of the battlefield, her arms folded and face pulled into a weary expression.

When I finally reached her, she stuck her hand out between us and sighed tiredly. "Name's Veronique," she said. "I'm the leader of the Slateport gym."

As I introduced myself I took a moment to see what she looked like. She wore faded blue jeans and a denim jacket over a white top, and had a small golden necklace with a 'V' charm resting against her chest. She had brown hair cut into a bob with a blue streak across her fringe, and blue-grey eyes that showed just how tired she actually was.

She yawned and tried to cover it up, though failed badly. "Sorry," she apologised quickly. "We're getting into the busy season at the moment – from spring to the end of summer, it's pretty much battle, battle, battle." She pulled a face and rubbed at her eyelids. "Trainers just don't seem to understand how tiring it is to be conducting battles all day long, and then using the time between to do paperwork and look after my pokémon." She sighed once more and shrugged. "Even my days off are as busy as work days. Anyway-" she shook her head and blinked rapidly. "I didn't mean to bore you with all that. You're here for the Furnace Badge, not to listen to the woes of a gym leader." She waved a hand and pointed to a podium. "Make way to your podium whenever you're ready, and we'll start this match."

I nodded and made way onto mine quickly. Veronique offered me a small smile before she climbed onto her, and then activated them enough to boost us into the air, like every gym before us. I was impressed by how quickly I had become accustomed to such a thing, and wondered just how much else I'd become used to.

"Okay!" Veronique called out, pushing the tiredness from her voice. "You're challenging me today for Slateport City's Furnace Badge." She stopped a moment and yawned again, apologising profusely afterwards. "I shall be using three pokémon, you may use as many as you have on you. League battle rules apply. Good luck," she said to me before she tossed a poké ball out and onto the field.

From it poured forth the form of a strange creature with yellow and grey skin covered in small bumps and grooves. It had strong looking black thighs that ended in large clawed feet, and it had large, black clawed hands. It had large, red eyes set in the middle of its head, and a few small horns topped its head, though another set formed a large set of jaws that were as big as the creature itself, and moved like a second mouth.

I knew it was a mawile, a creature to be feared. I'd only ever heard of them from horror stories people would tell – saying that the creature would lure you in with deception, appearing to be weak, and then its large jaws would clamp down on the unsuspecting prey. Looking at the creature, I didn't doubt any of it.

I grimaced as I mulled over my pokémon. None of them would be good against the creature, though I had to take the chance. I got the feeling I should have listened to Mia's advice, but instead decided to ignore that train of thought and focus on the battle.

I opted to call out Xander, and watched as he took his place readily on the battlefield, already watching his foe in anticipation.

"Keep your distance!" I urged him. "Blast it!"

He croaked and shot a jet of water powerful enough to stagger the creature back a step or two, but Veronique didn't seem fazed in the slightest. In fact, she seemed to be smirking at something I wasn't included in.

"Entice it in!" she commanded.

I blinked, wondering what the hell she meant. The mawile's jaw-horns let out a strange screeching noise that sounded like metal scraping together, and suddenly something distance caused twinges with my nose.

It smelt so alluring, and I was reminded briefly of freshly baked apple pies. The smell surrounded me entirely, and I felt myself becoming unfocused and dazed, dimly aware of the string of drool starting to slip from my mouth. I only snapped out of it when I saw Xander waddling up to the mawile, looking as dazed as I no doubt did, and shrieked as its jaws clamped down around its sides.

I saw blood trickle down his legs and cursed myself. "Get out of there!" I yelled at him. "Make bubbles in its jaw!"

He croaked once more and took a deep breath, spitting out a steady stream of small, tiny bubbles that hammered at the inside of the large jaws, exploding with fierce force beneath. The mawile shrieked and suddenly the fangs on its jaws became coated in static just before it clamped down hard and then threw Xander across the field. I called out after him, worried, and felt my heart relax just a fraction when he struggled back to his feet again.

I glanced between him and the mawile once and knew he wouldn't last long against another assault like that. I decided to try out his new technique, and hoped that our drills had been enough for him to gain enough control over it.

"Cloak yourself!" I barked, and took slight pleasure in the way I saw Veronique's eyes widen a fraction.

Instantly thick, white mist poured from Xander's mouth. With every breath he took it increased more and more in volume, until he was cloaked in a good three-foot radius of the fog. I began to chew on my lip, knowing it wasn't a great hiding place – it was obvious he was within the three foot range, though it was more protection than he had before.

Curiously, I found that I could still see him perfectly. I began to panic, thinking that it hadn't worked well, though saw quickly that Veronique looked alarmed and unable to see him. I guessed it had to be something to do with my own adaptation, and hid a smirk at the thought.

My smirk quickly died, however, when the gym leader grew a smirk of her own. "Entice it again!"

I cursed aloud and pinched my nose as the smell began drifting around us all once more. I heard Xander croak, and called out to him, though it was all useless. He simply waddled forwards again, happily becoming lured into the honey trap once more.

"You know what to do," I heard Veronique say. "Give it your best poisonous bite!"

I felt alarm flare through me. Poison? I panicked, knowing it would harm him. While I knew that he would be able to recover after a little while as long as it wasn't lethal. But I didn't know what sort of games the woman would play with my pokémon.

I barely caught a glimpse of something purple dripping from the mawile's jaws before they snapped shut around Xander, and he let out a shriek I'd never heard from him before. The mawile shook him in its grip a moment before it threw him across the battlefield, and he bounced along the floor, kicking up dirt in his wake.

I called out to him, and saw that he just managed to get to his feet, looking incredibly pale and shaking all the while. He coughed once, and then threw up in a little corner of the field. I pulled a face and recalled him as quickly as I could, praying that I could get him into a pokémon centre in time.

For a little bit, I realised that just maybe, I shouldn't have been progressing the way I was. I was killing pokémon and people without remorse, and yet I'd never thought about what would happen if and when someone discovered their pokémon or relative was missing.

The thought of Xander becoming ill made my blood run cold. Let alone if he had actually managed to die. If it hurt me so much, I realised that maybe I shouldn't have been doing it to other people.

But everyone I'd killed had been with a reason. Aaron was going around mass-murdering people, and the champion had been letting his demons go around killing people. There had been reasons for both of them.

And in my mind, that made it right.

I wasn't immune to feelings, and knew it. But I knew that despite it all, I had to carry on forwards. When I was brought up, I had been told many times to leave behind compassion behind.

Yet I found it so hard to follow those ideals with my pokémon. They were my family, and I knew I could go to any lengths to protect them.

I had just to make sure we become stronger so that we'd never been in such a situation again.

I made my next move and called out Lacey. She appeared and hissed something at the mawile, pulling errand strands of thick white hair from her face.

Her appearance seemed to throw off Veronique, and she seemed to reconsider her battle approach. I knew what she was thinking then; that I was either getting her into a false sense of security with a weaker pokémon, and then unleashing something that was almost into its third stage.

If she was thinking that, she was wrong. The simple fact was that Xander had the best advantage against her pokémon, and added to that; I just trusted Xander more than Lacey. Although she was being obedient now, and had helped me out continually, there was still a small part of me that was worried it was nothing more than a large, planned out ruse.

Veronique didn't seem to want to waste a moment. "Burn it!" she cried, and I did a double take at her words.

A low, guttural sound came from the mawile, and suddenly it whipped round its body to spit out a stream of red-hot flames at Lacey. I balked in the face of them, though Lacey had enough smarts about her to leap out of the way of the burning assault. It made me breathe a sigh of relief and realise she was slightly more used to fighting then I thought. It seemed that with pokémon, they had an instinctive urge to fight, rather than to flee. Unless they had been trained otherwise, they always seemed to try and take attacks head-on, rather than avoiding them. The only exceptions were ghosts, though they would often just phase from the physical plane for malevolent means, rather than to simply avoid an attack.

"Get in there!" I barked at her. "Get in close and kick it low!"

Lacey grunted something in reply, though thankfully followed my commands. I saw her sneer at the mawile before she faded from view, and there was a small gust of wind before she appeared behind it and punched it in the side of the head. The mawile snapped round on her, and she grinned and swept a foot under the creature's legs, successfully making it fall flat on its face.

I watched it and quickly tried to figure out its weak points. I knew that the jaws were extremely strong, and they were linked to the mawile's actual jaw bones and muscles, which let it control the large horns behind it. Its neck muscles had to be strong to support the large steel jaws, and its head would likewise have to be strong.

It had to be its chest or its limbs. I considered it the best I could and got Lacey to go and attack its arms. I figured they would be the weakest point, though realised I was deathly wrong as ice began to cloud around them both. I shrieked at Lacey to get away, and she managed to leap backwards just before the mawile's hands crystallised with solid ice and it punched where my pokémon just was.

Veronique looked at me in curiosity. "You reacted fast to that ice punch," she stated, leaning over the railings on her podium. "Before it had even managed to form the attack well enough to be noticed."

I chuckled nervously and pulled the hair that was sticking to my face away. I didn't honestly know why it was, but I assumed that since I saw Xander within the mist, and she couldn't, it had to be something to do with my adaptation.

"Just paranoia," I told her, and watched as Lacey leapt away from another attack and kicked the mawile in the face. I saw it recoil, and realised that maybe its face had to be its weakest point. "Kick it over again, and get its face!"

There was another metallic shriek as the mawile fell over, and it cried out in pain as Lacey leapt on it and began to punch it in the face. I smelt fire just before I heard Lacey herself shriek, falling backwards and clutching her chest in pain. Small clumps of her white hair were still aflame, and some had been burnt black, whilst an ugly looking blister was already forming on her chest.

I winced. That had to hurt.

Lacey hissed darkly and vanished once more from view. There was a deathly chill to the air as she appeared behind the mawile and jumped down on its jaws. The mawile shrieked as the large horn-jaws were pressed down against the floor, and Lacey began to jump up and down on them like it was a spring-loaded bed. She leapt away from the creature as more fire burst from its mouth, and quickly punched it in the face once more. The mawile fell back in pain, clutching its actual mouth before Lacey leapt up and kicked it with both feet in the chest.

The mawile groaned from its place on the floor, clutching at its chest and struggling to breathe. It was obviously winded, and seemed to be struggling to do anything except try and breathe.

Lacey pulled herself back to her feet, and after rubbing the large sore on her chest with a wince, she walked up to the mawile and kicked it in the chest, making it roll across the ground and kick up a small amount of dust.

Veronique sighed and recalled her pokémon back into its ball. She began to say something, but I didn't catch any of it.

All of a sudden, I felt incredibly hot. It was like someone had turned on all the heating in the building, and I felt sweat pour out of me completely. It raced down my forehead and dripped from the end of my nose, and I began to pull at my shirt, fanning me as best I could.

Then just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. It was like someone had hit a 'cool' switch, and all the heat vanished again. I wiped my face on my jacket, and caught sight of the pokémon Veronique had just released.

It looked like a long, bulky lizard with black skin. A number of spikes ran down its back, each covered with a small amount of grey armour, and a large additional set of grey armour covered its face, with a few small block holes running down the middle of its face. It had large black claws on each of its four legs, and there was a large spike protruding out of the side of each of its knees.

I had no idea what it was, and pulled out my pokédex to identify it as quickly as I could. However, as I did, Veronique got her pokémon to race at Lacey, and it leapt upon her as a flurry of teeth and claws. Lacey shrieked and began to claw at the creature's underside, and the battlefield became covered in small chunks of black and brown flesh, as well as plenty of blood.

"Do you really think I'm going to let you use that?" Veronique shouted out to me, her eyes shifting between my face and my pokédex. "If you're out in the wild, you're not going to get the chance to scan through that with a wild pokémon trying to eat you and your team. Think, learn and adapt. Try an attack, see how it works, and learn from that." She flicked her head, letting her hair fall away from her eyes. "Every pokémon that evolves from another always retains some semblance of what they evolved from. So think about it, and try to realise what it might be related to." Her pokémon reared up and smashed its forelegs into the ground, and suddenly the entire arena began to shake. Lacey cried out and lost her balance long enough for the creature to race into her once more, knocking her back a good distance across the field.

"Think on your feet," the leader told me. "That's one of the key things you need to remember when you're a trainer. You can have a different strategy for every different situation, yet if they fail, what will you do? Think. Learn. Adapt."

Her pokémon roared and smashed its head into Lacey's skull, and she fell backwards, shrieking and clutching her nose. Blood was pouring freely from her face, and I knew with her nose in pain she wouldn't be able to do much. The steel pokémon spun around on the spot and kicked her again in the face with its hind legs, and knocked her completely to the floor, groaning slightly and obviously dazed.

I grimaced as I clutched her poké ball in my hand. Two of my pokémon down, and only Loki remaining. Lacey was the strongest one I had, and I knew Loki had to defeat two pokémon he wouldn't be able to harm much.

I recalled Lacey and placed her poké ball back onto my bandolier, and went to grab Loki's. However I felt completely hot again once more, and dropped to the floor with the sheer heat of it all. My heat began to swim and sweat pumped out of my every pore, soaking my face and shirt both. I groaned and tried to pry myself back to my feet again, and saw that I was trembling again, and saw that my skin was remarkably paler than it had been before.

Then just like before, the heat vanished all at once. I leant over the railings, panting for breath, and could see the sweat dripping from my head and down onto the floor. I felt so incredibly weak, and my knees wouldn't stop shaking underneath me.

I heard Veronique whisper something into a headset I never saw her wearing, and pulled my head up enough to see her glance at me in concern. "Are you okay?" she asked me, obviously worried. "You don't look so well."

I panted and pushed myself into a standing position, swaying slightly with a light head. I felt like I had sunstroke, minus the cold-shivers that came with it. "I'm fine," I grunted, and plucked Loki's poké ball from my bandolier.

"Okay," Veronique said, uncertainly. "But once this is over, you're to go straight to the hospital and check into A-and-E, okay?"

It was more of a demand than a question, though I nodded my head in agreement regardless. I wondered myself what it could be, and started to think that maybe I'd managed to catch something along the way. Maybe Mia had the flu or something, and I'd caught it and was going through the symptoms of it.

Remarkably, everything seemed fine with me once I called Loki out onto the battlefield. He bounced around and cackled at the familiar settings, knowing that he would be in for another fight soon.

Sooner than he thought as the steel beast charged him. He shrieked and leapt into a shadow as quickly as he could, making the beast storm past him and barely manage to stop before the boundaries of the pitch. It turned around and roared just as Loki appeared from the shadows and punched it underneath the jaw.

It reared back onto its hind legs and stomped the ground again, and this time Loki fell flat on his face, underneath the creature. It roared once more and tried to snap its jaws around him, and I heard him shriek underneath it and try to claw it in its mouth.

"Confuse it!" I yelled at him, and suddenly, the world was spinning again.

It was so hot once more! I leant forwards on the railings and felt like the world was jumping around me, spinning wildly and making me feel so terribly sick.

It shouldn't have been so hot! Everything on the battlefield became a distant blur, and I felt so desperately overheated and dried out.

Then suddenly, it was cold again.

There was a freezing shudder that raced down my spine, and then my whole body felt like it was boiling up again.

And in the distance, I heard horrific shrieking that haunted my nightmares.

I leapt up, panicking wildly, and began to search around every corner of the room. I barely caught sight of the pokémon battling beneath us, and Veronique look at me in concern as I looked around, trying in vain to find the source of the noise.

It was getting closer. Forever closer.

The screams were becoming louder and louder, and they sounded like they were coming from inside the gym!

I shuddered and rubbed my arms, even though I was boiling over again. The screams were louder. So much louder. I could feel them like they were coming from the area behind me. Even when I looked around, I couldn't see anything. They were invisible screams, all made to haunt me!

I had to be going crazy. I just had to. No one seemed to notice the screams. It had to have been whatever was making me ill.

Then the lights began flickering on and off again.

Veronique gasped loudly, and I knew I wasn't going crazy. The lights continued to flicker, on off, on off, and I began to see something in the dark.

On, off.

It was getting closer.

On, off.

The screams got louder still.

On, off.

It took shape of a small, muscular body.

On, off.

The screams were coming from right in front of me.

On, off.

The headless makuhita was stood before me, screaming its deathly screams without a head to voice them.

I screamed and backed against the railings even as it lumbered towards me. It screamed again and again, waddling towards me with deadly intent. Blood poured from its open neck, showering the podium and myself with thick, stinking black blood.

The lights flickered again and again, and the darkness poured from and coagulated around the impossible sight.

"No," I whispered, pressing myself further against the railings in fear. It couldn't be real. It just couldn't! The makuhita was dead. It was dead! It shouldn't have been there, haunting me!

And yet it was.

It screamed its deathly scream again, and once more I felt myself break out in a hot flush again.

It advanced, and I screamed again. There was a deathly sound more like a haunting wail than a scream, and it leapt at me.

I jumped backwards, and completely forgot about the railing behind me. I heard someone scream as my legs gave way beneath me, and felt nothing but air supporting my body.

Then there was a large impact of pain all through my back, and then, nothing.

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