Regret

Death. War. Destruction. The world of the future lies in ruins. I got the chance to go back and stop it from ever happening, only to discover that I was the cause. This is how I destroyed the world.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5808527/1/Regret

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21. Small Reprieves

We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ''Blessed are they that mourn.'' ~ C.S. Lewis

-O-O-O-

"Animals suffer, pokémon suffer, humans suffer. The only thing is, people will either suffer in silence, or they'll tell the world about it. In the case of the latter, they make everyone else suffer through having to listen to everything they had to go through.

Suffering in silence though, is probably far worse. Instead of getting your grief out, you let it fester within you, building more and more until eventually it starts to lead your actions, whether your realise it or not.

It's probably why men go mad whilst women are able to cope. Most women share their problems with another, whereas most men will bury their problems deep within them. By burying their problems, most of the time, people manage to go mad.

And then everyone else suffers in ways no one could ever have imagined.

- Will Fontaine, 39th Sinnoh League Champion, Sinnoh Elite Four Member 3003 – 3018. (June 16th, 3013)

-O-O-O-

I spent almost the entire first two days in my room, hugging myself in the shower. I ended up just eating rations from my bag, and shared out food for my pokémon. But aside from that, I didn't ever leave the safety of the shower.

No matter how hard I scrubbed, I just didn't feel clean.

I must have removed an entire layer of skin, but I still didn't feel like it had washed off of me. I could still feel the demon's touch on my hands, on my neck, on my body, and shuddered and sobbed every time I scrubbed and it didn't come off.

By the end of the second day in my room, I was a mess. I didn't even notice when the shower water had begun to run cold, as I simply sat on the bottom of it and hugged myself tight, slowly rocking back and forth, crying all the while. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't want to do anything. I just wanted to forget. I wanted to forget that I'd ever headed into those caves, caught that makuhita, found that shedinja, then come across the demons.

I couldn't bear to face the world, and I couldn't do anything but suffer in fright at every small noise or touch. I couldn't sleep, and every time I did manage to drop off, I woke up screaming, reliving the nightmare again and again.

I think I made my pokémon genuinely worried.

At the end of the second day, Xander crawled into the bathroom, and when he found me at the bottom of the shower, he croaked and crawled in next to me. He saw me flinch away from his touch, but he sat close to me, under the water, and let me know he was there.

It made me realise how much I'd neglected them, and in turn, how cold I actually was. I was shivering all over, not just from fear, and ended up hugging my pokémon, trying to share some of his warmth. He croaked once more, and suddenly I felt another presence in the shower. I nearly leapt out of my skin, though calmed when I heard the familiar grunts and growls of Loki, and looked up to see him smiling at me, being splashed with water and trying in vain to shield himself from the downpour whilst trying to comfort me at the same time.

Even Lacey was there, though she remained outside of the shower, and even offered me a small, tentative smile.

I realised then, that no matter how much I was suffering, I had friends that were looking out for me, and friends that depended on me, regardless of the difference in our species.

I pulled myself together, thanked my pokémon and dragged myself out of the shower, forcing myself to get dressed and face the world. I passed the mirror and noticed how sorry I truly looked. My face was sunken, my eyes were bloodstained from crying so much, as well as being puffy and sore. Huge bags circled underneath my eyes, and I'd never seen myself looking so pale. Everything about me just looked so broken – so hollow. It was how I felt.

But I knew that I had to continue onwards with my journey. I was lucky to still be alive, and took comfort in that fact. I didn't know whether or not the demons and their trainer had been discovered, but I didn't care in the slightest. I needed to deal with it.

And I did so in the easiest way; I balled it all up and pushed it down as far as I could. I forced myself to move past it.

I shook myself and rubbed my hands across my face as hard as I could. They were dry and rough, and it managed to shake me out of my stupor a little bit. "C'mon guys," I said to my pokémon, drawing looks from all of them. "Let's go get some food or something. Explore the boat maybe."

They all looked so happy that I was moving and carrying on with my life again. Even Lacey, though I still had no idea what had brought about the personality change.

I ended up walking along deck with them and found a small restaurant to buy some food at. It was that bastard trainer's money that bought us some food, and I figured it was probably the only good anything of his had ever managed to achieve. My pokémon dove into their food eagerly, whilst I picked at it, not hungry in the slightest.

It was Lacey who noticed, and her that prodded me and tried to get me to eat more.

"I'm not hungry," I whispered, mutinously. "I just... I just can't bring myself to eat anything," I admitted. I was still in shock. I just couldn't force myself to do anything. Eating, drinking, sleeping... it all seemed out of reach to me. I didn't feel in need of any of it. I just felt dead, hollow inside.

She shook her head at me and pushed my tray into me. I sent her a look, which she matched with equal ferocity. I sighed and relented, biting into whatever food I had bought myself. I didn't taste anything - I didn't even register what it looked like, or even how it smelt. It was just food, and I spent my entire time forcing myself to go through the motions of chewing and swallowing.

I looked at my pokémon and wondered what had brought about the sudden change. It wasn't like she had any love for me before we got on the boat, after all. "What's changed?" I ended up asking her. She looked at me, yellow eyes sparkling with confusion. "You're suddenly nice to me. Back in Dewford, you seemed quite happy to let that shedinja kill me, and then even happier to let those demons skin me alive! Now you're looking out for me!" I became aware that I was nearly shouting, and blushed as I felt people look around to us all. I cowered into myself, trying to make myself as small as I could before I whispered, "Why are you being nice to me all of a sudden?"

She dropped her head and whispered something that sounded like an apology. When I raised a brow at her, she pointed towards my leg, where I kept my gun, and mimed killing something. It took me a while to try and understand her, and a few more attempts to get what she was actually talking about.

"It's because I shot that trainer?" I guessed, voice low. She nodded slowly, and begun to mime more actions. I felt like I was playing charades in the dark. It took a considerable amount of time, and I could see that her patience was near enough wearing thin by the end of it. Regardless, I finally managed to understand what she meant.

I'd always been ordering her to kill things, ever since I first captured her. She hated me for it, thinking I was just exploiting her to kill things, just because I couldn't. She didn't think I was worthy of having her as a pokémon, or even as a friend. But when I killed that trainer, I proved to her that I could kill something myself. It made her realise that I was only getting her to kill things when I couldn't physically do it myself, not because I was afraid to, or simply exploiting her.

I didn't know what to feel about it. I'd earned my nuzleaf's respect by murdering someone. I knew that if I ever found myself repeating the situation again – and I prayed to every deity in existence I would never – that I would do exactly the same thing. But the fact that I'd killed him, then destroyed the body of the demons in my rage showed her that I was like her.

She understood that I had my own inner darkness. She thought I had only acted as I had before because I didn't want to stain my soul.

I think... I think she started to see who I truly was that day. My pokémon managed to look past the fact that I was human, and instead saw what I had done, and what I was actually capable of. She saw the darkness that marred my soul, and decided that I was worthy of being her friend, and that I was worthy enough to work with.

I began to wonder if I would make a good dark specialist, if only because of that.

Regardless of how I felt towards earning her respect and obedience, I felt relieved that she was on side. It meant I wouldn't have to constantly be looking over my shoulder, fearful of everything she did, wondering just whether or not she was planning to kill me. I knew that it could all have been a trick, but something about her told me it wasn't.

That and the fact she seemed to want to learn how to use a gun.

I realised that after we explored most of the ship. It didn't seem that different to the one I took to Dewford, only slightly bigger. I avoided everyone I could on the way, not wanting to talk to anyone. I didn't admit it to myself, or even to my pokémon, but every person I saw had the demon's face. Every time they looked at me, I caught a flash of the demon before my eyes, and barely managed to restrain myself from acting upon it. I wasn't sure whether I would have killed them, ran away, screamed, or burst into tears. Maybe all four. But I kept trying to force the feelings down as far as they could go, burying them as deep as I could.

When we got back to the room, I constantly kept catching Lacey admiring my gun out of the corner of her eye. I'd left it on a bedside table, and every so often, I would see her staring at it, possibly imagining what it would be like to use one.

It left me with a mixture of feelings.

I'd heard of pokémon using firearms before, but those were the ones that were more intelligent, like alakazam. While they didn't need to be able to use them, firearms seemed to fascinate some pokémon. It may have been because it was something that humans had built to use as a weapon, rather than pokémon drawing on mysterious energies within themselves to form weapons. Every weapon they had was in some way a part of them, yet human weapons were always produced with harming another in mind.

It fascinated them.

I considered what would happen if I taught Lacey to use a gun. I knew that she would still have fingers when she evolved into a shiftry, though they would be hidden underneath the leaves that would grow to cover her hands. It would also be interesting to have someone by my side who could use a gun to protect me.

At the same time, she had her own abilities that she could use to fight. I didn't really need her learning how to use one, and didn't want her to if it meant she wouldn't learn as much with her own abilities.

Though I realised it could end up an incentive for her.

"You want to learn how to use it, don't you?" I asked her, catching her staring at it again. Her eyes rolled in their sockets to meet mine, and she nodded slowly, almost shyly. It was the first time I'd seen her express anything that wasn't confidence towards anything. Maybe it was because it was something she could never learn to do on her own, or it could have even been that she was feeling guilty about how she treated me before.

I ignored the reasons behind it and instead walked over to the firearm and picked it up. I twisted it in my grip, cleaned it with speed and proficiency drilled into me throughout my life and then twirled it around a finger. "I'll teach you how to use it," I said.

Her eyes lit up in obvious delight. Her face remained completely impassive, but she never learnt how to really hide what she was feeling.

I looked at her, offered the gun before I snatched it away as she reached for it. "But there's a condition for it," I said, meeting her gaze. "You have to put in extra effort with your drills. Human weapons might interest you for a while, but I don't want you falling behind on your own, natural abilities." I placed the gun back down on the bedside table and kept my eyes fixed on her. "If you manage to show a large improvement from your drills in two weeks, I'll begin teaching you how to use a gun."

She considered it a moment before she nodded, slowly, uncertainly. I smiled at her response, pleased I'd managed to get her obedience and extra effort in training, almost all in one.

I quickly led her and the other out of the room, finding somewhere on board to run drills for a little while. In my wallowing, I'd left them to slack off for two days, and myself too. Pushing myself in drills alongside my pokémon helped me to forget. As an added bonus, it also let me see how committed Lacey was to learning how to use a firearm.

As it turned out, she was extremely committed.

Since I'd left Dewford, nights were horrible for me. The whole time, I could only ever hear the sounds of the outside, and my imagination would go wild, thinking up incredible, horrible situations for them all. I could hear the sea parting beneath the boat, and the patter of feet along deck as people returned to their rooms.

My brain made a story for every small sound there was. And in every small story, the end was always the same; I would be murdered in some horrible, brutal way.

I whimpered, shuddered and drew myself further under the covers. I felt like crying again, though continued to try and press it down. It felt like I was pressing on a balloon – whenever I pushed down one part, another would swell up. I just didn't feel safe, even though all my pokémon were in the room with me. Loki slept by my feet, and Xander was happily asleep in the shower in the bathroom. Lacey took the other bed, though I could tell by the shine from her eyes she was still awake.

I stirred and sat up slowly, careful not to displace Loki. "Lace?" I whispered, and saw her eyes turn to meet me. I could see that she had trouble sleeping too, and wondered whether she also suffered nightmares about all the people she'd killed. I wondered whether she was like me, and saw their faces every night as she slept, or whether she never thought about them again.

She grunted and brought me back to reality. I smiled sheepishly in the dark and cleared my throat. "Is there something you can make... that will make me sleep?" I asked.

She grunted again, and I saw her eyes narrow to pinpricks. I briefly wondered whether I'd offended her by asking for her help, until I saw that she actually looked worried. I was confused as to why for a moment, and then realised what I had actually asked her. As far as she was aware, I could have been asking to sleep forever.

"I just want to be able to sleep on a night," I admitted. "I can't sleep, because every time I close my eyes, I keep seeing the demons there." I felt my voice crack and hated myself anew. I needed to be stronger than that! I needed to be strong enough to help change the world! I knew my own worries weren't much of a concern in comparison.

Her eyes widened a fraction in realisation, and then I saw her nod. I followed her as she got off her bed and walked towards my backpack. She rooted around in there before she pulled out a set of small pots that plants seemed to be growing from.

My own eyes widened. I had no idea I had such things in there! She must have snuck them in at some point when I wasn't realising!

Sneaky little bitch.

Though admittedly, I was impressed.

She hissed something as she plucked a few leaves from a plant and then some from the other, and placed the pots back into my bag. She placed the leaves in a cup the room provided, and boiled the kettle enough for the water to only be just-hot. When she poured the water in, I instantly was able to smell a mixture of herbs, and was completely in awe of her abilities. The only thing in amongst them all I could indentify was lavender. Everything else was a mystery.

She brought the cup back to me and handed it to me as delicately as she could. I thanked her and breathed in its scent, marvelling at it. Though I couldn't help but be intrigued at one thing. "Why don't you take this yourself?" I asked her.

She seemed to roll her eyes as she realised she'd have to pantomime something again. She pointed towards my cup, and then made a series of gestures I finally guessed at meaning too much. A few more and I managed to finally understand what she was on about. Too much of it, and it wasn't effective anymore. I knew that she'd consumed tiny amounts of each poison she'd used before, in order to build up a resistance to them. The drink she made me had almost the same course of action. She'd consumed too much of it, and her body had built up a tolerance towards the sleep-inducing chemicals within.

I pulled a face. That ruled out my plan of relying on the drink for a while. I resolved to stock up on sleeping pills the next time I was in a shop that sold them, and decided I would share them with Lacey, if only to try and pay her back.

I sniffed at the drink cautiously, and caught sight of the amusement in her eyes. I laughed to myself, and both of us realised it would be a long time before we completely trusted any drink the other gave us. I managed to drain the contents of the bowl in one, and instantly felt tired. I crawled back under my covers and whispered my thanks to her. Then I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Most of the time on the boat was spent with my pokémon after that. I felt so guilty for leaving them to fend themselves while I grieved about everything that had happened. I was making progress with them all, and saw that I had the obedience of each and every one of them – save for the occasional slips by Loki. He had a habit of stealing things at every chance, and I was starting to think he had the start of kleptomania. I had to be sure to work it out of him, but ensure his skills were fresh enough to be called on at any time.

That was a conundrum in itself.

Other than that, my team seemed to be progressing well. Lacey was making good work with learning her poisoning technique, and was able to produce several non-fatal toxins from the tips of the leaves covering her hands. We'd achieved it by having her concentrate enough to force certain substances out of her body and through the tips of her leaves. We started off small, using things like lavender, which we could smell coming off her. From there we had to work at getting her to naturally produce certain toxins and control them within her body. It ended up with her being ill quite often, and managing to accidentally pass some of the infection onto me at one point.

It meant we both spent one day throwing up the entire contents of the past few days.

She was still slightly ill on the last day, though the worst of it had passed. I didn't completely understand everything to do with the technique, and knew that it was her that had learnt almost everything about it – all I saw was a bunch of complicated words and numbers.

Loki was still struggling to get a grip on his psychic powers, though I saw Xander was starting to learn the basics of forming mist. Every so often, I would see his breath cloud when he breathed out, and tried to get him to repeat it as often as he could. I knew water types could alter the temperature of the water they controlled, so they could make it boil or freeze. The former was good for scalding foes, the latter for learning ice-based attacks.

Surprisingly, he was learning it quite quickly. I couldn't talk to anyone about it – I had no phone signal on the boat, and didn't feel like approaching anyone still – though I put it down to myself maybe being slightly in tune with ice pokémon.

I just found it a pity I wasn't in a cold country. If I was, I could have captured a team of ice types and trained them far easier than my current team.

But I had to make do with what life had thrown at me.

I found myself pacing the deck at night the last night, waiting for the boat to arrive in Slateport. It would supposedly dock at oh-three hundred twenty five, and I wanted to be out of my room and off the boat as quickly as I could. I stayed away from the top deck, as it was where mostly all the people had gathered. Instead I stood at the rear of the ship on the bottom deck, watching the sea pass by underneath the boat.

I was still nervy around people, even after almost a week. I just couldn't face anyone coming near enough to touch me, and had nearly snapped a waiter's hand when he tapped me to get my attention on the fourth day.

Needless to say, I was banned from that specific restaurant.

However, my nerves lead me to panicking every time I was alone and heard someone coming. So when I was stood there that night and heard someone's voice carrying towards me, I yelped and hid in a nearby doorway, shaking like a leaf, ready to pounce and attack.

I should have called out a pokémon, I realised later on, but my fear towards people at that time lead to me learning something that would be of dire help.

I couldn't make out many words of what the person was saying, though realised quickly it was a man. I was about to sneak away and pretend I wasn't there, until I heard him say something.

"... turns out Petalburg was a success."

I don't know what made me stop to listen, but I found that my body froze on the spot. I knew that Petalburg had only just recovered from the strange virus that had broken out in it, and merely assumed that he was part of some organisation that had profited from it. Naively, I assumed he was referring to the help so many people gave out, and I wanted to know how well people worked together. If I failed, at least I would know how well the country could react and help each other.

I saw him glance around himself nervously, and pressed myself further into the doorway. I prayed the door I was standing in front of wasn't likely to open anytime soon and give my position away.

"... casualties were totalled at two. No, not two anything. Just two."

I squinted at him, trying to make him out. As far as I could tell, he looked like a normal businessman – white shirt, beige trousers and brown shoes. He was dressed to blend in, and I felt instantly suspicious.

"The containment spill caused casualties. Oldale had none. The new mixture is too deadly. It needs to be checked again."

My breath caught as I tried to think of what it meant. They had to be testing created viruses on settled populations, disguising them as 'spills' or industrial accidents! Surely people would be able to realise when every town started getting ill?

Unless they did it methodically. Starting from Oldale, if they worked around to all the closest towns and cities, people would merely assume that it was spreading, if the symptoms were all close enough.

"Remodel it," he hissed into the phone, and quickly checked around himself again. "Tests in the labs are too small sample sizes. We need a better grasp of the effects on the population. Better for us to test it in a town and have twelve people die, then release it to public wholesale and have twelve percent die."

My heart was racing. They were testing airborne drugs in a town! Or maybe not airborne, but they had to be releasing it somehow! It had to be illegal! There had to be a great number of breaches of every sort of ethical conduct! It had to be a large pharmaceutical company producing something that they thought they could use everywhere.

Which brought the main question; what company would honestly be doing such a thing?

There had to be a great number of companies capable of such a thing in the country. It meant I'd have to find out what company was behind it all.

And then what? It was far too early to be the cause of destruction for the world. I'd been told it was something I needed to change by the end of the year. Surely it wouldn't start that early, I told myself. I could report them to the police, but then what? It was my word against a whole company's, and were they really likely to believe me against them?

Suddenly he swapped into speaking a different language, and I had no idea what he said.

"Spostare su lotto numero cinquantaquattro. Sarò di ritorno alla sede centrale entro un'ora."

I blinked from my spot and inclined my head round the doorframe. What the hell did that mean? I saw him throw a poké ball off the boat, and saw the explosion take shape. When it faded though, I couldn't see anything but a pair of red eyes that floated ominously in the dark. I heard the telltale shrieks of a flying pokémon, though it wasn't enough to tell me what it was.

Its eyes turned to me, and I quickly ducked back into the doorframe. My breath raced once more, and I barely heard the man climb aboard the pokémon. My only indication he had left was the sounds of wings beating, and the caw of the pokémon fading off into the distance.

I poked my head around the doorframe and looked after it. I couldn't see anything, so stepped out and squinted cautiously, observing the distance. I saw nothing, and gathered that the man had long since departed.

What did it all mean?

I thought about it as much as I could. There had to be some sort of company testing a drug by releasing it into the public, and then observing the results. Surely if people didn't die, and they achieved the results they wanted, then they could begin marketing it. But it meant they were risking exposing the properties of their drug or whatever it was to the world, and had to be paying loads of people loads of money to stop them all from looking into it.

I groaned and rubbed my eyes. It was too much to think about. I wanted someone to talk to, someone that I could debate it all with. Why couldn't that bastard imp have taken someone back with me? How much did it really expect me to do on my own?

I growled and leant against the railings. I'd have to start researching every damn pharmaceutical company in Hoenn and look into whether or not they were capable of such a thing. I didn't know what factors meant they would be, but gathered they had to have a large amount of money, as well as locations in a vast number of labs in different locations.

It was a lot to be expected of me.

I sighed and pushed myself off the railing, heading towards the main deck of the ship. I needed to find somewhere that I could do a little bit of research on all the companies in Hoenn. I'd spent enough time over the trip sleeping, whether catching up on what I'd lost, or merely wasting some time. I couldn't travel much over the ship, and found that Lacey's little cocktails would knock me out for a good ten hours at a time. I could sacrifice another night's sleep if I managed to figure out what was going on with the man's conversation.

I needed to know whether or not what he was doing would turn out to be a threat. If it turned out to be nothing, I could rest easy knowing it wasn't something I needed to change. And if it was something I needed to change, it would mean I finally knew what I was doing in the world.

Besides, sleeping meant I relived the demon experience. I wanted to experience that again as much as I wanted to pull out my own toenails.

The boat pulled into the harbour on time, and I left as quickly as I could. The large crowds wanting to leave made me extremely on edge, and I flinched every time someone brushed against me. I spent every moment trying not to attack people or scream at every touch.

I really wasn't getting over the experience anytime soon.

From what I could see of Slateport, it looked like a mechanical marvel. I could see the large beaches stretching all around it, slightly further inland than where the docks were. Through the dark sky I could see lights in the distance, lighting up the entire coastline. There were cranes left unmanned within my line of sight, and I could hear cars and other vehicles in the far distance. More cranes showed me the shipyard, and I could see skeletons of old ships on display.

It took me about an hour, but I managed to find a small internet cafe in the city. On my way I passed over a number of small rivers and multiple bridges, and saw a great number of parks and green areas, as well as a great number of old-looking buildings.

I figured it would look a lot less majestic in the daylight. Things always looked better at night, I felt, and wondered if I would be in the city long enough to truly enjoy it.

Once in the cafe I spent yet more of my ever-depleting funds to rent a computer for a few hours, and order a few coffees to keep me awake. Of course, I spent the first thirty minutes trying to work out just how to use the internet. By my time, it had been destroyed, and there was no longer any such thing. Computers were used simply to store data, and as quick methods for planning everything out.

In all the time I was using it, I didn't find anything of true use. There were supposedly three major pharmaceutical groups in Hoenn, though none of them had labs anywhere near populated areas. The only places that had locations near or in towns were the various charity organisations. A great number of cancer research, disease research, pokémon protection and hospices all had various locations across the country, and I doubted somehow that a group trying to cure cancer would want to release a drug into large areas of civilisation.

The five largest charity organisations in Hoenn were the Hoenn Heart Foundation, the G.P.P.A., Cancer Research Hoenn, Pathornogix and the C.P.O. – the child protection organisation – in that order. The only one that took a little digging to find out their cause was Pathornogix, and apparently they were researching ways to cut the number of stillbirths in humans and pokémon both, as well as provide relief work for any sort of natural disaster situation.

None of them could be capable of doing what I'd heard.

Maybe it was some form of underground group. I'd heard Adryan mention the 'Rockets', and did a little research on them too. Apparently ten years before the current time I was in, an underground terrorist group known as 'Team Rocket' had taken over Kanto and Johto both. They'd worked their way up from the underground, buying people off here and there, securing persons in every aspect of life there was – from judges to the homeless. They took over the entire Kan-Jo continent, and were apparently disbanded when their leader was attacked and killed by a young trainer.

Though there were reports of areas still being under their influence. Rumours were flung around on the internet about all sorts of people being on their payroll – gym leaders and Elites included.

I didn't doubt that last one. After meeting the Sinnoh Elite member Aaron, I wouldn't have been surprised if every one of them was corrupt.

I ended up aimlessly browsing the internet for the last thirty minutes of my time. I was nothing short of amazed by the wealth of information it provided. It seemed like anything I wanted to find out, I could. It was incredible! Everything was there, from training techniques to records of births and deaths for the past thousand years!

I considered maybe searching anyone from my family. I could have typed in my surname easily and found people that shared it. Anyone of them could have been an ancient relative of mine.

But something stopped me from searching them. I knew my surname wasn't exactly going to be rare, and figured it would probably drive me crazy – knowing who my grandparents or other distant relatives were, and wanting nothing more to search them out.

Though it wasn't exactly like I could introduce myself to them. 'Hi, I'm your grandson from eighty years in the future,' didn't exactly sound like the words a sane person would speak.

However, in the last few moments, I ended up yelping and leaping a good few feet away from my computer screen. A load of strange pictures kept leaping up on my screen, and I began panicking at the sheer volume of them all.

I had no idea so much porn existed in the world!

I didn't know where the hell it had all come from, and didn't know what to do at first. Loads of images kept jumping up on my screen, and I stained my memory with more naked people than I could ever dare to imagine. I panicked and looked around, wondering just how the hell I could stop it all. Everything and anything was flooding my screen, from straight to lesbian to gay, and even images of pokémon and humans!

Eventually I leapt at the plug and yanked it out as quickly as I could. My cheeks were burning bright red, and I was flustered with embarrassment, looking this way and that to see if people were looking at me.

Thankfully, the few people in there had their attentions elsewhere.

I pulled a face and chuckled sheepishly to myself. I considered maybe having someone teach me how to use the internet, and maybe explain to me just how to make sure something like that never happened again. I'd always heard stories about the world I was in now, and had never believed that people could access so much with so little effort.

Well, at least I'd found the stories were real.

My ears were still burning red when I paid my tab, and I left the cafe as quickly as I could. The cold morning air felt good on my skin, and I ended up laughing to myself again as the sun crept up higher in the sky.

Eventually I pulled a face and shook my head, deciding that maybe I wouldn't go near a computer again unless I was supervised. As... interesting as the experience was, I didn't feel like repeating it.

At least, not in a public place.

All in all, I think the trip to the internet cafe wasn't a true waste of time, considering I learnt a lot about the major groups within Hoenn, as well as a few more things about my pokémon. It seemed that on the internet, new research was being published all the time, far faster than the pokédex was updating. Most of the stories were nothing more than rumours, though it did include various different topics of what different attacking abilities pokémon could learn, as well as new natural abilities they were starting to exhibit. Supposedly vaporeon were being found with the ability to resist anything like poisoning or being burnt whilst it was raining, among others.

The internet seemed like a powerful tool and weapon, and I wondered just how people would end up coping when the main systems for it all were destroyed. I knew that each country didn't want another finding out their secrets, so they all sent in secret operatives to demolish each other country's internet sources. It meant that when every team was successful, everyone was without it.

I had no doubt people would have panicked and gone crazy.

I considered what to do in Slateport for the rest of the day there. I didn't truly feel like going to the gym any time soon, and had no real urge to go and explore any of the local museums. I was stumped for ideas. I could have released my pokémon and let them have a run-round, but I doubted it would go well when the city became populous with people trying to get here and there.

I knew Adryan was still in the Origin Cluster, as he still hadn't let me know he'd got out. He had mentioned, after all, that he would be in there over a month, and I figured it had been a little over five weeks since he had left.

Besides, I didn't like the thought of randomly texting him whilst he was somewhere in a cave. There were a few times he'd sent me a text saying something, though the beeps of my phone had alerted wild pokémon to me, and made them attack. If they were only normal pokémon in comparison to those in the Cluster, I didn't want to send him a text randomly and have all the pokémon in there chasing after him.

From what he had told me, he'd only been caught out by his phone once, and that had only angered a few golbat that his castform had easily put aside with a wide-spread cold attack. But the way he mentioned that he hadn't encountered any wild ditto made me realise one thing; ditto to him were like gardevoir to me.

While I had always feared the demons, if only from horror stories alone, my experience with them was enough to put me off them for life – even to make me want to go on a mass genocide of their species. Whilst I doubted Ayd had been through anything like I had with ditto, they had still dissolved one of his best friends before his eyes.

No doubt they were his demons.

I put the thoughts aside and decided to text Mia to see if she was actually anywhere nearby. It was highly likely that she was still in Dewford... but I just felt like I needed some human company. I hadn't spoke to anyone since I'd talked to Brawly in the Dewford gym, and I was starting to feel a little lonely for human company.

It must have been nothing short of a miracle when she texted back within five minutes, letting me know she'd been in Slateport since the day before. She also threatened to gouge out my eyes with a spoon for waking her up, but I just brushed that aside as typical for her. She told me to get to the pokémon centre, and she'd be up and ready within half an hour to do something.

It took me a good twenty minutes to find the pokémon centre, and I was confused as to why it was so far away from any of Slateport's entrances and exits. In every other place I'd visited before, there was always a pokémon centre at least ten minutes away from every entrance and exit into the town. Larger places like Rustboro had around five centres, and I was certain Slateport had about the same amount.

I was just thankful Mia had told me which one to meet her in. I had no doubt if I had turned up to the wrong one, she just might have carried through one of her threats to me.

When I got into the pokémon centre, I found that she was already up and collecting her pokémon. She grinned when she saw me and yelled, 'Hiya!' as she wrapped herself around me in a hug.

She hugged me, and I saw the demons in my mind again.

I made a noise that was something like a strangled scream at the memory, and broke free of her grip, panting and breathing hard.

She backed away in alarm and looked me over. Her face showed that she was genuinely worried and concerned. "What was that about?"

I smiled sheepishly and thought of the best explanation I could. I didn't want to admit what had happened, so I sought for something that I could use as a cover-up. Thankfully I had one I didn't have to lie for. "I'm covered in bruises," I told her, gingerly pressing a hand onto my opposite arm. "You just managed to catch a lot of them at once."

She lifted and eyebrow, not believing me, though she still apologised nonetheless. The moment I let down my guard, however, she decided to whip my top up to see the damage. I nearly leapt out of my skin at the suddenness of it, and she merely laughed and conceded the point to me.

I began to reconsider wanting to meet up with her.

"They do look painful," she agreed, tapping a finger against her chin. "I can see why you nearly screamed like a baby." She looked at me, bore a fanged grin and then began to poke my bruised arms and chest. "Though it's entertaining for me!"

I winced and leapt back as she poked the one caused by the scizor. "Remind me why I wanted to meet with you again?" I grumbled, gingerly rubbing my screaming arms.

"I'm awesome, do you need any more of a reason?" she asked, laughing all the while. "C'mon," she said, linking an arm round mine and ushering me out of the centre. I tried my best to ignore the frantic beating of my heart, unable to picture her on my arm, and instead seeing the horrifying demon. She turned to face me, and instead I saw the demon's dead face, kicked in and beaten, showered with bits of bone and blood.

"Let's go do something in town," the demon spoke in Mia's voice, and the deathly vision was replaced with reality. My heart still continued to race, though, my brain still believing it was all a horrible ruse constructed by the horrific thing.

She looked up and me and grinned. "I don't feel like staying in this centre all the time. Besides-" she lowered her voice to a whisper. "I think the nurse on duty is scared of me."

I laughed. It wasn't exactly hard to discern why. No doubt she'd gone into another one of her crazy threats, and the poor nurse had taken it to heart. I had to wonder whether or not she would end up being carted away to a mental hospital at one point. I laughed to myself, and when she looked at me curiously, I explained my train of thought to her.

"They tried that once before," she deadpanned, shrugging slightly. "I got Charles to beat them up then made a run for it."

I bit my lip, trying not to laugh. Her face was straight the whole while, and I had no idea whether or not she was joking. We stopped walking, and it was a good few minutes before she jabbed me in the ribs and revealed that it was all just a joke.

To be totally honest, I wasn't fully convinced it was.

Though I figured if I ever ended up in a mental institute, at least I'd have some company.

"So what do you wanna do today then?" I asked her, changing the subject quickly. "I've got no idea what there is to do in Slateport, and you've been here a day already." In truth, I just wanted to get away from her and hide. It wasn't anything against Mia, it was just that my brain was still convinced it was the demon talking to me, even if my eyes and ears said otherwise. I pushed the thoughts down as low as they could go, and continued to reassure myself that Mia was simply Mia.

She shrugged. "I'm clueless. I was going to move on today up until you text me. Though there's a pokémon contest on later today that we could check out."

I lifted a brow in curiosity. I remembered Ayd mentioning them to me once, and that the people and pokémon participating were levels higher than normal trainers. A large part of me didn't fully believe it, yet I trusted that he wouldn't have lied to me about something like that. Regardless, I felt I had to see it to believe it.

"Sounds good," I told her, nodding slightly. "What else can we do?"

"Geez," she drawled and knocked her head on my shoulder. "You're not exactly full of ideas, are you? Did you never consider that you'll impress a woman by knowing where and what you want to do, rather than just letting her choose everyone?"

To be totally honest, with visions of gardevoir haunting me every time I close my eyes, I wasn't entirely convinced I wanted to impress a woman. Though I played along regardless, embracing the distraction she offered me as I asked, "So are you saying you want me to impress you?"

She spared me the barest glance. "I still have a rusty knife in my bag you know."

"Never mind!" I yelped quickly. Though, I had to ask, "... do you honestly carry a rusty knife in your bag?"

She grinned. "Pray you never annoy me enough to find out." I saw her start glancing around the area in thought, and heard her hum a tune as she tapped a finger against her chin. "We could capture a whole load of tentacool and release them in the frozen seafood counter in the nearest shop?"

I burst out laughing. "I don't think we've got enough poké balls, or nets for that. But I like the idea. We could dress up as the grim reaper and go stalking old people?"

She was the one to burst into laughter. "I don't have my costume on me at the moment, but maybe another time?" Her laughter died as once again she began to think. "We should train our pokémon sometime today too." She glanced up at me. "Mind if we go and visit the gym? I could use a little bit of info on training my pokémon."

I blinked. "Sure. I didn't know gyms helped people train their pokémon," I admitted, cursing myself for not knowing the little piece of information.

"Mh-hm," she grunted. "Granted it's only in the type the gym uses."

Well, that explained why the past two gyms I'd visited hadn't helped me. I didn't own any rock or fighting pokémon, so they couldn't have helped me in the slightest. It meant I'd have to travel around and find somewhere that had a grass, ghost or dark gym. I knew there was a water one, but Ayd had explained to me it was all the way on the eastern borders of the country, accessible only by ship.

In short, I'd be on my own for a while. No real change there.

Though I wondered where the psychic one was in Hoenn, and hoped that they could remove memories from my brain. I didn't want to have to suffer every time I closed my own eyes.

"I could use a little help with the aron I captured," Mia admitted, drawing me from my thoughts. "He's the first steel pokémon I've ever had, so I'm a little clueless as to how to train him. Besides, I beat the gym there yesterday," she said with a laugh. "If they complain, I can just kick their butts again!"

I stared at her, confused. "I thought you only got into Slateport yesterday? How comes you managed to get a battle time that quickly?"

"I was lucky," she answered. "I'd just got in there, and the person before me had cancelled his battle time. So they let me take it... with a little persuasion, of course."

Bribing them to get early gym times. I considered the idea myself. It meant I'd be able to get everything done much quicker, but I'd also have to give up some of my money. And no doubt, if I lost, I wouldn't be reimbursed.

"I'd say you shouldn't try it there for a while yet though," she told me, looking at me over her glasses. "Steel pokémon are tough – I only just managed to beat them. I was lucky too, the guy in Dewford pretty much wiped the floor with me. Though-" a goofy grin came on her face and she leant against my shoulder. "It was almost worth it just to see the gym leader." She sighed and I'm pretty sure her glasses fogged up. "I could just spread him on a cracker!"

I rolled my eyes. "I'm pretty sure he's about twenty-three years out of date."

She looked at me, grinned and then shook her head. "Say, did you hear about what happened in Dewford's forests?" she asked me, and a shiver raced up down my spine. "They found these two gardevoir dead, and their trainer shot in the face. Apparently they'd been capturing pokémon and people to turn into their gowns, and their latest victim escaped."

I froze, suddenly cold and unable to move. Everything played out before my eyes again, and I resisted the prime urges my body had to scream, cry or just to wet myself then and there.

Mia felt me stop and looked up to me, her eyes wide and alarmed. "Is everything alright?" she asked, concerned.

I gulped and forced the feelings back down again. "Fine," I lied, bare-faced. "I was just picturing myself in that situation." I shuddered, and didn't need to fake it. "Not something you really want to think about, is it?" I saw her nod and decided to change the subject to the first thing that came to mind. "So if you don't want me making a move on you, how comes you're walking around, attached to my arm?"

I winced. I decided I should have thought about what I was asking before my mouth began moving. Thankfully though, she just laughed and shook her head.

"You don't have all that many girls as friends, do you?" she asked, giggling slightly to herself. "Some of us will do this when we feel safe enough with a guy. It just makes everyone else think we're together, so we don't get hit on. Sort of a safety net really."

I nodded. It made sense. Still, I couldn't help but feel a little pang of hurt at her words. I was... safe. I never really had identified with the term before, and never truly understood how ego-crushing it could be, even if I was only interested in being friends with her.

Regardless, I pulled a face at her and then grinned. "So I'm 'safe', hm?"

She laughed and patted my chest. "Maybe if you were a little older, you'd be in with a chance. But you're younger than me; girls don't usually go for younger guys."

I grunted and nodded along with her explanation. I decided that if I was only safe, I could at least get her to help me how women's minds worked. If she was getting something out of our friendship, why couldn't I too?

"So why no younger guys?" I asked her, genuinely curious. And, I tried to tell myself, not the slightest bit jealous. My brain screamed at me that my racing heart was only to do with the fact that I couldn't help but feel she was a gardevoir, but I later realised that maybe there were other reasons too.

She shrugged. "Older guys are generally more mature. We know they're less likely to act childish, and are going to have a head on their shoulders more than a younger one."

"So if you had the choice between an older guy who was immature, and a younger one who was mature, who would you pick?" I asked.

Not that I was hoping for any specific answer.

"Older one," she answered quickly. When I stared at her, dumbfounded, she just laughed and patted my chest again. "Hey, I'm giving you an honest answer. You never said it had to make sense."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes. "I'm never going to understand women," I groaned, resisting the urge to bury my face in a hand. "You're all just too weird."

She laughed and nodded. "Well, that's just the fun about us. If it's all too much for you, you could always just become gay. I'm sure men are a lot less hassle."

I considered it for less than a moment and then shook my head with a laugh. "I don't think that's going to happen."

"Oh, I don't know," she said whimsically as she detached herself from me and skipped ahead a step or two. "I can see it happening. Though-" she placed a fist under her chin, "-I'm just stuck working out one thing; whether you'd be the pretty one, or the funny one."

I folded my arms and glared at her. "Either way, that's an insult."

"Ah, so that smart one," she said, peering at me over her glasses. "Though, that doesn't say much for the other one..." She grinned once more and looped her arm into mine again. "Come on then, let's get going to the gym. Once we're done there, we can figure out what we're doing next."

I nodded and followed her lead. Though I decided that maybe my initial impression of her was quite accurate; she was nothing short of a nutcase.

The gym itself was no different to either of those I had seen before, though this one was surrounded by various cranes and steel girders. It was near the shipyard of the town, and had a very... metallic feel to it. I supposed it fit in well with it being a steel pokémon gym. The whole town was a large industrial marvel, I realised, and it made sense.

I was thankful for Mia being there by my side. There were just too many people around, all rushing to get here, there and everywhere. Once or twice someone would pull a face at us, though would often quickly hurry on when Mia caught them giving us dirty looks and responded in her typical way. I couldn't help but grin whenever it happened, and marvelled at how she managed to think up such imaginative scenarios.

I knew one thing; she'd make a great horror film writer.

Or serial killer.

In the gym though, I found it unsurprising that the leader couldn't meet with us at such short notice. However, the receptionist working there proved to be endowed with plenty knowledge about steel pokémon – she said it was because each gym only employed people who knew about the pokémon they would be working with.

It brightened Mia considerably. She ended up clearing out the poor woman's brains for every bit of information she could think of, ranging from what sort of diet to give it, as well as the best ways to teach it attacks, as well as general ways to look after them. I listened in all the while, just in case I ever caught a steel type and needed to use what I'd learnt.

Though we were told we could use the gym's facilities to help train our pokémon, providing we paid a small fee. While I argued that we could have found a place to train for free, Mia convinced me to use the opportunity, if only because the nearest safe place to train within the city's limits was a good three hour walk away.

That won the arguement.

I saw along the way that there were a great number of different rooms, all specifically catered for different things; such as one having a pool, another room was blisteringly hot, and some were plain and covered in gravel. I considered it meant each one simulated a different environment, and they could train their pokémon to be further protected against water, fire or the like.

Since steel pokémon were heavily affected by magnetism and electrical waves, there were a number of rooms devoted to helping the pokémon train in such conditions. Most of the steel trainers trained in those rooms, supposedly, and it helped them and their pokémon overcome weaknesses that they suffered.

Myself and Mia ended up outside, in the gym's large grounds, which I'm convinced was actually a forest they were charging admission for. She smiled at me and reassured me it was worth it before she released her full team of four. I recognised her stantler from before, though it was the first time I'd seen any of her other members.

There was a large brown and red tortoise that came up to my knee, and it poked its head from its shell with a weary expression. It snorted out white steam at me and then collapsed to the floor, nonchalantly eating grass that burst into flame around it. Beside it was a small pokémon I would have thought was only a cactus, had I not seen it emerge from a poké ball. It was circular and dark green, and a number of pointed thorns covered its body and arms both. It didn't have a separate head that I could see, and it stared at me with beady red eyes, hidden in dark black grooves in its skin.

A torkoal and a cacnea. I considered that was how she had managed to win quite well in her gym battles so far, though couldn't fathom how Brawly had managed to defeat them both. I supposed he was stronger than I gave him credit for – after all, I defeated two of his pokémon with a then-disobedient, murderous Lacey.

Her last pokémon reminded me of a bug, though with a metallic exoskeleton. Numerous grooves and spikes adorned its body, and it had a pair of large, untrusting blue eyes that peered out from cracks beneath its steel hide. I realised it must have been an aron, given that it was the only member of her team I didn't recognise.

She crouched before them all and gave them all a little bit of attention before she craned her neck to me and smiled. "Kelvin's the torkoal, Saskia is the cacnea, and Wrex is the aron." She beamed up at me and then stared at my own poké balls. "So let yours out, and we can have them train for a little while."

I nodded and called out my own pokémon. It took a little bit to try and explain the situation, and eventually we managed to get them training with each other – and thankfully I stopped Lacey from murdering anything. Lacey and Charles ended up sparring – after I told Mia it wouldn't be wise to have her spar with any of the others. It ended up with the torkoal helping Xander to create mist – it was showing him how to do similar effects with its inherent white fog, whilst Loki chased after the cacnea, happily trying to attack it. Quite often he realised that his target could actually hit back, and he ended up scampering away before rounding back for another attack.

Myself and Mia ended up both trying to get her aron to be a bit more obedient. Or more, she tried getting it to attack me every time I started watching our pokémon spar.

It was war.

I decided to get my own back, and would get Xander to try and attack her at will. It meant that she would end up having her pokémon try to attack me, and eventually we ended up in one big brawl.

It was fun, and it ended up distracting me from everything, at least for a little while.

We spent the rest of most of the day just being tourists, going around Slateport and seeing what the town had to offer for us.

Eventually we ended up going to view the contest that Slateport was hosting. It cost us almost fifty poké each, but we both considered it was worth it.

It was something they described as a 'beauty contest', and I'd never honestly seen anything like it. I saw all different pokémon perform on stage, pulling off what they referred to as 'appeals'.

It was amazing.

I saw a blastoise create giant fountains of water from the cannons on its back, and then flash-froze it, mid-twist. It then leapt up and shattered the whole spiral in one brilliant move, creating a shower of little chunks of ice that resembled snowflakes. There was a vulpix that created swirling masses of purple flames, that it somehow managed to control, making them spin around it and then slowly fade out of view.

It was nothing short of breath-taking, and I often wish I'd managed to catch it on video. It showed me, for the first time, that beauty could be created from the harsh, brutal nature of pokémon. People were managing to use them for things other than just brutal, bear-baiting competitions, and it made me realise people could have evolved past using them for only brutal methods, if given enough time.

Which meant that I had to succeed, if only to see such a thing happening.

I tensed and felt a little bit of me die on the inside. Mia seemed to notice something was up with me, and she grinned at me and pinched my arm as if to try and distract me. I smiled at her, and felt just a slight bit more alive when she smiled back.

I didn't truly understand what was happening, but I knew that somehow, I was happier when I was around her. Though despite it all, I still didn't feel safe from the demons. Or the ghost I knew had to still be alive.

Even though we spent the rest of the day going through mundane activities, like training our pokémon, and even just getting food, it was strangely enjoyable all the while. I put it down to simply being just because I hadn't spent any time around people within the few days prior, and it was making me embrace a love to being around people I didn't know I had.

The day went pretty quickly, and ended with Mia telling me off for making her spend another day in Slateport. She said she'd been planning to leave that day, though instead had just hung around with me. We booked a room to share in the pokémon centre, splitting the cost between us.

I also found out that like me, Mia had a habit of letting her pokémon out to sleep in the room with her.

"Maybe we should have considered this first," she decided, scratching at her cheek with a laugh. Lacey had stolen one of the two beds, whilst Xander nestled happily in the shower once more. Loki curled up next to Mia's torkoal and cacnea – all three of them happily nestled in the corner of the room, and her stantler knelt between the beds with the aron huddled up to it.

It also meant that there was only one single bed to spare, and just enough space for one of us to lie down on the floor.

I pulled a face and felt my stomach flip within my chest. "Well, you can take the bed then," I said, nodding towards it. "I'll take the floor."

"Don't be stupid," she abashed me, punching me on the arm. "There's enough space for us both on the bed."

I pulled a face again and felt my ears burn. Instead I told her to just take the bed and quickly hurried in the bathroom to get ready for the night. When I returned, she shook her head at me and used the bathroom herself, and then threatened to beat me to death with the toilet seat because I'd left it up.

I managed to pry the covers out from underneath Lacey, seeing as she didn't use them any way, and set up my own bed on the floor, cramped around the small groups of pokémon on the floor. When Mia came back in, she looked at me and laughed, and then climbed into the remaining bed.

"There's room you know," she offered, moving over slightly. "We've both agreed nothing's going to happen between us, so what's the harm in sharing a bed? We can top and tail you know? Or have you never just shared a bed before?"

Well, in honesty, I had. Many times I'd been forced to sleep up close to various members of my troops, all to try and seek warmth, or even just to stay protected against whatever lay in wait for us in the dark.

But I didn't want to share one whilst my brain was still convinced every touch on my skin was from the demons.

Mia was persistent in her cause of not wanting me to sleep on the floor, so eventually I grumbled my acceptance and crawled into bed beside her. She pulled a face at the number of bruises covering my chest, though said nothing about it as she gave me enough room to get into the bed next to her. When I was settled in, she crawled up and buried her head on my shoulder, deciding it was more comfortable to sleep on than the pillow.

The reaction was instant, and it took every ounce of will in me not to scream and leap away from her in that moment, afraid she'd try to rape me or skin me alive. I barely contained a shudder at the thought of it all and wondered if I'd ever be able to have normal thoughts again.

She must have noticed I was tense, because she laughed at something before she said, "You really don't have to worry, you know? I told you you're safe. I'm not going to leap on you during the night."

I laughed nervously at her words. "What happened to going top and tail?" I wondered aloud, and winced at the way she prodded one of my bruises.

"I'm not sleeping with my face near your feet," she told me, flat toned. "Feet are gross, and if they touched me during the night, I'd cut them off. Do you really want to wake up without any feet?"

Somewhat scarily, I could see her chopping them off during the night. "Not particularly," I admitted, and heard her grunt in amusement. Though it didn't stop my brain screaming at me to run away from the contact, or to just kill the threat. "Though it doesn't explain why you're using my shoulder as a pillow."

She grunted somewhat sleepily. "Your big head is taking up the entire pillow. Besides, I've slept like this with people before. They've never complained. There's no harm in it if you're friends."

I murmured something akin to acceptance, realising I wasn't going to win the argument. Instead I felt my heart thud further in my chest when she wrapped one of my arms around her. I was like putty in her hands, and couldn't find any sort of will within me to argue against her. I had to keep my body relaxed, because otherwise I was afraid she'd do something which would make me react without conscious decision. I didn't want to end up killing her like I did the starly Jennifer gave me, if only because she was one of only two friends I had in the world.

I wondered if she could hear the way my heart thudded against my rib cage when she pressed her head slightly onto my chest. She grunted something, and with her being so close, I felt my hormones take control of my body. As she bid me goodnight, I had to fight the internal war against my hormones, and quickly found that it was one I was losing. I cursed each and every one of them, and hoped that she didn't move around a lot during the night or brush against me.

I sighed and gave up my fight. It was obvious I wasn't going to win. Instead I just decided to try and sleep for the night and closed my eyes...

...only to see the demon in my mind again.

I leapt from my skin, and somehow didn't manage to knock Mia from her sleep. I was panting quickly, and my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest. Not even when I had Mia by my side could I forget the demons that haunted my dreams.

I felt a tear slip from an eye as I remembered it all once more and swallowed, forcing the feelings back down once more. If nothing else, remembering the demons helped me win the war against my hormones.

Every cloud was meant to have a silver lining. In my life, it just seemed like every bit of good was accompanied by five of bad.

And yet again, my mind began to scream the one question I hadn't been able to answer since I'd got to the new world:

Why me?

 
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