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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16. The Petalburg Woods

Natural laws have no pity ~ Lazarus Long

-O-O-O-

"Caves and forests are a natural part of our ecosystem. We can't just go and destroy them because a few people each year get killed within them. Over two hundred people each year are killed in the forests - only sixty-three percent of them are trainers. Every year, twenty-two thousand people are killed in hit and run accidents. So does that mean we're going to destroy cars too?

Of course not. Because cars help everyone in their daily lives. The forests are no more than large hinderances, only patrolled by someone with pokemon, or someone foolish enough to walk into them.

But what happens when we destroy the forests? All the creatures native to them will begin to move elsewhere, looking for new territory to claim. Don't you think it's better to keep predators away in the forests, rather than inviting them into the towns? Can you imagine your trip to work each day if the railway station had a beedrill nest in it? What if a sceptile claims that an office building is its new territory, and kills everyone that tries to go to work?

It's safer to keep the forests and caves as they are. Sure, a few hundred people might die each year, but really, isn't that better than the alternative of having whole towns wiped out by our own actions?"

Aaron Mattheis, 45th Sinnoh League Champion, Sinnoh Elite Four member 3007-3010. (Speaking in regards to proposed plans to destroy Eterna forest due to rising number of trainer deaths, April 16th, 3009)

-O-O-O-

The next morning, I was near enough skipping down the streets of Rustboro. Roxanne had eventually kicked me out of her house around oh-three hundred, claiming that she had an important meeting, and that with me around, she wasn't going to get any sleep.

Ego: one, need for sleep: zero.

She was certain to tell me before I left that I had to meet her again the next time I was in Rustboro, I had to meet up with her once more, as she supposedly didn't want a reputation of engaging in one-nighters. It was quite amazing how fearsome she could look even when only wearing a bright blue, pikachu-print dressing gown. I nodded, gave her my number and even got a kiss goodbye before I left, not wanting to anger the woman.

After all, she hit hard.

It worked out well regardless, as I was fully sure on my plans of revenge on the arrogant weapon owner's shop. I made my way back towards it and waited across the street from it, debilitating my plan. Once I was certain, I let out Loki from his poké ball, and waited for him to start hissing at me.

Instead he glanced around, seemingly happy to be let out in darkness for once. He seemed to forget all about being on the offensive, and more on just enjoying the fact he was let out in his element. He didn't even make a move to attack me when I bent down beside him and scratched behind his ears.

"I need your help again Loki," I told him, keeping my voice in a low whisper. He replied eagerly, seemingly understanding my words. It was most likely more that he understood whenever I spoke to him in such low tones, he was getting to be evil and be rewarded for it. "Remember how I got you to steal Adryan's phone?" He nodded eagerly at that. I think it was only because he remembered the rewards, but his eagerness consoled me. "I need you to do something similar here," I explained to him. I nodded for him to follow me, and where I walked calmly through the darkness, he skulked like a predator of the night. In fact, I was half expecting him to transform into a bat and flutter away, given the noises he was making, and the way he walked around.

We reached the store and I stood outside the window. He stopped by my side and made little protest as I lifted him up gently and held him close, my arm hooked around him like I was carrying a small child. "I need you to sneak in there," I whispered conspiringly to him. "When you're in there, destroy everything that looks like that." I pointed to the security camera watching the cash till, and made sure he knew what I was talking about before I adjusted him in my grip. "After you've done that," I whispered to him. "I want you to destroy that." I pointed to the alarm console held up near the door, and instructed Loki to do it well enough that there was no noise. I made it clear to him that if he destroyed too much, or if he set off any alarms, he wouldn't be getting any rewards.

He nodded eagerly when I placed him on the ground. He cackled once and rubbed his hands together gleefully before he skulked over to a large shadow and began to walk through the wall. I watched in awe as he phased completely through the wall and walked into the shop, and made quick work of the security cameras I could see. He snuck off into the back rooms and no doubt destroyed any cameras in there too before he crept back into the room and slashed the alarm pad code, screeching happily as he noticed no sounds go off.

I laughed at him and walked towards the door. I pointed at the lock barring me access, and he gleefully jumped up and smashed it with a fist. I walked in, and both myself and Loki growled at the annoying chime of bells above the door. Regardless I picked Loki up and praised him, promising him a good reward when we left the shop. It took a moment of explaining the concept of later to him – a process made harder as he kept jumping up my leg like an excited child, though he seemed to quickly get the message.

With the trickster by my side, we made quick work in the shop. I told him he didn't have to be careful, just as long as he didn't make too much noise, and made sure no one saw him. It was like telling a kid he could eat all the sweets he wanted. His face lit up in sheer delight and soon enough whole stands of gloves and helmets were being slung to the floor – amazingly in near silence.

I laughed at his antics and turned myself around. I picked up a small, titanium flip knife and hid it within my boot, knowing that while it wasn't one of the sharpest blades there could be, it was good in an emergency, and wouldn't cut my feet or be affected by the harsh conditions I would no doubt be stepping in. I stalked round the shop and found a brilliant blade; eight inches of high carbon stainless steel with a micarta handle. It would be able to resist almost any punishment the weather threw at it, and would still have enough sharpness to pierce the hide of a tauros. I grabbed it and quickly found its sheath and secured it tightly to my hip.

Behind me I heard Loki enjoying himself, and turned around to find him looking at me, wearing an oversized army helmet and with a large green vest covering him completely. I couldn't help but laugh at him, amazed that something that acted so evil could at the same time be so cute.

I decided against the body armours within the shop; most of them were too bulky and cumbersome. If I were to wear one, it would be too obvious, and would be more troublesome than useful. I moved onto the back of the shop, and decided quickly on one of the latest model desert eagles. I found the holster for it as quickly as I could and strapped it to my right thigh. The ammunition wasn't hard to find, and I took about a tenth of his stock, which would be more than enough to reload the gun at least forty times.

Round the back of the shop I found a thin, green jacket that was designed perfectly to cover any weapons hidden up to a person's hip. I snatched it and put it on, happy that it mange to cover my newly-acquired knife. The gun was harder to hide, but I managed to find a holster for it that was the same colour as my bottoms. It was still quite noticeable, but it was enough for people not to notice instantly. If it came to it, I could quite easily hide it in my backpack.

I was just about to leave when I caught sight of a glowing gem in the back of the shop. I found myself entranced by it, and couldn't help but stop and stare for a moment. It was a bright amber rock that was almost completely transparent, and it seemed as if there were a constant flame flickering within. I pressed my hand to it and was amazed by how warm it felt. Nothing on my person was good enough reward for Loki, I decided, and so snatched the gem and hid it away. I moved back into the main part and called him over to smash open the safe in the back, though left without taking any money. I wanted to teach the man a lesson, not ruin him. Regardless, I felt that having any money would be useless, given my knowledge that it in fact would be completely worthless within a decade.

I motioned for Loki to leave with me, and carefully shut the door behind me. I took off running for a few streets, fully aware my trickster was happily following me, cackling his tiny demonic head off the whole while. I stopped near Rustboro's forest borders, hunched over and panted for my breath.

I know robbing the store may seem overkill to most, but I wanted to teach the man a lesson. And at the time, it made perfect sense to me. When I look back, I realise it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, and I was actually completely in the wrong for ever doing it. But what I took saved my life enough times to wash away any guilt I would ever feel.

As I recovered my breath, Loki was chatting happily to himself, leaping about whilst making a set of delighted sounds. I don't think he could believe he found a human that was letting him embrace being the evil little creature he wanted to be, rather than being controlled at every slight attempt.

"Loki," I breathed, still panting, snapping his attention towards me. I plucked the strange fire gem out of my pocket and smiled as it lit up brilliantly in his eyes. I could see that he was near enough drooling at the sight of it alone, and grinned to myself. "Good boy," I said, and tossed him the gem.

He shrieked like it was Christmas. He caught the gem in his hands and held it above his head, racing around parading it like a trophy for a good moment. He stopped and licked his lips, staring at the gem with ravenous hunger. He bit into it delightedly, then stopped and began flailing around like his mouth was on fire. He calmed down, breathed, and then repeated the process again and again until the gem was completely consumed.

He was always a lunatic.

I recalled him back into his ball and made way towards the forest itself, wondering whether I should attempt it in the dark hours before dawn. Along the way I weighed up the pros and cons of going into there at such an hour; all the nocturnal pokémon would be beginning to go back to their nests, which meant I'd be mostly free from most bugs and the likes of murkrow. On the other hand, there would be a few pokémon waking up from the night and beginning to hunt, or even those that spent all the daylight hours awake. The main things I would have to look out for would be beedrill and vespiquen, though possibly kecleon and sceptile if I was truly unlucky.

The forest approached quickly, and I found myself stopping before it a moment. The trees stretched up to the heavens, and I was amazed that there was no guard post or the like making sure to protect people. It was almost like the people of Rustboro had decided that the three-mile distance between them and the forest would make sure that the pokémon within wouldn't attack them.

Day was beginning to break over the forest, covering the treetops with a brilliant amber shine. I checked my watch and realised it was just approaching oh-five hundred, and couldn't help but smile to myself. Even with an eighty year difference, the sun's cycle remained the same. It was near enough my only stability in such a strange world.

The main entrance I could see to the forest seemed to be a winding dirt path, where it looked like someone had gone through the effort of hacking down as much of the undergrowth as possible. However, the forest seemed to have tried to reclaim the path with time, and I could see the frayed and jagged edges of the tunnel-like path through all the plants. It cast a looming dark glare over the entrance, and I couldn't help but realise that my assumptions of time were completely wrong. It looked like it was going to be a permanent form of night within the forest, and I'd be risking running into anything and everything within.

Once I managed to pass the initial path into the woods, I was amazed by it's rather spacious interior. It opened up like a natural city, where the trees were the buildings, and the large growths of bushes, thorns and nettles acted as natural fences and dead-end alleyways. However, the large size was rather unnerving, given that the forest was nothing more than a natural maze. If it were smaller, I could find my way around quicker, but in the large expanses, it meant I could wander around for longer periods of time without ever actually realising I was traversing in circles.

A few feet into the forest, I couldn't help but shudder and pull my jacket tighter around myself. It was amazingly cold within the forest, and there was a thin layer of frost over the grass and a number of plants that grew from floor-height. I gathered that it had to be because there was almost no source of sunlight until roughly midday, given that plants still grew on the forest floor.

I shuddered and rubbed my arms. I was thankful I'd stolen the jacket when I did, considering that the only other one I owned was a great deal thicker. I knew that unless it got a lot colder within the forest, I wasn't likely to be wearing it. I'd rather be a little cold than overheated.

It was cold, dark and a giant natural maze. It put me on edge instantly, and I shrieked as a dustox fluttered past me, not bothered by my presence in the slightest. I stood for a moment, attempting to capture my breath, only slightly aware that my hand had dropped down instantly to my knife. I took a deep breath and attempted to calm myself, though clutched a poké ball tight in my hand. I called out Xander as quickly as I could, and took comfort in his appearance.

He croaked at me, unbothered by the change in scenery. The underside of his stomach was lined with a small number of light wounds that I could tell were going to make scars. I noticed that his front legs were slightly longer than before, and I saw that he seemed to be forming a neck between his head and body.

I picked him up and praised him again for his performance in the gym, letting his close presence calm down my racing heart. He seemed to notice that my heart was racing a marathon and fidgeted in my grip, looking around for any potential threat. I reassured him that there was no immediate threat, merely than I wanted his company.

I surprised myself when I realised how true it actually was.

He seemed to accept this answer, and he wore something that looked like a goofy grin on his face. I further told him to be wary, and warned him that most of the creatures within the forest were strong against him. It was one of my original reasons against wanting a lotad to start off with; they had an incredible number of weaknesses to opposing natures. Not only that, but I knew how many of their weak points could be exploited easily.

But by the time I'd reached that forest, I'd begun to see that it wasn't merely the mechanics and threat-assessments that defined everything. Regardless of his capabilities, I knew Xander was a pokémon that tried his hardest in battle, despite any disadvantages he may have had – which I noticed heavily in his sparring with Hale. It was amazing that I'd seen results the day after; his dodging capabilities were a lot better, and he was able to attack quicker and more accurately at shorter notices. He tried his hardest no matter what, and I realised that it was my duty as his trainer not only to cover up his weaknesses, but to help him improve himself. Moreover, it wasn't just my duty, I owed it to him for all the effort he put in to help me.

I placed him back on the floor, well aware that with him waddling along beside me, I'd be increasing my travelling time by a fair amount. But surprisingly, it didn't bother me. I was more than content to embrace his presence, and knew that I could use the extra time to begin to plan things over in my head. I wasn't being told what to do anymore, I was having to think up plans and strategies all on my own, all the time. It was new, foreign and infinitely scarier than I would have thought.

Though for some odd reason, having Xander nearby made it all seem better.

I did notice, almost for the first time, that he seemed to be content to leave every other pokémon alone, and would only shoot off warning growls at something that came too close. It was good, though it did seem like he was reluctant to attack unless provoked. I was seeing what Adryan had told me play out before my eyes; he was only ready to attack when something looked like it was ready to. Otherwise he may as well have had his back constantly to them, given the lack of will to battle he possessed.

I knew I needed to train it out of him. The only problem was that I didn't truly know how to. The first idea I had was to just leave him on his own for a bit in the forest, and let him defend himself against the wild creatures. Though I quickly reconsidered, remembering his high disadvantage against everything within the forest, and the fact that many of the creatures could poison any other living creature. I didn't have much in the way of curing poison, and I knew only the most basic field-methods for flushing it out of someone's system. The only problem would be that if it did work, the person would sweat buckets, and then would often lose control of their bowels as they detoxed. Unfortunately, it was very similar to the symptoms of irreversible poisoning, so I wouldn't know whether he was cured or not until he died or became well again. And honestly, I didn't want to risk letting him die. I knew it was because it would hamper by original plans, but I think somewhere, on some level, I was attached to the little creature.

I was walking about one step for every ten I would normally as I dawdled down to Xander's pace. It let me evaluate the conditions I was travelling through, and gave me some extra time to think things over. I estimated then that it would take over a week for me to traverse the forest, if I made good time. I remembered back to Jennifer's words, and how I had less than a year to change everything round. It was March at that time, which I gathered meant I had until the literal end of the year.

That realisation made me want to give up then and there. It was only three months into the year, and yet the Hoenn spring was too hot for me! I knew I would be suffering by the advent of summer, and hoped that I would have an ice pokémon by such a time, if only so it could constantly pepper me with blasts of chilly wind.

I still couldn't figure out what the largest reason for the world's destruction was. I knew there were a number of things that lead to the overall downfall, but I had no idea whether it was a load of small things, or one large thing. For all I could remember, it could have happened in another country, and I'd completely miss it whilst out in Hoenn!

I decided then and there I needed a psychic. I supposedly wouldn't receive any brain damage if I had my pokémon only share images and speak with me. I made the assumption that sharing images meant I could share memories. I theorised that if I had a pokémon use its clairvoyance, and then compare it to my memories of the future, it may be able to help me pinpoint what would actually happen. Even if it couldn't tell me what happens, by some silly loophole that explaining the future was sharing the pokémon's abilities, I could simply have it lead me to help, rather than explain it to me. It meant I needed a psychic with the power the likes of alazkazam, hypno or a xatu.

One thing was for certain though: I'd never go near one of the demon gardevoirs.

I'd been walking with Xander in the forest for just over an hour before I decided to stop. Xander groaned near my feet, discontent with the sudden stop in motion. The grass had got higher, nearly covering him completely, and there were several trees that loomed over us both. It separated into a few separate paths, and I honestly wasn't too sure which path to take. I stopped both to collect my bearings, and to begin training my two creatures. I'd noticed heavily that Xander wasn't attacking anything, and got the feeling that it would eventually lead to our downfall. Many of the bugs could slow us down and cocoon us with their silk, and if he was weary of attacking anything, we could end up a bug's next meal.

On the other hand, if I relied on Loki too much, he could have become too much to handle. It was a decision I had to make, and in the clarity of it all, chose a hidden third option: to capture a new pokémon.

I reasoned that I could catch one of the many infant wurmple that nested within the woods. I knew their full life cycles took ten months to mature into dustox or beautifly, and as an addition, knew that the wurmple themselves only grew out of the defenceless larval stage at around three months of age. It meant that if I caught one old enough, it could mature extremely quickly, and I could use the deadly poisons it naturally produced to my advantage.

At least, that was the original plan.

I released Loki in a flash of light, and noticed with a small hint of pride that he didn't react in his usual way to Xander or myself. Instead he delighted in being let out, and stood before me calmly. I wasn't fooled though, even then. I knew that it could all be a trick, and the moment I upset him, he'd revert back to a feral state. Regardless, I played along, if only to appease him.

"Anything but Xander comes too close, feel free to kill it," I told him, smiling to myself at his open laugh of delight. I turned to the lotad and crouched before him. "But you need to make sure pokémon don't really get close enough to attack in the first place. You need to work on your battle moral: you're too hesitant to attack."

I swung my arms by my side as I stood up and decided then and there what the plan of action would become. I set up drills for both my pokémon, and they would go through them daily. They both had three a day, focusing on different aspects, and I made sure to introduce them as we made way through the forest. It was the only way I knew I would be able to train my pokémon effectively – I had grown up in the army, drills were second nature to me. I could easily pass the expertise onto my pokémon, given that they gave the time and effort needed.

The strangest thing was implementing a form of battle strategy into my plans. While straight-out attacking was still a strategy, it obviously wasn't going to get me far. I had Loki run drills on using the strange flashes of light he had used on Siren's back – the very same attack that had fish leaping onto dry land and attempting to swim on it. I needed them to become more proficient at everything before I could figure out how to use it.

We spent a good few days just in the first part of the forest, with me implementing the training regime into them. Every day at oh-nine hundred, fourteen hundred and nineteen hundred, I made them train for two hours. It slowed our progress through the forest, but they quickly picked up on the ideas I had for them.

I also had to teach them how to take watch in the wilds. The first night, I stayed up the whole time, explaining everything I could to them. I took both watches, though one with Loki and one with Xander. The next day, I was ready to drop the whole day, after having gone over forty-eight without sleep, though persevered through regardless. That night, I was practically dead whilst I slept, and paid no regard as to whether I woke up the next morning or not – I was simply that tired. Thankfully though, it seemed Xander had understood the concept of taking watch, and judging by the small amounts of scrapes over him and Loki, I gathered he had managed to convince the ghost to take watch.

I was proud of them both.

The nights in the forest were horrible times though. Around eighteen hundred hours every day, the forest would start to drop in temperature, and at twenty-two hundred hours, you could see frost beginning to form on the grass and tree leaves. I woke up a few times with one of my pokémon cuddled up to me, the other standing watch somewhere nearby. It was a strange experience, and even though I freaked out the first time it happened – I woke up in the middle of a nightmare that I had a zubat attached to my stomach, draining my blood and found Loki cuddled up to me when I woke – I strangely warmed to the idea instantly.

Around the fourth day though, my spirits rapidly began to decline in our trek. Everything blurred into one long, endless vision of tree, bush, tree, grass in a loop, and I was certain the days and nights were getting shorter and shorter. My internal clock had been thrown to the wind by the strange constant near-darkness of the forest, and the continual lay-down of frost meant that I often awoke shivering and cold, even when wrapped up tightly in a sleeping bag.

I looked up to the canopy and strained to see any sunlight above. I checked my watch and even though it told me it was midday, I could scarcely believe it. "People must lose their minds in here," I whispered more to myself, but Loki answered me with small chatter. Not knowing where you were, let alone what time of day it was must have driven so many people mad. I briefly wondered just how many people died in those very woods on a yearly basis, though quickly found my train of thought brought to an abrupt, crash of a halt as Loki screeched happily and chased a small buneary through the grass.

I'd taken to alternating who I walked with whilst we progressed through the forest. I'd found a stream which was meant to lead into the Petalburg reservoirs, so I knew if I followed it south, I would eventually hit the end of the woods I needed. It also meant Xander could swim alongside me at a faster pace when I walked with him. Loki could keep up with me easily otherwise, though he would often run into the stream and splash about like an excited child. He was behaving himself more in the forest than ever, though I put it down to him being able to run free and kill what he liked during the nights. Otherwise I made sure to follow Ayd's advice and provided them with food at set times. It was actually quite amazing how quickly they adjusted to it; by the second day, they both would get hungry at the same times as me, and we would sit down to eat for a bit before we carried on. The forest had plenty of wildlife to eat after all, providing we managed to stay away from territorial bugs.

Once or twice we managed to offend the local wildlife. During practice drills, Xander accidentally hit a beedrill, and we ended up running for our lives from the deadly creatures. Most people seem to think that they can deal with the bugs easily with fire, but even then, I knew precautions had to be made. They were bugs the size of young teenagers, and had foot-long spears on their forelegs. Statistics said they killed at least two-thousand travellers a year, and I was honestly surprised it was so low.

At least in our escape from the bees, we found the stream – we happened to fall straight into it.

I stopped beside Loki and watched as he dove into a pile of leaves like a happy infant. He poked his head out at me and smiled, and I couldn't help but laugh at him. I truly began to wonder then: how was it I ever managed to live in hate and fear of all of such creatures? I'd been ignorant of them all, and found that the new world I was in was truly a blessing in disguise.

I looked at Loki a moment longer and pondered. I knew he could use psychic abilities, given his eerie dead rattata theatre. But every time he had a drill for it, he couldn't do much more than lift a speck of dirt without putting his entire focus into it. I wanted him to be able to pick up things and throw them at foes without a moment's hesitation, though he couldn't do that and focus entirely on the battle. I had silently built up hopes that he could be my know-all psychic for the future, and put all my dreams in him being able to communicate with me and further my plans. I figured that if I did try to communicate with me, it would almost definitely leave me with a brain tumour, or at the very least convince the ghost to eat my brains.

Or something to that effect.

It didn't matter much, as I later found out he couldn't ever develop the ability of precognition.

"We need to capture another pokémon soon," I said to him, absent-mindedly. "I'm not sure what though," I admitted, aware his attention was rapt on me. "Though it means I'll need you to injure it just enough for me to capture it." He seemed to like the idea, given his eager nod and decided to leap about in excitement.

I watched him for a small moment before turning my attention back to our surroundings. The trees seemed to be getting thicker and more densely-spread, and I had a feeling it would lead to a natural dead-end soon enough, or a wild pokémon's territory. I forced my brain to stop at the mad mental images I had flood my senses: everything from sceptile to pinsir were known to stalk forests.

I refused to think anymore on what could be in the forest, and focused instead on what was. I glanced down to Loki, and all of a sudden my heart stopped. "Don't move!" I hissed at him, and thankfully he stopped instantly. I raced to his side and pulled him back a step. He looked at me, confused, though I motioned for his quiet. A step in front of him was a small cluster of seeds, each linked by barely visible threads. A trap! It was the only thing it could be.

My mind raced. What could have left it? Was it harmful? Was it safe? I stared at it a moment longer, and all of a sudden memory flooded me.

"Shit!" I hissed, and withdrew another step. The seeds wiggled, and my heart raced within my chest. "Shit, shit, shit!" I hissed, and ran backwards with Loki. He scrambled in my grip, and I hid behind a tree, ducking as low as I could whilst motioning for him to be quiet. It wasn't good! I knew the basics of such a thing: sceptile would leave traps of leech seeds in small clusters just outside their territory. They were connected by invisible threads that lead back to the creature itself. If one was triggered, it would stun its victim and entangle itself around them. The sceptile could then track the victim, as the seeds would suck them dry of life fluids and transfer them to the sceptile itself. I knew it was only dangerous if the seeds had been triggered.

But they were moving. I had no idea what that meant! Loki was silent by my side, my thudding heart giving him enough concern to remain quiet.

Distantly, I heard a branch creak as weight landed on it. My ears twitched, as did Loki's, and we waited there with baited breath.

Another.

Then another.

Shit! I hissed at myself, forcing us to be almost one with the dirt. They were getting closer! I was practically inhaling the ground itself, trying to keep calm and hidden. Loki said nothing and didn't move an inch: I gathered by that his pokémon were natively prey to something – perhaps another ghost?

I didn't think much more as the beast jumped into the clearing before us. It leapt from the tress without a sound, and the barest rustle of grass accompanied its landing. It stood as tall as me, though was all green and was a fearsome looking lizard with horrific yellow eyes. Its tail splintered into a dozen natural thorns, all sticking out at the sides to assault any victims. It licked at the air with a forked tongue, tasting it, tasting us.

It moved to the collection of seeds with stealthy grace. Slowly it bent down and picked them up, turning them over in its grip. It looked, squinted a moment, and then turned.

And saw Loki's footprints.

It leapt up and looked to the sky, unleashing a guttural hiss. My heart raced in my chest, and I heard Loki begin to make a few small sounds. I pressed us further into the dirt, and lay down far enough that my mouth was in the mud. I didn't care. I'd have taken eating mud over dying any day.

Its tongue flickered again. Slowly it turned around, and I saw the large claw on its hind legs, like those of ancient dinosaurs. I winced inwardly as it clicked down on the nearby stones, beating out a small pattern.

Tap-tap, tap-tap-tap.

I breathed in. Just what was it doing?

It stepped forwards a pace, heading towards us both. It was drawing everything out, like some sadistic monster. I was forced to watch it, breathing as quietly and as rhythmically as I could.

In-out.

Tap-tap, tap-tap-tap.

In my grip, Loki was breathing at a much more erratic pace.

In-out-in.

Tap-tap, tap-tap-tap.

My breath caught, and the pattern missed the first two taps. Its tongue flickered in our direction, and my blood froze in my veins. It was mimicking our breathing pattern! It could hear us! It could taste us! It was savouring the feeling of the hunt!

I motioned for Loki to remain quiet and still as I moved as slowly as I could towards my gun. I inched closer, noticing the large lizard was stalking towards us. For every inch I made towards my gun, the sceptile managed three steps.

It was going to beat me!

I couldn't let it know we were there. The grass just covered Loki by a few inches, and myself by a few more, though knew it would be able to see us if it looked close enough. Closer it came, and I was still nowhere near my gun. Closer still, and I could hear it breathing methodically. Another step, and the leaves surrounding its wrists shone a malevolent green. My heart fell once more, knowing what it meant. Leaf blade... a technique learnt by them, which made their leaves strong enough to cut even steel. My poor, squishy body wouldn't stand a chance.

I reached down, and clasped the flap covering my gun.

And the sceptile was in front of us.

My breath caught, and I willed myself not to make any noise. Loki was tense in my grip, and I could feel his erratic heartbeat. It only occurred to me in those moments that Loki wasn't completely a ghost – he was also a creature of darkness. It made me wonder whether or not he was dead already, and the age-old question of whether or not ghost pokémon could die.

It looked like we were going to find out soon.

I scrunched my eyes shut as the lizard bent down, and felt its hot breath on my face. It smelt like acorns and rotting meat, and I fought the urge to vomit. Its tongue flickered the air before us, bringing a small breeze that reminded me of the smell of grass after rainfall.

I refused to die there. It was an all-or-nothing movement. I needed to get my gun as quickly as I could, though was in no way faster than a sceptile. But I had to take the chance!

I gripped my gun.

A twig snapped.

The sceptile screeched.

A pokémon screamed in pain.

My eyes snapped open at the last noise. Loki was still by my side, growling small, feral growls in the direction of the sceptile. I saw it standing over a pokémon I hadn't seen before – a bipedal rabbit that was clutching at its neck, eyes wide in alarm. Blood poured freely between its hands, and the sceptile bent down and licked the blood from its bladed leaves.

I'd seen all I needed to. I grabbed Loki and ran in the other direction, heedless of whether I'd get lost or not.

The rabbit's death screams in the distance told me I made the right choice.

An hour after breathing in the sweet smell of certain-death, my heart was still racing. Regardless, I carried on as normally as I could. Xander and Loki were going through their drills, and I began to flick through the old and somewhat battered guide I kept in my bag. It told me that Loki shouldn't have been intimidated by the sceptile in the slightest, and should have faced it head-on.

I wondered why, and then read a few paragraphs further in. Apparently pokémon behaved according to what their trainers were feeling at the time. It mentioned that if a trainer was angry, a pokémon would be more violent in its attack, though made a long point of detailing if a trainer showed obvious signs of fear, the pokémon would feed off that fear, and be unable to fight well.

I cursed. Loki didn't fight the sceptile because I was afraid? I had every right to be – I could have easily ended up as the giant lizard's next meal! Loki was the one who was already a ghost! I scowled at the book as if my glare could make it burst into flames. Because I'd freaked and tried to preserve my life, I'd scared Loki.

Well, it wasn't like I was going to walk up to a wild sceptile and slap it in the face.

It seemed that every day I learnt another way in which being a trainer was harder than I had first thought.

I pushed the thought away and drew my torch out of my bag. It was getting fair use in the forest, though only up to a certain point of the night. The first time I'd used it, I ended up having a swarm of dustox, venomoth and mothim all flock towards the powerful light. I couldn't help but remember Ayd's description of it being a miniature sun, and ended up laughing to myself, even as the bugs began to fly around us.

I called my pokémon's names, and they stopped their training to return to my side. Both of them were panting and sagged on their feet – I had the image of them as humans, drenched completely in sweat. They looked up at me though, and despite the obvious exhaustion, they seemed happy. I could relate. Training made me feel better about myself, knowing I was going to be in better shape.

I found it amazing how even after so many years of wanting out of my world, when I finally got it I began to appreciate what it had taught me.

"Keep an eye out for wurmple," I told them both, keeping my voice in a conspiring whisper. "If you see one, make sure you subdue it so I can capture it. But don't kill it!" I added quickly, making sure to stress that point. I fancied my chances with one of those more. They were more common in Hoenn, as the likes of caterpie and weedle were still fully adjusting to Hoenn life and it's predators. In my mind, if I caught something native to Hoenn, it would know how to defend itself against other Hoenn pokémon. I also knew either evolved form of the wurmple could be incredibly useful for me, given their abilities to inflict their enemies with a potent cocktail of illnesses.

I flicked through my pokédex and brought up the file on wurmple. After showing both my pokémon it – and stopping Loki from eating the machine – I was confident my pokémon would be able to do most of the hard work for me.

I nodded for them to walk with me – granted Xander gained a perch on my shoulders. It felt like we were a strange family, despite the differences in species, and the complete language barrier between us. I knew people kept pokémon as pets, and wondered how they could patronise the creatures so. They were amazing little beasts, full of such wondrous personalities and abilities.

I scared myself by realising how quickly I'd fallen in love with pokémon. I'd always feared them, knowing them to be no more than feral beasts. My experiences with them made me wonder if the ones I knew whilst growing up were only as a result of the damned virus that plagued the nations.

I walked along the pathways, listening again for the sounds of the stream. I'd had a vague idea of what direction I'd ran away from the sceptile, so began to double back on myself. After the days within the forest, I'd started to notice small warning signs of pokémon territories, and what pokémon preferred what sorts of environments. The majority of bugs seemed to prefer a large tree, and would have whole colonies built around it. Pokémon like buneary had small warrens near sources of water or food, and I'd even seen a kecleon nest in the largest gatherings of bushes.

I stared skywards and analysed the canopy. It was becoming denser, and I could see the small spots where the sun's rays penetrated through to hit the ground. The closeness of the trees effectively formed a barrier between them, and I was certain I'd only see what was hidden there once I was underneath it.

I forced myself to keep calm, remembering the book's advice. "Keep alert guys," I warned my pokémon. "The trees cover a lot here."

I heard my pokémon voice their agreements, and continue their chatter a moment more. I assumed that they'd divided up who was going to keep watch on what, as instantly afterwards Loki scuttled around us in wide circles, analysing the surroundings with vigour, whilst I felt Xander stare up and above us.

I felt safe with them.

Until something crunched under my foot.

I leapt into the air in alarm even as Loki rounded on the noise. I panted in alarm, holding a hand out to signal to my ghost it was okay. He made a small growl and turned back, sniffing at something I couldn't see or smell.

I cursed myself silently. I'd forgotten to test my footing as I walked through the grass. It was that worn and trodden in parts where I walked that I simply assumed I was continually stepping on dirt. I glanced down at the floor, afraid that the worst it would be was a shed-kakuna shell.

Instead I found two halves of a broken poké ball.

I stared at it, unconsciously whispering, 'what the?' as I bent down to analyse it.

It was rather new, I could tell that much. I couldn't tell much else, but gathered by the small bloodstains within that it had been occupied at one point or another. Xander croaked on my shoulder as I searched for anything else. I found another dead poké ball, and a wallet devoid of anything but dust. Someone must have found it all before me, I realised. I felt around and found the base of a wooden pole lodged in the thicket. I pulled with all my might and dislodged it, falling back with the force of it. Something began to hiss above me. My heart leapt in my chest. I glanced upwards to see what it was –

- only to have a heart attack as a spinarak leapt out.

I shrieked and jumped backwards on the floor, even as Xander leapt from my shoulder and to my defence. The spinarak hissed once more and scuttled off into the forest, only a few paces in front of Loki, who chased it away a small distance.

I breathed heavily and began to laugh at my foolishness.

Then something wet hit my forehead.

I yelped and jumped backwards again, and this time I felt something drip on my leg. With shaking hands I reached up to my forehead and wiped it, my fingers coming away wet and sticky.

I stared at my fingers.

They were stained with blood.

Loki raced to my side eagerly and began to sniff the air. He caught the whiff of blood on my leg and analysed it before he licked his lips eagerly.

"No!" I shouted at him as he tried to bite my leg. "Bad Loki!" I hissed, whacking him across the temple. He yelped and retreated a pace, sulking like a scorned child.

I pushed the thought aside. Instead I glanced upwards to see what was dripping on me –

- and found myself staring at a blood-stained cocoon.

I leapt to my feet instantly, backing up a few paces in case it attacked. When a moment passed and my frantic breathing slowed, I stepped forwards and attempted to analyse it again.

Even then it was still dripping with blood, once every half a minute or so. It was about ten feet above me, and suspended by a thick string of silk from the nearest branch. The pod was slightly yellow in places, and I realised the body was decomposing inside, fluids leaking freely from it.

I shuddered and rubbed my arms, suddenly cold. It was once a person, probably one of the many trainers that had got lost within the forest. I squinted at it a moment more, deciding that I didn't want to end up like the poor soul.

"C'mon guys," I whispered to my pokémon. "The blood's going to attract other pokémon."

My pokémon nodded eagerly by my side. I took off with them and made it a few steps before something wrapped round my feet. I screamed as I lost my footing and fell face-first into the floor, rolling over and spitting out mouthfuls of dirt and grass.

I shot up, only to fall over again as the strange substance around my feet became as hard as rock. I glanced down and noticed it covered in a strange silk like that of the pod, and my heart dropped instantly.

"Oh... shit," I cursed, and jumped once more as something rustled in the bushes. "Xander, blast it away!" I hissed, keeping my voice low. "Loki, help me get my feet free!" I ordered, even as I made a grab for the knife on my hip.

I heard Xander croak as I pried my knife free and bent down to release myself. Loki cackled by my side, gleefully shredding into the rock-hard silk. "Careful!" I hissed at him, not wanting to lose my feet. I managed to get free in time to see Xander hit by a blast of silk in the face, and heard him struggle to breathe beyond it.

Shit! I cursed once more, repeating the word over and over in my mind. "Loki, deal with it!" I hissed. I turned away and carefully picked up Xander, studying his face for any sign of his features. Unable to find anything, I picked a spot and prayed it was his mouth as I pressed the knife in. I heard him gasp for breath and gasped myself, relieved and amazed. I pulled it from his face, cutting the both of us with the force of it.

Loki screeched as the unseen pokémon dove at him. I whirled round and leapt to my feet, moving constantly and telling my pokémon to do the same. I couldn't see what was in the grass, but I stood taller than it, making myself an obvious target whilst I tried to see what it was.

"Ah!" I screamed as the silk slammed into my left hand, attaching it to my side. I cursed and flailed, attempting to right myself even as my pokémon tried to attack the mystery pokémon. "Loki, draw it out!" I hissed. "Xander, beat it senseless when it emerges!"

I continued to try and pry myself out of the sticky fluids. Every time my arm would reach a certain distance before snapping back into place, making me curse once more. I grabbed the knife and tried to work my way out, one handed, as I noticed Loki start to torment the mystery creature. It hissed from within the bushes, and I noticed a sudden flash of pink as it leapt out, spikes leaking a horrible, viscous purple fluid.

Before I could even react Xander blasted it from the sky with pressurised water. The insect shrieked and flew backwards a good few feet, bouncing over the dirt. I glanced at it and couldn't believe my luck – a wurmple! Loki hissed and readied his claws, and I barely had time to scream, "Subdue it!" before he attacked.

His claws shredded into the pokémon's vulnerable skin, breaking it easily but leaving only small gashes. He picked up the flailing insect and smashed its head into a nearby rock with vicious force, and I was amazed the wurmple was only dazed by the assault, and not simply a blotch on the rock.

Grinning, I grabbed a ball from my pack after freeing my arm and readied it the best I could. I threw it with all the force I could muster at the creature, and watched with baited breath as it slammed into the wurmple's skull and exploded open, sucking it in with a flash of red light.

"C'mon, c'mon," I whispered, clenching my fists in anxiety. Finally it stopped rocking and dimmed, and I couldn't help but cheer in victory. "We caught it!" I exclaimed, everything else forgotten in that one moment. "We caught it!" I repeated, even as Xander nudged the ball in interest.

Loki didn't seem to mind. He danced around me in jubilation – even more so when I praised him and Xander both.

I snatched the ball from the floor and wondered what to do with it. I had a wurmple, and was rejoicing at the fact. Finally something seemed to be falling in my favour! After narrowly escaping a killer sceptile and finding a corpse in a silk pod, that had to be my good luck!

I stared at the ball a moment longer. I knew I was at least a few days away from the nearest town – further still if Petalburg was still shut. I couldn't leave the little bug inside it's ball until then. I had enough medical equipment on me to patch it up, and was certain it would only need a good night's rest afterwards.

I pried the pokédex from my pocket and scanned the poké ball, confident it should work. A smile erupted on my face when a bunch of information lit up on the machine's screen, ranging from the pokémon's height and weight, to a brief analysis of it's health and age.

"Wow," I said, catching my pokémons' attention. "The wurmple's almost eight months old. Means it'll be a beautifly or a dustox in no time!" I couldn't help but laugh at the thought. My luck had finally hit a good point, it seemed. I pressed another button and found the information I needed. "Apparently it's a male wurmple," I said, more to myself than my pokémon. "I wonder what name I should give it."

A list of names blossomed into my head, though I pushed them away. I'd named Xander before I really knew him, and he'd taken a while to respond to his name. Loki, on the other hand, had got to know me slightly first, and adapted to his name almost immediately. I decided to name the creature after first getting to know it, confident it would take to the name easier.

I looked at my pokémon and clutched the ball tight in my hand. "Guys, think you're up for a little defence?" I asked them. They looked up at me curiously, and I held the ball out before them. "I'm going to let him out to heal him, as well as introduce him to us. If it looks like he's going to attack, feel free to subdue him."

I waited for their agreement before I tossed the ball between us all. The wurmple emerged in a flash of light, circled by myself, Loki and Xander. The light faded and left the small pink bug in its place, which stretched in slight discomfort, eyes shut in possibly pain or sleepiness.

It took a moment, but the wurmple snapped its eyes open. When it did, it immediately hissed, its back and spikes raised into the air threateningly. Instantly Loki snapped his jaws shut around its neck and burst it in a shower of flesh and blood. He shook the dead creature like a toy, heedless of my cries against it.

"Loki stop!" I screeched, finally pulling him to a halt. He spat out what remained of the wurmple – which was unrecognisable and never seemed to have ever been alive. He looked up at me, a wide smile on his face, chunks of flesh between his teeth. I was torn between scolding him for killing it, and praising him for acting in defence so quickly.

I opted for the former. "Bad Loki!" I yelled at him. "I said subdue it, not kill it!" He looked up at me, whimpered and shrunk back into himself. I couldn't help but sigh. I bent down and reached out, scratching his head softly. "Next time, don't kill one, okay?" I said softly. "I need other pokémon like you and Xander – they're kinda useless dead."

Xander croaked behind me. I turned around to praise him for being so vigilant, only to stop dead as I noticed what he was staring at.

All around us, multiple wurmple were slithering down the tree trunks, along the branches above and even in the grass around us. It was nothing short of an army of them, and I dimly remembered the silk pod above my head.

We'd walked straight into their nest without ever knowing it.

They all looked at us with their beady little yellow eyes, and I knew that if we tried to run, we'd be caught in their sticky webs. If we moved at all, we were surely doomed.

I couldn't help but glance at Loki. "If you'd never killed that wurmple, we could have talked our way out of this."

 
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