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.


36. The Price of Lies

Man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it's up to him and only him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to be ~ Ayn Rand


"The world will fuck us over. Without question."

- Malic DeePress. Pessimist. Realist. Suicide victim. (October 9th, 2234)


When I was little, I used to think that the rain was actually the sky crying. I used to count the rain drops that splashed against my window – one tear for every person who had died since the last rainfall.

Thunder and lightning meant that they'd died before they were meant to.

I sat there that morning, the day after visiting the time traveller's group and counted the raindrops as they fell against my window, glowing pink as the sun rose in the sky.

Eventually they all blurred into one large film of water, covering the entirety of the glass. I stared a little while and wondered just what that could mean before I smiled to myself and dismissed it all as the idealistic dreams of a child.

I pushed myself away from the window and got dressed before I headed out of the pokémon centre and onto the slightly deserted streets. Even with a hood thrown over my head and waterproof clothes, I was still soaked in seconds. Rain poured out from the sky, fell over the sides of houses and dribbled out from puddles on the floor.

I blew uselessly at my hair when it fell in my eyes as I let Xander out of his poké ball. He croaked once before he stretched and rolled his eyes around in their sockets, surveying the watery scene before him.

"Thought you'd like it," I told him as I stuffed my hands in my pockets. "I figured we could do a bit more training today – save going to the gym for a little bit longer. I know they can be used as a measure of strength, but I want us to be strong enough to defeat their strongest teams easily, not just struggling against those at our level, as we have been."

He chirped and bounced forwards, knowing the way to where we'd been training. I smiled again as I followed slowly after him, splashing water with every step I took. I rubbed my tongue against my teeth with a frown, confused by the slightly strange feeling it held. It felt like I'd been up all night eating peanut butter and sandpaper, like I needed a drink and a painkiller all at once.

"I hope I haven't caught anything," I muttered as I pressed a hand to my lips. Xander croaked and looked back to me, though a quick shake of my head made him keep bouncing along. "Stupid trilby-girl," I growled as I punched my hand back into my jacket pocket.

Speaking about her made me remember her face; the way her smile looked kind of cute with the lip ring adding to it; that mischievous, angry sparkle that was in her eyes... the feeling of her tongue piercing...

I shook my head with a growl of a yelp. It wouldn't do me any good to think about her, I knew. Instead I tried to think about what I could do with Xander to train him – if the pokémon battling business never worked out, I figured he could always get work as a psychiatrist; he did spend most of the time listening to my problems, after all.

I'd decided that as part of our training, I needed to focus on each of my pokémon individually, as well as giving them the drills I ran them through. As well as that, getting them to train against each other. I'd overheard a few of the other trainers in the pokémon centre talking about their training methods and elected to compliment them into my own plans. You could always learn from other people, after all. I just so happened to rarely talk to other people and instead eavesdropped on everything instead.

There were also the small things I'd heard about the real world events, which was starting to make me again realise how little I paid attention to the news, or anything like that.

Apparently the strange sort of virus that had plagued Oldale and Petalburg both had now spread past Littleroot and Rustboro, and was now moving onto the towns south and east of them, respectively. Supposedly the Pathornogix group was helping out in both towns – making it six out of six locations they'd helped out in. If they weren't a charity group, I would have suspected something then.

I thought back to the strange man on the boat to Slateport and remembered what I'd overheard, as well as what I'd understood. He was with a company that were releasing chemicals into towns, yet didn't want anyone to die. I had to figure out where he worked, yet had nothing to go on. In a way, it pissed me off a little that I couldn't have been like the person in the heroic films or books, where when they figured they had a clue, they had the contacts or the skills to track down one unknown person in a whole country.

I caught myself and smacked the side of my head, reminding myself that I didn't care what happened. The world could perish, as long as I didn't have to vanish in order for it to stay alive.

Xander's chirp dragged me from my thoughts and into my surroundings; a grim, marsh-like area with twisted, gnarled trees and lightning illuminating the sky in random intervals.

"Aside from the mud, I like it better like this," I told Xander, who croaked a small agreement. "I always liked doing drills in the rain better too – I was pretty much the only one that did," I revealed, laughing to myself at the memory of it all. "The heat tends to drain you of energy, no matter what you do. When it's cold, you just don't want to move. Rain's the happy medium."

I knew that Xander agreed. Whenever it rained he looked healthier and seemed to have more energy about him, able to do things twice as fast as normal.

I turned away from my musings and wrung the sleeves of my jacket as I led him towards the network of caves that towered over us. Meteor Falls were well known in Hoenn for their frequent meteor showers, as well as being a network of caves and mountainous climes that somehow produced a large amount of the strange evolutionary stones. That was the next phase in my overall plan; money.

I needed lots of it.

Bribes weren't exactly the most definite ways of getting things done, but I knew that they were a great influence when pokémon battling just wouldn't cut it. It didn't matter how strong I got my pokémon – someone would always be stronger than us. A gun just wouldn't cut it against some people or their pokémon – some pokémon could move faster than the human eye, after all. It wouldn't do me much good to pull a gun on someone only to blink and find myself staring at my own headless body.

Certain things would require having 'friends' in high places. And I figured there could be no better and easier way to get friends by having enough cash to give out a few back-handers. The more favours I made sure I was owed, the better I could exploit people to help me. The better I could exploit people, the more I could find out about the world and the more hands I could have changing things.

I smacked myself in the head for the second time that day. I wasn't going to need any of that, I told myself. I wasn't going to go saving the world, because I'd just disappear into some stupid portal or something – whatever the explanation was, I'd end up just not existing.

The strange twitchy-man's words came back to me as I looked around the bleached-white rocks that made up a lot of the area. Trees were growing in large plains all around the mountain, swaying in the harsh winds of the storm and turning into eerie shadows with every flash of lightning.

The tree song supposedly had something to do with it all. At least, according to a man that obviously needed a straight jacket and a healthy dose of sedatives.

But I couldn't shake the memory that the trees had been rustling in the non-existent wind.

"C'mon Xand," I grunted as I rubbed my arms, taking the pathway up towards Meteor Falls. It was like a giant, white, rocky hill that led up to the main opening – a hastily-constructed doorframe of old, rotting wood supporting rocks that were obviously going to break through the frame soon enough.

"At least there's no shedinja this time," I murmured to myself as I rooted in my backpack for a torch. Since I'd lost my other one in the baltoy-infested tower back in the desert, I was reduced to using some cheap plastic torch that may as well have just contained a tiny little firefly, for all the good it did. The sickly-orange light bounced off a few rocks and brightened a tiny bit of the caves, allowing us enough light to see where we were walking.

"We're gonna stay in here for a few days," I said to my pokémon, my voice dropping to a whisper. "I figured that well, if we trained you guys in the dark for a little while, you'd start to hear and feel attacks coming, rather than relying on your eyesight and me giving pointers every time. I want you guys to be able to figure these things out on your own; the less input I need to give you in a battle, the better the trainer I am... I think.

"I checked the pokédex and that guide Jennifer gave me – I'm actually amazed that's still alive – and I've seen that there's a lot of strong pokémon that happen to live in here." I stopped as I pulled a little marker out of my bag, marked a tiny arrow on one of the rocks at a natural fork in the cave and took the left path, on a whim. "We should be able to handle ourselves; you'll end up being able to take out most of the pokémon in here on your own... hopefully."

I flicked the light back to my pokémon and gave him a small grin. "Except for maybe Erra. But she needs to realise that she can't shy away from everything. I need to find some way of getting her to battle all the time... but I'm not going to kill myself to find that."

Xander croaked and flicked my jacket's left pocket with his tongue. He stared at me in the darkness a moment, grunted and then shifted his head towards the poké balls on my belt before I got the message.

I threw him a devious grin. "I know Alistair's with Chris for only two days. But if I'm far down in the caves and up high in the mountains, I can pretend that I was away from anywhere with signal for a while. Yet another benefit of lying so much," I said as I tapped the side of my head. "My mind somehow seems to dream up scenarios for me to exploit and lie my way into getting what I want, no matter what's happened." I threw my arms out to the side and spun half-circle in the darkness. "I don't really want to be around Alistair. He's far too honorific and creepy. I mean, I know you don't completely agree with the fact that I let Loki, Lacey and Scar all go along maiming, killing and shredding people, but you do condone it. I get the feeling Alistair would just take offense to it and be all 'off with your head!'" I made chopping motions at the base of my neck with a laugh, stopping only when Xander kept up an unimpressed silence.

"I can't wait until you're a ludicolo," I grunted at him as I flicked my light forwards and continued walking. "At least then you'd find that funny. Geez, some pokémon have no sense of humour." I shook my head to myself as I walked, only to realise exactly what I was saying a few paces later.

"Great," I groaned, hanging my head. "Now I'm going loopy trying to put humour into everything. I've been around Adryan way too much. I need to stop talking to him as frequently. Aside from the fact he could potentially main and kill me if he finds out Lacey was behind the whole rapidash fiasco, I'm now trying to make light of every situation. I'm also talking loudly to my pokémon in a cave, where I should really be silent and hope that I don't bump into anything ugly and nasty."

I stumbled and grabbed the wall to support myself as Xander bumped straight into my leg. My head snapped towards him in a glare, only for my eyebrows to reach my hairline when I saw the smug smirk he seemed to be wearing.

"Oh, funny pokémon," I drawled, lowering my voice once more. "If you think I'm ugly and nasty, obviously you understand a lot more then you let on. Personally, I think that's a little unfair; they need to invent some sort of translation collar for you guys. I've got a sneaking suspicion you're a sarcastic little bastard – I can't help but want to find out how wrong or right I am."

He croaked once more, throat swelling up like a balloon before it deflated again. I snorted and waved my hand at him as I continued to walk. "I'm starting to think I won't need that after all. But like I was saying before I got distract; I don't really want Alistair coming back soon. I mean, if there was something you were afraid of, would you want it around all the time?"

I stopped at my own question and turned to my pokémon, one eyebrow raised. "Just what are you afraid of anyway?"

He looked up at me, eyes blinking independently of each other before he sprung over my head and into the large lake behind me. I watched him swim around, tear apart and consume a young golden before I sighed to myself and sat down at the side of the cave-bound lake, wondering just how I managed to know so little about my starting pokémon.

It was rather strange that the next few days weren't in anyway incidental. I slowly adjusted back into the strange life of camping inside a cave – finding safe spots to sleep, leaving Lacey, Loki or Scar out to guard at night, hunting pokémon in the dark for food, trusting Xander to find sources of fresh water and possibly the hardest thing to adjust to – bathroom breaks in complete darkness.

I'd managed to get in a lot of training with Xander, Loki and Lacey within the first few days too. Loki had fallen into the habit of spooking everything in the caves – when he realised that he would have to fight the creatures that he frightened, he seemed to do it even more and often ended up tearing apart some of the smaller, fleshier creatures. Aside from the one time he managed to piss off a garchomp – there's nothing more frightening than having a fast, running land-shark chasing you through a dark cave; it was just good fortune that its children began to cry and call it back – he seemed at home fighting the creatures in the dark – the fact that he could turn immaterial at any time in darkness helped out a lot too.

Then I'd tried training Lacey the next day. It was quite something to go from a nonchalant Xander, to a prank loving, terrorising, slightly psychotic Loki and then to the quiet and reserved Lacey, who had the habit of wandering off randomly during training to kill something when she was annoyed.

We ended up getting in a fight because of it. A fully physical, punch-throwing fight that I could have won – if she didn't fight dirty. I'm almost certain that she was trying to make sure I couldn't have kids. My face held a number of small cuts and scrapes, my arms had longer slashes across them that would scar, yet I'd managed to bruise her body and her ego – I even managed to break her nose with a good right hook.

Somehow after the fight, we ended up both laughing as we collapsed to the floor, beaten and in pain. I convinced her not to go off killing anything randomly anymore when she was annoyed; the original plan at first, after all, was for to only kill when she felt the need to. Instead she'd just started slaughtering indiscriminately and it was up to me to rein her back in. Getting her to agree to halt her activities while we were in Meteor Falls was only a small step towards finally holding complete control over her again.

We also agreed to have regular sparring sessions with each other – she was roughly my height and preferred fighting physically – since it managed to make us both improve. I wanted to do the same with Scar, but his rash, angry nature and hatred towards humans made me put that idea on hold until I knew he wasn't likely to fall into a fit of rage and wear my intestines as a headdress.

Training those three made me appreciate more the differences between my pokémon and the individual personalities and characters they had.

Then I had to train Erra.

We moved a little further into the caves, her flying close to me, creating enough of an electrical charge to light up the caves a little. She seemed to be a little more confident – the random zubat that flew past her didn't seem to bother her all that much – yet when there was a loud sound or a larger pokémon that came along, she'd panic, discharge all the electricity and cling to my shoulder or my head.

It was a good thing I'd thought ahead and was wearing rubber-lined gloves and boots; otherwise I would have been crispy-fried-soldier.

I watched her after one particularly large golbat had decided to try and eat us both whole. The bat had fled when Erra had panicked and shot electricity everywhere, yet the magnemite didn't seem to realise she could have taken the creature. She clicked wildly as she climbed along the surface of the cave walls, glowing again and lighting up the moss that clung to the white stones.

I blew out an annoyed breath at her and watched the way she flinched and dipped into a recess in the wall. Annoyance turned into curiosity as I repeated the motion, getting the same reaction. I scratched my head as I watched her, clogs slowly turning in my brain. I'd obviously been annoyed with her when Lacey had pounded her into the floor; my brain started to make the connection that maybe Erra thought I might get the nuzleaf to attack her again if she annoyed me to such a point for a second time.

About then I realised that my love for my more murderous, violent pokémon was probably detrimental to the way I saw my other pokémon.

I sighed to myself and held my arm out. "Erra, come here," I said as gently as I could. She clicked once more, blinked at me with her single eye and then managed to detach herself from the wall. She landed gently on my arm, crawled up a few steps and stared up at my face eagerly.

I grimaced as I thought to myself about what I could actually say to her. Absentmindedly I reached over and scratched the base of her head. "Look, Erra; I've tried a number of ways to get through to you. I'm starting to run out of ideas here. But... I think I'm starting to get a little of it – you think I don't have any confidence in you, don't you?"

Her wings began to beat erratically, sending waves of cool air over my arm. I smiled to myself and patted her back to calm her. "I might sometimes think you're not up to the task – I tend to think that about all of you sometimes; everyone has their limits after all. But you should use that to prove me wrong really. Regardless, I've told you before I'm not going to let Lacey put a beat-down on you like she did before. That means that no matter how I feel, I'm not going to start hitting you or whatever – I'd be pretty stupid to, seeing as you can electrocute me to death."

I laughed to myself and walked a few steps through the tunnels, splitting my attention between the path and my pokémon. "You're afraid. I get that. Everything feels fear. You think I don't shit myself in some of the situations I've come across? You'd be unnatural if you didn't feel fear." I stopped a moment and looked around, seeing a few tracks on the floor and the walls. "Thing is though, it's better to be afraid in a fight."

She clicked at me, obviously questioning what I was talking about. I smiled and patted her again. "When you're angry, you get pumped with adrenaline, but you tend to lose track of coherent thoughts. When you're afraid, you still get the adrenaline rush, but you're mostly thinking about fleeing. If you forget about fleeing, you can manage to think properly and use that rush to fight properly."

I smiled at her and caught movement out of the corner of my eye. A small pokémon with a blue furred chest and arms, yet a white furred lower body. Its feet were furless, pink and webbed, a long, pink, wrinkle-skinned tail extended from its back into a bushy end and two wrinkled pink ears framed its face.

Its nose twitched, whiskers brushing over each other as it caught our scent. I saw it move and smiled once more at Erra. "Time you learn how to control that fear," I said and threw her at the azumarill.

Erra screeched at the surprise of it all, making the azumarill press its ears against its skull, arch its back and hiss wildly at the magnemite. The azumarill chattered wildly at its new foe and leapt at Erra, clamping down on her body and dragging her to the floor.

Erra shrieked and beat her wings heavily, creating harsh sounds that made the azumarill wail and lose hold on her, its ears pouring blood and staining the floor red. Sensing a moment to flee, Erra turned and tried to fly away. The azumarill hissed again and blew freezing mist over Erra, slowing her and covering her wings in ice.

I cupped my hands around my mouth. "Control your fear Erra!" I barked in a harsh whisper.

She clicked wildly as the azumarill launched upwards and smacked her in the stomach with a gut-busting punch. The magnemite flew erratically with the blow, discharging electricity wildly. The azumarill bounced away from the blasts, twirling expertly in the air before its fur-tipped tail smacked down on Erra hard and ploughed her into the floor.

Erra buzzed angrily and clamped her mandibles down on the tail, drawing blood as she gripped the rest of the tail with her legs. Her wings beat faster and faster as electricity poured out of her and into the azumarill, lighting the pokémon up and cooking it from the inside out.

The sick smell of over-cooked meat filled the tunnels as Erra pried herself from the dead azumarill and flew back to me. I grinned at her and folded my arms smugly.

"So now do you understand what I said?" I asked as I held out an arm for her to sit on. She clicked once as she landed softly on my arm, then bit hard onto the exposed flesh. I winced at the pain, though managed a small smile as she released her grip and looked back up at me, her eye sparkling with pride.

I felt like after everything, I'd finally got through to her a little.

Things seemed to be improving a little in my life, I felt. I'd managed to get Erra to understand the basics of being able to battle and even got her to begin battling on my command, instead of running off and hiding.

The next day I'd started training Scar too. Without a human in sight, he seemed happy enough to follow my orders in battle, even starting to listen to them when they weren't anything to do with killing, maiming or otherwise causing bodily harm on other creatures. I could ask him to collect something for me and he would; he was even beginning to light fires on my command – before then he'd usually breathed enough flame to set me ablaze too.

I'd tried explaining to him that humans weren't all bad and that he could trust them. He simply sneered at me, pointed to his two most prominent scars and then punted an innocent marill into the lake. Perhaps cruel, but I found that incident incredibly hilarious.

The next day I took to training Sophie. I couldn't figure out why she wasn't able to fly, yet it seemed she more than made up for it in her speed. I'd never thought skarmory could run that fast until I saw her running through the tunnels after her prey – I lost her a good few times, yet every time she and I were separated, she would always hop back to me after a few minutes, looking like the picture of innocence.

I smiled at her and patted her head as she crushed a marill under her foot and bit off its head. She ate noisily and I had the sneaking suspicion that it was probably stopping pokémon from trying to hunt us, rather than drawing them.

"At any other time, I think I would try and teach you manners," I whispered as I tapped my cheek with a finger. Sophie looked at me, twitched her head, blood trickling down her jaw before she squawked and tore off another piece of marill to eat.

"Who am I kidding?" I laughed to myself and surveyed the area quickly. "You probably eat with more manners than me." A grin took over my face as I looked back to her. "Though I wouldn't mind if you taught me just how to run as fast as that – possibly not in the same way that you taught that poor postman though."

I turned back to Sophie and watched her eat for a minute. Once she knew I was watching she spread her wings and cawed before she went back to eating again. I smiled and stuck one hand in a pocket as I cast torch-light through the tunnels. "I'm starting to get a little bit worried now Sophie," I said, waving for her to follow me as I started walking again.

Bone crunched in her beak and her feet scratched along the dirt floor behind me, providing an eerie background noise for me.

"I've been happy this past week – like really happy," I whispered. "That doesn't happen much to me; at least not without me getting a big cosmic slam of sadness. I've enjoyed myself since I started training you guys and I can't help but feel like something's going to bring me down."

Sophie cawed and nipped me on my shoulder. I yelped and slapped my hand over the fresh bruise, glaring daggers at the bird. "Maybe I am working myself up about it all," I said as I rubbed my shoulder. "But attacking your trainer isn't the nicest way to get him to snap out of his misery. You've been taking lessons from the more evil members of our team, haven't you? I'm going to end up abused by all of you."

Sophie chirped; her neck twitching as she regarded me curiously. Finally she picked up the remains of her marill from the floor, hopped forwards and nudged against my chest, dropping the bloody pulp into my hands.

I pinched a corner of it, held it up in the air with a grimace and looked helplessly at Sophie. "Err... thanks. I think."

She bounced up on the spot, fluttered her wings and chirped happily. I shook my head to myself and thought of a way to dispose the mangled marill without offending my pokémon. With the speed she could run at, the last thing I wanted to do was piss her off.

It took me only a few more days to leave Meteor Falls and head back to Fallarbor. Dawn was breaking at what seemed miles below me as I trekked back down towards the town.

I stared at my phone and saw the number of texts and missed calls from Chris. Finally I managed to swallow the guilt and fear – mostly fear – before I rang her and found out that Alistair hadn't taken to her mismagius – instead apparently he had lectured the pokémon on the proper rules of courtship and then hexed into behaving like a four year old human for all his troubles.

The mental imagery of that alone was enough to stop me from really listening to Chris' accusations of me taking advantage of her. I managed to calm her by telling her that I'd got lost exploring around Meteor Falls and that I'd only just managed to find my way back to the surface. Instantly she became guilty for screaming at me and began apologising and telling me to just pick him up when I could.

I smirked to myself at the wonders of lying. I thanked her and promised her I'd pay her for all the costs of looking after him before I snapped my phone shut and stuck my hands behind my head, staring up at the early-morning sky. I'd managed to get rid of the gallade for a week, yet I needed another way to pawn him off on someone.

There was always the lab at Birch's, but something Alistair had said to me really unnerved me towards that. The whole thought of him believing fate would make sure we came back together wasn't something I really wanted to entertain. Between him and the crazy twitchy-man's beliefs of the trees coming to life and attacking people, my spine crawled with uncertainty.

I pushed those thoughts away and tried to think about something else. I remembered the trilby-girl again; I'd met her on the same day as the crazy twitcher. She might have been lying about her supposed time travel, for whatever reasons, but a grin crawled on my face all the same at the memory of her. I let my mind drift, wondering just where she was, what she was doing and what her name could have possibly been.

It took me smacking the side of my head again to realise that I probably wasn't going to see her again. My phone buzzed in my pocket and for one stupid, silly moment I thought it was the girl on my mind, that somehow she'd found my number and decided to get in touch.

Realism set in when I opened the text and found instead it was just Mia. A flash of guilt set in, fighting away my disappointment that it was only her and not someone else. Though that was quickly replaced with a small degree of excitement when I saw that Mia had arrived in Fallarbor.

It took roughly an hour for me to get back into town and to the pokémon centre. Almost as soon as I'd handed my pokémon over to the nurse working reception, Mia happened to appear behind me and jab me in the ribs.

The shriek I made wasn't very manly at all.

She laughed at me so hard her cheeks turned a shade of red her hair would have been jealous of. "You never fail to make me laugh," she said once she finally caught her breath. "Maybe one of these days you'll actually mean to?"

I stuffed my hands into my cargo pockets and smiled at her. "Maybe so. But at least I'm not the one who happens to get verbal diarrhoea when I've had two drinks."

Instantly the colour rose in her cheeks once more and a strangled groan came out of her mouth. Finally she slid her fingers under her glasses, rubbed her eyelids and managed to snort an embarrassed laugh. "Please, just never let me drink anymore. I shouldn't drink – I've never been able to handle it! I run the risk on getting drunk from chocolate liqueurs! And this time I managed to lose almost all my socks!"

My laugh came out as a badly concealing cough into my fist. She looked so confused by it all that I couldn't help but burst into full fits of laughter at it all, effectively confessing my crimes wordlessly to her.

"I knew it was you!" she shrieked as she slapped the back of my head. "What kind of pervert are you? Stealing a woman's socks?" She smiled at me and shook her head in amusement. "If you were nothing but a pervert, I'd be celebrated for giving you a circumcision with a can opener."

My laughter died quickly at that, replaced with only a horrified shudder. She laughed again and plucked her glasses from her face, cleaning them with her purple jacket. "Instead I'll just have to settle for carrying on this strange stealing game of ours."

I shrugged. "Well in that case, I want to steal your shower for a little bit. I smell."

She raised an eyebrow at me as she put her glasses back on. "And why would I want to do that?"

"Because otherwise I'll torment you endlessly about you making drunken come-ons towards me."

She groaned and found her keys quickly. "This is the only time you get to use that excuse! Try it again and I will pull out your tongue with chopsticks!"

I just laughed, used to her insane threats. After I'd managed to use her shower and get dressed, she lead me straight back out of her room, demanding that we both go get something to eat. Apparently her pokémon were busy being healed, as were mine and we couldn't think of anything else to start our day with.

There was also the fact that she said she didn't want to keep me in her room for too long. Apparently I would have been a nosy cretin and rooted around in her underwear drawer for kicks and giggles. When I told her I didn't want to see what she could possibly have to hide in her underwear drawer, she kicked me in the shin, called me a pervert and then in front of everyone in the pokémon centre; pretended that I was her boyfriend and that she'd just caught me dancing around her room in her underwear.

When I finally caught up with her, just down the road from the pokémon centre, I was still a little gobsmacked and in awe of her acting abilities.

"You're actually evil, you know this?" I growled, cuffing her on her shoulder.

She just grinned and hooked her thumbs into her belt. "Hey, the best way to get back at someone is usually in a sly, exploitative way. Public humiliation's not exactly the most soul-destroying way, but your crimes were only small."

I stuffed my hands back into my pockets and bumped her with my hip. "What crimes? All I did was insult you a little!"

"Maybe," she conceded, rolling her head from side to side. "But you shouldn't start insulting people and expect no retaliation. My methods tend to be a little more... inventive that other people's."

I snorted and nodded for us to cross the road. "So this is the sort of thing that you're proud you've accomplished when you go to sleep at night?"

"Insulting my friends and generally making them realise I'm not some defenceless little girl?" She laughed. "Pretty much." Her laughter died off pretty quickly after that as she stared off to the side, admiring a few shop displays before she turned her gaze back to me again.

"How much did I say the last time we met?" she asked, her voice soft and cautious, completely unlike the Mia I knew.

I stared at her, confused by the sudden change in her attitude and momentarily taken aback. "A little," I said as vaguely as possible, trying to preserve her dignity. "There was a lot about you hoping that me and Adryan were lovers and you wanted to watch us go at it like bunnies."

She snorted and coughed at once, choking herself and descending into a coughing fit for a few minutes. When it finally passed her eyes were streaming and bright red, as were her cheeks, though a wide smile was on her face. "Yet another reason why I shouldn't drink; I become a fangirl obsessed with man-love." She took a slow breath and looked back up at me. "Anything else as embarrassing as that?"

I gave her a flat look. "You told me that wine makes your clothes fall off. I was actually frightened that you would strip completely and present yourself to me if I turned my back on you."

She slapped me again on the arm for the veiled insult as my mouth twisted into a grin. "There was a little you tried telling me though," I told her, unsure about how to progress with the particular line of conversation. "You mentioned something about having an espeon, then something about the Seafoam Islands, but I stopped you before you could prattle on about it."

Her mouth dropped open ever so slightly. Finally she seemed to come together, nodded a fraction and then pointed for us to go sit outside in a small little cafe nestled between two expensive-looking clothes shops. The entire time until we ordered our food she was silent, creating an uneasy air of awkwardness around us that I just couldn't seem to break.

Finally when the waitress delivered our drinks and walked off, Mia managed to break it all with a small, simple, "Sorry."

I shrugged and blew at my coffee. "Nothing to apologise for," I said reflexively. "You've been thinking. Can't blame you for doing that."

She shook her head as she stirred her milkshake with a straw. "Not for that. For just dropping into myself and moping about having loose lips while I'm drunk."

I couldn't help myself. "If you did have loose lips when you were drunk-"

"I have a selection of cutlery right in front of me, remember?" she interrupted quickly. My grin died as I cleared my throat and adopted a much more serious persona for her conversation. "I just didn't think I would start talking about that. It happened ages ago, but I guess it's pretty much shaped everything right now."

I scratched the side of my head with my fork. "You do realise I have no idea what you're talking about, right?"

She nodded solemnly. "I lied to you when I first met you. I didn't really spend two years in Johto; I only spent a year. After that... well, I went to the Seafoam Islands in Kanto for... well for silly reasons really," she said as she pulled tiny little pieces off her napkin.

I nodded quietly and gave her a small smile. "If you don't want to talk about this-"

"No, I should tell you," she said quickly, shaking her head. "You see, my dad works for one of the big newspaper companies in Kanto; he managed to get pretty famous in the photographic community because he managed to get a clear photo of The Articuno when it was flying above Sinnoh a few years ago. He always talked about how brilliant the photo was, but he said that the newspaper company had taken his one and only copy of it. He always said that the picture was beautiful; that the copies the newspapers made and the way they edited it never truly did it justice.

"So of course, me being the head-strong, stubborn seventeen year old that I was then decided that I would find The Articuno and take a picture of it, all for my dad's fiftieth birthday." She shook her head to herself and laughed scornfully. "Mum went mad when she got wind of my plans and forbid me from going anywhere near Seafoam, which of course made me want to go even more. I only had six pokémon then; some had died, others had run away, one or two I even released or gave to other people. Charles, Sunni, Julia, Shale, Edward and Percy – the stantler you've met, an espeon, gloom, graveller, seel and a pidgeotto."

She sighed to herself and scrunched the napkin up in her hands. "We didn't even last two weeks in there. It's just so cold in those caves and I was anything but prepared. Julia – my gloom – became so cold that eventually her leaves frosted over and her entire system shut down. She was the first to go in there. Shale – graveller – she was too heavy for some of the ice, fell straight through and into the water below. I sent in Edward – my seel to rescue her, but he wasn't strong enough to pull her out. Instead, she crushed him, pushed them both down to the bottom of the water where they both drowned – hell of a time to discover that seel are actually mammals." She laughed bitterly and grabbed the edge of the table in a vice-like death grip.

"That was far too much. I knew I had to get out of there, but of course, I managed to get myself completely lost. Percy – my pidgeotto – and Sunni – the espeon – both got frozen in a big block of ice by a pilowsine. I managed to defrost Sunni, but the piloswine crushed Percy before I could free him. He ended up as bits of chunky slush." She stopped talking a moment as her food and mine were delivered onto our table. Once she'd thanked the waitress and was sure she was out of earshot, she began to push her sausages around her plate with her fork.

"Sunni helped us to find the way out of the caves. Charles got attacked by a feraligatr that was hiding in the water; I only just managed to call him back into his poké ball before the big croc bit him in two. But I couldn't use him after that – both his front legs had been broken. When we finally reached the exit, Sunni collapsed there on the spot and I realised a little too late that he had frostbite – the cold had set completely into his body and stopped his heart just before we got out." She sighed and reached for the sauce, shaking her head to herself. "Five of my pokémon dead, all for a little birthday present for my dad.

"Charles was in the hospital for a month after that, and everyone I knew kept telling me how sorry they were for everything." She gave up with her food and buried one hand in her hair. "But after that... they just seemed to stop caring. I was bitter, resentful to everything and everyone because of it; I'd spent three years with those pokémon, bonding with them and loving them with all my heart. Then in two weeks, five of them managed to die through my stupidity. I started lashing out at people, angry at everyone.

"You ever hear that saying that true friends care enough to knock down the walls you build around yourself?" she asked suddenly, pointing at me with a fork. "That's what I heard when I was grieving. My anger made me lash out at people, threatening them indiscriminately. Most people wall themselves off by stopping themselves from talking to everyone, becoming secluded. Instead I chased them off in some silly delusion that if they were true friends, they'd be able to see past that."

She shrugged to herself, dabbed the corners of her eyes with her napkins and sighed, placing her hands back on the table. "I became a lot colder through all those ordeals, ironically enough. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me anymore. I don't want to be the girl everyone looks at and feels sorry for because something bad happened to her. I want people to know and like me for who I am – for my own idiotic background and sob-story to never come into the mix. All my old friends were only able to see my ordeals in Seafoam after that – only my parents were able to see past that. The random crazy insults are just a way to remind people that I'm not defenceless and that I don't want pity."

I nodded and reached over the table, grabbing one of her hands. "Well you're not going to get it from me. Anyone that makes multiple threats to my manhood, as well as someone that can kick as hard as you doesn't get pity. You're still the same insane woman I've known all along, regardless of what's happened." I smiled at her, small and sheepish. "Just, when I get round to telling you my own twisted, horrific past, treat me the same way?"

She smirked and pulled her hand away from me. "As an incompetent boob, over-confident in his abilities with the ladies and with a mind too filthy even for the sewers?"

I laughed and winked as I dove into my food. "Yup, pretty much. Except I wouldn't say I'm overconfident at all."

She grinned. "Deluded too. Thanks though," she said, her voice softening. "You're the first person I've met since then who actually didn't run away screaming when I started insulting them. It's nice to know I've got at least one friend who doesn't treat me based one what's happened to me. Just... try to ignore what I said when I was drunk, okay? Drunken come-ons or not, I do like you, just not in that way."

I managed a smile at that. "Before you start insulting my appearance, I know what you mean. Though Adryan's convinced we're made for each other and we're due to start making little ginger soldiers soon enough."

Despite obviously trying not to, Mia still ended up pulling a face at that. Even when she wasn't speaking, she still could insult me.

It was a little bit after twelve-hundred hours that both Mia and my pokémon were all healed and ready to go once more. On the way she'd forced me to buy balloons of all things – apparently they were good targets to train pokémon to launch attacks into the air. She also told me that her aron had evolved into a lairon in the time I hadn't seen her, however, she hadn't managed to beat the gym in Sandstream, though she did manage to get Mauville's gym badge for her collection.

"You're an idiot," she told me after I explained my reasons for not attempting the gym there. "It doesn't matter who you beat at the end of the day, as long as you get the badge to prove you won."

I shrugged and followed her aimlessly down the road. "Maybe, but aren't there people out there who look down on you if you don't have a badge from beating the gym leader themselves?"

She snorted and waved a hand at me. "You need to grow up a little, Mr. Soldier. Who cares what other people think about you? All that really matters is how you see yourself. If you like who you are, fuck everyone else who doesn't like you."

I nodded and decided I probably could have done with that advice before I fought the gym. Instead I just grasped one of the poké balls on my bandolier, silently considering a few options.

"Hey Mia," I said abruptly, bringing her to a complete stop. "We need to train our pokémon a little – I was hoping I could get you to help me with something."

She blinked, curious at first, then apprehensively. "Okay... I'm sure I'm not going to like this, but what do I need to do?"

I pulled at my collar. "Well, you might want one of your pokémon out for this. But basically, I need my charmeleon to start adjusting to other people. He seemed fine enough with Adryan – though I think that might have been because Scar saw how many powerful pokémon Adryan had that were able to tear him to pieces, should he attack. But every time Scar's seen another trainer, he tends to try and rip them to shreds."

Mia raised an eyebrow at me, hands on her hips. "So you want me to stand here like a target, let you release your charmeleon and hope that my pokémon will be able to stop him from ripping me limb from limb?"

I winced. "Well, when you put it like that..."


I did a double-take at that. "'Sure'?"

She nodded, grunting affirmation. "Course. You'd help me out if I needed it and there's no point in living a boring, thrill-less life. You do sometimes need a good scare or something that gets your adrenaline going." She held up a hand quickly. "And if you make any sort of comment to that, I will dropkick you from here to Sinnoh."

I chuckled nervously as I stepped a few paces away from her and snatched Scar's poké ball from the holder. Charles appeared in a flash of light next to Mia, ears flicking against his head as he listened to Mia. Once she'd explained everything, she waved and gave me a thumbs-up before I released Scar in a flash of light.

He came into focus looking curiously at me. Suddenly his snout snapped upwards, sniffing at something in the air. He craned his head towards Mia and a deep, feral growl erupted in his throat at the sight of her. He snarled and I leapt at him just as he started to move. I clung to his neck as tightly as I could, screaming at him to stop and pulling back with all my weight as he tried to charge her. He stopped so abruptly that I couldn't stop myself pulling back in time and ended up dragging us both down to the floor.

He snarled again and swiped me on the side. I hissed through gritted teeth at him as I struggled to stand up whilst still trying to keep hold of him. "Don't attack other trainers!" I growled at him, squeezing his neck for good measure. "Only attack the ones that I let you, okay?" I whispered into the small holes on the side of his head that served as ears. "Not everyone's going to try and hurt you, okay?"

He snorted a black, sulphurous breath, making me cough and splutter as it entered my lungs. As soon as I let go he roared and tried to hunt down Mia again. I leapt after him again and grabbed a hold of the horn atop his head, jerking it towards me and pulling back with most of my strength. "If you're not going to listen to me Scar, I will kick you in your hip," I said, my voice deathly calm. "You might have the cast and bandages off, but it will still hurt like hell." Flames licked out from his teeth and I jerked his head in the other direction, making him yelp in pain and surprise. "I don't care if you can barbecue me without much thought. You listen to me." I lowered my head next to his and growled into his ear. "I let you hunt down that man who used to own Alistair, didn't I? I let you shred up that man that Adryan killed. I feed you, I look after you and I point out the ways you can beat your opponents easily, even if you don't always win. So when I tell you that you don't go around attacking other people, you don't go attacking other people, all right?"

He hissed at me and finally settled into a low growl as I gripped his horn harder. Finally he grunted and relaxed completely, fire dying from his mouth and tail-flame burning with considerably less vigour.

"Good boy," I growled as I threw his head away. He caught his balance and snarled at me again, standing still with palpable reluctance. Once I was sure that he wasn't about to start attacking people randomly, I waved Mia over and watched his reactions.

Distrust and hate were the main things I saw, but no bloodlust or malicious intent. I understood that he only really attacked humans through self-preservation, a kill-first; ask questions later interpretation towards survival of the fittest.

"Good boy," I said again as he stood resolutely still when Mia reached my side. He leant forwards slowly, sniffed at her before he growled again and turned away, swiping at us both with his tail. Charles barked offence and growled lowly at Scar, no doubt telling him exactly what he had coming. Scar watched the stantler with something like amusement before finally he snorted and sat on the floor, almost as if to state that he wasn't going to go about attacking anyone.

I sighed and rubbed my temples. "You know, before I caught him, I used to think getting a strong pokémon would be brilliant. Now I've got him, I'm starting to realise that maybe it would have been easier had I caught something simple, like a rattata."

Mia laughed as she threw an arm around her stantler's neck, scratching lightly at his fur. "I wouldn't advise that. Rattata can chew through anything, you know? Besides, you're doing fine enough," she reassured me. "I had to take the same sort of approach with Charles when I first caught him. Except the problem then was that my bulbasaur died a few days later, so I was stuck with only him." She smiled and grabbed the stantler's cheeks, squeezing them and puffing out her own. "But then I managed to train you, yes I did! And now you're a big, strong, not-very-amused stantler, aren't you? Yes you are!"

He snorted and flicked his ears. Scar rumbled lowly, almost like he was laughing. I just decided that it was probably a good thing I couldn't understand them.

"Well I've also got a skarmory that can't fly," I said as I tried to get Scar to stand back up. When he started to ignore me I tried to lift him up instead. "Would be nice... if I could find out... why she can't!" I let go of the stubborn charmeleon and panted, doubling over and holding my knees. "How the hell are you so heavy?"

He grunted a small, unimpressed sound at me. I blew my hair from my face as I waved a hand at him, deciding to deal with him later.

"Does your skarmory run fast?" Mia asked me, randomly.

I laughed at the memory of Sophie chasing the postman down the road. "Yup – I didn't know skarmory could run that fast."

Mia nodded and hummed to herself. "That sounds like something I heard on one of the discovery channels when I was younger. Pokémon can interbreed – electrical pokémon can have eggs with non-electrical pokémon and so on. There was this special on doduo and dodrio – those two Kantonese birds that can't fly? Well they can breed with flying pokémon, like pidgeot. There was a case about that – a dodrio mother bred with a pidgeot father and the egg hatched into a pidgey. But the father died, so the dodrio had to raise the pidgey by herself. Since dodrio can't fly, the mother couldn't teach the pidgey how to. So instead of learning to fly from a parent, like most flying pokémon would, the pidgey learn how to run really fast instead. By the time it had evolved into a pidgeot, it still hadn't been taught how to fly, but it could run really, really fast.

"By the time someone taught it how to fly, the researchers found out that it actually preferred running to flying." Mia smiled as she reached up and rubbed her stantler's ears. "It's actually more common than people think – that programme said it happens to about one in every thousand flying pokémon."

I grabbed Sophie's poké ball and stared at it, contemplating and slightly discouraged. "So even if I taught her how to fly, she still might not?"

Mia nodded and then shrugged. "Yeah, but you could always just saddle her up and make her run you to places instead, couldn't you?"

I nodded. "I suppose."

"Good!" Mia declared as she slapped me on the back. Scar hissed at her, backing down only when I shook my head at him. Mia however acted like it never happened. "So can I see her?"

I nodded once more and tossed Sophie's poké ball out, releasing her just behind Scar. She cawed as she came fully into view, stretched her neck round and stared down at Scar, chirped at him and then looked back up, staring intently at Mia and her stantler.

I chuckled as I walked up to Sophie and stroked her neck feathers. "Sophie, this is Mia and her stantler, Charles. They're friends." I smiled and turned to Mia. "This is Sophie. She's a little... well... inquisitive."

As if on cue, Sophie bounced forwards and stopped before Mia, head bobbing and twitching at the new person. Once her analysis was complete, Sophie spread her wings and screeched.

I groaned and buried my face in a hand. "That's a habit of hers. I have no idea why she does it." Scar hissed in agreement as he too watched the metallic bird.

Unlike the business woman Sophie last tormented with such habits, Mia began to laugh at her antics. "I like her. She's mad. If I remember right from training Percy, this is just a sort of introduction; 'look at me, I am such-and-such and I like eating small rodents!'"

I spared a glance at Charles. Apparently he was unfazed by such behaviour. Scar and I, however, shared identical looks of bewilderment.

Mia laughed and tucked her arms into her armpits before she flapped them and made a screeching sound. I winced, half expecting Sophie to attack her, yet instead the skarmory seemed surprised and genuinely thrilled by Mia's actions. Sophie tucked her wings to her side before she spread them again with another screech.

It was like something out of a television show. The both of them there, flapping their arms or wings, making screeching noises at each other.





I groaned and squatted down next to Scar. "You know, if you and everyone else ever sit around and say I'm insane... there's your proof right there that I'm actually quite normal."

He grunted as Mia burst out laughing and walked up to me. "I like that skamory, she's a lot of fun," she said, even as the bird bounced behind her and nipped at her shoulders, searching for more attention. I sighed, told Sophie off, yet when she continued to ignore me I just recalled her.

"How is it that you even manage to bring insanity to saying 'hello' to a pokémon?" I asked, amused and amazed.

Mia grinned as she wrapped her arms around her stantler again. "Because the world would be boring if it were sane and normal. If being insane is the only way I can have fun, I'll end up in a padded cell and enjoy myself all the while."

I nodded with an amused snort. "Yeah, you'd be throwing yourself at the walls all the while and laughing about how bouncy they are."

"Possibly." She winked and detached herself from her pokémon. "So you wanna head down to the gym? I want to book myself a battle and if you're still here, I'm guessing you haven't either?"

"Not yet," I told her as I recalled Scar. "I was going to do it sometime soon; I just wanted to make sure my pokémon were strong enough to actually win it quite easily."

She smiled as she returned her stantler to its ball. "People try doing that for their entire lives. There's always going to be someone better than you; there's always going to be someone worse. Just don't go crazy like some people and start hacking apart pokémon yourself, all because you think it defines how strong you are."

Too late there. Except for the defining how strong I am part. A lot of my childhood involved having to hack up pokémon that had got too close to camp or even those that were dead and couldn't burn fast enough when they were whole.

Sometimes, I'm still amazed I turned out slightly sane.

"Though that reminds me," Mia said as she linked her arm into mine. "When I was coming here, I found this big weird knife just randomly in a patch of grass. I think someone lost it, but Rusty – my lairon – he seemed to think it was blood. In fact, so did Jeff – my cacnea."

Adryan's knife. I knew instantly it had to be that. I remembered that Adryan had dropped it when he'd seen Lucy, yet I'd forgotten about it until it was far too late to go back. I had hoped that someone would have taken it as their own, or that it could have even just never been found.

"What did you do with it?" I asked her, hoping she didn't hand it over to police or something. If they found it and saw Adryan's fingerprints on it, they'd start to investigate the area to see if it had been used. I couldn't remember if I'd ever touched it. If it had mine on though, they could link it back to Aaron. Maybe even the Champion in Dewford. The weapons store in Rustboro too!

She shrugged. "I was going to check it out, but Rusty decided it would make a good snack. Seriously, lairon are strange pokémon; they eat metal. I've taken to stealing cutlery from places just to give to him as a treat."

I laughed. "I've got a sableye. He likes eating rocks. Evolution stones too. Supposedly crystals and gems as well, but I haven't found any of those yet."

Mia smiled and stopped in front of a large dusty-purple building with large glass doors. Thick black ivy crawled up and around the brick work and a number of generators could be heard running, even from the outside.

"They're to make the place smell nice," Mia told me, almost like she was reading my mind. "The gym here specialises in poisonous pokémon – they tend to like eating rotten garbage as well as producing smelly, toxic gasses. In short, the place usually stinks." She looked up at me and smiled. "You wouldn't believe how badly the entire city of Fuschia smelt before they put in air purifiers for the gym."

I tried not to imagine the smell for myself. Instead I squinted forwards, behind the glass doors, trying to find some trace of life. "It looks shut," I commented needlessly.

"It shouldn't be," Mia said with a frown. She walked towards the gym and watched as the automatic doors slid open for her, then bounced around to face me with a smile. "See, open! We just need to find the receptionist and we're in business – maybe we can even get a battle today!"

I nodded and followed her in. The whole place was quiet. Abandoned even. I couldn't hear anything over the whirr of the generators. There were no people, no signs of life. No smells.

No nothing.

"I don't like this," I said as I wrapped an arm around Mia's shoulders, pulling her towards me and hopefully out of danger.

She smiled and looked up at me, her face dropping open in shock in an instant.

She screamed.

Something smashed into my head.

And my vision exploded into darkness.

I groaned as consciousness returned, bringing with it the fierce hammering in the back of my skull. My head rolled on my shoulders and I fought the urge to be sick.

I dropped my head and gurgled, vision swimming and my limbs strangely refusing to move. I tried to move my arms. Nothing. I tried to move my legs. Nothing still.

I groaned and rolled my head back, slamming it against something hard and wooden. I hissed, wondering just what it could be as my vision slowly cleared.

I was wearing bracelets?

No, I realised as it all became clear. Big, thick metal bonds held me to a table that was balanced at an angle in the middle of the room, leaving me somewhere between standing and lying down.

I groaned and looked down, only to see that my feet were bound too. Added to that, everything I owned was gone – my bag, my weapons, my pokémon! Even my clothes!

Bound there in only my underwear, I managed to gurgle to myself. "This... can't be good."

I heard footsteps approaching behind a big metal door in front of me. There were a number of tables against the walls, all metallic, all of them bare, save for a few papers and a vice, strangely enough.

Keys jangled as they were forced into the lock and I prepared myself for whatever freak would walk into the room.

"You!" I gasped as my kidnapper walked in. The damned trilby-girl was here!

"Me," she confirmed simply, shutting the door behind her and sitting on a table opposite me.

"What's going on here?" I snarled at her, trying as best as I could to ignore the pounding in the back of my skull.

The girl sighed and stared at the floor. "Things beyond your control. You called me a liar before, you were right. That time-traveller's group, all a lie."

That wasn't much of a surprise.

"But it had a purpose!" she swore as she looked back up at me. Without her hat I saw how young she really looked – she couldn't have been older than fifteen. "The leader of that group... he's also one of the highest gym trainers there are here. He's abused some psychic powers and found out a few things. You're really from the future, aren't you?"

I laughed with as much bluster as I could manage. Inside my heart was beating a mile a minute. Were they going to kill me? Torture me? Both? What about my pokémon? Were they alive? Were they going to be tortured? Were they going to be hurt so they could get at me?

"If I was from the future, how could I get here?" I growled at her. "I don't think time machines have been invented yet."

The girl sighed again. "Celebi," she said and my eyebrows flew into my hairline. "The psychics told Cr-that man that a celebi would bring someone here that would cause a lot of trouble for Hoenn... for everyone, really."

"Right," I drawled. "And how, exactly, does a celebi manage to do something like that?"

"Stop lying!" she snapped at me. "I saw it that day, in that group! The way you reacted! It confirmed it all! You don't understand what's really going on here! War-"

"Ooh, war," I mocked and shook my hands as much as I could. "Countries are always at war girly, only rarely does it actually become public knowledge. People have power, they want more power. They find ways to try and get more power, when there's no other way left; they rush in and take power by force, rather than by stealth."

She shook her head at me. "You don't understand-"

"No, you don't understand!" I snarled at her. "You've kidnapped me, stolen my pokémon and are doing who knows what with my friend! You think there's any way that you can justify any of this?"

Her eyes met mine before her entire gaze dropped to the floor. "Believe me. I wish it didn't have to be this way."

I scoffed at that. "How'd you manage to set this all up? You couldn't have known in advance that I was coming to the gym today."

She rolled her shoulders. "Actually... we knew."

Shock smacked me in the face. "What? But, how?"

She looked up at me, met my eyes and then looked down to the floor again. "When I kissed you. I slipped you something, a drug. Harmless! But it acts as a powerful marker that poisonous pokémon can sense and track. Then the leader had his haunter track you, and she alerted us when you were coming here."

I shuddered and suddenly felt dirty and violated. How was it that the haunter had managed to track me without me noticing? I'd felt wrong when the shedinja came at me, but I had no clue there was a haunter on my trail for a week!

Though more than that, the fact that the girl kissed me for business means felt like I'd been punched. "My friend. My pokémon. Where are they?"

The girl shrugged. "I don't know. I'm only allowed to see you. I can't say about your friend, maybe they'll let her go. But they'll want to know how much she knows about you – whether she knows if you're from the future or not."

I remained there, shackled to the strange table and laughed at her. A mocking, yet scared and hopeless laugh.

"You need to understand something," she told me. "You shouldn't be here. The last guy that came back through time, he did... something. I don't know what, but it fucked up a lot of things. This is just making sure that you don't cause the world to implode or something."

I dropped my gaze and glared up at her. "Now you need to understand something," I hissed darkly. "You're the one that's got me into this situation. You've gotten my pokémon involved in this, one of my best friends and her pokémon too. You better hope that I never get out of this sick fantasy you, your boss or whoever has placed me in. Because if I do... I. Will. Kill. You."

Her eyes widened before she gulped and grabbed her keys with shaky hands. She took one last look at me before she slid out of the door and locked it shut behind her.

Alone in the darkness, I hung my head and felt a lump swell in my throat. I leant my chin on my chest and felt my heartbeat frantically.

I needed to escape.

I needed to find my pokémon before they were hurt.

I needed to find Mia before she was hurt.

I needed revenge on the sick fucks that put me there in the first place.

Tears threatened to burst out of my eyes, but I fought to keep them inside. I wouldn't cry! I wouldn't let those people beat me! I would find a way out and get my revenge on them all!

My head snapped up at the sound of keys jangling again. I wondered idly whether it was the traitorous trilby-girl before the door opened and a man walked into the room. He looked about thirty, short dark hair, a hairy face, dressed in a purple jumper and trousers that were so dark they were almost black.

He looked at me, nothing readable in his brown eyes before he shut the door. I saw him drop a black bag on one of the tables before he crossed the distance of the room and squeezed my chin with only one hand.

"Never threaten the girl again," he hissed, even as he continued to choke me. Tears leaked out of my eyes as I thought for breath. After an age he released me and I sucked in air greedily, not caring about how weak I looked in front of him.

He stared at me, as someone would with a painting. Finally he clicked his tongue and turned around. "Not the best specimen, but passable enough. No one will really care anyway; it won't be your face they're interested in."

Fear burst like a cold balloon in my stomach, flooding my entire being with it. "What're you talking about?" I croaked, hating myself for how my voice broke.

The man turned around to me and gave me a sinister smirk. "I don't know what the girl told you, but we're not going to kill you. Not while there's money to be had. You wouldn't believe what the market is like for young men these days."

My stomach dropped out of my body. "Go fuck yourself," I snarled, understanding just what they had planned for me.

He spun around and smacked me in the face, making my teeth rattle. "A fighter. Good. People pay more money for that sort of thing. Personally, I have no idea why people are into such depraved acts, but there's a market there; who are we to judge paying customers?"

I glared at him and balled all my hate and fear into resilience. "I'll get out of here," I promised him. "And when I do, I'll make sure you die a very slow and painful death."

The man laughed to himself as he reached into the bag and pulled out a variety of things. Once I saw a needle I started to squirm in my restraints, hoping that I could find some way out. I didn't want anything being forced inside me. I needed to escape!

The man laughed once more. "You won't be able to escape those bonds. Even machop struggle." He turned around and sat on the desk, gesturing to a number of blades, corkscrews and needles. "Now I'll tell you this once; answer my questions the first time, or I'll be forced to take means to make you more compliant, so to speak."

I wanted to run. I wanted freedom. I needed to be anywhere but there! But I couldn't escape. Instead I could only scoff at him. "'Do as I say or I'll torture you'? Ten points for originality." I tried to put on a brave face, but my arms were shaking and twitching like mad. So were my legs. Even if I got fear from my voice, my body displayed it instead.

The man just smirked at me. "Torture is a rather... redundant method, to be honest. There are other ways to make someone speak." He reached into his bag and produced a poké ball, showed it to me before he clamped it into the vice. "Now, this is an automatic vice with the safety limits removed. Once activated, it will continue to crush until it closes completely." He held a finger just above the button to activate it. "Now tell me, are you from the future?"

I smirked to myself. Fear the man and his automatic vice, I told myself. What was the worst he could do? Break a poké ball? I told myself that wouldn't do anything.

I sneered at him. "Trying to find out if you're famous in the future or not? I'll give you a hint; when I get out of here, you're dead. Fame won't matter."

The man sighed. "Pity. The hard way it is."

He pressed the button.

I laughed as the vice whirred into life, slowly crushing the poké ball. Sparks flew madly out of it, decorating the air. The metal of the vice began to screech as it struggled to close completely. More sparks danced through the air. Finally there was an almost metallic scream as the poké ball exploded, peppering me with small pieces of shrapnel and covering the entire floor in bits of burst poké ball.

"Lesson one," the man said. "The hard way is not the way you'll want to play things."

I laughed at him. So he'd destroyed a poké ball? So what.

"Big man," I drawled. "You made a poké ball explode. I'm so scared mister; please don't pop anymore poké balls. I'll tell you everything, I promise!" I laughed at him as I tried to move my arms. "Get bent."

The man stared at me, impassiveness destroyed by a look of curiosity. "Tell me, boy, did you not learn anything in school?"

I laughed at him again. "Who needs school? I know how to kill you well enough without it."

A sinister, eerie smile grew on the man's face. "Ah, then you won't know."

My bravado crashed and burnt at his words. "Know what?"

He folded his arms. "What do you think happens to the pokémon inside when a poké ball is destroyed?"

"It gets released?" I guessed.

The man laughed. "No child. The pokémon inside is killed. There is no way to recover the body or retrieve the pokémon that was once inside. The pokémon is dead. Now take another look at the poké ball."

If he'd stabbed me he couldn't have hurt me more. It was one of my poké balls. I just knew it. One of my pokémon had been inside that ball. One of my pokémon had been attacked by that vice. One of my pokémon had been killed. One of my pokémon now existed only as fragments cluttering the floor.

And I'd laughed about it all.

"You bastard!" I screamed at him, struggling with all my strength to break free of my bonds. I wanted to punch him! I wanted to kick him! I wanted to bury my thumbs in his eyes and make him scream before I killed him! "I'll rip off your arms and beat you to death with them! You deluded, sick, perverted, torturous fucker!"

He laughed and smacked me in the mouth again. I snarled and tried to bite his hand as he drew back, cursing him and whoever shared his blood.

"Now you understand the consequences," he said as he sat back on the table. I wanted it to break underneath him. For it to break and those knives to pierce his heart, making him die slowly and painfully. One of my pokémon was dead – I didn't even know who!

"So, I'll ask my question again; are you from the future?"

Tears blurred my vision as I looked at him, hating him with every ounce of my being. "I. Am going. To kill you."

"The death of your pokémon won't make you talk?" he asked, amazed. I wanted to reach over and rip his tongue out. To wipe that smug look off his face. To do anything to kill him!

He picked up the syringe on the desk and a little pot of some sort of clear liquid. I felt fear punch through me again and my arms and legs both started shaking. It could have been anything! Adrenaline! That would keep me awake if he tortured me! Maybe some sort of truth serum! Poison even! Tell him everything and get the antidote, or die slowly and painfully!

He filled the syringe with the fluid and held it in the air, pushed the plunger and squirted a little bit of the liquid through the air. "A few days of being treated with this and not only will you be telling us what we want to know, but you'll also be doing anything for a fix."

My eyes widened and I struggled again to get away. I had to get out! He'd killed my pokémon! He was going to pay for that!

He smiled at me and held my left arm down. I snarled at him like an animal, trying to scare him away or anything. He just laughed, tied a little bit of string around my arm, found the vein and thrust the needle straight into it.

"You'll be talking soon enough," he promised me as he pressed the plunger and filled me with the substance.

My head began to swirl instantly and my heart beat just a little bit slower. He'd killed one of my pokémon. One of the creatures I'd spent so long to raise; loved possibly more than I loved myself. I had no idea who it was.







Then I forgot about everything under the delightful haze of drug-filled bliss.

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