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.


60. The Seven Steps to Normality Part 2

"I've gotten three more so far," I told her, spinning my new pokédex in my palm. "I beat Melissa, the ghost leader, Jessica, you know, the dark one? And I've just managed to beat Flannery too. I pretty much just used Loki, but I let Alistair fight against one of her blaziken. He seemed to enjoy battling another fighter."

"And while you've been out there battling away, I've been in here, slaving away at this project," she sighed dramatically. "We should really engrave our names somewhere in here. Let people know that we're the ones behind all of this."

"Behind what?" I said, leaning on the doorframe. "The bunkers or the dooming the world part?"

She shrugged. "Both. Give them the whole story. We're not heroes; we started doing this because we felt bad. Now we do it because we enjoy it. People deserve to know the truth, warts and all, even if we don't want to admit it.

"I really don't like it when you make sense."

She grinned and spun a wrench in her hand. "Well too bad, because I make sense all the time! Now are you going to help me with this place or what?"

"I just sorted out most of the plumbing in the kitchen," I told her. "It's a big place actually, at least we don't need to change that and the bathrooms round. All we need to do is add a common room sort of thing, hook a few security cameras up into this power generator, get a safety perimeter set up around the garden and probably secure a line from the mountain to here and we're home free."

She sat down on the floor with a sigh. "Isn't that water going to the hot springs in Lavaridge at the moment?"

"Somewhat," I said with a shrug. "If we can lay some pipework along the way, it means they'd have a constant source of hot water. They'd just need to leave it to cool in order to drink it. Or maybe we could figure something out that could let one part of it be colder for people to actually drink…"

She barked a laugh. "Slow down there soldier! We're not engineers. Everything we've done really has been aesthetic or assembling something that was flat packed. Maybe we should stick to what we know in order to help."

"Like killing people you mean?"

"So we learn new skills!" She bounced to her feet. "Come on, I mean, we've gone through the whole ordeal of swapping a lung and a kidney just so we've got a bit more time before we die. So until the walls in our brains fall down and we go completely insane, why don't we go out into the world and try to help out?"

I sat down on one of the beds. "Like what?"

"I don't know yet!" She sighed and sat down next to me. "I just feel like we could be doing something other than working in this gloomy place all day. We still don't know who massacred everything down here. If you ask me, that's a bit of a high-stakes question."

"What do we do then? Sing campfire songs?"

She chuckled. "It's a start."

"I'm actually amazed he's still standing, let alone even able to damn well fly."

I watched Scar as he flew around in circles far above us, twisting and shaping the clouds behind him. Every so often he'd roar and send a small group of birds scattering towards the horizon.

Chris made a face and rubbed her temples. "He's so damn virile it's unreal. Almost every female he can breed with, he's knocked up. I've got eggs popping out of pokémon faster than I can sell them."

I found myself grinning. "Any going spare? I wouldn't mind having a new pokémon."

She rolled her eyes. "Are you really going to be able to look after a baby pokémon? Raise it, teach it and just generally baby it for the first few weeks?"

"Urm… maybe not then."

"I thought as much." She sighed and slammed her fist down on a piece of paper because it could float away in the wind. "So you're taking him off my hands then? I'm kinda glad. In a way, I'm not; he's really good with the younger pokémon and he teaches them lots. With that in mind, he's a blessing. But if he spreads his seed into another one of my pokémon I'm seriously going to give him a vasectomy."

"I'm taking him off your hands, don't worry," I said quickly, knowing he wouldn't like that. "I'll talk to him; see if I can get him to calm down a little. Or at least go crazy parenting little charmanders or whatever with wild pokémon."

"There's a few laws there," Chris told me. "Pokémon trainers aren't really meant to release their pokémon anywhere that they don't normally inhabit. For the same reason, they're not really meant to let their pokémon breed with anything they wouldn't usually encounter. If there's a feraligatr near a stream that suddenly has a few too many charmander babies, things could go a bit wrong."

She finished writing a letter, sealed it and handed it to me. "Take this with you, will you? I know he can't actually read it… but there's a little bit of me that likes to believe he can. Ripper will be there anyway, maybe he'll be able to do something about it."

"Will do," I said, pocketing the letter. "Is it alright if I leave Erra here? She's still getting used to magneton form."

"Sure, sure," Chris said with a wave of her hand. "I'm looking after one at the moment anyway, I'll introduce them. You'll be able to take a few pokémon here to train them, won't you?"

"Course, same as ever. I'm not going to just dump my pokémon on you and not expect to get it all for free." I smiled and nodded in Alistair's direction. "And of course, you have him attracting crowds now. Seems you're getting a lot of popularity out of this too."

"I know," she said with a laugh. "Brawly contacted me the other day. Or at least, one of his people. Not only does he want to come to try out a match against Alistair, but he wants to know if he can loan him for a couple of weeks to help out in his gym."

"Wow," I said, staring like a hoothoot. "That's… something. And gym leaders can do that?"

"Oh yeah," she said with a nod. "There's a few breeding locations that often have really strong pokémon livestock on their grounds. Sometimes a gym leader will request to loan one for a little while for all sorts of purposes. It works brilliantly both ways; the pokémon gets training experience under a gym leader, the gym gets a strong, new pokémon to play with. And of course, the breeding centre gets publicity and a good rapport with the gym leader.

"Brawly said if things go well, he'll happily loan out his stronger pokémon to me as studs," she said with a huge grin. "He gets first pick of the eggs, naturally, but it means he'll endorse this place and soon I'll have requests for eggs and day care services coming out of my ears."

I laughed. "Sure you'll be able to manage it?"

She sighed. "Honestly? No idea. Most of my work force now is local interns. Work experience and brilliant references for them, relatively free labour for me. If I ever got enough money to open up another centre… I'm not sure if I could keep things going the same way."

I shrugged and rescued another of her papers from the wind. "I think you should. You've built yourself up doing that; you seem to be the only place that does so. It means you'll probably have internship applications coming through your ears too, considering that it's so hard for them to get a placement or anything, isn't it?"

"I suppose," she said, taking the paper back off me. "If nothing else, it'll make me popular with the students." Another gust of wind came along and rattled her papers. "Why I chose to sit outside and do this today is beyond me. I guess it's back to my gloomy cave-office. Come back tomorrow for Erra and I'll see what pokémon I can let you train. Something dark or icy, most likely."

"Sure thing," I said, waited until she went inside and whistled for Scar. He answered with a roar and circled down from the heavens, landing before me with a light thump. I told him where I wanted to go as I climbed into the saddle. He acknowledged it with a snort, stared over at Alistair and shared a silent conversation with him before taking to the skies.

"You get along well with him now, don't you?" I shouted above the winds.

He grunted. A little series of snarls told me everything.

"I guess all that time together in the past really made you two depend on each other." I looked away from him and stared at the landscape below, flittering past like runny paint smears on a board. "And then you both come back to help me and he loses an arm in the process."

Scar huffed out a cloud of smoke.

"Really? So how many times did you both nearly lose a limb?"

He snarled and tapped the side of his head.

"Yeah, I suppose I am better off not knowing." I sighed and adjusted myself slightly in the saddle, watching everything pass me below. A little tropius family came close enough for us to ride alongside until one of them nearly flew into Scar's tail and got scared off by the flame.

It took a couple of hours for us to get where we needed to go. I patted Scar on the side and let him take off to the sky once more as I made my way along the pathway on shaky, somewhat locked-into-place legs.

Another part of my pilgrimage; Mount Pyre.

I knew the little memorial I'd set up for Xander was on the fifth floor. That wasn't why I was visiting though.

When Adryan had died, his ashes had been scattered to a number of places.

One of the main reasons behind a few were that they were the places he had first met each of his pokémon.

"It was many years ago now," Ripper said as he floated into view. His presence wasn't a surprise to me; I was only surprised that it had taken him so long to approach me.

He rotated slowly in the air and pointed up a set of impossibly clean stairs. "Above lay the orbs of emerald, ruby and sapphire. I was but a dusclops then, intrigued as to why a small human child would try to sneak up so many stairs, only for a glimpse of mythical objects. When I found Master Adryan there, staring at the jewels, I asked him why he risked punishment for only a glance of something otherwise so mundane."

I followed Ripper as he floated above the glistening, dew-covered grass. "What did he say then?"

He laughed; an ethereal, haunting sound. "He said he wanted to see what helped people to become heroes. He may have grown out of the idea through reality as he got older, but he never gave up on the dream of being able to become a hero. We were his partners in all such endeavours. Which makes what we conspired so much worse."

I froze on the spot, suddenly cold. It was almost as if a gengar were dancing in my shadow.

I checked, just to make sure there wasn't.

"What are you talking about?"

He sighed. "I am sure that you remember after Master Adryan learnt of your… arrival into this world, you witnessed me conversing at length with your nuzleaf."

I nodded slowly. "She's a shiftry now, but yeah… I remember that. That was before everything with Adryan's rapidash happened, wasn't it?"

"Correct." Ripper's eye floated down to stare at the ground. "When Myos transferred the memories you held, I sensed something was amiss with Master Adryan. I am a dusknoir; we are sensitive to matters concerning death, you see. I knew that something had changed within him; not a physical change, but something that felt… wrong, for want of a better term."

I found myself wanting to sit down on the grass. Instead I opted for an ancient tombstone who's text had long since weathered away. "You knew something was wrong? That transferring those memories would lead him into dying eventually?"

Ripper shrugged. "Not exactly. I knew something was wrong. Something that would lead him down a path he would not survive. I spoke at length with the other pokémon. Willow took it the hardest and wished to kill you then and there. We convinced her only to attempt to frighten you off. We did not know what had caused it, but we deduced that you were somehow involved, even if it was not direct."

He sighed and moved so that he was floating above a tombstone. It looked like he was a spectre rising from the grave, which would have made me laugh had the conversation not been so serious.

"We knew something Master Adryan did not. We knew we could not tell him, because he would not believe it. We knew we could not convince him to abandon you, because your plight brought forth his dreams of being a hero once more." The ghost sighed and waved his hands softly over a tombstone. "We had only one additional piece of information he did not know. Lucy was dying. She was old and unknown to Master Adryan, ill-bred. She had a genetic disease that would kill her within the month."

"So… his rapidash's murder was essentially… even more pointless?"

"Not quite. And there is no need to be coy. I know your pokémon killed her. I was the one that convinced her to do the deed."


He looked down at the floor again. "It is true. I thought it the best scenario; that her murder would prove to him that he should not spend time with you. Lucy was dying; she volunteered for the task. She did not wish to wither away and lose herself before finally dying. I hypnotised her so she felt no pain, then your pokémon killed her."

I felt like I needed to sit down. I already was, but it didn't seem to register. "That… at least I know why she did it now. But… why'd you set it up? That man took all the blame!"

"His appearance was… an unfortunate coincidence," Ripper said, closing his eye. "Master Adryan was meant to discover that your nuzleaf committed the act. It was supposed to convince him to leave you and abandon the goals that would eventually kill him. Alas, it appears that the particular celebi was a greater manipulator than I."

He looked back up the gleaming stairs, seemingly able to see past the fog that clouded the area above. "I come here often, to seek his forgiveness. Even though we dusknoir are so in touch with death, able to sense it and guide the spirits, we are unable to contact them after they have moved on. Even I do not know how he feels on such a matter."

I looked at the floor, swinging my legs to and fro. Finally I jumped off the tombstone and met his eye. "For what it's worth, I don't blame you. And if Adryan could forgive me for freaking out and hurting him to keep him safe, I'm sure he can forgive you too."

He looked away, eye glistening. "Perhaps. I suppose that you too have come to offer words to him. I shall respect your privacy and leave you in piece."

"Thanks," I said as he started to float away. "Wait!" I called after him, fumbling in a pocket. "Chris gave me this," I said, offering him her letter. "She said that she knows Adryan can't read it and that there's almost no chance of him ever being able to see what she's written. But she thought that maybe, you'd know a way to pass along the message?"

He took it from my grasp, his touch lighter than air. "I do not. However, I know those that are even older than I am. Tell her that I shall do my best to find a way for her message to cross the planes."

"Thanks Ripper. You're a lifesaver."

He gave me a look that could make puppies cry. "Not quite a good enough one, it seems."

The fourth month brought the end to my second attempt at a badge-quest. It meant that I had to spend too much time away from what I enjoyed doing and not enough time getting to be around the people I liked.

It also meant I had to treat Lacey completely differently to the other pokémon. She didn't like the idea one bit and frequently pointed such a matter out to me.

We should try and f-find Ge-Gemini again sometime soon.

I hummed a non-committal response and reached over to scratch Erra's back. She buzzed in contentment, otherwise busying herself with annihilating faulty wiring.

She clicked a series of tunes that I found myself able to completely understand.

It's b-been so long. D-does she m-miss us?

"I like to think so," I said with a frown. I couldn't say for sure one way or the other. I'd tried multiple times to find some trace of her or her herd, but always came back empty handed.

I m-miss there b-being six of us.

"So do I."

She floated over and landed on my back, manipulating her weight so as to not make me collapse under it. Why d-don't we g-get another then? I want a n-new b-brother or sister.

"It's not quite as simple as that," I said with a small smile. "It means going out to catch a new pokémon, training it to like us and just generally making sure it doesn't try to eat us. Of course, it doesn't help that I can't exactly squeeze one out myself."

You could try though?

I laughed. "Somehow, I don't think anyone would want to befriend anything I squeezed out."

She huffed and floated away, zapping a few more panels on the wall. It is done, she told me afterwards. Find us another b-brother or sister, Trainer. It worries us that you try to do so much without regards for your life.

She flew off elsewhere and left me with that thought to chew on. I fell down on a bed and looked around at the old Magma base.

If it could be called that anymore.

It was, essentially, a nuclear bunker built to withstand who-knew-how-much punishment. Everything in there was complete.


All there was left to do was finally leave a complete report on how everything had come to pass and why the place was being built. She was off elsewhere in the country, trying to build herself a pokémon team and sightsee at the same time. She said that she wasn't ever going to go that far and that whenever there was another project like that, she'd be willing to help out. Otherwise, she needed some space away from me, she said.

I stayed on the bed for a while, staring at the mattress above my head and just trying to imagine people living there for real. Pictures, fake memories of a future that might not happen drifted into my head, telling me what it thought I had experienced. They were the closest I could imagine to the truth; hundreds of people clustered in spaces like the base, without real running water or anything serviceable. By the standards of the current world, it was squalor.

But by the standards of the world I'd been brought up to believe was my own, it was just life.

With that thought playing in my mind, I decided it was time to change around just what I called life.

I went down, pain exploding against my head as missiles continued soaring above.

Nearby, people were screaming for mercy.

Dazed, I rubbed my head and dislodged graceful white powder from my hat. I sat up and scowled in the direction of my attacker.

Almost camouflaged in the snow, Lacey threw back her head in a laugh. Even at such a distance, I could understand her perfectly.

I may not be able to battle, but I am still far stronger than you!

I growled at her, scooped up a pile of snow and found Loki staring up at me from underneath. He cocked his head with a grunt. I stared at him for a long moment, wondering if what I was seeing was real.

Then he leapt up with a screech, threw a snowball in my face and ran away screaming.

I cursed; wiped snow from my face and chased after him. He squealed and hid in a massive pile of snow, disappearing into the shadows within. I cursed again, grabbed another handful of snow and threw it with deadly accuracy at my target.

Alistair raised a hand and caught the snowball in a psychic grasp.

I glared and pointed wildly at the floating snowball. "That's cheating!

[No,] he said with a smirk, [this is.]

He made a gesture and something above me rumbled. I looked up in time to see I was stood underneath a tree.

Then a mountain of snow buried me.

I coughed and clawed my way out of a snowy grave. Buried at the bottom, only my face was poking out of the snow. I glared up at Alistair as he smirked again in my direction. Lacey appeared behind him and smacked him in the back of the head with a snowball. He toppled over, face first and glared back at her.

Loki scampered past, arms up and screaming all the while. Erra was chasing after him, hitting the ground with sonic blasts and creating little showers of snow that buried the sableye.

A few hundred yards away from us all, Scar roared and continued to try and escape the igloo we'd trapped him in.

Lacey smirked and raised a hand triumphantly, just as Alistair appeared behind her, a mountain of snow held in his psychic grasp. Her eyes nearly burst out of her face just before he dropped the pile on top of her.

I burst out laughing at the sight, even though I was in the same predicament. Alistair smirked and leant back on the new pile of snow, tutting as Lacey poked her head out and cursed the air blue. Loki leapt up at him, cackled and stuffed the head of a snowman over Alistair's own. The gallade fell back, snowy head breaking, yet the carrot nose somehow remaining in place.

Loki fell over laughing just in time for Erra to cover him in a pile of snow. Last one standing, she flipped around in the air, landed atop Lacey's burial mound and announced her victory to the world.

"I leave you alone for five minutes and this happens." Marsha sighed as she sat down next to my head and blew a cloud of cigarette smoke into the air. "So how you liking Unova so far then?"

I grinned. "It's cold. I like it. I'd like it more if I wasn't trapped under all of this snow."

"Wimp," she accused, but stood up and pulled me out by my coat anyway. She laughed as I remained there on the floor and sat back down on the now unoccupied pile of snow. "See? Winter in Icirrus is pretty damn awesome, isn't it?"

"It is," I agreed. "Though I think it'll be my pokémon's last if they keep up these snowball fights. Eventually one of them is going to kill the other."

"Probably," Marsha agreed. "And how the hell is your charizard stuck in an igloo?"

I barked out a laugh. "There was a trainer nearby with one of those weird ice cream pokémon. We had it freeze the ice cold enough that fire would take a long time to melt it."

She chuckled. "You know he's probably going to melt every fleck of snow he sees from now on then?"

I shrugged. "I can live with that."

"You say that now." She flicked the remains of her cigarette away and pulled the hood of her coat a little bit tighter around her head. "Well, anyway, I'm going to go. I'm meeting my girlfriend for dinner in an hour, so I need to go get ready. Understandably, you're not invited." She smirked and jabbed me in the ribs. "I don't think she's ready to have to deal with someone like you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, feigning anger. "I helped you find that missing woman, didn't I?"

"Only because you fell over her corpse," she bit back. Her face quickly melted into a smile afterwards. "I mean more with the insane backstory and the general aversion to doing things legal. You're lucky I can see things the way I do; she sees the world as being a lot less grey than we do."

There was the sound of glass smashing somewhere nearby and an angry roar afterwards.

"There's also that. You have the strangest luck with pokémon I've ever seen."

I sighed and pushed myself to my feet, gesturing for Loki and Erra to follow me. Somehow Marsha had convinced me to capture a new pokémon whilst I was visiting Unova. She was a great pokémon that I'd managed to train pretty quickly.

Well, more or less.

I found my way to her, right next to a disused shop with broken windows. She sniffed at it, caught me approaching and gave me a look as if to say 'it wasn't me.'

"Who else was it then?"

She shrugged and pawed at the doors on the building. Overcompensating, she pressed to hard and collapsed through them. She quickly leapt back up, jumped away from them and sat a distance away, pretending that she hadn't ever gone near them.

"I saw you do that," I sighed.

She maintained innocence.

I shook my head and buried it in a hand. "You know what? Just… go play with Alistair and the others. Bury them under some more snow or something. Just try not to break anything else."

She growled, stomped up to me and stopped to lick my forehead. Then she padded on past, roaring at the swirling snow and announcing her intention to take on all comers. Her roar echoed past a few trees and the resulting sound waves caused a few metres of snow to drop from the trees. She leapt away from it, glanced back at me, claiming innocence and quickly trotted on past the latest site of her destruction.

"You were the one who wanted a new sister," I growled at Erra. "This is all on you."

It's not my f-fault! She hopped up and down in mid-air, squeaking wildly. You caught her! Your f-fault!

[Master's fault! Master's fault!] Loki sang, jumping up and down on the spot.

I groaned and decided to catch up to my other pokémon. At least they wouldn't blame me for everything.

I hoped.

My latest pokémon roared as she tried to climb up a tree, swatting at the heracross nestled within. With a loud snap, the tree broke and fell down, making a resounding boom in the landscape. She leapt away from the fallen tree, pretending that she'd never been there as she hid in the snow.

I sighed. At least she was aptly named. "Wrex! Get your ass back here and stop destroying shit!"

"I'm pretty sure these caverns get quieter every time I come down here."

Alistair shrugged by my side. [Perhaps it is the routes you are taking. You are still not permitted in here, is that not true?]

"Why else do you think I sneak down here every time?" I shook my head and motioned for Erra. She leapt at the dodrio stalking us, hissing and spitting lightning. The bird shrieked, stabbed at her with all three beaks but came off mostly worse. Erra clamped herself down on the middle neck, bit down and tore free a chunk of flesh and electrocuted the thing to death before it could bleed there first.

Up ahead, Wrex stood over her frozen butterfree. She tapped it with a paw and it shattered into messy, icy chunks. She jumped away from it with a snarl, batted the largest piece and made her way quickly past it. She seemed to be a firm believer in the phrase 'it was like that when I got here'.

Even if it happened to be complete bull.

I felt for the poké balls on my chest, relieved that the three occupied ones were still there. I remembered coming here before and having some strange dream that I'd lost them. More than that, I couldn't recall. I knew there was something down in the cavernous halls and tunnels that I'd forgotten, yet every time I progressed further through them, I seemed to be moving further away from what I sought.

"Are you sure there's nothing I should remember down here, Alistair?" I asked him, tracing my fingers across the walls. I pulled them back as somewhere down the wall something spurted out yellow fumes.

[I cannot say, sir,] he said quietly. [You were with Miss Gemini when you were down here last. If there was anything, I am sure she would know.]

"Maybe you're right," I agreed. "Come on, we should probably turn around and leave before we get too much further in."

Predictably, there was a roar further in. Wrex came bounding back seconds later, terror in her eyes, panic in her voice. She threw a glance backwards, snarled at the darkness and sat down beside me, waiting for me to deal with her problem.

I sighed to keep up the façade of indifference. "What's she angered this time?"

She whined as if to say it wasn't her fault.

I seriously doubted that.

[Just a machoke. And its mate.]

"Brilliant," I growled, letting Scar and Loki loose. "Go with Alistair and make sure whatever Wrex has annoyed isn't chasing us, would you? If it is, deal with it."

I turned away as they went deeper into the tunnels. Erra floated by my side, light beaming from her. She settled on the wall and scuttled a few paces ahead, keeping me within her light all the while.

"What am I going to do with you?" I asked Wrex.

She cocked her head and did her best to give me a confused look. When she realised it wasn't going to work, she grunted and moved a few paces down the tunnel. Finding a boulder, she reared up and leant her forepaws down on it.

With a loud crack, the boulder shattered and rained debris down on the floor. From underneath, a little crab waved its pincers angrily and scuttled off down the corridors, hissing all the while.

Wrex batted a piece of the debris and glanced up at me with a familiar look.

"Sure," I sighed. "That totally wasn't your fault either."

The fifth month was when we first slept together.

"Does it ever strike you as weird?" she said randomly, staring up at the ceiling.

"What?" I asked, trying to figure out what she was staring at.

She made a gesture. "That in those weird images of the future, we were married."

"I try not to think about it," I grunted.

Her head shot round at me, but she tried her best not to leap up. If she moved away from me anymore, she wouldn't have been in the bed at all. "What's that supposed to mean?"

I sighed and shut my eyes. "It means that I try not to think about it. Everything that celebi did was for a purpose. What if us being together was a part of that purpose to?"

She sat up and drew the covers around herself. "You didn't seem to mind that ten minutes ago."

I threw a hand to my face. "That's not what I mean and you know it. The celebi set up so much about us; our tasks, our personalities, even how we'd react to things! I can't help but shake the thought that if we'd been brought out of wherever they kept us later, we'd have been some sort of warped version of Bonnie and Clyde."

"That's all you ever think about, isn't it? 'Oh, the celebi might have set this up. It might have set that up'. Don't you ever think about something else?"

"It's hard to! It damn well controlled us for so long, don't you think there might be something that it had working, just in case it did die?"

She growled and snapped her gaze away. "No. Because you know what? The past is past. It shapes who we are. Without it, we wouldn't be here today, doing what we're. There's no point regretting what's done because otherwise, we wouldn't be who we are now." She shook her head, reached down to the floor, picked up and put on a shirt that covered from neck to knee. "Maybe you should realise that." She stalked out of the room and flung the door wide open even after she'd left. "Oh and your stupid beartic's brought in more dead things!"

I placed a pillow over my head and screamed into it. I felt a weight drop on the bed and lifted up the pillow to find Wrex laying her head and forepaws on the bed, staring at my face.

"Nothing's ever simple, is it?" I asked her, reaching over to scratch her behind the ears.

She growled, flicked her ears and prodded my side with a paw. As I looked to see what she meant, she dropped down to the floor, reappeared a second later and dropped the remains of a half-eaten swablu onto my bed.

I pulled a face and tried to inch away from the squishy insides that were brushing against my chest. "Urm, thanks. I'll have to cook it first to eat it."

She flicked her ears, making a quizzical noise. Happy for now, she pushed herself off the bed and wandered towards the door. Along the way she blew out a frosty breath that froze another of the beds in the room solid. Eyes wide, she turned to me, almost to see if I'd noticed it. With a guilty face, she quickly made her way out of the room, leaving me confused with a half-eaten bird on my bed and another bed experiencing a severe case of frostbite.

"You know what? I've reached that level of insanity where nothing manages to surprise me anymore."

Alistair chuckled into my mind. [Surely, sir, you expected something like this? Especially after that lengthy discussion with Master Brawly.]

I shrugged, still staring at the paper in my hand. "Sure but… this? You're a fucking internet sensation! Places I've never even heard of are worshipping you!"

He made a gesture, like he was tipping his hat. [I am but one pokémon, sir. Talented and skilled, making the best of the situation at hand.]

"Still…" I breathed. "A pokémon arm-wrestling competition? With you as a judge and the final opponent?"

He chuckled again. [Do not fear sir, I am not leaving you. You are required to be at all matches and oversee everything in regards to my safety. You have the final word towards every decision where my safety is in concern.]

"So… no pressure," I chuckled nervously. "Geez, when did the world become so normal and yet so weird? Hunting down a psycho-celebi was one thing, but you being a pseudo-celebrity? I think I'm going to need to get my brain checked out to make sure I didn't get captured by the celebi and I'm experiencing a very, very strange dream."

Alistair smiled. [Were it that simple sir. I am afraid that actual life is nothing but surprises.]

"You're telling me," I grunted, handing him back the paper. "Well, whatever you decide, I'm behind you. I know you say I have the final word, but I trust you to make the decisions yourself. I'll only step in if I really disagree with what you're saying."

He bowed. [You are too kind, sir. I shall return these signed forms to Master Brawly.]

I laughed and played with the lid of the pen in my pocket. "What's to stop him from thinking you forged the signatures?"

He smirked. [Who's to say I haven't done so before?]

He teleported away before I could grill him on that. I buried my hands in my hair and stared in disbelief at the table I sat on. I don't know how long I was sat there before Chris came and found me.

"I know that you're helping to train the pokémon and everything, but you sitting around every time you come and visit is making my workers feel jealous."

"Sorry," I grunted, jumping off the table.

She laughed and stopped me from leaving with an arm in my way. "Relax. I was kidding. They know that some people only come here to train pokémon; everyone has different jobs. Speaking of pokémon; does your beartic seriously believe people don't notice when it causes destruction?"

I snorted. "Wrex? Yeah, she seems to think that she can get away with anything. I think it's because so many people think cubchoo are so sweet and let them get away with murder. She's probably had that for however long and thinks she can still abuse the cute and innocent look to get away with everything."

"She's fiercely loyal though," Chris told me. She pulled up a seat, leant back and crossed her legs on the table. "One of the fire pokémon here – a typloshion – was shouting at your magneton for something or another. Next thing I know, your beartic's jumped in and wiped the floor with the typlohsion."

I didn't know whether to be proud or mortified. "Is everyone okay then?"

"Suppose so," Chris said, grabbing a drink she'd left on the floor. She took a sip and smiled at me. "Your magneton's pretty timid anyway, but I think seeing a big, hulking polar bear sticking up for her made her feel a bit more confident. Honestly, I think that would make anyone feel a lot braver. As for the typloshion… its ego's bruised worse than its body. Its trainer spent a good five minutes shouting at me until I showed him the security footage, after which he spent about thirty minutes apologising profusely."

I laughed. "So how's everything with you?"

She sighed contently. "All good. Jon's got a heavy week at work this week, so I'm not seeing him much. My sisters think I'm crazy for having one week where I see him often, then another when I see him maybe once. But I like it. It suits us both better." She shook her head and placed her drink back on the floor. "But of course; that's bound to change. He proposed after we'd been going out for a few months. I told him he'd have to ask me again once we'd been going out a year. It's reaching ten months now."

"That's good though, right?" I said unsurely. "I mean, the ten month thing. But why are you concerned about the other thing? Don't you want to be with him?"

"No, not that!" she said quickly, laughing. "Don't get me wrong, I do love him. I do want to marry him. But as soon as he proposes and I accept, it becomes… official. I like the fact I don't see him every day, as weird as it sounds. It lets me be myself. Once we're engaged, everything starts happening. We'll have to move in together and I'm not entirely certain how I feel about that."

I shrugged and sat back down on the table. "Then don't move in together? I mean, you're expanding this place pretty well. He's on call most hours of the night, so he's going to need to be near the hospital at most times, isn't he? So what if he keeps his place, but you see each other more often? Like he spends weekends here and you spend a night or two at his?"

"Maybe," she said, contemplating it. "Problem with living out here is that it's an hour's drive to the hospital. He needs to be in instantly, he's pretty stuffed. Your idea's good! I guess I'll have to sit down with him and discuss it. Either way, he's not making me get rid of my teddy bear collection."

I raised an eyebrow. "You have a teddy bear collection?"

"Yes," she growled, defensive. "So?"

"Nothing!" I said quickly, laughter breaking through. "I just wouldn't have thought it."

"People can surprise you," she said sagely. "Talking of people, what's happening with you and your crazy alternate-life-wife?"

"Don't call her that," I pleaded.

"Fine," Chris laughed. "So?"

I shrugged. "Not a clue. We slept together, I said the wrong thing afterwards and she's pretty much ignoring me."

"And this wrong thing was?"

I stared down at my shoes. "I asked her if she thought us being together was another plan. The celebi made us believe we were married in this weird alternate life that every so often crashes down on me. I mean, if it did that, what're the chances of any good coming out of us getting together?"

Chris frowned and then kicked me in the backside. I yelped and leapt up as she motioned throwing something at me. "Are you a complete ass? That's not exactly pillow talk! Maybe there is a plan for all of that. Maybe there isn't. But you know what? She's probably worried about the exact same thing and was hoping that you'd ignore it. You've both tried to kill each other and yet still, somehow you manage to work together and argue like an old married couple already.

"Maybe the celebi just wanted to see if putting two people together in their dreams would make them find each other when they were actually living. Maybe your consciousness linked with hers and you both dreamed it. Maybe it's fate. Maybe it's true love. Maybe it's just teenage hormones. Point is, where sex and relationships are involved, people don't want to think logically." She sighed and kicked me again. "Stop being such an ass and apologise to her. You might be right, but we still like it when you apologise to us first. Take my advice here; if you want something with her, take things slow and don't breach that sort of topic when things are intimate."

"Thanks," I said, smiling at her. "What would I do without you?"

"Live a life of loneliness and self-pleasure?"

I snorted before I could stop myself. "You get worse and worse."

She winked. "There's no fun in being good as gold. The real fun comes from being naughty. Also occasionally from whips and chains."

I slapped my hands over my ears. "Too much information!" I said through laughter.

"Prude," she accused. She rubbed some warmth back into her hands and watched all the steam from her drink vanish into the air. "Back to work for me, I guess. Unfortunately these pokémon aren't going to completely care for themselves."

"I'll feed the ice ones for you," I offered as I bounced off the table. "Seeing as how you can't handle the cold."

She scowled and whacked the back of my head. "Not all of us are freaky ice attuned half-breeds. Some of us have to handle being plain old humans."

I grinned at her. "Well, you've got the 'old' part right."

She gave me a glare that could scare dragons. "If you want to actually want to experience being eighteen for more than a month, keep those comments under wraps."

I rolled my eyes. "Don't think I don't realise you whisper things in my missing ear. I might not be able to hear much through it, but I still can make out the odd word."

She laughed and ruffled my hair. "Not a clue what you're talking about. Now go feed those pokémon before I feed you to something myself. And check on your beartic. I don't want her beating up more client's pokémon."

"Slave driver."

She pulled her arm back. "Slaves tend to get daily beatings, don't they?"

"Point taken!"

Charizard express; where is your destination today?

I snorted and threw my gloves at him. "Why do you think I want flying somewhere? Have you not noticed every time you fly me somewhere I tend to stay on the ground for as long as I can?"

Scar snorted and scratched under his chin.

I merely ask. I enjoy flying. I also find your screams of certain death amusing.

I glowered at him. "You're really not funny."

You, however, are.

"Glad I entertain you so," I snarled. "I came here to tell you something actually. One of your eggs finally hatched. This one's a baby charmander."

He flicked his tongue. Interesting. Son? Daughter? What was the mother?

I laughed. "You really have been spreading it around, haven't you? It's a boy; the mother was an altaria."

I wish to see him. You do not mind?

"No, that's totally fine," I said, waving my hand in the general direction of where I'd come from. "You remember where the altaria nest is in Chris' place, don't you?"

He snorted a few embers from his nose. Of course.

He took off into the sky a moment after that. I busied myself by letting Loki out and talking to him for a bit. Lacey was nearby, scrutinising plants and telling me how generally useless they were for any sort of problem.

Trainer, make a trap with this tree. She pointed at the tree in question and then to a spot on the ground. I wish to see it fling pokémon across the horizon.

I laughed at the mental picture. "I don't think that actually works in reality. I could always see if we could find an old, working catapult and see if that still works though?

Good, she decided, folding her arms. I wish to witness more human inventions. Guns are interesting, but too strong for my wrists. I understand that. I wish to learn how to use a bow and arrow.

I pulled a face. "You've got to have a lot of upper body strength for that, I think."

She rolled her eyes. Do you think me a weak abra, coddled at the breast? I am able to hold my own. Learning to use a bow will not tax me. I may even be able to fight well again by using it.

"I don't think you're allowed to use a bow and arrow in pokémon battles."

Whoever said it would be used in battles?

"You know what? Forget I said anything." I turned away from her and decided that I wasn't going to indulge in that train of madness for much longer. "You don't want to learn to use anything like that, do you Loki?"

He looked up at me, thinking as he scratched his neck. [Loki… Loki content. Loki would like to swim, but water makes big splash, splash, splash! It pulls Loki in and doesn't let him escape well.]

I chuckled and rubbed his head. "Well, I'll see what I can do about teaching you how to swim. It'll be a lot easier than teaching Lacey how to use a bow anyhow."

She stalked to my side. Are you trying to say I am difficult to teach?

"More like I'd have to learn how to use one first."

She coughed. I am hardly surprised. It seems to require a finesse you appear to lack.

I sighed. "You're just all sugar and sunshine, aren't you Lacey?"

I am. I am just the sort that causes death through diabetes or sunstroke.

"That doesn't surprise me in the slightest."

I thought it would not. She stopped as we reached a more crowded part of the forest and a bird above us shrieked. Stupid creature. We have every right to be here. Move your fool body before I bury it.

"I think I liked you better when I couldn't understand you," I grunted. I turned away from her and tried to look up into the trees. "Scar? You hiding around here?"

A roar answered my question. We made way towards it, stopped at another bird shriek and heard him roar again. We finally reached what seemed to be the start of a hillside where a large, fluffy dragon sat in a nest surrounded by smaller, fluffier birds. Nearby was Scar, standing proudly over a tiny little lizard that batted at his tail.

Scar growled, leant down and nudged the baby charmander with his nose. This is Callous.

"Callous?" I parroted, thinking I'd misunderstood. "It's… descriptive, I guess."

Scar rolled his eyes at me. It is a warrior's name. It shall strike fear into his opponents. As if on cue, the baby charmander tried to stand up and fell back on his face again. …Once he learns how to walk, of course.

I smiled. "Well, I… urm, I think it's a good name." Loki was so excited to see him and Scar so reluctant to let the demonic little sableye near Callous that I recalled him, telling him I'd let him see Scar and the new charmander later.

So you should, Scar said, snorting a light plume of smoke. He is also named after you.

I tried my best not to well up. "Really?"

Really. I wish to train this young for myself. An altaria will not raise it properly.

The pokémon in question took offence to that, shrieking and fluffing up. Scar roared at it, silencing it in one.

Altaria cannot teach charmander much. Charmander need to learn how to cope before learning to fly. Altaria are able to fly even when young. They are wrong for parenting. They will not parent my young.

"What about the others then?" I asked him.

He growled. They were not strong. They were weak children. I know, I looked after the young in my clan; I was their teacher. The weak die easily unless taken by a trainer. Callous is strong. I shall teach him and he shall be unmatched in all regards.

He blew a stream of fire into the air, roaring proudly. His charmander reared back, mesmerised by the flames and tried to copy him. Instead it only managed a small cough and a roar that was most definitely nothing more than a squeak. It seemed more like it would only unnerve its opponents with cuteness rather than intimidation.

Scar reached down and picked up Callous. He walked over, held him out in front of me and placed him in my arms. Callous, meet your namesake. He has proved he is not callous, but your name derives from his. I know no one better to name you after. Scar reared back, smiled and craned his neck to Lacey. You shall teach him poisons when he is old enough.

She nearly fell over from shock. Who says I shall agree to such a thing?

He snorted, watching her with a lazy expression. Because you wish to pass on your knowledge. That is obvious. Also, if you do not, I shall simply burn down your plants until you finally agree.

She folded her arms and snarled at him. You are a demanding old dragon.

He smiled back at her. And you are the best; the one who I wish him to learn from.

She waved a hand. Flattery will get you nowhere, dragon. Though I accept, as long as you understand I will not be a lenient teacher.

Scar smiled and nudged my head with his chin. You shall teach him the weak points you know so well. I trust I do not have to attempt to drop you from a great height to convince you?

I looked from him to his squirming child. It looked up at me, eyes wide and then decided to use my thumb as a chew toy. "What makes you think I'm going to teach him exclusively?"

I never said it should be exclusive. Just that you teach him. He folded his wings by his side, picked his child up in his arms and blew a little stream of flame over him. I shall care for him. After a month, he shall know how to gather food for himself. Come, Callous. You have your life to learn.

I watched as Scar walked off a little into the forest, child cradled carefully in his arms. I threw a concerned glance at Lacey. "Is that how most charizard treat their young?"

She raised an eyebrow. Do I look like an expert on his species to you? She barked a laugh, turned away and rolled her eyes. He is proud. He wants the best for his child. The fact that he has entrusted us to teach him says a lot towards how much he trusts and respects us. She made a point of poking me in the chest. Just do not teach him the weak points of allies. I still remember when you first captured me.'

It seemed like a lifetime ago. "All's fair in love and war, isn't it?"

I would like to see you saying that after I kick you in the testicles.

"I'll just be quiet then."

The sixth month was mundane.

The girl screamed like her life depended on it.

In a way, it did.

"Loki," I said, voice no more than a whisper.

He threw his head back in a deadly cackle. Into the shadows he leapt, appearing behind the girl with a deathly grin. His hands stretched out of the shadows, grabbed either side of exposed neck and with a haunting wail, he pulled the head clean off.

The girl screamed again, leaping away from all the blood and gore. Lacey leapt to her side, arms a blur. There was a scream and her victim simply fell apart.

Erra watched her victim with a long stare. It looked back at her, neither of them moving for a long moment.

Then with a screech, Erra descended on it, claws and mandibles ripping it to shreds. Scar simply picked up his victim and squashed it's head against the floor. Alistair sliced his victim's head off and Wrex froze hers solid.

The girl placed a hand over her heart, panting wildly. She looked up at me, eyes wide and then back to the group of would-be pokémon hunters.

"T-thanks mister," she gasped. Her brown hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail, equally brown eyes brimming with equal parts fear and gratitude. She wore the standard body warmer and combat jeans that most trainers wore, except hers were covered in a generous amount of blood. By her side was a beldum, floating emotionlessly in the air, gleaming a bright silver under the sun.

"No problem," I said, nodding for my pokémon to come back. I checked Lacey over quickly, making sure she hadn't torn anything open. "Whenever you train that thing of yours, keep a few other pokémon out, at least until its strong enough to take care of you both."

She took a deep breath and managed to calm herself somewhat. "Okay. Thank you. Really. I don't know how I can make it up to you."

I smiled and pointed at the paperwork she had dropped on the floor. "Championship registration?" I chuckled at her nod. "Tell ya what; train that beldum of yours enough and take at least fourth place in that championship. Then we'll call it even."

Her eyes widened just a little bit more. "Th-thanks." She picked up her papers and bowed her head. "Really, I mean it."

"I know," I said, rolling my eyes a little. "Now go on, get going. And try to take care of yourself better next time. No one will complain if you accidentally kick someone in the privates while he's trying to steal your pokémon."

She laughed a little at that, thanked me again and took off down the path, releasing a honchkrow that circled her as she ran off.

Once she'd nearly disappeared into the horizon, there was a rustle in the bushes near me.

"Who was that?" Natasha asked.

I shrugged. "Someone I thought I'd never meet."

Her eyes narrowed and she made all the calculations quickly. "You have a sister?"

I nodded. "One sister, two brothers. All younger than me. And then an older sister too."

"Wow," she said, eyes widening. "Seems like your family sure as hell made up for you dying."

"I know," I said, sliding my hands into my pockets. "At least I'm managing to help them in some way. I can't very well ever show up and I can't ever really get to know them. Otherwise… somehow, the truth might come out. This way's better."

She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. "Is that honestly what you want?"

I laughed a disdainful tune. "Far from it. But it's for the best. And that's all that matters."

It was the seventh month that brought about a change in everything.

I flopped down on the grass, thoroughly exhausted. Erra flitted down and landed next to my head, Loki remained hiding in the shadows and Alistair doubled over, winded. Wrex was sat a little bit away from us, curiously batting at a pidgey nest. Lacey threw her a pointed glare from the shaded shelter of a tree whilst Scar busied himself teaching Callous how to properly breathe fire.

"No more training for today," I gasped, breathless. "I can't manage anymore."

I have seen slowpoke with more energy than you.

I picked up a clump of grass and threw it at Lacey. She smirked smugly as it landed some distance away from her.

Erra perked up suddenly, clicking wildly. Phone!

I glanced up at her just as my phone started ringing. Chris had told me once that magneton could interrupt certain frequencies of signals; as part of that they could also sense when they were coming in. She was like an alarm clock for my phone calls. Especially handy when even if I lacked signal to receive them, she could still tell me someone was trying to ring me.

I glanced at the caller name for an instant before sliding the phone open. "Hey Marsha. How many corpses can I help you find today?"

I sat up as she explained exactly what she needed from me. She didn't have to ask twice whether or not I'd help out.

"Of course," I said. "As if I'd miss something like this."

I checked the rounds left in my gun. Three.

Nowhere near enough.

Yet I'd achieved miracles in similar situations anyway.

Panting heavily, Marsha slid into cover next to me. Water dripped from her forehead and she made no effort to wipe it away.

"Remind me again just why the hell I chose to do this job?"

I smirked, yet I wasn't the one who spoke.

"A few levels of insanity, a few more of intrigue and maybe just a little bit of bloodlust."

Marsha laughed through gritted teeth. "I suppose you're right. Isn't that hat a bit of a target though?"

Natasha rolled her eyes as she reloaded her shotgun. "I like hats. They're an extra barrier between my brain and whatever's trying to attack it. And right now, that's kind of a blessing."

There was a roar so loud in the distance it shook the entire town. Rain poured down on us all constantly. The wind swirled in the air and made the rain look like it was the waves in the sea, crashing into each other in mid-air. A lightning bolt hammered down and exploded against a nearby house. Concrete and roof-tiles flew into the air at the same moment a peel of thunder roared from the heavens themselves.

"Would anyone like to tell me why we're going up against that with only a few peashooters?" I grunted.

Marsha winced as a blast of ice soared over us and froze a cluster of houses solid. "Would you rather go up against it bare-handed?"

"Besides, we're just the distraction team," Natasha said, voice calm as anything. "Hopefully they'll manage to do something before everything gets really bad."

"They should," Marsha said confidently. "Because if I die, I'm going to come back and haunt them for the rest of their lives."

I laughed and fingered the release cord for all my poké balls. "Ready guys?"

They nodded. On three, all of our pokémon appeared, ready for a fight.

I smirked and felt the familiar rush of battle wash over me. I'd played my part in dooming everything. Being a part of the good fight was a welcome change. I grabbed the sniper rifle by my feet and took confidence in the familiarity of it.

One shot, one kill, just like old times.

Different target, same old goal.

I looked up at my pokémon and shared a smile with them all.

"Alright guys, looks like it's time to save the world."

"All the people I've known, the experiences I've had, the things I've done, I carry with me wherever I go. I might not like it all. Some things might make me sad to remember them.

"All of them make me who I am today.

"And you know what?

"There's no one else I'd rather be."

- Callum Swift. (Date inconsequential.)

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