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.


15. The Stone Badge

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. ~ Vince Lombardi



"People can bring fossils back to life. People have successfully created artificial pokemon. There's one question you've got to ask yourself though: where will it all stop?"

- Billy Blake, co-founder of the G.P.P.A. - the Global Pokemon Protection Act. (November 28th, 2909)


The day of my first gym battle had come around, and I found myself near enough jumping around from nerves. I shouldn't have been so worried really, but in my mind, the gym battle was the first stepping stone in my journey. If I couldn't beat it, what chance did I have of travelling round and actually doing any good to change the future? If I couldn't beat a gym leader and use the authority of being a trainer with badges, what could I actually do? If I failed in the gym, I'd convinced myself that I'd fail in my journey too.

I was really building myself up for a massive fall.

I needed something to distract myself. My gym battle wasn't until eleven-hundred-fifteen, and the clock told me it was barely oh-nine hundred. I planned on leaving for the gym at ten hundred, which gave me an hour of muddling over what I could do in an attempt to distact myself.

I distracted myself with the pokédex for a while. I started to flick through the many settings it had, further analysing pokémon I knew about and cross comparing what weaknesses I knew and didn't know of, and checking pokémon I had never heard of before. The time was flying by before I realised it, as I became completely engrossed in the subject matter.

I hit the page on the demons known as gardevoir. Everything it said there more or less confirmed what Adryan had told me about the demons before. There was a large warning, however, to avoid any markings around an area that looked like one of the demons had drawn its claws down trees or rocks, marking a perimeter. Apparently it was a marking that the demon inhabiting the perimeter was on heat, and would take the nearest creature, regardless of their species or gender.

I hoped never to fall into such a situation.

Twenty minutes passed as I learnt more from the machine. I glanced towards the clock and found my nerves bundling up again. I growled and decided to focus my attention yet again. I grunted and lay down on the floor, my feet tucked under the bedside table. I began doing sit-ups to calm my nerves; the familiar routine allowing my mind to completely zone out on my current situation. As strange as it was, it was familiar to me. If nothing else, performing exercises reminded me of being in the base camps back in my own world. When we were training, we always had other guards watching over us. It was the only time I'd ever felt safe, and by falling into the exercises, somehow I felt safe again.

I had managed to reach a total of sixty-eight by the time Adryan woke up. He looked over to me and blinked sleepily, obviously trying to work out whether or not he was awake or not. Eventually he managed a sleepy, "What're you doin'?"

I looked at him, mentally keeping score as I continued exercising. "Sit-ups," I answered, dryly. "Needed to... waste some time."

He lifted an eyebrow at him. I noticed for the first time just how different he looked without his glasses; it was like his face seemed longer and sunken without them. It was weird.

"And you chose sit-ups?" he asked, amazed.

"Uh-huh," I grunted. "You should try it," I told him, still mentally keeping count. "You never know... it helps you keep fit... and keeps your muscles... working at their best."

He looked at me a moment more. Then he lifted up his shirt and poked at his stomach. "I'll take having a bit of a belly, thanks."

I looked at him with a smirk. "Your choice." My count reached a hundred and I collapsed on the floor, panting slow, deep breaths. "When you get mistaken for a munchlax... don't blame me."

He laughed sardonically then slapped me in the face with a pillow. "I'm gonna grab a shower," he told me, already climbing out of his bed. "When I'm done we can get going, alright?" I'd barely nodded before he shut the bathroom door behind him. After all of a minute debating what to do, I heard it open again and saw his head float around the doorframe. "It took me two years to get eight badges," he said, taking a grave tone. "Don't worry if you don't manage to win today. There's nineteen other gyms in Hoenn that you can take on at any time, in any order. I'd challenged mostly all of them at least three times by the time I finally got all eight." His face fell, no doubt seeing my completely crestfallen look. "But I've learnt from then. And I've taught you things I've learnt. I've got no doubt that you'll do a lot better than me."

I think he was trying to make me feel better. Of course, like most of the times when Adryan did so, he ended up making my fears leap up tenfold too. He'd taken two years to get eight badges! There I believed I could get all eight within less than one! He'd told me that people had managed it, and that he was only a weaker trainer, but I couldn't help but think that I was the one that was learning from him.

Then again, the weakest people sometimes proved to be the strongest, when needs be. They spent all their time learning and training, when the strongest would just leave their abilities to stagnate in comparison. So maybe it was for the best that he was the one tutoring me.

Thankfully he finished in the shower in quicker time than I thought. It only left us to make a scan of the room and make sure we had everything before we checked out. Adryan forced me to get something to eat on the way, even if it was just a cheap sandwich. He didn't seem to understand I'd lived for years pushing myself on only power bars and water, and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Eventually I bought the cheapest, thinnest sandwich I could find, just to appease him. I knew he was only looking out for me, yet I still couldn't shake the feeling like he was treating me more as a baby brother than a friend.

I couldn't hold it against him though.

Though, he did irk me further when we arrived at the gym with ten minutes to spare until my actual battle. He tried to defend it by saying that we were still early. I wanted to glare his head off. On time to me was at least fifteen minutes early. Early was arriving at least half an hour before the allotted time.

Regardless, Roxanne didn't seem to mind. She turned up in the gym's reception five minutes after we arrived and greeted us both with a warm smile, as if we were all going out for dinner, rather than pitting our pokémon against each other in violent brawls. She gave us a small tour of the gym, pointing out small features like fire escapes along the way. She explained that she would only take on the task herself on quiet days at the gym, like the one I challenged on. Otherwise, she'd have one of her officials give the tour. Apparently it was mostly because of legal issues; if the gym caught fire or collapsed because of the battle or external factors, the gym itself was liable if the trainer didn't know how to escape.

I was silent for a while, considering it all. I truly had no idea how much legal work went into a gym. It was mad, and yet somehow, made complete sense. I just knew then and there that if I ever completed my quest, I'd never own a gym myself. It just seemed too much hassle.

Finally she led us to a stadium within the gym. A large battleground was the centre focus – a rectangular pitch that was the length of a football pitch. Roxanne explained it was smaller than those used in official league championships, though was still large enough to accommodate the large pokémon trainers were known to use. She did explain though, such pokémon were often level four risks, at least, and so she rarely ever had to use or face a pokémon that was such a size.

Two large podiums stood over either side of the pitch, overlooking the entirety of it. I could see a large rectangle drawn out on the pitch, as well as a small circle in the centre. It was supposedly the guidelines for the boundary limits – if a pokémon fell outside the boundary, it was disqualified. The circle in the middle was merely decorative, supposedly to reflect the design of a poké ball. I squinted at it, and decided that it could be, if it had been painted the same colours.

The bleachers that surrounded the entire battlefield were surprisingly empty. I saw a few of the gym's trainers sat down in various places, though figured the stadium itself could fit at least a few thousand people. When I asked Roxanne why, she explained that the pokémon league held the battles in the country's stadiums. Only the final few battles were fought within the Victory Islands – a cluster of islands set out specially for the late-stage battles. Supposedly each set of stages were held in the stadiums round the country – often there were about ten stages leading to the final few, which meant ten of the country's stadiums would be used. She said it generated a lot of tourism for the towns involved, and kept the country's economic flow in balance.

I didn't have the heart to tell her that in a decade, there would be no money left in the country.

She directed me down to the battlefield as she walked towards the other direction. I was vaguely aware of Adryan walking down with her, taking a seat on the front row of the bleachers. I strangely found myself calmer than I was an hour before, accepting that if I did happen to lose the battle, I could re-challenge it at any time, or even move onto another town and another gym.

I saw Adryan waving me good luck as I stepped on the podium and analysed the arena. It was a good idea; having a bird's eye view of the battle going on underneath. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was a sitting target, placed alone, high up and surrounded on all sides by potential threats. Even though I knew I was no longer in my own world, I doubted I would ever be able to shake my upbringing.

I glanced across at Roxanne, and was amazed by the change in the woman's demeanour. "Today you're competing for the official Rustboro City Stone Badge," she shouted across to me. Gone was the happy, smiling young woman, and in her place was a hard-faced judge. "I wish you the best of luck!"

She pressed a button and the railing around my podium moved up slowly, shaking all the way. It stopped just above my waist, and the podium itself rose a few feet higher. I was trapped, and immediately felt even more exposed. I didn't like the feeling, though took a deep breath and forced it away. It was a new world, where I wasn't going to be shot in a public place the moment I let down my guard, no matter how much my fear and training screamed at me otherwise.

"I shall be using two pokémon," Roxanne informed me with a cold tone. "You are allowed to use up to six. The battle is over when all of one person's pokémon are incapacitated or killed. If your pokémon step over the boundary lines, then you lose that round. If you command them to attack myself or any other person present, then you are disqualified, and your trainer licence shall be caused into question. Do you understand?"

I nodded and plucked Xander's ball from my bandolier. I knew that regardless of the pokémon she chose, he'd have the advantage over her.

Roxanne nodded at my agreement. She threw a poké ball overhand and exploded into white light. It was a creature roughly a metre tall that had dark purple shell covering its head and main body. Connecting the body and head was a thick yellow spine, and yellow eyes were patterned on its head shell. Eight large pink, spiked tentacles grew out of the crevice in its head, and deep in the darkness of the head shell were a set of two, eerie yellow eyes.

"What is that?" I whispered to myself. I whipped my pokédex out and scanned the creature as quickly as I could. Roxanne had no qualms with it, though I still tried to find out what I could about it in haste. The machine identified the creature as a lileep; a pokémon that died out eras ago, yet was resurrected in fossils. Though most annoying was that it was partially grass in nature, as was Xander. That meant most of his strengths were rendered null and void.

Regardless, he was my best hope. I tossed his ball down and caught it as it rebounded after exploding and releasing the pokémon. He croaked warily and stared at the strange, ancient creature, obviously wanting to keep his distance.

I blinked at it. "Xander, blast it away!" I shouted. He croaked a small noise and spit a solid stream of water at the ancient creature. It shrieked gurgled screams as its head reeled back with the force, though it managed to keep itself in place. Xander growled once more as he let up the attack, and only just managed to jump to the side as a small chorus of seeds were fired from the inside of the lileep's head.

"Plant your roots!" Roxanne yelled at it. The lileep immediately grunted as a number of small, thick green tendrils spread out of its lower body and planted themselves firm in the ground. The pulsed like living veins, almost like they were going through the motions of peristalsis.

I didn't understand what it was doing, though thought nothing of it. I ordered Xander to blast it once more, and watched as more water exploded from his mouth. It shot into the pokémon with deadly force and snapped its neck back far enough to kill it, had it a thinner neck.

"Sandstorm!" Roxanne shrieked. The lileep made a low, droning sound, and almost instantly I felt winds whipping round the whole arena. Sand began flickering around within the air, and I scrunched my eyes shut as some flew into my eye. I cursed and looked away, scrambling in vain to rid the grains from my sight. I heard Xander shriek from down in the battlefield, and as I tried to open my eyes, more sand raked against my eyes and forced me to keep them shut.

I was fighting blind.

Shit! I cursed inwardly and blindly felt for the railing before me. I could feel the sand whipping against my face, and could hear Roxanne shrieking orders like I was listening to a radio from a long distance. Not only was I fighting blind, I was fighting deaf too.

I pressed fingers onto my eyes and thought as quickly as I could, trying to ignore the pain scraping against my eyeballs. "Xander!" I called, though received a mouthful of sand for my efforts. I spluttered and placed a hand over my mouth, covering it the best I could. "You're on your own until the sand clears!"

I coughed and tried to scrape sand from my tongue. I knew pokémon had better senses than humans, and that Xander had a small layer of fluid over his eyes that prevented any obstacles getting in. He would be able to fight in the freak sandstorm, while I could do nothing but stand there, grit my teeth and bare it. I could feel the sand tearing at my skin, falling into my ears and into my clothes, and my ears could only pick up the continual howling of the raging sandstorm. I grimaced and decided that I needed a pair of goggles, or something similar. I knew that some areas of Hoenn were riddled by constant sandstorms, while I knew a sparse few areas had constant hailstorms. I would need them on my journey; I couldn't travel as blind as I was.

I heard the winds die down before I felt them. I opened my eyes to a squint and blinked rapidly to try and get all of the sand out of them. I managed to see a blurry picture of the battleground, where Xander was stood within a small of wet sand, growling at the lileep, who was still tied in place by the strange, throbbing roots. I could see that Xander had a few scratches and was favouring his right hand side, whilst Roxanne's pokémon seemed to be completely uninjured.

Across the field, Roxanne pulled a pair of goggles from her face to her forehead. I briefly wondered where she had got them from before she screamed, "Cover it in acid!"

"Dodge!" I cried out reflexively. Xander croaked and leapt backwards as the fossil spat a large blob of hissing, translucent fluid onto the floor where he was just stood. It bubbled and ate away at the floor, and I couldn't help but wince of the thought of that being my pokémon. He warbled a low, warning growl at the fossil, and I commanded him to blast it once more. He happily complied, though the creature's neck snapped back once more, returning into place again as if nothing had ever happened.

I pulled a face, and I heard Roxanne laugh from across the field. "You can't just carry on like that!" she shouted across to me. "There's more to battle than just outright attacking your opponent! You need to think about strategy!"

I bit my bottom lip and gripped the railing hard. While I knew about strategy, I had no idea how to formulate one on the fly. I was a guard solider: I was told to shoot, I'd shoot. They said jump, I said how high. My guard were brought up on one common command; don't think of your own strategy. If you stopped to think of a new plan of attack, you'd either end up doubting your current plan, or become distracted. Either way, you would end up dead, or at the very least injured.

What did I really know about strategy? I just knew how to attack. Nothing made much sense to me but sheer offensive power. I couldn't suddenly develop strategy, I had to take time to think of plans of action.

I resisted the urge to pull out my hair. I couldn't just lose on my first attempt at a gym battle; it was falling at the first hurdle – I didn't want to consider really starting in failure.

I thought as quickly as I could. The constant, throbbing veins attacking the lileep to the floor were not only keeping it fixed in place, but they seemed to be healing all the damage it took. I bit the inside of my cheek, I needed to get rid of those roots!

That was my plan of action!

"Xander, severe the roots!" I ordered. Water exploded from his mouth once more, and shot into one of the thick stems tethering it to the ground. Instantly it snapped, and the creature shrieked in pain. "That's it!" I yelled, full of vigour. We'd found our opening, and it was time to exploit it! "Keep it up!"

He croaked an affirmative and shot another of its stems in two. I noticed that there were small bubbles that came with it again, and they burst in the lileep's face even as its roots were continually severed. It shrieked and threw its strange head forwards, smacking into the ground with a jaw-shaking impact. Instantly rocks exploded from the ground with deadly force, each looking as sharp as a spear. Xander shrieked as one pierced his side, and in retaliation he shattered the rock with a full body blow and severed the lileep's final roots with another pressurised water blast.

I bit my bottom lip again. I'd defeated that aspect of the pokémon, but still needed to take it out for good. I gathered that its neck was possibly its weakest point, but knew Xander wouldn't want to exploit such a fact. He warbled once more as spiked-rocks pierced the battlefield, and blood began trickling from his side. I saw a chunk of his flesh atop one of them, and couldn't help but wince. No doubt that hurt.

I wracked my brains as quickly as I could. The creature's face was hidden well within a crevice in its head, no doubt shielding it perfectly from outside assault. Though it could quickly prove to be a viable weak spot.

"Xander, up on a rock!" I shrieked at him. He croaked and scuttled atop one, narrowly dodging a few more rocks exploding from the ground. He growled from atop his new perch, and I waited until he had fully adjusted before ordering him to blast the creature's face with water. He warbled and managed to get the creature dead in the face, eliciting a chorus of gurgling shrieks from the pokémon. It hissed and swayed back and forth, and its head smacked onto the ground, hard, yet again.

This time though, no more rocks exploded from the ground. It gave a weary, defeated sigh and fell limp completely as water trickled free of its hidden face.

Roxanne smiled at me. "Well done," she praised as she recalled the pokémon. She looked at its ball long enough to confirm it was still alive before she replaced it onto her belt. "I'm impressed you managed to defeat my pokémon despite having no outright strategy. I suppose, in some way, you did prove that brawn can beat brains."

Xander croaked his happy reply. I winced at his sagging posture, and knew he wasn't going to be able to last long against the next pokémon. I cursed and weighed up my choices: I could expose Xander to another battle just for his natural advantages, or I could go for Loki, if only because he was in full health. Though it was a risk, given my lack of control over him.

"Though rest assured," she promised me, "this next pokémon won't be as easily beaten."

I felt my eyebrows jump into my hairline. She considered that battle easy for me? I would have given up then and there at that comment alone, given the fact it installed the fear of God into me. If those battles were classed as 'easy,' what were the hard ones going to be like?

She tossed another poké ball forth, and white light poured out of it like liquid out of a bottle. I found myself unable to stop staring at the creature that formed – a pokémon as large as lileep, though it seemed to be made completely out of dull, cobalt rock. Its arms spun around its sides like two compasses, and it had squinting eyes that stared out from a recess in the rock. Most prominent however, was a large copper rock fused to its front, looking almost like a large, cold sufferer's nose.

I stared a moment as the nosepass hummed. For the first time I realised why the stadium was constructed in such a way: her pokémon could only face north, due to the magnetic nature of its supposed nose. If she was battling on my side of the field, her pokémon would constantly have its face pointed towards her, and its back to the enemy.

I knew I had to exploit that weakness. I recalled Xander in a flash of light before Roxanne could make sure her pokémon attacked him. I replaced his ball and gripped Loki's, considering what would happen if I released him. I made a quick surveillance of the area, noticing the number of shadows that loomed around the arena. If he made a run for it, he'd have ample opportunity to escape.

"Do you give up?" Roxanne shouted across to me.

Honestly, I considered it for a moment. I didn't want to risk using Loki and losing him once more to his blood thirst. Though something in me told me I'd never progress as a trainer if I feared using him again. It was a risky step forwards, but something I needed to do.

I shook my head at her, and threw Loki's poké ball forwards, aiming it for the lightest portion of the battlefield. He hissed on emergence, glaring at all the lights baring down on him. His ears flicked back against his head, and he skulked round in a mad circle, growling in feral anger at all of the light beating down on him.

"Loki!" I hissed at him, snapping him to attention. He looked up and glared, though I noticed a sinister smirk appear on his face. He realised quickly that with the podium keeping me so far away from him, I wouldn't be able to hit him in correction. He cackled and threw his head back maniacally, and I felt my cheeks flush red in heated anger.

"Loki!" I hissed once more, fully aware that Roxanne was only being polite in letting me attempt to control him. "Get the nosepass, and stay in the white borders!" I pointed first to the opposing pokémon, and then mapped out the boundaries for him. He cackled once more and leapt to the side, stretching and pressing a clawed foot tauntingly on the white paint signifying the border.

I growled and clenched my fists against the railing. I wasn't about to lose all because of his childish disobedience. "Do that, and you won't be getting any treats later!"

He seemed to change instantly. He snapped to attention, foot leaping back completely from the white border lines. He straightened and looked at me, and I gave him a small nod and a smile. "Now get that nosepass!"

He cackled and loomed towards the pokémon. Roxanne shrieked at it to tackle Loki, and I found myself completely baffled as the large rock pokémon shot forwards with amazing speed. Its legs weren't even moving – in fact it propelled itself forth in a completely straight line of motion, and I had to assume it was only because of magnetism. Loki laughed and leapt around it, slicing it beneath its rocky arms as he passed it. The nosepass shrieked and whipped a rocky hand at the ghost, though Loki fell backwards into a shadow, baffling both his foe, and its trainer.

He immediately leapt out of the shadows and landed on the nosepass' face as a flurry of claws and teeth. The nosepass howled in agony, though I heard an ominous buzzing as Roxanne shrieked at it to discharge. I barely managed to tell Loki to get away before the rock's nose sparked with bright electricity, and suddenly my pokémon was flooded with all the energy.

Loki wailed as the electricity coursed through him, and dropped off the nosepass, landing as a twitching, sparking heap on the floor. I called out to him and took a step forwards, even as Roxanne smirked victoriously.

"Call him back," she told me. "It's obvious he's lost."

I didn't believe her. I could see my pokémon moving occasionally, and I knew he was still able to fight. "Loki, get up!" I hissed at him. I had fought through all sorts of pain all my life, and I expected the same from my pokémon! If I had gone through a training regime with a broken wrist and a sprained ankle, he could fight pass non-fatal electrocution.

"Get up!" I repeated as a hiss. "Keep behind it!" I yelled, noticing my ghost struggle back to its feet. "It can't get you from there – you'll have a free reign of attacking!"

He seemed to like that idea. Instantly he was on his feet, cackling his demonic cackle once more. The nosepass attempting to slap him, though he quite happily pressed a hand onto the limb and used the momentum to leap over the pokémon and begin clawing at the back of its head. It shrieked and attempted to spin around to slap the threat, though managed nothing more than a small pivot.

Roxanne smirked and shrieked for another discharge. This time Loki listened as I barked at him to get away, and he leapt into a shadow and managed to disappear completely from view. He leapt again at the nosepass, slashing wildly at its back in a flurry of movement. I frowned as I noticed the pattern, realising it was going to take a while with such a plan of attack.

I scowled as the nosepass built up more electricity, though noticed this time that it seemed to spread down its nose before it fired out of the bottom. Obviously the electrical charge came from within the pokémon itself, which meant that it had something to do with the pokémon's magnetic affinity.

I grinned to myself. I knew that if the pokémon lost its magnetic location, it was all but useless for a while. Nosepass moved by almost magnetism alone, which would completely screw it over if it lost the ability, even if only for a few moments.

"Loki, get the top of its nose!" I shrieked at my pokémon. He grunted and looked up at me, obviously at a loss for my command. I scowled and bit the inside of my lip. I hadn't taught him all that much, and as such he couldn't pick up every command. While he knew how to attack, and when to stop, he didn't know more advanced things than that. Instead I found myself puppeting my idea to him. His eyes lit up in delight, and instantly he was upon the creature. He snarled demonic little noises as he slashed into the nosepass' large magnetic nose, even as it wailed in pain. He gnawed at its head and punched at its covered eyes even as his clawed feet raked down on the rock's nose. Roxanne shrieked at it for a counter attack, though it spent a lot of the time flailing in pain.

Loki finally managed to chip a large chunk of its nose away just as electricity flooded out of it, shocking them both instead of Loki alone. Both creatures dropped to the floor, smoking slightly, though Loki coughed slightly, reaching at the ground with undefeated pride. He clawed his way back to his feet and looked ready to assault the pokémon once more until I commanded him to stop.

He looked at me, fangs bared until I repeated my order as sternly as he could. He nodded, ears drooping as Roxanne analysed the state of her pokémon. It took a moment, but she sighed and recalled it. I felt the podiums begin to descend back to the stairs, and the railings began to draw back into themselves. The amount of noise made Loki hiss in panic, and I recalled him back to the safety of his poké ball.

I found myself numb as I walked down the stairs and near enough swayed on the spot. Everything blurred around me, and my memories seemed nothing more than a distant haze. The battle had ended with Loki struggling to his feet... with the nosepass lying on the ground, twitching randomly... and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ayd leant back in his chair, feet propped up on the railing in front of him, and a grin on his face as he clapped.

I'd won?

The thought didn't seem to register. I stumbled my way around my podium, towards the battlefield, and found that Roxanne stopped a step in front of me, a smile on her face.

"Well done," she said, and flicked her hair behind her shoulder. "More brutal methods than some, though you exploited a little-known weakness well." She smiled at me and pressed her hand between us for me to shake. "I'm a little surprised you made it past the first battle though," she confided. "The lileep's actually stronger than my nosepass, I merely assumed that if you're travelling with an accomplished trainer-" she nodded towards Ayd, who was making his way towards us, "-that you would be able to perform better than most new trainers."

I grinned sheepishly as I shook her hand. "Hopefully I didn't disappoint," I said, my head swimming and not feeling like it was attached to my body.

She smiled and pressed a hand on her hip. "In some ways, you didn't," she said. It was a nice way of saying 'you did' to be honest, but at least there was a small amount of praise in there. "The fact that you beat her means that you've got the potential to go far as a trainer." She winked at me and nodded as Adryan stopped near us. "Though I think you may do well in the Dewford Gym – they specialise in fighting pokémon, so prefer outright attacking methods, much like yourself."

I smiled and rubbed the back of my neck. "Well, I can't exactly think fast on my feet," I admitted. "And I haven't spent much time trying to teach my pokémon any real sort of strategic moves."

Though when I thought about it, I considered that maybe they did know some at that time. I remembered how I got Xander to heal himself with sunlight in the pond – even if it did take an hour to actually fully heal him, and how Loki had managed to get the machop to do nothing but attack him in their battle, and the strange beams of eerie light he was throwing at the fish from Siren's back.

It wasn't that my pokémon couldn't perform strategically, it was more than I couldn't.

"I'm sure you'll manage to, in time," she reassured me. "If you'd like to follow me," she said, already walking past us and out of the stadium. "I'll give you the Stone Badge."

She walked ahead as Adryan fell in line beside me. I noticed his grin stretched to his eyes as he slung his arm around my shoulders and laughed. "Dude, I knew you had it in you! You need to learn some sort of strategy battling," he said, tapping a finger against his chin. "Though otherwise you're doing pretty good; you're managing to notice weaknesses in pokémon pretty quickly – even if they're not exactly common knowledge, or truly fair."

I kept the grin on my face as he talked to me. I had help in noticing the weaknesses of pokémon, after all – I did study it the whole time I grew up. Fair didn't truly matter in a fight, and as long as it didn't get me disqualified from a battle, there wasn't any harm in me exploiting the weaknesses. Besides, I'd managed to finish my battle without killing any pokémon, only injuring Xander and getting Loki to listen for a short while.

I was on a high.

Roxanne led us into her office again and asked me for both my trainer card and my pokédex. I offered them without complaint, and watched as she loaded them both into specialist slots on her computer. I watched as she entered a few commands, her fingers a blur once more, and as a small glowing light shone from both slots. She hummed to herself as Adryan chatted on about aimless nonsense to do with how it seemed like I was stumbling around like a blind old woman when the sandstorm whipped up.

I elbowed him in the ribs for that. I wasn't expecting a sandstorm, in a building of all places, though found out the hard way it could happen. He yelped and jumped nearly a foot in the air, and I couldn't help but grin to myself. At least I found out he was ticklish, which meant I could just jab him there anytime he was starting to get annoying.

Which meant I'd be jabbing him a lot.

Roxanne smiled as she grabbed my trainer card and pokédex both from the computer, and presented them to me with wide, shining eyes. "Here you go," she said, folding her arms as I took them from her. "You're now officially a holder of the Rustboro City badge."

I blinked at her and looked at my trainer identification. On the back was a large table, the size of the card, and I counted that it had enough squares to hold twenty pictures. Sure enough, there was now a small symbol that looked somewhat like a worn, grey boulder. I pressed a finger against it, and found that it was a small computer chip of sorts, imprinted, stuck and coloured on the card.

I looked between her and the card. "This... is a badge?"

"Mh-hm," she grunted an affirmative. "They used to be actual badges, but often times thieves or poachers would rob trainers of all the badges they held. It meant they either needed to hope the police found the culprits, travel again to each of the gyms and get a replacement, or simply battle for them once more.

"By computerising them, it's made the badge system a lot safer," she explained, pressing a hand underneath her chin. Her eyes lit up in delight, and I noticed with a small smile that she truly loved teaching anything. "This way, the badge is imprinted on your forms of identification, and is uploaded to the main trainer computer systems. Even if you did manage to lose them, you'll still be registered as holding the badges you've obtained."

Adryan nodded and folded his arms. "Why else do you think I've never shown you mine?" he asked. "Carrying eighty badges would be pretty hazardous, and well, pretty stupid. It stops after the first twenty, and after that, they're all recorded on your 'dex." He flipped his out, and I noticed that his was a dark green as opposed to my crimson machine. "This thing holds the data that I've got all twenty badges from four regions, which means that I don't have to worry about carrying round four separate trainer cards."

Roxanne nodded in agreement to his words. "It's true, the pokédex does become used more as identification the more powerful a trainer is. It's simply because the pokédex is a machine, as opposed to a piece of plastic. It can be forever updated as and when needed, and trainers use it more and more when they have more pokémon, as it helps them keep track of them all, as well as offer advice on training methods and the like."

It was a lot of information, and the familiar feeling of information-overload began to attack my brains. I was pretty sure that if I learnt much more, I'd be suffering a great many nosebleeds. "What if the data gets corrupted though?" I asked. It made sense to me, there were people out there that were brilliant with machines. I'd seen many hackers pull out old records from computers that had been blown to bits, and a few people control little hand-built robots to fly into the wilderness and deploy bombs.

Roxanne beamed once more. She loved teaching information, and I knew that I could get as such as I needed out of her, without the slightest of complaints from her. "Hoenn employs a number of top-hackers to work for their systems, and they're constantly updating and protecting the security of the confidential records, as well as trainer databases and everything pertaining to a trainer's way of life." She quickly un-tied and re-tied her hair into its bow. "They also have a great number of porygon and their upgraded counterparts: the porygon-mark-two that live within cyberspace and act as extra security."

I stared at her, lost for words. "Uh... what's a 'porygon'?" I finally managed to ask.

She looked at me as if I'd grown a second head for a moment. Then she shook her head and plastered on a smile. "They're actually quite well known: I'm surprised you haven't heard about one. They're the first set of completely artificial pokémon created, and are able to roam around cyberspace freely, and with little effort. They can also materialise in our world, though they do tend to look like something out of a low-budget twenty-nine, fifty-four movie."

She and Adryan both laughed at that. I laughed too, if only to not feel left out. I had no idea what they were talking about, but went along with it regardless.

"Anyway, we should get going," Ayd excused us both, offering a smile to Roxanne. "Places to go, you know; that sorta jazz."

She smiled. "I've got to get my pokémon healed and get ready for the next battle anyway, so it's no bother."

I thanked her for the battle, and she told me it was her pleasure before she led us both out of the gym, bidding us both good luck on our respective journeys. Adryan led me back to the centre, and along the way was a happy ball of constant talking. I don't know what he said most of the time, though I did catch the occasional word. It was mostly nonsensical, relaying my battle back to me and pointing out the parts where I did well and not so well.

We got back into the pokémon centre, and after I had given my pokémon both over to the nurse, he dragged me back outside for something to eat in town. I tried to refuse as politely as I could, though the slight grumble of my stomach betrayed me, and he laughed all the way to a small cafe. I found myself conflicted as I sat there with him; on the one hand, I wanted him to leave as soon as possible, so I could complete my task without interference, and more than that; to complete it without injuring anyone.

On the other though, I found that I didn't want him to leave. I'd become so used to his continual presence, that a part of me wanted him to just stay by my side the whole journey. I frowned and beat my spoon against the side of the table to try and clear the thought away. My goal was my burden alone; I was the one who was sent back to change the future. It would be unfair to drag someone into changing something they'd never really live to see the full effects of afterwards.

The rest of the day went pretty fast. He told me he'd wait around until my pokémon were healed, and then take off sometime after that. It got to about fifteen hundred hours before I could collect my pokémon, and he still stayed by my side as I collected them, offering small words of wisdom that I didn't fully hear, but somehow managed to absorb regardless.

It was only really when we reached the outskirts of town that it managed to sink in that he was leaving, and that I was going to be on my own for a while. I hadn't expected to feel such a way, but I couldn't help but feel like I was suddenly becoming alone and being dropped into a bottomless void, with only myself to rely on.

He plucked a poké ball from his belt and tossed it hand-to-hand. "Hey, don't pull any faces!" he told me, noticing my stoicism. "I'll be back before you know it, stronger than ever!" He flexed his muscles and I had to laugh. "Hey, don't be laughing; all those boulders I'll be moving around in the Cluster will mean I'll come back, and you'll be the one with smaller muscles."

I blinked and looked at myself, then to him. I'd never actually considered that I was more muscular than him. He was tall and lean, and in shape from the years of travelling. I was a bit smaller in height, though I did have more muscle mass than him. While he had constant travelling keeping him in shape, I forever had drills, which were often running around carrying a fifteen-kilo pack on my back. I supposed, given that, I would have been more muscular than him.

I laughed. "Doesn't matter. You still won't be able to bench-press a cleffa."

He laughed and shook his head. "Just you watch. I'll be able to juggle them when I come back." He tossed the ball up underhand, and I winced as bright light filtered through. Leif appeared with a colossal roar, and quite happily snuggled up to Ayd and nearly knocked him flying.

"Why didn't you use him to fly us over to Rustboro?" I asked, folding my arms and looking up at the tropical dinosaur. He looked back down at me, the biggest grin I could imagine possible on a giant flying reptile's face. "We'd have had more room."

Ayd reached up and patted Leif's neck. "I only use him for long-distance flying. Irenui's a good flyer, but doesn't have the stamina to fly for more than ten hours at a time." He looked up at Leif's face and shared a grin. "It's about a three-day flight to Pacifidlog from here, and Leif can fly for about a day straight, then only needs to rest for a few hours afterwards. With him, it'll take me about five days to get there, rather than about fourteen with Irenui."

I nodded. It made sense, and it was his decision after all. He began to pat his pockets, checking to make sure he had everything before he looked like he was about to say goodbye.

I smirked and reached around to put a hand in my pack. "Forgetting something?" I asked.

He blinked and looked completely lost before I produced his phone, and held it out for him. He stared at it a moment, seeing the short, silver antennae and additional fixtures to it. He took it slowly from my hand and analysed it like it was an antique vase, prone to shatter at any given moment. "Dude... what on earth?"

I grinned. "I fixed up your phone for you." He looked at me, brows nearly in his hairline, and I folded my arms smugly. "Believe it or not, I haven't wasted the years before I was a trainer." I nodded to his phone, which he was still clutching tightly. "I modified it a bit for you. You'll be able to get signal in a lot more places than before, as well as in caves." I shrugged slightly. "Guess you could say it's got the makings of a satellite phone."

He looked at me, face blank a moment before he laughed and put it back into his pocket. "Dude, two things; how did you get that from me without me knowing, and why do you know this sort of thing?"

I grinned. I'd bribed Loki for the first part – he was a brilliant, stealthy thief, and for the latter, I'd learnt it as I grew up.

Not that I was going to reveal either detail.

"Tricks of the trade," I told him, unable to remove my grin. "Now at least you won't be disappearing off the face of the earth for a month or two."

He laughed again, and I saw genuine amusement in his face. "You'll have to teach me those tricks sometime. Though, you're going to regret this," he warned me. "You'll be able to get my random texts and calls from anywhere, even in a cave. You're so doomed."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes. "Let's hope you get trapped somewhere deep enough you don't get signal."

He laughed. "I'll be back before you know it," he told me. Suddenly he gave me a hug, and I froze, not knowing what to do. He chuckled at my reaction and leapt on Leif quickly afterwards, telling me to make sure I had a great amount of badges on me when we next met before his tropical dinosaur took to the sky.

I watched him leave, feeling a strange pang of loneliness. Regardless, I shook my head and made my way back into Rustboro, knowing there was something I wanted before I left.

All around the city was showing signs of the evening creeping up. People were bustling about, returning home from work, and the shops were beginning to shut. I cursed and made my way towards my destination faster, eager to get there before it shut.

Finally I reached a weapons shop I'd seen a few days before. I didn't want to go there with Adryan nearby, but I also wanted some form of protection on my journey. The whole way, I'd felt strange without a gun by my side and a knife just in case. I didn't know what his reaction to me buying them would be, but I didn't want to risk offending him.

I walked into the shop, and grit my teeth at the annoying chime of bells above the door. It reminded me of chimecho haunting dark nights, and I managed to contain myself from freaking out at the sound.

I browsed quickly and knew what I wanted instantly. Body armour, a gun, enough ammunition to last me a while, and a knife or two to keep on my person. I only had one knife so far; a small pocket one that was only good for skinning animals. I needed something that would do damage if my pokémon weren't available.

I walked up to the counter and managed to grab the cashier's attention. He was a gruff man, with a thick black moustache and a five o'clock shadow, and I couldn't help but think he had more hair on his face than he did his head. He wore only a white tank-top and black slacks, and I wished he'd decided to wear longer sleeves. Thick, coarse black hair grew from the tops of his arms and his shoulders both, and I wondered whether he was distantly related to an ursaring – if it were at all possible.

I nodded at him. "Do you require a licence to hold a gun in Hoenn?" I asked, knowing that some places wanted people registered to hold weaponry. I didn't fully understand it myself, seeing as it meant people could better defend themselves from pokémon – though I suppose people could decided to go around shooting. I noticed he looked at me as if I were a complete fool, and improvised as best I could. "I've just got to Hoenn from..." I stopped, wondering what was the name of that lawless land? It had fallen so quickly in my time, and the main countries had done almost nothing to help it, as they were too busy fighting each other.

"Orre!" I exclaimed, and flushed as he gave me a dirty look. "Sorry, phased out for a moment then," I excused myself. "When I came over, they took my weapons from me when I entered, and wouldn't let me have them back."

He looked me over once, though seemed to accept my story as true. "Yeah, yer need a licence 'ere," he said gruffly, and I had to wonder if he purposely played up to the stereotype of weapon-wielding idiot. "Takes 'bout three weeks fer it to clear, s'long as yer got a clean criminal record and 'nuff cash."

I pulled a face. I had neither. "Alright," I said, and scanned the room quickly. I nodded towards a hunting knife on display – a cheap, iron blade that would no doubt rust extremely quickly. "How much is that?" I asked, attempting to get a feel for his prices.

He snorted a ball of phlegm and swallowed, and I felt the urge to gag then and there. "Thirteen 'undred poké."

I blinked, dumbfounded. He was charging how much? My brain couldn't work past it. Thankfully I managed to gather myself enough to begin bartering with him. "It's worth seven hundred at most," I said, having a rough feel for currency values.

He snorted at me. "Don't care what it's worth, I'm charging thirteen 'undred for it." He leant heavily on the counter and glared at me. "So yer buyin' it or not?"

Indignant rage boiled through me. "I'll pass," I said, calmly as I could. I turned around and left the store as normally as I could, refusing to let him see he'd angered me. The one thing I'd had drilled into me all my life was to always treat everyone with the respect they deserved, regardless of whether they knew it or not. I followed it to the best I could, and expected the same from everyone else. The ill-fated machop's trainer had irked me, which was why I retaliated against him, though this shop owner had annoyed me on another level.

I stalked away from his shop and formulated a plan in my head as I moved back through town. I'd make sure to sort him out with the respect he deserved very quickly.I cursed as I realised one flaw in my plan: it needed to be executed at night. Which meant I needed somewhere to stay, and preferably somewhere which wouldn't charge me.

It was about that time that my phone warbled a digital tune, shocking me out of my thoughts. I flipped it open and glared at the screen, as if it were to blame for everything in the shop. What I found was a completely random message from Ayd, and the sheer weirdness of it meant that I never did once forget it.

'A wingull just shat on me and Leif both. Fml.'

I burst out laughing then and there, not caring if people heard me, or about the looks they gave me. I had no idea what 'fml' meant, but the message was just so perfectly... Adryan. I grinned and placed the phone back into my pocket, realising with a hint of both humour and worry that he'd kept up his promise of sending me random texts.

I'd been walking for a solid twenty minutes before I found myself outside the gym once more, and wondered how exactly I'd got there.

I shook my head and was about to turn around before I heard a woman curse as a metallic jangle hit the floor. I spun around, thinking the worst, until I saw Roxanne bending over and picking her keys back up from the floor. I smiled to myself and decided to see if I could get some company out of her. Besides, I wanted to find out exactly how a rock specialist was adapted, and wondered if she could provide the information for me, or at least tell me the proper names for them.

"Need a hand?" I called out an offer, and noticed as she jump slightly and looked ready to attack. She spun around and saw me approach, and I couldn't help but smile as she dropped her guard, though still kept herself set defensively. At least she knew how to defend herself.

"I'm okay thanks," she said, shaking her head and locking the gym as she spoke. She stopped and looked at me, her eyes narrowing. "Weren't you with your friend earlier?"

I shrugged, and kept my distance from her, trying my best to make sure I didn't provoke an attack. "Ayd's left for the Origin Cluster," I informed her nonchalantly. "I'm just carrying on with my travels. I wouldn't stand a chance in there, apparently."

She shook her head. "You wouldn't," she told me. "Even the Elite Four struggle in there sometimes."

I nodded. "Only trainers with seventy-five badges or more are allowed in, right?" She seemed surprised that I knew that, and I couldn't help but smile. "A true test of survival skills." I chuckled scornfully. "Pity not many people seem to have any that are halfway decent."

She stared at me a moment, and I could see the gears working in her mind. She asked me to confirm my name, and when I did, it was like a light bulb shone above her head.

"I've heard about you," she told me, still standing in front of her gym. She smiled at me, though I could tell she still wasn't sure what I was doing there. Then again, how many trainers did go back to talk to the gym leader with honourable intentions? Especially if they had lost in a battle. "You were talking about conscription with professor Birch, weren't you?"

I nodded reflexively. "Yeah, that way people will know just exactly how harsh the world can be, and maybe not be completely dropped in it when they become a trainer." I stopped as her words finally hit my brain. "Wait, how do you know about that?"

She laughed to herself. "There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that trainers don't know about. You think every registered trainer is just let off into the wilderness?" She shook her head at her own question. "Whoever registers the trainer – mostly always professor Birch – will then proceed to send out an e-mail or ring each of the gym leaders of the region. We're given a list of names of every trainer that registers, and we have to check it off if and when that trainer comes into our gym. That way, we can keep track of them, and know they're still alive." She seemed to catch my puzzled look, and smiled. "If no gym leader has heard of the trainer within a month, and there's been no attempt for a contest by the trainer, then they're registered as a missing person. More often than not, they turn up a week or two later, having been lost in the wilds, but there's always the odd one or two that have died in the first few weeks."

I nodded. "I see."

"It's why I support your idea," she told me, taking me aback. She laughed at my shocked look and skipped up beside me. I could tell she hadn't fully let her guard down, though she seemed happy enough to start teaching again. "Too many trainers die each year because they don't know how to start a fire, what foods they can and can't eat, or just don't know the signs of a pokémon's nest."

"Or try to capture a pokémon that's far too strong?" I guessed. She nodded solemnly, biting her bottom lip. I never considered my passing words would have so much effect on professor Birch, though thought nothing of it. Roxanne didn't seem too happy with the way the conversation had gone, so I opted to change it around. "So how exactly are rock specialists adapted?" I asked, unable to form anything but a blunt question.

She looked at me, surprised, and could only blink dumbly at me for a moment. "How..." she started cautiously, "do you know about that?"

I grinned at her. "I'm smarter than I look." She didn't seemed fully convinced, so I opted to tell her mine and Ayd's theory. "One of my parents or grandparents were ice specialists," I told her, and she seemed more relaxed at the revelation. "I'm not sure who though, because they're all dead," I stated matter-of-factly.

"I'm sorry," she said reflexively.

I shrugged. "Don't be. Never knew them, and I doubt I'm the only one. Though," I frowned and folded my arms, thinking hard. "I don't actually know how I'm adapted... it's all theories at the moment."

She giggled and shook her head at me, sending her hair cascading over her shoulders. "Then I'm not about to suddenly tell you about rock adaptation. What's the point in teaching if I don't learn something in return?"

My mouth dropped open ever-so-slightly. "How about I tell you what I'm theorising?" I offered. "And I'll even buy you a drink, so that you're getting something in return."

She laughed and nodded. "You've twisted my arm," she told me, grinning. "Come on, I'll show you a nice place."

I went along with her as she led me to one of Rustboro's more secluded bars. Along the way she repeated stories of her journey to me, and I occasionally asked about small details of them, such as places she liked the best, and where her fondest memories were. She happily complied, filling me with information all the way. Apparently, like most Hoenn trainers, she had started off her own journey with a mudkip. She explained how even though she was now a rock pokémon gym leader, she still liked training other pokémon on her journey. Though seeing as she came from a line of rock specialists, it was easier for her to train and command her specialist type, and she admitted she did always have a passion for rock pokémon – she merely wanted to experience as much as she could.

She also told me more about her pokémon. Apparently the lileep I battled was named Petra, and the nosepass was Moai. Both were supposedly offspring of her older pokémon, and apparently Moai was the offspring of her first captured rock pokémon – a nosepass that was now a probopass, and named Shale.

The bar she led me to was a nice place, and populated by only a few people. It was quite dark inside, and lit up by lights that were held on strings and attached to the walls, making it look like the walls were made out of the starry skies.

I sat on a stool opposite Roxanne and gave her the drink she'd ordered, managing to snap her out of her staring fit at the lights.

"I love this place," she whispered to me. "It's so nice to come to a bar without there being masses of people hovering about."

"I know the feeling," I told her, smiling into my own drink. "Rustboro's too crowded: I'm not used to it."

She looked instantly interested. "How so?"

"I grew up in and around army barracks," I explained to her, and thankfully she didn't gasp in horror, only remaining in rapt, silent interest. "There were never more than a few hundred of us in one camp, and it was pretty spacious." I grinned and remembered our earlier battle. "It's probably why I was constantly on the attack earlier; I'm used to just pointing and shooting. I wasn't one that was meant to think of strategies, I was just meant to follow orders to the letter."

She nodded and begun to play with her hair. "That makes sense," she said. "Though does that mean you had to spend each day doing insane drills at insane hours?"

I laughed. "Pretty much. Up before oh-five hundred to run courses that even machoke would find exhausting." I leant forwards and tensed my muscles slightly, pulling in her attention more. "But, it paid off."

She nodded and made a small grunt, staring in amazement before she snapped back to attention and blushed heavily. "So, uh, you wanted to know about rock adaptation?" she said quickly, trying to regain herself. "What about it do you want to know?"

I shrugged. "Whatever there is to know. I've gathered that all specialists can control the same-affinity pokémon with greater ease, but I mostly want to know about the human changes. Like how ice ones feel the cold less, and the heat more." I smiled, and left the rest of my thoughts unspoken. It meant if I encountered a specialist who needed putting down, I'd know what weaknesses to exploit.

She lifted a brow at me. "So are you going to be asking every gym leader this?"

I shrugged. I hadn't considered it, though it did seem like a good idea. "Maybe," I said, "though I think not in the same way as this." I grinned at her look of interest. "I'd say you're a... special case."

She laughed and slapped me on the arm. I managed to not wince, and gathered by her smile, she didn't realise just how much her slaps hurt! I began to think that maybe insane strength was part of her adaptation.

"'Special case,'" she repeated with a smile and a fake-frown. "We've got tougher skin," she explained, swirling her drink with a straw. "While it's still not enough to fend off blades or anything that can puncture a normal human's skin, it's resilient enough to not break when we fall over, or the like. Our bones are also stronger, as are our teeth."

I nodded. Bones and teeth, after all, were made from many minerals. Rocks were minerals too, so it made sense that they would become tougher. In the base of my brain, the first cogs started turning about how logical the adaptations were.

"We're more resilient to changes in temperature," she explained further. "And also don't really suffer as badly as you did in sandstorms. Though we do have our fair share of weakness too," she admitted, and I noticed she began twirling her hair around a finger. "Our joints are more brittle than most people's, and they can break a bit easier. We're also more prone to joint-based illnesses because of such, like arthritis. Most of us sink like stones in water too," she joked, and I laughed along, regardless of how corny it was.

I smiled at her. "You really enjoy teaching, don't you?" She looked blank a moment, and I couldn't help but smile. "Your face seems to light up whenever you're explaining anything."

She giggled and blushed a dark shade of red. She said nothing and quickly focused on her drink, finishing it as quickly as she could. "Want another?" she offered, already beginning to stand.

I shook my head at her, one hand reaching down to a pocket. "I offered to buy you a drink," I protested.

She leant forwards and placed her hand on my arm. "And you did. And now, if I'm not mistaken, it's my round." I grinned as I noticed that her hand moved up my arm as she spoke, and made a show of letting her have her own way.

She grinned and walked towards the bar, bobbing her head to the dull music in the background. I couldn't help but notice that even as she stood there, she'd shoot the occasional glance backwards towards me, and turn a shade of pink when she caught my eyes.

I grinned to myself. At least I'd managed to solve the problem of finding a place to stay.

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