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Challenge The Scramble Challange - Mark 2

Discussion in 'Orange Islands' started by Its_A_Random, Oct 4, 2011.

  1. Oh My Biscuits

    Oh My Biscuits

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2010
    Messages:
    213
    @AOPSUser: This sounds like a really cool premise for a Scramble challange. o: Also, Mandibuzz DOES learn Nasty Plot via level-up, although you'd miss it unless you use the Move Relearner.
  2. Wobbanaut

    Wobbanaut

    Joined:
    Feb 29, 2012
    Messages:
    1,002
    Reserving for Nauris

    You want a meditate you got a meditite Take Guru the meditite he always wanted to be a guru so he must Have the moves meditate and calm mind to evolve solo the symbol of eccentricity Wake's Floatzel after evolving he wants to be the best guru so solo all trainer psychic types with hi jump kick if he ever misses with hi jump kick you must give up all material desire trash 2000 worth of items

    Have fun!!
  3. Nauris

    Nauris

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Messages:
    132
    I need medicham and girafarig to this work :D

    Can't catch bidoof and happiny if i don't get those 2 first...

    Edit: Got medicham :D
  4. Tetrinity

    Tetrinity

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    261
    Just finished my latest update! It's much longer than my first one, almost 3,000 words. Hope you enjoy.

    Lake Valor (open)
    Six badges. The Pokémon League was so close Sophie could almost taste it, yet there was still much to do. An entire mountain to climb, for starters. Mt. Coronet was not known for its ease of ascent.

    She looked over her team. It was only recently that she had assembled a full complement of six, never really feeling a connection to the various wild Pokémon she had seen. But then the mysterious man Riley had given her an egg. Blue with zigzagging black lines. It had intrigued Sophie and so she had cared for it. The decision had proved worthwhile.

    She shook herself. Now wasn't the time. There had been a commotion over at Lake Valor, and she had been asked to investigate by Professor Rowan. An explosion of some kind, and it was rumoured Team Galactic was behind it.

    The journey to Lake Valor dragged, and Sophie practically leapt off the train when it stopped in Pastoria. In a sense she shouldn't be so worried; police would have arrived by now, and probably the media too. On any other day she would have ignored it and made her way to Snowpoint City anyway, but she owed Rowan a favour in return for her first Pokémon. Even if he was a little messed up in the head. Can'tdoit, that is, not Rowan. The little penguin raced ahead of the pack, only stopping when he tripped over a small rock. He behaved himself after that.

    The trees obscuring Lake Valor fell away and Sophie's jaw dropped. The lake had practically vanished, leaving behind an ugly crater. Magikarp and Finneon flopped helplessly on the damp ground, attempting to find their way back to the nonexistent water. They received no help from the small crowd of people gathered in the centre of the hole, talking excitedly among themselves.

    The people, of course, were Team Galactic. There was no sign of anybody not wearing the Galactic uniform, not a good omen. Nevertheless, she had a job to do. She had seen the team off countless times before, she could do it again. She beckoned her team forward, stepping out into the clearing.

    It was a grunt that noticed Sophie first, clearly putting off his task of moving the shoals of fish blocking the path. He shouted to the others, waving a finger in Sophie's general direction.

    "It's her! From the Windworks!"

    He charged forward, leaping over a Magikarp as he pulled a Poké Ball from his pocket. A Zubat emerged and shot towards Sophie, ignoring the six Pokémon around her completely. It was attacking her! She made to dive out of the way when an enormous shape blocked her view. A small cry of pain, then a crash. Sophie chanced a look. Oldie, her Rampardos, was glaring down at the grunt. The Zubat was nowhere to be seen.

    "I… ah…"

    The grunt gulped audibly. It was almost funny, though the situation was anything but. Oldie let out a roar. The intent was clear enough. A warning before he really meant business. The grunt took the hint and fled, passing his friends and hiding away in a cave on the other side of the crater.

    "O-oldie, that was… amazing…" stuttered Sophie, releasing a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. The Rampardos tilted its head forward in reply. If she didn't know better, Sophie could've sworn her Pokémon was actually grinning at her.

    Only a few brave stragglers remained at the centre of the clearing. They had each sent out Pokémon, the Glameow and Stunky seemingly insignificant compared to Oldie's considerable bulk. They seemed unsure of themselves, questioning their owner's reasons for calling them out against… that thing.

    "I think you know what to do, guys," said Sophie. Her team flew forward, launching attacks of every nature at the defensive wall between them and the grunts. Lola dashed side-to-side, dizzying a Houndoor before striking from behind and pinning it to the ground. Purify levitated a Croagunk to its side before delivering a karate chop right between the eyes. Fiddle's wide array of moves were too much for one of the Glameow, which didn't seem quite sure how to defend itself. Even Can'tdoit was trying his best, having located the Zubat from earlier and nibbling on its unconscious body. All Sophie had to do was watch with pride as her team laid waste to their opponents.

    "Get the boss," urged one of the grunts, trying to call back his Murkrow before a rampant Lucario could squash it flat. "Go!"

    The others didn't wait, glad for the excuse to hide in the cave with the others. After a few seconds, the last grunt joined them, only to be replaced with a new figure. He had a strange hairstyle, gelled up into two points that very much resembled horns.

    "You're too late, Sophie!" he yelled. "We have it! We set off the bomb and we have it!"

    Sophie's stomach did a backflip. The legend of the lake guardian Pokémon was well known throughout Sinnoh. Lake Valor supposedly was home to Azelf, the Willpower Pokémon. Could it be…?

    "I know what you're thinking, and it's true. I, Commander Saturn, have captured Azelf!"

    "No!" shouted Sophie. The word made no difference, but it was out before she could stop it.

    "It is done. Azelf is en-route to our leader as we speak. We have men at Lake Verity and Lake Acuity, waiting for Mesprit and Uxie to emerge."

    "They won't emerge. They wouldn't."

    "Azelf is in danger. They will come."

    Goddammit, this wasn't going well. Rowan and his assistant were at Lake Verity, and her friend Susan was supposed to be headed to Lake Acuity. What had happened to them if Galactic controlled them both? She turned to run. Nothing could be done here.

    "Not so fast," said Saturn calmly. "We aren't letting you away from here; not when you so willingly walk into our midst."

    He took out a Poké Ball and hurled it as hard as he could. It flew straight over Sophie and landed twenty feet in front of her, releasing a Golbat that blocked the exit. It looked strong, poisonous fluid dripping from each fang. There was no way out. Well, Saturn, if that's the way you want it…

    "Oldie, go!"

    Saturn raised an eyebrow momentarily before realising the meaning of the two words. Rampardos leapt forward and heaved a displaced boulder onto its shoulders, preparing to launch it at the Golbat.

    "Golbat, Supersonic!"

    Oldie's head began to shake. The supersonic tones were inaudible to Sophie and Saturn, but Rampardos were not so fortunate. The irritating sound got to him, and he instinctively raised an arm to bat at his ear. Not a good move when you're carrying a boulder. It slipped from his grasp and forced him down to the ground, pinning him in place.

    Saturn snorted at the sight of Rampardos desperately trying to rescue itself, eventually being called back to its Poké Ball. He allowed himself a smile for just a few moments, then turned his attention to the remaining five Pokémon gathered around the girl. He made his decision.

    "Golbat, it's time for dinner! And on the menu, fresh rabbit!"

    The Golbat swooped down towards Lola, fangs bared, but the Buneary was too quick for it, leaping over the Golbat's dive as if she'd been practising her entire life for that moment and landing neatly on her feet. The Golbat, taken by surprise, almost crashed into the ground trying to turn back.

    "Again! Bite it!" roared Saturn. His calm demeanour had all but vanished after the dodge, aware that the momentum was no longer all his. No matter. Buneary was fast, but Golbat was faster. He would have his meal yet.

    Once again, Lola was ready, diving to the side as Golbat made its move. She kicked back with her feet, catching Golbat's spread wing and sending it spiralling through the air. It wasn't able to regain control before impacting against a tree, becoming lodged in its branches. Saturn could only look on with horror as the tree, apparently a Sudowoodo attempting to spy on the battle, started swinging madly at the sudden arrival and finishing Golbat off for good.

    "Hmph," muttered Saturn. "No matter. Bronzor, you're up!"

    A metallic plate was sent out, visibly glowing with psychic energy in the evening light. Sophie called Lola back to her side, instead ushering Fiddle forward. He'd had plenty of practice against these, way back when first passing through Mt. Coronet. If anybody could win this fight, it was him.

    Sophie ordered a Rock Smash just as the Bronzor began glowing more intensely, a gleam of silver that encircled its body several times before disappearing. Fiddle's attack did little but bounce off, barely hurting the Bronzor at all. Sophie had seen this before, and so had Fiddle. It was okay. Nothing that couldn't be broken through with enough work.

    Having deflected the attack, the Bronzor began one of its own, building a pulsing black ball of energy in its centre that shot out at Fiddle. It hit him squarely in the chest, knocking him onto his back, but other than being slightly winded the attack didn't seem to have actually done much damage.

    The pair exchanged blows, each doing very little to the other with each strike. It was seemingly a dead draw, and Sophie prepared to call Fiddle off and let another of her Pokémon take the fight. But then she heard it. A crack had appeared across the Bronzor, and Fiddle saw his chance, slashing along the crack with twin blades. Bronzor's glow had weakened, its levitation no longer functioning. Saturn called it back with a look of dismissal.

    "And now your Pokémon is tired. Weak. Or should I say, weaker than it already was? A Kricketune? Really? Only kids have those these days, you know."

    "It's two-to-one so far, Saturn," growled Sophie. "Numbers speak more than words here."

    "We'll see about that. Say hello to a good friend of mine."

    He drew out his last Poké Ball and tossed it almost lazily into the air. Sophie held her breath. The light from the ball eventually materialised into a strange looking creature, like a frog but much larger in scale.

    "Toxicroak!" he shouted, spreading his arms wide. It gave a croak in reply and moved into a combat position, the spikes on its hands ready to strike. This was a Pokémon that meant business.

    "Purify… you're up," said Sophie. Toxicroak was strong, but Sophie knew a thing or two about type matchups, and there was no way the frog would be able to deal with Purify's psychic energy. This match would be wrapped up before she knew it.

    Purify began to concentrate, zeroing in on the Toxicroak's thought patterns. It realised what was to happen a fraction of a second too late, as Toxicroak's venomous spikes shot forward and punched Purify in the stomach. It was too much for him to handle, and he fell to the ground curled up in a foetal position.

    "Forgive the irony," said Saturn. "But we completely saw that coming. Toxicroak knows very well how to handle psychics, we've been training for a long time now. I believe that makes the score two apiece. Your move, Sophie."

    Sophie ground her teeth. Purify had been her ace in the hole, and he'd been knocked out in one. It was just like he said - they'd been training for a long time. They both knew exactly what to expect and how to deal with it. But how about something he didn't expect?

    "Can'tdoit, you're up!"

    Saturn stared as the diminutive penguin waddled up to his Toxicroak and started pecking at its feet. The thing was a runt, barely a third of Toxicroak's size. Just what was the girl playing at?

    "This is your great strategy?" he asked. "I thought you were keeping him around for a joke."

    "You think my Piplup is a joke? A failure? He doesn't know the meaning of the word! Show him, Can'tdoit!"

    "I don't doubt that," muttered Saturn. "Toxicroak, I think we've seen enough. Poison Jab!"

    The Toxicroak had been patiently awaiting its master's order, completely ignoring the Piplup's attempts at attacking. At the command, it turned to face the Piplup only to find it had gone. There was no trace of the penguin but a few tiny marks where a peck had actually pierced the skin of Toxicroak's feet. It swung its head around, searching for the pest, but to no avail.

    Saturn was staring at his Toxicroak with a bewildered expression on his face. He could see what had happened. Piplup had somehow climbed on top of his Pokémon, unnoticed during the banter, and had taken to chewing Toxicroak's head spike, rhythmically slapping its fins against it in what sounded almost like a drum beat.

    "What the hell is this?" Saturn demanded, shooting a glare at Sophie while pointing at the Piplup. "Toxicroak, hit it now!"

    Perhaps not the best-phrased command in the history of Pokémon battling. Toxicroak aimed a punch towards its own head, attempting to take out the Piplup with its venomous spikes, but missed completely as the penguin slid down its back, the usual cheerful smile plastered on its face. The punch connected with Toxicroak's head spike, knocking the Pokémon off balance. It wasn't quite out for the count, but definitely not faring too well given its opponent.

    Can'tdoit waddled out in front of the Toxicroak, cocking its head to one side slightly. It had found a new friend to play with, but its friend didn't seem to be too happy about it. Indeed, it seemed to be cradling its head, almost falling over. No fun at all. He decided to play a new game, and scampered up the Toxicroak's leg once more.

    Saturn was beside himself with anger. Toxicroak, his pride and joy, was being made a fool by an irritating penguin. Truth be told, he was at the point of running up and slapping the thing off Toxicroak himself. But he wouldn't. If nothing else, the thing was probably covered in Toxicroak's poison. No doubt its brain simply hadn't realised yet it was supposed to be dead. He would wait, and give the command when the time was right.

    The Piplup had reached its perch on top of the Toxicroak's head once more. It was pitching its head back and forth, trying to toss Piplup away, but with the aid of the spike Piplup wasn't moving. He seemed to be enjoying himself, swinging around the spike like some kind of bizarre dancer.

    Toxicroak made its move, tossing its head forward as it brought an arm up, catching Piplup mid-swing with the back of its hand. Not the poisonous side, unfortunately, but it served its purpose. The penguin was sent careening through the air, and would've slammed directly into a rock if it weren't for Lola dashing out and catching him.

    "Enough!" Saturn screamed, holding both temples in his hands. Toxicroak, get that penguin, now!"

    Toxicroak charged forward obediently, readying both claws and lowering its head spike for a savage triple blow. Unfortunately for the Toxicroak, Can'tdoit had found another game to play. This one involved falling backwards and making a dirt angel in the ground. With its head down, Toxicroak was unable to see the impending danger and tripped over the Piplup, landing face first in a puddle. A few seconds of stunned silence passed. It did not move.

    "Three-two, Saturn," said Sophie, picking up her Piplup and dusting him off. "We're done here."

    "It doesn't matter," he said, shaking his head. "My job is done here. I may not have defeated you, but I have bought us time. That's fine. A child like you will never be able to stem the flow of time! Team Galactic will control the three legendary Pokémon of the lakes! Obnoxious Piplup or not, we will be unstoppable!"

    He called his Toxicroak back into its Poké Ball and swept past Sophie, leaving her totally alone. The grunts from earlier seemed to have disappeared. After the battle, the night was oddly quiet, the sounds of Kricketot punctuated only by Can'tdoit's occasional squeaking. Sophie pulled out a mobile phone and keyed in Rowan's number. He answered on the first ring.

    "Rowan? It's me, Sophie. Listen, I'm at Lake Valor."

    "T-that's good," he said. "What's the news?"

    "I was too late. I battled one of Galactic's Commanders, they say they've taken the legendary Pokémon from here and are waiting for the other two by the lakes. Have you seen anyone from Galactic there?"

    "Y-yes. A woman. Her Pokémon… they were so powerful. We never stood a chance. As far as I know, she's still there."

    Sophie cursed under her breath. Lake Valor was gone, and now so was Lake Verity. That left only Lake Acuity. Susan was on his way there. She had no choice but to follow him.

    "Listen. I'm going to Lake Acuity. I was meaning to go to Snowpoint City anyway, it's not a problem. I need to check Susan is okay. Give him backup if I have to. Even if they get two of the legendary Pokémon, we may be able to stop them getting all three."

    "Right. I-I'll let him know."

    Rowan hung up before Sophie had the chance to say anything else. She sighed. This was going to be one of those nights. She gathered her friends together and left, leaving the destroyed pond behind in her wake.


    A few points about this update:

    First, I actually planned to fit the journey to Snowpoint City into this (my save point is at the Pokémon Centre there), but this was getting long enough as it is without putting the Mt. Coronet climb in too. I'll save it for next time. :)

    Secondly, Piplup is a complete badass.

    Third, the fight in this was massively retconned from the actual battle, and I'm skipping over the fight against Mars at Lake Verity entirely because it'd basically be more of the same. In-game, this fight was attempting to solo with Purify, getting owned by the Toxicroak instantly (so that part is true, at least!) then cleaning up with Confused and Fiddle. The Mars fight actually was soloed by Purify, satisfying its requirement for a second physical move, so I'll pick up Ice Punch for him at some point. It had better be worth it, Purugly was a bitch. Ended up PP stalling Faint Attack and Slash before I could move without fainting instantly...

    Finally, yes, my male rival/friend/whatever is called Susan. Don't look at me like that, my girlfriend named him. Dexter's Lab reference, I think. :p
  5. Professor Science

    Professor Science

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2011
    Messages:
    330
    Reserving a Girafarig for Nauris.
    Nauris, take Desufnoc the Girafarig. This Girafarig can't tell if it's going forwards or backwards! So, it must learn Zen Headbutt and Iron Tail, so it can use both ends. These are also the only attacking moves Desufnoc may use, since if it does anything else it might confuse itself even more, and that would NOT be good. Desufnoc is constantly changing direction. So, flip a coin every turn Desufnoc is out. If Heads, it is going forwards and cannot use Iron Tail. Is Tails, it is going backwards and cannot use Zen Headbutt. However, when Desufnoc is confused, everything becomes clear and straight. So, when Desufnoc is confused, it has no move restrictions. Get Desufnoc to solo one gym leader of your choice. Have fun!
  6. Arceustar

    Arceustar

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2012
    Messages:
    225
    Yay!! Peck everything!
  7. StallMandibuzz

    StallMandibuzz

    Joined:
    May 4, 2011
    Messages:
    880
    I thought I was the only one to give out Meditite challanges! O_O Hah, glad to see there's some uniqueness in the challanges, since every Meditite challange is different. :3 Also, great update, Tetrinity! :D One good thing about ShadeFlame the Totodile and the Shuckle Challanges I received is that they'll make for lots of amusing material to type up. :P
  8. King Serperior

    King Serperior

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2011
    Messages:
    3,029
    Great Update ^_^

    Let's see some more Confused action!!!
  9. StallMandibuzz

    StallMandibuzz

    Joined:
    May 4, 2011
    Messages:
    880
    Of course, who doesn't like watching a defense-oriented Lucario kick Team Galactic ass? ^_^ I second the notion. :P
  10. Nauris

    Nauris

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Messages:
    132
    King Serperior and StallMandibuzz
    I would like if you post your challenges :P
  11. StallMandibuzz

    StallMandibuzz

    Joined:
    May 4, 2011
    Messages:
    880
    Oops, i forgot I even requested a challange for ya. :P I'll set it up in a bit, busy at the moment.
  12. Tetrinity

    Tetrinity

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    261
  13. Arceustar

    Arceustar

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2012
    Messages:
    225
    Put that post in your sig
  14. Tetrinity

    Tetrinity

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    261
    I thought I had, to be honest. >.>

    Edit: Wait, it's there. Heh. On every other forum I'm a member of, editing your signature changes it on all past posts too. Ah well, it's there now. :L
  15. King Serperior

    King Serperior

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2011
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    3,029
    Ok, Nauris, you get Thinker the Croagunk.

    Thinker is a philosopher and is always pondering the truth of the world. Even in battle, he must prove his worth to his ancestors by solving the Mysteries of the universe. What mysteries must he solve? Well, luckily, I am here to help.

    There are 8 ancestors that have failed to solve 8 great mysteries. They have tried hard and have failed. Thinker found the incomplete works and wants to solve those in order to bring honor to the family name. He will use whatever tools that are at his Disposal (Must keep whatever moves he has upon capture) to solve those mysteries and gain great power for doing so!! Each task gives Thinker a new move.

    Mystery One: Can life be Reborn?
    Show Hide

    In order to sole this Mystery, Thinker must find and solo 1 Shieldon, 1 Crainiodos, 1 Bastiodon, and 1 Rampardos. This will prove that life can be reborn and allows him to learn Nasty Plot.


    Mystery Two: Why are some people stupid and others are not?
    Show Hide

    Solo your rival once to find out. Thinker gets Focus Punch afterwards.


    Mystery Three: What is the harm?
    Show Hide

    Survive a Selfdestruct once and an Explosion Once. You get Poison Jab in return.


    Mystery Four: What would happen?
    Show Hide

    Solo a trainer's Pokemon using Struggle!! May learn Sludge Bomb.


    Mystery Five: Does it hurt?
    Show Hide

    OHKO 5 Trainer's Pokemon and 10 wild Pokemon. May Learn Swords Dance.


    Mystery Six: What is Pain, really?
    Show Hide

    Survive 5 Psychic Attacks, 5 Ground attacks, and 5 Flying Attacks. Gain Focus Blast for your efforts.


    Question Seven: Is Sacrifice meaningful?
    Show Hide

    Must take a fatal hit while you heal a teammate. May now learn Earthquake.


    Question Eight: Would this affect the team?
    Show Hide

    Ina major battle, must be at least 5 levels below the lowest level Pokemon on the team (not including Thinker). In a second major battle, must be 5 levels higher than the highest level Pokemon on Your team (not including thinker). May learn Dark Pulse now.


    Sadly, Thinker is only able to complete 4 of these eight tasks as they take too much time and effort to research and test.

    You may evolve when two tasks are complete. If you want to do all eight, then the final moveset will consist of the first four tasks that you do.
  16. MagicMissingno

    MagicMissingno

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2012
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    277
    KS, you've outdone yourself.
  17. King Serperior

    King Serperior

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    ^how?

    I told everyone that I was shelving Random for a week or two so that I can make other challenges....
  18. StallMandibuzz

    StallMandibuzz

    Joined:
    May 4, 2011
    Messages:
    880
    Wow, very very creative Challange, KS. ^_^ o-o
  19. gamer40000

    gamer40000

    Joined:
    May 13, 2011
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    203
    I think he meant that the challange was very well made and creative.
  20. shinyskarmory

    shinyskarmory

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2011
    Messages:
    1,548
    Ruby Scramblocke Main Post-Updates whenever I get around to writing them

    So I actually decided on the rules of my Ruby Scramblocke, after being waylaid with spring allergies for the last 3 days (fml, eyes bright red, nose so stuffed i have to mouth breathe for all eternity).

    This is a Scramble/Nuzlocke Hybrid on Ruby. I will be writing a prose story for this run instead of my usual bullet points. To fit with that, I have specific rules for this one:
    rules and shit (open)

    1. I'm taking 12 total pokemon, at least 3 before Brawly, another 3 before Flannery, another 3 before Winona, and another 3 before the elite 4.

    2. If a pokemon faints, it is dead and cannot be used again. It gets a very nice PC box to itself, though.

    3a. No HM slaves. I will only use the 12 you give me.

    3b. This means that I must be able to fit all 8 HMs onto my team somehow.

    4. Everything must be able to reach its final evolutionary form...eventually.

    5. I must have a starter. This counts as one of my 3 pokemon for before Brawly.

    6. No mandatory solos for Gym Leader/E4/Team Magma battles. I would like to plan my own tactics for these. However, wild pokemon solos and normal trainer solos are fine.

    7a. Looking for challanges that are around 5-7 out of 10 in difficulty.

    7b. If I feel a challange is above that (the Taillow/Magnemite that Arceusstar tried to give me is about a 9, small movepool considered), I can reject it.

    8. Reservations are 15 minutes maximum.


    That being said, hit me! All challanges must be received prior to Saturday the 31st so I can start before I go overseas (where my Internet access will be spotty at best).


    Prologue: A Game of Shadows (open)

    There used to be a time where trainers could travel between the different continents freely. When there was no reason to build memorial sites like the Pokemon Tower in Lavender or Mount Pyre in Hoenn. But that time is long gone, and this time is now.

    Organized crime had always existed on Earth, but ever since the invention of the Poke ball in 35 Common Pokemon Era (CPE), the various teams scattered around the world became threats much more quickly then the police, who were held back by their antiquated training procedures. Eventually, the nations of the world began forming collective security organizations to protect themselves from the big guns like Team Rocket or Cipher, but by then it was too late.

    By 230 CPE, Team Rocket had completely overwhelmed the nation of Kanto, and was now in control of the entire country, though the government still existed as Giovanni's way to control the population. Orre was in the midst of a bloody battle between Cipher and pockets of guerilla resistance by the few trainers who had not already left after finding that the wild Pokemon population was, in the words of one researcher, "perplexingly sparse".

    The other nations, while not entirely consumed by corruption, did not fare much better for trainers. Unova banned Pokemon training entirely following the landslide victory of N and the Plasma party in 232. Johto also attempted to push through a similar ban, but was rejected by voters in a referendum.

    In the former nation of Hoenn, infighting between environmentalists and conservatives sparked a civil war, which resulted in a peace treaty after around a year of fighting. The two groups agreed to form two seperate countries, the Republic of Hoenn on the west side of the Mau river with Rustboro City as its capitol, and the Grande Islands on the east side, with Mossdeep City as its capitol. The Mau River was set as the demilitarized zone, with defenses set up on both sides to prevent surprise attacks.

    Most of the countries, taken over by crime or not, still kept their League challanges as a way of bringing the country together. The Hoenn League, unable to continue when neither country would give trainer's visas to badge winners from the other side, announced that it would be closing its doors and splitting into two separate leagues after the 235 season if changes were not made to diplomatic rules regarding the league. The league's Champion, Steven, denounced the actions of the two nations, accusing them of ruining the sport of training for their own competitive gain. Yet even he had plans to leave for Johto should the League close its doors. For he, and many other hopeful trainers, knew no world without the race to the championship...


    Chapter One: Dreaming of Heroes (open)

    As long as it's been since then, I remember how it all started. One joke from my mom, one phone call from May, one suitcase, one choice. And all that on such a beautiful day, the kind with 70 degree weather, a cloudless sky, and the flowers fully in bloom. It was the kind of day you could only find in southern Hoenn, no matter how many travel brochures you get from the Orange Islands offering the same.

    I woke up that day, thinking it to be no different from any other day. Roll out of bed, shower, eat breakfast. Dad heads off for work the way he does every day, because being a Gym Leader isn't a job where you get weekends off. Every day, he's got challangers, most of whom can't hold a candle to him and just get destroyed, and then stand there mourning the death of their pokemon, the only friends they've had on the road. It used to be that battles between pokemon were not so vicious, so lethal. We hear stories in History of trainers having battles with each other casually, as a matter of routine, and that pokemon rarely if ever died as a result of battle between two trainers. The fact was, some change had occured in the way trained pokemon battled, and now statistics showed that pokemon who participate in battles have a 50% chance of dying from their wounds if they are defeated.

    I should explain better. My father was one of the few gym leaders from before the Splitting who remains a leader now. The most obvious ones are the older leaders like Wattson and my dad. During the Splitting, many of the gym leaders joined one side or the other. The leaders of Fortree, Lavaridge, and Rustboro were all killed in battle, while the leader of Mossdeep retired following the war that he had failed to prevent or predict. Many of the surviving leaders were advanced to spots in the Elite Four, as well as some of the strongest up and coming trainers.

    When I was twelve, before the Splitting, I graduated from middle school. High School was optional in the Republic of Hoenn, mostly because so many youngsters are anxious to catch a Pokemon and see the world, as the law allows. But my father always insisted that I finish at least a regular education, telling me that although he knew I always wanted to be a trainer like him, "I want to make sure you can do something else with your life if you decide it's not for you."

    So I stayed in school, even as my friends Flannery, Sidney, and Al hit the road. They were all busy as trainers, and I tried to keep up with them over our X-Transcievers, but eventually I just gave up. They had their lives to live, and I had mine.

    Then the Splitting happened, and the country was in turmoil. Every night I would come home from Littleroot High and turn on the news. I would hear about the latest bloody news, the gym leaders that died fighting for their beliefs, the way they were turned against their closest friends. Whenever the footage turned on, I was glad Father had chosen to stay out of it.

    And then I met her. I couldn't tell you what drew me to her; perhaps her subtle scent, perhaps the pokemon she trained even while she attended school. Perhaps the way she had arrived one day in Littleroot, and asked to stay with our family until the war ended. Her father, the Fortree Gym Leader and a friend of Dad's, asked us to keep her safe while he fought in the war, for her mother was dead. So we gave her a spare bed set up in the living room, where she lived her life until news came of her father's death. When she heard, at first she was shocked. Then she was distraught, and somehow I cried with her. Because in the time she was here, somehow I had fell in love with the way she spoke, and the way she walked around school as if she was really floating, hovering continually above the stink and the noise of our school. And when she took flight on her Swellow, to return for the funeral, I never saw her again. All we could do was exchange emails and hope to meet again.

    All that is in past now. I finish breakfast and stand up from the table. I can't allow myself to think about her for too long, or I won't be able to bear the life of adventure I gave up for a life at school.

    I play a game of Call of Duty, but it isn't as fun as it used to be. After the Splitting, it'll never be the same. League of Legends isn't working for me either.

    Mom walks up to me, catches me by surprise like she always does. And she said, "You'll turn paler then a Jigglypuff if you don't get outside!" Laughing, I went outside. My neighborhood friends were all out too, and we tossed around a football for a bit. Taillows and Beautiflies crisscrossed the sky, a constant display of spring to trainers, a constant reminder of what we were missing to us.

    After lunch, May called me. She hadn't seen her dad since yesterday, nor heard from him. "I'm really worried about him, because he said he would only be out for a little bit researching. We didn't start worrying until now, since he usually spends a lot more time then he intends to. Can you please go search route 101 for me, Skarm?"

    I accepted. It was a lot better then playing games all day. A taste of the adventure I'd been longing for for years.

    Almost immediately, I entered the route and saw the Professor. He was known for his Pokemon research, but seemed to have gotten a little out of his depth. A pack of Poochyena (for even most non trainers could recognize any species on sight) had him pinned up against a tree, and seemed ready to go for the kill. His phone lied in the tall, shaggy grass a few feet away from me, along with his pack.

    He saw me. There was no backing out now. He cried out,"Skarm! Check the bag!"

    I rushed over to the bag. Over at the tree, Birch was climbing the tree while the more aggressive members were leaping at his pants. I was running out of time.

    "Hurry, Skarm!"

    Finally, I reached in. The first thing I grabbed in the bag was a Poke ball. I froze. I had no idea what to do. Do I just throw it? Or do I press the button? Am I even ready for this?

    Almost as if he was sensing my thoughts, Professor Birch yelled,"Just press the button and throw it!"

    I did. Out came a Treeko, one of the more rare species in the world. I had already watched enough high level battles in my life to know what to do.

    "Treeko! Pound them!". And it did, knocking one of the pack to the ground. The rest backed off, growling softly, and then retreated into the grass.

    Birch climbed down and thanked me. Then we hightailed it back to the town before more showed up.

    In his lab, he borrowed my phone to talk to May and his wife. Afterwards, he sat me down for a talk.

    "You know, Skarm, I can't believe you reacted so well, considering you've never been a trainer."

    "Well, I've always wanted to be with pokemon, but my Dad always wanted me to get a real education first."

    "Why don't we get you on the road then? You were a natural with that Treeko, and she really seems to like you."

    I looked down at the Treeko, whose warm, almost grassy skin was rubbing against my legs. At last, I said,"I'll give it a shot."

    "Great!" he said. "Now, later this weekend you should head up to Oldale Town with May. You two might learn something together that would help me."

    Looking back, I don't think I knew what I was getting into. Only later would I know the true dangers of training...

    Chapter Two: Meet and Greet (open)

    That night, Dad came home. He looked unhappy, full with stress, as usual contemplating the number of trainers he had fought that day. I finally saw an opening in the meal to speak up.

    "So something interesting happened today, Dad." He grunted, a clear sign for me to go on. I continued,"I was eating lunch and May called me. She asked me to go check Route 101 and find Professor Birch."

    Now he was interested. He looked up from his meal and asked, "What happened?. I told him the story of how I used one of Birch's pokemon to save him from the pack of Poochyena.

    "You gave the pokemon back, right?" he asked? In answer, I whistled, and Treeko stepped out from behind the couch. She was visibly nervous but walked over by my side. "Dad, this is Ashe." We had agreed upon the name earlier today, after the League of Legends character. She had watched me play and always loved seeing her on the screen. Knowing she was uncomfortable, I lifted her into my arms.

    Dad finally got over his shock. "Th-that's great, Skarm!" Everyone in the room seemed to warm, especially Treeko, who already seemed to know what we were saying. "I think that you've waited long enough. Now, you're ready to go on your journey. To see the world."

    Now I was the one who was surprised. "I thought you wanted me to finish school first, Dad! Besides, I don't want you two worr--"

    "It's fine Skarm." interrupted Mom. "We knew by the way you watched that girl train with her pokemon while she lived with us that you wanted to become a trainer. We were waiting for you to come upon it on your own, though. The real test for us was how you would decide to get started. And you did it the right way."

    I was surprised. All these years I was waiting to finish school and they were already planning my departure. Already planning for me to do the thing I've been waiting to do all my life.

    "After dinner, I'll show you some stuff we kept in the attic for when you got started. It's a little old, but you'll like it, I think."

    With food in our bellies, we went upstairs and climbed the ladder to the attic. Treeko poked around a bit as she went, and was surprisingly agile on the ladder, leaping up the rungs three at a time. Dad opened a box once we were inside the attic. Inside were 5 232 model pokeballs, a belt, and a pair of well worn running shoes.

    "Your mother was a trainer when she was younger-in fact, that's how we met. When she gave up training, we saved this stuff so you could use it when you got older."

    "Why did she give it up?"

    "That's a story for another time, son. Now let's see how this stuff fits you-outside the attic." We climbed down, Ashe perched on my shoulder, and I put on the belt and the running shoes. They both fit almost perfectly, as if they were made for me. The belt had 6 slots in it, which I knew were to hold Poke Balls. But I didn't like the idea of imprisoning Ashe in a Poke Ball. She was so active and happy outside that it never occured to me how I would bring her with me. Clearly, with her short legs and my fast pace, she couldn't keep up with me forever.

    I sighed. "Okay, Ashe, I don't want to put you in one of these, but I have to." She nodded, and I pressed the button and watched her vanish in a burst of red light. I marked the ball and slid it into the first slot on the belt.

    ...

    The next morning, I was up early, almost anxious to leave. May would come with me at least as far as Oldale Town, and then I was on my own. We walked together through the route, trading jokes and punches in the arm all the way there. Every now and then, a few wild pokemon would show up, and we would drive them off with Ashe and Fawkes, May's Torchic. By mid-afternoon we had reached Oldale Town. We stopped for lunch, and May commented,"If you saved Dad from a pack of Poochyena, you must be a pretty good battler."

    "That was luck!" I blustered, knowing what was coming. "I didn't know anything about battling, I just watched Ashe!"

    "She must really like you in order to fight with you at a moment's notice."

    "That could be true." I replied, frantically trying to avoid battling her. But it was too late.

    "Why don't we have a friendly battle, Skarm?"

    "You know pokemon can die, right? Why risk our pokemon needlessly?"

    "You know why, Skarm. Ever since the first time we fought together today, you've had that competitive look in your eyes. You've wanted to battle me for the past few hours and who am I to deny you?"

    She was right. I DID want to battle her. But I didn't want to lose Ashe.

    She seemed to know what I was thinking. "Well, let's step outside, head to the park, and battle then! What's life without a little risk?"

    Grudgingly, I went along with her. At the park, there were already a number of trainers battling.

    We found an open space. Wordlessly, we pulled our poke balls out of our belts. At the same time, we pressed the buttons, and our pokemon came out. Ashe seemed surprised to be facing Fawkes after having fought together, but she seemed ready.

    Suddenly, May broke out "Fawkes! Use Scratch!", and Fawkes launched itself at us, talons ready. Caught unprepared, Ashe took a nasty scratch to the face but retaliated by smashing her forepaw into Fawkes' ribs. Both pokemon were still in close proximity, and I decided to quickly take advantage with another order, but May beat me to it:

    "Fawkes, scratch it again!"

    There was a brief delay, which I used to fit in, "Dodge, and then pound him!" We had put in our orders, and now it was about the execution. Fawkes jumped in to the air to bring its claws to Ashe's face, but Ashe ducked onto all fours and flipped her hind legs up into Fawkes airborne body, knocking it back over near May. It struggled for a second and then stood back up, obviously suffering.

    I looked into May's eyes, and it was clear she would not be surrendering before our pokemon could do each other serious harm. Suddenly, she yelled out "Ember!" and Fawkes stood still for a moment.

    "Another pound should do it!"

    Ashe rapidly closed the gap, ready to end the battle. When she was about 10 feet away, Fawkes let lose a burst of flame that caught Ashe in the knee. Caught unawares, Ashe tumbled to her knees, a bad burn on her left leg.

    I pulled the poke ball from my belt. Fawkes was clearly preparing another fireball and I didn't want Ashe to be killed by the next one. But just as I had decided to end it, Ashe shot up from her knees and landed behind Fawkes. It struggled to turn around while Ashe swept out Fawkes's legs and slammed an elbow into Fawkes' belly. Ashe pulled her arm back again, this time aiming for the head, but I pressed the button on the ball, sucking Ashe back in.

    Fawkes lay motionless on the ground. May bent down and put her finger just below the head, checking its pulse. Finally she reached for her own poke ball and brought Fawkes back.

    "That was a dirty trick." I said as we walked back to the Pokemon Center to make sure Fawkes was alright. "Fireballs aren't exactly fair."

    "Yes, they are." May replied. "In Pokemon battles, almost anything goes."

    "Ashe could have gotten hurt even worse then she did."

    "In fairness, your Treeko hurt Fawkes pretty badly. She was going for the kill, too."

    "I stopped her. I was about to call her back before your Torchic fired off another fireball and hit Ashe in the head this time."

    "Things happen in the heat of battle, Skarm. You'll get used to it."

    "I don't think I ever will."

    Then we were there, and the nurse took our pokemon into a back room. Ashe was out with a bandage on her leg in the first few minutes, but by the time May's Torchic was out the sky was dark and the Hoothoots were beginning to fill the cool evening air with their cries.

    And then I was in bed in my room at the pokemon center, and I was all alone, except for Ashe curled up at the end of the bed.

    Chapter Three: The Hatchery (open)

    I was woken up by Ashe at an unholy hour of the morning, the only way she knew how: climbing on my face with her climbing claws extended. I didn't even know she had claws for that, which was probably explained by me not paying attention in biology class. By 6 I had showered, changed, and met May in the lobby for breakfast.

    She was sullen when she arrived, and her Torchic Fawkes was still wriggling around with bandaged ribs.

    "What happened to no serious injuries, Skarm?"

    I was shocked at the change from last night's cavalier attitude. "You were the one who was talking last night about how shit happens in battles. You were the one that wanted to battle. Don't come to me complaining when you don't like the outcome!"

    "And if you haven't noticed, Fawkes is the one with a broken rib, not Ashe. Fawkes is the one who's going to have to stay in the pokemon center all day while you go out and explore Route 102! So maybe, since you were being such a wimp before the battle, you can explain to me why you seem to care so little about any pokemon that isn't your stupid Treeko!"

    While her anger grew hotter then the fireball that scorched Ashe's leg yesterday, I calmed down. There was really no reason to fight over the outcome of a battle from 12 hours ago.

    "You're right, May. I should have been more concerned about Fawkes. I just wasn't thinking about your point of view."

    She snorted and walked over to the breakfast buffet. I wasn't much of a breakfast person myself, but after a few minutes of sitting around with Ashe I walked over to the buffet and got myself some food. When I returned to the table, May seemed determined to ignore me. So I ignored her too.

    Later she finished her food and walked out, taking her Torchic with her. I left, intending to leave for Petalburg to meet up with my dad to watch him battle during the day. At the exit to town, she was waiting, with an umbrella that looked like a deadly weapon and Torchic sitting on one of her shoulders.

    "You're heading to Petalburg now, right?"

    "Yeah, I'm going to watch my dad for a bit."

    "Well, before you go, just one thing."

    I looked quizzically at her. Was she going to beat me over the head with her umbrella? Or perhaps going to give me some advice? Or something in between.

    She stepped closer in to me. And then she said,"I'm not going to stop you from going on with your journey. You've been waiting your whole life for it. Just remember, every time you beat another trainer, you're hurting their pokemon pretty seriously. Please don't become numb to the pain and suffering that you'll cause."

    "I'll remember it, May."

    Within the next few minutes, I was on the road on Route 102, breathing the fresh morning air and taking in the sights. I was rudely interrupted by a Zigzagoon plowing its way into my legs, knocking me over and Ashe off my shoulder. Instead of fighting Ashe, though, it started digging around in my pack, and within seconds it had a nice prepacked sandwich that it was running away with. I laughed at its audacity while Ashe chased it down and brought it back. It readied its claws for a finishing blow, but I once again stopped it by pulling the Zigzagoon into a pokeball, which rocked around for a bit before finally settling into my belt.

    With my new friend and Ashe having trained for a bit, I arrived in Petalburg around lunchtime. One quick sandwich later and I was at the gym, where even at that moment my dad was facing a challenger.

    The challenger sent out a Shroomish, one of the most common local pokemon, while my dad sent out a Slaking, which seemed entirely intent on just sitting about all day. The Shroomish pounded on Slaking with its tiny, nearly invisible legs and its various poisonous spores, and the Slaking seemed to be able to completely ignore its repeated assaults. Finally, Shroomish tripped, and the Slaking almost nonchalantly rolled over and smashed it into the ground with its fist. Its trainer rushed in, picked it up, and rushed it to the Pokemon Center.

    I was shocked by the violence and unfairness of the fight, though I use the term in the loosest sense of the word. I immediately visited my father.

    "How can you fight them like that? Why are you wasting everyone's time fighting battles that are clearly one-sided from the very start?"

    He bent down on one knee, and said,"Son, there used to be a time where I would turn down challangers like that young man. I was tired of the killing. I was tired of snuffing out young trainers' dreams left and right. I was tired of battling for no purpose other then it was my job. But the League requires that I accept all challanges, no matter how uneven I percieve them to be. Upsets have happened very rarely before, but they still don't happen often enough for me to want to fight these weak new trainers."

    "Why don't you leave the damn league, then!" I bursted. "Why set all these trainers up for misery? Is it like that for all Gym Leaders?"

    "I'll answer your last question first. The Leaders in the Grande Islands get less challangers because the population is less dense there. So the challangers they do get are more prepared and come in with competive pokemon. They put up a real fight. In western Hoenn, there are lots of kids starting to train, and they see a gym either in their town or nearby and think,'I can win there'. But even though league policy states that we give them an hour to watch film of challanges from earlier in the week to get an idea of what to expect, they still don't back out of fights that more experienced trainers know are foolish."

    "You, however, are the opposite of that. You fought carefully even when you were doing well against May. You could go places as a trainer if you keep that same caution. Don't fight if you're not sure you can win. There's no shame in backing down and surrendering to spare your pokemon the agony of defeat."

    I could see the logic of that. I was more surprised by my dad leaving the gym and starting to walk briskly over to the subway station nearby. I managed to keep up with him, caught a train with him over to the western suburbs. Only then did I manage to speak to him.

    "Where are we going?"

    "The west side. Some kid's going to his aunt and uncle's in Verdanturf and he wanted to bring a pokemon along with him. So I'm helping him out."

    "Don't you have something better to do then help a kid catch a pokemon?"

    "Well, having seen my only gym battle of the day, I think you'll agree that I really don't have anything better to do. Plus, being a gym leader isn't just about being a good battler. It's about being a good member of the community. That's something a lot of the newer ones don't understand."

    "Fine then. When are we getting there."

    "Now."

    I looked out the window, confused. All there was was a house.

    "I brought an egg with me. The hatchery found it next to a dead Gardevoir, and the Ralts inside needs a home anyways. I figure they'll do well together."

    I nodded sedately. Then I was almost numb as I watched Dad and the boy, whose name was Wally, talk. He seemed eager to begin but not sure about what he was getting into, the unbreakable bond he would form. But since he wasn't planning on battling much, maybe that was a good thing.

    "Will the egg hatch soon?" asked Wally.

    "Maybe. Ralts naturally has the ability to read emotions with its mind, so it's probably checking to see if the people around are hostile. When it thinks it's safe, it comes out."

    "Not all pokemon have psychic powers, though. How do the other ones know when to hatch?"

    "They don't. Most pokemon have a specific amount of time they stay in their eggs before hatching, which varies by species. But Ralts are different for som-oh!"

    Dad was interrupted by a crack appearing in the outside of the egg. It began slowly cracking all over, until the entire egg was a spiderweb of cracks. Then pieces began to break off. Finally, a Ralts emerged from the egg, shivering and covered in some sort of strange liquid.

    Dad helped Wally to clean up and feed the hatchling, which turned out to be female. After that was done, we left for home in Dad's car. While we were driving, I had to wonder whether all pokemon were as helpless as the Ralts was when it hatched. Eventually, I just asked.

    Dad answered,"Well, for the most part, yes. But they grow and mature faster then humans. Within a week, most of them can walk or fly if they're a bird. Two weeks, and herbivores can feed themselves fairly well. At the end of a month, they can defend themselves from some of the more aggressive wild pokemon, provided they aren't completely outmatched."

    "Do their parents raise them?"

    "Yes, of course. Otherwise they wouldn't make it through those first three days."

    We arrived home and walked inside. Over dinner, Mom asked,"Do you like training?" Numb, I could only nod. "Are you going to take the league challange?"

    "Yes, I plan to challange the League. But I don't know where to start, especially after watching Dad today."

    Dad piped in quickly,"Well, I think you should start with Roxanne in Rustboro. She's fairly new, her pokemon are pretty weak, and she has one of the worst win-loss records right now for gym leaders."

    "So she'll be easy pickings then?"

    "No. She has the worst record, but that's still over well over 50% wins. She'll be tough even with Treeko's natural advantage."

    And with that, we headed to bed. The next day, I rode with Dad back to Petalburg to begin my walk to Rustboro. The first gym challange awaits.

    Chapter Four: The secret life of Dustox (open)

    The woods were there, looming over us. The clouds overhead were rumbling, and I knew they would open up soon. But I couldn't shake the eerie feeling that something was watching us in the misty recesses of the trees.

    ...

    as it turns out, there WAS something in the trees watching us. It was a Seedot.

    "Are you asleep?"

    ...

    "You might want to find more shelter then hanging from a tree."

    ...

    "F**k it."

    I pressed the button on the Pokeball. There was no reason to throw it when we were almost nose to nose as it was. It vanished into the pokeball, with no resistance.

    I stepped into the woods, Ashe hanging over my shoulder with her climbing claws dug into my backpack. I was glad that she chose not to wake me with them this morning like she did a few days ago, but sleeping in a tent had its own way of keeping me up all night. I wasn't used to it-usually there was a Pokemon Center nearby. But the only other option was a nearby house with a creepy looking old man inside, so I gave up and planted my tent just outside the woods.

    As stormy as it was, it was still early in the morning. But in a continent that has been long defined (and created) by its weather deitys, storm clouds are always dark grey at best.

    Sunny days aren't the safest either. Many hapless vacationers have left with sunburns that even their BulbaTan ("Absorbs the sun so your skin can bathe") couldn't prevent.

    With the combination of the ink-black storm clouds and the trees that even now already had a full canopy of leaves, the inside of the forest was almost pitch black. The sounds of scuttling bug pokemon could be heard from the shadows. While Ashe had almost seemed at home when we were just walking in, now she was shivering in terror at the thought of some of the pokemon hidden in the darkness, who she could clearly see. She has better eyes then me, brought by millions of years of evolution.

    I place a calming hand on her as best I can, considering that she's still riding on my shoulder. But even that won't calm her. I don't blame her; most of the creatures in these woods, while no threat to me, are the ones who prey on her kind in the wild, who would kill her without a thought or regret. She is victim to the most primal of fears; the one of a predator that stalks you in the night of the trees and the clouds.

    The rain is falling now, but we stay fairly dry, the foliage above being a suitable umbrella. Suddenly, I yelp in pain as Ashe snaps out the climbing claws in her front feet, which dig into my shoulder like it was a tree. Then a Dustox swoops out of the darkness and knocks Ashe off my shoulder. Even terrified as she is, she lands deftly on the ground ready to fight, but I can tell something's wrong right away. Even as the Dustox swoops down and begins binding her with strings from its abdomen, Ashe doesn't move, doesn't try to resist. I reach for Zigzagoon's pokeball, but the systems inside the pokeballs won't allow me to send out more then one when there is only one opponent. By the time I think to withdraw Ashe, she's already wrapped up and the Dustox is carrying her away. The pokeball can't get a clear lock thanks to the Dustox's web, and before I know it I'm chasing frantically after the Dustox, tripping over tree roots and stumbling around tree trunks blinder then a Zubat.

    I lose sight of Ashe for a bit, but then I found her at the Dustox's nest. The rain has stopped, and I can still hear her cries of terror, almost as if they are the whispers of ghosts drifting through the woods. They are the worst kind of torture for me, as the nest is out of reach unless I can climb up 10 feet without branches.

    Ashe's cries are growing more faint now, and the Dustox has returned. I'm out of time, but I'm out of ideas. In desperation, I grab a long broken branch off the ground. Maybe I can throw it into the tree and knock down the nest. I only have one chance, though, because I can also hear the squeaks of Wurmples from the nest, and that suggests to me that Ashe is being fed to them.

    The stick lands true, knocking the nest to the ground. I rush over and find Ashe, who is thankfully intact, on the ground. She is still bound up in silk from the Dustox, and shivering with fear. But then her eyes open, and in them I see a kind of thanks that would be almost impossible to express in words.

    Just as I start to get up, the Dustox lets out a cry, and its children start crawling towards us, with a clear purpose. I stand up, already shaking off the threads that the Wurmple are shooting at me, and take flight off into the woods, to a clearing where I know we can fight them off. As soon as I get there, though, they back off, and I know that they want to avoid fighting in the light and open space of the clearing.

    I set down Ashe on a rock in the center of the clearing and pull out my pocketknife to start cutting the silk. Right away I run into problems. The silk is extremely tough to the knife's touch, and after the hour or so of time the chase went on for, it has started to contract, a natural process that I know is to suffocate Ashe so that the Wurmple can enjoy their meal uninterrupted.

    "Hello! Who are you?"

    I turn, slowly. Surely the man could see what was going on. But he seemed oblivious to the problem I was having.

    "No name, huh. So, I was wondering, have you seen any Shroomis--oh!"

    He had turned his attention to Ashe, who was clearly starting to struggle to breathing within the crushing grip of the silk.

    "I can help with that!"

    He rushes over to the stone, where I am already sitting, and pulls out a bottle of some strange liquid.

    "This isn't the time for a po---"

    He pours a few drops of the liquid on the silk.

    "Now try the knife."

    I start sawing away, and the strands fall apart almost immediately. Ashe understandably has no desire to repeat her ordeal, and jumps into the ball willingly for once.

    "Decondenser. Breaks up the strands."

    "Thank you so much. If you hadn't showed---"

    "No need. I've been looking for a chance to try that for weeks. I'm with Devon Corporation's R+D Department."

    "You should probably get that stuff on the market."

    He laughes, a nice deep laugh. "The problem is, it works great, but there isn't much call for it except in foresty areas. And it's untested, at least until now."

    "What else do you guys work on?"

    "Well, we've got a machine to allow pokemon to talk to humans..."

    "How's that machine working?"

    "Well, we have a working prototype, but it's the size of a supercomputer due to all the data it has to hold. We have it set up at our headquarters in Rustboro."

    "How did you figure out how to translate Pokemon language?"

    "We didn't, actually. The pokemon Chatot actually gave us the idea for it. We used to think it could only repeat songs, but it turns out it can also speak every known language, including human languages, extremely well. So we used the language center in a Chatot's brain to construct a database of Pokemon language, but there's so much data that we don't have the capability to scale it down yet."

    Suddenly, Ashe's pokeball begins vibrating, and I release her again. But this time, she's gasping for air, and something is clearly wrong. She looks at me, and then points at her side. I turn her over and see a tiny, nearly invisible puncture wound on her hip. I didn't notice it last time after I cut off the silk.

    "Oh shit. What's going on?"

    He looks at the wound briefly. "Looks like Dustox managed to land one of its poison stings before you got to the clearing." His voice is dry, clinical, and emotionless.

    I frantically search my pack for one of DevonCorp's universal antidotes. But I don't have any. Neither does the Devon R+D guy.

    He speaks to Ashe in a firm voice. "You have to CALM DOWN and slow your breathing. The faster your heart is beating, the faster the poison spreads through you. CALM DOWN."

    Now he's talking to me, giving me instructions. I'm barely noticing them, though, because all I can focus on is Ashe's tiny chest heaving up and down, trying to breathe while the poison slowly kills her.

    "You have to go to the Pokemon Center in Rustboro; Petalburg is too far away. When you get there, tell them that she was poisoned by a Dustox. They'll have the cure on hand."

    I nod, pick up Ashe, and start running towards the edge of the clearing.

    "I was going to ambush you on the bridge, but you took too long in the damned forest, so here I am!"

    A strange man in red clothes is accosting the Devon man. He doesn't appear to have any pokemon in his own, so I toss him Zigzagoon's pokeball.

    "Remember, Skarm! Run straight out of the forest, then cross the bridge!"

    I run like I've never ran before, with Ashe in my arms. Within a few minutes, I'm exhausted, but I have reached the edge of the forest. I can see the bridge before me, large and with many trainers milling about on the sides while cars drive down the middle. I run straight up the sidewalk, ignoring all the trainers who call out to me, demanding a battle. Can't they see that Ashe is literally DYING right now?

    Then it hits me. These trainers have no fear of loss. They few pokemon as simply pets, or even worse, tools, so they feel no emotional attachment to the pokemon that make them more then just ordinary people.

    I'm across the bridge, but I have no idea where the Pokemon Center is. The hectic mix of streetlights and signs is hard to interpret. Ashe's breath is growing more faint, and she's not wriggling as much in my arms as she was in the forest. Desperately, I flag down a cab.

    "Hello. Rate is 200 poke a mile."

    I climb in. "Nearest Pokemon Center, please."

    He looks me over in the mirror. Sees my stressful look, sees Ashe slowly losing her fight against the poison, and turns the meter off. Then we're off through the streets of Rustboro. Just a block away, though, disaster strikes. We hit a traffic jam, and there's no end in sight.

    The driver says,"Don't pay me, just get out here and run the rest of the way. You'll get there faster then sitting in this traffic."

    Before he can finish, I'm out running on the pavement, dodging cars and pedestrians. The red roof is tantalizingly close. Suddenly, I'm there, but Ashe's breathing is shallower then ever, and her eyes are closed. I have no patience for the revolving door, but I get to the front desk.

    The orderly immediately stands. "What happened?"

    "She got poisoned by a Dustox. It's bad."

    Ashe gets carried into the actual hospital section of the Center. I try to follow, but the orderly stops me.

    "There's really nothing you can do to help her any more then you have. Just sit down and let us do our job."

    I numbly collapse into a chair, still exhausted from running. A few minutes later, the Devon guy walks in with Zigzagoon. It appears to have battled with the strangely dressed man, but it is definitely none the worse for wear. I hold out its pokeball and put her away.

    "Your Zigzagoon was great, Skarm. It totally tore that Magma guy apart."

    "Do you think I care about that right now? Ashe is going to DIE and here you are going on about how good my Zigzagoon is at killing things!"

    "Well, it depends on how fast you got her here. But I think she'll live. One sting usually won't kill, but Grass types like Treeko are especially vulnerable."

    His reassurances calm me, even though I'm still terrified of Ashe dying. "How do you know so much about Pokemon?"

    "I used to be a trainer, but I never really battled. Now I work with Devon designing Pokemon-related products. "

    "Well, could you shed some light on this?"

    I tell him about how after Treeko was knocked off my shoulder, she didn't resist at all. His eyes are constantly moving, as if it's actually happening right there in front of him. Finally, he speaks up.

    "Well, Dustox have minor psychic powers. They don't have enough to move objects with their minds, nor can they kill with their minds alone like some Psychic pokemon can. But they can exert a small influence over their targets actions, and when it realized that your Treeko was terrified it simply used its powers to create an infinite loop."

    "Oh no, not Inception...."

    "No, not Inception." he laughed. "But it works similar to a panic attack. In this case, the Dustox used its psychic suggestion to make your Treeko more afraid, which made Treeko even more scared knowing that it could access its mind, and then it just spiraled out of control, to the point where she was too scared to even move."

    We sit there in silence for a few more minutes. Then, the Devon man gets up, saying he has to head back to headquarters to file a report. I stay sitting there alone, and then the orderly comes over.

    She's dead, I thought. All that running was for nothing. I'll have to figure out how to bury her, how to keep going without he--

    "Skarm?"

    I prepared myself for the worst.

    "Your Treeko is going to be fine. We had to inject the antidote instead of using the spray version. She also has some bruised ribs, which we assume are from Dustox silk."

    "Can I see her?"

    "No, you can't. She's not awake and she needs to sleep until tomorrow at the very least."

    "When can she battle again?"

    "Not for 3 days at least. She won't wake up until tomorrow, and she won't be able to leave bed for two days. But she'll live."

    I sat there in silence. The orderly seemed to see my discomfort.

    "How about we get you a room, and then you can go see the town until tomorrow. We'll give you a pager so we can tell you if anything goes wrong."

    And then it was done. Ashe was going to live, I was free to sightsee, and I had a place to stay.

    But there was only one thing I wanted to see. And it wasn't a statue.

    "So, about that machine..."

    Chapter Five: Ashe's Game (open)

    The building was simple, a large square building made of steel that gave it an air of swiftness and modernity. Above the door were two simple words: Pokemon Gym. Yet those words made me uncomfortable.

    "Are you sure you want to take on the League, Skarm? You told us how you ran so far so quickly to make sure Ashe lived. You don't get that option in gym battles."

    "We'll win. I'm sure of it."

    The doors were revolving, a sign of the numerous trainers who were turned away from their dreams by what lay inside. No murderous beasts-there were enough of those in the wild, as Ashe and I found out the hard way 4 days ago. No traps, no pitfalls laid by schemers desperate to steal pokemon. Only one trainer, who only knew how to control one type of pokemon, but did it with a mastery and finesse not seen outside the League.

    "How can you be sure? There's nothing sure in life, Skarm. I just wish you'd take more time to get to know your pokemon before you decide to just throw their lives away."

    "Ashe and I know each other the best we ever will, after last night."

    Inside, there was a simple desk, made of the same steel of the outside of the building. The woman behind the desk knew immediately by the belt and hat I wore that I was here for a purpose. "Are you here to challenge or spectate?"

    I hesitated, but only for a second.

    "Challenge."

    I follow her through a door on the left side of the room, which leads to a set of stairs heading down. At the bottom of the stairs, there was a hallway with many identical rooms on either side.

    "League rules state that we must provide you with an hour to watch film of the gym leader's most recent battles if you so request. Would you like to do this?"

    "Yes, I would."

    I'm left in the room, with nothing but a DVR machine and a TV. I use the remote and start from the oldest first. As I wait for the video to load, I remember my last conversation with May before we went our separate ways.

    "I'm not going to stop you from going on with your journey. You've been waiting your whole life for it. Just remember, every time you beat another trainer, you're hurting their pokemon pretty seriously. Please don't become numb to the pain and suffering that you'll cause."

    The film finishes loading. I watch as Roxanne sends out her pokemon and defeats the first challenger, who seems like he had no idea what he was in for. All the same, I notice a pattern. She uses pokemon made of rock which were too hard for the challenger's Zigzagoon and Taillow to crack. Still, I learn a lot about her war of attrition, having her Geodudes curl up to block attacks and then strike back with thrown rocks that are strewn about the arena floor.

    In the second battle, which ends in a victory for the challenger, I see the challenger using a Combusken. The trainer easily handles the Geodude at the beginning, using the steel walls of the arena against the rocky pokemon. The interesting part, though, is the second pokemon Roxanne uses. It stands almost as tall as Roxanne herself, and has a large red nose. As it lifts its arms, I see the camera go suddenly fuzzy, but I can see the rough outline of Combusken falling towards the pokemon as if it had its own personal gravity. Eventually the clever trainer defeats Roxanne, using the pokemon's "pull" to rocket her Combusken into the rock for a powerful strike that bowls it over and forces Roxanne to concede.

    I watch with fear. If this pokemon can create its own gravity, how can I possibly win? Ashe isn't big or heavy enough for me to use the same tactic the victorious challenger used. For a second, I'm almost tempted to back out, to wait until Ashe grows more.

    "You have to remember, Skarm. Pokemon battling is all about maximising your strengths and using what you have on hand. No matter how many times your Treeko evolves, no matter how powerful you become, she will always rely on her agility. She doesn't have the strength to compete physically with some of the bigger pokemon you'll see, so the trick is to find some way to win that uses your strengths."

    The woman has returned. She leads me to a large, open area that looks very similar to the arena that the videos took place in.

    "You can warm up with your pokemon in here until we call for you."

    I release Ashe and Zigzagoon, as the pokeballs have no inhibition to releasing them in this room. I have them practice against each other, with Zigzagoon always throwing tackles haphazardly while Ashe is cool, calm and collected. Even after her experience in the woods, she hasn't lost any of her youthful exuberance or her speed.

    Suddenly, Zigzagoon leaps for Ashe's head, and for once she is caught unprepared. I watch as Zigzagoon almost hovers in the air above her, jaws spread and ready to bite. Ashe simply ducks under the attack, bats Zigzagoon in the face with her broad tail, and then catches Zigzagoon in her front paws. Suddenly, her arms start glowing, and then Zigzagoon begins to look ever more tired while Ashe is almost bouncing with energy.

    I break them up. "Ashe, we should probably save that for the battle. They might be filming in here." Truth be told, I had been working on that trick with Ashe before we entered the forest. I had no intention of giving it away before the battle.

    I sit around for a bit, watching Ashe and Zigzagoon walk around the room. Suddenly, Zigzagoon makes a beeline for another trainer, and I rush to call her back. But before I can, she knocks down the trainer and starts going into his pockets.

    I run over, already apologizing. But then, Zigzagoon shows me the note she found in the man's pocket. I was shocked to find that it was actually a ransom note for a kidnapped Wingull, and even more shocked to see that the man was the same person from the woods who attacked the Devon guy.

    "You again." We pretty much say it at the same time.

    "I could always run this over to the police. I'm pretty sure they'd be happy to see it."

    The man stands up, dusts himself off, and leaves. The next thing I know, I've stowed the note in my backpack and been called in to fight Roxanne.

    "Are you nervous?"

    "Not really."

    "I thought so. You don't look as green as some of the challengers we've had recently."

    And then I am in the room, with nothing but a field of boulders. I am steered right, and then I see a platform on the ground. I step in, close the gate behind me, and it rises up to be large enough. The attendant goes up with me, and once we are there, the platform locks in place and a clear mesh slides over and fills the gaps.

    "This stuff'll protect you from stray attacks coming your way. If you need to send out or call back a Pokemon, press this button here."

    I press it, and a square panel folds down. I prepare to send out Ashe, but the attendant tells me to wait as Roxanne walks into the room from the other side and boards the elevator. When she reaches the top and sees me, she has a moment of shock, but quickly recovers.

    "Skarm! Is that you? I thought you were going to live a nice, normal life."

    "Well, I didn't start by choice, really. Maybe when we're done we can catch up."

    "Let's get started, then!"

    A man watching from a glass box chimes in, reading the rules over a PA system. I fall half asleep, having heard these many times on TV.

    "This battle will be a two on two battle, with one pokemon from each side out at a time.The challenger can switch pokemon at any time, while the Gym Leader may not switch unless her pokemon is incapacitated. Additionally, all metal devices other then Poke Balls must be placed in the slot in the bottom of your pod at this time. In the event of..."

    I snap back to attention. Metal objects? Then I realise. The strange pokemon's "gravity" is just an extremely, extremely strong magnetic field-it would have to be in order to effectively cancel gravity as it did in the video. There must be enough iron in the blood of pokemon to allow it to pull or push them at will. It also explains the camera glitches and the way the "gravity" abrubtly turned off when Combusken landed its devastating kick.

    Suddenly, I'm terrified for Ashe. I can't remember if magnetism is more effective on small or large objects. But I do know that something that powerful probably has other tricks up its sleeves, and most likely more lethal ones.

    "Challenger, send out your pokemon!"

    I can't turn back now. I toss Ashe's pokeball out of the slot, and she pops out onto the ground. Then the empty pokeball pops back into existence up in the pod and the attendent puts it back in my belt and closes the slot.

    Roxanne sends out her Geodude, as I knew she would from the film. I can see now that the arena drastically favors Roxanne; the rocks on the floor and ceiling allow her pokemon to hide themselves and gives them weapons they are familiar with while Ashe's green skin that is an asset in the forest makes her stand out here.

    I order Ashe to climb to the top of the tall boulder in the center and try to keep a clear line of sight on Geodude, but he is lost even to me. Then Ashe is forcibly knocked off of the spire, and I can't tell how because she falls away from me. Then the worst is confirmed when Geodude turns the corner holding Ashe by the neck. He seems to be waiting for a signal from Roxanne, but before he can get one Ashe has placed her hind paws on his head and began glowing. Geodude knows what is happening and tries to shake her off, and he eventually succeeds, throwing Ashe at a nearby rock. She catches herself on the face and hangs from it using her claws. Clearly not all the rock in the room is real.

    Then Ashe does something I've never seen before. She opens her mouth and begins spitting something at Geodude. From this distance, I can't tell what it is; whatever it is is hurting Geodude rather badly until it slips behind the central pillar to block the barrage. Ashe jumps off her wall and lands near the top of the central pillar, where Geodude clearly cannot see her coming.

    Geodude looks up in time to see Ashe's forepaws smashing into his face. He rolls away, desperate, but Ashe easily catches him, tosses him a foot into the air, and then smashes him with her broad tail into another boulder. This time, he doesn't move.

    Roxanne withdraws the clearly defeated Geodude.

    "Go, Nosepass!"

    The large rocky pokemon from the videos appears in the center of the gym. It lifts its arms, and somehow floats to the top of the central spire.

    I barely have time to tell Ashe to run before all hell breaks lose. The pokemon swings its arms, and all of the rocks in the arena float into the air, forming a kind of asteroid field around it at the center. Ashe is caught off guard as the Nosepass' magnetic field overrides gravity and pulls her in rapidly. She suffers a bruising impact on a rock about in the middle of the belt, and cries out. And then I know that she's hit the same spot on her ribs that was bruised by the Dustox a few days ago, and reinjured it. She stands up on the rock, wincing and clutching her ribs. Then she screams and throws herself off the rock towards me.

    Another rock slams into the one Ashe was standing on, and it would have crushed her had she not dodged. Now the rocks are deadly bludgeoning weapons, and if one scores a direct hit on Ashe, it will almost certainly kill her. Roxanne urges her pokemon on, confident that eventually Ashe will get tired and fail to dodge a rock. And that moment will be soon, as Ashe is clearly tiring already.

    Suddenly, I have an idea. Nosepass seems to be unable to use its fine control of the rocks on more then one or two rocks at a time, although it can certainly hold them all in place. Maybe I can have Ashe dodge a rock at the right time, causing it to slam into Nosepass.

    "Ashe! Get a little closer to Nosepass!"

    She looks at me in the split second before she moves, and she seems to already understand my plan. She jumps down rock by rock while Nosepass slams rocks into each other trying to hit her. And then she sees her chance. She jumps over the gap between two rocks. Nosepass tries to slam another one into her, but she clears the gap and lands flat on her back on another rock. And then she screams.

    The rock has been caught by Nosepass in between the two rocks Ashe jumped between. And then I realize what happened. Ashe is clutching her ankle and screaming, and I realise that she got clipped by the boulder, and that is what flipped her over and apparently broke her ankle.

    Another rock comes flying at her, and it is clear that this time there would be no escaping the impact. Ashe sees it coming, and she barely rolls out of the way. But then she disappears from my view, and all the rocks fall to the ground.

    Did we win? The announcer clearly hasn't decided. And then I see what happened.

    Nosepass was knocked off of the spire by a boulder, and is lying on its back with the boulder nearby. It is no doubt trying to focus its magnetic powers to get back to smashing rocks into Ashe, Then Ashe crawls into view from behind the spire, still nursing her ankle. She pulls herself slowly along the floor of the arena, and is within a foot of Nosepass when it turns towards her and swings its arm. The nearby boulder rolls on top of her, pinning her to the ground. Nosepass begins trying to focus harder, trying to crush her. But then Ashe, against all odds, slowly forces herself to her knees, against the crushing pressure of the boulder.

    She opens her mouth, and lets fly a spray of seeds.

    One catches Nosepass in the eye, and suddenly Ashe throws the boulder off of her with what little strength she has left. She pulls herself the last remaining foot, and then she does the unthinkable; she touches all four of her paws to Nosepass.

    A few seconds later, our platforms begin to lower, and I can tell from the announcer that the battle is over, one way or another.

    I barely hear the announcer's congradulations as I hop off of the platform before it reaches the ground and run straight to the middle of the arena. There I find Ashe, lying on the ground face up next to Nosepass. She is clearly exhausted and in great pain from her bruised ribs and broken ankle. But I still take the trouble to pick her up in my arms, to coo into her ear, to thank her for fighting so hard near the end when she was clearly wounded badly, before I withdraw her.

    Roxanne appears behind me. She is seething with rage, even as Nosepass is placed on a stretcher and wheeled off to the pokemon center.

    "That was a dirty trick."

    "Well, I don't think so. Ashe did what she had to do. What I'm unhappy about is YOUR trick."

    "That's not illegal. The payoff for having to accept all these needlessly restricting rules-no switching, no numerical advantage, letting my opponents prepare beforehand-is the arena that I get to design to my tastes. The arena is the only advantage I get, and I abuse that to the fullest."

    "I knew that thing was magnetic as soon as your announcer told me to remove metal objects. Another hint was your arena being laid out differently then it was in the videos. And the camera glitches."

    "Well, that's one drawback of using this kind of strategy. But this was the first time I used the rocks themselves as weapons. Normally, all Nosepass could do was keep them spinning in a circle, and did damage by switching its field on and off. But this time, it had developed better fine control, good enough to slam rocks into each other. And that let me..."

    "Look, I appreciate hearing this, and I'd love to talk to you later, but I'd really like to get Ashe to the Pokemon Center, so can we wrap this up?" I interrupted. I was concerned about Ashe getting seriously hurt in two consecutive battles.

    "Ok. But, before you go, I have to do this. For the cameras, you understand."

    We entered the spire, which had hidden steps on the inside. At the top, I stood next to her, and she presented me with a badge case and the Stone Badge. I put both in the outer pocket of my bag, and we walked together to the Center.

    At the Center, I checked in Ashe, and the orderly gave me a nasty look. "Can you please be a little more careful with your Treeko? This is the second time in 4 days you've brought her in with a serious injury."

    "It was a gym battle."

    "Well, maybe you should have given her a bit of time to unwind before you threw her into another life or death struggle! I'm sending instructions to all the gyms to not let you challenge for at least 2 weeks. You need to let her unwind."

    Then my phone rang. It was Dad.

    "How'd your first gym battle go, son?"

    "Well, we won. It was a tough one, but Ashe pulled through in the end."

    "Excellent! Well, I'm sure you've got to let her recover and all. But in a few days, we were going to head to Dewford for our yearly trip. Are you still interested in coming?"

    "As long as I can bring my pokemon."

    "Great! I'll meet you in Rustboro at the Pokemon Center on Saturday with Mom so we can catch our flight. See you then!"

    I turned to the orderly. "Would a week on the beach in Dewford be good?" She scowled at me and slammed the door behind her.

    Chapter Six: Tunnel Vision (open)

    Ashe was finally ready to travel with me again, although she definitely wasn't ready to battle, and wouldn't be for another one and a half weeks. She seemed more excited then usual, even with the bulky cast on her right leg from a nasty incident in our victory over Roxanne.

    I had gone sightseeing a bit while Ashe was recovering from our last gym battle, but none of it was particularly interesting. But tonight's event, a Volbeatles concert, was what I was really looking forward to. I had always been fans of theirs, but this was the first time that I was going to get to see them in person.

    During the day, though, all I could do was to take Ashe around, letting her see the things that had completely failed to arouse any interest for me the previous day. Ashe was a lot more interested then I was, probably because of being cooped up in the hospital at the Pokemon Center for the last few days.

    The concert was amazing. For some reason, all of their songs, even the normally lackluster Sgt. Surge's Lonely Volt's Club Band, were much better then they ever were on my iChatot. Ashe seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, although she seemed to shy away from some of the louder ones. She's never liked loud noises, and never really made much herself.

    Overnight, I knew she hadn't slept well, and in the morning I walked over to the window to see her looking out over the woods, where just last week she had almost been killed by a Dustox.

    "Alright there, Ashe?"

    She turned, silouetted by the rising sun. Then she crawled up onto my arm, and from there onto my shoulder. And then we were out the door, ready to take care of one last thing before Mom and Dad showed up to fly with us to Dewford on Monday.

    During Ashe's encounter in the forest, I was helped by a man from Devon's R+D, who I lent my Zigzagoon to when he was attacked by a man in a weird red outfit. Then I saw the same man during my warmup at the gym, this time with a ransom note for a pokemon being held in Rustboro Tunnel. Now I was off to the tunnel, which was about half a day's walk away from Rustboro to the east. Without the note, I had no way to convince the police to help, so I was on my own.

    On the way there, I kept Zigzagoon close at hand, ready to battle if we had to. But no pokemon challenged us, at least until we were just outside the tunnel, which appeared to be deserted.

    I laid out a picnic, and the four of us sat around eating. Seedot didn't really eat though, as she didn't have a mouth-she just planted her feet in the ground and absorbed the sun's rays.

    As we were eating, though, a Taillow wandered out of the woods, and began pecking at our food. I let it, although I could tell that Ashe was definitely uncomfortable. But Seedot just sat still, even when Taillow walked over to Seedot and began lightly pecking her.

    Seedot sat still.

    Taillow twittered and pecked her again.

    Ashe growled at the Taillow, while Zigzagoon kept stuffing her face.

    ...

    And again.

    ...

    And a third time.

    Seedot let out a burst of energy that knocked me over and certainly sent the Taillow for a loop, as it went tumbling through the air before falling to the ground, limp.

    I dusted myself over, walked over, and placed the Taillow in a pokeball.

    Suddenly, I heard the sound of growling from Ashe. The same man from before, dressed in his peculiar red outfit and carrying a Wingull, was striding slowly into the cave.

    "Hey! What are you doing!"

    He turned, saw my face, and ran off into the cave.

    I saw the sign by the door, which the man had obviously missed. It read "Project cancelled due to enviornmental concerns." Suddenly, I realized that the tunnel was never completed. It was a dead end. So all I had to do was wait outside until he came back out, and rescue the Wingull then.

    About an hour later, the man returned to the entrance of the cave to find me waiting.

    "You again."

    "Who made your outfit? Because I can tell you, red definitely isn't your color."

    Mental note: come up with better one-liners

    "We're an organization devoted to improving the lives of people and pokemon alike by expanding the land."

    "How would that help? I kinda like hanging out on beaches. Lots of chicks there."

    Yeah-really need to work on those jokes.

    "If there's more land, there will be more room for people and pokemon to live in, and everyone will be happier."

    "So, in order to get that done....you need to kidnap a Wingull." The absurdity of the plan shocked me. "Seems legit."

    "Shut up! I don't have to explain myself to you." He was steaming mad now, and before I could react he had a poke ball in his hand. "If you're not with us, you're against us. And if you're against us, we have to remove you for the good of everyone!"

    "So you want to battle me? This won't end well. Just give me the Wingull and I'll let you go."

    "You can fight me for it."

    We stepped inside the tunnel. He pressed the button, and a Poochyena popped out.

    I released Zigzagoon. Then, without warning, his Poochyena pounced on Zigzagoon, and they immediately began an all out brawl with each other.

    We both tried to give orders, but there was no way to get them to listen. All we could do was watch them slam each other into the cave walls, teeth flashing and paws swinging, desperate to finish each other.

    And then it stopped. Zigzagoon had Poochyena pinned on the ground. Poochyena was still struggling, but now Zigzagoon had its teeth bared over Poochyena's throat, ready to snap. It was waiting, though. Waiting for a signal from me.

    Now Poochyena was afraid. It seemed to be speaking to Zigzagoon, in some language only they could understand. And Zigzagoon spoke back.

    "Call off your damn pokemon!" It was the man, obviously unhappy with his Poochyena's situation. "He's not part of this. I'll give you the Wingull, I'll give you the parts the Devon guy dropped. Just let him go!" He was trying to withdraw the Poochyena, but without success for some reason neither of us knew.

    "If he's not part of this, then why did you bring him into it?" I was angry at the man's double standard. I wasn't going to let Zigzagoon kill the Poochyena, but I wanted to at least make the man think. "Is that Poochyena just a tool of yours? Or is he a living, breathing being?"

    "It's just....it's just....You wouldn't understand."

    "You're right, I don't understand." I was done playing with his mind. I had no desire to hurt him any more then I already had. "But what I do know is that I'm worthless in this world without my pokemon. This badge I have, it's not because of anything I did. It's because my pokemon believed in me and trusted me enough to keep going." I released Ashe from her pokeball to help make my point. "It's because, even with a broken leg, Ashe trusted me enough to keep fighting."

    I withdrew Zigzagoon and Ashe. "Now, give me the Wingull and the parts." He did, and I fit the Wingull on my shoulder and the parts in my bag. "I'm going to go back to Rustboro now, stay here for 10 minutes and then go back wherever you came from."

    By dinnertime, I'm back at the Pokemon center in Rustboro. None of the others were any worse for wear, so I just returned them to their pokeballs and ate.

    During my meal, the Devon man returned again.

    "I heard you had some parts for me."

    "Yeah, the Magma guy had them. Said you dropped them in the woods."

    "Wait. You went after the Magma guy yourself?"

    "Yeah, I was already over there at the Rustboro Tunnel and he just walked in with a kidnapped Wingull. So I took care of it."

    "Look, I appreciate the effort, but you should let the police handle those guys. They're dangerous."

    "Next time, I will, I promise."

    "That reminds me. I still owe you one."

    "We're even, you saved Ashe in the forest."

    "Now that you got my parts back, I owe you one. So how about this: tomorrow, I arrange for you to help us test the Pokemon Communication Machine."

    "No, really, it's fi--"

    "I know you want to use it, even if you won't tell me so. Just show up at Devon tomorrow at 9, and I'll arrange for you to use it for an hour or so. "

    There was no arguing with him. I agreed, and then he left, leaving me to finish my cold macaroni in peace."

    The next day, I was at Devon Corporation, where they led me into a room with just the front of a super computer with it.

    "Put in this earpiece, and then release a pokemon. The computer will translate sounds they make that correspond to language and feed them into your earpiece."

    The first one up was Zigzagoon.

    "Why did you go after that Magma guy's pokemon so much?"

    I knew he was evil from the moment I looked at him. I can't stand people like that.

    "The guy or his Poochyena?"

    The guy. But I had to teach him a lesson, and the only way to do that is to beat down his Poochyena.

    "Why are you so worried about criminals like him?"

    Because one day...Well, it's a long story, but to cut it short, I was in a tree, looking through a window of a house. And inside, there was someone dressed up like a bat on a glowing window. And he was fighting criminals, and I always wanted to be like him.

    "Well, I'll call you Bounty, okay?"

    Okay. But I can tell you this. Hoenn needs its true hero. You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things, because I'm not a hero. Not like you. Not like Winona. I'm a dark knight.

    "How did you know about me and Winona?"

    Other pokemon hear things. And they tell them to me. If you even make it that far, you've got a surprise waiting for you in Fortree.

    I withdrew her. Something told me that letting her fight crime wasn't a good idea. She would get killed. I didn't want her to die fighting for some noble cause alone when we could fight it together.

    So let's fight it together.

    Next up was Ashe, since Seedot didn't talk and I can't for the life of me talk with something I just talk.

    "Ashe, I can hear what you're saying now."

    She was quiet, standing on her hind paws near the door.

    Skarm, why?

    "The machine in this room allows me to understand what you say."

    No, that's not what I'm asking. Why would you go so far to save me in the woods?

    "I...I..."

    When I first hatched, I was in a different forest, but it was much the same. I watched as trainer after trainer lost their pokemon in the darkness, or gave up on them and just left them to die from their wounds. But you're different. You wouldn't give up on me. Why?

    "Because...Because..." I was in tears now, fighting to not just break down. "That day in the forest, I saw you getting wrapped up by the Dustox. But I couldn't imagine that you wouldn't fight back. And then the Dustox was carrying you away, and I couldn't imagine losing you."

    The Dustox's mind control and my fear combined to hold me still. And then the Dustox was carrying me away. But you kept following.

    "Ever since we met, that first day, you filled something in me that I was missing. I wasn't going to throw that away without at least trying to save you."

    And then later, at the gym...you believed in me to finish the match the same way I believed in you to get me to the Pokemon Center in time. You knew I could finish the job.
    "That's exactly it." My eyes were dry now, and Ashe was crawling up my body onto my shoulder.

    Well...let's go the rest of the way to the end together.

    "Agreed."

    Chapter Seven: Reunion (open)

    On my way out of DevonCorp Headquarters after talking to Ashe, I was stopped by the CEO of DevonCorp, Mr. Stone.

    "So, I heard you helped our guy out in Petalburg Woods a few days ago."

    This was so far from the truth that I had to speak up. "I didn't do anything at all. He found me with my Treeko getting crushed to death by Dustox silk, and gave me some thing you guys were working on."

    "Did it work?"

    "It worked really well. After that, I just ran to the pokemon center."

    "Until the Magma man showed up, and then you lent him your Zigzagoon."

    "Yeah."

    "I know this is taking it a little far, but I'd like to ask a favor of you. Two favors, actually."

    "What do you need?"

    "Well, I heard you were going to Dewford, so while you're there, I'd like you to deliver a letter to my son, Steven. He'll be in Dewford for at least a week while you're there, and I can give you his information."

    "Okay, I can do that." Now that I had pokemon, at least I could go somewhere a little out of the way if I had to to find him.

    "And secondly, you know those parts you took back from the Magma guy?"

    "Yeah. What about them?"

    "They're actually specially made parts for a little submarine expedition that we're financing, that's going to start in a few months once we finish building the submarine in Slateport. I would send one of our people, but Slateport is crawling with Magma people right now from what I hear and our security is overstretched as it is trying to prevent the submarine from being sabotaged. I know you can handle Magma guys anyways."

    "How am I going to get there? That wasn't exactly part of our plans..."

    "There's an old retired sailor down in Dewford with a nice fast boat. His name is Mr. Briney, and even though he's retired, he can't resist going out for a sail every now and again. Plus, you saved his Wingull, so I'm sure he'll be happy to help you out."

    "That was his Wingull?"

    "Yeah, it was."

    "Well, okay then, I'll do it. Both of them."

    "Great! When you're done, call me and I'll send you an EXP share in the mail. I'm not a trainer, so I have no use for it, but you could get a lot out of it."

    The next two days were a blur, as I prepared to leave Rustboro with Ashe, Bounty, and the rest of the gang to go to Dewford for our yearly vacation. I sent back the kidnapped Wingull, trained a little, skirmished a few trainers, and just overall had a good time.

    And then it was Monday. Mom and Dad met me at the center at 10 to head off to the Rustboro Airport, which overlooked the sea just north of town. Ashe was on my shoulder all the way there before I had to return her to her poke ball at security. Before we knew it, we were on board, strapped into seats with just enough room to stretch our legs out three inches, and then we were off. The skies were clear, the plane was crowded, and it seemed everyone had the same idea.

    But who could blame them? Dewford was as close to paradise as you could find in Hoenn, which was pretty damn nice to begin with. It had beautiful sand beaches, clear blue seas, and warm weather all year round. To cap it off, the caves, the jungle, and the sea were all filled with wild pokemon, and there was a Gym in town. For the average person, it was amazing-to trainers, the only place better was Frontier Isle over in the Grande Islands.

    Today, though, I approached it with a different feeling then usual. Although my family went every year, this was the first year I came with pokemon of my own. So for once, I could go to some of the more interesting locations, like the Granite Cave and the Dewford Channel without having to have Dad with me. I could truly explore, as long as I got done Mr. Stone's tasks.

    I slept soundly, and when I woke up we were coming in to land at Dewford Airport. The air was uncomfortably hot and humid after so much time on the mainland, but I could get used to it. What was more annoying was that we landed at 8:00 PM, and didn't get our bags until 9, so all we could do was go to the Pokemon Center and collapse into bed.

    The next morning, we had only one goal in mind-to hit the beach. But as soon as I got there, I saw Mom and Dad reading a sign.

    "Hey Skarm. Apparently a pod of Tentacool washed up here. They're looking for trainers to sweep them out."

    "Well, I'm game. Are you too?"

    "I'm a Gym Leader, it's pretty much my job."

    There was a large group of Tentacool in the water, all surrounding and facing one in the middle, who seemed to be speaking. I didn't have the translator that I did a few days ago, but I did see that every now and then he raised a tentacle, and all the others did so in unison. Finally, I stepped as close as I could without stepping into the water, and threw a pokeball. The pokeball caught the one who was speaking, and all the others immediately turned towards me and snarled as best they could from the water. At least they couldn't follow me out.

    Me, Dad, and a few others started using our pokemon to deposite the Tentacool back in the sea. As we were working, trying to do as little harm as possible, I saw a girl down the beach wearing a jumpsuit, which I thought was odd given that it was 85 degrees out and it would only get hotter. She had brown hair, pale skin, and she was ordering a Swellow to pick up the Tentacool and drop them back out in the ocean. It was carrying two in each claw, and seemed to be doing it effortlessly. No other Swellow I had ever seen was that strong.

    Suddenly, I realised who she was, and the last place I wanted to be was here. She was the daughter of the late Fortree Gym Leader that we took care of for a few months back during the Splitting. I only needed one more thing to be sure. Her Swellow wheeled around, revealing the greenish stripe on the top of its wings that was matched by a red one on the bottom.

    Now I knew, and knowing was almost as terrifying as not knowing. She was Winona, who I hadn't seen since she left for her father's funeral back in Fortree.

    Half of me wishes I was a Kecleon right now, while the other half wants me to go over and talk with her. I decide to just hide out. It'll be too painful to talk to her again after so long. When we finish, though, we all have to walk out together. I keep my head down, and she doesn't notice until Ashe digs her claws into my shoulder, causing me to jump. Then she notices me.

    "Skarm, is that you?"

    There's no hiding now. "Yes, it's me, Winona."

    "I'm so happy to see you! And that Treeko! It's so cute!"

    "I only met Ashe about 2 weeks ago."

    "You never emailed me or anything after I left."

    "To be fair, you didn't either..."

    "Well, I emailed you a week ago, but you didn't answer...."

    "That explains it. I'd already left." I explained my encounter with Professor Birch, my battle with May, and pretty much everything else that happened up to me reaching Petalburg. By the time I finished, the beach was clear and other tourists were beginning to come in. We stepped out of the way, but there was no way Winona was letting me off so quickly.

    "So what happened from there? I know you have a badge."

    "How'd you find that out?"

    "Your dad emailed me. But I'll get into that later."

    "Why would my dad email you?"

    "Later, Skarm. First, finish your story."

    "Well, I went into the woods and Ashe got wrapped up by a Dustox..." I told the story quickly.

    "Why didn't you withdraw Ashe?"

    "I thought I could send out Zigzagoon and that would snap Ashe out of it."

    "Skarm, you should have switched Ashe out first. You needed to catch on sooner to the fact that something wasn't letting her move. By the time you realised, it was too late."

    "That's exactly it."

    "Well, I know you're new, but you could have gotten her killed."

    "For Arceus' sake, I KNOW! I've had just about everyone I know telling me that, and plenty of people I don't know. It's done, and next time I'll make sure to call her back first."

    "Calm down, Skarm. Obviously you and Ashe made it out fine. I just want you to be careful. Your pokemon are still growing, and it'll be a lot easier traveling through that kind of place once your pokemon get stronger."

    We start back towards the Center, in silence for a bit. Then, I get up the courage to speak to her again.

    "What's been going on since you left?"

    "Well, I went back to Fortree for Dad's funeral, obviously. But after that, I lived out in the woods for a bit with my Pokemon."

    "Didn't your dad have life insurance or something?"

    "It was voided after he went off to join the war. Obviously, I had no money to keep our house, and what Dad had in the bank wasn't enough either. So I sold it, put it in the bank, and headed out into the woods."

    "What was that like?"

    "It wasn't that bad, since in Fortree we took survival classes. I had my pokemon to hunt for us, and I built a nice little hut by a river. It wasn't far outside Fortree, so I came back to town for school and stuff. But mostly I lived out in the woods. Got to know my pokemon better."

    "That must have been...enlightening."

    "It was. But there's more. About 2 months ago, the temporary gym leader's time was up, and they held a competition for a new leader."

    "You entered, didn't you."

    "Yeah, I did. And it's still going. But right now, I'm doing pretty well. Basically, they took all trainers from the area who were interested. Then they did interviews and looked at our pokemon to narrow us down to about eight of us. Now everyone's battling everyone else once, and the person with the most wins becomes the leader."

    "Is that how it always works?"

    "No, definitely not. Every town with a gym has its own procedure. Over in Lavaridge, for example, they just invited the strongest fire type trainers, since they've always had their gym be fire type. And Flannery won that one."

    "Wait, who?"

    "Flannery something. I can't remember her last name, but I do know that her father and grandfather were both leaders there, and then they both went off to the Splitting and died. So it runs in the family."

    "When I was younger...before the splitting...I think she went to my school."

    "Maybe she did. She certainly wasn't there when we were, though."

    We walked in silence a bit longer. Finally, we reached the Pokemon Center. Inside, Dad was lounging around on a chair near the front door.

    "So you two finally ran into each other, huh?"

    "Yeah," I said. "So how did you know that Winona was going to be here at the same time as us?"

    "Well, actually, I asked your dad when you guys would be here, and then I came down at the same time."

    "So, now that you're here, where have you been staying?"

    "I've been out in the jungle on the outskirts of town. My pokemon like it out there and I don't have the money to stay in the Center. No money at all, actually."

    "Well, I can pay for you to stay here while we're here. I've got a lot to spare from my recent challenges and I think you could help Skarm a lot."

    "Are you sure? I don't want to force you to pay for me..."

    "No, it's fine. Especially since I reviewed your interview during the application process. You could really use a break eventually."

    "Well, okay then...". I could tell that Winona wasn't comfortable taking a room from my dad. Maybe because she hadn't taken gifts from anyone in her life.

    Mom returned from her shopping trip laden with bags. After she put them in her room, Winona asked ,"So how about lunch?"

    We laughed. Lunch was definitely on the schedule. The Pokemon Center had food that was palatable if you just woke up or you were desperate, but that wasn't what Winona was up for. Instead, she lead us to where she was staying in the jungle just outside town.

    "I thought you were going to stay with us, Winona."

    She didn't break stride, walking around the camp picking up all of her things and recalling her pokemon, who were scattered around the remains of a campfire. "I am. But I've got to clear out my stuff from here first. And while we're over here, I might as well cook up some stuff for you guys."

    "There's no need, really. We can just all go somewhere in town..." Dad said.

    "I'm not just going to let you pay for everything I do. I want to at least give you something back for all this stuff you're giving me."

    "Well, here's what you can do. I know you're a really good trainer. Can you hang around with me for a bit this week?" I asked. "It would really help me get better, and I've got a few errands to run that might prove...dangerous. You could be great help."

    "Fine, Skarm. But after this week, no more favors. I don't want to owe anything to anyone."

    We walked back into town, and basically stopped talking for 30 minutes while we ate delicious Magikarp and chips, Dewford's specialty. By the time we finished, it was 2 in the afternoon, and the beaches were packed. Dad headed off to hang out with the Dewford Gym Leader while Mom went shopping for the second time in 3 hours, leaving me and Winona alone. Or as alone as we could be on a busy street.

    "Damn, I really wanted to go swimming today."

    "Well, look on the bright side. At least you've got me to hang out with."

    "While we're here, we might as well get the first of my two errands done."

    "What do you have to do?"

    "Well, I have to deliver a letter to Steven Stone..."

    "Steven Stone?"

    "Who is he? I just thought he was the son of the head of DevonCorp."

    "And I thought I was behind the times. Steven isn't some random guy, he's the CHAMPION. Of the Hoenn League. Even I know this, and I was living in the woods with no TV during the last championship."

    "If he's the champion, then we can probably find him in the Pokemon Center, or at least his room number."

    But inside, we had no luck.

    "I'm sorry, sir, but I can't deliver a letter to Mr. Stone because he isn't staying here."

    "He's not staying here? What?"

    "He's probably here for the Conference of Single Type Trainers. I can tell you where that is."

    "Ok, We'll settle for that."

    "It's being held at the Channel Resort, which is the tall building overlooking the Dewford Channel. You should check there, he's got the money to stay there."

    It was about an hour long walk, but eventually we got there. Inside, there was a large, ornate foyer with several rich-looking people milling around and a concierge at the far end.

    "Excuse me, sir, but do you know if Steven Stone is staying here?"

    "Yeah, he is. Are you two fans or something?"

    It was clear I was going to have to lie a little to get the information I needed.

    "Well, I have this letter for him from someone, but I need to make sure it gets there myself. It's quite important." I knew it was nothing of the sort, but it would make a good impression.

    "I would get it to him for you, but right now he's off in Granite Cave for a few days. You can come back then, or you can go see him in the cave today and give it to him."

    "Just tell me where the cave is and I'll do that."

    It was just another mile down the beach to the cave. What we found there was underwhelming. Just a hole in a wall, with a dark path that sloped downwards. There was a sign that read-Beware the Zubats.

    "Well, shall we go into the dark, damp cave together?" asked Winona.

    "Why not? At least we get to spend some time alone. Just me and you, at least until we see Steven."

    "Not completely alone. Apparently there's plenty of Zubats to keep us company."

    The cave was high ceilinged and had a large number of stalactites lining the roof. It was mostly deserted, except for a few hikers milling about.

    "Skarm, send out a pokemon. If we get ambushed, we might not have time to reach our pokeballs."

    "All of them?"

    "Nope, just one."

    I released Ashe while Winona released a Swablu. Ashe instantly hopped onto my shoulder as she usually did, while Swablu drifted through the air effortlessly behind us, its cottony wings not even moving.

    "Why Swablu and not Swellow?"

    "You'll see."

    Another cryptic answer, another awkward silence as we walked through the darkened cave. It was pretty dark, but at least we could still see. Something told me that wouldn't be true for long. Then, about 5 minutes later, we reached a ladder heading down into the bowels of the cave. Behind it was a note that read: If you're looking for me, just follow the ladders. Signed, Steven Stone.

    "Well, looks like we're heading the right way, at least."

    "You mind going down second, Skarm?"

    "Why? It might be dangerous down there."

    "Well, first of all, I'm actually a much stronger trainer then you, so you can forget about being chivalrous. Secondly, if this is a trap I can just fly out with my pokemon and you can't. Finally, I don't want you running off before I get down and running into the wall headfirst."

    "Fine. You win. Go ahead."

    Winona started down the ladder, and she shouted up,"You can come down now, it's clear. A little dark though."

    I climbed down after her, and then it was pitch black. The only light came from the hole with the ladder.

    "Skarm, you know how to Flash?"

    "Why do you want me to flash you in pitch black? Kinda defeats the purpose."

    She laughed then, loud and strong. "I know you've been waiting to do that ever since you met me, but no. We need a pokemon to produce light for us, since we don't have any flashlights."

    "Well, I don't have any pokemon that can do that..."

    "Swablu, can you give us a little light?" Her Swablu began breathing a slow, thin stream of blue flame, and its light flickered across the walls. Ashe had to duck as Winona started forward with Swablu following, almost burning her.

    "Watch what you're doing with that flame!"

    "Come on, Skarm!"

    The deeper we went, the more frightened Ashe seemed to get. At least this time, nothing has psychic powers to make her terror complete. We turn a corner to see the ladder. But in order to get there, we have to cross a winding downward path and then climb up a slope. I start towards the path, but Winona stops me, outstretching her arm.

    "I've got a bad feeling about this. Stay quiet for a second."

    She made a twittering noise at Swablu, who flew out into the large cavern, barely beating its wings. But about halfway across, it wheels around and returns, and makes another, more shrill noise back.

    "What's going o---"

    Winona put her hand over my mouth, then slowly leaned in towards me.

    "There's a Zubat colony over there." she whispered. "At least 50, maybe more."

    "How do we get around it?" I whispered back.

    "We can't, not if we plan to go forwards. The only way through is that path, and I'm not turning back now."

    "So how do we get through? I don't think your Swellow can carry both of us."

    "We're going to walk slowly down the path and up the slope on the other side. Don't talk, keep your Treeko quiet, and don't make any sudden movements. If you do, they'll think we're after their eggs, and they'll be on us in seconds."

    We slowly moved down the path single file, Swablu's gentle stream of flame still lighting the way. It was rough and steep, and the near pitch black we were in wasn't helping. Finally, we reached the bottom, and began climbing the slope straight to the ladder. We were almost to the top when Ashe yelped and threw herself ahead of me, with a Zubat's fangs embedded in its leg. She threw herself to the base of the ladder, and slid her arms inside the Zubat's mouth to force it to let go.

    The other Zubats were swarming behind us, getting ready to crush us with sheer numbers. I had jumped up with Ashe, and then I turned around to help Winona up the last few feet. Pain exploded in my ears as all of the Zubat directed their clicks toward me at once, a choir that was well beyond the range any of us could hear. Ashe had separated the Zubat's fangs from her leg, and she began holding back the lone Zubat as it tried again to slide its fangs into her lane. I threw a pokeball at it and it struggled briefly but then was caught. The swarm was enveloping us, and wings slapped every inch of my skin while I helped Winona to her feet and sent her up the ladder ahead of me. We slammed the steel cover at the top of the ladder shut and heard the Zubats still pounding against it.

    We gasped for air together. "Are...are...are you okay?"

    "Yeah. You or your Treeko get bitten?"

    "Ashe did, but I'm fine."

    "Get out an antidote and treat that fast so we don't have to worry about it."

    I sprayed down the wound on Ashe's ankle, still wondering whether the latch on the door would hold against all the Zubats pounding against it.

    "Oh. Looks like there's another ladder just over there, Skarm."

    "Going up?"

    "Yeah."

    Just as we reached the ladder, we heard a gentle breathing noise from the corner. I turned to see an Aron lying against the wall, crying.

    "Are you alright?" It sniffled and turned its head away from me. Not wanting to leave it alone, I tossed a poke ball at it, and it entered without resistance.

    "Why is everything I meet always sad?"

    The cave walls had no answer.

    ...

    The ladder emerged back in the cavern where we started, but on a higher level. We saw the entrance just below us, but there was no way we would be able to survive the jump.

    "Well, we're not going back the way we came, that's for sure."

    "Skarm, look over there! Isn't that Steven?"

    Amazingly, it was. He was walking into another entrance up ahead.

    "Wait! Wait!"

    "Oh well. We'll catch up to him."

    After a short walk, we did. He was in the room we saw him entering, which was a dead end.

    "Uhhh........Mr. Stone?"

    He turned, slowly, with a smile on his face.

    "Hello! Who are you?"

    "I'm Skarm, and this is Winona. We're here to deliver a letter."

    "You could have just dropped it off in the mail and I would have gotten it eventually."

    "I wanted to make sure you got it. The mail is unreliable and I heard it was urgent."

    "Well, okay then..."

    He opened the letter, which was only a page long. Scanned it quickly, folded it back up.

    "This wasn't urgent at all. But thanks a lot for coming all this way to deliver it."

    He stood up and started striding towards the exit.

    "Wait, Mr. Stone!"

    He turned slowly. "Yes?"

    "Two questions. First: Can I have your autograph? And second: Is there another way out of here then the way we came in?"

    He laughed. "Yes to both." he said as he signed a piece of paper. "Here, let me show you."

    We walked back a few dozen steps the way we came. "See this hole?"

    We nodded. "Good. Climb into it. It drops onto a slope which you can use to slide back down to near the first ladder."

    "Thanks!"

    "No problem. I'm glad you could all come out here."

    We started out the door, but as soon as I left, something poked me from behind.

    I turned around.

    "Wow Ashe, you've grown."

    She was standing on the sand just behind me, her head even with my belt buckle. She had long, spindly arms and legs, and her broad tail was gone, replaced by a few thin leaves. There were similar leaves on her arms and legs, and she had a long, thin leaf that curled back from the top of her head.

    For once, I was speechless.

    Chapter Eight: A Starry Night (open)

    When we finally returned to the Pokemon Center, it was dark, cool, but certainly not silent, as the beachgoers from the morning exchanged their swimsuits for fancy cocktail dresses and suits.

    "Don't you wish we could get into that one over there, with the glowing lights?"

    "Well, Skarm, even I'm a little young for that one. And I'm a year older then you, so you don't have a chance."

    "I don't know, if you sit on my shoulders..."

    We both laughed at that one. Then it was off to eat a quick dinner at the Pokemon Center and then to bed.

    I closed the door to my room, took a shower, and then released all my pokemon. I was interested to see how they would interact, what they would do while I was sleeping. And then I passed out in bed, tired.

    Ashe
    As much as I wanted to run around with the others, I couldn't. All of our stories talked about warriors from ancient time, who evolved at the perfect moment to save a mate or a hatchling. But the truth was pretty far from that. Evolution drains you. It's like human puberty, but in the span of about a minute. When it's over with, you're in a brand new body and you're just drained. You have to relearn how to walk, how to call your seeds or fire or poison from within you.

    All I wanted to do was to curl up at the end of Skarm's bed and fall asleep. It was tough, but I managed to squeeze in. And then some of the others got the idea to go through the window and see the city for a bit.

    "Grovyle, you want to come with us?" Taillow asked. Skarm hadn't named him yet, and he probably wasn't going to give him one that would convieniently translate into any of the 50-odd pokemon languages. My name didn't translate either, so they just call me Treeko.

    It takes me a bit to respond, because I'm not used to being called Grovyle. "No, I'm just tired from evolving earlier today. I'm just going to sleep. But when you get back, give me a shout and I'll help you back in."

    "Oh. Well, okay."

    Then our newest member, Aron, threw himself out the window and fell to the ground. Apparently that wasn't his intention, though, because he began slamming himself into the wall. It was a struggle, what with being tired and not being used to my body, but I managed to pull him back in and put him back in his pokeball.

    "Guys, can we not go completely nuts out there? I need to rest, and so does Skarm. And he'll never let you guys out like this again if we can't handle ourselves."

    Aron
    It was just a few days ago. I still remember. In fact, I can't get it out of my mind. It's the only thing I can think about.

    Used to be that my kind would be hunted in the caves by humans. They used to hunt our food, raw iron, but then they decided that our hard shells were much more valuable. Then they stopped. We never found out why. But we were happy again, as we chewed through the rock to find iron to eat.

    Then they came back. We never expected it, and we had no warning of their return. They climbed down a ladder that we had no idea how to climb, and started burning everything in sight with pokemon we had never seen. Every one of us they saw was soon just a fused piece of metal, that they would load in a backpack and carry to the surface after they had gotten a few. The worst part was seeing their deaths. Because of millenia of living in caves, we see heat instead of normal light. And when we watched from afar, the pokemon would breathe out a blindingly bright stream that would heat the victims body, while the unfortunate one we sent to stop them screamed and tried to fight back before he melted.

    We tried to ask the pokemon why it was serving the evil men, tried to communicate. But each time, they just ended up in the bag. We tried asking the Zubat on the level below for help. Oh well. At least the two we sent them didn't get melted alive, they just died. At least the Zubat couldn't eat them afterwards.

    Finally, the end neared. We were out of options and almost out of adult members to fight them off. Our last shot was an ambush. Along the route that the poachers always took when they walked in. We would get one of the younger, faster Aron to bait them to an open space where the strongest, fully evolved adults that stood on their hind legs and were bigger then 7 of us put together could take them on.

    It was a complete failure. Even in the large room, the Aggron couldn't fight against the poacher's pokemon. And there were more of them this time, almost as if they had anticipated the ambush. Our strongest roared and dealt out crushing blows with their steel fists, but the poachers and their pokemon were agile, and we only managed to land a few blows before they killed the Aggrons. When they fell, they crushed anyone left under them, and soon the rest of us were scrambling to dive into our warren of tunnels in the walls. The poachers didn't give up when the last Aggron hit the floor. They sent one of their pokemon to the holes in the walls, and it started breathing its fire into it, roasting many of us alive. I had the sense to stay out of the holes, and I just ducked into a corner and hid.

    The poachers left, their bags chock full of our shells. But they were back within the hour, and they began the arduous task of cutting apart the bodies of our last hope into carriable pieces. I just kept hiding throughout the next week as they continued. I had no idea if any of us survived, but I knew that we would never be able to challenge them again. Eventually, I started to starve, lying in the same corner where I had been for the last week. My shell began to crack and soften as my body consumed the little metal I had left to feed me. I didn't even care. The loss of everyone I had ever known, and the pain of watching their bodies be cut to pieces destroyed my will to live.

    I had given up when I heard voices coming up from the ladder from below. Nobody had come that way in years! And then to see two trainers, one of them tending to their Treeko like she was another human. I decided that now was the time to reveal myself. As the pair walked towards the upwards ladder, I began to cry. Letting out all the emotion that I had been holding in through the past few days. The two came over to me, and one of them placed me in a poke ball. I was too weak to resist, and quite honestly I didn't want to.

    Even now that I had more friends, I still had no interest in continuing. They would just got killed just like all of my brothers and sisters.

    Everyone else was getting ready to go out the window. I quietly slipped in front.

    "Well, it's been nice, but..." I threw myself out the window. Hopefully I'll die on impact.

    I fell for about a tenth of a second before hitting the ground. It's a first floor window. I'm so frustrated that I start throwing myself into the wall trying to crush my skull before Ashe pulls me back through the window and drains the life out of me until I'm too tired to move, let alone kill myself. And then she grabs one of Skarm's pokeballs and puts me back in.

    Bounty

    Skarm was lying on the bed, dead to the world. I wanted to take advantage. Get out of this room and do some good for the world. Well, my brand of good, anyways. Hunting criminals was what I did. And while I couldn't really hurt them, their pokemon were fair game. If I managed to defeat enough of them, maybe I could evolve. Settle down, find a mate, lay some eggs. Give up this life of tooth and claw for

    I shook my head. I'll never be able to do that. As painful as it is, as much as I feel every claw digging into my fur and flesh, every hammer blow on my bones, I enjoy it. Hunting down bad pokemon and the human criminals who use them-it's my life. But first I have to watch as Aron tries to commit suicide by flinging himself out the window, only to be thwarted by the fact that his body is made of steel and it's about a 3 foot drop from the window to the ground. But he's persistent- he keeps slamming himself into the wall until Ashe hears the racket, somehow manages to pull herself out of bed, and then pulls him back in and puts him back in his poke ball.

    I slip out through the open window next. Good thing the room is on the first story, so I don't fall to my death. Outside, the world is dark, but with my scavenger's eyes, I see just fine. Everything is new here. Slowly, following other humans, I walk to the pokemon gym.

    I know we'll be challenging here sometime in the next week, but my instincts tell me that some crime is about to happen here and I should be ready for it. And there he is. The notorious Strangler, who I saw on TV when I was looking through a window in the wild. He uses his pokemon to help him choke the life out of innocent people. Apparently he's killed 50 humans so far.

    I walk up from behind, the same move I tried to use on Skarm when I mistook him for a criminal, and pile into the back of his knees, bringing him to the ground. Immediately, he has a hand on a poke ball, and he releases a Meditite.

    "Strangling 50 people and this is all you've got?" He can't understand me, but his pokemon definitely can. It leaps at me with its hands outstretched, but I duck under it and pound away at it with tackles until I have it pinned to the ground, teeth on its throat.

    "Go ahead and kill it. I'll just go get another one." he said.

    So I did. I made it quick, because it didn't deserve to suffer for it's trainer's actions. Next to its body, I left the driver's license of the Strangler, which I stole from his pocket when I knocked him down. Maybe that would help the police finally catch up to him.

    And then I made my way back to the Center. When I got there, Ashe helped me back in, and then I curled up on the floor next to Skarm's bed with a few of the others. He didn't need to know.

    Taillow
    I had no need to be helped back in like the others, so I left last and arrived back last. There was only one thing I was looking for. And it was sweet. Real sweet.

    For my whole life I craved it. Ever since someone threw out a half empty bottle of it in the forest where I lived. I took one sip, and it was amazing. It wasn't just the taste-it was the way it made me feel. I was pumped with energy. I felt like I could fly around the world without landing. At least until it passed through me, and then I felt terrible, worse then before. I had to have more. More Pepsi. More Dr. Pepper. The brand didn't matter, the only thing that mattered was getting more.

    I had to leave my tribe, my family. They had other things to do, better things then taking care of me while I sat in the nest depressed about the significant lack of soda in the area. Eventually, I got over it. I went out and lived alone. It took me a while to be able to make sure I always had enough food, plus a bit extra in case some spoiled or was stolen, but eventually I caught on.

    Tonight, though, I wanted to get some, for the first time in a while. It shouldn't be hard to find an abandoned bottle somewhere in the city.

    But it was. I spent what felt like hours combing the city for a broken vending machine, or a bottle on the ground. Finally, I just gave up and flew back to the Center.

    Then I remembered. Skarm's friend was drinking soda on the way back. Maybe she had one in her room. I flew into her room, and there it was, sitting on the table. I grabbed it and flew up to the roof, where I began twisting at the lid with my claws. Finally, I got it open and dipped my beak in.

    Relief filled me at once. It was Sprite. Sweet, delicious, with just the right hint of lemon. I drank as much of it as I could before I went to pull my beak out. There was one problem: I couldn't. None of my body past my beak was inside the bottle, but I couldn't figure out why it wouldn't come off.

    Maybe Skarm could help me. I flew back down into Skarm's room.

    Only a few hours to wait until the sun comes up and he wakes up...

    Seedot
    Really, my thoughts aren't that interesting. The period of my life where I can't move independently is hopefully coming to an end, but I've burned through all my interesting trains of thought a while ago. The truth is, at this point in my boring, boring life the only thing that interests me is why I'm stuck like this. What's the point of having to wait for months and sometimes years completely helpless? If I could cut myself-and I've seen one or two humans coming out to the woods where they could do so in privacy-I would. But without arms or legs, that's a little difficult.

    Everyone else is heading out the window. But first is Aron, who seems to be just as depressed as I am. He tries to commit suicide by jumping out the window and then slamming his steel body into the wall. When Ashe drags him back in, he slips out of her arms for a second. Everything is in slow motion from then on. A silver body heading towards me. The moment of impact, shock traveling from the nerves on my hard surface to my brain concealed somewhere within. My view flipping as I go tumbling across the room. Then stillness as I hit the far wall.

    Later that night, I feel different. A kind of energy is radiating from the inside of my body to the outside. My skin is pulsing with energy, almost as if it wants to burst out. Maybe I was damaged by the hit. Maybe this is what death feels like. Then I can't contain the energy anymore, and it explodes through me. I feel things extending from me, my little acorn of a body growing into something bigger. And then it ends, about a minute after it started. Amazing.

    I have arms and legs now, but I have no idea how to move them, having never done so before. And I'm tired. So tired. All I can do now is stay laying on my back where I am, as I feel a need I have never known before-sleep. I embrace it as it embraces me, and then I am dead to the world. Just like Skarm.

    Skarm
    I wake up at about eight in the morning. But Ashe is no longer lying at my bedside. Suddenly, I jerk out of bed to see Ashe hoisting a bloody Bounty back in through the open window.

    "Oh my Arceus. Are you alright, Bounty?" She nods, and it becomes increasingly clear as I brush her off that the blood isn't hers.

    "What did you do?" Obviously, Bounty couldn't answer me, but she manages to get across the idea that she was in a fight. Obviously, she won.

    "Well, if you got out the window to get in a fight..." I look around the room. Taillow seems to be sitting on the dresser, struggling to shake a bottle off of its beak. Seedot, who was lying against my bed when I went to sleep, is gone, and in her place is a Nuzleaf that is lying across the room, breathing lightly. And Aron is nowhere to be found, although a quick examination of my poke balls shows that Aron is safe inside one.

    "What you guys get up to..." I say while I yank the Sprite bottle off of Taillow,"I don't understand it. But I'll let you guys out again sometime. Just don't get killed, okay?"

    Taillow (I'll call him Soda from now on) gave me a lame attempt at a grin that matched mine, and we all laughed.

    Chapter Nine: Soda's Dew (open)

    It was a few days since I had accidentally left out all my pokemon. Aron was still trying to kill himself every time I looked away, and always failed in some pretty miserable way. Soda was always pecking at my sleeves asking for, well, soda, but every time I gave him some he started bouncing off the walls. To top it all off, the Tentacool couldn't even fight outside the water. This wasn't going well.

    At least there were some bright spots. Hanging out on the beach with Winona. Watching Ashe and Nuzleaf learn the limits of their new bodies. The infamous Strangler being arrested in Dewford, probably thanks to Bounty (but we'll never know for sure). Zubat being INVINCIBLE as long as he carried a Cheri Berry.

    I should probably explain that last one. During a training battle, Ashe and Zubat were fighting with Winona and I watching. Ashe was still trying to learn her new body, and after a particularly painful nip from Zubat, she lashed out at him with a paw and knocked him to the ground, his neck bent at a strange angle. Winona screamed and we both ran over to him.He was lying on the ground, but the cheri berry he clutched in his claws was slowly dissolving.

    "Are you alright, Zubat?" I check its pulse. Nothing. "Damn it! Wake up!" Just then, its pulse restarted and the Cheri Berry began dissolving in its claws.

    "What the...." The Cheri Berry had finished dissolving. Zubat's neck snapped back to its normal angle. It began flapping its wings and making some noise which sounded like laughing on the ground.

    "Might as well call you Flapper, then. Does that trick with the Cheri Berry work on everything?" Flapper shook its head. "Well, we better keep you stocked up on those things, then."

    We took Flapper to the Center anyways. But apparently there was nothing wrong with him. He was as good as new 10 minutes after breaking his neck.

    Right now, though, I'm with my parents and Winona outside the Dewford Gym. I knew I'd get the time to fight him sometime on the trip-that was no problem. The issue now was my nerves. Last time I fought a gym, I won, but with no small cost. Ashe broke her leg and injured her ribs, and she couldn't battle, couldn't even walk for the next few days. What if something similar happens here? Sure, the pokemon here probably won't have superpowerful magnetic fields, and they don't have fire or mind control or any of the other numerous weapons Pokemon have developed over the years. But what they do have is strength. Pure physical strength.

    I don't doubt that I can win. But the cost is what I'm worried about. Whoever said "the joy of victory and the agony of defeat" obviously had never played pokemon. In a close battle, both sides only got agony.

    "We'll see you for your battle in about an hour, Skarm."

    "Skarm?"

    "I'll be fine. See you in a bit."

    Unlike the gym in Rustboro, which was sleek and modern, this one was smaller and felt more quaint. Inside, an attendant guided me to a video room, where I got my 60 minutes to watch film as the gym rules said.

    Immediately, I notice that this gym leader is much more skilled then Roxanne. The rules of the gym are apparently a best 2 out of 3, with the leader using a Meditite, a Machop, and a Makuhita to great effect. The arena is much smaller then Roxanne's arena, probably to ensure that it's hard for pokemon to run away from the leader's attacks. But now that I've seen the video, I have a much better outlook on this battle. Soda can fly around in the ceiling of the arena all day long. Ashe can do the same on the floor of the arena while she pelts the fighters with seeds. It'll be an easy victory, so long as Brawly has no mechanisms to get close.

    There's always a twist, though. In this case, the platform the trainers are standing on with the protection shell slides back into the wall, and glass seals in front of it, preventing the trainers from issuing orders. This is clearly designed to cripple trainers who don't put enough trust in their pokemon, as well as pokemon who don't know how to operate without orders. Additionally, all 3 pokemon from both sides are sent out at the beginning, and a predetermined order is set up.

    Brawly's pokemon all seem to have interesting abilities too. Whenever his Machop gets badly hurt, it suddenly becomes much stronger then it should be. In one battle, it delivers a flurry of punches and kicks that quickly knock out a Breloom that it hasn't landed a hit on all match. His Meditite has mild telekinetic powers that it uses to force pokemon to attack themselves. And his Makuhita seems to be able to take any number of hits and just keep going, even taking a massive blow from a Rhydon in the stomach while smashing through the Rhydon's fists with its hands. And they're all extremely physically strong as well, even if they aren't the fastest.

    I release the three pokemon I plan on using, Ashe, Soda, and Flapper. "You guys see this?" They all look at the screen.

    "I'm not going to be able to give you orders, nor can I switch you out until you either die or force Brawly to withdraw. Instead, I release all three of you, and the first team to knock out 2 of the other team's pokemon wins."

    "So here's what I want to do. Since I can't guarantee that we'll have as much practice time as last time, I'm going to put each of you up against a specific opponent. Ashe, you have the fat one in the middle. Soda, you have the one over there with the weird hair. Flapper, you have the strong one on the right. While we watch this next one, you think of ways to beat your opponent. When the time comes, I need you to win. And I can't help you."

    They nodded and we started a tape. It was a video of someone I knew, but I didn't have the heart to speak up. She wore a simple black shirt and jeans, and her hair was bright red. Her pokemon were all fire types, and she seemed to have no trouble winning by burning them to a crisp.

    "Oh no, not another one..."

    And then our time was up. We were lead up a set of stairs to the second floor, where the arena was. It was a medium sized, simple room, made from wood. The attendent lead me into the platform.

    "Just send out your three pokemon and let them warm up. The Gym Leader will be here shortly."

    And arrive he did, just a few minutes later.

    "Well, you ready to go..." He looked at a schedule on the wall. "...Skarm?"

    "I'm ready when you are."

    "It appears we have an..audience for this one." He pointed at a line of windows a level above the floor of the arena where Winona and my parents were waving. "Well, let's not keep them waiting."

    He stepped onto his platform and pressed a button. Immediately, both platforms slid back into the wall, and the glass came in front of us.

    "What's going on here?" Apparently there were microphones to the other booth inside. I wanted to give Brawly the illusion that I didn't know this was coming. Even if it didn't really make a difference.

    "Pokemon battling is about the pokemon, not the trainers."

    Then the rules came on over the loudspeakers. "This will be a best out of three knockout battle. Trainers are forbidden from sharing information with their pokemon, and only one pokemon from each side may fight at a time. All standard rules apply."

    As soon as the rules ended, Brawly's Machop stepped into the middle of the arena. Obediently, Flapper flew out to face him, a Cheri Berry clutched in his claws. It was all down to instincts now.

    Both extra pokemon on both sides stepped away to the corners of the room, leaving Flapper and Machop alone circling each other. Suddenly, Flapper dove in and gave Machop a nasty bite on the shoulder before flying back out. The pain of the impact broke Machop's concentration, but it still managed to strike back with a chop that hit Flapper on the body. It went on like this for a while, both of them landing glancing blows on each other.

    "Can we speed this up?"

    "I think something is happening right now." Suddenly Machop, who seemed to have been hiding its speed all along, grabbed Flapper out of the air and threw him at the wall, where he fell to the ground. Then the Machop was in the air itself, trying to land a punch straight down on Flapper that would no doubt seriously hurt him. His fist struck only dirt; Flapper had rolled to the left, and even now sank its fangs deep into Machop's leg. A bruising blow from Machop's fist put a stop to that, though. They broke away and began circling each other again, Machop limping from the fang wound in its leg. It was bleeding rather badly, and the blood was pooling on the floor.

    Machop seemed to be recovering quickly-the bleeding was slowing and it seemed like it was about to pounce. And it did, leaping at Flapper again, only to have Flapper disappear from even my view. We both had only one thing to say.

    "What the hell?!"

    But then I saw a pair of eyes moving in the rafters. Flapper was waiting. Waiting for Machop to tire. To focus more on its wound then on the bat stalking it in the rafters. And then the moment came, Machop stumbling as a particularly energetic spurt of blood came from its leg. Flapper dove down and sank its teeth into the Machop's neck this time. It fought for a few seconds to pull Flapper's teeth loose, and then it crumpled onto its knees, and from there to the ground.

    Then our platforms slid back into the room, and the glass came down. I was confused. Wasn't this a best out of three? But then the answer came in over the P.A.

    "While the fainted pokemon recieves medical attention, both trainers will have the opportunity to consult with their remaining pokemon."

    First, I walked over to Flapper. "Great job out there. I really wish you hadn't almost killed the thing, but you fought well anyways. I withdrew him, and then Ashe and Soda hopped over to my platform. "Okay guys, we don't have much time to plan, but here's what we're going to do. I'm switching you two." They looked up at me, surprised. "Soda will take on the fat one-I think it's a Makuhita or something-and if it comes to it, Ashe will take on Meditite." Secretly, I wanted to force Ashe to face her fears of psychic power. They were rational fears, but I heard there was a Psychic gym leader later on, and I had to know now whether she would be able to do it.

    "Now, Soda, I think he's going to use Makuhita next. It's definitely the strongest of his pokemon, but you can handle him. Take a drink of this first." I held out a bottle of Mountain Dew, hoping that this wouldn't just wreck his concentration. He hopefully opened his beak, but I kept the bottle closed. "I'll give you a sip in a second, and the rest after the battle." I was willing to deal with a super-hyper Soda if it meant getting out of this battle with all my pokemon intact. "Now, what I want you to do is this." And knowing that I was running out of time, I whispered to them so that Brawly couldn't hear.

    I gave Soda a sip of the Mountain Dew, and it definitely had the intended effect. He was already hopping in place within seconds, almost bouncing between his two legs. "Now go out there, make me proud, and let's win this thing."

    "Time up. Both trainers must return to their platforms and prepare for round two."

    I walked back to the platform, which sealed itself in the wall again. Soda was in the air now, his wings moving slightly slower then a hummingbirds and his talons snapping open and shut rapidly. This definitely didn't bode well for later when I gave him the whole bottle.....too late now. As I predicted, Brawly's Makuhita strode into the middle of the gym. This was seeming like a terrible idea, especially since Soda was tiny compared to the tall, bulky Makuhita and the fact that Makuhita could probably kill Soda just by falling on him.

    Makuhita began the fight...by flexing its muscles. I would have laughed, but they were actually pretty impressive. Soda started off in much the same way, just trying to get the caffeine jitters out of his system. While that was happening, Makuhita simply started walking towards Soda. By the time Soda got over his Caffeine jitters, Makuhita was right next to him, reaching out with his muscled arms. "Damn it Soda, dodge!" But it was too late. Makuhita grabbed Soda in its bear-like hands and began to squeeze.

    I turned away. I couldn't watch Soda get the life crushed out of it. I should never have made the switch. It was all my...

    Makuhita let out a roar and threw Soda into the air, where he struck one of the rafters quite hard and began falling back down until he caught himself. Makuhita's hand had a rather deep puncture wound in it that was bleeding, probably from Soda's beak. Soda was clearly a little worse off then he had at the beginning, though.

    Soda flew around the room while Makuhita struggled to turn its cumbersome body to keep up. Once Soda got behind Makuhita, he flew in and began pecking at Makuhita's head from directly above it. Makuhita roared with pain and began swinging its arms above its head, but they were slow, cumbersome strikes compared to Soda's agile fluttering, and he easily dodged the blows. Meanwhile, Makuhita's head was getting more and more bloody, more wounds being opened each second by Soda's beak and talons.

    Eventually, Makuhita knocked away Soda, but the damage was done. The blood flowing from Makuhita's wounds dripped into its eyes, blinding it occasionally, and it was obviously in great pain. Now was the time for Soda to use the strategy I planned earlier to finish Makuhita. This was the last pokemon I wanted to get into a long, drawn out battle with.

    Then Makuhita did something I had never seen in the videos. It bent down and ripped a plank out of the floor with its bare hands. Newly armed, it took several swings at Soda, all of which barely missed. Getting hit by that thing would knock Soda straight out of the air, and was a sure counter to the strategy I had cooked up earlier. But it was too late to tell Soda to back off, to not go in for the kill.

    "Damn. That floor's gonna be a pain in the ass to fix." Brawly muttered into the microphone. I would have laughed, but it was pretty clear that this was a planned tactic against flying pokemon.

    Soda was still darting around the room, trying to find a way to slip past Makuhita's plank. Then it used the same circling move that it did earlier.

    "Oh no, not again..." I was sure that this time Makuhita would have a plan to defend itself. And I was right.

    Soda dove in from behind Makuhita, but Makuhita swung the wood around its head like a helicopter blade, knocking Soda straight out of the air. It landed on the ground on the floor a few feet away, and Makuhita took slow, steady steps towards Soda, ready to finish it. Soda struggled to shake off his surprise and get back into the air, but then I saw that his claw was caught in the wood. He pitifully attempted to pull it loose as Makuhita towered over him.

    Makuhita raised its foot to stomp Soda's life out.

    There was a crash, and Makuhita stumbled, its foot seemingly caught in the hole created when it ripped the plank out. Soda freed its claw and dodged a single swipe of the wood. Now it was too close in for the wood to be effective, and he delivered a flurry of pecks to Makuhita's face that finally brought it to its knees.

    The platforms returned to the room. Soda flew over to me, clearly battered, followed by Ashe and Flapper, who I released. We all wrapped our arms/wings/other appendages around each other and savored the moment. A second badge. And we were so new, so unprepared for the journey that we had made to this point.

    "The defeat of Brawly's second pokemon ends the battle in a 2-0 victory for the challanger. Let's hear it for our victor, Skarm!"

    The three people watching all cheered. I waved to my parents and Winona and then turned to Brawly.

    "Great battle, Skarm. Your pokemon operated on their own with skill and ingenuity I haven't seen in a while. For that, you have earned the Knuckle Badge!"

    He passed the badge to me, and I admired it for a second along with Soda and Flapper, one on each shoulder, and Ashe on the side. Then I put the badge in my case in the slot designed to hold it.

    I turned to the door.

    "Wait, Skarm. There's one more thing we have to do."

    "What?"

    "We have to seed you."

    "Well, I'm really not interested in that kind of th...."

    "I think you're thinking of the wrong kind of seed. You see, any trainer who defeats two gyms gets placed in the rankings system. When you battle other ranked trainers, your results will affect your rating. Defeating more Leaders will also improve your ranking. At the end of the season, the top 50 ranked trainers with 6 or more badges all go to the League Championships.

    "How long has it been working this way? I thought it was only the top 16."

    "The format for this year's championship is different then previous years. Usually, it is only the top 16. But we figured, this might be the League's last year, so let's go out with a bang."

    He entered my name, age, and gym badges earned into a computer. Then he took my Pokemon, all in their poke balls, and placed them into 6 slots in the machine. All 6 pokemon popped up on the machine.

    "You know I actually have seven, right. I can only---"

    "Carry six at once, I know. If you use the seventh in a gym battle, it'll get added to your list. And that's all. Good luck with the rest of your journey!"

    Outside, Mom, Dad, and Winona met me. Winona was rather enthusiastic, giving me a huge hug kind of like the one Makuhita tried to give to Soda before saying "Great job, Skarm! If I become the leader in Fortree, I sure wouldn't want to fight against you!"

    "That's so nice, Winona!" My mom always said things like that.

    "I'd destroy him. That's why. Great battling, Skarm, but you've got a long way to go before you can beat me."

    I sighed. With Winona, there was always a catch.

    Chapter Ten: Sparks and Tinder (open)

    Our vacation was over. Certainly we didn't spend as much time on the beach as I would have liked, but it was fun anyways.

    It was time to say my goodbyes; I was off to Slateport while my parents returned home to Littleroot. And Winona...she was coming with me as far as Slateport, but after that, she was probably back off to Fortree to not see me for another 3 years. It was disheartening, knowing that the more successful either of us were, the harder it would be to cross the border to see each other. And considering that I was already seeded and Winona could be a gym leader within the next month, it was unlikely that we would meet again for a while. Maybe not ever, considering the draconian border controls designed to prevent strong trainers from crossing the border to complete the other side's gyms.

    We were scheduled to leave on Mr. Briney's boat around 11 AM, so we had to rush from the airport to the dock to catch him unmooring from the dock. A second later, he was humming an old sea shanty to himself as we sat on deck, chatting and watching the waves move up and down.

    "Have you ever considered that we might never see each other again?"

    "No, I haven't."

    "Well, with the borders the way they are, the better we get, the less we get to see each other. Maybe never again."

    "Skarm, we'll always find a way. How do you think, me being a gym candidate, that I got across the border this time? It's possible-just not if you're trying to get through legally."

    "So in order to take the League challange...I have to cross a river with military personnel on both sides and patrol boats and mines in the water without getting caught."

    "Well, no. There are other ways around. Some people go through the desert; that's how the champion before Steven won. Some people, like Steven, have connections that get them across the border. I just hopped on Swellow, flew out to sea about a mile, then crossed the border and came back and landed on the Hoenn side."

    We sat in silence for a bit, watching the waves bob up and down. By the time we arrived in Slateport, it was dinnertime in Slateport, but we weren't ready to eat anything thanks to the time change. So we roamed the town, seeing the sights, and then we headed to the Pokemon Center to stay overnight.

    "We're sorry, but we don't have any room."

    "What do you mean you don't have any room?"

    "Well, some shady guys in red outfits are filling about 20 rooms by themselves, and then there are the people who normally stay here...it's a numbers game. You're just going to have to find a place to stay."

    We walked out onto the street, where it was cool and dark. Unlike Dewford, which had skyscrapers towering over the street, Slateport was much shorter, and from the Pokemon Center we could actually see the sea thanks to the hill the town was on. Since neither of us had the money for a hotel, we walked down to the beach and set up my tent on the beach about a hundred feet from the shore.

    "You going to come in here with me?"

    "You wish, Skarm."

    "Well, actually I do, but..."

    "Not going to happen today, sorry. Ask me again in five years."

    "Crap...."

    I slept alone inside the tent-Winona preferred being out under the stars whenever she could. I guess I don't blame her, seeing as her home since the splitting was out in the woods. It was probably a lot more fun then my staying in school watching all my friends leave to hit the road and train pokemon.

    When I woke up in the morning, Winona's sleeping bag was empty. I didn't have to go far to find her-she was sitting on a rock overlooking the sea, watching the sun rise above us.

    "You sleep fine?"

    "Skarm, why do you worry so much about me? I spend 3 years out in the wilderness. I can handle myself."

    "Well, we all know the only time teenagers get up before dawn is when they're anxious about something. So what are you anxious about."

    Her feet trailed in the brine like lilies on a lake. "I was thinking about the war. About how my father died."

    "Winona, don't worry---"

    She cut me off. "Don't tell me to forget him. He was a great man, and more importantly, he was my father." She sighed, her eyes watching the water. "Well, you should know the truth if you're going to stay with me."

    "We're going to split up tomorrow, I thought."

    "We are. But as long as we're here, I might as well tell you. How my father died."

    "I thought he died in battle during the Splitting. Got caught by a rock some Rhyperior launched."

    "That was a lie, cooked up by the Grande Islands government to prevent a revolt. I found that out at the funeral. Before it started, they let me look at his body alone."

    "And..."

    "There was no rock. He looked perfectly fine until I turned him over. There were 3 bullet holes in his back, right next to his spine. No, his death was friendly fire. And it was close range, too. Either that, or it was intentional."

    "So someone in the army killed your dad? He was the best fighter they had!" I just couldn't believe that her father was deliberately murdered by someone he trusted. Someone on his side.

    "Yeah. And I found out who, too. It was in the last letter that my dad was about to mailed me when he died."

    She pulled it from her pocket and handed it to me. It was a little difficult to read, but I managed.

    "Well, he has a good message there at the end." I was trying to steer away from the obvious conclusion of the letter.

    "But obviously that's not the point. He knew he was going to be murdered, but even the police, who saw that letter BEFORE me, didn't try to do anything. Maxie got away clean."

    "So who is that Maxie guy, anyways?"

    "Never met him. But I know his face. Dad sent me a picture of his unit clipped onto a letter, and all the names were labeled."

    We sat there in silence, watching the waves wash over her feet. Then we made breakfast, ate, and hit the streets to deliver the parts I had recieved about a week ago from the CEO of DevonCorp.

    The Dockyard was about a mile up Shore Drive, and cars were whizzing by us as the city awoke. It was just across the street from us when Winona stopped dead and I ran into her from behind.

    "Winona, what the hell?"

    "I think I've seen that man before..." He had hair that was dyed bright red and he was wearing a red dress shirt with a black vest over it. Then he turned towards us, revealing the large M on the pocket of his vest, smiled, and walked away from us up the street.

    "Oh, that son of a bitch!" Winona took off after him, causing several cars to screech aside, horns honking.

    "Winona, wait! Who is that guy?"

    "It's Maxie! Just deliver the parts and I'll deal with him!"

    I was a little skeptical, but I decided to take her word for it. I waited for the light, and crossed the street like a normal person.

    Inside the building, I could clearly hear the sounds of industrial machinery even in the lobby. A crisply dressed woman at the front desk asked,"Are you here for a school project or something?"

    "No, actually, I have some parts for you that Mr. Stone from DevonCorp asked me to deliver." I opened my bag and showed her the box.

    "Oh, yes, we've been waiting for those. Here, come with me and you can drop them off in Stern's office."

    "Speaking of Stern, where is he right now?"

    "Oh, he's at the Ocean Museum. It's right over there across the bay." She pointed out the window, and I could see the museum with a long line of men and women in red hoodies interrupted by a single girl in a sky blue jumpsuit. My blood turned cold as ice, just as my phone buzzed.

    It was a text from Winona.

    R u dropping off parts for Stern?

    Yeah. U do know ur standing n the middle of Tm Mgma?

    Duh. Drop the parts at Stern's office and come back me up. Gonna get hot.

    They're there for Stern, well have to get him out.

    kk.

    I thanked the lady and ran out of the Dockyard. As it turned out, the museum was only a block away from the Dockyard, but it was a long block. When I got there, the line of Magma soldiers, including Winona, were all inside. My sprint through the door was interrupted by the lady at the desk.

    "That'll be 50 poke, please."

    I reached for the money as I magnanimously gestured around the room, where there were numerous Magma members roaming. "If you haven't noticed, we're having a bit of an issue here."

    She rolled her eyes. "Those guys seem fine to me."

    I sighed and explored the room for a bit. Neither Winona nor Maxie were anywhere in sight, so I climbed the stairs to the second floor. It was empty, except for an exhibit hall, where the silouettes of two people were clearly visible.

    As I crept up towards it, trying to hear what was going on, I saw the scene better. There were a number of pokemon scattered about the room, most of them bloody as if they had been battling recently. As I got closer, I realised that it was Winona's bird pokemon were the ones lying unconscious around the room, and her Swellow, her only conscious pokemon, was hovering while 3 pokemon watched its every move, ready to pounce.

    "Now, I'm a man of simple principles. I believe in all of us being happier. I believe in positive change for the future. And sometimes violence is necessary to achieve change."

    "You're a terrorist and a murderer." Winona stage-whispered, just loud enough for me to hear around the corner. "You can talk as much as you want about your 'ideals', but at heart you're just a murderer."

    "Now, that's not very nice, Winona. I might decide to finish off your pokemon if you keep saying things like that." He paused. "The truth is, you've got fight in you. I like that."

    The cliche was complete. "Then you're gonna love me." I said, stepping out from around the corner with my pokemon spread around me.

    "Oh. We have a visitor." Maxie smiled. "I don't know if you noticed, but I dealt with HER rather easily, and you look a lot weaker then her. So maybe you should just forget this and leave."

    "I don't think that'll be happening."

    "Oh well then...You would have been rather nice to have on my side." He motioned to his pokemon. "Camerupt, Golbat, you deal with this one. Mightyena, just keep that Swellow in the corner where it belongs."

    His pokemon slowly turned to face me while my pokemon spread out throughout the room.

    "Skarm, don't do this. If he could beat me, you don't stand a chance."

    I ignored her. "I think maybe you should back off. 3 versus 7 aren't exactly the best odds."

    "Well said, young man. But you should listen to your lady friend. If you fight me, you'll lose. You're throwing your pokemons' lives away. And what will you gain? What will the world gain? Nothing. It'll all be such a foolish waste of time."

    "Maybe it's a waste of your time. But helping a friend-that's a positive use of time in my book."

    "Who am I to deny you, then? When your pokemon are lying dead on the ground, don't blame me. It was your decision to get involved." His pokemon prepared themselves to jump in. But I wanted to make the first move. And it had to be a useful one, one that would get me an advantage.

    "Everyone! Take down that Mightyena!" I was hoping that I could get Swellow out of where it was trapped in the corner, because I knew that thing could probably beat Golbat on its own. And with Golbat out of the way, I'd certainly be able to beat Camerupt 6 on 1.

    Mightyena was down in seconds from an Aron headbutt and a few slashes from Flapper's teeth and Soda's beak.

    "Well now, that changes things, doesn't it?" I counted on my fingers. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven..." I paused for emphasis,"against one, two. There's certainly no chance that I'll win, so I'll just surrender now."

    "You're right, there IS no chance that you'll win." He reached into his pocket and revealed a gun, which he raised and pointed at us. "Now withdraw your pokemon or I'll have to shoot you, which I'd really hate to do. You see, I don't want to kill humans to achieve my goal. But sometimes killing is necessary for change. Regrettable, but necessary."

    "Regrettable? Like the time you killed my father?" Winona had withdrawn her pokemon, but she wasn't done yet.

    "I killed your father?" He had a quizzical look on his face. "Oh, wait, you look just like him." He withdrew his pokemon as well, leaving only the gun. "That explains a lot about the last five minutes. What do you want from me? His last words before I killed him? The way he begged me to not hunt you down as well? The wedding ring he was wearing?"

    Winona had had enough. She was stepping towards him when Maxie pulled the trigger. She cowered until she realized that he had only fired it into the air.

    "That's better, now isn't it?" He lowered the gun so it was pointing at us again. "Now, that shot will have attracted a lot of attention down there, and the police are probably being called right now. So in a second, I'm going to walk straight out of here and take my crew with me. You will stay," he checked his watch, "exactly where you are standing for 5 minutes, and then you can leave. If you try to follow me, I won't hesitate to pull the trigger." He turned the corner and began down the stairs before turning around. "For real this time."

    Five minutes later, he was gone and we were off to the Pokemon Center. When we arrived, we turned in Winona's pokemon to the nurse and then sat down opposite each other in the lobby. She was sobbing silently into her hands, her shoulders heaving up and down.

    "Winona, I'm sorry."

    There was nothing else I could say.

    "He was right there!" she sobbed. "The son of a bitch was right there, and we just let him walk away."

    "He would have killed us. And then he would have gotten away anyways."

    "But he was there. I wasn't strong enough to stop him. To bring him to justice. Both of us together weren't enough. The police will never catch him. It's up to us, and we just blew it. Might have been our only chance."

    Chapter Eleven: First to Fall (open)

    Skarm...I'm sorry...about your pokemon.

    You could have stopped the battle.

    I tried, but it doesn't happen instantly. Things happen in battle, Skarm, and-

    WHAT DO I CARE?! She's dead now, and nothing you can say will change that. You don't know what we shared. What she was trying to do.

    I waved goodbye to Winona, who was circling above me on her Swellow, who appeared to be able to carry her with no effort whatsoever. Then she wheeled off to the northeast, leaving me alone on the northern edge of Slateport.

    The route ahead was a large river, with a low sandbar forming one route across and a bridge across the top forming a second. Of course, the bridge up top was for cyclists and drivers only, and since I had neither a bike nor a car with me....

    Yeah, that hour long argument with the man at the gate didn't help either.

    Moving on, I walked down the route, which was fairly deserted. Most trainers would hitch a ride on the bridge, but I didn't want to take any chances and I heard the wild pokemon you could find on this route were...shocking, to say the least. Portable dynamos, they were, producing enough electricity to jumpstart cars, fry electronics, and if the tabloid stories were true, even enough to restart people's hearts.

    The sandbar maze was about a mile away, so I set off down the west shore, the lights of Mauville in front of me. It wasn't long before I had to cross through a patch of tall grass. When I was about halfway through, I felt a sharp, burning pain in my left leg. That was right before I leaped away, my jeans beginning to smoke. I landed just above the high tide waterline and saw an Electrike staring at me from the grass.

    "Holy fucking shit, that hurt!"

    It stared at me, and then fired another lighting bolt. I rolled out of the way, and its bolt struck the water, sending several dead Magikarp floating to the surface. Before it could shoot a third, I threw a poke ball at it. It was inside for a second before the ball broke open and it fired at me again, this time hitting the poke balls on my belt. A few of them appeared to have been damaged, but I had no extras to switch them with other then the second ball I threw at the Electrike, which caught it. Thankfully, it got teleported to the Pokemon Center so I wouldn't have to deal with it frying my pants.

    "Calm down."

    "You don't understand. Nothing of yours died yet."

    "I do understand."

    "No, you don't. You never will, since nothing ever dies in Contests."

    "What do I have to do to convince you that I'm sorry?

    May was up ahead on the route, which surprised me. I thought she would stay closer to home, but apparently she had texted me earlier today saying that she was going to hit the Contest circuit. She was busy fighting a Plusle and Minun, who no doubt packed a similar punch, with only Fawkes, her Combusken. He took a few electric shocks. Then, his legs blurred and the two pokemon went flying away into the water.

    "No way..." It was scary enough that Combusken could fire off so many kicks that its legs became nearly invisible. But seeing the Plusle and Minun go flying away like they were ragdolls hit by a truck, and the numerous bruises on their limp bodies were enough for me to want to find another way to Mauville.

    She's going to want to battle me. She can't resist it. I won't be able to turn her down, either, and once I'm in battle I won't be able to just surrender. I've got too much pride for that. I know that thing is going to kill one of my pokemon, and there's not much I can do about it.

    Other then go on the attack. Kill Combusken before it can kill any of mine. But I know in my heart that I can't do that. Can't go for the kill. Can't tell one of my pokemon to go for the kill instead of just disabling.

    "Skarm! What are you doing here?"

    I succumb to the inevitable. "Well, I was just working my way to Mauville to fight the gym there..."

    "Well, you want to have a battle for practice?"

    "No, I don't. I saw Fawkes' little trick a few minutes ago. None of my pokemon can handle that." The best way out, I decided, was to give her the win before the battle even started.

    "There's only one way to find out, right? Don't give up so fast."

    "Fine, I'll fight you. But we stop before anyone gets hurt."

    "Alright."

    "There's nothing you can do. Just leave me alone."

    "Skarm, I'm not just going to leave you here to wallow in your misery. Think about it! Your pokemon wouldn't want you to cry over it for the next 3 weeks. It would want you to keep going. Tomorrow."

    "Actually, that's not what it would want."

    We both reached for poke balls. May started with her Shroomish, and I started with my Tentacool. It bobbed in the water, the ends of its tentacles in the air. Then May gave an inaudible order and Shroomish threw itself forward into Tentacool, who seemed to not take any real damage. When it became clear after several more attacks that Tentacool didn't even care about getting hit, May tried a new strategy.

    "Shroomish, Absorb!"

    Shroomish shot out two vines that wrapped around Tentacool. Tentacool wrapped its tentacles around each other and the two of them floated in the water staring at each other.

    ...

    ...

    It would have been hilarious if one of the two couldn't swim and began sinking. It sank under the water, still clutching Tentacool, and Tentacool just let it sink. A few seconds later, Shroomish's vines released and Tentacool tossed it onto shore, where it lay still.

    "Damn." May examined Shroomish, and after it woke up, she put it back in its poke ball and sent out a Wailmer into the water. I sent out Ashe, since Nuzleaf seemed to have no desire to harm anyone except herself and I didn't want another hour long snooze fest like the last round. I knew from Dewford that Ashe could swim, although probably not as well as Wailmer. But that was a secondary concern. Any way I could win faster, take less risks, and get out before something got killed was alright with me.

    "Wailmer! Use Rollout!"

    Caught off guard again, I watched as Wailmer came barreling towards shore where I had just sent Ashe out. Then it rolled straight up the shore and launched off of it, catching Ashe just underneath the chin and knocking them both into the ocean on the other side. They both splashed under the water and the surface calmed.

    "No way..."

    "You like that?"

    Ashe

    I have to admit, I didn't see that move coming. Never imagined something that big or round would be able to get out of the water. The blow rattled me, and I'm having trouble focusing while I go headfirst into the ocean.

    Now I've got to deal with the thing where it's most comfortable. Underwater. But I want to go for the advantage now. Not a battle advantage-that isn't going to happen when I have around 30 seconds of air left. No, I want to get in its head. I learned that the hard way in Petalburg Woods-getting in the other one's head can mean everything.

    I float in the water, completely still, and I feel Wailmer circling me, prodding me. A few seconds later, it launches itself into the air while I throw myself to the bottom of the sea. I don't have much air left, so I've only got one shot at this.

    Skarm

    Wailmer launched itself out of the water, trumpeting its victory to the air. May cheered and I groaned. If Ashe didn't surface in the next few seconds, she was probably dead. And I'd never forgive myself for that.

    A second later, the both of them launched out of the water and landed on the sandbar. Wailmer rolled away from Ashe on impact while she took a pair of deep breaths, but she chased it down rather easily.

    "Stop."

    She looked at me quizzically, her arm raised with climbing spikes ready. In this case, they probably served a different purpose.

    "You won. There's no need to kill it if you don't have to."

    I withdrew Ashe and waited for May to send out another pokemon. Instead, she whispered to Combusken, who was standing next to her, and it walked out in between us on the sandbar.

    This was it. It was going pretty well, and there was only one pokemon I wanted to face Combusken. Flapper, the invincible Zubat. Sure, it would die. But thanks to those Cheri Berries, it would just come back for round 2. And I could admit that it fainted and call the battle.

    I pressed the button on Flapper's pokeball. Nothing happened.

    "What the hell?" I pressed several times.

    "Better send out another pokemon, then."

    I reached for Soda's pokeball. I pressed the button and Bounty came out. I knew whenever he did that stunt, he thought the trainer was a criminal.

    "Bounty, what the hell?" I whispered.

    It shook its head at me and then bounded out onto the sandbar.

    Bounty

    Skarm obviously thought I thought that May was a criminal. The truth is, she's not. But Fawkes, well, he's an old friend.

    We stopped talking a while ago when he told me to give up my criminal hunting. "Why bother? They're humans. We're pokemon." By the time I decided to give it up and live with him again, he had been captured by a professor.

    I left to pursue my ambitions alone. I didn't need a sidekick. What I needed was transportation. A way to get around other then walking. Skarm gave that to me. All I had to do was fight a few battles with normal trainers. And I'm a pretty damn good fighter.

    Now I'm up against Fawkes. And he's grown. He used to be about my size, but now I barely rise to his muscular thighs.

    I want to make the first move on him. I charge in for a headbutt, one of my usual tricks, but suddenly something whirrs over my head. I still plow into his other leg, but now I know what I'm up against. When I come back in for another one, I stop just short when I see his legs begin to move. He throws off twelve that I can count.

    Twelve. Twelve kicks in one second. While I'm absorbing the information, he steps towards me and throws another few kicks. The next thing I know, I'm lying on my side next to May, with my sides burning with pain and blood flowing from my mouth.

    I charge at Combusken again, but this time, I try to leap over his kicks. It's no use. The first one hits me square on the jaw and I feel something break. At least he doesn't hit me with any more.

    I slowly force myself to my feet again through the pain.

    "Why are you doing this?" I spoke through gritted teeth from the pain. "We were friends. Great friends."

    "Sooner or later this would have happened to you anyways."

    "The sanity of the people here isn't going to be decided in a fistfight between you and me."

    "You're right, it won't be." He smiled and walked another few feet forwards. "But I can tell you, this life isn't for you. And when you decided to fight me, well, you decided this."

    He kicked a few more times, and something popped in my neck. That was the last thing I ever felt.

    Skarm

    "May. Stop it! You win!"

    She didn't even hear me, or she just ignored me. Then I watched Fawkes finish off Bounty. They appeared to be talking for a second before Fawkes landed a few more kicks, and when Bounty hit the ground this time, her neck was bent at an unnatural angle and she wasn't breathing.

    "Bounty!" I sprinted over to where she landed. She was small in death, her body covered in blood. This time, it was her own. And in this world, you only got one chance. There was nothing I could do except cradle her body in my arms and cry.

    "Are you alright Skarm? Should we stop?"

    "No, I'll finish you this time." I sent out Ashe, who saw Bounty's body on the ground and leaped in rage upon Combusken. Within a few seconds he was down, but I couldn't watch. Couldn't even be happy. For one of us, it was over.

    We both rushed to the Mauville pokemon center, where we got our living pokemon treated. Well, all our pokemon except for one. As soon as we arrived, Bounty was pronounced dead.

    "Since you're a seeded trainer, we can have her sent to Mt. Pyre if you're going there, and you can bury her there when you get there."

    "Sure, just do it." I was distraught over her death, and I had no energy to argue with anyone.

    "Skarm...I'm sorry...about your pokemon." This time it was May."

    "You could have stopped the battle."

    "I tried, but it doesn't happen instantly. Things happen in battle, Skarm, and-"

    "WHAT DO I CARE?! She's dead now, and nothing you can say will change that. You don't know what we shared. What she was trying to do."

    "Skarm, I-"

    "There's nothing you can do. Just leave me alone."

    "Skarm, I'm not just going to leave you here to wallow in your misery. Think about it! Your pokemon wouldn't want you to cry over it for the next 3 weeks. It would want you to keep going. Tomorrow."

    "Actually, that's not what it would want." It was the boy from Petalburg, who carried his Ralts in his arms. "That Zigzagoon-I know you know what it wanted. And what it wants is for you to pick up where it left off. Finish its goal."

    I cried even more. But the boy wasn't done yet.

    "It chose someone in your party to keep going should it die. You'll know who. In the meantime, sleep, Skarm." I suddenly felt my eyelids drooping, and I knew it was coming from the Ralts.

    "Sleep."

    "Sleep."

    Chapter Twelve: Time Bomb (open)

    My eyes snapped open. I was lying in a bed in a Pokemon Center, and as I rolled to the side blearily, I saw my pokemon lying on the floor, curled up in various spots sleeping. Aron was the only one fully awake, probably looking for another way to kill himself. Ashe and Emo (I had started calling Nuzleaf that because, well, that's what she was) were lying side by side in the middle of the floor, Tentacool was in the bathtub, which was filled with warm water, and Soda and Flapper, for lack of a better term, were roosting together on the top of the shower curtain. The only one missing was Bounty.

    Oh Arceus. Bounty. Tears returned to my eyes at just the thought of her. Why did I have to fight May? Why did Bounty refuse to let me use Flapper instead?

    She was the first pokemon I actually caught, but for some reason, I loved her just as much as Ashe. Now that she's gone, she's left a huge void in my heart that I'm not sure I can fill. She left a pretty big void in the team, too, because I could always count on her to get the job done.

    Then again, she only had to lose once.

    The clock on the wall reads 5 AM. It's definitely too early to wake my pokemon up, and I don't want to just imprison them in their poke balls. So I leave them where they are and go out for a walk around Mauville. The downtown at least is beautiful; the rays of the rising sun cut through the urban jungle in a way that simply can't be described in words. On the other hand, the further you get away from the center, the more decrepit the city gets, which is shocking considering that the economy and the skyline are booming in the rest of Hoenn.

    My phone buzzed in my pocket. While I was out, I had 4 or 5 missed calls from my parents, May, Winona, you name it. The seeding app I had installed on my phone asked me to confirm my victory against May, which I did. Apparently I was ranked number 850 in Hoenn, which was surprising considering I had only defeated two gyms and a few unranked trainers.

    Inside the restaurant in the pokemon center, May and the kid with the Ralts were sitting inside, waiting for breakfast to begin at 6:30.

    "Well, seems you're awake now." said the boy.

    "No thanks to you. So, what brings you guys down this early?"

    "Well, we were talking about you, to be honest." said May.

    "Me? Why me? Finally feeling a little guilt?"

    "Well, yes, actually. So I wanted to make you feel a little better."

    "There's only one thing that would work, and unless you can bring back the dead-"

    "Better then that. Wally, tell him."

    "What if I told you..."

    "Go on......" If this wasn't good, well, I'd be even angrier.

    "That one of those Devon machines that allows you to talk to pokemon-"

    "Is right here in the Pokemon Center!" May cut off Wally.

    "Is this a joke?"

    "No way. You guys can't be serious."

    "But we are." Wally was grinning, and I swore his Ralts was too. "Every pokemon center has miniature versions that connect to the main computer in Rustboro, but they mostly use them to ask pokemon about their injuries. But I can arrange for you to use it whenever you want."

    "How?"

    "I used it this morning. It's easy. Wally will have his Ralts teleport you to the room, and then you'll be able to use it until someone catches you."

    "And how long is that?"

    "It's like an MRI machine-nobody goes in there unless they need it. So you'll be good to go until some pokemon comes in with a mysterious injury they can't place."

    "Well, let me get my pokemon. We should do it earlier because there's less going on."

    I ran upstairs to my room. As of yet, Aron seems to have been unable to find a way to commit suicide, but maybe that's because he was actually sleeping before. Most of them were slowly coming back to life, stretching and blinking their eyes. I grabbed the ones that were awake, then ran down to the computer to deposit Soda and recieve Electrike in return. It had some explaining to do.

    I returned to the cafeteria, where Wally and May were still waiting.

    "Ready to try it?"

    "I've used one before."

    "Good, then you know what to expect." He paused. "This isn't easy on Ralts at all, and so I'd like you to take a deep breath and hold it." I did, and an instant later I was in a room a moment later with Ralts at my side. Wally's voice seemed to keep going, though I knew this was impossible. "I'll watch the door. Do it quickly."

    The first pokemon I wanted to talk to was Electrike, who had pretty much tried to kill me the previous day before Bounty was killed by May's Combusken. My jeans were still singed thanks to it, and more clothes were kind of hard to come by on the road. I released him, and he snarled at me before I had put on the headset.

    You.

    "Yes, it's me. Why are you so angry at me?"

    You're a trainer. You're a symbol of everything I hate. A symbol of the human oppressors that enslave us and force us to fight for prizes. And what benefit do we ever see? None.

    "Well, that's true to a degree, I guess. But unlike most trainers, I know you're intelligent. I know that without our technology, you would have long overwhelmed us. And I know that in pokemon training, it's not about me. It's about you, and what we can make together."

    I don't need you. I could fight on my own. Like I was when you walked down that route. When you let that pokemon die.

    "I didn't let her die!" Tears of anger were coming to my eyes, and I released Ashe into the room. "She can tell you."

    Brother, he's not lying. This voice came from Ashe, standing across the room so we formed a triangle. Bounty wouldn't let any of us fight that Combusken; she insisted that it had to be her. You may have been inside your poke ball, but when she died, he sent me out. And I saw him, crying over her dead body. Not many trainers would do that.

    He was tricking you. Tricking all of us. He's one of the race that rules over all of us, and you serve him as willingly as a dog would! You have no desire to fight back. You may be a brave battler, but when it comes to ideas you have less spine then an annelid! At this, Ashe growled, which was probably untranslateable in a polite fashion.

    "That's not true. Please, stop fighting. We have to find a way to work together." Another poke ball suddenly opened.

    Yes, we do. It wasn't just my imagination; this voice, for some reason, was portrayed as being deeper by the machine. It was the voice of an orator.

    It's not all the fault of the humans. We've had a good part in creating this relationship, this sacred covenant between Man and Pokemon. Maybe someday you'll hear that story. But now that we're together, we can work together. Skarm can speak for us, give us a voice in the world of humans that we never would have had before. That's why I'm with him. To make it clear that we're not all evil monsters that have to be regulated and controlled. To show that we have thoughts just like the humans, that we have ideas, and to help them realize the great world we can create together.

    You speak of creation. But what has man created? Every one of their inventions enslaves us, every new poke ball made pulls us further and further in.

    "Voltaire, you're one hundred percent correct. So, I'm going to give you a choice, as soon as we leave this room." I named him Voltaire, after a 18th century philosopher who used rhetoric similar to his on the opposite side.

    "If you feel that I've truly enslaved you, that I'm the embodyment of all evil, then as soon as we teleport back out-with the help of a pokemon, no less-I will walk to the park and release you. If you want to leave, I won't stop you. If you try to kill me, I will use my pokemon-the ones who chose me, since apparently you didn't-to defend me. If you decide to stay with me, then we're in it for the long haul."

    What blasphemous idea is this? Humans and pokemon working together?

    Listen to him, brother. It can be done. I've done it. Grovyle's done it. Flapper's done it. If they can do it, you can.

    Fine. I will work with you. But as soon as we finish...whatever this is, I'm out.

    Then I heard Wally's voice again. "It's time for us to leave. Someone's coming." I withdrew my pokemon, and a second later we were back in the cafeteria.

    "Well? How was it?"

    "I think I learned a lot."

    "Great! Listen, I want to talk to you later about what you heard. Can you meet me at Thunderwave Park after lunch?"

    "Sure, why not?"

    3 hours later

    I walked towards the park where Wally told me he would meet me. It was a nice one, with a pond in the middle and a walking trail around the outside. Strangely, it almost reminded me of the park in Oldale Town where I fought May on my first real day as a trainer.

    Wally was sitting under a tree, his Ralts in his lap as always. He was rubbing its head gently while they both watched me.

    "So why did you want to meet me here, exactly?"

    "Well, I'm going to challenge the gym here in the next few days." And I know you've fought a few gyms, so I want to see if I'm ready.

    "What the hell was that? You stopped talking, but I could still hear you speaking..."

    That was me. Now that I was paying attention, I could tell the difference between the voice in my head and the one outside. The one in my head was a little higher and more elegant, while Wally's voice is deeper and has a sort of streetwise feel about it. I know one of your pokemon died yesterday, Skarm, and I feel your pain. But I have to know if I'm ready.

    "So what, you want to battle one of my pokemon?"

    "Not battle, just a little practice. You tell her if she's ready."

    "Okay..." I sent out Emo and waited for Ralts to climb off of Wally's lap, which took slightly longer then the wait for your average roller coaster. Finally, she reached the open space we were battling in.

    "Just by watching that, I'm gonna say you're not ready."

    "Battling isn't all about strength and speed." It's a battle of minds as well.

    "Emo, attack!" I was hoping to get this over with quickly and painlessly. Right as Emo was about to make contact with a move I had seen her use many times before, a quick fake punch followed by a leg sweep, Ralts vanished.

    Over here!

    Ralts appeared behind Nuzleaf, who turned around and struck out just as Ralts teleported back a few feet. Emo fell flat on her face on the ground, and as she was climbing up, she yelped in confusion. There appeared to be at least ten Ralts watching her in a circle around her. She charged at one only for it to harmlessly dissolve while she smashed into a tree.

    I could swear I could hear Ralts giggling in my head.

    The Ralts clones all teleported to form a circle around Emo. Then they all vanished, leaving just the real Ralts kneeling on Emo's chest. Emo tried to knock Ralts off, but she froze her with a mental shout even I could hear.

    Stop!

    Emo froze. Immediately, I knew this wasn't just shock-Emo's back was arched and she made no effort to return to a more comfortable position. It must have been some kind of hypnosis. Ralts began pounding lightly slapping Emo's face, and after watching Combusken pound Bounty into a limp, shapeless ball of fur and flesh with its flurries of kicks, it was almost amusing to watch Ralts try to deal damage with the ends of its arms which had more in common with spaghetti then the tough fists of Machop.

    Emo eventually regained control and threw Ralts off onto the ground. Then she ran up for an attack, and this time Ralts made no attempt to dodge. Instead, it tried another hypnosis.

    You're very sleepy, aren't you? All you want to do is lie down and sleep.

    "Fight it, Nuzleaf! Don't go under again!" Nuzleaf struggled for a second, its muscles twitching, before it kept going forward. Every step seemed to be a struggle. But it eventually reached Ralts, who seemed utterly shocked that Emo had managed to penetrate its hypnosis. Then the shock vanished as Emo punched Ralts hard in the face, and it immediately collapsed onto its back, out cold.

    "Well, that's that, then." I picked up Ralts' limp body, although she was most definitely still alive, and carried her over to Wally.

    "I'll be honest. You could probably beat gyms with that tactic she was using at the beginning. What you need to avoid is what Ralts tried to do near the end, when she tried to fight hand to hand. I'm pretty sure Nuzleaf barely even felt those punches."

    "But we need to be able to fight from up close or from far away, right?"

    "Well, yes and no. Eventually you're going to need a pokemon who can fight well hand to hand. But your style works extremely well. If you're going to fight a gym, don't fight up close with Ralts. Keep her teleporting around, confusing your opponent."

    "Okay, we can do that." At that moment, a man walked up and Ralts began to awake.

    "Well Wally, you had your battle. Can we go home now?"

    "But, Uncle, I want to stay and fight the gym!"

    "He told you himself you're not ready. Now come back to Verdanturf with me..."

    "Uncle..."

    Wally and his uncle walked away towards the parking lot, still in the midst of a heated argument.

    "Emo, you alright?"

    She nodded, and I placed her back into her poke ball for the walk to the pokemon center. Once I got to my room, I let everyone out.

    "What do you think, guys? You guys want to fight the gym today?" The pokemon looked at each other and began to talk. "Well, challenges close for the day soon, so we have to decide. Talk about it for a minute, then we'll vote." A few minutes of pretty heated discussion later, I stopped them.

    "Okay, guys, time to vote." I looked over the group. "Stand in a straight line, okay." They quickly arranged themselves. "If you want to fight the gym today, step forwards. If you want to wait until tomorrow, stay where you are.

    Ashe, Flapper, Voltaire, and Emo stepped forward, while Aron and Soda held still.

    "Well, looks like we're heading out. Come on, guys." I withdrew them all and headed down the stairs. Outside, the sun was being slowly obscured by dark grey clouds and the pedestrians were slowly preparing their umbrellas or heading for the subways. The gym was just down the street, still illuminated by its neon lighting.

    Inside, I was lead to the video room, where I was told that I would be the last battle of the day. Inside, there was just a DVR, a remote, and a screen.

    This gym, being in a city, was challanged often, mostly by weak trainers, which greatly inflated the gym leader's win ratio. In fact, I already knew a lot about Watson because he's a friend of my dad's from when they were kids. He used Electric types, and he definitely wasn't shy about frying things with them.

    His arena appeared to be pretty standard. A raised platform in the center was surrounded by lightning bolt patterns on the floor that radiated out like the spokes of a wheel. Like Brawly before him, he had three pokemon, a Magnemite, Magneton, and Voltorb. You were actually required to fight all three this time, and you could use up to six so long as you didn't use more then one at a time.

    The challanger in the first video I watched seemed to have little trouble dispatching Watson's Magnemite, but she lost her composure and lost when Watson's Voltorb exploded, instantly vaporizing her Sandshrew. Shocked, I kept searching through clips, and in every one, the same thing happened. It seemed Watson had an extremely large supply of a pokemon that would just spontaneously explode with fantastic force. Even worse was the revelation that Watson was clearly not ordering his pokemon to become a suicide bomber. The only pokemon that I saw that managed to survive was a Lairon, whose hard steel shell protected it from the flame and pressure of the explosion.

    Our time in the video room ended and we were lead to a practice room under the arena. This one had moving and stationary targets to shoot at, as well as a few punching bags scattered around it. It almost resembled the training room in The Hunger Games. I popped all the poke balls at once.

    "Hey guys, here's the game plan. Gather round." The six of them surrounded me in a circle. "Unlike the last one, I can give you orders, so there's no reason to plan too much beforehand. Also, I can use all six of you. So listen up! The first one Watson is going to use is a Magnemite. It's made of metal and it shoots lighting bolts. Voltaire, you're going to take that one." He looked up at me nervously and nudged my leg, sending a nice jolt up through my body.

    "Watch it, Voltaire! His next pokemon is a Voltorb. Every single one I've seen him use has blown itself up at some point. So Aron, you've got that one." Aron nodded. "You're the only one on the team who could survive the explosion. Think of it as you saving the life of whichever one of these guys you like most."

    "And his last pokemon is a Magneton. No trainer I saw in the videos was able to handle that thing just one on one. That one's going to be a team effort. I'm going to switch you guys in and out, so just bear with me on that one, ok. Most likely, Ashe is going to lead off against it, and then we'll play it by ear. Go chill out, get warmed up, whatever you need to do. We fight anytime in the next hour."

    After a few minutes of watching them pretty much do nothing, we were led into an elevator which took us up into the arena. Wattson was already in his platform in the other side of the arena having his pokemon practice after their last victory.

    "Skarm! I haven't seen you in a while!"

    "Tell me about it. Ready to get stomped?"

    "I wish it was that easy, for your sake." He seemed to age fifty more years during the course of that sentence. "If you watched the videos, you'll know that I have trouble controlling one of my pokemon. And it almost never fails to take another pokemon with it when it blows itself up. I just want you to know what you're getting into."

    "I have a pokemon like that, except it doesn't want to take anyone else with it. What say we let them meet up?"

    "I wouldn't wish that end on anyone or anything."

    I climbed into my platform, which I noticed was a Faraday Cage, something we were studying in physics just before I left. It was a room with walls of metal mesh which prevented any external electricity from affecting objects inside the room. It was probably there to allow poke balls and such to continue operating inside the cage while electrical blasts were flying all over the place from Wattson's attacks. While the platform rose, Thunderstruck started playing over the loudspeakers. It was almost surreal.

    "Really?"

    Wattson laughed, hard and strong. The normal announcement of the rules played over the P.A, and then we sent out our first pokemon.

    His Magnemite arrived, floating in the center of the arena, just as it had in the video. I sent out Voltaire, and ordered him to start firing off bolts of lighting like he did to me. He landed every one, following them up with a quick dashing attack. Clearly Magnemite had never seen such a strategy and didn't know how to deal with it. Unfortunately, Wattson did.

    "Magnemite, use Sonic Boom!"

    A loud noise filled the room, and a rent was opened on Voltaire's side. It quickly began dripping blood down his leg, but he didn't seem to mind. I would have passed it off as just another attack as well, if the boom didn't echo off the walls and leave me deafened for a minute or two.

    "Damn it, Wattson, was that really necessary?"

    "A good trainer is always prepared." He reached into his ear once the echos finished bouncing off the walls, and pulled out a small, round, orange earplug. "Loud noises are always happening around my electric pokemon, so I have to make sure I don't go deaf!"

    "Screw you." He just laughed and ordered up another one.

    More gashes were opening up on Voltaire's body, causing him to leave a bloody trail around the room. Somehow, he still managed to keep up his rapid dashes until Magnemite succumbed to one last bolt from Voltaire.

    Wattson withdrew his defeated Magnemite, and sent out a Voltorb, which I knew was going to blow up. I sent out Aron, then braced myself for the explosion.

    But it never came.

    I was confused. Instead, Aron cried out in pain as electric bolts fired by Voltorb lanced across his conductive skin.

    "Dodge, and then Headbutt!"

    It was no use. The metal strips on the floor finally revealed their purpose, channeling Voltorb's electricity far more effectively then the air and making it extremely difficult, if not impossible for Aron to dodge. Aron was definitely trying to approach, no question about that, but he was screaming with pain every time Voltorb put out another bolt.

    Finally, I gave in. As suicidal as Aron was, I couldn't bear to see him take any more bolts, couldn't stand to hear his screams of pain any longer. I withdrew him and send out Nuzleaf, who would hopefully be able to use her bursts of speed to be able to dodge bolts and get to Voltorb. She came out, looked around, and dodged the first bolt. Then a second. And then she was up next to Voltorb, pulling back her hand for a blow. Then another. She was taking shock after shock from Voltorb and hitting back harder.

    She never expected the blast.

    Chapter Thirteen: Thunderstruck (open)

    I picked myself up from the floor of the platform, coughing.

    "Nuzleaf?"

    "NUZLEAF!!!!!!!!"

    The smoke slowly cleared from the center of the arena. There was nothing there. The blast had left a large soot patch where Voltorb was sitting, and nothing remained of either of them. They had been completely vaporized. Nothing to bury, nothing to remember. Except the explosion.

    Wattson flopped backwards into a chair, holding his head in his hands. "Damn it, not again...not again...not again..."

    "WATTSON! Snap out of it! If you would STOP USING THOSE DAMN THINGS THIS WOULDN'T HAPPEN! NOW FINISH THE DAMN BATTLE OR HAND ME THE BADGE RIGHT NOW!"

    "But...but.."

    "You don't give a shit about those things. You throw them away once every battle. Nobody's fooled. Now FINISH THE BATTLE!"

    "Skarm...I'm sorry."

    "FINISH IT! Send out your Magneton!" I was more angry then sad this time.

    "Okay, Skarm. Thought you might have wanted to take a break." He released his Magneton out onto the floor, and I yanked Ashe's poke ball loose from my belt and tossed it out. I didn't want to break from my strategy for the last pokemon; even after Nuzleaf died, I was still here to win.

    "I'll take a break once I've got the badge. Ashe, smash it!"

    Ashe leaped forward, but was quickly knocked out of the air mid-jump by a blast of electricity that seemed to fill the whole room. "All you have to do is land a few hits. Come on, keep at it!" A few minutes later, Ashe had broken down Magneton's hard shell, but I could tell she wouldn't be able to take many more electrical blasts.

    "Ashe, come back! Voltaire, finish him!"

    Voltaire came out and began firing blasts of lightning at Magneton. The two of them were locked in a duel, bolts flying back and forth across the room and even into the mesh that surrounded our platforms.

    "Voltaire, quit dodging and just fry it!"

    Voltaire fired a long, arcing bolt at Magneton that was quickly met by one from Magneton. The two bolts pushed back and forth against each other, a tug of war with 50,000 volts. Finally, Voltaire pushed through, and Magneton dropped to the ground, its magnets falling off. I recalled my pokemon and got the badge from Wattson, but it was a hollow victory. For me, it never felt like victory unless all my pokemon came out alive.

    Wattson lead me into a tunnel that directly connected the gym and the pokemon center. Apparently there was a high injury rate at this one. But when he talked to me, I finally exploded, let out the anger and the sadness that I had been holding in for the last few hours.

    "Skarm, you weren't ready."

    "FOR ARCEUS' SAKE, I KNOW I WASN'T READY! THAT'S WHY NUZLEAF IS DEAD RIGHT NOW!"

    "If you're going to keep going, you need to stop. Calm down, train more, get ready. And do your homework before gyms. The one hour of film time you get-it isn't enough."

    "I can't control your Voltorb blowing itself up."

    "You're right. But you can control who takes the hit, and your Aron definitely could have taken it. The thing is, Skarm, you care too much. When Aron was fighting Voltorb, you couldn't let it be in pain. And if you can't handle pain, you'll never be a great trainer. Sure, you can be a good trainer, beat gyms, win battles. But if you want to be the champion.....if you want to be the best, you have to numb yourself to the pain your pokemon feel."

    "I can't do that. Not now, not ever. Because just like every other trainer in the world, I'm nothing without them."

    "But you ARE something. Sure, your pokemon do the battling for you, they go out there and put their lives on the line for you. But think of it this way: they're the players and you're the coach. You make the decisions for your team so they can battle and not worry about it. That's why we rank trainers instead of individual pokemon."

    I was crying now, but at least we were almost there. The anger from the battle had worn off and replaced itself with a longing sadness over the colossal waste this was. "Well, I'm just upset right now. One of my pokemon died yesterday too, but my pokemon wanted to fight the gym today, and I let them."

    "You can't blame your decisions on your pokemon. Take responsibility, get more practice, and above all: SLOW DOWN. You don't need to fight a gym every week to be a good trainer."

    We parted ways at the steps and I headed back up to my room, still crying. I had had it with training. Two deaths in two days was to much for me. My pokemon stood nearby as I hopped into bed, my face in my hands. It didn't really matter to me that it was their choice to fight the gym. Because in my heart, I knew what Wattson said was right.

    "You guys know it's over now. I'm not going to put any more of you at risk."

    Ashe brushed my arm with hers, and I looked into her eyes. Then they began to tear up as well, and we all mourned together for the two of us that wouldn't be coming home.

    The next morning, I found several missed calls on my phone from Dad. But I was in no mood to be the subject of his pity. So I checked out of the Pokemon Center, intending to visit Wally in Verdanturf before I headed back to Littleroot. I was done with this.

    After a day's walk, I arrived in the mid afternoon at Wally's house.

    "Oh, hello Skarm. How are you?"

    "I'm fine, thanks. Listen, I'd like to talk to Wally."

    "Sorry, you can't. He left yesterday night and we haven't seen him since."

    "WHAT?!"

    "He was really upset when he got home about how Gary wouldn't let him go on a journey training. So he left. And because his Ralts can teleport, we have no idea where they are, and no way to catch up with him."

    "Well, I was just coming to tell him not to go. That it's not worth it."

    "There was nothing you could do. That Ralts is always in his mind. They're practically one being now."

    "Which is why when he fights a gym and gets it killed like an idiot, he'll be devastate him. Not being able to have his Ralts with him-someone he can share his thoughts with, who knows him better then it's physically possible for any of us to-it'll destroy him."

    There was only one thing to do. "I have to get to him."

    Luckily, I had his number. I yanked my phone out of my belt as I left and began the walk back.

    "Wally, it's Skarm."

    "Skarm, how are you?"

    "I'm actually not well." I described to him the death of Bounty two days ago and the loss of Emo yesterday. "So basically, the gist of it is that I know you ran away from home today, and I know you're in Mauville about to fight the gym. And please don't. You won't win."

    "But you did! And if you can do it, I can!"

    "Wally, I'm sure you could. But the cost for losing is too high."

    "If we won't lose, then why are you worried?"

    "Because you can lose. You're not invincible, Wally. And if your Ralts dies, there'll be a void left in your mind. One that you'll never be able to replace."

    He hung up. "Damn it!"

    In Verdanturf the next day, I woke up to another few messages from my dad that I missed. One of them simply read: Call me.

    "Hey, Dad, sorry I didn't pick up my phone the past few days. Two of my pokemon died and I'm not sure I can keep going with the gym circuit anymore. I don't want any of them to die."

    "Skarm, things like this happen. It's part of being a trainer."

    "It hasn't happened to you."

    "You weren't around when I was just getting started. It was just as bad for me, maybe worse."

    "Well, I'm through. I don't want any more of them to die for a piece of plastic."

    "Skarm, before you quit....I've got one thing to ask you."

    "Is it about Wally? Because he's gone."

    "No, but that is something we should keep an eye on. What I wanted to ask you to do was head up to Fallarbor Town. It's a nice place, and there's a Team Magma presence up there. And we all know what the police does about Team Magma..."

    "Nothing!" We both laughed at the sad truth.

    "Anyways, it would really help me and Flannery out if you go up there and kick some butt. Us gym leaders...we do our best to keep order, but we can't be everywhere and still take challanges."

    "Flannery? What the..."

    "Oh yeah, she's a gym leader now. I thought you saw it on the news last year."

    "No, I didn't. But that's pretty shocking."

    "Well, are you in or not?"

    "Sure, I guess. But after this, I'm done. For real."

    Chapter Fourteen: Brimstone (open)

    Day 1
    "Damn, that's a long way to go."

    I was looking at my map of Hoenn on my phone, which showed that Fallarbor Town was a week's journey on foot away. That was a problem, since there was no way to get there other then by walking or driving. And I doubted I had the cash to pay for a cab to get there faster, or the strength to carry enough food to last for a week.

    The streets were packed this early in the morning, full of drivers who looked like they were about to explode with rage in the morning traffic while I walked right in front of them on crosswalks. I knew about a bicycle shop near the Pokemon Center called Rydel's.

    "Are you here for a Mach Bike or an Acro Bike?"

    "What's the difference? And don't I have to pay?"

    "Well, from what I hear, you're a pretty strong up and coming trainer. You've beaten 3 gyms in pretty much record time, and that's an amazing feat for someone your age with your experience. So I'll give you a bike for free, and all I'd like you to do in return is be seen riding it."

    "I wouldn't say I'm that good..."

    "Trust me, you may not have been following the news, but I do." He pointed at the flatscreen in the corner of the room, which was set to the HPL channel. "They were talking about you earlier today. Think you might be a contender in November this year for the championship."

    "Well, they obviously don't know that I'm considering quitting."

    "Over what? Don't get too upset over a few deaths; you could go all the way, man! You got talent, Skarm, and it'd be a crime to waste it."

    "Fine, I'll take the bike. But only because I need to get to Fallarbor fast."

    ...

    Later that day, I had just finished up having a few friendly battles with 4 members of a family when two people wearing identical t-shirts with a Koffing on them. I knew I had seen the design before, but I couldn't quite place it.

    "Hey, that was a great battle!"

    "Thanks. But...who the hell are you?"

    "I'm Gabby, and he's Ty. We work for Smogon University in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions."

    "Well, why are you guys so interested in me? I won a few battles, so what?"

    "You also have 3 badges, and you've earned them in the shortest period of time in history. That alone is enough to make us interested in you for an athletic scholarship even if you dropped out of high school halfway through."

    "I thought Smogon University was in Kanto, and I'm not willing to go to school outside of Hoenn..."

    "Well, I can see how that could be confusing. Our main branch has always been in Fallarbor, but we have campuses in Mahogany Town in Johto, Lavender Town in Kanto, and Snowpoint City in Sinnoh."

    "I'm heading up to Fallarbor anyways, I guess I'll give it a chance. But no guarantees, okay?"

    "That's fine. Most people say that anyways."

    That night, I set up camp under a tree, only to be enveloped in a sandstorm that seemed to be continously raging on Route 111. I had to lend out pieces of clothing to the pokemon so they could cover their noses and mouthes while we moved to a new location, where Mt. Chimney's steaming crater overlooked us at every turn.

    Day 2

    I had originally planned to go to Lavaridge first, but the hiking trail was blocked by a landslide and the cable car station was guarded by two men who were both wearing fat belts of poke balls, pistols in shoulder holsters, and rifles on their backs. Needless, to say, that wasn't an option. So instead, I turned to the cave, which was marked with a sign.

    "Warning: Occasional Lava Flows. Authorized personnel only."

    It was weird. At the same time, I got the sense that I had been here before. But that was impossible, since I had never been here before.

    I took a quick look inside. No lava right now, at least. So I stepped into the cave. It was hot and moist inside, and every few steps I would have to duck under a jet of steam from one of the walls. A few fire pokemon like Numel and Slugma roamed the tunnel, and I gave them a lot of space, because I had no intention of getting my last change of clothes fried.

    Near the end, the tunnel got cramped, and the walls were heated to beyond my tolerance, so I had to roll down my sleeves. But that only intensified the heat in the room, which quickly became unbearable. More jets of steam released pressure from the walls at about head height, forcing me to duck down to avoid getting scalded. Then I looked back, and then crawled forward with all the speed I could muster.

    The first tendrils of liquid rock began flowing from the wall behind me.

    I could feel the heat coming off the magma from ten feet away through my jeans. It had filled a little hollow on the ground that I had walked past earlier, and was now oozing across the floor of the cave towards my feet. I was able to stand up now and walk through, though it was still too narrow for me to run. With every second, the speed of the magma seemed to only increase. The volcano's juices almost seemed alive as they sought out any way to escape the pressure, and once it was found, poured out of it.

    The exit to the tunnel was just ahead, but I could see from inside the tunnel that lava had begun to flow from a crack on the outside of Mt. Chimney, and it formed a small river outside the opening.

    So I jumped.

    Please, please, please don't have anyone filming this. I really don't want to end up on Hoenn's version of 1000 Ways to Die.

    Wait. Is that really what you think when you die? About your death showing up on television?

    My feet mercifully touched solid ground, and I stumbled to the ground, the lava flows quickly growing higher up on the mountain. It was clear that these weren't ordinary flare-ups of the kind that had been happening for years. This was different; in fact, it almost seemed deliberate.

    No, this can't be intentional. How would anyone control a volcano anyways?

    The rivers of magma had coalesced into a single stream, which was as wide as the slope of the mountain I was fleeing down. There was no way out for me this time, no tricks to use, no boulders to dodge, no Mightyena to swarm. Either I outrun the magma and live, or I fail and die.

    It was almost a surreal moment that was rudely interrupted when Voltaire's pokeball started vibrating in my belt. Obviously he was having some kind of trouble. I released him further down the slope and then scooped him up as I ran by. The flow of lava seemed to have almost no end.

    "Voltaire, I'm kind of having a situation here. This better be good."

    There. He lifted his forepaw and pointed it at a crack in the wall of a cliff that was funneling the lava towards me.

    "How did I understand you? I don't even..."

    You're too slow, human, and I'm not just talking about your mind. You'll never make it unless you can reach that cave.

    I turned towards it, but I was still skeptical. "That's not a cave, that's a crack. And a small one."

    It's above the lava flow, and I assume that's all that matters to you right now, slowpoke. Why don't you put me away and ask King to open it for you, since he's the only one of us who can.

    I withdrew him, and started to climb the pile of rocks that lead up to the crack. I didn't even know if it would be possible to get to the crack before the magma caught up to me, but he was right: I was too slow to get to the bottom and escape anyways. When I reached the crack, I heard a crackling as the rocks I had climbed up began to be swept away. I had just enough time to grab on to the bottom of the crevice before the rocks were gone, and I hung with both hands from the crevice.

    "Voltaire, if you were lying about this, I swear to Arceus I'm killing you in the afterlife!" Then I reached down to my belt with my left hand while I hung on with my right, released King into the air, and then caught him by the tentacle and pulled him in.

    "If you haven't noticed, we're in a sticky situation here."

    I can tell. So why'd you send me out to get killed?

    "I sent you out because Voltaire told me that you could open this crevice."

    I can. But, Skarm, you may not like what's inside...

    "Well, I can't hang on much longer, so I'm dead if you can't open it. And if I'm dead, so are you, Voltaire, and everyone else!"

    Lift me up so I'm even with the crevice. I did, and he grunted while he slid a tentacle inside the gap. Just give me a second here. Voltaire was right, there is a dungeon here. I need a little time to open it, though.

    "CAN YOU HURRY UP! I'M HANGING FROM ONE HAND OVER A RIVER OF LAVA!"

    I understand your predicament, but I need time to work. I could only hang by one hand, literally steaming mad, while King tried to open the gap. Ah. Here we go. The gap glowed green, and then began to widen while my arms tired and my fingers started to lose my grip. I tossed King onto the ledge and tried to force myself up, but I was too tired. I'll let out Ashe for you. She'll help pull you up. He reached into my belt with a tentacle, yanked out Ashe's poke ball, and opened it on the ledge with him. Then the two of them pulled me up into the room.

    "Thanks." I waited a while, gasping for breath, before I looked at the room we were in. "Holy shit, what is this place? And why can I understand you guys now?"

    Well, I can't answer either of those questions, you're going to have to ask King.

    Well, I think you've been here before, but you just can't remember. Also, this is a mystery dungeon. I've never actually seen one, but I know the signs.

    "What's that? Looks like just another cave to me."

    To tell the truth, nobody really knows what mystery dungeons are. All we know are that there aren't very many of them left and that they act like mazes. They're sustained by the pokemon that live inside them, by draining their life energy. And every time you enter them, they change. They're never the same twice.

    "So our life energy is being drained right now? We have to get out of here!"

    If you want to go back into the lava, be my guest. Also, the drain isn't much. It'll shorten your lifespan by about two years if you spend your entire life in here. A few hours won't hurt you much at all.

    "And how were we able to open it?"

    I don't know. I've never seen one, all I've heard are stories. Used to be that anyone who wanted to get in could, but now most of them have vanished and the ones that are left sealed their entrances to prevent their few sources of life energy from escaping. Now, only pokemon can see the entrances, and only a few pokemon can open them. And the only way to figure out if you can is to try it.

    "But that makes no sense. I was able to see the entrance, even if I didn't recognize it as an entrance....and why can I understand you?"

    Another property of mystery dungeons. According to the legends about them, anyone within a certain distance from one or inside one could understand anyone else, even if they were speaking different languages. Also, the only reason this one still exists is because there are pokemon alive in here somewhere, so it's probably best if we either get out before we have to sleep, or you have us guard you when you sleep. He paused briefly. And no, I don't know why you could see the entrance. Maybe it goes along with your feeling that you've been here before.
    "Ok." I released everyone. "We're stuck in some cave until the lava goes down. Can you guys watch the tunnels while I make us some food?"

    They grumbled but got to the tunnels and guarded them while I threw together all of the food I had left to feed us all. We ate well, and then I slept while the pokemon kept guard.

    Day 3

    When I awoke in the morning, I could hear helicopter blades whirring outside as the park rangers assesed the lava flow, which was still continuing, though not at the rate it had been yesterday. I stepped out to the crevice where I had been hanging, and waved to one of the helicopters, trying to attract its attention. Eventually it flew over.

    "How long have you been here?"

    "Just overnight!"

    "Well, withdraw your pokemon and hop in! We're heading back to base in Fallarbor anyways!"

    "Isn't Lavaridge closer?" I hopped in. I had no desire to spend time in any of those places again.

    "Yeah, but we're based somewhere else and there's no way for us to refuel in Lavaridge with everyone evacuated. So Fallarbor it is."

    Then we were off, crossing the skies on the way to the ranger station just outside Fallarbor. The eruption was clearly full scale, because as we passed over Route 119 ashes were raining from the sky. When I got there, all I could do was head off to the Pokemon Center and get something to eat. I hopped in the shower afterwards and washed off all the dirt and grime that had gotten on me when I was at the volcano.

    That night, I turned on the news on the TV in my room. Obviously, much of it was about the eruption and the ongoing cleanup. But about halfway through, a sports segment came on.

    "Over the past few weeks, contestants from all over Eastern Hoenn battled each other for the chance to be the next Gym Leader of Fortree City. We were looking for someone who was a strong battler, but also someone who was strong of will. We wanted someone who would stand for us and represent us, just as the late Larsen Redwood did during the Splitting."

    "After weeks of watching our finalists battle, listening to their thoughts, and their reasons for wanting to be gym leader, we have made our decision. A group of the Fortree City Council, plus representatives from the League, unanimously agreed on our choice."

    "Our choice is young, but has shown maturity beyond her years in coping with the deaths of her father and mother, years apart but forever linked in our minds. She was born and raised in Fortree City, and has grown into a magnificent young woman without anyone to help her, anyone to guide her through life. And in the battles she has fought over the last few weeks, she has been undefeated, and commanded her bird pokemon like they were a part of her own self. "

    "It's rare these days that when you search for someone to hire for a job that you get the perfect package. But this time, we have. Our choice, through her experiences, her trials, and the pokemon that form a seamless partnership with her, is the perfect person to represent us, not only on the fields of battle but in the walk of life."

    "Without any further ado, let me introduce Fortree City's new gym leader, Winona Redwood!"

    The crowd roared with approval as Winona took the stage, her pokemon flapping behind her, and recieved the new gym badge that had been designed by her, an intricately colored feather. It took a few minutes for the crowd to quiet down.

    "Beautiful night, isn't it?" The crowd roared again, as it seems they would at her every word. "Very people have stood where I stand before you now, ready to become the vanguard of Fortree. The last one to do so was my father, Larsen, and he held the position for twenty full years, during which he was married, had me, lost my mother, and then lost his life to friendly fire."

    "To tell you the truth, I'm too young to be the Gym Leader. My father Larsen would have been at home right now, making us dinner. He would have been laughing with me about something that happened at school, or giving me some insight about the world that I had yet to be exposed to. But the last one was the one that made me decide to become a trainer, and I'd like to share it with you all now."

    "We were sitting by the fire on a cold winter night with our pokemon, knowing that it might be the last time we ever did. He was deploying the next day to the front lines to fight in the Splitting, and we were wrapped in blankets and just sitting together, hugging each other for the warmth, even though our heater and the fire had our house at a nice, warm temperature."

    "And I asked him, 'Dad, what do you think about all this?" 'All what?' he answered. 'All the pokemon and people that die every day, either in this war that you're about to join or in gym battles?" He told me, 'Pokemon training is inherently hypocritical. Most trainers train because they want to protect pokemon, or at least that's what they say. But if that was all they were interested in, then why are they forcing them to fight to the death with other ones?'"

    "I couldn't find an answer, so all I did was snuggle closer to him. But he kept talking. 'The truth is, when pokemon fight in the wild, usually the loser won't be killed. They'll slip away badly injured, or the other one they're fighting will show mercy, unless they're a predator. But when we put them against each other, we actually make it more dangerous for them. Today, when pokemon fight, their trainers urge them on until one or the other is dead.'"

    "He wasn't done yet. 'I struggled with this for a while.' he said.'How we could praise the battles we saw on TV, fete the winners who had blood on their claws and leave the losers to their graves. How we could say that we loved our pokemon, and send them to their deaths day after day. But then I realised one day after I became leader why we do it. We do it because both us and the pokemon we train grow from it. Us being together allows both humans and pokemon to reach their full potential. I just wish that pokemon didn't have to die for it.' And, through his life, he lived by it. He taught his pokemon to always stop before the killing blow, to always give mercy. And although it may have been hard for them to get used to, eventually they did. When he was murdered, they loved him so much that they wouldn't keep living without him. They were all dead of grief within a week." She paused, but this time the crowd was brushing tears from their eyes instead of cheering for more.

    "When they died, it told me something about what a great man my father was, and as much as I loved him, I never fully appreciated him. I hope one day, by being your Gym Leader, I can become as great a human being and as great a friend to pokemon as he was. Thank you for your time."


    Chapter Fifteen: The Other Team (open)


    The next day, I awoke early in the morning, watching the ashes rain from the sky on Route 119. Just under my window was the streets of Fallarbor, with only a few college students riding their bikes to classes. All of them, going on with their busy lives while the ashes rained down...they were fearless. No worries about a volcanic eruption, no worries about a lava flow destroying the town, just heading off to keep working towards a degree at the only university in the world that was purely focused on the study of Pokemon. Breakfast was simple, quick food-apparently it was too expensive to import full meals. I didn't blame them all the way up here. This town was the equivalent of Anville Town in Unova-in the middle of nowhere, with nothing really to draw people. Except Smogon.

    The Pokemon Center was across the street from the dorms, and I could see lights on, silent silouettes moving past windows, a gardener in a riding mower, another student with a laptop brushing past me. Then it was time for my tour to begin.

    "So, what do you think of the place now that you're here?"

    "It's very nice, but I'm not sure how I would do here. I only made it to late sophomore year in high school before I left to go training."

    "Not to worry. If you're willing to stick with it, we have athletic scholarships available."

    "Well, I was considering quitting because a few of my pokemon died recently..."

    "Don't worry. If you come here, we have facilities that pretty much ensure that pokemon won't die in battle. The last time a pokemon died in battle here was a Charmander back in 165, and that was when it got caught in a surf attack. Plus, Coach Bloo is awesome."

    "And...why has everyone else not adopted it yet?"

    "Because it's experimental. We're developing it with DevonCorp, but it's not nearly ready to be made available to the general public. Basically, what it is is a mechanism attached to poke balls that automatically withdraws a pokemon when its vital signs suggest that it's in serious danger. But we have to find the way to measure the vital signs of pokemon that don't have vitals that are analoguous to those of normal animals."

    "That sounds great. I'd love to meet the person working on it."

    "Well, we might, actually. The head of the project is Dr. Emily Rawling, and she's also the Professor of Pokemon Medicine here at Smogon. We might run into her when we pass the research hospital later on the tour."

    "Okay. So what else goes on here?"

    "Well, right now we're in front of the Dean's office. Right now the dean is Phillip."

    "What's his last name?"

    "A string of numbers...but I can't seem to remember it right now. The Dean used to be some Aeolus guy, but he wanted to retire."

    "Uhh.....okay. So what kind of classes do you guys offer?"

    "Well, obviously we specialize in pokemon studies, but we also have some regular programs. Sociology and psychology mostly. Some guy named Sam runs that, but we all just call him Uncle Sam."

    "What kind of programs do you have involving pokemon? That's really all I'd come here for, but it doesn't seem like there's much to study."

    "Are you kidding me? There's more to study about pokemon then any other field. The number of species proven to be in existence is so large and the sheer variety of them defies classification. And the adaptations some of them have made...it's incredible. We also do pokemon medicine and psychology here, and that's been helped a lot by the new machine DevonCorp invented."

    "Hmm..."

    And so it went for the rest of the tour, me asking about a thousand questions while my luckless tour guide tried to answer every one and still explain all of the buildings we were passing. By the time we reached the research hospital, both our voices were hoarse.

    "Here we go, she should be in right now."

    "Professor, this is Skarm. I was going to come anyways, but he wanted to meet you as well."

    "Glad to meet you, Skarm. You're that new trainer who's been tearing up the gym circuit, am I right?"

    "That's true, but I don't think I'll be doing it much longer."

    "That's alright, that's alright. So, what can I do for you?"

    "While we were walking around, I told him about your project, and he said he was interested in seeing how it was going."

    "We're not making great progress, actually. All of us working on the project-the other doctors, Lanette's programmers, the test trainers-we're all burnt out. We've been going on it for a year and a half, and we're only about two thirds of the way there, but the Hoenn League wants us to have working prototypes done for the championship this fall, so most everyone on the project is working 10 hour days on this alone to get it done, not counting their regular jobs. And I've got classes to teach, patients to take care of...I'm wiped out."

    "Well, I guess I sympathize with you on the work involved, but how necessary is completely reinventing the wheel? Couldn't you just piggyback off of the old poke ball?"

    "Take a look at this, you guys." Emily raised a long series of horizontally stacked blackboards until she reached the last one, where a large number of computer printouts were lined up to form a graph. "I first started putting this blackboard together when I was in grad school, and it was the basis for my dissertation. The red line is pokemon deaths; the yellow line is serious injuries like broken bones, serious burns, and the like; the green line is minor bumps and bruises that usually can be taken care of pretty quickly, and the blue line is the ranked trainer battles that the data was taken from."

    "Oh my Arceus." At the far left end of the board, back in 200, the number of battles was high but overall injuries were low, and deaths rare. Now, in 235, the number of battles was about the same, but deaths and injuries looked like the side of a mountain sharply rising up from the bottom of the blackboard.

    "You see the problem? Around 225, just before the Splitting, people and pokemon changed the way the battled. Pokemon became instruments of war more then friends, and that mindset took hold in everyone until the splitting beat it out of us. But even now, trainers haven't changed the way they've battled. And if they won't change..."

    "Then you're going to change them."

    "Exactly. If trainers can't be trusted to take care of their pokemon, then we need to put in devices that take care of their pokemon for them."

    "What kind of stuff?"

    "That's not all my area-you'd have to talk about that with Lanette. But it includes improvements that are designed around withdrawing pokemon when their vital signs go below or above a safe limit. Obviously, it won't protect them from attacks that kill them instantly, which are much more common at higher levels, but it should do very well at keeping the pokemon of average trainers safe."

    "I'd love to be involved in this. Could I do some testing for you?"

    "Ask Lanette, she has the prototypes. She lives down on Route 120 near the Meteor Falls National Park, you can see her there. But her place is always messy, and she's always busy, since she also runs the Box storage system."

    Later that day, after my pokemon and I had had a picnic (plus the cheeky little Swablu that kept trying to flap off with our food, until I captured it), we found Lanette's house. It was a little difficult to imagine how she managed to keep up payments on it when she spent most of her time on a free piece of software. The doorbell was as ornate as the rest of the house, and I only hesitated for a second before ringing it.

    "Hello!" She paused for a second, scrutinizing my face, my torn up jacket, and my belt of poke balls. "Uhh.....who are you?"

    "I'm Skarm. Professor Rawling told me to come talk to you about something you're working on for her."

    "Oh, she told me you were coming. Well, you better come in." I followed her through her expansive foyer to the first of quite a few cluttered rooms in the house, where electronics whirred all over the couches and chairs. Lanette moved a tablet out of the way and we sat down facing each other. "Sorry about the clutter, but my project is in full flow right now. So, what do you need?"

    "Well, I heard you were working on a project to protect pokemon, and I was wondering how complete it was."

    "It's not even close to completion yet. It's not just that we're just reprogramming poke balls; we're creating an entirely new kind of poke ball, which is where the time is coming in."

    "What's so different about this one compared to the old one? They both still catch pokemon, right?"

    "Yes, but we have new safety features we're building in because of the recent spikes in battle-related deaths. The new design now has internal biometric scanners that measure the vital signs of the pokemon and automatically withdraw them should they become seriously injured. It also has an improved version of the vibrating that poke balls would do when the pokemon inside them was injured and needed attention immediately."

    "That doesn't seem too hard to do. Why is it so difficult?"

    "We have to program in life signs data for each and every discovered pokemon, which means that we have to actually go out and acquire the data. For rare pokemon, we have to spend weeks trying to track down one that's owned by a trainer so we can get a baseline. And sometimes they don't agree...it's a pain, but when we finally finish it it'll make a big difference in making pokemon battles safer."

    "Well, it's NOT GOING TO HELP!" She jumped, startled. "Sorry, I shouldn't have gotten angry. But the reason pokemon die isn't because our technology is bad. It isn't because the pokemon are too strong or too weak. It's because we push them too hard. Because they love us so much that they kill themselves trying to win for us. And I'm through with it."

    "Skarm, you know as well as I do that you won't quit. If you do, you'll spend the rest of your life asking yourself whether you could have won it all."

    She was right. "I...I just don't want my pokemon to die."

    "Did I ever tell you how the poke ball actually works?" She paused briefly, tears forming in her eyes before she blinked them away. "There used to be a poke ball, back in 197, that would catch any pokemon without fail, but it was quickly banned and all copies of it were destroyed. It was called the Master Ball. So, if we have the ability to catch every pokemon without fail, why don't we?"

    "Because it was probably too expensive."

    "No, it was because of the reason it could catch every pokemon. Regular pokeballs give pokemon a choice. They can only capture pokemon who are willing to be caught. So...every one of your pokemon...they chose you. And it would be terrible of you to deny them their victory and lock them away in their poke balls forever so they won't get hurt."

    "Well...when you put it that way..."

    A crash came from the front door, and Lanette squealed in shock. Then 3 armed Magma troopers ran in.

    "Where's the Master Ball?"

    "Why would you think I have it?"

    "We know you have it. If you don't give it to us, there could be problems."

    "If you have it, just give it to them. It's illegal anyways and there's no reason to get shot over it."

    "Okay................"she whispered. "I had it in case I ran into a wild pokemon that I couldn't get away from. So I could save myself. It's upstairs in my office." She stood up and started up the stairs with the Magma soldiers following close behind, but while they were facing away from me she signaled me to leave.

    I stood up and walked out the door, where I could see Lanette handing them the ball. It had the normal white bottom of a pokeball, but instead of the red top it had a purple top with a red M painted on top.

    Then three men in blue outfits walked up to me.

    "Have you seen any men in red outfits come by?"

    "Yeah, they're inside right now. If you hurry you could catch them!"

    The three men rushed inside, and a second later Lanette came running out onto the small balcony outside her office. She swung herself over the railing and landed next to me.

    "You alright, Lanette?"

    "Yeah, I'm fine. Knew I should have threw that thing out."

    "No, it's fine. I--" Just then, bursts of gunfire began rattling through the house, and we both started running."

    "Lanette, where are we going?"

    "I know a place we can hide out! Just follow me!"

    We ran up the slopes of a path carved into the mountain, where a cave entrance loomed at the end. The Magma grunts had left the house in their cars, closely followed by the blue men, who were on bicycles.

    "Quick, climb up here! They'll think we ran into the main entrance!" She pointed to another entrance, smaller and out of the way. It took a few attempts to climb the gravel slope that lead to it.

    "Skarm...you alright?"

    "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. So, why are they chasing us?"

    "Because that wasn't the real master ball. Now SHH! They're right beneath us!" We were crouched on an overhang, looking down at the Magma grunts, who were talking with the 3 men in blue outfits that, now that I was looking, seemed to mirror theirs.

    "All of them?"

    "Yeah. Now SHH!!" The golden walls of Meteor Falls easily carried the voices of the Magma grunts and the mysterious visitors up to us.

    "Who the FUCK are you?"

    "You haven't heard of us? Well, I guess there's no reason to pay attention to us...too busy messing with your little baking soda experiment."

    "You're too ignorant to understand our goals. Someone remind me why we're making a deal with these chumps again?"

    "Well, it's not really a "deal" per se. See, we've come here to make you an offer you can't refuse. Either you give us the meteorite and go back to your boss or..."

    "OR WHAT? Come on guys, this is bullshit, let's leave."

    "Or we can fill you with lead and return you to Maxie that way." The three men in blue suddenly had submachine guns in their hands, probably drawn from within their coats. The Magma soldiers reached into their coats. "Stop." The blue man in the center took off his hood to reveal his face. I almost laughed when I saw it, because he looked like a pirate. "Killing is, of course, not my primary goal, but I will if I have to. So let's all put away the guns and give up the meteorite like gentlemen. And by all of us, I mean you."

    The Magma men backed up and raised their hands. "Okay, okay....calm down. We don't have the meteorite."

    "So WHERE IS IT!"

    "We already gave it to Maxie up on Mount Chimney. It's long gone, we just lead you here to throw you off."

    "Very well then, you've made your decision." The man in the center raised his gun and fired twice. Blood spattered from the head of one of the Magma grunts and from the leg of the other. "Now, go crawl off back to Maxie and tell him Archie sends his regards."

    After they were safely gone, I walked out of the cave with Lanette and called the park rangers at Mount Chimney.

    "Hey, have any suspicious people been around the past few days?"

    The phone hung up.

    "Son of a---" The ground rumbled and we both fell down as a fresh flow of ash rose from distant Mt. Chimney's peak.

    laws of nature (open)

    1. Trainers may only catch pokemon that they are preordained to meet.

    2. If a pokemon faints, it cannot be revived.

    3. Death is permanent-but so is glory.


    Obituary (open)

    [​IMG]
    Bounty (F)
    Careful/Pickup
    Level 4-17

    >Headbutt
    >Cut
    >Tail Whip
    >Tackle

    Quite honestly, Bounty got screwed over. It had pretty much no restrictions outside of the solos, but the solos were the hard part. But the one that was the worst was soloing my rival's starter, which was May's Combusken. In game, me using Set probably screwed over Bounty, because me switching her in allowed Combusken to get a free Focus Energy. After that, it missed the first Double Kick, allowing Bounty to land a Headbutt. When it did land a Double Kick, it was a 2 hit DOUBLE CRIT (wtf.....) which killed Bounty from 100% to 0 (although, to be fair, the first crit took him down to red as it was).

    [​IMG]
    Emo (F)
    Timid/Chlorophyll
    Level 2-20

    >Bide
    >Harden
    >Nature Power
    >Fake Out

    Yeah, Emo was a victim of my fail prediction, to be honest. She died in pretty much exactly the way I depicted her death in the prose; Voltorb just wasn't using Selfdestruct no matter how much I baited it, so eventually I just switched in Emo to fight with Fake Out and Nature Power, which I knew was Rock Throw inside the gym for some reason (wtf). I could have switched in Flapper, but I was afraid that the Voltorb would Thunder Wave, burning one of its precious few extra lives, and then Selfdestruct on the switch in. I planned to Fake Out with Emo to bait the Selfdestruct and then switch back to Aron to tank it. Unfortunately, as soon as I switched in, Voltorb used Selfdestruct, so it was kind of a bait and switch fail on my part. :(


    This post is no longer being used (too big to edit thanks to my crappy computer). To see the latest updates, go here.
  21. Its_A_Random

    Its_A_Random Returns true
    is a Forum Moderatoris a Community Contributor
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2010
    Messages:
    2,278
    shinyskarmory, take Flapper the Cheri Berry Zubat with a few differences.

    Apart from the obligatory "Must hold a Cheri Berry to fight, must switch out if it loses its berry", Flapper, seeing you are doing a Scramblocke, decides to weigh you down. It cannot leave the party while it is alive. It cannot be the lowest leveled member on the party while it's alive. Of course, having to put up with a dead-weight Pokemon will probably make you kill it/not capture it, right? Wrong. You must catch it before you face Brawly. And when you try to kill it...It doesn't die! That's right, if it faints, you must throw away one Cheri Berry, & Flapper will stay alive. If you can't afford the cost, not only will Flapper die, but he'll murder one of your Scramblocke mons with it! That is, It cannot die while you own a Cheri Berry, whether it be in your bag or Flapper is holding one. If it faints, you must throw one away...And it stays alive. If you cannot pay the cost, it & another member on your team is taken with it.

    Have fun...Go on, reject this! You know you want to...
  22. Arceustar

    Arceustar

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2012
    Messages:
    225
    Killer the Torchic

    Choose 7 Numbered Rules

    1) Must not evolve until Winona
    2) Must be the weakest mon on your team
    3) Never let him out of party
    4) Dies automatically at Tate & Liza
    5) Solo two gym leaders
    6) Can never hold an item
    7) Must never use Fire STAB
    8) Must never use Fighting STAB
    9) Must use a status move before attacking
    10) Solo an Elite 4 Member

    You must have the lettered rules

    A) Can't die until you complete the necessary solos (But can die on last solo)
    B) Catch all Pokemon when Blaze is active
    C) Killer must catch all your Pokemon
  23. Srs Bisnis

    Srs Bisnis

    Joined:
    May 16, 2010
    Messages:
    77
    Starting a Marvel-themed Scramble in HeartGold.

    Rules:

    1- I want fun challenges. I will reject anything that requires obvious grinding.
    2- All Pokemon must evolve.
    3- I can reject challenges.
    4- I would like a starter.
    5- All challenges must be based on characters from Marvel, whether they be good or evil.
  24. Arceustar

    Arceustar

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2012
    Messages:
    225
    Reserving Iron Man the Magnemite
  25. King Serperior

    King Serperior

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2011
    Messages:
    3,029
    Reserving for Shiny and Srs Bisnis!!

    Editing now!

    Shiny's challenge:
    Show Hide

    Take Bounty the Zigzagoon.

    Bounty is a bounty-hunter and has learned that these criminals are in Hoenn!!
    1). The Pick-Axe Murderer (Killed 20 people): location - in First gym [Solo a trainer in the first Gym]
    2). Mr. Strangler (Killed 50 people): location - In the second gym [Solo one trainer in the second gym]
    3). The Electicutioner (Killed 96 people): location - In the third gym [Solo one trainer in the third Gym]
    4). The Arson Queen (Burned down 7 schools and killed 140 people): location - In the fourth gym [Solo one trainer in the fourth gym]
    5). The Hidden (Assassinated 180 people using an ancient revolver): location - In the fifth gym [Solo one trainer in the fifth gym.]
    6). The Baron (Killed 230 people and sabotaged three planes): location - In the sixth gym [Solo one trainer in the sixth gym]
    7). The Death Goddess (Killed 300 people by hypnotizing them into committing suicide): location - in the seventh gym [Solo one trainer in the seventh gym]
    8). The Drowning man (Killed over 700 people by blowing up a criuse liner): location - The Eighth gym [Solo one trainer in the eighth gym]

    Along the way, you meet up with an informer (your rival) who gives you information about the targets. Solo her starter to force her to give you information in each battle.

    When you get to victory road, you must solo 5 Elite trainers as they are a major Crime syndicate!!

    If Bounty ever dies, place him in a box marked "Funeral" and give him a Revive to hold as he believed that he was unstoppable.


    Edit: dropping Bisnis's mon.

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