Chapter Twenty-Seven – Bonds

Erik shivered ominously as he eyed the looming two-tier castle in front of him. Darkness inhabited each slit in the wall that would pass as a window, with frail flames dancing atop wooden torches sitting above a raised portcullis, the sharp points at the end gleaming menacingly in the dim torchlight. The moderately sized mouth in which the portcullis rested made for the castle’s entrance, as Erik sighted narrow, shadowy corridors splitting off both to the left and the right at an angle.

As Erik crunched through the crisp, dried out grass towards a small machine he considered his opponent who remained hidden behind the daunting structure. The man he now faced in battle would know every corridor, every pathway and every crevice within the beckoning labyrinth. This was Sidney’s arena.

He cautiously crept towards the strange machine, still quite some way away from the castle, and studied it. The large panel sat above a stand, comprised entirely of metal. On its face lay a speaker, a microphone and a television screen surrounded by six different buttons. Erik assumed that each button linked to one of the six pairs of goggles which dangled from the panel’s underside.

“Glacia fell before this labyrinth I have constructed,” a voice hissed and crackled from the speakers, Erik rapidly releasing it was Sidney who spoke. “Now you will too, little boy.”

“What is all this?” Erik queried, fiddling with a pair of goggles and moving his hand over the buttons linked to the television screen.

“That’s where you will watch your Pokemon die,” Sidney hissed, before his voice made way for static.

“So you crushed your friend Wally?” another voice took over the speaker. Steven’s.

“Back off, Steven,” Erik snapped, he was in a foul mood and had no time for the Champion’s jibes.

“Only in round two and already losing your cool?” Steven laughed. “Oh well, you shan’t make it any further. Sidney shall see to that!” Erik felt his blood pressure stubbornly rise as anger boiled within him. “As always, I’ll be watching!” Steven finished.

Erik grabbed a Pokeball on his belt and release Iron beside him. Steven had aggravated him, but he knew that’s exactly what the Champion was attempting to do, he had to keep himself focused. The Lairon beside him roared as Erik fitted the goggles onto him, he had chosen to replace the fallen Splash with Iron after his only allowed foray into storage during the tournament, and now he was stuck with the team of six who lay attached to his belt.

The screen on the panel lit up as it detected goggles attached to a Pokemon. The small television showed Erik exactly what Iron saw, as if he were looking out his Lairon’s eyes.

“Iron,” he spoke softly towards his newest addition to the team. “I don’t know what awaits you inside, but trust in your steel armour and belief in yourself. We’ll defeat this guy.” The Pokemon purred towards his trainer, before slowly embarking on his journey towards the fortress.

As Iron disappeared into the castle and out of his sight, Erik switched to the screen, watching the battle unfold through his Pokemon’s eyes.

Narrow, dark hallways were illuminated dimly by flames which leapt off the walls as they flickered and faded perilously atop wooden sticks. Metal grates rattled as Iron cautiously plodded along them as holes devoid of light lurked in the roof. Both Iron and his trainer suspected an attack from any direction, the whole labyrinth was set up perfectly for an ambush by Sidney’s Pokemon.

A glimmer of movement snapped Iron’s attention towards the grates below him as light reflected off the water below. A Mightyena sprung his trap, emerging from a hole in the roof. Sidney’s Pokemon sunk his fangs into the distracted Lairon, puncturing his unarmoured sides, before retreating once more down the corridors using his superior speed.

Iron struggled in his attempts to keep pace, before stopping suddenly to regain breath. The Lairon’s preferred fight was in the open, using his raw strength and thick, steel armour to overpower opponents. A battle within shadows was a costly mistake on Erik’s part, and the trainer had no way of recalling his Pokemon unless Iron somehow retreated out of the castle before the Mightyena caught him. Erik then realised he also had no way to communicate with his Pokemon.

Sidney’s Pokemon struck again. As Iron scanned the roofs, a metal grate screeched open from below him and terrifying fangs plunged into his underbelly, piercing his exposed skin amongst howls of pain.

As the Mightyena retreated, Iron made for the exit. Galloping along the thin hallways back to his trainer. The Lairon took a left, then a right, then another left, but only served to bury himself deeper within the labyrinth of musty, dank corridors. As Iron stopped to gather breath once more, shaking within his horrified frame, Sidney’s Mightyena moved for a finishing blow.

“Iron,” Erik whispered. He knew his bond with the Lairon was still fresh, and therefore weak, but he had to try to communicate with his Pokemon somehow. “Believe in yourself, I need you. We will get through this trial together, I promise. You just have to trust me.”

The television screen lost picture, darkness consuming the screen as the Mightyena plunged his fangs into the Lairon for a final time. Erik slammed his eyes shut as he prepared for the tearing pain that relentlessly tormented him when he lost a Pokemon. It never came. He guessed that the bond between himself and his Pokemon was still too fragile for him to feel it.

A flash of light caught Erik’s eye from the television, causing him to glance back to the screen. The picture had returned to show the Mightyena had been tossed off Iron and was now scrambling back to his feet.

Iron stood on his hind legs and summoned a miniature-earthquake as the Mightyena scampered away. It took Erik only a few moments to realise that his Lairon had evolved into an Aggron, and the newly evolved Pokemon was set to win his matchup as the roof tumbled down and crashed into the Mightyena in his attempts to retreat.

Erik pumped his fist into the air as his Aggron came back through the labyrinth towards him. Jaded but alive, the steel and ground dual type smashed through walls as if they were balsawood in a straight line directly back towards his trainer. The crushed stone walls also lead a direct pathway for any of Erik’s Pokemon towards the centre of the castle, and a quick retreat for his team if they needed it, but he still felt as if the carved road through the fortress was merely a drop within the labyrinthian ocean.

He released Rocky into the fray, who entered the castle and instead of taking the path off to the left hand side as Iron did, Erik’s Camerupt chose the path to the right. Erik turned his gaze once more towards the screen, seeing the labyrinth through his Camerupt’s eyes.

Rocky tentatively crept along the dimly lit hallways, expecting an ambush from any angle. He refused to allow the calmly moving water trickling underneath his feet to distract him, and pressed on through the winding, ceaseless corridors with fire brimming in his mouth prepared for a swift retaliation if necessary.

Sudden movement snapped Rocky to attention. The Camerupt launched flames at the skittering sound as razor-sharp leaves fell to the floor, burnt to a crisp. Rocky stumbled over to the remnants of the failed attack, until a fierce blow smashed into his chest. A Shiftry began a barrage of blows, feinting before launching a sucker punch then rapidly striking with the other leaf-covered fist.

Rocky was thrown to the ground by the force of the barrage. The Camerupt struggled to his feet, readying another attack, but when he looked back, the Shiftry was gone, to be replaced by more sounds of movement.

“Rocky,” Erik whispered, holding his hand to his chest and hoping the words would travel through his soul to his Camerupt’s. “Blaze used to light up dark places with fire, try it.”

Erik’s Camerupt looked across the narrow corridor, before slowly walking backwards in an attempt to retreat, as if he hadn’t heard his trainer. Sharp leaves rapidly came into his vision, painfully piercing his flesh as they planted themselves within his skin, seemingly striking from all directions. He had reached the end of the corridor as more leaves appeared in his sight.

Rocky bellowed, then released flames. His flamethrower incinerated the leaves, shooting out in a straight line and engulfing the entire corridor, illuminating it. As the flames died, shadows were cast in the fading light’s remnants. The Shiftry was above him, lurking within a hidden hole in the roof.

“Got him,” Erik shouted in glee, as his Camerupt ignited the Shiftry. Rocky began his steady retreat towards his trainer after defeating his opponent, before having to hasten his exit as water began flooding the castle’s first tier.

Erik released Dancer in preparation for a water-typed opponent, the Pikachu attaching the goggles as her trainer fiddled with the buttons beside the screen, eventually finding the correct one. Dancer leapt into the castle at fast speed, using the rising water as a elevator to lift her to the second floor through one of the holes in the roof.

Moss painted the castle’s cobblestone walls on the unremarkable second floor. A large square room with a score of gaps and crevices within the ground, all now filled with dank, dirty water. Torches once more dimly illuminated the second tier, and Erik guess tell the room was bitterly cold as the screen shook whilst Dancer shivered.

A large fin pointed out of a hole in the floor, before quickly vanishing back into the depths. Dancer reacted almost instantly, launching boisterous bolts of electricity towards the gap in the ground. A patch of water lit up temporarily, before the stone surface greedily soaked up the voltage. The fin appeared again, a different hole this time, but the end result remained reminiscent of the last as Dancer’s attack was abolished by the cobblestone.

Erik knew that his Pikachu was forced to enter the water, whilst her foe remained in its element. Flashes of Dancer’s struggles in her fight against Wallace sprang to Erik’s mind as doubt and apprehension struck him. Before he had time to reach out to his Pokemon, Dancer dipped her toe in the water before diving into the lake.

The waters were pitch black as Dancer sank from the hole in the roof, a thin cone of light emanating from the room she had just left illuminating only her. She attempted to brighten her surroundings by emitting thin trickles of electricity, the currents conducting and partially lighting up small sections of the lake around herself. Which remained empty. She tried again, using a little more voltage this time, allowing her to see what was directly in front of her. A Sharpedo’s gaping mouth.

Ferocious and robust jaws slammed down on Erik’s Pikachu as Dancer clenched the Sharpedo’s mouth with his hands and feet, flagging and failing in her desperate endeavours to prevent Sidney’s Pokemon from crushing her within his knife-like teeth. Dancer shook violently at the effort as Erik searched his mind for a solution. His Pikachu cried in agony at the stress on her body as the Sharpedo’s jaws lowered ever more, she was fighting an impossible battle and the only thing keeping her from her fate was time.

“Come on girl,” Erik whispered, clutching his heart. “I remember stealing you from that contest, and you hated me. But you’re all I have left from back then. Everyone we had with us then has been lost. Blaze, Ice, Roller, Leaf, Ninja…And all the others…” As tears pricked Erik’s eyes the screen lit up.

Dancer had summoned the rest of her energy to electrify the Sharpedo from within, the aquatic beast recoiling and releasing her from his grip as Erik’s Pikachu floated up towards the gap in the roof, towards oxygen and respite. The water drained back into the floor as Sharpedo was defeated, as Dancer jumped back to the first floor then forced her limp body down Iron’s carved pathway, back towards her trainer and safety. Erik released Bat in her place.

Through the screen Erik could see Bat glide through lengthy hallways and swoop around sharp turns. Pools of water remained on the cobbled floors from where the corridors had flooded, as the torches mounted upon the walls had somehow relit themselves, flames dancing feebly on top. Erik’s Crobat was at home within the dark, dank castle as he swept through yet another corridor, then around a corner, and into the next hallway. Until a blade sliced into him.

Bat flopped to the floor, smashing into the stone surface with a limp crash. An Absol loitered over him, the beast honing his blade with his sharp claws, preparing for a final flourish.

“Bat, come back to me,” Erik ordered his Pokemon, once again whispering to himself and hoping his friend heard his words.

The Crobat ascended into the air once more and began its retreat, nimbly fluttering through the corridors at half his usual pace. Absol was chasing, and almost upon him as the thick blade atop its skull gleamed eagerly within the torchlight. Bat swooped around a corner, the Absol skidding as it sharply span around the bend, only a few paces away as it slowly but steadily caught up to Erik’s Crobat.

Bat fiercely flapped his wings, attempting to force his bleeding body through the castle, his pursuer so close he could almost feel its breath on his skin. Hope found him in the form of beckoning light which pierced the castle’s open mouth. He was within inches of the entrance when the Absol made his move, leaping into the air and pointing his bladed head in the Crobat’s direction. As soon as the Absol was within range, he moved his head sideways to slash his foe with a wild swipe. A scream of pain erupted from the castle entrance before it alarmingly dissipated as the sufferer disintegrated within a beam of energy.

Erik had recalled Bat into his Pokeball at the last moment, as Soar annihilated the Absol with his signature attack. His Latios was too large to fly through the corridors, and too lumbersome on the ground to be risked, so Erik allowed Seal to take the final fight, his Walrein crawling into the dark tunnels of the labyrinth, preparing himself for whatever awaited within.

As Seal flopped through the corridors, leaves shot out from ahead, rapidly rotating through the air as fading firelight gleamed off of their sharp edges. Erik’s Walrein scolded them within a beam of ice, the frozen leaves tumbling to the floor and smashing at the impact. Black needles like pins were next to fly through the corridor, many avoiding Seal’s ice beams and piercing into his skin, resulting in wails of pain from the Walrein.

“Seal,” Erik whispered. “Finish this.”

His Walrein complied, roaring as he summoned the waters lying dormant underneath him which smashed through the grills and surrounded Seal. Erik’s Pokemon launched waves of water down the corridor, riding one of them himself as he crashed into a Cacturne. As Sidney’s Pokemon lay prone on the ground, Seal blasted him with beams of ice, finishing the fight as Erik won the second round of five.

Seal crawled out of the castle to join the rest of Erik’s team as a nurse moved to each and every member, healing them all with potions and other various items. A noise crackled from the panel as the speaker blared into action.

“How did you conquer my castle?” Sidney’s voice rasped through the panel.

“Two down, three to go, well done Erik!” Steven’s voice called, cutting off the Master of Dark Types. “The two weakest, may I add?”

“Four to go,” Erik corrected him as he spoke into the microphone. “I’m coming for you, and there’s no way you’re going to stop me.”

“I won’t have to. My good friend Phoebe will do that for me.”

“Phoebe lost to Drake, she’s out the tournament,” Erik declared.

“You entered so late that only three trainers remained, I had to allow another two to re-enter, and as members of the old Elite Four, Phoebe and Glacia have been reinstated into the tournament.”

“You keep trying to take me down. You’ll keep failing. By the end of this day I will be Champion, Steven. I promise you that.”

“We’ll see about that, Erik,” the Champion responded, before static again replaced his voice.

Dust, dirt and thin layers of smoke clogged the ground as cracked and decayed tombstones rose out of it. A purple tint surrounded the stadium, leading from the abandoned two story building on Erik’s left, to the desolate hut on his right. At the other side of the room stood a woman whose dark skin was clad in nothing more than an aqua blue swimsuit with her short, dark hair sat flanked by two large flowers. Erik sensed that the “Ghost Whisperer” bore a dark underlayer masked by her innocent and energetic appearance.

After the nurse had healed Erik’s team, she had directed him to the next arena. Phoebe’s arena. It mirrored the trainer, as Erik sensed that the ordinary looking stadium was not as plain as it seemed.

“Heard you beat the little freak Sidney?” Phoebe shouted across the room, her high pitched voice catching in the smoke as Erik strained his ears to hear. “Doubt I have much chance then!” she giggled in response.

“Yeah right,” Erik growled to himself, refusing to underestimate his opponent. She launched a Pokeball into the air, revealing her first Pokemon as a Dusclops. Erik followed with Seal, who flopped onto the floor and hastily waddled up onto the battlefield. The purple substance that contaminated the arena licked up at the Walrein and began lazily sucking at his lifeforce, draining him of his health. As Erik studied the battlefield for a solution, a shroud of fog enveloped the arena as Phoebe’s Dusclops vanished within.

As Seal toiled within the purple smoke’s embrace, a violet sphere of ghostly energy crashed into him, sapping at his strength as the Dusclops disappeared once more into the fog after the attack. Seal launched beams of ice in a dozen directions, desperately attempting to hit his aggressor who had vanished without leaving a trace.

A sinister flash of light beamed its way towards Seal, who consumed the ray unwillingly. Dusclops’s attack dazzled and confused the Walrein, as Erik’s Pokemon began to see many figures inhabiting the fog in his bewildered state. A legion of Dusclops moved in unison, and when one disappeared within a beam of ice, another shortly took its place as a shadowy figure lurking within the fog.

“Seal!,” Erik boomed, an idea forming in his mind. “You can’t attack them one by one, so attack them all at once!”

His Walrein stuttered as he comprehended the thought, then unleashed a violent wave of water so large it washed not only the entire army of Dusclops away, but penetrated the fog, cleaving the shroud in half as the smoke slowly dissipated from the arena after being split. Erik let out a slight cheer before seeing Phoebe’s Dusclops limp back to her trainer, the Ghost Whisperer then handing her Pokemon a Full Restore.

“Where’d you get that?” Erik demanded of his foe, his voice travelling clearly through the cleaner air.

“Steven handed me one,” Phoebe smiled sweetly. “He gave us all some from his personal collection.”

“You heard her correctly,” Steven’s voice blared irritatingly through the speakers on the walls. Erik hadn’t noticed them before now. “And more surprises await you throughout!”

“All you are is Giovanni’s lapdog!” Erik yelled. “A pawn in his game!”

“Sore loser?” Steven retorted. “Anyway, back to the fight, I’m enjoying this,” he finished, as his voice vanished.

Erik felt a tinge of relief as his gaze returned to the battlefield. For the first time since his battle with Wally, a straight-up fight was due to commence between Seal and Phoebe’s Dusclops. Or so he had initially thought. The Dusclops performed a strange sort of ritual, culminating in his own sacrifice as he placed a curse upon Seal.

A strange mark carved itself onto Seal’s back, as the Walrein’s skin slowly lost its clear blue colour, becoming much more pale looking. As Seal turned back to Erik, his Pokemon collapsed and began heaving, unable to stand nevermind fight off the approaching Banette.

Erik acted swiftly, rapidly recalling Seal into his Pokeball as he released Rocky onto the battlefield. Phoebe’s Banette fell back, retreating into the windowless hut. The battered wooden door creaked upon like it sensed the Pokemon’s presence as the Banette turned to face the Camerupt. Her ghostly eyes seemed to glow a mesmeric crimson as she glared at Rocky, before the door shut itself, locking her within.

“Rocky, burn that hut down,” Erik commanded his Pokemon, who resiliently refused. “Rocky?” he tried again, but it was too late. His Camerupt began marching towards the hut like a husk in a trance, caught within the Banette’s hypnotic trap.

He had heard rumours of Phoebe, how her Pokemon had developed strange powers within her arena. The powers of possession. He recalled his father warning him of the Elite Four when he was young, how they all manipulated their opponents, their Pokemon, their arenas or all three. Whilst “The Master of Dark Types” loved to instill fear in his foes, ambushing them within his labyrinth, “The Ghost Whisperer” had somehow taught her Pokemon the powers of possession, and any opposing Pokemon that entered either the hut or the house would either fall mysteriously ill, or become possessed by her own. And his Camerupt was nearing the hut’s door.

The thought terrified him. Not just the possession, but losing Rocky. It finally hit him, like a smack across the face, the realisation that ever since Blaze had fallen and he had taken his Numel out of storage to be the replacement fire type in his team, that’s all Rocky had been to him. Blaze’s replacement, a mere shadow of his former fire type. He had never treated Rocky fairly or shown him the love that his Numel, now a Camerupt, had deserved. And all Rocky had ever done was strive for that love, in constant attempts to prove himself to his trainer.

“I’m so sorry,” Erik whispered whilst moving a hand to his heart. “I just miss Blaze, and I suppose I’ve never showed you the love you deserve because all I can think about is how much I blame myself for losing him. From now on, that will change, I promise. Please, I don’t want to lose you like I did Blaze. I need you.”

Rocky stopped, before turning his head to look at his trainer with sorrow-filled eyes. The door to the hut swung open as it detected a Pokemon’s presence, as the Banette eagerly awaited on the other side, her eyes glowing fiercely. The Camerupt roared and smothered the small structure in fire, burning the hut to the ground and defeating the Banette within.

“How?!” Phoebe screeched. “How did you break the possession?!”

Erik grinned towards her then nodded in approval towards his Camerupt.

“Right,” Phoebe began. “I will show you my true power!”

“Bring it on,” Erik snapped back, as a Sableye faced up to Rocky.

The Ghost Whisperer’s Sableye scampered to the abandoned house, shutting the creaky wooden door behind it. Rocky stumbled up to the building hesitantly, expecting an ambush which never came. Erik’s Camerupt planted all four feet on the ground and launched a burst of flames at the wooden structure, expecting it to ignite and the fires to consume his opponent within.

Fire smacked against the wooden walls, deflecting off the building and shooting back towards the aggressor as Rocky was smothered within his own fires. Erik’s Camerupt was left with no choice, he would have to enter the house if he were to take the fight to his opponent.

The wooden building creaked and swayed ominously as if it were trapped within a permanent gale of wind. The door remained shut until Rocky was within inches of it, whereupon it swung open violently, the dark interior enticing the Camerupt to enter.

Rocky put one paw inside, then another, before a foul violet gas ascended from the rotten floorboards and swam through the air as the Camerupt inhaled the toxins. Rocky retreated, galloping out of the house and back towards his trainer, like Seal before him, he collapsed, his frame a sickly pale.

“Bat will suit this,” Erik thought as he recalled Rocky in his Pokeball and released his Crobat.

Bat shot towards the building, before drifting across the top floor in an effort to spot the Sableye within. Failing to sight his foe, the Crobat launched spits of poison through the windows, swooping back and forth between the openings as he attempted to strike his opponent with venom.

A translucent ball of spiritual energy emerged from one of the openings and smashed into Bat, knocking the Crobat off balance and seemingly forcing Erik’s Pokemon into a trance. Bat fluttered through the air towards the building, descending towards the door which the Sableye opened, beckoning his opponent within. As Bat’s skin turned pale, he collapsed on the floor just outside the house. Erik scrambled about his belt for the Pokeball, as Phoebe’s Sableye dragged Bat into the rotting structure.

A sear of pain flashed across Erik’s heart as the door slammed shut. Suddenly, agony struck as the bond between himself and his Pokemon was shattered, the soul-tearing pain wreaking havoc across his body.

“Bat!” he squeaked. It was as if with every Pokemon he lost, the torment would grow only more powerful. He wondered why few other trainer’s reacted this way on losing a Pokemon, even Wally barely showed signs of it. Maybe the bonds he forged between his friends were so substantial, so pure, which would explain what Steven was telling him all those weeks ago. He was a rare breed of trainer, able to connect and bond with any Pokemon, and the created connections were so strong it made him such a formidable trainer.

“Dancer,” Erik whispered to his next Pokeball. “Don’t let that Sableye get away with this.”

Erik’s Pikachu leapt onto the battlefield, and considered how she could assault the house. Until both her and her trainer gasped in shock. Sableye suddenly emerged from within, walking out the front door as if the battle had been won, he strolled a few paces before opening his arms and looking to the sky, allowing Dancer to defeat him. The Pikachu willingly obliged, electrocuting Phoebe’s Pokemon.

“Here we go!” Phoebe yelled excitedly. “I love this part!”

“What part-” Erik began, before both he and his Pikachu recoiled in horror. “What?!”

A Crobat flew out of one of the windows, skin sickly pale and eyes glowing a possessed purple.

“Possession!” Phoebe shouted in glee.

Through her shock, Dancer almost failed to react to Bat’s venomous bite, deftly dodging the attack at the last moment, before the possessed Crobat spun around for a second strike, poison oozing from his fangs.

“Dancer!” Erik shouted in horror as Bat closed in. “You have to kill it! That’s not Bat anymore!”

His Pikachu hesitated, struggling to comprehend her companion’s change. The Crobat closed in, no trace of his soul left remaining within as bloodlust swallowed his eyes. Dancer struck up the courage to electrify her old friend, shooting bolts of electricity towards Bat and strangling her foe with the voltage. The Crobat tumbled to the ground as the violet in his eyes flickered then faded, leaving Erik to recall the defeated Pokemon back into its Pokeball.

“Wow!” Phoebe yelled. “Not many trainers beat their own Pokemon! I suppose I’ll possess your Pikachu next!”

“Never!” Erik roared, the battle was taking a strain on him, he now feared for any of his Pokemon who entered the house, as a Banette floated within and beckoned Dancer to follow.

To Erik’s terror, Dancer complied. His Pikachu had seemingly entered some sort of trance, strolling casually up to the house as the door opened to welcome her.

“Dancer,” Erik whispered, clutching his chest in a desperate attempt to communicate with his Pokemon. “Please, after all we’ve been through together, you’re all I have left now from back then. Don’t you go too, please.”

It was no use, his words had no effect on the hypnotised Pikachu who creeped to the door as the Banette opened her arms in a welcoming embrace. Dancer took one final look at her trainer, locking eyes with Erik, who attempted to contort his face into a smile at his Pokemon, to no response but a glint in Dancer’s eye.

His Pikachu launched bolts of electricity through the opened door, shocking everything within as the currents conducted through the Banette, frying Phoebe’s penultimate Pokemon as the Ghost Whisperer’s hopes of winning the battle were left in the balance.

Erik breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the tension ease from his muscles. “Never do that to me again!” he shouted to Dancer who sprinted up to her trainer and hugged his leg. He made the decision to withdraw her and release Iron, as Phoebe’s Dusknoir crept into the building.

“Tear it down,” Erik growled fiercely to his Aggron, who responded stamping his feet ferociously as he sounded a chorus of barbaric roars, summoning an earthquake which ripped the building from its foundations and smashed the supports. As the building collapsed, the Dusknoir escaped, leaving the Ghost Whisperer’s Pokemon in a matchup with Iron, with nothing to hide behind.

Iron roared once more, before the titanic beast dug through sections of the ground with his claws and hurled the chunks of earth at his foe. Phoebe’s Dusknoir phased through the mounds of dirt tossed at him, avoiding the attacks and responding by launching spheres of spiritual energy at his foe.

Erik’s Aggron endured the attacks as Phoebe’s Dusknoir gulped a Full Restore before returning to the battlefield and continuing its relentless assault. Spheres of ghostly energy smashed into Iron time and time again the the Dusknoir twirled around his foe, the Aggron unable to connect with a swipe of his metallic tail.

Iron spread his feet on the ground as another attack crashed into him, the Dusknoir circled once more, preparing what could be the final assault on his opponent. Erik’s Aggron summoned another earthquake which rocked the entire arena, cracks snaked their way through the ground, surrounding the two warring Pokemon. A fissure carved its way through the graveyard, cutting the ground underneath the Dusknoir and trapping Phoebe’s Pokemon within its clutches. Iron stumbled over to the snared Dusknoir and crushed it with one vigorous stomp.

Erik had defeated the Ghost Whisperer.

“How?” Phoebe said despondently as Erik approached her.

“What’s possession and how do I use it?” Erik demanded, to a shocked look from the woman. A nurse fluttered around his Pokemon, applying yet more healing items and curing both Seal and Rockys’ illnesses.

“Most people who see it in action quiver in fear, you actually want to know how to use it?!” she said, exasperated.

“If it helps me take down Steven,” Erik replied as the woman backed away slightly.

“It takes training and know-how, you wouldn’t be able to learn that quickly. Besides, there are many secrets to it that you don’t understand.”

“What sort of secrets?” Erik replied, seeing a glimmer in Phoebe’s eye which portrayed wisdom and age that belied the woman’s young appearance.

“So then, Erik!” Steven interrupted as Phoebe slinked away. “You’re through to round four! I’m actually going to start backing you against Glacia. Drake on the other hand, nope, you’ll definitely lose that one.”

“Glacia must be weak if you think I’ll beat her!” Erik snapped backwards, confidence rising within him.

“Not at all! She’ll take down a few of your Pokemon for sure. How’s Bat by the way? He looked a little, I don’t know, not like himself?”

Erik gritted his teeth, choking a retort before changing the subject. “Where’s the Ice Queen’s arena?”

Glacia’s snow-white long hair clung to her shoulders as a flowing white dress covered her pale skin. The aging woman seemed impervious to the subzero temperatures within her arena, as her cool voice called over the sheets of ice towards Erik.

“So what do you think of my Palace?” she asked, her trailing voice sweet within the bitter air.

Erik scanned the stadium before replying. The “Ice Palace” was predominantly a layer of ice stretched across a frozen lake, the ice threatening to fracture if any Pokemon too heavy set foot on it. Icicles clung treacherously to the roof, with scores of them clustered near where Erik’s Pokemon would lay. Erik himself stood within a few inches of snow, his feet entrenched within the covered ground as he shook violently in the frozen air. Ordering his Pokemon to attack from here would likely prove fruitless, as blocks of ice lurked atop the frozen lake, serving as a barrier to any attacks. The large mounds of ice appeared to encase metal beams, meaning even fire blasts would be soaked up by the blockades.

“Nothing?” Glacia spoke again, as Erik’s thoughts remained fixed on his team. Rocky and Iron were far too heavy for the ice and Soar was weak against the type’s attacks. Seal would take to the arena like a dream, although the Walrein’s attacks would be cancelled out by his opponent’s typing. It also remained to be seen whether Dancer could cope with the cold, and unless Glacia stocked water Pokemon, she would have no type advantage.

“Our challenger has gone quiet!” Steven spoke through another set of speakers, his voice piercing through the cold. “Weeping over Bat?”

Fire flared within him, warming his cold body and relieving his tight, shivering muscles. The more Steven taunted him, the more he couldn’t wait to defeat him. He considered which Pokemon to use as Glacia tossed a Glalie’s Pokeball into the air, the ice-type Pokemon emerging and levitating over the sheets of ice underneath him.

“Those metal beams covered in ice look tough,” Erik whispered to a Pokeball. “I doubt Rocky could make the jump, but you can. Go get them, Iron.”

Erik’s Aggron roared as he appeared from within his capsule, but loitered by his trainer within the safety of the snow, unwilling to step on the treacherous ice despite Erik’s encouraging calls.

Glacia’s Glalie gleamed in the lights of cool blue and white that illuminated the room, the glass covers frozen as light beamed from the roof. The Ice Queen’s Pokemon launched a beam of ice at her foe, the attack nearly striking Erik as Iron stepped aside to avoid it. Iron was forced to enter the battlefield, or risk his trainer being struck.

Iron attempted to step onto the ice, cautiously placing a metallic foot onto the frozen sheet which splintered loudly as the Aggron pushed his paw downwards. He would have to make the jump onto the nearest metal beam, which glinted menacingly within the light. Taking a step back, Iron then propelled himself forwards, floating through the air until he reached a beam. He landed. Then slipped.

A loud crash echoed around the room as Iron fell from the beam, falling into the lake as ice smashed around him. Freezing water greedily gobbled up the Aggron, threatening to consume Erik’s Pokemon as he thrashed around in a desperate attempt to keep afloat. To Erik’s surprise, Iron’s steel armour protected him from the worst effects of the cold, as he floated upon the water.

“Not good,” Glacia spoke whilst stroking her chin. “Glalie, time to trap him!”

The Ice Queen’s Pokemon responded with blasts of ice, which covered the frozen lake and built up an added layer around Iron, whose attempts to climb out were met by more ice breaking off around him.

Iron’s next move was to summon an earthquake, the arena shaking as small crevices formed within the sheet of ice. As the roof shook, icicles were forced loose, as a rain of sharp knives crashed into both Iron and the Glalie. Howls of pain reverberated around the arena as the Aggron was caught within the hail of icicles which pierced his metal skin, lodging themselves deep within.

The weakened Glalie shook the ice that had painfully collided with him from his frame before hastily assaulting the Aggron whilst he was in agony. Glacia’s Pokemon snapped his teeth together in a series of intimidating sequences, as he closed in on Iron to apply a finishing blow. The Glalie was within inches, as he opened his mouth one final time, then snapped his jaws shut, connecting with Iron’s skin.

Iron roared as the Ice Queen’s Pokemon recoiled in anguish, his teeth snapping off the Aggron’s metallic skin. Erik’s Pokemon finished the fight, smashing into the Glalie with his long, trailing steel tail which sent his defeated foe rocketing into a frozen metal beam.

“I wish I could use Soar,” Erik thought as recalled his Pokemon, sending out Dancer in his place as he sighted Glacia using a Walrein. “But he has weaknesses to all the old Elite Four’s main types.”

“Erik does it again!” Steven’s voice annoyingly boomed around the room. “Who can stop him? No one it seems!”

“Not even you!” Erik snapped back, as Glacia remained silent. Her Walrein slipped into the water after cracking the ice with his tusks.

Dancer spotted the large figure lurking within the waters underneath her, and attacked. She launched bolts of electricity at the ice, directed towards the shadowy figure circling underneath, but her efforts rebounded off the lake’s frozen blanket.

Glacia’s Walrein crunched through the ice, sinking his tusks into Dancer and plunging back into the water, the Pikachu still attached to his fangs.

“Hold on!” Erik roared to his Pikachu who clung onto the thin layer of ice with all her might, slowly slipping as the Walrein’s lumbering frame overpowered her own. Dancer lost the battle, falling into the lake and Glacia’s Pokemon dragged her ever deeper. Erik lost sight of the fight, the hole in the ice all that remained within his vision of the conflict as sheets of ice blocked his view.

Suddenly, the ice lit up from underneath, as Dancer swam back up to the surface moments later. Shivering violently as the Walrein retreated back to its trainer.

“So he gave you some too?” Erik snapped at Glacia, who nursed her Pokemon’s wounds using a Full Restore.

“Some what?” came the confounded reply. “By the by, my Walrein never falls for the same trick twice, and good luck with your Pikachu surviving the hypothermia,” she finished as her Walrein slunk back into the depths.

Glacia’s Pokemon swam swiftly, lurking near the ice and preparing a hit-and-run raid on Dancer, who sat shivering on the ice. As the Walrein closed in, the Pikachu sprung to life, blasting away a section of ice and frying her foe with electricity, shooting it into the exposed hole and electrocuting the Walrein within the waters. Erik realised that whilst they had all been distracted by the Full Restore, Dancer had begun melting the ice with sparks in preparation for the Walrein, also using the electricity to warm herself.

“Time to use a Walrein of my own,” Erik whispered to the Pokeball in his hand. He launched Seal’s capsule into the air, his Pokemon immediately diving under the ice, ready to copy Glacia’s tactics. The Ice Queen had chosen a Froslass as her next Pokemon, the creature floating over the ice nonchalantly.

Seal emerged for a brief moment, but instead of attacking the Froslass, he launched a frozen beam towards a section of ice near to Erik. The Walrein submerged himself once more, dodging the Froslass’s counter attacks before he reappeared and disappeared time and time again, strengthening the ice each time.

“What is he doing?!” Glacia yelled across the arena.

“You’ll see in a mo’,” Erik replied, before his Walrein emerged for a final time. He recalled Seal into his Pokeball and threw Rocky’s towards the strengthened section of ice. Erik’s Camerupt emerged onto the thick sheet, crashing down on the surface as a loud crack reverberated around the arena, but the ice stood strong, holding Rocky within its embrace.

“Oh dear,” Glacia gasped as Rocky launched a barrage of flames at the exasperated Froslass. The flames smothered her, eventually consuming the Ice Queen’s third Pokemon, leaving her down to just her final two.

“Uh oh, Glacia,” Steven’s voice sounded once more. “You’re not going out this tournament once, but twice!”

“Oh go away!” the Ice Queen yelled towards the speakers, to harsh laughter from the Champion. She tossed another Froslass’s Pokeball into the air, the ice and ghost dual-type moving with haste behind a metal support.

A blast of fire erupted from Rocky, as the Camerupt targeted the block of ice in which the Froslass concealed herself behind. The ice melted, but the metal beam underneath soaked up the fire as Froslass emerged, launching a dazzling ray of light towards Rocky, confusing the Camerupt and disorienting his senses.

Erik attempted to direct his Camerupt, shouting to his Pokemon that Froslass had concealed herself behind a block of ice once more. Rocky, however, saw a handful of Froslass, all hiding themselves behind a different frozen metal beam. Panicked, the Camerupt launched flames in all directions, towards each and every block of ice and straining his body through the exhaustion. Furthermore, Rocky almost slipped into the thin layers of ice that surrounded his strengthened patch.

Froslass shot out shards of ice, slicing through the icicles on the roof and sending them raining down on her foe. Rocky saw the moving icicles as more Froslass’s, and began launching flames at his perceived opponent as he stumbled and fell backwards into the thin sheet of ice.

The lake’s frozen blanket screeched as it splintered, unable to bear the Camerupt’s weight. It fell underneath him, sending Rocky tumbling into the waters.

Erik rapidly recalled his Pokemon into its Pokeball, sending Iron out in his place. The Aggron swam unconvincingly towards the strengthened section of ice, carving his way through the thin sheets as if he were a hot knife making his way through butter.

Glacia ordered her Froslass to summon a blizzard onto the battlefield, combining it with raining icicles and sharp shards of hail, as Iron forced his way through. The Aggron endured as vicious hail smacked off his skin and icicles lodged themselves in his body once more. The frozen weather gnawed at his insides as yet more ice smashed into his face.

As he reached the strengthened section, he summoned an earthquake. The arena shook violently as the sheets of ice finally broke, splitting off into small sections. As the lake’s blanket broke, so too did the metal beams, the blocks they were encased in smashed into fragments as the steel splintered and fell, crashing into decaying ice. The strengthened layer under Iron also fractured, as the Aggron tumbled into the depths Erik saw that Glacia’s Froslass had been crushed by a metal beam.

“One more to go, Glacia!” Steven jabbed at the Ice Queen as Erik recalled Iron and sent Seal out in his place. “Another Glalie? I expect?”

“Would you shut up!” Glacia screamed, to yet more laughter.

“Okay, okay, I shall continue talking to Erik instead then,” the Champion chuckled. “So, Rick? Ricky? Ezza? Nope, I like Ricky,” Steven continued as Erik’s irritation only rose. “Ricky, I’ve been studying your battle style. You rely on your Pokemon a lot, you trust in their instincts and their wits and only intrude when needed. I sense you have powerful bonds with each.”

“What of it?” Erik snapped.

“Just letting you know that I know, Ricky,” Steven finished.

“Use his tactic against him!” the Ice Queen commanded as her Glalie levitated above the water as fragments of ice floated casually around the lake. Her Pokemon responded by shooting beams of ice, freezing together the weakened sheets and reattaching the lake’s blanket.

Seal allowed the Glalie to continue its trick, the Walrein lurking within the waters unmoved by Glacia’s tactic. The blanket was almost completed, looking thicker and tougher than ever, by the time Seal emerged.

Erik’s Pokemon leaped out of the depths, plunging his tusks into the Glalie and dragging his foe back into the waters with him. The conflict continued underwater, beams of ice lighting up the lake underneath it’s cold blanket like a display as the two fought relentlessly. Suddenly, Seal crashed out of the lake and rapidly began shooting more waves of ice at the weakened sections, successfully trapping the Glalie underneath. The Ice Queen was defeated, and all that was left for Erik before he fought Steven was to defeat the Lord of Dragons.

“Knew you’d get her!” Steven roared through the speakers. “I also did say that you’d lose to Drake. He’s by far the most powerful of the Elite Four, you have no chance.”

“We’ll see,” Erik said for the countless time, as a nurse first moved through his Pokemon, then gave him a special concoction to warm up his frozen body.

“Well done,” Glacia shouted from across the room, seemingly unphased by her defeat. “Knock that fool Steven off his perch for me, would you?”

“I’ll take him down, don’t worry,” Erik replied as the nurse skulked away.

“So the Lord of Dragons awaits!” Steven declared. “He is up on the roof, the receptionists will tell you how to get there!”

“I’ll see you up there,” Erik responded, making his way out of the Ice Palace.

“Oh and one more thing,” Steven added. “You know those potions your Pokemon have been taking, and the liquid you just drank. Well, they are laced with a special formula which was until now used exclusively by Tate and Liza, now refined to make it more potent in the ways I asked for. Don’t worry though, the effects won’t take hold until I activate them!”

Erik felt both sick and terrified. In the seventh Gym he was forced to battle the demons within his own mind as well as the two Gym Leaders. And now, the ghosts of his past had only grown more vengeful.