Ghosts Of The Past

Chapter Twenty-Eight – Ghosts Of The Past

A crisp wind snapped at Erik’s sides as he stepped off the staircase. As his feet stamped across the metallic floor, he gulped in the view. From the roof of the Pokemon League he sighted almost half of Hoenn, with Mt. Pyre and Mt. Chimney towering over the collage of forests, caves, towns and lakes.

“Remarkable,” the elderly man replied as he studied Erik through fierce-looking eyes. “For one so young to make it so far.” The Lord of Dragons twirled his long, grey moustache within his fingers as he spoke, and adjust has white sailor’s cap with his free hand. Erik noted that the man kept himself in good shape despite his years, his toned chest and stomach splitting the black cape he wore as his jeans hung loosely off his legs, strapped down by coal coloured boots.

“You’re all that stands between me and Steven,” Erik snapped as he pointed an accusing finger at his opponent.

His gaze switched to Drake’s arena. Far more simple than the three he had faced before, the unmagnificent arena featured a small cave, or dragon’s lair, alongside a swimming pool. Other than those two features, nothing was present apart from the steel floor and open sky.

“Like my battlefield?” the man asked as he noticed Erik observing his arena. “No tricks, just straight fighting between your Pokemon and my tamed dragons!”

“I’m glad of it,” Erik responded. “Some say only the old Champion of Kanto, Lance, has a more powerful bond with dragon-types than you.”

“I’d like to see him come over here and beat me,” Drake growled.

“Didn’t mean any offence,” Erik replied as he slightly warmed to the man. He was the first member of the Elite Four that valued a trainer’s bond with their Pokemon, and wanted to test a trainer’s strength, not how they handled their traps.

As the open sky awaited the battle, Drake launched a Pokeball into the air as an Altaria emerged from its capsule. Erik responded with Seal, who flopped onto the metal roof which would withstand both dragonfire and Pokemon that dropped from treacherous heights onto it. Erik knew Seal’s ice attacks would give him a considerable advantage, being effective against dragons.

“I haven’t heard Steven yet,” Erik shouted whilst looking around the arena for a set of speakers.

“That pathetic excuse for a man may be a powerful trainer, but he’s not allowed anywhere near my roof!” Drake responded, clenching his fists at the Champion’s name. “If I defeat you then he’s allowed me to challenge him, and I can finally take him down!”

“What happened? I thought the Elite Four served the Champion?”

“The Elite Four are gone. Wiped away by that fool Steven. That Giovanni, he controls the authorities now, or most of it I think. He got them authorities to get rid of us Elite Four and Steven followed in line like the loser he is!”

“May whoever wins this battle destroy Steven,” Erik replied, to a nod of agreement from the Lord of Dragons.

Conflict commenced as the Altaria twisted and twirled its body through the air unimpeded by blustery beams of ice smashing passed its body. Drake’s Pokemon retaliated to Seal’s ice beams by launching waves of draconic energy towards the Walrein, the pulses smashing into both Seal and the steel ground, ricocheting off the roof as they were flung in all directions.

Seal withstood the barrage, launching a further ice beam towards his foe. The attack carved through the air, enduring crisp winds and smashed into the Altaria who screeched in agony as the icy assault struck home. Drake’s Pokemon beat a retreat towards its lair, forcing its frail and weakened body towards the cave and disappearing within, the cavern seemingly descending through the roof and into a room below.

“Not going to use a Full Restore?” Erik asked his opponent.

“No chance!” Drake responded passionately. “Steven can keep his little presents to himself!”

“You know how he got them?”

“Yeah. Giovanni. A shipment came in as a little ‘thank you’ gift to Steven, full of those healing items with other potions and even a strange looking stone.”

“A Megastone…” Erik gasped.

“Mega-what?” Drake responded as Seal crept towards the cave as his foe awaited within.

“Doesn’t matter,” Erik replied, realising now that Drake wouldn’t stand a chance against Steven. The Lord of Dragons was a powerful trainer, but he wasn’t prepared to face a Mega.

As Seal entered the lair, shadows consumed his lumbering frame. Moments passed without a sound as both Erik and Drake fixed their stares into the cave’s open mouth, silence engulfing the battlefield. Erik searched his soul for the answer to his Pokemon’s status. He hadn’t felt anything other than apprehension for his friend and the violent anger laced with sorrow that had settled a permanent home within.

Drake keeled over, clutching his heart as he recoiled in agony. “Altaria!” he roared, as Erik saw in the man’s eyes that same soul severing blow dealt to his opponent that had been forced on him so many times. It appeared that Drake’s bonds with dragon Pokemon were almost as strong as his with his own.

Seal emerged from the cavern as Drake released a Flygon into the arena. Trapinch’s evolved form fluttered through the sky, almost dancing as the green dragon cut shapes into the air. Erik’s Walrein watched his opponent carefully, before preparing to attack with ice.

The Flygon emitted supersonic soundwaves directed towards Seal, the high pitched noise forcefully surrounding the Walrein who unwillingly guzzled in the effects, leaving him dazzled and confused. Seal span on the spot, devoured by his bewildered state. The Walrein saw a sky crowded with various forms of dragon, an army of Altaria glided alongside a flock of Flygon as they all circled a legion of Latios.

Seal was aghast, and flopped towards the safety of the cave as Flygon launched dragonfire towards the Walrein, scorching the fleeing Pokemon’s back as Drake’s dragon whirled around for another assault. The Flygon honed his claws before savagely swiping at the Walrein, cutting marks into Seal’s back as Erik’s Pokemon found sanctuary within the lair moments later.

Frail and confused, Seal looked back into the sky which continued to house scores of dragons within. Erik’s vision painted a different picture, as he sighted the Flygon swoop around in preparation for another raid, her claws glinting in the setting sunlight.

Seal faltered, collapsing to the floor as his wounds began to overcome him, before slowly rising to his feet as the Flygon opened its talons for the killing blow. Erik’s Walrein protected itself the only way it could, by launching as many ice beams as he could towards anything and everything that moved.

An ice beam sizzled past the Flygon as another crashed into the ground not far from Erik. Drake’s Pokemon screeched a cry of victory as it moved to within a few feet of the cave, until a wild attack struck it in the chest, ice crawling up the Flygon’s skin as the beast thundered in the lair’s solid stone exterior. Drake recoiled once more as both his heart and soul throbbed through the pain, Erik taking the opportunity to withdraw Seal and send out Soar in his place.

“Woah,” Drake cried as a smile painted his face, opposing his bloodshot eyes. “You caught a legendary dragon? Good on you, kid.”

“Say hello to my Latios, Soar.”

“This will be an honour,” Drake replied, thrusting another Flygon’s Pokeball into the sky and looking on in awe of the two dragon’s fight without mercy.

The fading sun’s final rays cast across the draconic duo as Soar twirled through the sky to avoid dragonfire, before launching a dragon pulse as the Flygon sunk its talons into the Latios. Drake’s Pokemon accompanied his attack with more dragonfire, the flames smacking into Soar.

Erik’s Latios rose higher through the air, elevating itself almost to the clouds before beginning his descent. Rapidly rotating as he twirled through the skies at devastating speed, draconic pulses deflecting off Soar’s twisting frame during his descent and rocketed in all directions. Erik’s Pokemon smashed into the Flygon, launching both he and Drake’s dragon into the steel roof. A mighty crash resounded throughout the skies as the Flygon took the brunt of the blow.

Drake clutched his heart but remained upright as his face contorted into a smile despite the agonising pain which tormented his soul. The Lord of Dragons appeared proud to see a Latios in action, as if he had dreamed of such a moment. He bowed his head almost in thanks to Erik, as he recalled Soar into his Pokeball and released his next Pokemon.

Drake’s Kingdra hopped into the swimming pool, beckoning Dancer to approach as the water and dragon dual-type dove into the small body of water. Erik’s Pikachu scampered towards the swimming pool as electricity sparked from her crimson cheeks. She launched electrical waves of energy towards the Kingdra, the currents conducting through the swimming pool and lighting up the water.

Kingdra remained motionless as her scales soaked up the damage, minimising the effects of Dancer’s attack. The Lord of Dragons’ Pokemon launched bursts of water towards its foe, the aqua jets smashing into the Pikachu who fell backwards, crashing into the ground as beads of liquid dripped off of her drenched body.

Dancer sprinted towards the cave as Kingdra blasted barrages of water blasts towards her.

The Pikachu hid behind the lair’s rock walls and conceived another plan within her mind, sparking up her cheeks as she tip-toed back onto the battlefield. As she rounded the cave wall, the Kingdra locked eyes with her, Drake’s Pokemon’s pupils glowed a faint red and seemed to rotate in a mesmeric motion. As Dancer launched a paralysing wave of electricity at her foe, she felt drowsy, and dragged her failing body back towards the cave entrance where she fell asleep within. The Kingdra’s hypnotic attack had sent her to rest, as Drake’s Pokemon began feeling the effects of its paralysis.

Erik roared to his Pikachu to wake up, as the Kingdra lingered towards her sleeping foe. Summoning the waters from within the pool, Drake’s Pokemon rode upon the created wave, which arched around towards the lair, preparing to trap the Pikachu within. Erik grabbed Dancer’s Pokeball, fumbling around his belt for the correct one before grabbing it and watching in horror as the Kingdra’s wave entered the cave.

Kingdra screeched in joy, just as the Pikachu vanished from sight.

The wave crashed downwards and filled the cave, turning it into a watery tomb for any non-aquatic Pokemon before an earth-shaking roar resounded from behind the Kingdra., Iron filled the cave’s mouth.

Erik had withdrawn Dancer at the final moment, releasing his Aggron in her place. Iron now loitered just outside the cave, as he stomped powerfully on the ground. The Aggron’s earthquake attack seemed to shake not only the entire building, but from Erik’s vision the whole of Hoenn, as the roof trembled violently.

Kingdra retaliated by summoning the water in the cavern, moulding it into a wave and launching it at her foe, before the lair collapsed upon her as Drake once more wailed in agony.

The wave rocketed out of the cave just as it collapsed, collecting Iron within its embrace and pushed Erik’s Pokemon backwards. Erik gasped in horror as the Aggron remained powerless against the fierce tide of water. He scrambled around his belt for Iron’s Pokeball, before clasping it and pointing it in the direction of his Aggron. Who had already fallen.

Iron had been forced off the building’s edge by the wave, as the bond between Erik and his Aggron was agonisingly severed. He joined Drake in a mutual torment, both having lost Pokemon they had formed connections with. He glanced to the Lord of Dragons, sighting he only had one remaining Pokemon.

Erik shifted the pain from his thoughts and forced himself to focus on the battle, just one more Pokemon to defeat then he could finally face Steven to become Champion. He grabbed Rocky’s Pokeball from his belt, the one Pokemon on his team still at full health, and launched his Camerupt’s Pokeball into the sky. Drake replied with a Salamence, the towering dragon ascending into the air.

The Lord of Dragon’s Pokemon commenced an aerial assault, bombarding Rocky with fireballs whilst swooping to the ground and swiping at Erik’s Camerupt with its claws. As Rocky responded with bursts of fire, the Salamence span through the skies, deftly dodging the attacks as he moved to strike once more.

Rocky planted his feet on the ground and roared as his weary body tired from the constant blows. As more fire smothered him the Salamence moved in for a final assault, opening his talons as he scolded the Camerupt with dragonfire. Rocky faltered, falling to the floor and gasping for air, Erik recalled him as the Salamence swept passed where the Camerupt’s body once lay.

Drake’s Pokemon roared victoriously into the sky, until an energy blast sent him sprawling backwards. He recovered to launched a pulse of draconic energy at his aggressor, the Latios twirling through the sky to avoid the attack.

As the last of the sun’s light vanished and darkness descended, starlight lit up the arena as a full moon glared onto the opposing dragons. Psychic attacks canceled out Soar’s dented vitality as vigorous swipes from the Salamence’s claws carved into the Latios, whose energy blasts countered the constant assaults.

The duo faded as a dragon pulse intercepted an energy blast, Erik’s Latios and Drake’s Salamence grappling onto one another as they each planted sharp claws into their foe. A ferocious bite from the Salamence plunged into the Latios’ neck as Soar attempted to fry his foe’s mind with psychic mind waves. The dragons plummeted towards the arena, falling through the air as more attacks connected before both smashed into the steel floor.

Soar and Salamence roared in pain as they clambered to their feet. Both their wings were torn with their failing frames too frail to fly, so they resumed their conflict on the ground. Arching their bodies into the air, the two slammed their jaws into each other, whilst savagely slashing at their foe. Drake’s Pokemon tumbled backwards, before climbing to his feet and preparing a draconic pulse. Soar crept backwards and countered with an energy blast.

Two beams of power smashed into one another, as Soar’s pearl white energy conflicted with Salamence’s violet pulses. The Lord of Dragons’ Pokemon suddenly slumped to the ground, the Latios having had fried his mind with a psychic blast.

“What a fight!” Drake declared as he clutched his chest.

“Well fought,” Erik replied, smiling at his opponent as he released the surviving members of his team from their Pokeballs. Steven had steered clear of the fighting, so would have all six members of his team remaining. Whereas Erik was reduced to four: Seal, Dancer, Rocky and Soar.

As the nurse ascended the staircase, Erik stormed over to her, the violet-haired lady clad in white gasped in shock as she retreated backwards.

“Why have you poisoned my Pokemon?!” he roared, as the nurse fell over. “And me?!”

“What? Please, I don’t know-”

“Steven said-”

“Hey, Erik!” Drake roared as he moved to step between the duo. “What is this? It’s bad form to assault a lady!”

“Steven tells me that the nurse’s healing items have been infecting my Pokemon with some sort of formula.”

“I didn’t know!” the nurse replied, shaking like a leaf caught in the wind. “I promise! Steven supplied me with some healing items, I thought they were just normal potions and concoctions! I swear!”

“Well,” Erik sighed. “Seeing as my Pokemon are already infected. You may as well heal them up. Where’s Steven’s arena?”

Erik stormed through the steel corridor, a humongous gate opening as he proceeded towards Steven’s lair.

“Here he comes!” Steven’s voice echoed through speakers fixed around the corridor. “The man to fight the Champion!”

Erik ignored the Champion’s taunts, as the towering gate loomed ahead of him.

“As soon as that gate opens, I’ll make sure the toxins take effect. Don’t worry, I ordered Tate and Liza to fiddle with the formula, making it more potent in certain areas,” Steven laughed slightly as he spoke. “They told me that you struggled most with your inner demons, so don’t you fret. They’ll all be making an appearance!”

He knew already that he must conquer both Steven and his mind during this fight. He feared the latter infinitely more than the former, as he stopped before the gate.

The doors creaked open, as a gas emerged from within and engulfed him, creeping into his Pokeballs and forcing Erik to unwillingly inhale the substance. It had begun, as he stumbled through the gateway and into Steven’s arena.

“And here he is!” Steven yelled as he sighted his opponent appearing within his stadium. “Welcome, Ricky, to my arena,” the Champion called out to Erik as he sat atop a steel throne to the rear of the room. The battlefield seemed more like a palace throne room, with pillars entrenched into the ground, shooting up in the roof and holding the room together as small holes littered the smooth stone floor. The room was a dim yellow, almost cream colour as spotlights illuminated the arena from above.

“Giovanni has gathered information about you, added to me studying your battle style and techniques. I know everything about you. All your weaknesses and the demons who haunt you,” the Champion said coldly, his steel eyes glinting eagerly.

“Enough talk!” Erik snapped as he began to feel lightheaded.

“Fair enough,” Steven responded, launching a Pokeball into the air as a Skarmory emerged into the centre of the room. Erik responded with Rocky.

“How many Pokemon have you lost along the way?” Steven started. “How many sacrifices have you made to get here. Throwing away your friends lives, just so you could prove a point to your father.”

Erik growled, although his heart agreed with Steven. Vivid figures appeared from behind the pillars that littered the room, made real by the toxins inside his system. String and Speedy loitered to his left, playing cheerily together as they filled the room with squeaks resembling laughter, until the Silcoon and Cascoon turned and saw Erik. The pair of bug types hastily scampered away in horror.

A child appeared, frollicking across the arena as he screamed in glee, “I want to become the best Pokemon trainer the world has ever seen!” he cried, Erik rapidly realising the figure was himself. Pokeballs appeared around the child’s belt, as a raging fire roared into life behind him, he captured both String and Speedy and launched their capsules into the flames.

Gully appeared from behind another pillar, squawking as the Wingull pecked at the young Erik’s hair playfully. A Whismur sprinted to join them, then a Zigzagoon. The child captured the trio, shouting the names of the Pokemon as he threw their Pokeballs into the fire. “Gully!” he yelled as flames licked up and melted the capsule. “Bunny! Ziggy!”

Erik could only look on in horror as more Pokemon happily emerged to join the child, each flashing the real Erik a fearful glare as they did so. A Tentacruel crawled up to the child, with two Tentacool within his embrace as Horde allowed both Gu and Lady to be captured, before he himself gave in willingly to the child.

“Stop,” Erik whispered, as the child threw his friends into the flames. “Please.”

Roller and Ninja creeped out from behind the throne, piercing the older Erik with terrified but accusing eyes. More joined them, and more, and more. Each of the Pokemon he had lost walked up to the child, before being captured and tossed into the fire.

“Are you proud of me Daddy?” the child asked as he threw Ghost’s Pokeball.

Erik noted the absentees. Leaf, Blaze, Ice, Splash, Iron and Bat were all missing from the gathering. Steven’s mental games were only just beginning.

As flames greedily gobbled up Snappy’s Pokeball, Erik’s attention was snapped to the battle. A toxic liquid soaked into Rocky’s skin, poisoning the Camerupt who howled as the toxins tormented him. His Pokemon were faltering as their trainer struggled to conquer the ghosts of his journey.

Steven’s Skarmory twirled through the air as a trail of flame chased her. Despite his failing body, Rocky endured, blasting fire at his foe who responded with savage swipes of its steel talons which ripped into the Camerupt’s skin.

As the Skarmory retreated back into aerial safety, Rocky launched a flamethrower. The fires shot through the air in a direct line, honing in on the steel-type before colliding with its target. Flames smothered the Skarmory, melting its steel skin to agonising screeches as Steven’s Pokemon returned to her trainer.

The Champion handed his Pokemon a Full Restore, the Skarmory eagerly gulping down the liquid. Steven’s Pokemon’s wounds closed as its body healed, the advanced potion coursing through its bloodstream and sniffing out any ailments or damage. The Skarmory shot back into the air, re-energised and healthy as poison sapped at Rocky’s vitality.

“How do you like my trick, Ricky?” Steven called from across the room.

Erik’s refused to acknowledge the Champion, his focus fixed on his Camerupt who toiled and thrashed. Rocky had not only the toxins eating at him from within, but Steven’s formula was causing the Camerupt to envision his fears and weaknesses. And Erik knew exactly what Rocky was seeing. Blaze, and the daunting prospect of being a mere replacement for the Blaziken.

“Blaze is gone!” Erik roared as his heart throbbed in pain at the words. “Because of my mistakes, not yours Rocky. We’ve got passed this! I promise you, you’re not Blaze’s replacement, you’re my Camerupt!”

Rocky sluggishly turned his head towards his trainer. The Camerupt flashed a slight smile at Erik as he looked him in the eye, before Rocky incinerated his aerial opponent with a ferocious burst of flames.

Steven’s Skarmory tumbled from the sky, smoke trailing behind the steel-type as it crashed into the solid stone ground, defeated. Before Rocky had a chance to celebrate, steel spikes ascended from the floor, plunging into his exposed feet and pinning him to the floor.

“What is this?!” Erik snapped at the Champion. “You can’t use your arena to deal damage to my Pokemon!”

“I can do as I wish,” Steven responded. “What will you do? Complain to Giovanni? The man who has always been one step ahead of you?”

Erik stumbled as dizziness inflicted his body and his demons tormented his mind. Giovanni strolled out from behind a pillar, Erik unsure whether he was the real thing or just another vivid vision. The Team Rocket boss was clad within a black suit, as the child Erik appeared once more and grabbed the man’s hand.

“You’re the forry minner?” the child asked Giovanni.

“The foreign minister,” the Team Rocket boss corrected him.

“Are you happy?” the boy questioned, a beaming smile permanently painted across his face.

“Very. Now that I am next to my future successor.”

The young figure of Erik disappeared, leaving Giovanni to ascend into the air, like a spectral figure. The Team Rocket boss closed his eyes and floated above the throne, resting above Steven and looking over both Erik and the battlefield.

“Erik,” Giovanni spoke, his eyes remaining firmly shut. “You may have defeated me on Route 104 with the help of your friends. But you are alone now, as you always have been. Like that fool Maxie before you, you have constantly attempted to resist me. You forget that I always win.”

As Giovanni paused, Maxie appeared before Erik alongside Courtney, pleading for her to stay in his life as the pink-haired woman giggled manically at the begging man.

“See ‘Vanni, he’s nothing compared to you,” she yelled towards the Rocket boss, before skipping off behind a pillar leaving Maxie in a slump on the floor.

“You see Erik,” the Magma boss hissed towards him. “We could’ve taken down Giovanni side by side. Instead, you fought me at every turn and left me to die!”

“It wasn’t like that,” Erik whispered. Before he could say anymore, Giovanni breathed fire, smothering Maxie in flames.

“Just like Norman. Anyone who I wish to join me will eventually. Even you, Erik,” Giovanni spoke once more.

Erik tried forcing the visions away by focusing his thoughts elsewhere, failing. Instead, he sent Seal to fight, Steven responding with an Aggron as memories of Iron plunged into Erik’s head. Seeing his trainer whimper and falter, Seal struggled to maintain his focus as the Aggron approached the Walrein’s lumbering frame.

Steven’s Pokemon grabbed hold of Seal, hoisting the Walrein upwards as if it weighed as much as the air itself. Seal howled in agony as the Aggron began crushing it within its metallic claws, powerfully squeezing at the Walrein’s frame.

As Seal squealed and writhed within the Aggron’s vice-like grasp, Steven’s Pokemon slammed his foe into a pillar. Fragments of rock fell and dust rose into the air as visible dents carved themselves into the stone at the impact. Aggron hurled the Walrein into the ground, as steel spikes flashed upwards, piercing Seal and cutting into his flesh.

“Seal!” Erik roared as visions of Norman bowing before Giovanni threatened to distract him from the fight. “Hold on, I can’t lose you too! We’ve come this far together, don’t give up now!”

It was his Walrein’s turn to contort its tusked face into a smile, his eyes lighting up as his trainer still believed in him. The Aggron grappled Seal again, crushing Erik’s Pokemon within his grasp before slamming him into the pillar once more. More stones tumbled to the floor, Erik’s Walrein flopping to the ground as Steven’s Aggron roared victoriously.

Seal launched a beam of ice at the weakened pillar, cutting into the frayed structure and fracturing the support. The pillar fell, crashing into the Aggron as it ripped into a portion of the roof, pulling the stone with it and combining to complete Steven’s Pokemon’s tomb.

Erik recalled Seal, sending Soar out in place of the diminished Walrein as Steven responded with a Cradily.

“Ahh the Pokemon that we caught together,” Steven jibed. “How romantic, Ricky. Would you say that your Latios is your closest friend now you’ve lost all the others along the way? Actually, what about the Pokemon you’ve lost during the tournament?”

Erik caught a glint of a Mightyena’s eye as Ice trembled behind a pillar. Behind him hid Splash, the Gyarados cowering in fear from his former master. Bat screeched above, circling the arena before the Crobat collided with Iron, the Aggron vanishing at the contact as Bat cried out before disappearing too.

“It’s all your fault,” a child spoke, pointing an accusing finger directly towards Erik as he clutched Leaf in his arms, the small Oddish unable to make eye contact with her former trainer. “If it weren’t for you, all these Pokemon would still be happily alive in the wild,” the young Erik spoke whilst stroking the grass-type.

“Leaf thanked me,” Erik whimpered towards the boy. “She said thank you.”

“And the rest? All my other friends?” the child snapped angrily. “You got them all killed!”

The boy vanished before Erik’s eyes, just in time for the him to sight a dragon pulse smash into the Cradily’s tough, resilient body, hardly scratching the surface of Soar’s foe. Steven’s Pokemon emitted a ray of dazzling light, stunning the Latios and confusing Erik’s Pokemon. Through his bewildered state, Soar smashed into a pillar as the structure crumbled to the ground, ripping out sections of the roof as stone crashed to the floor, narrowly avoiding the Latios.

Steven’s concoction combined with the confusion inside Soar’s system caused the Latios to become fearful of everything around him. Erik tried placing himself within Soar’s mind, attempting to decipher his Pokemon’s fears and demons. He knew his Latios was under the effects of Steven’s toxins.

“Soar!” Erik roared, his mind locking onto his Pokemon’s haunting. “I know you’re afraid. I know what you’re seeing,” he shouted to no response from his Latios. “Mega-Evolution!” the words rang like a siren to Soar, who swerved in the air as he eyed his trainer, his face the embodiment of fear. “It’s okay, my friend, it’s okay! I promise I will never mega-evolve you, or any of my Pokemon again. I can’t do that to you anymore, no matter what!” the words flowed out of Erik’s mouth without him thinking, a fresh wave of relief coursing through his veins as he spoke. It was as if he had conquered a demon within himself by promising to not use a Megastone again.

“I understand,” Erik thought to himself. “I feel guilty about mega-evolving my Pokemon, forcing them to go through the torture so I can win battles.” Soar seemingly heard Erik’s words, and smiled thankfully towards his trainer. “If I can defeat my Pokemon’s ghosts, then maybe I can defeat my-” he paused, as May, Blaze and Norman stared at him from beside Steven’s throne, before swiftly disintegrating.

Sludge smashed into Soar whilst the Latios was distracted by his trainer, poisoning seeping through the Latios’s skin and infecting his bloodstream. Soar shook the confusion from his system, launching energy blasts at the Cradily who endured the attacks before creeping back to her trainer for a Full Restore.

Erik fumbled around his bag for a solution, suddenly finding a lone antidote he had kept all the way from Rustboro City. He applied the healing item to his Latios, curing Soar of his ailments with his remaining antidote. On the other side of the arena, Cradily roared in delight as her vitality was fully healed.

Soar tentatively glided on the battlefield, twirling to avoid sludge bombs. Erik’s Latios plunged downwards, but instead of physically attack the Cradily, Soar fried its brain with psychic waves. Steven’s Pokemon attempted to withstand the mental assault, but whilst its body was tough, its mind was weak. Soar had beaten Steven at his own game, as his Pokemon fell to the floor defeated.

Erik recalled Soar, sending out Dancer in his place for his Pikachu grit her teeth in preparation for a battle against an Armaldo.

“Why didn’t you save me?” a sweet voice called from behind a pillar. May stepped out from behind the stone structure, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I tried,” Erik whispered. His heart felt as if daggers were being forcefully plunged into it.

“You failed. All I wanted was for you to take me with you, to be part of your world.”

“I’m so sorry.” Erik bit his lip as he tried to hold back his tears.

Sensing her trainer’s pain, Dancer turned to face Erik. The Pikachu called out to her trainer, smiling through her eyes. Erik tried to read her expression, searching his soul for what his Pokemon was saying to him.

Dancer’s eyes reminded him of Leaf’s final moments, thanking Erik for everything he had done for her. “Maybe my Pokemon wanted to fight for me, they sacrificed themselves for me, not because of me,” the words flowed through Erik’s mind, as Dancer nodded. He understood what she was trying to tell him.

Armaldo slammed his claws into the Pikachu’s back. Steven howled with glee as Dancer slumped to the floor, defeated. Erik’s friend locked eyes with her trainer, as her life steadily drained away. She smiled at Erik, she wanted him to know that she was grateful for him, for everything that he had done.

“Dancer,” Erik roared, as the soul severing blow was slashed across his strong bond with the Pikachu. He collapsed to the floor as tears streamed down his face.

“It’s your fault!” the child spoke, having reappeared as Dancer was recalled into her Pokeball, to her final resting place. “You’ve gotten Dancer killed!”

Another ghost formed next to the child. Dancer’s.

Erik expected the worst, to be scolded by another demon. But instead, Dancer just smiled. She had forgiven him long before she ever blamed him.

“Wait,” Erik gasped. “These ghosts aren’t my friends and Pokemon coming back to haunt me. It’s me. It’s because I blame myself and my buried guilt is surfacing in the form of these demons. Thank you, Dancer. You sacrificed yourself to show me the truth. I’ll never forget you.”

The child disappeared within Erik’s sight as the revelation struck him. Dancer too, leaving only Giovanni lurking above Steven’s throne, and May flanked by Blaze and Norman beside the Champion. Only the most vengeful ghosts remained.

“Steven,” Erik growled, as anger fuelled his system.

“Yes, Ricky?” the Champion said eagerly. “Oh, before you speak. I just want to say I’m really interested in your next Pokemon. Is it the poisoned Camerupt, the almost defeated Walrein, or the shattered spirit of the Latios?”

“Enjoy your last few minutes of being Champion of Hoenn.”

He launched Soar’s Pokeball into the sky. The Latios emerged, his eyes laced with an eagerness for retribution against the Armaldo. Erik’s Pokemon launched beams of energy at the Armaldo who lifted its arms above its head and curled into a ball. Latios’s attack deflected off his foe’s shell, rebounding into pillars and causing plumes of dust to ascend into the air as crushed stone flung towards the floor.

Soar lowered himself, launching psychic waves towards his foe. The Armaldo leapt onto the Latios as Soar descended to within reach, Steven’s Pokemon burying knife-like claws the legendary dragon.

Erik beckoned his Latios forward, and Soar responded by smashing into pillars with his foe attached to his back. Steven’s Armaldo clung on, lodging knives deeper into Soar’s flesh despite the Latios’ desperate attempts to throw his opponent off.

Soar tumbled, crashing into the ground with a thud before mustering the remainders of his energy to scorch the Armaldo’s mind with psychic blasts. Steven’s Pokemon crumpled to the ground defeated, leaving the Champion with two remaining Pokemon and Erik with three weakened warriors.

“Three Pokemon left who are all unfit to fight,” Steven taunted, mocking Erik with a smile as he spoke. “Do you wish to surrender?”

“Never,” Erik growled, throwing Seal’s Pokeball onto the battlefield to challenge Steven’s Claydol.

“Ricky?” Steven grinned. “Where’s Blaze?”

Tears clouded Erik’s eyes as his Blaziken’s ghost approached. His oldest friend glared accusingly towards his old trainer, blaming Erik not only for his death, but for mega-evolving him time and time again.

“I’m sorry, old friend,” Erik whimpered. Blaze de-evolved in front of his eyes, becoming a Torchic once more. Erik recalled the duo travelling to Hoenn together in the back of a truck, two young and inexperienced children ready to face the world. Until Erik had killed his best friend, Blaze had always been by his side, defeating Gym Leaders, rivals, gangs, always together. The Torchic morphed into a Combusken, they had always mirrored each other. Blaze grew with Erik and Erik with Blaze. From two children in their own minds to young adults, ready to take on all their opponents.

A roar reverberated around the room as Seal was struck by a barrage of rocks. As the battle raged on, Blaze morphed back into the form of Blaziken before Erik’s eyes. The two had been tempered by pain, growing into men together as they fought off Hoenn’s problems, together with their friends, they were the only people or Pokemon in the land who dared to stand up to Team Magma, Team Rocket and the Authorities.

But Erik had killed Blaze. He had Mega-Evolved his Blaziken to fight Groudon, and then was too slow to save him from Mega-Soar.

“His sacrifice saved Hoenn,” Norman’s ghost spoke as he approached Erik with May. “You always blame yourself, my son, why?”

“Because it’s my fault, if I didn’t Mega-Evolve-”

“Then you and all your Pokemon would’ve perished to Groudon, along with the whole region,” Norman interrupted.

“I wasn’t quick enough to save Blaze!” Erik roared, to Steven’s howls of laughter.

“You’ve replayed the incident a thousand times within your mind, with the benefit of both hindsight and a mind fully focused on that one event.”

“Why did you leave me, Dad?” Erik spoke as tears soaked his face. “When I was a boy?”

“It’s not your fault.”

“It is, you did it to protect me!”

“It’s not your fault,” May added her voice to the mix. “I chose to come with you, all your Pokemon choose to fight with you. We all know the risks, we did it for you.”

“Because we love you,” Norman added. “Because we will always love you.”

Erik looked to Blaze, his Blaziken nodding in approval and smiling back at his trainer.

“I miss you all so much,” he said to everyone.

“We will always be with you, our bodies may be gone, but our spirits live on through you,” May replied, smiling sweetly as she always did.

“You must become Champion,” Norman finished, as he, Blaze and May vanished before Erik’s eyes.

Seal’s summoned wave washed the Claydol into a pillar, which held strong despite the impact. Steven’s Pokemon attacked with psychic mind waves, attempting not only to fracture his opponent’s mind but induce the effects of the toxins buried within Seal.

“Come on Seal,” Erik roared. For the first time in his life, his soul felt clear. There was no pent-up anger in his tones, no guilt or sadness. Just pure passion and belief. “Let’s get this guy!”

Erik’s Walrein roared triumphantly at his trainer’s calls, ramming his skull into the Claydol before launching beams of ice at his opponent. Steven’s Pokemon collapsed, unable to withstand the barrage of assaults from Seal.

“Yes!” Erik shouted. “One more Pokemon to go!”

“And then what?” Giovanni asked. The final spectral figure descended from above the throne, to stare Erik directly in the face. “I rule Kanto.”

“I will turn Hoenn against you.”

“You have no-one left, all your friends are gone.”

“Not all of them,” Erik replied, as figures resembling Archie, Wally and Cecilia trotted up to his right.

Giovanni stumbled and stuttered, before his ghost too, disappeared before the sight of Erik’s army.

“Go get ’em, kid,” Archie’s ghost growled from beside him.

Steven released a Metagross from its Pokeball, Erik throwing out Soar in response. He knew that his weakened dragon was in for an almost impossible fight against Steven’s strongest Pokemon, after seeing the steel-type in action when he caught Soar. But if anybody could defeat the Metagross, it was his Latios.

A glint of light flashed from a stone within Steven’s hand. A Megastone.

“No,” Erik whispered as a dark shroud engulfed the Metagross.

“Here we go!” Steven bellowed. “Your end awaits!”

“Soar,” Erik shouted to his friend. “I promised I wouldn’t Mega-Evolve you, but I’ve never seen a Mega taken down by something that wasn’t another Mega.” Erik hesitated for a moment, before continuing. “But a promise is a promise. Make me Champion, my friend.”

Out of the darkness emerged a titanic beast, twice the size of a regular Metagross with ruby red eyes and skin of blue steel laced with black.

Soar assaulted the Mega with a sequence of energy beams which smashed into his foe. Erik’s Latios swerved out the way of a ray of darkness, before resuming his assault. Beam after beam crashed into the Mega-Metagross, who showed no signs of faltering under the relentless waves of attacks.

Suddenly, Soar tumbled from the air, crashing into the stone surface as he turned his head towards Erik. The Mega-Metagross has fried his mind with psychic attacks, overpowering the Latios’ mental resilience and defeating Soar.

Erik’s Pokemon faced his trainer and smiled, as if to say, “it’s been an honour.”

“Soar!” Erik cried. “No, Soar!” he screamed once more as the Latios closed his eyes for one final time, his essence absorbed back into his Pokeball.

Erik was left with a weakened Walrein and a Camerupt inflicted with poison. He chose Seal to face the Mega-Metagross, his hopes of victory rapidly fading.

“You’re the strongest trainer I’ve ever met,” Wally’s ghost spoke from beside Erik. “You’ll win this.”

“Yeah don’t give up!” Cecilia added.

Erik smiled to his friend’s apparitions, before roaring encouragement to his Walrein.

Seal blasted beams of ice at his foe, whilst withstanding powerful psychic ripostes. Erik’s Walrein summoned a wave to ride upon, the waters crashing into Steven’s Pokemon and tearing down a pillar. Sections of the roof collapsed onto both Seal and Mega-Metagross, before Steven’s Mega disintegrated the Walrein with an assault of dark energy.

“Seal!” Erik boomed, as the bond between himself and his Walrein was agonisingly severed.

“Don’t give in,” May’s voice appeared as she strolled up beside him.

“He never does,” Norman added, materialise beside her. “I’m so proud of you, my son.”

Scampering movement behind Erik caught his attention. He turned to face the ghosts of each and every Pokemon he had lost as he launched Rocky’s Pokeball onto the battlefield, pinning his hopes on his final Pokemon.

Seal’s apparition roared to the Camerupt in encouragement as Soar screeched overhead. Ice walked up to Erik and rubbed his head on his trainer’s arm, before making way for Leaf and Dancer to hug a leg each. They were all here, from Roller to Gully to String and Speedy. Iron, Bat and Splash. All of them, here with Erik until the end. Blaze stepped up to his trainer and grabbed a hand, May grabbing the other.

“We’ll never leave you,” May said softly, Blaze chirping in response.

“Steven!” Erik called out to his opponent.

“Yes, Ricky?”

“The poison you infected me with,” he began.

“What of it? Taking its toll?”

“No, it has backfired. You tried to make me see the ghosts of my past, thinking they would defeat me. Instead, they all stand with me now. Until the end.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Steven replied, folding his arms as he lounged across his throne. “You have a poisoned Camerupt against a Mega, you’ve lost.”

“We’ll see,” Erik replied confidently. “Rocky, do this for everyone we’ve lost!”

The Camerupt roared and mustered all his power, summoning an eruption from the duo of volcanos on his back. Unleashing the lava, he fired molten magma at his foe, scolding the Mega-Metagross who had been severely weakened by both Seal and Soar.

Rocky collapsed through exhaustion, the poison had destroyed him from within.

“It can’t be!” Steven roared as his Mega-Metagross de-evolved before his eyes. Rocky eyed his opponent, the two sprawled across the floor devoid of energy. “What’s this? A draw?!” Steven added.

“No,” Erik hissed. His Camerupt bellowed, launching fire from the pits of his soul and smothering the Metagross with flames.

“No!” Steven yelled, as his Pokemon lay defeated before him. “No! No! No!”

Erik sprinted over to his fallen Camerupt moments later, but he was too late, Rocky had already passed. The toxins having eaten away at him from within.

“Thank you, Rocky,” Erik whispered into his fallen Camerupt’s ear before his Pokemon returned to his Pokeball. “I should’ve never doubted you.”

Erik looked behind him to see the ghostly figures disappear one by one. Cecilia, Archie and Wally disappeared smiling, as Dancer and Leaf finally let go of Erik’s legs. Blaze chirped and smile before vanishing into the air.

“Yay!” May screamed delightedly before she too, disappeared.

“You’ve done it, my son,” Norman finished. “Champion of Hoenn.”