Aerial Ascension

Chapter Nineteen – Aerial Ascension

Dozens of oak, beech, mahogany and elm trees arched over a sizable dome compiled of strong wooden layers, with thick beechwood houses resting neatly within the canopies. Dappled sunlight barely touched the ground’s surface as Erik and May strolled through the thick undergrowth to reach of the hardiest looking trees; a towering elm which loomed over the duo, the aging bark on its surface peeling off as if it were shedding its skin.

A ladder indented itself into the majestic tree’s trunk, seemingly carved in by the residents of this strange town. The climb upwards was slow and steady, with little grip to be found on the ladder’s rungs as Erik felt as if he could slip and fall at any time.

As he and May reached the top of the ladder, they ascended onto a wooden platform which acted as the front porchway for one of Fortree City’s humble homes. A score of houses spread out across the treetops, nestled in as if they were bird nests in the trees with each having its own platform. The porchways were connected by treacherous looking rope bridges, but despite the apparent peril, Erik knew he’d have to clamber across if he wished to reach the gym.

“This place is dangerous,” Erik remarked, a strong fear of heights surging through him like poison in his veins.

“Oh Erik,” May giggled, “stop being such a wuss! The people that live here manage just fine.”

“Where’s the gym anyway? I’m here to win my sixth badge not play in the trees!” Erik retorted, attempting to sound tough, but May only chuckled to herself once more.

“Did you not see that huge dome, dummy?”

“That was the gym?!” he remarked in awe.

“It is a flying type gym, the birds need the space to do their thing.” She fluttered Erik a smile, which felt not only a little patronising to him.

They stepped onto the first rope bridge, which wobbled and shook like jelly as soon as Erik stepped on it, before he received the fright of his life as he was flung forward. May had pushed him.

“Hey!” he shouted back, panting.

“You’re so slow,” May laughed, the sound as melodic as birdsong in the trees.

He picked up the pace a little and despite being terrified he didn’t wish to show any more weakness to May. “Why are you even here in Fortree?” he asked as the thought re-entered his mind.

“Visiting an old family friend, who we’re going to see quickly before you head off to the gym.”

“We are?”

“Yep, I met her when I was a child and we have been friends ever since, even though I’m ten years younger than her.”

“And why are we visiting your friend, exactly?” he enquired, slightly irritated that he couldn’t go straight to the gym, but May didn’t appear to be listening. Instead, she was staring at a huge treehouse, certainly the largest in the city, at the other end of the rope bridge they were trekking across.

Instead of beechwood, this house was contrived of oak, with glass windows and a roof made out of both straw and leaves. It dwarfed the other houses in the vicinity. Whereas Fortree City’s other homes consisted of a single large room, this one had two floors; the lower of which being larger as it held up a single room that appeared to be a bedroom.

“We’re here!” May shrieked in delight, banging on the door with an enclosed fist. A cheery woman in her late-twenties burst through the door, holding her arms aloft and hugging May at the sight of the researcher. The woman wore an aqua blue top with white trousers and shoes, but most peculiar about her was a matching blue helmet with goggles resting lazily atop. Her helmet had a hole on either side where her lilac-coloured hair sprang forth like wings.

“It’s so good to see you again May,” the mystery woman remarked, her commanding voice flowing through the air like wind. “And who is your friend?”

“This is Erik, he’s looking to challenge the gym here,” May replied. “And Erik, this is Winona, the Fortree gym leader.”

“Getting someone else to do your dirty work for you as usual May?” Winona chuckled, her facial muscles tensing fiercely as she did so. May blushed.

“Well…” she began, before considering her answer. “If Erik solves your problem, will you allow him to challenge the gym?”

“What problem?” Erik interrupted, feeling even more irritated now that we would have to wait even longer until he has able to challenge for the gym badge.

“We have a Kecleon problem, they change colour and type to camouflage into their environment, and we are currently infested with these invisible creatures who’re eating all of our stockpiled food,” Winona started. “I would clear them out but have no idea how to find the Pokemon, so I asked May and her father for help.”

“And I bought this!” May shouted excitedly, reaching into her backpack and withdrawing a pair of blue goggles with lime green lenses. “A Silph Scope, rebranded as the ‘Devon Scope’ over here in Hoenn, it allows you to see invisible Pokemon through thermal vision.”

“Here you go,” May added, before handing the goggles over to Erik, who promptly proceeded to wrap them around his head, covering his eyes with the device. All around him the room was a dark blue, apart from the two blood-red and orange figures of May and Winona hovering in front of him. “Good luck!” May chuckled, making him immediately feel used by her, and not for the first time.

The Kecleons proved no match for his thermal vision, the creatures appearing through the goggles as visibly as a fire on an open field. The easy victories allowed Erik to finally challenge for his sixth badge.

He cautiously climbed down another ladder, emerging at the dome’s door. The interior was eerily empty but surprisingly spacious. Fans rotated effortlessly on the walls, hoping to aid flying Pokemon as they soared through the air. But what struck Erik most was a smoke machine at the top of the dome, which generated a huge layer of fog above the two rows of fans for the aerial beasts to conceal themselves within. A spiral staircase took up the far corner of the room, presumably leading up to the smoke machine.

“A challenger enters!” a boy of around eighteen roared as Erik gawped at the thick layer of smoke. He hadn’t noticed the two trainers until now. Winona, however, was nowhere to be seen.

“I’m Kylee,” a slightly older woman followed, her ocean blue hair wrapped up in a bun as she lay her piercing mud-brown eyes upon Erik. “And this is Will,” she continued, her friend’s coal black hair was spiked up so highly he reminded Erik almost of a pineapple. A loud and annoying pineapple.

“Who will the challenger battle first?!” Will demanded, speaking with a boom in his voice as if he was attempting to be an announcer.

“Kylee,” he replied instantly, ineffectively hoping to shut the boy up.

“The challenger chooses Kylee!” Will roared into the vast openness of the room, his female counterpart a complete contrast as she looked Erik up and down, judging him with an unbreakable calmness the entire time.

“Swellow, bring me good fortune,” she spoke, giving her Pokeball a soft kiss before launching it into the air.

Erik replied with Dive, the Wailmer rolling along the floor joyfully as his characteristic wide smile spread gently across his features. He also released Blaze from his Pokeball to stand by his side. He had always taken comfort in his eldest friend’s presence.

The huge bird stretched its navy blue and white wings outwards, flapping them slowly but powerfully to propel itself into the air, then it was gone. Ascending swiftly into the generated fog the Swellow became invisible in the thick smoke, as if Kylee’s Pokemon had vanished completely.

“Dive,” Erik began, speaking softly to his Pokemon. “Shoot up water blasts, it can’t hide forever and you never know our luck.”

The Wailmer responded instantly, opening its wide smile to reveal a humongous mouth, jets of water streaming outwards, powerful waves of aqua that pushed towards the smoke.

The two rows of fans that surrounded the mid-level of the dome suddenly roared into action, from slowly moving propellers to rapid rotators. The water blasts smashed into the aerial currents and exploded on contact, leaving a bucketful of water falling back downwards, smacking into the wooden floor and splashing both Erik and Kylee.

“There must be a switch up there,” Erik thought to himself, trying to spot the device but unable to see a glimpse of anything through the smoke. Suddenly his attention was thrown back to Dive, his Wailmer rocketing across the room before crashing into the floor. The Swellow had used the opportunity to attack, before rapidly retreating back into the fog.

Erik and Dive remained clueless, they both had no idea how they could attack the Swellow as it zoomed back downwards, aided by the rapidly rotating fans. The flying type launched a fast paced attack leading with its beak, smashing into the Wailmer who had almost reached her breaking point.

Erik recalled Dive, sending out Dancer in her place. He hoped that the Pikachu’s agility and type advantage would pull through here, but still had no idea as to how to attack the Swellow. Luckily, Dancer did. The Pikachu sprinted over to the spiral staircase, climbing each stair quickly with little hops as she ascended towards the fog herself.

However, her attempts were in vain, as soon as Dancer reached the halfway point of the stairway, vigorous gusts of wind launched her over the edge. All that kept her from falling to her doom was an iron railing that snaked its way around both sides of the staircase, as she gripped on tightly with both of her front paws.

Swellow seized the opportunity, diving down as straight as an arrow towards his dangling foe. Kylee’s Pokemon dived underneath Erik’s Pokemon in an attempt to shoot back upwards and knock the Pikachu off. The Swellow had fallen into Dancer’s trap.

Dancer released her grip, the wind pushing her backwards slightly but just enough for her to be able to grab onto the ascending Swellow’s back. The duo shot into the smoke and all that followed was a momentary silence, like a few seconds of calmness in a thunderous storm. Before, like a storm, the clouds lit up with electricity.

The fried Swellow fell through the air, past the fans which had suddenly calmed down, and to the ground. Dancer rode her foe in a crouched stance the whole time, like a surfer preparing to hit a wave, and leapt off at just the right moment.

“The challenger wins the first round!” Will boomed.

“Skarmory,” Kylee followed, before softly kissing her next Pokeball. “Avenge Swellow.”

The metal bird roared into life as it escaped the capsule, a metallic screech piercing the air. Erik gave a quick nod to Blaze in response, knowing his fire type always did well against steel Pokemon.

Kylee’s flying type aimed directly for the smoke, and to what Erik presumed would be the fan switch. Blaze wasn’t about to let his foe have the opportunity, launching a barrage of fireballs which cut through the smoke like a hot knife through butter, each missing the target as new smoke covered where the old had dissipated.

Erik waited for the inevitable, the fans were sure to speed up any second now and Dancer’s trick wouldn’t work twice. Time moved in slow motion as anticipation swelled within him, but nothing happened, the fans remained ticking along slowly.

Blaze continued launching fireballs. One such parted the smoke to hit something solid, the object emanating a metallic screech as the Skarmory fell from the sky, twirling effortlessly like a falling feather as its limp body tumbled to the ground. In the brief moments the smoke had parted, Erik saw that the Skarmory had been desperately attempting to get a switch to work next to the spiral staircase. Presumably the fan speed switch had been fried by the electrical attack from Dancer.

“And the challenger leaves Kylee to her last Pokemon!” Will once again sounded, resulting in a fierce look from his colleague.

“Shut up and fix that switch!” Kylee growled, her usual calmness disappearing alongside her hopes of defeating Erik. Will complied without a word, seemingly struck back by his friend’s fury, and he began to climb the staircase.

Kylee’s final Pokemon was a Swablu, Erik countering with Horde, knowing the fans could restart at any time he now tried a new tactic. One he had thought up whilst Kylee and Will bickered.

Horde waited, the Tentacruel now mature enough along with a bond strong enough to read his trainer’s thoughts. The fans blurred into action, but still Horde remained motionless, almost inviting the Swablu to attack even if his foe had the fan-generated currents to support it.

Kylee’s Pokemon attacked, riding through the currents and gathering speed. The Swablu flew through the air nowhere near as quickly as the Swellow, it’s small and weak wings made it seem as if it moved while carrying an extra ten tons.

Horde whipped out a tentacle like a lash, followed by another, then another, until a half-dozen or so thick arms wrapped themselves around the creature and crushed the life out of Kylee’s Pokemon. Erik had won the first matchup just as the fans clicked back into action. Will climbed back down the staircase, ready to fight.

A brown ball of fur sprouting a duo of bird-like heads and two large clawed feet was Will’s first fighter. The Duduo made no attempt to fly, before Erik remembered that the Pokemon had no wings, a strange choice in a gym full of aids for flying types – and so it proved.

Blaze ruthlessly attacked his opponent, incinerating the Pokemon as if it were a ball of fluff in a stream of lava. Will had lost the first of his four Pokemon within seconds.

“No announcement?” Erik teased, Will’s expression at the taunt changing from focused to tensed. The gym trainer stayed silent, launching a second Pokeball into the air.

“Dancer,” Erik followed up. “You know what to do.”

The Pikachu purred in response, studying her opponent. The Pelipper ascended quickly, aiming for the switch to blast the fans into action. Dancer charged up an attack, and fired. But she was too slow. The fans blazed into life, emitting aerial currents that sucked the electricity out of the air and rendered the Pikachu’s attack useless.

Dancer recoiled as her attack failed with Will’s Pokemon swiftly taking the opportunity to strike, surfing the fan currents at high speed before being fried by an electrical attack. Erik’s Pokemon had feigned weakness once more and tricked her opponent. Dancer was becoming a master of deception.

Will whispered something to the next Pokeball. Erik was out of earshot, but saw tears forming in his opponent’s eyes. He felt slightly sorry for his foe, but being a Pokemon trainer was a ruthless career, especially if you wished to be a future gym leader. A second Doduo was the Pokemon Will had pinned his hopes on.

Erik reached to his belt and brushed two fingers over Soar’s Pokeball, before pulling his hand away and nodding to Blaze. His Latios could wait until he battled Winona, he wanted to keep the legendary Pokemon as a surprise alternative. Not only that, he also feared the power of mega evolution. He was clueless as to the consequences of unleashing the megastones’s energy on Soar.

Blaze’s tactic was identical to how he handled the previous Doduo, blasting the flying type with fire in an attempt to incinerate the bird.

“Doduo! Pull through, please!” Will screamed, his childlike demeanour shining in the light of the flames.

Erik suddenly realised the shine wasn’t coming from the flames, but instead a bright white light in the middle of them. Once Blaze stopped attacking and the fires dissipated, a new Pokemon emerged from within. Doduo had evolved. The Pokemon that had taken its place had grown an extra head along with all its features becoming enhanced. The creature now stood at almost twice the size.

The Dodrio moved quickly, taking advantage of a stunned Blaze and launched an attack from each of its heads. The right hand side beak shot a blast of fire, the middle head a wave of electricity and the final one a burst of ice. All three collided with a single wave of roaring flames from Blaze simultaneously, the Combusken’s attack equally as powerful as the Dodrio’s tri-attack.

Both Pokemon were thrown backwards from the resulting explosion, crashing into the ground behind them. Moments passed as they clambered back to their feet in unison, before Blaze used his remaining energy to leap across the room, grappling onto the bird’s middle head. The Dodrio had him just where it wanted, the two flanking heads prepared an assault, inhaling air before launching an attack of both ice and fire.

Blaze released his grip, falling to the floor as both attacks crashed into the middle head, creating another explosive reaction which seemed to fry all three of the bird’s brains at once. Or maybe, Erik thought, only the middle head had one singular large brain.

“No!” Will screamed, throwing his final Pokeball into the air with force. A second Pelipper materialised from within. Dancer was once again released into the fray.

“Is that all you’ve got?” Erik laughed, provoking his opponent up even more.

“Just shut up!” Will yelled, his voice like a childs who had had their toys snatched away from them.

The fans had remained whirling in full force as the Pelipper escaped into the smoke. The dual water and flying type lingered in the clouds awaiting Dancer to make her move, feeling safe and secure whilst out of sight.

Dancer sprinted up the spiral staircase for a second time, but this time, when she hit the air currents, she clinged on forcefully to a railing. Sidestepping her way slowly up the stairs, the Pelipper remained stationary in the smoke, feeling safer to wait there than risk an attack.

“Your Pikachu can’t trick my Pelly! He’s smart!” Will roared, anger surging through his childlike features in the form of twitches and tense expressions.

“Or he now knows that Dancer has tricked two Pokemon in this gym, and doesn’t wish to be the third,” Erik replied with complete calm.

“But how would he know? He’s been in his ball this whole time,” Will countered.

“Pokemon channel their trainer’s thoughts and energies, they know what you know,” Erik replied, feeling like he was echoing Steven’s advice to himself.

Dancer had reached the top of the wind currents, she was safe and Pelipper knew this all too well. Will’s Pokemon launched a stream of water at the Pikachu, who retaliated by electrifying the attack. Once the electrified water hit Dancer she soaked up the electricity, taking minimal damage. The electrical current flowed through the water which resonated from the Pelipper’s mouth, and once it reached the source, it destroyed the Pokemon from within. Erik had earned the right to challenge Winona.

Will slouched to the ground, his eyes clouded with both frustration and exasperation as they remained locked on Erik.

“How did you beat me so easily?” Will cried out, finally lowering his gaze as he slammed a fist into the ground.

“You had no connection with any of your Pokemon except for that Dodrio,” Erik started, feeling like a father advising a son. “That’s why your Dodrio gave me such a challenge.”

“But you said Pelly could hear my thoughts?!” Will shouted, like a petulant child.

“He can, but having a strong bond with a Pokemon and having you and your partner fight for each other is completely different to your Pelly channeling your thoughts inside a Pokeball.”

“So what do I do?”

“Treat your Pokemon like friends rather than tools for battle. Open up to them emotionally and allow them to channel your anger, your fears and your strength. Like you did with your Dodrio,” Erik finished, before strolling outside without a further word, he needed to visit the Pokemon Centre before he battled Winona.

Erik returned to the gym after healing his team at the Pokemon Centre on the outskirts of town. The climb through the trees was easier to him the second time around as his thoughts remained focused entirely on the upcoming battle. Although he did not recall seeing Winona during his duels with both Kylee and Will.

“Surely she must have been watching?” he thought to himself during his descent down one of the built-in ladders. He had spent the majority of the trek pondering battle tactics. He knew Winona would use the smoke and fans more effectively than her subordinates.

He pushed aside the large oakwood door, a loud creak flowing through the air as he did so. When he entered the towering dome the entire interior appeared to have changed. Erik blinked twice in disbelief, before realising that the only difference was the lack of smoke. The machine had been turned off, causing the building to seem twice as large.

“Erik,” Winona beckoned from the apex of the spiral staircase, her voice echoing sharply around the room. “Follow me.”

The gym leader climbed out of a trapdoor at the top of the stairway which led to the roof, Erik briskly following. He half-ran up the staircase, each stair leading onto another, and then another, it seemed to be everlasting as he impatiently awaited the fight for his sixth badge.

He finally reached the top of the stairway. Gasping for breath, he pulled himself through the trapdoor, which led to a ladder on the other side. Climbing the metal rungs which were still slick with rainwater one at a time, he ascended onto a large platform which towered over the trees.

Large drops of rain battered him. He hadn’t noticed the weather until now, the trees protecting him from the falling water as he had wandered the city. The platform was grass-green in colour and completely flat. Two human-sized birdcages lay to either side, glued to the ground by gigantic metal bolts which pinned the rim to the surface. There were no rails or barriers to stop a Pokemon from falling over the edge, giving flying types a distinct advantage.

“Peaceful, isn’t it?” Winona spoke as she lifted her head and inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of the open skies above her. “Please enter your cage, it will stop you from being swept over the edge in the fight.”

Erik complied, but as he made his way to the cage he found himself bracing as he battled harsh winds due to the altitude. The gusts made it seem as if nature itself was acting as the two layers of rapidly rotating fans that affected the battle so heavily back in the dome.

As soon as he stepped into the birdcage, its metal door slammed shut. A sharp clicking briefly followed to signal that he was locked within. Presumably to stop him running after a falling Pokemon and withdrawing them into their Pokeball just before they hit the ground.

As he pondered the thought, he was snapped back to attention by Winona releasing a Swellow into battle, the large bird sweeping its wings furiously as it launched itself into the open skies aided by the howling winds.

Erik brushed over Blaze’s Pokeball, then Dancer’s, before deciding that he wanted to save the two for Winona’s stronger Pokemon. Leaf was weak against flying types and Soar still being kept for the element of surprise later on, leaving him with a choice of either Horde or Dive. The former got called to fight for his proficiency against flying types in battle against Kylee.

Horde shot streams of ferocious water and stinging poisonous liquid at his foe, but the Swellow had already shot up into the skies, the attacks missing the target before Winona’s Pokemon managed to ascend even further out of reach.

A couple of seconds passed before the Swellow divebombed the platform. Horde shot out further blasts of water followed by poison directly upwards, which surprisingly missed the bird. Until Erik realised that the Swellow wasn’t aiming for Horde. Both Pokemon and trainer were caught out by the rapid movement of the descending flying type, the Swellow flashing past the platform like a bolt of lightning.

All that could be heard for a few moments was the melodic pattering of rain against the platform’s surface, as Erik’s Tentacruel warily crawled over to the edge. Horde leaned over in an attempt to spot the Swellow in the depths of the city until he was suddenly hauled over, the Swellow gripping onto his large nose with her strong beak and hoisting Horde over the side, the Tentacruel tumbling towards its peril.

Horde hastily whipped out his many arms, grabbing onto the edge and swinging himself back over with all his might despite the Swellow remaining attached to his face. The two Pokemon crashed down onto the platform’s hard, plastic surface with a thud.

The Swellow looked to regain an immediate advantage, shooting back off into the skies. Horde had no wish to let his foe escape from his grasp, spitting a plethora of acid at the bird which harshly bit at the Swellow’s skin on contact.

In agony, the Swellow swept downwards for an attack, Horde launching a pulse of water at her in return. Winona’s Pokemon appeared to morph into two as it moved with such agility through the air, dodging the watery blasts and landing an attack on her foe before flying back into the air.

Horde recoiled before he could compose himself, the Swellow beginning her descent once more as she prepared for a final assault on the weakened Tentacruel. Winona’s Pokemon reused her double team tactic, but this time Horde remained perfectly still, biding his time. Swellow opened her beak and roared, sensing victory, before a half-dozen tentacles lashed up and whipped the bird out of the sky, then wrapped themselves around the flying type and squeezed the remaining life out of Winona’s Pokemon. Horde had won Erik the first fight, collapsing in a heap through exhaustion.

Winona launched her second Pokeball into the open skies, a Skarmory roaring repeatedly as it emerged. Blaze fried steel type Pokemon for fun, and so Erik hoped it would happen once more as his oldest friend stepped into the arena to face off against Winona’s next Pokemon. The dual type soared into the skies instantly, performing pirouettes in the sky to avoid fire blasts before divebombing the Combusken, scratching Erik’s Pokemon a couple of times and ascending back into the air whilst dodging yet more waves of flame in its twirling ascension.

The Skarmory swept down for a second flurry of attacks, but this time Blaze was ready. The Combusken waited calmly until Winona’s Pokemon was almost upon him, before launching two fierce kicks into the creature’s abdomen. The Skarmory crashed into the surface, to be met by a blast of fire from Blaze who melted the Pokemon’s steel shell whole.

“Darn,” Winona growled, her voice almost lost in the howling winds and ferocious rain. “But you have no chance against my strongest Pokemon!” she declared, launching a Pokeball into the skies to reveal an Altaria. The huge blue dragon flapped its pearl-white cotton wings powerfully as it began its own flight into the clouds.

“Aim for the wings!” Erik shouted to his Pokemon, not wanting to waste time by switching his Combusken out, even though Blaze seemed to recoil every few seconds, as the rain slowly chipped away at his friend’s health.

Blaze launched fire at the cotton formed wings of the Altaria, but the dragon type turned sharply on its side, avoiding the flames and launching a counterattack. Winona’s Pokemon attacked with dragon breath, the force of the move throwing the Combusken backwards and nearly over the edge as he crashed into the ground alongside Erik’s cage.

“Blaze, get up!” Erik shouted as he saw the Altaria charge towards her foe. But his shouts were in vain.

As his Pokemon climbed to his feet, the Altaria grabbed him in her talons, swiping the Combusken off his feet. Winona’s creature flew up both high and far enough until she hung over the far edge of the dome, and dropped Blaze.

Erik flew forward, grabbing the cage door in desperation as he tried to force it open so he could recall Blaze, but once again his efforts were in vain. The door was locked shut. He closed his eyes, and spoke to his Combusken almost in prayer, wishing his words would help Blaze survive a fatal fall. But even in his most hopeful thoughts, Erik knew that surviving a drop from that height would be impossible.

“Whenever I’ve needed you, you’ve saved me,” he begged, tears streaming relentlessly down his face. “Whenever I’ve been unable to fight, you’ve pulled us all through the pain. Please don’t leave me,” he paused momentarily in his thoughts as visions of his father walking out on him as a child entered his mind, before he continued. “Enough people have left me, please not you too, I need you, I believe in you.”

“No way..” he heard Winona mutter in disbelief. Erik forced opened his eyes to see a dim light in the distance, as the Altaria perched itself and cooed victoriously atop her trainer’s cage. He turned to see a ruby red coloured Pokemon rapidly running up the side of the dome, it bore orange feet and had flames emanating from around its wrists. A white mane sprouted from its head, held up by a red crest with two sharp points.

“Blaze..” Erik whispered, as the Pokemon lunged through the air, leaping an impossible height and kicking the Altaria with feet covered in flames. The strange Pokemon then began pounding its foe with fists of fire, before it collapsed in a heap on the ground.

Erik grabbed Blaze’s Pokeball and withdrew the newly evolved Blaziken. The process of evolution must have saved his life, just like it had with Will’s Dodrio, and the surge of adrenaline had allowed him to carry on momentarily fighting, but nothing could save him from the exhaustion and weakness his Blaziken now felt.

“You pulled through again,” Erik whispered to Blaze’s Pokeball. “Now time for Soar.”

Altaria roosted atop the cage, regaining health along with Winona applying a hyper potion, the dragon flapping its wings happily at the treatment. Altaria was now almost back to full health before Erik even had time to switch in his Latios.

“How did you get a legendary Pokemon?!” Winona howled through the winds and rain.

Erik remained silent, his full focus remaining on the fight as Soar and Altaria ascended into the skies and traded blows. The two dragons proved evenly matched, swapping swipes and dragon breathes between each other before Erik dipped into his pocket almost subconsciously, rubbing his fingers over the megastone as he desired to witness its power.

As Altaria crashed into the Latios, Erik made his move, hoping to swing the battle in his favour. The instant he pulled out the stone and pointed it in his Pokemon’s direction, it engulfed Soar in what at first seemed like the light of evolution. However instead of a bright white light, pure darkness shrouded his Pokemon. The black cloud hung menacingly in the air for a few seconds until two red orbs pierced through the shadows. He noticed the stone in his hand had also turned completely black, like the soul had been drained out of it.

The darkness dissipated leaving a huge dragon in its place. The Mega Latios seemed twice as large, his calm eyes replaced by two red slits. The colouring of his skin had changed as well, from ocean blue to turquoise. A deathly screech emerged from from the creature’s mouth.

“What is that?!” Winona shrieked, as Erik felt goosebumps upon his skin.

The Latios focused its glare upon the Altaria, who seemed to be backing off slightly. Erik’s Pokemon blasted its foe with a powerful beam contrived of pure darkness which seemed to evaporate the Altaria within its midst.

Mega Latios let out another piercing screech, the sound so ugly it harshly banged against Erik’s eardrums, forcing him to clap his hands over his ears, dropping the stone in the process. His eyes were drawn back to the megastone, colour slowly returning to the alien rock as the Latios dropped out of the sky, resuming its normal form as he crashed into the platform. The Pokemon looked weak and fragile after the ordeal, as if the lifeforce had been drained from him.

Winona moved to grab the final Pokeball off her belt, until her hand froze in place. She looked shocked, like she had seen something she could not believe. She conceded victory to Erik and handed over her badge without a further word.

“I’m glad you won’t use it again, it sounds dangerous,” May whispered to Erik as they sat on a sturdy tree branch, their feet dangling freely over the edge. He had just filled her in on the gym battle and what had happened with Latios.

“I just feel sorry for Latios,” Erik replied, his head dropped low as he held his hand in hers.

“You weren’t to know what would happen.” He felt May’s eyes on him, as if her gaze pierced his skin and entered his soul. “So, what comes next on Erik’s grand adventure?”

Erik felt himself smiling. “Well I have two more badges to collect, and of course Team Magma to deal with. Maybe Giovanni too. But firstly I need to apologise to Latios. And do this.”

“Do what?” May replied curiously.

His head felt as if it weighed a ton as he slowly lifted it, before he locked gazes with May and felt a huge rush of emotion. He leaned in and kissed her softly.

Erik pulled away after only a couple of seconds, but May wasn’t about to let him go. She grabbed Erik forcefully and pulled him back to her. She kissed him firmly, their lips interlocking then releasing as they weaved shapes with their tongues. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Erik felt joy, and for only a few moments, he was at peace.

“I’m sorry,” Erik whispered to Soar, stroking the beast’s long neck. “If I had known mega-evolution would cause you pain, I would never have tried it.”

The Latios purred softly in response, he seemed to have forgiven its trainer.

Soar crouched down, beckoning Erik to mount who complied after a moment’s hesitation. He grabbed onto the Latios’s back before clambering onto his Pokemon.

Soar took off, launching itself from the ground with its trainer in tow, who clung onto his Latios for his life. Erik felt his fear of heights take over him, before his Pokemon roared triumphantly. The sound was almost soothing to his ears as he sat up on his Pokemon’s back, releasing his grip as the Latios hovered smoothly in the air.

Erik shouted a jumble of words in glee, he could go wherever he wanted to now on the back of Soar. He was free.