Those Who Remain

Chapter Twenty-Four – Those Who Remain

Soar gasped for air as he emerged from the ocean, flailing around hopelessly as the currents swept him towards the small ring-shaped island where Erik and Cecilia sat, the duo peering into the ocean, which now bubbled in the place where the chasm had once divided the ocean’s once calm surface. The water hissed as smoke rose from within and reached into the sky. Pokemon inside slowly boiled within the now furnace-like sea as the baking sun threatened all life within.

Hordes of ocean-dwelling creatures floated to the surface, some desperately gulping in oxygen, others not breathing at all. Shoals of Magikarp lay on their sides, the currents pushing and pulling them with the Pokemon too weak to resist the angry sea. Tentacools joined them, the weakest were always the first to fall, as many washed up on the island’s soft sands, their liquid skin steaming in the glaring sun.

“Erik…” Cecilia whispered, her voice frail from a mixture of exhaustion, shock and anguish. Beads of sweat dripped down her face as she too struggled in the intense heat. “Please, speak to me.”

Erik felt as if he was melting, both on the inside and outside. His skin felt rough and torn, and was surely as pink as a Jigglypuff’s by now. It had only been five minutes since the chasm closed, but it had felt like a lifetime. The sight of May falling back into the cavern replayed itself over and over again in his mind, as he repeatedly thought of far fetched ways he could’ve saved her. If he hadn’t been so caught up in the moment, then he maybe he would’ve released Bat, who could’ve flown down and caught her. Or his grip could had been stronger, or had sweat not been trickling down his hands then it definitely would have. The next time he visualised it all happening again, he threw himself in after May, perishing with her.

“That’s what I should’ve done, at least that way, he would have left this life together,” he thought out loud.

Cecilia slapped him. “Don’t you dare speak like that!” she bellowed. “You’re not the only one who lost a friend today!”

The strike snapped Erik back to reality, although the emotional conflict of sorrow, grief and fury continued warring within himself. “A friend?!” he roared, his voice laced with animosity. “She was so much more to me than just a friend!”

“We’ll both die if we stay here!” she screamed.

“I don’t care!” he shouted, turning his back on her.

“And what about the oceans boiling and Pokemon dying all around us?!”

“I don’t care,” he whispered. He was shaking violently, but couldn’t tell if it was out of sadness or anger. He turned to face Cecilia once more, but this time the rage from her eyes had disappeared, to be replaced by something else. Fear. She was terrified.

“Erik, please,” she spoke whilst shaking just as violently as he was. “If we die here, so many Pokemon will too. And all the people that will die in the heat too. Please don’t let Team Magma win.”

“Maxie is gone,” he growled. “Which means Magma are, too.” He remembered the image of Maxie disappearing within Groudon’s flames, Giovanni and Team Rocket were behind all of it, like they always had been. They had taken his father from him, they had taken his childhood from him, and now they had taken May. “Cecilia,” he said, his voice cold. “We’re leaving.”

“Where are we going?”


“Good idea, if Groudon reaches the centre of the Cave of Origin he will be unstoppable.”

“No, we take down Groudon to stop Team Rocket and whatever this ‘New Age’ is.”

The city of Sootopolis nestled itself within an ancient crater. White runestone surrounded Erik and Cecilia as they traversed the carved streets and many buildings constructed from wood intertwined with stone which sprawled around the entire perimeter.

Erik healed his team at the Pokemon Centre before continuing along the street, following the claw and scorch marks which lined the walls towards the Cave of Origin. Whisperings of wounded and exasperated citizens informed Erik that Groudon had stormed the city, summoning lava in an attempt to use it as a launchpad to throw him over the crater walls, before eliminating any resistance to himself from the townspeople. Groudon scorched Pokemon and person alike as he tore his way towards the Cave of Origin.

A crowd of trainers loitered around the entrance of the cave, awaiting the ancient creature as they anticipated Groudon’s return to the surface. Each trainer clasped their hands to Pokeballs on their belts or hid behind their strongest Pokemon. All apart from the two heading the group.

“Erik!” Steven exclaimed, a blue orb in his grasp. “I’m glad you’re here. Wallace and I need all the help we can get.” He nodded to the man beside him. Wallace looked to be in his early thirties with turquoise eyes with hair which curled gracefully around his head, covered by a white sailors hat. He bore a long white cape with a teal interior. The man’s every action was considered and graceful as he frollocked around like a dancer, elegantly moving along the pavement as he attempted to calm down the exasperated citizens.

“Out of my way!” Erik demanded, barging his way through the crowd before the two men at the head of the group barred his path. Cecilia struggled to keep pace as she politely pushed her way through.

“It’s too dangerous to go inside, even as the champion and eighth gym leader we aren’t strong enough to confront the beast within,” Steven spoke, a hint of fear clear in his voice.

“If Groudon reverts to its primal form we have lost!” Erik bellowed. “I won’t ask again. Move!”

The two looked at each other nervously. “Wait,” Wallace spoke, his high pitched voice singing like a melody. “We believe that this blue orb is the counter to the red one. Both came crashing down with the meteor upon its arrival to Hoenn.”

“Let him pass,” Cecilia ordered as she caught up to them. “I’ll look out for him.”

“No, I’ve already lost May because she insisted on coming with me to a place too dangerous.”

“But-” Cecilia whined, before Erik instantly cut her off with a powerful glare. “Oh,” she squeaked. “I’ll wait outside.”

Steven and Wallace jumped out of the way as Erik barged through, grabbing the orb as he pushed his way passed the duo. “We’ll wait outside with Cecilia, err, incase you fail,” one of them shouted after him, he wasn’t sure which.

Flames roared ferociously atop torches, somehow remaining lit along the smooth white stone walls of the ancient cavern. Symbols and drawings lined the interior, scrawled in a language Erik could not understand. He was unsure whether they were drawn by early humans or were here when the meteor crashed into Hoenn.

A trail of destruction created a pathway for Erik to travel down, to the very core of the cavern. Groudon had somehow carved through the runestone and ventured deep underground, to the very pits of the planet. The further he travelled, the more treacherous the path became. Molten lava seeped from scratch marks in the walls, melting the rock straight through underneath as magma dripped onto it. Sweltering heat escalated the further he walked, almost searing through his flesh, making Erik feel as if he were melting.

Erik’s vision blurred as haze smouldered around him, before it was replaced by a wall of blue. The orb in his hand emitted a shield around him, circling him like a bubble and pushing away the heat like a powerful gust of wind. As he descended through the newly created tunnels, flames licked up at him from the walls as lava dripped through crevices on the roof. The molten liquid steamed and evaporated as it hit the bubble, with the vicious fires recoiling like a stricken animal upon contact with the shield. Despite being within the hottest oven on the planet, Erik felt cooled by the internal temperatures of the blue orb’s protective shield.

The tunnel reached an abrupt climax, as large lumps of stone tumbled into a fierce ocean of lava below, plumes of flame ascending from the molten sea. Erik released Soar from his Pokeball, clambering on top of the Latios as the shield expanded and covered both trainer and Pokemon. They flew into the pit.

The ocean parted before the blue orb’s energy, as Soar plunged into the depths. Lava screamed at the impact, hissing and roaring violently as it evaporated at the shield’s touch. The extinguish liquid was rapidly replaced by more as Soar funneled through, hunting down Groudon before it could reach the cavern’s core.

The magma thinned as the brimstone walls around the ocean narrowed, somehow containing the liquid beast within its stony embrace. Soar smashed through a wall , the shield crushing layers of rock in its wake as lava followed through after him. Soar and Erik emerged in an enormous room.

Ancient markings lined the walls, glowing white in the Groudon’s presence as magma poured from the newly formed hole in the wall. The molten waterfall crashed into a small bed of lava which lined the surface, a large rock jutting from it. Purple crystals spun slowly, circling the rock menacingly as cracks swiftly carved their way through the stone and shone a bright white. Groudon perched atop the towering boulder.

As Soar began to land, another section of stone rose from out of the ground, reacting to the blue orb’s presence as it pushed through the pool of lava and created a landing bay. Erik wrenched Blaze and Splash’s Pokeballs from his belt, launched them and quickly grabbed the trio of megastones from within his backpack.

A flicker of doubt flashed across his thoughts. He had seen how a darkness had entered the souls of the three Pokemon who stood before him, and now with even more excessive use of the stones he clutched within his hands, would they reach a point of no return? He shook the negativity from his mind and pointed the rocks at his Pokemon. He would destroy Groudon and Team Rocket by whatever means necessary, they had taken May from him, and now nothing else mattered but vengeance.

Groudon joined Erik’s Pokemon in a painful screech, the ear piercing sounds so violent they caused the entire room to shake as lava spurted both from the waterfall and the pool below, striking up and hitting the bubble shield which surrounded Erik and clashing with the three clouds of darkness that shrouded his Pokemon.

The shining white cracks upon the rock, which the ancient creature used as a podium, had reached the giant boulder’s pinnacle, and had began carving into Groudon. Essence-like particles of energy floated towards the creature from the crystals, changing the gems from purple to black as they were drained. The essence glided towards Groudon who absorbed the particles into his skin. It reminded Erik of how Leaf used pollen to affect her foes.

The white energy from the rock slithered up Groudon like many snakes, making it look as if the creature’s veins were lighting up. The gigantic creature writhed and screamed in pain as the three megas emerged from the dark clouds to face him. Erik’s three Pokemon launched their attacks at the Groudon simultaneously, to be swallowed by an evolution-like bright light.

Moments later, Primal Groudon emerged. Twice the size he was before, the creature now stood at around forty feet high, with bright white cracks in his skin and his vulnerable underbelly turned from a soft white to an impenetrable-looking black.

Erik held his breath in awe, he had never seen a more formidable looking Pokemon. Awe was mercilessly replaced by fury as his whole body shook from rage, the wounds from losing May were still fresh, and cut very deep.

Mega-Splash attempted another attack, but his dark water blast fizzled out and evaporated within the heat of the cave as the Primal Groudon ruthlessly and effortlessly swatted the Mega-Gyarados aside. Dark flame blasts intertwined with black energy beams as Mega-Blaze combined his efforts with Mega-Soar. The two attacks struck the Groudon who recoiled only slightly, before unleashing a vigorous roar. The entire cavern trembled as lava hissed and flared, shooting up and scolding Mega-Soar. Erik released Dancer from her Pokeball for his own protection, as Mega-Blaze stood alone against the Primal Groudon.

Erik’s eldest friend rolled to the side as his foe smashed a hammer-like fist into the ground, the Primal Groudon’s long claws scraping against the rock. Mega-Blaze launched a blast of black fire, dodged a retaliative swipe and attacked again, the colourless flames expanding and wrapping upon contact with the beast. Mega-Splash recovered to launch a furious assault on the Groudon, smashing his tail against his foe like a gigantic whip, following the blow with a series of water blasts.

Erik watched on in horror as the Primal Groudon grasped Mega-Splash and held him in the air, his tail dangling over the pool of lava below as the molten liquid flared up greedily at its next meal. Mega-Blaze hopped up the boulder where Groudon perched, rapidly climbing the rock until he reached the summit. Once there, his flame-covered hands enclosed into fists as the Mega-Blaziken began a barrage of fiery strikes against the ancient Pokemon’s chest.

Groudon recoiled as painful rapid blows struck his stomach, again and again. Mega-Splash thrashed around within the creature’s grasp, managing to writhe free, throwing himself to the solid ground below and de-evolving. Erik grabbed Splash’s Pokeball and recalled the Gyarados as Mega-Soar slowly climbed back to his feet.

Primal Groudon’s nails were knives as they cut into Mega-Blaze, before the fire type was launched across the room by a wild swing of the Pokemon’s huge foot. The Mega-Blaziken’s flames hissed and evaporated upon contact with the blue orb’s protective bubble, as Mega-Blaze bounced off the shield and crashed to the ground below.

Mega-Soar screeched as it took to the air once more, the weakened Primal Groudon stumbling atop the boulder before falling off into the lava below.

“Finish it!” Erik roared, his fists clenched and blood pumping furiously.

His Mega-Latios obliged, a dark blast of energy devouring the ancient creature who smouldered within. A deathly roar filled the room, entering the walls and tearing down the roof as the cavern began to crash down around them. The protective shield around Erik flickered and faded perilously as soon as the Groudon was defeated, as if its life relied upon the creature’s own.

Another screech consumed the room. Erik switched his attention from the shield around him to his two Pokemon outside. Mega-Blaze had de-evolved as wounds infested the Blaziken’s weakened body, and as Blaze lay prone and unmoving on the cavern floor, Mega-Soar honed in on his next victim.

Erik threw his bag to the ground, fumbling around desperately for the Masterball within. He found Blaze’s megastone, then Soar’s, then near the bottom of his backpack, the device he needed to save his friend’s life. A final howl of pain flowed through the cave, penetrating Erik’s skin and piercing his heart. He slowly tilted his gaze upwards to find his Blaziken’s body devastated within a blast of dark energy.

The Masterball dropped out of Erik’s clutches and to the floor. Dancer reacted instantly as Mega-Soar stared at his trainer through cold, red eyes. She grabbed the Masterball and threw it, before ripping Bat’s Pokeball off of Erik’s belt and launching it into the air.

While Dancer shoved the stones back in her trainer’s backpack, Bat swooped over to the Masterball as the lights on top turned from yellow to green. The shield had almost faded completely as sharp rocks rained down upon them and lava spewed violently from the walls and floor. Bat released Soar from the Masterball, allowing the Latios to pick Erik up as Dancer recalled the Golbat before withdrawing into her own capsule.

Erik couldn’t remember what happened next, his vision blurred as his thoughts filled with Blaze joining May in the afterlife, now all he wanted to do was join them, there was nothing left for him out here.

Torrential rain had replaced remorseless heat over the last couple of weeks, as large raindrops battered the mud and dirt. Professor Birch rested one hand on the coffin and the other on his heart as he passionately recited stories of his daughter. Alongside him was Norman, his oldest friend, who dipped his head in deep regret. After a harrowing tale of the time May first helped him on a field trip, the professor could take no more. The man sprinted from the field in tears, unable to comprehend the fact his daughter was now lost to him. Norman completed the speech in his stead.

Erik peered through his thick hood as he loitered behind the treeline, staring out into the small forest clearing. He was too racked with guilt and shame to show his face, but he couldn’t miss May’s funeral. His heart ached mercilessly and he couldn’t tell whether his face was soaked due to the rain or his tears. He sighted Cecilia alongside his mother in the crowd, who constantly checked around her to see if her son was to join them. Wally was alongside her, and Archie a row behind. The two had finally resurfaced after weeks, or in Wally’s case, months, of almost ceasing to exist.

After Norman had finished speaking, the coffin was buried underground by a funeral attendant and his group of Machokes. The crowd slowly receded as stunned citizens of Hoenn said their last words to May and retreated to their homes. After a few minutes, everyone had departed. Everyone apart from Norman, Wally, Cecilia and Archie, who had all gathered in the centre of the clearing.

“We know you’re here, son,” Norman called out, scanning the trees with heavy set eyes. The trio around him betrayed Erik’s father’s words, gasping before frantically glancing around the clearing for any sign of their friend.

Erik marched out from the trees, hearing his father beckon him released a surge of anger into his system, gushing from the deepest pits of his soul where he had buried it. Norman was part of Team Rocket, and it was their plan that had caused him to lose May, Blaze and countless others. He approached his father, fists enclosed and ready to swing, but when he was only inches away he collapsed into Norman’s outstretched arms, tears flowing freely as all of his grief struck him at once. He was a child again, in his father’s caring arms.

“I’m so sorry Erik,” Norman whispered.

“Why Dad, why?!” Erik shrilly cried out.

“I only wanted what was best for you.” His father’s hands clench around him, and he heard a fierceness in Norman’s tone that he thought he been swallowed up by his Rocket indoctrination. “But look what Giovanni has reduced you to, my own son.”

“Would you like some space, Norm?” Archie asked, attempting to keep his gruff voice as friendly as possible.

“No, I asked the three of you to stay behind for a reason,” the Petalburg gym leader replied, his barely controlled voice raw with anger. “I know all about Team Rocket’s next step, ‘New Age’.”

“Yeah, to release Groudon. But that thing went as quick as it came,” the Team Aqua leader replied.

“Erik destroyed it,” Cecilia added, a hint of pride wrapped within her sweet tone of voice.

“No,” Norman responded. “Groudon was meant to distract and eliminate any remaining resistance Hoenn had to offer. New Age is happening this afternoon.”

“They did eliminate any resistance,” Erik retorted, his voice squeaky and unclear as he forced words through his ceaseless sobs. “May, Blaze, Aqua, everyone.”

“Aqua lives on through me!” Archie growled, thumping a fist to his chest. “There’s still a couple of my grunts left too! Loyal to the end!”

“I’m still here,” Cecilia chirped.

“Me too,” Wally added. The once-fragile trainer seemed to suddenly have an air of confidence about him. “You taught me to be strong. I was weak and useless before, but I’ve been training for months on my own, inside dangerous caves and on big mountains and deserts. I now have six badges, all because of you, Erik.”

“You see, son,” Norman spoke softly. “You have inspired all those around you to keep fighting, no matter what the odds are.”

“I’ve inspired my close friends to die,” Erik snapped back, pushing his father away.

“Both Blaze and May wouldn’t want you to give up now. They fought to keep Team Rocket out, not to let them win. Every strategy Giovanni has created so far has worked, he has manipulated everything and everyone until it has all fallen neatly into place for him. Are you really going to let his final plan succeed?”

At his father’s words, Erik felt something stir within him. A fire from within. It was as if Blaze lived in inside him as he pictured a Torchic chirping happy, quickly turning into a Combusken smiling at him, and finally, a Blaziken by his side, breathing life into his broken body.

“Blaze was always by my side,” he muttered. “And May always wanted to be by it.”

“I will be by your side,” Norman said firmly. “I’ve let you down, Erik, and for that I am sorry. But seeing you like this, what Giovanni has done to you, has made me realise what I was doing. I know I was wrong to blindly follow them thinking I was doing what was right by you. I promise you, I am with you now until the end.”

“We all are too!” Cecilia added, to murmurs of agreement from both Archie and Wally.

“Then I will stop Giovanni, for Blaze and May, even if it’s the last thing I ever do,” Erik growled, climbing steadily to his feet.

“So what’s this New Age thing?” Archie growled, his voice turning from a calm ocean to a stormy sea.

“A ship, led by Giovanni, is coming. Full of grunts to do his bidding. He plans to land on the beach of Route 104 and install an overseer of Hoenn, a puppet that he can use to control the entire region from his office in Kanto.”

“How many?” Archie asked, stroking his beard as he considered the odds of an unlikely victory.

“I’m not sure, at least five times our number, maybe more. A man named Tabitha leads their strike team, a group of elite grunts bred purposefully to take out any resistance, before a second team led by Giovanni himself will move in.”

“How do we stop them?” Cecilia enquired, her voice wavering slightly.

“We set up along the cliffs of Route 104, hitting them from range as they approach the beach, if any make it up the hillside them we fight them on the grass. We can’t let them push us back to Petalburg as that opens up the way north and south. Wally, you won’t be with us I’m afraid, I have another task for you.”

“That’s a tough ask for the four of us, even with my two grunts added, we can’t take on that many,” Archie spoke before Wally could reply.

“We have allies. Giovanni was using Magma to bribe the authorities, and most people I’ve asked are too afraid to incur Rocket’s wrath to enter the battle. Steven Stone and his father won’t be helping us after a nice little pay-off. As for the gym leaders, Brawley said he doesn’t care, Wattson has been bribed, Tate and Liza refused to respond to me. But Roxanne and Flannery will help, Winona has sworn vengeance after what happened to May, and Wallace has promised a ‘helping hand’, whatever that means.”

The next words were lost to Erik as he remained in his own thoughts, Rocky had joined the team now making up the magic number of six. He hoped that they could win this impossible fight, but he would give everything he still had left to give. For Blaze, May, and everyone else that had been lost along the way.

Dark clouds cast a foreboding gloom over the defenders of Hoenn as a cold chill encircled the southern reaches of Route 104. A large cruiseliner ploughed towards them, cutting through the ocean like a hot knife through butter. The ship was painted in the infamous black and purple of Team Rocket, with a large red letter “R” visible on either side.

“You ready?” Norman asked his son as the two stood side by side atop the hillside.

“I’ve never been more ready,” Erik spoke through gritted teeth as he clenched his fists tighter with each wave that smashed against the sands.

Norman nodded to Flannery. The fire type gym leader guarded the beach’s northern hills where Mr. Briney’s house lay, the land sharply descending into a small pier where neither the old sailor, nor his small boat could be seen. Her Camerupt loitered above the wooden stairway which connected the beach to the hills.

Erik’s gaze fixated on the ship, which had stopped just short of firing range. He could see small specks hastily running around the deck, clambering onto the small speedboats before they began a slow descent into the ocean.

“Here come the strike team,” Norman spoke, his tone calm and considered. “Good.”

“Good?” Erik asked.

“They have underestimated us,” Norman replied. “They see just you and I, Flannery and Roxanne. They think it’s just the four of us.” The Petalburg gym leader looked to where Roxanne and her rock types lay in wait, guarding the southern descent. “If they thought we were anything of a threat they would have lined the edges of their ship with Pokemon and began bombarding us from afar.”

The speedboats moved in unison as they hit the ocean, a total of eight black dinghies all mounted by a small squad of elite Rocket grunts. A swarm of Golbats, Crobats and Fearows darkened the skies above the ship as the strike team began their assault on the shores.

Erik nodded to Soar and Bat who both flapped their wings and rose from the ground, but were quickly stopped by a halting raised hand from Norman.

“We need our Pokemon to attack anything that makes it to the beach,” Erik’s father said.

The two landed to either side of Dancer, and Rocky. Erik needed a new fire type in his team so chose the Numel he had caught on the climb of Mt. Pyre. Rocky had been raised in the daycare up until now, awaiting the day his trainer would come back and take him by his side.

Norman kept two Slakings, a Vigoroth, a Zangoose, and two Linoones with him. The two Slakings awaited alongside a large pile of rocks and boulders, which they were instructed to throw at anyone or anything that set foot on the beach. The other four Pokemon were to charge down the hillside and stop anything that made it passed their initial defences.

“I believe in you, my son.” Norman placed a hand on Erik’s shoulder as he spoke. “But before this battle begins I need you to know this. If we fail today, that will be it, Rocket will control Hoenn and we will all be locked up.” He stared his son directly in the eyes, as if he struggled to comprehend what he was saying. “But even if we succeed, the fight won’t be over today. Hoenn is on its knees and everyone in power has already given in to Rocket, the only way we can force Hoenn to fight back is-”

Norman was cut short by an earth shaking sound. The cruiseliner let out its own battlecry, a thunderous roar shouted by a huge horn, the powerful noise enough to strike fear in the heart of anyone, human or Pokemon. Erik counted around twenty fliers heading towards them, and each of the eight speedboats contained three or four grunts. They had larger numbers just in their initial assault force than Erik had ever considered on the entire cruiseliner.

The horn fell silent, and for only a moment, a small wave of calm washed over the shoreline, a breeze of peace which swept through Erik’s hair and sank into his skin. A dinghy was suddenly launched into the air as Splash emerged from the depths. Seal leapt from the Gyarados’s back, shooting ice shards which pierced the sides of the airbourne boat. Panic swept through the ranks as another boat was dragged under, then another, as Archie and his grunts in full clad diving costumes flew out of the depths a few moments later on the backs of Sharpedos.

One of the dinghys turned around to help their fallen allies, taking the fight to the shattered remnants of Team Aqua. The other four speedboats remained on course for the beach, where Erik awaited, a fire burning brightly inside him, his Blaziken living on within himself.

“For May!” a shrill scream swept across the beach like a gust of wind, as Winona burst out of Petalburg Woods atop a Swellow. Five more Pokemon followed, and alongside them, Will. The gym trainer that had reminded Erik so much of himself flew on the back of a Xatu, the seven flying types crashing into the Rocket fliers.

Chaos ensued above as Erik struggled to distinguish friend from foe. The ocean was awash with fighting as carnage swept across the waves, Splash battled against a duo of Team Rocket Gyarados and Archie against a group of Tentacruel. Erik closed his eyes.

“Blaze, May, Ice, Ziggy, Gully…” Erik began, repeating the names of his lost friends within his mind, over and over, using his pain to fuel his spirit. “…Roller, String, Speedy, Leaf. This is for you, all of you,” he opened his eyes. “For all of you!” He roared.

“For Hoenn!” Flannery and Roxanne cried out.

“For you, my son,” Norman whispered. Erik turned to face his father, but realised the Gym Leader was speaking to himself.

A half dozen Rocket grunts passed the shoreline atop flying types, two Crobats, three Golbats and a Fearow. Soar and Bat sprung into motion, taking to the skies and confronting their opponents as the four speedboats crashed into the beach.

Rocks were hurled from Roxanne’s Pokemon, a Nosepass, two Golems, two Gravellers and a Lairon, as well as from one of Norman’s Slakings, all aimed at the flying types in the sky. Rocky’s fire blasts joined bolts of electricity from Dancer and flamethrowers from Flannery’s Torkoals, Camerupts and Macargo’s, the attacks smashing into the initial wave of grunt-released Pokemon.

Koffings and their evolved form, Weezing joined many Grimers, Muks, Golbats and Crobats released onto the beach by the strikeforce. The fire strikes were soaked up by a trio of Houndooms, released by the leader of the squad, Tabitha. The ex-Magma member wore all black, a hooded robe like a Magma member would, but instead of crimson this was dyed the colour of night. A cape swung from his shoulders to his heels. The grunts surrounding him wore typical Rocket outfits, tight fitting suits or other forms of expensive black or purple clothing.

A Fearow fell from the sky, tumbling to the ground accompanied by a large boulder hurled by one of Norman’s Slakings. Soar’s energy blasts devoured a couple of the Golbats as Bat fought a closely matched battle with a Crobat. Norman signalled to his Zangoose, Vigoroth and pair of Linoones, the quartet immediately responding, descending rapidly down the cliff face and leaping onto a group of Pokemon that had advanced passed the bolts of fire and electricity.

A couple of grunts had made their way to the southern ramp, their Pokemon engaged in battle with Roxanne’s finest rock-types. On the other side, Flannery’s Camerupt had destroyed the stairway, waiting for a grunt to climb up before igniting the support beams, the Rocket member leaping off as his Pokemon perished within the flames. Another grunt had climbed the pier, and was locked in a fight with Flannery’s other Pokemon.

Tabitha screamed an order at one of his Houndooms, who to Erik’s horror, shot flames at one of the grunts mounted on a Crobat. The strikeforce leader withdrew all three of his Pokemon, ordering the flier to land and climbed on the Crobat himself.

“Slakings,” Norman bellowed, “take down that Crobat!” The two responded instantly, grabbing stones and launching them at the poison type who arrowed towards them. Erik spotted Archie’s Aqua squad and Winona’s flying Pokemon slowly turning the tide of battle to their advantage, as Team Rocket’s numbers slowly dwindled.

The smile across his face vanished as quickly as it had appeared as Tabitha leaped off the back of his Crobat just as a rock smashed into the creature. The ex-Magma admin landed softly on the hillside with Norman and Erik as he released his three Houndooms.

“Norman,” Tabitha croaked, his face remained in darkness underneath a thick cowl, but his voice was both crispy and dry, as if his voicebox had been severely scorched. “You’ve betrayed us, but how can you be stupid enough to oppose us?” It was as if each word he croaked left his throat in agony. The man twitched a gloved hand each time he spoke.

“You’re one to speak about betrayal!” Erik roared. “Maxie was your friend, and you helped them steal his wife!”

“Steal his wife?” The man’s laughter was as harsh and broken as his voice. “Courtney joined Rocket of her own free will! She never loved that man, in fact, she pitied him, he-.”

“Enough of this!” Norman barked.

“Your wish is my command. Houndoom, burn them alive.”

“Wait, you can’t order Pokemon to attack trainers!” Erik growled.

“This isn’t a trainer battle you fool, this is war!” Tabitha responded, before breaking into crackling laughter as his three dark types attacked with waves of fire.

Norman’s two Slakings leapt in the way, shielding their trainer and his son with their lumbering frames as their fur soaked up the flames.

“Remember that trick?” Norman said to his son, flashing Erik a quick smile as he recalled their gym battle. Both Slakings slouched to the floor before they were leapt upon by two of the vicious Houndooms. The third eyed up Erik, charging at the trainer, its snarling fangs dripping with saliva.

Dancer tackled the Pokemon, as Rocky faced up to the other two, who had just finished with the now defeated Slakings. Dancer deftly danced out of the way of a wild lunge by the her foe, hurling a bolt of electricity at the fire type then leaping out of the way of a vicious flamethrower.

Rocky was faring a lot worse. He had taken a few blows from one of the Houndooms as the other circled around him then rammed into him from behind. The Numel struggled to his feet before being consumed by flames.

“Blaze would’ve been able to take down both,” Erik sighed, seeing his Numel gasping for air as the flames around him dissipated. The two Houndoom strutted up to Rocky to apply the finishing blow.

The first Houndoom was swept aside by Bat, before Soar engulfed both within an energy blast. Dancer lit up the weakened duo in a cascade of thunderbolts summoned from the sky.

Erik glared at Tabitha, before moving to check on his Numel’s health. A flash of movement caught his eye, as Tabitha reached into his pocket for a device. A small black box with a red button. The strikeforce leader pressed the button, and for a few seconds, nothing happened. Then the horn sounded once more.

“Goodbye,” Tabitha croaked, before opening his arms and stretching them as wide as he could. “I regret nothing.”

Erik’s confusion was only added to as the Rocket grunts dived into the sea, clambered onto their boats, or flew back to the ship, which had moved forward slightly and was now turning to face them side-on.

Winona and Archie moved to halt the retreat, Erik eyeing the group of Swellow as Will flashed him a smile and waved to him from above. Suddenly, the Fortree gym trainer was falling towards the surface, his Xatu shot out of the sky by a rain of fire.

Archie ordered his grunts and Erik’s waterbourne Pokemon to seek cover underwater as the ocean was lit up in flames. A barrage of fireballs, streams of poison and powerful jets of water had erupted from the ship’s decks. The bombardment had commenced.

Erik began recalling his Pokemon into their Pokeballs, Dancer withdrawn, then Soar, then Bat.

Norman let out a cry of pain. A blast of poison had hit him directly. Something then caught Erik’s eye. A huge wall of flame aimed at him.

“Rocky,” he cried, “I’m sorry for doubting you, I’m sorry for wanting you to be like Blaze. I just really miss him. Help me.”

His Numel turned his head, staring at Erik with soft, sad eyes as the wall of flame hit them. A bright light engulfed them both. Rocky was evolving.

“Erik…” Norman gasped. The light had protected him too, but not from the poison which clawed at him from within, suffocating his veins and strangling the life out of him. “I’m…so…sorry.”

“Dad!” Erik screamed, grabbing hold of his father as the newly evolved Camerupt emerged from the light.

The bombardment had stopped as suddenly as it had started. Team Rocket’s cruiseliner released its remaining speedboats, Giovanni was coming with the rest of his army.

“Don’t leave me too, please, I can’t. I won’t. Dad!” Erik sobbed, holding his dying father within his arms.

“You…Must…Stop…Rocket,” Norman spoke, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I can’t do it without you, you’re all I have left!”

“You’ve done…All this without…Me…But to stop Rocket…And rally Hoenn…You must become…Champion,” Norman spluttered, before he lay back his head and closed his eyes. “And Erik,” he finally managed.

“Yes, Dad?” Erik replied. He moved his hand to his motionless father’s wrist, feeling his life slowly fade away.

“You couldn’t have made me more proud…I love you…My son.”