*several years prior*

("This is the most pathetic excuse for a Dragon Rage I've ever seen. You couldn't dent an Oran Berry let alone a boulder with that kind of effort. You're going to be stuck doing one star missions for the rest of time at this rate.")

Adam sighed. ("Yeah, well, I would have done this by now if it wasn't so hard,") he responded, hoping to avoid starting a long argument in front of the Deino who agreed to teach him basic Dragon-type attacks. His partner had managed to pull off a Vine Whip before he had even met her, yet after a dozen rescue jobs together he still couldn't figure out how to even manage a Dragon Rage. On the first day of training he had quickly figured out that starting the attack required entering a trance like state and generating a flood of appropriate emotions he could effectively manipulate. Unfortunately, he had little to no success on this front, and Flora made sure to remind him of it.

("You call this hard?") Flora said, sounding amused. ("You, Mr. Temper Tantrum himself, are telling me that generating a little anger on demand is hard? Are honestly that hopeless that you can't even recreate the most basic Dragon type attack?")

He gritted his teeth and tried again to ignore her. ("This is not easy to do,") he said, his voice steadily rising. A glance at the massive crack running down the length of the four foot boulder in front of him snapped him back to attention. He and Flora had found the rock out behind their hut and us ed it as a practice target. After the Deino tore through its surface with his own effortlessly executed Dragon Rage attack, he had tasked Adam to do the same. ("I am trying not to screw this up, so if you don't mind-")

("The only way you could screw this up more is if you tripped and broke one of your tusks. But judging by how hilarious you looked the last time that happened I suppose I should-")

("Will you GIVE ME A CHANCE?") Adam snarled at Flora, glaring in her direction. She returned his aggravated expression with a smug grin. It took Adam a few seconds to register that he felt a sudden surge of strength and his body now glowed with a pulsing red aura. Of course she wanted me to get mad at her, he realized, groaning in annoyance. Triggering my Echo by pissing me off is her idea of "help". With some effort he forced himself to concentrate on his target, knowing that the Echo would only be self sustaining for a limited time. As he focused his mind, he began to feel out the textures of the energy waves that were being generated around him.

Every Dragon-type Pokemon had an Echo, and every one of them seemed incapable of agreeing on what it actually was or how to best make use of it. As far as Adam understood it, he could fuel his raw emotions into an easily manipulated and purified form of aura which was the source of his most powerful attacks. Different Dragon Pokemon tapped into different emotions, but Adam's Echo seemed only able to react to intense anger. Generating Echo was a matter of amplifying those feelings, which was difficult enough for Adam, but shaping them into a usable form was another level entirely. Simply gripping the flow was impossible, but he could redirect it, tighten the borders, and condense it with precise muscle exercises and forceful mental direction.

Placing his paws firmly against his chest, he flattened the aura at his feet, head and tail, sending waves of Echo traveling up and around his body. He tugged at the currents, willed them to gather where he had formed a reservoir in his chest. His scales acted as a conductor, flaring up as the Echo passed, but protected him from the burning aftermath of his own energy. As the Echo surged within him, Adam felt an intense pressure build up against his ribcage. His heart began to pound wildly, his breathing becoming more rapid. Right as he thought his torso was about to burst, he whipped his arms apart, severing the conduit he had formed.

The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. At first Adam simply lost the ability to breathe, then felt like his insides were being sucked out through a vacuum. He screamed, and a jagged burst of bright blue energy erupted from his jaws. The light instantly blinded him. Struggling to brace himself from the kickback, he heard an explosion of rock and debris coming from in front. Finally his aura faded, and he was left panting and coughing several feet behind where he had started. As his eyesight gradually returned, he realized the attack had done more than simply crack the boulder. Its entire top half was completely obliterated.

Dizzy and barely able to stand, Adam struggled to turn to his mentor. Both Flora and the Dragon master looked impressed. ("It's always the hardest the first time, but that was some nice work. Great job, Adam. Though I think you may have overdone it a little,") the Deino said with a hint of amusement. Flora giggled. ("Don't push yourself so hard until you've built up more endurance.") He cocked his head sideways at his disoriented pupil. ("Well, we can always have another go later. How about it, do you want to meet again tomorrow?")

The exhausted Axew briefly considered trying to make some sort of coherent response response to his instructor, but his body settled on crumpling to the floor and vomiting before finally passing out.

*present day*

Evening sunbeams glistened down on battered leaves and broken treetops. Only a few scattered willows remained standing, the rest simply withering away in jagged, pulpy corpses. Save the trees and a some messy tangles of brush, the surroundings seemed entirely devoid of life. A faint scent of salt water blew in from the west.

Axews were naturally cave-dwelling creatures, but Adam preferred forests. He enjoyed the fresh air, warming himself next to Flora as she photosynthesized, and reminding himself of a time when he looked as much as he felt human. But compared to the natural labyrinths of bushes and greenery he had been accustomed to exploring, this wood seemed downright barren. No nests, footprints, cries, or signs of Pokemon life. What happened here? Adam thought.

Following the scent west seemed like the only reasonable course of action. The ground felt soft and moist on his paws, and he guessed it must be early spring. He gripped the strap of his oversized, heavy duty traveling bag – his only possession- a little more tightly than usual. After a minute of light walking, he met with a gently flowing stream which twisted over the horizon to the south. On a whim he tried dipping his muzzle in, but the sensation of something murky and unpleasant rubbing against his scales quickly discouraged the attempt. A closer examination confirmed his suspicions. ("No wonder nobody lives here,") he growled. ("The water smells polluted beyond belief.")

Adam shook himself dry and curled up on his bag. He had found early on that his tail made it very uncomfortable to lie on his back, but Flora had shown him that he could rest quite comfortably anywhere he wanted by tucking in his body and using his pack as a makeshift bed. As he sat he tried remembering what had happened after his last meeting with the Hydreigon, but most of his memory came up blank. I was flying up into the sky. I heard their... their goodbyes, he thought grimly. And then everything went blank. No... there was a mountain, I'm sure of it! I could see it clearly, just for a few seconds. He peeked around, as if to check that he wasn't dreaming. And then I was here.

He still didn't know what to make of "here" yet. If he was still a Pokemon, he must be in one of the Mystery Dungeons, but which one? Had he misunderstood what the Hydreigon meant? ("Maybe Flora was right,") he grumbled. ("I should have asked old six eyes a few more questions.")

Eventually he decided to continue walking upstream. A few times he found indents in the soil which might have been footprints, but they all seemed to lead in circles or directly into the stream. The murky stench of rotten eggs grew stronger as he walked, and he wondered if whatever had poisoned the stream had driven off the Pokemon that had lived here as well.

After about a mile of walking, Adam spotted a small lake. It stretched out thinly across a gently sloping valley. The green tinted surface of the water was as flat as a window pane, and he was almost afraid to approach it for fear of disturbing the solitude. But he felt a nagging sensation that something was terribly wrong here. He cautiously approached the lake's edge, as if expecting something unpleasant to jump out of it.

Whereas the trees further north were battered and broken, the ones here looked like they had been torn right out of the ground. The carpet of dead leaves had given way to half eroded mounds of dirt, which melded into the evening sun like musty rows of grave mounds.

Adam's hypersensitive hearing made out a faint rustling somewhere in the distance behind him, and he instantly froze on the spot. Maybe I'm about to meet whatever drove away all the Pokemon, he thought. After so many years of battling and training, the mere suggestion that he was in danger could be enough to trigger his Echo, and without even consciously intending to his body was quickly surrounded by a wispy red aura. A familiar tension and rush of energy filled his muscles, and he had to fight back the urge to lash out at anything that approached. Well, whatever they are, they're about to get more than they bargained for.

He whipped around in a battle ready position, snarling loudly and showing off a razor sharp front row of teeth. Twenty feet away a small cream colored puppy-creature was staring back at him from behind a bush, his eyes not utterly transfixed with fear.

For a few seconds neither one of them moved. Adam then visibly relaxed, seeing that the other Pokemon- which he quickly identified as a Lillipup- was clearly not a threat. ("Come on, I'm not going to hurt you,") he tried calling out gently. ("Look, I'm sorry about scaring you, but can you please tell me where we are right now?") He forced his Echo to dissolve in an attempt to placate the stranger, but it seemed unwilling to do more than shiver and blink as it stared back at him in terror. Adam sighed in annoyance. ("Can you even understand anything I'm saying?") he asked, only half expecting a response.

He didn't get one. Instead, the Lillipup backed up a step, took a quick glance to each side, and bolted in the direction he had came. Grumbling, Adam turned back to examine the lake. I probably should have toned that down a bit, he thought regretfully. Well, at least I know this isn't a Mystery Dungeon. Any one of those savages would have attacked me on sight no matter how strong I looked. As he considered tracking the Lillipup, he noticed a strange, amber liquid coating a small patch of the lake. He rushed over to it, the stench increasing, until he finally recognized it from a time before he had ever been turned into a Pokemon.

It reeked of gasoline. Some nearby water brush looked absolutely drenched in the stuff, and Adam wondered how the lot of it all hadn't caught fire already. A dozen other thoughts crossed his mind, not the last of which was trying to guess why someone would deliberately poison the lake in the first place. No Pokemon that he had ever heard of could have done it. But that meant...

In spite of the evidence his mind refused to accept the only logical conclusion. In a slight daze he skirted around the edge of the lake, following the gasoline trail further south. New scents of smoke and rotten meat quickly caught his attention at the far end of the lake, and he stuck to them like a Mightyena tracking prey. Almost all of the plant life here was either cut or broken, and as Adam dragged his bag through the battered remains of the forest, he felt both disturbed by the wanton destruction of what must have once been a pristine natural habitat and helplessly exposed. Trudging onwards, he crawled over a particularly large hill, but the sight of what lay beyond made his heart skip a beat.

A row of tremendous metal structures spread out before him. Each building was boxy and practically featureless, and wide concrete pathways ran parallel between them. Further in the distance lay massive brick townhouses and what might have been sprawling open markets of all shapes and sizes. It dwarfed Post Town and even what he remembered of his childhood home. He could even make out faint traces of movement in the distance.

("I really am back,") Adam muttered in astonishment. But I can't be... I'm still, well, this, he thought, looking down at his paws. Had the Hydreigon made a mistake? Had it forgotten to turn him back into a human before sending him back? Or had it accidentally sent him to another world entirely? He was tempted to rush down and ask some of the residents what was going on, but he didn't want to risk another incident like with the Lillipup. Maybe some scouting is in order, he decided.

Sneaking down to the huge boxy structures, he recognized their enormous doors marking them as some sort of warehouses. Maybe I could ask to stay in one of them, he thought. I'm sure they must have some space for me somewhere. Luxuries like a warm meal and a nice bath seemed practically within reach. There were no other people in the areas surrounding the warehouses, but they didn't look abandoned. Trolly carts, toolboxes, and huge stacks of wooden crates rested casually against the walls of many of the buildings. Their scents were fresh.

Adam followed a smaller warehouse with a domed room around its eastern end and found himself face to face with a large poster which looked hastily tacked on to the wall. He had to step back to read it, but even then he couldn't make sense of the huge letter inscription plastered across the top:



Below it was illustrated several human silhouettes which seemed to be saluting an exaggerated caricature of the planet Earth. I don't get it, Adam wondered. Did they just forget to draw in all of the Pokemon?

He peeked around the corner and made out two older men casually dressed in worn t-shirts and jeans leaning against a warehouse door several rows down. Their tangles of hair suggested they spent even less time trimming their beards as they did washing their clothes. Seeing a human being after so long felt almost surreal to Adam, and he had to sit down just to contemplate just how much he had really changed.

He was bigger then, but was he really? Mankind pretends that they measure the world through logic and reason, but in reality their only perspective is in relation to themselves. Every house, car, window, broom, book, machine, and other tool they use weren't built through some philosophical design but because of convenience to human anatomy. All of their experiences are built on projecting awareness of themselves. From doorknobs matching the size of their palms, to sidewalks just barely fitting two people wide, they reshape their surroundings to confirm to their obsession with human normality.

Yet Adam never felt that his house in Paradise was too small, nor his bed uncomfortable, nor the shops in Post Town too oversized for his body. He never thought of himself as abnormal let alone small. If anything his basic perception of the world hadn't changed since his time as a human except as a matter of scale. Men are quick to label "tiny" Pokemon as weak or cowardly simply because of their appearance, but it becomes clear that from a different perspective these Pokemon have just as much of a right to view humanity as a deviation from the norm. It was this understanding which led Adam to make the unsettling realization that his journey was never really about trying to get back to normal. It was about realizing how "normal" had changed for him.

One thing he did know had changed about him was developing a conscious desire to protect the people he cared about and gaining the power to do so. Living as a Pokemon was hardly perfect, but it had granted him immense physical strength and powers which even now he didn't fully understand. Was he really willing to give that all up just so that he could claim to be fully human again? Was it worth wasting years of training just to get back cars, high school and talk radio? Well, he decided, no point delaying it anymore. If I can make these people believe who I am, I could get the best of both worlds.

Even as he rounded the corner, a deep rooted instinct urged him to dart behind cover. He dismissed it as irrational and scurried cautiously towards the two humans. Evidently they notice him as well, as they were soon pointing at him and whispering at each other excitedly. Up close he could make out that they were smoking cigarettes, the smell of which made him feel slightly nauseous. But they were well build and their skin was heavily tanned, giving them a tough appearance. Some off duty workers, perhaps? he wondered.

("Hail there, strangers,") Adam called out after reaching about 20 feet away from the duo, giving a customary hand wave. It quickly dawned on him that they couldn't possibly know the customary greeting between Pokemon rescue explores. He smirked at his own mistake. ("I mean, hello there,") he tried again, a little more casually. ("Look, I know this is probably weird, seeing me here talking to you guys, but could you please give me some help here?")

"What'd I tell you, Mitch? That's the biggest Budew I've ever seen," said the man on the left, eagerly pointing in Adam's direction.

The other man stroked his chin thoughtfully. "That there is an Axew, not a Budew," he replied in an equally thick Southern accent. "He looks hungry, too. Jules, you got anything left of that sandwich Miss Greenwall made for us? Give him a bite, won't 'cha?"

"Yeah, hold on," Jules said. He produced from a fastiduously wrapped but slightly crushed sandwich from his backpack and held it close to the ground in Adam's direction. "Mitch, you think you can find out who's trainer this is? They probably raising up hell if it got this from the city."

Adam felt a twinge of irritation at their reaction, but did his best to push the feeling aside. ("I appreciate your... concern, but I really need to know where I am and if there's a-") he stopped, unable to vocalize what he wanted to say in his Pokemon dialect, ("talking box thing nearby. You know, you press numbers on it, and-")

"Talkative one, ain't it?" Mitch said with amusement. He unclipped a red, boxy touchpad device from his belt and held it vertically at eye level. An audible beep sounded a few seconds later, and Mitch raised his eyebrows in response. "Jules, you ain't gonna believe this, but this fella is straight wild. Never been caught, never released."

"Let me see that," Jules said, hastily grabbing the device. He slowly looked up at Adam, his face brightening like a child seeing their Christmas presents for the first time. "Well I'll be damned. How the hell did an Axew get this far south? Did it hitch a ride on a ship?"

("I don't know what you're talking about,") Adam interjected. ("But I really need to-")

"Runoff from some poachers trying to sell it on the black market most likely," Mitch replied, seemingly oblivious to Adam's interruption. "That or it was forced here for another reason. I heard rumors that those Virtuous Order nutjobs still had some training camps out past Route 20."

"The Knights? I can't believe those bastards still ain't even using Pokeballs," Jules grumbled. "Well, it would be better off with a trainer either way. You up for a little battling, Mitch?" He handed back the scanner and pulled a red and white orb out of his pocket.

Adam took a step back and clutched his bag tightly to his chest. ("Now hold up!") he growled. ("Did I not just make this clear to you? I am not wild, I am-") Sudden realization jarred him like a pothole on Cycling Road. Of course they aren't responding to me, he thought. It's been so long I forgot that Pokemon talk doesn't make any sense to humans. All they think is that I'm some wild Pokemon looking to get caught.

Jules' Pokeball hit the ground and a Drilbur materialized in front of it. The metal clawed mole looked at Adam curiously for a few seconds before chittering something incomprehensible and rearing up on its hind legs. It waved its huge metal claws at him threateningly. Mitch quickly sent out his own Pokemon, a bulky otter with pointed whiskers that Adam recognized as a Dewott. One look at their weak auras and limited muscle mass told Adam that these Pokemon were nowhere near his league in terms of fighting ability.

He had half a mind to smack some sense into the two Pokemon before proceeding to the trainers themselves, but he doubted that the town would look particularly kindly on him afterward. Running away and trying again with some less aggressive humans seemed like a marginally better option. But I can't let them think I'm weak or they'll never listen to me, he thought. I guess that just leaves knocking out all of their fighters. Should be a cinch, right?

As he relaxed his muscles and entered his trance, he thought of Flora, of how sad he was seeing them leave. He remembered the agony he felt being battered around by the Bittercold, and how he somehow struggled to victory with the support of his friends. He thought of how grief stricken and borderline infuriated he was when he heard that they wouldn't even remember him when he passed on into the human world. And what little hope he had of getting answers in the human world was being dashed before his eyes. No, there was nothing fair with what was happening to him. It had never been fair. And if world couldn't be fair, he needed the change the world with the strength of his own claws.

His aura pulsed and he felt a sudden burst of life rush through his spiritual core. The urge to tear through everything and anything opposing him quickly consumed his emotions, manifesting in the fiery red Echo enveloping his arms. The rush of battle frenzy was something he had experienced hundreds of times before, but it gave him a instinct-fueled ecstasy that was beyond anything he had ever experienced as a human. He dropped his bag to the side, flexing his arms and staggering his body into a battle ready position.

("Well, come ON then,") he snarled. ("Show me what you've got!")