1 Chapter 1: Regression

The moon cast its pale light upon the small forested island, illuminating the form of a young boy of fifteen, garbed in rags. His face, thin and sickly, was etched with the marks of hardship, his sunken eyes staring out upon the sea. Beside him, a creature of pitch-black feathers stirred, its beady gaze fixing upon the boy.

With thoughts as dark and tangled as the forest that surrounded him, the boy reached out a trembling hand to touch the creature, feeling the familiar sensation upon his fingertips.

"Did I truly travel back in time?" spoke the boy, his voice tinged with confusion.

Memories flooded his mind, of a past life as a powerful quasi-elite trainer, rising to fame and renown in the underworld through his affiliation with Team Rocket. But all his skill and cunning could not save him from the trap set by his own comrades during a raid by the Pokemon Association. Outmatched by two elite-level trainers, he fought to the death, taking with him as many of their pokemon as he could.

But death was not the end, for as he opened his eyes once more, he found himself returned to this place, his wounds and scars erased. The boy clenched his fists, feeling his nails dig into his palms, as he stared at the creature before him.

"Caw..." The creature, a Murkrow, spoke softly, its gaze curious upon the changed boy. The boy's lips twitched, a muscle in his face contracting in an attempt to smile, though it had been so long since he last felt such an emotion. He ran his hand over the creature's back, feeling the familiar roughness of its feathers, and like himself, malnourished.

"Murkrow, it's good to see you again," he said, his voice heavy with emotion.

In his former life, the boy had been a rigid and unyielding man, a fault that cost him dearly in his relationships. But amongst all his companions, there was one who had remained steadfast by his side from beginning to end: Murkrow, his first pokemon. Though other, more 'powerful' creatures had been captured, bought or stolen to fight by his side, it was they who had abandoned him in his hour of need, while Murkrow alone had never faltered.

"Caw!" cried Murkrow, its cry seeming to echo the boy's own thoughts. Though they had just met, the creature could feel a warmth emanating from the boy, drawing it close.

And the boy, too, was surprised, for he remembered the struggle it had taken to subdue Murkrow in his previous life, the many months spent taming and understanding the creature. So much effort wasted, he thought to himself, ruefully.

As a Pokemon fan, the boy had watched the anime, envious of the bond between Ash and Pikachu, yet upon his arrival in the Pokemon World, he had learned that the knowledge gained from watching animated shows was vastly different from the reality of training these creatures. There was a saying in this world that a Pokemon's upper growth limit was determined by its own talent, while the lower limit was determined by the talent of its trainer. The boy could not recall how much time he had wasted trying to fully grasp Murkrow's abilities and characteristics, but by the time he had, it was already too late and much of the creature's potential had been squandered.

In his previous life, it was only due to Murkrow's innate talent that he had been able to stand out in the Team Rocket trial, yet his own shortcomings as a trainer had resulted in the excessive consumption of that potential, and then he had cast the creature aside.

"Murkrow, I swear to you, in this life I shall never abandon you," the boy vowed, and the creature seemed to sense the determination in his voice, for it let out another cry, "Caw!"

The boy, Cain, struggled to force a smile upon his face, but it was a fleeting thing, for his heart was heavy with the weight of his circumstances. He had been captured and brought to this uninhabited island, where he had been given a single pokeball, and with it, a single chance at survival.

He thought back to the other trialists, many of them allotted unremarkable creatures such as Zubat, Koffing, and Ekans.

The first task of the trial had been to subdue the pokemon assigned to each participant. But this was no anime, this was the real world, and the pokemon of Team Rocket were wild and untamed beasts. As the boy well knew, the moment they were released from their pokeballs, they would often turn on their trainers, lashing out with tooth and claw, and in some cases, even killing them before fleeing into the wild.

As far as he could remember, there were around 300 trialists, all between the ages of 15 and 18, yet after the first task, no more than 150 to 160 remained. Such was the cruelty of this trial, that it claimed the lives of nearly half of the participants, and death was the penalty for failure.

And the trials were far from over. In the end, only 50 would survive, and these fortunate few would be divided into various teams and divisions within Team Rocket. The top 10 would have a choice of their division, while the top 3 would have the privilege of leading a team. And for the one who emerged victorious, the ultimate prize awaited: a precious starter pokemon from the renowned 'Three Royal Families'. These pokemon were highly coveted and sought after, for they were rarely found in the wild, and even the Pokemon Association could not easily acquire them. And those given as a reward by Team Rocket were known to possess exceptional talent.

Cain remembered from his previous life, how the winner of the first place in the trial had chosen a Bulbasaur, and it was with this pokemon that the winner had risen to become a Team Rocket Regional Leader, with strength that reached the elite level. A key training target of Team Rocket, the winner had met with great success and had been groomed as a potential successor to the Four Executives.

Though Cain had done well in his previous life, the gap between him and the winner had been vast, and Cain, as the other's direct subordinate, knew this all too well.

Slowly, Cain stood, brushing the dust from his clothes, but as he did, a sudden thought occurred to him, freezing him in place. Could it be, he wondered, that his system was already available to him? He had momentarily forgotten about it, for in his previous life, he had not activated it until much later.

With a silent chant, he commanded the system to activate, and after a moment of waiting, an emotionless mechanical voice echoed in his mind.

"Beep... System activating..."

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