People always have their own ways of playing Pokemon. Some of them just focus on the fun and the bonds they form with fictional animals, some seek to master complicated strategies, and some cheat for what they want. I was a bit lazy and firmly in the last category, but I had a friend who was always seeking a greater challenge. He had been playing Pokemon games for a long time and had to add on self-imposed rules to get any fun out of them any more.

So, for the few who've never heard of a Nuzlocke challenge, the rules are like this: You can only catch the first Pokemon on each route, you cannot use healing items in battle, you must battle on "Set" instead of "Shift" mode, and if your Pokemon faints, it "dies", so you must release it. Black out, and it's game over. People mix and match the rules to suit their tastes, but my friend usually just played the "vanilla" Nuzlocke experience.

He'd tell me about his Nuzlocke escapades and the stories he gave to each Pokemon. But eventually, he lost interest in Pokemon altogether. He gave me a couple of his old cartridges, passed others to other friends, and a year or two later his family moved away because his parents hated the cold and loved the idea of Florida.

I rarely touched his Pokemon cartridges. They were finished games, and it felt disrespectful for me to delete his save files, especially after he had made stories and personalities for each of his Pokemon. So I just sort of stored them away. Until I lost the case where I kept all of MY Pokemon games one winter. I think it might still be along the road somewhere, but god knows I'll never find it.

And so I had nothing but my old friend's already-completed Nuzlocke games. I figured I would mess around a little bit on his Heartgold, though I wouldn't delete the save.

I still don't know what to think of what happened afterwards.

The game booted up normally, and the save was normal - though my friend had named the file "Acer" instead of his own name since he had always liked giving his trainers their own names - though I found it odd that the last save was in the House of Memories, in Lavender Town. As far as I knew, there wasn't really any reason to go there.

The save loaded with Acer in front of a grave, with his Furret named Silk behind him. Silk was the first non-starter Pokemon my friend had caught, and he had been a staple of the team the whole way into the Hall of Fame, even outliving his Meganium, Fleur, despite all odds. I still remember the night he spent over at my house playing and his shocked cry when one of Lance's Pokemon landed a critical fire attack at the wrong time and brought Fleur down. I wouldn't say he was a complete wreck, but he was definitely very attached, and while he hid his face from me then I swore he cried a little when he released Fleur. So, while it still seemed odd to do, I guessed maybe in some way he had went here to pay respects to his starter.

The first thing I did was talk to Silk, since I had a habit of regularly checking talking Pokemon. "Silk is nuzzling your arm sadly... It looks like it's reminiscing." I had never seen that dialogue before, and it was kind of weird as is, but I never really spent a lot of time in here so I figured it was location-specific dialogue I just hadn't gotten while playing my own game.

Aside from that, everything was mostly normal. I would run around to different places in the game to figure out what things my friend hadn't done on this save. I tried to keep Action Replay shenanigans to a minimum out of respect, though I admit I still ended up using the occasional instant capture code or EXP multiplier. Even if strictly speaking the game was mine now, "Acer's" team never really felt like my Pokemon.

There were odd things here and there, though - every so often I'd load my save to find myself somewhere else. Usually the House of Memories, sometimes Route 29 or New Bark Town, occasionally some different place entirely with no real pattern. Acer's party would sometimes change while I wasn't playing, as well - usually nothing more than Silk moving from a different slot to the front of the party, but sometimes the team lineup would entirely change to the exact team registered in the Hall of Fame - except with a completely blank slot where Fleur used to be. Part of me tried to rationalize this as something wrong with the internal battery or maybe a strange side effect of my cheating, but... I knew that would be too much of a coincidence.

But aside from that, the game was normal, and it's not like there was anything I could do about it anyway. So whenever I felt like it I'd play Heartgold and force myself to ignore the save file oddities. Of course, things went wrong eventually.

Before my Pokemon games went missing, my friend had caught Mewtwo in his game and had given the Mewtwo to me since he had no intention of using it. But because my games were gone now, that Mewtwo was as good as gone. So I did what any self respecting cheater would do and used a code to respawn the Cerulean Cave Mewtwo. That way, it would basically be the same as doing it legitimately, I figured. So I went in, caught the Mewtwo as normal, and that was that. But as soon as the battle ended I was startled by a sudden dialogue box.

"Silk is looking thoughtful. How did you...?" The Furret walked back and forth for a few seconds before everything resumed as normal. Of course, Silk hadn't even been behind me when the battle started, but that was the part that worried me the least. Finally, my nerves got to me and I just turned the DS off and set it aside. I didn't play the game for a while after that, partially because I was running out of things to do and partially because I was getting sick of the game acting strange. I wish I had at the very least taken the damn game out of the Action Replay.

Next time I played it was about a week or two later, after I decided it was silly to stay away from the game completely over some dialogue out of place. I started up the DS, entered, the Action Replay menu, and immediately things were off. There was a massive wall of strange codes for Heartgold with glitchy names, all activated. The moment I tried to turn one off, the game immediately started up.

No intro played, it simply went straight to the title screen. It was a corrupt mess, with the background Ho-oh flew over being a plain black and Ho-oh's textures being distorted multicolored blocks. There was no music, but there was a faint high-pitched buzz like a crashed game would make. The main menu looked normal aside from some out of place pixels, but the save file was off. "Acer" was now "AAAA" and apparently in the Mystery Zone, and like the average cheated save he now had infinite playtime and a completed Pokedex. I wondered if something happened to my Action Replay in storage, and I felt horrible.

I had expected it to crash the moment I loaded the save, but it did load. For some strange reason, Acer was in Elm's Pokemon Lab, with no NPCs or music at all. The starter Pokeballs were there, though one was missing and none would react to any interactions. I checked Acer's party to find it empty, though the bag was full of every item. With nowhere else to go, I walked out of the lab to find that New Bark Town looked like a glitch city. It was incredibly bizarre looking with the partially 3D graphics of Heartgold, and I felt a rising unease as a faint cacophony of droning buzzes played in the background. It was nearly impossible to navigate, so I just blundered around hitting buttons until I saw a "Route 29" pop up on the screen. Another step, and the screen completely changed to a regular-looking (if empty) version of the route, with Acer standing in the tall grass. A Furret sprite ran over, which I guessed was Silk.

"Silk greets you in tears! It's relieved to see you!" That text was when any thought of this just being a malfunction of the Action Replay left my mind. "Silk is so sorry. It didn't mean to break it. It didn't mean to break it. It didn't mean to break it." The sentence kept repeating, scrolling on its own accord. Then, when it finally stopped, the little Furret sprite hugged the trainer sprite. I left the game be for a couple moments, baffled, before another text box popped up.

"Silk is backing away. You're not Acer. Who are you?" The Furret sprite slid backwards. "Who are you? Why?"

Was it because the trainer name changed, or was it because I was the wrong person playing entirely? I tried to shake the second thought from my head, but already this had gone beyond the bounds of what this game should've been doing. My friend had never been the hacking type.

Silk ran off-screen and I followed after him. The route got progressively longer and more distorted as I went, eventually becoming like a glitch city again. Then, suddenly, the route cut off, and I was in the Mystery Zone. The sound of fire crackling played through the speakers, but the background was a solid empty black. As I walked, Meganium and Furret cries played intermittently. I came across a sprinkling of dark gray pixels, difficult to see among the black background, and examined them. "It's a pile of ashes." the game supplied. There was a trail leading off from the pile which I felt like I had to follow. The cries only got louder as I walked.

At the end of the trail was the grey silhouette of a Chikorita. Somehow then, I understood. I walked up to the Chikorita to talk to it, but as soon as I got close a battle began.

"Fleur Fleur Fleur Fleur Fleur Fleur

wants to !" There was a massive space in the middle, taking a while just to scroll through. Acer's sprite was just a silhouette, and "Fleur" on the other side had no sprite at all. For some reason, he already had a burn status. Apparently I had no Pokemon, but still Silk came into battle anyway.

Silk's sprite looked... wrong. He had the palette that Acer normally had, messily coloring him in an unpleasant mostly red-orange, black, and peach color scheme. His face was completely obscured, however, by a mess of white blocks with a similar texture to the "-----" glitch Pokemon you would only see when you had an empty party. No sort of "What will Silk do?" text appeared, the box simply remained empty.

Unsure of what else to do, I checked Silk's moves. They all had bizarre, unreadable glitchy names, no type, and absurdly high amounts of PP. I picked one at random helplessly.

"Silk doesn't know you! Silk cowered away!" Huh. "Fleur used Struggle!" That was when Fleur's sprite finally appeared, and I immediately felt ill.

He was a Chikorita instead of a Meganium, and his whole body looked... charred. He was in a weak stance where it looked like he was going to collapse at any moment, and he had a Meganium's flower around his neck, though it was scorched black. His body was mostly a chalky ash gray color, but there were a few red-brown spots I guessed were burns. His eyes were a solid red with small white pupils, and he looked like he was either terrified, in agony, or both.

Silk took a puny amount of damage from the Struggle. "Fleur is not well." the game simply said before Fleur took a massive amount of recoil and then a bit of burn damage on top of that. "Silk is begging for forgiveness. This wasn't what was supposed to happen."

What WAS supposed to happen, then? What did Silk do? I selected another move, guessing he'd probably disobey again.

"Silk ignores you completely! Silk desperately attempts to embrace Fleur, but withdraws from the heat..." Again, Fleur used Struggle and ended up hurting himself more than he hurt Silk. His health was reduced to a sliver, and then the burn damage fainted him completely. "Fleur burned up again!"

I expected it to go back to the overworld then, but it didn't. "Silk cries out. Silk is fiddling with something... This can be fixed." Silk's sprite further distorted, parts of it now out of place. "This can be fixed. This can be fixed. This can be fixed." Each time, the screen grew more glitched, with Silk receiving the brunt of it. "Please. Please please please please please please"

I suddenly yelped and nearly dropped my DS. The Action Replay was heating up rapidly, quickly becoming painful to the touch. What the hell, was Silk somehow directly using cheat codes? The text scrolled more frantically without me even pressing anything, and the screen grew nearly unrecognizable except for Silk, who was now shaded in a dark red and more glitch than Furret.

"I got it I got it Acer are you here I fixed it he's back" I guessed that this was now Silk talking directly, and I felt horrible for being the wrong person to be playing the game right now. I wasn't who Silk needed to see. A Chikorita - I guess it was Fleur - appeared on the other side of the field, looking worse than before. His body had chalky white cracks, and parts of him had already crumbled to ashes. "no no no No No No he's worse now I'm sorry I didn't want this pl" The text just cut off there.

The screen just held there for a little bit. There was an ungodly screeching slowly increasing in volume through the speakers, yet my hands were so shaky I didn't even reach to touch the volume slider. I still wonder why I hadn't turned the game off by then - maybe I felt obligated to ride this to its conclusion for my distant friend's sake.

Suddenly, another text box startled me. "Silk used Healing Wish! But it failed! Silk used Healing Wish! But it failed! Silk used Healing Wish! But it failed!" Fleur's health continued to be chipped away by the burn. It just kept happening over and over, and I thought the game was trapped in a loop until I realized I could still use the menu while Silk was doing his own thing.

So, I did the only thing I could think of and used a Masterball on Fleur. It didn't even shake before catching the poor guy, and the battle immediately ended with no fanfare or nickname screen.

The overworld looked the same as it was left, though now there was a much larger pile of ash where Fleur had been standing. Silk was there, too, though he swapped between looking like a normal Furret and being a dark red question mark. He approached Acer - or me, I suppose - and there was a little hugging animation.

"Silk hugged you and cried. Who are you? And will Fleur...?" I wasn't sure what the last question was asking. Perhaps "will Fleur be okay."

"I'll do my best for Fleur, okay?" I whispered to the game screen. The game gave no indication of having heard me, but I still felt like I needed to try to reassure him. After all, I had already given up all pretense of this being normal for the game.

Tentatively, I opened the party. Fleur was there, and while he still looked terrible I was relieved to see that he at least hadn't deteriorated any further. His summary page was a glitchy mess, with all of his stats unreadable. His ability was now just "Charred" with the description "Trying to cheat death." I tried to use a Full Restore on him, but it only healed his health and not his burn.

Closing the party menu, I walked through the empty Mystery Zone. Though Fleur didn't appear behind me, Silk followed, a step away so I couldn't talk to him. After a while of walking, I had somehow ended up in the House of Memories again, though I wasn't at all surprised. Other Pokemon were walking around, and I recognized them as those my friend had caught as Acer. They all seemed relieved and happy to see Acer and Silk, but then reacted with fear and backed away when Silk's sprite glitched. Silk ignored them completely, instead walking up to a grave which I recognized as the one the save had kept moving to when I wasn't playing.

Slowly, I moved to Silk to talk to him. "Silk is mourning for Fleur. It seems regretful..." Unprompted, Fleur's ashen sprite appeared by Silk's side. "Silk bows its head to its other friends. There's no way to go back to the way it was before, right?"

The two turned around and slowly walked out the door together, leaving everyone else behind. Then, I felt the Action Replay begin to heat up again and I shifted my hands away. As soon as my hands moved, the console completely reset. I hesitatingly booted up the game again, and it completely skipped the Action Replay menu.

"The save file is corrupted. The previous save file will be loaded." The file was all right where I had left off before all this in the Cerulean Cave, but two main things had changed - Acer's name was still "AAAA", and Silk had completely vanished.

My Action Replay never really worked right again, after that. It would start overheating whenever I used it on Pokemon games, and if I tried to respawn starters or unique Pokemon encounters it just wouldn't work at all. My friend's Heartgold, on the other hand, became completely normal. The save files never changed locations, the party never adjusted itself, and I certainly never heard anything from Fleur or Silk again.

I still don't know what to think about what happened. I haven't even told my friend about it, since I'm not sure I could.

I just wonder if maybe, if I had been the person Silk had needed then, if I could have helped them both.