Roark was born in Canalave, Sinnoh to a couple that divorced when he was a year old. His father, faced with the difficult task of raising a child by himself when he had never planned on having kids to begin with, very nearly gave the boy up for adoption; he didn't know anything about kids, and quite frankly, Byron did not want to raise a kid. He'd do it all wrong, he was certain of that. Roark stayed with his father thanks to a meeting that Riley called fate and Byron a happy coincidence, the Steele family befriending a father and son duo who had been just passing through Canalave, but then decided to stay after the friendship that was struck up. Now with help, Byron pulled himself together, put his wife's infidelity behind him, and began the attempt to juggle being a single parent and a gym leader at the same time.
Thus, Roark grew up in the city of Canalave alongside the family friend Riley, a boy just a couple years older than himself; together they went to school, played with their father's Pokemon, made castles out of the dirt on Canalave's shores, visited the Canalave Library, and spent endless hours exploring and "helping" in the mining island off shore, named Iron Island for its ore. Roark collected as many rocks and ores as he could get his hands on, the boxes beneath his bed full of them, taken from Canalave's beaches and from Iron Island. He fed himself on a steady diet of geology books, sometimes even falling asleep at the library surrounded by stacks of books. Though he eventually outgrew the books written for children, he found himself returning repeatedly to the book titled What's Beneath Your Feet? The Sinnoh Underground, which he often just referred to as "Beneath your Feet" for simplicity. Though not a traditional picture book, it did contain pictures, and it was full of colorful drawings of all kinds of stones, rocks, scales, and even fossils. Riley was uninterested in his obsessions, but encouraged them nonetheless, reminding Roark that soon he'd be allowed a Pokemon of his very own. Sure enough, on his tenth birthday, Byron decided it was time Roark begin his training to walk the path of a gym leader. He offered to take his son to Sandgem Town, and to his shock Roark turned him down. He was about to insist, but his son interjected, explaining he wanted to go to the Underground and find his own Pokemon. Impressed by the novelty of the idea, Byron asked Roark's grandfather in Eterna if the man would be kind enough to take Roark down and show him the ropes of the place, and the old man was happy to agree. That trip down to the Underground remained engraved in Roark's memory-- the sheer excitement and thrill of dark caves and tunnels sparkling with treasure, hiding secret bases and beautiful stones and fossils within its walls. He learned how to mine, how to dig up the treasures within the delicate rock walls without bringing them down under the force of his pickaxe. He created a secret base, which he filled with his findings, and made a small ring of friends, spending hours playing capture the flag, racing each other to see who could get the most stones, and trading spheres with. All of this in the span of a two day drip. His head was spinning with sheer joy, and it cumulated in his unearthing of a skull fossil.
His shriek of delight could be heard several tunnels down when he unearthed that thing; his friends would never let him forget it for years to come.
Roark wasted no time returning to the surface and having the fossil restored. It was like love at first sight; the second he laid eyes on his new Cranidos, his heart jolted and he knew in his ten year old soul that he was destined to walk among the rock Pokemon.
He spent a year more in Canalave studying up on his fields of interest before embarking on his journey alongside Riley. The two boys had grown apart in past years as their interests had expanded into different areas, but soon it was almost like old times, the boys laughing and joking as they travelled road after road together. They bounced from city to city, collecting gym badges along the way and adding Pokemon to their rosters until each had a full team. Though the months spent together were cherished, their separate interests once again tugged them in different directions. Riley was ready to keep going for those badges, but Roark wanted to explore every cave he could find, wanted to take the Underground and expand it even further. Saddened, but knowing it was for the best, the boys parted ways, promising that this would not be the end of their story together.
Roark made good on his vow to expand what his grandfather and father had created. Pickaxe in hand and a dream in his heart, he and his team created tunnel after tunnel, connecting new ones to pre-existing ones. It wasn't long before others heard of Roark's exploits and came to help the boy in his quest, the children from his old gang of friends now eager teenagers searching for adventure, glory, and discovery. The Pokemon helped cut down the time it would have taken by a great deal; what would have cost the teenagers years was shaved down to months. Day after day, Roark lived his dream, singing alongside his friends the mining songs passed down to him by his grandfather as he dug his tunnels and unearthed a museum's worth of items. Life was good.
Until it wasn't.
Byron was growing impatient; he had no problem with Roark setting out to find himself, but the boy needed all the badges if he were to follow in his footsteps. His son was so bright and eager and full of love for the world and its Pokemon-- he would be the finest legacy Byron could leave this world with, a beacon of hope for the future in how passionately his son protected and cared for the bond between human and Pokemon. Roark's playing was mucking that up, and that was not acceptable. He needed to become a gym leader. Needed to. The steel specialist could see no better way to ensure he'd done his part in securing the future's goodness than his own son taking such a position of power. It was with this thought that he contacted Roark, urging him to continue collecting badges. It was a long argument that went on and off for months, but finally, a disgruntled Roark agreed to at least collect the other badges. Byron was pained at having upset his son, but he would see in time that this was for the best.
Roark, however, festered in his anger that his father's future plans were more important than his son's wishes.
A year and all badges collected later, and Roark met up again with Riley. It was strange, seeing one another again; they were seventeen now, and it had been five years since their last meeting. Still, yet again the conversation came easily, the comradire they shared still there after all this time. Roark went with his friend to the Elite Four, refusing to challenge them but encouraging Riley's interest in doing so. Though Riley got far, he eventually was defeated at the Champion's hand. Far from discouraged, Riley decided he would just have to keep training. Willing to accompany his old friend a while longer, Roark went with. The youth was still silently seething over his father's pushiness, painfully aware that if he had not wanted to follow Riley his father would have insisted on it anyway. He would carry this quiet grudge until the day he and Riley came across a group of younger kids destroying a cave purely to scare the Pokemon inside. Chasing the children off, Roark realized what it was his father wanted by putting him in charge of a Gym, and as he calmed down the scared rock types inside, the young man couldn't help but warm to the idea.
Yes, he decided, this was something he could do. He could make sure that anyone who came through to challenge him would leave with a thorough respect of rock Pokemon and just Pokemon in general, as well as the bond between them and their human.
But now, having been traveling for a long time, it was high time for a break; the two returning to Canalave, where Roark confessed coming around to see his father's point of view. Several months later, Roark was apprenticed to the Orgeburgh City Gym. For the next couple years Roark would learn everything there was to learn about not only Gym battles, but the nearby mines and museum. It was here he learned how to restore fossils all by himself, a process he was overjoyed to learn. Making friends came easily to the redhead, especially when everyone around him was some manner of rock nerd, and he quickly collected a group of friends he would spend the mining workday with. On the second anniversary of the day Roark had come to live at Orgeburgh, the Gym Leader passed the title down to the young archaeologist, and retired to Sunnyshore City, leaving the city in what he felt were very capable hands. Though slightly overwhelmed at first, Roark was nothing if not a fast learner, even if in the beginning it was bluffing his way through things until it worked. It wasn't long before he had a real grasp of the full leadership role, and though it embarrassed him to lose to trainers with no badges, he accepted each defeat as a learning experienced and sent the youngster on their way with a Coal Badge and words of wisdom about the bond between trainer and Pokemon. Everything seemed to be going well, so of course it was time for everything to nosedive again.
On a brief trip back home to catch up with old friends, Roark found not peace waiting for him, but a slap in the face; several days after arriving, Riley spoke with Roark down by the beach on their usual morning walk, and accidentally let slip a piece of information the other had not known; when the news went out that the Oreburgh City gym leader would be retiring, Byron had asked Riley to become the leader. Outrage was immediate but Riley calmed his friend, pondering aloud the possibility that Byron had finally got it through his thick head that Roark wanted nothing to do with the Gym system-- after all, Riley pointed out, Roark had said nothing to indicate his change of heart for a while and it was possible Byron had asked Riley before learning of that. Willing to accept this possibility, Roark confronted his father and found to his horror that his original conclusion had been correct. Byron had came to a simple decision; Riley would make a better Gym Leader than Roark, whom he perceived as too impulsive, too immature to handle such a task. Only because Riley had turned him down had Roark been offered the apprenticeship instead. Hurt and angry, but unwilling to damage the only relationship he had with his only living relative, Roark made it plain he felt betrayed but did not explode as he wanted to, instead taking his things and leaving as soon as he could. The next several months were strained, but time can smooth over even the roughtest of surfaces--the problem was the insult still burned, just not on the surface. Still, Roark had more than enough to distract himself, and indulged in his gym and mining duties; ending up with this amazing life was a fluke, but by gods, he would enjoy it anyway. How many people could say they had gotten to build their adult life around nothing but things they loved, after all?
Nothing lasts forever, this was a lesson Roark had well learned over the years. He just never could have seen the way in which the next nosedive would happen, nor of the impact it would have on not just him, but worldwide.
It started with simple reports of Pokemon behaving oddly. It raised an eyebrow or two among the people of Orgeburgh, but no one really took it seriously. Until a few of the city's Machoke and Machop grew sick after an unsupervised outing. The virus took hold fast, rendering them incredibly ill within a matter of days.
Action had to be taken. Something was wrong, and Roark was taking no more chances. He gave the order that no one was to leave or enter the city, no matter what the species. If the Pokemon of the surrounding area were spreading this virus than common sense dictated to stay away. Fearing that some of the aggressive Pokemon may enter town, Roark sent his Tyranitar to patrol the ways in and out. With that taken care of, he turned his attention on the sickened. There was not much he could do; the man was many things, but a doctor was not one of them. However, he was the city's Leader, and it was for that reason he hovered around the Pokecenter, anxiously awaiting news on his beloved mining buddies. Eventually the doctors and nurses shooed him home, ordering bedrest. "There is nothing you can do," they informed him. "Go home and take care of yourself." He resisted for only a few minutes before realizing they were right, and relented, returning to his house. Anxious, he called his father, asking what he should do in the event an evacuation was needed. Byron chided his son for not having more faith that everything would be fine, but nonetheless provided the answer, telling him he should take the citizens to the Pokemon League if possible. The next several days were uneventful, and Roark slowly began to relax. Perhaps nothing bad would happen at all.
It was a warm summer evening when everything descended into hell. Waking from a nap after a long day's work in the mines, Roark showered, tended to his mining tools, and then prepared dinner while chatting to his Areodactyl. The windows were open, the sun's orange glow was just starting to fade, and the air smelled of the rich summer earth. He even remembered the exact moment the chaos began, because when the first explosion sounded and he reared back from the stove to stare in shock out his kitchen window, he caught sight of the time on the stove: 7:33.
His next movements happened so quickly he doesn't remember doing them, but before he was aware of it he had turned off the stove, recalled Areodactyl, grabbed his mining helmet and pickaxe, and threw himself out the door, just in time for another explosion. There was no thought, only action; he ran as fast as he could push himself towards the mines. Arriving there in minutes, he was already too late, the front of the mine collapsing in on itself. The Machoke, the Machop! They could clear the blockage! He turned around and ran for the Pokecenter next, throwing open the door to a nightmare made reality; the Pokemon he had once worked and joked side by side with were tearing through the building, a Machop slaughtering a fleeing nurse just as Roark entered. Numb with horror, the young gym leader stood frozen as the red-eyed creature turned to him next and lunged. He screamed, swinging his pickaxe and caving the humanoid's skull in. Gasping in lungfuls of air, trying to steady his thoughts, he reached for a pokeball and let his Crustle out, the two making a mad dash through the Center. The undead fighting types turned on them but Crustle easily put them down, though it was too late to save the Center's staff. Bodies lay everywhere, blood pooled and ran and dripped from the walls and ceiling, and guts were strewn across the rooms. Struggling not to vomit, Roark abandoned the doomed facility and raced outside; there was no time to formate a plan, because a very familiar Pokemon roared his bloodlust to the sky, a roar that was soon followed by screams and the violent screeching of buildings giving way. Roark's face turned ashen and his blood to ice as the Pokemon turned the street corner via plowing right through a building-- of all the Pokemon to succumb to this horrifying and bizarre disease, he never would have imagined his own Tyranitar being one of them.
He dragged himself out of his stupor with a wild cry and shouted instructions at his Crustle, reaching for his Rampardos's pokeball as he scrambled to get to higher ground. What followed was a long, arduous battle as the young leader screamed frantic commands at his Pokemon from the rooftops, desperate to stop the slaughter. Trying to direct frightened townspeople out of the city and his Pokemon in battle at the same time was an utter disaster, the bodies piling up. By the time Tyranitar finally went down, two thirds of the mining city had fallen to either the mad dinosaur, or the fighting types. Having finally put down his own beloved Pokemon, watching in desolate blankness as the Machoke and Machop kept tearing down structures as the last of the trapped townspeople fled, Roark knew the city was lost. He leaped from the roof and recalled his exhausted Pokemon, but was stopped in his tracks by the undead lumbering towards him. For the second time that day Roark felt himself die inside as the little Cranidos he had been using against gym challengers staggered over, croaking and crying out, hungry for his flesh. She lunged at him and he dodged, a bullet from a miner's gun ending her assault just afterwards. Shattered through and through, Roark fled with what little he'd managed to save. Several hours of distance between themselves and Oreburgh later, the dawn of the next day found Roark a short distance away from the group to contact Byron again, fearing what may have happened to Canalave. To his relief, Byron answered immediately, and Roark wept as he recounted the experience at Oreburgh. His father listened in silence before asking if he was hurt, if he or anyone else had been bitten-- if it was a disease bodily fluids were definitely something to look out for. No one had been, not as far as he knew, and he relayed that information. Byron criticized his lack of concrete knowledge, telling him he should have everyone, Pokemon and human alike, looked over for bites. Though Byron was only trying to help, Roark was wounded by the criticism in the face of what he'd just lived through; like always his father possessed a certain lack of tact or comfort that made any of his constructive criticism feel genuine. Byron furthered the wound by recanting his earlier statement; Roark shouldn't take the survivors to the Pokemon league. He should take them to a completely different region, where maybe this horrible plague wasn't. But by this time Roark and the refugees had been making good ground, and were closer to the League than Calanave, the only port city in all of Sinnoh. Tempers began to flare, Byron frightened for his son and Roark angry that Byron was now criticizing him for doing exactly what the man had told him to do in the first place. Twenty minutes of yelling later, Roark's patience finally snapped completely.
"You know Dad it wouldn't kill you to listen to me every once in a while; I'm not so stupid that I can't take care of my own, and gods sometimes I really hate you for the shit you pull!"
With a final growl, Roark snapped the phone shut, an act he would come to hate himself for.
For now, however, he had more to worry about. The journey had them trek halfway across Sinnoh, and it spanned many days and nights. The going was dangerous and painful, everyone weighed down by grief, guilt, and horror, dealing with constant attacks from hordes and periods of becoming lost. Along the way, Roark's Probopass joined the ranks of the fallen, dead at an Infernape's hand. The gym leader was not the only one who suffered personal loss, everyone losing someone else in their desperate battle through the Sinnoh region. But even despite their low state, reaching the Pokemon League raised their spirits. At last, their destination, their salvation. Roark could have cried with joy as he threw open the doors and led everyone inside. That relief soon faded when they found the entire building completely deserted.
Scared, several of the survivors began to yell at Roark, accusing him of dragging them across the country for nothing. Fights began to break out as others came to Roark's defense, and the gym leader watched in horror as the morale among the group went from "depressed" to "ready to fight anyone who opens their damn mouth."
Flaming tempers could not save them from what would happen next even if it fueled their fighting spirit. Smelling their presence, a hoard of undead attacked, and the slaughter was immediate and horrific as the undead broke down the hastily erected barriers. Whoever still had their Pokemon began sending them out to fight, but even the Pokemon could not stand up to this. Watching everyone else die around him, Roark's Areodactyl realized there was no hope of winning this. He noticed holes in the ceiling, and knew what he had to do, extending his claws and sinking them into Roark's backpack to pluck his human from the floor. Roark screamed for Ptero to put him down, to let him go, his people needed him, but the dinosaur ignored his cries and his pleas and flew from the building as fast as his wings could carry him-- they had lost two members of their family already, and he would not lose Roark too.
The next several days were a numb, aching blur. Roark spent them alternating between screaming at himself, the fates, and his Areodactyl, Ptero, furious and heartbroken over everything that had set the things that came to pass in motion. His Pokemon weathered through it in silence; Roark's rage and grief was understandable, and he turned his words against himself more often than he did anything else. After several days Roark was spent, too weary of heart for that anger to keep going. Dreading his reunion with his father, expecting Byron to disown him over the loss of Oreburgh and its people, Roark set out for Canalave. It never even crossed his mind that the city might be overrun.
He landed in the city to find empty streets and broken houses, bodies strewing the street. Panic seized him and he dashed to his father's house; it was empty. Searching for Byron led him to the harbor, and there at the end of the dock he found the mangled corpse of his father, the man's faithful shovel lying at his side, Pokeballs scattered around him. The pickaxe slipped from his grip with a clatter as Roark's legs collapsed out from under him. Byron was dead. All he could feel was numbness.
He moved on only because of Pach, his faithful Rampardos nudging him and gently head butting the side of his head until Roark stirred. With dead eyes he claimed his father's Pokeballs and let the Pokemon out. Their grief was too much for him to take; it smashed a giant hole in the mental barrier built up between him and his emotions, and watching the Pokemon who had practically helped raise him wail in pain finally ripped the sobs out of him. When their grief was spent the other Pokemon decided to move on and find their old friends and acquaintances. His father's Bastiodon, Sterling, remained behind, determined to guard his trainer's son. It was he who informed Roark of the horrors that befell Canalave, describing the undead that had descended on the city and how his brave father had held them off so that the survivors could escape by ship. At the last second Byron recalled him to prevent his death. Sterling's eyes never left the remains of his trainer as he recounted the story, and at its end, Roark arranged a funeral for his father in the trees beyond the piers, creating a funeral pyre that lasted for days before mixing his father's ashes into the soil and stabbing the gym leader's shovel into the earth as a grave marker, as Byron would have wanted. He wandered the empty city, dispatching any undead he found with a swift blow from his pickaxe, venting his pain on the surrounding monsters. But there was only so much he could vent, and eventually the anger was gone. The numbess was back.
There was no logical reason why he went to the library, but he found himself wandering in anyway, staring around at the shelves full of books that he had grown up with. It didn't take him long to gravitate towards the section he'd spent most of his early life in, and when he went to look for the old book from his childhood, there it was, in the same spot it'd always been. Canalave had nothing left for him; it held nothing but pain, and it was too dangerous to stay, even if every fibre of his being cried at leaving the library, Canalave's pride and joy, unattended. But this one book, he would save this one. Tucking it into his backpack, Roark left his birthplace. He made a brief search of Iron Island, hoping to locate Riley, and when he did not find the man there, he searched Riley's home. He found nothing that indicated he was alive, but nothing either that indicated his death. Afraid to be optimistic but unable to face the possibility of Riley's death, Roark put his old friend from his mind as much as he could, and set out into the world. He was so low already, he thought, that the only place to go from here was up. Entering the Sinnoh Underground, he dug up three fossils and restored them. Eager for a distraction from their grief, Roark and his other Pokemon welcomed the newcomers to their family, and they began to train them as they travelled, soon rewarded with healthy, fully evolved teammates who even then, were still growing in strength and spirit.
Still, there was more tragedy to come. Two years into the apocalypse, and a fierce fight with an infected would end with his Areodactyl sustaining a bite to his leg that went unnoticed for several hours, at which point Ptero began to feel the illness sweeping his bloodstream. Though he would not have turned for a while, as he was not a fire type, he knew the end was coming. With a heavy heart, he asked Roark to recall the others so he could speak to him alone, admitting once this was done that his ailment was the infection itself. There was only one thing to do; he had to be put down.
Ptero... his Areodactyl wanted to die. His Ptero. Roark sank to his knees, wrapping his arms around his Pokemon and breaking down into hysterical sobs. He shook his head, babbling that he couldn't do it, he wouldn't do it, but even as he begged the universe for an out, sobbing his pleas into his friend's side, he knew there was nothing else for it. Ptero was too weak by now to walk off and end himself, and he couldn't force the others to take the life of another friend. As the leader of their group, that responsibility fell on him. It took another hour to find the will to stand and, still shaking and in tears, Roark hefted his pickaxe. One final gaze between the two, and then Ptero crooned softly, shifting himself to give Roark a better shot at his vitals. About to lose his nerve, he squeezed his eyes shut and screamed, bringing the pickaxe down with all his strength. To his horror, Ptero began to emit choked screams-- Roark's strength alone was not enough to pierce the thick hide immediately. It took several more swings and five agonizing minutes for the last traces of life to finally leave the dinosaur's body.
Roark dug out his other Pokemon from their balls, intent on releasing them and finding a way to commit suicide with what he had on hand, but his Pokemon refused to let him. For three days they holed up in a cave and guarded their Trainer, waiting until he was no longer actively suicidal. Only their presence kept Roark alive, the gym leader unable to add to their pain with his own death. When his Pokemon began to starve Roark relented, unwilling to let them suffer on his account, and since suicide was not an option, and giving up and not doing anything was not an option, then he had to push on. Watching them eat again after discovering food brought a touch of life back to him-- this was what was important. This, right here, his tiny family of rock Pokemon getting what they needed. He made a promise to them and himself that what occurred in the cave would never happen again. The despair was crushing, but he would not fail them again. If he were to die, it would be only if it saved another, or if his Pokemon were someplace safe, where they would be cared for.
It was this resolve that would drag him through two more deaths, his beloved Golem and Crustle falling in two separate incidences as the years continued to drag on. The same resolve would lead him to acquiring two more fossils and reviving them before finally working up the nerve to leave the Sinnoh region behind, accepting despite every ounce of pain in him that there was nothing left for his beloved region to offer him. Over the four years he met many humans and Pokemon in their travels, often trading supplies with them, swapping a story or two, perhaps a few questions. But just as often they would be hostile, attempting to harm himself or his Pokemon. Roark learned to kill, learned to bludgeon another sentient being in the head without an ounce of feeling, how to sic a powerful Pokemon on a comparatively weak human without remorse halting his hand. He learned how to scrub gore from his clothes, how to hold back vomit, how to loot corpses, both old and the freshly killed, how to wait until the deed was done before the tears came. Eventually, he learned how to turn off all feeling, how to embrace the numbness that would follow being forced to end the life of another person. Always his family would remind him that the hostile one had attacked them first, how Roark and the others never sought to harm anyone, would never rob or hurt another unless first attacked. But the human's soul ached more and more with each awful encounter. With only Pach of his original family left, Roark began to quietly close himself off, walling up his heart to anyone he met. There was no end to this horror in sight; the world would remain like this forever, and he would not make the mistake of loving anyone new only to experience more agony when this apocalypse would rip them or another from his family away from him.
Where was he now? How far had he wandered? Heaven only knew.
Gods... please, it hurts. Just make it stop...