Better Left Unown
Legend has it that a wise man once said Mystery is inherent to myth. No one knew this man, who he was, what he did, or even if he was really a man to begin with. Recent scholarship suggests that "he" was in fact a woman who said a man said it so that people would listen to her.
Who said it isn't really all that relevant, though. It's just a phrase, after all. What is relevant, is that myths come with only as many answers as further questions asked. Many such answers are far better left un—er—answered. Yet, it is the nature of the living to seek forbidden knowledge.
Two unown, The Exclaimers? endeavored deep in the depths of Wish Cave on such a journey. They were named ? and !, because their parents hated them, a tradition among the unown. ? in particular had lived a life of abject misery because of her name. No one could ever pronounce it properly, instead calling her “question mark,” or “question,” or, worst of all, “?.”
She would never forget the day she met !.
“??” he’d asked, so eloquently, beautiful. Not the slightest hitch in pronunciation.
“!!” she cried, that half-shut look in his eyes telling her he felt the same joy and relief she had. Purely through dialect, they already understood each other better than they knew anyone else—even themselves—which was unfortunate, as they were both terrible pokémon. With such intimate knowledge of each other, they could do little more than hate each other.
So, of course, they became immediate friends, inseparable. It only made sense they’d form a rescue team together, a job they hated: another tradition among unown, hating their life’s work (they tend not to live very happy lives). ? still did her best to make the most of it, though. She loved exploring the world, dungeons, seeing all the cultures struggle to survive the hellish landscape worsened by ever expanding dungeons mercilessly swallowing lands and lives whole. It was beautiful.
Her intrigue drove their team across the lands, searching far and wide for pokémon to understand the (hidden) power that’s inside of them. One secret had always eluded them, though. A deep secret, personal to both them and all unown: the meaning of their species’ name. Tales told of the truth it held and its relationship to hidden power. Supposedly, the knowledge could unlock the hidden part of the power and make it remotely combat relevant.
If they’d any luck, they could’ve learned the secret before fighting their way to the center of the planet. But such was life, and such was Wish Cave: the home of Jirachi. The Legendary of Wishes. It was said that she could grant one wish of each pokémon’s heart. For the sake of societal stability (and, some speculated, her own sanity), Jirachi hid away in the deepest depths of the world’s largest dungeon protected by a vicious dragon. This way, only those who were already immensely powerful could access this immense power. If the weak could gain power, then society’s very foundations would crumble.
As if solitude wasn’t punishment enough for the kindest of legends, a quirk of language left the wish of her heart ever ungrantable. She could only grant one wish per pokémon without exception. Were she to grant her own wish, the cost would be her life itself. In that sense, her solitude was a blessing; never would she be tempted to give her wish for one she loved. Legend had it all her predecessors had met such a fate. So, for her own safety, and that of the stability of society, the most caring legendary was locked behind hazardous obstacle after hazardous obstacle to leave her with no one to care for.
No challenge, however, could daunt The Exclaimers?. That was why they ran from the hulking blue salamence bearing down on them from above. Each gust of its crimson wings threatened to throw them to the ground, and often did, but that was more of an inconvenience than anything since verticality had no effect on their levitation-based travel.
“If you could just not do that, we would super appreciate it!” ! exclaimed after his eye scraped against the dirt for the seventh time.
“Why are you doing this?” ? questioned.
They weren’t usually so stereotypical. Perhaps the life or death situation activated deep seeded instincts within them. If that was the case, then it only got worse.
Particularly for !, but his ridiculous actions would of course threaten the demise of ? as well. Hearing ?’s cry set his heart ablaze. Her fear inspired his bravery. In that moment, he would do anything, face anyone to keep her safe. Even at the cost of his own life. All at once, he halted and spun around to face the salamence. “Stop!” His voice resounded throughout the cavern. A plume of fire came with it and engulfed the beast.
It didn’t do a lot. Perhaps if the salamence could have been any angrier, that would have set him off. Unfortunately, such was not the case. In an instant, he crashed down on top of ! with a bellowing roar that shook the walls of the ever shifting dungeon. “Fool! You dare to sully my land with your pitiful forms, then mock me with that poor excuse of an attack?”
? stood against the wall, staring in awe at the act of pure bravery done for her. Her gratitude was immeasurable, as seen in her brow, furrowed in rage. “What is wrong with you?” Negative numbers can’t technically be measured, unless in the abstract. “You have to be the stupidest pokémon I’ve ever met! Do you want to die?”
The claws clenching down on what could loosely be considered !’s throat choked away his response.
“Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe the likes of you,” the dragon spat, eyes piercing through ? while he bared his teeth to !. “You disgusting rabble will hardly do for food. I’ve but one option.” With that, he let loose another roar, a plume of dragon fire, right down onto !. The sand beneath hardened into glass and shattered. A dragon breath. !’s perpetually half-shut eye shut even half-er. Eye down to barely a fourth open, he could barely hang on.
“Yes, that should assist in the flavor,” the salamence mumbled. He was correct. Dragon’s breath worked wonders as a spice for any food, highly regarded across the lands, its concentrate a culinary delicacy. With spice, tang, and the perfect balance of umami and sweetness, it could go on any dish from a cupcake to a beef steak. A shame most dragons were so protective of it, artificially raising the prices beyond any reasonable margin to the point where only the richest of the rich could afford even a taste.
Coincidentally, the richest of the rich also tended to be dragons because of their hoarding tendencies. Some called that stereotype denigrating and ultimately hurtful, while the homeless, starving, and poor called for reasonable taxation and social benefit programs at the very least, which did not happen. If the weak wanted more power, then they should simply become rich, the lazy fools.
? watched in horror as the haves eating the have nots stopped being quite so allegorical. ! panted for breath. The salamence’s stench infected every bit of air he had as his maw bore down on the exploited working cl—!. A deep, ancient strength ignited within ?, pulling her towards the dragon. It built and built inside of her, a new feeling altogether as she flew to her friend’s rescue.
Just as the dragon’s maw reached !, ? came close enough to wrest his attention away. That strength building within her grew past the point of bursting. It ripped forth, and an ancient knowledge told her its nature. It was her. Her everything. Her Hidden Power. A blizzard of ice engulfed the dragon, shattering against him. The air itself froze, coating his scales in ice. A shiver wracked its way down his spine—his wings tried to blast the vicious air around him away—but the attack kept true to its course.
When the devastating cloud finally cleared, the dragon, barely scathed, looked very bored. With a deep sigh, his eyes shifted between ?, !, and back to ?. “Meh.” It released ! and turned around to leave. “It just isn’t fun when they can’t even put up a fight,” he grumbled to himself as he left.
“!!” ? screamed, rushing to his side. His eye was closed as if he’d already accepted death, but broken breaths wheezed out of his lungs. ? ripped through her bag to pull out a reviver seed and shoved it into his mouth. His teeth clenched over it, and in a flash of light, all his wounds disappeared. As his breath steadied, he opened his eye and righted himself up off the ground.
Once he’d managed to get back up, ? tenderly, carefully swung her hook around him and threw him to the ground. “Are you an idiot?” she asked. “What were you thinking? That you wanted to die?”
! didn’t try to get up for a moment. Staring at the ground made it easier, and the world needed to stop doing that spinning thing. The words caught in his throat. Even with all his wounds healed, his breath wouldn’t steady. He finally floated back upright but kept his gaze away from ?. “I couldn’t bear to see you so scared.”
“!,” ? whispered, wrapping her hook around him gently this time. She turned him around, pulling him close. “I couldn’t bear to see you hurt like that.” Their eyes met. ! saw the same perpetual, bored, half-lidded expression, but some new spark accompanied it. Did he just see his own feelings reflecting back in her beautiful eye?
That was all the confirmation he needed. That same ridiculous instinct that threw him in front of the salamence had him lean in close. For the first time in his life, he pulled the top half of his lid up to brush his pupil across her own.
She once again threw him down into the ground. “Ew.” He screamed in misery as his eye scraped across the sand. “Come on, Jirachi should be close by.” The burning agony stabbed into his eye, more painful than the entirety of salamance’s breath. Yet, even that couldn’t compare to the sorrow of rejection that ate at the very depth of his soul. “Stop moping. This is like the fourth time I’ve told you that I’m waiting for that beefcake Charizard.”
“He doesn’t know you like I do!” ! spat back, coughing back tears. “You’ve never even met!”
“I do not care,” ? said flatly. “He is massive, and I will bear his eggs.” ! didn’t bother questioning the logistics of that since he knew from experience just how detailed an answer she would give. What ! wouldn’t give to be Charizard. Of course, her supposed soul mate didn’t even know ? existed, living in another state. It was insanely inane. To her credit, ? had made it a habit to go on very long tangents about how unbelievably hot Charizard was in every way, going into as explicit detail as she possibly could, so ! should have known better. To !’s credit, however, he had endured such tangents and thus thought himself worthy of her love. They were both terrible pokémon.
Anyway, The Exclaimers? continued their search deep into the crevices of this endless cavern. Even as they grew hungry, they pressed on. The generous rations they’d brought for the journey had run out just that morning. Hope in the myths that Jirachi dwelled in the end of this bottomless abyss dwindled into the glimmer shining in ?’s eye. In the throes of his two-hundred and thirty-first rejection, that glimmer set !’s heart aflame.
It seemed all for naught. They descended down an incline into a narrow passage that led to an empty alcove. Nothing. Anguish froze them in place, ! at the entrance and ? in the middle of the chamber. This had to be the deepest level of the cave. In their entire journey, there hadn’t been a single fork, split path, anything where they could have taken a wrong turn. Yet, here they stood at the base of defeat. The foot of failure.
? crumpled to the ground. ! dashed over to hold her up and assuage her condition, and the tears that wet his skin filled him in. He wanted to comfort her, to help, to show her the perfect amount of kindness that would have her finally realize they were meant to be together, but what could he possibly say in the face of their fallen dreams? He did all he could manage: sob with her, share in the grief.
Misery racked their bodies. Time meant nothing, the only sign of its passing the salty tears pooling beneath them. They had no idea how long they cried together. Even when their eyes ran dry, they held each other for an eternity. An eternity that would pale in comparison to the hell of the rest of their lives.
Fate wouldn’t be so merciful as to let this myth be false. When their fountain of grief went dry, they looked deep into each other’s weary eyes. They knew it was the end. If only it was. ! pulled out his badge that already glowed with the power to pull them from the dungeon. Some cruel, desperate instinct had ? look the room over once more.
Jirachi stood at the entrance of the alcove, awkwardly watching her own paws poke each other. ? slapped the badge out of !’s grasp. “Jirachi!” Sure that ? had lost her mind, ! looked over to find that he, too had lost his. “Y-you’re real! You’re here!”
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Jirachi said. “You two were having a moment, so I didn’t wanna interrupt. I don’t know why you needed to have it in my room, but,” she swallowed her growl by clearing her throat. “Anyway, what is it that you needed?” She looked at them expectantly for a moment, but their bafflement and her familiar ethereal glow reminded her of her Duty.
“Right, of course. Hold on, lemme just.” The Legend cleared her throat again and began to float above them. She flew over them to the room’s back end, looking down with magical bioluminescence as if stood on a stage. “Great Warriors that have descended to the deepest depths of Wish Cave, tell me,” her voice resounded in their hearts like a chorus of angels, “what is your wish?”
The two punctuation marks stared on in awe. All they hoped for was right there, even after their dreams had shattered to pieces. They’d imagined this moment for years and years, but for it to finally come? Speech fled far from them. ? was the first to break from the spell and came forward.
Jirachi had been seconds away from floating down to make sure she hadn’t given mortals heart attacks again. Last time was almost really bad for PR, but luckily she knew Sal who, being a dragon, was great at covering up controversy with copious amounts of fiscal resources.
“Jirachi,” ? said again. Her voice shook. Saying her name only made this all feel like more of a dream. “Legendary of Wishes, please. Our entire lives, we’ve lived in ignorance of ourselves. We, like all unown have been cursed to bear a name we don’t understand, and a power that is hidden beyond our grasp.” ? bowed her hook in reverence to the Legend. The Goddess. “Please, I wish you would reveal to me the mystery of our own being.”
! had fished a paper with his own speech written out, but he couldn’t rip his eyes away from Her holy form. ?’s speech had only further demolished confidence in his own. After several false starts, he finally struggled to cough out, “Y-yeah. Me, too.”
Jirachi’s expression had frozen. Her holy smile grew paper thin, and her eyes fell in worry. After an agonizing eternity, She finally graced them with Her Voice once more. “What about… like, a lot of money? How’s that sound?”
“What?” ? balked. Her reverence fell to pieces. “With all the respect in our hearts, please. We’ve lived our lives in shadow. No amount of money could compare to—”
“No, yeah, I get that,” Jirachi interrupted. She finally dropped her smile and rubbed her eyes. “Just, listen.” She looked up to ask them to take a seat, but realized they couldn’t exactly do that, so she did it herself (in the air instead of a chair, but the posture was the important part anyway). “I get it, that sucks and all, but like, I promise you’re not gonna like this answer. I could give you property, steroids, money—seriously, money! It’s a hit! ”
The two stared on with a completely new brand of awe. Any trace of divinity had dropped from her speech and form. “We’ve fought all this way, countless floors, foes and even faced a dragon in search of this answer!” ! stared in horror at his partner shouting at a legendary. “How could we come so far only for you to deny us our wish?”
“I’m not, it’s just,” Jirachi cut herself off with a deep breath. In. Out. She closed her eyes in focus. The focus didn’t help. She shook her head and looked back at the pair. “Are you sure?”
? stood even straighter with determination burning in her eye. “I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
Jirachi looked over to !. “Y-yeah. Me, too.”
“Fine.” Jirachi grumbled. Her Holy Light returned with a vengeance and engulfed the entire room. It engulfed everything. Every sight, sound, sensation fell away to make way for the all encompassing brightness.
All at once, it became clear to them. Ages long forgotten, relegated to the realm of legend came to them as clearly as the morning’s over medium egg sandwich on a lightly toasted bagel with swiss, oran jelly, and a side of cheri berries. The age of humans. The age of trainers, where pokémon fought against each other for sport, to show whose heart was most attuned to that of their team’s. This competition defined all life. It defined species.
Unown were just awful. Terrible. In every way, unviable competitively. They could only learn a single move of no significant power and its type rarely even aligned with their own, weakening the already weak ability further. Thus, anyone who had one would wish to “un-own” it. This joke became so common that it became the name of the species.
“It’s not even a good joke,” ! said, the first to return to lucidity. ? trailed behind him with a blank stare. She couldn’t believe it. How could this—a stupid, awful, hurtful human pun—be the conclusion to her life’s journey? Was this really the answer to her life’s question?
“We’re a joke,” she mumbled. “Our species is completely defined by our worthlessness.” Her words hung in the air, quiet, yet more palpable than even the silence. “This sucks,” she finally proclaimed.
“Yeah, pretty lame,” ! said. He chucked their badges as far away as he could. “I figured I could just be awful because I was secretly good all this time, but like, I just suck.”
“Right?” ? asked.
! brought two iron spikes out of the bag and gave it to ?. “Real quick lobotomy?”
? took the spike with a nonchalant shrug. “Honestly? Sure.” They shared a meaningful, bored gaze as they raised the spikes to each other’s eyes.
“Sure you don’t wanna hold out for Charizard?”
“Nah. He’s fat anyway.” All ties cut, they leaned back and prepared to forget this journey’s end.
“Nononono no!” Jirachi screamed, throwing herself between them and blasting them apart. “Don’t, I—” a sob cut her off. Tears trailed down her face. She still glowed even though both their wishes had been granted. It was a fact of life that someone probably should’ve mentioned earlier that a Jirachi’s glow came from wishes ungranted. And any pokémon was only allowed one wish. “I… wish….” Without exception.
The two gaped in awe. Their protests caught in their throats. “I wish,” the light grew once more, filling the room, “that you two were better pokémon. Strong enough to bear the burden of keeping this secret. That you would protect all unown from the pain you bear.”
? fought against the blinding glare to stop Jirachi, but felt her body erupt into flames as the light consumed it. The pain bore into her deepest parts and drew out that ancient strength she’d used to save !. It took her hidden power and lit it like a fire that grew inside her until she knew she’d burst. She never did, though. She survived the light’s fading by some curse of a miracle. Her eyes opened to see Jirachi was gone. She looked around in unfound hope but only saw—
That had to be the hunkiest charizard she had ever seen. His arms and legs rippled with muscles that could break her in hal—hold her tight, chest hard as stone and untouched by the soft roundness of his stomach that she’d love to bury her—hug.
Beefcake opened his eyes to meet hers. He stared at her unapologetically hungry gaze with confusion. “Hello?”
She recognized that voice. Oh Mew, she recognized that voice. “!?!” she screamed.
“?!?” he asked, his confusion blared into shock and awe.
“Why are you a hot box of—charizard? What made you a charizard?” Her voice was incredulous. She walked over to help him sta—wait, walked?
“Why are you a garchomp?” he countered. She looked down to see he was right. Blue legs, red chest, curvy figure (well, for a pokémon), yellow…, spikes across her body: she was a garchomp. ! was a charizard. Confusion consumed both of them, but the answer came to each of them simultaneously. The wish.
“Okay, yeah, that does make sense. We wouldn’t really be able to do much as unown. Neither living with that knowledge or protecting it would really be possible like that,” ! mused, scratching at his chin. Limbs were fun to emote with. And in general. Oh, he had wings! He could fly! Well, he could already fly before, but now he could look cool when he did it!
“Jirachi,” ? whispered, massively crashing !’s vibe. Their forms—no, their very lives!—were because of her sacrifice. She’d died in their place, and even blessed them with these powerful forms to enact their new lives’ duty. They weren’t some flunky rescue team anymore, but protectors of a secret that spelled doom for what once was their species. The Exclaimers? would live on as guardians of a cursed truth. Their lives would honor the legendary that lost hers.
“The most caring legendary,” ! mumbled. He stood up to rest a claw on ?’s shoulder while absentmindedly inspecting the other.
? stabbed him through the heart by brushing his claw off her shoulder before setting it alight by wrapping her arms around him. A novel sting flowed down his shoulder from her eyes. “She killed herself so we could live,” she sobbed. Miraculously, the tears in his own eyes didn’t sting. Perhaps his own pain was easier to bear than hers.
“’Sup?” greeted Jirachi. She walked into the room with four floating bags of McDeino’s around her. “Hungry?” They separated, and their jaws hung open in shock even as she placed a bag in front of them each.
“We thought you died!” ? finally screamed. “You granted your own wish!”
“Same.” Jirachi shrugged, pulling out her chicken McDeinuggets. “Guess it was just a myth.” She dipped a nugget into some dragon sauce, and they held their heads in disbelief. The cavern’s entrance trembled as some large beast approached. “Oh, you two met Sal?”
Before either could ask for clarification, the beast that had threatened them before came into the room. “Yo, Ji. New friends?” Sal greeted, taking a seat beside the last remaining bag. “Oh, my favorite!” He pulled out a massive, triple-layered burger with every topping under the sun under the bun and coated it in his blue breath. Jirachi looked around the circle between bites with a warm, glowing smile; she couldn’t remember the last time she shared a meal with so many pokémon at once.
! remained tense. “You tried to kill me!” He looked to ? for backup, but she’d already sat down to chow down on her own huge burger.
Sal swallowed his mouthful and dabbed his lips clean before speaking. Their lack of a table was no excuse for poor table manners. “You are the two unown from earlier, I presume? With all due respect, you two just barged into my house uninvited. I was merely protecting my own property.”
“By eating me?!”
“Come on, !, he only threatened to,” ? said. She held her burger out to Sal in a silent request that he happily obliged, coating it in dragon’s breath just as he had his own. “Delicious, thank you.”
“Of course.” Sal bowed his head and continued eating. ! gave up and plopped down. He, as it happened, also had a burger. He’d never had dragon’s breath, though, and he was curious. He held out his burger in the same silent request as ?, but only got a glare in response. “I don’t just give out my breath for free, you know.” !’s jaw hung open, and his claw pointed to ?. “What? She’s a dragon.”
“And I’m not?”
“No,” ? said. A claw brought his lips to hers. “But you’re dragon enough for me.” They stared deeply into each other’s eyes.
Many a myth, legend, and tale try to tell what shook the mountains above Wish Cave that day. Some beautiful, some heinous, and others just kind of mediocre (but it’s the thought that counts). Yet, as always, when it comes to the truth,
it’s better left...
…do I really have to say it?