Cosmic ReversionOli and Sadie. The two rescuers were respected for conquering unconquerable dungeons and for saving the world. Neither imagined they would ever have to use their skills against members of the community that held them in such regard.
The world is saved from destruction, yet pokemon continue to turn feral. Oli and Sadie must find a solution or lose their own minds.
Takes place after the events of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Team.
12/20/2020 — Substantial changes to clarify the third scene (thanks to everyone who gave feedback on that).
The world is saved from destruction, yet pokemon continue to turn feral. Oli and Sadie must find a solution or lose their own minds.
Takes place after the events of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Team.
12/20/2020 — Substantial changes to clarify the third scene (thanks to everyone who gave feedback on that).
Oli crossed his arms. Even after all this time the gesture came instinctively, but his wishbone-shaped mienshao arms weren't suited to the motion. The pyroar at his feet was out cold, and snowflakes mottled her flank like swarming ants as it slowly rose and fell. Her eyes were dull, and her fur was frazzled, mane strewn wildly across the beaten path below. Foreign as she looked now, there was still no mistaking her wrinkled old brow or the scars along her flank like she'd wrestled with a weavile. Oli had passed Ferra by a dozen times in town, but he never did ask where she got those scars. He supposed he wouldn't get the chance.
To Oli's right, Sadie inspected a dragonite's arm, turning it over with her feelers. "There there, Reid," the sylveon cooed as she patted the dragonite's shoulder, careful to avoid his bloodied wings. "Just a little scratch. You'll be fine."
Reid nodded tearfully, still trembling a little. "I just didn't think she'd... you know..."
"You couldn't have known. We're surprised too. Nobody knows exactly what's causing folks to... turn like this, but we're working on a solution. Only a few are dangerous, so just keep some stun seeds on hand and you'll be fine." She squeezed Reid's hand, and he smiled weakly in response.
Sadie was good at reassuring others; that was something Oli liked about her. He wished she could reassure him as well.
It was early in the day, and the sky was a dark slate blue. The snow in the yard looked more gray than white in the feeble light.
Oli was sat down on an old tree stump, fingering the leaves of a dying thistle that had grown out of its cracks. "I'd rather not go. To see her all caged up and snarling like an animal..."
Sadie nudged Oli, and he lifted his head. "Someone needs to spend time with her," she said as she looked him in the eye. "She's got to get used to being around other pokemon again. It'll take a while, but she deserves it."
Oli shook his head slowly. "You're a better person than I am, Sadie. If that's what you want to do, then you have my blessing. I just..." He swallowed. "I can't do it right now. Not after yesterday."
"Alright." She walked up to him, and her body felt warm when she leaned against his legs. "Try and relax a little in the meantime, then. We have a while before Reid's wings recover, so maybe we can treat ourselves."
"It's fine, Sadie," Oli said as he stroked his partner's head. "I just want to focus on getting this whole thing solved. I can spend the day organizing and gathering supplies for whatever lies ahead. The way things have been going, I don't want to take any chances."
"Okay. I won't be too long, so I can help later."
Sadie stepped away, and Oli watched as she followed the wooded path toward town. Naked branches enveloped her like webbing.
Great Canyon looked especially desolate from above—its fractured, reddish stone stretched all the way to the horizon. Oli thought that what few scraggly shrubs remained would forfeit their lives in despair if they could only see their surroundings.
The wicker carriage rocked a little as Oli leaned away from its lip. He looked up at Reid, double-checked the straps of his harness and the cables that secured the carriage to it. "How are you holding up?" He was close enough that he didn't need to raise his voice over the wind.
"Fine so far." The dragonite's voice was deep and muffled, like it was coming from underwater. "We'll stop at the oasis in a couple hours and make it to Great Canyon before noon."
"Professional carriers are sturdier than you think," came Sadie's voice. "Just try to relax and enjoy the ride, yeah?"
Oli turned around. Sadie was curled up comfortably behind him, her back pressed against the side of the carriage. "A little hard to do, given the circumstances," Oli said. "But you have to admit I've improved since our first ride."
Sadie gave a pained smile. "I remember that. I thought you were gonna have a heart attack for the first hour."
"If you hadn't been there to calm me down, I might have."
Sadie giggled, rapid and bright like a house wren. "You're just saying that to make me feel good, aren't you?"
Oli reached over to scratch her behind her ears, and she smiled and purred. "Only partly."
Suddenly the carriage lurched, and Oli extended his arm to catch himself. "Hey, take it easy, Re—"
Reid interrupted Oli with a painfully loud roar, like a hurricane shredding branches. When Oli looked up, the dragonite was clawing wildly at the leather straps of his harness, as though to scratch some unbearable itch.
"Reid, what's wrong? Be careful with that!" Oli stood on shaky legs, and when he reached up toward Reid the dragonite snarled and lashed out. Oli stumbled as Reid's claws raked his head, and he fell backward—but Sadie extended her feelers and caught him before he tumbled over the edge. Oli glanced at her face as she lowered him with a gentleness that seemed unfitting for the situation.
"Are you okay?" Sadie asked as blood welled up along Oli's brow.
"I'm fine," Oli half-shouted. He gestured urgently toward Reid. "Do something about him! He's gonna get us killed!"
Reid angled his head and bit the strap around his shoulder. When he pulled his head away a strip of leather came with it, hanging from his mouth. The carriage lurched again and skewed to one side, and Oli glimpsed the rocks far below. He grasped the carriage's lip so hard that the wicker crinkled beneath his paws.
"O-okay, calm down, Reid!" Sadie stepped toward him and extended a feeler, which he batted away. She tried again, a little faster this time. Oli held his breath, expecting Reid to unleash a Flamethrower or Dragon Breath, but he did not. Maybe, in turning feral, he had forgotten how.
Finally, after a dozen attempts, Sadie wrapped a feeler around Reid's arm. The dragonite thrashed wildly, almost tipping the carriage, but Sadie grasped the wicker with her spare feelers. She closed her eyes and her body glowed a soft carnation-pink. Gradually, Reid's resistance subsided, until he stopped thrashing altogether. His face relaxed last, until at last he regarded Sadie with a vacant gaze.
Sadie took a deep breath and slowly opened her eyes. "Reid. It's me, Sadie. Can you recognize me?"
Reid's expression did not change.
"What about Oli?" She gestured toward him, but Reid did not look. Sadie's face screwed up. "Come on, Reid, it's us... You've got to—"
Oli carefully extended his paw and laid it on Sadie's back. "Just try to guide him toward the oasis." His voice sounded awkward when he whispered like that. Sadie hesitated for a moment, then nodded and tugged on Reid's arm. The dragonite snorted half-heartedly but let Sadie use her feeler as a rein. Oli noticed, with quiet panic, that the straps around his body were torn almost all the way through in places.
"How long do you think you can keep him like this?" Oli asked.
"I don't know. Maybe five minutes. I think if I let go slowly, he might stay calm."
"Are you sure we should risk that?"
"We'll have to. It might end up okay. He's confused, but he doesn't want to hurt us." She closed her eyes. "His emotions aren't like I expected, you know. They're... not as scary as I thought."
"Maybe not with you soothing him."
She was still for a moment. "Maybe it is just that. But still, Oli, I don't think it's so—"
One of the damaged straps gave way with a sickening tear. Oli's head jerked up; a wave of vertigo struck him. He flailed his arms in search of something to grasp, but the carriage had already fallen away. Wide-eyed, Sadie reached toward Oli, but her feeler brushed uselessly against the tip of his paw. She lost her grip on Reid a moment later, her other feeler uncoiling from around his arm. As he began to plummet, Oli's mind was consumed with the thought that she might have had time to grab Reid's neck or harness, to save herself, if she hadn't been thinking about him—but as he spun to face the ground, that guilt yielded to fear.
Hard to gauge how much time he had until impact, but it wasn't enough to think. In a sense, maybe that helped. He summoned energy from deep inside and spread it through his bones, focusing through his nausea. Though he knew Bulk Up wouldn't save him from the worst of the damage, it was all he could think to do.
Oli's eyes were still closed when he hit the ground knee-first. His leg snapped with a sickening crunch. His shoulder and cheek hit next and bounced slightly against the hard stone.
Oli clutched his leg and suppressed his scream even though there wasn't any reason to. It felt like someone had jammed a rod through his leg, and he lay there with clenched teeth for a few seconds before he realized it wasn't getting better. This was usually when Sadie would come up to him, wrap her feelers around his body, and make the pain go away. He tried to cope by pretending she was here already. He imagined her baby-blue eyes, her soft fur, her touch that wouldn't have startled a fly. She would lick his cheek, help him up, tell him how everything was going to be just fine...
Oli tried to roll onto his unbroken leg, but pain shot through his shoulder as soon as he moved. He winced and scanned what parts of the plain he could with his head against the ground, but it was just parched stone and pale scrub for as far as the eye could see. Oli whimpered as panic set in. Sadie has to be alright, doesn't she? She knows Protect. If I survived, there's no way she didn't...
That was what he told himself between agonized gasps, anyway, but he knew it wasn't true. Not completely. Sadie could have fallen on her head, could have suffered internal damage, could have fainted from shock or pain. She might be lying there limply as the hot sun beat down on her and drained her life away like litwick.
"Sadie!" Oli called. No response. He glanced up, half-expecting to see Reid barreling down with claws outstretched—knowing his luck, it wasn't unlikely—but no, the dragonite was just a speck on the horizon now, flying in an anxious zig-zagging pattern. For a moment, despite his own condition, Oli felt a twinge of guilt; this climate wasn't meant for a dragonite, and the odds were high that Reid would die from thirst or heat before reaching somewhere liveable. And it was—at least to some extent—Oli's fault.
Would Reid have preferred it that way? To die in a week rather than live mindlessly for years? Oli hadn't really considered such things, hadn't really wanted to, but maybe—
"I'm coming, Oli!"
Sadie's voice was sweet even in desperation. Oli couldn't quite turn his head far enough to see her, but he soon felt her feelers wrap tenderly around his leg. His pain was replaced by a familiar comfort, like sinking into a cool pond, and he blinked tears out of his eyes. Soon after the numbing effect had kicked in, he felt his bones slowly shift and mend themselves, and when Sadie let go of his leg a minute or so later, he was able to rise to his feet. There was hardly any pain now, just a dull ache like a bruise. Sadie touched his collar and shoulder next, and he felt her heal these, too.
Oli took a few moments to catch his breath before turning to look at Sadie. The sylveon's eyes were half-lidded, and she was panting either from exertion or the heat. Her legs trembled, and Oli worried for a moment that she would fall over. He felt a pang of guilt as he reached over to caress her face. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Sadie murmured. "Do you feel better now?"
"Yes, much." He checked for his pouch and found it missing, though anything inside it had probably been destroyed from the fall anyway. When he looked back at Sadie her gaze was distant, focused on something above and behind him.
"Couldn't even say goodbye..." Sadie's voice was quiet.
Oli frowned for a moment and then stood up, obstructing Sadie's view of Reid. "We can't contemplate it now; we have to get under way. We're in trouble if we don't reach the oasis soon."
Sadie blinked a couple times and then slowly nodded. "Yeah. It should be..." She looked over at the sun. "This way, roughly. I think..."
"Yeah. South-southeast." Oli turned that direction and began to walk, and he watched as Sadie followed. Her gait was skewed to the right, and her left-front paw barely touched the ground as she walked, as though the stone were scalding to its touch. "Sadie, you're limping..."
She slowed down for a moment, as though to conceal this fact. "That's fine. Too tired to heal it now. It will mend with time..."
Oli bit his lip. She should have saved some energy for herself, he thought. If we get attacked in this state, it will be hard to defend her...
"I'll carry you," Oli decided. "We'll make it to the oasis faster that way."
"Oli, you don't have to do that," Sadie said, but she was already in his arms by the time she had finished speaking. She was light; he could feel her ribs and spine.
"It's fine." Oli rubbed his head against his companion's. "You need to get some rest, okay? ...And by the way, I'm glad you're still alive."
Sadie relaxed and smiled weakly. "...I feel the same." She fainted, or fell asleep, mere seconds later.
The stone of Great Canyon was smeared from eons of rain, and it looked like the mesas were bleeding rust. Though Oli hadn't had to fight, the walk to get here had been taxing for him; he had spent it constantly scanning the sky and horizon, feeling half-blind without Sadie's eyes, and primed to blame himself if she got hurt. Whatever Xatu had to tell them, he prayed it would be worth what he just went through.
Xatu stood before the setting sun much as he had when Oli had first met him. Spotting him sent a shiver down Oli's spine—it seemed like hell to live alone like this, unmoving, amongst these empty skies and parched gorges. Sadie had insisted his species didn't mind, but a part of Oli still felt like this was a form of self-induced torture.
Oli put Sadie down, and the two staggered toward Xatu until they were right beside him. Only then did he turn to regard them with coal-black and impassive eyes.
"It is no surprise that you should come again," Xatu rasped, his voice old and hoarse and as dry as the canyon itself. "You are concerned about pokemon turning feral, are you not?"
"No kidding," Oli said. "Sadie and I were really hoping you knew something. Do you?"
"I know there is no hope of a solution. Of the thousands of futures I can conceive, there is not a single one in which this cosmic reversion is avoided."
Oli stepped forward. "How long have you known this?" His voice sounded foreign, harsh, with his throat this dry.
Xatu hesitated for a moment. "Almost two revolutions."
"Two revolutions? And you said nothing till now?"
Oli's punch caught Xatu right below his beak.
Xatu's head snapped back, and he took a single step backward from the impact. He recovered mere seconds later, though, and when he looked at Oli again his expression was still unreadable.
"The hell is wrong with you?" Oli spat. "You thought we didn't deserve to know?"
"It would have kept you and many others from fulfilling your obligations."
"Then what about after we fought Rayquaza? Before we had to go fly out here again and almost get ourselves killed in the process?"
Xatu turned away, back toward the sun. He was silent for a long time while Oli's chest heaved. Sadie stood frozen beside the two with her head withdrawn and paw raised as though in mid-step.
"...It was cowardice," Xatu said finally. "Your ire is justified. I have nothing to say in my defence."
Oli raised his fist again, but this time Sadie grabbed it in her feelers before he could swing. "Stop it, Oli! That's enough!"
He turned his head and looked at Sadie. Her brow was tightly knit, and her teeth were bared in an ugly grimace. It was a look he didn't know she could give.
Oli lowered his fist. "...I'm sorry, Sadie."
"Please just try to calm down. Xatu was just trying to protect us for a little while. Let's try to remember that, okay?"
Oli opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it. "Yeah, you're right. I'm sorry. I'll drop it." He stepped away from Xatu, and sat down a couple paces away from Sadie.
Sadie approached Xatu tentatively. "Anyway, Xatu... What about the legendaries? Have you tried reaching out to them?"
"I told most yesterday in hopes of receiving insight. Upon verifying the truth, many killed themselves for fear of what could happen were they to turn feral. There are a few I have not told, such as Latias." Xatu looked down for a moment. "She is so gentle that I cannot imagine she would cause any harm, even if she turned. I have also just told her of your arrival, so she can come to take you swiftly back home. I just ask that if you decide to tell her what is happening, please do so after you've departed."
Oli threw up his paws. "Fantastic, another flight. Just what I wanted. We'll have to tell her to stay low."
"Y-yes, that's a good idea, Oli. Anyway... thank you for the help, Xatu. It's too bad there's nothing to be done."
Oli furrowed his brow in contemplation as he looked at the ground through his crossed legs. There had to be something he was missing; he couldn't have been brought back to this world just to lose his mind. There had been a purpose, the first time, no matter how hard it had been to discover, so the same must be true now. Maybe it would take someone more powerful than the legendaries to help, but...
Having heard Oli's voice, Sadie turned to regard him.
"I have not been able to contact Jirachi since it retreated to Wish Cave," Xatu said. "No one has. To find its resting place would have been an impossible task even before it became a mystery dungeon. Many have tried."
"I haven't," Oli said as he shot Xatu a glare. "Anyway, we don't have a choice. That's the only pokemon who could fix this."
"I understand your reasoning, but it is naive. Legendaries more powerful than Rayquaza have failed to conquer Wish Cave, and the most your combined powers could do to it was persuade it to glance upward."
"Rayquaza's not an explorer. There's a lot more to the profession than raw power. Stealth, preparation, crafting..."
"All trivial in the face of such a gauntlet."
Oli spat. "Shut up. It's not like you've ever tried."
"Uh, look, Oli." Sadie gestured toward the horizon with her feeler. "I see something over there. I think it's Latias."
"Already?" Oli turned his head to confirm and spotted a pale red speck on the horizon that was quickly getting larger. "I see. Just as well; I think we're done here."
"...Just don't get yourselves killed," said Xatu as Oli stood up. "It would be such a tremendous waste. Even compared to the alternative."
The wind buffeted Oli's fur as he clung to Latias' neck. If it hadn't been for Sadie's feelers wrapped around him, he wasn't sure he'd have been able to keep from falling.
Latias' voice rang clear despite their deafening speed, as though it were part of the rushing wind iteslf—and that clearness only made its sadness more apparent. "If all of that is true... Well, I doubt I could fit in a cave, much less explore one. I wish you two luck, and in the meantime..." For a moment her wings stilled, and she sank slightly—but then she lifted her chin up high and righted herself. "I'll help everyone cope with this as best as I can."
Seed husks were scattered around the kecleons' stall, and berry juice had stained the wood a dark and faded blue like a bruise. A small note, already faded, was pinned to the front with a sharpened stick. "Take what you want," it said. The kecleons' signatures at the bottom seemed more reserved than usual.
Oli went behind the stand, and the sounds he made as he sifted through the wares seemed loud in the still air. The seeds and berries had all been taken, but there remained a few TMs and bracelets, and, of more interest to Oli, orbs. He picked up one of these and peered through its dark, translucent surface. Within it was an indistinct mass, like a puff of smoke, which billowed ever outward as though blown back from the center. An escape orb, then. Oli put it in his pouch and inspected the rest of the items, but he took nothing else.
Oli stood up and looked around, but there was little besides abandoned buildings, leafless hedges, and paths covered in virgin snow. He walked to kangaskhan's storage space, and when he entered the dim and dusty building he was surprised to find that nothing had been stolen—at least, nothing of his. He sifted through wooden bins full of seeds and apple preserves and trinkets of all kinds. He needed the best he could get for this trip, so that meant reviver and heal seed oil, sitrus extract, petrify orbs, and a half-gallon jug of elixir. After stocking up on these he crammed a few bags of dried fruit and aspear berries into what little space remained in his and Sadie's bags and closed the flaps.
The understory's shrubs and vines were leafless now, fossilized in ice. Sadie was crouched between two magnolia shrubs, rippling her feelers in front of her. Oli followed her gaze to a chipmunk splayed out on the snow, enraptured by her display. Sadie bunched herself up, careful not to snap any branches, and then pounced.
For a moment, Oli swore she had her prey trapped—but then it popped out from between her paws and skittered away. She didn't pursue it—just watched as it kicked up snow.
"When did you take up hunting?" Oli asked as he approached.
Sadie's ears flicked, and she poked her head above the bushes. "Morning, Oli. I only started today. I kinda figured it would help if we end up not being able to... um..." She looked away. "Well, it doesn't matter; I can't catch anything, anyway. I think there's some instinct I'm missing."
Oli glanced behind him for a moment, into the little tarped building they called their home. From here he could just see the vulpix-sized pen in the corner, bedded with wool and sprinkled with stray hairs from the last injured animal they had taken in. "I'm not shocked. It's not your kind of thing." He walked over to his favorite stump and sat down.
Sadie approached Oli. "Did you see anyone?"
"No. I think folks are too afraid of each other now. Think they'll get attacked in town."
It was silent for a moment. Oli took in the stand of spruce trees that bordered the yard, and the streaks of indigo and mulberry in the darkening sky. This place was familiar to him by now, but the winter made it feel bleak and surreal. "...How's Ferra, by the way?"
"She's relaxed a little. She didn't attack when I came in this time. I think she's just confused, like Reid was. They've been talking about releasing her into the wild."
"Then god knows where she'll be once she comes back to her senses."
"I know, but... who knows if we'll make that happen?"
"We need to believe we can."
Sadie turned away from Oli, and her ears drooped a little.
"Sadie? What is it?"
"I'm sorry, I'm just... very tired right now. And tomorrow is going to be very difficult."
"Yeah, true enough. Unless there's anything else you need to do, we should go to bed."
"Yeah..." Sadie walked past Oli, and he followed her through the doorway of their home. Even in the fading light, he could make out where everything was—the pen against the left wall, the scarves neatly folded on the ground beside a stack of thank-you letters, and Sadie's orchids that lined the windowsills. Their leaves were yellowing, and bore the weight of fallen flower petals. That Sadie had kept such delicate plants alive this long into winter was impressive; Oli wasn't sure why she hadn't replaced them with something else in all this time.
Sadie padded to the pile of straw by the far wall and curled up just a little to the right. Oli lay down on his back beside her, rested his paw just behind her head, and began to gently scratch. In response, Sadie wrapped her feelers around his arm and began to purr—a soft sound like the rustle of grass in the wind, with a sweet and feminine tone that rose toward the end of each breath like an innocent question. It was better than music.
"Oli... This is nice."
Sadie couldn't see his face, but Oli smiled. "It is."
"I just wish, you know... I just wish we could stay like this for longer."
"Yeah. After we find Jirachi, we'll have to spend some quality time together. We're overdue for it."
There was a long pause; Oli couldn't help but notice that Sadie's purring had stopped. "Sadie?"
Her voice was tinged with trepidation. "Sorry, just... Are you really sure you want to go out tomorrow?"
Oli's stomach lurched, like when Reid had dropped them. "I have to, Sadie."
"Can I ask... why you feel that way?"
Oli was glad his partner couldn't see the bewilderment on his face. "I... So I don't turn feral? So the world doesn't turn feral?"
"But what if we die, Oli?"
"Then..." He closed his eyes. "Then I don't know. We die."
"I don't want to die."
Those words rang in Oli's head like a funeral bell. I don't want to die. "Sadie, do you really think you'd prefer the alternative?"
Oli took a long breath, and stroked Sadie's head as he thought. "It would mean losing our relationship. Our sense of belonging. That sort of loneliness is the only thing I remember from the human world, and I would do anything to never feel that way again."
"I don't know if turning feral is as bad as that, but..." Sadie sighed softly. "But you couldn't really be happy just doing nothing, could you?"
Oli shook his head.
"Then I'll concede. I was just scared to lose what we have left. That's all."
Oli turned over onto his side and wrapped his arms tightly around Sadie. Her sweet, fresh scent like jasmine and lemongrass filled his nose. "We're not gonna die, alright? I'll be careful. I'll give you an escape orb, so if anything goes wrong, you can warp us out." He knew that wouldn't guarantee their safety, but it was the best he could offer.
"Alright, Oli. I'll do my best to help get us through."
Slowly Sadie began to purr again, and Oli relaxed. The sun set over the course of the next few minutes, and it grew too dark to see.
The luminous orbs around Oli and Sadie's necks cast ghostly blue light across the walls of the cave. The tunnels were so labyrinthine that Sadie could have passed this exact spot by a hundred times without knowing. She felt like an ant that had entered the wrong nest.
Oli glanced back at Sadie. "I can't imagine there will be many more ferals," he said, his voice wavering as though he were trying to convince himself. "This place doesn't seem too... hospitable."
Sadie nodded drowsily, barely processing his words. She reminded herself to pick her feelers up off the ground, so it wouldn't look like she wasn't trying.
In past expeditions, Sadie had spared ferals little thought; her only concern had been whether or not they posed a threat to Oli or herself. This time was different; her eyes lingered on the burrowing dunsparce, the aron chewing on rocks, the carbink that blended with the walls and eyed them curiously as they passed. Most of the ferals weren't hostile, and, truth be told, all of them looked more comfortable here than Sadie was. She almost envied them. If she turned feral herself, she hoped it would at least be somewhere more familiar than here, somewhere where she felt at home...
"Sadie, watch out!"
Sadie whipped around at Oli's warning and was swiftly blinded. Flames exploded through the tunnel, and they had already reached Sadie by the time she put up Protect.
Sadie's scream was shrill and piercing. Her vision went white. Seconds passed where she couldn't tell if her Protect was even still working, or if she could move, or if her body was still intact.
As soon as the flames stopped, Sadie heard Oli leap over her. The air around her felt even colder now than it had before, but she lacked the strength to shiver. She stood as still as a skeleton, afraid that any movement would crack her skin and make it flake away.
An otherworldly moan reverberated through the corridor, followed by the sound of shattering glass. A chandelure. That stood to reason; it had probably sneaked up on them through the walls. Though she still couldn't see, Sadie heard Oli's hurried footsteps as he approached her a moment later.
"Sadie, are you alright?" The urgency in Oli's voice frightened her. "We still have some sitrus in there, if you want..."
Sadie winced as she bent her neck and poked around in her pouch. Sitrus was a powerful berry, and they had packed rawst as well, but little of either remained. Enough to treat these injuries, perhaps, but not more.
When Sadie's muzzle grazed the escape orb's glassy surface, she paused. She could end this now, she remembered. It could save her and Oli's lives. In that moment the thought of his death, of her failing to protect him, scared her more than the thought of turning feral.
She took the escape orb in her mouth and crushed it.
Snow blanketed the tundra almost completely—only the stubbornest peaks still showed their heads, like shards of charcoal in a pile of ash. All the way to the horizon the landscape was as colorless as an old photograph. Snowflakes fell as though in slow motion.
Two flashes of turquoise were quickly subsumed by the light of the snow and cloudy sky. In their stead appeared Oli and Sadie. The former shielded his eyes while they adjusted, and the latter took a single step forward before collapsing into the snow.
"Sadie..." Oli looked at his companion—really looked at her, not just the cursory is-she-still-there kind of glance he'd employed for the past five hours. She was still wet up to her belly from the bizarre underground streams they had had to ford, and clumps of fur were missing from the ferals she had wrestled with. Her feelers were burnt to the point of being swollen, flecked with black in spots. She was beat up, Oli thought, by humans' standards or by pokemons'.
"Not one more step..." Sadie closed her eyes and seemed to sink deeper into the snow as she let out a breath.
"Come on, Sadie. You're going to freeze if you don't keep moving." Oli wrung his paws for a moment, then knelt down and dug into his bag. He produced a yellow and green fruit—an aspear berry. "Come on. We've still got one of these. Eat it."
It wasn't until Oli touched the fruit to Sadie's lips that she reluctantly opened her mouth. She took a bite and chewed mechanically, pausing at points as though she had to remind herself how to eat. When she swallowed, the food seemed to catch in her throat for a moment and trap her breath before reaching her stomach. "Thanks, Oli..."
Oli followed up the aspear with the sitrus and rawst, then helped Sadie to her feet. She managed to stay up, though her feelers remained tangled on the ground like dead serpents. Oli knelt down and gathered them up in his arms carefully—it was something to help keep them warm, at least. He would have offered to carry Sadie in her entirety, were it not for the fact that he felt scarcely any stronger than she did.
The wind was still as they walked back to shelter. It was quiet.
Shadows danced along the walls of the igloo. Sadie was laid down on her side so close to the fire that Oli feared she would burn herself.
"This was a stupid idea," Sadie said lifelessly.
"We had to try and do something..."
"We didn't. Xatu said it himself; even a legendary couldn't make it to the end of Wish Cave. We're both idiots."
"It's just a first attempt, alright? We—"
"There won't be a second."
"Please just shut up. I'm done. We've been carrying the weight of the world on our backs ever since you came here. I don't want to still be carrying it when I finally succumb..." She let out a tired breath, shaking as though on the verge of tears.
The look on Oli's face was like he'd bit into an underripe persimmon. "We can worry about it tomorrow, then."
Sadie was silent. Oli spent a long while just looking at her from across the fire. The flames between them made it hard to distinguish her figure.
"...Do you want to snuggle?" Oli asked.
Sadie nodded feebly, so Oli crawled up behind her and draped his arm across her shoulder. Her sweet scent was masked by the smoke.
"You'll have to take care of me, when it happens." Sadie was barely audible over the crackling of the fire. "I don't think I could make it hunting."
"Sadie, please just... go to sleep..."
"Sorry. But sooner or later, you know..."
Oli held his breath as he waited for her to finish that sentence, but she didn't. It felt like the blade of an axe had been raised over his head just to remain suspended there, ready to fall at a moment's notice.
Sadie was no longer in Oli's arms when he awoke, but she couldn't have left long ago; his belly was still warm. Oli stood up and crawled out of the igloo and had to shield his eyes from the blinding snow. It was a few seconds before he noticed Sadie; even though she was hardly camouflaged, she stood so still it was hard to pick her out. Besides that, her head was buried in the snow.
"Sadie? What are you up to?"
Sadie yanked her head up, tossing snow onto her back. She gazed at Oli with eyes as vacant as the tundra itself, the blue of the irises washed out in the overbright light. She was as still as an anxious deer, as though caught between approaching and running away. In her mouth, a vole gave its last pitiful, dying spasms—that was what really gave it away. Even learning to hunt, Oli knew she wouldn't have really killed something—not in her right mind.
Oli's cry was deafening in the silence of the tundra. He whipped around and smashed his fist into the igloo behind him; it shattered like glass. Fragments soared through the empty air, and by the time they landed they were barely visible. By the time Oli turned around, the same could be said of Sadie. She dashed through the snow with reckless fright, kicking up white puffs as she went.
Oli's eyes went wide. "Sadie!" He ran after her and several times nearly faceplanted in the snow. Sadie ran faster than he could, her footsteps imbued with a sort of instinctive grace, and she had her feelers to help her keep her balance. But, while the distance between them grew for a time, Sadie eventually began to slow down. When the sylveon looked over her shoulder and saw Oli still in pursuit, she changed direction to duck behind a nearby peak.
Oli slowed to a walk and began to catch his breath. His limbs were numb from cold and exertion, and his throat stung from sucking in the frozen air. His chest was dusted with snow, but he didn't think to brush it off.
He kept his eyes fixed on the peak as he approached, but he didn't see any movement. When he was finally close enough to touch the stone, he paused for a moment. "Sadie... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. Please come out."
Nothing. Oli carefully rounded the corner, giving the peak a wide berth, but he didn't see Sadie. Her pawprints, however, clearly led to a crevice in the middle of the stone. Oli grimaced. That crevice could just be a dead end, or it could lead to an underground cave, or another mystery dungeon.
"Sadie..." Oli knelt down in the snow, despite the discomfort it caused him. "It's me, Oli. Come out now. I'm not going to hurt you."
Oli waited. He could see into the crevice from this angle, but even if he squinted it was too dark inside to make anything out for more than a few feet. Just when he had given up waiting and was about to step forward, he saw a faint, baby-blue glint. "Sadie?" he whispered.
After a few moments of stillness, Sadie crept forward, and the rest of her body came into view. She held her head close to the ground, submissive. When she paused just by the crevice's entrance as though expecting instruction, Oli felt ready to punch something again. The creature that stood before him was a painful memento, and her empty gaze seemed to mock him.
Oli bit his lip and held as still as he could. Now wasn't the time for rage—if he scared Sadie away again, he might really lose her forever. Oli shut his eyes and tried to do what he usually did when he had to wait for the pain of an injury to subside, which was to focus on his breathing and think of something else.
That "something else," he remembered, was usually Sadie.
Something brushed Oli's shoulder, light as a snowflake, and he started. He opened his eyes and realized that they were wet with tears.
Sadie's feeler lingered on Oli's fur, and he traced it back to Sadie herself. Oli couldn't have quite described what he felt as the sylveon looked into his eyes—it was something wistful, like homesickness.
Gradually, Sadie relaxed her shoulders and held up her head. She blinked for the first time in what felt like ages and walked toward Oli. Once she was a few feet away she lowered her head and laid the vole down on the ground. She took a step back and cocked her head as she looked at Oli again.
Oli's head spun as tears formed in his eyes once more, but he managed to keep from sobbing long enough to squeeze out two words.