Special Episode 1 – Storm
Lightning shattered the sky.
A squadron of Pokémon consisting of a Flareon, Delphox, Salazzle, and Rapidash stopped to avert their eyes. A thunderous blast deafened them, and the ground trembled when a follow-up explosion—this time, one of a tree crashing down—dwarfed any other noise. It was midday, yet the sun did not shine through the thick clouds for even an instant. Even truer to its name than usual, Nightshade Forest was navigable only because of the crackling flames on Rapidash Tee’s back.
It was hard to see. Even with the orange glow, the tree trunks were coal-black, and the plants were all the darkest shade of green in all the worlds’ forests. Rainwater glistened against the flames of Tee, but ahead was an even greater glow of a distant, freak inferno that mocked the torrential rainwater.
“LET’S GO!” the Delphox roared. He held his arm up and guided the team with a flame from his palm.
“Leo, slow down!” the Flareon huffed.
“We can’t,” Leo said. “Faster, Emby! What’s taking you, Tee?!”
“It’s—it’s not very easy to work under these conditions!” the Rapidash replied with a hiss that rivaled the stinging fire on her back. Every drop of rain was like acid against her, and the steam that came off of her body was a constant reminder of the thunderstorm above. “Spice! Pick it up!”
“Oh, you hush!” the Salazzle replied. “Pick it up?! You’re the one stumbling over your own hooves!”
“Now’s not the time, girls!” Leo grunted. “Emby, what’s going on?”
“Just ahead,” Emby said. Her bushy tail was soaked from the rain, and it doubled her weight. Between her new bulk and lopsidedness, she was barely able to run. “There’s someone there—who is it?!”
Leo saw, just barely, the signature, dancing ember atop a Charmander’s tail. It walked with great labor—hauling something on his back.
“Kid!” Leo shouted. “What’s wrong? What—” He gasped.
He was hauling a Bulbasaur that was more ash than plant. Half-dead eyes stared emptily toward the ground.
Leo ran close and wrapped his arms around the charred Pokémon. “This is bad,” he said. “Spice! Oran Berry!”
“I don’t think an Oran’s gonna be enough for this!” Spice said, but she dashed forward anyway, handing Leo the blue fruit.
Leo tried to shove the berry into its mouth, but it didn’t work. Too weak. “C’mon, just a little, get that energy back. This Berry is blessed, you have to eat it!”
The Bulbasaur wasn’t even awake.
“Oh, give me that!” Spice said. Her dark claws snatched the berry from Leo and she shoved it in her mouth. Leo’s eyes bulged in protest. He grabbed her arm, but Spice shoved him aside.
“Spice! Stop with that Salazzle gluttony for a second and—”
He tried to grab her again, but Spice whipped Leo with her tail, binding his arms against his body. He writhed to break free, always surprised by her strength.
Spice then shoved her mouth against the Bulbasaur’s, promptly stopping the rest of Leo’s retort. Spice forced the mashed berry into the Bulbasaur’s larger mouth and down his throat with an amount of practiced ease that unnerved Leo.
It indeed wasn’t enough—but the energy was enough of a jolt to get the Bulbasaur awake. He cried out, suddenly aware of the pain that permeated his body, even with some of the wounds healing. He flailed weakly, flinging bits of burned plant and flesh matter that washed away in the rain.
“I need another!” Spice said. “And a Heal Seed! NOW!”
“R-right,” Leo said, handing the seed, and then the berry. Spice tried to feed it to the Bulbasaur the normal way, but he was too panicked. She cursed under her breath and shoved both in her maw again, chewing quickly, and forcing the food in.
Leo motioned for Emby and Tee to run ahead; they nodded and dashed. If this was the Bulbasaur’s condition, there was no telling how many more needed rescue from the inferno ahead.
“Backup should be here soon with more supplies,” Leo said, looking back. “Ugh—this rain! Why is there a fire in the rain?!”
“This is the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever seen,” Spice said. “Some freak accident must have caused it. The—"
Another bolt split the sky in two. Leo covered his bushy ears. The flame-colored fur that covered the holes shook against the booming sound.
When the thunder subsided, Spice turned her attention to the one that had brought the Bulbasaur to them. “You! Thank you for your help, kid—now, get out of here!”
“N-no way!” he protested. “And—I’m not a kid! I’m Charmander Owen! Maybe you’ve heard of me?!”
“Aren’t you that upstart who got his Provisionary Badge? Look, kid, you’re not even one of the Hearts yet—I know your eyes are toward the stars right now, but this is way
too dangerous for someone like you!”
“They need Fire Types to rescue the Pokémon that got lost in the forest. I can handle the fire!”
“But not the falling trees or lightning strikes,” Leo said. “Get out of here! Your flame is already halfway gone. I know how it’s supposed to look.”
The Bulbasaur whimpered. The wounds were fading, but the pain remained. He shivered in the mixture of cold rain and hot burns.
“We can’t leave him here,” Spice said. “Leo! Take this guy back and catch up. I’m gonna run ahead with Tee and Emby.”
, Leo. You can’t run in that robe-fur of yours anyway. You’re soaking!”
Leo stammered disconnected, single syllables of protest.
Spice shoved the Bulbasaur into Leo’s arms and ran forward.
“Wait!” Owen ran after her. Leo, hanging onto the Bulbasaur, was in no position to stop him.
“Kid!” Leo said. “You idiot! You—Tauros-headed—” He grunted, but then ran away with the Bulbasaur. Better to save one Pokémon than chase another.
Ahead, Owen struggled to catch up with Spice. They had passed by Tee first, who fell back to assist with a pair of lost Paras. Next, they ran across Emby, guiding a Skiddo, Bellossom, and Shroomish away from the fire. “Any deeper and you won’t find anyone,” Emby warned. “It’s too hot for anybody that isn’t Fire to survive!”
But they pressed on, just in case. Spice was quick in the rain, and she wasn’t quite as bothered by it as the other Fire Types in the area. For the most part, Owen felt the same way—except when the water dripped against the flame of his tail. Every one felt like a thorn stuck inside the very tip, lodging itself like an electric shock that traveled through his spine and into his forehead.
He pushed through it all. His tiny legs were no match for Spice’s lithe, lanky stride. He had to admire being able to move so quickly—he fantasized about when he’d be able to evolve into a Charizard. He heard that sometimes, they could glide across the air by just outstretching their wings, using the updraft of their own heat to stay afloat. That’d be amazing!
“Are you seriously still following me?!” Spice said, looking back.
“M-maybe!” Owen puffed. “The fire’s this way!”
“You don’t say?!” Deeper into the woods, there was dying fire all around them, though the current path of the inferno was much further ahead. A hot spot—indicated by a brighter glow in the corner of their vision—was to the right.
“Just go back, kid. This is way too dangerous for someone like you!”
“I’m an adult! And I can handle myself! This fire’s nothing to me! Th-the rain’s kinda bad, but I can deal with the heat!”
“Ugh! Stubborn. Males are all the same,” Spice hissed. “Fine! Be a hero. But don’t cry to me when you wake up half-dead!”
Owen grumbled something under his breath and rubbed at his arms. He appreciated the intensifying heat. The flames licked at his scales, and Owen sighed. “At least it’s warmer here.”
“Speak for yourself,” Spice muttered, slowing down.
Owen, relieved, also slowed. “What do you mean?”
“Look, you Char-line ‘mons and other Fire-primaries have an easy time with fires, but me? I need to be a little more careful. You’re also lower to the ground, so the smoke can be a problem.”
“Aren’t you part Poison?”
“Still need air,” Spice said. “So, when you go running into the fire, don’t breathe it in, alright? Hold your breath and try to rescue as many Pokémon as you can. There might not even be any more.”
“B-but there are tons of Pokémon in Nightshade Forest! And Fires like me can breathe flames! And I mean—the wild ones probably ran off by now, but we need to be sure, right? We don’t want to find any corpses that we could’ve saved in the aftermath.”
“And that’s why we’re here.” Spice turned. She and Owen scanned the area; Owen demonstrated a strong awareness for the presence of others in hiding, but so far, there was nothing that either of them could detect. The burned forest was largely abandoned.
On their third advance, Spice remarked, “You know, you’re not too bad, Charm. Maybe I should invite you to my place.”
“E-excuse me?” Owen said.
Lightning struck a tree nearby, but not in the immediate area. Owen gasped and held his chest, feeling the boom rock him to his core. “What’s with this lightning?”
Lightning struck for a second time, and then a third, in rapid succession.
“I—I don’t think storms work this way!” Owen shouted.
“Let’s go! Before—”
A deafening explosion was accompanied by a bright light. Then, there was a wave of heat that Owen welcomed for only a split-second. A tree right behind Spice exploded from the blast, sending splinters and branches in all directions. Spice narrowly dodged one of them, but a heavy branch struck her on the shoulder. She grunted and fell back. Owen stared at the splinters with wide eyes and weaved through all of them, only getting hit by smaller ones that bounced away from his scales.
“S-Spice!” Owen rushed for her.
“Ungh, that’s not good,” Spice grunted. She couldn’t move her arm—it was dislocated. “Kid—you go on ahead. I need to fall back.” She used her good arm to position herself, and then she stood up.
Lightning struck yet again, and another tree exploded far in the darkness. “It’s getting worse,” Owen said, wincing when the rain intensified. His tail felt like it was being sawed off. He reflexively reached back and grabbed it, holding it beneath his chin to shield the flame from the downpour.
Owen and Spice both turned. “Did you hear that?”
With her good arm, Spice shifted her bag to a more convenient position on the other side of her chest and ran after him. Owen ran awkwardly with his tail under his chin, but he was careful not to actually make contact—by now, water was running down every inch of his body. Yet, the fire of the forest continued to rage; it was too hot and too extensive for the rain to put out quickly.
The smoke was thick here, and it mixed with hot water vapor. That
would be a problem if Owen got too close. They must have been near the center of the inferno. Steam mixed with smoke and embers, rising in thick clouds that only contributed to more of the blotted sky. Spice was a lot lower to the ground, shambling through to get as much fresh air as she could. It was almost a crawl, albeit awkward with only one arm working.
Owen, shorter, kept up with his normal running pace.
Lightning struck again, and another tree shattered. This one was ahead, and Owen feared the worst.
A head-splitting, growling rumble shook the forest. Each vibration shook the water droplets on Owen’s scales. A tree tilted to the right. Spice was running straight toward it, wincing from a plume of smoke that caught her off guard.
“Spice!” Owen yelled. He grabbed her by the tail and yanked—his strength was miniscule, but it was just enough to save Spice from the trunk that had crashed mere inches in front of her face.
She flicked her tail away out of reflex, nearly whipping Owen with it, but then let out a little puff. “Thank you.”
Just ahead, Owen saw a Jolteon cowering in the middle of a clearing, as far from the fire as it could get.
“Aw, Mew, this isn’t any good—”
“Ugh, curse Mew, more like!” Spice said. “How long has he been there?” She rushed closer. “Hey! Hey, can you hear me?”
“H-help…” That was all he could say.
He was hot to the touch. His fur hurt to even get near—electricity arced from spike to spike. “You need to calm down.”
The Jolteon didn’t hear them.
Spice grunted and reached forward, clutching the Jolteon anyway. Electricity coursed through her in a painful pulse. “Nngh, listen here, you…!” she said. “Charmander!”
“Oran Berry! Bag! Now!”
“O-okay!” Owen rummaged through his bag and grabbed one. He was about to pass it over to Spice, but another bolt of lightning crashed down, drawn straight to the Jolteon. It passed through Spice instead.
She could barely stand; a sharp, jagged pattern marked her back and an even worse pattern wrapped around her front. The Jolteon screamed in a panic, electricity from the bolt of lightning coursing through him next. He reacted with a countering jolt, shooting white arcs of electricity in all directions. Much of the blast went toward Owen who, still dripping wet from the rain, felt pain across his entire body. He could only moan in response and crumpled to the ground, seizing from the aftershocks through his muscles.
“S-Sp-Spice!” Owen wheezed.
Spice didn’t respond.
Another explosion. Somewhere far away, a tree collapsed. A second explosion followed, and another tree fell. A third explosion—this one was much louder. Owen struggled to stand, but nothing his mind desired was answered by his body. Rain pounded on his back, and the fire closed in. It was all too much. He just wanted to sleep. Owen’s eyelids fluttered, and his body stopped seizing.
Tiny hands grabbed Owen’s arm and rolled him over. “Hey. Hey. Wake up.”
Owen’s vision was too blurry. Scaly hands tried to peel his eyelids open. He grunted and turned his head. The visitor shoved an Oran Berry in Owen’s mouth, and then his hands maneuvered Owen’s jaw, forcing him to chew. Bits of the juice leaked down his throat—that was enough to give Owen the energy to keep eating.
Owen saw a Charmander in front of him. “H-hi?” he mumbled, delirious.
“Hey.” It sounded, and looked, exactly like him.
“Hey, me… Am I dead? Are you my dark side?”
“Nice greeting,” the other Owen said. “No. Can you stand?” He pulled Owen to a sitting position.
“I can’t move my legs.”
“Right.” The second Owen let go, and Owen fell back with a grunt. The doppelganger rummaged through his bag.
“That’s mine, though,” Owen protested. “Oh, but you’re…” A brief moment of lucidity passed through him. “Spice!”
“Berry isn’t doing much, but I helped her already.”
Lightning, crash, fall. Lightning again, another crash.
“I’m working on it,” the duplicate said.
Owen watched his double sort through his supplies.
“Are you from the future?”
The Charmander spun around and closed his eyes. Owen tilted his head, watching the odd maneuver. Was he suddenly blind? The second Owen groped the ground with one hand and held an Oran Berry in the other. He felt the Jolteon’s paw, and then immediately turned and faced Owen, staring at him while he shoved the berry in the Jolteon’s mouth, forcing more chewing.
Owen, unnerved, said, “Shouldn’t you be looking at him? Stop… stop staring at me. That’s weird.”
Lightning flashed. The downpour was intensifying; Owen could barely hear over it and the angry inferno around them.
“Where’s your Badge?”
“In my bag,” Owen said.
“Good.” He turned to the bag and rummaged through it again, pulling it out. He then walked backwards, staring at Owen the whole time, while he searched for the Jolteon again. Then, he tapped the Badge on the Jolteon’s forehead; it blinked, and a light enveloped him. In a flash, he was gone.
“Th-that was my warp!” Owen said. “Now we
can’t get out! That was just Provisionary! It doesn’t have the juice for full-on rescue warps!”
“Better him than us.” He returned the now-useless Badge into Owen’s supply bag.
The harshest bolt yet crashed down right next to them, splitting another tree apart down to its roots. Flaming splinters scattered in all directions, and Spice, finally coming to, was struck by a few of them.
“Ugh—!” She rolled onto her front, wincing in pain. “What? Who are—?” She could barely speak; her scars weren’t healing from the Oran Berry that his copy had given her.
Owen’s double grabbed Spice’s bag, grabbed her Badge from it, and tossed the bag itself to her without looking. She snatched it from the air.
“Get out of here,” he said. “You’ve exhausted your supplies. Owen and I are going to keep going.”
“Owen and—what are you, twins?”
“I’m not leaving until my mission is complete. And that mission is to—”
The mirror image tapped the Badge’s center and immediately threw it at Spice. She caught it with one hand. “Hey, you rude little thing, I’m
the Heart here, and—” The Badge activated, and she was gone.
Owen stared. After a pause of disbelief, he blurted, “THAT WAS OUR OTHER WARP!”
Owen-two sighed, visibly relaxing. He looked at Owen. “There’s a Dungeon nearby that has Pokémon trapped inside. We need to get in there and help them get out. That’s where an Elite was sent, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough. Are you coming?”
Owen replied with self-interrupted protests, but then he grunted out a small ember. Lightning rapidly struck four times in random areas. After the strikes stopped, and Owen took his hands off his head, he grunted. “Let’s go.”
Owen followed his double; they ran at the exact same pace, had nearly the same gait, and were only slightly out of sync in their steps. “So, Owen! What’s—”
“My name isn’t Owen.”
He hesitated. “Call me Deca.”
“Wait, how’d you know my name if you aren’t—?”
“I heard about you getting a provisionary Badge.”
“Oh.” Owen nodded. “So, wait, there’s a Dungeon in Nightshade Forest?”
“Small one. Showed up recently.”
“Showed up recently? How do Dungeons show up?”
“It’s some kind of flux of divine energy, and it lingers, creating the distortion. It’s like its own little world.”
“What causes it?”
“Working on that.”
Owen tripped on a flaming branch. “Ugh—”
Deca stopped and helped him up, tugging him over the branch.
“A-ahh!” Owen desperately pat his bag, but it had caught fire. The heat was outpacing the rain, and his bag was dry in some spots, and that was enough for it to burst into flames.
Impatient, Deca grabbed the bag, pulled out the Badge, and threw the rest away. “We need to go.”
“B-but that was expensive!”
“Do you want Pokémon to die?”
Deca ran ahead with his eyes shut. Owen hesitated for only a fraction of a second, and then he was right after him, panting from all the running. He hoped Deca didn’t trip from running blind.
“Deca!” he shouted. “A-are you mad or something?! I’m sorry!”
“I’m not mad.”
“Then how come you’re talking so—”
They passed through a distortion of light, and the ground around Owen raised into its typical labyrinth, this time coated in burning wood, charred dirt, and glowing rocks. Water ran down the distorted labyrinth’s walls in small streams, which in turn filled the halls with a thick layer of steam. “The Dungeon’s on fire, too!?”
“Must have passed through the distortion,” Deca said, looking back. “The fire’s old.” Their feet sank into ashen mud.
The rain was still pouring, putting out the largest of the embers. The fire had been here for a while; the first segment had long since exhausted its fuel. But that meant the fire was more intense further in and—even worse—any Pokémon potentially trapped inside would be struggling to outpace it.
Deca rummaged through his own bag and pulled out a scarf, wrapping it around his eyes.
Deca had blindfolded himself. “Guide me.”
“O-okay, if you say so…”
He walked forward and took the lead through the Dungeon, but Deca suddenly slapped his tail.
“Excuse me!” Owen protested, blushing.
“Faster. I’m not slow.”
“Ugh!” Hot in the face, Owen sprinted forward—and, to Owen’s surprise, Deca kept up. Every time Deca fell forward, he brought his arms out and flipped in a sort of somersault, landing on his feet just behind Owen. So impressed by this, Owen didn’t realize the wall in front of him and he ran straight into it. His tail stiffened, then he slumped down with a groan.
“Don’t get distracted,” Deca said.
“Stop distracting me with those crazy moves,” Owen countered, rubbing his nose. He was bleeding from that one, but he ignored it. “What do you know, Acrobatics?”
“I know what you know.”
The fires intensified for every segment they went through. “How short is short?” Owen called over the roaring fire. The only thing good about the Dungeon was that lightning didn’t strike here. The deeper they went, the softer the explosions that echoed from the Dungeon entrance felt.
“No idea. It’s a new Dungeon, so it’s going to be smaller. No more than six distortion gateways.”
Owen counted four that they had gone through. The flames covered the ground for entire corridors; he had to hold his breath so he didn’t breathe in the smoke. The heat made it difficult to tell where the next distortion of light was, since essentially everything seemed distorted by the heat.
“We’re going in circles,” Deca said.
“I—I know, I’m trying to find a way out!” Owen said.
“They’ll die if we take too long.”
Owen took a spontaneous right. They got out of the fire, and Owen gasped for air. “Finally!” he said. “W-wait—no fire?”
“We caught up,” Deca said, adjusting the scarf around his head.
“That means the survivors are ahead, right?” Owen asked.
“Or this is a dead end.”
Something bright rushed past them, illuminating the halls that weren’t ablaze; Owen felt hot wind follow. “H-huh?” Owen looked back. “W-wait, that was—”
It was in the shape of a Lucario, but it was coated in some sort of blue light. Once he was far away from the heat, the light vanished.
“Th-that’s Lucario Rhys!” Owen said. “But he’s a Steel Type! How’d he even get down here?”
“He knows the way!” Deca shouted, pulling off his blindfold to stare at Owen. “Follow him!” He put the blindfold back on.
“O-okay!” Owen said. He briefly worried whether Deca would be able to follow him or not, but he had to move ahead anyway.
Thankfully, Deca kept up. Without the flames and the smoke, Owen finally had a clear enough head to think about this strange doppelganger. He’d met other Charmander before—mostly feral ones in the Hot Spot Dungeon, whose mannerisms constantly unnerved him. It was incredibly surreal to see someone that was the same species, and yet with a different capacity
. It was one of the great mysteries of the world, in Owen’s mind—what the difference was between him, and a wild Charmander. Upbringing? No, even then, they were different. Their minds simply didn’t operate the same way.
Deca bumped up against Owen’s tail.
“S-sorry,” Owen said.
“Stop getting distracted.”
They continued to walk in silence, picking up the pace just slightly. The fire wasn’t moving quickly, to their fortune. They had time to find the survivors at the end of the Dungeon.
“What were you thinking about?” Deca asked.
“It’s just weird to think about,” he said. “I never saw another Charmander in a while that was like you.”
“Oh. It’s different.”
Owen pulled his tail closer to inspect it. “Where are you from, Deca?”
“Oh, that’s not too far from here, I think,” he said. “Did you hear about trouble and came?”
“Yes. My friends and I wanted to help. Is there anybody around?”
Deca took off his blindfolds and sighed, watching Owen’s back.
“Uh… okay,” Owen said. “And how come you have that? What’s keeping it from burning away?”
“It’s made from Rawst Leaves.”
“Oh! Mom has that for my bed.”
“Y-yeah. She isn’t a Charizard, though. She’s a Gardevoir that took me in. Dad’s a Magmortar, though. I learned a lot of my Fire techniques from him.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. They’re just as good, and I never knew my real parents.”
Deca nodded, but then flashed a smile. “I’m sure they’re very proud of you.”
The confidence that Deca had said that made Owen hold his chest. “Y’think so?”
“I’m positive. You would make them very proud.”
Owen laughed slightly. He didn’t know why he believed Deca. Wishful thinking.
“How about your parents, Deca?” Owen asked.
“Of age. It’s okay.”
“Open with that next time!” Owen puffed an ember. “I thought it was something tragic, or, you know…”
Deca shook his head; the smile returned. “Well, you’re an adult, and you’re still a Charmander.”
“Don’t remind me,” Owen mumbled. “I’m a late evolver.”
“Yeah. Do you think that’s real? Because it’s the only reason I think I’ve never evolved…”
“I guess it has to be real.”
A distortion of light was ahead of their next corridor. “That has to be the last section,” Owen said, “right?”
Deca nodded, putting his blindfold back on.
“Deca, why do you do that? With the blindfold.”
“Helps me concentrate. I can’t look at others that aren’t my kind without…” He shook his head. “It’s a disorder.”
“Oh, okay,” Owen said, deciding not to prod. The longer they stalled, the less time they would have before the fire caught up.
Once they passed through the distortion, a cool breeze welcomed them. With the Dungeon’s final section untouched by the flames, it seemed a lot safer than before. During their run, Owen had been speculating about who Deca was. But perhaps Spice had a point about the smoke and fire. And also, he supposed, being fried by a number of panicked Jolteon-born thunderbolts. All he could come up with were crazy theories, when perhaps the answer was something simpler, or just something else, if he only had the time to think about it calmly. But there was no such thing as calm tonight. He could only focus on one thing—the fire, and how to save the Pokémon inside the Dungeon from it.
“Wild Pokémon,” Owen repeated. “I hope they’re okay. They aren’t smart enough to go through Dungeons normally, right? So how would they escape the fire?”
“They may not have,” said Deca. “But if they got to the exit before the fire did, they’ll be okay.”
Just then, a cyan sphere went straight to Owen, stopping at a mere claw’s width away from his face. His eyes bulged and he let out the smallest squeak.
“I—I apologize,” Rhys said, flicking his paw backward. The sphere exploded against a far wall.
Owen’s legs turned to jelly; he sat down, rubbing where the Aura Sphere would have hit.
“I thought you were another agitated feral. We’re somewhat overwhelmed.”
Deca took a steady breath, holding the side of his head. “H-hello.” He stepped toward Owen and held his hand, helping him up.
Rhys stared silently at Owen’s double.
“H-hello, um, Lucario,” Owen said. “I—I’m Charmander Owen, i-if y-you heard of me. I—I tried o-out for the Hearts, but I didn’t make it y-yet…”
“It’s good to meet you, Owen,” Rhys said. “Continue trying. And you…”
“My name is Deca.”
“…It’s nice to meet you,” Rhys said, “Deca
“Do you need any help?” Deca asked.
“You said you were overwhelmed.” Deca held Owen’s hand a bit harder. Owen glanced at his blindfold, and then back at Rhys. Deca’s forehead was creased with a hidden glare.
“We can help!” Owen said. “What do you need?”
“The fire is closing in,” Deca said. “The Dungeon might shift if we remain on this section for too long. The fire is running out of fuel outside.”
“It is? That’s good to hear,” Rhys said. “We may be able to wait it out, if we find a way to stop the fire.”
“Take us to everyone else,” Deca said.
Rhys stared at Owen, then at Deca. His paws clenched, the blue flames of aura seeping through the cracks. Owen noticed, though it was hard at first, that Rhys’ body seemed very fatigued. There were little bits of… some strange sort of blue plating flaking off from parts of his fur, like armor. But the armor dissolved in the air when it chipped off. Was that some sort of technique Rhys used to get past the fire? It would explain how a Steel Type like him even made it through… Owen also noticed that Rhys’ legs and arms shook with fatigue, and his breathing was deep.
“What’s wrong?” Owen asked.
“Is now really the time, Rhys?” Deca asked. “Let us help. You can’t do this alone.”
Rhys snorted and turned around. “Let’s go.” He walked stiffly; the aura from his paws didn’t let up.
Owen followed next, and Deca, still holding Owen’s hand, followed after him. Owen tried to pull away, feeling awkward, but Deca just held on harder. “S-so, do you know Rhys?” Owen asked in a whisper.
“In, uh, in a good way? Bad way?”
“Bit of a rut.”
Rhys led them to a large room, perhaps the largest of the section, housing at least thirty other Pokémon, most of them native forest-dwellers, such as a Beautifly, Fomantis, Ariados, and Mightyena.
The Fomantis whined and hid under the Beautifly’s wings. The Ariados spoke softly, “How close is the fire?”
“I can smell it,” the Mightyena reported.
“One section away,” Deca said. “Does anybody know Water or Ground techniques?”
“It’s too strong for that,” the Fomantis said. “We can’t stop a fire that strong!”
“Who knows those techniques? Mud Slap? Mud Shot? Water Gun? Anything.” Deca held Owen’s hand a bit harder, and he jerked away. Deca aggressively pulled Owen closer.
“H-hey, what’re you doing?” Owen said in a whisper. “Personal space!”
Nobody answered Deca. None of the Pokémon knew anything to put out the fire.
“None of you, at all, know attacks that can put fires out?!” Deca shouted.
Still no answer.
Owen gently pressed his hand against Deca’s, but this time to feel the pulse in Deca’s wrist. It was increasing. He seemed to be constantly under some kind of strain, and the additional stress wasn’t doing him any favors. It must have been the rain. Even now, it stung their tails.
Suddenly, Owen turned around, walking with Deca. He followed, blind. Owen closed his eyes, taking a slow breath. He brought his tail forward and hid it under his chin again, keeping it away from his chest so it didn’t get even more water.
Water collected on him. It could put his tail out if he wasn’t careful.
Owen scanned the group, counting all of the Pokémon. He breathed deeply, and then double-checked what sort of Pokémon he had to work with. Grass Types. Bug Types. And a few Dark Types, too. Nightshade Forest was a mysterious place—the techniques learned here were stranger and more strategic, accompanying their usual offensive attacks.
Could that work?
Owen pointed at a Dustox. “Do you know Reflect or Light Screen?”
“H-huh? Of course! W-well, just the one. Light Screen.”
“I know Reflect!” a Ledian spoke up.
Owen nodded. “Who knows Sunny Day?”
At least half of the Grass Types raised their hands, paws, leaves, or tendrils.
“S-Sunny Day?!” Rhys said. “Why would you—”
“Let him speak,” Deca said.
“Barrier. Does anybody know Barrier?” Owen asked.
“Nngh, not the best. H-how about Psychic?”
Owen nibbled at his right hand’s claws. “Okay, okay…” The Charmander paced left and right, eyes darting in microscopic directions. Pieces snapped together in his mind.
He turned around, and then looked at the sky. “Everyone who knows it—try to use Light Screen or Reflect, but not on yourselves. Focus it on the sky. Try to shape it like a big bowl.
Owen scanned the room’s walls. Their little shelter was connected to two other areas by corridors. That wasn’t too bad. He watched the other Pokémon awkwardly try to use their techniques in this unintuitive way, like turning it upside-down. Almost instantly, the effects became apparent; rainwater collected above their heads. Realization washed over the group, and Owen saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes.
“Okay,” Owen said, trying to keep his voice steady from the excitement. “Try moving that barrier toward the halls! The left one, first, okay? N-no, other left! My left! Okay, keep going…”
Owen walked with the barrier, easing it closer. Rhys held up his hand and fired a strange Aura Sphere toward it. Suddenly, the Reflect-Light Screen was enhanced by solid aura at the base. It was a barrier of its own—the same sort of barrier that had surrounded Rhys when he ran through the flames. But the way Rhys was breathing heavily, and his tense muscles, suggested that it put a lot of strain on him. Owen knew to work quickly.
“Sunny Day! Now!”
“Just do it!”
At least one of the Pokémon obeyed. Localized only to this section of the Dungeon, the clouds temporarily parted, and intense, enhanced afternoon sunlight pierced through from the sky. Energy returned to Owen almost instantly, and he looked to Deca. “Help me light this hallway on fire.”
Deca staggered back. “What?”
“If we take out the grass now,” Owen said, “and put out the small fire we
started, the big fire won’t have fuel to get to us! Hurry!”
The clouds were starting to close in again.
Deca nodded. “Okay.”
He and Owen both spat flames on the grassy terrain of the halls, starting from a farther end, and moving backwards and back into the room. The wet grass was hard to spark, but their combined flames overwhelmed the residual water enough to set the hall alight. The trapped Pokémon all watched, and Rhys let out a small grunt. The aura barrier he provided was fading.
The fire grew quickly under the intense sunlight. Too quickly for the comfort of the others. A few of the younger Pokémon shrieked and hid behind the older ones. The clouds returned shortly after, and Owen looked up. He pulled Deca back. “Drop the barrier!”
The water fell on top of the crackling flames; plumes of steam rose up, but it was just enough to put out the dying embers that were closest to them. The rest of the water flooded through the hall, thoroughly soaking the ground. Owen scrambled forward and slashed at the soil nearest to them with sharpened claws, hardened like metal. The water and mud splashed against his scales. Then, Owen plunged his paws into the dirt and pushed forward, huffing.
“Hey,” someone said from behind, moving Owen aside. It was the Mightyena. “I’ve got this.”
Owen panted, staring, but he nodded and stepped away.
With powerful paws, the Mightyena faced his rear against the hall and dug into the ground, creating a trench that quickly filled with water, and a mound of mud behind him. There was no way the fire could get past it.
“What’s happening?” Deca said.
“The fire’s out, and there’s a wall of mud blocking the way,” Owen said. “Let’s do it again! Other side! Reflect, Light Screen!”
And so, the barrier collected water for a second time. Rhys fired another Aura Sphere toward it to reinforce its strength.
“Rhys?” Deca asked, but suddenly held onto Owen’s hand again.
“Okay. Sunny Day!” Owen said.
The clouds parted once more, drenching them in warmth.
And they repeated the process again. Owen and Deca washed the hall with fire; the flames cleaned the ground of floral fuel. The barrier above Owen and Deca flickered. Rhys lowered himself to one knee.
“Hurry!” Rhys said. The Dustox and Ledian maintaining the dual-barrier looked equally strained; they had taken on too much water this time, and the weight was wearing away at the transparent bowl above them.
Deca stepped away and into the room. “The fire’s too close,” he said. “Owen! Let’s put it out!”
“Okay,” Owen said. “But hang on, it’s still too short. The fire could jump over the gap. Let it burn a little longer!”
Rhys had both his paws up, and he was on both knees, head down. His arms were trembling. By now, both Reflect and Light Screens had faded away; Rhys alone was holding up the water.
The clouds returned. Rain filled the bowl. Owen was standing in the flames, trying to accelerate the burning with extra plumes. This side was filled with much more grass; it needed more time to burn. He heaved another wad of embers.
Then, Rhys’ concentration slipped. The aura barrier vanished, and all of the water poured onto the fire—and Owen.
Owen had a strange dream about taking a hot bath in the pit of a white, featureless room. His tail was just above the water’s surface. Then, he saw Deca on the opposite side of the bath, laughing. And Owen laughed, too. He heard footsteps behind him. He turned around, but the fragile dream faded away.
Then, he felt cold—like ice, to the very core of his body. And then something tingled, and he felt warm again, starting from his belly, and then over his chest, and then his face. It smelled like Oran Berries.
His vision was blurry. Owen could only see the outline of something orange. Was it a mirror? A blurry, wobbly reflection of himself. Flames danced over his face, and Owen sputtered in surprise.
He blinked the blur away and squinted. Deca? He was saying something, but it was all muffled. There was concern in his eyes, but when Owen gurgled some sort of wordless reply, his double let out a laugh.
“He’s okay!” Deca shouted.
Owen heard cheers from a crowd. His ears rang, but that faded and gave way to more precise noises.
He sat up with a start. “What happened?!”
He sat up too quickly. His vision faded, and he held his head, breathing heavily. That, above all else, was the loudest sound—his own breathing unnerved him. He caught a glance at his tail, which was emitting a steady stream of steam, but no flame. Deca breathed a small ember at the tip; it tickled a bit, but then it reignited. This sent a slight jump-start to the rest of Owen’s system, and warmth spread completely after a few seconds of stillness.
Rhys stood in the distance, looking like he hadn’t moved in ages. He was fixated entirely on Owen, fidgeting with his paws, clenching his claws into the pads. He’d never seen a Heart look so guilty. A small crowd of the Pokémon that had been trapped previously were around him, just as others surrounded Owen to get a better look.
It wasn’t raining anymore, but it was incredibly dark. Owen turned his head to the sky and saw stars peeking through the burned treetops.
“Where am I?” he said. “Is this the Dungeon?”
“No,” Deca said. “The Dungeon rejected you when you got hit by the water.”
“Water…” Owen recalled trying to take out the fuel in the Dungeon halls. “Wait, Water! The—what happened to the—”
“It worked,” Deca said. “The fire got close, but it couldn’t clear the gap you created on both sides. We waited until the fire died on its own, and after that… We figured it would be safe where the Dungeon sent us out. And it was, so we circled back to the entrance to find you.”
Owen rubbed his fingers together, and then his arms. “Everyone’s okay?”
“Everyone that was with us made it out fine,” Deca said.
Owen breathed a small sigh. “Good,” he said. “I’m just glad that I survived. When the Dungeon rejected me, I thought some stray wild would’ve attacked me while I was down, or something. But—”
“Actually, we scared one of those ferals off!” one of the forest natives piped up. “It was such a weird creature!”
“Don’t be stupid, that wasn’t a feral! That was a guardian spirit, I just know it!” another native retorted.
“You and your ‘guardian spirit’ mumbo-jumbo.”
“No, it’s real! There have been sightings! A four-legged creature with a green and black body—exactly like I keep telling you! I’ve seen it!”
“Green-black and four legs? That sounds like Zygarde.”
“Maybe you should lay off the funny berries.”
Owen tittered. “So, some weird creature was guarding me?”
Deca nodded, as did the rest of the crowd. “That’s the consensus. But it ran off before we could thank it.”
Owen paused to silently thank this creature anyway. If it wasn’t Zygarde—which Owen wasn’t sure even existed—then perhaps it was some kind of forest guardian. After all, the trees of this forest were blackish and green. It could have just been camouflage. “And what about the fire?”
“It’s burning,” he said. “But we got everyone evacuated. All the wilds are… either dead, or ran away.”
“The fire started in multiple places due to some freak thunderstorm,” Rhys spoke up, and Deca refused to remove his eyes from Owen for the entirety of Rhys’ explanation. “This portion of the forest was trapped by a ring of fire, which was what caused us to send in the Fire teams to rescue the trapped Pokémon. We did our best to rescue who we could,” Rhys said, “but… obviously, we will have to perform a search for those who may not have escaped.”
Owen gulped. “What caused this…? This thunderstorm was… it was way too strong.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Deca said. “What matters is we made it out.”
By now, the bystanders—tired from the stress—were starting to disband. Now that they knew their savior was okay, they refocused on how to recover from the disaster. Despite their burned home, they still knew where to go. Rhys volunteered to help guide those who were less sure of themselves. After a passing glance at Deca and Owen, he grunted and walked.
“Rhys!” Owen shouted.
Owen paused, finding the words. “Thanks for helping! It’s—it’s okay! Everyone’s saved because of you!”
Rhys’ paws relaxed slightly. He gave a short nod, not looking back, and then walked away with the rest of the rescued Pokémon.
Owen shook his head. “He seems like the type who’ll beat himself up for a while over dousing me,” he said. “But, I don’t think it would’ve worked without his help.”
“He’ll reconcile,” Deca said. “Trust me. That guy will just turn it into more fire for him to do better next time. It’s not healthy, but as long as he doesn’t burn up from it, right?”
They both laughed. Owen finally found the strength to get on his feet. He eased his way into it. Deca held him by the shoulder and back to keep him steady until he could stand on his own.
“Thanks,” Owen said.
Deca nodded. “Thanks to you, too.”
Owen noticed that the strain in Deca’s voice was gone now that they were alone. “It’s too bad you’re so tense around others. I hope you can get better at that, huh?”
Deca smiled wryly. “I’ll do my best.”
Owen pulled his tail forward to inspect the flame. It was a healthy orange.
Deca stared for a while. Owen sensed something from his doppelganger—a strange tension of some kind. Like he wanted to do something, yet couldn’t. His paws twitched forward, then pulled themselves back.
“What’s wrong?” Owen asked. “L-look, if you’re gonna ask me out, I don’t know if I have the time for stuff like that. I’m training to be a Heart. I—I mean, you seem like a really nice ‘mon and all, but we barely know each other!”
Deca let out a sound that was a cross between a sigh and a laugh. He shook his head and fell forward, wrapping his arms around Owen. Startled, Owen could only take a step back, but that only made Deca squeeze tighter. He didn’t know what
to say, let alone how to react, so he just stood there. Eventually, he brought his hand around Deca and patted his back.
“Hey,” Owen said, figuring this had to do with Deca’s social anxieties, “it’s alright. I bet it’s hard, but you can overcome it, right? Maybe with some meditation? That’s what helps my aura calm down. I dunno if it’s the same thing, but—"
proud of you, Owen.” Deca trembled, the spasms shaking Owen.
Deca kept holding onto Owen. He felt Deca’s hands press flat against his back; something stirred in Owen’s chest, and that advanced to his throat, and then his eyes. His vision felt blurry—tears welled up, and this sent him into a mild panic. “D-Deca?”
“Don’t forget that,” Deca said. “Okay? Don’t ever forget…”
Owen blinked, confused. His emotions weren’t matching his thoughts. His mind had no reason to think of anything about Deca other than the fact that he helped with the fire. Yet all he wanted to do was bawl and cry and stay with Deca the whole night. His heart raced, and he held Deca back. He kept his emotions together enough to speak. “Okay. I won’t… forget. I won’t forget.”
Deca kept holding him for what felt like forever, and yet still it wasn’t enough time. Owen wondered if Deca would let go at all. And if he didn’t, he wouldn’t complain. He kept holding on, memorizing the scales on Deca’s back. They were exactly like his own. Curious, Owen felt for the strange patch of scales whose pattern didn’t quite match the surrounding area—a small, natural irregularity of the body, much like a birthmark. And he found it in the same spot.
Eventually, Deca let go and pulled away. Owen was startled to see the streams of tears running down Deca’s face—a flow that was even greater than his own.
“What’s—what’s going on?!” Owen said, wiping his eyes. “Deca! Who—who are you? Do you know my parents?”
Deca laughed again. “Oh, Owen… I’m…”
Owen saw Deca’s hand glow with a strange light. Deca sniffled once. The hand that didn’t glow wiped his eyes. Owen mirrored the movement, clearing his vision.
“Good night, Owen.”
Deca tapped Owen on the forehead with his glowing hand. Owen’s thoughts grew muddled. In an instant, it all faded to nothingness.
Deca’s ears still rang from the roaring flames. Not only that, but his mind was completely fatigued. He had been doing the mental equivalent of holding his breath for at least half the night, now. The identical Charmander stared down at Owen in his arms, struggling to carry him along—after all, they were completely identical in weight and—more importantly—strength. Owen needed to work out more.
“Mnngg, more apples,” Owen mumbled. His tongue dangled from the side of his mouth, a bit of drool dripping onto Deca’s right arm.
Deca sighed, but he couldn’t hide his smile. But his heart sank back down. It wouldn’t be long, now.
He had to admit, it was a peaceful place. Calm, open field. A hot cave for him to live in, even if it was just due to the Fire Guardian’s antics. It seemed nice enough. There weren’t any particularly interesting landmarks this way, either, which made it quite secluded thanks to travelers just using Waypoints to skip over this path entirely.
“You’ve got a good life, Owen,” Deca said. “I’m… not going to lie to myself and say otherwise.”
“Too sweet,” Owen babbled. “Needs Cheri…”
Deca sighed. He carefully set Owen down, making sure his tail rested against the dirt and not the grass, and then eyed the great boulder ahead of him. His hand glowed with a Mystic power, and he held his hand forward, toward the boulder. He swung his arm to the side.
“Ngh.” Deca tried again. The glow, the swipe. Nothing. “Oh, come on, it can’t be that
strong.” And so, he tried again. Not even a wiggle.
“How are you supposed to open this thing?!” Deca mumbled. “Password. There’s supposed to be a password, right? Ngh, what’s a…” He paced, tapping his chin. Every so often, he glanced at Owen, and each time he did so, it was like a breath of fresh air in his mind. “Open… now!” Deca shook his claws toward the unmoving boulder. “Open… Hot Spot Caverns! Open… sesame?” He knew it wouldn’t work, but he was desperate. After a full fifty seconds of staring, Owen snorted in his sleep. Deca jolted and spun around. But the sleeping Charmander didn’t stir.
And then, Deca watched Owen for a while, entranced by him. He stared at the gentle rise and fall of his back and the flickering, lively flame at the end of his tail. The small, subtle frown while he slept, like he was pensive about something in his dreams. Probably whether he should use Cheri or Tamatos to cut through the sweetness.
Deca took a single step forward, and then another. He was right in front of Owen, now. He leaned forward and picked him up; Owen hummed in response, bumping his head against Deca’s cheek.
And he stayed there. Despite the dead weight, Deca stayed there, wrapping his arms around the Charmander double, memorizing every single scale that he could. He felt hot tears welling up again. They poured slowly onto Owen’s shoulders, and then to the ground. Deca stared with a fierce glare against the air ahead of him. He finally let Owen go, wondering if it would be the last time.
With a resolute glint in his eyes, he faced the boulder, sat on the ground, and concentrated. He took a steady breath…
O Holy Creator Mew.
Deca projected. I call upon you to hear my prayer.
Deca paused for a bit longer, and then dug his claws against his thighs. It was just a formality, really. Any sort of thought toward her would have been sufficient. But, from what he knew, prayers tended to be louder if he started politely. The same didn’t have to go for the rest of what he had to say, and his thoughts became a few tones harsher.
A few days ago, Owen failed to become a Heart again. Didn’t pass Anam’s final check. Flying colors with the practical exam… yet never past Anam himself. Always the same story, year after year. No wonder he took on this horrible mission, just to prove that he could do a Heart’s job.
Deca looked down, glaring at the dirt. Kricketot were chirping. Deca counted their cries four times in sequence, like a little conversation among the wilds.
Is that your plan?
Deca said. When Anam deems Owen worthy of becoming a Heart, he’s ready for the Orb? And do you think he’ll be ready for what comes next, too?
Three chirps. Deca wondered if she was even listening, or if she was just stubbornly sitting in her own little realm, ignoring the world’s problems as usual. She needed an ultimatum.
Star… if we find an Orb first, we’ll figure out how to take the rest. And your defenses won’t be enough once we have the power of one Orb. When that happens… you better be ready. Because I’m
Deca ended the prayer there. He brought his arm to his eyes and wiped them dry, and then glanced back at Owen. He let out a gentle curse from his breath and stared ahead. He wanted to finish on an awesome one-liner, but now he had a sleeping Charmander out in the cold.
…Also, can… can you tell the Fire Guardian to open her cave? Owen’s asleep and I don’t know how to open it.
With that final message, Deca stood to his feet and turned around to looked at Owen one last time. He figured he only had a few more seconds. He walked over and gently held Owen’s shoulder. His eyes clouded once more, but he shook it off.
“I’m sorry,” Deca said.
And then, when the boulder behind him rumbled, Deca bolted into the night.