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Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Alright, got 2 chapters on my plate from that Review Exchange in Union that I need to deliver on in -checks notes- ... 36 hours, and with RB4 on the horizon, now's as good a time as any to get in some practice with large batch reading, so let's see how this goes starting with…

Chapter 4

Owen forced himself to settle down for lunch. He didn’t know if his heart was racing or sluggish. It was a strange mixture of beating quickly, and then slowing down to rhythmic, loud booms. The excitement killed his appetite, like his stomach was already satiated with his hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties, but he knew he had to force something down for the mission portion of the exams.

I'm... not convinced that that's all just excitement and anxiety over the TH entrance process here.

He was sitting at Ludicolo Café, lined with bright brown walls and large, green tables that resembled a Ludicolo’s hat. Ludicolo himself was dancing along the aisles, serving drinks, along with other assistant waiters and waitresses. The exams were a bit of a spectacle for the average citizen, and the activity was a strain on the staff. Owen hoped they got paid extra for this day.

Owen: "... Wait, when was this mentioned again in the story?" ^^;
Gahi: "Owen, it's a cafe shaped like a Ludicolo head. Just how much of an introduction do you think it needs for the readers when even a Deino could pick this place out?"
:what:

Owen: "(Wait, are you even here right now, Gahi?) And I guess, just kinda wonder if I should've at least slipped in some commentary about what this place is like. After I'm sure that I remember coming here before."
- Beat moment -
Owen: "... Um, I do remember coming here before, right?"
:ohnowen:


He was downing a simple sandwich and an apple smoothie. He spotted Lucario Rhys entering the café with the trio. Good, they got him.

“Hey!” Owen called, waving. His tail blazed a bit brighter with joy. There was something that warmed his heart about seeing those four, no matter the circumstance.

Cue Rhys just casually bringing up Owen's Hot Spot Dance in like 30 seconds and him no longer feeling so warm in his heart afterwards. :V

Though yeah, if it wasn't already obvious that Owen has met these four prior to his memory wipe (and probably 'latest' from the way some of the prose has been written), it's pretty obvious now.

“Hey, where’s yer folks?” Gahi asked. “Y’know, the ones at that place Rhys brought yeh.”
Mispy: "... Gahi, why do you care about this when you can't physically hold forks?"
:gardexhausted:

Gahi: "Look, if he's gonna be on our team, he might as well give off a good impression! What are 'mons gonna think if they see our newest teammate's a slob with table manners that'd embarrass a Grumpig?"
:what:

Owen: "(I'm pretty sure he's projecting right now, and if he did it any harder, he'd display slides on the café wall.)" -_-;
Gahi: "Also, the dialogue was of 'folks' there."
- Beat moment -
Demetri: "... Guess we should bring it up with the writer of these things huh? (Even if you honestly do seem like the type to rag on a 'mon for not eating with utensils, Gahi.)" ^^;

“Oh, they have to stay inside and do their own work and stuff,” Owen said. “They knew I’d be doing all these qualifiers, but…”

“I’m sure they’ll be very proud,” Rhys said, nodding.

Yeah, not like you don't already have a leg up on knowing that, Rhys. Even if I can't say I really trust your answer right now since you weren't exactly giving off "shooting straight" vibes last chapter.

Owen eyed the bag around his neck. It was glowing again.

Owen: "Is... it supposed to do that? Since I get the distinct feeling that it's not supposed to do that." ^^;

“Well, go on,” Rhys told the three. “Get your food. You skipped breakfast, after all.”

“Meh,” the Trapinch grumbled, wobbling forward first.

Owen watched them get in line, but then turned to Rhys. “You aren’t eating?”

“There is no need for now. I will have lunch later.”

- Blink moment -
Owen: "... Busy with errands or something?"
Rhys: "'Or something', yes."

“How come they skipped breakfast?”

“They weren’t going on a mission, so I used that as punishment.” The Lucario grunted. “They would have a big lunch to compensate. They were trying to touch some of my treasures again.”

“You mean that orb in your bag?”

No reply; Rhys only held the strap a bit tighter.

They were absolutely trying to touch the orb in Rhys' bag, I can already tell. Though wait, if it's Rhys' bag that's glowing, you might want to explicitly state so when Owen notices it. Since at first I thought Owen had one of his own that was glowing when I read "his bag" there.

“It’s kinda glowing again, isn’t it?” Owen tilted his head. He leaned forward to get a better look, but Rhys placed a paw over it. “I think that pink mist I saw earlier came from that bag. Do you think it wants me to touch—”

“You simply shouldn’t,” Rhys said curtly. “It would be very bad if you touched it here.”

Owen: "... Are you going to give me an explanation as to why it would be bad, or...?"
Rhys:
Image

Owen: "(... Figures.)" -_-;

Owen watched Rhys carefully. “Do you know what that mist was? Or who?”

“I cannot be certain,” Rhys lied, and Owen knew that much.

“Can I at least see it?”

“You may not.”

Owen: "You do realize that if you were trying to get me to not be interested in that orb in your bag, you're kinda failing hard by stonewalling me like this, right?"
:UnimpressedCabot:

Rhys: "Owen, you don't need to deal with it. That's all you need to know about the orb, alright?" >_>;

“Is it too strong for normal Po—” Someone tapped on his shoulder. “H-hey! Nevren!”

“I was looking for you!” The Alakazam gave a cheerful little bow. “I wanted to congratulate you on your successful battle against James, much better than any other Charmander on record. Though, I should probably mark it down as an outlier in the logs. After all, you’re a late-evolver, as you call it, hm?”

Nevren is cutting in to quietly tell Rhys to shut up right about now about that orb, isn't he?

Owen: "Wait, where on earth did you come from?!"
Nevren: "I'm Psychic."
Owen: "But that doesn't even-"
Nevren: "I'm Psychic with Teleport as a level-up move."
- Beat moment -
Owen: "... Okay, I guess that makes some sense. Sorta. (Even if I'm not sure how the narration isn't making me more surprised that you were here in this café when I didn't notice you until five seconds ago.)"

Owen began with a babble. “Yeah. I did well enough that James had to refresh his Substitute. But it was still not that good—I hope I’m not getting weaker from taking easy assignments or something. I’ve been feeling a little off lately, actually.”

Rhys glanced at Nevren, but then at Owen. “Indeed, you’re quite strong for a Charmander.”

Oh, so Owen's "level" doesn't get reset in between memory wipes. Handy for avoiding PokeAni syndrome, I guess.

“It isn’t as if Trapinch, Axew, and Chikorita normally do that well, either,” Nevren noted. “And yes, it’s quite strong, but it’s still weak in the grand scheme of the Hearts. Still, he has the benefits of my Eviolite that I gave him,” Nevren said. “Though, during the exams, you will have to go without it.”

“Aw, I’ll do fine.” Owen waved his claws dismissively. “That Aerodactyl was a fluke.”

Nevren:
Sticker, sceptilisk,

Owen: "It was, okay?!"
:judgemander~1:


“Ahh, Aerodactyl, yes,” Nevren said. “He was quite strong, wasn’t he? I imagine if he cooperated, his performance at the test you took would be quite substantial.” He nodded. “Ahh, Rhys. And how are you doing?”

... Wait, so they conscript captured criminals into being punching bags for trainees in the TH?
:fearfullaugh~1:


I mean, I can't judge that harshly considering some of the stuff that happens in my own writing, but boy would that've been something if Owen's entrance exam had been a grudge match with Jerry.

“Just fine, Nevren.”

Owen sensed, for the briefest of moments, a thickness in the atmosphere. Muscles on Rhys in particular felt tense, and Nevren was standing still for a longer period of time than usual. Owen rubbed his head—his awareness of the bodies nearby was starting to get to him in such a crowded place. He wished he could turn it off.

Owen: "... Wait, is Nevren your special someone, Rhys?"
Rhys: "What? Ew! No! Why on earth would you even think that, Owen?!" >.<
Owen: "I mean, the text was saying you two were getting all tense and awkward, and..."
:wellyousee:

Nevren: "Let's just forget that ever happened and move along, hm?" >_>;

“Back!” Gahi said, hauling his head onto the table; on top of Gahi was his plate, which slid onto the table. Demitri and Mispy took their seats next, carrying their plates in a much more normal fashion, with Mispy using her vines.

... Impressive balance by Gahi there. Though I wonder how often he winds up having to redo a meal at Ludicolo Café from someone bumping into him while carrying his plate like that?

“D’you like this café, Owen?” Demitri asked.

“It’s good for something quick, and the smoothies! Perfect! I visit here all the time.

Yeah, I kinda wonder if that should've been brought up at all in the narration prior to this since getting a read of how Owen parses Ludicolo Café could potentially lean in more into the overall air of mystery surrounding his memories at this point in the story. e.x. if he realizes that he goes here a lot but has a "huh, didn't remember that on the menu" moment but brushes it off as things blurring together from visiting the place for the thousandth time or something like that.

Nevren eyed the four of them slowly. “Well! You seem to have these trainees in order, Rhys. Will you be overseeing them?”

“Y-yes,” Rhys said. “I will, though Owen has elsewhere to be than my home.”

“Ahh, that’s true,” Nevren said. “Though, I suspect you may want to mentor him. Is that right?”

I can't tell whether or not this sequence would work better with more description, or if the lack of it plays in with Owen being slow to the plot of him having his memories lazored better as a character.

There it was again. Owen was sure of it this time. Tension. He felt an atmosphere of irritation, the flicking of Rhys’ tail, the bristling of fur. Or perhaps there was something more. What was it? From Rhys? Or Nevren?

Oh, nevermind, there's that description I was looking for. And I get the feeling that Rhys and Nevren butt heads a lot when the kids aren't cognizant of it. Or maybe even when they are given how everyone on Team Alloy gives off vibes that they've gotten memory lazored at least once before.

“Yes,” Rhys said. “I think I will.”

Owen stopped focusing on the atmosphere and realized the words being said. “Wait—Rhys, you’re gonna be my mentor?”

If you pass.”

Owen: "Hah, easy peasy! I'll be there training under you before you know it!" ^^
Rhys: "You... should probably be more careful about what you wish for, Owen." ._.;

“I’m gonna get Rhys as a mentor! Y-yes! Yes!” Owen stood up. Forget the creeping dread—he was about to get trained by an Elite! He sprinted off; all that was left behind of him was a stray ember from his tail.

Demitri jumped in surprise. “Wh-where’re you going?!”

“Exams!”

Owen... is gonna regret this in like a chapter, isn't he?

Demitri stared, but then looked back at Owen’s plate. “He left a bit of his sandwich,” he mourned.

One of Mispy’s vines greedily wrapped around the remains.

Well someone's ravenous there. I might be forgetting something from the dinner sequence in Chapter 2, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time Mispy's Big Eater/Extreme Omnivore tendencies have popped up onscreen. Though it makes me wonder just how fast things are going to escalate from leftover hunks of sandwiches there.

There was a long line for the exams. Due to the irregular sizes of everybody waiting in the queue, there was no telling how many were actually there. Between the Rhydon immediately behind him and the squad of Eevee evolutions in front of him, it could have been anywhere between five and fifteen Pokémon ahead. Despite this, when Owen stepped in line, it became even longer behind him.

Owen: "... Wait, just how many Pokémon are competing for these 16 openings anyways? This is nuts!"
:ohnowen:


“Talk about lucky.”

He leaned to the side to get a better look at what the exams were like. Last year, they were mock-Dungeon explorations. It seemed to be the same case this time around. Owen was first able to register his ID, and afterward, waited with the other Pokémon agonizingly for his name to be called—one way or the other—to go into testing.

All the times before, he had been rejected. He wasn’t sure why. He did well in the academic and sparring portions, to the best of his memory. But there were just so many other candidates that were better, he figured. But despite the pit in his stomach from the past days, he had a good feeling about today. This was going to be better. It had to be. Right?

I would recommend breaking this one paragraph into 2 or 3, since that is a lot of sentences all shoveled together in one block.

It looked like candidates were heading into different Waypoints with established Hearts. Owen recognized most of the tiles as connections to weaker Dungeons that he’d be able to easily beat. If the test was to just get past those—this would be easy!

He also noticed Anam standing in the back, watching every Heart get assigned. James was reading from a list, showing it to Anam every time. Every so often, Anam shook his head, and James seemingly skipped that line.

... How odd. Did Anam have final say? Once a name was given approval, James passed the word to the announcer. Owen’s heart picked up the pace. Did his name just get skipped? Was that it?

Same deal here. It doesn't necessarily need to be into three paragraphs like I suggested here, but this paragraph is also long enough to the point that you should probably consider breaking it up.

Three more Pokémon were called in, and Owen shuffled aside to let them through. He spotted Nevren walking past them; the Alakazam glanced at him, and then flashed a small smile. He then spoke quietly to the Pokémon at the front, managing the candidates, and then walked away.

James showed Anam the list again, and this time, he was staring at it for a long time. So long, in fact, that Owen and the others in the group wondered what the holdup was. Anam mumbled something to James, and James mumbled something back. Nevren stepped over and checked who was on the list. He tapped Anam on the shoulder—a trail of slime connected his finger to Anam thereafter—and said something else.

... Are those three going to spike Owen's application before he even gets to the mock MD stage? Since they're sure giving off that sort of vibe right about now.

C’mon, body, why can’t you zero in on what they’re saying? Owen complained, but the crowd around him distracted both his ears and whatever other strange sense he had. There was no body language for him to detect from so far away.

... Because you're a reptile and most reptiles tend to have weak hearing relative to mammalian or avian counterparts?
:joltyshrug~1:


And then, finally, Golem spoke again. “Next! Charmander-1!”

- Blinks -
Wait, when was it ever mentioned that there was a Golem in this scene again? It might be worth mentioning him/her earlier, or if sticking to your guns, make this more obviously "by the way" like "the Golem handling exam announcements" or something like that.

Wait. He was called? He was called! He made it into the practical exam! “Y-yes!”

The crowd waited anxiously for two more names to be called.

“Oh, sorry, everyone. Nevren wants to personally test Owen alone,” Golem said, “since he is such an exceptional case with his test results.”

:absus:


Well that's not totally shifty and suspicious at all there.


Why did he have to phrase it like that? Owen shrank down. “S-sorry…” He didn’t need to look back to feel the envious glares. “How come I’m exceptional? Oh, because I’m a late-evolver and stuff?”

“Yeah. For a Charmander, at least. You sure you didn’t eat an Everstone or something?”

Well we already know that that's not the case through some fairly prominent story art floating around on the internet. I vaguely am aware that Owen has some sort of cosmic importance to him as a character, so it'll be fun to see how fast that gets thrown out in the open. Even if I'm not expecting it to come all that soon since all of Kilo Village gives "unreliable narrator" vibes.

“No! I’ll totally evolve soon! So much for being a kid, huh?” Owen remembered this Golem from before. Still, he figured he should stop letting his size dictate his behavior. If he kept getting insecure about his size and stature, maybe he did deserve to be called a kid.

The Alakazam approached, his mustache grand as ever. “Good to see you, Owen. It’s about time that we leave for your test. Please, come with me.”

That actually makes me wonder how age and evolution interlink with one another in this setting? e.x. is it theoretically possible for a Pokémon to become a fullevo while still a child by age? If so, how do they turn out by the end?

Eternal Whistler Cave was on the northern peaks, with ancient, black mountains carved by a constant, shredding wind. The cave itself was a structure that went in a winding path from one side of the mountain to the other; the cold air blew through this labyrinthine passageway constantly. The result was a noise of wind running through the cave, like a deep whistle or moan of some great titan. The easy way through the cave was to follow the wind, which blew from the south toward the north; the difficult way was against it. Apparently, a very small distortion existed here, leading to a small, junior-level Dungeon that was even less threatening than the one where he had encountered Aerodactyl.

Owen, could you tempt fate any harder right about now? .-.

Aside from the atmosphere itself, that is. The ocean was behind them; sheer cliffs threatened to plunge Owen to his death if he took a single misstep. And, in fact, he had nearly done so quite a few times. He imagined using his Badge as an emergency warp-away would be an automatic failure for this test. Still, it wasn’t the fall that frightened him the most, or the constant wind. Even with his Fiery attributes, the combination of the altitude, the wind, and the cold made for a challenge that no wild Pokémon could pose.

Owen: "... No pressure at all right now."
:uhhh:


“S-so… c-cold…!” Owen’s teeth chattered, his hot blood becoming an uncomfortable lukewarm beneath his skin.

“Keep it up, Owen! The caves will be quite windy.”

“Y-you don’t s-say?”

Oh, I see that Chars in this setting don't just tank winter chill for days. Though it makes sense given that Owen is reptilian, and one would assume that low temperatures would catch up with him eventually.

Owen wasn’t sure what was more irritating: the fact that he, a Fire Type, was so weak that he was starting to feel cold in this extreme atmosphere, or the fact that Nevren was, as he always has been, calm and unflinching against the same weather. Waves crashed on the rocks far below. Owen decided long ago not to look down. If he fell, the descent would last at least ten seconds, at least. He didn’t want to find out what would kill him first—the cold of the water, or the force of the impact.

Oh, so that's not seen as normal for Fire-types in this setting. Or at least not for strong ones.

Nevren: "... As you were saying about being a late-evolver?"
Owen: "Th-This doesn't count, alright? It's just freakishly cold right now!" >///<

The black mountain’s rocks were worn down from constant erosion. There were very few loose ones; only the biggest, densest boulders could withstand the constant force. Owen felt like one of the small rocks. He had to lean his body forward just to advance, and a single misstep—he’d tumble backwards and off the mountain for sure. His flame, half its usual size, cried for shelter.

Owen’s bag was securely fastened around his neck, pushed so strongly by the wind that the strap left an imprint on the scales of his chest. If he stayed in this sort of wind any longer, it’d surely fuse into his body completely. He squinted through the gusts and followed Nevren into the cave. As promised, it was even windier than before. “Oh, come on!” Owen screamed over the wind.

You see, I knew that Owen was tempting fate like crazy in that first paragraph. I just wasn't expecting it to come back to bite him this quickly. ^^;

“We’re almost there!” Nevren said cheerfully.

The walk took a bit longer until, finally, Nevren made an odd turn into an alcove. There, when Owen entered, the wind became much weaker. It was just a room with a rocky wall, but the tunnel ended abruptly in a dead end.

“Wh—huh?” Owen built up the courage to open his eyes.

“This is an offshoot from the main path,” Nevren said. “The wind has nowhere to continue through. It will be weaker here. An ideal spot to meditate, don’t you think? Before we enter the Dungeon proper.”

Owen: "We didn't even enter the actual Dungeon yet?!"
:grohno~1:

Nevren: "Did I stutter?"

“Oh—yeah! Did I mention that I meditate to you? I must’ve forgotten.” Owen’s body relaxed, his flame finally having some reprieve from the bitter gusts. “It really helps me to clear my head. Sometimes I can even get to think up new fighting techniques, y’know?”

Nevren nodded. “I’ll give you an opportunity to do that before we have our true Dungeon exploration.

... Why do I get the feeling that Nevren meant that in the sense of 'clear my head' and not 'think up new fighting techniques'? Since that response felt very carefully worded there.

“Okay, sure!” Owen found a nice spot near the right side of the offshoot and sat down. There, he closed his eyes, trying his best to meditate. Now that the wind wasn’t constantly battering him, the general cold was much more tolerable, the natural heat of his body more than making up for it. Breathe in, breathe out. In a strange way, the chill was calming.

Owen: "(... Have I meditated here before or something? Since I sure wasn't expecting a place like this to be so calming...)"

“…Say, Nevren.”

“Hmm?” Nevren was settled on the opposite side of the offshoot.

“You’re a Psychic Type, right? So, does that mean you’re sorta more in tune with the mind?”

“Well, yes, though I would say the stereotype is a bit exaggerated.

Owen: "Wait, that's a stereotype? I thought that that was just a thing for Psychic-" ._.;
Nevren: "It's. A. Stereotype. Yes."

“That’s good, um,” Owen said, but then paused to consider how to phrase it, “because I think I’m crazy. I don’t want to—to make you worried or anything, but sometimes I just get this feeling that I’ve done something before. This stuff, right now? This feels new. But, like, talking to Rhys, and his students, feels like I’m having the same conversation all over again.”

Oh, well scratch that thought about Owen having been here once before. Probably. Maybe.

“Ah, how strange,” Nevren said. “But I do not think you are crazy. Perhaps you are just excited.”

“Excited,” Owen repeated. “And what about if…” Owen wondered if he should mention the pink mist. “Uh… never mind. I’m probably just sleep-deprived. I was so excited for today that I only slept for, maybe, a blink’s worth of time, y’know?”

“Ah. Well. What better way to freshen the mind than to meditate?”

Narrator: "He's not just excited."

“Yeah, okay.” The chilled Charmander closed his eyes and steadied his breath. Clear my mind. Just listen to the world, he thought to himself, and then attempted to think no longer.

The whistling of the wind was all that filled his head. He was well-versed in this sort of meditation, and he was able to slip into the state very easily, only vaguely aware of the world around him. Owen’s thoughts became deeply inward, envisioning himself standing in a void. His body no longer moved—only his inner body, like his aura, in his thoughts, in this void.

He went into a battle stance in this void, blasting plumes of fire in the dark. They became Flamethrowers shortly after. He stomped on the ground, leaving Fire Traps behind. Shadowy creatures, envisioned dummies, chased him to put the traps to use, but Owen defeated them easily. They evaporated in a black fog, much like the ominous shadows that James became.

Would recommend hacking that second paragraph up into two. But... that vision he's getting while meditating is something that actually happened to Owen in the past, isn't it?

Owen was surrounded. He blasted the dummies ahead of him with flames, clearing the way, and stomped on the ground for the dummies behind him. Then, he ran ahead. His form grew. It reddened and became taller; his flame became hotter. A horn emerged from the back of his head. The Charmeleon in the void spun around and scorched the dummies. He crouched forward, and his back expanded; the outer layer of his scales and skin split open, forming wings; the single horn split as well, becoming two on either side of the back of his head.

... Or it could just be a vision. Or not. Since I'm aware from the GL crossover that HoC's power scaling is such that it wouldn't be that surprising to see a Warp Evolution in it.

Yes! Oh, the feeling, this was what he wanted, what he always imagined. Charizard! To fly through the sky, scorching his foes below. More, higher, stronger—keep fighting! Don’t let the fire go out! It was a surreal mixture of elation and serenity. A fantasy that calmed his aura. Slowly, his Charizard aura touched upon the ground, and the flames died down. Calm, calm. Keep it all calm. Burn slowly. Crackle, crackle….

In the real world, Owen abruptly jumped to his right. “Ngh—what?” His body had moved on its own, as if he’d sensed something. He looked at where he once was; the rocks were severely warped into oblong shapes by a strange force. He stared ahead and saw Nevren, who was staring back with a blank, emotionless expression.

Owen: "(Oh well that's not creepy and concerning at all right now...) U-Uh? Nevren? W-What just happened back there?"
:ohnowen:


“A-Alakazam Nevr—”

Nevren’s eyes glowed bright, and Owen knew to dodge again. The rocks behind him twisted in the same way.

“What’re you doing?!”

This... isn't supposed to be part of the exam, I'm assuming.

The rocks kept twisting around him; he had to keep moving. Nevren held his arm forward; electricity crackled from his spoon. This time, it was too fast. A horrible pain rushed through Owen’s body; his legs refused to listen to any command. And then, he felt another pain—a twisting, indirect, dull, but incredible sensation of pressure across his entire body, like a giant hand twisting him into a spiral.

Owen screamed and shook. He could move again. He fell on his knees, coughing; everything hurt. Everything felt broken. He tried to take a breath, but something there wasn’t working, too.

Nevren stared at Owen. His eyes glowed.

Nevren... is the one responsible for Owen's mind-wipes, isn't he? Like the "shifty vibes" from him kinda went up to 11 this chapter, and this moment vibes very hard with "Owen's not going to remember large chunks of the last 48 hours after this".

He was going to kill him. Right here, Nevren was trying to kill him. That could be the only explanation. Owen’s mind switched immediately to survival, as if he was fighting a hostile outlaw, but there wasn’t much he could do. His body was already broken. He didn’t have time to reach into his bag for any assistance. Was this it? Why? Nevren, what was he doing?

I'm pretty sure that he's about to hard-reset you in about 30 seconds, since this feels an awful lot like the Prologue in vibe right now.

Confusion washed into fear—and then—just as quickly, it washed into something primal. A roar of madness echoed in Owen’s mind.

A burning flame in Owen’s chest seared his insides; his vision felt red. The pain vanished. His body moved. It broke more from it, but without pain to stop him, he kept moving.

And thus, a superpowered evil side emerged from deep within Owen's consciousness to puppeteer his body and go on a murderous rampage like in my giant robot anime games.

- Beat -

Nah, it's probably something different, but still. Let's see where this is going, since I get the feeling that this is distinctly not normal for denizens of Kilo Village.

Owen: "... Th-This is all perfectly normal for Charmander under duress, right?"
:ohnowen:


He dodged the Psychic attack and rushed at Nevren. He jumped—the little Charmander was now at Nevren’s height in the air, in for a full collision. He opened his mouth; his fangs were red-hot, and he was in a direct course for Nevren’s neck, but the Alakazam weaved to the right. Owen spun his head and blasted Nevren’s face with fire. Nevren grunted and Owen landed. He landed oddly on his foot, spraining it or worse, but it didn’t matter. He spun and flung himself toward Nevren again.

Nevren couldn’t dodge this one. Owen wrapped his arms around Nevren, getting as strong a hold as he could; in a split-second, his teeth sank into Nevren’s neck. Owen didn’t hold back. His jaw clenched as hard as it could, until his jaws met—

“Ng—uff—!” Owen opened his eyes with a jolt.

Owen: "W-Wait, did I get him? I-I totally got him, r-right?"

The Charmander was on the ground, legs crossed. He was on the right side of the room. Nevren was still sitting where he had been when he started meditating. The only sound was the wind whistling. The rocks in the alcove were normal and untwisted. His body felt just fine. Relaxed, even, like it usually did after a meditation session.

“Hm?” Nevren asked. “Is something the matter? You weren’t meditating for long.”

... Yeah, Nevren is totally the guy responsible for Owen's mind wipes. There is no way that everything up until this point was really all just a dream or some freaky astral projection thing.

“I… I…” Owen rubbed his head. “I think the altitude is getting to me, Nevren. I don’t think I can meditate here. I’m used to doing it underground, y’know?”

“Ah,” Nevren said. “I see. Well, there’s no use in trying further if the environment isn’t ideal. Why don’t we simply advance through the Dungeon normally?”

Owen stood up, dusting himself off. Just in case, he checked his body for any possible injuries, but there weren’t any. Perhaps he really was crazy.

Owen: "... I really need to invest in a camcorder one of these days. Assuming they exist in this setting." >_>;
- Owen trails off and shuffles out the cave uneasily -
Owen: "That couldn't possibly have all just been a trip while I was meditating... right?" ._.;

It was easy. The Dungeon was filled with small Rock Pokémon like Geodude and Shieldon, yes, but Owen wasn’t afraid of them. He could tell that they were weak. Unlike the Aerodactyl, which was hard to get close to, Owen could easily approach these slow-moving wilds and dispatch them with a single swipe of hardened claws. This Dungeon was in a rough area in terms of its environment, but the Pokémon themselves were less than formidable. For that, he was thankful—as the wind was still relentless. Nevren had a barrier up ahead of them to ward off most of the atmospheric onslaught.

Owen: "Metal Claw, gotta love it."
:charhaha:


The cave itself had the same general layout that Dungeons were known for. Corridors connected small rooms, this time made from the black rocks that had been carved by the cold winds. Within the cave, small pieces of sediment constantly chipped off of the walls, forcing Owen to walk with his eyes partially shut for fear of getting bits of mountain dust in them. Despite the barrier, Owen’s body shivered at every step. It was like walking on frost, yet the dry winds from the south didn’t allow for much ice to form.

Owen: "Dammit, I should've rented a set of goggles for this. It would've been fitting too! Protagonists always have goggles!" >_<;
Nevren: "That's in Digimon, Owen."
Owen: "Whatever!"

But other thoughts distracted Owen from most of the harsh elements of the cave. He dwelled on the strange dream he had. After his last experience with dreams, he was growing paranoid at what was real and what was a trick of the mind’s faults.

“N-Nevren?” Owen asked, nearing the final segment of the Dungeon. “When you meditate, do you get weird dreams?”

“Hm? No, not that I’m aware,” Nevren said. “Is that what happened? You seem quite shaken.”

Yeah, I can already tell that Nevren attempting to reduce Owen to red paste wasn't just a vision there.

“Yeah,” Owen said, deciding not to comment that his current shaking was due to the cold. “At first it was normal. I was just fighting in a big, black room, kinda. I mean, not a room, since there weren’t any walls, but that’s how it usually goes. But then, suddenly I felt like...

Owen hesitated, [ ]

“Like you were gonna attack me," he continued. "And you were! I mean, in my dream. And then… and then I think I went crazy. I started to see red, and I stopped feeling pain from all your super strong attacks, um, and then.

Another pause, [ ]

I don’t think I remember what happened after that.” “Hmm. That’s a very vivid dream.”

Narrator: It was not just a dream.

Though IMO, it might make sense to cut up Owen's dialogue into multiple paragraphs and interleave description / internal thoughts in between, especially if showing the reaction of Owen / Nevren can give hints at how one or the other is ticking right now without giving away too much of where the plot is going.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “I think I shouldn’t try to do that on high mountains. O-or cold ones.”

“Well, regardless of that,” Nevren said, “I’m quite confident in your abilities. I will be giving you a very positive review to James regarding your performance. I can almost guarantee your acceptance into the Thousand Hearts.”

:absus:


Why do I get the feeling that this is not the first time that Nevren has told Owen this?

“W-wait—really?!” Owen asked. A sneaky Geodude threw a rock at Owen, hitting him in the back. Between Nevren’s barrier and how weak the Pokémon here were, he didn’t feel the need to acknowledge it. Seeing this, the Geodude hastily crawled away.

“Of course!” Nevren said. “This is one of the designated testing Dungeons. If a recruit can pass it without assistance, and shows little signs of struggle, then it means you are ready to be part of the first tier of the Thousand Hearts."

[ ]

"You may think of yourself as unskilled—” he shook his head, “—but in reality, few non-wild Pokémon get this strong or adept at fighting to handle such a task without trouble. Most only train themselves until they can reach the final stage of their species’ evolutions.”

Another part where IMO it probably makes sense to cut up an existing paragraph of dialogue and drop something in between, since that is a lot of words Nevren's getting out without much of a break in between them.

It made sense to Owen. He didn’t know how long he had been training for this moment. He had taken on more moderately difficult Dungeons in preparation for the exams.

So, I’ve just been training for so long, that my normal is most others’ abnormal?” He carefully stepped over a small crevice; Nevren had barely noticed it, but Owen’s shorter stature made it a conscious effort to avoid falling in.

Another paragraph that IMO works better cut up. It might make sense to go a step further and also split Owen's dialogue off from the rest of the attached paragraph, but that's optional.

“Yes, precisely!” Nevren said, chuckling. “You’re quite abnormal indeed, Owen.”

“Aw, shucks!” Owen laughed. A volley of rocks grazed the top of his scaly scalp.

A gutsy Carbink threw a rock at Nevren from behind. A barrier blocked the attack, nullifying it completely.

Owen: "... How are you just not missing a beat during all of this anyways?" .-.
Nevren: "One, practice. Two, these ferals are kinda pathetically weak so this doesn't exactly faze me."

“These guys are persistent,” Owen said.

“They’re merely territorial,” Nevren said. “Well! Let’s finish this Dungeon. You can wait for the promotion announcements in the evening. Perhaps with your friends? Team Alloy? I quite like that name.”

“Totally.” But then, a thought occurred to him. “Abnormal…”

He's about to bring up the Swolax, isn't he?

“Hm? What was that, Owen?”

“Uh, Nevren? I think I overheard someone after the Ceremony talking about some kind of… mutant Pokémon being spotted. You said you’d take care of it. What was that?”

“Ahh, that was nothing to be concerned with. Pokémon tend to be a bit jumpy about the wild Pokémon in abnormal places, thinking they’re mutants. Sometimes they just happen to wander. I helped relocate the… creature to its proper place, and all was well.”

Translation: It was absolutely something you should be concerned with and Nevren needs to learn how to take lessons in telling more convincing lies.

“Oh! That’s kinda cool. So, are those missions usually reserved for Elites?”

Nevren: "(... Wait, he believed that?)"
:what:


“Actually, Rhys and I reserve those sightings for ourselves, as we’re specifically trained with ‘abnormal Pokémon relocation,’ so to speak.”

“Oh, wow! That’s so cool!” Owen said. Still, it was odd that there were strange Pokémon to begin with. Where did they come from?

“In any case,” Nevren said, pointing at the final distortion of light, “let us return home.”

Owen: "Wait, but you didn't answer my-!"

After completing the Dungeon and parting ways with Nevren, he spotted Gahi returning from his squad of potential recruits near the Heart headquarters. Owen ran over. “Gahi! How’d it go?”

“Went fine. Gonna go and give my report ter James first, and I’ll be right back, eh?”

“Sure.”

Owen: "U-Uhm, Gahi? Tell me, whenever you do your meditation thing, do you ever have visions of Pokémon that you know trying to brutally murder you?"
:fearfullaugh~1:

Gahi: "... Owen, have you been huffing Stardust or something? How on earth does anyone have something like that happen while meditating?"
:what:

Demetri: "Actually, Gahi. I think I might've had something like that-"
- Cue Gahi shushing Demetri with a nub-arm -
Gahi: "Look, point is that if that actually happened to you, that wasn't a normal experience, alright?"

Fast as always, Gahi didn’t take long to head back out.

“So,” Owen said, “how’d those recruits do? The ones you handled?”

“Feh, they ain’t ready.” He clicked his jaws. “Figure yeh passed, though?”

Owen: "I mean, Nevren said that I was almost guaranteed to pass! So..." ^^;
Gahi: "And did he mean it? Or was he just being nice to you and not telling you that you were on track to obviously fail?"
:what:

- Beat moment -
Owen: "Nevren... wouldn't do that to me, w-would he?"
:uhhh:


“Nevren said that he was gonna give me a review brighter than my tail, so I hope so!”

“Heh.” Gahi’s eyes glinted with amusement. “Well ain’t that something. Maybe we can form a team o’ four, go exploring. Three’s a good number that most recommend, but eh, four ain’t beyond us and what a Badge can handle, even if we gotta rescue a few folks along the way.”

See, now I'm expecting Nevren to just turn around and bomb Owen's exam since there is no way that guy is trustworthy.

Owen nodded. “Yeah. But I don’t think I’m gonna go to that Dungeon again. I tried to meditate there, and I think I got a low-air dream or something, because…” His attention was caught by a passing conversation.

“ . . . Strange, isn’t it?”

“Creepy, more like!”

“They should’ve investigated.”

“No way! That wasn’t part of the mission!”

It's the Swolax or some other mutant, isn't it?

Owen cleared his throat. “Um—what was creepy?”

“Y’didn’t hear?” Gahi asked.

“What?”

“One o’ the teams that went out headed ter Calm Water Lake.” Gahi jerked his massive head in the direction of the Waypoint rows. “Around the third section, there was an eerie glow from the walls. A recruit got lost on the path, took a wrong turn, I dunno.”

Owen:
:wtfuckle:

Gahi: "Well, yeah. That's why everyone's talking about it right now."

“A weird glow?” Owen asked, flame growing just slightly in height. “Was the group the one with Rhys?”

Gahi shook his head. “Nope. Rhys handled some other team. They’re gonna send someone in ter investigate. Pro’ly gonna see the mission go up soon.”

Gahi glanced at Owen. The Charmander didn’t even have an opportunity to ask: Gahi asked for him.

Wanna go?”

Would cut up the last paragraph of this sentence into at least 2 parts. I personally suggested 3. Though I'm honestly a little surprised that Rhys and the glowing orb of mysteriousness weren't responsible here, since that's also where my mind immediately went to on the mention of a strange glow.


Was it the same sort of glow? That orb? But Rhys didn’t go with them, so it couldn’t be from his weird, green orb. But there was a cold pit in his stomach when he thought about it. That must have been the thought of going to a watery Dungeon. Still, his curiosity trumped his Type, and he agreed.

“Sure. But we have to be back before sunset! Let’s get Demitri and Mispy.”

Wait, you mean there's more than one of them?!
:grohno~1:


Though a bit out of steam here, so I'll come back for Chapter 5 tomorrow and give my thoughts here:

Boy did that all escalate quickly. Like thus far the overall surface of normality has been holding in and around Kilo Village, but it's been breaking down in live-time this chapter and it makes me wonder just how long it'll take before weird stuff starts happening out in the open in full view of everyone. Not that there aren't likely ways of putting that genie back in the bottle to some extent, since I am convinced that Nevren is either personally nuking Owen's memories, or else he's involved with some group doing that. And if that's indeed what's happening and Nevren can do that with Owen... who else has he been doing that with? Especially with Team Alloy having had lines of dialogue that strongly imply that they similarly have "fuzzy memory" like Owen does. Definitely a strong note to head into Chapter 5 with on that front, since thus far HoC's chapters do a pretty good job at making you want to see what comes next, and this one wasn't an exception.

As for criticisms, I don't have too many to throw around. The biggest recurring criticism that I have is that there were some paragraphs that felt like they ought to have been multiple smaller paragraphs, especially with a few longer blocks of dialogue. There were also a couple points where I thought that some extra description would've helped for setting the mood in a few scenes, but altogether it wasn't enough to get in the way of my enjoyment of the Chapter.

Good show, @Namohysip . And I'll be looking forward to being able to come back to this story in short order.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Yo, jumping right back into this while the night is still relatively young. Let's pick up right where we left off with…

Chapter 5

Watery Dungeons simultaneously fascinated and unnerved Owen. Due to his nature, they would be perhaps the last sort of Dungeon that he’d want to explore. Not only would getting his tail doused be perhaps the most excruciating pain imaginable—aside from being impaled—the terrain also made his Fire Traps useless. Calm Water Lake was no exception.

We're... gonna see Owen get soaked to the point of at least a near-death experience on at least one occasion in this story, aren't we? Though I see he's still got lingering memories of the Prologue swirling around in his mind.

The lake—a clear, blue expanse surrounded by yellow-green grass—disappeared the moment they passed through the distortion. It was replaced by blue, rocky walls made from amalgamated sand, rough and perpetually damp to the touch. The ground was covered in a thin layer of water that went just past Owen’s tiny ankles. This was a challenge for Gahi, who was even lower to the ground. His massive, orange head was constantly tilted upward to prevent his lower jaw from dipping underwater.

Oh, so that's how this story handles the "(under)water dungeons" from canon. I wonder if there are any Pokémon in particular that would just be flatly hosed if they tried to go through a dungeon like this.

Calm Water Lake is kinda boring.” Owen had his hands behind his head, staring at the wispy clouds. Despite how much he didn’t like the Dungeon itself, it was still better than the cave before. “Hey, do we have any warps left?”

Five words spoken seconds from disaster.

“I do,” Demitri said. “Mispy used her Badge to get our group back, but mine still has a charge left for the day. Once we’re done exploring this Dungeon, we’ll head right back to Kilo.”

Oh, so TH badges can only be used a finite number of times in a day, huh? I suppose that means that you can't load up on like a dozen requests all at once like you can in PMDX?

Though that does make me curious as to what the nitty-gritty of these rules are, and if it might have made sense to hint at them earlier on in a moment like Owen's exam sequence since that feels like it'd have been a perfect opportunity to bring up some mechanical particulars about how dungeoneering works without having to have someone play exposition fairy that would be well-known by the cast as part and parcel of their world but not the readers.

“Yeah. I hope it goes by soon,” Owen said. “I’m sick of walking through water. Nothing’s happening.” He had been hoping to find mysterious, pink mist to lead the way. Nothing of the sort was around.

“I mean, it’s called Calm Water Lake,” Demitri said. “Isn’t that kinda what you’d expect? Even its title is boring.”

Owen: "That... sounds less boring and more like 'I really, really don't wanna be here', really."
:fearfullaugh~1:

Demitri: "It's boring for the rest of us, anyways."
:gardeshrug~1:


“All of the wild Pokémon are asleep. They won’t even bother with you unless you aggravate them first. Where’s the fun in that?” Owen blinked. That was an odd comment from himself. Was he getting antsy again? Did he skip his meditation this morning? The one in Eternal Whistler didn’t count. Not after that dream.

Gahi: "You find getting mobbed by snarling ferals fun?"
:what:

Owen: "... That came out wrong? But hey, I'm entitled to like having a bit of a challenge with my missions! Getting ones that I could do with my eyes closed all the time does get a bit boring after a while." ^^;

“I know what y’mean,” Gahi said. “I don’t wanna go ter this place either, ‘cause the wilds’re all weak.”

Oh, well then. Sounds like Gahi and Owen are more kindred spirits when it comes to dungeoneering than I expected.

“All this teaching hasn’t given me a good fight the whole day,” Demitri said.

Mispy sighed deeply. Her leaf bobbed and brushed against Demitri’s tusk.

“You guys like to battle a bunch, too, huh?” Owen said.

Such an attitude was incredibly rare among bystander and civilian Pokémon. There was no need to fight, usually. Some Pokémon went their entire lives not evolving simply because their auras never became efficient enough to trigger it. Most only trained enough to evolve and simply stopped after that.

Oh, so you can't just curry or harem life your way to evolution like in mainline, huh? Though I suppose such a mindset would be handy for characters that are going to need to go through 150+ chapters of shenanigans.

I'd also recommend splitting off Owen's dialogue from the rest of the attached paragraph, since it likely would help the rest stand out a bit more.

That was just another layer of kinship he felt with these three. Fellow battle-hearts!

Demitri: "I mean, there's also that weird sense that we've somehow met each other before." ^^;
Owen: "Yeah, but that's just a feeling. It's not like we really met each other sometime in the past... right?"

“I know what that’s like,” Owen continued. “If I don’t get a good fight in for the day, I can’t sleep at night. I’m all restless! And I need to fight something! My parents gave me a rock that I can beat up if I ever get like that. But if that isn’t enough, I need to meditate and stuff.”

I am pretty sure that that's not supposed to happen normally, but Owen is already fairly obviously not a normal Pokémon. I guess we'll see if the rest of Team Alloy is in his same boat or not shortly.

“Baah,” Gahi shook his head. “Don’t even say the word. I hate when Rhys makes us do that.”

“It calms the mind, though.” Demitri rubbed his tusks, finding a little nick to scrape dirt off. “And we know it makes our attacks more efficient, so it isn’t all bad!”


Gahi: "... How on earth does that work anyways?"
Demitri:
Image

Mispy: "Yeah, I don't think we're getting away with that in this story. Or at least not for the long run. But still, let's focus on bailing out those Hearts that got lost in here for now."

“Tune the aura,” Mispy said.

“Ha, it’s like we get the same lectures!” Owen said. “I wonder if my parents and Rhys went to the same classes.”

Narrator: "They did, and that's not the only things they went to together."

“Feh, wouldn’t doubt it.” Gahi fell into a dip in the watery ground, struggling and gurgling in the sudden increase in water. Mispy fished him out, placing him a few paces ahead. “Bah, stupid water… Say, how come we never saw yer parents, anyway? Figure they’d’ve supported you fer the Ceremony, at least.”

- Beat moment -
Owen: "... Now that you mention it, that is kinda weird. I haven't failed that many times in the past to the point where they just weren't expecting me to make it... have I?"
:ohnowen:


“I think they’re busy at home,” Owen said dismissively, though his tail dimmed. “My parents have been really hesitant about going out lately. I’m not really sure why. I hope they aren’t afraid of the light or something.”

"Or something".

An entire segment of the Dungeon passed in complete silence. It didn’t feel awkward to Owen. In fact, it was serene. For perhaps the first time all day, his heart was at ease, traveling with these three like old friends. Without realizing it, a dumb, subtle smile grew on Owen’s face.

Narrator: "That's because you are old friends and just don't realize it yet."

“Y’know, that thing y’mentioned,” Gahi suddenly said. “About us seeming familiar? I’m starting ter feel it, too.”

“Huh?” Owen asked.

Demitri tapped his claws against his scales. “Yeah, I’m with Gahi, for once.”

“Mm.” Mispy nodded.

Owen stared. “Yeah… it’s weird. But, I don’t know why, either. You guys?”

Owen: "... This isn't going to turn out where one of us is some sort of time traveller trying to save the others through repeated time loops, right?"
Gahi: "... What, have you been reading Druddigon Cube lately or something like that?"
:what:

Owen: "I mean, I have, but no it wasn't from that. It was from some other comic involving magical transformations or something along those lines... bah, the name's right on the tip of my tongue!"
Mispy: "Oi, can we stay focused on the mission right now?" >_>;

They all shook their head.

Owen shrugged. “I decided that I should just stop dwelling on it. Maybe we’ll figure it out later. Oh, right. Are we at…?” He pulled the mission statement from his bag, and then at his surroundings. They said section three.

I was joking about the 'let's stay focused on the mission right now' comment, even if it wasn't Mispy that did the honors.
:loltias:


“This way,” Mispy said, suddenly turning. She walked with purpose, but it didn’t appear to be in a particularly interesting direction.

“How come?” Owen asked, running after her.

Mispy can see auras, too, just like Rhys,” Gahi said. “That’s why she thinks ghosts are everywhere. I think her senses are just outta whack.”

Owen: "... Wait, since when do Chikorita do that again?"
:wtfuckle:

Demitri: "Since Mispy. It's not that unusual of an ability, right? Why, I'm pretty sure there's an Umbreon back in Kilo Village that does it on a regular basis!" ^^
Mispy: "(I'm pretty sure you need to stop poking your head in other stories, Demitri.) But look, the point is that I can see auras. So just let me do my thing here and stick close." -_-;

Mispy puffed her cheeks; a vine threatened to bludgeon Gahi, but she restrained herself.

“A Chikorita? How?” Owen asked. “Does she secretly have aura sensors, too?”

Owen knew that Gahi was particularly fast for his species, too. Demitri was an Axew, and they were historically strong… but those strikes he dealt to Aerodactyl were something else. Did Rhys recruit them because they were particularly talented?

Yeah, I kinda figured that Owen would find that weird. Though Team Alloy getting gathered together because of some sort of weirdness magnet X-Factor wouldn't be that surprising, honestly. Since they're rather transparently being set up to be the "protagonist team" of this story, even if I'm not sure if they'll stay that way given HoC's reputation for having a cast herd.

“I dunno. Maybe it’s in her leaf,” Demitri said. “It’s pretty cool. I don’t know how it works. But it’s helped us a lot when we have to chase down clever outlaws. And now, uh, Mispy? What d’you see?”

Owen: "And you've never thought of going to a library or something to see if this is some sort of documented phenomenon or something?" .-.
Gahi: "Owen, have you seen our schedules with Rhys? We're too busy for that sort of stuff! Why I'm not sure if us poring over books in a library would get anything to stick with us."
:UnimpressedCabot:

Demitri: "... Yeah, I've got the weirdest feeling that we've actually tried that before, but I don't remember anything we learned from it. Guess that whole meditation schedule must not be good for self-studies." ^^;

“Weird,” Mispy mumbled.

“She sees a weird aura,” Demitri translated. “I guess it’s a good lead for—oh. Uh, Mispy? I don’t think we need an aura sensor for the rest of this.”

There was a wall ahead, to their right, that looked like it was easy to break. A dim light shined from the inside, going through the tiny cracks that made this part of the wall more obvious.

Gahi:
Image

Owen: "Should we worried about this right now, or...?"
Demitri: "Dunno, really. What do you say, Mispy? Does it feel safe to proceed?"

Owen nodded, readying his claws. “Just give me a second to reset my aura for Metal Cl—

Actually, wait, what does that entail anyways? Is this basically the in-universe equivalent of reshuffling a moveset a la PLA/SV?

“I can do this,” Demitri said to the others.

The Axew backed up and steeled himself, tensing his muscles. He ran forward, slamming his head on the wall; it easily collapsed, falling around him.

“D-Demitri!” Owen said.

“I’m okay!” Demitri called back, climbing out of the rocks; he had a few scratches—as well as a bad wound on his head—but he was conscious.

Well this mission is going well™️ at the moment.

“Don’t do that!” Owen said; Mispy was already healing him with waves of light. “Next time, let me do it! Metal Claw would’ve done the same thing.”

“Feh, he’s an idiot.” Gahi wobbled ahead of them and over the rubble.

Missed an opportunity for Gahi to throw in a quip about Demitri being hard-headed there, since hey, it'd have worked on a couple levels at this moment. :V

They all looked inside. The walls of the cavern beyond the false wall glowed dimly; it reminded Owen of the mushrooms in Hotspot Cave. And, of course, the orb that Rhys possessed. He took the lead, and the rest followed. The passageway was only a few paces wide—and those were tiny paces, considering the size of their bodies. Every sound echoed endlessly.

Not more than twenty paces in, Gahi remarked, “This place is giving me the creeps. Think there’re Ghost Types wandering around?”

Owen: "... I'm sorry, if we're all obviously getting the creeps right now, why aren't we calling in backup and just waiting at the moment?"
Gahi: "Because if we do that, the backup team will get the rank points or whatever we call 'em and we get bupkis?"
Owen: "B-But Demitri literally just picked up a head wound 30 seconds ago!"
:ohnowen:

Demitri: "... I got better? Mispy is an effective healer. Besides, I'm sure whatever's out there is nothing we can't handle."
:joltyshrug~1:


Demitri shuddered. “H-hopefully n-not.” He looked at the walls uneasily. Mispy wrapped a vine around his torso, squeezing him just slightly. He loosened in response. “I don’t think so, but this weird glow is what I’m kinda worried about. It’s the same as the glow in Rhys’ place, y’know, that weird orb?”

Well, scratch that for Demitri being unfazed. Though I see you're already telegraphing that he and Mispy are going to get close™️ from that little bit of reassurance she gives him there.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “You mean that thing he brought with him to the ceremony, right?”

“Yeah, that one,” Demitri said. “Think it’s related?”

Owen: "On one level, I feel as if there should logically be a ton of things that carry weird glows in this world, but that orb did seem kinda important, so..."
:wellyousee:


“Maybe,” Owen said, “but a lot of things glow. There are these mushrooms in my home, um, I can’t say where, but at my home, they glow kinda like this. So, it could just be, like, moss, or a tiny fungus or mold that grows on the rocks.”

Owen wanted to believe it was actually related, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up. The past few days have been filled with confusing disappointments.

Wow, I actually wasn't that far off with Owen's train of thought, except he went the less genre-savvy route for a conclusion.

Go back… go back!

Turn away… leave!

Owen: "Oh well that's not ominous at all right now."
:uhhh:


All four explorers stopped walking. Demitri’s knees knocked against one another. Gahi churred a rapid, growling noise. The little buds on Mispy’s neck started to glow.

Mispy closed her eyes. “I see… something.”

Owen: "Um, Mispy? If you could give us a bit more detail to work with than that-"
:ohnowen:

Mispy: "I'm working on it, alright?!"

Owen noticed a pulsing light in the bottom corner of his eye. It came from his bag. “Uh, why is my Badge blinking?”

“What?” Demitri checked his; it, too, was blinking. “Oh, that’s… that means we just completed a Dungeon.”

“What?”

Owen: "... Wait, but then why are we being told to go back if we've completed a dungeon? Isn't all the weird stuff supposed to happen inside of it?" .-.

“We aren’t in a Dungeon anymore,” Demitri said. “This cave ahead of us isn’t part of Calm Water Lake’s Dungeon. Which means—” He glanced around uneasily. “—if we get hurt here, or worse, we won’t be warped out. They might just keep attacking us, or…!”

[ ]

Owen gulped. “M-maybe we should go back.”

I kinda wonder if it'd have made more sense to show the gears turning in Owen's head a bit more, since I'm actually not sure why this time around he's going full "nope nope nope" instead of "it's fine, we can do this™️" like he did post-encounter with the Swolax. His thought process and getting a sense of why things are different here might have helped ground this moment a bit better.

“What, and miss a real fight?” Gahi asked, stomping his tiny foot on the ground. “Let’s feel it out!”

Image


I feel as if I should be less surprised by Gahi being the most combative / eager for battle of the four given that he gives off a "tries to position himself as the team leader" vibe, but I'll file that one away for the future.

“I do want a fight,” Demitri mumbled, unconsciously sharpening his left tusk with his claws. “But this could be dangerous.”

“Mmn.” Mispy seemed unsure, but she advanced. The others followed her lead.

I'm surprised at how much is coming through between the lines from the way these three are reacting to a potentially dangerous situation and how they contrast with one another, even if I suspect that Mispy would out-aggro Gahi if she were in a bad mood at the moment.

Leave, leave!

Or become one of us!

Owen: "Oooookay, I think that's our cue to get out of here!"
:eltyscared:


Demitri let out a squeaking noise that defied his Dragon pride. Mispy had to prod him on the back to keep him walking.

“Okay, enough whispering!” Gahi said. “Just show yerself and get it over with!”

Wow, I really was onto something with that remark on another server that Demitri reminded me of Pladur. Next thing, you'll tell me he's an accomplished cook. :V

Surprisingly, they complied. Ahead of them, right where the glowing cave had a turn to the right, a creature rose from the ground. Houndour. But the colors were a bit odd—instead of the usual orange-red on black, it was ocean-blue on black.

“Heh, Houndour, eh?” Gahi said, wobbling forward. “Y’look weird, but I’ll take yeh on!”

Owen: "Um, Gahi? I'm pretty sure that Houndour's a mutant."
:uhhh:

Gahi: "Yeah? And? It's one Houndour against four of us. Mutant or not, we can handle one Houndour!"

Owen’s fire grew a bit. “Uh, Gahi, I dunno if—”

Gahi dashed in an orange blur, wiggling his head and jaws; mud formed in the back of his throat, ready to fling. The Houndour opened its mouth and fired a concentrated jet of—water directly at Gahi. Surprised by the blast, Gahi jumped out of the way, hitting the wall next to him. While successful in avoiding the water, he sustained a small blow to his side from the rocks.

Kr—beh! What’s that supposed ter be?! What kinda game’re you playing?!”

Demitri: "M-Maybe it's his Tera Type?"
:fearfullaugh~1:

Gahi: "One, that didn't exist at the time this chapter was written. Two, he doesn't have a giant crystal... thing sprouting out of his head, so it's not a Tera Type, alright?!" >_>;
Owen: "Gahi, it was blatantly obvious that we were dealing with a mutant!" >.<
Mispy: "... Wait, if this Houndour's Water-type, doesn't this mean that this guy should just keel over if I hit him with Solar Beam?" :?

Gahi threw some of his mud at the Houndour; Mispy, whose buds were glowing bright, fired an intense beam of light at the Houndour next.

“W-wait! Mispy!” Demitri said, but it was too late.

Oh, so Mispy already figured out the plot, huh? Though from Demitri's reaction, I'm not sure if that's going to work out terribly well.

The Houndour was completely incinerated; in its place was a small ember that floated in the air. It vaguely resembled Owen’s tail flame, only cyan like Rhys’ aura energy. It fled into the wall.

Owen + Gahi + Demitri:
:uhhh:

Mispy: "Whelp, problem solved."

“Mispy, that’s too much!” Demitri said. “You just obliterated some poor—”

“It’s a ghost,” Mispy said.

“What?”

Mispy: "Demitri, I have aura sensitivity, remember?" >_>;
Demitri: "... Right. But still, you could've told us this first!" ._.;

Whispers filled the air. It was impossible to tell where it was coming from, or how many were even whispering. Multiple. That’s all they knew. And, perhaps, from everywhere.

“Why is there a Water Houndoom here? How does that even work? A gh-ghost that’s a Water Houndoom?” Owen squeaked the last part, taking a worried step back. He bumped into Demitri, who was practically a statue.

Demitri: "Is... Is it too late to use our badges and bail from here? Since I really think it would be a good idea to use our badges and bail from here."
:fearfullaugh~1:

Mispy: "Demitri, get ahold of yourself already!"

Three blue-themed Pokémon—even if they weren’t supposed to be blue—rose from the ground. A Nincada, Morelull, and Venipede, rippling like a lake. They all advanced forward, Watery techniques ready.

Owen, realizing that there was too much risk involved, with perhaps tens or more others like them ready to close in, shouted to the others, “Let’s go back!”

Gahi: "Feh, that's what you're worried about? We can take 'em-"
:what:

Demitri: "No! No! I'm with Owen on this one here!" O.O;
Mispy: "Uh... it would probably be wise to not just stand here surrounded by a bunch of ghosts when I just used a move that has a recharge turn, Gahi..." ^^;

This time, they agreed. Demitri grabbed their Badge and held it in the air; thankfully, now that they were outside of the strange effects of a Dungeon, they could use it to warp back to Kilo Village without the Dungeon interfering. Still, it needed a few seconds to gather its charge. The ghosts fired another set of water jets at them—Owen countered with a plume of fire, hoping to soften the blasts. Mispy shot her vines forward and blocked the rest. That bought them just enough time. In a flash of light, they were gone.

Gahi: "I still say we could've taken 'em-"
Mispy: "Gahi, shut up." >_>;

They wanted to tell Rhys about what they found before reporting back, but they also realized upon returning that it was close to the evening. Clouds painted the orange sky with lumpy, purple blotches.

Oh, Mew, we almost didn’t make it!” Demitri said. “Look! That crowd!”

Note to self: Mew is probably particularly important in the local cosmology along with Arceus given that it's a reflexive figure in minced oaths.

“Wait, so do we report first, or—”

“No time!” Demitri took heavy steps forward, his speed betraying his mental fatigue. “C’mon, Owen! You go ahead to the front! You’re probably gonna get accepted!”

Owen: "... Wait, we're really just gonna go on like we didn't almost get murdered out of existence by watery ghosts?" ._.;
Gahi + Mispy + Demitri:
Image

Owen: "... Well. If you insist..."

The ceremony was a rush and then a wait. Owen took the long way around when the immediate path required traversing around a Muk, and instead settled for weaving between the legs of an antsy Rapidash mother waiting for her son’s results. He scrambled between Pokémon tall and small, apologizing to each one, until he spotted a Decidueye.

There you are,” James said, green-and-brown feathers puffed out. Under his glare, Owen shrank to nearly three quarters of his height. “I imagine you just became aware of the results. Stand there, please.”

Owen failed again, didn't he?

Owen stood at the front row, to the far right, with his eyes fixed on the ground. After gathering enough courage, he leaned forward and counted off the Pokémon to his left. There were fifteen others here, but more importantly, they were all candidates that were practically beaming. He really did make it in! After countless applications—Owen couldn’t even remember how many times he’d tried—he was here, standing in the front row!

... Can't tell if Owen actually passed, or if it's gonna turn out that he got his spot mixed up with some literal who and will promptly get his soul crushed in about 30 seconds.

“Ahem,” James began, “Goodra Anam is currently occupied with… processing the retiring Hearts. In his place, I would like to make official the advancement of these sixteen Provisionary Hearts into the fold of Entry-Level Hearts. To commemorate this, they will relinquish their Provisionary Badges, and in return be given their official Thousand Hearts Badge. I shall begin from the leftmost member.”

James walked away from Owen. His tail lowered at the realization that he was the last to arrive. Talk about a first impression.

Owen: "I swear, it's like the universe is trying to burn a hole in my stomach from suspense and stress right now." >_>;

Owen took the wait as an opportunity to size up the other fifteen members. Nervous shuffling, eyes filled with more ambition than their bodies could handle. They were all weak. He could feel it. What was he doing, taking so long to just enter, if he was already breezing past the easiest Dungeons? Owen refused to accept anything but the idea that it was a mistake—an oversight. “Hmph, well, I’ll show them…”
This... is building up to a rug pull moment, isn't it? Since this distinctly feels like the setup to a rug pull moment.

Each Pokémon gave up their Badge in exchange for an official one, all the way up to Owen. It was right there. The gravity of the ceremony hit him just then. He was going to do it! Become a Heart! And yet, before James could give him the Badge, before he’d truly become a member of this grand, worldwide organization—

“Waaaaaiiiiit!”

All eyes turned to the main building. Anam was running out as fast as he could. A trail of purplish, transparent slime littered the ground behind him. “Am I late?!”

Owen: "Oh thank Mew, I thought it was gonna turn out that I'd gotten my place mixed up with someone else for a second!"
:blazikensweat:


“Yes,” James replied. “I have already started the ceremony. There is only one left.”

“Who? I’ll—I’ll do that one!” He sniffled. “I’m sorry, Jam-Jam! I didn’t mean to, but I was just so sad! So many good Hearts!”

Owen: "Wait. Jam-Jam?" .-.
Demitri: "Yeah, and? Anam gives pet names to everyone he knows." ^^;
Owen: "But 'Jam-Jam' doesn't even sound like 'James'!" ._.;
James: "Trust me, if that was enough to stop Anam, it'd have spared me a lot of embarrassment."
:gardexhausted:


James sighed, shaking his head, while the audience gave James amused smiles. “Very well,” Jam-Jam said, holding out the final badge. “I can’t be angry at you, Anam. Please, give Owen his Badge.”

“Owen? Oh, right, Owen! Of course! I’m so happy Owen could get in this time!”

Wow, so Owen actually did get in after all. Part of me wasn't expecting that.

James’ glare was so intense that, for a second, Owen thought Anam’s slime bubbled.

Owen’s heart skipped a beat, and his flame flashed white for an instant. He was about to be given his Badge by Anam himself.

The others in line noticed, too. They all stared at Owen with mixtures of surprise, confusion, and envy. What’s this upstart doing here? That’s probably what they were thinking. Or maybe they were irritated that being late was suddenly being rewarded.

There's... something else going on with Owen in full view of everyone present, isn't there?

Goodra sniffled and wiped his eyes. “Owen—I mean, Charmander Owen, I give you this Badge in commemoration of your advancement into the Thousand Hearts.”

He handed Owen the lightweight, golden emblem. It was covered in slime; Owen politely took it and, when Anam turned away, wiped it with the cloth of his bag. He then admired the clean, heart-shaped insignia on the front, using his tail to better see the shining details.

Owen: "... Anam won't take offense to me doing that, right?" ^^;
Mispy: "Nah, he's used to it."
:gardeshrug~1:


“And now, of course, we must accept you into the Thousand Hearts more formally. I’m sure you all remember the motto?”

Owen’s tail grew to twice its size. “Yes!” he said, just a bit too eagerly. A few of the newcomers gave him an amused smile, but they nodded, too. Suddenly, the atmosphere felt charged.

Okay, now I'm curious as to what this motto is like myself.

“Then by my lead.” James looked ahead; with him, the Entry Hearts—and even the many behind him—recited the Thousand Hearts’ mantra. At first, it was a gentle chant, but the final lines transitioned into a rallying cry.

“A thousand hands
A single heart
Working and beating as one.

Unite the lands
From worlds apart
Until our battles are done.

We serve Kilo and all its parts
Under one name: The Thousand Hearts!”

... Why does this motto sound like it'd be scarily appropriate for Rainbow Rocket given a couple names being changed around right now? Like it's one of those cutesy mottos that feels like it would very easily wrap around to take on decidedly less cutesy undertones depending on the context it was used in.

Though Kilo and its other parts are officially pieces of other worlds duct-taped together. Or at least they are if that motto can be taken at face value, filing that one away as a note to self.

Stomps, roars, and cheers deafened Owen, but he didn’t care—his flame was three times its normal size and his chest felt just as swollen with pride. He screamed with them, straining his throat, blasting little embers into the air. Losing all sense of self, Owen hopped from foot to foot, pumping his tiny fist in the air.

Owen: "I should probably be a bit more worried about accidentally burning someone, but screw it, I finally made it!" ^^

After some time, the crowd calmed down, and James raised his wing to signal for them all to fall into silence. There was a little, happy gleam in his eye, but that was all he showed. “This concludes the ceremony of advancement. You are all dismissed.”

Owen spun around to avoid any of the onlookers. His heart was still racing, but on his way down, even with the immovable grin on his face, the pressing issue of what they found in the lake returned to the forefront of his mind. After backtracking through the evening crowd, he spotted the silhouette of Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi in the twilight.

Gahi: "You were really going to town up there. Feeling good?"
Owen: "Just a bit, yeah." ^^;

Demitri had a similar smile. “Okay, I can’t deny that yelling that last part is something I never get tired of.”

This line isn't going to age well like 90 chapters in, is it?

“I know, right?!” Owen said, beaming. “Oh! But—where’s Rhys? We should talk to him about what we found first, right? And then we can report it later. Then, I’m gonna go back to my parents’ place and tell them about what happened.” He glanced at the Waypoint lines and saw a Torkoal enter Calm Water Lake. “Uh—"

Owen: "... Right, that was why I wanted to tell someone about what was going on in that place first!"
:ohnowen:


“There.” Mispy pointed her leaf forward. Rhys was walking toward them from the main building.

“Where have you been?” Rhys asked. His voice sounded suspiciously strained. He cleared his throat in an attempt to get it to sound normal again, but it was no help. “The entire ceremony was almost delayed to find Owen.”

Owen: "U-Um... shouldn't we do something about the Torkoal-?"
:fearfullaugh~1:

Gahi: "(Not now, Owen!)"

“We were doing a quick mission,” Gahi said. “How ‘bout we talk about it over dinner? I’m starved. Owen’s coming with!”

Owen’s stomach growled loudly at the mention of food, his mind suddenly filled with the thoughts of a fine, hearty stew.

Owen: "(... Wait, we're really just letting that rando Torkoal go out into the Mystery Dungeon infested with water-mutant ghosts?)" ._.;
Gahi + Mispy + Demitri:
Image

Mispy: "He didn't exactly look like a pushover, Owen. I'm sure he'll be fine."

Dinner was a savory rice dish. While the food was wonderful, mealtime itself felt tense. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi seemed antsy from not getting a good fight in—and, after getting one, being forced to flee.

I presume that the three didn't see the same Torkoal enter the MD that Owen did, since that turtle's just completely absent from their thought process right now.

Rhys—his voice recovered—finally broke the silence. “Well, now that you’re here, why don’t you speak about that mission of yours? Did it not go well?”

“No,” Gahi mumbled. “Hated it. Nearly got killed.”

[ ]

“K-killed?”

Probably would've worked better to show Rhys having a moment of
:tessohno:
there to sell the sense that his mood's abruptly swinging over to worry about what on earth went down at CWL.

Demitri nodded, poking at a stray grain of rice. “We were attacked when we were investigating a weird glowing at Calm Water Lake. But that glowing led us outside the Dungeon early, somehow, which is where we got attacked. By a weird… water-typed Houndour, or something.”

Rhys scanned the four of them, as if expecting them to say it was a joke. When none came, he said, “I see.”

Owen: "... Wait, you mean there were supposed to be water-ghost things out there?!"
:grohno~1:


Silence accompanied the five while they ate.

“That’s it?” Gahi asked. “Y’usually have something ter say ‘bout us being reckless, or maybe some theory on why it’s like that.”

“H-hm? I do? Well. I don’t this time. I’ll speak to Goodra Anam about it tomorrow. Yes, I’ll do that…”

Owen: "... Rhys, should we be concerned right now? Since you're really giving me the sense that we should be concerned right now." ._.;
Rhys: "Look, just... focus on eating and calming down right now. You four have had a long day."

Owen looked at the others expectantly. He wanted to ask about the Orb again, but after that encounter in the lake, he was too jittery to do it alone. He’d stumble over his words. And what was he going to do? Sneak into Rhys’ room and steal it? That’d just make him an outlaw! There was no point. He could ask politely, when there was less tension. He didn’t see that pink cloud this time, anyway.

I mean, you could try hiring Jerry to do it assuming that he didn't instantly try to Rock Slide you into next week over getting him stuck as a Broken Heart.
:gardeshrug~1:


“Um. Well, if that’s all, when I finish dinner, I think I’ll just head home,” he said. “Thanks, by the way! I-it’s really good.”

“No,” Rhys said. “Just for tonight, I want you to stay here. I will explain to your parents about it later.”

Owen: "... Are you going to explain why I need to do this, or...?" ._.;
Rhys:
Image


The Charmander reflexively nodded, but then the words actually registered. Owen felt even more trapped than when they were in that glowing cave.

Y-you? But I can’t, um, they don’t know.” Owen looked like he was going to stand up. “They’ll freak out if I don’t get home by nighttime, and it’s almost that already! So, um, I just… I can’t just stay here without telling them.”

“They will understand.”

- Owen blinks -
Owen: "Wait, are you able to talk with mom psychically or something? Since how on earth would you even begin to explain-?" .-.
Rhys: "Owen, they will understand. Just trust me on this one."

“Rhys, yer being weird,” Gahi said. “What’s going on?”

“It’s too dangerous to go out,” Rhys said flatly. “The path to your home, Owen, is dangerous tonight. It will be safer tomorrow. Not tonight.”

Owen: "Rhys, if you're trying to calm me down right now, this is more or less the textbook example of how not to do it."
:wtfuckle:


“B-but—” Owen stopped himself, but he couldn’t ignore that serious aura Rhys was giving off. Would him leaving, now, be that dangerous? Or was it bad for some other reason? He didn’t sense any malice from Rhys, but to suddenly make such a request…

“This is final,” Rhys said. “I’m sure they will just think you need to do overnight training and orientation.”

Owen: "And what makes you so sure about this again?"
:judgemander~1:

Rhys: "... Past experience. Just, please listen to me about this, Owen. It's for your own good."

Owen looked at Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, but they were equally confused. Rhys wasn’t explaining anything. But, in the back of his mind, Owen trusted what he was saying. He didn’t know why he trusted Rhys, but his gut feelings hadn’t been wrong before, not when he felt so sure of himself. If Rhys said it was dangerous, then it was.

Rhys, um. I’ll stay here. But can you explain why it’s so dangerous?”

They have been disastrously wrong before in the past and Owen just can't remember them, haven't they? Since that really feels like one of those statements that isn't going to age well at some point in the future.

Rhys looked at his rice and ate. The others ate, too, in a silence so thick that Owen felt he was eating some of it with each bite.

“We are all going to need to be careful for a time,” Rhys said. “There may be Pokémon in search of objects like the one in my room. Anything that gives off that glow may be a target, and I don’t want to risk anything right now.”

Anything? Owen thought about Hot Spot Cave.

Owen: "U-Um... Rh-Rhys? When you say 'anything that gives off that glow', does that mean-"
Rhys: "Anything, Owen. Which is why you're staying here tonight."

Demitri swallowed his most recent bite quickly. “S-so, Calm Water Lake might have another of those orb things?”

“Possibly. But we can’t do anything about it today.” Rhys motioned to the black sky outside the cave, a chilling wind knocking a few ripened Oran Berries from the treetops. “We can explore this further tomorrow, after I see Goodra Anam. He may be able to help.”

The plot isn't going to let them get away with waiting until tomorrow, is it?

Owen sighed, figuring that was the most they were going to get. “Okay,” he conceded.

“You will stay in Gahi’s room,” Rhys said. “Demitri and Mispy share a room. We have an extra bed in storage.”

“Oh! That’s convenient.”

“Yeah, I kinda always wondered why we had that,” Gahi said. “Ain’t like we get guests.”

Owen: "(Okay, seriously, have we met before in the past? Since how on earth does Rhys just conveniently have a fourth bed in your room lying around?!)"
Demitri: "(I... kinda get that vibe myself, but how come Rhys hasn't said anything like that on his end? Could it have been some sort of dream thing? The Dream World has been a thing for over a decade in this franchise...)"
- Owen shakes his head -
Owen: "(No, we've met before in the past somehow, I just know it. I just... don't understand how to prove it, or why none of us can remember anything about it.)

Owen finished his meal; despite the tension, he was satisfied with even the leftover grains of rice and veggies.

Aah, that was good.” He rubbed at an imperfection in his scales. “I, er, I guess I’ll get familiar with—oh! I don’t think I can sleep in your bed, though.” Owen tittered. “See, my tail-flame kinda burns most beds. I know Charmander fire isn’t usually that hot when we’re calm, but I get really worked up when I sleep, or something, so…”

It's going to be a bed specifically suited for Owen, isn't it?

“There’s no need to worry,” Rhys said. “They’re made from Rawst leaves, so they are flame-resistant.”

Owen:
:wtfuckle:

Rhys: "... Is there something wrong with a Rawst leaf bed? I wouldn't have expected you of all Pokémon to complain about it."
:lucariwhat:

Owen: "(That's literally the same thing my bed's made out of at home! How on earth does Rhys just have-?!) Er... no, that's perfect, really. I was just a little surprised at how perfect it was."

“Oh! Oh, wow!” Owen nodded. “That’s kinda… really convenient, but I guess I’ll take it!” He fiddled with his claws. At this point, he was sick of inquiring.

Owen: "(Okay, you know what, screw it, I'm just gonna flop over and tell myself that I'm not going crazy right now and that Rhys doesn't secretly know me from way back and is keeping me in the dark about it for... reasons.)" ._.;
Rhys: "That would be wise, yes. Though do be mindful that you're speaking around two aura-sensitives and a 'mon with hearing well outside your own range at the moment."

[ ] Rhys set up the spare bed; Gahi led the way down the hall, past the first pair of rooms, and into the left of the second set.

“Here’s m’place,” Gahi said.

I kinda feel that this paragraph should be expanded a bit, since there's no mention of Rhys leaving the kitchen at all at the moment when it'd require only a very brief sentence to pull off.

It didn’t look different from the others; a simple, rocky room with two beds in the middle. One seemed quite sandy, ideal for Gahi’s species, like a pit in the ground. The new bed was a soft set of Rawst leaves; Owen gently ran his hand across the pile. They were just like the ones at home. This wouldn’t be bad at all!

Owen: "... I think it even has the same arrangement as the ones at home, actually." ._.
Rhys: "Is there something wrong with the bed, Owen? I can change things around if you'd like."
Owen: "No, no. It's fine really. (Seriously, Rhys. Who are you? And why does it feel like you know me like the back of your paw when I can't even remember seeing you outside of passing glimpses before three days ago?)"

He happily hopped on his bed and looked at Gahi. “I hope my tail doesn’t bother you at night.”

“Nah, I don’t think I’ll notice.” He shook his entire body, vibrating into the sandy pit, and he was gone.

“Oh.” He wasn’t sure what he had expected.

Every so often, Owen heard the muffled clicks of Gahi’s massive jaws. He sighed, closing his eyes. Something about that sound relaxed him, but it also kept him up for a while longer than he was used to. Every so often, Gahi’s sleep-churring startled him awake.

Owen: "... Even if I just don't question things, I'm not going to be able to sleep a wink tonight, am I?"
:ohnowen:


Owen was half asleep, somewhere between dream and reality. Something ethereal reached out.

Owen. Owen? Owen! Hello?!

Owen: "... This is a dream right now, right?" .-.

That’s a pretty voice…

Owen! Wake up!

Five more blinks…

Ugh, stupid, flaming scale-bag—wake up! HURRY!

Owen: "Okay, never mind! Waking up now!" O_O;

Owen thought he was dreaming, but it felt too real, and too normal. Too groggy. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, squinting outside their room. Something was glowing. That same, strange glow. But it wasn’t like that last time. The old glow was softer and constant. This one was wider; it and spilled almost into Gahi’s room.

Owen blinked again; the light was getting brighter. Owen hid his tail under the leaves to make sure it wasn’t him. Without the flame, it was clear as day—that light was moving. Was it the cloud again?

Owen: "... Wait, is everyone else awake and seeing the same thing that I am, or...?"

So, this is my night, huh? Owen thought.

The blur from his eyes completely gone, he spotted something in the corner of his eye. He immediately turned, his heart skipping a beat. The mist. It was right there, like a trick of the eye—just barely visible. Owen thought it was just a splotch on his pupil. It didn’t say anything, but it was very anxiously moving toward the hall, then back to Owen, and then back to the hall again.

Owen: "Um... Demitri? Mispy? Gahi? You are awake and seeing this right now, right? You're the ones whose voices I was hearing 10 seconds ago, right?" o_o;

Why me? Owen thought. He slowly got out of bed and wrapped some leaves around his flame. Still holding his tail, he stepped outside. The source of the light was a Pokémon floating in the air. A small one—an Espurr. Floating. High in the air.

Owen: "Ooookay then, I'm just going to assume that everyone else is asleep then. Probably not a good sign right now." .-.

She didn’t notice Owen; she was facing into Rhys’ room, moving inside.

Trespasser!

“Um—hey!” Against common sense, Owen shouted. “S-stop!”

Cue things going seriously sideways in 3... 2...

His legs moved on their own until he was at the entrance to Rhys’ home. There, he saw the Espurr going toward the orb—she was about to touch it.

Y-you aren’t supposed to—!”

He saw that Rhys was still asleep. The pink mist followed. It pushed futilely against the Espurr, defending the orb to no effect.

I get the feeling that this is not going to end well for that Espurr. Though would recommend cutting this one paragraph up a bit.

Then, the Espurr and Charmander locked eyes. He couldn’t get a read for her expression, but she didn’t maintain eye contact for long. He only knew that her eyes shined more than anything else. The atmosphere around him changed—he recognized this feeling. It was an incoming Psychic attack, just like Nevren. He jumped out of the way just in time to evade the twisting energy that chopped the wind behind where he had been. The power behind it was incredible—yet Owen had a sinking feeling she could do a lot more.

Owen: "Oh sweet mother of Mew... Rhys, how are you just sleeping through this right now?!" O.O;

The Espurr readied another strike, but a ball of bright, blue energy hit her on the side instead. She yelped and fumbled in the air. Rhys was awake, sitting up in his bed of leaves; he stared directly at the Espurr, who squeaked even louder at the glare. And then, she vanished in thin air—as if she wasn’t there to begin with.

“Wh-what… what?” Owen breathed.

Teleport, son. Part and parcel of Psychic-types.

Rhys stood up. The silence that followed—with Rhys staring at the pink mist, and then at Owen, and then at the orb—was long enough for Owen to absorb what had just happened. Some Espurr with the same sort of glow as the orb tried to steal it, or something.

“You should get to sleep, Owen.”

“Wait, but what—”

Owen: "Rhys, there was literally a random Pokémon sneaking around your house! She was in your room five seconds ago and you saw her!"
:grohno~1:


“Sleep.” Rhys held his right paw in Owen’s direction. It glowed an eerie white. Rhys fired, and Owen felt a hot buzz course through him. His vision concentrated into a tunnel and then faded to black. Owen’s consciousness quickly followed.

Well that's not creepy and concerning at all coming from a guy who's deliberately been hiding knowledge of past encounters with Owen from Owen and his pupils.

So. You’re asleep again.

Hello, pretty voice…

Owen. Listen. This is super, ultra-important. The orb. Touch. ASAP.

Owen: "That's... gonna be kinda hard since I'm pretty sure that Rhys just used Hypnosis on me... somehow. And I'm sorry, but who are you, again?" .-.

But, Rhys said…

And sometimes, Rhys is an idiot. We’re running out of options and time. Just touch it, okay?

Owen: "You realize that you didn't answer the question about who you were, right-?"
Disembodied Voice: "Look, just touch the orb, dammit! We really don't have time for this!"

I’m so tired…

S-stay with me, Owen. There are lots of bad ‘mon out there trying to get those things, and the more we ha—


The rest was lost.

So there really are multiples of those mysterious glowy orbs floating around. Though it looks like there will be no orb-fondling this chapter. Something to look forward to in the future.

And this seems like as good a place as any to recap things:

I mean, it's kinda being held together by duct tape and some willful suspension of disbelief on Owen's part, but I'm honestly surprised that the masquerade of "normal life" is (just barely) holding up still in this story at the moment. Even if I kinda get the feeling that next chapter is the one where things finally become untenable. We got a number of hints as to things that might lie on the other side of the curtain, since we've got mutant ghosts prowling around, multiple orbs of power and/or doom, and mysterious powers of obviously Bad News™️ that are after them. Oh and Rhys very obviously knowing about Owen through prior memory cycles like his parents but having reasons for trying to keep him in the dark about it which I can tell is going to have quite the story behind it.

The critiques I have for this chapter are basically the same as the ones that I had for Chapter 4. Some paragraphs felt like they needed to be cut into smaller ones, and some parts of the story were a bit light on description. The sequences between Owen talking with that voice™️ in his sleep might have benefitted a bit with a bit more extra clarity as to which lines were Owen's and which were the voice's, but it wasn't that hard to figure out after looking a bit closer. And in the end, I think the chapter was strong enough to not really have those flaws detract from the experience.

Nice work with the chapter, @Namohysip . Dunno if you're planning on giving your earlier chapters a once-over at some point, but even if you don't, I've been having fun with them so far. And I can already tell the next time I cross paths with this story is going to be a trip.
 
Chapter 144 - Triple Luck New

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. custom/zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
Yep, I plan on going over some of these earlier chapters a bit more thoroughly one day, maybe some time soon come 2023, but otherwise, it's been nice to see you enjoy these chapters! Hopefully you'll enjoy what's to come soon.

--

Chapter 144 – Triple Luck

There was no way Star had given Qitlan the Reset Key. The very aura that would send Owen back to an amnesiac Charmander. The key that would make him forget everything, erase his current self, and start anew all over again. Under Alexander. A shadowy soldier. The perfect killer.

But there Qitlan stood, the Key in an orb, and the most confident smile on his face. It wasn’t a bluff.

“Now, I understand how much you value being yourself,” Qitlan said, taking a step forward.

Owen took one back, sensing guards at the other end of the hall. But with Qitlan there, they didn’t advance just yet.

“Surrender,” Qitlan said, “and we won’t have to use this. It would be inconvenient, I admit, to have you down to Charmander, building you up. It’s simply better if you were yourself, as you are now, all your strength, under Alexander. You’ll be with Mhynt, too. I’m sure she would be happy to… share her time with you. A happy soldier is a loyal soldier.”

“You led me down here on purpose,” Owen said. “But you didn’t do it to my other half yet, did you?”

“Not just yet. You were… the larger threat.” Qitlan nodded. “So, come quietly, will you? I can just make another for your other half, if you’re warning him right now.”

Owen hid a wince, but his heart was hammering in his chest. Key. The Key. He was going to be Reset. He was going to…

His heart rate was slowing down. The flame on his tail dimmed to something a little calmer. Mesprit had his hand on his shoulder. While the red sprite was trembling, he seemed to be trying to dull Owen’s emotions. Uxie had her hand on his other shoulder.

“Stay calm,” she said. “Think this through…”

Calm. But this was bad. The Reset Key would undo all of his progress. He could try to flee, but then he would make more from Star, and then what? That wasn’t a good option, as far as Owen was concerned.

If he did lose himself… he would just become helpless again. But his other self wouldn’t. But would he want to sacrifice his wings just to give the other Owen the chance to flee? Would he then fight… himself? How quickly would he be strengthened? How damaging would that be to himself?

He’d already witnessed one ‘recombination’ nearly completely erase someone. Rhys wasn’t even there anymore, not the same at all.

Qitlan approached and the Reset Key was a little brighter. That confidence in his strut told Owen that he knew he’d won. But it still didn’t make any sense. Why was he so confident, why wasn’t the other Owen under his control?

He had to take a chance. Reset and lose everything, and put his faith into the other Owen, or flee and leave Star behind. Star, who had caved and provided that Key, despite telling her to hang on a little longer. Did she think granting this would have been better? Or was she trying to stop her torment? Star was selfish enough to do that, but why now? Why had she held out for so long, only to give him a trump card at the very end?

It wasn’t adding up.

But Qitlan’s confidence. Why? He knew it was real. It…

Owen glanced at Uxie. He thought about all those times he had been genuinely happy, despite living a lie. Despite his memories being modified. To someone with Perceive like him, he would have looked genuinely normal, all those false lives.

What if…

Could that be the answer?

How many seconds had passed? Everything felt slow, and his emotions were starting to run high again, pushing past Mesprit’s suppression. He looked strained. Uxie looked like she was trying to get a good shot, but would Qitlan resist it? He was much stronger than any of the guards; there was no telling. He couldn’t gamble with that.

Qitlan took one more step forward and raised the orb skyward. The guards seemed ready to attack. This was it. It all boiled down to one decision.

Could he trust Star to hang on just a little more? To not give in and produce the Reset Key? Was this a perfect bluff?

And could he trust the other Owen to pick up where he’d left off if this all failed?

To both… He had his answer.

Owen grabbed a sphere of his own, this one of platinum glass. He crushed it and grabbed Mesprit and Uxie by the waist.

At the same time, Qitlan crushed the orb and let a shockwave of strange energy overtake the hall. Owen jumped to the side, plunging himself into the wall like it was just another doorway.

The aura still hit him, though, and for a horrifying, sinking moment, he wondered if he would be stuck in the wall, reset, dormant, confused, and he’d just doomed Mesprit and Uxie to the same fate.

Everything went dark; Owen couldn’t see. But his Perceive gave him all the answers he needed as he held his breath—he couldn’t breathe anymore, either—and kept Uxie and Mesprit against his chest.

Another second passed. And then another. Nothing was happening.

He could also tell if they were strained or not. The blessing would last about as long as Rayquaza’s, so he only had a minute or so.

“Owen, we can’t breathe. Hurry!” Uxie urged. “Take us somewhere!”

The shockwave didn’t feel at all like a Reset Key. Was it fake after all? Did Star trick him? But he was too keen for that…

Didn’t matter. Now he could rescue the others. Owen ascended to the higher floors, hoping Qitlan would scatter with the others to clear the way to Star.

<><><>​

South Null Village was under siege by a two-person army. One was Aster, who blipped wherever he pleased, taking down defending guards in one hit each time before disappearing to the next part of the street. His mobility disrupted any attempts at the guards from keeping a tight formation.

That made Leph’s job a lot easier. Compared to Aster, who was just there to cause a ruckus, Alexander had given Leph very specific instructions: Get to the Tree and extract the spirits inside.

From high above, Leph wasn’t sure how to interpret it all. The aerial guards were being knocked to the ground at once. Some of them seemed to be more powerful than the rest by huge margins. In particular, a Milotic partnered with a Zoroark kept Aster from going anywhere near the Tree. The Zoroark’s mane crackled with electricity, while the Milotic swam through the ground like it was water.

A Marshadow and a Lucario battled with their backs facing each other, giving Aster no way to break their coverage. They fought in sync so well that even Leph couldn’t see an easy opening. Strange. Something about that Lucario was familiar to her…

That wasn’t important. Her next Judgement was fully charged. From her back, filaments of light exploded out, curved through the air, and rained upon the streets. The explosions drowned out the screams, but Leph had a feeling she hadn’t hit anyone badly.

A part of her wondered if the small casualties would set off Alexander. Maybe she should kill a few just so he wouldn’t bother her…

No. Her main goal was the Tree of Life. That meant if she did just that, it would show her focus and loyal discipline.

Below, Aster was being pushed away by an onslaught of attacks that had caught him off guard. That Milotic was troublesome… Why was she so determined? She considered taking her out so Aster could have more even footing.

Leph directed a few of the filaments of light toward Milotic. They weren’t even paying attention to the blast.

The first filament lanced her through the chest harmlessly. Her whole body distorted and faded away…

Zoroark. Of course.

Perhaps that was also why Aster was having so much trouble. Fine. She just had to be fast. With a cold, calculated movement, she disappeared and reappeared next to the tree; a reaction of countless guards bombarded her with weak, quick strikes. She tapped her foot and rocked the ground in an Earthquake, and then blasted more light in a cone over her back. Leph winced slightly. She’d killed a few of the weaker ones. She could feel their lives disappear, reclaimed by the Voidlands.

“OWEN!” cried a deep, feminine voice. The Milotic, and perhaps this time real. Leph was about to conjure another Judgement, but Aster appeared between them.

“I’ve got them, Leph!”

“Right.” No time to think. She just had to follow orders. Follow orders, and she’d live another day as herself. She shoved a hoof into the bark of the tree—

And everything went white.

She stumbled back, the tree’s bark disappearing. The blinding sunlight disoriented her. Her rear touched another tree and she leapt back, but it was perfectly normal. Just a healthy oak tree.

Healthy… oak tree.

Leph stopped to admire it. It called to her in some deep, wistful way.

The sunlight felt so real. The warmth from the blue sky. They had flashes of that under South Null, but she had to destroy it. That was her assignment. Where did—

She felt a presence behind her. She whirled around and fired a single beam of light.

Clang!

An ethereal ring shook the ground. The light bounced off of a golden barrier and careened into another tree, which toppled over. Behind the shield was a huge, towering Charizard. Taller than she was. Up close, she’d have to crane her neck.

“Y… you…”

The Charizard smiled, nodding. “It’s just me, Leph.” His voice was just like she remembered. Deep, powerful, scary… but it was a scary voice that would ward off others. A voice she had trusted, once, before it had all gone wrong. And… this manipulator knew that, so he assumed this form.

“Don’t try to—”

“I can’t do anything here.” He bowed his head. “This is all just a vision, Leph. A second in the Voidlands… it’s probably minutes in here. You have time to take me away.”

“You…” Leph hesitated. It was the same voice, but… “You aren’t acting like… him. Who are you?!”

“The memories of… Wishkeeper are with another Owen,” he said. “But I know bits and pieces. And I know who you are; the other Owen told me.”

“Did he tell you that you led an army to kill Necrozma?”

“He did.” Owen nodded. “But I would have avoided it, if he agreed to spare Kilo. You know that.”

“You… you were the one who caused all this,” Leph said. “The whole reason I’m in the Voidlands… It’s because—”

“—Alexander took my place, and succumbed to Dark Matter’s power. And then, when it consumed him, he became… too powerful, even for Dark Matter to fight against. I’m not going to deflect blame entirely, but… don’t forget, things only became worse when I was taken out.”

“If you just accepted Kilo’s end… none of this would have happened,” Leph said. “I still blame you.”

The mockery of Wishkeeper nodded. His flame dimmed.

“And what are you doing now?” Leph asked. “Trying to fix your mistakes? Trying to atone? You… you deserve to be Voided the same as any of Alexander’s victims. You try living a life where you’re nothing but a shell!”

She fired another beam of energy, which was deflected without him even moving.

Leph went on. “All the pain I went through under that Hydreigon’s tyranny, all because you couldn’t trust Necrozma! Now I’m—” She choked up, wincing. Her vision was blurry with tears. “Now I’m…”

Owen gestured behind him. “There’s a place I like to meditate,” he said. “Before you take me away, would you like me to show you?”

“Why?” Leph accused.

“It helps clear your head. And… I don’t think anything I say here will make you feel better. Just that I’m sorry. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I could have done better, what I’d tell people if I could. But what happened, happened. Even with Dialga on my side, I know I can’t go back and undo it. Not without making things a whole lot worse.”

He led her down the clearing, filled with healthy trees with a foreign, green color for their leaves. Everything was so bright. It unnerved her.

The Charizard eventually settled against a tree a little wider than he was, and tall enough to rival the Castle. She leaned back a little to see the top. It, too, was empty, filled only with leaves.

She sat next to him, on edge, waiting for some kind of attack. None came.

“How’s Aster been?” Owen asked. “Seems he’s a good fighter. But when he learned it was me, there was… a lot of hurt in his eyes.”

“He’s confused. That’s all,” Leph said. “He tries to turn everything into a game to cope.”

“I don’t blame him. At least he was happy for most of it… even if… Well. He’s probably killed a lot of people, hasn’t he?”

No reply. Leph didn’t want to follow this thinking. She didn’t need reminders. She had to survive; it wasn’t like she was actually killing them anyway. They still lived. They still stayed in the Voidlands. She killed nobody.

A huge wing draped over Leph.

“I know you can dispel that,” Owen said, gesturing to the ring around her abdomen.

She shrank away, but that warmth was… nostalgic. Had she been cared for by him like this in the past? She couldn’t remember anymore. Did Alexander take that memory away? Or was she tricking herself?

Alexander promised that as long as she obeyed, she would keep her memories. She was still herself. She still had all of herself. She had to.

Had to.

“I can,” Leph replied. “But I don’t trust you like that.”

Owen tilted his head a little, but the wing started to pull away.

“It’s cold here,” Leph murmured.

The wing stopped. Her Arceus ring of gold and emerald prodded at the membrane. It was probably uncomfortable to hold it over her like that.

“Well, alright,” Owen said, holding his position. “Sorry that I evacuated all the spirits here. It’s just me. But I think that’s the one Alexander wanted the most, isn’t it?”

“Probably…”

“I’m not mad at you for it. I’ll come with you quietly.”

“Well, it’s not like you have a choice. I’m… going to take you back. That’s what you deserve.”

“But could you do something for me?” Owen asked. “I think it will free you.”

“You won’t trick me.”

“Why would I trick you, Leph?” Owen asked. “You… you do remember, right? I remember enough that I want to help you. My enemy is Alexander, not you… so…”

And Leph also knew that perhaps even here, Owen could read her body’s tells. Was this even her body, though? This was all some sort of spiritual vision. Maybe Owen’s Perceive didn’t work here. But did he still have the power to read her past? Mhynt did. Owen had the same blessing, the ability to read a spirit’s path.

But… there wasn’t really anything to be seen there. Nothing that he could use against her. It would just be more reasons why she hated him for all he’d caused.

“Leph?” Owen asked.

“What?”

“The favor. Would you hear me out?”

“Say what you want, but then I’m taking you.”

“The me in Cipher City can free you from Alexander,” Owen said. “If you fly north and see him, will you stop and help?”

“What if you’re lying?”

“Then take him back to Alexander, too. You can’t lose here.” Owen leaned a wing over Leph, nodding. “I want you to be free. That’s always what I’ve been fighting for, and… I’ve learned from my mistakes. Right now, that’s all that matters. Being free from the Voidlands. It’s possible, Leph. Don’t forget that. Okay?”

Leph sighed and placed a hoof on his thigh. His body dissolved into nothing but a cyan bubble with a gold center, which she placed in her chest.

“Don’t forget,” she mumbled, the environment around her dissolving. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole time…”

<><><>​

Owen and Swampert had underestimated just how much they could resolve at once.

They had split up. Owen sent Swampert to the higher floors, making sure he tapped on every coin that had been set down the day prior, as well as tip over every vase that he’d put down, even doubling back if he had the opportunity. It was all just a diversion. Owen hadn’t put anything in those vases—no resources—so it was just a distraction to get them paranoid.

The problem was getting to the dungeons. All the stairs were heavily guarded and Owen lacked the brute strength to pierce through. His Perceive didn’t give him any proper hints, either. He could only sense, far below him, that the other, Charizard Owen was being held up by some other mishap. He wasn’t communicating, so he could only guess what the standoff was.

The Charizard had remarked that he knew where the Charmeleon was, but couldn’t properly sense him. That was strange, but Owen also couldn’t sense himself well. Something was blocking his Perceive, but only for his own body. He didn’t know what interference that was, but the pain in his chest made him hope it wasn’t some disruptor they’d lodged in him somehow. Was that even possible?

Qitlan was holding something, but it was invisible to his Perceive.

“Stop!” called a guard once again, and Owen sidestepped on his way down the hall to dodge a rock the guard had conjured and tossed his way. He instead turned around the corner and sprinted to the stairway. For once, it didn’t seem to be occupied.

Tumbling down from the upper stairway, weaving past a few other guards, was Swampert, covered in welts and cuts from narrowly dodged attacks.

“Swampert?!” Owen called.

“Kid, you really got me in hot water this time!” Swampert grabbed him by the shoulders and throttled him. “Why?! Why did you make me tilt all those vases?! What was your plan?!”

“D-diversion?!” Owen said with a nervous titter. “Hey, by the way, I’m also being chased!”

Both sets of guards closed in on them. Swampert grabbed Owen and held him up.

“I—I got him!”

“Hey! Let me go, let me go!” Owen cried, kicking his legs and swinging his tail. He could feel Swampert’s uncertainty, his brief, furtive glances. He was desperate for Owen to think of a plan.

What was he supposed to come up with?! They were cornered!

The guards, however, seemed confused. “What?” said the leading Blaziken.

“I got him!” Swampert said again, holding Owen up like a prize. “Where do I take him?”

“Uh… To King Alexander, I think,” Blaziken said. “He should be around here, right? Take him upstairs!”

Swampert offered a wobbly grin and nodded.

“…Hang on a second, that’s Servant!” cried a Beheeyem in the back. “He’s working for Owen! They’re in cahoots!”

So much for that, Owen thought, wincing. “Agk—squeezing, you’re squeezing me!” Owen hissed.

“…I guess I’m done for now,” Swampert said as the guards murmured loudly with one another. “You really trapped me, huh?”

“Th-that’s not what I wanted,” Owen mumbled, genuine. They were trapped and he was hoping they would spare him if this had gone wrong, but…

“You said you’re going to free everyone eventually,” Swampert said. “…Is that true?”

“If I get out of here…” Owen’s shoulders sagged. They were closing in, taking careful paces, like they were expecting him to pull something. But Owen was out of ideas.

“Then I have nothing to lose.” Swampert tucked Owen under his arm like luggage.

“What—”

“HAAAAAAA!” Swampert charged down the hall and raised his free arm high. He conjured a massive wave of water behind him, towering over him and all the other guards, who immediately opened fire. Owen squeaked and held his hands forward, creating a Protect.

With oddly quick thinking, Swampert positioned Owen just in time to block most of the hits before charging forward again, surfing on his own wave to gain extra distance.

Why is using me as a shield intuitive?!

But it was working, for whatever few seconds they’d needed to press forward. As Swampert dashed past the break in the crowd he’d made, putting all of that exercise to good use, he dug through a pouch on his side. It wasn’t filled with much, but it did have that little pebble that Owen had gifted him. He squeezed it tight and a strange, golden energy coursed through his arm.

Owen wasn’t sure what went through Swampert’s mind just then. All he knew was that everything the guards were now throwing at him did nothing. Even as he fled through and took every hit, even as Owen’s Protect shattered.

“You told the truth!” Swampert roared, tears rolling from his eyes. Flames, ice, and blades conjured of the elements cut through Swampert, but he took all of it and powered on. Step by step, unimpeded. “I remember!” Swampert roared. “I remember my name!

Owen gasped, narrowly blocking a stray blast as the brief energy faded from Swampert’s system.

“My name… is Artur! Born in Pyrock… in the outskirts! And I remember!

He slammed into the wall and conjured more waves of water to push him down the hall to another set of stairs.

“Well,” said an icy, familiar voice, “I’m so happy you could remember… before losing it again!”

“Watch out!” Owen shouted.

Artur held Owen forward and Owen erected a shield, narrowly parrying a concentrated beam of darkness. It sizzled, stinging his scales even past the Protect, which dissolved by the time it was over. The walls around him had been perfectly burned in a circle where the blast had sprayed.

And far ahead was Alexander, flying toward them. On his back was Mhynt, who hopped off and dashed ahead even faster.

“W-wait!” Artur shouted. “I’m—”

Mhynt drew her Honedge from the darkness and leapt. Owen crossed his arms to gamble on another Protect in time, but he was too slow. The blade nicked him on the cheek and plunged into Artur’s heart.

The Swampert opened his mouth in surprise and terror. It didn’t seem like pain. Perhaps it never had the chance to catch up to him, because seconds later, Artur turned to dust. Embers of life siphoned into the blade, giving the once-dull eye a very dim glow.

Owen hit the ground and lost his breath. “Uff—”

Mhynt pointed the blade at him next, just as Alexander drifted closer with a devilish grin on all three heads.

“And here we are,” he said. “Thought you could escape with this little trick? Qitlan already trapped the ‘other you’ here… and Leph and Aster are burning down that Tree of Life as we speak. You will soon be nowhere but in my clutches, whelp… And for what you’ve done… you certainly exhausted all of your privileges here. It’ll be back to the dungeons with you.”

Mhynt grabbed Owen by the arm and forced him to stand, using her blade to coax him up to make up for her height.

“Come, Mhynt,” Alexander said, spinning around. “Let’s reunite him with his old cell.”

“Of course,” Mhynt replied.

Owen glanced down at Mhynt, betrayed. He couldn’t get a read on her. As far as he could tell… she was genuinely going to take him over. She had no tell, none at all.

No. He had to believe in her. He had nothing left but faith in others to pull through. Maybe Mhynt had an idea after all. Maybe—

There was a hand coming out of the floor. That was weird.

Mhynt stifled a startled chirp when it grabbed her legs. Another hand grabbed Owen’s tail.

And suddenly, they were pulled under.

<><><>​

Qitlan marched toward Beheeyem and grabbed him by the neck.

“Ngk—!”

“Why did you lie to me?” Qitlan said, holding a finger to his temple. “Choose wisely or I’ll give your brother your skull.”

“Y-y-yikes!” Beheeyem wriggled a little. “Y-y-you said t-t-to make you think we got it! For a bluff! To fool his Perceive! Please don’t kill me!”

“What?” Qitlan hissed.

Beheeyem hastily clicked two fingers together, and a bind against Qitlan’s mind suddenly split open, and the true memories resurfaced in a rush. The hasty steps down the dungeon. The quick thinking, the gamble, the false orb of light energy.

Qitlan released Beheeyem and sprinted down the hall. “Secure Mew,” he ordered. “Where is she located now?!”

He addressed the first guard he saw—a Golduck who still looked dazed by something that had happened before.

“WHERE IS SHE?” Qitlan roared, shooting Golduck in the arm.

He quacked in pain and crumpled to the side. “I don’t know! They didn’t tell me! H-hey, do you know what Hydro Pump is?”

“Useless.” Qitlan sprinted down the halls again, but skidded to a stop when he heard a commotion down a different hall. Green lights and purple smoke…

He saw a wraith skittering down the hall just as he turned, but it was all the way on the opposite side. He saw several guards crumpled on the ground, but no Owen. He didn’t produce green flames, did he? No, the Grass Orb… what if—No. They’d flame-proofed those chains; he wouldn’t have been able to break Mew loose so easily, and he didn’t have much physical strength.

“What happened?” Qitlan asked, catching the smell of the purple gas. It muddled his mind. He shook it off, but saw that all of the guards seemed both dazed and wounded. Some kind of toxin…

One seemed to be in better shape because he was giggling. “Speak to me, what happened?”

“Pretty lady…” The dazed Weavile giggled.

Qitlan shoved him away and checked the room. The door had a hole melted through it, but it also looked like it had been blasted by some other kind of energy, too. Green scales littered the ground, oddly hexagonal in shape. Deeper inside, past the two-door chamber, was an empty cell.

Empty cell. Empty cell. And the chains looked like they’d been rusted away and then chopped by incredible force.

The whole room had that intoxicating smell in the air. Qitlan didn’t wait any longer, knowing that it was the wraith.

Down several more halls, but the Void Shadow was fast. Whose Void Shadow was it? Dark Matter was dead, or at least useless; the only other one who could control Void Shadows was Alexander. Who?

Qitlan recognized this area. The center of the basement of Cipher Castle, the connection to Kilo through a great crater. Nobody could pass through, but sometimes wanderers found their way inside to be converted to guards. Easy, strong labor.

But a Void Shadow couldn’t escape through there. Smirking, Qitlan continued forward, knowing it was cornered.

The door creaked open, heavy but accessible—because what could possibly escape through here?—but he noticed the unused lock had been melted through anyway by some corrosive liquid.

And the Void Shadow was nowhere to be seen.

“What?!”

So, naturally, it had survived up ahead. Qitlan sprinted through the door and into the large, empty room, but he never reached the other side. Instead, the world around him shifted from a dark, blue-black dungeon to a brown, arid field.

And suddenly it felt like his whole body was on fire. He hissed, blinded by the light, and staggered back to safety until the burning stopped.

“Qitlan, sir!” cried a few guards.

“By the Void, why did he go through?!”

“Someone, get a medic!”

“Qitlan, are you okay?!”

Qitlan groaned, looking at his hands. All the skin was gone. He could only imagine what the rest of him must have looked like. He whispered, “Star… Star is here, somewhere. Somewhere in the outskirts is her Void Shadow. Get her… She went through. She must have been reclaimed. Get her… get her…!”

His vision was darkening. The pain was too much, even for him. As the medics descended upon him, he could only hope that Alexander would not be disappointed… Qitlan imagined falling into Alexander’s embrace, feeling his tough scales. That he didn’t fail. And that they would get them again.

With a little smile, he allowed himself to fall unconscious.

<><><>​

Owen really was carrying them out like groceries.

Mesprit and Azelf were in his left arm. Cipher Owen and Mhynt were in his right. Conjuring an updraft for himself, Owen glided through the main floor of Cipher Castle, making a straight shot toward the grand entrance.

“Wait!” Mesprit cried. “We forgot Mew!”

“Taken care of,” Charizard Owen said.

“What? I can’t sense her!” Charmeleon Owen yelped.

“I sensed someone fleeing with her while rescuing you. Don’t know who, but they fled through some spot in the dungeons and then vanished. I think they’re safe. Star felt relieved.”

“But what if it’s all a ploy?” Mesprit cried.

“We’re out of tricks, I—I need to have faith.” He faltered a little. “I’m sorry, this plan didn’t go as well as I thought. I couldn’t get to Star in time and I sensed you were cornered, too. I messed up.”

“Don’t beat yourself up yet.” Uxie focused ahead. “Mesprit and I are out of power. You only have Azelf’s blessing left. And a whole fleet of guards are about to pursue us.”

“I—I think I’ll figure out a way to get past the guards. I just need a little more timing. Hey, by the way, question. Those… powers you had on emotion and knowledge. Do they affect Dark Pokémon, too?”

“Well, yes. Those are divine powers, not Psychic powers. Though, strong Pokémon can resist it, if you’re thinking of trying that on Alexander…”

“Would it work for at least a little while?”

“If a ‘little while’ means seconds, then perhaps so. But right now, we aren’t at our best. Our other halves are not part of us. Don’t expect it to work for more than a few instances.”

“Good enough,” Owen growled to himself.

Charmeleon Owen, meanwhile, was holding Mhynt’s shoulder. “Hey,” he said. “Can Alexander control you if he figures out what happened?”

“It’s possible,” Mhynt said.

“Then now’s the time for me to try to free you.”

“So you really can do that?” Charizard Owen asked.

Charmeleon Owen nodded. “I think I reawakened some of Diyem’s blessings in me. Mhynt, are you…?”

“…And you won’t control me next?”

Both Owens looked betrayed, but Charmeleon Owen recovered faster. “I don’t know how, and I don’t want to find out.”

“Decide fast! They’re closing in!”

By now, the city lights were below them, beautiful crystals amid a black sea of stone. From all four sides, winged guards were already catching up. Even the ground guards were taking aim, and Owen just remembered the sentry spire would also be firing at him. But this time, he didn’t have Rayquaza’s blessing to get him through. He only had one last blessing.

“Fine, do it,” Mhynt hissed.

The Charmeleon grabbed Mhynt with one arm over her shoulder. He tensed, but Charizard Owen still couldn’t get a read for what was in his counterpart’s body, which unnerved him. Why was his Perceive acting up like that? It was like something was blocking his senses, absorbing it from the inside.

Shadowy energy raced along the smaller Owen’s shoulders and into his arms, seeping into Mhynt’s. Then, he tugged, and an even greater shadow tore its way out of Mhynt, who was suddenly gasping for air and squeezing her little fingers over Charizard Owen’s arms.

“I can’t… breathe…” Mhynt whimpered.

“A little more,” Owen begged as he pulled. “Skies, there’s a lot of Alexander in here…”

That made Mhynt wince even more, so Charizard Owen held her a little more firmly as he dodged between stray blasts from below. “You’re fine, Mhynt,” he said gently. That relaxed her muscles a little. “Not long now.”

“Got it!” The other Owen finally yanked something free from Mhynt, which burst from her shoulder yet left no wound. Mhynt screamed and tucked her head against her carrier’s chest, pounding her fist against his arm. Despite her size, the strikes nearly knocked Owen off balance, but it also helped him dodge the first blast from the sentinel spire.

“Gah! It’s really firing already?!” Mesprit said.

Then came an explosion up ahead. The missed shot had hit a building instead, and it was collapsing in front of them.

“Oh, gods…”

Owen wished his Perceive wasn’t active, but as he flew over the building, he couldn’t help but count how many were trapped inside the rubble.

“Don’t slow down,” Uxie said.

“I wasn’t going to—” Owen wasn’t sure if he was lying. Maybe he would have tried to help. But Uxie reminded him that he couldn’t. But… “But they’re trapped—”

“Save them by saving the Voidlands. If you go down, the guards will—OWEN!”

Owen descended toward the building. The guards were fifteen seconds away from him at most. Alexander was speeding towards them at the same time. At the rate this was going, they would meet him at the same time Alexander would.

Uxie was shouting various curses into his mind, commanding him to fly away. But he knew the timing of the sentry tower now. He had a bit. And this was just what he needed for the final stretch out of the city.

Landing on the ground, Owen released Mhynt. “How good are your powers as Lunala?” Owen asked immediately.

“What?”

“You can change into her, right? You’re whole?”

“I… I haven’t used that light in a very long time, Owen. The darkness corroded it into—” Her eyes widened with realization.

“Please, try.” Owen loosened his hold, and then glanced at the cloud of guards coming in, parting ways for Alexander himself to approach. “You need to use that light and get us far south. Maybe… halfway. That should be enough.”

“I can’t be precise like that… I’ll…”

He lunged forward and held his arms out, crafting a Protect just in time to parry a shadowy lance. It deflected into the ground where it turned the stone to shadowy dust.

“What if I fail?” Mhynt asked, the smallest hint of helplessness in her voice.

“Then I have another backup. Try, don’t be afraid, Mhynt! Anything is enough!”

The Treecko winced again and nodded. Then, she tensed herself, and her expression grew firm. Uxie and Mesprit floated just behind Owen, still tapped out. Charmeleon Owen was pushing a few pieces of rubble aside by conjuring some vines. Some Pokémon under the surface pushed their way through the rubble. At least most of the buried Pokémon were hardy; being able to breathe was the concern, not the weight of the debris.

“I’m sensing a strong power in the way,” Mhynt said. “I don’t know how to do warp travel in the Voidlands, not… not right now, I can’t get past—”

“Go in front of it,” Owen said. “That’s Leph and Aster. Has to be.”

“Don’t we want to avoid—”

“Other-me has it covered. Do it!”

The guards wouldn’t wait, so Owen bought some precious seconds. He grabbed the final blessing and smashed it. From the orb of light, blue energy enveloped everything within at least hundreds of feet in all directions. And suddenly, all of the guards stopped advancing. Even Alexander faltered.

Their will to fight had been sapped. For how long, Owen wouldn’t risk. But with their empty wills… maybe he could try to get into their heads. Alexander was a lost cause, but the guards…

“Look at what your so-called leader has done just to get me.” Owen spread his wings to look bigger. “Sacrificing innocent civilians, not even caring how many he destroys, just because he’s afraid of my power!”

“Don’t listen to him,” Alexander hissed, trying to conjure some of his Shadows again. One of his heads looked much darker than the rest of him again, like he was struggling to maintain its shape. “You… what trick is this…”

“If you want to defect, if you’re tired of living in the Voidlands,” Owen roared, “come to South Null. Defect! Come with your head low, surrender, and you will find a new home away from Alexander.”

“Your words fall on deaf ears!” Alexander spat. “Now FALL!”

At first, Owen thought Mhynt’s body had torn apart. It horrified him. But then, wings replaced where her back had blown away. Where her legs and limbs had shriveled, a great body of cosmic colors came into being, complete with the head of an upward crescent moon. She was strained, but she raised her wings and blasted over Owen’s shoulder, striking Alexander directly when he was focused on his own strike. Alexander tried to throw what he had, a faded lance of darkness.

On reflex, Owen reached toward it and pulled at that same aura. He tried to trace it—it was so slow compared to Alexander’s other attacks—but it was too strange. He couldn’t figure out how to copy it.

Charmeleon Owen rushed forward next, grasping at the energy with his claws in the same way. Filaments of dark strings traced through the air and into his claws like he was toying with a puppet, and then the Charmeleon pulled. The lance was in his hands. Then, like it burned him, he hurled it back at Alexander, who was too disoriented to defend. It struck him in the chest, sending him careening past all of the guards with a frustrated roar.

Mhynt’s wings stretched as far as they could. There was a great light behind him that was expanding outward. Mhynt’s wings collapsed around them all. Everything was too bright, then too dark, and then too bright again. It burned, then it was cold, and then…

<><><>​

South Null was burning, and Leph flew away from it with Aster on her back and one more spirit within her chest.

“…Leph…” Aster tapped on the wheel over her abdomen. “If we’re doing bad things for someone who’s bad, because if we didn’t, we’d die… are we bad?”

Leph sighed. Why now, after so many centuries, was he now thinking about the philosophy behind all this playing? Owen must have reminded him of times gone by.

Because of course Owen would do that. He had practically raised them, even if it was here and there. Unlike the Legends, he knew how to interact with mortals. He remembered how to think the way a mortal did, and now so was Aster. Was that better? Worse?

“It’s just how things are,” Leph said quietly. “We don’t have a choice. Worrying about it won’t help anything. It’ll just… make you feel worse.”

But that was probably how Aster had coped all this time. It had finally caught up to him. Now, Leph only wished she could be as carefree as he had been…

A bright light assaulted her vision and her flight path. She yelped and abruptly halted her flight; Aster slammed into the back of her neck. When the stars faded from Leph’s vision, she saw a Charizard, a Charmeleon, several small Pokémon, and a huge pile of rubble. She could sense many lives underneath the rubble.

“What in the world…” Leph descended. “Aster! Lift those stones. There are Pokémon inside!”

“Okay!” Aster hopped off of Leph and focused, his whole body radiating violet light. Stones glowed with the same color, arranging themselves into neat stacks and freeing many injured and battered Pokémon underneath.

Leph heard a light chuckle in her mind.

There he is.

Leph, startled, looked around. “Who’s there?”

Sorry. I was just watching. It’s me, Owen. In here.

She looked down toward her chest. Then at the sky.

Up ahead. That’s the rest of me. Mind… handing me over?

Leph stared uneasily at the downed Charizard. Azelf, Mesprit, she recognized those two, as well as a Charmeleon under his wings. There was even…

“Mhynt!” Leph trotted over. “Mhynt, you look awful!”

The Treecko was withered like a leaf. Her back looked torn apart by something, and her arms and legs bent at odd angles. Leph tried to focus some healing energy toward her, which helped a little…

“Leph…” Mhynt wheezed, reaching up. “Get… get Owen… to… free you.”

“What?”

“I’m… I’m free, Leph…” Mhynt limply squeezed Leph’s golden hooves. “I’ve never felt… so…”

“Save your strength,” Leph whispered.

The Charizard was stirring, but the Charmeleon got up first, groaning. “Don’t remember that being part of the travel…” He wobbled to his feet. “…Leph?”

“H-hi…”

“Hi.”

“Rescue complete!” Aster said cheerfully, holding about twenty Pokémon in a lazy cloud above his head.

“Set them down,” Owen and Leph requested.

“Oh—sorry.”

Leph turned her attention back to Owen. “There… are two of you.”

Three, actually.

“Er, yeah, long story.”

Mesprit and Azelf helped Mhynt stand, but then realized they were better off carrying her. She could barely stay conscious. Charizard Owen, meanwhile, took her in his arms and nodded firmly, assuring them she would be okay.

“You… you really can do it?” Leph asked. “You can… just do it like that? Undo what Alexander did to me?”

“It’s why he’s afraid of me,” Owen said. “I take it other-me told you everything?”

“…How… how did you plan all of this?” Leph asked. “I can’t believe it.”

“Alexander used to work under me. Between the notes all of my selves shared, I knew some of his strategies. And… I didn’t know for sure. But if he sent you two to South Null, I knew how it would go. I’m… glad I was right.” He held out his hands. “May I be whole? Then I think I’ll have the strength to free you.”

But if she disobeyed, Alexander would Void her. That would be the end. She’d be gone. She’d be nothing.

Remember what I said, Leph. Alexander doesn’t matter anymore. Please… trust me one last time. Isn’t this exactly what you said you’d do?

It was. It really was.

But after so many centuries… it seemed too good to be true. Getting this change… facing everything she’d done, after being free from that darkness…

You can do it, Leph. Do it for Aster.

Aster…

The Mewtwo was chatting happily with the confused civilians, who seemed varying degrees between startled and scared. His happy laughs. Were they fake? Could they be real again?

“Okay.” Filaments of light emerged from Leph’s back, and then, from between the back of her shoulders, they drew out a single golden orb. Gingerly, she let it drift toward Owen, but the moment she let go, it zapped into the Charizard’s chest.

“Guh—” He staggered back and nearly squished Mesprit when he landed on his rear, squeezing his head.

“…Um… Owen—”

He held up a hand and then resumed squeezing his head.

They stood there, awkwardly, for a few seconds.

Then, “Wasn’t expecting it to be that fast…” Owen shook his head. “Sorry. Was sorting through some… memory-shock? Yeah, let’s call it that…” He breathed a deep sigh. “How far are we from South Null?”

“By wing, only a few minutes,” Leph said. “Not long at all if Aster Teleports us there.”

“Everyone here?” Owen asked, concerned.

“At such a short distance, he can handle it.”

“Right… okay. Let’s get that done. The sooner we can get out of here the better.”

<><><>​

Zena was a nervous wreck. Even while she was in the hospital, her trivial wounds getting looked at, she couldn’t stop thinking about if Owen’s absurd plan was actually going to work. Doubts that maybe he’d planned too much and too many cascading things were about to go horribly wrong. That maybe Owen shouldn’t have pushed himself so far just to get an edge on Qitlan’s infinite planning. He’d exchanged careful strategy in favor of doing something unexpected and spontaneous, but wouldn’t that result in losing and sacrificing too much?

“Yer lost in thought again.”

She gasped, glancing at the door. “Don’t scare me like that,” she murmured at Marshadow, who closed the door behind him and offered an apologetic smile.

“Nah, sorry. Kinda comes with the bod’.” He hopped onto the hospital bed and asked with his eyes if that was acceptable. Zena didn’t object. “Anyway, just checkin’ on everyone. You got a lotta bad hits, y’know. Worse than most.”

“I suppose I’m a larger target,” Zena admitted. “Any news about Owen?”

“Well, the scouts saw Leph stop her movements,” Marshadow remarked. “Was pretty weird. Saw a lot of random building rubble suddenly appear in the air, too. Double weird. Not sure what that’s all about, heh.”

“Oi, oi, y’left me behind!” someone called as the door burst open again, revealing a bulky Lucario.

“Manny,” greeted Zena with a small sigh. Gods, she was listening to him in stereo.

“Hey Zeeny,” Manny greeted, earning a slight twinge of perplexed annoyance from the Milotic. “How’s my double talkin’?”

“Well, he told me about the scouts…”

“Cool, yeah, since ol’ Marshadow’s hastier, he didn’ get the latest,” Manny said with a smirk.

“Now c’mon, I ain’t gonna have a pretty lady waitin’!” Marshadow said.

Manny held up his arms, but then smiled at Zena. “Owen’s comin’ back. Looks like he pulled off a real miracle this time.”

“What?! How many—er, how much of Owen? All of him?”

“Yeppers, all three, if y’ask me. Dunno how that one got pulled off. Missin’ Star, though…”

Zena’s first thought was that it didn’t matter, but then she remembered how important that actually was… She winced, now a little guilty for the thought. “Let’s go. I want to see him.”
 
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