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Pokémon Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
My favorite character is definitely Alex at the moment- he feels like a really natural father. And I've got a strange feeling that he's going to have a mildly comedic role throughout the story.
I'm glad you like him! He's definitely a fun one to read about, so I hope you enjoy his appearances.

It's definitely really fast-paced at the beginning, so I did end up reading that intro twice, because I had a hard time figuring out what was going on the first time.
Hard to follow, huh? Yeah, it was definitely an explosive opening. Maybe I could look into clarifying the opening a little, though it's definitely hard to judge since you're unfamiliar with PMD. Might be worth me looking into anyway, perhaps in the future.

I'm a little bit confused by how Amia, Alex, and Owen can be a possible family, since none of them are in the same egg group, but maybe that has two do with the fact that it's PMD...
There's actually a simple answer for this one. Owen's adopted!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 12 - Twisted Minds

Anam, and only Anam, heard the deep boom of metal bells.

The Abandoned Temple—the original name lost to the ages—stood four stories high, despite only having a single story inside. The building was made out of marble with intricate designs along the walls in the shape of spirals, flowers, and all sorts of Pokémon. A broken, circular window of colored glass gazed from the top of the temple. Several rounded, tall windows sat along the walls. What the windows depicted, unfortunately, was difficult to decipher, as most of the glass was gone. But Anam remembered. He saw the windows as if they were still new, depicting the Pokémon of legends.

While the temple may have once been a pristine, white marble, it was now reddened with the dusty winds of dirt and time, sitting in the middle of an empty field of brown, dry dirt, like even the grass refused to grow there.

“What a loud bell,” Anam said, a serene grin spreading across his face.

The boom reverberated through Anam’s mind: a deep metallic echo that shook the ground beneath his feet and the goo in his chest. It rang slowly, once, twice, three times…

Zena and James exchanged glances. The Milotic eyed Anam with concern. “What?”

“Don’t you hear it?” Anam asked.

He listened to it chime three more times. His feelers twitched at the vibrations, and Anam pointed his head skyward, toward the topmost tower at the center of the temple. There was no bell there, but Anam could see it. Swinging with the wind and the rope of the bell ringer a room below. The bell ringer that was no longer there. But he used to be. A strong Tyranitar. Anam wondered, would he like to ring it again?

The temple was silent.

“No, Anam. This place is completely devoid of noise,” Zena said. “I think we’re the loudest thing on the property.”

Yet, the Goodra stared at the building for a while longer.

It rang three more times. Anam felt something well up from deep in his chest. A strange swelling of warmth. He breathed deeply, closing his eyes with a tranquil smile. And then, he breathed out.

The bell stopped after the ninth ring. Anam put a hand to his chest.

“Do you like it?” Anam asked to neither Zena nor James, holding a hand to his chest. “It’s okay. It might be fun.”

Confused, Zena slithered a few paces forward. “We should not waste much time. Shall we enter? The Normal Guardian is inside.”

“Yes. Come, Anam.”

Anam followed silently, but he walked at a slow, agonizing pace. His slimy hand brushed against the dusty walls of the entrance. There was no door, but it looked like there used to be.

The interior was like night and day, and Anam’s eyes shined so brightly that Zena almost had to avert her own. The marble walls on the interior were cleaned to a blinding shine; the open room was completely clear of debris. At the far end was some kind of altar. It looked like a Pokémon would stand there to address a crowd. Faded murals—so faded that the actual contents were unrecognizable—lined the high walls and broken windows.

“I’ve never seen a building like this before,” Zena said. “This is nothing like Kilo Village. Or even Hot Spot.”

“Hrm,” James hummed. “It is of a time long passed, Zena. A relic. This used to be a place of worship, back when Kilo had a significant interest in such things. While we still have a few ceremonies now and then, we’re quite secular. Kilo Village used to host congregations every moon, and this temple was one of those places of worship. It may be one of the few ones standing. For why the Normal Guardian would reside within…” James fluffed out his feathers. “I’m not quite sure. Star said he was quirky. Perhaps he’s spiritual.”

“Aren’t we all technically… spiritual?” Zena repeated, looking at one of her ribbons as it formed a small, aura ember.

“Hm. Good point.”

Anam advanced, and Zena and James followed until they all reached the middle of the room. With a smile on his face, he walked straight toward the altar at the back of the room with an eager spring in his step.

Click.

Anam’s foot sank into the tile and he stopped his advance. “…Was that bad?”

“Very,” Decidueye James replied, puffing out his feathers. “Anam, whatever you do, do not lif—”

Anam lifted his foot.

The fiery explosion that followed sent Anam, Zena, and James flying in completely opposite directions. The ground shifted instantly; the floors collapsed in patches and rose in others. Spikes skewered tiles from below, and strange, metal stalactites fell from above. A giant spike shot out from one wall and went straight for—

“Pfwoooh—!” It pinned Anam against the wall; the huge, stone thorn went right through his gooey chest, narrowly missing his heart—if he had one. He brought his slimy hands over it and tried to push it away, but it was jammed in too tight. His paw disintegrated into goo from the strain. “J-James!” Anam called in a gurgle, waving his handless, melting arm. “Help! I’m stuck!”

“Can’t quite help at the moment!” James replied, narrowly dodging a concentrated beam of light that carved the stone ground that it struck. Anam finally pushed the stone spire free and dropped to the ground with a loud splat, his lower half becoming a purple mush on the ground. He needed a few seconds to recreate himself—it seemed that as a Mystic, the goo half of his kind was very pronounced.

“Is this the Guardian’s doing?!” Zena called to James, emerging from the ground. She was hiding in cracks of the temple’s ruined foundation as water, hoping to avoid the Normal Guardian’s strikes. Another Hyper Beam spooked the Milotic enough for her to hide within the cracks again.

“I’m quite certain!” James vanished in a fine, black mist, dodging a second Hyper Beam. Something about these blasts felt dangerous even for his Ghostly nature. “He must feel threatened by this. Perhaps Rim already tried to defeat him. Clearly, she failed!”

Zena emerged halfway to speak. “We haven’t even seen him yet!” she said. “Where could he be coming from?” Another blast of concentrated light carved a line out of the ground, leaving molten marble in its place. “These beams are coming from every direction! Surely he can’t Teleport and use Hyper Beam at the same time!”

“I doubt that is the case,” James said, “but it is possible. But I’ve seen this strategy before… These might be a variant to Owen’s approach when he battles. Traps. Hyper Beam-traps, perhaps stored in empty Wonder Orbs, or—” James jumped to the right. A passing spike tore off a feather from his face. “Urf—the actual Guardian might be deeper insi—” Another line of hard light vaporized James where he stood, and he became nothing but an ember that returned to Anam’s body. Even a Ghost Type was not immune to these attacks.

“Oops,” Anam said, cupping James’ spirit in his good hand. He dipped him into his chest, where the ember vanished completely. “Um, Z-Zena! Let’s try to keep going!”

Thankfully, it seemed that the traps had exhausted themselves. Aside from the ambient sounds of rubble collapsing in small pieces against the walls, there were no further attacks.

Anam used his hands to piece his lower half back together. So far, he had most of his belly and tail reconstructed, but he couldn’t find any spare material for his legs. He puffed his cheeks and pushed—new little feet popped out from the base of his thighs, followed by the rest of his missing appendages. He sprung to his feet, and Zena marveled at the Guardian’s regenerative abilities. If any of that happened to her, she’d be nothing but a dead puddle.

“Of course,” Zena finally said. She returned to the cracks and advanced further into the temple. They passed the altar and entered a back room. The further they went, the more it appeared to be… less abandoned. The entrance was a crumbling stone palace—mostly due to the traps that had gone off—but further inside, the walls were back to their pristine polish, constantly maintained, like it was an eternal routine.

Anam panted, tiny arms on the ground. “Th-this is way too much running… Why is this temple so big on the inside? It’s not a Dungeon, is it?”

“You’re Mystic. Can you not just restore your own stamina?” Zena asked.

“Anam is… typically focused on other aspects of his Mysticism,” James said, summoned again by Anam. “He largely focuses on self-preservation and high defenses rather than… offensive prowess.”

Zena stared at Anam with a flash of a memory in her eyes. “That reminds me of an old friend,” she remarked. “Anam, do you happen to know an Emily?”

“Huh?” Anam said. “What did you say? Emily? That sounds…”

“Let’s not get distracted,” James said. He pointed a wing forward. There was a single Pokémon there, floating at the back of the smaller room. Twitching. Watching. “Are you the Guardian?”

It was a strange Pokémon with a smooth surface—one that Zena had never seen before. Anam and James, however, knew of its kind.

The Porygon-Z buzzed with anxiety. “You do not have permission to create a guest account!” he said. His voice was like a buzz in the air, as if he was speaking through the crackle of a Thunder Shock at all times. “403 - Forbidden! Access to the back rooms is not allowed! Those traps should have deleted you!”

“Deleted?” James said. “Strange terminology, Porygon-Z, but we mean you no harm. We have no intention of deleting you, either. Yes?”

“Authentication required.”

James sighed, glancing at Anam. “The Badge, if you may.”

“Oh!” The Goodra dug through the bag partially submerged in the right side of his chest and pulled out the circular emblem. “This! Yep! That’s my Thousand Heart Association Badge! I’m the leader, and our entire purpose is to make this place safe and peaceful for everyone! Including you!”

Porygon-Z buzzed with uncertainty. “Your data has not been verified and may be corrupt. Checksum required!”

James blinked. “…I do not know what that is,” he said, “but I imagine this has something to do with your species’ strange origins. I can assure you that we are not lying. Anam is a fellow Guardian, as is Zena. Meanwhile, I am a spirit, here solely because of the power of a very kind Mystic.” He pointed a wing at Anam, who blushed and giggled.

Porygon-Z stared at the two, and then looked at Zena. “Are you a Guardian?”

“Yes, of Water,” Zena replied. “I am Zena. This is James and Anam. What is your name?”

“Profile data corrupted. Fallback data in use: I was once designated as an Absolutely Deadly Autonomous Machine. Therefore, my name is ADAM.”

“ADAM, huh?” Anam said. “That’s close to my name! Except you spell yours out. And it’s a D instead of an N. Can we just call you Adam?”

“That is my primary PC title,” ADAM said. “Such a title is reserved only for users with administrative permissions.”

“Oh, okay,” Anam said. “Well, you can use my name whenever you want! I’m Goodra Anam.”

“It seems that the Porygon-Z still has a sense of culture,” James said. “How long have you been here?”

“The word ‘here’ must be further defined.”

“In this temple. How long has this been your home?”

“I have lived within this temple for approximately 1.5e10 seconds, base ten,” stated ADAM.

Anam counted on his gooey fingers.

“I see,” James said. “I imagine this is a very long time? How long does that compare to the lifetime of the average Pokémon?”

“Compared to my time in this temple, the average life of a Pokémon, is not negligible, but is significantly smaller.”

“So, a really long time,” Anam said, nodding. “Um, mister ADAM, does that mean maybe your… brain… head… has been damaged and corrupted?”

“My hardware is incapable of degrading due to Mysticism,” ADAM replied. “…But perhaps my software requires repairing, and my file system, defragmenting. The data may be corrupted. However, I cannot reinstall my own operating system. Those files may have also been corrupted.”

Anam nodded, noticing that ADAM was starting to become easier to understand. Perhaps when he wasn’t so frantic, his instincts didn’t in the way of his behavior.

“Well, would it help if you came with us to… rest… your software?” Anam asked. He leaned toward James, “What’s a software? That sounds like a Nev-Nev thing. Like those screens in the hospital, or those little beep-boops in the new buildings.”

James shook his head. “ADAM, we only request that you come with us,” he said. “Such a temple is not suitable to a Pokémon such as yourself.”

“Oh, yeah!” Anam said. “And if more Hunters come by, we can keep you safe!”

“Hunters are not a security threat,” ADAM said. “More persistent are Pokémon that do not appear in my database, but instead appear to be corrupted files.”

“Mutants,” James said. “If I am not mistaken, you are describing mutants. I imagine such a landmark would pique what semblance of curiosity they have.” He nodded. “We can protect you against those, too, ADAM.”

The Porygon-Z analyzed James carefully, then Zena, then Anam. He then scanned—for the umpteenth time—his polished temple. While Anam could not see an expression on the Pokémon’s face, he did feel his distinct lack of interest in the temple at large. “Very well,” ADAM said.

“Nice!” Anam pumped his fist in the air. A wad of slime flung from his hand and toward ADAM, who drifted to the side to avoid it. The Goodra pulled out their silver Badge, the communicator. “Hey, everyone! We have the first Guardian! He’s okay! He’ll come with us, and he’s super cool! …Guys? Hello?”

“They may be occupied,” James said. “Let’s return home.”

<><><>​

The World’s Wound.

That was the other title of the Great Crevice, among many lesser nicknames. Nature’s Scar. The War’s End. All sorts of titles and nicknames for the great fissure that carved out a large portion of the land’s eastern side. On the map—the only place one could truly see its full size without entering the outer atmosphere—its lower, tapered end kissed the southeastern beaches, while the upper end was much like an expanding fan, covering an entire portion of the map in the shape of a jagged, narrow triangle. While swaths of the northern portions of the fissure were clothed in forestry, the narrower portions were still steep and rocky.

Rhys and his terrible trio followed the subtle traces of Mystic aura that radiated from a cave near the northern side of the narrow portion of the fissure. Star knew that general detail, but nothing more. They had spent the better part of the afternoon simply finding the cave.

It might have taken less time, had it not been for the fact that Demitri took longer than anyone to go down the rocky trails of the fissure. His legs trembled with almost every step, hugging the wall despite the fact that the path itself was several feet wide. Eventually, Mispy wrapped him up and held him on her back, where he still trembled.

“Are you okay?” Mispy asked, squeezing her vines around his abdomen.

“Yeah. I’m… I’ll be okay.” He nuzzled the vines a bit.

“Feh, still scared o’ heights?” Gahi clicked at Demitri in a jeer. “Too bad yeh’ll never grow wings.”

“Good!” Demitri squeaked, hugging Mispy’s neck from behind.

They continued along until Rhys held out his paw. “There.” He pointed at a small alcove in the fissure. “I sense a Mystic aura coming from this general area, and there’s a small cave here. The Guardian of the Rock Orb is somewhere inside, certainly.”

“N-no more cliff-climbing?” Demitri asked. As if to provoke him, a howling gust wind blew over the rocks.

“No. Let’s go inside.” Rhys motioned for them to follow, taking the first step into the lightless cave. He held out an Aura Sphere and maintained it several feet in front of him, producing a soft light to lead the way.

“Finally.” Gahi wobbled next to Rhys.

With the cliffsides far enough away to forget, Demitri relaxed his muscles and flopped forward on Mispy’s back. Now, he was just cautious of the cave. Rocks wouldn’t fall on them, right? No, he had to distract himself from this. He stared at the Aura Sphere that lit the way, thinking about how if Owen had been with them, they wouldn’t have needed it. The blue color was more comforting, though. It reminded him of dragon fire.

“Rhys?” Demitri asked. “What’s wrong with having Owen with us for this, anyway? I feel like we’d work really well together.”

Mispy perked up, as did Gahi, for the answer.

“It’s simply not a good idea to have four non-Elites in one team for something such as this,” their mentor stated. “We need to have strong and competent members—both qualities in one Pokémon—on all teams. You three simply aren’t experienced enough yet. The same goes for Owen, who just entered the Thousand Hearts.”

Demitri frowned. “I guess…”

“Just feels like…” Gahi tilted his head left and right. “I’unno. Fighting with’m feels… right, y’know? The four of us as a team. Yeah…”

“Well, that simply cannot happen right now,” Rhys said simply. “Let’s focus on the task at hand. That is—the Guardian of the Great Crevice, home of the Rock Guardian.”

They turned another corner; they finally saw it. It was very faint, but it was a glow visible even to those who couldn’t see auras, like Demitri and Gahi. They continued to walk in total silence.

It only broke when Demitri spoke up. “Rhys?”

“Hm?”

“What’s a Divine Promise? Owen was talking about it with us. Something between you and Zena?”

“Hmm…” Rhys continued walking. “It is something that only Mystics can do—that is, those with powers related to the Orbs. Simply put… making a Divine Promise is keeping yourself to your word—or face the consequences. In the case of a Promise… breaking it would mean relinquishing your Mystic power to the Pokémon you made the promise with.”

“Y-you mean, if you broke your Promise with Zena, then…!”

“Then I would no longer have any form of Mysticism. I would not have enhanced power. I would be nothing but a simple, mortal Lucario.” Rhys turned to look back at Demitri. “That is why Zena was so surprised when I accepted the agreement. Even the cleverest Pokémon in the world cannot break a Divine Promise without also losing their power. I phrased my Promise in such a way that there is no loophole—or, if there is one, I hadn’t thought of it.”

“W-wow… so you really don’t want to be a Hunter any more, huh?”

“I do not,” Rhys said with a bit more firmness than before, making Demitri flinch. His voice softened after. “Long ago, I fought for Star. But some fought harder, I suppose. And Star became disillusioned with her own cause, and asked for us to stop. We thought she was simply losing heart, and we pressed on. But I later realized that some Hunters… simply wanted more power. It had nothing to do with Star.”

“O-oh, and… and Nevren is the same way?”

Rhys nodded. “It seems that Nevren has quietly distanced himself from the other Hunters, too,” he said. “I haven’t seen him with the others for quite some time, even if we chat with them now and then, in our own pocket of the spirit realm.”

“Wh—wait, when do you visit there?” Demitri asked.

“When I meditate,” Rhys said.

“Oh.”

More walking—the glow was getting abnormally bright, but there was still no sign of the actual Guardian. Demitri felt Mispy’s back tense and her pace stiffen; she must have been trying to formulate her question in the silence. Then, she spoke. “Did you kill… the Grass Guardian?”

Rhys’ steps lost their rhythm, but he regained it quickly. “I have many regrets regarding my past as a Hunter. But I was not the one who killed the Grass Guardian. In fact, I was largely unsuccessful in those efforts. Wholly, actually.”

“Y-you mean, even if you’re super strong…?” Demitri asked.

“It wasn’t necessarily strength that stopped me,” Rhys said, “but perhaps… willpower. Mystic power is largely tied to the will. If, so to speak, your ‘heart is not in it’ when you fight, that Mystic power will not help you. In fact, it could hinder you. Meanwhile, a Guardian is fighting to survive. Their willpower could be… significant. In the end,” he said, “My will to gain power was lesser than their will to live.”

“Didn’t stop yeh from beating Owen ter a pulp of Cheri dust,” Gahi clicked.

“D’you think the others might have trouble with that?” Demitri said. “If a Guardian is scared they’re being attacked…”

Rhys shook his head. “We can only hope things work out.”

Demitri frowned, rubbing at one of his axes awkwardly. “Too bad we didn’t bring Anam. He’d just convince them by being friendly.”

“Yes, well,” Rhys said. “I’m sure I can be friendly.”

None of his students looked convinced.

The light was growing stronger. Rhys held his arm out to stop the other three. Mispy stopped first; Gahi bumped into her rear, which made Demitri topple onto her neck again. They squabbled amongst one another, but Rhys shushed them firmly and they listened.

“The Guardian is just ahead.”

They walked uneasily forward. Rhys didn’t feel a particularly powerful aura ahead, but it was distinctly Mystic. And a lot brighter than usual. A bit abnormal, but considering the lack of light, perhaps it had to do with keeping things bright.

Demitri and Gahi were less informed. The Axew leaned to the side to see past Mispy’s leaf. “Wow! Cool statue!”

In the center of the end of the cave—in a cavern large enough to fly in for a short distance—there was the statue of a Shiftry, accurate to the last detail.

“Whoever made this must be pretty good at the whole chisel thing,” Gahi said.

The cavern rumbled softly.

Rhys, giving them all an incredulous look, said, “That is the Guardian.”

“Cease…”

The four stiffened. “Wh-uh—what was that?”

“Cease… your movements…”

The voice came from nowhere. It sounded masculine and deep, but nothing that they’d expect from a statue.

“What do you mean, cease our movements?” Rhys said.

“All movement must cease… spirits must know stillness…”

The four looked at one another. Their mission was to befriend the Guardian… Perhaps they could play his game for now. “Very well,” Rhys said. “May we get into a comfortable position before, er… tuning ourselves to the stone?”

The cavern rumbled angrily. “I will allow it.”

“Into your meditative positions, everyone,” Rhys said. “We must comply, as we are mere guests. We can converse later.”

“Meditate?” all three of them whined.

“CEASE.”

The three scrambled to separate spots. Mispy sat down with her rear down, but her front legs propping the rest of her up, and closed her eyes. It wasn’t very different from how she normally sat, but she kept her spine straighter than usual. Demitri sat down and tried to cross his legs, though they were too stubby for that, and it instead became a sort of position where the bottoms of his feet touched. It always tickled, but at least he could tune it out once he got in the zone. Gahi couldn’t do much of anything in terms of contorting his body. The Trapinch rested his head on the ground, splayed his stubs for legs outward, and remained still. Rhys sat, legs crossed, and closed his eyes.

Rhys watched the chaotic auras of the trio. They were warped things, those auras; the light that they radiated had strange, lopsided sparks now and then that spurt from the edges of their flares. When they meditated, this light stabilized—at least mostly—into the gentle flames that they should appear as. Demitri’s and Mispy’s, in particular, looked quite stable.

As the late morning bled into noon, Rhys realized that this would be their eternity if they did not try to speak with the Guardian. How could they convince him peacefully to come along? His aura was too weak to fight; if they hit him too hard, he could…

And then, suddenly, the silence broke.

Hey, everyone! We have the first Guardian! He’s okay! He’ll come with us, and he’s super cool! …Guys? Hello?

Anam’s voice echoed from Rhys’ bag. The Lucario didn’t even react.

Gahi mumbled aloud out of boredom. “What kind of luck is this?” Gahi muttered. “All this anticipating ter get here and the main Guardian’s as boring as Rhys.”

“I dunno about that,” Demitri said. “He’s probably even more boring.”

“ALL MOVEMENT SHALL STOP,” the Shiftry boomed. He didn’t move, yet he was clearly the one speaking—through the vibrations of the cave.

Rhys didn’t react. He kept meditating.

Gahi flinched and stayed put. Demitri softly said, “This test is to just not move? For how long…”

Mispy shifted where she sat, sighing.

The ground rumbled again and the Shiftry roared. “ALL MOVEMENT… SHALL STOP!”

The cave walls heaved, threatening to collapse around them. Mispy stiffened and shut her eyes, trying to meditate. Demitri and Gahi did the same. Rhys remained motionless.

A seemingly endless amount of time passed. Rhys watched, worriedly, as the auras of the three members of Team Alloy faded to the gentle undulations that indicated drowsiness. They weren’t meditating at all, now—they were about to fall asleep.

And then, without any sort of stimulation and the overwhelming feeling of boredom, Mispy’s head and leaf drooped slightly—and then, she fell over to her side, asleep.

The Shiftry roared through the mountain, screaming enough to startle Mispy awake. “YOU HAVE RUINED THE ATMOSPHERE OF STONE!” The ground heaved, stones already erupting from below, jostling everybody into a battle position.

Rhys cursed and stood up. Their chances of ending this without a fight evaporated completely.

“I wanted to do this peacefully!” He aimed his Aura Sphere at the Shiftry, but just then, he saw his paw glow with a strong, yellow light. Rhys flinched and stopped his attack, as if he’d seen his very soul nearly slip from his body. Was this Guardian so weak that a single blast would kill him? How was he supposed to subdue someone that his weakest techniques would annihilate?

Gahi hissed. “Rhys?! What’re you doing?!”

The Guardian wasn’t moving. In fact, the Shiftry in general hadn’t moved since they arrived, making it an easy target. It also made its attacks quite slow. There were a few seconds of dead air that they could think about how to approach and, for Rhys’ case, safely subdue this Guardian.

“I—I can’t fight him right now,” Rhys said. “My attacks could kill. I—I can’t do that.”

“Wh—nggh, fine!” Gahi said, rushing for the Shiftry. The ground heaved; rocks fell on top of Gahi, burying him.

“No, don’t fight! He’s too weak!” Rhys urged.

“G-Gahi!” Demitri and Mispy yelled. They rushed after him, helping him free of the Rock Slide, but Gahi was already growling from within.

“Guardian! Stop this!” Rhys said, but his words fell on deaf, rocky ears.

The Shiftry roared; more rocks fell from the ceiling. Rhys deftly avoided the attack with precise jumps, readying an Aura Sphere out of reflex. His paw lit up again—his Divine Promise in danger of breaking—and he held off, growling. He had to keep his students safe—but he couldn’t attack the Guardian too much. But he wasn’t going to listen to reason. His mind, like many Guardians who had become isolated for too long, had warped into something else thanks to their isolation.

Surely the spirits that resided within his mind had conformed in one way or another to the Guardian’s whims, and now he was focused on only one thing—stillness. Any violation of that angered him. Perhaps a friendlier voice like Amia or Anam—or even Star, in person—could help this broken mind. But they had to convince him otherwise—and fighting with their own techniques was too much.

Gahi would be fine; he was stronger than that to let a few rocks subdue him. What worried Rhys was what came after: A great, white light shined from the cracks—Demitri and Mispy stumbled back, covering their eyes.

“No!” Rhys hissed, watching Gahi’s aura flare and shift, crackling, black lightning coursing through the nearest rocks to the former Trapinch. One of the sparks zapped Mispy, and she was enveloped in that same evolutionary light—followed shortly by Demitri right next to her. Rhys watched anxiously, but then looked at the Shiftry.

The white light of evolution sparked black. Rhys glanced worriedly at them, but then it faded away. Emerging from this light was no longer a Trapinch, Chikorita, and Axew. The Vibrava, Bayleef, and Fraxure briefly paused to marvel at their new forms.

“That corrupted light…” Shiftry rumbled the caves again, too soft for the three to hear, though Rhys heard it. “What was that?” Whatever it was, Rhys noted that Shiftry was stunned enough to stop his attacks.

Gahi beat his new wings as if he’d had them his whole life. Demitri stared—and gasped in fear, slightly—at his new distance from the ground. Mispy struggled with her longer legs and neck, feeling awkward and lanky. But they adjusted quickly, and they let their instincts take over in the midst of battle. They jumped back into the fray.

“STOP!” Rhys suddenly roared, holding out his arms. Mispy, whose leafy buds glowed with gathering energy, dimmed. Gahi flipped a few times in the air to cut back on his speed. Demitri toppled over himself, landing flat on his face.

Shiftry rumbled again, but the rock slide stopped. Rhys feared that the ceiling would collapse on them if they upset the statue further, but they couldn’t take him on. “He’s too weak,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt him. We’re here to bring him with us, remember?”

The trio looked at one another incredulously, then at the statue.

“How dare you call me weak,” said the Shiftry. “You fear fighting me because I would smite you with my undeniable power.”

“Undeniable?” Gahi challenged. “I bet I c’n take yeh on!”

“You DARE—”

“N-now, let’s hold for a moment,” Rhys said, raising his paw. “We don’t know want to fight. Who is stronger than the other is irrelevant.” Even though Rhys was certain that this Guardian could probably fall to any of their unrestrained strikes, and his aura was barely present, it wouldn’t be worth it to bring such a thing up.

“Um, Mister Guardian, er,” Demitri waved at him, but that made the statue growl. He quickly stopped and straightened his spine. “We just want to bring you to our home. We are gathering the Guardians, you see, and it will be safer for you there.”

“Is there movement?”

“Er…”

“I mean, even Rock Types move, don’t you think?” Demitri reasoned, his voice stuttering now and then. “Geodude, Aerodactyl, they’re Rock Types and they move around all the same! And you’re a Shiftry! You can move, too, right?”

“No. I am Rock. I do not move.”

“…Literal statue,” Mispy said.

“I am… stillness.” Shiftry hesitated. “I… I won’t move. I refuse to move!”

“But it’s safe to move,” Demitri said. “How about we carry you instead? It’s better than the Hunters finding you, right? And then you’ll just, uh, stay still in our cave next. Stuff moves all the time in the world. In fact, the whole world spins! So you’re always moving!”

“AaaAAAAA!” The whole ground rumbled at that, toppling Demitri and Mispy off of their feet. Gahi beat his wings and Rhys stood his ground. “N-no! Don’t say that! How DARE you… say such horrible things. The spirit must be still. It must stop movement. Stop thinking. Tranquil.”

“You might be confusing meditation with a total lack of movement,” Rhys said, easing forward with gentle gestures. “You recognize that you are unsafe right? Are you familiar with the Hunters? What about Star?”

“Star approached me. I told her where I was. But her movement irritated me. I do not care for her philosophy of directly interfering with mortals.”

“Well, I suppose I don’t, either, but I imagine you also don’t care about Hunters disturbing your… movement further?”

“…Then I must choose between being killed, and living in a world of movement?”

“What, that’s a choice?” Gahi growled irritably. “C’mon, Rhys, let’s just carry thus nutcase back.”

“W-wait, not so violent,” Demitri urged.

“Funny comin’ from you!” Gahi said. “Yer the one with the hardest punches!”

“I—I know, but… but be gentle…”

Mispy frowned, nudging Demitri. “He’s right,” she agreed, then glared at Gahi.

“Feh…” The Vibrava looked back at Shiftry. “So you coming er what?”

“I… I don’t… I can’t…” The cavern shook. “I haven’t moved in so long. I can’t remember how I came here. And to suddenly leave this place—what if it’s all unfamiliar? What if—”

All the rumbling finally shook something loose. A stone fell from the ceiling and landed nearby; the statue made something akin to a scream, but then went completely silent. Demitri flinched. “Wh—what happened?” he said.

Rhys quickly stepped to Shiftry, barely able to sense his aura, but…

“He’s fine,” Rhys stated, releasing the breath he had been holding. “He must have panicked and passed out from shock. Let’s bring him back before he wakes up. Hopefully he will be… at least slightly more tolerant of it all with exposure; he seemed to just be worrying over the thought of it, even though we have been moving around him the whole time.”

Demitri nodded, sighing with relief. “Good…” Then, once Mispy and Gahi relaxed their stances, Demitri’s arms trembled from his excitement. “We evolved! We finally did it!”

The energy from Demitri spread to the other two of Team Alloy. Mispy beamed, awkwardly stumbling forward to headbutt Demitri in the chest. Gahi buzzed his wings and rammed into Demitri next. “Heheh, and I evolved first.”

“Barely,” Mispy countered.

“First is first,” Gahi said, flying above them.

“And how are you three feeling?” Rhys asked.

“Never better!” Gahi said. Demitri and Mispy nodded.

Rhys could sense the excitement from them, even though it was a bit subdued due to a combination of mental exhaustion from the meditating and physical exhaustion from the battle, easy as it may have been in the end. Rhys suspected, however, that their less than explosive celebration was due to the fact that Owen had already beaten them to it. There was nothing to celebrate in their competitive hearts—only a fire to beat Owen to evolving when it really counted.

Demitri shook his head and leaned down to get a hold of the statue. “Urgh—he’s solid rock!”

“Uh, duh,” Gahi said, descending.

Mispy smacked Gahi behind his head with a vine—as a Bayleef, they were much thicker, and the Vibrava slammed into the ground with a groan. Mispy flinched. “Um, sorry.”

Gahi just hissed and crawled away.

Demitri managed to balance the fallen Shiftry over his shoulder, using his massive tusk to keep the statue level. With his free hand, he pulled out their Badge—both the silver and gold ones. “Oh! That’s right!” He fumbled with the silver one, pressing a claw on the center button. “Hey, guys! We did fine! Our Guardian is just fine!”

Rhys nodded. “Let’s meet the others at the village.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 13 – A Place to Call Home

Traversing Fae, Fae Forest was a calming experience, for the most part. The wild Pokémon were no match for Amia’s flames, and Owen managed to take on a few as well. He used the aggressors as practice for his vines. He had learned a new technique this way, though he couldn’t find a practical use for it yet, as it took too long. Owen was now able to turn his arm into a large vine. And that was all. He figured he’d build upon it later.

While the wilds themselves were not a problem, their pranks were. Everything within the Dungeon was a sea of bizarre, Pecha-pink leaves and beige wood. It smelled like candy. Wild cries of many Fairy and Bug Pokémon faintly sounded in all directions like ethereal, haunting cackles.

The seeds that appeared in this Dungeon were also something that some of the more intelligent wild Pokémon took advantage of. Near the middle of their exploration, a Whimsicott tossed with precise aim a strange seed that exploded right in front of Owen’s face. The strange mist that followed made the Charmeleon’s reptilian pupils dilate into saucers, and he had to be carried by Amia and Alex for two whole segments while he babbled about the leaves teasing him. This slowly transitioned into him laughing about how everybody looked like giant, rainbow Goodra, and how he could taste the light with his ears.

When Owen came back to his senses, he had no memory of the past two sections. Amia and Alex spared him the details, and instead told him that it was a Sleep Seed, rather than some sort of potent X-Eye Seed.

Thankfully, aside from a few thrown seeds, the Dungeon itself wasn’t any problem for them. The forest’s twisted dimensions melted away with the passage of the seventh segment. They emerged in a field that was—in stark contrast of the pink foliage that surrounded it—one of normal, green blades of grass that went up to Amia’s knees. But the tall grass hid subtle details beneath it. There were large, multicolored mushrooms dotting the pasture, and the rocks were colored like rainbows.

This place was unexplored and untouched by most Pokémon affiliated with Kilo Village. Few wild Pokémon made this place their home, since it did not possess a Dungeon’s eternal, maze-like qualities to keep such Pokémon trapped inside its own warped ecosystem. This made the garden’s foliage move only to the wind.

“I feel like I shouldn’t be here,” Owen mumbled, looking around. “Don’t you kinda get that feeling…? Like… like this just isn’t a place where Pokémon like us should be walking?”

“I see your point,” Alex mumbled, rubbing his cannons together anxiously.

“Hmm, let’s just keep going,” Amia said, “and see where it takes us! It can’t be that bad, can it?”

“M-maybe,” Owen replied. “Mom? How come… you never told me about all this? Just, you know, about being a Guardian, or that awesome Fire power!”

“W-well, it’s simply because, that is, er, Owen…” She sighed. “We just wanted you to live a normal life. We’d tell you eventually, but… don’t you think you deserved to just live like a normal Pokémon, at least for a little while?”

“I guess,” Owen said. “It’s just, it’s hard because I still know they’re dead.”

“Oh, but they’re hardly dead, dear.”

There was no winning with that argument. He conceded, “I’m glad I at least had a sense of a community… Can they hear me now?”

“They can, dear,” Amia said. “And they’re so proud of you for taking this so well.”

“…What I did counted as taking it well?” he asked, thinking about how he’d toppled Nevren over and had to get one of the Waypoints freed up thanks to his Vine Trap.

“Well, compared to how it could have gone,” Amia said.

They walked some more. He saw a blue mushroom along the immediate path. Bored of the foliage, he kicked at it carelessly.

“Ooo!”

Owen stopped walking. That voice did not sound like anybody he knew. In fact, it didn’t even sound like a voice. More like a cry, or some sort of primal, sing-song grunt. Amia and Alex, too, stopped, and they all looked down.

The blue mushroom’s top grew a mouth. And for a few silent seconds, they stared at each other, two, beady-black eyes just above the carved mouth.

It then screeched at him. Owen jumped and held his arms up, as if to apologize. The mushroom grew to twice, then thrice its size—almost to Owen’s knees, now—and then exploded with a loud POP! It spattered fungal bits harmlessly in all directions. A bit got in Owen’s mouth; it tasted like old cheese. He spat, rubbing his tongue with his claws desperately.

“I don’t think I like this place,” Owen finally said, looking back. Alex was hiding his gargantuan, flaming body behind Amia, who only looked mildly startled. They continued onward.

Owen thought about what was said previously—about only being able to summon solid copies if enough energy was put into them, some sort of divine energy from the Orbs, or spiritual energy. He hadn’t tried that technique yet. His mother, however, could.

“Mom?”

“Yes, dear?”

“How come you were able to make the whole village solid if it takes so much energy to do it?”

“Oh, Owen, they aren’t very strong,” Amia said. “We used to live in a very hidden-away, very peaceful village. The Pokémon there didn’t fight—and so, their spirits were hardly trained to the same degree that you are in combat. The weaker a Pokémon is, the easier it is to make them solid. That’s probably why even Anam, as strong as he is, couldn’t fully materialize Star.”

“Oh.” He paused, making connections. “Does that mean Dad is weak, too?”

“W-well, I…! I mean…!” Alex protested. “I’m fairly strong! I’m the strongest of the village—er, before Amia.”

“So, if I fought you, I’d lose? Or win?” Owen asked.

“You… would have a challenge,” Alex said. “A-again, I’m strong, for my village.”

“For your village of non-fighters,” Owen clarified. “Is that why I never got to spar with you?”

Alex rumbled nervously.

Owen sighed. “Maybe you should have mentioned that when we were making teams.”

Just then, something shuffled in the grass ahead of them. Little flowers rose up from the grass—at first, Owen though they were pretty, but upon closer inspection, the petals were wilted and sticky. They’d been on the grass for a while.

Someone giggled—it was a high-pitched noise and came from three directions at once.

A chill ran up the Charmeleon’s spine.

“Huhuhu…”

“N-n-nggh, th-that just gives me a bad feeling,” Owen said.

“Hmm, perhaps that’s the Guardian,” Amia said. “I’m certainly… sensing a different presence here.”

“A Mystic aura, for sure,” Alex said, nodding to Owen. “That’s what we call that special atmosphere given off by people like us—Mystic auras.”

“It’s what Star called it, at least,” Amia said. “I think she just liked how it sounded.”

“Oooh, and who are you?” The voice giggled again. Childish. Feminine. Jittery. “I can’t believe it. People are here to see me! That’s so cool! It’s been so long since I had new toys to play with.”

“Toys?” Owen repeated. He saw something yellow with pink wings fly past him.

“We aren’t here to play,” Alex said. “We are here to bring you with us. To bring you someplace with other Guardians. Did Star warn you about this?”

“I stopped talking to Star a long time ago. She’s no fun!”

“Can you at least show yourself?” Owen squeaked. “Where are you?”

“Where am I? I’m right here! And here, and here, and now I’m here, and now here!”

Owen heard voices from all over—she was moving so quickly, the wind picking up with each new voice. Was this her—or was it spirits acting like her, or some kind of Double Team? Owen carefully tapped his foot on the ground, preparing a Fire Trap, just in case—Wait. No. Slowly, his foot turned green and leafy. He tapped his foot again. Vine Trap. That won’t burn the fields. Then, he returned to his red, scaly self.

“What’re you doing?” Owen called out. “I don’t want to fight! I—can’t you just come with us?”

“This is my home!” the Fairy Guardian replied. Every sentence came from a new location. “If you want me to come with you, then you’re just going to have to find me!”

Suddenly, the world around them flooded with a strange, pink, glittery fog. Owen reflexively held his breath and shut his eyes, trying to fan the fog away. It felt thick and it made his tail crackle.

“Owen!” Amia yelled.

“Mom?” Owen opened his eyes—but she was gone. So was Alex—in fact… everybody was gone and, once again, he found that he was alone in a strange world. Blades of grass were as tall as trees; the little bits of dirt on the ground were like boulders. One of the mushrooms—a yellow one, this time—grew two slits for eyes and another slit for a mouth and jeered at him. It was ten times Owen’s height.

“…I shrank,” Owen said. He looked around, as if verifying. “Oh, good. Can’t have a normal day anymore, can I?”

Laughter filled the air.

Amia screamed. She was far away, from Owen’s perspective. “Mom!”

He ran, but then realized that the yellow mushroom was gone. Spinning around, he sensed something—it was right behind him. It opened its mouth, revealing countless tiny teeth, and dragged its body forward with an unknown force.

Owen ran as fast as he could, looking back to see the mushroom hot on his tail. Not wanting to get anywhere near, he heaved a plume of fire its way. It shrieked and flailed its huge tiny body, disintegrating into a pile of ash at a rate that startled Owen. A little, blue ember rose from the ashes and lunged toward him. Owen ducked, then spun to watch where it was going.

Owen’s mouth hung agape. “Oh, come on!”

Right in front of him was the largest Joltik he’d ever seen. Its tiny, blue claws were as tall as Owen.

“Huhuhu…” The Joltik—Star had called her Willow, didn’t she?—beamed. “You look squishy.”

Owen blasted Willow with another plume of fire. Immediately after, he turned and fled, using the distorted light and smoky aftereffect as a distraction. A grain of dirt tripped him and twisted so he’d land on his back—wincing when he crunched on his tail instead.

A huge, blue claw crashed down on him. He had no way to escape it. Out of reflex, he crossed his arms in an X-shape and squeezed his eyes shut.

Immense pressure pushed on his back. He sank deeper into the dirt. Yet, no claw pierced through his body. Instead, a shield of radiant, golden light surrounded Owen in a protective, albeit fleeting, barrier.

“Ehh?” Joltik said. She poked at Owen’s Protect barrier. “No fair! Stop hiding!”

It wasn’t as if Owen had a choice. The light was already fading, and it would be too much of a strain to use the barrier twice in a row. How useless—he couldn’t do anything while Protecting himself. All he could do was stall for time, and now he was—by his perspective—trapped many feet underground.

Hey, everyone! We have the first Guardian! He’s okay! He’ll come with us, and he’s super cool! …Guys? Hello?

That voice—Anam? They found their Guardian. But why did they hear him? The communicator! Was it still normally sized? Owen just realized that he didn’t have his bag with him, but he could still feel the subtle presence of the Eviolite nearby. He must be close. If they could just get to the Badge, perhaps they could escape and get backup.

Owen, a voice rang in his mind. Focus on the dirt!

That voice sounded familiar. The Jumpluff who had guarded the Grass Orb previously. Klent?

Listen to me! Focus on the dirt! Become Grass! Sink into it!

Uhh—


“Owen!” someone else called. It was Amia, but from where he was, he couldn’t tell what direction it came from. Was it behind? Or in front?

Willow stomped again, but this time it actually hit. Owen wheezed—thankfully, he was so small that the claws lost their piercing capabilities. He couldn’t focus on the transformation. But he had another idea. Heat welled up in his chest again,and he scorched the Joltik’s claw.

“YOW!”

That was his chance. When she jerked away, Owen scrambled out of the hole of dirt, getting to the top just in time to spin around and cross his arms. The resulting force sent Owen flying back unharmed, and he used that to his advantage, taking the momentum to run away as fast as he—

Willow sprouted pink wings and rammed straight into Owen. Her wings then evaporated, and she resumed the chase, stomping on the ground just behind Owen any time she could.

“Please! Stop stomping on us!” Owen yelled.

“No!” the gigantic creature said. “This is too fun! Just wait until I nibble on you!”

“We just want to—” Owen narrowly dodged one of the claws of the giant Joltik. “PLEASE! Just turn us back to normal! We’re here to help!”

He didn’t know where his parents were, but he knew he heard Amia calling somewhere ahead.

Anam’s voice had to have come from somewhere nearby. Owen hoped that would be enough to guide the others back to the same place, too. Learning from his old mistake, he avoided bits of dirt and walked around the blades of grass. Weeds were like trees, pebbles like mountains. Surely this wouldn’t last forever, right?

The Joltik giggled and continued to pursue Owen. He’d lost his way. In this part of the world, the sun was setting, and the oversized garden looked more and more like shifting monsters of the night. Willow was probably only chasing him because of the flame on his—wait! Maybe if he focused enough…!

Owen shut his eyes. He tried to meditate—hard as it was, while running—and felt his body change and cool. The flame went out, and that same daffodil sprouted. He didn’t like it, but it was necessary. Red scales became leafy green, and all of his Fire attributes vanished—along with the light.

“H-hey! No fair! I just wanna play!” she said. “Where’d you go?!”

Willow must not be good at seeing auras. If he could just keep that up…

Hey, guys! We did fine! Our Guardian is just fine!

“YOW!” Owen yelped, holding the sides of his head. “Demitri! Why so loud?!”

He turned to his right and saw a Badge almost as big as a house. His heart skipped a beat. He was there! He made it!

Now what?!

“Mom? Dad?!”

“Right here, dear!” Amia called, rushing over.

“I found you!” Willow said.

Amia fired a jet of flames at her, but despite the Type advantage, she brushed it off with a laugh. The flames evaporated too quickly when fired from a distance.

“Is that all you have?” she teased. “You’re a hundred times weaker like that! You can’t do anything to me! Now c’mere…”

“Oh, dear,” Amia said. “Owen, d-do you happen to have an idea…?”

Alex blasted Willow with a wave of fire next, sending two jets from his cannons, but it had a similar effect. Owen gulped and looked down. What did he do before? He’d stomped on the ground, preparing a Vine Trap. He did! And if the Badge was here, that meant it was probably right where they were standing. Maybe, with a little bit of good timing— “Mom, Dad, stay behind me, okay?”

“Owen?” Amia said, but listened.

“Are you gonna be my toy first?” Willow cooed.

Owen wordlessly stomped. This triggered the ground to lurch upward; Willow screeched and struggled, but it was too late. The dying sunlight instantly became blotted out by the rising vines. They entangled the Joltik’s body, twisting around her many limbs, immobilizing her. She screamed and flailed, but nothing came of it; the vines were still normal-sized, and she was too tiny to break free.

“N-no! L-let me go!” Willow screamed. “That’s not fair!”

“You shrank us!” Owen said. “Who are you to talk about fair?!”

“Let me go!”

“Turn us back to normal!” Owen said.

“LET ME GO!”

“TURN US—”

“Owen, dear,” Amia held his shoulder. “May I?”

“Y-yeah, okay,” Owen said, shrinking behind her.

Amia stepped forward. The Joltik was still struggling, but the Gardevoir waved to get her attention. “Um… Willow, dear,” she said, looking up. The Joltik’s right front leg weakly twitched against the vines. “We wanted to bring you home with us,” she said. “I’m Amia, the Fire Guardian, and this is my son, Owen, Grass Guardian. Alex, his father, is a spirit of mine. Star sent us here to see you. Your name is Willow, right? Hunters are trying to pick us off one by one, since they might know how to track us down. Sensing us, somehow, you know, dear? So, it’s better if we stay together!”

“…Will you squish me?” Willow asked.

“You have my word that I won’t,” Amia said. “I’ll even make a Divine Promise out of it.”

“What’s that?”

“Um… Gardevoir’s Honor?”

The Joltik stared. “Y’mean it?”

“I do. Please, Willow. There are so many friendly Pokémon waiting to meet you!”

Owen couldn’t believe that simply making what was effectively a little good word was enough to subdue Willow. Then again, she seemed… simple.

“Mnnn… okay,” she said. “Hang on.”

She focused, and a white light surrounded the three of them. In another instant, they were back to their normal size, and Owen was staring at a three-foot-tall wad of vines. He was standing in the middle of it, trapped. Amia and Alex were behind him, out of the plant life.

“Uh—I’m stuck,” Owen said.

“H-help!” a tiny voice cried. She was near Owen’s foot, still caught in his trap. She was tiny, even for a Joltik—no wonder they didn’t notice her before. She could stand on the top of his horn!

“C’mon, Willow,” Owen said, bending down to carefully unravel her from the trap. “Let’s show you Kilo Village.”

Willow sniffled and zapped Owen’s hand.

“O-ow!”

Willow hopped off and stood on top of the vines. “That’s for burning my claw! I can walk on my own!”

“O-okay, okay.” Owen sighed. Her body was barely a handful, but her attitude…

With everything in order, Alex helped pull Owen out of his own trap. The family and Willow warped back to Hot Spot Cave to rendezvous with the others.

<><><>​

They had to act swiftly once they warped back to Kilo Village. ADAM and Willow, thankfully, looked normal, and the Rock Guardian passed as a sculpture. They had all finished their missions fairly close to one another, and were quick to go from the Central Waypoint to Waypoint Road. There wasn’t one for Hot Spot, but the nearest one was only a short walk away from the hidden village.

Once everybody was gathered, they made their way along the prairie roads together, with three new Guardians accompanying them.

One of the first things Owen did when he saw the Rock group was congratulate the rest of Team Alloy on their evolutions. Demitri rubbed his tusk modestly, while Gahi flitted his wings with pride. Mispy just glared at Owen challengingly, and Owen returned it with his own provoking smile. They still had one stage left to fully evolve.

“The location you describe does not sound normal,” ADAM said. He twitched a few times. “The structure is not to code.”

“It’s a cave, dear,” Amia said.

“Does it have little nooks and crannies to explore?” Willow asked.

“Certainly, dear,” Amia said.

“Is it of stone?” the Rock Guardian asked.

“Yes! Oh… Mister Shiftry, what would you like us to call you?”

“You may call me Valle,” the Shiftry said. “I wish not to move for much longer. I must be one with the cave so I can familiarize myself with its form. If it is not to my satisfaction, perhaps I shall return.”

“Well, if it’s not, why don’t we help you later, huh?” Amia asked. “But the cave definitely stays still!”

Valle’s stone face cracked into the tiniest of smiles.

“…How are you moving?” Demitri asked.

This entire time, Valle was standing like a statue, yet his entire form was dragging across the ground, creating an uninterrupted line in the dirt. James took the liberty of dusting that dirt path away in case some unsuspecting traveler tried to follow it toward the boulder.

“I move with Mystic power,” Valle replied.

“He’s just using some energy to push him forward invisibly,” Amia explained. “The same energy I use if I need to fly!”

Owen’s eyes almost popped out of his skull. “You can FLY?!”

Amia jumped in the air and floated there. “Yep! It’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it!”

“Mm.” Zena nodded, floating a few feet in the air next. Anam stepped on an invisible staircase until he hopped down, jiggling his entire body. Willow skittered through the air. ADAM—he always floated, and had little to demonstrate.

“No fair,” Mispy growled.

“Heheh.” Gahi hovered a bit higher, then jerked high into the air to avoid a swat from one of Mispy’s vines.

“I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that,” Demitri admitted, shuddering while riding atop Mispy’s back. “I’m worried about when I become a Haxorus, even. They seem really tall…”

Mispy wrapped a vine around Demitri, the tip nudging his cheek below the tusk. “You’ll be fine.”

Owen’s tail drooped with his shoulders. “That’s crazy. How come you guys never flew before?”

“Well, did we ever need to? That hidden garden was inside a Dungeon. You can’t fly into it without getting caught in the distortion.”

“Yeah, but, it seems really cool to do. How long until I learn?”

“Well, why don’t we teach you?” Amia asked. “That’ll be part of our training! To learn how to ignore gravity, and move with your own willpower!” She giggled.

Owen snorted, but agreed.

The mushrooms didn’t glow until Amia returned to the cave. The Gardevoir sighed happily. “Home, sweet home. I haven’t left this cave for that long in a while!”

“I was starting to feel homesick,” Alex said. “How about you, Owen?”

“Yeah,” Owen admitted. “I mean… I guess the Thousand Hearts is nice, and so was Rhys’ old place, but I kinda like it here the most.”

Mispy prodded at one of the mushrooms. To each touch, it glowed a bit brighter.

“I like the mushrooms,” Willow said, landing on a particularly large one. “What makes it glow?”

“Oh, just a bit of Mystic energy,” Amia said. “I thought the cave was a bit bare without them, so I wanted to give a little lighting! If I didn’t, the only glow we’d get was from the lava rivers deeper inside.”

“Lava rivers?” Valle repeated. “Stone in movement. I do not know if I am comfortable with being near such rivers.”

“Everything’s about not moving with you, isn’t it?” Owen said.

“Movement is not necessary.”

“Yeah, speak fer yerself,” Gahi said, rapidly beating his wings without any effort.

Owen smiled at Gahi. He still couldn’t believe that all three of them had evolved! Still, he beat them to it, and he wasn’t going to let that tiny victory go. He’d certainly be the first one to fully evolve, too. He probably already had the power for it. He just needed a spark to trigger it.

Hopefully Mispy wouldn’t kill him in his sleep when he won.

“And here,” Amia said, “is the main square!”

Owen had seen it many times before, but after the adventures of the day, it was such a relief to see the town as he remembered it—particularly after running for his life from a twisted, giant Joltik.

“Mine!” the Joltik in question said, hopping into a nook that likely once belonged to a tiny spirit.

“I shall check out this file for editing,” ADAM stated, floating into the one next door.

“This is adequate,” Valle said, standing in the middle of town.

“Are… are you sure?” Amia asked.

“Yes.”

They all stared. Given that Valle didn’t move much, it should probably be fine. He was just going to be like a statue, then. Literally. A centerpiece of Hot Spot.

“Well, let’s go to our home, next,” Rhys said. “Anam, James, that reminds me. Now that our numbers are growing, will you be taking up residence here as well?”

“No, I’m going to stay in the Heart,” Anam said. “I should be okay with all the other Hearts that live there, right?”

“Anam, as much as that is appealing,” James said, “I have given it some thought, and I do not think that is a good idea. We can’t endanger Kilo Village any longer—we should stay here, with the others.”

“B-but…”

James tapped his left foot, staring at the Goodra sternly. “Anam, do you want the mortals to be killed because of your carelessness?”

“N-no! I… I don’t!”

“Then we will live here. Is that understood?”

Anam sniffed, but nodded. “What will I tell the others…?”

“They won’t miss you if you’re there during the day,” James said. “It’s only at night, when most Pokémon have their guard down, that we must be careful.”

“You guys still sleep?” Willow asked, peeking out her tiny window. “That’s so boring! Can’t you just play at night?”

“I can’t believe you guys skip sleeping,” Demitri said. “Sleeping is great! And so is eating!”

Mispy nodded vigorously at ‘eating.’

“We certainly can do those things,” Zena said. “There’s simply no need to.”

“Can I still eat and sleep?” Owen asked. “Once I start getting more Mystical, can I still do that stuff? I want to feel normal a little while longer. I dunno. I’m still feeling kinda hungry.”

“You’re still new,” Zena said. “You need time to strengthen your Mystic power. Then you will make those mortal needs… optional.” She gave Owen a small smile, if only to encourage him. Their training together showed how much Owen was dwarfed by all the other Mystics, but he was quick to catch up. That was the natural response, according to Star, for a weaker Mystic among titans of the same nature.

Owen shifted where he stood. “Yeah…” He rubbed at his left arm, wondering if getting strong so fast was a good idea.

Amia gently pat Owen’s back. “Why don’t I make you some dinner? How about for you all, too?” she asked, looking at Rhys and his students.

“Rhys, d’you need to eat?” Demitri said.

“Yeah, now that I think about it…” Gahi landed on Demitri’s head; the powerful Fraxure didn’t seem bothered by the added weight. “You eat, but y’don’t eat all that much. And yer Mystic, too. An old Mystic.”

Rhys nodded. “I eat a small amount, if only to… appear normal,” he said. “But I suppose with this all in the open, I can drop the façade and focus on my training.”

“How come yer so good at cooking, then?” Gahi said.

The Lucario shrugged. “If eating is not a necessity,” he said, “then when I do eat, I’d like to make it worthwhile.”

<><><>​

Worthwhile indeed. Once everybody was settled into their new homes, and Amia filled the vacancies with her old spirits, she called for a small get-together in the town square, gathered around Valle. Before Owen and the others who had to sleep got tired, she wanted to sit around to get to know everyone. Rhys, with the assistance of Mispy and Demitri, hauled out a large pot of stew for everyone—Mystic or not—to enjoy. Around the time that the food was fresh and ready, Nevren conveniently arrived to get his bowl, and then ate quietly from the sidelines. It seemed that even the Alakazam could not resist Rhys’ cooking.

Rhys and Amia helped to pass around stone bowls for everyone to eat another hearty stew—Rhys’ celebratory specialty. Large helpings were given to those who actually had to eat—Owen and Demitri were given bowls, while Gahi was given a flatter plate to accommodate for his bug-like head type. They gave a large bowl to Mispy, knowing that her appetite was beyond comparison, and made sure to set aside enough for when she’d inevitably ask for seconds, and then thirds.

Anam got himself a small bowl to at least appreciate the taste, and shared some of it with James. Amia elected for a similarly tiny bowl and ate with Rhys and Alex. She fed Alex by hand, if only so the Magmortar didn’t have to struggle with his cannon-arms. Owen elected to sit between Alex and Zena during the meal so he could avoid the passive-aggressive nudges that Mispy gave him, perhaps as spite for evolving first. No, definitely because of that. From what Owen knew, Mispy’s species evolved fairly early to its final stage. She was the greatest contender to beat him in this silly race. Which he would definitely win.

They weren’t really sure what to do about Valle. Amia offered a bowl to the Shiftry statue, going so far as to place the bowl in front of Valle’s face to let him smell it. The bowl trembled in Amia’s hands—with a squeak of surprise, the stone bowl went straight toward Valle, vanishing into his face. The stew, too, was gone.

“Thank you for the offering,” Valle said.

Owen didn’t even know where to begin with that display. Did he just absorb the stew? Did he have a mouth, or was it just there, now? Did he taste? Did he even have a sense of smell? How does he see? Did he feel? This simple gesture made Owen’s mind swirl with questions long enough that even his keen awareness was dulled. He didn’t realize Mispy stealing from his bowl from afar using her vines. He resumed eating without realizing that half his food had been transferred into her bowl.

ADAM said that he required no food. Despite this, when presented with some, he leaned his beak into the bowl and, as far as Owen could tell, sucked the stew out of the bowl. But that gave Owen another thought, and he stared at ADAM for a bit longer. He didn’t have a neck. Porygon-Z had a head, and then a body, but no neck to attach them. How did he—?

“Optimal,” he stated.

Owen decided not to ask. That was enough questions for the day. Instead, he watched Amia hand Willow the smallest bowl they had, which ended up being three times her size. She countered by blasting it with a swirl of pink mist, shrinking it down until she could grasp it with her tiny claws. She then zapped the ground, forming a tiny, red mushroom that looked up curiously. She then grabbed this mushroom and tore it apart—it screamed a little, yet it laughed at the same time—and dropped its remains into the bowl. Owen noticed an ember returning to the Joltik’s tiny body. That mushroom was one of her spirits. Like death was a game to them.

At least I’m not the only crazy one, Owen thought worriedly. Does being a Guardian make you go nuts?

I think it’s just the isolation,
Star said.

Owen’s tail flashed with alarm, earning a concerned glance from Mispy. He shook his head dismissively and stared at his bowl. Can you not do that?!

Whoops! My bad. Sorry, I’m just watching. You mind if I sit in your head for a while?

Ugh
. Owen resumed eating. Why don’t you just come out?

I don’t wanna upset Zena. I’m gonna lay low for a while. Besides, I need to start looking for the next Guardians for you guys to get
.

“Owen, are you okay?” Alex asked, looking down.

“Huh? Oh—yeah! I’m just fine,” Owen said. “Sorry. I got kinda distracted.”

“This must be a lot for you to take in,” Alex said, gently patting Owen on the back. “I’m really sorry for all this.”

“It’s okay,” Owen said. “I mean, it’s still crazy, and I didn’t expect my time as a Heart would be like this, but, you know, it’s not… bad. I mean, look at everyone here, right?” He looked up at his father. “Lots of new friends, and Team Alloy is all here, and everything. So it’s not a total loss.” He looked at the flames on Alex’s shoulders. “I do kinda wish it was normal, but, I think that’s just a little panic, you know? Or… something.”

Alex smiled sadly. “I understand,” he said. “Believe me, I didn’t expect to live with Amia in quite this way, either. But I choose to stay here for her, and for you.”

Owen blushed and resumed eating.

Amia eventually tried to break the ice by having everyone introduce themselves. Anam was happy to oblige, talking about the Hearts and how James was such a great help managing everything. He then pointed to Nevren, who looked almost startled at being acknowledged. Owen was surprised, too. He’d almost forgotten the Alakazam was there. Anam declared Nevren to be the most helpful at managing the other Hearts. “He’s my favorite tactician!” Anam said, which earned an unpleasant cough from James and Rhys. Anam tittered nervously.

“Hm, but now that I have the attention of everyone,” Nevren said, looking up, “I feel I should point something out. With the Hunters seemingly increasing their movements, and with so many Guardians here, it may be wise to stay together. That includes you, Anam. James was right. You may have been strong enough to survive out in the open without the Hunters approaching you directly, but now, that may no longer be the case. You should live here, in Hot Spot, with the others. I’m sure Amia can build you a hot spring just as they built a lake for Zena.”

“Mnn… but I get to be in Kilo during the day, right?” he clarified.

“Of course,” Nevren said. “That way, you can just be here at night, when you feel the need to rest. I know how much you enjoy naps, even though you don’t need them.”

Anam’s cheeks blushed purple.

“I didn’t expect this place to become so… full, so quickly,” Zena admitted, looking around with an air of nervousness. “I—I haven’t talked to so many new people in… in ages, really. Lifetimes. But—I’m quite happy here, now.” She glanced at Owen, but then flinched when their eyes met. She turned her attention back to the others.

Zena, Owen thought to himself, frowning. I guess me being the Grass Guardian scares her a little. Her muscles are so tense every time she talks to me. Isn’t that how serpents react when they feel threatened? Owen hesitated, thinking for a bit longer. That wasn’t it. If anything, she was closer to him than she was to anyone else here!

She probably just likes you, Owen, Star said.

Likes… me?

Well, duh. Pretty obvious after you met her and you guys talked for a while.


“We’ll help you take it slow, dear,” Amia said to Zena. “Is there somebody in particular that you enjoy talking to?”

Zena gulped. She stared at the ground and nodded. Owen smiled slightly, feeling slightly reassured. That had to have been him. Maybe she was just intimidated now that his training was showing results. He wasn’t scary! After all, she was still many times his size. Along with that, he wasn’t going to deny that—aside from when the air was squeezed out of him—it felt good to be wrapped up in her embrace.

That was a weird thought, Owen said. Wonder where that came from. He glanced nervously at Zena. He shouldn’t be getting feelings like that so suddenly. They only knew each other for a little while, relatively speaking. Zena just needed a friend. Lost in thought, Owen started fiddling with his claws.

“Well, talk to them, then!” Amia said. “It’s great to have a close friend.”

Zena nodded silently

Owen found himself nodding, too. “Hey, you know, Zena,” Owen said, quickly trying to think of something that she might enjoy, “if you want, you can train with me!”

“Train?” Zena perked up. “Like, meditate together?”

“No, we can spar!” Owen said.

“Oh.” Zena shrank slightly. “You certainly like to fight, don’t you?”

“Just a little,” Owen said, shrinking in return. Wrong move. “I mean, I trained all the time to become a Heart, so I guess maybe that’s where I get it from? Fighting’s in my blood. But, uh—let’s do something else!”

“Yeah,” Demitri nodded. “I think Rhys raised us that way, too, huh? As long as we meditated, we got to fight as much as we wanted! Just like eating vegetables. But for your head? Kinda cool, having him as a dad and a teacher at the same time.”

“I think we can say that,” Gahi said. “Yeah, I remember training with you guys fer as long as I can remember. You guys could never get me, though, ‘cause I was always flying way outta yer range! Hah!”

Demitri, Mispy, and Owen all laughed, but Owen caught on that the others were laughing a bit less, or differently. The jovial atmosphere bled away. Willow was laughing obliviously; Valle and ADAM didn’t seem like the sort to ever laugh; Rhys and Amia chuckled with strained force; Anam tittered nervously; Zena didn’t make a sound and looked at the Charmeleon with concern. Owen tilted his head back at Zena, wondering what was wrong.

This made Owen think back—did they say something wrong? Something in that last sentence felt wrong. Did Gahi make an insensitive joke? Perhaps they just didn’t understand the joys of fighting, getting the blood pumping. They were a lot more peaceful, after all. The thrill of the chase, especially when Gahi flew around and they had to catch him on foot. Owen was never able to catch Gahi when he—

No. Wait.

Flying?

“Gahi, didn’t you just evolve?”

“Eh?” Gahi said. “Well, yeah, but…” He twitched his head in thought. “Yeah… but… I always… flew off ter…”

Gahi fell into silence, his big eyes staring at nothing. Demitri and Mispy glanced at each other uneasily. Owen looked at Amia and Alex. They both averted their eyes. He then stared at Anam, who jumped and gained an interest in the ground. Then, Owen’s eyes went to James, but he was already analyzing a mushroom on the ceiling.

A slow silence filled the air. Nobody knew what to say next—and all Owen wanted was for someone to say something. Anything! But, nobody did. Even the new Guardians, who knew nothing about their situation, sensed that something was deeply wrong.

Owen mumbled, “Flying…”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 14 – Too Late

Owen had barely slept last night—nobody had answered his questions when he asked. They had said, what are you talking about? Maybe it was a lapse in memory. Sometimes evolution can change the mind slightly. Gahi is just confused. He’ll sort it out. Don’t worry, Owen. You evolved, too. Maybe you need to settle a bit?

But Owen knew that hadn’t been some trick of the mind. It felt too… real to be a trick. But then—how could he know? If his mind thought it was real, but it wasn’t… he wouldn’t know. But then, why did he have that thought? Gahi did fly before. He was fast

Days passed while Star went searching for more information about the Guardians. That left them with time to decompress. Willow had made herself a little mushroom village in her abode, where she happily conversed with her screaming, playful spirits. ADAM had spent his time obsessively polishing every corner of his abode until it was a smooth cube inside. Afterward, he had dedicated his time to “defragmenting,” whatever that meant. Valle… did his thing in the town square.

The new normal was settling in. Every day, Anam would leave with Nevren to manage the Association. Rhys would leave with his students to take a mission or two after their usual meditation.

“I’m not crazy. Not crazy. Not…” Owen shook his head. “I know it happened. I—I can’t just make that up, can I?”

“I’m sure you can’t, Owen,” Zena said. “But you have to admit, it’s a little strange, don’t you think?”

She was coiled up in the corner of her room, staring at a set of little marbles on the ground. Rhys had a bag of them in his room, and Owen knew the rules to a game they could play. He flicked one of two large marbles into the pile, knocking two out with precision. Zena, opposite to Owen, clumsily rolled her marble along her pink ribbon. It fell a few times, but a gentle, Mystic force kept it from hitting the ground.

“Mom’s not telling me a thing. I tried pressing Dad, but he got so flustered that he exploded and hid in Mom’s Fire Realm or whatever.” He snorted and eyed the marble floating above Zena’s ribbon-eyebrow. “Is that thing you’re doing the same force you use to fly?”

“Hm? Oh, yes. It is.” Zena fired the marble into the circle, freeing four from the perimeter in one shot.

“Good one,” Owen said. The four marbles floated to Zena’s side. “But, yeah. That’s pretty cool. Maybe if I…” Owen focused on his marble. It wobbled in his claws, floating above his hand. It fell right after. “That’s weird.”

“It is,” Zena said. “I think it’s the same force that keeps some Pokémon afloat. Mm, Castform, Claydol, off the top of my head…”

“Levitation powers?” Owen hummed in thought. “Yeah, I didn’t think about it that way.”

“Hmph. Star said it was ignoring gravity, but that doesn’t explain it all. We also choose which direction we want to float.”

“Ignoring gravity,” Owen repeated. He stared at the remaining marbles in the circle. There were just ten. But he saw a good angle, and he rolled the orb in. With one flick, the marble bounced against six of the smaller ones, pushing them all out.

“How did you do that?” Zena said.

“Do what?” Owen asked, picking up the six that fell out of the ring. “It’s just a bunch of spheres. It’s easy to predict which way they’ll all go.”

“Yes, but,” she said, staring curiously “you predicted all of that?”

“Well, the last one was a little luck,” Owen admitted. “Your turn.”

Zena counted her marbles, then Owen’s. “I can’t win.”

“Huh?” Owen looked at his marbles, then at Zena’s. “Oh. You’re right. Even if you got ‘em all, I’d be two ahead…” He rubbed the back of his head, gripping his horn. “H-ha, sorry. Maybe I should’ve gone easier.”

Zena flushed. “You were going easy?”

“No!” Owen said quickly. “I was just—I mean—”

“Don’t go easy,” Zena growled.

“Okay.” Owen lowered his head. “Well—why don’t you pick the next game?”

“Hmm…” Zena scanned the marbles. Owen helped to gather them into the small sack Rhys kept them in. She then eyed Owen. “I think I’m going to meditate. Would you care to join me?”

“Oh, sure. Um, can I meditate while reading something?”

Zena blinked. “I do not believe that is how meditation works.”

“Well, I haven’t been able to read for a while.” Owen bumped the claws from each hand together. “I feel like my mind’s getting rusty.”

“Well, what do you read?” Zena asked.

“Books,” Owen said. “I usually like nonfiction. Or comics. Actually, I think I kinda like to read books in general…”

“Books,” Zena repeated. “You’ve said that word before. But I’m not sure what they are.”

“Uhh—remember those weird, rectangle things in Anam’s office?”

“You mean the one that was encrusted with his… mucus?”

“Please don’t call it that.” Owen winced, nodding. “Those, yeah. Well, you can actually open them on one side. It’s filled with really, really thin sheets, called paper. And the paper has words on them. You can spend days reading one book, depending on how thick it is, and how small the letters are.”

“Goodness, that sounds like incredibly detailed craft. It must be expensive.”

“Not really.” Owen replied. “We’ve got these things that can print them really easily. Nevren invented them with the help of some of the other Pokémon. You can make a bunch of copies of the same book really quickly—you could send it all across Kilo!”

“Kilo,” Zena repeated, nodding. “The world, right?”

“Yeah. Wait, back then, you didn’t even have a name for the world?”

“No, we did,” Zena said. “But I don’t think it was Kilo. In fact, I don’t think Kilo Mountain was called that, either.”

“Oh. What was it called before?”

Zena paused, looking down. “I can’t remember. Perhaps I haven’t used it in so long, I forgot. Q… Qu… Hm. I’m not sure.” She sighed. “It’s not important. Names change all the time.”

Owen nodded. “Well, how about we get something to read, huh?”

He headed back to his home and slipped to his room, and then into a little alcove in the back where he kept his books. He had to buy special editions of them, printed on Rawst paper. “If we ever get you any books, Zena, I think we’ll need to find some books made of Passho paper.”

“Passho paper? Is that not a berry?”

“Yeah. It protects against water damage, so you can even read it underwater!”

“I’ve never heard of making something waterproof before,” Zena said. “Let me guess. This is another one of those Dungeon items, or perhaps one of those odd blessings by Anam?”

“Yeah. Blessed berries and seeds and scarves really enhance their power. I heard that one blessed Chesto Berry can let you pull an all nighter easily!” Owen pulled out a book that was bigger than his head. “Here! Let’s read this one together.”

Zena blinked, rising a few inches higher from her leisurely coil. “I’m reading with you?”

“I mean, this might be interesting to read, don’t you think?” He showed her the cover: Scarves and Seeds: Basic and Obscure Dungeon Equipment, Third Edition.

Zena looked tired just hearing the title.

“Here, let’s go to the Scarves section, huh?” Owen said enthusiastically, walking to his bed. His flame was bright, lighting up Zena’s eyes. She followed. He opened the book to the middle and started pointing and reading out a few of the standard Scarves, all of their effects, where they were found, and even their rarity when found in the wild.

Somehow, Zena became interested, coiling near Owen to read with him. The pages turned slower and slower; by the time they were reading about Pecha Scarves, Owen had paused for so long that Zena spent a good amount of time simply re-reading.

“Owen?” Zena asked, nudging his shoulder with one of her brows.

“Zena, am I crazy?”

Zena was quiet for a few seconds too long. “I certainly don’t think so,” she said. “Owen, it was just a lapse in memory, was it not? Gahi just evolved. It’s simply not possible for him to have flown around before, and the evolution has everyone slightly confused.”

“It feels so real, though,” Owen said. “I… I don’t get it. I know he—”

“Owen,” Zena said softly, “don’t get so worked up over it. Okay?”

The Charmeleon hesitated, but then turned the page. “Okay,” he relented. “Thanks. I guess I’m just getting worked up over nothing. Lapse of memory from evolving. That makes sense. I guess the brain changes a little when you evolve, so maybe that’s why.”

Zena nodded. And so, they resumed their reading.

“So, I’m not crazy?”

“No, Owen. You’re just fine.”

<><><>​

“This one here is the Spire of Trials,” Star said. “Fighting Guardian Manny lives here—he’s pretty cool. We go way back. I’d go there, definitely.” She pointed at the map they had brought in to Hot Spot’s main square. The Spire of Trials was that odd, narrow triangle on the map to the east, just below Nightshade Forest. “Hmm, I guess the Sunshine Highlands is also a good one, that’s the Flying Guardian, Cara.” She pointed to the far west, where white hills dominated the landscape. “Uhh… Oh! And why don’t we also try Forrest, the Ground Guardian in the Endless Expanse?” She headed southwest, to an odd, gray-colored portion of the map that looked like a place the artist forgot to finish.

The group agreed and started shuffling around to divide up their numbers. With three new Guardians, they could have a full team for everyone and then some. After the fiasco that was Alex’s fighting abilities, he quietly retired to be replaced by someone else.

“I shall not go,” said Valle.

“Let me guess,” Star said, crossing her arms. “This place is your new mountain, and you’re gonna keep watch of any abnormal movements here instead? One with the stone?”

“Yes.”

Star sighed, rubbing her paws between her eyes. “Okay, okay. So, who else is going, then? We’ve got Anam, James, Zena and… ADAM, yeah, that’s pretty balanced… that seems like a pretty solid group, right?”

Zena glanced at Owen again, but didn’t protest.

“And then there’s Rhys, and his three students… Okay, group two.”

“Wait, hang on,” Owen immediately protested. “Why can’t the whole Team Alloy go together this time, huh? We’re all evolved! That’s gotta be strong enough, right?”

“Owen, that’s not even close to strong enough on your own.” Star motioned to Rhys, who was avoiding their eyes.

“I understand your desire to work as your proper Heart quartet,” Rhys said. “However, I can’t in good conscience send you four out alone. I must accompany them.”

“But… but I’m never allowed to just go on a mission with them.” Owen’s tail dimmed. “Why not? Is it really that unsafe for me to just go out for a little while?”

Rhys nodded firmly. “The Hunters could take you at a single unlucky moment. We can’t afford for a Guardian to be alone without any elites keeping them safe.”

Owen wanted to protest. But he didn’t find an opening; compared to the Elite Hearts, he was just backup.

“Sorry, Owen. When you’re ready, but not now.” Star then turned to look at the rest of the group. “Who’s left? Willow, Owen, and Amia—oh, hey, Alex, you can come with us again! …Owen?”

“H-huh?” Owen straightened his spine.

“Owen, are you… okay?”

“Y-yeah,” Owen replied weakly.

The group shuffled uncomfortably. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were a bit unfocused, too. It had been quite a few days since their odd lapse of memory, but it obviously lingered in all of Team Alloy’s heads. Everyone knew it, but most didn’t want to acknowledge it.

“Hey… don’t sweat it, alright?” Star said softly. “It’ll be okay. How about we just get to fighting, huh? Fighting is always fun! Right?”

This lifted their spirits slightly. “Y-yeah, I guess so.” Demitri smiled. “Yeah… um—which one do you think would be the best fight? Of those three?”

“Well, Forrest will probably give you a lot of obstacles to go through. And I’m pretty sure Manny will be the same. Cara’s more of a run-and-hide ‘mon, so… maybe Anam should do that one, since he’s the most outwardly friendly of us, y’know? And isn’t on fire.” She nodded at Amia.

“Oh, okay,” Anam said. “So, we’ll handle Cara. What about Forrest?”

“Ground, right?” Gahi said. “I can avoid all those attacks now that I’m flying. Levitate’s a pretty nifty move fer all those techniques. I say we do that one.”

“But Rhys is weak to Ground,” Demitri said. The Fraxure worriedly glanced at his teacher.

“I will survive,” the Lucario said.

“Guess that leaves us with Manny,” Amia sighed. “I’m not much of a fighter, but… I will try.”

“Excuse me?” Owen mumbled, recalling the time she melted the ground for Zena’s new lake.

“And I will, too!” Willow said, hopping onto Owen’s head. “You! Carry me when we go. Understood? You are my servant for the day.”

“E-excuse me?” Owen said again.

“Now, Willow, at least ask permission,” Amia said.

Willow growled. “You don’t mind if you are my riding-Pokémon, do you, Charmeleon?”

“I—I guess I will,” Owen said, looking away.

“Cool.” Star clapped her paws in a soundless plap. “Then let’s split up. If you guys run into any trouble, use those communicators like before. It might be useful!”

“Of course,” Amia said, looking around. “Owen! Let’s go. Willow, won’t you lead Owen with us to Kilo Village?”

“Of course! Servant, you will move!”

“Okay…”

Amia giggled. “Oh, be a good sport, Owen. I’m sure Willow is just playing.”

“I sure hope so.” Owen looked up in an attempt to see the Joltik. He felt her balanced on the top of his horn.

“See you guys!” Demitri waved a tiny arm at the other teams.

“Be careful!” Anam called back. They all vanished, set to rescue the three Guardians.

<><><>​

The rocks of Sunshine Highlands glimmered like cut diamonds. There was no escape from the sunlight here, and the further along the highlands they went, the rockier it became. Everything was either white or prismatic; turning to the left risked seeing a rapid rainbow of colors, and turning to the right risked a whiteness that would rival the sun.

“I hope she’s okay,” Anam said, looking around through squinted eyes. “Cara, right? The Flying Guardian…”

“I guess that means she’s got quite the… hrm.” James said. “Well, perhaps her tendencies will be to flee rather than to battle.”

“Yeah,” Anam said. “But I’ll take the lead, if that’s how it’s gonna be.” He squinted, holding his slimy arm over his eyes. “It’s so bright!”

“Indeed,” James replied. “Part of the hazard here is how the rocks reflect the sunlight. We should have come here later in the day.”

Eventually, Anam had to cover his eyes completely. “I can’t see…”

“It’s… quite difficult, yes,” Zena admitted. She’d been slithering blind for quite a while, and had a splotch of slime on her neck and face from bumping into Anam so much. James kept his head down, using his natural hood to protect against most of the sunlight.

“We must advance,” ADAM said. “My light sensors have been shut down due to overload. However, my other senses indicate that there is a Mystic aura further ahead, and is currently hiding. Would you like to continue? Options: Yes, cancel.”

“Yes,” Anam said. “I guess… I guess we should keep going. How much longer?”

“We are approximately 98% to the hiding spot.”

“Oh, that’s close!” Anam said. “So, we should be finished soon?”

“We are approximately 98% to the hiding spot.”

“Um… yeah, so…”

“S-stop right there!” a shaky voice called out.

Anam stopped and tried to look ahead. He saw a flash of something flying toward them. Zena narrowly dodged the blast, but the strong gusts of wind left small cuts on her back. “Ah—ngh—that’s not very friendly.”

Anam squinted and saw a bird flying high in the—no, that wasn’t a bird. It had wings, yes, but… it also had arms. And—something about the wings didn’t quite fit, either. What was wrong with…

Anam saw flashes of brown when the light didn’t fight against him, and he realized that this fuzzy Pokémon was a Lopunny, its ears transformed into sky-blue, feathery wings. She flew through the air with an agility that Anam could only dream of. She was also extraordinarily large—perhaps twice the size of a normal Lopunny.

“There! That’s definitely the Flying Guardian!” Anam pointed.

“Wh-what do you want with me?!” Cara yelled back. “I don’t want to fight! Please, leave me alone!”

“We aren’t here to fight!”

“How can I know that?! You already came here once before! You—your kind—!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Anam said.

“Cara! Whoever came here before, we aren’t them!” James outstretched his wings. “This is our first time here! Look!” He vanished into the ground in a black fog, and then reappeared. “Anam is the Ghost Guardian, and I am his spirit, yes? Did Star not tell you about us?”

Cara stopped her flying, but it was still too hard to see. “Wh-what do you mean?” She stopped flying away, and instead looked down at them. The way the sun was positioned, she was directly in front of it. “The Ghost Guardian, yes, I… I think Star mentioned you before. Yes. O-oh, I’m sorry. Hold on.”

The lights of the crystalline field dimmed enough for them to see. They still sparkled white, but it wasn’t blinding. Was she somehow controlling the intensity of the light?

Zena sighed. “Thank goodness.”

“Yeah! I could barely open my eyes!” Anam said. “That’s not fair, you know, fighting your opponents when they can’t even see!”

“My visual sensors were completely shut down,” ADAM said.

Cara beat her wings-ears a few more times. “I’m—I’m so sorry,” she said, slowly descending. “I didn’t mean—”

Anam suddenly went blind to a white flash of light. An instant later, the boom of thunder deafened him, leaving nothing but a loud ringing in his ears. Zena and the others shut their eyes again. ADAM blared an alert signal, but nobody heard it. The ringing faded. Anam tried to open his eyes, but everything hurt when he did, and he shut it again. Something heavy thumped dully a few feet ahead of him. He smelled something burning.

Anam felt James grab his arm and tug him back; he fell down and heard another thunderous explosion. If he wasn’t so slimy, his body might have caught on fire. Anam knew not to open his eyes for a while, but when he finally did, through his blurry vision, he saw something black a few paces ahead. There was something glowing in this blackness. A pale, whitish light. It reminded him of the clouds that the bird Pokémon flew above.

Heavy paws walked toward the black thing and the glowing orb. A tiny, gray creature floated toward it next, wrapping it in some sort of cloth. The light vanished. A forceful, invisible blast blew the blackness away like dust. And finally, Anam’s vision—as well as the others’—returned. Standing before them was Espurr Rim—and some… other creature.

Long, black fur along its head, chest, and rear; short, blue fur everywhere else. Bits of yellow in the ears and behind its forelegs, and a four-pointed star at the end of its black tail. But there was something different, too, from how Anam was familiar with the Luxray species. It was bulkier, with intense, sharp eyes and a slightly more elongated muzzle. Its fur stood even more on-end than usual, constantly sparkling with electricity, more like a Jolteon’s fur style. Every so often, they saw black flashes—some kind of dark light, if he had to describe it—accompany this electricity. Its tail was long, and whip-like, like a Raichu.

Anam couldn’t move. He just realized what had happened. That Luxray was the one who attacked—and the Flying Guardian, Cara, was—

Rim vanished with the strange Luxray, taking the Flying Orb with her.

<><><>​

The Endless Expanse was named as such because, upon entering the field, it was hard to determine where the horizon was. It was a great flatland that had a perpetual, thin layer of water over a field of salt. The water perfectly reflected the sky, blending into the horizon an eternity ahead of them. Every step that Rhys, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi took into this flatland sent small ripples ahead of them, disturbing the salt on the ground.

Gahi’s wings beat rapidly, making the most, but smallest, ripples. Demitri walked beside Mispy, and their steps, with Rhys’, made the most impact. There was no Dungeon here. Instead, the challenge of finding the Ground Guardian came from actually locating him in the completely uniform mirror. It was too large for Mispy to detect a Mystic aura for the whole area, and the same went for Rhys.

Gahi flew ahead multiple times to get a better visual of the fields for any abnormalities. Each time, he returned with no news, and they advanced forward to continue their scan. Around noon, Mispy started to complain about food, and Rhys sighed and dug through his bag for their rations. Rhys winced when he realized that he also had brought some of the food he planned to use for later.

“GROSS!” Demitri shouted. “What is that?!”

“It’s—it’s leftovers,” Rhys said, holding out what appeared to be a purple lump of… something. “I wasn’t going to throw it away. That would be wasteful.”

“I think it’s moving!” Demitri said.

Mispy glared as if the purple food had insulted her.

“I didn’t intend for it to be for you,” Rhys said, holding the grimy-looking food in his paws. “This will be my meal, then. It’s not as bad as you make it out to be. You may have these instead,” he said, offering Mispy two large apples. Demitri and Gahi took one each, but they stared at Rhys. “What?”

“You’re gonna eat that?” Demitri said.

“Of course,” Rhys said. He then opened his mouth and—to their horror—he downed the purple lump in one gulp. They watched the lump descend into his chest. He cleared his throat. “It’s not very difficult if you know the proper way to eat it.”

“I thought you didn’t need to eat,” Demitri said.

“If I’m performing some strenuous effort, I do,” Rhys said, looking ahead. “These past few days have been taxing, particularly after you decided to take on that high-ranking mission into the Southern Abyssal Forest.”

“Bah, scariest thing about that place is the rumors, nothing else,” Gahi said. “Okay, I’m gonna fly ahead and scan fer more weirdness, see if we can spot the Guardian, eh?” He flew ahead, having finished his apple.

Mispy finished her two by the time Demitri had finished half of his. She wrapped a few vines around his body and pulled him onto her back, where she happily carried him across the salt flats.

Gahi flew back prematurely, and his zigzag in the air suggested he actually found something.

“Let’s hurry,” Rhys said.

Gahi descended to their level. Once they all caught up, Rhys stopped, eyes wide.

There were claw marks in the ground that Gahi flew above. The ground was filled with huge fissures from some Pokémon’s attack. There was also a pit left behind in the ground where the Guardian of the Ground Orb likely once was. Some of the pits were still filling, slowly, with water, suggesting that the clash was recent. But for a battle with a Guardian, the struggle didn’t seem to be very intense, all things considered. Even their clash with Valle, while underwhelming on a relative scale, left quite a bit of damage.

“What is all this…” Demitri said, looking at the ground. The Fraxure couldn’t help but admire his reflection, picking at a smudge on his left tusk.

“Good thing I can fly,” Gahi muttered, looking at his reflection.

“I don’t… sense anything,” Mispy said. The Bayleef had her eyes closed, worriedly scanning for any sort of Mystic aura. If the clash was here, surely the Ground Guardian would be here, too.

“But it looks like something just got here. There,” Demitri said, pointing at a particularly huge gash in the ground where water was still pouring inside. It was deep, but the bottom was clearly visible and the water level was slowly rising.

They saw something lying in the flat ahead. “What’s that?” Mispy said.

“Let’s look,” Rhys said, running forward. Gahi was the only one able to keep up.

It seemed to be a small tree lying on the ground, cut near the base of the trunk. “What’s a tree doing here?” Gahi asked. “There ain’t a tree er a plant here fer… I mean, where’d it even come from?”

“This is a Torterra’s tree,” Rhys said gravely. “It grows on their back, Gahi. But for it to be severed like this…”

The water was covering most of it, but he saw heavy footsteps and multiple, converging imprints of other, attacking Pokémon. Rhys walked along and followed the path. He saw a particularly large pit in the ground—and at the bottom, he saw the victim. “Ngh.” Rhys squeezed his paws, forming little flashes of cyan aura. “We’re too late.”

Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy followed Rhys. “What d’you mean?” Demitri asked.

The current of the water and swirling salt obscured the corpse at the bottom of the pit. Demitri flinched once he realized what he was looking at, covering his mouth in shock. Gahi’s wings fluttered slower, looking for something to do with his legs. Anything but stare at something so morbid. Mispy frowned, pensive, wondering if he died quickly, or if…

Rhys fired a few weak Aura Spheres at the ground; salt and sand burst and shifted into the flooded pit, burying the bottom completely. Rhys closed his eyes and lowered his head for a few seconds, waiting for the body to be buried completely.

Then, he said, “It seems that the Hunters have arrived here shortly before we did. Unfortunately, they extracted the Ground Orb.”

“Forrest…” Mispy couldn’t tear her eyes away from the pit. On her back, Demitri trembled, suppressing a few sniffles.

“We… we could’ve saved him,” Demitri said. “If we just got to him a day earlier…”

“A day earlier,” Rhys repeated. “I have my doubts. The Hunters… Could they have been tracking our movements? After we rescued the first three, could they be trying to predict our trajectories, just based on which Waypoints we take?”

But Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were too dejected—and perhaps, too inexperienced—to strategize in the middle of Forrest’s unmarked grave. Without really suggesting it outright, they all stood there in a respectful silence until the pit completely filled with salt and water.

“I’m sorry for your suffering,” Rhys said to the ground, head bowed in respect. Then, after another handful of silent breaths, he addressed Team Alloy. “There’s nothing we can do here. Let’s return home and report to the others.”

“Should we use our Communicator?” Demitri asked.

“No,” Rhys said. “We shouldn’t lower anybody’s morale. We’re already going as fast as we can; they won’t be able to go any faster than they already are.”

“Okay,” Demitri said. “If that’s the case, let’s just… I mean, yeah. Let’s go back.”

They didn’t want to admit it, but Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were all still itching for a battle. But in the solemn atmosphere of this lifeless salt flat, there was nothing to fight anyway.

Rhys dug through his bag, searching for their Badge. He dug a bit more. And then more.

“Rhys?” Gahi said.

Rhys looked up. “Where are our Badges?”

<><><>​

“Oooh… this place is a bit creepy,” Amia said, hugging herself. There was very little light in this mountain’s cave; only by her flames and Owen’s tail could they see the path. The spire itself wasn’t much to look at from outside. It merely appeared to be a giant spike in the ground, perfectly conical with an entrance on the southern side. Internally, it was a great, winding spiral of polished rock.

“I certainly didn’t expect the Spire of Trials to be some sort of literal, ascending spiral inside,” Alex said. “Just where are we going?”

“From the outside it looked pretty big. Just a giant spike sticking out of the ground. So maybe we’re heading near the top?” Owen said.

“That’s likely it,” Alex agreed.

“Well, I don’t like it!” Willow said, stomping on Owen’s head with her tiny feet. “Owen! You’re going to turn around immediately!”

“I—I can’t just turn around! We’re already inside!”

“Then make it prettier! I need fresh air for my fur! And good smells, too! And light! Make it brighter!”

“Mom, help!”

“Willow, dear, why don’t I help make it brighter with my fire?” Amia offered. “I usually do blue light, but would you prefer something like green, or red?”

“Ooo! Make it green!” Willow said, hopping on Owen. “Green reminds me of the fields!”

“Green it is.” Amia smiled and created a small fire bubble in front of them to light the way. This, it seemed, pleased Willow enough to keep her from complaining the rest of the way.

They walked quickly, but slow enough that they didn’t trip on anything. By the time they were a quarter of the way up the spire—going in a sort of inward spiral—they suddenly turned to the right and saw a large chamber. Echoes of explosions and shouts and roars radiated from the opposite side. Owen had to concentrate to get a better sense for what the sounds were—it was… something else. Who was that? Those roars didn’t sound normal. They were intense. Too intense for a normal Pokémon.

The chamber was at least a hundred of Owen’s Charmeleon paces across. The walls looked like they had been buffered a thousand times over many centuries to get that perfect smoothness, and the same could be said for the floor. But there were imperfections. Cracks and faults, like battling had taken place there before. Still, the arena was empty. They could easily advance. The team of four stepped into the chamber and made it a quarter of the way across.

“Ha HAAA!”

After being so quiet to hear the others, the shout made Owen double over in panic, clutching his chest. Alex made the exact same gesture as Owen. Was it possible to die of shock? Perhaps not as a Mystic.

A spirit rose from the rocks in the center of the arena-like chamber. The Feraligatr pumped his fists in the air. His scaly arms were thicker than Owen’s body, and the same could be said for the bulk of just about every other part of him.

“I am the First Guardian Spirit, Feraligatr Azu!” he shouted. “I am one of three that you must defeat in order to see the Fighting Guardian, the greatest and strongest fighter of the Dungeon!”

His voice boomed through the air—Owen wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear him for much longer.

“You, a team of four!” said the Fighting Guardian Spirit. “What a perfect number! There are three of us in all, three Guardian Spirits! As the first… you are to give to me your weakest fighter, and we shall battle! If you lose… then that will be it! And you must turn away!”

“W-weakest?” Alex said.

“Wait,” Owen said, tilting his head, “doesn’t that mean you’re the weakest of the three Fighting Spirits?”

“I—eh—” For a fraction of a second, his enthusiasm wavered. “No! I am the most powerful spirit that Manny can summon solid. I am at the perfect strength level.”

Owen crossed his arms, frowning. “So there are even stronger spirits inside Manny? You’re even weaker than what you said the first time.”

With even more confidence and volume than before, Azu grinned and bellowed, “I am the third in line of the strongest spirits Guardian Manny can summon! I am truly formidable! And so—you shall NOT get to the higher levels without beating me!”

“B-but I’m not that good of a f-fighter, you see…” Alex admitted. “I—I wouldn’t want to…”

“We don’t want to fight Manny. We want to talk to him!” Amia said. “And… what’s that fighting I hear from the rooms above us? It’s coming from ahead.”

“Manny is dealing with a number of guests at the moment. To be another, you must get past me!”

“So, they all got past you, too?” Owen asked. “How many times did you already get beaten?”

“My little Charmeleon!” Azu thumped his tail on the ground with a laugh. A few rocks flew in the air, and a few cracks formed on the ground with each scaly thud. “You say such INCREDIBLE things!”

“I—I think what Owen means,” Amia said, “is… if we don’t want to fight Manny, that means we’ll only be doing three battles. So why don’t we start with the second weakest in our group? And then the second strongest, and then the strongest.”

“Ha! Then very well. Which of you is the second weakest?”

“I think that’s Willow,” Owen said without thinking.

Willow exploded with electricity atop his head, screeching and biting his horn. She tore off a few scales in the process.

“Y-yow! Ow! No, NO, bad Joltik—” Owen tried to grab her, but she was too fast. She hopped off of him and landed on the ground, skittering around the rocks.

“You’re the weakest! You, you!” Willow screeched and hissed like a feral Glameow. “You have a clever mind but in raw power, you’re NOTHING to me!”

“But Willow, you’re smaller than my feet!”

Willow sent another volley of thunderbolts at Owen. The Charmeleon hopped in some sort of frantic dance, going from foot to foot on the cold, polished floor. Amia, sighing, rummaged through their bag for an Oran Berry. Willow prepared a great, shining ball of lunar energy above her head—but Owen quickly said, “O-okay, okay! I’ll—I’ll fight first! I’ll fight!”

The Fairy Guardian let the charging Moonblast dissipate. “That’s better.”

Owen sighed. “Why aren’t you bigger, anyway?” he asked. “Can’t you evolve?”

“I look cuter as a Joltik,” Willow said, raising her tiny body upward. “And going forward and backward in evolution is easy for a Mystic. It’s not in one direction with a little divine power!”

“O-oh, okay.”

“Stall no longer, challengers!” the Feraligatr said, thumping his tail one last time. “Approach me, witty Charmeleon! I shall show you the superior power of muscle!”

“Good luck, Owen.” Amia smiled apologetically, giving him an Oran Berry to fight in top form.

“O-okay,” he said. “I… I’ll do my best!”

With a puffed-out chest and a blazing, red tail, the Charmeleon was ready. But then, during the walk toward the Fighting-Type Feraligatr, feeling the sheer power that radiated from him—despite his bluster, and despite the silly disposition of this spirit… he knew. He knew when he was standing face-to-belly with the behemoth of a spirit. Seeing every detail of his disturbingly chiseled body, his toughened scales, and his impeccable jawline…

Owen didn’t stand a chance.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
Just read the prologue and the first chapter. I gotta say, you've got a good thing going on here. There were quite a few details I really liked, like how you've gone ahead and created custom pokemon moves outside what canon provides, and how fleshed out the world's concepts feel. I still have my reservations about mystery dungeons being portrayed too close to how they function in the games, but I can forgive that here since it seems well thought out honestly.

The beginning scene of the prologue really caught me off guard if I'm being honest. We are then told it's a dream, but it actually happened Nad wasn't a dream. I take it Owen's foster parents are some shape-shifting aliens or something at this point. Maybe they're dittos? Who knows. I'll probably have to read further to find out.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
I still have my reservations about mystery dungeons being portrayed too close to how they function in the games, but I can forgive that here since it seems well thought out honestly.
Ahh, I'm glad you're enjoying it! Yes, it's a little close-to-canon, but I want to at least assure you, or try to assure you, that a lot of these mechanics will have some plot impact down the line, even for why they're like that in the first place. Hopefully you can bear with it until then~

We are then told it's a dream, but it actually happened Nad wasn't a dream. I take it Owen's foster parents are some shape-shifting aliens or something at this point. Maybe they're dittos? Who knows. I'll probably have to read further to find out.
It certainly doesn't seem to be a dream, yes! Owen even has some phantom pains of the incident. Curious what it'll develop into...

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy the rest~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 15 – Reset

“Where in the world is…?” Rhys felt around for his Badge, but it was missing.

“Rhys? What’s taking so long?” Demitri asked. He stopped walking; his natural density made his feet sink slightly into the salt, which floated like clouds in the crystal-clear water. Distracted, he wiggled his claws, letting some of that salt dance around his toes.

“I am certain I brought my Badge with us,” Rhys said, opening his bag further. “I always keep it right in the inner front pouch, the sole item. I felt for it on the way out! In fact, it flashed upon us leaving the Dungeon and entering the main salt flats.”

Mispy tilted her head, staring at her reflection in the water. Not a bad look. It was a bit distorted from the ripples that Demitri made, and the ones from Gahi’s wingbeats. She brought a vine out and grabbed Gahi, holding him steady; that made it easier to see herself. She couldn’t wait for the time when her little buds would bloom into huge petals. Meganium were so pretty. She had seen one walking through town—she couldn’t believe what the amazing flower her species was able to grow!

Gahi protested being ‘monhandled, but eventually relented and looked at his reflection, too. He started by inspecting his wings. As a Flygon, they were going to get a lot bigger. Demitri was rubbing his tusks, wondering what it would be like once they became full-fledged axes like his evolution’s.

“Rhys, you sure you didn’t drop it in the flats?” Demitri finally said, looking up. “The warp pad isn’t too far off. Let’s just walk back. We’ll get home by sundown.”

“Nrgh. But I know I had it… but yes. Let’s go. We need not waste extra time searching in this expanse. We can have Nevren track its location later.”

“Right. Okay,” Demitri said. He looked around. “Wow. It’s really nice, though, isn’t it? It’s so… big!”

Indeed, now that they weren’t in such a rush, they had the opportunity to actually take in their scenery—now that they were turned away from the carnage, it was a reflective surface on all sides. Curiously, Demitri lightly—from his perspective—slammed his fist in the salt, creating a huge ripple in the water. The quake of his punch made Rhys and Mispy stumble. The water’s ripple went out, and out, and out; it brushed against Rhys’ feet, making little disturbances in the waves, and then continued outward. Everyone, even Rhys, took a moment to admire the sight.

“It is,” Rhys said. “But… it is a bit unnerving. A salt flat of this size.”

“Aw, it’s pretty!” Demitri said. “I mean, you can see your reflection perfectly in thi—Rhys?”

The Lucario had abruptly turned around. His paws erupted with aura embers, and he was ready to lash out at any threat. “I believe I found my Badge.”

There was a strange creature flying a stone’s throw away from them. A Ninjask at the base, in addition to its pointy, serrated-looking legs, it had an additional set of limbs that resembled a Scyther’s scythes.

“I don’t think Ninjask’re supposed ter be here,” Gahi said. “Heh… weird. Wait. Ain’t their legs s’posed ter look a little different? And only have two of ‘em?”

“Weird, hm,” Rhys said. “That’s one way to express it, I suppose” Rhys briefly scanned the Pokémon’s aura. He couldn’t quite place it at first, but then— “Demitri. Mispy. Gahi. Stay behind me.”

“Wha—”

The Ninjask vanished from view—and reappeared right in front of Rhys an instant later. It moved incredibly quickly—even faster than a normal Ninjask. It shoved its right, serrated limb right into the Lucario’s gut. Rhys grunted, eyes bulging. He jumped away and clutched at the wound, forced to a knee in the water. Crimson splotches faded into the salt. The trio stood in stunned silence—it all happened too fast.

Gahi reacted first. “Mispy!”

“Right,” Mispy said. She retreated to heal Rhys’ wounds. The strange Ninjask rushed forward. Gahi spotted this and countered with a deft shift in the air, ramming into the Ninjask to intercept the blow. Gahi heard a grinding noise that vibrated against his exoskeleton, followed by a shallow, sharp pain where he made contact.

“YOW!” Gahi shouted, flying away to get some distance.

“Gahi?!” Demitri didn’t know which way to run.

Some of Gahi’s tiny scales were torn away—the Ninjask had an extremely jagged exoskeleton of some kind.

“Rough Skin?” Demitri said.

Rhys grunted, his wound healed. “Be careful!” he wheezed. “That isn’t a normal Pokémon! It’s—a mutant, but…”

The Ninjask rammed at Demitri, attempting the same attack that it had done to Rhys—but his scales were too tough, and it only resulted in a minor wound. He countered with a powerful chop to the creature’s side, using both his arms and his hefty tusks to deliver the blows. Demitri felt his scales get caught on the Ninjask’s outer shell. He hissed and clutched his hand. It tingled—in fact, it felt like it was starting to spread.

Demitri recognized this feeling. “I—I think it poisoned me!” he shouted, stumbling back.

“Poison Point?” Mispy squeaked.

“Nah, that’s definitely Rough Skin!” Gahi shouted back. He then retched into the water, finally feeling the effects of the poison.

Mispy ran toward Demitri, readying another Heal Pulse to help him—if only to heal the damage, if she couldn’t get to the poison. But when she tried… something blocked it. The pulse was emitted, but then it faded away, like a dying candle to the wind.

Rhys closed his eyes and immediately spotted the source. “Rim!”

The Espurr was glowing with a dark light. Its aura radiated from her center, filling the atmosphere with a weak, ominous tinge—Heal Block. Mispy’s powers were useless.

The Ninjask zipped toward Demitri again, slashing at his back. The arms tore through his scales with ease, ripping a few right out. He shouted in pain and spun around, but was too slow. It was already chasing down Gahi, who flew higher in the air. The Ninjask was faster and slashed at his tail.

“Nrgh—!” Gahi spun back and puffed out a plume of foul, blue breath at him. It grazed the Ninjask enough for it to back off and fly down again, freeing Gahi from the pursuit.

“Rrrgh!” Gahi tried to ram into Rim, but he hit her barrier instead. The pulsing sphere around the Espurr rejected his advance. The impact alone made a loud, ethereal clang, bending one of his wings oddly. The Vibrava was then blasted back at the same speed he’d approached with. He slid across the ground and tumbled into a pile of wet salt.

His wings twitched; Gahi tried to free himself from the pile. In the meantime, Mispy charged her Solar Beam; Demitri ran toward Rim next, slamming his fist against her barrier. “Bet you can’t handle—Brick Break!” Demitri announced, slamming his claws down hard. The light flashed—flickered—faded… and then returned. “N-no fair!”

Rim’s eyes glowed a bright purple. A force that seemed to bend the light itself blasted Demitri backward. The Fraxure slammed Gahi back into the pile he’d just escaped from.

“N-now!” Mispy shouted, firing a concentrated blast of solar energy from around her neck, concentrated forward. Rim turned her head, staring at the light. The beam bent around her barrier—flashing, flickering—but it didn’t fade. When the Solar Beam finally subsided, it left behind a V-shaped carving in the salt behind Rim. Water slowly filled the gashes, but the Espurr herself was completely unharmed. Not even wet. Her wide, yet neutral eyes stared emptily forward, through Mispy.

“B-but…!” That attack always worked!

“Leave us, Rim!” Rhys said, though he was currently dueling with the Ninjask, careful to only use indirect attacks against it. In this case, his only effective move was a ball of white, hard light—a Flash Cannon. “You already have the Orb!”

Rim stared at Rhys and blinked once, slowly. Then, she turned her head toward Mispy. The Bayleef flinched. That one moment of hesitation earned Mispy a Psychic blast; she screamed and skidded across the salt, bouncing over the salt flat like a rock over a river. She hit Demitri and Gahi, who had both clambered out of the pile seconds before. They all grunted, buried once again. The Espurr, floating over the water, went higher, staring at the pile. Her eyes glowed. Psychic energy twisted the salt around them; all three roared in pain. It was like they were being crushed in the palms of a giant.

“Rim!” Rhys shouted.

The Ninjask doubled back and flew toward Rim, flying behind her obediently.

Rhys fired a Flash Cannon directly at her; she turned her head and deflected it with a glance. That was when Rhys realized that, in his current state, he wouldn’t be able to overpower her. He considered going all-out, unleashing his aura in full. But that would only give him a few moments, at the very most, to defeat Rim. It wouldn’t work, and he’d only strain his aura to the point of passing out. And then what? He was already injured. His guard had been down. Careless, careless!

The Lucario grunted. “Y-you’re becoming quite powerful,” he muttered. “How many Orbs have you claimed, Rim…? How many have you relinquished to Eon?” Rhys hoped that his words would distract her long enough for the trio to recover.

It didn’t. Rim stared at the pile of salt and blasted again with Psychic. They screamed. Mispy panted. Demitri tried to help them out. Another Psychic—salt flew in the air, mixing with water. Rhys brought up an aura barrier to block some of the water from splashing against him. “Rim—STOP!” he roared, using a vertical Extreme Speed to leap high in the air. Rim blocked him with her barrier; he landed in the salt, feet stuck too deep. “Ngh—” He fired at Rim from below with everything he had. Aura Sphere—Flash Cannon—his two ranged attacks, but neither had any effect. The barrier was just too much.

“Rim—you can’t keep doing this! If you do, they’ll—”

Rim blasted them one last time—and then… they stopped screaming. Instead, they all roared—in unison, in anger, in frustration, in madness. The salt blasted away with a great wind; the water rippled, splashed, and rose in tiny droplets. Rhys freed himself from the salt—but then, abruptly, felt a sharp pain in his back. “Ng—!” He lost all feeling in his legs. He fell forward, wheezing. The water around him reddened rapidly.

The Ninjask flew toward the trio next, but was blown away by the force. Rhys stared in pain. A blinding, white light emanated from all three of them.

The light of evolution—and then… a flash of black.

<><><>​

Owen left an Owen-shaped hole in the wall. He coughed and collapsed on the ground, barely able to stand. This, for quite a while, was his fight with Azu. It was a bit too dark to see the ground. Thankfully, the Feraligatr spirit had a slight glow to him that added to Owen’s fading fire. If this was how strong a summoned spirit was, just how strong was Manny? He was glad that he didn’t have his bag with him. While he couldn’t use Nevren’s Eviolite to his advantage, it also didn’t get in the way while he fought. Instead, he had set it aside near Amia and the others, so the only thing that would break in the fight would be his bones.

“HAHAH!” Azu boasted. “And before you blame the Type Advantage, little Fire, I’m pure Fighting in this spiritual form! These muscles don’t lie!” He flexed, striking a pose that emphasized his right side. A few loose pebbles blew away from the resultant shockwave of his pose.

“Ngh… that… that hurt!” Owen said, struggling to remain stable. Azu’s posing was both annoying and distracting. He leaned back and held the rocky wall behind him, glancing at the imprint he left on the wall. The rocks must have been a bit soft. Surely, he would’ve died from something like that normally… or he wasn’t giving his durability enough credit.

“No pain, no gain!” the Feraligatr said. “Such a wonderful motto! I have no idea where Guardian Manny learned it, let alone Master Yen, but he is surely one of the greatest fighters alive!” He pointed a claw at Owen. “You can’t hope to face him with your puny strength! I can feel it!”

“Gooo Owen!” Willow said, crackling near Alex’s feet. It made the Magmortar flinch. He quietly inched away while the Joltik leaped high in the air, flashing yellow and white light.

“Y-you can do it, Owen!” Amia shouted from the entrance to the arena. “But—don’t push yourself!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Owen said. He saw a fist flying toward him—he ducked and rolled. He felt the shockwave of the fist to the wall; a hole was left where Owen’s head’s imprint was. “Are you crazy?! That would’ve hit me right in the—I could die!”

“What’s death to someone who died?” the Feraligatr laughed. “That’s meaningless to me! Perhaps if I kill you, I’ll see you again in the Fighting Orb!”

“S-sorry, but I have some things I gotta do here, first!” Owen said.

“Hah, and don’t we all?” He swept his tail, knocking Owen off of his feet. This was immediately followed by an uppercut. The combination of downward gravity and an upward fist knocked all of the wind from the Charmeleon; he coughed and flew through the air. His back hit the ceiling—and then he crashed down onto the ground. Owen could barely breathe, let alone stand.

“Hm, so that is the extent of what you’re capable of,” Azu said, stomping toward him. With a light push with his foot, he rolled Owen onto his back. The Charmeleon’s tail was barely alight.

“Owen!” Amia cried.

“Don’t you dare hurt him more!” Willow crackled enough to illuminate the whole cave.

“I won’t,” Azu replied, crossing his muscular arms. “He’s done, anyway.” He faced Amia and the others. He boomed triumphantly, “As per the rules, you can’t advance. Come back when you’re stronger!”

“B-but we have an important mission to take care of!” Amia said. She held her arms out, pleading. “We—we need Manny to come with us, so he can be safer!”

“Why would he be safer with people who can’t even defeat me?” he asked. “Your first fighter surrendered before he even entered the ring. And your next fighter…” He looked back at Owen, who was back on his belly, holding himself up a few inches from the ground. “Well, he’s out of his league, too. I wouldn’t exactly call that reliable. You two don’t have very strong fighting auras, either. You’re nothing to Manny.” There was a wave of seriousness over his voice. But it washed away just as quickly. Seconds later, he had a toothy grin. “So begone, and challenge me again when you become stronger! Ha!”

The Charmeleon stirred. “N-no,” he said. “I’m… I’m not done!” He hacked and wheezed, and then stumbled to his feet. His legs shook like autumn leaves.

“Oh?” Azu asked. “Hah. Your body is not ready, but your aura is strong! But you cannot win, Grass Guardian. Leave and return later.”

“I won’t!” He rushed forward and tripped on his broken leg, yelping.

“Hmph,” Azu said. “You fight like a spirit.” He picked him up by the horn. Owen’s body dangled limply.

“Ngh… and what’s that supposed to mean?” Owen’s arms twitched—he was trying to punch, but his body simply wouldn’t listen.

“Spirits don’t have bodies to worry about. They fight with disregard for their wellbeing.” He let go, dropping Owen on the ground, where he managed to stay standing.

“Guess I like a good fight,” Owen growled, wobbling. He spat an Ember right at the Feraligatr; he blocked it effortlessly with a flick of the wrist. He countered with a powerful blast of his focused, fighting spirit, aimed squarely at Owen’s chest. The losing challenger roared and skidded back, holding the sphere in place. But it wasn’t stable—the launched Focus Blast exploded in Owen’s hands, propelling him into the wall again. Like a ragdoll, Owen hit the ground, eyes blazing.

Amia cried, “Owen! Stop! Please!”

“I can do this!” Owen roared back. He was missing a tooth, wobbling back to his feet. Adrenaline pumped through him. He didn’t feel any of the pain anymore. He knew this feeling. So familiar—so exhilarating. He was fighting to the death. He knew this. He’d die if he lost. And he’d never flee. This target would fall—or he would. Why did these thoughts fill him so naturally? It was logical to surrender. Tactically, he was being allowed to leave to return later, to win. But he couldn’t flee. He just couldn’t. He had to fight. He had to win. He had to kill.

Owen’s vision was reddening. He growled. Molten embers dripped from his mouth, melting the rocks below.

Amia covered her mouth. “No…”

“You still challenge me?!” Azu said.

Owen ran toward him and launched a concentrated jet of fire, turning the whole arena red for half a second. The flames enveloped the Feraligatr, but he punched through it and hit Owen in the stomach. Owen growled and opened his mouth, chomping down on the arm, breaking through the scales.

“Grah—persistent Pokémon, I’ll give you—THAT!” With his other arm, he punched Owen away. Yet he didn’t let go. His jaw clenched even harder, and he took the arm with him. It dissolved into a flurry of blue aura flames; Feraligatr’s shoulder looked like it was on fire from the missing limb.

He stared at his erupting shoulder. “Heh… well. Guess y’got me there,” Azu said, shrugging with his remaining arm.

Owen growled and shambled toward him again. His arms dangled wildly below, but his legs, despite being broken, carried Owen step after clumsy step.

“Not gonna fool me again!” Azu said, spinning around. His tail slashed at Owen, knocking him over. Owen got up and rushed again. The tail swatted him away. Owen got up and rushed again. And again. And again—he just kept coming. He didn’t stop—his stamina was endless. He’d fight himself to the ground. There was no pain. No fatigue. He didn’t even hear Amia crying for him to stop anymore. His vision was completely red. Running on instinct. There was something ahead of him, Azu, and that was all he knew. The target. It had to fall.

A final punch from the Feraligatr did him in, and knocked him down completely. Owen’s body, regardless of what he couldn’t feel, was broken.

“Ngh,” Feraligatr said. “I didn’t mean to be so harsh… but he wouldn’t stop!” he tried to explain to Amia, who was watching Owen intently. “What?” he asked. “Hope you brought Reviver Seeds! He’ll need ‘em!”

Azu scratched the back of his head, laughing, trying to lighten the mood. His laughing was deterred somewhat by the look in Amia’s eyes. There were tears, and behind those tears, wide eyes of fear. But it wasn’t toward Azu.

The cave glowed again. This time, the glow was white. Azu turned around. “Eh?”

The cave was filled with the light of evolution. Owen’s body grew. Wings sprouted—his tail lengthened, his flame an inferno. A horrible roar filled the cave walls.

A black flash corrupted the light.

<><><>​

“Owowow… Owen! What’s wrong with you!”

“S-sorry!” Owen rushed toward Demitri, helping him up.

“Hahahahah!” Gahi teased. “Ol’ Scalebag really had it coming to him, eh, Owen?”

“Gahi…” Mispy growled.

“Aw, c’mon, Mispy,” Gahi said. “Just playing.”

“Are you okay?” Owen asked.

“Y-yeah, I’m fine,” Demitri said, nodding. “I hope I didn’t break one of my tusks…”

“I’ve got it,” Mispy said, washing him in healing light.

“Aw, thanks, Mispy.” Demitri said, perking up. “Hey! Why don’t we fight again?”

Someone chuckled from the sidelines. “Still looking to fight, are we?” Rhys asked. “Your endless energy is encouraging. If only I could say the same for myself.”

“Ohoho!” A Torkoal beside Rhys chuckled. “At least you can fight, Rhys. I just don’t see myself doing those things.”

“Aw, Elder, I bet you’d be super strong if you fought!” Owen laughed.

“Ah, but I don’t know any offensive techniques, Owen! Such a shame, really.” Elder didn’t appear very regretful of this.

The quartet laughed and Rhys chuckled.

“Say, how about this,” Gahi said. “Demitri and Mispy can fight as one team, and you and me can fight fer the other.”

“It’ll be air against ground?” Owen asked.

“Yeah!” Gahi said, outstretching his wings.

Owen smirked and mimicked Gahi. They both took to the skies.


The memory was wiped away.

<><><>​

The dim glow of nighttime mushrooms colored the rocky walls of the cave in a soft cyan. Mixing with this light were flickering embers of orange and yellow. Owen was lying in the middle of these flames, enjoying the warmth; they licked at his scales and washed over his back. The flame at the end of his tail got hotter, brimming with energy. He rolled over to sear his belly next.

“No resting on the fire, Owen.”

“Wh—huh? I wasn’t!” He rolled away and quickly hid beneath his bed of leaves. Some of them turned black from the fire, but they didn’t burn. He rubbed the back of his head, feeling pain all over. He grumbled and rubbed the orange scales on his arms.

Rhys peered into the room. “You’re very lucky we were able to fashion your bed with Rawst leaves, or you’d burn through them every night,” Rhys said. He chuckled, but then walked over, patting him on the head. “How are you feeling, Owen? Today was a rough day, wasn’t it?”

“Today?” Owen asked.

Memories flashed before him. The Feraligatr. The fighting. That feeling… the sense of dying, yet the thrill. Like he was filling a void in his heart—fulfilling some grand purpose. But what happened after?

“W-wait!” Owen sprang to his feet. “I—I was fighting!”

“You were,” Rhys said. “And you lost.”

Owen’s tail drooped to the ground. “Th-that can’t be…. I… I had him on the ropes! I even tore his little spirit-arm off! I remember!”

“It wasn’t enough.” Rhys shook his head. “Don’t worry, Owen. Your mother told me everything—you fought very well.”

“Mom,” Owen said. He sighed, crossing his arms. “You mean… I wasn’t good enough to win, even though I tried my hardest?”

Rhys hesitated.

Owen sighed and stood up. Every part of his body felt bruised, but he paced anyway to clear his head. His bed felt a lot larger today, and he felt smaller than ever. He remembered staring up at the Feraligatr—he was barely up to his thighs, wasn’t he? “I just… I bet I could’ve done it if… if I just… maybe if I moved to the left instead of the right, or…” He stopped. His fists shook with frustration, and he stomped on the ground. “I just wish I could finally evolve or something! I’ve been a Charmander forever!”

Rhys gulped, but then said, “W-well, regardless, Owen… we need to do some planning. You aren’t the only one to fail their mission today.”

“What do you mean?” Owen asked.

“We all did,” someone said from the room’s entrance.

“Gahi!”

The Trapinch wobbled his way inside, clicking irritably. A Chikorita and Axew followed behind, clearly just as crestfallen, even though Gahi didn’t want to show it.

Demitri spoke next. “Anam’s team… their Guardian was killed right in front of them—and Rim got the Orb, too! And our team… Rim was there! She already beat that Guardian, and then she beat us up! Really badly! But then I guess after we passed out, Rhys fought her off.”

“Hmph,” Mispy said. “If we were… just… evolved…”

The quartet sighed in unison.

“We’re just late-evolvers,” Owen said. “We’ll—we’ll evolve eventually! I’m sure of it!”

Rhys turned around. “We’re going to be discussing what happened now. Future plans. Star will be there, too. Would you like to come with us?”

“Y-yeah,” Owen said. “W-wait! Zena! Is Zena okay?”

“Zena is just fine. Everybody is okay, aside from the Guardians we tried to rescue,” Rhys said. “Come.”

The Lucario led them to Hot Spot Square. The Charmander, Chikorita, Axew, and Trapinch followed him out.
 

Persephone

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
her/hers
I only read the prologue, in the end, but I do intend to come back and read more at a later time.

It's kind of weird that a charmander's parents are a gardevoir and a magmortar. I assume he's adopted and maybe the kid of the Rhys character off-handedly mentioned. And it looks like we've got a seer for a protagonist. And two parents who fight epic battles at night where death doesn't matter, apparently. I can understand why daddy magmortar would be concerned, though: if your kid could die but you can't that would be a very jarring thing.

I do like your style a lot. That's a large part of why I'll continue looking at things. And PMD stories without amnesiac humans are always fun.

Anyway, I'll be back in due time.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
I only read the prologue, in the end, but I do intend to come back and read more at a later time.
Hey, that's great to hear! Glad I was able to have you give it a chance and I got you interested a little~

It's kind of weird that a charmander's parents are a gardevoir and a magmortar. I assume he's adopted
You are correct, he's simply adopted. That's his relation to the two, since, despite everything, I'm keeping the way egg groups work largely canon.

And it looks like we've got a seer for a protagonist.
That's an interesting interpretation -- this early on, we don't usually see people making that sort of guess. I think you'll see some information pertaining to this theory in the coming chapters, if you're right or not.

And two parents who fight epic battles at night where death doesn't matter, apparently. I can understand why daddy magmortar would be concerned, though: if your kid could die but you can't that would be a very jarring thing.
Another fun hot take! Agreed, it seems that Magmortar definitely exploded in whatever happened during the prologue. And it seems that Owen feels some phantom pains from the fight, too, if his chest was killing him.

I do like your style a lot. That's a large part of why I'll continue looking at things. And PMD stories without amnesiac humans are always fun.
I'm glad! And yeah, having a never-human protagonist seems kinda rare these days for PMD. I didn't really know that coming in... but I'm still happy with how I set everything up. Hope to see you again someday~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 16 – Known Secrets

“Looks like that’s everyone,” Star said, flicking her tail.

A few of Amia’s spirits swept away little pebbles that littered the ground of Hot Spot—much to Valle’s irritation—while Amia herself channeled extra Mystic energy into the mushrooms to brighten the brown rocks. The cyan glow they gave off a light that mixed with the jagged edges of the houses, casting shadows on the wall. Owen sighed at the sight; what nostalgia to have a get-together like this. It’s too bad it had to be over such depressing talk.

“What’s the damage?” Gahi asked, clicking his jaws uncertainly.

Star sighed, sitting down in mid-air. Her tail curled around her legs. “I want you guys to be very, very calm, okay?” she said. “No sudden movements. Be nice and delicate. Talk quietly. Got it?”

“Eh?” Gahi said.

“Just… just promise me, okay?”

Gahi hesitated, clicking his jaws. He glanced at a few of the others—Willow, in particular, who irritably crackled.

“Well, why should I be quiet?!” she said.

“Willow,” Star said slowly. “Please.”

“W-well, I… I’ll…!” Willow looked at the others, and then at Star again. “Okay…” The crackling slowed down, and the Joltik stood still.

Star nodded. She closed her eyes. “Anam, if you can…?”

“Oh, right!” Anam held his arms forward and focused; a little aura flare formed between his hands, and he sent out another spirit. It formed into a winged Lopunny—a solid spirit. She wasn’t very strong, unlike Star, who was still very much see-through. Much easier to summon. But James and the others in Anam’s squad recognized her immediately.

“Cara?” Zena asked.

“Shh,” Star said softly.

Zena flinched, but nodded. Cara was a trembling wreck—shaking, looking to her left and right, and all around her. “Wh-where am I? What is this?”

“Hey… Cara,” Star said softly. The Mew floated closer, but she stopped when Cara shrank away. “Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay. It’s just me. Star. You know me, right? When you were afraid and confused, I popped right in and brought you someplace safe. Remember that?”

“I was… I was floating. My body, I… I couldn’t feel my body…”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.”

“There were lights everywhere, like I was… I was flowing, I—I didn’t know where to go, what to—”

“Shh, shh…” Star advanced, placing a paw in Cara’s. “You’re in a place called Hot Spot Cave. It’s underground, and away from any dangerous Pokémon. You can let your guard down.”

“I—I can? Truly?” Cara looked like she was ready to collapse in front of everyone.

“Look around,” Star said, waving her arm to the small crowd. “Not a harmful soul here, don’t you think?”

Cara scanned the cave square. The four unevolved Pokémon. The lovely Goodra that summoned her. Star, the constant presence that she could speak with, should she ever feel afraid. The others seemed fine, too. “Oh, what an adorable Joltik,” Cara said quietly.

“Adorable?” Willow asked.

“Yes, you’re quite lovely,” Cara nodded.

Willow glowed. “W-well, I guess I might be a little cute…!”

Cara scanned again. “That one, the statue. Quite unnerving, that. Who is…?”

“I am Valle. I am one with the mountain.”

“He’s a little weird in the head, but he means well, I think,” Star said. “Actually—hey, Valle, is there anything dangerous in the caves right now? Like, uh, Pokémon that would be trying to hunt us down?”

“No.”

“There!” Star said. “See? Valle’s our little security system. He’s like an army of guards! That’s pretty cool, right?”

“Yes. That is quite… cool, yes.” She flapped her ear-wings a bit. “A tad warm here.”

“Yeah, Fire Guardian’s home, so, y’know.” Star srugged. “But it’s a bit cooler in some of the houses—anyway, Cara… you know you died, right?”

“Y-yes… I believe that is it. I was summoned. A spirit. Oh… A spirit…” she sighed, shaking and shivering. But she seemed calm. Perhaps she was in shock.

Owen watched sympathetically. “Hey, I’m sorry that happened. Um, so… that means Rim got to her before we could, huh? How come she still looks like she has the Orb?”

“It’s the form she’s most familiar with,” Star explained. “Kinda like Valle, she prefers a body different from the one she was born with. And for what happened… that’s what I wanted to outline to you guys. And I want Cara to tell me everything she remembers about this, first. Cara? What do you remember?”

Cara grabbed one of her ear-wings and preened the feathers with her paws. “I—I’ve always been a small bit jumpy. Perhaps it is in my nature. But I’m afraid I can’t give much more information than what I’ve told Star, even now. I had been fleeing from strange, mutant Pokémon like them for quite some time. I think the brightness of my abode made it hard for them to strike me, but once I lowered my guard…”

Anam gasped. “Th-then… then when we made Cara feel safe, they just…!”

“How did we not sense them?” Zena asked. “We should have sensed their auras!”

“Rim may have been hiding from afar, waiting for the light to lower to find her,” Rhys said.

Star nodded. “There wasn’t much we could’ve done with what we knew. I’m sorry that it happened, Cara.” She then addressed the others. “Right now, we’ve got seven Orbs on our side. You, your mom, Zena, Willow, Anam, Valle, and ADAM. And Rim stole the Psychic Orb a while ago. Well, she just got two more. Cara, the Flying Guardian, and Forrest, the Ground Guardian. I wanted Forrest to come along, too, but he said that he’s fine. I think he was ready to give up anyway.”

“Wait,” Owen said. “So… not Manny? What happened to him?”

“Guess Rim wasn’t strong enough to handle him yet,” Star said. “Actually, Rim also attacked other areas today, too, but I dunno if Guardians are there or not. It might’ve been a guess, because I just don’t know where all the Guardians are anymore. They either don’t talk to me, or won’t tell me where they are.”

“Won’t tell you?”

“They kinda… don’t trust me,” Star said, biting her lower lip. “Because, you know…”

“Because you recruited the Hunters,” Zena said. She had cooled down from that revelation, but perhaps too much—the Milotic’s voice was icy.

Owen looked uneasily at Zena. Everything felt hazy when he thought about her or any of the others. He must have been hurt pretty badly in that fight against Azu, because he could only vaguely remember details about all of them. They were in a strange state in his mind, both familiar and unfamiliar. He knew them, but for how long? Owen felt another crisis of panic wash over him. Not crazy. Not crazy. Not crazy. Just play along.

“Yeah… but, anyway,” Star said, “Cara and Forrest were the last two weak Guardians, I think. At least, of the ones I know. From here on out, the Guardians are gonna be strong, and they might even be paranoid and hostile if we approach.” Star sighed. “Some of them… don’t trust my word anymore, like I said.” She glanced at Zena. “So, I think… we might need to do this a little forcefully and try to calm them down, or convince them some other way. But either way—we’ll have to… you know.”

“Beat them up to befriend them?” Demitri asked.

“Now yer talking.” Gahi clicked happily.

Cara stiffened with fright. This was enough to quiet Gahi down; he stepped away, mumbling to himself, and hid behind Zena to avoid frightening Cara.

“I would like to go, now,” she said quietly to Star.

“Okay. Thanks anyway, Cara. Forget about all this and enjoy your afterlife.”

Relief washed over Cara and the Lopunny vanished, and Demitri and Gahi both shrank guiltily.

“You don’t have to fight them… not always,” Star said to them. “But, hey, they might put up a fight. So just keep that sorta thing in mind, y’know?”

“Aw, heh, sounds fine to me.” Demitri tittered.

Owen crossed his arms and spoke up. “So, wait, are we just going to send a single team, then?”

“A team of our absolute strongest, maybe,” Star said. “But nothing more than that. If we had two squads head in, that might help us with extra power if we have some big problem… like a run-in with Rim, for example, or…”

“Or those weird Pokémon that follow her,” Anam said.

“But having two teams will make it difficult to coordinate,” Zena pointed out. “We aren’t very good at using our communicators in the heat of battle. Nevren wanted them to be useful, I’m sure, but we found little use for it in our last battles.”

“Wait, hold on,” Owen said. “Weird Pokémon? You mean mutants, or something else? What’d you guys run into?” If they were more of those odd Pokémon, what did they have to do with the Guardians? And, more importantly, why did the others react strangely when he mentioned them?

The group shifted uncomfortably again. Owen sensed it. “Guys, what’s all this about? And—and what happened when I passed out, anyway?! I know I lost, but…”

“We ran into some strange Pokémon while on this outing,” Star said. “Basically, Rim was being followed by one or more… mutated Pokémon. Like, something was just different about them in some way—a Ninjask with Scyther arms, or a Luxray crazy bulked out, with a Raichu’s tail. It was insane! And—they all had this different aura about them, too, is that right?”

“Much like the mutants we typically see around Kilo from time to time,” Rhys said. “Only now they’re fighting alongside the Hunters.”

“The Luxray’s aura felt weird,” Anam nodded.

“Weird?” Mispy asked, wiggling the leaf on her head. “Our auras are weird.”

“Well, yeah, but that’s probably because we’re late evolvers,” Demitri said. “Right?”

“Yes, that’s likely it,” Rhys said.

“See? Even Rhys says so,” Demitri said.

Owen spotted Willow nearby, shivering. “Hey, Willow, are you okay?” he asked the Joltik. “You’re, uh, shaking.”

“Huh?” Willow squeaked. “Yes! I’m fine. I’m just… cold in the mornings!”

“Oh,” Owen said, stepping closer. “Well, I’m a Fire-Type. Want to rest on my head?” he asked, giggling. “I mean, you liked it bef—”

Willow skittered away, hiding behind Anam. Little particles of pink fairy dust scattered around her feet with every step, like she was ready to shrink him down if he got any closer.

Owen blinked. “Uh… okay.” That was not the reaction he was expecting.

A memory flashed in Owen’s eyes. He was rushing toward Azu, the Feraligatr from before. Willow was screaming, and Amia was calling Owen’s name. Azu’s eyes, for just a second, looked… afraid.

Owen held his breath.

James was murmuring to the Joltik, almost like a lecture. Whatever he was saying, Willow wasn’t having any of it, and she hid right behind Anam’s gooey ankles.

“Yeah, weird auras,” Star said. “To be honest, we’ve seen that stuff before, and I’ve seen similar auras running through the aura sea before.” She avoided looking at anybody else. “Basically, these Pokémon, the mutants… I’ve only seen them recently out and about like that, but the reason those auras look strange? Ugh, how do I explain this? Oh, okay. So… You know how, like, berries kinda look like each other if they come from the same plant, or something? Like, Oran berries come from Oran Berry plants… I mean, unless it’s a huge berry tree, then it’s all sorts, but… Ugh, that example sucks…”

“…Genetics, you mean?” Rhys asked. He quickly amended, “Nevren spoke of that before.”

“Yeah! Nevren would know how to describe this, uh, but…” Star spun around. “Okay. Zena… you used to be mortal, right?”

“Yes,” Zena said.

“So, you had parents.”

Zena nodded. “Yes. Their spirits are often ferried to my realm from time to time, in fact. It’s been so long since they’ve last visited, though…”

“Yeah. So, your aura, see, it kinda has traces of both their auras, since you came from them. That make sense?”

“Yes… ancestry, of a sort?”

“Yeah,” Star said. “Really, really good aura readers can trace an ancestry back a few generations, kinda like matching and linking auras to where they came from, and where those auras came from, and so on, okay? Well… the Pokémon we encountered back there? That Luxray and that Ninjask? They… didn’t have that.”

“…They didn’t have… auras?” Owen asked.

“No, no, they had auras,” Star said. “They didn’t have ancestry. No aura traces of parents, or grandparents, or any of that. No history.”

“Wait, what does that mean?” Amia said.

“Rhys has a similar aura,” Star said. “His aura is a little weird because he doesn’t have grandparents—All he has is a single parent, me. Since I created their auras. Same for Nev, and all the Hunters. All that weirdness you sense from them? Sure, some of it is a bit of divine power, but it’s also their weird aura trace.”

“You… created their auras?” Owen said.

Rhys looked off.

“Yeah,” Star said. “I mean, what, you think I’m just gonna pick random folks off the road to get involved in this Orb business?”

Owen rubbed his eyes irritably.

“In other words, since they came right from you,” Amia said, “their auras go just to you, and not some family tree. I get that! But… then, those strange auras from Luxray and Ninjask?” Amia glanced at Owen and the other late-evolvers.

“They don’t have an ancestry at all,” Star said. “They were… created some other way. Without… parents. I at least gave Rhys and the others a little trace from me, just for, you know, symbolism and stuff.”

“No… parents?” Owen asked. “They were created? But—you created Rhys, right? So, what’s the difference?”

“They must’ve been created some other way,” Star said. “Maybe… artificially.”

A confused silence filled the air. Then, murmurs. Anam spoke up. “Artificial? …Like Adam? His aura’s weird, too, now that I’m looking at it…”

“ADAM,” the Porygon-Z specified.

“Uhh… maybe?” Star said evasively. “He’s a weird case, but—Look, not important. But that’s why their auras are strange. No ancestry. They were made some other way—and it seems like they were modified, too, from how their species should be. That’s why they’re called mutants in the first place, y’know? They had some weird abilities. Even other sightings are kinda like that.”

“Pokémon with weird abilities?” Owen asked. He wondered. Should he say this? Yes. He should. Because he wasn’t going to let this go when it already felt so close. It felt like someone tried to tie his memories up and seal them away. But now they were coming back. “You know, no matter how much I try to teach others, I don’t think anybody knows how to do my Fire Trap, but… maybe that’s just because I’m resourceful?”

This time, Owen watched for everyone’s reactions closely. He wasn’t speculating for no reason. The others knew something. And he saw just what he expected. Uncomfortable shuffling where they stood or sat. Some of them didn’t make eye contact. Rhys, in particular, looked like he’d seen death in the face. He looked at Zena next, and the way her serpentine body reacted. He was starting to become more familiar with in terms of body language, if only slightly. He couldn’t identify the emotion she was experiencing based on her muscle movements, but he did know one thing: she had trouble looking at him. For some reason, this one hurt the most.

“…Guys,” Owen said, “what… aren’t you telling me?” He turned his head, looking at them all. “What… am I?”

Owen wobbled where he stood. He felt faint. He saw Rhys’ paw glowing with a strange light.

<><><>​

“Ugh, my back,” Owen muttered, rolling over in bed. “Wh—huh?” he looked up, springing to his feet. “Wait—how long was I…?” He remembered he was planning things out with Star and the others. They were going to try to form a strong team of fighters. Would Owen—no… no, he wouldn’t count. He’s just a Charmander, after all. Just a Charmander…

“Ugh, stop dwelling,” Owen muttered. “I should just ask them about it.”

Owen, seeing the glow of the mushrooms in his room, determined that it was late in the afternoon. Ugh, my whole sleep schedule is done for. He looked outside and saw that everybody was still planning, far ahead in Hot Spot Square. “Oh—good! I didn’t miss too much?” he called.

“Oh, hey, Owen! You kinda passed out while you were talking,” Star said. “Feeling better? Listen, you shouldn’t push yourself. If you’re too tired, just sit back and rest.”

“I must’ve been really tired from that fight.” Owen laughed. “Okay! So, um, who’s going to be going and stuff?”

“We ain’t,” Gahi muttered, looking down. “We passed out just like you.”

“Yeah. We just aren’t strong enough, I guess,” Demitri said. “The stress of all that fighting with Rim really got to us. I feel like I was hit by a Golem’s… everything.”

Mispy sighed.

“But don’t worry!” Star said, “You guys can meditate and spar with Rhys and stuff instead, okay? How’s that sound?” The Mew waved her arms encouragingly. “Right now, those ‘clean aura’ Pokémon aren’t doing anything—they must be regrouping, so we should take that time to do the same thing here, y’know? And to be honest, I think it’d be a good idea if we narrowed our numbers down to maybe… a single strong team to handle just one Guardian at a time. So, if you want my opinion on that… Then we should also go back to the Spire of Trials and try for Manny a second time—but with a stronger team. And we need some of us to also rally up some help in Kilo Village for scouting, since… uh… since I have no idea where the other Guardians could be.”

“Hmm,” Amia said. “Well, I wouldn’t consider myself strong, so why don’t I help with rallying?”

“Wait,” Owen said. “Can we do the Trial place again?”

“Huh?”

“I lost against the Feraligatr the last time. Feraligatr Azu. And I want a rematch! I’ll do better this time!”

“Owen,” Amia said.

“Please?” Owen pleaded.

Star sighed. “No,” she said. “You need to train, Owen. I’m sorry.”

“B-but…”

“Um, should I stay back, too?” Anam said. The Goodra poked his fingers together; they fused, and then split apart each time. “I know I’m strong, but… you need me to rally up the Hearts, right?”

“I can do that in your place,” James said.

“But what if I’m defeated? You’ll fizzle up, and the whole town will see it!”

“Hrm…” James ruffled his feathers. “I’d rather not imagine a scenario where you die, Anam. Also, I imagine it would be difficult to maintain my form so far away, even for you.”

“Anam, compared to Manny, I don’t think you’ll be defeated like that,” Star said. “But it would be a tough win…”

“Would I be… strong enough?” Zena said.

“Perhaps not,” James said, “but we work as a team together quite well.”

“Yeah, Zena, you seem like you’d be an elegant fighter, if you ask me,” Owen said. “It goes well with how James fights, and maybe it’ll keep Anam calm? And Mom fights like that, too.”

“Elegant?” Zena blushed.

Star giggled. “Okay, let’s form up the team of elites. Rhys, you might not be the strongest Hunter, but you’re the strongest we have. So, I want you to go and fight Manny himself, okay?”

“Rhys is stronger than me?” Anam said.

“Ehh, I dunno. You guys would have to spar it out,” Star said, “but—trust me, Manny will want to fight Rhys. Now, for the other three fighters. Amia, don’t be modest—you’re pretty tough. So, you’re going, too. Okay?”

“Oh, okay,” Amia replied. “Am—am I, really?”

“Yes. You should be able to handle his second-in-command. So as for his third- and fourth-in-command…”

“So, I really can’t go back and fight Azu?” Owen spoke up again.

“Owen, you—you can’t,” Star said. “Train here. Okay?”

Owen crossed his arms, rolling a ball of an ember in his mouth to silence himself. He didn’t bring it up again.

“Next up, uh… Rhys, Amia…” Star mumbled under her breath. “…Anam, are you sure you can’t substitute somebody else to rally the team, like James?”

“I guess I could…” Anam said. “Nevren might be able to help, right?” He nibbled on his slimy fingers, thinking. “I just hope we aren’t bothering him.”

“It’s his duty,” James said firmly. “He should be able to do it easily. We will simply speak with him before we go.”

“Okay, and James, you’re pretty tough all on your own, so you’re member number four!” Star said. “Everyone else should focus on training. I’ll have someone other than Anam summon me so I can probably do some coaching.”

Owen listened, but then decided to concentrate on his memories again. He felt it. They were sealed away. It felt like a plug stuck right in his skull, like he couldn’t breathe through his mental nose. What if he thought back harder? Owen earned a massive headache when he tried, but he pushed through anyway, just for something—anything—to satisfy his curiosity.

More memories. He saw Rhys approach him while at the meeting—right before he had passed out. He was telling him something—to go rest, that he was tired. And then, his paw had glowed… and Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all passed out. And then Owen did right after. And… and that fight. Feraligatr Azu. He wasn’t a Charmander, was he? No. He was too tall.

He wasn’t at thigh-height. He was at belly-height.

I was a Charmeleon.

“Owen?” Rhys asked.

He’d do it again. Rhys would try to make him sleep and forget. “Huh?” Owen asked. “Oh, sorry. I was thinking about a new strategy for that Feraligatr. I think I know how to beat him!” Putting his knowledge of his own body language to use, he tensed his arms, as if readying a punch. His eyes glowed with a competitive fire. “Or, maybe I can beat him. Maybe. I need to think more. Maybe after I do some training, I can have a rematch when he comes here with Manny!”

Rhys sighed. “Of course.”

As long as he played dumb, he could keep his memories. But why were they gone? What else did he forget? Think, Owen, think… What did they want to hide? And how is he back to being a Charmander?

Zena’s reaction in particular bothered him. She was with Anam and the others for Cara’s failed rescue. None of Team Alloy was with them, so they must have told her what happened. So, what did they tell her? What did he—and the rest of Team Alloy—do?

What did they become?
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
Just read the second chapter, something I probably should've done sooner. It was a pretty well done chapter, and the few fight scenes flowed pretty good as well. For some reason It surprised me how quickly the effects of healing berries kicked in here, but that's probably because I've been reading too many stories that make their effects more gradual.

I like Team Alloy personally, they make a pretty great team. It's great that they came right on time to take down that Aerodactyl. The Broken Hearts system seemed pretty neat too as a rehabilitation system, and it makes me wonder if we're going to see a broken hearts team later down the line in the story.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
Okay, I've read the third chapter now. A pretty splendid chapter with tons of fun moments and whatnot. I'm really liking Owen's character more and more as the story goes on, which is a good sign. Not that I ever disliked him to begin with.

I wonder what exactly it is Rhys is hiding from Owen, or whether the two really did know each other in the past in some way. There's also the glowing orb, which is pretty suspicious. I smell a conspiracy going on around here. That aside, it looks like Owen just might pass his exams and become a full fledged Heart. Ganbatte Owen!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
For some reason It surprised me how quickly the effects of healing berries kicked in here, but that's probably because I've been reading too many stories that make their effects more gradual.
Yes, that's going to be a staple of the Kilo world. It seems to be kept to canon here--and oh boy, is it kept there rigidly. Healing is literally miraculous, since the berries are apparently blessed by some divine power. Considering where you've already read... Yeah, it's from Anam! They'll explain that one later.

I smell a conspiracy going on around here.
Oh my yes, get ready to smell a lot of those. Thanks again for reading~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Just making a small announcement here that I now have a discord for Hands of Creation! Beware the spoiler channels if you're only here, but feel free to hang out and chat with the community! The link is in my signature. Anyway, enjoy!

Chapter 17 – Holes in the Mind

Anam, Rhys, James, and Amia all left for Manny’s Spire of Trials. In the meantime, Nevren paid a visit after he was summoned, and left to rally up Kilo Village. That left everybody else to go through some training with Star, who was summoned this time by Zena. Compared to when Star had been summoned by someone else, Star was barely solid, and for the most part, could only be heard. There were a few instances where Pokémon accidentally passed right through the Mew phantasm because they didn’t see her. And, generally, it was hard to tell the pink cloud of Mew-shaped smoke from everything else.

Owen was sitting at the town square, just below a small bulletin board that went largely unused. He stared at it nostalgically; he knew every corner of that board, the way it was carved from stone and then melted at the edges to look shiny. There was a small bowl of grayish-yellow adhesive to the side of the board that was used to stick papers on; when it was no longer needed, it could just be peeled off. Owen remembered how he once put a notice here. ‘Looking for a new rock, at least two feet in height, polished! Will pay 3000 Poké!’ was what he had posted.

It ended up being a very good rock.

He had bought it with his allowance that he’d saved up from Amia and Alex, after spending most of it on treats and fighting materials. But now, what could he post there? Especially now that he knew all of the other Pokémon that had lived in town were dead and hiding out in Amia’s Fire Orb to leave room for the newcomers. Owen felt a sudden heaviness in his chest. How could his parents do that to him? All of the friends he had were spirits. They weren’t even around anymore—they had to make room for all the Guardians and their spirits. What was the point of all that, anyway?

Spirits… It had been a while since Owen thought about the ones he had. Were they watching the whole time? “Wait…” He looked around. It seemed that mostly everybody was training in their own corners of Hot Spot, focusing on what they felt was most necessary. Zena was nearest to Owen, despite this. Star was also nearby. “Um—Star?”

“Yo.” The Mew in question was watching everybody and their training, giving pointers when necessary. Zena, in particular, was still gathering her energy after expending so much into summoning Star.

“How do I summon spirits?”

“Oh, you wanna learn that? Yeah, I guess you should, especially since everybody else knows how to do it. It actually isn’t that hard, either. Zena, didn’t you accidentally spit someone out when you used Water Gun once?”

“Y-you promised you wouldn’t speak of that!” Zena squeaked.

“O-oh, sorry,” Star said. “But hey, wasn’t a Divine Promise, heh… S-sorry. Really.”

Zena, flushing red, slithered away to compose herself.

“A-anyway, it feels a lot like using an Attack, okay? But instead, it feels like you’re focusing… inward, and then bringing something out… That make sense?”

“I think I understand,” Owen said, closing his eyes. “Inward… inward… Wait—who do I summon?”

“Uhh,” Star said. “Why don’t you try talking to them? It’s kinda like talking to yourself in your head. You’ll get a response. Hey, you might even feel them reaching out. That’ll make it easier to summon them.”

“Okay, let me try.” He closed his eyes and tried to ignore everything that his five senses gave him. It was easier than usual; this part of town was quieter, and the heat was nothing to his natural body.

Um… hello? Is anybody there? Owen said. It’s me, um, Owen.

A few voices replied to him—various forms of hello. Owen knew that if they’d done this to him earlier, he would’ve thought he was going crazy.

H-hi! I—I didn’t think that’d… work! Um—have you guys always been there?

Various answers that confirmed.

W-wow, okay… I didn’t expect that, he said. Are you enjoying watching all this? I hope you guys aren’t too bored there.

More responses, though they seemed mostly positive.

Owen blushed slightly. A-anyway, I wanted to summon one of you guys for practice! Is that okay? Who can I summon and stuff? I just really want to learn this new technique. Everyone else knows it, and I gotta catch up!

Well… I suppose I can,
said a voice. Owen got the impression that it was Klent, the Jumpluff—the previous Guardian.

Klent! Right? I’m glad to hear you again! Um… sorry I didn’t talk to you guys until now. It’s kinda been a really rough few days, and then I got distracted…

It’s okay, Owen,
Klent replied.

Owen felt something inside his chest. No—not quite. But it felt like it was coming from there. Was that Klent trying to summon himself? But it wasn’t enough. Owen had to help. “Okay,” Owen said. It felt like meditating. He went deep into himself, into his spirit, and found Klent’s presence. Then, with another thought, he pushed him out. More and more… it felt like something rising out of his body. A gentle warmth, even for his Fire. Owen briefly wondered if going Grass would’ve made it easier or harder to summon someone.

A blue ember flew out of Owen’s chest, landing a few feet ahead of him. There, it turned into four little spheres—Owen recognized this as the base of a Jumpluff’s shape. It then solidified enough to be visible, like Klent was made out of lightly colored glass that was also on fire.

“A-are… are you okay?” Owen asked.

“I believe so,” Klent replied, looking at his pom-poms. “Hmm. I feel very… ghostly.”

“Sorry. I guess I’m not strong enough yet.”

“Yeah,” Star said, “your Mysticism is actually a lot higher than when you started off, more than I expected, actually, but you don’t know how to use it yet, is the problem,” Star said. “That’s what I’d call a measure of how adept you are at using your divine power. Mysticism. And since you’re still working on it, don’t worry! You’ll improve fast.”

“Mysticisismum… Mystici…” Owen gave up. “I’m stronger than expected?”

“Mhm,” Star nodded. “See, being exposed to powerful Mystics… kinda also raises the power faster. Like a feedback loop. So, the training you guys do with each other is gonna benefit you the most, Owen, since you’re the furthest behind. Oh, and not to mention you nearly died during that fight with Azu, that boosts your Mystic power, too!”

“I—I have to nearly die to get stronger?! What kind of system is that?!”

“Just a side-effect.” Star shrugged. “It’s not ideal… but hey, you also nearly drowned with Zena, remember? So that’s another boost! Stress on the aura trying to cling to the body is a real workout for the spirit, you know. Usually doesn’t mean anything, but for a Mystic, you can use that to get more in touch with your spiritual side. Literally.”

Owen crossed his arms and pouted. She had a point, but he didn’t want to admit it. This reckless lifestyle that once endangered him was actually paying off. At least he was more strategic in battle. “What else raises Mysticis—mys—is there a better name for it?”

“Divinity?”

“Mysticism it is,” Owen grumbled.

Star giggled. “What else raises it? Lots of spiritual and aura stuff that Rhys does,” she said. “Meditation, mental training, grueling endurance, powerful emotions, near-death experiences… the works. Stuff that the body normally wouldn’t want.”

“So… not fighting?”

“That’s for your normal abilities; that tunes your aura with your body,” Star explained. “Mysticism tunes your aura to the power that your body draws from, directly. The connection from your aura to your spirit. Subtle difference.”

“I don’t get it.”

“You will. Just practice more.”

“Ngh…”

They repeated this process a few times. Star left to train the others while Owen practiced under Klent’s instructions. Klent vanished as an ember and reentered Owen’s body.

Zena was eventually unable to maintain Star’s form, and the pink smoke faded in the air. Willow summoned her next, practicing with ADAM and Valle. The Joltik practiced summoning her twisted spirits, all of them preferring to become giant mushrooms of some kind, screaming and laughing at anybody who approached, occasionally exploding. ADAM, meanwhile, focused on summoning the few spirits he had within his Normal Orb. They behaved oddly like ADAM, moving stiffly and erratically, though given how transparent they were, it was clear that this was not a technique that the Porygon-Z was used to.

Valle practiced by meditating. That is, he stood still in the middle of Hot Spot and observed the cave’s walls.

“Is that even a valid way to train?”

“Well, it’s meditating.” Star’s smoky form made what Owen could only guess was a shrug. “And I guess since he’s expanding his aura a ton to feel the whole cave, that’s pretty good training. And—”

Willow and a few of her mushrooms screamed at one another. Willow tackled a blue one, which puffed up and exploded, making all of the others scream and hop along the ground, tackling one another.

“Oh, come on.” Star sighed, pressing her paws on her forehead. “I gotta go break them up.” She flew away, leaving Owen and Zena alone.

The Charmander stared uneasily at the exploding mushrooms. “How long have we known her, again?”

“Not very long,” Zena replied. “…Do you… not remember?”

Owen looked at Zena. “I mean,” he said, “I know that we met her recently, but I kinda—I don’t know. To be honest—” He laughed nervously. “I think this Mystic stuff is making my memories a little foggy. Is that normal?”

“I’m sure it’s just shock,” Zena said, strained. “Owen, do you—do you really not remember anything? How much do you remember?”

“I remember I was fighting Azu,” Owen said. “And I remember… I think I remember fighting Willow. And training. I think I remember that. Oh, and I remember fighting that Aerodactyl. I wonder how he’s doing. He’s probably a Broken Heart now, making up for his crimes.”

Zena fidgeted with her ribbons. “What about me?” she asked.

“Huh?”

“Me. Do you remember anything about me?”

Owen paused. “Oh! I remember we fought Rhys. Yeah. That was pretty scary, actually. I hope when I get stronger, I can rematch him.” He nodded. “He beat me in one hit.”

“You only remember your fights?” Zena asked.

Owen scratched the back of his head in thought. “Yeah, I think so. But that’s the most important part, in a way, since I can learn from all those fights. Muscle memory! That’s a really important type of memory.”

Zena stared in silence. Her tail coiled around itself in a tight circle.

“Did… did we hang out more often than what I’m remembering?”

“No, we didn’t,” Zena said curtly. “Your memory is just fine. Like I said, Owen. You’re still in some kind of shock from the fight. Your Mystic power will help you recover in time.”

Owen hummed, scaly brow furrowing. “I don’t know, Zena.” He eyed her carefully. “Can you at least fill me in on some of the details I’m missing? Maybe it’ll help jog my memory!”

“No. You’re just fine,” Zena said.

She seemed tense, but Owen’s perception was dull. He had the vaguest idea that his senses used to be a lot sharper for these sorts of things. But now? It all felt muddled.

And he knew he used to be a Charmeleon. Zena should have known, too. Why was she hiding it from him? It was like everybody was playing along to keep the secret. He could tell that much. Zena knew, too. He saw it in her eyes. But—was it for something important? Or was it just another lie, like Hot Spot’s villagers?

No. He wasn’t going to live through something like that again. Zena felt too important for him to leave those memories locked away. He didn’t know why. It was just a feeling. Feelings. He could remember those. If only he could also remember the details. He also had a feeling who it was that was behind keeping everyone quiet.

“Zena,” Owen said. “Do you trust Star?”

“Star?” Zena scoffed. “Of course not.”

Owen wasn’t expecting such a forward answer. “O-oh. You don’t?”

“No. I’m only following this group because you—” Zena stopped herself. “Because… it’s better than being alone. There are others that I can talk to here and I feel safer. I can tell that it’s the same for most of the other Guardians, too. It isn’t that we trust Star. It’s that she’s offering a better alternative than… being alone. And, I suppose in Valle’s case, he’s satisfied with his new cave.” The Milotic rolled her eyes. “But don’t you remember why I don’t trust… well, no… why I simply can’t forgive her so easily? I’d think at least that would be something you’d remember,” she hissed.

“A-about that,” Owen said, shrinking back. “O-oh, wait. I think I do, I—”

Owen sat in the middle of Anam’s office. Zena was trembling around him, burying her face in her coils. Her body constricted around Owen, her scales grinding against the rocky wall behind her. The Charmeleon desperately held Zena steady, trying to keep her together.

Owen clutched at his head. “OHH, that one hurt,” he grunted. His tiny body would’ve been split in two if she’d squeezed any harder! But that memory… that confirmed it. Charmeleon. He looked up at the Milotic in his memory.

Zena gasped, slithering backward. “Owen?” She bit at her lower lip uncertainly.

“Y-yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine. I think—I think I should stop thinking for a little bit.” Owen looked up, seeing the Milotic back away like she’d done something she shouldn’t have. Eyes of regret. She was keeping it a secret. Everyone was. It was Hot Spot all over again. “Zena? Listen—tell me again, just—why, with Star and—”

“I need to go,” Zena said abruptly, turning around.

“Uh—Zena!” Owen said. “Wait! I—”

“Practice your summoning,” the Milotic said. “I need to meditate.”

“But…” Owen frowned. “But I just… want to remember…”

Owen… Klent said from within his spirit. Let’s just practice for now. Let her unwind. She’s obviously tense.

Okay, so that wasn’t just me?
Owen said. I know I upset her with what I said, but—I just don’t remember, Klent! I—

She understands. She just needs time. Please, let’s keep practicing
.

Owen sighed. Fine.

Owen summoned him again, over and over, improving his technique until—finally—the Jumpluff appeared, but instead of being opaque like before, he was solid. The Jumpluff was indistinguishable from others, just like the other spirits that Owen knew all his life. This thought sent another pang through him—of what, he still couldn’t identify. Anger, betrayal, sadness… confusion. He was pretty sure it was confusion. He couldn’t see himself holding a terrible grudge against his own parents, after all. They meant well.

I better not be developing a complex, Owen thought bitterly. But then he addressed Klent with a smile and a presenting motion with his arms.

“Oh, you did it,” Klent said, inspecting his pom-poms with a neutral expression. “Very good.”

“You don’t seem too happy about that,” Owen said, crossing his arms. “I mean, c’mon, aren’t you glad to be alive again? I mean… basically-alive? …Solid?”

“I suppose I am,” Klent said. “I just didn’t think it would be under these circumstances.”

“Oh—circumstances?” Owen asked. “What do you mean?” He glanced at Klent and, for half of a second, they locked eyes. Owen saw… something, there, in those eyes. What was it? It put a horrible pit in his stomach, eating at him from the inside. “Klent?”

Klent shook his head. “Sorry. I suppose I’m still bitter about dying, is all.”

Then why was he looking at him that way? “Yeah, I guess that’s pretty… yeah,” he said, stepping forward. His eyes—they were similar to what he saw before when he first entered the Grass Orb. That hesitation to meet him. Why did they all hesitate? Were they shy, or…? And the way Klent looked at him, too.

“…Owen?” Klent asked. His eyes softened. “Are you okay?”

“I—yeah, I’m okay,” Owen said. “Klent… can I ask you something?”

“As… as one of your spirits, I suppose I’ll have to at least listen to your question,” he said.

Owen glanced back. Star was still busy. He looked back at Klent. If there was one person he could put his trust in right now, it’d be the very spirits that were a part of his being. They wouldn’t lie to him. “How come I’m a Charmander again?”

“Pick a different question,” Klent said lowly. He hadn’t even hesitated to reply; the quickness—did Klent know he was going to ask that?

“S-so I really was a Charmeleon,” Owen said softly.

Klent looked at Star. “Owen, stay here, I need to—”

“Please, don’t tell her,” Owen begged. “I don’t want to forget. I… It’s messing with my head. I feel like I’m losing my mind—why? What’s happening? Why does it feel like there are huge holes where my past should be? I—I don’t even know how old I am, Klent. Please… What’s… why am… why is everything like this?”

The Jumpluff hesitated again. He looked cornered and eyed Star. He wouldn’t be able to get there in time even if he tried. His eyes were frantic and said it all: Owen wasn’t supposed to be behaving this way, and it was a surprise. Why was he regaining his memories so quickly?

“Why did Star trust me to have this Orb?” Owen pressed. “What’s so special about me? How come I’m so strong for a Charmander, a—a late-evolver, too. Like the others. Why can I do Fire Trap? Only I know it. Only me.” Owen’s mind was racing. Connecting. He was always good at this—when he was focused on something, he could make connections quickly and easily. He did it in battle all the time, finding just the right tactic to beat an opponent many times stronger than he was. But tactics alone wouldn’t make him that special. James was the same way—tactical—perhaps even better. So why him?

Owen thought again. What other people had strange, special talents? Stronger than usual? Late-evolving? Gahi. A Trapinch that was incredibly fast. He gave off the signs of a Pokémon with Speed Boost, on top of already incredible speed, even for his slowest, larva-like form. Mispy. Her aura reading, for one, not to mention her incredible healing talent, and her slow-charge Solar Beam. Demitri. He was slow, but nothing held back his attacks. He could take more hits than all of them combined. Owen had a vague memory of him smashing through even his Protect shields of light during a distant sparring match.

Those strange Pokémon. The Ninjask that Star talked about. The Luxray, too. They were strange, just like he was. A Pokémon with no ancestry. A Pokémon that was created by some other way. Who were his parents? The ones he was born from. Amia and Alex never knew. And Rhys—why did he know so much about—

The bed. The Rawst bed. Not only did he have one in his home in Hot Spot Cave, but there was also one in Rhys’ old home. Who would ever need a Rawst bed in that cave? Rhys didn’t take guests. Sure, he tended to gather useless trinkets. But a bed?

“Klent,” Owen finally said again. The Jumpluff was taking slow steps away, trying to get to Star. “Please, wait! Klent! I… I need to know!”

Klent ran as fast as his light body would allow. Little puffs of dandelion seeds flew from his pom-poms in his frantic dash. Owen didn’t yet know how to forcibly recall a spirit. He had to chase after him.

“Klent, PLEASE!” Owen yelled. “What—what am I?!

Star turned around, ears twitching at the question. She saw Klent running toward him with primal fear in his glassy eyes, and then Owen right behind him. She flicked her hand and created a barrier to stop Owen from advancing; he slammed his fist helplessly against it. Star floated toward him.

“Whoa, whoa, h-hang on, Owen!” Star said. “Just—just breathe, okay? Just breathe! This’ll only take a second…”

“NO! DON’T TAKE THEM AWAY!” Owen screamed, clutching his head. Star’s paw glowed, but when he said that, the light flickered. “P-please,” Owen said again, staring at the Mew with wide eyes. “I don’t want to forget! I know someone’s messing with my head—taking away my memories! There’s… they’re missing. I’m missing so much of my past! I—I can see the holes, they’re—they’re all covered up and scooped out of my head…” Tears bubbled at the sides of his eyes, tracing the ridges of his scales.

“O-okay, Owen, just—just calm down! Look, l-look, no light! It’s gone, no light!” Star waved her paws in the air; indeed, the light was gone.

Hyperventilating, Owen sat down. He was dizzy. He wanted to throw up.

He sat in the middle of some forest, reading a book with Amia and Alex nearby. They had gone out more often back then. How far back? He was a Charmeleon.

He was playing marbles with a few of the other villagers. He was a Charmander. His tiny hands made it easy to make precise shots. He won every time.

The chest pain returned. Something ran right through his back—a blade from the end of a tail, plunged into him. His mother cried his name.

He was flying—the memory abruptly cut off.


“O-oh… oh, Arceus… h-how old am I?” Owen said. His head was pounding. He wasn’t sure if it was his breathing or his tears that made his vision so blurry.

“Owen, shh, shh… just… just breathe, okay? Stay with me.” Star held Owen’s shoulders, but her paws were barely effective. “Your aura is out of control—just breathe… Owen? Close your eyes… just focus on my voice, okay? Owen, can you hear me? Owen?”

It wasn’t working. Owen’s entire body was shaking; he couldn’t see anymore. It was all dark. It felt like his tail’s flame was covering his whole back.

He heard roaring. It was his voice. He remembered roaring. Such a horrible noise. The roars in his mind translated into desperate whimpers for the others to hear.

“Owen,” Zena said, right beside him. He didn’t even realize she had been there. “Breathe.”

Owen choked on his breath, clutching at his chest. It felt like his ribs were splitting apart.

“You’ve got this, Owen,” Star said. “In and out. Breathe easy. Theeere you go…”

Breathe, breathe… Meditate. Rhys always asked that. Rhys—!

He sat next to Gahi. He sank halfway into the sand pit, muttering something. Owen laughed and said, “Just do it, we can fight later!” And then he closed his eyes.

They sat at the table. Rhys gave Owen a little smile. He had his favorite dish today. Gahi groaned, wanting something meatier.

Owen had Rhys’ neck in his giant claws—the memory abruptly stopped.


“Owen, stay with me, c’mon,” Star said softly. By now, everybody was staring at them. Owen didn’t know; his eyes were shut tight.

“Owen, I’m going to put a small block on your memory, okay? I won’t erase anything. I’m just going to stop them from coming for a little while.”

Owen didn’t say anything. He was burning.

He walked through Kilo Village with a spring in his step. As a Charmeleon, he’d surely be accepted into the Hearts!

There was a frightened little Spinarak with a few injured legs. He offered an Oran Berry. The wild thing ate it, spat a String Shot in his face, and fled. Owen shouted something about being ungrateful.

Owen felt the warm embrace of a fellow Charmander. They were both crying silently. He didn’t want to let go.


“Owen? Owen, are you okay?” Star said.

It felt like there was still a lot more missing. He didn’t know how much was gone—but a lot still was. But the flood was frozen in place. Ready to topple over him at any second, yet halted for now. Owen breathed slowly.

“Star,” he finally said. Feeling slightly more secure with what he had, and what he didn’t yet have to deal with, he asked, “What’s wrong with me?”

The Mew nodded and pat his shoulder. She floated to his height—a little, pink puff that tried her best to comfort him with words. “A lot, Owen, a lot,” she said, “but you’re going to be okay, alright? You have me. You have everyone else. We’re here for you.”

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were all staring, confused. “What’s going on?” Demitri asked. “What’s Owen talking about? Is he… Is that Orb driving him crazy?”

“C-can it do that?” Mispy asked. She was hiding her leaf behind her head; it was getting a total sensory overload at the pulsing flare Owen’s aura gave off. His panic made it an inferno; her ability to sense auras was shot like she was hit by three Flash attacks all at once.

“Oy, Owen,” Gahi said.

Owen gulped and opened his eyes. “G-Gahi?”

“Y’alright?” he asked.

“I—” Owen stopped. He felt… grounded, hearing Gahi speak to him. “I’m okay… I think I’m okay.”

He looked at Zena next, and the pain in his chest slowly subsided.

Star sighed, feeling Owen’s aura calm down. It was still flaming—but it was at least no longer like staring at the sun.

“Owen?” Zena spoke up again.

“H-hi, Zena,” Owen said. He realized that everybody was staring at him; he lowered his head in shame. “I—I’m sorry. I… I’m making a huge scene over nothing…”

“It’s not nothing,” Zena said. The Milotic could relate. No breakdown was over nothing. There was always a reason—and it felt like this was over something much deeper than a bit of stress. “Star, why don’t we make lunch for him?”

“I want to make lunch for Owen, too!” Willow said.

“There is a fresh collection of underground berries,” Valle said, “located in hallway E after a left, right, left, and left turn. They will serve Owen well.”

“Okay. We’ll all take a break for lunch,” Star said.

“Guardians do not require food,” ADAM said.

“Then—train if you like, but take a break if you want,” Star growled. “Owen, want to head to, uh, Rhys’ place? We’ll whip up something nice.”

<><><>​

Owen’s mind was still racing, but perhaps now it was at a jog rather than a sprint. He was making connections about his blurry past and what he already knew. With Star putting a block on the remaining memories that were hidden away, he could work with that manageable portion without being overwhelmed by the rest.

He was definitely a Charmeleon during his fight with Azu. But then, something happened. He remembered… an intense heat. And a pressure in his chest. The heat he felt before when he had evolved the first time. And he felt that heat many, many times before. He became a Charmeleon countless times—he evolved, over and over, and then forgot, becoming a Charmander again. It was always Rhys—or… or Amia. They were the ones who somehow brought him back to normal.

Normal. Normal from what?

Owen thought about his strange dreams. He thought they were just fantasies about being a Charizard, but… no. There was no way they were fantasies. That happened. He was a Charizard before. And Gahi was a Flygon—and Demitri, a Haxorus, and Mispy, a Meganium. They all were, before. But something happened… what happened? He couldn’t remember. That was still locked away. Those times with Team Alloy, fully evolved, felt like incredibly early memories. How far back did it go? How long ago was that? How many evolution cycles? Was there anything before that?

“Owen!” Gahi shouted.

“Wh—buh—huh?” Owen said, jolting awake.

“Arceus in the Sky, we’ve been calling yeh ten times!”

“You look lost in thought again,” Demitri said. “Are—are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m… I don’t think I’m okay,” Owen said. “My head’s spinning with all these memories… and you were all in them, too,” he said. “Gahi, do you ever remember—”

“Ah, ah, ah! Owen! Not yet,” Star said.

“H-huh?”

“Not yet. Please,” Star said carefully.

Owen gulped but nodded. “O-okay…” She had a point. There was no telling what would happen if Gahi had the same sort of panic that he did.

Like a punch in the gut, Owen realized that the reason everyone was keeping him ignorant was because Star, or perhaps Rhys or Amia, had told them what would happen if he got his memories back. And then, against their wishes, he pried too far, and the memories came spilling back. And now, everything hurt.

Owen stared at his claws while they waited for lunch. He focused, turning his scales green, and then orange, and then green again. He was getting better at that.

The previous Grass Guardian, Klent… Owen sighed. What was that look he gave him? It wasn’t the first time. Still, there was something bothering him. He looked to the right, where Klent was sitting at the table, though he requested Star not make anything for him—he didn’t need to eat, after all. He didn’t want to take up resources if he didn’t have to.

“Klent?” Owen said. His heart skipped a beat.

“Yes, Owen?” Klent said. He was speaking respectfully, but Owen could still sense a coldness in his voice. Owen was starting to wonder why, connecting more and more of his fragmented memories together. He couldn’t complete the full picture. He was filling in the blanks with speculation. The more he inferred and guessed, the smaller the gaps felt.

Owen couldn’t remember anything beyond evolving into a Charizard. He didn’t even know if that’s what actually happened. What if he became… something else? The strange auras, the lack of ancestry. A clean history. No history. His strange dreams. His instinct for battle—his abnormal need to fight.

That look. Klent’s eyes. Those eyes.

“Klent,” Owen finally said. “How did you die?”

Star fumbled by the stove, dropping the berries in too fast. The hot water splashed through her smoky body. The Mew cursed under her breath, turning back.

Klent looked away. He looked at Star, instead. The Mew shook her see-through head frantically, but Klent shook his head back. It was too late. Owen’s memories couldn’t be sealed away anymore. He was a Guardian—that trick wasn’t going to work as easily, or perhaps at all. He was going to find out eventually. Just as the memories of Rhys and the other Hunters couldn’t be sealed—a Guardian was just as immune to that kind of influence.

The Jumpluff nodded at the Charmander. “I’m sorry, Owen,” Klent said. “But… I think I know what you’re thinking. And… you’re right.”

The world stood still.

Owen didn’t want to ask. But his mouth moved on its own. “M-meaning?”

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all exchanged dumbfounded looks. What was going on? Where was Owen getting all these crazy ideas from? And, more importantly—why was everybody else playing along? They always felt like everyone else knew something they didn’t. They were quite eager to have Owen tell them the answer.

Klent sighed as if bracing for it as well. “I’m sorry, but… it’s true. You’re right.”

“Th-that the way you died… I…”

“You killed me,” the former Guardian said, “and my daughter.”
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
Alright, 4th chapter has been read now. I must say, I'm really liking all the mystery that's been getting built up in this story so far. What with Owen's peculiar experiences, the odd tension between Rhys and the alakazam guy whose name I'm too sleepy to be able to remember right now, as well as the mutant pokemons. Seriously, it feels like there are some existential themes going on in here, and I'm positively thrilled to see what they all lead up to.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Appreciate the feedback as always, Adam! Glad you're enjoying what's coming... Heh, I'm curious how you'll react once the plot gets rolling and these mysteries start getting answers.

Now then...

Chapter 18 – Mistakes

Shortly after Klent revealed his cause of death, Owen had left the table, saying that he wanted to think. Nobody stopped him, though they did watch to see where he went. Zena, however, started to slither after him.

“Zena, wait—” Star said.

Zena spun her head back and gave a glare to the Mew so intense that her pink, misty form fizzled halfway out of existence.

Zena resumed her pursuit. “Owen,” she called gently.

The Charmander didn’t stop. He was going straight for his home, to his room. The group collectively sighed in relief, but Zena pressed on. He needed company. Even if he didn’t remember it, he gave her company in her time of need. It was high time she returned the favor.

“Owen,” Zena said again. “Please, look at me.”

“No,” Owen said. “I need to think.”

“Owen,” Zena repeated. “May… may I follow you to your room?”

Owen didn’t object, so Zena took that as an affirmative. She knew it wasn’t the case.

The Charmander went to his room and puffed a small plume of fire at the central fire pit, immediately setting it alight. He dug through his bag next, rummaging for something to calm his nerves. Zena, now closer, noticed that Owen was still trembling. He could barely hold his bag open.

Zena couldn’t find her words. He was only a few feet away, and yet they were a world apart.

“Did you know?” Owen said, not turning his head away from the contents of his bag.

Voice missing, Zena could only tense her jaw.

“Did you know I killed him? Did Star tell you?” Owen kept his gaze fixed on the bag.

The Water Guardian was still unable to speak.

“Does everyone here know what’s wrong with me? And they just aren’t telling me?”

It ate away at Zena. When Owen didn’t say anything further, the silence was unbearable. She had to break it. “I—” Zena choked. “I’m sorry, Owen.”

Thick silence. The fire crackled a few times in the pit.

“Right.” Owen pulled out something from the bag and bit into it. In a blink, he vanished. All that remained of him, for a split-second, were the last few embers of his flame.

<><><>​

“Owen has vanished,” Valle announced to the others, just outside in the square.

“WHAT?!”

Gahi, the fastest, rushed to the home—followed by Willow, the second fastest. “Zena! What happened?!” Gahi said, but then saw Owen’s bag half-open in his room. “…Warp Seed.”

Zena turned around. The mutterings and discussion among the others were blurry murmurs to her. She couldn’t get that image out of her head. The moment before he left, Owen had looked at her. They made eye contact for just a second. Owen’s eyes had never looked so empty and lightless.

“V-Valle! Uh—d-d’you know where he went?” Demitri asked.

“I am searching for him now. The Warp Seed must have brought him somewhere within these caverns.” The motionless Rock Shiftry then went silent. “I have found him. He is deeper inside of the caves. He is heading toward the lava flow.”

“Wh-why?!” Willow said. “He’ll burn up!”

“Doubtful,” ADAM said. “Owen’s species is capable of surviving in the lava. It is their habitat. It is very likely that he is going there to cool his system. The irony is not lost on me.”

The Porygon-Z buzzed to fill the worried silence.

“Additionally,” he continued, “it is likely a place where we cannot approach as easily. He wants to think in an isolated environment.”

“At least he’s not running off somewhere stupid again,” Star said. “That’s a start. And, to be honest, Klent, I don’t blame him this time!”

“If I vanish,” Klent said, “it means Owen’s power is waning. You can use me as an… indicator, if you like.” He rubbed his pom-poms together. “Was I too harsh? He may have… been the one to kill me, but…”

“I still don’t believe that,” Gahi said. “What d’you mean, he killed yeh?”

“It’s just as I said,” replied Klent. “Owen is responsible for my death. His flames are what snuffed out mine.”

Gahi clicked his jaws irritably. “How long were yeh waiting ter break that line out?” he said. “As… as just a Charmander? C’mon, don’t kid us like that.”

“He was not a Charmander,” Klent said. “He was… some sort of Charizard. A very powerful one… very…” He shivered. “It is not a memory I like to revisit. I was not the only one to die. My daughter was also killed. It still affects her, as any death would. She still doesn’t want to see Owen. I… don’t blame her.”

“But… he’s a Charmander,” Demitri said. “He never evolved! He…! He…!”

“Oh boy,” Star mumbled, forming a strange, white light in her paws again.

Zena glared, but did nothing. Demitri was clutching at his head, wobbling where he stood. The other two weren’t doing any better. Star fired—the white light enveloped them dimly, and the three collapsed, asleep before their panic could fully set in.

“So much for that,” Star said, followed by a sigh. “Don’t worry, guys. When they wake up, I think they’ll just assume they got tuckered out after their meal. Just play along like before, okay? They’ll believe you if you fill in the blanks. Let their own heads trick them on the rest. Zena, can you carry them to their beds again?”

Zena stared at the three helpless creatures. They would never know who they were, what they became. They’d live, forever, in ignorance of that, while everyone else acted as if they were totally normal. Lie after lie after lie. Until what?

Klent looked at his pom-poms. “Oh. I’m fading,” he said. “but—Owen feels just fine. Valle?”

“Owen is walking.”

“I think he’s too far away from me,” Klent said. “I won’t be able to…” He faded, returning to Owen’s core as a blue ember.

Star sighed. “Zena?” she said. “C’mon, none of us are good at carrying things. ADAM’s too smooth, Willow’s smaller than Anam’s toe, and Valle’s Valle. Can you help out?”

Zena wasn’t sure what came over her. There was a strange heat on the sides of her head, combined with an accelerating heart rate. Like she was preparing for a fight. She stared at Star. The Milotic’s words came without a filter. “Why should we listen to anything you say?”

Star flinched. “H-huh? What do you mean?”

“All of this,” Zena said, staring at her. “Why are we keeping the truth hidden away from them? What they are. They’re the very same things being sent to kill the other Guardians. And now, Owen knows it. H-he forgot everything. He forgot me. Why can’t he remember? Why should I follow your word, Star?!”

Star floated stiffly, tiny, smoky paws clenched. “Because I’m the one keeping you all alive,” she said. “If I didn’t organize to get you guys, you’d all be dead. Your Orbs would be with Eon, and he’d be halfway to ruling the world by now. Zena, you have to trust—”

“I will never trust you,” Zena hissed, slithering until she was mere inches away from Star’s ill-defined face. “Your sins will never wash away, Creator. You did this. You made the Hunters. You kept the Guardians sealed away. And you,” she used one of her ribbons to push at the Mew’s chest, “are the reason for all of this.” With one firm press, she knocked Star back a few feet.

Willow fidgeted. “S-stop fighting,” she said quietly. “This isn’t fun…”

Nobody listened. Star floated where she had been pushed, staring at Zena. She looked around at the others for support. ADAM and Valle were indifferent. Willow skittered toward Zena, hiding near her coils. Team Alloy was either gone or unconscious. She had nobody. And Zena, realizing this, gave the Mew a twisted, sick grin. If Star was going to kill her then, she could at least feel satisfied that she did it knowing she was right.

But then, the Mew spoke. “You don’t… you think I don’t know that?” Her voice trembled. “I know. I kn-know I ruined everything. I know it’s all my fault. I just… I j-just can’t… do anything on my own. I need you guys to… fix my mistake. Because I can’t.”

This caught her off guard. But she wasn’t going to let up. “And why is that, O Creator?” Zena asked. “You seem to do well enough with modifying my memories to your wishes, let alone Owen’s or the rest of Team Alloy. Why don’t you just do that now, hm? Wipe it all away. Go on. What’s stopping you?” Zena slithered closer, never taking her eyes off of Star, even when the deity looked away.

She finally spoke in a voice so tiny, even Zena struggled to hear it. “I can’t.”

She knew it. Despite this going exactly as she had expected, the Milotic’s sneer faltered. “And why is that?”

“I only wiped those memories away in the spirit world. When you meditated and sank into your Water Realm,” she said. “And even then… it was because I was ready for it. You trusted me. Your mind was open enough for me to… if you reacted badly…” Star shook her head. “I can’t do that anymore. You’ll never let me inside. And… and that’s a good thing. I never should have in the first place. I’m sorry, Zena. I’m… sorry.”

No. Stay strong. She won’t influence her with tears. That was how it worked before. “That isn’t good enough,” Zena hissed. “Sorry won’t make up for my centuries away. For the life I could have lived, simple and happy with petty worries. Sorry,” her voice cracked, “won’t make up for the fact that I’m alone again!” Her echo bounced off of the cavern walls. ADAM buzzed anxiously. Willow nuzzled against Zena, sending a mild, irritable shock through her scales.

“You aren’t alone,” Willow said. “I’m here. And I’m your friend!”

“You have heightened user permissions,” ADAM stated to Zena.

“I tolerate your movement,” Valle said.

Zena puffed a few times through her nose. Her heart was racing and she didn’t know why. She didn’t expect to get this far. She was ready to throw everything away just to get one jab at Star before leaving to the aura sea. She was ready to be made an example of, to experience a Creator’s wrath, just to prove a point. In hindsight, it was completely illogical. But she still did it. In some stupor, she finally laid her heart bare for the others to see its pain, and for Star to finally end it.

But none of that happened. Instead, the pink mist floated there, staring at the four Guardians. She was too ill-defined to see an expression on her, but her voice was clear.

“I’ll fix everything. I—I just need help. I’m helping as much as I can. I’m working as fast as I—and—and I’ll make Owen better,” Star said. “That’s—that’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole time, Zena. I’ll have him remember everything. I—I just need time, Zena. He’s not ready! You saw how he reacted! If I gave it all to him now, he’d—he’d totally lose it. You believe me on that, at least, right?!”

Zena’s body tensed, looking for a fault in the logic. Star wasn’t going to deceive her again. But… she had a point. Owen’s aura was blazing before Star had blocked his memories.

“Owen,” Zena repeated. “You can easily modify his memories, even outside of the spirit world. Yet, you can’t for us?”

Star shook her head. “I’m not modifying them. I’m sealing them. His brain makes up for what’s missing.”

“That does not sound like best-practice,” ADAM said.

“Yet, you still can’t do that to us. I doubt Owen and the others trusted you enough to give you free access to their minds,” Zena said. “Does that mean you’re lying? That you’re—"

“They were designed that way,” Star blurted. “They…” She looked down. “That’s how their minds are supposed to be. They have an intentional vulnerability in their auras to revert them to their lowest forms if needed. If you inspected them up close, you’d see the same thing. Ask Anam or Amia. They’ll say exactly what I said. And that same vulnerability seals away their memories. All you need is the right aura key, and…” She motioned to the three slumbering mutant larvae. “Rhys is an aura expert. He taught it to me, Zena. And then to Amia. If you want to help control Owen and ease him into recovery, have Rhys teach it to you, too.”

Zena’s adrenaline, by now, was gone. “And you want to save him?”

“Of course I do. All of them,” Star said. “That’s the whole point. I just want them to live normal lives. I want everyone to live normal lives. I want the Hunters gone—or at least, for them to give up. So the world can be at peace. So everything can be… fixed. But I… can’t do that on my own.”

“Why not?” Zena said. “What’s stopping you from just coming to the real world and wiping the Hunters out yourself? You’re the Creator!” Zena shouted. “Descend upon the mortal realm and make it so!”

“Wh—” Star shook her head. “What, you think I wouldn’t do that if I could?! I’d’ve done that a long time ago! I can only see the world through you guys if you let me! If you guys block me from your realms, I… I’ll be…” She shook her head. “I can’t, okay? I’m not descending on the world any time soon.”

“Then why not?!” Zena said. “Or are you afraid that if you show your face here, we’ll kill you? Because in the end, you think we’ll turn on you because you were the one who—”

“I’m not afraid that you’re going to kill me!”

“Is that a challenge?!” Zena raised her voice.

“No!” She raised her voice even more. “I’m not afraid because I’M ALREADY DEAD!”

This time, despite her tiny, smoky body, it was Star’s voice that echoed throughout the cave.

“I literally can’t come down. It’s the same way for Arceus. We’re dead, Zena. Dead gods! And neither of us will let the other come back. So, we’re stuck.” Star turned around. “I’ll never let Arceus down again. And he won’t let me, either. And if we can stop the Hunters from upsetting that balance… then that’s all I want.”

“You want… to stay dead?” Zena asked.

Star looked away. “I’m… tired, Zena. I’m… I’m s-so tired…”

Zena’s breathing was completely normal again. He looked at the others.

Willow sparked a few times anxiously, squirting a bit of web beneath her body. “Oops…”

Zena sighed. “We have a common goal. Save Owen, and stop the Hunters. I suppose I can work alongside you until that is completed.” She looked away. “You’ll need to work more for my trust beyond that.”

“Thank you,” Star said. “Can… can I get a hug?”

Zena slithered toward her home. “I am going to wait for Owen.”

Willow hopped—and partially sank—into Star’s arms instead.

<><><>​

Every step the four elite fighters took made soft echoes in the long, winding cave. From the outside, the Spire of Trials looked like a giant spike from the ground. Smooth. It was the perfect monument, and they were sure that Guardian Manny and his spirits had crafted it themselves from a mountain. They must’ve had a lot of spare time.

Amia lit the way forward with a blue flame. The light revealed how well-polished the halls were. “Amazing,” Amia said. “Do you suppose they chiseled it with nothing but punches and, ah, their determined fighting spirit?” Amia winced. “I apologize, Rhys. I’m not familiar with your Typing and their tendencies.”

“I wouldn’t consider myself typical,” Rhys said, but then pointed forward, into the first arena.

And there he was. Feraligatr Azu, posing with his bulging muscles in various stances to show off each one. Every flex felt like it made the air itself bend in shockwaves, the sheer power radiating from him making the atmosphere tremble. It was likely all for show.

“Goodness,” Amia said quietly. “It’s as if his muscles have muscles.” She wondered if she could make Alex look like that with a bit of Mystic work.

“Hm,” Rhys hummed. “From how I understand it, we will be fighting in an order of some kind? From weakest to strongest…”

“Who is weakest of us?”

“Me,” James said, nodding. “I may be strong… but I am still limited by Anam’s power output. It would be best if I attack first, and then Anam follows sometime after.”

“Isn’t Anam… only defensive?”

“He has a kind heart,” James said, “but against spirits, he knows he can’t hurt others. He will be able to fight at his best.”

Rhys nodded. “Then, I am fighting Manny… That leaves you two,” he nodded to Anam and Amia, “to decide who will fight the third and second strongest.”

“I wouldn’t consider myself the greatest of fighters,” Amia said. “Not compared to you, Anam! The Association Head of the Thousand Hearts Association… you’re definitely stronger!”

Anam giggled and blushed a slight purple under his cheeks. “Aww, I’m not that good… but okay, if you say so, I’ll fight after you.”

“Got it,” Amia said.

And with that, James finally called out to the Feraligatr. “Azu! We are ready to battle you with our weakest member, me,” he said. “Do you accept my challenge?”

“I accept!” Azu said, stomping the ground. “Ha! You are familiar!” Azu called out to Amia. “Are these your best?”

“Y-yes!” Amia called back. “We’re the strong four of our group, more or less! Well—so far, at least!”

“Yes,” James said. “So, don’t think this will be as easy as your fight with Owen.”

“Owen?” Azu repeated. “H-ha! The Charmeleon, you mean!”

“Yes. That was Owen—I’m quite a bit stronger than he is. Do not expect this fight to go as well.”

“To go as well?” Azu said. “Ha! I see! You mean to say that you are even more powerful than Owen!”

“Yes. I do mean that,” James said. “Did I not state that outright?”

“I see! Very well!” Azu shouted back, clapping his hands together. “Thank you for informing me!”

There was an odd silence then, where Azu didn’t say anything, and neither did the group. The four expected him to make some sort of statement about taking the first hit or getting ready for a tough fight. At the very least, they expected Azu to perform some sort of Ultimate Pose Technique to dazzle them. But he just stood there, claws tapping one another with his hands together.

“Goodbye!” Azu declared. He exploded in a flurry of blue embers. The way forward lit up with a dim glow on the opposite side of the arena.

“Oh,” Amia said. “That was… an interesting reaction.”

“I did not expect a forfeit,” James stated, removing himself from his battle stance. The feather-arrow tugged back with an ethereal bow disappeared. “Amia, did you understate Owen’s fighting abilities?”

“W-well, he was getting his scales handed to him when he was a Charmeleon.”

“But how was he after he evolved?” Anam asked.

“Um… he was a much more difficult opponent,” Amia said.

“You may have understated his abilities.” Rhys nodded. “Nevertheless, we should advance. Amia, prepare yourself for your battle. True to his Orb, Manny wants to see our strength before joining us.”

“Right… of course,” Amia said. “Hmm… oh, how should I approach this battle? It won’t be too hard, will it?”

“We can’t know the strength of the third-strongest fighter. He could be slightly stronger, or leagues stronger than Azu.”

They passed through the exit and continued up the spiral. It was much like the last passageway, only with a slightly sharper curve: The only indication that they were higher in the spiral. After a few more circles around, they saw another dim glow. This one was slightly green, flickering with movement. “Here we go,” Amia said.

“Hrruuoogh!”

Amia quickly brought up her flames. The blue embers danced around her like tiny Illumise. They saw a Chesnaught posing in the middle of the room. Like Azu, he was bipedal, with a muscular build. What distinguished him, however, was his large, beige shell with four huge spikes on his back. The shell also appeared to have muscles.

“Be careful, Amia,” James said. “Chesnaught are immune to quite a few projectile attacks. Since you specialize in distanced attacking… I would focus on beam-like moves, such as Flamethrower, or field-of-influence moves, like Psychic.”

“Got it,” Amia said.

“Ahh, so you are the ones who have defeated Azu!” Chesnaught said. “I am Verd, the second strongest of Guardian Manny’s summoned spirits! Give me your third strongest fighter!”

“Th-that would be me,” Amia said. The blue Gardevoir waved sheepishly and stepped into the arena. She waved her hand, creating three bright, blue flames above her.

“Ha! Then if you are the third strongest, I accept your challenge! Do not think this—”

One of the flames with Amia turned into a jet of fire that went straight for Verd. He yelped and rolled out of the way.

“W-wait! Wait!”

“H-huh?” Amia asked; it looked like she was about to launch a second one.

“Y-you didn’t let me finish my speech! I need to psyche myself up!”

“Psyche… yourself up?” Amia said.

“I—I need a second. Give me a second! There’s a process to this!”

Amia crossed her arms confusedly and looked back at Anam, James, and Rhys. The Goodra shrugged. The Decidueye and Lucario merely looked down.

“Okay. Take… take the time you need, dear,” Amia said.

“Thank you.” Verd got into his pose again, stomping on the ground, shouting at Amia. “Do not think this battle will be easy! I shall give you a true challenge to see if you are worthy to face Guardian Manny! Now… let the battle begin! Hrrraaaaaaaa!” Verd ran at Amia with as much speed as his legs allowed, reaching Amia in seconds.

At first, Amia didn’t move. She seemed unsure if the battle had started or not. Then, at the last half-second, she deftly moved to the right, sidestepping the initial tackle. He couldn’t redirect in time. He had a lot of momentum, but no agility to redirect. Still, Amia recognized the strength behind his attacks. Just one could do serious damage. She’d have to finish quickly.

Verd ran toward Amia for a second time, winding his fist back. Still, he was a Fighting Type. That wouldn’t do as much damage against her. His Grass Type was likely hidden away, similar to Azu. Amia’s embers blasted out another blue-hot Flamethrower. Verd punched through it, forcing Amia to dodge again.

“Fight me head on, Gardevoir!” Verd said. “Do not think that such tricks will be effective against Manny!”

“Oh, dear, I’m not fighting Manny,” Amia said. “And this is working quite well against you!”

“Nnngh! Don’t think you have the advantage!” Verd shouted. He pushed his hands together and separated them with a foot-long gap in the middle. An orb of his very fighting spirit formed, brimming with life and power. Verd launched the Focus Blast straight at Amia. She countered with a Flamethrower again, rupturing the ball of energy. It exploded in a blinding flash, sending a shockwave that knocked Amia back a few feet, but the flames persisted. Verd shouted in surprise—but that was all. Amia’s fire was simply too powerful and Verd was just another ember by the time the flames settled.

“…That was it?” Anam said.

“I suppose Verd was only slightly stronger than Azu, then,” James said.

“Or they drew straws,” Amia added, dusting off her dress. “That wasn’t so bad! I haven’t had a fight in quite a while! Did I do okay?”

“I think you did great!” Anam said, pumping a gooey fist in the air.

James nodded, deciding not to point out the flaws. “You did well for not fighting in so long. Quite well.”

“We should advance,” Rhys said. “Anam, are you ready for your fight?”

“Yep!”

The upward curve through the spiral was getting even sharper. It felt like the inside of the spire was roughly two or three stone’s throws in diameter. The dim glow met them again—red, now—and this time, they saw an Infernape waiting for them at the center of the penultimate arena.

“I,” the Infernape greeted, “am Roh, the strongest of Guardian Manny’s Fighting Spirits! Give me your second strongest fighter to face me in a battle of might and honor!”

Anam giggled and wobbled forward. “That’s me!” he said.

“You, Goodra… shall be my opponent. Do you accept this fight, and not stop until either of us falls?”

“I accept!” Anam said enthusiastically, clapping his hands together. They made wet, slapping noises.

Roh seemed slightly unnerved. “And… you are certainly the second strongest?” he said. Despite his hesitance, his voice was still loud.

“Yes! Well, Rhys and I might be around the same strength, maybe… but Rhys would be good against Manny, don’t you think?”

“The Lucario?” asked Roh. “Yes. Manny would appreciate that. Then, very well!” The Infernape went into his fighting stance, holding his two fists in front. “Do not expect me to go easy on you! Let the battle begin!”

Roh moved perhaps a single inch out of his starting position. Anam opened his mouth and fired an intense, blue blast of dragon might from the back of his throat. The blue suddenly became indigo, and for a fleeting moment, it looked like the blast Anam had fired had grown dragon wings of its own. The wings tucked in, accelerating, twisting toward its target. Roh had no time to dodge. It went straight through his chest, leaving a hole behind. Roh stared in surprise, looking down at the spiritual embers that poured from him. He didn’t have the words to react. Then, delayed, he said, “I—” His body burst into embers, returning to the Guardian above.

Anam giggled, clapping his hands. “That was fun!” he said. “He’s so cheerful! I like Manny’s spirits. They seem really fun to talk to!”

“G-goodness, Anam,” Amia said.

“So, are we gonna go to see Manny, now?” Anam asked.

“I—I suppose so!” the Gardevoir replied. “Um… Anam, did you tap into your Mystic power for that attack?”

“I might have,” Anam said, rubbing his ill-defined chin. “After a while, your Mystic power just naturally enhances your attacks.”

“O-oh, right.” Amia nodded. “Of course. Um… let’s go. Rhys?”

“I am prepared.”

The turns got even sharper, and a strange smell filled the air. The further up they got, the more it became… foul. Rotten. An ominous air filled the atmosphere with every step they took. Cautious, the group walked a bit closer together, and a bit more slowly. Every so often, Amia bumped into Rhys from behind. “S-sorry,” she mumbled.

“What’s that smell?” Anam whined, covering his nose.

Amia nodded. “It’s quite… strong.”

James had his eyes closed, walking with them. “…It’s the smell of decay,” he said. “The decay of… bodies.”

“B-bodies?”

“Yes. I am familiar with this smell. It is death.”

Around the corner, Amia stumbled over something. “Oops—what was…” She brought her flame closer and screamed. She scrambled back and bumped into something else, screaming again. Anam screamed with her. Rhys and James tried to calm them down. Rhys held Anam steady, getting goo all over him; James tried to get near Amia, but his feathers got scorched in the process.

It was the fallen body of a slain Pokémon. There didn’t appear to be any major wounds on it, but it was lying there for quite some time—at least a day. “O-oh, Arceus…!” Amia said.

“We must advance,” James said.

“Did—did Manny do this…?” Amia couldn’t look for long. She walked, looking straight; she only gave flashing glances below her to avoid stepping on anything else. Anam was covering his eyes, guided by James and Rhys; the Goodra was shaking.

“It’s okay, Anam,” James said. “Relax. It’s just a body…”

Anam whimpered. The feelers on his head twitched. “D-d’you hear that?” he asked.

“A-a ghost?” Amia asked.

“H-huh? No, not a ghost,” Anam said.

They stopped walking to listen.

“Hah! Yah! Heh… that all yeh got?!” It was coming from ahead and above.

“…Isn’t that Gahi’s accent?” Amia said.

An aura explosion blasted the wall. Amia yelped and jumped away, slamming into Anam. “O—oops, sorry, dear!” She struggled to break loose of his gooey belly.

“What was it?” Anam asked, clutching Amia from behind in fear.

“J-just an Aura Sphere!” Amia said, unable to move out of Anam’s grip. “Rhys?”

“Yes,” Rhys said. “I’m beginning to understand why they wanted me to fight Manny.”

After only a few more steps, they saw it—another Lucario, a bit taller than Rhys, and significantly more muscular, rather than Rhys’ lean build. And the other Pokémon—a fierce one, Garchomp—but, more importantly, it was like all the other mutant, clean auras. Something was different. She used her arms as legs, and those arms were larger than a normal Garchomp’s. It looked like it was built for quadrupedal movement. She growled and rushed at Manny, and the Lucario laughed and dodged every strike. Fallen Pokémon littered the ground—the Garchomp was the last one standing, aside from the Mystic she was fighting. Was he fighting the entire time, ever since Owen had arrived?

“Watch out!” Amia shouted.

“I got it, I got it!” Manny said, firing another Aura Sphere at the Garchomp.

She screeched and tried to dodge—but it was impossible to avoid the Sphere. She shouted and slammed against the wall, collapsing.

Amia held her hands to her mouth. “Is… is she…?”

The Garchomp abruptly roared and attempted another Dragon Rush toward the Fighting Guardian. In an instant, he countered with another Aura Sphere. Amia recognized those movements of that Pokémon. The desperate lunge, that primal, single-minded need to fight to the very end, against even one’s own body’s physical limits—that Garchomp wasn’t going to quit, no matter what. She looked at the bodies in the arena, and then at the last one standing.

The Garchomp slowly stood up. She growled, wobbling closer to Manny.

“P-please… stop,” Amia said.

Fight and fight and fight—but instead of Azu, who lost once Owen evolved—and lost quite badly, in fact—Manny wasn’t even tired. He was on a completely different level than this Garchomp.

The mutant growled, glaring at Manny.

“Just… stay down,” Amia said.

The Garchomp lunged.

Amia thought, for just a moment, that the Garchomp had transformed. Like it had wings and a flaming tail. Running straight at Manny, straight toward his death, driven by thoughts that were tied to his original purpose.

“P-PLEASE, STOP!”

Manny fired directly at the Garchomp’s head.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
Just read the sixth chapter. It was an enjoyable read as expected and also made me ask several questions, also as expected. I wonder what was up with those 'ghosts' from that calm cave and just how they're related to those orbs.

Speaking of the Orbs, I can't help but wonder just what kind of purpose they have that they're sought after by others, and Rhys really needs to up the security of his place cuz that Espurr would've totally taken his orb had Owen not been there. Kinda rude of him to knock Owen out after helping without so much as a thank you lol.

Can't wait to find out what that voice was that woek Owen up in the first place.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
Ooooooooooh, chapter6 was pretty fun to read and I can already see that you're beginning to unravel some of the mysteries at this point.... While also adding more of them on top. I still wonder if the time Owen dreamed Nevren attacking him was a distant memory or really just a fever dream as he thought. The tension between Rhys and Nevren is also something I want to see get unraveled soon.

I kind of ruined the twist at the end of the chapter by unknowingly readi but the first few paragraphs of ch7 by accident. Oops. Either way, I won't pretend I'm not a big fan of Mew as a pokemon and I was happy to see you include her in your story. I wonder what business she really had with Owen though and just what it is with those orbs and why that Espurr that Rhys seems to know wants it so badly. Only time will tell.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
As usual, glad you're enjoying yourself, Adam. Took care of you in discord, so let's get to the next chapter...

Chapter 19 – Synthetic

Amia trembled, staring at the Garchomp, who was barely breathing on the ground and then at the Lucario still standing. The Aura Sphere had sent the artificial Pokémon flying backward, yet miraculously it was still in one piece. Amia didn’t know what to think about the strange mixture of fear and relief she felt when realizing that the Charizard—no, the Garchomp was still breathing.

“Guardian Manny,” said Rhys. “I think that is enough.”

“Eh?” The Lucario looked up. “Oh, well ain’t that somethin’. Yer aura. Ain’t you Rhys?”

“…I am, but I do not know how you know that. Did Star tell you?”

“Nah,” Manny said. “Well, yeah, heh. But I knew ‘bout yeh befer that. Long time ago, real long time ago, ran across yer student. Good kid. Real firework, got a blazin’ heart.”

“E-excuse me?” Amia said. “You know about Owen?”

Manny got out of his battle stance; he put most of his weight on his left leg, swaying a few inches to the left and right. “Baah, what was his name, eh… Gehi… Gaho… Gahi! Yeah, that was it, heh, Gahi. He kinda was real impressionable, I think. Liked m’ accent, tried ter emulate it, I figure. He still got that?”

“Wh—you… you’re the reason why Gahi talks like that?” Amia said. “Where is that accent from, anyway?”

Manny shrugged. “Always had it,” he said. “That’s how accents work, I figure. Been alive too long ter remember where I got it. Maybe it’s some ancient accent that’s only lastin’ with me an’ him. Survivors o’ the ancient dialect.”

“Dialect, hm,” Rhys said. “Well, I regretfully inform you that he still has that manner of speaking, even if he doesn’t remember he got it from you. And thankfully it is not as thick as yours.” Rhys murmured the last part only to himself.

“Oy, what, he’s still alive?” Manny said. “Hah! He became a Guardian too, eh?”

“N-no, he didn’t,” Rhys said. “Actually… Owen did.”

Amia recognized the tension in both Rhys’ stance and his tone. She tried not to point it out, and instead listened for what Manny had to say.

“Owen?” Manny hummed. “Th’ crazy-lookin’ Charizard with funny techniques? Gahi told me all about’m. Only met yer Flygon student; he told me ‘bout all th’ rest.”

Rhys stared at the ground. “Yes,” he said. “That Owen.”

“Hah! Well, Star didn’t tell me that! Should talk ter her more often! Which Type he got?”

“The Grass Orb,” Rhys said, but then eyed the Garchomp on the ground. Her leg twitched to life, barely. “Manny… you didn’t have to kill them.”

“Yeah, I did,” Manny said.

“N-no,” Amia said. “You really didn’t. You could have easily just scared them off!”

“They ain’t got fear,” Manny dismissed. “Ain’t capable of it. They’re in a ‘battle mode’ an’ there ain’t no stoppin’um.”

The Garchomp growled groggily. Manny eyed her carefully, yet the left side of his face twisted into a challenging smirk.

“But,” Amia said, “but couldn’t you just tire them out?”

“Don’t tire.” Manny shrugged. “If I didn’t kill’m, they woulda done it ter th’mselves from overexertion. If they ain’t fightin’, then they ain’t awake. Never woulda ended. Been through this befer.”

“You have?” Rhys asked. “You’ve been attacked by these mutant Pokémon before?”

“Heh, so that’s what yeh call ‘em?” Manny said. “Call it like it is, ol’ timer. These’re artificial Pokémon. Synthetic.” Manny rubbed two claws together. “I call ‘em Mod Pokémon—short fer modified. ‘Cause that’s what they are, y’know. Modified.” He stared down at the Garchomp. For a moment, his eyes looked serious, defying everything else about his demeanor. “All the way down ter th’ very core. I figure even their souls are artificial.”

“You will not say such things,” Rhys said venomously.

The Garchomp twitched slightly and opened her mouth, about to launch a plume of blue fire, but Manny saw it coming. He leisurely pointed his paw her way and shot one final Aura Sphere at it, but this one enveloped her body. She screeched and struggled against the strange field, flailing her arms and legs, thrashing against the air. But then her movements slowed down like the very life was being drained from her. And then, out of her mouth, came a little, golden light, surrounded by a blue ember—and the Garchomp was dead. The ember moved to Manny’s paw and vanished inside. The Garchomp collapsed to the ground, blending in with the rest of the corpses that lacked fatal wounds.

Amia nearly fainted, but she was held up by Anam. The shock of seeing Manny extract the mutant’s very essence stunned Anam into silence.

“Manny,” Rhys said lowly, his own aura flaring at his paws.

“What?” Manny said. “I’m doin’um a favor.” He fired from his paw an aura; it splashed on the ground and condensed into a solid form again. A Garchomp—the very same one, with the very same mutations. She roared; the whole cave shook, and then she ran at him again, claws kicking up rocks. Manny clenched his paw, and she disintegrated into an ember, returning to her host once more. “See?” he said. “Alive ’n’ well.”

“Th-that’s hardly…!” Amia couldn’t find her words.

“They live on in th’ Orb. They can fight fer as long as they want. Th’ old timers from th’ last attack a couple decades ago? Found a way ter calm ‘em down, so now they fight fer me. Yeh met ‘em, didn’t yeh?” he said. “Azu, Verd, Roh… yeah. Those three’re my best from back then. Trained by an old friend that’s too strong fer me ter summon. I gave ‘em new bodies, helped repair their heads.” He tapped a claw against his skull. “Fixed instincts that their master gave ‘em. I figured out how ter give ‘em a proper free will. Too bad they forgot where they came from. Was curious, but I guess that’s a side-effect.”

“I… I see,” Rhys said. He looked down. “…Are they… sapient? Can they speak? Beyond Azu and your best…”

“Eh. They’re gettin’ there,” Manny said. “But hey, way better’n I first met’m.” The Lucario paused for quite some time as if thinking about something. Meanwhile, in the silence, Amia tried to regain her composure. James inspected some of the fallen bodies, noticing that most of them didn’t have any severe wounds on them. Anam made sure Amia didn’t collapse again. Rhys was deep in some other part of his mind.

“So,” Manny broke the silence. “Yer takin’ care o’ Gahi an’ the other ones? How’re they still alive? Figure Mods also age. What’s keepin’ ‘em from passin’ through the aura sea, eh?”

“They… have been reverted to past selves, so to speak,” Rhys said. “And… Mod Pokémon, as you call them, do not age. They were not built to age and degrade.”

“An’ jus’ who built these guys? Must’ve been some real genius ter come up with that. They’re givin’ me some theories, but their past memories’re real blurry. Somethin’ about bein’ in that battle mode fuzzes it up.”

“Genius, huh?” Amia said. “Well, it was a Hunter, right, Rhys? It… i-it couldn’t have been N-Nevren, right…?”

Rhys sighed. “I thought that without Nevren, the other Hunters wouldn’t have been able to continue the project,” he said. “Clearly, I was wrong. Nevren is going to be very upset about this.”

“I’ve never seen Nevren be upset,” Anam mumbled quietly.

“I have,” Rhys replied darkly. “This is precisely the thing that will put him in a mood. He assured himself that the stray mutants we’ve been finding are all there are. Clearly, that is not the case.” Rhys scanned the spire’s chamber. “Eon is making an entire army.”

“Heh.” Manny shook his head, tapping the spikes of his paws together to get their attention. “Well, hey, th’ whole reason yeh came… Yer here fer gettin’ me ter join yeh? That’s what m’ spirits told me. But y’know what that means.” Manny nodded.

“Wait! Didn’t you already get in a bunch of fighting? You must be tired,” Amia said. “Why don’t you just come with us and rest, and then maybe we’ll do a battle?”

“Maybe? Heh, that ain’t gonna fly,” Manny said, wagging a claw at the blue Gardevoir. “Now er later, yer gonna fight me.”

“Are you not tired?” Rhys asked.

“Feh, I’ll live,” Manny said. “A li’l break an’ I’ll be in top shape, if yeh wanna fight with honor.”

“I suppose that would be my preference,” Rhys said, carefully eying the bodies scattered around them. “What will we do with these?”

“Was gonna haul ‘em out an’ bury ‘em befer they stink up the place, I guess,” Manny said. “Gonna take a while, but with some help, maybe it’ll only take three trips, heh.”

Rhys hummed pensively.

“Oh! I bet it would be easier if, um,” Anam said, “we, um, we set a Waypoint here? Then we can warp from here to Kilo Village easily…”

“And they would see us hauling carcasses of Mods,” said Rhys. “We should do this the manual way.”

Manny sighed and hauled the Garchomp’s body over his shoulder first. “Guess we better get goin’, eh?” He summoned multiple spirits; they all burst from his free paw and solidified, grabbing a body or two—whatever their respective sizes could handle—and followed Manny. Amia helped as well. Though a bit too dainty to carry one on her own, Alex was able to help once summoned, and she used a portion of her Mystic powers to levitate another, with effort. Anam did the same, levitating three. Rhys manually carried another. James vanished to give Anam more power.

The Guardians made their descent, a lingering thought in Rhys’ mind plaguing him. Something about Manny was familiar, but he couldn’t figure out what. Perhaps it was just the species.

<><><>​

The lava stung a bit, but after a while, Owen’s body grew used to the hot, dense fluid.

This part of the cave was always glowing orange; the ceiling was high above him, flickering slowly from the ocean of molten rock. The lava flowed gently, and it would eventually reach a point where it became solid, and Owen have to disembark. However, that was a long time away; this particular river was lazy enough to last him a small portion of the day. Normally a lava’s flow was tumultuous and a danger to stay in, but the Mystic flow of Hot Spot was much easier on his scales.

It gave him time to think. Decompress. Be alone with his thoughts. As much as he didn’t like what those thoughts were, he had to be with them. It was better than not thinking at all, becoming some mindless beast.

Klent… Did he really kill him? He didn’t remember it, but Klent had no reason to lie. Owen didn’t sense any sort of dishonesty in what the Jumpluff had said. Star didn’t object to it, either. And the spirits within him had gone silent—not that he wanted to ask them. He was afraid that there was even more that Klent didn’t tell him. How did he kill him? Who did he kill first? Did the daughter die first? Who is his daughter? How horrible was…

Owen shook his head and rolled over. Any tears he made boiled into steam before they had a chance to hit the lava.

Owen? Someone called. Owen, are you there?

Owen didn’t want to reply. But, without thinking about it, he did. Yeah, I’m here. He recognized the voice as Star’s. She must have returned to the spirit world just to talk to him. He could easily block her again… but he was starting to hate his thoughts in silence. He had to drown it out. Star was a great distraction.

Everyone’s worried. They know you’re going to be fine out in the river, but… they’re worried about how you’re feeling. Don’t you want to go back?

River doesn’t run forever,
Owen said, rolling again. I’ll go back when I reach the end.

That’s a while from now,
Star said.

Silence. Owen scooped the lava and tossed it behind him. The disturbance caused the lava to bubble and splatter, and then it settled back like the impact hadn’t even happened. An insignificant little outburst in the hot, calm flow.

Owen, Star said softly. Would you like to meditate?

A twinge of annoyance crossed him. He knew that she just wanted him to talk to her more, talk about his problems, how he felt. Star was playing therapist; she was trying to lift his spirits. She was just trying to help… The Charmander’s eyes, glaring at the ceiling, softened. Okay.

He steadied his breathing. He shut his eyes and emptied his mind. There was a lot to empty out; even when he was calm, it was never truly without thought. It was even harder this time. Some of it was fear. If he stopped thinking, would he start seeing his past again? He could feel it prodding at the psychic blocks Star had put on his mind. Just one slip, and…

I want you to meditate… inward again, Star said. As deep as you can go, until… until you feel like you’ll pass out. You can go that far, as a Mystic. And when you do, you’ll wake up in the Orb’s realm again—I’ll be waiting for you there, alright?

You want me… to go into the Grass Orb again?
Owen said. I don’t think I want them to see me right now.

You won’t have to face them, Owen,
Star said. It’s just for me. They’ll leave you alone if you want.

I…
Owen opened his eyes, breaking the trance. I’m not ready for that.

More silence. Owen knew that Star was still thinking of what to say. He could feel her presence. He hated it. She wasn’t going to go away until he felt better. Couldn’t he just spend a bit of time brooding? All he wanted was some peace. If the lava swallowed him up forever, so be it.

Owen, you know I can read minds… Star said. Thanks for not blocking me, at least. I know you’re in a lot of—

Go away!
Owen finally snapped. Just… just let me think. I… I thought I could handle all this, but I can’t. Just take it all away again. Just let me forget…

I can’t do that anymore, Owen,
Star said softly. Now that you’re Mystic… I just can’t take those memories away. The seal won’t work anymore. Like gluing paper on a wet bulletin board… It just won’t stick, Owen.

Then…
Owen said, then just take it away! Take away my power! I don’t want it anymore. I just… I just want to… I want… He couldn’t finish the thought, but it felt like Star knew.

Owen slammed his fist against the lava, making little splashes. The molten rock popped and splattered over him, hardening into little pebbles. They fell off of his scales, into the lava, and become a part of the river once more.

Owen, you… you don’t mean that, Star said. Think of all the people you’d leave behind. Your parents… Rhys… the other late-evolvers… What about Zena, and the other Guardians?

Just shut up…
Owen said. His heart skipped a beat from guilt. He could block her at any time, but at the same time, he couldn’t. He was already regretting being alone. His thoughts haunted him. He needed Star to keep him distracted.

It was another long silence. Owen sniffled a few times, rubbing his eyes. If he could just go back and stop all of this from happening, he’d do it in an instant. Klent didn’t deserve to die. And his daughter…

Owen took a deep breath and held it. The hot air cooled him down. He breathed out. I… I know you’re right, he said. He wanted to say he was sorry, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. I just… I don’t want to hear it right now. I know I can’t just…

I know,
Star said softly. I know it’s hard. And it’s not fair. None of this is fair… none of it, for any of you. I’m sorry, Owen…

Don’t… don’t say that,
Owen said.

More silence. Owen sat up; his legs barely dipped in the lava like this. It was simply too dense to allow his tiny body to sink. The Charmander finally sighed, rubbing his eyes. He didn’t want to talk aloud. He knew he’d break down if he did. Thoughts were easier.

How did I do it? Owen said. How did they die?

It was… it was fast,
Star said. In a way. The… time between the first hit and the finishing blow was… very close together. It’s just, before that, it was a lot of… chasing, and stuff.

Owen knew that Star’s temporary seal was still working, and he was thankful for that. Memories pressed against that seal. If he pushed too hard, they might come flooding back… But he still had to know.

Who died first? Owen said.

Klent, Star said. He stayed back so Amelia could run. But she only ran away for a few steps. She turned around and… saw you do it. Really fast, Owen. It was really fast…

Owen shivered, and he couldn’t stop. Even with all the heat around him, there was an icy void in his core. Like a spike was being plunged into his chest. But if he stopped now, it would never go away. He had to keep going. The spike had to go deeper.

What did I do to him? Owen said.

Air Slash to get him on the ground… and then a Flamethrower to finish it off, Star said. You were so strong compared to him that… he was unconscious near the beginning. He didn’t… suffer all that much.

And his daughter? What happened to… Did she run?

No,
Star said. She saw you kill him, and… she just stood there. She didn’t run or fight. Just… stood there. And, Owen, you… were in a state of mind where your only action was to fight. So, once Klent was down, you went right for her… Same moves. Air Slash, Flamethrower, and she died from it.

Owen noticed that Star left out a detail. The spike twisted and twisted. And how long did that take

It was… still kinda quick.


There it was. That was as deep as the wound was going to get. Owen wanted to vomit, but the pit in his stomach was too heavy to heave out. Does it still hurt her? Is she still…?

She’s… fine,
Star said. I helped her out. Klent and I did. She’s great, a really strong Pokémon. But… she isn’t ready to see you yet. That’s all.

N-no, I get that,
Owen said. I get that.

Owen let the lava’s flow fill the air again. He killed Amelia painfully. So painfully that even now, she couldn’t bear to see him the way Klent did. He killed his daughter, and he still took the time to train him. How could he possibly deserve that? He didn’t. He didn’t. But that wasn’t going to get him anywhere. The icy pit was subsiding, even if the thoughts didn’t. He felt he had it in him to ask another question.

Star… Owen said. How old am I?

You’re pretty old, Owen,
Star said. But since you’re repeating the same sorts of memories over and over, you aren’t as old, too. Mentally speaking, y’know? And since most of those memories are still all scrambled… I guess you are a kid, in a way, huh?

The pang of irritation Owen felt was a relief compared to everything else. I’m starting to feel really old…

Yeah, getting them back will do that to you,
Star said.

What’s my actual age? Owen asked.

Ehh… you, uh… well… probably around four, five hundred years?

Th-that long?!
Owen audibly gasped, but kept it together, closing his eyes again. Why didn’t I just shrivel up and die yet?

Pokémon like you were made to not… do that,
Star said. You’re… a genetic wonder, Owen, and it was Nevren and Rhys’ work that made that happen, you know.

Nevren and Rhys…
Owen said. They made Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, too, huh?

Yeah,
Star said.

For some reason, Owen got the impression she was nodding, like she was talking right in front of him. The pit in his stomach, while still present, was starting to fade. His breathing was returning to a slow rhythm.

You guys were meant to be the perfect team. Four in a set, she said. To be honest… you guys are as close to perfect as I’ve ever seen, but…

But, what?
He thought briefly about the team name that the trio had come up with before he joined them. Team Alloy. A team that could work together to combine their strengths to eliminate their weaknesses. Just like a real alloy, he supposed. Were they designed to be that way? Was all of this… predetermined? What do you mean, Owen asked again, that we were meant to be the perfect team? What went wrong?

I… don’t think you should know yet,
she said. I can already feel those memory blocks slipping just mentioning it. Can’t you?

He could, and Owen trusted her judgment. The Charmander nodded and stared ahead at the lava. The wall was coming up; soon, he wouldn’t be able to advance in the river. He sighed and got up, carefully waddling his way across the lava to get to solid ground. When should I remember everything?

That block I put will slow it down so you can handle it,
Star replied, And I put some on the other three proactively, too. So, when their memories start coming back, it’ll be a little easier than that flood you got.

Good.
That was as good as anything. I guess I’ll… just wait and talk to you when they start coming back again. He paused, rubbing his little claws together. Star? If I was created by Mystic power, doesn’t that make me Mystic, too, all this time?

Eh?

I was… created. Doesn’t that mean I’m Mystic? How come you can’t block my memories
now compared to before?

Oh, no,
Star said. You weren’t Mystic. You were created artificially. Sure, some Mystic stuff contributed, but you were never Mystic. It was… more sciencey stuff for you guys. You can’t just make life that easily, even for powerful Mystics.

Owen sighed, nodding. He still didn’t have his head wrapped around it all, but he could at least take the time to relax and unwind. A decompressing silence followed where Owen just focused on the warmth of the lava beneath him.

Thanks, Star, for… dealing with me, he said.

It’s alright. Owen, I think… I think I owe you an apology, too. And I want to congratulate you for handling this as well as you did.

This counts as doing well?

It does, Owen. Because even after all this… I still trust you with this power. Because the whole reason you’re behaving this way in the first place is because you hate what you used to be. And with your Mystic power, and with Rhys’ help, and everyone else behind you—you can conquer it! Okay? Are you hearing me?

Yeah. I get that,
Owen couldn’t hide his smile. He did have a lot of people rooting for him. And sure, he disappointed them from time to time, but… he felt different, now. His memories were returning. He wasn’t some kid anymore. He had an inkling of what he used to be like. Too bad it wasn’t very different from now. Maybe he was just young at heart. But Anam was, too. Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.

Owen continued, And I still haven’t forgotten about what I can do with this power, either. I mean—look at Anam! I bet he wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far in stabilizing the whole world without the help of his Ghost Orb. He founded the Thousand Hearts. Just think what we can do with even more Orbs!

That’s the spirit,
Star said. See, that’s why I want you guys to gather all this up. You all can make a good world, Owen. Make it all better…

Huh?

Oh, sorry. Just rambling. Godly things. Ask Zena about it…


Owen looked ahead. Finally off of the lava and on solid ground, he rubbed his paws together to shake off the lava reside. Thanks again, Star, Owen said. I think I feel better about this power. I still have a lot of questions, but… you know, I’m going to try to answer the ones I have now, first.

Star laughed. Go back to the others—they won’t bother you. They just want to know you’re alright.

Owen nodded. The sealed mutant followed the path back to the hidden village. He still felt heavy, like he was sinking into the ground… but at least he knew the others would hold him up.
 

Equitia

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
he/him
Partner
espurr
A Fragile Identity

Honestly, I wasn’t overly fond with the execution of the first part. It’s mostly because it started with a “dream” sequence. Now, I realize that apparently it was somehow not a dream, something which did get me hooked, but I’ll talk about that in a few paragraphs. As a reader, I didn’t learn that until the end of the part, so the knowledge did not affect my original reading of the scene.

I suspected what was happening midway through the scene, which killed the tension. Dream scenes like this are tricky to get right, especially as an opener, because once the reader realizes what’s up, the stakes instantly disappear. It doesn’t matter if the most amazing, action-packed, devastating events occur; it’s not real.

Beginning with straight action is also a hit or miss for me. It can be done to my tastes, but the start here was too abrupt and lacking context. Starting with the protagonist getting a lung punctured by an unknown amalgamation of Pokémon is a short-term hook, but I feel like I didn’t get enough emotion and context for the rest of the scene. I felt detached from the characters as I read. Owen’s father blowing up I understood logically to be a traumatic event, but in only six paragraphs I couldn’t get an emotional impact. The writing itself could gave been tightened. For an example:
The impact on the ground gave Owen just enough time to escape, wriggling out of its rocky hold. He felt free for only half a second. Owen turned his head and saw the thing launch a succession of large rocks toward his father, the Magmortar. Three hits. They went straight through him. Blue fire erupted from the resulting holes. And then, his father exploded in a flurry of embers.

D-dad? Owen stared with wide eyes, distracted.

The serpent hissed and swung its tail forward—a sharp pain surged through Owen’s back. A jerking motion forced Owen’s head down. He saw the blade coming out from his chest. He had no way to scream.
In the first paragraph, things come off as distanced. You write Own getting loose from the amalgamation, but not what it feels like from Owen’s perspective. Then you use “filter words,” words which distance from the action by telling what a character is experiencing, rather than have us experience with the character. “He felt free.” “He turned his head and saw the thing.”

In the second, “distracted” seems a weak description for Owen seeing his Dad die. Since you started with action, we have no context for their relationship. There was little impact, at least for me.

In the third, the writing still feels detached. I’m always a sucker for characters being unable to scream, but the prior description is weak. A vague “jerking motion” could be more evocative, and the impact that could have come from having Owen seeing himself impaled is dulled by another filter word, “he saw

Of course, the major issue with the scene is the fact that it is (initially) portrayed as a dream. For my first read-through, the only thing that kept me from being wholly irritated were points that Owen’s dream had some significance. The note of Owen having aches came only a hundred words in, which helped. When Owen’s parents expressed mysterious worry about Owen’s dream, more relief. However, when they just dropped that the dream had actually happened in some capacity, that reveal stomped any of my idle speculations and I was just what the heck????

I skimmed through the first part again, and found more hints about mysterious happenings that I didn’t notice the first time around. Without annoyance coloring everything, the rest of the part not concerning dreams was fine. A bunch of the dialogue felt a bit like exposition, though no line in particular stuck out. Even during the first read-through, I liked the Pokemon-y description of Owen’s house and life. Amia telling Owen not to lay on the fire was cute. The family’s chairs and the mushrooms lighting the cave are neat details.

So, the reveal at the end got me, but initially it was an irritating read. External factors like seeing that this fic had won awards and knowing other people thought it was great helped me keep reading, but if I had just stumbled upon this fic on ff.net or something, I may have backed out after the first scene. I like the concept for this first part, but I don’t think it executed well.

Now a minor complaint. Apologies if this is toned down in later writing, but just for this first part the way you referred to character as their species was very grating. It got to the point where I at first didn’t realize Alex and the Magmortar were the same person. In the most noticeable epithet, you refer to Amia as “the blue Gardevoir” -- right after clarifying her color in other description. I noticed you didn’t do it so much in the next chapter, so maybe that’s just for the first part.

Chapter 1

While the first part was rough for me, the first chapter was just delightful. All the worldbuilding was great. I loved your use of secret entrances to Pokémon villages and waypoints (warp tiles?) that seemingly connect the Pokémon world, especially how Owen interacted with them. Owen’s village and Kilo Village already seem like real places. Worldbuilding definitely seemed a focus in this chapter, but it didn’t go on to long in except for maybe a couple places, (for example when describing the north, south, east and west sections of town). I also liked all the Pokémon Owen ran into. That also helped to characterize the locations.

Compared to the villages, Dungeons didn’t get as much information, so I can’t say much about them. But I liked Owen throughout his scenes there, especially his demeanor through the first bits, talking to himself and the feral Pokémon. I also liked the appearance and your description of the mutant Snorlax. Foreboding. When Owen trailed off saying he wasn’t a kid to the outlaw it was oh shit.

Now, Owen himself. I didn’t get much characterization from him during the first part, but he’s great here. I found him really endearing; he’s insecure about his size and lack of evolution, really quick to say he’s an adult but quite immature. I loved him being an utter fanboy toward Nevren, then failing to stay cool when Rhys got brought up. Also his internal dialogue is just generally funny. I literally laughed out loud.

Of course, even before the Snorlax there were all the hints that things weren’t quite right with Owen’s life. I have no theories as of now, but I wonder how he’ll react even everything inevitably comes crashing down.

To end with, here are the lines that made me audibly laugh:

Owen spotted a Chansey through windows of wood and glass, holding a few soft-boiled eggs in her tiny arms. A Miltank was carrying a large jug of milk in the opposite direction.

Owen decided not to think too hard about it.
Psychologically it was undoubtedly going to feed into some complex, Owen thought, but in terms of practicality? Priceless.
“I guess fighting all the time can work up an appetite, huh?” The crackling flames of the battle’s aftermath spoke back to him. “I need to stop talking to myself.”
 
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