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Pokémon Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
her/hers
well, i wanted to get a bit further before leaving a review, but Now’s The Time For Reviewing, and maybe leaving one will encourage me to keep up on this fic. i’m only up through chapter two at the moment, and my reading thus far has been kind of all over the place, so i’m not going to write down any specific thoughts just yet, but hopefully the broad strokes will be sufficient for the time being. :p

i’ll be the first to admit that HoC is not really the kind of thing i’d read normally, as i’m not really into pmd, but it’s so iconic i feel the need to read it anyway, and it’s quite well-written besides so it’s not like it’s a slog or anything. i know just from the things you’ve said in discord that you put quite a lot of thought into your worldbuilding, as well as your plot threads, and it really shows. the world feels deliberate and things like the teleportation pads and the dungeon mechanics seem well thought-out, while the town itself feels lived-in and organic. in general, my main impression of this fic is that it’s very immersive. just as immersive as the pmd games themselves, it seems, if not more so due to the increased description.

you do a great job at seeding the plot by leaning on the understood premise where it’s appropriate—in this case, the pmd universe—and weaving in discrepancies and other events that challenge our conventional understanding, such as the strange pokémon like snorlax. the narrative surrounding owen’s memories and family is legitimately compelling as well, and it’s presented in a nonchalant way that really draws me in and leaves me wondering what the hell is going on. you strike a good balance between providing enough details to keep me interested, and being sparing enough on the details to keep me wondering.

my understanding is that this fic becomes quite dark at some points later on, but something i’ve noticed is that this fics, like the games it’s based on, bounces between being whimsical and light-hearted and being serious and dire. an example that leapt out at me was aerodactyl. his confrontation with owen felt fairly grave, after all; aerodactyl is a relentless, bona fide bandit using nearly lethal force against an underpowered foe, and i really feared for owen’s wellbeing if not his life during the beatdown. however, once aerodactyl is apprehended, he‘s sort of just bumbling about his innocence in a comical manner. this didn’t really feel disjointed to me, though, which is curious. instead it simply felt like a natural shift in tone. as the gravity of the scene changed, it seemed fitting that aerodactyl’s disposition should too, and that’s sort of a tricky thing to achieve without making characters feel inconsistent. the pmd games are excellent at presenting this dichotomy, and you do quite a good job at it too.

that’s all i’ve got for now, alas, but even two chapters in it’s no wonder to me that HoC is as well-received as it is, especially among crowds who are predisposed to enjoy pmd fics. i’m hoping i can catch up with what’s posted here on thousand roads pretty quick, so i can finally tell what the hell anyone‘s ever on about when they’re memeing about the fic in the discord. :p good work though, and sorry for the lack of specifics—hopefully i’ll be back soon with some more focused feedback!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Thanks for the review, @Equitia and @qva ! I direct messaged you on discord some specifics about the beginning, Equita, since I'm particularly interested in polishing that up to make it more clear that it ISN'T a dream while still not dragging out that opener more than it needs to be. It's a fairly compact prelude, after all. But I'm glad that you enjoyed the first proper chapter!

And qva, I think you're the perfect sort of person for me to make that 'Reader's guide to PMD' forum post at some point, because I get the feeling it would be really useful to get for readers like you who aren't really sure about PMD, but still want to see the sorts of stories that people come up with using that as the baseline. Maybe when this review blitz event is over, I can actually make that... But until then--feel free to contact me in direct messages for any basic PMD trivia you think you might be missing, and I'd be happy to answer~ It'll also give me a clue on what to focus on for said forum post.
 

Adamhuarts

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Chapter 7 is finally out of the way. I don't want to sound biased or anything, but I enjoyed Star's character a lot in this chapter. She was playful and mischievous, just as you'd expect from Mew, so kudos on that characterization. That said, this chapter finally gives us a semblance of what's to come for the overarching plot of this story. Owen has now been tasked with finding and collecting all the infinity orbs so he can wipe out half— I mean so he can contain and protect them from prying hands.

The end of the chapter also foreshadows more of the fact that Owen may not actually as young as he thinks he is as of this chapter. Granted, I've already been spoiled on the fact that he's probably several decades old but at least I can stick around and see how the rest of the mystery unravels.
 

Adamhuarts

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Holy crap, the eighth chapter was just one bombshell after another lmao, and hooray even more answers, though there are still new questions of course. I knew from the last chapter that there would be other guardians, but I didn't expect that Owen's mom and Anam would both also be guardians. Even more surprising but not really was that James is a ghost. Whole chapter was quite the emotional roller-coaster for Owen. His entire reality fell apart in front of him like that, so his reaction is more than appropriate. I do wonder what the goal of that Espurr will turn out to be. Is she gathering the orbs for selfish reasons, for a twisted sense of greater good, or simply to destroy everything? Only time will tell.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Thanks for the feedback again, Adam! Glad you're enjoying yourself and the story's picking up for you.

Chapter 20 – Blade and Fist

Large mounds of dirt moved on their own, floating in the air. Little particles fell to the ground, collecting near the bottom of this forcefield. The evening sun cast long shadows to the trees that surrounded the spire, as well as the mounds of dirt covering the bodies of the mutants. The longest shadow seemed to be from Rhys, staring at the last pit. Unceremonious, thanks to Manny’s careless speed.

“That’ll be enough,” Manny said. “Dunno why you wan’ed ter make individual graves fer ‘em.”

Rhys shook his head. “It was necessary,” he said.

“You could have burned ‘em,” Manny said, looking at Amia.

“O-oh, I wouldn’t…” the Fire Guardian shook her head. “I don’t think that’s… my choice to make.”

“They deserved marked graves,” Rhys said.

“Y’know they’re all still here, right?” Manny said, holding his paw up. A few embers spun furiously around his claws.

“Their lives are still over,” Rhys said. “Just because they are still with us does not mean that a number of doors have closed for them.”

“Not like they had all that many, heh,” Manny said.

“Do not trivialize their lives,” Rhys said, keeping calm. “They had feelings and dreams, just like the rest of us.”

“Yeah, a dream ter fight,” Manny said. “Ain’t got much more than that ‘til y’ fix’m. They’re broken.”

Rhys jerked his head at Manny, eyes firm with light. The other Lucario smirked and held his two paws up as if he intended to avoid an argument he clearly started. For just a moment, Rhys felt his composure wane. Manny showed no respect for the Mods that he controlled. Did he even understand the gravity of the potential that he stole away from them by ending their lives? Or… was it truly not worth it? How much did Manny know about these creatures?

“Hey, c’mon,” he said. “I should know more’n anyone, these guys’re built ter fight an’ nothin’ else. They’re stuck that way, down ter th’ core. Seems like someone made’m that way. Berserk. They’ll fight ‘til they drop. If they weren’t spirits, they’d all be dead anyway.”

“You can turn them back,” Rhys said. “There’s—there’s a key to it if you radiate the proper aura signature. It’s… merely different than the one I know,” he said.

“Oh, yeah?” he said, smirking. “Yeah, yeah, that’s th’ story, ain’t it? Yeh helped design these things. Gahi an’ the rest o’ their lot. They were the originals….”

Amia bit her lower lip and glanced at Anam and James. James was keeping his head down toward the graves in observance; Anam was nibbling nervously on his slimy fingers, gobs of purple slime flowing off of his thighs and onto the ground.

“Rhys…?” Anam said softly. “Does that mean these ones are… even stronger than Owen’s set?”

“Unlikely,” Rhys said. “Even if they are, they are untrained. If we can keep Team Alloy controlled, we still have a chance at outpacing them.”

“Heheh… now yeh got me curious,” Manny said. “Pretty confident in those early models, I take it. Well, if yer their teacher, then yer pretty strong, too.”

“You speak like the other Pokémon you house are lower creatures, yet all you want is a fight, too,” Rhys said, countering with his own smirk.

“Oy, who said I thought they were inferior, eh?” Manny said.

Rhys’ ear twitched irritably. If he didn’t think he was superior, then what was the issue with his attitude?

“They’re fightin’ machines, so they’re perfect fer my whole gimmick! Hah! Jus’ sayin’ it’s a fact that they ain’t set fer living normal lives unless yeh, what was it? Turn ‘em off? Yeah. Ain’t easy without that, an’ I dunno that. So, quit barkin’ at me.”

Indeed, the graves were all filled. Rhys finished placing stones at the top of each one. He looked at Manny, sizing him up, and then snorted. “So, you truly won’t join us without a fight?” Perhaps Manny felt he was the Mods’ teacher, just as he was to Owen and his team. In that sense… perhaps they were more alike than he’d allow himself to admit.

“It’s in my blood, my mind, my soul, Hunter,” Manny said, tapping his claw against the spike on his chest. “You ain’t worth it if I can’t be beaten by yeh. Or at leas’ put up enough o’ a fight ter get a draw er a stalemate, eh? As th’ strongest.”

“Technically, I am not,” Rhys said. “Anam would be the strongest, should he unleash his power to its fullest extent. But it was recommended that I fight you… likely due to my species.”

“Heh, yer coordinators got good taste.” The Fighting Guardian went into a battle stance, one leg forward, one leg back, both arms glowing with aural fire in front of him.

Anam jumped and wobbled to the sidelines with James and Amia. “G-go, Rhys! Beat him!” he said.

“Of course,” Rhys said, mirroring Manny’s battle stance. He looked at the Lucario and shifted awkwardly. This wasn’t a stance he was familiar with; Manny’s guard was completely open. Was it some sort of ruse? Was he taunting him to get up close? The way Manny’s lean muscles tensed against his oddly thin fur, his stance to run straight into battle… Manny was a fighter up close. Rhys could use that to his advantage. He shifted his stance to something more evasive, legs ready to jump back with no delay.

“Oh? Yer gonna go fer that, eh?” Manny said.

Rhys didn’t reply. He was waiting for Manny to make the first move.

Manny stayed still but then vanished from view. Rhys vanished at the very same time. All that they left behind was a small plume of dust where their feet had once been planted.

Anam squeaked and tried to figure out where they went.

James merely closed his eyes. “They’re taunting each other,” the Decidueye said.

“T-taunting?” Amia asked.

They appeared in the middle of the makeshift arena, clashing at each other at high speeds. The impact created a shockwave that blew up even more dirt from all sides; Rhys felt the recently departed spirits within Manny flare up with aggression and fulfillment, entertained by the battle. Rhys felt a bit of their soul in Manny’s eyes. They were watching.

“Heh… so yeh know that move, eh?” he said.

“As do you,” Rhys grunted.

Their fists had hit one another in the same spot, near the base of their ribs. Yet, both of them had tensed enough to resist the blow’s effects.

They jumped away from one another and launched two blue spheres of aura energy in complete sync—the two collided and exploded, sending the two Lucario back even further in the resulting, blue blast. Aura embers swirled and dissipated.

“Peh—” Manny skidded to a stop.

“Ngh—” Rhys stumbled but steadied himself.

“Not bad,” Manny said. “But I figure that’s where our techniques’re gonna stop bein’ th’ same.”

“Oh?” Rhys said. He moved his paws forward, metallic light energy swirling between them.

Anam tilted his head, puzzled. Why would he use such an ineffective attack against Manny?

Manny, meanwhile, rushed toward Rhys at blinding speeds again.

“What—” Rhys had no time to react; he was punched in the gut, but he launched his Flash Cannon at the same time, point-blank. Manny jerked his head sideways and punched Rhys just below the spike on his chest. The blazing light singed the fur on his right cheek, but nothing else.

They both jumped away again, kicked off of the ground, and rushed toward each other again. Rhys formed another ball of steely light in his paws. Manny weaved out of the way and crouched down, flipping his body for a kick in the stomach. Rhys grunted and fired his Flash Cannon on the ground, redirecting himself and his momentum just enough to dodge the kick. Manny’s foot grazed his fur. Rhys immediately formed another Flash Cannon in his paws, aiming it right at Manny’s face again. This time, he didn’t miss, and Manny had to jump back.

“Hah!” Manny said. The fur on his face was singed slightly, but he was ignoring it, or perhaps didn’t notice it. “Bullet Punch versus Flash Cannon! Guess yer a distant attacker! So, what’re you doin’ luggin’ around Extreme Speed?”

“In case I can’t fight from a distance, I suppose,” Rhys growled, pulling away. “I can outpace almost anybody with it. Why would you have Aura Sphere?”

“Aaah, c’mon, what’s a Lucario without Aura Sphere?” Manny said. “Besides, hard ter miss with that one, heh, since it zeroes in on th’ enemy. Heheh… So… what’s yer next technique?” he asked. “Gimme somethin’ good. Yer holdin’ back. I feel it. Who uses Flash Cannon on a Lucario?”

Rhys smirked slightly. “I suppose it was quite obvious. As it was for you, Manny. Bullet Punch? Really?”

James’ feathers abruptly puffed out. “Are we really doing this right now?” he said, raising his wings in exasperation. “Truly, you were toying with one another?! Rhys, I thought better of you.”

Rhys flinched. Perhaps he got carried away. Manny’s fighting spirit was infectious, even for him. And he could feel the many spirits inside of the opposing Lucario roaring for a good fight. He felt a small bit of Team Alloy in that. He had to entertain them, at least in some small way. Tiny joys to satiate their sad lives. Or, that was what Rhys told himself. He worried that perhaps Owen and his ilk were rubbing off on him after all…

“I wasn’t going to do the dishonorable move and fight him at my best when he’s simply grappling,” Rhys said, figuring that was a noble enough excuse.

“Hah, that’s th’ spirit,” Manny said, holding out his paw. “Then let’s shake on it! We’ll go all-out, an’ see who wins, eh?”

Rhys hesitated. “I… cannot fight at my best,” he said. “I made a Promise to not attempt to kill another Guardian. A Divine one.”

“Well, ain’t you confident,” Manny said. “So sure you’ll beat me. Aah, so what’ll happen if yeh try?” he asked. “If y’come close, will yer power get taken away?”

“Not necessarily,” said Rhys. “The last time this happened, before I launched my final strike, my paw glowed with divine power leaving me—as if it was a threat that proceeding would revoke my status as a Hunter, or at least the power that came with it.”

“Well, how ‘bout this, then,” Manny said. “Yer paw glows, that counts as a win. Sound fair teh you?”

“Hmm… Very well,” Rhys said.

“Then let’s go all out,” Manny said, stomping his foot on the ground.

This single motion created a crater in the dirt larger than Manny. He remained floating in place; the ground beneath him vanished, compressing into the earth. The Lucario’s body bulked up, muscles toning his legs and arms, followed by the spikes along his paws and chest vanishing. Rhys recognized this as a subtle change, but an important one—he was now fully Fighting Type, in his Guardian form. Aura Sphere would hold no advantage against him. More worrying was that a single punch would end Rhys. Three, four, perhaps all of his ribs?

“Well?” Manny asked Rhys. “As a Hunter, I know you’ve got somethin’ ter show!”

“Hmph,” Rhys said, slowly entering a neutral stance.

“Eh?” Manny rose up, entering one as well, standing on an invisible platform created by his Mystic power. “What, y’done? Forfeit?”

“Far from it,” Rhys said, looking at the opposing Lucario. “But I believe that if I go, as you call it, all out, this battle won’t last very long at all.” He looked at the spectators. “Anam!”

Manny looked genuinely insulted, face screwed up in a scowl. He crossed his bulging arms.

“Y-yes!” the Goodra said, straightening.

“We have a few Reviver Seeds, do we not?” he said.

“Yer jus’ tryin’ ter get me mad, ain’t yeh?” Manny hissed.

“We do, um…!”

“Give one to Manny. Then I can fight without holding back or worry of losing my power to my Divine Promise.”

“O-oh!”

“Oy, I take offense ter that!” Manny waved his fist in the air. “What’re you playin’ at?”

“Just take it and if it is used up, it’s the same as being defeated, hm?” Rhys said. “You don’t want me holding back. I have a Promise to keep. This is the compromise.”

Manny glared like he’d been tapped on the nose as a punishment. He snorted. “Ehh… Fine.”

Anam wobbled over and gave the Mystic his Reviver Seed. Manny didn’t seem very pleased with this perceived handicap, but he shrugged it off. Anam gave him a small bag to tie around his neck to keep it safe without encumbering his fighting. “Thanks,” Manny said. “Heh… y’got a strong aura.”

“O-oh, I guess so…!” the slimy Goodra replied. He wobbled back to the sidelines and watched.

“Let’s get it on already!” Manny said. “My muscles’re achin’ fer a good punch!” He slammed his fist toward Rhys; the resultant gust of wind nearly knocked away Rhys’ breath.

“Ngh—Of course.” He closed his eyes and tensed his body for a split-second.

His two paws glowed with a bright, blue flame—and then, with a sudden flurry of power, that flame spread up his arms, over his shoulders, over his head, and then down his torso and legs, ending only when his feet were engulfed in a great fire. Rhys opened his eyes, breathing deeply. He brought his left arm forward and bent, his right arm back and ready to strike, his legs poised to jump back or leap forward as the situation called.

Now we’re talkin’!” Manny said, entering a similar stance. He made the first move again, dashing with an Extreme Speed, but then transitioned into what Rhys could only guess was his opponent’s personal favorite move. With a flurry of punches and kicks, leaving his defenses completely open, the Fighting Guardian traded his defenses for a complete, unmitigated offense. Rhys took every single hit. Every blow cratered the ground beneath him; the shockwaves were deafening. The nearest tree trembled, dropping a few apples onto the ground.

Anam covered his mouth at the onslaught, but the flame of Rhys’ aura made everything obscured. Manny laughed maniacally with every strike, knowing that every single one was connecting. He felt the impact of every punch. His spirits roared, pressing him to fight harder. Rhys could almost sense their restless souls lashing against his fur.

“Haaaaa!” Manny finished it with a punch to the gut that bent the light around them in a ring-shaped pulse; Rhys grunted and bent over by only a few degrees. Manny panted, fist numb. “H-had enough?” he asked; he was completely open. His Close Combat never failed! Rhys was probably passed out upright.

“You expected me to fall from that strike…” Rhys said, strained. “So, you pushed yourself to guarantee your win… But you didn’t expect this… did you?”

The aura flare that surrounded Rhys was dying down. The embers danced and mingled with his blue and black fur, sinking inside like a dying candle. But some of it remained. The fire around Rhys obscured it at first, but now that they died down, it was clear: a thin, cyan layer of solid aura—the same sort that Rhys had used to deflect Zena’s Hydro Pump—coated him from his ears to his toes. Every move Rhys made, the armor followed, bending at the joints just as his bones did.

Manny’s eyes widened. “Armor?”

While the strikes indeed connected, they were dulled by this strange barrier.

“You wanted to know my final technique,” Rhys said.

Manny realized too late what was coming. His legs bent to jump away, but Rhys already struck in return—a single, precise thrust, squarely in Manny’s chest. The strike wasn’t with Rhys’ paw or even an Aura Sphere—no, instead, it was an extension of his paw, made of that same armor, that elongated and tapered off into a single, fine, and flat point. It went right through Manny, splitting his chest open where it sliced. More aura energy rushed through Manny, spreading through his whole body explosively. He couldn’t even grunt.

Then, Rhys jumped away. The Fighting Guardian collapsed to the ground.

Anam stared, wide-eyed. Amia reacted similarly, trembling. They both knew how strong Rhys was, but they thought he wouldn’t actually go all-out. But by some twisted honor of the Fighting Orb, Rhys granted Manny his wish.

The blessed seed inside of Manny’s small bag healed him of his injuries in a wash of golden light. Manny gasped for air and rolled onto his back, huffing with strained breaths. He raised his hand—it was shaking—and held at where he still felt the lingering, yet woundless pain of Rhys’ strike, as if his mind and aura were still adjusting to not being injured.

“S-so that’s yer power…” he said, puffing. “Yer… Mystic desire…”

Rhys nodded. “My specialty is the aura—to the point where I can use what little divine energy I possess to make my flare manifest as a solid object. I… try not to do it too often.” He closed his eyes; the flare became a cloud again, evaporating into nothing. “I hope you are satisfied.”

“Heh… yeah. You win,” Manny said. “Without that Reviver Seed, I’d’ve been down fer a while. Takes a lotta time ter heal from a wound like that. I wouldn’t’a been able ter fight.”

Rhys nodded. “Good. Then you will be coming with us?”

“O’course,” Manny said. “If yer not ev’n th’ strongest… then I gotta see th’ others, an’ how yer students’re doin’.” He held out a paw.

Rhys nodded, smiling with relief. At least Manny had his honor to accept a loss. He held out his paw in return… and then fell backward, straight into the dirt.

“Rh-Rhys?!” Anam said; he and Amia rushed to either side of the Hunter. Amia took the liberty of sitting him up.

Rhys opened his eyes and looked around, ascertaining the time of day. “I—I will be fine,” he said. “What happened? Was I unconscious for only a moment?”

“Yes, dear. Please, don’t strain yourself,” Amia said.

“Ngh… how embarrassing,” Rhys said.

“Oh, sure, no, don’t worry ‘bout me er anythin’,” Manny said, holding his paw in the air to be helped up. James ended up being the one to assist the Guardian to his feet, using his wing as Manny’s anchor.

“That… that technique takes out quite a bit of me,” Rhys said. “I can only use it for a short while before I, well… become unable to fight, too. I prefer to only use it if I know I’ll win quickly.”

“Yeah, sure, rub it in,” Manny muttered, turning away.

Rhys chuckled weakly. He leaned weakly against Amia, dropping any pretenses of dignity. Everything felt numb. “You’re a very strong fighter, Manny,” he said. “But… I may need to be carried back.”

“Aw, I gotcha covered,” Manny said. “But… how ‘bout we jus’ sit an’ rest fer a sec? I think my aura still feels like it’s gotta repair. What’d you do, bust m’ spirit?”

“I may have done some of that,” Rhys admitted. “N-nothing to be alarmed about. You will recover shortly.”

“Feh.” Manny leaned back and then plopped his back against the ground again. The angle seemed awkward, considering he was still partway inside the crater that they’d generated during their fight.

Amia and Anam looked at one another and sat down, too. Amia crossed her legs and adjusted her dress; Anam plopped down with a wet wap and started playing with his little clawless toes, humming quietly to himself. James inspected his feathers, preening where necessary.

“Yeh really managed ter stabilize them?” Manny asked.

“Hm?” Rhys said.

“Gahi seemed fine when I saw’m. But then I saw more like’m, an’ they were all hostile. What’s up with that? Stray mutant Pokémon like’m poppin’ up here an’ there…”

“I’m not sure what caused that to happen,” Rhys said. “I personally would like to know myself. If they’re intentionally being let out to cause chaos… they aren’t doing a very good job. Hmph. But regardless, yes. Team Alloy—the group Gahi is a part of—became unstable after an… incident, and we’ve been repairing the damage ever since. They defaulted to their battle mode, as you call it. And have been in it ever since. They can only stay sane if we suppress their forms in their unevolved states, which haven’t been modified. In a way, it is a means to seal them away in a smaller, safer form.”

“Heheheh…”

“You find that humorous?” Rhys asked, tensing.

“Nah, nah,” Manny said. “Well, that explains it. So, what, yer sayin’ they’re… not at their evolved forms righ’ now?”

“No. If they were, they would be unable to… think beyond their instincts for battle.”

“Well, ain’t that a shame,” Manny said. “Guess yeh’ve got it covered.”

“Mm… I am a bit concerned,” Rhys admitted. “Owen is starting to learn about his past early. When suppressed, their memories are also sealed away. But now that he’s Mystic…”

“Yeah, I spotted that bit when he visited an’ fought Azu, heh,” Manny said. “Y’think he c’n handle it?”

“I think he will,” Amia spoke up. All eyes turned to her, and she shrank down.

“Y-you… you do?” Rhys said.

“It’s different,” she said. “I think the timing is perfect, Rhys. Owen’s having a hard time right now, but… I have faith that he’ll pull through with everyone else by him.”

“Faith…” Rhys said.

“Heh. Faith. That’s a good one,” Manny said, looking away. “Before I got into this Mystic business, I figured all those stories about Mew an’ Arceus were jus’ that. Stories. ‘Cause I work with facts. Solid, tangible facts. Somethin’ I can punch, eh?” He threw his fist weakly in the air. “Even now, I’m gonna work with that.”

Amia gulped, looking down. She didn’t say anything, but James quietly moved closer to try to assure her that Manny was an idiot.

Manny shook his head. “An’ th’ fact is… I agree.” He flashed Amia a genuine grin. “He’s close, th’ way he was fightin’ Azu. A bit o’ him was in there, even when he evolved. Kinda.”

Rhys looked at Amia, then at Manny. “Amia,” he said, “I understand that it was difficult for you to explain what had happened before, but, please, could you tell me what happened?”

The Gardevoir looked at her hands in her lap. “Mm… I suppose it was different than the other times. Closer than ever, Rhys. First, he evolved, yes. But then… ooh… he tore Azu apart.” She shivered.

“L-literally?” Rhys asked.

“Yeah,” Manny said with a dry chuckle. “Heheh… shook Azu up good, that.”

“I find that hardly funny,” Rhys said.

“I dunno, seemed pretty funny,” Manny said.

Rhys rubbed the bridge of his snout. “Amia, please continue. Azu was defeated. Then what?”

“Well,” Amia said, “Owen was, er, he… tried to attack Azu’s spirit next, but that didn’t work out so well. He just fled. Then Willow and I were calling for him to calm down, and, well, that never really worked…” Amia hesitated. “Except, this time, it actually did.”

Rhys blinked. “What do you mean?”

“Owen stopped. He… he stopped. But… but then he turned around, and he walked toward us. Oh—oh, Rhys, his body was shaking. And his eyes… oh, his eyes, I—they were so…”

Anam and James looked at one another. “Angry?” Anam asked.

“Savage, I figure,” Manny said.

Amia shook her head. “Afraid,” she said. “He said… ‘help.’ He said help, Rhys. He was there, Rhys…!” Amia smiled, but then gasped back a sniffle. “He was so close, Rhys…!”

“But… he wasn’t able to be in control,” Rhys said.

“He was hurting,” Amia said. “He said it was in his chest. Like he had to fight, his body was moving like he had to fight, but he wasn’t actually fighting. Too much… energy. I told him to breathe and meditate, and it worked a little, but… oh, if I waited a little longer, maybe he would’ve…!”

“No,” Rhys said. “You did the right thing. I—I had something similar happen to me,” he said. “But rather than continue fighting, after our encounter with Rim, she simply disappeared. Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi all evolved, and then I felt… quite a few vines wrapping around my body. And then I felt energy, and my vision came back, my wounds were healed…” Rhys nodded. “Mispy told me to hurry. Yes. I remember that quite well. So, I returned them to their lowest forms again, but… she was very composed. I honestly think she was just afraid of herself.”

“Composed?” Amia said. “Y-you think—?”

Rhys nodded. “I do,” he said. “It has been centuries, but… I think they’re almost completely healed.”

“Took long enough,” Manny said absently. “Centuries! Hah! That’ll be fun fer them ter sort through.”

Rhys growled to himself. “It isn’t ideal, but it’s better than permanent insanity, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Nah, nah, I get it, I get it,” Manny said.

Rhys was beginning to get second thoughts about inviting this Guardian over. He already demonstrated himself as a bad influence on Gahi. What if they relapse?

“Heh,” Manny went on. “Guess we should head back.”

Manny nodded and stood up, looking refreshed. He held out a paw and released Azu, who happily posed and flexed with a showy shockwave. He leaned forward and hauled Rhys over his shoulder like a log.

“Urf—”

“Ha!” Azu declared. “The challenger Lucario won the battle, and yet he is the one who must be carried!”

“Easy, Azu,” Manny shook his head. “I’d be bleedin’ out if it wasn’t fer that Seed. Oy, Goodra.”

“Y-yes!”

“Lead th’ way back!”

“Okay!” Anam fumbled through his bag, still lodged partway into his chest. With a cheerful grin, he raised the slimy, glistening Badge into the air. “To Hot Spot!”
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
I alas only had the time and energy to review one chapter tonight but I am GLAD it was Chapter 7, because this is where things get deliciously weird.

I love Star. I love those sorts of nonchalant Legendaries (-glances at his own fics-) and her personality is great. Owen's whole existential crisis (the first of many!!!!) is great too. It is clear this is Part 1 of several of Owen's Life Is A Lie, The Musical.

Given the actions of some characters in this chapter I still hold tightly to my "Owen was a real asshole in a past life" theory. I will desprately cling to this theory until it is proven or disproven.

Also. Grassmander. Delta Owen. I love him. And his little flower.

I will be back to review more because again it's late and I'm tired but rest assured I do very much enjoy this fic even if I'm taking forever on it.
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
(Chapter 8 review)

Owen's Life Is A Lie, The Musical, KICKS INTO FULL GEAR

Aw man. So many reveals this chapter. Ones I knew already from Serebii but STILL. The Weird Factor of this fic is exponential and from what you've said it gets WORSE and I am SO looking forward to it.

The lore of the Guardians and the Orbs and from what I know you're going into the Hunters is very intresting. And very fantasy, which pleases the Umbra. Also as you've mentioned very anime. You've said you've got a specific sort of anime vibe going with this fic and even so early on you're SUCCEEDING and it's going to get DELICIOUSLY WORSE.

Poor Owen though. He's pretty down in the dumps about all this. At least he's going to meet his girlfriend next chapter if my estimates are right. I will hopefully find out if I'm right soon.
 

qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
her/hers
chapter 3
dang, i really thought i was more than two chapters into this fic. well, no time to start like the present, i suppose...
Demitri and Mispy head into the left room that was closer to the kitchen.
* headed?
Owen chuckled nostalgically at the three. He decided, for now, to ignore why he had felt like reminiscing on memories he did not have.
hm, i understand what you‘re going for here, but this felt a bit too on the nose to me.
Finally, Rhys answered. “I do not believe in love at first sight.”
hahaha, oh my god, master of deflection. truly a battle of the sharpest wits here.
“Ha! Totally,” Owen agreed. He was screaming inside.
me too thanks.
Rhys was rubbing the top of his muzzle, cringing. He wasn’t the only one.
that’s for sure tbh.
The southern side of Kilo Village was usually only sparingly populated with passerby Pokémon entering the line of warp pads along the roadway.
”sparingly populated” sounds kind of strange to me. i guess it technically makes sense, but it just doesn’t feel right—i think “sparsely” would serve you better here.
“Wh-what? These are pretty valuable, aren’t they? Aren’t these for being more accurate with your less reliable techniques?”

“Yeah, but there are better items to use in battle, so we just use this for times like these.”
hahaha, aw, i really like this detail. i never really thought about what applications these items might have outside of battle, both in a pmd setting and a main series-esque one. come to think of it, stuff like the zoom lens wouldn’t be created by the pokémon in the setting, right? isn’t it sort of magically put there by whatever force is generating the dungeons themselves? i‘m not super well-read on my pmd lore, but that’s what i‘m recollecting, anyway. i guess if that’s the case, the logical conclusion is that the pokémon kind of just find this stuff in dungeons and figure out what its BEST use is... lot of words to say that this is a fun detail, hahaha.
The leader of Kilo’s eyes were big, and his body was slimy as ever.
”The leader of Kilo’s eyes” was really confusing for me to read. it took me a couple looks over to figure out that this wasn’t supposed to mean, like, the person leading Kilo’s eyes, which is of course pretty nonsensical, haha. would probably rephrase this somehow.

something i like about your writing is how well-defined the characters are. everyone has such a strong personality—gahi as sort of this crotchety dude, owen as the oblivious but determined kid, rhys as this wise and knowing, yet distant mentor figure, anam as this deeply compassionate crybaby leader figure—in the end it gives the impression of an almost cartoonishly colorful cast, yet that doesn’t come at the expense of their depth. owen still feels complex and genuinely motivated and excited, and rhys’ mysterious vibe is more than a vibe, as he seems to have knowledge that i’m really curious to learn myself. all in all the characters feel delightfully vibrant while still feeling like real and inspired characters, just like the characters in a pmd game.

Owen told himself this to stay sane.
hahaha, i really like when you cut into owen’s implicit narration with your own voice. there have been a few moments where i’m reading owen’s thoughts and i’m like ah, jeez, and then you sort of jump in and say exactly what i’m thinking. fun to read tbh.
The dreaded five-option multiple choice, of course.
omg. again i’m not really a pmd lore expert but i guess i kind of just assumed that they, like... vibed... through their childhood, but i love the implication that they go to school like everyone else and take tests and have homework and stuff.
Then, with a pop, a bolt singed one of the bubbles
i really liked this, as well as the descriptions of other pokémon taking their tests. i think including worldbuilding details like this without it feeling kind of shoehorned in or boring can be tricky, but you do a good job here at writing it naturally and making it fun instead. hope to see more of this stuff going forward, and i’m sure i will.
Owen took a short breath to gather his thoughts. As excited as he was about the exams, he still had some time to kill. The lingering thoughts of the orb in Rhys’ bag returned to him.

“Hey,” Owen said to Demitri. “Where’s Rhys? I want to talk to him again.”
aw yeah! i guess owen’s tried his hand at Demanding Answers once or twice before, and hasn’t had much luck with rhys being as tight-lipped as he is, but, well... the chapter ends on this cliffhanger, so surely he’s got to say SOMETHING this time, right!?

there’s a lot to like about this fic so far—the colorful characters, the fun worldbuilding, the sense of purpose and urgency with which the plot develops, et cetera. there’s not really a dull moment, and each scene and exchange feels like it progresses the story meaningfully. to be honest it’s still not really my thing, just because i’m not really a pmd guy, but it is well-written and fun to read, and this fic‘s got a big reputation that‘s making me want to ride it out for a bit longer. and i can see already that it’s well deserved—the prose feels pretty polished, well-practiced, and intentional. this is for sure the most fun i’ve had reading a pmd fic yet, anyway, so that definitely counts for something. :p looking forward to reading more soon, and i’ll be sure to give you my thoughts when i do! thanks for sharing.
 

Adamhuarts

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Just read up the ninth chapter. I enjoyed how you described Rena's hiding place with the calm waters and vast open area echoing all sounds over and over. Owen blocking Star off at the beginning brought a chuckle out of me, and Owen's tail flower being able to glow just like his old tail flame was a pretty nice touch.

Rena herself seems cool, though I haven't seen enough of her to form any solid opinions on her yet. It's funny that Owen was actually stepping on her when he went into that lake, but at least she didn't seem to mind it that much. The bombshell about Rhys being one of the hunters was pretty interesting, though not entirely surprising given that he seemed to know that Espurr from a few chapters back. I wonder how different he was when he was a hunter because it's more than obvious he's changed considering he had one of the orbs this whole time and didn't exactly use it for himself.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
to be honest it’s still not really my thing, just because i’m not really a pmd guy, but it is well-written and fun to read, and this fic‘s got a big reputation that‘s making me want to ride it out for a bit longer. and i can see already that it’s well deserved—the prose feels pretty polished, well-practiced, and intentional. this is for sure the most fun i’ve had reading a pmd fic yet, anyway, so that definitely counts for something.
Yeah, PMD might not be for everyone, but I try to make the story as accessible as possible regardless. It can be hard to get that balance in, though. I'm hoping you'll at least be able to ride it along to chapter 6 or so when the story actually starts. Like a JRPG, there's a bit of a slow start to get all the pieces down, and while I'm not happy about that, it was the fastest I could've gotten that all in.

And thanks as usual, Adam! Sorry for the delay to anybody who might be waiting for stuff here -- the review blitz sort of lagged me behind. I also needed to do some look-over for the next chapter, too.

That'll be incoming during the weekend!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Chapter 21 – Our Lord

Demitri and Mispy wandered through the inner caverns of Hot Spot. It was odd not having a forest to walk out of from their old cave; the lack of foliage unnerved Mispy in particular. Back at their old home, they would have gone out of the cave, headed into the nearby forest, helped water Rhys’ garden—

“Mispy, do you think Rhys still checks on his berry garden at our old place?” Demitri said. “We kinda just up and left…”

Mispy frowned, thoughtful. That garden always had the best-tasting berries, possibly because of how fresh they were. Could they find a way to grow them in Hot Spot? Maybe if they went outside and then climbed the hills that were above them.

She missed the sun. The Mystic glow of the mushrooms that coated the red rocks blue just weren’t enough. She absently prodded at one with her foreleg, noting the relative firmness of the otherwise soft fungi, and then glanced at Demitri.

“Mispy, what’re you—”

Mispy wrapped a vine around one of the mushrooms and tugged; the rounded cap was about half the size of her head, and the stem was nearly as thick as her leg. She had to pull harder. It broke near the base, but the glow remained, albeit quickly fading.

“Hungry?” Mispy asked, offering the mushroom.

“Is that even edible?”

Mispy shrugged. “We can try.”

That didn’t comfort the Axew very much, but before he could object, the Chikorita took a nibble from the cap. Bland, but with a hint of an earthy, savory flavor. It wasn’t dry, but it wasn’t exactly dripping wet, either; the insides reminded her of mild cheese. When was the last time they’d gone to Tank of Miltank, anyway? Well, dairy didn’t agree very much with Demitri, but Mispy wouldn’t mind trying some again.

“How is it?” Demitri asked, breaking Mispy from her thoughts.

“Mm.” Mispy offered the other side of the cap to Demitri, bobbing her leaf. “Good.”

Demitri took a nibble next, humming uncertainly after a few chews. “It’s okay,” he half-agreed. “I miss Rhys’ berries, though.”

To that, they could both agree.

All around them were empty homes; they were slightly deeper in Hot Spot, not really trying to chase Owen, but still wanting to at least be, in some small way, closer to where he was moping. Any closer and the heat would’ve gotten to Mispy—her Grass instincts were already telling her to go back. Then again, they had been telling her to get out and get some sun, too.

“I hope Owen’s okay,” Demitri said, frowning.

Sensing that their walk was over, Mispy moved near the wall by a patch of mushrooms and planted her rear next to them decisively. Demitri suppressed a laugh and followed her, brushing his hip against hers. She leaned behind his tusk and gave it a playful nibble.

By the time their first mushroom was halfway eaten, Demitri spoke again. “I can’t even imagine it,” he said. “This whole town used to be filled with villagers. Owen mentioned a few of them. Apparently, there was a Fennekin that had given him, like, courtship advice, or something. And an Arcanine that always gave him rides around the village. And then a bunch of other Pokémon, too. But now it’s so awkward now that the secret’s out that they don’t even show up anymore.”

Mispy tore off another strip of the mushroom stem. “All an act.”

Demitri shuddered. “All fake…”

An uncomfortable silence surrounded them and Demitri pulled his legs closer to his body. “Who would’ve thought that a literal ghost town could feel even worse when the ghosts are gone.”

Mispy almost lost her appetite to empathy. Almost. She grabbed another mushroom beside her and started anew. “Owen…”

Why did they care so much about him? They only remembered meeting him about a moon ago; while it was unfortunate that he had to go through this, it shouldn’t bother her this much to think about how much he was hurting. It tugged at some deeper part of her heart, the same way she would’ve felt if Gahi had gone through the same thing.

Mispy noticed that Demitri was staring at her. She held up the mushroom in offering, but he declined with a polite claw shake.

“Mispy,” Demitri said, “when we lost against that Hunter and we lost the Ground Orb, and Forrest… do you remember what happened?”

Mispy shook her head, slowing her eating.

“Me neither. It’s all a fog before that. And then we just passed out during discussions, too. I hope that Espurr didn’t do some kind of Psychic mind tricks on us.”

“No,” Mispy said.

“No?” Demitri asked. “…Oh, yeah. I don’t think so, either. It feels like this fog goes a lot deeper. There’s a lot that’s similar between us and Owen, and I think maybe that’s why I feel so bad about…”

“…No…” Mispy stopped eating this time. “There’s more.”

Demitri unfolded his legs, picking at his tusks. “More, huh?”

The Chikorita nodded. “Fog… in my head.”

“Exactly!” Demitri shouted, startling Mispy. “Sorry.” When she resumed eating, he continued, “I feel like everyone’s keeping a secret from us, but I don’t get why. Because their minds aren’t in a fog, and they act like they’ve known us forever, but I can’t even remember the specifics on how we got here! When did we even get Heart badges?” Demitri rubbed his eyes. “Argh, I can’t even remember Heart of Hearts Anam giving it to me, and there’s no way I’d forget something like that!”

“Something’s wrong,” Mispy agreed. “But…”

“But we don’t know what to do about it, right?”

Mispy’s leaf drooped and she took another, sad bite out of her second mushroom. “They know,” she said.

“But they won’t say.” Demitri looked down. “Seems like Owen knows, too. Maybe that’s why he got so upset that he had to leave…”

Mispy stiffened. “Did they… make us forget?” she whispered.

An icy chill ran down their spines, and for a while, they sat in complete silence. Far, far away, at the entrance to the cave, some jovial voice announced his presence. It was so far that the echo of his call was unintelligible.

“I think that’s the Fighting Guardian,” Demitri said. “Rhys must be back with him. We see how they’re doing, but what do we…”

“Play dumb.” Mispy got onto her feet.

“Play dumb?” Demitri frowned, unsure. “I—I’m not that good at acting.”

“Then be me.” It wasn’t like she could talk all that easily. It was only because she was talking to Demitri, alone, that she wasn’t constantly stumbling over her words. If Demitri just kept quiet and played dumb, maybe they could uncover some memories.

Maybe that’s what Owen was doing, too.

<><><>​

Star, a floating, pink haze, bounced in the air to get the attention of the others. It was hard to tell what gestures the pink cloud was trying to make, but they had the impression she was waving her arms around.

“Guys! He’s coming back now! Just—just keep it cool, alright? Don’t ask him anything, but don’t try to ignore it either, okay? Like, just make sure he feels… like how we all think about him, right?”

“Pretty much,” Gahi said, looking refreshed after his nap. He flicked his huge head in the air. “I mean, c’mon, he’s Owen! Wouldn’t hurt anyone, guy wants even outlaws ter get a second chance and get back on their feet! He’s the ideal Heart!”

The rest of Team Alloy nodded. Demitri, who seemed winded from rushing back to the central caverns, said, “We’ll be there to support him no matter what!”

“Exactly!” Star said. “Yes! Good! Keep that up.”

Gahi clicked his jaws at Demitri. “And what’re you doing all pantin’ like that?” he said. “You an’ Mispy were gone fer a long time. You two weren’t—”

“N-no! No, nothing like that!” Demitri said. “We were just—”

“Yes,” Mispy confessed, lowering her head.

Gahi reeled in faux-disgust.

Owen could hear the tail-end of their conversation, but he didn’t want to admit it. They thought that he was an ideal Heart? He killed someone! No—he killed two Pokémon! At least! But… it was like Star said. He wasn’t truly that person anymore. That was just… how others wanted him to be. Right? Well, not anymore! He puffed out his chest.

“Hello?” Owen called.

“Hey, Owen,” Demitri said. He nodded, though it was a bit shaky. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I just needed to… cool off… in the lava.”

Mispy frowned, disappointed at Owen’s sense of humor.

“That, uh, that’s an interesting way to cool down,” Demitri said.

“I’m… I’m just really tired,” Owen said. It was plainly obvious in his lethargic body language. He looked like he could lose all control and sleep on the ground. “I’m sorry that I ran off like that.”

“It’s okay,” Mispy said. The Chikorita saw his aura—the flare was weak and jittery. Tired after a stressful day. Owen wasn’t going to be in the mood for much.

“Yeah,” Demitri said. “I mean… to be honest, we’re still kinda trying to figure out what’s going on, too. Because… apparently, we have… we have a lot of missing memories, huh?”

Owen hesitated. Did they know more than he did? No. If they did… they would’ve been screaming. He knew it. But they were definitely nervous about what they could find out.

“I just want to sleep,” Owen finally said. “I’ll… I’ll talk about all this later. Tomorrow. Okay?”

“Yeah, totally,” Demitri said. “And then maybe we can train and fight tomorrow?”

Owen’s tail flickered brighter at the offer. But then it waned. That feeling of joy at fighting… Was that his emotion, or was that his instinct? Was that his choice… or was that how he was supposed to react? Who was he, really?

The Charmander shook the thoughts away. He’d never sleep like this.

“Hey, Owen,” Star said. “Don’t forget.”

Owen could’ve broken down right there. Instead, he took a deep breath and nodded. Ideal Heart… If he could give off that impression, then there was still hope.

Mispy’s leaf wiggled. “Hm?” She turned around. “They’re back.”

Taking the lead were the two Lucario; the lithe one they recognized as Rhys and deduced that the bulkier one was Manny. “Wow, that’s pretty interesting,” Demitri said. “Two Lucario, huh?”

“Yeah, kinda cool,” Gahi agreed. “Ehh… the Fighting Guardian…” He stared at the Lucario, clicking his jaws. “He seems real… familiar… doesn’e?”

“Oy, that Gahi an’ th’ others?” Manny said.

Demitri blinked. “Hey, he talks the same way you do, Gahi. Almost exactly the same, actually…”

“Uh, about that…” Star said. “Uh… you remember him at all? Gahi? Guys?”

“I mean, he’s a Lucario, so maybe I have it kinda mixed up with Rhys and stuff,” Demitri said. “Don’t you think? I mean—how would we’ve met him? He’s super old!”

“Aw hey, I ain’t gray-furred yet,” Manny said. “But I guess I’ll jus’ go an’ tell yeh, I remember yeh guys. But back then, yeh guys were fully evolved an’ in yer, eh… modified forms, compared ter how yer species usually looks. Gahi told me ‘bout it, th’ guy looked real shiny.”

“W-wait, you mean…?” Demitri said. “So—it’s really true? We’re like Owen?”

Mispy tensed, glaring at Demitri; what ever happened to keeping quiet about getting wise? Then again, Star was Psychic.

“Yeah,” Star said, gently waving a flash of Mystic energy to keep the memories from spilling over for the three. “I guess now that Owen is a Mystic, it isn’t exactly going to be easy to keep this all hidden forever. And besides—you guys are getting a lot better! But… ugh… fine. Anam?” She spotted the Goodra licking his slimy fingers of the remainder of an Aspear Berry.

“Mgg—Yeah?” he asked, mouth half-full.

“How about you head back to Kilo Village and tell Nevren to head back here? We’re gonna need him and Rhys to… explain everything. Because in a way, they’re the ones that are responsible for… all of this.”

“The Hunters, right?” Owen said. “I mean… I do feel like this should all be out in the open, but…” Owen rubbed his head. “Can it wait? Please? I just… I can’t deal with this right now. I already know what’s going on, mostly, and I don’t know if they can handle it yet. I’m Mystic, and it’s still hard.” He looked at the Chikorita, Axew, and Trapinch.

Team Alloy nodded. “If Owen thinks it’s too much for us,” said Demitri, “then we’ll wait, too.”

“You’re sure?” Star said. The cloud floated closer. “I mean, maybe this will help put you at ease, right?”

Owen smiled slightly. “I think finding out will make it worse,” he said. “Just… tomorrow. Tomorrow morning. Guys? What do you think?”

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi looked at one another.

“Yeah,” Demitri said.

“Eh, sure. Ain’t gonna matter ter me. I don’t get any o’ this yet, heh.”

Mispy nodded. “You’re the smartest,” she said to Owen.

“A-aw, thanks…” Owen scratched behind his head. He still missed his horn.

Manny looked the four over, crossing his arms. He leaned toward Rhys, “Their auras…”

“Quite a bit calmer, hm?” Rhys said.

“Yeah. Whatever yer doin’, it’s workin’. Not quite there yet… eh… but it’s almos’ there. They migh’ ev’n make it next time.” The two Lucario nodded at one another, but after that, they let the group disband. It was a long day of training for them, and recruiting for Rhys’ team. Anam left for Kilo Village—He could at least tell Nevren about the situation.

Owen was about to leave for his home, but he paused on the way. He glanced to his right. This was the same cavern that he would normally use to walk to the lava river. At his usual walking pace as a Charmander, it would take him twenty seconds just to walk across from wall to wall. He saw someone shifting around inside, and some latent, buried part of his memories urged him to move forward.

“Hello?” Owen called, stepping inside. He didn’t see anybody, but he did spot a pool of water in the middle of this tiny home. “Huh. That’s weird.” He figured there was nothing inside and turned around, but the feeling returned. He couldn’t leave. But what was the point? He didn’t like water anyway. He rolled his eyes. His mind was just scrambled. He shouldn’t be trusting his feelings at a time like this. He could barely remember a few days ago. But, still…

Owen glanced back, expecting to see an empty pool again. Instead, he saw a Milotic’s upper half sticking out of the water, her lower half blending in with it. “AUGH!”

Zena jumped. “I—I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to—”

“N-no, no, it’s okay! I—I just thought—”

“I was resting. I didn’t realize you returned. Are—are you okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” Owen said, clutching his chest. “I’m sorry I ran off like that. I shouldn’t have blamed you for any of this, either, too. I get it. You guys were just trying to help.”

“More like Star forced us to,” Zena said.

“She was right,” Owen said quickly, earning raised brows from the Milotic. Massive brows. Owen was briefly distracted by how huge they were. He shook the thought away. “If that block wasn’t put in my mind, I think I’d’ve gone insane. I need it. F-for now.”

Zena didn’t respond immediately. She just looked away, nodding.

“Anyway, um, I guess I came here to make sure you were alright. So, you are?”

“I am.”

“Good. That’s good.” Owen stood there. He shifted on his feet. “You’ll be fine?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay.” Owen turned around but then hesitated again. As a Charmander, his senses were still dulled. He had a vague idea that they used to be much sharper. He also had a vague idea that Zena was tense. His heart sank. He was the killer of the very Guardian that used to hold the Orb he now possessed. She didn’t want him around. And why would she?

“Okay,” he said again, stepping outside.

Now that he thought about it, he wondered if this was something that he’d gone through time and time again before. His parents raised him for so long. Weren’t they sick of him? Not to mention, what others did he forget about? But still, this was it. He was almost ready, wasn’t he? Maybe next time, he’ll really stay evolved. And he’ll get all his memories back. And then…

And then what?

“Owen,” Zena said.

Owen stopped, halfway out of Zena’s home. He shook his head, forgetting his train of thought.

“No matter what happens,” she said, “I… want to be there for you. Okay?”

Owen turned around, taken aback. His mouth opened just slightly, but no words came.

Zena smiled. “You’re my friend, Owen.”

Light returned to Owen’s eyes.

<><><>​

The sealed Charmander rolled onto his Rawst bed, skipping dinner. He wasn’t hungry. Maybe he didn’t need to eat anymore, as a Mystic? Either way, he wasn’t in much of a mood for a meal. He let out a steady sigh; he felt like the last day was actually ten, and he hadn’t slept for any of it. This seemed like the first instance of a real, calm, quiet moment to himself. Star wasn’t giving him a pep talk—though he’d’ve appreciated another—and it was just him in the darkness and his fire. The chat with Zena lifted his mood somewhat, but now that he was alone with his thoughts, everything still bothered him. He even felt the thoughts of the day leave him for a few blissful instances. The crackle of the embers in the middle of the room lulled him halfway to sleep.

“Owen,” Amia said softly.

A pang of irritation. Owen curled up, but he didn’t say anything.

“Owen, I’m… I’m sorry.”

Owen didn’t reply. Couldn’t he just sleep?

“We shouldn’t have kept this all from you, and… we know that it’s just going to make getting all of those memories back really painful, and confusing, and scary, and… and I’m so sorry. If I could just undo it, I’d… I mean… I don’t know.”

Alex spoke next, just behind Amia. Owen heard the nervous grinding of the Magmortar’s two cannons bumping against each other. “I’m sorry that you had to go through this, but if we didn’t seal your memories, we never would have been able to calm you down. Calm you from… how you were before.”

“Alex,” Amia said quietly.

Owen knew it was right, but it hurt to hear. He was a monster—and he could become one again, couldn’t he? When he evolved—those memories he still couldn’t recall. What happened then? Did he go berserk again? How badly did he defeat Azu—and in what way? It’s all a mystery—and even with Azu, within Manny, a few houses away, he couldn’t bear to ask. All he had to know was that he did it, and it was enough to terrify Willow into not speaking to him.

“Owen, if there’s anything you want me to do that can help,” Amia said.

“I just want—” Owen choked up. He felt like everything was collapsing around him—or that it already did, trapping him under the rubble. There wasn’t a way out, was there? Short of dying, he was stuck in this life for who knows how long. “I just want…” He trailed off again. “I just want to help everyone…!”

Amia sat down next to Owen. The leaves brushed against one another and her dress. Alex stepped over next; his heavy footsteps disturbed the bed. He sat on the opposite side of Owen, looking down at him.

“We’re here for you, Owen,” Amia said, finally placing a hand on his back. Owen flinched but didn’t resist. “It’s okay. Come on, c’mere…”

Owen trembled and sniffled. He uncurled a bit. Amia leaned over and picked him up, pulling him until he was against her chest. He sniffled and pressed his head against her; finally, the tears began to flow, pouring out of his eyes in thin streams. Alex brought his head down, but let Amia handle it for now. Owen could barely keep it together, releasing himself through little tremors and gasps.

“It’s too much,” Owen said. “It’s too much…!”

“I know, Owen, I know,” Amia said. “It’s so much… but you’re so strong, Owen. We’re here, too. Ohh, it’s okay, let it out… let it out…”

Owen blubbered, coughing and shaking. No matter how old he was, he only had a child’s handful of memories to work with. Amia was still his mother, and Alex, his father. He wrapped his arms around Amia, but then glanced at Alex. The Magmortar gave him a little smile with his huge lips.

“M-Mom… did… did I kill anybody else?”

“You didn’t, dear,” Amia said gently. “You were unstable… but Klent and Amelia—those were the only two that died. I promise.”

Owen sniffled. “And what about spirits? Did I hurt any of…?”

“They don’t blame you, Owen,” Amia said. “They all understand what’s going on. They still do. And they’re so proud, Owen… And so am I, and your father.”

Alex nodded. “Keep it up,” he said. “I know you can do this. I’ve known you for so long, and I know you can handle everything the world and beyond throws at you.”

Owen sobbed for quite a while, letting it all out into Amia’s chest. He bumped his head against the flat, fin-like horn in the middle of it—it always comforted him, and Amia gently rubbed at the scales on his shoulders. “You’re just fine, Owen,” she said. “You’re a kind soul, and no instinct will change that with us around. We’ll conquer it. You, Rhys, Star, and us… we’ll handle it together. Because that talent you have, the talents all of Rhys’ students have? Imagine how many others you can help!”

“M-mhm.” Owen sniffed.

“And,” Alex said, “then you’ll be even stronger, don’t you think? Great power and complete control over it.”

“Y-yeah… And you really think I can control it?”

“Owen, that last time you fully evolved, against Azu?”

Owen winced.

“You almost had it. You almost had it, Owen. You’re closer than ever.”

Owen sniffled. Was he really that close, after all this time? How many tries did it take? How many more? The way Amia spoke, it sounded like the very next time would be the last. He was so close.

Amia rubbed his back. “Are you hungry, Owen?”

“No… I don’t think I… need to eat…”

“Oh?” Amia said. “Goodness. I didn’t think you got to that point already.”

Owen laughed through his sniffles, but then said, “Y-yeah. I’m getting strong… maybe getting beat half to death by Azu boosted my Mystic aura again.” He laughed, coughed, and sniffled. The weight felt lighter.

Amia finally pulled away. “Want to sleep in our room, dear?” she said. “It’s okay, just for tonight, if you want.”

Owen hesitated, looking at his bed. “Just tonight…”

Alex leaned forward and wrapped his huge arms over the network of Rawst leaves. He headed over to their room in the other part of the cave; Owen’s tail-fire lit the way in along with his father’s flaming upper half. He stared at the ceiling as it moved past him. He remembered this sight. He used to be afraid of the dark when his tail didn’t quite light the whole way. How long ago was that? It was before the cave had mushrooms—before Amia made them to keep the area well-lit for him. She did that for him…

What was he, a horrible monster, doing being afraid of the dark? What would try to hurt him? If anything, he was the creature in the dark that others feared. Owen sniffed again, looking at the rocky walls and the mushrooms that embedded them. They really did care about him. They all did.

If they weren’t giving up on him, then he’d keep going, too.

Amia and Alex’s room was somewhat larger than Owen’s, but looked similar, with a single, large bed at the back edge of the cave wall. It, too, was made from Rawst berries—mainly due to Alex, and also because, sometimes, Amia had sleep-fights and set herself on fire in the middle of the night. Many beds were lost to this until they decided to get a Rawst one.

Owen… Klent called.

Owen jolted. Amia looked down, concerned, but he shook his head. O-oh, hi, Klent.

Klent was quiet.

Klent?

...We’re here for you, too. Star wanted me to… remind you about that.


Owen gulped, sniffling again. Thanks, Klent…

Alex pushed Owen’s leaves into their own, and they settled in with the Charmander between them.

Snuggled between his parents, he fell asleep in seconds.

<><><>​

…Charmander Owen… conqueror of instincts…

Uhh, hello?

Owen… follow my voice… reach out to me.

Mom said not to talk to cosmic strangers.

I am hardly a stranger. Come, Owen. I mean you no harm. I also doubt your mother told you that specifically.

Well, I bet she would if I asked.


Silence followed.

…Owen…

You’re not gonna stop bothering me, are you? Is this a dream?

This is hardly a dream. Come, Owen. My name is Arceus.


Owen stood on a black floor in the middle of a void. “Uh—what?” Which direction he looked didn’t matter. The only thing he could see was the flame of his tail. “Is this another one of those weird dreams?”

A blinding light shined in front and above him. Owen shut his eyes and covered them with his right hand. “Ugh—turn that out!” he shouted. Even with cover from his claws and his eyelids, he still saw the light. It slowly faded to a dimmer glow; Owen took the chance to peek. His jaw fell.

It was an incredible sight—one he thought didn’t exist for quite a while, at least until he met Star. A creature with four legs and golden hooves, a grey underbelly, and white fur. Just as the descriptions went, and how the artists had depicted him. He had green eyes and red irises, and a gold, wheel-like decoration around his abdomen, tipped with emerald-green jewels.

“A-A… A… Arceus…?” Owen said, feeling his knees shake. “Oh, Mew, this is the craziest dream yet.”

Arceus, while he didn’t have a mouth, was still able to speak, simply staring at Owen. “This is not a dream, Grass Guardian. I am Arceus. I have summoned your aura to speak with me. Do you not remember my calling your name?”

“Uhh—I think? I was probably, like, half-asleep… Wait. You—you’re the Arceus? Not—not some… figment or fragment or something that you sent down, or anything like that? You’re the…”

“I am.”

Owen’s heart skipped a beat. It had been dawning on him in the back of his mind that if Star was real, then Arceus probably was, too. She mentioned the deity, after all. Apparently, he had a temper, but he looked as serene as ever here. Wait. Arceus—shouldn’t he be showing some form of respect?! As much as he hadn’t believed in him at first, this was pretty clearly proof. He quickly got to his knees. “I—it’s an honor for me to see You!” he said. “Wh-what can I do f-for You?”

“…Grass Guardian Charmander Owen,” Arceus said. “Do you feel that this Mystic power has become overwhelming to you? That you think you cannot uphold the responsibilities that the world is forcing upon you?”

He flinched. Owen wondered if Arceus was watching him this entire time. It was a lot. He would have agreed in the afternoon. But now, tonight? He wasn’t done. It was all going so quickly that he needed a few seconds to process it. Arceus waited, unmoving, unblinking. He remembered to breathe—wait, did he need to breathe here? This felt like some part of the spirit world.

Was he so important that even Arceus was watching him, personally? There was a pang in his gut, even as an aura, that didn’t go away. Owen didn’t consider himself to be at that level of importance yet. Especially now, being among the lower tier of Guardians. He decided to play along, wondering if Arceus could read minds the way Star could, or if he had to allow him that privilege. Just in case, Owen decided to keep his thoughts private, preemptively blocking Arceus’ advance, in case that was what he was doing.

“W-well, I mean, it’s pretty hard,” Owen admitted. “And I’ve been going through a pretty rough patch right now since I found out about… You know… You do know, right?”

“I do.”

“Yeah, that,” Owen said. “So, I guess it’s…”

“Would you like things to go back to normal?”

Owen hesitated. Normally, he would just say, yes, he certainly would. He’d love to live a normal life. But could…? Arceus… could He do that? Just… make it normal?

“What do You mean?” Owen asked. And he still had that pang in his stomach. Even stronger, now.

The temptation of everything going back to normal, even after all that talking from the others? He’d be letting them all down! Klent, Star, his parents, his mentors, the Hearts, Zena…

“If you wish,” Arceus said, “I can undo it all. I can take your power away and wipe your memories of ever acquiring that Mystic power—and then make the others forget you ever did, too. It will be as if this all never happened. Is that not precisely what you wished for?”

Owen’s mouth felt dry. He gulped and looked down. He was still on his knees. It didn’t feel right. “I…”

“I’ll even use some of my power further, to rid you of your tainted instincts. I will fix you.”

Owen’s heart skipped another beat. Or did it stop entirely? As an aura, it probably didn’t even matter.

They wouldn’t be let down if they didn’t know it even happened. And without his instincts to get in the way, he could finally evolve. His dream was always to evolve—and stay that way.

Arceus continued. “You will evolve into a Charizard, pure, unmodified, unmutated. You will live, age, and die as one. Everybody else will accept it. They will think this was how it has always been.” Arceus held out one of his hooves. It glowed slightly. “Let me relieve you of your burden, Owen,” he said, “so that you can enjoy life again.”

The Charmander stared at Arceus—part of him still couldn’t believe it. But the other part… even if it was a dream…

It was Arceus, after all. He could do anything. But did Owen want that? A normal life. What was a normal life? He was never normal. Would he have even gotten into the Thousand Hearts as a normal Charmander? And what about the others?

“What about Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi?” Owen asked. “Can You fix them?”

“Not immediately,” Arceus admitted. “They are too far away from my influence. But after I help you… I believe I will be able to assist them, too, in time.”

“And—and what about the other Mystics?” Owen said. “Their lives are all so hard, too. And some of them are in danger right now! The ones we can’t find. A-and… and some of them were killed already. The Ground and Flying Guardians… Cara was one. She was so scared, even after it was all over. A-and Forrest… Star said that he didn’t even want to show up.” Owen gulped. “Can You help the other Guardians, too?”

“Certainly,” Arceus said. “I will free them of their Mystic responsibilities, too.” He held out his hoof again. “Do you accept, Owen?”

Owen stared at the hoof. His right hand twitched. A small part of him was telling him to just accept it. Abandon this entire mess, put it in the hands of the Creator Himself. This divine power wasn’t meant for him, after all. It came from Arceus! And now it would return to Him, just as it should.

No. They were strong thoughts. They were selfish and shortsighted. Owen knew better. There were other thoughts that whispered to him in his mind. One part was rational; another was instinctual. And as much as he hated his instincts… there were times when even the worst power was useful.

Why was Arceus approaching him now, of all times? Star, his parents, the Guardians, and even his fellow artificial students. All of them were behind him. He had a lot of uncertainty, sure, but between Zena, his parents, and how tantalizingly close he was to stability… And now, Arceus was coming to take that power away? Talk about bad timing. It didn’t make sense to him. Why didn’t Arceus make this offer to Zena and the others, too? He wasn’t anything special compared to them, right? Aside from… Well, perhaps he was a little special.

But there was more to it, too. Something less logical. Something in Owen’s core that hissed savagely. Owen wanted to hiss at the Creator. But he held back. But why would he feel that impulse? That defiance against Him, of all Pokémon? Owen usually only felt this way when he was in front of someone being tense, as if anxious, waiting for some kind of opening in battle. But… Arceus? No. Arceus would be the last Pokémon to behave in such a way. Owen ignored his instincts.

But he couldn’t ignore his mind. He had to ask more questions. It was a big decision, after all.

“I… I don’t know,” he said. “This… this power. I feel like I can do a lot of good with it.”

Perhaps just a day ago, he would have accepted this offer. But this night, he wasn’t so sure. Maybe he could handle it, with everyone else’s help.

“And I don’t know if right now’s a good time anyway, y’know, when all my friends are trying to defend themselves against the Hunters, y’know?”

“Mm,” Arceus said.

Owen tilted his head. Did He have more to say?

Arceus went on. “That’s very noble of you, Owen. You wish to use your power to keep the Orbs out of the Hunters’ hands. And I am aware that you wish to follow in Anam’s footsteps, and make the entire world a better place. If that’s the case… Hmm. I must admit that the Hunters, created by Star, are beyond my influence. I cannot easily stop them. I will happily allow you to retain your power if, instead, you pledge to do it under my command.”

“U-under the command of Arceus himself?!” Owen said, rising to his feet. “I’d—I’d…! That’s awesome!”

Owen spoke before his mind could stop him. Even after he said it, he had a doubt. Arceus still didn’t answer his question. But perhaps he could make an exception? Surely, he had a grand scheme of some kind. It would probably take too long to explain. Arceus was probably a very busy Pokémon. Did he get paperwork?

Arceus beamed with his eyes alone. He even glowed brighter; that warm light made Owen want to just curl up and sleep in His fur. It looked so fluffy!

“Perfect, Owen. I’m proud of you,” He said. “Now, please, hold out your hand.”

Without thinking, Owen obeyed. But then he jerked it back. Bad move—how rude! He glanced up at Arceus.

“There is no need to be shy,” Arceus said.

Owen recognized this pose. It was the same one that Zena and Rhys had made to one another. A Divine Promise--something that made even Nevren flinch. At the very least, Owen could listen to what the terms of this Promise would be. He reached out. Arceus’ hoof felt like solid gold. It was hot, even to his fiery self.

“Owen, do you hereby Promise to use your Mysticism under my orders?”

Owen was lost in his eyes. Instincts paralyzed his throat. His lungs refused to let out a breath. Even his thoughts froze from thinking anything affirmative. He was entranced by the glory of this Pokémon. And yet… And yet, and yet, and yet. What was this doubt? What was this feeling? It almost hurt, how it kept him from saying yes, just entrust himself to Arceus, let Him do the important thinking. Easy! But his mind still didn’t understand the full terms. It was such a broad Promise.

“I… I can’t,” the Charmander said. He let go of his hoof. He lowered his tail with his arms.

“…Excuse me?” The hoof remained.

“I—I need to… Can I think about it?” he said. He was starting to recognize the gut feeling—Arceus… was He…? “What would your commands be, and stuff?”

“To carry out my missions in the mortal realm. To eradicate the Hunters and liberate the Guardians. To restore my power. You trust me with such a thing, don’t you?”

If Arceus needed his power back, what took it away in the first place? Was he not the ultimate being? “A-about that, I had a few questions. I’m very sorry, Your Greatness, but You know how I am as a personality, right? I’m kinda really… curious, about how something isn’t adding up. I used to not even believe you existed, or anything about the spirit world. How come You’re asking me all this stuff now? Did You ask the other Guardians, too? I bet they’d really like to give up their power the same way. Zena was really unhappy for hundreds of years. How come You didn’t help her? That… doesn’t seem right, Arceus. If You’re relieving me of that… how come You didn’t for her?”

The more he vocalized it, the more it didn’t make sense. Why him, and not her? There was more to it. Arceus wouldn’t make these decisions arbitrarily.

“That isn’t really your concern, is it?” Arceus said. “I created this world with my thousand arms. Surely you can trust me to direct your power. I will train you and hone your skills beyond anything you could have imagined. It is all part of my divine plan.”

“Y-yeah, but… what for? What is the divine plan?” Owen said. “I—I mean, you definitely know that I’m kinda nervous about being directed to use my power a certain way, right? You know, being artificial, being designed…”

“I do understand your apprehension,” Arceus said. “I will assure you that my orders will be just, and you will be perfectly content with what I request.”

“Okay,” Owen said, “but how come You’re asking me, then? Oh—and, um, Arceus, Your Greatness, you still didn’t answer my question. Why didn’t You ask Zena the same thing, or the other Guardians? You’d be able to do that, right? Or…? Or can’t You? Is it because—”

Owen nearly choked on his own gasp. If the Hunters were beyond Arceus’ control, what about the other Guardians? Would they be beyond his control, too? What kept him from…

Star

Owen had to test something. And when he spoke next, he made himself very aware of the deity’s body language. If there was one thing his instincts were good for… it’d be this. This was what his instincts were hissing at. They were dull against Zena, so he had to focus a lot harder this time.

“Your... Holiness. Where is Creator Mew Star?”

He saw it. It was an instant. The smallest twitch. It wasn’t his instincts; he didn’t need them after all. It was obvious enough from the little flicker of light that Arceus gave off, that wavering in his expression. Anger. Arceus reacted negatively to Star’s name. He stared into those red pupils.

Arceus had a temper. Star had said as much.

“Is it okay,” Owen said, “if we invite her here?”

“You…” Arceus’ voice deepened, “shall listen to me. Understood?”

“N-no, not understood,” Owen said. Realizing he had just outright said ‘no’ to the topmost being of the universe, he quickly amended himself. But his trust was already gone, and so was any reverence that he may have held. It wasn’t too hard to discard, considering he didn’t believe in him for very long—and since Star already tarnished his idea of what it meant to be a deity. “I—I mean, Arceus, I know that you know everything, but can you maybe give me some of that omniscience? It kinda feels like I don’t have the full picture here…”

With nothing in this black void but the two of them—no visible ground, no rocks, no plants, no movement… the silence that followed felt like an eternity. Owen couldn’t even hear his heart. Maybe it did stop.

“No,” Arceus said. Suddenly, the divine being’s back glowed with a soft, white light. Owen saw tiny, filament-like tendrils, like long bits of thick fur. It radiated an incredible amount of power—Owen felt like he’d collapse just from standing before it. “You will choose, now,” he said, “to either follow me… or be rid of your power completely.”

“Th-that’s… that’s not right!” Owen said.

“Choose.”

The tendrils of light floated like seaweed in still water; gently, they pointed toward Owen and glowed brighter. Owen gulped. Star… help…! “What… what happens if I don’t accept?”

“So, you refuse me?”

Owen knew that he’d regret it—but he had no choice. His instincts were screaming at him. Arceus was obviously hiding something, and it wasn’t for his own good. Owen didn’t want to believe it, but every fiber of his deepest being was screaming at him—this was indeed Arceus… and he was indeed lying.

No turning back now. “I refuse.”

And just like that, the many tendrils rushed right for Owen. He shut his eyes tight—this was it, wasn’t it? For a split-second, he wondered if he should have said yes. Because either way, it was going to end. Would this hurt? Would he even remember this? Or was it another stress-induced dream? Oh, please, let it be a dream—he missed worrying about his own sanity. That was much better than facing divine retribution.

But then, he heard a collision—many, many collisions, with strange, ethereal echoes. He didn’t feel anything—no pain from the strike, no loss of power. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes.

“S… Star?”

It was the Mew, but she was glowing—and her back had the same, white filaments from her back, like wings. Each one blocked one or two of Arceus’ filaments, neutralizing his attack.

“You’ve got guts, Owen,” Star said. “But you bit off more than you could chew this time.”

“Star,” Arceus said, staring down.

“Yo, Barky.” Star smirked.

“You shall not use such a name,” Arceus said.

“Trying to pluck away another one?” Star asked. “You didn’t even give your usual compromise this time. You must be real scared, huh?”

The sight of Arceus’ angry expression made Owen want to throw up. What little breath he had left exited his throat. “St-Star…!” Scared? Was that the answer? But he was weak! Anam was a much bigger threat to Arceus if they were going by strength.

The Mew gave a little wink at Owen. Owen realized it then—if he was going to get answers, it was going to be from Star.

“I’m going,” Star said. Facing Arceus, she continued, “Follow me, and you know you’ll be in trouble. C’mon, Owen. Let’s go.”

“Wait, wha—”

And they vanished.

In the silence of the void, Arceus hissed. “Star,” he said. “you really mean it this time… don’t you?” Many seconds of silence filled the void. He closed his eyes, sending a thought her way. I hope you have the resolve to follow through, Star.

And Star replied. Bite me.
 

Adamhuarts

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Just finished reading chapter 10 and bruh, quite a lot happened in this chapter. We're finally given a lot more context as to what was going on this whole time. We learned more about Rhy's past as a hunter and his icy relationship with Zena. Speaking of the milotic, I like her relationship with Owen. I don't know if they'll ever become an item, but I think they'll have good chemistry as friends at the very least.


It'sst funny how Star's plan backfired on her so spectacularly. I must admit it's a bit, it's a bit shocking to hear she did something like that in the first place, then again Mew is often a mischievous character and doesn't always have the highest moral grounds. At least she seems to have remorse for her actions, but one can only begin to imagine how many lives she ruined. It's hardly a surprise that the rest of the guardians completely shut her out.

With 18 guardians in total, I wonder how you're going to pace the story to make every new Guardian reveal feel fresh and how you'll make them have a lasting impact. In any case, I'm eager to see where the story goes from here. ^^
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Glad you're enjoying yourself, Adam! I covered you in discord and so on. Now then, let's move to chapter 22...

Chapter 22 – The Endless Forest

“Wh-what’s going on?” Owen said.

He was weightless – nothing was around him except a swirling, blue-black void in all directions. He looked up; he saw blackness with a flickering, cyan mist. But then, when he squinted, he saw that this mist also had brighter spots in it. “Are those…” They reminded him of Rhys’ paws when he was meditating or fighting. “Are those auras?”

“Yep,” Star said.

“W-wah!” Owen jumped, losing his balance in the void. “Where’d you come from?” He was stuck rotating laterally.

“Oh! Sorry. I got distracted along the way; nearly lost you, ha!” The Mew chuckled, patting him on the back. She grasped him gently by the shoulders to halt the spinning.

Owen sighed. “Don’t—don’t do that! Just tell me where we are!” Owen pointed at the mist but then noticed his arm. It looked blurry. “What’s…?” He brought his left hand on his right arm; it passed right through. The scales flew off like dust in the wind—along with everything else in him. His hand went first, the little fingers washing away like a wad of mud in a river. There was no pain—and for some reason, that made it worse. “What’s happening?!”

“D-don’t panic, Owen! You’re fine!” Star said, holding his right shoulder. “Uh—oops.” When Star pat him, his entire arm fell away, floating in front of him. It dissolved into a fine, cyan mist. Owen stared helplessly as his body faded into light. While it didn’t hurt it didn’t feel good, either. He lost all sensation. He tried to move his arm—but he no longer had an arm to move.

After the arm, everything else advanced much more rapidly. His claws and tail, then the legs. Did he have a head? He couldn’t use his arms to feel for his head, because those were already long gone. His torso floated past his vision like smoke. He tried to gasp with the lungs he no longer had.

He tried to talk, but it didn’t work. He didn’t even know how he was seeing anything—he had no eyes. No eyelids to blink with—no mouth to speak with, nothing. Nothing.

“Just—just talk with your thoughts, Owen. It’s okay,” Star eased. “You’re in the aura sea right now, Owen. You’re pressed up against the edge of, uh… the living world.”

Owen struggled to work with this new sort of communication. It felt like it was all he had left. What do you mean, the edge? Isn’t that just the Grass Orb, and the other Orbs?

“Yes and no,” Star said, rubbing her head. “C’mon, stay by me, okay? Or you’ll get caught up in the flow.”

Flow… right… Owen reflexively tried to look down at his hands. Not only did he not have hands, but he also didn’t have a head to look down with, or a neck. He didn’t know what nothing felt like, but this was as close as he’d ever gotten to it.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry. This’ll all go back to normal soon. It’s just, weaker auras don’t last very long here. They dissolve into their most basic component, the flare, which encapsulates their spirit.”

Owen adjusted. He looked at the many others who looked exactly like him. They were moving in the opposite direction that he and Star were, toward some other void. Where are… they going?

“Oh, just the spirit world,” Star said. “This is sorta the passageway from the point when an aura passes on, to the spirit world.”

So this is… I heard legends about this…

“Legends? Huh. Once a mortal gets here, there’s no going back, usually. I guess some of them just guessed correctly.”

Something else was floating ahead. A hulking creature, to be sure, with a gray body with yellow stripes and a single, glowing, red eye. Dusknoir. Owen hesitated on advancing, but when he fell too far behind Star, he felt a strange force pulling him toward the void that the other auras were heading. He tried to call out to Star with his nonexistent mouth.

“Don’t be afraid,” Star said, reaching over to keep Owen from slipping away. The mere gesture of her hand created a force that drew Owen closer. “That’s just Hecto.”

Hecto?

“Well, one of him.”

They were going right toward him. Eventually, they were right in front, and the Dusknoir stopped whatever he was doing. “Star,” Hecto greeted. “Hello. I didn’t expect to see you here. Are you not with my others?”

“Oh, I was, but I had to grab Owen.” Star pointed at the flare. Owen felt himself shrink.

“…He has perished? Already?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” Star said. “Barky summoned his aura when he was asleep, and now I’m taking him back on the down-low so the Alpha can cool off.”

Wait, Barky? What? Huh? Oh, you mean….

“She means Arceus,” the Dusknoir said. “It is a nickname developed by Star, specifically because, as you put it, he barks a lot.”

“Barks orders, more like,” Star muttered. “I could’ve called him RC instead, because he’s a pain in the—” Owen caught an amused glint in Hecto’s eye. Star, perhaps in response to this, balled up her tiny paws. “Look just because he has a few more Hands than I do doesn’t mean he’s the strongest in the pantheon. I’m important, too!”

“You certainly are,” Hecto said. Except for that brief glint, he was quite expressionless. Owen had no idea if his statement was sarcastic or genuine. “Would you like me to create a fast route to your home, then?”

“Nah, I could’ve done that myself. I just wanted to take the scenic route so Barks can cool down.”

If I call Arceus that… will he kill me? Owen said.

“Probably.” Star shrugged. “But hey, do what you want. I’ve got you protected.”

Okay, actually, hang on, Owen said. Why am I protected? Compared to the other Guardians? What’s so important about me? I’m not even that strong compared to some of the others.

“Hm. So you haven’t explained this to him?” Hecto said.

“I mean, I explained most of it. But now that Barky’s in the picture. I guess I should give him more of the story. Did your others tell you about what happened?”

“Of his memories returning? Yes.”

Star nodded. “Owen… I think it’s time that we explain to you why you’re so important in all this. I mean—I don’t think we can tell it… tell it all just yet, but at least what sets you apart from the others.”

You mean aside from the fact that I’m a freak of nature, Owen said.

“Yeah, actually,” Star said. “There’s more to it. Want to come along, Hec?”

“My others will be there. I am still watching the flow.”

…What do you do here? Owen asked.

“I watch,” Hecto said. “There is a lot to learn… if you just watch.”

Watch? Owen turned his focus on the flowing auras. All he saw were a bunch of cyan flames in a thin stream. Each cyan aura had a small, golden glow in the center. Was that their spirit?

Star sensed his concentration and chuckled. “Sure, let’s spend a bit of time doing this.”

Owen stared, and stared, and stared…. And then, he started to hear something. Little whispers, voices. Confused voices, mostly. Some sounded sad. Others were relieved. And others still, angry. Desperate. Eager. Worried. But he couldn’t make out what they were saying—it was a cacophony. He heard words, but he couldn’t make it all out. There was too much to hear—a thousand words a second, a million… He had to break away.

U-ugh…

“Pretty overwhelming, huh?” Star said. “Don’t worry. Let’s get going, huh?”

Y-yeah. I’ll leave that stuff to Hecto.

Owen appreciated that the rest of the trip through the aura sea was quiet. Star didn’t ask any questions, but she did give him a little, reassuring smile when she sensed he was feeling uneasy. Somehow, it helped. He knew he was still experiencing some sort of shock from having the very creator of reality try to kill him. How deep into this mess was he? Still, Star had his back. And she seemed to be able to fend him off, at the very least.

Star eventually broke the silence. “Oh, we’re almost there. It’s gonna get bright.”

Just then, Owen’s surroundings lit up—he was still an ember, but now he was floating in a brown, rocky cave. Directly ahead of him was the mouth of the cave. He couldn’t see anything from where he was standing, but it appeared to be overlooking a cliff. Behind him, further inside, was a complex network of tunnels and corridors, and even some furniture. Owen was unnerved at how… normal it all seemed, after what he had just gone through.

“Welcome to my hangout,” Star said. “Oh, uh, sorry. Forgot that your body dissolved. So, just focus, and you’ll form it back.”

Just focus? Owen said.

“Yeah, like, imagine that you have a body again, and you’ll become what you’re thinking about.”

Owen bobbed in the air and concentrated. First, he felt his legs return to him, and then his tail and waist. Then came his belly, and then his arms, and finally his head; next, from his back, two large wings sprouted, followed by two horns on the back of his head.

Star blinked, but then smiled sadly at him. “Oh, Owen…”

“H-huh?” Owen said but then gasped, clutching at his long muzzle. He didn’t expect his voice to be so deep. “Oh, I… I guess I…”

Star chuckled. “You really want to evolve, huh?”

Owen looked back at his massive tail, swinging it a few times, and tried to outstretch his wings. It felt… strange, having two new limbs, yet familiar. “Did I… look like this?” the Charizard asked.

“Mn… no,” Star said. “You… didn’t look like a normal Charizard. But, you know—just work with this! I think you look good in whatever you’re comfortable with, Owen. Just, uh, walk carefully. Your balance is going to feel different.”

Owen rubbed the back of his neck. That was strange, too. It felt so much longer now.

“Actually, this might turn out to be useful,” the Mew said. “See, I want to go down there.” She pointed to the mouth of the cave and floated to the entrance. Owen followed, wobbling for the first few, heavy steps, but had to stop just to admire the view.

“Whoa,” Owen breathed. “It’s… it goes on forever!”

Below him was a sea of green leaves atop tall trees. There was a bluish tinge to them, vaguely reminding Owen of the auras of the sea he was just a part of. There was certainly something mystical about it—it must have been the glow. And indeed, it went on endlessly, blending into the purple horizon like a lumpy field of aether.

“This is Aether Forest,” Star said. “It’s kinda where I go if I want to think—I made it myself a long time ago.” She jerked her head to the side, motioning for him to follow, and floated down to the forest floor. Owen hopped and stretched his wings—by instinct, he knew how to glide and descend to the bottom.

His heavy body felt like air for that brief moment; a stupid grin spread across his face halfway down. He broke through the trees and landed on dark, blue grass, where the leaves blocked most of the sun. Instead, the plants underneath glowed, similar to the mushrooms of Hot Spot Cave. The same went for the black tree trunks. Owen kicked over a pebble and saw a fine, cyan mist puff out and dissipate. Entertained, he kicked over another, and another; he accidentally crushed one, and it, too, burst into little blue lights.

Owen suppressed his smile to address Star. “Um, so, why did you want to come here?” Owen asked.

“To talk,” Star said. “This is my turf. Barky can’t bother us here. So… I just wanted to tell you about… what makes you so special. And not in the stupid way where everyone is special. I mean like, on a practical level, you’ve got something that sets you apart from the other Guardians. And also, you’re synthetic, but that’s beside the point—okay, so… are you still with me?”

“Halfway.”

Star sighed. They continued through Aether Forest. Owen took some time to admire the blueness of the leaves, and then at the seemingly infinite web of trunks ahead, behind, and all around him. He ran his hand along the trunk. The wood was hard, but it wasn’t dry. He’d have to really put forth an effort to knock one down.

“Let’s just put it this way,” Star said. “Yeah, you’ve got special powers, and maybe a few perks from being genetically crafted by crazy aura-bio science, but… the main difference that you have between all the other Guardians with us? It’s that you aren’t… aligned with Barky yet.”

“What? You mean the Guardians all made a Divine Promise to him?”

“Yes,” Star said. “But Barky didn’t see them as a threat. He made them Promise… to never gather the Orbs together into one person. I guess that’s why he’s not complaining about them joining up with you to fight the Hunters, because even if they win, they still can’t overpower him.”

“Wh—I mean, yeah, isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid?” Owen said. “That’d usurp Arceus! And I feel like that’d be really, really bad news.”

Star was quiet. Owen stopped walking through the infinite forest; Star floated a few more feet ahead.

“Star?” Owen said. “What… what are you getting at with this?”

Star stared at the treetops, flicking her tail. For just a second, her tail split in two, akin to an Espeon’s, and the two ends swatted at one another.

“Owen,” Star said. “Times… change. And leaders… that are in power for too long… can lose touch with the world they rule. Don’t you think?”

This time, Owen was quiet.

“There’s… a lot that I don’t know if I’m ready to tell you, or anyone,” Star admitted. “But… you saw how Arceus was to you. That wasn’t some exception. He’s just like that, now. High and mighty, forgetting that he works for mortals, not the other way around.”

“Wh-what do you mean? Aren’t… aren’t we supposed to be thankful to Arceus for all he’s done for us? Maybe he’s a little worried or—” Owen shook his head. What was he saying? He tried to kill him!

Star laughed weakly. Owen never heard a laugh so bitter. “Maybe that’s the opinion you were taught,” she said, “but come on. I know you weren’t the sort to believe in either of us until recently. But you know what? I think we can do better than sit in our kingdom and stare down at the world. If you guys are forgetting about us, we aren’t doing a good job, are we? I know we can do better.”

Owen shifted from his left foot to his right, shuffling his wings awkwardly.

“I know you aren’t ready to decide or anything, Owen,” Star said, “but… you want all this to end, right? You want to stop the Hunters from trying to gather the Orbs, and you want to stop Arceus from being… well, the way he is?”

“I—I do,” Owen said. “I just want everyone to be happy, and I don’t want anybody to feel afraid.” He felt like he’d said this a thousand times, but he said it again. “Just like Anam.”

Star nodded. “Well, I’ll… help you, okay? We’ll stop Arceus and the Hunters, together.” She stopped floating ahead and turned around. “Hey, Owen. Would it be okay if…?” Star looked right in the Charizard’s uncertain, blue eyes.

Owen gulped. He got that feeling again, even from Star. An icy pit formed in his chest, already flashing back to that warmth that Arceus radiated while coercing him to make a Promise. He didn’t feel that from Star. But knew the question was coming. She was going to ask him the very same question all over again. She just rescued him to get his’s loyalty for herself

Star smiled slightly. “…No. It’d be wrong of me to ask you that now, of all times, huh? Okay. No Divine Promise from you. But… can you just give me a regular promise that… you’ll hear me out when the time comes?”

The icy pit subsided, but only slightly. No Promise? His pulse slowly lowered, but that didn’t free him completely of his lingering doubt. He just got through denying one deity a Promise, and he felt like he had just gone into round two. “What’s a regular promise to you?”

“The ones you can break… if… I dunno, if you need to,” Star said. “Won’t take your power away or anything. Just a normal one.”

Owen shuffled uncomfortably where they had stopped walking, admiring, again, the dark trees and dim glow. It distracted him. If Star could just vanish for a while, that’d be lovely. Unfortunately, Star seemed adamant about staying by Owen. “I guess so,” he said. “I’m just not comfortable making promises to a god right now, okay?”

Star winced. “Y-yeah, I’m really sorry,” she said. “I didn’t think it through. I shouldn’t have hinted like that. Bad taste. Too soon.”

“I mean, you were planning to ask me this some time anyway, right? To pledge… loyalty to you, or something.” Owen looked down. “I’m just not comfortable doing that, Star. To anybody. Because that’s not what it means to be a Heart.”

“Not what it means to…?”

Owen shook his head. “Hearts aren’t loyal to Anam. We fight for the world and everybody in it. We’re supposed to keep them safe.”

Star stared at Owen for five seconds. Owen maintained his eye contact. If anything, his gaze, while neutral, intensified. And then she smiled, breaking the stare, laughing.

“What’s so funny?!”

Star shook her head, covering her mouth with her left paw. “Your eyes looked just like Anam’s for a second,” she said. “I mean, yours are blue, and his are green, but they were so full of light! I don’t know, Owen. I just felt really happy for a second, if that makes any sense.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Owen frowned.

“I should expect it. That’s the sort of personality that Anam likes to recruit. Bright-eyed.”

Owen sighed, settling down. Star slowly did, too, lowering her altitude until she was at eye-level again. A slight tension returned. Aftershocks from meeting Arceus, he was sure. Owen clenched his claws and breathed deeply. He wondered if meditating worked in the spirit realm.

“Star,” Owen said. “I’m… I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a Promise to you. Ever.”

“Oh.” Star quieted down. She curled her tail around her floating body. “H-how come?”

Owen rubbed his right arm with his left. “I know that you saved my life a little while ago, and I know you’ve been going out of your way to try to get as many Guardians together as you can, but… after what happened back there… How do I know you aren’t doing the same thing to me?”

“Well… I’m not trying to kill you right now, aren’t I?” Star said.

Owen flinched. “I guess,” he said. “But—”

“Owen, do you seriously think I’d try to kill you? I’ve been trying to help you guys this whole time!”

Owen wondered how much he should press when in Star’s ‘turf.’ But he still had the smallest bit of trust in Star, at least enough to believe that she wouldn’t kill him. It was a low bar of trust.

“How do I know you aren’t just doing it to eventually turn on us or something? Gather up the Orbs to steal from us all at the same time…” he trailed off.

Star crossed her arms. The Charizard gulped, realizing the flaw in his idea. “Go on,” Star said.

Owen sighed. “You could’ve just killed us one by one if you could’ve done it to all of us at once.”

“Uh-huh. Also, if Barky’s worried about gathering the Orbs together, then you’re technically a threat to me, too. Just pointing that out.”

“R-right. Right.” Owen nodded. “Okay.”

“But,” Star said, “I’m glad you’re being careful, Owen. To be honest, I think a lot of the other Guardians are kinda indifferent about me.” She rubbed the back of her neck thoughtfully. “And Zena’s… uh… I need to try to patch things up with her in particular. And the others… They’re just going along with it because it’s better than how they were before. It’s not like they… trust me, either. I know what I did to them.”

Owen briefly thought back to Zena, alone in her home just that night. His heart hurt just thinking about it.

“I just want to make things right, Owen,” she said. Owen looked up, hearing her voice, just barely, strain. “I’m sorry that I’m not ready to tell you guys about all the mistakes I’ve made. But I will, okay? I will. Then I’ll… let everyone judge me. For everything. I’m… I’m just not ready yet. I thought I was, but then, the way Zena reacted…”

“Rightfully,” Owen said automatically but regretted doing so moments later.

Star shook her head. Owen was ready to vocalize an apology, but Star held her paw up. “Y-yeah. I just—I need time. I’m sorry. I’ll feel better about it after I actually fix everything I broke. Okay? Do we have a deal?”

Owen tensed.

“Sorry, bad phrasing,” Star tittered nervously. “I mean, are you okay with that?”

The Charizard relaxed, puffing a small plume of smoke from his nostrils. He nodded. If anything, he sensed no malice from Star the same way he did from Arceus. He supposed that, deep down, he trusted Star for him to question her so openly in the first place.

There was still one question nagging at him. “So,” he said, “how about why you can’t tell me about my issues?”

He caught a twinge of annoyance in the way Star’s left eye twitched.

“Listen,” she sighed, rubbing the bridge of her tiny snout. “Think for a second. What happened when you found out that you killed Klent? All the memories started flooding back, right? And why I told you not to try to jog Gahi’s memory. Because that’d make him get the same panic attack, yeah? You were losing it. Now, imagine that, times, like, fifty. That’s why I can’t tell you yet.”

“Oh.” Those memories were overwhelming. “But—does that mean I have to never remember at all?”

Star shook her head. “They have to come slowly, and when you can control yourself when you’re totally… unsealed. If you can fully evolve, and stay sane—that’s gonna be the best time you can handle it. Your brain won’t… break, trying to reconcile all the craziness of remembering being a Charizard when you’re still a Charmander.”

Just listening to that statement gave Owen a sharp headache near his right temple. He grumbled and grasped at the area just above his right eye.

That,” Star pointed at him, “is my proof. Believe me now?”

“O-okay.” If just knowing a little about his past made him panic, he can only imagine what would happen if he knew the trigger.

Star sighed again, shaking her arms and legs as if getting the last of her vulnerability away. “Are you satisfied, now?” she asked. “Your memory seal is teetering, and if too many come at once, it’ll scramble all over again. Don’t make me do that again.”

Owen felt the tension leave his chest. He nodded, but then said, “No promises.” He smirked.

“Not funny.” Star smirked back.

They spent a few seconds just staring at one another, and Owen finally had the sense to continue walking. But then, he heard something off to the side; his tail-fire lit up bright and he swung in the direction of the noise, ready for some disciple of Arceus to come to take his soul. It was a strange, canid creature with a black body and green, hexagon-like markings all over, with white, hexagon eyes. “W-wait, isn’t that a…?” Owen trailed off. “That’s—that’s a tenth of a Zygarde!”

“Oh, don’t worry!” Star said quickly. “That’s just another Hecto! Yo! Hecto! Were you eavesdropping again?!”

“I apologize.” He stepped out from the bushes and bowed to Owen. “You already met my Dusknoir manifestation, yes? I monitor the flow of the spirits transitioning into the spirit world, but most of my copies are dedicated toward observing the living realm. I suppose you can call me Star’s eyes.”

“And my better half.” Star winked at Hecto.

The Zygarde, expressionless, said to Owen, “Yes. That as well.”

Owen had to stare between the two. He shook his head. “You guys are weird,” he said. “I don’t think all this cosmic stuff is good for my head. Got me all confused and… I dunno. I feel like I should focus on simpler stuff.”

“Hah!” Star said. “You’re my kind of guy, Owen. Glad that you can keep a down-to-Kilo head even after becoming Mystic and stuff. You’ll need that.”

“Y-yeah.” Owen tittered. “So, uh… where does this forest go, anyway?”

“It goes to where you wish for it to go,” Hecto said. “I mean this literally. Moving forward is all that is required to reach a place you desire, so long as it is within the spirit realm. It takes some time, but you will indeed arrive.”

“Wow,” Owen said. “That’s crazy. And why does it work like that?”

“Just because,” Star said. “It’s the spirit world. I mean, it’s my realm. I kinda make the rules.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right.”

It only took a few steps before Star saw what appeared to be a forest that was paler and greener than her blue, ethereal one.

“Oh, so you wanna go to your Orb’s realm?” Star noted.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “Just… I think I’m ready to talk to them. And see Amelia. Like how you wanted me to at the lava river.”

“O-oh.”

“I want to apologize, even if… I know that’s not enough.”

Star nodded. “I think it’ll go okay,” she said. “Not great, but… okay.”

Owen smiled slightly. “Thanks.”

Eventually, they were halfway toward the Grass Realm. Owen found himself focusing on how the sounds of his footsteps were louder like this. He was starting to grow self-conscious of it. Was that loud sound annoying the other two? Hecto walked softly, and Star simply floated. “Star,” Owen said. “In the memories I have right now, I… have really vague memories when I was a Charizard, or—the synthetic version. I felt… fine. Felt normal. I didn’t really… go crazy.”

“You weren’t in your battle mode,” Star said. “That’s when you go crazy. Synthetics like you have two modes—controlled by your masters. Or, well… that’s how it was supposed to be. Something went wrong with you guys, and you couldn’t get out of that mode. Manny figured out how to sorta grind it away for the spirits he has, but it’s not as easy for you guys. You’re unstable.”

“I mean… we were the first of our kind, right?” Owen said. “I guess that’s part of the reason.” He looked at Star again. “What caused it to go wrong for me? Do you know? What’s the trigger that made us go crazy and couldn’t get… not-crazy without resetting us?”

Star hesitated. “Didn’t we go over this already?” she said. “Please, Owen. Not this line of questions.”

“…Oh, is that one of the things that might make me lose it?”

“It’s probably the single worst thing I can make you remember.”

Owen’s jaw clenched, frowning with worry.

“You’re close to suppressing it already,” Star said. “You almost pulled through at that fight with Azu, but we lost you. Amia had to reset you—Rhys taught her how, since we had to keep you with her so you were away from the other three. Rhys could handle them.”

“Not me?” Owen said.

“Ohh, no.” Star chuckled. “Of the quartet, you’re the brains. Rhys saw you as a real threat if you had enough resources. That was your specialty—being resourceful. Your head… it was just so good at using everything at perfect efficiency. That’s your special move, Owen. Fire Trap. A trace of your true abilities…. But… I don’t want to trigger the memories yet. It might mess with you even in your current state,” she said. “So… I’ll just tell you this. If you ever see Demitri, Mispy, or Gahi evolve to their synthetic forms…” The Mew stopped floating to look right at Owen. “Run. Okay? Get as far from them as possible.”

The forest stood still, and Owen gulped. He nodded.

“Good!” Star grinned. She turned around and advanced. “C’mon! The Grass Realm is just this way!”

Hecto and Owen watched her. Then, the Zygarde turned his head, looking up at Owen with his blank, hexagon eyes. “She is very proud of you,” he said. “It isn’t often that she puts so much trust in a mortal to handle something this large.”

“Oh, really?” Owen said. Then, not saying it, he thought, Do I even count as mortal?

Hecto nodded. “You have potential,” he said. “She wishes to harness that potential for the good of the world. I do hope you can align with her one day.”

“I—I don’t think I’m at that level,” Owen said. “I just want to help everyone…. And no alliances! Not until she tells me everything. I already had Arceus try to trick me onto his side, and don’t think Star’s getting any favors, either! As far as I’m concerned… they’re just trying to use me for their own war. And I’m not having any of that.”

“Mm,” Hecto said.

Owen tried to push his powers into overdrive to sense any sort of twitch from the Zygarde. Now that he knew this was part of his synthetic, weaponized talent, he had even more confidence than before that he’d be able to use it. And yet… nothing. From Hecto, Owen couldn’t sense anything. No positive or negative reaction. Could he be hiding it? Even from him? Hecto was listening, and that was all Owen knew for sure.

“U-uh, anyway,” Owen said, unnerved, “what’s your story? With Star?”

“Hm? My story?” Hecto said. They finally resumed their walk. “Star and I are partners on the cosmic scale. While I am native to the world she created, I suppose I caught her heart, long ago.”

“…Huh?”

“We have a history,” Hecto said.

“I mean, sure, I figured that much,” Owen said. “You… caught her heart?”

Hecto stared at Owen. “Hm.” The Zygarde walked on.

“W-wait! What does that mean?!”

Soon, they exited the ethereal forest.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Chapter 23 – Past and Present

“Hello?” Owen called. “Klent? Everyone…?”

It was like what had happened when he had first arrived. A clear, bright glade without any sign of Pokémon life. But Owen could sense them this time. He figured it was because his aura was getting stronger and more tuned to his Mystic energy, or perhaps as a Charizard, his natural perception abilities were heightened. He could sense Klent specifically, as one of the strongest spirits of this realm.

He turned to his right. “Hey, what’re you so shy for?”

Silencce at first, and then the Jumpluff emerged with his eyes downcast, somewhere between apprehension and, oddly enough, guilt. “I, er… I wasn’t sure if you were still upset or not,” Klent said. “Are you…?”

“Don’t worry, guys,” Star said. “He’s fine. And Barky didn’t get him, either.”

Klent deflated with relief. “When I felt him leave for his realm, I thought it was over,” he said. “Owen, you’re still free to… choose what to do?”

“I, uh, yes?” Owen said. “Free to choose what?”

“What to do with your power, compared to just following what Arceus says,” Star said.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, I can,” Owen said. “And I’m not with Star, either. I’m just me. Actually, about that, um, about power, and stuff. Klent, I… I’m really sorry about what I did to you, y’know, when…”

“It’s okay, Owen.” Klent shook his head. “I… suppose I’ve also been holding a grudge. You weren’t in control of yourself. But… well. It’s hard to shake the image. But I’ll move through it. You’ve changed… and you’re in control, now.” He spoke as if it was rehearsed, but Owen chose to believe that it was coming from the right place. He was the one who killed Klent and his daughter, after all. Even after a few centuries, that might still sting. He wondered if it was true that spirits held grudges for much longer than mortals.

Owen shook his head. Just a moon ago, he wouldn’t have even entertained thoughts about spirits, and now he was thinking about them like they were common theory. “How—how in control was I against Azu?” Owen asked.

Klent rubbed his pom-poms together. “A bit ruthless, yes. You used the same attacks that we’re… familiar with. But Amia was able to calm you down enough to reset your form.”

“Calm me down?”

“That was impossible before,” Klent said. “That shows just how much progress you made. And I have… more faith in you, now, in controlling yourself when you evolve again. Perhaps if we can do it in a less stressful situation, you’ll have a better chance at controlling yourself. But for that to happen, we’re going to have to keep training you—in the mind, body, and aura—to make sure you’re ready for what’s to come with the Hunters.”

“Y-yeah. We’re fighting them, huh?” Owen said.

Sta shrugged noncommittally. “Unless we find some way to make a compromise, yep.”

Owen nodded, but then gently shuffled his wings, grabbing his right one to pick between the scales. “Klent… where’s Amelia?”

The Jumpluff’s gaze darkened slightly. “I—er, she’s… she’s nearby.”

A little gust of wind blew through the otherwise still forest. Owen wondered if he should drop the subject, but his mouth moved on its own.

“Should I turn to my Grass form?”

More silence filled the air. The gust of wind had passed, leaving the forest in complete silence.

“No,” Klent said. “Stay… stay in that form.”

“As—as a Charizard?” Owen stuttered. “Is—isn’t that the form that—”

“Not that Charizard,” Klent said. “This will do. I’m sure of it. You look… a bit cuter that way.”

Owen’s flame crackled. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“Well, you’re shorter, less muscular, a little chubby… much less intimidating than how you normally look.”

“I—I’m not chubby!” Owen protested, clutching at his round belly. “Th-that’s the natural look for my species! It’s—it’s healthy!”

“I’m sure it is, Owen.” Klent chuckled, hiding behind one of his pompoms. “but that doesn’t hide the fact that it’s cuter.”

Owen whined and looked at Star helplessly.

The Mew giggled. “Well, I did design you guys to look like chubby bipedal fire-dragons.”

“Would it’ve hurt to give us the actual Dragon type?” Owen mumbled.

Klent and Star both chuckled.

Owen pouted again. “Well… if you think Amelia is ready, and she’s fine with me looking like this, then I’ll… be here.”

“I’ll see.” Klent nodded. “It won’t be long. I’ll be back.” The Jumpluff floated into the forest.

Owen had a few seconds to himself. Star was chatting with the other Grass spirits. Hecto was silently gazing upon the field nearby. The Charizard rubbed the back of his head, startled at the two horns that sprouted in the back. Did he have horns in his true form, too? They felt so foreign, somehow. Perhaps they were different. He vaguely recalled having horns of some kind. He hoped they looked cooler.

“Hey, Hecto,” Owen said.

“Yes?”

“Are there other Legendary Pokémon like you around?” Owen asked. “I never see them. You only read about them.”

“Mm. There is one more.”

“Oh. Just one, huh?” But before he could ask, he heard the bushes shuffling, and the thought left him.

Klent returned after only a few seconds, nodding. “Just don’t make any sudden movements.”

“Y-yeah, totally.”

The bushes breathed out a whisper. Owen gulped, wondering if this would trigger any memories, but held strong. He kept himself as neutral as possible, but couldn’t keep his eyes from locking onto the movement. His heartbeat quickened.

Finally, she revealed herself—a Lilligant. Her orange eyes were fearful, and she, like a nervous tic, adjusted the flower atop her head to keep herself calm. She froze once she was halfway to Owen, and it didn’t look like she’d take another step forward.

Owen slowly lifted his hand to wave, showing as few threatening gestures as he possibly could as a Fire in a forest; Amelia flinched but held steady. “Hey,” Owen said. “Um… you’re Amelia?”

The Lilligant nodded. “A-and… you’re… Owen?”

“Yeah,” Owen said.

Star and Klent both stood to the side and didn’t interfere. Others were watching from the outskirts of the clearing—it seemed that everybody knew their history. Unsurprising—many of them probably witnessed it from within Klent.

“I’m sorry,” Owen said. “I… I wish I could’ve stopped myself back then.” He felt a pit in his stomach when he didn’t get any new memories from seeing her. He wanted to know what happened, and not knowing somehow made it worse.

Amelia nodded. “But… but you’re better, now,” she said. “Th-that’s good… I… I’m glad that…” The Lilligant shook slightly. “I’m glad that they aren’t using you anymore.”

“Yeah.” Owen shifted where he stood. “I hope I didn’t scare you when I attacked Azu. I don’t remember… what happened yet, but I know it scared Willow a lot.”

“I didn’t watch,” Amelia said.

There was a tense silence between them. Owen took in a breath, as if he was about to say something, but then breathed out.

Amelia spoke instead. “Are you… going to be like that again?”

“N-no,” Owen said automatically. “I’m going to—I’m going to keep myself from doing that. I don’t want to lose control of myself at all, and I almost made it last time, right?” He looked at Star.

She nodded. “Almost there.”

“Then I’ll do my best, okay?” Owen said. “That way you won’t have to be afraid anymore. And even if I look big and scary, I’ll… still be in control. Right? There’s lots of scary Pokémon that are actually really nice.”

“Yeah, like Alex,” Star said. “Magmortar look pretty scary, but he’s as gentle as you can get. You saw him, right? The scary fire Pokémon that’s with Amia?”

“Yeah!” Amelia said. “I like him, even if I probably can’t get too close to his body…”

Owen grinned. “I’ll be just like that.”

Klent’s eyes lit up imperceptibly. “Amelia, would you like to do anything else?” he asked. “Owen probably has to wake up soon, but we still have some time.”

Amelia hesitated, her flower drooping.

“It’s okay,” Owen said. “I think I’m gonna wake up sooner than soon. I kinda feel it, you know? But maybe tomorrow night, we can do something. How’s that?”

Amelia nodded.

“Alright,” Star said. “See you, Owen. We’re gonna do some training today, maybe, or maybe tomorrow, before we go after the other Mystics. I’m gonna have Hecto try to monitor the Hunters and see if those mutants are going anywhere else. Until then, we need to hope that the Association’s scouting turns something up.”

“Right,” Owen said, but then looked down. It felt like his body was being pulled away somewhere, little golden pieces of light rising from him. “I think I’m waking up.”

“Yep! See you, Owen!”

And then the Charizard vanished in a mist of orange and white.

Klent watched the mist dissipate. Amelia collapsed where she stood, alarming half of the silent audience in the trees and bushes, who finally revealed themselves when he left.

Star floated toward her and helped her up. “Hey, hey, that was really good,” she assured her. “How are you feeling, Amelia?”

The spirit nodded. “That was scary… but… he’s totally different. He’s…” She looked at Klent. “His eyes were sad.”

“Of course they were, Amelia,” Klent said. “Owen’s… sapient, right now. And hopefully forever. I guess Star was right after all. Maybe this is the real Owen, and everything before was just… his instincts.”

“The line is pretty blurred,” Star said, “but if you want my opinion, I like this Owen better.”

<><><>​

“Ugh… my head,” Owen said, sitting up. He was in the middle of the fire in the middle of his room. Wait, his room? His parents must have carried him back while he was asleep. And, he must have rolled into it in his sleep again. He groaned. The Charmander tried to stretch out the wings he didn’t have. “Ngh… that’s right,” he mumbled, disappointed.

“Owen! You’re awake?” Amia asked.

“Yeah!” Owen called.

“Star told me everything,” the Gardevoir said, rushing into his room.

Alex was somehow faster, and he scooped him up and pressed him tightly against his chest. He frantically mumbled something, asking if he was okay and if he was in one piece. Owen tried his best to look dignified. It wasn’t working.

“Ohhh, you were so brave, Owen! I’m so proud!” Amia said from the side.

“Nng—thanks…!” Owen said, kicking his legs helplessly.

Alex set him down. “I’m so sorry that you had to go through all that,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be that scary. Ooh, to say no to Arceus…”

“S-so, Mom said yes?”

Amia nodded. “A long time ago. It was a basic Promise, though—nothing like what he was asking of you. I just Promised to never have more than one Orb within me. I had no intention to, and, well, at the time… it was Arceus! I think a lot of Pokémon here would tell you a similar story.”

“Mm.” Owen looked down. “Well, I don’t plan to gather the Orbs, either. That would mean killing you guys. I doubt that’s what Star wants.” Owen paused. “Wait. But Barky—I mean, Arceus—I mean—ugh. What he told me was that he wanted me to just… give up my power. And when that didn’t work, to work under him. Not to Promise to not gather the Orbs or anything!” Owen shuddered. “Was he going to make me kill you guys?!”

“I doubt he’d do something like that,” Alex said, flinching. “I—I hope not. Star never said he was an evil person…” He looked to Amia, who shrank uncertainly.

“I’d hope not!” Owen said. “He’s Arceus! He can’t be evil!” Right? Star, you there?

No answer.

“Guess she’s busy,” Owen said.

“What was that?” Amia asked.

“Oh, sorry—I was trying to call for Star. Anyway, what were we doing?”

“Well, we were thinking about doing some meditation,” Amia said.

Owen instantly deflated.

“But,” Amia amended, “we were also thinking about heading into Kilo Village to get some supplies for Team Alloy, since they still need to eat. But it’s a bit dangerous, considering Eon might be waiting for us if we left. We were going to split into two groups—half of us would go to Kilo Village for supplies for the rest of Team Alloy, and the rest would stay back here. That way, Eon can’t split us up.”

“Right, okay,” Owen said. “So, can I go to Kilo Village, then?”

“If you want, dear. Rhys was also going to go, and Anam to check on the Hearts with Nevren. He’s still at the village keeping the paperwork flowing. Your friends are going to be meditating, though. They need it more than you do.”

“How about you?” Owen asked.

“Your mother will need to stay back to keep Kilo Village safe,” Alex said, shaking his head. “With Rhys and Anam gone, she’s the strongest Mystic here.”

“Oh, yeah,” Owen said. “How strong… are you? Wait—and what about Manny? Isn’t he stronger?”

Amia giggled. “Well, he’s definitely a better fighter.”

Owen gulped.

Hey, yo! Yes? Hello? You called?

Oh! Hi, Star! What took you?


“Owen?” Alex asked nervously. “Is Arceus trying to…?”

“Oh—sorry. No. Star.”

I was searching the spirit realm. Takes a bit of time to make my way back to the Grass Orb.

Oh, okay.

So, what’s up?

Is, uh, I was just wondering, is Arceus evil?


A pause. That, uh, she said. That’s a loaded question.

I mean, yes or no, is he evil?
Owen said.

You can’t just… call someone evil. It’s… I mean… c’mon. He’s my cosmic roommate. I know the guy. He isn’t all bad; he’s just… warped.

Warped, huh?
Owen replied, crossing his arms. What was he gonna make me do, Star? If I followed his orders?

I dunno. What, you think I can read his mind?

…Yes?

Well, I can’t. Can barely read you guys; what makes you think I can read him?

Right…

Anyway, that all? I want to find the next Orb asap.

N-no, that’s all. Thanks, Star. Sorry for bothering you.

No prob. Gonna go now.

Mm.


Owen noticed that his parents were staring at him. “Uh—sorry. Star says Arceus isn’t evil, just warped.”

“I don’t know if that’s any better.” Alex frowned, the flames on his shoulders dimming.

Owen sighed. “I need to take a walk, I think. I’m definitely going to Kilo Village.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “…Can Zena come, too?”

Amia and Alex blinked, exchanging looks. “Zena?” Amia asked.

Owen closed his eyes. “I don’t know,” he said. “Just a feeling.”

“Well, you’d have to ask her,” Alex said after an uncertain pause. “But if not, bring ADAM instead. He’s about as strong as Zena is, from what we can tell by his aura.”

“Okay, sure,” Owen said.

He ran straight across their dividing cavern and knocked at her home’s entryway.

“Zena?” he called. “Are you—oh.”

“Do you like it?” Zena asked. The Milotic wore a bag tied around her horn, resting comfortably on her neck. “I’m not sure who made it for me, but it was too lovely to pass up. I found it in front of my home.”

Owen squinted. “Huh. That looks like Rhys’ handiwork.”

Zena’s bright expression dampened slightly. “Oh? Rhys?”

“Yeah. It looks great!”

“Mm. Well, if you say so, I’ll gladly use it. Now, what did you want?”

“Want to come with me to Kilo Village?”

Zena flinched. “W-with you?” She rose with hope. “Just you?”

“Yeah! Oh, no. You, me, Rhys, and Anam.”

Zena’s stance lowered.

“Hey, I know you don’t care a whole lot about Rhys, I think, but…”

“No, it’s fine,” Zena said, nodding. “I’ll come. Certainly.”

<><><>​

He couldn’t find his bag.

The little Charmander searched high and low, increasingly more frantic, for his trusty and sturdy and constantly replaced Heart-approved exploration bag. Even with his blocked memories, the apparent wear and tear of his bag was frequent enough that he knew, in his very core, that it happened too often to be acceptable.

“No, no, how did I misplace it? Again, maybe?” Owen whispered, but then stopped himself. No talking to himself. Bad. He was trying to break that habit, wasn’t he? Worried chirps left his throat instead; soon, he looked and sounded more like a feral searching for a lost scrap of food. He had even come across a hidden stash of Roseli Berries, which only made him let out a perplexed and frustrated whimper. Who even needed those things here? Nobody was weak to Amia’s Fairy aura, and—

“Uh.”

Owen let out a loud chirp in response and spun around. “Ah! Demitri! Don’t do that!”

Demitri blinked. “Were you just talking like a feral?”

“No, I, uh, I was just searching for my bag.”

“Y’know, down south there’s a place where a ton of Fires settled and made it a lava field,” Gahi remarked, waddling into Owen’s room. “Saw some Charmander there. Made the same sounds.”

“I wasn’t—I was just panicking! Who loses their bag?!”

“Who chirps like a feral?” Gahi quipped back, clicking his jaws.

Mispy, rolling her eyes, squeezed past Demitri and looked around the room.

“Mispy’s got the right idea,” Demitri said. “Let’s help Owen find his bag.”

In less than ten seconds, Mispy cleared her throat wordlessly and raised Owen’s bag with a vine, tossing it over to the immensely relieved Heart.

“Where’d you—”

Mispy curled a vine under Owen’s leafy bed an raised it, revealing a hidden stash of comic books, a half-full bag of Tamato jerky, and a rock with several claw marks on it.

“How did you find that so quickly?” Owen said.

Mispy shrugged. “I’m smart.”

“Heh-heh-hey,” Gahi said, eyes sparkling with mischief. He skittered toward the bed and nipped at one of the paperbacks, pulling it away. “Books under yer bed? Ain’t you got a dark side.”

Owen, helpless and paralyzed, could only gasp and say, “No, no! That’s not at ALL what I—”

Ho-Oh’s Absurd Escapades?” Gahi read out, tapping his jaw on the cover as if that would give him a better idea off what it was trying to convey. “Part seven?”

“It’s the best part, okay?” Owen seethed, snatching the comic away before shoving it back under his bed. “I think. Why else would I keep it?”

“What, you don’t remember?” Gahi said.

“No.” Owen’s flame dimmed slightly at that, and Gahi growled, perhaps realizing that he’d just sucked the mood out of the room. “And thanks for the bag, Mispy. I don’t like leaving without basic supplies.”

“Yeah, eh, glad she found it,” Gahi mumbled. He said something else, too, but it was so soft that Owen didn’t hear him. But he had a guess.

“How are you feeling, Gahi? Guys?” Owen said. “Er, I know yesterday was pretty stressful… And—and to be honest, I’m still a little out of it, so I’m not really to talk about…”

“Nah, nah, it’s fine.” Gahi waved his head dismissively.

Demitri and Mispy exchanged uncertain looks, and then the Axew asked, “Um… about that. Those things about you… and how it might apply to us. Do you think we’d be able to, you know…”

Owen tensed. He wasn’t supposed to tell them. He could practically feel the Grass spirits in him, quietly urging him to hold off. “It’s probably a bad idea for now,” he said. “Maybe when we know we’re more stable.”

Demitri poked his claws together. The crestfallen look was nearly enough to make Owen spill anyway, but not enough.

Mispy, meanwhile, nodded and said, “I trust you.”

“Yeah, whatever yeh say,” Gahi said. “Jus’, y’know, when they finally let us, let’s go on a mission t’gether. Sure, just the three o’ us as Team Alloy feels more familiar… but yer our leader, now, so, eh—”

“Second in command,” Mispy said, raising her leaf a little higher.

Gahi snapped his jaws in Mispy’s general direction.

“A-and besides,” Demitri said quickly, standing between the two of them. “With you on the team, maybe we can actually take on Ice-heavy missions.”

That one, for some reason, got a laugh out of Owen. “Maybe,” he said, thought his tail brightened. “How about when I get back home, if we have time, I meditate with you guys instead?”

Their expressions brightened in kind.

<><><>​

The enthusiastic Charmander took a deep breath, exhaling a plume of fire. “Ahhh, light! Sunlight!” He spread his tiny arms. “I hope I went out often in the past. I did, right, Rhys?”

“Mm, I believe so. You went on small-scale missions quite often.” Rhys looked down at Owen. “Do you remember any of that?”

“Not yet,” Owen said. “What sorts of missions did I take?”

“Simple ones. Lost item recovery, a thief here and there, troubled Pokémon, and the sort. But they were typically only for Provisionary-approved Dungeons.”

“Provisionary?” Zena repeated.

“Pre-Hearts, kinda. Kinda like an apprenticeship!” Owen said. “For… four hundred years… now that I think about it.”

“Hmm. Sounds like quite the career path,” Zena said absently.

“…Was… was that a joke?”

“Hey!” Anam suddenly said. “Look! It’s Nev-Nev! I’m gonna go catch up on Heart stuff with Jam-Jam!”

And just like that, the Goodra and Decidueye were off to the Alakazam, leaving Rhys and Zena with Owen.

Zena watched. “Does it ever bother you that your leader is an adult hatchling?”

“Yes,” Rhys grunted.

“I dunno, I think it’s kinda cute,” Owen countered.

Rhys sighed. “So long as Nevren and James can handle the complicated work, I do not mind Anam as a figurehead. I won’t deny his positive effect on Kilo’s morale, let alone Kilo Village itself.”

“Mm.” Zena nodded. “That, I suppose, is fair. Well, Lucario. You know your team more than any of us. What do they want for food?”

“Ah, I know just the place.” Rhys inspected his bag of Poké to be sure they had enough funds.

Owen heard the jingle of coins, but then had a brief moment of panic, like he couldn’t see.

“Hm?” Rhys glanced at Owen. “Are you okay?”

“Uh—I don’t know,” Owen said, holding his chest. “I…”

Rhys stared worriedly, as did Zena. But then the Lucario’s eyes flashed with recognition. “Ah,” he said. “Not to worry, Owen. You might be reacting to your senses being so dull as a Charmander. Perhaps the jingle of coins made you curious how many there are inside. Would you like to see?”

“Yeah, please,” Owen said, reaching out to grab it. “Sorry,” he mumbled, avoiding Zena’s confused stare. He looked into the bag and fiddled with its contents for a while—a mixture of silver, gold, and shimmering coins. He made sure to get a glance at the very bottom, every small circle. Satisfied, he closed the bag and returned it to Rhys. “Thanks.”

“…Owen?” Zena said.

Rhys explained. “Owen has impressive perceptive senses, but they aren’t their best as a Charmander.”

“They were a lot stronger in the spirit world,” Owen said. “But I think out here…”

Rhys nodded. “It must feel like he’s blind, or walking in the dark,” he explained. “Are you sure you’re fine, Owen? I can let you hold our funds, if you wish.”

“No, it’s okay. Let’s go!” By some miracle, he remembered the name of one of his favorite stores. “And maybe after, we can stop by Sugar ‘n Spice?”

Rhys chuckled. “Of course.”

<><><>​

Shopping was surprisingly easy. First, they headed down the road from the main Waypoint and advanced north. They went past the multicolored, old buildings that sold Dungeon equipment—some shops were now closed for an early-noon break while Heart traffic was at its lowest—and continued further down the paved roads. The further they went, the more developed the buildings became, transitioning from stones and mortar to bricks, and later to what seemed to be carved and colored stone of some kind. They only passed by a few Pokémon on the way. Kilo Village was eerily quiet, but it was only expected thanks to their odd time to visit.

They went into a general store for their main supplies, with foods of all kinds stocked on shelves almost as tall as Zena. The middle shelves immediately in front of them held things like berries, vegetables, and fruits. The outer-middle shelves had things like sugar, breads, and oils. The walls had strange, large tubs that contained meats, juices, and other perishables. A Froslass patrolled these tubs, radiating freezing air over them one by one in a routine cycle.

Near the front, a Tangrowth oversaw the shoppers, counting coins and bagging items in little, leafy pouches for customers to take home. He glanced worriedly at Owen, who gave a nervous wave back. His tail always made shopkeepers nervous. He had a pang of guilt whenever he looked at the Froslass. Based on how she hovered protectively over the produce… he had an idea why.

“No sneezing,” Rhys mumbled to Owen. He then headed to the produce section.

To Owen’s retroactive relief, nothing befell them in the market. Owen didn’t sneeze once; he kept his tail in check; and best of all, he convinced the others to buy a few Berry Pops from the frozen section to try later. Owen glanced back to see the Froslass and Tangrowth collectively sigh when he left. Pushing that to the back of his mind, he followed Rhys and Zena to Sugar ‘n Spice next.

“Such interesting architecture,” Zena said, looking at the buildings. She had been politely silent while they went shopping, but Owen knew that she was trying her best to take it all in, and had been careful not to touch anything the whole time. “Why do the buildings change so much? These seem so much more… refined than what is near the Waypoint.”

“As the population grows, so does Kilo Village’s size. Thankfully, the crater of Kilo Mountain is quite accommodating. The outer buildings are more advanced because they were made with better technology.”

“Mm. A crater…” Zena eyed the distant, black hills. “And what if it floods?”

“We have runoff systems.” Rhys motioned to the dips in the roadsides. “Among other precautions.”

Owen walked ahead, eager to get to their last stop. His mind filled with fuzzy, vague memories and strong, precise feelings. There was something there that he really liked. Something heavenly that they always sold. He had no idea what it was. He’d just have to look at everything until the feeling struck him again.

“Eh?” Owen blinked, realizing that he was already there. “Wow, I walked fast,” he mumbled. The building was pink on the outside and a pure white on the inside. Shelves were lined with samples to pick from, though Owen was a bit too short to see most of them. Thankfully, a menu had been commissioned by some Smeargle long ago to illustrate most of the items.

It hit him. That was it! He stepped inside, his little feet making scaly taps on the marble floor.

“Hey, there,” greeted a Salazzle at the front desk, behind a white counter. There was a little tag on her chest that said ‘Sugar’ on it.

“Hi!” Owen said. “Um—give me a second.”

“No problem.”

A second Salazzle peered out from the back-room’s curtains. Owen did his best not to gawk or flinch, but it was hard to ignore the gigantic, explosive scar that tore across her chest like lightning. She had ‘Spice’ written on her name tag in the same spot Sugar’s was.

Owen averted his eyes to be polite and said, “Uh, those. The cinnamon Pecha bonbons.”

“You got it,” Sugar said, giving Spice a nod. She headed into the backroom again. When Sugar looked back at Owen, she blinked, as if startled. “Oh! And how about your brother?”

“…What?” Owen asked, but then looked back. “Wh—"

A Charmander stood behind Owen, identical to him in height and build. The only difference was that this one had a green scarf wrapped tightly around his eyes, blindfolding him. “Oh, we’re not brothers. And I’d like ten of those, too,” the Charmander said. “Do you guys still sell Cheri chocolate?”

“Oh, sure, but it’s spicy,” Sugar warned.

“I know.”

“Cheri chocolate? Spicy?” Owen asked.

“It’s very good,” the other Charmander said.

“Oh.” Owen paused. Where were Rhys and Zena? He was sure they were right behind him… “Uh—hang on,” Owen said. “I need to check something. I think I lost the rest of my group.”

Owen walked around the other Charmander, but couldn’t keep his eyes away from him. That nagging feeling got to him, but even without that, how could he react any other way? Another Charmander! This was amazing! He never got to—well, then again… perhaps he had before, and he just didn’t remember it.

Nothing was waiting for Owen outside. The town was completely still in midday. Not even the clouds moved, and there wasn’t even a hint of wind. Owen sighed, spinning around. “How’d I…?” he mumbled, nervous.

“Something wrong?” Charmander asked.

“Um, my folks. A Lucario and Milotic. Did you see them around?”

“Mm, can’t say I have,” Charmander said. “Hey, if you’re waiting for them, how about I stay by you, huh?”

“That’d be great.”

“Something wrong, kids?” Sugar asked. “Lost your parents?”

“We’re not kids,” they both said.

Owen flinched, looking at Charmander. “Hey, uh…”

Sugar shrugged and looked back to Spice, who came out with their orders.

Charmander walked over and paid for his piece, and then Owen realized he didn’t have money on him. He should have volunteered to take the bag after all. “Uh—hang on,” Owen said. “When my folks find me, they’ll pay. They have the money.”

“Oh, it’s okay. I’ll pay,” Charmander said.

“N-no, you shouldn’t.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I’ve got lots to spend. Besides.” The blinded Charmander turned back, “I feel like we should look out for each other, y’know? Same species and all that.”

“Oh, you two are adorable,” Sugar said. “Spice! Come here and look at how adorable these two are!”

Spice giggled, weaving out of the back-room. “I wouldn’t mind inviting both of them over to our place some time, Sugar.”

“N-no, thank you,” they both said.

The two Salazzle giggled.

“Say, uh, Charmander,” Owen said.

“Deca.”

“Deca, where are you from? I’ve never seen you before!”

“You haven’t?” Deca said coyly. “I think I’ve seen you around. You’re a Heart, right? Charmander Owen?”

“Yes! But, only recently.”

“Yeah, but I saw the ceremony. You looked awesome, actually!”

“R-really?! Aw, c’mon, it wasn’t that grand…”

“Yeah, but you stood out the most,” Deca said. “Hard to miss that tail-fire, eh? We’re naturally pretty easy to spot.”

Owen tittered nervously. “Yeah, I guess.”

An awkward silence followed.

“Say,” Deca said. “Your folks, you said. A Milotic and Lucario?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m not actually… sure where they went. I hope they get here soon.”

“Well, you couldn’t have gone that far ahead. They should be here soon,” Deca said.

Spice walked over with two stools for the pair to sit on. “You two seem familiar,” she remarked. “Have we met before?”

“Have we?” Owen said. “I’m not… sure… H-ha, sorry. I have really bad memory.”

“No, we definitely met before,” Spice said. “Ahhh…” She tapped her chest thoughtfully. “Now I remember. You little bright-eyed idiot…”

“Idiot?!” Owen said; Deca giggled.

“It’s no wonder Anam let you in after that stunt,” Spice said, wiggling a claw. “Aw, good on you, little guy.”

Deca adjusted the blindfold around his head. “Bad memory?”

“Yeah, but it’s getting better,” Owen said. “I guess I had some past trauma, but thanks to my friends, I’ve been slowly getting it back. It’s kinda a long story.”

“Your friends, your friends, right,” Deca said. “How many friends?”

“Oh, lots! We’ve actually been making a sort of mini-Heart team, kinda.”

“And they’re all your friends?” Deca asked.

Owen nodded. “Yeah. I only met a lot of them recently, but they feel like family to me. It’s kinda funny how that works, huh?”

“It is, it is.” Deca nodded. “It sounds like you care a lot about them.”

“Yeah,” Owen said, but then caught himself. Why was he being so open with this random stranger? Even though he was a fellow Charmander, he shouldn’t be giving out this kind of information! But… why did it feel like he still wanted to talk? “Hey, Deca. Have we met before?” He wondered why he was being so coy about it, if that was the case, unless he already knew he had memory problems. Was Deca an old friend, too?

“We have,” Deca said. “I was just playing along because you mentioned you had bad memory.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Owen said. “Ugh, wow. That sucks. I have no idea who you are. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Deca said, tilting his head down as if to stare at his hands with his blinded eyes. “We didn’t know each other for very long. Maybe a few times we crossed paths, y’know?” He stood up. “I think your folks will be coming back soon. Can you hear them?”

“No,” Owen said.

“Oh. I guess those sharp senses of yours aren’t that good right now, huh?”

“I—I told you about that?”

Deca nodded. “Hey, it’s alright. I’m not mad. Actually, I’m really happy I got to see you again, Owen. Glad you’ve got a lot of new friends. But… you seem worried about them.”

Owen winced. “I mean, kinda,” he said. “We’re in a dangerous business, you know?”

“You’re telling me,” Spice murmured, tracing the scar along her chest.

“Mm. I understand,” Deca said. “But I wouldn’t worry. If you’re with them, they’re bound to be safe!” He laughed. “…I’ll see you around, Owen.” He walked toward the exit.

“Wait,” Owen said desperately.

Deca stopped, turning back. Even with the blindfold, it still felt like he was staring at him.

“S-sorry,” Owen said, shaking his head. “Sorry. Don’t know what came over me there.” He laughed again, trying to shake away that tightness in his chest. “My head’s all kinds of messed up. I think I just like being by another Charmander, is all.”

Deca sighed. “It’s okay, Owen. Take care. Tell your friends I said hi.”

“You don’t want to meet them?” Owen asked.

“Can’t. I already gotta rush back home.”

“Oh. Okay. See you,” Owen said, but Deca was already gone.

Owen remained there, on his stool with his bonbons, for fifteen silent seconds. Did that just happen? Who was he? Why did he ask all those questions? No, why did Owen answer all those questions?

“You know,” Spice said, “if I didn’t know any better, I’d’ve called him your long-lost twin. Who was that?”

Owen glanced at Spice, then at Sugar. “I have… no idea.”

“He’s a lot like you,” Sugar said.

“Don’t be like that, Sugar. Just because they’re both Charmander doesn’t mean they’re alike. Look at us! A Heart and a confectioner!”

“OWEN!”

The Charmander nearly fell out of his seat. “Zena!” Owen said. “Hi?!”

The Milotic barged into Sugar ‘n Spice, staring desperately at him. “H-how did you—”

“Uh—I just walked?”

Rhys entered next, quick to scan the room with fierce eyes. Sugar and Spice both tensed.

“Is—is something wrong?” Sugar asked.

Rhys was silent for some time but then shook his head. “No. I apologize.”

“You practically vanished from us,” Zena said. “One moment, Rhys and I were looking at one another to chat—it’s polite, after all—and I look back to see you, and you’re gone!”

“M-maybe it was a lapse in memory? Like, I get those all the time, apparently, so, I mean—”

“That’s hardly a normal thing to happen,” Zena said, and Owen tried to ignore how unintentionally hurtful that sounded.

Rhys growled. “Owen, was there anybody with you?”

“Yeah, actually,” Owen said. “Another Charmander! Oh, Mew, he sounded just like me, too! It was surreal! But he looked so cool! He had a blindfold on, and it made him look totally awesome! Like—like if he stood in the wind, it would be all flowy behind him and…” Owen paused. “And, uh, I mean, it was nice to talk to him.”

“I see,” Rhys said. “Well. It looks like he bought you your sweets.”

“Y-yeah. He offered. Seemed rude to say no. I’ll pay him back next time I see him! Promise!”

Rhys sighed. “Of course.”

“Oh, and he told me to tell you guys hi.”

“Oh, that was nice,” Zena said. “You must have talked now and then in the past. Perhaps you crossed paths during missions?”

“I think so,” Owen said. “He knew me. I just have to remember him. He didn’t seem all that mad about it, but…” Owen paused, rubbing his head. “Actually, hang on. This is starting to add up in a really weird way. I guess he’s just really eccentric…”

Rhys nodded, holding the spike on his chest thoughtfully. He sighed. “Well. My pulse is back to normal, at least. I thought you were in actual danger when we lost you. Thankfully… none of that happened. But I’m too nervous to stay here any longer, Owen—let’s return to Hot Spot.”

Owen nodded. “Sure,” he said, stepping outside. Just then, a gust of wind blew past him, and he had to keep his eyes closed so dust didn’t get in his eyes.

“Let’s be fast,” Rhys said. “The wind has been relentless ever since we left the market.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Chapter 24 – To Death and Back

After the unnerving encounter with Deca in town, Owen had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go out again for a while. Hindsight—after the thrill of meeting a fellow Charmander—suggested that even if Deca was someone he could trust, he wouldn’t want to endanger him with this Guardian business. He sighed at the thought. Just when he thought he’d be reuniting with a normal friend…

Why did that not settle right? Deca didn’t seem like a normal friend. He knew that for sure. He shook his head. It was a memory still locked away.

A few days passed after that where they went back to their usual routine of meditating and training—for Team Alloy, it was to calm their auras for their inevitable evolution. For the Guardians, it was to continue their everlasting struggle to tune their auras with their Mystic spirits.

Owen fell into a routine on the third day and meditated with Zena the most often. Each day they greeted one another, sat nearby—or in Zena’s case, coiled up—and closed their eyes. Zena mentioned that this was what she did on most days when she was in her cave, but that it was much better now that she had company. Owen couldn’t understand how lonely it must have felt before.

On the fourth day, right when he was leaving his room, Amia approached.

“Owen, everybody else is gathering together for some training. The scouts at Kilo Village didn’t turn anything up yet and, apparently, Star hasn’t been able to find anything good in the spirit world, either.”

“Oh, okay,” Owen said. “What kind of training? Meditating again? Why’d you tell me if…”

“Umm…” Amia rubbed the back of her head. “We’re going to be pairing off, actually. An advanced Mystic training a junior Mystic, so to speak.”

“And I’m… a junior Mystic? So, you’ll be training me?” Owen said, perking up. “That sounds awesome!”

“Actually,” Amia said. “I am going to be training Willow.”

“Oh,” Owen said. “So… Zena?”

“Zena’s going to be trained by Anam, actually,” Amia said.

“…ADAM?” Owen said.

“ADAM and Valle are going to be sparring one another as fellow mid-tier Mystics.”

“W-wait, then who’s left?” Owen asked, mentally going over everyone in his head. A spark of hope: “Wait! Am I gonna be trained by—by Rhys?!”

“No.” Amia sighed. “Rhys is going to train the other three.” Owen counted on his claws, trying to recall who was left. “Owen… Manny personally asked to be the one to train you.”

Owen felt the ice in his stomach return, this time from dread. “Y-you mean… the Fighting Guardian?” he said. “B-but I barely beat Azu…”

Amia shrugged, though she was clearly trying to be delicate. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’m sure Manny will… do something helpful.”

“C-can’t you ask him to maybe… not?”

“Believe me, I tried,” Amia apologized, “but everybody else was in favor of it, dear. I… I couldn’t go against the majority. And they did have a point. Of all of us, you have the most potential to grow—and Manny knows how to do that. He specializes in training your… you know. Your kind. S-so, er… Let’s go!” She headed out.

“W-wait! Don’t I have to eat breakfast?”

Amia paused in her exit. “Do you?”

“I,” Owen paused, feeling his stomach. “…I guess not. Huh.”

Amia smiled and led the way out.

<><><>​

“Hah! Th’ sleepyhead’s finally awake,” Manny said, clapping his paws together, making a muffled, furry pat. “Took long enough! Oy, did yer mom fill yeh in?”

Owen stood straight, tail trying to look as tall as his head. “Y-yes! Um… but I kind of don’t want to die.”

“Aaah, you’ll be fine,” Manny waved his paw. “C’mon! We’re gonna start with Azu like befer. Don’t worry, he ain’t gonna be scared this time.”

“Scared? I scared him?”

“Yep! I hyped ‘im up, though. He’s good.”

Owen sighed, looking at Amia helplessly as if expecting her to change her mind.

But she just smiled and shook her head. “Good luck, dear.”

“Heheheh…” Manny walked down the rocky caves, deeper into the complex. It was cooler where he was heading; Owen figured it would be easier for him to fight there. The Charmander hesitantly followed, wondering if Manny wanted to train him to help… or to get back at him.

“Owen!”

Loud skittering and tiny pebbles bouncing signaled Gahi’s rapid approach. By the time he turned around, the Trapinch’s massive head was already a split-second away from slamming into his chest. Owen didn’t have time to bring up his Protect barrier; The slam, wreathed in the dark aura of a Feint Attack, sent Owen skidding and stumbling back. Gahi then jumped out of the way; across the hall, Mispy’s leaf glowed bright.

“Oh no.”

This time, Owen had time to react; crossing his arms, a golden barrier formed in front of him and deflected the barrier toward Manny, who shouted in surprised and crossed his arms. No barrier formed. “Aw, c—”

They all winced when the small explosion deafened the team. When the light finally faded, Manny brought his arms down to inspect his scorched fur, then laughed. “Hah! Feelin’ rowdy?”

Demitri, who had been behind Mispy, uncovered his eyes to inspect the damage. He sighed with relief when he saw that it was minimal, and Amia, who had been startled enough to mimic Manny’s movements, formed her own cyan Protect barrier, though it was useless.

“Rhys said we can’t train with Owen,” Gahi said. “So, we just wanted to get a cheap shot in so it counts as a fight!”

Owen smirked. “Well, it only half-worked,” he said.

“Bah!” Gahi snapped his jaws in Owen’s general direction. “That Protect’s cheating! Dumb gold shield…”

A shrug was all Owen gave in reply, at this point toying with Gahi’s aggressive mood. “Hey, Mom did it, too, so I guess it was reasonable.”

Amia tittered. “Well, I saw you doing it, and you’re always good at knowing when to use those…”

“Erm, Gahi, we should go see Rhys now,” Demitri said. “You know, so he doesn’t start to worry.”

All Demitri got in response was a growl, but he eventually shuffled away, though he stopped to look back. “Oy, Owen,” he said. “Think we can hang out after the training? Y’know, just… I dunno.”

To that, Owen’s expression softened, a warmth spreading through his chest. “Totally. We’re Team Alloy, after all.” He tried to ignore the bittersweet feeling that nudged away the warmth. “So, we should do stuff as a team every so often.”

“Exactly,” Gahi said, a sad glint in his eyes. “Well, I, eh… yeah. Gonna go train.”

Demitri and Mispy exchanged a look, and Demitri asked for them both, “Gahi? Are you okay?”

“What’s that supposed ter mean?” Gahi growled, speeding off. “Let’s go already!”

Mispy rolled her eyes and bobbed her leaf toward Owen.

“Guess Gahi’s just a little miffed that we can’t train together still,” Demitri translated for the departing Trapinch. “I miss it, too, y’know. But it’s fine. You need to do your special Mystic training, right?” he asked.

And Owen saw a knowing look in Mispy’s eyes, too—because they still couldn’t risk training together with what little they knew about their true forms. “Right,” Owen said. “One day. Maybe we can, I dunno, cook together sometime?”

Demitri’s eyes lit up. “Yeah! Actually, I wanted to get back into cooking more. It’s hard to compete with Rhys, but I don’t want him doing all the cooking anyway, and, er… And Mispy likes it, too, so…”

She giggled and bumped her hip against his. With a final leaf-bob to Owen, Mispy left and guided Demitri with her.

Owen watched fondly, a new resolve bubbling in his mind. The sooner he perfected his training and prepared himself for his Charizard form, whatever it was, the sooner he could be with them as a proper team again.

“Alright, I’m ready,” he said to Manny, and then gave his mother a confident smile.

<><><>​

“Um… Auntie Amia?” asked Willow, watching the Charmander leave with the rowdy Guardian.

“Auntie?” Amia repeated, looking down at the tiny Joltik. “When did I get that title?”

“I dunno…” Willow said.

Amia smiled. “Well, what did you want to ask, Willow? Before we get to training.”

“Is Owen gonna be okay?”

“Oh, Willow.” Amia sighed. “Yes. Owen will be fine.”

Willow hopped on one of the glowing, blue mushrooms, then another, and then stopped on top of a large one. She wobbled when the stem broke, the cap hitting the floor on its corner. “You didn’t send Manny to assassinate him?!”

“O-of course not!” Amia said. “Why would—no! That’s not it at all! I trust Manny. He knows that Owen is stable as a Charmander. He won’t have to do anything like that.”

Willow sparked uncomfortably. “Owen’s scary when he…”

“I know, Willow. You were so shaken up.” The thought alone “I’m sorry you had to see him like that. But he’s nice now, right?”

Willow hopped off the mushroom, mumbling to herself.

“What was that, dear?”

“…Which one’s the real Owen?” Willow asked.

“The real…?” Amia repeated, but then went quiet.

“If this way that Owen is now is just… him being suppressed… and sealing away his memories and stuff… and in the end, when he evolves, he becomes… that… then who’s the real Owen? His suppressed form, or his…”

It was as if Willow was pulling from Amia’s deepest fears. The Gardevoir was frozen in place.

Willow, oblivious, kept talking while staring at the mushroom’s dimming glow. “It’s like we’re only seeing a tiny part of him, and there’s this… this huge monster that’s waiting to break out. And… and when that part comes… what’ll happen to this tiny Owen? If you’re tiny… you’ll just get squished. Who’s… who’s really Owen?”

The Gardevoir finally came to her senses. “The one we know, of course,” she said. “Owen used to be in control of himself all the time—but something happened that made him—all four of them, actually—unstable. Like something didn’t… quite go right. So maybe the Owen you saw wasn’t the real Owen, either.”

“What happened?” Willow asked.

“I wasn’t around to see it myself,” Amia said evasively. “So, I’m not sure. But—Rhys could tell you!” She nodded. “We… we aren’t supposed to talk about it. They might overhear, and that might trigger the memories. It’s too risky.”

Willow buzzed irritably. “Is Owen evil?”

“No! No, nothing like that. I promise,” Amia said, nodding.

Willow’s big, blue eyes stared at Amia. She huffed. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s train.”

<><><>​

Owen sputtered and coughed, feeling something crack in the back of his head. He slammed against the rocks and felt the entire world go dark. In what felt like an instant to him, his eyes shot open, gasping for air. He panted and felt the back of his head—no wounds, but he felt something crusted and caked on. He pulled his hand forward; dried blood fell from his scaly palms. “What—”

An Aura Sphere slammed into his chest, smashing him against the rocks again, dislocating his arm. He yelped and tried to find the source frantically, spotting Manny. “W-wait! That’s not fair!” he shouted. “I—I was fighting Az—”

A blue fist slammed into Owen’s stomach, pushing him even further into the wall. He was positive that a few of his organs had flattened against the back of his body from that one. “W-wait… t-time out…!”

Azu punched him near the center of his forehead, and he blacked out again.

Another instant in Owen’s mind passed, and he opened his eyes.

He saw a fist going right toward him. Owen held his arms up in a cross—he blocked it in a shield of light. “Ng—” Even with the Protect barrier, the shockwave knocked the wind out of him.

“Eh?” Azu said. “Hey, look! The little guy blocked it!”

“Hah!” Manny said.

“Y-yeah… I did!” Owen said, thrilled. “I blo—”

Azu’s second fist slammed into Owen’s chest, rupturing his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. The Charmander’s eyes bulged out—vision fading… He fell to the ground. He saw Azu’s tail swing toward him, slamming him into the opposite wall across the training grounds. Then, he blacked out completely.

And again, Owen’s eyes shot open. But this time, only slightly. He didn’t want to look awake yet. Through the thin sliver he opened, he saw two blue figures sitting nearby. Azu and Manny. They were staring at something on the ground. He focused… They were playing some sort of game with rounded pebbles. Owen breathed a bit too loudly, and the two looked at him. They both stood up.

“W-wait, p-please—” Owen begged.

Manny casually fired an Aura Sphere from his right paw. Owen reflexively opened his mouth and blasted a plume of flames. It slowed the attack but didn’t stop it, and Owen flew across the ground in a messy, rocky twirl, losing some scales in the process. He flicked his tail to alter his angular momentum just enough to get his footing. Using his good arm to stabilize, he miraculously found his footing. Azu rushed toward him with a firm punch. He dodged to the left and countered with another Ember.

“Gah—” Azu turned around and swiped at Owen with his tail. Owen jumped and turned green, opening his mouth again. A huge vine shot from his throat, wrapping around Azu; he swung his head and slammed him on the ground. Azu grunted and broke free, but Owen turned orange again and the vines became flames, burning the Feraligatr. He chomped down, snapping the burning vine away to extend the burn even longer while Azu tried to pull free.

Azu struggled to his feet, panting. “W-well… that ain’t so bad,” he said. “Heh… the Charmander’s much better this time. It only took a few mortal blows.”

“C-can’t you tone it down a little?!” Owen begged, seizing the opportunity. “You could’ve killed me!”

“Ha-haaa!” Azu declared. “But we did kill you, Charmander! Quite a few times! In a technical sense.”

“Well, if yeh were a normal Charmander,” Manny said, “we totally would’ve killed yeh fer real. We were doing some real strong attacks, not holding back at all, heh. But yer Mystic. Amia said yeh weren’t eating. That’s th’ sign.”

“The sign?” Owen asked. “Not eating? Wait,” Owen said. “When was the last time that I ate…?”

Manny looked at Azu, but then flicked his head back. Azu nodded and disintegrated into a blue ember, returning to Manny. The Lucario motioned for Owen to sit down; he obeyed and, thankfully, Manny did as well.

“It’s like Star said,” Manny said. “Mystics… don’t get strong th’ same way normal Pokémon do. Eh… they do, but their Mysticism, heh… it’s trained in another way.”

Owen hesitated. It wasn’t his perception talking, just general intuition. Was he about to get an important lesson from Manny about Mysticism? He gulped. “Um, Manny.”

“Eh?”

“You’re gonna explain to me a lot of stuff, right? You’re giving me a lesson?”

“Yeh.”

Owen shifted where he stood. “I… can’t understand what you’re saying half the time.”

Manny flinched. “E-eh, yeh, I figure.”

“I’m—I mean, I hear it from Gahi, but for you, it’s—”

“Nah, nah, I get it.” Manny shifted awkwardly. “Feh…”

“I’m sorry. I’ll try to understand! It’s just, I’m apologizing in advance if I have trouble with what you’re saying.”

“Nah, nah,” Manny said. “I got an idea. Hang on.” He shut his eyes, breathing deeply. For a split-second, Manny jostled where he sat as if he thought he was falling. Then, his eyes shot open. He stared at Owen, then at his paws, and then at Owen again. “Hello.”

“…Hi.” Owen knew this was someone different. “Did Manny just… switch places with one of his spirits? You can do that?”

“Mm, yes. My name is Yen. It takes a lot of energy to do this, but I suppose this would be easier for a lesson. I always was the better teacher, ironically.”

“Ironically?”

Yen chuckled. “Ah, just thinking. You’d expect Manny, as Guardian, to be better than me. In any case, you wished for an explanation on Mysticism?”

“Just a little. I’ve been going through the motions, but I don’t know what the motions are for. Does that make sense?”

Yen held his paw forward, creating a small Aura Sphere. Owen reflexively flinched and brought his arms in a cross, forming another Protect shield.

“Now, now, there’s no need to worry,” he assured him. “This is only for visual aid.”

“O-oh, okay.” He lowered his battle stance, but only halfway. His muscles twitched, ready for anything.

The Lucario resumed. He held the sphere forward, and then faced his paw upward, like a stage. “Now. Let’s say this is the aura for the average inhabitant of Kilo. Not just Kilo Village—the whole world. Most Hearts reside in the crater, so that skews the average quite a bit.”

“Okay,” Owen said. It was about the size of a small apple, and about as bright as one of the mushrooms in his room, barely enough to illuminate it in the dark to see the walls. “Hey, is this like Nevren and Rhys’ whole theory on aura efficiency?”

Yen stared at Owen with an odd look. “Aura efficiency?” he said. “You’re aware of that?”

“What? Uh… I mean… kinda. Rhys is kinda pioneering the theory. And Nevren has this scanner that measures our… aura efficiency, or something, based on how much power we can dish out, and how fatigued we feel after. Last I was scanned, I scored—er—really high! For my species. Pretty high.”

“Hm. How interesting. Very well. We shall call it that, aura efficiency.” Yen continued with his explanation. “The more you use your techniques to fight others, or to simply train in other ways, the more you…” Yen watched Owen. “Your eyes are glossing over.”

“H-huh? No!”

“Hm. A book-smart Charmander. How interesting.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Owen frowned.

“Well, I imagine Charmander would struggle to use books. The burning,” Yen said evasively. “Er, well, Owen. Tell me what you know, first. I can build off of your understanding. Does that sound fine?”

“Oh! Y-yeah, Rhys taught us this!” Owen said. “Basically… every technique that we do is actually channeling from the aura’s inner energy. The same energy that helps some Pokémon evolve, when our aura becomes strong enough. It’s like… a little bit of power that helps us do what we want it to do. Breathing fire, or weakening the enemy, or even making it rain! It’s all because of that power in our aura cores. We use that same power to resist what others are doing to us. So weaker Ember attacks, for example, hurt less… because our auras deflect a lot of it.” Owen rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I guess that means I still have a long way to go, if your host is getting me in just a few hits. I can’t deflect those attacks at all.”

Yen nodded. “Very good,” he said. “Efficiency is indeed how rapidly you can draw from that aura core.” The aura in his paw glowed brighter. “So… how does Mysticism come in?” He nodded. “Everyone’s core’s output is fixed. Once at full efficiency, you can go no further.”

“Yeah. That makes sense. Once you’re fully efficient, you can’t really draw more than everything!”

Yen’s brow raised slightly.

“Y… you can’t, right?”

“Well, yes,” Yen said. “If you have ten apples, and your arms are large enough to carry twenty, you can only carry ten apples regardless.”

“…Why big arms?” Owen asked.

Yen waved his paw dismissively. “But what if,” he said, “you made more apples? Different apples?”

“Uh—”

Yen brought his second paw forward and created something else—it wasn’t another sphere. It looked more like a blue, bright flame. It reminded him of the spirits in the aura sea that Hecto oversaw. “Hunters, Guardians, and the Creators all possess Mystic Energy. It’s similar to what you know, but it provides so much more.” He combined his two paws into a bowl-like shape, and the flare enveloped the sphere, creating something that Owen had to squint at to see. “Now, there’s more to get.”

“But it looks different,” Owen said. “It’s not just more power. There’s… it doesn’t…” Owen knew that much. The moment he had become a Guardian, he already did something that no ordinary Pokémon could do—become a Grassy Charmander, humiliating as it was. Not to mention drown and survive. And apparently, in a little while, he was going to learn how to fly, too, just like his mother. “That power doesn’t feel… solid, like our aura powers normally.”

“Mm. So, you mean it isn’t defined?”

Owen nodded.

“That’s because it isn’t. Not quite. Normal energy is defined. You can only do certain things with it. Flamethrower… Aura Sphere… they’re defined techniques, crafted by Star, I imagine, for mortals to access controlled versions of the divine power inherent in all Pokémon. But Mystic Energy? Quite broader. Yes, it may be easier to perform certain actions—for example, become an embodiment of your Orb’s Type—but then… because it is not defined, you can get creative, with enough skill and power. Indeed, after enough time training, you practically become a spirit in the flesh.”

“A spirit… in the flesh,” Owen said, pinching his arm thoughtfully. The scales held their pinched shape slightly along his elbows. Owen made a mental note to drink some water later.

Yen nodded. “Guardians can bend reality just a slight bit more… dynamically, harnessing the same power that the Creators used to craft the world.”

Owen gulped. “That’s… not what my power feels like at all.”

“You’re still weak,” Yen said. “And it’s not as if we have any significant portion of that power on our own.” He shrugged. “At most, you can easily change things about yourself, and perhaps the area immediately around you. With the little amount of undefined energy provided by a single Orb, you cannot go beyond that sphere of influence. Still, you can certainly hone its intensity…”

Owen blinked. “How?”

Yen went on. “As Star said, Mysticism is not strengthened the same way the traditional aura is. You must connect with your core directly by performing actions that affect your flare—powerful emotions, deep meditation, and, ah… almost dying.”

“A-almost…?”

Yen chuckled. “Well. Once you reach a certain point, nearly dying does not become viable. Diminishing returns. Still, so long as we don’t hit you too hard, it’s a very effective method for weaker Mystics to become stronger. So, we can ‘kill’ you all we want,” Yen smiled apologetically, “and you’ll come back. Consider it… an at-death experience. Right up to Dusknoir’s Door, hm? But then you turn around and return to the living. But every time that happens…”

Yen showed the flare dying down and rising up, dying down, rising up, stronger and stronger each time. “You tap into that power a little more. Make your arms bigger to grab hold of those apples.”

“Again, with the arms… Do you guys have a thing for arms?”

Yen cleared his throat. “Once you have full access to your Mystic power through this method, you can meditate to hone the specifics and refine it. That is what most of the mid-level Mystics, like ADAM and Zena, are doing at this point. You are still catching up.”

“So, at first, to get full access to my power as a Mystic, I need to… die. A lot. And after that, I can work on actually improving it?”

“Yes! Well, to get there the fastest,” Yen said. “Still, I recommend you fight back. Mysticism is strongly tied to desires, and the desire to fight back can accelerate the process further.”

“But why do I need to die for that? How come all of those things with emotions, and dying, and meditating—that’s all with the aura, too, right?”

“There is a key difference,” Yen said. “Normal training. That’s how the body and the mind connect to the aura, which itself channels the defined power, provided by Star.” Yen closed his eyes. “Mysticism, you can’t rely on that defined connection. It is not your body to your aura. Mysticism is tied to something deeper than the aura—to the very source of your power. This training is for the connection between your aura and your spirit. Something normally untouchable. The body and the mind are the outermost layer. Then, there is the aura. And within the aura is your spirit. That is the true source of power. The aura is just a filter on what that power can do. Mysticism… weakens that filter.”

“The… spirit,” Owen said. He hadn’t realized it until just then, but without any fighting in this part of Hot Spot Cave, everything was silent. He could hear his own little heart struggling to beat. He hadn’t realized how broken his body still was. “Sorry,” Owen said, realizing he’d been silent for too long. “Before all this Guardian stuff, I didn’t even think Star was real, forget the soul, or the spirit, or whatever. I guess I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

“I understand,” Yen said. “Manny and I were the same way. Take your time.”

Owen nodded, but then gathered his bearings. “What’s… the difference? The aura and this… spirit thing.”

“Ahh…” Yen’s tail wagged twice in a slow, rhythmic motion. “How nostalgic, that question.”

Owen waited patiently. His eyes were bright with curiosity—but, more importantly, the longer he could stall, the longer he could catch his breath.

“The spirit… it’s an interesting concept. It’s something that I learned about a long time ago. Old, old culture. Something you can’t quite see. Something you can only feel.” Yen looked up. “The inner aura. The source. Where you are. What stays when everything else goes. That… is the spirit.”

“Isn’t that just the brain?” Owen mumbled. “I read books on this. All that stuff is just the brain.”

“Well, er, I suppose, physically,” Yen said, his momentum completely interrupted. “But it isn’t as if you’re carrying your brain with you in the aura sea, hm?”

“…Good point,” Owen mumbled. “What stays when everything else…” He thought about the aura sea. His body had dissolved there. In the spirit world, like the Grass Orb’s realm, or the ethereal forest, he had been an aura—a spiritual form that looked like his body. But in that strange void, even that body had dissolved away. He had been nothing but his aura flare. Yet he had still been there.

Owen looked at his hands again, as if they weren’t real. He sighed. He should have become an academic. Or maybe it wasn’t too late to become a farmer as his father had suggested.

“The connection…” Owen said again. What could that mean? It didn’t sound like Yen knew the full extent of this ‘spirit’ business. Perhaps Star did, but Yen just saw its effects. Still, one thing was clear: Yen, and by extension, Manny, were looking for results, and what he was doing supposedly made Owen’s Mysticism stronger.

“So, you’ve been ‘killing’ me all this time to… make my aura closer to my spirit? Or to make my Mystic power connect to it better. So, by dying, and meditating, and having these emotions, that speaks to my spirit, which the power of the Orb can let me… harness?” He paused. “Wait. This sounds more like you’re just making my aura unstable so more ‘Mystic’ leaks through!”

“Yessir.”

Owen flinched. It was Manny again. Based on the smirk the Lucario gave him, Yen must have either lost hold of his control or relinquished it upon completing his explanation. Owen missed him already.

“…Couldn’t you have told me that?!”

“Nah, bein’ scared an’ fightin’ fer yer life? That builds th’ spirit, too.”

“That’s…!”

“Well, enough talkin’,” Manny said, cracking his neck. “Y’know what I’m doin’.”

“W-wait, bring Yen back, please, I—”

“Nope!”

Manny fired the Aura Sphere he was preparing straight at Owen, and the helpless Charmander hit the wall once again.

<><><>​

Willow screamed in the blue flames that surrounded her. In an instant, they died down; the smoldering Joltik twitched and opened one eye. “What?” She coughed.

“Y-you were screaming,” Amia said, shivering.

“And you stopped?!” Willow said, hobbling to her feet. The very tip of the fur on her tiny body was still on fire; she shook, ridding herself of most of the ash, and the flame went out.

“Yes!” Amia said. “Because it… it looked like it hurt!”

“Of course it hurt!” Willow screeched. “But we’re training! Don’t stop!”

“B-but, Willow, you’re half-ash at this point!”

“But I didn’t pass out, so let’s keep going!”

“I—I can’t do this,” Amia said, voice hitching. “I’m sorry, I just—ow!”

Willow zapped Amia with a bolt of electricity. She sped toward her. “Don’t you dare stop now! You’re way stronger than me, and I want to get to that level, too!”

“B-but, I can’t, Willow, I just…!”

“What kind of Fire user are you? You can’t even go full-force!”

“I—I’m just… I’m just not a fighter, Willow. I’m strong, yes, but… But this is too much! It’s torture! I can’t—”

“Keep fighting!”

“B-but you’ll die!”

“I won’t die!” Willow shouted. “So… stop being so weak!”

“I—I…” Amia gulped.

“DO IT!”

The Gardevoir shut her eyes and blasted Willow with another flurry of flames. She tried to dodge, but the blast radius was simply too large. She screamed and collapsed on the ground, unconscious.

“I—I can’t do that! I can’t!” Amia covered her eyes.

“Wh-huh? Did I pass out?” Willow coughed a cloud of ash.

Amia was trembling and had to sit down. “It’s too hard to hurt friends! This kind of training is… is too much!”

Willow shook away the soot from her body and skittered toward the Gardevoir. “Mnngh…! I can’t believe you! All that power and you’re afraid to use it!”

Amia couldn’t look at her. “I know, I know…”

Frustrated, the Joltik shook her fur and started creating little sparks. Eventually, however, she settled down in a huff.

It was a quiet part of the cave. Manny was still beating Owen to a pulp a few corridors down. Owen was screaming for help. Manny just laughed.

“Scared of your own power,” Willow repeated. “Maybe that’s where he gets it from.”

Amia watched Willow with concern; the Joltik could barely climb her dress, but she managed it. She sat atop her lap.

“If someone like you raised Owen…” She trailed off. “…and if he took on even the littlest fraction of how you are…. I see why you think he can overcome that battle instinct he’s stuck in.”

Amia flinched. She bit at her lower lip and tried to stay calm. At least this was giving Willow some time to look less charred. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve shown Owen… a lot of love. And he’s been so gentle… So, he’d surely be able to overcome it.”

“I think he can, too,” Willow said. “He’s too nice.”

“Y-you think so?”

Willow nodded. “…So… you aren’t gonna beat me up?”

“I… I don’t think I have it in me,” she said, lowering her head. “I’m sorry,”

Disappointed, the Joltik turned around. “Then I guess I’ll train with them, instead,” she said, turning to look down the large cavern. In the open area, the group was locked in combat.

ADAM and Valle were sparring with one another. At similar strength, they grew together almost as rapidly as the weaker ones who were trying to catch up. While the Porygon-Z was not able to have much of an effect with his Normal attacks against Valle, the rocky Shiftry was not quite able to hit ADAM as easily due to his lack of movement.

“Well, um… okay,” Amia said. “I’m sorry that I can’t…”

“It’s okay,” Willow said. “At least we have someone who can tell us to not get so angry, right?”

Amia gently touched her chest. “Oh,” she said softly. “…Thank you, Willow.”

And with that, Willow dashed toward ADAM and Valle. She hopped in front of a Hyper Beam, blocking most of it, but screamed nonetheless.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Chapter 25 – A New Sighting

For the next few days, the Mystics in Hot Spot cycled between training and resting to the point where they had lost track of time. In the caverns, there was no real way to tell if it was day or night, especially since Amia was usually the one to keep track of that with the glow of the mushrooms. With her preoccupied with training, they were only able to determine how many days passed based on how often Team Alloy—sans Owen, at least—came back from daily missions.

Owen asked time and time again to go on a mission with Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, but it was always shot down with the fact that he still needed to train. Not only that, but after the strange encounter with Deca the time before, the other Guardians were hesitant to send him out again to be lost in town. After each trip into town, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all said they hadn’t seen Deca.

One day, Owen trained with Zena; he was glad to finally get a break from Manny’s method of training. This, however, was short-lived. For some reason, Zena wasn’t able to fight at her best against Owen. The Grass Guardian figured it was because of his type advantage in his Mystic form that unnerved her, though Zena couldn’t find the words or explanation on why this was the case herself. She did know, however, that it wasn’t because of his type. Zena and Owen asked Star why they weren’t able to hurt each other effectively; in reply, she rolled her eyes and floated away.

Therefore, Owen returned to reluctantly train against Manny, and Zena instead challenged Anam when he was available and not managing the Association with Nevren.

Zena was barely able to open her eyes after every strike that Anam delivered. She felt powerless against him. Her watery attacks weren’t very useful against a Dragon type—let alone one that was so gooey like Anam.

Zena panted, her lungs burning. “Anam—are all of your kind like this!?”

“Like what?” Anam asked, holding his hand out to block most of her Hydro Pump attack. That simple gesture split the beam of water in two, missing the rest of him completely.

“So… immune to water!”

“No, but I’m a little different because I’m Mystic. I like being like this!”

“Extremely… slimy? You have the consistency of a Muk, Anam.”

“Aww, thanks!” Anam giggled. “But I think I’m a little thicker than a Muk,” he rubbed his cheeks. His fingers sank into his face, slime merging into slime.

Zena, seeing this as an opportunity, launched yet another Hydro Pump at Anam. The Goodra gasped, his head inflating several times in size when the water infiltrated his open maw. He spewed it back out and fell onto his tail. “Owowow…” he mumbled, rubbing his head. He squeezed the rest of the water out. “Good job! I didn’t know you could use Flatter!”

“I—I can’t,” said Zena. “…Anam… are you taking this seriously?”

“Seriously?” Anam repeated. “Of course! I mean… I need to train you, right?”

“Of course,” Zena said, “but I haven’t seen you use your Mystic powers much at all. Your Ghostly abilities, that is. I’ve already exhausted my Water form against you…”

“B-but it’s scary,” Anam said, grabbing his horns and tugging. “It’s not just spooky Ghost powers, it’s—it’s a lot of things, you know?”

“That’s…” Zena shook her head. “Can’t you just use a little bit of it, then? It can’t be that bad.”

Anam bit his lower lip helplessly. “Okay. I’ll—”

A muffled voice echoed from Anam’s thigh. “Hello?” the voice said. “Anam, are you there? I have a report!”

“Oh! Nevren!” Anam clapped his gooey fingers together, bouncing. “Um—Zena, hold on!” He plunged his hand into his thigh and pulled out one of their silver communicators. “Hi, Nevren! Do you mean there’s a report about a possible Mystic sighting?”

“Yes,” Nevren said. “At first, we believed that the Mystic that once lived in Nightshade Forest was relocated or otherwise… removed, but we found new sightings in the depths of it. It’s very likely that the Electric Guardian is still there after all.”

“Electric Guardian? That’s cool!” Anam’s green eyes brightened to the point of actual luminosity. “Okay! I’ll go and gather the others right away! Um—any other sightings?”

“None yet,” Nevren said. “I am still coordinating other scouting missions based on preliminary reports and rumors.”

“Got it,” Anam said. He nodded at Zena. “We’ll train later?”

“Yes,” Zena said. “…Perhaps I will train with someone else for now. I do not think I should go to this particular Mystic, considering my Type…”

Anam nodded and ran to get the team together.

<><><>​

“Nightshade Forest,” Star said, shivering slightly. “Talk about bad vibes.”

Everybody was gathered in the middle of Hot Spot. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were having a small snack in the middle of their training, all panting from whatever regimen Rhys was putting them through. The mushrooms of Hot Spot glowed only enough to keep things well-lit, but the brightness suggested it was more like afternoon outside. Mispy mumbled something to Demitri, and he replied back that they could get some sun later.

“Don’t like Dark Types?” Owen asked, amused.

“Hey, it’s not my fault! That’s instinct! N-no offense to any Dark Types or anything, I just… you know. It’s a little unnerving to go there, sometimes, since a lot of the wild Pokémon are Dark and they love defending their territory.”

Anam nodded. “Star doesn’t like my power, either,” he said. “But it’s okay! I don’t have to use it yet. Um—I can go, though!”

“That’s a good idea,” Star said. “I’m going on guesswork, but the Electric Guardian… she can scare easily, last I checked on her. Really jumpy, so you can’t have any scary people or sudden movements.”

“Feh, guess I’m out,” Manny said, shrugging.

“No sudden movements?” Owen repeated. “I mean… I can probably go, if I move carefully.”

“You don’t look that intimidating right now,” Star agreed, which earned a small, irritated spark from Owen’s tail. “As long as you keep calm, you’ll be fine.”

“How about us?” Demitri asked.

“Ehh… maybe not,” Star said. “Let’s stick to Mystics for this one. Enet, the Guardian, might be able to read auras—and I think she’ll only trust Mystic auras.”

Demitri deflated faster than Anam’s head after one of Zena’s Hydro Pumps. “Hmm, well, if that’s the case, I guess we can’t go…”

“There’s no need to worry,” Rhys said. “We can continue to train here.”

Star surveyed the group. “So, we’ve got Owen and Anam, who else wants to go? Amia?”

“Oh! I can, definitely.”

“Amia’s definitely great if we need a friendly face!” Willow piped up from atop Valle’s stone head.

“Three should be good enough. Four might be overwhelming for her,” Star said. “So, that’s the plan! Just make sure you guys have a communicator with you in case something goes wrong, either here or there, okay? Oh, and be careful. She’s a Zoroark. Don’t trust your eyes.”

“How’d you know about all this?” Owen asked. “We were looking for a while!”

“Actually, Nevren pointed out the possibility. I personally thought this Electric Guardian didn’t last, and Eon already took the Orb. She’s totally silent to me. But I did some asking around in the spirit world, and it doesn’t look like she died after all. So…” Star sighed. “I guess it could’ve gone faster, but we didn’t want to send you guys out unless we were totally sure. This time, we are. I know she’s in Nightshade Forest.”

“Nightshade Forest,” Owen mumbled, rubbing his head. “That sounds… really familiar…”

“Don’t think too hard, Owen,” Star said.

“Right,” Amia said. “So!” She clapped her hands together. “Are we ready to go?”

“I guess so.” Owen, stretched, but the fact that his arms barely went past anybody’s knees was a reminder of how small he’d become again.

He was already recovered from his training with Manny—and he felt quite a bit stronger from it, too. How much stronger, he didn’t know. He’d have to test it out—if this Electric Guardian happened to lash out at him, perhaps that would be his test.

<><><>​

Nightshade Forest was a place where, true to its name, barely any sunlight reached the forest floor. The trees were far apart, but the tops were filled with wide tops and leaves, high above their heads. If the wind blew hard enough, little flickering lights would illuminate the ground, but it was fleeting. There were simply too many leaves blotting out the sky. Owen and Amia relied on their fire to light the way.

“It’s really spooky here,” Anam said.

“Anam, please, you’re the Ghost Guardian,” Amia said. “Wouldn’t you be right at home here?”

“I—I guess so, but… it’s still a little spooky! What if there’s a monster hiding in the bushes…?”

Amia, baffled, glanced at the invincible Goodra. “Anam, dear, aren’t… you more likely to be the monster hiding away?” She motioned to the blackened tree trunks and deep-green grass. “From what Star told us, the strongest Pokémon here are about as strong as Owen was when he last became an Entry Heart.”

“W-well, um…”

“Actually, yeah,” Owen said. “Anam, we don’t really know what your powers look like at all!”

Anam gulped. “Th-that’s because… um…”

“Owen has a point,” Amia said. “As the Ghost Guardian, don’t you think you—”

“You should not press Anam with such things if it isn’t necessary,” Anam suddenly said, eyes closed. His voice had changed.

“…J… James?” Owen blinked.

“I don’t like when they do things like Scary Face,” Anam mumbled., voice back to normal. “It makes my heart go all thump-a-thump!”

Owen and Amia exchanged an uneasy glance. Owen figured now wasn’t a good time to press the issue, but a new thought crossed his mind.

“Do you even have a heart anymore?” Owen said. “Zena mentioned you just got… stabbed while fighting ADAM, and you were just fine.”

“I have a heart metaphorically!” Anam said. “But I guess so… Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid… Are we there yet?”

“Hmm…” Amia looked at their Badge. “We’re supposed to make it through the halfway point of the Dungeon, followed by three segments of the next part. There, we should see a hidden passageway, invisible to all but the aura eye… That’s what Nevren told us. And from there, we have to see if the Electric Guardian is still present. I certainly hope she is…”

“I hope so, too,” Owen said. “I don’t want to lose another one just because we couldn’t find them fast enough.”

After several more turns and a number of distortions later—most of the wild Pokémon fled at the very presence of Anam—Amia inspected the Badge; it flickered briefly. “We’re in the Deepwoods,” she announced.

Anam hummed, running his fingers over the wood that was even darker than when they had entered. A thick layer of moss covered large portions of each tree, absorbing some of Anam’s wet form.

Anam glanced at Amia. “Can you tell Nevren and the others we’re okay?”

Amia nodded and grabbed their communicator next, speaking into the badge. “Are you there? We’re doing okay. We just made it into the Deepwoods. Does Star or Nevren happen to know where specifically we should be looking once we get to the third section?”

A pause. Then, Nevren said, “No, only to look for Mystic residuals. It shouldn’t be hard to miss for your current Mystic powers, yes?”

“Okay, got it,” Amia said. “Um—thank you. I’m going to stop talking to this now.”

“Of course. Thank you.”

Amia stared awkwardly at the device and placed it back into her bag. “That’s still a strange… communication device. Where did Nevren even get the idea for something like this?”

“Nevren has a lot of crazy ideas,” Anam said. “But they’re really cool, too. Did you know that he’s starting to make these special devices that can keep food cold for a long time? And you won’t even need Ice types, either! I think it’s with a modified Hail Orb…”

“Oh, wow,” Amia said.

“Yeah, it’s really cool,” Anam said. “I wish I had his creativity, getting all those ideas…”

“Nevren’s really like that, huh?” Owen said slowly, thinking about the Alakazam. “He must have been really creative to come up with me and the others, huh?”

“Yeah,” Anam said. “I think you guys are really cool, too!”

“You do?” Owen said. “Even if I…”

“Well, once you guys are in control of yourselves… you’ll be all-cool and not scary at all!”

“Maybe a little scary,” Amia said with a titter. “Just like your powers, Anam. You can control it, but you’re still scared of your Ghosts!”

“Th-that’s not fair!”

For just a second, Owen saw little lights in the green orbs that lined the Goodra’s neck and tail. It was as if the spirits within Anam were laughing. The Goodra blushed a deep purple and covered his eyes with his fat antennae.

A calm silence followed for some time until Anam suddenly stopped walking.

“Uh—are you okay?” Owen asked, looking back at the Heart of Hearts.

“Um—what’s that?” Anam asked, pointing down the corridor.

To the normal eye, it was just a hallway. But to the aura eye there was something in the right wall that gave off a faint glow. “Hmm.” Amia squinted, concentrating on the otherwise normal, twisted Dungeon wall. “So that’s what Star meant. It must be a burrow of some kind.”

Amia carefully stepped toward the wall and tried to move some of the rocks aside. Her hands passed through. “Wh—” Amia looked at the others. “It’s… it’s an illusion.”

“An illusion?” Anam said.

“Well the Electric Guardian is a Zoroark,” Owen theorized. “They’re great at illusions, and maybe her Mystic aura is amplifying it. Her name’s Enet, right?”

“Right, a Zoroark.” Amia balled up her fist, forming a weak, pink aura, like she was debating on whether channeling Fairy energy would be better or worse when approaching. She must have decided worse, because the aura faded.

“We should be careful,” Owen advised. “For all I know, she might be able to mess with more than just sight and sound. Maybe she can mess with all of our senses, right? …Guys?” The little Charmander turned around. They were gone. Alert, his tail-flame grew bright. “Oh… good. I hope they heard me.”

Owen sighed and closed his eyes, trying to focus. It was incredibly dark. If it wasn’t for his tail, he wouldn’t be able to see more than a foot ahead of him, even with the dim, Mystic glow. Still, he had a vague recollection that he wouldn’t need his eyes if he could just use his perception abilities to feel the world around him. It was a shame, then, that as a Charmander, those powers were almost completely sealed, no better than a basic Foresight technique.

The burrow was big enough for even Anam to step through, though he’d need to crouch down for it. That left a lot of room for Owen to walk through the tunnels; he decided, for now, that the best thing to do was go forward.

What could he do to counteract the illusions? He still didn’t know the extent of her power, but he could at least try to navigate forward again. There was a wall. He tried to step through it—and it worked. Owen smirked; with new confidence, he approached another wall and walked toward it—and then, through it. “What, is it just a straight shot?” Owen said.

He kept walking. This time, he saw a pit ahead and no other way around. “So, it’s a fake pit,” he mumbled, and kept walking. He stepped on the air like it was solid ground. He felt soil beneath his feet. Another illusion.

He cleared the pit and advanced. It seemed like a straight line from then on, with a clear exit ahead of him. So, Owen stopped. He looked down at the ground and saw a stone nearby. Gently, he rolled it across the ground. It fell into the floor a few paces ahead.

“Figured,” he mumbled. This time, it was a real pit, covered by a false ground.

Owen tried to hold his arms out to touch either side of the wall, but his tiny Charmander body didn’t have the span. But he knew one of these walls were fake at some part of the hall. He couldn’t risk going too far ahead for just one side, and alternating between the walls would take too long.

“C’mon, there has to be something I can use in here,” Owen mumbled, rummaging through his bag. He spotted Nevren’s Eviolite and lingered over it, admiring its gentle glint against his tail’s fire. Then, he fiddled with a few seeds, wondering which one would be helpful. None. “Hm?” He pulled out a small bundle of sharp sticks. “Oh, these things,” he said. He never really had to use them, but it didn’t hurt to carry them around to scare off ferals. They doubled as short-lived torches if his tail wasn’t enough. But now? He had an idea.

He grabbed two of the sticks, holding one in each hand. Then, he stretched his arms out as far as he could. It was just enough. Perfect! Owen dragged the ends of the stick along the right side of the wall, taking tentative steps until he couldn’t feel a floor. He stopped and felt the left wall—and, indeed, the wall was false at a small portion of it, and he stepped through. All as planned.

Owen then tripped and, in a single misstep, fell forward and lost control of his surroundings. He yelped and helplessly grabbed for any purchase, but it was too late—he saw something down below. Spikes, even harder and pointier than the sticks that he had lost the second he fell down.

Desperate, he fell back to some Mystic improvisation; claws became vines and latched onto the soft walls, anchoring him in place on either side, dangling in the middle of the pit. He should have done that in the first place; forget those useless sticks!

The spikes below looked… quite sharp, yet also unused. “H-hello?” he called upward. “Anybody…?” The walls were soft and absorbed most of the sound. Without an echo, Owen figured his voice wouldn’t carry very far. He was on his own.

Or, so he thought. Owen? Are you okay? Klent called.

O-oh! Klent! G-good to hear you! Um… no! I don’t think I’m okay.

You seem to be… a bit stuck.

Yeah, I think there are a bunch of illusions here. I can barely see now that I’m Grassy. My tail doesn’t glow as bright. But I can’t turn back to normal without losing my vines—there are spikes down there. I’ll get skewered if I fall!

Only spikes?
Klent asked. Hmm… Well… you can try to climb up, he said. But if you fall, you should be okay.

Okay?! I’ll look like an Aron’s face if I fall down there!

Well, you’ve already been through worse with Manny, haven’t you?

W-well…
Owen didn’t want to look down. He could already imagine the feeling of it piercing his tiny scales and through his chest, forcing poison through his heart. Wait, these spikes weren’t poisonous; where did that thought come—

Just focus, said Klent. If you focus, you’ll be able to take the spikes and then get out of here in one piece. It won’t even hurt. Maybe. Okay?

I, uh, if you say so,
Owen said. It made sense. As a Mystic, injuries weren’t as significant anymore, even if they were mortal wounds. Still, his physical-body instincts were telling him that spikes were bad. He had to push past those. He closed his eyes… slowly, his breathing steadied, and it felt a lot like his pace when he was meditating.

Now… drop.

Putting his faith in Klent, Owen released the vines and fell. Owen briefly wondered if Klent was just telling him this so he could feel what it was like to die. He tensed for only a moment. And then, he relaxed, in that split-second of falling.

If he had to feel that, he deserved it.

He fell for less than a second and hit the ground. “Uff—” He stopped and didn’t move, hesitant to open his eyes. But he had to. His chest… no wounds. He checked the rest of him—nothing.

“Oh, come on!” Owen shouted.

It was just another illusion.

“Okay, now I’m a little irritated,” Owen said, advancing. He felt something strange behind his head and rubbed it. “…That was weird,” he mumbled. It felt like a tingling on his scales.

A loud crack—and Owen was pushed forward with a searing, powerful explosion. He yelped and tried to turn around, but he only saw a glimpse of what appeared to be a dark, furry creature rushing toward him. Red claws.

He knew to duck, narrowly avoiding the strike. “Wait!”

The creature hissed and turned around, fleeing. Owen turned back to his normal form; the light from his fire revealed that it was indeed a Zoroark. It could have been another illusion, but it was his only lead. He chased after her, careful not to trip over anything along the way. The pit seemed to be a hidden floor of the burrow.

It was hard to tell what was what—but this Zoroark was still ahead of him. All he had to do was run a little faster, and—

The Zoroark vanished. “Uh—”

Then came a strike to the back of his head. Owen fell forward with a grunt, clutching at where he was certain a few scales had been scraped off.

“O-ow! D-don’t do that!” he shouted. “I’m trying to help!”

Dizzy, he saw her running in the opposite direction.

“Wait!” Owen shouted, running along with her. He suddenly fell down and into a pit of false spikes again. Despite this, he crossed his arms for a Protect, but there was nothing to block. It only wasted more time. The golden shield illuminated the entire hallway, reminding Owen once again that he had failed to utilize his own powers for this trek. He was getting sloppy.

Scrambling to his feet, Owen decided to improvise with another utility. He plunged them into the soft walls, extending through the soil. “Yes!” Owen said. He felt his arms extend like vines into the walls and out on the opposite side of the hall where Enet had run, blocking her path.

Good—that meant she wouldn’t be able to advance, and he could try to—

Enet sliced her claws through the vines, breaking them cleanly apart.

“AAAAAAAAA!”

Owen retracted his vines into his arms, only to see that a few of his fingers were missing. “Ohhh, that hurts,” Owen mumbled, holding them under his pits.

You probably shouldn’t have put pain receptors in those, Klent said.

I can take those away?! Owen said. Tell me next time!

Well, I guess it’s natural to have them…


Owen whimpered, turning one of his fingers into a vine to grab an Oran from his bag. He popped it in and let the healing aura rush through him—and thankfully, into his fingers, where the tiny things quickly grew back.

“Thank Anam’s blessings,” Owen mumbled, staring ahead. Enet ran off… How was he supposed to catch up to her now? A Charmander’s stubby legs would never be able to catch up to a Zoroark. All he could do was yell and hope she heard, even in the soft, sound-absorbing walls of her den.

“ENET!” Owen yelled. “WAIT!”

Owen rubbed his throat. “I need to get used to yelling more,” he mumbled, coughing.

You know, you don’t need to talk out loud. We can hear your thoughts.

He walked briskly down the hall and over the vines that Enet had sliced through. He turned the corner and saw Enet running right toward him. “Eep—!” He didn’t expect it to be that quick. “Enet, I—”

Enet pounced on him and bit him on the shoulder. Owen roared in some strange mixture of pain, fear, and annoyance. Reflexively, he brought his arms together before she could do any further damage, sending a shield of light out to push her away. The Zoroark jumped off of him with a rude kick to the barrier and bounded in the opposite direction again.

“Ugh—she can’t get away,” Owen mumbled. “Enet!”

But then—to Owen’s surprise—the Zoroark stopped. For a few seconds, she didn’t do anything. Didn’t turn around, didn’t keep running.

The bite mark Enet left on his ill-defined shoulder simultaneously massive and shallow. It’d heal on its own.

“Th-that’s your name, right?” Owen said, tentatively prodding at where Enet bit. Bruised, but that was all. Despite being a Charmander, he was becoming quite durable! He wondered if he should be worried at how he was becoming accustomed to the regular maiming. “Star told me about you, Enet. You’re… you’re the Electric Guardian, right?”

Finally, she faced the Charmander. The Zoroark stared at Owen with wide, fearful eyes. She was crouched, ready to flee, powerful muscles tense for immediate action.

Owen stood awkwardly. “Um… so, I don’t want to hurt you, okay? The other two who were with me—Anam and Amia? We, um, we wanted to take you someplace safe. It’s okay. And… it’s rude to bite people.”

Enet stared at Owen without even an ounce of recognition or realization.

“Um… Enet?”

Her ears flicked at her name. Owen, in the dim light, was able to get a better look at her body language. She was panting, anxious, and she couldn’t understand anything beyond her name, based on how her ears twitched at it and nothing else. He saw that sort of stance for her body type often. But it couldn’t be… could it?

“Enet… are… are you… are you a wild Pokémon?” he said. Was that even possible?

But the more he looked, in the silence of her complex burrow, the more it made sense. The Electric Guardian was feral.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Special Episode 2 – What You Deserve

The clear, blue sky taunted his blurry, tear-warped vision. Claws dug into the dirt. A little voice echoed in his mind.

“Hey, Ra, listen. I’m really sorry you’re feeling lonely, and I get it. Can’t you just meditate for a while longer?”

Meditate. It’s what she always asked for. And for what? For what purpose? He was already strong enough. There was no point… “I have been meditating for centuries, Star. Please… I just… I just need somebody to talk to.”

“What about your spirits?”

Ra shook his head, rubbing at one of the giant scales that covered his arms. “It’s not the same… it’s… it’s like I’m…”

“Okay, okay,” she said delicately. “I’ll think of something, Ra. Just for you.”


Lightning shattered the sky.

Thunder deafened all of Nightshade Forest’s inhabitants. Wild Pokémon fled in all directions, all but one. The lightning struck the ground around this lone feral, the strongest of Nightshade. The one that he had been watching grow since it was just a little, talented hatchling. It kicked up dead leaves and splintered wood with each bolt that redirected her.

“Ra! STOP!” Star cried, her misty form clutching onto his arm.

“Your words are MEANINGLESS!” Ra roared back, shoving her away. He slammed his scaly arms against his chest, causing another thunderous boom; at the same time, the sky shattered, sending bolt after bolt into the ground. Rain covered the Kommo-o’s scales. Electricity danced at the end of his tail and sparks flew across every large plate of his body.

He vanished into electricity, surging upward and into the sky. The inky darkness gave way to white, blinding bolts.

From above, disembodied and one with the clouds, the Electric Guardian watched the scattering forms of the forest. The fire grew where he wanted. The ferals fled. The rescuers went in for the weakling stragglers. It was all just a dance of struggle. A dance he had long since overcome—an existence that he wanted nothing more than to abandon.

Memories echoed in his mind. They were words that cut him more than any claw.

“Hey, Ra! Look at that little lady, eh? She’s a little uggo, but I think she’s your type. Eh? Eh?”

Ra wasn’t sure what ‘uggo’ meant. Apparently, Star found someone of his ‘type.’ What exactly did that mean? Another Dragon-Fighter?

“You understand why I am skeptical.”

“Ugh, just go in the clouds. Check it out. I bet you’ll like what you see.”

Ra humored her, looking below—an Aggron?
That was his type? That wasn’t anything like a Dragon! But… now that she mentioned it, there was something more. What was it? Ra looked closer. “Star… her aura…” For some reason, it felt like he had seen her for so long already.

“See, I knew you’d like her! Now go warm her icy heart.”


The world trembled. A Charmander struggled through the rain with a Bulbasaur over his shoulder, meeting with a Delphox and his team. After an exchange, they separated, the Salazzle of that team advancing with the Charmander.

Where was the feral? He sent another bolt of lightning down. He ignored Star’s protests and watched his home burn.

“Ouch!” Aggron put her claw in her mouth as if it would help. “You sparked me! How rude—are you not able to control your Electricity at all?!”

Ra shrugged indifferently. “I warned you. You should have been more careful.”

Frost surrounded the plants near her. “Insolence! What kind of potential mate do you consider yourself?!”

The ice did not make Ra flinch, even as it crawled over his scales. “A very strong one.”

The ice stopped. Aggron glared at him, crossing her arms. “Incredible.”


Oh, and who was that? Yes, yes. He saw someone. But what was it? It was too difficult to tell from this far up. Should he come closer? No. He saw it now. He saw the little flame on his tail. That flame seemed to appear out of nowhere. Charmander! Another one! He seemed to be helping with a Jolteon after he’d caught up with the Salazzle-Charmander duo. Yet his aura was quite strange. Their auras—both of theirs—felt suppressed, but in different ways.

Where was that feral? There she is. Yes, keep coming. Closer, closer. She was just what Star deserved.

They nearly had the Jolteon awake. They were too close to Ra, though. If they got too far into the forest, they would certainly find him. And then what? Star might even get a proper minion out of them. That wouldn’t do.

Static formed in the clouds, ready to shoot down and into the trees. This time, he wouldn’t miss. The Charmander. That same Charmander that carried the Bulbasaur to safety. That light in his eyes. How irritating to see. He’d snuff out his aura first.

Ra took aim. A bolt of lightning went straight for the little thing—but, midway through, it diverted and gravitated for the Jolteon instead. The Salazzle was fried right through her back. Perhaps Jolteon attracted the electricity. How inconvenient.

His power was fading—he had to land to recover. He took a few fleeting seconds to check on the feral. Closer, closer. She was still going blindly in the right direction, right to him.

Ra landed back in the forest with a rough grunt. “Perfect.”

“Ra, stop this!” Star bumped weakly against him; she felt like a breeze. “Why?! What did I do?! I’m just trying to—”

“You know what you did.”

“I don’t!” Star said. Her tiny, transparent hands grabbed the Kommo-o’s giant scale on his left shoulder. “Please! Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it! Okay? I’ll fix it! I can, I promise!”

Ra stared at Star, glaring a hole through her head. Thunder boomed above—whether that was from a latent surge of his power or the natural momentum of the weather, he did not know or care. The rain drowned out the sound, splashing over his shoulders and dripping down his forehead. He could barely hear Star. The rain, too, passed through her body, only briefly slowed by her presence.

“Please, Ra,” Star said. “You know I can’t read your mind from here. Is this about Step?”

Ra and the Aggron sat next to each other at the edge of the forest in a rare moment of serenity. The Hunters seemed to have calmed their activities lately, and he sensed no odd auras in Nightshade Forest. The sunlight was welcome.

“I have to comment, Ra,” she said, “For someone who follows Mew, you’re quite Arceus-like.”

Ra squinted at her. “And that means?”

“Hmm…” She crossed her arms, making a deep, metallic boom when they hit one another. “Why do you like Her more than Him?”

Ra twisted his face into one of concentration and uncertainty. “That’s… a difficult question, Step.”

Step’s frozen face expressed her skepticism through her eyes. “Oh? More difficult than ‘Do you love me?’”

Ra looked to the ground instantly.

If Step’s metallic face was capable of smirking, Ra was sure she would have. Instead, he felt it in her voice. “Indeed,” she said. “You said I should be more direct. I am granting that wish.”

Ra taunted Step with his own smirk. “Hmph. How silly. That’s an easy one to answer.”

“Oh?”


Ra reached out and grabbed Star’s tiny, transparent body by the chest. His massive claws easily wrapped around her. He pulled her close, staring into her eyes with a gaze so piercing, he was certain it was giving her a headache.

“Your incessant need to fix things,” he said, “is itself what must be fixed.”

He slammed Star’s body into the ground. She cried out in surprise when his claws pierced her gut, cleaving through her ethereal form like pudding. With another swipe, the Kommo-o sliced her aura in half. She evaporated away, returning to Ra as nothing but a blue ember.

He didn’t spend too long relishing the feeling of finally making Star disappear, if only for a few seconds. Every moment counted. Ra closed his eyes, ready to become the clouds for the last time. He could feel his power fading. Everything that kept him alive… fading. It wouldn’t be long now. A sick smirk spread across Ra’s face.

It was time for someone more appropriate to take on Guardianship.

With another crackle, electrical arcs danced over his scales. He shot into the clouds. She was coming right into his abode. He had to act fast. The two Charmander, meanwhile, were running toward the Nightshade Forest Dungeon. Now, why would they bother with that? They must have been trying to save the doomed in there.

He felt the smallest ounce of hope that those two would be successful. Two Charmander, saving those that got trapped in the Dungeon? They may survive the fire, but those trapped would burn. But maybe, just maybe… Ra grunted, shoving the thoughts away.

Ra fell to the ground one last time and spread his arms wide. Five blue embers shot out in all directions, manifesting themselves into similarly crackling spirits.

“Bring her here!” Ra shouted.

They all nodded and bolted into the shadows. Ra watched them for a few seconds, listening to the thunder boom. He closed his eyes again, ignoring Star’s pleas to stop. It was too late for that. His power was already waning, and he was surely attracting the Hunters here at the same time.

Step twirled on her feet with newfound grace. She wasn’t an Aggron, but instead a fellow Kommo-o. Star had apparently taught her the technique, based off of those strange Orbs invented in a faraway city. While the transformation was temporary, it was long, and it would last for what they wanted.

“Ra… Are you sure?”

Ra nodded. “I’ve never felt so sure about something in my life.”

Step raised a paw to her chin in concern. “Star warned—"

“Star has been wrong before,” Ra said quickly. “About a lot of things, apparently. So, I am sure. There is no need to concern yourself with a dead god’s warning.”

She stared at Ra, sighing. “Very well. If you’re so sure… we shall try, just once.”

“Twice.”

Step widened her eyes and then smirked. Ra liked her smile in this form. “Twice? How eager. Am I that desirable?”

“I want two.”

“Ra, did your Dragon culture never teach you how to speak to a lady?”

Ra pondered this. He realized his error. “I would like to have two, please, Lady Step.”

Step’s expression did not change. “You… are hopeless.” Yet she approached him, wrapping her arms around his neck. Their muzzles touched, and shortly after they were cheek to cheek, chest to chest, tails entwined.


“She’s coming,” Ra said. “It’s time… it’s time, it’s time…” Despite how long he’d thought about this moment, his heart still pounded. Something primal, he imagined. Self-preservation. A Dragon’s pride to live through any struggle. But he was past that. He had ascended into being Star’s little demigod long ago. But now, after conjuring a single freak storm, he felt mortal again.

It was wonderful.

And now, he was ready to take full advantage of his mortality. A charge formed in the skies above him and the world flashed. Lightning struck him: straight through his spine and into the ground. He collapsed instantly, and his vision and hearing were gone completely. But he could still feel. He felt the pain of the electricity rocketing through him, the charred scales and flesh of his mortal body, the tense muscles spasming.

He grunted and convulsed—somehow, his hearing returned, though not his sight. Or perhaps it was simply too dark to see. And his own breathing was raspy. He tasted something metallic. Something was partly missing in his mouth. What was it? Oh, it was probably his tongue. He must have bitten it when he had been struck. No matter. He was still alive, and that was irritating.

Even with his ringing ears, Star’s pleading was the loudest of all. He refused to listen. He couldn’t believe how durable his mortal body was. Could he stand?

He knew physical pain. He knew all sorts of physical pain in his long life. But in his isolation, the few mental wounds he sustained cut deeper than any battle. His immortal body healed from those.

Regrets lasted much longer.

“This way!” Ra shouted.

“Pops!”

“Daddy!”

Ra scooped the two Jangmo-o just in time to evade an incoming blast of Fairy energy. The explosion grazed him and boiled his aura, but he refused to stumble. He ran faster, his two daughters fixated on something behind him. Step, the Aggron, was still holding them off. He didn’t even get a look at what it had been, only the blast that had rendered his tail nothing but a numb lump that dragged behind him.

Step roared, slamming her tail on the ground, as a flurry of ice obscured everything around her. Something else screeched; the mutant fell in a frozen heap, but two more took its place, and Step had to retreat.

Ra couldn’t shout for her. They’d know his location. His kids were still too weak to fight back. They could only thank the stars that it wasn’t an actual Hunter that had found them and only a rogue squad of mutants. But even if they killed them, they’d somehow find out about their presence; they’d have to relocate yet again.

“Mom…” Cent said, shivering. “Is she okay?”

Ra rubbed the back of Cent’s head and tapped the great scale on her forehead. “Your mother is too strong to fall to them,” he lied. He then set them down.

Kana knew immediately. “Dad, wait—”

“Stay here,” Ra said. “Don’t move.”

“Wait!” Cent shouted.

“Shh.”

“We want to fight, too!”

The fire in their eyes made him proud. He’d have to do something to comply with their requests, but now was not the time.

“You’re too weak.” It stung for Ra to say that, and he knew it’d hurt them even more, but it was true. “Stay here.”

They watched helplessly, but they obeyed, and Ra ran through the forest just in time to see Step’s icy arm shatter into pieces.


The Kommo-o was still alive. He slowly stood up, trembling, as his claws dug into the dirt. That Mystic power was almost completely gone. All that was left was the residual power of his spirits. They were persisting enough to guide the wild Pokémon his way. But if he was alive when she arrived, the whole plan would be pointless. He’d have nothing to give her.

There was something in his chest. He realized only seconds later that it was his heart, struggling to beat. But it would last too long. His Dragon pride refused to let him die, even now. “Cursed power… even as a mortal, I’m too strong for myself…” he wheezed. “No matter… I only need… to…” He raised his right hand up, claws clenching. “Star,” he said, barely able to hear her begging cries. “This is for you.”

His claws lit up with blue, dragon fire. For just one second, he hesitated, his mind envisioning those long, indigo flames carving into him. But that was all he spared for himself. He took one last breath.

“It’s my turn.” Step glared at Ra, her one hand squeezed tight. The other one was nothing but a slowly regenerating, icy nub.

At least she wasn’t totally armless by now, but those attacks by the mutants had harmed her so badly that not even Orans could heal them properly. It had been a moon.

“Nonsense, Step,” Ra said. “I will hunt. I know a patch of berries, too. You can rest with—”

“It’s
my turn,” Step said, slamming her tail on the ground. Cent and Kana flinched, neither one wanting to interfere, yet they watched from the side in their little, dark cavern of leaves and twisted Dungeon walls.

“W-we’ll be fine. There’s still some food left,” Cent said. “You guys don’t need to eat anyway! We’ll… um…”

Step was already walking away, leaving Ra no choice but to stay behind with them. He could only pray to Star that she would return safely.

The crestfallen faces of his daughters haunted him. Cooped up in the cave without a chance to leave; the spirits helped teach them how to live normally, and perhaps one day they would be able to, but…

They were still hiding from the mutants and the Hunters. They were too weak to fight back, but he could see the Dragon fire within their hearts.

“Cent,” Ra said. “Kana.”

They looked up, helpless.

“If you want to fight with us,” he said, “we need to train.”

At first, they were confused, but then their eyes lit up. Ra’s expression mirrored theirs.


Claws plunged into his chest.

“GHHAAAAAAAAUUUU—”

Ra couldn’t scream after half of a second. The pain was immeasurable. He forgot what it was like to feel that mortal sort of pain. As a Guardian, he always dulled it. No such luxury blessed him this time.

That meant it was working.

Ra pulled his claws out, convulsing. His mouth tasted nothing but metal. It was too dark to tell what he had pulled out, but it felt very important. He tossed it aside. He wanted to go again. He wasn’t dead yet. Had to keep going. Star’s voice had fallen silent. In fact, everything was silent. It was odd. That pounding in his ears had been so persistent seconds ago.

In that last, fleeting moment, Ra felt something new and warm—no, hot—inside his chest. And it was one of the few things that lit up the stormy night. He recognized that cursed glow. The dim, yellow glow, like his soul—but it was anything but. If anything, it had been his soul’s prison. The Electric Orb. It had returned, no longer finding any use in its host.

With the very last of his strength, Ra brought his hand into his chest and pulled it out; blood fell away from its smooth surface easily. He gave it a weak toss forward—it was all he could manage—and fell backward with a smile on his face.

Cent lay crumpled on the ground with labored breathing and an open wound on her side. The little Dragon tried to move, but one of her legs was bent at an odd angle.

Ra watched with cold indifference. “You’re still weak. Try harder. Stand.” He cleaned the blood off of his claws with a flick.

Step—her arm was fully healed, now—watched with an open mouth. She shook her head, stepping toward him. “Ra, you’re going too hard on them!”

Kana stood trembling next to Cent. She nuzzled her side desperately, but she only whimpered in reply. She stared up at Ra. “Dad! Stop! Cent’s bleeding!”

“Pops… it hurts,” Cent said weakly.

Ra narrowed his eyes. This was the way that his kind trained. Nothing more, nothing less. He wasn’t going to break from tradition. They were Dragons. Such injuries were trivial. They had asked to become stronger; they had been showing so much progress already! It had simply been time to increase the difficulty.

He could sense it in their auras; the light of evolution would bless them today.

“I shall not repeat myself.”

Cent gasped for air.

Ra shook his head. They had to evolve; it would surely give them the edge they needed against the Hunters. Otherwise, they would have to stay behind again.

Ra raised his arm to scratch his cheek, wondering if a break was warranted anyway.

“Ra, love, STOP!” She grabbed Ra’s arm, holding him firmly.

Ra stared at Step, baffled, and then looked at his two daughters. Barely, his eyes softened. But what burned into his memory the most was her cold glare. He’d never forget it.


First, there was pain. Then, numbness. And after a while, he wasn’t sure what he was feeling. His mind wasn’t working as it should have. With so little blood, he was starting to hallucinate. Strange figures filled his unseeing eyes. He thought he saw Star with her arms outstretched, golden wings waiting to greet him. But he knew those were hallucinations. They weren’t really Star. Because he knew Star. She was not going to greet him with such a smile.

And then that, too, faded to black. For a few fleeting, precious moments, Ra didn’t think. He was only there, or perhaps not there, with his final, vague thought being that he had succeeded. And then, like being disturbed from a great slumber, he opened his eyes.

“Bother me, will you?” Ra mumbled to the world. He lifted his arm. He felt weak all over. Every movement felt like a chore and—in a brief moment of panic—he thought he was alive again. He felt his chest—it was intact, but it felt unreal at the same time. And then he looked down.

It was his body, still bleeding a bit, though most of it had drained away or pooled in the great hole he had left behind. His body spasmed a few times, flexing the claws. The tail twitched randomly. One arm even made an odd motion toward the chest, pressing down. Ra smirked. Even when he was dead, he still persisted. Or perhaps it was some quirk of the body that he did not understand. There was no point in learning; he was dead, after all. Instead, he looked at his fading claws. Yes. Without a body, his aura was rapidly dissolving. His time was fleeting. But he had to persist. He wanted to see it happen. He had to.

And so, the bodiless aura waited. He was sure that his solid spirits would be fading soon, too, now that their source of power was gone.

There she was. Ahh, it was wonderful to see her up close. He never had the opportunity. It was ironic he had to be dead to see her, but that didn’t matter. The Electric Orb glowed faintly a few paces away from his body. He saw the fading spirits chasing her down.

Ra stood in the small den that they called their home. Yet another new one, because they had to keep changing locations to throw off the Hunters, just in case. A humble burrow in Nightshade, lit only by Mystic power. Step was opposite to him, by the entrance. Behind her, where Ra could not see but could only sense, were Cent and Kana.

Ra gulped. “I’m… sorry.”

Step’s intense glare didn’t let up. “She’s never going to fight again, Ra. You traumatized her. They aren’t like you.”

“I’m sorry.”

Step shook her head. “You cannot forget about mortals, Ra. This Guardian business… your silly Dragon traditions… you’ve lost touch with how reality is for them. They aren’t like us, Ra. They aren’t. We are from another era. We need to acknowledge that.”

“I’m… I’m sorry.” His voice trembled. There was nothing more that he knew to say. What more was there to say?

Step sighed. She turned around. “Ra… I need to go. They can’t see you right now.”

Kana peeked in from the side to look at him. Ra made eye contact. She quickly flinched and hid away.

Ra stared at her metal back. “Please… Step…”

“No, Ra.”

“Please…”

Step’s head lowered but she didn’t turn around. “I’ll… visit.”


Zoroark were such clever creatures. They made illusions that could fool entire populations, should they become skilled enough. Quite a few precautions were needed just to not be fooled by one. This particular Zoroark was the most talented of all of Nightshade Forest, able to shift whole clearings into her personal darkness.

But she was also feral. And that was perfect for Star. A well-deserved Guardian indeed. The five spirits were closing in, wise to her illusions. No matter how talented she was, she was still feral, following instincts and easy patterns. He and his spirits knew her habits like the back of their claws.

Dead claws! Ra felt another swell of spiteful joy at the thought. But he had little time to celebrate again; she was finally here. The spirits drew her straight into the middle of the clearing, and she was running toward the Orb. Her eyes flashed with interest, and by some intense curiosity, she went right to it and picked it up.

She promptly collapsed, tumbling into the dirt. Ra blinked. He thought it would be a lot harder to coax the feral to touch the thing. Still, that made the rest of their job all the easier.

“Ra!” one of his spirits said. “You did it?!”

“Yes!” Ra grinned. “I am finally finished. You may return to the Orb if you wish… but…” He stared at his claws. “But I believe I am ready to leave.”

“Shouldn’t we help her to the Core?” asked one spirit.

“What’s there to help?”

“Star will try to stop her.”

“And leave the Orb exposed?”

“There is no telling.”

Ra growled, thoughtful. Yes. She might try that. “Very well.”

And while his aura was barely able to hold its form, he floated to the orb and plunged his cloudy arm into it. The rest of him followed.

“Pops?”

Ra jolted out of his meditation. His head swiveled around until he saw the Hakamo-o. His chest rose and he eagerly stepped toward her.

“Kana! Oh—hello, Kana. How is your mother?”

He looked to the right for the berries that he’d been saving for when they visited, but then realized, just by the look, that they were rotten. It had been so long… He hoped that Kana didn’t notice. But he followed her eyes. She glanced at it, but then looked away. How polite of her, ignoring it for his sake. How embarrassing. He should have remembered to replenish it. It was polite to give mortals food, right?

Kana shifted awkwardly. “Mom’s the same as always… Can’t visit her as much since it’s so cold, but… The occasional Heart mission goes to that part of the world, and I always grab it.”

Ra nodded, clasping his claws together in thought. He nervously picked at his claws, hesitant to ask the next question. So, he substituted it with another. “You’ve become so strong, Kana,” he said. “And Cent, how’s she doing with her hospital work?”

“Good,” Kana replied simply, though she did smile.

“That’s good, that’s good.” His throat felt dry. “Will… they be visiting soon?”


Ra gasped for air that he did not need. He stared into the black heavens. There was no light from that starless sky, but he could still see his arms. They weren’t lit by any Mystic glow. The ground itself was aglow with sparks of white electricity coursing through damp, puffy clouds, somehow solid enough to walk on.

He knew that clouds did not normally operate this way. Yet by Star’s whimsical magic, they behaved as such in this place—the Electric Realm, Thundercloud Temple. Another surge of electricity danced harmlessly past him, lighting up his massive, plate-sized scales from below.

He watched the surge move across the clouds and toward a great cluster in the center of a lumpy, gray field. White sparks coursed through the strange structure like blood, revealing its building-like architecture. It had five spires—four corners and a tall center—connected at the bottom by walls that formed a square. The Core was in the center of the lower floors.

“Ra!” a spirit called.

The ex-Guardian—the very thought thrilled him—spun around, grinning. But it wavered when he saw the huge, shelled Pokémon’s urgent look.

“What?” Ra asked the Turtonator.

His shell was an electric blue with sparks dancing across the edges. “We have to help the Zoroark! Star’s trying to stop her!”

“Oh, perfect,” Ra hissed.

The Turtonator struggled to keep up, but Ra understood that he’d just have to race ahead. As a reflex, he tried to sink into the clouds as electricity. Then the reality hit him—as he was no longer a Guardian, he could no longer Electrify. He was a foreign entity in this Orb, just like Zoroark. He had to go on foot.

“Why can’t you Electrify?” Ra shouted back to Turtonator.

“Star’s aura is disrupting it, or something,” he said. “Keep trying! It’ll distract her!”

“Ngh, so she truly intends to kill her, just to keep her from becoming the new Guardian?” Ra said. “Doesn’t she realize that if the Orb is unguarded, anybody could get it? I at least gave her the charity of picking the forest’s strongest feral.”

Turtonator puffed a few times, his entire shell wobbling with each step. He struggled over the soft clouds, tripping over himself. “Ungh—go on ahead, Ra! You’re much faster! You—”

Ra wasn’t even listening. He just kept running.

“Y-yes, well… don’t worry about me or anything…”

Ra heard someone stumble toward his hidden abode. He sensed her aura before and used little pulses of electricity to guide her closer. But she was so slow… and her aura, so weak. He stood up with concern when he realized her pace was at half the speed it usually was.

“Cent… what happened? You look so different!”

Indeed, half of the Kommo-o’s scales were missing. Large plates, gone. What remained looked faded and ready to fall like autumn leaves.

“What’re you talking about? It’s called aging, Dad. You should try it some time. Actually, no. Don’t. It’s pretty rough.” She shifted her weight uncertainly. “I guess you were right after all, though. A Dragon that doesn’t fight wastes away faster.”

That one tore his heart in half. “Cent, you know that’s not true,” he said. During all her visits, he’d said so many times how strong Cent was—stronger than he’d ever be—for her tireless efforts at healing other Pokémon. She’d even helped Kana when her missions with the Hearts went awry.

“Well,” Cent said, looking off. “I just wish I wasn’t weak.”

From halves to quarters. “Don’t be silly,” Ra said, easing her onto a seat. It had been specially made—extra soft—just for when they visited. It was supposed to be easy on stiff joints.

She complied, though not without a creaky groan. When Ra pulled away, his palms felt dusty. After inspecting them…

“But your scales… They’re falling away!”

“I, uh, look, I’m getting it checked, alright? Don’t worry about it.”


Up close, Thundercloud Temple towered over Ra. The door’s entrance alone was as thick as his body and went across seven of his full arm spans. The entrance also rippled with distorted light—within, it was going to be the Orb’s Dungeon. But it was nothing he wasn’t familiar with. Without stopping, Ra went straight into the temple. The moment he did, the doorway behind him snapped into a wall. Clouds shifted and softened in some places and materialized and hardened in others instantly. His entire surroundings had changed.

And Ra stopped. “…No,” he said. “What is this? What happened? What—”

The ground below him swelled. Solid clouds liquefied into some strange, cold mush, electricity coursing through his body. He jumped away, body trembling on its own from the surge. He wasn’t an Electric Guardian anymore—and as much as he liked that, it meant he would be vulnerable. He didn’t have time to acclimate to its atmosphere. He was just a normal Kommo-o spirit. He had to be careful. He wasn’t sure what happened to unacclimated spirits that perished within an Orb. Normally, Electric spirits returned to the Core to recover. But he wasn’t Electric yet. Where would he go?

Still, it was too late to turn back. He was within the Dungeon. The only way through now was the Core. But what happened to it?

Thundercloud Temple used to be a blessed Dungeon, like all the others in the world, physical or spiritual. Benevolent Mystic energy coursed through it, providing useful boons to travelers such as blessed berries and trinkets. Even in the Orb, such things existed within Dungeons to assist in safe travel. It also helped to stabilize the Dungeon’s architecture in and of itself. Hallways and rooms, connected to one another, leading from one segment to the next.

But now?

Ra saw the wall behind him collapse, revealing another room. In it, a great fissure in the clouds revealed a black void below. Ra did not want to imagine the fate of someone who fell into it.

He sank partly into the ground. The clouds below him softened. He had to move before his fate to the void became a reality. He spun around and ran, realizing that the Zoroark must be in here somewhere, too.

Thundercloud Temple was a single-segment Dungeon. Apparently, that was how the spiritual Dungeons operated. Intuitively, the Core was near the middle. He looked up. Could the Core be above? Or is it on the first floor? Where were the stairs? The Temple had stairs leading up and down in a multi-floor labyrinth. The path was never the same. He often went into it to clear his head, as the monotony of walking combined with the thought of remembering his path helped distract him from his troubles.

The ground shook again. He just needed a sign. He closed his eyes, but then realized he had no means of sensing aura anymore. It was as if a part of his vision was forever lost. How was he dead, and yet still felt mortal?

Ra didn’t know what to think of his new surroundings. It was a miracle that he was able to navigate his way to the mountain at all. Waypoints were such a strange, disorienting technology.

An Aggron glared at him. “You shouldn’t have come to Kilo Village, Ra.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

She shook her head. “Love… why would—"

Ra jumped. “L-love? You called me…?”

Step answered Ra with a long silence. She avoided his eyes, glaring at the walls of the hospital. “A slip of the tongue.”

Ra deflated, looking at the opposite wall. “…I just wanted to see her.”

“And risk your life?” Step asked, glancing out the window as if she’d see a Hunter right there. None came.

“Her life is worth more.”

Step grunted, gently knocking her fist against the wall. It left a fist-shaped dent. She quietly scooted her body so it’d block anybody from seeing it.

Step sighed slowly, her breath whistling past her metallic jaws. “…You… foolish idiot. You… foolish…”

“You came, too, you know.”

“I detest our similarities.”

Despite everything, Ra gathered enough courage to touch her shoulder. She didn’t resist, so he squeezed a little so it would register against her steel hide.

“Enough,” Step said, jerking away. “Ra, we… can’t be together. Two auras together are too easy for the mutants to detect.”

He knew that. He didn’t want to care anymore. If the mutants got them, so be it—it felt like he’d known Step for far longer than the decades they’d spent. It felt more like they had known each other for lifetimes, ages! To forcibly split themselves apart—he could see how bitter it was turning her. How desperate and broken their spirits were becoming.

“Please,” Ra said.

Step’s claws left little dents in her own arms. “Star was wrong to unite us.”


After some wandering, being careful to avoid the voids in the clouds and the ground that looked questionably soft, he saw his first sign of life. A Manectric dashed past him, skidding to a stop. His paws tossed up hazy vapor.

“Ra!” he said.

“Where is the Zoroark?”

“Further in—or further out? I don’t know—the temple, it keeps shuffling. It’s in total chaos!”

“Why?!”

“I think Star revoked all of the blessings. It’s not a blessed Dungeon anymore—it’s—it’s just pure chaos! I don’t think it’s even an untamed Dungeon. I think it’s cursed, not blessed! I—”

The clouds between them shot up, straight through Manectric’s abdomen. It was so quick and violent that it went straight through him, and his front half was separated from his back half. Cyan embers poured from his body.

He gasped in surprise, but then stared up at Ra. “I last saw her running that way!” He pointed his paw to Ra’s left. “Star’s trying to kill her!” And that was all he could say. The embers overtook him and his body evaporated. The remaining puff of existence flew at high speeds further into the Dungeon.

He had to follow it—his spirit was being drawn to the Core. If he followed Manectric, he could at least get closer—at least until he was too far to see. Ra sprinted as fast as he could, tripping over softer lumps on the ground.

Bolts of electricity surged through his legs with every step. He wasn’t sure how he was able to keep walking through it, but perhaps some residual part of his Electric past helped him through the pain. He saw another aura ember move past him and used that as another lead, jumping over a forming fissure before it became too wide to cross.

“The Dungeon is falling apart,” Ra muttered. He looked back. “No. It’s already fallen. Now, it’s just… shifting…”

He heard a yelp and knew immediately who it was—the feral. He finally made it. And he saw someone else there, too—an unmistakable, pink figure flying across the distorted halls. The walls parted ways for her easily, and Ra suspected Manectric’s theories were correct. Star had cursed the Dungeon, all to prevent Zoroark from getting to the Core.

“STAR!” Ra shouted.

The Mew jumped. “R-Ra?!”

Ra slammed his fists against his chest. The reverberations weakened his stance—he knew that he’d be more vulnerable to her—but he was going to do it anyway. He was dead. What more did he have to lose? He slammed his fists against his scales again, sending dragon-enhanced, sonic waves straight for Star.

She shrieked and covered her ears. Ra didn’t stop. He readied another Clanging Scales strike, knowing that this would be the best way to slow her down.

It did not last. A Psychic blast twisted the air around him and he couldn’t dodge in time. He roared when the ground was taken from his feet, spun all the way around until he was on his side. He was lucky that most of the attack had missed, or his spirit would have been torn apart.

Star floated up and flew away.

“How dare you… run away…” Ra staggered up and slammed his fists against his scales again, sending another wave of sound toward Star. It hit right where he wanted and she shrieked, faltering where she stood.

She turned her tiny head around with wide, angry eyes. The Dungeon walls collapsed around them, becoming nothing more than clouds and fog as the entire floor shifted and shuffled. Ra weakly jumped to a part of the ground that felt solid, even while electricity danced around every part of the cloudy floor. But he didn’t step wisely. He sank through the ground instantly and saw a glimpse of the void below.

For just a moment, Ra felt fear.

“Hey, Ra.”

Ra was lying in the middle of the clearing in total silence. He could only hear Star’s voice, but he knew she was somewhere inside his Orb.

“Star.”

“So… I figure you heard the news.”

Ra’s claws strangled the air. Despite this, he spoke calmly. “With life comes death. It means nothing to me.”

“Well… okay.”

Ra grunted. “It’s just fine. I’ll be fine.”

“Mhm. Sure. So, anyway, Hecto spotted her along the aura sea… so… if you want, I can—"

“No,” Ra said, no matter how much it pained him to say it. “Send her to Step, first.”

“You can always just visit her in her realm…”

But Ra knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t face her again. He understood, now, why she visited so rarely. It had nothing to do with their two auras being too much for the mutants to detect. That attack was a fluke and he had overreacted. He had played it over and over in his head for decades. And only once or twice did such an encounter happen again. All that harsh training, all that senseless bloodshed of his own daughters, for nothing.

He did not adapt. His Dragon pride, his Fighting spirit—it was too much for her, and he was too foolish to not compromise for her sake, and for their kids’ sake. This was his punishment.


“Grab him!”

A huge hand grabbed Ra by the arm, stopping his fall. The edge of his tail and the large scales attached to them grazed the blackness below. It evaporated instantly. He jerked his tail up and stared at his savior—an Electivire. The hulking Pokémon smirked and pulled him out of the pit. Just then, a Zebstrika and Vikavolt crackled past them, tackling Star simultaneously.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Star shouted. “Do you realize that if she takes the Core, you’ll all—”

Twin Thunders struck Star; her scream was deafened by the boom.

Ra stared dumbly at the display. He only broke his gaze when he heard a crowd of shouts behind him. That’s when he realized—his Clanging Scales were so loud that they drew all of the spirits his way. They were all coming to him—all of them.

Electivire held Ra by the shoulders, shaking the sense back into him. “Find Zoroark. Bring her to the Core.”

“But you’ll—”

Go!” Electivire threw Ra into the air with a single thrust. Something held the Kommo-o in place after that.

“What—?” He looked back to see a southern Raichu, balanced on her own tail for levitation, holding her tiny paws toward him.

“Get her, Ra!” the southern Raichu said.

He accelerated rapidly over Star and the others. Star glared and held her paw up. Ra felt something squeezing at the inside of his chest, but only for an instant. Seconds later, an Electrode slammed into Star’s back, held in place by a Heliolisk.

“Run! NOW!” Electrode said and then shut his eyes tight.

“Nooo, no, NO!” Star said, but Electrode’s body was already a bright white. He exploded, evaporating the spirits nearest to Star, but not Star herself. Ra knew this only because of the pink sphere that enveloped her, protecting her from the blast, though she still couldn’t see through the smoke.

He smashed through one of the cloudy walls and flew over another void. He tried to get some sort of leverage, but he was helpless in the air. He saw another creature ahead, flying over the fissure. Its ugly face was a relief.

The Eelektross wrapped around him and pulled him over the fissure with what momentum he had, finally letting go when they reached solid ground.

“The Core is just ahead. Zoroark is nearby. See her? There!” He pointed a claw toward a black blur rushing past the collapsing halls to their right. “I don’t know how she did it, but she made it through the Dungeon. She’s a smart feral, that’s for sure.”

Ra nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “Stop Star for me.”

“You got it.”

Near the Core, the ground felt a lot more stable. Perhaps even the shifting portions of this cursed Dungeon was unable to split apart the Core’s general area. He sighed in relief, realizing this, and focused entirely on chasing after Zoroark.

A few spirits were still trailing her. It seemed like she was trying to flee but inadvertently wound up going straight to the Core as they wanted. All she had to do was grab it. They’d force the Core to accept her if they had to, even if Star wasn’t going to allow it. That was easy enough. They just needed time.

He heard it again. Shuffling. Weak, slow shuffling, from a fading aura. “Dad…”

He rushed to the entrance. “Kana… How did you make it here?”

“Not sure myself, heh…”

Her voice was softer than ever. Shaking, even. Her scales were faded, and a few had come off in small patches that never quite grew back. It wasn’t as fast as Cent. No, this was simply age. It happened to the best mortal—death claimed them all in time. All except for Ra.

“Please, sit down. Don’t strain yourself,” Ra said softly. He helped her to the wall, where she gratefully sank down, breathing heavily to recover.

“I just wanted to see you. You know, in person. Before I… can’t make the trip anymore, heh. You wouldn’t understand.” Kana rubbed the back of her head. Her arm trembled when it did. It always trembled—it had been that way for three years, now.

“Kana…”

Kana shook her head. “Pops… I don’t remember where Mom lives.”

He remembered how she had gotten lost before. She had wandered all the way to Nightshade as if it was an old part of her memory coming back, forgetting everything else. Ra had asked Kana about her mate—he had died long ago, too—and Kana didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Can you write down where she lives?” Kana asked. “So I don’t forget.”


The Core’s chamber of Thundercloud Temple was as it always had been. Clouds formed a great dome within the center of the building. Jittering strings sizzled across the fluffy interior, all converging toward the center, where lightning whipped at everything nearby.

He remembered touching this Core long ago. He never knew what happened to the last Guardian. Or was he the first? He had been one for so long, he wouldn’t doubt if that was the case. This world felt so young.

Zoroark entered the chamber. She spun back upon realizing that she was trapped. Ra caught up with the two Pokémon that had chased her inside. First, he looked to the left at a Pachirisu. Then, he looked to the right at an Electric Typhlosion, lightning erupting where flames usually rose.

“Good work,” Ra grunted. “Now we just need to keep her inside this chamber.”

Zoroark hissed at the three of them.

“H-how do we do that?” Pachirisu asked. “We can’t attack her! If we kill her here—”

“Her spirit is strong,” Ra said. “Don’t think she will fall so easily.” He held his arms forward and upward, ready for anything she had for them.

“Stay behind,” Ra said. “Keep an eye out for Star. I will test Zoroark’s strength myself.”

“D-don’t you die, either,” Pachirisu said. “You aren’t tied to the Core!”

“I will be fine.”

Suddenly, countless blue embers flew over Ra and Zoroark’s heads, entering the Core like embers from an exploding fire in reverse. Ra knew that this meant Star just finished dispatching all of the spirits in the Electric Orb. She’d be coming here soon, perhaps even teleporting right inside. Wait. Why hadn’t she done that before?

Was it the chaotic Dungeon? Was that the cause? Why? Did she make it that way herself? No… Perhaps not.

Perhaps Ra himself had done it when he died. Perhaps this realm was in chaos because of his own spirit’s state upon death.

But the reason no longer mattered.

“Zoroark!” Ra shouted, pointing at her. “I challenge you to a—”

Something sharp sliced right through Ra’s back. He roared and stumbled forward, staring at the Zoroark before him. The illusion evaporated. He spun around and swung his arm at the true Zoroark, miraculously connecting.

She responded by crunching down on his scaly arm, breaking through one of the plates. He, in kind, responded by slamming her against the ground, pinning her down. He didn’t have to hurt her too badly. Just keep her steady. He stared up at the Core, too bright to look at directly. He brought his arm up, ran three paces, and slammed Zoroark against the bright light. Electricity and heat surged through them both. She shrieked and flailed, trying to push Ra as far away as she could, but even though her spirit was strong, Ra’s was stronger.

Hands began to emerge from the core—countless paws, tendrils, and limbs wrapping around Enet’s body, digging into her fur and into her spiritual flesh. She screamed, breaking away from it with one final jolt. Ra reached out one last time, but Enet snapped down on his arm instantly—and that was the last his spirit could handle. She crunched straight through it, blue fire pouring out of the wound. He staggered back, clutching at the arm. It didn’t hurt—nothing hurt anymore—but he felt his body evaporating. He felt… fleeting.

No. Not yet. He wasn’t done yet. He focused, and his arm returned to normal. The blue embers faded away, sealed back inside.

The Core glowed brightly. Two embers rushed past him and into it. That only meant—

“Nice try.”

Ra suddenly couldn’t feel his lower body. He fell forward, flat on his face, and used his arms to roll onto his back. He saw his lower half still standing, spewing blue fire. It evaporated in seconds, revealing Star at the entrance, her paw still glowing from the aftereffect of a Psycho Cut. How could she use such a technique? Oh, of course. She wasn’t just a Mew. She was the Mew—designer of all techniques.

Ra knew he was outmatched, but that didn’t matter.

“It’s too late, Star,” Ra said, using his left hand to point at the Core. “It’s too much to stop, now. They already touched her.”

Star’s tiny paws trembled, clenched like fists. Ra just laughed. Sliced in half, lying helplessly on the ground before his Creator. Ra never felt so free.

Zoroark hissed at Ra, rushing toward Star. The Mew flinched but then realized that she was hiding behind her for safety.

“What will you do, Star?” Ra asked. “Will you kill her? Your own child?”

“Don’t use that line on me,” Star hissed. “Practically everybody’s my child!”

“And look at how you treat them,” Ra said, holding his chest mockingly. “I’m so hurt, mother.”

“Oh, like you’re one to talk,” Star said. “As if you can tell me you never beat up your kids.”

Ra’s smile was obliterated.

Star looked down at Zoroark. The feral looked up at Mew with wide, ignorant eyes. She pointed at Ra commandingly.

Star raised her paw. Pure fighting energy collected at the tip—a Focus Blast. At the same time, countless white filaments of light emerged from her back like wings.

“You’re really going to do it,” Ra said. “I suppose you’re showing your true colors, now, aren’t you?” he said. “Pathetic. Truly pathetic. Just to keep your precious Orb safe, you’ll obliterate an innocent feral.”

“One that you tricked into coming here,” Star said, but the energy in her paw flickered.

Zoroark stared at Star for a while longer, clearly not realizing that Star intended to destroy her.

“And then what?” Ra said. “The Orb has nobody. A Hunter will get it. Then what? I did you a favor. I gave you a strong replacement.”

“She’s hardly strong,” Star shouted. “She can’t even talk! What good is that?!” She winced. “I’ll just have to find someone else. I’ll draw in a new hero. I’ll make them a Guardian instead, and we can start from scratch. Easy.”

Ra laughed weakly. “But didn’t you forget, Star?” he said, pointing at her. “It’s already too late.”

The Core flashed. Countless wads of electricity and light exploded out from the chamber, surrounding Star from all sides. Zoroark screamed and ran away, but one of the beams of light latched onto her, piercing her through her back. She wailed and tried to slice it off, but it was already a part of her soul. It dragged her to the Core, even as her claws dug into the clouds. She shook her whole body, flailing.

“STOP!” Star roared.

Electric spirits solidified around her. Countless Pokémon. Ra knew the name of every single one. He knew their Electric spirits, and he knew the bodies they used to be long before. Some never abandoned it completely. He saw the Electric Typhlosion again, blasting Star with balls of white sparks. He saw a Luxray—long ago, he had been a Nidoking, but had since chosen a different form to take, after so many centuries of being dead.

All of them barraged Star, attack after attack. Her tendrils of light exploded out, piercing through some of the spirits. The air spun with every Psychic blast. Blue embers poured back into the Core, only to be replaced by new spirits ready to fight.

Zoroark was pinned against the Core by her own link to it. She was sinking, still screaming. Limbs of spirits in the Core grabbed onto her, stroking her fur. Whispers of calm. But she didn’t understand their language. Finally, the light enveloped her completely, and the Core briefly—absorbed into Zoroark, the new Electric Guardian.

“Good,” Ra said, closing his eyes.

Zoroark fell to the ground with a thud, unconscious.

“And now what… Star?” Ra said.

The world trembled as if heaving a sigh at new stability. Zoroark’s wild heart, while terrified and confused, was not in pain like Ra’s was. And, indeed, the Kommo-o could sense Thundercloud Temple slowly ease its way back into stability.

Star stopped fighting the spirits to glare at Ra through the many bodies that blocked her view. The spirits, too, stopped, knowing that their part of the job was over.

One final Psychic blast eliminated them, leaving only Ra behind. The rest watched from the new Core that grew in the old one’s place. At this point, only his upper chest, arms, neck, and head remained.

“I’ll just… kill her now,” Star said. “She’s… she’s asleep. She won’t even know it.”

“And what then?” Ra asked.

“I already told you.”

“No, Star,” Ra said. “You’re just telling yourself that. You’re just upset that I’m leaving… that I’m finally free.”

“It isn’t like that, Ra,” Star said. “I’m just trying to help!”

“Oh, and what a wonderful help you’ve been!” Ra said, waving his right arm. “Centuries of isolation and suffering for all! Yes! A fantastic existence!” He let his arm drop. “My lovely Step was right to abandon you.”

“Just like she abandoned you,” Star said.

Thundercloud Temple was silenced.

“…I’m sorry,” Star said, lowering her head. “That… that was uncalled for.”

“It’s just like you, though,” Ra said, but he couldn’t hide the tremble in his voice. He steadied himself. “Doing something you think would be good right now… not realizing the consequences later. For a Psychic, you have surprisingly little foresight.”

Ra grunted, realizing that his arms were too weak to hold him up. They were evaporating. Now all he could do was stare at Star with what little strength he had left. He wondered what would happen to him afterward. Still, after everything, he wondered if the peace of oblivion would be preferential. Was that his destination?

“Star, if you kill this feral,” Ra said, “you’re no better than Arceus. Remember that.”

Star flinched. The temple let out a final sigh.

“I have one more thing that I want to ask you, Star,” Ra said, knowing that he’d won. “Something that… you never answered. That you always evade when I ask. The memory is so… faded. But seeing as I’m about to go… I want you to answer for me. Finally, you can be honest. Why I can’t remember. Why this person… is so faded from my mind… and yet… feels so important. Perhaps as important as Step. Yet by what I imagine is a Divine Decree… I am not allowed to remember.”

Star said nothing, but he had her attention.

“Where,” Ra said, “is Yveltal?”

Based on how Star didn’t react, Ra knew she was expecting this question. His vision was fading. He felt oddly tired. His mission complete, he actually felt rested. At some point, his eyes had closed, ready for an eternal nap.

“Ra,” Star said.

One last annoyance, he figured. He opened his eyes and glared at Star. “What? Will you answer?”

Star looked down, flicking her tail. Ra sensed that this bothered her more than it should have, but had no time to ask why. She finally answered, “…I can’t.”

Ra snorted. “Of course.” And with that, his spirit evaporated completely.

Ra stood in Thundercloud Temple. Only moments ago, his heart had been filled with more joy than he’d ever felt in decades. Both of his daughters had returned to him, and they looked as youthful as ever. In their prime, even, like a proud Dragon should.

Cent shook her head. “Like, Pops, my mate is waiting for me across the aura sea. I can’t stay. I just came here because… I know you can’t really follow.”

Ra shook his head in disbelief. Then, he turned to the other daughter. “Kana…”

But she, too, shook her head. “Dad, I… I can’t just stay here forever. The other spirits might be happy, but I don’t want to lose myself here. I have to go.”

Both his daughters turned away. They couldn’t bear to look at him, but Ra just wanted to see their eyes one last time.

“Mom already said bye,” Kana said. “She’s glad that we can move on. But, Dad…”

“Please… there has to be some way,” Ra said. “What—what about your children? My grandchildren? Can’t—can’t I see them?”

But Ra knew the answer. He was never allowed to see them—not him, nor Step. And he shouldn’t. They shouldn’t know about this Guardian conspiracy. They should live normal lives. They should never know he exists…

Cent sighed tiredly. Ra thought, for a moment, that they would actually stay. But then she said the one thing he didn’t want to hear—the same words that he’d heard so many decades ago. The empty promise.

“We’ll visit.”


Where was this?

Ra recognized it, vaguely. He couldn’t move. He lacked a body to move. All around Ra was a great, endless expanse of darkness, populated only by the gentle glow of countless auras, all moving in one direction toward a great, dim light.

The aura sea, Ra realized. So… that’s where we go. Even if a spirit dies… we still can’t rest. We go right here. We all go… right here.

The faint glow of the outer spirit world beckoned him. He let the flow take him, for he knew his daughters would be waiting.

But then the flow changed, just for him. He bumped past a few spirits, falling through their fire. He heard their thoughts. Terrified thoughts, confused thoughts. One was whimpering that it still burned. The other one was nothing but a series of hisses and growls.

A great, gray figure stood above the sea, staring at Ra with his one eye.

“Hello, Ra,” the Dusknoir greeted.

Hecto…

“I am fortunate to find you in the sea. Star warned me that you would flow here soon.”

Then perhaps I should have stopped thinking.

“Perhaps, yes,” Hecto said, “if your desire was to evade my eye.”

Hecto held out his massive hand, grasping Ra’s flickering soul within it.

Where are you going to take me, then?

“Star requested I send you somewhere specific,” Hecto said. “The typical afterlife is not a location suited for one such as yourself.”

This was the second time that Ra felt fear that night. That fear was snuffed out by spite and anger. So that’s how it is? he said. Such a place truly exists after all? When Hecto did not reply, Ra continued to speak. Know that she’ll never be happy with what she’s done to me. I’ll never give her the satisfaction that I’ll suffer. I’ll take whatever eternity you give me, and I’ll take it with nothing but eternal hate. When I’m free, I will do more than kill her, Hecto. I’ll do everything in my power to ruin her, the same way she did for us. To all Guardians. To this whole world. The world you claim to watch over. You are a blight. You and that despicable Creator.

Still, Hecto said nothing.

I should have sided with Arceus and the Divine Dragons.

Hecto’s one eye did not blink, but Ra was out of words to say. The Dusknoir turned, pointing Ra toward some black void in the sea.

“Farewell, Ra.”

Hecto pressed his hand forward. Ra flew through the sea, far, far away from the flow of the many spirits that made their transitions into the next world. He was away, now.

Ra cursed Star all throughout the void.

Ra stood outside of his den, walking deep into the clearing. The once clear sky darkened with lumpy clouds. The world roared. “You did this to me.”

“No—Ra, that’s not what happened!” Star said. “I wasn’t trying to—"

“You… RUINED my life!”

“I—I had no choice! I was just trying to help! I—"

Ra shook his head. “I’m done.”

“D-done? R-Ra! Wait! What are you doing?”

Ra held his arms out. The lightning crackled along his scales and between his claws. “The forest will burn… and with the last of my power… I’ll lay the Orb bare.”


“Gnnkk—!” Ra gasped his first breath. A horrible coldness pierced his throat. He struggled to his feet. All he could see was a gray darkness. Hard snow and heavy winds slammed against his scales, freezing him to the bones. A single step was too much.

“S-so this is my eternity, is it… S-Star…” Ra looked at the black sky. He wandered through the snow even as his scales became coated in a thick layer of ice. His limbs froze in place any time he decided to stop. Every step chipped away at the ice layered upon his cold form. “I will… for all of my existence… devote every second… to…”

He collapsed. The snow billowed over him, covering his body. His spirit wanted nothing more than to move, but his energy was gone. Everything was fading again. Step… Kana… Cent, Ra thought. I’m… sorry.

It all faded…

<><><>​

“I found him!”

Ra’s eyes shot open.

“Oops. I think he’s frozen already.”

“Don’t just stare at him—help out, Sis!”

“R-right, sorry. MOM! We found Dad!”

Icy hands wrapped around both of his arms.

“Okay, one, two—three!”

They lifted him up. By some miracle, he could still see. Tears froze painfully against his eyes. He couldn’t speak.

Two Kommo-o tilted their heads at him. They were see-through, like glass. Closer inspection indicated that it wasn’t glass—it was ice, like living sculptures.

“I think he’s out of it,” said the left one.

“Where is he?” a booming voice called.

Ra knew the voice, but he also knew the sound of her heavy, slow steps. He saw an Aggron in the same style as his daughters, see-through and glimmering in the dark. Her steps pierced through many feet of snow without effort. Her solid eyes softened upon seeing the helpless, frozen Dragon.

“Unbelievable,” Step said, putting a hand to her forehead, making a dull tok noise. “Star told me that I should be expecting you. I didn’t think she meant it like this.”

“St… ar…”

“Yes, Star,” Step said, crossing her arms irritably. “I thought she meant you were going to try to visit at the same time as Kana and Cent.” When Ra didn’t reply, she went on. “This is more than a visit, I imagine.”

“Uh, Mom, I think he’s an icicle,” Kana said.

Cent tapped her claws on Ra’s cheek. Solid. “Yeah, he’s frozen.”

Step sighed, this time using both of her hands to cover her face. “What a fool… what a mess…” She groaned. “You’re helpless without me.”

The statue of Ra did not reply.

“Come. Let’s take him to the Core so he can acclimate.” Step turned around, walking through the snow of the Ice Realm.

Kana took the front, while Cent took the rear, making sure they didn’t accidentally break some part of their father’s frozen spirit along the way. He was so stiff that it actually was much like transporting a statue.

“Mom?” Cent said. “I guess we can visit a little more often, but… are you gonna talk to Dad more, now?”

“I doubt I have a choice,” Step replied.

“Yeah, but,” Kana interrupted, “we mean more like… are you two… gonna be together again?”

“Again,” Step said, “it is not like I have a choice.”

“But you do,” Cent said. “You can just tell him to go. But… you aren’t.”

Step pressed on without a change in expression. “We’ll talk,” she said. “If he chooses, I will allow him to… stay. Perhaps… it is time we reconnected.” She looked down. “After all, there is… nothing separating us now, is there?”

Step looked back at Ra’s desperate expression, frozen in time. She sighed. “You look disgusting when you’re weak,” the Ice Guardian said. “When you attach to my Core, I expect you to be stronger. Like you used to be.”

They climbed a small hill and slid down. Snow collected over Ra’s eyes, blinding him. He only heard the howl of the wind and the sound of her voice. But that was enough.

“Star came here only moments ago to tell me about your arrival,” Step said. “I’ve never seen her so shaken.”

Despite being unable to see, Ra could feel her smile.

“I liked that.”
 
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