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Pokémon Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 29 – Honor and Loyalty

The more Owen thought about it, the stranger it all felt. Nevren’s actions seemed friendly, but the peculiar things that he did from time to time, specifically with him, made him suspicious. The gift that he was given to suppress his evolution, right before he became Mystic? Right before the traditional suppression methods wouldn’t have been enough? Then there was Nevren’s entire past in creating them.

And then, most of all—and what made Owen still scratch his scaly head—what exactly was that vision he had on the mountain, during his trial to become a Heart? Nevren had tried to attack him back then, but it was all a dream. It was, right? He wasn’t hurting at all when it was over, and he knew he’d dealt a horrible blow onto Nevren, too. So, what was that all about? Was it really the altitude? Or was it a Psychic vision that Nevren gave him, perhaps to test out his skills? That could have been it.

Owen tried to explain this to Zena, Amia, and Alex, and while Zena nodded at every word, Amia and Alex seemed less sure.

“Are you sure that you aren’t just a little worn out?” Amia said. “To be honest, all I want to do is rest for the night. Don’t you? Nevren may have not told you that the stone would keep you from evolving because then you’d try to evolve—and that’s just not a good idea right now… right? Why don’t you just rest?”

“But it seems suspicious, don’t you think?” Zena pushed.

“Nevren’s gift is the only reason Owen is still with us,” Alex said with a frown. “For that alone, I think we owe him quite a bit.”

“He could have been honest with Owen,” Zena said, growling. “Star is still not telling us everything, and to be honest, if Star ever tells us to do something questionable, I won’t follow.”

“None of us will, dear,” Amia said. “But think of it this way. If Nevren told Owen that it was an Everstone… and that he wasn’t supposed to evolve… how do you suppose he would react? Owen, who wanted nothing more than to evolve?”

Both Zena and Owen flinched. The Charmeleon gulped, turning his head to focus on his stash of books in the back alcove of the room. “I guess I could be a little tired,” Owen said. “But… I don’t know. I still don’t know.”

“Just… just don’t throw away that stone, okay?” Alex begged. “Getting too far away from it just might evolve you, and we can’t have that. Not yet.”

“Because I’ll go crazy?”

“Well… yes?” Amia said delicately. “I think we all agree that we might not be ready for that. You still need some time to meditate.”

Owen fiddled with his claws again. Then, he looked up at Zena, and then Amia and Alex. The first thing they’d asked him when he almost evolved was what he was thinking, and if he felt angry. Or perhaps if he felt violent? But he didn’t feel either of those things. He felt afraid. He thought about nothing but those he knew. He didn’t feel some sort of insanity creeping in on him, did he? Sure, there was a pressure, but that wasn’t the same. Right?

“But do I?” he said. “What if I’ve been ready this whole time, and this stone is holding me back?”

“Now, Owen, let’s not—”

“What if I got rid of it and evolved when I was calmer? I bet I’d be fine after that,” Owen said. “Then I could take on Rim and the other Hunters, no problem. It’d all be over. I bet I’d even rescue all of the other Guardians that are lost and afraid… I could’ve saved Cara and Forrest.”

Owen still remembered how terrified the Lopunny in particular had looked. That could’ve been any of them. That could’ve been Zena if the Hunters got to her first. With a fire in his chest, Owen glanced at the Milotic, then at his parents.

“So why don’t I try it?”

“Because, dear,” Amia said in a slow, yet frantic tone, “don’t you think you’re jumping to conclusions? The last time you evolved, you still went—”

“I went crazy, but I was stressed! Attacked by Azu! What happened after that? When I won? Was I still angry?”

“I… I mean.” Amia stumbled over her words. “Not… not really, but… but you were shaking, and shivering—and I know that you were trying your hardest to keep it together. You weren’t ready, even after the fight was over. I… it’s just not good yet, okay? Even if Nevren might not be totally honest with us—maybe you evolving isn’t good for either of us.”

Owen flinched. “I… I mean…” He turned away. “I guess that’s a possible answer…”

“I don’t want to risk it yet,” Amia said. “Can you just wait a little while longer? We—we’ll try evolving you later. When we can be sure we’ll turn you back… if it doesn’t work out.”

The Charmeleon huffed. “Okay,” he relented. “…But I get to stay as a Charizard for a little while, okay? If I’m not attacking anybody, then it should be just fine, right?”

“Yes… okay, Owen… I know you want to do it, and we can’t force you to not evolve, so… let’s just schedule a time for it to happen, alright? Will that be okay?”

“…Two days,” Owen said. “I want to try evolving in two days. And this counts as the first day.”

Amia sighed, but Owen held firm. She really trapped herself with that one. “Not… three days?”

“Two days,” Owen said, prodding at his remaining food. He dumped the rest into his mouth and stood up to put the bowl away.

Zena frowned. “Can’t you wait a little longer, Owen?” the Water Guardian asked. “We still don’t know for sure. And I don’t want to lose you.”

Some of the wind under Owen’s nonexistent wings faded, but he didn’t answer directly. Instead, he said, “If I feel like I can handle it, then I’m going to try.”

Alex watched his son go, and then shook his head. “…He’s certainly going through that rebellious phase… again… isn’t he?”

Amia rubbed her head. “He’s probably remembering all the other times he went through it,” she said. “Ohh,, he trapped me in my own argument!”

“You could have just said three days,” Alex said.

“Then he would have just tossed his stone today,” Amia said, pouting. “But… I can’t blame him. You have to look at it from his perspective—he doesn’t even know who he really is, in a way. And now he wants to claim it.”

Zena nodded. “I can’t imagine what that must feel like,” she told them. “Owen doesn’t know if who he is right now is real. Can you imagine? The idea that who you are is just… false. That the real you is sealed inside.” Zena tensed. “Owen… he’s… he’s not someone completely different, is he?”

“He might lose himself completely,” Alex said.

“We’ll fix it if that happens,” Amia said, glancing at her hands. “Just like always…”

“…But… but will it work?” Alex tried not to look too nervous.

Amia hesitated. “…I’m going to train,” she said. “Just that attack. Just the Suppression Aura. To make sure I can do it right, and do it strongly, to buy us some extra time.”

“Strong,” Alex said. “I think we’re all going to have to be strong for this—including Owen.”

Zena looked at Owen’s collection of books. “Amia,” she said. “Teach me the Suppression Aura, too.”

<><><>​

Outside, Owen stepped through the caves again, admiring the mushroom light. He looked at his pouch, and then took the stone out of it. He stared for a while. Rolled it in his claws. Dug into a small imperfection in the amalgam. Eviolite… why was he so gullible? Why did he just accept what Nevren said as the truth? He always seemed so trustworthy to him.

Was that just part of his latent instincts? Did his instincts naturally trust him, his creator? Or was he built to be a follower?

Owen stared at the stone again, holding it in a crushing grip. It was too strong to destroy that way. Owen wondered, what would happen if he tossed it into the lava? If he headed down to the flaming river and… got rid of it? Would he evolve right there? Would he feel perfectly normal? Would he remember everything, and take down the Hunters, just like that? Was it that easy? Could Nevren be holding him back this entire time, just with this gift?

Cara and Forrest were dead because they were too weak and too slow. Rim ran away when he threatened to evolve. And Rim attacked Rhys before, but when the others of Team Alloy evolved, she ran away, too!

They could have beaten her!

Owen clutched the stone a bit harder. His arm muscles felt hot. Hotter than the lava he bathed in.

The sound of something metallic tumbling to the ground echoed out of the cave. It startled Owen so much that he nearly dropped the amalgam. He faltered with it in the air and slipped it into the bag out of reflex.

Rhys cursed from his room in the cavern to the right.

For the briefest moment, Owen eyed the home with suspicion. He was a Hunter, too. But then, Owen recalled that Rhys had made a Promise to Zena that he’d abandon that position. He couldn’t kill another Guardian, let alone betray them. If anything… he could trust Rhys.

Hesitating, Owen walked into the ex-Hunter’s home and tapped the back of his claw against the wall. He passed the kitchen, went through the familiar hall, and turned to the right on the first entryway.

“Ah, hello, Owen,” Rhys said, a tinge of irritation in his voice, which Owen interpreted as toward the mess in front of him. It seemed that one of the shelves broke under the weight of another memento that Rhys had apparently found on the ground. A Dusk Stone from Nightshade Forest. What use would he ever have for that? Owen rolled his eyes. He probably thought it’d be ‘useful someday.’

Even with his clouded memories, that phrase associated with Rhys was very familiar. He had thousands of those moments. Some of them seemed more useless than the others, like the odd, metallic bracelet near the corner of the fallen shelves. One of Nevren’s prototype inventions. Nevren…

Owen dug through his bag and set down the Everstone-Eviolite. “Rhys?” he said. “Did you always know Nevren gave me this to keep me from evolving?”

Rhys dropped the Fire Stone he’d been holding.

Owen growled, tail flashing yellow. “You did.”

Rhys sighed. “You were evolving very quickly, Owen. It was an emotional strain on your mother. That goes double after you wound up becoming the Grass Guardian. It makes suppressing your true form… difficult.”

“Hm.” That much made sense. He could only imagine how hard it was for Amia and Alex to keep up with him, constantly worrying that he’d evolve in the wrong place at the wrong time…

Owen rubbed his head. “The sooner my memories are totally back, the better.” He paused, remembering why he’d approached in the first place. “Rhys, er—about Nevren, actually. I…” He hesitated, realizing that, if Rhys knew about it, and Rhys was no longer a Hunter, then the likelihood of Nevren still being a Hunter was slim to none.

He asked anyway, just to be sure. “Why do you trust Nevren? He’s so… blank. I can never get a read from him. And he used to be a Hunter, just like you. What makes you trust him?”

Owen had reminded himself of yet another reason to be wary of the Alakazam. His unreadable expressions. His lack of muscle movement. The only thing that had ever phased him in a meaningful way was when Rhys made that Promise—and only then, because of how significant it was to make it. If Nevren lied to him, Owen’s strange Perception ability would not work.

Another thought crossed his mind. What if it simply didn’t work on Nevren, specifically? How deep did his instincts go? Paranoia creeping in, he refocused on Rhys. His pause didn’t bode well.

Rhys looked at Owen, humming thoughtfully. Then, he sighed, and continued to arrange his items on the repaired shelf. “I promised Nevren that I would not tell you about the moment we shared.”

“Uhh—” Owen blushed.

“Not in that way,” Rhys hissed.

Owen waited for an alternative explanation.

Rhys sighed irritably. “A very long time ago, Nevren behaved as Anam’s strategist. A tactician, so to speak, during… an event. He was working in a mutual interest between the Hunters and the Hearts to stabilize the world during a chaotic era, before the Thousand Hearts established its roots across all of Kilo.”

Owen listened intently. A time when the Hearts weren’t around? How long ago could that have been?

“One day,” he said, “near the end of this chaos, Nevren approached me. And… he confessed to me that while he had been aligned with the Hunters for quite some time, something… changed in his worldview. It was when I was… gravely injured, resting in a hospital—this was before Anam’s blessings were widespread—and Anam saved my life by bringing me there. Nevren approached me then, while I was resting, and told me that he had an epiphany.”

“An epiphany?” Owen said. “Wait—so Nevren was still a Hunter?”

“We didn’t necessarily call ourselves that at the time,” Rhys admitted. “It was a different time. The Divine Dragons, we called ourselves. Frankly, I can’t recall why…. None of us are Dragons. I believe Eon came up with the term because it sounded cool…” Rhys rolled his eyes.

Calling oneself a Dragon, despite not being one, was something Owen felt he could relate to all too strongly.

Rhys went on. “But yes. And it was on that day of his epiphany… that I saw Nevren as the most emotional Pokémon I’d ever seen him. Now, it was nothing dramatic. He did not cry. He did not shout. Frankly, he did not do much than he usually did. But his eyes, Owen.” Rhys looked down at a small bag of marbles. “His eyes were alive with light. The light of a Heart. He said that the Hearts deserved the world.” Rhys pulled out a marble from the bag. A blue one, with a single, green circle on one side. “Ever since that day, I noticed that, while working with Anam, he seemed… somehow happier. Content. That’s the word. As if he knew what he wished to do with himself. Someone who knew his purpose.” Rhys chuckled. “I envy a Pokémon who knows such peace.”

Owen listened, but then hung his head in shame. He knew none of what Rhys was saying. Those memories were locked away so firmly that he knew it was tied to a point in time that Star had sealed for his own safety. Owen could feel it, even now. The blocks that Star put on his mind—the memories that were pressed up against them. It was a dull headache. But if Owen knew what Rhys had known, he wouldn’t have been suspicious of Nevren at all.

“He really just wants to help,” Owen said. “Oh, Mew. I feel bad just for thinking he was sabotaging us.”

“Sabotaging?”

Owen nodded. “Rim’s been catching up to us every time we talk with the communicators. Or, that’s kinda how I noticed it.”

“Rim is also the Psychic Guardian, unfortunately,” Rhys said. “And while I doubt that grants her the ability to see into the future, I suspect it heightens her perceptive range—and aura senses—significantly. We also know that they likely have a means of tracking Guardians as well.”

“Oh,” Owen said. “Right… I… forgot about that.”

The evidence fell apart. It was all circumstantial. Nevren was just trying to help with all of his inventions. He thought about how he had advanced the whole world with his technological marvels. Waypoints. Badges. Even those X-Ray Specs that Owen was grounded for life from using. He, along with James, managed almost everything to do with the Hearts’ inner organization, keeping all of Kilo safe.

He gave his whole life to the Association. And just because he gave him an evolution-suppressing stone, he thought he was a liar. When in the end, it was just so he could stay sane, and to help his parents cope.

“Hey, Owen!” Gahi shouted.

This broke the Charmeleon’s chain of thought. “Wh—what?”

“Let’s train! I wanna evolve like yeh got to!”

The levity was just what he needed. “Oh—okay,” Owen said. “Sure! Yeah…” He couldn’t deny the joy in battles, even if it was an instinct that he was born with. Perhaps he could forget about that for at least a little while.

“Thanks, Rhys,” Owen said.

Rhys smiled. “I would trust Nevren with my life, Owen. I’m sorry that we lied to you.”

Owen shook his head. “I get it,” he said, and then left.

In the hall, before meeting up with Gahi and the others, he looked down at the stone again. Carrying it around, hoping it would keep him sane, wasn’t going to cut it after a while. Maybe Amia had a point. Maybe evolving should wait until he was definitely, totally ready for it. But how else would he be able to ensure he’d have it with him? A dull headache pulsed through him, and he recalled in a previous life, an Aerodactyl stealing his bag, including the stone. It seemed a lot more believable that he’d lose it when it was the least convenient.

But how was he supposed to keep that from happening again? Owen pondered, tail-fire dimming to his deep concentration. And then, an idea came.

<><><>​

“Please… leave me be,” Valle said.

Enet tilted her head, sniffing at the feet of the stone Shiftry.

True to form, the Rock Guardian did not move.

“This is not something that I am used to,” Valle said. “Enet, Guardian of Electricity, this is too close.”

Enet tilted her head to the other side, pacing around Valle. “Not move?”

“I do not move. All is stillness.”

“But… I move.”

“I am the Guardian of Rock,” Valle said. “It is not my place to do such…” He trailed off.

“Can’t move?”

“I can, but I choose not to.”

“Why?”

Valle was silent. “It… is simply something that I have grown accustomed to.”

“But other Rock move,” Enet said, using her claw to pull at her lower right lip. She reached down and picked up a pebble, tossing it from one paw to the other.

Valle rumbled.

Enet stopped. “Not you? Because you crazy?”

“I—did not go crazy, as you call it,” Valle said. “I… built a tolerance to the solitude.”

“Solitude?”

“…Being alone.”

“Oh,” Enet nodded, sitting down. “Being alone… hurts.”

Valle took a few seconds to reply. “It… does. Yes. It did. But I grew used to it.”

Enet frowned and made her way back to the front of Valle. “But… not alone! So… move again!”

“Move, again?”

By now, a few others passing by were listening in on the conversation, wondering what Enet was trying. Most just let Valle do as he wanted, but now…

ADAM buzzed curiously. “Valle, do you wish to change your protocol?”

“I… am unsure,” Valle said. “I don’t know if I know how to move.”

“Move!” Enet waved her arms around. “Easy!”

“Easy,” Valle repeated uncertainly.

A distant explosion shook the caves, though the walls were too strong to risk the area collapsing.

“That must be the modified Pokémon fighting,” Valle said.

“Modi…?” Enet puffed out her cheeks. “Use easy words!”

“The Pokémon that become something strange when they evolve,” Valle said.

“Strange?” Enet asked. “Oh! Owen! And the other four…”

“…Three,” ADAM corrected.

Enet blinked and counted her claws, but then huffed and turned around. “Numbers dumb.”

“Numbers are everything,” ADAM replied.

Enet growled again. “Dumb.”

Valle was still as always, but he appeared to be observing their movements carefully. The unmoving Guardian spoke, “Are you… sure?”

“Sure?” Enet asked. “Huh?”

“About… movement,” Valle said. “Is it… safe to do?”

“Yes?” Enet asked, wiggling her arms. “Easy!”

Valle was silent again. “I can float… and I can slide,” he said. “But… I have not moved in a mountain’s age.”

Enet tilted her head. She clearly didn’t understand the analogy. “Age?”

“Do you plan to move, Valle? Are you certain that is the best choice?” ADAM asked.

“I don’t know,” Valle said. “…Stillness… I need stillness.”

“How come?” Enet asked.

Valle couldn’t answer.

“Move!” Enet encouraged, jumping once in the air. “Easy! Try… arm! Move arm!” She wiggled her right arm.

“My arm… yes. My arm. I could move my arm.” Though Valle didn’t move it yet. “That doesn’t sound very hard. The stillness… doesn’t need to be forever. Even other Rock Pokémon move. Mountains move, rarely… slowly… I can move. Can’t I?”

“Yeah,” Enet said. “I think so. Right?”

There was a long silence again. Enet shifted awkwardly, eventually losing interest, though ADAM remained, watching Valle closely.

“Do you intend to move?” ADAM asked.

“I… yes. I will.” Slowly, almost imperceptibly, one of Valle’s arms twitched. And then moved again, and then, by roughly a mere ten degrees, the arm changed its angle. And then it stopped. The nearby cavern walls trembled, like the skipping of a heartbeat. “That… is enough movement for a while.”

“Huh?” Enet looked back. “Oh! You moved! I think…” Enet tilted her head at the rocky Guardian.

“I did,” said Valle. “Thank you.”

“Yeah!” Enet said. But then, the Zoroark addressed ADAM. “You. Talk weird.”

ADAM buzzed in response. “Weird?”

“Yeah! Zzzz! What’s that?”

Adam twitched. “Zzzz? I am processing.”

“Processing?”

“Yes. I think. I must think. Sometimes things… puzzle me, and I require extra time to think.”

“Thinking, you zzz?” Enet asked.

ADAM buzzed again.

“That! What’s that?”

ADAM buzzed louder. “That is me thinking. I am annoyed.”

“Are you broken?” Enet asked.

“Far from broken! I am—optimal!” ADAM twitched furiously.

Enet giggled. “Funny words!”

“Aaaaaaa.” ADAM flew into a nearby building, perhaps to cool off his core units.

“Enet,” Valle said. “Why do you think ADAM is broken?”

“Huh?” Enet asked. “Not broken?”

“Well… he is certainly odd,” Valle replied. “But I attributed that to his species. Porygon-Z tend to behave… oddly. It is a wonder where they even came from. The rumor is they came from an ancient time of the mythical human.”

“Oh.” None of this meant anything to her. “He… smelled funny.” She sniffed the air. “Smell … of his, this,” she said, patting her chest.

“His… chest, had an odd smell.” Valle repeated.

“No,” Enet said. “The… this,” she said, pressing her claws deeper into her fur.

“His heart? …Does he have one?” Valle asked. “Ohh.” He recognized the frustrated look on her face. “You mean his aura. All of our auras are strange. I’m surprised that you perceive auras by smell, Enet.”

“You don’t?”

“No,” said Valle. “I see it with sight.”

This was foreign to the Zoroark.

“Well, in any case, perhaps he is just odd,” said Valle. “Now… Enet. Why don’t you see the others? I… must… be still, here.”

“You won’t move more?”

“Tch… I shall move in the future,” Valle said. “I promise.”

This was enough for the wild creature. “Okay.” And so, she bounded off.

<><><>​

Nevren sat in the middle of Anam’s office, sorting through records and papers. Anam was in another room of the Heart HQ, performing blessings on another batch of seeds, which required the withdrawal of all his spirits—including James—to perform with the most power and efficiency. That left the Alakazam alone to manage the paperwork.

“Hmm, interesting,” he said. “There are quite a few false alarms… a good handful of sightings in the Southern Ocean, but that’s likely due to the glowing moss that comes with the transition of summer to autumn. Still, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to investigate further…”

“More reports, Elite Nevren!”

“Ah, thank you, put it on the desk!” Nevren called back, not even looking up. He sorted through more of the papers. “Ahh, I simply don’t have the time to look through every single one of these, do I? If only I could—hm, wait a moment. Why don’t I just—” Nevren paused, looking at a small, silver badge next to him. Unlike the communicator, this one had a blue, glowing gem in the middle. He reached toward it, but then stopped when the blue gem abruptly dimmed to a dead gray. “…How long have you been there?”

“Eep—!”

Nevren sighed and turned around. “Rim, you know it’s rude to eavesdrop. Come on, show yourself.”

The Espurr appeared in a warping bend of light.

“Well, I take it you know where the next few Orbs are, do you? I imagine you’ll be sending Elder to do his negotiating first. A futile effort, you know. They’re very unlikely to agree to anything of the sort, simply giving up their power willingly like that…”

Rim glanced away.

“Yes, yes, I suppose you always have a bit of hope that you won’t have to take it away violently, but, hrm…” Nevren sighed. “Well. I suppose I can’t stop you. I’ve already tried convincing you quite a few times, after all.” Nevren looked at the gray gem again. “Ah, speaking of which, could you vanish for a moment?”

Rim stared at Nevren curiously.

“Just for a moment.”

Rim obeyed, disappearing. A few seconds later, a Golem stepped into the office. “We have another report,” he said.

“Ah, good. You were sent to the Arachno Forest?”

“Yes, er—we were, but… we don’t think anybody should go there anymore.”

“Oh? Is it that dangerous?”

“Y-yes. Actually, about that, I’d… like to set up a mission for it.”

Nevren tilted his head. “A rescue mission? …Where is the rest of your team?”

The Golem winced.

“I see. I will set one up immediately.”

“Th-thank you.”

He left. Rim appeared shortly after.

“Rim, if it’s not a bother,” he said, “are the mutants responsible for that?”

Rim shook her head immediately.

“But did we not send quite a few of them there in the past? None returned. But their spirits never went into the aura sea, either—so it wasn’t as if they were killed. Hecto informed Eon as much, regardless of how uncooperative those Zygarde have been lately. Are you sure they don’t simply get lost in their battle modes there?”

Rim shook her head. “But… I can’t…”

“Hmm… well. Please, set up a team anyway in an attempt to rescue his Pokémon, Rim. Moderately strong mutants should do. Team of three? Be sure to set them to Scouting and not Battling.”

Rim nodded.

“Ah, and Rim,” Nevren said.

“Mm?”

“How many Orbs do you have at the moment? Which ones, between yourself and Eon?”

“…Psychic…” Rim said. “Flying, Ground…” She paused, but then nodded.

“Only three, hm?” he said. “You’re falling behind. At this rate, Owen will have you beaten for sure.”

Rim winced.

“No need to worry.” Nevren sighed. “After all, he didn’t align with Barky. Did you hear of that?”

“N-no…! What?”

“Yes! Quite surprising. Perhaps Rhys was right after all.” Nevren nodded, almost beaming. “Incredible, really. I’d go easy on him for that. Well, in any case, Frozen Oceanside may be a bit dangerous for them to handle, so I’d recommend gathering that Orb next. Ice Type, so be wary of being frozen. The Pokémon there is quite hostile toward Hunters. And Star. And Barky. Frankly everyone, quite cold in spirit.”

“Elder…”

“Elder?” Nevren said. “I’d honestly rather not. Regardless of his elemental attributes, he may become encased in ice immediately if he doesn’t convince her to side with us or relinquish her power. It isn’t as if that strategy worked before.”

“Eon said to…”

“Yes, but Eon is far from logical,” Nevren said. “It may be a gesture of good faith, but sending Elder is a waste of time and a risk to the poor Torkoal’s life. Let him rest.”

Rim stared with her big eyes.

Nevren shook his head.

Rim stared harder.

The Alakazam sighed. “Very well,” he relented. “Elder first. Remember, I don’t want to send Owen on risky missions. He isn’t strong enough yet. He and his friends need to live. A shame he already befriended the Zoroark, but I suppose it cannot be helped. I was hoping you’d kill her before that happened, like with Cara or Forrest.”

“Mm.” Rim nodded, but then eyed the Alakazam carefully. “Owen…”

“Hm? Owen?”

“Tried… to evolve…”

“Evolve…” Nevren frowned. “Yes, I heard. Is he ready?”

Rim bit at her lower lip.

“Hmm… Perhaps I should talk to him.”

“He might not… trust you…”

“Ah,” Nevren nodded. “I suppose he would be the first to worry. Well, aside from Rhys. I don’t think he fully trusts me, even now. He wouldn’t understand. Just like Eon and his emotions, Rhys lets his honor get in the way. Time is running out, hm? Third war or not, we must keep going. Still. Regarding Owen. What do you recommend?”

Rim tensed, shaking her head.

“Ah, sorry, sorry,” Nevren said. “I apologize. I’ll think it over myself—no need to be put on the spot, hm? Just ask Elder to speak to the Ice Guardian, and we can proceed from there. I believe her name is Ladder, but you might want to double-check. It has been a while since I heard the name. I will send Owen’s group to the Steel Guardian.”

Rim flinched. “S-Steel? But that’s…”

“I believe it is time,” Nevren said. “They will fail, but I think now is a good time for them to know about the Trinity. Besides, he is the least dangerous of the three. I won’t be sending them to Zero Isle, for one, or Dark Mist Swamp.” Nevren sorted through the papers. “…Thank you, Rim. That will be all. Ah, but do send a team to Arachno Forest on a rescue. Perhaps we’ll find another Guardian there.”

Rim nodded and vanished. Nevren looked down at the papers. The Badge on his desk had become blue during the middle of their conversation.

He briefly thought about Owen and how quickly he had befriended Guardians for nearly half of the Orbs. Fast friends with even the unruliest of them. The Fighter, the Fairy, and the feral in particular. Perhaps it was charisma or perhaps it was his unintimidating disposition. Or perhaps it was, despite everything, the hidden strength he possessed. The potential that surpassed even Nevren’s base design expectations. No, Nevren knew that this strength Owen possessed—perhaps not physical strength, but the strength of spirit, or the light he possessed. That wasn’t his design. That was something much greater.

“Owen,” Nevren said to himself, shaking his head. “You’re just like your father.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
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Chapter 30 – Remnants

The evening transitioned into the night. Owen felt like he didn’t quite need to sleep. Perhaps he had finally become strong enough to no longer require it. Still, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi did. When their training ended, Owen wandered the caverns, enjoying the usual, dim blue glow from gleaming mushrooms speckled along the dark walls.

Zena was training with Amia. She seemed awkward about it, simply telling Owen that she wanted to get better with aura-based powers. It took very little pressing for her to reveal that she, too, was learning the Suppression Aura that reset Owen countless times.

Owen just smiled. “You know, better safe than sorry.” Not like he intended to be reset again anyway if he could help it.

But that also meant Owen couldn’t stay near them while they trained, and he had to wander the caverns again. Should he sleep? He could. But he was too restless. He couldn’t get the look of Rim’s eyes out of his head, and, in hindsight, the feeling he had when he saw her. How in the world did he become so bold as to risk his very sanity to scare off Rim? Was he even strong enough to take her on in that state? He somehow doubted it. Rim commanded mutants.

So why did she run?

“You are in motion far too much.”

Owen, startled, looked to his right. He forgot about Valle. The Shiftry statue was right next to him, so still that he had mistaken it for part of the cave. “Sorry,” Owen finally said. “Just restless.”

Valle rumbled angrily. “Cease your movement. The night is when I can know peace.”

“Okay. I’ll just find somewhere else to rest. I should meditate.”

“Yes. You should.”

Owen sighed. He headed further along the giant cavern until he spotted more Guardians.

Earlier in the day, Willow and ADAM had assisted Enet in finding a home. She took a liking to the one a few homes down from Rhys’ side. It was easy to spot Enet’s abode because of the perpetual darkness that veiled the insides. Only her eyes—glowing—were visible when looking inside.

“Enet?” Owen whispered, but the glowing eyes said it all.

“Small,” Enet greeted.

“M-my name’s Owen.”

“Owen… Small Owen.” Enet said.

“Are you okay?” He could sense her tense muscles.

“Okay.”

“You aren’t scared or anything?” Owen asked.

Enet didn’t answer.

“Hey, it’s alright,” Owen said. “Friends. All friends.”

Enet let out a strange growl. It didn’t sound aggressive, but it wasn’t one of comfort, either.

Owen felt someone knocking inside his mind. Hello? Is someone calling me?

Yo,
Star greeted. Are you checking on Enet?

Yeah. Is she alright?

She’s just antsy. New den and all that, and it’s not like it was totally up to her.

Oh,
Owen said. Well, I guess I don’t wanna bother her.

No, no, actually, I think she trusts you more than anyone else here. Since Amia’s training Zena the Suppression Aura stuff, can you do me a favor and spend the night keeping her company? She’s not all that strong, so she’ll be asleep for most of it.


Owen nodded. It was better than irritating Valle, at least. Okay.

Great. While you do that, I’m gonna check up on some Guardians. I want to see if the Bug or Ice Guardians are up for anything. I
think I know where the Ice Guardian is, but she’s a little cold toward me. Sorta a long story.

Like all the others.
Owen rolled his eyes. I bet the Electric Guardian didn’t give up peacefully, either. I’m starting to think back, and there was a huge thunderstorm in Nightshade, like, a year or two ago. That wasn’t a normal storm, was it?

A-anyway, I gotta head off!
Star said. I’m gonna hang up now.

Hang… up?


But she didn’t reply. So distracted by the conversation, Owen didn’t realize that Enet was mere inches from his face. He stifled a gasp and fell backward; Enet lunged forward and grabbed him just in time. Her paws were almost as big as his head.

“Okay?” Enet asked.

“Y-yes. I’m okay,” Owen said, pulling himself up. “Enet… would you like me to rest with you?”

Even in the dark, Owen was able to Perceive her muzzle scrunching up. “Better father.”

Owen tried not to sound exasperated. “Not like that. As… a pack. Friend.”

“Small pack.”

Why me?

But despite this, Enet turned around and curled up in the darkness. Owen sighed, shifting his body into his Grassy state. He had a habit of fighting in his dreams, and that always made the ethereal flame on his tail heat up. At least as a plant, he wouldn’t accidentally burn Enet.

While he didn’t rest, Owen spent the rest of the night meditating and calming his aura.

Owen’s thoughts returned to Star. Hey, Klent?

Hm?
There was a pause, and then Klent answered, Oh, Owen. Are you feeling okay?

Star just left, if you’re looking for her,
Amelia spoke up. When are you gonna come visit again?

Owen grinned. Sorry, I’m looking after Enet tonight. I was just thinking about… everything.

That’s quite a lot,
Klent said. Owen… you know we’re a bit in-tune with your feelings, right? Being within your spirit, that is. We understand. We’ve been trying to get Star to tell us more, but she’s obviously bothered by it. And she knows if she tells us, we’ll tell you. And I suppose we don’t want to trigger anything.

I think I’ll evolve just fine,
Owen said. I bet I can handle it now. Last time, I almost had it. And this time, I didn’t feel like I was going crazy at all. I was just scared. So… what if I—

You promised, two days,
Klent said.

Owen rolled his eyes. Fine, fine, he relented. But when I evolve… and I’m normal… I want her to tell me what made me go crazy in the first place.

I’ll hold her to it.


<><><>​

Gahi’s kinda cute when he’s a Trapinch, Owen thought to himself. He had Gahi ensnared in a simple vine around his torso where his tiny legs and massive head couldn’t reach. He flailed and hissed and screamed in anger, but there was nothing the stubby Pokémon could do to break free from the relatively effortless hold.

“Lemme go!” Gahi shouted.

“Not until you say I win,” Owen hummed.

“It ain’t fair! Yer Mystic, yer evolved, nuh-uh!”

“To be fair, Gahi,” Demitri said from the sidelines, “you were the one who wanted to fight Owen one on one.”

Mispy nodded, nursing a cut on one of her vines. Demitri had clawed her pretty hard and her healing was taking extra time to repair the damage.

“I kinda remember always losing to you, Gahi,” Owen said. “At least, that’s sorta the feeling I get when I think about other times we’ve sparred. So, I dunno what to tell you. This feels like a great change. Are you gonna give up yet?”

“Not ‘til I’m passed out an’ broken!” Gahi replied defiantly.

The vines squeezed tighter around his body.

“Just give up,” Mispy said, sighing.

“Yeah, Mispy’s sick of healing you. Maybe this time she won’t do it,” Demitri teased. He tittered, glancing at Mispy. “Y-you’ll still heal him, right?” he whispered.

Mispy shrugged. “Can’t heal stupid.”

“I ain’t stupid! I’m determined! Rhys said so!”

“Hey, Rhys called me determined, too,” Owen mumbled.

Mispy glanced at Demitri, who just shrugged.

“Yeah, if Owen’s determined, then I’m not dumb!” Gahi said. “Now lemme down!”

“Not until you say you give up,” Owen said. “The win doesn’t even feel good if I knock you out, Gahi, You won’t be able to dodge anything I throw at you.”

“Mehh… fine.”

Owen sighed, dropping Gahi to the ground.

He immediately rushed for Owen. “I never said I gav—”

A Vine Trap erupted beneath Gahi, tearing through rocks to ensnare him for a second time. The crush was so intense that Gahi squeaked and cracked like wood, tiny legs flailing weakly.

“I know,” Owen said, smirking.

Gahi hissed but finally relented. “Okay, fine, fine… ya mrmff…”

“What was that?” Owen asked with a teasing lilt in his voice.

Mispy smacked Owen on the back of his head. He winced, expecting the blow, but still yelped at how hard she hit. “H-hey, I was just joking around!”

Owen helped free Gahi from the vines and Mispy patched him up with a gentle wave of healing energy. Demitri sighed and stretched, scratching at a nick in his tusks with a frown. “I messed up my tusk again,” he said. “I need to be more careful. These things don’t grow back, you know.”

“They do with Orans,” Owen said.

“I mean, yeah, but I don’t wanna waste resources,” Demitri said. “I’ll just wait a while.”

“Well, don’t wait too long,” Owen said. “If you let a wound settle in for too long, Orans don’t heal it. There’s this Salazzle, you know Spice? She got badly hurt during some outing and even though she took an Oran to heal the major stuff, it still left a scar behind because she didn’t take a second one to heal it completely, or something. Guess they had run out since it was a rough mission… Why else would an Oran not work, y’know?”

“You mean from Sugar ‘n Spice?” Demitri asked, unconsciously picking at the dent in his tusk again. Mispy wrapped a vine around his claw to pull it away, knowing he’d only make it worse.

“Yeah.”

Demitri flinched. “W-well, I still don’t want to waste it on a little chip. Maybe if we went on a Dungeon mission, I’ll use one along the way? Then I won’t feel so bad.”

“Oh, sure,” Owen said. “You guys can head on one if you like.”

Demitri and Mispy exchanged looks. “Well,” Demitri said, “we were actually thinking, and, um…”

“What?” Owen asked, returning to his Fiery form. He felt something in the back of his throat and coughed out a stray Bullet Seed.

“Can’t you come with us?” Demitri asked.

Owen tilted his head. “With you guys?”

“Yeah. I mean—we’re Team Alloy, right? And now that you know how you evolve, it should be totally safe for you to come with us. We’re still in our lowest forms. No way we’ll evolve all the way up on one mission.”

“It’s still dangerous to go out,” he said, sighing. “Rim could try to kill me.”

“What, like she did back in Nightshade?” Gahi said. “C’mon, she ran off when you just threatened ter evolve!”

“W-well, yeah, but—”

“It’s safe,” Mispy nodded.

“I’m still not sure, guys,” Owen said apologetically. “Rhys and Mom would kill me. And Dad would probably explode again.”

“Bah, he’s a spirit, he’ll come back,” Gahi said. “We’ll jus’ say we kidnapped ya.”

“Okay, first of all, I don’t think I want you guys getting in that much trouble—and two, you didn’t kidnap me!”

“How do you know?” Mispy asked.

As if on cue, Demitri and Gahi approached Owen on both sides. Mispy’s vines emerged from behind her shoulders.

“W-wait, wait, wait, wait!” Owen said, raising his arms.

They all lunged at him. Owen crossed his arms, forming a shield of gold light that bumped them all away. He grunted when Demitri hit it particularly hard, and for just a moment, he feared that the Axew would somehow break his Protect barrier.

“Okay,” Owen said, taking advantage of their brief dizziness. Mispy, who could have easily grabbed Owen after the barrier dropped, was patient enough to let him speak. “How about,” he continued, “after I fully evolve—which will be tomorrow, by the way, that’s when I plan to do this—we go out then. I bet if I can keep it together, we’ll go on a mission. How about that? Huh?”

“So tomorrow, we’re gonna go on a mission together,” Demitri said.

“If, uh, if they let me.”

“If yer a Charizard, they ain’t gonna stop you.” Gahi clicked his jaws confidently.

Owen twisted his mouth into a pensive frown. “I guess, but I’d feel kinda bad about taking advantage of my power like that,” he said. “I guess as a last resort.”

“We’re sorta on the verge of evolving anyway,” Demitri said. “I guess we should be careful, too.”

“Mmh.” Mispy nodded. “Fine.”

Rhys emerged from his home. “Ah, Owen!” he called.

“Huh?” Owen spun around. “What? Something happen?”

“Nevren just called via the communicator,” he said. “Come. I’m going to gather the others. Apparently, a Guardian has been found… but it is a strange location.”

<><><>​

“So, what’s so weird about it? Where on the map is it?” Owen asked.

Everybody had been gathered together in the center of Hot Spot to speak to Nevren through his communication badge.

“It’s a factory far off the coast,” Nevren said. “Far, far south, on an old island, in fact. Quite difficult to get to normally. Only Mystics can approach it—it’s protected by a special barrier set up by the Guardian within. We only spotted it from a distance and some Zoom Lenses and a team of flying scouts.”

“Factory,” Amia said. “I’ve heard that term before, but—what is it, again?”

“A facility that is built for the purpose of mass-producing something,” Nevren said. “We have something similar here, though not quite to the same level.” The communication device was quiet for a while after that. “…Hello?”

“Oh! Sorry, I thought you would say something,” Amia said. “I was just trying to figure out what this factory would be. But, um… What type is this Guardian?”

“Well, it’s a factory, so, Steel,” Nevren said. “He’s quite at home there, from what I’ve gathered.”

“How’d you gather that?” Owen asked suspiciously. “Did you visit there yourself?”

“I have,” Nevren said. “Though, not to any success. It was quite a long time ago, though I feel now is an appropriate time as any to try our luck with this one. I recommend… someone with a more effective set of techniques, yes?”

“Steel,” Owen repeated to himself, looking at the red scales on his arms.

“I can go.” Gahi shrugged. “Ground, eh? That’s real good against Steel.”

“I can, too,” Owen said. “Um… I guess Demitri and Mispy should stay back for this one, huh?”

The Axew and Chikorita wanted to protest, but they backed down shortly after. Owen figured they knew he had a point.

“Okay,” Demitri said, “but what should we do while you’re gone?”

“Spar!” Owen said, nodding. “Actually, y’know what? When I come back, I want to see you two as a Fraxure and Bayleef, okay?”

“D’you think we can get there so soon?” Demitri said, eyes brightening.

“Definitely,” Owen nodded. “I can feel it. I’m a Charmeleon already, after all, right?”

“Yeah, but you’re Mystic,” Demitri said.

“Well… either way, I think you’ll do it. Maybe spar with the other Mystics? The weaker ones, like Willow, or—”

“Weaker?!” Willow charged up for a Moonblast.

“I—I mean, th-th… the nicer ones! The nicer ones, who can go easy on them! R-right?”

“That’s better,” Willow huffed. The lunar sphere dissipated in a white-pink mist.

Owen sighed, holding his chest. At the very least, she was acting normally toward him. He thought she wouldn’t talk back to him again after that incident with Azu…

“If you’re going, Owen, then I should go, too,” Amia said. “And as the Fire Guardian, maybe I can help in fighting, too? I may not be the best fighter, but I’m still strong…”

“Okay, so that’s me, Mom, Gahi…” Owen frowned. “If I go crazy, d’you think that’ll be enough, Mom? If you make me a Charmander again?”

Amia flinched. “Y-you’re okay with that?”

Owen nodded. “I… I don’t want it, but it’s better than being crazy forever. But… if I evolve… can you make sure I’m crazy first?”

Amia nodded. “Of course! That’s what we were building toward this whole time!”

Rhys hummed worriedly. “Just in case,” he said, “I would like to accompany you as well. A team of four. My Fighting attacks will be effective.”

“That should be enough,” Nevren confirmed. “Now, hold out your maps. Do you see where Zero Isle Spiral is located?”

“No, um, is that…?” Amia unraveled their map.

“Start from Kilo Village, at the center of the map. Go south until you reach the ocean.”

“Oh, I know that spot!” Owen said. “Zena and I washed up there after we, uh, you know.”

“Hm, so we have a reference point,” Rhys said. “What then, Nevren?”

“You have to fly from there and head further south until you can see the archipelago with Zero Isle at the center. From that direction, you should head diagonally to the left—that is, southeast. You should see another landmass. That will be your location; if you search by aura, you will sense a powerful barrier blocking the way. Anybody too weak in the spiritual sense will be turned around in the opposite direction without realizing it. Mystics, by default, should be strong enough to pass through.”

“Eh, so what about me?” Gahi said, clicking his jaws. “I ain’t spiritual Mystic sparkly.”

“Your proximity should be enough. Perhaps ride on Owen’s back.”

“Wh-why me?” Owen said.

Gahi hummed. “I can do that.”

Owen sighed. “Okay, fine,” he said. “But, can I fly yet?”

“If you can’t fly, you can ride on me, dear,” Amia said.

“…Wait. Rhys? Can you fly for a long time?”

“To an extent,” Rhys said. “It may deplete my stamina a bit after some time, but, ah… I’m sure I will have time to rest once we arrive.”

“If you’re tired, you can always ride on me, dear,” Amia giggled. “I don’t mind.”

“I… shall… consider it.” Rhys turned his head away. “Though I would prefer not. I am not used to riding on the backs of others. They’re always too soft.”

“Soft?” Amia said. “You prefer… hard backs?”

“Er—yes. I suppose I do.”

“Yer weird,” Gahi said.

Zena quickly slithered over to Owen and gave him a reassuring nod. “Good luck, Owen.”

He smiled, returning the gesture. “Hey, how’s the Suppression Aura going?”

Zena winced. “Er, well—I’m getting better at it,” she said. “I’m sorry that I’m training at all for it…”

“I said it was fine,” Owen assured, shaking his head. “Okay. You guys ready?” He looked at Amia, Gahi, and Rhys. When they all nodded, they set off toward the exit of Hot Spot Cave.

<><><>​

It was only a few quick warps and walks from Hot Spot to Kilo Village to the south. They wound up taking the Waypoint to Void Forest, though they were sure to steer clear of the Dungeon itself.

Void Forest seemed quite… normal, considering the name. Tall trees dotted the landscape, leaving ample room to walk around. While the ground was grayish, and it was mostly dirt and fungus, it wasn’t something Owen would have labeled as void-like. Nothing like Void Basin to the southwest.

The lack of proper foliage was a bit unnerving, though.

“Usually don’t like taking trips or missions to the south,” Owen mumbled aloud.

“Don’t worry, dear. We’re flying right now,” Amia said. “Oh, that’s right. I suppose we should start giving you flying lessons. That shouldn’t be too hard.”

Owen’s heart fluttered in some trick-of-the-mind instinct. “F-fly?” he said, his mind trying to flex wings he did not yet have.

“Aww, Owen, I’m sorry,” Amia said, patting his shoulder. “I meant with your Mystic power. You remember us doing it before, right? Just try to mimic it. It’s a lot easier than you think, once you get started.”

“Okay, sure. Let me guess. It’s sorta like when I think to switch from Fire to Grass, except this time for flying?”

“Kind of! I think? The way Star taught it to me was like this. You feel gravity pulling at you… feel your own weight. And then, well… defy it! Sort of.” Amia levitated slightly in the air. “I suppose it’s not too different from Psychic kinesis after that. Push yourself in the direction you want.”

“I think I know how to describe that,” Owen said. “I had a lot of dreams like this. Where I was flying as a Charmander, just going over town and looking down.” A dumb smile spread across his face. “Uh—right. So, I guess like a dream, huh? Let me think…”

Owen felt weightless. He flailed his arms out of reflex; Rhys quickly held his back. “Now, now, hold still,” he said.

“Whoa,” Gahi said, churring. “His feet’re off the ground!”

Owen looked down. He was a foot in the air. “I—I’m doing it!”

“I’m going to let go, now,” Rhys said.

Once he did, Owen spun forward, upside-down after a few seconds. “Uh—wait—I’ve got this,” Owen said, righting himself. He overcompensated, shooting several more feet in the air. “W-wait! Wait—oh—this is really—uh—sudden!” He kicked in the air, but he was laughing at the same time. “I—I’m actually flying! Mom! I’m flying!”

“Yes, you are, dear,” Amia said, giggling. “Honestly, if I knew it’d make you this happy, I would’ve trained you with this earlier! But at least now you’re strong enough it’s not even hard to…Owen?”

He was flying in circles through the air, his ember a blazing blue.

“…Should we calm him down?” Rhys asked.

“Ohh, let him have his moment,” Amia said.

Gahi watched enviously, grumbling to himself about his “stupid big-headed body.”

Owen suddenly stopped his flying when he got high enough to see over the forest trees. He gulped, not realizing how close they were to the Chasm of the Void. It was always depicted as a big, black dot on the map, and was typically only restricted to Hearts to go near due to its ominous appearance. It was undoubtedly home to another Guardian, based on how anomalous it was, even by Dungeon standards. But it was also hard to approach, let alone enter.

It looked exactly as it did on the map. Black dot on the paper, a great, black crater in person. He couldn’t even see the crater’s walls. It was like a vat of pure, inky blackness. It vaguely reminded him of Enet’s home the night before. Hidden in plain sight. The fact that it was still around suggested that not even the Hunters could approach easily.

Owen landed. “Sorry about that,” he said, tittering. “Okay. Rhys, do you know how to fly?”

“Of course,” Rhys said. “Though, not in the traditional sense, as I said before. Let me make sure I still have the technique in me, so to speak…” Rhys held his arms firmly to his side. Then from both paws, aura energy burst downward in a steady stream. Wind blew in all directions away from the Lucario and he flew into the air. “I seem to have it covered!” he shouted down, secondary blasts coming from his feet.

“Oh,” Owen said, staring. “…He can do that.”

“It’s not very useful in Dungeons where you can’t fly,” Amia said, “and I imagine with his limbs occupied, he can’t fight in that state, either. And with Waypoints for quick travel to most places, well…”

Owen shrugged. “Let’s go.”

“Oy! Don’t go fergeting me!” Gahi chirped.

<><><>​

The horizon seemed to go on forever. It was an endless expanse of the blue ocean along a pale sky, speckled with white clouds. The only real detail they could see from this height was that of the clouds’ shadows cascading along the water below. Gahi clicked his jaws worriedly. “If y’drop me, I’m gonna kill yeh,” he said, clinging onto Owen’s back with the help of a few vines.

“Not if the fall kills you first,” Owen murmured, adjusting his arm-vines carefully. “Rhys, are you sure that isn’t too hard for you?”

The steady stream of aura energy made Owen think about Golurk and their propulsive abilities.

“I should be fine for quite a while,” Rhys said. “This aura energy is produced as quickly as I spend it with simple flight.”

“Oh, don’t lie, dear,” Amia said. “I can feel it depleting a tiny bit. Otherwise, you’d be flying like this all the time!”

“Ngh—perhaps by a negligible amount,” Rhys said.

Amia looked at their map, and then ahead. “I think that’s Zero Isle.”

Rhys nodded.

“Goodness…” Amia said. Their flying slowed down slightly, and they veered away from the archipelago—which appeared to be a spiral of beige sand and tiny, light trees in the middle of sky-colored saltwater. “Do you feel that?” she asked.

Owen felt a horrible tightness in his chest, like the sheer radiation of power was stopping his heart. “What is that? It’s… coming from…”

“Feel what?” Gahi asked.

“I guess only Mystics can feel it,” Amia said. “Rhys?”

“…We should keep clear of Zero Isle for a while,” said Rhys. “A powerful Guardian is there, and we are simply not ready.”

“Wait! A powerful Guardian? A friendly one?”

Rhys shook his head. “Not to us, no,” he said. “…Frankly, I’m not sure if the Steel one will be friendly, either.”

“How do you know?” Owen asked. “Did… did you try to attack the Zero Isle Guardian before? When you were a…”

Rhys shook his head. “No,” he said. “But I fought her predecessor, who was…” he shivered slightly. “It’s not something that I like to think about.”

Owen nodded. “Okay. But, what Orb is it of? Do you know anything about her?”

“Dragon, and yes, she’s very hostile. We’ll talk about this later,” Rhys said, pointing ahead. “That’s the island we’re looking for, is it not?”

At the horizon was a grayish structure sitting atop a black ground. The water nearby had a dark residue around it. Owen wasn’t sure what to think about the odd color—he certainly wouldn’t drink it.

“That’s… a factory?” Owen said, gulping. Nevren didn’t seem too concerned or alarmed when talking about this place, but now that he saw it with his own eyes, it seemed… ominous.

“Hm, it appears to be one, yes,” Rhys said. They lowered their altitude, heading for a firm trajectory right for the shore of this island, just beyond the dark water.

“What’s the weird… black stuff?”

“It may be remnants of decay,” Rhys said. “Factories tend to produce waste products like trash quite a bit. If it’s been here for such a long time, perhaps some of that product is simply leaking into the water…”

“That can’t be good,” Owen said.

“Well, it is a small factory in a large ocean. It shouldn’t be too bad… I imagine,” Rhys trailed off. “Hrm. Well, regardless, it doesn’t seem to be spreading beyond this point. Perhaps we can look into cleaning it up later.”

They landed in the sand. There was something that felt… dirty about it. Owen winced at the ground, lifting his foot. “That’s a weird feeling. It’s… heavy. No, not heavy, but…” He dug his toes into the dirt and lifted it up. The sand stuck together with some sort of tar. He didn’t sense any strange properties from it, even with his Perceive. But it certainly wasn’t sand he’d want to make a mini building out of.

“It feels like it’s more than just dirt and rock,” Amia nodded.

“We should wash in cleaner water when we return home,” said Rhys. “Particularly you, Gahi, since you aren’t Mystic.”

Gahi tilted his head down. “Ehh, I’ll stay on yer back fer now,” he said.

“W-wait, what?” Owen was already lugging the giant Ground and bug-like Pokémon on his back, holding his hands behind him. “G-Gahi! You’re a little bulky to be carried around like that!”

“I ain’t walkin’ on tainted ground! I got standards! Carry me!”

“Nngh… okay.” Owen sighed. “But give me a second to….” He carefully pulled Gahi around his body until the bug was in front of him; Owen kept his arms around Gahi’s abdomen, holding him gently against his chest.

Gahi leaned his head back, bumping it against the bottom of Owen’s neck. “Don’t squish me.”

“I won’t,” Owen said. “Let’s go. I’m gonna set you down once we’re on that solid ground, the… that’s a steel floor or something?”

“It appears to be a special kind of stone,” Rhys said. “It’s called concrete.”

“Concrete…” Owen said. “I thought that was just a word that meant ‘really solid’?”

“Yes. The word came from that material, I believe. Or the other way around… hmm. Now I’m not sure,” he said. “We usually just use Protect insulation to reinforce buildings.”

“Concrete… Like a Conkeldurr?”

“Somewhat, yes,” said Rhys.

Owen breathed slowly, conscious of every sound they made. It was too quiet here. It wasn’t a Dungeon. No labyrinthine environment set up around them, even upon entering the tall, gray, imposing structure. That somehow made it worse. The lifelessness left Owen searching for an inevitable specter in the walls or the ground. But then Owen remembered that the Ghost Guardian was Anam. His hands ached again.

Their steps began to have sound. Owen looked down, puzzled at the new noise. So familiar. The feeling of claws on concrete. He then looked up at the factory—less familiar. In fact, he’d never seen such a structure before. It was many stories high, taller than the giant heart in the southern point of Kilo Village. Owen nearly fell backward from craning his neck so far; eventually, he had to stop to look into the entrance.

It was too dark from the outside to tell what it was. There were only a few windows at the top of the large room, and they were small. He saw many strange structures inside of the factory; horizontal platforms that had little wheels and cylinders embedded into them, contraptions that looked like strange, new Steel Pokémon. It vaguely reminded him of Kilo Village’s more advanced technology that Nevren made. Owen had a vague, blurry memory of once visiting a printing press. Perhaps that’s what these contraptions reminded him of. Some of it looked quite shiny like it was being sustained and washed—not dusty. It must’ve been the Guardian.

The Guardian. Was he here? Where? He couldn’t sense any imposing aura yet, and there was still the feeling of being watched. The lack of sensation got to him again. He needed to feel something. If he at least knew how threatening this Guardian was, he could put himself at ease. But an unknown power—an undetectable power?

Gahi bumped his head against Owen’s chest. “Stop squeezin’.”

“Sorry.”

Amia hummed. “What… is this?”

On solid ground, Owen set Gahi down. The Trapinch tapped his head on the concrete. “This place ain’t too bad,” he said. “Good echo. I can tell where everything is here, heh…”

“Do you hear anybody else here?” Owen asked. “I can’t—my sense of my surroundings isn’t strong enough yet. I feel like if I was fully evolved, I’d be able to find the guy, but I can’t.”

A metallic clinking noise echoed in the depths of the factory. Owen felt a cold chill run up his spine. The first sound that didn’t come from them. “Th-that m-might’ve been—” And then he felt it.

The Steel Guardian finally revealed himself by aura. And that little bit released felt like a punch in the lungs. Even Amia rubbed at her arms out of reflex.

“What’re you guys freakin’ out about?” Gahi asked.

“It’s nothing to concern yourself with,” Rhys said.

Owen didn’t believe him.

“Guess that’s the Guardian,” Owen said. “But hey, on the bright side, w-we don’t have to deal with crazy Mods anymore! Oh, wait.” He felt another aura—it was weaker, but he also recognized it. “I think Hecto’s here, too…” he mumbled.

“What was that, dear?” Amia asked.

“Do you guys know Hecto? Star’s, uh…”

“Ah, yes, Hecto,” Rhys nodded. “If he’s here, then I imagine this will be a safer area, in a sense. Hecto is not very strong on his own. Perhaps we won’t have to fight, either. Let’s keep going.”

It eased Owen’s heart at least a little, but he still kept on his guard. Everything was foreign here. There could be traps, or any number of hostile spirits hidden away, even by aura. They walked through a narrower portion of the factory, next to some of the odd platforms nearby. Owen saw strange objects on top of these platforms, but he was too short to see what they were at a good angle. “What’re those?” Owen asked.

“What are what, dear?” Amia asked. “Oh! Those… things?” she asked, reaching out.

“Don’t touch them,” Rhys said quickly.

“O-oh?” Amia asked, flinching her hand away. “Okay. Are they… traps, or volatile Dungeon Orbs?”

“Yes, in a sense,” Rhys said. “Now, let’s keep going. Don’t touch anything that doesn’t look familiar; this is a remnant from another realm, and we can’t be sure how it will react to us.”

“That’s… a weird way of phrasing it, Rhys,” Owen said. “But—okay.”

“Eh?” Gahi looked up. “What’re yeh all talking about anyway? Weird li’l…” He trailed off. “What’s this orb yer talking? What’s it look like?”

“It kinda looks… I dunno. It’s kinda pretty, though. But it doesn’t look natural.” Owen shrugged.

“’Sup.” This voice wasn’t familiar.

Owen felt that shiver again and stared ahead. He saw a bipedal figure with muscled arms and a shiny body. Metallic, indicative of the Steel Orb’s influence. His voice had a ringing tinge to it, too.

“H-hey, uh…” Owen wasn’t really sure how to acknowledge it. He said without thinking, “A Machoke, the Steel Guardian?”

“Not as dumb as you being the Grass Guardian.”

That one stung.

“A-ah, um,” Amia quickly held up her hands, “H-hello! Um… what’s your name? I’m Gardevoir Amia, this is Charmeleon Owen, that’s Lu—”

“Brandon Rezz,” the metal Machoke replied. “I know who you guys are. Don’t worry.”

Owen blinked as if he was trying to piece together something in his head. “Rezz?” he asked. “What Pokémon is a Rezz? I thought you were a Machoke. And you said your name backward.”

“No, I’m a Machoke, sure,” Brandon said. “But my last name is Rezz.”

“…I don’t get it,” Owen said. “Brandon and Rezz both aren’t a species.”

“Where I’m from,” Brandon said, “everyone that talked was the same species. …Mostly. So, kinda stupid if we all had the same first name. So instead, we had unique last names that followed our family line. So, the same way you guys take the first names of your mother, the same species, I got my last name from my dad.”

“Oh,” Amia said. “That’s interesting! But—you came from a realm that was all Machoke? I don’t know which part of your story I want to ask about first!”

Brandon gave off the smallest smirk. “No,” he said. “Not Machoke.” He turned around, staring at the dull ceiling. “I only have this form because it’s close to what I used to be. I’m from the human world.”

“Oh! So… a Machoke… wait…”

“While I gave it up a long time ago,” Brandon said, “I used to be human.”
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Alright, I read the prologue and the first chapter! I’ve got some line-by-line thoughts here, and I’ll give you general thoughts at the end.

Poison-tipped fangs plunged into Owen’s chest.
I like that we’re starting with action and a problem! It’s a little weird that these fangs are disembodied at first read though. Maybe “The beast plunged its fangs into Owen’s chest”?

His lungs were full.
This normally makes me think “of air” but in context it seems like it’s probably blood or poison or something (or even like he could have a punctured lung?) It might be clearer to say he felt short of breath or to describe him coughing.

evening twilight’s darkness.
I feel like you’re doubling up on words that are too similar here. Maybe one or two?

Only the fading fire of Owen’s tail and the Magmortar’s shoulders lit the area—making them easy targets.
I do like taking this into consideration! Fire-types can light the way... and at night they make for easy prey.

The impact on the ground gave Owen just enough time to escape,
I’d cut “on the ground.”

Owen fell face-first into the dirt,
A lot of alliteration here! Maybe instead: Owen face-planted into the dirt. OR Owen landed face-first in the dirt.

The Gardevoir peeked into the room,
I had trouble picturing what it meant to have “a room.” I liked the imagery of the caves and mushrooms, but the juxtaposition with a setup that felt so like a human suburban home threw me and took away some of the magic of the cave.

Another voice whispered quietly from the other room. “Amia, is he okay?”
If Owen can hear Alex from where he is, it might make more sense to have Alex actually engage with him and ask directly. Or, it could be a good moment to offer an emotional reaction from Owen. Is he alarmed by the worry in his dad's voice? Annoyed?

The third seat was much larger than the rest—in order to accommodate for its usual occupant. Alex, bumping his cannon-arms nervously
The sudden shift to first names feels a little weird, because until the very end it still feels like Owen is our perspective character. Wouldn’t he call them Mom and Dad? At the end of this scene, Amia seems to be more the focus character, because they keep talking after Owen leaves. It might be nice to lean into that harder — let her thoughts deep into the narrative a bit more, tease some of the things she knows that Owen doesn’t.

Y-yes, exactly,” Alex said.
It seemed to me like the stutter should be an Owen thing. He’s younger and unsure of himself, after all. If they all stutter, it makes their character voices less distinct.

He grabbed a small, lightweight, golden Badge with a heart-shaped insignia from a nearby rock,
Are most badges very heavy?

though his tail and chest both expanded at the thought.
“Tail expanding” is a weird image. I assume you mean the fire, but I’m picturing the tail itself and... Could be clearer.

putting his full weight and gravity behind the jump. The tile depressed a little, but still, nothing happened.

He used to open this so easily. Did he lose weight? Muscle weighed more than fat. Owen worriedly pinched at his gut, wondering if his chubby Charizard genes were coming through before the rest. But it felt normal.

The apparently lightweight Charmander scanned the ground and found a large rock.
This didn’t quite work for me. I dunno how you can jump on something without putting your full weight on it or jump in a way that adds more of your weight. It also wasn’t totally clear to me what was supposed to happen when there’s enough weight on the tile, and that left me in the lurch for a moment. Fetching a rock was a good solution though, Owen! (Though I’m surprised all that extra stuff in his bag didn’t help weigh him down.)

He emerged to the base of a rocky hillside behind him
It’s odd to emerge and then immediately describe what’s behind him. Maybe instead: He emerged from the hillside and saw ...

It was a little raised hill in the distance from his perspective, but that was a whole mountain of black rock.
I’m feeling a bit of dissonance between “it” and “that.” Maybe instead: From his perspective, it looked like a little hill, but he knew it was really a mountain of black rock.
gently tapped his ankle on the tile.
An ankle feels like an awkward body part to use to tap something. Having trouble picturing this.

The buildings that surrounded him were no more than two stories tall. Oblong rocks bound by mortar shaped the buildings near the center of town—the oldest buildings of the crater. These black stones were home to nobody.
This town is painted with such care. However, I have to wonder if it’s worth the time to describe it all in such detail, because Owen is about to head into the dungeon for the next little while. Feels like it’s not serving the plot’s most urgent needs.

Owen spotted a Chansey through windows of wood and glass, holding a few soft-boiled eggs in her tiny arms. A Miltank was carrying a large jug of milk in the opposite direction.
Honestly, it would be weirder if it were a chansey with milk and a miltank with eggs. What else should they be carrying?

Not that he did it incorrectly, but that something, in general, felt wrong.
These words are too similar — I’m not getting what the distinction is for Owen. Can you get more specific about why and how it feels wrong?

Lost in thought, he didn’t notice a passerby Zangoose.

“Kid,” he said, “you oughta get off the Waypoint.”
Haha nice.

Owen saw an Alakazam whose mustache was large enough for Owen to walk on like a carpet.
That is... very big. Having trouble suspending my disbelief!

But, looking at you…”

Owen felt a cold pit in his stomach at that analytical gaze. Was he being judged, right there, by one of the most Elite Hearts in the whole world?

Nevren nodded. “I see potential. Quite a bit!”
I feel like it’s pretty clear from his tone that he’s being friendly though! The dread feels a little too strong.

was a constant reminder that he was a larva when he shouldn’t have been.
Larva was jarring.

Psychologically it was undoubtedly going to feed into some complex, Owen thought, but in terms of practicality? Priceless.
A little meta for me. But a good point.

A huge, orange jaw chittered in front of Owen, owned by a Trapinch.
Why not Owen found himself facing the huge, chittering jaws of a trapinch?

Oh, really? I was going to go exploring in the Wild Woodlands.”

“Y’mean the Wooden Wilds?” Gahi asked.
Haha nice.

He knew these three were his students.
“His” is unclear here. Sounds like it means Owen.

Embers filled the air. Shrieks of wild Pokémon accompanied them.
Embers and shrieks of wild pokémon filled the air.

A strange gravity prevented him from climbing the walls, let alone flying over them if he ever sprouted wings.
This was unclear. Does that mean normally he could climb the walls? The second part, about sprouting wings, was so clearly unrealistic, I couldn’t tell if the first part was meant to be serious.

He grabbed a stick nearby and stuck it through the core of the apple.
Can he get burned by his own flame? Is the stick necessary?

savoring the sweet, hot taste.
Is “hot” a taste?

My signature attack—Fire Trap!” he said to the wind.
Again, too meta. It’s also not clear how this works.

The phantom pain in Owen’s chest and back suddenly flared up at the sight of this mutated Pokémon.
Calling it “the phantom pain” makes it sound like something we were supposed to know he’d been experiencing. Maybe just pain? Or just phantom pain?

The blink indicated a transition into a new part of the Dungeon. Section seven, section eight, section nine… section ten.
This felt a little too video game-y to me. Isn’t the dungeon ever changing and in need it exploring? How would the badge be able to track which section they were in?

Trained, focused. Malevolent. What did this one have in mind? He saw that look often in town—outlaws that were captured, still bitter with defeat.
That’s a lot to get out of the look in someone’s eye. It would be nice to either show us a wanted poster OR let Owen have a naive moment of trusting until it’s clear what the aerodactyl’s intentions are.

Overall, Owen is sweet and I think the forever-baby thing is fun. The narrative seems to linger in a couple places where it doesn’t need to, but I like that you kick off the conflict pretty quickly and keep Owen in danger consistently. Watch out for clarity in your prose though — some of those ambiguities might be for plot, but others I didn’t think were serving you. For example: the parents. In the prologue I was...confused how gardevoir + magmortar = charmander. You mentioned later that he’s adopted, but it seems like that could’ve been said earlier (perhaps at the breakfast table).
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Ahh! A review! Thanks, Johto! Glad you're enjoying Owen, and sorry that the prose is a little rough around the edges near the start. Hopefully it'll get more to your liking as you advance forward. I covered most of this in DMs with you, but I appreciate it all nonetheless! Maybe one day I'll get back to touch up the intro chapters for the millionth time again...

Anyway, next chapter is incoming soon. To the factory!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 31 – Ancient Tradition

Mispy tumbled through the air and slammed hard against the rocks. “Ugh!” She tumbled and rolled, eventually coming to a stop on her side. Her vines twitched weakly.

Demitri puffed, scratching his tusks with pride. “That’s a win for me,” he said, walking toward the fallen Chikorita. “Mispy? You alright?”

Mispy didn’t move.

“Aw, c’mon, Mispy, it wasn’t that bad.” The powerful Axew gulped. “R-right? Mispy?”

Still no response.

He quickened his pace, clenching his fists. He didn’t hit too hard, did he? “Mispy, I—”

She suddenly jumped to her feet, firing her pent-up Solar Beam. It was so fast and so sudden that Demitri had no time to dodge. He screamed in surprise and covered his face. The white, green-tinged light burned his scales and sent him flying several feet backwards, tumbling to the ground in the same way. The Axew coughed a plume of smoke when he finally stopped.

“That’s enough, now!” Zena shouted, slithering toward the dueling pair. “Please—I don’t want you two going all-out!”

“What’re you talking about?” Demitri asked, staggering to his feet. “If anything goes wrong, our Tiny Reviver Seeds will activate…”

“That’s—yes, but—that’s quite wasteful!”

“Anam makes tons of them,” Demitri said. “They’re not like regular Revivers. All they do is help you get enough energy to move again and restore the body a little bit, you know?”

“Did one activate just now?”

“No. Which means we didn’t push ourselves hard enough,” Demitri said, frowning.

“I—I think you push yourselves just fine!”

Mispy wobbled toward Demitri and wrapped her vines around him, channeling healing energy. She then rubbed along his body, scraping the ash off, exposing new, fresh scales. He smiled and nuzzled her.

“It’s just how we fight, Zena,” Demitri said calmly. “It’s okay. I think… that’s just part of how we are, I guess. That’s not so bad, right?” He tittered, but caught the Milotic’s worried eyes.

Something about her size and shadow cast over them, blocking the dim glow of the mushrooms, made them look more intimidating than she may have intended.

“Look,” Demitri went on, “if we can keep it under control, it’s okay, right? But we haven’t had a good fight in a while, and that sparring match we had with Owen left me feeling antsy.”

“Me, too,” Mispy lamented, prodding the ground with her right foreleg. She hesitated, but then looked up at Zena—her towering form compared to her Chikorita self was at least slightly intimidating. Her leaf bobbed to express her nervousness, pinned against the back of her neck.

Zena sighed, looking away. “Well, I suppose if you enjoy yourselves. Rhys told me to keep an eye on you two while the others trained, since I know the Suppression Aura, too, just in case…”

“Yeah…”

“Is something bothering you?” asked Zena.

Mispy prodded the rocks again, finding a loose pebble to toy with. “Are we… monsters?”

Zena hesitated for a second too long.

Mispy turned around.

“No, you aren’t,” Zena quickly amended. “You aren’t. You aren’t monsters, because creatures like those… wouldn’t be worried about something like that in the first place, don’t you think?”

Mispy wasn’t convinced, but she sighed, conceding. “I guess.”

“Hey,” Demitri said, patting her on the back. He huddled closer. “Rhys left us alone with Zena who barely knows the Suppression whatever. So…” He gently rubbed her back, just below the buds along her neck. “Don’t worry about it. We might’ve been created, but we’re still us.”

“Yeah…” Mispy smiled, brushing her leaf against his head. “Thanks.” There was a silence then, tranquility after a fight. The bruises still hurt, but it was a good, post-spar sort of pain that filled her with contentment and nostalgia. Forgotten nostalgia, probably, part of those memories sealed away.

…She felt it.

And then, a white light enveloped her.

“M-Mispy?” Demitri squeaked, staggering away.

Even though it was only her middle stage, Zena readied the Suppression Aura just in case, holding it between her ribbons. When the black sparks shot out, Demitri quickly dodged one of them, shivering at the residual feeling it gave off, like electricity.

“What even is that stuff?” he mumbled.

“Rhys said that it’s anti-evolution energy,” Zena said. “Apparently the Suppression Aura… is a key that makes your own auras synthesize that, reversing your evolutions. The act of evolving shakes off that aura.”

The light faded. Mispy, a Bayleef, opened one eye, looking down. She lifted her legs tentatively, then looked at Demitri.

“How do you feel?” Demitri said.

Mispy considered her answer. “Mm… normal.”

“Incorrect,” ADAM said, quietly observing from his home nearby. “Grass Type detected.”

Mispy giggled, as did Zena. Then, the newly evolved Bayleef wrapped her vines around Demitri. “Let’s evolve you next,” she said, and then hurled him into the wall.

<><><>​

“Humans?” Owen repeated, still trying to grasp the concept. “What do you mean, the human world? So, you used to be human?! But—but I thought humans were just mythical creatures!”

He had so many questions to ask. Was it true? Was Brandon the Steel Guardian because humans really were made of metal? Did they eat metal, too? Or did they eat stone? There were so many rumors about humans—there was no telling which ones were true. They were even more unknown than Mew and Arceus themselves—if Owen ignored the past moon or so, at least.

Brandon laughed. “No, they’re far from mythical,” he said. “If anything, they’re less impressive than Pokémon. They don’t know moves, and they can’t really stand up to a Pokémon in a fight unless they’re very highly trained. They cheat and use special tools instead. Tools like these.” He reached over to the platform and picked up one of the strange, red-white orbs.

Rhys quickly went on his guard.

The very fact that Rhys, of all of them, was on his guard put Owen on edge.

“Don’t worry, this one doesn’t work,” Brandon said, casually tossing the sphere up and down. “This factory hasn’t been used in ages. The stuff on this assembly line is basically useless.” He dropped the orb to the ground, where it split into multiple fragments.

Owen slowly relaxed, but couldn’t help but focus on his peculiar wording. The ones on the assembly line didn’t work? Then which ones did?

“So,” the Machoke went on. “I take it you’re here to have me join in your little games? Star’s little underlings against Arceus’ Trinity against Eon’s subjects.”

“Uh—hang on, what? To all of those things,” Owen said, holding a claw to his chest. “I’m not Star’s underling, and what’s this about a Trinity? And Eon, uh…”

Brandon eyed Owen curiously. “You mean you aren’t aligned with Star or Barky?” he said. “Or Eon?”

“Aligned? What?” Owen squinted at Brandon, but then remembered the Promise that Barky had asked of him, and the one that Star nearly had asked, too. He shook his head. “I’m just… I’m just trying to make things right,” he said. “I want to stop the Hunters from killing the Guardians so we can just relax. It’s too hard to live alone like they’ve been… I don’t want that. For anyone.”

The Machoke stopped surveying the walls and stared directly at Owen. He approached, his metallic feet making loud, clanging echoes across the abandoned factory. When Owen took a few steps back—and when Amia took a warning step forward—Brandon raised his arms with a smirk. He settled for where he stood, about five paces away.

Brandon hummed thoughtfully. “…You… you’re still a Charmeleon.”

“Y-yeah,” Owen said, holding his position with tensed muscles.

“Which means you can’t handle your true form yet. Like an awkward cocoon.”

“U-uh, I guess you could put it like that,” Owen said.

Brandon looked at Gahi next, kneeling down. “And you. You must’ve gone back to being a Trapinch, so you can’t handle it, either.”

“Yeah, what of it? I’m workin’ on it. Lay off.” Gahi clicked his jaws at Brandon. “I can evolve any time I want!”

“Oh?” Brandon said.

“Yeah, eh… just gimme a second and I bet I could.”

“So, if I have you evolve right now, you can handle being a Vibrava?”

“Yeah! Totally! …Yeah, Owen?” Gahi asked. “I ain’t crazy as a Vibrava?”

“What? You were fine,” Owen said. “Were—were we crazy as that before, too?”

He looked at Amia and Rhys; they both looked away. “Ngh—so you didn’t even tell me that? How come this guy knows more about me than I do?”

“Well, Arceus told me about it, mostly,” said Brandon. “We chat. You know, he can be a real gossip if you know how to ask questions the right way. I’m part of the Trinity. Steel, Poison, and Dragon Guardians happen to be under Arceus’ loyalty. And we’re all too strong for you, so I’d recommend you just head on back. Not even Rim wants to take me on.”

“You don’t feel all that strong,” Owen muttered.

“How about you come up to my face and say that?” Brandon smirked, looking like he wasn’t even offended.

“Maybe I will,” Owen said, flame brightening a bit.

“Ohh, look! You’re growing a spine!” Brandon clapped his hands together, creating a loud clang. “Aw, hey, I’m just kidding around. I get it, you’re still sealed away. Still. Don’t think you can take me on. I’m keeping you around because I like the chat and I haven’t had a good fight in decades. Do you know how boring it is meditating for years at a time? Very.”

“W-wait,” Amia said, “we didn’t come here to fight if we didn’t have to.”

“Oh?” Brandon said. “Then how come you brought two Fires, a Ground, and a Fighting type to the Steel Guardian’s place?” he asked. “C’mon, I’m not stupid.”

Rhys flinched. “We were—just being careful, in case you were hostile.”

“Aside from the pretty one, you brought a Hunter and two mutants to meet me. You’re lucky I didn’t kill you guys on the spot.”

“Pretty?” Amia blinked. “Oh, dear…”

“We’re sorry if our arrangement was suspicious. I should have considered that,” Rhys said formally. “But we truly do want to do this peacefully, and it’s only for the benefit of the Guardians. I would like to point out that I made a Promise to one of the other Guardians to never kill one of your kind again. I can assure you that I am, by divine contract, safe. Will you come with us?”

“No deal.” Brandon held up his hand. “I’m with Arceus on this one. Gathering the Orbs together is just asking for trouble, and I’d rather not stir the pot.”

“Did you make a Divine Promise to not come with us?” Owen asked.

“I made a Promise to keep myself away from the other Guardians,” he said. “It’s not a violation to allow them to approach me like this, but I’m not about to come with you guys. Got it?”

“But… but it’s not safe!” Owen said. “What if Rim gets even stronger? The Hunters already have three Orbs. What happens if they get more? At some point, won’t you be overpowered?”

“Maybe,” said Brandon, “but I think Arceus has a better chance at handling them than I would, if that happens.”

Owen thought about this. Arceus could handle an overwhelming power—he believed that much. He was the Creator, after all. He had witnessed his power firsthand; only Star could counter something like that. But if that was the case… “Then why doesn’t he just do that now?”

“What do you mean? They aren’t a threat to him yet, so why bother?”

“Yeah, but why bother letting even a minor threat grow? They could eventually take him down. Shouldn’t he just… I dunno… smite the people who are trying to overthrow him?”

“Well… maybe,” Brandon said. “Maybe he’s showing them mercy by giving them an opportunity to take it all back, or something.” He shrugged. “Or maybe Star gets in his way if he tries. She’s pretty shady, you know.”

Owen grumbled. He refused to admit he had a point, so he just snorted flames out his nostrils.

“Look,” Brandon said, “it’s not like I care all that much. I agree with him, so I’m gonna sit right here and keep things the way they are. It’s… the best thing to do.”

“The best? What’s that even mean?” Owen said.

“Ahem.”

Amia jumped in surprise and spun around. “Who—?”

“Hi, Hecto!” Owen waved. “I thought I sensed you. Uh… how come you’re here?”

The canid Zygarde made a soldier-like trot toward the group and gave a nod in greeting to Amia. “I am stationed here to keep a close watch on the factory and Brandon. The artifacts that are here cannot be tampered with. Destroying this place would risk releasing these objects into the ocean, which could then spread them essentially anywhere that has a shore. Therefore, it must be contained.”

“Okay, I get that,” Owen said, “but what is this? And why doesn’t Arceus just annihilate the factory? Like, he totally could do that if he wanted, right?”

Brandon shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. “Or maybe he’s saving it for a rainy day.”

“You’re the least helpful Guardian we’ve ever talked to,” Owen said.

“What, is being helpful my job?” Brandon said. “Then where’s my pay? Besides, I’m far from the least helpful. Didn’t the Fairy try to crush you?”

“Y-yeah, but she’s friendly now,” Owen said.

“She probably just thinks you’re a big toy, y’know.”

Owen’s eye twitched. “What’s your point?!”

“I dunno.” Brandon shrugged. “I haven’t been able to chat with folks that aren’t my spirits for a while. Talking with them gets kinda samey. Maybe I like chatting after all? Hah. If me a thousand years ago could say that…” He shook his head.

Hecto watched the exchange without changing his expression. When the idle chat died down, he said, “Brandon, perhaps you should explain to them what these mechanical spheres are.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The metal Machoke looked at the orbs on the production line and shook his head. “That’s the legacy of humans. Their ambition to be the strongest species in the world by doing nothing more than manipulating your kind. By capturing, controlling, and indoctrinating Pokémon to do their bidding. Their battles. Their wars…” Brandon tapped a finger on his crossed arm. “All of it in the name of human ego.”

He snorted. “I’ve been there. I’ve been a human. I know exactly what it’s like to be on top, how it feels to be in control—but I’ve also seen what it means to be on the bottom. And I’m not about to put this world through that by leaving this place unguarded.”

Owen stared. “How can… what’s made in this factory be able to do something like that? How can any single species be that powerful? Everything has a counter, doesn’t it? Like, if there was ever, uh, maybe a Rock Type uprising, I’d be in pretty big trouble…”

Brandon looked at Rhys. “Should I show him?”

“Ngh… I suppose Owen’s curiosity won’t let me say no,” Rhys said. “Amia, Gahi, Owen, I need one of you to go forward as a volunteer.”

“A—A volunteer?” Owen tensed, not ready for some dubious—

“I’ll do it,” Gahi said. He wobbled forward and looked up. “Okay, what’s this gonna be fer?”

Brandon looked up and waved his hand gently in the air; something fell down. It was another one of those orbs, though this one shined brighter, and looked a lot newer. “I kept these ones safe, but I guess it’d be good to get rid of one for this,” he said.

“That one’s a different color,” Amia observed. Instead of being red and white, this one was white on the bottom and black on the top, with yellow lines.

“Yeah, this one’s stronger. Just in case this guy puts up a fight. Trapinch…” Brandon hummed. “I’d say since he’s at his best, catching him would be a fifty-fifty shot with this. Maybe a little better. It’s been a while. You ready?”

“Sure. Go fer it. What’re yeh gonna do wi—”

The ball smacked Gahi on the head.

“Oy, what was tha—” The ball opened, and a light enveloped Gahi. In less than a second, the Trapinch was gone, and the ball fell to the ground, wiggling.

“Gahi?!” Owen and Amia said. Rhys lowered his head.

It shook a few times, violently, like someone was struggling inside. And then, the wiggling stopped, and there was a quiet click noise. Owen’s heart sank. “Wh-what… what happened?” he said, taking an uneasy step forward. “Gahi? A-are… are you in there?”

“He is,” Brandon said, approaching the sphere. “He’s probably disoriented right now. But he’s in there. It’s not easy to get out once it seals them. That’s what the click was.” He leaned down and picked the ball up. “Humans would capture Pokémon in these capsules. We called them Poké Balls for that reason. This one is an Ultra Ball—about twice as strong as the average Poké Ball, those red ones.” Brandon looked down at the little button, but didn’t press it. “Hey, Gahi? You hear me? Why don’t you try escaping, huh?” He held the ball flat on his palm. “I’d send you out the traditional way, but I want to show how hard it is for a new ‘wild Pokémon’ to escape these things.”

“Wild? But Gahi isn’t wild!” Owen said. “He’s a little weird, but that’s because he’s a mutant Pokémon, not wild!”

“Same difference. Any Pokémon not under the control of a human is considered wild,” Brandon said. The ball wiggled weakly. “That’s how the culture of humanity went. Sure, there were exceptions among them, but for the most part, you had to be under the dominion of a trainer to be considered not wild.”

The ball wiggled helplessly again.

“Guess Gahi can’t figure it out. Alright, Trapinch. Come on out!” Brandon tossed the ball; at the apex of its throw, it split open. A white light emerged, poured onto the ground, and solidified into Gahi.

Gahi wobbled a few steps and turned around. “Wh-what was that?” he mumbled. “Was… was weird. Felt real weird.”

“Weird, huh?” Brandon nodded. “To be honest, I dunno what it’s like.”

“It was kinda like I was just… floatin’ in there,” Gahi said. “Didn’t have a body. Felt… I dunno, weird. But I guess it was okay… felt kinda relaxed, eh…” He looked off. “I guess it was fine.”

“Yeah, it’s not bad, in itself,” Brandon said, but then looked at Gahi. “D’you wanna go back in?”

Gahi looked tempted.

“Wait! Gahi, maybe don’t?” Owen said. “We don’t know why that happened, but you shouldn’t just jump back into that thing! You disappeared! That’s—that’s crazy!”

Brandon nodded. “This is how wild Pokémon are tamed. They’re put in a stress-free, cozy environment. It’s not like we mistreat them. I’ll give humans credit for that much: the vast majority of trainers treat their Pokémon with respect and kindness, one way or another. And living in those Poké Balls, it’s like a little bliss to them, compared to having to tough it out in the wild. When they’re captured, they realize this. They’re pretty smart. They put it together that humans can take care of them. They can get stronger alongside humans. In return, they serve the human. In itself, it’s not a bad system.”

Brandon looked down. “I was a trainer. I had lots of Pokémon, all loyal to me, and I took care of them. They were my partners. …No. They are my Partners.” He gently tapped his metallic hand on his chest, making another clang. “My Pokémon are still with me, as my Steel spirits. So, I’m not going to deny that this technology made our lives better. But you know what? It can make lives a whole lot worse, too.”

Brandon crushed the Ultra Ball in his hand. It shattered and the fragments fell to the floor. Gahi flinched, as if his home had been destroyed right in front of him—but the feeling was fleeting. The Trapinch sank to the back of the group, wordless.

“Are you okay?” Owen asked quietly.

“Yeh, I’m fine,” Gahi said. “Jus’… weird, is all. That whole thing. But I dunno. I guess I prefer walking around normally.”

Owen watched Gahi for a bit longer, but then reached down. He picked him up; to Owen’s surprise, Gahi didn’t resist. In fact, he pressed his head against Owen’s chest again.

Brandon continued. “I don’t want someone taking advantage of this technology here, either.”

“Then… why not destroy the factory carefully?” Amia said. “If you don’t like this technology, why don’t you just…”

“Again, I dunno,” Brandon said. “Arceus said to guard it, not destroy it, so that’s what I’m doing. I’ll trust him on that one.” Brandon tapped his chin. “Well, no. That wasn’t the whole story. I had him slip one day that he wanted to save it for a crisis. Apparently, it’s been used before?” He shrugged. “Wasn’t around when that happened. Or it’s just been so long that I forgot. What year is it? You guys measure in kiloseconds still?”

Owen frowned. “Yeah, we do, but… our mission is to bring you with us,” he said. “If—if we can beat you, would you come with us?”

“Mmmm…” Brandon tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I Promised Arceus. That being said, I bet if I sweet-talked him enough, we can revoke it together. You just have to prove yourself. You’re on good terms with the guy, right?”

Owen’s shoulders fell.

“Yeah, I figured,” Brandon said. “But I’m not gonna make it hopeless. If you impress me enough, I’ll maybe think about coming along with you guys eventually. But with all that said, I’ll fight you anyway. It’s in your blood, and you’ll feel like trash if you didn’t get some fighting in, right?”

Owen winced.

“Yeah!” Gahi said. His spirits were already back to normal. He squirmed until Owen let go, landing on the ground with a little thud. “That’s right, yeh got it! So, at leas’ fight us, eh?!” He looked up at Owen, bumping his massive head against the bottom of his knee. “Oy, you gonna fight?”

“Y-yeah! Of—of course!” Even if they weren’t going to bring him back, a fight sounded like fun regardless. “Fighting… battling… it’s the best!” he said. “Even if it’s in my instincts… it’s not like I’m hurting anyone!”

“Well, you kinda are.” Brandon shrugged. “But I know what you mean. But if I fought you, this wouldn’t be fair. And my Pokémon… they feel the same way you do, in a way. Even if they know, now, that they were raised to like battling… it doesn’t really leave you. And I guess if it’s okay, it doesn’t hurt to have a proper fight now and then. Heheh…” Brandon created an orb of aura energy from his palm. “I’ll teach you a tradition of the human world. It’s about our Pokémon battles when we aren’t fighting in wars or other pointless things like that. Okay?”

“A traditional human-world Pokémon battle?” Owen beamed. “Sure! Okay!”

There was a little glint in Brandon’s steely eyes. “Heh… alright.”

“Now, hold on.” Rhys stepped forward, his face twisted to a subtle snarl. “There’s no need for any of this.”

“H-huh?” Owen looked back. “What do you mean? It’s fine to do this, right? We can win him over!”

Rhys glared at Brandon. The Machoke smirked back.

“Right…?”

“We can’t leave, can we?” Rhys asked.

“You could try,” Brandon said.

The levity drained from the room like blood from an open wound. “Wait,” Owen said. “We can’t… leave?”

“Not until I get my fight,” Brandon said, nodding. “Besides, that’s what you wanted, right? C’mon, your instincts are screaming to fight me, aren’t they?”

“Nuh-no,” Owen said. “I’m in control of myself. I don’t feel a thing.”

“You know, for someone with Perceive, you’re a bad liar,” Brandon said. “Look, I’m not gonna be coy with you. Fight me and I’ll let you go.”

“Oh.” Well, when he phrased it like that… “Okay. I—I guess I can work with that.” It wasn’t as if they had a choice. He had a sinking feeling they didn’t want to fight Brandon seriously on his own turf.

Brandon nodded. “Arceus is telling me he wants to see you in action, and that’s all. Human’s honor, I won’t do anything more than that.”

“Human’s honor,” Rhys said with a bitter snort. “That hardly means anything.”

“What, and you have more, Hunter?”

“N-now, let’s not escalate things,” Amia said quickly.

Brandon rolled his metal eyes. “Whatever.” He then tossed the aura energy; it formed into four Pokémon that mirrored their appearances. “My Pokémon used to have forms of their own, but they’ve gotten used to other bodies. So, I think it’d be appropriate if they mimicked you guys, huh?”

“Oh, okay!” Amia said, quick to attempt to steer the tone of the factory in a positive direction. “I think that’s fair, but… you know, I think I’ll sit out, if you don’t plan to come with us. Why don’t we just have a battle between Gahi and Owen and their mirrors?”

The two Pokémon mimicking Rhys and Amia slumped their shoulders. “No fair!” the double of Rhys said.

Rhys flinched. It even sounded like him. And that childish tone…

Gahi opened his mouth, amused. “Heh. Wish our Rhys was fun like that.”

“I heard that.”

“Hey, hey,” Brandon defused, “y’know what, if that’s how you’re gonna be, why don’t you guys just fuse three-three on them, huh?” Brandon tossed two more spirits out; rather than form into steely bodies, they went into the backs of Owen and Gahi’s metallic doubles.

Owen blinked. “Fuse?” he said. “That’s… possible?”

Brandon stared at Owen, but then glanced at Rhys and Amia. They both looked away. “Uh, yeah,” Brandon said. “I mean—yeah, it’s uncommon, weird actually, but it’s definitely possible for Mystics, spirits—eh, just hold on.” Brandon gave a nod to the metal Lucario and Gardevoir. They melted into a puddle of metal. Then, the Owen and Gahi doppelgangers stepped onto one of the puddles each. The metal wrapped around them and clung tight, sinking into their bodies.

Owen felt a wave of power radiate from the two that remained. He took a reflexive step back. “W-wow…” he said. “That… that feels so… strong.”

“Fusion of this kind amplifies the aura, and therefore the power that is output by the Pokémon battling. So, to keep it fair”—Brandon held his hand parallel to the ground and lowered it; a strange field enveloped the metallic fighters—“I’m gonna suppress their power as if they’re just a single Pokémon each.”

Owen looked at Gahi, and then at his opponents. “Okay. So, we’ll fight on even terms. That’s fine. Gahi, you think you can take them on?”

“Heh, nobody’s better at being me than me. I’ll beat ‘em.”

“Hmph, we’ll see,” said Brandon. “You’ll see the true strength behind Pokémon and their trainers.” The Machoke swung his arm forward, “Alright, guys! I’m gonna call you by what species you are, so don’t get confused!”

“Right!” the two—six, technically—of them said. They both entered a battle stance.

Owen wondered why Brandon was agreeing to this fight. He sounded like the least committed Guardian ever for joining them. Even if he won, what would come of it? Not to mention Rhys and Amia simply sitting back for this. Were they conserving their energy in case Brandon attacked? That had to be it.

How thoughtful of them. That meant Owen wouldn’t have to worry as much. Besides, the fight was tempting. He just had to keep on his guard. Gahi was antsy, anyway. He deserved to blow off some steam.

“Good luck, dear,” Amia mumbled, stepping away with Rhys. She said quietly to him, “What does he mean by the true strength?”

“Hm… I believe I know what he is referring to,” Rhys said. “But we will have to see.”

Brandon eyed Rhys again. “So, you wanna be the referee for this?” he said. “Maybe the… Referhys?”

“Never say that again,” Rhys deadpanned.

Brandon shrugged. “Suit yourself. Alright. Guess I’ll call the start. Ready… begin!”

Owen and Gahi both opened with their usual moves—Owen with a plume of fire, and Gahi with a zig-zag dash shrouded in shadows.

“Trapinch, counter with Feint Attack! Charmeleon, Dragon Claw!”

The Steel Pokémon obeyed, rushing right for their respective opponents. Gahi, shrouded in darkness, slammed into his double with a powerful tackle, but his mirror did the exact same thing, and they bounced off of one another. Despite being made of metal, he seemed just as durable as Gahi; Brandon must have adjusted them to mimic their exact battle capabilities.

Meanwhile, a yellow-orange jet of fire from Owen hit its mark, but it didn’t leave a burn as Owen would have hoped. Charmeleon, meanwhile, slashed across Owen’s chest with claws coated in indigo flames.

“Ngh—” Owen tried to rush back, thinking about his next move. He didn’t hear Brandon’s next order in the rush of battle, but he had said something. “W-wait! Hello?”

Charmeleon sidestepped, moving away from the fight. Owen fired another orange Flamethrower to get his attention, but he missed, and Charmeleon didn’t care. Instead, both metal fighters went after Gahi, striking him from both sides with darkness and dragon fire.

With a shout and a curse, Gahi rolled on the hard concrete and struggled to stand up. Owen breathed another beam of dense flames toward them. Charmeleon countered with an orb of white light, softening the blow. Trapinch, meanwhile, formed a wad of mud in his mouth and fired at Owen, partially obscuring his vision. “W-wait! That’s not—”

Coordinated, Charmeleon pushed Owen back with another claw coated in dragon embers. Trapinch followed up with another Mud Slap, almost completely blocking Owen’s vision, now.

“Alright, he’s weak enough. Watch out for Gahi!” Brandon yelled. “Charmeleon, use Flash Cannon again! Trapinch, Iron Head!”

“Of course they’d know those.” Amia sighed. “Ohh, why is he losing?! Is Brandon cheating? They should be at a disadvantage, being Steel, shouldn’t they?”

“No,” Rhys said. “They are at a disadvantage… but Brandon isn’t cheating. Their powers are equal.”

Gahi groaned, rolling across the ground. He was done—he could barely get off from his back. Owen was stuck wiping mud off of his face.

“No matter how good you are at having a strategy,” Rhys said, “when you are in the heat of battle, it can be difficult to make the right decision. Owen, in his current state, isn’t able to strategize and battle at the same time without distance; he can buy time to do so… but Brandon needs no time. As an observer—as a trainer—he is able to guide his weapons, his partners, with a much clearer head. Fewer mistakes, and more knowledge of the field, augments his Pokémon’s power immeasurably.”

“Just being commanded makes them stronger?” Amia said.

“Not in and of itself,” Rhys said. “But it allows them to focus entirely on execution. There is no need to think about what to do next—if the bond with your trainer is at its best… you can put all of your trust into his commands and focus entirely on your next move, thinking in the present, and let your trainer think in the future. You stop thinking about what to do next, and you start thinking about what to do now. The focus it provides is, well… You see the results.”

Owen knelt to one knee after the third Dragon Claw, clutching at his chest. “Th-that’s not fair,” he said, hearing the explanation. “That’s three on two!”

“Hey, nothing’s stopping them from giving you commands,” Brandon teased. “Alright, guys! Let’s end thi—"

A white light enveloped Gahi. Both of Brandon’s Pokémon flinched in surprise.

“Oh?” said Brandon. “Well, would you look at that…. Hey, Trapinch. Mirror Gahi’s new bod’.”

The light faded just in time for Gahi to see his new, mirrored Vibrava opponent. His antennae twitched a few times, and he beat his wings tentatively. “Heh… finally,” he said, but it was less celebratory than Owen remembered. He knew why. Gahi probably figured he’d gone through this scene countless times before. Perhaps he was even remembering those moments. But that wasn’t important now—it looked like Gahi still had some fight left in him.

“Hah!” Gahi said. “C’mon, round two, let’s go!”

Brandon couldn’t help but laugh at Gahi’s enthusiasm. He then eyed Owen carefully. “…You know what,” Brandon said. “You’ve got even more power flowing through you, yet you aren’t evolving. What’s up with that?”

“I, uh, that, uh.” Owen clutched at the bag strapped to the side of his body. “That’s because of that stone I have. The Everstone? Oh, and it’s kinda an Eviolite amalgam, too, so I’m not too disadvantaged while I’m not evolved. That’s what Nevren said.”

“Oh, so that’s what’s keeping it down?” Brandon said. “Everstone… huh. Nevren…” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That clever old geezer. Guess that thing is pretty good. I take it if that ever parts with you, you’ll evolve right away?”

“Yeah. So, I’d appreciate it if—”

“Charmeleon, Vibrava. Steal the bag.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 32 – Instincts

“That’s off limits!” Amia cried. Her voice carried over the echoing factory, even as Owen stood in paralyzed horror. Was Brandon really ordering his Pokémon to steal his bag? His Everstone?

“Whaaat, scared he’ll go crazy?” Brandon teased. “C’mon, it’s time we put it to the test. What do you think, Hecto?”

“I have little information on Owen’s sanity if he evolves, one way or the other,” the canid Zygarde said. “He demonstrated restraint the last time he evolved against Azu, but he was still unstable.”

Gahi buzzed his wings angrily. “Well I’m not gonna let ya!” he said. “Owen’s gonna evolve on his own terms!”

“I’d love to see you try to stop that,” Brandon said, gesturing forward with a smug grin.

Amia immediately ran forward. She promptly slammed her face against an invisible barrier; it flashed white when she hit it. “What—”

Brandon smirked at her. “You said you’d let them fight on their own, right?”

Amia stared at Brandon in disbelief. Then, in a split-second of pure, fiery rage, she slammed her fist against the barrier. Fire enveloped her hands, spreading in five directions upon impact. The sudden heat made Rhys take two steps back.

“Whoa-ho, calm down!” Brandon said, keeping his hand up. “Owen’s in no danger, right? Let the guy fight. Charmeleon, Vibrava, take that bag at all costs!”

“Right!” They rushed toward Owen, completely ignoring Gahi. The metal Charmeleon went for the bag, while the Vibrava generated and hurled another volley of mud and sand toward his opponent. The Mud Slap missed, but the Charmeleon had already rushed for the bag.

A burst of fire exploded below—Owen had planted a Fire Trap in case they tried to get close, and he took advantage of the explosion to get some distance. If they were going to try to steal from him, then he just had to escape.

“Mom! Rhys—Gahi! We’re leaving!”

“Oh, no you don’t!” Brandon said. “Guys! Quick!”

Charmeleon’s steel body had a scorch mark on it from the Fire Trap, but he advanced anyway. He didn’t have to attack, after all; his mission was now to steal the bag. Vibrava launched another wad of mud just in time. Owen had grabbed his Badge, deciding that escape was a better idea but the Mud Slap blinded him, and he reflexively rubbed at his eyes. He heard another fiery explosion to his right; the metal Charmeleon shrieked but lurched forward and grabbed the bag.

“Let go!” Owen said, and the two reptiles—one metallic, one fiery—held fast on the fabric. Owen was trying to be careful and not tear it apart, but his metal counterpart was significantly rougher. “C-c’mon, this is expensive!” Owen begged, looking at the metallic claws tearing into the lip of the bag. “Nngh, that’s not—can you just stop?!” But he saw the bag tear, and as a reflex, he let go.

The metallic Charmeleon fell back with a loud clang, but the bag was in his arms. “Got it!”

“Finally,” Brandon said. The Charmeleon stood up. They watched Owen for the evolution to take place. Hecto, off to the side, stood expressionlessly, staring.

“No!” Amia cried. She huffed and slammed her fist on the barrier again, but it didn’t budge.

Rhys readied the Suppression Aura. “Amia,” he said lowly.

Amia gulped, readying the same technique.

Owen held his breath, looking at his hands. He looked back at Amia and Rhys and their Suppression Auras already swirling to reset him. All that talk about how he’d be ready, all that encouragement to pull through one more time. And it all faded the second things actually happened. So that’s how it was. Already prepared to take him down… So much for building him up.

How many times did they lie to him about this, too? No—that wasn’t fair. They were just being careful. He told them to be careful. He shouldn’t be mad at that. Maybe they really didn’t lie, right?

Owen looked at his hands, squeezing his claws together. He breathed slowly and deeply, eyes closed, and puffed out a steady ember from his throat. Meditate, calm the aura. Release the anger steadily; let the restlessness settle down to nothing.

Owen could tell that everyone was holding their breath. Even Gahi. The Charmeleon—still a Charmeleon, without any white and black light—looked at Brandon. “…You really wanted me to evolve,” he said. He swung his arms down, fists clenched in some sort of juvenile anger. “What’s wrong with you?!”

“What—of course I did!” Brandon waited a few more seconds. Exasperated, the Machoke raised his arms. “And why aren’t you!?”

“Because I knew something like this was gonna happen.” Owen growled, pacing in a small circle. “Enet might’ve tried to steal it as a prank, or maybe Willow, y’know, something like that. Or Mom would get impatient and take the bag away while I was asleep, see if I was calm when that happened? I don’t know! People get moody! What if one day I just happen to lose my stone, misplace it?” He glanced back at Amia, whose Suppression Aura dissipated from the shock. “So that stone isn’t in the bag anymore. It hasn’t been since this morning.”

Brandon squinted exaggeratedly. “Th—where is it, then? Or are you in total control of evolving, now?”

“Owen…?” Amia said. “Did… are you stable? In control?!”

Owen smiled sadly at his mother, shaking his head. “No. I’ll never know that until I actually evolve.”

“Okay, so, what, then?” Brandon asked.

Charmeleon, defeated, handed Owen his bag back, muttering a quiet apology for tearing it.

Owen smirked at Brandon, holding his hands to his hips proudly. “I ate it.”

Several seconds of silence filled the echoing factory.

Brandon’s arms dropped. “…WHAT?!”

“You ate it?! Owen! That’s dangerous!” Amia said. “You can’t swallow something that large! How did you—”

“I just grew in size a little, ate it, and shrank back down,” Owen said. “I guess I tried to simulate Growth from my Grass Orb, or something. I did it while I was on my morning stroll, thinking about ways to keep anyone from stealing my Everstone.”

“Okay, but, Owen,” Brandon said, “lemme… just… What exactly is the exit strategy for that? It’s probably stuck in your stomach. It’s way too big to go through the rest of your guts.”

“I ate it with that weird vine in me,” Owen said. “I dunno where it is, but it’s stored somewhere when I became a Grass Type. I feel fine. If I ever want it out again, I’ll just spit it back out.”

Gahi buzzed over to Owen and started poking at his stomach.

“Uh—Gahi,” Owen said quietly.

“Hang on, trying ter find it,” Gahi said, prodding at different parts of his belly. “Oy! There it is,” he said, prodding at just below his chest with one of his legs.

“Yep, that’s pretty stomach-regiony.” Brandon put a hand to his forehead, making another loud ringing noise. “Unbelievable. So much for testing your full form.”

“And I’d like it if you asked first!” Owen said, pointing at Brandon. “What if I went crazy and you couldn’t stop me?! I’d destroy this factory!”

“Aah, it’s not that easy to do,” he said. “I’m a lot stronger than you think, y’know.”

“Okay, sure, if you’re strong, maybe I can’t beat you, but what if I used these Poké Balls that were lying around, found a working one, and captured you? Then once you escape from it, I’d just attack you and throw another one at the same time. I’d just chip away until you got too tired to fight back!”

“O-Owen, that’s… a little elaborate. How long were you thinking about that?” Amia said worriedly. “A little, um…”

“…Huh,” Brandon said. “Didn’t actually think of that.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I guess there’s a slim, slim chance that might make me flinch. I’d be more worried about those things getting out of here, though. Man, I forgot that’s your specialty, Owen.”

“What?” Owen said. “Specialty?”

“Yeah. I heard from Arceus all about you four—the ultimate mutants that Nevren and Rhys designed. The perfect team. Mispy, who was able to heal and sense those who were injured by aura—Gahi, whose speed could dodge attacks and deal ones that couldn’t be dodged—Demitri, whose attacks were so potent that not even Protect could block them—and then you, Owen, who knew how to come up with the best strategies on the fly, and who was aware of the whole battlefield at once.” The Machoke nodded. “Defense, agility, offense, and Perceive.” Brandon said. “Isn’t that right, Rhys?”

Owen’s heart was racing with some strange mixture of anxiety and anger. Even his abilities weren’t something he controlled? That Fire Trap that he spent so much time developing and planning—was that just what he always had? Was it all planned? His awareness of everyone’s body language, reading if they’d attack or not, where things were. Was it all…

“Ngh… yes,” Rhys admitted. “Those are their abilities.”

“That’s… my ability?” Owen said. “So—my whole thing about just knowing the flow of battle? That’s always been stronger as a Charmeleon… when I’m closer to—” Owen shook his head. “No. That’s just what I built up with practice. I read all those books to learn more about dungeon explorations, and my practice with that knowledge is what made me how I am! That’s not something I was supposed to know. I did that by myself! Because that’s what I liked doing, and what I wanted to do! It’s not some instinct! Is… is it?”

“Instinct… I wouldn’t call it that. Maybe your talent.” Brandon said. “By the way, hate to break it to you, but having an innate desire to do something? Kiiinda sounds like instinct. But hey, you honed it!”

“But it’s still something that I was born with.” Owen said lowly. “Or… no. Not born. Designed with. Is that it?” His voice broke. His claws dug into his palms. “I was designed to be like this. I didn’t… choose at all!”

“Owen,” Amia said softly. “It’s not like that. It’s okay. I mean, you still had to refine it! Right? Rhys?”

Rhys nodded hastily. “Y-yes, it isn’t as if you can be born with total knowledge of, say… what Dungeon Orbs are, or Seeds, or Berries. You had to learn those. You just had… a specialized mind for putting those pieces together, Owen. More than usual.”

This still didn’t sit right. The fiery Charmeleon went back to looking at his claws, but then at Brandon. “…And you’re not coming with us?”

“Nope,” Brandon said. “Sitting right here. I’ve got a factory to guard.”

“Right,” Owen said. “…Then I guess we’re just gonna go.”

“Owen? You aren’t going to… finish the fight?” Amia asked.

Brandon glared. “Hey, you still gotta evolve one way or the—” Brandon suddenly stopped talking, squinting at the ceiling as if it said something stupid. “Arceus is saying to just let you go.” He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. But for real, you aren’t fighting? What kind of mutant are you?”

Owen felt that heat in his heart—the temptation to fight. Or at least to yell back in defiance. He gritted his teeth. That was part of his design, too. He wanted nothing more to fight. Therefore, he answered. “No. I’m not in the mood.”

Hecto, who had been watching silently from the corner of the arena, turned his head at Owen. He said and did nothing else.

“I won’t stop you,” Brandon said. “Just don’t touch anything on your way out.”

“Thanks,” Owen said curtly. He headed for the exit, not even looking at Amia or Rhys. Instead, he glanced at Gahi. His tone softened. “Do you want to ride on my back again?”

“Eh—nah, I’ll just fly next to yeh. If I get tired, I’ll… go on.”

Owen nodded, then left. Amia tried talking to Owen, but the most response she got out of him was curt hums and silent nods. Rhys knew not to interact. He walked out of the factory, ignoring the clicking of his claws on concrete, and stepped out into the sand and onto the black, sandy shores.

At the edge of the shoreline, Owen scanned the blackened sand and dark water. He looked at his bag, irritated at the little rips on it from his metallic counterpart trying to pull it away. He snorted.

“I can’t believe I let them do that,” he said. “Should’ve just told them from the start that I wasn’t able to evolve… Now look, I probably have to get this thing sewed up, repaired, all that… Ugh!” Owen stomped his foot on the ground, splashing dark water and sand in the air. He protectively lifted the bag, narrowly avoiding getting it dirty again.

“Hey,” Gahi said.

Owen looked back. “It’s alright,” he said. “I just need to cool off, that’s all…”

“How come yer all mad?” Gahi asked.

Owen took off, so Gahi flew after him. As it turned out, Owen was too fast—Amia and Rhys trailed behind but knew to keep away. Gahi only kept up because of his natural speed.

“I guess I got a reminder,” Owen said. “Just—a reminder of what I am, is a way to put it.”

“Yer instincts, y’mean? Being good at solving problems? I mean, hey, rumor has it that humans were the same way.” Gahi buzzed further ahead so he could get a better look at Owen. “We all have instincts. I wouldn’t know how ter fly without’m.”

“I guess so,” Owen mumbled, then raised his voice over the wind. “But… but it feels different that I was designed instead of just… born like everyone else. I know Star may’ve started life and designed that, too, but I bet they changed a whole lot, generation to generation, from what she first made, right? But me, I’m… I feel… predicted.”

Gahi stared dumbly at Owen. The Charmeleon understood that this may have been too much. “I feel like I’m not me, I’m just… what someone wants me to be. And I’m just… being that, like I was supposed to. I feel like I didn’t… make any choices. No real ones. It was all predetermined, and I never really had a fork in the road, ever. I… did what everyone wanted me to do.”

“Eh.” Gahi looked uninterested. “I guess I c’n see that. Either way, sorta annoying that we’ve got these instincts that people don’t understand.”

“I don’t even want them,” Owen said. “Why couldn’t I just be a normal Charmander, or a Charizard, or whatever? Then I’d just… I dunno.”

“What would you do?” Gahi said.

Owen hesitated. He didn’t think that far ahead. Sure, it was a little nice to think about living a normal life, but how would that go? Would he even be strong enough to become a Heart if he wasn’t… who he was? After all, only the most talented fighters would become one. Everyone else had to take on normal jobs to get by. That wasn’t so bad, but…

“I think being like this is kinda cool,” Gahi went on.

“Cool…? You think it’s cool?” Owen repeated, glancing incredulously. “You think it’s cool that your whole destiny was predetermined by—by killers, and you were supposed to be their weapon? You like being nothing but a—but some sort of… muscle head?”

“I mean, kinda,” Gahi said. “I’d say I’m happy.”

Owen squinted at Gahi, but then looked forward. He didn’t respond. Gahi just didn’t understand yet. Maybe he would if he actually understood what it meant to remember.

<><><>​

The rest of the flight home was silent. He stared down at the ocean for a while, mulling over what Brandon said. Instinct? Talent? More like his design. He wondered if this was how the first Pokémon ever created felt like. Star made them to behave a certain way, didn’t she? He could feel her presence. She was trying to talk to him.

Well, he wasn’t in the mood.

They flew over the beaches. Owen saw the Chasm of the Void to the right: the great, black Abyss yawning toward the sky. Subconsciously, he veered away from it.

Far ahead was Kilo Village. If he flew a bit higher, he’d actually be able to see the tiny buildings within the crater. Owen sank lower in altitude, if only to get a change in scenery.

“Not too close, Owen!” Amia called. “You’re a flying Charmeleon!”

“Ngh.” He complied, but still looked down. They were like specks to him from this height, but he could still see the vague features of the Pokémon below, the sections for training, for food, for entertainment—and Anam’s Thousand Hearts. Even from this height, he saw the giant, heart-shaped building.

Owen wondered where he got the name from. Why a thousand, so specifically? It was a hefty number, after all. But then again, it was a good number for the size of the world.

“Owen, don’t you think we should just warp back home, dear?” Amia asked once again. Owen lost count of how many times she’d asked.

“You can,” Owen said. “I just want to fly.” That wasn’t entirely it. But he needed more time to think, and he knew that if he got home, they’d convince him to fall in line, like they always did.

Amia sighed, looking at Rhys. Really, they could have been home by now, before they even took off. But Owen had flown too far away for Rhys to use his Badge for warping back.

Eventually, Owen slowed down to pass his bag to the Gardevoir.

“Do you know how to repair this?” Owen asked her.

“Oh, um… I’m not very good with… fabrics,” Amia said.

“I can assist,” Rhys said. “Owen, why are you leaving this with me? We’re all going home.”

“I’m gonna fly on my own for a little bit.”

“Owen—you can’t do that,” Amia said. “What if a Hunter—”

“Don’t give me that,” Owen snapped, speaking lowly. His tail flashed blue, but then it dimmed to a weak red. “S-sorry,” he mumbled, looking away.

“Owen,” Amia said gently. “It’s dangerous.”

“Is it, though?” Owen said. “Think about it. Rim could’ve killed us at any time. I don’t even know where Eon is. And you know what? I don’t think I can beat her even if I fully evolved. She commands my kind. So, I think she just doesn’t want to hurt me!” He blew out a few embers that instantly dissipated in the wind. “And she can’t take me away, or she would’ve done that, too. So, you know what? I’m fine. I’ll be fine.” He stared at Rhys. “Isn’t that right?”

Before Rhys could answer, Gahi spoke up. “Ehh, I dunno if it’s safe to go out on yer own like that,” he said. “What if Rim shows up and does try something?”

“I’ll fight her.”

“Yeah, uh, maybe not,” Gahi said.

“She doesn’t want me to evolve,” Owen said. “If I try to fight, or I throw away my Everstone…”

“But what if she just kills you?” Gahi said. “Yer a threat now.”

“I don’t think she will,” Owen said. “I saw it in her. She doesn’t want to hurt me. Don’t you think so, Rhys?” Owen nodded. “Even back then, before I even became the Grass Guardian, she was just trying to scare me off. That was it, wasn’t it…? She doesn’t want to hurt… me. I don’t really know why yet, but… I think it’s because I used to be with them. Maybe she’d feel bad.”

Rhys made a sound that was a mixture between a pensive hum and a frustrated growl. “I suppose not,” he said. “She wouldn’t want to harm Gahi, either. But I want you home by sunset, understood? Minimize all interactions with her. Do not let her take your Everstone. Okay?”

“I won’t.”

“Yer gonna be okay?” Gahi asked, slowing until he was near Rhys and Amia.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “Besides, if Rim does show up…” he trailed off. “I want to… give her a piece of my mind. Even if she doesn’t want to hurt me, she’s still a Hunter. And…”

“Sunset, Owen,” Rhys said firmly.

“Please, dear,” Amia added.

Owen just huffed, but he gave a minute nod in reply. This was their compromise, was it? Always treating him like a kid. But maybe he deserved it. He spent so many lifetimes with memories in a fog that he never had the opportunity to grow up. He always forgot, over and over. Or was it just in his design to be juvenile? Owen wondered if even this spine that he grew, as Brandon put it, was another part of his nature.

Owen glanced at Amia’s worried eyes and his tail dimmed even further. “Maybe she won’t show up at all,” he said, feeling a lump in his throat. “I’ll… I’ll be back. Sunset. Or maybe earlier. I have my Badge.” He flashed it, even though the rest of his supplies were with Rhys. “If I run into any trouble, I’ll come right home. Besides,” Owen said, smiling slightly. “Star will keep an eye on me.”

This, it seemed, was enough. Amia reluctantly flashed the Badge in the air, and she and Rhys vanished with Gahi.

Owen drifted away from Kilo Village. He scanned the landscape and found a small clearing. Something about that location drew him toward it—he remembered this sight, from the skies. But the memory was too blurry to make out the details. But if it was familiar, then it was when he was a Charizard. He followed his vague memories to the ground.

Right when he landed, the memories struck him, like a punch from behind. The trees stood tall on all sides, and the ground had shin-high grass all over. Some parts of the grass seemed shorter than the rest, but for the most part, it was as if nothing had ever happened here. But it did.

Plant-like flesh squished between his claws. He felt intense heat from the back of his throat. He saw fearful, tiny eyes staring right at him under the moonlight. The flames overtook his vision after that. A feminine voice screamed and he looked up. A Lilligant. Owen rushed forward, gliding over the ground, sharp air swirling around his claws—

Rhys shouted desperately behind him. “Owen, STOP!”


“Stop,” Owen mumbled.

Someone within knocked on his mind. He jolted where he stood, staring at his arms. Trembling. His legs felt like jelly. He thought, for just a moment, he had wings. That brief second filled him with so much primal fear that he was positive he saw his chest physically throb with his heartbeat.

He closed his eyes, struggling to meditate. His chest felt like it was going to explode. Uneasy breaths slowed into a steady rhythm. His fire crackled like a Blast Seed. He swallowed something invisible, and then took a final breath.

He pushed the aura forward. The blue ember became a Jumpluff. “Klent…”

He floated gracefully down—he looked completely solid, like he was alive again. He was so light that he floated in the wind. His pom-poms behaved like flotation devices on the grass. “It’s been… quite a while,” Klent said.

“Yeah…”

Owen looked at his claws, then at his tail. Some of the grass was singed from the flame drooping too low. He breathed deep, red transitioning to green, the flower at the tip of his tail blooming into a brilliant crimson this time, contrasting against his green, leafy scales.

Owen tried to raise his left arm forward, but it felt numb. It didn’t respond. “…I’m sorry for…”

“It’s okay, Owen,” Klent eased. “It… it wasn’t you.”

“But—but wasn’t it exactly me?”

“Not the Owen I know.”

“Klent…”

A consistent, easy breeze blew past them. The petals of his tail shivered in the gust. The tall grass blew all in one direction, making a watery, whishing noise throughout the thin forest.

But it was him, wasn’t it? It was part of him. That horrible monster that was sealed away in his mind was as much Owen as the suppressed version talking now.

The Jumpluff turned away. “…As much as I say that I know you as someone else now, Owen… I don’t like being around here very much. There aren’t many good memories here. Very few…” He sighed. “I’ll be returning, now. Owen, will you be fine on your own?”

“Y-yeah. I just want to… take a walk.”

Klent nodded and evaporated into an aura ember. Owen walked down the path until the grass got shorter, away from the residual influence of the previous Grass Guardian. The Mystic side of him appreciated the scenery; the natural side of him preferred a hotter climate. He didn’t know what his ‘true’ side felt about this place. Perhaps it didn’t feel anything.

What was it like to feel nothing? Owen shivered. To lose all sense of self like that…

Once he was on a landscape with grass that only went up to the top of his claws, Owen felt the presence of someone powerful. The leaves on his body stiffened like fur and he slowed his pace. He could feel the anxieties of the spirits within him. Calm down, it’s alright, Owen thought to them.

He knew who it was. So, he wasn’t surprised when he saw an Espurr appear in front. He snorted and continued walking. He sensed no malice, but he also realized that it was going to be impossible to get anything out of her. As much as he wanted to have his questions answered, there was no point in talking.

There she was, the Hunter herself. What was her role in all this? Did she once command him? Did she want him back? He obviously wasn’t going to follow that. The Charmeleon stared at her with half a mind to…

Owen didn’t know what he wanted to do to her. There was a block in his thought process. Attack her? No. That didn’t feel… right. But—she was a killer. She killed Cara and Forrest. She forced Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi to evolve. She made them get reset. He never got to talk to Forrest. But Cara was terrified. But she also seemed relieved. Was she like Zena?

Rim had her gaze on the ground. Owen walked right past her. And then she turned around. With his cursed Perception, he knew she did. He walked for a few minutes; the Espurr never made a move. Instead, whenever he got too far away, she vanished and reappeared behind him, following without moving a muscle.

Realizing she wouldn’t stop this, he finally turned around. The Espurr still had her eyes on the ground. After a moment of quiet that was cut only by the wind, she took slow, hesitant steps toward him. Owen could tell that she was too nervous to speak—and his vague memories suggested that she wasn’t much to talk in general.

Who was Rim? Owen’s claws tapped against one another, fists clenching. Why did Owen feel so familiar with her? The memories were right there, but Star’s block prevented them from emerging. If only he could rip it away. He had to know. Rim, who was she? Was she Owen’s commander? What did she know about him? Why did she run?

Could she fix him?

Rim sat down. Owen watched her. The grass caressed her tiny legs and intertwined with her gray fur. The way she moved was delicate and deliberate. Her ears twitched when a breeze rustled the fur the wrong way.

He wondered if Rim missed him, or if he was just an asset to her that she was trying to get back. He really didn’t know. But her heart beat in an odd way. Her breathing was slow. It had nothing akin to a body preparing for battle. If anything, her spirit to fight was nonexistent. Rim wouldn’t be able to fight even if she tried; like Owen, she just wasn’t in the mood.

Who was Eon? It was such a familiar name. He felt so close. Yet, those memories were perhaps the most locked away. Were they good memories, or bad ones? Any time he thought back, his stomach twisted itself in knot after knot. He just wanted it to be over. He just wanted to know. He envied Gahi, so nonchalant about his missing past. But knowing him, he was just putting on a brave face. It probably bothered Gahi, too. But what could he do about it? Nothing.

But Owen could. As a Mystic, he could fix this himself.

Rim focused on the ground; The grass cut away. The dirt rose up and swirled into a flat, brown plane. Then, little figures rose up on the ground, and a grid formed a square in the middle, with a figure taking up each square on the two bottom and top edges of the grid. Half of them on Owen’s side, the other half on Rim’s.

Owen blinked. Chess. Chess! The memory crashed through the block, but it was the only one. A specific memory. If only he could have pulled out a few more.

He had played it all the time—it was a game that Nevren knew, though where he learned it, he had no idea. He didn’t know what half of the pieces were called anymore; he just knew what they could do by their shape. One of the pieces on Rim’s side jiggled and floated up, moving two spaces toward Owen.

Was this what she wanted to do? A game? The petals on his tail swayed rhythmically and he sat down in front of her. The grass felt nice against his leafy scales. Perhaps the fields weren’t so bad after all.

Owen intended to counter with the same move. He reached forward, but a barrier blocked his way. He let out a confused, reptilian chirp, looking at Rim. Those giant eyes stared wordlessly into his.

He retracted his hand and closed his eyes. He used his Mystic powers and slowly slid the pawn forward to mirror her move.

Rim smiled and made her next move.

Owen defeated Rim easily. He wasn’t sure how many moves it took for him to beat her, but he made them so quickly that Rim felt pressured to match his speed. Her mistakes were devastating. Owen looked down at Rim with a little smirk, but Rim beamed with her big eyes.

It unnerved him. He could read bodies, but he couldn’t read minds. All he could feel from Rim was a radiating, happy heartbeat, a satisfied puff of air from her tiny nose, the muscles of her face contorting into a rare, genuine smile.

It was contagious. For a moment, Owen stopped caring. A dumb smile crossed his scaly lips. And in that moment, his heart felt a little lighter, too.

Rim stood up; she walked around the board, toward Owen, and pushed at his side. Owen tilted his head; he scooted, but then Rim made a slightly more twisting motion, and Owen understood.

He spun until his tail faced the board. Rim sat back on the other side. Owen felt it again—that feeling of something moving. Rim made the same move as before. But he wasn’t sure about any of the other pieces. He knew that they would be in their original positions, but he couldn’t feel them yet. He had to focus… There. The pieces were all there, as were his. So, he focused on that one piece again and mirrored her move.

The game was slower, but it allowed Rim more time to think. She was harder to beat, but Owen soon knew the entire landscape of the board.

Even the wild Pokémon in the trees that were watching them. The plants that swayed with the wind. He sensed all of their movements. Even the hidden ones lounging in the bushes. The leaves loosening with the incoming autumn, starting their slow transition from green to red.

He had no idea he could expand himself like this, to feel the land as if it was his own body. Perception. Was this it? Was this what it felt like?

He never felt so… correct before. Was that the word? But this was his design. Wasn’t this what Rim wanted? But he wasn’t killing anybody. He wasn’t fighting. He was playing a game. And everything around him felt… peaceful. Could mutants know peace?

The game was over before he knew it, and with a final, decisive thump of the piece, Rim’s king was trapped in checkmate. Owen felt Rim’s smile when she stood up.

Yet, by the time Owen had turned around to face her, she was gone.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 33 – Black Sparks

Hot Spot Cave’s training area—deeper inside, beyond the residential buildings, but not near the lava—was awash with water, warming in the natural heat. Four Pokémon fought in the middle. Two were exhausted, collapsed on the ground. The other two waited patiently for their opponents to rise.

“I thought this would be harder,” Willow pouted.

“You have to remember,” Zena said, “they’re not Mystic. They may be mutants, but that’s sealed away, still. I doubt they’re taking this too seriously, either. We’re just sparring. Maybe they don’t want to hurt us or go too hard.”

Demitri gurgled in a puddle of Zena’s Hydro Pump. Mispy staggered to her feet, her leaf trembling.

“Well, at least we got Demitri to evolve,” Willow said, eying the Fraxure and Bayleef.

Demitri finally stood up, panting. “That’s… that’s right! So we’re… totally making progress,” he said. “Right, Mispy?”

“I might faint…” Mispy wheezed.

“If that’s the case, we should just take a break,” Zena said. “We don’t want to push you too hard anyway—not when it won’t be easy to subdue you in case… well…”

“In case we evolve?” Demitri asked, keeping his voice even.

Mispy nodded. “But… it doesn’t feel like we’ll evolve yet.”

“Yeah, the other times we evolved, it always sorta felt like there was this… pressure, or this heat, in our chest, you know? A power that wanted to get out—and I don’t feel that yet. So, we can probably go for a little while longer and be fine!”

“Demitri,” Zena said flatly, “you can barely stand.”

“I—I’ll figure it out!”

“Maybe let your head do some thinking instead of your muscles,” Willow said. “Turn off that battle-mode instinct!”

“I don’t think we can!” Demitri tittered, picking at his tusk. “But… but I guess we fought enough…”

“We didn’t,” Mispy sighed.

“Well, when will it be enough?” Zena asked.

Mispy wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

“…Let’s just rest,” the Milotic said. All of this fighting didn’t suit her, and it was uncanny how well they adapted to such brutal techniques.

She turned and slithered back to the main square. Willow hopped onto her back and climbed to the top of her head. Demitri and Mispy reluctantly followed.

Rhys, Amia, and Gahi appeared in the middle of the square. At first, Zena was relieved that they returned safely, but then panicked when they realized only three came back.

“W-where’s Owen?!” Willow said. “You lost Owen! You idiots! H-how could you—”

“Owen’s okay—he’s okay!” Amia said. “He just… wanted to go for a walk! Take the scenic way back! I’m sure he’s okay. It isn’t even dark out yet, okay? He should be back by lunch! Maybe late lunch… I told him before sunset, but I don’t see him taking that long.”

“And you listened?” Zena hissed, half-expecting steam to billow off of her head.

Willow was sparkling with angry, pink energy. “He could be hurt by the Hunters alone! What kind of a mother are you?!”

“Th-that’s not—! I didn’t mean to—he’s okay! H-he’s…” Amia sniffed.

Rhys tutted and stepped forward. “Willow, there is no strategic advantage to the Hunters striking Owen. He’s unstable, and if he evolves, it could mean the end for them. Owen isn’t aligned with Star or Ba—Arceus, and I believe they want to take advantage of that.” He crossed his arms. “To add, I do not believe the Hunters want to harm Owen to begin with.”

“What, they want to convince Owen to work for them? Hah!” Willow snorted. “…Why did Owen want to go on his own?”

Gahi’s wings buzzed to get their attention. “Eh, got a little moody when someone told him he’s good at solvin’ puzzles because that’s in his nature, the way he was designed.”

“Oh,” Willow said. Her sparks simmered down, turning into a pink mist. “Well… I guess that’s okay to be mad about.”

Manny stepped closer, overhearing the discussion. “He’s still having an identity crisis, eh?” he asked. “Bah, why can’t he be simple-minded like these three?”

“Simple-minded?” Mispy growled.

“E-ehh, maybe like, yeh don’t care as much?”

“That’s better,” Mispy said, shaking her leaf angrily. She eyed Demitri and softened her expression. “Is Owen… okay?”

Amia nodded, but there was some hesitance in her movements. “Well… I think he’ll be a little moody for a while. He always got wrapped up in his thoughts. I mean, maybe that’s part of how he was designed, but… that’s how we know him, right? So, it can’t be all bad. Besides, isn’t everyone born a little designed?”

“I dunno,” Gahi said dismissively. “Hey, so looks like yeh evolved! I bet I evolved first, though, heh.”

“We got to training pretty soon after you left,” Demitri said. “I think we evolved while you were still flying to the factory. Oh—and how’d that go?”

“Eh… I don’t wanna talk about it.” Gahi’s fluttering slowed. “Maybe later.”

“What, is everyone in a bad mood?” Willow said.

“It seems so,” Zena said. She nodded solemnly. “And you’re absolutely sure that Owen is okay?” she said.

Rhys nodded.

This still wasn’t enough for her. She had half a mind to go out and find him, but she wasn’t sure if the Hunters would feel the same way about her that they did about Owen. “Perhaps we can discuss this over dinner,” she said. “Manny, you mentioned that you were preparing something for the mutants?”

“Eh, yeah! Great stuff fer a post-fight meal, y’know. Builds up muscle. Real great protein. I’m gonna go finish it up; I’ve got it on a low simmer righ’ now. Aura burns real steadily if yeh got good control.”

The Lucario left. Rhys seemed skeptical that Manny was capable of slow burns.

“Make a plate for Owen, too,” Zena said. “Surely he’ll return by lunchtime…”

“But he doesn’t eat anymore,” Gahi said.

“I think he’ll appreciate it,” Zena countered. “Okay?”

“Ehh, alright, alright…” Gahi looked at Manny, who nodded while hauling out a pot of stew.

<><><>​

Thankfully, Owen returned during lunch, entering the cave the old-fashioned way. He was a little disappointed that he didn’t have to do the Hot Spot dance to open the path, but despite this, the Charmeleon had the smallest spring in his step.

Owen wondered how Deca was doing. Ever since he became a Charmeleon, he never got to see him. Then again, he hoped it would be a while. He couldn’t imagine the jealousy Deca would feel if Owen evolved, but he didn’t. He probably wouldn’t want to know about how much of a freak he was for eating an Everstone, too, after all that talk about wanting to evolve.

Amia spotted Owen first and was simultaneously perplexed and relieved at his brighter mood. “Owen, you’re back.”

“Hey, Mom.” He stood awkwardly in front of her, avoiding her eyes.

Amia waved her arm and summoned Alex, the aura swirling from a blue ember, to something that floated in the air, and then finally into a solid, Magmortar form. “Owen, we’re sorry if—”

“No, no,” Owen said. “That was stupid of me. I’m sorry I just flew off like that. I’m okay.”

He smiled at both of them. Alex nervously bumped his cannons together.

Owen abruptly moved forward to Alex, wrapping his arms as well as he could around the Magmortar’s huge frame. He turned his head to nod at Amia. “Thanks for dealing with me for all this time. For… how long has it been?”

“Oh, Owen…” Amia held her hand against the fin in her chest. “What’s gotten into you?”

Owen laughed, pulling away from Alex, but his father refused to let him go. His arms crossed behind Owen and held him in place. Owen complied, rolling his eyes with a smile.

“Um—how’s everyone doing?” Owen asked.

“Oh, just fine, Owen,” Amia said. “Did you have a good flight home?”

“Yeah,” Owen said.

“Rhys didn’t have time to repair your bag, but I’ll have it to you by tomorrow morning, okay?”

“Oh, yeah, uh—that’s okay,” he said. “Thanks.”

“Oy, Owen!” Gahi called. “We made a plate fer ya!” He waved one of his tiny legs at him in midair. Gahi hadn’t touched the ground in quite a while.

“F-for me?” Owen asked. “I don’t eat!”

“Yeah, but I bet food still tastes good, eh? Zena insisted.” Gahi said. “C’mon!”

“W-well, if you went through the trouble…”

Alex let Owen go, following him toward the square with Valle as the usual centerpiece. They walked over to the little picnic-like seating arrangement, seeing the one plate without someone next to it. Owen sat down between Gahi and Demitri, taking his first heaping spoonful. He smelled the smallest hint of Tamato Berry in the thick broth and had to swallow to keep the drool down.

Owen sensed something flying his way. He raised his free hand and caught a full Tamato from his right.

“Heh, Rhys told me yeh liked these,” Manny said.

Owen beamed, squeezing the ultra-spicy juice straight into the bowl, unnerving everybody.

“So, how’d your trip go?” Gahi asked. “Anybody yeh see er anything? Y’took a while, unless yeh just wandered.”

“Oh, I ran into Rim,” Owen said, eating the pulp and husk of the squeezed berry.

Amia and the others flinched, but they’d already been prompted that this was a possibility.

“She, um… she was nice,” Owen said tentatively. “We didn’t talk much, but she barely talks, so that’s not really any different. She played a game with me—chess, y’know what that is?”

“Huh… That sounds kinda familiar,” Demitri said. “Gahi?”

“Yeah, I think you played that before,” Gahi said, “when we were still with the Hunters. So, Rim just taught yeh how that game worked again?”

“It kinda came back to me,” Owen said, mixing the spicy juice into the broth with a claw. “But then she did something a little weird. She made me turn around and play it without looking. But I still beat her… I had to use my Mystic power to move the pieces, but… yeah. I still won.”

“Wow, you beat Rim without even looking?”

“At chess,” Owen emphasized. “I just… felt where the pieces were, that’s all.”

“Yeah, but that’s still pretty cool,” Demitri said. “Is that part of your Mystic power?”

“Maybe? But… I feel like I had that sort of power before. It’s familiar. So, I might’ve been able to do something like that before. Maybe without the telekinesis, though. I think she—” The memory hit him. “Th-that’s right! She’d tie a Pecha Scarf or something else lying around. She’d tie it over my eyes so I couldn’t see! I remember that…” Owen touched his chest. “Wow… we used to play that all the time.”

Rhys eyed Owen nervously. “That was a long time ago, Owen. Don’t think too fondly of those memories for now.”

“Y-yeah,” Owen looked off, deflating. “I know. She… she’s still hunting us down, even if she wants to keep me around. I won’t be going with her or anything. But, to be honest, I…” He trailed off. “…I feel a little better about me.”

Zena perked up. “About yourself,” she urged on.

Owen nodded. “Yeah. About who I’m supposed to be, and how I… kinda just am what I’m supposed to be. It’s okay. Because… I like it. It’s not bad. Like what Gahi said, y’know? And I can still choose the little things. Fighting who I am isn’t gonna help, if it’s just… ingrained. Like, you can’t stop yourself from feeling happy, or mad, right? It’s just… there.”

“That’s a good way to look at it,” Amia allowed. “But you don’t have to be defeated by that, either. After all, you’re still meditating to keep your… battle-heart in check, right?”

“Yeah. So, I can control it. But my personality—being all… quick-thinking… I think I want to keep that. I’m choosing to keep that part of my design.” The Charmeleon stood up. His bowl still wasn’t eaten, but he had come to a decision.

“Uh, Owen?” Demitri, still seated, craned his neck.

Owen’s body shifted from red to green. Then, he grew in size, followed by turning around to keep his face away from the others—it’d be rude otherwise. He tilted his head up and opened his mouth; the vine in his gut emerged, caressing the Everstone-Eviolite within. After grabbing it, he retracted the vine back into his gut and returned to his normal size and color. He turned around and placed the stone in his lap.

“Uhh—Owen,” Amia added shakily, “didn’t you promise to wait until tomorrow to do that?”

“It’s tomorrow somewhere,” Owen replied, digging into his stew. He tilted the whole bowl into his mouth, pausing only momentarily to savor the taste, and then set it on the ground. The Aspear material let out a hollow tok against the rocks.

Owen stood up and backed away. When he felt he had a safe enough distance from them, he tossed the stone to Rhys.

Enet’s fur puffed up. “Owen?” she asked.

“It’s okay,” Owen said. “I’m… ready.” He looked at Rhys, Zena, and Amia. “Get the Suppression Aura ready. Okay?”

He felt the heat swelling up rapidly. Wincing, he knew he wasn’t going to contain it much longer—there was no suppressing this evolution. “Th-that’s pretty strong…!”

He scanned the room—everyone that he knew. There was no way he’d forget them, and he wouldn’t forget himself. He couldn’t, not after all this. This was what his training was for. Owen closed his eyes and took a slow breath, held it, and let it out. “I’m okay,” he said again. “I’m gonna evolve, alright?”

“Take it slow, Owen,” Amia said. The entire square was silent. “If—if you can.”

Owen nodded. His heart slammed against his chest, vision clouding over. Thoughts became muddled. Owen steadied his breathing—it was all he could do—and meditated. Peace, calm. Control.

Please… not again, Owen begged his own instincts.

He could sense Zena’s hopeful eyes burning into him. Amia’s hands were clasped together. Alex was doing everything he could to keep from exploding. Enet was hiding behind Valle with Willow. ADAM was mumbling calculations.

“You’re just fine,” Zena whispered.

The light enveloped him, black bolts crackling all over.

<><><>​

Rim appeared behind Nevren in his office. “Disappear, please,” Nevren said.

Rim quickly vanished.

“A-Alakazam!” someone called.

“Hmm?” Nevren turned around to see a frantic-looking Golem. “Ah, yes. What’s wrong?”

“W-we spotted something in Arachno Forest, more of those—those mutant Pokémon! But… they were behaving strangely. So—even stranger compared to how those things usually are.”

“Strangely? In what way?” Nevren asked.

“They were… patrolling—they didn’t look like they were going to fight at all. But—but they were definitely those strange Pokémon.”

“I see. Thank you for the report. I’ll be sure to send an Elite team there shortly. You are dismissed for the day.”

“Y-yes. Um… and, Alakazam…? Where’s Goodra Anam?”

“Ah, he’s fine and performing another round of blessings. Not to worry. Perhaps I can see if he can make a public appearance tomorrow for morale, or an assembly.” Nevren nodded. “In any case, thank you. You may go.”

He left.

“…You may return, Rim.”

The Espurr appeared. Her eyes were a bit brighter than usual.

“How are things, Rim? You have visited me again.”

Rim nodded. “Owen…”

“Oh? I’ve been listening in on their little conversations. Owen is planning to evolve.”

“He’s… content.”

“That’s very good,” Nevren said. “He might be ready now. I didn’t quite expect that meeting with Brandon to go that way, but in the end, I suppose we’ve captured two Pidgey with one ball. Ah, hm. That’s impossible. I suppose I shouldn’t coin that saying.” Nevren tapped his spoon on the table. “They learned of Poké Balls, and that was the primary goal.” He nodded. “You didn’t have to see him, though, Rim. Why did you do so now? He still doesn’t trust you.”

“He… plays chess well,” Rim said.

Nevren returned to Rim a wry smile.

She giggled, but then disappeared.

“Ahh, Rim,” Nevren sighed. “Well, whatever makes her happy, I suppose.” He looked at the ceiling. “Such emotions are so perplexing.” The ceiling was very clean, aside from a few splotches when Anam must have raised his arm a little too excitedly. Dried slime. “…What is taking Anam so long?” He stepped out of the office and into the main lobby of the Heart. He followed the colorful path to the room next door and gently pushed it open.

“Ah,” Nevren said.

The supply room was filled with batches of seeds—most of them plain—all across the shelves. On another wall were plain scarves and simple berries. But what caught Nevren’s eyes was the long, stick-like object in the middle of the room, next to a Goodra slumped over.

“Interesting,” Nevren said aloud, approaching the stick. He picked it up, spinning it. “Are these not the Wands I’ve been designing?” He looked down at Anam, who was sleeping soundly. Nevren held the wand horizontally and squeezed tight, watching the operational end. Nothing emerged. Instead, a small blast of light shot out and evaporated from the opposite end. “Hm. It’s shooting out the wrong end.”

Nevren flipped the wand and held it properly, firing directly in front of him.

This time, it shot correctly, and therefore, right into Nevren’s chest.

“Urf…” Nevren’s eyes drooped instantly. “It fires… inconsistently. Must… make note… of…”

He collapsed next to Anam, snoring.

<><><>​

Black sparks flung off of Owen. Waves of power radiated from the center of the corrupted, evolutionary light. Amia and the ones closest to him had to step away. And then, finally, with a wave of heat, power, and sparkling pinpricks of black and white light, it all faded.

He had to remember.

He saw Amia’s smiling face, leaning against Alex in the middle of their home. They were laughing at something. Owen asked what was wrong. “Your face, dear. Feel your cheek.” There had been a bit of stew caught there. He always ate too quickly.

To Owen, it felt like he’d been standing for minutes. But he imagined that to the others, he was only there for a few short, tense seconds.

Zena’s huge form emerged from her small pool just inside her new Hot Spot home. She was asking curiously about the book Owen had in his hands. Did they read together before? How often? Zena was always so shy. She often refused to speak up, wanting to just slink into the pool and go unnoticed. He wanted to know more, but a new memory took its place.

Owen knew that Zena was a recent addition to his life, yet with how scrambled his memories were, it didn’t really matter. She was the first Guardian he’d rescued. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

With his lower half numb, he only heard the pummeling from Demitri against Aerodactyl. That overwhelming sense of relief combined with the overwhelming pain of all his wounds nearly made Owen dizzy.

Team Alloy… he lost so many memories of them. So many important memories. He wasn’t as close to them, even now, as he had been so long ago.

“Owen… will we ever see you again?” Demitri asked, sniffling.

“Don’t go,” Mispy begged.

“I… I have to,” Owen said. “We can’t stay together. If we all evolved together, and then…”

“It ain’t fair!” Gahi stomped his tiny, Trapinch foot on the ground. “I’ll… I’m comin’ with you!”

“Gahi… I have to go alone. If I evolved with any of you, it’d be… Rhys can handle you three. But not me. Not if—"

“I don’t care! We… this is all stupid!” Gahi sniffed. “This is… all…!”

“We don’t even know what’ll really happen. What if Rhys is lying?” Demitri said.

“We’ll be fine,” Mispy said.

“You will be,” Owen said. “That’s why I’m… going with Amia. She’s gonna be my ‘mom’ now. It’s better this way. I’m… sorry.”

“Are you ready?” Rhys asked.

Owen looked back. “I’m ready.”

“Wait!” Demitri said. “Will… will we ever see you again?! Owen, c’mon, we gotta at least visit!”

“We won’t remember each other,” Owen said, voice caught in his throat. “It won’t matter.”

“Then… then I’m gonna evolve until we can again,” Demitri said.

“Good!” Owen laughed, but by now his face was screwed up in a horrible, ugly wince. “I’ll d-do the same thing!”

Owen couldn’t look away from this memory, yet he was relieved when it finally faded, overtaken by another.


Owen held back his tears. Not in front of the others.

A Charmander stood before him, teary eyed and laughing. Everything hurt. He felt waterlogged. “They’re so proud of you, Owen,” he said. And a confused, thrilled heat swelled in his chest.

Owen hoped he could see Deca again.

Now the ground was below him. Claws outstretched, he plunged them into a Feraligatr. He taunted him. “Ha HA! Is that all you are capable—" But then he slashed through his body, and the Feraligatr dissolved. He kept chasing after the spirit, even in its ember form, ineffectual as it was.

How amazing was that fight? To finally sink his claws into something, to finally feel his attacks connect with their full power. The euphoria that overtook him when he got that first punch to his gut, or spewed hot flames toward his enemies. To truly exert himself, to not hold back and seal his true power away!


No. Stop. Control. Breathe. He was Owen. His name was Owen, son of Gardevoir Amia and Magmortar Alex. Friend, not killer, of Guardians.

Breathe. Slow.

“Owen… stop,” Amia’s pleading face glowed in the darkness of Manny’s old abode.It’s okay. It’s over. Please…”

“Fight it, Owen!”
Willow said. “You c-can do it! S-stop looking like that!”

“Fight it…” Owen mumbled aloud.

Everybody was watching him with bated breath. He could feel their tension. In fact, he even felt his own.

The new Pokémon beat his wings and the lights flew across the entire town square, bumping into the walls, fading, dissipating. Rhys held up an aura barrier to keep the blackness from hitting the rest of Team Alloy. In his other paw, a sphere of white Suppression Aura flickered.

Owen opened his eyes. He looked very much like a normal Charizard. He had orange scales and a beige front, a flame at the end of his tail, wings, and two horns on the back of his head. However, he was slimmer, and his wings were larger. His horns were sharper, and they were just barely hooked upward behind his head. He was built for evasion in the air and on the ground. Owen remembered that, now. But his memories were still sealed, gradually leaking through.

He blinked a few times. It felt like his vision was twice as powerful as it was before. It was like he could see every tiny detail ahead of him. And if he focused, it felt like he could sense everything beside him, and behind him, too. And above, and below. He felt like a Claydol. Eyes on all sides—though, not literally, he hoped. With a brief worry, he felt the sides of his head. No eyes. Good.

He breathed slowly; he felt that inner need to battle again. But he suppressed it, and he kept himself composed. It never went away… but maybe he could get used to it.

“Hey… guys,” he said, startled at his new voice. Deeper. That was going to take some time to get used to. Based on the startled looks from everyone else, he wasn’t the only one. “W-wow… Everyone looks a lot smaller now that I’ve evolved. H-heh…” He scratched the back of his head, taking a moment to feel the two horns behind him. So new, yet so familiar. “Wow,” Owen said again, looking at his claws, squeezing his hands.

“Are you… okay?” Amia asked, but Zena was already beaming.

“You’re… big!” Enet said, staring up. “Really big!”

“Y-yeah,” Owen said. “Thanks! I guess I’m not too small after all, huh?”

“Yeah!”

“So… so you aren’t gonna kill us?” Willow asked.

“W-was I really like that?” Owen said.

“Not really, but… you know…” Willow hesitated, glancing at Manny.

Aside from Zena, everyone had a sort of cautious optimism at seeing Owen, fully evolved, behave like a normal Pokémon. Owen figured that they were just trying not to startle him, and while he appreciated the thought, he was hoping for at least a few cheers, or perhaps buzzing fanfare from ADAM’s strange body.

“Nah, yeh were just scary good at fighting,” Manny said. “Good job at all that! Hey, how ‘bout we break the new body in, eh? Let’s have a rematch!”

“Y-you? I—I don’t know if I should,” Owen said. “I could barely stand up against Azu, and isn’t he your weakest?”

“Only by a li’l bit,” Manny said. “I dwarf ‘em all anyway. So yeh wanna go? One on one?”

“W-well…!” Owen looked pleadingly at Amia and Rhys.

Rhys sighed. “Very well. But if you feel yourself slipping, request to stop. Manny, you will respect that. Better we test Owen now than in a real battle.”

“I will,” Manny said, knocking a claw against his chest-spike. “Lucario’s Honor, eh?”

“Hm.”

Manny led the way to the training area; Owen marveled at how much smaller it seemed now that he was so much taller. “I’m still not used to it,” he said. “I don’t think I was ever this size before in these caves!”

“Are yer memories comin’ back yet?”

“A little,” Owen said. “But… I don’t want to think back to them yet. I just want to enjoy being like this for a while before I, um, reflect.”

Zena slithered up close to Owen on his right side, sizing him up, eyes following every part of him. At this size, they weren’t very awkward in comparison anymore. She was still larger, but not by much.

“How do I look?” Owen asked.

Zena flinched, turning away. “It… suits you. You look like a real dragon, now.”

Owen blushed. “A-aw, well, I’m still just a Fire-Flying. But thanks. Maybe I can practice flying with actual wings next.”

Gahi watched Owen walk, flying next to him with an envious growl. “I’m gonna evolve next,” he said. “Then we’re gonna fight. And then I’ll beat you. Then I’ll win!”

Owen laughed. “You know, sure,” he said. “A little sparring match after you evolve. It’s a deal.” He winked at him. “But you’ll have to evolve first.”

“Yer on,” Gahi hissed challengingly. Despite his tone, he smiled as well as a Vibrava could. Mispy rolled her eyes; Demitri just sighed. Gahi would never change, but Owen preferred that.

They stopped when they entered the sparring area again. The water from Demitri and Mispy training against Zena and Willow had evaporated, leaving the caves feeling a bit humid.

Manny spun on his feet. “Okay, y’ready?”

“I am.”

Manny went into his usual battle stance. Owen did the same. If one thing came back to him, it was his memories of battle. He closed his eyes and cleared his head of any interfering thoughts, then crouched down. His throat felt hot. His wings felt tingly, especially near the membrane. Why? He twitched them tentatively, seeing little embers forming along the membrane. He remembered.

Owen could sense Manny’s nervousness. The Lucario was giving a front of bravado, but Owen smelled that tinge of fear on him and the over-tense muscles of his arms and legs. Why would Manny volunteer to fight him, then? Perhaps he was trying to train him like he trained the other mutant Pokémon within his Orb.

The Lucario shifted his feet and opened with a blurry dash forward. The sudden, rapid movement wasn’t overwhelming anymore. Instead, Owen made a minute, calculated jump back, and then a second one. Manny continued anyway, aiming to ram into Owen with his momentum. He was interrupted by a fiery explosion beneath him. The Fire Trap was planted without Owen even stomping his foot.

“Bah—wh-y’think that’s enough ter get m—”

Owen spewed a gout of fire toward Manny right when the Trap fell. Manny roared and launched an all-out attack in close quarters, desperate to at least land some sort of blow to shake Owen’s composure, but all Owen had to do was close his wings, creating a golden Protect barrier. Through a gap between his wings, Owen stared at Manny’s surprised expression. He wondered why. It was genuine—he sensed that much. Manny fought mutants like him before—but then again… this was the first time he fought one with this much latent experience.

The Lucario jumped away. “Heh… okay, okay…” Manny said, shaking his head. “So yeh got some skills after all… Well, lookit that. And if that’s just you on yer own…”

“Are we done fighting?” Owen asked, going into a neutral stance.

Manny vanished from view for a split-second. Owen flinched and jumped forward, narrowly dodging an attack from the rear.

“Bah, yer too good fer a sneak attack,” Manny said, shrugging. “Guess I’ll just have ter do something that won’t miss.” He aimed an Aura Sphere at Owen and fired. Owen cloaked himself in his wings for a second time, blocking it, but it didn’t work the second time. The next Aura Sphere hit him square in the chest.

Owen grunted and stumbled back. Even if he was good at dodging like Gahi, he felt just as fragile—and Manny was no lightweight. He’d only be able to take a few more of those hits.

“If Fire Trap is yer signature, then I just won’t move!” Manny announced, and then planted his feet down, moving only his paws to aim at Owen.

“Ngh—!” Owen knew that he was right. If Manny didn’t move, he wouldn’t be able to activate any of his traps. He’d have to force a movement out of him. Owen knew just the way to do it. Concentrated, white, whirling gusts of wind swirled around his claws. When Manny fired his first Aura Sphere, Owen countered with a slash to the wind, a thin, whistling stream of white energy. The resulting strike, an Air Slash, countered the Aura Sphere. The explosion obscured Manny’s view just long enough for Owen to get near Manny; all he had to do was get close. Then, he jumped around and away from Manny and launched a second Air Slash while he was confused.

“What—”

The Air Slash exploded prematurely, right in front of Manny. The concentrated wind made a shockwave that knocked the Lucario off his feet. He flew through the air and looked down. “Bah—ain’t gonna work!” He fired another sphere at the ground; the Fire Trap triggered and erupted in smoke and embers, sending rocks in all directions. Owen used his wings to block the aftermath, but Manny landed right where the explosion happened. None of the other traps ignited.

Owen cursed. “Well if you’re gonna do that, then—” He fired another Air Slash, but Manny knew his game. He launched an Aura Sphere in return and then hopped in the air. He stepped on the Fire Trap, but then, with the power of Extreme Speed, outran the very ignition delay of the traps. It was like he’d disappeared where he’d stood. Before Owen had time to react, Manny was in front of him, too fast for Owen to use Protect this time. The blow was powerful, but not decisive; the Charizard grunted and stumbled away, clutching his chest. Manny held his paw up, aiming an Aura Sphere directly at Owen’s head.

The Charizard panted, glaring at the sphere. His senses waned—his vision was focused entirely on Manny. He wasn’t sure if this was just working with the heat of battle or losing himself to it. He had a lot of fight left in him—and he wanted to keep going. He saw an easy counter to stop Manny from launching an attack—at least, he thought he did. No. If he moved, Manny would just fire. If only he could rip into him. Air Slash did wonders. He wanted to see him on the ground. His mind ached for this fight.

No. Stop. Breathe.

He also didn’t want to become a Charmander again. Strategizing for something beyond the battle itself, he knew he had to surrender. He bowed his head and let his wings drop. Manny smirked, and the Sphere vanished. He leaned over and helped Owen up.

“Well, lookit you,” Manny said. “You actually stopped yerself.”

“Ugh, I think you broke something,” Owen mumbled, wincing at the pain near his core.

“Heh, maybe I overdid it a li’l,” he said. “We’ll get yeh a nice Oran Berry and it’ll heal yeh up right away. Maybe have Mispy take a look, too.”

“Yeah.”

But Owen, despite his loss, knew that he was still relearning his old abilities. More importantly, he knew something else—that he was put in peril… and didn’t lose control. He knew to hold back. His heart rate normalized; his easy breathing calmed his aura. The flame at the tip of his tail flared up with confidence. He was in control. This body was his.

A passing thought about Rim flashed in Owen’s mind. If it wasn’t for her, Owen knew he’d still be a Charmeleon, brooding about his origin. He’d be too afraid of being out of control of his own design. Now, he was ready to take full advantage of it.
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Back again for ⭐ Chapter 2! ⭐

Owen turned down the corridor, but then skidded to a stop. “W-wait! That’s not fair!” he shouted.
The ordering of the sentences here threw me off. You clarify a few sentences later why he’s saying this, so it feels like vagueness for no reason.

Everyone brings Escape Orbs. So, I bring a Jammer.”
I appreciate how crafty the aerodactyl has been the whole time. He’s studied and knows his marks.

But Owen realized shortly after that this was an outlaw. What was one broken rule if they already cast the law aside?
“Shortly after” felt wordy and softened the effect, but I liked this sentiment. A small moment of awakening for Owen.

He rushed through the Dungeon as much as he coul
Seems like it should be “quickly” instead of much.

Where was the next distortion?
I'm a little confused by what this means. Are these basically the stairs?

Owen wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there
This felt out of place to me when earlier paragraphs focused so hard on how much time Owen had to react before the aerodactyl attacked.

Rock Blast—Owen was sure his species wasn’t capable of such a technique normally.
Wasn’t clear which one of them “his” was referring to, because I’m not convinced aerodactyl can’t learn rock blast. Is this a moment of devotion to the games or demonstrating Owen’s foolishness? If the former, I don’t think it serves you. Narratively, there’s so little difference between rock blast and rock throw that I don’t care. I’m not gonna run to Bulbapedia to test your accuracy every time a move is named, especially because fic lets you bend the rules as long as it makes a better story. If the latter, I think other moments better show where Owen has room to grow, and this is slowing the momentum of an otherwise tense moment.

smashed against the center of his spine.
The odd specificity here threw me off. Like, naming his spine instead of his back makes it sound like the bones are somehow being directly targeted or the bones are on the outside? And if he’s being struck in the back, I don’t necessarily care which part of his back.

You gave me some real trouble, Charmander,” Aerodactyl said. He pulled Owen’s bag away and dug through it, grabbing one of his Heal Seeds. With a chomp, his burn evaporated before Owen’s eyes. “Heh. Well, I’ll just take this bag as payment.”
Throughout this I kept thinking how the goal is the bag, but the aerodactyl’s prize is becoming less valuable by the minute because he’s pressuring Owen to use those items.

trying to seal what little pride he had left inside his body.
This image didn’t quite work for me because I don’t associate being shamed with pride leaving my body. I think of it more as an attack on my pride or as shame bubbling up and overwriting my pride.

How’d you—outta the way, peanut!”
Haha this works really well.

Miraculously, it didn’t break, but it looked like it hurt
“Looked like it hurt” could be expanded on. Even a clang of tooth on stone would do it.

clearly the healer of the team. Her vines gently rubbed at his spine.
It wasn’t clear to me that she was the healer til a paragraph or two later when she started to use a healing move, which made this feel out of place.

Despite the healing, the phantom pain returned to him in an instant,
It wasn’t clear what triggered this and how these phantom pains are/aren’t different from actual pain he’s feeling from getting rock blasted.

Rhys again, anyway.

Again?

Owen’s own thoughts gave him another pause.
In the previous chapter is had seemed like he already knew him a little, so this was jarring. Maybe a place to adjust foreshadowing in Chapter 1.

Great work on apprehending this Pokémon, Hearts,” said a Watchog. “We will be sure to escort him away for his punishment.”
It was very clear how the explorers returned, but not clear how they got the criminal back.

Maybe as a volunteer as a temporary rescue team member. I think they call ‘em Broken Hearts. Make a living. Then once he’s done, maybe he can continue that work with full pay.”
Huh, I have to agree with Owen that this feels weird. The Broken Hearts moniker is cool, but the idea of putting someone who harasses dungeon explorers in a position of interacting with dungeon explorers already in trouble is...dodgy. It does feel like he’s getting off easy. Are rescue teams in short supply?

My dad wants me to be a berry farmer because my sharp senses would let me tell when they’re ripe or not.”
I can’t tell if this is facetious or not, because it seems like a) verifying ripeness is low on the ladder of skills needed to make it as a farmer compared to understanding of markets and growing techniques and b) if anyone is going to be especially in-the-know about berry bushes, wouldn’t it be a grass-type?

Yer coming all the way here just fer some random ferals?”
This scene hit me weirdly. I feel like it was meant to make me see Owen as sweet and kind-hearted in contrast with the gruff trapinch, but to me this just feels like bare minimum good behavior, especially because he’s the one that caused the harm. The callousness also made me wary of Gahi. Even if feral pokémon are animals in this world, they’re animals that look a whole lot like beings they consider people. In our world “ew gross why are you helping those monkeys” is a knee-jerk uncomfortable sentiment for most people.

Yeah, we’ve got one,” Gahi said. “…Wait. Aww, c’mon.” The Trapinch exasperatedly flung his huge head back.

Mispy knocked a vine on top of Gahi’s back, giving him a firm stare. “Let him.”

“B-beh, feh.” Gahi clamped his jaws shut tight. “That ain’t even enough, one lousy berry.”
The action here was muddled for me.

a few rupturing slightly from the fall.
I feel like you either rupture or you don’t—no “slightly” about it.

a lot of these don’t actually look like your flames, Owen,”
I’m not sure how they’d know? Unless you want to play up more how bad they think Owen is at fighting, let him feel some embarrassment there.

He couldn’t have burned these all.
He couldn’t have burned all of them.

I dunno if I’m all that graceful.”

“He ain’t,” Gahi confirmed.
I liked this moment.

Normal Fire isn’t the same way as Dragon fire,” Owen said. “It’s… untamed. Violent. Hungry.
Huh I’m not sure I buy this distinction!

The rocks here were a lot lighter—closer to a reddish-brown color than the dark basalt of Kilo Village’s crater.
At first read, I interpreted “lighter” as “less heavy.” Suggestion: The rocks here were a lot lighter in color than the dark basalt of Kilo Village’s crater.

But it’s all part of being trained, right?
I can’t tell if this means being trained by Rhys or that Rhys has a history as a trainer’s pokémon.

Well, dirt ain’t how Rhys cooks,” Gahi said.

“Yeah, Rhys is a good chef!” Demitri said. “You’ll love whatever he makes.”
I was surprised they seemed so oblivious of Rhys’s obvious hostility, unless you make it clearer that they were too far down the hall to see it.

Ha, okay.” Owen took in in the new environment. The immediate entryway was a short walk, perhaps only a few of his tiny paces.
The word choices here are a little odd, and I’m not sure how important it is to the narrative to hear about every single hallway.

like a stone stove,
How does that work exactly?

Four in total. One was the closest, forking to the right. This one led into a room that had a faint, white glow in it. None of the other rooms glowed. The second room was to the left, and two more were further in. Perhaps they were for each of the Pokémon that lived there. Owen deduced that the glowing one was Rhys’ room. What was in there?
I feel like you could simplify the description here too. I’m cool with the idea that one of the four doorways glows, and that it’s probably Rhys’s room, but I don’t care a lot about the position of each doorway right now.

What Owen saw next made him rub his eyes. There was a cloud of some kind—a very fine mist, like a pinkish haze. It didn’t move with any breezes. Oh, no, Owen said. Now I’m starting to see things! Can anybody else—? Owen glanced at the others. Mispy’s leaf was twitching, like she had an itch. Demitri and Gahi were too focused on Rhys’ cooking.

Rhys was moving stiffly. That was odd.

...

Owen looked at the pink cloud. Gone.

...

Out of the corner of his eye, the pink mist bobbed in and out of the room.
The first couple sentences feel wordy. I’m also unsure there would be breezes in the cave? Maybe it’s “any breezes” instead of “the breeze” that threw me. I also couldn’t tell for sure if it’s an object that’s moving through the room or not, which seems useful to know.

We see little, like, colors floating around sometimes. All of us! So, it has to be real.”

“Colors? Like pink?” Owen said.

“Pink? No, usually greens and yellows,” Demitri said.
Sounds to me like auras related to Rhys’s ability? If so, I’m not sure why it’s mysterious. If not... then I have no clue what that is.

he didn’t have a Waypoint registered for Hot Spot Cave—after all, if someone stole his Badge, they could theoretically warp right to that secret village.
Huh, it seems like that could’ve been explained earlier. Surely there’s a reason for that and Owen would know what that reason is, at least ostensibly. Sounds like it might be relevant to know.

and I’m worried he might—like—fire into his own hand,
But he doesn’t have hands...? Wasn’t sure what this meant.

Of where your parents live?” Rhys asked. “Revealing this to me will change nothing.”
Knee-jerk reaction: yeah, I agree with Rhys. If it’s too secret for a waypoint, taking a stranger there seems just as bad. Though Rhys seems to be implying that he already knows about the village, in which case... why not say that?

Did Dad actually explode?
I’m unclear in this too—not on whether or not it was a dream (seems clear it wasn’t) but what exactly Owen “dreamed” happened to his dad.



So, we’re making better friends with a group of Hearts, and deja vibes continues. It seems like the Hearts organization is vaguely aware of these weird abominations roaming around, but they aren’t doing much about it. (Though Rhys seems to be concerned.) There also seems to be maybe some rivalry or mistrust between Rhys and Nevren—maybe corruption in the Hearts.
 
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Namohysip

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charizard
I'm a little confused by what this means. Are these basically the stairs?
Hmm, right. I mentioned distortions further back regarding them seeming like ripples in the air, but they're basically my answer to "stairs" in the games, which I kinda just repurposed to be something a little less silly. I like sticking to canon for the most part, but I have my limits.

Wasn’t clear which one of them “his” was referring to, because I’m not convinced aerodactyl can’t learn rock blast. Is this a moment of devotion to the games or demonstrating Owen’s foolishness? If the former, I don’t think it serves you. Narratively, there’s so little difference between rock blast and rock throw that I don’t care. I’m not gonna run to Bulbapedia to test your accuracy every time a move is named, especially because fic lets you bend the rules as long as it makes a better story. If the latter, I think other moments better show where Owen has room to grow, and this is slowing the momentum of an otherwise tense moment.
I guess I could have mentioned it later, but the difference between Rock Throw and Rock Blast is that the latter is conjured rapidly and accelerated forward, while the former is tossed. And, yeah, I pointed it out because Owen is academic, and knows Rock Blast isn't a move Aerodactyl can typically learn. Oh, and also, Rock Blast is rapid-fire like Bullet Seed, rather than a single stone tossed.

It was very clear how the explorers returned, but not clear how they got the criminal back.
Hm, I think I remember having an explanation, but it mucked up the pacing. Basically, there are usually teams for recovery waiting outside the Dungeon for when they're defeated so they can be apprehended.

Huh, I have to agree with Owen that this feels weird. The Broken Hearts moniker is cool, but the idea of putting someone who harasses dungeon explorers in a position of interacting with dungeon explorers already in trouble is...dodgy. It does feel like he’s getting off easy. Are rescue teams in short supply?
Hmm, wonder if I could have clarified further. Basically, it's sort of a "rehabilitation" take by the Heart leadership. It's not like they go into critical roles; more like basic jobs, and maybe the low-risk ones less so.

I can’t tell if this is facetious or not, because it seems like a) verifying ripeness is low on the ladder of skills needed to make it as a farmer compared to understanding of markets and growing techniques and b) if anyone is going to be especially in-the-know about berry bushes, wouldn’t it be a grass-type?
A: Owen is quick to learn things, so he could have researched farming instead of Heart business.
B: That's typist. tsk tsk.

The callousness also made me wary of Gahi. Even if feral pokémon are animals in this world, they’re animals that look a whole lot like beings they consider people. In our world “ew gross why are you helping those monkeys” is a knee-jerk uncomfortable sentiment for most people.
I think I could have explained this better, too. In this world, the heal factor--even without Orans and Pulses and so on--is incredibly high. Those ferals would recovered even if Owen left them alone, though it's kind of hard to establish this fact without taking a while to explain it in a forced way... I'll think on that.

Anyway, thanks for reading~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 34 – Rest and Recovery

With the confirmation that Owen was stable in his fully evolved form, Amia was more than happy to take him to Kilo Village with Rhys and Zena to find some supplies to repair his bag. Anam, missing the warmth of the sun and the outdoors that the headquarters simply could not provide, tagged along with them with the intention of returning home. He heard that some of the Pokémon were wondering how he and James were doing, anyway.

At first, Owen was worried that his strange appearance might make the Kilo Villagers worried. After all, compared to a normal Charizard, his proportions were different—not to mention the pointed horns. But Amia assured him that it was fine.

“We’ll just say you’re a southern Charizard,” Amia said. “If a Vulpix can be icy and we pass it off as southern, there’s no way they’ll look twice if we say you’re from the south. Annexation was only a few decades ago, so I think we can afford that explanation.”

“And you’re with me!” Anam said. “They’ll know you’re safe.”

They appeared in the central Waypoint in a flash of light. They stepped off the central, colorful, gemlike-encrusted platform; Owen marveled at how properly sized everything was now that he was as tall as most of the others. “Wow,” he said. “I kinda feel like I fit in with the other Hearts, now. Everything’s at the right size.”

“Your size is much more fitting, now, Owen,” Zena commented. “I can almost talk to you at eye level, now.” Though, not quite. She still had to look down from her normal stance.

“That’s good,” Rhys said. “This is technically the first time you’ve ever come to Kilo Village in this form. We were very careful to make sure you didn’t before.”

“Yeah, I don’t have any memories coming back about here now that I’m a Charizard,” he said. “So that’s good—I didn’t accidentally, you know…”

“I will get the supplies for your bag, Owen,” Rhys said, and Owen was grateful for the change of topic. “Why don’t you and the others follow Anam to the Association to catch up with Nevren?”

“Oh, that’s a great idea! You know, Rhys, what if we gave Owen’s old Everstone to the rest of Team Alloy? That should prevent them from evolving. They can go on a little Mission together! Maybe with you as an escort? Or me.” Amia looked down at Owen, smiling.

“Or me,” Zena spoke up. “I wouldn’t mind, now that I also know the Suppression Aura if it’s needed.”

“You know, I haven’t gone on a normal mission in a while,” Owen said. “Feels like forever! Oh, but it’s already starting to get a little late in the afternoon…”

“It could always be a quick one,” Amia offered. “But we do need to make sure they don’t evolve near you. Not yet. So, if you do go, make sure they keep that Everstone near them.”

“…What do you mean, not yet?” Owen asked. “I thought I was over it. Isn’t it okay now? I can help calm them down if they aren’t ready!”

“No, that’s… that’s not it,” Amia said. “There’s still something we need to be careful about, Owen. Don’t you remember?”

“Remember? No, I’m… I mean, I’m still kinda remembering stuff.” He tittered, nervous. “I didn’t take the time to think back yet. But it feels like… there’s still stuff missing. So, I think it’s still coming back to me.”

“Hmm…” Amia bit at the inside of her cheek. “Well… if they ever evolve in front of you—don’t get too close to them, okay?”

Owen hummed uncertainly. “Don’t get… too close. Okay.” Perhaps the black sparks that erupted from them could set him off. He still had to be careful about stressful situations, now that he thought about it. He had to meditate often. Even now, he felt the itch for battle. He hoped that would go away soon.

The Charizard nodded, but then caught a few glances directed at him. In fact, he was catching a lot of things lately; his Perceive was stronger than ever. Every detail, inside and out, was starting to feel distracting in each and every building. Ten, twenty paces away? It was overwhelming, but he tuned it out with hidden, practiced ease. This was just how things were, now.

Thank goodness he lived away from Kilo Village. He’d never get sleep like this.

“Hey, look at you!” said a Golem that seemed vaguely familiar. Perhaps they had run into each other before his last reset. “Did you evolve? I never saw a Charizard before!”

“I have,” commented a nearby Noivern, “but you look more… slim! It’s interesting! Are you from a different part of the region? Maybe the south? I heard the Pokémon can be pretty different down there.”

“Yeah! I am! Must be why I look so different, ha… Southern, yeah.” Owen sighed. He passed as foreign. That was as much as he could hope for, he supposed. But then again, foreign wasn’t very far; as far as he knew, this was the only landmass in the whole world, beyond Zero Isle and that factory.

Suddenly, Owen spotted a few kids running over.

“Goodra Anam! You’re back!” said a little Pachirisu.

“Goodra, Goodra!” called a little Salandit riding atop a Salazzle’s head.

“Heart of Hearts Goodra—you’re…” Salazzle blinked. Owen recognized her—based on the lack of a scar—as Sugar. “What happened? Where have you been?”

“It’s okay!” Anam said. “I was on a big, big mission! But I’m back now, and it’s okay! I’ve been doing blessings and stuff, too! But I was all holed up in the office during that, so I guess I never walked in the sun for a while…”

“Were you, you know, successful?”

“I’m still doing it! But I had some time to come back, since we’re still looking around. Did Nevren tell you all about the artifacts we’re trying to gather?”

“Y-yes! In fact, my sister has been looking far and wide when missions are slow…” Sugar tilted her head so the Salandit on top didn’t fall during his shuffling. “But they’re running out of safe places to search.”

“Nearly lost my wing,” Noivern mumbled, looking away.

“Then they must be in the dangerous ones!” Anam said. “Don’t worry. We can handle those. But first, I need to see Nevren! Is he in my room?”

“He should be. A-and it’s good to see you again, Goodra!” Sugar gave a little nod. She looked up at the Salandit. “Come, Saffron. Let’s go home.”

“Thanks!” Anam giggled and waved. Then, he climbed the stairs and headed into the Heart Headquarters. Owen was careful to not slip on the slime on his way in.

“Wow, it’s a little cramped in here, isn’t it?” Owen said.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Amia dismissed. “I think you’re just too used to being so cute and small!”

“M-Mom…”

“Ohh, I’m sorry, dear. I couldn’t resist. But it’s so new to stand next to you and be shorter! Alex is so proud, dear. He wanted me to let you know.”

“Right…” Owen sighed. “Well, let’s just see what Nevren found for us. And I want to know if he knew that I could evolve and handle it or not.”

“He’s a bit difficult to read, dear. Don’t forget that he’s an Alakazam—I feel like he’ll only really let you to know the truth if he wants you to.”

“Comforting.” Owen snorted. “But I think my Perceive and stuff will make that a little hard for him.”

“If I sense he is trying to deceive you,” Zena said lowly, “I will be sure he stays hydrated.”

They entered the office Nevren was looking over some of the newer reports that came in. He didn’t even know who it was that visited this time. “Ah, more information? If you have a report, please leave it on the desk.”

“It’s me, Nevren!” Anam said. “Oh, and Owen! Look!”

Nevren finally raised his head. His eyes lifted. “Owen! You evolved!” he stepped away from the table, disappeared, and reappeared on the other side in a flash of Teleport. “My goodness, when did that happen?”

“Just today,” Owen said proudly, hands on his hips. “I’ve been feeling pretty good about it, if you ask me. A whole day earlier! Not even sunset.”

“Well, not sunset here,” said Amia. “It’s probably already quite late at Hot Spot Cave, and we just can’t tell since it’s underground.”

“Oh, yeah,” Owen nodded. “It’s crazy what a little warping around can do to time.”

“Well, the position of the sun,” Nevren said. “After all, if you move fast enough, you can outpace the time of day by the sun’s position. Or you could cut the day’s length in half. The planet isn’t very large, unfortunately.”

“Unfortunately?” Amia repeated. “What an odd word, Nevren. I think the planet is just fine!”

“Well, it’s a bit on the small side, wouldn’t you think?” Nevren said. “The living population can’t be more than a few million.”

“That’s—a very big number, Nevren! Honestly!” she giggled. “Such grand statements. The stars are too far away to think of other worlds.”

“Indeed, they are.” Nevren grinned. “Well! Owen, how are you enjoying your new body?”

“I love it,” Owen said. “I feel like I’m finally in the right scales. And the wings are really cool, too.” He flapped them lightly, careful not to blow at the many reports on the table. “But, about that…” He tried to keep the drop of his wings subtle, but his dim flame gave his feelings away. “Nevren, why did you… give me that stone?”

“The stone?” Nevren said. “Ahh… I imagine you figured it out by now—that I gave it to you because I was afraid the Suppression Aura wouldn’t be enough to contain you if you went berserk.”

“The—oh, right.” He glanced at Zena, then his mother.

“And the others, as they learn how to duplicate it,” Nevren said. “You understand. In case Demitri, Mispy, or Gahi lose themselves on their next evolution.”

“O-oh…” He reconsidered his planned questions, the wind stolen from his wings. “So… you were just making sure that…”

Nevren sighed, intertwining his fingers as he Teleported back to his desk in a sitting position. Several reports shuffled in front of him, which he filled out while only making passing glances

“There were three options,” he stated. “The first option was to continue your evolving over and over until you were finally stable enough to not reset. We have done that for a long time. You weren’t dangerous if we knew how to contain you. The second option would be what I did—keep your evolution suppressed outright, in case you became too powerful or too risky to put in your final form, even for a moment. With your Mystic powers, you were starting to resist the memory-loss effects of the Suppression Aura. If you went berserk, there was no telling whether you would be able to revert back. Then, we would have an Owen that was irreparably… damaged. So, we suppressed your aura until we were certain that you were stable enough to handle it.”

“I guess… hm,” Owen said. “Guess it’s a good thing I was stable, huh?”

“I could sense it,” Amia said, placing a hand on his shoulder—she had to reach up, now, and far. “Rhys could, too. The way your aura feels now, compared to the other times, is… different. You’re… stable. But—don’t push yourself too hard, okay? We still need to be careful.”

“Perhaps think about me or the others if you need to calm down,” Zena offered.

“I know,” Owen said. “I’ll even have my Mystic power help a little, right? Nevren?”

“Hmm, in theory, that could very well work,” he said. “Mystic power could calm the…” Nevren paused, considering this. “Hm, actually—would you mind if I wrote some notes down? Thank you for the visit, I appreciate it. But I need to consider a few things. Ah—and there’s a sighting in the Frozen Oceanside to the north. Undoubtedly Ice. Perhaps prepare a team tomorrow?”

“O-oh! Okay!” Amia said. “Thanks? And, er, good luck with the notes?”

Owen nodded. “Um, Nevren?” he said. “What was option three?”

“Hm? Three? Ah, yes—well, if we couldn’t suppress you, and you were berserk, we’d have to kill you.”

Zena tensed, and while Owen was still unfamiliar with her body type, he had a feeling she was only a few steps away from striking. He couldn’t blame her; Zena wasn’t familiar with how matter-of-fact Nevren was about… everything.

“O-oh, that’s… that’s good.” Owen tried to stay calm for Zena’s sake. “Well, um, thanks for the info.”

“Yes, I shall report to you my findings sometime tomorrow. Thank you.” He was already face-deep in his notes.

Owen slowly stepped out, hesitant to even make a sound. Amia gently reached up to hold his shoulder. He glanced back and tittered once they were outside. “I—guess I can’t blame him. He’s very… straightforward, and…”

“Utilitarian, perhaps.” Amia raised her shoulders in a casual, forced shrug. “A little too much. But that’s Nevren for you.”

“Perhaps he should be the Ice Guardian,” Zena mumbled.

Anam nodded. “I wouldn’t let him, though. I’d just… um… let you live in my Orb, or something! Like what Manny did! Except, um… maybe I’d find a way to not kill you when I did that. I think there’s a way. Umm…”

Owen decided to show Anam mercy. “At least I’m past that,” he said. “Glad I waited to evolve.”

“We should take a look at that Ice area, huh? I guess that’s one little disadvantage to evolving,” Owen said. “Now that I’m part Flying, I don’t have a total advantage against it. But hey, Fire, right?”

“Frozen Oceanside has a lot of Water Pokémon as well, Owen,” Amia said. “I think you should stay back for this one. No matter what form you take—your normal self or Grass—you won’t be in a good position. Why don’t you let us handle this one?”

Owen frowned. “Well—I mean, I guess so.”

“Don’t you worry,” Amia said. “I think we’ll have a great team! Well, I might stay behind, too. After our encounter with Brandon, maybe bringing the Fire Guardian to the Ice Guardian would give the wrong impression.”

“Are we sure it’s the Ice Guardian, though?” Owen said. “I mean, the Guardian could be throwing us off. What if it’s actually the Dark Guardian or something? Willow’s the Fairy Guardian but she lived in a field like where Klent lived. And Anam’s the Ghost Guardian but he lives in town! Well, lived. Now he’s with us. So…”

“I don’t like Ice,” Anam said. “It makes my goo all crackly and hard.”

“But as the Ghost Guardian, surely you would be able to handle that,” Rhys said.

Anam shook his head. “I think the others will be okay, right? I’ll… um… I’ll go on a scouting mission! Yeah. To one of the more dangerous places, like… um… oh! How about Dark Mist Swamp?”

“That’s… a very bad idea,” Rhys said. “Dark Mist Swamp has a poison so potent that not even Steel Types like myself can last in it.”

“Yeah, but did we ever bring a Mystic close enough to feel if one of us live there? We should try!”

“Oh, maybe I can—” Owen caught Amia’s look. “M-maybe I’ll… just… go on a mission today and train with the others at home tomorrow, or something.”

“That’s better,” Amia said, squeezing Owen’s shoulder.

With that, they gathered supplies for Owen’s bag—and stopped by Sugar ‘n Spice for some treats—and returned home. Anam ended up coming with them back to Hot Spot, saying that Nevren let him take a break from all the paperwork. The others assumed this meant giving Nevren a break from having Anam near paperwork.

Owen was slightly disappointed that he hadn’t run into Deca along the way.

<><><>​

“Hey, um, Zena?” Willow said from atop Owen’s head, seated right between his eyes.

“Hmm? Yes?” The Milotic asked, looking at the water deeper in the cave. She had come across it during one of her morning strolls in the caverns and had visited there every day since. It was warm, but still far enough from the magma that it was only like a nice bath, rather than something for cooking.

“Tell me more about that friend. Because I keep forgetting who it is. Anam reminded you?”

“Friend?” Owen asked. “I think I forgot about that, too.”

“I’m still really upset that I didn’t remember her until now,” Zena said, huffing. “How could I? She was wonderful, and I forgot in my isolation, I’m sure. But now that I’m training, maybe my head is starting to clear up.” She breathed slowly. “She was a Lugia. Her name was Emily. She was so strong… Now that I think about it, she had a lot of Mystic properties to her. Maybe she was, but I can’t remember it clearly. Then again, the Legends are supposed to be gods, in a sense, aren’t they?

“But it couldn’t have been Water… I remember I had it while she was still around. Maybe she still is alive…! Because, well…” She trailed off. “I haven’t seen her in my spirit world. Surely she’d visit.”

Owen dipped his claws into the warm water. It didn’t quite appeal to him in either of his forms. Too warm for his Grassy self, too wet for his Fiery self. “How come Anam reminded you of her?”

“I’m… not sure. I don’t remember,” Zena said. “I just need to clear my head more, I suppose. Maybe it was her personality. But Emily… I want to meet her again. I think I know where I can find her, if you’d like to come with me. And… hmm… I don’t really know who else.”

“Where would she be?”

“The ocean,” Zena said.

“…Okay…” Willow said. “And where in the ocean?”

“Anywhere,” Zena replied like it was obvious. “She’d know where you are. She always did… Yes, I remember now—she used to rescue Pokémon that were stranded in the ocean all the time! That was her… I suppose her talent. She was a healer, like Mispy.”

“And if she knew where everyone was, maybe she had some sort of Perception like I did,” Owen said, feeling a rare sense of kinship. “Wait, does that mean she was a mutant?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Zena said. “Oh—we just have to meet her.” The Milotic seemed excited, now. “Tomorrow. Let’s go to the beach tomorrow and find her!”

Owen grinned. “That sounds like a great idea!” Aside from the water.

“Okay!” Willow said.

“Owen?” someone called from behind.

He looked back and saw a Decidueye. “Oh, James!” Owen said. It had been so long, he nearly forgot about him. Between Anam being at the Heart Headquarters so often and keeping his spirits withdrawn, he hadn’t seen James in days. “How’re you doing?”

“Quite well,” James replied dutifully. “I was sent here to deliver a message: Mispy orders you to take them on a mission.”

“She orders me?” Owen asked.

“As the leader of Team Alloy, she said,” James clarified.

Owen’s tail flared up. “I thought I was the leader now, or something.”

“She takes it back.”

Zena giggled. “I thought Gahi would be the one most upset about you evolving first. I guess Mispy had it bottled up inside. You should really be careful, Owen.”

“I have, like, all the type advantages over her, now!” Owen protested.

“You’re free to dispute it,” James replied. “I am only relaying the message.”

Owen huffed. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Zena, do, uh, d’you want to come as our Suppressor, just in case? Five is a little unwieldy for a mission, but it should be okay. I mean, who’s gonna reprimand us, right? Anam knows why.”

Zena nodded. “I’d love to, Owen.”

<><><>​

“It’s kinda weird that they actually let us go,” Owen said, walking through Kilo Village under the late-noon sun. “But we made a promise that you wouldn’t evolve, so we’re going to take on a not-so-dangerous mission, alright? And make sure you stay close to that bag.”

“Right,” Demitri said. “And we’re safe from Rim, right?”

“If she doesn’t want to bother you, Owen,” Zena said, “then hopefully that will continue to be the case…”

“Mnn, I’m not so sure about that.” Owen crossed his arms. “But at least now I’ll be able to sense her way before she tries to attack!” He grinned, showing his teeth.

Zena flinched, and at first Owen wasn’t sure why.

“Are you okay?” Owen asked.

“Oh—yes, I’m fine.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry,” Owen said. “I’m still trying to get used to reading your kind of body language. I thought you were about to attack me or something!”

“Oh, not at all!” Zena said, but it was too quick.

Owen realized that Zena might have been wondering the same of him. Shaking that fear of mutants… Owen wondered if she’d be able to. And he couldn’t blame her if she didn’t.

“I was just surprised at how sharp your teeth looked,” Zena added, perhaps to fill the silence of the afternoon road.

“Sharp?” Owen ran his tongue along a few of them. “I guess they’re a little sharp.”

Gahi hovered on Demitri’s left, with Mispy on his right. Owen’s eyes lingered on the three. This was the first time that they would be going on a mission together as a full Team Alloy, including knowledge of what they used to be. ‘Team Alloy’ wasn’t complete, but it was close.

His heart fluttered—he barely knew them, at least with his current memories, yet it felt like he was catching up with old friends.

The pang of frustration he felt about those sealed memories was stifled when he spotted many other Hearts walking in and out of the main building. Owen wobbled where he stood, watching all of the bodies moving at once. Mispy jabbed at his back to snap to attention.

“You okay?” Mispy asked, the first to enter the headquarters.

“Yeah—sorry,” he said. “Got distracted.”

“Hey, look,” Demitri said. “Isn’t that the scarred Salazzle you were talking about? Spice?”

Indeed, it was. Spice was looking at the board, checking the notices with a Delphox standing next to her.

“Oh, goodness,” Zena said, quickly averting her eyes.

“Yeah, it looks pretty nasty,” Owen said. “But I heard that it doesn’t actually hurt. It just looks really bad.”

When Spice turned around, it was unmistakable. He winced at the sight of the scar.

Spice scoffed at him. “Like what you see?”

“Um—yes! No! Wait—no! I mean—it’s okay,” Owen said.

Demitri gave a polite bow. “Sorry. Owen knows you from your chocolate store.”

“Owen?” Spice looked at him, but then elbowed the Delphox, eyes wide. “Leo, look. That’s the Charmand—well, Charizard I was talking about. The one from the mission.” She tapped her chest. “Holy Mew! Congratulations on evolving, little guy!”

Not little. “Thanks!” Owen said, grinning. “We’re actually looking for a mission. Are, uh… huh. Slim pickings…” Or rather, no pickings. The board was devoid of missions. It happened from time to time, according to what Demitri had told Owen before, but it was always a disappointment. Then again, they were pretty late on grabbing them this time.

“Yeah, bit of a slow day, unfortunately,” Leo said. “I was thinking about just taking the day off to—”

There was still a mission on the board, just behind Leo. Owen was surprised that he was able to discern the ink on the paper without looking at it.

“Oh, don’t bother with that one,” Leo said. “It’s haunted.”

“Oh, stuff it,” Spice said, shaking her head. “Hey, do you want to take this one?” she asked. “Leo’s too much of a wimp to take it on.”

“Excuse me, I am not a wimp. I’ll have you know, as Team Alight’s leader, I’m the least wimpy of—Yowch!”

Spice whipped Leo on his backside with her tail.

“Here, Charizard,” Spice said, passing the mission posting.

Outlaw Aerodactyl recovery mission – research task – Void Forest.

“Research task?” Owen mumbled. “Wait, Aerodactyl…” Familiar. That species was incredibly familiar. But he couldn’t place why. He knew he’d be standing for the whole day if he didn’t move on. He continued to read.

Summer, moon 3, day 28. Outlaw Aerodactyl escaped custody and fled to Void Chasm, but then redirected to Void Forest, followed by relocating southwest to the Abyssal Borderlands. Follow his path and search for any signs of him, and arrest if possible. Otherwise, return after a thorough search. As per protocol, do not approach the Chasm of the Void. Do not enter the Abyss. Do not interact with southern anomalies. Do not touch dark clouds.

All the same, typical warnings for any mission to the southern area of Kilo. Owen considered it almost a routine disclaimer. “Sure, we’ll take it on.”

“Well, you heard them.” Leo sighed. “My hands are tied.”

Owen appreciated Leo’s generosity. “Alright, I guess we’ll get going!” he said. “You guys ready?”

“A simple recovery mission doesn’t sound too bad. This Aerodactyl… won’t be trouble, will he?”

“He won’t be around,” Spice said with a snort. “That mission statement is too hopeful. He’s long gone and fled someplace else, but maybe we can find a sign or two of what he took.”

“Okay, got it.” If that was the case, it was the perfect mission. Carefully pulling it off, he pulled out his bag and jotted down the request notes before placing it in the nearby ‘taken’ pile. Zena watched, fascinated, and asked a few questions about how the process worked. Owen answered leisurely, and showed Zena his notes about the mission statement that he’d copied.

“You write with scorch marks?” Zena asked as Owen led the way out of the headquarters.

“I guess I could buy ink, but if it’s just personal writing, why not just channel flames, you know?” Owen held up a claw, which shined with a tiny ember at the tip. He then returned to his notes, wondering if there was a way he could make this mission at least a little fun for his team.

“Owen, watch where you’re walking,” Demitri said. “You could trip down the stairs.”

“Huh?” Owen asked, glancing away from the paper. “No, it’s fine. I can see the stairs.” He supposed he could also read the mission statement without looking at it, but he wanted to feel normal. And looking at it that way was actually distracting.

Demitri stared incredulously. Mispy quickly wrapped a vine around Demitri, sensing his misstep. “Uff—sorry. Um, Owen? You aren’t even looking at the stairs.”

Zena, meanwhile, struggled with her serpentine body going along the steps, nearly rolling the whole way down when she lost her grip. Owen brushed his tail in front of her to stop one of those falls. She gave him a grateful smile.

“I know,” Owen said. “It’s fine. I’m getting better with this whole Perceive thing. I kinda practiced it all night in Enet’s den. No light, so I had to see in other ways. I can walk without seeing.”

“Oh.”

“Wish I had that,” Gahi mumbled.

Down the stairs and along Waypoint Road, Owen read out the signs and ignored the odd sense of nostalgia he had when crossing the W section. He stopped at its neighbor, searching for Void Forest, and then nodded at the others. “This is it. Let’s go.”

They passed over the Waypoint and took time to reacquaint themselves with their new surroundings, from the gray ground to the dead trees. Zena flinched at the sudden change in atmosphere, as well as the ominous, damp chill that ran through the ground. She silently inched closer to Owen, and he couldn’t blame her. The atmosphere must have been similar to the cave she used to live in.

“So… Creepy? Not creepy? What’s the verdict here?” Demitri asked.

“I’m going with creepy,” Owen said, sighing. “Let’s just go through. Be careful around here.” He read through the mission prompt’s more intricate details. “Lots of feral Ghosts that like to frighten you to feed on your panicked life energy, or something. They eat the flare that comes off of you when you panic. I actually read that they turn that flare into energy. Kinda cool, when you think about it.”

“Oh. Great,” Gahi said. “Spirit-nibblers.”

“So basically,” Demitri said, fiddling with his claws, “if we stay calm, they won’t be attracted to us?”

“Hope so.”

This was not the case. Right when they passed through the first distortion, with the Dungeon’s typical, structured walls rising above their heads, the atmosphere instantly intensified into one of chilling cold. Haunter in particular plagued this portion of the Dungeon, rising from the ground or walls. They attempted to claw at Owen and the others, but Team Alloy was smarter and sharper. Owen focused on his fire attacks here, figuring that they were the most familiar, and dispatched of them with ease. Gahi had an easy time swiping at them with his high speeds; Mispy kept any small damage from piling up.

Zena even managed to frighten a few of the feral Ghosts away by summoning her own Water spirits to fight alongside them. The team joked with one another about the Ghosts bring frightened by spirits. Owen was tempted to do the same, but he didn’t yet have the confidence to summon Klent or the others for battle on short notice.

Unfortunately, Demitri kept attracting more.

“Th-thuh-that was th-the last one, right?” Demitri said.

“Maybe, if you stopped getting scared!” Gahi hissed. “C’mon, thicken those scales! Oooo, I’m a big scary Ghost! I’m gonna eat yer aura!” The Vibrava opened his jaw as wide as it could go, chomping right next to Demitri. Owen had a feeling that it would have been more effective if he was still a Trapinch.

The Fraxure screamed anyway.

Owen absently wondered if this was offensive to Anam. He glanced at the mission paper’s prompts upon passing through the seventh segment.

Upon entering the Dungeon’s stable zone after the fifth segment, do not proceed. Aerodactyl did not enter the Dungeon depths, and instead exited via the left distortion. Per natural precautionary measures, do not sleep in the Dungeon stable zone.

“Don’t sleep? What?” Gahi said.

Owen summarized the rest. “Looks like sometimes, when sleeping here, explorers wake up in a completely different place, sometimes with a whole day missing from their memory. That’s… comforting.”

“Okay.” At this point, Demitri was a trembling wreck. “I’m done. Let’s go.”

“Can’t go yet, scalebag,” Gahi said. “We still gotta make that last trip ter the Abyssal whatevers.”

“Uh, Abyssal Borderlands.” Owen checked the top of the mission statement. “It’s not too far from here once we leave. C’mon.”

Demitri stuck close to Mispy’s side, practically brushing up against her scales. She leaned back against him, nibbling at her lower lip. “It’s okay,” she said quietly, though she wrapped her vines around him while they walked.

Gahi clicked his jaws. The cold atmosphere immediately let up. The Dungeon’s exit led them to another open field, this time lined with lifeless, tanned rocks. “At least we didn’t see any weird black clouds,” he said. “Maybe they’re just rumors that the Hearts are too spooked ter verify.”

They continued to walk, but then Demitri gulped. “Is that…?”

The Chasm of the Void. Approximately a fourth the length of Kilo Village, the giant crater looked like a pool of motionless, black ink. No matter what angle the sun hit it, the bottom was never visible, and whatever that black substance was didn’t reflect any light back. The ‘Abyss’ was that blackness.

“So, stay away from that,” Owen said to them. “Let’s just walk kinda close, look for anything out of the ordinary, and head back.”

“Aside from the big, black void right there?” Gahi said. “What kinda Dungeon anomaly is that supposed to be?!”

“It might actually just be a Guardian,” Owen said.

Yep, Star replied.

Owen jolted. “S-Star!” he said. Can you stop doing that?!

Sorry, sorry! I just caught word that you’re heading to that place. You know that’s a restricted area, right?

I mean, yeah, but we’re Hearts. We can go here. And that’s part of the mission.

Okay. But be careful, alright? Seriously,
do not get close to that thing. The Dark Guardian is nice, but… I don’t know enough about him to feel safe about it. Guy’s weird.

“Is Owen okay?” Demitri said.

“Star,” Mispy said.

“Hmph.” Zena rolled her eyes. “It’s probably not that important.”

If you say so, Owen said dismissively.

Okay no, listen, I know you think I’m kinda shady and stuff, but seriously, do not get too close. I get bad vibes from the guy, just like Anam’s realm. I hate going there. Okay?

Owen’s hands ached at the thought of Anam’s Ghost Realm. “Let’s just be careful,” he told the others, beating his wings a few times to keep them limber.

“Let’s start searching for any clues of Aerodactyl,” Owen said.

“Can’t you just use your Perceive and get this done in, like, five seconds?” Demitri asked.

“That’s true, Owen. Why don’t you use this as a moment to get some practice in? We’ll check… er…” Zena paused. “If you can see everything around is, there isn’t much we can do to help, is there?”

“Well, it might be a little unpolished,” Owen said. “So, I’ll have you guys check out a few places that seem suspicious.” He looked at the mission statement again, like it was a thing he still had to do. He felt oddly restless. “It’s only this part of the Chasm that we have to check, so we don’t even have to walk around the whole thing.”

“Good,” Demitri said. Mispy nodded with him.

Owen closed his eyes and tried to put his power to use again. This time, he closed his eyes and tried to tune out his other senses, too—focusing entirely on his surroundings. He felt every detail. Every pebble and every leaf. He felt the rocks beneath the surface. The—

Owen slammed face-first into the ground.

“O-Owen!” Zena rushed toward him, pulling him up. “What happened?”

“Unghh, who pushed me?” Owen said, rubbing his bleeding snout.

Mispy approached to heal him, but then said, “You fell.”

“You did, Owen. You just… took a step and fell forward. Are you okay?”

“I think I tried sensing too hard,” Owen said. “I’ll… I’m gonna sit down next time.”

“Did you sense anything suspicious?” Zena asked.

Owen shook his head. He then looked at the Chasm and its infinite darkness, shivering. “One more check. Then let’s go.”

“No objections here,” Demitri said, hugging himself with his tiny arms.

Owen breathed slowly. It was a lot like meditating, now that he was in a sitting position. He flicked his huge tail and wrapped it in front of him to take up as little space as possible, and then concentrated. The rocks, the leaves, underground…

Then his senses touched upon the Chasm, and then into the Abyss.

Owen gulped, heart rate increasing. He kept going, just in case. Just a little further and he’d scan as much as he could without feeling overwhelmed again. He never scanned something this in depth before—that he could remember, at least—but it was for the mission. Maybe Aerodactyl dropped something in the Abyss?

It was just more and more darkness. It kept going. He didn’t know how far the bottom was, but with his powers still awakening, he couldn’t go very far. Then he felt something else. Arms? No. Not quite. But it was something. They were swirling inside, slithering in the inky blackness.

Then, suddenly, the slithering stopped. He saw eyes. They stared at him.

Hello.

Owen’s whole body lunged backwards and he broke out of his trance. “AUGH! M-Mispy!” He shook away the two huge vines that had wrapped around him.

“What are you doing?!” Mispy hissed.

“What’re you talking about?! I was Perceiving!”

“No!” Mispy said, thwacking him on the head with her left vine.

“Ow!” Owen snapped, smacking her vine away. “I think this whole leader thing is getting to your head!”

Mispy smacked him again. “Look!”

Zena had been trying to pull him away by the arm with her ribbons; he only now noticed.

“What?” Owen said, but then turned to the Abyss.

He was only a few steps away from falling in.

“Wait, when did I—”

“Let’s go,” Mispy said, pulling Owen back. “We’re leaving.”

“W-wait! I don’t think I finished scanning!”

“We aren’t gonna find anything, Owen,” Demitri said, shivering. “That’s what the mission said could’ve happened. Let’s just report back and go home; I’m done.”

“Yeah, I’m kinda bored, too,” Gahi said. “Finding a trace of Aero ain’t gonna do much now. Been so long, y’know?”

“But—”

I’m leader,” Mispy said, searching for their Badge. “We’re done.”

Owen’s fire glowed challengingly, but he relented with a smoky huff. “Fine. I need some sleep, anyway. I think I’m losing it…”

Maybe Leo was right. This place was haunted.

Mispy found one of their Badges and pulled it out.

And what did you learn? Star quipped.

Owen ignored her.

“When we get home,” Owen said to the others, “I’m taking a nap.”

“Likewise,” Zena said.

The rest of Team Alloy agreed. In a flash of light, they vanished for Kilo Village.

Hello?
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 35 – The Hunters’ Leader

Upon returning home, Owen felt exhausted. Despite not needing sleep, he wanted it. Zena offered for him to rest near the pond inside her home again, and he happily agreed, though he realized soon after that his bed might not be big enough for him. That gave him an idea. He was planning on visiting the Grass Realm while he slept—or was that technically meditating?—so he felt it’d only be appropriate if he switched to his Grassy form for the night. His tail curled around his body and his limbs slowly dissolved into a tapestry of vines. He then focused on his wings; they went from green and leafy to actual, thick leaves, which he used as blankets.

Then, his limb-vines twisted around the leaves of his tiny bed. He curled around his self-made nest and closed his eyes, though he could still sense Zena staring at him.

“Uh, is something wrong?” Owen asked.

“N-no, nothing.” Zena looked away. “I was just… interested in how you decided to sleep.”

“Oh. Uh, is it weird?” Owen looked up, resting his head on a clump of vines.

“…Yes. That’s a bit strange, Owen.”

“I mean, it’s no weirder than you becoming water and sleeping as the lake, right?”

“I… I suppose so,” Zena said. “You aren’t going to turn into a giant flower next, are you?”

“I don’t think I’ll try.”. He curled around again, readjusting his vines. Something about resting against a thick bed of vines felt familiar.

Slowly, he drifted off to sleep.

<><><>​

Nevren returned to Hot Spot Cave under the cover of darkness. Lit only by the mushroom glow, he tilted his head to the side and narrowly dodged a Moonblast.

“Sorry!” Willow called.

“Quite alright,” Nevren replied.

Willow skittered toward him; Nevren held out one of his spoons for her to land on. “Are you back from your boring paperwork?”

“Yes, though I fear there is still quite a backlog remaining,” Nevren said. “Is Anam resting in his home?”

“Yep! He was talking to himself.”

“Talking… to himself? Ah, you mean to his spirits.”

“Yeah. But I dunno what he was saying.”

“Well, thank you, Willow.” He lowered his spoon and she hopped off. “What are the others doing?”

“Mostly meditating. I saw Manny trying to summon someone, but he was too blurry to see. Everyone else is just being boring so the mortals can sleep.”

“Mortals. What a funny word for the mutants,” Nevren said. “Well, I will be going to Anam now.”

“You sleep with Anam?” Willow gasped. “I knew it!”

“Pardon?”

“Rhys is gonna be sooo upset!”

“…Pardon?”

“You two are mates, right?” Willow’s eyes shined with mischief. “You and Rhys? I thought you two were. But it’s you and Anam instead, huh? I didn’t think you’d be like that.”

Nevren stared at Willow.

“Are you the one that keeps sending Rhys love letters and Pecha berries? That’s what Demitri told me. He keeps getting them and sometimes he hugs a huuge pile of letters when he thinks nobody’s watching. You seem like you’d write a ton of letters!”

Nevren walked on. “I do not send Rhys letters. That is from an old, close friend of Rhys. They speak through telepathy, but I suppose they also enjoy physical correspondence.”

“Are they mates?” Willow asked, sparking. “Are you mad that Rhys is still in love with him? A secret admirer?”

“It’s hardly a secre—we are not mates. We never were. Rhys is with Elder.”

“Elder? That’s his name? Is he really old?” Willow hopped onto the bottom of Nevren’s mustache. “How come we never see him? Did they have a falling out? Do they have kids?”

“Two males cannot have children.”

“Not with that attitude!”

Before Nevren had a chance to reply, his bag suddenly beeped.

“What was that?” Willow asked.

“A message from the Hearts. I must take this. Please, some privacy.”

“Oh. Okay.” Willow hopped from his mustache and scuttled toward Enet’s home next. Upon hearing a low growl, she redirected herself to ADAM’s polished abode.

Nevren spun around and glanced at Valle in the center of town. He then turned back and went for the exit of Hot Spot, blinking once. With a simple Teleport, he was at the entrance again.

“Eon,” Nevren said into his communicator, “it is very late.”

“Actually, in your time zone, it’s very early.”

Nevren looked at the sky. Dark blue. “My word.”

“Nevren,” he said. “Do you still have that Waypoint set up in the Chasm?”

“That’s an ancient Waypoint, Eon, but yes, I do have it in my Badge, and it has been transferred into theirs. Do you intend to visit the Dark Guardian next with their help?”

“Later. I’m coming over first.”

“…What?” Nevren said. “Was the plan not to use the Guardian’s own shroud to mask your presence while taking it down? That was the plan.”

“Owen evolved, right?” Eon asked.

“Yes, he has. But—”

“Then I’m coming over.”

“Now, Eon, I warned you that it may happen early. He’s not ready for—”

“I’m coming over.”

“Eon, no. Patience. The rest of the Alloy has not evolved. Owen’s memories are still sealed, as are theirs. And, frankly, I’m not sure if—”

“I’ll just unleash them. It’ll work out!”

“Now, Eon, the likelihood that it will ‘work out’ is—”

The communicator buzzed.

“Eon? …Eon.”

No reply.

Nevren lowered his hand, sighing. “Eon,” he grumbled, pulling out his bag to stare at a little Badge with a blue, glowing diamond in the middle. “…No. It isn’t worth it,” he muttered, closing the bag. He then looked into Hot Spot. “I suppose I should warn them.”

<><><>​

The forest within Owen’s spirit was bright as ever, and the Charizard was happy to revisit the former Grass Guardian at night. While still ‘daytime’ within this realm, Owen was mentally exhausted and wanted a break. Owen looked at his hands. Orange. He hoped he was still Grassy in the real world or he’d be waking up with some serious neck pain.

“Klent?” Owen called. “Hey, Klent! How do I look, huh?”

The spirits witnessed the transformation from within, but they didn’t see him in person until just then. They recognized the form instantly—but were unnerved at how calm he was compared to their first encounter, so long ago.

“Owen,” Klent said. “You’re so… calm.” He floated a bit closer and prodded at his leg tentatively, nervously. The way Owen reacted was nothing like he’d imagined just days before.

“Calm, huh? I mean—I guess compared to how I used to be…” He rubbed his left horn nervously. “I’m sorry if me being here is bringing back any memories. I mean…”

The deceased Jumpluff shook his pompoms dismissively. “If anything, it’s helping,” he said gently. “That was a long time ago. It’s good to see the same thing, in a different way. Amelia is a bit nervous, of course, but…”

Owen felt her presence in the bushes and nodded. “It’s alright. I figure it’s gonna be the hardest for her. I’m gonna be leaving anyway—I wanted to see Star and Hecto. Have a few questions to ask.”

“Oh? About what?”

“Just some things I saw at the factory. And maybe whatever that was that happened down south.”

“Ahh.” Klent nodded. “Well. I’ll be seeing you.”

Owen nodded and walked straight ahead, following the rules of the spirit world. The bright forest he knew transitioned into trees with a blue, ethereal glow—Aether Forest, Star had called it. Owen thought back to his last time there—he was a Charizard then, too, wasn’t he? But a normal one. He knocked a claw against the sharp tip of his horns. He wasn’t quite normal this time, but… he preferred it this way.

Someone was nearby. From the walking pattern and softness of the steps, it was pretty obvious who it was. “Hecto? Are you there?”

“Yes.”

Owen sighed. “You’re pretty much everywhere, aren’t you?”

“Not precisely everywhere,” Hecto replied. “Are you here to see Star?”

“Yeah, actually. Um, is she in her cave and stuff? I can just walk that way if you want.”

“That will be fine. I imagine you are here to discuss our encounter in the abandoned factory. About Brandon, the humans, trainers, and their culture?”

“I mean—more or less, yeah,” Owen said. “Like, why Barky wants to keep that factory there when he can just destroy it whenever he wants through Brandon?”

“Brandon possibly doesn’t have the power necessary to destroy the factory in its entirety,” Hecto said. “I also imagine he wants to use it as leverage.”

“Leverage?” Owen said.

“It is more advantageous to have the ability to use those items rather than nobody use them at all, risky as it is.”

“Do you know why Brandon was sent from the human world?” Owen asked. “It seems crazy to think of a human that became a Pokémon at all. I mean—it’s crazy! I thought humans were just scary stories that Mom made up to keep me behaved. They’re real?”

“They are, though they are not very strong,” Hecto said. “You have little to fear of them. A Pokémon with the same equipment would be significantly more dangerous. Additionally, there are no humans in this world.”

Just like before, a short walk was all that was needed to reach their destination. Where the trees began to clear out, Owen saw the rocky mountainside of the cave through which he had first entered Star’s domain. “What’s that mountain called, anyway?”

“Star Mountain.”

“…Oh.”

He walked for a few more seconds when Hecto said nothing else.

“So, uh, you’re saying that there’s a whole other universe with humans in it?” Owen said. He ducked under a particularly low tree branch; his tipped horns grazed against the dark wood, surrounding them both in little blue mist.

“Hmm… yes,” Hecto said.

“Wow…” Owen nodded, entranced by the shimmering shower. “That’s pretty cool. Millions of humans, all in one place?”

Hecto didn’t say anything. Instead, he pointed out, “Ah, I believe Star is coming down now.”

“He-ey, Owen!” Star waved from the mouth of the cave. She hopped out and floated until she was in front of the Charizard, bumping his chest. “Ha ha—look at you! All evolved and sane at the same time! Took long enough, right?”

“No kidding.” Owen laughed, and was surprised at how genuine it felt. “Actually, I was a little worried for a few seconds, but I’m glad that it turned out okay after all. Um—Star, do you know if I can go insane again?”

“On your own? Probably not, maybe—okay, possibly? But, let’s play it safe, yeah? You might still lose it temporarily, and that might slip into another reset, so keep it steady. And… just keep an eye out for Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy, still. They might make you go crazy again, but don’t think too much about it yet.”

“That’s the second time someone told me that,” Owen said. “Thinking about what they used to be could send me over the edge, just like that?”

“I mean… maybe?” Star said. “Just try not to think too hard, okay? Besides, it’s probably still too blurry. I wouldn’t risk it.”

“Ugh, okay,” Owen muttered. He didn’t want to risk everything for a little curiosity. But maybe if he did a little peek?

“Hey, I know that look,” Star growled. “You already almost jumped into the Abyss like an idiot, so—”

“Okay, that’s not fair! I didn’t even realize it!”

“Well, be careful next time! We can’t afford to have you blacking out for a day or whatever that guy does.” She sighed, pinched her forehead, and then looked Owen over. “Anyway, whatever, I’m actually glad you came. Look at you, all grown up! I mean, you’ve been a grown up forever, but, I mean it more in a literal sense. I mean, even then, you were kinda like a confused teenager or maybe a young adult most of your life, but—”

Owen’s amused stare slowly turned into a glare.

“What I mean is, uh—you’re a little above average in height for a ‘Zard, huh?”

Owen took it with a resigned sigh. “Yeah, and good thing, too,” he said. “Last thing I wanted was to still be shorter than Enet after all that trouble she gave me for being small.”

The most minute of smirks appeared on Hecto’s face.

“Man, Owen,” Star said. “I didn’t think you’d be the sort to care about height! But you’re right. You’d think Charizard would be bigger in general, huh? But no, they’re a little on the small side for pseudo dragons.”

“…You take that back.” Hearing it from God hurt more than expected.

Star bumped her tiny fist on Owen’s chest. “Hey, let’s go someplace! What do you want to do, Owen? We should totally celebrate!”

“C-Celebrate? Where? How?”

Star flicked her tail; a dark blue portal appeared behind her. “C’mon! I wanna show you someplace fun. But I wanna invite the others. Zena’s sleeping, right? We should totally get her, too!”

Star tugged at Owen’s claw, and he followed. But Hecto didn’t move. “Uh, Hecto?” Star said. “You’re invited, too, y’know!”

“We may need to reschedule,” Hecto said.

Star stopped tugging. “What do you mean?”

“Owen should wake up.”

“Huh?” Owen asked. He felt a phantom sensation of someone pushing at his shoulder. He swatted gently at it, but then his whole body shook. “What’s…?” Little bubbles of golden light floated out of his body.

<><><>​

“Owen, you must wake up. Owen!” Rhys said.

“Muh—huh? What?”

“Owen, get up! We need to leave.”

“Uhh—”

Rhys tried to lift the Charizard. Owen dumbly stumbled around until finally shaking himself awake. He tripped over his own vines on the way, forgetting that he didn’t have proper legs to stand on. “What’s going on?” he said in a moan. “Is it morning? Just five more blinks…”

“Follow me. I don’t have time, just follow me.”

“Mrgh…” Owen sluggishly reformed his limbs, returned to his Fiery state, and walked behind him. Rhys urged Owen to go faster; grudgingly, he did.

Almost everybody was in the middle of town; Demitri and Mispy were being carried out by Azu and Roh, while Gahi sped over to Owen.

“Oy, Owen! Wake up!” he said. “We gotta run! Yer holdin’ us back!”

“What do you mean?! What’s going on?” Owen rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

Anam was fiddling around for his Badge; many others were doing the same. It looked like there was enough Badge power to bring everybody somewhere else. Owen felt something approaching, too. Now that he was more awake, he took the time to tune his aura to it. What was that…? It was an intense power, a bit away from the entrance to the cave. He couldn’t tell if it was stronger or weaker than what he’d felt from Zero Isle, but it was, at the very least, a lot closer—and a lot stronger than any other aura he’d felt before. Why did it also feel familiar? And he sensed someone else, too.

“Wait—I think I feel Rim.”

“Yes, you do,” Rhys said. “But don’t you also feel Eon?”

“Th-that’s Eon!?” Now he remembered. The leader of the Hunters—the one who told Rim where to go, told Nevren what to research, Rhys who to fight. He was here? Now?

“Why?” Owen asked. “Why’s he—”

“I don’t intend to find out,” Rhys said. “Let’s go! We have to move!”

Anam and the others raised their Badges.

<><><>​

If it wasn’t for Owen’s tail or Rhys’ aura, they’d be blind in their destination.

“Oh—goodness, how dark!” Amia waved her hand in front of her, but even her blue flames seemed inhibited by the thick atmosphere.

“This isn’t a normal sort of darkness,” Rhys said. “It feels like something more. Like our light is being… drawn away. I can barely see.”

“Oooh… I don’t like the dark all that much,” Anam said, shivering. “Especially the kind where even the light doesn’t help…”

Amia felt the ground. It was oddly soft, and had a lot of give, like thick grass. “What a strange material,” she said, standing back up. “I don’t know how to describe it, but… it doesn’t feel that good.”

“Feels fine ter me,” Gahi said, rubbing at the ground with one of his feet. “Dunno what it is, though.”

“It might not be a normal material,” said Rhys. “I’m sensing the presence of an Orb nearby. Anam—where did the Badges take us?”

“Ah, I can explain,” Nevren said through the communicator. “We may as well multitask. I instructed Anam to take you to where there were sightings of a strange aura in a cavern deep within the ground, far to the south. You’re in the depths of a place known as the Chasm of the Void. We set up a registry here quite some time ago but found nothing the first time.”

“Oh, no.” Owen looked around, but even his enhanced eyesight saw nothing. He had to work with his feelings instead; he sensed that they were in someplace quite expansive. He could fly quite a few body lengths into the air without any trouble. He also sensed that there was somebody watching them—but he had no idea where. It felt like everywhere… Perhaps that was literal.

He remembered the swirling things in the inky blackness, and the eyes that stared at him when he Perceived them for too long. But he didn’t sense any of that this time. Nothing was moving. The darkness felt frozen and tense.

Also frozen and tense was Anam, who was hastily looking left and right for something. Owen couldn’t tell what else he was doing, but he assumed it was because of Anam’s natural fear of all things dark and spooky.

Owen could relate. There was some primal fear bubbling inside of him at not being able to see light, not even the fire of his tail. True darkness to the Charmander line was practically a foreign concept. To be plunged into a place that he could not even see the light of his tail? Owen gulped, keeping it together for the sake of the others. Even in this complete darkness, he could still see with his Perceive. And he could still sense that there was a lot hidden away in this darkness, staring at them from all sides. Silent.

“Um—hello?” Owen called.

“Owen, what’s wrong?” Amia asked.

“I feel like… someone’s here, but I don’t know where, or… anything else.”

“So, just that they’re here,” Rhys said. “Hmm. That’s concerning. Excuse me—Guardian! Please reveal yourself! We mean you no harm—in fact, we would like to help you! So, if you could come with us…”

They were answered with silence.

“…A bit shy, don’t you think?” Amia said.

“Maybe… nervous,” Enet said. Owen figured she could relate—after all, with a party this large suddenly invading her home, she’d be afraid, too. And with how strong they were, well—for all they knew, this Guardian was plotting to run away. “We’re… too big.”

“Too big, hmm…” Rhys said.

“Too big? Oh! Then I can just shrink us down!” Willow said.

“N-no, no! We don’t need to do that, uhh—” Owen couldn’t tell where anybody was unless he concentrated on his Perception. They had to work with just voices. “How about we… have one of us move forward, and maybe try to interact with this Guardian, or something? I know they’re still watching—I can feel it. So, if something bad happens, I’ll know, but I think they’re just nervous. So… uh… I guess I’ll go.”

“Oh, I can go, dear,” Amia said, moving forward.

“Ngh—”

“S-sorry, Manny!”

“Eh?”

“Oh, you’re there? Then this must be Rhys.”

“Yes,” Rhys said. “Can you not see my aura?”

“No, I can’t. Can you see mine?”

“…No. I can’t.”

“Great,” Owen muttered, “so even our aura senses are being blocked. That’s kinda powerful.”

“What is… aura again?” Enet asked.

“Uh, the… I’ll explain later,” Owen said. “Guys? How far is everyone from everyone? Do we know? Uh—spread out your wings, or arms, or whatever, let’s try to figure out.”

After a lot of fumbling, Owen got an idea of how close everybody was. They were scattered randomly within their range of warping, perhaps a stone’s throw in diameter.

“Okay, uh… Zena, how about you slither forward a little, and try to talk to the Guardian?”

“Mm, okay. Is this forward?”

“No, uh—no, turn, turn, turn… okay, now go forward…”

Owen ‘watched’ Zena’s advance, and once she was ten paces—his paces, at least—away, he said, “Okay, stop! That should be fine enough, uhh… okay. Guardian? Are you there? Is it okay if you come out now?”

It was still quiet.

Owen sighed. “He must be really shy…” he said. “Or…” He still felt threatened, Owen theorized. He looked around, but no matter how much he did, he wouldn’t see. Swiveling his head around was just useless muscle memory. “Well, uh…” But then, he did sense something else. But he didn’t like what it was. “Uh oh.”

“What is it, dear?” Amia said.

“Y-you can’t feel it?” he asked.

“The darkness is dulling even our aura senses, Owen. Only you can sense what is here,” Rhys said. “What is it?”

“Hi.”

The voice was like ice on their spines. It was familiar and foreign; the sound was almost exactly like Rhys, but the tone was unmistakably unlike him.

“Who—who’s that?!” Anam said.

“Oh, me? I think you know who I am,” said a voice that sounded like Anam.

“Th-that’s not funny!” Anam pulled his tail around his body and gave it a tight squeeze, oozing fearful goo on the darkness below.

“Eon,” Rhys hissed. “Why are you here?”

Eon mimicked the sound of the last person he spoke to. “I’m here simply to say hello, perhaps investigate why you’re gathering the Orbs conveniently at the same time I am. Trying to stop me, I take it…”

In the dark, none of the group dared start a fight. They didn’t know where anybody was—and if Eon was mimicking voices, he could easily make them hit each other. Perhaps they could take him on if they were all grouped against him—he wasn’t that powerful, right?

“But… but why?” Amia said. “You’re the leader of the Hunters. So why are you doing this? Any of it, I mean? We just—want to live peacefully!”

“You can’t live peacefully and live together at the same time,” Eon said. The careless tone combined with Amia’s voice made Owen want to vomit.

In an effort to have Eon sound like anybody but his mother, Owen spoke up. “What do you mean, can’t have peace? Pokémon live in peace all the time together!”

“But not as a Guardian,” said Eon. “Not with the power we all have in play. Not with the powers that are playing with us.”

“Eh?” Manny said.

“Do you really think you’re fighting for yourselves and for your peace?” Eon said hastily. It almost sounded rehearsed.

“Uh—” Owen started, but was interrupted again.

“That you really think that gathering everyone together so you’ll be happy is what Star really wants? You never thought that perhaps she has another motive?”

“I mean—”

“She had centuries to bring you all together, and only now, when I make my move, does she try to gather you together. Isn’t that odd?”

“Wait!” Owen quickly said. “Star said that she made you guys, but then had a change of heart when you went crazy!”

“Oh, went crazy!” Eon said, raising his arms. “What a story! Truly, I’m the crazy one for trying to do precisely what I was asked to do. By the way, made us? No. She conscripted us. I was supposed to gather the Orbs for her, but then she gets a change of heart and wants to stop it all.”

“Yeah, because you killed them.”

“Are you sure?”

“Wh—yes? You killed us! I mean—no, not us, the Flying and Ground Guardians!”

“I did,” Eon said. “Or, I sent others to kill them, to take their Orbs. But I sent Elder first.”

“Elder,” Rhys said. “You still believe in that?”

“Of course,” Eon said.

“Who’s Elder?” Owen asked.

“Sounds old,” Gahi said.

“We’re all old,” Demitri mumbled. “Rhys? Who’s Elder?”

“He’s a Torkoal,” Rhys said. “He used to be the first person we’d send to a Guardian to negotiate whether we’d take the Orb or not from them. But… I thought you did away with that part of the plan.”

“Oh, no, I still try,” Eon said. “The Guardians just don’t listen when he speaks to them. I just sent him on a mission to the Frozen Oceanside, actually. I wouldn’t bother going there at this point—we might have a new Guardian on our side, after all.”

“Yer bluffing,” Gahi said.

Rhys growled, already in a battle stance. “You should leave, Eon. None of us can see anybody, and Owen can. You wouldn’t win in a fight here.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll put up a good fight… but I’m not here for that.”

Owen sensed Eon looking up. His body seemed almost impatient, like something—some aspect of his plan, that rehearsed speech, wasn’t going as he had hoped. Or perhaps he was waiting for something else to happen? Eon was tense about something. Owen struggled to figure out what sort of body he had, but it kept shifting and changing…

“It looks like this Guardian is docile after all. Given how foreboding the Abyss was, I was thinking we’d have to fight him together, you know.”

“Fight with you?” Zena said. “I’d sooner die to you.”

Eon huffed. “Guardian of the Dark Orb!” he said in Zena’s voice. “If you wish to speak with Elder, I will be sending him over in a few days. I’d suggest you don’t make any decisions until he comes, so you can hear all sides of the story.”

“All sides?” Owen asked. He felt Eon’s presence turn around. “W-wait! I’m—not gonna let you go! You’re going to answer my questions, and—”

“Do you… still not remember me?” Eon asked. “You… you evolved.”

“Star put a block on my memories so I didn’t go insane,” Owen said.

“What?”

Owen felt Eon’s body shaking. The Charizard smirked, putting it together. Eon was here to try to control him now that his memories were back. Was that what Rim was trying to do? No—that couldn’t be it. Rim… seemed genuinely happy that he was at peace during that chess game. But now, with Eon, learning that he was fully evolved, he was upset. This reaction wasn’t at all like the Espurr’s. Was Rim working with Eon anymore? Did she defect from him, too, just like Nevren and Rhys?

But that didn’t matter. All Owen knew was that he was fully evolved, and Eon was mad about it. It seemed pretty clear what that meant. “Yeah. So, you can’t control me, Eon.”

Fists clenched. Eon’s body took a slow step forward, trembling. Owen could see only the darkness, yet he felt the intense, mad stare. “Owen,” Eon said lowly. “Come here.”

“Yeah, sure!” Owen opened his mouth and blasted Eon with a Flamethrower; everybody ducked, feeling the heat, but Owen knew just where to aim. Eon couldn’t dodge well in the darkness; he bumped into somebody. They retaliated with an angry bite on his hand.

“Ngh—! You little feral!” he shook his hand and knocked Enet away. She yelped.

“D-don’t you hurt her!” Owen shouted. He swung his claws through the air, sending an Air Slash at Eon, suspecting that he was mimicking his form, based on the sound of his voice. He fired again; Eon didn’t feel like he was getting hurt at all. But he was being a nuisance—maybe he could buy some time for the others to escape. “E-Everyone! Try to get him! Maybe we can take his Orbs, or—something!”

Several attacks slammed into Eon from all sides, though most of them missed or only grazed him. Eon’s low, impatient growl in Owen’s voice shook the air. “You can certainly try,” he said. “Just like you’re trying to keep them in the dark, Rhys! Not anymore!”

A strange aura radiated off of Eon in a pulse. He recognized this aura—and he clutched at his head, feeling his senses slip away. He had to focus to keep calm. Breathe. Easy. Slow. It felt like the exact opposite of Rhys’ Suppression Aura. The radiant blast went past Owen, but it hit someone else. It had stopped prematurely against someone who had been flying blindly in the air. But that meant—

“Nggg…. Rrrr….”

Owen knew that growl. “Gahi! Gahi, stay calm! Stay—”

A white light coupled with black sparks illuminated the room, briefly cutting through the darkness.

“No!” Rhys fired a Suppression Aura, but it did nothing.

“There’s no resetting it this time, Rhys!” Eon shouted. “You can’t torture them anymore! I’ve fixed your mistakes; thank me later!”

The light faded; in a confined place like this, if Gahi lost it in a stressful situation… No, they might never get him back.

“Hang on!” Owen shouted.

He grabbed a Badge and ran toward the light. He thrust the Badge in the air—Eon shouted something, like for Owen to stop, but he didn’t listen—and the two of them, just himself and Gahi, vanished from the void.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 36 – Team Alloy

Owen squinted at the morning light. After being in the pitch-dark Chasm of the Void, anywhere else in the world was a strain on the eyes. He saw the brightest light in front of him, shining with the last remnants of the black sparks of anti-evolution energy.

“Gahi?”

The Badge had warped them to the outside of the Chasm in an emergency exit, though it was further away and further south than their previous visit. They were in a big, lime-green field of tall grass. He smelled ocean water—they must have also been close to the shore, though he couldn’t tell which direction it was.

Owen felt lighter. Reflexively, he clutched at the bag by his side, gasping. While the bag itself came with him, it felt as if the rapid exit had jostled most of his supplies onto the ground when he warped out. What did he even have left?

Even while he was checking his supplies, Gahi said nothing to him. Owen’s eyes finally adjusted to the light of the morning sun. Gahi, a mutant Flygon, was similarly slim as Owen was, but had scales with a blinding sheen. Even after the light of evolution completely faded, Gahi’s body reflected the sun well enough to make it hard to stare directly at him. It made sense—if Gahi’s entire specialty was agility and evasion, being hard to look at would add to the latter.

“Are you… are you okay?” Owen asked. But he knew the answer. He could feel it radiating from the explosively turbulent aura.

Gahi growled, arms shaking. His tail flicked to the left, and then the right. The little fan at the tip of his tail, razor-sharp, cut through the tall grass that surrounded them with ease. He had a crazed look behind the red goggle-like, natural headgear on his face. His wings stretched wide and angled themselves to the light, blinding Owen.

Owen squinted, realizing that Gahi’s instincts were taking over. He couldn’t let that happen. If he lost himself here, and he ran off, how would he catch him? What sort of havoc would he—no, what if he got mistaken for a mutant? It wouldn’t even be mistaken. He is a mutant. They could kill him.

“Gahi, take a breath. Can you do that? Can you… can you meditate, Gahi?”

Gahi huffed, bringing his trembling arms forward to stare at them. He clenched his fists the same way Owen did; the Charizard recognized this stance. He was trying to contain himself. He was still there. There was still a bit of him fighting to stay stable.

“Gahi, it’s okay. Everything’s okay. Can you talk? Can you hear me?”

He was still trembling, but there was a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. The mutated Flygon gave a shaky nod. Breathing. Eyes closed. Breath in, breath out. Owen watched Gahi’s aura nervously, but it looked like it wasn’t improving. It wasn’t completely unstable, but it wasn’t calm, either.

“Gahi?”

“Owen…” Gahi grunted, staring at Owen. It was hard to tell what was going through his head, but his eyes had a mixture of fleeting sanity and increasing fear.

But he spoke, so Owen replied. “Gahi! Good! You’re still—”

“Kill me…”

It was like the color left his scales. “What?”

Gahi staggered forward, glaring at him. “I can’t… think…” he said between breaths. His claws clenched, digging deep into his palms. “Hurry.”

“I’m not—I can’t—that’s—”

Owen saw the desperation in Gahi’s eyes. He could barely talk, yet those frantic, slit-pupils said it all. He wasn’t ready. Gahi wasn’t ready to be fully evolved, was he? It happened in such a stressful environment, by Eon’s hands, that he lost himself completely. His consciousness dangled precariously over a void larger than the Chasm itself.

But to kill him?

“Like Manny,” Gahi begged, taking another stumbling step. His wings suddenly jolted out, but then he flattened them against his back, grunting.

“Manny?” Owen repeated, but then thought about Azu and the others. Owen could seal Gahi in the Grass realm and calm him down. But that would mean—Owen’s stomach lurched at the idea.

“No, Gahi. I—”

His mind raced. What could he do? He staggered back, his bag bumping against his chest.

His bag!

“Wait! I have something,” Owen said frantically, looking down. An emergency exit was always an imperfect jump from whatever place he had been to—in fact, it was such an emergency that he hadn’t gone far from his starting position at all. If he could just stall, the others would be here in no time.

Why weren’t they already here?

Seconds, he only had seconds. He brushed his claws against each and every one, feeling the residual effects of the blessings. He was looking for one that tingled his claws. A Stun Seed, or a Petrify Orb. Either of those would do wonders.

But he didn’t feel a single one. He felt a great deal of soothing items, Heal Seeds and so on, but nothing to stop Gahi in his tracks. There wasn’t time to identify them specifically, but that’s all that was left inside. Seeds, and none of them useful for Gahi. No way to restrain him.

No. He couldn’t kill Gahi. Even if he’d be in the spirit world—he’d still be dead. There wasn’t coming back from that. Even Star, Creator, was stuck there.

“If you don’t kill me,” Gahi suddenly said, breaking through Owen’s thoughts. How much time had passed? It felt like an eternity, but Owen just realized it may have only been a few seconds.

“I can’t,” Owen said. “Just—"

Gahi suddenly lunged toward him. He had no guard. Owen saw three different ways that he could have killed Gahi right then. Air Slash on the throat. Flames to his face? Just cut off his air supply with nothing but fire. He could even let him come toward him and crush his neck with his claws. Did he have that kind of strength? Gahi was frail up close. Perhaps he did. And then, if Owen did that, Gahi would be incapacitated, and then Owen could finish the job while he was down. Simple flesh wounds were rarely enough; Gahi would walk it off. Maybe he could be quick about it.

But Owen refused to do any of them, yet his instincts made him attempt all three in some sick reflex. Fire erupted from his throat, blasting Gahi in the face. Cutting air circled around his claws. He reached toward Gahi’s no-guard approach and grabbed his throat with both hands. Dense air sliced through some of his scales, little green flecks dancing in the wind.

The burns weren’t the most effective against Gahi. He still stared at Owen through mad, wide eyes. When he was in Owen’s clutches, he instantly stopped, muscles tense.

Gahi was lucid. The insanity left his eyes, replaced by fear and tears. The Flygon’s arms twitched weakly, but Owen could sense from those muscles how badly he wanted to strike Owen back. It took everything in Gahi’s power to stay limp, waiting instead for Owen to end it.

Nevren’s voice echoed in Owen’s mind.

“If we couldn’t suppress you, and you were berserk, we’d have to kill you.”

Owen shook his head, vision blurry.

“I wanna be… me…” Gahi begged. “P-please… hurry… I can’t… think…”

Klent’s voice called out to Owen, but he couldn’t hear what he was saying. His thoughts were too muddled, too panicked. As far as Owen was concerned, it was just himself and Gahi. Someone that he barely knew, yet knew so much. Endless potential of memories that were only now returning to him, bit by bit.

The fire in his throat faded away. His tail dimmed to a somber, small ember. The cutting air around his claws dissipated slowly.

“I can’t, Gahi.”

No matter how Owen tried to rationalize it, killing Gahi wasn’t on the table. Even if he became a Grass spirit, Owen would be responsible for cutting off many opportunities for Gahi in the living world. He’d be tied to his Orb if he ever wanted to see the others. And a small worry in the back of his mind said that one day he won’t have access to that Orb anymore, or one day Gahi would resent him for taking away his autonomy as a living creature.

Owen would find a way. There had to be some way to fix Gahi. Even now, he was restrained against him. He had him where he wanted. If a Stun Seed didn’t work, he’d just hold Gahi in place like this.

Maybe with Rhys, Zena, and Amia, it would be enough. He’d be a Trapinch again. Sure, he’d be upset about it, since Owen would remain a Charizard—hopefully—but it was better than this.

Owen realized too late that Gahi’s sanity had slipped away again.

The Flygon roared, plunging his claws into Owen’s sides. His fighting spirit—some deep part of Owen’s instincts—flared up. Involuntarily, the fading wind around his claws returned and then doubled. A flash of fierce, fiery rage welled up in Owen. And that was all that was needed. In that second of lost control, the wind cut through Gahi’s neck, across his face, over his protected eyes, and down his shoulders. Owen let go, but the wind blasted Gahi backwards. The Flygon’s claws left deep gashes along Owen’s sides, but Owen’s own grip on Gahi’s neck hadn’t faded, either, further slicing into his flesh.

The Flygon crumpled, motionless at the end of his tumble.

The Charizard’s fire faded after the seconds’ long slip. He watched Gahi blindly clutch at his neck.

Owen screamed. His roar shook the ground even more than his stomps did; he ran toward Gahi, eyes wide. “Gahi, n-no! GAHI! H-hang on. Just hang on! The others will be here soon, they—”

Gahi reached up to Owen, claws digging into his shoulder. He dug a bit deeper, making Owen wince.

“J-just like that,” Owen said. “Just like that, Gahi. Keep fighting and it’ll be okay. I promise.”

The Flygon stared at Owen. He didn’t smile, but his eyes, behind the red lenses, looked peaceful. Like some simple plan formed by what was left of his mind had worked.

“You… you did that on purpose,” Owen whispered. “You knew I’d—if you just set my instincts off, I’d—you—why’d you have to be smart?!” Owen roared, his voice cracking at the end. The open air swallowed his wail and the gentle winds returned to him a jeering whisper. “You’re supposed to be an idiot! I’m the clever one! I’m supposed to be the one who thinks of every option! I’m supposed to see the way out! If you just let me think, I could’ve… I could’ve…”

Gahi smirked through it all.

Owen fell to his knees, reaching around to the back of Gahi’s head. “Why… of all the times to be smart… you actually chose now, to make the dumbest decision… you idiot… you idiot!” He pulled Gahi closer, uncaring of the crimson that stained his orange scales. “Just wait. Wait for the others. Mispy can heal you, okay?”

Gahi kept his grip firm on Owen. Whether it was his battle instincts or Gahi’s remnants telling him that he’d hang on, Owen didn’t know.

The pain Owen felt was just a reminder that Gahi was alive. He tried to cover his wounds with his hands, feeling the blood push against his scales with each beat of his heart. Even if he was fragile, a Pokémon wouldn’t die so easily, let alone a mutant.

“S-stay strong, Gahi. You’ve got this. Gahi?”

His grip was weakening.

“No, no no, not yet,” Owen said, holding him firmly. “Not yet. Hang on, okay?”

Gahi’s grip strengthened, but not fully. They locked eyes again, and Gahi gave him a confident little smile. Owen coughed out a sobbing laugh.

“Exactly,” he said. “Exactly…”

He was so strong. Gahi wasn’t fragile. He never would be. Gahi’s willpower was beyond comparison. The pain of Gahi clawing into him never felt so good. He pulled Gahi close, listening to his slow breaths. Steady, weakening, but there. Gahi might pass out, but maybe if they waited a little longer…

Gahi’s smile vanished when a golden light poured out of Owen’s bag and onto Gahi. The Flygon’s confidence and peace rapidly transitioned into panic and anger.

Owen looked at his bag again. Reviver Seed. Was that his last one? He rummaged through his equipment again, but didn’t feel a Reviver. But he did feel one that lacked any sort of blessing. One whose magic had been used up. And then he looked back at Gahi again. He wished he hadn’t.

He didn’t see Gahi die. But he saw all sense of self leave the Flygon’s eyes like a fading ember.

“Gahi?” Owen choked.

The Flygon stood up, staring at Owen. He mirrored the motion, yet had to step back from the shock. He was almost fully restored.

“Gahi, are you okay?” Finding his courage, Owen stepped forward again. “Are you calm? It’s okay. The others will be here soon. Medi—meditate! Meditate, Gahi!” Owen grasped onto that hope. “Remember that? Breathe in, breathe out. Close your eyes. Try it. Please…”

Owen saw a flash of recognition in those red eyes. And then they closed.

Just in case, Owen pressed his foot deeper into the ground, setting a Fire Trap. Then, he stepped away. Some strange dance of caution and trust.

“You’re okay,” Owen said. “You’re just fine.”

“Just fine,” Gahi repeated.

Owen let out a mixture of a sob and a laugh. “Yes! Yes, Gahi! Exactly!”

Gahi’s aura calmed. Owen sensed the flare die down to normal levels, but it stirred. He held his breath. He could hold it forever. The longer he could stall, the more likely it would be that the others would find them.

The aura suddenly erupted like a flame disturbed by a drop of water. The Flygon made a sort of short roar, almost like a grunt or a bark. Then, in an instant, Gahi went from standing away from Owen to being mere inches from him. Reflexively, the Charizard stumbled away, saved only because Gahi had stopped directly on top of a Fire Trap, potent enough to leave Gahi with a burn.

“Gahi! Calm down! You almost had it!” His words weren’t going through. Given how fast he was, there was no way Owen could run away. He was out of options. Gahi couldn’t run off, and he couldn’t let himself get killed, either.

He’d have to calm him down the old-fashioned way. “Okay, so if that’s what you want—then—fine!”

A classic battle, beating him down. He already did it once. How hard could it be to do it again? But he couldn’t deal with striking him lethally. His stomach twisted at the mere thought, so he already decided that this would be a sparring match.

He moved too quickly for Owen to keep track of. His Perceive struggled to pinpoint Gahi’s rapidly changing location, and he briefly wondered why Gahi was attacking him in the first place. Weren’t they supposed to work together as Guardian killers?

That’s it! Gahi just wanted to train! That had to be it. And training he would get. A small grin crept at the sides of the optimistic Charizard’s mouth and his wings stretched open.

Owen opened with a Flamethrower in a wide semicircle, sweeping his head across the lime grass. Gahi jumped and beat his wings once, going high into the air while embers and burned blades scattered below him. Some deep part of Owen, the Grassy part, flinched at the sight.

But Owen already planted his trap; the larger embers that floated above the grass sank into the ground, becoming Fire Traps. The entire field was covered in them. He hoped the remaining grass was lush enough to withstand the flames. There was no other way for Gahi to attack while on the ground, and as long as he stayed down there, too, he’d be just fine.

Wait. As a Flygon, didn’t Gahi know Earth Power?

The ground erupted beneath him, triggering the Fire Traps that he planted.

“Oh, come on!” Owen shouted over the explosions. He beat his wings; the Ground attack was easy to avoid, but the exploding Fire Traps were another story. Inconvenienced by his own traps—in the back of his mind, Owen had an inkling that there was a better way for him to use them.

Perhaps he could try something aerial instead; he had a few techniques in mind. He beat his wings again, at the same altitude as Gahi. Then, he loosened more embers from his wings, creating little, glowing orbs of fire in the air—floating Fire Traps. The little balls of light reminded him of the aura sea, but rather than cyan-silvery embers, they were a bright yellow. The technique came to him easily now that he was fully unleashed. It was perfect! There was no way—

Gahi sped through the traps and tackled Owen, hitting him with such velocity and moved through the air so quickly that the traps exploded too late. Flashes of fire burst behind him while Owen felt as if a few bones in his body broke from the impact.

Gahi growled and dug his claws into Owen’s shoulders.

“Gahi—stop!” Owen wheezed. The maneuver felt foreign. Gahi didn’t have the strength to grapple, usually, and he’d normally avoid it in combat.

Owen shook himself free, pushed away, and launched an Air Slash from his right arm, compressed air shrinking and expanding to force the Flygon out of the way. Gahi hissed back, finally taking a hit, but Owen was still at a disadvantage. He couldn’t take many more of those strikes. Now that Gahi was completely submerged in his battle mode, he wasn’t nearly as frail or prone to attacks.

And he was so fast—his traps didn’t have the time to activate. He moved unpredictably, no pattern to read, no way to guess where he’d go next. And even if he did have a plan, Gahi would take him out by then. Even with foresight, even with his Perceive, he didn’t have the speed to keep up with him.

That’s when a memory returned. Gahi and Owen had sparred like this all the time. He sparred with everyone—but except for a small handful of flukes… Owen lost against Gahi almost every time. He was just too fast. And the way this battle was going—

“Gahi! I give up!” Owen said. “You win! Okay? You win! Training over!”

Gahi halted in midair. His eyes were crazed, but the fact that he stopped—did that mean he got through? Is that all he wanted, just to win?

“Gahi?” Owen said.

The Flygon took another wingbeat forward. It was calmer than before, but with intent. Owen didn’t like it. He took an equivalent wingbeat back. “Hey, let’s talk, first, okay? Gahi? Can you hear me?”

Gahi puffed softly. “I win…”

“Yes! Yes, you win! You win, win, win—so, we can stop fighting, right? Is that okay?”

Every step that Owen took backwards was matched by an advance from Gahi. What was going on? Why was Gahi behaving so strangely? Why did he grab him? That wasn’t part of his normal strategy. In fact, now that he thought about it—when Gahi tried to grab him back then, it felt as if—

Gahi dashed right at Owen, grappling against him by the shoulders. And he felt it again—he knew what was going on, now. Memories rushed back, but he had no time to make heads or tails of it. Flashes of old images—Gahi right next to him, and then vanishing—intense power washing through his whole being—and then—and then… nothing.

“Gahi, STOP!” Owen pushed him away with an explosion of wind. Something strong tugged at his shoulder blade—he looked at the left one and saw that Gahi’s claws were inside of him, some strange light pouring out where they made contact. But when he pushed away, Gahi broke loose—and his body, to his horror, meshed itself back into a solid form, like he was made of some kind of loose clay.

Nevren—what twisted design did he create? And then Star’s words echoed.

“If you ever see Demitri, Mispy, or Gahi evolve to their mutant forms… Run.”

Gahi had flinched; Owen took advantage of this and fired another Air Slash, landing a direct blow. Gahi, dazed, spun around, clutching at his head. Owen’s best plan of action was to fly away right then—as far away as he could. But he couldn’t go straight into town—not when Gahi was like this. And he couldn’t go back into the Chasm, either; Gahi could rampage in the dark and hurt himself. He needed someplace open. Somewhere that he could possibly tire himself out. They were both mutants, after all—they had similar amounts of stamina.

The salty smell in the air gave him the clue he needed. The ocean! Owen beat his wings, muscles burning even more than his flames, and rapidly gained altitude. He saw the ocean once he was high enough and accelerated desperately. His heart raced; he could hear its beat over the wind. The adrenaline fogged his thoughts; that feeling of power from Gahi was addicting. A tiny, tiny part of him wanted to go back and let Gahi approach. And this made him beat his wings even faster, trying to outfly his own thoughts. Horror and defiance overtook his mind in a futile attempt to snuff out his instincts.

The ocean was below him. He had only seconds to relax; his Perception was at its maximum from the stress coupled with his Mystic power. He could sense every single creature below him in the water; every bystander and curious feral, and something else, too—something big, deep below. The dizzying, overwhelming amount of stuff in the open area made him falter. Yet he couldn’t turn it off.

He also felt a powerful presence behind him—Gahi—and several more emerging from the Chasm. They saw him—Rhys and the others were chasing after him right then. Finally! But he had to last until they caught up.

Gahi was hot on his tail—even at maximum speed, he was going to catch up in seconds. “No…! I…! There has to be a way…!” Owen slashed at the air behind him, sending another shockwave. Gahi dodged with ease, twisting in the air.

Five seconds away. Owen planted his Fire Traps in the air again and then an Air Slash to stop Gahi, but the pursuer flew all around the whole trap and barely lost even a second of time to it.

Three seconds. Owen, desperate, dove down, halving his distance from the water.

One second left. A thousand possibilities filled Owen’s mind. He sorted through countless scenarios and maneuvers with his one, precious second. Everything above and below, ahead and behind. An opening, a weakness, an exploit, an opportunity.

He found no way out but to beg. “Gahi, PLEASE!”

They collided; Gahi grabbed Owen’s shoulders again, and they were face to face, in a tailspin toward the ocean’s surface. “Gahi—we’ll go crazy—we can’t… We can’t!”

Gahi stared at Owen, and that’s when the Charizard realized it. He saw his eyes. A struggling light of sapience in pupils narrowed into slits. Wide, frightened eyes. Gahi didn’t want to, either. Yet it was also like staring into the eyes of a starved feral. He didn’t want to do it—but he had to. It was a compulsion—an instinct, a core need of his being. There was no logic. Gahi knew he couldn’t handle it. But his design was too strong—he wasn’t Mystic like Owen. He had no special power to fight his instincts. His mind was all he had, and that mind was the problem.

A memory of one of his old lives washed over him, as just a Charmander, chatting with Demitri and the others.

“Team Alloy. That’s a pretty cool name.”

And then he heard Demitri’s cheerful voice.

“Alakazam Nevren helped us come up with it! It’s really cool. Something about how stronger metals are made from weaker metals put together. It’s awesome!”

And so, Gahi shoved his head into Owen’s neck. Owen gasped, like the wind was knocked out of him; a hug and a squeeze that went straight to his core. Gahi’s head vanished into him, followed by his neck, and then the shoulders. The Flygon’s body was halfway inside of Owen’s chest. He helplessly grabbed Gahi’s sides and tried to pull him out, but it was like his body became quicksand. His vision blurred. And the worst part of it all, what made Owen more terrified and helpless than anything else—was that he loved it.

Gahi sank deeper and deeper until nothing was left. Owen’s body shifted and twisted into something new—a second set of wings, and all four had become angular like a Flygon’s, and a shiny, green body. The single flame at the end of his tail became three embers that resembled a Flygon’s fan. Owen’s head was filled with the crazed thoughts of a mutant. Gahi’s mind bumped against Owen’s, and that last, remaining part of the Charizard begged for Gahi to back out. But it was too late.

A new memory emerged, one that wasn’t Owen’s.

“Gahi,” Demitri said. “Do you think we’ll ever see Owen again? He seemed so sure, but…”

“’Course we will!” Gahi cheerfully replied, clicking his jaws. “If Owen says so, he’s right. That’s just how he is. I’m gonna trust him. Maybe it ain’t gonna be fer a while, but y’know what? We’ll be together again one day.”

Demitri and Mispy smiled, just slightly. If only out of faith, they nodded.

“Then even if we forget,” Mispy said, “we’ll wait.”


Owen felt something below him in the ocean. It was watching, but it was too far below the surface for him to tell what it was. A new memory—this one felt familiar, and Owen hoped it was his own—floated to the front of his thoughts.

“Is the monster gone?” Owen squeaked, peeking out from under his Rawst bed.

“All gone, dear,” Amia said, sighing. “Owen, come on out. See?”

A Magmortar stepped in.

“There’s no monster! This is just Alex, remember him? Your Dad?”

“No… It was a monster… I saw it! For real!”

Alex fidgeted, bumping his cannons together.

“Well, the monster is gone,” Amia said, gently holding Alex’s shoulder. She flinched at the fire, but then pushed through, as if she got used to it.

“Where’re my real parents?” Owen asked, puffing an ember in their general direction. “My Mom’s supposed to be a Charizard, right? Where’s my awesome Dragon mom?!”

“Owen, dear, they… first of all, Charizard isn’t… We found your egg out in the woods, remember? Ohh, you must have hit your head pretty hard to forget all this.”

“NO!” Owen shouted, pointing an accusatory claw at them. “I… I know what happened! You… took me away from them! You—” Owen suddenly stopped talking, eyes wide. “W-wait… wait, I… I remember, they… Gahi… and…”

Amia and Alex exchanged looks. A white aura enveloped Amia’s hands.

“Wait, no—I’ll stay quiet! I’ll—Please—! I don’t wanna forget! I wanna be me! Don’t make…”


He was fading. The memories were vivid, and then scrambled, and then gone. Frantic thoughts exploded through his and Gahi’s fused minds. He didn’t know what thoughts were his, Gahi’s, or both of theirs.

Soon after, they didn’t think of much at all.

<><><>​

“There!” Rhys shouted. “I see them! But…! N-no…! It… how did it happen so quickly?! Owen—He should have—!” Rhys shook his head. “We were only within the Chasm for seconds at most! How are they so far away?!”

Amia took in a sharp breath to steady herself. “We—we can still help! We just have to—we just need to…”

Demitri groaned, tugging at his tusks anxiously. “How can we keep up?! They’re so far away! We can’t fly! Even if I evolved, I can’t fly!”

Amia shook her head. “Oh, I’ll just—” She hesitated by some internal conflict, but then pushed her arms forward, summoning a single spirit. A Hydreigon. “Some of you get on him,” she instructed the others.

“H-hello,” Hydreigon said timidly, bumping his head-hands together. “I can carry two of you.”

Rhys helped to guide Enet onto him, hopping on right after. He couldn’t fight if he flew on his own and would have to use Amia’s spirit instead.

Zena slithered toward Demitri and Mispy and urged her to get onto her back next. “Let’s try to get close,” she said. “Maybe we can calm Gahi down that way, the three of us.”

“Right,” Demitri said.

With everything arranged, all of the Guardians, Rhys, Demitri, and Mispy lifted to the skies. Nevren wasn’t present, but a quick talk in the communicator indicated that he was at Kilo Village, coordinating with other Hearts to set up possible rescue operations.

Demitri pointed ahead from atop Zena’s back. “They’re falling. Are they… Did they stop fighting?”

“There’s just one…” Mispy said. But her leaf quivered at the power she felt radiating from the frantic aura.

“They fused together,” Rhys stated lowly, and he ignored Demitri and Mispy’s startled gasps. He saw the pair, now one, land in the water. “We don’t have a lot of time—we have to get there quickly and see what we can do. Try to split them apart—they must be adjusting, but if we take too long…!”

“Let’s speed up,” Anam said. “I’ll try to help as much as I can! Even if I need to…!” He didn’t want to finish.

“What should we expect?” Manny said. “I’ve seen fusion befer with spirits, but I dunno what these guys’re gonna be like. They’re at the edge o’ stability, right? All my spirits’re going crazy right now, Yen’s trying ter keep ‘em in check. I think this stuff is triggering some memories they lost.”

“They were pushed to their very limit,” Rhys said. “And a fusion of all four—I don’t know how we’d be able to handle it. Demitri, Mispy, I need you to be very careful—do you feel yourselves evolving?”

“I felt the Unleashing Aura a little, but…” Demitri shook his head. “I think—I’ll be okay.”

Mispy nodded. “But Gahi and…”

“We need to watch out for that. Owen’s Perception and Gahi’s speed means that they will both be fully aware of any of our advances, and fast enough to dodge them.”

“What—then how do you hit him?” Amia said. “How can we stop him!?”

“Simple,” Rhys said. “We have to generate an attack that they simply can’t avoid. Aura Sphere from two sides, or something that will overwhelm their lacking offenses. Focus on unavoidable strategies that overwhelm. Understood?!”

“Right!” They all said.

Zena looked down at a dark spot in the water, deep below. It moved oddly. “Hm?” she said. “Is that…”

“Um—what do we call them?” Willow asked, sitting atop Rhys’ head. “Gahi and Owen—what do we call them if they’re fused? Do they answer to something?”

“They’d probably answer to either name,” Rhys said.

“Gawen! Calm down!” Willow yelled. “Meditate!”

“I don’t think that’s something they’d pick,” Rhys muttered, readying a powerful Suppression Aura. “I wish it wouldn’t have to come to this—but they have to return to their lowest forms. We’ll have to start again. But hopefully it will be faster this time.” He fired while the fused Pokémon was still trying to get out of the water. It was a direct hit; Amia followed up with her own blast, which also hit.

Zena hesitated. “I’m sorry, Owen. Please don’t forget this time…” She ultimately joined the blast, combining her Suppressing force with the others.

All three blasts pierced, permeated, and enveloped the fused pair, but when it faded…

Nothing happened. The Flygon-Charizard amalgam stared up at the group.

“This,” Rhys said. “This is… the worst-case scenario.”

“Worst-case?” Anam repeated worriedly, a swirl of inky blackness forming on his cheek. He slapped it, clutching at the slime of his face, and the darkness faded.

Gawen, for a split second, vanished from view, leaving only a high trail of water where he had once been swimming.

“Behind us!” Rhys said, knowing this pattern. And indeed, he was there, high above and preparing a strike—a Flamethrower. Mispy immediately created a barrier of energy. Zena fired a Hydro Pump through the barrier to neutralize the blast, creating a wave of steam. This forced Gawen to fly to the right to dodge the plume.

“To the right!” Rhys barked, but then they vanished again. “Where did—” This wasn’t part of a pattern he was familiar with. He turned around and saw a flash of Gawen’s body, but that was it. Little pinpricks of light surrounded them, difficult to see under the rising sun. That’s when he realized— “We’re surrounded by his traps! Be careful!”

“How surrounded is surrounded?” Amia asked.

Manny spotted little pinpricks of energy scattered on all sides. “Pretty surrounded.” He clicked his tongue in thought. “I’ll fix it. Oy, Rhys. I want yeh ter just… throw as many Aura Spheres as yeh can, yeah?”

“Y-yes, of course. But the traps…”

“We’ll shield against it. Mispy!”

“Yes!”

“Keep yer Light Screen up!”

“Okay!”

Manny hopped over to Rhys and took his bag. “Yeh picked up what Owen dropped when he escaped, yeah?”

“Of course.”

Manny held out his paw; Rhys hastily tossed the bag over. Gawen was staring at them, waiting for them to make a move; with the Fire Traps in the way, it seemed that even Gawen couldn’t afford to come close.

“Knowing him, he planned fer this.” Manny rummaged through the bag. “Somehow. He’s gotta… hah! He totally did!”

“H-he did?” Rhys asked. He didn’t have time to be surprised. “What did he bring?”

Manny grabbed something from the bag—a Dungeon Orb of some kind. He thrust it in the air; Gawen hissed and blasted another plume of fire, but the Orb took effect right after. A shocking energy radiated out and the Charizard-Flygon fusion stopped in his place, frozen. Zena reflexively created an invisible platform just beneath Gawen to keep him from plummeting to the ground.

“Hah! It worked!” Manny said. “Well lookit that, can’t fight against a Petrify Orb, can yeh?!”

The fusion’s body twitched, small muscle movements indicating that they didn’t have much time.

“Uhh—I don’t think that’s working,” Anam said. “Owen’s Mystic power is undoing my blessings! He’ll move soon! I—” He suddenly clutched at his head. “No, please…” he begged to nobody in particular.

“Okay, what else did he pack… eh… Oran Berry, some Elixirs, eh… hah!” Manny tossed another item toward Gawen, encasing it in a small sphere of aura—it landed right in front of him and exploded in a fine, gray mist. The petrification ended, but Gawen retched and clutched at his throat, roaring in anguish.

“What did you do?!” Amia said, covering her mouth.

“Vile Seed,” Manny shouted. “We stand a chance! C’mon—we gotta get ‘im now, while his defenses’re shot!”

Rhys hesitated, but agreed. “I will do my best,” he said, and then aimed a paw right for Gawen.

The fusion spat a Flamethrower at the group, dodging nearly every attack that they threw toward him. Willow learned that Gawen was at least partially Ground Type, as her Electric attacks did next to nothing; she transitioned to Moonblasts, but they were too slow to hit the speed from Gahi’s half. Zena’s Hydro Pumps missed completely; Anam’s halfhearted Dragon Pulses grazed him once, but that was all. It looked like Anam would have fired more, but a fleck of darkness mixed in with one of the blasts of indigo fire made the Goodra clam up completely.

ADAM, thinking he was clever, fired a Hyper Beam right when Gawen dodged another strike, but the Flygon-Charizard brought his wings together and blocked it completely with a golden Protect. ADAM screeched, flailing in the air.

Valle had little that he could do in the air. Desperately, he made his second motion in centuries and threw his own arm like a rocket. It exploded, and a few of the rocks grazed Gawen enough to slow him down.

Rhys and Manny both fired Aura Spheres in an alternating rhythm. Impossible to evade, the spheres tracked him down, destroyed only if they collided with one of the many aerial traps; however, with the two Lucario firing, the fusion couldn’t get close without risking a hit from the harder attackers of the team. At first, it seemed like a stalemate, yet with nothing to do but dodge, it became clear that Gawen was at a disadvantage. Fatigue set in. Moves became sloppy and muscles responded less efficiently.

“He’s getting tired!” Amia announced. “We should get close to—to stop him!”

“Working on it!” Manny said. But the fusion refused to stop fighting; getting close would just get them both hurt.

Rhys looked at his paws—they were glowing a faint gold. “Ngh—” He suddenly stopped attacking.

“Eh?! Rhys? What’re yeh doing?” Manny said. “I need yeh ter attack!”

“I—I can’t,” he said. “If I go any further, I’ll risk losing my power. It’s as I said—I Promised not to kill another Guardian!”

“W-wait! Then that means Owen and Gahi—”

She turned to get a closer look. During the flurry, blood dripped toward the sea; every wingbeat Gawen made dropped a little bit more. Yet he kept fighting. Normally a Pokémon would stand down long before these kinds of injuries were sustained. Yet a mutant…

“N-no… Everyone! We need to stop!”

“Owen,” Zena breathed. She looked down again, spotting a great shadow in the ocean, exposed by the rising sun. Her eyes widened and recollection flashed in her eyes. “…We need to defeat him!” Zena announced. “Make sure that he hits the water!”

“What?!” Amia spun around, betrayed.

“Just do it—he won’t calm down otherwise! Make him hit the water!”

“Why would—”

Willow squeaked angrily. “Do you think we have time to talk?!”

“We have to stop—before he dies!” Amia said. “He’s bleeding! Any more and there won’t be an Owen or Gahi to talk to!”

“If we stop, he’s gonna attack, and there ain’t gonna be those two left in their heads anyway!” Manny said. “He’ll attack everyone! The whole town! Anybody—and he’ll be too fast ter catch up ter, too!”

“Hyper Beam charged at twenty five percent,” ADAM announced.

“Wait! Not yet!” Amia begged. “We can find another way!”

“We don’t have another way, Amia. Just trust me!” Zena shouted. “I think if we just shoot him down—”

Gawen dashed toward them but was beaten back by the shockwave of a neutralized Aura Sphere.

“But he’ll die in the water!” Amia said. “He’s still part Charizard, and—and if he becomes too weak, and he lands in water, the water shock will—”

“Hyper Beam at fifty percent.”

Gawen roared. In a last stand, he powered through Manny’s barrage of small Aura Spheres and slashed at Manny, exploding the air right in front of his face. The Lucario coughed and fell back into Anam, cushioned in the slime, but was unconscious. Anam’s paws were black.

“Please, no,” Anam said, pushing Manny away and onto Zena’s back. “Stop… go away…” The black fog around Anam’s paws intensified, but then shrank, sinking into Anam’s body as a swirl of black ooze just below the surface.

Rhys winced. “Amia, we… have to. He won’t stop.” He fired an Aura Sphere to keep Gawen slowed; his paws flashed dangerously. He couldn’t do another one.

“B-but… But there has to be…”

“Seventy five percent.”

“Wait—no! It’s—” Amia couldn’t find her words. Nevren’s remarks echoed in his mind.

Zena unleashed another beam of water. Gawen dodged it but stumbled afterward. An opening.

“Fully charged.”

Amia stared at Owen and Gahi’s fused form with wide eyes, like she wanted to take every detail of them that she could. There was nothing she could do to stop it. She had a mind to fly forward and take the blast herself—but the time for that had passed.

ADAM fired. This time, Gawen was too tired to dodge; the Beam of hot, orange energy hit him directly, frying the scales on his front, splitting around to burn his sides. Smoke from his cooked body rose in small streams. He fell straight toward the ocean. Amia immediately dove down; Demitri and Mispy urged Zena to do the same, and she complied. Her slender form made it easy to catch up to Gawen; the closer they got to the water, the stronger a new presence felt, and the darker the water became. Amia didn’t notice it; she was too focused on her son.

“Owen!” Amia shouted. “I’ve got you—M-Mispy! Mispy, please—heal him!”

He was still falling. The fall would kill him—Amia knew it. The water landing would be too harsh on his already broken body. He was seconds from hitting it. Amia accelerated to dangerous levels just to catch up. She got below Gawen and held her arms up, using her Mystic powers to slow his fall. Hydreigon burst into a cloud of blue embers, moving toward Amia even faster than before. That left Rhys and Enet free-falling, saved only by another platform created by Anam. Willow jumped off of Rhys’ head and sprouted her pink, fairy wings, speeding after the falling family.

“I’ll shrink them!” she said. “That’ll slow the fall, right?!” But she was too far away to use her Mystic power. She tried to fire anyway, but it dissipated long before it reached them.

Shortly after Hydreigon returned to Amia, a Magmortar emerged. Amia and Alex caught a look at Gawen’s face, burned as it was. For a second, Alex made eye contact with the fusion. He tried desperately to see even a small iota of Owen left in them.

“Owen,” Alex said.

Gawen let out a weak whimper.

Alex smiled and wheezed with a strange mixture of a laugh of relief and a cry of sorrow. “Owen, it’s okay! It’s okay!”

They were falling fast, but it was slowing. Maybe he’d survive after all, but they couldn’t avoid the water at their speeds. Alex pressed his body against the frightened amalgamation. Amia was too focused on slowing their fall without breaking Gawen’s body.

Zena’s slender form allowed her descent to be much faster. She glanced back at Demitri and Mispy. Without any time to explain, she just said, “You’re going to hit the water. Get ready.”

The Fraxure and Bayleef stared, wide-eyed, but had just as much time as Zena did to protest.

She didn’t bother trying to slow down; instead, she liquefied her body and slammed into the water. In seconds, the water turned rough and white, swirling upward, softened with bubbles and foam. Demitri and Mispy screamed, slamming into it next; they fell limbs-first, arms and legs bending in odd directions. The shock knocked them both unconscious.

“Owen, just hang on,” Alex begged. “We’ll get Mispy to heal you, and then we’ll find a way to calm you down. And then—“

They slammed into the foamy water, which wrapped around and cushioned the broken, bloodied amalgam. The three flames along his body extinguished in the water, emitting a steady stream of hot bubbles instead, though that stream was weakening rapidly. The currents that Zena became pushed them back to the surface.

“Are they okay?!” Willow screamed, landing on top of Amia’s head. “Wait! Demitri, Mispy!”

“I have them!” Zena shouted, briefly materializing her head to communicate.

While broken, Zena could still sense their auras were strong, and their bodies breathing—if only because she used her own power to empty their lungs. Zena’s gentle currents kept their heads above the water. Alex had dissolved from the strike, returning to Amia’s spirit realm. But with Mispy unconscious, she wasn’t going to be able to heal Gawen.

The Fire Guardian coughed out saltwater. She frantically held Owen in place. Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her side; the source was a set of claws digging into her. She followed it to Gawen, one of his eyes open, tearful and frightened and fading.

“Owen—it’s okay. It’s okay,” Amia said, but it sounded more like she was begging. She looked up. The rest of the group were still dots in the air struggling to catch up.

Zena rematerialized next to them, her body partway out of the ocean. “How is he?”

Amia shook her head. “He’s—he’s fading. His aura, it’s…”

Zena could feel it, too. Gawen’s aura was fading fast. The water and the stress and the blood—not to mention the sting of salt all over—was proving to be too much, even for them, or him, or it. Amia didn’t know what to call her son anymore, or what was left of him. Hot tears mixed with the ocean.

The Milotic coiled around Gawen’s body. It felt cold. The blood gave her prismatic scales a red tinge. She pressed her head against his, wrapping her ribbons around his shoulders and neck to feel his pulse. Weak.

Amia finally came to her senses. She held her hands against Owen’s chest, shutting her eyes. “Just… just a little… just a little…” she said desperately. Healing energy channeled pink light from her arms into Gawen.

“Owen? Gahi?” Amia said. “Do you feel that? Are you… okay?”

Gawen stared at Amia with a flickering light of recognition, red lenses obscured by droplets of reddening water. He tried to reach out to her. Amia immediately returned the favor—his grip was strong and savage, digging into her hands with intent to kill. And yet his eyes said something entirely different. The Gardevoir winced. She refused to let go.

The others were almost there. Just a little longer. They could keep him under control. Perhaps tie him up, wait for him to calm down—would he ever calm down? Was he like this forever? No—Amia refused to believe that possibility. She could still see Owen and Gahi inside the beast. They both had to be there.

Gawen refused to let go of Amia, either. But she was starting to wonder if it was because he wanted to kill her, or because he didn’t want to see her go away.

Amia looked back at Demitri and Mispy, still floating with Zena supporting them with her tail as a makeshift raft. The Fire Guardian held her free hand toward them, blasting another Heal Pulse toward each unconscious Pokémon. Mispy was the first to blink awake, dizzy, followed by Demitri seconds later. They groaned in pain. The Pulse wasn’t enough to repair their broken bones. Amia readied another, feeling weak from how much energy she had used. “Just a little… more…”

And then Gawen suddenly looked down, eyes wide. Amia and Zena followed his gaze, Willow struggling to stay atop Amia’s head.

A dark figure was just below them, approaching fast. Glowing, blue eyes locked on, unblinking. As big as the Heart Headquarters, no—even bigger. The closer it got, the bigger it seemed.

“Emily!” Zena shouted.

The water bulged beneath them. Something rose from the surface—something big. A head, first, white in color with blue markings near the eyes. This was followed by a long, white neck and shoulders; everything else was submerged within the water, but Zena knew exactly what it was: Lugia.

Lugia had appeared for only a few seconds. Amia had no time to react than to just widen her eyes as its great mouth closed around their entire, huddled group. Willow screamed, but in that final, unceremonious instant, the great behemoth’s jaws closed around them.

Zena, Gawen, Amia, Willow, Demitri, and Mispy, in that final moment, were gone, taken by the Lugia to the depths of the sea.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Here for Catnip Circle—I read the prologue and first chapter!

Plot-wise, it's hard to say much when I know this is the beginning of a 300k+ epic, but I think you do a good job seeding that there's something big and strange going on that Owen is unwittingly tangled up in. We've got mutants after his parents, weird deja-vu, and definitely some implications that there's something off about this charmander's energy. The PMD world you depict seems pretty game-based with the dungeon mechanics—I'm sure there's more world-building as this progresses, but the dungeon/explorer set-up seems pretty standard to me so far. Makes sense that Owen would have a more simplistic view of it at this stage, I suppose.

Character-wise, Owen's a sweet kid. More below, but I hope we're not expected to take seriously what he says about being an adult, because, uh, he feels pretty young to me. I am a bit curious if Owen has friends his age. He seems well-liked in his community, but I also get a bit of a loner vibe.

Prose is probably the place I have the most to say here, the opening sequence in particular. I like how you're starting off with tension and action, but I did find it hard to follow for a few reasons. First, I think your POV is caught in an awkward place between 3rd close and 3rd omniscient. I'd say this is a place where you do want a close 3rd on Owen, so that we're experiencing this event with him. When depicting a character enduring something as intense as this scene is, I find it's useful to keep an eye on what details you choose to depict. Focus on the sensations that the character would be noticing and how they're noticing them. The things they don't notice help shape the scene as well in a tight 3rd, the same way blank space is important in a drawing.

Another thing I'd flag is the sense of place/logical progression between sentences—you may need to do a little more work here to make this action sequence flow in a tense and comprehensible way. One example—you have him beginning to breath again after the gardevoir heals him, but a few paragraphs down you describe him gasping his first breath in.

I was having some trouble initially in pinning down what wasn't working for me in this sequence, so I did something that often helps me—rewrote a version. If that's something you're interesting in seeing, I can DM it over! I think it gestures at what I mean a little more concisely than I can explain here in line-by-line comments.

Lastly, can I compliment you on the em dash use? They are a sight for sore eyes.

Line-by-line reactions and comments:

struggling through his pierced lungs
Not sure what this means, which makes it hard to visualize.

It had the face and colors of a Tyranitar, with its rocky edges and black gaps in its armor. Yet it had the winding, coiling body of a Seviper, a poisoned blade at the end of its tail, and long, sharp fangs stuck deep within him.
I like the uncanny aspect to this.

“OWEN!” cried a Gardevoir.
This is a place I want a bit more spatially. Where's the shout coming from? Is it distant or loud?

Behind the Gardevoir was a Magmortar.
This line feels much more omni 3rd to me. In a closer 3rd, we'd need to understand how Owen is seeing them. Does he have to look around first? Is it hard to move, trapped in the coils? Etc.

It hissed in pain; the Flame Burst sent him flying, along with Owen.
You refer to the creature as "it" and then "him" here, I think? The sequencing seems a bit strange as well. These things are probably happening simultaneously, not in quick succession, as the punctuation implies.

Only the fading fire of Owen’s tail and the Magmortar’s shoulders lit the area—making them easy targets.
Again, this feels more omni. It could easily be something that Owen deduces himself adding more tension in. Like, "In the distance, the fire of his father's shoulders shone like a beacon—and made him a target, Owen realized. He opened his mouth to call out, but choked on the blood."

The impact on the ground gave Owen just enough time to escape, wriggling out of its rocky hold. He felt free for only half a second. Owen turned his head and saw the thing launch a succession of large rocks toward his father, the Magmortar. Three hits. They went straight through him. Blue fire erupted from the resulting holes. And then, his father exploded in a flurry of embers.
Here we're back in closer third, because Owen is seeing things happen, rather than them just happening. Spacewise, I want a sense of how far away he gets, or if he doesn't go far, why not (ie the injuries).

D-dad? Owen stared with wide eyes, distracted.
"Distracted" doesn't feel like the right word here. If I saw my dad explode, I'd be more than distracted, you know! I get that you want to show here that he's not expecting it when he's stabbed. Maybe something like, "D-dad?” Owen stared at the spot his father had stood, forgetting everything, even the creature." The point about physical space ties in here too--we're just told Owen is staring, but not where or what at.

The serpent hissed and swung its tail forward—a sharp pain surged through Owen’s back.
So this is a place where I'd say for tension purposes, you really want a tight third POV. And in that, Owen is distracted, so he's not going to see the serpent swing its tail. We can jump right to, "Sudden pain surged in Owen's chest. He looked down to find a tail-blade sticking out of his abdomen." because that's the way that Owen experiences it.

it felt like the coziest pillow in the world. Everything felt cold, and then warm.
These are strong sensation details, that bring the moment more alive.

His breath returned to him; he coughed the remaining blood out.
He gasped his first breath, life—and pain—returning to him in full.
As mentioned above, this was inconsistent.

What happened to his Dad? Owen’s eyes darted in all directions, his expression asking what his mouth couldn’t.
I think it would make more sense here if he's looking at the place his father exploded, not all around. Or if he is looking all around, I think you want a bit more like, "Owen's eyes darted in all directions, as if expecting his father to miraculously reappear elsewhere on the field. But he was gone."

“Shh, it’s okay,” she said, placing her hand firmly on his back. The pain was unbearable. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Calm down. Sleep…”

The world curled itself up in a tiny circle in front of Owen, darkening into a distant tunnel. But then, the world uncoiled, much to Owen’s displeasure. He just wanted to sleep.

The Heal Pulse intensified, the warmth almost too hot even for his Fiery body. He gasped his first breath, life—and pain—returning to him in full.
The progression of Owen's pain here doesn't quite track. He's in excruciating pain, she heals him and pain returns? That only makes sense if the pain had faded away, which you gesture to with the sleepiness, but I think you need to emphasize that aspect more.

I like this line of description "The world curled itself up in a tiny circle in front of Owe" quite a lot.

But then he felt a different energy course through him. It wasn’t healing him. “Shh,” Amia said softly. “Just sleep. Just sleep…”

It felt awful. Energy drained from his core. His vision faded. And then, darkness.
I think we need more of a sense here of how this energy is different than the heal pulse energy, which also felt awful. More of a contrast. Like,

"As Owen began to thrash, trying to get away from the heat, the pain, a new energy coursed through him. Not healing energy. Something different.

“Sleep now, sleep.”

The heat and the pain were gone, replaced by a hollowness, as if his core had been emptied out. His vision turned to gray, then to black."

“No resting on the fire, Owen.”

“Wh—huh? I wasn’t!” He rolled away and quickly hid beneath his bed of leaves. Some of them turned black from the fire, but they didn’t burn. “Ngh,” He held his chest. It felt horribly bruised. And his back was killing him. No wonder he was sleeping on the fire! But why did he feel that way? He remembered a fight. A fight that he’d lost. Badly. But was that just a dream? He remembered a rocky serpent. And fire, and explosions. It was all so garbled—he wasn’t sure what was real.

The Gardevoir peeked into the room, her white dress aglow from the mushrooms and the fire.
Was a bit confused by the sequencing here. The gardevoir peeks into the room after speaking, so how does she know he's sleeping on the fire?

Also, is she wearing a literal dress or does dress just describe part of her body here?

His consciousness abruptly cut out.
This struck me as a bit of a melodramatic way to describe someone falling back asleep in their own home.

Both were approximately the same width, albeit oversized for Owen.
"Albeit oversized for owen" confused me. Is the idea that the chair is too big for him? If so, that's an unnecessarily wordy way to phrase it, imo.

“Perfect! But, uh, I don’t know. Did you ever have that feeling where you had a really good dream, but then you can’t… remember it?”

Owen noticed the subtle, shocked expressions in his parents’ eyes, but he didn’t acknowledge it.

“I had one of those. But I can’t remember any of it. I think I was having a really big fight. I remember my heart racing!”
Huh, it's weird that he's left with the impression he had a good dream. It seemed like the part about his dad exploding stuck with him, and it's hard to see someone associating that with a pleasant dream. There really weren't any pleasant moments in the dream either, so this strikes me as off.

. “So… today’s the day, right?” Alex asked, breaking the tense silence.
The flow of the conversation didn't feel very natural to me. This line in particular felt like it should have come at the beginning of the conversation. By the point he says it, they've already discussed Owen's exploration.

I'm pretty confused by why the narrative calls his dad Alex but his mom his mom for the most part. I initially thought Alex was his brother or something. Think it would work fine to call them Mom and Dad, and then we can get their names in the segment that briefly switches to their POV.

Another expedition as a trainee.
Alex gulped. “Amia, don’t you think it’s a little early?”

“Oh, Alex, we can’t baby him forever. He’s an adult!” she said. “It’s just one exploration. Into a known area.
Just as this wasn’t going to be his first exploration, but it’d be the first one in a slightly harder Dungeon that he could remember.
So, his parents do seem to be acting like it's his first exploration. I felt like the narrative and dialogue fluctuated between treating this like his first exploration and like he'd done several before.

She fidgeted with her hands. It was a telltale sign she was trying to convince herself it would be okay. Owen chose not to acknowledge this, either.
I like the detail, but I don't think you have explain it so explicitly to the reader. We can work out that the gardevoir is nervous despite her words if you just describe the fact that she's nervously fidgeting.

“And if I get horribly maimed, I’ll just warp back to the entrance! It’ll be fine!” He grinned
heh, I like this kid

He was trying to be funny, but he practically heard his father’s heart explode through his giant torso.
Yup, rip. Also--a bit fridge horror in the context of the dream!

And what better way to fight than to, uh, y’know, fight bad guys?”
There are stories of bandits and outlaws and even ferals waiting for defeated Pokémon to return to the entrance.
I don't quite have a sense yet of what function explorers serve in this world. The father's words make it sound like running into bandits and outlaws is an incidental risk, but Owen's words make it sound like the main job.

And if you ever run into trouble, we’ll tell the Hearts about it right away.”
How would they know he's run into trouble though? If they're so worried, I'm a bit surprised they're not trying to tag along or at least make him go with a friend.

“Did you meditate?!”

“Did this morning!” Surprisingly, this was the truth.
Liked this--gives me a sense of the family's routine. I get the sense the meditation is probably significant for reasons Owen doesn't know.

They watched Owen leave. Amia leaned into Alex’s chest, sighing.
I'd appreciate a scene break indication before this, since we're switching POVs.

“I hope he isn’t self-conscious of his size. It might affect how strong he is, even if he’s stronger than the average Charmander, you know, given the…”
Found this hard to parse. Is the concern about Owen being self-conscious bc he'd think his small size is a problem, or is the concern that he's actually less strong bc of his small size?

“That was a close call, yesterday,” he said. “I’ve never seen one of those mutants so powerful before. What if he runs into another of those—those things in the Dungeon?”

Amia bit her lip. “I know, dear. But that Dungeon is safer than most. If he runs into any trouble, well, it’ll be better there than anywhere else. You know it’s me they’re after, not him.”
So not a dream then. Interesting.

Not sure why it would be better for Owen to run into mutants in a dungeon far from civilization, though.

But I just… evaporated after the first strike. Curse this body. It’s so foreign, even now. Sometimes I wish I…”
Major eyes. So we got body swapping or reincarnation or something going on. Unless the foreign part just refers to evolution.

Not that it mattered; complete darkness was a foreign concept to most Charmander.
Mm, makes sense.

In that sense, his adoptive mother was an exception to the population, though she could deal with the heat like any other Fire could.
Found "Fire" to be a pretty clumsy shortening. Think you could just say, "though she could deal with the heat as well as anyone else in the area."

Owen stopped, spotting a large Arcanine bounding over to him. “Hi, Granny Arcanine!”

“Oh, hush, I’m not that old. Auntie Arcanine is just fine.” Despite this, she smiled, passing a small bag of apples over. “You’re going on a little mock-expedition, are you? I gathered these up just for you.”
Aww, I like the sense of community here. Owen seems like a good kid so far.

Did he lose weight? Muscle weighed more than fat. Owen worriedly pinched at his gut, wondering if his chubby Charizard genes were coming through before the rest. But it felt normal.
Read this several times, but can't make sense of the logic. He's worried that he's *lost* weight, but then he's worried about "chubby" genes coming through first? Doesn't that contradict? If chubby genes were coming through, he'd weigh more, not less.

With the help of the Waypoint, the fiery explorer appeared in the middle of town in a flash of light.
"Fiery explorer" was a jarring epithet for me. I felt like we shifted into a different style of story, like a kid's tale. If you really want to use it, maybe lean into that. Like ["With the help of the Waypoint, the fiery explorer appeared in the middle of town in a flash of light," Owen narrated to himself, then stopped, feeling silly.]

All of the sights and the bright sky lifted his spirits. He couldn’t ignore how nervous his parents were, and that dampened them slightly—but he figured that if he kept acting cheerful, maybe he’d be able to fool himself into truly feeling confident, too. That feeling always nagged at him. The idea that something wasn’t right with anything he did. Not that he did it incorrectly, but that something, in general, felt wrong. Even now, it tugged at his mind.
I like the characterization that the cheery attitude is sort of a "if I smile I'll feel happy" strategy. Might reword into, "All of the sights and the bright sky lifted his spirits. He couldn’t forget how nervous his parents had been, and the memory of their nervous faces still nagged at him—but Owen figured if he kept acting cheerful, maybe he’d be able to fool himself into feeling it, too."

"That feeling" comes out of nowhere in the paragraph--I'm not sure what feeling it's referring to. I'd recommended working a bit on the transition there. The last three sentences don't spring naturally from the flow of the paragraph for me, they feel like they've been shoved in for me to take note of.

Lost in thought, he didn’t notice a passerby Zangoose.
A passing zangoose, I think you mean?

“A-and I’m not a kid!” he shouted. “I’m just a late evolver!”
Defiantly, Owen puffed out his chest. He was a full-grown adult! Or at least an adult! Lots of weaker Pokémon never evolved. He just happened to be strong and slow at evolution.
Okay, so--Owen definitely reads to me as a kid, early teens at most, in human equivalents. I can buy his telling everyone "I'm not a kid" but saying he's an adult strikes me as strange.

The Golem sighed and wobbled away.
hah, I feel this golem so deeply. Sometimes keeping it simple has a lot of impact.

What if he didn’t evolve yet because he never got to train with a Charizard before? Could that happen? Is that how evolution worked? Owen shook his head. No, many Pokémon were raised without the same species around, and they evolved just fine. Adopted Pokémon weren’t at some—some disadvantage, were they? No, he was just fine!
Ooh, I really like this rumination. Feels very natural that he'd have these kinds of thoughts.

Owen’s gut twisted with a feeling he couldn’t comprehend. But then, he shoved that feeling away, and instead tried to take in exactly who he was talking to.
Owen’s heart fluttered as if he’d seen old friends. Yet, he didn’t even know their names.
Both of the quoted places you're doing something similar, but the effect is much stronger in the second one, because you show the strange reaction and then indicate why it doesn't make sense. The first one is much more tell-y.

“These Pokémon are retiring on schedule. There will be a ceremony about that soon, you know. Perhaps you should attend and network with the others.”

“But you’re an Elite Heart,” Owen said. “Do you think I’ll be able to, um, get to that level?”
I like the world-building with the retirement ceremony. Owen's question comes pretty out of nowhere to me. It just doesn't seem like a response to the previous dialogue line.

“Oh! That means, so, when I get super strong, that’s when I won’t even need it.” It was a constant reminder that he was a larva when he shouldn’t have been. But, at least now he had a boost. “That’s the perfect item! Thank you!” Psychologically it was undoubtedly going to feed into some complex, Owen thought, but in terms of practicality? Priceless.
A larva? That's such a bug word, hard for me to associate it with a charmander.

I do like howhe is eager for the power boost, but doesn't love the reason that particular powerboost works.

“Lucario Rhys,” Demitri said.
Ah, that's the one the parents mentioned. I thought from their conversation he was dead or something.

With their bodies burned, they vanished in thin air, returning to the entrance to the Dungeon.
Huh, this aspect of dungeon mechanics is pretty hard for me to buy into. At what point are you defeated? How does the dungeon know?

A strange gravity prevented him from climbing the walls, let alone flying over them if he ever sprouted wings. Perhaps in his dreams he could.
does this just mean the gravity is more intense than usual? If that's the case, references throughout to his body feeling heavier in the dungeon would be cool. Would really play into dungeons being a more other, dangerous space.

He bit into the roasted apple, savoring the sweet, hot taste.
yum, apple appreciation, all day every day.

The phantom pain in Owen’s chest and back suddenly flared up at the sight of this mutated Pokémon. He had forgotten all about it. Suddenly, Owen remembered his dream, or flashes of it. He remembered his father getting struck, and then exploding in a cloud of blue embers. And some creature—he couldn’t remember what—slicing at him. That didn’t feel like a dream. But—his father was alive! It had to be a dream.
This say "the" phantom pain like it's been mentioned before, but it hasn't? Also, you've got two suddenlys! This would feel a little more concrete if you focus on the images Owen is remembering initially, rather than the idea of him remembering his dream.

Like, "Phantom pain flared up in Owen’s chest at the sight of this mutated pokémon. Suddenly, a vivid image flashed through his mind—his father exploding into a cloud of blue embers. And some creature—he couldn’t remember what—stabbing a blade through his chest. That part didn’t feel like a dream. But—his father was alive! It must have been a dream."

I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. That was real, and I’m not seeing things. Not crazy.
Huh, this doesn't feel like a typical reaction. Does he have some paranoia about being crazy? In dungeon, sees weird pokemon seems pretty normal.

All that was left behind were a few stray embers from his tail; Owen bolted.
Love that he runs away here, recognizing his limits instead of trying to duke it out! And a strong ending line as well.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Wow, now THAT is a thorough review, @Pen! I hope I can do the same in return since it seems our fics swapped for Catnip. Very good overall, and I'm going over a lot of this in DMs as requested, but this is all useful feedback that I intend to make use of when I inevitably get back to editing these early chapters again.

A lot of your concerns look like they arose from a combination of 1, Me intentionally putting down strange things in the prose, and 2, not making it clear that these things were intentionally there--thus leaving the implication that I'm being clumsy for one reason rather than another. *sigh*. Hopefully I can iron this out... I really need to focus on building reader faith in these early chapters, and I don't think I'm doing my best job of that as it stands.

I'm falling behind on uploads due to real life matters, but here's the next chapter, a few days late!



Chapter 37 – Body, Mind, and Spirit

The Grass Orb was silent.

Nobody dared move. The spirits didn’t speak—they could only stare, petrified, at what they thought would be the end of their cozy corner of eternity. He was laying there—Gahi and Owen, fused together as one.

The only one moving was Star. The Mew floated over his unconscious body, inspecting every part of it.

“They’re fused to the core,” Star mumbled to herself. “I don’t know if I can pull them apart without destroying everything we worked toward. It’d be from zero again…”

Gawen was unconscious. The battle itself was a strain on their body, the stress of the encounter on the mind, and the overexertion of their powers on the spirit. To be passed out in even the spirit world meant that they had fought to the very limit. To their fortune, that gave Star the opportunity to theorize on what she could do.

“What do you mean,” Klent finally said, “by fused to the core? From zero?”

“This happened before,” Star said, looking back. “When Demitri, Mispy, Gahi, and Owen all fused together for the first time, something went wrong. Nevren said they weren’t ready—or something just wasn’t calculated right. What do you expect? Four minds merging into one, seamlessly and without error? In your dreams. Even I would need a few tries…”

Klent moved forward, then stopped. “So… something went wrong to make them go berserk?”

“Yeah. And I’m trying to figure out why now. It’s probably something really small that propagates throughout the system. Like an illness that spreads through the body. Ngh… The way Nevren had me solve it before was by forcing them apart. But that’s like untying a knot by slicing it in half – you’re going to have damaged rope. To do it right… you need a way to untie them and still have their minds intact afterward. Then, they don’t have to heal the broken pieces of their selves…”

“I think I follow,” Klent said slowly. “But, how would you do it?”

Star hesitated, looking the fused aura over. She shook her head. “Just give me a second.”

“He’s eventually going to wake up, isn’t he?” Klent said worriedly.

“I know, I know—just—give me a second. I need to think.” She rubbed her head, squeezing her temple. “I have to see what their spirits look like.”

“Spirits? But we’re already—”

“No,” Star said. “Their literal spirit. Right now, this is a world of aura. But I have to… t-to open that up further.”

Klent’s eyes widened. “But that’s… Star, doesn’t that only happen beyond the aura sea? You don’t just pull a spirit from—”

“I have to,” Star said. “I just have to be careful.”

She breathed in, then out, and brought a tiny paw forward, glowing with golden light. It trembled, but she inched it closer to the scaly Pokémon’s chest. The shaking intensified and she jerked her hand away.

“I—I can do this! Stop staring at me!”

Klent flinched, as did the other spirits. They quickly looked down, shuffling where they stood.

“This isn’t hard at all,” Star said. “It’s trivial, even. What’s a single—I mean, what’re two souls to a Creator? This is child’s play.” She held her paw against his chest again, trying to keep it from shaking. “Just draw the spirit out. Just draw it out a little.”

A golden sphere emerged partway—just the top of the orb—from Gawen’s rising and falling chest. It swirled, two currents twisting and turning around themselves to make up the single, unstable ball of light. Star winced—almost gagged—and took another steady breath. But then she felt something almost break loose and gasped, shoving it back into him. His whole body jolted, but remained unconscious, and Star pulled her hand away.

“I—I can’t do it,” she said, hand trembling. “I c-can’t keep it together. Oh, God, why can’t I—this is supposed to be easy! I’m s-supposed to be a Creator! Why can’t I pull myself together when it actually matters?!” She shoved her hands to her sides, hitting the air. Nearby rocks and trees split apart, startling Klent and the others. She slammed her hands over her eyes next, breathing in sharply.

Zygarde Hecto cleared his throat behind her. “Star.”

“Not now,” Star said, sniffling.

“This is important.”

“I can’t do anything right now,” Star replied, shaking her head. “I have to fix Gahi and Owen. That’s all I can think about now, okay?”

Hecto nodded. “I understand.”

Klent, Amelia, and all of the other spirits all stared at something behind Star, eyes wide. The Mew eyed them all incredulously, but then spun around. “Ng—!”

Arceus stood before her, significantly smaller than usual. He was no larger than Gawen.

Countless tendrils of light emerged from Star’s back, but Arceus held up his right hoof, lowering his head.

“I know I cannot fight here,” he said.

“Y-yeah, that’s right,” Star growled. “Leave.”

“I would like to help.”

Star’s tendrils wavered. She did nothing when the other Creator stepped around her and toward Gawen. He gently placed his hoof on Gawen’s chest, the same as Star, and pulled back. The sphere emerged halfway from the aura, a semicircle atop his scales. Two tendrils of light emerged from Arceus’ back next, slowly moving toward the fused spirit. Star watched closely, ready to push him away if he tried anything out of the ordinary.

The unstable swirling slowed. One spirit collected against the first tendril and the other half of the current spiraled around the other. Then, slowly, the two tendrils retracted. The two smaller spheres slid toward one another again, spinning together in a gentle, steady vortex. Arceus pressed his hoof forward, pushing the fused orb back into Gawen. The glowing subsided and Arceus stepped away.

He looked at Star, who quickly turned her head away and down, glaring at a boulder that she had shattered.

“The rest is up to you.” Arceus tapped his left hind leg on the ground, creating a portal. “I know you do not want me around.” He spun and walked through, the circle disappearing moments later.

Star’s fist clenched, watching him go. “I could’ve…” She couldn’t find the words to finish. Star’s shoulders relaxed, though Klent and the other spirits were still tense.

“Star?” Klent asked. “What did he do?”

Star shook her head. “Barky’s just being a showoff.” Star forced a smile. “I could’ve done the same thing if I tried again.”

Klent frowned, rubbing his pom-poms together.

Amelia adjusted the flower atop her head. “What’s left?” the Lilligant asked. “It looked like their spirits were fused together the… right way this time. But how do you separate them now? Is there… a trick?”

Star steadied her breaths one last time, nodding. She went back to inspecting Gawen. “Everything about them has to do with their aura,” Star said. “Bodily fusions are easy to fix for me. It’s the aura and the spirit that’s hard to do. It’s like trying to separate red and blue from purple.”

Klent nodded. “Mm. Or salt from the sea. Something like that?”

“Kinda, but it’s equal parts salt and water,” Star said.

The Jumpluff shook his body in understanding, the top dandelion puff bobbing. “Well… what if you had a way to attract out one part, but not the other? If you make water evaporate, it’ll leave salt behind. I think that’s what Arceus did with their spirits, if what I saw was right. Would there be a way to… get Owen out, and leave Gahi behind, or the other way around?”

“I don’t… really know. That’s one thing we could do… or try…”

Hecto cleared his throat. “He’s awake.”

Gawen’s eyes opened, staring at the sky.

Star clenched her jaw. “Nobody move,” she said calmly.

It was a moment of serenity, but it was fleeting. Gawen’s eyes locked onto Star.

“Hey,” Star said. “You feeling alright?”

“He’s not moving,” Klent said.

“Oh, he’s trying,” Star stated. “I have him immobilized with Psychic. He’s pretty weak, so it’s easy to keep him down, uh, gently.” She floated closer. “Gahi, Owen… it’s okay. Take a breath. Meditate, alright? Just a little…” Star waved a glowing paw near Gawen’s cheek. He let out a slow growl, and then a huff.

“Gahi, this is the Grass Orb—a part of the spirit realm. Can you see it, in Owen’s memories? It’s safe here. Nice and calm.”

“Can you reason with him?”

“I think so,” Star said. “It’s different… this isn’t like the last time. I think because it’s just two of them, and the meditation—you know, the stuff Rhys did—I think that’s making it easier. They aren’t totally broken this time. That’s probably why Barks was able to fix him so easily, too. Maybe if we’re careful…”

There was another long, tense silence. Star was working on Gawen while he was still awake, prodding at his aura, searching for anything she could untangle. Every so often, she sighed, mumbling to herself. They weren’t sure what she meant for most of it. But eventually, she said something a bit more audibly. “This should help…”

A small spark of white energy pulsed through the fused creature. Star floated away and released her Psychic hold. A small shockwave warped the light around Gawen upon release. The forest spirits flinched. He was unsealed and free to move.

“Hey,” Star whispered. “On a scale of one to ten… how badly do you want to fight right now?”

The Flygon-Charizard amalgamation stared at Star, and then at all the others. He looked at the trees. “Nine,” he said. “Just ‘cause I know what… ten feels like.”

“S-Star! How did you—”

“Keep your voice down,” Star said serenely. “I couldn’t remove his instincts and I couldn’t tamper with his head at all… but I was able to lower his stress levels and the mechanisms that contribute to being in battle mode all the time. I helped him feel less aggressive. The aura mimics the body, and I did some brain stuff. As Creator, you kinda have to know that sorta thing. But he could easily slip back into it, so no sudden movements.”

Gawen looked down shamefully. “I’m… I’m just a monster,” he said. “I’ve always been one. I’ve just been… sealed away. ‘Til now.”

“Pretty much,” Star said. “But you’re my monster, okay?”

Gawen winced. “Y-yeah…”

“May I touch your shoulder?”

Gawen nodded.

Star gently floated toward him and did just as she had asked. It was a tiny paw compared to the dragon. “I can see my reflection,” Star said with a smile, looking at his scales. “The Gahi half of you really shines, huh?”

Gawen smiled slightly.

“…I’m really proud of how far you’ve come, Owen. Gahi. You never would have been this controlled in the past.”

“It’s so hard…”

“I know. I know. But it’s okay, and you’re doing it anyway. Just keep going, you two…”

“Two,” Gawen said. He rubbed at his head. “I… I don’t know… who I am…” His claws dug into his scales, voice rising.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay,” Star said in a whisper. “Let me help. Gahi… Gahi, is that name familiar to you?”

“Yeah… that’s… that’s me… that’s me, and also someone I know…”

“Mhm, that’s true. Part of you is Gahi. You were a Trapinch, and you always wanted to be the first one to evolve. Do you remember that?”

“I… I do. I was always jealous… because… because Owen…. He was always faster. And I hate… when people are faster. But… but Owen’s me, too… I didn’t know that Gahi was jealous… But I… but I liked me, too. Because we were family.”

Star nodded. She gently moved until she was sitting on their shoulder. “Owen, did you enjoy training with Gahi?”

“Yeah… I did. I liked training with me… with Gahi—Owen and Gahi, us, me…” He rubbed his forehead. “It… it hurts…”

“Shh, shh..” Star didn’t give the fusion time to take it all in. The gentle onslaught continued uninterrupted. “Owen… Amia raised you all on her own. Do you remember that?”

Gawen was quiet. He looked like he had a splitting headache. His eyes were shut tight, creases forming along his muzzle. Scales ground against one another with every fold of skin. Star rubbed his shoulders.

“I… I remember,” he finally said.

“Gahi, did you miss Owen?”

“I… I did… missed him a lot… missed‘m all the time…”

“Gahi, do you remember how you coped? What did you do?”

“…Slept in his bed… the Rawst Leaves… they smell a certain way… Owen smelled like Rawst all the time, ‘cause he slept in it fer… I slept in them, and Gahi was always annoyed at how they smelled… But then I started missing it, ‘cause even if it was annoying… I guess Gahi really liked it…” Gawen gulped, trying to hold down his nausea. “S-Star… m-my head… I… I can’t think about this.”

“It’s okay. Gahi, Owen, it’s okay. Keep thinking, okay?”

“I can’t…”

Star rubbed his shoulders more. “This is good, you two. Keep holding it through. You’ve got this. I’m going to keep going, and I’m not stopping. Owen, did Gahi ever win against you in chess?”

“Star… p-please, stop…”

“Gahi, did Owen ever beat you in a race?”

“Yer killing my head…” He was clutching his head so tightly that his claws were piercing his scales.

“Owen, do you remember when you tried to sleep like Gahi, underground?”

I hated it…!”

“Gahi, have you ever read a single paper in your life?”

“I totally read a few! But Owen, he reads… everything he can… I…” His grip wavered; his whole body had tensed, and then relaxed.

Star blinked. “…Owen? Gahi? Hello?”

Their eyes were closed, but gently. There were no crease marks of stress; his aura felt… more serene. The gashes in his skull vanished away.

Klent, confused that Star was confused, stepped forward. “S-Star?”

“Star,” Hecto said, “is this not part of the procedure?”

“It, uh, no,” Star said. “Owen? Gahi?”

The fusion went half-limp, falling forward. Star had to really push to keep the creature from collapsing on top of her. “Ng—guys, c’mon!”

Gawen came to his senses, shaking his head. “S-sorry.” He sat up, but he looked dizzy. “I… I feel better,” he said. “I’m… I’m Owen, right now. Gahi’s resting.”

“Excuse me?” Star said. “That’s not—supposed to happen yet. Hello? Gahi?”

Owen was quiet, eyes closed. Gahi opened his eyes. “Yeah, what? I’m… feeling a li’l better.”

Gahi closed his eyes. The same body opened them again. “Star, I think… I think I’m feeling better. I think if we switch… it hurts less. I still… really… really want to fight… but at least I know who I am.”

Closed, opened. “I never saw yeh fight befer, Star. So, what, yeh think yer any good? Can you fight?”

“I—uh—I mean…”

Hecto spoke up. “Star, perhaps your methods were simply more effective than expected.”

“No, I’m pretty sure they had to go through a few more steps before finding a way like this. But maybe Owen’s just—smarter and figured it out on his own.”

“N-no, I don’t think I did. Star, I think you helped me. Heh, yeah, I figure yer real good and just didn’t think yeh could do it so easy. I—I mean, maybe that, because I didn’t get any ideas. It hurt a lot, so it was… y’know, was hard ter do the thinking, ‘specially when I was messing with Owen’s good thinkin’ parts.”

“Ugh, now my head’s starting to hurt,” Star said. “Okay, new rule. Pause before you switch control so I’m not listening to one voice two ways.”

“O-oh, um…” A pause. “Sorry fer that.” Another pause. “It came a little naturally.” Then, the fusion, with Owen in control, looked at his claws. “Actually, Star, um—I wanted to ask… a-and I don’t know if I want to know the answer, but… a-are… are we dead?”

“Uhh…” Star rubbed her ear. Her tail flicked as if she wasn’t completely sure. The three flames on Gawen’s tail flickered anxiously. Then, Star nodded. “No, you’re alive. But that’s actually making me wonder something…” Star observed the fusion making strange motions, such as brushing his tail pensively on the ground or pushing at a wall that wasn’t there. “…You okay there?”

“Everything feels… soft.”

“Uhh—”

Little specks of light leaked from the fusion’s body. “The air feels… soft. Does that make sense?”

“Not rea—”

The fusion vanished.

Klent blinked. “D… did they wake up?”

“Yeah. So at least they’re alive,” Star said.

“Will… what happened carry over to the real world?”

Star sighed. “Boy, I hope so. Let’s just watch and see.”

“Mm…” Klent, along with the other spirits, closed their eyes to tune into what their host was experiencing.

<><><>​

At first, he thought he was back in Hot Spot Cave. Everything around them had a dim, cyan glow, just like the mushrooms, or Aether Forest, or the aura sea. But everything felt too close—and too soft—to be the caverns. Owen tried to turn but was met with great resistance from a soft, solid wall. He felt like he was in some sort of crawl space; there was light ahead of him, so he pulled himself out of what he imagined was an alcove in the wall.

He heard the murmurs of a quiet conversation. “Ngh… ugh!” He was out and in an open area, though it was still very dim. “Finally!” he said. “Arceus, it felt like Anam in there…”

He turned around, realizing that was a very strange way to describe something, and inspected his surroundings. It looked like some sort of shiny, red wall with a cyan glow. He came from a crease in the wall, like dough that was folded over itself. The whole place was like this.

And then he recalled his previous moments of being conscious. Amia staring at him, the ocean rapidly advancing—and that Lugia. And then darkness, perhaps from the impact of where he had landed, but perhaps also because—

“Oh… oh, no. Nooo, no, no.” The fusion paced. Every step he made was squishy against the ground. “N-no, no, no, that’s not it,” he said. “Absolutely not. I ain’t gonna accept that. Ain’t no way I got ate. Th-that just isn’t how it works—this is—this is just a strange dream! ‘Cause this ain’t how bodies work—I’d be dead! Long dead! Some sea monster woulda made me lunch by now! Ain’t no way that… maybe I just escaped and…”

Owen’s half realized that there was an easy way to determine where he was. With great apprehension, he turned his attention to his Perceive.

He was in the center of something large. It had a giant, central chamber, and six offshoots that appeared to be moving. The one at the front of this chamber swiveled to the left and right subtly; the one in the rear twisted with the currents—he realized that this thing was underwater. And there were four more structures attached to the central chamber—two were shorter, and near the rear offshoot, and two were longer and beating hard against the water, propelling the entire structure forward. They were wing-like, yet also hand-like.

It was a Lugia without anything inside. No heart. No lungs. No real organs of any kind. “I… oh.” He wanted to collapse but didn’t want to know what the ground felt like. What his feet felt was enough. The fusion gagged and covered his mouth. “Why…?”

The murmuring returned. Gahi and Owen tried to gather themselves and turned toward the sound. At first, they were unfamiliar—and with newfound worry, he wondered how much his memories may have been shuffled by this incident—but soon, he could put a few of the voices to names.

“…That’s… Zena,” he said. “And Willow, and… is that—Demitri and Mispy? That is!” Pushing aside the circumstances, Gawen rushed toward the only familiar thing he had left. “Hey, guys!”

Zena perked up. They were all gathered nearby, opposite of the great chamber. “Owen? Er—Gahi? Both…?”

Amia recognized the tone. “Owen! Y-you’re… you’re okay! Oh, thank Arceus, I—” She sniffled; it seemed like she had it together until she finally saw him awake and sane. She ran toward him and tripped over her own feet; the fusion caught her.

“H-hey, Mom, it’s—it’s alright,” Owen said, rubbing her back. He realized how tall he was, now—even larger than he was as a Charizard. “I think Star helped us in the spirit world.”

“Us—so Gahi’s still…?”

“Yeah, I’m still here,” Gahi nodded. “It kinda hurts our head ter fight fer control at the same time, but if we swap like this, it ain’t so bad, and if we merge our heads, it ain’t too bad, either. Still weird, though, eh, so we’ll try’n keep it separate.”

“Oh, that’s… that’s interesting!” Amia said delicately. “But…”

“Interesting? That’s cool!” Willow piped up, hopping from Amia’s hair onto Gawen’s snout. She skittered forward until she was between his horns.

Owen grinned. “I think we can get better at being ‘as one’ too, but…” He looked at his claws. “I’d like it if we were two bodies again. I like being close to Gahi, but—maybe not this close…”

Gahi sighed. “Yeah, ain’t that something yeh’d expect outta Demitri an’ Mispy? But not us, I figure.”

Mispy huffed; Demitri rubbed at one of his tusks, avoiding eye contact.

“Oh, that’s… quite odd to hear two kinds of people from the same voice,” Amia said. “It’s almost like when Eon mimicked my voice—oooh, I still get shivers from that…”

“Eon seems really familiar, but…” Demitri frowned. “He’s a lot less friendly than I thought he’d be.”

“Don’t remind me,” Owen grumbled. “Um, so… I really, really don’t want to know… but I have to… Where are we?”

“We’re being carried by an old friend of mine,” Zena said. “Her name is Emily—she’s a Lugia. I didn’t think she’d still be alive, but… this is definitely her. I remember it all now.”

Gawen crossed his arms incredulously. “Your friend?” he said. “She… eats people.”

“Well, it’s not eating if you aren’t food, don’t you think?” Zena suggested.

“No, this is pretty strongly like eating,” Owen said, eying the walls suspiciously. “How does this even work? My Perceive is telling me Emily doesn’t have anything going on inside her. I don’t even know if she has blood. It’s like a Drifblim shaped itself into a Lugia. And how big is she, anyway?!”

“She’s really, really big,” Willow said. “I tried to shrink Emily so we could try to escape, but it just bounced off the walls and shrank us a little instead…”

Owen looked up at the fleshy ceiling with a grimace. This place reminded him of the Hot Spot training grounds in terms of size, though the ceilings were closer and it generally felt more claustrophobic. He had the vaguest of recollections of how big Emily was, and somehow she seemed bigger on the inside even after considering Willow’s power.

Zena hummed. “I don’t know why she’s like this, either. But she has a certain power about her. Can’t you feel it?”

“Yeah, but—it’s subtle. I felt it when I was—nghk… when I was lodged somewhere in the walls. Up against it I definitely felt something strong, but now that I’m just standing here? Not really… But her aura is strong. I can’t see anything outside.”

Owen scanned the group again and felt the presence of somebody hiding behind Zena’s tail. “Um? Who’s that?”

“Eep—!”

“Oh,” Zena lifted her tail, revealing—nothing. “That was Tanneth. She lives, er… with Emily. She’s a Vaporeon, but I think she’s still a little nervous about you, Owen, Gahi.”

“She is? How come?” Owen asked, feeling stupid seconds later.

“It’s okay, Tanneth,” Amia said. “This one’s friendly. A friend of ours, Star, must have helped them!”

“A-are you sure?” someone said beneath Mispy.

Owen and Gahi got a good look at Tanneth; it was indeed a Vaporeon, though she seemed to be partway inside the floor. Once again, it reminded them of Anam.

“Actually, um, Emily was the one who helped you,” Tanneth said. “She said that she felt your aura was in a lot of pain, so she healed you with a lot of her power.”

“My aura was in… pain?” Gawen said. “How? Y’mean like, I was ripping apart?”

Tanneth nodded. “Emily doesn’t like when Pokémon are hurt, but she can only heal others if they’re very, very close to her body. But she can heal anything!”

“Anything,” Owen repeated slowly. “But—but what if I went crazy? I’d’ve really hurt Emily, all the way in here!”

Tanneth shook her head. “Emily can’t get hurt. She’s really, really strong! …Defensively!”

“Defensively? So, she can’t attack? But Lugia are supposed to be really strong—I read that Lugia was supposed to know Aeroblast! That could rip anything to shreds!”

“Emily…. Now that I think about it, I don’t think she ever was that powerful,” Zena said. “She should be strong, but her Aeroblast… I think the worst it ever did was make little whirlpools for us to play in.” She looked up. “But maybe when she gets back to wherever her home is, we can talk more.”

“Still strange,” Owen said, crossing his arms thoughtfully. “But yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Actually, while we’re waiting, I… want to try something. Can you guys give me a little bit? I want to de-fuse…”

“You can do that?” Willow asked, tapping her leg on his left goggle.

“I think so,” Owen said.

“We better,” Gahi said.

“We’ll try,” Gawen said.

Reluctantly, Gawen sat down to meditate. Demitri and Mispy crept closer to get a better look at their sparring partner. Demitri tapped at his right tusk thoughtfully. “Wow… So that’s what it’s like to fuse together… And you’re sane, too! Who would’ve thought that a little healing energy would’ve helped, huh?”

“Star was helping, too,” Gawen said. “I think it was the healing that made it feel better, but… Star was the one that helped us actually separate. We just have to finish it off.”

Mispy inspected the flame at the end of Gawen’s tail—the three blade-like spires of fire. “What if you… went Grass Type?” Mispy theorized.

Owen’s half was intensely curious and distracted by the remark; Gahi’s half was just annoyed that they couldn’t concentrate in peace. The two conflicting thoughts were too much for the fusion and, in an instant, one head split off from the main one, turning irritably, “Shaddap, I’m trying ter concentrate!”

“Wah! T-two heads!” Tanneth squeaked.

“Eh?” Gahi looked down. He could move the right arm, but not the left. “Oy, lookit that!”

“Gahi! I can’t feel my right side!”

“Well, I can’t feel my left! C’mon, let’s just keep going!”

“Um—” Mispy, in an effort to help, wrapped her vines around their arms and pulled.

The two heads grunted in strain, but, thankfully, this was the correct approach. With a little tug and some concentration, the dragon and the pseudodragon split apart, their respective halves regenerating in a dim light. They tumbled to the ground with a series of plops and damp splashes.

“Ugh! Finally!” Owen said. He shook himself off and tried to ignore the empty feeling in his chest. “Glad to be me again. No offense or anything, Gahi, but I think you dumbed me down a few pegs…”

“Feh,” Gahi stuck his nose in the air. He paused as if something had dawned on him. “Hey, I ain’t crazy!” He looked at his claws. “How ‘bout that, eh?” And then he flexed his wings.

“I think we’re going to go a little crazy when we evolve,” Demitri said, looking at Mispy worriedly. “Um—when that happens, do you think you’ll be able to…”

“We’ll help,” Owen said. “We just have to beat you and then, um… help you straighten out after that. Maybe Emily can help!”

Just then, the ground shifted. “Earth—earthquake?” Owen said. “W-wait, we’re not on—”

The ground heaved, throwing them all backward. The entire area turned sideways, floors becoming walls. Owen and Gahi hit the new ground; Amia and Willow landed on top of Owen, followed by Demitri and Mispy atop Gahi, and lastly Zena, whose lengthy body pinned them all down.

They all groaned.

“Everyone okay?” Owen wheezed.

“I think I squished my webbers,” Willow whined.

Tanneth’s head stuck out of a nearby wall, giggling. “Hey, everyone! Emily’s gonna let you guys out, now!”

Owen’s expression darkened. “Please tell me she has a better way to—”

A giant wing-arm burst violently through the walls of the Lugia, presumably through her belly, fishing around her own insides like one would search for a snack in the dark. The wing was big enough to grab them all in one go. Without thinking, Owen shrieked, and they were pulled back to the outside world.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 38 – The Enigmatic Healer

Manny crossed his arms with doubt, flying through the air with his body parallel to the ocean. “Yer gonna have ter explain that one a second time, Rhys,” he said. “They all got ate, but they’re just fine?”

“Y-yes, I promise, they are perfectly safe. More than safe; if anything, they might be getting healed right now.”

Manny felt someone knocking on his spiritual doors. He held his hand out and Star emerged, looking a bit shaken.

“Y’alright?” Manny asked.

“Yeah, sorry, sorry,” Star said. “I was just… sorting things out with Owen and Gahi.”

She steadied her breath, earning a few concerned looks from Manny, and then addressed the others. “It’s true. That was Emily. She’s a wonderful Pokémon, but—well, I don’t know if any of you are going to remember her in a little while. Y’see… well…” Star hesitated. “Actually… I’m a little surprised you’re remembering her at all. Maybe because you guys are all together, it’s starting to…” She trailed off. “…Guys. Do you remember seeing the Lugia at all?”

“Wh—of course! It only took up like half our view!” Manny said.

“Huh,” Star said. “Well… I guess we’ll see how much I can explain, then. See… Lugia Emily… ahh… she’s really kind. So kind that Arceus gifted her a tiny, tiny portion of divine energy—enough to make her a true legend, but not enough to expand that influence beyond her body. She had it on the condition that she’d only be able to use that power to help others—and so, she trained to become the ultimate healer.”

“The healer that… eats people,” Anam said, nibbling his hand. “Does it hurt?”

“If you ask me, it’s pretty cozy.” Star crossed her arms. “And it’s pretty spacious in there, too. Emily’s basically a dense balloon filled with air. Dense enough to still dive underwater, but with all that air in the middle, it’s really easy to live in. Her aura is strongest within her, so… anything that’s inside of her basically can’t get hurt.”

“It’s also quite difficult to escape,” Rhys muttered.

“Oh, yeah!” Star giggled. “Back when you were a real Hunter going after divine energy, Emily was one of your targets!” She shoved Rhys by the shoulder. “She ate you and refused to let you go unless you promised not to fight her!”

“I’m surprised she didn’t force me to make a Divine Promise,” Rhys muttered. “But I suppose we did… chat for a while. Her and that Vaporeon within her.”

“You mean, even your ultimate moves didn’t work on Emily?” Anam said. “Would… would mine?”

“Maybe?” Star shrugged. “I dunno. I mean, Ghost has an advantage over her type, but Em’s pretty exceptional. But I don’t think she’d beat you in a fight, either. Like I said—she’s an ultimate healer. Like, on a scale of one to ten, her capacity to harm is… negative one, I guess? Or close to it. Maybe if she rolled on you it’d do some damage, but…”

“I’d rather not envision this,” Rhys stated flatly.

“So, they’re definitely okay,” Anam said.

“Yeah,” Star said. “I promise—if they’re in Emily’s guts, they’re as safe as you can get.”

“Quite counterintuitive,” James remarked.

“Hrm.” Rhys didn’t like the situation, but he couldn’t deny that Owen and the others, for now, would be in good hands. He focused his attention ahead, toward the expanse of ocean.

“Where are we going?” Anam asked.

“We’re following Emily back to her home base,” Star said. “With any luck, we’ll be able to find her pretty easily. She’s on the other side of the world, so she’s equidistant from all parts of the shoreline. Makes it useful to go to anywhere she can sense trouble. It shouldn’t be long from now. It’s a tiny island that gets flooded pretty often.”

“Water is not still,” Valle said.

“Oh, get over it, you already broke your own vow when Enet made you move your arms. Why don’t you stop being a literal statue, anyway?”

“I cannot.” Valle rumbled angrily.

<><><>​

“Solid ground! Thank Arceus!” Owen had half a mind to kiss, but he kept himself calm. “Wait—where are we?”

They were inside of a large, yet shallow cave. It was only ten or so paces from the mouth to the back wall, yet Owen had enough room to fly in the airspace it provided. Behind them was a small beach of white sand. In fact—and a cursory Perceive of the surroundings confirmed this—the small cave was more like a partly hollowed boulder sitting in the middle of a tiny circle of land.

Circumnavigating the tiny island on foot would take about the same amount of time as it would to eat a nice bowl of stew. Maybe one with a good set of Tamato base, some potatoes and onions…

Was Rhys going to make dinner?

“This is my home!”

The sheer volume of the voice shook Owen’s chest and tossed him out of his thoughts. He worried that his heart would stop either from the percussive impact or the surprise. He briefly wondered if he and Gahi, when they had fused, had two hearts.

He spun around. “W-wow, Emily, you’re… big!”

Emily seemed smaller on the outside, but she still dwarfed them all by comparison. Legends often depicted Lugia as a creature at least three times the size of a Charizard, but Emily was much more than that. Five, six times? Owen couldn’t tell. He only knew that he was noticeably smaller than her head and she had to angle her gaze sharply downward to make eye contact with them. Her voice was deep and booming, but it fit for someone of her stature. He felt the innocent kindness it had, though, just like their Heart of Hearts, Anam. Perhaps that was why Zena was reminded of her through their leader.

Still, he couldn’t get over the fact that there was a gaping hole in her belly where she had pulled them out. “Emily, are you okay?”

“Okay about what?” Emily asked.

“Um, Emily, dear,” Amia said, pointing at where her ribcage would have been, “is it normal for you to… just have that wound?”

She didn’t have any bones or blood; in fact, it seemed like the red flesh within was just for show.

“Oh, oops!” Emily said, bringing her wing-arms to her chest. She rubbed at the edges and the hole closed up, like she was shaping clay to patch a wet sculpture. “Sorry! I need to remember to keep that in one piece or people freak out…”

Demitri looked at Emily worriedly. “That doesn’t hurt, does it?”

Mispy’s vines twitched, ready to heal her if there were any residual injures, yet the Lugia’s body was back to normal. Whatever normal was.

“Hurt?” Emily asked, but then something moved up her chest, became a lump on her shoulder, and popped toward the ground.

The Vaporeon, Tanneth, landed with surprising grace for such a drop. “Emily doesn’t feel a lot of things that she should,” she said. “She doesn’t need to eat, or sleep, or… any of that! I dunno why. She’s always been that way. Maybe she’s a deity.”

Emily giggled, rubbing the back of her head. “I dunno about that….”

“It’s… certainly nothing like other Lugia that I’ve heard of,” Amia said. “Oh, wait, but are there other Lugia?”

“There should be,” Owen said. “I think… Then again, never saw one… Either way, Em’s definitely not a normal Lugia. But… is she a Guardian?”

“A what?” Emily asked. “Yeah, I’m totally a Guardian! I’m the guardian of the seas! I keep all the salty water safe!”

“So, the Guardian of…” Zena paused. “The former Guardian of Water?”

“Huh? I mean, I don’t guard all water…” Emily frowned. “I mostly just keep the ocean safer. Not rivers and stuff… Just oceans. But I can try to cover the land, but that’s a lot of land… and I’m slower on land, so it’s harder to help Pokémon in time.”

Owen looked in the air pensively. “…I think we’re working with two different definitions of Guardian.”

Amia nodded. “Um, Emily, do you know what the spirit world is?”

“Spirit… world?” Emily asked. “Like, where Ghost Pokémon go? Oh, no, no!” She bopped herself on the head. “Ghosts aren’t dead. It’s where spirits of the dead go! Right?”

Zena hummed. “I don’t think she’s a Guardian. She’s just… a normal guardian. Er, a non-Orb… protector… of sorts.”

“Hmm…” Owen churred uncertainly. Something wasn’t adding up. But he didn’t have any extra information to work with yet. “I guess we should take some time to recover. Do we have a communicator with us?”

The Charizard sat down against the cave’s rocky walls; the ground had soft bedding to it that was covered in a thin layer of dried kelp. Emily must have taken the time to make it, somehow, or find it some other way to craft something of this size—it was very cozy.

The cold pit in his stomach suggested that this bedding could easily be more of Emily’s flesh fashioned into a soft cushion, but he avoided using his Perception to find out for sure. Some things were best left unknown.

This sentiment lasted for a few fleeting seconds. Owen checked and, indeed, it seemed to be more of Emily, like she lopped off a part of her belly and turned it into a soft cushion. He elected to not inform the others and festered in his own disgust in silence.

“We do,” Amia said, pulling out her communicator. “But it didn’t work inside of Emily—maybe now it will?”

“Doesn’t work inside Emily? That’s weird. Maybe it’s aura-based,” Tanneth said. “Or some other kind of technique. A lot of stuff gets blocked off by Emily… You can’t even use Teleport to get in or out of her.”

“Oh, goodness, that’s… How do you know that?” Amia asked worriedly.

“Someone tried to use Teleport once,” Tanneth said. “I don’t remember who, though. I think it was an Alakazam.”

“You don’t say.” Owen curled his tail around his hips and legs. He finally had time to decompress someplace that wasn’t from his nightmares, aside from the bedding. And in that moment of silence with just his thoughts, it finally occurred to him—this was the first time in centuries that he was himself, at least mostly. His head still felt like a great fog if he tried to think back too far, but his body… He fused, and he survived it; he knew what he was capable of, and all his power. And when he was fused with Gahi, when he finally regained his sanity in that state…

“Heh…” Gahi leaned back. “I guess I c’n deal with second place.”

“Huh?” Owen came out of his thoughts. “What? Were you guys talking?”

Demitri nodded. “Yeah, we were just talking about how you won the race to evolve first. And Gahi’s second. So now it’s just between the two of us.”

“Oh, you guys are racing to evolve? That’s so cool!” Emily pushed her wings together. “I wish I evolved…”

“You… don’t need to get any bigger,” Owen said.

“I forget being an Eevee!” Tanneth said cheerfully. “It was too long ago. Maybe I was always a Vaporeon!”

“Doubt that one, too,” Owen said. “But, uh—about that… Demitri, Mispy, are you guys sure you’re ready to evolve? Gahi went crazy. And when we fused, we both went totally nuts. It took a near-death experience to get us out of—oh, I wonder if my Mysticism is stronger from that…”

“What’s that, dear?” Amia asked.

“Uh—nothing. Anyway, what I mean is, if you evolve, you might get hurt if we don’t keep it totally safe. Because what if, you know…”

“Safe?” Emily said. “Well… if they want to evolve, why don’t they just do it in me?”

Owen wished his Perception extended to the future; that way, he would’ve seen the trap he’d put himself in. “B-back… in you?”

“Yeah! If you need a place where you can’t get hurt, then I’m definitely that!”

“I’ve never quite seen someone describe themselves as a place before, Emily.” Zena chuckled. “I don’t think you were quite this large when I knew you before!”

Emily giggled. “I missed you, Zena!” she said. “I wondered what happened to you! I can’t believe I forgot!”

“I feel the same way,” Zena said. “It’s so odd, isn’t it? But—that’s not important right now. Let’s talk about them evolving. Demitri, from how I understand it, you have the strength of the team, right?”

“Yeah, I think,” Demitri said. “I know that it’s really hard to stop my attacks…. With anything. I think I even break through Protect a little. But I’m pretty slow.”

Mispy nodded. “And I’m…”

“Our defense,” Owen completed. “And that includes healing. And there’s also that technique Rhys taught you about passively charging your Solar Beam… It takes twice as long, but you can do other attacks in between. I dunno if normal Pokémon can do stuff like that. Imagine combining you two…” Owen paused. “What’s with your aura sensing, anyway?”

Amia nodded. “Rhys told me about this a long time ago, dear. Apparently, they tried to give that to you during the design phase, but there’s only so much that you can cram into a single aura at once, if that makes any sense. That was the whole purpose of fusion to begin with—to bypass that natural limit with multiple auras at the same time. So, you got Perception of the physical world and Mispy got Perception of the ethereal world…

“Imagine combining all four of you,” Amia said gravely. “An unstoppable, self-healing, agile, and totally aware creature…”

Owen winced; something between a bruise and a sharp headache knocked at part of his head. “I think… that’s something Star warned me not to think about,” he said. “I still can’t believe Eon did that… We could’ve been killed! Why would he unleash us like that? I definitely don’t think he intended to help us!”

“Yeah, he seemed like a real jerk,” Gahi said. “Hmph. Well, I’ll show him. I’m gonna be stronger’n ever, and I’ll be normal in the head when I do it! Think he’s gonna make me fer a crazy thing…”

Owen laughed. “Yeah! And we’ll make sure that Demitri and Mispy can evolve and stay sane, too. Um… so, Emily, you mentioned that…?”

“Yeah!” She slammed her wing on her belly—the shockwave alone startled Amia, who had been inspecting a mossy rock. “If you guys train and evolve in my body, you’ll be as safe as possible!”

“Hmm… Well… okay. What do you guys think? Do you want to… ugh… I mean…”

“I’m fine with it,” Demitri said. “Mispy?”

The Bayleef nodded. “We can go all-out?”

“Totally!” Emily said.

Owen felt the presence of someone else—no, quite a few others. “Oh,” he said. “I think the others caught up to us.”

“Others? Oh! Your friends?” Emily asked.

“You mean Rhys and Anam and everyone?” Demitri asked.

“Oh, good! We’ll all meet up so we can—um—regroup?” Amia stepped past Emily, who was nearly as tall as the cave on the island.

“Rhys! Anam! We’re over here!” The Gardevoir waved them over, sending a plume of blue fire in the sky to get their attention.

Rhys, the nearest to them, winced with recognition.

Emily waved a huge wing-arm at them. “Hey! Everyone! Over here!”

“I really don’t think you need to wave to get their attention,” Owen mumbled, further alarmed at how large Emily seemed when her wing was above her head.

Rhys landed gingerly and looked down, hands to his sides in respect. He bowed. “Hello, Lugia Emily.”

“Hi!”

“I am Lucario Rhys. I hope… that our past encounter doesn’t leave any sour feelings.”

“…Huh?” Emily asked, tilting her massive head. “What do you mean?” She reached down; Rhys flinched, tensing, but didn’t move otherwise. Her massive wing-arm wrapped around Rhys, two of the finger-like ends holding him like a long pastry. She brought her other wing forward and held it level, setting him on the flat of it. Then, the Lugia squinted at him. “…I met a lot of Lucario… but you do look familiar… Did you need healing?”

“I’d—No, thank you, I’m, I—there’s no need for that. I was the one who… attempted to strike you down, long ago, to take your power.”

“Uhh—Rhys?” Owen said. “Emily isn’t a Guardian. Were you trying to harvest her power just because she had a lot of it? How do you even… harvest that sort of power?”

“It’s difficult to explain,” Rhys said. “I can’t explain it, without you all forgetting again. You see, Emily isn’t just powerful for no reason, she’s the Dragon Guardian. Well… she used to be, anyway.”

“…She’s what, dear?” Amia said.

Rhys grumbled, but repeated himself uselessly. “I just said, she’s the ex-Dragon Guardian.”

Amia looked at the others; they all shrugged.

Rhys ran his claws through the fur of his head. “There is something about Emily that, if I say it, you will forget. It’s as if I didn’t say it at all. It’s because Arceus has made it so—a Divine Decree that no normal person can remember. The Hunters… were personally involved in what became of Emily. We’re able to remember. The Decree was not strong enough to eliminate that from our lives, for how major it was. But if your Mystic power becomes strong enough to defy it, just as you defy some of the other laws of reality, perhaps one day we can tell you.”

Owen paused, glancing at Anam. “Do you remember?”

Anam frowned. “A little,” he said. “I thought she was just a nice Lugia…”

Owen frowned. “Wait, so does that mean Nevren also remembers who Emily is?”

“Yes,” Rhys said.

“And if we become strong enough, we’ll be able to remember what you told us?” Owen asked. “Hmm…”

Rhys nodded. “Perhaps with some help from Star, you’ll remember, too. But as of now? I doubt it.”

“Try again,” Owen said, staring up at Rhys. “Say it again! Who is Emily?”

Rhys rubbed his temples. “The former Dragon Guardian.” He stared and waited for a reaction from the others, yet none came. They all looked at him with blank, expectant eyes.

“…You… you said something, didn’t you?” Owen asked.

“I did.” Rhys sighed.

“Guess now isn’t the time.” Star shrugged.

Emily giggled. “You’re silly! You just stood there!” she said. “Can I pet you?”

It seemed that Emily didn’t remember, either, Owen noticed. He hummed, puzzled.

“You… I would prefer if you did not,” Rhys said, looking away.

“Aww…” Emily sadly set the Lucario down.

“You must be super important, Mister Rhys!” Tanneth said. “I bet you’re a super strong hero, just like Emily!”

Rhys glanced down. “I have to disagree.”

“Huh? How come?” Emily said. “You seem like a nice Pokémon!”

“Hmm…” Owen said. “We probably have to become really strong,” he said. “How strong do you think? Do we have to… be stronger than Arceus himself?”

Rhys shook his head “I certainly hope not. Only a small fraction of his power should be needed to override it. This is especially true for those aligned with Star.”

“…Oh,” Owen said.

“Ohh, that’s right,” Amia said, tapping her ill-defined chin. “Owen, you never aligned with Star or Arceus. You’re… your own alliance right now, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t call it an alliance,” Owen said. “I just want to keep my options open. Maybe it’s just my instincts.”

“What?” Demitri said.

“I feel like I don’t know the full story,” Owen said. “Who makes decisions without as much information as they can get?”

“I mean, figure what I see’s enough.” Gahi shrugged. “Eh. But yer real thorough. I’ll trust ya. I ain’t gonna side with either a’them, then, if yer gonna do the same.”

Demitri and Mispy exchanged looks, but then nodded at Owen.

“You know best,” Mispy said.

“Aw, gee, guys…” Owen blushed.

“…Oh, no!” Emily said, straightening. “I have to go! A Pokémon is in trouble.”

Tanneth hopped onto Emily’s shoulder and burrowed into it, melting away.

The Lugia addressed them hastily. “Umm—can I come back later?”

“We should probably get going, too,” Rhys said. “Perhaps another time. Er… Would you mind if we set a Waypoint to this cave, so we can visit later without the travel time? It’s all the way across the world, after all…”

“Oh! Sure! That sounds cool,” Emily said.

“Perfect. I will set up—you can rescue that Pokémon, now.”

“Okay. See you!” Emily didn’t hesitate and jumped into the ocean, creating a wave that washed all the way into the caves. Owen grumbled and raised his tail so his flames didn’t get doused by the sea.

And then the waters calmed, the massive sea guardian sinking into its depths.

“She seemed nice,” Demitri said. “Weird, but nice.”

While everyone else nodded in agreement, Owen glanced at Anam again. All this time, his gooey body felt tense. His Perception gave him another piece of information: It felt almost like Anam was listening to somebody.

“Heart of Hearts?” Owen asked.

Anam jolted upright. “H-huh? Hi! Hello, Owen. Are you feeling okay?”

“Are you?” Owen asked.

Anam grinned. “Totally! Congratulations on evolving, Owen! That’s super cool!” He clapped his slimy hands together, bowing with so much enthusiasm, combined with his incessant giggling, that it fooled everyone else in the room. “I was just thinking, now that you can fly, and fight at your best, think of all the people you’re gonna be able to help! You and Gahi! Fused as the mighty Gawen—you need to come up with a cool name for all the other fusions, too!”

He looked happy as ever. And the others all grinned, too—even Rhys, suggesting that he sensed no strangeness from Anam’s aura. Owen smiled, if only because the Goodra’s was contagious. But he wasn’t fooled.

“Okay, everyone!” Anam said, raising his arms to get their attention. “Let’s go home!”

Deflating with relief after the morning’s chaos, they all agreed.

Owen spared one last glance at Anam before they warped back to Hot Spot. Anam’s aura looked normal, and his smile was wide as ever. But now that he was fully evolved, he realized that perhaps Anam could mask his aura from the others.

Zena nudged Owen’s side.

“Oh—hey, uh, Zena,” the Charizard greeted uncertainly. “Are you okay?”

While Anam’s body type was familiar to him, Zena’s felt foreign all over again. With a pang of frustration, he wondered if it used to be familiar before.

“Hello, Owen,” she said. “I didn’t get to congratulate you directly until now.”

“Oh, yeah!” Owen said, grinning—genuine, this time. “I forgot how much I missed wings. I mean, I guess I never missed them, since I didn’t know I had… you know what I mean.”

Zena giggled. “I think so.”

Owen grinned awkwardly. What else did she want him to say? “Are you tired?”

“What? Oh, I suppose so,” Zena said.

“Oh, that explains it,” Owen said.

Yet she didn’t leave to converse with the others. “…Owen, how are your memories doing?”

“Oh.” They were both masters of a awkward questions, it seemed. “Er, to be honest, I feel really muddled. I think fusing with Gahi messed with it again. But it’s okay! I think they’ll come back eventually. How come? Did I forget something important?”

Zena glanced away.

“Zena?” He fiddled with his claws nervously. “I didn’t forget your hatch day or something, did I? I’m—really sorry if I did. And what a day for it to happen on, too…”

“No, no,” Zena said. “Sorry. I’m just very sorry that you’ve lost your memories again. Hopefully we can recover them. Then it’ll all make sense, right?”

Owen nodded. “Yeah. Then maybe I’ll remember a bit more about you, too!” He laughed.

Zena didn’t return it.

“Zena?”

“Set to go!” Anam said, raising the Badge in the air. Rhys and Demitri did the same, and they all disappeared in a flash of light.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Chapter 39 – Correct

“Sooo, can we evolve now?” Demitri balled up his fists, shaking them enthusiastically. Mispy listened, but spent her time prodding at one of the Hot Spot mushrooms with a vine to feign a lack of interest.

“Not until we’re sure we can get you in a safe environment,” Rhys said.

Demitri frowned, tapping into some unused Dragon pride. “Aw, c’mon! I mean—if something bad happens, you can just warp us to Emily’s place, right? It’s not like we can fly off like those two!” He pointed at the fully-evolved Flygon and Charizard, both of whom smirked at Demitri in almost the same manner.

“How’s it feel competing fer third place?” Gahi taunted.

Owen quickly suppressed the smirk. “You know, Gahi, if they evolve fine, they’ll be the only ones to do it without some kind of assistance.”

“Feh, whatever helps’m sleep at night.” Gahi stuck his nose in the air triumphantly, his shining body gleaming against the mushroom glow.

“Well… that much is true…” Rhys considered their reasoning, but sounded cautious.

Owen had to agree. After all, they were strongly biased toward recovering their true forms and memories. For all Rhys knew, even with the two of them stable, Demitri and Mispy could make it all fall apart with a single misstep.

Demitri frowned, looking down. Maybe Rhys was—Mispy prodded Demitri hard on the back with her other vine. “I mean—we’re way better at meditating, compared to Gahi,” he said. “So, since we’re all behaved and all that, that means we’ll stay sane easier, right?”

Gahi’s right eye twitched. “Oy, that ain’t my fault, Eon made me nuts!”

“It’s likely a bit of both, Gahi,” Rhys said, earning an indignant flinch, then a snort, from the mutant. “Hmm… but I suppose if we have enough containment procedures in place, we should be able to evolve you without waiting for another opportunity where Emily is available. How does that sound?”

Demitri lit up. “That sounds great!”

Mispy nodded eagerly.

“How does that sound to everyone else?” Rhys clarified, turning to face the remainder of the crowd.

Owen rumbled uncertainly, startling himself with how deep the growl sounded. He had to get used to that. The much larger pseudo-dragon cleared his throat.. “We’ll have to make sure they can’t escape. And that if we get in trouble, we can warp them right to Emily’s place. But since we sorta… warped to the Chasm place, and then again to get out of it, I think the Badge is depleted for now. And—oh! The Dark Guardian! Is he—”

“I don’t think we should go there for now.” Rhys shook his head. “If we return now, he might feel threatened, after how Eon behaved. We should wait at least a day. Until then… Why don’t we have some breakfast? A… late… very late breakfast.” His shoulders slouched. It was a good thing he didn’t have to eat.

Demitri and Mispy’s stomachs suddenly growled. Mispy’s especially, droning on for several seconds after Demitri’s settled.

“W-wow, that’s right—we totally forgot to eat…”

“Food,” Mispy lamented.

Amia giggled. “Rhys, dear, why don’t we make something special for them?”

“That will give the Badges time to recharge,” Rhys agreed. “Very well. We will make something energizing. That will give me some time to prepare my training for them… I think we will be able to unlock their potential quickly.”

Demitri perked up. “Ooh—is it a secret technique? How come you never showed it to us before?”

“Is it dangerous?” Mispy asked.

“No, not necessarily,” Rhys said, holding up a paw. “I simply… cannot use it very often. But for this case, I think it will be worth our time. I can prepare while I am cooking with Amia.” He absently rubbed along the spike on his wrist, as if polishing it to think.

“Oh!” Anam said, slapping his hands together. “Um—well, while you guys are doing that, is it okay if I go back to Kilo Village to do some checking up?”

“Oh, of course, dear!” Amia said. “Going to help out Nevren?”

“Mhm!” He clasped his fingers together in prayer. “Also, I wanna do some extra blessings. It helps to calm the mind, you know?”

“Mind bringing over some extra Orans when you do?” Owen asked. “I think someone ate all of mine when I was asleep.”

Mispy shifted her weight subtly. Owen’s fire flashed an angry yellow, but then settled to a resigned orange. “Good luck with training, you two.”

<><><>​

It was later in the afternoon, but Owen was desperate for a nap. Breakfast—at this point, lunch—was still cooking, so Owen took the opportunity to retreat to his room. Zena had briefly followed him, but then saw Gahi speed along to catch up. She watched the pair pensively, but then sighed, deciding that she should remain behind with Demitri and Mispy in case they had to be Suppressed. Owen assumed that was the reasoning.

Most of the others shuffled away to their usual routines. Manny went to train with his spirits again; ADAM returned to his home to “normalize” more perceived imperfections; Valle did as he always did; Enet returned to her abode, instantly darkening the entire inside.

Content at the normalcy, Owen’s pace slowed to a leisurely wobble, wondering how comfortable the rocks would feel if he decided to collapse right there. Gahi was hanging around many paces behind him, leaning against walls or otherwise prodding at mushrooms with his feet, similar to Mispy. His walking pace was almost as fast as Owen when he ran, which made him wait for agonizingly long periods of time just to stay inconspicuously behind Owen.

Between Gahi’s lack of subtlety and Owen’s Perceive, Owen was simply waiting for Gahi to actually speak up.

Once he was at the entryway to his home, his patience finally ran out. “Need something, Gahi?”

“Eh—hey.” Gahi flinched, tail wrapping around himself. His slender-than-normal body made all the bends and curls that much more obvious.

“You tired?”

“…A li’l.”

The Flygon stood awkwardly by the entrance to his room. Owen, not sure where to go, sat by his bed and left half of it for him to sit on. He noticed that it was bigger than when he had first left it; did Amia take the time to gather more Rawst leaves for his new body?

Gahi sat next to Owen and curled his tail around himself. He played with the fan at the tip, tracing the angular decorations with the back of his claws.

For a while, the silence ate at both of them. The gravity of the morning caught up. Casual air slowly condensed into a thick tension.

Owen glanced at Gahi only once, but he spared him any intense stares. Still, he could feel it; Gahi was trembling. He mimicked Gahi’s body language, wrapping his tail around to play with the fire, sustaining a few embers at the tips of his claws like little candles.

“…That was… scary, huh?” Owen asked.

Gahi gulped and nodded. He didn’t break eye contact with his tail. “Yeah.”

Owen reached for a Rawst leaf and grabbed one; it was still soft. “I should probably get a cover for these to wrap them up. Lasts longer.”

“Not like sand,” Gahi said. “Stuff lasts ferever.”

“Heh… yeah.” Owen shifted where he sat.

Gahi scooted himself forward and leaned toward the ground. Not comfortable, he leaned back instead, stretching his slender body. Eventually, the svelte-bodied Flygon settled, belly facing the ceiling. “I just,” he said. “I feel like…”

Owen mirrored Gahi again, laying down next to him until they were both staring at the ceiling. Gahi’s tail twitched away from Owen’s.

“Like you weren’t in control?”

“Tch… yeah.”

“Yeah…”

More silence.

“…I’m beat.” Gahi rolled until he was on his side, facing Owen; he closed his eyes. “I’m just… gonna go fer an afternoon nap.”

Owen nodded. “That’s fine. I guess my bed is softer than the sand you’re used to and stuff.” He glanced at Gahi. It seemed like he was already drifting off. Smiling, the Charizard pushed himself into a sitting position. “I’m gonna—”

“Can you,” Gahi said quickly; one eye opened.

Owen stopped.

“Can you… just stick around a li’l while?”

The Charizard’s gaze softened further, breathing a small sigh that produced no flame.

“Sure, Gahi. I’ll be right here.”

He laid back down, staring at the ceiling again. His eyes focused on a small clutch of mushrooms in the corner. He always liked staring at that patch. He’d feel out of place if those ever fell; he’d need to find a new patch to call his favorite.

He wondered if it would help Gahi if he read a book or two. Perhaps game of marbles? Now that he actually had hands, it might be a little easier. But Owen couldn’t find his voice. They continued to fester in their silence a while longer.

“Am I me?” Gahi asked.

Both of the shiny dragon’s eyes were open, staring at nothing in particular, only straight to the rocks above them.

“…Feels like… I’m going through what you were going through…” Gahi’s voice got quieter and quieter. “When y’were all…”

“The way you are now,” Owen said, “is who you are. Back there… That wasn’t you. That was just… something Eon wanted you to be a long time ago.”

Gahi didn’t react. He kept staring. Owen glanced at him every so often out of the corner of his eye, but Gahi didn’t even notice. Owen wondered what it was like to have such little awareness. Even when he was tired, he knew where everything around him was.

Owen continued. “I think you’re you, right now.”

Gahi’s claws dug into the scales of his palms. “I couldn’t stop it… I just… wanted ter do it… ter fuse… so badly. I wanted ter fight… just… just fight… wasn’t the same… was like I’d die if I didn’t fight… Knew I wouldn’t… but I…”

Owen kept his voice steady and soft. “I was the same way, Gahi. I remember what happened when I fought Azu the first time. I was the same way—I just went… crazy. I kept attacking, even when he was an ember. And then I tried to attack his ember. Then I started to attack Mom… but I stopped really fast there… I remember that part. I remember stopping…”

“That’s pro’ly ‘cause yer Mystic. But I’m just… normal. If I go crazy again… I ain’t gonna stop it with that li’l… li’l privilege yeh got.”

“I don’t think you’ll go crazy again. Not on your own. Your aura’s better now. It’s fixed.” He made another uneasy glance at Gahi, but it wasn’t returned.

Gahi didn’t say anything, and the silence filled the air again.

Owen sighed. He could feel Gahi’s anxiety. He didn’t know how he could help. He went through the same thing—and in the end, Gahi was right. If he did lose himself again… he wouldn’t be able to stop it. That was part of his design.

“I don’t… I don’t wanna live like this,” Gahi said. “I j-just don’t… don’t like any o’ this!”

“Gahi…”

He rolled over, sniffled, and buried his head against the leaves. “It’s gonna happen. I’m gonna lose it… I’m not gonna be me… This isn’t me! I ain’t this! I’m—I’m just some kinda—thing! A weapon!” Gahi’s claws sank deep into the bedding, tearing leaves with the pressure. “I ain’t got a will—I’m just some weapon! All I wanted was ter fight! That’s all I am… just like he wanted, all this time… just… just…”

Owen moved toward Gahi and wrapped his arms around him, and then his wings. Gahi trembled, reflexively leaning against Owen.

“It’s okay, Gahi,” Owen said. “You’re okay. You’re fine now, right?”

Gahi sniffed and shrank.

“You’re you, right now. And that’s all that matters. If you got to this state once, you can do it again. But losing your mind again…. I won’t let that happen, okay? I’m the smart guy, right? I’ll figure it out.”

“Y-you better…”

“I will.” Owen nodded, making sure that Gahi saw his smile this time.

Gahi coughed, then sniffed, and then wiped his nostrils. “Ngg…”

Owen was ready to let go, but Gahi didn’t let him. His arms held him a little tighter. Owen complied, gently rubbing at the Flygon’s back.

“You’re alright, Gahi,” he said. “I think between me and the others, we’ve got it all under control.”

“Mn…” Gahi’s eyes blinked a bit more slowly this time.

Another long silence followed, broken intermittently by the Flygon’s sniffling. But this silence was cozier. Gahi’s body relaxed more, deflating against the soft layers of leaves. The sniffles became less and less frequent.

Eventually, Owen’s eyes grew heavy, and finally, closed. Gahi had drifted off long before then.

<><><>​

Some time later, Amia quietly stepped into the room and whispered, “Owen, Gahi, are you ready for—” But she saw neither of them in bed. Instead, there was a single being, curled up with a peaceful smile. Amia didn’t have to read their auras to see that they were okay. With a smile, she nodded to herself and stepped back, nodding to Alex just behind her.

“Is he okay?” he asked.

“They’re just fine.”

With that in order, Amia led the way to the Hot Spot training grounds deeper in the complex. She tried to look casual, idly talking with Alex, who fretted about whether they would be too far from them, but Amia was confident/

“They’re sleeping for now,” Amia said. “I think they’re tuckered out from the, um… everything. Rhys—is it safe if they’re fused?”

“They fused again?” Demitri said.

Mispy closed her eyes to scan for their auras. “Mmm… Mhm.” The Bayleef nodded. “But… stable.”

“Yes, I sensed it as well,” Rhys said, eyes closed and head down. “They’re fused together, but their auras are stable. We needn’t worry.”

“Oh, good,” Amia said. She clapped her hands together, grinning. “They had the cutest little smile! I figured they were fine, but I wanted to make sure.”

Alex bumped his cannons together, and the way Alex smiled, Amia suspected he was envisioning the image of those two sleeping. “I’m glad that Owen can at least accept that part of him. Gahi, too.”

Rhys nodded, lifting his head to address the others. He had been focused for so long that he almost looked strained. The cyan of his aura coursed along his undercoat. “Well, in any case, we should get to training. Demitri, Mispy, I hope you didn’t eat too much. I’m prepared for your training session.”

“Are you sure…?” Mispy asked. “Your aura…”

Amia nodded, frowning. “Yes, dear. Why is your aura so…”

“I have been… building it up. I’m not very used to it, so it may seem a bit… volatile. But, please—allow me to start. Give me a moment. This is a very advanced Mystic technique.”

His aura flared even more and then concentrated at his paws. He put them together, like he was forming a giant Aura Sphere, and then aimed it at the ground in front of him. His entire body glowed with aura power, and then, finally, he fired—it was a continuous blast of aura energy that piled up, taking the shape of something. Rhys grunted; he stopped and staggered backwards.

“Rhys?” Amia asked.

“I—I am fine,” Rhys said. “I was… a bit reckless. But I am fine. Give it a moment…”

The aural mass finished shaping itself.

“Whoa…” Demitri said.

“That’s…” Mispy added.

It looked just like Rhys in shape and size, but was cyan like the Aura Spheres he attacked with, as well as slightly transparent.

Rhys wobbled his way to the side of the arena and sat down to stay conscious. “There… Aura Substitute, I call it. Now, you may fight.”

“Fight… this thing?”

The aura entered a battle stance, awaiting the first move. It seemed to behave on its own in some autonomous fashion.

“How will that help?” Demitri frowned, looking disappointed. “And why’d you go through all that trouble? I wanna fight the real thing!”

“This will be significantly faster, if we wish to evolve you as soon as possible.” He didn’t speak again for a while, catching his breath. “The… hah… the aura you see there,” he continued, “is based on my theories on a Pokémon’s power, and their aura efficiency—their power and the channel that connects them to that divine energy. The aura matter that can widen and strengthen that connection… what you see before you is a manifestation of that in an almost pure form.

“It takes more and more energy to reach greater amounts of power. However, conversely, it takes relatively little energy to go from a low aura efficiency to that of a higher one. Since you are suppressed… this will be an easy way to unleash your powers again, safely.”

“…Mm… I think I understand,” Amia lied. “But, for the people who don’t… could you explain that more simply, dear?”

“Yeah!” Willow said, popping up from behind Mispy’s neck. She sprouted her fairy wings and landed on Demitri’s right tusk. “That was too many words! Say it again! But easy!”

Rhys sighed. “I took from myself a bit of my great aura matter and am going to give it to them, should they…”—Rhys panted—“should they defeat it.”

“Okay, dear. You rest,” Amia said. “Demitri, Mispy! Do you understand that?”

They both stared.

Demitri spoke, “So we… beat it up? He can’t just give it to us?”

“I could,” Rhys said, “but that would waste a lot of the energy. You have to be using your aura—both offense and defense, giving and receiving—to get the most from it. No, er, no pain, no gain.”

“Yes,” Amia said.

Mispy shrugged. “Makes sense. Easy.”

Some small amount of pride made Rhys snort. “Are you sure? I wouldn’t underestimate my Aura Substitute.”

“Oh, yeah?” Demitri tried to sound tough. “I’d like to see you—uh, it try.”

Rhys shrugged weakly. “Enjoy yourselves.” He motioned to the cyan double. “It will act when you do.”

Demitri stomped on the ground, accidentally cracking a bit of the rocks below. “Uh—Go!” He rushed at the aura as quickly as he could—in other words, at a speed that Rhys could outpace by walking. Mispy sighed, shaking her head; she took the free moment to charge her Solar Beam a quarter way, wiggling her leaf at the same time to form a Light Screen barrier around the two of them.

Rhys’ automaton fired an Aura Sphere directly at Demitri. It smashed against his face, yet he took the hit and kept going, closer until he was able to land the first hit, slashing with Fighting energy in his fists, hoping that this aura was still Fighting-Steel like the source material.

The aura sizzled at the attack, jumping away. It looked blurry and then solidified. Demitri looked at his claws, feeling an intense heat course through where his hand had connected until the warmth spread to his chest, and then out to the rest of his body.

“Did—did you feel that?” he said. “That was… strong! I wanna do that again!”

“Keep going!” Mispy shouted, halfway charged. She blasted Demitri with a wave of healing energy, easily repairing the damage Rhys’ double had inflicted on his nose.

“R-right!” Demitri followed up with the same pattern as before. This aura copy wasn’t as intelligent as Rhys and didn’t think very dynamically. It also seemed to only know one technique, Aura Sphere, and kept using it against Demitri. It was raw power—but between Mispy’s healing and Demitri powering through any strike, they would surely win.

Zena watched silently, looking like her mind was elsewhere. Only when Mispy’s neck leaves started to glow did she snap back to the battle at hand. “I’m impressed at their teamwork. Were they trained that way, or were they designed with that cooperation?”

“I’m not sure,” Amia said, “but I think at some point you need to learn how to cooperate, don’t you think?”

Rhys hummed. “They could have had the base instilled in their instincts, but we had to train them the natural way for real teamwork.”

Amia watched Rhys’ labored breathing. “How are you feeling, dear? Does it… hurt you, when they attack that aura?”

“Not at all. It isn’t me—it’s just my power in a shell, working off my basic fighting reflexes. It’s a tiny piece of me, just enough to let it fight at the simplest level. Nothing more.”

“…You seem to use Aura Sphere a lot,” Amia said.

“Well, er, it’s very reliable,” Rhys said. “It isn’t as if I’m fighting Ghosts very often.”

“Hmm… I suppose Owen will have an easier time against you, if that’s the case,” Amia hummed. “After all, one of his Types can handle Aura Sphere quite well. And the other one has an advantage over Steel!”

“Ngh—well, he doesn’t need this training,” Rhys dismissed. “…Amia, get ready to bring them to Emily if this does not go well. The moment that aura shell is destroyed, they will evolve. I know how much power I put and how much they need.”

“Mm, of course,” Amia said. “Zena? Can you help?”

“I will. Emily should be back at her cave by now. Unless she had to rescue someone else… We only need one Badge, right? We should still have one more with energy for a warp there. I just hope we won’t have to restrain them.”

Rhys wondered what a fusion of Demitri and Mispy would bring about to this group. Something that was unstoppably strong, yet also able to rapidly heal from any of their strikes? That wasn’t a battle of containment. That was a battle of stalling for time.

Amia nodded. “We’ll just have to hope. If anything, it’s on the other side of the world, right? It should be safe. They aren’t fast like Gawen. And they can’t fly.” The Gardevoir paused. “Rhys, they can’t fly, when fused, right?”

“No, a Demitri-Mispy fusion shouldn’t be able to fly. They won’t have wings.”

“Good, good…” Briefly, Amia had envisioned them flying using vines for wings, somehow.

“Now!” Mispy yelled.

Demitri dove out of the way and the Bayleef fired her Solar Beam straight at their shell of an opponent. It disintegrated immediately and the Beam left a bright, smoldering spot on the wall for Amia to repair later. Cyan particles rose and evaporated and Demitri and Mispy felt the power contained within rush through them.

“Ooh, I think I felt a bit of that, myself,” Amia said, rubbing her arms. “Rhys, just how strong are you?”

“A bit on the strong side,” Rhys said. “Shouldn’t you be observing them?”

“A-ah, sorry.”

Just then, a white light enveloped them both. The group watched with tension; if they had to deal with a fusion that was slow yet unstoppable, perhaps they could focus more on blowing them back with distanced techniques. Hydro Pump—that wouldn’t hurt them much, but would it push them back?

More worrisome—combining that with Gawen. Hopefully they kept the same slowness that Demitri had so they could outpace them to Gawen’s bed.

The usual white light was tarnished by black sparks. Their forms grew and morphed. And then it faded…

Demitri didn’t change very much compared to the normal Haxorus form. A bit taller, a bit bulkier, with defined muscles along his limbs. His tail had an additional ax-like appendage on either side, and the axes on his head were somewhat longer. It looked like they were detached slightly on his cheeks, too, removable like a self-grown weapon.

Mispy, however, was dramatically different. While she still had a Meganium’s head and body, her limbs and tail were replaced instead by vines that transitioned from the pale green of her body into a deeper green at the end. The vines writhed constantly and it was hard to tell what else was hidden away there. Likely, more vines, each one as thick as what her legs would have been.

“W-wow,” Demitri said. “That’s… that’s so… powerful! I feel like I can lift a mountain! …C… can I lift a mountain?”

Demitri and Mispy both looked toward one another, then at Rhys, Amia, and Zena, all of them with a Suppressive Aura ready. It seemed that, briefly, the pair worried that they would lose themselves even more than the Suppressors were anticipating. Yet they felt normal. All of Rhys’ meditation had paid off after all—at least for them.

Finally, Rhys answered Demitri. “Not quite at that level, Demitri. Mispy, how are you feeling?”

The monstrous Meganium’s eyes closed, but the flower petals around her neck, a vibrant pink with a white trim, swayed serenely on their own. She looked at Rhys and smiled. “I feel… correct.”

Amia and Willow cheered, the latter jumping from Rhys’ head to Zena’s and finally to Amia’s.

“You’re both okay!” Amia said. “I can’t believe it! We didn’t have to fight you or anything!”

“Can we still do that?” Demitri asked.

Amia held her arms up quickly. “A-ah, let’s wait for a moment. Um, Rhys?”

The Lucario finally let loose a laugh. “I’m not surprised. Compared to Gahi, Demitri and Mispy were much more disciplined in their meditation. I expected them to stabilize first.”

“Does that mean we beat Gahi and Owen?” Demitri said. “We stabilized first?”

“Well… you evolved last,” Rhys said. “But Owen stabilized first anyway.”

“But that’s cheating, right? Because he’s Mystic. So that means that we won, because we got to stabilize all on our own.” Demitri crossed his arms defiantly. Mispy nodded sagely. If Demitri was the muscle, and the brain was a muscle, then that meant he must have said the smartest thing in the room just then. They won, and that’s what mattered.

Rhys rubbed his forehead. “Yes, I suppose if you go by those rules, you two were the only ones to stabilize through training and effort alone. Congratulations. You win by default.”

Amia giggled. Zena puffed her cheeks defiantly but let them have their moment.

“Great!” Demitri said, pumping his fist in the air. “We won, Mispy!” Giddy, the monstrous Haxorus held his arms against his chest, hugging himself in triumph, admiring the toughness of his new set of scales.

Mispy nudged Demitri on the side playfully with her head. A few of her vines twisted around his abdomen.

“What now?” Mispy asked

“Let’s wait for Gahi and Owen to wake up,” Rhys said. “After that, we can plan our next steps. With the Dark Orb in… uncertain conditions, our options are a bit narrow. The only confirmed sighting we have is the Frozen Oceanside, and we may have already lost that one…”

“But it’s worth checking anyway, just in case,” Amia said.

Zena hummed. “Of course. And the other, is…”

“Dark Mist Swamp,” Rhys said. “Oh, and Arachno Forest. I’m certain there is a Guardian there of some kind, from my discussions with Star.”

“And then there’s the Orb at Zero Isle,” Amia said, counting using tiny embers. “That, counting the ones we know Eon already has, and then the ones that we have…. Oh! Rhys! Isn’t that everything? Aside from Brandon at the factory… that’s all of the Orbs!”

“It is.” Rhys hummed worriedly. “We’re nearly there. If we can gain an edge against Eon, this may very well work out…”

Willow hopped onto Rhys’ head, nibbling on a tuft of his fur. “And then?”

“And then…” Rhys said.

“…We beat the bad guy up?” Willow asked.

“…I suppose we do.”

<><><>​

Gawen woke up with a sharp gasp, eyes opening instantly. Memories flooded his mind and his hand reflexively grabbed at his chest, clutching at an invisible heart. He grunted and doubled over, panting, shaking. He covered his mouth next, gagging. The phantom pain of the old memory was overwhelming. He gagged again, nausea taking over, and for a moment it felt like he had been ripped asunder. He trembled, roaring softly into the bed beneath him, slashing his tail against the wall. He scorched one of his books—thankfully, made of Rawst leaves, it did not burn.

The pain slowly passed enough for him to move again. Dizzy. By the color of the mushrooms, it was late in the morning. Had he slept the whole day and night away?

He sluggishly got out of bed and stepped outside, spotting a few of the Guardians milling about in town, passing the time as they pleased. It looked like Enet was playing a game of chase with Willow. ADAM was polishing Valle’s position in the center of town, transforming it into some kind of altar. Valle appreciated the reverent feeling it gave him, and he glowed a little brighter than usual. Manny, meanwhile, was sparring against Azu, Roh, and Verd all at once, shouting something about Yen being much harder to fire them up. It seemed that Anam, James, and Nevren were still in Kilo, likely pulling another all-nighter to catch up on paperwork.

“Oh! Owen—er, Gawen, I mean.” Amia approached them. “Um… look! Demitri and Mispy evolved, and they’re just fine!”

Gawen stared at the evolved pair emptily. They waved. Demitri was hefting Mispy’s entire body in the air as part of testing his strength, though she proved to be too light. Mispy, meanwhile, was re-learning how to walk when she had no legs, yet at the same time, had a hundred legs.

But they stopped when they realized how pale the other half of Team Alloy seemed. Demitri set Mispy down; the Meganium wrapped her vines around the Haxorus, setting him on her back. Clumsily, she slid to Gawen.

“Are you okay?” Demitri asked.

“You look…” Mispy tilted her head to look at them at a different angle.

“Did you have a nightmare, dear?” Amia asked. “It must have been so frightful, for you to look so… ghostly.”

Gawen looked at Amia, then at the others. He felt sick from that final memory. And sick from it all finally piecing together. There was a glimmer of relief that it was finally all there. No—not all there. There were still swaths of memories between then and now that were a scrambled blur. But the beginning—his first life—it was all there. But these memories…

Gawen tried to steady his breathing, tried to meditate, but that incessant shaking was back again. It took a long, tense silence for him to suppress it enough to speak coherently. “I… remember.”

Amia’s eyes flashed in surprise. “You… do, dear?” she asked delicately.

Gawen nodded. He stared at his hands, and then intensely at Demitri and Mispy. With Owen’s next words, the same memories came flooding back.

“I remember… Quartz.”
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
Hey, it's me from catnip! Apparently I already r/r'ed the prologue a few years ago? Whoops. I reread it as a refresher but reviewed Chapter 1-2 instead.

Owen walked with a spring in his step, tail flame blazing happily.
I thought this was a really cute bit of description.

Not that it mattered; complete darkness was a foreign concept to most Charmander.
Is it? I feel like the constant light from their tails means that they're never in total darkness unless they're about to die.

“Aw, thanks!” Owen graciously took them, counting them for inventory, and slipped the three apples into his pouch.
The "counting them for inventory" phrase was unclear to me -- because we don't yet know there are three, it feels like he's sitting there counting out a lot of items in front of the gift-giver, which made this feel like a dick move, not a gracious one. But if there's just three, he can probably count them just by looking at them since the group is so small, so it seems strange to call out that he counts them. I think something like "mentally counting" would imply the visual/non-physical counting if that's what you were going for.
He had two Oran Berries, two elixirs, two apples, a Pecha Berry, a Heal Seed, a Totter Orb, and—just in case—an Escape Orb
And like ... does he eat one between scenes here?

Owen left at a full sprint, too full of energy to go any slower, and only looked back to wave her goodbye.
This is commenting on really old prose from a long story, so I don't really think it's reasonable to ask you to change the style, but -- you tend to list clauses in a non-intuitive order, which makes the sentence hard to parse. Example above. For me it's how much information is here and how it keeps getting contradicted/qualified. In my head:
"Owen left at a full sprint" -- action
"too full of energy to go any slower" -- cause
"and only looked back to wave her goodbye" -- action that directly contradicts the first
So reading through, we see a thing, and then we learn why the thing happened, and then we actually learn that he didn't do the thing in the way that we were led to believe that he did -- the sentence feels kind of awkward as a result.

Maybe rewrite as: "He looked back to wave her goodbye, and then--too full of energy to go any slower--he left at a full sprint." This to me conveys the same ideas in a much more clear order.

Muscle weighed more than fat. Owen worriedly pinched at his gut, wondering if his chubby Charizard genes were coming through before the rest.
Salamanders typically store fat in their tails! Belly fat is a pretty mammalian thing since they're warm blooded and don't need to worry about temperature regulating their organs as much.

The ground rumbled, the boulder that had led to the opening of his hidden village rolling back into place, blending in with the rest of the hill.
This is a sentence splice; you need either "the ground rumbled; the boulder that had led [...]" or "the ground rumbled. The boulder that had led [...]", etc -- can't join two complete sentences with a comma.

summer breeze tickling his flame
cute bit of description here!

Owen decided not to think too hard about it.
I didn't really follow what he was trying not to think about here.

The Golem sighed and wobbled away.

<><><>​
“Kid… not a kid… I’m just a little late, is all. I bet I’m way stronger than even the average Charmeleon! Stronger than that Golem, too, if he didn’t have an advantage.” Owen mumbled more to himself, the rest incomprehensible, clutching his bag.
This scene break seems weird since the ideas in the new scene directly follow the end of the previous scene. Maybe add something about how Owen was still fuming even after he reached his destination.

He put his two spoons in his left hand and shook Owen’s with his right.
This feels like another human-behavior thing, like the belly fat -- would a society that has many non-handed members (I'm thinking birds and fish) even evolve handshaking as a greeting in the first place? Maybe some sort of head motion instead, since that's a much more common denominator?

Nevren continued. “Ahh, I see you have a Provisionary Heart Badge. Training to become one of the Thousand, are you? There are quite a few open slots coming up soon, you know. Sixteen official retirements.”
This suggested that the name is literal, and there are indeed exactly 1,000 people with this job. Which to me seems strange I guess? What if the population grows and they need more? What if they find a different way to do this job and they realize they don't need a thousand members?

Owen had no idea why Nevren would want to give him a gift so randomly. But he wasn’t going to question a freebie!
I, of course, have no use for it, but you certainly do.
yeah he's definitely evil lol

He knew the answer. He knew these three were his students. Trapinch Gahi, Axew Demitri, Chikorita Mispy. It was obvious to him! But why?
A lot of "he" here -- unclear if Owen is deja-vu'ing that Gahi/Demitri/Mispy are his own students in a different timeline, or if Owen knew they were Rhys's students and just forgot.

Their entire conversation felt like one giant déjà vu. Everything today did.
Oh, is this groundhog's day but with memory wipe? Interesting take on the PMD amnesia.

He felt a little bad about hurting those Pokémon, but they were the ones attacking him.
Getting ejected from a Dungeon often left the victim exhausted… but ferals like those were resilient.
The concept of ferals here is a bit unclear to me -- why are they attacking? Are they really mindless? It's interesting to see how Owen sees them as "resilient" when he later ends up taking a lot of abuse and is suddenly horrified at the idea of being left for dead, as if he hadn't just done that.

It's admittedly been a while since I've played PMD, but -- I thought the pokemon in dungeons were just regular pokemon that got driven to aggression by the dungeon, not a separate species? Once you recruit them, they stop attacking you/will talk to you/behave just like other pokemon in town, so they definitely don't seem "feral" in the canon I remember. I feel like this is more with PMD fanon but I'm not fully immersed in how it functions?

A strange gravity prevented him from climbing the walls, let alone flying over them if he ever sprouted wings. Perhaps in his dreams he could.
And this is a fun take on the strangeness of dungeons, but I don't really have a good idea of the environment. Aerodactyl seem pretty big, so are the walls even taller than that? Why is there a strange gravity? Why are there even these dungeons in the first place?

And I think it's fine if the answer is "they're fucking mysterious kint calm down"; it just feels like Owen isn't viewing them as an inhabitant of this world, rather than an inhabitant of Kilo. If it's common knowledge that these things are weird twisted labyrinths that no one understands but everyone just accepts, then I think it's okay to mention that.

Muscles bulged unnaturally. It wasn’t a normal Snorlax—and Owen wasn’t prepared for whatever it had in store.
This picture didn't really work for me: Snorlax are mostly pudge, so is this trying to say that it's all muscle instead of fat?

Owen didn’t like those eyes. Trained, focused. Malevolent. What did this one have in mind? He saw that look often in town—outlaws that were captured, still bitter with defeat. But this one wasn’t defeated.
Interesting that he's bitter with defeat without having been defeated. So this is the tie-in to Prayers Unheard?

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. You’re pretty smart, aren’t you?”
Their dialogue here was pretty fun!

All that was left behind were a few stray embers from his tail; Owen bolted.
Embers are usually burning coals or bits of wood -- without a source of carbon or some external power source, combustion doesn't really occur on its own and the fire would just vanish immediately.

Owen turned down the corridor, but then skidded to a stop. “W-wait! That’s not fair!” he shouted.
Owen stared at the path—or, rather, the lack of a path—ahead of him. He had run into a dead end. There was no way out but to backtrack, and that was where Aerodactyl was rapidly closing in.
To me this is another effect-before-action when it doesn't have to be -- we immediately get the answer to "what's not fair", so it's not like there's really any payoff. Instead I just felt temporary confusion? I think in this case it's also a bit tricky since Owen actively knows more than the narrator in this instance, so it feels like information is being hidden for no reason.

He stopped advancing if only to taunt, but it was clear that he was looking for a good way to strike without dealing with more of Owen’s tricks.
"as if only to taunt" I think

“Th-those are illegal! You can’t use those without Heart permission!” But Owen realized shortly after that this was an outlaw. What was one broken rule if they already cast the law aside?
hahaha what a cute little bean. Love the thought process.

He was bumbling where he stood, wobbling horribly. His jaws opened wide and he fired—unexpectedly—a set of rocky pellets toward Owen. Rock Blast—Owen was sure his species wasn’t capable of such a technique normally.
I guess for me this falls flat -- a big "um akshually you can't learn that" in the face of a more dire situation.

A lot of the times in this world it feels like the exact semantics are fleshed out in extreme detail: Owen has two Elixirs, three two apples, Aerodactyl can't learn Rock Blast, Hypnosis can't do X, Eviolite works in this exact way. But the bigger questions I have about how the world remain unanswered. What are ferals supposed to be/does anyone know? Same with dungeons? Why did Owen even want to go to the dungeon in the first place, why did he go alone? I left this chapter knowing more about Aerodactyl learnsets than I did about why Owen wants to be a Heart (which does get answered later), I think -- for me the priorities felt off.

But also! That's sort of a hallmark of an isekai/game-esque genre, so this is probably personal preference. Make of it what you will.

He couldn’t use his Badge. He didn’t have time, anyway; it needed a few seconds to activate. Seconds he didn’t have. The moment he made a move, Aerodactyl would attack.
I think the tension here is described well, and you do a good job of laying out the stakes, but -- after the Warp Seed it feels like he's got a lot of time to poke around the dungeon. Can't he activate his Badge then?

If he’d wake up at all at the entrance, or if he’d just be there, too weak to fight, left for the ferals to eat.
yeah shit Owen it's almost like beating up someone in a dungeon *does* have life-threatening consequences for them

“Goodra Anam said that a ranked system isn’t good for morale, so we aren’t the worst or the best!
haha this line of dialogue is great too

Owen had to shut his eyes again. He saw a blinding beam of light, and it was simply too much.
“Eep—! O-oh, it’s you,” Owen said, spotting Mispy, clearly the healer of the team. Her vines gently rubbed at his spine.
“Nng, that’s the spot,” he said. “Was that Heal Pulse? You know Heal Pulse?”
Also confusing imo -- she enters with a really strong attack, but she's *clearly* the healer, but then he's surprised that she's able to heal him?

He shut his eyes, thinking happier thoughts, like when he had cut his arm on a rock when he fell, and how his mother used the very same technique to patch him up.
The way that "he cut his arm on a rock" immediately follows "happier thoughts" doesn't make it sound like a happier thought. Maybe something like "he shut his eyes, thinking happier thoughts, like how his mother had used the very same technique to patch him up when he had cut his arm on a rock"

“I—I kinda feel like we met before, too,” Demitri admitted. “That’s crazy! We must have good chemistry.”
oh nice they all have amnesia

“Hey, self-defense,” Gahi said. “Besides, this place is overpopulated with those pests anyway. Isn’t enough food fer ‘em ter all survive.”
"Because they might've died anyway" isn't really a good justification to attack someone though. Are we supposed to side with Gahi here?

Like. A feral cat might get hit by a car later, or it might starve to death. I'd still be a dick for punching it in the face -- there's a difference between acknowledging that something else might harm someone and actively harming them. Self-defense is a much more sound argument for Gahi to push here, but even that's a bit unclear.

“Hypnosis puts Pokémon to sleep. It doesn’t control them.”
Seems like a needlessly stupid point to push given that there are Pokemon capable of mind control. Like "oh, you can't shoot someone with a sword" doesn't necessarily mean that the person didn't get shot, it just means the shooter didn't use a sword.

Mispy closed her eyes, breathing out. “Ahead,” she announced.
Didn't quite follow -- is she supposed to be psychic? Good memory?

“I guess y’did beat ‘em up kinda bad,” Gahi said. “Didn’t think they looked that bad when we passed ‘em by the first time. Maybe these’re just the ones that got roughed up the most.”

“To be honest, a lot of these don’t actually look like your flames, Owen,” Demitri said, pointing at the Paras. “Looks like some of these guys got hit by something a lot worse. But at least the burns are gone.”

Owen rubbed his head. Foggy as his memory was, Demitri did have a point. He hadn’t fought too many of them. He couldn’t have burned these all. Still, it was a good thing he came when he did. “Either way, I’m glad I came to undo some damage.”
And again -- feels like this is viewed as a really Good Guy moment when it's almost barely the bare minimum, especially since Owen has now seen and felt the potential terror of being abandoned in the middle of the woods with the imminent threat of being devoured.

I think a lot of this could be alleviated with a more explicit reasoning for what ferals are, what they do, how they're different from non-ferals. It's usually seen as morally acceptable to kill a zombie or something that's explicitly "brain-dead", but the way ferals behave here, where they can accept food from Owen and interact with him, suggests they're more like wild animals -- in which case it feels incredibly blase. Like if I wandered into the woods and was surprised that a bear attacked me; yes, it'd be acceptable to act in self-defense, but if I *kept* wandering into woods and *kept* being surprised that bears attacked me and *kept* injuring them in self-defense but not even mercy killing them, just leaving them to be cannibalized -- why am I going into the woods in the first place, I guess?

“Meditating?” Owen said. “You guys meditate, too? I do it all the time! It’s really nice to clear your head.”
oh sweet so it really is all group self-induced amnesiac groundhog day loop

“I’m—sorry,” Rhys said. “I was thinking about what I could prepare for a Charmander.”
yes and hannibal lecter is having you over for dinner

“Pink? No, usually greens and yellows,” Demitri said.

Rhys sighed, pausing his food prep. “I am the one who is most in tune with the aura,” he said. “And I say that whatever phenomenon it is, it’s nothing to worry about. Now, enough talk of spirits. Dinner is ready.”
100% good guy only vibes, absolutely nothing wrong here, super okay, everything is fine

“Of where your parents live?” Rhys asked. “Revealing this to me will change nothing.”
sweet lil' naive owen

He saw the pink mist again. Oh, Mew in the stars, he thought, taking his final bite. Can’t I have just one normal day?
oh lol the pink mist is Mew isn't it

I think overall this story is interesting -- the characters are fun, you have good dialogue, and there's definitely something going on under the seams. The banter/humor is definitely a highlight. For me I found the prose a bit muddled and I would've loved to understand some of the broader strokes of the worldbuilding -- the latter is probably something that gets expanded upon at some point in the next, you know, 615k words. Feels kind of weird to redline something so closely while only reading such a small percentage of it, but I also wanted to give you a detailed review with what I've read.

And I don't think you need to explain the entire world right away, either. For example, I think that the scene in Town describing the various buildings was cute, but it didn't really add things to the story at the time, and given that we immediately switch settings, it didn't really feel necessary. I think it's far more helpful to describe things as they come up -- so concepts such as ferals, dungeons, etc and the way that characters react to them made it feel a lot more convoluted than I think you intended. Am I supposed to side with Gahi re: ferals? Is Owen supposed to be a uniquely good guy for healing the hurt he created? Does Owen's bag have a hole in it, causing his apples to slowly fall out? I think those are character questions that rely on the worldbuilding to answer, but I don't have enough of a basis in the setting to fully understand what those answers are supposed to be.

Still! Fun concept, probably wasn't meant for this much side-eyeing of what goes on beneath the hood. I did enjoy reading!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Whew, that's a lot to reply to. I handled the others in DMs, but since you're offline at the moment, I'll just toss them here and you can respond as you like in whatever medium. Should probably do some of these in public anyway so it doesn't look like I never reply~

Is it? I feel like the constant light from their tails means that they're never in total darkness unless they're about to die.
That's precisely it. "Foreign concept" is a bit of a hyperbole here--it's more that, if a Charmander opens their eyes and they don't see anything, that's very, very bad.

I think something like "mentally counting" would imply the visual/non-physical counting if that's what you were going for.
I'll keep that in mind. Owen's a bit anal about inventory managementearly on (very by-the-books about standard procedure, recommended equipment, so on so forth. Ironically I don't mention this explicitly very often afterward, but, well, establishing traits and such...)

And like ... does he eat one between scenes here?
I have a funny story about this: The gifted apple scene was a later addition, and I didn't realize I had acknowledged the specific number of apples in a later scene that I had made months before. Whoops!

This is commenting on really old prose from a long story, so I don't really think it's reasonable to ask you to change the style, but -- you tend to list clauses in a non-intuitive order, which makes the sentence hard to parse. Example above. For me it's how much information is here and how it keeps getting contradicted/qualified. In my head:
"Owen left at a full sprint" -- action
"too full of energy to go any slower" -- cause
"and only looked back to wave her goodbye" -- action that directly contradicts the first
So reading through, we see a thing, and then we learn why the thing happened, and then we actually learn that he didn't do the thing in the way that we were led to believe that he did -- the sentence feels kind of awkward as a result.

Maybe rewrite as: "He looked back to wave her goodbye, and then--too full of energy to go any slower--he left at a full sprint." This to me conveys the same ideas in a much more clear order.
So, I get what you mean about odd ordering, but in this one instance, I think I have it right but didn't depict the words properly. Have you ever run forward, but then, while running forward, looked back and waved--while still running forward? That. You run the risk of hitting something or tripping, but that's what he did very briefly.

Salamanders typically store fat in their tails! Belly fat is a pretty mammalian thing since they're warm blooded and don't need to worry about temperature regulating their organs as much.
This is a direct reference to the fact that Charizard have a lot of belly going on, and Owen is equating that to him manifesting Charizard traits early. Half-wishful thinking disguised as horror, as you know from later that he considers himself a late evolver who will become a Charizard any day now!

I didn't really follow what he was trying not to think about here.
"Are those Miltank... giving patients their own milk?" -As a reptile, this is doubly strange. But he doesn't want to be too speciesist about it.

This feels like another human-behavior thing, like the belly fat -- would a society that has many non-handed members (I'm thinking birds and fish) even evolve handshaking as a greeting in the first place? Maybe some sort of head motion instead, since that's a much more common denominator?
Yeah, it's a little human. Unlike uA, the xenofiction is fairly light here, and in fact, based on demographics, a disproportionately high number of Pokemon are four or two-legged in this society, and there are a lot of humanlike mannerisms abound. It's intentional, but I do want to include some quadrupedal and other interactions later, like nodding (which happens a lot) and such. But between bipedal Pokemon, of which they are numerous, hand shakes do happen here. I thought this bit out, and the humanlike nature is somewhat intentional--hell, the Waypoints are in alphabetical order, suggesting they at least write in English / Unown runes.

This suggested that the name is literal, and there are indeed exactly 1,000 people with this job. Which to me seems strange I guess? What if the population grows and they need more? What if they find a different way to do this job and they realize they don't need a thousand members?
This is my bad. The Thousand are not the only ones employed; they are just the thousand that are sent on the dangerous stuff like Dungeon explorations and so on. There are significantly more staff doing other things like bookkeeping, inventory, and the countless other government jobs you'd expect from a society. The Thousand is just the, for lack of a better word, glamorous position.

yeah he's definitely evil lol
I'll put you firmly in the 'Nevren is a bad guy' early-guess crowd. You aren't alone.

The concept of ferals here is a bit unclear to me -- why are they attacking? Are they really mindless? It's interesting to see how Owen sees them as "resilient" when he later ends up taking a lot of abuse and is suddenly horrified at the idea of being left for dead, as if he hadn't just done that.

It's admittedly been a while since I've played PMD, but -- I thought the pokemon in dungeons were just regular pokemon that got driven to aggression by the dungeon, not a separate species? Once you recruit them, they stop attacking you/will talk to you/behave just like other pokemon in town, so they definitely don't seem "feral" in the canon I remember. I feel like this is more with PMD fanon but I'm not fully immersed in how it functions?
So, one thing about a lot of PMD fics, which is probably a design flaw, is that they establish early on what their Dungeon, feral, and so on mechanics are, because it differs... a lot from fic to fic, even from game to game at times. In all games but Super, you can recruit the Dungeon pokemon. In Super, you cannot. In Kilo, there is a clear difference between feral and civil Pokemon, but I did really flub the feral treatment early on when I was still exploring the ropes. Here's a basic outline:

1. Feral pokemon are like wild animals, but have varying levels of intelligence depending on the species. Bugs and the like tend to be bottom tier, while most vertebrates tend to be higher-tier, with certain Pokemon like Zoroark, some Psychics and Dragons, and other 'high-skill' Pokemon tend to show near-humanlike intelligence, if not humanlike-expressed-in-a-different-way.

2. When one is defeated in a Dungeon, they are ejected and typically are unharmed, but particularly strong attacks can leave marks. However, in the power scaling of Kilo, the heal factor is fairly high,and typically, they recover from their injuries. Additionally, being local to the environment, the feral Pokemon often don't bother one another--this is a reference to how wild pokemon in Dungeons don't attack each other, only people who get in their 'territory.' Feral pokemon are territorial to outsiders, but seem to be particularly aggressive in Dungeons compared to outside.

3. Gahi's statements were meant to be flippant and callous, but not necessarily heartless considering the resiliency bit mentioned above, and Owen's behavior to go well out of his way to check on them is meant to be a little "extra." But I don't think the example here was depicted in a very effective way, so I may revise this to better illustrate their characters.

This is sort of the pitfall in trying to establish a world's culture in relation to their fantasy power scaling through character reactions alone, I guess. I could definitely look into ways to better handle it. I imagine @OldschoolJohto would also be interested in this particular aspect of the story, since I think I had given the wrong impression as well. Or was it @Pen? One of the most recent reviewers. Between the three of you I've gotten more than enough information to start revising these early chapters again for a better start.

Aerodactyl seem pretty big, so are the walls even taller than that? Why is there a strange gravity? Why are there even these dungeons in the first place?
That last question is plot relevant, but super way later! But that's a ton of PMD fics, so that's nothing unique. But yeah, this is just establishing Dungeon mechanics for way later, since I don't think I really do a lot of Dungeon diving after chapter... 15 or so. Or I gloss over it, since it's not really important. Was never a fan of mook battles, etc.

If it's common knowledge that these things are weird twisted labyrinths that no one understands but everyone just accepts, then I think it's okay to mention that.
Noted.

This picture didn't really work for me: Snorlax are mostly pudge, so is this trying to say that it's all muscle instead of fat?
That's precisely what I was going for. Imagine a Snorlax but they're built like a Machoke. Yes, that's why Owen ran. I would, too.

Interesting that he's bitter with defeat without having been defeated. So this is the tie-in to Prayers Unheard?
Nice catch! This is her son.

Embers are usually burning coals or bits of wood -- without a source of carbon or some external power source, combustion doesn't really occur on its own and the fire would just vanish immediately.
This is sort of rule of funny, but also a small foreshadow to how "aura" (magically) generated flames linger a little, like the flickering power source left behind little dots of "infinity energy" to still emit flames for a few seconds. Not that they ever call it infinity energy here. It's "aura."

it feels like information is being hidden for no reason.
Story of my life. I'm glad it gets better later, but apologies for this kind of plotting style early on. Sure, it builds intrigue, but for short-term prose like this, not so much.

What are ferals supposed to be/does anyone know? Same with dungeons? Why did Owen even want to go to the dungeon in the first place, why did he go alone? I left this chapter knowing more about Aerodactyl learnsets than I did about why Owen wants to be a Heart (which does get answered later), I think -- for me the priorities felt off.

But also! That's sort of a hallmark of an isekai/game-esque genre, so this is probably personal preference. Make of it what you will.
I covered most of this up above, but Owen went into a Dungeon basically to train. It was an easy Dungeon, normally, and he used it for practice. But yeah, the """"subtle""" (not subtle) info-dumping detracted a little from the tutorial chapters of the story, I think.

The way that "he cut his arm on a rock" immediately follows "happier thoughts" doesn't make it sound like a happier thought.
Would you believe me if I said the odd order was intentional? To Owen, it was a vaguely happy memory. Despite his kind outward behavior, Owen has a small problem of liking fights and the thrill of what comes from them. Don't worry, he went to therapy. Well, used to.

Self-defense is a much more sound argument for Gahi to push here, but even that's a bit unclear.
See above, I agree.

Seems like a needlessly stupid point to push given that there are Pokemon capable of mind control. Like "oh, you can't shoot someone with a sword" doesn't necessarily mean that the person didn't get shot, it just means the shooter didn't use a sword.
So, this is sort of actually driving the point that in this setting, Psychic-related powers are typically... muted, compared to what you'd expect from canon. For the average Pokemon, mind control is far from trivial, and given that it's being used as a hasty excuse from Aerodactyl, they're just shutting down his point.

And again -- feels like this is viewed as a really Good Guy moment when it's almost barely the bare minimum, especially since Owen has now seen and felt the potential terror of being abandoned in the middle of the woods with the imminent threat of being devoured.
Covered above.

I think it's far more helpful to describe things as they come up -- so concepts such as ferals, dungeons, etc and the way that characters react to them made it feel a lot more convoluted than I think you intended. Am I supposed to side with Gahi re: ferals? Is Owen supposed to be a uniquely good guy for healing the hurt he created?
Aand covered above. Looks like this is your main gripe, and you're right, I didn't really depict this all that effectively. I'll look into ways to more accurately/consistently portray the feral dynamic in my next revision of these chapters. Just have to strike a balance between info dumping and leaving things for the reader to find out later... If you have any advice on that, I'd be happy to hear it.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Special Episode 3 - When the World Was Small

Bright lights lined narrow hallways of concrete and metal. White walls surrounded polished floors of marble tile. Every sound echoed for ages across the labyrinth. A youthful, albeit deep, voice echoed from the inside of one of the many rooms that lined these halls. It was monotone, growing more and more bored with each number said.

“253.”

“Next.”

“…812.”

“Next.”

“439.”

“Next.”

“…Uncle Hecto?”

The Charizard looked up, eyes half-closed. The canid Zygarde in front of him stared in his usual, unblinking expression. Between the big, empty room that surrounded them—a pure white cube that would take a full minute to traverse at a leisurely walk—and the only thing of note being the two individuals and the jars between them, Owen had nothing meaningful to focus on. The lack of anything was overwhelmingly underwhelming to his Perception.

“Are you unable to determine the value of this collection?” he asked.

Owen shook his head. “No, it’s… it’s just 170 pebbles, but… this is boring, Uncle. I feel my tail-fire dimming. I think I’m actually dying of boredom.”

Between them was an assortment of glass jars of varying sizes and contents. Each jar was filled with many tiny objects. Pebbles, seeds, leaves… Owen counted the number of them in seconds.

“Hm. I see. You wish to end this test?”

“Can we just skip to the hardest one and work backward?”

Hecto looked at the many jars—about fifty in total. Then, he looked at Owen’s bored, yet pleading eyes. “Very well. Three tests. If you pass them all, we can end the exam prematurely. Do you have any objections, Nevren?”

A voice echoed from the ceiling in response, out of some sort of device that emitted the sound accompanied by a static buzz that obscured the clarity of his tone. “No, that will be just fine.”

“Good.” The flame on Owen’s tail brightened significantly.

Hecto pawed at the largest jar and slid it over. “Next.”

Owen stared at the jar, filled with countless little marbles, all of the same indistinguishable color. “Exactly a thousand.”

Hecto nodded and then slid the second jar over. “Next,” he said. But there was a twist to this one; the jar was completely black. It was impossible to see inside.

Owen didn’t take very long. “Fifty, exactly.”

Hecto nodded. “Next.”

Owen frowned, looking left and right. “You didn’t move anything.”

“There is a jar outside of this room, where you have never gone. How many items are inside, and what are they?”

Owen blinked, but then he nodded and closed his eyes. He navigated the emptiness around him, trying to focus on the presumed jar outside of the test chamber. He saw something. It felt like a container, certainly had the shape of one, but it seemed emptier than any of the others he’d dealt with. “Two Cheri Berries.”

Hecto paused. He and Owen shared stares. When Owen didn’t amend his response, Hecto said, “That is… incorrect.”

“What? But that’s all I see.”

“The correct answer was two Cheri Berries, seven Oran Berries, and a Pecha Berry. Ten objects.”

“But I only see two Cheri Berries,” Owen said firmly. “Go check.” He flicked his tail irritably.

Hecto stared, but then stood up and trotted out of the room. Owen rubbed at his arms and stretched his legs, bending his spine inward until he felt the tension release. He heaved a sigh and stretched forward next, beating his wings twice. Then he curved his neck and rolled on the cold ground, spewing a gentle plume of fire just over the jars.

He felt numb. He sat down on his left side for too long and everything felt tingly. But he couldn’t strike at the numbness; that would be unbearable. He’d be incapacitated and on the ground for ages. Just rolling around was starting to hurt, transitioning from a lack of sensation to the feeling of infinite needles under his scales.

“Oh, no,” Owen muttered, stiffening his whole body. “Oh no. Bad…” He was stuck. The needles took over completely. Any little muscle twitch and his whole world would shatter. No! He moved. His little toe claws twitched. Oh, it was starting to spread. Now his foot was feeling it. It squeezed along every part of his leg, needles prodding every bit of his body. Mercifully, it stopped there. Owen shut his eyes tight, praying that it would go away soon. But this was it. This was the end.

Hecto returned, staring at Owen prone on the ground. “Are you dying?”

Owen grunted. “I might be.”

“Hm. We should consider five-minute breaks for extended tests like these.” Hecto then looked up toward the speakers. “Owen is correct.”

“What? Where did the other berries go?” Nevren said. “I was going to have those as part of my lunch!”

Still on the ground, Owen grumbled his explanation. “There are little bits of Auntie Rim’s fur near the jar.”

Hecto left to inspect Owen’s claim. In the meantime, Owen tentatively flexed his toes again. Less pain. The needles gave way to a gentle cold. He breathed a sigh of relief, accidentally spitting up a Fire Trap sphere. He caught it before it’d hit the jars, squeezing it in his hands until it popped in a plume of fire in his face.

Hecto returned in time to see the blast, but did not comment on it. Instead, he looked up. “Owen is correct.”

“Well,” Nevren growled. “In any case, Owen has finished all of his tests. I will not need the extra data, considering what I have already obtained. This will do for now. Thank you, Owen. You may return to the recreational room.”

“Um—actually, how are the others doing?” Owen finally found it safe enough to stand, swishing his tail behind him to rid the last of the tingly numbness brought upon him by the accursed test.

“They are nearly finished,” Nevren said. “But you must remember, Owen, that their training is much more taxing on their physical bodies than yours. Your core ability isn’t quite as tangible.”

“Yeah, well, I’m starting to get a headache…” Owen said.

“Ah, let me note that down,” Nevren said. After a pause, the voice resumed, “Well, do as you like, Owen. Just don’t interfere with the testing.”

“I’m gonna see Gahi first. I know the way, and he’s closest, right?”

“Hmm… Let me see the map… Yes, at the moment, he is the closest, followed by Demitri, and then Mispy.”

“Thought so. Okay. Thanks, Dad!”

<><><>​

In another room with even more white tile, a green blur flashed across the field. This open area would take a normal person at a walking pace five minutes to cross; this blur, however, was doing laps in just under five seconds—the bulk of that time being the beginning and end, where he reversed directions.

A loud buzzer sounded; the mutated Flygon stopped in the middle of the field, collapsing on all fours, panting. “Peh… peh… beh…” He rolled onto his back next, chest rising and falling rapidly. “Yeh went… way too long…”

“That was very good, Gahi,” Nevren said. “I gained a great deal of data from observations and vital readings. That is your final test for the day.”

“Good,” Gahi wheezed out. His wings fell to his sides lazily on the ground. “Was gonna just melt away if that kept up…”

“Gahi!” Owen called.

The Flygon tiredly turned his head. “Oy, how’re yeh doing?”

“Fine! I just finished my tests. D’you wanna go see the others? I’m gonna see Demitri next.”

“Sure,” Gahi said. He was still on the ground and showed no signs of movement. If it wasn’t for his quick breathing, he’d look long dead.

Owen stepped closer worriedly, tapping his chin. “Are… you gonna stand up?”

Gahi’s left leg twitched weakly. “Too tired.”

Owen sighed, stepping over the Flygon with an amused smile. “I’ll help,” he said. “Just roll over so I can carry you on my back, alright?”

He approached and got Gahi’s right arm first, hauling him over his shoulders; then, on his back, Gahi wrapped his arms around Owen, and then his tail coiled around the Charizard for security.

“Thanks; I can barely move…”

They walked through the halls in silence for half of the trip. Then, a thought crossed Owen’s mind. “Gahi?”

“Eh?”

“Tell me about the outside world again.”

“Heh…” Gahi bumped his head against the side of Owen’s neck. “It’s big, and there’s a huge light in the sky that makes up fer all the lights that we’ve got down here. Yeh saw that befer, when we were let outside. But it’s different when yer flying all around in that sky… knowing yeh don’t gotta go back until y’wanna. Yer free.”

“Sky…” Owen repeated. “That sounds amazing. You can just… go, as far as you want, and there’s no wall that keeps you enclosed.”

“Yeah. No walls. No Quartz HQ ter keep us holed up in. And up there, in the sky… space. Outer space. Ain’t any air, though. That’s what Manny said.”

“The crazy guy you met when you ran off?”

“Yeah.”

“What was he like? How come you talk like him?”

“’Cause he’s cool. He’s like Uncle Rhys ’cept better.”

“Aww, but Uncle Rhys is great,” Owen said. “But this Manny guy sounds pretty cool. Maybe we’ll meet him sometime. If we ever get let out again… Why’d you have to run away like that? Now we’re grounded forever! Rhys said so!”

“’Cause it looked fun.” Gahi shrugged, his tail squeezing a bit tighter around Owen’s. “I came back!”

“After, like, a week!” Owen said. “Uncle Hecto had to search high and low for you! All of his Zygarde, too! Well, most of them…”

“Feh.” Gahi rolled his eyes.

They finally reached the exit of the massive running room, entering a small, square hallway lit by lights a uniform distance away from each other. Owen suddenly smiled, as if he saw someone that Gahi couldn’t. Seconds later, a tiny shadow came down from a hall to the right.

“There you guys are!”

“Auntie Star!” Gahi and Owen said.

The Mew happily floated over to greet them, bumping against Owen’s chest. “How far did Nev push you this time, Gahi? Or are you just faking so Owen can carry you?”

“I ain’t faking!” Gahi said. “I, eh, I was running fer a while, is all. Felt like my legs’re jelly. And my wings. I tried alternating but it still got tired, all that.”

“Wow, must’ve been for a while.” She flicked her tail, forming a purple bubble beneath her. She landed on top, bouncing a few times. The ball followed them through the hallway while she ran her paws along its malleable surface.

“What’re you doing back here, Star? I thought you were busy touring the world again.”

“Today’s a big day,” Star said. “We’re gonna put your final ability to the test.”

“Our final ability? W-wait! Do you mean that thing that Uncle Nevren told us never to do?”

“The melty thing?” Gahi asked.

“Yeah. But now, we’re gonna do it! He thinks we’re ready, and I think so, too. Or, as ready as we’ll ever be. If things go wrong, we’ll just split you guys apart again, but—yeah! Isn’t that cool? C’mon!” She pressed down on the Psychic bubble, accelerating it forward. It made an ethereal whirring noise when it sped up. “Rhys and Elder are making us some lunch, and then we can go.”

“Sweet!” Owen pumped his fists toward himself, practically shaking with excitement, and picked up the pace. “Oh, but we have to get Demitri and Mispy first.”

“Yeah, of course. Demitri just finished up, but Mispy’s taking a little longer.”

“How much did Demitri lift this time?” Owen asked.

“Well, he broke the presser, uh, again.” Star rubbed her forehead. “So, I guess Nevren has to find a way to double the pressure… again. But that’s for another test! D’s pretty pumped about breaking Nev’s things.”

Star floated for a while longer, her tail curling around the bubble. She pressed her right paw a bit harder on the bubble, causing it to turn around to face them. “Walking all that way is boring. Can I just teleport you guys there?”

“You have a Badge?”

“No, silly! Nev’s still testing that. I meant with Teleport. C’mon!” She tapped their shoulders, and then they all vanished in a flash of light.

<><><>​

Demitri’s test chamber was much smaller than the others, mostly because Demitri didn’t have to move very much. It was only ten feet across with a metallic pillar lodged in the ceiling, though the pillar was bent at an odd angle, jammed against its slot with no way to be pushed out or retracted inward. The ceiling also had a worrisome crack running all the way toward the wall.

“Sorry about breaking your things again, Uncle Nev…” Demitri rubbed the back of his head. “I dunno what got into me.”

“Ah, but what do you mean by that?” the voice in the ceiling said.

“I felt like I was at my limit, but then I just… felt more power well up! But I think if I went any further, I’d’ve collapsed.”

“Ahh, thank you, Demitri. That is just the information I was seeking. Perhaps we can actually move on to different another type of strength testing again. Perhaps we can revisit throwing? We’ve repaired the walls since the last time.”

“That sounds fun! Yeah!” Demitri nodded, flicking his tail against the wall, accidentally carving into the concrete with one of his tail-axes. He jumped, looking back. “Oops—s-so, uh… What do I do about that?” he asked, pointing at the metallic pillar lodged in the ceiling.

“I will handle it later. I believe Star and the others are heading to the dining room.”

“Oh, okay. But can I see Mispy first?” Demitri asked. “I want to see how she’s doing with her training.”

“Demitri!” Owen called, walking down the hall after having appeared in a flash of light.

“Oh, guys! Did you see Mispy yet?” Demitri tugged his tail out of the wall and followed after them.

“No, not yet,” Owen said, leaning to the side. “You, uh… really need to be careful about that tail of yours, Demitri. Didn’t you cut off Mispy’s vines a few times?”

“I mean—yeah, but…” Demitri fidgeted. “If it gets dull, I feel all gross and stuff. I need it sharp. Maybe you should put out your tail, huh?”

Owen grabbed his tail protectively. “Th-that’s totally different! That hurts! Also, I think it kills me!”

“Just a myth,” Nevren sounded. “It emits steam otherwise. Though you are correct, it does hurt. The water-shock involved may also cause you to pass out, hence the myth that it spells death.”

Owen shuddered. “Please don’t say water shock. I’d rather die than deal with that.”

“Well, considering that drowning often happens afterward, you’ll likely experience both.”

“Hey, um,” Demitri held up a claw nervously, “can we see Mispy?”

Star spun until she was upside-down on her Psychic bubble. “Aww, what, worried about your girlfriend?”

“Sh-she’s not my girlfriend!” Demitri flicked his tail, startled, accidentally leaving another mark in the wall. He reached over and yanked it back out. “I—I mean, is she still doing her tests?”

“She’s nearly finished,” Nevren said. “I’ll have to talk to her shortly for the final phase. Feel free to go to her observation room. Star?”

“You got it, Nev,” Star said.

<><><>​

“Well… congratulations, Mispy,” Nevren said. “You’ve outlasted the Beammaker at its full sustainable capacity.”

“Good!” Mispy said. Her countless vines writhed with pride, sitting atop a pile of burned mulch mixed with a strange, greenish, burned liquid mixed together with it. The mutant Meganium looked up. “I win?”

“Yes, you win,” Nevren said. “Now, for the, ah, bonus fight.”

“Bonus?” Mispy’s eyes lit up. The modified Meganium bounced on the ruined ground—of all the training areas, Mispy’s was the most in need of repairs. The concrete floor was riddled with craters and cracks; the metallic walls were warped and bent in some areas. Thankfully, this particular room was reinforced with a secondary wall beyond the first one, specifically because of Mispy’s training.

“Yes. Ah, but we should wait. I recently got off of a talk with Demitri and the others—they’ve come to wait for you.”

A flash of light caught Mispy’s eyes.

The source of light was Owen’s tail, the Charizard waving to get her attention. “Hey, Mispy! How’s the Beammaker going?”

“I beat it!” Mispy said.

“Y-you did?”

Mispy nodded. “And now… the bonus fight.”

Star sighed. “Wow, Mispy. That kinda blows me away, actually. For Nevren to be able to create someone so, uh… you!”

The creature giggled, covering her head with three vines.

“You mean she withstood that giant blaster?” Demitri asked. “Mispy, doesn’t that hurt?”

“Nope!” Mispy said.

“Don’t forget, Demitri,” Star said, “Mispy doesn’t register pain the way normal people do. She knows she’s getting hurt, but… it doesn’t hurt hurt, you know?”

“Not really,” Demitri said. “Maybe if we fuse I’d understand!”

“We-e-ell, let’s wait a while, huh?” Star teased. “It’s scheduled first thing tomorrow morning, okay?”

“Mm.” Mispy nodded, but then shooed them away with her vines. It was time for the bonus fight, after all.

“Oh, right,” Star said. “Everyone! To the other room! Let’s wait until Mispy gets her test done, okay? We can watch with Nevren!”

“Ahh, of course. Please head into the other room so you don’t get hurt by the shockwaves or thermal energy. Be sure to put on your UBGs, too, yes?”

They shuffled out of the area and into another, smaller room. There, a thick, clear window separated them from Mispy’s area. A weak buzz vibrated the ground.

“Nevren must be charging up,” Owen said.

“Protective gear, everyone!” Star announced, popping her Psychic bubble. She flew over to a small chest in the corner of the room with a label on the front: Ultra Black Glasses. Opening it with a little Psychic wave, she passed along the nearly totally black lenses for the others to wear.

“Is that really necessary?” Owen said.

“No, if you don’t mind going blind,” Star said. “I can’t heal you every time, y’know!”

“…But you can.”

“Well, maybe I don't want to.” Star winked.

Just then, Rim appeared behind them.

“Oh, hey Rim!” Star greeted.

The Espurr smiled.

Owen’s tail fire briefly enlarged. “Rim, did you eat those berries during my test?”

The Espurr’s eyes widened. “H-huh…?”

“The berries out in the hall.” Owen narrowed his eyes, watching every telltale muscle of a little thief that got caught.

Rim’s eyes widened even more. Owen worried that they’d pop right out of her head.

Owen snorted a small jet of flame through his nostrils. “Yeah, those were part of one of my tests.”

“S… S… S-sorry…!” She looked down, shivering.

Owen’s demeanor immediately softened, his once irritated attitude replaced with an urge to pet her. “Aww, it’s alright. I got to prove Hecto wrong because of it! That must be, like, bonus points or something.” Owen helped Rim with her pair—extra-large lenses for her body size. “Let’s watch Mispy, huh? How about you rest on my head to watch better?”

Rim grinned, floating in the air until she was sitting on top of Owen’s head, using his horns as support for her arms.

The vibrating got louder. The ground shook with power. “Uhh, what’s Nevren doing…?”

“He’s charging the Beammaker 3.0 to its fullest output,” Star said. “To the point where, well, it’s not gonna be operational afterward. But seeing as Mispy can withstand the non-breaking blast, I guess he’s gonna have to make 4.0 anyway…” Star hummed. “We’re starting to run out of power sources. You can only get so much from solar energy. We might need to look for different options soon…”

“Wow… she’s so strong…!” Demitri said; Owen practically saw the Haxorus’ happy eyes through the glasses. Though that was probably just his Perception.

“Of course she is,” Owen said. “I mean, she has to be! She’s our defender component!”

“Keep ‘em on!” Star announced.

In an instant, a giant blast of light, heat, and forceful energy hit the ground where Mispy stood—it was a constant, rumbling stream that shook the very ground beneath them, not unlike a Hyper Beam. The building withstood the shaking, but Owen wondered if Mispy would be able to do the same thing. She always carried a Reviver Seed with her when this happened, hidden within the many tendrils beneath her. The Beammaker would stop prematurely if it was ever activated. But Owen still worried.

The Charizard saw many of Mispy’s vines disintegrate away; at the same time, parts of her body burned and reformed at the same rate that her vines vanished. Indeed, that was the secret of Mispy’s power source—by using all of that extra mass below her, she could recover constantly for quite a while. Just how long was still being determined by Nevren. Owen figured that’s what the tests were for.

The Beammaker finally stopped with a stuttering blast, and Mispy, less than half her original weight and surrounded by the ash of what had been destroyed, shook her head and coughed out even more of the black, burned mass. “Ugh…” she said.

“Mispy!” Demitri called. He took off his glasses and ran into the main room, tripping over the mounds of damp ash the closer he got to Mispy. “Ugh—gross—Mispy, did it hurt?”

“No,” Mispy said. “But I feel… weak.”

“You feel weak?” Nevren said. “That’s good to know. Thank you.” He paused to log down his findings and the results in his notes. “You may eat as much as you like, Mispy. The food is ready.”

“Great!” Star cheered. “Man, that’s perfect! Okay, let’s go! Mispy! Need help walking?”

“I’m fine,” Mispy said; she was already latched onto Demitri, riding on his back with her cheek pressed against the back of the Haxorus’ head. Gahi and Owen smirked at the dragon; he blushed but did nothing to push Mispy away.

<><><>​

The mess hall was the first room that Owen had seen all day—other than his own room—to have any sort of color to it. Reddish-brown paint colored the walls. A long table of polished, dark wood acted as the centerpiece of the room, with three quartz chandeliers uniformly hanging on the ceiling, glimmering like diamonds.

The long table was filled end to end with food and dishes made by a team of five Hectos. Star hopped onto the back of one of them. “You’re such a good cook, Hec.” She planted a kiss on his cheek.

The expressionless Zygarde’s ears rose imperceptibly. “Thank you.” The other four stared at the lucky Hecto, but then resumed their work.

Star tilted her head. “Are you sure about having five of you here? Even though Nevren helped you bypass your cell limit, five is pretty big out of a hundred.”

“Five is adequate for here without weakening my observational abilities for the rest of the world,” Hecto said. “Hmm… I should also point out,” he said, “that I believe the Ghost Orb is stirring… A Goodra wandered into its location, and the Ghost spirits attempted to kill him. Or, well, absorb his aura to become part of their brood. However, it appears that he is too strong… They may have found a vessel.”

“A Goodra?” Star said. “You don’t mean…”

“Yes, Madeline’s child.”

An uncomfortable silence washed over the group of Divine Dragons, mutants, and Star. “Madeline…” The Mew rubbed at her left arm.

“And the Ghost Orb, you say?” Nevren repeated—this time, his voice came from himself, and not from the ceiling. The Alakazam walked toward the table and made for himself a modest plate of food. “Hidden in plain sight, yet too strong for us to approach safely… It’s unfortunate that the Ghost Orb was the first one we could locate.”

“Yeah… those guys are just beyond mean, too,” Star said, looking off. “They like to play pranks on me. Not even I have an easy time getting close to them.”

Owen lifted his plate, bringing the flame of his tail underneath it. “I mean, they’re Ghost Types, right? Don’t they sorta play with life and death, and you’re kinda… y’know… a Creator?” He focused on the ethereal flame to make it hot enough to sizzle the dish.

The Creator,” Star corrected.

“What about—”

“Arceus didn’t do the creation of life part,” Star said. “That’s all me. He did the physics and all that… And maybe a few on the pantheon, but, y’know.”

“O-okay, okay.” Owen nodded. He tested his food with his claw, now satisfied with the temperature. “But maybe they just toy with you because they kinda break your rules?”

“Pbb, rules, I didn’t make any rules. W—wait! I made their species too, you know! I think they just do that because they have an advantage over my natural Type. And I guess I’m a little spooked by Ghost Types…” The last part was said too quietly for them to hear. “I should switch to Fairy…”

Owen scanned the room and spotted Rhys picking from the berry salad plate, getting a heaping pile for himself. “Uncle Rhys!” he said. “Are you good against Ghost Types? No, right?”

“Not particularly,” Rhys said. “Two of my best techniques are completely ineffective.”

“Isn’t that awesome aura-armor thing also Fighting?”

“It’s without an attribute,” Rhys said. “It affects all Pokémon equally.”

“Wow…” Owen said. “That’s kinda cool!”

“Heh, too bad yeh pass out after usin’ it,” Gahi said.

“Ngh, I’m working on it,” he said in a growl, angrily eating a Pecha in one bite. He scanned the room between bites, finally speaking when he downed the sweet berry. “…Where’s Eon?”

“He’s inspecting the lab,” said Nevren. “You know how he is.”

“Oh! You mean our new siblings that you’re making?” Demitri asked.

“Yes! Precisely,” Nevren said.

Gahi glanced off uncomfortably. Owen glanced at him, gently bumping his tail on his side. Gahi just grunted and nibbled on a piece of bread.

Nevren went on. “They’re coming along very well. It won’t be long before they’re ready to be activated. Though, they may not be as strong as you all. Perhaps future creations… Ah, that reminds me.” Nevren tapped his spoon on his chin. “When you’re done eating, perhaps we should attempt the full-fusion first thing in the morning, when you’re rested and refreshed from today’s tests. If the Ghost Orb found a vessel… we may want to nip that in the bud now.”

Mispy flinched, face stuffed full of a whole plate of sliced fish.

“Figure of speech, Mispy,” Nevren said. “Hecto, how is the vessel faring?”

“He is…” Hecto said. “Befriending them.”

“B-befriending?” said another, shaky voice.

“Elder!” Rhys stood up with a second plate in his hands. “I made your plate, Elder. Please, enjoy.”

“Ahh, Rhys… Thank you.”

The giant Torkoal—at least twice the size of the average of his kind—gave Rhys a grateful smile. He was also twice as slow; he may have been on the way to lunch all morning, for all they knew.

Elder chuckled. “It seems that Mispy is having her fill.”

The behemoth’s vines had morphed into mouths, chomping away at entire piles of food; the food channeled directly into her body, forming more vines to eat away. It was horrifying, but Owen and the others were so used to it that it was a comforting, if not slightly disturbing, sight to see her so content.

“She’s got the right idea,” Owen said.

The family settled down to eat in a brief, comfortable silence. Elder went for mostly greens and fruits, while Demitri focused on many of the meats instead. Gahi and Owen had a more balanced diet; Mispy ate whatever was placed in front of her, including one of the plates. Rhys, concerned, asked if Mispy was feeling okay. She responded with a nod, mouth too full to speak.

Star asked Elder, “Didn’t you try to negotiate with the Ghost Spirits a while back?”

“I did,” Elder said. “One of the first to show up before me, at least. But those spirits…” He shivered. “It’s no wonder they’re not hidden – even with the knowledge of where they are, approaching it is simply too difficult. Assuming you aren’t killed by the feather-arrows of their commander from afar, the…” Elder shivered again.

“It’s okay, Elder. Perhaps this is for the best,” Rhys said. “If someone has befriended the hostile spirits, then perhaps we can then befriend the vessel. Hecto, how is…?”

“The vessel has fully assimilated the Orb. However, I was unable to determine anything more, as the copy I used to keep track of it has perished.”

“O-oh.” Owen gulped, fire dimming. “Did it… hurt?”

“It was surprisingly painless. Mostly. A dull ache, followed by a metallic taste in my mouth. Silent killer.” Hecto nodded. “However, my final observation indicated that the Goodra was completely dormant. We should wait until tomorrow so I can scout the area again, just in case.”

“Astonishing. What an incredible Pokémon,” Nevren said. “I have full confidence that Madeline’s son would be able to finish what she could not. Perhaps I should contact him later… He would be a substantially useful ally in gathering the Orbs, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Totally,” Star said, nodding. “But anyway, that’s for tomorrow. I don’t think you guys should be fusing after your training, so we’ll do it first thing in the morning! Let’s break for now. How’s that?”

“Alright,” Owen said, rolling his shoulders. “Urgh, yeah. I think I’m gonna take a nap or something…”

“Yep,” Gahi said.

“Me, too,” Demitri said.

Mispy swallowed multiple piles of food with her vines and her normal mouth. “I guess,” she finally said.

Owen blinked. “Uh, Mispy? What happened to the table?”

“Mm?” Mispy looked down. There were whole chunks of wood missing in front of her. “I dunno.”

“We should really move to stone tables,” Nevren mumbled.

<><><>​

Owen threw himself onto a large, white couch, rubbing his face along the soft, cotton mattress with a low rumble from his throat. “So sooooft,” he mumbled, rolling until he was on his back. He squirmed, getting that cushiony feeling all along his scales and his wings, flicking his tail against the fabric—thankfully, fire-resistant.

He watched Gahi with one eye. The Flygon prodded at one of Owen’s books, reading it aloud. “Charizard and You: Best Care for Your Favorite Fiery Pokémon.” Gahi stared at Owen, squinting.

“It’s informative,” Owen said, shrugging.

Gahi turned the book over, flipping through the pages. “How come a bunch of these’re blank?” he asked, staring at one particular page that had absolutely nothing on it.

“I think it’s a misprinted version or something, but a lot of the books are like that. Dad says it’s because the printing technology is still sort of developing, so sometimes the words get printed funny.”

Gahi shrugged. “Hey, at least yer getting knowledge outta it.” He shoved the book back in its shelf, picking out another. “…There’s no cover on this one,” he said, squinting. “Wait, y’know, if I look at it just right…” He tilted the book.

“Oh, that might be the one with a bunch of advanced battle techniques,” Owen said. “Super useful when you’re fighting in pairs, too!”

“Heh.” Gahi returned the book. “Y’know, I wouldn’t mind a fight. Never had one in a while.” He flexed his wings. “Too bad I feel like jelly.”

“I could use a fight,” Owen admitted. “You guys did all your physical tests, but mine were all mental. I need to get some energy out there.” Owen paused, thoughts lingering on his conversation with Gahi before lunch. “Hey,” he said. “I know what we can do. Everyone’s busy with fusion prep and stuff, right?”

“Mhm,” Mispy said.

“How about… we sneak out?”

Gahi, Mispy, and Demitri all flinched. “Sneak out?” Demitri squeaked, tail flicking worriedly. “B-but that might just get us in trouble…”

“Yeah, but what’re they gonna do? They need us to fuse tomorrow! C’mon, it’ll just be for a little while.” Owen squeezed his fists, almost mimicking a battle stance. “Just so we can see the sky again!”

“But how?” Mispy asked.

“Aw, c’mon,” Owen said, tapping his head. “I’ve got Perceive. This’ll be easy.”

“There’s, like, five Hectos patrolling the halls.”

“Doesn’t matter. Nevren isn’t watching right now, I don’t think, right? Let’s go.” Owen nodded. “It’ll be easy!”

The three looked at one another uncertainly. Eventually, Mispy nodded. She pointed a vine at him. “It’s your idea.”

Owen tittered. “O-okay.”

He stepped toward the door and pressed his hand against the metallic door. In response to the pressure, the door slid into the walls. Owen immediately led the way; Gahi sped on after him. Mispy picked Demitri up, placed him on her back, and squeezed through the door last, vines spilling into and out of the doorway that was just barely wide enough for her to squish through.

“This way,” Owen said in a whisper, rounding the corner of the grid-like arrangement of hallways. Forward, forward, left, forward, right, right.

“What’re you doing?” Gahi said impatiently.

“Shh,” Owen hissed. He looked ahead again and made another left, but then stopped.

Gahi crossed his arms, grumbling. Owen was thankful that Gahi was at least patient enough, or faithful enough, to keep with Owen’s lead. “Okay,” Owen said. “Almost!”

A few more turns and they saw a number at the end of the hall—the number three, painted in red and outlined in yellow. Owen rushed for it and waited for the others. Once they were all squeezed near the end of the hall, Owen whispered to the wall, “One.”

The “3” became a “1” in a blink. They all spun around and went down a new hallway. Left, forward, right, forward, right, forward, forward, forward—“I see it,” Demitri said excitedly, leaning closer.

There was a great door at the end of the grid by the western exit of Quartz HQ made of metal. Owen quickly approached the door and pressed a hand on it, hoping it would work.

By some miracle, it did. The huge doors parted, sliding into the walls, revealing—more hallways, the same as behind them. “…What?” Owen said. “No, that’s not right. I know I felt the exit on the other side a little bit ago!” He rushed through. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi followed.

“What?!” Owen said again, staring up.

“Is something wrong?” Demitri asked.

“We’re not on the top floor anymore,” Owen said. “This isn’t floor one. We’re, like, three floors down again! And—” Owen spun around. “Uh oh.”

“Hello.” Nevren greeted, waving a spoon. “Going somewhere?”

“How did—when did—” Owen backed away, flustered.

Mispy jabbed Owen in the back, shoving him forward. “His idea!”

“Now, you know you aren’t supposed to go outside,” Nevren warned, shaking a spoon. “Last time that happened, we lost Gahi for a week.”

Gahi pouted. “Aw, I promise I won’t do that again.”

“That’s what you said last time.” Nevren sighed. “How about this. After the fusion, we will begin arranging for taking you all out on individual trips, perhaps while we go on missions to find Orbs and whatnot. Does that sound acceptable? It may be dangerous, but we could use your talents anyway. Mispy, I plan on bringing you to see that Ghost vessel, for example.”

“You promise?” Mispy growled.

“I do.” Nevren gave her a formal bow. “In any case, if you’re looking for entertainment, why don’t you see Eon? If you have any excess energy, you can ask him for a sparring match.”

Owen’s tail fired up. “Sparring with Dad?” he said. “Y-yeah! Sure! Where is he?”

“Floor eight.”

<><><>​

On the eighth floor, Owen navigated through the halls with the rest of the Alloy and finally reached another door. Owen gently pressed his hand against it; they slid open, revealing a large, open arena in the shape of a dome. The ground was marble-white, but the walls had simplistic, linear designs of blue that zig-zagged toward the top of the dome in a jagged spiral. A Greninja stood in the center of the arena, slicing the air with ease. Droplets of water surrounded him, forming small, explosive bubbles.

Then, from his hands, he blasted water into the floor, propelling him up and into the air. He landed on the ground again, then hopped higher, shooting water below him again for an even greater jump at the apex of his leap. The Greninja flipped in the air and landed gracefully on his feet. “Perfect,” he said to himself.

He spun around, pleased, and took a few steps forward—promptly stepping on his own tongue. The Greninja yelped and fell forward, slipping in a spectacular front-flip that ended with his face meeting the ground. His head burst into a pile of pink slime, followed by the rest of his body, becoming nothing but a puddle.

Owen and the others giggled. “H-hey, Dad,” Owen said, waving at the bubbling ooze.

“Mrrngh.” The puddle re-formed into an orange mass with a flaming rear. A few seconds later, it solidified into an exact copy of Owen. “And I maintained that form for so long, too…” He rubbed his forehead, staring up at the other Charizard. “And how are you, kids?”

“Just fine,” Owen said. “Hey, can we spar? The other three are tired, but I didn’t get to do anything exciting all day. Just a quick fight! Please?”

While Owen spoke, Eon sighed and glanced at the other three, transforming into someone when he glanced at them. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Just give me a second to get my lucky scarf.”

Eon looked at Owen again, becoming a Charizard. “Want to see a magic trick?” he said. “And just like that… presto!” He flicked his hand, revealing a simple, pink scarf. “Bet you didn’t Perceive how I grabbed that one.”

Owen did not, and that made it all the more impressive. “W-wow! Where’d you get it?!”

Eon pointed at the small bag at the very corner of the room. “Magic.” Then, he wrapped the scarf around his eyes, tying it around the back of his head. “There. Now I won’t transform randomly. I want you three to stay quiet, alright?”

The rest of the Alloy knew the routine. With Eon’s overactive Impostor ability, he couldn’t help his transformations—anybody in the forefront of his mind would be the form he took. He usually had to stare at someone very intensely to maintain a single body for long, though the blindfold certainly helped keep things stable. For a time.

Eon grinned, showing a few of his teeth. “Come on! I haven’t got all day. Well, I do. But you need to rest.”

“Okay, okay,” Owen said, following the blindfolded Charizard to the center of the arena. “How about this, if you’re in such a rush. The first person to land a single hit wins.”

“Sure,” Eon said casually. “I’ll give you the first ten shots.”

Owen’s tail burned bright, pupils narrowing dangerously.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” Eon raised his hands, not even having to look to sense Owen’s glare. “Two shots.”

“You’re gonna regret that. I know your tricks this time!” Owen stomped on the ground. “I have just the plan to get you this time!”

“Mhm, mhm.” Eon tilted his head leisurely. He turned around. “Let’s go, Owen. I’m waiting.”

A tense silence festered between the two. Owen made careful steps around Eon, strafing the Charizard in a slow circle, looking for an opening. He watched his flame. When it flared up, Owen knew that an attack would be coming, right? Compressed air danced around Owen’s claws, swirling in a spiral that collected at the very tips. His wings lit up with little specks of light, drifting away from him. The Fire Traps remained where he stood, floating delicately. It wouldn’t be much, and Eon would certainly not let him make a full circle—last time he tried, Eon struck early, claiming that his extended Trap counted as two moves.

Eon’s flame flashed blue.

Owen jumped to the right to avoid some invisible maneuver, yet Eon didn’t move. Instead, he turned his blind eyes toward him, smirking. “Made you flinch.”

Owen blinked, then snarled. “Oh yeah?!” He rushed forward, blasting Eon with an Air Slash that had been charged on his right claws. Then, he sent a beam of fire ahead of Eon, cornering him in a V-shape. The left was solid air; the right was searing flames. Still spewing fire, Owen smirked and turned his head, closing the gap.

And then Eon vanished.

And then Owen realized he’d used up his two strikes.

Eon was behind him. He sensed it. Owen spun around and closed his wings, forming a golden barrier to block him.

Eon wasn’t there.

“Wh—”

Eon flicked Owen on the back of his head, between his horns. “Got you.”

Owen spun around for a second time. Embers still floated in the air behind Eon, where Owen had last fired. The true Charizard stared with wide eyes. “But I—you—that—”

Eon grinned. “Hey, you almost got me that time,” he said, chuckling.

“H-how’d you do that?!” Owen said, pointing at him. “You were behind me! I felt it! And then you—blipped in front of me! That’s no fair!”

Eon shrugged. “Magic,” he said. “I’m super-fast.”

Gahi’s tail flicked challengingly.

“Anyway, did you at least get a bit of your aggression out, Owen? You put your all into those attacks. I felt the heat.” He tapped at his cheek.

Owen grumbled.

Eon pat Owen’s shoulder. “I’ll give you a proper fight tomorrow. I just don’t want you to ache when you evolve.” He motioned for him to follow. “Why don’t I take you to your beds?”

Owen’s wings drooped in defeat. “Okay…”

<><><>​

Metal doors parted and they were back in their room again, Eon escorting the four of them back to the couch, still blind. Along the way, they rambled to Eon about their training, how they managed to exceed Nevren’s expectations yet again, and how Rim stole Nevren’s berries. Eon laughed. “I guess she couldn’t resist. You know how much she loves them. Just like Rhys and his Pechas.”

“Or Elder and his Orans,” Demitri said. “Or Owen and his Tamatos.”

“H-hey, those are amazing and you know it.” Owen stuck his nose in the air, snorting a small cloud of embers.

Mispy shrugged, while Gahi and Demitri both shuddered.

“I don’t get you Fire Types,” Gahi said.

“Well, to be fair, I think that’s more an Owen thing than a Fire thing,” Eon explained. With everyone inside, Eon walked toward the shelves and opened a small case. “Let’s see…” He lowered his voice while struggling with the case, clearly not used to the three claws a Charizard had per hand.

The clicking of the chest opening was enough to make Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi all yawn at the same time. Even Owen was starting to feel a bit tired, longing for a good night’s sleep.

Eon tossed four colorful spheres toward them. Owen caught two; Mispy caught the other half. She inspected the stickers on the top. One had a little flame symbol; Mispy handed that one to Owen. Meanwhile, Owen passed a leaf-sticker sphere to Mispy in return. Demitri’s ball had a little purple claw mark sticker, leaving Gahi’s as one with a small sand dune.

Demitri and Mispy stared at one another and exchanged balls such that they were holding one another’s. Then, then squeezed it, thrusting them forward at one another; a beam of light enveloped them at the same time. The balls opened, splitting in half, as the Meganium and Haxorus washed away in that same, red light.

Gahi tossed his ball in the air, bumping it with his nose. It cracked open and enveloped Gahi next, the sphere falling to the ground with a dull clatter.

Owen grinned at Eon. “Hey, so,” he said, “tomorrow, after the fusion… what if we sparred as the full Alloy, huh?”

“The full Alloy? I dunno if I’ll win against that,” Eon said, mirroring Owen’s expression. “I’ll wake you guys up if you oversleep.” He nodded toward Owen.

Owen nodded back. “Night.” Owen tilted the ball toward him and squeezed, firing the beam toward himself. Owen’s vision went dark, his body felt weightless, and then he felt a rough rumble around him. His mind breathed a sigh that his body could not emulate. In this cozy darkness, he felt someone pick him up.

“Good night, you four,” Eon said.

Owen felt Eon’s claws wrap around the ball. His consciousness sank deeper, a grin forming where he had no face. Despite not feeling much, he felt warm in his bed.

Eon set them all on the couch and left the room.

Owen’s Perceive didn’t work within this space, yet despite this, he still had a subconscious idea of what was around him. He felt Gahi’s bed wiggling as he settled down for bed, eternally restless. Mispy’s was completely motionless. Demitri’s shifted every so often until it finally rolled to the back of the couch, balanced in the corner.

The coziness was too much. Already in darkness, Owen’s mind drifted away completely.

<><><>​

The Alloy components walked through the halls and eventually went to another training room. The four excitedly bounced with each step; Mispy nuzzled at Demitri’s back and Gahi elbowed Owen, remarking that they’d finally get to put all this work to the test. And finally, they entered the training room—a somewhat smaller area, more like a waiting room than anything, and stepped into the very center of the chamber. The echoes were strongest here, as if the past was reminding them of its existence. Nevren, Elder, and the others stood at the edges of the room to observe and prepare for any potential mishaps. Rhys stood closer to keep watch on how their auras interacted.

The four components of the Alloy faced one another.

“Where’s Eon?” Demitri asked.

“Right here!” Heavy footsteps—the voice came from someone that sounded exactly like Demitri. And, indeed, a doppelganger of Demitri entered the room, holding his knees. “Sorry for the wait—I lost track of time…”

“Eon, did you eat at all?” Nevren asked. “You didn’t show up for lunch, or dinner, or breakfast…”

“No, I’ll eat later. This is more important,” Eon said, transforming into Nevren.

Nevren nodded. “Very well. Okay. Are we ready?” He turned his attention to the four synthetic Pokémon.

“Ready!” they all said.

“Use Mispy as the central figure,” said Nevren. “Given her size, it will be the easiest. Good, a bit closer… Now, you must all close your eyes and focus. Relax your minds, and then your bodies. Try to tune in with the auras of one another…”

Owen breathed slowly, and he indeed could feel their presence. He breathed a bit faster when he felt his body lose its shape, enveloped in the many vines in front of him. Gahi was next to him, and his side was melting into his. He didn’t know how to describe it. This happened now and then in the past, but they always woke up before they totally fused. It was such a warm, tingling feeling, as if their very nerves were being attached and intertwined with one another. But they’d always pull away. It wasn’t too hard to do that. But now—was this…? He didn’t want to stop. This was deeper than they’d ever gone—and he couldn’t get enough. Just a little more…

“Keep going…” Nevren said slowly, glancing at something in his hands. Some sort of blue emblem in the shape of a badge.

Eon watched, tense, still taking on the form of Owen. Countless tense seconds passed, their first fusion as an Alloy done slowly and steadily. Perhaps it had been minutes. None of them could tell, especially the Alloy components themselves.

Rhys winced with unease. “Their auras are starting to link,” he said. “It’s… incredible, but… it feels wrong, somehow.”

“It seems fine so far,” Star said. “Their auras are merging fine, but it’s just getting started.”

Despite this, Star was playing with her pawpads anxiously.

More silent seconds passed. The auras mingled together, but the closer they got, the more their flares lashed out wildly. Nevren’s blue emblem abruptly dimmed to a gray color.

Rhys’ expression darkened. “Nevren. I don’t think we should keep going. We should separate them.”

“What’s wrong?” Star asked.

“I agree,” Nevren said immediately.

“Their auras aren’t attaching properly. Something isn’t right with it. They aren’t ready—perhaps some more training, or—”

“We need to separate them.” Nevren looked at his gray emblem, snorting. He shoved it in his bag. “Reverse the fusion process!”

“Guys!” Star interrupted Rhys, shouting at the four.

Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy were all too involved in the fusion to sense anything else. Owen, however, heard them. “What’s… what’s wrong?” he said in a slur. “Wait… I need to go… further…”

“Owen!” Rhys said. “Back away! Stop the fusion!” Rhys’ paws burned with aura and he rushed toward them.

“I… I can’t…! It’s… too…” The fusion accelerated rapidly by Mispy’s own defiance. Vines wrapped around Owen’s head, and his body was lost to the amalgamation. He felt Rhys pulling at his body, but he was already attached to Mispy, part of her—just as she was part of him, and the others a part of the whole. He let out a final breath; he could hear the thoughts of his components plague his own. And his thoughts plagued theirs. He couldn’t feel his arms any longer. His wings went next, and then the rest of him. His mind was the last to go.

The rest of the memories, while there, felt blurry and rushed. With his mind not fully intact, he only felt raw emotions and instincts, reflexive actions. Without any mirrors, he didn’t even know what he looked like in this final, monstrous, whole form. Fading images filled his mind—fragments of memories that pieced together to show, finally, the full picture. He remembered roaring—feeling an overwhelming power that forced out all other thoughts.

He remembered Star floating in front of him with great, white wings made from long, glowing tendrils. She had tears in her eyes. Of what, he didn’t know. Horror, sadness, regret? It could be any of them, or all of them. He remembered feeling blood between his claws and his vines, the squished form of one of the many Zygarde that had accompanied them torn to bloody shreds beneath him.

He remembered all of them firing tirelessly against him. Aura Sphere, Flamethrower—even Eon, who tried to mimic his body, couldn’t properly copy a creature that was composed of four auras. Nevren had shouted something to Star, and then the Mew shook her head. And then she floated above them, the tiny Creator’s tearful expression the last thing Owen remembered seeing.

“I’m sorry,” Star said.

And then those wings… The light stabbed into his—no, their body. Light coursed through them like magma. They roared, flailing in all directions. Flamethrowers and Solar Beams scorched the walls; tremors cracked the ground; countless vines carved into the room. The pain only got worse. The twisted minds of the Alloy, combined with the exponential, excruciating, soul-splitting pain of the filaments burrowing into them became the only thing they knew.

This was the memory that had been blocked—the pain, the insanity, the creeping shockwave of madness that came back even after so many centuries sealed away. The memory that required a reset just to stay sane. But they couldn’t let that happen. Not again. Never again. They had to see this memory through. They couldn’t let it take them. This was all the past.

Whose memories were these? They were Owen’s, but they were also from the others. Pieces of conversations from both sides flitted through the singular mind.

They all watched the same set of memories unfold. They all, now separate again, had to relive being the Alloy, as if it had just happened. Owen knew that they were seeing the same memories. And he, with Gahi, helped him deal with them, unable to handle it on his own. He guided him along, holding his hand for every step. He felt Gahi’s fear, but Gahi felt Owen’s confidence. And that saved him.

As the Alloy, Demitri could only think about Mispy. He wanted to hold her. He wanted to tell her that everything was okay. That nothing could go wrong, if only to assure himself that the pain would subside.

Mispy couldn’t stand it. She had forgotten what pain felt like. She was the one that felt them all attach to her. She felt Demitri’s fear. She wrapped her vines around him in her mind, agreeing with him. It was going to be okay. She had lost her mind first to the Alloy.

Gahi writhed from within, screaming to regain what sense of self he had. But it was all lost that day, stolen from him and melted into the rest of the Alloy. Gahi was gone. The others were all gone. Yet they were all together. He felt Owen’s warmth, and that kept him anchored to the present. He felt his assuring thoughts, his calm words, and he followed that like the one light in a dark void.

Just a little longer. They had to remember just a little longer.

The wings, made from hundreds of filaments of light, parted. Still, they were pierced through their body. The light tore them apart, ripping their merged essences into quarters. Four bloodied pieces fell to the ground, indistinguishable masses of flesh.

Owen recognized his memories for his own, but he also understood the new memories that were forced into him. Foreign pasts that he would never be able to get rid of, because now, they were his, just as they were also theirs. He remembered two sides of the same conversation. He remembered winning and losing the same battle.

There were even memories where he was not present. The gentle caress of a tapestry of vines around his body and a huge head gently nuzzling against his tough scales. The feeling of air rushing past him through the air, free and in the sky, flying toward a great spire in the ground.

But now, he knew which memories were his, and which were theirs. And he accepted them all.

The pain stopped.

After countless lives repeated, the four souls breathed a sigh of relief.

End of Act I
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
I was going to respond on Discord but this broke the character limit, so rip. .-.

That's precisely it. "Foreign concept" is a bit of a hyperbole here--it's more that, if a Charmander opens their eyes and they don't see anything, that's very, very bad.
oh yeah! I'm a big dumb; missed the double negative there

So, I get what you mean about odd ordering, but in this one instance, I think I have it right but didn't depict the words properly. Have you ever run forward, but then, while running forward, looked back and waved--while still running forward? That. You run the risk of hitting something or tripping, but that's what he did very briefly.
I think it comes down to the number of actions vs the number of words to describe them though -- the paragraph above is also a much clearer way to describe the chain of events, because at the end of it we can still tell that he's running I guess? For me the main hiccup was how actions would get strung together and it was hard to parse which one was the current action.

"Are those Miltank... giving patients their own milk?" -As a reptile, this is doubly strange. But he doesn't want to be too speciesist about it.
oh, I gotcha! what do people eat in this setting tbh

I thought this bit out, and the humanlike nature is somewhat intentional--hell, the Waypoints are in alphabetical order, suggesting they at least write in English / Unown runes.
makes sense! again, felt kind of strange to crit the world having only seen a fraction of it.

This is sort of rule of funny, but also a small foreshadow to how "aura" (magically) generated flames linger a little, like the flickering power source left behind little dots of "infinity energy" to still emit flames for a few seconds. Not that they ever call it infinity energy here. It's "aura."
If it's foreshadowing that his tail doesn't behave like regular fire because it's aura, I could buy it -- but if it's foreshadowing that there are *different* fires that behave contrary to regular flame, but Owen's flame isn't aura and is a regular flame, then it doesn't really work as foreshadowing for me and just stands out as strange word choice?

Story of my life. I'm glad it gets better later, but apologies for this kind of plotting style early on. Sure, it builds intrigue, but for short-term prose like this, not so much.
Just have to strike a balance between info dumping and leaving things for the reader to find out later... If you have any advice on that, I'd be happy to hear it.
I think for me -- and I hope this came across in the review -- what tripped me up was what parts of the world *were* being revealed vs what weren't. Especially since the full fic is non-trivial, you don't need to dump all of the lore on the table, but the bits that do get explained early should feel somewhat relevant to what's going on. So like if in the third chapter of Harry Potter we got a full rundown of the Triwizard Tournament instead of walking through Diagon Alley to learn a bit about wands/potions/wizard supplies, I'd wonder why this Triwizard Tournament stuff is so important that we're getting that over the basics of the world. Or in this case, if Owen goes into a dungeon with ferals, I'd be curious about some of what he knows about those things.

Would you believe me if I said the odd order was intentional? To Owen, it was a vaguely happy memory. Despite his kind outward behavior, Owen has a small problem of liking fights and the thrill of what comes from them. Don't worry, he went to therapy. Well, used to.
oh lmao, nice! yeah, that wasn't something I'd really picked up on in these early chapters

So, this is sort of actually driving the point that in this setting, Psychic-related powers are typically... muted, compared to what you'd expect from canon. For the average Pokemon, mind control is far from trivial, and given that it's being used as a hasty excuse from Aerodactyl, they're just shutting down his point.
I guess for me at this point I can guess that *someone* is wiping everyone's memories to create blanket deja vu, so as a reader I already know there's probably a powerful psychic in the setting. I do think that this explanation is better than the original one -- instead of "Hypnosis can't control minds" it could be "there's no way a psychic that powerful would waste his time on you", which would seem a lot less pointlessly nitpicky imo

I do feel strange trying write any sort of reasonable criqitue based on 0.5% of the total wordcount, so I'm glad this was helpful to your editing!
 
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