• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 64 – Welcome

From green fields to sandy ground, Gawen was assaulted with the powerful smell of a salty ocean. He stumbled forward, the stress too much for the fusion, and split apart. Owen toppled on top of Gahi, pressing his face into the sand with his weight.

Gahi hissed and rolled out from under him. Owen grunted, plopping onto the sand with a heavy thump.

“R-Rim! Where are—oh.” Owen’s breathing was still slowing down, but he realized that they were at Quartz HQ. “Just like that…” Owen sat up, holding his chest. His heart hammered against his hands. He could still hear Amia screaming.

Rim was right behind him, looking at his back with concern. Owen grunted, wishing he could turn off his Perception so he could focus. Wait—he could! Owen reached up without thinking, grabbing his horn, giving it a light tug. He had to pull a lot harder than he ever would under normal circumstances—almost to the point where he worried he’d break something—but off it went with a gentle click. He did the same with the other one, and suddenly, he was blind, his senses limited to the simple, relatively flat view his eyes provided.

Owen sighed, setting his horns beside him. He heard Rim’s gentle pitter-patter until she was sitting next to him. Gahi grumbled, rubbing his nose with a snort. “This place…” He snorted. “The smell, too. We’re kinda close to the ocean, huh?”

“Yeah.” Owen opened his eyes, looking at the sandy field in front of him. “We used to fly around here before you ran off like an idiot.” The Charizard let out a huffing laugh, blowing a few embers against the sand. Stray blades of grass suddenly went aflame, making Owen yelp and pat it out.

Gahi rolled his eyes, swishing his tail to smother the flame out with ease, though not without getting some sand all over Owen’s arms.

“Aw, it’s all in my scales,” Owen groaned, rubbing his claws along the ridges between them. He turned his arm over, getting most of it out, but he knew a few grains were going to take a bit more work.

“At least y’don’t have fur,” Gahi said, glancing at Rim.

The Espurr nodded, but the way she moved seemed to catch Gahi’s eye; he walked up to her. For Gahi, that was a blurry jog, startling her. “Hey, you—yow!”

Gahi bumped into an invisible barrier. Rubbing his nose, the Flygon growled, “C’mon, what’s yer deal?”

“I think she’s just shy, Gahi,” Owen said.

“What, yer Perceive telling you that?” Gahi crossed his arms and wings, looking at the ground. “I saw her fur looked kinda red.”

“What?” Owen inspected Rim, leaning to the left and right, and Gahi was correct. It seemed like parts of her fur had splotches of faded red color. The Espurr looked away, getting back to her feet. She dusted off some of the sand on her body with a weak Psychic wave, wobbling toward a patch of sand.

With a mechanical whirr, a hatch slid open, startling Gahi, but Owen had sensed it before he had taken off his horns. “Th-the entrance is right here?” Gahi said. “How’d we warp so easily?”

Rim looked onward. “Waypoint…”

“From the Badge itself?” Owen said, tilting his head.

“No.”

Gahi paused, looking down. “Where?”

Owen stood up and dragged his foot horizontally along the sand. “I think right here.” After a few layers were brushed aside, there was indeed a small, colorful tile hidden away beneath the sand, glowing faintly now that a few layers had been pushed away. “But with it covered up like this, I think you can only use it for coming here, not leaving… Rim. Why do you have a Badge?”

Rim gulped, hastening her walking into Quartz HQ. Owen and Gahi followed after her, the soft sound of their scaly feet digging into the sand transitioning into the clack of claws on polished tile. The white flooring eased Owen’s mind a bit; the featureless, confined room, despite his Typing, helped him focus less on his surroundings and more on nothing. Feeling at least slightly secure, he clicked his horns back into his head.

“Rim… were you waiting for us?” Owen said. “Why was Hecto watching me?”

Rim gave Owen an odd look, incredulous. “Hecto?”

“Yeah. He, uh, I sensed him before we warped here. What happened? Did he tell you I was here?”

Rim shook her head.

Owen sighed. He supposed that was all he could get from Rim if even she didn’t know. And with that, he only had the silence to accompany him, Gahi also lost in his own thoughts, as they went through the halls.

A door next to Owen accidentally whirred open when his tail brushed against the frame. He jumped and staggered away, bumping into the door on the opposite side. It, too, slid open, sending him crashing with a startled yelp.

“What’re yeh doin’?” Gahi said with a groan.

“S-sorry, sorry, I got…” Owen stared inside, eyes widening. He saw countless little trinkets and items, all of them torn, broken, or otherwise damaged. Owen carefully entered, picking up one of the toys so delicately as if he thought it was Willow.

It was a little Pikachu doll, stuffed with cotton, just the right size to fit in his fist. He squeezed it, part curious, part because he could. It made a soft, squeaking noise. He gingerly placed it back on the ground, right where he had found it, and stared at the rest of the pile.

“Oy, Owen,” Gahi called, leaning into the doorway. “You coming er what?”

“I… I’ll catch up. I know the way.”

Gahi stared, but then glanced at Rim. She shrugged, and they both went ahead.

Owen rummaged through the pile again, finding broken books, fragmented trinkets, and discarded toys. This must have been their room for trash. A lot of the items looked recent; perhaps they cleared it out every now and then. He figured if there was an army of mutants, they would burn through a room’s worth of toys pretty quickly.

Where did they get the money for all this?

A hollow tok made Owen stare at the ground to his right. A little sphere rolled off of a pile of toys, bumping against his foot. He inspected it, tilting his head, turning it over in his palms. Red and white, with a black line along the middle, and a little button at the center.

Owen gasped a sharp breath, dropping the ball to the floor. He clutched at his head, a splitting headache washing over him, but it was only for an instant. He saw flashes of Eon standing in front of him, smiling, and tapping a similar ball to his head. And then all his senses would leave him, weightless and cozy in the little sphere.

But getting memories back didn’t usually hurt that much. Why did—

There was a Malamar in front of him—at least, he thought that’s what it was. The strange creature was more serpentine than aquatic, tendrils trailing off of its head and torso, radiating Psychic energy. Its huge eyes stared at Owen with fear. “D-don’t tell Dad!”

Owen blinked, rubbing his head. “Did you Psychic me?” He groaned, rubbing his head. “Look, I’ve already got enough head problems; I don’t need another.”

“I—I panicked!” The mutant Malamar slithered into the piles and curled up. “Dad’s mad at me because I ate third dinner. I just know it! I’m gonna hide until he forgets.”

Owen rubbed the back of his head. “You can’t just hide here forever.”

“Can so!” He burst out of the pile and pecked at the Poké Ball next to Owen. In a flash, the ball swallowed him up.

Owen stared, eyelids lowering with just the slightest amount of sympathy toward Eon, and prodded at the button with his toe. It split open, unleashing Malamar for a second time.

“No!” He prodded at it again, disappearing inside.

“Seriously?” Owen prodded the ball again, releasing him.

This went on for several wordless cycles until, finally, Owen flapped out his wings. “Fine! If that’s how you’re gonna be, I’m gonna tell Eon myself. I don’t want you getting thrown out with the rest of the trash.”

The ball on the ground wiggled; Malamar released himself, only to scream, “But I am trash!” before hiding inside his tiny home again.

Owen groaned, rubbing his palms into his closed eyes. “Fine. Be trash. But I’m gonna tell Eon where you are.” He huffed, stepping out of the room.

The Poké Ball wobbled again, releasing him again. “You’re no fun! I’ll just find a different hiding spot!” A tendril wrapped around his home. “You’re always like this!”

“A-always?! I just got here!” Owen puffed a little ember. “Don’t go off mistaking me for another Charizard!”

“W-wait, what?”

“I’m Owen! I’m just—visiting.”

“But you look like a—wait. Owen…?”

Owen stiffened, picking up the pace. The door slid closed behind him, but Malamar didn’t follow.

<><><>​

Eon paced, looking left and right. He checked the mirror in his room, a simple square of glass on silver. He was Owen. Hopefully that wouldn’t be too unnerving. Would it? It might be, but Owen was used to it, at least in his memories. Right? No, they were still blurry, weren’t they?

Eon huffed out a small plume of fire, tearing his eyes from the mirror. He couldn’t comprehend Owen’s Perceive ability. All of these sensory inputs were—overwhelming, like he was seeing everything in three dimensions. He couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. He was tempted to rip off his horns right then. If only he had figured out sooner how to make models like him where they could naturally turn down the Perceive, like the other Owen.

Eon wondered how that Owen was doing. That memory was still fresh in his mind, that seething hatred at realizing he was just a copy. All four of them, gone in an instant, all because they learned the truth. Why did he do that? How could he have done that to them?

The ground under Eon’s feet cracked with the intensifying aura around him. The mirror next to him shattered. Eon flinched, biting at his tongue. He was going to have to go and buy another one again. Seven more years of bad luck. Maybe that’s why nothing ever went right.

Eon imagined that by now, Owen would be trying to talk to the others. Would they even allow him to come here? Well, that didn’t matter. If they didn’t let him go, that would just prove him right. Then Owen would let him take them out, right? They wouldn’t be his friends anymore. It would hurt, but he’d be with him either way. Gahi and Mispy and Demitri—they’d follow. That’s how they always were.

Didn’t Owen like Tamato Berries? He should probably ask someone to make some dishes with those. Was Hecto nearby? Maybe he could send word through him. Then he’d actually be useful for once. He was probably trying to report everything he knew to Star. Not that he would find anything, of course. He wasn’t allowed on most of the floors.

“Um, Da—”

“GAH!” Eon stretched his wings, fire scorching the bed behind him. He frantically turned around to pat it out before the embers got too high. “L-Lavender, is that—what’s wrong?”

Lavender, taking the form of a Scolipede again, gave Eon a small, timid grin. “Are you too busy to play?”

Eon slowly relaxed, bringing his wings down. “I can’t really play right now, Lavvie. I’m sorry. How are your spirits holding up?”

“They’re okay. Um, oh, umm, Uncle Hecto told me to tell you that a cute Charizard showed up!”

The bed was on fire again. “Wh-what do you mean? Now?!”

“Mhm! He just showed up!”

Eon frantically snuffed out the flames, pushing away from his bed once he felt they were extinguished. “Thank you, Lavvie.”

“I’m gonna come with you!”

“Wait, but—Lavvie! How about you meet us at the dining hall instead? That way, we’ll all have a get-together at the same time. Won’t that be better?”

“Hmm… Will Lucas be there, too? I want Owen to meet Lucas! Oh! And Nate! We gotta get Nate!”

“I’ll, er, I’ll try for all of them,” Eon said. “But meet us there. Help Auntie Rim with cooking.”

“Okay, okay!” Lavender spun around. “C’mon, you’re too slow!” Lavender coated himself in golden light and expanded into an Onix, sticking his huge head beneath Eon. He yelped, picked up by the huge creature, and clung onto the horn of the rocky serpent while he slithered through the halls. Mutants ran into nearby rooms or otherwise fled for their lives while Lavender happily rampaged through the halls, toward the warp walls, and said, “Five!”

And the halls became peaceful again.

<><><>​

“Owen!” Eon shouted, waving a wing enthusiastically. He actually showed up! He was actually here, in his scales, walking through the halls of Quartz HQ. It was like everything was normal again. Eon’s flame glowed bright, the heat and light radiating off the polished floor.

“H-hey, Eon,” Owen said, avoiding his eyes.

“Oh, come on, Owen. You can call me Dad here.” Once they were at a proper speaking distance, he held out a hand. “Hey, I’m glad you came. That must’ve been very hard for you. Er… I hope they took it well.”

Owen seemed to be processing his first comment to even get to the second. Eon hesitantly approached a single step closer, and that made Owen take one back. Eon’s tail burned a bit brighter, unstable and crackling. “It’s—it’s okay, Owen. Remember, I Promised.”

“Yeah. You did.” Owen watched him carefully. “I just… I don’t know what to think right now, okay? I’m here to… to talk.”

Eon couldn’t find his voice. He wasn’t alarmed, no. He figured that Owen would say something like that. He’d said as much when time stopped. Yet why did it stun him now, the second time?

“How about we have that talk over dinner?” he said. “Rim is—Auntie Rim is going to help cook up something. Where is she?”

“She ran ahead to make dinner,” Owen replied, the smallest hint of a smile curling on his right side. “Guess you had the same thing in mind, huh?”

Eon nodded a bit too quickly, but only noticed when it was too late. “Yes. Right. We’re on the same wavelength sometimes, y’know. How about we go take a walk around while she gets something set up? Some of the other kids are gonna want to help Rim out, you know, so it might be a mess. And I know how much you like to keep your scales polished. Oh! That reminds me, I have some scale polish for you, if you like.”

“No, it’s fine. I have some at h—” Owen stopped himself, but Eon already felt the stab through his chest. “Hot Spot. I have some there, so… maybe I can, er… I’ll ask for it to be delivered here, if I stay for…” He tried to shake the thoughts away. “I can’t stay for too long. J-just… a day, Dad—Eon—Dad.” Owen kept shaking his head, ultimately glaring at the ground.

They stood in thick silence after that. Eon clawed into his own palms, digging at a ridge between two scales. How much did that Fire Guardian brainwash him? How much did he still not remember? Could Rhys have messed with his mind, too? What about Amia? Maybe he should try to undo some of the damage. He should just have Owen forget all of them.

Eon’s hand twitched.

Owen instantly stared at him with wide pupils, the lenses of his eyes completely focused on him. Owen’s tail flashed a combative blue.

Eon froze. It felt like even his flame had frozen. “S-something wrong?”

But Owen kept staring, focused completely on him.

“I just…” Eon hesitated, looking down. “It’s just been so long since I got to see you, Owen, as… me. I… I don’t know. I’d want to spar with you, or hold you, or… or anything. But… you aren’t ready for that, are you?”

Owen remained silent and stiff, but his expression wavered. “What do you mean?”

“Well, as Deca, I… well, you know how I was.”

“Deca.” Owen nodded slowly. “Right. I…” He loosened, straightening his back. “I think I’m just being paranoid. For so long, people kept trying to mess with my head to keep me under control. I think I’m just… guarded.”

An icy knot formed in Eon’s gut. “R-right.” He refused to stoop to their level. “Come on. Let’s get some dinner. Tamato soup, maybe?”

Despite everything, Eon saw Owen smile. The ice melted away.

They walked for a while longer through the halls until they reached the wall with the number “1” painted on. Owen stared nostalgically at it, mumbling “three” under his breath.

Eon’s heart fluttered. “You remember your floor?”

“J-just came back to me, I guess.” Owen looked down at his toes, clenching them so his claws scraped against the marble floor. “Oh, uh, there was this… I think it was a Malamar-serpent, or something, moping around in the trash room. Something about third dinner?”

Eon’s body language shifted from tense to exasperated. “Not again.” He sighed, pressing two of his claws between his temples. His hand nearly shifted into the Malamar’s tendrils, but he kept it controlled. “I’ll deal with it later. He’s probably still jumpy.”

“Hidey, actually.”

Eon smirked, spinning around. They continued through the halls, and after a few turns in silence, he sighed. Owen’s fearful, yet defensive stare was burned into his mind. “Sorry.”

“Don’t do that again,” Owen replied with a growl.

“I—I know. I won’t. I was just…”

“Everybody keeps trying to control me. If you do anything… I’m leaving. I don’t care how strong you are. Gahi and I will just go. I’ll go right to Star.”

Eon flinched. “D-don’t say that. She’d control you in ways I wouldn’t even dream of.”

“I still don’t know one way or the other,” Owen replied curtly, looking away.

How could he not know? It was so obvious! “Okay,” Eon replied quietly. He was brainwashed, after all. He had to be. All those centuries under that Fire Guardian polluted his mind. Poor Owen had been lied to for so many false lives, and now that he knew the truth, he was giving him a chance. He couldn’t screw this up.

Soon, they were in front of a large “1” on the wall. Eon made sure Owen was close enough and said, “Five.” They turned around and walked along a similar hallway, though this time the smell of dinner wafted through the air. Something savory. The gentle kick of Tamato tickled Eon’s nose; based on how Owen’s flame perked up, it seemed it was getting to him, too.

“Smell anything good?” Eon asked.

“Tamato Berries… It’s hard for me to get sick of them.” Owen stifled a laugh, following the scent. “Is the eating room in the same spot?”

“It is, but it’s a lot bigger now.”

“Because of all the other mutants.”

“All of my children, yes.”

Owen shifted uncomfortably just then, looking like he wanted to say something, but then stopped himself.

“Owen?”

“Ngh.” Owen rubbed at his cheek. “Why do you call them your kids? Aren’t they… your soldiers?”

Eon flinched. “N-no, not at all. Are you my soldier?”

“No, but I used to be, right?” Owen said, his voice filled with innocent curiosity. “We were the Alloy. We were supposed to…” Owen paused, rubbing the back of his head. “Actually, what were we supposed to do? Star said we weren’t meant to have an Orb or anything, so…”

Eon frowned, looking ahead. “It’s a bit of a complicated story. We needed you and others because we were trying to develop ways to take down Vessels—er, Guardians, I mean. Sorry, old terminology—when we didn’t have any Orbs with us. Our auras were limited, but if we made something from scratch that was better, well… we’d stand a better chance. Eventually, that developed into you four.”

“So we were built to be a weapon.” Owen’s wings drooped slightly.

“Only if you wanted to fight with us,” Eon said hastily, though neither of them stopped walking.

“How would we have known any better? How would any of them know?” Owen glanced at Eon, a flash of a glare in his eyes. “It sounds to me like you just raise them to think that this is the right thing to do, like it’s normal to work under your command.”

Eon stared down at Owen’s fists, both of them clenched together. He nibbled on his tongue. “It’s… not like that. It just isn’t. I don’t know how I can prove it.”

“That’s because that is how it is.” Owen stared ahead, folding his wings over. “I didn’t know that I’d be killing people. I thought I was just training for fun, and then we’d be going on missions to rescue people or something, or fight bad guys. But you know what happened instead? I killed a Jumpluff right in front of his daughter. And then I killed her next. I’m surprised Rhys didn’t kill me after that. I was the bad guy.”

Owen stopped walking to stare at Eon, pupils focused on him. “You made me like that. You made me into your personal weapon. So don’t think you can just brush over that, Dad. Or do you think I’m just fooling myself? Like maybe I’m under their control right now?”

Despite being in a hallway with nothing behind him, Eon felt cornered. His flame crackled with instability, eyes darting left and right for something to focus on, but the featureless walls betrayed him. Brainwashed or not, Owen was technically correct. But he didn’t understand the context. He wasn’t meant to kill them, just—that’s it!

“I didn’t mean for you to be like that. You weren’t supposed to ever be a killer.” Eon refused to break his stare this time, no matter how hard it was to look Owen in the eyes. “That was my fault. You were supposed to be just fine when you fused. But when the Alloy first formed—something went wrong. Your auras didn’t mesh together right, and it sent you into a frenzy. We didn’t… we didn’t know how to repair that. We had to reset your auras completely. But then, you were still… you barely remembered anything.

“And when you evolved… you weren’t normal. That frenzy came back once your auras were unleashed again, and—we had to reset you again.” Eon’s voice cracked, images flashing in front of him. He remembered struggling to hold Owen down, claws digging into his body. That was a painful one—in all kinds of ways. He remembered bleeding out pink slime, Owen thrashing against him no matter how much he tried to calm him down. Rhys shouting that it wasn’t enough and they had to reset him again. And again. And again.

If only he had been more assertive. If he kept them under control some other way, restrained them, maybe, or…

Eon realized that Owen was still staring at him expectantly, yet his eyes were softer this time. “If I could go back, I’d do it differently,” he said. “I’d… I’d do so much differently. But right now, I just… want to make things right here, okay?”

“Oy, you two Luvdisc done kissing?”

Owen and Eon jumped, looking down the hall. Gahi was waving at them impatiently, a bit of stew caught under his chin from what was undoubtedly a taste-testing session gone wrong. Owen and Eon exchanged looks and sighed in unison.

“I guess I can forgive the others for lying to me all the time when I was recovering,” Owen said in a growl. “Only fair that I give you a chance, too. But…” He looked at his hands, then at Eon. “What do you plan to do, now, with all of this?”

“All of…?”

“This!” Owen raised his arms to the hallway, then motioned down it. “The others! Your kids, the—everything. Your whole army that you have set up. What’re you going to—”

“OWEN! Is that you?!”

The ground shook to the might of a rolling Scolipede. He was rolling too fast to dive out of the way, so Owen reflexively crossed his arms and folded his wings forward, creating a shield of light. Lavender collided into it with an ethereal KLANG, the shockwave sending a deafening crack into the walls to the left and right.

Eon held his forehead, staring at the ceiling. “That’s another one to fix,” he grumbled as Lavender’s stationary rolling slowed to a stop.

“Hi! Hi, hi!” Lavender said, pressing his head against the fading barrier. “I’m Lavender! What’s your name? Oh, wait! Owen! You’re Owen!”

Eon kept his eyes closed so he didn’t accidentally turn into Lavender. “Owen, I’d like you to meet Lavender. He’s, er…”

“Another one of your kids?”

“Yes. Though, he’s a bit different.”

Lavender giggled, giving a small bow, and then transformed into a Charizard—a normal one, unlike Owen.

“Oh, he’s a Ditto,” Owen said. “Except he can actually hold a form that he isn’t looking at.”

“Er, not quite that, either,” Eon said, gesturing for them to follow. Gahi was waiting impatiently at the end of the hall, eventually huffing and returning to the mess hall.

Owen followed alongside Lavender, whose tail-flame was golden in color. He marveled at this, glancing at the faux-Charizard. Eon noticed Owen’s eyes linger a bit on Lavender, enviously, and then away.

Eon murmured softly to Owen. “I was building this army to gather the Orbs by force. Like I said, the Guardians are imprisoned in all this. If I could free them, maybe it…”

“So they’re an army, just like I was supposed to be a part of.”

Eon winced again, pressing his tail along the wall while they walked. “Power in numbers. After everything was said and done, I wanted to start focusing on living like a family.”

“That’s… a big family.”

“Sounds great, right?” Eon said with a titter. Owen didn’t laugh, but the entranced look in his eyes said all Eon needed. His hopeful grin was infectious, apparently, as even Owen smiled a bit. Eon didn’t understand, then, why the air still felt so thick.

They rounded the corner, overlooking a familiar mess hall, the same one that Owen remembered, only… larger. Bright, colored tile lined the ground to give the sterile white some personality. What was once a long counter meant to fit a large family became a series of long tables filling the room like an upscale cafeteria. The same chandeliers decorated the ceiling, sparkling with artificial, white light.

“This place is actually pretty,” Owen admitted. “Everywhere else here is so… white. I can’t focus on anything.”

“Supposed to be that way,” Eon replied, looking back. “We figured that the Pokémon we made would get overstimulated by too many colors in the halls. We limited it to certain rooms so it wasn’t overwhelming.” He sighed. “Does it work for you?”

“Kinda. I like the colors.”

“I love the colors!” Lavender giggled, sprinting for the nearest plate.

Owen watched for a little while, spotting Gahi and Rim on the other side of the table, picking out food from a selection of rice platters, sandwiches, stews… It was a wonder how they made it all, but then Owen spotted more mutants shuffling out from the kitchen adjacent to the room with more plates. Gahi glanced at Owen and gave him a little nod.

He couldn’t help but smile.

After watching Lavender greedily grab two plates of fried rice and sandwiches for himself, Owen glanced at Eon. “So what’s Lavender supposed to be?”

“He’s sort of a mutant,” Eon said, standing in line like all the others in the room.

None of them seemed to realize that it was Eon until he brought out his blindfold, earning eager “Hi!” and “Hey, Dad!” calls.

Eon greeted them all with a smile and a wave, but then explained to Owen. “He was made in an effort to bypass that pesky aura efficiency limit.” He tried to maintain his smile, but he couldn’t hide his hint of sadness. “Four auras. That was the best we could do, combining spirits for even more power, without the additional aura matter blocking the channels the spirits provide their power through.”

Eon looked at Lavender, who was now taking on the form of a normal Flygon, sitting next to Gahi. He mirrored all of his movements, Gahi growing progressively more irritated.

“What happens if you have one aura that contains many spirits?” Eon said.

“Contains many…?” Owen repeated slowly, looking at Lavender. His eyes were still noticeably brighter, little sparkles of golden light flitting about inside. “L-Lavender, are those…?”

“They’re my friends!” Lavender said, giggling.

“It’s a bit hard to explain,” Eon said. “Lavender is an… artificial repository for spirits, a lot like the spirit world that Star and Barky created. Well, more that, Lavender is an artificial portion of the spirit world that we created. And by doing that, we’ve been able to emulate what power a Hand can normally provide, simply by having more spirits within a single aura.”

“That sounds… unstable.”

Lavender’s smile faltered.

“It is. Sometimes, Lavender gets a bit unstable, and we have to suppress things. We’re still trying to find a way to perfect it, but for now, we have a suppression mask that he can put on.”

“It’s heavy,” Lavender said, looking away.

“But he hasn’t had to put it on for a long time,” Eon said quickly, waving a claw. “He’s just fine. Now we’re just working on training him to use the spirits he has to perform feats that were once only limited to Mystics.”

“Mystics… who also have spirits in them,” Owen said, holding his chest with a furrowed brow. “But we give them an aura temporarily, don’t we? So they can look solid in the real world. What about them?”

“Not the same. Lavender can’t summon anything. His power is self-contained.”

“So, he’s just another one of your attempts at making something strong enough to fight Arceus,” Owen said. “But what about those spirits? Are they just… imprisoned there?”

“Oh, hardly,” Eon replied. “They’re some of the mutant spirits that needed a break, that’s all. So when some of them die, they wind up in the Reincarnation Machine and—”

“Stop,” Owen said, holding up a hand. “What?”

“Did… Rhys not tell you?”

“He didn’t tell me a lot about this place,” Owen growled. “Probably because of all the twisted experiments you do here.”

Eon flinched. Is that how he was being characterized? His tail flickered an angry yellow, but then eased down. “Owen, do you know why we can see past the Divine Decrees that Star and the others have made?”

“Because you’re stronger, right?”

“Part of that may be the case,” Eon said. “But another part—at least, why I have been able to break past it earlier… is simply because we had previously been given her blessing. The Hunters, as you call us, were all given that. And perhaps that gave us resistance to her own Decree. And that blessing, specifically from Mew, creator of life, is what allowed us to assume parts of her role, given enough power. We created the Reincarnation Machine to intercept the flow of spirits into the aura sea, so long as you’re connected to it. That way, any of my children that happen to perish will return here to be reborn.”

Gahi fumbled with his plate awkwardly, making a loud clatter that drew a few eyes toward him, including Owen’s. “Sorry, eh, nothing.” He cleared his throat, but from then on, it seemed like Gahi was preoccupied with the conversation between Owen and Eon.

Slithering nearby was a Seviper, glancing at Owen uneasily. The Charizard held his chest in response as if he’d suddenly felt a bruise or cramp.

“Something wrong?” Eon asked.

“I think I remember once seeing one of them get killed,” Owen said gravely. “A long time ago, I was attacked by a Seviper… Tyranitar thing. Stabbed me through the chest. At least, I think that’s what happened. I don’t remember—it must have been a few resets ago.” Owen breathed out. “I guess that was one of them? Why do you have the mutants wandering around attacking things? You know that some people have actually been killed by that, right?” Owen’s voice was rising again, making Eon’s throat tighten and his flame grow.

He pushed the fight-or-flight reaction down and answered calmly. “It’s not like I want that to happen. It’s just—there are so many, and sometimes they wander off. When they’re stressed or upset, they’re still unstable at times. It’s not… I’m still trying to perfect it. Without Rhys helping me to stabilize their auras, that can make their minds go mad. And they have to be reborn.”

Owen kept watching the Seviper. The serpent’s blade seemed particularly sharp and glowing. And he was slithering toward a Tyranitar with odd, cannon-like appendages growing out of its back, reminiscent of a thinner version of Alex’s arms. The Tyranitar looked at Owen, and they locked eyes. Then, the rocky behemoth quickly looked away, suddenly more interested in his claws.

“That’s them,” Owen said breathlessly. “Th-they’re the ones who…”

“M-maybe. Those two did go berserk a while ago. I’m not sure where they went, just that it was all a blur until they died. I-if… if that’s what happened, I’m sorry, Owen. You know I wouldn’t ever want something like that to happen to you. That Seviper can sense Mystic auras. He must have noticed the Fire Guardian. Were you going on a stroll? It must have just been bad luck.”

“Bad luck,” Owen repeated lowly.

“Some luck that is when they go off killing Kilo Villagers, eh?” Gahi replied with an angry smirk, his claws digging into the edge of his plate.

Rim shrank into herself, huge eyes focused on her food and nothing else.

If it wasn’t for the idle buzz of other mutants in the cafeteria, it would have been completely silent then. It may as well have been.

“Um… I’m gonna go.” Lavender shifted into a Drapion and skittered away.

Owen spared Eon an extended silence, finally breaking it. “So, he can transform into any Pokémon he wants?”

Eon nodded, though it took him a few seconds to find his voice again. “With all the spirits inside him, he can turn into anything within Mew’s blessings, aside from his base form.”

“What’s his base form look like?” Owen asked.

“Oh! I can—”

“Not now,” Eon said. “Just show the picture.”

“Aw…” Lavender shifted into the form of a Zoroark, and then conjured an illusion of his Silvally form. Owen’s eyes widened, mouth slightly agape.

“Wow… that’s… awesome! You look like you jumped straight out of The Steel Chemist! E-except you’re friendlier.” The light returned to Owen’s eyes and Eon mirrored it, small smiles tugging at their jaws.

Owen quickly wiped it away, like he was trying to stay upset. Stubborn, it seemed. But Eon saw it; there was still a bit of that glimmer, even now. Maybe he wasn’t completely gone after all.

Lavender dropped his illusion, looking between the two of them with wide, curious eyes. He became a Charizard again. “Charizard buddies!” he said, clapping his hands together frantically.

Eon forced a grin. “You’re right, Lavender. We’ve got a lot of Charizard here, don’t we?”

“Yeah, I guess there are a lot of me around here,” Owen said with a pensive hum.

Eon’s stomach felt cold from those words, yet more came after.

“Eon, why did you make another one of me? As in… literally another me. Did you somehow just… steal a copy of my memories?”

The more Owen spoke, the more the pit in Eon’s stomach grew. Har… of course Owen would have found out about that. How could he not? He had been sent on a mission to the Bug Guardian and never came back. The same went with all the others. And without them returning to the Reincarnation Machine, it was clear that their souls had been claimed by the Guardian instead.

“Well?” Owen said, voice rising just enough that it drew the attention of nearby mutants. They shifted uneasily, avoiding interaction, and the cafeteria seemed quieter.

“I wanna hear this, too,” Gahi said, now completely ignoring his plate of food in favor of glaring at Eon.

“It was a moment of weakness,” Eon said hastily. “When—when we were trying to repair you guys, over and over and over, we… we just… I… I didn’t know if I’d lose you guys. If your spirits were just completely damaged. And I… I devised a plan to find a way to maybe bring you back, if there was just no other—”

“You wanted to replace me,” Owen said. “Replace all of Team Alloy just because—”

“No!” Eon immediately said. “That’s not how it was. I just—I mean, I—” Eon’s claws dug into his palms. That wasn’t what he wanted to do. Owen was irreplaceable. All of Team Alloy was. They were his children. He couldn’t lose any of them. He just had to bring them back somehow, even if… No, he didn’t try to replace them. That just wasn’t how he was thinking.

“I just… wasn’t thinking rationally,” Eon said. “It was a spur of the moment thing. I—I had Mew’s blessing, and your spirits were just sitting right there. I pieced together as much of your memories as I could from them, and transferred them over to ones that were being recycled, and… And I wasn’t thinking, okay?!

Eon slammed his hands on the table, stunning the entire mess hall to a complete silence. Gahi didn’t flinch, nor did Owen. They both stared, expressions like steel.

Lavender shrank back, lowering his head. “D-Dad…” The spirits inside him swirled turbulently in his eyes, and Lavender abruptly grasped at his mouth, clamping it shut.

Owen’s eyes and pupils both narrowed, looking like he was either about to say something or blast Eon with a jet of fire… but then his head suddenly jerked up, staring blindly at the sky.

“Owen?” Eon asked, voice cracking. “A-are you okay?”

Eon’s outburst had left him almost in tears; mixing with his sudden concern over the mutant’s abnormal silence left him standing dumbly. Forgetting about any pretense of a good dinner—not that he had to eat—he stood up and prepared to hop the table to get over to him.

“Yo,” the entranced Charizard suddenly said.

Eon froze, a wave of ice coursing through his blood. No. That didn’t happen. That didn’t happen. Owen is fine. Owen is right there, in front of him, just like he always wanted. He was upset right now, but they just had to talk it out.

With that hope, Eon said in a small squeak of denial, “Y-yo? What do you mean, yo? Since when do you say—”

Owen jerked his head toward Eon. His body turned green and leafy, arms transforming into vines. The flame on his tail bloomed into a giant daffodil. Without any help from his wings, Owen rose into the air, levitating with ease.

“Did you really think you could take Owen like this?” Owen asked, yet despite it being his voice, Eon knew exactly who it was. “That you could take advantage of how naïve he’d be, trying to give you the benefit of the doubt? Tricking him with a flimsy Promise like that?”

Eon’s body shrank and dissolved into a small, pink feline. Now a Mew, Eon floated back in stunned silence.

“Thought so,” Star hissed.

Hundreds of filaments of light violently sprouted out of Owen’s back.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 65 – Realm to Realm

“I should kill you where you stand!” Step roared, restrained by Manny and Yen on one side, and Azu, Roh, and Verd on the other. The Fighting Guardian and his spirits struggled to keep the Icy Aggron down.

Demitri and Mispy ineffectually hid behind Rhys, while Zena stood in front of all three of them, staring so coldly that it rivaled Step’s own element. The Milotic replied to Step with clear, pronounced syllables, “Then try.”

“Yer not helpin’!” Manny roared, slamming Step back onto the ground when she heaved forward, nearly overpowering all of them.

“Th-the Queen of Ice is powerful!” Azu declared.

“I think I feel my head cooling,” Roh said with a little grunt, the fire on the Infernape’s skull dimming considerably.

“Hold… her back!” Verd said, the Chesnaught’s arms almost completely frozen over, similar to Yen’s fluffy legs.

Amia’s arms were shaking, even still, and her head flickered between normal and fiery, though both states were blue. “Step, there’s no point,” she finally said with a resigned grunt. “Owen… left already.”

“Because of THEIR carelessness!” Step growled, but this time, she stopped resisting. Based on how her eyes briefly glanced above her, and then aimlessly toward her chest, it seemed she was listening to something her spirits were saying. She eventually snorted and glared at Amia. “And you’re fine with this? Allowing Owen to go back to the very person who ruined our lives? To his ‘father,’ as he loves to call himself?”

Amia winced; Alex’s arms felt the need to protectively grab at the air next to him, as if Owen had been there. Instead, he wound up bumping his arm to his side. “We couldn’t just stop him,” he said. “Owen’s just trying to make his own choices. His Perception hasn’t lied to him before, has it?”

“His Perception, bah!” Step shook off Manny and the others, and this time they relented. She adjusted her icy shoulders. “If there is anybody who can trick Owen’s Perception, it’s the very one who designed them!”

Nevren raised a spoon. “Well, technically, I was the one who—”

Or the one who raised him.” Step glared. “Amia and Alex may have been their adoptive parents, but nothing will change the fact that Eon was the first parent he truly had. Perhaps he has Mystic power over him that we aren’t aware of. That you aren’t aware of. Have we ever considered that? Apparently Eon had a long talk with Owen in the middle of battle. What other powers does he possess? What if he is controlling Owen as we speak?”

“H-he can’t be,” Alex said, his voice a squeaking crack. “He made a Promise! E-Eon did, I mean, and—”

“That so long as Owen remained in Quartz, he could no longer be a Hunter, yes? What if he moved away from Quartz? What then?” Step narrowed her eyes, frost coating the area around her feet. “You fell for a trick by a Ditto, a species born to deceive and disguise as one of your own! And for what? To let Owen feel happy?”

“Owen is not that easy to fool,” Amia said. “He’s a smart—”

“I beg to differ,” Step snarled, stomping toward Amia. “Clear your eyes. The Charizard bows to authority. It’s in his blood. And what greater authority than the one who raised him first? It’s primal. Instinct. Even those two have it, letting him escape.” Step gestured to Demitri and Mispy, who couldn’t decide whether to glare or avoid eye contact.

“Owen’s—he’s not like that. He wouldn’t follow Eon. He didn’t follow Star.” Alex gulped, the flames on his shoulders reduced to a mere glow. By now, Step was a single stride away from both of them, her icy aura clashing with the flames that pulsed through Amia’s body.

“I’ve raised Owen for centuries,” Amia said lowly. “He won’t just abandon us like that. This was all to get Eon to come to our side.”

“He’s only going to be there for one day,” Zena added, but her voice was shaking. She didn’t believe her own words. “He… he has to come back. To us. To m…” Zena’s voice caught in her throat. “I—I need to… I need to think. I need to think.” She shook her head, slithering away.

Jerry, silent through it all, found a moment to speak up as Zena left. “I don’t know the guy all that much, but he’s got an optimistic shine to him.” He looked at Amia and Alex. “Owen’s gonna try to convince Eon to stop everything, yeah. But I bet Eon already knows that. What happens after? Eon comes off as the sort of person who thinks way too spontaneously. Changing decisions more than the guy changes bodies, I bet.” Jerry folded his wings over. “Not to discriminate, but I think it’s a little silly to think a Ditto is gonna hold to something for long. Aren’t they naturally forgetful?”

Step grunted and nodded. That was precisely it, and a good point to add to the pile. Even if Eon meant what he said during his Promise, it was all too easy for him to find a way to work around it. A poorly-constructed Promise could still have loopholes. “It isn’t as if we know the full scope of how Promises work. Star is intentionally vague about it. Her words on the outcome of a Promise is just as vague. Do we even know what happens to a Guardian who breaks one?”

“We know what happens to a Mystic who does, at the very least,” Rhys replied darkly, speaking up. “Where is Anam? His mother…”

Heads turned to Rhys, then to Anam, who had retreated to his room at some point during the argument. They saw his big, glowing green eyes near the entrance, hiding behind the wall. A strange fog coursed just below his gooey body’s surface.

“What’s with him?” Jerry said.

“Anam doesn’t do well in arguments, I’m afraid,” Nevren said. “He’s always been very sensitive to them.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Step said, waving her arm dismissively. “What of his mother, Rhys?”

“She used to be Mystic, yet through some way or another, her power was transferred to Anam long before he became the Ghost Guardian. I suspect a Promise was used to transfer that power, though Anam is extremely evasive about the circumstances…”

Nevren nodded. “I have not been able to glean much information from him, either. Apparently, it is a painful memory.”

“What, you can’t just read his mind?” Jerry said.

Nevren shook his head. “Mind reading for complex thoughts and memories is extraordinarily difficult to do for a Psychic if the target isn’t willing, and even more difficult against a Mystic.”

“Then what happened to his mother? Surely she resides within his realm.”

“I thought she had gone across the aura sea for a permanent retirement,” Nevren said, “but recently, I actually met her.”

Rhys and Elder jumped. “What?” said the Lucario. “Madeline? She’s—”

“Yes! I was surprised myself. A very fierce personality. No word on the father.” He tilted his head upward. “I’m a bit curious as to why Anam never speaks of them.”

Rhys settled against Elder’s shell, humming in thought. “Well, surely both are within Anam. Apparently, his father was always the sort to avoid attention. It wasn’t as if we got to properly meet him before she, er, left.”

Nevren nodded, addressing Step next. “We can at least know that a Mystic who breaks a Promise loses their power. That happened to Madeline, and at the very least, Star told us the truth about that. However, what happens after was a mystery. We did not know whether the Promise-breaker would die immediately, or perhaps worse, would their aura simply… evaporate?” Rhys shuddered. “Such a thing is unheard of, but Star certainly wanted to make us think that. Which leaves me to wonder…”

Step’s eyes widened imperceptibly, but she refused to acknowledge it. “Just because Owen may have been right about Star—which we all have agreed upon regardless—doesn’t mean he’s right about Eon.” She stared at Amia. “What will you do if he’s completely controlled by Eon?”

Amia flinched, her flames briefly going out. “I—”

“We need to find him,” Alex said simply, looking down. “We’ll—we’ll bring him back.”

“Oh? You will?” Step’s frozen face twisted into a cruel sneer. “And the moment Owen steps out of Quartz HQ with you, Eon will order the attack that will annihilate us all from within his own homeland. You don’t get it, do you? He already cornered us!” Step slammed her tail on the ground, as if her words were the manifestation of her own realization. “We rescue Owen, Eon kills us! We leave Owen there, he controls another Guardian!” Another slam on the ground, shaking the entire cave.

Valle groaned uneasily. “Stillness… I need stillness… Why can’t you all rest like Zena?”

“Zena’s resting?” Rhys said. “Hrm, well, I suppose we can understand that much… Perhaps she needed a break.”

“Resting,” Mispy repeated, observing Zena’s abode with a gentle twitch of her vines. The little antennae on her head flickered, reading her aura. “No… Meditating.”

“Meditating?” Rhys glanced at Nevren, but then at the others with a gasp. “Meditation! We—we have to meditate! We’ll go into Aether Forest and navigate to Owen’s spirit realm!”

Amia frowned, “Didn’t Star say that it was a bad idea to go to another Guardian’s—oh. Star.”

Precisely,” Rhys said. “It’s already dangerous enough to get to Owen physically. We just have to do it spiritually.”

“Wait!” Willow squeaked, her tiny voice cutting through the murmurs. “Star said going to other Orbs was bad! Really bad!”

“Yes, Star said this,” Rhys said. “Has she ever substantiated that claim?”

Step was about to agree with Rhys, but then let out an irritated grunt. “Somewhat.” She turned her head away, focusing on a random mushroom. “Migrating to an Orb that is not your own carries a risk. It’s much easier to perish in the spirit world and evaporate. If you’re tied to an Orb, you will return to its Core. But my mate knows firsthand what it means to die when you are not tied to a Core. You will go to the aura sea. I doubt Hecto will be merciful if we are defying Star.” She looked to the others. “We may not return.”

“And we will also be going into Star’s own territory,” Rhys said. “But… Owen…”

“She doesn’t want Owen with Eon, either,” Step said.

An uneasy silence fell. ADAM buzzed, drawing everyone’s attention. “We shall meet in Aether Forest. Some should remain online to guard Hot Spot as firewall for our hardware. Latency across the forest may significantly throttle upload and download speeds.”

They all stared blankly at him.

Manny rubbed his forehead. “Some o’ us should stay awake ter guard the folks meditating. Might take a while ter get back if Eon wants ter pull a fast one on us.”

“I shall stay awake as messenger,” Elder said. “Rhys and I have a powerful connection from, er… frequent chatting over the years. If you need to return home, I will tell you.”

“I refuse to allow you to handle this on your own,” Step told the others. “I shall join you in the meditation.”

“I dunno which one I should do, but I wanna talk to Star if we can. Figure she’ll be in Aether Forest? I’ll go with yeh guys.” He looked back at Anam’s home, still looking at his trembling form. “How about the blob?”

Nevren shook his head, wandering to Anam. “I imagine he would prefer being awake. I shall remain behind as well.”

Rhys glared, but before he could say anything, Nevren continued.

“Rhys, I will keep Anam calm. Your spirit is much stronger than mine; I recommend you rescue Owen.”

He was starting to hate when Nevren was right. “Of course.”

Amia already withdrew Alex, leaving for her home to get in a safe place to descend into the Fire Realm.

Willow jumped onto Jerry’s head, jabbing him in the skull. “You! Make sure you keep a good eye on everyone!”

“Why am I involved in this?” Jerry growled, struggling to look at the Joltik atop him.

“Because I said so! Now go patrolling!”

Jerry grunted and wobbled toward the entrance, but then glanced at Enet. “Does she even know how to meditate?”

“I dunno. Enet! Come with us! We’re gonna keep an eye on things here!” Willow hopped off of Jerry and landed on the Zoroark’s fur, nestling herself inside. “I’ll sneak up and shrink them!”

Slowly, the group split off. Those closer to Owen and those who could fight better in the spirit realm left to meditate, consisting of Step, Amia, Rhys, Manny, and Zena. The rest remained behind to guard Hot Spot in case Eon returned that way. With tense looks, they all nodded, knowing nothing about what would happen when they cross into Star’s domain.

<><><>​

Blurry rocks fed into an infinite river of orange magma. The sky was a murky blackness, and the fiery landscape was illuminated only by the melted rock and embers. But that was more than enough.

Amia stepped over the magma with ease, her body awash in blue fire. Her arms were crossed, pensive, while she waited for Alex to mobilize the other spirits, the former residents of Hot Spot.

“We’ll keep the Fire Core safe while you’re away, Amia,” said an Arcanine. “You can count on us.”

“Thank you, dear,” she said. “Sorry if you’re all anxious. I know I am. Leaving the Orb… I didn’t think I’d ever want to do that.”

“Star always said it was a bad idea. Just don’t do it for too long, I suppose. After all, Owen left his body before when Barky—er, Arceus summoned him. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

Amia sighed out more blue fire. “I suppose,” she said. Then, in the distance, Amia spotted a Hydreigon flying toward her, his body the same color as the magma below. In fact, he dripped of it, the fan at the back of his neck made of fire instead. Amia’s heart skipped a beat, her body tensing for combat—but then, seconds later, she loosened. “Alex.”

“S-sorry for the scare,” the Hydreigon replied, shifting back to the more familiar, Magmortar form. “I hate it, too, but it’s more mobile. I had to act fast, and, er…”

“It’s fine, dear.” Amia gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. “In fact… go back. Even after all this time, it never really leaves you, does it? That old body of yours.”

“It… it is more convenient,” Alex said grudgingly. He turned around, but he didn’t revert just yet. “But I spent more time as a Magmortar in the physical world, now. Ironic, in a way. I should be used to that.”

Amia smiled, but Arcanine spoke up in a growl. “Isn’t Owen in trouble? Hurry, bring him back to us!”

“R-right, sorry,” the duo said.

After a few extra seconds to hesitate, Alex became a Hydreigon again, flexing his ominous, fiery wing-tendrils that levitated him above the ground. Amia hopped onto his back, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I’m settled,” Amia confirmed.

“Then let’s go. Aether Forest…”

As the spirit world liked to work, they just had to fly forward and they’d reach their destination. After that, they just had to redirect to the Grass Realm right after.

Rocks and magma dried up around them; the sun rose as if Dialga had accelerated time a hundred-fold; soon, they weren’t in a river of fire, but a forest of aura. Blue, glowing leaves covered the sky and black, sturdy trunks stood on the ground.

Amia squeezed Alex’s shoulder. “Let’s think to meet with the others, first. We need to—”

A deafening snap and then a deep, thunderous crash shook the ground, sending even more loose leaves to the forest floor. It came from the right; Alex ascended above the treetops to get a better look.

Barky was fending off what appeared to be a cloud of black fog.

“What is that?” Amia said, getting ready to fly on her own, but Alex took the lead, beating his wings. “Ah—Oh, Alex, I really need to get used to this again.”

Alex grunted in reply. “I could say the same thing, but like I said, it’s necessary. I should have done this a long time ago. If Owen can get over his past, then so can I, right?”

Amia flinched, just slightly, looking down at Alex. His dark eyes were staring straight ahead. She knew that look. “Alex…”

“It’s okay,” Alex said. “You aren’t scared at all, are you?”

Amia gently rubbed at his neck, pressing a bit hard so his tough scales could actually feel it. “It’s still you,” she said gently. “Now fight with all you have! I’ll keep you backed up. Just like old times, hm?”

The fiery Hydreigon smiled at that, but it disappeared as quickly as it came when a jet of water tore through the cloud of darkness ahead. It was distant and came from somewhere to the right of Barky, but they recognized that Hydro Pump anywhere. Alex flew a bit faster, embers dripping from his three heads’ mouths. “Looks like Zena’s already here.”

“Get ready,” Amia said, head and dress aflame. “What are those?”

Up close, the cloud of darkness wasn’t a cloud at all—it was a swarm. Strange, winged creatures, inky black in color, encircled Barky, fended off only by the filaments of light that surrounded him. Their main bodies were shapeless lumps; even the wings seemed to only be half-formed. They flew by some other power, much like Alex.

“You don’t think Barky will try to hurt us, do you?” Alex mumbled worriedly.

“If he’s fighting those wraiths, I don’t think we’ll need to worry,” Amia said. “But I’ve never seen ones like those before…”

Another jet of water sliced through the swarm. The ones that it hit disintegrated into black dust, fading before it even hit the treetops below them.

“Barky!” Amia yelled.

“ARCEUS!” The Creator retorted reflexively, but then returned his attention ahead. “You shouldn’t be here. Get away! I can handle these things myself.”

“I tried to escape,” Zena, flying behind him, said. “But they kept swarming me. I—I can’t leave!”

“I’m waiting for an opening so you can run ahead and find Star,” Barky said. “But they just keep coming. I have no idea where.”

“B-but how could you not know?! What are these things?” Amia said. “Wraiths, here?”

“I don’t know.”

“HOW?!”

Barky grunted, watching the cloud of darkness. “There’s something you should know about creation.” He held a hoof forward. The ground heaved, shooting molten earth into the cloud of wraiths, dissolving some of them instantly in an even finer fog. “We make the rules. But we do not necessarily know how the rules interact. Creation is delicate.”

Amia looked down at Barky’s abdomen, noticing that some of his fur was oddly charred. No, not charred; he didn’t show any signs of burning, and she smelled no burned fur. It smelled almost like lingering rot, just slightly. And near the affected area, black fog silently flowed over his fur.

“Don’t worry about it,” Barky said. “It’s fading. They caught me off guard, but it will take much more than that to take down me.”

Barky flicked his hoof again, and another plume of magma from the ethereal earth exploded upward, taking out another swarm nearest to them. Zena blasted more of the lingering swarm before they could get closer, and Amia and Alex joined the fray with twin beams of blue-and-red fire.

But their numbers kept growing, coming from some distant part of Aether Forest.

“D-don’t you have anything better you can do?” Amia said desperately. “You’re Arceus! Can’t you just get rid of them?!”

Barky glared directly in front of him. “Of course I can,” he said. “Anywhere else, I can. But this is Star’s domain. And she has neglected to allow me to use my fullest potential here, including my divine Judgement. But it’s no matter. This will do.” Another flick of the hoof, and the devastating Earth Power enveloped another swarm.

“What if she allowed you for now?” Amia said. “What if you ask?”

“Star would never allow me to use my Judgement in her realm. She told me herself.”

“When?”

“A long time ago.”

“Just—just try!” Amia said. “What if she let you for now?!”

The swarm was closing in; the sky seemed a lot darker with them blotting out most of their vision of the forest. Barky stomped his hoof in the air again, shooting more magma into the sky. The other three blasted in other directions, ridding most of the swarm again, but a new wave was already incoming. Worse yet, stragglers of the initial wave had closed in on them.

Alex yelped, ducking down to dodge a few of the black birds’ strikes. Up close, he couldn’t see any features on them. Faceless, nearly shapeless even when they were a foot away. Without a mouth, it screeched and slammed into Alex’s neck. He screamed—it was like acid, and however fleeting the contact was, the pain lingered. Amia blasted the wraith away, brushing her hands on his scales. They felt soft and raw. “Alex…”

“H-heal it, please,” Alex begged.

Amia pumped healing energy through him, and to her relief, it did what she wanted. The wound quickly disappeared, the shadowy fog dissipating.

But the swarm was still coming, this wave just as thick as the last. They seemed even angrier this time, some fizzling and screeching from far away.

“Why do I feel so tired here?” Zena said in a pant. “I never get this weak in the spirit realm.”

“It isn’t your domain,” Barky said. “We are strongest when we are within the domains that we control. Beyond it, we are inevitably weaker.” He growled, flicking his hoof for another Earth Power. “This is the best I can do at the moment. I did not expect them to be so much trouble.”

“We need to get to Owen,” Zena said.

“Hmph, as if he would allow me to stay in his domain again,” Barky said.

The Milotic briefly glanced at the Creator, then at Amia, who shared a similar look.

“If it means your safety, perhaps he might,” Zena said. “You just have to promise to behave.”

“Promise to behave,” Barky repeated with a growl. “I am the embodiment of behavior.”

“Then don’t threaten my son,” Alex abruptly said, the tone of his voice uncharacteristically harsh. Even Amia flinched, placing a hand on his shoulder. Alex, surprised by himself, shook his head. “P-please.”

Barky flicked his hoof again, but the rate that they were being destroyed was a lot slower than the rate they were coming back. Zena, Amia, and Alex were trying to build up their strength, but they couldn’t muster up the energy for another blast, let alone one that could rival Barky’s power.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to last much longer,” Alex said. “D-do we have a way back, Barky?”

“Do not call me that.”

“Do we?!”

“Ngh… yes. But if we go back, we won’t be able to help Owen, and those wraiths are surely trying to get there, too. I can take us to the Hall of Origin. We will be allowed some reprieve.”

“Owen…” Zena suppressed a tired whimper.

The wraiths were closing in again, and the Guardians knew they didn’t have the strength to fight back. They could only go back.

“Never mind,” Barky abruptly said, his eyes flashing a glint of confidence. “We have some company.”

A wall of ice abruptly rose from the ground where magma had once stood, exploding into a cloud of steam that burned away at more of the flying wraiths. Another cold wind of frost washed over the rest of them; it didn’t quite destroy them, but it did slow them down.

“Step!” Amia shouted, squinting to find the source. The Aggron was flying toward the other Guardians; behind her were three Kommo-o, each one blasting beams of cold, cyan light at the evasive darkness. Ice crystals formed along the beams, exploding upon impact with anything that grazed it when it fell to the forest below.

“Apologies for the delay. I was restless and couldn’t meditate properly,” Step said. “You cannot force such things.”

Boisterous shouting sounded from the other side of the field. With the wraiths slowed, the group spared a second to look back.

“Ah! Manny!”

The Lucario stood on top of Drampa Yen’s back, holding one foot near the back of his neck, and the other near the middle of his spine, pointing forward with a loud rallying cry. Behind him, the spirits of Azu, Roh, and Verd spiraled around one another, chanting some sort of rehearsed speech.

“The unbeatable!”

“The invincible!”

“The unstoppable!”

“Ultimate Fighting Spirit!”

Manny raised his arms in the air; his aura enhancing that of his spirits, all three of them glowing with an unknown power. Then, the three punched forward simultaneously, creating a shockwave that bent the light.

“DOWN!” Barky shouted, diving below the incoming blast; Zena, Amia, and Step followed with their spirits.

Yen opened his mouth and spat a gout of Dragon fire into the shockwave, and Manny finished with a two-pawed Aura Sphere. The fire twisted around the shockwaves, imbued itself into the Aura Sphere, and then the full amalgamation of energy gained a new shape, heading straight through the trees.

Amia stared dumbly. “Is that…”

“A giant fist?” Zena finished.

The fist, reminiscent of a Machoke’s, toppled over an entire row of trees on its way to the wraiths. The swarm roared and tried to move, but the sheer size of the incoming embodiment of Fighting energy made the maneuver impossible. It hit the first layer, smashed through the second, and exploded in the middle, obliterating every single one, including several trees.

Yen hovered near them and Manny hopped off, standing on an invisible platform. “Oy, how’d it go?”

The trio of muscle heads gave one another high-fives behind him—a gesture that Zena tilted her head at.

“Better now that you’re here, I suppose,” Step admitted grudgingly. “Let’s not waste any time. We must find Owen!”

“Yeh got it,” Manny said. “We waitin’ on anybody else?”

“Rhys,” Amia said.

“He may take a while,” Barky said. “His connection to the spirit world is much weaker. I will send him your way when he arrives.”

The group all hesitated.

“You have my word.” He gave a firm nod. “This is larger than the conflict Star and I share, and Rhys and I share common ground in honor. Please, help Owen.”

Alex, cautious as always, squeaked and pointed. “They’re coming again!”

“They don’t look like they’re much larger than last time,” Amia said. “Manny, can you get another one of those blasts ready?”

“I, eh, we kinda used all our juice on that one.”

“We had to finish them quickly,” Yen said. “We made an opening. Let’s go before they close in. Barky, will you come with us?”

Barky hesitated, but then shook his head. “I don’t want to intrude on Owen’s territory. I shall retreat to the Hall of Origin and speak with the Trinity to escort you back to your Orbs when you’re ready to return. Go!” He faced the incoming swarm.

Amia pleaded, “But what if—”

Step flew in a random direction, knowing how Aether Forest worked. The others followed on reflex; Amia and Alex were the last to leave.

The further they went, the quieter the wriths’ shrieks became. The ground split open to another Earth Power, drowning out their screams.

<><><>​

A cacophony of roars and screams filled the dining hall of Quartz HQ. Tremors shook the labyrinth and vines coated the walls from inside. A Mew frantically flew out of the eating area and into the sterile, white halls, eyes wide with fear.

“GET BACK HERE!” Star roared at the Mew.

Eon, not used to this tiny, floating body, struggled to escape. His throat was constricted with panic, swerving around corners and into curious onlookers. Why didn’t he take his timestopper with him?! He should have known Star would try to interfere, but that was all the way on the tenth floor. Even if Owen got suspicious, it was for safety! He should have brought it with him.

“Daddy!” Lavender squeaked; within the mess hall, the mutants were, at first, too stunned to react.

Gahi was the first to get moving, his lighting-fast strikes going right for Star’s back. His Dragon Claw cut through her wings. Gahi made sure to tug as hard as he could, trying to dislocate one, but it wasn’t enough. He beat his wings to gain some distance; Star’s arm suddenly turned green and lengthened, slamming Gahi in his chest, and then Gahi himself into the wall.

The Flygon coughed, the wind knocked out of him. He struggled to break free, but Star slammed another vine into his gut; he nearly lost his dinner, but instead fell forward, clutching his stomach.

A Seviper and Tyranitar ran toward one another, quickly fusing into a single being. The rocky serpent made a move to go after Star, but she was already out of the mess hall, leaving all of the stunned mutants behind. Some had tried to tackle her or blast her, but the various filaments of light deflected them. Gahi had been the only one fast enough to get close.

Lavender was fast enough to keep up with Star, even after she left the halls, but he wasn’t fast enough to catch up. But he didn’t let that stop him; eventually, Eon would slow her down. He just had to save him!

Across the hall, Eon shouted for everyone to get into their rooms and not come out. Dumbly, this gave away his location; even without sensing for Eon’s aura, Star could hear his voice.

More importantly, Star tapped into Owen’s Perceive, slowly learning how it worked. Seeing in three dimensions was invaluable; even if Eon wanted to hide, she could find him.

Okay. Okay. Eon panted, spinning around. Owen’s possessed. He has… at least a third of the Hands in him. I just—need to wait until he can regain control. C’mon, Owen…!

Eon figured that with Owen’s body, it would be easy to find him no matter where he went. But what if he could get far enough away that trying to scan the whole facility would stall Star? He just had to stall. That’s all he needed; she couldn’t control Owen forever, right?

If he could go to a different floor, would he be able to hide?

Something green flitted across the corner of his vision; Eon glanced to see a Zygarde staring at him from across the hall.

Hecto was reporting where he was. There was no doubt about it; surely there was one in the Grass Realm telling Star everything.

Hecto was everywhere in Quartz HQ. How could he—

No. Not everywhere. He detested being near Nate—his touchy-feely habits and the strange, dark aura would be enough. Hecto would take the longest to find him there.

The halls trembled again. “EON!” Star roared. Hearing Owen’s voice with such a deafening shout sent a cold chill down his spine. He didn’t look back; he ducked into the corner, narrowly dodging a huge vine; it slammed into the wall, digging into the marble. Roots formed within, crisscrossing along the hall to completely block it off.

But Eon knew this labyrinth much better than Star did. There was still another path to take. Just one more turn—there!

He saw a number at the end of the hall. Floor five. He had to get to Nate, floor eight. That would be far enough to stall Owen’s Perceive, and Hecto wouldn’t be on that floor, either.

Eon stopped himself from praying—Star would hear it, after all—and could only quietly hope to himself that the walls would answer to whispers.

“Eight, eight,” Eon said, pressing his tiny head against the paint. He could just barely smell the pigments.

Eon disappeared just as Star rounded the corner, an endless tapestry of vines burrowing into the walls.

Star hissed, seeing the number at the end of the hall. Great, she growled to herself. I have a one in ten shot of finding him if I pick a floor randomly. Hecto, find him!

I shall try.

Actually, you have a one-in-nine shot because you’re already on a floor,
Owen’s voice chimed in. Also, GIVE ME BACK MY BODY!

Simmer down!
Star sped toward the numbers. I’m doing this for your own good, got it?! Just listen to me for once!

How about no?!


Star’s body abruptly jerked to the side, slamming into one of the doorways. Despite the reinforced, metallic barrier, she slammed through the door with ease, tearing the frame along with it. “Augh! Owen! Stop!”

YOU stop! I said we were going to talk it out! He literally Promised to not—

Eon doesn’t
think like you do, Owen! He’s impulsive, and he’ll easily find some loophole in such a stupid Promise, no matter what it was! I can’t believe you just agreed with him like that!

Star staggered out of the broken room, clutching her head. Plumes of fire escaped her open maw while her claws dug into the marble floor. Some filaments of light curved toward her. “If you aren’t going to let me do this…”

Wh-what’re you doing?

The filaments of light pierced back into Star, earning a wail from the possessor and a scream from the possessed. Star gagged and fell forward, barely catching herself from falling face-first. She gasped for air, even though her body didn’t need it, but heard nothing from Owen within.

She wobbled down the hall, several filaments of light lodged along the back of her ribs, nestled between the countless others that were still extended around her like seaweed in the ocean. “P-perfect,” she grunted.

A rush of wind blew past her, accompanied by a green blur.

“Get out of Owen,” Gahi commanded, slamming his tail on the ground.

“Out of the way, hothead.” Star growled lowly, puffing a threatening ball of fire toward Gahi. It evaporated before it got to him, but it came dangerously close; despite this, the Flygon didn’t flinch. His glossy body reflected the orange light, glimmering against the red lenses over his eyes.

“I dunno what yer planning,” Gahi said, “but at least Eon tried ter talk. Anybody who tries to go an’ control Owen like this…” He snarled, lowering his stance for a lunge, wings outstretched.

Star pinched between her forehead. “Gahi, it’s not that simple. Just—”

“I ain’t having it!” he roared. “The last thing Owen wants is to lose control o’ himself again, ya got that?! Give his body back, er else!”

“Or else what?!” Star yelled back, green vines trailing around under the marble. She could feel it right below and around Gahi, just beneath the walls.

Gahi huffed, looking at the walls. Star realized he saw the cracks forming. She had to act fast. “Ya know,” Gahi said, “that ‘wings o’ light’ thing yer doing… Figure that helps with channeling yer power more.”

Star winced, remembering that some of them were still pierced into her spirit to keep Owen down. Star shook her head; she just had to knock Gahi out. She tensed her body, channeling some of that tension into the vines along the walls; they burst forth, pulling apart the cracks—

The vines wrapped around Gahi from all sides, thorns and brambles overtaking the corridor surrounding Gahi. Star squeezed the vines around him, making motions with her hands. “Yeah, just stay there for a while,” she growled, releasing her invisible grip. Star watched for a few seconds, a cold feeling in her gut telling her not to turn around. Her Perceive was telling her something, but she wasn’t familiar enough with Owen’s power to know what it was saying. “Gahi?” she asked worriedly. “Y-you’re still alive in there, right?”

Did she go overboard? Owen was remarkably quiet… He wasn’t resisting as much anymore. Was he just too weak?

The defiant Charizard quietly spoke, strained and barely holding on. You know… I never won against Gahi. She could feel his smirk.

The vines tore apart in a flurry of blue dragon fire. Claws shrouded in the flames ripped each tangled plant like brittle twigs. Behind the fire and the burning flora, Gahi’s gleaming eyes shined. And behind Gahi was a small bouquet of Hands--the Hands that Owen had given him.

Gahi gave Star a wry smile. “Wanna try that again?”

In her surprise, Star blinked, and in that blink, Gahi slammed his fist square in the Charizard’s chest.
 

TheGOAT

🗿
Location
Houston, Texas
Pronouns
Him/his
Partners
  1. serperior
ACT I - A Fragile Identity

Poison-tipped fangs plunged into Owen’s chest. The Charmander cried out, struggling through his pierced lungs, and pushed against the stone serpent wrapped around him. He didn’t know what it was. 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. He tasted blood; he couldn’t breathe. His lungs were full.

“OWEN!” cried a Gardevoir.

“M-Mom!” Owen mouthed.

Behind the Gardevoir was a Magmortar. With fire in his eyes, he launched a volley from his cannons that exploded right next to the amalgamation. It hissed in pain; the Flame Burst sent him flying, along with Owen. The bursts lit up the surrounding field of lush grass, cutting through the evening twilight’s darkness. Only the fading fire of Owen’s tail and the Magmortar’s shoulders lit the area—making them easy targets.

The impact on the ground gave Owen just enough time to escape, wriggling out of its rocky hold. He felt free for only half a second. Owen turned his head and saw the thing launch a succession of large rocks toward his father, the Magmortar. Three hits. They went straight through him. Blue fire erupted from the resulting holes. And then, his father exploded in a flurry of embers.

D-dad? Owen stared with wide eyes, distracted.

The serpent hissed and swung its tail forward—a sharp pain surged through Owen’s back. A jerking motion forced Owen’s head down. He saw the blade coming out from his chest. He had no way to scream.

“Get AWAY!” the Gardevoir, his mother, screamed for him. An incredible heat washed over Owen’s back, and then a horrible, shrieking wail filled his ears. He fell; the tail slipped out from behind. Blood gushed on the dirt beneath him.

Owen fell face-first into the dirt, but despite this, it felt like the coziest pillow in the world. Everything felt cold, and then warm.

“Owen! Owen!” She rushed toward him, paying no mind to the fire on the ground. It didn’t look like the flames affected her body at all. “Owen, it’s going to be okay!” She held his back, pushing wave after wave of healing energy through his body. His breath returned to him; he coughed the remaining blood out.

What happened to his Dad? Owen’s eyes darted in all directions, his expression asking what his mouth couldn’t.

“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.

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.

<><><>​

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

Wait. What happened? Wasn’t he—

“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. She sighed, smiling. “You’re lucky we got you that special Rawst Leaf bed, or we’d need to replace it every night!” She laughed, but then walked over, patting him on the head. “Go to sleep, dear. Tomorrow’s a big day for you, isn’t it? Another expedition as a trainee. You don’t want to do that while sleep-deprived, do you? When you get up, Alex and I will get you a good meal ready.”

“Yeah…”

Another voice whispered quietly from the other room. “Amia, is he okay?”

Owen saw the burning shoulders of his Magmortar father. A vague image flashed in front of his mind of that very same Magmortar bursting into an explosion of blue embers. Bluer than his mother’s hair. That must have been a dream.

“It’s very late, Owen. Get some rest.” The blue Gardevoir gently pressed her hand against his back, making him reflexively tense. She frowned at this, biting her lower lip with concern. “Owen, did you have a nightmare?”

“I think so…”

“Well, it’s gone, now,” Amia said. She looked back to Alex, who shuffled to the other room. “Get some sleep. It’s still late at night.”

Owen eased himself onto his bed of leaves again, giving a defeated nod. “Okay, Mom.”

Right before going to bed, his mind felt muddled again. In the corner of his eye, he saw an eerie glow. His consciousness abruptly cut out.

<><><>​

Breakfast was a hearty stew. The table had three seats. Two were sized for the smaller frames of the mother and son. Both were approximately the same width, albeit oversized for Owen. The third seat was much larger than the rest—in order to accommodate for its usual occupant. Alex, bumping his cannon-arms nervously, looked down at his food without a hint of an appetite.

“What’s wrong?” Owen asked.

“N-nothing,” Alex said. He refused to make eye contact.

Owen squinted suspiciously. He glanced at Amia, who giggled nervously and looked at her half-eaten bowl.

“Mmm. How are you feeling, Owen?” she asked.

“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!” Owen played with a lump of a potato in the stew. His parents always got uncomfortable when he talked about his dreams, and he never knew why. He did admit that they felt too real to be dreams, but what else could they be? He had decided long ago not to press the issue. He grabbed his bowl and downed half of his breakfast. His parents’ expressions were grave, but they feigned a smile when he looked at them again. “Weird, huh? Dreams are funny.”

“Oh, Owen, m-maybe you’re just nervous about all this,” his mother said. “Becoming stronger, more responsibilities. Being part of the Thousand Hearts is a big deal, after all! …If you get in. Remember, there’s no shame in failing the exams.”

She was trying to help him feel better, but that didn’t help the knot of inferiority tightening in his gut. How many times had he tried and failed to get in? No, this would be different. That was the whole reason he was going out on a practice exploration in the first place.

“Y-yes, exactly,” Alex said. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not too late to… live quietly? Perhaps take on a farming job.”

“No way!” Owen said, beaming. “Fighting is the way to go. I can’t live without a good fight. And what better way to fight than to, uh, y’know, fight bad guys?”

“Of… of course.” At this point, his father’s flaming shoulders were mere cinders. Owen’s mother put her hand on Alex’s back, shaking her head.

Owen returned to his meal.

. “So… today’s the day, right?” Alex asked, breaking the tense silence.

“Oh, Alex, you weren’t up all night, were you?” Amia asked.

Owen wouldn’t doubt if Alex spent all night fretting over his planned excursion.

“No! I shut my eyes,” he said. “…Owen, are you sure about this?”

“Super totally!” Owen said, tipping his bowl of stew directly into his mouth.

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. In a Dungeon, sure, but nothing he can’t handle! He’ll be just fine.” 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.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “And if I get horribly maimed, I’ll just warp back to the entrance! It’ll be fine!” He grinned, but he wondered if his word choice could have been better. He was trying to be funny, but he practically heard his father’s heart explode through his giant torso.

“B-but it will still be dangerous! You’ll be badly hurt, Owen! There are stories of bandits and outlaws and even ferals waiting for defeated Pokémon to return to the entrance. You’ll be too weak to fight back, and then—and then—” Alex’s shoulder fire nearly touched the ceiling of the cavern. “And what if you bring something important with you? If you get kicked out of a Dungeon in that way, you’ll—lose it! You’ll lose almost everything on you! Perhaps even your—your life!”

“Well, if wild Pokémon think it’s safe,” Owen said, “then it must be really nice, y’know?”

“B-but…! That’s…!” Alex’s arms heated up. He looked like he was going to collapse into himself with worry. “Wh-which Dungeon is it again?”

“It’s only the Wooden Wilds, dear,” Amia said. “It isn’t even very far. And it’s mostly just Bug and Grass Pokémon—you have nothing to worry about! He won’t strain himself.” She nodded at both of them.

Alex hummed against his lips, expression twisted with an endless pit of worry. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. Then… then, you can go, Owen. But—be careful! Very, very careful. And if you ever run into trouble, we’ll tell the Hearts about it right away.”

“I’ll be fine, Dad,” Owen said. How humiliating would it be for his parents to ask the Hearts to rescue him? He was supposed to be part of them, not one of their clients! He hopped out of his seat. “Okay! I’m gonna go now, alright? See you!”

“W-wait!” Alex said. “Did you meditate?!”

“Did this morning!” Surprisingly, this was the truth.

Owen hopped out of his seat. He grabbed a small, lightweight, golden Badge with a heart-shaped insignia from a nearby rock, and then grabbed his little exploration pouch from the front, wrapping it around his back. “See you!” He glanced at the Provisionary Heart Badge within his claws, nodding to himself.

They watched Owen leave. Amia leaned into Alex’s chest, sighing.

Alex’s fire finally returned to something normal in size. “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…”

Amia giggled, patting Alex on the shoulders, completely unaffected by the flames. “He’s got a strong will, though, and he’s resourceful, too. He’ll make up for it. And who knows? Maybe this adventure is what he needs to control that spirit of his.” She sighed, staring at the empty bowl Owen left behind. “I wish Rhys was still here. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to…”

Alex hummed worriedly. “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.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.” Alex rubbed his cannons together. “If I was just a little stronger, I could have defended us both. But I just… evaporated after the first strike. Curse this body. It’s so foreign, even now. Sometimes I wish I…”

“It’s not your fault, dear,” Amia said soothingly, holding his shoulder a bit tighter. “It’s my fault, too. I should have been more careful when leaving the caves. If we just stayed put, we wouldn’t have had to put Owen through all that again.”

Alex frowned, but then the Magmortar forced a smile to the Gardevoir. “Let’s clean up the table,” he said. “And—and if he isn’t back by the evening… N-no, late-afternoon…!”

“We’ll call the Hearts. I promise.”


Prologue Review

Time to discover what’s up with all these goshdarned HoC inside-jokes.

— Interesting how you make Amia and Alex targets of suspicion right off the bat. Owen dreaming about them and then their reactions to that dream gives me the impression that they’re hiding something.

. “So… today’s the day, right?”
There’s a typo somewhere around the middle of the chapter. It’s a period and a space before this paragraph.

— Wasn’t expecting the POV switch. Not usually my cup of tea when that happens, but this particular case felt fitting enough to linger around Alex and Amia for a bit given the circumstances. It’s not unusual for shows and movies to linger around parents watching their child run off to college, or wherever.

— I love these chapter lengths. They feel bite-sized but also thick enough to offer substantial meat with each upload. I feel like this is a very binge-able story structure.
 

TheGOAT

🗿
Location
Houston, Texas
Pronouns
Him/his
Partners
  1. serperior
Chapter 1 – Kilo Village

Owen walked with a spring in his step, tail flame blazing happily. The caverns that he lived in had no natural sunlight, but the mushrooms that lined the rocky walls and ceilings gave more than enough light. Not that it mattered; complete darkness was a foreign concept to most Charmander.

The central cavern was a stone’s throw across, with many smaller offshoots in either direction. Other villagers made their homes in these rocky caves, mostly Fire Pokémon like himself. In that sense, his adoptive mother was an exception to the population, though she could deal with the heat like any other Fire could.

“Oh, Owen!”

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.”

“Aw, thanks!” Owen graciously took them, counting them for inventory, and slipped the three apples into his pouch.

“I figured it would save you the trouble of going by the apple garden yourself,” Arcanine said, fluffy tail wagging. “It’s not far, but you’re a busy Heart, aren’t you?”

“Well, I’m not a Heart yet,” Owen said, though his tail and chest both expanded at the thought. “Just wait! This time, I’ll get it!”

“Ohh, your eyes are so bright, Owen.” She laughed, waving him off.

Owen left at a full sprint, too full of energy to go any slower, and only looked back to wave her goodbye.

The passage narrowed until it was only a reminder to Owen that, one day, he’d have to be more careful about how he walked through it. When he became a Charizard, he’d have to keep to one side so he didn’t take up the entryway. Though, now that he thought about it, he didn’t see a lot of other villagers pass through this area. They usually kept to themselves—it was a secret location, after all. Which made it even cooler.

Owen stopped at what appeared to be a dead-end of the caves. He hopped onto a small, flat square on the ground. Nothing happened.

“Oh, come on.”

Owen stepped off of the tile, swung his arms back, and hopped a bit higher into the air, 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. That’ll do. He hauled it over with him and jumped onto the tile again.

Click.

The dead-end glowed a bright cyan, much like the glassy mushrooms. The blockage, a huge boulder, rolled aside, revealing the bright sky. Owen squinted, reptilian pupils narrowing until he could finally adjust to the new normal.

He emerged to the base of a rocky hillside behind him; green fields of grass as tall as he was greeted him ahead. To his left and right was a simple dirt path, carved by traveling Pokémon. Owen headed to the left, knowing that it would be a quick walk to get to Kilo Mountain.

It was a little raised hill in the distance from his perspective, but that was a whole mountain of black rock. 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.

A short, quiet walk later, with the summer breeze tickling his flame, Owen stopped where the dirt road converged with many others. Embedded into the ground was a flat, silvery hexagon with a few dim lights lining the sides. The lights weren’t very bright in the morning sun—it was mostly for visibility at night. Instead, it made for a colorful, intricate pattern that, from what Owen had read, was meant to be aesthetically pleasing, and had little other functional value.

Owen stepped onto the Waypoint and gently tapped his ankle on the tile. In a flash, he disappeared.

<><><>​

The sky was a blinding blue that morning, not a cloud in sight. With the help of the Waypoint, the fiery explorer appeared in the middle of town in a flash of light. It hadn’t felt like anything but a blink, yet in that blink, he went from staring at Kilo Mountain from far away to being within the crater’s top, within Kilo Village itself.

“That was so cool!” Owen said. It wasn’t his first time, but the wonder of being able to teleport from any other Waypoint to the central one would never wear off for him. 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.

Owen looked around to gather his bearings. Immediately in the center of town was a sign that said, ‘Welcome to Kilo Village!’ It was odd to have a welcome sign in the exact middle of the location, but it made sense when most individuals entered through the Waypoints scattered across all of Kilo. The town itself was in the middle of a crater at the top of an extinct volcano. From inside town, one couldn’t see anything beyond the dark hills of the crater. The altitude, however, wasn’t very high; the mountain was mostly underwater, rather than above the sea—according to the Water Pokémon, at least. Owen didn’t intend to test such theories out.

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. Instead, it served as a hospital for rescued and injured Pokémon. Owen spotted a Chansey through windows of wood and glass, holding a few soft-boiled eggs in her tiny arms. A Miltank was carrying a large jug of milk in the opposite direction.

Owen decided not to think too hard about it.

All around Owen was everything that a Heart would need. The northern side of the crater was dedicated to Dungeon items and equipment. These buildings were made from the same material, but were more recently renovated, lined with displays of seeds and berries, wands and orbs, tonics and vitamins.

The east was dedicated to eateries and restaurants for Pokémon that were either preparing for a mission or returning from one. Sweet and savory scents mixed in the air and the jovial energy of a job well done permeated the atmosphere. If it wasn’t for the price, Owen would have eaten there every night.

The west was for training and sparring, fighting one another, attacking dummies, and conquering obstacle courses set up by retired explorers. These buildings were often where experimental materials were used before shifting the techniques into the older buildings. After all, if it could withstand the attacks of the Pokémon that trained there, it could easily handle whatever else the rest of the town had to deal with.

Owen then glanced longingly at the southern part of town. The Thousand Hearts. The building itself was a big, red, heart-shaped structure, with many smaller hearts scattered around: kiosks and special-purpose facilities. Inside the biggest building was where all Hearts met for check-ins, assignments, and training. Why a heart? Owen had no idea, though it might have something to do with their leader’s personality.

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.

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

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

“S-sorry!” Owen scrambled away. “Okay. Okay, time to go. I need, uhh, what do my supplies look like?” He rummaged through his bag. “A-and I’m not a kid!” he shouted. “I’m just a late evolver!”

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. That should be enough, hopefully. No need to go to the shop to get anything. He’d want at least one Reviver Seed, or even a tiny one just for the boost to escape from trouble, but he didn’t have the funds for that sort of thing. Oh! But what if they had a rare berry or two? Sure, he preferred having his bag half-empty in order to make room for scavenging in the Dungeon, but a few extra berries wouldn’t hurt. If he just shuffled the Oran Berries around, perhaps carried the Totter Orb instead?

“Kid. You’re in the way.”

“S-sorry!” He stumbled. “Wait—I’m not a kid! I told you, I’m a late evolver! I’ll have you know, I—uh—I, er…” He finally realized who he was talking to. Not the Zangoose this time. It was a Golem, a behemoth of a rocky sphere, staring down at him from his great height. 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.

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. “I didn’t train with Dad for nothing.” He hesitated on that line of thinking. 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! “Yeah, I’m just—”

He bumped right into another patron. “Sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Ahh, it is not a problem.”

Owen saw an Alakazam whose mustache was large enough for Owen to walk on like a carpet. 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.

“Y-you’re—you’re—!” Owen’s eyes sparkled. “Alakazam Nevren! Oh—oh, wow!”

“Ahh, you’ve spotted me!” Nevren chuckled. He put his two spoons in his left hand and shook Owen’s with his right. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

Owen tilted his head, confused. Hadn’t they met before? No, they hadn’t. He was just so well-known that he must have had that impression.

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.”

“Sixteen?” Owen asked. “Wow! How come? Are… are some Pokémon not doing well?”

“Ahh, no, no, it’s nothing like that,” Nevren said. “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?”

“Well, surely with time, you can. Everybody begins at the Entry tier, of course. 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!”

“Y’do?!” Owen said, worries gone instantly. “Wow! Okay! Then I’ll definitely do better!”

Nevren nodded. “In fact, why don’t I give you a small gift?”

“What? A gift—from you?! Yes! Yes, yes, yes! Please! I’ll treasure it!” Owen had no idea why Nevren would want to give him a gift so randomly. But he wasn’t going to question a freebie!

“Of course! Here, have this.” He handed Owen a small stone. It sparkled in the sun, but was mostly gray, like a shiny rock.

“Cool!” Owen said politely. “What, uh, what’s it do?”

“It is a special stone that protects Pokémon that have not yet fully evolved. It’s called an Eviolite—and it will be useful as long as it is near your body. I, of course, have no use for it, but you certainly do.”

“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.

Nevren chuckled. “Be sure to keep it with you!” He walked past Owen, and the Charmander was left puffing a little plume of confused smoke at the Alakazam. Keep it with him? Of course he would!

Completely forgetting about going to the shop, he headed south again to the Heart. There, along the pathway, were many lines of warp tiles, each one with a label engraved on it. They were Waypoints set up by explorers of the past in different regions across the continent, meant for getting there instantly, rather than on foot or by wing. With the tiles sorted by a strange derivative of Unown runes, Owen searched for Unown-W’s symbol. “Western Crystal Cave, Western Wetlands, oh! Wooden Wilds! That’s it, alright.” Owen took a breath. “Tenth section. That’s my goal.”

Before he had the chance to enter, someone bumped into him.

“S-sorry! Again!” Owen said, a hint of irritability in his voice. This place was too crowded.

“Feh, quit standin’.” A huge, orange jaw chittered in front of Owen, owned by a Trapinch.

“Gahi, don’t be rude,” said an Axew just behind the Trapinch. Right next to the Axew was a Chikorita, who rolled her eyes.

Owen’s heart fluttered as if he’d seen old friends. Yet, he didn’t even know their names.

The Axew was the first to speak. “I’m sorry about Gahi,” he said, motioning to the Trapinch. “We were actually on our way to do a little mission. Or, well, to find one.”

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

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

“Y-yeah, that.”

“Heh, well, g’luck,” Gahi said. “Figure yeh ain’t too experienced.”

“I am too! I’m super strong! I just… didn’t evolve yet.”

“Oh, really?” Gahi asked, his starry eyes shining with interest. “Well that makes four o’ us. Mispy, Demitri, ‘n I all’re late evolvers, but we’re super tough!”

“Oh! Wait—late evolvers. Is that real?” Owen had just made up the term, but they used it, too. Owen’s tail-fire burned a bit brighter at the validation.

“’Course it is!” Gahi said, stomping his tiny foot. “Otherwise, I’d be a Flygon by now!”

“And I’d be a Haxorus,” Demitri said. “Well, maybe just a Fraxure.” He rubbed at his tusk, tending to a little nick on the right side.

“Meganium…” Mispy said, leaf drooping.

The three collectively sighed.

“I know how you feel.” Owen’s tail drooped slightly. “I’ve trained hard enough to become a Charizard already. I’m sure of it! But, it just never happened. It’s so weird. Everybody else in my scales would’ve evolved by now, but…”

“It’s too bad,” Demitri said. “But, what can you do? We work with what we have, as Heart Entries.”

Owen’s eyes sparked. “You’re one of the Thousand?!”

“Well, three,” Demitri said. “We’re our own little team!”

“That’s so cool! How’d you get in?”

“Hard work,” Gahi said.

“And,” Demitri said, “we got a good word in from our mentor, an Elite Heart.”

“What? Who? Which one?” Owen asked.

“Lucario Rhys,” Demitri said.

There was the smallest pause from Owen. He knew the answer. He knew these three were his students. Trapinch Gahi, Axew Demitri, Chikorita Mispy. It was obvious to him! But why? No, don’t look crazy. Not today, Owen thought. He feigned a beaming expression. “He’s so cool! He’s the aura expert, right?”

“Yeah,” Demitri said. “And he’s super tough!”

“I already met Alakazam Nevren a little while ago! Those two are friends, right?! Oh, can I meet—I mean,” he paused. “Um… I mean…”

“Heh,” Gahi said, amused. “Maybe when yeh get stronger. ‘Til then, we’re gonna do our mission.” He led the way to the main building. Demitri followed, waving back in farewell. Mispy gave Owen an apologetic smile and followed after them.

Owen watched them with a tilted head. Their entire conversation felt like one giant déjà vu. Everything today did. He shook his head; if he kept thinking like this, his entire day would be ruined. He forced excitement to take over. He had an exploration to do!

<><><>​

“Peh! Pah!”

Embers filled the air. Shrieks of wild Pokémon accompanied them. With their bodies burned, they vanished in thin air, returning to the entrance to the Dungeon. “Sweet!” Owen said, pumping his fist in the air. “This is super easy!” He felt a little bad about hurting those Pokémon, but they were the ones attacking him. Owen felt a gentle sting to his side; one of the Paras had jabbed him in the thigh.

They should be fine enough. Getting ejected from a Dungeon often left the victim exhausted… but ferals like those were resilient.

Owen puffed and leaned against a nearby tree that jutted out from a soft wall. The corridors of Dungeons were always so awkwardly narrow, made from raised ground nearby—in this case, of dirt and rock. 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.

Owen’s stomach growled loudly, breaking him from his train of thought. He tittered and dug through his bag. “I guess fighting all the time can work up an appetite, huh?” The crackling flames of the battle’s aftermath spoke back to him. “I need to stop talking to myself.”

Owen sat down to enjoy his meal. He grabbed a stick nearby and stuck it through the core of the apple. He wrapped his tail around and kept it in front of him, roasting the apple above the flame, focusing to make the flame hot enough to actually cook it.

Someone growled behind him. Owen sighed. There was never any peace from the ferals of the Dungeon. They wandered aimlessly into these strange distortions of space, with no knowledge about how to leave, or even how they got in.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Owen warned. He didn’t even turn around. He bit into the roasted apple, savoring the sweet, hot taste.

The feral advanced, growling even louder. Suddenly, the ground beneath the Pokémon’s feet lit up in a bright yellow. A column of fire engulfed it—and that was it. A quick shriek, and then it was gone from the Dungeon. Satisfied, Owen spun the apple to cook it a bit more. “My signature attack—Fire Trap!” he said to the wind.

Being at such a disadvantage, he had trained day and night to perfect a delayed Fire attack, should he ever be caught off guard when handling things one on one. He wasn’t really sure how long he had actually trained; long enough to forget when he actually learned the technique, at least. Still, it took time for him to do it. He could only use it if he had a big opening. But that wasn’t so bad. Now, if only he could figure out how to run away and use the attack at the same time.

Owen finished his apple and stood up. “Top shape!” He pumped his fists in the air. “Can’t beat me now, Dungeon!”

The ground rumbled, as if Owen had tempted fate a bit too much. “U-uhh—” He looked back.

“Rrr… rrrn… rpphhf…”

Owen’s fire burned bright. He was ready to run at a moment’s notice. He shoved his hand into his bag, looking for an item that he’d picked up in an earlier section. He found it and looked up just in time to see the foot of a Snorlax stepping through the corridors. This Snorlax was huge—even bigger than he thought was normal for the species. And its arms were a bit longer, too, with long, matted fur. Muscles bulged unnaturally. It wasn’t a normal Snorlax—and Owen wasn’t prepared for whatever it had in store.

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.

The Snorlax, however, was anything but. A single swing from its mighty fist would turn Owen to a fine, red mist.

“Nope!” He threw a seed toward the Snorlax and fired a puff of flames along with it. The seed ignited, sending soot and smoke in all directions, both blinding and suffocating the mutant. It roared and rubbed its eyes, stumbling blindly into a wall. Owen, knowing he was outmatched, fled for the next section. He only stopped running once he was sure he was far away. He held onto his tiny knees.

He caught his breath and stood straight. “That was weird,” Owen mumbled. “Never saw a Snorlax like that before.” He shook his head. Nothing he could do about it now. It was just something to report when he got back to Kilo Village. The Charmander gently held his chest; the phantom pain was fading.

I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. That was real, and I’m not seeing things. Not crazy.

And so, he advanced. Each section was separated by a small distortion, like a vertical pool of water, but Owen had an easier time checking each time his Badge blinked. The blink indicated a transition into a new part of the Dungeon. Section seven, section eight, section nine… section ten. “Okay, this must be it,” he said. “Finally.” Between his apparent struggle to differentiate dream from reality, and then the Snorlax sighting, his enthusiasm for the exploration was being sustained only by his own feigned excitement.

He did his research. There was a Waypoint at the end of the tenth section, where the Dungeon’s perimeter ended. What great timing, too—Owen was beat! He didn’t want to admit it to the Dungeon, but the tenth section was his limit. He looked up at the sky. The sun’s rays weren’t shining through the tall trees anymore—not directly, at least. It looked like it was going to turn orange soon. If he didn’t get home by evening, Alex’s cannons were probably going to explode with worry again.

“Hey. Kid.”

Owen bristled. “I’m NOT a ki—id…!” He turned around. On the other side of the Dungeon hall, a few paces behind him, was a creature with gray scales, huge jaws, and large wings. His eyes… 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.

Of all the people that he’d met today, this outlaw was the first one that he had no inkling of familiarity with. He had to be careful what he wished for; meeting this Aerodactyl gave him the worst pit in his stomach yet. Maybe it was the apple.

“What’s someone like you doing in a place like this?” the Aerodactyl asked. “Looking for an advantage? Nothing but Grass and Bugs here, after all. Fire Type like you? Easy win.”

“Y-yeah. Really easy, ha ha…”

“I have an easy time here, too,” Aerodactyl replied. “Rock is strong against Bugs. And Flying? Beats ‘em both. But you know what’s really great about me?”

“Y-yeah? What?”

“Rock beats Fire. Rock also beats Flying. And guess what explorer-types show up the most here?”

“F… Fire and… Flying?”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. You’re pretty smart, aren’t you?”

“I—I know Alakazam Nevren,” Owen said. “You should be careful how you act in front of me!”

“Oh, is he around?” Aerodactyl asked. Owen flinched. His hesitation said it all; the winged Pokémon’s jaw twisted into a horrible grin. “Guess that won’t matter, then, will it?”

“Uhh…! Uhh, then I’ll just beat you!” he said. He stomped on the ground and leaned forward, feigning an attack stance.

“Oh, really?” Aerodactyl asked, amused. “That’s a laugh. Okay, kid. But I’ll give you one last chance. Gimme your bag, and I’ll let ya go. Otherwise, I’ll—”

All that was left behind were a few stray embers from his tail; Owen bolted.


Chapter 1 Review

Wanted to quickly clarify before typing up this review that I’m going into this story relatively blind. I say “relatively” because there are instances where I’ve picked up on mild backstory spoilers concerning Owen and other HoC characters (a majority of it gleaned from BLC, ToD, etc.) I don’t have very much definitive knowledge of HoC’s twists and turns, so any speculation I have to offer is usually gonna be on a whim.

— Heh. Owen is already thinking about becoming a Charizard. I noticed that detail sprinkled into the narration in a couple places. That, plus the occasional narrative quip have made this a smooth, cozy read so far.

— That cave community is kinda crazy. Is it this world’s equivalent of a gated neighborhood or something?

— There was a rather long stretch (for you, at least) in this chapter where there was no dialogue at all. The exposition was really interesting from a worldbuilding perspective, but I thought it dragged a bit.

— Hmmmm I’m getting Fogbound Lake “I know this place!” vibes from this Nevren encounter.

— Nevren mentioning the sixteen retirements is a cool way to indirectly clarify that the Thousand Hearts are composed of exactly a thousand members at a time.

— Owen being self-aware of the eviolite potentially feeding into some sort of complex is adorable.

— Hey look it’s Buffet

— Owen’s dialogue is very shitpost-y and I honestly can’t get enough of it.
 

TheGOAT

🗿
Location
Houston, Texas
Pronouns
Him/his
Partners
  1. serperior
Chapter 2 – Trouble in the Woods

“Stupid kid—get back—pfwaaagh!”

A Fire Trap exploded beneath Aerodactyl when he reached where Owen had stomped. Unfortunately, all it did was slow him down. “Nghh—that burns,” he muttered, rubbing at his right side with his wing.

Owen ran as quickly as he could, glad that the outlaw was stunned by the surprise attack. Hoping it would work again, he spent some of his time stomping on the ground. This created another trap. Owen turned down the corridor, but then skidded to a stop. “W-wait! That’s not fair!” he shouted.

“You shouldn’t be the one to complain about being fair!” Aerodactyl shouted, pushing through the second Fire Trap.

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.

“Heh, well, I suppose our fairness evens out, doesn’t it?” Aerodactyl said. 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.

“That’s not right! I—just—let me go!” Owen said.

“Oh, no, no, no, I don’t think I can do that,” Aerodactyl said. “Not without some payment first. Your bag. Just hand it over, and I’ll be on my way.”

“No way!” Owen said. He glanced in his bag with the little time he had. He had too my precious items in it. The gift from Nevren, too. And all the items he picked up during exploration! Wait, the items!

“Ha!” Owen said. He saw the small, blue sphere—an Escape Orb. He could use it. He’d be out of here without a problem! Owen smashed it on the ground. He was ready for the blue light inside to envelop him and take him straight to the entrance. Instead, the light and energy inside evaporated into nothing.

“Wh-what?” he said. A mysterious power had stopped the Orb from functioning. That normally only happened against Pokémon with powerful auras, or—

“Heh,” Aerodactyl said. He dug his right wing into his own bag, flashing a strange-looking device. It was red with a glowing, yellow heart button in the middle. “Jammer Emblem. You think I’d let you run off so easily? Everyone brings Escape Orbs. So, I bring a Jammer.”

“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?

Aerodactyl took another step forward. Owen only had enough time to use one more item. And his Totter Orb would be useless, too. He could try to use his Badge to escape—even if it was just a Provisionary Badge, it still had enough of a charge to escape. But within a Dungeon, it wouldn’t have the energy or precision to take anything on him—just his person. All of his items—no, Nevren’s gift, too! 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.

Something knocked against his claws in his bag. A seed. It felt strange to the touch, as if the air around it simply wasn’t there. He knew the feeling. A Warp Seed.

Owen immediately shoved a seed in his mouth and chomped. In one second, he was staring an Aerodactyl in the face. In another, he was in the middle of a random area in the same section of the Dungeon. Owen, working off of the adrenaline rush, immediately ran ahead. If he could just find the—

He was in the exact same room he had been in before. He even saw the Aerodactyl emerge from the hall next to him. Owen fought against his own momentum and scrambled backwards.

He rushed through the Dungeon as much as he could, but fortune was not Owen’s friend that day. He couldn’t find the way out. Why did this always happen when a quick escape was needed the most?! He had explored the entire segment by now! Where was the next distortion?

He found a room he hadn’t yet visited. He peered inside and saw the Aerodactyl—and the exit, right behind him.

Aerodactyl caught sight of Owen at the corner of his eye. His huge jaw twisted into a smirk. “Hey, there,” he said. “Having trouble?”

Owen wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there. It was just the two of them. The exit out of his reach. But now, he knew that he had a solid target. That Aerodactyl wasn’t going to move from that spot. So, if he could take advantage of that somehow, then maybe—

“Hey!” Owen said. “How about this?!” He grabbed something from his bag and threw it at the outlaw. It was another seed—one that, upon hitting him, popped and scattered a strange dust around the Pokémon.

“Wh—huh?! Why you—little—!” 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.

He launched pellet after rocky pellet in a random direction, completely missing Owen. Now was his chance! Owen opened his mouth and launched a small plume of fire toward him. An Ember was less than ideal, but it at least did some damage. All of his other techniques either required contact or required Aerodactyl to move to where he had been standing. Ember was all he had, or all he thought he could pull off against someone so much bigger and faster.

“Ngh—!” Owen narrowly dodged to the right, evading a lucky shot, but his momentum made him tumble to the ground. He scrambled up—and felt a sharp pain on back of his head. Everything felt upside-down, and there was a sharp ringing in his ears. “Ughn—no, I…!” he tried to stand, but a second rock smashed against the center of his spine. The force made him roll across the ground like a bag of berries—he couldn’t feel anything on his lower half.

Aerodactyl tried to fire a third, but nothing came. “Tch.” He spat out a loose pebble. “Must be getting tired.” He winced at his burn. Then, he stepped toward Owen, who was too injured and dizzy to react, yet not enough to be kicked from the Dungeon.

“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.”

“N… no.” Owen struggled weakly, a single hand still clutching at the strap. “You can’t!”

“Looks like I can,” he replied, munching on an Oran Berry next. He roughly tugged the bag away, jerking Owen forward. Aerodactyl’s injuries vanished with a wave of blessed light at the same time that Owen’s face slammed into the dirt. The outlaw let out a deep, refreshed sigh.

“P-please. At least give me the Eviolite that Nevren gave me,” Owen said, holding himself up with an arm. “You don’t… you don’t need it. You’re fully evolved. Or, er, you don’t evolve…”

“Eh?” Aerodactyl looked at the glimmering stone. “Doesn’t look like a normal Eviolite to me. I bet it’d sell real well, though. Sorry, kid. I’m keeping it. And you’re right. My species doesn’t need evolution.”

Owen tried to blast him again, but no flames came out; he could taste the fire on his tongue, but he didn’t have the strength to push it further. He exhaled, but the flame was gone. The best he could hope for was that Aerodactyl would be merciful and leave him alone. Maybe he should have listened to his father. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. He couldn’t even send a distress signal. His bag was taken, and therefore his Badge. Was this it?

Aerodactyl stared at Owen, and Owen wondered if he could smell the fear radiating off of him.

“Kid,” he said, “I don’t work like that. All I want is the goods. What happens after, I don’t care. That’s the way the world works. And the way Dungeons work.” He took another step closer. “Here, let me help. I’ll beat you up nice and good, and you can crawl back to your base to recoup. You ready?”

Owen stared up at the outlaw. They locked eyes. His wing was raised. Owen didn’t know if he’d be able to survive the blow. 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.

“Please,” Owen said.

The wing hung there, tense. But then the claws at the end clenched in what may have been a fist. “There’s nothing more that I hate than you Hearts.” He lowered his wing and gave Owen a halfhearted kick, more like a push, that only accomplished a half-rotation of the Charmander’s numb body. “Thanks for the loot.”

He spun around, walking toward the Dungeon’s exit. Owen’s throat clenched, as if trying to seal what little pride he had left inside his body.

“No way!” someone shouted.

Owen’s heart fluttered. He recognized that voice from earlier in the day. He turned his head weakly and saw an orange blur rush past him. A speedy Trapinch, a walking contradiction, and a welcome surprise. He weaved left and right, went in front of Aerodactyl, and then hit him directly.

Aerodactyl shouted and stumbled back. “You—oh, great. Hearts?!” His wings clutched the bag to his chest. “But it’s just a bunch of runts. Is that your best?”

Demitri and Mispy were puffing at the other end of the hall, trying their hardest to catch up to their third member.

“Far from our best!” the Axew said, huffing. His tiny hands were barely able to grasp his scaly knees. “We’re Team—uh, what was our team name, again?—uh—Alloy! Of the Thousand Heart!”

“Hearts,” the Chikorita mumbled, using two vines to act as a fifth and sixth leg, since her normal four weren’t enough to stay standing.

“Y-yeah! Hearts,” Demitri said. “And we’ve got to be top-tier to get into something like that!”

“You seem new. Worst of the best, I take it?” Aerodactyl asked, smirking.

“Goodra Anam said that a ranked system isn’t good for morale, so we aren’t the worst or the best! We’re just Entry-Level Hearts!”

“Guys!” Owen shouted hoarsely.

All this time that they were talking, Owen saw the outlaw making sly, subtle movements with the bag. “He’s trying something!” He might have disabled his jammer. And that could only mean he would use an Orb next.

“Hmph, think you’re clever?” He pulled out the Totter Orb and threw it on the ground. Owen felt the confusion wash over him instantly, on top of the dizziness that he was only starting to recover from. He gave up and collapsed on the ground, trying to stop his head from spinning. He knew that the best thing to do while confused was to wait for it to pass. “He’s getting away,” he mumbled.

“I got ‘em!” Gahi said, rushing Demitri with a dark aura characteristic of his Feint Attack.

“G-Gahi! What’s your problem?!” Demitri said. “He’s right that way!” Demitri sliced at the air in front of him, leaving a small, blue trail of dragon fire with both swipes. It completely missed.

“Stop,” Mispy mumbled, shutting her eyes.

“I’ll get ‘em!” Gahi said, striking out again with a dark tackle. He hit the wall.

The outlaw was mere steps away from the exit. But then, Gahi got a lucky shot on his next run. He shook the dizziness away, spotted Aerodactyl, and ran. The orange blur was in front of the outlaw in seconds, blocking his way out.

“How’d you—outta the way, peanut!” He opened his mouth and fired a volley of three rocks. Gahi dodged them all and countered with a solid strike with his massive head, square in the chest. This one left a bruise; the outlaw stumbled back, dropping the bag. In the amount of time he took to reach for it, Gahi took it and dropped it by Owen.

Good, Owen thought. The outlaw would give up and run away, and he’d be safe. Then he could head home and take a nice, long nap.

Instead, the outlaw roared and ran toward Owen.

Weakened and immobile, he shut his eyes tight, waiting for the inevitable impact that would kick him out of the Dungeon. And then, despite expecting nothing of it, he prayed to Arceus that he’d be able to wake up afterward. But it never came. He heard an impact, but he wasn’t the one to receive it. He opened one eye.

Demitri was standing in the way; he took the whole hit with one of his tusks. Miraculously, it didn’t break, but it looked like it hurt. The follow-up wasn’t any nicer—a strong jab to the side of Demitri’s body with his other wing—but he stood anyway.

“Give it here, you—” Aerodactyl grabbed the bag. Owen didn’t have the strength nor reflexes to hang on. The outlaw turned around, sprinting for an escape.

“Mispy! Now!” Demitri shouted.

Owen had to shut his eyes again. He saw a blinding beam of light, and it was simply too much. He heard the Aerodactyl scream in fright, and then he heard the dull noises of punches and kicks and swipes. And then, panting. Gahi laughing. Demitri telling him to quiet down.

Owen jumped when he felt something brush against his back.

“Eep—! O-oh, it’s you,” Owen said, spotting Mispy, clearly the healer of the team. Her vines gently rubbed at his spine.

“Shh,” Mispy said. Her leaf glowed and released a soft light that clouded around Owen. All of the energy he had lost returned to him. He could feel his lower half again, too.

Shh, it’s okay. It’s okay, it’s okay. Calm down. Sleep… Amia’s words echoed in Owen’s mind.

That wasn’t a dream.

Despite the healing, the phantom pain returned to him in an instant, and flashes of that past event clouded his vision. His muscles seized and his claws dug into the dirt, leaving tiny holes in the ground. Embers spilled from the sides of his mouth, and his eyes widened.

One of Mispy’s vines slapped Owen on the forehead. “Stop that.”

“B-buh—h-huh—” Owen snapped back to reality. “Wh-what happened?”

“You’re fine,” Mispy said. “Shut up.” She pressed her vines against his back again and focused. Healing energy continued to flow into him, and Owen, after a few seconds of tension, managed to breathe easy. 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. Easy, easy… Finally, Owen could breathe easily again.

“Nng, that’s the spot,” he said. “Was that Heal Pulse? You know Heal Pulse?”

“Mm.”

“Hey, uh,” Demitri said, rubbing his right tusk again. “Sorry about your bag.” He handed the tattered remains to Owen. “Most of the items got ruined from Mispy’s blast. But maybe there’s—”

Owen grabbed the bag and rummaged through it desperately. “Ah!” He pulled out two items—his Provisionary Badge, and Nevren’s gift. There were a few other berries and orbs remaining, too, but those were much less important. “It’s okay. This is all I needed!”

“Hey, we still messed up your inventory,” Demitri said. “How about we bring you back with us to our mentor’s place? He’s kinda good at repairing bags and stuff. Maybe he can patch it up?”

“Oh! Okay.” He didn’t care about the bag. He got invited to a Heart’s home! And now that he had a moment’s pause, he wanted to see Rhys again, anyway.

Again?

Owen’s own thoughts gave him another pause.

“You okay?” Demitri asked.

“Dazed,” Mispy surmised with a nod. She gave Owen a little smile.

He stared at the three for an uncomfortably long time. Mispy shifted from her right feet to her left feet. Gahi clicked his jaws.

“I think I know you guys,” Owen finally admitted.

The three looked at one another. Then, back at Owen.

“You’re weird,” Mispy said.

“I—I kinda feel like we met before, too,” Demitri admitted. “That’s crazy! We must have good chemistry.”

Gahi’s jaws opened and closed in contemplation. “Meh. Let’s go.”

Owen rubbed his paws together to get off the dirt. “How’d you guys find me so quickly?”

“Well, we saw a bunch of Paras and other wild Pokémon near the entrance, so we figured you were still going through the Dungeon,” Demitri said.

A pit of guilt weighed on Owen’s stomach. “O-oh. They were still out of it? I didn’t—I wasn’t that hard on them, right? I didn’t…?”

“Hey, self-defense,” Gahi said. “Besides, this place is overpopulated with those pests anyway. Isn’t enough food fer ‘em ter all survive.”

“W-wait, how badly were they—”

“Aah, they’ll be fine. Wild Pokémon’re real resilient, I figure.”

Demitri nodded and rummaged for their Badge. They walked to the exit of the Dungeon and finally passed through; their Badges all blinked in a slow pattern. The raised ground of rock, embedded trees, and dirt transitioned into an open woodland.

“Made it,” Owen said, relieved.

“Yeah. Let’s get out of here,” Demitri said. He pressed the little heart-symbol in the middle of the badge once, and the others did the same. In a flash of reddish-white light, the Badge transported the group out of the forest and to the center of town.

<><><>​

“Great work on apprehending this Pokémon, Hearts,” said a Watchog. “We will be sure to escort him away for his punishment.”

“It—it was a setup! I swear!” Aerodactyl pleaded. He was still smoking from the Solar Beam, and his left eye was purple and shut completely from Demitri’s Dual Chops. “I didn’t mean to steal all those things! I was under Hypnosis! I’m—I’m a sleeper cell, secretly, eh, secretly I go crazy when my master wants me to! And, eh, and my master is right in that building, over there!”

Owen didn’t even need his sharp senses to see that lie. Watchog, too, was unconvinced.

“Hypnosis puts Pokémon to sleep. It doesn’t control them.”

“Feh, quit yer lying,” Gahi said. “Pay yer dues and don’t do it again.”

The Aerodactyl whimpered and ducked his head down, defeated.

“Oh—um,” Owen spoke up, “I almost forgot, but, can I report something?”

“Report? What else would you like to report?”

“I don’t want to… I don’t want to make anybody feel bad, but there was this really weird, really muscular, really angry-looking Snorlax in the same Dungeon that I found Aerodactyl—um, what’s your name, Aerodactyl?”

“Like I’d tell you,” he hissed.

Owen flinched. “W-well… w-well, I just thought it was strange to see a Snorlax there.”

“Hm, perhaps it was just your imagination. Were you hungry while fighting?”

“Not really. I just finished an apple.”

“Perhaps you were seeing things. Still, I will report it. Do not be worried. Strange Pokémon like those are seen in Dungeons all the time, and it’s nothing to be concerned with—so long as they don’t wander out of those Dungeons.” He mumbled the last part. “Eh—we let our Elite Hearts deal with them. Now then.” He looked at Aerodactyl. “We will be going.”

And so, he was escorted away.

“Hmm,” Owen watched. “What’s going to happen to him?”

Demitri tapped his tusks thoughtfully, giving the top of a nearby building a pensive stare. “Well, he was wanted for theft. Targeted explorers and took everything they had on them. We actually took that Mission because he was said to be in the same Dungeon you went into. Sorta spelled bad news, when you put two and two together, y’know? Chances are he’s going to have to work his debts away to pay them all 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.”

“And repair that Broken Heart of his,” Gahi sang mockingly.

“So, he pays back his debts, and gets a job in the process? I wish it was that easy for me,” Owen mumbled. “My dad wants me to be a berry farmer because my sharp senses would let me tell when they’re ripe or not.”

“Goodra Anam says that a lot of thieves only do what they do because they don’t have the skills for anything else,” Demitri said.

“Feh, I think they’re just weak-willed,” Gahi said.

So,” Demitri continued, “what happens is they can contribute back to society instead of being worse than some random wild Pokémon. That make sense?”

“Yeah! It totally does!” Owen said. “I can’t believe it’s so nice, though! I guess Anam is even better than I thought.”

“Heh. Well, anyway, let’s show yeh ter our personal Waypoint,” Gahi said.

“Yeah! And—oh.” Owen hesitated. “Actually, before we go, can we take the Waypoint back to the Dungeon again?”

“Eh?” Gahi said. “What fer?”

“Just to check on something.”

<><><>​

“Yer serious.”

Owen had brought Team Alloy all the way back to the Dungeon’s distortion. They were careful not to pass through and enter it all over again, and in reality it wasn’t a very far walk thanks to the Waypoint set nearby, but for Gahi, it was already an inexcusable detour.

“Yer coming all the way here just fer some random ferals?”

“I didn’t think I’d do that much damage. You said they were pretty beat up, right? And Aerodactyl looked really hurt, too. Just… you know.”

“Bah, he probably got roughed up by the recovery squad fer resisting arrest,” Gahi said. “C’mon, yer fire ain’t all that bad.”

Owen’s flame dimmed. “I just want to make sure,” he said. “It wasn’t that far of a walk, right? We’ll head to Rhys’ place right after. It’ll just give me some peace of mind, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Gahi clicked his jaws together impatiently. “Could be having dinner by now.”

“C’mon, Gahi, he’s just worried.” Demitri picked at a bit of dirt between two of his claws. “It’s one thing to defend yourself, but I think Owen just wants to make sure he didn’t go overkill on it.”

“K-kill, yeah,” Owen said, laughing hastily. “No need to go overkill.”

Mispy closed her eyes, breathing out. “Ahead,” she announced.

“Ahead?” Owen said, his eyes following the path for him. A small cluster of Paras skittered groggily about, each one with a burn here or there, some with their mushrooms looking particularly damaged or cooked. When Owen got closer, one of the Paras hissed and skittered away. The others did the same, almost in unison, and clustered together. Purple fog trickled out of their mushrooms, threatening to flood the arena if provoked.

Owen’s flame blazed behind him, but he kept it hidden out of the ferals’ sights. He dug through his bag, slowly pulling out a Rawst Berry.

“…Why’s a Fire carrying around Rawst Berries?” Gahi said. “You guys don’t get burns.”

“Others do, though,” Owen said, taking a hesitant step forward.

The Paras all hissed at him, poisonous clouds thickening.

“D-do you guys have Pecha Scarves?” Owen asked.

“Eh? 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.” He watched Owen as Demitri handed the scarf over. Gahi growled and looked up at the trees. “We’re gonna be here all day if we just let him do his thing. Scalebag, go get more from that tree.” Gahi jerked his head above them. “Orans right up. I’ll help roll ‘em over.”

Demitri nodded, scraping his tusks against the tree, as if sizing it up. “Yeah, that seems like I can knock a few down. It won’t startle them?”

“Who caaares, they’re all bunched up! Oy, Owen! Back off a sec!”

“Huh?” Owen glanced back just in time to see Demitri taking a few readying steps back. He backed away from the Paras, tugging at the scarf tied around his neck.

“Hah!” Demitri sprinted toward the tree, ramming his head full-force against the trunk. The branched trembled weakly; the loosest berries fell to the ground. Gahi swiftly went beneath them, lifting and then lowering his head beneath the berries to slow the fall of one. The rest plopped on the ground, a few rupturing slightly from the fall.

The Paras hissed again, thickening their poisonous fog. Mispy backed away with Demitri and Gahi, the fog getting a bit worrisome. Owen, in the middle of it, only winced at the pungent odor the fog gave out. Thankfully, with the scarf’s blessings, the effects stopped there. Owen gathered up most of the berries, enough to fill his arms, and then spun back to the Paras. By now, they seemed slightly puzzled, the fog around them dissipating.

“I’m sorry I hurt you guys so badly,” Owen said. “I know I entered your territory, and I was just going on a fun exploration. I shouldn’t have been so careless about you guys. Just try not to attack randomly, alright?”

“Torch, they ain’t gonna understand ya,” Gahi said. “Besides, yer scaring them. Gimme a scarf.” Gahi jerked his head at Mispy, who rolled her eyes and wrapped one around his abdomen. Protected, the Trapinch wobbled to Owen and said, “Look. You gotta keep yerself small. They’re already weak, so they ain’t gonna fight back. Just look small and offer whatever y’ wanna do, yeah?”

Gahi rolled a berry toward the Paras horde. A particularly bold one skittered closer, snatching the berry away. It nibbled a few times, still tense, and eventually relaxed after Owen did. The Charmander smiled, showing his teeth—a small mistake, as the Paras hissed and skittered away again.

“Good going,” Gahi mumbled.

“Look, I’m not familiar with Paras, alright?” Owen rolled another one over. This time, a few more Paras leaked from the pile, nibbling at their offerings. And then a few more, and then more still, until the whole horde had gathered in front of them to feast on the bounty. Burns slowly reversed, cooked mushrooms simply looking a bit chipped. Dull light touched upon anywhere the burns had been, dimming when they were completely gone.

“Happy?” Gahi asked Owen once the Paras accepted the group as safe enough to tolerate. “Looks like these guys are.”

Demitri and Mispy, once they saw that the poisonous fog had faded, joined them to watch the feral Pokémon up close. It was almost calming to see the horde feed, watching the way their mandibles meticulously tore at the pulp. “You seemed kinda invested in this,” Demitri commented. “I mean, they probably could have just climbed the trees and gotten it on their own, y’know?”

“Y-yeah, I know, maybe.” Owen watched a particularly small Paras wrestle with a particularly large berry, grinning—this time, without showing his teeth. “I guess I’m a little self-conscious about it.”

“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.”

“What makes you self-conscious, eh?” Gahi asked.

Owen smiled sadly. “Well… just fire in general, I guess. It’s not like Dragon might, like Demitri, where it’s… more graceful and controlled and… you know.”

Demitri blushed under his green scales, rubbing at one of his tusks. “I dunno if I’m all that graceful.”

“He ain’t,” Gahi confirmed.

Owen laughed weakly, but then continued to observe the Paras. The ones that had their fill skittered away thanklessly, while the more gluttonous ones remained to nibble on a few more. “Normal Fire isn’t the same way as Dragon fire,” Owen said. “It’s… untamed. Violent. Hungry. If I don’t keep it in check… I could do a lot more damage to innocent Pokémon than I need to.” Once the final few Paras left, Owen brought his tail forward and inspected the flame at the end. “I guess I just want to be careful. And if I slip up and get carried away… I want to make things right. That’s part of being a Heart, right? No fighting if you don’t need to.”

Gahi said nothing. He opened his mouth, but then closed it, looking to Demitri and Mispy to say something instead.

“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself,” Demitri said, patting Owen on the shoulder. “Dragon fire can do some serious damage, too. If it gets caught on normal brush, it’ll become normal fire just from the heat. Ethereal or not, heat is heat. I guess I don’t have to worry as much since, er, I usually just use brute force…”

Owen smiled, rubbing his nose. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. You seem like you’ve got a lot of muscle; may as well use what you’re good at. I’m a little on the scrawnier side.”

Mispy smiled, sighing. “They’re gone,” she said, pointing a vine toward the departing Paras.

“Yeah.” Owen stood up, his flame a cheerful orange. “Sorry for the detour. I’m ready to head to your guys’ place.”

“Meh…” Gahi looked at the eaten pile of berries. “I guess it’s worth it.”

<><><>​

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi lived in a small cave near the western base of the mountain. The rocks here were a lot lighter—closer to a reddish-brown color than the dark basalt of Kilo Village’s crater. Trees were immediately beyond the rocky exterior of their home, with Oran Berries growing from the tops of some, and apples from others. Gentle winds washed the leaves, making the ripe fruits fall from their branches when a particularly strong gust passed.

“Convenient,” Owen said. “And the Waypoint led us almost right to here.”

“Yeah, all Hearts get that sorta treatment,” Gahi said. “Guess it’s a benefit fer working under the Hearts, keeping the world nice and safe.”

“Yeah,” Owen said. “But, it’s just so cool! The way you guys just beat that Aerodactyl without any trouble!”

“Well, there was a little trouble,” Demitri said.

“Yeah, had ter keep yeh safe,” Gahi said. “But sure. No trouble.”

“Mnn.” Mispy sniffed the air. She could smell dinner.

“That smells good,” Owen said. “Umm—so, your mentor! How is he? What’s he like in person and stuff?”

“Lucario Rhys is, uh, he’s nice,” Demitri said. “He just happens to also be really, er, strict, sometimes. You know. But it’s all part of being trained, right? I guess it’s not that bad.”

“Jus’ wish he didn’t make us meditate all mornin’,” Gahi said.

“Meditating?” Owen said. “You guys meditate, too? I do it all the time! It’s really nice to clear your head.”

“Aw, not you, too,” Gahi grumbled, wobbling into the cave.

Mispy, too, was disappointed. “Boring.”

“I—I’m not boring,” Owen squeaked.

“Oy, Rhys! We’re home!” Gahi said. “Mission went fine! Brought a guest!”

“A guest?” Rhys said. “I should prepare another portion.”

Owen ran to get a first look. And there he was: Elite Heart Lucario Rhys. His red eyes were intense, but Owen felt oddly safe when looking into them. His aura sensors—the strange, black, teardrop-like extensions behind his ears—were a bit larger than average.

“H-hi!” Owen said. “It’s nice t-to meet you, Elite Heart!”

Rhys stared at Owen for a bit longer than anyone in the room thought comfortable. Owen noticed his fur puff out. For a split-second, his paws glowed with a light blue, aura ember.

“Rhys?” Demitri said.

“I’m—sorry,” Rhys said. “I was thinking about what I could prepare for a Charmander.”

No, you weren’t, Owen thought. “Oh! Anything’s fine,” he said. “I promise! I’m good to eat anything as long as it isn’t dirt.”

“Well, dirt ain’t how Rhys cooks,” Gahi said.

“Yeah, Rhys is a good chef!” Demitri said. “You’ll love whatever he makes.”

“Ha, okay.” Owen took in in the new environment. The immediate entryway was a short walk, perhaps only a few of his tiny paces. After the entryway was a larger, dome-shaped segment of the cave. The stone table in the middle of the room was where they ate; the edges of the room had equipment like a stone stove, cabinets, and shelves for storing nonperishable food. Owen was surprised at how elaborate it was. “You guys really have a lot of stuff here!”

Rhys nodded. “With our earnings, we have been able to purchase a few luxuries.”

Owen sat at the table. From where he was positioned, he could see further into the cave. It was like a hallway that split off into separate rooms. 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?

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. He usually moved with a graceful flow. Did he notice? “Rhys?” Owen spoke up. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yes, Owen, why do you ask?”

Owen looked at the pink cloud. Gone.

“Nothing. Just tired. So, uh.” Owen grabbed his tail so he had something to do. “Team Alloy. That’s a pretty cool name.”

“Alakazam Nevren helped us come up with it!” Demitri said. “It’s really cool. Something about how stronger metals are made from weaker metals working together. It’s awesome!”

“Hmph,” Rhys said.

“Heh, Rhys is mad ‘cause he didn’t say it first,” Gahi said.

Owen giggled. He had to admit, it sounded clever. He certainly saw that kind of fighting in the Dungeon, too. They worked very cohesively. He wondered if he’d be able to contribute to a team like that…

Out of the corner of his eye, the pink mist bobbed in and out of the room.

Unable to contain himself, Owen asked, “Hey, so, is this cave haunted?”

“Yes,” Mispy blurted.

“Baah, no it ain’t,” Gahi said, waving his head dismissively. “You guys’re just superstitious. Sometimes the wind blows funny, that’s all. Mispy always gets like this.”

“It’s true!” Mispy said.

Gahi and Demitri both looked at the hall. The pink mist was gone.

“L-look, this place is creepy sometimes, alright?” Demitri said. “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.

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.”

And just like that, their idle talk about ghosts subsided. It must have been a common occurrence for it to be dismissed so easily, but Owen decided to put this piece of the puzzle in his mental notes.

Rhys served out the food—a hearty stew, this time, filled with mostly savory items. Owen happily gobbled his portion; it reminded him of what he ate for breakfast. Breakfast… “Oh!” Owen suddenly said. “I—I totally forgot! My parents were gonna freak out if I didn’t get back before the evening!”

Owen thought to use his Badge, but having just used it to return to the Central Waypoint in Kilo Village, it wouldn’t have the energy to warp him again until tomorrow. More importantly, 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. He’d have to use the public Waypoints instead, and then walk the rest of the way.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Demitri said. “We’ll just bring you home instead! Your parents won’t worry too much, right?”

“Dad might explode,” Owen said. “Literally. He’s a Magmortar, and he kinda does this thing with his arms when he’s nervous, and I’m worried he might—like—fire into his own hand, or something? I dunno what happens after that. But he might actually die from anxiety if I don’t get home in time.”

“Uhh—well—too late now,” Demitri said. “We’ll just run really fast to get you there?”

“O-oh, uh, actually, about that. My parents said that I can’t bring people back home because it’s a secret where I live, and stuff.”

“I see,” Rhys said, nodding. “That’s understandable.”

“Wait, it is?” Demitri said. “How is that—who has a secret home?!”

Rhys shrugged noncommittally. “Some areas enjoy privacy, I suppose. Don’t worry, Owen. But it’s still a bit unsafe to wander alone at night without supplies. Hrm, but your parents will still worry, won’t they?” Rhys hummed again, looking between the three members of Team Alloy. “I don’t think it would be a good idea to let you three go at a time like this.”

This was his chance. “So, does that mean… you’ll be bringing me there, Lucario? Or, u-um, I can just go on my own.”

“You may call me Rhys,” he said with a small smile. “And I would be happy to.”

He would? Owen didn’t expect that to work. In fact, in hindsight, it felt forward, and rude. But there was an odd sort of familiarity that he felt with Rhys. Then again, aside from the Aerodactyl, that was how he’d been feeling all day. And Rhys seemed to know him, too, given how casually he spoke. He had heard from rumors that Rhys was usually incredibly stiff.

“Okay—Rhys. Um, since you’re an Elite, I can trust you with a secret, right?”

“Of where your parents live?” Rhys asked. “Revealing this to me will change nothing.”

“Okay. Then after dinner, it’s really okay if…?”

“Yes. It shouldn’t be a very long walk, yes?”

“Nope! The Waypoint is really close.”

With the thought that he’d be able to walk and talk with one of the best Hearts in the whole world, Owen ate the rest of his dinner faster than a Swalot.

Okay, Owen thought between bites. So, everything today feels weirder than usual. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming last night. Did Dad actually explode? Did I get attacked by another of those mutant things? Nngh, or am I just losing it? Nevren’s a Psychic, right? Maybe he can fix my brain.

He then glanced at Rhys’ room. 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?


Chapter 2 Review

— Poor Owen. Yelling at an outlaw that they’re breaking the law.

— Owen loves to fight but is strikingly concerned about any injuries sustained, even to wild Pokémon… interesting.

— I really like Mispy and Gahi. They have fun personalities. I wonder how many more characters you’ll introduce as the story progresses. 🗿

— I see two major mysteries so far: why everyone seems to show signs of being mutually familiar with Owen, and why they’re so awkward around him. It’s borderline alarming how prominent these mysteries are appearing in the storyline so early on, and with hardly any subtlety. I wasn’t expecting you to take such an aggressive approach towards showing the reader that Something Isn’t Quite Right Here, but hey, I’m all for it. It’s been made abundantly clear that someone—or everyone—is hiding something. That, or there’s something innate about Owen that is causing this bizarre reaction.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Thanks for the reviews, Goat! Glad you enjoyed the read so far, and yeah, in my opinion these early chapters are a little rough around the edges. I plan on working through them at a later date so they're a little nicer, but until then, glad it was an okay enough start!

Now then, onto the next chapter to catch up here...

Chapter 66 – From All Sides

“That took far too long,” Rhys grunted, looking left and right. He hissed, covering his aura sensors in pain. “What is this feeling?!”

Rhys heard the ethereal cry of Barky in the distance—almost like a rallying cry. Then, the ground trembled. The trees of Aether Forest next to him trembled; Rhys hopped into the air, jumping from tree to tree, until he could get to the tops, using aura platforms to better distribute his weight on the leaves for easy footing.

“Wraiths… here?!”

Barky was still fending off the wraiths. It didn’t seem like they were taking any notice of him, but Barky was struggling against the endless onslaught. Why was he here? Rhys shook his head, leaping from treetop to treetop, blasting heavy aura streams to give him an extra boost when he could.

“Bark—er, Arceus!” Rhys shouted.

He looked back, but then stared ahead. “Hello. If you’re looking for the others, they have already left for the Grass Realm.”

“Why are there wraiths here?”

“I don’t know.” Another Earth Power shook the land, disintegrating countless wraiths, only to be replaced by countless more. “These things all look the same. I have the sinking feeling that some of these I have already vanquished previously. But it isn’t a matter of fending them off before they strike; it’s simply destroying them faster than they return. Surely they will eventually run out of energy!”

Rhys grunted, thinking about Anam and the wraiths that seemed to associate with his blessings. Normally, they could stem the flow of them by simply cutting off the Dungeon Core. But this wasn’t a Dungeon. Where were they coming from, then?!

“I’ll help to fend them off. You’re being overwhelmed.”

“I do not get overwhelmed,” Barky growled. “I am merely limited by Star’s domain.”

Rhys propelled himself upward with a burst of aura, landing on the great Pokémon’s back. “Apologies,” he said, though the massive god had ample standing room from on top. “Let me help.”

“You can’t fight in your aura armor for long, Lucario.”

“I have other techniques that can help,” he said. “Have you considered calling upon the Trinity?”

“They are coming. I’m sure they are.”

“Then I shall stall until they get here.”

Rhys raised his paws in the air, forming a small Aura Sphere. Then, he pushed more energy into it, expanding its size and radiance. Barky lowered his head when he felt the aura lick against his fur.

“What are you doing?!”

“Crowd control,” Rhys said, pushing the sphere higher. “Apologies. I’m not used to doing this while on top of someone else.”

Barky marveled at the Aura Sphere that was approaching his size. “Excuse me?!”

“D-don’t—don’t unsteady my stance, please!” Rhys requested, nearly dropping the Sphere.

The swarm was getting closer, perhaps only ten seconds away from them. Their shrieks and angry cries were louder than the low rumble of Rhys’ giant sphere, but the Lucario didn’t seem worried. Instead, he said, “Between the two of us, we should be able to fend them off. How long has it been since you called the Trinity for help?”

“When did you ask me when the Trinity would be here?”

“S-seconds ago?”

“I called for them then.”

Rhys didn’t have the time to berate the god for his stubbornness. Instead, he looked at the swarm, held back briefly by another of Barky’s Earth Power strikes. “Then we will just have to wait.”

The giant Aura Sphere flashed, creating a small, continuous rhythm of shockwaves above the former Hunter. Rhys kept one paw up and aimed his second paw forward, focusing on the incoming wraiths. From the large Sphere, a smaller, but still sizeable, Aura Sphere burst forth, singing through the skies and into the swarm. It exploded, scattering into countless smaller Aura Spheres. These burst against any wraith it came into contact with, disintegrating them instantly.

Rhys sighed in relief. “They are weak,” he said. “I was right to try this technique, seeing how easily they fell in droves.”

Aether Forest was even brighter from all the blue fire let out by the fallen trees burning in lava, and the ground glowed dimly from both the flames and the lava’s orange light. The once beautiful Aether Forest was a fiery wasteland of embers. Rhys could only hope that Star would be able to repair this when she returned.

Once Rhys was confident that the main Sphere was steady, he lowered both of his paws and collapsed, panting.

“Are you finished?” Barky said.

“I don’t need much to maintain it from here,” Rhys said. “With just my thoughts, I can send the rest their way. Not to… not to worry.” He panted, leaning to get a look at the wraith swarm. They were pushed back, not because they were frightened, but simply because their frontlines and the second waves behind were obliterated.

“Why does being here hurt my feelers so much?” Rhys grunted, holding his aura sensors in a wince.

“It’s the wraiths,” Barky said. “Something about their auras is—difficult to look at. Perhaps it is especially pronounced in you, Rhys, for how sensitive you are.”

“That must be the case,” he said, the main sphere firing another volley of scattershot Aura Spheres.

It seemed like they were getting a good rhythm. Rhys’ aura sensors twitched again; he glanced to his right, and then his eye twitched in annoyance. “Unbelievable.”

“Honey, I’m home!” called a metallic Machoke, riding on a steel plate. He leaned forward and grabbed it by the edges, pulling it out from under his own feet; he flung it, spinning, into the distant crowd of wraiths, where the metal sheet exploded into shrapnel, piercing through a chunk of them. He stopped next to Barky, standing in midair. “What’s going on?”

“Wraiths,” Rhys replied.

“Oh, ‘sup, Rhys. That thing yours?” He pointed at the main Sphere right when it fired into the crowd.

“No, it’s my mother’s,” Rhys hissed. “Please, help us! We don’t know where they’re coming from, but it’s obviously nothing that we can’t handle if we don’t just try to fight them at once.”

“I’d try Suppressing them, but Star’s domain makes it kinda hard,” Brandon admitted. “I’ll try, though.”

He held his hand parallel to the ground below, then pressed downward. Suddenly, all of the wraiths lost altitude, but didn’t stop. “Hey-y, look at that!” Brandon cheered, pressing his hand down a bit more. “Looks like it’s working just—Rhys?”

Rhys was groaning, barely able to stay on top of Barky’s back. He hugged at the god’s fur, struggling to not fall off.

“Uh, hey, Boss, you might wanna give Rhys a temp blessing or something so he doesn’t get affected by my antics.”

“Ngh, fine.” A single filament of light sprouted from Barky, pointing at Rhys’ forehead. A pulse of light channeled from the filament into Rhys, jolting him upright.

“Th-thank you,” Rhys muttered, refocusing on the main Sphere.

“Oh, hey, look. We’ve got another one.” Brandon pointed just as Rhys felt the presence of another powerful spirit.

“Who—” Rhys squinted, but something else caught his attention. The sky was alight with bright, indigo meteors, rapidly descending down onto the wraiths’ general location.

“Party on Boss’s back!” Brandon shouted with a tinge of fear, hopping right next to Rhys. He then ducked, hiding behind his neck, grabbing the exhausted Rhys to keep him steady.

Rhys gasped for air—this was like getting grappled by Manny, but with something literally made of metal. “Let go—let me go—!”

“Nope, hold on tight!”

With a deafening BOOM, the meteors struck the ground, sending shockwave after devastating shockwave across Aether Forest, obliterating all of the wraiths that had made themselves known. The gusts of wind generated by the explosions nearly blew Brandon off of Barky; Rhys was like a scarf in the wind, held only by Brandon’s metal arm. The Creator floated back, but otherwise remained steady.

“You should have requested for assistance earlier, My Lord.”

Rhys puffed, looking for the source of the voice. A Salamence, wings outstretched, yet no need to beat them.

“Thank you, Aramé,” Barky said.

“That was good aim, but I think you missed a spot of a hundred.” Brandon said, pointing at the stragglers that still lined the horizon, albeit thinly.

“Then we will just pick them off, won’t we?” Aramé said, growling. “I took care of the majority of them; you should be thankful. This whole battle is pointless anyway; I don’t understand why we are wasting our efforts on aiding the lesser god.”

Barky snarled and kicked a hoof at some of the remaining wraiths. “As much as I loathe to admit it, Aether Forest is the center of this side of the spirit realm. If the wraiths claim it, we won’t have a means to communicate with the Guardians very easily, perhaps at all.”

Brandon hummed, finally setting Rhys down once the wind of the Draco Meteor wore off. “Well, as omnipotent as you want to think you are, we can’t fight forever. Why don’t we just go back and regroup, and then find a better way to take these guys down?”

“We can’t risk that!” Barky said. “Not until these wraiths are gone completely! What if they spread into the aura sea? What then? The entire afterlife could be at risk. No.” Barky turned toward the thin cloud of wraiths. “It is my duty to fight for order. Star feels the same way.”

Rhys stood up. “I must catch up with the others in the Grass Realm. I’ve already used up too much of my power here.” He motioned to where his Aura Sphere shooter had once been, then at Brandon and Aramé. “Thank you for all of this, but I feel I must go to Owen. Will you be fine without me?”

“We’ll survive, but it’ll be a real struggle,” Brandon said with a wry smile.

Rhys blinked, giving Brandon an incredulous look. Then, he chuckled, hopping off of Barky. “Well, I suppose I’ll be going. It was good to see you again, Brandon. Aramé.”

“Take care of yourself, Rhys,” Aramé said. “Clean after yourself.”

Rhys snarled, readying to land. But then, as he descended, his aura sensors throbbed painfully. The splitting headache that followed distracted his descent.

“RHYS!” Brandon shouted.

Wraiths infested the forest floor. They had been underground. Black blobs sprang from the bushes, several ones latching onto Rhys instantly. Brandon kicked away from Barky and slammed into Rhys, smashing a few of the wraiths easily. Some of the others still clung on, eating away at his fur and flesh. He howled in pain, slamming his arm blindly; Rhys fired an Aura Sphere to the sky in a panic, hitting two of the wraiths, but neither were the ones on him.

Brandon clamped his metal fingers around one of the wraiths, tearing it off of Rhys’ arm. He winced at the blue embers that fell off of Rhys when he did, the arm almost eaten away to the core. Brandon then looked at his fingers where the wraith had remained; his eyes widened. His fingers were emitting the same embers—they had been corroded away.

“What are these things?! It’s like they eat aura!”

While he spoke, he weaved between three of them.

Rhys was shivering in Brandon’s hold. “I c-can’t—feel my arm.”

“Hold tight, buddy,” Brandon said, jumping in a single leap to Barky’s back.

“These things never did that kind of damage in the living world,” Brandon muttered, setting Rhys’ trembling form on Arceus’ back.

“Their powers must be more focused on aura,” Barky said. “Their shadowy auras… it just eats at aura.”

Their cover blown, the wraiths emerged from their hiding spots underground, and Aramé reflexively beat her wings to gain altitude.

“They’ve been surrounding us the whole time,” Aramé said, hissing. “We have to go back. Aether Forest is lost!”

“Judgement, bless us.
Watcher of Creation.”


Barky blinked, looking back. Brandon looked up, too, and followed his ears to the ominous song’s source. An Altaria, most of her form shrouded in a great, poisonous cloud, drifted toward the rest of the Trinity.

“Flesh, blood, chains us.
Free us from our prison.”


The wraiths that had surrounded Barky on all sides—some of them firing strange, black beams toward him—turned their attention to Ghrelle next. Several wraiths fired more shadowy blasts, but Brandon held his hand parallel to the ground again, doing everything he could to keep the wraiths down while they could. His hand shook from the strain—now that the wraiths were fighting back, he could barely keep it up. But that didn’t matter anymore; they just had to last two more couplets.

“Unending Light,
Cleans our spirits; shine bright.”


The wraiths were glowing—little pinpricks of golden light shined through their black bodies. The bodies themselves started to evaporate in a fine mist, but not completely. Rhys, meanwhile, groaned loudly, his body losing shape.

“AAH! B-Boss! Rhys!” Brandon realized what they had forgotten.

“Nrgh—!” Barky, a bit more roughly than intended, suddenly produced a filament of light from his back, jabbing it roughly into the Lucario’s torso. Rhys’ eyes bulged with even more pain, but he was too weak to pull it out. But rather than fade completely, his body regained its shape, even while the final couplet rang through.

“Into aether, into aether
To stillness eternal!”


It wasn’t with a roar or even a shriek or even a cacophony, but a quiet hiss, that the wraiths of Aether Forest evaporated completely. Black smoke briefly covered the landscape, slowly fading into the air. Not wanting to take any chances, Barky created a small barrier around them, deflecting any of the residual shadows.

“They may return,” said Barky.

Rhys shuddered, breathing heavily.

“I apologize,” Barky said to Rhys, gently pulling out the single filament that had stabbed him. “Ghrelle’s Perish Psalm doesn’t affect those blessed by me. I had to give you temporary respite.”

“Perish… Psalm,” Rhys repeated, but had no more energy to speak. He closed his eyes, embers flowing out of him like blood from an open wound.

“Let’s get outta here before that happens,” Brandon said. “Rhys, we’re gonna take you to the Hall of Origin for now to recover, alright? Hey, Rhys? You with me?”

“Owen…”

“Owen’ll, uh, he’ll be fine, I think. You won’t if you go.” Brandon gave a nod to Barky, then at the other two. “Ladies?”

“If I’m no longer needed, I will return to Zero Isle,” Aramé said with a shrug. “Rhys will live. I expect more from him.”

“My most—sincere apologies for taking so long to come here,” Ghrelle said, finally close enough for the poisonous Altaria to get within speaking distance. “If I came earlier, none of this would have happened. I did not think it was so urgent as to—”

“Your carelessness is forgiven. Be quicker next time,” Barky said immediately, jerking his head back. “Let’s hope we gave Star and the others enough respite to return everyone to their proper Orbs after Eon is taken care of.”

“You really think Star’s gonna take down Eon?” Brandon asked.

Barky created a large portal for them to pass through. Light poured out of it. “Hmph. I don’t see why not,” he said. “Owen trusts Star far more than he’d ever trust me.”

“You are pretty bad at social skills,” Brandon quipped, hopping into the portal.

“Don’t listen to him,” Ghrelle said, patting Arceus on the back. “Owen should have known better than to listen to Star over you, O Lord.”

Barky’s eyes gleamed. “I suppose so.” With a spring in his step, Barky passed through the portal with Rhys on his back.

<><><>​

“Where is he?” Zena said frantically, almost breathless at the speed they had propelled themselves through the spirit world. The blue trees and dark trunks gave way to paler colors and a brighter sun. While they never knew what the Grass Realm truly looked like until then, it seemed pretty clear that they had arrived.

To their ears, the forest was eerily quiet. Normally they would expect there to be spirits abound in the treetops or the bushes, but there was nothing. No sign of life beyond the unresponsive plants.

But their aura senses had another story entirely. Upon arriving, a massive influx of Mystic energy strained their vision, practically warping the light from its pressure, even at such a distance. It stung at their scales and skin; getting too close could mean their spirits would dissolve right there.

“Be careful,” Step warned them. “If you’re feeling weak, stay behind. Remember: death in another realm will bring you to the aura sea, and we will be at Hecto’s mercy.”

“Yeah, about that,” Manny said, motioning with a paw to something not quite the same color of green as the rest of the trees—not to mention the black and white that accompanied it. “How ya doing?”

“Hello.” The canid Zygarde gave a nod.

“What’s going on? Where’s Star?” Amia said. “Is Owen okay? Something about this place feels odd. Is that his Core?” Amia pointed at the distant distortions.

“That is the direction of the Grass Realm’s Dungeon, yes,” Hecto said. “Star is there, assisting Owen.”

Amia sighed, giving Hecto a smile. “Thank you. We want to help—Owen’s in trouble against Eon, isn’t he?”

“Star would prefer not to be disturbed while assisting. You should return to your Orbs where it is safe. If you are concerned about the wraiths, they have not appeared, and I have been keeping an eye on them in case they do.” The hexagon eyes of the Zygarde brightened slightly. “Star did warn you that it was very unwise to leave your Orbs and enter another realm. Please, return.”

As Hecto spoke, the friendly atmosphere from Amia and the others quietly drifted away. They were there to help Star and Owen; being turned away so suddenly…

“Mm… nah.” Manny walked past Hecto, flicking his tail against him in a taunt. “We figure we’re gonna see what Star’s up to.”

“Hm.” Hecto watched Manny move past him, then the others that followed slowly after. “I would advise the dead to remain behind, at least.”

“The dead?” Ra repeated, crossing his arms. “Why exactly would you say that? That would be myself and my daughters.” He clinked his icy scales against one another, making a dull clacking noise. “Why is that?”

“The distortions being left off by Star will likely dissolve your auras. I would rather not risk you getting lost in the aura sea before I can find you.”

“Distortions? What for?” Amia said.

Zena narrowed her eyes. “Then she is up to no good, is she?”

Hecto’s hexagon eyes dimmed slightly. “I said too much.”

Step redirected her lumbering pace toward Hecto, leaving cold imprints in the dirt with every step. At nearly double Hecto’s height, Step towered over him.

Hecto’s ears twitched backward.

“Ra. Perhaps he is telling the truth. You should stay back with Kana and Cent. Don’t you agree?” Step looked back at the pair and their father. Cent was already clapping her fist into her palm, smirking.

Hecto made a move to bolt, but his legs were locked firmly in place. He yelped in surprise and stared down; ice had rapidly formed over the lower portions of his limbs, attaching him to the ground.

“How interesting that you are so weak when spread so thin,” Step said. “How many of you are there, Hecto?”

“Killing me will mean nothing,” Hecto said immediately. “It is as you said—I can’t be threatened with death.”

“Death is the least of your problems.” Step looked at Ra and the others, then at Alex. “You should stay back, too, Hydreigon.”

“A-ah, of course. Amia…”

The Gardevoir gave an uneasy nod, not wanting to waste any more time. She hopped off of Alex and floated over the grass. The others quickly followed.

“Oy, stay back, too,” Manny told Azu, Verd, and Roh.

All three gave him a pose in return, Azu speaking for them. “We shall stand guard!”

Manny spared a glance to Yen next, but the Drampa already knew to stay behind. He leaned forward, gently nuzzling his snout against Manny’s chest. “Be careful.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Manny replied, giving him a little peck on the bridge of his snout. He held on for a while longer before breaking away, catching up with the other Guardians with an Extreme Speed sprint.

The spirits looked at Hecto, who was still trying, uselessly, to escape from the ice along his limbs.

“If any of you could release me,” he requested.

“Seriously, what’s Star doing?” Kana asked; the Kommo-o rubbed at her huge scales, feeling an odd itch from the distortions toward the Core.

Ra didn’t even blink when addressing Hecto. “For there to be such powerful shockwaves, we can only suspect that Star is having a fierce battle with Owen’s spirits, or perhaps even Owen himself and his Core.”

The three muscleheads hummed pensively in unison.

“We see similar pulses when we spar in the Fighting Orb,” Yen added, sliding until he could see the distortions without anyone else obstructing his view. “Star is fighting something right now, isn’t she?”

“But, Hecto, why my son?” Alex said. “What’s Star doing to h-him? Why is she here, after…?”

Hecto’s eyes dimmed even more, almost like he was closing them, and he looked toward the distortions that cut through the light. “She’s trying to save the world.”

<><><>​

The Grass Dungeon was twisted even more than usual with gnarled branches and a frozen sea of wood. Amia’s feet made hollow toks against the uneven, wavy floor, entire corridors either twisted shut or spiraled into strange, twisted tunnels. Overgrown plants and remnants of Seed Bombs and Energy Ball scorch marks riddled certain parts of the labyrinth, making it very easy to track down exactly where Star had gone.

Some rooms had been completely obliterated, showing nothing but huge, circular craters where trees and corridors had once been. Many times, they spotted lacerations in the walls that could only be attributed to some powerful attack that Star had unleashed upon the spirits.

The further they went, the more concentrated these battle scars had become. The air was polluted with the smell of cut leaves and splintered wood.

“What did she do?!” Amia exclaimed, voice caught in her throat when she spotted a grassy Charmander in the corner, clutching at a wound that bled ethereal fire. “Owen!”

She lunged for the fallen Grassmander, stopped only by Step’s powerful claws. “That isn’t Owen! Just a spirit, and he will be fine! We need to keep going!” She didn’t even let Amia have time to compose herself; she was carrying Amia by the torso with one hand, using ice to extend the size of her palms.

It took Amia several seconds to come back to her senses. “R-right, right. Owen must just—have a bit of a fan club.”

Still running, Step tossed Amia forward, where she landed gracefully and in a sprint. “He must be further ahead.”

“She really went all out on ‘em,” Manny muttered to himself, spotting another mini-Owen that had been embedded head-first and halfway into the wall, legs flailing uselessly.

After a final turn, they saw a short passageway that led to a small, dark dome of twisted branches. That must have been the room with the Core; based on the bright glow that came from the ceiling, just above the entryway, that was surely the case. Step briefly worried that she wouldn’t be able to fit through the passage, but then realized she could just break the walls. Simple.

Zena went in first without a word, scanning for any abnormalities. Amia went in next, followed by Manny, and lastly by Step, who slammed her shoulders against the branches to make the Core room’s entrance a bit larger, permanently.

“Owen?!” Zena shouted, wincing at how intense the pressure of the room had become. The moment they entered the Core’s chamber—from the inside, it was still a sphere of twisted branches and leaves with a bright ball of light floating in the center—it felt as if their very bodies were being burned by something more than simple fire.

A small, blue ember flew past them from behind, evaporating into the ball of light. It must have been a spirit that had perished from Star’s onslaught. But where was Star?

It was hard to see anything except the huge ball of light. It somehow didn’t light up the dome as much as it simply lit itself up. The walls felt much further away than they should have been.

“Owen…” Zena said, breathing quietly.

“Didn’t Hecto say somethin’ about warnin’ Star?” Manny said. “Think he’s gonna do that telepathically or if there’s one nearby ter talk ter her?”

“I’d love to search for his aura,” Step said, “but the intense light from the Core is interfering with anything I try.”

“It’s not supposed to be that bright,” Amia said, wincing at the pressure. “I feel like I’m going to just fall apart right here…”

“Don’t do that yet,” said Step, eyes scrutinizing every detail of the Core, but then said. “Perhaps she fled.”

Manny crossed his arms. “I don’t buy that,” he said. “Woulda sensed someone as strong as her leavin’.” His aura sensors throbbed and his ears twitched. He flicked his gaze up, and then quickly down, as if he’d looked at the sun. “Oy, Amia.”

“Yes?”

“You know Shadow Ball?”

“Oh, goodness—it’s been a while, but I can tune my aura to it if you give me a moment…”

“Yeah, you do that,” Manny said. “Anybody ‘ere know Bug, Dark, er Ghost attacks?”

No reply from Zena, Step, or Amia, who was currently focusing inward.

“Bah, fine.” Manny’s body bulked out, muscles visible just barely beneath his pelt. “I’m gonna punch th’ Core.”

“Ah, so you are still an idiot,” Step said.

“Hang onter that thought.” Manny crouched down and jumped, pulling his arm back. With a decisive smash, Manny slammed his fist against the Core, sending shockwaves of light in all directions, including toward Manny. The Lucario coughed when one particular wave sliced against his chest, throwing him backward at the same time. A Psychic barrier cushioned his fall.

“Ngh, thanks, Green,” Manny muttered, glancing at the Gardevoir.

Amia flinched, trying to look at her hair, but it was blue. She huffed, “That isn’t funny.”

“Aah, why d’you hide it, anyway? Both’a you.” Manny motioned to an imaginary Hydreigon behind Amia.

“What were you trying to do?” Step interrupted, radiating frost. “Are you trying to hurt Owen?”

“Nah.” Manny inspected the wound on his chest, grimacing at the blue fire that poured from the shrinking wound. “Star’s in there. I know it.” He let out a weak laugh, tapping at the area just above the wound. “Take it from the Fighter in me—up close to that Core, I felt a real powerful Psychic inside. That’s Star.”

“She’s in the Core?” Amia said.

“Couldn’t you have just stood next to the Core?” Step pressed, if only to prove her point.

“Sure, but then we wouldn’t’ve gotten a shock on her,” Manny pointed at the Core again. “What d’you think she’s doing in there, eh?”

Amia looked at Zena, then at Step, and finally back to Manny. The three other Guardians didn’t know what to say; Zena was practically twisted in knots, glaring at the ball of light. “She’s controlling Owen—I don’t need to know anything else,” Amia said. “We’ve been fighting all this time to free Owen, and now this…?”

“Heh… hmm… What if she was trying ter save Owen from some kinda trap?” Manny mumbled aloud, wondering if his punch had been premature.

“Hmph. You’d think she would have told us about that.” Step stared the Core down as if it had eyes. “But I wouldn’t put it past the fickle god to do something without telling us.”

“Owen…” Zena slithered a bit closer. The pressure of the Core would certainly have destroyed all the weaker spirits if they had come with them; they had to be careful if a clash became too intense.

“Guess we’re decided, eh?” Manny asked, turning toward it. “Let’s beat it up and knock her outta Owen.”

The three others stared at him incredulously. Amia and Zena were hesitant—it would hurt Owen in the process, after all. Step, meanwhile, was still questioning the Fighting Guardian’s sanity—if there truly was any brain there, or if it was all just flexing muscles.

“Or,” Manny said, “we can just go. Let Star do whatever, eh?”

Step snarled, bashing her tail on the ground. There was nothing she hated more than when someone like Manny made sense. “Fine,” she said. “We will try it your way.”

“That’s th’ spirit! Heh. Get it?”

“Do not press your luck.”

“I have a bad feeling about this.” Amia lifted her hand toward the orb, creating a ball of ghostly shadows.

Watery energy concentrated at Zena’s open mouth, though she had to squint when looking directly at the orb.

Manny formed a sphere of his Fighting aura in both his palms, just enough after having recovered from his onslaught on the wraith swarm prior. “Fire!”

Amia’s ghostly blast swirled with Manny’s Aura Sphere; Step’s beam of ice synergized with Zena’s Hydro Pump, creating super-chilled water.

And then, without warning, Owen fell out of the golden light. Owen saw the attacks coming for him, but couldn’t react in time; the Charizard screamed at the same time that Amia and Zena did before all four attacks hit him at once, filling the room with ghostly stream. Owen’s body dissolved instantly, a blue ember returning to the Core.

Amia covered her mouth in a gasp; Zena rushed blindly toward the Core. “O-Owen?! Owen?!”

Manny rubbed his forehead. “Whoops.”

Step slammed a fist against the Lucario’s shoulder. “Attack the Core! Brilliant!”

“Oy, you attacked, too!” Manny growled.

The Core shifted slightly; Zena, the closest, felt the gentle murmurings of spirits within the Core helping someone through. Then, from the Core, a Charizard dripped out of the sphere, plopping softly on the ground with some help from Amia’s Psychic cushion.

“Owen—I’m so sorry,” Zena said, draping her ribbons over him. She cupped his head in her brows. “Are you okay?”

Owen blinked a few times, lifting a claw to Zena’s face, trailing it wordlessly along her cheek. “Zena…”

“Y-yes? Owen? Amia—h-heal him, please!”

“R-right, okay.” Amia quickly charged up her Heal Pulse, pink energy concentrating in her hands.

Owen ran his scaly paw against Zena’s forehead next, giving her a tranquil smile. “Pecha Berries are really sweet. I don’t like them as much.”

Zena blinked. “Wh-what?”

“Gahi kissed me. I gotta get him a Dragon…”

Briefly, everything was silent. Zena couldn’t quite find the words, her worry suddenly replaced with befuddlement.

“…Can spirits get concussed?” Manny said aloud.

Amia unleashed her healing wave over Owen, reinvigorating him. His eyes uncrossed and he blinked a few times, regaining a bit of his sanity.

“Ugh—” Owen rubbed his forehead. “What did you—wait! What?! Why are you guys here?!”

“We were worried, Owen,” Zena said. “We couldn’t follow you in the real world, so why not the spirit world?! What’s going on?”

Owen pointed at the Core, finally aware enough to remember the situation. “S-Star stole my body. She’s trying to kill Eon!”

<><><>​

Star, in Owen’s body, skidded across the halls from a full-body tackle by Gahi. The Flygon, speedy and gleaming as ever, grabbed Star by the chest and slammed her into the floor, beating his wings furiously to continue her extended fall across the tile. She grunted, the friction starting to heat up her leafy scales, and spun around, swinging a vine-arm toward him.

Gahi smirked and let her go, easily evading the vine. The filaments of light behind him danced in tune with his aura, boisterous and taunting. “Something wrong?” Gahi sneered, hopping from one foot to the other. “Get outta Owen!”

“Gahi, you little pea-brain! Listen!” Star slowly rose to her feet, briefly losing her balance from dizziness. “Are you seriously trying to defend Eon right now, after everything that he did to you?!”

“Yeah, kinda!” Gahi shouted back. “Unlike you, Eon’s actually listening to us! Before you came and ruined everything, we were actually grilling the guy on all his stunts! Maybe he would’ve listened, eh?!”

“Eon doesn’t listen. He broods, shuts down, and convinces himself that he’s been doing the right thing all along. That’s how he got like this, Gahi! He’s stubborn and won’t admit he’s wrong!”

“Boy! Ain’t that FAMILIAR?!” Gahi rushed for Star, swinging his claws back. Dragon fire swirled around it, but this time, Star was ready. Recalling one of Owen’s favorite techniques, she crossed her arms and formed a shield of light in front of her. Gahi snarled and beat his wings to stop his momentum, flying back. In response, Star dropped her shield and swung her arm forward, flesh becoming vines once more.

The narrow quarters didn’t do Gahi any favors; Gahi clumsily pushed his Hands forward to block it, the filaments of light forming makeshift barriers by his sheer will, but he still staggered back at the first strike. Taking the opportunity, Star swung her other arm and weaved through the disorganized tendrils, striking Gahi square in the chest. The wind knocked out of him, he grunted and fell onto his back, legs twitching for a run, yet no ground was beneath them.

Eon is on the eighth floor, Hecto called to Star. Also, Step, Manny, Amia, and Zena are near the Grass Core. You should hurry.

They’re WHAT?! How did they get past the wraiths? Is Barky okay?!

They all seem fine. The swarm is infesting Aether Forest, but it seems to be a stalemate.


Gahi, pinned under the branches, couldn’t summon the same power that he had gotten before. He struggled against the vines that further ensnared him, but mobility was limited; he could barely move his legs anymore to gain momentum.

Wordlessly, Star rushed toward Gahi, fully intending to fly right over him to get to the floor warp.

“Leave him ALONE!”

Searing, cold pain ran up Star’s spine. The Charizard shrieked, swinging around despite the pain. Her blood ran cold.

Lavender, with frost billowing out of his steel jaws, was in a full sprint toward her. Star glanced back at Gahi; she couldn’t retract her vines or she’d be dealing with him, too. She’d have to try to do it partway.

Just her head and chest turned orange, powerful scales replacing soft feathers. Opening wide, Star launched a fireball at the incoming Silvally. He yelped, body suddenly turning dark; he leaped into the wall, disappearing without a trace.

“Wh—how—” Star stared at the ghostly shadow that remained on the wall. Swimming through the solid wall, the shadow rapidly approached. She snarled, slamming her fist into it right before it could emerge; it shrieked hollowly. Star pulled, throwing Lavender onto the ground, spectral clouds fading. “Glad you came, you little soul eater,” Star hissed, her vine-arm suddenly shifting into a fine point. It was another one of Eon’s abominations; it would be so much better if something like him was purged from the world. Those spirits had to be freed. They all had to be freed.

Lavender’s eyes went wide. “N-no!” He rolled, but Star would have hit him. The only reason she didn’t was because a fireball had completely incinerated her arm, earning another pained wail.

Lavender sank into the ground again, his shadow rapidly swimming through the floor and behind the source of the blast, the Houndoom, Lucas.

Oh, great, now the Mega is here, too?! Star grunted, swinging her tail irritably. The flower on her tail was still glowing bright, but she was starting to get outnumbered. She just wasn’t used to this body, and she had to get to Eon, not these ones! She could deal with Lavender later; she had to get to Eon.

On the opposite end of the hall, behind Gahi, a few other mutants rounded the corner, having taken the long way around. These kids were more coordinated than she gave them credit for.

Lucas lowered his body, ready to pounce; flames licked at his fangs, and his molten claws dug into the marble. He stepped forward once, threateningly.

Star snarled back. “I don’t have time for this!” She turned toward Gahi, crossing her arms to block another speedy strike. The Hands on his back lashed against her shield; Star pushed back, blasting Gahi with fire. He yelped and covered his snout; Star followed up with a slash of wind from her claws next, sending him toppling over some fallen vines.

Gahi stirred, looking like he was about to get up. He rolled onto his belly—and Star knew, just then, that she had no choice but to slow him down by force.

While she was just over the Flygon’s back, she balled her fist together into a tight knot of vines. The fan of filaments behind her flashed; she punched Gahi’s back with all the force that Owen’s body could muster, combined with the enhanced power of her Hands, and felt something inside Gahi snap. Gahi wailed, his lower half completely limp. The Hands on his back writhed aimlessly.

Star hopped over Gahi and flew further; the Flygon, meanwhile, tried to send an eruption of earth from below Star, rupturing the floor in the process. The Charizard flew over it effortlessly, clogging the halls with more vines to entangle the mutants in her way.

Still, no matter how quickly she flew, the mutants kept her outnumbered. Their fearless onslaught from ahead and behind was almost irrational… But they weren’t in their battle modes. Eon hadn’t converted them into that. She didn’t know the signature to put them to sleep, either. But they were still reasonable. Lavender was already too afraid to attack her, too startled by the mere threat of harm. He was a child. All of these mutants were like children, yet they weren’t afraid to die… because they could just come back.

Star realized how she could stop them. She just needed an example.

A Seviper-Tyranitar fusion was a few doorways ahead of her, the most prominent of them all. She remembered these two; vague recollections from Owen’s memories suggested that these two had almost killed him before. How funny that now they wanted to defend him by killing him all over again.

“Let Owen go!” the rocky serpent said.

“You’ll do.” Star shifted the hand that had paralyzed Gahi into a two-pronged grabber. She swung it forward, taking the poisoned tail-stab from the fusion with just a wince, even when it went straight through her extended arm. Her grabbers wrapped around the serpent near the middle of its flailing body.

Star raised her other arm; then, a few of the lights on her back drifted back into her, through her body, and emerged along her wrists, intertwining with her vines in a green-white spiral.

The fusion stared at the strange arm with a new fear. Star knew he had no idea what to expect—and for good reason, or he would be struggling a lot more.

Fire!

Star heard that one. They were already inside the Core room?! And they were about to strike it, too! No, no, that wasn’t going to do. Not in the middle of this mess. Where was Lucas? There was no telling how close behind her he was.

With a bit of quick thinking, she plunged even more of her tendrils into her own back, screaming in pain as more of her spirit was torn up, just to find Owen somewhere within the Core. There. He was there. Away!

She pushed Owen out as a shield. That would distract them for a while—it even deflected some of their blasts from inside. She had a second to recover, but then realized that she was still trying to restrain a—

The Seviper-Tyranitar fusion opened its maw wide. Considering the species, Star thought that it was about to try to bite her, but the glow in the back of its throat told a different story.

The next thing Star knew, her face was being burned away by a point-blank Hyper Beam; Her scales went first, and then the flesh beneath, completely incinerated at such close proximity to the blast, right at the source. She didn’t even have time to scream. The Hyper Beam went past her body and into the ceiling, sending huge cracks through the rocks both there and on the nearby walls. Part of it melted and fell onto the ground, burning several of her vines, while Star herself stood, everything from her shoulders and above completely missing.

The Seviper-Tyranitar struggled to break loose, but Star’s grip was still locked onto him. “H-help!” he cried. “S-someone help me out! He’s—s-still holding me!” Tears flowed off of his eyes. “I d-didn’t meant to k-kill h-him! Th-that’s not s-supposed to happen! M-my Hyper Beam doesn’t—do—that!”

It was true; Owen’s body was a lot more fragile than they had anticipated. Even now, it seemed like it was a lot weaker than usual, or perhaps not weak, but malleable, easily giving way to external forces. Just like Anam, a body so stuffed with divine power that it no longer kept its natural shape. Perhaps that was just from the struggle of Owen trying to take control over Star. And yet, that simply meant…

“Owen… I’m sorry…!” The fusion sniffled, even while some of the other mutants stepped over the globs of molten ceiling and burning vines. Smoke floated at the top of the room while little embers flitted about.

The filaments of light abruptly burst to life again, white light briefly blinding all of the mutants in the room. Lucas yelped in surprise and fired a reflexive plume of fire, but a set of vines blocked the way.

Star’s body surged toward the fusion again, squeezing him tight. A voice sounded from somewhere near her chest. Even without a head, the divine power within the Charizard body kept it alive and functioning, controlling it with its Mystic core.

“Did you really think… that would stop me?!”

Leaves, vines, thorns, branches—they all sprouted from her torso and filled in the missing parts of her shoulders. They replaced her head and neck in a tapestry of plant life and filaments of light. Her eyes were nothing but blazing white embers; the back of her throat glowed with divine power.

“You aren’t afraid to die because you’ll just be reincarnated!”

Her arm brightened. The fusion in her grasp seized up, his struggles briefly stopping. “A—ah—ungh—!”

Star turned her blazing eyes to the horrified mutants behind her, countless vines ensnaring their forms with newfound ferocity.

“I CAN STOP THAT.”

The whites of her arm overtook everything else. The fusion screamed and flailed, trying to fire another Hyper Beam, but nothing came out. A second later, the fusion stopped struggling completely, going limp. Two pulses of light went from the fusion’s chest and into Star’s arm; it channeled from the branches into her chest, where they faded into her.

The Charizard with the ethereal head addressed the others, who were now completely frozen in place, not even bothering to fight against the vines. Their eyes were locked on the soulless body that had been cast aside behind her.

“Any questions?!”

They were too stunned to reply. Star took a few steps back, stretched her wings, and gave one last, decisive beat, blowing smoke and embers into a blinding whirlwind.

Her heart—if she had one anymore, considering how much Owen’s body had been chock full of Mystic energy—felt like it was racing, or perhaps that was just her divine flame. But this was the choice she made when she took Owen’s body from him. She had to kill Eon. She had to get the Orbs back. Even if it meant betraying Owen’s trust, this was the one time that she could put a decisive end to the nightmare that she had started. She had to. And even if she didn’t have to—she’d come too far to stop. She had to follow through.

Without a care, she slammed her body against the end of the hall. “EIGHT!”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 67 – Out of Control

On the eighth sublevel of Quartz HQ, all Nate could feel were the distant rumblings from above. It was such a strange feeling to have all this activity going on. It was exciting, in a way! But then again, he was starting to wonder why Eon wanted him here in the first place. He was so full of hope and promise when they talked. That’s one reason why he was so drawn to him—not that Owen and the others weren’t, either. But they seemed to be afraid of him. Perhaps being the Dark Guardian was more frightening than he had anticipated. But he couldn’t help that. He couldn’t help much of his appearance, either… but at least he had darkness to cover that up.

Still, their spirits were bright with hope and kindness toward one another. That was impossible to ignore. But so was Eon’s. Not to mention all of the strange new Pokémon that lived here. There were so many that he could make little images of, little variations that didn’t excite him ever since he discovered what southern Pokémon were!

The fact that Eon was a Ditto made coming to the lab all the more appealing. If Nate could just ask, maybe he could transform into something exotic. Something that he’d never seen in a long time. Dialga! Oh, to be able to draw a Dialga again. He missed that Embodiment. What ever happened to him?

“N-Nate! Nate!”

Oh? Someone was calling for him. He had to get used to that; it had been so long since anybody wanted to speak with him, aside from his fellow voices. That voice sounded like Eon, though there wasn’t a lot of joy from his heart this time around. His light felt very faint.

How was he supposed to talk again? Eon taught him how. Ohh, how frustrating! He couldn’t remember. He had to form a body, and then make some vibrations, just like their throats. Something like that.

Ohh, but he sounds so frantic. He’d just talk the old fashioned way.

Getting his voices together, Nate asked, Is something wrong?

“Gah—” Eon stumbled over himself, taking the form of a Mew. He seemed to have a lot of trouble floating through the air. Wait. A Mew! That’s wonderful! And he seemed so tiny! Or was it she? Eon sounded very feminine. If it wasn’t for how panicked he or she looked, he’d ask to make sure. “I thought I told you not to talk with all those voices?!”

Sorry, I forgot how to talk again.

“Oh, for the love of—not important.” Eon held his tiny, adorable hands up. “How good are you at fighting? Because the person who looks like me right now is possessing Owen, and in his body, is trying to kill me.”

After a pause, Nate’s presence shuddered. Darkness poured out of the large room that he housed himself in, more like a stadium, really, before he recollected himself. That would be rude, after all, invading in the space of the others. It was still a bit cramped, though, compared to how open the crater felt.

What was Eon talking about again? Kill! Yes, kill. Why?

“It’s a long story, Nate, but—I just need you to help me. C-can you? Anything? You’re some kind of—I don’t know what you are, but you certainly have some sort of way to stop her, right? I’m at the end of my rope here!”

Nate’s darkness fizzled uncertainly. I don’t know how to fight.

“H-how?! You have—a thousand limbs in there! I saw them! And aren’t you a Mimikyu? At least Shadow Claw or something? Star’s terrified of Ghost attacks!”

But I’m the Dark Guardian.

Eon slapped his paws to his face. “Ohh, come on! Mimikyu! Shadow Claw! I’ve seen it before, when you—gah!”

Eon suddenly plopped on the ground, his form shifting to a strange, black mass. A shoddy imitation of a Pikachu coated him seconds later.

“This! You can do this, can’t you?!” Eon said, waving his newfound, ghostly claws out of his disguise.

Well, he could certainly try. Nate brought one of his tendrils out into the halls, swinging it haphazardly. It slapped against the walls and dug into the stone, leaving cracks and chips in the marble.

“Th-that’s perfect! Exactly that, do that!”

Oh, dear, what was he supposed to do with that? That looked like it could really hurt somebody. I hit Owen?

“Y-yes? No! Yes! It’s Owen’s body, but Star’s in there instead. He’ll be fine—we just have to weaken her until Owen can take over ag—”

“FOUND YOU!”

That voice didn’t sound normal at all! Who was that? It sounded like Owen, but it was distorted, like he was talking from beyond a great inferno.

Oh, that’s why! His head was on fire!

“H-how did she find me so quickly—?” Eon squeaked. “Ah—Owen’s Perception—it must be…” Eon spun around.

The Charizard was completely green, covered in leaves, except for his head. There, it was made from branches and vines twisted together in the vague shape of a head; white fire—oh, those are the holy flames of Mystic energy!—erupted from the back of the Charizard’s throat, and made up the entirety of its ‘eyes,’ if they could be called those. And from what he could tell, the Charizard’s body in general seemed very unstable; the sheer magnitude of all that Mystic energy was tearing it apart. Poor Owen! That was going to hurt in the morning, assuming he’d be able to see another rising sun.

“Uhh—I mean—I, uh—” Eon looked back, turning into a Charizard while the Pikachu disguise that covered him tragically melted away. He staggered back, crossing his arms. A shield of light protected him from Star’s first blast—white fire that curled around and—Ouch!

Nate’s tendril dissolved away at the burning light, leaving a black mass that evaporated in the air. He recoiled, pulling the rest of it back. If that’s how Star was going to be, he didn’t want to fight!

But Eon wasn’t giving him much of a choice. Eon ran back and into—him! Oh, that felt strange; he was lodged somewhere between the arms. The voices were getting agitated; they pushed against Eon, trying to send him out of the darkness, but he was persistent—and surprisingly strong.

Also surprisingly strong, Star. “Get out of there!” Star hissed. “Nate! Let him out! He’s evil, don’t you get it?! Eon is killing people!”

He is? How could he? Someone with so much light in his spirit couldn’t possibly be killing people. Star, meanwhile… Nate felt very little light coming from her at the moment. That could only mean her heart was filled with malice and hate, given how she was behaving, trying to kill a spirit of light.

No, that was too presumptuous. There was still light in her, but it wasn’t at all directed at Eon. It felt… what was that feeling? What was her light toward? It felt like hope. Like she was close to something, close to…

“Nate, please,” Star begged. “I don’t want to hurt you to get to Eon. This is between us!”

He had to know. Star might have been telling the truth, if there was at least a little light there. What did Eon do?

“Don’t listen to her!” Eon said hastily, but Eon’s light felt weaker just then.

“All those Pokémon you see that live here? They were made to be weapons to kill Guardians! Guardians like YOU, Nate!”

That was silly! In fact, that cute Zygarde said the same thing, and he couldn’t feel any light from him. He couldn’t be trusted that easily. But then again, he wasn’t able to feel much from Eon, either. Of course, that was until Eon approached him in the Chasm and offered himself; oh, he felt so full of light then! How odd that it had been so hidden away before, but then again, Eon had such a strange soul to begin with.

But Star? He knew Star. She had light already, but it was weak. Could they both be telling the truth? Was that possible? Eon?

“I—it’s not like that at all,” Eon said, his light even weaker. Suspiciously weaker.

Suddenly, Star jerked her head up. “You’re kidding me—” she said, as if she’d heard something that nobody else could. Countless Hands sprouted from her back again, curving back into her; Nate had never felt such a turbulent aura before. It wasn’t just on the outside; the very spirits within Owen’s body were rebelling against Star from within!

“Aaaagh!” Star suddenly clutched at her stomach, leaning forward in some strange pain. “I don’t—have time for this—! Sorry, Nate, I need to—”

Star made a move to leap into Nate’s darkness, but she didn’t even have the chance. Another tiny, adorable creature appeared right behind the divine Charizard—an Espurr, grabbing onto her thigh.

“What—?” Star looked down in a snarl.

Nate felt Psychic energy deep within her Mystic aura flow out. From it was the power of Teleport—and in a flash of light, the Espurr and Charizard disappeared.

Eon sprang from the darkness, shaking off some of the odd, black material that covered some of his scales. He screamed for Rim, but they were long gone.

<><><>​

“Owen, Owen, talk to us again! What do we do?!” Manny shook the delirious Charizard; he had been falling in and out of consciousness ever since his first warning, yet they didn’t know what to do with that information. Star was trying to kill Eon—but wasn’t that a good thing?! Wasn’t this what they had been planning from the start?

Step had blasted it with a tentative strike of ice after Owen had fallen, but when he had cried out in pain from it, she stopped herself from doing a follow-up, just in case. “Perhaps we should allow Star to summon us to assist,” she suggested, staring at the Core with a glare.

Manny, Amia, and Zena all gave Step an uneasy glance. Owen’s eyelids fluttered open. “H-huh? H-help Star? Why would you want to do that right now?” the Charizard said.

Zena cupped his head in her ribbon-eyebrows, but said nothing.

“I was joking,” Step replied. “That was a joke.”

“It… it was?” Amia said.

“Well, it ain’t funny,” Manny said.

Step grumbled under her breath. “Ra would find it perfect,” she muttered. “Tend to Owen. I will disrupt Star’s—”

A flurry of green beams of light shot out of the Core and into Step, chipping away at her icy body. She roared in surprise, blocking the rest with her arms that extended into shields of ice. She dared to peek through when the blast finished.

A Zygarde stood before them, but not of the sort that they were familiar with. Rather than a canine, it was a great serpent of black and green, staring at Step with the same expressionless look of his canid form. Yet without ears, it was even more difficult to tell what the Embodiment of Balance was thinking.

“I warned you not to come here,” Hecto said, his voice much deeper than before.

Connecting Hecto to the Core were several filaments of light—several of Star’s Hands. Step had planned on boasting to Hecto that she knew of his weaknesses—and that she was one of his greatest threats. Yet with those Hands in the way…

“What are you doing to Owen?” Step said.

“Whatever it is, you could have asked, first!” Amia said. “Look at him! Owen’s hurt!”

“Owen will be fine. Star is borrowing his body and using it as a vessel in order to combat Eon when he is most vulnerable. Owen was not capable of the same thing. He was unwilling to fight Eon.”

“That’s the point!” Zena said. “Owen—he said that he could have ended this without fighting. Without any of us having to risk our lives for your war!”

Owen struggled to sit up; with some help from Zena, he was able to at least get upright, though not without a heavy slouch. “My head’s killing me…”

“Eon is too unpredictable to trust, even with a Divine Promise, and especially with one as easily exploitable as the one he made with Owen.” Hecto’s eyes brightened. “Now, please, leave Star to do as she must. It won’t be long now.”

That icy, sinking feeling returned to Zena’s stomach. She gave a single look to Amia; she was thinking the same thing. Not this time.

Step spoke for them. “No. You will return Owen his body and leave this place. Now is not the time to simply betray us.”

“Betray,” Hecto repeated. “We are fighting Eon. This is the exact opposite of betrayal.”

“You betrayed our trust. We came here ready to help you fight Eon, and yet look at what you have done to the naïve Guardian.” She motioned to Owen, who could only give a halfhearted, irritated glare at Step.

“Were you not ready to rescue Owen from Eon?” Hecto said. “I recall observing that Owen had been compromised by his own emotions.”

“I do not trust anybody who wrests control of another’s autonomy.” Frosty air filled the room, making Amia shiver. “If we are being refused entry to Owen’s spirit, that is suspicion enough. If I must fight Star and Eon, I shall.”

Uneasy silence followed, Owen rising to his feet. He leaned heavily against Zena, shaking off the last of his dizziness. “Hecto, please, tell Star to hold off. This isn’t helping anyone. Eon—he was really listening to me. I could feel it.” Owen shook his head furiously, spreading his wings. He held his arms out, clasping his claws together. “It’s not too late!”

<><><>​

“There, you should be better, now,” Lavender said, stepping away from Gahi. He was taking the form of a Blissey, tossing golden, glowing eggs toward everyone in the room who needed it; The fused Seviper-Tyranitar body, intact yet lifeless, was placed in one of the rooms near the mess hall. Some of them nudged at his cheek helplessly, asking him to wake up, but there was nothing inside to wake.

Lavender sniffled. “What happened to them…?”

The Flygon grunted, rubbing his head. The shine of his scales were smudged by deposited smoke, embers, and plant matter. Everything ached. But what felt worse than all of that was the fact that Owen was still under Star’s control… and he couldn’t stop her.

He should have known that Star would pull something like this. Sure, maybe Eon was completely twisted, but Owen almost had him! Why couldn’t Star just trust Owen the same way everyone else did?

All of these mutants would be devastated if they lost their father. It just didn’t feel right to kill him, not anymore. Maybe it would stop the Hunters… but it still didn’t feel right, in his gut. He didn’t care if those were his instincts; his gut was all he had! He wasn’t smart like Owen, and he knew it. He knew it the moment he fused with him.

“Owen…” Gahi slammed his fist against the wall, wincing when the pain shot through his wrists. Lavender hastily threw a tiny golden egg at him. “That freaking pink god… I’m gonna…”

Lavender transitioned back to his Scolipede form next, sniffling again. “Daddy… wh-what do we do? Where did he go?”

Gahi stood up. “I dunno. We gotta just check all the floors. Yer pops ain’t gonna die that easy, y’got it? Even if some crazy god is after ‘im, he feels like Owen. Gives off the same kinda energy, y’know? And he ain’t someone that’ll back down.”

Lavender looked down at Gahi, yellow eyes wide with hope. “You mean it? Owen… is like that?”

Suddenly, countless mutants crowded around Gahi in the mess hall, a cacophony of questions filling the air. They all asked about Owen and Eon, how similar the two were, and what Owen was like, as if they could extrapolate from what Gahi knew of the Charizard to what that meant for their father. If Owen could really fight back from within.

“Oy, oy, stop with the questions!” Gahi shouted, waving his arms above his head. “We can chat after. I’m all energized. Thanks fer all the help, Lav.”

The Scolipede perked up, hopping on all fours.

Lucas skipped to Gahi next, nudging him with his snout. He tilted his head and gave a small growl-snort of concern.

“Bah, I’m fine,” Gahi said, scratching Lucas between the eyes. “You feral er something?”

The Mega Houndoom barked, nudging Gahi again, but then winced, stumbling to the side. Lavender rose up quickly. “Lucas? Is it too much?”

Lucas growled defiantly, crouching down to hide beneath his paws as well as the giant skull-chest plate would allow.

“Dispel it, Lucas. The stress of the fight was too much!”

Lucas whined again; Gahi, meanwhile, said, “What’s up with him? He’s a mutant, too? How d’you even make a feral mutant?”

“No, he’s—”

“RRAGH!”

In a flash of light, a Charizard appeared a few corridors ahead of them. It was made of glowing vines from the chest up, with white, flaming eye sockets. Rim was in Star’s claws by now, her tiny form grasped easily. “Stop teleporting me!”

The mutants were too stunned to react—except for Gahi, who disappeared from the middle of the crowd.

Star raised Rim in the air, squeezing her claws into her body. “Drop your Orb.” Star growled. “I may not be able to take it, but I’ll at least make you lose it!” She squeezed harder; Rim’s huge eyes bulged wide.

Hands spiraled out of Star’s back, each one taking aim for Rim’s body. Star knew this method well—the same thing that Barky had tried on Owen. But now it was for the right reason; even more convenient, with it happening in the living world, she could relocate the Orb at the same time.

Rim’s mouth was open, but she couldn’t find a way to scream. But at the same time, she had glanced at the other mutants; a small smile formed.

Star squeezed harder while the Hands behind her got into their positions. The fire in her eyes glowed even brighter, drawing out whatever she could. They plunged down—

Gahi slapped into Star with a full-body tackle. What surprised Gahi was how much give Owen’s body now had; it felt like a cross between Anam and Emily. He wasn’t quite solid anymore. Gahi flipped his body with a wingbeat and kicked at Star next, catching a glance at the damage he’d done. Whole portions of Star’s belly spewed white fire, covered up by a tapestry of vines immediately after.

“Get out of my—”

Gahi rushed for Star again, slamming a dragon fire-coated fist in her face, tearing apart some of the vines. Furious eyes stared back at him, but Gahi returned with a smirk. He beat his wings and flew further back.

Star realized that something felt like it was missing. She turned and saw that it was her hand—Gahi had ripped it clean off her destabilized body. Now all that was left were writhing vines and holy fire.

“Take care o’ her,” Gahi muttered to Lavender, but then a mutant Meganium pushed Lavender aside.

“I’ll do it,” she said, giving Gahi a nod. She tore away at Star’s hand that still held onto Rim; it fell to the floor, writhing mindlessly.

“M-Mispy?” Gahi blinked. No, it didn’t act like her—and not like Ani, either.

“Try again,” the different Meganium giggled, wrapping her vines around Rim. “Tell Big Sis I said hi.”

<><><>​

The Core suddenly let out a shockwave of Mystic pressure that made all of the Guardians in the room—even Step—wince and shudder in pain. Their bodies bled aura embers and golden light, but it stabilized seconds later. Those were the same shockwaves that had nearly dissolved their weaker spirits when they had first entered the Grass Dungeon. The distortions were getting stronger; whatever Star was doing, it was intensifying.

Amia gasped for air, her whole aura fizzling dangerously, but then stabilized.

Hecto spoke with his typical, neutral tone. “Eon has been performing his original mission for longer than you have been alive, Owen, and for much longer than you can possibly remember in your current state. Eon is impulsive; his feelings, while genuine in the moment, are fleeting and fickle. No matter how good your Perception is for how someone feels in the present, Owen, you simply do not know how someone will feel in the future. We know Eon. It is far too late.”

Owen had no words, but he still wanted to refuse. His desperate eyes said all he wanted for Zena and Amia, who finally stood a bit taller in front of Hecto. Owen tried to step with them. “Wait…”

“Stay back, Owen,” Zena said softly. “We’ll take care of this. Just get ready to return to your body.”

Step slammed her tail onto the ground. “What will it be, Embodiment of Balance?” She held her hand toward Hecto, frost surrounding her palm in a brighter and brighter sphere. “Will you move aside… or will I have to destroy you?”

Hecto didn’t reply at first, hexagon eyes staring at Step a bit more intensely than usual. Then, they flickered, and the serpentine Zygarde shook his head, as if he had been briefly dazed.

Owen raised his voice again, just a bit louder. “I said… wait…”

This whole time, Owen was watching all of their actions, feeling the subtleties of what he could from their strange bodies. Hecto was as difficult to read as ever, especially in his much larger form. Step, with her icy, solid body, didn’t make things any easier for him. Amia and Zena were a lot easier to read, along with Manny, all bodies that he had grown accustomed to. Amia was tense and ready to fight, all to defend him. What mother wouldn’t? Zena just wanted to keep Owen safe, refusing to leave his side. And Manny… he felt odd. He didn’t seem to want to fight, yet he stood by anyway and let Hecto and Step work things out for themselves.

Manny spared a glance at Owen. “Oy, just rest up. We’ll take care o’ yeh.”

“This is beyond your scope, Grass Guardian,” Step said without even sparing him a glance. “You’ve fallen to Eon and you’ve fallen to Star. I have fallen to neither, and I have no plans to now.”

“But I don’t want this,” Owen said quietly, even while Step and Hecto continued to stare one another down, both of them looking for an opening. Green energy pulsed through Hecto’s body; if Step fired, he would, too. Step had the advantage of her element, yet Hecto had Star’s divinity behind him.

And neither even gave him a second thought. Hecto didn’t acknowledge Owen; Step had made it clear with her last words. But that’s how it always was, wasn’t it?

“Can’t you just… stop?” Owen said dumbly, the words falling from his mouth.

Because even from the beginning, that’s what it was always like. He was created to be used by Eon to usurp Arceus. He was born to be obedient and loyal to some divine leader. And then he was put under the care of Amia and Alex, raised anew to be docile and as far away from his life as possible.

He had been ignorant of it all. And then, memories returned, they did all that they could to keep him under their eyes. Star telling him only what she wanted to; Rhys keeping him away from the rest of Team Alloy, the first friends he’d ever had. His kind. His family.

Not once did they ask him what he wanted. And he just let it happen, because that was his nature. It was in his nature to obey.

“I… You guys need to listen to me,” Owen said. “You’re both just staring each other down. I can tell that even with all that you’re saying, Step, you know you can’t beat Hecto, not with Star’s—”

“Bite your tongue,” Step spat, flashing a glare toward him.

“But you aren’t even thinking,” Owen said. “You want to take down Eon! Star does, too! And I don’t!”

“Owen, please,” Amia said softly, “Don’t—don’t let Eon fool you like—”

“No, he’s not fooling me,” Owen interrupted, voice rising in volume. “You know who’s been fooling me? You! Rhys! Star! Eon’s been the only one who has been trying to tell me the truth!”

“Owen—you know why we couldn’t have told—”

“Oh, because maybe I would’ve learned too quickly?” Owen wobbled forward. “S-Step, that’s enough. Hecto, get Star, just… tell her to stop. She can’t take us both on, so just have her stop, and we can talk this all out.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be doing that,” Hecto said. “But I do agree that a battle here would be disadvantageous for all of us. With the Core nearby, any disruption could harm not only Star, but Owen’s body, his spirits, and perhaps the entire Grass Realm.”

“Then you’ll know to back down?” Step said, making a gesture to feign her icy blast.

Hecto responded with an abrupt blast of green energy—an arrow that struck the center of Step’s blast. The Aggron’s eyes widened in surprise, firing her own blast at the same time. That earned an even more powerful retaliation from Hecto, countless spears of green energy buffeting Step’s thick hide and armor on all sides. Step opened her mouth and fired a thick beam of ice at Hecto next, but the Zygarde retaliated with a second volley of Thousand Arrows.

Step roared, flicking her head toward the incoming attack; some of the ice nicked against the Core, making the whole thing flicker.

Owen wailed, clutching at his chest; he sank to the ground, his whole spirit fizzling for a split-second.

“O-Owen!” Zena breathed, wrapping her ribbons around his shoulders.

“You should be careful, Step,” Hecto said tersely. “You don’t want to harm Owen.”

“Tch, then neither do you.” Step struggled to stand, countless parts of her body missing in tiny pieces all over her, like she had been chipped away by a spiteful sculptor. Subtle plumes of aura embers and spiritual light leaked from those missing pieces.

Manny raised his paw, Amia mirroring the gesture. “Well, if yer gonna be like that,” the Lucario said lowly. He gave Owen a quick glance and a reassuring smirk. “Guess we’ll have ter protect Owen, too.”

“You aren’t going to control my son.” Amia’s hair flashed to fiery life. “Not Star, not Eon.”

Zena let go of Owen and slithered in front of him; all Owen could see were their backs, all four of them acting in his stead. Hecto, meanwhile, looked between all of them with that same expressionless gaze.

Owen wanted to say something—anything—but once again, he felt too small. He felt like a Charmander again, everybody around him making the moves in his place. Nothing had changed at all, had it?

He was still someone that had to fall in line.

<><><>​

Star examined her empty paws; that Flygon, using his intense speed, had stolen Rim from her at the last moment. “GAHI!” she roared, pointing her reformed hand at him.

Before she could say anything, Gahi spat back. “Save it! Everyone!” He raised his wings, channeling what he knew about Owen to give the command. He was the leader, after all. And what would a leader do? “FIRE!”

That was all they needed. A flood of attacks of all elements—ghostly orbs, flaming beams, icy blasts, electric bolts—trailed along the walls and through the air, all toward Star. She crossed her arms, forming a shield of light, but Gahi shouted to fire again. “Keep at it!”

Through the smoke, he saw the shield of light fading. Vines writhed to protect Star from the rest, but their onslaught was too much, even for her. She had been worn down too much, and perhaps, finally, their wills were performing a Backlash against her own power. No matter how desperate she was, she was not going to keep Owen’s body. He was family. She was not.

Star screamed; Gahi saw that the blasts were missing, flying straight through the smoke. “Stop!” Gahi shouted; embers, smoke, and debris obscured his view, but the Meganium next to him had her eyes closed. “See anything?”

“She’s still there.”

Gahi grunted, flexing his wings, feeling that tension in his back. One by one, the filaments of light returned. “I’ll finish ‘er off. Force Star out.”

“W-will that work? What if—what if you kill Owen instead?”

“Feh, he’s survived worse.” Gahi didn’t actually know, but anything was better than letting Star have free reign.

Gahi disappeared in a flash; his green blur trailed through the halls, straight to the core. He spotted a heap of vines in the center of the corridor, a bright, glowing ball in the middle. That was Star, no doubt about it. He leaned forward—

A huge pillar of wood slammed into Gahi’s chest, knocking the wind out of him. He spat blood when that same pillar slammed him into the ceiling.

<><><>​

“I s-said… that’s enough. Please, it’s… just going to hurt me.” Owen took a step forward, nearly losing his balance, but his exasperation fueled him. The flame on his tail got just a bit brighter. For some reason, seeing all of their backs toward him made it all worse. “Just listen to me.”

Step snorted. “Stay down, child,” she said. “Save your strength for when you can take back your Core.”

“Be ready, Owen,” Zena said, not sparing him a glance; she was too focused on Hecto, like all the others.

Hecto’s eyes flashed as if he was giving off a warning signal. “Then you choose to defy Star? This is a fight that you all wished to assist. The fight against Eon.”

Amia’s hair matched Hecto’s brightness. “I never agreed for anybody to take Owen away from me.”

“Has Star been able ter do this all the time?” Manny said. “Just take us over? Fat chance I’ll let ‘er inter my realm again!”

“That’s likely why she never did so until now,” Step said, her eyes gleaming with malice. “She was waiting for the perfect opportunity to take the power all at once. To gather us together, so she can have Owen kill us all in one fell swoop. Because he’s the easiest to control. Isn’t that right?”

“Completely incorrect,” Hecto replied. “Star intended to end Eon and the Hunters and nothing more.”

“Your words are meaningless!” Step shouted back, and with that, she fired her icy blast. Manny, Zena, and Amia all fired their respective elements toward Hecto at the same time in a four-way onslaught.

Hecto retaliated with another Thousand Arrow volley, hundreds of beams of light knocking away at the individual blasts. The many Hands that connected Hecto to the Core brightened with every arrow sent out, channeling more and more of Star’s divine energy into the fight.

Some of the fire and ice got to him, stinging his scales. Hecto winced, shrinking back from the four-on-one. Manny’s Aura Sphere exploded on Hecto, the blast partly hitting the Core again.

“N—gh—!” Owen gasped, falling to one knee.

“Bah! Sorry, Owen!” Manny shouted, taking a more careful aim with his next one, but a volley of arrows struck him through the arm. He yelped and clutched at his shoulder, blue embers pouring out of the wound. The Aura Sphere that he had been forming fired at Hecto, but he brushed it away and to the wall. Step snarled and flicked her wrist, summoning a pillar of ice to bounce the Sphere back; it struck true, hitting Hecto on the head.

His eyes flickered; more energy channeled through and into his body, even as Zena prepared another Hydro Pump.

The Core glowed brighter.

<><><>​

The heap of vines in the middle of the ruined corridors of Quartz HQ twisted themselves into something vaguely Charizard-shaped. Beyond words, Star looked at all the other mutants next; without warning, countless vines tore open the walls and the floor, entangling the mutants all at once. Some of them shrieked, struggling against them, flailing and biting and spinning. But even if they destroyed a few, more vines took over, thorns prodding into their bodies.

It started glowing. They screamed even louder, recognizing this feeling from before. The same thing that happened to Seviper and Tyranitar.

Lucas whined, his power uncontrolled and too weak to fight.

Lavender was not; he flailed one last time and curled into a ball. His whole body spun, knocking any vines from wrapping around him, and he rolled forward. The Scolipede bounced over even more lumps, screaming quiet apologies when he accidentally ran over some of his mutant brethren. He slammed into the pillar keeping Gahi in place next; at first, the gesture further crushed the Flygon, but then he was freed, both the pillar and Flygon falling to the ground.

Star’s body exploded into even more plant matter, the bright, white core protected by a solid layer of wood, leaves, and brambles. The rest crowded around Lavender, slowing down his spin until he, too, became lodged in the mass.

He squeaked, shifting back to a Silvally. The strange bolts in his cheeks turned red and his body erupted in flames. “L-let go!” he screamed, but the more he burned, the more came to take their place. He turned cyan next, frosty air cracking and smashing it, but more came. He bit down with his jaws next, tearing away at the vines that tried to choke him, a Bug-infused aura further eating away at the plants. When that didn’t work, he shifted to a clear white, compressed slashes of air ripping them apart. But no matter how much he struggled, the vines were faster to replenish.

Lavender screamed, as did the spirits inside him.

<><><>​

Through it all—this battle between Guardians and gods—Owen gasped as residual damage struck his Core, and as he felt the very power within his body drain into Hecto, all for the sake of fending off the ones that fought in his place.

“Please…” But nobody heard him.

They were all fighting their own war, and he was just being dragged along for it.

“St… stop…” But nobody heard him.

Hot, burning energy bubbled in the back of his throat, but it didn’t feel like fire. It felt like the sun. Why? Why did he have to be born into this position? Was he just designed to be this way? Trina had said that he wasn’t born from the reckless hand of nature. He was designed with the careful hand of a creator.

“I’m… I’m so tired…” But nobody heard him.

What if he didn’t like what the creator came up with? Eon turned him into something that he could raise as some underling forever. All of the mutants were like kids to him. He was like a kid to him. He wasn’t some equal.

“I’m so… s-sick… of…” But nobody heard him.

<><><>​

Star stared at Lavender, moving closer. Her movements were slower, almost a struggle. Her flames flickered. “You shouldn’t exist,” she said, her hand narrowing into a single point. “None of this should have happened. The Hunters, the mutants, the wars… Every single spirit here… none of you deserved this.”

Lavender struggled even more, whimpering. “Th-these spirits are my friends! I promise! P-please! D-don’t kill us!”

“Everybody here has already died once.” Star pointed at Lavender. “I’m ending this… NOW!”

Star slammed her spear toward Lavender; a Psychic barrier blocked it, the spear clanging against the ethereal wall.

Star snarled. “WHAT NOW?!”

Lavender dared to glance behind him.

It was Rim, glowing again, with a fierce look right at Star, fearless against the god that had nearly killed her moments earlier. “No.”

She held her paws forward, closing her eyes. Small embers flew from them, materializing into strange, black creatures in the shape of letters, each one with a single eye somewhere on their bodies.

“Unown?” Star hissed. “Why are they on YOUR side?!”

“Go.”

The living runes swarmed Star without fear, blasting spheres of energy of all attributes toward her. Every attack was weak, yet built up, Star had to release Lavender to Protect against them.

“Don’t think this is enough!” Star raised her hands, taking several Hidden Power strikes. A wave of vines took out half of the Unown spirits. Another wave took out most of the rest. Rim just summoned more. But that’s what Star wanted; she let the smoke build up and let her blazing aura obscure even more of Rim’s aura vision. Slowly, Star brought as many Hands as she could out without inhibiting Hecto’s defense.

Rim squinted, eyes shining to see where Star’s aura was. With all the smoke, normal vision was useless. But when she tried to see anything, all she could see was a blur of white fire in all directions—Lavender’s spirit alone was blinding, and she could see the bright spot that was his spirit cluster. But Star was everywhere. In the walls, in the vines all around. Her core would be too hard to see, let alone strike, with all the chaos.

Rim realized too late that Star was in front of her. Intense pressure—vines constricted all around the Espurr. The last thing Rim saw was the white eye sockets of Owen’s possessed body, and then a piercing pain in her back. Not vines, but Hands, sprouted from Star and into Rim. It didn’t pierce her body; it pierced her aura, and further, into her spirit.

Rim blacked out when Star tugged. It came ripping out of Espurr’s body, bloodless, yet with a flood of golden embers.

In that brief moment, Star could feel the Orb within Rim struggling to resist her hold. At first, she wasn’t sure what to make of that. The Unown were easily influenced, from her past experiences with them. Impressionable and easily swayed, especially if they were attached to Rim’s spirit. Perhaps they were working for her because of that reason alone—so well-synced to her mind.

That was just another reason to put an end to it so the Unown could think for themselves. She got Rim. All that was left was Eon. If she could get him to forfeit his Orbs—they could be done with all of this. No more hunting. No more wars. The Mystics can get out of Hot Spot and live normally. Maybe they can find a place to live in Kilo Village? Maybe when she was done apologizing to Owen, maybe when they forgave her in a few decades, they could laugh about it…

A sphere of pink clouds fell to the ground and Rim’s limp body dangled in Star’s clutches, eyes half-open and vacant. The few Unown that remained outside screamed, dissolving into the Orb again.

Star pulled her Hands from Rim and glanced at the Meganium nearby. She feigned a toss; her vines lurched forward reflexively. They locked eyes, and Star gave a quick nod, tossing the motionless Espurr to the Meganium, who caught her in a clump of vines.

Star squinted; two of her vines seemed to have been severed… A rush of wind blew past Star; she looked down. The Psychic Orb was gone.

Gahi, using the severed vines like gloves to keep the Orb from touching his body directly, flew straight for the warping wall. He muttered a number Star couldn’t hear and vanished.

<><><>​

The Core’s radiance blinded them all. Owen closed his eyes, but his Perception let him see the whole field and all of its flurries. Amia was doing the most damage to the Core, her Shadow Ball strikes disrupting Star’s control. But at the same time, it made Owen feel like throwing up, like he was going to rip apart at any second. But if he could just outlast it, then maybe—

Amia shrieked, but the cry was cut off just as quickly. The Core had blasted the Fire Guardian with a Psychic blast, followed by Hecto’s follow-up Thousand Arrows when her guard was down. Owen felt the holes running through Amia’s aura, and then felt her entire body burst in a flurry of blue embers. And then she was gone.

“M-Mom—!” Owen opened his eyes, blinding himself.

“Amia!” Zena shouted.

“Amia’s down!” Manny announced.

“W-wait—where—where did she—” Owen frantically searched for her, but she was gone. Just gone. “St—stop! STOP!” Owen cried. “Where’d Mom go?! What happened?!”

“Aura sea! Precisely where we will send these traitors!” Step hurled an explosive chunk of ice toward Hecto, who dispelled it with another volley of arrows and divine light.

More energy; more blasts; more injuries. Owen didn’t bother to keep track of it anymore. His mind was replaying the moment that Amia had vanished in his head over and over; the way her ember hadn’t even gone anywhere. It just disappeared.

They were all bleeding their auras all over the ground; his Core was shining from something happening to his body. They fought over him, just so they could be the ones to control him.

That’s how it always had been.

“I said to stop—I said to stop…!” Owen begged, but once again, nobody heard him. Those that did, simply ignored him. Zena, on the opposite end of the fight, was too focused on trying to free him. Manny was too busy dodging attacks from the god and her disciple. And of course, then there was Step, who was not only closest to him, but also the least likely to ever give him a chance to speak his mind.

“You aren’t stopping—why aren’t you stopping? I said enough! E-enough!”

Step snorted; her reply was a flick of her tail and another flurry of ice crystals toward Hecto.

For a brief, brief moment, that hot, boiling feeling his Owen’s chest became unbearable, and he wanted to do nothing more than pass out and push it away. He wanted to curl up and cry to himself, to just forget that it was there. But now, with all of these spirits here, invading his realm, assuming what was best for him… He took that energy instead. A handful of filaments of light exploded from his back.

“I SAID ENOUGH!”

The ground heaved, a massive shockwave centralized around the Core sending the three remaining Guardians into the wall and Hecto flat on the ground. The Hands that had connected him to the Core separated, retracting inside. But Owen wouldn’t allow that. Completely unaffected by the shockwave, Owen beat his wings and, in a single leap, slapped his body into the Core. Hitting it hurt him a lot more than he thought—it was like he’d stabbed himself in the heart.

He slammed his fist against the core, screaming. “GET OUT!” He ran his fist against it again. “I SAID GET OUT!”

<><><>​

“I’LL KILL YOU!” Star roared, speeding through the halls right after Gahi fled. She only got through a few corridors, ignoring the flyby strikes of the mutants she’d passed, before her entire body seized up. “W-wait—no, that’s—Owen! S-stop!”

The vines that had been holding the mutants all in place slackened. Most of them were able to break free in that brief lapse of focus; the rest were freed by the stronger mutants. All eyes turned to Star, but none of them attacked. It seemed like something was attacking from within.

“Owen!” one of them cried.

“Owen! Fight it!”

“Kick her out!”

“Owen! Wait! I’m so close! I’ll give your body back in a second! Just—let—me—FIX—THIS—STOOOOP!”

<><><>​

Hecto tried to get up, but another shockwave blasted him further into the floor; the other Guardians suffered a similar fate.

Owen brought his arm back one last time, one of the Hands spiraling around his arm until it enveloped his fist. He swung forward; it pierced the Core, the sphere glowing so brightly that the entire room looked white. Inside, he felt the presence of countless spirits, but he wasn’t looking to take any of them out. In fact, he felt many of them helping, wriggling, shifting to press the one that he was looking for toward him, no matter how much she struggled.

Found her.

With a roar to drown out the pain, Owen tugged as hard as he could at the spirit he felt deep in the Core. He pulled out Star, and all of her Hands, where she struggled, startled, in his scaly grip.

“Urgh—what—what happened?” Star gasped, locking eyes with the huge Charizard that was holding her.

The typical, soft look that Owen always had was gone, replaced by a snarl that showed all of his teeth, and pupils that had become nothing but lines against his blue irises.

Star’s many filaments twitched weakly; in Owen’s domain, she could no longer do anything. With wide eyes, Star forced a cheerful, disarming smile. “H-heya… Owen… h-how’s it goin—hrgnk!”

Owen squeezed. “Get out of my realm.”

A sphere of fire formed in front of Star; for the briefest of seconds, the embers reflected in her eyes. Then, in the explosive inferno, she burned away.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 68 - Quiet

“Big Brother? What happened to Mom?”

Klent wasn’t really sure how he wound up in this situation. In some twisted sense of irony, he was the Grass Guardian again, at least temporarily. And not only that, he was taking the form of the very person who had killed him.

He had to admit—he was envious of actually having fingers and claws. But being in such a heavy body was new—not to mention the splitting headache he had, or how strange everything felt. His body was tougher; tough, yet leafy feathers covered every part of his body. Running his foreign claws over his face, he felt that with Star’s divine energy fading rapidly, his head was returning to normal. He had eyes again, and proper flesh and blood, and the vines that had once made up his warped form slowly transitioned into something at least vaguely resembling a Charizard’s natural insides.

It felt like his entire head had been squished and pressed many times over, and all the other parts of him that had been damaged in the fight—from his arms to his gut—felt like they had been crushed under a thousand Emilys.

Klent only realized a bit later that the reason he was conscious at all was because of the healing waves of a mutant Meganium, in addition to other healer mutants.

“You’re… you’re Big Brother, right?”

Klent figured that, for now, it would be best to tell a little white lie. “I am,” he said. “I’m… sorry, though. I need to rest.” Oh, how did Owen talk? He was polite, but informal. He was from a different time. He had no idea how to emulate it. Hopefully the kids wouldn’t catch on. “I don’t feel like myself. Sorry if I sound strange… I think my body is trying to… go back to normal.”

“You do sound funny,” Meganium said, frowning. “Are you sure the scary god is gone?”

“She’s gone,” Klent assured her, raising a claw. “I made sure of that. Star can’t fight me in my domain… She just caught me, and all my spirits, by surprise. We didn’t think she’d ever do something like that… but now we know better.”

The Charizard finally found the energy to sit up. Rim was lying on the ground with countless mutants many times her size huddled around her unresponsive form. Her eyes were half-open, yet empty and unfocused. Her mouth was similarly neutral.

Klent approached and ran the back of his claw along Rim’s chin, earning barely a response. “Do you know what happened?” he asked. “Right before she became… like this?”

Klent felt the presence of someone behind him. Owen’s Perception was such a strange thing to comprehend. He had flashes of it when he was part of Owen’s consciousness, but to experience it firsthand…

The sensations were almost overwhelming, but he could at least discern that it was someone large. Looking back, he confirmed that it was another Charizard—Eon. Klent instantly tensed, but then remembered—yes, Eon couldn’t possibly hurt him. Not without risking his Orbs next.

He seemed a bit preoccupied anyway.

“Rim…!” Eon ran past everyone—who instantly parted ways—and scooped the Espurr in his arms. But the gesture couldn’t last; his body shifted and shrank until he was just another Espurr, barely able to hold her with his new, tiny arms. “Rim, what—”

“The scary ghost controlling Owen…” One of the mutants sniffled. “These big… scary… white tentacle things… they stabbed Mom, and…!”

“The Hands…?” Eon stared at Rim, wide-eyed. “Rim. Rim, answer me. Rim?”

No response. Her eyes stared at Eon—she focused on him, but she said nothing. But it was a sign that something of her remained.

Eon’s huge eyes welled up with tears; he pulled her close, wrapping around her limp body. “Please… Rim, what…”

“What happened to her?” Lavender said, squeezing past a few of them, though he didn’t dare move closer. He winced, looking like he was about to retch. Several mutants huddled around him, urging him to change into something other than a Silvally. He nodded; his eyes glowed and the bolts in his cheeks spun rapidly. He shifted to his other preferred, Scolipede form. He collapsed soon after, but he shrugged off any assistance, giving a little smile. Still, Lavender said nothing afterward, focused on his breathing.

Lavender wasn’t the only one having similar issues; some mutants, too stressed to cope, were being shuffled out by the more sane ones, like it was some sort of procedure. Murmurings of ‘Get his Poké Ball’ and ‘Put her to sleep’ filled the rapidly thinning crowd. As much as they wanted to see Rim, they couldn’t do anything if their minds were slipping.

A loud, deep whine shook the walls. Eon recognized that one. Lucas was on the ground, pressing his paws over his eyes, but flames gushed from his mouth and claws. Any attempts to touch him made the Mega Houndoom lurch and snap, and then immediately recoil into a frightened, curled up position.

“He’s going berserk, Dad!”

Eon finally found enough sense in him to bring a tiny paw forward. A ball of rainbow light formed on his paw pad, shot into Lucas’ chest. His entire body glowed white; when it dissipated, a normal Houndoom remained, collapsed and unconscious. A few mutants got closer, deflating when his breathing steadied.

Eon, after making sure he was okay, looked back at Rim, whose only reaction had been a weak, empty glance to the sound of Lucas whining.

“A pink orb fell on the ground,” another mutant reported. “But then Gahi stole it. He ran away.”

“Star… tore the Psychic Orb out of her. She ripped her spirit apart…” Eon pulled Rim away, looking at her vacant eyes again. She finally blinked. Eon held her a bit tighter. “She didn’t take all of her power. I still feel… a little bit of Mystic power in her—maybe the one Hand she has as a Hunter. She’s… she can… I can help her. I have to. There… there has to be a way. I…” His eyes grew more and more desperate the longer some imaginary idea, some awaited miracle, eluded him.

Klent, watching from the side, had intended to say a million things to Eon for what he’d done to Owen. All of the sins he’d committed for hunting down Guardians, playing Creator by designing the mutants, all of these strange experiments that he’d been running. The terror that he had put them through. The trauma he’d caused Amelia. The horrors that bubbled into the surface, killing innocents of Kilo every time a mutant went berserk.

Yet now, seeing Eon desperately holding onto Rim’s faded husk… He couldn’t find those words anymore.

“It’s not the first time someone’s been shattered,” Klent said gently. While he could tell that his own eyes were cold, what he said at least had some truth. “Team Alloy had been shattered by Hands in the same way, right? And Owen—er, I had been threatened by Arceus by the same thing. There must be a way to reverse it… even if the only cure is time.”

Slowly, Klent’s words calmed the trembling Espurr.

“…What about Tox and Soli?” another one squeaked.

“What?” Klent asked.

“Tox and Soli… th-the scary god… she said she… stopped their reincarnation… d-does… does that mean…?” Her voice cracked. “What happened to them?! You can’t… you can’t d-destroy a…”

Klent’s heart sank, but then said, “N-no, that’s… Star wouldn’t…”

But then he felt something in his core. He looked down, touching his chest. Two spirits, desperate to come out.

Before Eon could ask, Klent made a gentle motion with his claws. Two little embers emerged, expanding and solidifying into a familiar, yet confused, Seviper and Tyranitar.

After a second of disbelieving shock, the mutants erupted in subdued shouts, crowding around the pair to see if it was really them. Mutants near the back wept with relief, while more boisterous ones tried to pinch or squeeze them to make sure they were real. The dazed spirits tried to shake them off, since they seemed just as confused.

The Tyranitar spoke up first. “I thought… we died,” he said. “She stabbed us and… and then everything went dark. I thought we’d go into one of the spirit chambers, but… but then there were all these voices…”

“That was the Grass Core,” Klent said. “Were they okay to you?”

“They were telling me to… just stay put. That Owen would make things right.” Tyranitar looked around. “I guess he did, huh?”

“I… I certainly hope he at least made things better,” Klent admitted. “I’m sorry for what happened to you, Soli.”

Tyranitar gave him a confused look. “I’m Tox.”

“I—I’m sorry?” Klent said.

“I’m Soli,” Seviper said, raising his tail.

“But… Tox means…”

“We traded names when we were really young. We thought it’d be cooler that way!”

Klent looked between the two mutants—who were back to grinning dumbly, as if they had never been killed. Choose your battles, Klent, the former Guardian thought to himself. “Well—regardless, I… I don’t know if there’s a way for me to reverse this. Star certainly stopped you two from being Reincarnated. She severed your ties to whatever machine Eon has and linked your spirits to Owen instead.”

“I don’t know if it’s something I can do right now, either,” Eon admitted, finally letting Rim go. “They’d have to cross Aether Forest and into any of my realms.”

“That might not be a good idea,” Klent said. “Apparently wraiths are showing up there.”

Eon jolted, glancing at Klent. “What do you…?”

“I—it’s okay!” Tox said, raising his arms. “M-maybe Owen can take care of us for a while! Right?”

Eon winced, but it seemed that he knew it was the best option. He turned his attention back to the vegetative Espurr. “I… I need to take care of Rim right now. Whoever you are, just… take care of Owen for me.” He looked down. “I assume he doesn’t want to be with me right now.”

That… was true. But Klent wasn’t sure if it was Owen’s natural kindness or how pitiful Eon looked that made him instead say, “I’m sure he’ll want to visit again later.”

Eon laughed sadly, glancing at a nearby Rapidash with an extra set of arms that resembled a Scyther’s. He hesitated at first, but then looked to the Breloom with a Parasect’s’ mushroom cap next to her. He handed Rim to Breloom, then turned around to Klent.

“Just tell him that… that I’m sorry.”

“He hears you,” Klent said. “He’s waiting for me to… get further away. He needs to think for himself right now. I think you understand.”

Eon, a Charizard again, drooped his wings and nodded. “Just make sure he’s careful. You’re… you’re his guardian just as much as he’s yours. I—I need to start repairing the damage here.” He looked at all of the mutants, then at Rim, and it was only then that Klent realized that Eon was the last of the Hunters in Quartz HQ. Rim, if she could be considered present, wouldn’t be of much use for the cause. Everybody else left him.

“Take care of yourself, Eon,” Klent said without quite registering his own statement. “If you can promise not to control Owen again, perhaps he’ll be willing to visit.”

“I never wanted to—” Eon started, but something stopped him from finishing. His wide eyes, protesting, contrasted the dim flame of his tail. Looking even smaller than before, he lowered his head and nodded in silence; he didn’t watch when the mutants parted ways to allow Klent to leave. A Tauros, Ninetales, and Roserade shuffled past Klent, helping to carry Rim to one of the many rooms in the labyrinth.

Realizing they didn’t have much of a choice but to follow, Tox and Soli hastily said their goodbyes to the other mutants, saying that they’d be able to visit later with Owen again. Despite their optimism, the shock of what had happened was keeping the gravity of what had happened to them from truly sinking in.

Klent imagined that this would be true for everyone.

<><><>​

Everything became quiet after Star’s aura disappeared. The glow of the Core softened back to normal; Owen let go, landing heavily on his feet. His wings draped over his sides, but he didn’t collapse. He refused to collapse. His eyes met Hecto’s next; his body had dissolved into five canid Zygarde instead, all crumpled over one another. It seemed that he was no longer able to sustain his form without Star’s assistance. They wobbled to their feet, all staring at Owen.

“Well?” Owen said lowly. “Aren’t you going to get her in the aura sea?”

The five all stared at Owen; despite their expressionless faces, Owen could tell by their flat ears and lowered tails that Hecto was in complete shock.

“Leave.”

After a bit of delay, the five scampered out of the Core.

Owen looked back at the others, finally getting to their feet. “Heh.” Manny rubbed his snout, still bleeding aura from his shoulder. “That wasn’t so bad. Good job, Owen, heheh… eh…” Manny realized that Owen was glaring at him, too.

“I need to think.” Owen pointed toward the Core’s entrance. “Just… go.”

Step growled. “Do you really think that’s—”

The Core blasted Step with a green wad of energy; she reached out and blocked it, only for it to knock her hard against the wall again.

“I am done,” Owen said, still pointing at the entrance. “I’m done with you assuming I can’t handle myself. That I’m compromised because maybe you’re wrong. I’m sick of you fighting everyone when maybe we could have talked.”

Step’s glare didn’t lower, but she stood up anyway. She gave a wordless snort and walked toward the exit. The Ice Guardian looked at her paws, inspecting the way that his blast had melted them. “Hmph… then I trust you to not fall to Eon.”

Owen looked to the remaining two next. “I need to… I need to sort out my thoughts. I—I’m sorry.” Owen lowered his head. He felt that subservient nature kicking in again; defiant, he intensified his glare. “Please, go. And find Mom. She might be in the aura sea, too, and… I don’t want Hecto to do anything to her. They… they can’t. They still need me anyway.”

They both stared, still stunned and recovering; Manny held his shoulder again and left first. “Just make sure that Eon guy doesn’t go off and—” Manny accelerated his pace when the Core brightened.

That just left Zena.

She had stared for quite a while, with Owen not returning her gaze. Instead, he was staring at the ground—it wasn’t her fault. None of this was. But he couldn’t give in to that instinct again.

Eventually, Zena followed Manny, glancing back at Owen while his head was still facing the floor. Owen clenched his fist, digging his claws into his scales. He wanted to call out to her—maybe she could stay? But it would be dangerous to keep her away for long; as much as Star had betrayed him, he had a sinking feeling that she wasn’t lying when she implied that straying from one’s realm in the spirit world would be bad for the body. He didn’t want to tell her as much; he couldn’t speak. He felt that if he made a single sound, he’d break down in front of them. He couldn’t have that.

And so, even when Zena stopped at the entryway, staring back at him, Owen remained frozen. He prayed—to whom, he didn’t know—that Zena wouldn’t notice how dim and conflicted his flame was.

“Owen…” The Milotic sniffled. “Please… look at me.”

“P-please go,” Owen squeaked. “It’s dangerous.”

Zena stared for a little while longer, but Owen just wished she would understand. Who was commanding him now? Who was he supposed to follow? No—those weren’t the thoughts he was supposed to have! He was… who was he? Star, Eon, Rhys, Amia, Anam—they all kept him in the dark for so long, all for his own good, but was it really?

Despite all the Perception in the world, Owen didn’t realize that Zena was in front of him again. He only noticed when he saw her prismatic scales and felt her ribbons wrap around his back. Her cheek rested against his. She felt cold, so cold. Her body was so familiar, now. He was starting to understand the subtleties of her limbless form and what all those powerful muscles meant. His eyelids lowered halfway, finally bringing his arms around her. Maybe this was all too much. He should just…

He felt it again. That feeling. Like he was going to lose himself—was that the feeling? He didn’t know what it was, but it was toward Zena. Just like how he felt toward Rhys, and Amia, and even Eon. His heart pounded against his chest; he grabbed Zena and pushed back, making her yelp.

“P-please, go,” Owen finally said, eyes wide. “I—I need to be alone. Please…”

Zena’s eyes were wide, stunned, even when Owen let her go and stepped away. “B-but…”

Owen shook his head and focused on the ground again. This time, Zena didn’t approach, but he could still feel her presence. He shut his eyes tight and reached for his horns, plucking them out.

He couldn’t see anything, now. It was all gone. His flame was burning the grass beneath it into a little black scorch. He grasped each detached horn firmly; his legs felt weak and every breath he made was shallow at best.

After so long in darkness, Owen wondered if he should at least tell Zena that it was going to be fine. She deserved it. It wasn’t like she was trying to coerce him into anything, right? If anything, it dawned on Owen—now that he had time to actually think rationally—that perhaps Zena was the only one who had been consistently on his side, not lying.

Well, aside from when she played along with Star and the others when his memory had been reset again… but… that was different, right? But wasn’t that the same for all the others? What if it really was for his own good?

He felt it again and shook his head violently. He wasn’t going to listen to that feeling. That’s what he was designed to do. He refused to let it control him again.

Owen finally opened his eyes. “Ze—”

Nobody was there.

Owen’s flame slowly shrank until it almost disappeared completely. He lowered his wings and shoulders the more the silence ate at him, the dying light fading to the overwhelming glow of the Core behind him. But even that was fading now that the battle was over, the Grass spirits finally settled.

The fatigue finally caught up to him. His legs wobbled and shook, and then, finally, he fell back and onto his rear with a light grunt. Just that one little noise reminded him that he had a throat, something to breathe with. A lingering, distracting thought ran through his mind—did spirits need to breathe? He was so used to being alive that he didn’t know what it was like to be a spirit. The thought passed, replaced by images of the Guardians’ backs toward him, Hecto in front of him… that feeling of their attacks striking his Core. That uselessness of just sitting back. Of Star stealing his body. Of Zena slithering away.

Owen covered his eyes, taking in a long, deep breath. In, out. Meditate. Calm. He took in another long, deep breath. In, out. His exhale was shaky this time.

Something shuffled nearby; remembering that he still had his horns off, he jumped and looked for them.

“Here.”

Owen blinked, looking at the leaves that held his horns. Then at the Lilligant before him.

“Amelia,” Owen greeted with a sniffle. He took his horns, staring at them, yet not putting them on. “Hey, I—sorry. I’ll get back to my body soon, and—”

“It’s okay. Daddy has it covered for now. He’s giving Eon a firm talking to.”

“Wh—what?” Owen said, about to stand up.

“Shh, it’s okay. Eon can’t hurt you, remember?”

Owen was stuck in the motion of standing up, but he eventually relented, returning to the floor. He glanced at Amelia; her leaves shifted uncomfortably. His wings drooped further. “You’re still scared of me, huh?”

“N-no,” Amelia lied.

Owen smiled slightly, looking down. “So you mean if I put my horns on, your body language will feel just fine to my Perceive?”

Amelia didn’t answer, but the flower on the top of her head lowered subtly. But then it went up, Amelia puffed her cheeks, and she defiantly approached Owen, sitting right next to him. She bumped her hip against his and crossed her leaf-arms. “I’m not,” she said. “You’re my Guardian, so of course I’m not afraid. Besides, you’re just a big hatchling.”

“H-hatchling?!”

“Yeah.” Amelia turned her head up. “So I’m not scared of you at all. You’re too nice.”

Owen stared, mouth agape between insult and shock, but then it melted into a relieved smile. “Right…”

They sat in silence for a while after that. Owen flipped his horns over, inspecting the little rivets at the edges. He traced his claws along the edge, feeling for how it must have snapped into his head when he needed to. As much as he hated the fact that his powers could be taken apart like some kind of build-it toy, he couldn’t deny Nevren’s ingenuity when designing him.

“A lot of the spirits really like your Grassmander body,” Amelia said, giggling. “I think it’s cute. Even though they’re so old, they’re like kids again. It’s nice to see.”

“I saw.” Owen grinned, returning Amelia’s giggle with one of his own. “I had no idea. I really need to visit you guys more often. Maybe if Zena did, she wouldn’t have felt as lonely…”

“It’s not the same,” Amelia replied sadly. “Talking to your spirits… doesn’t give the same sort of need that the body does for having company. It’s weird, in a way. Besides… in a lot of ways, it can start feeling the same.” Amelia motioned to the Core. “See… spirits take on a lot of traits from their host. Because we’re part of you, kinda. For now, at least. And everyone else used to be part of my Dad, when he was Guardian.”

Owen frowned, looking away. “I don’t really like that.”

“Huh?”

“That you guys start acting like me after a while.”

“I mean, I don’t feel that much like you,” Amelia quickly amended, raising her leaves. “It’s more like—we feel what you feel, sometimes. We just know how you are and what you think, because, well…” She motioned to the Core. “That’s you, right there. We’re all connected to it. So, what do you expect, right?”

“I guess…”

Amelia frowned, placing a leafy hand on Owen’s side. “Come on, what’s up with you? You fought off Star! That’s gotta count for something, right? And there’s no way Zena’s mad at you. She understands!”

Owen winced, wrapping his wings around himself. “I don’t want to talk about that right now. Sorry.”

“O-okay.” Amelia shrank away, fidgeting with her leaves. They made a soft, fabric-like sound with each stroke. She sat back down next to him, making little motions on the ground. Out of curiosity, Owen watched what she was doing. A little vine popped out of the ground, no larger than his fingers. A flower sprouted from it; the little vine swayed left and right before sinking back underground.

Owen tilted his head. He turned his hand green and made a similar motion toward the ground, forming a similarly sized vine with a daffodil, just like his Grassy form’s tail. He and Amelia exchanged a glance, a smile, and then looked back at the ground.

With a small smile, Owen finally found the courage to put his horns back on. He felt a bit of nervousness from Amelia right when it came on… but it didn’t seem to be because of his presence. She was just worried, perhaps, of what he’d see. A self-fulfilling prophecy. An amused smile formed on his mouth, but not on the side that Amelia could see.

Finally, while making another small, intertwining set of vines, he spoke again. “All this time, I just wanted to be myself. I wanted to… I don’t know. Maybe make decisions for the way I want things to go for once.”

While Owen spoke, Amelia made smaller vines form around the large vine that Owen made, growing in a small, protective circle.

“Not have… my parents, or my mentors, or our freaking gods decide what I’m going to do. And now, look. I have you guys, and you’re falling to my will, just like I fall for theirs. I don’t… I don’t like that.”

“Oh.” Amelia halted the vines that were guarding the larger one. They shrank back into the dirt.

“I know that you guys think that it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “That maybe it was your choice to follow me, or whatever. I get it. Because that’s exactly how I had been. It’s what that Bug Guardian, Trina, told me. What she told Demitri and Mispy—you know, that whole thing about choosing who to follow.”

Amelia listened obediently, and that just dug away at Owen further.

“I want you guys to think for yourselves,” he said firmly. “If there’s… if there’s any way that I can have you guys do that, that’d be great.”

“W-well—if that’s the case, I choose…” Amelia brought a leaf to her chin, orange eyes focused on Owen’s arm. “…I can’t think of a good reason to go away, Owen. Sorry.”

“I can think of a few,” Owen said reflexively.

“Oh, what?”

“Well, I killed you, for one.”

Owen had been expecting Amelia to flinch and shrink away at that, but instead he felt a strange anger from her body.

Her eyes narrowed, “I blame Eon for that, not you. The Owen that I’m looking at right now would never kill me. That’s just some beast that Eon tried to make you become. That kill’s on him, got it? I’m sick of feeling you get all self-pitying about that like it’s somehow your fault. Just… get over it.”

“Get… get over it.” Owen took off his horns, flipping them in his hands. Did he put them on in reverse? He swapped hands and replaced the horns They didn’t quite fit properly, so he switched them back. Still felt the same.

Amelia tapped one of her vine-feet on the ground. “Yes, get over it,” she said. “Look, I know I took a few centuries to get over it, but now that I see who you are, and the kind of Pokémon that you want to be, and just… just everything about you, Owen, no. That wasn’t you, and you can’t convince me otherwise.”

Owen opened his mouth to speak, but Amelia brought up her leaf.

“And I know you’re about to say something like—” she comically deepened her voice “—Oh, but Amelia, it was me, that was my body and my movements.” She huffed. “No, Owen. That wasn’t what I mean, and you know it. I didn’t read enough books or whatever like you did to know what the right word is for it, but I know that the you back then and the you now aren’t enough the same for me to call you now… the same one that killed me. Alright?”

They locked eyes again, blue and orange. This time, Owen shrank away; he had no idea Amelia could feel so imposing. Morbidly, he missed when she was timid. But one thing was true: either he couldn’t feel it, or Amelia was displaying no fear.

So, the synthetic Charizard breathed a small stream of fire that went no more than a head’s length away from him. “Alright.”

“Good.” Amelia said, finally relaxing. “I know that you still don’t know who you want to follow, or… if you want to follow anybody at all, but…” Amelia struggled to reach up to pat his shoulder. “Just know that you have us with you, okay? And it’s not just because you have us under some kind of control. We can leave whenever we want; you never forced us to stay or anything. This is our choice. And you know, Owen—here’s a little taste of your own medicine. You have your Perceive to feel what others feel, right? Well, I’m part of you. I know what you feel, too.” Her eyes softened again. “Besides, I’m dead. I’m not ready to pass on while all this is happening, so I choose to fight for you.”

“Choose to fight for me, huh?” Owen’s smile was wider, but mixed with perplexed amusement. “I… I think I know who I want to talk to, actually.”

“You do?” Amelia paused, squinting at him. Then, her eyes widened. “Ohh!”

Owen stood up, facing the Core. He reached up, pressing his hand gently on its surface. “Hey, Klent? I’m ready to come back.”

Golden light leaked from Owen’s form, siphoning into the Core. Amelia giggled, giving him a little wave, and he was gone.

<><><>​

The aura sea flowed with its usual, tranquil rhythm. Dots of cyan embers, barely containing the golden spirits within, went past Hecto above and below him, to his sides, and around him. The Dusknoir’s single, red eye scanned the void, and the large antennae on his head tuned in to the various thoughts of death that emanated from each one. He was used to listening to so many voices at once; it was easy, really. At the same time, he reserved part of his mind to keeping up with Star’s endeavor in striking Eon down.

He couldn’t deny the recklessness of what Star was doing, and he’d warned her as much. This was going to betray all the trust that she had tried to build up with Owen. More worrisome, there wasn’t even a guarantee that she’d be able to get to Eon in time. Hecto wasn’t sure what exactly that device of his did, but it seemed to let Eon do countless things in an instant. Did it pause time? That was his running theory. If only he knew how he’d gained Dialga’s blessing… Particularly when they didn’t know what happened to Dialga at all, body or spirit.

But based on how well Star was doing against Eon, it seemed that either that power was not as effective now, or he simply didn’t have the device with him. He had been in the middle of dinner with Owen, after all. A bit rude, but certainly advantageous if she wanted Eon dead. She took care of Rim already… but Star became quite incomprehensible after that. Clearly what happened next didn’t go as planned.

And then, inevitably, her time ran out. Hecto was surprised she lasted this long. Then again, Owen had a tendency to not rebel. The trend broke, it seemed. It wouldn’t be long now until Star wound up in the—

She appeared moments later. Hecto let out a small grunt, the sound echoing in his body, and watched the dejected, pink Pokémon float toward him. It was listless, like she was still coming to her senses—understandable. According to what his copies were telling him, Star had been incinerated by Owen. Witnessing that had been apparently more shocking than Ra’s Thunder.

She wasn’t drifting toward him. It seemed that the currents of the aura sea were running oddly—that was concerning, but there were more pressing matters. He made a gentle gesture with his hands, drawing Star toward him. The Mew drifted a bit closer, eyes barely open.

Then, suddenly, she shot up with a gasp. She looked at her paws, then at Hecto, and the realization hit her.

Hecto took a breath that he did not need and braced himself.

Star screamed. She flailed her body in the air, creating Psychic bubbles in front of her just so she could punch them out of existence. Solid blocks of purple energy formed in their place; she slammed her whole weight in it, biting, tearing, clawing at all she could. The blocks flickered away; she couldn’t maintain enough concentration to keep it stable. She squeezed the air, glaring into space. Various auras nervously drifted away from Star along the current, accelerating toward the great light on the other side of the sea.

Star shot herself to Hecto next, slamming into his ghostly body with a wail. With how tiny Star was, Hecto could only wrap one of his hands around her, gently using one of his fingers to stroke behind her ears. She sobbed, pressing harder against Hecto. He watched her body curl up, tighter and tighter, until she was just a pink ball in his palm. He brought his other hand over her, protecting her in a little dome.

They remained this way for a while in silence. Quiet sniffles crawled out through his fingers, punctuated by hiccups and sobs. But, eventually, Star uncurled herself, migrating to his wrist, and then she graduated to his shoulder. Her eyes were red, but Hecto didn’t have any words to help. He knew that this could have happened—and so did she. But she had just hoped that, for once, it would have worked out in her favor. Yet Fortune did not favor this god. He wondered if Star would have had better luck if she actually tried to create a sense of fate for the world. But that went against her philosophy; she never liked trying to predetermine anybody’s actions… even if, ultimately, it would have made this ordeal much easier.

Even in a deterministic world, she could only predict so much before she interfered with the system directly. Hecto brought one of his hands—massive compared to Star—to her again, rubbing her back. Her sobs were getting quieter, but she still trembled, pawing at her eyes.

The aura sea returned to its quiet peace. She and Hecto watched it for a while. Countless lives coming and going with no idea about the divine battle that took place for centuries. The ideal outcome, in a way, though Hecto wondered, morbidly, how many of those lives had been ended, one way or another, by mutants.

Finally, Star took in a breath, and Hecto knew she was finally going to speak. “It’s over… isn’t it?”

“Hm.”

“Eon’s gonna win Owen over. He’s gonna get all the Guardians rounded up. H-he’s gonna k-kill me… kill us…”

“You’re already dead, Star.”

“Y-you know what I mean!” Star sniffled again, her voice cracking. She settled back down, mumbling a quiet apology, though Hecto hadn’t felt offended. He had expected as much of a response. If anything, he was frustrated—there was nothing he could say or do to help. With all his copies and all his knowledge, all of his experience, he didn’t know what he could say to help. Perhaps there was a situation in the deep past that he could recall, but now, seeing Star like this, his mind was a blank.

His single, red eye flickered. No matter how useless, he had to say something. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more.”

“Oh, please,” Star said, bumping her head against his shoulder. “It’s not your fault at all. I messed this all up. You warned me! You… you warned me that this could backfire! A-and you were right! As—as always, maybe I should’ve just listened instead of getting impatient! B-but… but Eon! What if… what if he just controlled Owen right then? That Promise wasn’t gonna do anything for him if he was under Eon’s control, right? I—I had to, I… there was nothing else I could’ve…”

Through Star’s rambling justifications, Hecto nudged her until she was resting in one of his arms, nestled against his chest. He knew the phase. Trying to justify every action she took, making sure that, had she done it again, it would have made perfect sense. Even when, ultimately, it failed. Covering up her regrets with a patchwork of reasons and excuses.

“Owen’s never gonna let me in again,” Star said. “And then he’s gonna tell all the other Guardians. Zena, Manny, Amia, Step… oh, God, Step. She’s gonna make sure everyone never lets me in again. I’m… I’m gonna be stuck here. Aether Forest is filled with wraiths. Where are they even coming from?! No way Barky’ll let me in the Hall of Origin after all the stupid stunts I’ve pulled. Once he finds out, I’m done. I may as well just cross the sea and never come back. I…”

Hecto switched arms, letting Star toss and turn to get more of her energy out. “Give it time,” Hecto said. “There’s nothing you can do with Owen right now. He’ll just kick you out again if you try to reenter, and I do not think it would be safe to go to Aether Forest yet.”

“Right…” Star hesitated. “Wait—Barky. Is he okay?!”

“He is fine. Arceus, the Trinity, and Rhys are recovering in the Hall of Origin. Ghrelle was able to dispatch of the wraith army with Perish Psalm, but there’s no telling when another horde may return. So far, none have appeared, but do remember that the last time they came, they had first appeared when trying to get you.”

Star nodded, shuddering. She rubbed at her shoulder where the wraith had first struck her. “Are they okay?”

“Rhys was badly hurt.”

Star shrank again.

“But he is recovering. There is no need to worry about them.”

Star nodded, relaxing slightly. She then turned over, using one of Hecto’s fingers like a pillow. “Eon’s making so many horrible experiments. He’s making a Pokémon stay in a Mega form, Hecto. That poor feral’s aura is tearing itself apart. A-and speaking of that. Did you see that… thing?”

“I had thought nothing of it at the time,” Hecto said, “but I believe you are talking about Lavender.”

Yes!” Star shuddered. “I—I never felt so sick in my life. All of those spirits are just trapped inside him, and for what?”

“Based on his performance, it’s an effort to mimic the power of Hands without any need for them. Concentrate enough spirits into a single aura and you can achieve similar, albeit unstable, effects.” Hecto blanketed his other hand over Star; she curled up, hiding in his palm’s shadow. “But, Star, you have to acknowledge that none of them seem to be suffering.”

Star didn’t reply.

“The mutants are happy together. Lavender and Lucas are among them; while they are all experiments, I have observed Eon doing nothing but good things for them… aside from their creation, at least.”

“Yeah, and that’s the problem,” Star said flatly. “None of them deserved to be born that way. Just look at all the grief it caused Team Alloy. Look at their doubles with Trina. Aside from Har, they were so upset that they sealed their memories. Lucas’ aura is practically melting from the inside-out. Lavender’s could explode at any second if he’s not careful.”

“Then what did you plan to do with them?” Hecto said.

“Just… undo it.”

“Undo it.”

“Just think about it, Hecto. If I took Eon’s Orbs out, and then Rim’s, and then maybe did a thousand apologies to Owen, I’d be able to convince them to lend me some power to fix them up. Normalize the mutants, or something. There’s gotta be a way, right? And then free the spirits in Lavender. He’s usually a Scolipede, right? Just let him be that all the time. Or maybe he can keep that Silvally body! I think it looks awesome! Just not the soul eating part. And Lucas… Just stop him from Mega Evolving so long. Maybe smooth out his aura a little.”

All the while, Star’s voice calmed down. The entire hypothetical, perhaps now completely out of reach, at least gave her something to focus on.

“You could have potentially talked to Eon instead,” Hecto stated.

Star poked her head out from between Hecto’s fingers. “You’ve tried that a thousand times. What makes you think he’ll listen to me?”

He didn’t have a counter for that.

Star shrank down again. “I know. I should’ve. But when I saw that flash of… of Owen and Eon making that Promise… that was a worst-case scenario, Hecto. The guy knows Owen more than anyone; of course he’d get into his head. They were partners forever.”

“Then perhaps trying to interfere with that bond was your first mistake,” Hecto said.

“Go tell that to Rhys,” Star muttered, rolling over. “He’s the one who stole him away with Team Alloy.”

“Mm.” And they settled into silence again. Hecto watched the currents with her until a new thought crossed his mind. “What happened to the Psychic Orb?”

Star snorted, rubbing her eyes again. “I was about to give it to Owen, but then Gahi snatched it. Stupid Flygon… he’s way too fast. I should make that illegal or something. If I could…” Star curled up again, grabbing the end of her tail. “I think I overdid it on Rim… m-messed her up pretty bad… But—but she’s strong. She’ll push through it; I know her. But I had to get it out. What were the Unown doing on her side, though? I thought for sure the spirits would’ve abandoned her the second she took it. You don’t link minds that fast.”

“Hm. It is likely that Gahi now has the Orb, one way or the other.”

“Well, either way, no way I want to go to the Psychic Realm for this one. Ugh… I used to love going to that place, too. The Unown were really fun.”

“You certainly enjoyed the Unown visitors.” Hecto briefly admired the auras flowing along the sea. “Something still doesn’t feel correct.”

“Yeah, Eon’s about to steal Owen’s mind or something.”

Hecto looked down at Star. “You do realize that Owen is perhaps the last Pokémon that he would want to control in that way… don’t you?”

Star curled up. “Maybe long ago, but I dunno anymore. He wants Owen back so much that he tried making another one. I wouldn’t put anything past him anymore.”

“Some bonds may be too sacred to forsake, even for Eon in his state.”

Star didn’t reply. Instead, after a silence, she rose out of Hecto’s arms. “I’m… I’m gonna try again. I need to at least warn the others about what happened before—before Step gives the wrong idea. I, uh… I know. Manny’s spirits. They know me. You think Elbee and Doll are still there?”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” Hecto remarked. “Are you sure you want to go there, though? Manny will be quite displeased.”

“I’m—I won’t do anything crazy. Once I sense he’s coming, I’ll just slip away.” Star glanced around. “Actually, speaking of that, did you send Amia back to the Fire Realm already? I, er, you know what happened back there. I felt her aura get destroyed, so…”

Hecto hesitated in his reply.

“What? Did she tell you off or something?” Star smiled. “Sorry. I know you don’t like getting yelled at. But I guess she fits her Orb Type, huh?”

And still, Hecto said nothing. His fingers briefly twitched, earning a confused blink from the Mew.

“…Uh, so, where’d you send her instead? I’ll—I’ll get her and apologize and bring her back. She needs to protect her Realm anyway.”

Hecto didn’t want to admit it—it didn’t make sense to him to begin with. Amia’s aura was distinct. It glowed with Mystic power. She was likely strong enough to retain her body’s appearance, even here. And yet, despite this…

“I can’t find her.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 69 – Cosmic

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

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

Anam rubbed his forehead, humming. He paced back and forth in his office, glancing outside at the setting sun. Then he looked to the entryway, where it showed a few Pokémon shuffling through the Hundred Hearts HQ to get some evening missions complete. He grinned and giggled.

“I like those lines. I think I’m gonna keep those for the Hearts motto. But what should I do with the way to finish it off? We need, um, we need a good rallying cry! Maybe… Oh! Maybe… maybe, maybe, maybe…”

An excited gasp filled the office.

“The darkness will fall to spirits of light!
We’ll protect our world and keep up the fight!”

He grinned, looking up. “I think that’s great!”


“I do not.”

Anam frowned at the voice in his head, rubbing his chin. “Aw, how come?”

“I find it offensive.”

The Goodra puffed his cheeks. “I guess so. Well, what did you have in mind, Mr. Matter?”

Anam gasped the moment he woke up, suppressing a shudder right after. Green eyes darted left and right until he remembered where he was—Hot Spot Cave.

“Ah, you’re awake. Wonderful.”

Nevren sat in the corner of his little cavern, reading a book titled The Whimsey and Wonder of Forest Ferals.

Tears immediately welled up in Anam’s eyes, stinging his face. “I—I want to go for a w-walk.”

“Hmm, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Nevren asked, rising from his seat. He made a gentle flick, and the book set itself down on the table. Psychic energy swirled around his claws. “Now, I recommend you—”

Anam felt something prodding at his mind again; overwhelming fear took over. He was going to do it again—Nevren was going to strip away his sense of will. Just like before; he’d be helpless to do anything but watch as he ‘behaved’ normally. No. He had to be himself—truly himself—he couldn’t let Nevren get away with this! But it was already too late; Nevren was inside the core of his mind. The thought to resist was already washing away; smiling sounded a lot better. In fact, resting in general felt a lot better than a silly walk. Why did he even bother with that, anyway? He didn’t remember why he was crying.

But then a new power took over, pushing Nevren’s influence away. A new, cold force, like Anam was falling into a dark pit. Anam’s mouth moved on its own and his vision went dark. “If Anam wants to walk, he will walk.”

The pink energy sustained itself, Nevren and Anam locking eyes. That coldness swirled along his body, black ink permeating his lavender slime. Please… stop, Anam begged. Don’t hurt him…

He doesn’t deserve your mercy.

Please…

Nevren dispelled his influence. “Very well.” He gave a short bow. “But I request that the walk be within the confines of Hot Spot. It is a bit late for an afternoon walk, and we should all remain here in case Eon attacks. I would rather that not happen while Owen is with him. This situation is… not expected for any of us, yes?”

More silence followed. The darkness faded from Anam’s body, and with it went the cold. Anam wobbled outside, sniffling and wiping his eyes. Were the others at least enjoying themselves?

Demitri and Mispy were the first that Anam saw; the pair lounged near Rhys’ home, neighbors to Anam.

“Hmm?” Mispy lazily turned her head. Demitri, somewhere inside her vines, wiggled until his head poked out.

“Oh, Anam. Are you doing alright? That whole blessing thing didn’t take out too much of you, did it?” The Haxorus was missing his axes. They were lying nearby; he must have taken them off so he didn’t cut Mispy while they relaxed together.

“I’m okay,” Anam lied, smiling. “Where’s everyone else?”

Mispy shrugged, resting her head near Demitri again. “Where?”

Demitri tilted his head back, using a few vines as pillows. “Uh, last we remember, ADAM’s making Hyper Beam traps near the entrance in case Eon or someone else shows up. Willow’s keeping him company and trying to figure out a way to make some of her shrink mist a trap, too. It’s kinda similar to when Owen puts his Fire Traps in the ground. I guess you could dig through them, but not if they don’t expect any of this! Right? Pretty cool, right?”

“It is!”

They’re sick of you. They want you to go. You’re bothering them.

“Thanks! I think I’ll go and see how they’re doing next.”

Mispy and Demitri waved politely. Demitri sank back down and leaned his head against a twirl of Mispy, looking up at her chin. She leaned forward, nuzzling him, while they mumbled to each other.

Anam glanced at Valle next, but decided that he would only irritate him with his constant movement. The Shiftry statue was where he always was, and while he was tempted to chat with him, he didn’t really know how to talk to a statue. He continued down the caves until he spotted Jerry’s abode.

Why bother? He blames you for every wrong in his life.

Anam frowned, continuing past the building. But then he stopped, squeezing his fist tight. No, he said. I… I still want to try.

He is perhaps even worse than all the others. You won’t convince him.

Maybe I will! Y-you just have to help me! Okay?

Anam turned around and stepped into Jerry’s home, knocking on the side. “Mister Jerry?” His soft knuckles made little plaps against the wall.

“Yeah, what?”

The Aerodactyl was perched on a small nest made of leaves from a spare bed that he borrowed from Rhys’ hoard some time ago. Since their attempt at getting a bed from Kilo Village hadn’t worked out as planned, Jerry just had to deal with a leafy nest.

He doesn’t like his bed.

“Um, are you feeling okay?” Anam asked. “I’m sorry you couldn’t get a good bed. Maybe after this is over, I can get you a better one?”

He hates that you’re trying to help him. He doesn’t want your pity.

“Why do you care?” Jerry asked, looking away.

He wished he could just disappear. He is plagued with thoughts to tear away that scarf that keeps him alive.

“I care because you’re my friend!” This earned an incredulous look from Jerry, followed by an eyeroll. Anam persisted, “I can see that there’s a lot of good in you.”

He thinks you’re a fool.

“Um, can I come inside?” Anam asked.

Jerry stared for a while, narrowing his eyes. His eyes trailed to the glimmering Provisionary Badge in the corner of the room; it looked like it had been tossed there.

He wants you to leave. He’s ashamed.

Right before Anam thought to turn back, Jerry snorted. “If you want.”

He’s scared.

Anam made careful, slow movements, not doing anything sudden. First, he walked to the Badge, picking it up.

He wished you hadn’t noticed.

Anam smiled, looking it over. “Is it pretty?” he asked. “Sorry if it’s just a Provisionary one, but it’s really hard for me to maintain too many of the really strong Badges, and a thousand is a nice number, you know?”

Jerry stared for a while, eventually settling down on his nest of leaves. He grunted, trying to get in a better position. “Yeah, well, maybe I’m not good Heart material.”

Anam approached, step after wet step.

Fool! Don’t ruin his bed!

He quickly stopped, sitting when he was a few paces away. Jerry deflated subtly with relief. And then they sat in silence, Anam looking at the Badge to think of what to say. Jerry, too, stared at it, but Anam didn’t hear any advice on what Jerry was thinking.

Was it really true? Did he ruin Jerry’s life by rejecting him? How badly was he impacted when he rejected him off of only the darkness in his heart? He was desperate; he wanted safety and power; he had been wanted for so much before, so many crimes before he had even become a candidate. Yet, was it wrong to reject him? Could he have… become a better person by becoming a Heart?

He is feeling awkward and confused.

Anam blurted his next statement without thinking. “I’m sorry.”

“Eh?” Jerry blinked several times, looking Anam over, and then at the Badge that the Goodra was now squeezing tight.

“I… I ruined your life. You were looking up to me, and… and I let you down. I’m s-supposed to be the person who saves this whole world and makes it a better place. I b-bless the Dungeons and make powerful berries and seeds and scarves all to make the world a better p-place. A-and I still failed you. I f-failed so many people, and… and you’re right. You’re r-right to be angry at me.” Anam couldn’t see.

Everything was blurry; the world was on his shoulders, and Jerry was a reminder that even if he could make the Hearts sweep that world, and make Kilo Village a place of peace for all Pokémon, there were still others like Jerry who fell through. Those that he didn’t help.

“Oh,” was all Jerry said. He shifted in his nest, looking outside.

He’s still confused.

Anam didn’t know what to get from that. Why would Jerry feel confused after that? He was just apologizing, right? There wasn’t any hidden meaning behind it. It just meant that he had to work harder to make the world better.

He misses his mother.

But there was nothing Anam could do about that. “If—if there’s… if there’s anything I can do?”

“Forget it.” Jerry squeezed his eyes shut. “It’s already too late for me anyway. This—this Badge you gave me. What’s the point of it, huh?”

Hopelessness.

The Aerodactyl tucked himself under his wings, but he peeked out if only to address Anam. “When this is all over. Let’s assume you find some way to fix my… whatever this is.” He motioned with a wing-claw to the scarf. “What then? I take the exam and become a Heart? After everything I’ve done?”

“It’s—never too late! Definitely not. You can still make things better.”

“Yeah, and for who?” Jerry said with a defeated laugh. “Myself? Because that’s what it boils down to. For myself. For the pay. So I can live easy. Oh, sure, it’s not easy, because I have to do dangerous things every day. But so what? I always lived that way back in Pyrock. This is a step up. At least here we have blessed items.”

Hatred. Lost opportunities. Regrets. A longing to try again.

“I’ll wipe your record clean,” Anam said automatically. “E-everything. You can start new. After that, you can… you’ll be able to find something new to do, right? As a Heart… you can start a family, maybe?” Anam waited for the voice to say something, but he never did. “I just… I just want to make things right. I broke everything, and I just… please… just…”

Pity.

Anam sniffled, wiping his eyes. Gooey tears slapped the ground.

“That’s really all you want, huh?” Jerry was no longer looking at Anam or the Badge, but instead the gentle glow of a nearby mushroom. Its blue radiance was the only thing that gave any light to the cave. “I don’t get it. For someone who has total control over the world, I don’t get it. I can’t get it, can I? Ha… everything is under you. You can do it all. Nobody can stop you. And all you want to do is help everyone.”

He doesn’t understand you.

“I know it doesn’t… I know it seems weird,” Anam said, “but it’s true! I… I just want people to be happy. That’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted!”

“One person can’t do everything. Guess that’s why you have a thousand others, huh?” Now, he gazed at the rocks at the edge of his nest. He squeezed his talons. “I just want to know why.”

“Why?”

“Why was I rejected? After that… it all fell apart. My whole life fell apart. I had it all going for me up until that moment. I just want to know why. What made you look at me, my top scores, and say… no.”

He’s scared. More than ever.

And so was Anam. He couldn’t just tell Jerry why—he wasn’t allowed to talk about the voice. But he also couldn’t just tell him that he saw all his darkness, all his misdeeds, all his selfish thoughts. Jerry knew it was coming, but he didn’t want to hear it. If Anam spoke about it now… what would keep Jerry from losing that scarf? He could do it right then. He could walk away and do it in private. They’d see nothing left of him.

The voice was right. He shouldn’t have come here. He should have let Jerry relax alone.

“W-well? What is it?” Jerry asked, his wing-claws squeezing next. “Is it because I—” It looked like Jerry had been about to go on a tirade, but his voice caught in his throat. “Oh—forget it. What’s it matter?” He slacked his wings, a claw tentatively brushing at the scarf, but he ultimately pulled away before he could tug.

“I was wrong,” Anam said. “I… I knew about your history, but I should’ve known that you were just… desperate to make things better for your family. I should’ve… I should’ve given you a chance. But I didn’t. And I…” Anam squeezed his eyes shut again. “I’m—I’m sorry. I’ve done so much to—”

“YAGH!” Jerry abruptly jumped out of his nest, swatting at his side. Anam jumped next; the voice in his head apparently felt no need to acknowledge the obvious emotions. Instead, a Zoroark appeared in thin air, sitting next to Jerry’s nest with her head cocked innocently.

“Hi, Enet,” Anam said, sniffling.

“H-how long were you there?! Stop doing that!”

Enet tilted her head in the opposite direction. Then, she held out a bowl.

“Eh?” Jerry inspected its contents; it looked like leftovers from the cooking competition that the Alloys had with one another.

Jerry is dissatisfied with the offering.

“Thanks,” Jerry said with a sigh, taking the bowl. “I guess since all the good cooks are out, I should just be thankful for what I have.” He took a tentative nibble, but then looked back at Anam. The Goodra had finally calmed down enough to look at Jerry directly.

Enet crawled a bit closer to Jerry, tilting her head. He didn’t react, so Enet went a bit closer, mere inches away. Jerry squinted, but didn’t move. Finally, the Zoroark curled up next to him, making a point to drape her hair over his lap with a protective growl.

Jerry took a deep breath, then let it out, unconsciously running his claws through her fur. “Look,” Jerry said. “I get it. You just want to make the world a better place. But y’know, I just… fell through the cracks. You can’t save everyone.”

“I—I can!” Anam said. “I just need to try harder. Then I can save everyone.”

He doesn’t believe you.

Jerry snorted, looking at the Badge. “I guess that’s the attitude that keeps your organization going, huh? Feh…”

Bitterness.

“Maybe one day—when all of this stuff is over—maybe you can tell me more about why?” Anam asked hastily. “I—I think I can learn a lot from you! Maybe that way, what happened to you won’t happen to anybody else.”

He’s annoyed. You aren’t getting through to him.

“I don’t get how you can be so hopeful all the time, you know that?” Jerry snapped, his calm eyes suddenly shifting into a spiteful glare. His wing-claws held the bowl of leftovers a bit tightly. Enet’s fur bristled, making her appear nearly twice her size. Electricity coursed beneath her, making Jerry flinch. He didn’t try to push her away; instead, “Just—why? What’s with that look you always have? I see it in that kid, too. I just don’t get it.” He stared at Anam expectantly. “Just answer me this. Why? All of this. Why do you want total control of—the whole world? Is it really just so you can make everyone happy?”

He doesn’t want you to say yes. But he doesn’t want you to say no.

Anam had no idea what to make of it, so he defaulted to the truth. “I do. That’s my… my purpose. As a Divine Dragon, and as a Guardian, and as a Heart, that’s my purpose.” Anam closed his eyes.

“A Thousand hands
A single heart
Working and beating as—”


“Oh, stop with that,” Jerry said, waving his free wing in protest, even while he took another bite of soup. Enet watched Anam curiously, her ears flicking at the Thousand Hearts’ motto. It was clear that she had no idea what the words were, but perhaps the rhythm intrigued her.

“…as one,” Anam finished, looking at Jerry more thoroughly now.

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


Anam them looked at Jerry, frowning. “You used to want to be a Heart… right?”

He hates that you are correct.

Jerry sighed, looking at the rest of his soup. He had barely taken a few bites. Resigned to his fate, he recited the final couplet.

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


Anam beamed. “You still remember!” He clapped his hands, but then listened to the voice.

Shame.

So Anam beamed even harder. “Jerry! Even after all this time, you remember! You know—I think that means you still have a lot of good in you. Don’t be so down on yourself, okay?”

“I wasn’t down on myself,” Jerry said defiantly. “I just don’t understand it. That’s all. I had a different upbringing, okay? You can’t just shake away habits like that.”

“Well, you can always try. You should try going on missions again, the ones open to Provisionaries like you.”

“I’m not a—”

“Nu-uh, you totally are!” Anam pointed at the Badge.

“I—that—you…” Jerry finally sighed. This time, he was completely defeated. “…You still don’t understand. But it’s your world. I’ll just play by your rules and… be glad that you really are just… trying to help.”

He leaned forward to get one last bite of soup, but something finally occurred to him. “Enet, can you stop making the place so dark? I can barely see a thing.”

It was true—it was indeed very dark. Gradually, ever since Anam had come in, or perhaps even a bit before that, it was becoming harder and harder to see even the walls. Yet, despite this, Enet tilted her head. “Dark?”

“I don’t think that’s Enet,” Anam mumbled, looking back. “The mushrooms…”

Slowly, yet certainly, the Mystic glow of Amia’s Hot Spot mushrooms faded away.

<><><>​

Gahi’s wings sang a wonderful tune through the afternoon air. He banked right, turning his head back just to see how far he’d gone. The Sceptile and Ampharos that had been guarding the entrance seemed too surprised to try to stop him. Did they even know what had happened?

Despite everything that had happened, the world still turned, the sun still set, and the world at large had no idea that Mew herself had tried to take down a Hunter. Something in Gahi’s gut made him try to stop her. Like Owen had the right idea—that perhaps they could have talked their way out of it all. Yet Star didn’t do that. “Feh…”

Gahi looked down; his hands felt sticky from being lodged in the severed ends of the mutant Meganium’s vines, but he knew from before that touching the pink, swirling Orb in his claws would kill him.

Gahi dove forward once he felt he was far enough away. Star couldn’t get him here, right? But what was he supposed to do now? Owen—no, he’d fight her off. Some dumb, pink furball wasn’t going to beat him for long. She just got the jump on him—if anything, Star would be begging Owen for mercy when this was over! Gahi smirked, looking down at the Psychic Orb.

Hopefully Rim was alright. But he probably couldn’t give it back to her, either. She was still a Hunter, and maybe this was the best way to get it back, right? But who was supposed to control the Orb now?

He landed in a small clearing where the ocean’s salty air was faint, yet the ocean itself wasn’t visible. The trees here were few and far between—it seemed to be more of a grassland than anything. He had landed on top of a small hill without a Pokémon in sight. He’d stand out, but the area was the best he could think of.

If he stayed in the shade, maybe his shiny body wouldn’t give him away.

Settling down, the Flygon placed the Orb in front of him and threw off the vines. It was in the back of his mind, but it crawled to the front, now. Star might still be inside Owen; if that happened, and she found him, he might not be able to run away as easily again. None of the others could take an Orb—from Owen’s memories, Gahi knew that all of them had Promised in one way or another to not claim another Orb.

Gahi didn’t see many other options. He also didn’t make any Promises. “Heh. Well, this’ll be stupid.” He shrugged and reached forward, grasping the Orb. Yet, strangely, it disappeared from his grip in an instant. “E-eh?!” Frantically, Gahi brought his second hand forward, as if it had somehow gone from his vision. And then, another second later, he realized that he had gone blind—no, that wasn’t quite right. He could still see himself, yet the afterimage of the shaded field he had been sitting in quickly disappeared.

“Wah—ah.”

That must have been how Owen felt when he first became the Grass Guardian. Gahi grunted and stood up, taking in his new surroundings. From above to below, Gahi only saw a black void speckled with white lights, much like a cloudless night. Though, it was a bit unnerving that this darkness was not only above him, but all around.

His eyes adjusted to the darkness—and, briefly, Gahi wondered why his eyes had to adjust at all, if he was technically dead—and a few new colors swirled in the black void. Red and blue hues mixed like nebulae, accompanied by an odd, disc-shaped, swirling aurora that faded in and out.

Gahi had never seen anything like it, but fragments of what memories he had of Owen’s life told him that this was a lot like a galaxy. Where did Owen get that memory from? Their sky looked nothing like this. He wasn’t even sure what a galaxy was, yet that knowledge was there. He only wished he had a bit more of Owen’s knowledge to figure out what it meant.

“Eh… anybody home?” Gahi called out; his voice had no echo. He took a tentative step forward; his green feet made a pulse of the same color on the flat, transparent ground. Soon, the pulse moved vertically several paces away from him, giving the outline of a wall. The pulse went higher and higher until it reached a tall ceiling; he’d be able to fly in a place like this without a problem.

With an intrigued hum, Gahi swept his tail across the ground next. A more rapid pulse of his green tail and red-and-green fan covered the room in a thin, murky outline of colors. He saw where it became a corridor.

He also noticed that some of those white specks in the air had black dots in the middle… and they were moving.

“Eh?” Gahi tilted his head upward, squinting at them. His eyes were good enough to spot things several seconds away from him at top speed, but in this strange place, it all felt distorted. Besides, how were they even doing that? That was past the wall. Which was also see-through. Was it just a barrier? Was this all a barrier?

Maybe his lenses were smudged. Gahi popped them off and inspected the red tint on the other side, making sure that they were clear on one side, but red on the other. It all seemed fine. He popped his lenses back on again and looked up; they were still floating around, though now they seemed a bit bigger.

And now he was starting to hear strange voices. They spoke in little squeaks and peeps and whistles, incomprehensible. But they were definitely voices—or at least, sounds? He had no idea what they were. “Eh—hello?”

Bah, c’mon, Owen, where’s this knowledge, eh? Gahi struggled to think back to his foreign memories, hoping that something—anything—from Owen would help him with this. But he couldn’t find anything. But now that they were closer, he realized what those things actually were.

Letters? They looked a lot like letters. Strange letters with—those were eyes.

The white things were eyes, attached to letters. Eon had called them something… Were they called Unknown? No! Unown! From the Book of Arceus! He knew that one. He didn’t even need Owen’s help for that.

“Oy, so, eh, figure I’m gonna get yer Core now,” Gahi said. “Rim’s sorta outta commission, so I’m gonna take over. D’you mind showin’ me the way ter that?”

The Unown swirled around in a great circle, each one glowing in the cosmic darkness. Gahi took an uneasy step back, another green ripple trailing through the invisible room. He glanced to the right and saw an opening to flee. If anything, he could probably find the core if he just ran along there.

The Unown flashed, each one a slightly different color. Gahi’s instincts warned him of the presence of Ice energy coming for him, followed by Fairy and Dragon energy, among the swarm. His muscles kicked into action; in a burst of speed, he evaded the convergent blasts and flew into the invisible hallway. Gahi brushed his tail on the walls again, revealing several corridors to follow. Behind him, the mix of Hidden Powers had turned the room he had stood into a swirling mess of chaotic, multicolored energy that sustained itself for several seconds.

He probably shouldn’t get caught up in something like that.

“Bah!” Gahi weaved through the halls again, thankful that the velocity that he swept on the ground translated directly to how quickly the ripples rushed through the invisible halls. He kept his wings outstretched, only using his feet to turn quickly.

The Unown were singing above him—at least, if he could call it singing. But then Gahi realized that part of the singing was because of his wings through the air; could that be drawing them to him? Well, didn’t matter—he couldn’t help that, and they were going to find him in the void anyway. Even in the weak light, he noticed that his shiny body still glimmered against what little it provided.

Gahi brushed his tail against the walls for the umpteenth time for another turn, but when he tried, his tail hit clear air. But why? He had been in a hall the last time he checked! Gahi banked left, swiping his tail on a wall that could have been further away, but nothing came, and the Unown were closing in as a sea of letters.

Something caught the corner of Gahi’s vision. A bright, glowing orb of golden light, far, far away. That must’ve been it—the Core! The Unown screamed again. Gahi decided to land; he descended to the ground, waiting for his feet to touch something—yet nothing did. The invisible ground that he had once used had evaporated.

It was a good thing he could fly. With a few powerful wingbeats, he raced for the Core. It would only take a few seconds for him to get to it, and the Unown had no hope of keeping up with him. This was a lot easier than—

Suddenly, Gahi’s wings stopped generating lift. There was no friction against the air, and therefore nothing to push off of—because the air was suddenly gone. Gahi tried to gasp, but instead, air escaped him. He clutched his throat and spun around, floating. Gravity was gone, too, and the Unown were right behind him, all glowing with another volley of Hidden Powers.

These Unown were controlling this Psychic realm. How was he supposed to go against that? No—Rim found a way. She had taken over this place the first time. But how was he supposed to rewrite a reality that these Unown had control over?

Gahi paused in his own thinking, even while the Unown had gathered in a circle around him. Rewrite reality. He’d just done that a little while ago, the same power Rim must have used.

Hopefully Owen wouldn’t call him an idiot for taking so long to realize it.

Filaments of light sprouted from Gahi’s back. Alright, how’m I gonna… bah, whatever. Gimme air!

Gahi swiped his claws forward; the Hands on his back brightened, and suddenly he could breathe again. “Hah!” He beat his wings, flying through the Unown swarm, knocking against a few of their bodies—they were a lot harder than he had expected—and then flew back to the swarm.

The Unown screeched; air disappeared again. “Nice try!” Gahi twirled his body, returning the atmosphere for his local area, and then kept flying until the Core was right in front of him.

The Unown stared, stunned, but Gahi wasn’t sure why. Maybe they didn’t expect another host to be so strong. Not that it mattered.

“Hah! I win!” Gahi didn’t know what to expect, but he slammed into the Core shoulder-first, grunting at the smooth, hard impact it returned to him. He adjusted until he had his arms wrapped around it, using his tail and wings as further leverage. What’s it supposed ter do now? Gahi said. The Core was supposed to just accept him, right? “Eh…”

The Unown floated toward him again, and Gahi was now frozen without an idea of where to go, a Flygon wrapped around a sphere in the middle of nowhere. Stars chaotically swirled around in a slow circle in the far distance.

“H-hey, oy, oy!” Gahi raised one of his arms. “Don’t think ter attack me! I got yer Core! What’re you even bein’ hostile fer?!” After all, he was on their side. They had a pretty basic choice—either let Gahi take him, or they’d be without a host and some other random person could take him instead. Most likely, Star! And they didn’t seem to care for her very much, either. Was that Rim’s influence on them?

Gahi squeezed his claws on the Core. C’mon, just let me in! he said. I promise, I ain’t that big an idiot!

If only because bits of Owen helped him make up for the fact.

The Unown collected in a small clump behind Gahi, strange shockwaves of clear energy radiating from them the closer they collected together. “What’re you doin’?”

The light distorted so much that new colors formed within, and soon, after white swirls faded to greens and reds, a second Flygon floated behind Gahi. It was an exact replica of him.

“Oh, eh… hey. Who’s the new guy?”

The Flygon, with several Unown floating around him like a storm cloud, squinted interrogatively at him.

“…Look, I dunno what yer deal is, you weird… letter-eyes, but I just wanna help. I’m Owen’s bro, an’ Rim’s… son, I guess. This is the Psychic Orb, right? Go read my mind er whatever. That’s a thing with you guys, yeah? Er what, is that Typist o’ me ter say?” Gahi briefly wondered if Owen could ever have privacy if Amia was his mother.

This Unown-doppelganger placed a claw on Gahi’s back, then his whole palm.

“E-eh? What’re yeh doing?” Gahi tried to pull back, but realized that he was stuck to the Core. “W-wait, eh—hang on, gimme a sec!”

Flygon pressed harder; it was starting to feel hot—scalding. Energy like electricity ran through Gahi’s spirit—being Ground all his life, he didn’t really know what that felt like until just then, the jolt of electricity that ran down his spine and to his chest. He gritted his teeth, even when his head fell in next. “C’mon, that all ya got?! I can take it!”

Flygon tilted his head curiously, then looked up at the Unown. Despite having no features to do so, it seemed that they shrugged with Flygon, and then pushed Gahi all the way in.

For a few seconds, all Gahi saw was golden light. He didn’t care for it; too bright, too hot. And then, he blacked out; and then, he was staring at the cosmic sky, several Unown floating around him, with a smooth, yet bumpy floor beneath him. “Urgh… so I take it yeh read my mind after all?”

The Unown bobbed.

“Well, good. Do that first next time, instead o’ that whole stunt.”

It seemed that the Unown were sorry.

“…Where’s the rest o’ you? Figure there were way more.” The swarm was a lot smaller. He followed the Unown’s bodies, tilting their gaze to something below Gahi. He tilted his head and realized that the smooth, bumpy ground was… more Unown.

The Unown greeted Gahi.

It wasn’t quite a thought sent to him, yet it was the impression he had in their cheerful gazes. A thought below his conscious thoughts, subtly telling him what they were saying. “Hey,” Gahi replied back, squinting. “…Alright. So, not very talkative, eh?”

It didn’t seem that they were, though he could hear their thoughts very easily.

“Whatever. Look, how long do I gotta wait?”

He wouldn’t have to wait long; like what happened with Rim, once they decided she was worthy to hold the Orb—well, more that she was too strong for them to fight off—she woke up. At least Gahi seemed fun.

“Fun, eh?” Gahi smirked. “Good. I’ll be fun. Just… help me out with how ter use this power when I wake up. I’m gonna fly back t’ Hot Spot, tell everyone what happened.”

The Unown didn’t know about Hot Spot. What was it like? Was it a friendly place?

“I think you’ll like it,” Gahi said, shrugging. When he shrugged, he noticed that little, golden lights were leaking from his body. “Eh? What’s that?”

The essence of the Core was linking itself to Gahi, and how that it was done, their spirits—the base of what manifested them within the realm—were leaving his body. Spirts were golden, after all. And more importantly, Gahi’s spirit was about to leave for the world of matter again.

“Oh, alright.” Gahi nodded. “Cool. I’ll figure out how ter visit you guys later.” He blinked a few times, shaking his head. “I gotta stop talking to myself. I’m becoming Owen.”

And then, Gahi was staring at a clear, blue sky. “Eh?” He sat up, rubbing his head. His scales felt a bit different, not quite like scales. In fact, he felt very smooth, or perhaps less smooth and more… He wasn’t sure what. Glassy. That was the word. Like his claws were running over a smooth statue, but then, when he went a bit deeper, it also felt like he was running them through his body, too. He squinted, finally looking down.

“Eh?!”

His body was completely black, save for some white, glowing specks beneath his body. “Huh. I kinda look like nighttime,” Gahi remarked, wondering if Rim had a similar form, or if it wasn’t as dramatic due to her Typing already being Psychic. He shrugged, briefly wondering if she was okay—but it wasn’t going to be a good idea to go back there. Star might still be rampaging… “You guys in there?” Gahi murmured, closing his eyes.

The Unown were there, and they were trying to figure out how he was feeling. He seemed worried, and they were worried about Rim, too. But they didn’t know what they could do. Did they have anybody to warn?

“Well, yeah, we’ve got someone,” Gahi said. “That’s right, yeah. We’ll go and fly back—”

Telepathy was a lot more useful to talk to them.

Gahi blinked, rubbing his head. Eh… I’m gonna go to Hot Spot. Warn ‘em there.

Gahi stretched his wings, flinching when he realized that they were transparent and filled with stars. He made a tentative wingbeat, feeling some lift, and then nodded. He hopped in the air, flying into the sky, but then the whole ground left him a lot faster than he expected. He fumbled through the air with a yelp, hovering in place. He had only beat his wings a few times, yet it was like he had suddenly jumped several tens of feet higher than usual—he didn’t feel that much stronger. What happened?

It wasn’t that hard to figure out; it was just a bit of Psychic teleportation.

“Eh? Teleportation? Hang on, lemme try that again…”

Gahi stared ahead; in what felt like a blink, he was suddenly over a different patch of forest. “Okay, I can get used ter this…”

Gahi flew over the forest, blinking ahead with every wingbeat.

“Eh?”

Far ahead, in the darkening sky, clouds formed a vortex directly above Hot Spot Cave.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 70 – Aftershocks

The idea that she could have trusted Star at all was one of the worst thoughts Zena had ever entertained.

For tens, perhaps hundreds, of years, she had sat, holed up in the middle of some quiet cave, fearing for her life that she had long overstayed. Wasting it away doing nothing but meditating and sleeping the generations away. Yet that in itself was a torture that still frightened her in the back of her mind.

In hindsight, she didn’t know how she dealt with it. She had slipped into that eternal cycle without realizing it. Sleep, wake up, see nothing. Sleep, wake up, see nothing. Was it really sleeping? No, because she never felt rested when she did. She didn’t need to rest. It was more some strange, twisted form of thoughtless brumation. The only thing that kept her from closing herself forever was the possibility that a Hunter would come to disturb her slumber.

And then the times someone did trespass. A curious little feral, or a bothersome treasure hunter. Star told her that it would be a bad idea to get them involved. The caves didn’t have a lot of life in it—it was meant for spirits and, being within a Dungeon’s stable pocket, didn’t have much for the ferals. And the treasure hunters, well, they would be meddlesome at best and dangerous at worst. In a morbid sense, Hunters counted as spelunkers of the violent variety.

She said it all so convincingly. So earnestly. Yet if Zena could go back and tell that young, frightened, confused, new Water Guardian what would happen if she listened… perhaps she could have found a better approach.

Anything to avoid that torment that she had to endure. She hadn’t realized it at first—Star told her that it would be like nothing. That she would be able to rest and be dormant for a while until it all blew over. When would it blow over, and for what? What exactly was there to blow over? Zena didn’t know, even now; Star simply didn’t want the Orbs to meet.

What Star didn’t tell her was that it wouldn’t be true dormancy. No. Every visitor, every trespasser to her old abode, every feral and every explorer, woke her up. Every new visitor brought her a new sense of fear, or annoyance, that she couldn’t waste her eternity away. Every time she awoke, she’d wonder how much time had passed, how far away her old life had become, how many revolutions the world had taken without her. How trapped she had become, and how much further trapped she was.

Even though they were all false alarms, aside from when Elder had appeared, but in hindsight, Zena learned something else. Every time they visited, and every time she had to will herself to go back into that eternal darkness, she sometimes wondered if those feral Pokémon could have visited her. Or the explorers, selfish as they may have been in search of treasure, could have been good for conversation.

But Star was a convincing one. She told her that it wouldn’t be a good idea to be discovered; to keep her glow as weak as possible, to be dormant so she wouldn’t be discovered at all. So her spirits frightened them away. The last set of explorers that she had scared off was Team Alloy themselves. It was the first time that explorers had been so determined to go inside, like they were aware of her presence. Their aura were unlike the others—though now she knew why—and Star said that she’d have to scare him off quickly. Yet that was what brought Owen right back to her later. Yelled at her sprits, even!

She didn’t really know what to do after that. She’d stayed in the lake, like she always had, until inevitably the explorer would get bored and leave after seeing no treasure there, only the empty lake. Yet Owen didn’t leave. He knew she was there, and he started… talking.

Zena shook her head. Without him even realizing it, he’d been the one to finally break that cycle of darkness for her. All that lashing about, all that self-imposed isolation, so easily broken because he had said a few sad words. How when they’d moved her into Hot Spot, he had offered to rest near her lake on that first night. Their games of marbles, the books he had read—even if most of them had been a bit boring—it had all been something that she had needed.

Yet she didn’t comfort him when he needed it.

“Oy.”

Zena jolted up. “I—I’m sorry.” She looked down and to her right, spotting Manny on their way through the Grass Realm.

Step was ahead of them, looking for Ra, Cent, Kana, and the other weaker spirits that were waiting for them.

“Yer distracted.”

“I—of course I’m distracted. We just witnessed Star try to kill Eon by controlling one of our own. I’m… I’m just getting over that shock.”

“Yeah, guess I am, too,” Manny said. “Was real unlike Star. We go way back, y’know. And I guess I figure she’d’ve done somethin’ like this if it was Eon, but… I dunno. Something must really’ve been bugging her.”

“What, you understand her?” Zena scoffed. “As far as I’m concerned, that god is dead to me. To do what she did…”

Manny held up his arms noncombatively. “I get it. But I’m gonna keep an ear out fer her anyway.”

“How are you suddenly so forgiving?” Zena narrowed her eyes, her tail flicking behind her. “You were quite content with fighting against her.”

Manny grumbled. “Look, it didn’t sit right with me, either. Hecto and Star went too far there. She was off terrorizing those mutants, fer one, and then went off killing Eon… what happens after, if we didn’t go and help Owen?” He rubbed his forehead, like he was trying to sort through his own foolish, misguided thoughts. “Something ain’t right. She’s been shady fer too long, and I guess her doing this behind our backs is what sealed it fer me. But I wanna hear her out, too.”

“What exactly did she do to help you? You two barely speak.”

Manny shifted his stance, even while he walked. Zena analyzed this, tilting her head. She’d never seen Manny so uncomfortable before. “Manny?”

“Star believes in second chances. I guess I’m just returning the favor.”

“I’ve already given Star my second chance,” Zena said, visions of that eternal, dark cave flashing through her mind again. “Do what you want, Manny. Don’t expect me to follow.”

“Yeah, I get it.” Manny bowed his head.

Zena bristled, feeling a sudden urge to soak Manny in icy water. She restrained herself, turning that energy into a question. “Can you at least explain why you think Star would still want anything that isn’t just for herself? After what she just did? How can you trust her if she doesn’t tell us what she wants?”

Manny glanced at Zena then, and for the briefest moment, his face contorted into a scowl. But he washed it away seconds later. “Tch.” His eyes focused ahead; Zena followed his gaze. The other spirits were waving at them, along with a recently-freed and shivering Hecto. “Star goes too far sometimes and you gotta reel her in. But the thing is, her heart’s in the right place, and I dunno if she actually lied ter you when she said what she really wanted.”

“Really, and what’s that?” Zena said, skeptical. “As far as I can tell, Star wanted to kill Eon, then Rim, and then take Owen away from us. Why else would Hecto be so evasive? We come here to try to save Owen, and then Hecto tells us that we shouldn’t come any closer. Star went out of her way to possess him instead… do you have any idea how badly that will end for Owen? How often people have already tried to control him?”

“All Star wants is the Hunters to stop,” Manny said. “Figure… that’s what she wanted to do, now that we’re outta the thick of it.”

“What, then you regret following us?” Zena said. “Step, Amia, and I—we all were here for Owen. What about you?”

Manny narrowed his eyes, looking at the ground. “I came ter make sure Owen was gonna make the right choice, and that Eon wasn’t gonna try and control him, yeah. Maybe if Star let us through, I’d’ve helped her, instead of her being so evasive through Hecto. I figure you guys got spooked at Star suddenly making a move when she’s just been watching the whole time.”

“Hmph. Star was on thin ice to begin with.” Step puffed out a plume of frost. “The moment she did something out of line with our expectations, I intended to contest her. This was more than enough, and I imagine Amia has the same to say. Considering your affinity for the pink demon, I am surprised you fought along with us. Then again, you didn’t seem to be very enthusiastic during the fight…”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t about ter go against all you guys,” Manny muttered. “I’m just gonna hear her out. Star gave me a second chance, so I’m giving one t’ her. Return the favor.”

“Pathetic to trust someone such as her,” Step said with another scoff. “Someone with so much power, faltering even once? Unacceptable. She is unfit. She could have tried to gather the Orbs for herself in some way. We did not know she could take over a body until now; she was waiting. She knew she could, all this time, and feigned helplessness.”

Manny had no counter; Zena, too, shrank a bit. That was the only way this could have been true; could that have been why Star was so interested in Owen? That he was easy to control? It was part of his design, after all. But… what if Manny was right, too? What if she intended to use Owen just to take the Hunters down?

She didn’t know anymore. Both Manny and Step had good points… but she couldn’t will herself to forgive Star anyway. Now after seeing Owen suffer—not after that defeated face of his.

“Where’s Amia?”

Alex’s trembling voice brought Zena out of her thoughts. The Fire spirit, still a Hydreigon, drifted toward them, searching for some sign of his mate with wide eyes; even his smaller, brainless hand-heads looked fearful.

Manny was the one to answer. “During the fight, she got beat up too badly and embered out.”

Alex’s three mouths opened simultaneously in muted shock. Cent and Kana rushed to his aid, fearing that he’d collapse in midair. “A-Amia… she… the…”

“Then that means she went to the aura sea,” Ra spoke up, and before the Zygarde could react, he grabbed him by the nape of his neck and tugged upward. Even while Hecto grunted and twitched his legs in a futile attempt to touch the ground, Ra said to him, “Where is she now, Hecto?”

“Ngh… give me a moment to verify,” Hecto said. “A lot is happening at the moment.”

“Oh? And what is happening?” Step asked, crossing her arms. “Speak. Where have you put Amia, or did you so carelessly force her across the aura sea?”

Hecto stared at the ground, eyes dimming. It was the indicator that his eyes were ‘closed,’ and he was concentrating on something afar, Zena deduced. Likely speaking with his other copies and gathering information on all that they were observing.

“The wraiths in the middle of Aether Forest were destroyed, at least for now, but Rhys was seriously hurt. He is currently recovering in the Hall of Origin with the Trinity, though they have already departed. Arceus intends to deliver him back to his body when he is ready, but for now, he is not much for conversation. However, I do recommend navigating through Aether Forest with caution, in case the wraiths return. You should be fast.”

“Not—not until you tell me what happened to Amia,” Alex said frantically, floating right in front of Hecto. Ra raised Hecto a bit so the Hydreigon and Zygarde would be closer to eye-level. “Where is she? What did you do to her?”

Hecto was silent for a second too long.

Alex’s breathing doubled in pace, floating back. “You… what did you…”

Zena saw it in those black eyes—a flash of rage that she thought wasn’t possible from the meek spirit. It almost didn’t look like him at all, some other Alex coming to the front.

“If you… do anything to her…” Alex drifted forward so menacingly, with his dark wings sparking with flaming energy so violently, that even Ra took a step back for Hecto’s sake.

Hecto spoke quickly, “I—Star gave me the order that I relocate Amia to the Fire Orb. And while that is a bit difficult with Aether Forest the way it is, I am still able to do so.”

The Hydreigon didn’t stop his slow advance. “Then what did you do? You say Star gave the order, yet you never said you did. Where is Amia?” His voice suddenly twisted into an uncharacteristic snarl, crimson-colored embers dripping from all three mouths. “Or will I have to rip that out of you?!”

“A-Alex?!”

“Whoa, whoa!”

“Grab ‘im!”

It took the efforts of Azu, Roh, Verd, Manny, and Step to keep Alex from tearing Hecto apart. Ra took a few more steps back, and even Hecto, with his ears pinned to the back of his head, winced. Zena slithered between Alex and Hecto as a physical barrier between them, too stunned by Alex’s complete shift in personality to say anything. Even his voice sounded different. He had been that way against Barky, too. Just for a moment.

“Alex, calm down. Owen wouldn’t want to see you like this.” The words fell from Zena’s mouth, but she knew they would be true. And almost as quickly as she’d said it, Alex’s flames died down about halfway. Then, when she imaged her words had fully processed, the Alex she was familiar with returned to his eyes.

“A-Amia,” Alex said weakly. “Hecto, p-please…”

“It is as I said. I have no intention of harming Amia; I will bring her to the Fire Orb. Ra, you know better than anyone that Star is prone to giving second chances to those who have wronged her.”

Ra flinched, nearly losing his hold on Hecto. But that didn’t matter; he lowered Hecto to the ground anyway, albeit with a defiant huff. “He’s not wrong. I can’t imagine Hecto sending Amia anywhere except the Fire Orb.”

Even Step grudgingly agreed. “She’s forgiven worse.”

And now Alex was sniffling, and that was enough for the others to let him go. He rubbed the top of his hand-heads under his eyes.

“I am in the process of locating her,” Hecto said. “Until then, it may not be wise to return to the Fire Orb on your own. Step, would you and your Ice spirits escort Alex to the Fire Orb? Then return to your own. Manny, perhaps you can escort Zena to hers.”

“Finally, you’re speaking with reason,” Step said.

“I am always reasonable.”

Step ignored him and faced Alex. “Shall we, then?”

“O-oh, of—of course. Yes. Thank you.”

Manny smiled, but then gave a little flourishing bow to Zena. “And are yeh ready ter go?” he asked.

“Of course.” Zena nodded. “Er, and thank you, Manny. I… I’m a bit beside myself at the moment with what happened.”

“Do not worry.” Step interjected. Her typical glare briefly subsided, replaced with a small, encouraging shine. “You were strong with us.”

<><><>​

It was good to be in the sun again, even if it was well past noon by now, perhaps even approaching early evening. Feeling in a Grassy mood for once, Owen was in his Florizard form—title courtesy of Amelia—during his glide over the ocean.

Unfortunately, he still had a bit of a headache. So, you’re saying that you blew my head off?

Yeah, um, I’m sorry about that,
Tox said. I mean, we are. We panicked and were trying to get you off of us. We didn’t think it’d actually…!

Owen sighed. It’s okay. I guess when Star possessed me, all that power made me, like, break down, kinda like what happened to Anam. Sure, I’m more durable, but my body got all… undefined. Like an aura or a spirit. He twitched his arms and rubbed at his belly. Never got to finish dinner…

Where are you going, anyway?
Tox asked. It looks like… you’re flying over the water?

Dad went there once to see you. Are you gonna go back there to think?

I, uh, I don’t think I want to see Emily right now,
Owen said, wincing. She’s nice ‘n all, but… A-anyway, no. I actually wanted to see someone else. See, Amelia and I were thinking, and… and I just don’t really know who to talk to anymore. And I… I need to talk to someone who knows about… Pokémon like me, I guess. Someone who isn’t Da—er, Eon. Or Star, or Mom, or… all the people who just… lied to me.

Pokémon like you?

Just… ones meant to follow orders, I guess. That’s what I am, right? I just want some more answers, and from someone who probably won’t… try to control me for it.


Amelia spoke up next. He wants to see Brandon, that person who called himself a Pokémon trainer. He even has six Pokémon with him that were, like, part of his team, or something.

Owen shook his head, getting distracted by the expanse of nothingness around him. He reached up and plucked out his horns, sighing with relief when that sense left him.

Ahead, the factory stood with its black sand and slightly murky waters. The building, an eyesore on the ocean, housed the Poké Ball factory. With a few careful wingbeats, Owen descended to the black sand, sinking a bit now that he was so much heavier than his naïve, Charmeleon self. He grimaced at the thought; he almost missed when he had been so proud of himself just to prove that he could keep himself from evolving.

With a discontent churr, Owen continued through the factory until he was in the main bay, claws clacking against the concrete. He swished his tail behind him, brushing against the strange material, so different from the concrete they had in Kilo, perhaps for how old it was. He wondered if these walls were even reinforced with Protect barriers or not. Sure, they weren’t as strong as a real Protect, but… Owen almost worried that it would come crashing around him with how old it was.

Nobody was there. “Brandon?” His voice echoed back to him, but that was the only reply he received. He never got to go much further than this last time; he was almost curious what he’d find. Squeezing the horns in his hand reminded him that he had a much easier way to find Brandon.

He snapped them back on and focused. Countless Poké Balls were on the production line, and even more were stored away in rooms just beyond the main one, through passageways that had the doors pulled out of them. Perhaps they used to be mechanical like the ones in Quartz HQ, but due to energy running out, Brandon just knocked them open.

No Brandon, though. He couldn’t tell what was inside a Poké Ball, so he just had to hope he didn’t hide by capturing himself. Continuing through, he spotted another ruined doorway. He slipped through and entered a hallway that felt just a bit cramped, made with more concrete. It looked like there used to be something on top of this stone, but time had long since worn it away.

He still couldn’t find Brandon, but it felt like there was still a lot more of the factory to explore. This hallway led to other rooms that had strange desks too small for Owen; they were made of some odd material that Owen couldn’t place at first, but then realized it was like some sort of solid rubber, though it didn’t stick the same way rubber did. It was oddly familiar.

Owen blinked several times, walking toward one of the desks. There was an object on top of it, some kind of oblong cube with a black square on one of the sides. It reminded him of an older version of some of the devices used in Kilo for data tracking, especially at the hospital for getting aura readings.

Owen shook his head—he couldn’t let himself get so distracted. The hall went on for a while, despite how small it seemed from the outside. Perhaps it was just the largeness of the first room that made these cramped quarters seem so much more twisted and labyrinthine. It felt like another Dungeon, though he didn’t see any distortion to suggest as much. It wasn’t like it was bigger on the inside. If anything, Emily was the one who seemed a bit too big inside.

The Charizard shuddered at the stray thought. If I keep thinking back to that, I’m gonna have to go back to therapy… Flashes of sitting, cross-legged during one of his old, old lives came to mind, a Hypno helping him practice some mental exercises to suppress his need for battle. Just another fragment of his forgotten lives. He’d always associated that meditation with Rhys and his parents’ reinforcement of the same methods. But perhaps they learned it from his therapy?

Every day, he was remembering new things about himself. Yet it still all felt empty.

His parents… his family. They had still gone through that trouble to try to keep his aura in check—and his mind. All that effort and time, and what did he do to repay them? Went off and fled back to Eon. The reason for returning to Eon was unknown to him; thinking rationally, why would he have? Yet it felt so right to return.

“Nnngh!” Owen shook his head violently, trying to literally hurl the invasive ideas from his head. No! He didn’t owe them anything. He wasn’t about to go crawling back to them just because he felt lost, and confused, and scared, and—

With a loud clank, Owen’s snout slammed into a wall. “UGH!” He rubbed his nose, looking at his paws to make sure he didn’t wind up drawing blood. Nothing. Still, he could smell cut grass. “Who put this wall here?”

Don’t you have Perceive? Amelia chimed in. How do you run into anything?

I—I got distracted, okay?!
He rubbed the back of his neck, focusing on his surroundings. Where am I, anyway? I feel like I’ve been walking for a while and I still can’t find Brandon. I kinda feel like I’m snooping around his home…

Isn’t… that exactly what—

I know, I know, realized it the second I thought it.


But this time, he could actually feel Brandon’s body. He went backward, opening a door that he had missed by a few paces, one of the few doors that actually remained in this facility. There, within one of the old rooms, was a metallic Machoke, slouched over in the corner. Arms crossed and posture unguarded, it seemed like he was asleep.

A low, curious growl escaped Owen’s throat, and he lowered his stance as if to mirror Brandon’s. In the ambient light of the factory, likely powered by Brandon’s Mystic power in the same way Amia powered the Hot Spot mushrooms and lava, Brandon’s metal form shined. Owen tilted his head left and right to watch the light’s reflection dance on his muscles, and then focused on his closed eyelids. Left, right, the light followed him with the reflection.

Brandon’s eyes opened. Instantly, the Machoke yelped and rolled to the side. “GAH!”

Owen squeaked, uncharacteristically high-pitched for his size, and fell on his rear. “S-sorry!”

“C’mon, man, this is my room!” Brandon rubbed his eyes. “Can’t a guy save his boss in peace?”

“Sorry, sorry!” Owen repeated. “I just—the light looked really cool on your body.”

“Oh, really, well take a good look.” Brandon spun around, sticking a thumb back at Owen. “In fact, why don’t you bite my shiny—”

“Wow, that’s actually really smooth,” Owen remarked, tapping his chin with an almost analytical gaze.

Brandon stiffened and turned back around. “Wh—you—that—” He squeezed the air in frustration. Then, he pressed his fingers against his temple, making another loud clang. After a long silence, or at least, it felt long, he breathed out. “Nope. Let’s reset. Why are you here?”

“Er, right, uh…” Owen had completely forgotten. “…I’m here… because…” It was really shiny, practically like Gahi. “Oh! Right. Um, so, how filled in are you with what just… happened?”

“What, you mean the wraiths?”

“Wraiths? What? No, about Star.”

“I mean, Star was attacked by the wraiths, too. But after that, she headed to your realm to warn you guys about it. Probably also to check up on you—I mean, you know how she worries.”

Every word Brandon said made the little pit in his stomach just a bit heavier. “Yeah, er, I don’t know a whole lot about those wraith things, but… when Star showed up in the Grass Realm, she actually sort of… tried to kill Eon.”

“Eh? She tried to kill Eon? Well, how’d that go?”

“She got Rim and took out her Orb, but not Eon. But then there was this fight in my realm with Zena, Mom, Step, and Manny, and, er, they were fighting Hecto, and—”

“Waaait, wait, wait, wait,” Brandon held his arms up. “This sounds like it’s gonna be a long conversation. Follow me.” He turned around, walking through the halls. “Just try to explain it to me from the beginning. You don’t mind if I tell the man upstairs about this?”

“The what?”

“Arceus.”

“Oh, uh… I mean, I guess you have to, since, you know, you’re under him.”

“Yeah. Well, anyway, come on. Start at the very beginning.”

Owen nodded, squeezing past the doorway again. “So, a while ago, Eon came to Hot Spot. . .”

<><><>​

No matter how careful the plan, and no matter how many times he had to try again and again, it seemed that a moment was not enough to truly get what he needed.

Nevren spun his silver communicator badge over in his palms, useless now that nobody was talking through them, and returned to inspecting his Revisor next. His spoons floated above him idly for a trivial mental exercise to keep his Psychic abilities sharp.

A moment: ninety seconds. That was the amount of time he could try, over and over—and how far back the humble Revisor allowed him to go back at a time. And then, for ninety seconds, it would have to recharge. Of course, there were imperfections; from the time it took for him to notice the glow, to the time when it was actually pressed, he perhaps lost a few precious fractions of a second, forever out of his reach. It felt tragic, even if the tedium of retrying for the ideal time was occasionally grating. Even his patience had its limits.

And yet, a moment was not enough. A shame, really. Five hundred years washed away by a strange demon of spectral rot. The Ghost Orb housed truly powerful and mysterious spirits for them to go undetected for so long. Had Anam been burdened by it for so long? Yet, something about it felt strange. Spirits did not normally behave that way, especially for them to be tied to one of the friendliest hosts possible. The Ghost Orb should have been a wonderful, whimsical world of hugs and hearts and revolting slime.

Nevren squeezed his eyes shut, briefly recalling the countless times Anam had tried showing some sign of affection toward him. A tackle here, a hug there—each one required a reset, or a long bath if it was unavoidable.

Yet that demon… What happened to James? And Madeline—she had been within Anam the whole time, yet was largely unknown to the others. Surely Anam would have told them… if he could.

Nevren flipped the badge over his palm again, finally slipping it into his bag.

If only he had Dialga by his side. He missed him terribly; he had vague memories of being partners with him almost like Rhys, yet now the only trace of him remaining was the Revisor, a blessed gemstone akin to the one within the Timekeeper’s chest.

Time was such a strange thing. He remembered fragments of Dialga’s speech about it. The different kinds of travel, all of them troublesome.

Nevren was tempted to click on the Revisor, just because he could, but refrained.

Even after all that persuasion, Dialga only gave him this weak little badge. But he supposed, all things considered, it was justified. Going into the past wouldn’t change their present; either it was already set in stone, or they would be modifying a new, split-off world… leaving behind the old one. How did Dialga phrase it?

“I am not going to manage multiple universes, thank you.”

Yes, that was it. So instead, he gave a much more controlled form… one that took a lot more divine energy, and therefore couldn’t go nearly as far back, but it was a compromise. It was this or nothing; a Badge that wound the universe backwards. Of course, that didn’t say anything as far as memories were concerned; for the physical mind, they were wiped. But to the spirit, memories were eternal.

It seemed that those who were created by Mystic power, or those who were Mystic themselves, ran the risk of remembering erased moments. He had to be very careful not to trigger those with Anam. Countless retries had been done just to tiptoe around mistakes done in revisions mere seconds earlier. Technically later, since it had been revised. And then, of course, there was Team Alloy…

There were so many times that he had wished he could have gone back more. And of course, there was the inkling desire to go all the way back to the beginning to stop it all… but that was impossible. He could already hear Dialga’s lecture.

“Going back to fix this mess at its inception won’t work. Would you cease upon altering the future to the ideal? Yet then, how would you have gone back at all, if there was never a need? Or would it simply make another world, foreign to your home reality? Or would the worlds be somehow linked? Not even I know! I refuse to entertain the notion. Such mechanics are unexplored. I maintain time first, and manipulate it second. And short of time itself stopping, I have no plans to look into the matter. Next topic!”

He always was a fussy one. Celebi would have been better, but with Dialga in the way, her powers, too, were limited. Perhaps it was for the best; the more he theorized, the more he was grateful that he had something much more manageable. With a sigh, Nevren lamented that the stern Timekeeper and the shy Timerider were both gone, just like all the others. He suspected Star had something to do with it, but she had played dumb just like Barky.

Why was it so dark?

Nevren blinked, putting his hand down to realize that he had gone blind. That would be very troublesome. No, that didn’t seem right, either; the lights had gone out! He knew he should have installed Luminous Orbs in the caves. Why did Amia turn them all off? She was likely still in the Grass Realm… unless she had been defeated. Where would she have gone from there? Aura sea. That wouldn’t have been enough to sever her influence.

This was likely worth investigating.

Nevren got to his feet and carefully navigated around Anam’s slimy resting place. Even with the Goodra gone, his essence never quite left. He had a remarkable presence wherever he visited.

Nevren was glad to see a single light source to make the rest of it visible. Why Valle was suddenly as bright as the sun was another question, but perhaps he could ask another time. Nevren cleared his throat. “Has something happened?”

“It has become dark,” Valle said.

“I observed as much.”

“Where’d the sun go?” Willow said.

“No solar energy source is present: we are in a cave,” ADAM reported.

“You know what I mean! Shut up! How come the mushrooms stopped?”

Jerry stammered in his room. “H-hey, whoa, whoa, big guy—”

Of all the alarmed noises, Jerry’s caught his attention the most. Anam had gone on a fit and went conversing with the others. Hadn’t he stopped in Jerry’s home?

And then Anam came shambling out of the building, every step labored and uneven. Shadows swirled deep beneath the surface of his slimy body, visible only occasionally. He clutched his head, staggering down the road and toward the entrance.

Willow hopped several times and sparked with pink mist. “Umm—wait! Be careful about the traps!”

“Traps disabled,” ADAM stated.

Anam sniffled, fingers digging into and through his head. “No… no… Amia… n-no…”

So he knew. Nevren quickened his pace, but not before realizing that a few were following him—namely, Demitri and Mispy.

“What’s wrong with Anam?” Demitri asked.

“His aura…” Mispy winced, shaking her head. “Horrible…”

“Horrible?” That was a new descriptor. Though, he had to agree; as underdeveloped as his aura sight was with Mystic power alone, any sort of feeling that he got from Anam was… horrible. That was really the only word he had for it. He didn’t want to look much longer.

“We’re coming with you,” Demitri said to Nevren.

Nevren supposed a bit of backup would be useful in case Anam went berserk again; he seemed to generally be calmer when it wasn’t just the two of them—and whatever demonic occupant he was harboring.

“Then let’s hurry. For someone so labored, he’s moving quite fast.”

Anam was already halfway to the exit; nobody else followed him, too unnerved by the black radiance that moved through the caverns in waves. Even Nevren wanted to stop, but his concern over Amia and the wellbeing of the others trumped his primal need to stay away.

Anam pushed weakly against the boulder that blocked the exit, digging his fingers against bumps and ridges along the edge. “Stop… stop…”

“Anam?” Nevren asked.

“St-stay away!” Anam begged, turning a single, void-black eye toward them.

Mispy flinched, swatting at the air in front of her as if Anam’s very stare had assaulted her. Demitri hid behind Mispy, but then pointed worriedly at the ground. “L-look!”

The ground beneath Anam, where his slime touched, was melting. The very rocks were melting into a black dust, which in turn mixed with his slime to form a thick mud. It reminded Nevren of Rotwood Fen…

“I need to get out… I need to get out…”

Nevren stepped forward. “Anam, do you need me to help you?” He held his hand forward, though he had another hand on his Revisor. “Anam, please, can you tell me what’s wrong? Are you… having trouble controlling your spirits? Your Ghostly powers have been—”

“Please… go away… I can’t…”

Nevren didn’t need a Revisor to know that it would be unwise to approach Anam in his current state. But there were a number of things he could try, right? Perhaps he could try mending Anam’s mind a bit. Perhaps the sudden stress of instability caused his sprits to rebel against him? But then, Anam could turn around and kill him… No, Anam wouldn’t do that.

His spirits might, though, particularly—ah.

“Anam, where’s James?”

Anam shuddered, pressing his gooey form against the boulder. Darkness seeped into the rocks; it fell away instantly, becoming a pile of blackened dust. Evening light streamed through the hole left behind, which Anam walked through. Mispy tentatively prodded at some of the dust; her vines rotted slightly upon contact.

“Evening already,” Nevren commented, but then used a Psychic blast to get rid of some of the black dust. When that wasn’t enough, he held his hand forward and created a small, glowing bridge over the disintegrated boulders. “Come, let’s go,” he said. “Anam!”

The Goodra kept shambling, aimless, until he suddenly clutched at his head and moaned, falling to the ground. His head spattered against the dirt, blackness killing all grass within two steps of him, and steadily spread like a puddle of death. His arms and legs twitched weakly; he curled and uncurled his horns in pain.

“Anam…” Nevren said carefully. “Is there anything I can—”

Demitri gasped, pointing at the sky. “What—what’s—”

Above Hot Spot’s rocky hill, the evening sky was gone. In its place was a swirling vortex of purple clouds and nothing but empty darkness in the center.
 

SparklingEspeon

Insquisitabilitating
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
“Maybe we ate them,” Willow said. “Humans don’t sound very strong. I bet they were secretly at the bottom of the food chain, and eventually we just realized that and ate them!”

“Oh, oh!” Willow said. “His little legs are moving! Aww, isn’t he cute? I wanna just—”

“You will not harm the Hunter,” ADAM said. “I am detecting malevolence from the Fairy Guardian.”

“Am not! I was just gonna poke him a little!”

“That is enough, Guardian,” Step growled. “Return him to his normal size.”

“W-well, maybe I don’t wanna!”

“Yeah! I turn my spirits into screaming mushrooms to scare others away. It’s really funny! We all get a good laugh out of it.”

Manny and Willow were the other ones that Star had explicitly denied.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm I wonder why

~Review of Chapters 44 – 50~

So full disclosure: I was originally planning to return at the end of Act II, but stopped here because it feels like a lot’s happened already and I have a bunch to say. This review will be somewhat critical, so I’ll separate it into three categories: Negatives, Positives, and Neutral Speculation, in that order. Hopefully it’s somewhat helpful. I'll also say that it's been like three and a half months since I finished Act I and there is just so much to keep track of, so if I fudge a fact here or there feel free to correct me because I probably forgot.

The Negatives:

I think, the further I get into Hands of Creation, the more I begin to see two issues shaping up with the story at large. One of them is almost completely bias/taste-related, and the other is something of a character issue. I’ll start with the second one.

It feels like the overall pacing style of Hands of Creation is “six or ten chapters of buildup, then big bang and everyone scrambles to regroup and adjust”. Between those big bangs you’re scrambling around, trying to set up all the lore and get things in place for your next Big Bang. This makes HoC very dense (and sometimes slow), but so far Act I has been a blast, while Act II decidedly… hasn’t.

I think the difference is that Act I had all this character stuff – Owen’s development as he slowly matured into his current form and powers, the layers of drama between Star and Barky, Nevren secretly being a Hunter ally, Zena and Rhys, etc. This helped punctuate the quieter moments of Act I, so that those big bangs felt meaningful. Act II… hasn’t had much of that yet, beyond the Star/Barky prologue. In fact, for all the talking that goes on in this arc, I feel it’s less character substance and more expositional than anything else. Owen feels stagnant at this point in the story, and most of the story regulars feel the same. You seem to be counteracting this by making your cast bigger – Jerry, not!Team Alloy, Step from SE2, Elder, Queen Trina, and Ghrelle - and even Rim to some degree - are at the center of the current dynamics so far, but Owen and the rest of the Hot Spot crew have lost character momentum. We need another big bang to rearrange the playing field and give them new problems and places to go. Which it looks like might be coming soon, if Nevren is to be believed.

The other issue is kind of a taste-based thing for me – I feel like HoC uses a lot of absurd power scaling. There are times where it feels like Mystics are invincible unless you’re a Hunter mutant or another Mystic. They’re powerful enough to float in the air, melt away entire bodies, summon spirits from the dead, and endure living conditions that no normal pokemon would be able to do. And then there are times where they’re downpowered enough that someone like Jerry can smash Owen (granted, the least experienced Guardian) into the ground without even breaking a sweat. Often in stories like these, I end up getting bored in battles, because I know they’re not seriously going to get hurt unless the author makes a big show of Okay, This is Dangerous. I’m about fifty chapters into this fic by the FFN counter and I still don’t have a very clean grasp on what the Mystic Power limits are.

The Positives:

The world. The world the world the world and everything about it. Kilo is probably on-par with some of the most original and immersive worlds I’ve ever seen – which is a bit ironic, considering it’s a fanfiction lol – and everything about it pops. The environments are striking, such as Queen Trina’s web palace and Ghrelle’s swamp, and the lore is intricate and seems to go back hundreds of years. Certain components, like the creeping hints that Kilo may in fact be a post-post-(and maybe even pre, if what you’ve said about Arc III is to be taken at face value) apocalyptic human world, are particularly interesting, especially that Arceus seems to have much of that under Divine Decree… wonder what he’s hiding. If I had *one* gripe about Kilo, it would be that we haven’t really seen too much of it, outside of the guardian missions and the few times Owen has gone into Kilo Village post-Chapter Six. I have so many questions - are there other towns outside of Kilo? Why is One Thousand Hearts enough to protect the entire world, and where did that organization originate from? What’s the deal with the Void Basin, and that pokeball factory, and how does Orre factor into this? I’d like to see a spin-off or something focusing more on Kilo in the future, which could cover things potentially beyond the scope of HoC.

I’m definitely glad that Jerry got to knock a mystic down a few pegs. It kind of felt like after Ghrelle’s speech about worthiness, the story was basically saying that he came from a family that’s been kicked and in the slums since forever, but also that all his current problems come down to his Bad Attitude and this makes him forever Unworthy and he should be melted away by the poison swamp. And he’s definitely prideful, maybe a bit too much. But I think this scene was important to show that even though he’s got a lot to work on, when Jerry puts his heart to it he can accomplish great things despite his background and ancestry, which I think is a much better message. And also, thank you for bringing back a minor character from the beginning of the story and actually expanding them into their own person! That deserves at least some recognition, since it takes a skilled author to do that kind of thing in a published-as-it-goes serial. And also I don’t really see that happen often in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned in to me.

I don’t think that Act II has the best dynamics (yet), but I do think it’s had the best opening so far. I liked seeing more of Star and Barky playing off each other – and while this prologue only reaffirms my position that Star is firmly in the wrong, it’s clear Barky is hiding a bunch, and I feel like you’re going to do a thing where the entire situation is flipped and it turns out all Star’s anger towards Barky is completely justified – even if she’s going way too far with it in the present.

In fact, let me start with that for the

Neutral Speculation

Okay so with the evidence currently laid out surrounding Barky, my standing theory is that Kilo was Orre. That, or some amalgamation of things from the trainer world. It feels kind of weird how many pieces of this reality seem to be patchwork fixes/bandaids over stuff that isn’t exactly holding together on the inside, from the divide between guardians, presence of humans and seemingly random stuff like that Pokeball factory, the notable absence of any non-Mew/Arceus legendaries to this point (outside of a scant mention of Yveltal and Emily, who is under Divine Decree), and the fact that I don’t think there is actually a planet to see beyond the borders of Kilo. It’s almost like someone just tore the world apart, rewrote the instruction manual, and then put it back together again, but in a way that didn’t exactly fit. And I don’t know if Barky was the one who tore it apart, persay, but he might have let it happen. Or perhaps it’s connected to the reason that Star and Barky are currently “dead” – maybe they killed each other fighting, and took the world down with it. Obviously, that explanation doesn’t account for Yveltal, though…

For all her preaching, Ghrelle really rubbed me the wrong way, honestly. And I couldn't put my finger on it for a while, but I think what gets me about it is that, even though her points are technically valid, she's taking a holier-than-thou position on the matter and just assuming she's right. And issuing punishments to those she deems 'unholy' when they step onto her territory. It reminds me a lot of Light's fatal flaw from Death Note - That you shouldn't be passing final judgement like you're god when you aren't, no matter how hard you try to be. I feel like Ghrelle is ultimately well-intentioned, but she's very... 'elitist', I guess. That's the word I was looking for.

Rim's brief show of arms at Step's lair is a very :worrygoo: moment. Pretty much all the contemporary mutants we saw up to this point have been feral monsters, but these ones talked like perfectly intelligent pokemon and were even able to fuse the same way that Team Alloy is. I can't say I'm as surprised about Not!Team Alloy - especially considering the comment regarding "Siblings" in SE three. It's... odd to see where they've ended up, through, at the very least, although I'm looking forward to when they inevitably run into Owen and co.

And honestly I just really kind of want to know what happened to all the legendaries. It feels like the orbs are the kind of powerful objects that would negate the legendaries' existence in the first place, so if Kilo truly was Kilo all the way back to the beginning I don't necessarily think they'd be around if the Orbs were also there from the start. And yet, we see a few here - Hecto works for Star (a legendary herself) in the background, Emily was once the Dragon Guardian, and we know something bad happened to Yveltal. What about all the others? Xerneas? Reshiram and Zekrom? Groudon and Kyogre? The Bird Trio? The regis? It feels like they would all be so much more involved if they were still around, and I'm willing to theorize they are a part of this 'verse because it doesn't make sense to keep four or five and then just say the readers will assume on their own the rest were written out. But they don't seem to appear in the Spirit World either (aside from Hecto), so... I'm not quite sure where that's going, but I am very sure it's not being ignored.

Overall, the eight chapters I've currently read of this arc are painting it as a still-strong, but slightly weaker continuation of this story. I feel like where Act I had lack of answers, Act II is overloading us with them. It's very dense and expositional, and I'm not getting a sense of character progression to balance it all out yet. If Act I is any example to go by, I imagine I'll be eating most of this review by the end, but for right now my hopes for more character development soon are pretty much hinging on Nevren screwing stuff up really badly and resetting the story quota in the next few chapter. Especially since these are basically all but one or two of the Guardians contacted at this point. I feel like that ought to do the trick. Right now seems to be a low point for the story, but it's still engaging nonetheless!

...And also, what happened to that Dark Guardian? I don't think they've appeared again since the confrontation between the Hot Spot Crew and Eon.

~SparklingEspeon
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Hey Espy! Glad you're still enjoying yourself, but I will comment that I am personally also a little unhappy with some parts of Act II. Related...

for all the talking that goes on in this arc, I feel it’s less character substance and more expositional than anything else. Owen feels stagnant at this point in the story, and most of the story regulars feel the same.

The pacing got a little bloated and I caught it a little late. I think one reason in particular the characters feel like they're stagnant is because, if you think back, you may notice that a lot of the chapters all take place within a span of 24, 48 hours or so. They can't develop that much because not a lot of time passed! But unfortunately the pacing is therefore very slow. Sorry for that, and I'm glad that it's still enjoyable nonetheless.

HoC uses a lot of absurd power scaling. There are times where it feels like Mystics are invincible unless you’re a Hunter mutant or another Mystic.

Yeah, in my head I have the power scaling pretty much exactly mapped out, but unfortunately it's difficult to express that without info dumping. I'm hoping that over time it will start feeling more like second nature as power interactions become more obvious...

If I had *one* gripe about Kilo, it would be that we haven’t really seen too much of it, outside of the guardian missions and the few times Owen has gone into Kilo Village post-Chapter Six. I have so many questions - are there other towns outside of Kilo? Why is One Thousand Hearts enough to protect the entire world, and where did that organization originate from?

Act III will definitely have more of this! Act II is slightly more focused on Guardian matters and so on. I definitely shifted gears to showing more of the world as it becomes relevant later on.

I feel like where Act I had lack of answers, Act II is overloading us with them. It's very dense and expositional, and I'm not getting a sense of character progression to balance it all out yet.

This definitely has to do with the timeframe that Act II as a whole takes place within. Hopefully more character progression will come soon!

Right now seems to be a low point for the story, but it's still engaging nonetheless!

Indeed--looking forward to what you see next as the plot unravels.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 71 – Leaders and Followers

The Fighting Realm always amused Star. It was comprised of several, gigantic rooms, each one big enough to fly in for even the largest Pokémon. Luminous Orbs dotted the ceiling to keep things bright and several strange machines lined the room. Similar strange devices filled Kilo Village in certain areas to help Pokémon train—extra-durable sandbags, treadmills, heavy weights, metal bars, even stairways that seemed to go on forever.

Manny called it his personal fitness center.

With Manny, Azu, Verd, Roh, and Yen out, though, Star had to look for another familiar face instead. The only ones that she could think of were Doll or Elbee. Where did they usually work out?

Countless Pokémon utilized the machines, all of them muscular, lithe, or fit as any Pokémon that Star could ever see. Mutant spirits and normal spirits alike exercised together, and for just a moment, Star smiled slightly. If there was one thing she could appreciate, it was their attention to fitness.

…Even if, as spirits, it hardly mattered. The most it would have was an effect on their perseverance, Star figured; somehow, this helped them, though she never asked Manny how, or why. Perhaps it was just one of those odd things he liked to do.

Rectangular screens hung from the ceiling near the corners for easy viewing, depicting another part of the Fighting Realm—an arena, where two Pokémon sparred with one another.

A wistful sigh was all that accompanied her vacant expression for a moment, lasting long enough for one of the nearby Pokémon to tap her on the shoulder. “Are you alright?”

“A-ah! Oh! Hi! Sorry.” Star shook her head, turning around. “I’m actually looking for—oh! I was looking for you!”

Standing behind Star was a Cacturne, frowning with concern. “Is something going on? Where’s Manny?”

“He should be fine. But I’ve come here to warn the others. I went over to try to see Owen, first, but some things came up, and—look, I just need to take over Manny’s body for a second. That alright? He can pull me out when he’s back, but I need to take over the way Yen usually does.”

“Hrmm… well, alright.” She still didn’t seem convinced, but Star couldn’t blame her. Their Guardian was gone for longer than he should have been. A pang of anger surged through her—she told them not to leave their realms. Not only did it weaken their bodies, but Hecto might have had trouble bringing them back. Just like Amia… whatever happened to her.

Star, getting distracted again, earned a worried prod from Doll.

“H-huh? Oh, sorry. I think I’ll head to his Core now, so—"

“Doll!” a Samurott called, marching over. “What’s Star doing over?” A flash of concern, and then she drew from her foreleg one of her blades. “Is Manny okay? Who do I have to fight?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” Star quickly said, raising her paws.

She reluctantly sheathed her blade.

“Good to see you. Yeah, I just need to go to Manny’s Core for a second and take over. I gotta relay a message to the others, and fast.”

By now, various other fitness enthusiasts of the realm had taken a break on their exercise regimen to listen in on the conversation. Star, realizing that if she took any longer, there’d be a danger of Step and the others getting to them first, flew past both of them. “Core’s in the same spot, right?”

“W-wait, hang on!” Doll shouted; the Cacturne and Samurott ran after, and then beside Star. “What exactly is happening? Manny said for us to guard the place, so what for?”

“Probably from the wraiths,” Star said.

“The—w-wait, those things are back?” Doll’s thorns glowed. “But I thought Anam sealed them off from appearing in Dungeons again?”

“They’re appearing in Aether Forest, now.”

Elbee looked ready to draw her blades again as if one could be right around the corner. “But Aether Forest can go right to here.”

Exactly. That’s why I need to warn the others, and I kinda want to minimize my connections or time. I knew you guys would let me through quick, alright? The others are kinda flakey.”

“Yeah, a little, but to be fair…”

“I know, I know, look, I’m trying to fix things, alright? Didn’t think Eon would go nuts like this and actually make this move to take Owen.”

Even more turns, Star passing by mutant after mutant. She shuddered slightly at the sight—at least they were behaving normally here. “How has the adjustment to having a bunch of Synthetics here gone?”

“Oh, they’re wonderful. Most of them are like kids.” Doll sighed. “If I wasn’t so prickly, I’d hug them.”

“You could always try a different body,” Elbee said.

“Well, maybe I like my original body. I don’t see you changing, hmm?”

“Hmph!”

The next room was devoid of exercise equipment; instead, amid the wooden floor and concrete walls, there was a glowing ball of light floating in the middle.

“Thanks, guys. If this goes well, I’ll just be in and out, alright?”

Star flew toward the Core, its radiance bright enough that she had to squint. But before she could enter it, she sensed a new presence behind her. Curiosity got the better of her and she glanced back, only to see a blue ember fly past her and into the Core.

“Eh?”

“Must have been the loser of one of the arena matches,” Elbee said, raising her blade. “I have one of the best win-lose ratios out of all the spirits here! …Second to Yen.”

“I thought Roh, Azu, and Verd were the strongest spirits?” Star said.

“They’re the strongest to summon at full power, but in here, the three of us are way better, if you want my opinion.”

“Right, forgot…” But something still troubled Star—and her worries were confirmed when a second ember came flying by her, and then a third. “Is… is that normal?”

Elbee and Doll both shook their heads. “We’ll check it out.”

“Be careful,” Star said. She desperately hoped it wasn’t the wraiths—cold terror gripped her heart—but that just meant she had to warn the others even faster. Star dove into the Core.

Manny’s body’s eyes shot open. It took its first breath in quite a while, moved stiff muscles, and finally struggled to its feet.

“Wh-whoa, whoa—!”

Star fell on her back, glad that her tail at least turned sideways to keep from bending badly. “Ugh—tall body, not used to that. Can’t I just float?”

The Mew, possessing Manny’s empty body, wobbled forward, taking a few seconds to get used to it. Oh, come on, I know Transform! This shouldn’t be a problem! Then again, being alive was also something she wasn’t used to, even if this was just some ghostly imitation of it. To suddenly have to worry about gravity instead of allowing it to affect her in the spirit realm, let alone how big and bulky Manny’s body was… If she hadn’t been busy trying to take down the Hunters, she would have appreciated it more while she had inhabited Owen’s body.

Thankfully, her Lucario instincts took over, and walking settled into a basic routine. She took a few tentative steps through Manny’s room and into the main caverns. Now, she was trying to get used to the feeling of her new set of teeth, her differently-shaped mouth, her fur, her spikes… It was one thing to transform, but it was another to wake up in a different body.

A small smirk curled at the corner of her muzzle at that thought and she looked at her paws. That was ironic.

Star shook her head—she had to focus. Where were the others? And why was it so dark? The answer immediately crossed her mind—if Manny was meditating in Hot Spot, and Amia was missing, and the mushrooms glowed…

The pit in her stomach grew. Hopefully Hecto just missed her—she’s probably waiting across the aura sea, right? That would’ve ended Amia’s influence, too. They just had to be more careful.

“Hey!” Star shouted. “How’s everything going?” She walked toward the only light left in Hot Spot. The golden glow in the center of town suggested it was usually where Valle stood, but since when could he glow? She supposed if he needed to see something in his old cave, he’d probably need that power, though; Valle didn’t seem particularly skilled at aura sight.

It was indeed Valle, the Shiftry statue glowing brighter than the mushrooms that usually speckled the caverns. “Hey, uh, nice fashion statement.”

“Why is it so surprising that I can glow? I can. It is not remarkable.”

Star held up her paws noncombatively, then squinted to see that most of the others gathered when she had called for them. “Hey, so, what’s going on?”

“Amia’s influence over Hot Spot has faded. I fear the worst.”

Willow hopped several feet into the air. “Everything went dark and then Anam started to freak out!”

Star’s suspicions confirmed, she could only hope that Hecto would find Amia across the aura sea soon. But whether it was some sort of Psychic premonition or just a gut feeling, she had a feeling he wouldn’t. “What? Anam? Is he afraid of the dark?”

“He kept saying, dark, dark, oooh.” Willow growled, making her voice as deep as possible, which was just barely enough to match Anam’s childish cheer.

The crowd of Hot Spot slowly gathered. Jerry and Enet left the former’s building; Willow hopped onto Star’s forehead, prodding her skull inquisitively.

“Manny, where did Rhys go? Will he be back soon?” Elder asked, resting his shell next to Valle.

“Eh—he’ll be back soon. There was a real bad fight against… yeah.”

“Manny’s speech patterns are irregular,” ADAM reported.

“Oh—no, no, sorry, I’m Star. Manny is still coming back. I wanted to get over here to warn you guys about something going on—listen. Keep a close eye on your spirit realms, alright? There are these weird, black creatures—kinda blob-shaped, but sometimes they take other forms—we call them wraiths. They used to show up a long time ago in Dungeons before Anam blessed them, but for some reason they’re showing up again.”

“Wraiths…” Elder shuddered, looking down. “That can’t be.”

“What are they?” Willow asked.

“I don’t know,” Star said. “They just… appear. I don’t know how—”

“How can you not know?” Jerry spoke up, narrowing his eyes. “You literally created life. How can you not know something that lives in—”

“I don’t know, okay?!” Star hissed, squeezing her paws. Her aura sensors sprang up; she closed her eyes and tried to breathe. “Sorry, sorry. I… I really don’t know. I wish I did.”

If she knew what these wraiths were, it would be a lot easier to take them down. Instead, they had to deal with the Hunters, these wraiths, and now Step!

Ah, Step! “R-right, um, about that. So, I found out that you guys decided to go on a little rescue mission for Owen through the spirit realm, right?”

“Yeah, we sent Step, Rhys, Manny—”

“Yeah, I know, I know. So, here’s the—”

“Why is it so dark?!”

The thundering voice could only be the mate of the former Electric Guardian. And in an instant, that icy pit in Star’s stomach became colder than the realm that Aggron now controlled. She ran out of time.

“Step! You’re back!” Willow hopped off of Star’s head and landed on Valle, waving her tiny arm to get her attention. “How about the others?”

The icy Aggron huffed irritably. “They will be back soon, but I need to warn you about the wraiths. They are invading our world. The Fire Realm is already overrun; I had to take Alex to ours instead.” She pushed her hand forward, hurling a blue ember.

It coalesced into a Hydreigon, shivering and wrapping his arms around his body. “S-so… c-cold…”

“He is staying temporarily until we can sort this. Amia was defeated, and I doubt Star would be merciful toward her.”

“W-wait, what?” Star spoke up. “I wouldn’t—”

Star realized her mistake too late and wished she had the ability to turn back time. Step’s eyes widened in silence. The air became cold, frost forming on the tips of Star’s fur. A thin layer of ice masked Valle’s face, making his glowing body glisten. Step held a palm out, cold energy concentrating at the center. “You possess Owen, and now you steal Manny’s body next?!”

“W-wait! Wait, wait, no, that’s not—”

The icy sphere flashed.

“HEY!”

Step blinked, glancing to the voice. Step’s gathered energy faltered, just short of firing.

Jerry crossed his wings and tapped his foot on the ground. “Quit it. I thought you were supposed to be the sane one. And then you go off attacking everyone you see the second they don’t behave the right way. First that Espurr, then Owen, and now the stupid god. And you know what? You keep making it more messed up! Let her talk. We can beat her up after.”

Step glared icily at the Aerodactyl. The energy in her palm shifted; instead, she lobbed three more embers, forming her family of frozen Kommo-o. She puffed a bit of frost in the air, some of the resulting mist collecting on top of Willow. “When we arrived at the Grass realm, Hecto and Star were there. We had to battle them to free Owen from Star’s control; she stole his body.”

Star shook her head immediately. “Now, h-hang on, that’s not what happened. When I showed up there, Owen and Eon were talking, yeah, but Eon could’ve brainwashed him at any second. Do you have any idea how susceptible he is to the guy?”

“We know,” Step said. “But we never said that we would want Owen to be under the control of a suspicious god, either. We should have known that Star would take advantage of how easily his mind sways to command. Of course a mutant would want to take commands from a leader.”

“I was literally just trying to end this Hunter war!” Star shouted, slamming her fist in the air. ADAM nervously twitched and hid behind Valle, muttering something about fear levels rising. “If you guys just let me control Owen, I would have taken Eon’s Orbs, then Rim’s Orb, and then we’d be done.”

“You never considered telling us this plan?” Step said. “It’s quite obvious that you kept it hidden because you knew we wouldn’t be very happy with you controlling us.”

No, I never said anything because Owen is fiercely loyal to Eon and doesn’t want to admit it!” Star rubbed her head. “Look—Owen was supposed to be the key to all of this. He’s the one person on our side that Eon can’t fight, even before that flimsy wishy-washy Promise. If we could just get him strong enough, it’d be a sure shot to beating him.”

“Oh? And what of the rest of Team Alloy, hm?” Step said. “Why is Owen always the one guarded so specifically?”

Star hesitated. “Owen’s—special to Eon. He was his first. If we could just use that to our advantage…”

Jerry snorted. “And yet Owen wants to do this peacefully, so that’s why you tried to pull a fast one on him.”

“Step!” Star clutched her forehead, ignoring Jerry. “I thought you of all people would’ve been fine with this. Isn’t this what you always wanted?”

Step glared. “Secrecy only brings distrust, especially from you. What if you kept Owen’s body after Eon was down? What if you stole all of their Hands?”

“If I wanted your Hands, and I could do that, I’d’ve done it already. Seriously? I’ve already been over this with you; we can’t get the Orbs by design. I can’t truly claim anything; it’d go to Owen, or something, and—”

“And then you’d control him.”

“NO!” Star roared, paws crackling with an unstable mixture of blue aura and gold light. She took a deep breath, trying to keep calm.

Step didn’t stop her glare, nor did the rest of her family. Alex meekly floated near Valle, drawn to the light, and mumbled. “Amia… where are you…?”

That snapped Star out of her fervor. She blinked for a moment, the crackling of her paws subsiding. “Alex… I—I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Hecto’s searching for her now, alright? In all the chaos, we must’ve lost her and she drifted across the aura sea. That’d explain why her influence here died out; she just left our plane completely. It’s—er—it’s fine! Cent, Kana, you know it’s fine, right?”

The two Kommo-o sisters slackened their crossed arms. Kana nodded reluctantly. “I guess if she just wound up there, it’s fine.”

“I’ll believe it when she actually follows through on her words.” Step glanced at Ra. “What do you think?”

“As far as I’m concerned,” the largest Kommo-o stated, “I don’t want to feel even an iota of Star’s presence until Amia is returned.”

“O-okay, okay. I’ll get her back.” Hecto, did you find her yet? …Oh, right, he’d be across the aura sea…

She couldn’t contact someone directly if they were beyond the sea—not without going there herself, and she couldn’t afford to do that.

Another Hecto responded instead. I have not received word from my fragments across the sea, no. And I have not seen any sign of her in any other realms. Patience.

Okay, thanks.


Star shook her head. “Sorry. No word yet.”

“Then we will not speak.” Step glared at the others. “Are we in agreement?”

“Pff, like I care.” Jerry shrugged, looking off. “If she wants to talk, fine. But I’m going back to my room.”

“I’m going back to Rhys.” Elder wobbled away, puffing a small plume of smoke. “When he wakes up, I want him to have some warm comfort.”

“I’m going to inspect my realm and make sure we are ready for any strange wraith attacks,” Step said. “I recommend you all do the same.”

“You guys should probably lock your Orb realms if you haven’t already,” Star said. “It’ll cut you off from Aether Forest, but at least nothing outside can force their way in if they don’t have any Hands to try. In other words, wraiths.”

“Hmph. Finally, something sensible.”

“But—but—but it’s terribly cold in there,” Alex protested weakly. “I—I’d rather not go back there.”

“You can temporarily become an Ice spirit, if you wish,” Step offered. “Otherwise, remain summoned. It is no trouble to me.” She looked to her family next.

“We’re gonna scout the realm and make sure no wraiths sneaked in while we were away,” Ra said. “Cent, Kana? Would you like to help, or would you like to return home?”

“Like I’m stepping across the sea after that?” Kana shook her head. “I’ll wait until this clears up before I go back.”

“Me, too. My mate’ll understand. I already filled him in, so maybe he’ll just think it’s a big fight or something.”

“I mean, it kinda is,” Star said, but the Ice spirits and Guardian completely ignored her.

Slowly, the group departed, leaving Star in the middle of the cave with Valle and ADAM. She sighed, sitting down with her knees to her chest. The silence was uncomfortable, but what else could she do? What was she going to do? They never trusted her. She was just fooling herself into thinking they’d listen to—what did Eon call it—her silver tongue? As if. All they ever did was glare at her when she wasn’t looking; she knew it. This only confirmed it.

“I guess I’ll just wait for everyone to come back.” She looked up. “Hey, Valle? Where’s Nevren and Anam?”

“Anam wandered outside to get some air. Nevren followed.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I sense darkness in Anam.”

Star nodded idly, playing with a bit of fur on her knees. Wait. “Uh, what?” She glanced at the glowing statue.

ADAM buzzed, twirling his head. “Walking patterns irregular: Anam demonstrated agitated behavior shortly after the lights of Hot Spot dimmed. Conclusion: he is afraid of the dark.”

“No, no, Valle, what did you say? Darkness in Anam? What’re you even talking about? I mean, he’s a little weird, and he has the Ghost Orb and all their, uh, quirks, but—”

“I do not know. But his aura… of what I can feel when he walked past me. It was not normal.”

Star watched the ground, eyeing her own shadow. “Anam…” She sighed, unsure what it meant, but… Hecto, can you send one of your copies to find Anam and Nevren? Tell them to come to me. I want to see something.

And with that, Star sat next to Valle again, looking up at the Shiftry statue. For being the weakest Guardian, Valle seemed very composed in all of this. She was surprised he could sense Anam’s aura at all. Compared to everyone else, Valle’s energy was incredibly weak. Yet… “You’re… you come off as wiser than you let on, sometimes.”

“There is a lot to learn when you stand still and observe.”

Star suppressed a laugh. “That kinda sounds like Hecto. He’s sort of an observer by nature, likes to oversee things.”

“A fine philosophy for a god, or her disciple.”

Star blinked, looking up. “What?”

“It is of my opinion that the divine need not interfere with mortals on a daily basis for grand miracles. We should be away and let them forge their own path. Do you not agree?”

“I—I don’t, sorry,” Star said automatically. “I’ve saved way too many people in the past with my power to say it isn’t worth it.”

“Mm. In the past.”

Star tensed, squeezing her paw pads. Where was this talk coming from—Valle, of all people?! The guy didn’t even move. Could he even move? Barely. And now she was getting a lecture from him about how to use divine power—like he knew. Star snorted, looking down.

“You’re defiant.”

Star growled, tucking her knees against her chest. “I just want to help.”

“We all do. But you should not fill a bowl with a waterfall.”

Nothing came from the possessed Lucario but a little grunt. “Just go into your Realm already, make sure the wraiths aren’t coming your way.”

“They are not.”

To that, Star uncurled her legs and leaned back on a pillow of Psychic energy, wincing at the odd feeling it had against her Fighter body. She used her arms instead, but then accidentally jabbed one of her spikes into her other palm. “Gah—Why did I give these guys those spikes?”

“Your design choices are questionable.”

“Oh, shove it.” Star puffed out her cheeks, looking away.

Thunder boomed outside. Star furrowed her brow; it had been a while since this part of Kilo had a thunderstorm. As a god, it was silly for her to be superstitious… but by the time the second boom shook the cave, though, the sinking feeling in her chest became too powerful to ignore.

<><><>​

“Wow. We missed a lot.” Brandon let out an amused snort.

Owen sat in the middle of the factory, finishing his recital of everything he knew about what had happened. He had started with Eon’s promise, explaining his ability to stop time—something that Brandon had been very curious about.

So, a bit of Dialga’s blessing had remained after all, did it? Brandon had wondered if anything had been left behind. Did Eon know what happened to him? What about Palkia and the others? Still, with how quickly Owen had gone over it, it didn’t seem like he knew anything more.

Then, Owen went over his trip into Quartz HQ, his trip through the halls, dinner, and then Star abruptly taking over. Brandon’s metallic brows raised at that one. It didn’t sound like Star at all… Then again, getting so close to Eon when he was so vulnerable was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Owen would have a much easier time getting rid of Star the next time she tried that, if she was ever allowed back in the realm in the first place. Was she really that impatient and desperate to take Eon out that she didn’t even want to risk Owen falling in line with him?

…No, that was reasonable. After all, Eon and Owen used to be partners. That was a bond that might not have been broken, even after all this time.

Finally, Owen went over her defeat, what happened afterward between himself and Amelia, and then what Klent had informed him of Eon and the aftermath of the mutants. When he was finally finished, Owen let out a slow sigh. His hands trembled and Brandon had a good idea why. It sounded like a lot to happen over only a few hours; no doubt, it had finally crashed down onto him the gravity of what had happened. They were working under Star, tenuous as their relationship was, and perhaps they thought that they’d be able to break things off with her later, rather than have Star get the jump on them.

“I just… I don’t get it. Eon wasn’t going to control me. The second he even hesitated to try, I saw it coming, and he immediately felt horrible for it. He wouldn’t have… He made that Promise!”

Brandon rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that definitely seems like something Eon would do.”

“What do you mean?” Owen raised his voice defensively.

“Hey, hey, calm down.” Brandon raised a hand. “I’m saying that I think your call on Eon was right. Trust me, the last thing Eon would want to do in the long term is control you.”

“Controls everyone else…”

“Does he, though?” Brandon asked, tilting his head. “Sounds to me more like he just has a bunch of mutant Pokémon that he raised as family. Sure, he doesn’t control them, but they definitely, you know…”

“Obey his every command willingly. Yeah, I think that’s worse.” Owen crossed his arms, staring at Brandon with a steely glare.

Brandon locked eyes with him, but then finally broke it to rub his forehead. “Alright, kid. Lay it out for me. I know you didn’t just come here to give me the full report on how Star destroyed every iota of your trust. Why did you come here, to me, of all people, instead of home where your folks are?”

Brandon continued to stare at the ceiling, waiting for some sentimental reason. After all, what else would there be? ‘Oh, Brandon, I just don’t know how Eon could have done this!’ Or perhaps, ‘Oh, Brandon, Star is such a jerk, I’m never inviting her again!’ Another possibility, ‘Oh, Brandon, I’m sorry for disobeying Arceus!’ Brandon hummed, wondering if that really was the reason he was here. Boss definitely would want to hear about that.

You listening to all this, right? Brandon called.

I am.

By the way, how’s Rhys?

I sent him on his way. Aramé is escorting him back to his tiny pocket in the spirit world. He should be fine; wraiths cannot reach him like they can with an Orb realm.


All this time, Brandon listened for Owen to say something, but nothing came. With a mild burst of concern, Brandon tilted his head forward to get a look at Owen again.

“Uh—you alright?”

Owen’s face was screwed up in a deep, terrified frown, tears streaming off of his leafy cheeks and onto the ground.

“H-hey, hey, c’mon, what’s going on?” Brandon’s trainer instincts flared up. It had been ages since he’d been one, yet they were front and center instantly; he sprang to his feet and knelt by Owen, holding his shoulder.

“Wh-who d-do I trust anymore?” Owen blubbered, sniffling loudly.

“What do you mean, who do you trust? C’mon, don’t talk crazy. You’ve got a whole family at home.” Frantically, Brandon rubbed at Owen’s shoulders, taking slow, steady breaths so his anxiety didn’t transfer into Owen.

“D-do I, though?” Owen squeaked. “Or is that just my instincts? M-my—my need to f-follow someone? Th-they never listen to me. They just t-tell me what to do, and they think they know what’s best f-for me, and… a-and I thought they were right! But look where it got me! L-look at… look at all of this…!”

He hiccupped, swallowing spit. The Charizard sniffled again and rubbed his eyes, then his nose, and then hiccupped again.

This kid was a total mess, but Brandon couldn’t blame him for a second. He shook Owen’s shoulder. “Hey, hey, let it out.” He went from a kneel to a sitting position beside him. Owen immediately took advantage of it, leaning against Brandon—the floral Charizard seemed a lot larger than he was with their current stances, but Brandon worked with what he could. He wrapped an arm around Owen’s back, rubbing near the base of his wings.

Owen whimpered and moaned for a while, trembling.

From what he knew, Owen was usually talkative. To see him completely wordless and shaking… This one must have really pushed him over the edge. The Machoke squeezed his fists, trying to think of a way that he could help; did Charizard behavioral knowledge help here? He wasn’t familiar enough with the species to find out anyway.

Brandon let Owen calm himself for a bit longer. “Hey, buddy, do you need anything?”

“N-no, I’m okay.”

“Sure, sure.” Brandon wound up rubbing Owen’s nearest shoulder anyway. Despite everything, it seemed to calm him down, though Brandon was careful not to squeeze too hard thanks to his Steel body.

Oh, he should probably change that.

Like little metal flakes fluttering in the wind, Brandon’s body lost its sheen and went to its normal, purple colors. Owen either didn’t notice or didn’t mind.

“It’s like I’m just… supposed to be following somebody. It’s in my gut. I can’t get rid of that feeling. I—I hate it. I’m s-sick of people leading me somewhere, but I don’t… I don’t know where to go if they don’t point me somewhere!”

Brandon said nothing, instead taking the time to pat his shoulder and press near the top of where Owen’s wings met his back. It seemed to help calm the Charizard down enough to speak coherently again, so he kept going.

It sounds like he needs new leadership, Barky said to Brandon. Brandon’s left eye twitched. Really, now? Was he really focused on trying to win Owen over, now? Sure, maybe it was opportune, but… This could be the perfect opportunity to get him on our side.

Hey, you know what? Lay off.
Brandon glanced up, hoping Owen didn’t notice, and then returned to massaging Owen’s tense shoulders next. By now Brandon was on his feet to do so, thinking back to when his Salamence needed similar relaxation after a tough loss.

Excuse me? Barky growled. Are you forgetting who you’re talking to?

No, because you just reminded me. Lay off. Owen doesn’t need that right now when he’s so vulnerable.

We can give him
exactly the sort of direction that—

No. I don’t think you get it. I’m doing what I know, and you aren’t going to tell me otherwise. If you want to know why, go ask Star. At least
she knows how her creations tick.

Brandon felt Barky’s rage at that last remark, but he didn’t apologize. Instead, he refocused on Owen, who was talking again.

“Even now, what’s the first thing I did, even after all that? I started thinking about who to see again, or who to see instead. I went right to you, thinking you’d be able to tell me about how to pick a good leader, or something. And not if I could’ve just… done what I wanted.” Owen rubbed his forehead, laughing. “I can’t fight it, can I?”

Hey! Let me out!

Brandon blinked, looking up. Zeke? Still, he complied, holding his hand forward.

Owen gave Brandon a curious look through his tears, sniffling. “What’re you doing?”

“One of my partners wants to talk to you. We go way back—his name’s Zeke.”

The ember coalesced from blue to red, standing above the two of them. “Hey,” the Blaziken said. He took a single stride with his long legs before going to a squat, resting his two hands between them. He tilted his head, letting out a curious chirp.

Owen just sniffed, returning his chirp with a chirp of his own.

Zeke nodded, sitting down and crossing his legs. He paused—Brandon figured he was trying to remember how to speak, since Zeke wasn’t a native speaker of their language. “I know how you feel, if you want any help. It’s actually something that Pokémon like us can really relate to.”

Brandon blinked, but then suddenly slapped his forehead. “Ohh, of course!” he shouted, but then suddenly lowered his hand. He should have known that Eon would… “Owen… you’re… oh, why didn’t I realize he’d’ve—yeah. Yeah, that makes sense, Zeke. Good call.”

Zeke chirped again, puffing out his chest. “I did it!”

Owen laughed, breaking into a little smile, but Brandon wasn’t sure why. All they did was say they knew what was wrong with him.

“So, it’s normal? Or it’s known? Is it something that you can treat?” Owen asked.

“Well, it’s something you can understand, at least,” Brandon said. He took a few seconds to decide what the best mode of delivery would be, but eventually settled on the direct route. Owen was probably sick of riddles. He deserved the truth, or at least as much as he could hear. “Owen… you have a feral brain.”

He let that one sink in, first. Owen blinked several times at it, processing the concept. Brandon squeezed his arm, thinking about how to go about this.

Barky’s voice echoed in a growl. Brandon… tread lightly. You know that this line of questioning is bumping up against a Decree.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I don’t want him to just forget what I say. But he deserves to at least come to terms with it. Maybe he’ll work it out better, get us some brownie points.

Are you sure this is the right thing to do?

Owen was mistreated. No matter how smart he is, he’s still…

Just be careful. One day, he might remember; I don’t know what happened when Star took over his body. She could have made him immune to the Decree.

Immune to the…?


And, very briefly, Brandon’s eyes widened. It was enough that Owen glanced at him, squinting. “Something wrong? Oh—you must be talking to Barky.”

“Oh—yeah, sorry.”

“What’s he telling you?”

“Uh—” Curse that Perceive of his. “Nothing important.”

Everything I say is importan—

“He’s just blowing steam from his big head, is all.” Brandon shrugged.

You are treading on thin ice.

Go have a candy bar.


“Are you guys… fighting?” Owen said. “But he’s… Arceus.”

Zeke chirped again. “Brandon and Arceus butt heads sometimes, but that’s because Arceus still respects Brandon enough to understand when he doesn’t agree.”

Brandon clicked his tongue thoughtfully. “Yeah, which is sorta something you should think about, Owen.”

The Charizard scratched his chin, letting out a confused growl. “I’m still trying to think about what you mean by calling me feral. I’m… not feral. I’m nothing like Enet. I—I mean, no offense to Enet, but… she and I don’t act the same at all.”

“Yeah, you don’t. You were raised civilized for a long time. But at your core… the way Eon made you… you’ve got a feral mind. And there are some instincts that come with it.”

“Not just feral,” Zeke said, looking at Brandon. “Feral Charizard aren’t the way he is. It’s something else. He’s like me.”

“Yeah.” Brandon sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “Owen, you’re… domesticated.”

“I’m… what?” Owen said, wings drooping already. “Domesticated… but that’s… those are the things that you do to ferals in farms…”

“Not always,” Brandon said. “But a domestic mind like you—you have a tendency to be docile, and you’re happy to follow orders, and maybe you have trouble… doing things on your own. Like there’s a nagging feeling that you might not be doing something right if you step out and do something you want. You looked up to Amia, or Eon, or even Anam. That’s natural. But then… I dunno. Does that make sense? Maybe it was how you were raised, or maybe it’s just an instinct, but… that’s how you are.”

Owen’s eyes were glazed over, lost in his own head. Brandon hummed, hoping he didn’t say too much all at once.

But then, Owen smiled, though there was a hint of bitterness in it. “So, Eon made me this way because he wanted me to be obedient.”

There it was. Brandon knew that he could’ve easily said nothing here. And if he said nothing, there would be no chance that Owen would want to be with Eon again, ever. Eon made Owen domestic. Eon wanted a follower and a soldier. A living weapon, happy to do as Eon commanded. That was the narrative.

Brandon, don’t do it.

He could say nothing. But that wasn’t the truth. And seeing Owen there, sniffling, alone, confused, without any idea what he was supposed to do with himself—in over his head, way over his head. And he was supposed to lie?

…Screw off.

“No,” Brandon said. “I don’t think that’s what Eon wanted.”

Brandon. Do NOT.

This is the hill that I’m gonna die on, Boss. Don’t push me, or I’ll tell him even more.


Barky growled—no, he was seething, now—but his silence meant that Brandon had won. And he should at least hold up his own side of the bargain.

“Eon still cares deeply about you.”

And to this, Owen looked up at Brandon with stunned, wide eyes.

The Steel Guardian continued. “If you just talked to him, maybe when things have calmed down, you might still be able to convince him to give this all up peacefully. We can end the Hunters, we can figure out what to do with the Orbs, and then we can just live in peace. It’s not too late. Besides, you know what? We have bigger problems to look into right now. Do you know about the wraiths?”

Brandon figured the pause that came after was from Owen still trying to process the fact that a member of the Trinity just defended Eon. But eventually, the domesticated Charizard replied. “The wraiths… I know a little bit, kinda. I heard some of Star’s thoughts while I was, uh, under her control, sorta. But it was all frantic and scrambled, so…”

“That’s something we need to put our heads together for. The Trinity, Star’s minions, and even the Hunters. I don’t think any of us want to deal with that, so maybe if we cooperate, we’ll be able to work out our differences along the way. Fair?”

Zeke chirped again. “Yeah! Let’s make a little vow about it.” The Blaziken spat an ember onto his talons and held it forward.

Owen tilted his head again. “What’s this?”

“I dunno! It’s something Brandon does! He calls it a fist-bump!”

“Oh, I know about those!” Owen perked up. “Sure!” He breathed a flame onto his fist. Then, the Blaziken and Charizard punched together, just a little knock, where the two flames intertwined and spun into a tiny tornado above their arms. Brandon saw the embers’ lights reflect off of their eyes.

“Are you gonna do the vow, too?” Zeke asked Brandon.

“Uhh—” Brandon glanced worriedly at their fists. “Let’s say I did but without the fire stuff. I think I’ve been Steel for too long to want to actually, you know, do that.”

Owen smiled, but then looked down. “Yeah…”

Brandon tilted his head. “Something bothering you still, I take it.”

The feral-minded Charizard winced. “Was it that obvious?”

“C’mon, Owen. I used to be a trainer. Being in tune with Pokémon is kinda my thing.”

That earned a weak smile, but he looked down again, tapping his claws together in thought. Brandon couldn’t hide his small grin. He was already trying to think for himself, in a way. Good.

“I… I just wanted to talk about one last thing, actually. But—But I don’t know if you’d be any help or not, you know?”

Brandon puffed out his chest. “I bet I’ll be a help. C’mon, tell me what you’ve got. I can take anything!”

“I just wanted to talk about Zena.”

After a short, delayed reaction, Brandon’s shouldered barely sagged. Despite everything, after all this philosophy, the existential crises, the various factions and truths and narratives, this was somehow the most difficult subject that kid could have thought of.

Relationships.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 72 – Water and Fire

Zena’s realm was entirely underwater, complete with bubbly sea beds and rich, colorful reefs of coral. An undersea cavern lined with red and pinkish polyps marked their entrance into the Water Realm, opening into a shimmering field of white sand and dark green seaweed. Few spirits lived here, though those that did peeked out and watched Zena’s return.

Ever since she’d come to Hot Spot, things felt a lot more cheerful and much less gloomy in the Water Realm. Even the shimmer of the water’s surface seemed brighter. Zena propelled herself out of the cavern first and looked back. “I want to thank you for escorting me, Man—er… Manny?”

Manny’s eyes were wide, paws covering his mouth in shock.

“Ah. I forgot. You should be able to breathe here, Manny, if you… simply think to do so.”

Manny gave Zena an incredulous look, a few bubbles escaping his snout. Behind him, Azu proudly beat his chest, smiling triumphantly at being in an environment that favored his Watery side. Verd, meanwhile, was rolling his eyes at Roh, who was flailing in dramatic, agonizing pain, the flames on his head and tail bubbling in the water. They eventually went out, and the Infernape turned belly-up, motionless and dead.

The Chesnaught jabbed Roh on the side. The fiery fighter puffed out a plume of hot air and flailed again, glaring at Verd. In response, he pointed at Zena; after following the claw, Roh shook his head and gave a polite bow.

She had to admit—it was odd to see an Infernape without their fire. He almost seemed… bald. “I suppose you’re all a bit out of your elements.”

Azu shook his head emphatically and opened his mouth. Huge air bubbles escaped him in a rhythm that could only suggest laughter.

Yen, behind them all, shook his head, eyes lowered.

“Well, I won’t keep you,” Zena said. “I can handle myself from here. Return to your realm; I have… a few things that I want to do.”

Manny and the Fighters tilted their heads.

“Do you have an idea where Owen may have gone? I have my doubts about him returning to Hot Spot so soon, the way he was… but I also don’t think he’d remain with Eon. Surely he’d…”

To this, they could only reply with pensive frowns.

Zena smiled sadly. “Well, I will figure it out. Thank you. Please, we can talk again in the living world.”

They all nodded—Roh the most enthusiastic—and spun around to return into the cavern that they had entered from. Zena flew through the water, making little conversation with the shy spirits of the ocean, until she found a great dip in the sea floor.

A few other watery spirits floated about listlessly in the sea. They spared a glance at Zena and gave awkward waves; Zena did the same with her left eyebrow. She wondered how they were all doing. Admittedly, she hadn’t spoken to them very much. They had grown lonely together, often spending most of their time sleeping or hibernating to waste the years of eternity away. It wasn’t much of a waste if there was no end to it.

A Swampert stared at Zena from the bottom of the riverbed, right at the edge of the abyss. He waved a huge arm her way, and Zena waved back. She figured most of them were already caught up in everything, and, briefly, she wondered if she should stay back to talk to them more.

Owen spoke with his spirits now and then. They always had useful advice. She’d tried that with them, too, but perhaps she had been too depressing and lonely before. Who would want to hang around someone like that, if only out of obligation? Her tail twitched and her eyebrows curled up. No, that wasn’t a healthy way to look at things.

She had a small bit of time. Perhaps she could spare a chat with them. She drifted toward the Swampert, whose eyes widened slightly. “Hello,” Zena greeted.

“Hey,” Swampert replied.

Zena wasn’t sure what to do next. And neither did Swampert. They both stood there; he played with his massive hands. Zena curled one brow around the other. “Um… Have things been well here?”

“Yeah.” Swampert rubbed the left fin on his head. “Well, actually, we’ve been a little anxious. Probably felt a bit of it from you. Are things… okay?”

Zena frowned.

“Is Owen alright?”

“I want to find out—but—but actually, if—could I ask you something about that?” The words fell like sand into the undersea valley. “I—does he want to be left alone, truly? I don’t actually—”

“H-hang on, hang on. What actually happened? Did he tell you to faff off?”

“No, not quite, just—oh, I don’t know,” Zena admitted with a little, irritated sigh. “It’s my fault, not his. I… oh, let me just touch the Core. I’ll share my memories with you.”

“Sure.”

By now, quite a few spirits had gathered to the curious display with their host. Zena shrank at their eyes; she didn’t expect so many to still be around. Why would they bother? They should have crossed the aura sea to someplace less…

In that endless darkness, she saw a tiny pinprick of golden light. Descending, the dot grew into a large sphere; she gently curled around the golden Core, resting her head on top of its tingling warmth.

Swampert closed his eyes, as did the many other aquatic Pokémon. Several of them were Milotic, though they were smaller than Zena, perhaps intentionally. A Skrelp and a kelp-themed Grovyle inched closer with concern as the memories flooded over. A transparent, crystalline Solrock rumbled sadly. “Poor Owen…”

“He’s gone through so much,” Zena agreed. “But I don’t know how to comfort him at all. I just… left!”

“You had to. If you stayed, he’d just feel like you were trying to order him around.”

“Are you sure?” Zena looked to a pensive Nidoking with a Vaporeon-like lower half.

“I’m sure,” Nidoking said. “But maybe if he’s not back yet, you an ask around for where he went. It’s all about timing, you know. Why, with my mate…” He reached out and embraced a blue Marowak next to him, who giggled in reply. “It was all about the timing. Sometimes they’ll be upset, but when they cool down, they want nothing more than to hear your voice. And knowing that Charizard, he’ll want nothing more than that pretty soon. I feel it.”

“I have to agree,” Marowak said after Nidoking let her go. “From what memories you just showed us, there’s no way Owen dislikes you. He’s confused. The only one he’s mad at is Star.”

Almost instantly, everyone in the sphere of spirits darkened their expressions.

Swampert slammed his fist into a palm. “Unforgivable…”

The various Milotic mirrored Zena’s similarly seething expression, but Nidoking raised an arm. “Let’s focus on the positive for now. For Owen, right?”

That was enough to calm her down. She rested her head on her Orb. “I… I need to speak to you more often. I’ve neglected you all so much and drove so many of you away with my… tendencies.”

“We were all in a bad place,” Nidoking said. “We didn’t want to leave you because of how lonely you were, but it just dragged us down, too.”

A stiff silence suddenly followed. A dark thought crossed Zena’s mind, and she wondered if the others thought it, too. Not wanting to let it fester—trying to take advantage of her newfound openness with her spirits—she said, “I wonder if Owen’s the same way…”

“I’d like to think there’s more to it than that,” Marowak said curtly. “If you’re so concerned, that’s all the more reason to see him. Communicate. That’s how relationships work, you understand?”

Nidoking harrumphed. “We’re in this whole mess because nobody talked to each other. Nobody wanted to. People kept secrets and plans. Don’t do that to your mate.”

“M-mate. Right.” Zena stared into the Core, blushing slightly. “Do you really think that’s possible? Between us? I—I’d love to… oh, I won’t tell this to Owen, not yet—timing, you said—but oh, to be able to settle down one day, perhaps an egg or two…”

A few of the spirits laughed. A twisting, crushing pressure that had plagued Zena loosened steadily.

“One step at a time, Zena,” Marowak said. “You need to find Owen, first. I have faith that he’ll love to see you.”

The Water Guardian looked into the Core. “Thank you. I’ll… do my best. Please, be there for me… even if it’s, er, in spirit.” She pressed harder into the Core. Everything faded to white.

Zena opened her eyes, now at the bottom of a new cave floor—her lake within Hot Spot. It was good to be home. Rising from the depths, she blinked away the darkness she presumed was because of being inactive for so long. But it didn’t go away. Next, she feared that she had gone blind, somehow—but then her natural, Mystic glow contradicted the thought. She glanced at one of the mushrooms, realizing that they had gone completely dark.

“H-hello?” Zena called. Where did the light go? Hot Spot was typically very warm, yet now, it felt almost frigid. Perhaps it was all relative, but the darkness didn’t bode well. Amia kept Hot Spot illuminated at all times.

She slithered out of her lake and turned to the first sign of light. “A-ah—” She didn’t expect it to be so bright. Something was glowing brightly in the middle of Hot Spot. There were shadowy figures nearby in familiar shapes, silhouettes against the central light source. She saw two: Manny, based on the muscular Lucario frame compared to Rhys’ lithe one, and ADAM’s twitching form nearby.

She slithered silently, feeling guilty for eavesdropping, but she didn’t want to interrupt their conversation at the same time.

Only… she didn’t hear them talking. They were looking at the ground, playing some sort of board game; Valle must have generated it for them. Zena suppressed a giggle; Valle, making stones for them to move around? How much he had grown.

“Ugh, these rules are stupid,” Manny shouted, raising his paws in the air. Zena wasn’t surprised that Manny would struggle with a game of smarts; he was all muscle, wasn’t he? Just like his spirits. Very headstrong… not that he’d need much else if he could just punch his problems away. Now that she thought about it, he really was the perfect host for mutants, if they enjoyed fighting as much as ferals seemed to.

Manny certainly got back to his realm quickly

“The rules are well-defined. There is no ambiguity.” ADAM twirled his head, then used his beak to flick one of the disk over another. “King this unit.”

The disk grew in height.

“How am I even supposed to win?!” Manny said. “This is totally unfair, you know that?”

Manny was speaking very oddly. And he didn’t usually get this openly frustrated, did he? Zena squinted, wondering if—

“Star, you should consider thinking more patiently.”

Zena froze. Of course Manny wouldn’t have returned yet. Star was already here—and she must have told the others… No. They wouldn’t believe her so easily. And why was Valle glowing? She continued listneing.

“Yeah, well…” Star flicked a digit over one of her pieces, claiming two of ADAM’s in one swoop. ADAM countered with a move that he had clearly planned, cutting the rest of Star’s army in half. She sputtered incoherently, flashing a fierce glare at ADAM. He drifted backward nervously. “…Ugh. Forget it. I surrender.” She fired a small Aura Sphere at one of her own pieces, shattering it. “I guess I suck at all kinds of patience.”

Zena kept herself from snorting. Certainly, you do.

“Yes, you do,” Valle said, earning a flinch from Zena. “Despite how you two often clash, you and Step are not very different. Hasty. Quick to draw conclusions. Quick to take action. Yet in the long term, I do not believe your actions provide much benefit.”

“Excuse me, quick to take action?” Star growled, leaning forward to grab one of the disks. “I spent hundreds of years just sitting by and letting things happen because I didn’t want to step in and mess things up. I was hoping that the Hunters would just… misstep. They were never strong enough to take a Guardian down without my help, you know? But then they just kept going, and… and by then, all the Guardians were all isolated, and…”

“So now you are overcompensating by taking action too quickly, instead of not quickly enough.”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“A number of things would have been more appropriate than stealing Owen’s body. You could have tried speaking with Eon, or listened in on what they were saying. Perhaps, if Eon tried to control Owen, you could have taken over to help him. Instead, you are now the one who overstepped.”

It was almost like Star was entering a battle stance, but she had no intention of fighting. Instead, the Lucario looked down, breathing out sharply.

“Hello, Zena,” Valle said.

“Z-Zena?” Star jolted up. “H-hi! Zena! Um—I, uh… sorry about… look, if you’re looking for Amia, Hecto’s grabbing her now.”

Zena was in no mood to speak to her directly. It wasn’t just a misstep. Star’s lapse in judgement showed what she truly thought about Owen: a mere tool to get what she wanted, a weapon to use against her enemies. Just like everyone else.

Star cleared her throat. “So, anyway—"

“Do not speak to me.” There was no emotion in her tone, only enough coldness to rival Step’s power.

Star, too stunned, shrank back with her tail between her legs.

Then, Zena turned to the others, bowing politely. “Hello, Valle, ADAM. I’m actually looking for Owen. Did he return home yet?”

“No,” Valle said.

“Star may know,” ADAM added.

Zena narrowed her eyes at the Porygon-Z, who buzzed nervously in response. She didn’t look at Star, even now, and instead said, “Well, what does she know?”

The Lucario shifted from left to right, no standing position, or perhaps any position, comfortable to maintain. “H-he flew off to, um, well, Hecto told me that he went to Brandon’s place.”

Brandon… why Brandon? What was so important about him that Owen would want to…

Thinking about why Owen wanted to leave, and it suddenly made more sense to Zena. Brandon had made an entire career in his human life with training Pokémon, leading them in a way that was apparently ethical. And Owen, having the same disposition…

“Well, if that’s the case, I will be going to him. Thank you.”

There was one place that she knew she could rely on to get to Owen quickly. Flying would take too long, especially from where she was… but they still had a faster way of getting to Brandon through Waypoints. They didn’t set one up for that strange factory, but they did set one up for Emily’s home, which was nearby. Perhaps she could pay a visit to her anyway—surely Emily wanted to see her again.

She quietly slithered into Rhys’ home, hoping that he wouldn’t disturb his meditation—was that even possible? At some point his spirit was simply gone from the body. She went past the kitchen table, glanced into Demitri and Mispy’s barren room, and then entered Rhys’ overstuffed room. The Lucario’s body leaned against the back wall, cross-legged on the bed. Elder was next to him, snoozing. Zena closed her eyes and, relying on her rudimentary aura sense, found that there was no life energy coming from Rhys. No sense in trying to wake him, and she didn’t want to disturb Elder. The giant Torkoal looked so cozy.

Still, it felt thieving to take his Badge…

Zena spared a few moments to fumble with a nearby sheet and ink by the table, writing a short note with her ribbons. I’m borrowing your Badge to see Owen. –Zena

That should do. Then, struggling against even more piles of junk, she searched for Rhys’ bag. From afar, it almost seemed organized, yet now that she was actually within his room, inspecting and searching for something, the illusion shattered. She couldn’t figure out what half of these things were for. She happened upon a strange bracelet with open slots along the outside, strange sticks that radiated some of Anam’s Mystic energy…

“Finally.” From the mess came a bag, and within it, a Badge. Owen had taught her how to use it; it was, thankfully, intuitive. Press the center, think of the destination, and hold it high.

Emily…

The salty air told her to open her eyes. The sun had already set, leaving a chill-wind to accompany the waves that washed over the shore. Signs of the old clash between Amia and Eon had all but vanished, the only sign remaining being the slightly smoother interior of the caves.

“Emily? Sorry for disturbing you, er…” She slithered out of the cave. If Emily wasn’t here, she’d know it—how does one miss a gigantic Lugia?

A great, white lump lay near the cave, curled up with her head tucked under her wing-flippers. “Zena?” Emily said with a groan. “Hi… sorry… I’m sick.”

Zena blinked, slithering closer to her. “Sick? …You can get sick?”

“I guess so.” She rolled onto her back, groaning again, while Tanneth emerged from beneath her wings.

“She’s been feeling kinda bad all day, but it got really bad now,” the Vaporeon said, nuzzling at her shoulders—she had to get on her hind legs to reach them, even with Emily lying down. “She wants to go rescuing other Pokémon, but she can’t do anything like this…”

Zena frowned, but then dug through her bag. “Well, I always bring some supplies along with me. Consider it a habit from Owen. Why don’t I give you a Pecha Berry? Or maybe a Heal Seed?”

“Oh, you don’t have to—”

“No, please,” Zena insisted. “Emily is my friend, too, even if… it’s been a while.” She produced both for her, offering the Pecha first. The berry wasn’t even as big as one of her teeth. “Er…” Not knowing what to do, Zena just tossed it in her partly opened mouth.

“Mm… a little sweet.” Emily rubbed at her belly, smiling. “I feel a little better!”

“Were you poisoned by someone, perhaps?” Zena said. “Here, take this Heal Seed, too. I—I really don’t know if just one Pecha can help you, Emily. Did you eat a Tentacruel or something?”

Emily ate the Heal Seed next; Zena could tell that the Lugia was recovering, bit by bit, and sighed. How could Emily get sick if she didn’t even sustain injuries properly? Something must have been terribly wrong, but she had no time to investigate further. “Emily, perhaps after I finish my, er, errand, I can return here with more supplies for you.”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Of course!” Zena laughed, hiding her mouth behind a ribbon. “Owen always talks about not knowing what to use his Heart funds for. This would be a wonderful opportunity.”

“There’s… is there more in your bag? Do you need it?” Emily asked.

“Only if you can spare some,” Tanneth said, nodding. “I just wanna see Em get better.”

“Well, I have a few more Pechas and Heals, but I’d rather save a few for…”

“No,” Emily said, poking a huge finger at the bag. “There’s… other things in there.”

“Oh, well, those aren’t… edible.”

“Can I see?”

Humoring her, Zena pulled out the first object she could find—a small Orb. “Well, this one is a Totter Orb, in case we run into trouble and need to escape during the confusion… but it’s not too reliable because of how chaotic the battleground becomes. Do you want to, er, inspect it?”

Zena offered it to Tanneth, who held it up to Emily’s nose. She crossed her eyes in a struggle to see it, then lunged her head forward, taking the Orb and Tanneth with it. The Vaporeon giggled and slipped out from the side of Emily’s jaws, but the Orb remained behind.

Zena heard something shatter. “E-Emily! That’s not edible!”

“Aaah…” Emily sighed, suddenly hopping onto her feet—the ground trembled. “That was amazing!” She looked down at Zena and grinned; her eyes were slightly crossed.

“Er—try not to move for a little while, Emily.” Then, she produced one more Orb, struggling with the concept that they were somehow helping. Did any blessed item help Emily? “Er, why not one more?” she said. “A Slow Orb, perhaps?”

Emily opened her mouth, eyes closed. With a nervous smile, the Milotic lobbed the sphere down her throat. This time, the dull smashing noise came from deeper within Emily, but it was destroyed all the same.

Emily gave a slow, approving nod to Zena, waving at an abnormally leisurely pace. “Oh, you’re… slowed, too. Er… apologies. I’ll return with more of our Orbs later, if it’s any help and you still aren’t feeling well.” She didn’t wait for Emily to nod, figuring she at least heard her. “Tanneth, thank you for looking after Emily. I’ll return with more Orbs tomorrow.”

“And thanks for bringing them! We’d go in and get them ourselves, but I don’t think Emily can figure out how to get around Kilo… and we also don’t have any money.” Tanneth stuck her tongue out playfully. “I’ve been feeling amazing lately, though!”

“Well, at least one of you do.” Zena giggled, but then slithered to the shoreline. “Sorry for intruding. I have to get going.”

“Okay, see you!” Tanneth waved.

Zena touched the water, making one more glance back at Emily when she finally shouted, “See you, Zena!” in half the speed. She slipped into, and became, the water, the currents rushing through the ocean.

She hoped that Owen wouldn’t mind. She thought back to the spirits within her; they seemed confident, so she had to be, too. Owen didn’t resent her, right?

<><><>​

Owen wasn’t sure how he wound up in this situation. From being possessed to telling everyone he knew and loved to go away, and now, sitting in front of a former human that he barely knew, laying bare his soul for him to evaluate.

A lot about what he had to say made sense. He didn’t like it, but having a ‘feral mind’ or whatever Brandon called it fit Owen too well. Pokémon of his world—some of them looked up to humans for leadership and guidance. They were domesticated. Like Zeke, his Blaziken. And Eon made him the same way, domesticated.

He understood that much. But that just led to a completely different problem. And, somehow, it felt even more pressing than anything else.

Brandon sighed, moving so he was sitting in front of Owen, legs crossed. Owen folded his wings around his chest, hiding beneath it for shelter.

“Alright,” Brandon sighed, shaking his head. “Look, I’m really good with the relationship between humans and Pokémon and stuff, but girl problems aren’t really my thing. But I’ll try. What about Zena?”

At least Brandon was willing to humor him, but now Owen didn’t know what to ask. How was he supposed to start with something like this?

“Just speak your mind, buddy. First thought.”

“What am I supposed to feel about her?”

The words surprised both of them. Brandon squinted, rubbing the back of his neck. “Eh… what? You want me to tell you? C’mon, I may tell Zeke to use Blaze Kick, but I don’t tell him to use Pay for Dinner.”

Owen stifled a laugh, looking away. “Y-yeah, I know, sorry. It’s just—what you said before. About having a tendency to follow what other people tell me, and… and stuff like that. What if… what if that’s the same way for Zena? I…” Owen had to look down. With his eyes closed, he started to feel around the factory, sensing all of the Poké Balls on the conveyer belts. He followed the tracks to the assembly line, and then tried to go back to the offices.

“Hey, Owen.”

“H-huh?” Owen looked up. Brandon’s eyes were on the ceiling.

“No offense, but you always getting distracted with that Perception of yours really drags down the pacing of my conversation. You mind turning it off?”

“I can’t,” Owen said. “I mean, I can take my horns out, but…”

“Does that hurt?”

“No, but… it’s… embarrassing.”

Brandon crossed his arms. “Nobody’s judging you. Just do it for now, alright? Get insightful while we talk. This is for Zena, right?”

Owen grunted; he didn’t know if it was his natural obedience or not, but he reached up and clicked them out. He placed them by his side, muttering, “Bet if I was less loyal, I’d still keep them…”

Brandon frowned and looked to Zeke, who just shrugged. “Look. Maybe saying you’re domesticated was too strong a word. It’s just, it’s sort of like Zeke. Back when I was a trainer, he was selected to be someone’s first Pokémon because he was just really friendly toward humans.”

“I thought they were cool,” Zeke said, going into a throwing stance. “Go, Zeke! Blaze Kick!” He tossed an invisible ball.

Brandon held up his arms in an entertained shrug. “It’s sort of to help trainers get to know how to work alongside Pokémon without, you know, more troublesome personalities.”

“Like Viper?” Zeke asked, giggling.

Brandon winced, tapping his chest. “Hey, I earned his respect eventually.” He then motioned to Owen. “It’s not like you’ll just blindly follow what others say. I mean, look at you now! You told Eon off, you beat up Star, and from what I’ve been told, you were a bit of a rebel to your folks from time to time.”

Owen, unconvinced, nodded anyway. It still felt like he was looking up to Eon when he probably shouldn’t have—like there was a nagging feeling in the back of his head that Eon was worth following. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t be. Not after everything he did.

“Look, you’re asking how you’re supposed to feel about Zena,” Brandon said, which distracted Owen from his thoughts. “So what, how far’d you guys take it? First base, second base?”

“…What?”

“Like, how close do you guys get? How much have you, uh, done together?”

“Well, we do a lot together. Every night, usually, after we’re done sparring and meditating and stuff like that, we’d read a book together, or we’d play marbles or something—you know, nothing too noisy so we didn’t disturb anyone who actually had to sleep or relax.”

“Okay, I know, but—never mind. So you guys are close, right? Like, how serious is this? I’m trying to get a feel for how much you guys actually do together.”

“What do you mean, do?”

“Like, you seem like the kind of guy to really wait until you guys do anything physical, if you ask me.”

That much seemed to be true; maybe Brandon had a good read for him even with this after all. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Well, have you guys kissed?”

Owen’s face reddened beneath his orange scales. “W-well—yeah. We did.”

“Alright, that’s first base. How about touch? Have you guys, you know… touched?”

“Oh, all the time.” The Charizard nodded. “Usually while we’re reading, Zena would wrap her ribbons around—”

“Okay, okay, don’t need to hear that.” Brandon waved his arms in the air.

Owen blinked. Humans had odd customs; how was her wrapping her ribbons around him while they read worse than kissing? He wasn’t going to question it. “I guess we’re kinda serious.”

“I’ll agree there.” Brandon sighed, giving Owen an amused smirk. “Well, look at you.”

“What?”

“Landing a Milotic. Prettiest Pokémon in the world?”

Zeke let out a loud trill, like he was cooing at Owen enviously.

“Th—that’s not what I was—” Owen quickly brought his wings forward to hide. He spoke from behind them, giving his voice a muffled filter. “She’s pretty, but that’s not why—I mean—actually…”

“Aaah, come on, I’m just teasing. I get it. From what Boss keeps gossiping about, seems like you guys have decent chemistry. Maybe you’ll really get her in a knot if you start pumping iron, eh?” He flexed a bicep, but the phrase didn’t register with Owen. How does one pump iron?

Owen breathed out of his nose, finally coming out from his wings. “I know. I was… too stupid and my head was so scrambled that I didn’t even remember half the stuff we did together. She was a great friend for the whole time, though. Kept tolerating me being a huge idiot.”

“Hey, that was only slightly your fault,” Brandon said, shrugging. “You can’t help that you can barely remember anything. But look, what’s this got to do with what you’re asking me? Like, do you want to ask how to go on a date? Because I’ve got great one-liners if you’re doing that whole courtship thing now.”

“I—I don’t think Zena’s into that kind of thing. I’m more focused on…”

“Aww, c’mon, not just one?” Brandon asked. “Like, hey, girl, if I could rearrange the alphabet, I’d put U and I together.” He clicked his fingers, the metallic echo lasting several seconds.

Owen squinted, envisioning the alphabet. Those letters were pretty far apart; why would he arrange it like that? “…Wait—oh! Oh, I get it!” Owen gasped, suddenly laughing. “That’s really clever! But—I don’t know if I want to have a funny one like that. Wait—no! I’m not asking for a pickup line—we’re already courting!”

“Well, a lot of pickup lines can be substituted for little sweet nothings.” Brandon tapped his chin, but then performed a small flourish, holding his right palm out, “Hey, baby, you’ve got a bit of cute on your face.”

Owen blinked several times, his wings unfolding at the same time that his face flushed. “W-wow, Brandon… I bet you had a lot of people trying to court you.”

“Not really.” Brandon crossed his arms. “Oh, I’ve got a good one. Between your Typings… oh, she’s the Water Guardian, right?”

“Yeah.”

Brandon cleared his throat, this time going on one knee, spreading his arms wide. “Zena, you’re the only body of water I’d ever swim in.”

Owen flushed again, recalling the time he actually had done that. “I—I think that one would make both of us pretty, uh, flustered.”

“Yeah, maybe that one was a bit much.”

“No, keep going!” Zeke suddenly interjected, leaning forward with wide eyes. “I want to hear more of your pickup lines! Oh, oh, I know!” Zeke chirped a few times, like he was trying to articulate himself. “Zena! You’re the only Water that makes my flame brighter!”

Owen gasped, slamming a fist into his other hand. “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

“You should totally tell that to her! I bet she’d totally swoon over it!”

Owen’s flame burned a bright yellow, the light in his eyes reflecting something similar.

“Hey, now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Brandon patted the air down. “Let’s pull things back for a second. You got sidetracked.”

The sudden seriousness of Brandon’s tone threw Owen off. He shook his head a few times, remembering why he had come in the first place. “Right—sorry. But… thanks for cheering me up a little. I feel a lot better about… I mean, I think I do.”

His flame returned to its usual orange; with it, his thoughts returned to the brief flashes of Zena staring so pleadingly at him in the Grass Core. No matter how many fancy human pickup lines he learned, or whatever other special secret techniques Brandon had, it wouldn’t mean much if that moment was going to be in the backs of their minds.

“Sounds to me like you’ve got a lot of self-doubt,” Brandon said. “Ever since you turned Zena away. Run that by me again? With all that recap you told me, I think I forgot a few of those details.”

“Y-yeah. Okay. Here’s the thing, I… I do like Zena. A lot. And if we can get more serious with that courtship thing… and I don’t mess it all up with my memory problems… “

“Hey, quit beating yourself down about that. I think, out of everyone, Zena would understand that the most. She’s already had to deal with it for a few moons already, right? Heh.”

Owen’s wings drooped at this. “Everyone knows. Zena’s just the one that it probably hurts the most.”

“Well, I figure it hurts your family, too,” Brandon said. “It isn’t like anybody here wanted your memories to be scrambled like they are. But that’s not really what this is about, is it?”

“No.” Owen heaved a sigh, accidentally puffing out an ember that scorched Brandon’s toes. “Sorry!”

“I’m good.” He used the bottom of one to rub the top of the other. “Go on. You turned Zena away like everyone else. Why? If you know you like her and you can trust her, why’d you do it?”

“Because…” Owen’s voice became quieter, more flashes of Zena in his mind. They were starting to feel so cold, like he’d thrown it all away when he shouldn’t have. He squeezed his hands, reaching for one of his horns so he at least had something to hold.

“Hey, don’t get distracted,” Brandon warned.

“I—I wasn’t gonna. I’m just… I need something to hold.”

“You can hold me,” Zeke offered, scooting closer. He wrapped his arms around Owen, earning a small, reluctant smile from the Charizard.

Owen finally composed himself enough to say, “The reason I pushed Zena and everyone else away back there was because… I realized that it’s all part of my instincts. The fact that I just trust anybody that’s stronger than me, or that seems smarter than me, or just… maybe knows something I don’t. I just… I just automatically trusted them. Star, Anam, Rhys, Mom… and maybe even Zena.” The final part was almost inaudible.

“And maybe even Zena,” Brandon repeated.

“And what you told me just confirmed it. I’m… domesticated. Eon made me… docile.” Owen put the back of his finger to his forehead, leaning down. “The Bug Guardian, Trina—she and I told the rest of my team that even though we have an instinct to fight, we still got to choose who we fought for, and why we fought. B-but we do even have that?! Or are we just—are we just predetermined to do that, too?! Just designed to… to always…!” Owen covered his eyes, flame blazing white. “What am I? Who am I supposed to be? NO! Why—why am I even saying that? Why am I saying, who am I supposed to be? Th-there I go again, asking and asking for an answer…!”

Zeke struggled to keep Owen composed, his talons gently wrapping around his arms next. He chirped quietly, “It’s okay, it’s okay. My trainer knows.”

Owen shuddered a few times. “I need to stop breaking down l-like this. It can’t be healthy. Even Mystics can only take so much, huh?” He blubbered out a laugh, wiping his nose.

Brandon waited a while until Owen was calmer. “Well, Owen,” he said, “I don’t really know what to tell you. That Bug Guardian had a good point that you got to choose who to fight for… but you know, I think now that you’re aware of your instincts, you might be able to choose who you want to follow, too. It’s not ideal… and maybe one day, you can figure out how to follow yourself, too. But I’m just speaking realistically here. The truth is, you aren’t ready to stand on your own. You don’t have the training to do it. So if you want my opinion? You should start looking at people who can help you think independently. Someone who might ask for your opinion just as much as you’d ask them.”

“Someone like… Zena?” Owen said.

“Well, hey, you said it, not me,” Brandon shrugged, though he grinned anyway. “Ideally, couples are equals. Sure, in truth, that’s not always the case… but hey, you can get pretty close. And I think Zena’s well aware of how you are.”

“I’ll have to tell her the truth, though,” Owen said. “I dunno if she’d… think of me the same way after that.”

“Owen, I dunno if that’s a problem,” Brandon said. “For one, she’s already stuck with you this long. She just wants to be there for you.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Owen said, claws scraping the ground. “And even though I knew that, I still told her to go.”

“I bet she understood why you did that, too. After all… with everything you’ve been through, why do you think she left so easily?”

“Because—” Owen looked up, but he couldn’t find the answer. Brandon’s head tilted to the left, inquiring for Owen’s theory. “Because she…”

“You think maybe she already had an idea why you wanted to be left alone?” Brandon said. “She’s not psychic, but I bet she’d have some good intuition on you. After all, how could you know who you are if you’re always attached to someone else’s orders?” The Machoke shrugged. “You know, if you want my opinion in all this, I say you just think about what I said, really rationally-like, and then decide if any of this is even worth your time. Who’s worth it to you? Anybody? Everybody? Nobody?”

“There are too many of them that I care about,” Owen said. “Even if I think about it rationally—”

“Ah, ah,” Brandon held up a finger. “No knee-jerk reactions. Those are your instincts talking. Just let it simmer, alright? Just think about Zena for now. Let’s narrow it down. Thinking rationally, do you think Zena has your best interests in mind?”

“Of cour—”

Brandon gave Owen a stern glare, crossing his arms.

“R-right. Rationally.” Owen looked down, focused on his feet. “…We met by chance, in a way. I mean, I guess not really, but… I went to her on my own. And ever since then, we just… became friends. We cared about each other because we were in the same situation. And then we started reading together, playing some games… we trained together and… we were equals. I think out of everyone, she’s the one that I blindly followed the least. And I still cared what she had to say. I dunno if that counts as rational, but…” Owen paused, a thought crossing his mind. “She… she left. She left me in the Grass Core because I asked her to. She… she actually listened to me.”

“Which means what?”

“…That I’m not just someone who takes orders from her.” Owen squeezed his hands. “Zena… listened to me.”

“So what’s your answer?” Brandon asked. “She worth fighting for? And why?”

“She is,” Owen said. “I—I get that now. And it’s because she sees me as an equal. Not somebody to give orders to.”

“And that,” Brandon said, “is what makes a partnership work.”

Zeke pulled away from Owen and stretched. “It’s the philosophy of Pokémon training, too!” he said. “Even though humans are the ones that give orders, that’s because they can’t fight. We put our trust in the human to do the planning for us so we can focus on fighting. But if we’re mistreated… that’s not a good bond at all.”

“It’s kind of a weird way to look at it, but it’s true,” Brandon said. “All bonds are a bit of give and take. Trainer to Pokémon, mate to mate… I guess that’s the best advice I can give you.”

Owen sniffed one final time, wiping the last of his tears away. “I don’t get a lot of your human culture, Brandon, but I think I understand what you mean.” He felt the weight from his shoulders lighten. “Now I just have to repeat all that to Zena somehow.”

“Heh.” Brandon motioned to Owen’s horns. “I think she gets it.”

Figuring the conversation was over, the mutant leaned for his horns and snapped them back on. The moment his Perception was back in full force, Owen’s eyes widened and he spun around.

“Z-Zena?!”

She was right by the entrance, only a few seconds away, with tears and a big, sad smile on her face. One of her ribbons covered her mouth, while the other one waved at Owen in greeting. Without thinking, Owen stumbled forward; Zena returned the favor by slithering the rest of the way, wrapping her neck around his and embracing the rest of him with her ribbons.

“Oh, Owen… I’m so sorry…”

“N-no, I—I wasn’t—how much did you…?”

“Right after we stopped giving you some hot pickups,” Brandon said. “Sorry for lying to you like that, but Barky told me that Zena was on her way here. Decided to stall for time until I spotted her at the entrance. Even Hecto pitched in to help out, told Zena to stay quiet before she went in. I figured it would be easier this way.”

Zena pulled away, nuzzling him. “I wanted to just go right up to you and tell you it was okay… but Brandon kept giving me the fiercest looks when I tried, when you weren’t looking. Oh, something about that presence…”

“I call it the trainer’s glare,” Brandon said with a smug grin. “Doesn’t matter if you’re domesticated or not, you can command a real presence when you need to. But I think deep down, you already knew to just let it happen.”

Zena shrugged Brandon off, focused on Owen. “I understand, Owen. Everything. You were just trying to figure out who you were again, and—and how can I blame you? I don’t. It hurt, but I don’t blame you, and… and you’re fine now, right?”

Owen’s grin wavered.

“Oh—don’t—don’t feel pressured. I understand.”

“No, that’s not—I’m fine with you. I just… it’s everyone else. I need to really sort things out for everyone else, still. Everyone… I can’t just go with my gut anymore. I can’t trust it.”

“Good, focus on that, alright?” The Steel Guardian clicked his fingers together to make another dull clanging. “Now get outta here. I kinda prefer the quiet. This is more socializing with folks that aren’t my spirits that I’ve done in a while, and I’m starting to feel all introverted.”

“Okay, okay,” Owen said, though he still grinned. “Oh, actually, but… Brandon, while you’re still here.”

“I mean, not like I’m going anywhere.”

“Can you tell me about why you follow Arceus?”

Brandon blinked, glancing to his left. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re talking about thinking rationally for everything, and how you can choose who to follow, and how it’s sort of a mutual respect sort of thing. So that’s probably the same thing between you and Arceus, right?”

“I guess it’s kinda like that,” Brandon said. “At least in the sense that we sorta listen to each other. I feel like we butt heads more often than we need to, but hey, Boss has a big ego. Then again, so does Star, and Eon… they’re all stubborn, if you ask me.”

“Yet you choose Bar—er, Arceus.” Owen didn’t want to prod so forcefully, but he didn’t think he was going to visit Brandon all that often. He wished he could—perhaps a change in his schedule would be helpful? But still, it would nag at him if he didn’t ask. “Why are you working for him?”

“Geh…” Brandon shrugged, looking over at Zeke. The Blaziken chirped again, uncertain, and looked at Owen.

“I don’t know,” Zeke said. “He says Star isn’t a responsible person.”

“Basically,” Brandon said, “I guess it’s sort of the lesser of two evils.”

“I suppose I can agree,” Zena said. “But from what Owen told me about Arceus, I’m not quite fond of him, either.”

“What Star did to Rim,” Owen said slowly. “Isn’t that… isn’t that exactly what he tried to do to me? He used those white lights and tried to…”

“Ehh…” Brandon rubbed the back of his head. “Yeah.”

Thoughts swirled around Owen’s head. Star never tried to do that—well, she did, back when he, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi had first become the full Alloy. But that was to keep them from rampaging. If anything, that was for their own good. But Barky…

“I’m not gonna excuse his actions,” Brandon said, “if you’re fishing for me to try to justify the way he is. He was just trying to take you out of Star’s paws before she used you against Eon. Because you’re susceptible to commands. If you trust someone enough, they could probably lead you right into spearheading a war.”

“W-war…” Owen’s heart suddenly raced. He shook his head. “I—I wouldn’t do that.”

“Right.” Brandon sighed, looking back. “Well, anyway. I’m gonna go back to meditating. You still want to stick around?”

“No, I think I should start heading back,” Owen said. “To… Hot Spot.”

“Hot Spot?” Zena said. “You’re sure?”

Owen nodded. “If I think about it rationally… Mom and Dad raised me for centuries, and they only wanted me to live a normal life. Yeah, there were… a lot of lies… but did they ever actually try to hurt me? They love me. So… if anybody deserves me, it’d be them.”

“Deserves you.” Zena blinked at Owen in surprise. “That’s very… assertive of you, Owen.”

“Oh.” He shrank down. “Was that bad?”

“No, no, not at all,” Zena said. “You need a bit of that. Perhaps I should think that way for a little while, too.”

Owen grinned, but then looked behind him. “Thanks for everything, Brandon,” Owen said. “Sorry about disturbing your meditation.”

“Eh, I’m over it.” He waved him off. “Fly safe.”

“See you!” Zeke chirped.

“See you,” Owen chirped back.

Brandon and Zena exchanged entertained looks. Deciding to take the scenic route back, Owen and Zena took to the skies under the cover of twilight.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Special Episode 6 – You Promise

Sunlight filtered through stained glass and onto the Pokémon congregation in the audience chamber of a pristine, white temple. Long, large seats covered the majority of the room, only half-full. At the front was a Goodra, riddled with countless scars and old, old wounds. He recited off of a book—this time, the Book of Arceus—to the audience, which seemed to be paying attention, or at least feigning it.

Anam shut the book a moment too quickly, sending a cloud of dust into the air. He suppressed a sneeze, wincing at the particles that stuck to his arms and chest. That was going to take a long time to get off…

His single, green eye scanned the temple audience. Two Tyranitar sat at the front seats, grinning at Anam when he finished, though the left one looked like he had just woken up. Off near the middle-right of the audience were two other Pokémon, standing up at the sound of the book closing. Near the back corner was a group of younger Pokémon quietly chattering with one another, stopping only when they realized the Goodra had stopped talking. They glanced nervously at one another.

“Thank you all for coming!” Anam said to the handful of Pokémon. “We’ll have another holy day in twenty days!” Because five days was too often nowadays. “I’ll make sure to put notices up on Quartz Square when that day comes! See you, and thank you!” He waved, though half of them had already shuffled out. Anam kept smiling until everybody left.

All but one of the Tyranitar. “Hey, Anam!” He waved him down, lumbering across the aisle.

“Hey, Rora,” Anam said. “Did I do well? I think I made some of them a little bored…”

“I think you did great.” Rora patted Anam on the shoulder, careful to avoid a new bruise that had formed from his last dive into a Dungeon. Rora brought his hand back, slime connecting it to the Goodra’s shoulder. “You didn’t stumble over your words or anything.”

“I know! I did so well that time! I just wish there were more people!” He lunged forward, and for just a moment, Anam saw a flash of terror in the Tyranitar’s eyes. In a caring embrace, Anam heard the slime squish between them. “Thanks for listening, Rora. I know you heard that story a lot.”

“Y-yeah… that’s great… real great…” Rora slowly pulled away, wincing at the many strands that tied them together like some twisted sense of fate. “It’s always good to hear the story again. You notice new things, you know?”

Anam grinned, stepping through the temple doors and into the afternoon sun. He breathed through his nose, opening his right eye. He tried to open his left, but it didn’t quite work.

Rora winced. “Are you alright?”

“Huh? Yeah, why?”

The Tyranitar looked away. “It’s just, a lot of those injuries seem really painful. You’re more scar than skin.”

“Oh, it doesn’t hurt! Well, this one does, but that’s because I just got it from the last blessing.” Anam pat his shoulder gingerly, rubbing at the darkened bruise. “And Goodra scar easily, remember?”

“You need to stop flying solo for Dungeons.” Rora crossed his arms and growled. “Your mother did fine because she had you and your dad to help cover her blind spots, but going alone keeps getting you injured one way or the other. And also, your Mom was huge. I didn’t realize how big she was until I realized you, um… you’re smaller. Well, normal.”

“It’s not that bad,” Anam said. “It was only bad once!” He held up his right hand, as if to bring up a finger, but it was missing. He hastily swapped for the other hand, which had a proper pointer digit. “How come you’re bringing this up, anyway?”

Rora tensed. “It’s… because we found another Dungeon that has to be blessed. But it’s… in Rotwood Fen.”

The color drained from Anam’s expression, but he held up his smile nonetheless.

“But we set that place as restricted,” Anam said, voice quivering. “Nobody’s allowed to go there.”

“I know,” Rora said. “But recently, someone got close to that place, and they spotted a wraith at the border of the forest. Further than it had ever gone before. And our scouts are saying that it’s getting a lot closer to the Chasm of the Void, too. And who knows what’ll happen if those two come into contact somehow.”

Anam frowned. He hadn’t visited the Chasm in a long time. It was too close to Rotwood Fen, and it was such a long walk. Most fliers weren’t too keen on carrying him, either. Nate… hopefully he would be okay. He didn’t want the wraiths to get him.

“No,” Anam said. “I’ll go alone.”

“But Anam, that place was that killed your—”

Anam abruptly brought his hands to his ears, loudly singing a psalm. “O Arceus, let your light shine on—”

“ANAM!” Rora bumped his fist against Anam’s unbruised shoulder. “Stop. The wraith perimeter has been steadily moving toward the Chasm for a while. It’s getting too close. I know you keep saying that dark crater isn’t something we need to worry about, but what if the wraiths reach it, huh? What then? We have to stop it before it gets to that point. And I’m not letting you go alone.” Rora turned around. “I got a bunch of us together. A squad of eight, plus me and you. We’re gonna be ready this time. But I need you to be our figurehead, alright? Like always. Oh, and that whole divine protection stuff.”

Anam shook his head. “N-no, no. It’s not good there. It—it’ll be fine! We just have to keep praying to Arceus, and Mew, and eventually if things get bad, they’ll—”

“Anam.” A rumble echoed from the back of his throat. “Look, I know that you want to keep up that whole faith thing… and I get it. You lead the temple, you want to follow your mother’s footsteps. But the Book of Arceus taught us that if we need to do something, we have to take action ourselves. The Book of Mew only says that Mew will help us once everything else is lost, and I don’t want it to come to that point. We can’t rely on them to step in. What ever happened to Zygarde, huh? He barely visits anymore.”

“H-he’s busy! He’s busy trying to summon Mew again!” Anam nodded fervently. “I saw Mew myself, and She could totally help us out when she’s at full strength! We just need to have more faith in her, and pray!”

“Is that what She told you?” Rora said. “Or are you just guessing that based on what the Book of Mew says?”

“Isn’t—isn’t that the same thing?” Anam said defensively. “Mew… told me that she just needs more time to help. That she isn’t needed yet. That’s all… so that wraith problem is just fine!”

Rora’s eyes narrowed. “We’re going to be at the entrance to Rotwood Fen in two days. We’re leaving tomorrow. If you don’t come, we’re going to investigate on our own. Now what?”

Anam froze. “Y-you can’t go in. You’ll… you’ll die.”

“Then you’ll come with us to help, won’t you?”

“No. I’m gonna go in myself, and—”

“We’re going in no matter what,” Rora said. “You will die if you go in. Your Mom died. So, we’re going to back you up. I’m sick of you going in solo, getting hurt, and then smiling like everything’s okay. It’s not. Quit trying to act like God and let us help you.”

Anam stood still. He looked back at the bell tower—the bell itself had long since rusted into uselessness, but it was still there as a figure. He looked at Rora again, but he was already lumbering away.

“Rora, wait!” Anam said. “I’ll… I’ll go. But you have to promise to stay close! And to run away if it gets bad! Okay?!”

The Tyranitar didn’t turn around, but he replied in a yell. “Sure. But you’ll be running away with us!”

Anam nodded, but he knew that he still needed to prepare. While it would take a lot of energy out of him—and he wasn’t nearly as practiced as he wished he would be—he had to put some of those new, blessed equipment to use.

<><><>​

“By the holy names of Arceus, and under Your divine power, may our travels be blessed and our paths clear. We ask for Your mercy and for our pure wishes to be granted. We beg for good luck today so that we may continue enjoying Your world and continue praising Your name in life. By Your divine light.”

“By Your divine light,” the crowd repeated.

Anam clapped his hands together. “Perfect!” He spread his arms out to them, accidentally creating a trail of green slime between his hands. “Are we all ready? Then let’s go in!”

Right behind Anam was Rotwood Fen, as dead as ever. The ground was gray and murky with a thin layer of unknown mud. The cold, heavy, humid air sent a shiver down half of the Pokémon in front of Anam. Among them were a few friends and colleagues of the Hundred Hearts—a small collection of fighters meant to defend the town and keep resources plentiful during its steady growth.

Rora led them, and he led this squad, now. “You got it, Anam. Lead the way and we’ll stay back.”

A Scrafty wobbled next to Anam, shuddering. “H-how unsafe is it? I’ll fight as hard as I can, but…”

“It’ll be fine!” Anam said, reaching forward to shake her hand. He tugged her forward for a hug, her short stature bringing her only up to the Goodra’s belly. “You’ll be nice and safe.” He held the back of her shoulders assuredly. “I promise.”

She nearly melted in his embrace, closing her eyes. Anam knew that she liked these hugs—even if the size was awkward, he wondered if it was his size that made her feel safer. She pulled away, brushing off the slime as politely as she could with a conjured veil of darkness. “I have faith in you, then.”

An Absol barked next. “Look, I’ve already got a really, really bad feeling about this place, but it always feels a little better with you around, Anam. So… I’m gonna have some faith, too.”

A Linoone spoke up next. “But use that sixth sense of yours to tell us if something bad is coming.” He pawed at his ears. “Forget faith in luck, if you sense something bad, we need to bail.”

Others in the group murmured in agreement.

Anam nodded. “If something bad happens, I’ll go back and we can prepare more. That’s the promise, okay?!” He clasped his hands together. “Nobody has to die!”

“Then let’s go,” Rora said, marching forward. Anam went right beside him, raising his arm to summon his one tendril of light. It created a golden barrier around them, spiraling in a half-dome, and coated the ground beneath them in that same radiance.

They hadn’t walked very far at all before the familiar distortion of space, rippling and bending the light, flashed before them. Anam took a steady breath. “It won’t be easy to get out once we go inside,” he said. “I wish it was still just a normal forest…” But since the last time he’d come here, a Dungeon had formed. He’d have to use a lot of divine energy to break out by force.

“Just save enough energy for an escape, alright?” Rora said.

“Yeah. Okay. It should be easy!” Anam nodded, stepping through the Dungeon barrier. “The same energy I use to bless it, but… for us! Easy, h-ha…” Anam fiddled with his fingers again.

“Do you have enough energy for all of us?” Rora asked worriedly.

“Oh, definitely.”

“AaaAAA—I really don’t like the feeling I just got.” Absol shuddered, shaking her head furiously. “It feels like we’re already surrounded!”

“Surrounded?” Anam asked, gulping. They had entered the Dungeon only moments ago. Was that just the distortion messing with Absol’s perception? Or—

“Left!” Linoone shouted.

Rora slammed his foot on the ground; seconds later, a spire of stone pierced through a nearby tree. It shrieked, black matter erupting from its body. It evaporated into nothing.

“Trevenant…?” Cacturne said.

“No.” Anam gulped. “That was just something to look like one.”

“Wraiths… already…!”

“No time! Let’s go, Anam. Stay close! If anybody slows down, carry them! Okay?”

Anam stayed in the center of the crowd, making sure his radiant barrier kept everybody inside.

It didn’t take very long for more wraiths to show up, though most of them were deterred by Anam’s barrier. After just two of them, the rest hissed and sank deeper into the Dungeon.

“K-kinda wish we had those segments to the Dungeon right about now,” Cacturne said. “Can’t you bless it from here and stabilize the place?”

“N-no, I can’t,” Anam said. “Just be careful!”

“We’re still at the outer perimeter of the place,” Absol said, “and I already feel awful the deeper we go. I th-think we’re already being followed. And the atmosphere feels… twisted. I don’t know what’s going on here, just—”

The sun abruptly disappeared.

Three of the team screamed in surprise. Absol shook her head again, whimpering loudly. Anam stiffened, but it was Rora who shouted to the others. “Stay close, keep it together! Don’t leave the barrier!”

Whispers filled the air, yet they couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Anam swiveled his head around, horns flicking slime onto Rora, who shook it off and grumbled. “Anam, are you doing alright?”

“I’m sensing… something. But I can’t—”

“AAAAH!”

Anam spun around to see Linoone leaping into the air and onto Absol’s back, screeching and pointing at the ground. All heads turned below.

Eyes. Countless eyes in pitch-black ground stared up at them through the barrier of light that Anam had created, some tiny, some as large as Rora’s head. Tendrils poked between where the eyes weren’t, trying to break through the barrier. While their darkness dissolved, some of the light faded wherever they touched.

“They’re trying to eat through the floor!” Linoone screamed.

“Get off me!” Absol shook him away. “Anam! Let’s hurry and get to the core! We can’t be that far, right?!”

“I—I dunno!”

Rora stomped on the ground, forming another column of stone just beyond the barrier. The darkness persisted, but in the dim glow of Anam’s shield, they saw a handful of wraiths evaporate.

Without a word, they all sprinted along, the slowest of them falling behind. Linoone shouted for them to slow down, and while they did, that only made the stragglers panic. Scrafty was nearing the back edge of the barrier by the time Anam slowed down.

A team of wraiths lunged at Scrafty, piercing through after only half of them evaporated. The other half latched onto Scrafty —she screamed, flailing against them. A dark swipe evaporated another, but two still remained, eating into her skin. An Armaldo hopped back, slashing at one of the remaining wraiths. The other one kept dissolving her left arm, only for a Golisopod to wrap his claws around the misshapen blob, tearing it away.

“Get away from her, you—” He tried to tear it apart, but it suddenly changed shape. Spikes covered its body, dark points melting Golisopod’s chitin. He yelped and threw it away, but it stuck to his arms, flowing into his blood. Then it lunged at Golisopod, enveloping his face. He screamed, muffled, but by then, Anam had finally arrived.

One touch from his tendril of light evaporated the wraith completely, but the damage was done. Golisopod’s chitinous armor had decayed, both eyes rendered useless.

“I—I can’t see,” he stuttered. “Anam, I can’t—”

Another scream, this time to the left. Flareon’s leg was caught by a series of tendrils. In mere seconds, his entire lower half was enveloped in melty darkness, threatening to pull her into the ground. It was only by the quick thinking of a nearby Nidoking that Flareon hadn’t been consumed entirely. He grabbed him by the forepaws, and Rora followed next, grabbing his midsection from the other side. The darkness lashed out at both of them, stinging their hands, but Flareon was freed—though most of the fur on his lower half was gone.

Flareon opened his mouth to speak, but then passed out.

More eyes leered at them from the ground, and now even more from above. The group shrank to the center of the barrier, injured and burned, as the light that protected them slowly faded. To keep the barrier strong, Anam had to shrink the barrier’s radius. The eyes closed in, hungry.

“This… this isn’t how it was supposed to go,” Anam said. “I… I had to… I had to save you! M… Mama… P-Papa…”

“Anam, don’t lose it now,” Rora said, holding his shoulder. “If we can fight this off, we can still escape.”

The light was a dim flicker.

Rora rumbled. “One attack. Just one attack, okay?! Everyone! WITH ALL YOU’VE GOT!”

The whole group, aside from Flareon, blasted the darkness with their strongest attacks. Rora aimed to his right, blasting a thunderous beam of light energy from his maw, sweeping his head to the side. The Hyper Beam dissolved a good chunk of what was ahead of them. Scrafty slammed her good arm on the ground, sending waves of darkness in all directions to sting and dissolve as much of the wraiths as she could, even as the returning rot ate away at her arm.

Golisopod stretched his arms out, forming a barrier of his own that enveloped the whole team; immediately after, Nidoking gave a quick nod to Golisopod and jumped in the air. He landed hard, shattering the ground around them; all of the ground-bound wraiths dissolved, while the squad remained protected by the Wide Guard. Anam handled the rest in the sky, sweeping his Dragon fury across the blight.

Suddenly, from chaos, came silence. Rora fell to one knee, wheezing. Scrafty nursed her arms. The others panted, feeling their residual injuries. Linoone inspected Flareon worriedly, but he was breathing.

The silence only lasted for a few seconds. The whispers came back. Without the sun, there was no telling if they were near or far.

“No…” Scrafty squeaked.

Golden light coursed through Anam, readying a second attack, no matter what it took from him. He raised his hands. “Get ready! I’ll—I’ll hold them off!”

Green light shined above them. Anam blinked. “What?”

Hundreds of beams of green light rained down from the sky, briefly illuminating the dead forest around them. There were wraiths everywhere – in the trees, on the ground, by the rocks, and right next to them. Yet the Thousand Arrows pierced through them all, bouncing off of Anam’s barrier at the same time.

In the green light, Anam saw the flickering image of a great, green-black serpent. “Toto!” Anam whispered.

“Wh-what a miracle, Anam!” Cacturne said.

Absol whimpered, shuddering. “Too much… it’s too much…!”

Anam winced, biting his lip. Absol was right. This was far too much. They had to go. Half of them were too badly injured to keep fighting, and the other half wouldn’t last long before suffering the same fate. They needed treatment—Flareon especially.

“Absol!” Anam rushed toward her, but stopped short of touching her fur—he knew she didn’t like that from his slimy body. “Did it feel like there was anybody watching us before we entered?”

“No,” Absol said, holding her dirty paws over her head, as if it was pounding. “No, and now that I’m in here, I just—I just know that we are. They were all inside here, waiting…! And now we can’t even get out! Th-they feel so much stronger in here… and…”

Anam nodded. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I can handle this, alright? Watch. I’m gonna do some magic that’ll make this all okay.”

“A—a miracle? Now?” Absol asked.

The other eight in the crowd watched Anam curiously.

“Yeah. It’s a secret technique. Super special secrets!”

His audience cringed.

“Show us,” Rora said. “Anything to make this easier.”

Anam closed his eyes. He breathed in. His horns twitched; wraiths were near, but they couldn’t get through his radiant barrier. Not yet. “By Arceus’ holy light and Mew’s divine mercy, bring safety upon my friends, who are not so blessed as to have your power. Grant them safe passage through the Dungeon, so they may escape and—”

Rora’s eyes bulged. “ANAM!” He lunged at the Goodra, holding him by the shoulders.

Anam sniffled, bopping his snout against Rora’s. “…Escape and live another day.”

The light intensified. Anam squeezed his hands together; little bolts of lightning zapped all nine of his friends, giving each one a little, startling jolt. All except for Rora.

Rora couldn’t say anything for a few seconds. Little golden specks of light flickered beneath their feet for everyone but Anam. Tears—Anam didn’t know what they were from, anger or panic or something else—formed at the corners of Rora’s eyes. “Why—”

“Bye, Rora. I’ll be back soon.”

The nine became balls of golden light and shot through the sky, higher and higher. Wraiths tried to strike them from the air, but their radiant protection was too strong. The dark creatures evaporated upon contact. Rora’s spirit rumbled at Anam, but no words came. Far, far away… then, a flash in the high barrier of the distortion. And then, they were gone. Safe.

Anam looked back at the dim, green glow of the serpentine Zygarde. “Toto… you showed up!”

“I step in when necessary,” Toto said. He came closer, but then Anam’s eyes widened. Toto’s scales were already partway decayed; his natural glow, faded. Entire portions of his tail were missing, oozing a strange, translucent-green fluid out of his wounds.

“T-Toto…!”

“This body won’t last much longer. Anam… you need to leave. I don’t have enough power for another attack like that.”

Already, the light from Toto’s body dimmed, leaving only gray hexagons that had once been white.

“B-but…!”

“I will be fine.” The giant serpent looked down. “Use your power to leave this place. It is too much for you.”

“But what’ll happen if it reaches the… where Nate is?”

“I do not know.”

“And… my parents. You said you monitor the aura sea. And you never found them.” Anam hesitated. “What if… what if they’re…” He looked back. “What if they’re still fighting?”

“I doubt they would be capable of fighting for so long.”

Anam bit his lower lip, Toto’s stoic indifference settling coldly in his stomach. “Well, they have to be somewhere,” he said. “I think they’re inside.”

“And you intend to join them?”

“I’m gonna save them.” Anam’s radiant barrier flashed. Then, it became solid again. “You’re too weak to continue. I’m gonna send you back.”

“Anam, you must leave. This thing might be trying to gather the Hands, and you have one.”

“Then I won’t let him have it.”

“Do not be so childish. You can’t—”

Anam’s horn twitched. “I’m not childish!” He shoved the Zygarde back. Due to the sheer difference in size, Toto didn’t even move. But the tap was all he needed.

“Anam, you’re being childish at this very…” Toto’s body was awash in spheres of light. “That was very clever.” And then he was gone, flung out of the Dungeon like the rest.

<><><>​

“Mew, by Your name, I request for your blessings, guidance, and miracles. While our travels have been filled with hardship and peril, we have not lost our faith in You. And we hope that we can continue for another day by Your radiant light, and may the darkness before us melt away. By Your divine light.”

Anam cleared his throat. “That one sounds really appropriate right about now.”

The deeper he went, the more the wraiths surrounded him. The eyes on the floor, and now eyes in the sky well beyond his barrier. His horns throbbed painfully, their mere presence like a sting across his whole body. He was getting close. And by keeping his barrier much closer to his body, it was a lot harder for these lesser wraiths to come close.

He’d come across a few stronger ones, but his Dragon Pulse dispatched most of them easily. The stronger wraiths had shape to them, vaguely resembling Pokémon, almost like imitations of what they were trying to mimic. He’d even come across ones that were almost exactly like their uncorrupted counterparts, yet were veiled in a shadowy aura, invisible to the naked eye.

Something was glowing ahead. Purplish and very weak. Compared to the infinite darkness around him, it was still too bright.

But then, one such example of a solid wraith appeared, right when the darkness was so thick that he could barely see a step past his barrier. The eyes all disappeared, which somehow plunged Anam into an even deeper darkness without moving him an inch. He gulped, feeling a new, powerful presence before him, rising from the ground in a black cloud.

Brown and green feathers wreathed in a dark aura greeted Anam. Cold eyes stared him down. Anam tensed, readying his Dragon Pulse, but something held him back. The weakest feeling in the back of his mind stopped the blue fire from escaping his throat. Instead, he stood there, chest puffed out, a blue glow bubbling through his neck.

The Decidueye hooted lowly. “Leave. Now.”

“No—blrghh.” Anam burped out half of his Dragon Pulse. Decidueye weaved to the right, dodging the flames that lit up the right side of his body. “Sorry.”

Decidueye brought a wing forward, using the other to draw an arrow from the shadows. “Leave. Now.”

Anam gulped, staring the arrow down. The power that radiated from the tip threatened to pierce right through his barrier. “How… how come you don’t just attack?”

The wraiths whispered around them. Quiet whispers, incomprehensible sounds. For a while, that was all the noise that Rotwood Fen had. Decidueye’s arrow didn’t advance, and Anam’s flames had completely died.

“Are you their leader?” Anam asked.

“No.”

More silence joined the darkness. By now, even the wraiths were quiet.

Decidueye continued. “What do you think your friends are doing right now?”

“They’re safe. I sent them away.”

“Where do you think they went?”

“I—I sent them so they could go back to Quartz Mountain.”

“Only some obeyed.”

“What?”

“You should have known better than to come here. They are approaching, even now. Three of them. A Tyranitar. A Scrafty. A Golisopod. The rest fled with their lives.”

“They came back in?!”

“Of course. Because they knew you would die. And they wanted to save you.”

The darkness in Decidueye’s arrow intensified. Anam winced, his foe’s pull on the arrow growing stronger. The shadows darkened into something that was like becoming blind.

“You should have known that only the strong survive in a world of chaos.”

He let go. The arrow pierced through Anam’s barrier, the shadowy feather striking the Goodra in the chest. Anam gasped, immediately tugging the feather’s tip out. The clouds poured into the hole of the barrier, but Anam immediately closed it. His chest felt cold. He didn’t have to look down to know that the shadowy rot had spread there, but he’d been through worse. It was just going to become another scar.

Anam breathed out a plume of blue fire against the shadows, neutralizing them, but Decidueye already had another arrow ready. He fired again; Anam was ready this time, using the single tendril of light—a more solid part of his barrier—to deflect it.

“Tch.”

Anam retaliated with his first true strike, another beam of blue fire against him. Yet the wraith commander sank into the ground, two Decidueye appearing. But the aura on the left felt a lot stronger.

“That’s a good Substitute, Mister Decidueye,” Anam said reflexively.

The darkness in their auras weakened, making Anam tilt his head curiously. Had the wraith reacted to that, or had he lost his mind?

Perhaps he had. The darkness was back and even stronger than before. Decidueye hooted lowly, almost a half-screeching growl, and said, “And now only two are coming.”

“Wh-what do you—”

Anam heard a scream from behind him, far away. He gasped, spinning around, but then realized a split-second later that Decidueye would shoot from him behind. He jumped out of the way, narrowly evading a shadowy arrow that grazed his left arm. Residual rot darkened his elbow.

Another screech that was violently cut off midway. That one was Golisopod.

“ANAM!” the final voice cried, dripping with desperation. “ANAM, WHERE ARE—" And then, just as unceremoniously as the other two, he was cut off in complete silence. Anam couldn’t find his breath; it was like time had stopped.

“You did this to them,” Decidueye said.

It didn’t fully register. They were fine! The reason their voices had cut off so suddenly was simply because a residual amount of his blessings were still there. When they were defeated, they were ejected from the Dungeon, just like any blessed one would operate.

“Face the truth, Anam. You killed them. And here’s my proof.”

Three lumpy shadows emerged from the ground—crawling, struggling against the dirt. Moans escaped misshapen throats; decayed claws pushed the dirt away. Anam staggered back, falling onto his rear. “W-wait… no…!”

Their auras felt the same. It wasn’t some trick or illusion. Auras couldn’t be replicated like that so easily.

“Rora!”

Parts of the Tyranitar were missing, replaced by chunks of shadow that dribbled and oozed on the ground. His face was missing. Scrafty and Golisopod were no better, shambling forward as the darkness crept over them.

“Anam,” Rora moaned. “H… help…”

Anam gathered a golden light in his hands. “It’s—it’s okay, Rora! I’ll save you, I—”

Rora suddenly screamed, cowering away from Anam. The other two did the same, staring with wide, empty eyes at the divine light in Anam’s hands. The Goodra shook his head. “No, it’s okay! This will help you, it’ll—”

Anam hastily shot at Rora, but he jumped out of the way. Instead, it hit Scrafty, who had been hiding behind the Tyranitar. She screeched, flailing, and then she evaporated.

The Goodra’s eyes widened as far as they could go. “Where’d she go?!”

“I already told you it’s too late,” Decidueye said. “Her spirit belongs to the void. They all do. Everything does.” The dark aura spilled over, flooding the ground. Clouds ate away at Anam’s shield, or what little remained of it. The flickering radiance was only further weakened by the Goodra’s shattered will.

Rora trembled, more and more shadows covering his decayed body. His mouth opened, but no words came out. He slouched, as did Golisopod.

More wraiths emerged from the ground, these ones much more solid and defined than the blobs that he had encountered before. While they had some form, they were half merged, limbs and heads crawling over one another.

Yet it still nagged at him. This Decidueye’s aura felt so familiar. And— “How did you know my name?”

Decidueye flinched. “They called you Anam all the time. Now this is your final warning—you’re going to leave, or I’m going to—”

“Well, I can’t leave now! You took my friends!” Anam slammed his arms to his side. “Give them back!”

“They’re gone, Anam.”

“Nu-uh, because they’re right in front of me!” Anam walked toward Rora, who flinched again at the light that got too close.

“The light will burn them, Anam,” Decidueye said. “I said leave.”

The surrounding wraiths all whispered angrily. But their behavior was too strange, now. They weren’t blindly attacking, and one was even talking to him. Wherever he was… the wraiths were under some kind of different control here.

“Please…”

“You saw what happened to them,” Decidueye said.

Moans filled the air. The bodies of Pokémon stared at him with empty eyes, calling his name. Anam shut his eyes tight, covering his face with his tiny hands. “No…! It’s… it’s not too late!”

Decidueye prepared another arrow. “At the very least,” he said, “you will join them.”

“Please… Mister Decidueye, I just want my friends. We’ll leave you alone, I just want my friends! We… we were going to save the world together!”

The arrow was taut, but he didn’t fire. “Save the world?” Decidueye asked. “I’m afraid the world is far beyond saving, Goodra. There is no law, only chaos. That is how the world has always operated. The strong survive. The weak die. Surely you know.”

“It doesn’t always have to be like that!” Anam said. While he spoke, the corpses kept piling onto him, digging into his flesh. He refused to back down and shook them away. “Just because the world is how it is, doesn’t mean it will always be that way! We can make it better! I can’t do it alone… but with all my friends… just think of what we can do!”

Decidueye let go of the arrow and it struck through Anam’s chest.

“Ughh—” Anam tried to grab it, but his strength left him. He tried to breathe out, and then in—barely, he managed. He tried again, bringing his arm forward weakly, wrapping his fingers around the feathery, shadow arrow. Anam tugged at the arrow and pulled it out completely; he focused, dizzy, and felt the heat from a seed in his bag. The mystical glow enveloped him, and then the wound—and all of his recent injuries—vanished. The corpses shrieked, blinding by the brilliant light of the Reviver Seed.

“What was that—?” Decidueye hissed.

Anam struggled to his feet. “It’s something that I’ve grown for a long time. A Seed, imbued with a power so potent that it can bring you back from the brink of death! I learned these arts long ago… from the Book of Light. From Necrozma’s teachings in them. But… but it’s still not good enough. It didn’t… work when my friends were in trouble next to me. I need to make them better. I…” Anam stumbled forward. “If I could just find Necrozma, maybe I could… but nobody hears me when I say his name…”

Decidueye scoffed. “Apparently I can’t hear the name, either, because I didn’t understand a word of your fragmented speech. So. You created a seed that can heal you in an emergency. That changes little. I’ll just kill you twice.”

He shot at Anam again. The Goodra pulled the arrow out and grabbed an Oran Berry.

Decidueye hissed. “Really, eating, at a time like this? You insult me.”

Anam swallowed it whole, and the wounds vanished.

The Decidueye glared. “I’m beginning to notice a trend.”

“My name is Goodra Anam…” He held his head up, staring straight at Decidueye. “Head and Founder of the Hundred Hearts…” He pointed at the ghostly avian. “I’m fighting for the world. And I… I refuse to die because you’re afraid to change it!”

The moans quieted down. Soon, only the wind filled the silence. Decidueye stared down at Anam with a scornful glint in his eyes. “Your eyes… I don’t know how someone can be so bright in a world so dark. It’s… disgusting.” He glared, and then raised a wing. “Kill him.”

The corpses moaned… but didn’t move.

“Excuse me?” He raised both wings. “Have you lost your hearing? I said kill him!”

The corpses ignored him. Their eyes were fixated on Anam.

“Nrgh, then I will just kill you myself. Nothing can revive you if you don’t have a mind!” James aimed for Anam’s head, but the Goodra didn’t even move. He just watched Decidueye. And he stared back. Between the eyes. The perfect shot. He just had to fire. He just had to let go… Let that spiritual bow pierce the Goodra’s soul, and sent him to the depths of this corpse garden. Just let go. Let go. Let go…

“What’s your name?” Anam asked. “Your aura… my barrier. Now that my barrier is gone, I…” He gulped. “I feel your aura so… so clearly. I’d never forget it. You…” Tears welled up, but they didn’t escape him. Not yet. “Your name is James.”

James’ dead heart skipped a beat. And that moment of weakness made the corpses rise up in a frenzy. Anam didn’t know why, or what caused them to do it, but he suspected it had to do with all the light that they were being exposed to. Could Necrozma’s techniques be working on them?

They climbed the trees and piled on top of one another, going higher and higher until one grabbed James by the ankle. He shrieked and fell into the pile, where they swarmed and slammed him into the ground, pinning him down.

“What—what are you doing?!” James said. “Stop! I am your leader! Don’t fall for his lies! He knows nothing about this world! He is a mortal! He hasn’t seen death! He—what is—what are you doing?! No—! STOP!”

A few of the corpses were sliding something toward Anam. A gray orb with little white specks floating through it. All of the corpses seemed to be tied to this orb by thin, white, immaterial strings.

“What’s that?” Anam asked, reaching toward it.

“No!” James said. “Don’t you dare! You are the least worthy to harness this terrible power! The LEAST! I REFUSE you! I REJECT you! STOP! DON’T YOU DARE!” James screamed unendingly, but Anam ignored it all. This was clearly some sort of key.

Wait… this looked familiar. Mama talked about it once, but it wasn’t in either of the Books. Not even the Book of Light spoke of them. Was that… an Orb?

Of course. That’s where the spirits went. They were part of an Orb. But where was the Guardian?

“It’s okay, Papa,” Anam said.

“I—” James stopped. “I…!”

Anam reached forward, pulling James close. “I missed you so much…”

“Anam… please… get away… don’t let them take you…”

“It’s okay,” Anam said, squeezing tighter. “I’ll… be okay.”

He reached out and touched the orb.

<><><>​

Anam bubbled curiously, squeezing his hands in empty air. “Huh?” He stood upright, but he couldn’t see anything around him. “That’s weird. I thought I was just touching the—”

“Hello.” The distorted sound was like countless voices speaking at once.

A tendril of fuzzy darkness, almost like tiny particles of dust concentrated together, slammed into Anam, sending him several feed backwards with a scream. Another one wrapped around his body, holding him tight. It squeezed.

“A-agh! S-stop!” Anam struggled, chanting weakly. “B-by Mew’s divine blessings—”

“ENOUGH with your silly chants!” he squeezed tighter. Anam screamed, spurts of golden light from his single filament lashing out at the shadows. “AAH!” The tendril swung, hurling Anam on the ground.

He splattered there, winded. With one arm, he tried to prop himself up. The ground didn’t feel like anything. Ethereal, almost. With his other hand, he formed a small blob of golden light, shining it in the air. All around him was the dim glow of a sky, both above and below him, specked with little, white stars. Somehow, Anam felt like those stars were watching him. Ahead, in this dark realm, he saw a sphere shrouded in black dust, pulsing with purple energy. The tendril that had grabbed Anam shrank back into the sphere.

The sphere rumbled, throbbing with waves of shadows. “How did you make my spirits rebel?”

“Huh?”

“Your father, I understand. He was already resisting me. For a mere mortal… his spirit is stubborn. The moment you entered the forest, he fought back.”

“That’s because he’s my Papa! He’s super cool!”

Another rumble. “Yet all of my other spirits… stopped as well. What did you do to them?”

Anam frowned, slowly getting to a sitting position. He wasn’t attacking anymore. “I, um…” Anam looked down. “I just wanted them to be happy… I wanted my friends back. They weren’t being themselves.” He looked up. “Can I see them?”

A hollow noise, like a deep bell ringing too many times, echoed from inside the core. “No.”

“The spirits…” Anam’s horns twitched. “My friends… Papa… and… Mama!” He struggled to his feet, nearly falling over again. “They’re… they’re all inside you!” Anam broke out into a wide grin. “I—I knew it! Can they hear me? Rora! Mama! Papa! It’s me, Anam!”

“SILENCE!”

A shadowy blast shot out from the sphere, straight to Anam. He had expected as much. He held his arms forward, creating a golden shield with his filament. He winced as some of the darkness licked at his shoulders and sides, but otherwise, the blast had been completely deflected.

Anam hobbled forward. “It’s okay. It’s—it’s okay! I’m here! And I’m gonna help! Because as long as I have faith, Mew and Arceus will help me!”

“Mew… and Arceus…” Despite having no features, Anam sensed the dark orb sneering. “If they were helping you, none of this would have happened. Your friends wouldn’t have died. All of their hate… all of their resentment… I feel it all, Anam. I know it all.”

“I don’t understand,” Anam said. “My friends… they all liked me. They wouldn’t have come with me if they didn’t!”

“It was a holy obligation in their eyes. It was not for your friendship; I sense no love from them. Only begrudging duty and fear from their final moments alive. They only became close to you because of your Divine Dragon status. Only because of that single Hand in your possession.”

Anam flinched, shaking his head. “That… that doesn’t make any sense. The whole village… all of Quartz Village came together to help me! They wouldn’t have done that out of duty! Not just duty! M-maybe a little bit, but it couldn’t have been…”

The darkness swirled again, surrounding Anam on all sides. He held the filament out, creating a protective barrier.

“I am the embodiment of negativity. Every cry of pain, every twinge of guilt, every deep, dark regret… I know every one. I feel every single one. Even you. I sense your fear. Your hopelessness. Your doubt.”

Anam’s eyes widened, realizing that this could be true. But the embodiment of negativity? That didn’t make sense, either. “Why would… why would you exist?” he said. “I don’t understand. A-and… I still don’t believe you. I think my friends cared about me. They wouldn’t have gone so far if they didn’t. Ever since I was little, they helped me. When Mama and Papa died…”

“They suddenly became nice to you.” The darkness pooled over Anam, obscuring his vision beyond the barrier. “Because you were their power. They used you. It’s nothing more than that. You were useful to them, and so they befriended you. But if you lost your power, none of them would care about you. Just like before.”

“I… I…”

The shadows thickened. “Close your heart and give up. It would be much easier to feel nothing than to realize how pathetic it is to cling to this façade.”

Anam blinked again, looking at his hands. They were trembling. Then, he looked at the shield around him and the darkness that threatened to pierce through the moment he dispelled it. “I don’t understand.”

“What do you mean?”

The Goodra crossed his arms, and then his horns. He focused in front of him, shining his barrier to clear up some of the fog. He wasn’t sure if this entity had eyes, or if he could see, or—well, how he could see, but he wanted to make ‘eye contact’ anyway. “You’re just wrong.”

More hollow rumbling that shook the slime on Anam’s body followed. Then, he said, “There is no way for me to be wrong: I feel what I feel. There is no point in lying. Because I feel your doubt, too. And your fear, and your confusion.”

“But…”

Another blast of shadows slammed into the barrier, and, briefly, that shield of light flickered, tiny holes leaking darkness into Anam’s bubble. He winced when some of that brushed against his body, seeping into his slime. He shuddered—it went deeper than his aura, like it tainted his spirit. He breathed slowly, concentrating on whatever inner light he may have had to push it out.

“If you’re so certain that your friends and family care so much for you… then I’ll just prove to you how wrong you truly are.”

Black lightning slammed into the ground, deafening Anam. While his ears rang, the darkness dispelled itself, making the black spirits fully visible.

“Papa!”

That was the first spirit, the Decidueye.

“R-right? Papa…?”

But he only stared, hate in his dark eyes.

“He has known my suffering for so long, and has lost track of his own sense of self, that he does not even remember his old body. He understood immediately how much his old life was an illusion. Or perhaps he willingly abandoned his form? The Salandit species… the males are useless. They shall never reach their full potential. Yet he was born into it. Such a cruel world…”

“That’s not true! Papa was very strong, and he was small! So it was really convenient! And Mama loved him!”

“Deny as much as you want. But you cannot deny it for the rest.”

More thunder boomed, and another wad of darkness formed where the lightning struck. This one shaped itself into a Tyranitar. “Rora…” But just like before, his eyes returned nothing but darkness. A shadowy aura radiated from his throat, threatening to blast Anam whenever he let his guard down.

“Rora regretted following you into this place, just like all your friends. All of their struggles in life, amounting to getting killed in a forest that you led them into. Years upon years, washed away in moments. And it’s your fault.”

“Rora, that’s not true, is it?” Anam said. “I’m sorry that I hurt you so much by bringing you here. But I’ll make it better! Just like I did with the Dungeons! And town, and… and the way you made it all better for me, too. Everyone at the village. I owe everything to them.”

“Pathetic. I almost feel pity. But not enough. Why don’t I show you what’s become of your beloved mother? The Divine Dragon you took over. Do you think she’s proud?”

Another boom formed a dark blob, coalescing into a Goodra nearly twice his size. Anam beamed, taking eager steps forward. “Mama!”

A dark blast slammed into Anam’s barrier, piercing straight through it. He screamed, a huge, dark blotch rotting his chest. He gasped, the barrier closing before more darkness could seep in, and struggled to keep his breath level.

The dark orb didn’t say anything at first. Then, after a strange hesitation, he said, “That is what your mother thinks of you—that you’re weak. That you’re foolish. Don’t you see? Give up. There’s nothing left now that you’re within my domain.”

Anam rubbed his chest, staring worriedly at his fading barrier. Then he looked at Rora and his parents. All of them stared down at him, glaring. He could only see one thing in their eyes. The expressions were the same. But in what the entity called hatred, Anam saw something else. Those eyes weren’t filled with hatred or disappointment or disdain. If anything, Anam saw challenging eyes, like he could do better. He knew those eyes. Mama’s firm look…

She really was a lot bigger than he was. At least two heads taller, even as that blackened wraith. He could only dream to be someone as big and strong as her.

The darkness and rot faded from Anam’s chest quickly. So quickly that it surprised even the Goodra, who looked down, then at the barrier. “I… I understand.”

“Then lay your head down and accept your fate. This exchange has become tiresome.”

“You can’t feel the good parts.” Anam straightened his stance, giving the dark orb a firm look. His horns twitched, curling and uncurling. “You’ve felt negativity so long… that you don’t realize that there are good things in everyone, too. You don’t understand it.”

“I understand that such things are fantasies. Fabrications. Illusions to make living tolerable.”

“But that’s just wrong,” Anam said, advancing toward Papa first. He smiled at the Decidueye, who continued to glare. “Papa, it’s okay. I’m gonna make it better, alright? I’ve… I’ve missed you so much.” He held out his arms. “I know it might mess up your feathers a little, but… can I… hold you? I never got to.” He laughed. “We used to be tiny compared to Mama, and now, I guess we still kinda are… but we’re still the same size, too! A little.” Anam had to look down, still. But they both still had to look up to Mama.

“Anam…” The Decidueye’s wings twitched open. Anam beamed, lowering his shield.

“You fool—they don’t want your silly hugs. You disgust them!” Papa’s body abruptly disintegrated into a black fog, returning to the dark orb.

Anam yelped, grasping at where the Decidueye wraith had been, but then looked at Rora, who similarly disintegrated. Then he looked at Mama, but she remained standing.

He forgot to put up his shield again.

Clearly, the darkness had been waiting for that moment, because a dark, misty arm wrapped around Anam’s body, lifting him like he was nothing but a hollow Pecha Berry. Anam writhed in his hold, the tendril eating away at the parts that it touched until it became a thick, black sludge, oozing onto the featureless ground. The Goodra gasped, kicking his legs uselessly.

“If there is one emotion I know well, it is denial.” The red eye in the center of the orb flashed. “How self-destructive creatures become when they deny the obvious and throw themselves into the abyss. They see nothing but horror, and yet they march forward, happily, to their deaths. To me. To the abyss.”

“It’s… it’s all to help each other. The world… is good… because we help each other.” Anam wriggled out from the darkness’ grip, but he could only accomplish a few inches. “The Book of Arceus… teaches us to be dutiful… to do what we can for the community… and the Book of Mew… teaches us how to care for ourselves. If we just—HRGK!”

The pressure redoubled, threatening to snap Anam’s bones and crush whatever was left of his muscles. Anam couldn’t move them anymore.

“Your faith? Is that what you rely so heavily upon? With my countless spirits, do you really believe I am ignorant of every word within those texts?”

Anam wheezed, staring at nothing.

“Blind faith is nothing but thinly veiled denial.”

“No, it’s… it’s not just… They’re real… They’re here to help… Mew gave Pokémon their Types… so they could help others. Arceus created the Embodiments to ease the powers of nature. It was all for us… They all care so much for us! And—and they can care for you! Please! There must be a way to—AAAH!”

The darkness tightened even more, crushing a number of bones that Anam could no longer comprehend. He screamed; something metallic pooled in the back of his throat.

“You naïve child. Do you not understand that they are all mere stories?”

Anam kept screaming, gagging on his blood before the pressure loosened. He felt warm—something in his chest made the tendrils back off, but only slightly. Anam struggled for air; this felt worse than normal injuries. This was his aura. And the darkness was trying to break his spirit. He couldn’t let that happen. He had to save him. He had to save his parents. But what was he supposed to do? Arceus and Mew—would the help him, just like in the books? “Arceus… Mew… save me…”

“Disgusting. Even now, you deny your reality, even as it digs into you.” The tendrils tightened, burrowing past Anam’s skin and muscle. Somehow, as an aura, it felt worse. The darkness was rotting his aura and polluting his spirit.

“H-help…”

“The Book of Arceus. The Book of Mew. Those grandiose tales of the gods being heroes for the mortals they lord over… Who wrote those books? Do you believe the gods to be reliable writers of their own histories? No. The gods did not write them. The Books are nothing but constructs generated by power-hungry mortals to keep the masses behaved.”

Anam heaved, his vision blurry. He could only hear the darkness’ words, now. Everything else was fading.

“How convenient that a god wants order for society to fall in line. How convenient that another wants the masses to be content with what they have. How easy it must be to control a world when an invisible force watches over them.”

Anam coughed, gasping wetly for air. “S… stop hurting me…”

The darkness advanced, sinking fangs and claws into Anam from all sides. He screamed, but the darkness hissed into his ears. “No. They aren’t just stories. They are all lies.”

Something hot flew past Anam’s right side. Then, thousands of screams deafened him, and Anam fell to the ground, his broken body lying on its back. He coughed, staring at the final trails of dragon fire leaving Mama’s mouth. The dark core floated backwards, a dark mist fizzling around him.

“You… DARE…”

“Don’t forget, Anam,” Mama said.

“Forget?”

But then Mama disappeared, and it was just him and the dark core again. “And now you are alone.”

Anam squinted, the feeling in his body returning. And that warmth was back, too. He blinked at a golden glow flooding his vision; something from his chest. The Hand… The warmth! That was it! It was living proof of Arceus’ blessing. Was that what kept this darkness from taking him away like it did with all the others?

It all clicked. The light…

“You wanted me to be like you.”

“What?”

“You can’t kill me… you can’t do anything to me.”

“I have done everything short of that.” The tendril coalesced into a single, fine spike, hovering over Anam’s chest. “Don’t force me to kill you. I will annihilate you.”

“Was that a lie?” Anam asked. “You… already would have. If you’re so negative… you just want to get rid of me. But you can’t.”

Anam’s body, all over, felt better. Horribly bruised, but better. He staggered to his feet, giving a polite nod to the spike that threatened to impale him. But it didn’t move. And that, above all else, confirmed it to Anam that there was nothing to be afraid of.

The Goodra’s body glowed like a single flame in a dark room. It was dim, but in the void, it was the brightest thing in that reality. Anam grasped the spike with both hands, squeezing it. “I just want things to go back to normal.”

“Let go of me.”

Anam didn’t listen, squeezing harder. “Please, let everyone go. I don’t want to fight. I don’t want any of this. I just want everyone to be happy—I want to go home. I want everyone to go home…”

“I said… let GO!”

The spike flew forward, through Anam’s slimy grip, and straight into his chest. Anam’s eyes bulged, but instead of blood, a golden light poured out of him. The core screamed and recoiled and the dark spike’s tip was reduced to a fine mist. It flailed in the air, slamming into the ethereal ground, and Anam tried to maintain his stance. His wound closed; the dark core shined slightly.

It shined? Anam tilted his head. “…Do I need to…” Anam moved forward slowly, arms outstretched.

“What are you doing? Leave! Get away!”

The sprits swirled around inside the dark core. He could practically hear them. Mama, Papa, Rora, and all his friends. So many lost souls waiting to be freed. He had already accepted that strange power once, before he had entered this void; it was rightfully his. He just had to do it again.

Anam touched the shell of the core, first. It sizzled against his hands, but it didn’t hurt. But the darkness screamed, trying to pull away, yet Anam was in control of this reality, now. This wasn’t the negative entity’s domain. It was his.

He held it tighter. “Hold still.”

“NO! LET GO! DIE! DIE!”

The tendrils slammed against Anam’s radiant body, but without any despair, the darkness evaporated before it could so much as touch him.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! STOP! STOOOP!”

“Shh… I’m sorry. I need to do this. The spirits… accepted me. It’s only fair that… I take control.”

He leaned forward, staring at the great, red eye in the center of it all. He saw within it no expression, yet he could feel something, just briefly. Fear. This darkness was afraid of him. Was he already part of this negative entity? He’d never felt so intimate with such horrible emotions before.

“This… this world…” He thought of Mama. “I’ll make it better!”

He reached out to the core. His vision went white, and then in all faded to black.

<><><>​

Dull thuds filled the air in random, occasional beats. They sounded wet, like a log slamming onto fresh mulch. Anam blinked and tried to rub his eyes. It felt like he was still in the void, but it felt like he had the most wonderful nap!

Unfortunately, he couldn’t feel his arms. Or legs. Or much of anything below his neck, actually. His horns twitched; he used one to wipe his eyes instead, yawning. It was odd; it didn’t feel like the air he was ‘breathing’ went anywhere. Simulated from familiarity.

The wet thuds continued; in the darkness, Anam thought to brighten things up a little. While the ground was still invisible, the individuals within the void brightened. He saw two, not including himself: the dark entity, still as an orb with a single, misty tendril… and himself? He saw himself lying on the ground; the dark tendril slammed onto his body, smashing it over and over again…

“Um, Mister? What happened?” Anam asked, trying to move his arms. Still no luck. He tried to move his horns instead—they were always stronger than his arms—and pushed his head up.

It was a lot lighter than expected. “A-ah! Whoa!”

He looked down, but he didn’t have a neck to look down with. Instead, he tilted forward, falling onto his face with a grunt. His horns twirled around and lifted him back up. “Ugh… I’m… I’m just a…”

He was just a head; the rest of his body was being slammed into the ground.

“So you’re awake. Wonderful.”

Anam gasped. “Hey! Wonderful? That means you’re happy, right?!”

“I am capable of sarcasm.”

“Oh…” Anam frowned. “Well, at least you know how to act like you’re happy! Kinda. Right?”

Slam. Bits of slime and goo flew across the void, splashing onto Anam’s face. He closed his eyes, opening one to see the tendril picking it up and tossing it back onto the ground. Anam realized—he had two eyes again. It was disorienting; he wasn’t used to having depth perception again. “Um, how come you’re beating me up?”

“I don’t know.”

“…But… why am I just a head?”

“At some point it fell off.”

Anam wriggled his horns until he managed to position them like legs. Anam’s head waddled a few paces closer, wincing at how beat up the body appeared to be.

His horn-legs bent and lowered his head down. He crossed his ‘legs’ beneath his chin. “Are you doing this because you’re bored? Is that a negative emotion?”

“For some reason, pummeling your body makes me feel less unhappy.”

“Oh…”

The tendril made a motion to strike one last time, but he hesitated. Eventually, it lowered, leaving the Goodra body where it was.

“I guess that means you couldn’t kill me after all.” Anam, seeing that the body was unusable, turned his attention back to the darkness. “But… I really did mean what I said. I want to help you. It’s not fair that you were born only feeling all those negative emotions. You should be feeling the happy ones, too. Maybe… I can show you some of that?”

“It is not like I have a choice.”

“Yeah, but maybe it’ll be fun! I’ll show you what it means to feel something like that! Because we’re together now, right? If I accepted the Core, and stuff, I mean. The Ghost Orb… and you! Um… actually, I don’t even know what to call you. Do you have a name?”

The thing hesitated in its next pound. “I… I do not remember. I don’t know. I only remember waking up in fear, confusion, and sadness. I don’t know my name, if I ever had one. I simply… am.”

“Oh. That’s… that’s also unfair. You went all this time without a name?”

“It was not as if I ever needed one. I am… all of negativity. Do I even have an identity?”

“I say you do. Because I’m talking to you right now, and you feel like a person to me. So let’s name you!”

The ethereal darkness rumbled irritably, but didn’t protest.

“How about we name you… do you want a normal name, maybe? Or maybe we should call you something more exotic? My Dad was named something exotic, kinda like Mom.”

“Your mother was human. Her name is a human name. Their culture permeates Quartz. James was named by Madeline; he used to just be named, Salandit.”

“O-oh… um… I didn’t know that.” Anam blinked, looking down. “Humans… what were they like?”

“Not very different from Pokémon: Uselessly fighting to persist in a world where they will ultimately die.”

Anam frowned. “Let’s get back to your name, then. How about we call you… All?”

“No.”

“Then how about a normal name, like, um, Dariko?”

“Never.”

“I guess you want a special name, huh? Okay. I mean… oh!” Anam clapped his horns together excitedly, his head wobbling on the ground. “I have a really clever one! If you’re kinda like everyone, that means, when I’m talking to you… there’s a little bit of my thoughts that you can feel, too, right?”

“That is true. I feel all of your negative thoughts. I know that you are doing this for me because…” But he couldn’t finish. He just grumbled again. “Tell me your idea, Goodra.”

“If you’re me, then when I’m talking to you, it’s like, I’m you! So… let’s call you, You!”

A brief silence fell between them in the void. Anam’s eyes widened with hope, but then he rumbled, “I hate you.”

Anam lowered his head until it touched the ground again, his horns flexing. “I guess You isn’t a good name after all… Okay. Let’s keep thinking.”

It was quiet for a while after that, with Anam focused on trying to name his new spiritual companion. Eventually, the darkness rumbled again. “Don’t you have some waking up to do?”

“Not until I name you.”

“Why do you care?”

“Because you deserve a name! You’re my friend now, right? I need something to call you.”

“…Friend?”

“Yeah! Have you ever had one before? You have a lot of spirits in the Ghost Orb, but not a lot of friends, I guess. Maybe we can try it out! I’m, um, your host, right? So I should be a very good one. It’s polite. And we can be friends, too.”

He didn’t reply.

“Hmm…” Anam studied his body again, seeing how dark it was. He wasn’t really sure what kind of material he was made of, either—spiritual in some way, probably. But that did give him an idea… “I don’t know what species you are. The first name is usually the species, but you’re just… darkness. That’s what you are. So what if your first name is Dark? And your last name is what people would call you informally. And since you’re made of everything… I mean… I really wanted you to be called You, so, um, Dark You, but I guess that’s stupid…”

“…Perhaps not stupid… but I refuse to be called something like that. I am everything. I am… the darkness of everything. That is… my identity.”

“You are everything…” Anam repeated this to himself, over and over, in little whispers. Then, he gasped. “Matter!”

“Matter?”

“If you’re everything negative, then that’s your name! Matter! Your full name is Dark Matter!”

“Dark… Matter…”

“Do you like it?” Anam could tell; something about that name resonated with this ball of evil, even if he didn’t want to—or perhaps couldn’t understand how to—admit it.

“I don’t dislike it.”

“Then that means you like it!” Anam clapped more with his horns. “Yes! You have a name, Dark Matter! Can I call you Mister Matter, though? Or just Matter?”

“Mister Matter. I refuse to be called so informally.”

“Okay, Mister Matter it is!” Anam giggled, righting himself. “I’m really glad that I could help you even a tiny bit, though. I’ll show you that the world can be a lot better than all the negativity you’ve been feeling. And maybe you can help me. Tell me about the negative thoughts that people have, and maybe I can help to make them better. If you feel less negativity in the world… then that means there would be more positivity to take its place, right?”

“…Do you truly believe it’s not an illusion? Positive emotions. They can’t be real…”

“They are. And I’m gonna show you. I’ll tell everyone about you, and then they can—”

“NO!”

Anam flinched, whatever he planned to say lost to the void.

“You cannot tell others. I… they will try to find a way to destroy me. And they will destroy you, too. You have no reason to tell them.”

“Oh…”

“I want you to promise me that you won’t tell them. I… don’t want that. And I will disrupt your every move if you refuse.”

“Okay—I promise,” Anam said. “I don’t want them to hurt you… that might hurt all the spirits with you, too. I want to make this better so… so you can release them, right? I’ll try my best. I’ll show you hope, and happiness, and warmth. Yep! So, I promise!”

“No. I need more. This is too big of a secret. I can control the spirits within me and make them forget; I cannot release them because… if I do, they will speak of me to the gods. And they may try to get rid of me, too.”

Anam frowned. “Do you really think they would? You… you said those stories are lies. Does that mean…?”

“They are only out for their own interests. Just as I am. But I do not want to be destroyed. That is surely what they will try to do.”

“But… but then what do you want? You want to be happy, right?”

Dark Matter didn’t reply immediately. It sounded like he was trying to say something, but then stopped, like he didn’t know how to articulate it.

“You said that being happy was an illusion, but… Are you sure? Or is that just… denial? You said you were the most familiar with denial. Because maybe… That’s what you’re doing, too.”

“I can’t be happy. It is an illusion… to me. It is part of my reality to be… negative.”

“Well, maybe I can change that,” Anam said. “Or maybe… Arceus and Mew can? Are the stories really… lies?”

Dark Matter growled. “The stories are glamorized or outright lies. But the gods themselves… are clearly real. You already met Zygarde, who has ties to Mew. And yet… That changes nothing for me.”

“But what if their miracles are real, too? What if I told them, and they—"

“The gods hold the power to help me. Yet they do not. Because if they ever find out I exist… they will destroy me instead. They will refuse to help me. I’ve felt their negativity, too. I know this. They will kill me…”

Anam gulped, wanting to protest, but he seemed so convinced of himself… Could he be telling the truth? Or was it warped like the rest of his perception?

“If I want to be fixed, I must do it myself. With their own power. The scattered power, like what is within this Ghost Orb—the Hands.”

“What do you mean?” Anam asked. “You want… the Hands. This?” Anam made a motion with his horn, producing his single filament.”

“Yes. Anam… I need those. I must gather them. The very things that can destroy me can also help me. If I can get enough, perhaps I can rewrite my own reality. The same way Arceus had used them long ago to create reality itself.”

It started to piece itself together for Anam. While Anam suspected that not even Dark Matter himself knew why he existed… it seemed clear that he wanted to change his fate. But, just to be sure, Anam said, “So you want their power, because…”

“I want the Hands of Creation so I can finally be happy.”

There it was. That was good enough for Anam. But at the same time, giving all of that power to someone like Dark Matter would be… risky. And if he thought that, then Dark Matter heard the thought, too. “I’m sorry…”

The sphere lowered in the void. “It’s hopeless. I’ll never be happy.”

Somehow, seeing the giant ball of evil lament made Anam’s heart sink. Frantic, he said, “No! I’ll find another way! I promise! I’ll make the world happier, and then, if you’re part of me, maybe you’ll start to feel a little happy, too. And I won’t tell anybody.”

“And would you make that a Divine Promise?”

The sky—the invisible, dark sky—rumbled lowly, getting Anam’s attention. The Goodra looked up, nearly toppling over from his imbalance of just being a head and horns. “What’s that?”

A dark tendril moved toward Anam, who lowered his head down so he could reach out to it reflexively.

“It means that should you break it, I would gain your divine power. It would be a way that I can be sure you will follow. Otherwise, I will have one more Hand to get closer to what I need. Because if I’m not convinced… if you fall into despair… Then you’ll accept that you were wrong.”

“Well, okay,” Anam said. “That sounds fair! And it’ll make you feel better?”

“…You will make a Promise to me? You will risk your power just for the chance to make me happy?”

“If that’s the only way you can feel better… then yes! Because I’m not just helping you. I’d be helping everyone. The whole world! And you’ll get to help me! Because what’s a better way to fix the world than to know everything that’s wrong with it?” Anam grinned. “Okay, I Promise! Oh!”

Just then, from Anam’s right horn, a glowing light erupted, twisting around the dark tendril of Dark Matter. The entity flinched back at first, but then floated forward. He was silent for a while.

Anam tilted his head, careful not to fall over. “Something wrong?”

“You’re really doing this.”

“Yeah! But are you okay with helping me?”

“Why?”

“I said why!”

“No. Why? The real reason.”

This again? Anam tried to be polite. “I don’t understand…”

The sky rumbled again, but then he reached forward and twisted the tendril around Anam’s horn. “Then that makes the two of us. Restate your Promise.”

Anam frowned, but he did so. “I Promise to keep you a secret for as long as you help me save the world!”

The glowing brightened. Dark Matter said nothing, but the sky rumbled again. The red eye in the center of the shell pulsed anxiously. “So long as I help you, the secret will be kept. And once I stop, you become free to speak of me to the others. Is that your deal…? How… one-sided. Your naïve faith… Of course a Divine Dragon of Light would behave this way… Why should I be so confused? I accept.”

The golden light blinded them both.

Slowly, it all faded, and Anam dared to open his left eye. He saw Dark Matter there, as usual, floating, with his red sphere gleaming in his protective shell. “Where are my parents?”

“With me.”

“…Can I… see them?”

“Not now. It would be… bothersome. But I will teach you how to summon them… and how to speak with them.”

“Oh… You’ll teach me?”

“I have to help you if you’re going to keep me a secret. That was the deal.”

Anam bobbed his head. “But what about all my friends? If I can summon them, then…”

“I will suppress their memories if you summon or revive them. It is not difficult since they are already under my control.”

That seemed satisfying enough. With a happy bounce, Anam said, “How do I go back out?”

“That should have happened a long time ago. Your spirit acclimated to the Ghost Orb and you should have woken up… but it seems that it was too much for your body. It must be sustained only by the Orb’s power and my own. You need to focus to wake up; I refuse to be trapped with you for eternity.”

“Okay, focus…” Anam closed his eyes, trying to sense through this void where his body was. It wasn’t much of an instinct or a feeling so much as it just came to him; it wasn’t anywhere around him, not above or below, but afar. He found his body. “I think I see it.”

“I feel it, too. And—We have visitors.”

Anam felt it, too. The presence of two auras just at the edge of the pit he’d grabbed the Orb from. An Alakazam and a Chikorita. “Why are they here?”

“The Chikorita feels fear and disgust. Your body must be an awful sight.”

“And how about the Alakazam?” Anam asked. “Is he afraid? I should go and help them.”

“…I feel… nothing… from the Alakazam.”

“Nothing? Then he must be…” Anam gasped. “His soul must be pure! No negativity at all! That’s amazing! I’m totally gonna—”

“No. A pure soul is impossible. His aura… was not forged in this world. Just like your mother… He is human. Or, perhaps… was human.”

“So you can’t feel the negativity from people whose auras weren’t made in this world?”

“…I do not know… That is only my theory.”

“Another human… wow. What’s his name? I wanna greet him!”

The darkness rumbled. “From Madeline’s memories… he is Michael.”

“Michael. That reminds me of Papa’s name, in a way.”

“They are human names. As I said… their culture permeates this world in the smallest traces. But perhaps he will go by a different name. It has been… too long, since he had been human in any way, according to Madeline.”

“Well, I’ll wait for him to introduce himself.” Anam closed his eyes, golden light pouring from his head as well as his body a few feet away. Dark Matter shrank away from the light, grumbling something to himself. “And, Mister Matter…”

“Is that my name, now?”

“I just wanted to say… Thank you.”

Dark Matter said nothing. The golden light that flowed out of Anam became too bright to look at; he shrouded his shell in a dark fog, but even then, the light cut through.

“For helping me make the world a better place. And in return… I’ll find a way to make you happy.”

And then the light stopped. Dark Matter remained in the void, left behind again, but not without the smallest hint of Anam’s essence left behind—the link they now shared. And from it, Dark Matter felt… something new, for an instant.

“…Thank you…”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 73 – Gather

With so much that had happened, it was a miracle that they could clean up Quartz HQ at all. There was still a lot more to do. The walls of the fifth floor were still wrecked here and there, holes making new passageways into rooms, rendering the actual doorways useless. Blood coated parts of the halls on various other floors. Severed plants, rubble, and cooled molten rock littered the floor, and the air was filled with the lingering pressure of countless stressed mutants.

What’s wrong? What’s wrong?

I can’t see. Can’t see.

Lavvie, open your eyes! I want to see!


Lavender frowned, complying. His eyes trailed over the trembling mutants, still in shock from the battle. Next to Lavender was Lucas, no longer in his Mega form, looking skinny and frightened. He let out soft whines now and then, flinching to any form of contact. Lavender tried to ease him out of it, but he was inconsolable.

Dad? How about Dad?

Is Dad okay?

He’s alive, right?


Lavender let out a sound that was a mixture of a whine and a chirp. The chimeric Pokémon crouched down and paced toward Eon, bumping his beak against the other Espurr. “Dad?”

Eon jumped, looking at Lavender, then back at Rim. She was still staring emptily forward, a bit of drool collecting at the corner of her mouth. Eon reached forward with a paw and cleaned some of it off; Rim didn’t respond. Was she getting worse? Her aura felt so weak. It was barely keeping itself together.

“Rim…” Eon reached closer, rubbing under her chin. Her eyes remained open; Eon looked like he was in pain when he reached forward to close her eyelids. They didn’t reopen.

“No,” Lavender whispered. “She’s… she’s still alive. I feel it.” He reached out to paw at her, but then stared at his own talons. He’d risk cutting through her fur if he got too rough. A simple scrape, the way she was… Rim was always delicate. Her barrier kept her safe, yet now…

“She just n-needs some rest,” Eon said, nodding. “I… St-Star… Star did something bad to her, Lavender,” he explained. “B-but I’ll find a way to fix it. Always do. I’ll find a way. I’ll…”

They all fell into silence; Lavender looked at the remaining mutants.

Can we help?

What can we do?

Lavender, do something!


Countless voices echoed in Lavender’s mind. He winced. Shh, shh, let me think… And the voices quieted down, though a few of them still seemed to mutter little concerns and ideas.

“What happened to Owen, Dad?” a mutant asked—this one was a Raichu with the wings of a Mothim and the claws of a Sandslash. “He looked so…”

“Star possessed him. And then she…” Eon shook his head, his body expanding and shifting from an Espurr to Owen’s mutant form, towering over all of them. He staggered back so he didn’t accidentally crush the comatose Espurr. “She must have planned to do that eventually. Using Owen to kill me. M-my own Owen… h-how could she—how could she—”

“Dad,” Lavender said shakily.

Eon took in a muted gasp, hiding his face from the others. “I—I’m sorry. You shouldn’t see me like this. I’m… I’m your father. We need to get through this together.”

“But how?” Lavender asked. “Owen… he looked so angry… but why? Shouldn’t he be angry at Star, and not… you?”

Eon clenched his jaws. A few of the mutants looked at one another with uncertainty, then back at their father.

“Dad?” the mutant Raichu asked. “How come Owen’s mad at you, too?”

Eon looked back at them, and then looked at his paws. “I… He doesn’t like what we’re doing with the Guardians. Taking their Orbs, I mean.”

“But you said that it was to free them,” Raichu said.

Lavender nodded. “It’s mean, but it’s even meaner that they have to stay like that, right?”

“I…” Eon never completed his answer.

“Dad…” Another mutant stepped forward, this one with the body of a Flareon, the fur of a Jolteon, and the fins of a Vaporeon. “Is he mad because we kill people?”

Various mutants shifted uncomfortably.

“When we black out, sometimes you say that something bad happened. We know what that means, Dad…”

“N-nothing happens,” Eon said hastily.

The mutants frowned. Lavender shrank away. “Dad’s been getting better at that. We don’t go berserk nearly as often, and… and now it’s usually only when he switches us to battle mode. That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? Then you don’t have to actually… see it happen.”

And once again, the audience found various parts of the hall to observe instead of their father.

“Dad?” The Eevee-evolution fusion looked up. “When this is all over… Are you going to turn it off forever?”

“Yes,” Eon said immediately. “Yes, with all my power. I… We just need to save the world from them. You’ve seen what they’re like. And…”

“How come you need Owen for it?” Lavender asked. “And the rest of Team Alloy?”

Eon ran a claw over Rim’s limp form, and then picked her up. “Owen… all of Team Alloy, but Owen most of all… we were partners. We worked together just like Rim and I a long time ago. It’s the sort of bond that… I don’t know how to replicate. It’s irreplaceable. And it’s tangible. It’s something that we could use to usurp them, give me the edge that…” Eon’s voice quickened, but then he slowed to a stop. “But… but he doesn’t remember that anymore. It’s gone.”

“Because of how he was split apart?” Lavender asked.

“No,” Eon said. “Well… some of that might be true. But the rest…” He shook his head. “It’s hidden behind that Divine Decree. He doesn’t remember. And I can’t tell you about it, either.”

“If he remembered, do you think he’d partner up with you again?” Lavender asked. “If any of them did?”

“I don’t know anymore,” Eon finally said, slumping over. “I wish that I could just say one magic word and Owen would suddenly remember everything, smile, and go by my side. Would be nice to have the power over wishes, huh? Maybe I’d be able to pull another miracle like the Reincarnation Machine all over again.”

Lavender glanced at Rim, then at Eon. But when he did, there was something new in Eon’s eyes—they were wider.

“Star possessed Owen,” Eon repeated. “What if… that also gave him Star’s blessing?”

“Huh?” Lavender tilted his head.

“What if that broke the Decree?”

“Maybe?” He wasn’t sure how significant that was. Eon always thought it was important to break through that thing, but why did it matter here?

Eon suddenly stood up. “If I had to know where Owen was, right now…” He paced around, letting a few other mutants inspect Rim, though he warned them to be gentle. “…He left for Brandon’s… but I don’t think he’ll stay there that long. I don’t know what he’ll tell him, but… But Owen will definitely want to go back to Hot Spot. It’s his… home. Even after all this. Maybe he’s heading there now? I… Does that make sense?”

The mutants all stared blankly at him, including Lavender. None of them knew Owen the way Eon did.

“I’m going to try. One last time, I want to see if he hears me.” He backed away from Rim, giving her one last look. “Please—take care of Rim, okay? I’ll be right back.”

“Okay, but—what are you gonna tell Owen?” Lavender asked. “Try on me!” And you guys, try to listen, too. Maybe if we work really hard, we’ll hear him!

The spirits within Lavender all agreed and listened with all their might.

Eon hesitated, but then gave Lavender a small smile. “There are so many things and so many places that I’d want to talk to him about. But, to start… I’m going to ask Owen about Kanto.”

Lavender’s head-crest fanned out, then relaxed. “Can you say that last part again?”

I didn’t hear it.

Me neither.

I think I did, but I forgot.


Eon shook his head. “I need to go. Take care of Rim, okay?”

The Ditto, still as a mutant Charizard, sped through the halls, using generated updraft to glide the turns with ease. Everyone’s attention then turned to Rim. The Meganium from the battle earlier nuzzled Rim with concern. “Her aura’s getting so weak…”

“What can we do?”

“How… how weak is it?” Lavender asked, leaning closer. He nudged Rim; no response. She used to react at least slightly, but now, it was like she was completely asleep. She was barely breathing. “N-no, don’t answer. I… she’s…”

She’s dying.

She’s fading.

What do we do?

We have to do something.

Lavender, do something!

You can save her, right?

Do something!

Do something!


Lavender shook his head, trembling. Quiet, quiet, please, I… I can’t hold you all in if you get so…

The spirits settled back down again.

Lavender nuzzled Rim closer, feeling her weak breaths against his feathers. She wouldn’t last before Eon got back, would she? And if he came back without Owen, and then Rim was gone, too…

Can’t we do anything?

Anything?


Lavender listened to Rim’s heart. It was beating, but… That wasn’t the problem. It was her aura. He couldn’t feel it. Soon, her spirit would slip away, and…

Her… spirit.

Lavender glanced at all the other mutants, then at Rim again. Then back at the mutants. “I can save her.”

They all perked up. “How? What will you do?”

“I’ll save her the same way you guys get saved. Do you guys trust me?”

The mutants nodded unquestioningly. Lavender was one of their strongest and smartest mutants—even if he was a little different, with all of the friends inside of him.

A few mutants realized what Lavender was about to do and beamed. Lavender beamed back, turned to Rim, and gently wrapped his beak around her chest. He closed his eyes, searching for her essence… There it was. That flickering, golden light within her aura, weak as it was…

He breathed in. Rim’s body breathed out. And then, it lay still. A new warmth to accompany all the others flowed into him, caressed by the countless other spirits that tried to talk to Rim. They got weak, confused replies from her.

La… ven…der…?

It’s okay, Auntie. You’re safe now.

What’s… where… so warm…

Just rest, Auntie. I know what to do. I’ve done it all the time! I’m gonna Reincarnate you, okay?


He sensed apprehension from Rim then, but she also seemed too tired to question it. She was already sinking into the cozy warmth inside his being. Just… be careful…

I will.


He was already bounding through the halls. He whispered “ten” to the wall, then spun around and down the new halls. Into the lab, he found the nearest empty Reincarnation chamber, staring at the clear glass. He pressed a button and the machine lit up. He read the interface, squinting at the small screen in the center, and pressed his talon on the start button.

Two words appeared on the screen: ‘Insert spirit.’

Lavender looked at the apparatus to the side that opened up, glowing slightly with something that resembled a Protect barrier. He sifted through his spirits until he could find Rim’s, leaning forward for a gentle breath. A single, golden orb floated out and into the tiny Protect sphere, which snapped shut before Rim’s spirit could fade. The sphere sank into the machine; shortly after, he saw the spirit at the top of the cylinder. He smiled, nodding, and looked at the interface again.

‘Provide body specifications.’

Lavender typed in “Rim” and confirmed. His tail-fin wagged with anticipation; he looked up at the spirit again, and then back at the screen in time to see the confirmation page disappear. “Good!” Lavender said, already seeing artificial aura channel and coat the spirit, and then the cylinder itself filling with a thick fluid.

Satisfied, Lavender pressed his forehead softly against the cylinder and backed away. Feeling cheerful, he shifted to his Scolipede form and rolled back down the halls to tell the others the good news.

<><><>​

“Good. Then everything is in order.”

Mobilizing an entire mutant bug army was more work than Har could have anticipated. Sure, the spirits were easy enough—they could go in the Bug Orb and forget about it. But the actual, living mutants? Har grumbled, rubbing his forehead. He needed a break. After what felt like half the day of nothing but walking and coordinating, he wanted to curl up and nap.

His room within Trina’s abode was coated in Rawst leaves, lined with books. Well, it used to be; they had packed most of it away to go to Hot Spot. That would be another worrisome change, but… maybe it was for the better? His annoyingly cheerful, ‘complete’ counterpart, even with his inferior body, was at least tolerable. But the way Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were toward one another was going to be an aching needle in his brain any time he looked at the erased versions that he lived with. The ones he called his partners.

Trina was coming; he sensed her from two turns down in the labyrinth. She seemed to be carrying something with her vines; scarves? Har wasn’t all that interested in fashion statements… Maybe they were for someone else. He sat up, straightening his back to look as formal as possible.

The Serperior nodded at Har as her first action, and Har nodded back. “I trust you are doing well?”

“Yeah.”

“I wanted to give you something.”

“Oh, that’s for me?”

“In a sense.” Trina handed them over; each one was a pale green color and radiated Mystic energy. He felt it upon contact, like a dull pressure all around his scales.

“What’s… what do they do? I get the feeling these aren’t just normal scarves.”

“This is something that will be a bit stronger than the average Scarf. It’ll only work once… but I have three of them. And they only activate under a specific circumstance.”

Three scarves… Har tensed his jaw, not wanting to ask another question. He took them wordlessly and returned to his nest. “Well, thanks.”

“I’m assuming you know what they’ll do?”

Har growled, tracing a claw along the soft fabric. Three scarves, and after what had happened with Team Alloy, and Trina’s little remarks about how meeting them would be good for him…

“It’ll return their memories,” Har said, unable to suppress a snarl. “They wanted them gone. I don’t see why you should give them back. That’s not fair.”

“Mystics can only seal memories, not erase them,” Trina said, shaking her head. “They are never truly gone. That’s something fundamental, according to Star: the persistence of memories in the spirit. Nobody, not even a god, can change that.”

“Well, they said they wanted to keep it away. I figure it’d only be fair to honor that for as long as possible, huh?” Smoke trailed out of Har’s nostrils, ready to blast the three scarves into piles of ash.

Trina stared, expressionless. She was daring him. Daring him to destroy the scarves in front of her—or at all. She suddenly felt a lot larger. Har shrank back, the flame on his tail dimming. The smoke cleared. He balled up the scarves and set them by his bed. “They don’t even know they have them.”

“I told them from the outset that it was temporary until they could find new identities. I advised against it, but I’m not one to deny my subjects something they truly desired. And perhaps it did delay their grief. But, Har… even if the memories that had been sealed away are incomplete, it was the basis of who they were. By sealing that away, I’ve observed that we may have… stunted them. You have already grown to be someone completely unlike Owen. But now you only want to see your old Team Alloy back to normal.”

“No.” Har narrowed his eyes. “I wanted them to be happy. I don’t care how.”

Trina closed her eyes and turned her head down, breathing through her nostrils. “When you’re ready, Har, I have put that power to you. I trust that you will at least tell them the truth. I believe, after seeing their copies, they are ready to make that choice, and they are ready to accept their full identities and retain who they are now.”

The Charizard said nothing. His eyes were fixed on the scarves; he knew he couldn’t destroy them. It would betray the trust that Trina had given him and, more importantly… it would put him in an unjust control over the rest of his team.

“I trust that you won’t misplace them,” she said. “Conferring blessings is incredibly difficult. I don’t know why it is such an easy thing for Anam to do, or how your counterpart did it without any practice. Perhaps it is some kind of specialty in their Mystic powers. But I won’t be able to replace them.”

“Okay, then how long do I have?” Har asked in a growl.

“The power will fade by tomorrow.”

Har jolted upright, but Trina was already slithering out. He squeezed his claws over the scarves, piercing the fabric with tiny holes. “Why couldn’t you have just given me time to decide for myself?”

“This is what they wanted long ago. It has nothing to do with you. Now, I’ll be going to speak with Owen and the others in Hot Spot to make final arrangements for our arrival. Everybody will be gathered in the central chamber for our migration. I shall return with another Badge’s power and guide us all there under the cover of night.”

Her voice faded as she turned down the next corner of the labyrinth of silk.

Har sat in the middle of his room, staring at the scarves again. “Guys…” He didn’t know what it would do to them.

Ani, Ax, and Lygo. Would he lose them? Or… would he have them back?

<><><>​

Where was Owen when they needed him?! The sky was falling! Or—or what, what was it doing? It seemed to be growing a huge vortex right above Hot Spot. Demitri didn’t know the first thing about vortexes or rips in reality or any of this Mystic junk beyond fleeting thoughts from Mispy, who had gotten them from Owen. Secondhand-secondhand thoughts. Double-secondhand. Thirdhand?

Demitri took a shaking step back, eyes wide and pupils narrow. It was darker than the evening sky. There was blackness, and then a purplish outline, and then… it was like going blind. Complete absence of light. He felt as if he couldn’t look at it for long without getting swallowed completely by it.

Vines wrapped around his torso, anchoring him back to reality. He looked at Mispy, her eyes just as wide, saying everything that she physically couldn’t. Without a clue what to think of it themselves, they turned their attention to the other two—the Elite and the leader himself. “Nevren? What’s happening?” Demitri said. “P-please, you gotta know!”

Nevren wasn’t looking at the sky. Instead, he was looking at Anam, who was still digging into his own skull with his slimy claws. Black ooze seeped out of the Goodra’s eyes and head wherever the claws pierced. What was happening to Anam? Did it have anything to do with the strange void over them?

“P-please… stop…” Anam said, but then his head sank into the ground, becoming nothing but a purple, bubbling puddle flecked with black.

A different voice came from the puddle. “You were wrong… accept it.”

Demitri exchanged a look with Mispy, but they were equally confused. That wasn’t Anam’s voice. It was… what was it? It sounded like all of the spirits inside of Anam were talking at once, through him. How was that even possible? Where was it coming from, or was it… just there?

Why couldn’t he go back to being ignorant and blissful? He longed for the days when he was resting with Mispy—Axew and Chikorita, sparring against boulders and trees and each other. Little Heart missions to rescue a Pokémon in need, or arrest some outlaw in trouble. Sure, he didn’t have his memories back then, but did that matter?

Okay, maybe it did. He glanced at Mispy, then back at Anam’s puddle. “Should—should we get the others?” Demitri asked, defaulting to seeing if someone else could do something—anything—to help Anam.

The void above them let out a low rumble, like deep, distant thunder. It shook Demitri’s chest, leaving him to shake his head. “That felt crazy… Mispy?”

She had crumpled over, eyes wide, like she had been punched in the gut. The wind had completely left her. To his right, Nevren had staggered back, holding his chest as well, before his breath returned to him.

Anam’s body was a lot darker. “No… It’s… it’s not too late…”

“Nevren… You used your power… and used Anam… to create the Waypoints. You designed all of the technology. You gave Anam what he called hope…” The Goodra stood up, his entire upper half infested with inky blank sludge. It seeped into his lower half like dye in water. “Yet it was all to weaken his mind. All to control him. All to betray him.”

Nevren blinked several times, looking at Demitri and Mispy.

“I was right all along. No matter how much good Anam does for you all… It means nothing. People like you… will undo it all.”

“N-Nevren?” Demitri asked. “What’s Anam—what’s that voice talking about?”

“Nothing. Something within Anam is out of control. Go and get the others, quickly. We need a means to subdue—”

Nevren suddenly turned toward Anam and held his hand forward. A transparent barrier formed, flashing when Anam abruptly got to his feet and slammed his body against it. A single, red eye glimmered in the faceless Goodra’s head. Despite having no mouth, the Goodra spoke, its red eye flashing. “This world…” He raised a shadow-infused fist. “Anam failed to save it.” The shadows intensified; Nevren launched a precise Psychic blast at the fist, knocking it clean off. It flew behind them, splattering in a pile in the grass, which instantly withered away.

But the shadows remained on the stump at the end of Anam’s arm. The fist didn’t matter anymore. “Now,” the voices said, “it is my turn.”

He slammed down onto the barrier, shattering it effortlessly. Nevren immediately jumped away and shouted to Demitri and Mispy, “Into Hot Spot! Now!

He shut his eyes and disappeared in a flash of light.

Demitri stepped back next, followed by Mispy trying to slide into the caverns, but they were both too slow. Even Anam, now that he was back on his feet, outpaced them. Black fog seeped from his body in black boils like the gaseous pits of hot mud.

“M-Mispy—” Demitri turned around to run, but Anam opened his mouth and fired a beam of blackness at the Haxorus’ back.

He wailed, the blast splashing in all directions, but the impact site was left blackened, exposing bare skin beneath his tough scales. Mispy wrapped her vines around him, pulling him close, but they didn’t have time to fuse. Demitri couldn’t concentrate enough to do it safely—what would happen if they did it under so much stress? He pushed away from her; Anam was charging up another blast.

“No!” Mispy lunged forward and wrapped a layer of herself around Anam’s head. A shadowy explosion expanded the plant wrapping, leaving huge patches of rot that seeped into the outside. Mispy winced.

“M-Mispy? Does it… hurt?” Since when could Mispy feel pain in this form? Her body didn’t register that sort of thing. Unless… it wasn’t hurting her body.

“Y-yes,” Mispy said, blinking back tears.

They had to get it away from them. They needed time to warn the others before Anam killed them all—or whatever it was that took control of him. That wasn’t Anam—that was… Demitri, hyperventilating, could barely think straight at the sight of Mispy actually in pain. He hadn’t seen that since she was a Chikorita.

What would Owen have done in this situation? He always had some way out of things, didn’t he? He was supposed to be the one to strategize or give solid advice.

Having no idea what else to do, Mispy wrapped more vines around Anam, even as the current ones started to blacken and fall away at the tips.

Demitri tried to think back to the last time they had fought together. Their fight against their counterparts—what did they do then? Did any of that apply here?

More and more of Mispy wrapped around Anam, sealing him away, while her main body shrank back. She curled her neck down, sniffling—clearly no longer used to pain in general, let alone at this magnitude. “Mispy!” Demitri wanted to run toward her, hug her, find some way to comfort her while they bought more time—Nevren would be warning them, right?—but until then, he couldn’t see her suffer. He wanted to comfort her, pick her up, take her to—

Pick her up…

Demitri’s arms twitched and his claws clenched. He glanced at Anam. He was completely wrapped up in vines by now, like a grotesque cocoon of plant and rot. Every so often, it expanded with a shadowy explosion, but Mispy diligently sealed him with another layer each time. She looked like she was about to throw up with how her eyes bulged with every explosion.

Demitri grasped at one of his tusks and pulled it free. “Sorry, Mispy!” He raised the blade and swung it down on the first vine, but that wasn’t his true aim. While that slash was indeed enough to cut through it like butter, the shockwave that followed from his desperate strike expanded the cut to all the other vines, and then into the ground beside them in a straight-lined fissure.

Demitri dropped his blade and lunged for the cocoon, wrapping his arms for whatever sort of grip he could possibly find. Then, he curled his neck around to get it over his back, crouched down, and, with all his strength, hurled Anam with the power of his entire upper body. For good measure, he used the back of his head and neck to lob the cocoon even further.

His claws throbbed with a dull pain. He looked at them to see what was wrong, but regretted it when he did. They looked like they had gone through a thousand years of sun, brittle and chipped away on all sides. Clicking them together, he feared, would make them fall off.

“H-how does m-my neck look, Mispy?” Demitri squeaked, not wanting to know what touching the cocoon had done to it. There was a dull pain there, too. And it was starting to feel worse.

He tried to focus on how far he had thrown Anam instead. He was a little, black dot, still flying through the air until he landed hard on the prairies. It was about six Gahi-seconds away—more than enough time to try to get everybody out of Hot Spot if they hurried. They could warp to Kilo Village!

He finally turned around to see how Mispy was doing. The mutant Meganium looked a lot smaller than usual, most of her body—that is, her vines—cut away. But her tears had stopped; Demitri cutting them off actually relieved the pain, rather than worsened it. He had hoped as much; his slashes didn’t cut into her the way Anam’s strange attacks did.

“Let’s go inside,” Demitri said, but then felt lightheaded. He retched, reflexively bringing his claws to his mouth to hold down his bile, but when he did, one of his claws fell off. “Wh-what…”

Mispy wrapped what little was left of her around him and urged, “Inside.”

“O-okay… okay…”

But before they had the chance to go in, Mispy turned her head to look up, vaguely in the same direction Demitri had thrown Anam, but further south. “Gahi?”

Demitri heard it, too. It sounded slightly like the singing of his wings, but there was something different about them. It sounded more like metallic wind chimes. In the dark, it was hard to see anything, but they could at least see the silhouette of a Flygon heading toward them—or was it a Flygon? It seemed too dark, and, even stranger, there were dots of white all along it, like stars. But the stars weren’t part of the sky—they moved below the clouds.

The starry Flygon landed in front of them earlier than expected, several feet away from them at first, and then right on the ground a blink later. Demitri yelped, stumbling onto Mispy.

“What’s going on?!” the Flygon shouted. “The whole freaking sky’s tearing open!”

“In! In!” Mispy pulled Demitri back. Gahi followed after, hiding inside Hot Spot the moment the void in the sky thundered.

Gahi’s wings folded to their sides; he clutched his abdomen and crumpled over, groaning. “What… what was that…?”

Mispy had to stop to catch her breath. Demitri’s vision had gone into a dark tunnel; he could only focus on Mispy’s vines that were wrapped around his arm, guiding him forward. He heard muffled noises of the others, who seemed to be in similar strained positions.

“What’s going on…?” Demitri wheezed, finally able to see something flickering in his darkened vision. It looked like a flame. “Owen? Is that—”

“Yeah, it’s me,” Owen said, and then Demitri felt a warm presence in front of him. “Demitri, eat this.”

Without thinking, Demitri opened his mouth and downed an Oran Berry. Warmth spread through him, followed by a soft light, and then some of his vision returned. He sighed in relief; the pain in his claws and back had faded significantly, too. Just a weak throb, now.

“Thanks, Owen,” Demitri said, looking to see that Mispy was feeling more revitalized, too. Though her vines didn’t grow back, her main body looked much better after two Orans.

“What happened?” Owen asked. “And why is—”

Another thunderous boom shook the caves; Enet wailed and crawled out from Jerry’s abode and hid near Owen in a tight, furry ball. Owen jumped and leaned forward, growling soothingly at the feral Zoroark.

“The sky’s falling!” Demitri blurted, motioning to the ceiling as if he could point at the sky from there. “There’s a huge hole in the—no, worse, Anam’s gone NUTS!”

Mispy straightened and flashed a glare at Nevren. “Anam said…”

Demitri glanced at Mispy, then at Nevren. That’s right—Anam was saying something about Nevren being the one who betrayed him. But how, and why? He didn’t know who that voice was—but it seemed like Nevren wasn’t denying it. Demitri leaned against Mispy, her vines wrapping around him in response, and he said, “Nevren, what did Anam mean? He said that you… betrayed him. Is that why he’s gone crazy? How come he—” Demitri held up his claws, realizing that they were still trembling. “His Ghost powers or something…”

“I don’t know what Anam is speaking of,” Nevren replied. “There is a strange entity in the Ghost Orb that is making him behave this way. I suggest we come together and fight it off so Anam can regain—”

“Wait, hold on,” Manny said, raising his voice. “What do you mean, the Ghost Orb’s going nuts? Those spirits should be fine with Anam, right? That’s, like, how spirits work!”

Demitri squinted. “Manny? Where’d your accent go?”

“Oh, uh—I’m actually Star right now,” the Lucario explained. “L-long story. I—”

“Oy, oy, hang on fer a hot second,” Gahi said with a snarl. “First you take over Owen, and then you think I’m just gonna let yeh slide with takin’ over Manny next?! Get outta him er I’m gonna—”

“No, no, he’s fine with it, I promise!” Star held her arms forward, waving her paws frantically.

“Oh, sure, like I’ll believe you, body-thief!” Gahi made a motion to stomp on the ground, but Mispy knocked one of her vines on Gahi’s cheek. “Yow!”

Mispy pointed with another, rotting vine behind her.

“Not right now, Gahi,” Demitri translated for Mispy. “We’re—Anam’s… We need to focus on that right now.”

Gahi growled, fists clenched tight. The cosmic Flygon snorted out a plume of white stardust and conceded, though not without glaring at Star. “Fine.”

Mispy blinked, nudging Demitri again. The Haxorus glanced at her, then followed where Mispy had been staring. From there, the others did, too, looking deeper into Hot Spot.

Heads turned to Rhys’ home to see the lithe Lucario staggering out. While his body seemed to be perfectly fine, he was fatigued that he had to lean against Elder to stay standing.

Demitri pulled away from Mispy, but she followed him anyway. “Rhys!” Demitri shouted, tempted to dive to save Rhys from his collapse. Instead, Mispy held him up on the other side.

“His aura…” Mispy shook her head.

“I’ll be fine, I—I’m just tired. I had a difficult fight against wraiths. They—they sapped my aura. I was caught off guard… used too much energy in the spirit realm. I’ll be fine, but Nevren…” He pointed at him. “I don’t know how, but you did this. The wraiths, Anam, the Dungeon in Hot Spot—it’s all connected, and you’re behind it.”

“Rhys, be careful of what you’re saying,” Nevren said. “You have no proof. I am just as surprised by these developments as you—”

“You turned Anam into your puppet, unleashing some kind of—some kind of evil that he’s been keeping under control,” Rhys said. “I felt it in his aura. When you ordered him to strike me down, and when he rebelled against you, I felt it. A dark… dark aura, like I was going blind simply seeing it. It was so overwhelming that I couldn’t see anything else, and…”

Rhys nearly fell forward again. Mispy channeled energy into Rhys—of what she had, at least—and propped him up more.

“Rhys, please,” Elder begged. “Don’t strain yourself. Rest, rest…”

“I cannot rest while Anam is rampaging,” Rhys hissed, “all because of Nevren destabilizing whatever control Anam must have had—I’m sure of it. Nevren! You—you TRAITOR!”

“Rhys, now is not the time for—”

“Wait, hold on, hold on,” Star said, holding her paws up. By now, everyone had gathered to see what the commotion was. Jerry glared at Step, but then growled when Willow hopped onto his head. ADAM buzzed with anxiety and spun his head around several times. Zena curled closer to Owen, whispering something to him. At the same time, Enet was growling at the air, which earned a similar, perplexed growl from Owen. Valle remained where he stood.

“Excuse me,” someone called; a Serperior slithered toward them, looking puzzled at the social chaos. “Why is everyone here?”

“Hi, Trina,” Star said with a wave. “Sorry, we’re busy trying to sort something out. Nevren here, he’s—”

“As if you’re one to talk,” Zena immediately said, growling at Star. “You stole Owen’s body! If anybody here is a traitor, it’s you!”

Star’s eyes widened as far as they could go, shockwaves of Fighting energy radiating off of Manny’s body. She spoke slowly, but loudly, “I was trying to HELP!”

“Your idea of help is—”

Demitri finally found his voice. “GUYS!” But it was so loud that it startled that Haxorus himself, making him cover his mouth. But it did its job; all heads turned to him, and a few of them winced, including Owen and Enet.

Mispy prodded Demitri to keep going, using another vine to wrap around his shoulders, gripping firmly.

That was the push he needed. “Can we argue later? This is pointless! Anam—he’s still going crazy, and I only threw him so far. If we take too long, he’s gonna come right back and…”

Star dug her claws into her head’s fur. “Why is Anam even going nuts?! He didn’t have anything to do with this!”

“Maybe all of your scheming made him upset,” Zena said.

“REALLY?” Star hissed.

“It was Nevren who destabilized Anam by turning him into a puppet,” Rhys hissed.

“St-stop arguing…” Mispy’s voice was too soft over the rest of the bickering. “St… st…”

Demitri clenched his jaw. She was trying so hard to talk, but the stress of everything was bringing back her stutter. He held her shoulder, but couldn’t find an opening to keep them from focusing on each other. No—they had a common enemy. He had to remind them. “Guys?! Anam?!” Demitri waved his arms, catching some of their attention.

“Is this really the time?” Nevren reinforced, motioning toward the entrance. “We can discuss my alleged treason later. Perhaps we should all focus on—”

“Owen!” Eon shouted from the entrance to Hot Spot, rushing in as an identical Charizard. “Owen, I know it seems bad, but—”

“OH, AND NOW HE’S HERE!” Star roared, slamming her paws against her eyes.

“W-wait, wait!” Eon motioned frantically behind him. “Before I came in here, I saw Anam—he’s—we need to get out, now! I think the wraiths—”

“Too late.”

With black flames covering his whole body, Eon flew limply across the room.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 74 – Collapse

Feral Kricketune punctuated the air, deafening Spice. She tried to ignore it, but Milli Town was right next to a whole nest of them. Small buildings made of clay and stone dotted a lumpy field of grass. To the left, a forest blackened by day’s end sang the first few notes of its nighttime tune. To the right, boisterous singing and dancing to drums and strings rang out in friendly competition with the wild chirping.

“Ohh, I can’t thank you enough for taking on this job.”

Next to Spice was an elderly Mamoswine. She seemed to be enjoying the cool, outdoor air of nighttime; perhaps it was her Ice attributes. Mamoswine’s eyes followed Spice’s hands with each deft motion. In front of the Salazzle was an assortment of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats sourced from all over Kilo. Spice had gone all over the place to gather them, though she was grateful for it. This town needed it after everything they had gone through.

“It’s the least I could do,” Spice said. “I just had to take my mind off of things, anyway.”

“Oh, because of that attack on Kilo Village? That must have been frightening. Oh, miss Spice, could you cut that one up a bit more? The chunks are a bit large.”

Spice obeyed, taking some of the sliced Orans to more finely chop. Her eyes trailed left to a dim glow in the corner of her vision. “Leo, wake up.”

“Buh—huh? What?” The Delphox’s hand was hovering limply over a boiling pot of stew, keeping it cooked to a simmer. The chilling wind would cool the stew a bit more than necessary, but Leo’s fire more than made up for it. “I’m awake.”

Spice sighed, shaking her head. “Why don’t you just take a nap for now? You really shouldn’t have come with me.”

“I’m just—” Leo suddenly yawned, nearly dipping his hand into the stew. “I’m just worried about you, Spice. You haven’t slept in days.”

Mamoswine gasped, turning her huge body to address the Salazzle directly. Spice narrowly ducked to avoid one of her tusks. “Days? Goodness, you could have fooled me.”

“Yes, yes, days, but it’s nothing to worry about. I feel perfectly fine. When I’m tired, I’m tired.” Spice had to admit—though not aloud—that the fact that she wasn’t even slightly tired was starting to worry her. Was something wrong with her head? Did something just snap? Or was someone slipping Chesto Berries in everything she ate? Not that they worked well on her, but pack enough into something…

What was more worrying was that Spice not only felt fine—she felt amazing. Energized. Like she could take on the world! And after the day’s events of half of Kilo village being flooded with snow, living ice-sculpture family under an Aggron matriarch… and then Jerry. Spice rolled her eyes. Jerry. How he got involved with their ilk… She should ask him next time. They were in such a rush to go back to his new home that they’d left her in the dust, all because of that Zygarde.

Zygarde! Since when did he exist? She had been sure it was just a myth. Legends in general were just that—legends. They never really existed. But then not only had she met one, but Jerry spoke with Mew? After the crowd he came with, maybe he was telling the truth…

She had brushed it off as one of his insane ramblings, but in hindsight, it felt different.

“Spice, wake up.”

Spice straightened, flicking her tail irritably. “I’m awake. I was just thinking.”

“About Jerry?”

Spice paused for a split-second too long. “No, about Kilo Village.”

“Mhm.” Leo yawned again, backing away from the stew. “This batch is ready. I’ll carry it over to the party.”

“You do that,” Spice said, suddenly aware of the Kricketune again. Seconds later, they all stopped chirping.

Spice’s heart skipped a beat; Mamoswine shifted her weight. “Ooh. They aren’t singing. That’s… ominous…”

Then, they heard thunder, yet the skies were clear all around them. Or was it thunder? It lasted for too long, like the aether itself was growling at them. Spice’s heart fluttered again.

They were currently in the far east of Kilo, and the explosion felt like it came from the north of Kilo Village. Spice wasn’t sure why she knew that—everybody else had been looking around in random directions for the source, but her eyes turned northwest. “What was…”

She narrowed her pupils, focusing on the distant sky. It was too dark to see, perhaps too far away… but something was there.

Several lights went out, Luminous Orbs embedded in walls and ceilings all snuffed out in an instant. Pokémon shrieked in surprise—the party in the community hut switched from laughter and singing to groans and annoyed grunts. A Gardevoir near the middle of the crowd raised her hands, forming a sphere of light. The Flash helped illuminate the houses, as did a few other Pokémon with the same technique.

“What’s going on?” Mamoswine asked. “Did someone use a Jammer?”

“They better not have,” Spice growled. The last time she had to deal with one of those was with Jerry, and last she checked, they had confiscated his. “Come on, we need to investigate what’s going on. Sorry, but we’re going to have to cut short this little service.”

“Not a problem,” Mamoswine said. “Please, get back to us as soon as you can if you find out anything.”

Spice nodded. “Leo!”

The darkness had made Leo nearly fall asleep. The Delphox jolted awake. “H-huh? What?”

“We’re heading back to Kilo Village.” She headed down the road, pulling Leo along to keep up the pace. “I’ll drop you off at home so you can sleep, and then I’m gonna keep investigating what’s going on.”

“You’re still not—” Leo interrupted himself with a yawn.

“No, not tired at all. So I’m gonna take full advantage of it until I crash.”

“Keep this up and I’ll just have to get someone to Sleep Powder you,” Leo mused.

She hadn’t considered that. Still, now that something was actually happening, she’d rather be awake. “Maybe later.”

They walked over to the edge of town. Leo held up his hands and created a small flame to illuminate the way forward. “Oh, there it is,” he said, pointing at the Waypoint on the ground ahead.

“Great. Let’s—”

A shriek echoed from the left, deeper in the forest.

“Oh, what now?!” Spice reflexively slipped a hand into her bag, drawing out a few iron spikes.

Leo bumbled after her, but she motioned quickly. “Stay behind me, Leo.”

“Okay, okay.”

She weaved into the forest, stepping carefully over a few small rocks. Slipping into a bush, she heard another shriek further ahead. It was too dark to see easily, but the steps were from a heavier Pokémon. Then came a grinding of some kind. She only knew that kind of sound came from a large, serpentine creature going over twigs and roots.

She readied one of her poison-laced spikes. The fleeing Pokémon ran past her; the grinding was getting a lot closer. And the sound of hissing, a feral growl punctuating it.

Something moved in front of her. She burst out of the bushes, slamming her spike down on the incoming aggressor. It shrieked and slammed into Spice, a beak cutting into her arm. She grunted in reply and blasted the thing with a jet of fire. It let go and slithered past her, but in the fire, she saw what it was. It had the face of a Malamar, but it was longer—serpentine. A mutant running wild.

“Wh—Leo!”

Leo, too startled to react, misfired a Psychic blast. It did nothing to the serpent, but it twisted the branches and rocks around in a rapid cork-screw. He staggered away and fired a jet of flames from his hands next, completely missing. Instead, he hit Spice, who had to shield herself. She hissed at the intense burn, but it was nothing compared to the holler that came from Leo.

When she lowered her arms, the Malamar mutant turned in the opposite direction and fled deeper into the forest. Leo was crumpled on the ground; residual dark energy mingled with scattered embers, and Spice knew instantly what had happened. It had landed a Night Slash on Leo—on the side. Blood was already seeping through his deep fur; she couldn’t tell how bad the cut was, but in Leo’s state, that didn’t matter.

“Come on, Leo,” Spice said, fishing through his bag. Her own didn’t have the healing supplies necessary—they were for her. While her arms were still tingling from the burn, it was nothing compared to the Delphox’s wounds. She pulled out an Oran Berry from his supplies. “Here, Leo, open up.”

He eagerly chomped down, swallowing in big gulps. He grunted, panting a few more times.

“Slowly, idiot, slowly.”

A few more bites and it was down, but that sickening, golden light that usually followed never came. Leo kept panting, clutching his wound. “Why isn’t it going away?” he wheezed. “It—I still feel it. I don’t…”

“H-hang on, maybe it was—I don’t know.” Not knowing how else to react, she grabbed another Oran and shoved it into Leo’s mouth, not even asking this time. He grumbled through his chewing, trying to stand up at the same time, but Spice had none of it. His wounds weren’t closing—why weren’t they closing?! Two Orans weren’t enough? That had just been a basic Night Slash.

He needed a Heal Pulse, and from someone strong. Thankfully, there was a Waypoint just out of town. “Hang on, Leo. I’m gonna carry you back, alright?”

“Urgh…” Leo lifted his hand, staring at his bloodied fur. “Why isn’t it…”

“I don’t know. We just need to go.”

After a short walk, with a mercifully quiet town with the inhabitants trying to sort out the sudden drop of all Orb technology, Spice hopped onto the Waypoint. She closed her eyes—the warps always disoriented her when she wasn’t careful.

“…Spice?” Leo groaned.

“What?” Spice looked back, but then realized that they were still at the village. Then, more bewildered this time, “What?”

She stepped off of the Waypoint. Back on. Nothing. Off, then on again. Nothing.

“It’s… it’s broken.” The Salazzle stared at the horizon, so far away that they couldn’t even properly see Kilo Mountain.

“What do you mean?” Leo winced, trying to readjust his wounded side.

Spice stepped off of the tile, staring incredulously at it. Like it was impossible. Because it was impossible. This had never happened, not once in all her life since the Waypoints had been introduced to the south. Yet, there it was, right in front of her.

“The Waypoints are broken.”

<><><>​

“Other Owen’s hurt!” Enet shouted.

After all the power that Eon had demonstrated before, and the fight he tried to put up against Star, Owen didn’t expect to see him so easily hurt by Anam’s shadowy blast. Yet there he was, spinning across the ground in the remnants of one of Anam’s strange techniques.

Nevren took a step back and looked at his lucky charm again. A dim gray colored its center. Rhys, meanwhile, stumbled over himself trying to get to Eon.

“We have to get out of here. We can’t fight Anam like this!” Demitri shouted.

Mispy still ached from her last attempt at holding Anam off. It was a dull pain, but the fact that she felt any kind of pain at all…

“What’s wrong with him?” Zena whispered to Owen, but the Charizard only shook his head. He dug through his bag in an attempt to find his Badge. Fighting in Hot Spot after all that had happened was going to only cause more trouble. Anam had the advantage in the chaos; he didn’t have to worry about friendly fire or ruining the caverns. They just had to find a way to get out.

“Let’s just go.” Owen found his Badge and flashed it at the others, who got the signal. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were quick to grab their own; they weren’t sure which Badges had a charge and which ones didn’t, but each Heart had one. As long as some of them were operational, they would be able to escape, right?

They had to at least try.

Anam fired another beam of shadows toward the congregation, but this time Owen was quick to react. He leapt in front of everyone else and crossed his arms; the shield of golden light worked the same as it always did, dispelling the shadows completely.

To counter, Willow fired a ball of shrinking mist toward Anam, but it evaporated in an oppressive atmosphere before it could even reach him.

“I don’t get it—what’s going on? Why is Anam—” Star winced, holding up the barrier again. “He sounds like—l-like…”

“You know who I am.”

Star’s blood ran cold and her wide eyes darted to the others. “We need to run! NOW!” Panicking, she fired an Aura Sphere toward Anam, but his Ghostly aura absorbed it.

Owen blindly fired a wad of flames at Anam. “We’ll go to Kilo and buy us more time. Everyone! Come close!” he shouted. “Behind me!”

Rhys fished around for his Badge, panicking when he realized that it was missing.

“Oh—sorry,” Zena said, revealing Rhys’ Badge in her ribbons. “I used it.”

“I also used one of yours,” Trina said. “It may not do much.” She then shoved her vines into the ground; just ahead of Anam, a flurry of silken webs covered the entryway. The fact that he was so slow to charge his attacks and approach was their only saving grace.

“H-hopefully three is enough?” Owen said, but that just made everyone gather up closer.

“Hurry, Owen!” Enet growled at him.

“Okay, okay,” Owen said, which earned an odd look from Enet.

“Owen, focus,” Zena said urgently. “You don’t need to growl at Enet right now, she’s just stressed.”

“Growl? What do you—” Owen shook his head. Not the time. He held his Badge in the air and closed his eyes.

He still heard everyone’s worried mumblings and the sound of Anam blasting through the thick wall of silk. It was already dissolving into black sludge. Zena fired a cone of water at Anam from the other side; Step followed up with a beam of ice, freezing the water in place as a solid wall.

Owen lowered his Badge. “It’s not working?!”

Heads turned toward Owen expectantly; they had been ready to warp out, but now, without any sense of getting out, they scrambled to enter a more defensive stance. Step stomped her foot, frosty air swirling around her hands. ADAM’s beak started to glow with a charging Hyper Beam.

“No, no, no—” Star tugged at her ears, eyes darting in all directions like a trapped feral.

“Why isn’t it working?!” Demitri looked at his own. “Trina! Yours worked, right?”

“Y-yes, it did.”

“We used Owen’s to get back here, too,” Zena said quickly. “Did it run out of power?”

“That doesn’t explain ours!” Gahi looked at Mispy and Demitri; their Badges had been similarly useless. They weren’t in a Dungeon, were they? Anam’s aura wasn’t strong enough to disrupt warping, too, was it? Or…

“It’s too late. I have revoked Anam’s blessings.”

“Wh… what?” Owen felt his chest tighten. “Revoked? Just like—”

The barrier of ice shattered; a shroud of black fog flooded Hot Spot Cave, making Owen’s tail flame grow to twice its size in alarm.

“Left! G-go left!” Owen cried, narrowly dodging a stray beam of dark energy. Anam fired in all directions in a scattered shot.

Trina shouted in pain from one, leaving part of her front darkened. She winced, coiling her body in a reflex.

“Owen!” Zena slithered toward him and fired another Hydro Pump toward Anam. That was accompanied by Step blasting the water with another beam of ice from her palms, keeping the wall thick to stall for time.

“Do none of the Badges work?” Demitri shouted, flailing his in the air like that would actually help.

“Anam disabled them,” Rhys said. “He disabled the Badges—we don’t have a means of escape here. Not an easy one.”

A thunderous crack shook their auras; several of them collapsed into a heap and struggled back to their feet. The ice chipped away.

“Asserting Normalized atmosphere,” ADAM announced, followed by sending a pulse of white light toward Anam. It coated him, briefly solidifying his ethereal, dark body. Then, in a loud, rallying buzz, he shouted, “Attack!”

Enet created a ball of lightning in her paws and hurled it at Anam next. Perfect aim—she threw it through one of the crevices and zapped Anam’s solidified body. His Dragon resistance to electricity had been completely nullified. Enet turned to Owen. “Attack! He’s vulnerable!”

“Okay, okay!” Owen said, blasting a gout of flames toward Anam from afar. While it widened the icy wall, that didn’t matter; they were pushing Anam back.

More sticky webs curled around Anam’s legs and tail, locking him in place for easier strikes. Trina grunted, clearly still impaired by the first blast. “If you think a simple blast like that is enough to stop me…”

Star fired ineffectual Aura Spheres at Anam. His Ghostly power had been inhibited by ADAM’s blast, but Owen didn’t feel that same power from Manny’s body. Was she still exhausted from her time possessing him? What great timing, Owen hissed to himself. Enet was getting close to Anam and in the way of some of the crossfire. “Enet! Get back, you’re too close!”

Enet hopped back obediently. “Sorry, I’m trying to get a good attack in!”

“Will you two quit making those feral growls at each other?!” Willow said. “It’s scary! And I can’t get a good shot in! Hold still!”

The Joltik landed on top of Owen’s head, forcing him to keep his neck steady. “What do you mean, growls? I’m just talking to Enet!”

“No, you were growling, now shut up!” Willow charged up pink energy, sprouting wings on her back. Between those wings, which flexed upward, a sphere of light, like a pink Aura Sphere, formed in an unstable glob. “Keep him still!” she shouted.

“Your simple tricks will do nothing.”

Another shadowy blast cut through the web. Owen sprang into action then, rushing forward to cross his arms. The blast deflected upward and into the ceiling, disintegrating some of the rocks in an instant. Black ash rained down on them, but Gahi beat his wings rapidly, blowing the debris to the side of the cavern. Demitri yanked one of his tusks out and wound his arm back, taking aim at Anam.

He threw it. The sheer speed of his throw created a small shockwave, bending the light around it. The blade struck Anam by the tip first, piercing into his body, but the shockwave blew it apart at his core. Black sludge scattered behind and to the sides, most of it collapsing below it, but they knew Anam better to think that would be the end of it. Zena and Step launched another Frozen Hydro Pump toward the wriggling blobs of sludge, freezing them all under a large heap of water, like it had stopped in time.

Willow didn’t lose her charge, glaring at the frozen water. “Did we do it?” she said.

Owen took an uneasy step forward, closing his eyes. “No,” he said, still feeling their movements. “He’s—he’s melting through the ice and gathering himself up again!”

“Oh, great,” Star said, rubbing her paws together. “What’s taking Manny so long?! He can do this way better than me!” She tried to charge up another Aura Sphere, but it was so unsteady from her panic that nothing could hold its shape. Even her voice trembled.

The dark sludge had formed a small dome within its icy prison, coalescing into a single mass once more. “F-freeze it again!” Owen ordered.

Zena, exhaustedly, fired another Hydro Pump at the melting ice. Then, seconds later, Step followed up with another freezing beam. Zena didn’t stop until she had run out of all the energy she had. Step clenched her fists, cutting off her beams. The entire cave entrance was frozen over.

“Oh, great, wise guy!” Gahi shouted, pointing at Owen. “You just froze over the exit!”

“How are we supposed to get out?” Demitri said. “If we break out of the ceiling, we might cause a cave-in!”

They were still moving. Deep inside the ice, they still burrowed through the dome to combine into a single entity again. Even if they escaped, it would chase after them, perhaps take innocents along the way. What were they supposed to do?

He was already regenerating. By the time he broke out, Anam would be back in a single piece—the very thought that they were trying to kill him… Owen didn’t even have time to process it. They didn’t have time to think about what they were trying to do, just that they had to or they would all die.

“Guys,” Owen said, getting an idea. “He’s already regenerating. We—if we want to beat him, and m-maybe get whatever’s in Anam out… we have to hit him all at once. With everything we have, the second he—”

“Are you CRAZY?” Star shouted. “No! We need to get away!”

“But we—”

“Owen!” Star interrupted with an exasperated sigh. “Think about it! Anam is literally the strongest Pokémon in the world, behind maybe Aramé, but guess what, she’s not here! The only person who came close to beating him was Rhys, and that was before we knew that the Wraith King was inside him!”

“The what?” Owen said.

“Long story! More later!” Star pointed at the blob in the ice. “We have to run. We can’t beat that thing. Trust me, I know we can’t. We need to regroup. I know I got off on the wrong foot, but can you at least trust me on this?”

The ice was melting. Everyone else seemed uneasy. Demitri prodded at the empty space where his tusk used to be, now frozen with the blob somewhere. Owen didn’t have the heart to tell him that it had already been disintegrated by Anam.

“Regardless of what you choose, Rhys is in no state to battle,” Nevren said. He had been staring at his lucky charm the whole time, its color a deep gray. “We must escape. Fighting him is useless. Rhys, come with me.”

“I r-refuse to—”

“You don’t have a choice,” Nevren said impatiently, shoving him forward. “Elder!”

“Y-yes, I’m coming,” Elder said.

“Charge all the power you must,” Nevren said. “I know I can’t stop you from trying to free Anam from that thing’s hold, but my personal recommendation is you evacuate!”

“What’re you suddenly giving up fer?” Gahi growled, flicking his tail. “I thought you—”

Nevren disappeared in a flash of light, along with Rhys and Elder.

Owen blinked, but then Gahi cursed at the air. “Of course his Teleport still works!”

“H-he’ll come back for us, right?” Owen said. “How many can he teleport at once?”

“Just two is a stretch,” Star said, finally forming an Aura Sphere.

Owen sensed Eon stir, finally returning to the waking world. Nobody tried to help him up, but Owen was tempted to ask Mispy to heal him—if they had the time.

“Here’s the plan,” Star went on. “We wait for the ice to break, blast the ever-loving tar out of him, and then run for it.”

“W-wait! Mom!” Owen looked at Star. “Where’s Mom?”

Star flinched. “Hecto’s still looking for her across the aura sea. I—”

“Her body. We need to bring her body with us.”

“Well, that’s true, I—”

“Gahi!” Owen said, motioning toward his chest. For some reason, that gesture was all they needed. Gahi rammed into Owen, disappearing inside. After a pulse of weak light converted their bodies to their fused self, Gawen spun around and flew toward Owen’s home.

Mispy wrapped her vines around Demitri’s arm, pulling him closer. They exchanged a wordless nod; the Haxorus sank into the Meganium.

“She’s right this way,” Gawen said to himself, as if both halves wanted to communicate to one another verbally. He could sense her body, still unoccupied by any of the spirits within the Fire Realm. Perhaps they didn’t want to, or they felt it would be safer if the body lay inert, totally unaware of the battle going on outside. But something felt off about it. Gawen wasn’t completely sure why at first, until he entered the bedroom and saw it for himself.

It as a subtle change to his Perceive, but not to his eyes. Just below her chest-fin was a strange, rhombus-shaped object, transparent and deep red. At first, Gawen thought it was her heart, but it only matched the color. There was no blood. But he didn’t have time to think about that; he sped toward her and picked her up, holding her across his chest. Using his four wings and a dash of levitation—either innate to the body or his Mystic power, he wasn’t sure—he glided across the ground and to the rest of the group. They were in the middle of a hasty preparation for their departure, though it seemed that those who still had strength left were gathering in an attack formation. A final assault.

“Let’s go, Owen,” Zena said. “I—I don’t have enough power in me for another attack like that.”

“Hyper Beam fully charged,” ADAM reported.

“I’ve got a shrink ball!” Willow announced.

“Zap!” Enet clicked her claws together.

“Yeah, I’m gonna go.” Jerry tiptoed to the blocked exit, but once he got close, he screamed.

All eyes turned toward the exit—wraiths stood on the opposite side, their shapeless masses flooding the narrow, blocked path. Some of them rose from the ground, clawing at the air as they took form. Some resembled Pokémon; others, only vaguely. But Gawen recognized one from the masses instantly.

“James!”

The Decidueye wraith stared at the Flygon-Charizard, drawing a feather of darkness from nothing. Despite a thick wall of ice separating the two of them, Gawen had a feeling it wouldn’t mean much against a darkness-reinforced arrow.

“Guys! Focus!” Star shouted, pointing at the main blob. “It’s about to—”

James fired, blasting a hole through the ice without effort. Gawen crossed his arms and blocked the incoming arrow. “We have to take care of these guys, too!” he said, stomping on the ground. Molten earth erupted beneath the wraiths and James, disrupting their stance. A few remained, but a ball of lighting exploded in front of their group, stunning them.

“Precious seconds, wasted.”

“Guys, NOW!”

The ice shattered in another ear-splitting explosion, sending fragments of ice in all directions. The explosion itself dissolved the rest of the wraiths, which returned to the central body—vaguely in the shape of a Goodra—in a stream of smoke. Everyone else had to shield their eyes from ice fragments. The explosion left several cuts across most of their bodies, but once the initial blast wore off, Gawen roared, “WILLOW, NOW!”

“Aaaah!” Willow hurled her sphere of shrinking energy toward Anam.

He turned his head, but before he could react, Gawen shouted preemptively, “Mimi, NOW!”

The Meganium-Haxorus fusion brought several vines forward; they opened up, revealing the mouths within, as hot energy channeled out of them all, firing in front of her central body. The various beams collected into a single point and blasted forward toward Anam. In response, the Goodra opened his maw, collecting shadowy energy—

“STEP!” Gawen shouted next.

Gladly!” Step, on the opposite side of Anam, blasted the demon with another Ice Beam just in time. She knocked his blast off-course—

“Jerry, DOWN!”

The Aerodactyl slammed himself against the ground, the misfired blast of shadowy energy grazing his horns.

Working on overdrive, Gawen felt a headache coming on. But he refused to fall to the chaos—if there was any time that he needed to put his Perceive to use, it would be now, to overpower Anam. He didn’t have time to say anything but commands. He just had to pray they would realize he knew what he was doing.

His heart fluttered at the thought—they all listened to him. They trusted him!

Anam was about to dive out of the way. Not while he was around. He slammed his foot on the ground, sending molten earth behind Anam. He staggered forward, further pressing into the oncoming Solar Beam, and then—finally—Willow’s slow-moving ball of energy enveloped him. His body rapidly shrank down to something no larger than a Joltik—a small speck of void-like darkness.

Eon finally got to his feet, clutching at his side where the rot had settled in. “Owen—we need to go, I—”

Gawen used his free hand to grab Eon by the shoulder. He pointed him toward the prone Goodra. “ATTACK!”

Eon reflexively blew a plume of fire toward Anam. Then, when he came to his senses, he channeled some of his Mystic power through it, too. Pressurized wind and billowing sand surrounded the flames, rapidly crystalizing into sharp bullets of molten glass.

Gawen followed up with a blast of his own, the twin flames mixing into a single column of bright, orange light. Step followed it up with another blast of Ice, this time sending an entire blizzard—a chilling wind that cut through the caves. Complementing the wind was Enet’s lighting, tossing more heaps of electricity toward Anam. Then, Star fired off two Aura Spheres, one firm, the other one dissolving halfway. She cursed under her breath.

ADAM fired his Hyper Beam. This time, the burning blast of energy—both of heat and force—tore holes into the ground and shook the cave walls. Gawen feared that it would collapse over them, but by some miracle, the rocks were sturdier than expected.

Instead, when the blinding beam had subsided—along with the ringing shock of the blast itself— Gawen found a burned, melted portion of the cave where Anam had once been. Clouds of smoke, little wisps, floated in the air, obscuring something in the middle.

For a few tense seconds, only the deep, labored breaths of the injured and the tired filled the air. Then, little jingles and crackles of bits of glass and rock punctuated the aftermath. The demon had been silent during their strike, but Gawen knew they hit it. He felt it.

“A-Anam…” Gawen wasn’t sure what had happened to him. But his body was gone, evaporated, disintegrated. The flames, the beam, the ice, all of their auras clashing against his had finally—

“I told you,” the air around them said. “It is useless.”

The clouds parted to reveal a dark, purple sphere, roughly the size of Gawen’s fist. An Orb—the Ghost Orb, perhaps? But then, something clouded over it. A red, crackling energy, pulsing with life. A dark shell formed around that sphere a second later, and the smog solidified around it, turning into Anam’s body once again, pure black.

Gawen could sense something festering underground, but he didn’t have time to warn any of the others.

“Aw, forget this!” Jerry shouted, shoving his way past Mispy.

They were too exhausted. They had put everything into that attack, and Anam was still standing.

“RUN!” Star shouted uselessly, sprinting for the exit. But of everyone, she had been the furthest from it. Anam held his hand forward, blasting the air in front of Star; she stopped with a shriek and lost her balance. Then, with his other hand, he blasted Jerry on the back.

The mortal Aerodactyl shouted and fell forward, groaning.

“Jerry!” Gawen flared his wings, but had to jump away instead, dodging yet another blast from Anam. They were going out in all directions, striking everything they could hit. Enet narrowly dodged several of them, a few stray blasts grazing her ample fur.

“Your energy is expended.”

Anam stepped back, lowering both arms. Mimi finally made it through the ice, but she was looking around blindly. Could she not see the exit? Gawen tried to fly toward her to guide her out—his tail could show the way even as the darkness of outside swallowed the rest of the light.

Mimi yelped; wraiths oozed out from the ground near the entrance. Gawen suddenly realized what had been underground.

They were surrounded.

“Fall.”

And one was right beneath him. He hopped into the air. The wraith grazed his foot, grabbing hold. He kicked frantically, breaking free before it could rot him away—but it felt different that time. He felt a new sort of pull from the wraith, but then his Perceive warned him of an incoming blast.

That same Perceive overwhelmed his senses with the actions that all of the others had been taking—too frantic for him to completely discern. Step blasting everything with ice, Mimi flailing her vines and axes toward incoming wraiths. Willow had sprouted her fairy wings to fly above them all, shooting Moonblasts at clusters of the blobs. Zena slammed her liquefied tail over several in front of her, then swept in a semicircle to slice through the rest.

He had no means to maneuver away in time. Instead, with crossed arms, he guarded himself with a shield of radiant light. Gawen looked back at Anam; he was still black as ever, but he saw tiny flecks of bright, lavender slime coursing just beneath the surface.

But that was all he saw. When his shield faded, Gawen spread his wings to flee.

A beam of darkness shot out from below, hitting him at his core. He hollered in pain and twisted back to the rocks, where several wraiths oozed out of the ground. One enveloped his left wings, and another tried to consume his arm. “N-NO!” He flailed, tail blazing a frantic orange. Beating his wings, he expelled several Fire Traps in all directions. They detonated instantly, blowing him left and right, but it also blew the wraiths away.

Mimi fired a Solar Beam toward the wraiths, destroying several, yet more took their place. James stood at the very top of the exit, aiming shadowy arrows toward anybody who tried to advance. In all the chaos, Jerry had been struck by one; he lay on the ground in a heap, clutching at a wound on his shoulder.

Another scream echoed behind him. Gawen had completely forgotten about Eon. “Dad!” He spun around just in time to see that Eon, battered from several disorienting blasts, had been swarmed by wraiths. He saw the Charizard’s flame, but then saw the wraiths coalesce around him until nothing was left.

“DAD!”

Gawen turned and tried to fly again, but he felt heavy. He looked to his right and saw that more wraiths were forming in his wings. “No—I—” Gawen shook weakly, but they wouldn’t come off this time. His muscles burned. His throat was strained. And, most of all, his aura felt like a candle in the rain. He had nothing left.

Gawen couldn’t even find the strength to cross his arms for one last Protect, useless as it would be.

Two thoughts entered his head at once—the first, to fight back. And the second, to save who he could. At first, it was unclear whose thought was whose, but then, as the consciousnesses split, Owen held his arms forward. “Gahi—RUN!”

The Flygon was hurled out of his chest, back to his normal color, but still imbued with half of their shared power.

Or more. Owen wasn’t sure how much he had given him… but his vision went dark after that. He heard Gahi scream his name. “Run, Gahi.” He wanted to shout it, but he didn’t have strength. His hearing went next. Despite the fact that all sense had left him, Owen still twitched his body with what energy he could. That pulling sensation was back, even stronger. He realized, then, what it meant: They were taking his spirit.

The wraiths enveloped Owen, plunging him into complete darkness.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 75 – Descend

He’s supposed to be dead!

Star could barely run. Barely focus to fire an Aura Sphere, or anything, at what Anam had become. The sight of Owen and Eon being consumed by the wraiths had left her not knowing how to feel. Disbelief—that was all she could feel. That this had all been a single, giant nightmare, a warning that she should have just worked with them all from the start.

But she wasn’t waking up. By now, Hecto would have nudged her awake, told her it was alright, and asked to talk about it. That wasn’t happening. Hecto was nowhere. He still hadn’t found Amia. And Anam had become the demon they thought they had annihilated a thousand years ago.

Amia’s soulless body lay on the ground where Owen had been taken. There was no way that they could have saved her in time; the wraiths wrapped around her next. Gahi, stunned only for a second, shook his head and flew backward. He was too panicked to use his Psychic powers. Now that he was back to normal, did he even know how to tap into them again?

Star tried to find her voice—she wanted to shout, to remind him, to do anything in this useless body of Manny’s. No—it wasn’t his fault. She had exerted herself too much, and now…

“And now, the useless one… is you.”

Star swung her arm to her right, screaming. She hit something and it dissolved into mist.

Wraiths flooded the caverns. Step blasted several with Ice Beams; ADAM stayed close to her, while Enet scrambled away from a horde. Her illusions didn’t work well here. All of the smoke left clear disturbances whenever the Zoroark moved invisibly.

“And it’s all your fault.”

Star spun around, using her momentum for a powerful kick on another formless wraith. She stumbled after it passed through, surprised at Manny’s strength, and fell on her back. She squeaked—her tail bent in an odd direction.

She rolled back to her feet, only to see Anam’s blackened form staring down at her, towering over the Lucario.

“If only they would listen.”

Star flinched, taking another step back. She blasted Anam with an Aura Sphere, then fired a half-formed one from her other paw. Neither did anything; ADAM’s ‘Normalize’ aura had worn off. Perhaps it was because the Porygon-Z had fled the entryway.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that Step had rammed her way through the wraiths, losing only an icy arm and part of her tail in the process, while carrying ADAM under her remaining arm. The wraiths tried to ambush her, but she radiated too much icy energy—like a sort of frosted Protect—for them to break through as easily. Willow was balanced on the top of Zena’s horn, zapping several wraiths from her vantage point. But the Milotic was surrounded, and despite Anam being so focused on Star, the wraiths acted on their own.

Zena screamed for Owen again—Star didn’t know if that had been the first time, or the first one that she had noticed. Demitri and Mispy, still fused as Mimi, couldn’t find a way out of the caves. Still, it wasn’t like they were trying anymore.

Enet and the rest of Team Alloy had stayed behind with Zena, perhaps in an effort to free Owen from the wraiths that had enveloped him. “No!” Star yelled. “Run away! He’s already gone!”

“They would never trust you.”

Anam blasted Star with another beam of shadows. She wailed, the force of the explosion sending her tumbling across the cave. The wraiths swelled, covering huge swaths of the floor in their shapeless darkness. They concentrated around Zena next, latching onto her lower half in an effort to pull her under. Some readied weak beams of shadow at her sides, but Enet blasted several of them with more electricity and dark slashes.

Gahi slammed down onto the ground, earthen explosions dissolving even more. Any wraith they hit fell with ease, but that didn’t stop even more from replacing them. The source was Anam. They came, endlessly, from him. If they wanted to stop the wraiths, they had to stop him—even Anam ran out of energy, presumably.

And Star was the only one who could do that, now.

“And so you’ll help them, even after what they did to you?” The demon possessing Anam took a single step toward Star; in return, Star took another one back. “Do they deserve it? You’re wondering that. If they were smart, they would have fled. Yet now they’re caring for the spirit that I had already claimed.”

“Yet you’re not f-finishing me off.” Star focused her energy into a Flash Cannon this time, blasting Anam with white light. It took off part of his shoulder, but tar-like slime took its place. “Because you can’t. I’m—”

“I can easily end this.” Anam reached toward Star, but she yelped and hopped away. The momentum carried her too far and she fell backward, though she pivoted so she didn’t crush her tail again.

Star scrambled up, but Anam stomped on her thigh, slime enveloping and pinning her down. She didn’t feel any pain, but she also couldn’t move; panicking, she fired more Flash Cannons at him. When Anam moved away, his leg remained on her—it had become another wraith, staring emptily at her.

“N-no—get away. You don’t—”

“I’m keeping you here.” Anam leaned forward, wrapping his hand around her neck. She jerked her head away, but Anam squeezed tight. A hoarse squeak escaped her and nothing more. “I want you to witness your failures before I claim you last.”

He pulled her up. Her arms hanged limply by her sides, and Anam turned her so she could see, just in time, the wraiths topple over Zena. She fired Hydro Pumps in random directions, each one completely missing its mark. Mimi screamed and slashed at the wraiths that had surrounded Zena, readying another Solar Beam.

But it was all useless. Gahi’s Earth Power, Enet’s Thunder Bolt, the Solar Beams, the Hydro Pumps… There were just too many wraiths.

“Because I am the source of them. And as you said… Anam is the strongest.”

“St-stop that!” Star shouted, slamming her fist into Anam’s face. It sank into his cheek; she yanked her arm back, shaking off the slime futilely.

“All of the Guardians that you had tormented. The plan you laid out just to try to make as if everything was okay. The lies you wove to keep them all content, like there was no other way…”

Anam leaned forward, empty eyes piercingly staring at Star’s. She couldn’t look away—Anam’s hand was wrapped around her head, preventing any movement. But then, he forced her to stare at his torso instead, which began to ripple and split open. Star couldn’t find her voice to scream, so she only watched with wide eyes. There wasn’t anything inside but more darkness, but when it split further, she saw through to the other side. He widened more and more until it became an empty window to the battle.

Zena had been completely overtaken by wraiths, her ribbons reaching uselessly for where the wraiths had wrapped around Owen. Next to her was Mimi, who had been bogged down by too many to fight off fast enough. A Solar Beam exploded from within the pile of darkness, but only a few rays of light had escaped before being snuffed out. Haxorus fists smashed through more wraiths, but several others enveloped the holes made.

Gahi grabbed onto Mimi’s shoulders, beating his wings as hard as he could to break her free. That only made him get caught up in the wave of wraiths that had already consumed several of the others. Star didn’t know what happened to them—but she couldn’t sense Enet or Trina, and Step, ADAM, and Willow felt incredibly faint. They were either distant, or…

“Already gone. That’s what you fear. And it’s all because you failed to destroy me. Because you failed to even notice me…”

“Y-you… you can’t…” Star tried to turn her head again, but Anam’s gooey hands kept her still. “How are you still alive? We—we destroyed you.”

“Yet, you didn’t.”

Star couldn’t watch anymore. She forced her eyes closed, trying to ignore the desperate shouts of the others. She heard their prayers—desperate cries to the heavens for some way to save them. They weren’t coherent sentences. They were primal thoughts. Star curled up more, held up only by Anam’s grip.

“I said,” Anam said, “you need to watch.”

Tiny tendrils slithered around Star’s face and through her fur, collecting around her eyelids.

“St-stop… stop…”

They tugged her eyelids up. She twitched her head; she felt them like a thick spiderweb. All she could see were the lumps of Zena, Mimi, and Gahi, trapped beneath the wraiths. Their struggles became progressively weaker, Hydro Pumps and Earth Powers completely absorbed by the sheer quantity of darkness around them.

At the far end of the hall, Step and Jerry fought off wraiths at the fringes of the shadow swamp. Jerry was barely standing, while Step was closer to the entrance. A small collection of wraiths separated the two of them, and Star had no idea what happened to the rest of them.

Just then, a flash of light appeared behind Step. An Alakazam, who tapped on her back. She shouted in surprise—but then, in another flash, both he and the Aggron disappeared. Only Jerry remained.

But the wraiths were all around him, and he was too weak to fly.

“Do you want to know something, Star? None of them trusted you. They resented you. For everything that you did to put them in their situations, for all of the secrets you kept from them, that you still keep… too afraid to face your old shames. Thinking that they would judge you for what had happened. For what happened to Quartz. For what happened to the humans who saved you.”

Star couldn’t watch. But she couldn’t close her eyes—Anam wouldn’t let her. She gritted her teeth and did what she could to look away—the last of her own free will that Anam was allowing of her. She turned her eyes, and only her eyes, downward, staring at his feet. She just had to gather a bit of her strength back and she could get away. She could let him talk.

Something crept along her face again. And then she felt a pressure—a strange, new, sharp pressure around her eyes. And then, by force, her view went back to the wraiths.

“I won’t let you run away from your problems. I won’t let you look away.”

Star’s mouth opened, but she couldn’t make any sound. A weak whimper escaped after a few seconds of struggle, but her view was firmly locked. The tendrils had locked her eyes in place.

Jerry swiped at several wraiths away, but several more latched onto his back. He roared and spun around, but that was when the second wave toppled over him. A few wraiths landed on his scarf. They screeched, dissolving instantly.

Anam’s colors flashed purple again, little swirls of light fighting to escape from the oppressive darkness. His grip loosened from Star’s eyes just enough for her to feel it. She had only a second to react.

Star closed her eyes and focused as much as she could, holding her breath. Before the demon could catch what she was trying to do, everything faded away, and she withdrew deep into Manny’s body, ejecting herself from the Fighting Core.

Relief washed over her even during her fall—her tiny, feline body bobbled in the air just below the golden orb in the center of the Fighting Realm. Nobody else was in the Core’s main chamber.

Too exhausted to float straight, Star struggled to fly out of the first room. Behind her, the Core rumbled with a distant roar, countless spirits inside suddenly bursting out and flying past her. Their embers materialized into little Riolu, mostly, but others transformed into different, smaller forms, all eager and hasty to get out of the room.

“Wh-what’s—”

The Core was swirling with black smog.

“We have to find Manny!” one of the Riolu shouted.

“Faster, faster!”

“Hurry!”

One ember had half-formed into a Riolu before a black tendril wrapped around its body, tugging it back into the Core. He screamed, followed by several failed escape attempts by other spirits.

Star didn’t look back after the first time. The spirits were right: she had to find Manny. Not because he could take down this darkness—none of them could alone, at this point—but because he was surely on his way back, and he would run right into the demon’s trap if she didn’t stop him.

The screens overlooking the fighting arenas displayed empty fields and barren seats. Exercise equipment lay strewn about, some still running with nobody on them. Once a source of happy nostalgia, the strange devices now reminded Star of the human world—something that she did not want to be thinking about during this chase.

After several rooms that seemed to repeat the same abandoned scenery, several Aura Spheres flew through the air a single passage away.

“Manny?”

It wasn’t Manny, but it was a lookalike—Star could only tell because his aura didn’t radiate the same power that the true Guardian did.

“Star? What’re you doing here?” the lookalike said. “Doll and Elbee are further back, we—”

He fired another Aura Sphere, disintegrating a wraith that had climbed onto the wall. That one had been in the shape of a Spinarak.

“Sorry about that. We’re trying to fight off these wraiths! They came outta nowhere—maybe from Aether Forest? That’s the only place we’re connected to from here, I mean, except the Aura Sea, but—”

“Everyone needs to get out of here.”

“What do you—”

“Oy!”

Star’s heart sank.

The real Manny burst through a collection of wraiths with a single punch, pointing at Star. “What’re yeh doing here? Get outta here befer these wraiths get ya!”

“No, you get out!” Star shouted. “The—Anam, the—the source is right inside Hot Spot! And he’s trying to—”

Star realized that Manny was not staring at her, but behind her. She turned back just in time to see a wave of shadows topple over her.

For a few, terrifying seconds, Star’s world went dark. She could hear his voice all around her, no way to escape it. His voice was no longer being said to her—it was being injected right into her consciousness.

It’s as I told you. You can’t escape your problems by running. Even as you abandoned them all… I will always find you.

Star blasted the darkness in front of her with a Psychic wave. She saw brief flashes of light and nothing more; she was still too exhausted, the very strain of unleashing any attack in the spirit world leaving her fatigued and fading. And if she faded while this thing was around her, what would…

Do you think any of them would ever come to your rescue after what you did? Do you think you deserve that?

Star blasted again. A single dot of light blessed her vision, but it was fleeting. The oppressive darkness collapsed around her, squeezing her spirit. She tried to breathe, like her spirit actually needed it, but the air only left her.

Answer me. Do you think you deserve anything from all those that you’ve wronged? For all their lives you’ve destroyed? For every century they suffered?

Star’s ears rang. Every beat of her heart filled her hearing and throbbed against her temples. She couldn’t speak back.

You don’t. You never did. Because this world was born of an original mistake. I was born from it.

Star was too strained to fully register her surprise. This demon had nothing to do with any of them. It was just an anomaly! How could she have possibly created—

Even now, you deny. Deny, deny, deny, deny, DENY.

“A-ahh—” Something cracked. Star didn’t know where. She couldn’t feel anything for parts of her body.

It’s no wonder I’m so familiar with the emotion when the gods themselves are plagued with it. I’ve had enough. Give up.

Star made one more Psychic blast, but this time, not even a speck of light got to her. She tried again, but the blast was even weaker than the last time. Her cries made no sound; was there even any air around her?

The ringing in her ears was back. She couldn’t feel anything below her neck. She wasn’t even sure if there was anything left. It was all numb and cold.

You created me. You created me like the rest of this world. Accept it. Accept your punishment.

She couldn’t think anymore. All she could hear was the demon’s words in her mind.

Let the world you created consume you. Just as it always happens to those who meddle with their own design…

Sleep was all she wanted. A long nap, away from all the trouble. She didn’t care about the Hunters or the Guardians or Barky or…

Hecto

The thought crossed her mind for only a few, fleeting seconds. He was still out there, searching for Amia, and what would happen to him if she…

Light flooded her vision, as did air into her lungs. A huge, blue paw wrapped around her chest, yanking her out of the demon’s expansive form. A split-second later, she saw the blurry image of Manny. He was saying something, but she wasn’t sure what. He sounded concerned.

Her body jerked around when he jumped away, still holding her tight. The air rushed around her thin fur, stinging every inch that it touched. Did a whimper escape her? She was sure it did, but she couldn’t hear it… But then Manny’s paw pressed onto her back, holding her firmly.

She didn’t hear him, but she knew what he said. That she was okay. It was odd how she could have that weak connection with him, even now—she didn’t need to hear him or understand him to feel how he felt.

It was funny, people like him.

But Manny was still running away, and rather than get better, the stinging was only getting worse. Her vision, once blurry, was now fading completely. She whimpered again, wanting to see the light, but it didn’t come back. Manny held her tight against his chest; she felt the hard, cold spike against her cheek, and the warm, firm muscles beneath his fur.

Unable to see anything, her mind started to make it all up. She saw Hecto, a Dusknoir, floating in front of her. His single, blazing eye stared intensely.

Star, hold on. You will be okay.

Behind Hecto was a Riolu standing atop a Drampa. The Riolu held out a paw, sticking his leftmost digit up.

We’ll figure this out, hah!

The Drampa nodded, knocking the Riolu off balance in the process.

A demon like this is formidable, but I don’t see why we should stop now.

Then she saw a Samurott and Cacturne appear on either side of them. The Samurott brandished her blade menacingly.

If that thing thinks it can just wipe us out, he’s got another thing coming!

Er, let’s just be careful about it. Head on, we might, um, die.


Star begged the illusions to listen to her and help her now. But that was all they were. Illusions. None of them cared about her anymore.

Manny’s paws held her firmly again, tucking her beneath his arms. He weaved left and right, then flipped, kicking something. Then, he pressed her against his fur again, dodging something. He shouted and staggered, now holding Star with just one arm.

A final image appeared behind all the others. But this one confused Star. She knew Manny, the little Riolu who tried to save the world. And he knew about all his partners back then: Yen, Doll, and Elbee. But… who was…

The statue of a Shiftry appeared behind the rest, floating stoically.

Do what you want, Star, but you will let me fight him first.

Star’s world tumbled around her. Manny lost his hold on her and she hit the floor. The coldness of the tile seeped into her body, but an even colder, vile feeling crept over her after. Manny shouted, but his voice was distant. He didn’t pick her up.

The images disappeared—melted away in a black fog. In the middle of it all, a crackling, red sphere shined through.

The past is the past… Finite and gone. Just like you.

The shadows invaded her skin, rotting her from the inside. With no strength to fight back, she only screamed in her mind. There were no words to give, only primal thoughts to survive and fight and live. The red sphere faded away. Her consciousness slipped away, going somewhere else.

Whispers filled her head. They were urgent whispers, not threatening, but not calming, either. None of it made sense, but she got a feeling from it. The voices sounded so familiar. A different demon.

Struggle!

Star’s arms, wherever they were, twitched.

She channeled energy from a place she didn’t know and sent it forward.

And then everything stopped.

<><><>​

“Manny! We have to go!”

Elbee swung her body around, making a crescent-shaped slash of water around her entire left side with her blade. Several wraiths split in two, disintegrating, but several more oozed out from the ground. The Samurott snorted proudly, but then turned her attention back to her leader.

“STAR!” Manny shouted for the umpteenth time, slamming his fist downward. The shockwave rolled the ground, turning the wraiths all around him into mist. He then disappeared where he stood, utilizing the blink’s worth of transport that Extreme Speed granted him, and reappeared where he had seen Star last. He plunged his paws into the darkness, punching and kicking his way through, but felt no sign of her.

“She’s already gone, Manny! We need to save ourselves!” Doll swung her arm next, a volley of needles impaling the wraiths to her right. Then, the Cacturne rolled, dodging one of the many blasts that the wraiths had attempted to shoot at her. “They’re starting to get stronger, Manny! The guy’s channeling more power into them or something!”

Elbee sliced through another set. Manny jumped away from the advancing wall of darkness towering over them like a landslide.

“She ain’t gonna be gone that easy!” Manny shouted back. “Star’s stronger’n that! She’s—”

A shadowy blast struck Manny on the side, making him curse loudly. He slammed his fist into the ground again, clearing an entire column’s worth of wraiths with the shockwave. His muscles were already starting to feel strained—a manifestation of his fatigued spirit. No matter how much he wanted to fight, these wraiths won by sheer numbers. He had no idea where the core of this thing was, either, unless this was just an onslaught with no end.

He jumped away and stumbled, losing his balance. If he fell on his back, the wraiths would surely take advantage of his prone state. In an attempt to roll and fall on his paws instead, he instead landed face first into Elbee’s side. She grabbed him and flung him onto her back, then leapt into the air with jets of water from her feet.

“Hang on tight, Manny,” the Samurott said. “Doll!”

“Right here!” The Cacturne slammed her arms into the ground; the momentum sent her flying forward. After a flip, she swung onto Samurott, catching on her body with her needles. Elbee shrieked, but held strong, and by the time Doll had clambered on completely, they had left the bulk of the wraiths behind.

“Where’s the color trio?” Elbee said.

“Further,” Manny grunted, forming a few Aura Spheres to keep the wraiths from advancing. It hardly left an impact; most of their evasion came from their ride being so fast.

“You can’t sense their auras?” Doll said.

“Was never good at that.” The Lucario tried to form another Aura Sphere, but the sheer act left his arms feeling like jelly. It dissipated before he could fire.

“Just hold still, Manny. This place is draining too much of our power. It was bad enough trying to fight our way in!” Elbee blasted a jet of water forward, clearing the way. Doll took out the flanks, standing on top of Elbee to blast Pin Missiles in both directions.

“How do we even get out of here, again?”

Further,” Manny urged.

Without a sense of direction, Elbee kept moving forward, repeating the same patterns again while doing her best to conserve her energy. A Hydro Pump here, a Pin Missile there—somehow, they had a decent enough rhythm despite the wraiths trying to surprise them around every corner.

What did surprise them was a wave of blue embers disintegrating a clump of wraiths to their right. Beneath the wraiths was a flailing Garchomp, hissing and snapping at anything that tried to get close.

“Who’s—”

“Oy, that’s Clair!” Manny said, pointing. “Clair! O’er here!”

The Garchomp stopped fighting to look.

“Clair—oh, that one mutant spirit that gave you trouble,” Elbee recalled.

“I remember watching that fight,” Doll said. “You stole her spirit last, right?”

“Yeah, ‘cause she kept puttin’ up a fight,” Manny said. “Clair! This way!”

She obeyed without a second thought, though she did hiss at a few wraiths on her way to them. Further ahead, shockwaves indicated the presence of Azu, Verd, and Roh.

“Perfect,” Manny said. “C’mon! We gotta go!”

“Guardian Manny!” Azu declared. “You won’t believe how many wraiths I’ve defeated! Out of the three of us, I would say that I claimed the most of—”

“Time to go, scalebag!” Elbee said, shoving past him. Doll fired another set of Pin Missiles at the few remaining wraiths that had made it this far in the ruined Fighting Realm.

The Feraligatr, Infernape, and Chesnaught chased after Elbee, but they still protested despite this.

“But what about the other spirits?!” Verd said.

Roh’s head-flame was at least three times its normal size. “We can’t leave them! We—”

“Already gone! Star’s gone! We gotta—” Manny’s voice cracked. “Gotta regroup!”

Clair stopped and spun around.

Elbee stopped next. “What’s she—”

“Keep goin’!” Manny said. “She knows what she’s doin’!”

She hesitated for only a second before catching up with the rest. Clair, once the wraiths got close, growled. She jumped into the air and slammed into the ground; it heaved, an Earthquake destroying all of the wraiths in that section of the gym at once. Veiled in a huge swath of smoke, Clair spun around and caught up to the rest of them with ease, a confident smirk on her face.

“Good job, Clair,” Manny muttered. At least he could save one of them… even if, in a way, she had only saved herself.

The rooms of the Fighting Realm transitioned into patches of grass overtaking the concrete. Walls broke apart for trees. Soon, the artificial landscape of the Fighting Realm faded to the mystical aura of Aether Forest.

“Where now?” Elbee asked breathlessly.

“I—”

A beam of darkness blasted Clair on the side. She shrieked, hissing and rubbing at her now limp arm; a Pin Missile from Doll took out the wraith that had been hiding. “This place is infested, too!”

“Then we just gotta keep running,” Manny said, pointing forward. “Let’s find another Guardian’s spot!”

“Who should we try?!”

Manny thought about who they could see. They ran forward blindly; if Manny’s Orb was somehow infected with the wraiths, then that meant so was all of Hot Spot. All of them would be a risk. There was no way Eon would be happy to greet them, either, or any of the Hunters.

“Ferget the Guardians,” Manny said grudgingly. “We’re heading ter the Hall of Origin.”

<><><>​

The Hall of Origin felt emptier than usual.

Like something was missing. Yet, for the most part, Arceus had always been there in relative solitude, watching the world from above, with what limited interface he had been allowed.

Rhys had been very cordial. Perhaps part of it was because he had been too exhausted from the wraiths attacking him, but he had always been very respectful. But the wraiths attacking at all was a concern. Once Star returned, they would have to deliberate on how to deal with it. Assuming she was interested in doing that at all.

Arceus narrowed his eyes at the wall, tapping a hoof on the pristine floor. Perhaps this stress would finally be enough for her to give up her power entirely. Then he could fix the return of the wraiths and the Hunters in one motion.

And then the silence was disturbed by the loud pitter-patter of several large Pokémon—though, compared to him, they were still insignificantly tiny.

He sensed various Fighting auras, as well as the unmistakable aura of…

“Manny.” Arceus turned and looked down at the Lucario, a small, cordial grin in his eyes. Still, there was a hint of concern. “Why are you here?”

“Hey, big guy, eh…” Manny panted a few times, then motioned behind him to the others. “Can yeh help out Clair first?”

“Clair?” Arceus surveyed Manny’s spirits. There were the three mutants that Manny had assimilated into his Core—Roh, Verd, and Azu. The Chesnaught in particular seemed shaken, being comforted by the Infernape with gentle pats on the arm.

Then there was Doll and Elbee. The latter was missing a few needles, but she seemed fine. Elbee, however, could barely stand, and it looked like the Samurott had been running across all of Aether Forest.

Were the wraiths already back there? He had told the Trinity to keep an eye on their Dungeons for now, just in case wraiths tried to attack them. The last thing he needed was for them to run into trouble in their own domain like the other careless Guardians might.

Then there was Yen, who had someone on his back… a Garchomp. The only one he didn’t recognize. Arceus floated over to Yen and felt her artificial aura radiating off, just like the mutant trio, and hid his grimace. He’d much rather do away with someone like her, but Manny was the one making the request…

“Of course.”

Arceus inspected Clair. She had countless injuries over her body, each one lined with black fog that suggested a wraith’s shadows. That would be trivial. He tapped his hoof on the ground, washing Clair in a radiant light. The shadows dispelled instantly, leaving only the wounds behind. Another tap and the wounds sealed themselves.

“Thanks,” Manny said.

“What happened?”

“Wraith’s source was inside’m.”

Even Arceus couldn’t hide his widening eyes. “What do you mean, inside?”

“Hot Spot’s infested with wraiths. I dunno if they got out. I couldn’t get ter my Orb, ‘cause wraiths were coming outta the core. Star was there, too, but…”

Arceus saw a flash of regret in Manny’s eyes. He knew that look. That he failed to save someone—but he was still trying to keep a strong face. “What do you mean?” Arceus said. “Where’s Star?”

Manny couldn’t answer, so Yen did. “The wraiths got her. She’s… gone.”

“…Gone.”

“We saw it happen,” Elbee said immediately, clutching at one of her blades with a trembling paw. “There’s no way Star escaped. They… they got her.”

“…The empty feeling…” Arceus looked up. “Star’s influence is gone.”

“How bad is that?” Manny asked.

“Well. That part is not catastrophic.” Arceus shook his head. “Star and I shared many of our blessings, and a lot of what we did is self-sustaining. However, with Star gone…”

Filaments of light sprouted from his back, Arceus simply too eager to hide it. “I have some work to do.”

“Eh—what? Wait, we gotta regroup and need ter take down this thing!”

“I will. And for that to happen, I need to do a few things so I can step in directly.”

Arceus hastily walked across the Hall of Origin, deeper into its chambers. At the far end, opposite of where Manny had entered, was another white door large enough to open for Arceus to enter.

“With Star gone, nothing is holding me back,” he said. “It’s time I returned.”

<><><>​

With every Luminous Orb in Kilo rendered useless, only the flames of Pokémon and their natural light source kept the world from falling into complete darkness. It had been a cloudy night for the eastern parts of Kilo. Chilling winds bit at Spice’s scales. She had lost count of how many days she’d gone without sleeping, but now, even if she was tired, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to fall asleep.

“How is he doing?” Spice asked.

“He’s doing better,” Mamoswine said. “That Delphox really is a fighter.”

“Can I see him yet?”

“Not yet. The healers still need to take a look at him. We don’t have any good Heal Pulse users in this village… We usually just relied on Orans and Revivers. Oh, I’m so sorry…”

“No, don’t be.” Spice looked down the road. A helpful Chandelure was passing out torches to other villagers; his own body glowed with an eerie light to keep the rest from going blind.

“Need one?” Chandelure asked, levitating one of the torches toward Spice.

“Thanks.” She grabbed it, holding it above her head. Chandelure spat a few blue flames toward it, igniting the wood. Blue transitioned to a more natural orange once the wood caught fire properly.

“Everyone’s panicked auras have been a little tasty,” Chandelure admitted guiltily. “But I’m starting to feel bad. A little light should calm them down, right?”

The town was already starting to feel brighter. Almost… too bright. “Yeah, uh, you’ve got some pretty strong fire, actually. Maybe we should shove you in the ceiling and—what?”

Chandelure’s gaze was focused behind and above her. Almost afraid to turn around—the day was already hectic as it was—she spotted something glowing in the distance. It was dim, but steadily got brighter.

“Okay, what in Mew’s name…”

The glow was bright enough that it sharply contrasted the night sky, leaving a very clear shape to see.

“Wait a second,” the Salazzle said, absently running a claw along her scar. It was starting to throb—she felt a weak presence coming from that spire. It reminded her of how that thunderstorm in Nightshade Forest had made her scales tingle. The memory left her chest with a weak, burning sensation.

She refocused on the bright, tall structure. It looked like some kind of triangle, or a—“That’s the Spire of Trials!”

“Spire of Trials?” Chandelure said. “That weird Dungeon that just has a bunch of ferals that punch you to death?”

“Yeah, but… I heard the Dungeon suddenly lost all of its inhabitants a while back. Now it’s glowing?” Spice frowned. “Has the world gone insane?!”

“Probably.”

Spice flashed a glare at Chandelure.

“What?! Waypoints broke, Orbs broke, even Orans broke. How do you break an entire species of berry?! World’s gone—AHH!”

Spice had to shield her eyes, too. The Spire of Trials had become like a second sun; shrieks of the village filled the air. Then, the ground rumbled, just softly enough that it didn’t knock anything over, but just enough that it still made Spice crouch down as a precaution.

The light dimmed to something more tolerable again.

“Holy…”

Chandelure, if he had a mouth, would have been agape. Instead, Spice saw his flame flicker with awe, shrinking at the sight of the source of the glow.

“Yep. That’s pretty holy, alright,” said a nearby Empoleon, pointing a wing forward.

A quick scan of the roads revealed a few Pokémon kneeling or bowing on the ground, all in the same direction, muttering something fervently under their breaths. Spice’s scales felt like they had bristled—a cold shiver ran down her spine, and her tails flicked a bit of poison mist behind her. “Sorry,” she murmured, but then, finally, looked back at the source of the ever-dimming glow.

The Spire of Trials was gone. Replacing it was an even taller structure made of luminous, white marble. It pierced through the sky, the top just as wide as the bottom. It seemed thinner, yet taller than the Spire.

And at the top was a gleaming, white figure. It was too far away to see what it was, but the way so many Pokémon had fervently bowed down, Spice felt a sinking feeling in her gut.

And then the white dot flashed. First, countless trails of white light went off in all directions—long tendrils that lit up the sky in a web of white, flowing lines. Then, those faded, forming a bright, yellow-gold, unmistakable wheel of light above the tower.

“Arceus! Oh, it’s Arceus! He’s returned!”

Countless Pokémon cheered and raised their heads, arms, wings—anything that they could to wave at their god, no matter if the Creator could actually see them.

Spice squeezed her hands, unable to get rid of that horrible feeling on her scales. She should be happy. If all those stories about Arceus were true, then they were saved, weren’t they?

The wheel finally faded, as did the light, and even the tower had been reduced to nothing but a small glow. And with the glow, the cheers faded, too, though the rush of optimism within the crowd was palpable.

Spice breathed out sharply through her nose.

Now she remembered.

“Well, would you look at that,” Spice acknowledged, tapping her claws on her hips. “Destiny Tower’s risen again.”

<><><>​

Tall trees with no leaves thwarted any attempt to see beyond a few layers of the forest. Left, right, none of that mattered. Up? The sky was a perpetual, ominous crimson. The ground a bleak, ashen brown. Everything smelled of ruin. What kind of ruin was hard to discern. Rot? No, it wasn’t quite rot, not just that. Flames, fire? Possibly, but perhaps only as a trick of the mind. Dust, age, perhaps?

“Oh, dear. It all looks the same.”

A green Gardevoir held her hand against the tree trunk. Its outer layer crumbled to the touch, revealing soft, squishy insides that, too, withered away if she pressed too hard. Amia grimaced, brushing it off, but it was persistent. Her hands were speckled with that strange blackness.

She could only go forward. But she had no idea where anybody was, or where she was, or anything of the sort. One second, she was fighting Star within the Grass Core. The next, she had been hit by one of Hecto’s many arrows. Then, she had blacked out—appearing in the aura sea… or did she? She couldn’t remember. It had been so fast. A strange force—it felt like something had pulled her in an odd direction, against the sea’s flow.

Then, she was groggily waking up in this strange, endless rot with a red sky, a black ground, and dead trees. The forest in particular reminded her of Rotwood Fen, back when she used to live in the south. It didn’t bring back pleasant memories.

She shook her head. Focus, dear, focus. Where was Alex? Was Owen okay? Did they defeat Star? What about Eon?

None of that mattered if she couldn’t even find them to learn the answer.

Amia was about to take another step when she felt a light rumble in the ground. She blinked, staring at the trees. Bits of loose ash and rot fell from the branches; she had to shield her eyes from the stray particles.

The rumbling was getting louder. She recognized the sound—she heard it often from Zena when she was exploring Hot Spot. It must have been a serpent… but the sound was too loud, too powerful. Deeper than Zena’s, and she was already exceptionally large.

And then it got softer. Whatever it was, it was slithering away, now. The tension in Amia’s chest—which she had only just realized she had—loosened.

Something shuffled behind her. The tension came back; Amia spun around, raising her hands to strike—and then screamed.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
Chapter 76 – Flashes in the Dark

Red skies oversaw a silent, somber land covered in purple dust. Scattered like giant trees were great plateaus, all at equal heights despite their random assortments across the purple landscape. Red-purple lightning bolts shattered the sky, drawing the attention of two Pokémon stationed at the top of one of the plateaus.

“Found one,” said the first creature—a dark, metallic bird with red eyes. “But I think it’s too far away. Too far, too far…”

“We should try anyway,” the other said—a Sandslash with a few too many spikes missing. “Come on. Up!”

Corviknight watched closely at where the thunderclap had originated, its rumble still echoing across the plateau field. “It’s falling.”

“Where? My vision’s not like yours.”

“I’ll just fly. But it’s too late, too late.” Corviknight spread his wings once Sandslash hopped on. “He might be dead already.”

“Always worth a shot. It’s been a slow shift anyway. C’mon, fly!”

“I will, I will.”

“Any Titans?”

“No, just one, just one.”

“Okay, a Titan. Avoid it.”

“I will, I will.” Corviknight took off, watching the orange creature fall closer and closer to the ground. “Hmm, hmm, he’s falling fast. That won’t end well.”

“Well, if he’s lucky, he’ll survive.” Sandslash pointed ahead. “Yeah, I see it. Let’s—”

Another lighting bolt crackled to their right, a bit closer than the first bolt.

“…Priorities. Let’s try that one instead.”

“But the other?”

“We’ll save the closest ones first, we—” Sandslash couldn’t finish. Another thunderclap behind them caught their attention, but they missed where the bolt had specifically come from. He growled. “Did you see where that one came from?”

“No, no.”

“Alright. Closest one first.”

Leaving the original faller behind, they instead chased after another falling creature. They recognized this one as a small, shapeless, pink blob.

<><><>​

“Ooh… the thunder’s really loud,” Lavender said, shivering. It sounded as if the whole sky was splitting apart. But even more frightening was that he could hear its boom even from where he was—at the bottom of the lab, ten floors underground.

He glanced to the left, frowning with even more concern. Rim’s body wasn’t forming right; it didn’t look like a developing Espurr at all. It was rounded and bulbous, and it looked like something was growing out of the top. He whined loudly, pressing his head against the cylinder. “It’s gonna be okay. Are you okay?”

But Rim had barely developed enough to hear him. It would take moons for her to be back in any sort of living condition without Eon to accelerate the process. But he would be back soon, and everything would be okay.

And then the lights flickered. An alarm sounded on the opposite side of the hall, buzzing Lavender’s head. Lucas, far down the hall, howled and paced around worriedly, little flames leaving his mouth.

“It’s okay, Lucas!” Lavender cried over the beeping.

The lights stopped flickering, but instead gave off a red glow. Lavender worriedly looked at Rim’s tank; nothing was failing, but he knew what the red lights meant. Last time this happened was when he had blacked out and destroyed one of the generators—at least, that’s what Eon said happened. Did that mean one of the generators failed again?

The alarm meant something else went wrong, too. A lot of somethings, maybe. But he didn’t know the first thing about how this lab worked or what he could do to fix it!

But he did know that he could help to power it. “Lucas! Go check on the others! Umm—find, um—find Nate! Yeah, find Nate! Maybe he can help? I’m gonna—I’m gonna fix the power!”

Lucas barked and sprinted away. Lavender, going deeper into the lab, thought to become a Scolipede again, but Eon’s words echoed in his mind. Not in the lab. I’m gonna use you today, he said to one of his spirits.

Okay! Don’t fall like last time!


Lavender nodded and his body shrank down, grew wings, and sped up even more. The Ninjask fumbled in the air.

No, not like that!

Sorry!


He regained his composure and flew ahead again, moving past the last of the grid-like arrangement of cylinders, before coming to the back room. He shifted back to his Silvally form and placed his talons on the door. After a pause, it slid open—Lavender sighed in relief. At least the door still worked.

The door opened to a small chamber that had a single, mechanical pillar in the middle of the room. A screen near the bottom of this pillar showed various statistics about the power level of the lab and any critical issues present. Lavender didn’t understand most of it, but he did understand one part—the status message that had most recently come up.

‘Critical power failure – Central Infinity Energy Core destabilized. Relying on Secondary Chamber.’

Lavender only knew one thing from that status message—that the main energy reserve had lost its power somehow. Eon was the one who kept that powered with the help of Rim and Elder, before Elder left. The secondary core was new, and he was, indirectly, the one who kept it powered.

Lavender decided to check on the primary core, first. He trotted over to the left side of the pillar and poked at one of the metal coverings. It slid open in response, revealing a small, faded rhombus. He frowned. “It’s out of energy?” he mumbled to his spirits. “But it’s called Infinity Energy. It’s not supposed to run out.”

Eon only put a blessing on it, though. And Rim. He didn’t put his actual spirit inside.

“But that won’t run out as long as Dad’s…”

There’s still some energy left, another spirit said. Why don’t you power it with some of us for now?

“But what happened to… I… D-Dad—”

Focus, Lavender, it’s okay!

It’s okay! He’ll be back.

Maybe he’s just fighting.


Lavender whined. “Okay. Who wants to power this one?”

Several volunteered and collected at the base of Lavender’s throat. He puffed out a golden cloud of light toward the rhombus; the spirits drifted toward the little crystal, brightening it. The gem glowed, and then lost its diamond shape, becoming instead a sphere. Lavender pressed his head against it.

Are you guys doing alright in there?

Everything’s good!

I think you gave enough.

Does it look good out there?


Lavender opened his eyes. The alarm stopped. The lights weren’t red anymore. And most importantly, the status screen on the central chamber was back to normal. All green, with no scary red lights or flashing exclamation points. He sighed, closing the chamber, and then moved to the right side.

It was about time he switched out the spirits anyway.

The chamber opened to a similar, golden sphere. Lavender pressed his head against it. Hey guys! Having fun?

What happened?

Suddenly it needs our power.

Did something happen to Dad?


Lavender winced. I don’t know. But I’m gonna swap you guys out, okay?

Okay.

I was getting bored.


Lavender nodded and asked for volunteers again. They were more reluctant this time, murmuring that Lavender should tell them what happened to Dad as soon as he could. After agreeing, several more of his spirits funneled into the sphere, and at the same time, the spirits within leapt out and toward Lavender. It was a routine—one that most of them were very familiar with.

With both chambers fully powered—and Lavender feeling a lot more empty—the Silvally turned around and listened. Even within the bottommost, centermost part of the lab, he could still hear faint rumbles from outside. And there was something else accompanying it, too. A sliding feeling… No, more like… What was that?

What is that? Lavender asked, not wanting to speak so he could still hear the noise. A grinding, like something semisolid passing through a narrow hallway. He’d heard that before. Where was—

That’s Nate!

How come Nate’s moving?

Go check! He’s only two floors up!


Lavender didn’t want to bother with taking the elevators—too far away. Instead, his eyes shifted to a dark purple and he sank into the shadows, going up. He passed through rubble and stone before settling on the ninth sublevel. Nothing was happening here except for a mutant Tyrantrum giving little love bites to a mutant Noivern.

“Eek! Lavender! We weren’t doing anything!” Tyrantrum said.

“Do you guys hear anything?” Lavender asked hastily. “Did the lights go out?”

“Oh, they did.”

“Even on this floor, huh…” Lavender frowned. “Okay. I’m going to see Nate.”

“N-Nate? Are you sure?” Noivern shrank down. “He’s kinda creepy…”

“Yeah, but I can sense him moving. He’s pretty big, after all… and I guess I can feel his energy a lot more than everyone else here.”

“Oh, well, my aura sonar can sense it,” Noivern said, tapping her massive ears. “Hey, yeah… he’s definitely moving.”

“Thanks.” Lavender gave them both a quick bow and hopped into the wall, ascending further until he rose into a large, empty chamber.

Nate used to be there. He scanned for any signs of him, but all he saw were papers strewn about with completed and half-completed drawings of the various mutants, as well as countless fabrics of half-made costumes. A few of them were fully constructed. There was one of Lavender’s true form, though only the head and neck were complete; based on how there were more materials and cloths scattered nearby, Nate must have found his chimeric body to be a real puzzle.

But there was no Nate.

In an effort to pick up the pace, Lavender searched for another speedy Pokémon. Ninjask—where was… Lavender froze. He’d left him back at the Core chamber. He wasn’t supposed to be without so many spirits—he couldn’t find his form.

G-guys! I need a fast one! A-anybody?

Lavender bounded down the hall anyway, waiting for his spirits to deliberate. Eventually, he felt the presence of one spirit get brighter. Closing his eyes, he braced for whatever came next; his limbs suddenly disappeared under him, replaced by wings. The new Crobat toppled over in a crumpled heap, groaning.

Warn me next time…

He slammed on the ground to gain altitude, air channeling around him. With newfound agility, Lavender banked around the sharp corners and followed any possible trace he could feel from Nate’s massive aura.

After one turn, he spotted something dark in the corridors, draining into the next. “Nate!” Lavender shouted, flying until he was right on top of him. “Nate! Hang on!”

But he kept slithering away. The only thing that Lavender got in reply was a small pause from part of his body. Black limbs pushed Nate forward, crawling on the ground in tandem in undulating waves. A few eyes on the ink-black body opened and stared at Lavender.

Lavender landed on top of Nate and switched back to his true form. “Nate,” he said again. “What are you doing? Where are you going?”

Several eyes closed, and a few of the arms grabbed at his forepaws. Lavender lifted one and shook it. “Um, hi, Nate, but where are you going?”

I feel like I need to go somewhere.

“Go somewhere? What do you mean?”

It’s calling me.

“It? What’s it?”

I don’t know. It’s struggling to live.

“Struggling to—but Nate, you’re not supposed to leave! Remember? I mean, that’s what Dad said.”

I can’t find him. I’ll ask later.

Lavender realized that Nate was trying to push him away, but he shook his head. “Nate, we can’t go right now. Not until Dad comes back. Something’s wrong, and I have a bad feeling…”

So do I.

“Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to go, though? If it’s a bad feeling, maybe you shouldn’t be going.”

Nate’s massive body—of which Lavender could only see the tail-end—slowed down. Up ahead, a frightful shriek rang out. A few seconds later, Lavender saw a lump run beneath Nate, like he was lifting himself over something… And then, he lifted Lavender next. Left behind was a curled up, trembling form of a fusion with the body of an Abomasnow, the colors and hands of a Hitmonlee, and the lower half of a Carnevine. A while later, the fusion lifted her hands from her face, looking around confusedly.

“Um, Nate, I think you’re starting to freak out some of the family…”

Sorry. I’m in a rush.

Lavender noticed that Nate was going away from the teleporter wall. “Um, Nate? Teleporter’s that way.”

I’m too big. Taking the emergency stairs.

“Oh. Wait—you shouldn’t be doing that anyway! Please, can’t you stay?”

Lavender realized that, given how big Nate was, he was probably already going up the stairs… He sighed again, trying to find another way to convince him. He couldn’t think of anything, and instead watched as Nate went on an upward incline. The marble halls transitioned into an alternating stairway that zigzagged its way skyward. Every bit of metal that Nate nicked on the handlebars—indeed, he used them for safety, because it was polite—echoed all the way up and all the way down the concrete walls.

Several arms, tentacles, and wings wrapped around Lavender to brace him in place. At first, Lavender wondered why, as he was only trying to convince Nate to stay back… But the alternative was Lavender constantly nipping at his heels. Did Nate have heels? Well, yes. Several, in fact.

Lavender shook his head, trying to refocus. His spirits were doing no better, unable to find a way to convince the Dark Guardian to halt his enigmatic advance.

That was, until Nate did it himself. With a lurching halt, Lavender found himself swinging forward and past several of Nate’s limbs, though a few of them caught Lavender in time. His talons accidentally jabbed at one of the many eyes, causing it to wince in pain.

“Oh—sorry,” Lavender said, but the eye already sank into the darkness. “Nate? What’s wrong?”

The limbs started to push Lavender forward, but then Lavender gently broke out of his binds. “Want me to go up? I’ll do that.”

Something’s wrong.

They urged Lavender to go up. Channeling his ghostly powers again, he sank into the wall and quickly ascended from the eighth floor, to the seventh, then the sixth… how far did Nate’s body stretch?!

Lavender finally found the surface floor and emerged to complete darkness. The sun had set long ago, but he could still see the vague shape of Nate’s upper body leaking out of Quartz HQ. “Nate? What are you doing?”

I need to go.

And then, without warning, Nate’s huge body lifted itself into the air, more and more of him rising like a serpent reaching for a low branch. But in this case, it seemed like the only branch Nate intended to grab was the clouds themselves. Wings outstretched from all sides and, despite not flapping, seemed to generate an updraft, the same way a Dragonite managed to take flight.

Dragonite. Lavender searched for the species, but couldn’t find it. He settled for becoming Crobat again, ascending with Nate, but he was rising even faster than he could manage. The air current that flowed around the black amalgamation ripped through any sort of updraft that Lavender could make, sending him spiraling down. Lavender called for Nate one last time, even as he was sprawled out on the floor, but he kept climbing higher.

The last of the Dark Guardian’s form plucked itself out of Quartz HQ. His entire body levitated just below the clouds as a great, fat serpent, coiled together like he had been in the Chasm. Its body spiraled around itself, leaving only what vaguely resembled a head to poke out from the black coils. Ethereal, black wings, looking unnaturally attached to the rest of the serpentine form, spread out. It glided over an updraft that didn’t exist. It moved unnaturally, like it was hanging off of a ceiling that moved forward, the head training itself on some far-off entity in the horizon.

At the front of Nate’s body, where the serpent’s head extended forward, came a glow. At first, it seemed white, but it was too dim. He beat his wings once, ascending higher into the sky while battering the distant ground below with small twisters of wind. Lavender, caught up in one of them, barely stabilized himself in time to avoid the second wingbeat, and then the third.

A low rumble shook Lavender next, down to his core. The beat pressed against his heart, and then rippled to the surface of his body, and then back in again. Wave after wave dizzied Lavender until he had to land, heaving. The spirits inside of him shuffled worriedly, asking Lavender if he was okay, asking him to get up. But he couldn’t handle being in anything but his base form. His body shifted back to his chimeric self, and then he rolled to look at the sky.

Pink. The light was pink, at the mouth—if Nate’s body as a whole had one. The head was split open five-ways, like a giant, clawed hand. The fingers opened like they were mouths of their own. The light… brighter. What was it?

Another rumble shook Lavender, followed by its aftershock. Ba-thump. Lavender’s heart ached, heaving again.

“Lavender! Are you okay?!”

“What? What?”

Someone was beside him. He saw crackling orbs of electricity—the Ampharos standing guard, along with the Sceptile, he was sure.

Another rumble, ba-thump, made Lavender curl up. Ampharos and Sceptile winced, too, and looked up. “That’s Nate?!”

“What’s he—”

The pink energy doubled, then tripled in intensity. A shockwave cracked the air, knocking fruits off their trees and snapping the weakest branches into splinters. A line of pink stung Lavender’s vision, cutting across the sky.

<><><>​

Hot Spot Cave lacked any light. The stars, the moon, the clouds themselves—gone and replaced by a swirling vortex of red, purple, and void-black.

“Why did Anam contain the Wraith King?” Rhys wheezed, barely able to stand.

“How can we possibly hope to…” Elder could only watch as the void expanded farther.

“We have to calm Anam,” Rhys said. “We need to regroup and fight him. Find some way to bring that demon out of him, or—or find a way to seal it again.”

Nevren appeared in a flash of light. With him, an icy Aggron, an agitated Porygon-Z, and a Joltik with fairy wings. Three Guardians, but Nevren then said, “I can’t bring any more.”

“What do you mean—”

“I can’t bring any more. My luck’s run out, I’m afraid.” Nevren held his lucky charm forward, revealing its dim, gray glow. “These three are the best I can do. The Wraith King has either already claimed, or is too close to, the others.”

“But—Owen! Team Alloy! All of the Guardians, the—”

“Gone. We must go.”

It didn’t look like Nevren was giving Rhys much of a choice.

“The void in the sky is expanding. What happens if it covers the world?” Elder said. “We can’t stop it from advancing this time. The Chasm is—Star and Barky aren’t… The Tree—”

The void rumbled, making ADAM and Willow shake. Step looked up at the void defiantly. “I doubt there is nothing to be done,” she said, holding her palm toward the center of it. She fired a blast of icy energy toward it.

“How can you expect that attack to—”

The ice melted away, but the remnant energy that remained from Step’s attack—the aura that tried to produce the ice as it sailed through the sky—continued to battle with the swirling void before ultimately fizzling out.

“You don’t have enough power to counteract something like that, Step,” Nevren said.

“I beg to differ,” Step growled. “Something inside me is telling me I can. I will destroy that—that thing if I must!” She fired again, but the same result occurred. The ice melted away, and the aura battled weakly against the expanding vortex. By now, three quarters of their sky had been consumed by the void.

“How are you…” Nevren trailed off, looking at Rhys next. He was too weak to fight back.

Are you still trying to fight?

Nevren halted his words to stare at the sky. “It’s… that’s him.” He squeezed his spoons a bit tighter. All of the others turned their attention to the expanding darkness, a soft rumble like never-ending thunder shaking small rocks in the dirt.

All life has proven its uselessness. Nothing but suffering permeates your world, propped up by a single soul’s ambition to alter the natural state of reality. I gave him a chance, I watched from within as he slowly, yet in vain, tried to repair the world, only for it all to be wiped away by those who hungered for power. Had I let it continue, the war would have escalated to ruin what little structure you had. And then, what would become of me? You would destroy me, just as you try to destroy each other.

You do not know what to do with power. I am Dark Matter, named by your god, Anam. The old god, Mew, has been claimed by me. The old god, Arceus, is next. The Hunters are all but vanquished. All those who seek power will fall to the void.

The joy your old god tried to manufacture in this world is false and fleeting. His heart was the only one that shined, and now it is tarnished by hopelessness thanks to his very subjects and their greed. I will show you the world for what it really is. I will show you the world you ungrateful souls have been blinded to: A world without blessings, a world without your god to unite it so tenuously.

I am your new god. I will show you a life without suffering. I shall shape this world into its ideal form: A state without suffering or pain. A state… of terminus.


As Dark Matter spoke, the void in the sky expanded further and further, wrapping around more and more of the sky. Nevren couldn’t see the stars no matter where he looked. His Revisor remained useless in his hands. Despite the fact that they had been rewound every single time, his fingers felt raw. How many times had he just heard that speech? He lost count. Rushing in, running out, nothing was enough to stop Dark Matter from expanding across the sky.

Step was inconsolable, launching Ice Beam after Ice Beam into the sky, only achieving the weakest pauses in the void’s expansion. Soon, the whole world would be covered, and this time, there wasn’t a reserve of power to prevent it from staying that way.

Someone kept repeating his name. Only when he felt the sting of electricity did the Alakazam look to his right, seeing an angry Joltik clinging to his mustache.

“You’re the smart guy!” she shouted. “Think of something!”

ADAM spun his head several times. “Calculating probability of victory…”

Nevren didn’t need to wait for the answer. He looked at his Revisor again; bright blue. He could use it, but for what purpose? Did it matter anymore?

It was tiring. So, so tiring, going back, over and over, to find a solution that simply didn’t exist.

“What are you doing?!” Step shouted at Nevren, blasting him with a weak gust of frosty air. “The brainy one will help!”

Nevren flinched, blinking several times at Step. Her piercing gaze didn’t stop her from firing at the sky, not even looking anymore. She didn’t need to—the general direction of up was enough to hit her target. “The sky has an aura! Therefore, we can strike it!”

But how could such an immense aura be fought, even slightly?

Something flickered in the corner of Nevren’s vision. At first, he thought he was hallucinating, but then Rhys, barely on his feet, turned toward it, and then Step, and then ADAM and Willow.

“What is that?” Elder said, extending his neck to gain extra height. “Pink…”

It was getting brighter—and closer. It cut through the darkness like it was fog. A roaring rumble echoed from the vortex’s core, shaking Nevren’s very spirit. He shuddered and took a knee. “Step,” Nevren wheezed.

The Aggron didn’t kneel. Nevren could feel her stubbornness—even if her body was falling apart, she’d refuse to kneel to the dark god.

The pink light struck the center of the vortex, creating a shockwave that—despite Step’s adamance—knocked everyone several feet away and into the air. Nevren slowed his and Rhys’ fall with a Psychic barrier, while Elder skidded across the ground with a strained grunt. ADAM flailed, and Willow flew over tall grass before landing on a nearby clump. Step landed the hardest, cursing loudly, and then stared back up at the crackling vortex.

The void had been cut down by more than half, yet it still remained, struggling to expand further. Someone cried out inside the cave—the unmistakable voice of Anam.

“Is he still fighting it?” Nevren said.

“Anam is the center!” Step said—but Nevren doubted she was correct.

“Step, wait!”

But she was already rumbling toward the cave entrance. Nevren, knowing that she’d be claimed like all the others if someone didn’t Teleport her out, followed her.

In the corner of his eye, Nevren also spotted another flickering, white light. Now that the void had been cut through with the assistance of that attack—that pink light that seemed so familiar—he saw a follow-up. Flying filaments of white energy curled through the sky and descended upon Hot Spot.

“Step!” Nevren shouted. “Brace yourself!”

Despite her fervor to run forward, she listened and tensed her body. “Why?”

The ground heaved from several ethereal impacts. Hot Spot’s cavernous ceiling partially collapsed, large boulders tumbling and slamming onto faded mushrooms. Several wraiths screeched and dissolved, but a few times, the fallen boulders bounced off of something solid, too.

Streams of white light pushed through the cave’s ceiling and struck homes built into the walls, cracking their structures. The sky was alight, punctures of divine energy dotting the once perfect void.

Dark Matter roared, and this time, Step was forced to all fours, grunting. Nevren couldn’t move; his whole body felt compressed by the pressure Dark Matter gave off. He could only stare through the darkness to see Anam’s form in the middle of it all, staring emptily upward. Swirls of lavender competed with black ooze within his body. Nevren couldn’t see anything else with all the wraiths, aside from a few fallen boulders, streams of light from punctures left in the cave’s top, and near the middle of Hot Spot—

How did he forget about Valle?

His aura had always been so weak, and his presence literally like a statue, that he had completely forgotten that he was still there. He didn’t glow. The Shiftry statue remained where he always had, unmoving, and Nevren couldn’t safely get to him. He looked at Step.

“And what is your plan?” he said, finally finding his breath. “Step, how do you expect to—”

“If your Anam is as strong as you say, then he can still fight this demon,” Step replied. “We just need to help him.”

“I feel that this is beyond help.”

“I’ve already decided that for you. Now choose: Die here, or assist and I consider whether to kill you later.”

Nevren blinked. “Excuse me?”

“You caused this by tampering with the vessel. Now help me fix it!” Step fired several Ice Beams at incoming wraiths before turning toward Nevren. She grabbed him from under his arm and forced him to his feet. “Now will you fight?”

Nevren suppressed a shudder from her icy touch. “I can’t fight.”

Step eyed him, looking at his limp arm, then at his tired eyes. She snarled and shoved him back; he fell to the ground with a painted grunt. “Useless.”

Then, the Ice Guardian turned back to Anam. “Ghost Guardian! Stop letting that demon control you!”

She blasted more wraiths, using the tunnel as a choke point. Nevren rolled to his front and pushed up, getting to his knees. The wraiths seemed a lot weaker, but the sky was darkening again. Was Arceus’ Judgement not enough? And that last attack—it wasn’t coming again, was it?

“H… help…”

“Anam!” Step blasted the wraiths in front of her with a wall of ice. The Blizzard destroyed most of them, leaving only a few stragglers to ice over. “Keep fighting!”

“I… I…”

Not even Judgement is enough to stop me. What hope do you have to—

“Please… Mister Matter, enough…”

“Keep fighting!” Step roared.

From the ceiling, a wraith dropped down. Step looked up too late—two more had appeared.

Suddenly, a blast of ice, fire, and electricity knocked away all three, destroying them. ADAM swept forward. “Refreshing calculations.”

Two Moonblasts arced past Step and dissolved another cluster of wraiths. Willow landed on Step’s head, shrieking. “I’ll help!”

Rhys, using Elder as support, staggered into the cave next. “Anam, just a bit longer. Arceus and—and someone else is already trying to help. Can you keep fighting?!”

It is too late to fight back! Give up!

“Bluster!” Step took aim at more of the wraiths. “Just what would happen if I struck Anam’s body, I wonder? Would you have to retreat?”

You would only harm your precious god!

“He’s not my god.” Step pointed her hand forward.

A heavy rumble staggered Step, forcing her to misfire into the floor. She tried to get up, but a few wraiths fired shadowy blasts at her, deflected only because Willow and ADAM were quick to counter with their own blasts. Step got back to her feet, but another tremor knocked her to the left.

“Aah… aaaah!” Anam whimpered, then wailed. Swirls of lavender briefly overtook more than half of his body before the darkness came back. Dark Matter roared again; Anam’s body became pitch-dark, but then more bright purple shined through. Step snarled; the bright spots were clearly Anam fighting back. All this time, he had been trying to fight against Dark Matter for control? Perhaps the squishy dragon was mentally stronger than she’d given him credit for.

It won’t be enough! Just give up!

“A bit forceful for someone who claims it is hopeless!” Step said. “Anam! Put an end to this!”

“I… I…”

Anam, I already felt your despair. You know this world is rotten. Let me fix it. I can end all of this.

“This isn’t… what I wanted…”

Endings are always painful. But the sooner you accept it, the sooner this can all be fixed.

“Yes, trust the cloud of evil.” Step snarled and finally righted herself just in time to see Anam glow.

Anam. Anam, what are you doing? That’s enough. That’s enough!

“St-stop… I changed my mind! STOP!”

IT’S TOO LATE!

It was too bright for them to look at directly. ADAM buzzed and blared an alarm.

With an incomprehensible scream, a bright, indigo flame exploded from Anam’s body, shooting through what little remained of Hot Spot Cave’s upper ceiling. An intense shockwave, followed by a rush of hot wind, sent Step and all the others flying out of the cave, smashing against some of the walls along the way. Sparks of a bright, golden energy singed their bodies and knocked away chunks of Step’s icy form.

On the outside, the few who weren’t face-first in the dirt saw a large, indigo drake made purely out of flaming Dragon energy. It smashed into the void above, sending a golden ripple throughout its influence; at some point, the gold light sliced through portions of the void, disintegrating some segments completely. The heat melted Step’s icy snout and several of her claws.

And then it was quiet. The wind blew, the void above rumbled lowly, stabilizing… but it didn’t expand. The sky was still mostly blotted out, but the darkness didn’t expand. The aftershocks of gold were far into the horizon, revealing the stars and clouds again.

Rhys slowly righted himself with Elder’s help. Willow and ADAM figured out which way was up. Step panted, growing back the parts of her that had melted away. “It’s still there.”

But it wasn’t expanding.

“What was that attack? What did… what did Anam do? I’ve never seen such a technique before.”

Rhys looked back to see Nevren picking up his spoons.

“We’ve seen it before,” the Alakazam said. “I don’t know what it is, but he’d used it in Hot Spot Dungeon when under extreme stress, too. It was filled with more Dragon energy than I’d ever seen… It certainly wasn’t a normal technique.”

“But whatever it is,” Rhys said, “it subdued Dark Matter, as he calls himself. Yet…”

They all stared at the now dormant void, neither shrinking nor expanding. Then, they turned their attention to the east.

“Arceus has descended,” Nevren remarked. “That means Star is…”

“Gone.” Rhys looked at the cave entrance, so small from how far away they’d been flung. A black fog seeped outside…

“I believe Dark Matter has been rendered dormant, but we can’t do anything here,” Nevren said.

“But the others—”

“Are gone. We need to salvage what we have left and refocus.” Nevren stood up, spoons in one hand. “We have no choice. We’re useless here.”

“Useless…” Rhys tried to channel some of his aura power, but nothing but a small spark came. He tried harder, but Step cut off his concentration with an angry slam of her tail.

“Where can we go?”

“I’m going to return to Quartz HQ and round up what we can,” Nevren said. “There may be some help from them. You should go to Kilo Village and ensure that society isn’t in chaos.” He made a reflexive draw for his Badge, but then realized how useless a gesture that now was. “…Hm. This could be a problem.” He turned to face Kilo Mountain. “That’s at least a day’s travel.” He then faced the southeast. “…Quartz HQ, even longer…”

“Waypoints are gone. Can’t we fly there?” Rhys looked back.

“Well, I certainly can’t fly. Rhys, you can only fly with your aura power, and you lack it.”

“What good would the town be for us? If there’s power in your lab, we should focus on there only.” Step crossed her arms. “The mortals are useless here.”

“I beg to differ. Even if we are strong, Jerry has demonstrated that even mortals can match Mystics under the right circumstances.”

“Against a naïve Charizard,” Step corrected.

“And he is not even of the Thousand Hearts. Some of you should go there.”

“And we are listening to you, why?” Step pressed. “You are the cause of this.”

“Irrelevant. We are on the same side, regardless of the cause of the problem. Or do you believe I also want the world to plunge into darkness?”

“I have no ties to Kilo Village, and I trust you with nothing.” Step walked toward Nevren. “Therefore, I am coming with you to Quartz. If you cannot fly, I will take you there.”

“Then I will be going to Kilo Village,” Rhys said, grunting. “On foot until my energy—”

“I can help!” Willow said.

“What do you—”

A pink mist suddenly overtook Rhys, Elder, and ADAM. Before any had a chance to react, a yellow fuzziness followed, and then intense gravity.

Rhys grunted loudly, trying to stand, but the downward force was too strong.

“Calm down!” Willow said. “I’m gonna fly us there! If you’re too weak, then I’m all that’s left!”

Rhys rolled over and buried himself in Willow’s fuzz. Next to him, ADAM spasmed and muttered various diagnostics.

“Willow! Warn us next time!” the tiny Lucario tried to stand, but one of Willow’s fairy wingbeats toppled him over. “I… urgh…”

“Oho… well, this is very convenient, isn’t it, Rhys?” The hard shell of Elder bumped against Rhys’ side. “There isn’t much else we can do. Why don’t we rest?”

“Rest…” Rhys sighed tiredly, looking away. “But the void, it’s…”

Elder looked past the forest of fuzz. “I see stars. That’s good enough, isn’t it?”

Rhys glanced to his side, where pink wings the size of Emily beat up and down. “Shrinking down and resting on a Joltik’s back,” Rhys mumbled. “Not how I intended to end the night.”

With one final sigh, he stared at the starry sky. “Arceus returned, and with it his Judgement to stop the void from expanding. And then that energy Anam gave off…” Rhys closed his eyes. “So familiar, but… why can’t…” The thought escaped him, drowned out by fatigue as the weight of the battle completely crashed on him. “Pink energy…” The sight of that beam tearing through the sky entered his mind again.

“That was Fairy energy,” Willow said. “But I’m the Fairy Guardian! No fair! Why can’t I use that technique? I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“It’s not a normal attack,” Rhys said slowly, drifting in and out of consciousness. “Light… of Ruin…”

If Willow had said anything after, Rhys didn’t hear it. The Lucario faded into his dreams.

<><><>​

All of Owen’s senses gave way to nothing but an intense, unbearable, throbbing pain. The metallic taste in his mouth wouldn’t go away no matter how much he tried to spit it out—and that, in itself, sent needles through his throat. He tried to groan, but nothing came out. Only one eye could open, and with it, all Owen saw was a blurry, purple landscape and tall, dark structures. The air smelled of dusty stagnation and blood.

It was dark. Owen’s tail felt cold. His wings, when he tried to move them, gave the sharpest pain of all—that was, until he tried to move his legs, and then his arms. Was everything broken?

By some miracle, he realized that his left arm was still functional. With a grunt, he moved it over his throbbing head, feeling something… sticky. His head didn’t feel as solid as it should have been. And where were his horns? He felt the cavity that they should have gone in, but…

It was getting darker. Why couldn’t he see anything? Something primal stirred in Owen’s chest—a tightening, gripping fear. Charizard weren’t supposed to see darkness. They were never in darkness. To be in the dark meant death. Where was his flame? Where was his flame?

Owen twitched his tail, but a sting of agony shot through him when he tried. Part of it was bent at an odd angle. Like everything else on him, apparently. He opened his mouth to let out a cry for help, but a wad of blood escaped his throat instead.

His head hit the ground hard, breathing through his nose.

This felt too familiar. Lying on the ground in debilitating pain, unable to move, unable to breathe, with his vision rapidly fading. What was he supposed to do? Who usually helped him?

He felt a phantom of something holding his back. It felt like Amia. Mom… help…

But nobody was there. No Heal Pulse came. His wings twitched one last time. Finally, Owen closed his eyes—seeing no difference when he did—and tried to focus. It was all that he could do, and soon, even that became too difficult. His mind swam in a blurry soup of thoughts, images passing through his mind’s eye. Zena fighting off the wraiths, only to be overwhelmed by them. Amia disappearing in a flurry of embers from a Legend’s onslaught. A Charizard, several times his size, smiling down at him…

Mom…

<><><>​

A chilly breeze threatened to snuff out his flame. Charmander shivered and curled up tighter, grasping at his flame to hide it under his chin. It wasn’t as if it was truly in danger of going out… but it felt that way. He remembered how important that flame had felt to him. He wanted to protect it more than anything in the world.

Hot breath washed over his back. Charmander reflexively uncurled, letting out a long, drawn-out chirp. He looked up into the sharp, blue eyes of Charizard. He could only see her nostrils and her eyes. She leaned forward and nuzzled him, knocking him onto his back. He chirped again, kicking the air. Charizard pressed a paw on his chest; Charmander chirped and kicked harder, giggling. He lunged his head forward and snapped at her claws, leaving no mark when he latched on.

Charizard blew a puff of embers in his face; Charmander yipped and let go, falling onto Charizard’s tail tip. The warmth covered him like a blanket. He rolled and curled around it, breathing in the flames the way grass would take in the sun. That’s what she taught him. That Grass ate the sun, and he ate the flames.

Another flick and the tail pushed Charmander under Charizard’s wings. There, two other Charmander and one Charmeleon lay nestled in a warm cluster, the heat making everyone look blurry. It welcomed him.

Charizard nuzzled his back again, finally pushing him inside. Reluctant, still full of energy, Charmander settled under her wings, pressed against Charmeleon’s shoulder, and then nestled between two of his younger siblings.

Dark tendrils suddenly started to fill his vision from the sides. Charmander whined, curling up a bit tighter, but the heat made him want to fall asleep. The darkness covered half of his vision, but then he spared a glance to his mother’s tail. The light overwhelmed him as well las the dark tendrils. They all disappeared.

All he saw was the flame and its comforting warmth.

“Good night, little ember.”


<><><>​

Owen awoke to the painful sting of water all around him. He thought to gasp, but a primal thought told him not to breathe. Not while he was underwater.

With every ounce of strength he had left, he kicked his legs and wiggled his tail, clawing his way to the surface. His vision was red, and the sky beyond the water looked purple and murky. Freezing liquid rushed past his face; his tail bubbled in it, puffing clouds of steam that rose faster than he did.

It was getting dark again. Even more frantic, Owen saw the rippling surface get closer. Closer, closer. Just a little closer, a little more! He tried to motivate himself, but his lungs felt like they were about to collapse. It was at his throat. The water crept into his snout when he had nearly let in a half-breath. It tasted foul.

Sound returned to him next, as did that first, sweet, painful breath of air into his burning lungs. He gasped loudly, sputtering and flailing for the water’s edge, which was miraculously nearby. Keeping his tail above the water, he paddled toward the edge and rested only when he was finally on dry land.

The loose dirt stuck to his body in a thick layer, coloring his body like a bruise, but he didn’t care. He didn’t even want to move for a while, not after that.

His chest rose and fell quickly, but it slowed down when the sense of danger finally passed. The dirt caked on his body, which didn’t help at all—the dirt was just as bad as the water, and dealing with both was anything but pleasant—but with some tired wipes on his scales, he got at least some of it off.

A few embers escaped his mouth, like he was testing to make sure he still could produce them. They didn’t feel like they were enough for a proper technique, but at least he had his flame again. He still felt blind, but at least he could see with his eyes.

Reluctantly, he rolled onto his chest and pushed himself into a sitting position. He thought he could see, but it was all so blurry. The water shock must still be affecting him. It had been a while since he’d felt true water shock—when was the last time? Oh, when I drowned in…

It hit him all at once. “Zena!” he cried, springing to his feet too quickly. The wave of dizziness that followed made him fall forward, caught only by his arms and a bit of quick thinking. “Ugh—” He may have been dizzy, but he still had to find her. “Zena! Anyone?!” He could only see a red lake behind him—at least, he thought it was a lake, since it was still too blurry. And tall, imposing figures far ahead, like black tree trunks. Crimson skies, violet dirt. Where was he? Was this Ghrelle’s place, the poison swamp? Even there, the sky wasn’t red. Maybe it was some kind of freak storm, or…

That darkness. Did the darkness cause this?

He didn’t want to spend more time thinking about it. He’d wait for his vision to come to him normally. It already felt a bit like it was coming back to him.

That was a good enough excuse to start flying. It didn’t feel like there were any obstacles in the way; the only thing obstructing his flight would be those tall, black things, which were starting to look a bit like plateaus.

Feeling lighter on his feet than usual, Owen gave himself a wobbly, running start. Blood rushed to his legs. His tail—he felt the flame blaze, filling him with vigor. Yes! He could fly with this kind of energy. All he needed was a bit of pep.

He had enough speed. With a crouch, Owen hopped into the air, leaned forward, and planted his face firmly in the dirt.

His back flew ahead of the rest of him until his tail touched his snout. Then, when his inertia finally gave out, his belly hit the ground with a rough thud. Owen groaned and rubbed his bleeding nose, only realizing then how odd that felt. His snout was… short. And his fingers felt delicate.

“Wait… wait, what—”

His vision was clear enough to see the details of his orange scales. He looked down; cream scales. That was normal. He looked at his tail, the same fire as always. But he felt thinner. Of course, he was always thin for a Charizard, perhaps part of those mutant genes, and his horns were—

Owen frantically grabbed at his horns, but all he felt were smooth scales. A loud whimper escaped him. He didn’t want to test it, but he had to: he flexed his wings.

He had no wings.

“No…”

Owen spun around, staring at his feet, at his tail, feeling physically for his wings as well as he could. He couldn’t believe himself when he ran straight for the water to see his reflection, and that confirmed it.

The Charmander’s shriek carried on into the plateaus.

End of Act II
 

Navarchu

Exploration Team leader
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. swampert
Sup Namo. Here for the review blitz. Since your fic is also being posted here on TR, I thought “Why not just review here?” and well, here I am! Gonna review eight of your chapters for today, and this should be fun! One thing I should mention is that this review is live. Meaning: Once I finish the chapter, I immediately begin to write my review for it, so some things I say in, for example, chapter 20, may change when I review later chapters. I do this because, well, at least for me, I find it way easier to work like that, and as a writer, it’s fun! So anyway, I remember where I stopped reading, so without further ado, let’s go!

Chapter 20

Well, it’s been a while, but I managed to read this chapter! Gotta say, aura dogs fighting was something I was expecting to happen, but my expectations were surpassed!

By that I mean that you marvelously described the fighting scene. It flowed very well, and not only that, but it showed how different Manny and Rhys are from one another. Same species, but a different style of combat, but even so, Rhys got a little carried away, didn’t he? Another thing I must mention is that I loved the aura armor. What a nice take! Gamefreak didn’t do much with the aura thing in canon, so I always look for the interpretations every writer has on what Lucario can do..Also, I chuckled at that Aura Sphere comment. Hehe. Anyway, this felt like an anime battle, not that there’s anything wrong with that, not at all.

Manny seems like an interesting character. I like him, his first impression was a good one, so I hope to see more of him as I read your fic. With that being said… Now comes the plot part. So, I was actually wrong to think Team Alloy reincarnates. So everyone needs to suppress their forms? Honestly, I quite like this idea. It’s an interesting take and it creates enough conflict. I wonder how that’s going to be solved?

So! It appears that Team Alloy is recovering from all that fighting instinct? GOod, but I assume they’re not ready to use their full evolution forms, which means I gotta wait a bit more. Well, I’ll gladly read this fic! I’m very interested in the plot, so this review is being fun to make! Anyway, going to the next chapter now!

Chapter 21

This chapter was pretty heavy, I guess. For starters, we have a nice, touching moment with Mispy and Demitri. And they can tell something’s not right either, wow… This was such a nice scene, I loved how you did it, nice job with this, Namo.

And the reveal is happening now. Or at least it’s gonna happen, finally, they’re gonna know what’s wrong with Team Alloy, and what they truly are. Now, I know I said a lot about Owen in previous reviews, but he’s just that likeable. And the poor guy needs a rest, so I thought that not talking right away about them being mutants was well done. I’m enjoying this story so far, so yeah, good work.

Now, the biggest scene in this chapter… Arceus Himself. Holy shit, I wasn’t expecting the llama to appear, but you actually showed Him! And, to add the cherry on top, Owen stood up to God! This was such an amazing scene that I had to read it twice to fully process what happened. Of course, Owen being the curious boy he is, knows it’s a ruse. I do think Star showing up at the last second was a bit on the nose, but nothing that detracts from this grand moment. The themes of this scene were also good for me. “Man vs God”, right? This was stunning, one of my favorite moments from all the chapters I read so far, I guess there’s a reason your fic is so famous, it’s really good, I give you some very well deserved kudos! Anyway, I think this chapter did a pretty good job overall. I loved it. Going to the next one right now.

Chapter 22

Creepy. Weird. For a while, I had no idea what was going on. But nonetheless, I enjoyed this! A fun chapter, but also very heavy, with the scenes between Owen and Star being the highest point for me. Despite them working together, it’s clear that Owen does not trust her. And… He has a perfectly valid reason for doing so. After all, Star is not… The best person(Pokémon?) in the world.

Regardless, I’m going to talk about something I didn’t comment on in quite a while: Worldbuilding. Not gonna lie, this was fun to see! The world they were in, I mean. Again, it was pretty creepy, and I felt a weird feeling of uneasiness when I read Owen getting… His body fading away. I assume that was your intention, if it was, good job! Worked wonders for me. If not, well, I guess this is a different interpretation of your work, eh? Anyway, I was introduced to Hecto! A companion of Star, I see. Well, there’s not much to talk about him, other than the fact he seems to be very close to that Mew, I wonder what his motivations are? Guess I’ll have to read more to find out about this!

I think this chapter has its charm. After the brilliant chapter 21, I was hoping for something just as good. Yet this felt more calm, in a way. Meaning that this chapter was easier to read, but I don’t think this is a problem. In the end, I didn’t like it quite as much, however, I still think it’s pretty good, Namo! So I’ll finish off this review here, and move on to the next chapter, keep it up!

Chapter 23

A sweet and wholesome chapter. That’s just my cup of tea, to be honest. All interactions during this chapter were so sweet, they’re gonna make my teeth rot! No, this wasn’t a pun on the fact Owen went to get sweets. Oh yeah, and that specific part reminded me of something…

Deca! Owen’s “twin”! Well, when I read the special episode, I got super confused as to why they were so similar, and to be honest, I still am. However, I’m also suspecting him. Nobody is that nice in fanfiction… I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, and with that in mind, I think he’s nice, again, too nice for my taste. But I’ll ignore that for now, going off the tracks here. Anyway, those two had such a wholesome scene, I loved that little part so much! I think you did a good job there as well, kudos once again.

Now, to praise something I struggle with: descriptions. I just love seeing how different writers describe scenes, as that’s definitely my biggest weakness, so reading the town’s description was… Very nice for me. Loved it, read it twice to fully take in the details, and I’d recommend that to anyone if they wanna learn about how to describe stuff. Perhaps I gotta rec that to myself, huh? Oh well, I’m working on it.

My general thoughts on this chapter: After all the tense scenes in the previous ones, this one did a pretty good job of balancing those scenes by adding wholesome fluff. With that in mind, it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter!

Chapter 24

This was another interesting chapter. Focused more on action, I do like how the training went. Manny is a nice character and a… I’m not sure if he’s a good teacher.

Regardless, once we got to the actual explanation behind Mysticism, I got super confused. It didn’t really make sense for me, it was like… I was Owen in that scene. No idea what was happening, but in the end, I think I understood what was happening. And to be fair, that entire scene had a lot of exposition. However, I don’t think that was necessarily a problem, it made itself work and fit the scene perfectly. Manny wouldn’t do that whole explanation, so to make things easier for the Mander, he sent someone else.

Now, I do like the lore you’re building up now. It’s fun to read and I’m excited to see how Owen is going to use that power later on, basically, you planted the seeds(This is not a pun on Grassmander) for later chapters, and I always love when writers do that! Alongside mysteries, I love making theories about the story I’m reading, despite me being wrong every time. Oh well.

Ending scene. Amia and Willow. I liked those interactions between them, felt like it was organic enough and showed more of Amia’s personality. A kind soul who wants the best for her son and that can’t bring herself to harm others. Because of that, I think it was a nice contrast with Willow, who wanted to train with that Gardevoir.

Once again, a chapter I liked to read, only this time I had to like, read the whole explanation twice in order to fully understand what the hell Yen was talking about. Nonetheless, it was fun. Going for the next chapter now.

Chapter 25

Well, we’re back to hunting for more Guardians. After a lot of emotionally heavy chapters, I guess we’re back to the main plot. Loved this time you took to develop the main cast before jumping in to the Guardian hunt. Good job.

So! A Zoroark is the Electric Guardian? I’m honestly surprised! Enet… It’s a nice name, I have to admit. Anyway, as usual, the interactions between the members were on spot, and poor Owen is the one that needs to find the Guardian. Ouch, I got super scared at the spikes part that I forgot Zoroark have illusions. Regardless, it seems that it worked out for the Mander in the end, and speaking of the end… A feral Guardian? I’m shocked(Again, not a pun) to see that. Wasn’t expecting this, although it makes sense, but it caught me off guard anyway.

Not much to say here. A nice chapter as usual, going for the next one now.

Special Episode 2

Okay, this felt like a pretty long chapter. I have no idea how many words, but it was… a lot to process. For starters, we have a Kommo-O? Nice choice of Pokémon, also apparently he was the previous Electric Guardian? That’s also nice… Anyway, I’m also noticing that Aggron. It’s such a shame Aggron is underused, I always thought it was a nice Pokémon.

So! Ra is the Aggron’s mate, and that’s cool, I think. He gave up being a Guardian for her… That’s really, really sweet of him to do. And of course Star is being a manipulative deity, letting a feral Zoroark become a Guardian. It all makes sense in her little twisted game. I’m not sure I can really like her, but hey, I guess that’s the intent here!

This chapter was long, but I’m at a loss of words. It was interesting from start to finish, and I love long chapters anyway, so nothing wrong here! Going for the next one now!

Chapter 26

At last. This is the last chapter I’m gonna read today, so I’m gonna try my best to give you my thoughts on it! Enet is adorable, a wild Pokémon… Like I said before, I wasn’t expecting it, but now that I read more scenes with her, I found this Zoroark to be adorable! I think she will be an amazing addition to the team.

And Star managed to convince her to go with them, so it didn’t end up in a fight, which I actually really liked, not everything needs to be a big battle, there’s a certain charm in handling stuff by talking.

Now, back to Kilo Village. Rumors of Amia, huh? I guess they spread fast. Overall, another nice chapter. Keep it up!

Final thoughts

This batch of chapters was very fun to read, your story is easy to binge, and I find that to be my favorite type of story, as I like to read a lot in a small amount of time. So, for now, this is the review. Hopefully you enjoyed my comments! I tend to talk generally positive things, because I’m bad at being a critic, so yeah, this was my review! Thanks for making this story Namo, it’s really good!


 
Top Bottom