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.
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!”
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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?”
“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.