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Pokémon The Quest for the Legends

The Final Stretch - Chapter 73: Recuperation

Dragonfree

Moderator
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
  2. mightyena
  3. charizard
  4. custom/scyther-mia
  5. vulpix
Chapter 73 is here, finally. Chapters 75 and 76 ought to go up simultaneously, so although chapter 74 art is probably getting finished today I'll probably try to post that one when I finish the chapter 75 art? Something like that.


The Final Stretch – Chapter 73: Recuperation​

2022-05-23-chapter73-small.png

Mark half-dragged May through the automatic doors of the Pokémon Center, panting and shivering uncontrollably. “He can’t attack us in a public place,” he muttered, over and over, like a mantra; it was all he could think.

“Kids, are you okay?” called Nurse Joy before hastening over to them. “What happened? Was it Rick?”

Mark nodded, unable to explain; lingering terror seemed to have settled into his speech centers, allowing him only to think that one thought: He can’t hurt us in a public place.

“Did he attack you?” the nurse asked anxiously, pulling May gently upright. She recoiled in horror as she saw the redness of her neck. “Oh, I should never have given you his address. I wasn’t thinking, but I never thought he would...”

May doubled over and threw up on the fuzzy carpet. Nurse Joy only seemed more sympathetic as she gently pulled them away from that spot and called over one of the Center’s Blissey to clean it up. “I’m so sorry. I’ll call the police; they can’t ignore an assault on a child on top of everything else. They just can’t.”

May shook her head frantically, pulling herself into an upright position by the nurse’s arm. “Don’t,” she said, her voice raw and shaking.

“The police should get involved,” Joy repeated. “This is serious. And you should go to a proper, human hospital and get professional treatment. There’s only so much I can do for you.”

“No,” May said. “Please just leave it.” She turned around, trembling, and unclenched her hand from around the two minimized Pokéballs she was still holding. “They’re… they’re hurt.”

“Your Pokémon too?” Nurse Joy shook her head, taking the Pokéballs from May’s hand. “I’ll take a look at them later, but they’re safe in their balls for now, so we should focus on you first. Can you tell me how you feel right now?”

“I’m fine,” May said, glancing around the room. “Please, can we just…”

“Any lingering nausea, difficulty breathing?”

May shook her head, her gaze still flicking restlessly around. Nurse Joy peered at her for a second.

“Why don’t you come with me to the back while you regain your bearings?” she offered. “It’s safe and less public.”

Mark nodded automatically, and the nurse gestured at the Blissey to take over the front desk before leading them to the door at the back of the lobby. A strange memory floated to the top of Mark’s head as they entered: this was where he’d talked to Eevee, back when he’d first set off as a trainer. The thought felt inappropriate and out of place, yet somehow comforting.

“What about you?” Nurse Joy said as she motioned to close the door, looking at Mark. “Are you or your Pokémon hurt?”

Mark opened his hand to give her Weavile’s ball.

“Just sit down over there,” the nurse said as she took it, pointing to a bed with a simple white mattress in the corner. “Try to breathe normally for me, all right? And if you feel any different, tell me immediately. It could be a sign of more serious damage.”

Mark looked back at May; he realized vaguely that he was still gripping her limp hand and let go of it. She nodded slightly and they walked over to settle down on the bed.

May sat, staring down at the floor, clutching the edge of the mattress tightly with both hands, her arms shaking. Mark shuddered as he got a better look at her neck; the red marks were shaped visibly like thick, clutching fingers that almost appeared to still be strangling her. She coughed again, but said nothing. Mark didn’t either. His legs were trembling; he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand up again even if he tried.

Nurse Joy sent out Weavile, and she appeared, panting, looking from side to side for any sign of Rick. “It’s all right now,” Joy said softly. “You’re safe and so is your trainer. How hurt are you?”

“Where’s Floatzel?” Weavile asked, ignoring the question.

“The others are still in their Pokéballs. I’m just going to take a look at you first.”

“I’m fine,” Weavile insisted. “Floatzel wasn’t. She needs the Pokémon Center, not me.”

Joy started as she looked Weavile over. “Is that blood on your claws?”

“I don’t care!” hissed Weavile. “He killed Floatzel!”

“If Floatzel is in a Pokéball, then she’s alive,” Nurse Joy said, her voice concerned but calm. “Did you attack Rick?”

“It was self-defense!”

“He was okay,” Mark said. “He... Weavile knocked him out so we could escape, but I think he was all right.” Oh, God, what if he isn’t?

Nurse Joy nodded, then turned back to Weavile. “All right. I’ll take a look at Floatzel, just to see where we stand.”

“It’s the Ultra Ball,” May said quietly.

Floatzel somehow looked even worse emerging from the ball than she had before being recalled: everything seemed aligned strangely or bent at odd angles, things sticking out in weird places. Weavile stared at her in shock; Mark shuddered and looked away. “I can’t believe him,” the nurse whispered, a quiet fury burning in her voice as she quickly recalled her back into the ball. “Was it that Mewtwo²?”

Mark nodded, numb.

“She’s going to need extensive surgery,” Nurse Joy said. “I just hope her system can take it.”

“Is she going to be okay?” Weavile asked.

The nurse shook her head. “I can’t make any promises, but as long as she’s in the ball, she won’t get any worse. Let me treat you first.”

May swallowed, still pale as Weavile nodded reluctantly. “My Ninetales was attacked by Mewtwo² as well, but she used Destiny Bond,” she said. “I think she’s not as bad but...”

Nurse Joy nodded, then started to gently feel around Weavile’s body, asking her to say when it hurt. She hissed as Joy’s hand passed over her left side, and the nurse reached onto a shelf for a potion spray of some kind. “Did he just attack you for wanting to talk to him?” she asked while she sprayed it. “I never would’ve thought he’d do something like that, or I never would’ve told you where to find him.”

Mark looked at May, a sting of guilt in his stomach, not sure what to say, but he didn’t have to. “He thought I killed his brother,” she said quietly, without looking up.

Joy looked at her, recognition dawning on her face. “Oh, you’re that girl from the finals, aren’t you? I suppose he thought you had something to do with it just because you used a Tyranitar.” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry I sent you there. I should have realized how unstable he was. What were you going to talk to him about?”

Mark stared at her in a numb panic. His brain felt like sludge, but some detached part of him managed to open his mouth anyway. “He… he gave me this Growlithe when I fought him,” he heard himself say. His voice was weird, raw. “It went missing and we wanted his help finding it.”

“Rick gave you a Growlithe?” The nurse glanced at him, frowning.

“Yeah, he… he seemed to just want to get rid of it.” Mark’s heart was thumping rapidly, his pulse hot in his ears. There’d been an Arcanine. He’d fought an Arcanine at Rick’s gym. Hadn’t he?

“Oh.” The nurse turned back to Weavile, shaking her head. Mark exhaled slowly. He felt terrible misleading her, however slightly, when she was being so helpful and kind, but they couldn’t possibly tell her the truth. “That does sound like him,” she went on, sighing. “If he’s giving them to kids, I guess that’s better than dumping them behind the gym.” She grimaced. “I hope you find that Growlithe. They do often return to familiar places, but to be honest I don’t know if he could’ve helped you any. Search around the gym, maybe. Put out some food.”

“Yeah, we’ll try that.” Mark swallowed. “Thanks.”

After giving Weavile another check-up, Nurse Joy seemed satisfied that she wasn’t seriously injured. She handed the ball back to Mark.

“You’ll try to save Floatzel, right?” Weavile muttered.

“Of course,” she said, giving her a reassuring smile. “I’ll do everything I can.”

Weavile nodded, and Mark recalled her.

“Now,” the nurse said, turning back to Mark and May, “I know you’re in shock and need rest, but I still have to call the police. You’re kids; it’s the law, and they can keep you safe from him. I’m sure they’ll listen now. He always got far more leeway than he should on his gym, but this?” She shuddered as she turned around to the telephone on the counter behind her and picked up the receiver.

Mark looked at May again, wanting to mouth some sort of objection, but she wasn’t saying anything now, just staring transfixed at the tiled floor.

“Hello, Cleanwater police? This is Joy speaking. I’ve got two children here, twelve or thirteen years old, who say they were violently assaulted by Rick Lancaster. I…” She fell silent, frowning. “They hung up on me.”

She hesitated for a second, then quickly dialled again. “Hello? I was just trying to call about Rick Lanc…”

“It’s no use,” Mark said as Joy was cut off again. “He… he uses Mewtwo² to hypnotize the authorities. They just do whatever he says.”

Nurse Joy blinked at him, still holding the telephone receiver. “What?” Her frown deepened, eyebrows furrowing in thought. “Oh. Oh. That… that explains a lot. Oh, God.” She put the receiver down hastily and took a deep breath, biting her lip. She was silent for a moment, then slowly looked back up at Mark and May, her gaze firm.

“Would you like to sleep at the Pokémon Center tonight while I do what I can for your Pokémon? We’re supposed to refer people to the trainer hotel these days, but we’ve still got rooms in the back. Rick won’t expect you to be there.”

Mark looked at May; she was still staring at the same spot. The thought of staying overnight so close to Rick made him shudder, but all he really wanted to do was curl up somewhere and never have to move ever again. Travel seemed an insurmountable obstacle; he wasn’t sure he trusted himself not to fall off Charizard’s back right now.

Is there… is there any way he’d be able to make her tell him where we are? he asked inward. It was all the caution he could manage.

“Probably not,” Chaletwo replied. His telepathic voice was quieter than usual. “From what I’ve seen, Mewtwo²’s power is very blunt. He never learned to use it properly. Getting someone to recall specific information would take finesse that I don’t think he’s capable of.”

That had to be enough. He nodded to Nurse Joy. May glanced over and nodded too, almost imperceptibly.

“All right,” the nurse said. “I’ll take you there. Get some rest, come to me right away if you experience anything unusual, more nausea, anything, and I’ll come tell you how your Pokémon are doing in the morning. Don’t leave the back until then, just to be safe.”

Mark stood up; his legs felt like lead, wobbling strangely, but they were steadier than before, slowly recovering strength. May stood as well, hugging her body with her arms. The nurse took them hastily through a locked door into a dark corridor, turned on the light and handed them a pair of keys, then left them with the assurance that she would do everything in her power to help Floatzel and Spirit.

“Good night, then, I guess,” Mark said as he opened the door to his room. A strange fear still trembled in his chest, but he didn’t know what to do about it. The thought of sleep was simultaneously welcome and terrifying. “I… I hope they’re okay.”

May gripped the knob of the door to her room, but stopped. “Is…” she said, staring at the knob, her voice faint and hoarse. “Is it okay if I come in with you for a bit?”

Mark was strangely relieved at the suggestion. He nodded and held the door open as she entered the room and sat down on the small bed with her hands clutched together in her lap. He closed the door, locked it and sat down beside her.

There was silence. The room seemed almost unnervingly peaceful and ordinary. Mark’s heart was still thumping faster than usual, his mouth dry, his mind reflexively picturing Rick bursting through the door, but now at least it felt like an irrational thought, something he could try to push aside and ignore. May was still staring at her lap.

“Are you okay?” he asked carefully, and suddenly May broke into sobs.

She covered her mouth with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks, then clenched them into fists in front of her face, shaking. Abruptly, she stood up, walked to the corner of the room and laid the palm of her right hand flat onto the wall for a moment, as if to support herself, then curled it into a fist again and punched the wall. Once, twice. Three times.

Mark looked away; she didn’t want him to see this, he knew, but he couldn’t abandon her either. In the corner, May took a breath that trembled audibly, only to dissolve into suppressed sobbing again as she tried to exhale.

She was there for what felt like a long, long time, and Mark sat and stared at the side wall, trying to let her forget he was there.

Eventually her breathing started to calm. She sniffed a few times. Several seconds passed before she sat very slowly down on the bed again, in the same spot she’d been. Mark turned carefully; she was still looking down, her right fist clenched tightly in front of her mouth, her left hand fiddling around her neck.

“You okay?” he asked again, quietly.

“No,” she said without looking at him. Her voice was weird and nasal and still trembling. “You can see that.”

Mark looked at her, not sure what to say. “For what it’s worth, I think it’s... I mean, it’s normal to... Rick just tried to kill you and all.”

May stared at her lap. “I wanted him to die,” she muttered.

Mark blinked, dread creeping up his spine. “What?”

“I wanted him to die. I wished he’d just… have a fall in the mountains and break his neck. Many times.”

Her voice was faint, dull. Mark shivered, suddenly cold. “But you didn’t want Tyranitar to…”

“No! I…” she said almost reflexively before she trailed off, shaking her head slightly, still without looking up. She lowered her hands. “I don’t know.”

Chaletwo gave a huge telepathic sigh. “Not you too.”

May clenched her fists. “Go away.”

“Is this why you didn’t want me in your head? Look, this had nothing to do with whatever idle fantasies you were entertaining during the League; Rick couldn’t have known any of that. He did it because he’s insane and needed somebody to blame, and then Robin and Victor went and told him just to spite us. I swear, when I get my hands on them…”

“They did it for Tyranitar,” May said, still not looking at him.

“What are you talking about? They –”

“Rick could’ve had him put down in a heartbeat,” May said. Her voice was steady now, but still quiet. “They said he had a trainer so Rick wouldn’t go after him. They didn’t tell him it was me.”

There was a pause. May remained where she was, picking at her fingernails.

“I suppose that makes sense,” Chaletwo said reluctantly, “but…”

“Chaletwo,” Mark said, something about the voice in his skull sickening and overbearing, “just… stop.”

A flicker of psychic exasperation flashed through his mind, but then Chaletwo’s presence retreated back to a pinprick corner of his brain, something he could almost ignore.

“Thanks,” May said, quietly.

Mark nodded, and they sat together in silence a few more minutes. There was a strange comfort simply in being there, in the calm, not alone. Slowly, May’s breathing calmed and steadied, her legs stopped shaking, her hands lowered.

Then, finally, she took a deep breath and rose to her feet. “I should go to bed.”

Mark nodded again. As she opened the door, she turned around, looking him in the eye for the first time since they’d sat at the restaurant, a few eternal hours ago. “Good night, Mark,” she said.

“Good night,” Mark said, and she exited the room and closed the door.

-------

May sat down on her own bed, took a deep breath, and dropped a Pokéball.

“Stantler?” she said, her voice still hoarse.

“Are you all right?” the deer Pokémon said immediately when she had formed. She’d probably heard everything from inside her ball – and her other Pokémon too, May realized, wincing.

“Yeah,” she managed. “Floatzel… Floatzel stopped him.”

Stantler nodded slowly. “I never learned to let myself out of a Pokéball. Perhaps I should have.”

May looked away. She knew a couple of Mark’s Pokémon could do that; their balls must have been locked shut by the same power that’d kept Mark frozen, staring, choking. She’d always thought it was pointless: why have them waste time learning to come out on their own when she could just as well send them out herself when they were needed?

“She must’ve figured it out on the spot,” she muttered.

“That’s impressive of her,” Stantler said. “From what I’ve heard, it takes hours of practice for most Pokémon to learn to do it reliably, and the first time is always the most difficult. She must have been very determined to save you. Perhaps she cares more than she lets on.”

Yeah. What did it take to pick up a new skill, never practiced, under pressure, while in the dreamlike haze of a Pokéball? That only made it worse. If Floatzel had just done it for an excuse to fight, then at least it wouldn’t have had anything to do with May.

(Had any of her other Pokémon been trying and failing? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.)

“She… she was badly hurt,” May said after a moment. “Spirit too. I sent her out to take down Mewtwo² with Destiny Bond, but that meant…” She swallowed; her throat hurt, and she took a slow breath as the pain subsided, shaking her head. “I don’t know what else I could have done.”

“Spirit is loyal,” Stantler said. “She would die for you. I have no doubt she’d have done it on her own if she could.”

“I don’t want anyone dying for me, okay?” She said it too quickly, too loudly, and her voice dissolved into coughs that tore into her raw throat all over again until she wished she hadn’t said anything.

“They survived, though, didn’t they?” Stantler said softly. “How are they?”

May shook her head. “It looked bad. The nurse said she’d do her best, but…”

Stantler nodded again, grave. “Then there’s nothing for us to do but to wait and hope they pull through. Remember that whatever happens, this wasn’t your fault.”

Her words left an acidic taste in May’s mouth. She looked away, swallowing again, hating the pain, wishing it would go away and let her just forget about what had happened.

“I wanted him to die. That’s why I told Tyranitar that.”

“Did you tell him that so that he’d do it?” Stantler asked, her voice level as always. She’d probably heard that through her ball earlier, too. And yet she was still here, talking to her.

May stared at the wall. “No,” she said after a moment. “I wanted it but I didn’t expect it to actually happen. I just…”

“People often fantasize about violence without really, truly wanting it enacted,” Stantler said. “What matters is what you choose to put into action.”

She knew that. That was what she’d been telling Chaletwo when he was in her head. But it felt like a hollow excuse, a lie she’d told herself to shift the blame – a lie that Rick’s wretched gaze had shattered and peeled back from the naked truth that in every way that really mattered, she’d killed him. Tyranitar had acted on her words, words that hadn’t been just a figure of speech, and now Taylor was dead. Why would anything else matter?

And meanwhile, Tyranitar had given himself up and gone out of his way to pretend he’d been wild. To protect her. Why would he do that? Why?

May clenched her fists, her nails digging into her palms until they hurt. She stared at the floor beneath Stantler’s feet, imagining everything just melting away into nothingness, but it never would.

“I need to talk to the police,” she muttered, without looking up.

“When we have captured Mew, then?” Stantler responded, unfazed.

May hesitated. She wanted to just go now, get it over with before she changed her mind, so she could stop thinking about it. But Mark probably couldn’t take out Mew on his own, and Rick had no reason to go after Tyranitar anymore, so he should be safe in custody for the moment; she hated the voice that told her that, because it felt like the same voice that just wanted to go on and forget about Tyranitar and pretend none of this ever happened, but it was true.

“Yeah,” she said. “Once we’ve caught Mew.”

May took a deep breath and exhaled it, slowly, staring into her lap. She wished Spirit were here, but she wasn’t. Maybe she never would be again.

Stantler stepped closer and gently touched her nose to May’s forehead. May lifted a hand and stroked her neck absent-mindedly. It wasn’t as soft as the Ninetales’ mane, but warmer, steadier.

“Don’t blame yourself for what happened to Floatzel and Spirit,” Stantler said. “You never wanted them to get hurt. It was Rick who attacked them.”

“Does that change anything?” May muttered.

“Of course it does,” Stantler replied. “They were there because of you, but you didn’t cause the harm. Assigning blame down an endless chain of inadvertent causes leads nowhere. I’ve been down that road before.”

“When your… when your trainer died?”

Stantler nodded. May shifted on the bed. “He’s still just as dead, though.”

There was a brief pause. “That’s true,” Stantler said. “But blaming myself for his death didn’t bring him back either. Blame can never change the past; it can only direct our perspective on how we should proceed in the future.” She paused again before continuing, her voice softening. “Some things I realized I could have done differently, and I resolved to do better. But other things I couldn’t fault given the circumstances. Sometimes you’re an accidental link in the chain of causality, nothing more, and there is no real change you could have made without the benefit of hindsight. In these situations, there’s little to be accomplished by dwelling on whatever role you may have played in the chain of events. Focus on actions that you can take from here, not events that are already past. Sometimes that’s hard, but it’s all you can do.”

May nodded slowly.

“How are you feeling?” Stantler asked after a few seconds.

“I don’t know.” May looked up, forced her back to straighten. “Better, I think. Thanks.”

“I can use Hypnosis, if it would help.”

Her first instinct was to say no, but that wasn’t true. She nodded wordlessly, lying down on the bed, and Stantler leaned over her, her eyes gentle.

“Stantler?” May said as the air between her antlers started to shimmer with psychic distortion. “Do you… do you want to sleep outside your ball tonight?”

She nodded. “I will.”

The distortion between her antlers intensified, and within seconds the room and the world turned into a rippling, unreal canvas that crumpled and faded into nothing at all.

-------

Mark didn’t feel like he’d slept much at all. The night seemed like a long string of vaguely disturbing nightmares interrupted by periods of waking, tossing and turning, snapping awake at any sound from outside, until finally the light of morning streamed in through the narrow gap between the thick curtains and he decided he was too awake to fall asleep again. He got dressed and brushed his teeth in the hope of dispelling some of his grogginess, then knocked carefully on the door to May’s room. She opened it only a few seconds later, already dressed and ready, looking jarringly normal.

“Have you seen Joy?” he asked.

“No,” she said. Her voice was still a little hoarse, but better than yesterday. Her gaze flicked around the corridor.

“Do you want to hang out in my room until she comes?” he offered.

May shrugged, and they went back into his room. She glanced at Sandslash and Jolteon, who were still sleeping at the foot of the bed, before she sat down on the far side of it. She was still silent, looking away.

Mark looked at her, unsure what to say. After a moment’s hesitation, he reached for his bag and pulled out his sketchbook. “Hey, tell me something to draw and I’ll do it.”

She looked at him. “Vulpix,” she said, without thinking about it.

Mark smiled as he picked up his pencil and sat down on the bed with her. “Vulpix is my favorite Pokémon.”

“Huh.” May wasn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm, but she still looked over at the paper to watch him sketch. After the Vulpix, she suggested a Skarmory, and he was halfway through that drawing when there was a knock on the door.

“It’s me,” said Joy’s voice on the other side.

Mark stood up to unlock the door and opened it. Joy’s face was tight, grave, and Mark’s stomach stung.

“How did it go?” May asked, hugging her chest.

The nurse appeared to catch herself, putting on a brief smile. “They’re resting,” she said. “The surgery went well, and they should both make a full recovery, but they’re going to need a while before they can get out of the Pokémon Center, Floatzel especially.” She took a deep breath. “Rick came here late last night,” she said, her voice quieter. “He asked if I’d seen you.”

Mark’s heart skipped a beat. “And what…?”

“I told him you’d come by to get your flying Pokémon and left in a hurry,” Joy replied. “He seemed very out of it; he appeared to be suffering from a severe concussion, in addition to the slashes on his face. I persuaded him to let me call him an ambulance.” She took another deep breath. “His memory seemed fuzzy on exactly what had happened, but he clearly still wanted to find you. Given his injuries, I expect he’ll be in the hospital for most of today at the absolute least, but to be safe, I strongly suggest you get out of town as soon as you can.”

Mark glanced at May. She shifted, not looking at the nurse. “What about Floatzel and Spirit?” she asked after a moment.

“You’ll have to leave them here. I’ll take care of them; you can call me from any Pokémon Center, and when they’re ready I can transfer them to you.”

May nodded. “Can… can I see them before we go?”

The nurse smiled slightly. “Of course.”

She led them into the recovery room. Floatzel was lying on one of the beds, most of her wrapped in a cast; she was fast asleep. Spirit lay on another, blinking slowly, her legs bandaged. She turned her head as they walked in, wincing in pain.

“Spirit,” May said quietly, approaching her bed and stroking the fur on her head. “Are you okay?”

“It was worth it,” the Ninetales said, her voice hoarse. “Nothing else could have taken down Mewtwo².”

May gave a faint wince. “It was Robin’s idea.”

“At least the gems are unharmed,” Spirit went on, looking at the pendant still hanging around her neck and the three rubies embedded in it. “To think Rick could have destroyed them without even knowing.”

Oh. Mark looked dully at the soul gems and realized he wouldn’t have cared if they’d been broken, wouldn’t have even noticed. He stood back, silent, as May ran her hand through the Ninetales’ silky fur a few more times before moving over to Floatzel’s bed, hesitantly placing her hand on the sea otter’s head. Floatzel twitched a little in her sleep.

“So she’s going to be fine?” May asked, stroking her Pokémon’s fine, orange fur carefully.

“She should be,” the nurse responded. “Pokémon are resilient. I’ve set the bones and stopped the major internal bleedings; her system should handle it from here with some help from standard potions. But she will need to rest for a while. They can’t heal as fast when the damage is so widespread.”

May nodded, staring at Floatzel for a few more moments before turning to Spirit. “We need to go,” she said. “Rick’s trying to find us again. We have to leave town and stay under the radar.”

“What?” Spirit looked up sharply. “Where is he?”

“He’s at a hospital now,” May said. “But we have to get out of here before he gets out. We have to leave you behind until you get better.”

Spirit struggled to stand up. “I’m coming with you,” she said. “I will be fine if I just…”

“No,” May said, her voice a little unsteady. “You’ve done enough. Please just stay here and rest.”

Spirit gave a pained whine as she gave up and laid herself back down on her front legs. “Very well.”

“And…” May hesitated. “Be nice to Floatzel when she wakes up, all right?”

Spirit glanced over at Floatzel’s bed, sighing. “She saved your life, didn’t she?”

May nodded without words.

“Perhaps I misjudged her,” the Ninetales said. “I don’t know if she will grant me the same courtesy, but I suppose she deserves it.”

“Tell her… tell her thanks.” May turned around. “Goodbye, Spirit. I’m sorry.”

And with that, May walked out of the room without looking back. Mark waved a brief goodbye to Spirit before he followed.



Nurse Joy in this chapter is inspired by an incredibly kind flight attendant on a sixteen-hour flight from South Africa back in 2001, who was somehow nothing but sympathy at me throwing up all over the aisle in front of her. I still think about that sometimes, and now she's a character in my Pokémon fanfic.

Mark's lie to Nurse Joy about Rick giving him a Growlithe instead of Mew is a sort of mythology gag: one of my 2005 plans for the next revision after this one was for Rick to use stone evolutions, and for Mew to be transformed into an Arcanine when Rick gives it to him. In-universe, Mark is basing this on Alan's story of finding Rainteicune in a dumpster behind Rick's gym, plus of course the Arcanine that he actually fought in the gym, though I conveniently avoided bringing up Rainteicune since as far as I'm concerned you're supposed to have forgotten he exists by now.

I'm a little unhappy with how shaky it feels that May decides Tyranitar just definitely isn't in any danger from Rick anymore, after the lengths she went to before to convince him it was a different Tyranitar. The idea behind it is that in this universe, trained Pokémon committing crimes on their trainer's behalf tend to be basically regarded as not at fault - they're not held individually legally responsible for simply acting on their trainer's orders when the trainer is acting in bad faith, and popularly the trainer is regarded as the real criminal in such cases, not the Pokémon. (After all, a malicious trainer could find a Pokémon in the wild who is simply ignorant of how human society functions.) Rick is in fact directing his anger exclusively towards her, but it feels somewhat odd that she can be so confident in that.
 
The Final Stretch - Chapter 74: Unraveling

Dragonfree

Moderator
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
  2. mightyena
  3. charizard
  4. custom/scyther-mia
  5. vulpix
Chapter 74 is here! A.k.a. the final bit of leadup to the climax of the story, featuring a lot of callbacks to the early chapters.


The Final Stretch – Chapter 74: Unraveling​

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They’d been assigned the west side of the region, and despite everything that had happened since yesterday, no plans had been changed, so west side it was.

They headed south into Rainbow Woods, traveling a bit off the beaten path, keeping a silent, wary lookout for anything suspicious. Every movement made Mark’s stomach lurch, his mind preparing to see Rick’s clenched jaw and bloodshot eyes, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. The woods were peaceful and quiet, weak wild Pokémon occasionally flitting between the trees but avoiding engagement.

Rick was probably still in the hospital, Mark reminded himself every time a rattling in the bushes turned out to be a Rattata. There was no reason for him to be here now.

After a few hours of repeated false alarms, that reflex finally started to numb somewhat, and Mark’s mind began to wander to other worries, to their quest and to Mew.

“Hey,” he said eventually. May glanced back at him, her expression unreadable as usual.

“I was thinking,” he went on. “So when Mew…” He paused. “Wait, did I ever properly explain the thing with Mew? Why the Mew Hunter went after me and all that?”

“No,” Chaletwo said. “I had been planning to ask you about that myself. You were thinking something yesterday about Rick giving Mew to you…?”

“Yeah. When I battled Rick, he used Mew, but Mew was resisting the Clone Ball, and I think it freaked him out. He got all weird and angry and then he gave Mew’s ball to me and told me to just take it away.”

“Huh,” Chaletwo said, slowly. “I’d gathered that you’d met Mew a couple of times before, but not like that. I always thought Rick had simply released him.”

“No,” Mark said. “It was me. I switched him to a normal Pokéball, and after we talked for a bit he flew out through my window.”

“And you released him formally through the PC after that?”

“Yeah,” Mark replied. “And I put the ball in the recycling bin and everything. I’ve still got the Clone Ball in my bag somewhere, but obviously that’s deactivated. Nothing that helps us now.”

“The mind-control ball? You kept that?” Faint disgust pricked at Mark’s mind.

Mark shrugged sheepishly. “It seemed like sort of an interesting keepsake, I guess.”

Chaletwo sighed. “Well, it’s a moot point now. What were you going to say?”

“Yeah, so… when I released Mew back there, he told me his home was here. In Rainbow Woods.”

“Oh.” Chaletwo’s telepathic voice was dull. “What Mew calls home doesn’t mean very much. He spends most of his time traveling, seeing the world and observing its inhabitants. Every once in a while he picks a place that strikes his fancy and designates it as ‘home’, but he only occasionally spends much time there. He may not return to it for years, and this is not one of the times that he sticks around. He might come back here or he might not. It’s no more likely than any other place.”

Mark nodded slowly. “Do you think he might return home when his power starts to run out? If he’s too weak to travel like normal – would he come back here?”

“Maybe,” Chaletwo said, reluctant. “That would be cutting it uncomfortably close, but if it comes to that, it might make sense to return here.” That was something, at least – a contingency plan. Chaletwo sighed. “If only we could have gotten that device off Rick.”

May looked away. “Do you have any idea how that thing worked?”

“Mmm. I can’t know for sure, but it’s likely it was something that detected psychic signals. A strong Psychic legendary like Mew gives off an aura. You can only feel it when the legendary is physically close, but theoretically it’s possible he could make a machine that could pick up a much fainter signal, and then he could triangulate Mew’s approximate location from that. That’s my best guess, anyway. Doesn’t help us find him without the device itself.”

“But what about twenty years ago when you first asked him about the War?” Mark asked. “Or when Raudra and Puragon wanted to warn him about us, or Mewtwo – how are they finding him?”

“He wants to talk to them,” Chaletwo said pointedly. “It’s not usually hard for a legendary to find him – wander around looking, don’t make a secret of what you’re looking for, and before long he’ll pop up to greet you. But he’s obviously been avoiding us since we proposed the plan, and he pays close attention to news and rumours of the other legendaries. He’ll know he’s the only one left by now.”

Mark nodded, silent. No shortcuts. They’d just have to stumble upon him, somehow.

One Pokémon in the entire world, and they had… seven groups looking? He’d tried not to think about Mew and how hard it’d be to find him, to push all that back to when they got there, but now they were there and there was nowhere else to push it; all the built-up dread that he’d managed to ignore up to this point was seeping back into his mind, amplified by his general anxiety about Rick.

May just walked on, staring straight ahead. He didn’t think he would ever understand how she maintained that steely composure even now, but somehow seeing her soldiering on after everything gave him some small measure of strength. He hastened to keep up with her, and as they continued their trudge through the forest, he tried to think only of the next step, the next clearing, the next clump of bushes.

-------

They camped out in the woods in the evening. May was quiet as they ate a cold dinner of beans and crackers; Mark persuaded her into another drawing game before they retreated to their tents, though, and she gave a faint smile at his drawing of Floatzel. Weavile offered to keep watch as they slept, silent and devoid of her usual cocky demeanor, grim determination in her eyes.

It was almost completely dark when Mark woke with a start, gripped with a chilling feeling of being watched. Something rustled outside, like footsteps, as an indistinct shadow – Weavile? – shifted on the wall of the tent, flickering in the faint light of the fire. He held his breath, paralyzed; everything was silent now but his thumping heartbeat as he waited for Rick to tear open the tent, silhouetted against the flames, Mewtwo²’s looming, hunched-over form at his side.

But nothing happened. After several minutes tense and frozen in the dead quiet, taking shallow, silent breaths, Mark finally dared to fully exhale. He sat up, slowly, and carefully unzipped the front of the tent. “Weavile?” he whispered.

“Someone was here,” she said. The glow that remained of their campfire reflected in her eyes and her gleaming claws. “They bolted when I noticed them.”

Mark shivered, staring into the darkness. Rick? But why would he have run off without a fight?

Weavile glanced away, then back at him. “Sleep,” she said. “I’ll wake you if there’s trouble. I won’t let him get you too.”

“No, let’s… let’s move,” Mark said weakly, his mouth dry. “We can’t risk it, not with Mewtwo² around. It can hurt Dark-types.” If only they’d thought to take its ball off Rick while he was unconscious – but of course, they’d been in no state to think that far.

Weavile averted her eyes, but didn’t object. Mark crawled out of his tent to wake May, shaking with both cold and adrenaline.

“I never used to have anyone I wanted to protect,” Weavile muttered, and Mark turned around. “And now that I do, I can’t.”

“You helped us escape,” Mark said.

“Didn’t help Floatzel. Couldn’t have helped Floatzel.”

Mark tried to shrug. “You… you can’t always help.”

Weavile didn’t answer. Mark shivered again as he turned back to May’s tent.

You can’t always help.

-------

They moved to a different campsite. Mark didn’t get much sleep after that, but there was no further sign of their visitor. In the morning, they searched around Alumine, tired and exhausted, but found nothing. They camped in the woods again, after wading through a mess of undergrowth and a thicket of trees, lighting no campfire so they’d be less likely to be seen. Again, the night was quiet. Nothing happened, no one attacked – but that didn’t ease his mind much.

The next day was similar. May still said nothing, staring distantly around the forest as they searched as if on autopilot. The silence was deafening, but what could he say?

“Draw Mew,” she said when they’d eaten dinner that night.

“It’s too dark,” Mark said. Again they had no fire, no light, and even though their dinner was early, the trees obscured the diminishing light of the setting sun.

May shrugged slightly. “We can use my torch inside one of the tents.”

Mark couldn’t help compulsively worrying – wouldn’t the beam be visible through the fabric of the tent? – but by the time they were huddled together over his sketchpad by the flashlight, he could forget about all that for a moment. In his drawing, Mew was sleeping, peaceful, serene.

“Did you know,” he said absent-mindedly as he shaded the tiny body, “back in Scorpio City after you got stung by that Scorplack – Mew came there?”

May blinked. “Huh?”

“I was sitting there alone with you, Mitch left to check on some blood test, and Mew just… appeared.”

“Why?”

Mark shrugged. “He said something about… fate, and appearing because he felt he should? I asked him to heal you but he said he couldn’t because Scorplack is a Dark-type. Then he just left again when Mitch was about to come in.”

“Did it say anything else?”

“Not really.” Mark shook his head, turning the memory over in his mind: it was pretty odd, wasn’t it? “He was only there for maybe twenty or thirty seconds. Didn’t do anything.”

“Weird.” May looked at the drawing again. “Chaletwo, you got anything?”

“It sounds like Mew,” Chaletwo said, sighing. “Banging on about fate, appearing at random. He likes to show himself more than to be inadvertently seen, so appearing to you but leaving before someone else walked in sounds typical.”

May stared unseeingly at the paper. “Why would he go somewhere for such a short time, if he didn’t do anything while he was there? What was the point?”

“You can’t reason about Mew. He works in mysterious ways. I’ve never been able to figure him out.”

Mark shrugged, but he could see May, her gaze distant, still mulling it over while he finished his drawing.

-------

As February wore on, they spent a few days searching near Alumine, then a few in the forest, then a few around the Lake of Purity. By a silent, implicit agreement, they didn’t get too close to Cleanwater City itself. Mark thought to himself, without knowing if it was true, that Mew probably wouldn’t want to spend time in a city where he’d been trapped and mind-controlled for three years, either. If Chaletwo thought otherwise, he didn’t object.

Mark initially wasn’t sure about covering the northwest corner of the region, near his hometown: surely, if all wild Pokémon avoided the area, Mew would too? But Chaletwo was unsure, so they searched around Sailance, too. There was a knot in Mark’s stomach as they skirted around the edges of town, as he tried not to think of what would happen to his parents if they couldn’t find Mew. Could he save them, get them into Mrs. Riverstone’s shelter before it was too late? Would it be enough? What about everyone else, who wouldn’t have a shelter?

At May’s suggestion, they slipped into a clothing store after they restocked on food and bought large, hooded wind jackets, hats, and scarves that obscured their features from afar. Mark wasn’t sure it would stop Rick, but he still felt safer, wrapped in warm, concealing layers. They still hadn’t had a nighttime encounter since that first night. Perhaps they’d shaken him off.

After Sailance, they headed back past the Lake of Purity and through the forest, then threaded the beaches west of it. They were back near Alumine, a couple of weeks into the search, when something was different about the atmosphere as they packed up their tents in the morning; May was distracted, fidgety, in a way she hadn’t been before, and even Chaletwo was radiating a faint sense of apprehension from somewhere in the back of his mind.

“What’s up?” Mark asked, looking at May.

“Nothing,” she said immediately, stuffing the minimized box with her tent into her bag, then pulling the hood of her jacket further over her head. Mark’s gaze lingered on her. She still wasn’t talking much, but she watched him draw most nights, hugging her knees close, making quick suggestions like she was trying not to think about them – always Pokémon. He was never sure what she was thinking or how he could help.

She glanced back at him, then away again. “It’s…” she began, her voice quiet. “It’s my birthday.”

Mark blinked at her. She busied herself with zipping up her bag, as if she expected that to be the end of the conversation. With a sting in his gut, Mark recalled his own last birthday: Sparky throwing him a party, May and Alan helping to make him a cake. Now, here they were, hiding in the woods, subsisting on bottled water and dry crackers and cold beans and cereal bars.

“Hey,” he said, willing himself to smile as she looked up again. “Happy birthday! Thirteen, right? So you’re… you’re a teenager. Congrats.”

He laughed as she grimaced exaggeratedly. “Don’t remind me.”

“How about we go somewhere and celebrate?” Mark said. “There was that café at the edge of the woods, right? They might have cake or something.”

“Really?” May gave him a sceptical glance.

He shifted on his feet. “There’s… nobody’s been following us lately, and we’ve got our disguises. It has to be okay for just maybe an hour, right? Some proper food?” Mark really hoped he was right. “It’s your birthday.”

May looked away, still hesitant. In truth, Mark wasn’t quite sure either; images of Rick bursting in and Mewtwo²’s empty eyes flickered in his mind, underlined by the faint buzz of tension and fear and guilt in the back of his skull.

“If…” Chaletwo said abruptly, “if it would help, you can switch me to an active ball. If Rick did appear, you should have time to let me out before he could pick you out of the crowd, and I could teleport us out of there. It should be fine.” May blinked in surprise. “You... you both deserve this,” he added awkwardly. “Happy birthday.”

Mark grinned in disbelief, looking back at May. “Okay,” she said after a moment. “Sure.”

-------

They reached the café around lunchtime. Mark couldn’t help being apprehensive again as they approached it, but Chaletwo’s ball was comforting in his hand; even though it was unlikely it would come to that, knowing they had a backup plan if something went wrong calmed him down.

The little red door was friendly and welcoming. They frantically scanned the other customers as they entered, but once they were sure they hadn’t just barged in on Rick, May led the way to a corner booth, sitting down on the side that faced towards the door. Mark took a seat opposite her; as he sank into the cushion and dropped his backpack down on the floor next to him, all the pent-up tension and worries of the past weeks seemed to lift off his shoulders as well. They were okay. They were here. They were going to have some nice food again, in the warmth of a house, because it was May’s birthday, and for the moment that was all that they had to think about. He’d needed this break, really needed it; he hadn’t realized how much so until now.

He inhaled deeply, rolling his sore shoulders, relishing the smell of food. A waitress approached the table, smiling, and took their order. For a minute he just sat back with his eyes closed, feeling the tension melt out of his muscles; then he opened his eyes again and glanced at May where she sat gazing at nothing in particular. The interior of the café was cozy and nostalgically familiar.

“It’s weird to be here again,” he said, smiling at May. “Still seems bigger on the inside.”

“Last time we were here, you thought I’d stolen your Pokémon,” May said.

“Did I?” Mark laughed; he could just about remember it, but the thought seemed alien now, like something that had happened to someone else.

“Yeah. It was when the Mew Hunter took them. You freaked out at me because you thought I’d wanted to steal Dratini.”

He did remember that. Back when he’d caught him, May had tried to argue that Dratini should be hers because she’d brought the tools to fish him out of the lake. “And then you said you didn’t really want him anyway, because…” He trailed off as he caught himself, the humour of the situation dying down into an awkward silence. Because she had Larvitar.

They looked at one another for a moment before May averted her gaze. Thankfully, just then their waitress arrived with the food, smoothly disposing of the subject.

Halfway through his grilled cheese sandwich, Mark spoke again. “I was kind of a jerk back there,” he said. “We both wanted Dratini, but I just took him and ran while you were distracted. I’m sorry.”

May shook her head; she was eating her sandwich with a knife and fork, one meticulous bite at a time. “You were the one who caught him. I just made up some dumb reason I should get him instead because I was jealous.”

Mark blinked at her, surprised by her bluntness. Not that he hadn’t guessed; it occurred to him, fleetingly, that it was no wonder they hadn’t noticed anything off about Larvitar, because they’d both been too busy being childishly excited about having pseudo-legendaries.

“I guess we’ve both grown up a bit since we started out, huh?” he said. “Happy birthday again.”

May poked the bottom of her glass of cola with her straw, absent-mindedly, her face expressionless. “I never really used to have any friends,” she said, without looking up. “I had Spirit, but the New Bark Town kids never liked me. I told myself it was because they were idiots, but I guess actually I was the idiot.”

Mark looked at her, unsure how to react to a confession like that. “I… I don’t think you’re an idiot.”

“You didn’t like me either,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I didn’t actually start trying to be friendly until after the Dratini thing. And even then I wasn’t very good at it. Remember how I just left you behind in Scorpio City?”

“Oh.” Mark scratched the back of his head. “I figured you’d just moved on, though. It wasn’t a big deal.”

She grimaced. “You can tell I wasn’t used to having friends.”

She put her glass down, still not looking him in the eye. Mark hesitated before opening his mouth again. “I’m glad we ended up traveling together.”

May looked up. “Why?”

“You helped me with battling a lot. I’d never have gotten so far at the League without you, or caught any of those legendaries. And… you’re not perfect, but we’ve been through a lot and I just… I’m glad you’re here.”

May looked at him for a long moment. “Well, thanks, for… coming to my birthday party, I guess.” She glanced back towards the counter. “Anyway, didn’t you say they had cake? I want cake. Screw the money.”

She called over a waiter and ordered two large slices of chocolate cake, which arrived quickly. Mark wasn’t too hungry after the sandwich, but he ate his slice anyway, almost as an act of solidarity.

“What was that Sparky said again?” May asked when she’d finished, putting her fork down. “Make every birthday the best you’ve ever had because it might be your last? Seems apt.”

“Don’t say that,” Chaletwo said. “We only have Mew left. We’ve got to find him eventually.”

“Yeah,” May said. “Sure.”

Mark felt a sudden, abrupt flash of intense anger in the back of his mind. “No! You will not undermine everything we’ve worked for at this stage in the game. We’re almost done. Do you understand what we’ve accomplished? We’ve captured every legendary but one!”

May blinked at him, her brow furrowing.

“Mew is just one more. We’ll get him. Not one more word of this. It’s your birthday! Talk about… presents or school or whatever it is you talk about on birthdays.”

Mark shared a glance with May, a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Chaletwo?” he asked under his breath.

“I just…” The legendary’s psychic sigh reverberated through Mark’s mind, trembling. “My power loss is slowing down. That’s what happens near the end. We may have somewhat less time than I thought.”

“What?” Mark’s ears rang with a strange, otherworldly static. “How much time?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t really know to begin with. I was hoping we had until May at least. I’m not sure anymore.”

“So what, it could just… happen any day now?”

“No,” Chaletwo said. “I’ll know when it’s getting very close. We probably have at least a month or two. It just… made me concerned.”

May pressed her lips together. “I guess we should get going,” she said and started to push her chair away from the table.

“But…” Mark trailed off; May stopped. “Can we… can May at least have her birthday?”

“It’s fine,” Chaletwo said, sighing. “You lose far more time at night than you do here. I wasn’t going to tell you until after this.”

“No,” May said after a moment. “Let’s go. The cake’s done, anyway.”

-------

They kept on searching. Mark kept a close eye on May, concerned after all she’d said at the café, but she was actually less quiet than before, commenting dryly on the search, the weather, the Pokémon they encountered. Every night now, she suggested a new Pokémon for him to draw: an Espeon, a Milotic, a Lapras (he looked at her when she said it, and her lips were tight but she said nothing).

After another week or so, Chaletwo persuaded Mark to message the others through May’s Pokégear. There was a knot in his stomach as he typed: Been a few weeks, should we spread out?

Heard of more sightings in Ouen,
Leah replied back. Better stay here. Keep doing what you’re doing, everyone. I’ll contact Mary and get her over here too.

Roger,
came Alan’s answer. Take care, guys.

Mark felt anxious for the rest of the day, compulsively checking the Pokégear while at the same time dreading it, his throat tight, but the others never responded. The device showed they’d gotten the message, at least; they had to trust that they were still searching.

They went up and down the coast, through the woods again, back beyond Sailance, around the Lake of Purity, down to Alumine; then they combed the whole area again but found nothing. Chaletwo’s apprehension was a steady throb in Mark’s skull, growing little by little every day into a constant, maddening tension that left him restless and unable to relax, constantly shaking with nerves.

In the evenings, he continued drawing, the quiet sessions with May becoming the only times he could temporarily escape that relentless anxiety, an anchor of comforting tradition that kept him going: Pidgeot, Salamence, Blaziken, Mutark, Flygon, Raichu, Butterfree. Another Skarmory. Charmander. Quilava. Spirit.

It was April when, after several exhausting nights of fitful sleep interrupted by flashes of alien terror, Chaletwo muttered, “I think I should get out of your head.”

Mark felt his brain grinding clunkily out of a state of autopilot, a strange mixture of relief and dread bubbling up in his head. “Is… is it close?”

“Not… not that close, I think. I just… I just think it’s best if I conserve my power from here. I could still teleport you somewhere, and it’s good if I can in an emergency.”

Mark swallowed. “How are we going to know if it’s too late?”

“I’m… I’m sure I’ll be able to tell if you release me for a moment, maybe once a week. I’ll let you know. It’ll be fine.”

Mark and May looked at each other, silent. “All right,” Mark said, hesitant.

“This is… this is goodbye for now, then.” Chaletwo’s voice was forced and unsteady. “You’re sure the storage system’s Pokéball farms are safe?”

Mark nodded, his mouth dry. “Yeah, they should be.” But…

“Good. Just put me on the PC and –”

“No,” Mark said, his voice tight. “I’ll keep your ball with me until you tell me it’s too late. We might need you to teleport quickly again. And…” He hesitated, an uncomfortable stinging in his gut. “I need to know that you’ll really tell us. I… maybe I want to call my parents.”

Chaletwo was silent for a long moment. “All right. I’ll talk to you in a week. Keep searching.”

And then, all of a sudden, he was gone. The presence in Mark’s head vanished, a smothering weight of oppressive emotion abruptly lifted from his mind, leaving behind a strange void. He felt lightheaded for a moment, followed by a weird pins-and-needles sensation, and then, finally, normal. No Chaletwo. They were on their own.

“Is he gone?” May asked, and Mark nodded. They looked at each other in silence for a few more seconds; neither of them wanted to voice the obvious, like it would somehow make it more real.

Mark forcibly pushed it out of his mind, turned and prepared to go on autopilot again, to just stare at the ground and the bushes and not think about anything.

“Wait,” May said suddenly. “I… I want to get Spirit and Floatzel back.”

-------

The nurse from Cleanwater City was visibly relieved to see them when they called her on the videophone in the Alumine Pokémon Center. She looked quickly from side to side before leaning in closer, lowering her voice. “I’m so glad to see you safe. How are you doing? Did you find your Growlithe?”

It took Mark a moment to remember what she was talking about. “Yeah, we did,” he said as his brain caught up, feeling a little guilty again for lying to her. “We’re okay. We’ve been keeping a low profile.”

The nurse nodded. “Good. Your Pokémon are doing well; they’ve made a full recovery, more or less. Your Ninetales has been concerned after not hearing from you for so long. Rick’s been out of town since he got out of the hospital, probably searching for you. I hoped the fact he hadn’t returned meant he hadn’t found you, but we couldn’t know for certain.”

“What about Floatzel?” May asked.

“She said you’d never let him catch you.” Nurse Joy smiled. “They’ll both be glad to be back.”

They kept it brief. Spirit and Floatzel were transferred over and they said goodbye to Nurse Joy before heading back out into the woods, until they felt safe again. They sent out all the Pokémon they could to welcome the pair back; May hugged Spirit close, while Weavile practically jumped on Floatzel with a playful Quick Attack as soon as she was out, the sea otter cackling with glee as she retaliated.

“Thanks,” May said as she let go of Spirit, looking towards Floatzel but not quite making eye contact.

“Only what you do for a trainer, isn’t it?” Floatzel said, cocking her head. “I get battles and food and I protect you. That’s how it goes, yes? A deal’s a deal.”

May stared at her a moment as Spirit eyed her grimly; then Weavile pounced again, and Floatzel turned, darting out of the way and preparing a countering Aqua Jet. May took a deep breath. “There’s more,” she said, looking over the group of Pokémon. “Chaletwo’s gone from Mark’s head. Apparently there’s not that much time left. So if… if any of you want to leave and find a safe place now, you can go. Mrs. Riverstone had a shelter.”

Floatzel laughed and returned to the playfight. The other Pokémon murmured to each other, but nobody stepped forward.

“Are you sure?” May asked, clenching her fists. “You don’t have to stay.”

“We’ve come this far,” Butterfree said. “We can’t quit now.”

“How long do we have?” Flygon asked, his wings twitching.

“We don’t know,” Mark said. “Chaletwo said we should release him once a week and he’ll say if it’s coming.” The knot in his stomach tightened. Weeks. Everything might be ending in weeks.

The Pokémon looked at each other. “Then,” May’s Flygon said, tilting his head, “we can think about leaving if Chaletwo says that.”

The other Pokémon murmured in agreement. Nobody objected.

May stared at them in silence for a few moments. “Well, then let’s go,” she said, reaching for her Pokéball necklace again. “Better not waste any more time.”

-------

A week passed, slowly but far too quickly. Chaletwo said that it was okay, it was fine, there was still time.

Another week went by, and May asked Mark to draw some of his favorite Pokémon. So he drew Lugia, Articuno, Moltres, legendaries he’d adored since he was a little kid staring wide-eyed at the illustrations in his picture books. Back then, they’d seemed impossibly big and beautiful, perfect, immortal beings that he could only dream of seeing from a distance one day – but they were just Pokémon, weren’t they? Just a bunch of beautiful, undying, flawed, scared Pokémon that were doomed to destroy one another, unless they succeeded on this strange quest. He wondered again, for the first time in a while, why Mew, who already knew about the War, didn’t want it stopped. Had Mew and Chalenor tried to stop it before? Exactly what had happened before the last War, a thousand years ago?

One more week, and Chaletwo told them to contact the others again. There had still been sightings in Ouen, all over the place, scattered throughout the region in no discernible pattern. There was nothing better to do than to keep doing what they’d been doing. The lack of a change, a plan, of any sense of progress, was maddening, but they kept going, walking the same familiar woods and beaches and edges of cities.

“Draw Tyranitar,” May said quietly at the beginning of the next week, and Mark drew him as he successfully stood up to Mewtwo²’s power in the League finals, not weak, that one glorious moment when it had seemed like he would win. The next day, when May asked him to choose, he drew Letaligon, roaring in triumph after her evolution. Where was she now? The rest of the week’s drawings were more victories, successes, happy moments frozen in time with everything that came after them forgotten: bringing down Thunderyu, winning badges, Jolteon holding his own against May’s Flygon, Waraider when he agreed to be captured.

At the end of the week they sent Chaletwo out, in a thicket of branches and bushes in the depths of the forest, and he was silent.

“How long do we have?” May asked.

“Stick to the forest,” Chaletwo said after a few seconds. “You said his home is here. He’ll come back. He must come back. Search it better.”

A cold, invisible hand clutched at Mark’s insides. He didn’t know what to say, but even if he had, his throat ached with weeks of built-up looming horror finally latching on and settling in, making him want to curl up and scream until it was over.

“How long?” May repeated.

“It’s… it’s fine. Just keep looking. By this point he’d be getting weak. He’ll be back to the forest.”

“Are you sure?” May asked. Her voice was level but firm, her fists clenched, knuckles white.

“Yes. Yes! I’m sure. It’s not yet. We’ll find him when he returns to the forest. It’s fine.”

“So…” Mark began, his tongue sticky and uncomfortable in his mouth, “what you’re saying is… I should put you on the PC and call my parents?”

“I’m…” Chaletwo hesitated. “No! No, it’s… it’s not yet. Not quite. It’s not less than a week. It can’t be. He’s coming; I know he’s coming here. Just keep looking!”

And he recalled himself back into his ball.

May looked at Mark, her fists still clenched tight.

Chaletwo hadn’t actually asked to be sent to the PC. That had to… that had to mean he believed it. Didn’t it?

His parents. Was he actually going to call them, show them he was alive only to tell them the world was ending? Would they believe him? Would Mrs. Riverstone’s shelter actually keep anyone safe? If they did survive a legendary apocalypse, what kind of life would be waiting for them afterwards, with maybe thousands or millions dead? All these questions seemed abstract and unreal; his mind went blank trying to imagine it, flinching away from the idea, retreating back behind a barrier of safe, sane normalcy: Chaletwo didn’t ask to be sent to the PC. Mew is probably coming back here. We can find him. We’re going to find him.

Even if he could save his parents or other friends or family members, could he really do that, knowing so many others were doomed?

Was the time he was wasting here thinking about it time in which they could have found Mew?

“So are you calling home?” May asked.

“I…” For a moment he stood there speechless, his parents’ faces at the edge of his mind, never quite in focus as some desperate part of him insistently pushed them back, behind that safe barrier. “Not… not yet,” he said, numb. “Let’s try for at least a few more days.”

May nodded slowly, without responding.

“We should message the others,” he managed to add. “Let them know. And our Pokémon.”

She handed him the Pokégear, and he typed a message with shaking hands: It’s coming soon. Mrs. Riverstone wanted Robin home. There might be room in her shelter. We’re still searching.

Despite everything, none of their Pokémon wanted to leave. May’s Flygon looked uneasy, curling his tail around himself, glancing anxiously from side to side, but when no one else volunteered, he didn’t either. May asked if he was sure, twice, staring at him like she wanted to make him go, but he insisted he was staying, at least for now, and that was that.

Stantler asked if they were okay, if they were going to contact anyone, but Mark said no, and May shook her head. For a brief moment he wondered about her family, why she didn’t want to call them, but that train of thought took him back towards his own, and within moments, before he could take that horrible plunge into nightmarish finality, the barrier was back, banishing the thought. They could do it. They could do it. They’d stop it. Everything would be fine, somehow. It had to be.

And then they had to go. There was no more time to waste. May kept Spirit out, saying if they found Mew they’d need a quick Mean Look, and they set off yet again, the Ninetales staying close by her side.

“You know what’s funny?” May muttered that night as they were hastily pitching their tents. “Part of me doesn’t mind.”

Mark shivered. He wanted to respond, but there was nothing he could say that wasn’t painful and terrifying.

There was no more drawing after that.

-------

And then, after five more days of restlessly combing through the forest, shaking, unable to stop or think or sleep more than a few hours, there was a change.

A soft, familiar tingling brushed by the back of his mind, something light and warm and feathery, and he knew what it was. He hadn’t really registered it back then, but just the same, he recognized it instantly, some subconscious memory surfacing for air from the depths of everything, a sudden ray of hope out of the darkness.

May and Spirit noticed, too, stopping, holding their breaths. Everything was hazy and unreal as Mark led the way towards that gentle guiding signal, the soft psychic aura of the last legendary.

And then they were there, pushing aside the branches of a tree to reveal a small clearing where Mew lay curled up in sleep inside a pink protective bubble, hovering lightly just above the ground.

And then, before Spirit could step forward and use Mean Look, before any of them could start to process what was happening, the red recall beam of a Pokéball shot towards Mew from the bushes to the side, and the legendary was absorbed into it and disappeared.

Mark’s heart stopped, his body frozen and numb with shock. Behind the bush, an all-too-familiar man in a trench coat with a thick, unkempt beard rose to his feet and chuckled in disbelief, gazing at a black Pokéball in his hand. A Kabutops stood by his side, staring at Mark.

His brain could think one thing and one thing only. “How?” he croaked. “How do you have a Clone B…”

The Mew Hunter looked up, sharply, as if he hadn’t noticed them, taking a step back behind his Kabutops. He hesitated a moment, his eyes darting back and forth, but then a gloating smirk broke out on his face. “Don’t you recognize it?” he said. “It’s yours. I heard you say you still had it and then nabbed it from your bag at the Rainbow Café, when I finally had a chance.”

Everything spun around in Mark’s head. Him. He’d been following them, for weeks. He’d been the nighttime visitor. “It… it was deactivated! I know I…”

“I reactivated it,” the Mew Hunter said, his voice cool, holding the ball close to his chest. “The recall data isn’t permanently lost on deactivation. It can be recovered, if you know how. I studied Pokéballs, remember.” Oh. “I removed Rick’s repulsive mind-control hardware, of course. I need better tools to make the Mean Look modification, but once I get home I’ll make it a ball fit for Mew.”

“Okay,” May said, and Mark looked back at her in alarm. “Okay. It’s fine. You can have it. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t send it out for a while, okay? If you just keep it in there for –”

The Mew Hunter’s lip twitched. “You think I caught Mew to be a mere prize in my collection? To let it rot in a ball? No! I caught it because I understand. I care. I care more than anyone! I saved all my Pokémon, and I'll save Mew, too. That’s why I was destined to be Mew’s trainer. I’m the only one who can!”

“Give her to us,” Spirit snarled. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

“Look,” May said, keeping her voice level. “There’s this periodic disaster –”

“I’d die before giving Mew up to the likes of you!” the Mew Hunter growled, pulling four Pokéballs off his belt. “I’d sooner release it now and find it all over again than let you get your filthy hands on this ball. Cover me!”

As he took off running through the woods, four bursts of light formed around him, his Feraligatr, Sandslash, Sneasel and Fangcat joining Kabutops, brandishing claws and fangs as they ran alongside him in a protective formation. May glanced at Mark as they sprinted after him, Spirit bounding ahead. They could beat his Pokémon easily, of course – they’d taken down legendaries. But if he felt threatened and threw that ball and Mew teleported away, to some far-off region…

Mark grabbed Chaletwo’s ball from his belt, but before he could throw it, one of his other balls popped open.

“Rob!” Scyther called as he materialized in front of Mark, and the fleeing man froze in his tracks, his Pokémon whirling around to face them.

The Mew Hunter turned, slowly. “You… you’re with them?” he asked limply, his voice quiet and shaking as he lowered Mew’s ball. “You joined them for good?”

Scyther nodded warily, glancing at the five Pokémon surrounding his former trainer. “Rob, what are you doing?”

“Does he ever talk to you, like I did?” the Mew Hunter said, his voice low. “Spend evenings washing the blood from your self-inflicted wounds and trying to give you comfort and warmth? Let you drink and vent and forget?”

“He doesn’t have to,” Scyther said.

“I gave you everything!” the Mew Hunter barked, his eyes wide and shining. “I saved your life! I loved you. I did everything I could to help you. How could you abandon me just when I could finally live again, only to join up with...” He waved a trembling hand at Mark. “...with these slave-drivers who want to destroy everything that’s important to me?”

Scyther took a breath. “I loved you too, Rob,” he said. “I’d be dead if it weren’t for you – you taught me a way to cope when I had nothing. But my head’s cleared a lot since I left you, and I don’t think it was the right way anymore. I wallowed in my own worthlessness instead of questioning it, instead of getting anywhere. And I did that because that’s all that you did.” He hesitated, staring at the Mew Hunter, then at his Pokémon again. “You don’t need Mew. You can have a normal life with your Pokémon, who would die for you. Rob, you can let go. I swear you can. All Mew’s ever given you is misery. Just… just give that ball to Mark and walk away. Please.”

The Mew Hunter cradled the ball tightly against his chest. “Why should I give it to him?” he snarled. “He’s done nothing to deserve Mew. Either it comes with me or it goes free.”

“He doesn’t want it, Rob,” Scyther said, sighing. “We just need Mew to be in a ball for a while, until it’s safe. There’s a…”

“What are you talking about?” the Mew Hunter snapped. “Mew shouldn’t be trapped in a ball. Do you remember how I didn’t even keep you in a Pokéball unless I had to, because you didn’t like it? Remember how at first you wanted to escape but then I let you stay outside your ball and watch me with the others for as long as you needed until you grew to trust me? How is Mew going to trust me if I don’t send it out?”

“There’s a legendary war that happens every thousand years,” Scyther continued, ignoring him. “If every legendary is inside a ball, it won’t happen, but if even one is out there, the world could be destroyed. We only wanted to capture Mew to prevent it. Mew, and the others, will be released when it’s safe. If you followed us, you must have heard them talk about the War. That was what they meant.”

The Mew Hunter’s Kabutops shifted uncomfortably, looking back at his trainer as his other Pokémon stared at Scyther. The man’s gaze remained fierce and suspicious. “How do I know you aren’t just lying to make me give it to you and your filthy new trainer?”

Scyther sighed heavily. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Rob.”

“You betrayed me.” By the Mew Hunter’s side, his Kabutops winced, looking back at Scyther. Feraligatr and Sandslash glanced at each other.

“I didn’t betray you,” Scyther said softly. “You were you when you caught me, when you thought Mew was lost. But once you saw it again in Cleanwater City, you turned into someone who’d threaten a kid and wanted me dead for questioning you.”

“Mew is worth it!” the Mew Hunter shouted. “I can save it. This is what was meant to be!”

Scyther shook his head, slowly. “That’s only what you’ve been telling yourself. Mew is a legendary Pokémon and doesn’t even know who you are. Why would he befriend you? We only did because we had nowhere else to go. I’m sorry, Rob.”

The Mew Hunter’s eyes widened as his face contorted in rage, his Fangcat hissing at Scyther from his side. “No! You know nothing! Mew will understand me! Mew will know! Mew will give me a chance! Just watch, you –”

And he pulled back his arm as he prepared to throw the Clone Ball. Mark froze, his heart lurching in panic; by his side, Spirit growled, preparing to attempt a Mean Look –

– and then, suddenly, a deep, powerful tremor shook the ground. Everyone looked up in alarm as a massive shockwave blasted through the forest, knocking leaves from branches and the kids off their feet. Mark lost his grip on Chaletwo’s ball, and it sailed through the air as the Mew Hunter too lost his balance, fell forward and sent the Clone Ball flying.

Chaletwo materialized on the ground, looking frantically around. Mew emerged in mid-air, blinking, his gaze turning from confused to worried.

“That… that was it!” Chaletwo said, his voice shaking with nervous excitement. “The... the Destroyer’s pulse! Before Mew came out! We did it!”

Mark blinked in incomprehension as he crawled to his feet. It was over? They were done? They’d saved the world?

Mew turned sharply. “No, no, no,” he muttered. “No! Why!”

“No?” Chaletwo repeated, his voice fierce and incredulous, whirling towards Mew. “No? I’ve just saved the whole world from destruction, including you, that’s why! You should be thanking me on your knees!”

Mew just shook his head. Chaletwo continued, heat growing to a furious pitch in his voice. “What, are you going to tell me now that you had some great reason to oppose the plan all along? That we’re actually all going to die now, is that it? Because you’ve had twenty years to tell me to stop and the only reason you ever managed to give was some dumb crap about destiny!”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Mew said, his voice trembling.

“No, of course I wouldn’t. I’m not Chalenor, am I, so how could I ever understand –”

“You never even knew Chalenor!” Mew interrupted, desperate tears in his eyes. “Why are you talking about him? You have no idea who he even was!”

Mark’s heart thumped; there was something strange in the air. He didn’t understand what was going on anymore. Why was Mew so upset? Something was off, he could tell, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

“I know enough!” Chaletwo spat. “You kept on telling me about him, about how he was the Preserver before me and your best friend in the world and no one could ever compare –”

Mew squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head bitterly – and then, suddenly, Mark recognized the strange feeling in the air, the oppressive psychic pressure that was growing, magnifying, smothering everything, only so much stronger than he’d ever felt it before. Chaletwo’d stopped speaking, turning his head sharply as Mew looked around in wonder. “Oh, no,” Chaletwo said, his voice quiet again. “Oh, nonononono. What is that?”

“I’m sorry,” Mew whispered, trembling.

“That’s… that’s Mewtwo²,” Mark breathed, heart hammering in his chest.

“What?” Chaletwo stared at him through his eyelids. “Oh, no. He was out. Rick had him out. This can’t happen. This can’t happen!”

“Isn’t… isn’t there anything we can do?” Mark asked, numb.

“I…”

“Hold on,” May said, pale. “It’s already got a ball. It’s got a ball that mind-controls it. Maybe if it’s recalled, then…”

Chaletwo whirled towards her. “Yes. Yes. We can still stop it. We can still stop it. Come on!”

And before Mark had any idea what was happening, Chaletwo had grabbed Mark and May by the shoulders. May only just managed to place her hand on Spirit’s head, clutching her mane, before he teleported them away.

-------

Razor might have been left behind, but he knew where he had to go. There was a tangible shift in the psychic interference if he turned, an unmistakable pull towards the east. If he just flew straight and followed that pull, he would find them. Mew was looking in that direction too, fiddling anxiously as if conflicted.

“Mew,” said Rob hoarsely, still on his hands and knees on the ground. “I will protect you. I understand. Come with me. I can help you.”

Mew shook his head, staring into the distance. “There is nothing you or anyone can do to help me.”

And then, stopping, Mew took a deep breath, closed his eyes and vanished, without giving Rob so much as a second glance.

“Goodbye, Rob,” Razor said quietly. “I need to help my trainer.”

“Mew, please,” Rob muttered. “Don’t… don’t go.”

His Pokémon were silent. Fangcat growled quietly, nudging his leg, but he didn’t react. Kabutops looked up at Razor, hesitating.

“You know this is mad,” Razor said. “You’ve always known.”

“Yeah.” Kabutops sighed, looking away. “It’s just how he is sometimes. You never knew him back the first time around.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.” Razor glanced between his former teammates. “I meant what I said before. It’s possible to let go, even if it doesn’t seem that way. I… I met Nightmare again. I realized the Code was wrong. I found a reason to live.” Kabutops stared at him in wonder. “You can break free.”

Feraligatr and Sneasel nodded silently, glancing at their trainer again. Rob heard everything they were saying, Razor knew, but he didn’t respond or even look up.

“Goodbye,” Razor said. “Try to… try to help him.”

And he took a deep breath, turned around and took off, heading towards the source of that terrible looming power.

The Mew Hunter was left lying on the ground with his Pokémon, sobbing quietly.



This chapter: in which I remind you about some of the old bad parts of the fic and cheerfully bring them back, with a bit of recontextualization.

I wrote this chapter banking on you not noticing either that Rick potentially being out there with Mewtwo^2 could be a huge problem for the whole make-sure-all-legendaries-are-inside-balls thing. If you did notice, and spent the entire chapter internally yelling at the characters, please tell me. I think it's a reasonable thing to just not occur to them, when these are such separate problems in their heads, but if it really didn't work for you, I do want to know.

Conversations where characters explain things they both already know to each other are something of a pet peeve of mine; I tried to make the recapping of what happened in chapters nine and ten here as natural as possible, but you can only get so far. Of course, you all are slightly more likely to actually just still remember what happened there than my original readers, for whom that was like fourteen years ago by this point.

The final scene here, with the Mew Hunter, originally dates back to 2003. Mew was always going to be the last legendary they'd hunt down; my first conception of how the fic would end after I thought up the War of the Legends plot was that they'd just... catch Mew, and then the shockwave happens, somehow deriving excitement value simply from stating that that was really close guys! It didn't take me too long to decide that wasn't actually all that exciting, and the end should have some kind of twist, and after a first ridiculous melodramatic effort to add a final twist, I finally came up with this bit where the Mew Hunter (whose appearance in what was then chapter 11 was recent at the time) is there too and captures Mew first. Somehow, through everything that got added onto the story and the ending after this (including everything involved in chapters 75 and 76), I still kept that bit, wrapping up that one-off antagonist and Scyther's character arc.
 
The Final Stretch - Chapter 75: Mewtwo²

Dragonfree

Moderator
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
  2. mightyena
  3. charizard
  4. custom/scyther-mia
  5. vulpix
Apologies for the wait! The climax of the story is finally here with chapters 75 and 76 (the two are being posted simultaneously, because 75 raises a lot of questions answered by 76). Note that there is still one more chapter after this, which should be posted on Sunday, the story's twentieth anniversary.

Yet another content warning for suicide.



The Final Stretch – Chapter 75: Mewtwo²​

2022-06-03-chapter75-small.png

Mitch lay back in his sofa and stared at the ceiling, arms folded tightly across his chest, listening to the faint tick of the clock and his own heartbeat as the hours dragged on. Nothing changed, nothing improved, no more than ever. He wasn’t sure what he was even waiting for anymore.

please no

A looming, suffocating dread hung over his mind: a desperate fear of the inevitable, a deep and fundamental knowledge that something was horribly wrong, something terrible was happening and he was powerless to stop it. He was helpless, trapped, alone, and all he could do was wait for everything to fall apart.

The problem was that he had absolutely no idea why he was feeling any of these things.

not this

Outside, the sun was shining, birds were singing, a gentle breeze was blowing through the trees; it was a beautiful, calm spring day. He might have liked to take a walk, a nice little hike in the mountains around the desert perhaps – if he weren’t here, clinging to the last vestiges of his sanity inside his locked gym.

no no no

Mitch sighed, unfolding his arms carefully to rub his temples. It had never been like this before, not this strong. He’d always experienced it as vague feelings, intuitions, beliefs that didn’t seem to come from anywhere. But now it was like a tangible presence somewhere in the back of his mind, not speaking exactly but sparking intense flashes of emotions that seemed disconnected from everything, as if they weren’t his own, flashes that disappeared if he tried to focus upon them. Like… like someone was there, at the edge of his consciousness, barely brushing past his thoughts.

no please no

At first, Mitch had thought the phantom emotions – faint back then – were some strange side-effect of the Scorplack venom. He’d started to research it, interviewed countless other survivors, but none had experienced anything like it. Then he’d realized it seemed to be telling him things, somehow giving him information that he shouldn’t have, that he just inexplicably felt. He’d figured it meant he was a late-blooming psychic, and he’d been okay with that. But then he’d read some books on it, and their descriptions had been similar but not quite the same, and then he’d gone to see an actual psychic – a legit one, he’d made sure – who’d told him she felt nothing at all from him: no latent psychic powers, no trickster Ghost Pokémon sneakily following him and messing with his head, nothing. He’d seen another one for a second opinion and gotten the same answer. And then he’d paid them through his teeth to keep it quiet, because he didn’t know what he’d even do with himself if the League found out and decided they’d rather not employ a gym leader who was hearing voices that weren’t there, and slowly but steadily getting worse.

(And could he really blame them?)

please

Then he’d quietly seen a psychiatrist, of course, been on several different antipsychotics with wretched side-effects for a while. Nothing had changed.

And ever the feelings had grown stronger, clearer, more defined. It had occurred to him, of course, that maybe the psychics were both wrong and there was something there that they weren’t sensing, somehow. But it had also occurred to him that he could simply be hallucinating, imagining the whole thing. Sometimes his mind surged with conviction: what about that time, how could you have known that – but it could be a coincidence. He felt lots of things that didn’t tell him anything specific, sudden pangs of worries and loss and fear that had nothing to do with anything; why wouldn’t some happen to line up with real events? It seemed unlikely, but – odds were meaningless, weren’t they? And he could hardly trust his own brain to judge it, if his brain was the one producing these feelings in the first place.

must not happen

So he’d waited, for something, some kind of change or shift or – he wasn’t sure, really, but as it was there didn’t seem to be anything he could do, and that helplessness was maddening. Sometimes, when he was sure he was crazy, he’d thought about admitting himself to the mental hospital in Alumine before he started really hearing voices and believing what they said and doing something reckless or dangerous or harmful. But – what if he wasn’t? And the meds hadn’t helped before; why would they now?

MUST NOT HAPPEN

And, although he hated to admit it, he just didn’t want to be crazy. He could feel his brain rationalizing and downplaying and sanitizing it, assuring him he was fine and his mind was sound and there must be something real there. And he could tell those were insidious thought processes, the same ones that would be at work if he really were going mad, but they were too tempting to entirely ignore. Too tempting to make a decision like locking himself in an asylum.

So instead, he’d locked himself up in the gym, waiting and waiting for some vague miracle to solve everything – something that’d just settle the question and give him some kind of starting point – as if that wasn’t the most useless kind of wishful thinking. As if wasting away with restless boredom, fearing his own thoughts, wouldn’t eventually drive him mad even if he wasn’t already.

nononono

He sat in silence listening to the dull throb of alien emotions, hearing his breath shaking as he exhaled. He couldn’t keep this up forever. Nothing was getting better. Nothing was going to just sort itself out and make sense. Any sense this would ever make was something he’d have to make for himself.

please

Mitch took a deep breath, closing his eyes. That strange, pleading desperation was so tangible he could almost taste it – and then, as he focused on it, it was gone, and he couldn’t tell if he’d just been imagining it. “Okay,” he whispered, teeth clenched. “Let’s say you’re real. Then prove it. Come out and talk to me. Can’t you talk?”

For a moment he sat there as nothing happened, like an idiot, hating that he was far enough gone, desperate enough, to be indulging his own hallucinations. But then, suddenly, there was a – an answer. His heart wrenched suddenly in his chest, and a no emerged from the back of his mind – not the word, not speech, but a vague urge to shake his head, to object, to protest. He probably wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t been looking for it, waiting for it, today when the feelings were stronger than ever before. But it was there, he was sure of it. He felt his pulse quickening, his attention suddenly on high alert, his head spinning.

He scrambled to gather his thoughts. An imaginary voice would probably answer, too, noted a dispassionate, reasonable part of him – this wasn’t proof of anything, was it? And abruptly, he realized he didn’t care. Whatever this was, whether it was a hallucination or not, it was better than sitting there, waiting, forever.

“You… you’re real,” he said. From the back of his mind came an urgent affirmation, a longing to nod eagerly: another answer, a different one. Real. A strange wave of elation washed over him, his eyes watering. “So you’re…”

Mitch blinked rapidly. Even now he could feel it, not communicating anything in particular, just there, at the edge of his mind. If he tried to concentrate on it, as usual, it went away – but then he shifted his focus and he could sense it reappearing. How could he have gone so long without realizing?

For a while he was silent, eyes closed, aware of it only as that tingling, shivering presence: real, comforting, safe.

“You’re the one who saved me from the Scorplack that day, aren’t you?” he asked softly.

For a moment there was nothing; then came a hesitant, half-apologetic confirmation, the regret of good intentions gone awry. “No, I… thank you,” he said, chuckling. “I only… I was so confused.” Mitch took a deep breath. “But here you are. I should have… I should have tried this earlier.”

A spark of happiness, reassurance, the relief of old, nagging doubts and guilt finally laid to rest. The undercurrent of urgent, screaming desperation wasn’t gone, but – it was glad for that, at least. Glad he thought it was worth it, glad he was glad to be talking to it. It was strange, but somehow, now that he was paying attention, its presence felt deeply familiar, as if he’d known it intimately all those years since that day and just never realized it. As if it was an old friend – a friend he’d never known he had, who’d saved his life and then stewed in anxiety wondering if he would have preferred if it hadn’t.

He couldn’t help but linger on that thought. In some way he’d always thought of himself, of Mitch, as a puppet of some nebulous, inscrutable power that was toying with him, like this was all part of some fate or plan that he was helpless to contest – but that had never been it, had it? Perhaps it had only ever simply been something, someone, that’d wanted to help, and tried to, as best it could, the only way it could think of.

He chuckled. “I’ve had so many theories,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I’ve spent the last seven years of my life trying to figure you out. And…” He paused. And what? What could he say to it? What are you? How could it possibly begin to answer that?

“What… what happened? Why are you so upset?” he asked at last.

Flashes of pain, grief, loneliness of an intensity that was terrifying and ancient and inhuman, coursed through his mind and left him breathless and shivering. Then a blanket of deep, desperate guilt smothered all of that, drowned it, made it seem trivial in comparison. He wanted to die, wanted to disappear, and yet he couldn’t; he was trapped, suffocating, screaming with no voice, forever and ever, in a silent, isolated hell.

Mitch clutched his head as he caught his breath, eyes squeezed shut, still trembling uncontrollably. It… it was suffering. He couldn’t tell why, or how, but it had been suffering, in a way he couldn’t even imagine, for a long, long time.

“So there’s… there’s nothing you can do about it?” he murmured.

His heart wrenched as that horrible, suffocating sense of entrapment consumed him again, of being imprisoned and powerless and mute – and then it hit him. “You’re… stuck in my head?”

Yes: a brief sensation of faint relief, an urge to nod. It couldn’t do anything at all, because it was a prisoner in his brain. How had it gotten there and why? There was no way it could answer that, was there? (A sense of flustered helplessness affirmed this.)

“Can I… can I help?”

His heart stung again, with hopelessness and regret and weakness in the face of overwhelming odds and another flash of that sense of being trapped and unable to speak.

He really couldn’t, anyway. What could he possibly do to help it, when it couldn’t tell him what to do, what was even wrong? It might share his brain, but his brain had too much him in it. He supposed the way it vanished from where his attention was meant his own thought processes drowned it out, kept it confined where all it could do was twang his emotions.

And that thought gave him pause, a chilling idea creeping up on him.

“Say… say I could lend you my body,” he said, slowly. “Would that… would that help?”

A spark of hope, real hope, flashed across his mind, tinged with a hesitant wariness, a hint of sorrow and pain: maybe, but.

“Is it dangerous?” he guessed.

Yes.

“Dangerous to whom? Is anyone else getting hurt?”

Hesitation, uncertainty, a stab of pain and loss, determination, grim hope – probably, but it would try to prevent it.

Mitch nodded slowly. “Would we die?”

The response was pained, a regretful, tentative affirmation made of endless grief and dejected apology. It wasn’t certain, but it didn’t have a lot of hope for them.

“Is it worth it?” he asked softly, and the answer was yes – tinged with guilt and regret, but no trace of doubt. It didn’t want him to die, but this was important, more important than anything.

Mitch paused. So this was it, then.

“There’s a rare, reclusive Poison-type in this region called Wasparch,” he said. “It lays its eggs in comatose victims and buries them as a living larder for its young. Its venom shuts down the higher brain functions, but keeps the body alive. I have a sample of it in my cupboard.” He hesitated. “So does that sound like you could…?”

A jolt of hope, excitement, wonder, coupled with immense gratitude, hesitation, sorrow, horror, apology again. The alien emotions felt discordant, strange against his own sticky, drying mouth and the pit in his stomach, but underneath it he felt a strange kind of relief too. An hour ago he’d been alone, helpless, the slowly unraveling ghost of a dead kid. And now, he actually had a chance to help a friend, a friend who was suffering.

He stood up, his body trembling as his head buzzed with conflicted feelings: tightness, grief, warmth, love. Was he really doing this? Dying for the voice in his head, this companion that – even if it didn’t seem that way – he’d only actually known for a matter of minutes?

Yes, he thought, and this time it was all him.

It wasn’t as if he shouldn’t have been dead seven years ago. It was time to repay it the life that he never ought to have had – the fake, troubled life of Mitch that it had given him that day in the desert. He owed it that much.

And if none of this was real, if it was all a hallucination and he’d never had a companion – then he’d just drift away and stop existing. They’d find him sometime when people started to worry about him not returning calls, and euthanize his empty shell, and he’d never have to endure any of this again. Nobody would get hurt.

It was an oddly calming realization. He had nothing to lose.

Slowly, he walked over to the lab and opened the cupboard of venom samples. He rummaged through it for the right vial, an odd routineness to the act, as if he were simply looking for a normal Weedle antidote on any ordinary day.

(The growing nervous hesitation in the back of his mind probed at him again with a stab of concern. “Yes, I’m sure,” he whispered. “You need it more than I do.”)

And then, finally, he found it. He pulled it out carefully and fiddled with the label for a moment, gazing at the thick navy ooze inside it, ignoring the trembling of his hands. Wasparch. Effective when ingested as well as injected. He took a deep breath, not sure he could feel his legs anymore. The poison acted slower when ingested: it would take about a minute or two before he became dizzy and lightheaded, and then he would fade away. He’d read it, researched it, interviewed survivors, studied countless diagrams and surveys and medical reports; he knew how this went.

With a shaking hand, he lifted the vial towards his faint reflection in the glass door of the cupboard. “Cheers,” he said, chuckling – he looked like a lunatic, he thought – before he let it clink softly against the glass, raised it to his lips and poured the contents into his mouth in one swift gulp.

It tasted faintly sweet and sticky, distantly reminiscent of blood, leaving a cold, tingling feeling on his tongue and the inside of his mouth. He shuddered as he swallowed it, then walked slowly, slowly back to the couch, legs trembling. As an afterthought, he picked up the pencil and half-solved crossword puzzle lying on the coffee table and scribbled a note in the margin:

If you find me here, I don’t want to wake up

I’m sorry

-Mitch


He put the paper down and laid himself gently down on the sofa, feeling sleepy and fuzzy and slow. It was becoming difficult to think. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, only an unusual one; it wasn’t a bad way to go, all things considered.

“I hope I could help,” he whispered, “whoever you are.”

And then he drifted away, leaving his fate to the friend he’d never known.

-------

Mark blinked rapidly into cold air that was thick with dust. The hunched-over form of Mewtwo² stood limply on the ground ahead of them, shivering uncontrollably. An electrifying sensation of power hung in the air around it, a psychic pressure that threatened to tear everything apart; Mark felt every hair on his body standing on end, nerves tingling in anticipation of looming, terrifying danger. In front of the clone, a shallow, circular crater was carved into the rocky ground, still smoking with heat and twirling dust, surrounding a sickening, unrecognizable splatter of red – some unwary wild Pokémon suddenly obliterated by the power of a hundred legendaries.

Behind it stood Rick, coughing, arm shielding his face, a ball clutched in his hand.

“Recall him!” Chaletwo screamed. “Recall him now, or that’s what happens to this entire planet!”

Rick’s head snapped around, his gaze locking onto them, surprised, alarmed. For a split second he stared at them, frozen. Then, all at once, recognition spread across his face and melted into a familiar, stomach-turning madness.

He raised a trembling hand towards May. “Kill her!” he snarled.

Mark’s heart thumped in slow-motion as May stared back at Rick, pale, fingers tight in Spirit’s mane. Then she released her grip on the Ninetales, closing her eyes, inhaling sharply, and before he could consciously think anything at all, Mark had thrown himself at her in some stupid attempt to get her out of the way. They tumbled over each other on the ground, his head smashing into a rock that sent his vision spinning as he realized that it was no use, he couldn’t help, this was Mewtwo² imbued with the power of every legendary and it would just blast him into oblivion too.

For another eternal heartbeat, he clutched May’s jacket, eyes screwed shut, bracing himself for an inevitable death.

But his heart thumped again, and he opened his eyes. May was still there, coughing in the dusty air, blinking at him, with nothing more than a gash on her leg. Mewtwo² stood in the same place it had been, its arm extended in their direction, shaking as if straining against some invisible force.

“Kill her!” Rick ordered again, louder, and still Mewtwo² didn’t attack.

“Recall him! Now, goddamn it!” Chaletwo lunged towards Rick, but Mewtwo²’s eyes flashed blue and an invisible barrier stopped him. “Recall him or he kills us all!”

Rick glanced in his direction, hesitating only a split second before he looked back at May. “Kill—”

Abruptly, Mewtwo² moved, sweeping its hand back with a heaving lurch of effort, turning its head towards Rick as the power in the air intensified, burning, searing. The man’s eyes widened as he stepped back, raising the ball in his hand.

And then his hand just folded in on itself, bone crunching and electronics sparking and then it was simply gone. Rick let out a piercing scream, and then Mewtwo² swept its other hand down and suddenly he wasn’t there anymore, a formless red mist splattering the clone’s body. Mark stared in mute, detached horror, unable to properly comprehend or absorb the unreality of it. Somewhere, dimly, behind what had just happened to Rick, he realized the ball was gone, vaporized. There was nothing left, no way to stop it.

And yet, Mewtwo² stood there still, quiet, pupilless eyes rolling in its head.

Run. They should run, screamed a terrified part of Mark. But another part of him was paralyzed, fascinated, silently waiting for what would happen next, and his legs didn’t move. What was the use in running, anyway, if the world was ending?

“I…” Chaletwo said, backing away, his voice wavering. “Why isn’t he doing anything?”

“He’s spent all his life struggling against forces subduing his will,” said a quiet voice, and Mark looked around, startled, to find Mew suddenly hovering near them, staring towards Mewtwo². “He’s still fighting back. I should have known.”

“So he’s… he’s not going mad? It’s not happening?”

Mew shook his head slightly. “He can’t resist forever. He’s not the first to try.”

“Then throw another ball! Anything!”

His voice was piercing and desperate. Mark rose to his feet on wobbly legs, fumbling for an Ultra Ball, but as he threw it, Mewtwo² looked up sharply and it simply disintegrated in mid-air. At the sight of it, with a bloodcurdling physical scream, Chaletwo opened his eyes, and Mark shuddered in anticipation, the memory of the day he’d died flashing through his mind – but instead of the blinding, terrifying brightness he remembered, the light shining from Chaletwo’s eyes was only a faint glow.

Across from them, Mewtwo² didn’t even react.

Chaletwo’s scream died in a strangled, disbelieving cry as he closed his eyes again and doubled over, panting and shaking.

“You’re too weak to use your eyes,” Mew said softly, not quite looking at him. “But with the power he has now, he could block it even if you could. It can’t be escaped.” Mewtwo²’s aura pushed and pulled at Mark’s brain in restless, pulsing throbs, its fingers flexing and unflexing at the ends of its limply hanging arms. “Once he succumbs, he’ll hunt down all of us. Pokéballs, soul gems, he’ll destroy them. Legendaries have tried to escape it before; we have always struggled with the idea of dying. But it’s no use. I’m sorry. We should try to use these final moments to make peace and accept it, like the mortals—”

“Hypocrite!” Chaletwo lashed out, rounding on Mew. “You tried to escape it! You and Chalenor went to the future together trying to insure yourselves, and then when I try to do the same thing you just babble on about fate and acceptance!”

Mew blinked, turning towards him.

“If you’d just told me what went wrong with your attempt, we could have made a better plan, goddamn it!” Chaletwo went on, fiercely. “We could’ve been working on it for a thousand years instead of twenty! We could’ve gotten all the legendaries in on it from the beginning, instead of trying to keep it a secret! Everything you’ve done, everything, it’s all like you just wanted to...”

“What are you talking about?” Mew interrupted, frantic. “Me and Chalenor in the future?”

“Mewtwo told us all about it, that you appeared on his island babbling about insurance and made a copy of his body and took it back to the past – is that where I came from? A botched safety precaution for Chalenor?”

The alarm in Mew’s expression faded. “Oh.” He looked away, bitterly. Mewtwo²’s hands were clenched tight now, the power in the air hot and stinging. “I’m sorry. I did go to the future and bring a copy of his body back. But I was alone.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense!” Chaletwo snapped. Mew stared at the ground, not moving, paws trembling. “How could you travel through time alone? If you’re going to continue lying to me, I swear –”

“Because I was the Preserver,” Mew said. His voice shook as he looked up, still not looking Chaletwo in the eye.

“What are you talking about?” Chaletwo’s hostility was gaining an undertone of desperate fear and confusion. “Chalenor was the Preserver! Like me!”

Mew shook his head again, almost imperceptibly. “No, he wasn’t.”

“Yes, he was!” Chaletwo screamed, a crazed ferocity in his voice. “It was the first thing you told me about him!”

“I lied,” Mew whispered, staring at Mewtwo²’s shuddering form.

“No! That doesn’t make any sense! Why in the hell would you lie to me about that?!”

A cold shiver of realization trickled down Mark’s spine, but before Mew could give an answer, there was a sudden change in the throbbing psychic background noise as Molzapart blinked into existence ahead. At his side stood Alan and Sparky, visibly relieved to see them.

“Chaletwo!” Molzapart said, his voice sharp, as Alan ran over to hug Mark. He hesitated as he looked at May, who didn’t meet his eye, then gave her a quick hug as well. “What’s happening? I’ve stopped growing weaker, and they said they felt some kind of pulse. Was that it? And what’s…” He trailed off, staring at Mewtwo². The clone was perfectly unmoving again now, staring down at the ground, its aura somehow eerily still too. “Oh, no. Is that the power we’re feeling? Please tell me it wasn’t out.”

Chaletwo didn’t answer. He stood, arms shaking, fingers clenched together.

“It was out,” May said, her voice hoarse. “Mew said it’s resisting but it can’t hold out for long. It…” She swallowed. “It killed Rick and destroyed its ball.”

“Then how do we stop it?” Molzapart hissed.

“It can’t be stopped,” Mew said, without looking at Molzapart. “There’s nothing we can do.”

Molzapart stared at him. “There has to be a way!” he said. “We can’t fight power like that, but what about…”

He trailed off suddenly, turning wide-eyed towards Mewtwo² as the clone began to stir. There was a strange disruption in the energy surrounding it, a sudden sensation of stinging heat, as it slowly pushed itself upright, strangely rigid and tense, stared at Mew, and stretched out its arm.

“I’m sorry,” Mew said again, closing his eyes.

And then, all of a sudden, an orb of dark energy smashed into Mewtwo², sending it flying back. It took a few limp tumbles on the ground, then went rigid again, floating into the air as a new protective sphere formed around it. Mark looked wildly towards where the attack had come from, expecting another legendary somehow, only to see Mitch sprinting in their direction, already forming another shadowy orb between his hands.

Mark had no chance to even try to wrap his brain around what was going on before Mitch leapt into the air, unnaturally high, and threw another Shadow Ball at Mewtwo². It dissipated as it hit the barrier, only for Mewtwo² to drunkenly swing its arm downwards, sending Mitch hurtling towards the ground. He vanished suddenly inches above the dirt, reappeared in the air behind Mewtwo² and crashed into the barrier, clawing madly at it with his fingers as tendrils of darkness twirled around his hands, and Mewtwo² jerked away, bringing the barrier with him. Mitch charged back towards it, but froze suddenly in mid-air as Mewtwo² held its arm forward, bringing its trembling fingers together.

He let out a chilling, almost inhuman scream as his head and limbs were twisted back, and Mark felt a horrible certainty that he was about to meet the same fate as Rick – and then, somehow, a burst of dark energy exploded out of him and surged towards Mewtwo², straight through the barrier. A stab of piercing psychic agony rang out as the clone dropped out of the sky, and for a heartstopping moment Mark thought Mitch had actually knocked it unconscious – but its fall came to a gentle stop as it glowed blue, curling up into a ball on the ground and clutching its head. The barrier around it thickened somehow, turning a more opaque white that throbbed like a living thing, and inside, it lay motionless, shivering, breathing rapidly. The thrum of power in the air had barely diminished; it wasn’t defeated, only… recovering?

Mitch stared warily at Mewtwo² from the air for a few seconds, as if making sure it wasn’t standing up again, then landed in an exhausted stumble, panting, blood trickling from his lip. Mark was about to run over to help him, to ask if he was all right and how in the world he’d done that – but then Mitch looked up, his eyes a startling, alien bright teal color that definitely wasn’t what they’d been last time they’d met, and the words died in Mark’s throat.

“Mew?” Mitch said quietly, his voice raw and shaky and unlike himself.

Mew whirled around, his eyes widening. “Chalenor?” he said, trembling.

He didn’t wait for an answer before he shot towards Mitch.

The gym leader broke into a run, catching Mew in his arms in midair before falling to his knees. He pulled Mew tightly against his chest, knuckles white, embracing the legendary like his life depended on it.

“Mew, I’m so sorry,” Mitch said, his voice choked with sobs. “This is all my fault.”

“You were dead,” Mew whispered, still in shock. “I tried to resurrect you but I couldn’t find you – sometimes I could have sworn I felt you there, but with the Dark type I couldn’t—”

“What?” Chaletwo said weakly, staring at the two of them. “What do you mean, he’s…”

“I know,” murmured Mitch, except it wasn’t Mitch. “I tried to move on after I died, but I couldn’t; something was anchoring me there. I wanted to talk to you, to anyone, but there was nothing I could do.” He shivered violently. “It’s been a thousand years.”

“As an undetectable roaming spirit?” Mew’s voice shook.

“I passed between hosts and tried to communicate, but I wasn’t strong enough, not until…” He trembled again, staring at his hands, Mitch’s hands. “He lent me his body, he didn’t even know why, and now he’ll die with me.”

Mew shook his head fervently. “No, no, you can’t go through that again, I won’t let you, I won’t let you—”

Sparky stepped forward, wary, his brow furrowed. “Mitch?” he said cautiously.

The other gym leader flinched strangely as he turned; he looked oddly small, somehow, still clutching Mew tightly.

“I’m not him,” he said, quietly, his voice trembling as his eyes flared teal again. “I’m Chalenor, the Destroyer.”

There it was. Mark’s stomach twisted in on itself, his ears ringing as a ripple of wordless, desperate psychic fury passed through his mind.

“No!” Chaletwo screamed, head bowed low, his hands trembling at his sides. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

Mitch – Chalenor – flinched again, squeezing his eyes shut. “I know this is my fault, but please, let me help.”

“It isn’t your fault!” Mew said desperately, wrenching around in his grip. He turned towards Chaletwo, pleading. “Arceus made him to punish the legendaries for their arrogance, eons ago – he doesn’t control it! He never has!”

Alan stared at them. “But… I thought Chalenor was the Preserver?”

Chalenor blinked at him. A wisp of a smile crossed his face as he looked back at Mew, his eyes darkening to a calm, murky blue. “Is that… is that what you told them?”

Mew took a deep breath. “I only—”

“No!” Chaletwo’s voice shook with anger. “Why?!”

“You don’t know what it was like,” Mew said, his voice quiet, not meeting Chaletwo’s eye. “For millennia every legendary knew him as the Destroyer. They knew he would drain their power and make them mortal and then watch them tear each other apart. They feared and despised him. You would have too if you’d known.”

“You said… you said he was…!”

“I thought he was dead.” Mew looked away. “All I wanted was to make a world where at least he’d be remembered like I remembered him.”

Chalenor stared down at Mew, holding him tightly. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured again.

“Why are you sorry? It’s my fault.” Mew curled up against his chest, bitter tears forming between his eyelids. “I screwed everything up. I – I k—”

And then, suddenly, the psychic pressure began to shift yet again with a nauseating sensation of the world being skewed and off-balance, and Mew was cut off abruptly as Chalenor scrambled back to his feet. He released Mew gently in the air, like something precious and fragile, and then took a protective stance in front of him, forming another dark orb between his hands.

In the rubble, beneath the thick protective shield, Mewtwo² was stirring, crawling to its feet, slowly, jerkily. The shield faded, and Chalenor flung the Shadow Ball with a desperate yell, but again, it simply fizzled away harmlessly in the air as Mewtwo²’s eyes flashed.

As the clone’s body arched upright, its gaze locked onto Chalenor. It swung its arm downwards, and a vertical, ripple-like shockwave passed through the air, tossing Chalenor’s body back like a ragdoll. He landed in a heap, and Mew rushed over to check on him. Mewtwo²’s hand pointed back towards the two of them again, only for its body to suddenly jerk back, convulsing strangely.

“I don’t know if I can defeat him,” Chalenor said as he crawled back to his feet, his voice hoarse. “But if I can, it should end for now, shouldn’t it?”

Mew stared at him. “I don’t know,” he said. “He won’t become the Creator unless we’re all dead, but…”

“I have to try,” Chalenor said. He wiped blood from the corner of his mouth as he pushed himself to his feet, just in time to form a translucent white shield in front of them as Mewtwo² stood rigid again and fired a clumsy psychic blast that smashed the barrier apart and brought him back to his knees.

“But what if you die again?” Mew said urgently, pleading.

Chalenor paused, watching Mewtwo² carefully as it clutched its head, eyes shut, a protective sphere flickering in and out of existence around it. “Wasn’t that what I wanted in the first place?”

“But – what if you can’t move on, like last time?” Mew’s voice was desperate. “Another thousand years as a Dark-type ghost? I can’t let you do that to yourself!”

Chalenor hurled another Shadow Ball as Mewtwo²’s barrier flickered off, but the clone raised its hand again, and this time the attack swung around and smashed back towards Mew. Chalenor leapt into the way, producing a shield that scattered much of the blast into dark tendrils of energy that hit him instead. He shuddered, sucking in a breath before he jumped into the air again, sending a pulse of darkness towards Mewtwo² and then shooting higher up, the clone following. The two circled each other in the air, spiralling upwards, firing attacks, darting aside, putting up shields. Mew stared up at their battle, quivering.

“It’s me, isn’t it?” Chaletwo said suddenly, his voice flat. Mew turned towards him, eyes wide.

“It’s me. I’m the anchor.” His voice began to tremble, a furious psychic cocktail of rage and confusion and terror spilling out of him in waves. “You transferred the essence from his eye into me, and it tethered his soul to me, and that’s why he couldn’t move on. That’s why the War is still happening. It’s me! You did this! Goddamn it!”

A strange pain passed across Mew’s face; then he averted his eyes, turning back towards the fight raging above.

“You knew?” A fresh wave of desperate, confused psychic anger lashed across Mark’s mind. “You knew all along?”

“I suspected,” Mew said quietly, his voice bitter. “I didn’t know he was trapped here, or I would’ve…” He clenched his paws, staring. “But when I felt my power was being drained again, I thought it might have to do with you. I hoped I was wrong. I’d seen the effect Chalenor’s skull had where I buried it, near Sailance; perhaps it would have done it regardless.”

Sailance. Mark froze. The Pokémon. The lack of Pokémon in northwest Ouen.

“It’s not fair!” Chaletwo yelled. “It’s not fair! I’ve been fighting to stop it!”

“I know,” Mew whispered, looking away. “I couldn’t tell you, not after watching how Chalenor suffered every day of his life. I’m sorry.”

“I was trying!” Chaletwo screamed. “It could have worked! You could have helped! Why didn’t you help?!”

Mew squeezed his eyes shut. Above, the battle raged on, bursts of energy flying between the clashing beings. “It can’t be stopped. It’s no use. I told you that.”

“You didn’t know that! You didn’t even try!” Chaletwo’s rage had taken on an almost physical quality, swimming through the thick background of Mewtwo²’s power. “Earlier, when you came out of the ball, you thought it wasn’t happening! It wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been out! But you just decided it wouldn’t work and made excuses! Like you – like you wanted it to happen!”

Mew stared down at the ground, silent, for a long, long moment.

“I…” he said in a whisper. “I just wanted to see Chalenor again.”

A desperate, wordless psychic scream emanated from Chaletwo’s mind. Molzapart stared at him, opening his beak as if to say something.

And then Chalenor crashed into the ground with force that shook the earth, sliding several feet in the dirt on his back. Mew shot to his side as Mewtwo² descended, paying no mind to Molzapart, who shuffled back to stay out of its way. It pointed its now-steady hand towards Mew and Chalenor –

– and then, suddenly, a green blur knocked it down. Mark stared as a shape – Scyther – slashed madly at Mewtwo², severing one of the two pipes connecting the base of its neck to the back of its head. A stab of pain pierced through Mark’s mind before the clone thrust Scyther away with a psychic blast, the two ends of the neck pipe already knitting back together as the flesh mended itself. Scyther rose again, swaying, hurtling back towards it with a desperate battle cry, and Mewtwo² lifted a hand – which trembled before it fired a small, clumsy burst of purple light that barely slowed him down. Scyther lunged at its throat, but Mewtwo² flexed its fingers and produced a protective barrier that stopped him, its blank eyes staring at the mantis’s form as he tore into the barrier with a Fury Cutter, to no avail. Slowly, the clone turned away from him, its eyes fixing back on where Chalenor was lying.

Scyther blinked at Mewtwo² and then glanced at Mark.

Mark’s heart thumped. He knew what Scyther was thinking. Mewtwo² could have obliterated him with a thought, and yet it hadn’t. Scyther had tried to kill it, and still it hadn’t. For that matter, it could have attacked any one of them, and yet it was still focused blindly on Chalenor, attacking only him.

“Guys,” he said, feeling his pulse in his throat, lightheaded in the sea of psychic static. He reached for his Pokéballs. “It’s still resisting. It’s not attacking Scyther.”

Mewtwo² fired a Psycho Cut towards Chalenor, and Mew darted in front of him, squeezing his eyes shut as a faint, feeble pink bubble formed around him. Chalenor pushed himself partially upright in a lurch, holding his hand forward to create a stronger shield in front of Mew that deflected the attack before he collapsed again. Mewtwo² stared at them, motionless.

Scyther leapt up again, and this time he got a few slashes in before the clone psychically thrust him away and raised its shield again, its wounds easily closing.

“Go!” Mark shouted as four Pokéballs opened in bursts of light. Charizard, Dragonite, Jolteon and Weavile materialized on the ground. “We can… we can help! Be careful!”

He glanced at Charizard, hesitating as he remembered how he’d worked himself too hard for him before – but before he’d said anything out loud, Charizard nodded. “I’ll be fine.”

And he kicked off into the air.

As Mark’s Pokémon surrounded Mewtwo², another burst of white light emerged in front of him. May jerked her hand up to her necklace, but Floatzel was already forming, racing after Weavile with a manic grin.

“Mark’s right,” Spirit said, looking up at May. “The madness only compels it to attack legendary Pokémon, does it not?”

“I…” May pressed her lips together, a trembling hand clutching her Pokéballs. “I don’t…”

“May,” Spirit said, her voice firm. “We will all die if we don’t stop it.”

May bit her lip, glancing over at Floatzel before she gave a slight nod, pulled the remaining balls from her necklace and threw them. Flygon, Butterfree, Mutark and Skarmory came out of their balls ready, Mutark licking herself and transforming within moments. Only Flygon hesitated, trembling as he stared towards Mewtwo².

“Flygon,” May said, fists clenched. “Should I switch you out?”

The dragon took a deep breath and shook his head, then darted after the others.

Alan and Sparky’s Pokémon joined the fray as well, but Mewtwo² remained inside a protective bubble, shielded from the onslaught of attacks, twitching restlessly. Chalenor had risen to his hands and knees, struggling to recover; Mew hovered by his shoulder, worried.

The psychic noise shifted, and Mark’s stomach twisted in anticipation of Mewtwo² firing off another attack – but then Spirit disappeared and reappeared behind it inside the barrier, locking her teeth around its neck pipes. Again, a surge of pain pulsed outward. The Pokémon gathered around Mewtwo² visibly flinched as it raised an arm and telekinetically tore Spirit away, healing its wounds again. She landed on the ground beside it and was quick to get back to her feet, preparing to pounce again.

Mewtwo²’s arm pointed at her, twitching. Mark’s heart pounded as May clutched the Pokéball in her hand. It shouldn’t attack her, not really, not badly –

– and then, abruptly, Spirit was yanked into the air. Mewtwo² levitated her pendant as it stared at it, eyes rolling, oblivious to Spirit’s struggling form suspended from it by the neck. May threw her arm forward, pressing the button to recall her.

The beam of the Pokéball passed through the barrier and began to absorb her – but as the glow tried to take the necklace with her, it couldn’t. The chain trembled in the air, flickering red, the Ninetales’ amorphous shape still dangling from it.

“Spirit, let it go!” shouted May, her eyes wide, but the Ninetales continued to struggle against the pull, the red glow clawing desperately at the chain. “Spirit! Please! Don’t!”

For a second more, Spirit strained to take the pendant with her. But then, her translucent form was absorbed into the ball, and in Mewtwo²’s psychic grip, the necklace and Entei’s striking red soul gems crumbled to dust.

The clone stood there for a few seconds, breathing rapidly. Slowly, carefully, May placed Spirit’s ball back on her necklace, staring towards the other Pokémon. Coughing, Chalenor rose to his feet, facing Mewtwo² again.

The clone flexed its fingers for a moment; then the barrier around it disappeared as its eyes glowed blue. Immediately, the Pokémon around it sprang into action, led by Floatzel slamming into it with an Aqua Jet. Mewtwo² took the flurry of attacks without flinching, almost comically unaffected, but looked around, shaking its head, concentration faltering, and whatever attack it’d been preparing never landed. Charizard engulfed it in a Flamethrower, and then, without warning, a shockwave threw all the Pokémon back, clearing the area around the clone. Chalenor, leaping into the air, tossed a Shadow Ball at it, and Mewtwo² stumbled back momentarily before wrapping itself in another protective bubble and shooting off into the air after Chalenor, followed by all of the flying Pokémon.

They surrounded Mewtwo² in the air, orbiting it in a circle, but its barrier kept them away whenever they tried to strike. The two legendaries danced around each other, exchanging blows, barriers clashing, firing attacks – but Chalenor’s movements were exhausted, desperate, while the clone fought with the same indifference as ever, barely hurt. “No,” whispered Mew, staring at the fight above, “no no no no no no –”

“He’s not going to make it,” Molzapart said, his voice tight and fierce. “The thing’s not even tired, and he’s stuck in a useless human body. It’s only a matter of time.” He looked restlessly around before fixing his gaze on Chaletwo. “If ever there was a time for your murder-eyes, it’s now. Why haven’t you obliterated it?”

Chaletwo didn’t respond. Mew shook his head. “He’s too weak. It’s no use.”

Molzapart looked away, then back. “So if you had more power, you could do it?”

Mewtwo² nimbly maneuvered above Chalenor and thrust its fist downward, producing a burst of energy that crushed him down into the ground a short distance away. He lay there unmoving as Mew shot to his side.

“No!” Mew said, nudging him desperately. “Come on, come on!” Up above, Mewtwo² still hung in the air, a shadowed figure wreathed in a combination of orange and blue flames, motionless but for its tail lashing restlessly around.

“I mean it. Could you do it with more power?” Molzapart repeated, looking urgently at Chaletwo. “Because I can do that.”

Chaletwo looked up, slowly.

“Power Drain, remember? I can drain the power of willing subjects, and I could channel it into you. I don’t know how much you’d need, but…” He glanced at Chalenor. “With all the Pokémon here, and him, it might be enough.”

Chaletwo stared at him. Somewhere in the raging psychic storm sparked a flash of faint, confused hope.

Mew squeezed his eyes shut as Chalenor stirred on the ground. “You don’t understand,” he said, shaking his head. “With the power that Mewtwo² has now, he can block or redirect anything he pleases. He may be able to ignore your Pokémon’s attacks, but anything that could truly hurt him or stop him, he will instinctively react to. Even at full power, Chaletwo’s eyes would be useless. There is nothing you can do here.”

Mew took a deep breath, looking back towards Molzapart. “And I don’t remember much of the War. But I remember what the madness felt like. Nothing mattered but the legendaries, surviving long enough to destroy them. And…” He trembled at the recollection, his gaze distant. “Any legendary who attacked me, I had to retaliate. That compulsion was stronger than anything. When only Chalenor is fighting him, he can focus on only him. But as soon as you try to attack, he will strike back. If you’re a true threat, he’ll be forced to use everything he has. He’ll kill you where you stand in the attempt.”

“Well, according to you it’s going to kill us all anyway!” Molzapart hissed. “Do you have a better idea?”

Something rippled through the psychic noise. Mark looked up to see Mewtwo² beginning to move again, descending slowly as attacks bombarded its protective bubble, preparing an attack between its hands. Chalenor lay in the dirt, exhausted, looking up in silent resignation; Mew curled up against his chest, face digging into his shirt, and closed his eyes.

“I’m sorry, for everything,” Mew said quietly.

“Maybe this time we’ll both die,” Chalenor said, his voice hoarse, smiling faintly. Then, in a murmur, he added, “I’m glad I got to see you again.”

“Me too,” Mew whispered.

Up above, Mewtwo² stared at the two of them, its arms still, shaking with effort as the energy around its hands dissipated, its bulging eyebrows twitching. A psychic wave of horror and nausea spilled out of it for a brief second before it was superseded by a forceful pulse of blind anger. Mewtwo² lifted its arms to clutch its head, then snarled as a ripple of frustration passed through Mark’s mind, then went rigid and started preparing an attack again.

And something about that visceral psychic horror hit Mark like a punch to the gut as he stared at the clone.

His pulse thumped furiously in his neck, a sudden stab of sympathy piercing through his fear of it, and with it came a strange, stark sense of clarity.

Before he knew it he was moving, running, sprinting towards Mew and Chalenor. He spread his arms in front of them, facing Mewtwo², heart hammering, and stared at the clone.

And Mewtwo² hesitated, staring back at him, eyes rolling in his head.

“Mewtwo²?” Mark said, his voice shaking. The clone’s empty eyes pierced back into his, the psychic force in the air pricking at his brain like a thousand tiny needles. “You’re still fighting back, as hard as you can, aren’t you? You don’t want this. You don’t want to kill anyone else.”

The clone let out a faint whine, curling up in the air, the barrier around him shimmering; then his arm shot outwards again, charging a Shadow Ball.

“Please,” Mark said. His legs were wobbling, but he was frozen in place; he couldn’t have backed off if he’d wanted to. “I’m… I’m so sorry this is happening to you.” He swallowed, tears blurring his vision as the clone stared at him, his head twitching from side to side. “You didn’t deserve any of this. I… I wish we could free you, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”

His mouth was dry; it was hard to speak. He wasn’t sure if there was any possible way for this to accomplish anything; how could there be anything he could say that’d be stronger than the madness that’d killed every legendary for thousands upon thousands of years?

But he had to say it anyway. If nothing else, Mewtwo² deserved to hear it.

“I remember I met you in Rick’s gym, a year ago, and even then you were fighting back, saying you didn’t want this. You never got to have a life of your own, did you? Just… just fighting for whoever held your ball. I’m so sorry.” He blinked rapidly. “We don’t want to hurt you; we just don’t want you to kill everyone. I know you don’t want that either. I wish we knew how we could help you.”

Mewtwo² released the Shadow Ball with a roar, and Mark’s heart stopped, only for the attack to hit the ground several meters away in a spray of sand and dirt. The clone stared at him, trembling.

“Please,” said a voice; Mark turned around to see Chalenor had pushed himself upright to stare up at Mewtwo². “He’s right. You’re still fighting back, still trying.” He swallowed. “You’re causing destruction that you don’t want and are attacked for it. I… I’m sorry.” He averted his eyes. “Others have tried this before, and it never worked. That’s why I attacked. But you…”

He looked back up, meeting the clone’s eyes, milky white staring into tealish blue.

“You’re stronger than any of them, aren’t you?” Chalenor murmured. “You’ve spent all your life learning to resist. If anyone can stop the cycle, it’s you, isn’t it? Another… another anomaly that Arceus didn’t account for. Please, keep trying.”

They stared at one another for a few more seconds of tense, electrifying silence. The psychic field intensified to a feverish pitch; Mark’s ears rang, his heart pumping like it was about to explode. Something probed at his mind, fumbling and frantic and shaking.

“I…” said a voice in his head, and he recognized it, faintly, from that day. “Please…”

The clone’s body seized up; the barrier vanished, and a psychic shockwave abruptly thrust the flying Pokémon around him away.

“K-k…” The telepathic voice was strained as Mewtwo²’s body convulsed in the air. Then, a sudden moment of abrupt alertness, his blank eyes staring straight into Mark’s, pleading. “Kill me!”

Then he seized anew, roaring once again, and began to prepare an attack, only for Charizard to tackle him with a Flare Blitz. Mewtwo² swung his arm, and Charizard was slammed into the ground with a heavy thud. Finally, Mark could move again; he ran over to kneel by his starter’s side, stroking his head.

Charizard opened an eye. “I’m okay,” he said, weakly, and Mark tried to smile before recalling him back to the safety of his ball.

“I…” came the psychic voice again as Mewtwo² formed a new barrier around himself. He stared at Mark as abruptly, the barrier disappeared. One, two, three seconds, he convulsed in the air, fingers twitching; Scyther dived in towards him again, raising his scythe, but the instant he swung it and it made contact with Mewtwo²’s flesh, the clone flung out his hand and sent him flying. He remained unshielded for a second more; then a forceful wave of rage exploded through the psychic field, and the barrier was up again, his wounds healing. Mark stared up at him, his heart hammering. Mewtwo² could deliberately take down the barrier. That was what he was showing them. He could stop defending himself, if only for a few moments. So…?

“Do it!” the voice shouted, and then, with a roar, Mewtwo² flared up with a purple aura and smashed into the other flying Pokémon, firing off clumsy Psycho Cuts.

Molzapart looked at Chaletwo with a maniacal fervor. “That’s it! I Power Drain and you get it when the shield goes down!”

“He’s still going to counterattack, isn’t he?”
Chaletwo asked slowly, his telepathic voice dull. He was still standing, head bowed, not turning. “He can let an attack through but he still hit Scyther back.”

Mew nodded silently. Molzapart’s eyes widened. “But…”

In the air, Sparky’s Swellow, Charlie and May’s Flygon danced around Mewtwo², keeping him occupied, dodging carelessly thrown but increasingly forceful attacks.

Naked fear trembled in the air around Chaletwo as Molzapart stared at him, silent. “It’s not fair,” he murmured, wiping his closed eyes with his hand, “it’s not fair, it’s not fair!”

Mew hovered closer, but Chaletwo swung his hand, flinging Mew back; Chalenor caught him, cradling him protectively in his arms.

“You lied to me! All you did was lie to me, for him! All I ever was was a stupid mistake, for him!”

Mew shook his head, eyes squeezed shut. “That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is!” Chaletwo shouted. His fists trembled as tears streamed from his eyes; his voice grew quiet. “But that doesn’t matter, does it? Of course you cared about him more than anybody else. I always knew that.” The psychic anger around him was thickening, congealing into heavy despair. “I need to die anyway, right? I need to die so he can move on and the War can stop. That was always how it was going to end, wasn’t it? Now or in a thousand years.” He took a shaking breath. “I wanted to save the world, didn’t I?” Another swirl of terrified fury lashed through the air. “It’s not fair!”

Mew pulled himself from Chalenor’s grip and floated cautiously towards Chaletwo again. “Chaletwo, I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I was selfish. All I could do was forget and pretend. I was never… All this was my fault.” He shook his head, his voice trembling. “I could never stop seeing my mistake in you, but even despite that, you grew to be a better Preserver than I ever was.”

Mew wrapped his tiny paws around Chaletwo’s torso, eyes filled with tears. Chaletwo stared down at Mew for a moment, then slowly, slowly wrapped his arms around him and hugged him in return, a confused flurry of emotions radiating from his mind.

A stab of urgency cut through the air. Up above, Mewtwo² flung the last of the flying Pokémon away with a pulse of psychic energy and descended slowly towards the ground, staring at Chalenor. Chaletwo looked up, releasing Mew, taking a deep, trembling breath.

With a quick teleport, he was in front of Mark, grabbed his shoulder, teleported him to Molzapart’s side, and then took his place.

“If we both die, it ends forever, doesn’t it?” he said, his voice shaking, looking back at Chalenor. “We’ll… we’ll end it. Right?”

Chalenor nodded, reaching for Chaletwo’s hand. “I think so.”

Chaletwo started to pull away, but then hesitated. Chalenor gripped his bony fingers tightly as Mew floated up to them.

“Mew, go! Get out of here!”

“No,” Mew whispered, wrapping his paws around their joined hands. “I’m going with you.”

Chaletwo stared at Mew for a long moment.

Then, abruptly, he turned to face Mewtwo². The Pokémon on the ground were frantically attacking, keeping him convulsing as the remaining Electric-types alternated electric shocks, but with a sweep of his hand, the clone threw them aside yet again and produced a translucent bubble around himself.

“Molzapart, do it!”

“I…”
Molzapart stared at Chaletwo, hesitant.

“Do it!” Chaletwo’s voice broke. “Before I change my mind!”

“I’m… I’m sorry,”
Molzapart said.

He looked down in concentration, and strings of energy shot towards him from all the gathered Pokémon. Chalenor and Mew shivered as the ghostly tendrils sucked out their strength; Floatzel and Weavile collapsed side by side, Floatzel shooting Weavile a grin. Jolteon whined, ears pinned back as he lay down, eyes closed.

Chaletwo trembled like a leaf in the wind, unmoving in the deathly silence that followed. In front of him, Mewtwo² stood on the ground, hunched, still covered by his defensive barrier.

“Mark?” said Chaletwo’s voice suddenly; it was strangely weak, shaking. “Get Molzapart to fix the dragons. Give them a life. Please.”

Mark nodded, frozen. He wanted to say goodbye, say something, but his voice was gone.

A bright beam of power shot from Molzapart’s beak and enveloped Chaletwo in a glowing aura as he took a trembling breath.

Mewtwo² clutched his head, and the barrier was gone.

Chaletwo screamed as he opened his eyes, and brilliant, blinding light shone from his eye sockets, sending shivers of phantom agony down Mark’s spine. The clone jerked where he stood, suddenly rigid, his back arching, eyes rolling back, arms outstretched.

“Thank you,” Chalenor whispered.

A huge orb of dark purple energy formed in front of Mewtwo² and shot towards Chaletwo. The ground shook with deep, shuddering tremors as it exploded, tendrils of darkness whirling around in a dark vortex before dissipating into nothingness.

When the dust settled, there was another shallow crater carved into the earth. Nothing remained of the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, gone together into the great beyond.

Opposite the crater, Mewtwo²’s body slumped motionless to the ground, its pupilless eyes peacefully closed at last.

Beside it, a single purple gem clattered on the rocks and settled in the dirt.



It's a little funky that nobody else comes to check on this overwhelming psychic aura that can be felt from miles away, isn't it.

I didn't do a super good job of hashing out exactly what Chalenor had picked up about Chaletwo's plan and how - he knew enough about it to give Mitch some awareness, somehow, but he also simultaneously had no idea that Chaletwo didn't know who the Destroyer was. It's a little weird and I'd make it more consistent in the next revision.

Something I wrote into the NaNo draft but then didn't include here, which in hindsight I think was probably a mistake, was a small bit with Gyarados being sent out too, but urging Mark to recall him after Mewtwo^2 destroys Entei's soul gems. Mark was surprised he'd want to save Suicune, and Gyarados said he still hated Suicune and everything he stood for but he'd sworn not to destroy the gems and he wasn't looking for a loophole on that. We haven't seen Gyarados on-screen in a while here, with that bit removed; he was last seen in chapter 55. So I think I probably should've kept and reworked that. Alas!

I was deeply amused to get to use Molzapart's Power Drain ability (brought up once back in chapter 20, after I'd made it up when I was eleven) to facilitate the climax here. I've done a lot of just trying to let you forget Molzapart exists, but he is a thing and it did seem appropriate to let the other legendary involved in Chaletwo's plan actually play a role in this chapter.

Mark switches from calling Mewtwo^2 "it" to "him" at exactly the moment he realizes there's a person in there who's suffering - not sure how easy it is to notice.
 
Chapter 76: Chalenor

Dragonfree

Moderator
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
  2. mightyena
  3. charizard
  4. custom/scyther-mia
  5. vulpix
Note that chapter 75 has also been posted! Don't read this one until you've read that.

More suicide content warning here. This chapter is the one chapter to have been expanded a little bit beyond the original version; these expansions were made in kind of a rush, but I hope they represent an improvement upon the originally published chapter regardless.


Chapter 76: Chalenor​

2022-06-07-chapter76-small.png

He was dangerous, they said. He could kill with his eyes. He was taking their power bit by bit, slowly but surely, until they were no stronger than mortal Pokémon. One day he would strip them of even their sanity, watch them blindly tear one another apart until only one was left to revive the world. And he was unkillable, unavoidable, inescapable. He was the incarnation of their doom, Death itself in the flesh.

But Mew was curious, and he was a true immortal; he had nothing to fear. Not until a thousand years from now, anyway – and that seemed like an eternity to someone only a few years old.

And so, he headed out to find the Destroyer, despite the other legendaries’ warnings.

-------

Mew had gotten the impression, from the hushed talk of the others of how even mortals would flee his presence, that the Destroyer must leave a path of corruption and horror in his wake – that she could simply follow some dark, sinister aura to find him. But Death was subtler than she’d thought. They had told her he usually resided in the Black Desert, but it took Mew a few hours of idle searching before she spotted a dark shape lying in the shadow of a rock, curled up in sleep.

She descended, hovering warily above the sand. She had expected a more imposing figure; despite the long, angled, jet-black spikes protruding from its body as a warning sign not to come closer, the creature looked almost like it was trying to be inconspicuous. It was a curious sight, and Mew inched closer, cautious.

Abruptly, without opening its eyes, the creature started awake – a sudden change as it jerked its head up, muscles tensing before it sprang up in alarm, crouching into a defensive position. Its closed eyes somehow locked onto her, staring at her through shut eyelids. “Stay away,” the Destroyer hissed, his spikes flaring with a bright green color.

“Are you him?” Mew asked, tilting her head. She hadn’t expected the Destroyer himself to be so jumpy – the most powerful creature in this reality, murderer of every legendary Pokémon since the dawn of time, starting at the slightest of sounds.

“I am Chalenor,” replied the creature, not moving. “What do you want with me?”

Chalenor. Yes, Mew had heard, vaguely, that that was what the Destroyer called himself. His speech was rough, raw, like he didn’t use it often; it was strange, fascinating. Mew idly floated upside-down, considering. “Don’t the others ever come here?”

The Destroyer’s closed eyes remained fixed on Mew. “Why would they? I’ll kill them all either way. Why are you here?”

The bright green color of his spikes faded into a more tealish hue. Something was off about his hostility. Mew hadn’t expected the Destroyer to be friendly, but the tension in his stance seemed fearful, almost desperate, and he still hadn’t attacked. The creature shifted uneasily, still keeping a wary closed eye on Mew.

“Why do you do it?” Mew asked.

The Destroyer chuckled hollowly. “What is it to you, mew?” he asked. “I am the Destroyer. It’s what I do.”

He used no name emphasis; it was a strange mistake, another thing that was off about his speech. Mew tilted her head at him again, and he stiffened. “Are you afraid of me?” she asked slowly.

The Destroyer’s tail rose, defensive again as the teal glow of his spikes brightened in intensity. His claws were flexed, his muscles taut. “Why should I be afraid of you, mew? I can’t die, no matter what you do to me.”

Again, he didn’t use any name emphasis – and all of a sudden, Mew was struck with her first true inkling of the age of the creature before her as it dawned on her that it wasn’t a mistake. He hadn’t just lived a full millennium, like Iriesce, or two, like she would have by the next War; not even three, like the very luckiest of Creators who survived two Wars in a row. He had seen so many millennia, so many incarnations of Mew, that they were simply a species to him.

Even thinking of that length of time was dizzying and incomprehensible: her entire life thus far, thousands upon thousands of times over. She stared at him as he crouched deeper and started to growl quietly. “I’m not here to fight you,” she said. “Do the others try to fight you often?”

The creature looked warily at her for a moment before he relaxed, tentatively, still watching her, and sat down on his haunches. “Sometimes,” he said at last. “Sometimes they think they can kill me and stop the War. But they can’t. It’s no use.”

“I only wanted to talk,” she said. “Doesn’t anyone ever talk to you?”

The Destroyer hesitated. “A few times,” he said, quietly. “But they always die, and then I wish they’d never come. You should go.”

Mew watched the shifting blue hues on his spikes in silence for a moment. “You can’t help it, can you?” she asked as it dawned on her. “You don’t want to drain our power and cause the War, but it happens anyway.”

He nodded, looking away, his spikes a stark, clear blue.

“Then they shouldn’t hate you,” she said, tilting her head again.

He didn’t answer, still turned away, the blue of his spikes flickering in intensity. She considered doing as he had said, writing this encounter off as a curiosity and going on to explore the rest of the planet. But he was so strange and sad and afraid, this incomprehensibly ancient creature doomed to destroy the world. Even if she left, she knew, she couldn’t simply forget. He’d seep back into her mind, when she curled up to sleep, when she flew over a desert, the flickering colors of his spikes and his shaky speech and the way he averted his closed eyes from her, as if he were terrified of what might happen if he looked at her too long.

The Destroyer.

Chalenor.

She hovered down to his eye level. He shook his head frantically as she approached, rising and shuffling back. “No, no, you should go, you shouldn’t –”

But as she reached her paws out to him, he stopped. She touched the tip of his nose, and he stood still, trembling, as he looked down. “No,” he muttered again, but he didn’t pull away as she carefully wrapped her paws around his muzzle in a small embrace.

“It’s all right,” she said as hot tears streamed from his closed eyes. “You shouldn’t have to be alone.”

“I’ll kill you,” he said, his voice shaking.

“I know,” she said cheerfully, not letting go. “But that’s a thousand years from now.”

-------

The day went by in a blur. Mew asked him what he liked to do, where he liked to go, but Chalenor said he didn’t do much of anything, so Mew took him to his own favorite places instead. Chalenor knew them all, had been to them before – of course he had, in so many thousands of years – but he didn’t complain; they rolled around in the lush, dew-coated fields of Hoenn, and they raced each other down the slopes of Mt. Silver, and Chalenor tried his best to follow Mew through the maze-like caves of the Acaria Mountains until his spikes caught on the ceiling for the eleventh time and he gave up, apologizing, shrinking back outside, earnestly surprised when Mew followed him back out, laughing, and teleported them to Sunset Beach instead. Chalenor shivered with lingering cold from the snowy mountains; Mew produced a flame to warm him, and they sat together for a while until he eventually stopped shivering, his green spikes slowly fading to a calm bluish-blackness.

“Did you have fun?” Mew asked, tilting his head as Chalenor gazed at the brilliant sunset. In truth, he already wanted to do more, show him more, go on a real adventure somewhere he’d never been before, but he could tell Chalenor didn’t want to go anywhere else at the moment.

Chalenor nodded distantly, another flicker of blue passing across his spikes.

“Should I come find you again tomorrow?”

“I… I don’t know.” Chalenor looked down, silent. Mew wished he could have really felt what was going on in his mind, but to his psychic senses, Chalenor was a dark void, like a murkrow or scorplack or houndour – if he closed his eyes it felt like he wasn’t there at all, unless he listened for his breathing or his heartbeat.

“Then I will,” Mew decided anyway, and Chalenor didn’t object.

-------

At first, Mew was cautious. Maybe Chalenor really didn’t want her to return; he had said no before, and perhaps she had been too pushy, too excited. She flew over the Black Desert, looking for him, and some part of her expected him to be gone, hiding somewhere she wouldn’t find him again.

But no, he hadn’t gone; he was waiting in the same place he’d been the previous day, awake, tense, looking around, and as he spotted her he relaxed visibly. He liked all the places she took him to, all the new areas she hadn’t explored yet. In a couple of places, he commented softly, sharing brief, vague memories from previous times he’d been there. When she asked if he’d had anyone else with him, though, he grew quiet.

They met every day after that, traveling to new places, playing little games that Mew came up with on the spot, talking about the world. She listened with fascination every time he shared something from thousands of years ago – the fields that were here before this lava flowed, the island these mountains used to be when the sea was higher. Her mind spun to think of it, how long he’d been quietly observing this ever-changing planet; he’d seen everything, knew everything, watched the eons work their merciless work upon everything that ever had been. The other legendaries seemed dull in comparison, still cautiously coming into their roles, learning the ways of the world – even Iriesce, who had always seemed so impossibly wise when she talked about the era before. Mew was learning things they could never have dreamed of.

And for a while, she simply enjoyed that thrill of discovery and companionship, of having someone who would come with her, teach her things, indulge her wildest curiosities.

-------

One day, though, he wasn’t in his usual spot in the desert. Mew jolted out of a happy reverie, thinking for a moment that Chalenor must have finally grown tired of him, only to notice him a short distance away, pawing at something in the sand. Mew approached, puzzled; Chalenor started, shuffling back as he looked up, then sagged as he recognized Mew, looking down again.

“What are you doing?” Mew asked, hovering near his head.

By Chalenor’s feet lay a squirming Pokémon – a trapinch, helpless on its back with stubby legs flailing in the air. He gingerly turned it over with his paw, and the trapinch scuttled away across the sand before burying down into it some distance away.

“Just… helping,” he murmured as he watched it disappear.

Mew tilted his head. The Destroyer, helping mortal Pokémon. None of it made any sense. “Why? Do you do that often?”

“Sometimes,” Chalenor said, turning his head away. “I don’t always. Helping one can hurt another. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do that’ll help, not really.”

And that bothered him. Mew stared at him, at the tension in his stance, his downcast gaze. “But mortal Pokémon die so easily,” Mew said. “They hunt one another. Even if you help, it won’t last. Maybe that trapinch dies tomorrow.” And he was so old. Their tiny, fleeting lives had to be mere blips to him, brief flashes of existence gone before he knew it, and yet here he was, helping a trapinch to its feet, simply because he could.

“I know,” he murmured, looking away.

That night, after a day of exploring swamps and jungles and volcanoes, Chalenor spoke out of the blue when Mew was about to go. “I don’t always help mortals even when I can,” he confessed, his voice raw and desperate, not quite looking Mew in the eye. “Sometimes I think if I help, it’ll make it harder to know that they’ll die, so I don’t.”

Mew gazed at him in the flickering teal light of his spikes. He thought of all the mortals he met every day, tiny beings with tiny concerns, living their little lives, that he didn’t give a second glance to, because they were mortals, common, unimportant, and before he knew it they’d be gone.

“It’s all right,” Mew said numbly. “You don’t have to help everyone. That doesn’t make you bad.”

“I still wish I did.”

Mew could sense the confusion and anxiety and loneliness in Chalenor’s mind even without psychic powers. He considered leaving like he had meant to, returning tomorrow for more fun and excitement, and forgetting about all this and about the strange weight that was settling in his chest. But yet again, he wasn’t sure he could.

He descended gently down to the ground and looked up at Chalenor, wrapping his tail around himself. “I don’t understand,” he said, quiet. “Why do you care so much about mortals?”

Chalenor looked back at him, silent for a moment. “They’re alive, and their lives are just as precious to them, even if they are short.”

Mew blinked. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around that, but he couldn’t quite come up with a direct objection, either. “But there are so many of them,” he said instead. “You can’t possibly help every mortal doing anything in the world.”

“That’s true,” Chalenor said, looking distantly up toward the stars. “And their needs clash. In the long run, I can’t change anything that matters, for even a fraction of them. But I still feel for them.”

And then he would cause a deluge of horror and destruction.

“You said sometimes you don’t help because it’ll be hard when they die,” Mew said.

Chalenor looked down, wincing. “Everyone I know dies. It’s easier when I never got to know them.” He shuddered. “I wish I was braver.”

Mew stared at him, at the Destroyer who valued mortal lives and wished only for the courage to help more of them, and at the blue patterns flickering across his spikes. “You were brave enough to get to know me.”

Chalenor’s spikes flared bright teal for a second. “I’m still afraid,” he whispered.

“You did it anyway.”

Mew stayed, talking to him, about life and mortality and right and wrong, until Chalenor fell asleep, head resting on his paws, his spikes faded to a dull, peaceful black. Mew curled up against his side and lay awake, unable to sleep, thinking of the mortals, of Chalenor, of everything he knew about the Destroyer, and a nagging sense of injustice began to grow in his heart.

-------

“Iriesce?”

Her tree was a magnificent redwood that towered high above the landscape, her nest planted at the top. She was asleep, beak tucked peacefully under her folded pearlescent wings, but at Mew’s psychic prod she looked up and smiled.

“What is it, child?”

“Can you tell me the story of why Arceus created the Destroyer again?”

The smile was gone, abruptly, but that was all. Iriesce took a deep breath and began, in her usual quiet tone. “Back in the distant past, Arceus’s hatching created the universe. He appointed the first Mew and Celebi as the Creator and Preserver, and left them the task of creating the mortal Pokémon and lesser legendary Pokémon and protecting the world from there. But after the creation, Arceus was exhausted. He entrusted the world to his legendary immortals and slept.

“When he awoke, thousands of years later, the legendary Pokémon had grown arrogant and selfish. In their greed, they ruled over the mortal Pokémon as tyrants, thinking themselves invincible and above them. To punish them, Arceus told them from now on they would know weakness and mortality and fear it every day of their lives. And because the same would only happen again with their successors, he created an incarnation of his punishment, a creature who could remind them of what they had done and enforce his will for eons to come by unleashing the War upon them. He named it the Destroyer. And when Arceus had spent the last of his strength creating the Destroyer, his soul was shattered, and he fell back into his eternal slumber.”

Mew hadn’t paid too much attention the first time Iriesce had told her about this. The details hadn’t seemed all that important, not when it was a thousand years before any of this would matter. This time, though, she listened intently, brow furrowing.

“And the Destroyer that he created is Chalenor?”

Iriesce shifted uneasily in her nest. “I suppose that’s what he calls himself.”

“But he doesn’t want to punish anyone. He’s so kind.”

Iriesce’s eyes narrowed; when she spoke, her voice was harsh. “When I woke up, before I created you, he was there. Did you know that? He stood there splattered in the blood of my closest friends and said nothing as I cried for them. Do you know what it is to be the Creator, Mew? It means that you murdered everyone you ever cared for, and he made you do it.”

Mew flinched away from her words. Iriesce was gentle, always patient and serene; she’d never seen her quite like this, tense and vicious and angry. “Chalenor didn’t want to make you do it,” she protested, quietly. “It wasn’t his fault.”

“What does it matter if he didn’t want to? Maybe he has no control over any of it. That doesn’t change what he is.” The other legendary looked away, fixing her gaze on a loose twig in her nest, picking restlessly at it with her beak. “So you’ve been speaking to him?”

“Do you not want me to?” Mew asked, a strange, unfamiliar dread clutching at her chest.

Iriesce exhaled slowly, like she was reining herself in. “I won’t stop you,” she said finally. “But be careful. He is a creature created to torture us, whether he likes it or not. He will kill you, and me, and everyone else, and none of us can do a thing about it.”

There was a bitter tremble to her voice. Mew gave a small nod, thanking her before turning away.

-------

“I tried to talk to some of the others about you,” he said a few days later, as he had settled into his usual sleeping spot, tight against Chalenor’s body.

“Don’t,” Chalenor murmured, shuddering, his spikes flaring teal. “It’ll… it’ll only make it worse.”

“I don’t understand,” Mew said. “They won’t hear it when I tell them you don’t want to cause the War. Iriesce was so angry.”

Chalenor’s body trembled. “She should be angry. I killed everyone she knew.”

“But it’s not the same,” Mew protested. “What’s the use in being angry at you, when you can’t help it? They really killed each other, but they couldn’t help it, and you couldn’t help it either. It was Arceus who made you this way.”

“Arceus hasn’t been seen in eons,” Chalenor murmured. “All the legendaries he wanted to punish are dead countless times over. It’s still happening because I’m still here.”

Mew sighed. “Why was Arceus so sure the legendaries would all be the same and he’d have to keep punishing them? The ones after the first War were completely different. We’re not ruling over the mortals as tyrants. Iriesce would never do that.”

There was a long pause. “He was upset,” Chalenor said, his voice quiet. “At that moment, it felt true to him. I don’t think he meant for me to have a soul, either. But his mind was clouded with rage and grief and agitation, and I came out wrong. His soul shattered and I got one instead.”

Mew made a small noise of discontent. “It’s not fair,” he said after a moment. “It’s not fair that you make the War happen even though you don’t want to and it’s not fair that they act like it’s all your fault. It’s not fair that you’re the Destroyer. You didn’t want to be. I never asked to be the Preserver either. None of it is fair.”

Chalenor was silent for a moment. “What is it like?” he asked softly. “Being the Preserver?”

“I don’t know.” Mew thought back, to Iriesce’s first words to him; she’d been shaking, exhausted, drained, her pearlescent feathers streaked with tears and her mind radiating shock and horror and grief, and yet she’d softened as she looked at Mew, her eyes kind and motherly and her voice gentle. It was painful to think of that Iriesce now, when he couldn’t erase the livid, hateful Iriesce from today from his mind. “When I was created she told me I should watch over all life. Find Pokémon in need and help them, even humans. Look out for any greater evil and try to prevent it, if I can.” And he had tried. But between helping mortals, creatures that would die soon anyway, and exploring the wonders and splendors and horrors of a living, breathing, eternal planet…

Chalenor chuckled softly. “That sounds nice,” he murmured.

Abruptly, for the first time, Mew felt ashamed of his ambivalent feelings about his role. Here he was, Mew, an incarnation of the original Creator, and the Destroyer would have made a better Preserver than he did. Everything Iriesce had told him that day, everything he was meant to embody – he’d never truly cared, and somewhere deep down he’d assumed no one did. And that wasn’t true.

(In the back of his mind, it struck him too, as an afterthought, that Iriesce cared. She’d been angry because she cared.)

Perhaps that didn’t mean he was bad. But then again, maybe it did. Maybe he was selfish and uncaring, every bit as conceited and arrogant as the legendaries of old.

“You’d have been a good Preserver,” Mew muttered, and with a burning sting in his heart, he wished he was better.

-------

When she awoke the next morning, something had shifted. The sting in her heart had settled into a strange kind of resolve. She should be better; she could be better. What was stopping her? All she had to do was try to do what Chalenor would, to try to live up to who he was.

She woke him with a playful, gentle tug on his tail. “Chalenor, I want to help someone. Where do you go to help mortals?”

Chalenor started at first, still jumpy, but chuckled as he saw her, shaking himself as he rose. “I don’t usually look for people to help,” he said. “But maybe we can go somewhere a lot of Pokémon live and see if we find anyone in need.”

They teleported around between places he suggested, teeming with life, hot jungles and lush fields and stretching beaches. Eventually, in the thick, wild woods of Unova, they helped a deerling find its mother. Mew’s heart pounded in giddy excitement as it squeaked a quick, intimidated thank you, and Chalenor actually smiled as they turned to walk away, along the river running through the forest. This was good. This was rewarding. It might be even better than exploring.

“We’re heroes!” Mew trilled, twirling in the air. A young poliwag flopped helplessly on the rocks by the riverside; Mew teleported it into the water and waved cheerfully as it stared back in wonder. Would it go back to tell its family and friends it had met Mew?

“I don’t know,” Chalenor said, but he was smiling faintly. “Heroes? Just for this?”

“Of course we are. We’re helping.” Mew floated upside-down in front of him. “Isn’t that what you like to do?”

“I suppose,” Chalenor replied, looking away. “I never thought of it that way.”

“Then I’m thinking it for you. Heroes!” Mew dived into the river and splashed water in Chalenor’s face. He shook himself as Mew giggled, then leapt after her into the river.

They swam, and laughed, and talked, and everything seemed better. Mew could get used to this. Perhaps she could be good, after all.

It never quite came to her like she suspected it came to him. But slowly, over the years, it became instinct to wonder what Chalenor would do, and even if it wasn’t quite the same for her, doing it made her happy. More importantly, it made him happy – or perhaps not happy exactly, but when they rescued some lone Pokémon it was as if he forgot everything for a moment, like the heavy melancholy that hung over him always was lifted for just a bit. And that meant more than anything.

-------

“You’ve had other friends before, haven’t you?” Mew said. They’d put out a forest fire; Mew sat propped against his side in the barren remains of what had burned. Chalenor was often most comfortable being where the minimal number of mortals would be disturbed by his presence. “What were they like?”

Chalenor shivered for a moment. “Different,” he said. “Most were legendary Pokémon, like you.”

“You had mortal friends?”

“Sometimes. Not in a long time.” He paused. “In a way it’s easier, when it won’t be me that kills them, and they don’t care much about the War, if they can tolerate being near me. But they go so quickly. Some of them I grieved longer than I knew them. In the end I couldn’t anymore.”

“What about the legendaries?”

Chalenor was silent for a few seconds. “Some of the ones in the first cycle befriended me. We thought we could find a way around it.” The fact that they hadn’t went unspoken. “Later the legendaries became resigned to it, but back then it seemed so unreal. We thought there couldn’t simply be no way to stop it. That with a thousand years to think and plan, we must figure it out.”

And then they had died anyway. A flicker of blue passed across Chalenor’s spikes. “Were they the only ones who thought they could stop it?” Mew asked.

Chalenor shook his head. “No. But Arceus’s plan was built to stamp out that hope. Creators who had tried would pass on to their creations where they had failed. In the end the message became not to try. That no one could stop it. That all they could do was wait for it.”

There was something a little strange in his voice, but Mew couldn’t work out what it was. He looked away. “Were there others after that? Friends?”

“Sometimes.” Chalenor laid his head out on his paws, exhaling. “They were usually more like you. Legendaries who didn’t worry about the future much.”

“It’s so many hundreds of years!”

Chalenor smiled faintly. “Not many of them think like you. Not for long. Some of them did, at first, but stopped coming when it drew closer. I don’t blame them.”

“I won’t abandon you,” Mew said firmly. “Never.”

There was a pause. “I know.”

-------

Iriesce never quite looked at Mew the same way these days. Mew still visited her sometimes, but Iriesce’s gaze was wary and suspicious, after so many bitter arguments, tensing if Mew so much as mentioned his name anymore.

Chalenor kept telling her it was all right, that she didn’t have to talk about him. But she could sense the others’ discomfort beneath the veneer of politeness even when she didn’t say his name. They all knew who she spent her time with, and were scared of him, and all she could think at their nervous glances was how much she wanted to scream: He’s a good person, a better person than me, and you, and he deserves more than any of us.

Sometimes she did speak up, and it only ever made them more awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes, reluctantly, they’d admit he probably wasn’t exactly evil, or a villain, or at fault. But they still feared him, didn’t want to meet him, didn’t want to hear about him. They feared him, because he was the Destroyer, and they didn’t want to die, and there was nothing she could do.

When she told him, Chalenor would say that that they were right to be afraid, and Mew would tell him no, no, they’re not right, it’s not happening for several hundred more years.

Three hundred more years. Two hundred. One hundred.

In the end she gave up. The others never sought her out anymore, and the prospect of their increasingly anxious glances and awkward silences and the way Iriesce had begun to snap at her if she brought him up was more painful than the alternative.

As she curled up next to him in the night, tighter than usual, Chalenor asked her in a guilty murmur why she didn’t just let him go instead, and she replied, “Because I’d rather have you than any of them.”

-------

Mew bounded across the grassy landscape, heart beating furiously in his chest. He hovered nimbly over a hill, then dived into a valley, swerved to the right and ascended to confuse his pursuer. Up into the treetops, down in another direction, and then speeding straight ahead: he must be unpredictable, random. He looked quickly over his shoulder; had he shaken him off?

And then all of a sudden came a black shadow from the other side, crashing into him and throwing him aside. Mew struggled to get away, but a paw had pinned him down before he could escape, and a huge, fanged mouth locked around his body.

“Fine. You win again.”

Chalenor released him carefully and shook himself, panting. “Even after all this time, sometimes I still can’t believe how fast you are.”

Mew swooped away without warning, and Chalenor pounced, just barely missing him. Mew circled a playful victory loop around his head and then gave his cheek an affectionate nudge with his head, gingerly avoiding the spikes.

Chalenor returned the nudge, exhaling, and then sat down to rest, curling his spiked tail around himself. The sun was setting over the sea in the west, painting the sky in brilliant pinks and oranges, stray purple clouds hovering lazily over the ocean; it was as beautiful a sunset as Mew had ever seen, despite everything. He sat down too, wordlessly, to watch it.

“It’s going to end soon,” Chalenor said quietly after a while.

Mew nodded; his gut stung at the thought, but he knew showing that would only make it worse. “We always knew it wouldn’t last.”

There was a long silence.

“What do you think happens to the souls of the dead?” Chalenor said after a while, a distant thoughtfulness in his voice.

Mew took a deep breath. “I think they go to somewhere better,” he said. “Don’t worry about me. There will be others who’ll see you for who you are. They’ll probably be better than me.”

“I don’t want to replace you,” Chalenor said softly.

Mew winced. “Neither of us wants this,” he said. “But you have to move on. You’re going to live forever, really forever, and I won’t.”

Chalenor was silent for another few seconds. “What if I won’t either?”

Mew looked up at him, wary. “What do you mean?”

There was another pause as Chalenor gathered his thoughts. “Every cycle has more legendaries with more power than the last,” he said. “Every War takes a bit more of my power to match theirs. I was weaker during the last War than during any before it, and… my healing didn’t work right. I was hurt when Iriesce killed the last of them, at the end, and it didn’t fully heal until she came to and my power was returning.”

Mew blinked up at him in incomprehension. “It took your true immortality? But–”

“I didn’t understand what it meant then,” Chalenor said. “I don’t think Arceus meant for this to happen when he made me. There were a lot of things he didn’t mean to happen. But I think… this War might make me mortal.”

Mew stared at him, mind racing. “A loophole? But that means…”

“This War could be the last,” Chalenor finished, his voice quiet, trembling. “If I’m in harm’s way. I’d… prefer if it was you.”

Mew looked away, quickly, fixing his gaze on the distant sunset instead, his heart thumping. “Ending it,” he whispered. “We could end the War, forever.”

Chalenor turned his head slightly towards him. “So do you think there’s somewhere else?” His voice was an unsteady murmur, his spikes flaring teal. “Somewhere we could meet again?”

Mew nodded, not taking his eyes off the setting sun. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. There has to be.”

Chalenor was still, silent, undetectable, but in Mew’s peripheral vision, wild, rapid patterns of light flickered across the surface of his spikes, throbbing, restless, pained.

“Hey,” Mew said, hovering in front of him. “We’ll end it. Together. We’re heroes, remember?”

Behind those ever-shut eyelids, Chalenor stared at him. “Heroes,” he murmured as he looked away.

“Heroes.” Mew nestled on top of his head, and they watched the sunset in silence. Slowly, slowly, as Mew suppressed the sickening feeling creeping up his lungs, the light of Chalenor’s spikes began to fade into a calm, soft blackness, and that was all that mattered.

-------

Mew wasn’t sure if she really believed the dead went anywhere at all. But believing it was all she could do.

Every morning, she awoke gripped with icy terror after nightmares of bloody war and catastrophe and Chalenor lying dead among the carnage. She told herself they were going to stop the War, and that was worth it even if there was nothing beyond death, but then she looked at the other legendaries and felt a rush of hatred towards them, them who all despised Chalenor for how he’d been made, and she didn’t want to save their successors. She looked at the innocent Pokémon with their short, mortal lifespans, and some part of her didn’t want to give up her life, his life, for them.

Her life was void either way, of course; there was no way out of the War for her, whether it was this one or the next. But Chalenor could live. He was never meant to be mortal at all. Normally the legendaries wouldn’t even attack him, if he just stayed out of the way. He could live.

And what if the War didn’t end? Was Arceus so easily fooled? Wouldn’t he simply rise from his eternal sleep and make another Destroyer, one who would truly remain immortal?

It ate at her, bit by bit. She tried to smile and pretend to Chalenor that nothing was wrong – she couldn’t take this away from him, the measure of true hope that their plan had given him – but it became harder and harder. She stopped being able to sleep; she would lie awake in the dark and hallucinate rivers of blood and armies of Destroyers and Chalenor’s severed head with gaping, empty eye sockets, and one day she started out of a deranged vision with a wild resolve that she had to know, she must see how it really worked out, no matter what they said about time travel.

She closed her eyes and reached a thousand years through time; everything swirled for a moment, and then it was cold and rainy.

She opened her eyes, shivering, and saw a strange Pokémon, large and gray and leathery with a long, purple tail. He turned around as she stared at him in confusion – there was something eerily familiar about him, almost as if he were a twisted version of her – and then he said, like he knew her, “Mew? What brings you here?”

“Who are you?” she blurted out, because it was the first thing that occurred to her.

He paused as he looked at her. “It’s me, Mewtwo,” he said. “Is everything all right?”

He must know the Mew of this time, she thought – but that wasn’t important. “The War,” she said urgently, knowing she didn’t have much time; she already felt her power diminishing, trying to draw her back to the past. “Is the War gone?”

“The War? You said it was drawing closer,” he said warily, and she wanted to scream. “Mew, we were talking about this only a month ago.”

“What happened?” she said, frantic. “What happened in the last War?”

“You were the victor,” he said, hesitantly, and that was all he said, like it had just been an ordinary War and she had…

“Chalenor,” she said urgently, pleading, as if he could change the truth if he took pity on her. “Where’s Chalenor?”

He hesitated. “Chalenor is dead,” he said. “You said he died in the War. Are you all right?”

She stared at him as she tried to comprehend what had happened. They had failed. The War wasn’t gone. And… he was dead, while she lived on, a true immortal, for a thousand more years.

“No,” she said, shaking her head, looking wildly around. “No, no, everything is wrong–”

“I’m sorry,” the other said, as if it meant anything.

“This can’t happen, it can’t.” Her voice shook. She felt her power dwindling and knew she couldn’t stay for long. “We have to fix it. Chalenor – Chalenor has to live, and–”

And, she realized in a rush of wild hope, she was going to win the War. She would live. If they just canceled the plan, they’d have another thousand years together, and they wouldn’t have to worry about the War again for a long, long time–

But of course, this was only one possible future, and now that she knew it, had been changed by the knowledge of it, there was no guarantee of the outcome anymore. What was this future? What had she done in this past? What if a change meant she wouldn’t win?

She shook her head again. “No, we – we need to escape,” she said, “insurance – I need insurance.” And suddenly it dawned on her that she was standing in front of a new legendary Pokémon, one she hadn’t recognized, one nobody in her time would. What if…?

“What?” said the other in confusion, but she had no time to explain. She drew upon all of her remaining strength as the Preserver and formed a duplicate of the strange Pokémon in front of her, and she managed only to grab tightly on to it before she couldn’t hold the anchor anymore and was whisked back in time.

-------

“Chalenor,” he said, “Chalenor, wake up, we have to change the plan–”

“What?” said Chalenor, his black spikes flickering slowly to life as he raised his head, drowsy. “Why are you wet?”

“I went to the future. You were dead, and I’d won the War, but it was still happening – the plan fails, it’s all going to go wrong – but then I realized that if I can just win the War and you stay out of the way, then…”

“What?” Chalenor hesitated, his spikes brightening, blue and teal. “I… but what if you don’t win?”

“I figured it out,” Mew went on eagerly, heart thumping. “I took the body of a future legendary that the others don’t know and have no reason to attack – if I’m killed, you can resurrect me in that body before I disappear. An immortal body! And we can find another one in the future before the next War. We can both – we can both live on forever – we don’t have to…”

“But…” Chalenor stared at him for a long moment, his spikes flickering restlessly, blue and green and blue again. “I’m not sure I want that,” he murmured.

“What do you mean? We’ll both live!”

Chalenor shuddered, looking away. “I… I don’t think I want to live on forever.”

Mew blinked. “But it’s still going to happen even if you die!” he said. “It doesn’t work – the plan doesn’t work! The War keeps happening! You dying won’t accomplish anything!”

“I…”

Chalenor stared at the ground, his spikes roiling with an intense, turbulent blue. Slowly, hesitantly, he looked up. “I’m… not sure I really want to accomplish anything.”

His voice was quiet, shaking; Mew stared at him in incomprehension.

“If I’m dead, it’s not me doing it anymore. That’s all I want.” He let out a trembling breath. “I’m not a hero. I’m a coward. I just don’t want to be the Destroyer. I don’t want to have to see all that suffering, over and over and over again, and know that I made it happen. That’s all. That’s why I wanted to do this.”

He looked away again, the light of his spikes brightening, flickering. Mew stared at him, his lungs burning with creeping despair and anger and terror. “Don’t you see?” he pleaded as his ears rang with a strange white noise. “We can live.”

Chalenor shook his head, slowly. “While all the others die around us? It’s torture to watch, every time, and it’ll be worse when one of them is you. I should know. I’m sorry, Mew, I’m so sorry.”

Desperate tears burst out at the corners of Mew’s eyes. “But…”

“You can live,” Chalenor said, his voice softening. “Like in the future you saw. You said you won the War. Please, live and be happy for another thousand years – maybe you can come up with a way to survive the next too.”

“No!”

“Thank you for everything,” Chalenor went on in a murmur. “These were the happiest thousand years I’ve ever had. But I just… I just want it to end. Forget about me. Please.”

“No!” Mew yelled, tears streaming down his cheeks. “You can’t just die!”

“Mew, I…”

“Souls don’t go anywhere!” Mew’s voice broke into desperate sobs. “They don’t go anywhere! They just fade away and disappear!”

Chalenor backed away, shaking his head as Mew closed in on him, his spikes bright teal. “We don’t know,” he whispered. “We don’t know that.”

“We have a new plan now!”

“Mew, no–”

“We have a new plan! It will work! All you have to do is…”

Chalenor’s spikes flared with a piercing yellow, and with a desperate roar, he smashed his one of his tail spikes into the limp legendary body lying beside Mew, into its heart, ruining it, destroying it–

“There,” Chalenor said, a manic, pleading desperation in his voice as he raised his tail again, “what if we can’t use this body anymore? Let’s go back to the old plan, Mew, please, please let’s go back to the plan–”

No!

Chalenor lowered his tail, startled. Mew’s vision swam in a delirious combination of horror and rage and suffocating fear, he was going to die he was going to die no no NO–

“Mew?” Chalenor took a trembling step closer, his spikes bright teal again. “I’m sorry–”

A shrill, hysterical screech sounded somewhere from the depths of a void of hot, indescribable terror. Before Mew knew what he was doing, he’d produced a blinding, searing Moonblast between his paws. Chalenor cried out in agony, flinching under the burst of energy, and retaliated with a pulse of deep darkness that made Mew’s entire being shudder with cold and nausea.

“Fine!” Mew shouted, his vision shrouded in blotches of darkness. “Fine! Go and die in the War, you coward, and I’ll live on for as long as–”

Chalenor screamed, and this time there was something different about it that Mew couldn’t place, something that made the hairs rise on his body. He didn’t know how, but somehow he knew that he was releasing the War, that it was early, that somehow Chalenor was making it happen now when they should still have a few more months, a few more precious months of life and laughter and joy–

“No!” he yelled into the darkness. “Chale…”

And then a hazy red mist covered everything, and his last thought before he tore his only friend apart was I’m sorry.

-------

She shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up – she shouldn’t have expected it to work. But her heart still wrenched in agony when the creature created from Chalenor’s eye wasn’t him. She fumbled to give him a name, to stop her mind from screaming so he could hear, to explain that his eyes were dangerous and he mustn’t open them. Midway through she realized that because he’d been her first creation, that meant he was the Preserver, the one who must work with her to protect life and oversee the world for the next thousand years, and she wished she hadn’t done it, hadn’t foolishly created an eternal, immortal reminder that Chalenor was dead and she had killed him.

She knew they had work to do, that they would have to recreate all the legendaries, fix the world, bring everything back to normal. But the thought was insurmountable when she was still shaking, grieving, fumbling to remember what living was meant to look like. She told Chaletwo – she wished she hadn’t given him that name, but it was too late, too harsh to try to take it back from him – that they would start in the morning. She knew humans and Pokémon were dying out there, would die while they waited, but the thought seemed abstract and distant; she knew she ought to care, ought to be out there saving lives and undoing the damage, but right now she couldn’t convince herself it wouldn’t be better if it all burned down.

(She’d never been a good Preserver.)

Chaletwo sat beside her, contemplative, staring at the fire she’d created for them through the permanently shut eyelids that still reminded her of him. His childish, unpracticed mind spilled psychic fragments of thoughts and emotions that he couldn’t yet contain, wonder and curiosity and a timid wariness. Despite her best efforts, he had sensed her agitation, the resentment that she’d tried so hard to conceal because, in the end, it wasn’t his fault.

“Mew?” he asked at last, hesitant. “Why are my eyes dangerous?”

Her heart stung. “I… I made you with the power of someone called Chalenor. It gave you his eyes.”

She could feel his apprehension, confusion, a twinge of fear. “Who was he?”

She stared into the distance. The wind was cold, the world empty. Everyone was dead. Everyone who had known him. Everyone who had hated him.

“He was the Preserver, like you,” she said, staring at the fire as a new resolve took hold. In her mind she heard his voice, his laugh: That sounds nice.

“Oh.” Chaletwo was surprised, but relieved, curious. “What was he like?”

Mew took a deep breath.

“He was kind,” she said. “All he ever wanted was to help others. He was braver than he thought. Stronger than I’ll ever be. And…” She took a trembling breath, wishing she had better words to say, but she had never been good with words. “And he was my friend.”

Chaletwo’s curious admiration gave way to concern, worry, sadness. “What happened to him?”

“He died.”

He looked down. “I’m sorry.”

She nodded faintly. Sympathy emanated from his mind; she’d told him what death was, that that was what was happening to all the creatures around them. The soul severing from the body, leaving an empty husk behind to be uselessly mourned. And then, after a little while, ceasing to exist.

(Or, perhaps, it just went somewhere else. Somewhere better. She supposed believing that was all she could do.)

A creeping edge of confused, nervous apprehension tinged Chaletwo’s emotions. He hesitated, anxious, looking up at her again.

“Am… am I going to die?” he asked.

Mew stared out at the ruined world, avoiding the sight of Chalenor’s mangled body.

“No. Never.”

can't believe TQftL was really a platonic shipfic of Mew and my color-changing panther OC all along

Mew's pronouns alternate between he and she between scenes here, because of the legendary pronoun worldbuilding; Mew doesn't care, so the pronoun is arbitrary (rather than Mew actually choosing to identify as he or she at different times), but aesthetically I enjoyed the idea of alternating enough to have gone to some lengths to make sure that worked out while keeping particular bits that worked best with one set of pronouns.

The 'name emphasis' Mew mentions is a feature of the fic's Pokémon speech worldbuilding which I don't think has actually come up before in this version, though I hoped you'd get the basic idea from context. Essentially, names in Pokémon speech are simply saying a word or two with a special kind of emphasis, sort of like an audible capital letter. When using a Pokémon's species name as their name, you do use the name emphasis, while you don't if you're simply referring to the species generically. So what Chalenor is doing when he says "What is it to you, mew?" with lowercase mew is sort of the equivalent of a sci-fi alien saying "What is it to you, human?": weirdly impersonally referring to Mew by species, whereas absolutely anyone else would always refer to the (to them) unique individual Mew as capital-Mew.

Of course, this nuance bumped into the awkward fact that I usually capitalize Pokémon names even when they refer to a species. I decided for the purposes of this chapter Mew doesn't capitalize Pokémon species, hence why it also refers to trapinch, houndour and scorplack. Does this make any particular sense, when I've written bits of Pokémon's POVs in the fic before and they still capitalized them, and it's not like any of them can write actual English? Not particularly, but shush. (You can at least imagine Scyther picked up capitalizing like a human from Rob, that's totally a thing he'd do if he hypothetically could write.)

The original Creator was the first Mew, and every cycle since has had a Mew, who is usually the Creator's first creation if some other legendary happens to be the survivor of the War - hence, Mew being the Preserver here is no mere coincidence, but more the norm. (The original Preserver being Celebi is why the Preserver always has time-travel powers - just some irrelevant background lore that never made it onto the page.)

After Mew killed him, Chalenor clung to existence as a ghost, wracked with guilt, refusing to move on until he could see if Mew was all right. Normally, the souls of the legendaries that die in the War disappear quite quickly; sticking around for more than a short time is a willful act, and the madness of the War doesn't let them (after all, it'd quite defeat the point if they could just hang around until the War is over and get resurrected then). But Chalenor is of course not affected by the madness, and ghosts can hold on for a while when they've got 'unfinished business' that they still feel like they must see to. He witnessed Mew's failed effort to resurrect him, felt very very bad, uselessly tried to communicate how sorry he was for a bit to no response whatsoever, and then finally attempted to let go and move on, only to find nothing happened, because Chaletwo had already become an anchor tying him to the world. At that point he panicked and started trying to possess passing Pokémon, only to be helplessly carried away.
 
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Chapter 77: Home

Dragonfree

Moderator
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
  2. mightyena
  3. charizard
  4. custom/scyther-mia
  5. vulpix
It's time! Today, on The Quest for the Legends' twentieth anniversary, is the time I hoped to get to post the final chapter here, and it all worked out in the end. Thank you to everyone who's followed along!




Chapter 77: Home​

2022-06-14-chapter77-small.png

“It’s a soul gem,” Molzapart said as Mark turned the purple gemstone over in his hand. “I can sense it in there. Huh.”

Mark could only nod at first, numb, still in a state of shock after everything that had happened. But as he closed his fingers around the gem, the realization began to melt its way through it all, something good and warm on a small, easily comprehensible scale. Mewtwo² had cheated death. He was safe. They hadn’t killed him.

“So you can resurrect him?” Mark said. His voice was hoarse and strange.

Molzapart hesitated. “I…” He stopped, glancing away. “Well, I’d rather wait for a bit before trying, just in case the madness still lingers in its body somehow. I can feel my power returning now that it’s dead; I expect it should be safe in perhaps an hour or two.”

Molzapart’s reluctance tickled at the lump in Mark’s throat, but right here, right now, he didn’t want to confront or rebuke him, or do anything at all that’d somehow upset the fragile calm that’d descended over the area. Instead, all he did was nod. “Okay.”

He straightened himself slowly, placed the gem carefully in his pocket and looked around. The others were already recalling their Pokémon from where they were strewn around the battlefield. He found Scyther fainted a short distance away – Scyther, who’d probably saved all their lives with the suicidal charge that’d shown them Mewtwo² had more control than it seemed. Jolteon was still conscious but weak, grateful to return to his ball after Mark had given his head spikes a gentle stroke. May had already recalled Floatzel, so Weavile lay on her own, eyes closed, smiling contentedly, and he scratched her head before recalling her. Dragonite had collapsed a bit further away, over where the flying Pokémon had surrounded Mewtwo²; Mark walked over to him, still in a hazy sort of trance.

As he called Dragonite back into his ball, he looked idly over to where May was kneeling on the ground by her Flygon a short distance away – and froze.

Flygon was missing a leg and part of his tail, in an unnaturally clean, straight cut crusted over with blood. His chest moved erratically as he breathed. The dirt around him was stained crimson, a few red-smeared bottles of potions scattered at May’s feet.

“Did I…” Flygon wheezed, his eyes shining and unfocused. “Did I do well?”

May clenched her fist. “Who cares?” she said. “You need a Pokémon Center.”

She pushed the button on his ball to recall him, pressing her lips together as he disappeared into red light. Mark thought back to near the end of the fight, to Mewtwo²’s increasingly forceful and uncontrollable Psycho Cuts as the Pokémon held him off. He should have realized they might not be safe anymore, but in the middle of everything, it hadn’t quite registered. “That’s… I’m sorry,” he said, shuddering.

“He was scared,” May said without looking at him, her voice empty. “He didn’t want to be here, but every time I asked he insisted he was fine.”

“That’s not your fault.”

“I know.” May squeezed the ball in her hand for a moment, knuckles white; then she minimized it and replaced it on her necklace.

A muffled beeping sounded from her backpack. She pulled it off and took out her Pokégear; it was a text message from Leah. Everyone still here?? What’s happening?

May typed back: That was it. We stopped it. It’s fine. She pressed the send button and hesitated before turning the device off and hastily stuffing it back in her bag.

“Kids?” came Sparky’s voice, gentle and level. “I don’t know how you’re feeling after all this, but if you’d like to come back to Stormy Town with me later, I’ll cook us all some dinner while Joy takes care of your Pokémon.”

-------

They ate together in the empty, still officially closed restaurant with the curtains drawn, after a toast to the dead. Molzapart stood awkwardly at the side with Mewtwo²’s body, glancing at it every now and then; the Pokémon that weren’t too big and hadn’t needed special treatment were scattered around the room with plates of their own food. Spirit lay low on the floor by May’s side, ears flat, restlessly digging her nose through her thick neck fur every now and then as if expecting to find the necklace hiding in there somehow. May glanced down at her in between picking at her food.

Sparky gazed at each of them in turn. “What now?” he asked, his voice quiet. “Are you headed home?”

Mark nodded, a strange flutter in his stomach, and across from him, Alan did the same.

“Home, huh?” Alan said, sighing as he leaned back in his chair. “It’ll be weird to go back.”

“I’m…” May began, glancing at Sparky as she prodded at a piece of salad. “Yeah. Something like that, I guess.”

“I suppose your parents must be missing you,” Sparky said.

“Yeah,” Mark said. He thought of his mother’s face, now safe and within reach – and then another, painful thought struck him, a pang of strange emptiness in his stomach. “Or, well – Chaletwo told me the memory modification they did means they don’t really think about me anymore. So maybe they don’t.”

“They’ll remember when they see you in the flesh,” Molzapart said, a little defensively. “It’s the same thing that happened with all of you.”

Alan glanced at Molzapart before turning back to Mark. “I’m sure they do miss you. That’s just what parents do.” The corners of his mouth lifted a little; he fiddled with the hat lying on the table beside his plate. “Dad texted me earlier, this… this goofy message about how he was proud of me and believed in me.”

Mark smiled. Sparky nodded, grinning. “Ah, yes, that sounds like a parent for you. You answered him, I hope?”

“Yeah. I told him I’d be having dinner with you and he told me to have fun, with a bunch of exclamation marks. And that he’d make an even better dinner tomorrow.”

Sparky chuckled. “Oh dear. I suppose you’ll have to be the judge.”

Alan grinned. “He says that, but I don’t think he can compete with this.”

“Happy to please.” Sparky bowed with a flourish.

Mark finished off his plate and laid his cutlery aside, thinking. “What’s everyone going to think happened? There’s no way Mewtwo²’s power surge wasn’t felt by most of the region.”

“I’ll handle that,” Molzapart said from the corner. “I’ve talked to the human media before. There’ll likely be people who recognized the disturbance as Mewtwo²; I can tell them it happened when it broke free of Rick’s control. But that’s about all they need to know. Better not cause a mass panic.” He paused. “They’ll notice Mew and Chaletwo are gone, eventually. But it’s simpler if people don’t connect them. I expect Mitch will be filed as a missing person and that will be that.”

Mark nodded slowly, a pang of guilt in his stomach at the mention of Mitch. Chalenor had said he’d lent him his body without even knowing why; it did seem like something Mitch would do, and he’d saved the world by it, but there was something deeply sad about the idea of him sacrificing his life without even knowing for what purpose. “Everything’s going to be okay, right? With… with no Creator or Preserver? Or is there going to be a Creator?”

“I don’t know that much about this,” Molzapart said reluctantly. “But I expect there won’t be a Creator exactly, no. The power that the Creator would have gained will likely be split between all the surviving legendaries.”

Beneath the table, Spirit let out a faint whine. May dropped her fork with a clatter. “Spirit,” she said. “Entei didn’t care about you. He was a tool and he was using you for his own ends. Can’t you see that?”

Spirit jerked back, standing up and shaking her head. “I am… no, Entei was…” She trailed off, exhaling in a huffy sigh, flattening her ears. “I was meant to guard his soul,” she muttered.

“You weren’t meant to do anything. He plucked you away from your mom and almost killed you. It’s his own damn fault he decided to put his soul in a stupid necklace, okay?”

Spirit bared her teeth for an instant before catching herself, wincing guiltily and lying back down on the floor under the table with a sigh.

“Let her process it at her own pace,” Stantler said gently. “She needs time to mourn.”

May took a deep breath, looking down at Spirit, then at Stantler, then Sparky.

“…Yeah.” She winced like she had something bitter in her mouth. “Spirit, I’m sorry. It’s just…”

She stroked the Ninetales’ mane a few times. Spirit leaned into her hand, closing her eyes.

“I’m not going home,” May said after a few seconds of silence, staring at her plate. “I’m going to the police. I need to tell them about Tyranitar.”

Spirit’s eyes blinked open. “What? But–”

“And whatever else happens, they’re definitely going to revoke my license. So you all do whatever you want to, I guess.” Her fingers curled around Spirit’s fur.

May’s Pokémon stared at her in surprise – all except Stantler, who gazed evenly at her trainer, giving a slow nod.

“I see,” Sparky said, surveying her closely. May didn’t look up. “Legally,” Sparky went on after a moment, “it may not be permanent. You are a juvenile; you should be able to reapply for a license after you’re of age. The legal system has its problems, but people don’t suffer forever for mistakes made when they were children, so long as they’re deemed no longer at risk on reevaluation. The rest, I suppose, will depend on the testimony of your Tyranitar, and any witnesses.” Sparky glanced towards Mark, and his stomach twisted uncomfortably.

“Same thing,” May said, her fist clenched around her knife. “It’s not like you’re all going to just wait around for me for years. I don’t expect that.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Spirit said firmly.

May inhaled sharply. “I don’t… I don’t know if you can, Spirit. That’s the thing. I don’t… I don’t think they let you have Pokémon in detention, for a start, if…”

Spirit stared up at her.

“You can stay with Dad. I know you need someone right now and he’s useless, but I can’t. I’m sorry I can’t be there.” May’s voice was starting to tremble. “I’m sorry. I hate this. I hate all of this. All I ever wanted to do was be a great trainer, and I screwed it up. I should’ve recalled Tyranitar, and I shouldn’t have said that about Taylor, and I shouldn’t have even caught him in the first place, or Lapras, or Flygon. But I did it anyway, and I can’t undo any of it, and the only thing I can do to set anything right is make sure Tyranitar gets free, okay? So I have to do this. I’m sorry.”

“May—” Alan began, but before he could finish, May abruptly stood up from the table and headed for the door, Spirit looking after her in shock.

Alan let out a heavy sigh as the door slammed behind her. Sparky put his hand on the table, preparing to stand up.

“Wait,” Mark said. “I’ll… I’ll go talk to her.”

-------

May was outside, sitting against the side of the Gym and hugging her knees, looking out in the direction of the mountains. It was cold, but the skies were still bright and mostly clear, a lingering memento of the success of their fight against Thunderyu.

She looked up as he approached and wiped her face with her sleeve. He sat down by the wall near her. Spirit padded up to her, tentatively, ears flat; as she nudged her trainer’s shoulder, May wrapped her arms around the Pokémon’s neck, burying her face in her mane.

Mark sat there, silent, for a little while, looking towards the half-collapsed remains of Thunderclap Cave. Beside him, May sniffled quietly a few times, until he heard her sit back against the wall again, exhaling. “How are you feeling?” he asked, turning back towards her. Spirit had laid her head down in May’s lap, and she stroked the Ninetales’ mane absent-mindedly.

May took a deep breath, without looking back at him. “I’m okay,” she said. Then, “I mean, no, I’m not okay. But I’ll live. It’s the best thing I can do and I know that. I’ve had a couple months to think about it. It was just…”

She trailed off, glancing at Mark, and he nodded.

They sat silently for a moment. “Earlier,” he said after a while, “you said your dad was useless.”

May winced. “Not exactly, but you know.”

“I don’t.” May glanced back at him. He hesitated. “Back when we were looking for Mew, and I was going to maybe call my parents, I noticed you never wanted to call yours. Is that…?”

May sighed, leaning back against the wall. “My dad used to be a trainer. He was pretty well known in the adult competitive circuit for a while. Then his Meganium died in a battle, just an accident, and he just… never got over it. Quit training cold turkey, and couldn’t hold down a decent job after that. My brother and I had to handle a lot of stuff on our own. He’s not bad, but he’s got far too many of his own issues to help anyone else.”

“And you didn’t want to call him?”

May fidgeted with her fingernails. “I’m not sure he’d actually do anything about it even if he heard the world was ending.” She paused. “And… he’d just start asking about my journey, and my Pokémon, and the League.”

Mark nodded slowly. May had never talked about her family, as far as he could recall. He considered asking about her mother, or her brother, but decided against it.

“How’s Flygon? What’d Nurse Joy say?”

May was silent for a few moments. “She said he’d be okay. Flygon spend most of their time flying anyway; guess he doesn’t need his legs that much. Might have a harder time with balance because of the tail. Either way, she said he’d probably do all right in the wild if he’s released, so…” She sighed. “That’s something.”

“I hope so.”

She picked at her fingernails for a minute, avoiding Mark’s gaze. “In a way it’s a relief,” she muttered. “In a way I don’t want to do any of this anymore. Maybe I’m becoming like Dad.”

Mark shrugged slightly. “Maybe you just need a break.”

“Maybe.”

May scratched the Ninetales’ ears for a minute. Eventually, she opened her mouth again. “Spirit,” she said. “You should talk to Stantler. Just… see if she’ll stay with you in New Bark. She can probably help you sort through all that stuff.”

Spirit made a small noise of complaint, but then sighed. “I will try,” she said quietly.

“If I have to go, I’ll be back for you,” May said, her voice firm.

The Ninetales closed her eyes. “I’ll come visit,” she murmured.

They sat there for a while, looking up at the sky. Clouds were slowly gathering in the west, heralding oncoming rain.

“You should draw Chaletwo,” May said.

A strange mixture of emotions bubbled up within him at the request, something warm and nostalgic coupled with empty sadness and regret. Wordlessly, he pulled off his backpack and took out his sketchpad.

All he really meant to do was Chaletwo, but without thinking about it he started sketching the rest of the image still burned into his mind: Mewtwo² opposite him, Mew and Chalenor by his side, Chaletwo’s tear-stricken face tight with anguish. For a moment Mark was struck with a guilty sense of impropriety; was this how he’d want to be remembered, as a terrified wreck?

As a hero, another part of him pointed out. As someone who saved the world.

On some level he’d always had nagging doubts about Chaletwo’s motivations, whether he was really doing this for everyone’s sake or to save his own skin – whether he’d ultimately try to save himself and let the world rot. And in the end, he’d been scared, he’d lashed out, he’d protested, but he’d faced down death anyway. In a way it meant more knowing how hard that had been for him. Mark had probably never respected Chaletwo more than in this moment; drawing it felt right.

May gave him a questioning look, and he took a deep breath and resumed. In the drawing, Chalenor looked at Chaletwo through Mitch’s face, sad and full of concern. Mitch was already gone by that point, it had sounded like, choosing to give up his body for an unknown cause. Mark still didn’t entirely understand what he’d learned about Chalenor and Mew – the reluctant Destroyer, trapped in isolation for a thousand years, and the friend who’d constructed a clumsy web of lies in his memory, desperate to see him again. But he supposed he didn’t have to. Their story was their own, and now they were gone – together.

And Mewtwo²… Mewtwo² would be okay.

“That’s good,” May said as he slowly lifted his pencil from the finished sketch. There was a strange, trembling heaviness in his chest as he looked at it. “Always wanted to draw like that,” she added in a half-hearted mutter.

“It’s never too late to start,” he said as he closed his sketchbook and placed it back in his bag. She looked up at him for a moment, blinking.

Then a sharp gust of wind blew past, and she shivered, pulling her jacket closer. “It’s getting cold,” she said. “I guess we should get back inside.”

“Yeah.” Mark stood up, hoisting his bag back onto his shoulders.

“Hey, I’m…” May began, and he looked back at her. She trailed off, looking away. “Well, no, I wish none of this ever happened. But I’m glad you were there.”

Mark smiled, offering her his hand. “Me too.”

-------

And then it was time for goodbyes. They went over the practicalities, and Molzapart volunteered to teleport them where they needed to go.

Sparky hugged everyone, assuring them they’d be welcome in Stormy Town for a free dinner any time they wanted. He wished them good luck in their future endeavors, and offered to host Mark’s next birthday party, and gave May some hushed advice that Mark couldn’t hear.

Then it was off to the woods near Green Town. Alan gave Mark a tight hug and promised to call sometime. May fidgeted by Molzapart’s side, avoiding Alan’s gaze.

Alan hesitated a moment, looking at May. “Hey,” he said. She looked up tentatively, still guarded. “I… I really admire what you’re doing. It’s the right thing.”

May inhaled. “Yeah.”

He looked at her for a few moments, his face tight and awkward. “Well, take care,” he said at last, turning towards the road into town.

“I will,” May said, and Alan turned around in surprise. She’d straightened a bit, looking at him directly. “Thanks.”

Alan nodded, smiling a little. “I’ll call you too someday.”

He waved as he turned and headed towards his home.

-------

The next stop, then, was the Champion Island police station.

May took a deep breath in front of the steps leading up to the door, her hand tangled in Spirit’s mane. Weavile stood by her other side; she’d wanted to follow Floatzel, whatever the outcome.

“You sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” Mark asked.

“I need to do this,” she said, shaking her head. “But thanks.”

“You can tell them I was there and I’ll tell them you tried to recall him.”

She nodded slightly. “I know.”

Hesitantly, Mark spread his arms. For a moment, May blinked at him and he felt incredibly stupid – but then she wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug.

After a few seconds she abruptly pulled away. They looked at each other for an awkward moment. “Good luck,” Mark said.

She smiled a little. “Goodbye, Mark.”

“Goodbye.”

And she turned to walk up the stairs, Spirit at her side. After a quick wave and a grin to Mark, Weavile darted after her.

-------

And then it was just him and Molzapart, with a couple of things to take care of.

A cold, purple glow enveloped the gem in Mark’s hand. His stomach fluttered weirdly, elated and anxious at the same time; Molzapart’s eyes were closed in grim concentration, the tip of his wing gingerly touching Mewtwo²’s body. They were in some barren off-route valley in the middle of the region; Molzapart had insisted they do this somewhere secluded.

The clone’s lifeless form lit up with the same glow, and then, abruptly, his eyes snapped open. There was no obvious transition from corpse to living being, only that sudden movement. Mewtwo² jerked upward, and Molzapart flinched, backing away.

“Are you sane?” he asked, wary.

“I…” Mewtwo² clutched his head for a moment, blinking slowly. He levitated himself to his feet, gently, and looked around, tail swishing experimentally behind him, his back straight but relaxed, his movements fluid and alive. Something about that, the contrast to every other time he’d seen this tortured creature, made Mark’s heart flutter with elation. It’d been hard to separate the straining, struggling, half-mad Mewtwo² of the battle from Rick’s dead-eyed tool and the memory of being restrained, unable to breathe, helpless as May choked – but the clone felt different now, as a being acting on his own will.

“You,” Mewtwo² said. He took a wobbly step in Mark’s direction, then another, more confident one – and fell into his arms, clumsily, his long, bony forearms wrapping around Mark. The Pokémon shook as Mark embraced him back, a flurry of emotions swirling in his mind, relief and disbelief and new pangs of sympathy as he felt the contours of the Pokémon’s spine and ribs under the thin, leathery skin of his back. How much had Rick ever let him eat?

“Thank you,” said the clone’s telepathic voice, unsteady with emotion but free of strain. “I… am sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Mark said, his voice shaking with something he couldn’t quite place. Relief and gratitude flooded into his mind, then vanished as Mewtwo² carefully pulled away again.

“What are you planning to do now?” Mark asked.

“Hmm.” Mewtwo²’s blank eyes blinked slowly. They weren’t nearly as unsettling now that he looked alert and alive. “I want… a home,” he answered after a moment. “And then… explore. Learn. Make up for… all that happened.”

“Have you… have you considered looking for Mewtwo?” Mark said. “He’s the one you were created from, and… I think you might have a lot in common.”

Mewtwo² tilted his head, tail twitching curiously. “Thank you. I will find him.”

The clone kicked off the ground into a playful loop in the air, and a psychic wave of thrill and exuberance washed over Mark. He grinned as Mewtwo² experimentally levitated himself down in front of Mark, hovering a few inches above the ground.

Molzapart sighed. “The legendaries will expect you to act as one of them. We have a purpose; we must try to protect the mortals and keep the world in balance.”

“I know,”
said Mewtwo², without moving aside from the gentle up-and-down bobbing of his levitating form. “I will try. Perhaps Mewtwo can help.”

“I’m sure he will.”

Molzapart grimaced. “I might also need you to talk to the humans at some point. Show them you’re not a ticking time bomb. After you killed Rick and broadcast all that power, they might have concerns.”

Mewtwo² squeezed his eyes shut at the mention of Rick. “I didn’t want to,” he muttered.

“It’s a little late for that.”

Mewtwo² shook his head, hunched over again, agitated, a nervous sense of psychic upset stabbing through the air. Mark took a deep breath. “Stop,” he said. “Stop talking to him like that.”

Molzapart turned, defensive. “I…”

“Stop. He’s been through enough. He did more to save the world than you ever did.”

Molzapart fell silent. Mewtwo² rose slowly, a thrum of gratitude warming Mark’s mind.

“I can talk to the humans,” the clone said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

Molzapart nodded without meeting his eye.

Mark sighed inwardly, but extended his hand to Mewtwo². “Did you want your gem back?” Something about the purple stone felt different now, some strange, electrifying energy gone now that it was just an ordinary gem.

“Hmm. Why not?” The clone reached his abnormally long arm out to take it, holding it between his two fingers. “Goodbye,” he said, blinking softly at Mark again. “Thank you.”

“Goodbye,” Mark said, raising a hand to wave. “I… I hope we can meet again sometime.”

Mewtwo² nodded, and then he jumped, shooting up into the air. A prick of psychic joy jolted Mark’s mind again. He watched the clone disappear as a speck in the sky, spiralling in free-flowing loops.

Molzapart was distracted, still looking away.

“Chaletwo wanted me to fix his dragons, didn’t he?” he muttered after a while.

“Yeah.” Mark’s heart stung.

“I gather the last one’s with Carl, the Crater Town gym leader?”

Mark nodded, his mouth dry.

“Then I guess we’re paying Carl a visit.”

-------

For the second time, Mark knocked on the door of the temporary Crater Town Gym with butterflies in his stomach.

Carl didn’t bat an eye when he opened the door, only slightly raising his eyebrows. “You again,” he said. “Here to tell me another story about Chaletwo?”

Mark couldn’t speak, but he didn’t have to. “Chaletwo is dead,” said Molzapart, and for the first time, Carl actually blinked in surprise, pulling the door open further to see the legendary by Mark’s side.

“Interesting,” he said. “You weren’t part of the story either the first or the second time around.”

Molzapart gave Mark a side glance. “Never mind about the story. The only reason we’re here is to retrieve the dragon they let you capture.”

Carl’s gaze hardened. “I see.”

“We’re going to fix him,” Mark said quickly. “To… to not be dangerous anymore. Molzapart can do that.”

Carl didn’t move. “I think at this stage it would be extraordinarily foolish of me to take you at your word.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice,” Molzapart snapped.

“Wait,” Mark cut in. “I’ll explain. All of it this time. Please listen.”

-------

Seated on Carl’s couch with his hands in his lap, Mark recounted everything – about the War, their quest, Chaletwo. The gym leader sat silent, head cocked, lips pressed together, throwing suspicious glances at Molzapart every now and then.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said when Mark had finished. Mark opened his mouth to speak, but Carl continued: “This entire plan was asinine. Recruiting a bunch of children? Refusing to get more qualified help on grounds that are waved away later? Frankly it’s a miracle you somehow bungled your way into success. Last time, you made it sound as if things were under control without my help; now it’s plain they were nothing of the sort. You could have gotten us all killed.”

Mark squeezed his eyes shut. “Okay. Sure. It was kind of a stupid plan.”

“So you’ve told him,” Molzapart said irritably from behind him. “Can we now get to the point?”

“That being said, I don’t think you’re lying,” Carl went on. “Whatever else you are, you aren’t a good liar, and I doubt you could have convincingly fabricated and delivered every ridiculous detail of this. I’ll consider your story a warning of the fallibility of legendaries, but I believe you, for now.” He shot a brief glare towards Molzapart. “Besides, I expect the bird can and will do what he pleases regardless of what I think.”

“I don’t have time for your condescension,” Molzapart said coldly. “If you have nothing else to say, we’ll take the dragon and leave.”

Carl wasn’t looking at him, instead focusing on Mark. “So this fixing of the dragon that you mentioned,” he said. “What, precisely, does that entail?”

Mark looked at Molzapart; he wasn’t actually sure exactly how this would work. “Well,” he began, slowly, “when Chaletwo made them, he made them obsessed with killing each other, so it’s all they can think about. He’d remove that from them and make them… normal, I guess?”

“That’s not enough,” Carl said, his eyes boring into Mark’s. “If that’s all they’ve ever known, they have never learned morality or restraint. This might revert them to the minds of children – but children can be extraordinarily cruel. They will need guidance and oversight, someone who can rein them in and keep them under control, for years, while they mature. Have you prepared for that? Or did you again fail to think things through?”

Mark stared at him, face flushed, opening his mouth to answer.

“I’ll do it,” Molzapart said before he could say anything, sounding like he hated every word. Mark turned towards him, blinking. “Chaletwo wanted me to fix the dragons. That includes this. I’ll raise them, keep an eye out for them and make sure they don’t harm anyone. You have my word.”

Carl raised an eyebrow, not moving. “Fair enough that you say that,” he said. “But you haven’t given me much reason to trust your word.”

“You don’t have a choice!” Molzapart snapped. He looked away, wincing, before reluctantly facing Carl again. “Chaletwo died for this,” he said, quieter. “His last wish was to fix the dragons – to have him make me fix the dragons.” He glanced at Mark, grimacing. “If I’m left here – at least I can do this.”

Carl surveyed him with interest for a moment. “I see.” Slowly, he stood up from his chair. “Well, as you say, I don’t have a choice, do I? The safe was meant to be indestructible, mind you, but I suppose that wouldn’t account for you.”

“You suppose correctly.” Molzapart’s eyes glowed; the metal of the safe in the corner warped and twisted, and with a sweep of his wing, the door tore off its hinges and crumpled into a lump on the floor. Carl watched with the same grim expression as the Ultra Ball inside levitated into the air and towards Mark. He took it carefully, looking at Carl.

“I suppose we’re done here,” the Gym leader said, folding his arms. “But know that if any legendary attacks my town again, we will be prepared. I don’t trust your competence, for obvious reasons.”

“You won’t have to worry about that,” Molzapart said, coldly. “I’ll handle it.”

“So I’d hope.” Carl moved towards the door, opened it, and gestured for them to leave. With a ‘hmph’, Molzapart teleported outside.

Mark nodded slightly to Carl as he made his way towards the door.

“Thank you for telling me the truth,” Carl said; Mark stopped and looked up at him in surprise. “It’s plain you didn’t need to be here.”

“I wanted to,” Mark said, numb.

“It was a dumb plan and you should’ve questioned it,” Carl went on. “But you’re a kid. The immortal deities don’t have that excuse. It’s on them.”

Mark took a deep breath. “Molzapart’s going to do his best. I think it’ll be okay.”

“That’s very optimistic,” Carl said. “But fair enough. I’ll be prepared anyway. I never trusted legendaries.”

“They’re…” Mark paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “They’re just people. They’re not perfect, but they’re not evil either. They’re just… trying.”

Carl raised his eyebrows.

“Thanks for listening,” Mark said without waiting for an answer, stepping back through the door. “Tell your townspeople I said hi.”

-------

The next stop was the plains outside of Ruxido.

A large, lone oak tree stood on a hill overlooking the woods. In the grass below the hill, Mark could just make out the glint of blades here and there, giving away the otherwise-camouflaged Scyther. Against the tree, though, sat two indistinct shapes, red and green.

Scyther inhaled sharply as he stared towards the tree. “I never thought I’d make it back,” he whispered, his voice trembling with emotion. He turned to Mark. “Thank you. For everything you’ve done for me. It was more than you know.”

“Thank you for what you did at the battle with Mewtwo²,” Mark said.

Scyther looked away, a wisp of a smile on his face. “I thought I’d die there. I was ready. But at the same time, I realized I didn’t want to. And it was the best feeling in the world.”

Mark nodded, a lump in his throat.

“Goodbye,” Scyther said. “I’ll never forget you.”

“Try to be happy,” Mark said, willing himself to smile. “And – if you bump into Letaligon – please make sure she’s okay.”

Scyther nodded and turned before taking off the ground and zooming towards the tree, letting out an elated, whooping cry. All around, heads poked out of the grass, watching him curiously.

The green shape at the tree rose instantly and flew out to meet him. The red shape stood, leaning against the tree, and raised a pincer in greeting.

Mark turned back to Molzapart, and they vanished.

-------

Sandslash wanted to return to the Lake of Purity.

Molzapart waited in the woods while the two of them walked along the bank of the lake. The brilliant colors of sunset reflected across the still water; Mark couldn’t help but think back to his first fateful night here as Sandslash told him stories of his old Sandshrew buddies – silly competitions, back-and-forth pranks, weird hijinks.

The Pokémon shook his head, chuckling. “Initially I didn’t want to come back. They were a childish lot and I wasn’t very close to anyone. But when I visited, back when we came here to capture Suicune, it was… nice. I used to be small and scaredy and they kind of ignored me, but suddenly I was the grown-up and everyone wanted to know about what I’d been doing with my trainer. I liked telling them stories and showing them moves and answering questions. Teaching them.”

Mark smiled. “It’s weird to think of you being scaredy.”

“It’s weird for me, too,” Sandslash said, looking out across the lake. “I gained a lot of confidence on this journey, didn’t I?”

“Yeah,” Mark said. “Same.”

They walked on in a pleasant, comfortable silence. The sun was disappearing behind the trees, shadows stretching out across the lake; the dark cloud bank from the northwest was moving in rapidly, promising a change in the weather.

And then, just as he was thinking he’d have to say goodbye and turn back, the excited cries of a troop of Sandshrew surrounded them. Sandslash grinned as the tiny figures rolled into him in bursts of giggles, examined his claws with awed gasps, and started asking him how many legendaries he’d fought.

Mark stepped back, smiling. Sandslash looked up and raised a paw to wave, laughing as one of the Sandshrew climbed onto his head.

As Mark turned around and headed back for where Molzapart was waiting, he could still hear the echoes of their conversation:

“Diggerclaw, Diggerclaw!”

“Did you fight the whole Waraider herd, Diggerclaw?”

“We did,” Sandslash said, chuckling. “And we saved the world.”

-------

Finally, Molzapart teleported Mark into the alley next to the Sailance library. They looked at one another, boy and bird, human and legendary.

“Thank you for all you’ve done,” the legendary said.

“Thanks for taking us everywhere,” Mark said.

“It was the least I could do.” Molzapart looked away, uncomfortable. “I’ll raise the Dragons of Ouen as best I can. You gave me all the legendaries you held and deactivated their balls, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. I’ll handle releasing them safely, explaining why we did it when necessary, and picking up the ones the others have. In an emergency I can perform a memory modification. You won’t have to worry about them.” He took a deep breath. “All in all, you can return to your life as it was. No one has to know your part in any of this unless you choose to tell them. I’d advise you not to tell too many people.”

Mark nodded slowly.

“I think that’s all,” Molzapart said. “If you ever need me, I’ll be keeping an eye out.”

“Thanks,” Mark said. He was oddly numb; the fact it was over and he was going home still seemed unreal, like it wasn’t really happening. “Goodbye, then. Take good care of the dragons.”

Molzapart nodded, grave. “Farewell, Mark.”

And then he was gone. The first drops of rain were falling from the sky, and Mark blinked. The world seemed to zoom in suddenly, locking into place in a new order. He was here, back in Sailance, and the rain made it real.

Shivering, he fished his raincoat out of his bag, put it on, and set off walking the familiar route towards his home.

The school building was gray and dull as ever as he approached it, the fenced-off schoolyard empty. As he passed by the front entrance, though, a figure was stepping out of the door, opening an umbrella, and something made him stop.

“Mrs. Grodski?” he said.

His teacher lifted the umbrella, looking at him. “Greenlet?” she said disinterestedly – and then her eyebrows scrunched. “Wait. No, you–”

She stared at him, hard, before looking away and sighing. “Never mind.” There was something intense and upset about her gaze still; there were bags under her eyes, her whole face gaunt with exhaustion. Mark wasn’t sure if she’d changed or if she’d always looked like that and he just hadn’t noticed. A strange mixture of emotions battled in his head: the monster she’d seemed like back then, how absurdly trivial all of that seemed now, the realization of how disorienting Molzapart’s memory modification might feel from the inside. He shifted on his feet as Mrs. Grodski shook her head and walked down the steps, preparing to head the other way.

“Listen,” he blurted out. “I’m… I’m sorry I was such a brat.”

She turned around, blinking warily at him, fingers tense around the handle of the umbrella, as if she expected this was some kind of prank.

Mark smiled. She hesitated for a second, glancing sideways. “You made it pretty far at the League, didn’t you?” she said, sighing. “Good work. I suppose I underestimated you.”

Mark blinked – and then, without meaning to, he burst out in a disbelieving grin. “I guess you did.”

She squinted at him for a moment, like her brain was fighting, grasping for purchase on a slippery surface. “I… I think I wasn’t quite fair to you,” she said. “I’m not…” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I regret that.”

Mark stared at her. The confused muddle of feelings in his chest was starting to settle into pity. “It’s… it’s all right, Mrs. Grodski.”

She took a deep breath, her expression softening as she looked at him. Slowly, her shoulders sagged, her fingers seemed to just slightly loosen their grip. “Welcome home, Greenlet,” she said. “Take care.”

“I will,” Mark said, smiling at her. “Have a nice evening, Mrs. Grodski.”

“You too,” she said. She looked at him for a second more before she shook her head, turned, and headed off in the other direction.

-------

A strange sense of déjà vu hit him as he turned into his home street. The rain, the rivulets of water draining from the road, the bushes in front of his house – for a split second, he half-expected something small and orange lying on the pavement, breathing raggedly, a faint flame curled against the side of its body. But that was a long time ago.

These gardens, the houses, his house: it’d been so long since he’d seen any of them. Everything was nostalgic and new at the same time, familiar and yet different: new decorations in the neighbor’s windows, a blooming flowerbed, a newly-painted fence. Life had gone on without him, the slow progress of time and change continuing.

The steps up to his house were smaller than he remembered. He lifted a hand and rang the doorbell.

It was his mom who answered it. The door opened and she stood there, and instantly, with a sudden, powerful ache in his chest, Mark realized how much he’d missed her. Her default polite smile changed to a warm, happy one as she saw him; then her brow furrowed, and her eyes widened, and her lips parted in shock.

“Hi, Mom,” Mark said, a strange lump in his throat. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she pulled him in close and hugged him tighter than he thought he’d ever been hugged.

“You... you were dead and I forgot,” she whispered in shocked confusion, clutching his coat as if he might otherwise simply float away. “How could I forget?”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Mark murmured, his voice muffled against her tear-stained shoulder. “I’ll explain everything.”

-------

In the back of his mind, Mark had wondered if they’d believe him. But he needn’t have worried: after realizing they’d forgotten their son’s funeral, his parents were willing to entertain whatever he told them. They listened to him talk with rapt attention, for hours, hardly interrupting; maybe later, when they’d slept on it and recovered from the shock, they’d interrogate him, but for the moment all they cared about was having him back, alive.

He introduced them to Charizard and Jolteon and Dragonite in the garden. Maybe they wouldn’t have agreed to let them live there under other circumstances, but as it was, they simply accepted it. His mom tearfully thanked them for taking care of him, his dad silent and awkward, nodding at the Pokémon like he wasn’t sure what to say to them. Dragonite wouldn’t be staying long, of course – he’d only wanted to have a place to return to when he travelled the world. Charizard had said he might go with him sometime, but for the moment he wanted a break to just rest and recover.

Jolteon was content to be a pet. For now, at least, he’d seen enough of the world for a lifetime.

It was hours past his bedtime by the time the conversation was winding down, Jolteon snoozing peacefully in his lap, Charizard and Dragonite dozing off sat against one another in the garden. Normally, Mark knew, his parents would have sent him to bed by now, and although he’d journeyed across the whole region, he imagined they’d balk if he asked to go out again now – besides, he was pretty exhausted himself.

“I think I’ll get some sleep,” he said, yawning, gently lifting Jolteon and placing him on the couch. “You… you didn’t throw away my stuff or anything, did you?”

They hadn’t, of course, because they’d forgotten he was dead. Mark apologized to them for probably the twentieth time that night; he wasn’t sure it would ever be enough.

-------

He slept until the afternoon. He’d almost forgotten how good it was to sleep in an actual bed.

After dragging himself to his feet and eating the breakfast-slash-lunch that his dad cooked for him, though, he told his parents he had to go to the beach, and was smothered with hugs and ‘take care’s that would have irritated him a year ago but seemed kind of sweet now. Jolteon followed him outside; Charizard and Dragonite were lazing around in the shadow of the garden’s trees, talking.

They could have flown, but the beach was only a short walk away; Sailance was by the shore, and their house was on the sea side of town. In the movies he’d watched as a kid, beaches were always hot, yellow and crowded with people, but this one had black sand and cold winds, waves crashing mercilessly against huge rocks and banks growing with faded grass. He’d always liked this beach for what it was; he’d used to come here to draw sometimes, imagining Lugia sleeping at the bottom of the ocean, forever just out of reach.

Today the wind was light; the rain had cleared up since yesterday, and the rocks were warmed by springtime sun. He sat down on a weathered boulder with Jolteon, looking out at the ocean for a moment, before he took out his last Pokéball.

“Gyarados, we’re here.”

The sea monster emerged in the water, stretching his fins. “So this is your hometown,” he said in a low rumble.

“Yeah.” Mark smiled.

Gyarados looked around, then glanced at the gems on his neck. “I suppose the Ninetales was devastated.”

Mark nodded silently. He really should’ve done this while he was still with Molzapart, shouldn’t he – gotten him to teleport them to the sea first and revive Suicune immediately. But he couldn’t entirely regret it.

“We’re going to have to resurrect Suicune,” he said.

Gyarados grunted. “I know.”

“Other than that, all that’s left is for you to decide what you want to do. You can stay around here, and I’ll come and bring you some food when I can. Or you can go, wherever you want.”

“I promised to serve you forever, didn’t I, back at the lake,” Gyarados said.

Mark winced. “You shouldn’t have promised that.”

Gyarados chuckled. “You’re right. It was a stupid promise. You don’t need me anyway, do you?” He paused. “I always did want to swim the ocean. Be free. That’s what I really wished for.”

“Then that’s what you should do.”

Gyarados gave a slow nod. “What about Suicune?”

Mark took a deep breath. “I think you can handle it,” he said. “If you find a legendary, or a strong Psychic Pokémon, see if they can do it. There have to be plenty of them in the ocean.”

“So you trust me.” Gyarados’s lips curled in amusement. “What’s to stop me just not doing it? Keeping him trapped and helpless at my mercy, forever?”

“Nothing.” Mark’s gaze didn’t waver. “But you know what that’s like. You’re better than that.”

Gyarados smiled, looking off into the distance. “I wouldn’t want to carry him forever anyway.”

“You won’t destroy the gems either.”

Gyarados let out a rumbling sigh. “No, I won’t.”

Mark sat in silence for a moment as Gyarados gazed out at the vast stretch of ocean before him. The wind ruffled his hair. There was no deadline, no worries. He could just sit here, as long as he liked.

“I figured you’d prefer this,” he said. “Over having yet another legendary dictating your fate. Molzapart probably only heard about you maybe once, from Alan, sometime while we were at the League. I don’t think he remembered. But if he realizes you’ve still got Suicune before you can get him resurrected, he’ll probably try to find you.”

Gyarados chuckled. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

He swam a few experimental circles in the ocean water. Mark watched him dive and resurface, shaking the water out of his fins.

“Goodbye,” he said, bowing his head towards Mark. “Thanks for getting me out of that lake.”

“Goodbye, Gyarados,” Mark said, smiling. “Good luck out there.”

“I’ll be traveling too,” Dragonite said. “Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime.”

Gyarados nodded slowly. “Mmm. I think I’ll come back here someday, too. Maybe when Suicune is gone.”

“I’ll be on the lookout,” Charizard said.

Jolteon nodded, eyes shining. “Goodbye.”

“See you around,” Gyarados said. And with that, he turned around and dived into the sea.

Mark watched him go with the others until the ripples in his wake disappeared. It really was a nice day. Charizard lay on the rocks in the sun, the tip of his tail flicking idly back and forth, the flame burning peacefully. Dragonite sat in the sand, looking out at the calm ocean. Jolteon lay leaning against his side, eyes closed.

He took his bag off his shoulders, pulled out his sketchpad, and started to draw Charizard. Distantly, from the trees in the direction of the city, he could just hear the first Taillow song in Sailance in a long, long time.



We don't end up seeing followup on Robin and Victor in the chapter, but they were in Mrs. Riverstone's shelter when the pulse happened; they would have seen May's message, but she doesn't want to see if they answer, so she turned it off before they could. Leah had picked out a cave a few years ago to seek shelter in if they failed, and went there as soon as she felt Mewtwo^2's power surge.

As I'm sure you can tell, Carl's thoughts on the plot of the fic are a pretty lampshadey self-callout.

You may or may not recall that chapter one opens with Mark lamenting the lack of birdsong in Sailance; the final paragraph is a little callback to that. The Pokémonlessness of northwest Ouen was ultimately caused by the power drain effect being centered where Chalenor's skull was buried, as alluded to in chapters 75 and 76, so with Chalenor's soul finally released from the world, the power drain has stopped for good, and wild Pokémon will begin to colonize the area again. Background lore: originally, the drainage phenomenon would drain the power of legendaries and mortal Pokémon alike, but by design, the mortals would adapt and evolve to resist the drain through the generations, while the legendaries' very immortality left them vulnerable to it. Even then, when they spend enough time close enough to the source, mortal Pokémon will still feel vaguely uneasy in a way they can't entirely put their finger on, and that's what's driven Pokémon to ultimately avoid the area, even without suffering any actual ill effects.

Back in 2003, I was already planning for the final chapter to end with Mark releasing Gyarados - but I was also planning to include an epilogue. This, as originally envisioned, would not even be a narrative thing, but just me speaking as the author like I'm doing here, explaining what happened then and where the characters all ended up. Among other silly things, Molzapart was supposed to use his special technique Devolution Beam (the one that left Charlie in his unstable evolutionary state that I showed off in chapter 20 and then basically never mentioned again) to devolve Nightmare back into a Scyther, and then she and Scyther would get together for some reason because I lived in a society and guess I could not conceive of Scyther's arc not ending with them getting together. This was despite that at the time I had no plans to include them meeting again first and actually bonding in some sane way like they ended up doing in chapter 60, and obviously because I didn't like Scizor clearly the correct way to facilitate this was not for Scyther to get over his prejudice but for her to simply be devolved back into an Acceptable form by a legendary first. It was terribad.

The real purpose of the epilogue, though, was twofold. First, I was going to state that Mark and May were never going to meet again, because I wanted to make really sure that nobody could possibly think the two of them might get together, just in case anyone dared think maybe it'd happen sometime in the future after the end of the fic. Secondly, I was going to dramatically build up to the Great Question, the one you've all been waiting for: who is Alan's mom?? And the answer would be... her name's Melinda or something. What, you thought he was going to marry one of the girls he met when he was ten? Pssh, not in the real world he won't. Real people don't meet their partners when they're ten years old. They met when he was twenty-one, and you wouldn't know her. Take that, shippers!

As you may be able to tell, I was very mad about shipping in 2003. A bit later, I read another story with an epilogue, and it was a narrative thing, so I thought oh, oh no, this is what epilogues are supposed to be like. So I hastily changed my plans so that instead I'd just show Alan going home, and some way or another I'd squeeze a mention of his mom's name into that scene. I was going to make carefully sure to look up names on Bulbapedia so I could find one that could not possibly be mistaken for a character of the day in some anime episode. I was so determined to make sure you knew Ash married absolutely nobody that he met in the anime. In the end, of course, I did not include anything of the sort in the fic, because by the time I got here I'd mercifully long gotten over the spiteful impulse to end my sixteen-year magnum opus with an entirely unrelated take that (and, ironically, I had myself married a guy I'd first met when I was eleven, although I had no idea when we got together at 16/17 that I'd ever met him before).

Thanks for reading! Even now, four years after completing the story, it's still a big part of my heart. I can't tell you when that proper rewrite will be happening, but I do still hope to get to it eventually; I have a lot of ideas for excising the nonsense and building up better to the main thrust of everything.
 
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IFBench

Rescue Team Member
Location
Pokemon Paradise
Partners
  1. custom/chikorita-saltriv
  2. custom/bench-gen
  3. charmander
  4. snivy
  5. treecko
  6. tropius
  7. arctozolt
Here to review chapter 4! Been a while since I read this last, so I might not remember everything. Sorry.

Heh, like that Mark just calls the nurse Joy on a whim. Neat little reference.

The detail about the advertisements was neat! Love the tips for trainers.

Oh boy, already leaping into the cloning stuff with Rick. Wonder how that's going to go. Probably not well for Mark. Probably not well at all.

Also I audibly giggled at the causal drop that Rick has clones of legendary Pokemon.

Also wonder what the difference between clones and super-clones is.

...Rick's totally going to be an antagonist, isn't he.

Heh, liked the bit about the Pocket Healer. Wonder if that'll come back at all eventually.

Overall, I liked this chapter! Had a goofy smile on my face the whole way through. Loved the over-the-top stuff mixed with the mundane.
 

IFBench

Rescue Team Member
Location
Pokemon Paradise
Partners
  1. custom/chikorita-saltriv
  2. custom/bench-gen
  3. charmander
  4. snivy
  5. treecko
  6. tropius
  7. arctozolt
Here to review chapter 5!

Also, I know it's not part of the actual chapter, but I have to comment on your dedication to giving every chapter unique art! It's great!

Huh! You can just...buy a Pokedex in this canon? I'm more used to the manga canon, where they're specially given out by professors, so seeing this is really intriguing!

Yeah, I can tell what you mean by overdescribing things. Giggled at the tidbit about the school photo, though.

...huh. That's...an odd detail about evolution. Interesting.

...yeah, that's absolutely ominous. I do not want to be anywhere near this lake ever.

Well, that was brutal.

First catch! And a Sandshrew! Neat!

May! I think!

...well then. A Gyrados speaking human, and Suicine kills people. Huh.

I am confused, intrigued, and worried. Things are going to go very wrong, I know it.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. custom/quilava-fobbie
Heya, popping in to knock off another target off my RB4 hitlist and to rectify a kinda embarrassing situation where I had yet to review anything that you’d written in spite of you giving invaluable help as an extra set of eyes looking over the Context Switch rewrite before it got thrown out for showtime.

But hey, “late” always beats “never”, so let’s start by taking a gander at LC before LC a couple chapters of your work that you’re more notorious for as a writer:

Prologue

The flaming remains of a town burned sadly in the sharp wind. Gray, gloomy clouds covered the sky, a bit of vibrant red sunlight reaching through them in the west.

The blood-soaked ground was covered in bodies. Most of them were whole. In fact, a few might still have been breathing some of the last breaths of their lives. Others were completely torn apart, so that it seemed almost like a supernatural being had swept past with the sole intention of killing them, but its mere presence had made everything else drop dead as well.

Ah yes, two paragraphs in, and I can already tell that this is going to be a happy™ story.

There was one thing that the torn apart ones had in common: while they lived, they had been known as legendary Pokémon. These former streets contained the bodies of twelve legendary Pokémon. All but two of them would soon be buried in the sands of time, forgotten and insignificant in history.

Boy did that Yahtzee night get out of control quickly there. ^^;

These two others had another thing to tell them apart from the other legendaries, which was that they were not among the mutilated ones. And in fact, had anyone been there to compare them, he would have found the two distantly similar. Both of them had somewhat catlike heads and long tails with ovals on the ends, but one was smaller, pinkish-white and had a rabbit-like contrast in the length of the four legs, the front ones being short but the back ones long. It was breathing faintly. The other was larger, more human-shaped overall, had a light purplish gray body and a deep purple, muscular tail. It also had a large, drying wound in the middle of its non-moving chest.

Oh, so Mew and Mewtwo, huh? I’m guessing that they’re not here amidst the field full of dead and dying Legendaries “just because”.

After a while, the small one stirred. Consciousness slowly returned to the furred body. A leg twitched. Soon enough, its eyes opened.

“Mew?”

Notch one for a prediction.

The small creature rose up and stared wide-eyed at the destruction.

Mew: “... Okay, someone can pinch me and wake me from the nightmare now-”
:riOMEGAlu:

???: “Mew, it’s not a nightmare. This is real.”

The Legendary Pokémon levitated a meter or so into the air as its big, innocent-looking sapphire blue eyes fearfully scanned the area, as if looking for something. Then it seemed to have found what it was looking for; it stopped, kicked the air with both of its long hind legs and darted towards the left.

Terrified, the legendary looked upon a black, feline-like head with neon green markings. The same green shade was also on six long spikes which sprouted from the back of its head, three on each side. The left eye socket was empty; what had been the right eyeball was now merely a bloody mess.

… Wait, is this supposed to be the thing from the chapter image? Since it has blue spikes in that image.

The pink legendary’s disbelieving eyes stared at the head in horror, oblivious to the death all around. Silent tears filled them.

Chalenor…” sounded a weak telepathic voice around the lifeless town.

Oh right, this story has OC Legendary Pokémon, guess this is the first of them, who I’m assuming is a bit less dead than things would seem right now.

Chapter 1

Exactly 999 years later, it was a beautiful morning in the town of Sailance in northwest Ouen.

Wait, is that pronounced “Owen” or how should I imagine that there?

The trees’ branches swayed gently in the soft breeze, providing a constant, quiet rustle. The sun was rising, coloring the sky in a glorious, vibrant red. The air was comfortably warm and fresh. The only thing the scenery lacked was birdsong. That was also the only part of it that Mark Greenlet even remotely cared about.

Wait, the color or the birdsong? If the latter, it might make sense to directly attach the last sentence to the one about “the only thing the scenery lacked” whenever it comes time to do that rewrite.

He was short, thin, dark-haired, and currently on the way to school. A year ago, he would’ve been with his best friend Alex, chatting and feeling good. Now, Alex was probably somewhere with his Totodile having fun, while Mark was home in Sailance, walking alone, quiet and feeling miserable.
I mean hey, could be worse. Alex could be right on the verge of getting his trainer’s license and rubbing it in right now like the protag’s childhood friend in a certain other quest for the legends out there. :V

Mark’s parents were over-protective. There was no question about that. Almost all the other kids had been taken to Green Town last year to receive a Pokémon from Ash Ketchum. Out of the ones left, Mark was the only one who had been looking forward to it for his whole life, only to have his parents tell him that it was too dangerous. What did they know, anyway – they had lived in northwest Ouen for their whole lives and never been trainers.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting this story to lean hard on anime elements from what I heard of it, but duly noted for the future. And I find it kinda hilarious in hindsight that as of 2022, that’s actually a shockingly plausible outcome for Ash given a bit of time after his saga in PokéAni wound down.

The problem was that northwest Ouen had no Pokémon in it, for some reason that Pokémon experts had always debated about. The people who lived there were all lawyers or other rich people who wanted a life in peace without Pokémon and little kids asking them for a battle all day.

And if there was anything that people who had lived there for more than thirty years did not understand, it was the concept of Pokémon training. Mark’s parents kept pointing out to him the possibility of getting a ‘real’ job. A programmer? How about a professional artist, since you draw so well? They would ask questions like that every time he mentioned that he wanted a Pokémon of his own, and were absolutely incapable of understanding how he felt when all his classmates and friends left.

7ef.jpg


Your corner of your home region just sucks, Mark, and Ouen’s Pokémon react accordingly.

Though I’m sure that there’s a much more interesting explanation for what’s really going on here that will come up later in this story. I would recommend hacking this paragraph up whenever revision time comes around, though.

Mark walked grudgingly into the school building. He hated it, especially the prison-like outwards appearance and that dull, rock-gray color of it. Mark loved living things; he had since he was little, and hated gray because it was so lifeless. The corridors were even duller, even grayer and even more lifeless, which only added to the depressing feeling of the whole building. To top it all, all the students were snappy and irritated, usually because they wanted to train Pokémon, and the teachers were all snappy and irritated too, simply because of the gloomy atmosphere that never left the building.

I’m beginning to see how this guy winds up getting motivated to blow his popsicle joint, since I’d get stir-crazy in a Pokémon-less corner of a region surrounded by architectural sins against nature myself.

Mark’s first lesson on Thursdays was Battling Strategies, a branch of Pokémonology. He sighed as he sat down in front of the classroom. What a waste of time; he would never get the opportunity to use any battling strategies. Besides, whether it was because of his rather negative opinion on the classes or because he would rather spend them drawing on the back of his school papers, he was completely lousy at Pokémonology. For tests, he desperately sank himself into the textbook and sure enough, he managed to learn the bits of the text he found the most interesting pretty well. The problem was that they always asked about the most boring and uninteresting things, such as the level at which one Pokémon approximately evolved into another. This just made him despise Pokémonology even more.

I can already tell that this kid’s stint as a trainer is going to be quite something given that he’s just casually going:

i-regret-nothing-dont-care.gif


About all of the practical stuff that would make keeping Pokémon not a headache and/or potentially life-threatening nightmare.

He preferred Pokémon Communication classes by far – ‘Pokémonish’, as they were usually referred to in everyday speech. He was much better at languages than learning stupid things by heart, aside from finding Pokémon’s language very interesting in general. Those few things in Pokémonology that had sunk in over the years mostly had something to do with their remarkable language of syllables, bodily expressions and voice tones anyway.

Can’t tell if this is where LC got its interpretation of how Pokémon speech rolls or if this is the equivalent of carcinisation in language worldbuilding. Can’t say that I disapprove though, since the route I rolled myself for the workings of Pokémon speech isn’t far removed from this.

One of the very best things in Pokémonish, too, was that in exams, live Pokémon were brought to classes and the kids got one Pokémon each to stage a normal casual chat with. At the end of the class, the Pokémon each gave the teacher a report on how well the students handled the conversation. Mark was very good at it, which he was deep inside rather proud of although he didn’t like to brag. He remembered the test last year where he had discussed Pokémon rights with a Vulpix.

He smiled faintly at the thought; it was probably one of the best memories of his life. The two of them had had so much in common, and they had ended up in an exciting discussion about Pokémon rights that went way past the time the exam was supposed to take. The teacher had been forced to recall the Vulpix into his Pokéball in order to get Mark to leave the classroom. Since then, Mark had been daydreaming about one day sneaking out to Green Town on his own and getting a Vulpix; this one incident had bumped the red fox Pokémon to the ‘awesome’ section of his favorite Pokémon list.

Yada yada, same song and dance regarding paragraph splitting. I’ll probably just let the quote markups do the talking for further recommendations in this mold.

I can already hear Jade seething in jealousy from another corner of the multiverse. Though I vaguely remember you mentioning in passing that there are different languages of Pokéspeech in TQftL, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Mark runs into his first Pokémon where his skill he’s so proud of winds up just completely fails to make any headway.

But the class he enjoyed the most was Art. His Pokémon drawings received very positive comments by Miss Taintor, who was a professional artist along with her teaching. She was the type of person that was always honest and unafraid of telling somebody basically that their work sucked, but she mysteriously managed not to sound mean, however bad she thought it was.

Mark was weird when it came to criticism; he subconsciously hated being criticized at all by other people, even if he completely agreed. That could be a good thing; in fact, it had been what caused him to suddenly decide to draw all day during the summer when he turned nine. When Miss Taintor saw his art in fourth grade, she had said, as he still remembered word for word: “Big improvement, young man – if there were more students like you in this stupid school, I’d be out of a job.”

Probably another one of his very best memories – being congratulated by a harsh critic felt a lot better than the constant compliments from his parents and relatives who always pretended that everything he did was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and hearing a teacher call the school stupid made him feel like they were on the same team. After that, he had started to appreciate constructive criticism – he still didn’t technically like it, but it definitely helped.

- Hassel has entered the chat -

What next, are you going to tell me that Mark has a Home Ec course as part of his curriculum?
:loltias:


He was pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of the bell ringing. Mark hated that sound; it hurt his ears. In his opinion, it should just needed to be about as loud as the beep of his digital watch – at least everybody in the classroom could hear it quite clearly if he had forgotten to disable the alarm, and that one wasn't too loud even to his own sensitive ears.

At least, he heavily stood up and got in line with the few other kids in sixth grade who weren’t out training Pokémon. Mrs. Grodski, who taught Pokémonology, was a very grumpy old lady who wore the biggest glasses Mark had ever seen, spoke through her overly large nose and had developed a strong hatred for Mark for some reason he had never understood.
Huh, I didn’t realize that Mark was this young since at first I had assumed he was in high school from the description of how his school worked, though duly noted.

“Good morning, class,” she said sternly as everybody had taken their places standing behind their chairs.

Cue the theme music:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdDihI2nP1g


Mark: “Bruh, have you taken a look at this place? There’s no way it’d sound that cheery and lively!”
:eltywtf:


“Good morning, Mrs. Grodski,” the class mumbled, apart from Mark, who said his usual “Good morning, Mrs. Grumpy.” He knew it was safe; it drowned completely in the rest of the class’s murmurs.

Yeesh, somebody’s just little Mr. Sunshine right now. Not that the lifeless exterior and interior of the school are likely to help.

“Today,” Mrs. Grodski announced with a frown at how tired all the kids sounded, “we will be studying up on recoil attacks. Sit down and turn to page forty-two, please.”

Mark: “I’m sorry, but shouldn’t we be studying algebra or something at our age-?”
:what:

Mrs. Grodski: “Page 42, please.

Mark sighed and opened his book as Mrs. Grodski watched him carefully, but as soon as she began talking, he silently took out his binder and started to draw a Lugia on the back of an English assignment. It was his favorite Pokémon of all; he drew it all the time. Articuno, his second favorite, was a bit trickier to draw, but that didn’t make him like it any less. He loved all the legendary Pokémon. In fact, he was utterly obsessed with them. He had been fascinated by the ultimate beings of the world since he was little.

What can I say? This kid’s got good taste.
:coolgia~1:


“And just what do you think you’re doing, Mr. Greenlet?” Mrs. Grodski’s voice snapped. He looked slowly up from his Lugia, partially covering it with his hand. Mark had a hard time hiding his laughter behind an innocent expression.

Mrs. Grodski: “... Do you have something you want to share with the class, Mr. Greenlet?”
:whodarespostthis:


“I believe I’m drawing, Mrs. Grodski, unless I’m very much mistaken,” he said in a sarcastically polite voice. There were some snickers from behind.

de7.png


Since you know, this sounds like a fast way to earn a detention.

“Quiet!” the teacher screeched. “And stop scribbling on your papers, least of all in my class!”

Mark grimaced at her as she returned to her desk, and made the textbook stand open on the table, shielding the binder and making him look like he was actually reading.

Mark:
peter-griffin-push.gif


Finally, the day was over. The sky was now slowly getting covered with depressing clouds. Mark went to play soccer with the fifth graders as usual, not really concentrating.
Boy is this part of Ouen doing its best to convince me that Pokémon just don’t come here because the place sucks. Since this sounds like an active advertisement to live just about anywhere else. ^^;

It was early May. May was something that Mark subconsciously connected to the bad knot in his stomach that formed every year as he watched all the lucky ten-year-olds drive away for Green Town at the end of the month to get a Pokémon. The kids he was with now would probably all leave on an adventurous Pokémon journey soon while he would be left at home, standing at some street corner and drawing the city with imaginary Rattata poking out of the dustbins, Taillow singing in the trees and maybe a lone Meowth staring hungrily at them from below.

Oh, so no routes in this setting? Or is this an artifact of the kids not having Pokémon of their own yet?

The ball came flying towards him and he kicked it away very hard, not bothering to aim anywhere. Stupid Pokémon! Why couldn’t they just get their butts over to northwest Ouen!

Because if you find your surroundings dreary, gray, and depressing, odds are they do as well?
:gardeshrug~1:


I mean, I’m sure there’s a more serious reason behind it, but I doubt that’s really helping. :V

Mark felt all the unfairness of the situation load up behind his eyes and attempting to get out in liquid form.

Oh, no, you don’t, you’re staying in there, he ordered, screwing his eyes shut for a second and opening them again. He felt a strong urge to be alone.

Mark: “... Wait, those fifth graders aren’t noticing this and pointing and laughing at me right now, right?”
:ohnowen:


He ended up leaving the game and going home to sulk.

Mark: “Seriously, how hard is it to at least paint the school building in a bright color?” >_>;

The weather was now gray and gloomy, fitting Mark’s mood perfectly; the clouds were thickening and it would likely start raining soon. He quickened his pace as he turned down his home street. When he was just about to cross it, he heard something. Something that came from the bushes his back was currently turned to.

He jumped, twisting around immediately. Dead quiet, he waited for a few seconds. Then it happened again – a branch moved and a twig cracked.

Mark: “Hell… o? Is someone there?”

Very slowly and carefully, his heart beating like a drum in his chest, he stepped up to the bush and pulled the branches apart. To his great disappointment, there was nothing there at all. He sighed. He had been hoping he had found the first Pokémon of northwest Ouen… maybe a Vulpix. He grinned at the thought, but then shook his head.

inb4 it’s Mew from the Prologue.

“Come on,” he said bitterly to himself, “stop dreaming… you’re never going to become a Pokémon trainer.”

Not with that attitude, you won’t. But that’d make for a really short story and there’s -checks notes- … 76 more after this one, so who knows? Maybe you’ll just get your wish.

He ran across the street. It was starting to rain.

Whelp, not right now, it seems.

After a very normal, quiet dinner with his parents while watching Bravo Trainer, he sat down on the sofa in the living room and stared outside through the blurry, wet glass in the window facing the street.

He stopped dead.

There’s a Pokémon outside, isn’t there?

There was definitely something moving out there. Something… reddish?

Mark: “Oh my god, is that actually a Vulpix?” :O

The word ‘Vulpix’ instantly crossed his mind, although he knew it was ridiculous to assume that the starter Pokémon of his dreams had suddenly appeared in front of his house. Mark leapt to the front door, into his boots and pulled the door open.

There was indeed a Pokémon there, but it wasn’t a Vulpix. It was an orange, cute-looking bipedal lizard; one of those he had used to point at in picture books when he was little, announcing that it was a Fire-type in order to make his parents nod appreciatively and tell him he was really smart remembering it all.

Mark: “Aw… I wanted a Vulpix.” :<
Charmander: “*Look buddy, I’m stuck in this gray, depressing dump and need a way out so how about you be a bit less picky right now?*” >_>;

But this was a real, living Charmander, not a picture in a book, and this fact made the Pokémon seem scary and foreign. It was lying limply in the middle of the road, and the flame that was supposed to be on the tip of its tail was merely a small, bright glow. That was still enough to indicate that it was alive.

I mean, at least he’s not literally blackened from being burned by a giant fire gerbil, so… could be worse? ^^;

At first, Mark just stood there dumbly, staring, but then he was knocked to his senses by the sound of a car. He ran out into the road, picked up the Pokémon and hurried inside with it, already soaked wet by the downpour.

Mark: “... Did someone abandon this thing in the rain, or…?” ._.;

Mark slammed the door shut and started fanning the Charmander’s tail flame stupidly with his hand in order to revive it, with little success.

“Mom! I – I found a Charmander on the road!” he panted.

Mom: “Uh-huh. Just remember to hang your coat up, Mark-”
Mark: “No, I’m serious! Come look!”

“Really?” sounded his mother’s voice absent-mindedly from upstairs. “Very nice, but why don’t you just go into your room, dear?”

“Parents,” Mark hissed at nobody but himself and the unconscious Pokémon in his arms. Then he yelled: “Aren’t you listening? I FOUND A FREAKING CHARMANDER!”

Wow, I was joking about that cutaway gag, but that’s more or less what happens. But more polite.
:loltias:


He heard his mother, clearly thinking this was some kind of a game, sigh and stand up before coming down the stairs with red, tired eyes and a cup of coffee in her hands.

Mom: “Mark, I swear to god, if this is another game-”

Crash! She dropped the cup and it fell to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces and spilling coffee all over.

“Wha - what is that thing?” she then squeaked, sounding like this was the first time she saw a Pokémon close-up, which it probably was.

Mark: “... A Charmander? Yes, I literally said that five seconds ago.”
:eltywtf:


“It’s a Charmander!” Mark snapped. “A Pokémon! And it’s dying!”

[ ]
“Oh God!” she uttered out, speechless. “John!”

“Not now,” Mark’s father mumbled from upstairs, sounding half-asleep. She dug her fingers deep into her curly mess of blond hair, repeating “Oh, what can we do? What can we do?” in a panicky voice.

I’m just realizing it, but this part and potentially the last one probably could’ve benefitted a bit more from additional description. Since it’s a bit hard to visualize the turn in Markmom’s mood from shock to panic and whatnot right about now.

Mark rolled his eyes, sighed and started waving his hand again in an attempt to get the Charmander’s flame burning properly. Slowly as the tail tip dried, the flame was restored. Mark breathed in relief, half because the Charmander was saved, half because his hand was getting stiff from all the fanning.

Mark:
staples-easy-button.gif


“Is… is it okay?” his mother asked carefully as Mark shook his entire arm to loosen his hand muscles.

“Yeah,” he said and smiled. “But I think it needs rest. Er… I guess you should go and get some old cloth so I can put it in my bed, otherwise it’ll burn the house down.”

Mom: “... I’m sorry, why do I want this thing in our house again if it’s a living fire hazard?”
:wtfuckle:

Mark: “Because this is literally the only Pokémon we’ve seen that wasn’t trained by somebody else and he’ll die if we send him back outside like this? Come on, we’ve gotta have a worn-out shirt or something…”

His mother went back upstairs and got some old clothes of Mark he didn’t fit into anymore. He took them to his bedroom and placed them in the corner of his bed, laying the Charmander gently on top of them. The tail flame burned peacefully. Mark wondered who originally had the idea of making clothes flame-proof; it had always seemed very pointless to him, but now it sure came in handy.

I mean, I would imagine that living in a world where housecats can barf up flaming hairballs probably helped with that. But it’s a nice little detail that helps emphasize that this world isn’t our own.

He picked up the book about the Johto legendary Pokémon on his desk and started to read, keeping an eye on the lizard. He was starting to calm down and think reasonably. Of course, this Charmander wasn’t wild. It obviously was trained. Charmander were very rare Pokémon from Kanto.

... H
ow would one suddenly be in Ouen, let alone the northwest? Its trainer was probably looking for it. Maybe he’d get a reward for finding it? Or maybe, just maybe… it had been released on purpose?

Mark grinned, looking forward to the next morning.

Because I’m pretty sure that your author likes Charizard as a Pokémon? That probably helps with why you’re finding its base morph to kick off your grand saga. :V

Alright, so I gathered that this was basically a two-part prologue for this story. Which gave us a glimpse at distant past events that are absolutely going to wind up becoming relevant down the road, along with the “present day” where you showed off the initial sparks that help get Mark’s story rolling. While it was admittedly a bit short and early on to be drawing too firm of any conclusions one way or another, I think that I’ve seen enough to at least have an opinion about these two chapters as a combined prologue:

To start with, I like the art that you included with each chapter. I’ve always been a sucker for mixed-media stories, and from the way you made sure that each chapter had its own opening art, I can tell that whatever its flaws, that you’re proud of this story and that it’s a labor of love for you. Not every author has the talent to be able to pull something like this off on their own, but I thought it was a nice touch, and “the oh, it’s that moment” parts of the chapter helped me get into things a bit more.

Prologue and Chapter 1 combined also do a good job of setting up a hook for the start of a grand journey. You’ve got the apocalyptic event in the distant past, with the drab and boring present day that’s penning in a kid in the prime of that restless youthfulness in which we all have done something a bit rash and ill-advised during. It’s a bit “tried and true” as a formula, but it’s done a lot for a reason, namely that it’s a very effective combo for giving a character a push to want to go off into the world and getting us to want it along with the character.

It’s also early, but I also liked the worldbuilding, with the language worldbuilding in particular making me smile. I’m not fully sure what’s up with Mark’s neck of the woods being so barren of Pokémon or what on earth happened a thousand years ago or the OG Pokémon, but they definitely drew my attention. So color me interested for seeing what else will be coming down the pipe, since I highly doubt all those details were superfluous.

I won’t rag too hard on structural issues since you mentioned that you’re planning on doing a proper rewrite at some point, so I guess consider these criticisms some suggestions for whenever that comes along:

The main low-hanging fruit criticism that I have about the chapters that I read are couple paragraphs feel like they are too “giant block” and would function better cut into pieces. Since in general, paragraphs tend to make information stand out more when single “complete ideas” are mentioned in them instead of 2 or 3 jammed together.

There were also a couple sections where it feels like there ought to be more description. The main standout is the bit right after when Mark finds his Charmander and calls for his mother’s help, which for whatever reason, I had a hard time getting a solid bead on visualizing his mother’s reaction so it just kinda felt like she abruptly rolls over for Mark and cedes the floor to him and his middle-school level knowledge of Pokémon instead of attempting to put out feelers or even just freezing in the headlights. A bit more description would’ve helped a lot for zeroing in on what the intended mood / reaction there was.

Also, I kinda wonder if the Prologue and Chapter 1 would’ve worked better as a combined package as opposed to standalone chapters. Since that way, there’d be more contrast between the opening with dead and dying legendaries and a burning town with the boring (for now) “present day”. Length-wise, a combined package would’ve also worked well too, since if absolutely nothing else was added or changed, it’d have added up to about 3000 words: a perfectly reasonable size for giving readers a “first taste” of a story and what it’s about.

All-in-all, it’s a bit of a slow start, but one that holds promise for the future. Since the way you’re contrasting the very actiony “tone-setting” opener along with Mark’s drab normalcy that’s just gotten its first real crack inflicted on it is intriguing, especially for wondering just how long “normal” will last for Mark.

I’ll be back later in RB4 to pick off at least another chapter later down the road, @Dragonfree . Since hey, these first two chapters left a good impression, and I might as well see how fast Mark winds up getting dragged out of that depressing gray corner of Ouen and onto more exciting parts of his region.
 

Dragonfree

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Thanks for reviewing! I believe I responded to IFBench on Discord before, but answering a couple of questions here for anyone else who might be wondering:

Also wonder what the difference between clones and super-clones is.
In this story, a regular clone is an identical copy, while a super-clone is what Mewtwo is to Mew: a clone that is genetically enhanced to be more powerful.

...Rick's totally going to be an antagonist, isn't he.
:copyka2:

Heh, liked the bit about the Pocket Healer. Wonder if that'll come back at all eventually.
Pocket Healers do come back! ...for the gym, and then never again. I was very excited about making these up but then forgot about them/didn't particularly want the main characters to be able to instantly heal their Pokémon.

… Wait, is this supposed to be the thing from the chapter image? Since it has blue spikes in that image.
Not sure if you're reading the spoiler-free commentary spoiler blocks (I do recommend it, since they provide some additional context and amusing anecdotes and don't contain anything spoilery), but if not, those change color, and after the last line of the prologue they fade to blue (which is specified in one of the many versions of the prologue, but not in this one). The art generally does not always match up perfectly with what's in the actual text, either because something about my mental image had changed a bit or I just made a mistake somewhere. (Despite mentioning repeatedly over the course of the fic that Mark has a watch and a backpack, I never ever remember to actually draw him with them.)

Wait, is that pronounced “Owen” or how should I imagine that there?
It's Owen, yeah. Originally I made up this region name to go with "Houen", before Hoenn got its official English name - I figured since Kanto and Johto ended in the same syllable, my region should rhyme with the newly-announced third region (obviously there was no way there'd be a fourth official region by the time I finished this story, right??).

Wait, the color or the birdsong? If the latter, it might make sense to directly attach the last sentence to the one about “the only thing the scenery lacked” whenever it comes time to do that rewrite.
It's the birdsong. For future reference, no need to make line edits or paragraph break suggestions or other line-by-line critiques - the next revision will be a full rewrite as in I just write a new fic from scratch in a different document featuring the same characters and some of the same or similar events. None of these paragraphs are going to be in it! You're reading my 2004 writing here, I know it's rough and clunky and I have no plans to keep any of it intact.

(Though the opening paragraph will still contain a reference to Mark lamenting the lack of birdsong.)

Can’t tell if this is where LC got its interpretation of how Pokémon speech rolls or if this is the equivalent of carcinisation in language worldbuilding. Can’t say that I disapprove though, since the route I rolled myself for the workings of Pokémon speech isn’t far removed from this.
Chibi flagrantly stole it. :P

I can already hear Jade seething in jealousy from another corner of the multiverse. Though I vaguely remember you mentioning in passing that there are different languages of Pokéspeech in TQftL, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Mark runs into his first Pokémon where his skill he’s so proud of winds up just completely fails to make any headway.
I think you're thinking of the one bit gag from the earliest version of the fic that I think I mentioned on Discord once, where a Butterfree was said to speak 'Japanese Butterfreeish', which meant that during the specific period when she was a Metapod, she said 'Transell transell' and therefore her trainer didn't understand a word she said. Unfortunately, this didn't make any actual sense and does not feature in this version of the fic; Mark will just understand every Pokémon he comes across here. (For the rewrite I would like to make the language barrier a bit more present throughout the story, but in this version I'm afraid you're only very occasionally reminded that the Pokémon aren't literally speaking English - twelve-year-old me just wanted everyone to be able to talk to each other and be done with it.)

Oh, so no routes in this setting? Or is this an artifact of the kids not having Pokémon of their own yet?
Routes are a thing, but Green Town is way on the other side of the region. The convention is parents drive their kids over there for the starter giveaway to get a Pokémon, and then they start their journeys. (Why, then, is there a set gym order with the first gym being in the town next to Sailance instead? Going to have to ask my twelve-year-old self that one. For the purposes of this version of the story, their parents drive them back after the starter giveaway, or else they have to trek a pretty long way to their first gym.)

Because if you find your surroundings dreary, gray, and depressing, odds are they do as well?
:gardeshrug~1:
To be fair the bit he finds dreary, gray and depressing is 1) his school, which Pokémon would not have to go to; 2) the weather, which is incidentally gray and dreary on this particular afternoon but is no worse in general than any other part of the region; and 3) the fact there aren't any Pokémon there. :P It's not a generally terrible, unpleasant place to be at all; Mark is just grumpy about it, and that colors his perception.
 
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unrepentantAuthor

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Could've sworn I'd covered this chapter already, but I guess not!

As an aside, before I get stuck in, what is Victor's deal? He's really bad at communicating. 'Tips on catching a mutark', indeed. Also chuckling to myself at Mark being the world's biggest Legendary pokémon enthusiast yet not knowing anything about the local ones, as previously discussed.

Chapter 17 left a decent impression on me, honestly. Underwater environments are good fun, and Aquarium City has the fun distinction of being a sort of Mos Eisley one, with Orre vibes, despite the leveel of tech and maintenance you'd need for any submarine settlement. Mark's travel there is nice and threatening, with garbage secondhand diving equipment being sold that may or may not even work, but being all there is available, and sharpedo attacking anyway when it seems like the warding spray is just a scam. Yikes, Mark, you should have coughed up.

I enjoy that we see a sharpedo in a casual battle first. It's a very memorable fight, (one of the scenes I remembered clearly from Way Back In The Day, actually!) what with Gyarados nearly going for the kill. Big yikes there, buddy. Of course, it's a little odd that it's preventing sharpedo from moving that is supposedly such a terrible thing to do, I think it works better just as a constriction thing than a suffocation thing, but either way. Mark really needs to just talk to his sea serpent, but I guess he's allergic to that.

And, of course, we have our first appearance of monarking. It's a lovely creature – kinda gives me kingdra x dragonair vibes, conceptually. Bless. Gotta love a benevolent sea serpent!
 

IFBench

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Alright, here to review three chapters of TQFTL for our review exchange! Had a bit of a delay due to stuff happening yesterday, and a bit of worry about the "mental change" part of chapter 6's title, but here we GO!

Starting off with a reminder of the Gyrados from the previous chapter. I wonder what's up with them? Still very curious about that. Suicine murdering people is odd, but after reading Legendarian Chronicles, I can definitely see it. Maybe that's where LC got the inspiration from? If I remember correctly, it was inspired by this fic.

I like the subtle description of the red sofas. It gives me a bit of an idea of what the Pokemon Center looks like without interrupting the narrative.

I love the mental image of Mark interrupting Charmander by just. Picking him up. Little lizard. Miniscule. Illegally smol.

Huh, guess the hotel rooms aren't fireproof, and that flames on fire Pokemon can cause fires. Interesting! Though that'd definitely make it difficult to live with Pokemon like that.

And it seems like it takes a while for Pokemon to be healed at Centers, compared to the instant healing in the games.

Oh dear, so Gyarados has been suffering from starvation, too. That's not good.

Adorable little vee.

Huh, seems like Eevee doesn't know what a trainer is.

Awwww, I love the siblings line! So a trainer and their Pokemon are like found family! That's lovely!

I forget, what's so bad about this gym? Is it the one with the superclones?

ARTICUNO?!?!?!

So this random gym trainer just has the three Kantonian legendary birds, then. Huh.

And this one has Raikou????

And Charmander evolved.

Interesting chapter! I'll be honest, I had trouble focusing with the battle section, and my eyes mostly glazed over it, but the rest of the chapter was good!

As for the chapter commentary, I can definitely relate to overdoing game mechanics sometimes. Heck, I originally was going to include wonder tiles in my mystery dungeons exactly like they are in the games, with resetting stat changes.

Onto chapter 7!

Oooooh, is that May I see in the chapter art? I'm excited to learn what her deal is!

Oh dear. That's not gonna be a good first impression.

Oh, wait, this is the trainer from chapter 5! Been a while since I read that chapter, forgot about her.

Ooooh, pokeball necklaces are a cool idea! Makes me imagine potential ways for Coleane to wear her pokeballs.

Yep, she's May! I am very intrigued as to what led her from how she seems currently, to the wreck of a trainer I saw in Adventure Quest.

Ooooh, another location in Ouen! Neat!

Huh, so the absurd gender ratios are a thing in this universe.

OH! She was Charmeleon's old trainer!

I...probably should have guessed that from the chapter title, but still, that's really interesting!

Huh. I'm not sure how to feel about that interpretation of Pokemon evolution.

I wonder what the difference between TMs and HMs is in-universe.

Oh, I just realized, wasn't this fic started before the physical and special split was a thing? Is it not a thing in this fic?

I'll admit, I giggled a bit at the usage of "punk dude", it was a bit of whiplash.

Interesting how TMs work here! I like it!

I really, really doubt that Mark will ensure that Sandshrew never faints again.

I like that ending line! Sets up potential conflict for down the line!

A nice chapter, with a neat revelation about Charmeleon's past! Now I'm wondering what the backstories for Mark's other Pokemon are.

Onto the extra! And ooooh, it's centered about May! Wonder if this'll be about what happened with Charmander?

...ah. I am really not liking the usage of braindead here. Not from a story standpoint! Just...yeesh, May, way to care about your Pokemon. Though she did throw away Charmander, so...

And there's the COMPLETELY UNDESERVED (/lh) Cyndaquil hatred from her. I don't see why she hates it, it looks so adorable! It used to be in my top five favorite Pokemon when I was first getting into it in 2020.

Huh, that's an odd Pikachu...is it one of the clones I've been hearing about?

And evolution into a fire weasel! Sud's fic Quenched Torch really endeared me to Quilava.

And there's the trade offer. Oh boy.

So Charmander originally belonged to this firey-haired trainer who has what I believe is some sort of clone...is Charmander a clone of some sort, too?

A nice little extra! Sets up a lot of intrigue as to who this fiery-haired trainer is, and what Charmander was originally doing with them.

Thank you for writing this!
 

unrepentantAuthor

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  8. zeraora
Back again! Wanna return to a decent reading pace so I can actually finish your damn fic someday, eheh.

So, next Mark is up against Marge of Aquarium City. This chapter's early scenes feel very functional; Mark muses on his undersea encounter, gets sleep, checks on Sandslash, and challenges the gym, where he's told the rules of the match. Once again, I'm noticing that Mark has a tendency to reflect on his own lack of fortune, competence, or virtue, comparing himself unfavourably in personal character to the monarking, who is a sea serpent. In fact, his future self's self-admonishment for repeatedly using Gyarados' beam attack interrupts the battle prose! He really doesn't give himself a fair shake. But then, he often doesn't prepare for things, either, does he? He's still got no idea what to call the beam attack, he hasn't trained Dratini even a little, he hasn't asked around about Marge ahead of battling her. I think he'd probably have an easier time if he thought things through rather than sleepwalking face-first into the next thing – I feel like the 'terrible luck' he ascribes to himself is partly a result of base pessimism, and partly a result of putting himself repeatedly in positions where good luck is scarce!

The real meat of this chapter is the scene depicted in the art, though, isn't it? Wow, you guys. Get a grip. I have to say, it's easier to judge Charmeleon poorly for how this goes down, but I would blame Mark more than either 'mon. He really should have either made absolutely sure that they wouldn't be out together, or he should have taken the time to train them together and talk to them about this eventuality – either to ameliorate the situation, or to confirm that he can't have them out together. Jeez, lad! Of course, he's always barely keeping up with May, who will leave him behind if he dawdles, I guess? Conceptually, though, it's great stuff. Kinda grim, in a way, considering the level of risk involved in their bullshit. Not just hostility between teammates, but outright sabotage and frendly fire that loses Mark the match! He was doing relatively well, too, all things considered.

Moving onto chapter nineteen, I'm begging Mark to try to solve his problems and improve on the stuff he berates himself for. Take the time to learn what moves your team knows, man! Plus, despite his lamentations about his bad luck, he has multiple powerful team members who can brute force wins at gyms. In a way, that's bad luck for him if he wants to grow as a trainer, I suppose.

The big Thing of this chapter, though, is that damned poster. Very dramatic. Conceptually, it's deeply weird, but I do like that Mark is having his legendary-loving face rubbed in the Chaletwo murderousness thing. It's so wild, though – that Chaletwo would just delete human children in attendance of his appearances, that 'most' people would widely assume he had a good reason for it, that this would cast only doubt on his stated intention to harm no living being rather than completely debunk it, or that people would keep attending even when he's consistently murdering kids on a precise schedule. Jeez, it's been years of this without anyone maybe calling off the attendances? Interested to find out more about this, and whether it's good (not evil) to do this.

See you next time~
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat that writes stories.
Location
UK
Pronouns
they/she
Partners
  1. custom/purrloin-salem
  2. custom/sneasel-dusk
  3. custom/luz-companion
  4. custom/brisa-companion
  5. custom/meowth-laura
  6. custom/delphox-jesse
  7. mewtwo
  8. zeraora
Here's a mini blitz review for Chapter 20~

Oh boy, I have to say I did spend large parts of this one wincing at the sustained awkwardness of the Mark/Alan interaction. They're both hopeless in their own ways, aren't they? In particular, Alan gives the vibe that he really doesn't have any normal friendships and is basically permanently self conscious, and Mark utterly fails to register that maybe he should just be real with the poor lad and shut up about his Famous Dad.

As for the meat of their actual discussion: holy shit, Alan's certainty that Chaletwo isn't evil just gives me this awful feeling that the guy has an aura of mind control to keep everyone from despising him for murdering kids. I just can't get my head around the idea that Chaletwo is justified for any reason whatsoever, or that summary execution is the only option he can choose to 'protect himself', let alone the best. I'm under the impression that he does turn out to be essentially protagonistic in nature, but the vibes are atrocious right now. Consider me thoroughly suspicious!

Also, Molzapart real. What the fuck.

Hype to get stuck back in!
 
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