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Chapter 156 - First Generation

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 156 – First Generation

“Is it just me, or is this a terrible idea?” Phol murmured. “At what point did I get involved in the field again? I’m a doctor now, not a Heart.”

“Probably when we started losing Hearts to who knows where,” Spice said. “The world may have stopped ending, but the damage is done. Maybe once it calms down more, you can be irritated at patients again.”

Phol grumbled and didn’t reply directly.

Before them was a great temple, completely decayed from disrepair and abandonment. Stained glass windows once depicted the figures of Mew and Arceus and all their creations. The blank window that often separated the two was considered a symbol of their distance. But now, with the new revelations at hand, that third window was Necrozma, their mediator.

“According to the plan,” Leo said, looking at the sun’s position, “we wait until the apex of noon and then go in. That should time us for whatever the ‘spirit side’ team tries from within. This all seems very risky…”

“We’re just a distraction. Fight defensively,” Spice said.

“Mrgh. Right. How close is noon?”

Leo was watching his shadow creep along. “Pretty close,” he said. “We can probably head in already and the timing won’t be too off. It’s not like we were given exact kilos to count…”

“Does time even flow the same?” Phol asked as Angelo meekly approached and sketched something on his arm. Phol didn’t question it.

“I don’t know,” Leo said. “But we have to try at least a little bit.”

“They could have at least left one Guardian with us,” Phol mumbled, looking down the field. The scouts were circumnavigating the temple—and among them was Star—but the fact that nothing was exploding meant ADAM was just inside.

Angelo drew something on Leo next before approaching Spice.

“Okay, what are you doing?” Spice asked.

“A-ah! Um.” Angelo nervously poked his tail’s black paint. “I was just giving you some, ah, some good luck before you go in. A simple enchantment. Normally only Alcremie can learn it, er, but…”

“…Right. You know basically every known technique, don’t you?” Spice rolled her eyes. “Well, thanks, I guess. I’m sure it’ll help.”

“I hope so,” Angelo said, sketching out odd squares and hexagons next. Similar symbols appeared all around them in a two-layered barrier.

“Okay!” Angelo said. “We should be ready.”

“Hopefully, the Dungeon doesn’t dispel any of these once we enter,” Phol said. “Ah, there are the scouts.”

Star, a Hecto, and a Nate approached from around the corner. The canid Zygarde and strange wraith representative were quiet, but Star announced, “All clear! The guy must be inside. I think we’re good to go.”

“And my purpose specifically,” Phol said, “is to try to… shape my Protects into a gauntlet and then punch ADAM as hard as I can. And that will somehow work.”

“That will be part of what works. Maybe.” Star nodded. “Radiance seems to counter Shadows, so we do that from both sides. That’s what the other team will be doing with Anam’s Radiance.”

Part of Spice wondered if Anam knew how to fight anymore, with how meek he’d been lately. Hopefully, he’d rise to the occasion. “Alright,” she said. “Lead the way.”

The time for preparation was over. Hopefully, they could clean out whatever ADAM was doing and then try to track where Alexander had fled next. They approached the temple entrance. There was a soapy rainbow film where the door should have been. The Dungeon felt strong.

“One,” Leo said, “two… three!”

They dashed through.

And immediately put up Protect barriers to block incoming Hyper Beams from all sides.

The deafening blasts drowned out Spice’s curse. She couldn’t hear, but that was what nonverbal gestures were for. Phol tapped her shoulder and dashed ahead; the others followed suit while Hecto and Nate took the leads. They were, as they considered themselves, disposable—there were multiples of them, after all, or in the wraith’s case, he would just return to the main body. Spice wasn’t even sure if that was truly Nate, or a spirit acting as his extension.

This was supposed to be a small Dungeon, but it certainly felt a lot larger on the inside. It was just one large chamber with a smaller room in the back, but traps covered every square inch of the place.

But Spice noticed something peculiar about the way it was coming down. It was all regular. Each Hyper Beam exploded from a square, like a grid. It matched how they’d seen the apparent internal Dungeon’s format, but would that be useful?

Another volley came as they were only a fifth of the way across the room. Spice had no time to think about how useful the format of the Hyper Beams was.

“They aren’t firing again behind us,” Phol said. “They may need time to recharge.”

“This guy wasn’t as strong out in Kilo Village!” Leo said, looking winded.

“This is his domain. He’s a lot stronger inside.”

Spice brought up another Protect, as did Phol, and they both blocked the next volley to protect the team. Angelo conjured a much wider barrier to do the same but squealed as his knees buckled from the resonant pressure.

“Well, they could get to protecting us at any time, now!” Angelo cried as Phol picked him up under his arm.

They were going to make it if they could endure the barrage. The beams were fixed. If they took a moment to gather their breath where they’d already fired… perhaps they had a shot.

It was like a dance. A lethal, potentially soul-smashing dance.

“I’m gonna feel this in the morning,” Angelo wheezed.

But despite everything, Spice was proud that Angelo was here at all… even if they had to carry him along for it.

“They’re charged! Advance!” Phol called.

And so the dance began.

<><><>​

According to Star, the path ahead of them would lead to the Ethereal Forest’s exit into the Normal Realm.

Her directions hadn’t been necessary, as it turned out. Marshadow Manny crossed his arms and nodded to himself.

“Yep. Those’re Shadows, alright,” Manny said.

“Mhm… Um, just so you know, my Shadows aren’t super strong anymore,” Anam said. “So, um, I hope I can still help…”

The poor Goodra was still getting used to being weak. Marshadow made it a point to be more expressive around the fella. “Yer doin’ jus’ fine, Anam. Keep it up, eh? How about Radiance?”

“Oh! I’m better with that!” Anam said, the green patches along his neck lighting up to demonstrate.

“Perfect. We’ll need Radiance fer offense and Shadow fer defense.”

“Do you have either!”

“Hah!” Manny faced the dark path with his hands on his hips. “Nope!”

“Oh.” Anam’s horns drooped.

“Aaah, I spent half my lifetime in the Voidlands. I know a thing er two on avoidin’ it. We’ll be fine. It’s you guys I’m a li’l worried about.” His gaze trailed over to Willow, Jirachi, and another Jirachi wearing a blindfold.

Sure, they were powerful, but…

Well. It was a good thing he happened to visit when the rift was cut, since navigating a Cursed Dungeon didn’t seem like something in their résumé.

“Let’s go in,” Marshadow finally said. “Ain’t gonna dispel itself.”

“It might?” Jirachi on the left asked. “After all, we aren’t even sure if Alexander is still in there…”

“He ain’t.” Marshadow gestured to a trail of darkness that seemed obvious to him. Perhaps the others were not aware of how discrete the essences could be. “Seems like he left a while ago, prob’ly ter recoup in darker environments er somethin’. Hopefully, that’ll mean whatever’s inside ain’t so bad.”

This became a recovery mission rather than something more dangerous. Fighting Alexander directly could have resulted in apprehending and exorcizing him, sure, but were they prepared for that kind of damage?

Thankfully, that was for another day. “Ready ter head in?”

“Yes. We just need to find the Core and purify it, yes?” Jirachi asked.

Anam flexed his little arms and horns. Ripples of gold light coursed through his slime.

“Yep. Alright. No breaks. One… two…”

They dashed. The forest transitioned from beautiful blue hues with slightly glowing, dark tree trunks into white marble that was perfectly square. Hallways rose above and around them in that perfect grid pattern that those two digital Pokémon had described. But Marshadow wasn’t prepared for the actual environment that followed. His body felt strange in a way he couldn’t quite describe; his bag of supplies had gotten noticeably heavier, and he was tempted to look why.

But more worrying was how his vision had become blurry. He rubbed his eyes. And then noticed that his hands looked weird and blurry, too.

“What?!” Marshadow shouted. He couldn’t hear his voice. Something buzzed in his ears.

“What’s going on?!” Anam called. “Oh no! I can’t hear my voice! But I know I’m talking… I can hear myself talking!”

“You just said you couldn’t!” Jirachi shouted.

Everyone looked like they were made of little squares. They moved without motion, simply flashing from one pose to the next, Anam’s whole body jittering with fear.

“Is this what ADAM’s head looks like?” Marshadow asked. Whenever he spoke, the odd beeping and buzzing he heard was higher than Anam’s. And then he looked to his left.

He saw a rectangle with the words he’d said printed on them. Then, when Anam spoke, his words vanished, and Anam’s words appeared instead, though they seemed mirrored from Manny’s perspective.

“What’re you looking at, Manny?”

What indeed. In this strange grid, when he looked up and left, past the short wall, there was that big rectangle that captured their words. And behind that rectangle, he saw ADAM, supersized, staring at the words.

“THAT’S him?!” Jirachi shouted. The box his words appeared on shook as if he’d slammed a table.

“Ooh, that’s one for therapy,” Anam murmured, taking an uneasy step backward.

When ADAM spoke, his words appeared all around them in repeating patterns, nearly blinding them. “ABNORMALITY DETECTED INSIDE SECTOR 3-E.”

Marshadow swatted away at the words like bugs. This wasn’t going to work. They had to stop ADAM but he was currently high above them and beyond the Dungeon itself.

Core. Right, Core. They didn’t need to worry about the giant projection that was probably about to Hyper Beam them to death. They just had to worry about finding the Core before it was too late.

“Let’s go!” Marshadow called. He sprinted for the wall and tried to hide in it for some extra stealth, but instead of passing into it, he slammed hard and winced. “Ow,” he wheezed, the box containing his words shivering and crumpled.

“Are you okay?!” Anam asked, rushing to him.

Jirachi eyed Marshadow worriedly, and then tried to create a wave of Psychic energy. It only made a weak little ripple.

“Our powers are disabled here,” he said, “or weaker…”

The other Jirachi tried to conjure a flurry of stars instead, and those seemed to work—very effectively, too, leaving little cracks in the wall.

The Normal Dungeon. Did it somehow ‘Normalize’ them?

This suddenly got more complicated.

“REMOVING ABNORMALITIES.”

The whole floor lit up. Marshadow suddenly realized that if he was Normalized, then these strikes would certainly hurt him, too.

“RUN!” Marshadow commanded, and behind them, the ground erupted in Hyper Beam pillars.

<><><>​

Three Hectos had come in for backup during their navigation through the temple Dungeon, and two of them had been reduced to green vapor by ADAM’s attacks. They were reckless and weak, of course, but Spice could only help but think how that’d look if it hit any of them instead.

“Just a little more!” Angelo squeaked.

“Hey, Angelo! Any bright ideas on moving faster!?”

“Trick Room doesn’t work on Hyper Beams!” Angelo cried. “Wait! That’s it!”

He hastily sketched out gusts of wind and tossed them into the air. Everything seemed to move easier for the team, wind resistance eliminated and Tailwind pushing them onward. A Hyper Beam rained upon them from above, but then they got into one of the halls.

Here, the blasts didn’t reach them. At least, that was Spice’s thought. Why would this place allow ADAM to be so strong, anyway? Was the law of domains that powerful?

No, it wasn’t a question. It was plain in front of them. Without the distraction within ADAM’s realm, Spice wondered if they’d even get this far.

The back of the temple seemed to be a place that had once been for small offices and meeting rooms. The hallways were still abnormally large, though, as if they’d been built for Pokémon twice Anam’s size, and he was already a decently large Goodra.

“I see a light up ahead!” Phol announced.

“Hyper Beam light or end-of-the-Dungeon light?”

“Might be the same!” Angelo squeaked.

It was. Spice and Phol blocked the incoming beam with a dual Protect barrier. When the initial blast faded, they saw a jittering Porygon-Z in the middle of the back chamber. There were no exits except for the one they’d entered, which was typical for these strange Guardian Dungeons. The very center, the ‘core’ of the Dungeon, would be that Guardian.

“He’s recharging,” Phol said. “Attack!”

For a split second, Spice wasn’t sure if they wanted to attack and if that would have hurt ADAM badly or not. But then Phol did the honors of landing the first strike square in ADAM’s forehead, smashing his disconnected head into his hovering torso with a deep sound like two glass spheres knocking into each other.

ADAM’s head bobbled frictionlessly in the air. Spice aimed and bathed ADAM’s body in flames. Angelo conjured little droplets of poison that seeped into the artificial Pokémon’s smooth body. Hecto and Nate were in the back deflecting incoming Hyper Beams, for better or worse, but they were already down on most of their Substitutes, while Star was waiting for a clean shot.

“Something holding you back, dear?!” Spice cried to the Mew.

“I don’t want to overkill!” Star exclaimed.

Phol, who grabbed ADAM’s head and directed it down the hall as another Hyper Beam charged, roared, “Him or us!”

“Fine, fine, him!” Star conjured several little balls of explosive purple energy and lobbed them at ADAM. Phol grappled the Porygon-Z in place, largely unaffected by the bursts, before ADAM suddenly fizzled and went limp. The magnetism that kept his limbs and head in place weakened, and Phol quickly let go.

“…Did that do it?”

Star whimpered a curse. “Did I overdo it?”

Spice crept closer and brought her head close to his head. Star closed her eyes and checked his aura.

They came to the same conclusion: merely unconscious and recovering.

“Then… I guess we’re done for now,” Phol said. “Let’s charge up these Badges. We’ll warp him out of this place where he’ll be weaker again.”

“Right. Then it’s up to the others to clean things up on the inside,” Star said.

“That’s all? Hopefully, this’ll make it easier… He didn’t seem to be at his best against us, huh? He sorta just stared…”

“That’s exactly why we timed it this way,” Star explained. “He was distracted with whatever Marshadow’s team was doing.”

“Huh. Alright. Good job… Guess we’ll see if they’re back soon.”

But whatever was happening in there was probably not as bad as what they’d just gone through. Right?

<><><>​

Jirachi almost got eaten by a glitch.

That was the only way Marshadow could describe what he’d seen.

From across the hall, they’d seen some strange, warping projection of something made of black and white squares. There was no rhyme nor reason to what it was, only that it was hovering toward them rapidly, occasionally disappearing several feet backward before reappearing even more feet ahead.

It nearly descended upon Jirachi had it not been for quick thinking from Eon, who had pulled him away and ran around the corner.

Now they were fleeing from three more of the same things. Marshadow didn’t want to know what a single touch would do to them.

“I’m g-getting kinda tired,” Anam said, his feet slapping wetly on the ground with every labored stride.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get y’ an elixir maybe,” Marshadow said, digging through his bag.

This didn’t make sense. They’d navigated here through a Dungeon from Kilo, thanks to Star’s efforts, but how did that work? Dungeons really were a bridge between the living world and the spirit world, if that was the case, because Guardian realms were exclusively for spirits.

Was he dead? Alive? Or was it all just a blurry illusion?

Like the hundreds of elixirs that were in his bag.

“Wha—?!” Marshadow grabbed one randomly and tossed it to Anam, but then grabbed another few and realized why his bag felt so heavy. It was overstuffed with elixirs. He pulled out another, and another, and then overturned his bag as they ran, leaving a trail of full elixirs in their wake.

“Man, I hate this place!” Marshadow shouted. “Where’s the Core s’posed ter be?!”

“I think if we keep going across this grid, like reading a book, we’ll eventually find it!” Jirachi said, hovering as fast as he could before lunging at Marshadow’s shoulder.

“Oi!”

“I’m tired.”

“It ain’t that bad!”

“Sorry, I—propulsion with floating is a lot harder than you think in someone else’s Dungeon,” Jirachi said. “I never even figured out how to make my own…”

“Make yer—oh, yer Eon, not Jirachi. Wait, where’s Jirachi?”

Marshadow looked back and realized that Jirachi was already hitching a ride on Eon’s back the same way.

“Oh, come on!”

“Go right!”

They’d reached another end of the grid. Unlike all the other Dungeons they’d ever explored, this one was indeed so perfectly square that following it like a book was all they needed to do to explore every segment of it. Assuming the exit didn’t somehow warp around. With ADAM constantly looming over them like they were little pieces on a board game, Marshadow wondered if he was moving things around without them realizing.

“Two—things on either side!” Jirachi warned.

Two ‘things’ indeed. Black-and-white, static squares with no pattern approached them in a pincer formation, forcing them to speed ahead and retread old ground.

The chamber rumbled. “Whoa!” Marshadow nearly toppled over but caught his footing just in time. The glitches had stopped following them, stalling. Marshadow glanced at the message box near him, facing ADAM, who was briefly dazed.

“Hey! He’s stunned!” Jirachi said. “That must be the others!”

“…I got an idea!” Marshadow said, reaching toward the message box, but it suddenly disappeared. “Jirachi! Keep talkin’!”

“What? Why?”

Marshadow tried, and it disappeared again.

“O-okay,” Jirachi said. “Um, the entire type matchup chart as taught to us in school starts with the Normal type, which is neutral against all types except for Ghost, which it . . .”

Marshadow smirked, getting a firm grasp of the box that contained Jirachi’s words. With a firm tug, he pulled it out of the air and held it behind him.

Touching the glitches was probably a bad idea, but maybe using some of this Dungeon’s environment against it would be enough. Marshadow pulled back and swung the flat box forward, thwacking the glitch with an ear-splitting staticky noise, like a sizzling pan right up against his head.

But it worked.

“Ha haaa!” Marshadow sprinted ahead in time to see a trail of pixilated slime on the ground. “Found Anam! Don’t stop talking yet!”

Jirachi continued. He’d gotten to eight of the types so far before Marshadow saw Anam up ahead, motes of light swirling around him like he was charging a strike.

And just in front of him, floating in a chamber like all the others, was a void of darkness that siphoned away the colors of the other parts of the blocky chamber. Anam fired a Radiant Dragon Pulse at it. The gold light burned through the black orb, plumes of thick smoke drifting away and revealing a golden sphere beneath.

Some of Anam was darker, too. When Marshadow crept closer to get a better look, he realized that Anam’s left arm was gold, and his right arm was black. The smoke siphoned into the darker one, while the gold drove it out of the sphere.

“Wow, how ‘bout that,” Marshadow said.

“Why is he going over types? Did he make a mistake?” Anam asked.

“Oh, eh. You c’n stop that now,” Marshadow said.

Jirachi sighed, the text box shaking and leaving Marshadow’s grip. “That was weird.”

Marshadow patted Jirachi on the back and then did the same for Eon as he drifted up. “Alright, Anam. What’s it look like?”

“It’s not too bad,” Anam reported. “Alexander must have only passed through… He just left a little behind like a distraction.”

“Feh. So we wouldn’t try ter track’m,” Marshadow concluded. “Geh… yeah. He got us there. Went right ter savin’ ADAM an’ didn’ think ter follow the guy more. Then again…”

“Splitting up more would be a huge risk,” Jirachi concluded.

The sphere was cleaned in a matter of minutes. “Welp,” he said. “That’s one problem solved.”

Jirachi tilted his head. “Anam? Why are you… covered in burns?”

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Anam said like it was some mistake he’d made. “My bag was suddenly super full of Blast Seeds and I set one off. And that set another off, and another one, and, um…”

“Huh. Blasts fer you, eh?”

“Mhm. Just like that one incident Owen had a few decades ago,” Anam said.

“…Ain’t gonna question that, eh, well, we got a ton o’ Elixirs. Weird, huh?”

“Really weird. But I guess it’s fine now,” Anam said. “Should we go find Willow?”

“I thought she was with you,” Marshadow hummed.

Anam shook his head, glancing at the orb, and then back at Marshadow. “Umm… ADAM might be out cold. Let’s just—”

“There you are!” Willow said, but the message box that followed her was a horrifyingly garbled mess. “I was looking everywhere where where where where for you!”

Marshadow… assumed it was Willow. But she was a jumble of yellow and blue with no sense of… It made Marshadow sick. “Don’t touch us,” Marshadow said. “Let’s get you outta here befer that becomes permanent.”

“Permanent nent nent? This is great! You should join join join join—”

“Nope! Let’s go! Outta here!” Marshadow tossed his bag over Willow.

“Wait!” Jirachi shouted. “Don’t—”

Marshadow’s bag suddenly swelled.

“…Aw, f—”

His bag exploded with hundreds of little Joltik.

It was going to be a long day.

<><><>​

Thankfully, Willow was still one person, and the countless Joltik were more like Substitutes than anything. Unfortunately, Willow was stubborn, and now Kilo Village was infested with Joltik. The team eventually gave up on gathering them from the uncooperative Guardian and decided her copies would eventually wither away on their own.

Spice wandered over to Ludicolo Café. As it turned out, quite a few others had the same idea. Anam, a Charmander in a blindfold—presumably Eon—Angelo, Jerry, and a Nate were all there. Lots of awkwardness was in the room, but surprisingly, nobody else was there. Maybe Jerry scared the other customers off, or Anam intimidated them accidentally. Or maybe they knew not to bother them.

“Hey,” Spice greeted with a wave.

“Hey, Spice,” several replied.

“Heard your mission went well,” Jerry hummed, munching on a thick piece of meat in some stew he’d ordered.

“Could’ve gone better, but… sure.” Spice spotted a Joltik skittering around the corner. They were going to see a lot of that in the coming days.

“I’m already nice and healed!” Anam said. “The nurses and healers are super nice. None of my wounds settled!”

Spice unconsciously scratched at her chest. “Yeah,” she mumbled. “Anyway… what’s this? Coincidental get-together?”

“It’s a nice place,” Anam said. “And, um… I don’t have a lot of work to do at the Hearts anymore since some of the others do a lot of it now…”

He likely meant several of the former Elites, their halves, or even Anam’s mother.

Spice knew that the feeling of dread she’d always felt from Anam was because of Dark Matter inside of him, but she also wondered if being the son of Giratina had anything to do with it. And he was their priest for a time, too. Gods, what the world had come to…

“Why aren’t you leader again, anyway?” Jerry asked. “Thought you wanted to ‘unite the world’ or something that mantra always said.” He rolled his eyes, but his words weren’t as venomous as before. If anything, it seemed to only annoy him.

“Oh, um. I’m… I’m not that… good at it anymore.” Anam poked his fingers together. “I sort of… I mean, um, Diyem was the one who… told me when things were wrong or people were being bad or evil. I didn’t really know, so… I can’t tell anymore.”

“Hmph. And Diyem told you I wasn’t worthy because I came from that same darkness, I bet. Just told you who had darkness…” Jerry sighed. “Whatever. I’ll yell at him about it later, been meaning to get around to that…”

Anam looked like he wanted to defend, but shrank away.

“For what it’s worth,” Spice said, “if your goal was to make a good world… it was one, up until the whole Nevren thing. And then Dark Ma—er, Diyem going crazy afterward. You… had good intentions.”

The little blob that was Nate slid to Anam and comforted him by tapping its forehead on his thigh.

“I liked it,” Angelo replied quietly. “I could live a comfortable life just doing art. Before the world almost ended. That was bad. But the world before that was nice.”

“It’s my fault, in a way,” Eon said. “If I didn’t go crazy just… trying to get Owen back, or get that power from Barky and Star—I forgot it was Necrozma I was fighting—it’s all so… stupid. The whole fight was against someone already dead…”

“Yeah, I guess everyone was sort of an idiot for a while,” Jerry muttered.

Suddenly, Anam’s communicator beeped. He reflexively tried to dig into his thigh, but he was mostly solid still and had put things in his bag again. He tittered and pulled it out.

“Hello.”

“Oh, Diyem! Um, we’re in public right now, so…”

“That’s fine. This isn’t secret information. We’ve managed to reopen a rift using Hot Spot Dungeon, and it safely connects to South Null.

“That took forever,” Spice said. “What was the holdup?”

“For a while, getting into the Voidlands was difficult in general. Which was worrying, but the seal was not nearly as strong as before. With time we were able to get it undone.”

“Undone? Sealed? Why, how? It was just Alexander attacking, wasn’t it?”

“I’m not sure. This is why I’m heading in soon to investigate if the number of Dark Matter fragments inside has changed, or any other abnormalities. I can only tell that when I properly enter.”

“Alright, well, good luck with that. Everyone else hear that?”

“Yes, clearly,” Palkia reported.

“Does that mean the Titan hunting can resume, too?” Eon asked. “We almost tracked down a few Cores last time…”

“Likely, but be on high alert. Alexander is probably lurking somewhere in the realm. Anyway, I’m leaving soon. I just wanted to give the status update. Ending communications.”

The communicator went dim and Anam put it back.

There was a brief and comfortable silence as Spice went to order herself a Tamato-and-meat salad. By the time she returned, the conversation had shifted.

“So, you and Diyem,” Jerry asked Anam. “You guys still, like… close?”

“Yeah!” Anam said eagerly, lighting up. “We’re still roommates! He, um, I think he tried to help me get back into leadership, but I still dunno…”

“It’s weird that he puts so much effort into you,” Spice remarked. “…Not—as in, that you aren’t worth it. Just that he’d put that kind of effort into anyone. Isn’t he a ball of evil wrapped in Charmander skin?”

“He’s not evil,” Anam said quietly, glancing at his bowl. His food was a plate of various sliced fruits and berries. Mostly sweet fruits populated his plate, with only a few tart ones to break up the flavors. “He was suffering because he felt everyone’s… bad. He just wanted that to stop. But he couldn’t die unless everything else died. It wasn’t fair.”

Spice hummed, displeased. “I guess when you frame it that way, he didn’t have any options.”

“I wanted to find a way to help…”

“Yeah, we get it,” Jerry said. As crass as his words were, his tone was… softer, at least a little. “We’re sorta doing that now.”

“I definitely didn’t help,” Eon muttered. “…There are still mutants roaming around that I need to calm down. Maybe when Trina gets back, I can… get back to that with Jirachi and her.”

“I should get back to drawing,” Angelo said absently. “I haven’t sent out a new issue in a while.”

“I get the feeling most people won’t mind the wait,” Spice said.

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Angelo muttered.

“What’s the matter, can’t handle the fans?”

“They terrify me sometimes, really,” Angelo admitted with a titter. “So glad I go by a pen name. A-ah, please don’t reveal who I truly am, by the way…”

Spice shrugged. It didn’t seem that important to her anyway. Maybe to Owen, it would be.

Owen…

Spice sighed. “You guys know about… me, right?”

“The whole third-of-a-soul thing? Yeah,” Jerry said. “Sounds pretty rough. Especially when you’re sharing your soul with a feral and a dead plant.”

“That’s… I didn’t want to phrase it that way, Jerry, but… yes. It is rough.”

Jerry sighed. “What else am I supposed to say? Sorry your existence is gonna melt into one-third of a whole? Like, we’ve already seen the process with Dialga… I’m just glad I’m one person. I checked.”

“I’m still sorting it out,” Spice said. “Enet has Amelia in her already, so I think they’re… talking to each other. I don’t know how that’s going.”

“Where is Enet, anyway?” Jerry asked.

“Who knows? She’s invisible most of the time, feral Zoroark things, I guess. She could even be here right now.”

“Now?” Angelo asked, sitting up straighter.

“Yup. Maybe her predator instincts are kicking in, too, and she smells your fear… sneaking up right behind you, and—”

“Stop! Stop! There’s—she wouldn’t do that!” Angelo shivered. “R-right?”

“You seem like prey to me,” Jerry said.

“Zoroark are pranksters,” Anam added, frowning.

“You’re doomed, buddy.”

Nate hugged Angelo’s shins.

Angelo deflated. “Oh, why me…”

“Hello?”

“Hi, Diyem!” Anam said, bringing out the communicator again. “How’d it—”

“We have a problem. The number of Dark Matter fragments inside the Voidlands has gone up.”

“Well, of course it’d go up. Alexander came back. So—”

“By two.”

A pause. “What?” Spice asked. “Do you know how many are up on the surface?”

“We assumed three. Alexander is one piece, I am a second. Then there was Emily and two unidentified pieces we’ve yet to track down properly. I’m positive they are intentionally hidden from me, perhaps in something that would blot out their dark aura. But… now I can sense there are three here. Where is Emily?”

“Last Lugia report had her east near War’s End,” Jerry said. “Nothing special. She always goes there.”

“Hmmh… Something is wrong. Very wrong… I can’t contact Owen’s group, either.”

“Ah, I think I know why that is,”
said Palkia. “Their last contact was about entering an obsidian mountain. If that’s of Necrozma’s crystal, it may interfere with signals going inside. They tend to be quite energy-dense despite their appearance.”

“I still don’t like this. From one piece to three… No. We need to contact them immediately. Everyone in the Voidlands, be cautious of abnormalities. Is that clear?

“Something is making its move.”


Various affirmatives came in, and the connection went quiet once more. Anam and the others gave each other uneasy looks. After the brief respite… there was a lingering dread that something was coming all over again.
 

IFBench

Rescue Team Member
Location
Pokemon Paradise
Partners
  1. chikorita-saltriv
  2. bench-gen
  3. charmander
  4. snivy
  5. treecko
  6. tropius
  7. arctozolt
  8. wartortle
  9. zorua
Alright! Here for our review exchange! I'll be reviewing the prologue for now!

And here we go! With the memory that may not be a memory but is probably still really painful anyways.

I wonder what that creature is? Is it one of those Pokemon with a different type than normal?

Was this one of Owen's past deaths?

he wasn't sure what was real.

It's all real. I think? Or none of it is? ...actually, I agree with Owen, I'm not sure what's real here either.

I feel like Owen's parents know more than they're letting on.

And an eerie glow...I wonder what that is?

The mention of stew makes me Concerned, given what you've said in the Heartache thread.

Surprised to see Owen not wanting to be a farmer, from what I've heard about him previously elsewhere.

Though him also wanting to fight seems very Owen, too. Honestly, he strikes me as some sort of wrestler farmer.

Owen seems far too ok with being horrifically maimed, but he is also Owen, so it makes sense.

Wait. Is Owen smol here? Smaller than an average Charmander?

Oh boy, Owen's parents definitely know a lot more than they're telling Owen. I'm intrigued!

I do wonder what the Hearts are. Are they the rescue/exploration/adventure organization of Kilo?

Very neat prologue! Establishes a ton of mystery right out of the gate, and it's neat to see bits of what I already know about Owen here. The dissonance between the first section and the following sections also worked very well!

Thank you for writing this!
 
Chapter 157 - Rip Across Realms

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Thanks for the review, Bench! Glad you enjoyed the first bit of the story. Lots more to take in from there~

Next chapter coming up...

Chapter 157 – Rip Across Realms

It felt like Owen had slept for at least two whole days. Perhaps that was because his mind had split five ways. When the dream ended, he woke up five times.

Regardless, he felt stiff and big and heavy. And everyone else looked like they’d gone down to half their size.

He stretched and tried to wipe the grogginess out of his eyes. He stretched, yawned, popped a few segments of his spine, and then it finally hit him.

“Oh no.”

His voice was deep, and he gasped in surprise.

“Whoa!” Azelf shouted, alerting almost everyone else.

“Owen?” Zena asked, guarded and tense.

The room was still dark, lit by the red glow high above them through the spire’s vertical column, but most came from Owen’s flame. Thankfully his scales were still orange and cream, but he’d grown… again, and this time to his old Wishkeeper form.

“Necrozma!” Owen called. “This was the one thing I didn’t want back!”

“I thought you liked being big,” hummed another light source in the room. To Owen’s left, covered in a thick blanket, was Necrozma. He was so bright that the blanket only partially masked him.

“I do, but—when did you get better?”

“A few hours ago,” Necrozma said. “Once I’d siphoned enough energy stored in you, I was able to jump-start my energy reserves. The divine energy keeps me sustained without the need for external light… A terrible Shadow blast had taken that away from me for some time.”

“And the blanket…”

“Too bright,” Mispy explained, glaring at Necrozma, who lifted his wings from beneath the blanket in apology. Owen noticed that Mispy had also shoved their bag of supplies under two layers of dirt from outside. He wondered if the light crystals were also glowing brighter in reaction to Necrozma’s presence…

“Thankfully, this body only burns voluntarily,” he said. “You may have the blanket back, now.”

“No!” Demitri said. “I—I mean, um… maybe you can take that off… when we’re ready to wake up?”

Mhynt sighed. “I believe we’re as awake as we can, thanks to that scream. Azelf.” She rolled to a sitting position and rubbed her snout. “Honestly, you’ve seen Owen like this before.”

“W-well, yeah, an’ last time I kinda…”

Owen winced. “Good point… Necrozma, can I shrink down now?”

“I believe you have control over your form,” Necrozma said. “That must be your maximum size. A side-effect of too much contact with me. It may also be your default again…”

“Great…”

“You’re huge,” Demitri whispered.

“Is that bad?” Owen asked, nervous.

Zena was staring but then shook her head. “I think it’s… different,” she replied, “but as long as it doesn’t bother you…”

“I think I’ll stick to being… smaller for a while,” Owen said. His Perceive told him that Zena seemed to like it, though. He kept that in mind later.

“…Is it time?”

It was Valle, still in the corner of the room, the statue he always was.

“I have grown weary of… anticipating this. But I do not like how much you move.”

“How much I… move?” Necrozma asked. “I’m made of divine energy, crystal, and concentrated light. Two of my three components are in constant motion.”

“Stillness. Do you value stillness?”

“…Of the spirit, and those at rest,” Necrozma replied. “But the living must move.”

“Hmm. If that is your opinion. I’ll consider it.”

Necrozma nodded but then turned his head to the Team Alloy trio. “As for you,” he said. “Now that Owen is awake… I would like to purify you three, first and foremost.”

“Aw, is it that obvious?” Gahi asked.

“Darkness can hide well,” Necrozma said, “but… yes. Yours is obvious.”

“Feh. Alright, fine.”

Demitri and Mispy got out of their cuddle pile and stepped forward first. Gahi hovered behind them, eyeing Necrozma suspiciously.

“So, um,” Demitri said, nervously swinging his tail before slapping it on the ground. Owen sensed he didn’t want to hurt anyone with the axe at the end. “Does it hurt?”

“It might. I can start by purifying one of you and then doing the rest. As a… test. Everyone else may want to avert their eyes.”

“Oh, great. Is it some horrifying monster form you have?” Gahi asked. “We already saw Nate, I didn’ get too many nightmares from that.”

“No. It’s just very bright.”

“Oh.”

Owen probably shouldn’t have looked surprised. Thankfully, his Perceive couldn’t see brightness, so he’d be fine either way. “Well, who wants to go first? If it hurts a little, maybe Mispy can go first since she doesn’t feel pain.”

“She doesn’t?” Necrozma asked. “Isn’t that dangerous? Pain is an indicator of the body being harmed… No pain, and—”

“She out-heals basically anything,” Gahi explained. “No reason ter feel pain.”

“…Ah.” Necrozma dimmed. “So, you have been modified that heavily. Quite… interesting.”

Owen couldn’t Perceive Necrozma’s body very easily, but it was easy to tell there was a hint of judgment in his tone. He supposed it wouldn’t be too surprising that someone made of light would be a bit of a purist.

“Well, let’s not stall. Come, Mispy. I’ll purify you of Shadows first.”

Mispy slid forward and closed her eyes. Owen and most of the others did the same. From Owen’s perspective, he watched the crystal of Necrozma’s body hover over Mispy, and Mispy herself suddenly tensed and winced. Was she actually feeling pain?

“Wait,” Owen said. “What’s going on?”

“I apologize,” Necrozma said. “It seems the pain I inflict is… spiritual. A lack of pain receptors won’t help you there. But I’ll be gentle.”

“Careful…”

That meant this would be particularly painful for Mispy, who normally didn’t experience it. Her wincing was pronounced; she was almost going to cry, but she was holding back any vocalizations. Demitri’s muscles were tense, too, like he wanted to attack. Not Necrozma; just a fight or flight.

Owen realized as he focused on Gahi that if he opened his eyes and looked at him, he’d probably look like a huge crystal statue of a Flygon with his natural glimmer. Would he dare?

No. Bad idea. He’d blind himself.

“I’m… sorry,” Necrozma finally said, pulling back and covering himself in the veil.

“What’s wrong?” Owen finally opened his eyes. Dark like before, but he was positive he’d seen the outline of his scales through his eyelids.

“I do not have the necessary concentration of light to purify something this deep,” Necrozma explained. “This kind of corruption is… intense. But you brought my other half here. That will do when we reunite… Valle.”

“Mm,” Valle replied, somewhere between an indifferent sigh and a nervous huff.

“I understand if you’re nervous,” Necrozma said, “but I assure you, this will be fine. With my experience, reunification of a spirit in this way won’t be disastrous. I am an Overseer, after all.”

“Right… Overseer,” Zena said, shifting uncomfortably. “A god above gods? Older than the world itself?”

“Well, not a god,” Necrozma said. “…Er, not normally. I requested to borrow some of their power to perform my duties, yes, but I am not a god by default. I was beholden to this world’s rules all the same, but they allowed me to work with its machinations.

“The Hands of Creation, as they say, from the Thousand Arms of Arceus. When Kilo was created, half of that was given to Star. And when I came into the picture after Hecto returned with his scouting information, I requested a third total, to which they offered a third of each of their halves.”

Demitri was counting on his claws, looking confused. Mispy whispered the mathematics to him, arranging six rocks to demonstrate.

“Can you explain what an Overseer is? And why didn’t you explain it to us before?” Owen asked.

“The existence of Overseers is… something that is usually kept away from worlds such as this one, where new souls are created. It disturbs their societies when they learn about the vastness of the worlds upon worlds beyond their own. And, in many ways, it’s… not relevant. But…”

Necrozma sighed, though Owen realized it was simulated. There was no air or empty cavity in his chest for air to flow.

“This world is already in great need of direct interference, and the current gods have… fallen short. So, more direct assistance and cooperation with the higher mortals is necessary.”

“Higher mortals,” Mhynt hummed. “So, the demigods, or close to it, such as us.”

“Yes. And once we get to that stage, it’d be silly to expect word to not spread. I only ask you do not ‘make a big deal’ out of it.”

“Oh, sure, yeah, no big deal, just some… divine alien from outer space coming to help us out.”

“Far beyond outer space,” Necrozma commented.

“Ultra Space, then,” Mhynt concluded. “I’ve heard of that theoretical plane… from you. Lunala can travel into it.”

“Beyond even that, I’m afraid. You can travel through Ultra Space, physically. But the Overworld—where I am from—is a place devoid of space or matter. It is only the spirit that may travel through, with its memories and intents, to other realities that may grant it a body to inhabit. A body such as this one.” Necrozma gestured to himself.

“That’s not even your real body?” Demitri questioned.

“That’s kind of crazy, even for me,” Mesprit echoed. “And I’m standing next to another me…”

“Do not worry. The important part is, I came here and was granted a body and power by your gods… Star and Barky, I believe, are their informal names still. I am an expert in untangling cosmic struggles of worlds such as these, but this… Dark Matter is new to me. I had intended to return to the Overworld to gather research if other worlds had dealt with similar problems elsewhere. Unfortunately, I was caught up in the Dark War before I could escape. And now, well, it’s a bit too late… At this point, I may be the one providing the research.”

“So this is a new threat…” Owen’s wings drooped. “And… I caused it.”

“You did,” Necrozma said, “but you have also provided me ample information. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud yet. Yes, even if this world is doomed—which it may not be, just yet—we can save other worlds that suffer similar phenomena in the future. That is the purpose of the Overworld.”

The distance that Necrozma spoke about Kilo unnerved him. It was like he was already preparing to abandon the world the moment he had his power back…

“You’ll still help, right?” Owen asked.

“Yes, of course. I’ll honor what you wanted, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do it. First, Alexander, of course. When Valle and I reunite, I will fly to Alexander while he is still weak and eliminate him. I’ll absorb his spirit so he won’t cause trouble after that, just in case.”

“A-absorb his spirit?” Owen repeated. “You can do that?”

Necrozma gestured to Owen, then at Gahi. “You have been doing that all this time, haven’t you? That is based on my power. When I assisted in this world’s creation, I also became its nexus for spirits. When someone died, their spirits flowed into me, where they would remain dormant until the world’s end. After that, I would ferry them to the Overworld where they may find other lives to live.

“Kilo is… a temporary world, after all. It was not built to last more than a thousand years. That was its intended end… but your other creators were fallible and emotional. They grew attached, and I, under my new physical limitations, lost track of my mission to compassion. I allowed a slow death so the final souls could live out their lives. There’s something special about a soul’s very first life, they told me. And… true, true.” Necrozma sighed. “So long ago, for me…”

Zena shifted uncomfortably again, glancing at Valle. “Does this all make sense to you?” she asked.

“It is familiar,” Valle said. “But I am… hesitant to return to such a vast soul when I am so small, Necrozma. Will I remain at all?”

“Recency is important to a spirit,” Necrozma said. “You will. I doubt either of us will complain about the result. The spirit… tends to work itself out in these circumstances.”

To that, Demitri and Mesprit, Mispy and Uxie, and Azelf and Gahi all glanced at each other.

“Yes,” Necrozma said, “even you. For those fusing, it is rarely difficult. It’s typically those around them who are more affected by the change.”

Owen thought of Dialga and Rhys… That was certainly true. Dialga was completely unbothered, despite holding Rhys’ memories, for a time. Yet Gahi…

“Will I lose my friends?” Owen asked. He’d asked it without thinking, but he thought back to his dream with his five selves. Perhaps that was ‘Smallflame’ asking the simplest question. But he needed to know.

“Team Alloy, yes?” Necrozma asked. “Sorry. I happened to see glimpses of your memories while mending your spirit,” he said. “You were friends with the Trio of Mind as well as Team Alloy. I see no reason why you wouldn’t be friends with a combination of the two.”

Logical and simple. Amid all the vastness of what Necrozma was explaining, that was something the Charizard could grasp and hold in his mind. He breathed a little easier.

“Kilo should still last,” Zena said. “Will you help make Kilo a world meant to last more than a thousand years? Something sustainable?”

“It will require a heavy overhaul,” Necrozma said, bringing a wing to his crystal jaw. “A few hundred years, which is trivial, really, but still a lot of work. It can be done. Once Dark Matter is taken care of, that will be my next project, yes. It’s a promise.”

“A Div—”

“No, none of that,” Necrozma said with a wave of another of his four wings. “I don’t want to navigate Divine Promises amid reconstruction. And what happens to a divine being who breaks such a promise is still unknown; I’d rather not risk a Lockout… Then Kilo would surely be doomed.”

Well, it was worth asking. Owen leaned against the wall behind him again, which was uncomfortably hard even against his scales.

“Well!” Necrozma brightened enough that Owen had to squint. “I suppose that’s enough talking. Valle, are you prepared to merge?”

“Yes. I am ready.”

“Wonderful. This process should be very simple. Hold out your arm, and I will hold out mine. Focus your aura toward me, and I shall do the same toward you.”

“…There is a small complication.”

“…Ah. Of course. Well. I shall… place a wing on your head.”

“That will do.”

Team Alloy, the Trio of Mind, Mhynt, Zena, and Trina all stood away from the group while Owen decided to relax against the wall still to enjoy a few more moments of rest. He still felt mentally exhausted. Maybe he could catch another nap after this was over before they’d head back…

Then again, if Necrozma regained his full power, would he be able to use his powers to travel instantly? So much for getting some rest.

Necrozma and Valle were both glowing. Mhynt was watching with mild interest, head tilted and fingers tapping on her arm. Zena was cautious as always, and Trina murmured something to Gahi, who shrugged.

Valle and Necrozma both looked briefly transparent. Necrozma dissolved into light, even his crystals appearing to do this, while Valle dissolved next, little by little as the lights coalesced in the center. This seemed different than typical merges, perhaps due to Necrozma’s nature.

Mispy’s eyes widened in amazement.

“What’s wrong?” Demitri asked, and Mispy murmured to him. “What? Spirits?”

Zena closed her eyes and gasped. “Oh, goodness… She’s right. They were all within Necrozma, all this time? I can’t count them…”

Gahi scratched his chin and closed his eyes next. Owen followed.

If his ‘aura eyes’ could go blind, they would have. It was like he was staring at the entirety of the aura sea all at once, concentrated in a ball of light. Spirits in numbers that would dwarf all spirits of all Orbs combined flowed before them, every single one having been stored in Necrozma, the prism of death.

Owen remembered, now. Before there was the aura sea and that spirit world beyond, there was Necrozma to house all spirits. So, if Owen’s guess was right… within Necrozma were roughly a thousand years of Kilo’s spirits. Another thousand years was across the aura sea or still living.

They were all in stasis, though. Asleep for all those centuries, undisturbed and patiently waiting for ‘the world’s end,’ as Necrozma put it. At least they didn’t suffer. Owen wondered if the same could be said for the new afterlife Star and Barky had constructed for the spirits across the sea.

It was probably okay, too.

Mhynt narrowed her eyes as the motes of light continued to coalesce into a single entity. So far, this strange fusion process seemed to be going along fine, but… why did Mhynt seem tense?

“Something wrong?” Owen asked.

“I’m not sure. I feel as if something is… off,” she said. “It’s hard to get a close look at the light, though. I think the Shadows in me are making it too bright for me to see anything else.”

“Same,” Mispy said.

“Yeah, I ain’t looking at that.”

Owen could endure it a little easier than the others. He tried to take a closer look, straining past the motes of light and focusing more on the details otherwise. There was nothing important about the spirits at this point, at least nothing he could discern. He narrowed his eyes a little more, his mind’s eye, and noticed that sometimes, parts of the light seemed to disappear and reappear as they moved past something his aura sense couldn’t quite perceive. But he could see it through how the divine light seemed to curve around it…

What was that? It seemed to be coming from Valle, the very center of his aura. There was no way they would have seen it with everything else wrapped around it. Maybe that was the strange Overseer core that Valle had all this time. Did their spirits look different? No, Hecto’s didn’t seem that special…

The lights began to coalesce further. The whole form was nearly solid, but that odd gap in his senses remained. He’d been sensing light to not overwhelm himself, but…

No, that couldn’t…

In a split-second decision, Owen endured and tried to focus on other kinds of senses. Not Radiance, not aura broadly that would be overwhelmed, but Shadow.

He only got a glimpse before the Raciance shocked his senses, but he saw it enough that he gasped.

“Guys!” Owen sprang to his feet. Demitri yelped in surprise and crouched. Mispy and Mhynt glanced at each other and got on guard. “Necrozma! In Valle! There was—Shadows!”

“What? What does that mean?” Demitri asked.

Mhynt cursed, staring at the solidifying figure, now ominous despite its prior serenity. “The piece of Diyem we couldn’t find,” she said. “It was hiding behind the light!”

Everyone was too shocked to act, but Mhynt led the charge by conjuring a Leaf Blade and leaping toward the light. She raised it—and then a beam forced her to use it as a shield instead. It had more than just light behind it as concussive force slammed her into the wall. She cried in pain, but that cry transitioned into an enraged snarl as the beam continued.

Zena acted next, blasting the sphere of light with Hydro Pump. The beam split into eight segments, but the ball of light was corporeal enough to strike. Steam vented through the spire’s opening, rushing hot air forward and outside Voidlands air through the chamber. From the spire droned a long, low whistle like a call to war.

Mhynt was freed enough that she stepped into shadows, reappearing on the other side of the room to kneel. Behind her was the exit. “We need to go,” she said. “We aren’t in a state to fight him right now.”

Indeed, when Zena’s blast faded, the ball of light seemed almost entirely unaffected. “What?” she whispered. “I barely did a thing…!”

“Your powers are Radiant, Zena,” Mhynt said hastily. “You’re striking the very source. You can’t do anything to it with something feeble like that!”

“Oh yeah?” Gahi snarled, crouching. “Well, how about this? Demitri!”

“H-huh?!”

Gahi grabbed Demitri and pulled him over, and then dove into Mispy. The three fused in a matter of seconds, but by then, the sphere had almost completely coalesced, forming limbs and crystals once more.

“No way!” Migami challenged, simultaneously charging a Solar Beam on their neck-petals while ramming forward for one of Demitri’s punches.

That connected, and some of the crystal cracked. With a surprised gasp, Migami pulled back for a second strike, then hurled themselves forward.

The ball of light flashed brighter, and Owen shouted with his eyes closed. He fired at Necrozma and watched with his Perceive as his senses scrambled. He had no idea what he was looking at, like the matter he thought he was observing was suddenly twisting and turning. Mhynt was looking through the bag they’d brought and pulled out one of the light crystals, hopping toward the distortion before squeezing her fingers around it.

Owen couldn’t tell if the energy was reacting or not, but he could see the scales of his eyelids again. The burning feeling was different than normal flames; it stung his scales.

And then, suddenly, Mhynt was blasted backward and into Owen’s chest. Zena fired another Hydro Pump, but to Owen’s great confusion, the water abruptly disappeared the moment it got close to Necrozma. Where was it going?

Trina had no means to fight effectively in this environment. She was searching through the bag for supplies, but none of their typical items were working. Seeds vaporized before they got close to Necrozma; the powers stored within orbs were suppressed by the sheer power Necrozma gave off. And then, when Necrozma formed almost completely, the crystal beast turned his head toward Mhynt and Trina, and they vanished, too, as if pulled backward by some force. The two tiny Grass Pokémon didn’t even have time to react.

And just like that, in a matter of seconds, it was down to just Owen and Zena. The Milotic was already preparing another Hydro Pump, ineffectual as it was, but her eyes were closed the same way. It was certainly still too bright.

“Necrozma!” Owen shouted. He tried to move, but everything was sluggish and felt like jelly. Was it Necrozma’s divine presence, or sheer exhaustion? All he could do was shout, and even that was a strain. “What’s—going on?!”

“That isn’t Necrozma anymore,” Zena said. “Dark Matter… I saw it. He was waiting this whole time… and took over when he was most vulnerable! Did you see it, that darkness? We should have checked harder… How did we not even consider—even if Valle was of Necrozma, the Shadows were—”

“They are not dead,” Necrozma’s body said, a mixture of echoing Radiance and reverberating Shadows. “That is one mercy I will grant you.”

“Where did you put them?” Owen demanded. “Necrozma! You—have to fight this! Dark Matter, please! We’re trying to help!”

“I know you were trying to kill me. It’s too late. Words will do nothing. If only because I know you’ll be trouble if I kill you… I’m going to put you somewhere you won’t be a problem.”

Zena blasted again, but suddenly lurched forward by her own will, avoiding something Owen couldn’t Perceive.

He still saw the outline of his scales, so there was no use opening his eyes to risk it. Zena got closer to Owen as if to guard him.

“Goodbye, Owen.”

And then, with no flourish, Necrozma flicked the crystal part of his body—the only part Owen could see, this skeleton of a dragon—and the same force pulled Owen and Zena backward. Owen knew there was a wall behind them until there wasn’t. He tumbled through the open air and tried to scream, but realized that even screaming was producing no sound. Zena was curling a burned ribbon, wincing.

Finally, when his vision was dark again, he opened his eyes.

He wished he hadn’t. Ahead was a pinprick of light that seemed to share Necrozma’s colors. It had a tinge of darkness in it, too. But it was getting further away. Rapidly. All around him, blends of blues and oranges and purples and whites swirled around him. Occasionally, he saw odd rifts in the shape of squares that formed a tunnel.

He couldn’t move toward or away from them. Necrozma pushed him, even at this distance, to a certain trajectory, and it was toward one specific tunnel just ahead. “Zena!” Owen cried, but he couldn’t hear a sound. Zena could have been saying something—no. His Perceive. He just had to concentrate on his Perceive.

Zena… wasn’t saying anything. Simply bracing. Eyes darting around. Maybe she was looking for an escape. But since she wasn’t doing anything, she found none.

The calm was unnerving after the sudden rush. Owen wondered if the others had been put through this place, too. If they’d fallen into different spots. If they could come back from it. They were ‘safe’ but… what did that mean?

He should have fought harder. Would that have been enough? Should he have detected Valle’s corruption? Was that corruption, or… was Necrozma just biding his time until he was whole?

The tunnel claimed him and Zena, and the air shifted from empty to windy. They were going too fast.

If they hit the ground, would they be weak, like when he’d been claimed in the Voidlands? He couldn’t allow that.

Holding Zena close, Owen conjured the strongest Protect he could muster. The air was fresh and familiar in a way Owen did not know how to describe. He dared open his eyes, but could only see grass and trees rapidly coming closer. He spread his wings and held up his Protect, but it was too slow.

He struck the ground and wheezed, but it didn’t go black immediately. He’d fallen first, and Zena fell on top of him, breaking her fall.

“Ugh… What… what happened?” Zena said. “Owen, are you okay? Owen?”

Owen tried to speak and managed to get out one word. “Mostly…”

Zena wrapped her ribbons around his shoulders. “Can you look at me? Owen?”

Moving was hard. This lethargy felt like it was more than just physical pain. Was it fatigue from his mental exercises with Necrozma? He was fading fast. He just needed to get a little more sleep.

“Owen? Owen!” Zena called.

“I’ll stay awake,” Owen lied, eyes fluttering closed again. He loved the smell of the air. How strange, since it was nothing like the rocks of Hot Spot.

“Who are you?” Zena said suddenly, but that was the last thing Owen heard before the fatigue forced him under.

<><><>​

“Arms. Legs. Tail. I think everything’s still in one piece here,” Mhynt hummed, dusting herself off. “Trina?”

“Being small has its benefits,” the Snivy grunted, flicking her tail of dust and debris.

The ground was a blue-black color. It wasn’t quite rocks and gravel, so it must have been soil. Terrible soil for plants, though. She didn’t know what kind of mineral it was.

“Do you have an explanation?” Trina asked.

“For Necrozma? Yes. Dark Matter used the innate light of Valle to hide completely within him. Whatever this was, it was premeditated at least a thousand years ago when Necrozma was first sealed.” Mhynt shook her head. “I didn’t think that Dark Matter was the patient type, but maybe he had no choice…”

Their surroundings were closed off and would have been impossibly cramped for the larger members of the team. There was only one exit, and Mhynt didn’t like the idea of something coming in to trap them.

“Let’s get out and figure out where we are,” Mhynt said.

“Agreed.”

Mhynt took the lead, gesturing briefly for Trina to stay behind. Occasionally, the Snivy seemed confused. Mhynt remembered that a lot of her gestures only made sense in Cipher City’s protocol; a lot of it wasn’t going to translate… Hopefully, she could stick to more obvious gestures. And that someone whose arms barely worked could relate to Mhynt’s body language.

The winding cave was mercifully empty, and Mhynt didn’t see any signs of life in it, either. It seemed long abandoned.

But then, Mhynt sensed something nearby and held out her hand. Trina stopped and gave her an inquiring look.

She could sense the aura of… something. But the way it felt was unlike anything she’d sensed before. Was it even alive, or did it throw off her senses somehow?

Mhynt carefully peeked around the corner.

They resembled things that should have been in the depths of the ocean but were floating high in the air. Faceless, white things with tendrils and starlike shapes on their bulbous heads, like cloaks without a wearer.

Mhynt sank back into the cave and took a seat against the wall, pensive. Trina peeked next, then sat next to her.

“This,” Trina said, “isn’t Kilo anymore, is it?”

“I don’t think it’s the Voidlands, either,” Mhynt said. “This… could be bad.”

“Where do we go?” Trina asked.

Mhynt closed her eyes, trying to channel her inner power. If there was anything that could do this, it would be Lunala. But the Shadows had stunted her so badly… Would she have the power anymore?

“I don’t know,” Mhynt said. “But at least we aren’t being attacked. I can only hope… the same is true for the others.”

Trina didn’t like the answer based on her displeased hum. But she said, “I understand. Then… I’ll try to think of something next.”

“Don’t make too much noise,” Mhynt reminded. “They might hear us.”

Trina nodded.

They weren’t even allowed the luxury of shouting out their frustrations. No. All they could do now was sit and fester and, hopefully, find a way back.

<><><>​

Migami flew as fast as they could through the ruins of some old town, fleeing the sole living creature they had the misfortune of meeting. They’d never seen anything like it before. Some kind of monster in the middle of nowhere. Based on how ruined everything was, they could only guess it had to be the one responsible. Even with Mispy’s aura sense, Migami couldn’t sense any further life in the immediate area.

And as much as they wanted to fight it to see who was stronger, they did not want to risk losing themselves to battle when they were the only ones around. They had to keep a calm mind. Trina wasn’t there to direct their thoughts. Owen wasn’t there to command them. And their other halves weren’t even around to stabilize them in the worst case.

They had to avoid fighting at all costs.

It had a massive mouth and tendrils that ended in smaller mouths. It screamed an ear-splitting roar like a cry for the apocalypse. Their only saving grace was that it was incredibly slow, and Migami was incredibly fast.

The problem was they had no shelter. Everything had become some sort of flatland of ruin. It was even more barren than the Voidlands, in some ways, with brown sand covered in darker brown dust. The occasional building peeked out from this sand, looking half-eaten and hollow. If they went there, it would easily see them going.

Sand…

Wait! Sand! That was it!

Gahi didn’t have the technique prepared, but with some effort, perhaps they could channel it anyway. They flew for a while more, but then circled back and got closer, kicking up a storm around them. It was slow and shoddy, but eventually, they managed to get it flowing again.

Sand kicked up below them in a whirlwind of obscuring grains. Gahi’s lenses helped them see despite it, and more importantly, they pulled back to make sure the behemoth was caught in it, too. Get some sand in its big stupid mouth, too… Though it would probably enjoy it if those chewed-up buildings were anything to go by.

The air was as obscured as it was going to get. To leave no trace at all, Migami flew forward, letting their wings whistle and sing in the sand, and then Teleported at a right angle, out of the storm. That, they hoped, would be enough to buy some time to hide in a building. Then, they could meditate, calm down, and hope to figure out just where they were.

They just hoped there was a way back before they Voided completely.

<><><>​

Mesprit didn’t like surprises.

Ever since he was split from Demitri, Mesprit wondered how much of him was naturally a nervous wreck, and how much was just from his time in the Voidlands.

Life was just one stressful, emotional event after another sometimes. Somehow, his wish to escape from the Voidlands was answered with the most hectic few days of his afterlife. And new life? Was he alive again? Did that count? Was that cheating? He felt guilty for it. Uxie would tell him to stop worrying, and Azelf would say he was overthinking.

But now, he could tell that even they were agitated.

But hey! At least they were back in Kilo Village!

The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and everything seemed peaceful in the caldera. Maybe Necrozma was just having a hissy fit. It seemed like there weren’t any Shadows at all. Maybe they’d gone dormant, and Owen solved everything while they were out? That would be nice…

But Uxie already didn’t trust it. “Something is wrong,” she said. “None of the auras here match. It’s… different. This isn’t Kilo Village.”

“Aw, c’mon! We’re wandering around the same old buildings! How ain’t it?” Azelf asked. The oversized pixie did a flip in the air. “It’s great! Owen musta fixed it!”

“No,” Uxie said quietly. “The people here… are totally different! That’s what’s wrong!”

“You keep track o’ that?” Azelf said. “Kinda obsessive ter check stuff like that if y’ask me…”

“Well, let’s just ask around. That can’t hurt, ri—”

“You.”

“EEP!” Mesprit hid behind Azelf so fast it would’ve given Gahi competition.

It was a Granbull with a nasty scar that went from his right shoulder to his left thigh.

“H-hi!” Mesprit waved. “How… long have you been there?”

“A while,” he said, which Uxie had telepathically said at the same time. “I’m sorry to say,” he went on, “but you three are… dead.”

“Again?” Azelf complained.

Granbull quirked a brow. “…Yes, sure, again. This is Kilo Village by name. However, it’s across the aura sea. A replica based on everyone’s memories of the era. If you want to see past eras, you can go to—”

“Other side?!” Mesprit squeaked. “But how did we get there? We were in the Voidlands only a little bit ago!”

“Voidlands? Then you escaped that place? It really is open…”

“You know about it here?” Azelf asked.

“Yes. Only recently. It answered a lot of questions we had about why some of our loved ones were missing for so long…” Granbull shook his head. “Sorry. I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Jin. I was a Heart until…” He trailed off. “I don’t know how long it’s been in the living world, but I want to say a year or two. I’ve… sort of taken it upon myself to… stay honed, just in case. I had a feeling something was happening in Kilo, and… well. Maybe I was just being hopeful.”

“Well, you’re right in one way,” Azelf said. “It’s crazy over there! And we gotta get back! See—”

“There isn’t… any going back. Overseer Hecto makes very few exceptions for this sort of thing, and—”

“Yeah, yeah, we figure, but he’s gonna make an exception fer us,” Azelf said quickly.

Jin’s brow raised even more. “You know him.”

“Yes. We’ve known him for a while. Do you recognize us?”

“Should I?” Jin frowned. “Well… I’ve never seen a trio like you before, no.”

“Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf,” explained Mesprit.

“…Oh. You’re real.”

“…That’s it? No… surprised reaction?” Azelf asked, squinting. “C’mon, at least a little start!”

Jin rolled his eyes and turned around. “Come on. Let’s at least get you oriented, and maybe we can find Zygarde on the way there to sort out what ha—”

A sudden cry caught their attention. A shout of surprise? The way Jin was briefly stunned suggested this wasn’t a normal occurrence.

“What’s that?” Mesprit asked.

But eventually, Uxie pointed skyward, where a rip in the sky revealed the all-too-familiar purple wasteland they knew too well. And perpendicular to this rift was another, revealing a mirror of the city they stood in now. Kilo. Perhaps the real Kilo.

“…Is that good er bad?” Azelf asked.

“Bad,” Uxie said. “Very, very bad.”

Mesprit didn’t know for sure, but he had a feeling Uxie was following her gut. And he agreed.

Life and death were starting to break apart.
 
Chapter 158 - Unexpected Return

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 158 – Unexpected Return

The rhythmic beeping of life monitors was becoming uncomfortably familiar to Owen. He was a demigod, right? Why was he constantly being put in hospitals? Could they even help?

Well, the last one did, he supposed.

Groggily, he opened one eye to figure out his surroundings without alerting anyone. A white wall of well-made material. Certainly not a hut or some den, but the beeping would have given that much away. Still, it even looked more advanced than what he would see in Kilo Village. Even the Voidlands didn’t seem quite this… modern.

“He’s waking up,” hummed a voice.

“Charizard? Are you okay? Can you hear me?” called another.

“Mhm,” Owen groaned.

He just realized he couldn’t Perceive anything. He tried to stand up but binds restricted him. The fatigue in his body still weakened him—he couldn’t do a thing against these mundane bindings. None of his limbs responded.

“It’s okay, you’re okay. We need you still while we check on you, okay, Charizard? Is that okay?”

“My horns,” Owen said again, trying to calm down. “Please, can you put them back on?”

Three voices gasped—there were three? How many were in the room? He couldn’t move his head easily and his vision was blurry from all the strain.

“He really can talk,” whispered a new voice.

“Just like the Milotic…”

Talk?

Owen stopped. Why did that surprise—

“Is Zena—Milotic okay?”

“She is, and in much better condition than you. You don’t need to worry about her.”

He… could trust that. He felt that he could trust that. “Where am I?”

“You’re in Pallet Town, in a new Pokémon Center. We’re trying to make sure you’re okay. People said you fell from a hole in the sky, so…”

Pallet Town. Pallet Town. Pallet Town.

“We’ll… get your horns, but they sort of… fell off you. We weren’t sure what to do with them, but…”

“Kanto?” Owen suddenly asked.

“Yes, Kanto. So, about your horns, they can probably be reattached, but we’ve never seen this bone structure before. Are you from a faraway region? Your appearance is different from a normal Charizard, and . . .”

Owen didn’t pay attention. He was in Kanto again. He was…

Oh no.

<><><>​

Humans were so strange. They were tiny, and they radiated no strength, but they acted fearlessly. Maybe they couldn’t sense power the way Pokémon could. That was Zena’s conclusion.

Still, that they were so weak yet fearless was a little charming.

And smart! She couldn’t figure out half of what was going on in this place, and some of them were kind enough to explain a few of the gadgets.

The lead human—Zena had an easier time telling who he was because he usually held a clipboard—entered the waiting room lobby, which had seats that were not suited for a Milotic at all. “Zena?”

She nodded politely. Speaking seemed to startle them, so she kept that to a minimum for now.

“Owen is doing just fine. He’s waking up now, but he’s still very groggy. Would you like to be with him?”

Zena nodded again.

The doctor smiled. “You can talk, you know. It’s okay. It was just… surprising at first. We don’t normally run into Pokémon who can speak like humans so perfectly.”

“Is it that rare?” Zena asked.

“Well… you’re the first two I’ve ever met,” said the doctor, “though, I’ve heard rumors about a Meowth in this region who… Well, it’s just a rumor. Never saw the real deal before.”

“I see… Well, yes. I can talk.”

“Who taught you, if that’s an okay question to ask?”

“Er, my parents.”

“Who were also Milotic?”

“Ah, my father was a Gyarados, actually.”

“Oh, I see… And they could also speak our language?”

Zena nodded. “It’s quite normal. If you didn’t speak in that way, you were usually very young or feral, but they looked different, slightly.”

“You know, you do seem a little different,” commented another human. “Your ribbons are a lot more dexterous than Milotic usually are.”

“Oh, of course. That’s one difference.” Zena hummed. “Oh, I’ve… gotten distracted. I’m sorry. May I see Owen?”

“Of course. Right this way.”

They led her along, and Zena noticed the many looks she was given. But they weren’t the sort that stared at her for being pretty like in the Voidlands. This was more of a fascination. In some ways, she still found it a little bothersome, but they meant well.

A world where all Pokémon were feral. What a strange place. But given what she knew… that meant she had human ancestry, didn’t she? Human ancestry from long ago, her first-generation being humans who’d been turned into Pokémon.

She heard Owen talking but couldn’t quite make out the conversation. Once the door opened, Owen stopped talking and tried to stand again, but the strange bind kept him down.

“Why is he tied down like that?” Zena asked.

“Oh, er… right. Sorry, usually for Pokémon, if they get agitated, we… ah… you can talk. We can just speak about this. Don’t strain yourself, yes?”

Owen frowned a little and grunted in reply. With a few clicks, the bindings against him were loosened and Owen sat up, sighing. He gingerly stretched his wings, careful not to knock anything over.

“Please stay here a while longer,” said the lead human. “We are waiting for your test results.”

“Yeah, okay,” Owen agreed. The doctors all left.

It seemed there were two remaining in the room before some murmurs about different protocols followed between them. Zena heard one say, ‘Treat them like human patients.’ And they seemed unsure how to do that. Did this place specialize in Pokémon?

The two humans left after giving awkward nods to her.

The doors closed.

Owen was probably watching them with his Perceive, given his eyes were closed.

All the appliances here were small. Humans were small, so it made sense that all the tools would be specialized for their dainty hands. The lights were too bright, yet they didn’t have the same warmth as the sun. That was saddening. Zena wasn’t sure why.

“We’re in Kanto,” Owen finally said.

“Kanto?” She remembered that region. “It can’t be. Isn’t that a whole world away?”

“It is,” Owen said, voice trembling slightly. “Does that mean… I’ve… I can’t go back? How do we go back? Where’s Kilo? What happened to…”

“It’s okay,” Zena said, having no idea if it was true. But she could tell he was panicking. His voice was even, but his flame was getting hotter. “We’ll figure something out.”

Knock knock.

Zena turned and tilted her head. “Oh!”

Another human wearing a red cap was at the door with one of the doctors.

“Hello again,” Zena greeted.

“Who’s that?” Owen asked.

“He was the one who guided me here,” Zena said. “It was… a little worrying at first, but…” Now that she thought about it, why did she trust this human so easily? He’d found them in the forest and hadn’t said a word, yet she knew to follow him along. It was as if she knew precisely what he wanted to do, and only had to follow him while carrying Owen to find safety.

“Well, thanks,” Owen said to the red-capped human. “And… sorry if talking Pokémon is weird or anything like that. We’re not from around here… sort of different from the Pokémon around this region.”

The human exhaled through his nose and nodded, tilting his cap forward before leaving. He seemed satisfied to see that they were safe.

“He seemed nice,” Zena hummed. “Quiet, though…”

The doctor nodded and said, “He’s a strange one, but one of the best trainers out there, you know. He was visiting home after another one of his adventures. The way he is, he’ll probably head out again in a week.” The doctor sighed, wistful. “I remember when he was just a kid walking out of town with his very first Pokémon. That was… how long at this point? At least a decade by now…”

Decade. What did that mean to them at this point? Well, explaining that to the doctor probably wouldn’t amount to much. Zena was about to ask Owen something when she noticed the grave expression on the Charizard’s face.

“I… Kanto. This is Kanto, right? What town?”

“Hm? Pallet Town. Goodness, you must have had quite a trip to not even know where—he-hey!”

Owen had suddenly gotten out of his bed and made for the door.

“W-wait! We haven’t gotten your blood results yet!”

“I need to go,” Owen said.

“Owen, wait,” Zena said, “shouldn’t we—”

“I won’t be far. Send my results to the Starter Breeding Facility.”

“Oh? A-are you… from there?”

“It’s still around, right?”

The doctor nodded.

“Is… is there a Charizard named Amber there?”

“That’s the Charmander clan’s main elder. She’s—”

Owen was already gone. Zena could deduce what was so urgent and let him go but then looked back at the doctor. “Is him leaving okay?”

“Not… not really… but… what can you do?” He sighed. “We’ll send the lab work to them. If he’s from there, they might have a record for him. Could you take his Poké Ball with you?”

“Oh, of course.” Those strange capsules they’d put her and Owen in while transporting them. It was strange, and took a lot of convincing, but the strange human with the red cap said it was fine, and she believed him.

And, in the end, it was fine. Cozy, even. She still preferred the air, though. But it kept Owen’s body safe, and that was the important part.

“Could I have more of those?” Zena asked spontaneously as the doctor sent for a nurse to get the capsules.

“More? Do you have friends?”

“In case this one breaks. It… I don’t know. It was nice.”

“Hmmh, well… I’d say you could purchase them, but you don’t exactly have money to buy them at a store.”

“Money. Oh, we have money,” Zena said, promptly realizing that their money might be useless here. Awkwardly, she said, “Er… do you accept these?”

She pulled out her bag and offered some spare coins she’d forgotten to get rid of. The doctor inspected it with a furrowed brow and Zena noted the many wrinkles on his furless forehead, aside from his tiny eyebrows.

“That’s… Some of that is gold, isn’t it?”

“We just call it Poké.” She offered a coin to him.

The doctor inspected it, flipped it over, and felt the material. “What world do you come from where coins of precious metal are abundant like this? Not even as a currency, but the raw material here could be worth quite a lot.”

Zena shrugged her ribbons. “It’s just our currency.”

“I’ll want some of it to be appraised before anything official, but, you can have a few of our spares. We don’t have to use them very often anyway, and if it’s to help and protect Pokémon, I won’t refuse.”

“Thank you. Er, how about I come back after it’s appraised?”

“Oh, that will do fine.”

The nurse returned with two red-white capsules. Zena gently placed them in her bag.

The nurse laughed a little and said, “I never thought I’d meet a Pokémon who qualified as their own trainer. How would that work on the forms?”

“I just listed Zena here as Charizard’s trainer,” the doctor admitted with a grunt.

“We’re mates, actually,” Zena said.

“Oh!” The doctor seemed confused at first. “Oh, mates! As in, married?”

Zena tilted her head. “That’s a bit of an ancient term, but yes, it’s the same. I would be his… wife, right?”

“A-ancient?”

Zena wondered if she’d said too much. She started slithering backward. “Where I’m from, at least. Er—goodbye. I’ll return later.”

After getting lost in the medical facility a few times, Zena finally found her way out and asked a few startled humans where the Starter Breeding Facility was. They shakily pointed her in the right direction and she apologetically thanked them before going on her way.

<><><>​

It was the same as he remembered—just… a lot smaller.

No, he was larger.

The main room was lined with common but educational books about Pokémon. Deeper inside were front-facing labs that would often be shown to prospective trainers—usually younger kids eager to start their adventure with a partner Pokémon. They’d be given some assignment to see as many Pokémon as they could and to report their findings to the professor. Sometimes, they would report new findings. Most of the time… stories and rumors.

It all was starting to come back to him. The little ember within him, Smallflame, felt so much warmer.

Two thousand years. That’s how long it had been.

Yet Kilo flowed faster. It had only been a decade or so at most since then.

And…

“Owen!”

Zena rushed up to the Charizard, who had stood nearly dormant at the walkway into the lab. His Perceive was on now that his horns had been returned, but he’d somehow not noticed anything. He’d never been so lost in thought before.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m… yeah. Sorry. I was thinking. Just… I was in a rush and then it hit me that I’m here again.”

“Here. Here as in…”

Owen nodded. “My first home. Where I was born and raised before I went with… Eon, Tim at the time, for his journey.

“Right…”

“I wish he was here,” Owen admitted without thinking, looking ahead again. “I wonder if…”

If he could have rekindled something, he thought. But it was a fleeting one. Everything was far, far too different between them now. It wouldn’t have been healthy to regress so far.

Yet here he was, seeking someone from even earlier in his life. Because he had to.

“I should keep going,” Owen said.

“You should. They’re staring at you.”

“What?”

Finally, Owen looked at the humans with clipboards and lab coats staring at him from across the room. He heard a pen drop.

Oh, right. He was speaking their language.

“Hi.”

He awkwardly waved at them, folding his wings back.

One of the humans waved back. Something about her was familiar. He struggled to recall, almost but not quite chirping when he tried, and then he realized it—this was the kind lab assistant from long ago. She was so much older now. Wrinkles were starting to form, but not enough for her hair to gray.

“I’d like to see Amber,” Owen said. “The… the matriarch, or something?”

“Oh! Of… course. You must… be…”

She suddenly gasped.

“No way,” she said. “Smallflame?!”

Owen closed his eyes. A thousand little petty memories ran across his mind at once. Scents of the sterile lab and the lingering ash of the fields. Challenging grunts from the rival clans of Bulbasaur and Squirtle that the kids had made a little game over, despite the elders simply enjoying the balance they provided one another.

Gods, he was home again. Back where it all began. He wondered how they could tell; he didn’t look anything like his old self. Was it his demeanor? Had he changed so little? Or… were they expecting one last Charizard to return?

Finally, he opened his eyes. “Yeah,” he replied, switching to his native tongue so it didn’t throw anyone off. No need for those questions. “A lot’s changed.”

“We thought you died!”

I did.

“Well,” Owen said, “I got pulled away for a while and didn’t have a way to return. I’m back now on a visit.”

Hopefully… right?

“And the first thing I want to do is see Mom again. Is she…?”

“Yes, of course. You asked for your mother?” She nodded earnestly. “Hey, let him through, okay? It’s her last kid to come back.”

So he was right. Owen still gave the human a questioning look.

“Amber was adamant that you’d return one day like everyone else,” she said.

Zena blinked. “Return…?” She glanced awkwardly at Owen, who nodded back.

“I think she means to visit. To show her how far I’ve come. And Dad, he’d want to see how strong I’ve gotten, too. He’s older, though…”

“He is, but he also has some vitality left in him. Some of Amber’s old wounds were starting to show a little more in her old age, so she isn’t as mobile now, but… She’s alive. She’s waiting for you. Don’t let me hold you up.

“And, er… when you’re done… mind answering some questions?” She tittered nervously. “Not every day we have a talking Pokémon with us…”

Zena glanced at Owen, then at the human. “This seems… very personal. How about I answer these questions for now, and Owen, you go ahead.”

“I want you to meet her, later, though,” Owen said immediately.

“Of course.” Zena nudged him with her forehead. “But… I think this should be your moment.”

Owen felt conflicted. Yes, it was his moment… but he wasn’t sure if he had the strength to do it. What would he say? After that initial rush, the quiet of the flight to the lab, and all the new scents, took all the wind out of his wings. He was a lost child.

“She wants to see you,” Zena encouraged. “I’ll meet her.”

“Right.” That was enough of a push. If he didn’t know what to do, if things didn’t work out, Zena could be there as backup.

So, with another nervous breath, Owen let the lab assistant lead him to the fields.

He already knew the path.

<><><>​

So little had changed. He recognized some of the little mounds of dirt and ash, somewhat shifted but largely the same structure. It couldn’t have been that long.

There were a few other Charizard here. They were all a lot younger than he was. And the irony struck him like rocks—those were all his ‘older’ siblings. Back from their adventures. Their partnerships with their trainers must have ended, or they retired from their adventuring and decided to return home. Of Mom’s offspring… about a fourth of them had returned, if he had to guess.

He didn’t know all of them too well anymore, but he did remember Bigtail. And he was still a Charmeleon after all this time, having never gone to see a trainer, and therefore struggled to evolve on his own. But he looked happy and content, the way his muscles moved. Maybe not everyone had to gain wings.

They made eye contact. Bigtail’s expression brightened immediately and he sprinted over.

“You’re back!” Bigtail said. It was in the language of ferals, but he understood it perfectly, of course. In fact, at the moment, it felt more natural than how he spoke in Kilo. “What happened?”

“I had a long trip,” Smallflame replied. “I’m only here for a little while, and I brought a friend, but I wanted to see Mom and Dad.”

Bigtail gestured to the other side of the field. “I’ll take you.”

The same large field. It was a lot larger in the past, but now, it seemed cozy to his new size. If he supersized himself again, maybe it would be too cramped. But they wouldn’t need to know that side of him.

They went further than usual. Did Mom and Dad not want to be close to the lab anymore? The humans were always kind to them, so he couldn’t imagine why unless it was some other desire to keep a distance. How old had she become?

Then, his Perceive picked them up. His breath hitched. His father, Marowak Daichi, was well enough. Aged, but still strong. Firm. He probably had a good few years left in him, maybe even a decade if he kept his health up. But his mother…

He could feel her struggling heart. Her labored breaths. Every detail of a truly elderly Pokémon barely hanging on was so vividly known to Owen that he wanted to tear out his horns just to blind himself from it.

But he had to march. No backing down now. He continued walking down the path and finally could see, with his eyes, the state she was in.

Discolored scales. Long, loose skin. She was a lot thinner, but not skeletal. Her eyes were closed, and her tail flame was incredibly dim. But there was a spark that came with every breath.

A once mighty warrior had long passed her prime. Smallflame should have found a way to visit sooner. If he knew it was possible, if he could’ve remembered, could he have seen her again? Sooner? Gave her closure? Would she even know? Could he call out to her, or would that be worse?

“Mom?” Smallflame said anyway.

The flame grew the tiniest amount.

Bigtail said, “You need to speak louder. And closer.”

Daichi stood from his seat and wobbled over. Their eyes met, and Smallflame found himself straightening his back in response. Daichi did the same. They stared at one another, and then Daichi smiled, nodding. Using his bone club, he walked a little closer and gestured with a free hand to the elderly Charizard.

Smallflame crept closer, afraid that he’d startle her. Amber’s eyes flitted open but then squinted. Could she see? Her pupils were cloudy.

“M—”

“I knew,” Amber whispered, “you would come back.”

Daichi finally made it to them and collapsed oddly gracefully next to Amber, who growled comfortingly.

Smallflame fell to all fours and crept a little closer. Amber sniffed the air and let out a long, satisfied sigh.

“You have been through a lot,” she observed. “Your scent… is of so many places. It’s changed so much.”

“How do you know it’s me?” Smallflame asked.

Amber chuckled weakly, lugging her tail closer until their flames touched. Smallflame’s completely overtook hers. “I’m not gone yet,” she said. “I know. The last one. You are Smallflame. I know.”

He didn’t need to question it. He moved closer for a hug, ever so careful not to hurt her. His cheek rested against her neck, and she did the same. Her delicate arms wrapped over his shoulder, but that proved too strenuous, and she eventually let go with a grunt.

“Mom—”

“I am fine,” Amber assured, then laughed once. “As fine as I can. I am… satisfied. I knew… all my children would return. Each one. What more… could I ask?”

Smallflame clenched his jaw, but he understood. She was waiting for him all this time. For her, perhaps it had only been a few years over. But for Smallflame… he had whole lifetimes away from her.

And now he was back.

How could he possibly express that to her? Was there even a point to it? Would she understand? Should she understand?

“I missed you.”

But the answer was so much easier to give. He followed his heart. That was all he had to say.

Amber leaned against him, then Daichi. She let out one last sigh.

“I’m sorry I have so little time left,” Amber admitted.

Smallflame squeezed his eyes shut again, but his Perceive told him the truth. Amber had held on for the sole purpose of seeing him again. Her goal had been achieved. That final goal in her life, at the very end. Her resolve to remain… was fading.

“I’m sure,” Amber said, “you have a lot to talk about. I’ll try to listen… if you want to.”

Smallflame hesitated. She wanted to know. But… how much would she understand? It was absurd. He’d been gone for two thousand years. Sure, most of it was a repeat, or things he couldn’t remember too easily, but… that sort of time scale would be incomprehensible to her.

But she was his mother. He had to answer.

“I’ll try,” he said.

Quietly, he explained what he could, and while Amber seemed to drift off with a smile now and then, Daichi listened intently and with his usual, hardened gaze. The more he spoke, the more other Charizard gathered to listen, curious about his story.

He talked about Tim and their journey through Kanto, and how it came to its abrupt end. Then, he talked about his time helping him as a Ranger in another region entirely, far, far away from here. With hesitance, he explained their final mission and quietly obfuscated the details afterward so he didn’t need to get into all the talk of gods and worlds and resets.

It wasn’t easy, and Amber, despite her age, seemed to recognize that Smallflame was leaving out details. His tail dimmed at the interrogating look she gave him and the way she seemed to pay more attention.

“Wait,” interrupted one of the larger Charizard— Smallflame recognized her voice as Sharpeye. He wondered if she kept the name.

“What?” Smallflame asked.

“So does that mean you’re super strong?”

“I… am, I think,” Smallflame said passively.

He felt weaker here. Maybe it was fatigue from Necrozma. Maybe it was for being in a different world. But his techniques were all there, and he certainly had some strength back.

“Prove it!” Sharpeye said, tail thumping on the ground. “My human and I got to the eighth gym before we had to stop. I’m super strong thanks to her!”

Smallflame suppressed a smile when he asked, “Are you sure you want to fight me? I’m… sort of a lot stronger than someone who’d go through those gyms now.”

“That’s why I want you to prove it,” Sharpeye claimed.

“Go on,” Amber whispered. “My eyes aren’t as good… but I can still feel your battle. Let me see.”

He couldn’t deny that.

“Alright,” Smallflame agreed. “But don’t go overboard, okay?”

“What does that mean?”

“Er… don’t fight too hard. It’s just sparring.”

They cleared the field of onlookers. There seemed to be another neighboring clan nearby of another family of Charmander-line Pokémon also spectating the fights, and Smallflame smiled at them. They would probably be the next generation; he wondered if any of them paired off with Charizard of his family.

“I’m ready!” Sharpeye called.

“So am I,” Smallflame said, spreading his wings to look a little larger. He knew he could literally grow now thanks to his awakened Radiance, but that would… lead to more awe and questions than a good fight.

Daichi stood up and tapped his bone club on the ground. “Ready,” he said. “Fight!”

Sharpeye was fast. With a kick of her legs and a flap of her wings, she disregarded the ground unceremoniously and spiraled toward Smallflame. She fought up close. He already saw countless openings in her reckless fighting style, but the problem was he had to take a hit for that to happen.

He brought a palm forward and blocked her strike with a Protect shield. When she bounced back, Smallflame kicked up dust with his wings and countered with a gout of fire through the debris. He made sure it was weak.

Sharpeye yelped in pain and crouched down to recover. Smallflame could have pressed on from there, but this was just sparring, and this was one of his siblings. Even though her throat was exposed and he knew precisely where to cut, that wasn’t a sparring match.

Sparring, sparring. Remember, it’s sparring.

Fighting in a crowd was a bad idea. He was still on edge from Necrozma. Or, was he always on edge?

Sharpeye didn’t just attack up close. She blasted Smallflame with fire next. The beam was solid and hot enough that Smallflame had to step back, but even when he did, the beam’s aim was true. Her namesake held.

But Smallflame had no trouble blocking it, and then, using this as a time to practice his advanced techniques, he reached toward the energy through the shield. His fingers extended invisibly with his aura, grasping at the incoming flames. In less than a second, they coalesced into a ball at the edge of his barrier, now at his command. He curved the flames back toward Sharpeye, who yelped and stumbled back again.

“What?!” she cried.

He had a good feel for the blast, now. When she tried again, Smallflame didn’t even need his shield. He reached toward the incoming flames and flicked his wrist, curving them toward her again. All of her siblings watched with awe.

“You took my fire!” Sharpeye shouted it like it was an accusation.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. It’s one of my techniques.”

“Can you do that with anything?” asked Bigtail. The Charmeleon crept forward and inspected Smallflame’s hand.

“Kind of,” Smallflame replied.

Sharpeye snorted. “Well, I can’t beat someone who blocks everything I do… and then throws it back at me.” She seemed irritated at first but then grinned. “But you became so strong!”

“Yeah…” Smallflame rubbed at his neck. They didn’t know half of it. If he was weak, or if he’d stayed weak…

No. Enough wondering. Once Zena got back, and he introduced her to his family, they could get back to business and figure things out.

“But I bet you can’t beat ALL of us!” Bigtail declared.

Smallflame blinked.

“What?”

But Bigtail was already rallying the other siblings. Amber smirked and settled her head against Daichi’s side. It didn’t look like she was going to interfere as the swarm of flames closed in on her final arrival.

<><><>​

Peace was a luxury and Angelo was a starving artist.

Well, not really. He was paid very well for his comics after all the success he’d gained.

But he called himself one anyway in terms of how much relaxation he could earn. The night before, upon rescuing ADAM, he felt accomplished. He did a mission! He felt great! Successful! Maybe his father was watching from the aura sea or whatever Star called it and was proud of him for finally doing some Heart mission! That meant he could retire after saving a demigod, right?

No. Because now he was frantically running down the main roads of Kilo Village with his personal Nate blobbing behind him, staring skyward at yet another rift that had formed.

But this time, it wasn’t the Voidlands—that was good, he hoped—but instead, he was staring at Kilo Village again. Like there was another mountain, upside-down, staring at the sky.

“Oof!” He bumped into something and realized it was slimy, to great horror. He screamed and tried to pull away, only to be staring at a concerned Goodra moments later.

“Are you okay?” Anam asked.

“H-Heart of Hearts!” Angelo scrambled to his feet, wincing at the matted fur the Goodra’s slime had left behind. “I, er… yes. But—the sky, it’s—”

Anam nodded. “We gotta go! Something bad’s happening!”

“Go? M-me?”

Anam nodded. “For protection and planning! It’s okay, no fighting!”

That was a relief… though, he felt a pang of guilt that he was known for that most of all.

They both rushed down the road and to Heart HQ, where they happened upon Star looking around frantically.

“Anam!” she called, wincing a little when they rushed close.

Anam skidded to a stop, his slime carrying him forward a few extra feet.

She shrank away but then steeled herself with a breath. “Where’s Barky?”

“Huh? I thought he was with you at Destiny Tower!” Anam nibbled on his grabbers. “Where is he?”

“Ugh! He’s probably chatting with Ghrelle or Aramé or something.” Star rubbed her eyes. “Okay. That’s fine. But look, we’ve got a big problem.”

“Oh, you don’t say?” Angelo said with a shaky voice, pointing skyward.

Something orange caught his eye and he turned his head, seeing a young Charmander with a black and white flame running past him with curiosity in her eyes. She was chasing a tiny Joltik. And, far down the street, a blue Gardevoir was chasing the Charmander.

“It’s Aether Forest,” Star said. “There’s a rift in there, too! That place is supposed to be safe now!”

“And what’s that rift? It looks like Kilo Village!” Angelo pointed up.

Spice and Jerry were running and flying over next, catching the end of the conversation.

“Don’t tell me there are parallel dimensions like those sci-fi comics,” Spice said.

“That’s not a parallel world,” Star said. “That’s across the aura sea! That’s… the afterlife!”

“What?! Then why does—what’s that mean for here?”

Star opened her mouth to answer, but then the sky erupted with golden light like another sun rose from the earth. It came from Hot Spot.

And that golden light was tainted by tendrils of darkness, creating some kind of dark sun in the middle of the rift. Angelo staggered back, blinded yet unable to look away.

“What is… THAT?” he cried.

The whole world became darker. Light was being siphoned away from Kilo and toward that rift, where a single new sun was formed above the portal.

And then it went flying toward them, everything getting hotter and hotter. Angelo could only hear screams. He curled up and squeezed his eyes shut, his life rushing through his mind.

After all of his struggles, was this how it was going to end?

Hotter and hotter. He could barely feel anything else. And then…

He waited.

His breath halted.

He dared to open one eye.

The great shadow of the leviathan, Nate, loomed over the town. The palm-like head was curled around the sphere, crushing it into a dissipating cloud of reddish energy.

“Wh-what…” Angelo gulped.

The leviathan left Kilo Village and flew toward the rift, as a dragon made of gold-black light emerged from the void.
 
Chapter 159 - Unwelcome Connections

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 159 – Unwelcome Connections

They weren’t about to deal with some unknown number of strange, floating robes that, according to Mhynt, could take over their minds and parasitize their bodies. Instead, they retreated deeper into the caves as Mhynt pooled odd clouds of darkness in her palms, spreading them on the ground. It looked like she was drawing two large wings in the soil.

“Is this supposed to help you conjure your powers?” Trina asked. “Can’t you bring it about on command?”

“For short bursts,” Mhynt said. “This would be some of my strongest abilities. I need time to prepare. Gather my strength.” The Treecko glanced at Trina. “Unless you’d like to risk tumbling aimlessly through Ultra Space again?”

Trina stiffened and stepped back. “Take the time you need.”

Mhynt smirked and continued outlining her shadow. Occasionally, Trina watched outside the cave to make sure nothing would sneak up on them, and thankfully, they had evaded detection for the time being.

“Where will we be going?” Trina asked.

“With luck, back home by retracing our steps. We weren’t tumbling for too long, and thankfully Ultra Space is still, to an extent, space. Therefore, distance matters.”

Trina couldn’t imagine something where distance didn’t matter, but she decided not to question it.

“By the way,” Mhynt said, “why aren’t you changing to Serperior?”

“Hm?”

“You seem like the sort of person who would want to look as dignified as possible. Not to offend… Only an impression I had.”

She was a little offended. Trina straightened her back. “Well,” she said, “as much as I would prefer a larger size, I also did not have the time to go to Xerneas while he prioritized others. Triage. I must re-evolve the normal way until he has time.”

“But you’re Radiant—ah, Mystic, hm? The power may not be the same, but it lets you toy with your body as another plaything of the world. You can easily do the same.”

“I… do not have the power to do so,” Trina said.

Mhynt paused her drawing to look back. “Even Owen, who gave up all of his spirits to Enet, can still shift his form if he must.”

“I do not house spirits within me in the same way. They maintained the Dungeon I resided in and, after the Voidlands, were… lost when I evaporated upon leaving. I do not know where they went afterward.”

“Hmm… They should have gravitated back to you,” Mhynt said.

They couldn’t have been… erased, right? Hecto and the others said that wasn’t possible. If so, where had they gone?

“Well,” Mhynt said, “I hope we can find them when this mess is sorted out. Regardless, where did your power go?”

“I gave it to the mutants under my control before,” Trina said. She saw the surprise and concern in Mhynt’s otherwise stoic expression. “It wasn’t to make them dangerous. It was to help them stay in control while I was gone.”

“Ahhh. I see.” Mhynt nodded. “That’s very selfless of you.” She returned to her nearly-complete drawing. “And reckless, of course, by sending yourself into the Voidlands straightaway. At least you maintained enough power to hypnotize Team Alloy in case something went wrong.”

“That was the hope,” Trina said, feeling a pang of guilt. “…I don’t like the power, you know. But it’s necessary. I suppose I grew… used to it.”

“You don’t have to justify anything to me,” Mhynt replied dismissively. “I know all about how power can make you lose perspective. So often, Legends are, despite once being mortal themselves, just as naïve as any other in the world.

“Mm. That’s true.”

Mhynt finished the first crescent of Lunala’s head. “Being able to hold your authority while sacrificing so much… It’s admirable if it pays off. But for others who can see the benefits and disregard the risks…” Mhynt chuckled.

“What?” Trina pressed. “I’m not careless. I’m—”

“No, no.” Mhynt held up a free hand while tracing the final crescent out. “I wasn’t saying it was bad. It could have gone badly, but it didn’t. A lot of plans are like that. I was only thinking about… how similar it is to the one you’ve been hanging around with more.”

“Hanging around with—you mean Gahi.” Trina rolled her eyes. “I don’t see your point.”

Mhynt smiled wryly and completed the drawing. “Alright,” she said, stepping back so her feet were at the bottom tips of the shadow’s wings. “Time to get this working. Trina, could you provide some power as a catalyst for this? My Radiance is not as strong as yours, so I’ll need a boost.”

“Is Radiance what’s needed to awaken it?”

“Of course. Lunala are inherently like that when divine. It’ll help… reawaken me.”

“Well.” Trina sighed and brought her little arms forward. Warmth and light flowed from her shoulders into her fingertips. “I’ll do what I can.”

The Snivy then channeled that power toward the Treecko, and that light went from her shoulders into the ground, flowing into the shadow of Lunala. Light first flowed around it like an outline before bleeding inward, pooling mostly in the eyes and along the crescent of its wings. Trina was certain that it twitched.

At the same time, darkness pooled around Mhynt’s feet, submerging her to her ankles.

“Good work. That will do,” Mhynt said, smiling enough that Trina could barely notice, and then fell as if through a trapdoor.

“Ah!” Trina stepped forward to grab her, but a column of darkness made her recoil on reflex.

The shadow lifted itself from the ground and gained some colors. Cosmic blues and purples accented themselves with bright gold. Glowing eyes stared down at Trina.

“Good work,” Lunala said. A psychic force wrapped around Trina; she flailed for a split-second, but then kept herself dignified and accepted it.

“How long will this last?” Trina asked, trying to distract from her brief panic.

“A few minutes.”

Trina stared, brow furrowed.

“…Less than half a kilo,” Lunala translated.

“That’s not much time. Hurry.” Trina nodded.

Lunala’s gaze shifted to something behind Trina. There, at the cave entrance, three of those odd faceless creatures were approaching…

“Nihilego,” Lunala hummed. “We shouldn’t have to deal with these.”

“We’re a bit cornered,” Trina said. “Why are they coming now?”

“Curiosity with my energy. Let’s not take any risks.” Lunala flew toward the far wall. A rift formed, circular like a tunnel, and they fell inside. Trina held on tight, squeezing her eyes shut, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly bright this time.

All around them were those cosmic swirls from earlier that Trina couldn’t fully understand. Space? Some strange place between? The passive energy in the area tickled her scales. She wondered if it was dangerous to mortals.

“I want you to focus on anything reaching out to you,” Lunala said. “I will focus on flying. Direct me to what your spirit is drawn toward. With luck… you will know.”

“Is this something I would know through instinct?” Trina asked, realizing that she couldn’t hear her voice. The air felt so thin here. Was there even air?

Lunala didn’t reply. Trina followed her ‘spiritual instincts,’ whatever that meant. She looked at the wormholes in the strange rift, each a tunnel to some other realm she wasn’t aware of. Something that would draw her… there was no way something like that was mundane. Perhaps it was a Mystic attribute, then, that could cross realms. And if that was the case…

“There,” Trina said, pointing at a tunnel that, from her perspective, was only a few seconds of flying away. Lunala obeyed.

“Brace yourself,” Lunala warned. Trina pressed herself against Lunala’s back and wrapped her vines around any spot she could find purchase.

It felt like everything compressed around her. A tight, ethereal blanket. She couldn’t let go of Lunala if she wanted to. Then came light, and then a horrible battering of sand. She squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath as the sandstorm thickened. Rough grains pelted her in buckets.

Then, she heard whistling… singing. She knew that sound.

“Gahi’s near!” Trina called, then spat out the sand that got in her mouth.

“Of course you’d find him first,” Lunala hummed. “I can’t see very well in this sandstorm, though. Did he create it?”

Something roared in the sandstorm. Lunala suddenly banked upward and then took a hard left. Only thanks to her vines was Trina able to maintain her hold and not fall away.

The sandstorm thinned but not enough for the Snivy to peek. She breathed cautiously. Clear enough. Sand stopped pelting her scales so she dared to open her eyes.

No sand, but the sky was a dreary gray. But at least it was, for the most part, a natural color to expect from the sky.

“Oi!”

Trina suddenly looked back—and there he was. The Flygon, shining even in the dim light, sped and Teleported toward them, stopping just as quickly. “How’d y’get ‘ere?”

“You recognize me?” Lunala asked, cocking her head to the side while keeping her wings spread, hovering by some spectral force.

“Nah.” Gahi pointed at Trina. “Anyway, who’re you, Wings?”

“Lunala, but you also know me as Mhynt.”

“Oh.” Gahi narrowed his eyes. “Huh. Prefer y’as a Treecko.”

Lunala chuckled. “Well, like the others, I can choose which form to take… and this one’s time is running out anyway. Is there a safe place to land?”

“Eh, yeah.”

Trina noticed that the strange roaring had stopped. “By the way, when we came in here, there was… something in that storm. What was it?”

“Oh, that? Yeah, that was ol’ Bitey. Met’m here and while we were tryin’ ter figure out a way back, he kept chasin’ us. Got fed up, started fightin’. Was kinda fun, so we sparred fer a while. Demitri ‘n Mispy must’ve tuckered ‘em out.”

“…Bitey,” Lunala said. “That must have been a Guzzlord. And you tired it out. Mm. I don’t know if I should be disappointed or surprised.”

Gahi rolled his eyes and disappeared behind Lunala, holding out a hand for Trina. With a little smile, she hopped onto his arm and then shoulder.

“Well,” Trina said, “Lunala, if you’re running low on time, do we need to rest?”

“Only for a short while, but I would appreciate it.”

They descended to the wasteland’s terrain. Lunala evaporated into a cloud of black smoke, leaving behind a Treecko to dust herself off. She did, noticeably, look much more sluggish than before.

With their bearings gathered and Trina finally taking a breath to relax, they watched the sandstorm subside. Mispy was tending to a few minor wounds that Demitri had suffered, and by some miracle, all three of them were sane, though they all had crazed expressions. Trina offered to calm them, and they, after some reluctance, accepted.

With more normal expressions, the five all enjoyed the quiet, occasionally disturbed by the sounds of deep, rumbling snores by the behemoth buried in the sand a few stone’s throws away.

During that brief break, Mispy whispered something to Demitri, who nodded.

“So, um,” Demitri started, “what happened back there?”

“I wasn’t able to see everything,” Mhynt said, “but I’m pretty sure Necrozma was overtaken by a part of Dark Matter that we hadn’t detected. One that was hidden beneath a veil of light… Necrozma’s weaker half.”

“Valle…” Demitri shook his head. “That’s horrible. Poor Valle…”

“We can pity him after we’ve freed him,” Mhynt said. “Unfortunately, Valle is gone now. Part of Necrozma… who is under Dark Matter’s control. That makes three pieces of Dark Matter accounted for, and one final unknown somewhere on Kilo.”

“Where could that last part be?” Demitri asked. He tapped a claw on the ax on his left cheek, sighing. “We checked practically everywhere…”

“Everywhere except the unthinkable,” Mhynt pointed out, “or otherwise inaccessible. If we can’t trace them otherwise… they are either hiding in a random civilian—which surely Diyem would spot—or he’s hiding behind another established power, waiting for the right opportunity to take control.”

“…So we gotta do a deep dive on every single Guardian,” Gahi concluded.

“Essentially, yes,” Mhynt said. “And a cursory look isn’t enough, either. But… that will be for later.” She sighed. “First, we need to find a way to get back to the others. And for that… we will need to rest and figure out how I can fly all of you at once. Ultra Space is not an easy place to travel…”

“We can’t just fuse?” Demitri asked. “Is it… dangerous?”

“It hardly has air,” Mhynt said. “You have no means to propel yourselves without special powers.”

“I got those,” Gahi said, swirling his claws to create little bubbles of Psychic energy.

“But will that be enough, hmm…” Mhynt looked genuinely contemplative. “We could try. But failure would mean you become lost to Ultra Space, and recovery will not be easy…”

“Oh.” Demitri pulled out an ax, then clicked it back into place. “Um, how bad is Ultra Space?”

“It’s not so bad,” Mhynt said. “You’re strong enough to survive. Maybe. Assuming you find a place with air. But otherwise, the main problem is you won’t be able to find your way back home. Ever, possibly. I’m not sure where your spirit will drift even if you died here; the aura sea and so on are where the spirits of your world are held. For all I know, you’ll drift straight into the Overworld if you die here.”

“Th-then we need to get to the others soon!” Demitri said. “What if they’re already—”

“I know. I agree. But we can’t search blindly if your spiritual resonance doesn’t guide us well enough.”

“Now that we have the time,” Trina spoke up, “I want to ask about that. Spiritual resonance. I don’t believe any sort of emotional bond tied us together when I found Gahi, so what exactly is that?”

“Eh?” Gahi stopped picking at a scale on his cheek to look at Trina.

“It would be very poetic.” Lunala chuckled. “But, no. You’re right. It’s not emotions; it’s the Orbs within you two, even their mere essence, that resonates enough that you are drawn to them. It’s the same force that helped draw you together now, and the force that Star and Barky had tried to counter for so long out of fear of what it would mean if all those powers gathered again.”

“Then that means,” Trina deduced, “we can find Kilo again, since it’s filled with more of those Orbs, and wherever Owen and Zena had gone, too. But as for your other halves…” She offered an apologetic look to team Alloy.

“Oh, they will probably find their other halves on instinct anyway,” Mhynt said. “A soul is a soul. At the very least, we can be confident that if either of their halves dies, they will probably find their way to them, so long as they aren’t sealed like in the Voidlands.”

“Heh… alright.” Gahi nodded. “Guess that means we know exactly where ter go… by instinct alone! See? I knew my gut would go’n the right direction.”

Trina sighed but couldn’t help but smile. He was right… albeit with the wrong thought process. Mhynt gave Trina a coy look and she quickly composed herself.

Right. Soon, they would be going home, where, if they were timely enough, they could warn everyone about what was happening before anything bad happened.

<><><>​

Kilo Village was in complete pandemonium. To the north, Nate was trying to subdue a light dragon with blasts of reddish energy. Every time Nate attacked, Angelo felt his powers completely disappear, and he had no idea why. Was that part of Nate’s powers? Or was this something new?

Spice had picked him up—he was getting tired of being carried around like luggage—and fled to the Waypoints for safety. For many Kiloan citizens, evacuation drills were still fresh in their minds, and getting out was something that happened in an orderly fashion, aside from the panicked shouts.

In a flash, they went from Kilo Village to the recently repaired Milli Town, surrounded by newly made buildings and cobblestone roads. Angelo took a breath, trying to calm down.

He couldn’t see Nate or the rift from here, but he could feel the shockwaves of their clashing. The sheer energy behind the attacks… That was their guardian, all this time. Kilo Village’s protector.

In some ways, he felt guilty for being so afraid and suspicious of him for so long. The fearful glances, the flat statements of how scary he was…

Angelo realized that his Nate hadn’t followed. Perhaps he couldn’t stray far from the host body. He’d apologize later.

“You okay?” Spice asked, holding Angelo’s shoulder.

“Y-yes. I’m fine. Thank you.”

Spice left to check on others. Some seemed to be in shock, perhaps from the energy blasts overwhelming them. Angelo was surprised he wasn’t part of that group.

Skies, his heart was racing in his chest. He could hardly hear. It was getting difficult to see, too. Oh—

Someone bit his shoulder.

“Yeowch!” Angelo stumbled forward and spun around, taking deep breaths. Horrible dizziness forced him onto his back. Warm fur suddenly surrounded him. It smelled of wood and made his fur tingle and rise from static.

“H-help! Help, I’m being hunted!” Angelo cried, struggling uselessly against his assailant.

In moments, he was staring at the wide, curious eyes of a Zoroark. She nipped at his snout.

“A-ah!”

She turned him around and stuffed him in her mane. Why did he have to be so small? Or was she just abnormally large?

“Enet,” Angelo said, “why are you treating me like a child?”

“Scared,” Enet said. “Make comfortable.”

All around them, Pokémon were walking around and murmuring about the recent development. Some were already electing to go out and gather extra food and supplies for their new town while they acted as refugees. Some refused to be victims and tried to establish themselves as leaders of the hunt.

Angelo just wanted to rest. Maybe being restrained by this feral Zoroark was a good excuse.

“Spice was already looking after me,” Angelo said. “Isn’t… that like being checked on twice by the same person?”

Enet tilted her head. He wondered how many brain cells were operating on that line of questioning.

“Well, it’s more like three times, in a way.”

“AYEEEE!” Angelo flailed again, but Enet’s mane proved too thick to escape.

Occupying the mane with him was a nearly incorporeal Lilligant. She glowed naturally, giving the inside of Enet’s comically spacious mane some illumination.

“Why are you here?” Angelo whispered.

“I’ve kinda always been here,” she said, curling up so her lower half was scrunched up against her chest. “I’ve been trying to help guide Enet more, since… well, we’re the same person. It’s… weird, but the more I’m with her, the more it does feel that way. Even if she’s feral, we’re in sync in a lot of little ways… At least… that’s what I’m trying to tell myself.” She laughed nervously.

“Oh, right, the Remi thing…” Angelo took a breath and leaned against the wall of fur behind him. His legs dangled out of the mane and he tried to find a comfortable, sturdy position.

“Oh, don’t worry. You won’t fall. Enet’s using a bunch of static cling to keep you on her.”

“Wha—oh. Electric. That’s clever.”

“I think she has no idea how it works and discovered it on accident. But hey! That’s how it goes sometimes.”

A distant shockwave shook the air. Angelo couldn’t tell from there if the ground also trembled.

“So, er, with Enet… how is that going, anyway? With all the chaos, I haven’t really… seen much of you around.”

“The hardest part is seeing Dad worry about it,” Amelia admitted.

“Oh, your… father, yes.”

“He adopted me when I was just a little leafling in the woods,” Amelia said, adjusting her orange flower with a sad sigh. “And then, uh, my other cosmic-not-really-but-kinda-sorta dad killed me, so, that’s sort of awkward.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Owen. He killed me a long time ago.”

Angelo didn’t know how to reply to that one. He stared, slack-jawed.

“I got over it.”

“That’s not—something to get over so casually!”

Amelia made a wobbly gesture with her leaves. “It was a few hundred years ago, you know? Time heals all wounds.”

“You—died!? Time heals—”

“It’s a spirit thing.”

“Oh, of course. A spirit thing.” Angelo slumped against the fur again, rubbing his eyes. “I just want to go back home and draw comics. Is that too much to ask?”

“I guess when you’re so talented with other things, people want you to do more than your passion.”

“Yes, well… I… understand that. I’m not going to back down if there are lives I can save easily. A-and the Hearts are respecting my… wish to not risk life and limb.” He crossed his arms. “We’ve reached a point where there’s nowhere safe, so of course I’m going to help.”

“There you go,” Amelia encouraged. “Not everyone’s gotta be a hero. But at least you’re helping where you can.”

Angelo wanted to retort. He’d heard it before with patronizing eyes and a gentle tone like they didn’t want to upset him. But this time, Amelia’s words felt more genuine. Matter-of-fact.

“I suppose so,” Angelo half-conceded. Then, as another distant shockwave put Angelo’s fur on end, he asked, “So, you aren’t scared at all? About… that. I can’t imagine having some… other, totally different person from me that I’m somehow destined to become half of a whole with.”

“Yeaaah…” Amelia sighed. “It’s… a little scary because of… I mean, I have no idea how to comprehend it. I talked with Dialga about it. He said that the part that’s going to be the hardest isn’t yourself and how you feel—that’s going to be fine. It’s how everyone reacts to you being someone different. With me… it’s going to feel natural. I’ll be both at once. Enet and I, and Spice, we’re pretty similar even if we’re also super different. But… the people that might want only one of us—like Dad, with me, or Spice and her family—that’s where it gets complicated.”

“I think I understand. Like… like seeing a childhood friend after ten years, and you’re not the same anymore.”

“Yeah! I think.” Amelia adjusted her flower again. “It just happens way more suddenly.”

Angelo nodded. It wasn’t his problem, but hearing about it, maybe she would do okay. If anything, it was Spice he was worried about. She seemed a lot more bothered.

Enet suddenly stopped walking and growled.

“Y-yes, Enet?” Angelo called.

Amelia frowned and disappeared in a flurry of embers, entering Enet’s back. Angelo, meanwhile, shifted to part Enet’s mane like peeking out of a berry bush.

He wished he hadn’t.

The sky had turned a strange purple-blue patchwork of those horrible void rifts. The landscape was shifting without warning, leaving ripples of Dungeon bubbles that distorted the light. Some of them were only a few blocks away, completely obscuring the homes of some Pokémon in an instant. Cries sounded from them, and suddenly they were gone.

“Do I want to know?” Angelo asked.

Phol managed to evade most of the distortion and ran to them. Spice came from the other direction.

“Alright, new plan,” Spice said, “we take cover and secure what we can before—”

Then came another shriek that was louder than the rest. More shouts—more chaos. Angelo couldn’t focus on it anymore. During a passing glance, a wraith rampaged through. Spice roared something and ran toward it; more cries from the other end of their little pocket of safety pulled Phol away, conjuring his golden Protects.

“Help time!” Enet announced, plucking Angelo out of her mane and plopping him on the ground.

“Oof! And what do I do?!” Angelo asked, half annoyed, half panicked.

“Reflect and Light Screen,” Phol said tersely. “Support us from behind.”

“O-okay. I’ll, uh, and I’ll also try to give you boons in other ways,” Angelo added, already drawing a series of sigils in the air. Squares, hexagons, pulses—he tossed them in a frenzy. He figured Helping Hand would be useful, tossing that where he could. Tailwind, yes! Tailwind will get everyone more mobile. He drew the breeze in the air and pushed them along, hoping his sheer will could tell friend from foe in the chaos.

Okay. Okay, wraiths. They were in a Dungeon now. Suddenly. After decades of new Dungeons not appearing ever.

Right before his eyes, the land shifted even more. Now, only the small street corner he’d happened to be in was its own Dungeon pocket. If he moved past it, would he find himself in a completely different place, or would it be freedom? Would he take that risk?

Of course he wouldn’t. He could barely move his legs. Breathing was hard again; he was in a trance, repeating the same cycle of techniques to help the others, but he was getting sloppy. He saw wraiths where there weren’t any. He heard shouts and he didn’t know if they were imagined or not.

At some point, he collapsed to his knees and curled up, trying to hide in the chaos. He couldn’t attack anymore. His spirit was so drained of energy—he’d expended himself too much, too quickly.

And he was going to die. He wasn’t paying attention and he was going to die. Become a wraith afterward, too, wasn’t he? He couldn’t hear the chaos anymore. His blood was pumping too fast.

Warm fur wrapped around him. Strong claws held him gently.

“It’s okay.”

Right against his ear. He barely heard it. He made out enough details that it was Enet again. Everything ran around them like they were a boulder on the battlefield… Yes. Was it her illusions?

“Shh, shh.”

Angelo had been whimpering. He didn’t even realize it. In shame, he curled up again.

Do you resent them?

“I’m just so tired,” he said. “I’m so tired of fighting. I’m not a hero….”

Do you want peace?

“I’m not some Heart that’s supposed to dive into the fray. I just want to go home. I want things normal again…”

Put them to sleep.

Angelo sniffled again. He opened his eyes, realizing that he didn’t recognize this voice. It was coming from… a Machop. A mere Machop, but there was a dark aura surrounding him. He was standing within Enet’s illusion, but her gaze was focused on the action on the other end. Everything felt slower.

Something about that Machop felt familiar.

Take my power, the Machop said, but his lips didn’t move. Angelo felt something cold run across his forehead, like an idea. A technique he knew, to pull from one’s innate abilities and swap it with—yes! Skill Swap!

He was calmer. His fear was boiling into irritation and resentment. It felt cold, and yet it burned. He was forming his plan while Enet slashed from the darkness at wraiths that happened to get too close.

He drew a sigil and pointed it at Machop. In moments, a ball of light from Angelo and Machop switched places, entering the opposite Pokémon. His mind felt clearer and honed.

Whether or not he was hit also no longer mattered to him. That was probably reckless. Asinine. But Enet was keeping up an illusion, and if he was going to have no guard, that was the best time to do it.

Release it, the Machop said. Put this chaos into a void where it cannot hurt anyone. Plunge them into the depths where they came from.

A small, shrinking, logical side of him recognized these words as concerning, perhaps even dangerous. But he was already frenzied with resentment and bitterness toward everything that was happening around him. He had no control. The world did as it pleased and forced him to flee and survive. Sick, fatigued, afraid. No more. If this outburst would be his first taste of true power…

So be it.

NOW!

Angelo gladly complied, a vision of a ghoul of nightmares in the back of his mind. He carved a sigil into the air and covered it in a blob of dark paint, and then crushed it in his palm. He didn’t care who it hit. Everyone. Just for some peace and quiet.

That cold bitterness hit its apex when Angelo finally released that power. A blackened ink covered the whole block. The screams all arose at once, shrieks and roars of so many species, and then… silence.

The Machop was gone.

“Wh-what was that?” Spice asked. “Angelo?”

“I… I don’t know,” Angelo replied as Hearts picked off wraiths while they slumbered. Some already began to stir again. Angelo, for all his rage, wasn’t all that strong; it seemed their rest was only brief… but that was all the villagers and Hearts needed. He wobbled forward as if called by something. “I want to be alone… please.”

“What? Angelo, it’s not—”

“Please.” He spoke firmly, coldly, and in a moment of lucidity, he realized this didn’t feel like himself talking. But he was so tired. He let it happen.

“…Just stay in a nearby building, okay?”

“Okay.” He wobbled toward any of them. Didn’t care. Maybe it had a bed. He’d apologize if it was someone who still lived there.

The first one he found was a quaint home that seemed abandoned, like the residents had packed up what they had and left a whole moon ago.

Except for a single occupant.

In the back of the living room, sitting against the wall, was a black-flamed Charmander. Off to the side was what looked like a Machop-themed cloth… before realizing that was a hollowed-out body of some kind, dissolving into a black mist. A disguise? Or… No. The others mentioned that Dark Matter could change his form.

“Hello,” Angelo greeted with a skeptical squint. “Aren’t you…”

“We should talk.” Diyem gestured in front of him. “Why not sit down and rest?”

There was always a catch. But the way he spoke, and that very small hint of brightness in the Charmander’s eyes… This was the Diyem the team knew. The one that had a hint of light inside that dark core. Angelo could trust him at least for a talk—and he’d turned into a Machop to give Angelo the power to put down all those wraiths at once to help the fight.

Still…

“Alright,” he said, sighing. “But… I’m not doing any hero work.”

“That won’t be a problem.”
 

Negrek

Windswept Questant
Staff
[[ Sup, Namo. Before we get into the review proper, I thought you might be amused by some info on its provenance. I actually finished this back in May when I was on vacation, but then ended up leaving the tablet I’d been working on on the plane with it still unposted. Two months later I was pretty much ready to write it off as a loss, only to receive an e-mail only a couple days before my lost item claim would have been closed letting me know that the tablet was located and ready to mail back to me. So here you are, your miracle review. Hopefully commenting on Act III will be less eventful. ]]

Hey, Namo! I’ve finished reading through Act II, so I figured I’d drop a few thoughts before I carry on again.

This was an interesting arc, one that was a little plot coupon-y at times—collect all the Guardians and win! But of course it also contained a number of reveals, while untangling a little more of what’s going on in Kilo—if only a little. I think most of what we saw here I had already learned about through other means, aside from Deca’s identity, but it’s fun to see the plot moving into areas I haven’t necessarily heard about.

Things really picked up in the last few chapters in particular. This arc had the feeling of you moving a bunch of pieces into place, where for many of them it’s not yet clear what their significance might be, so it was nice to get some clear forward motion and a real sense of threat; after killing the first couple Guardians towards the beginning of this arc, Eon didn’t seem to do much to hinder Owen and company’s progress.

But what a big shift it is once Dark Matter shows himself! The Special Episode at the end of this arc, Anam’s first encounter with Dark Matter, is probably my single favorite chapter of the story thus far. I really enjoy how you characterize Dark Matter as a person in his own right, rather than a force of nature or something pure evil. He plays really well off of Anam, and I think their unlikely alliance is great—Dark Matter revealing the negativity in other people, which then allows Anam to try to alleviate it, which in turn may reduce Dark Matter’s suffering to some degree. It’s definitely a more subtle approach than chucking the planet into the sun, although at the end of this arc we’re seeing a bit of a pivot towards that sort of approach, heh. Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Dark Matter and Anam in the future.

I’m also really enjoying the sense of mystery at the heart of the story… It feels like there must be some original sin of sorts at the center of all this conflict, some far-off error or betrayal that’s had centuries upon centuries of misdirections and misguided fixes heaped on top of it until no one remembers what went wrong in the first place and the whole edifice is starting to collapse into its rotten foundation. We obviously have a Dark Matter that was beaten back once in the past—probably through the stabby-stabby method rather than the acceptance method, and maybe all the trouble relates to him somehow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something else and DM just exacerbated the situation, or perhaps his rise was kicked off by it.

And we have some human heroes who may have been summoned to deal with him—quite a number of humans, it seems, or Pokémon with human connections. Very interesting that we have Pokémon brought in from the trainer verse, too, when one normally only sees humans. Perhaps indicating there’s some other form of interdimensional travel going on, as we saw in Blacklight? So the humans here may not be here for altruistic reasons, necessarily—though it doesn’t seem like many of them remember their original intentions anyway. I kind of wonder whether Kilo might be an artificial world of some kind, actually created by humans, or at least the site of some kind of experiment involving humans and Pokémon. I’m guessing there are multiple human factions in play, and probably some actually were summoned in the usual way. Though this does leave us with one of the big things I’ve been wondering: where’s our Voice of Life? Hiding out in one of the orbs, like DM has been? The Dragon Orb, perhaps? Or maybe it’s Emily? And the Tree of Life… also conspicuously Sir Not Appearing in this Film thus far. I kind of wondered if the tree Nevren rested by in Rotwood Fen was it, which, given its condition, would suggest Kilo’s royally fucked, though in what way isn’t really clear.

In any case! The interaction between the human world and Kilo is something I’m really interested in finding out more about. The weird experiments at Quartz are a lot of fun, and I’m curious to see whether we’ll have more weird tech emerging in the future.

Although I have been enjoying the mysteries that make up the core of the story’s plot, there are others that I haven’t enjoyed as much. Namely, I’m still having trouble figuring out what a lot of the central characters’ motivations are. Star was originally gathering the orbs to usurp Arceus and do… something, but she’s since stopped because reasons? Eon is *still* collecting the orbs with the goal of usurping Arceus because, idk, Arceus is bad somehow? Meanwhile Arceus has mostly been chilling, as far as I can tell, and telling people not to gather the orbs. Why won’t any of them tell anyone what they’re up to? If not that, why won’t they at least concretely say why they think the other parties are bad? What do any of them actually want or care about?

The level of obfuscation here is kind of frustrating for me because it feels like information is being withheld not because it necessarily makes sense in-universe, but rather to prolong the mystery of the story. Surely Eon would have more luck recruiting people if he actually told them what he intended to accomplish, but instead all we get is “Star bad” and “just trust me.” I don’t think he’s supposed to seem like an especially competent leader, but how did he get anyone to agree to work with him in the first place? What does he actually care about, besides Owen and his mutants?

“What do they care about” is a question that I feel like I can ask of many of the characters. Obviously a lot of them care for specific people, which is only natural, but I’d expect many of them to have ideologies/causes they’re loyal to as well, and that’s where things get murky. Anam cares about reducing suffering. Rhys broadly seems dedicated to the same, but he used to be a Hunter (and a Divine Dragon) and now isn’t, for unclear reasons. Nevren remains loyal to Eon for similarly unclear reasons. There are many characters in play, from Emily to the Guardians to random side characters with Divine power who theoretically have great power to reshape the world or advance causes they care about, but by and large it seems they don’t. Why not? Do they like the world the way it is?

The stakes here are unclear. I believe it’s been mentioned that the Void Basin is expanding, which sounds Bad, but nobody talks about this or seems to consider it a real problem. There’s some mention of stagnation, which seems like it could be an issue, but again no evidence of it actually being a problem or anyone making an attempt to fight it. I think some of this may be thematic—e.g. the Guardians are complacent/static because their huge power and immortality has removed them from a lot of their stake in the world and led them to have nothing to really strive for—but if that’s the case I’m not sure it’s coming through very clearly. The Guardians’ weird quirks have been played for humor rather than presented as a problem or signs of broader dysfunction. And what might be weirdest for me is that almost none of the characters seem to care much about all of the unknowns! A real “throw-your-hands-up” moment for me was when it’s revealed that nobody actually know what happens if you break a Divine Promise, only that Star said it would be Bad and probably involve losing their powers. And yet people are merrily going about making Promises despite not knowing what Bad things might happen to them if they mess them up or that the consequences are actually bad enough to deter others with better knowledge of the rules from breaking them. This isn’t unrealistic, of course; plenty of people are happy to take things at face value and people at their word. But you have a large cast, so when it seems like Owen’s the only one asking tough questions, that’s where it begins to feel weird to me!

In that respect I find Dark Matter very refreshing as a villain. He’s straightforward about what he wants: to collect enough orbs to rewrite reality enough to change his nature. Which doesn’t even sound like such a bad goal, really, except that accomplishing it is probably going to involve blowing up the planet or something, because that’s how Dark Matter rolls. He could certainly be lying about his motivation, or there could be more to it than he’s letting on. But it’s at least something concrete for me and the other characters to chew on, something I can evaluate. I hope we get something similar for the various good(?) factions soon as well.

But all that aside, I do enjoy a fun puzzle, and you’ve certainly thrown lots of pieces around, even if not all the ones I’d want. Some brief thoughts on a couple of those:

- I think I’ve read that Spice is a Void Shadow or associated with them somehow, and she’s been feeling extra energetic ever since Dark Matter’s appearance. Tanneth has been, too, so presumably she’s the same. Her relationship with Emily is surely an interesting one… Like maybe they’re two halves of the same person split out somehow, maybe into light/dark aspects? So Emily’s suffering in the darkness while Tanneth feels great…

- Also, we have a hydreigon named Alex and a hydreigon named Alexander… I’m sure it’s just coincidence. :P Either Alex is an astounding actor, or there’s some kind of memory weirdness going on here… I’m going to go with a preliminary “Alexander sealed his memories somehow as part of an insanely long con to get closer to Owen.” Or maybe something happened where he lost a bunch of them rather than it being intentional, idk.

- Nate taking on the form of an Eternatus of all things is certainly a big_eyes moment, although I have no idea what’s going on with all the wraiths (actually Void Shadows?) or the fact that he’s apparently wielding Fairy energy. Maybe he’s actually some corruption of Zacian/Zamazenta who can remember their old enemy, but not their true form? Something to do with the aforementioned missing Tree of Life, since Eternatus apparently love to nom on those? It seems like Dark Matter’s ascent is something like an analogue to the Darkest Day, and Nate has presumably seen something similar before… Maybe during this mysterious past war?

In any case, I’m excited to see the turn the story takes from here. The next Act looks quiiite long, so naturally it may take a while for me to get through it, but I hope to return with thoughts on it eventually.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
So here you are, your miracle review

Wow, that's an incredibly miraculous way of getting the review back. I'm glad to see it after all!

This was an interesting arc, one that was a little plot coupon-y at times

Act II is, by far, my weakest Act. I don't even think it's an opinion, really, because on a compositional and arrangement level it's just really weak. Act III has a weak start (it's a bit slow and meandering, and the reason I'm never writing HoC as a NaNoWriMo again) but eventually finally kicks off. But Act II is this weird between state where I cornered myself into spending way too much time setting up for payoff. I'll elaborate on that down in the rest of this response, though. But hey! It gets better from here, hopefully.

I’m also really enjoying the sense of mystery at the heart of the story

I'm glad! Because for the first two Acts, and most of the third, it's all about the mystery and figuring out what's going on. More answers than questions start cropping up near the end of Act III, as we then pivot to solving everything with all the pieces uncovered. So, at the very least, I'm glad picking apart and then piecing together the lore has been fun.

The level of obfuscation here is kind of frustrating for me because it feels like information is being withheld not because it necessarily makes sense in-universe, but rather to prolong the mystery of the story.
I think some of this may be thematic—e.g. the Guardians are complacent/static because their huge power and immortality has removed them from a lot of their stake in the world and led them to have nothing to really strive for—but if that’s the case I’m not sure it’s coming through very clearly.
This is by far the weakest part of my early plotting. Amby kicked it out of me some time ago, so I'm much more liberal with giving away information earlier than my instincts tell me. But I had a plot contrivance here that will make a LOT of your following questions answered retroactively, but since that's a form of earlier Namo's bad writing, let me reveal it to you more firmly: One side-effect of immortality in the way Kilo does it is at some point, even if you're static and enduring that ageless life, sometimes you forget how things start.

Similar to how sometimes you forget just how you met your best friend of ten+ years, you forget... why you're doing certain things, and get stuck in a loop of stagnation. It's because Owen is one of the few characters who is actually remembering things for the first time -- and thus, it feels more "fresh" -- is WHY he is one of the few who are actually asking questions, despite his normally docile nature. Additionally, there's one "big twist" in Act III that reveals that even if they wanted to, some people physically cannot remember why they're doing what they're doing.

Eon's is a little easier, though. One of his main motivations for gathering power... is just to get Owen back. He misses him. And for some reason, Owen seems tied to his family in Hot Spot, perhaps more than merely a personal level.

I have no idea what’s going on with all the wraiths (actually Void Shadows?) or the fact that he’s apparently wielding Fairy energy.

This one is a bit of a callback, and I don't think I'll be able to explicitly outline it... I might toss in a throwaway line if it comes up again, but... Canon lorewise, I believe Fairy energy is associated with unstable or overabundant life energy. Light of Ruin is a residual effect of what happened to the one Immortal Pokemon who could wield it in Gen 6, after all.

If Nate has access to a move that is due to an overabundance of Life energy...

--

Anyway! glad for the review, and I hope pulling the veil back of my old writing mistakes will help augment some of the awkwardness of Act II. Hopefully Act III works out better!
 
Chapter 160 - Time and Space Asunder

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 160 – Time and Space Asunder

“ . . . And so, in the end, we have a tiny part of Dark Matter on our side, and we have to find the rest.” Mesprit nodded. “That’s… sort of the whole situation.”

“Hmm…” Granbull Jin paced in front of the conference room—a replica of the Heart HQ, but with more subdued colors than its prior pastel reds, pinks, and magentas. “We know of Necrozma. We also know about Dungeons. When the Voidlands was reopened, we put our heads together on this one, and it’s very likely…

“People don’t remember much about Dungeons at all up until several decades after the Dark War.”

“I definitely don’t,” Mesprit said, crossing his little arms. “But… what does that mean?”

“That they didn’t appear until then,” Uxie stated. “Which means something in the Dark War caused it.”

“A place where space itself twists and changes, and where there are gateways into the Voidlands because of it,” Granbull Jin said. “When put in that way, it seems very clear that something caused the barrier between realms to… weaken. Applying Radiance plugs the gateway, but it does not solve the actual problem. Wraiths on one side… the living on the other.”

“And it’s not necessarily Dark Matter trying to escape, either,” Mesprit said. “He was within Anam the whole time, guiding him to run the world. And… not too badly, either.”

“Aside from the whole ‘hostile takeover of all other kingdoms’ thing,” Azelf quipped.

“No different than most nations, I believe,” Uxie hummed.

“That doesn’t make it okay,” Mesprit said, frowning.

Uxie shrugged and nodded.

“Focusing,” Jin said, “it means that Dark Matter might not have been creating these rifts on purpose. More likely… he was taking advantage of them. They seem to be the result of two divine forces clashing, and the aftershocks leaving weaknesses in the fabric that keeps the realms separate. It isn’t just a distortion of space, but the very planes of existence themselves. Dungeons are a gateway between the material and immaterial, the spiritual and physical. It converts one into the other.

“And, if left unchecked…”

“That could mean the end of life as we know it,” Mesprit whispered. “And death as we know it! There… wouldn’t be a difference!”

Uxie cocked her head to the left. “I wonder, how bad is that?”

“It’ll deprive the living of the chance to value life,” Jin replied. “There’s no telling what kind of instability it would cause. I know some of us are skeptical of the gods’ machinations, but something tells me letting life and death mingle will cause a lot of trouble. We should at least stabilize it before we come to any decisions.”

Uxie nodded as if conceding. “This is no time to be making decisions like that. But that leads to another question: if the border between life and death has been shattered, is there anything stopping us from taking advantage of that?”

“How do you mean?” Jin asked.

“Oh!” Mesprit perked up. “As in, if we’re able to just blur those lines, that means we can go from here, to somewhere in Kilo, right? Um, alive-Kilo.”

“Oh.” Jin hummed. “That’s… true. It’s scary that it’s so easy, but… yes. Hopefully, we won’t… dissolve, or something, if we go there, but… you’re right. We could probably find a way to go directly to Kilo if we had a way to fly up to the rift.”

“Which we can.” Azelf puffed out his chest and smirked. “I can fly in my sleep!”

“Hover,” Uxie corrected.

“Yeah, yeah.” Azelf shrugged. “Alright, c’mon! Let’s go!”

“Don’t be so hasty.” Jin sighed, walking to the entrance. “You can go on ahead, but I won’t follow. I need to rally the people on this layer of Kilo and then send word to the lower layers.”

“Lower… layers,” Mesprit repeated. “What do you mean?”

“Every few generations, a new Kilo is made to house them so this place doesn’t get too packed. It goes all the way back to the first one, back when it was still named Quartz. It’s a little chaotic down there since memories have been unsealed, but… well. What’s more chaos to the fire, right?” The Granbull grumbled and ran a claw over his left jaw tooth. “I’m going to have to get Brigid and Angelo. They’ll probably be part of the nearest layer’s forces. Restless souls, those two…”

The rift rumbled again. Something was shifting. By now, it wasn’t alarming. It was part of the new rhythm for the day. This was usually normal with people coming from older eras of Kilo’s afterlife to visit. However, this time, who stumbled through the rift in the sky was not from the Kilos of the lower levels. Instead…

“Wait a sec!” Azelf pointed up. “Look!”

The rift didn’t look like the others. This one was more like a tunnel than a tear, and it bore an odd, checkerboard pattern to it that seemed distinctly unnatural. Two figures were flying through it, though one seemed to be latched onto the other through some kind of vine.

“Hey!” Mesprit said. “That’s Team Alloy! And Lunala and Trina!”

“And I’m guessing they’re also alive,” Jin growled as if it offended him.

“Alive?” repeated the fused Team Alloy—Migami. “What, we’re dead now?”

“Hopefully not!” Azelf said.

“I don’t think so,” Trina said as she dismounted from Lunala, landing lightly on walking soil. “If that was the case, I think the theory from Mhynt was, the dead half would merge into the living. That hasn’t happened.”

“Oh, you mean our counterparts.” Mesprit nodded. “That makes sense. I guess that means we’re both alive.”

“Or both dead,” Jin theorized. “…Anyway, what happened? Why are you here?”

“We got tossed into Ultra Space,” Lunala explained.

“Ultra what.”

Lunala stared. “Ah. Right. That isn’t known by most.”

Her body dissolved into shadows. Streams of the remainder collected beneath the cloud, forming a Treecko again.

“Think of it as a massive network of tunnels and nebulae that connect this world to many others. And, as it turns out, it seems that it can also connect the spirit world to the living world… of Kilo, at least. I have my doubts it works the same way for other realms…”

The Treecko paced over the dirt, occasionally kicking at a few pebbles before making a little gesture with her hands. Pale green grass formed over the dirt in merging patches, which she more comfortably walked over.

“This normally shouldn’t be possible,” Mhynt said. “This makes me suspect something about the nature of Kilo all along…” She shook her head and turned toward them again, smiling. “Well,” she said. “why don’t we gather up? I want to be briefed.”

“I’ll get Brigid and Angelo,” Jin said. “After that, let’s share what we know.”

Team Alloy, after unfusing, and the Trio of Mind stared at one another.

“This is getting pretty serious,” Mesprit said.

“Who knows what’s goin’ on,” Gahi murmured, looking at the sky. “The world’s tearin’ apart…”

And, they could all feel it between them. That strange, looming tension as the world threatened to blend … The energy between the three pairs told them, without words, that their time apart would soon have to end.

<><><>​

Frightened but calmed murmurs drifted through the air of Milli Town. There was no escaping those wayward souls’ mumblings, even as Angelo sought refuge in one of the many abandoned homes, staring at a Charmander with a black flame who had already been waiting for him.

“You were that Machop,” Angelo whispered.

“Mm.” He nodded. “A power I have. Mimicry of anybody. I suppose it’s like a Ditto… though it’s more like putting on false skin. Within, it’s only darkness.”

“That, er, that sounds… like something a young teenager going through their rebellious phase would say,” Angelo had to say.

“Hmph.” Diyem rolled his eyes. “Classify it all you want. It’s what I am inside.”

Angelo wondered if he was intentionally being ironic. “If you’re a being filled with nothing but darkness… why did you help me? I was just born with this paint color, you know. I may not want to be a hero, but don’t expect me to… rebel against the light, or something!”

“…Hm. It’s no wonder Owen is a fan of your work,” Diyem muttered.

“What?”

The Charmander dismissed the subject like it was flying near his head. “Your… talents. I need them. But I don’t expect you to have the will to fight. I can already sense your fear just from how I’m talking to you now.”

“I—I’m not… afraid. I’m just tired, and—”

“Do not defend yourself against me. I know your fears the same way I can see the color of your fur. You cannot hide your feelings from me.”

Angelo tensed his jaw, trying to think of a way to deny that. He squeezed his tail a little tighter and searched for the words. Maybe Diyem was just messing with him. Breaking him down so he’d… be more obedient. He’d seen that method before.

“You’re right to not trust me,” Diyem said. “I am a fragment of the very thing that sought to take over the whole world. A selfish entity that only wants to preserve itself. I do not know what the rest of myself is capable of, or what it desires, any longer, but it can’t be anything good.”

Angelo let the words sink in and fester. It was true. Diyem had nothing that would prove he could be trusted beyond that he hadn’t done anything terrible yet. But… that was true for anyone, right? And not only that, some of the allies he had were already known for terrible acts! Even Anam, their supposed leader!

“Why me specifically?” Angelo asked. “My talent? What good is that?”

“You underestimate just how capable you are,” Diyem said. “What you lack in raw strength you more than compensate for with versatility. Mew’s Blessing, and an inheritance of ancient techniques lost to the Void.”

“Mew’s Blessing… right…” Angelo shifted his weight nervously. “In school, we’re taught that the aura can only really have four distinct channels on the surface. Everything else is… inside, and harder to draw out quickly. So, we have to focus on ‘drawing out’ those if we want to use them more. But I… don’t… have that problem. And it’s run in my family for generations. Some in my family tree had it fade, but not me, I guess…”

“Hm.” The Charmander nodded again, but there was now a second Charmander next to him and Angelo wasn’t sure when she’d gotten there. Her eyes were wide, and—oh no it was the child.

She reached toward Diyem’s face and grabbed his cheeks.

Diyem paid her no mind as he continued to talk, his words garbled by Mu’s playing. “Do you see that potential?”

“Um… I think I do,” Angelo said. “Is… she supposed to be here?”

Diyem’s black flame rose, then fell, as he reached out and grabbed her hands gingerly, pulling them away. “Hands to yourself,” he explained.

“Hands!” Mu giggled. She then bit Diyem’s hands; it seemed to be a play bite. Angelo hoped. It was either that or Diyem was so stoic that he didn’t care if she broke his scales.

Diyem exhaled through his nose and moved his arms to the right, sliding Mu in that direction while she remained latched.

“Now that I think about it, no. I believe you are very aware of your potential. That is why you have a sense of shame when you deny the call to action. You have the strength to save many lives, but are afraid and want to live quietly despite this talent.”

Angelo already felt himself getting defensive. His fur bristled out. His breathing was shallow. There was a numbness creeping along his upper spine. “You’re asking me to be a hero.”

“No. I’m asking you for a favor.”

Angelo waited, calming down a little. Diyem wasn’t judging him, right? Just… stating facts? He didn’t have the same tone or air that others speaking to him about this did. Maybe it would be okay…

“Interesting. You’ll hear it out,” Diyem hummed. Despite the upper tone he had, his face was just as expressionless. “I have a strong suspicion about where the final unknown piece of myself is hidden. However, giving it away to others will risk that knowledge getting to the source. I want to get to it… from someone unaffiliated and talented.”

“You can’t tell me?” Angelo asked.

“Of course not. If I did, you might tell others and the plan will be ruined. I’ll only tell you after you agree.”

“If I agree, and then back out?” Angelo asked. “How… how binding is this?”

“When it’s over, you can act like I don’t exist for all I care.”

Had it not been for Mu crawling and babbling, it would have been a tense silence. Instead, Mu had migrated to Angelo, scaling his legs. Nervously, he tried to push her away, but the strange black-white-flame Charmander clung to his arms next, eventually finding her way to his shoulder, where she happily perched like a bird.

“Fine,” Angelo said. “What’s the favor?”

“I need the power,” Diyem said without hesitating, “of someone unassuming but strong. Someone they wouldn’t expect to do anything heroic or outgoing, but is capable of it. So, you. And I need someone who has the potential to scale Destiny Tower no matter the guards sent your way. I believe the final piece of Dark Matter is hidden somewhere inside.”

Angelo blinked. Silent. He leaned his head against Mu, who leaned back and started to scale to the top of his hat.

“You want not-a-hero to scale Destiny Tower—the Destiny Tower—and confront a secret fragment of evil.”

“No,” Diyem said as if he already sensed that Angelo was about to vehemently refuse. “I want your body.”

Somehow that was worse. “No?” And it was so surprising that Angelo had wrapped back around to confused denial.

“I will possess you. For you, it can be either watching things play out as a distant passenger or a brief rest. No more disruptive than falling asleep. I will utilize your power, dispel the darkness hidden inside Destiny Tower, and then leave before the others realize what I’ve done.”

“Wouldn’t they praise you for… for dispelling your fragment?”

“Yes, but I doubt they would approve of me hijacking someone again.”

“Again?!”

“Of course again. What kind of demon of evil would I be if I didn’t possess someone now and then?” Diyem glared, arms crossed.

“How is this supposed to convince me?!”

“Because I can feel you’re already tempted by this easy job,” Diyem said flatly. “You take a break from all that’s happening. When you wake up, it’s over, the world is a better place, and you get the credit. You even know how it’s too good to be true because they would also find out what you did to achieve it. But that won’t matter. Peace is found. The world is restored. And I”—Diyem paused with emphasis, making sure Angelo paid attention—“will prove that I can be trusted on my own, too.”

“Hands!” Mu declared, standing on top of Angelo’s head. He made his best effort to keep her perfectly balanced.

Angelo held his breath, unsure. On one hand… it was an escape from this while still being productive. On the other, it was Dark Matter.

Yes, he could potentially save the world with this donation, and it wouldn’t even require any work from him, technically! But… it was Dark Matter.

Still… even if he refused, and this failed, wouldn’t the world end anyway? And he’d be in the same terrible position in a world of darkness? But… Dark. Matter.

All the while, Diyem sat there, patient. Mu had crawled down from Angelo and back to Diyem, trying to bite his tail. While Diyem remained still, his tail swished to avoid her.

“Can I have some time to think?” Angelo asked.

“About?”

“Just… it’s a lot to weigh. Can I… can I ask anyone?”

“Can you do so without compromising this plan?” Diyem asked.

“Er…” Maybe he had a point there. But he couldn’t just make the decision now! Unless…

“Y-you tricked me!” Angelo said. “Now I…”

Diyem rubbed the bridge of his snout. “I didn’t trick you for anything. You asked for the favor. I answered. You knew it was something important that could compromise the mission if it spreads elsewhere. Now, can you keep it a secret while you wait, or not?”

“H-how important is it that I keep it a secret?”

“If Arceus finds out, and he’s got to do with that piece of darkness, I do not know how much of your soul will be left behind to worry about it.”

Angelo continued to nervously fidget where he sat, looking anywhere but at Diyem. Why did it seem so much darker? Maybe even the time of day was starting to change. Where was everyone else? Were they still busy, were they not going to check on him? That would force Diyem’s hand. But…

But he was an ally, right? He helped Owen. He helped Anam before, too. Maybe…

“I need a contingency,” he said. “If… if this goes wrong.”

“Contingency. Explain.”

“A way where I can take control back if… I don’t like what you’re doing.”

“If people notice you’re missing, and you have friends who will, they will save you. I cannot beat them.”

“As you are now. But with my power or more fragments…”

“That’s a big hypothetical and not one I’d rely on,” Diyem replied. And that was convincing enough.

“Am… am I really needed?” Angelo asked. “Why can’t it be someone else?”

“I already explained this to you.”

“I… you did… right…” Angelo deflated, staring at the paint on his tail for a while longer.

Mu was gone again. She must have wandered off somewhere while Angelo wasn’t paying attention.

“F-fine,” Angelo said. “Just know… they like me! I think. And… they won’t stand for it if you took control of me and… and did something I’d regret. So… you won’t…”

Diyem only stared, waiting for him to finish. Politely quiet, yet somehow rude at the same time.

“Good,” Diyem said. “Then let’s not waste any time.”

“How do we… do this? Do you, like, use your Shadow powers on me, or…”

“If I wanted to puppet or manipulate you, yes,” Diyem said, “but this is a more… intensive procedure if I want to get this done properly.”

Diyem flicked his wrist, which suddenly made a horrible, cracking noise. Angelo flinched as the claws dissolved into a black fog, then the fingers and the whole hand into what seemed to be a sharp tendril of dark material. It reminded him of obsidian if it was somehow in liquid form.

“I thought you were… were biological,” Angelo said. “Mostly.”

“I was. Then I ‘evolved,’ as the world fell apart.” Diyem’s voice sounded distorted as black cracks trailed along his arm and over his shoulder. “While inside a Dungeon, I’m closer to the Voidlands. My realm. I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.”

Angelo’s throat tightened. There… wasn’t any backing out of this anymore, was there? Diyem had already shown too much.

“Is this going to hurt?” Angelo asked.

“Yes.”

Diyem’s feet relaxed as he levitated off the ground by some dark force that enveloped his body. The sharp tendril of darkness had completely overtaken his arm and shoulder by now and he wound it back. Then, he swung forward, and Angelo couldn’t remember what came next. He’d gone blind, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

It felt like Diyem was splitting his head open like a coconut. He still couldn’t scream. But it was fading. Everything was fading…

Sound left next. Finally, he couldn’t feel anything, either, except for a sick sense of vertigo. Did he even have a stomach anymore?

Sweet silence and painless, weightless bliss followed. He was on the ground. His head still hurt. But maybe it was just a bad dream.

What hit him the most was the intense grogginess. He’d felt something like this before when he’d woken up in the middle of the night after a moldy berry salad. Or, he assumed it was moldy. It had been too dark, but the spiciness had been odd in hindsight.

New problem: Angelo could not move. No matter what he tried to do, his body didn’t respond. Panic set in but his heart didn’t race faster.

And finally, with relief, he opened his eyes, and at the same time, Spice called from outside.

“Angelo? Buddy? You alright?”

Angelo sat up and took a slow breath. “I’m… I’m fine,” he said.

But Angelo hadn’t said that. He didn’t want to say that. His body was moving on its own. This wasn’t him Spice wasn’t talking to him what was happening?

“I heard a thud. Did you fall, or something? I was worried about you…”

The wraith-Salazzle had a concerned look. She leaned against the wall, blocking the way out. Angelo prayed she would see something was wrong.

“I… don’t want to talk about it,” Angelo said. “I just—passed out. From…”

Spice’s expression softened. “Was worried you got attacked,” she said. “It’s alright. Look, just take it easy. We’ve got a little base set up in what seems like a stable building. Might be a stable pocket like in a Dungeon proper.”

“I’ll catch up with you. I need to find someone first,” Angelo explained. “Sorry, it’s—one of those confidential things.”

“Confidential? I’m high-ranking now, you know. What’s going on?”

“Would you… believe me if I said telling anyone was dangerous right now?” Angelo asked.

Spice! You have to know something’s wrong! Look in my eyes! Oh, gods, do my eyes look normal, too?!

Calm down. I told you this would happen.

Spice looked skeptical, but stepped aside anyway.

Angelo nodded and walked out of the building. What’s happening? D-Diyem? What did you do?

I possessed your body, as I said I would.

If the others find out about this, they’ll—

I’m aware. I told you that. Can you stop forgetting things during your panic?

But this was too far. He didn’t have to reason it out, it was too far! He tried again, harder this time, to do something—anything—to get their attention.

You don’t get it, do you? Diyem went on. You have no drive, yet you have potential and power. You aren’t weak; you’re only weak-willed. You can’t even say no. It’s fine to not be a hero… but look at you, being pressured with niceties into the fray regardless. You’re only luck it was someone helpful so far.

And despite all you’ve been through, you didn’t change. You did not grow. This is the result.

Let this be a lesson to you. Aimless power will eventually be driven by someone else. Even if you aim to keep your head in the sand, it’s better than becoming a puppet.


But… but you’re making me a puppet!

And now it’s a valuable lesson once I’m through with you.

It was all a mistake. Nothing of what Diyem was saying made sense. He was strong but weak? Aimless but he was supposed to aim at the ground? What was he talking about?

And just as Spice was leaving, Angelo managed to get out a single whimper. “Help.”

This is why I hate working with people.

“What?”
Spice turned around, squinting with those terrifying yellow eyes. “Help…?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Angelo replied. “Are you feeling alright?”

Spice watched him a little while longer, but then sighed. “Not really,” she admitted. “It’s been all kinds of stressful lately. I’ve been hearing voices, too. Well… only once, when I was seeing that weird Poison Guardian.”

Wait. Stop screaming. This is important.


“What do you mean? Voices?” Angelo asked.

Angelo humored it if only to gather his mental strength. Spice, hearing voices? That couldn’t be good.

“Not important, just weird voices. Telling me… I can’t even remember. Oh, I think it was about… my fears about combining with Amelia and Enet. Now that I think about it, weird that it knew that… so I thought it was all in my head.”

Angelo nodded. “I don’t know what that means,” he said.

“Yeah. I’d consider therapy, but, well, world’s falling apart. No time for therapy.”

Angelo nodded again and started walking.

“Hey, you’re sure you’re alright?” Spice said. “You can’t tell me anything?”

“No, sorry. I—”

Angelo bumped into something. Fluffy air, a solid obstacle. The illusion disappeared moments later and he was face to face with a huge, crouching Zoroark. She growled and put two claws over Angelo’s shoulders.

“E-Enet? What’s wrong?” Angelo asked.

Enet… it’s not me! Please!

Are we really doing this?

Just confess! We’re in too deep now, right?

This would have been much easier if she didn’t spy on us.

“I trust Enet’s instincts on this one, Angelo. Something’s off.”


Enet bared her teeth.

“You aren’t even trembling,” Spice noted. “…Who… are you?”

…Fine. If you behave, I’ll give you control.


B-behave?

No screaming. Don’t cause a scene. Deal?

No screaming. Okay. I’ll do that.

And suddenly, without any realization, Angelo went from barely any control to full control. His knees promptly gave out and he collapsed to the floor, caught only because Enet still held him.

“Diyem,” Angelo said. “D-Diyem got me, no, he… I made a deal with him, and it wasn’t what I expected. He’s… He’s inside me right now or something, he was controlling me. He—”

Don’t tell the plan.

Angelo halted. At first, he thought it was because Diyem controlled him again, so he made a small noise to make sure. No, he was still in control. But if he spoke too much, would Diyem control him again?

Gods, why did he agree to this? Everything was so hazy…

“Diyem,” Spice said, her voice even, “if you’re silencing him right now… I want you to listen to me real carefully. If you don’t explain every single step to what was going through that head of yours, I’m taking you straight to Arceus, or Anam, or literally anyone to put you away for good.”

Enet cradled Angelo in her arms, though her look was stern. She was looking at Angelo, but he had a feeling it wasn’t toward him

“The only reason we aren’t killing you is because we think you’re an ally. Play with us, and you’re going to be your own demise. That clear?”

Angelo tried and failed to steady his breathing. Diyem wasn’t talking. Maybe he was thinking. His fur bristled at the very thought of Diyem being somewhere in his head, biding his time, and he could barely feel it. Maybe he couldn’t feel it at all, and it was just some phantom sensation. Gods, was this how they all felt?!

This is why I hate people. Go ahead. Just don’t attract too much attention. Surely they’re enough?

That much was reasonable, he hoped.

“Okay,” Angelo said. “Okay. I’ll explain. But… you can’t tell anyone, alright?”

“Wait, who am I talking to right now?”

“A-Angelo, it’s really me this time! Honest! I mean, I wasn’t lying before, that was Diyem, I—”

“Alright, alright, I believe you.” Spice waved her hands as if to clear the air. “What are you doing?”

“Diyem said… he thinks he knows where the final part of his fragment is, you know, since Necrozma is the other one. But he has to go to Destiny Tower to confront Arceus about it.”

“And he thought he could do that with… you?”

“I… have a lot of talent, but no power or drive, or something,” Angelo said. “I just… thought that if he gave me that power, and maybe the drive, it’d…”

Spice’s frown deepened. “Really, Diyem? Taking advantage of that? I thought you were past that.”

I’m past it as a default… but it’s still a skill.


“Um, he says that it’s a skill to use? Um, when… necessary, maybe?”

Enet growled again. “Bad,” she stated.

“Yeah, what she said.”

Emerging from Enet’s mane was Amelia, who had a similar, disapproving glare. But behind that was wary trust. “Diyem, you… know it’s a bad idea to go against us, right? It makes sense to keep working together, so… why not just tell us? You can trust us with this.”

Oh, good, here we go…

“You aren’t going anywhere until you explain,”
Spice stated flatly.

Following her demand, Enet plopped Angelo on the abandoned bed. Dust puffed out all at once before settling down on Angelo’s lap.

“Explain,” she demanded.

Angelo braced, waiting for Diyem to take over. When nothing happened, he glanced left and right. Um… are you going to talk?

Oh, NOW I’m allowed to take over.

And suddenly, Angelo couldn’t control his body again, and he sat up, looking directly at Spice and Enet. He was relaxed and calm in posture, completely unlike Angelo—no need to act this time.

“The hesitation was because I waited, politely, for Angelo to ask me to take over,” he said.

“Don’t get passive-aggressive with me,” Spice said. “Talk.”

By now, someone else had wandered into the area. Angelo’s body stiffened against his will, which was odd. He didn’t feel particularly nervous when seeing that Goodra—their leader—but for some reason, Diyem did. And that Goodra was frowning, like he was disappointed.

Diyem’s whole countenance seemed to change. He deflated, exhaled through his nose, and nodded. “As you wish.”

<><><>​

“I located Owen and the others,” Barky stated, staring into a strange rift at the apex of Destiny Tower. “They are… scattered. Some of them are too far for me to reach at all. Others will take time.”

“Hmmh, well, that’s very unfortunate,” Palkia said, arms crossed. “Space beyond Kilo is outside of my domain. If I leave here, I’ll be much weaker.”

“That’s true for any of us,” Barky said. “Leaving Kilo is a huge risk. I may have granted Necrozma his original dominion, but Dark Matter is an unknown variable. We don’t know how far Necrozma’s domain reaches; if we enter a place where he has an advantage, it’s over.”

“Wait, a few are on the move…” Barky narrowed his eyes. “I believe that is Trina and Mhynt with Team Alloy—aside from Owen. They’re all gathering at… what…?”

“Somewhere close, I hope,” Palkia said.

Just then, a dark blot expanded at the back of the tower summit. Red, glowing eyes appeared in the center of the black vortex. An ink-black dragon slithered out, sprouting legs and a sturdier form as it fully emerged.

“Ah, Giratina! Wonderful, the trio is here.” Palkia greeted. “Oh?”

Atop her back was Madeline, and behind her were many trembling, terrified citizens.

“I rescued who I could on my way here,” Giratina said. “But… it’s too chaotic down there.”

“Mm. I see.” Barky nodded. “Thank you anyway, Giratina.”

There was something nostalgic about seeing those three. If only he could also be sure that the Divine Dragons were also safe. But he only knew of Ghrelle’s safety; Aramé had gone quiet, and Brandon must have still been caught up in Kilo Village.

“Madeline, would you be able to lead them into the lower floors for now? They may take temporary shelter there until we can stabilize things. That goes for all rescues going forward; please spread the word.”

“Of course. And, if you can’t see, Nate and Necrozma have stopped clashing. A distortion separated the two.”

“For better or worse, that’s news,” Barky said. “Thank you.”

As Madeline departed, Barky stared into the portal again.

“They’re across the aura sea,” Barky went on “But… they couldn’t have been killed, could they? That makes no sense. If they died in the Voidlands, in the Voidlands they’d remain…”

“Could they have been shunted out of the Voidlands and then killed?”

“If that was the case, their spirits would not have gone to that specific area. It’s… cut off from the rest of the spirit world.” He lowered his head, thinking. “But that could only mean… they traveled there after being ejected from the Voidlands. From… a living plane?”

“Is that possible?” Palkia asked.

Barky pieced things together, occasionally glancing at Giratina. “Tell me,” he said. “Do you suppose the nature of Kilo… could have led to this?”

“Its… nature?” Giratina repeated, taking residence at the edge of the tower to look over its apex.

Barky followed her gaze. What had once been a beautiful horizon was now a twisted, morphing quilt of colors and distortion bubbles, shuffling and moving around with little pattern. The world was in literal chaos with only pockets of stability remaining. So far, the bubbles were large, some of them enough to encompass entire ecosystems. But Barky had seen a few of them split apart into smaller sections. If they got too small, there would be nothing left of Kilo except a chaotic soup of distorted matter.

“This world has always been… malleable,” Barky explained. “The Pokémon here are, on average, very strong compared to that of other worlds. And the world itself is also resilient, even without divine intervention. Even this…” He gestured with a jerk of his head to the sea of bubbles, “I think can be repaired in short order, once our powers are restored.”

“Are other worlds not the same?” Giratina asked. “Then again… Madeline speaks of a world that was not quite as volatile, but also slower to recover. The world I came from, as a human.”

“What does that mean here?” Dialga asked. “Our world’s general resilience against the Pokémon’s general power. That’s simply another way for the world to exist, yes?”

“It is. I thought nothing of it. But seeing how external powers interact with it… I wonder if Kilo itself has always been a land between life and death.” His gaze went skyward. “That this hollow sphere used to contain my old sins, a world where a whole island’s people were killed and then revived, were… never truly alive again, but somewhere between. Undead, but only by name and technicality…”

Madeline returned from the lower floors. “You mean to say if Kilo is some sort of half-death realm, we’d have access to both the living and dead worlds if allowed traversal.”

“In effect, yes,” Barky said. “But you’d be weaker in either.”

“But on the flip side, the living and the dead would both be weaker in Kilo,” Madeline concluded. “The reason spirits are so weak, for example. Though, we do not have an example of someone alive entering Kilo, do we?”

Barky hesitated, then looked down. “We do,” he said. “I… am technically of the living. And I am very weak here.”

“Your current power is you being weak?” Palkia asked, looking like he wanted to suddenly take abundant notes. “Fascinating.”

“There were other reasons I suspected this was the case. Giving some of that power to Star when the world was created; the blight I knew was somewhere in Kilo; many small factors. But this must have also been a contributing factor. Its… betweenness.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s entirely relevant anyway. But it may be something to keep in mind later when we have more time to think. Now, Dialga.”

“Hm?”

“How strong are your powers over this domain’s time?”

“If you’re asking to undo all of this by going back in time, I can’t recommend—”

“No, I know that’s beyond you,” Barky said. “But what about its speed?”

“Its speed… As in, how quickly right here is?”

“Yes.”

“I suppose I could dilate things. The part of me that does total pauses is still weakened thanks to the piece Eon has somewhere. Presumably, he misplaced it at the lab…”

“Ah, Nevren likely has it,” Palkia hummed.

Dialga rolled his eyes. “But I can manipulate it. Why?”

“As of now, I am unsure if Owen and Zena will be able to return to us. Their time is flowing very slowly… I recall making Kilo in such a way that it flowed quickly. Its lifetime would have been over in a matter of years to the world they came from, so normalcy would come relatively quickly.”

“Ahh, I remember, now,” Dialga nodded. “A hundred-fold was the extent I was able to do that. A hundred days here is one day there… Oh, I see the problem.”

Barky nodded gravely. “If anyone tries to reach Owen now, they will be stuck in that same time flow. Slowed to the point where they may return to a ruined Kilo or no Kilo at all.”

“I see. Then… I should bring Kilo down to its normal timescale?” Dialga asked.

Kanto… Barky knew about Kanto very well. He knew about that whole world. He’d created it long ago, perhaps with much more grace and autonomy than what he’d put together for Kilo. This planet of guilt stuck in its little pocket between life and death…

Necrozma had been right. This world shouldn’t have existed for as long as it did; it outlasted itself. And now…

“Er, Arceus,” Dialga said.

“Hm? Oh. Right. I’m…”

“Are you all right?” Palkia asked. “You seem distracted.”

“I was thinking about… Kanto. The world Owen is from,” he said. “I wonder why Necrozma sent him there of all places. Perhaps under the assumption we wouldn’t be able to reverse the time dilation. But it still seems… specific. Unless Owen manipulated it himself?” Barky tilted his head. “Hmm…”

“I’m going to just equalize the times,” Dialga said. “That’s probably the safest, and—”

“No,” Barky interrupted. “…Invert it.”

“In… invert?” Dialga said. “That means Owen might be stuck there for months before we can figure out a way to rescue him. You do reali—” Dialga stopped himself and glanced at Giratina and Palkia.

“Ahh, I see,” Palkia said. “How very interesting, Arceus…”

“He’s going to worry,” Giratina said. “He will figure out how much time has passed and therefore the speed of time’s flow. He will spend every day agonizing over—Palkia, what are you doing?”

“One moment,” Palkia said, now crawling on the ground as if searching for something.

Barky grumbled. “Do you really need to be so distractable? What’s going on?”

“Success!” Palkia declared, lifting a tiny Charmander off the ground. Palkia was, mercifully, very delicate in how he picked the tiny thing up.

Giratina groaned. “Palkia, please don’t tell me she was hidden in your bag again.”

“Oh, certainly not; I double-checked. She must have made her way here by accident.”

“Concerning.” Barky drifted forward, narrowing his eyes. Something about this Charmander was… strange. The very way she was created was beyond what the world had been prepared for, so her properties would be volatile. If Barky had his way, he’d try to put her somewhere more controlled so she could develop safely and—if she turned out to be dangerous… Mm, no. Now he was starting to sound like Necrozma.

“Madeline, sorry to send you on more errands, but can you… put her somewhere?”

“She’s just going to disappear again, you know,” Madeline said. “She has a talent for that.”

Barky, growing impatient, said, “Dialga, please… invert the time with Owen’s current location. Completely.”

“Completely? But, Arceus, that will mean if we do not have the means to find Owen, and he has no means of returning here, he could be stuck there for months! Perhaps years! One day here would become a hundred there. A single kilosecond here would be over a day to him. A—”

“I know, Dialga. Do it.” Barky spoke harshly at first, like a proper command, but then softened his gaze. “Please.”

Palkia tilted his head, but Madeline and Giratina shared a knowing glance.

“This is oddly emotional of you, with all respect,” Giratina said.

“Owen will spend every day worrying,” Madeline warned. “If we have a way to tell him not to worry…”

“I… will send a thought to him. I’m sure I can at least do that while we try to establish a more meaningful connection.” Barky nodded. “But he will be… safer there. It would be less risky, and more practical if time passed faster for him than if it did for us. So, Dialga. If you may…”

“…I understand. Please, give me a moment.”

Dialga approached the portal and focused on the tiny dot that Barky highlighted with divine energy. When that seemed to fail—Dialga could not influence that world from Kilo—he resorted to altering Kilo’s region’s flow instead.

“I’ll need your help for this,” Dialga said to Barky, who nodded and sprouted golden filaments from his back. Divine energy radiated off of him, some of the Hands stitching themselves to Dialga’s flank.

To everyone of Kilo, of the Voidlands, even across their aura sea, nothing seemed to change. But Barky had faith that Dialga knew what he was doing, and time’s flow was changing. That was why he entrusted him with that power in the first place.

“…There we are,” Dialga finally said, nodding at Barky.

The Hands detached from him and faded into his divine form again.

“It’s as you wished. You should send that message to him quickly before he gets too worried.

“Ah, of course. I’ll… think of something concise within the next… few seconds.”

He glanced at Giratina, Madeline, and Palkia. The former two both smiled warmly at him as if approving of his gesture in their silent way. Palkia was, as usual, distracted, squeezing the air in front of him as if it perplexed him.

Wait.

“Palkia, where is Mu?”

“Hm? Oh, she should have been in the lower levels of the tower, last I che—”

“No, no, not—not Mew. Mu, the Charmander child.”

“Ah, funny you should ask.” He squeezed his claws. “She disappeared from my grip while I was distracted, you see. She’s so light I must not have noticed.”

Dialga slumped where he stood as if the weight of Palkia’s stupidity was on his back. “You’re never allowed to babysit.”

“I would hope not! I’m far too busy.”

“She just disappeared again, as I warned,” Madeline said.

“Ah! Wait!” Palkia raised a claw and then dug through a satchel around his neck. “I have just the invention for this!”

He pulled out some kind of compass. “It’s already tuned to her. I’ll just use my powers over space and make sure she’s—oh, interesting.” His eyes followed the needle…

Barky didn’t want to look. His gut already told him all he needed.

The needle pointed into the rift… directly at that faraway Kanto star.

<><><>​

“Welcome to the Fallen Heart HQ.”

In the lobby of the place that looked much like the heart HQ of home, they met two vaguely familiar Pokémon. The first was an Aerodactyl with a firm look in her eyes that, had she not been female, they would have mistaken for Jerry in an instant. The other was someone who physically looked a lot like Angelo—and shared his name—but had none of the meek energy. This Smeargle stood with a wide smile and an excited shine on his expression. He was practically glowing.

“And thank you,” Granbull Jin said, “for coming on such short notice. As you can see…” He eyed Mhynt’s group. She nodded back. “We have some company.”

“Company of the living!” Smeargle said with a beaming smile. “Not a common sight! Perhaps even unprecedented!”

“Yes. But that unprecedented nature comes with a massive crisis of its own: They, of the living, are leaking into this world. Even as we have been waiting for everyone to gather here, Pokémon have been appearing here that were positive they were alive. They simply wandered into here like turning down the wrong street corner.” He crossed his arms, growling. “It’s utter chaos. We don’t know how to feed them. Our spiritual matter has no true substance for their bodies, so they wander to find proper food. If this keeps up, they will be among the dead.”

“And this started happening because the third divine power just got some of that power back,” Mhynt said. “And perhaps something more that’s been dormant, but…”

“Right.” Jin nodded. “That’s why I wanted to gather you all here. We need to go over something important now that we have so much knowledge on the subject. Mhynt? You are a key figure in this, and you will likely be able to fill some of the holes that we’ve had for some time.”

“About… Necrozma,” Mhynt said.

“Not just Necrozma,” Jin said. Then, to the others in the room, Jin walked along the conference room and pulled out a single book from the shelf. It didn’t matter which one; the book flashed with light and changed to the very book he wanted, which he placed on the table.

“I want to tell you about the Dark War… the first war of Quartz, before it became Kilo.”



Author’s Note: Hey, everyone! This marks the final chapter before the semifinal Special Episode. As usual, I’m going to need a full month to get this one done, since it’s more complicated and chunkier than a normal chapter. Thank you for your patience, and thanks for reading!

And that’s right, you read correctly. Incoming is the second-to-last Special Episode of the story. We’re nearing the home stretch. All that remains is another set of chapters, the final Special Episode, and then a final set of chapters and the finale arc.
 

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
  3. lucario
Hello, hello! Back again for another review of Hands of Creation! Last time I did this, Union’s Review Event was nearing its close, and little old me was intent on chipping away at one of the biggest PMD fics in existence. (About to be the biggest, in fact - from what I heard recently, it’s a stone’s throw from overtaking Warped Skies’ wordcount. Big achievement right there!)

Last review dealt with Chapter 25 and Special Episode 2, but I’ve read a fair amount more since then, up until the end of Act I. It’s been a compelling read thus far, and it’s been great to see the four members of Team Alloy overcome their crazed states to evolve. Along with that, we see more development in the world of Kilo, although the curtain shrouding its mysteries remains undrawn. Perhaps in this upcoming act, Team Alloy and their allies can draw back that curtain, if only a little.

That said, from the vague whispers and little snippets I’ve heard in the pipeline, once that curtain is pulled back, nothing in this fic will be the same again…

Act II

So this short intro to Act II is a nice little insight into Star and Barky’s relationship. It’s an intriguing way of balancing the two halves of the equation, and neither is really painted as the morally superior one. Both bicker like children, in spite of being the highest gods of the universe. Star expresses admiration for how Team Alloy overcame their difficulties, yet Barky reminds her of her constant fixes ensuring the current mess Kilo is in.

But one thing that struck me in this prologue to Act II is the relationship between Barky and Star, particularly the former who we haven’t seen a ton of at this point in the story, and that does make me wonder about the implications for our heroes. Particularly Owen, who Barky approached before, and certain Pokémon like Brandon who openly side with Barky. No doubt there’s more Guardians and other important characters who are sworn to the Creator, who we’ll probably meet in this upcoming Act.

Could the meeting of such people be a subtle influence of Barky on our heroes, and could Owen and co. turn away from Star once they begin to hear Barky’s side of the coin? Because by the sounds of it, Star’s gonna use the power of the Orbs to dethrone Barky. Kinda worrying, to say the least. Definitely liking our resident Mew less and less, not that I liked her much to begin with.

As a light aside:

Fists clenched again, she spoke, “Once I have them all… you’re done.”

Xenoblade brainrot is real; I cannot see that last part without thinking of a certain Ardainian captain.

This prologue does a good job at setting up our Act. Now then, let’s see how it all plays out…



Chapter 40

Opening up this chapter, the display of comfort between Mispy and Demitri is nice to see; comfort between characters is always good.

Amia tilted her head at Manny. “Now, why does she always pick you to get summoned?”

Manny shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe she feels safer since she’s got a Type advantage. I know she hates goin’ through Anam. Fits the pattern. Besides, I dunno. I don’t mind. It’s kinda cute. Don’cha just wanna scratch under her chin?”

Hmm. This is one of those instances where it’s explained in the text, but I do wonder if there’s more to why Star goes with Manny. Is there a deeper reason? Then again, that might just be me overthinking it.

Zena definitely knows more than she lets on regarding Owen’s memories. Once again, I wonder if this alludes to something deeper, and one that isn’t just referring to Owen’s muddled memories throughout the first Act.

Ah yes, the gradual regaining of memories - I reckon that’ll be an interesting thing to observe as the fic goes on. Just what is locked away in Owen’s mind?

I alluded to this before on United, but I can’t help but compare Gawen’s fused form to Xenoblade 3’s Ouroboros forms. Another instance of game developers taking notes from you, I see :mewlulz:

It’s kinda touching to see Gawen being open with Rhys and thanking him for raising them. Even calling him Pops! That’s touching.

Gawen took care to avoid the spike on his chest, but otherwise kept the Lucario in a full, warm embrace.

Ah yes, the age-old problem of Lucario; you wouldn't t want to show it affection only to get stabbed by the spike instead.

I do like how Rhys and Manny are contrasted in spite of both being the same species. While species diversity is good (and I imagine some folks in the PMD fandom would groan at the idea of having two punchdogs in the same fic), there is an interesting novelty in having two species in the same fic that aren’t just parents and comparing them personality-wise.

(Though watch - there might well be a revelation of a familial relation between them. Wasn’t there some line possibly alluding to that back in the chapter where Rhys and Manny duked it out?)

Maybe The Steel Chemist—he couldn’t remember a few of the volumes, so it would be worth reading again. Or maybe he could reread Perish Book? That sounded better.

Interesting. I see that HoC’s shonen tendencies extends to its references too.

Also more wholesome feels with Owen and his parents! :veelove:

“Gather everyone up! I’ve got three places we can look!”

Oh baby, a triple! How many of these will end in failure or success?

So it’s a stalemate Barky and Star are stuck in. But the ominous warning from Star last time, about intending to overthrow Barky once she has all the Orbs still remains fresh in my mind. Perhaps the quest to defeat Eon is the dominant one right now, but when Eon is gone, what then?

“Okay, okay,” Star sighed. “You two Luvdisc can go. Someone leave a note for Anam to see when he gets back so he doesn’t freak out that everyone left, alright? You know how panicked he gets if he feels alone.”

Is that wise, leaving Hot Spot Cave alone? Would the Hunters strike there in the absence of all of the Guardians? Probably not if there’s no Orbs to be had, but the danger remains.

I see Owen is just like the average Mystery Dungeon player, obsessing over inventories. Big L for Willow though, not packing Oran Berries. Here’s hoping that doesn’t come back to bite her later.

One ambush and—okay, okay, she said she gets th’ point already! I’m takin’ over, yer actin’ up!”

Okay, this is pretty neat. I like how the two halves of Gawen can interrupt each other mid-convo with the different consciences in the same body.

It felt… vaguely familiar. It was recent, compared to his long, long life—but it still felt distant. Probably a reset before his current memories, or two, or maybe three. Someone he met in a previous ‘life,’ in a set of scattered memories.

Finding out just what’s behind Owen’s memories - it’ll be fun to watch the layers peel back and find just what truths lay under the surface in upcoming chapters.

Oh hey, Aerodactyl’s back. Had a feeling he’d show up at some point. And with his reappearance, I will say that I had a feeling a conflict like this would develop between the Guardians and non-Guardians. We seem to focus so much on characters with absurdly high-skill levels, between the Guardians, Hunters and mutants that make up our ragtag gang, that it can be easy to forget those who aren’t in that circle of power who would resent and envy our heroes for having such awesome power at their beck and call.

And as expected, a curbstomp battle. Owen sure has grown a lot since his first confrontation back in the first few chapters, huh? All fully evolved now, and with a Guardian’s strength by his side.

Aerodactyl searched for a way out; this deep, dark forest looked the same in all directions.

Minor correction made above.

Also, damn did things take a sudden turn with the corrosive nature of the poisonous forest. Close call with saving Aerodactyl, though it’s intriguing that he still lives. I imagine a fair amount of other fic writers, if given this scenario, would probably write him in to die altogether, as a testament of guilt for Owen and a display of just how dangerous the forest can be.

By keeping him alive, there is more that can be done with Jerry as a character, and that provides an interesting potential for future interaction and the potential for redemption. So fair play on that front.

Conclusion

This Act is off to a pretty compelling start. The quest for all the Orbs continues on, and we gain more insight into the Star-Barky feud, along with the balance between them. It was also nice to see the heartfelt moments between characters, along with Owen’s growth in being able to curbstomp Jerry when he struggled against him at the beginning of the fic.

All in all, I look forward to what Act II has to offer! Good job, and I eagerly anticipate for what is to come.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
This is one of those instances where it’s explained in the text, but I do wonder if there’s more to why Star goes with Manny. Is there a deeper reason? Then again, that might just be me overthinking it.

The fun thing about HoC is that sometimes you're overthinking it, and other times these little lines explained so casually have a very deep meaning. I'll give you a freebie here and say that Star preferring Manny has much more meaning than simple Type.

This Act is off to a pretty compelling start.

I'm glad! Word of warning, admittedly: Act II is probably on the weaker side, and might be the weakest of the four acts in my personal opinion as the writer. There's a lot of "setting up the pieces" with somewhat distant payoff. I'd've probably condensed some chapters, had I the opportunity to rewrite it all over again (I won't be, far too much work for too little payoff.) I hope that the character interactions and little hints can tie you over until the main plot kicks into high gear again, as right now, their main focus is, of course, gathering the last of the unknown Orbs.

Thanks for reading, and I'm glad you've enjoyed it so far!
 
Special Episode 12 - The Dark War

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Special Episode 12 – The Dark War

Sometimes, when nothing is left, all I can do is smile and cheer. That’s why I kept smiling, even as the world fell apart around me. Maybe that’s what made me so resistant to those Shadows. Maybe it was just survival.

Maybe I just didn’t want to admit defeat, and smiling was all I could do against it.

I’m somewhere deep inside the life of another person, now. Or another two, or maybe even three people. I’m not “here” anymore. I’m just their memories. Yet, somehow, it feels like they’re talking about me again. Maybe they’re dreaming.

It has me thinking about the past. How it all happened when the first tamer of that dark power—Dark Matter—was taken down.

And how it gave rise to the Dark War.


<><><>​

Dad’s Shadow Fortress was a floating citadel to the south of Quartz Mountain, powered by unknown technology. That’s what Remi called it; obviously, Dad didn’t want it to be named anything like that, no matter how cool and awesome that sounded.

It also helped make sure his ego was in check. That dark force was corroding him; she had to remind him of his innocence as much as possible to keep him sane.

The flying fortress was powered by a mysterious energy that seemed counter to whatever it was that powered Destiny Tower. An Anti-Divine energy. Or was it anti-Radiance? If that’s the case, it was obviously called Shadow Energy, or Dark Energy. But Dark was already related to a subset of Pokémon, and Remi was criticized for calling it Dark Energy. So, instead, she called it Shadow Energy, and it stuck.

At least, to Manny, it stuck. He said something about ‘Dark Energy’ already being the name for something else, but that was just another one of his strange stories.

What mattered was it was a floating spooky castle filled with anti-Radiant energy, and it was cool. And Dad oversaw it. Maybe he was evil, but he was cool, too, and he was still Dad. He was still nice. And maybe one day, if she fought a little harder, she’d be able to get through to him.

Dad always said that Battlehearts like him were just hidden away in the world. Everyone had a small bit of a Battleheart in them, and Dad’s was just more pronounced. And Battlehearts debated and understood one another through battle, and sometimes, the loser of the fight was the winner of the debate. Dad was stronger. But she had heart.

So, she was going to try to beat him again. She wouldn’t win, but the feelings of her heart would flow to him. Maybe she could keep him around. for a little while longer. That was their unspoken routine.

And that was why this lithe Sceptile was hidden inside a supply crate of fruits, curled up and nestled between countless Oran Berries, munching on one to pass the time. She had inherited some of her mother’s powers somehow, maybe from exposure or something divine. She didn’t care.

Inherited didn’t mean it was all that strong, though. But it was just enough to pass through the crate unnoticed with some spectral tunneling.

These berries weren’t fully ripe yet. That was her main tragedy on this trip.

Soon, the crate rumbled and it was hauled onto a heavy-duty flying Pokémon and sent off for the flying fortress.

Then came the hardest part of her infiltrations: waiting to land. She was never the most patient Pokémon. The fliers were so slow! But she guessed she couldn’t blame them if they were carrying her and a load of berries at the same time.

Mercifully, the crate was eventually hauled onto the ground. This was usually when they would open the crate, transport it, or perhaps even scan it for auras again. She’d already evaded it the first time, but while stuck inside, that would be a bad idea. It was time for another warp.

Spectral energy pooled in the Sceptile’s claws like dewdrops, eventually coalescing into a stretchy ball of ectoplasm-like taffy. She wriggled her body and burrowed underneath the berries, making her way to the bottom of the crate. While it was harder to move, she had the strength to push through.

She pasted the plasm-taffy onto the bottom of the crate and held her palm against it. Radiant energy channeled through her arm and into the plasma, lighting it up. The circle expanded, and in an instant, the crate’s floor was gone, and she saw soil in the glow. The artificial terrain of the flying fortress.

She burrowed through and tried to keep most of the berries inside. Once she was completely out of the crate, dust threatening to make her sneeze, the crate itself rumbled as it was lifted off to be hauled somewhere else. Despite this, the portal she’d made did not disappear—though it would soon if it got too far away.

Hastily, she stuck her claw at the portal's edge and peeled it off, instantly dissipating the connection. She balled up the ectoplasm and stuck it in her mouth like a big wad of gum for future use. And because it kinda tasted like Oran Berries now.

She continued to burrow, staying near the surface so she could overhear anyone who spotted her, but not so close that she made any noise. She had this place memorized by now and was confident, based on the footfalls, of where she was.

There! She was safe to emerge.

She wriggled upward and burst out from the soil with a quiet breath, earthen magic closing the burrow behind her once she’d fully emerged.

“Remi.”

“Yeep!” Remi leaped backward and drew out a Leaf Blade from her wrist, slicing at the speaker. A golden barrier flecked with darkness parried the blow so she followed up with her other wrist’s blade. That, too, was parried.

Then, a similar barrier appeared around her whole body like a bubble.

“H-hey!” Remi shouted. “Dad, no fair! You said you wouldn’t do that anymore!”

“Remi, why are you invading my base again?”

“’Cuz you keep making it easy, that’s why!” Remi said. “I mean, come on, a supply crate infiltration? Who even gets away with that anymore?!”

The huge Charizard narrowed his eyes with an unimpressed squint. “If it was so impossible to get away with, why did you do it?”

Cornered again. Her father was always impossible to beat.

When Remi didn’t say anything for too long, Dad finally sighed and said, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

“Yeah!” Remi pumped her fists in the air.

“But nowhere that’s important, alright? I don’t want you… involved in all of this, Remi. I just want you to live a happy life. That’s what I’m fighting here for.”

“I know.” Remi nodded. Her real goal was just to make sure he was alright, after all. That was the only ‘important’ thing here. “And so is Necrozma and the others, but…” she nodded again. “I know. I won’t talk about it during our walk. We’ll… just be Dad and me again.”

“Right.” Dad stared at the wall, made from dark stones, and had a strangely suppressive atmosphere about them. “Just… like old times.”

<><><>​

Remi woke up in the middle of the night after a wonderful, bitter dream. She had been enjoying a picnic with Mom and Dad, and she was a little Treecko again, and the sky was bright and there wasn’t anything she had to worry about.

Reality hit her mere seconds after she awoke on that deep, dark night. The cold air, the lack of any flame…

Her claws dug into the soft soil beneath her. She was tempted to dig herself in completely and see if she could ingrain at all with it, just for some strange primal comfort.

The house was completely silent. Living alone was torture. But she couldn’t find it in her to move back in with Mom when… it would mean she’d have picked a side.

Not that it meant anything anymore. Dad was dead.

And Necrozma had given the order.

Knock knock knock.

Sounded like a rock against the wood.

At first, Remi didn’t want to answer. It was the worst time possible. Midnight, probably. But the worst was that nobody visited anymore. She’d broken up with her ex, Mom was too busy being Lunala, and…

Knock. Knock knock.

Remi growled to herself and stood up. In the dark, her night vision helped her navigate in grayscale.

Her home was a cave of vines and leaves that she had constructed herself between two trees as the main foundation. The ceiling was a few inches above her head when standing fully upright, but she habitually crawled. It appealed to her primal instincts.

The cylindrical hall went up a gentle incline before leveling out at the main entrance. She tugged at a vine and the door rolled to the side.

A Shiftry stood there, glowing in the night, with his arms crossed and his head lowered.

Remi released the vine and it closed.

“Wait—”

Remi cursed him.

“Please,” Necrozma begged, “I only want to talk.”

His voice was muffled behind the door, but she kept her claws over the vine. He wouldn’t see it. But she always hesitated in saying no.

She pulled on the vine again, reopening the entrance.

“What?” Remi demanded.

Necrozma, in his Shiftry body, closed his eyes and lowered his head. “I’m sorry for what happened,” he said. “I will rectify it when this is over. That is my promise to you.”

“How am I supposed to believe that?” Remi asked. “You’re going to end the world. Everything that I call my home is going to be gone if you win, and I know it! Don’t try to give me vague words that it’ll all be okay. You’re ending the world!

“The force we’re against will do far worse,” Necrozma said sharply.

“What can possibly be worse?!”

The Shiftry opened his mouth as if to counter. He paused and then seemed to deflate.

“You deserve to know,” he said, “the nature of what I’m fighting against, and why Star and Barky ultimately agreed the way they did. I explained this to your father as well, but he was too far gone.”

Remi continued to glare.

“Can we talk?”

“Where’s Mom?”

“She’s just fine. The others are at Destiny Tower preparing a few things. That’s all.” He nodded.

Could she believe that? Did she have any reason to think otherwise? Not really. Necrozma’s side of the war just got a serious upper hand.

“Fine,” Remi said.

It was late, she was tired, but she was too worked up for bed now. If Necrozma could at least explain a thing or two about what was going on, and if he had some kind of assurance for all of this… fine. But if it was anything like the last time, Remi resolved, then she’d kick him right out.

She walked down the leafy hallway and slipped into a small living room fitted with soft leaves for seats and several oversized leaves that blocked the otherwise open windows. She curled up and then stretched on one of those leafy seats to get cozy, while Necrozma simply stood near the other. She suspected he didn’t know it was normal for someone to sit down during conversations, considering he usually floated passively.

“What could possibly be worse than literally the world ending?” Remi opened.

Necrozma hummed but nodded. “I understand your fears of death and Armageddon,” he said. “I can sympathize. A world reaching the end of its lifespan is never a pretty affair. Well, sometimes it is, but in this case, it isn’t.”

“You’re not a good pep talker, you know that?”

“I will work on it.” Necrozma bobbed his strange Shiftry head. “Now, as for what’s worse. I have seen worlds fall to ruin in such a way that even the souls are unable to escape without intervention. A place where death is not a release but turmoil ever after. Aimless suffering for no point but the fault of a failed god.

“Put another way, I am granting Kilo its proper death and release, whereas this strange force is at risk of plunging it into a reality of unknown suffering, divorced from the gods that created it. It is a risk.”

“Unknown suffering… a risk? But you don’t know what it would do. Like, did it choose to be a dark and unknown force? What if it just looks like that?” Remi said.

“What if the dark force of negativity just happens to look dark,” Necrozma repeated.

“Y-yeah…”

Necrozma stared. Remi nervously shifted in her seat, curling her toe claws into the leaves.

“You couldn’t have seen so many worlds for this,” Remi murmured.

“I have,” Necrozma said. “That is my job as an Overseer. It is a title that… I do not give out lightly, but due to the state of the world, there is little risk or loss in speaking of it now.”

“Overseer… Like, just someone who watches over things?”

“In essence, though obviously, we also enforce and adjust when things get out of hand. Such as now.”

“So, you aren’t even from this world. You’re in… Mom called it Ultra Space?”

Necrozma chuckled. “Far beyond that,” he said. “But I’m familiar with Ultra Space, too.”

That didn’t make sense to her. Well, it kind of did, but it seemed like too high a concept to be important to her. “So, basically, you… see other worlds that Star and Barky made, and how they went wrong before?”

“No, no.” Necrozma held up his leaves.

Just then, Remi realized he was floating a little. Had he always been? Man, she hated psionics sometimes. Seemed like an unconscious showoff.

“Is something bothering you?” Necrozma asked.

“Uh? Oh, no. So, wait, what worlds, then?”

“Worlds and realities from other gods. Other Creators, entire realms outside of the one you live in now. That’s where I usually reside—the Overworld.”

“Alright… and… I’m supposed to believe that?” Remi asked, but it was an empty threat. It added up nicely for Necrozma’s position and the way Barky and Star regarded him. In some ways, it answered a lot of questions about how Necrozma fit in this at all. He didn’t. He was some… reality-foreigner. No! He was—

“You’re a divine consultant?”

The Shiftry-bodied Necrozma blinked. “…Yes, actually.”

“Who also becomes, like, an outlaw wrangler, or officer, if something really bad happens.”

“I… suppose that’s a way to put it, yes.”

“So, you’re kinda like when Dad used to—” She tried to hide her pause, remembering Dad at all, but she pressed on. “Like how he used to, you know, fly around and help little things around towns. Except instead of little things like finding Mom kidnapped by bandits and stuff, it’s… gods having trouble with their worlds.”

“That is the gist of my work,” Necrozma confirmed. “A divine… world… rescuer.”

“Then…” Remi closed her eyes. “Why are you destroying this world? What’s the big secret?”

“If I can destroy it,” Necrozma said, “I can remove the dark force entirely. It permeates the world—if even a single other soul exists inside, I can’t remove it. Or, rather… the reverse is true. For me to remove this dark entity, I would have to remove everything attached to it… and it was created as part of this world. One of two entities.”

“Two?” Remi asked.

“The second exists within the Tree of Life,” Necrozma said. “They are not very talkative, but compared to this entity of darkness, they seem more… benevolent.”

“Oh. Then… that’s probably the one that only knows all the good stuff about the world. Maybe they’re counterparts?”

“A reasonable guess, and when it comes to entities present as part of the world’s fabric, it’s also a likely one. But we don’t know for sure, and unfortunately, they do not seem to be very helpful against the negative half.”

More information that she didn’t know what to do with. Still… that other half, why wasn’t that one helping? She could ask later. Tree of Life… Wasn’t that the place Pokémon tended to disappear if they ventured too close?

“I apologize if this is all too much information,” Necrozma said.

“You sorta threw a lot at me… Why didn’t you tell the others about this?”

“I did. This is typically for divine ears only. However, the circumstances have changed, and due to your position with… my more direct subordinate, and the state of the world, I felt it would have been wise to inform you next. You may also help us if you wish.”

A small part of Remi wondered if this bombardment of information was meant to calm her down. She was overwhelmed and a little confused, but she didn’t feel as mad at Necrozma anymore. But as the silence settled in, she remembered…

“You still need to fix Dad.”

“I will,” Necrozma said.

“How?”

“His state of mind can be reversed. It is a psychic matter, and I am, of course, one such Pokémon. Perhaps the strongest and most skilled of the dimension.” Necrozma nodded.

“Then why’d you pick a Shiftry? They’re Dark, aren’t they?”

“Well, that… wasn’t part of my considerations, but you do know this is a fake body, right?”

“What, you’re just a bunch of light inside of that thing?”

The Shiftry’s chest cracked and split open, revealing a blinding fissure of light.

“Gah! Okay, okay, I believe you!” Remi couldn’t see a thing. Even when he withdrew himself, her night vision was shot.

Remi squeezed her fists, thinking. “But you already tricked Dad with the Mind Trio. How am I supposed to trust you, huh?”

“I never held any ill will toward you, and you do not have darkness corrupting your spirit. But if you need a means to trust me…” Necrozma hummed, tapping his foot on the ground. The strange, gourd-like belly of his Shiftry body glowed dimly in the night. “…Hm. I shall give you a piece of my power for… safekeeping.”

“Safekeeping?” Remi squinted. “Safekeeping how?”

Necrozma put his leafy hands together. Light coalesced like dewdrops, becoming a great big ball that forced Remi, once again, to close her eyes as she muttered a curse about the light under her breath.

When she opened them again, Necrozma held a small diamond in his leaves with a small, black symbol in the middle.

“What’s that?”

“This is known as a Z-Crystal in some worlds, but here, people call them light crystals. It is a piece of my true form… and is infused with my divine power. It’s far more than a typical Z-Crystal of other worlds.”

Remi reached out and poked it. The light crystal burst into pale green motes that drifted to Remi. “Ah! What’s happening—”

“Well, I was going to explain,” Necrozma said as she tried to bat the light off her to no effect. “But I suppose simply accepting the power will do. Hm. Interesting that you didn’t drop dead.”

What?!

“Temporarily!” Necrozma amended. “I suppose an… only-mostly-dead state. But that didn’t happen, hm. Perhaps it is because you are so strongly tied to light already…”

“I’m gonna pretend I understand,” Remi grumbled, dusting off her scales again. She felt warm. But it was in a weird way like she had a blanket over her, and she didn’t want that. Not when it reminded her of Dad.

But… she also felt something else. This divine power… was very strong indeed. She glanced at her home and suddenly the grass of the house tidied itself up, shrinking in some parts and flourishing in others.

“Ah!” Remi gasped again. “I… I didn’t even put effort into that. I just thought and it happened…”

“I felt that Grass would suit you well,” Necrozma said. “It’s your natural element.”

“Right… And you’re just… giving this to me.”

Necrozma nodded. “As I said, I need your help. And I have crossed you once. The onus was on me to make attempts to repair that bridge.”

And… to his credit, he backed up his words with action.

Remi heaved a sigh. “Okay,” she said. “But I want Dad back as soon as this is over, and this world is going to survive. Okay?”

“If you can find a way to rid this world of that corrosive force without destroying it,” Necrozma said, “I will do everything in my power to achieve that goal. And if you fail… you will be with your father anyway. I promise you that, under my care as an Overseer.”

Ominous way of phrasing it. But she could press on it later when she understood more of this Overseer business.

So, on that quiet night, she held out a hand just as a gentle breeze let the leaves dance in the dark.

“It’s a deal.”

Necrozma looked confused, but then understood and let Remi grasp the leaves of his right hand.

Remi squeezed the leaves tight; Necrozma’s eyes widened with surprise as she pulled him close, clamping her claws onto them.

“But if you try the same trick on me, I’ll side with that force the same way Dad did. Got it?”

“Ng… yes.” Necrozma shook his arm. “I understand.”

Remi grinned and let go. “Good!”

Necrozma nearly fell back had it not been for a helpful vine that spontaneously rose from the ground behind him.

“Now,” she said, “let’s talk strategy.”

<><><>​

Destiny Tower’s fiftieth floor was in a controlled frenzy of murmurs between the dead and living alike. On the fiftieth floor, there was a border that was invisible to most, but Remi had grown just keen enough to sense the change. Just below was the world of the living; just above, spirits manifested freely from the heavens.

Though, in this case, they were powerful warriors that had been resummoned by Necrozma’s light, disturbed from their slumber within the light dragon. All spirits went to Necrozma when their time in the living world was over, where they slept until the end of the world.

Only recently did Remi understand why… It was simply because Necrozma had planned to bring them all to the Overworld for whatever he did with them after. Presumably, the proper afterlife? She certainly hoped so, if this world was just… some temporary place.

But now, to assure that they would all be able to return to Necrozma, he had to release some old warriors to fight among the living again.

Remi got to know a few of them, but the one she got along with the most was a Serperior who seemed to have a mastery over leadership. She was a great leader some five hundred years ago and led a village to great prosperity in a forest to the north, defending against bandits and other encroaching forces before taking them over herself.

That kind of talent… would be a welcome tactician to replace Dad, in some ways. Remi wondered if she was the one responsible for the plan to take down Dad in the first place…

No, no. She was getting distracted again. She was an ally now and Necrozma promised that he’d make things right if they could stop the corruption of the world.

Logically, too. She’d asked Star and Barky and they confirmed as much. And, well, unless all three gods lied to her, it had to be true—and if they did lie… it was a lost cause anyway, right?

There was no point in worrying, then!

The ground rumbled, nearly toppling Remi over.

Okay, there was one thing to worry about.

“Another tremor?” Remi called. “What’s going on?!”

“Status report over in the war room!” called a Corviknight. “Hurry!”

“Thanks, Xypher!”

She leaped into the ceiling, phasing through the stone to appear one floor up. Then, she crouched down and did the same again, puffing by the fifth time—and startling a few Pokémon on the way.

“Hey!” Remi called as she climbed her seventh floor, pushing herself up. “I’m here!”

“We have stairs,” Necrozma hummed, taking on his radiant, true form this time.

“Meh, like you use them,” Remi countered.

“What?” Necrozma’s light flickered. “Never mind. We have some news and we need to act fast. I’ve already sent a squadron to fend things off, but the corruption’s forces have suddenly mobilized, and rapidly. I suspect in the brief power vacuum left behind, someone took over leadership and is now going for an aggressive strike.

“In some ways, this is good. This means they are likely making themselves vulnerable to a counterattack if they’re coordinating themselves so suddenly. The bad news is a reckless assault will mean casualties on our side, too. I fear for the fates of those who have already been sent out, but I will salvage their souls when this is over. Of that, I assure you.”

“Hey!” Star called breathlessly, blipping into the room. Barky, in his boring way, floated from the upper stairway and entered the room next. “So, while I was scouting around, I heard that they’re calling him the Wraith King. How about that, huh?”

“The force?” Necrozma asked.

“Maybe? Anyway, if we need a name—”

“Unimportant, but useful. As for dealing with this ‘Wraith King,’ I believe it is time that we sent our full assault at once toward their main base while sending a weaker force to intercept their main one. A weaker force dedicated to evasion.”

“Guess that’s me,” Star said, raising a paw. “I’m plenty evasive.”

“Then I shall lead the main striking force,” Barky agreed. “And what will you do?”

“I,” Necrozma said, “am going to be dual-backup. With my Ultra Wormholes, I have already created a firm network between the various places of the world that are key to this place, and I can also Teleport freely. Of the three of us, I am the most mobile.”

“Agreed. This seems simple, then. Our troops are already well-categorized for evasion and striking. You should leave the defending specialists here.” Barky scanned the room, eyes finally locking onto Remi, who shrank back.

“Um, hi.”

“Hello.” Barky looked at Necrozma. “Will she be part of the evasive group?”

“Yes. Remi, are you fine with this?”

“Totally. I want to see who’s trying to lead the charge now. Where are they going?”

“The Tree of Life.”

“Oh.” Remi blinked. “That’s uh… Isn’t the Tree dangerous?”

“Somewhat. But just don’t touch the sap and you should be okay,” Necrozma replied. “…Particularly you, Remi. Extended contact may cause your form to mutate and your emotional state to… spike.”

“Wait, that sounds awesome! Does it hurt?”

“Do not, Remi,” Necrozma warned.

Remi pouted but didn’t protest.

“Now then,” Necrozma said, “there’s something else I wanted to discuss, and do spread this to the Legends who have not yet gone to combat the Wraith King so they may see me. I’ve tried to contact those who I could, but some haven’t gotten back to me. Worrying. But I need half of each of your souls.”

Remi nodded along, listening like she understood everything, until Necrozma’s final sentence registered. “Wait—say that last part again?”

“The Wraith King seems to operate by corroding and corrupting the hearts of those who interact with it. Or, put in less symbolic terms, it infiltrates the aura, encapsulates the spirit, and attempts to make the victim assume the King’s thoughts are their own. This corruption can be complete and absolute… unless we take a piece of the spirit to free the imprisoned half. Therefore… as insurance, I would like your spirits. Half of them.”

“Splitting a soul in this way, so casually…” Barky harrumphed in disapproval. “Perhaps I would tolerate it of Hecto due to the nature of his being, but to do it to spirits not capable of such splitting…”

“Won’t that severely weaken us?” Mom asked, having been quiet up until then. As usual, she only spoke up for the most practical questions. As a Lunala, she had a much more commanding presence about it, too…

“It will weaken you,” Necrozma said. “However, this is a calculated risk. He cannot capture any of your absolute powers this way. Even I will be doing this with my mortal vessel.”

“I see…” Remi sighed. “Well, I guess if that’s how it’s gonna be… Like, how much will it weaken us?”

“Not as exactly as half, thankfully,” Necrozma explained. “The drop in strength, while substantial, does not become debilitating until less than a third of you remains or so, from my experience.”

“A third, huh…” Remi squinted. “Hey, wait a second. Then why not just take a third of us, or something?”

“Er… Why?” Necrozma asked.

“Well then two-thirds of us can go into battle and have better odds of not dying!”

“Well, yes, but then you’d have only a third of you here…” Necrozma folded his wings over each other in front of him. “But I suppose in some ways, it’s another angle at weighing our odds…”

“And with half and half, that’s more power that won’t be fighting!”

A shadow under the table rumbled with laughter. Two red eyes stared at Remi. “You really are Owen’s daughter.”

Mom looked away, frowning.

Remi smiled broadly. “See, even Giratina thinks I’m right!”

“I… suppose so, yes,” Necrozma said, sighing.

Remi knew that meant a lot to Necrozma. Giratina was one of the few that Necrozma had chosen as a Radiant disciple, just like Mom and Dad. And Necrozma wouldn’t want to lose another one.

“Very well,” Necrozma said. “Everyone, please gather up and get the others that we can find. I’ll take a third of your soul, Star will craft bodies for them, and Arceus will handle the proper bonding.”

“Hmm…” That Serperior from before hummed.

“Yes, Trina?” asked Necrozma.

“Will this be safe?”

“Not entirely, but it is a mild risk with only mild side effects overall. Nothing permanent,” Necrozma explained.

“No,” Trina clarified. “Will this be safe in the short term for those who can only persist in the upper half of Destiny Tower? What if we must also descend or flee?”

“Ah. Hmm.” Necrozma’s light dimmed, as did his shattered-glass eyes. The equivalent of his eyes closing, if Remi recalled right. “I can imbue you with my divine light, even if it’s only temporary. The energy should be enough to let you go beyond the spirit realm and into the physical realm.”

“Yeah, I totally understand that,” Remi said. “Simple version, please?”

“Power makes you not die,” Necrozma said, his body fizzling.

“But they’re already dead,” Remi pointed out.

Mom hid a smirk behind her wing, though Remi saw it at her angle. “She has you beat there, Necrozma.”

“…Please gather everyone. I’ll give what I can out. And get the human, too.”

“Which human?” Lunala asked.

Remi had no idea what they were talking about.

“The outer human,” Necrozma said with a meaningful flicker of his eyes.

“I see.” Lunala nodded. “Of course.” She already drifted down the hall to get someone.

Whatever. More divine secret plans. She had her mission. Remi was the first in line, eager to see what this whole soul-splitting would be like. “Hey, so,” she said, “how much does having your spirit cut by a third hurt?”

“Oh, immensely,” Necrozma said, raising a wing.

“Wait, what do you—”

He wasn’t kidding.

<><><>​

Remi lounged atop Giratina’s back for most of the trip, agonizing dramatically over how much everything hurt and how lethargic she felt.

“I’m dying,” Remi announced. “Necrozma killed a third of me. Do you know what that usually does to someone? That’s like losing both your legs and your tail, and then, like…”

“Remi, it’s not the same,” Mom chided, flying after Giratina at a leisurely pace.

“You’re one to talk!” Remi said, pointing an accusatory claw at her. “You didn’t even get your soul carved!”

“Necrozma and I are beings native to light. Or, my body was already converted as such. The darkness can’t corrupt and claim us in the same way it can for you and your semi-Radiant spirit.” Her eyes narrowed condescendingly. “Granted, if you actually became a Cosmog and evolved properly, that would have been a different story.”

Remi snorted. “Yeah, well… Necrozma has to earn it if he wants me under him. Not after all his mistakes.”

It was a topic Remi wouldn’t budge on, even if Mom didn’t agree with how Dad did things. There was more to it. She knew it.

“Hm. Well, regardless… I wanted to take a little detour before heading to the battleground proper. Giratina, go on ahead. I need to go on a special assignment from Necrozma.”

“Of course. Be careful,” Giratina said, slithering further through the air.

“Hey, wait!” Remi said. “Can I go with you, Mom?”

“No.”

“Where are you going?”

Mom paused, glancing at Giratina, and then sighed. “Fine. You shouldn’t be in the heat of battle anyway in your state.” She drifted closer and a dark tendril from Giratina helped roll Remi over to Mom. It was a little weaker than usual; Giratina’s bulkier form couldn’t form tendrils as easily on this side of the world, or something. Remi didn’t pay much attention to the specifics.

“Hold on carefully, Remi,” Mom said.

Mom drifted to the southeast, still speeding through the skies. In the brief transition, the rushing air past their barriers for flight deafened her.

“Wow, it’s cold,” Remi whispered.

“Chilly day,” Mom agreed. Her crescent wings beat a few times and she went back to flying at full speed.

Remi took the time to appreciate the afternoon sun under their flight barrier. It was surreal to think that just past the horizon they were now flying away from, a war was being fought. If she focused, maybe she could feel the ripples of energy as the superpowers clashed.

“How many places do you think they’re fighting?” Remi asked. “Is it mostly in the southern region, or…”

“There’s no telling,” Lunala replied. “Necrozma told us to take this route. The sheer forces involved make travel through my wormholes, or even Hoopa’s powers, unreliable. Not that we can rely on Hoopa to behave anyway…”

Remi scooched up to get in a more comfortable position, her arms aching, and asked, “Where are we going, anyway?”

“…Necrozma requested I track down Azelf. He can feel his power due to being a Radiant soul, and it will likely lead us to where they’d taken… your father.”

All at once, it was like the cold had returned. Her leaves may as well have shriveled up.

“Oh.”

“I can bring you back to Giratina if you want,” Mom said gently.

“No. I’ll go,” Remi replied quickly. “He’s… is he okay?”

“I’m going to find out.”

Remi had no idea how Mom always kept such a cool head. This was horrifying. She thought Dad had been… erased, or something, mentally. But what if he was okay? Or…

“It’ll be fine,” Remi said, though it was mostly to herself.

They flew the rest of the way in silence as Remi ran through all the scenarios in her mind, over and over again…

In some ways, she wondered if the anticipation was worse than the truth.

<><><>​

They landed just before a sandy shoreline where the dirt met the sand. Grass somehow managed to grow regardless in this sandy soil, but Remi had no idea why Mom had landed here. It seemed like it was empty.

“Um… so what’s this for?” Remi asked. “I don’t see Dad.”

“Give it a moment,” Mom replied, folding her wings in front of her like a cloak. She looked like an arrow embedded in the ground while she waited.

It occurred to Remi that she’d never seen Mom sleeping upside-down before. Did she, like the other bat Pokémon?

“Hey, Mom?” Remi asked.

“Mm?”

“Do you sleep upside-down?”

“I… What?”

“Upside-down. Do you sleep like that? Like other bats.”

“I don’t have feet, Remi.”

“You could, like, I dunno, jam your… tail crescent thing into the ceiling! Or make a hook, totally! Besides, Zubat don’t have feet and they hang off the ceiling!”

“That’s because—” Mom paused. “…How do they do that?”

“Exactly! So, you should, too.”

“Remi, that’s not—”

Something metallic clanged under the sand and they both stopped.

“Ah,” Mom said. “They’re here.”

“Huh?”

The sand pushed outward and upward. An underground stairway revealed itself beneath part of an artificially rising ramp large enough to fit even the largest Pokémon of the pantheon. Remi stepped back on reflex due to how much just the opening towered over her.

And then Palkia stuck his head out from below. “Hello!” he greeted.

“What—Palkia!” Remi squinted. “Why are you here?”

“This is my secret laboratory!” Palkia said cheerfully.

“I thought your secret lab was in the northeast,” Mom hummed.

“Ah, that one exploded. Anyway! What brings you here?”

“I’ve come to see the Trio of Mind as well as anyone else that may be here. I suspect Jirachi, for one…”

“And why are they here?” Remi interjected. “They were the ones who… got Dad.” And she, admittedly, wasn’t looking forward to talking to them yet. She wasn’t emotionally ready for that. But if she had to… she’d put on a smile.

As always.

“They apparently had regrets,” Lunala replied cryptically. “And they wanted to ‘fix’ their mistake. Unfortunately, it’s harder to heal than it is to harm.”

“Ah.” Palkia finally nodded. “Well, in terms of seeing them, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to do something quite like that.”

Mom was undeterred. “Necrozma says that we should set aside any differences we have in favor of taking down the much more threatening foe that’s currently advancing to the Tree of Life.”

“Oh, how convenient! We were mobilizing for just the same thing.” Palkia nodded. “However, we considered the fact that it corrodes spirits, so we were just finishing a method to contain some of it for future use that cannot be corrupted in the same way.”

There was a pause.

Remi spoke up, “That’s—”

“A clever idea, but Necrozma can already do just that.”

“Oh, but so can we!” Palkia replied cheerfully. “See you on the battlefield!” He waved as the hatch began to close.

“Wait!” Remi shouted.

“Hmm?” Palkia clicked something, halting the hatch’s close.

“Can… I want to see Dad.”

To this, Palkia said nothing. His expression was inscrutable. Usually, he was cheerful or at least had a quip or two, nonsensical as it was. But this time his expression was like stone. The silence ate at her.

“It isn’t your father anymore, you know,” he said. “I’m afraid the damage to his mind was too much. I’ve had to repair him another way until he can heal.”

The cold chill was back. Part of Remi wanted to believe she’d misheard him. But Palkia was not one to lie or avoid the subject. He meant what he meant. Dad’s mind had been shattered. No… erased.

“It will take centuries,” Palkia said. “I’m afraid by then you’ll be a different person entirely if you’re alive at all. Him as your father figure is… no longer an option. And perhaps it never will be. You will accept this, yes?”

“How can… I accept that?” Remi asked. She didn’t think about the words, only said them from the front of her mind. But afterward, she had nothing more to say.

Even Mom was tense when she nodded. “I still recommend you give part of yourself to Necrozma. Drastic as his actions are, you can’t deny the utility behind being guarded by a being of Radiance.”

“True, true…” Palkia wobbled his head left and right. “Hmm. Well, in all honesty, we already handled the process with the Trio of Mind and some others, so it’s worked well enough as it stands. I was about to start the process with myself and Jirachi, but, ah, well. I’ll tell him.”

“How much of their spirits?” Mom asked.

“Half, of course.”

Remi sighed, disappointed. She thought Palkia was a genius.

“…Don’t be late. And be careful with distorting space. Something about the world’s fabric is fragile.”

“I’ve noticed,” Palkia said with a hint of weight behind his words. “I understand. Do be careful in the battle, Lunala. We will be there shortly.”

“Remi,” Mom said, “if you truly want to see your father… go with Palkia. I will be at the battle. Do not linger.”

It was an odd move. Remi wondered… if this was just Mom trying to keep her daughter from heading into battle. But she had the same sort of blessing! She could do it!

But… she also wanted to see Dad. Just for… closure, maybe. Or something.

“Okay,” she conceded.

Remi followed Palkia into the hatch and Mom flew away. Remi wondered, forebodingly, if she’d see her again.

No! That was a silly thought.

It was all going to be okay.

<><><>​

She had no idea such an elaborate labyrinth could be made underground. She’d already made, like, five turns, and every single turn was after such a long stretch of featureless walls and metal doors.

“All this for an underground lab? Kinda overkill, don’t you think?” Remi asked, her words and steps echoing through the windowless halls.

“Ah, well, so many projects, so many things. And this is also where your father is regularly revived, as you recall. Well, the new location.”

“…Because the old one exploded.”

“Yes!”

“How?”

“Hmm, I can’t quite remember. I’m sure it was after I accidentally became a Dwebble, but before I created that powerful Jigglypuff…”

“Wait, you what?”

“Ah! Nothing to worry about.”

They approached a wall that had the number “1” on it.

“Ten,” Palkia said.

The number changed accordingly. Remi frowned. “What, uh, what’s that for?” she asked.

“We’re on the tenth floor now.”

“Huh?!”

She whirled around. It was subtle, but some of the doors were in different spots…

“That’s kinda trippy,” Remi murmured. “I didn’t even feel the Teleport…”

“It’s not a Teleport in the psychic sense. It’s a warping of space. Put my divine powers there some time ago. Why, even if I’m killed this should still function! Well, probably. I haven’t been able to test that.”

“Right… Is more of this place the same way?”

“Somewhat. We have some anti-escape warping technology as well, some tricks to make it bigger on the inside…” he shrugged.

“Why do you need all this space?” Remi asked as they resumed their walk.

“Consider it future-proofing,” Palkia said. “Eventually I may need all of it. And, well, as the god of space, it’d be quite blasphemous if I didn’t make a lot for myself, hm?”

“Er, right…” Remi’s mind wandered as the similar sights of the labyrinth bored her. “…Where’s dad?” she said.

“He’s on this floor. Just a few more turns,” Palkia answered. “But I’d like to remind you, he won’t be as you recall. It’s going to be a long healing process for him, Remi. But we will do everything I can.”

Someone else was walking down the halls. The air was charged with conflicting energies like Remi was simultaneously being energized and then drained. She recognized this feeling. “Yveltal and Xerneas are here, too? But why’s it feel so strong…?”

One more turn gave her the answer. The two gods, one of life and one of death, walked side by side with fierce expressions. Remi pressed against the side of the wall to allow them past.

“He, uh, hey?” Remi greeted.

“…Hello, Remi,” Yveltal greeted, her usual, gentle tone missing. “Sorry, we’re in a bit of a hurry.”

“Be careful if you’re joining. Things are dire and not a place for mortals,” Xerneas added.

They didn’t so much as look at Palkia. “Ah, see Necrozma!” Palkia called. “He needed to give you a boon.”

They didn’t acknowledge him.

“…I’m sure they heard,” Palkia concluded.

“What’s up with them?” Remi murmured.

“Oh? Likely they do not approve of my blasphemous treatment of life and death. They were already iffy on the Reincarnation Machine, but I suspect what I did regarding my other research has put them in… a differing opinion, yes.” He nodded. “Either that or it was something Jirachi said. Hm. Well, regardless, let’s go down the hall.”

Just then, something caught Remi’s attention in the corner of her eye. She whirled around, on guard, but then saw Mesprit yelp and dash around the corner.

She rolled her eyes. “Mesprit!”

“Ah! Um, he-hello, Remi…”

“What’re you doing hiding from me? Is it because you betrayed my dad and erased his mind forever?”

“N-not forever! Promise! We’re… working on fixing him, just, you know, Dark War and all that, and, um—”

“Good!” Remi offered Mesprit a toothy grin. “I’d replace him if you didn’t fix your mistake.”

She kept her happy tone. But she was positive the master of emotion would sense the genuine fury she’d unleash otherwise. She wasn’t strong, but she was also the Wishkeeper’s daughter.

She’d find a way.

“R-right… okay…”

Palkia chuckled. “Remi, he’s right this way.”

That felt good. Just a little. But now, without giving Mesprit another glance, she followed Palkia down the hall again.

“Um, sorry,” Mesprit said meekly.

Remi didn’t respond.

One more turn. Finally, something different. It seemed to be a huge chamber with only a few devices in it, though there were signs of more to be constructed later. They were large, green cylinders with odd computerized devices in the middle, a thousand times more advanced than the stuff they had in town.

Jirachi was there, parrying Ember attacks with simple psychic shields. Remi sped up to go around one of the cylinders that was blocking her view of the attacker.

Her heart leaped and sank, somehow at the same time.

It was a Charmander, smiling, happy, young, and blasting fire at Jirachi in a playful spar. The little star Pokémon had a sad smile as he humored the small Charmander, and when that Charmander turned his back to flee, Remi saw the telltale mark of Necrozma on his back.

That… was what he’d been reduced to. Not only that, but he wasn’t even speaking. All he did was produce feral chitters and growls.

Palkia placed a hand on Remi’s shoulder. The Sceptile flinched but then took a long, slow breath. Held it. And then let it slowly out.

“So,” she said, “that’s him, huh?”

“Oh… er… yeah. It is,” Jirachi replied.

Dad perked up and scampered to the newcomer. He growled playfully.

Remi regretted coming here. She didn’t want this to be how she remembered Dad. But… she also knew it’d be even worse if she didn’t come. Right?

Dad always said knowledge was better than ignorance. So, this was better, too. It had to be.

“Hey,” Remi greeted. “My name’s Remi.”

Dad tilted his head, looking at her in wonder. He hissed affectionately and raised his arms. Did he want to be picked up?

She humored him automatically, reaching down. With deft movements, he leaped for her arm and scaled up to her shoulders, then jumped down and grabbed one of the seed pods on her back.

“Wh—hey! I need those!” Remi said, trying to reach back for him. Thankfully, they were still firmly attached, so he only dangled there, giggling.

“C-c’mon, Owen!” Jirachi floated to Remi and helped pick him off. “A-as you can see, Remi, he’s… We’re… helping. I didn’t want this, either. Palkia gave him a, er, a new brain? A whole new body. That should counteract the Trio’s erasure… but it’ll also take away… you know. Everything from before.”

Remi’s throat was tight, but she nodded. But that also meant Dad was gone. She was just playing with a kid right now. A hatchling, even.

“But,” Jirachi said quickly, “the spirit… remembers everything. Necrozma, Barky, and Star all told me the same thing. Deep down is the father you know, and… and the partner I knew. The spirit just… needs time to speak to this new brain. I think that’s how they said it. I don’t know how long that’ll be… it’s usually not possible… but, well, divine power will help. And we’ve got tons of that!”

“Not much to spare, though,” Palkia said. “Unfortunately, our priority right now is stopping whoever took over Owen’s place in the power vacuum. Perhaps it was the dark entity itself, which might have misled Owen all this time.”

“No,” Remi said quickly. “It wasn’t that. It couldn’t be. Dad’s way too perceptive to be misled that way, you know? It had to have been someone else who… took over when he was taken out suddenly. Maybe we’d know who to suspect if Dad was around but…”

Jirachi winced. “Sorry, I… had no idea,” he said.

Remi sighed harshly but nodded. “I know. You cared about him. But… those three were his friends, too. His team, even! And then…”

“We can discuss that later,” Palkia said. “On a practical level, we have a battle to fight. And Lunala recommended we see Necrozma, Jirachi.”

“Uh?”

“Necrozma has a more… Radiant version of our soul splitter. It will help resist whatever dark powers come our way.”

“Oh! Well, we sorta already did it for Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf, but…”

“Not a third, either, huh?” Remi said.

“You know, I was thinking about maybe just a third,” Jirachi said.

“I know, right?!” Remi said.

Dad trilled approvingly. He likely had no idea what they were saying.

“Well, anyway, er, sure. We’ll do that.”

“Don’t wait! I’m gonna go on ahead to the battle area. Hopefully. Tree is close to here, so I think I can just sprint the way there.”

“That’s quite a trip,” Palkia hummed. “You may be underestimating the time required on foot. And the battle may change stages from the Tree by the time you arrive.”

“I can Teleport you there,” Jirachi offered.

Remi held up her hands. “Oh, uh, Teleportation is kinda wonky right now, Necrozma said.”

“Oh. Well, if that’s the case… I know. Make a wish for super speed for a little while. That’s an easy wish!”

“You won’t need that power for the fight?”

“I’ll have my stamina back by the time I get to Necrozma,” Jirachi assured.

“Okay. Well… I wish that I could get to the Tree of Life as fast as possible!”

The left tag on Jirachi’s head lit up with runes and letterings as Remi spoke. His whole body glowed, and the great eye in the center of his body opened.

“And bigger seed pods!”

And a few extra runes were added before a beam shot toward Remi. She felt light as air, nimble enough to go across the whole world in less than an hour.

“Fascinating,” Palkia said. “They grew in diameter by two inches.”

“Aw yeah.” Remi pumped her fist in the air. Jirachi, after the great eye closed, stared at her with a disappointed frown.

“I don’t have a lot of spare power, you know,” he said.

“E-eheh, aw, c’mon, bigger pods isn’t that hard, is it?” Remi asked.

“…It’s not,” Jirachi relented. “I’m gonna see Necrozma now. Go before that speed wears off.”

“Oh! Right! Okay, see you!”

And thankfully, the wish also gave Remi better reflexes as she ran back down the hall in seconds.

She heard Dad happily chitter a goodbye.

That would be her fight. The way to get him back. All she had to do was save the world and Dad would be able to heal.

No biggie, right?

<><><>​

This was a much larger biggie than she’d thought.

The Tree of Life was on fire. The flames were not the typical orange colors of a forest fire but a deep, billowing black, even before the smoke. Something great and purple was wrapped around the Tree and at first, she thought it was destroying it, but then she watched as it put out the flames and seemed to consume the corrupt energy entirely. She had no idea what it was supposed to be.

Her speed boost from Jirachi was already halfway worn off, but she was getting close to the fray. Mom was shooting at something in the forest and she seemed to have a good lock on it, but it was something in the sky that had Remi worried.

That outline… just behind the dark clouds, something was flying.

“Ah!”

She’d recognize that silhouette anywhere. That was Lugia—Emily!

She was sort of a distant aunt to Remi. Friends with Dad and one of those blessed by Necrozma’s Radiance due to her abundant kindness. If there was anyone who could use their strength to topple this darkness and negative aura, it’d be her.

All that optimism melted the moment the clouds parted to an Aeroblast tinged with shadows. Black whirlwinds split the darkness of the sky only to replace it with a maelstrom of cutting gales. Even where she was, at least a mile away, the rubble that the wind picked up left cuts along her scales. She dove behind a tree to avoid the rest.

When the wind settled, she dared to peek out again.

Emily’s beautiful scales had become a deep purple. When she spread her wings, little whips of darkness followed rather than gusts of natural wind.

Emily was corrupted. That same darkness had taken her. Now she was some kind of… Shadow-Lugia.

Then came Mom, still in her Lunala form, firing from even higher in the sky. A beam of spectral, lunar energy—purple and white and radiant—slammed into Emily from above, sending her into the trees below.

A cloud of dust occupied the space she’d landed… and another Shadow Aeroblast carved a hole through the dust in a shockwave. Stray whips of darkness slashed whole trees in two and Mom weaved out of the way.

She was close! And she had just enough speed that she could probably get to Lugia. She wasn’t strong, but she was evasive and she’d make for a good distraction.

Jirachi’s speed boost was fading rapidly, but she didn’t need its full power anymore. Lugia was in her sights only a few bounds away.

“Hey!” Remi shouted.

Emily didn’t even hesitate. She turned her head and blasted Remi; she leaped to the side and dodged it, but the stray whips cut up her left leg. She winced and stumbled behind a tree, hoping Emily didn’t have a second shot for her.

“Th-that one hurt,” Remi hissed. Her bloody wounds had tinges of darkness to them like she’d been contaminated somehow. What was that?!

It was cold. Colder than a normal wound should’ve felt against the breeze. Her back glowed, absorbing some extra sunlight, and the winds closed… but she could still feel some of the pain.

Did this thing cut her aura, too? Or even deeper? She had to be careful.

Emily was prowling, sniffing the air. She had no idea if she had a good sense of smell, but she wasn’t even talking. This wasn’t Emily, was it? Just some puppet being controlled…

And the force that Dad dealt with didn’t puppet people like that. Or, at least, it didn’t do that to him. So, what was the point? Who was controlling her? If she could figure that out…

A massive beam of energy deafened Remi just as the ground rumbled under her claws. She knelt, using her arms to keep herself from going prone.

She knew that blast. It was Mom’s, just up close. And at full power, not her cute sparring blasts that a little Synthesis patched up.

“Remi!”

She faintly heard it. Mom’s voice.

“Get out of here! Go!”

If she had time to talk, she had time to fight back. Maybe it was okay. She’d done her job and she was outclassed. Wordlessly, she ran through the ruined forest, sparing only one glance behind her. Lugia was back on her feet, but her attention was completely locked on Mom in the sky. She had the advantage here. There was a golden light on the horizon.

Necrozma was coming. Oh, thank the skies, they finally had the upper—

Why was it cold?

Her instincts were faster than her conscious mind. She jumped to the left. Even then, she was too slow. A cold beam glued her arm to a tree trunk, freezing it completely. She tried to pull but yelped when the pain forced her to stop.

Two yellow eyes stared at her through the deep darkness of the forest. This wasn’t normal. It was a bright and beautiful afternoon! And yet…

Then came another beam of energy, this one a Dragon Pulse, that smashed through the tree—taking her arm with it.

She wailed as she fell, clutching at the frozen pieces of flesh that were left on her broken shoulder. She caught a glimpse of Kyurem lumbering through the forest, a similar darkness radiating from her body. Even her?! When did that happen?! What was happening in this war?

Had Dad… been holding this kind of darkness back the entire time?

The sky was alight again. Remi channeled another Synthesis. This blast from Kyurem… wasn’t the same dark blast that Emily had made. Already, Synthesis was helping her get that arm back. If she did that repeatedly before the day was up, the wound wouldn’t settle. She could get the arm back.

She could still fight in the meantime. Easy!

Remi collapsed and threw up from the pain, rolling until she was on her side against a tree. She stuck one of her arms into a brighter patch in the forest, absorbing that light to channel another Synthesis. Her arm came back just a little more. She didn’t want to look to know for sure how much, but she couldn’t feel her elbow moving yet. She probably didn’t have one.

More trees fell nearby. Mercifully, the one she was next to didn’t fall.

Lunala had blasted Emily deeper into the forest, just barely where Remi could see it. As Emily got to her feet, a javelin of light pierced her through the chest, pinning her to a tree. That only made the Lugia uproot the tree as she stood up again, roaring in defiance.

But Remi knew it was already too late for her. With confidence, she forced herself into a sitting position just in time to witness Necrozma personally stabbing Lugia with another javelin made from his wings, then pulling from her chest two things. The first seemed to be an orb of indigo light, the same color Remi associated with dragonfire. The other was a Vaporeon, curled up innocently.

“I must make it so you may never harm again,” Necrozma whispered. “I’m sorry it had to come to this, Emily. But you were too close to this darkness to be allowed to be whole.”

Emily fired mindlessly; Necrozma deflected it with ease, and then the light was too much for Remi to see. Emily screamed, and then everything went quiet.

And then it got cold again.

“Move!” Remi cried.

Necrozma grunted and might have moved. The Ice Beam followed. Necrozma hissed, but he was still making noise. He dodged!

With her good arm, she clutched at the tree trunk and pulled, molding the bark until it became a protective dome. Yelling might have given her away.

And for a short while, it seemed like Kyurem was only searching for where Necrozma had gone. The ground shook from distant explosions of other Legends clashing with some other force, meaning even aside from Lugia and Kyurem, whoever was controlling the darkness now had even more forces at his disposal.

Even without Necrozma’s will, it seemed like the world was ending.

That cold, horrible realization crawled through Remi’s mind, and perhaps to anyone else, it would have been enough to curl up and cry and hope it was all over by the time she got up.

But not for her. Dad wanted to save the world. Mom did, too. She still had to do her part—and not just hide.

Something was walking toward the dome. It found her. But that didn’t matter.

She balled up her claws and conjured a wad of spectral energy, pasting it against the tree. She fell into it, reappearing behind the tree. Then, she dug underground and let the earth seal itself. Even with one arm, she could burrow with ease.

Every few seconds there was another tremor, another blast, as the whole world cried out in pain. Even if the war was won, Remi wondered if not having a child had been a blessing. They would not grow up in a prosperous world. It would be generations before they would recover from any of it.

Those dark thoughts were all that accompanied her as she dug through more soil. Finally, she surfaced with a gasp for air…

Only to see that Emily wasn’t done. They were clashing in the sky. Mom and Necrozma together were only barely fending her off; Emily’s body, meanwhile, looked like it was melting. She was halfway charged with an attack that was stronger than all the others, creating shockwaves just from its charge. Loose earth around Remi lifted into the sky.

And then she fired. Necrozma and Mom did the same. Emily’s strike missed—and it also missed the Tree of Life, carving a great gash through the ground instead. Remi didn’t know where. That direction reminded Remi of… where Dad was.

Emily missed. She had to have missed.

A coffin of ice surrounded Lunala moments later, but Necrozma had already gone ahead to strike Emily down.

“Mom!” Remi cried. She was too far to do anything. Remi turned instead to the Tree, where that huge wyrm-like creature had spiraled around it protectively. Bright purple energy coursed below deep, dark chitin. As scary as it was, Remi could at least take solace that someone was protecting the Tree.

From this angle, Remi realized that there was a huge hole in the Tree, but it wasn’t an inward one. Something had crawled out of it. Conveniently the same diameter as that monster wrapped around it.

That’s what was in the Tree? Remi said. That… thing? Lives in it?

She slowed down to catch her breath. Her arm stung with intense, dull pain as the Synthesis worked its magic. Still couldn’t feel much, but the healing numbed most of the pain. This was probably the worst wound she’d had in a long time aside from the rockfall incident. And that was her fault anyway.

Just had to keep going. Keep pushing.

How many Legends had already fallen to this corruption? What would happen if any of them were killed? Ideally, they’d go to the third-souls that were left behind in Destiny Tower. Or Barky was already hiding it underground or something to keep the darkness from finding it. Being a gigantic tower in the world was an obvious target.

Necrozma roared in pain. Remi whirled around in time to see a glimmering star of ice plummeting to the ground, followed by Mom speeding ahead to strike something on the ground. Kyurem roared back, but this seemed to be a defeated shriek. Remi laughed. Yes! Kyurem down! And Emily was dispatched, too!

Then came another javelin, this time of a deep black and outlined with purple light. It pierced Mom through the front before she could even turn. The aim was scarily precise. Remi could only stare in paralyzed shock, taking in every detail, when Mom fell into the forest below.

“Mom?” Remi whispered.

Necrozma shot into the sky, the last of his icy prison melting off his scorching, bright body. She could feel his warmth from where she stood practically a quarter mile away.

He looked to where Mom had fallen and let out another cry, this one a shrieking mixture of mourning and fury.

Everything was getting dark and Remi worried she was losing sight from blood loss. But even when she focused, the light didn’t return, except for an orb of light collecting above Necrozma’s body.

She’d never seen that kind of attack before. The energy it was giving off overstimulated her leaves, forcing her to curl up to find shelter.

Too bad most of the trees in the area had already fallen.

And then, Necrozma fired this ball of light that took from the world the rest of its light, if only temporarily. It hurtled into the ground toward something that sent a beam of darkness directly at it. At first, it was small and feeble, unable to fend off the light, but then its diameter doubled, then doubled again, and suddenly it was getting pushed back.

Necrozma was losing?

Remi thought about her options. Run? Probably safer? Fight? Distract? She’d die.

But…

She had none of Jirachi’s speed left, but she wished to the skies anyway to grant her strength. A quarter mile was only a short sprint away.

She huffed and puffed with every leap, but she could already see the source of the shadowy blast. Some kind of Pokémon much smaller than Necrozma… looking like they were under a lot of strain. The Pokémon… a Hydreigon? He floated in the middle of a small crater formed by the sheer force he was pumping out with a sustained beam of darkness. Cracks ran along his scales that seeped with dark energy.

Yep, that seemed pretty evil. Why did he seem familiar?

She didn’t have time to think. Instead, she recalled the last blessing Jirachi had given her.

“Hey, ugly!” Remi called, reaching back with her one good arm to pluck off an oversized seed pod. She infused it with some light energy, feeble as it was. “Catch!”

Remi hurled it at Hydreigon, who didn’t pay her any mind.

And then it exploded in a flashbang of power. The blast was disrupted for only a second, and that was all Necrozma needed to completely overpower Hydreigon. There was alarm, fury, and then a horrible glare aimed at Remi.

She only smiled. Mission accomplished.

Everything went white; her body burned in the intense energy of Necrozma’s final attack. She was ready to accept that, too exhausted to do more. She had a hint of regret, wondering if she could have run afterward, had she any energy left. Maybe she could try just a little more.

She could fight a little longer, right?

Something grabbed her good arm.

“H-huh?”

She saw a dark tendril with several eyes staring at her. She tried to scream and it pulled her before she could, dragging her away, away, away from the blast zone.

By the time it impacted the earth, she was far from the core of the blast, but the shockwave shook her body like a ragdoll despite whatever was pulling her. Several bones broke against the ground and the tendril let her go, instead catching her in some dark cushion made of a substance she couldn’t recognize. Soft. Cold. And… Those were more eyes.

“Gross,” she wheezed, the last of her strength channeled into disgust.

She couldn’t hear well. Sight, though, was returning with the sky’s light.

Above her was the Tree of Life. Crawling around it was a corrupted entity, that reddish-purple wyrm, which had five triangular heads. It was a lot darker now. Eyes covered parts of its body, each one a different shape and size. Several stared at her and Remi heard whispers. By some instinct, she knew it was coming from the eyes. They sounded concerned, asking if she was okay.

“Not really,” Remi answered weakly.

Shadowy creatures surrounded her. The smallest hint of healing energy radiated off them, soothing her wounds.

“Aw… ugly-cute,” she complimented.

This pleased the blobs, who jiggled happily.

“Who… are you?” Remi asked.

The blobs looked at one another, then at the great entity above them.

When it spoke, it didn’t talk with words. It was like it resonated with her very aura; she knew what it was saying, but had no idea how.

I woke up here after traveling through space… I knew nothing, and then I heard everything for a long time. Now… I’m everyone.

“Oh, okay,” Remi said, convinced this was a dream.

Something evil twisted how I looked… but I resisted it. The people that I learned from would not want to fall under it, so I didn’t. They always fight to survive.

“So, you… look evil, but aren’t?” Remi said.

I suppose so. Please, rest. We will all help you survive. You saved this world. I heard it in your spirit. You have a strong will.

“Aw, you’re gonna make me blush,” Remi said. “Some Pokémon do that, you know… Dad didn’t, for some reason…”

Did the creature laugh? Remi didn’t hear it. In a way, it looked… sad, now.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

I’m sorry about your father.

“Oh…” Oh, he literally meant everyone. That meant… “Yeah…”

I wish I could help. But the gods are… above me. I cannot.

“Someone like you, protecting this Tree?” Remi said, tilting her head. “You should be on the top if you want my opinion …”

Now, Remi knew how it laughed. A gentle yet all-encompassing rumble that put her at ease instantly. She closed her eyes, her heart rate steadying.

I appreciate it, he said.

Remi was about to speak again when a blast of darkness erupted from the crater, catching a weakly flying Necrozma’s attention. Necrozma spun around and parried a full-body tackle from a frenzied Hydreigon, bleeding tar-colored blood.

“How—” Remi whimpered.

The dark creatures around Remi closed in protectively, dragging her near the Tree.

Remi wanted to fight. She had to fight. But… her body didn’t respond. She simply couldn’t, even as Necrozma and that Hydreigon wrestled in the skies, stray blasts carving the earth. A few struck the Tree, making all the cute blobs tremble in pain.

“Can’t you do… something?” Remi begged. “Help Necrozma!”

Help…

The Hydreigon was winning. Where Necrozma had strength, Hydreigon had fury. Barky and Star weren’t around. Were they occupied in another part of the fight? How many were still attacking? How much of the world was in ruins?

I’ll do what I can. But I can only do this… once before it gets dangerous. Will you… lend me a piece of your spirit as a conduit?

“Yes,” Remi said, holding her hand out like that was part of the gesture.

Instead, the entity brought one of its heads down and opened it, revealing a sharp, pink ‘tongue’ needle.

Remi suddenly regretted her answer. “What’s that going to—”

It fired a beam of red energy into her chest. She screamed, but it was in surprise. There was no pain. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes to see the beam drilling into her chest, making her feel tingly and hollow. She felt like she was bloodletting, life coldly leaving her body. For a moment, she thought she was seeing double—part of her rising into the sky, and another part of her still stuck on the ground.

And then it stopped, with her still on the ground, too exhausted to do anything else.

<><><>​

And then it stopped, with her rising into the sky, leaving her body behind.

She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything but watch and listen. In a panic, she tried to speak but had no mouth.

What’s happening? She cried.

I will return you soon, the voice said. Lend me your power. I need someone alive to channel this… and your inherited light. It will pierce through that Hydreigon’s corrupted spirit and seal his powers for good.

Okay. Okay, just… just walk me through that, okay?

But like magic, the instincts were funneled into her. Every subtle pulse of energy she had to make, the rhythm of the dark protector’s energy waves, all of it was perfectly understandable to her. She followed it like a dance.

She focused on Hydreigon, still battling Necrozma in the air. They were moving so fast… would they even have a chance to stop him?

Have faith. Keep your will, and do not doubt. I need you for this.

Okay. Okay, I’ll do that. Sorry, just… kind of new to me here… being a… spirit? Am I a spirit right now?

Mostly. Get ready…

The dance picked up its rhythm. It felt like holding her breath.

Necrozma and Hydreigon were in a deadlock in the sky.

Remi didn’t need the order. She stopped the dance and surged forward, catapulting a single red beam of energy that perfectly struck Hydreigon in the side. It stuck there like a harpoon and the dark protector pulled back.

Hydreigon stiffened, mouths wide with surprise. Necrozma glanced at them for only a fleeting instant before seizing the opportunity. He wrapped his wings around Hydreigon and illuminated himself like a star, spiraling far, far away from the Tree of Life. Over the forest, over the horizon, at speeds incomprehensible to Remi, and then…

An explosion more intense than any before rocked the earth. The shockwave that followed spattered the dark protector against the tree, leaving it seemingly unconscious. With it, Remi’s consciousness faded next, tied to its energy.

Necrozma… did he do it? That explosion left behind a column of light and darkness in a spiral that made holes through the clouds. It must have been halfway across the world for all she knew, but it was tall. Taller than Destiny Tower. The crater it must have left behind could have taken out mountain ranges…

Another scar on Quartz. A reminder of this fight…

She was fading. As everything went dark, her last hope was that she’d wake up to a world repaired…

<><><>​

This was the worst day of Remi’s life. First, she saw her father as a feral Charmander, then she lost her arm, and she was pretty sure her improved seed pods were back to normal, too.

The dark protector of the Tree extracted something from her, leaving her barely conscious in the dirt. Then came a shockwave that knocked her completely out for… it must have been an hour, the way the sun’s position had moved.

It was colder, too. That must have been what woke her up. She groaned and rolled until she was on her front. Everything ached. Her seed pods felt numb from being slept on so harshly. And she was pretty sure her tail was bent in a few odd angles on some of the harder pine needles.

It was still cold. But not in an icy or cool night kind of way. Something else was—

She gasped and struggled to her feet. She only managed it by resting a hand on her knee at the same time.

That shadowy force, or maybe a remnant, was still around.

“Hello?” Remi called. “Where—”

First, the blade went through her back and out her chest. Then came the cold, searing pain.

She couldn’t even scream.

Strange, black creatures were feebly latching onto the Hydreigon that had pierced her back. He shook them off and flew with Remi still stuck to his blade. It was getting cold. Something was pulling her inward.

He survived. Necrozma didn’t kill him. But how? What did this thing do to survive? Was this dark power so much stronger in someone evil, compared to Dad? Or did he use a shield?

He was dripping with dark blood and it almost looked like fire had erupted from his body in places—or was still erupting. Was this horrible creature… still alive? Was it even a Pokémon anymore? She sensed more than just that dark power in him. It was faded, but there was Radiance, too. Mom’s…

Terror and anguish overwhelmed any physical pain. That was how he survived. He used Mom’s power as a shield. At least Necrozma nearly finished things.

It was up to her now. She had no choice but to fight back.

She channeled the last of her power into her fist. A single Radiant Energy Ball. If she could just get away…

Swinging her fist back, she opened her palm but met with strange resistance.

His head crunched onto her hand, tearing it clean off. And she still couldn’t scream. His head curled over her shoulder, bloody teeth exposed from a horrible, victorious, exhausted, evil grin. The last thing she’d see as the world closed around her into a tiny tunnel.

He lunged at her face, and that was all.

<><><>​

Warm.

Windy.

Itchy.

Wow, that was itchy.

Remi groaned and rolled onto her front, rubbing her eyes. She scratched at her shoulder, then her chest, feeling a horrible itch that didn’t go away. Had she gotten a rash on her scales somehow? Oh, skies, hopefully, it wasn’t some kind of leaf rot.

“Hm?”

Someone was in the other room—and Remi realized she was in a bed, somewhere in an underground cave. She saw the exit just down a tunnel of dirt or clay. How did she…

A Hydreigon drifted into the room, covered in bandages and dripping with dark blood. Terror gripped Remi, but then confusion. Why was she scared?

“Are you okay?” Hydreigon asked sweetly.

“…I was gonna ask you the same thing,” Remi said. “You’re a mess! What happened to you?”

“Oh, no.” Hydreigon frowned with all three heads. “You must have been hurt so badly. I found you in front of the Tree of Life.”

“Oh.” Remi tilted her head. “Sorry, I… don’t remember. But… you seem… familiar.”

Hydreigon nodded. “Your father, Owen,” he said. “I was his second in command. When he was defeated, I took up the mantle and sealed the darkness that had plagued the world. I’m… lying low, now, so the remnants don’t track me down.

“And, unfortunately… an unknown number of Legendary Pokémon were lost to the war, completely. It’s as if the world itself forgot them… I only know because my wounds are teeming with the remnants of their corrupted, divine power.

“You see, during a great clash, I… suffered horrible injuries. It may take several lifetimes to recover from it, and obviously, I don’t have that kind of time. But…” He smiled warmly. “I’m satisfied anyway.”

This Hydreigon… knew Dad? And… and… and who was Mom? Why couldn’t she…

“Mom must have been a Legend, then,” she said. “I can’t… remember her…”

“I’m so sorry, Remi,” Hydreigon said.

“I…” Remi’s claws shook. She sat on her leafy bed, staring at her thighs. She was covered in little blemishes that suggested so many battle wounds. How badly had she fought? “Why am I crying… What’s…”

Hydreigon wrapped his arms around her. She leaned into him, instantly comforted by his touch. She let it out in silent, weeping tremors, and he gently patted her back.

“It’s okay,” Hydreigon said. “I’ll be there for you, alright? Always.”

Always… Something about that comforted her. Like she wanted to always be with him… Yes, she did. That felt ‘right.’

“Thank you,” she said. Even if she couldn’t remember Mom, this Hydreigon was a small comfort. She could feel his kindness.

“My name is Alexander,” he said, staring into her eyes. His were deep and dark, but within that battle-hardened stare, she saw someone that she could trust unconditionally. It was like love at first sight.

“Hi,” Remi replied, scaly brow furrowing. For a fleeting moment, something seemed… off. But when Alexander gently touched her shoulder again, her doubts were erased. No, this was right.

He would protect her.

“Will you be okay?” Alexander asked, still holding her.

Remi’s doubts melted like snow. She smiled, lost in his eyes. “Yeah,” she finally replied. “I’ll be fine… as long as I’m with you.”

<><><>​

No eyes to cry with, no body to tremble with, and yet Remi could only watch as her body was carried away. The Tree of Life was crumbling, the corruption wilting its leaves and depleting what little power it had left. If this kept up, what would it mean for the world?

What now? Remi asked. I… I can’t just be a ball of light forever, can I? What’s he going to do to… other me? Where did… what happened…

I’m sorry. I don’t know. I tried to fend him off but I’m out of power…

I…

He was already gone. Landed somewhere in a faraway part of the forest, well beyond the reach the dark protector could hope to extend toward. There was no telling what happened then. If he was dying, or even stronger, or…

But even worse, Remi felt… faint. Like she was already fading away. I can’t stay like this. I’m… something’s…

You’re being absorbed into the Tree. You’ll… fall asleep. Like spirits Necrozma harvests. Until the world’s end, you will sleep. It… it will be like nothing to you, a good, long rest, I promise. But…

But I can’t! Not when I’m still alive! What then?!

And besides that, the Tree was starting to fall apart. If she fell asleep while inside it, as it crumbled… what then? Were spirits even meant to be within this thing, or was that just what this wyrm sustained?

The Tree is… deteriorating. The corruption is too deep. I’m… sorry.

It occurred to Remi that the wyrm wasn’t speaking to her.

I will save you.

Uh?

Everything rumbled. The Tree was collapsing into itself, melting, blackening… but the spirits inside didn’t appear at all disturbed. The spirits… those strange dark blobs that were part of the wyrm, must have understood what it was saying.

Low, low, low. The leaves withdrew into the branches, and the blackened bark became part of the wyrm, dissolving. The tree’s base became a crater, a soup of darkness that Remi bobbed in as a loose, evaporating spirit. Even now, the wyrm sank ever deeper, yet she…

I can’t rest, Remi begged. I’m still not even dead! But… but if I go back to her now… and I don’t even know what happened to the part Necrozma split off… Please! Is there any way I can’t… I can still stick around? I need to help. I need to help Dad, and Mom, and… the whole world! It’s not over! This war isn’t over, he’s still out there, please!

This was such a new feeling, desperation without a body. All her feelings felt more pronounced and desperate, with no flesh to squeeze or claws to scrape. It was all pure feeling. Did the wyrm even feel it back?

By sheer will, Remi couldn’t rest. Perhaps most other spirits would have drifted away by now. The dark protector was surprised when Remi stayed there, floating.

You… really won’t rest, he said. And that light in you… maybe you are stronger after all…

I don’t care what it is that keeps me here. But I won’t give up. If you know a way…

To this, he shifted uncomfortably again.

The protector did know. There was a way. Just tell me. I deserve to know, don’t I? What do you have to lose?

More uncomfortable silence, but then it finally relented when Remi’s strength was certainly not giving out.

I can send you back. I can… give you a new life. I can keep giving you life until the time comes when you can help again, somehow. Some way, perhaps… your calling will come back. I don’t know. But if you still want to help the world, even in little ways, until you can rise to action again… you can reincarnate.

Re… reincarnate. As in…

A new life with your small, powerful soul fragment. But… you won’t remember a thing. You won’t be divine, tapping into your old memories of your old life—this life. You’ll just… be another person. I’ll… I’ll try to make it so you’re similar. That maybe little echoes of who you were can… manifest. But that would be all.

And… that’s the only way.

I’m sorry. It is. And even now, I don’t think you can endure the time it would take to get your body back. There is no winning here… I’m sorry.

…But will I recognize Dad? And Mom? Can I still help them?

I… don’t know. Maybe. Normally… no. But that light… maybe it will resonate. Maybe it will call out. But I just don’t know. I don’t know if ‘you’ will ever return, either. Reincarnation is a new life on top of the old. Your new life can easily be more important to ‘you’ than the ‘you’ that you are now.

That went right over her nonexistent head.

But, with patience, the protector elaborated. Your new life isn’t just temporary. It will be all the same to your spirit. You will have to accept that. Your name…

Remi.

‘Remi’ will be the past. And who you become… all those new lives will layer on top of this one, until you’re awakened again. And when that happens… are you ready to accept that you may not be ‘Remi’ anymore? That you might prefer being that new person? Or even several persons, and not Remi?

…Will I still remember everyone, one day? Can I still help them?

The soul… never forgets. It only seals those memories for a time. But what it does with new memories… might invalidate the old.

Nothing’s gonna make this invalid. Not until it’s all over… I know I won’t abandon what happened to Dad. I’ll protect him! I’ll see him, and I won’t even recognize him, but I’ll take care of him! I… owe that much to him… And then I’ll save Mom, too. I’ll pull her from whatever happened by that Hydreigon, and I’ll make sure he pays, too!

The wyrm rumbled in the expanding pool of darkness. Your will to survive… is incredible, Remi. I’ll do everything I can to help.

But it may be lifetimes. And… you may live most of them, maybe all of them, as different feral creatures.


Yeah, well… I’m called feral a lot anyway since I inherited Dad’s Battleheart. I’ll be fine being one.

Another little chuckle. Then you have nothing to fear. If you’re ready…

I am.

Then… goodbye, Remi. I’ll see you later.

She sank into the dark. She had no eyes, and yet it felt like they were closing. Enveloped in something warm and hard. And then, fleetingly, she tried her hardest, her absolute hardest, to remember her goal. This wasn’t giving up.

This was waiting.

And one day, she and all her other selves would wake up.

Then, she would finally save the world… with her whole family by her side.

<><><>​

I lost my body. I lost my mind. I even lost my past. But even when the world took everything from me, I still had one thing left: a plan. People call me naïve and childish. And sure, maybe I am. But that comes with resilience.

The same resilience that my family had to keep fighting. The resilience that Mom had to survive because I know she did. Somehow, I know she’s out there. The resilience that Dad had to tame that dark power, all to save my home. And now I need to return the favor.

All is not lost. I can still do a little more when the time comes.

My spirit will live on.
 
Chapter 161 - Time Has Passed

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 161 – Time Has Passed

“This information,” Granbull Jin said, “was the synthesis of spirits from the one you call ‘Nate,’ and other observations we’ve been able to gather from spirit fragments. Augmented by your accounts, Mhynt, I think we have a much clearer picture of what happened during the Dark War.”

“Mhynt… I’m so sorry,” Demitri said. “That must be awful to learn…”

“I knew,” Mhynt replied. The Treecko turned her head away, feigning nonchalance, but everyone could tell that her mood had dampened. It didn’t take an empath to see it. “All the more reason to put Alexander in the ground… and then some.”

“Nobody disagrees with that,” Jin said. “However, actually pulling that off is another matter.”

Angelo—the bright-eyed Smeargle, and the father of another Angelo the team knew—stood straight and as tall as his short body allowed. “Well! Considering this is the first action we’ve seen in quite some time, perhaps it is about time we mobilized the spirits! We’re already dead, so there’s far less for us to worry about losing! Ha!”

“You can still be pulled into the Voidlands,” Mhynt warned. “And, believe me, that is much worse than being dead and buried.”

“Ahh, no, I perfectly understand! My own father… may have fallen into such a place.” And for a short instant, Angelo’s light had dimmed. But then the smile was back, this time with deeper determination. “All the more reason to liberate the Voidlands.”

Mhynt nodded. “Good attitude. And what of you?” She turned her attention to the Aerodactyl, who also seemed to have a peculiar determination.

“I have… a personal investment in getting rid of these ‘Shadows,’ as you call them,” Brigid said. “I have some experience with commanding armies. Most of the spirits here have become docile and… inactive. They’ll need someone to command them, and I’m one of the few spirits who have not faded to inactivity. They will need someone rousing to get back to their living energy.”

Mhynt nodded. “Any help will do,” she said. “Just be sure they do not fall under Alexander’s forces in return. That is a real risk with his corruption.”

“Do we have any update on his status?” Jin asked.

“We got word from Hecto, actually,” Brigid said.

“Huh? Hecto?” Demitri asked. “He’s here?”

“He’s this place’s guardian,” Brigid said. “…For better or worse, he keeps the spirits on this side and the living on the other side, as a matter of policy.”

Demitri sensed a hint of bitterness in the way she said that, but chose not to prod.

“What did he update us with?” Jin asked.

“Alexander had nearly dissolved in the living world before invading a Guardian’s aura. He used their realm as a means to escape back to somewhere else, presumably the Voidlands to recover. He is likely severely injured.”

“In other words, the perfect time ter strike back!” Gahi declared.

“And,” Jin cautioned, “the exact time when he would be the most fortified, defense-wise.”

“We can’t let this opportunity pass us by,” Mhynt pointed out. “We should send scouts immediately to determine where he is. Even if they’re spotted, it isn’t as if they can raise their defenses more than we already expect.”

“That will do,” Jin said. “If that’s everything… let’s split off for now and regroup tomorrow.”

Almost everyone nodded, but Demitri raised a hand. “Um, how long are days here?”

He glanced worriedly at Mispy, wondering if she already knew, but to his relief, there was a slight surprise in her eyes like she hadn’t considered it either.

“Thankfully, the same as yours,” Jin said, “assuming the sun still operates the same way in our realm. Which it should. Hopefully.”

“Hm.” Mhynt nodded. “Let’s regroup. We have a lot of information to disseminate and the world falling apart a little more each second.”

They had their tasks. They had the first echoes of a plan. And, hopefully, that meant they would have an answer for the greatest crisis the world and afterworld had seen yet.

<><><>​

Humans were such strange creatures. Zena thought the questions would never end. Their little eyes were so wide with wonder whenever she spoke, and yet it didn’t feel like they had been ogling at her as Pokémon would have. They seemed fascinated instead. It was more like they’d never seen a Pokémon like her in the first place.

But she’d asked. They knew a lot about her species. A little disturbing, but these humans had professions dedicated to studying Pokémon. That made sense. Perhaps these humans published books like the editions of Pokémon species that Owen had in his room.

After finally answering enough of their questions, the professor relieved her of answering even more by saying that she probably wanted to see her partner. Thankful, she bid them farewell and slithered into the fields behind the lab. It was easy to guess where Owen had gone since it was split into a lush forest, a gentle lake, and an ashen field. The smell of smoke reminded her just slightly of the natural smell Owen had.

Several Charmander, Charmeleon, and even some Charizard lived there. They all had a feral look to them, but only a few resembled Owen in any meaningful way. Others seemed like they were from a different mother, perhaps. They all stared at her with wonder and wide eyes. Unlike the humans, she was certainly the first of her kind that they’d seen. A few younger Charmander sprinted over to look at their reflection in her scales, chittering to one another in a language she didn’t recognize. Owen would’ve understood.

As she went deeper into the fiery field, two Charizard stood up, looking guarded. The path was open, and yet it felt like she was being restricted from advancing down the natural path that had formed where no grass grew, cleaving the grayish field in two.

Owen had gone this way. She could sense his aura near others. But if she couldn’t go past… then his mother must have been on the other side.

“I’m with… Smallflame,” Zena explained. “Did he mention me?”

The two Charizard—both resembling Owen, yet subtly different—glanced at one another in surprise, then at Zena again. The left Charizard asked something.

“I… I’m sorry, I don’t know what you said,” Zena said. “I’m from a land where Pokémon speak… like humans do.”

It wasn’t entirely the truth, but it was close enough and practical.

They looked guarded, but one growled something at her that sounded like a question. Zena shifted awkwardly in response. How terrible to not know a single word of Owen’s native language…

“Um… grr?”

Whatever she said must have confused or offended them. The left one grunted and said something to the other, who spread his wings once. At first, Zena thought it was a warding gesture, but then he stood aside and turned away.

“Oh, um. Thank you.” Zena nodded, slithering past them both.

Perhaps when she had time later, she would ask Owen for lessons. Surely this was something that could be taught.

The field property of the laboratory was deceptively large. Zena had been slithering for what felt like almost a whole kilo by now—but it was probably less, realistically—by the time she’d spotted Owen’s upward-spiked horns ahead. In front of him was a small clan of Charmander-line Pokémon and a Marowak. The way the others gathered around the Marowak made it easy for Zena to tell this was their father.

Owen’s father… He seemed like a proud Pokémon. Sturdy and unwavering. Perhaps, even after all the changes he’d gone through both in body and mind, some of that was passed on to Owen’s soul.

They were all gathered around the largest, oldest Charizard of them all. Even in Owen’s current size, he seemed dwarfed, if the matriarch thought to stand.

However, Zena had a feeling her time of standing had passed long ago. She was old. Very old. Loose, half-shed scales and a much skinnier body coupled with sluggish movements and—most telling of all—her dim flame meant this Charizard was barely hanging on.

“Owen,” Zena said quietly. “Or, er… Smallflame, correct?”

The Charizard gestured for her to come forward. “Calling me Owen’s fine. I explained some things to Mom and Dad already. I’ll translate for you if you want.”

“Oh, ah, of course.”

Zena turned her attention to the Marowak next. The way he was staring at her behind his natural helmet was intimidating. She was several times his size yet felt so dwarfed.

“This is my dad. He’s called Daichi by the humans, but his native name translates to Earthclub. My Mom’s human name is Amber, and her native name is Scarflame.”

“Scarflame and Earthclub,” Zena repeated. “I’m happy to have met your son, Smallflame.”

Owen translated, and then she heard her name in some of those words. He must have introduced her.

Amber growled something and offered a weak nod to Zena.

Daichi asked Owen something and Owen paused, then shook his head. Daichi bowed his head, thoughtful, and then approached Zena as if sizing her up.

“Hello,” Zena greeted again.

Daichi said nothing, still studying her. Then, he grunted something.

Owen laughed and nodded. “He wants to name you,” he said.

“Oh! A… name of your culture? Of course. That could be useful.”

Daichi’s eyes glimmered even if the rest of his face remained unchanged. He paced around her twice, clearly deep in thought. He used his bone club to support him occasionally, but he stubbornly tried to walk on his own for more than half of the trek.

Looking a little winded, he completed his second lap and grunted something to Owen.

“Brightscale,” Owen concluded. “Makes sense, with the natural glow you have from, er, all that Mystic power.”

They were a very straightforward culture. “Did that mean your flame was abnormally small?” Zena asked.

“A little,” Owen said while avoiding her eyes. “But I was just as healthy. I just… didn’t have a big flame. I was still strong.”

“I see… Flames are important to your line like our scale’s shimmer is to mine. I understand.” She nodded. “Though, why would their parents name you something if you didn’t like that aspect?”

“Dad believed that if a Pokémon had a bad attribute, you’d name them after it to ward away vengeful ancestors.”

Zena blinked. It sounded absurd, but… she had to be respectful. “How do you mean?”

Owen walked over to Daichi and took a seat, offering the earth beside him to Zena. Settled in a semicircle, Zena and Amber on opposite ends, Owen continued to talk.

“He believed that ancestors that were satisfied would rest beneath the earth, but unsatisfied ancestors would jeer and curse their living descendants. But they often meddled with the strongest ones, dragging them down. A bad name was supposed to ward those spirits, who wouldn’t envy someone with a bad name. And since they were already not, uh, not in the best bodily condition, they needed all the help they could get.”

“So, a bad name… was meant to be a good luck charm?” Zena asked.

Owen didn’t exactly have the best luck…

“That’s what Dad believed,” Owen said. “Mom liked straightforward names. Most wild Pokémon do; they don’t think at an extremely high level like we do. I mean, I used to be the same, but I was still smart, you know. But I was… kind of an exception. My whole species is.”

“That isn’t too surprising. Even on Kilo, the feral Charmander line is on the upper levels of intelligence. I don’t think they’re even on the hunting list.”

“Well, that’s more because feral Charmander are critically endangered,” Owen admitted with a nervous titter. “Not a lot of favorable environments for Fire Pokémon on Kilo, so most of those ferals died out and only the intelligent ones are left. Take out Mom—er, Amia’s place, and all you have are the depths of Kilo Mountain and Pyrock… and both of those are very rocky, which we aren’t good with.”

Zena nodded. That made sense. She’d brushed up on some of the ecology books Owen had in his room, but she didn’t read them too thoroughly. Maybe she should…

“And,” Owen rambled on, “now that we know about the whole Quartz Isle thing, I don’t think Charmander were native there in the first place… so the feral lines were probably only a few small species at first.”

“I see…” Zena nodded again. “Goodness. I wouldn’t have expected the starting population of Kilo to be a creation story, but… it is.”

Amber and Daichi seemed confused, so Owen apologized in feral and translated for a few minutes. Zena watched Owen’s flame while he talked. It was much calmer without a hint of a spark. He was relaxed here.

Amber seemed confused and tired, but eventually smiled and said something to Owen that made his flame glow a little brighter. She had a good guess. She was proud of how strong Owen had become, and how smart. Someone of this world to become as smart as the humans that cared for them must have been a legendary or unthinkable feat. They were… not quite feral, not the way Zena knew them. But their mannerisms were familiar, and apparently, these Pokémon were highly intelligent for this world.

How bizarre… to have no intelligent Pokémon otherwise. No “human” intelligence.

But they seemed plenty smart already. That meant something.

Daichi was staring at her. “Oh, ah… yes?” she asked.

Daichi tapped his bone club on the ground, then took on a defensive stance, club forward as if to block an incoming attack.

For the first time, Zena understood the look in his eyes. It was the same look Owen had—a challenge for a spar.

She didn’t feel as strong as she should have been. The spirits within her were so much quieter, almost dormant, in this realm. Her powers were muted. But she was still strong.

And he was… old.

When she hesitated, the Marowak’s tail lashed on the ground, kicking up dirt.

“You should listen,” Owen advised. “He’s, uh, a little stubborn like that. He wants to make sure you’re strong.”

“…Is this a… cultural thing?” Zena asked, hoping she hadn’t offended him.

“It’s a Battleheart thing,” Owen answered.

Zena nodded back and decided that she wouldn’t use her strongest against him. She could channel physical attacks instead; she was worse at those, and he seemed much more oriented toward those kinds of attacks. She slithered into a small battle ring that seemed to be made from countless spars. Charmander and above started gathering with interest to see the battle.

Standing ten feet apart, Daichi tapped his bone club on the ground twice. Something stirred in Zena and she tapped the feathers of her tail on the ground twice in return. That must have been the signal because Daichi dashed forward, closing the gap halfway with only a few short bounds. Then, he swung his arm back and hurled the bone club her way.

She brought her tail up and fanned out her feathers, blocking it. The attack was solid, but it was from a mortal old Pokémon. With a push, she bounced the club away and slammed the ground with the same motion. Water spouts formed where she’d struck; by some instinct, the crowd reeled back while Daichi sidestepped the splash zone.

He reached for his bone club, which answered his call by gravitating back to his hand. He whirled around and swung it again. Zena went for another block, but the hit never came. She ducked on instinct; it barely grazed her horn.

Old meant wise, it seemed. He was sharp. After just one blow, he’d figured out how to outmaneuver her initial defense.

The bone club was coming back for another strike. She thought quickly and spat a small glob of water onto the club, but held her focus on it even as it whipped past her. Zena raised her tail to slam next to Daichi again, creating more water spouts that settled and softened the ground.

Daichi made his move again, reaching for the club. That was when Zena focused on the water she’d left in a layer around the club. It flew to his hand—and then burst in a plume of thick fog. Daichi shouted in surprise—it had also made a small concussive blast—and Zena swung her body ahead, wrapping around him in a tight coil. But not too tight.

He struggled to pull out; he slammed his club onto Zena’s side, but it did nothing. He couldn’t get a purchase nor a good angle to swing. After a few seconds of flailing, he grew tired and huffed, tapping her scales three times.

She released him. Daichi fell to the floor with a grunt, turning his head away.

When he growled at her, she thought she understood his words. ‘You fight kindly.’

“Oh.” Zena nodded. “Thank you. I… didn’t want to hurt you, but I didn’t want to deny you a battle, either.”

Owen perked up. “Zena, you understood him?”

“I… I don’t know,” Zena said. “I thought he said I fought kindly. But it was only a feeling.”

“No, that’s exactly right,” Owen explained, eyes glimmering with wonder. “Pokémon speak with a lot of feeling. A lot of us are born with the language from listening to it in our eggs. That’s… it was lost to Pokémon descended from humans in Kilo, but that’s how it’s supposed to be for us.”

“Oh, how interesting…” And this was more interesting than anything she’d heard before about them, now that she felt it for herself. Maybe lessons wouldn’t be so hard after all…

When Daichi spoke again, Zena got the gist, but not any of the subtleties of his wizened way of speaking. ‘Smallflame is very lucky,’ seemed to be the gist.

“I feel lucky, too,” Zena said. “Er, thank you.”

Daichi’s eyes glimmered the same way Owen’s did. Even if they were only here to visit and gather their bearings, it was nice. She only hoped that Owen would be okay once they left… but he certainly wouldn’t have been able to leave without seeing them one last time. This, she understood. Perhaps if she’d been separated from her parents suddenly in the same way, she would have also been distraught.

At least Star had given her that mercy.

Owen had a concerned look. Zena was about to ask if something was wrong—perhaps she seemed upset on accident for thinking about Star—but then Owen abruptly turned around where he sat.

Amber seemed fine, but Owen was looking right at her. There was a vacant expression that didn’t match Owen’s sudden moves…

And then, Amber seized up, and other Charmander chittered in alarm and called for help, confused at what was going on.

“Zena,” Owen said quickly, descending upon Amber, “call the humans!”

“R-right!”

Even as Amber convulsed, Zena made use of her water propulsion to slither even faster to the main building, swimming through the air. The peaceful field had suddenly fallen to panic.

<><><>​

“The worst of it’s over,” said a human doctor. Despite not being a Pokémon, Owen was confident she’d know exactly what to do. Her red hair and Chansey assistant were already looking Amber over. By the time she’d arrived, Amber had already stabilized visually, though his Perceive told him a much graver picture.

Owen overheard some of the others of the clan murmuring to one another. This hadn’t been the first time, and it was becoming more frequent. This had been the worst one yet. It wasn’t any new disease or terrible curse, though. She was just… old. Owen could point out three issues at a simple Perceive-powered glance that would measure Amber’s life in days at most.

Had he taken just a little longer to come here… Or, no, had he simply not been sent at all… she would have died and he’d never have been able to see her.

“Take it easy, alright?” the doctor said to Amber, who replied with a soft grunt. Then, she turned to several of the other humans that had gathered around. Some were in tears, comforted by others.

“How is she?” asked the professor. He was also very old at this point, but lively. Not like Amber. It wasn’t his time yet. Owen’s Perceive was geared to those kinds of checks more than usual.

The doctor sighed sadly and nodded at Chansey, withdrawing her into her Poké Ball. Their work was done.

Zena was startled at first, but when nobody else reacted, she played along. He’d explain later.

“Well,” she said, “it’s… not going to improve, I’m afraid. Amber is an old, old Charizard.”

“She was at her peak only a few years ago,” the professor said. “Ah, but that is how it goes for her kind. Their flames are beautiful during their last years, but then the fuel runs out, and… well.” He bowed his head, adjusting his white lab coat. “Amber… I do hope you’re not too uncomfortable.”

Amber was in pain. Owen knew that. Should he say so to the others? Would Amber not want anyone to know?

Daichi’s knuckles were tense. He held his bone club tightly. While he wasn’t as interested in understanding humans, they were using simpler language, and their feelings were conveyed obviously. It was clear to Owen that Daichi knew what was discussed.

“I’m afraid that she’s already suffering,” the doctor said again, putting Chansey’s Poké Ball gently in her pocket. “And even if she lived for… I want to say a day at most, it will not be any better. It will get worse.”

The professor’s eyes darkened, but he nodded knowingly. “Are you suggesting… we end this early so she does not need to go through that suffering?”

Cold waves ran across Owen’s scales even before the doctor nodded.

The others in the clan were murmuring in confusion with one another, but the older ones—Charmeleon and up—had more solemn expressions. They must have known about this. Perhaps some of them knew of past matriarchs or others who had their suffering cut short.

“What do you mean?” Zena asked quietly.

She’d already talked when the doctor had arrived, so her intelligence wasn’t much of a secret.

The doctor bowed politely to Zena. “When a Pokémon is suffering a great deal, to the point where they may not understand what is going on, or they have no chance of recovery—such as if they’re very old, or very hurt—where not even healing can help them… we help them pass on. I can get the paperwork done quickly and get the solution, and we can help her rest.”

Zena was horrified, but after the initial shock, she appeared to understand, sparing Amber a guilty look.

“I refuse,” growled Amber.

The humans all looked at her. Even though it was feral—Owen had to take a moment to realize this—they seemed to understand what she meant.

“My last son… finally came home,” she replied. “I don’t care… how painful… this last moment will be. I will stay. I will… hear his stories… for as long as I can.”

Guilt and gratitude, all at once, squeezed Owen’s heart. His breath hitched when he tried to sigh, but he nodded and let the others do the talking.

The professor crossed his arms and nodded, firm and decisive. “She may be weak, but her mind is still there. I don’t think she’s ready to go.”

“I understand,” the doctor said with a bow. “I’ll come every day to make sure. But it’s her choice.”

Owen wondered if she’d even have the night.

Someone entered Owen’s Perceive range. It seemed to be another human with several Poké Balls and equipment. He had the aura of someone who was equipped to travel wherever he wanted…

He was holding a Charmander in his arms. Perhaps it was another one who wanted to visit the old matriarch. But why did this Charmander feel so familiar…

“Ah, I’m glad you could make it,” the professor said, smiling sadly. “I—eh? Oh, did your Charizard have a child? Congratulations!”

Wait.

“Mu?!”

“Papa!”

Mu held her arms to Owen, and she suddenly disappeared in a strange warping of light. A moment later, she reappeared a few feet above Owen, landing perfectly on top of his head.

The professor laughed. “A teleporting Charmander! Now, I’ve seen Arcanine with that technique, but never a Charmander! I’ll need to write that one down.”

Even Amber smiled, tilting her head. “A daughter? Then my granddaughter…”

“Y-yes!” The actual answer would be way too complicated. Maybe if Amber could hear the whole story…

The human in the red cap nodded, wordless yet calm. He seemed relieved to return the Charmander to where she was supposed to be.

“I suppose if he already rescued a pair of talking Pokémon,” the professor said, “he had a good idea where the third one was supposed to be!”

Though, he then brought his hand to his head, looking concerned.

“Where are you from, again? This seems like a serious issue if there are now three of you suddenly landing right here.”

The red-capped human knelt beside Amber. She relaxed in his presence and murmured something in greeting to him.

“We’re… from a land called Kilo,” Owen said. “I think while I’m here, I need to find a way to get back. Because—”

Owen stopped, glancing skyward. He felt the presence of an incoming message from above—telepathy from Barky? He recognized this energy…

I hope you are safe. We will manage here until we find a way to bring you back. Take your time finding your own; we gave you a lot of it. Also please find Mu. I don’t know how she got there.

Well, that answered one question. At least he already got Mu… who somehow came here. Did her ability to warp also cross whole realms? It couldn’t be that strong. Something else was wrong…

“Owen?” Zena asked.

“I heard, uh, a certain friend of ours from the other world sending a message through… very strong telepathy. He said we can try to find our way back and they’re going to try on their end, too. That they hope we’re alright, and that we can take our time because they ‘gave us a lot of it.’ What does that… mean?”

“Hmm… This sounds like a very powerful friend,” the professor said. “Gave you a lot of time. Did they fend something off?”

“I don’t think they would’ve done that very easily…” Owen shook his head. “I’ll… think about it later. But if he’s telling us to relax…”

His eyes trailed over to his mother, but then he glanced at Zena.

“Owen, please,” she said. “Spend time with family. You haven’t seen them in so long. I’ll handle whatever we need to do for now.”

He still felt guilty, but it was what he wanted, too. “Thank you, Zena…”

Red-cap summoned a Charizard from one of the capsules in his bag. They looked at one another and, without a word, seemed to understand what the other was thinking. Red-cap nodded at Charizard, who took a seat next to Amber. Then, the human left as soon as he came, not a single word was said. What a strange one, but… Owen felt a pang of envy at the bond Charizard and his trainer shared.

If he had just been a little luckier, could they have turned out the same way? That bond? If those criminals hadn’t kidnapped the rest of his team… or if they’d rescued them… anything, would he have lived a happy life? Would Kilo, Quartz, or any of that ever happened?

Mu tapped on his forehead while sitting between his horns. “Papa?” she asked.

“When did you learn that word?” Owen asked, reaching up to grab her, but there was only empty air. She was on his shoulder now.

“Why… sad?”

“Oh, Mu…” Zena slithered closer. “Papa is… losing someone special to him. He has to say goodbye, and… well, it’s going to be okay. Right, Owen?”

He paused for a second too long and he knew Zena suspected there was more. But he nodded anyway and said, “Yeah. It’ll… be okay.”

Even Mu looked concerned. The things this little child could see… He still had a lot to learn about her.

But as he turned his head back to Amber, to Daichi, and all the others of his old, old family, what was important to him, now, returned to him.

“Mom?” Owen said. “When you’re ready… I can tell you about where I’ve been.”

Daichi tapped his bone club on the ground. “I want to hear this, too.”

“While you do that,” Zena said, “I’ll give the humans information about how we got here. They might be able to help.”

“Thanks, Zena. I’ll be here.”

It was surprising, but he had Barky to thank for it. The gods, after all they’d taken away from him, gave him this opportunity. This freedom to come and stay home for… He’d have to do the math.

Staring at this field from thousands of years ago, the very beginning of his long, long life… Kanto was no longer his home. He had to return to Kilo, even if he didn’t know how yet. It had to be done.

But for now… he wanted to be with his family.

One last time.
 
Chapter 162 - Spirits in the Marrow

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 162 – Spirits in the Marrow

Owen was able to tell his story to Amber over three days and two nights. The doctor visited every afternoon and every evening, only for Amber to stubbornly say that she would endure, even as her condition worsened and worsened until her episodes happened every hour. But they were brief and, somehow, she was lucid throughout.

He’d already told her so much. The broad strokes of everything that happened. The finer details of the parts she wanted to know more. She liked hearing about Remi. She thought it was funny how he’d chosen for a mate someone weak to his element, and now someone strong. She was focused on Amia, envious and offended at her replacement, yet satisfied, ultimately, at the fiery defense she’d provided as a substitute.

Daichi suggested Alex train to be hardier and sturdier. That he was too kind to enemies that had to fall. A Charizard whose name was Hardscale, and who traveled with the red-capped human, listened in occasionally and asked for details on the battles Owen had. He asked for demonstrations of his strength, which Amber also, through blurry vision, wanted to witness.

All the grace of her body had left her and she’d stopped eating the day before. Stopped drinking ever since the sun had set. Patiently, they helped wash her and keep her comfortable when she no longer had the strength to so much as sit up. Owen wondered if she wanted release now, but she only smiled and asked for another story. She was a little slower. Just a little forgetful, but Owen attributed it to fatigue.

He patiently repeated them and kept his tail flame near her chest to keep her warm. Her flame was like a candle’s and perhaps even a breeze would have been enough to put it out. Owen feared Amber wouldn’t have the strength to reignite it.

Each night, Daichi shivered but claimed that Amber’s warmth was always and will always be enough. Owen didn’t challenge him. He chose not to comment on the tears he sensed.

Owen’s powers, without any spirits, had diminished significantly. Zena, the spirits dormant in this realm, was stronger, but even her powers were muted. They needed to sleep again, and eat again, even if it wasn’t as much as everyone else.

But on that night, Owen couldn’t sleep. He was plagued with the knowledge of his extra senses, which had only slightly dulled. Not enough to ignore the ever-weakening pulse Amber had.

The final things Amber said to him rolled through his mind.

“I know you will be strong,” she had said. “These troubles… they’re nothing after everything else. You will defeat that dark force.”

He’d felt so overwhelmed and Amber’s words had no substance. The way she said it with so much confidence… He wanted to be entertained. It was silly to think he could stand up to the gods and assume it would work out.

But she wouldn’t have it. He was too good to lose now, after everything else he’d already overcome. That, he supposed, he couldn’t argue with.

“I’m ready,” she said.

Every night, the others of the clan visited her. There was a whole spiral of Charmander, Charmeleon, and Charizard to keep them warm. It was natural. It was how they always slept, no matter the age. Zena, out of place, tried to get comfortable and tried to respect that culture, but in some ways, their stay being so brief was a blessing for her.

Amber’s heart was slowing down. Her breathing, too.

Owen held his breath and stared at the cloudless, starry sky.

Where did the spirits of this world go? He only recently learned that Kilo’s was cornered off. Spirits were siphoned across their little patch of the aura sea, and before that stored dormant inside Necrozma. What of here?

He weighed it in his mind, over and over. If he would take her in. Ask her.

Consciously, he’d left out those details of the spirit. He wondered if Amber or Daichi would have figured it out anyway. But if he did… would she mind? Or would she want to rest and move on?

Would she want to fight? See his story’s end? Or… was she already confident in how it would go?

So, the night before, he resolved that once she died, once her aura left her body… he would ask her then, where she would be free to go or stay. Entirely her choice. That wasn’t selfish, right?

Or… maybe he’d say nothing. Should he have said something?

Someone whimpered. Sounded like a Charmander, but not Mu. Near Owen’s left arm, one of the younger ones was having a bad dream. He shifted his weight and adjusted a wing, gently nudging the little one until he was awake, confused and trembling. His big eyes reflected the firelight of everyone’s tails that speckled the clan’s collective heap.

Owen tilted his head, inquiring.

Charmander said, “I don’t like water.”

It… startled him in such a little way. Of course he wouldn’t.

“It was raining,” Charmander said. “And I couldn’t get home…”

Owen reached out to Charmander and pulled him close. He gladly nuzzled in against his chest, though he eyed Zena, across the way and sleeping near the edge of the heap.

“The water can’t hurt you here,” Owen whispered with a gentle growl. He looked skyward, guiding Charmander’s eyes.

A gentle, warm air ran down his right shoulder. Someone must have sighed.

“See?” Owen went on. “The sky is totally clear.”

Charmander oohed at it, eased by the starlight. He leaned into Owen’s chest again and curled up, tail tip to his nose. In moments, he was asleep again.

Once again, Owen was the only one awake. He checked the sky again, scanned the crowd with his Perceive, and then checked the auras around him, as was his little, obsessive routine.

Amber’s was fading… or it had already left.

He had half a mind to shoot upward but the little Charmander by his wing kept him from moving. Instead, he watched as that fading flame shrank like the end of a campfire. Nothing was rising out, no lingering spirit with unfinished tasks. This was a peaceful death, surrounded by a family of multiple generations, in the quiet of the night as the wind kept blowing and the stars kept shining.

There was not going to be someone for Owen to ask. Amber would not linger; she’d already given her answer.

And Amber knew. Only as the last of her faded away did Owen realize, of course, she’d known.

He’d only convinced himself that maybe he’d get to ask her anyway. That small comfort that maybe he’d have one last conversation. One more. Just one more.

What was the last thing he’d said to her? It was… it was…

Owen didn’t know. He’d told her so much. Asked her things and answered even more. Maybe it was saying where one of the hatchlings was since she couldn’t see them. Or maybe it was telling her about Zena’s strength. Maybe it was a simple goodnight.

Maybe… it didn’t matter.

Maybe it didn’t matter.

He deflated, relief mixed with a deep, fulfilled sorrow.

Daichi said something but made no sounds. Owen read his lips, ‘Goodbye.’

To Owen, the stars blurred into a beautiful swirl of glimmering, shining lights.

And, eventually, as it always did, the morning sun returned to hide them all away.

<><><>​

The body left behind was burned in a ceremonial pyre. Without the aura to protect it, it burned like any mundane material until all that remained was ash and bone. Daichi was meticulous about this, making sure that the flames were not too hot and that the bones were not damaged, only cleansed. This was a special technique passed down to him by his side of the family.

Owen stood beside them with Zena and Mu to observe the process. No words were exchanged to one another, but to the flames as the smoke rose into the sky and the ash was returned to the earth. They sent their messages to the dancing embers in the hopes that they would resonate with what Amber had become.

Even with his knowledge of aura, Owen wondered… Maybe it did. Or maybe it didn’t matter to her anymore. She was satisfied. She knew what would happen.

This grief… was for those still alive. The fights they still had. Her story was over, and Amber had a long one. Maybe she was with her trainer again, the one she’d spoken so fondly of. Owen wished he’d asked more about her. He should have. He should have, but now she was gone. He’d never know.

He could… research it. For her. Unless that was… disrespectful.

Daichi tapped his bone club on the earth, calling Owen to attention.

“You have many trials ahead of you,” Daichi said. “Challenges… impossible challenges still waiting in the world you now protect.”

Owen nodded.

Daichi pointed at the ashen skeleton. “The bones have been strengthened. The fire used was special. An ancient technique. Take one now.”

“Take… a bone?” Owen eyed the one Daichi held, then at Amber’s burned remains.

His father nodded firmly. “From the leg, and you will be able to march. From the arm, you will have the strength to fight. From the wing…” Daichi trailed off. “I do not know what a wing does.”

“It flies.”

“As a bone.”

“Oh.”

So, it was more for… symbolism? Owen was surprised that his father’s side followed something that intricate, but then again, it made some sense…

It still hurt to see his mother’s skeleton in this way, and he had never considered, or pieced together, that Daichi would request this of him. But his father was a Marowak. He had to respect this at least a little.

But a whole bone was… a bit much, wasn’t it?

Owen walked gingerly toward the bones, somehow hardened by the flames.

“I’ll take this, then,” he said. At the very end of her spine was the tip of her tail. There, nearest to her flame, if he had to take anything, he would take that.

“Her flame,” Daichi asked.

Owen nodded. “I have strength. I have endurance. But… sometimes, I’m just scared.” And it was okay to admit that, right? Even Zena was terrified. Everyone was. Everyone should be. That he didn’t tell everyone here the truth of his world was a mercy.

Well, everyone but Amber… who was fully confident that he’d survive and triumph.

He wanted to take some of that courage with him. That light.

Daichi seemed to understand just by how Owen looked at it. The little vertebra was hardened by mystical fire. Gently, Owen slipped it into the satchel over his shoulder.

“When it is darkest, she will give you light,” Daichi said. “That is a good choice.”

Most of the crowd had dispersed by now. Everyone’s flames were a little dimmer while they mourned. Daichi, with no flame at all, merely kept his club closer to the ground.

“…Thank you,” Daichi said, “for staying as long as you have. I heard some of your stories. You have a lot left to do, and not here. Not anywhere near here.”

Owen’s heart sank. Daichi already lost his mate, and soon, Owen would have to leave him, too.

“No,” Daichi said quickly.

Owen jumped a little but caught Daichi’s firm look. Even now, he was so perceptive…

“You must go. With her strength.” He pointed his bone club at the end of her tail, which Owen now held. “Save your new home. I have mine, here. You have left the nest.”

He lowered the bone club.

“I could not be prouder. We all are. And thankful that you returned.”

Owen smiled faintly. “Yeah,” he said. “But I’ll never forget you, Dad. You helped raise me… and I can’t leave that behind. So you’ll always be with me.” He tapped his chest.

“Good.” Daichi nodded.

But Owen didn’t have to leave just yet. For a little bit longer, he stayed with the others of his extended family, his clan, and helped with the rest of the rites of Amber’s remains. Little by little, they grieved, they cried, but most importantly…

Owen could finally move on.

<><><>​

Human libraries were so tiny.

Zena could wrap her ribbons around entire books with no effort, flip through them, and squint at all the tiny letters. She tried to work the ‘computers’ but they were much smaller and even harder to read compared to what the Voidlands had.

The librarian was kind enough to guide her to the books she needed—ones about portals to other worlds—and apparently, those existed here! However, they weren’t known much in this region, which made the source material scarce.

That meant she had to use the “Inter Net” to find more information.

What a strange device.

Several humans had passed in and out of the library during her research, murmuring to one another and pointing odd devices at her. She was confused about what it meant at first, but it didn’t seem to be very harmful. When she waved, they waved back.

Did humans use those devices to see? Maybe some of them were visually impaired and used that technology. A lot of them pointed them at the ground while they walked, so it was very likely their eyes for movement, too. She resolved to ask Owen about it later.

“Bonjour!”

“Ah?” Zena perked up to see another human with a big grin and orange hair that went sideways like he’d been frozen in a windstorm. Something about him reminded her of the professor.

“Heard that you met my friend. Quiet guy, red hat?”

“Oh! Yes. He was the one who rescued my mate and I.”

The human nodded, radiating confidence. “Heard that you were looking for a way to get home. Figure while I’m visiting, I’d help.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful. I’ve been trying to look through the Inter Net for the information, but it’s being very difficult and not giving me any answers.”

The human pulled a chair next to her table and took a seat. “Hmm…” He analyzed the screen with a human’s expertise. “Isn’t that the computer’s notepad?”

“I’m not sure what that is. The receptionist told me that if I typed in my ‘search’ on this computer, I would be able to get an answer. But it must still be thinking. Do you see the blinking line at the end of my question?”

“Ehh…” He scratched his hair. “Here, I’ll help you.”

He pressed on a red button at the top of the square and it disappeared. Then, he pulled up a new program with a lot of other buttons that she didn’t understand. Then, he typed in the same question—“Portals that lead to other worlds.”—and pressed a large key that said ‘ENTER.’

Ah, that’s what she’d forgotten to do. The ‘ENTER’ key. As if to enter a question? That’s probably what it meant.

“So,” the human said, “you’re from a world where Pokémon talk and have whole societies like we do, huh? Not a human in sight?”

“Not one.” Zena shook her head. “To be honest, I’ve never met a human before. They were just folk tales. Not to… offend, or anything. Er… I was under a lot of false impressions of humans.”

“Oh, really?” he smirked. “Like what?”

“Oh, no, no…” Zena trailed off.

“No, come on! Not every day I get to hear someone’s thoughts about humans from another world!”

“Well—my mate once thought humans ate metal, and that you were invincible to Pokémon attacks.”

“Metal, and invincible, huh?” The wise human nodded. “Well, if only! But, whatever. You couldn’t have known any better. Seems humans are pretty boring compared to those stories, huh?”

“The opposite! All this technology is so advanced! I only saw it in the Voidlands, and not at this level. Maybe humans themselves aren’t too interesting, but what you’ve made…”

“Yeah, that sounds like humans, alright.” He made an exaggerated shrugging gesture.

The human then looked through the strange new screens that the computer displayed. “So, portals to other worlds, right? We’ve heard about this before. Here’s an article you can read and stuff. They’re called Ultra Wormholes… Though y’know, if you’ve got the time, you should try talking with some experts in the Alola region. Pretty far, though, out in the middle of the ocean!”

“How big is this world?” Zena asked. “We could travel across the world in a day or so in ours.”

“Wow! You’re either really fast or your world’s small. Only the fastest airplanes can do something like that!”

“I don’t know what an airplane is.”

“Ah-hehe…” He scratched his hair again. “I’m gonna talk with my rival. Maybe he’ll have an idea.”

“Thank you. I would appreciate all the help.”

“No problem. Happy to help!” He turned and started to leave, waving as he did. “Smell ya later!”

“Oh.” Zena nodded. A human whose primary sense was smell.

Humans were so fascinating.

<><><>​

Diyem, seizing Angelo’s body, explained everything to Spice and the others on the team, which comprised herself, Leo, Jerry, and her two other ‘thirds’—Enet and Amelia. Anam had been there for a little while, but then excused himself to help with more of the villagers while Diyem discussed things. All things considered, as the world’s protector and figurehead, it was good that he was still trying to help.

He explained, thoroughly, the fragments he had, and his suspicion that one of the hidden fragments was tucked away in Destiny Tower itself, a clever hiding place and a devastating one if it was left unchecked. The world splitting apart was already thought to be the work of Necrozma being corrupted. The last thing they needed was a second of the top pantheon to be claimed by darkness.

Spice wasn’t entirely sure about all the science or super-science behind it, but it added up to what she’d experienced before. If anyone could fix this, it’d be Arceus, and the fact that it wasn’t fixed meant he was in trouble, or the world was in even bigger trouble than before. They had to get to Arceus in Destiny Tower.

Simple prayers were not getting a response. That was already bad.

There was just one problem with Diyem’s evaluation, even after he took Angelo’s body.

“You don’t know HOW to get there?!” Spice blurted.

“I am,” Diyem said calmly, “still thinking.”

“So, you possessed this innocent artist before you came up with the rest of your plan.”

“I saw an opportunity and took it. The optimism my core of light provides me is intoxicating at times.”

Spice and Jerry both brought a claw or wing to their snouts.

“Rather than complain about my methods, can we depart?”

“Depart where?” Jerry growled. “You can’t go ten feet without wandering into a different part of the world!”

The Aerodactyl gestured wildly behind him, where various houses were lost to distortion.

“Hmm. That’s true.” Diyem brought a hand to his chin while his tail dragged behind him with each step. Angelo must have complained because he rolled his eyes and picked it up shortly after, dusting off the brush end.

“Fix?” Enet asked. The Zoroark tilted her head.

“I can, in a sense,” Diyem replied. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure how helpful that would be… nor how long it would last.”

He was scanning the bubble of safety they were in now. It seemed analytical, but with how stoic Diyem was, he had no idea if it was because he had a plan, or wanted to look like he had a plan.

“I can manipulate Dungeons to an extent, as a divine being. Enet, you might also be able to do this.”

“I help?”

“You help.” Diyem closed his eyes and murmured something. He then nodded as if listening to someone. Angelo, giving advice?

“Well, we can help as much as we can!” Amelia called, rising out from Enet’s mane. “What do you need?”

“…First, we should try to recover this town. It’s a start. If we can find a piece of Kilo Village, that might make this easier as well… Restoring our headquarters means we can also restore our Teleportation network. That will allow us to get to Destiny Tower immediately.”

“…Huh. Alright.” Jerry nodded. “Credit where it’s due. Only problem is, how does finding a ‘piece’ of Kilo Village help?”

“Mm. Let me demonstrate.”

He finished sketching through the air. It looked like a cloud with raindrops falling.

Oh no.

“Oh, c’mon!” Spice quickly searched for shelter under a rooftop. Seconds later, a small drizzle formed, and seconds later it became a total downpour. “Between Jerry, me, and Leo, we kinda hate the rain!”

Enet lifted her mane in an offering to Spice.

“No thanks.”

Enet sadly lowered her mane.

“What’s the point of this?” Jerry called over the rain, hiding in the same shelter Spice had picked. Leo, who was a few seconds too slow, entered last, shivering, and blew fire into his hands.

“The water from Rain Dance, for a short while, has traces of the aura of the user in it. And my Shadow aura can be used to channel some control and dominion over Dungeon space. In other words, it can expand its influence…”

Diyem frowned and hummed. “There’s a flaw in this plan. I don’t know if I can expand that influence into Dungeons that are exactly adjacent to this one.”

“Is that even possible?” Leo asked. “Two Dungeons aren’t usually right next to each other. That’s… simply not how they work.”

“They do now because everywhere is a Dungeon.” Diyem looked around.

“…Dispel?” Enet asked.

“Dispelling a Dungeon is… not something I’m aware of,” Diyem admitted. “Someone with Radiance can seal it, and someone with Shadows can manipulate it. Destroying it is—”

The Zoroark growled in contemplation. “Both?”

“…Both.” Diyem frowned. “I never tried. It was against my interests to suggest it to Anam at the time. But I doubt simply using Shadows and Radiance together will be enough. Still…”

“Try?” Enet suggested.

“Yes, fine. Try.”

“Shadows and Radiance, eh?” Spice said. “Only supplier of Radiance is Enet and her spirits. Think you can teach my feral side how to do that?”

“…Well. I’m desperate. I’ll have to try.” Diyem approached Enet and craned his neck upward. She sniffed his fur hat.

“How?” Enet asked.

“My aura-tinged water is already spreading around this small localized area. It’s already bleeding into other Dungeons. With luck, it might even bleed into areas that had once been part of this town. So, Enet, if you could put your aura into the water somehow…”

Enet tilted her head.

Diyem sighed. “Perhaps that’s a bit much for me to ask,” he said, pacing into the puddles forming in the road. “This is an incredibly complex process. A lot could go wrong. I think. Or maybe this is all theory with no practice and we’re going about it the wrong way. Let’s try—”

ZAP!

Diyem unceremoniously crumpled into the puddles face-first and stiff. Enet’s fur was a lightning ball, electricity coursing through the water.

“Uh.” Jerry waited.

Diyem was still on the ground, stunned.

“R-roll him on his side!” Spice called.

“Is he drowning?” Leo asked as Spice scampered out and into the water after Enet stopped charging it.

Spice rolled him up and checked his breathing. “Heal Seed!” she called.

Leo clumsily sorted through his bag and tossed one to her, which she fed into Diyem.

“Wait, does this work on you?” Spice asked.

Diyem coughed. “It works on the body,” he grumbled, shakily getting to a sitting position. “Thank you, Enet…”

Enet ran a claw through her fur to take out the static. Amelia emerged from her mane, arcs of electricity still running across her flower petals.

“Well, she’s the Electric Guardian. Makes sense that she can run her aura through the water like that…”

“My ears are still ringing,” Leo murmured.

“But it worked,” Diyem noted, pointing at the edge of the Dungeon. It was hard to tell at first, but the distortion was weakening… and beyond, more of the town was visible.

It was slight, and only for a few extra meters… but this “Shadow Rain” and “Electric Pulse” was enough to restore some of the town.

All they had to do was expand its range into the Teleporter…

“Well. Nice job, Diyem. That’s our methodology out of the way.”

“Should we use it to restore the town?” Leo asked.

“This distortion will come back. We’re only temporarily reversing it,” Diyem said. “If we want to stop it entirely, we need to stabilize the world itself all at once. I don’t know how to do that yet… but obviously, Destiny Tower is a way to start.”

He gestured forward. “Come. It’s time to advance.”

<><><>​

Team Alloy organized with their counterparts, Mhynt, Angelo Sr., and Brigid to mobilize an army of spirits. They’d gone to the edge of this particular ‘Kilo era’ and searched for their one easy ticket into the living world that wouldn’t require Mhynt to sustain an energy-expensive wormhole.

They could only hope that Hecto was still around at the gateway.

Brigid led the way, looking pensive and nostalgic at the same time. Mesprit murmured to the others that he could sense a bitter sadness from her the closer they got to the white void at the edge of the spiritual mountain’s caldera.

But then, the Aerodactyl stopped, puzzled. “He’s… not here.”

“What? But Hecto is always here.” Angelo Sr. marched forward. “Hecto! Buddy, Zygarde?”

“…He may be busy in the living world,” Lunala said.

“Now that I think about it,” Demitri added, arms crossed, “I think I remember something about Hecto gathering himself up for something…”

“Hopefully he was able to achieve that.” Mhynt folded her wings. Her body glowed with lunar energy. “If that won’t work, then we will have to travel directly there with an Ultra Wormhole. I can create a rift. However… the spirits will struggle to exist, and may evaporate in that realm.”

“…Will that… cause us to die twice?” Brigid asked.

“No. You will be drawn back to the Aura Sea and wind up here, from what I can deduce. But that’s just as inconvenient for what we want…”

“Hmm…” Mispy closed her eyes.

“There are ways to persist in the living world as spirits. You usually need the power of a Guardian. Or, more specifically, divine energy. Holding one of Necrozma’s light crystals, being a Guardian-summoned spirit, and so on can help.”

“Ehh, divine ain’t everything,” Gahi said. “When we were out once fer a clash, I nearly evaporated out there, and so did these two almost.” He gestured to Demitri and Mispy. “An’ there’s also Trina…”

The Snivy crossed her little arms, sitting between Gahi’s antennae. “I don’t like to talk about it. But I did evaporate quickly when I wandered out of the Dungeon. It wore me down… But I wonder if that was because the Voidlands already weakened my brand of divine power.”

“Well, we should be fine,” Demitri said, gesturing to himself, Team Alloy, and their sprite counterparts. “Mhynt, you’re fine… Trina should also be revived, right?”

“I was revived,” Trina confirmed.

“Then it would be the two of us.” Brigid nodded. “Do you have a way to carry us along?”

“Carrying spirits into the living world is typically not… an easy feat,” Mhynt said. “Still, we’ve seen examples of this before… but that’s a lot of energy.”

“I dunno.” Gahi shrugged. “Maybe w—” He froze and stared blankly forward.

“…Gahi?” Demitri asked. “Gahi? You alright, buddy?”

“Yeah. I’m talkin’ ter the letters in my head.”

Uxie’s shoulders slumped. “Please find a better way to phrase that.”

The Flygon didn’t seem to hear Uxie. Or was ignoring her. “Oh. Huh. Yeah. I c’n help.” Gahi spread his wings.

“What? Just like that?” Brigid said. “That’s a reversal.”

Gahi’s wings flooded with galaxy-black scales and shimmering flecks of white, like stars. “Guardian stuff. Got a whole spirit realm in me. Fergot that.”

“A spirit realm within you… while you are also in the spirit realm?” Angelo repeated, rubbing his forehead. “Realms within realms…”

“They said I c’n carry a bunch pretty easy. A whole army ter summon if we gotta.”

“They won’t be very strong,” Uxie remarked. “Mhynt should enhance him with Radiance to ease the burden.”

“Well, we didn’t plan to mobilize everyone. Only the best fighters.” Angelo nodded. “I’ll go back to inform Jin of the new plan, then.”

Lunala nodded. “Then we will brute force it. Get ready, everyone. It’s time to return to Kilo.”

<><><>​

Destiny Tower was quiet again. Star had gone off to fly over Kilo to find patterns from above, scouting the world and its new distorted state. The Creation Trio did what they could to quell the distortions from climbing the tower more than it already had, driving things back to stabilize in the localized area. If Destiny Tower fell, it would be a massive blow to morale… was what Barky told himself.

In reality, he was terrified. All around him, reality itself was ripping apart at the seams. He’d had Dialga quicken time for Owen, but it was not entirely out of mercy. Owen could use the break, just as all of them could have. But Owen, Zena, and even Mu now had what none of the others did: A chance to find some idea, some external inspiration, for how to fix this mess.

He was thoroughly convinced that there was no way to save Kilo now. Their last bastion of hope, Necrozma, had been possessed by the very same dark power that had doomed Kilo before. Where Necrozma had gone afterward was still unknown.

Was he resisting? Was he imprisoning himself? Or was the battle between Nate and Necrozma enough to hold him off?

Why did he know so little? Why was it all such a fog?

Barky slammed his hoof on the top of Destiny Tower. An ethereal ringing accented his frustrations.

“Did I come at a bad time?”

Barky jumped, but only slightly. He tried to regain his composure swiftly.

“Ah. Ghrelle.” Barky nodded. “Hello. No, I am… fine. I was channeling power to reinforce Destiny Tower.”

“I see.”

The Altaria fluttered toward Barky and landed gently on his back, bowing with grace and respect despite this. Normally this would be something he’d disapprove of, but he understood long ago that it was Ghrelle’s way of getting to closer speaking distance without him having to lean forward.

She spoke softly, “I sensed your distress and came right away for some singing.”

“Ah. That clear, was it?” Barky said, looking away. “It’s certainly not that obvious…”

“I’ve always been an empath,” Ghrelle reminded.

Barky nodded and paced to the edge of the tower again, overlooking the bubbly tapestry that Kilo had become.

“…Did I… make too many mistakes?” he asked. “Surely I could have prevented this.”

“There is no way to know for sure,” Ghrelle said, “even by us, frustrating as that may feel. But I do believe… you did what you thought was right. And all is not lost just yet. We only need a little more time and a little more power. A breakthrough. We still have resources working elsewhere.

“Perhaps we can contact Mhynt? I believe she is still out there, and she has Radiance. Or we can confront Necrozma? He may have turned, but he is not invincible. You can free him.” Ghrelle cooed a little birdsong. Barky relaxed.

“Yes… perhaps I could…”

Ghrelle continued to sing, lulling Barky to a stupor. He drifted to his side. “Ghrelle…”

Ghrelle gently shushed him. “You need rest most of all. The world will last while we wait. Rest will give you the strength to make your next move.”

“My next move?” Barky repeated. “I’ve hardly been able to think on that… All I see down below is… a ruined world, Ghrelle. I haven’t heard from Aramé… Brandon is in the Voidlands, gathering Titans… You’re all I have left.”

Ghrelle hopped along Barky’s body until she was next to his face. She caressed her cotton down against his cheek. “Then I will make sure I’m all you need.”

Barky relaxed further and Ghrelle sang a gentle psalm to him, taking the deity back to a time when things were simpler. A time when he ruled, and the mortals worshipped. As his eyes flitted closed, he lost himself to Ghrelle’s song, just as he always did, and let out a relieved sigh as the woes of the world temporarily became a distant memory.
 
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Chapter 163 - The Pressure of Independence

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 163 – The Pressure of Independence

The panic in the village had been too much for Anam. Seeing what Diyem had done to Angelo… He didn’t know how to confront that, and the others took care of it anyway.

He’d run off, and he hoped the others noticed and would find him because he’d happened upon a small miracle when he did—Kilo Village.

Still, helpless and alone, Anam sat in the middle of the town square, pressing against the distortion to dissolve and merge its borders to restore Kilo Village to what it had once been.

It was the least he could do.

So far, he’d freed up the main roads from the Central Waypoint to Heart HQ. Perhaps, with some extra effort, he could stretch into Waypoint Road.

And that was nice. He did something good. If the others were okay, they could find their way home. Right? The teleporters were back online thanks to Palkia, so it would be fine, right?

Mister Matter?

No reply. Anam remembered that he wasn’t there anymore.

His horns drooped. He went on with his work. Maintaining what he’d restored was easier than expanding more territory.

A few citizens were sheltered and afraid in their homes, their relief only slight by the fact that they could recognize their neighbors. A Helioptile was trying and failing to comfort a Wimpod in one building, and in another, a Garchomp and a Drakloak were quietly talking about where the others might have gotten lost.

Anam wondered, too. How extensive was this damage? Was he going to have to travel all around Kilo again? Unite all lands… again.

He was so tired.

Just as Anam turned to Waypoint Road to continue his expansion of the Dungeon, he heard voices coming from the other side of the distortion.

“Huh?”

“. . . closer by now. I recognize these roads.”

“Close!”

“Yes, Enet, very close.”

“Are you sure we’re the same soul?”

“We are.”

“Just in the denial phase, I guess…”

A Smeargle passed through first, followed by a Zoroark. The distortion down the path completely vanished, revealing an almost completely cleared Waypoint Road. Water ran along the storm drain divots on the side of the road as they approached; was it raining where they’d come from? Enet was so soaked that fur covered her eyes, yet the way she pranced, she seemed energized and thrilled.

“Heart of Hearts!” Leo shouted, rushing toward him. “Thank goodness you’re okay. Where did you go? Have you been restoring Kilo Village?”

“Yeah!” Anam replied. “Nate’s resting right now. I dunno what happened to Necrozma, but Nate got a clean shot in and somewhere else. I think he’s recovering, but…”

“Good on Nate,” Angelo said. “That bought us some time.”

It was still weird to see Angelo talking like… that.

Spice, noticing Anam’s expression, said, “Diyem’s borrowing his body to help with the distortions.”

“Oh.” Anam’s chest tightened. “Is Angelo okay?”

“Yes, yes, he’s fine,” Angelo said idly. “He’s been quiet, but I can sense him. He says hello. …And also wants to know if his home is preserved.”

“I think not yet, but soon?” Anam asked. “I’m trying to get the main roads first, so, um…”

“The storm drains will help us,” Diyem said, gesturing to the running water beside the roads.

“Ain’t that what helped drain Kilo Village of all the snow after that Aggron’s episode?” Jerry asked.

“Yes. And now we can use it to restore Kilo Village.” Diyem nodded. “We can use it to restore all waterways, but that isn’t important to me right now.”

“Huh? But… Kilo Village is super important…” Anam nibbled on his grabbers.

“We need to go to Destiny Tower,” Diyem said curtly. “Arceus is not answering prayers, the world has fallen into a mess of scrambled Dungeons, and I suspect one of my missing fragments is in Destiny Tower as we speak. I think it’s quite clear why that’s a very big deal.”

“A-Arceus is Shadowed?!” Anam asked.

“In the worst case, yes. We need to find the Waypoint to Destiny Tower.”

“That’s, um… nearby?” Anam looked around. “Um, we had to move it from the S section for Spire of Trials, because now it’s Destiny Tower, so it’s in the D section, um…”

“We could use your help,” Diyem stated. “I may have left you, but much of my strength remains.”

That anxiety gripped Anam’s chest again. It was so strange being mostly solid. “But if I use it too much, I melt,” Anam warned.

“That’s meaningless,” Diyem deadpanned. “Why are you afraid of melting? You’ve been melted for five hundred years.”

“B-but you aren’t there anymore!”

“And? If anything, you’d be even more stable now. Blessings do not leave once they’ve settled. You have my darkness, just as well as Necrozma’s light. That’s a rare and special thing. It’s no wonder you’ve been able to restore the space of Kilo Village on your own. We had to rely on a team effort.”

“Isn’t everything a team effort?” Anam asked, tilting his head.

Diyem stared at him.

Anam nervously shifted his weight.

“…Right. I suppose it is,” Diyem said evenly.

Anam and Diyem stared at one another. He couldn’t get a read on him at all, and not a trace of Angelo was there. He trusted Diyem. Angelo was still in there. But…

“Is Angelo okay?” Anam asked.

“I said he was fine. He’s better than before. It was stressful.” Diyem crossed his arms. “You look tired.”

“Oh, um, I’ll be okay. It was just a lot of Dungeon dispelling, so—”

“No.” Diyem shook his head. “Emotionally tired. More than before.”

Anam gasped and staggered back. “N-no.”

Nobody believed that. He didn’t need Diyem’s negative sense to know.

“Anam?” Leo asked. The Delphox shook his head. “Er, I mean, Heart of Hearts Anam, I—”

“N-no, Anam’s fine,” he said. “I don’t… know if…”

If he deserved the title? If he could carry it anymore?

“Um,” Anam went on, “h-how are we? Can I help, or something?”

“We plan to go to Destiny Tower,” Diyem said. “The Waypoint for that spot still works?”

“Yes! They all seem to work still!”

“Good. Then you may come with us or continue to restore things here.”

“Oh, um…”

Diyem gestured to the roads. “You’re in the perfect spot. As a Goodra, surely you know Rain Dance?”

“Oh, um, I do…”

“Infuse Shadows and Radiance into it, one part Shadow three parts Radiance, approximately. Let the water flow down the storm drains. In the center of the village, such as the Central Waypoint, you will be able to restore all main roads as it exits through the crater. That will be critical.”

“Oh, wow… I didn’t think of that…”

Even now, Diyem was giving him useful advice. He wouldn’t have been able to do half of the feats he’d done without him. Did he ever thank Diyem for that? No, he always did. But did Diyem ever feel it?

“Um, thank you,” Anam finally said.

“Mm,” came the reply. As usual. Diyem turned around. “Protect the village, Anam. I’ll return soon.”

Enet looked between Diyem and Anam worriedly. “Some stay?” she asked.

“Hm?”

Enet gestured at Anam, making a worried growling noise.

“Mm. Anam, do you need company?” Diyem asked.

“Oh, um… I mean, if you’re doing something important… I can do this on my own…”

“Why don’t you come with us to Destiny Tower?” Spice asked. “You were helpful with ADAM. How’s he doing, anyway?”

“I dunno what building he was in when the Dungeons appeared…”

“We can help!”

Anam perked up. What was that tiny voice?

Three little Joltik skittered toward the team, each one raising a claw in unison.

“Oh. Hello, Willow. I see you still are in pieces after the ADAM incident.”

“Yep!” all three said. “We’re talking to all the other me’s right now!”

Diyem’s eye twitched. “You what.”

“Oh! That’s perfect! Willow, do you know where everyone else is?”

“Yep! What should I tell them?”

“Why have you not approached us about this until now?”

“I just thought of the idea!”

“Over two hundred of you and only now have you come up with the idea. There’s an analogy about infinite Mankey somewhere here.”

“Hey, gimme a break!” The Willows hopped and sparked angrily. “We were busy hiding from wraiths trying to eat us!”

“I suppose that would be a concern,” Diyem stated dismissively. “Fine. Willow, tell the others to find any piece of Kilo Village they can, and then stay put. The same goes for anywhere that might be near a Teleporter. We are going to unify it.”

“Hmmm…” Willow on the right brought a claw to her tiny mandibles.

“What?” Willow on the left asked.

“I think she has an idea,” Willow in the middle said. “Kuhuhu, I think I know what…”

“What’s in it for me?” she finally asked.

“…What.”

“If I make aaaall of my other me’s do this, what’s in it for me?” she asked, giggling. “That’s a lot of work! Every minute is two hundred and fifty-five minutes for me! Will I be paid?”

“You cannot be serious. The world is ending without your help.”

“Sounds like I’ll be paid a lot!”

Spice and Leo both held their foreheads, covering their eyes with one hand.

“You are more numerous than Hecto and countless times more insufferable. You realize that this will save lives, correct?”

“Yup!”

A beat of silence.

“Oh!” Anam raised a hand. “I can let you have a bunch of Pecha Berries each! They’re super sweet, and also Aspear shells so you can have shelter!” Anam nodded. “You’ll have a whole house for your whole colony until you’re back to normal!”

Diyem’s shoulders slumped. “That’s hardly a payment. She won’t—”

“Deal!” The Willows stuck their faces up proudly. “Hear that? I’m a homeowner now!”

“You had a home in Hot Spot.”

“That was renting.”

“How do you even know what that is, you lived in a forest for hundreds of years!”

“I read!”

“You don’t.”

“Pfft, whatever.” Willow waved him off. “I’m gonna go save the world now. You better pay me!”

“I will!” Anam said with a cheery smile.

And as Willow skittered along, Diyem offered a dumbfounded expression to Anam. “How did you know that would work?”

“Huh?”

“Well, he’s the Heart of Hearts,” Spice said. “Of course he’d know what people like.”

“…Hm.” Diyem eyed Anam again, though Anam shrank back.

Did he do something wrong?

“I suppose,” Diyem said, “you could have learned a thing or two from me.”

Oh, he didn’t! “Yeah!” Anam said. “I, um… I guess a little. But I can’t tell if people are unhappy or not anymore… so I don’t know if Willow’s secretly upset…”

“I don’t know if Willow can hide her feelings,” Jerry finally spoke up, glaring at the fleeing Joltik trio. “Don’t know if they have the brain power for it.”

Enet scratched her mane with her hind leg. An arc of electricity ran down to her little bauble.

“Enough sidetracks. Who’s staying in Kilo village? Who’s coming to Destiny Tower?”

“I’m… staying back,” Leo said, breaking what might have been his contemplative silence. “Destiny Tower? Approaching Arceus? Possible… Dark Matter fragments? That’s… too much for me, even as a Heart. You’re beyond even the Elites. I can’t keep up with that.”

“Tch. Well, I’ve got faded Shadow blessings,” Jerry said. “Maybe I can figure out how to use that for the Dungeons here because I’m not gonna risk my life for that again.”

Jerry was messing with the scarf around his neck again. Anam remembered that it kept him from melting, but wasn’t that cured after he left the Voidlands and was helped by Xerneas? Anam assumed as much, at least… Maybe Jerry was just being careful.

“…I’ll go with you,” Spice said to Diyem, though Anam wondered if it was also to Angelo. “Leo, make sure Anam’s got some backup. You can help with communication while Anam and Jerry focus on stuff.”

“Wait, uh, I’m staying with…” Jerry seemed to realize what he’d volunteered for. Anam gulped. He was…

“You coming with me, then?” Spice asked as Enet hopped to Spice’s side.

“N… fine. I’ll stay here. But don’t die, alright?”

“What’s another death to me?” Spice shrugged. “But yeah. I’ll be careful.”

They made some minor arrangements and supply exchanges. Anam nervously fiddled with his feelers and antennae. Soon, Diyem left with Angelo’s body, Spice, Enet, and her spirits. Anam wasn’t sure how many people that team comprised.

Anam took a steady breath and looked at Jerry, then Leo, smiling. “So,” he said. “Um… how’s it been?”

Leo offered an awkward smile. Jerry looked even more defeated than Leo.

Anam already knew he’d said something wrong.

<><><>​

Yet another distortion ripped through space. This one was an Ultra Wormhole. Mhynt emerged, ferrying several Pokémon on her back with more strain than she planned to admit. She spread her wings wide and shouted, “Safe to disembark!”

And the weight was lifted.

Migami, the strange fusion of Owen’s friends, jumped off first, flying in a steady circle. The three sprites that were their other halves rested atop their back, making sure their mind remained steady.

Trina remained on Mhynt’s back, hanging with one vine in her much more convenient, small size. “Gahi! Are the spirits fine?”

“Yep!” Migami answered.

“That’s one thing taken care of. And what luck, we aren’t dead.” Trina looked at her leafy hands, nodding. “So we didn’t die. We weren’t entirely certain about that until now, were we?”

Mhynt gazed downward. “I feel as if that has lost its meaning.”

Kilo was nothing like she remembered it. Fields melded with mountains. Snow fell on the left in patches while exposed craters of lava from Hot Spot curled around forests to the right. The distortions were horrible, but what worried Mhynt even more was the duplicate locations she was seeing.

After seeing the distortions across the aura sea, she knew exactly what those were.

“Everything is melting together,” she said. “Life, death. Will it even matter by the end of this?”

“We shouldn’t waste time gawking,” Migami said. “Let’s go. Arceus, right?”

Mhynt stared at the chaotic tapestry for a while longer, wondering if Necrozma was somewhere in one of those spheres. They were too numerous to know for sure. He could have been anywhere.

“Right. Let’s go,” she said.

They flew over the skies—where, thankfully, the place was not yet distorted. That made for a clear path to Destiny Tower, where surely they would at least empower Arceus to do away with these distortions.

If they lost Arceus, too, it was all over.

<><><>​

Destiny Tower was eerily empty.

They were lucky they made it to Destiny Tower before it became an impossibility even for Diyem. Anam being able to get things in check at Kilo Village was an emboldening development. That meant, at the very least, they had a ‘home base’ amid the chaos.

“I suppose we overprepared,” Diyem said.

“What, you thought we’d fight an army?”

“Yes.”

“Arceus is our ally.”

Diyem shrugged. “Maybe I’m pessimistic.”

Spice squinted at him. “That’s… isn’t that literally what you embody?”

“I’m improving.”

“Optimal!” Enet cheered.

“I think you mean optimistic, Enet,” Amelia said, emerging from her mane and giggling.

Spice squinted at Amelia. She seemed… solid.

“What? Something wrong?”

“Hm.” Diyem glanced behind him as he led the way. “You’re more solid here. That makes sense. The upper parts of Destiny Tower cross into the spirit realm. It’s easier for you to manifest tangibly in your domain, after all.” He nodded at Amelia. “You could probably summon your other spirits, too, if you wish.”

“They’re sitting back to come out in case we need to fight,” Amelia said. “Klent’s gonna lead them just like old times.”

“Do you think this’ll be ending in a fight?” Spice asked. “Now that I think about it, why is everything so quiet?”

This place was supposed to be bustling with communications, right? Or at least divine soldiers under Arceus’ rule, or… something. Or Star, or the Legends that weren’t in the Voidlands taking down Titans. But to be completely empty like this?

“If we’re lucky, they’re at the top of the tower in some sort of meeting,” Diyem said, “and we caught them at an awkward time. If we’re unlucky, they’re all waiting in ambush. Or corrupted and lost somewhere.”

Suddenly, Diyem stopped his advance. Spice bumped into his back.

“Hey!”

“Hush.”

Spice simmered with irritation but obeyed. She eyed the walls. To her left, a marble plaque that read “52” told her the floor they’d climbed. It didn’t feel like 52, but Diyem had used some of Angelo’s seemingly endless abilities to Teleport, float, or otherwise speed their ascent.

Their first oddity was that the Teleporter that should’ve taken them to the top didn’t work, but Diyem had been unsurprised.

“Someone’s coming closer,” Diyem hummed. “The way it stings my fur… It’s someone with a high concentration of light. That’s either Necrozma or Mhynt.”

“Mhynt!” Enet said.

“How do you know?”

Enet tilted her head like it was obvious.

Diyem sighed. “Whatever. That means backup. Let’s go quickly.”

They ascended the next few floors in tense anticipation. Occasionally, Spice felt that sting along her scales, sensing something powerful approaching the tower, but it still felt distant. Hopefully, it was Mhynt and not that mad light dragon.

But something still felt wrong. For several floors, Spice couldn’t shake that feeling, up until she was so distracted that she’d bumped a shoulder against Enet.

And nearly fell into her. Stinging, hot pain surged through her shoulder and she cried out, leaping the other way and against the marbled wall. She hissed and clutched her shoulder like it had been melted. When she pulled her hand away, black sludge evaporated from her claws.

Diyem muttered a curse and swiftly approached her, holding a hand on her shoulder. Dark fog wafted off his fur, but the pain eased. In seconds, she was fine again, but a phantom pain lingered in her memory.

“Wh-what was that?” Spice said. “What did you do?”

Enet stood there, looking befuddled and concerned. She must have had enough presence of mind to keep her distance.

“It’s as I said,” Diyem answered. “This part of Destiny Tower… the upper half… is of the spirit realm. Spiritual effects are stronger.” He looked at Enet next. “You should keep your distance. You may inadvertently absorb Spice.”

“What? Just like that?” Spice said. “I’m… I can’t just be taken out that easily.”

“But you can,” Diyem said. “You were always a partial spirit, clinging to life because you had a speck of light within you already, inherited from your parents. But here… the true nature of your spirit is unraveling. And Enet, holding an Orb, has… dominion over spirits. Much greater dominion than you.”

Diyem paused.

“Amelia. Where is Amelia?”

“I’m fine!” Amelia called, waving a leaf out of Enet’s mane. “I… I think. I did feel a tug, but…”

“Your Radiance must protect you more than Spice. Still, be careful, if you aren’t ready to become one.”

“Yeah, I’m not!” Spice said immediately, staring at Enet like she was a predator.

Enet’s ears flattened against her head.

“Aw, Spice, she didn’t mean it…”

“I… I know.” Spice couldn’t stop shaking. Maybe it was subtle enough that they didn’t notice.

Don’t you see it, now?

Spice froze. That voice again…

But Diyem was right there. Couldn’t be him. He was busy explaining something to Enet and Amelia.

They hold dominion over you. Once you disobey, you will be consumed.

It was like her gaze was forced toward Enet. Her chest tightened, but she pressed onward. Diyem was standing between her and Enet, which made it at least safer that they wouldn’t bump into one another.

You will become nothing. You will be an old, forgotten past. At best… an afterthought, even less than a memory.

Wasn’t true. Couldn’t be true.

Where is Rhys?

That Lucario. Right. He’d been absorbed into Dialga, and…

A faded memory. How much left of him remains?

That… was also not true, right? He was still ‘there,’ he just had a lot more duties to attend to now, as Dialga. He still took time to care about his old team, right? Had she ever seen that?

Everything you are will disappear forever. Do you want that?

“Spice.”

She gasped. Diyem was standing in front of her, arms crossed. It was so alien to see Angelo’s face so stern.

“If you’re afraid, say so. We will keep you separate.”

“No, I…”

Diyem continued to stare. She wondered how much he could already sense with that ‘negative detection’ of his.

“The last thing we need right now is a complication,” Diyem said.

If you tell them, they will kill you.

She knew the voice was right.

Especially Diyem. She recognized his practicality. And it wasn’t like she would complain once it was all over. The dead didn’t speak. The forgotten even less so.

Spice paused for too long. Diyem closed his eyes and sighed. “Is it something that will make you betray us?”

“Wh-what?” Spice stuttered.

“…We will do nothing to you, Spice, without you agreeing. If you are afraid of becoming ‘Remi’ again, or anything of the—”

“I don’t… that’s not what I’m… Don’t talk about that. It’s fine. I’m fine.”

Enet crawled a little closer but bumped into a barrier. She snorted and rubbed her snout. Diyem, who’d put it up, remained focused on Spice.

“We will discuss this after Destiny Tower is taken care of,” he said. “Until then, we can’t do anything, correct?”

“Right… But that’s—I’m just thoughtful. That’s all.”

The way Diyem was staring at her… he probably knew. Maybe this voice was… that fragment of Dark Matter trying to get to her.

That had to be it. Now it made sense. And it was toying with her insecurities. But… it was right, too, wasn’t it? It spoke logically. They even had evidence thanks to what happened to Rhys. That… was an inevitability.

Was it telling her this to demoralize her? Aside from Diyem, she was one of the few Shadow resistors the Hearts had.

She wouldn’t let that stop her. She’d keep fighting, especially if it was against Dark Matter.

“…Alright,” Diyem said. “Let’s keep going. We should hurry. I’m quite confident the fragment is here somewhere. I’ll try to tune my senses.”

“Okay. C’mon, Enet! Let’s go!”

“Yeah!”

They scampered forward. Diyem kept in the middle, and Spice followed from the back.

She wouldn’t let annihilation keep her from fighting. She was alive now, and that’s what mattered. What came later… at least her legacy could be remembered.

But then, the voice spoke one last time. Only one will persist of the three.

Her body felt cold, yet restless. That fire to fight felt… redirected.

Your trajectory into becoming an afterthought is not yet guaranteed. All you must do…

Spice’s gaze focused on Enet and Amelia, already half a flight ahead of them.

Is kill them first.

<><><>​

Owen did everything he wanted to do in his old hometown. He said his final goodbyes, he humored a few playful spars, and he gave what information he could to the professors and scientists of the facility.

According to Zena, they had to go to another region entirely to find a way back home. However, while they were here—with all the time they had—Owen had another idea in mind that he wanted to air to her and Mu. Though, the latter was probably just happy to be there.

He took Zena to the small route to the north where beginning trainers fought against bugs and birds to learn the fundamentals of battling. Then, they delved into the forest, where it was harder to find them—some bothersome humans were trying to interview them at every turn now that news of their existence had spread.

“Orre?” Zena asked. “Is that another region?”

“It is,” Owen explained. “And it’s where something similar to Dark Matter was once researched. I want to go there to ask if they figured out ways to counter it, or—anything. It might help for Emily, or even Dark Matter himself, and Necrozma, too.”

“I see… Research here can help us over there,” Zena hummed. “But… this world is massive, isn’t it? How long would it take for us to go there?”

“If one day in Kilo is a hundred here,” Owen said, “we have time. I think it only takes a few days with their best forms of travel, once, er, we find a way to afford it…”

“The money we have is incredibly valuable here. I don’t think affording travel will be an issue.”

“Really?” Owen asked. “Common gold?”

Zena shrugged.

“So, all we need to do is either fly there or get something that can fly us there, right?” Owen said. “Maybe we can turn out gold into the money they use here. I don’t know if normal stores will accept gold.”

“Right.” Zena’s gaze went behind him. “Hm?”

Just in Owen’s Perceive range, a human approached from afar. He must have had good eyesight to see them from the normal route…

“Oh, isn’t that… Yeah! The human who rescued us.” Owen’s flame brightened. “Wonder what he wants.”

He approached and flared his wings in greeting, bowing his head. The red-capped human tilted his hat in return, offering a subtle smile. Zena slithered next to Owen.

“Oh, you wanted to say goodbye,” Zena said. “You must have heard from the others that we were leaving, huh…”

“Wow, we forgot to say goodbye to you!” Owen added. “Sorry about that. We had no idea where you were.”

Owen had a feeling this person always wandered. But he seemed to also find his way to the right spot when he had to be there.

The human nodded his head again, facing Zena.

“Oh, but…” Zena tilted her head. “Yes, do you want to battle? Like a spar?”

The human’s eyes sharpened with an excited glimmer. Oh, yes, he wanted to battle. And Owen was happy to oblige. He’d forgotten how the culture was here. He missed it so much.

“Well, I don’t see why not,” Zena said, looking at Owen for approval, who happily nodded.

“It’s cultural here!” Owen explained. “Pokémon love to fight. I, er, that’s where I inherited it, actually…”

“I see… and humans also participate in Pokémon battles?”

Owen nodded.

“Well, alright.” Zena slithered back and coiled up in a defensive stance. “Let’s have a battle.”

Owen grinned, though he hadn’t entered a battle stance yet. He wanted to see just what the human fought with first—maybe they could think strategically about who would tag in first.

The human reached for his bag—

Zena fired a jet of water directly into his chest, blasting him several feet back and into a tree.

It was so unthinkable that Owen didn’t register it until a second later. By then, six beams of light had fired out from his bag and materialized right toward Zena; narrowly, Owen sprang into action and formed a Protect barrier.

“W-WAIT!” he cried. “Mistake! It was a mistake! Zena—what—why?!”

“What? He’s a Guardian—” Zena slithered back more, confused and startled. “A clever approach. Do we have to get past them first to—”

“No, Zena, we—”

The Pokémon—a Charizard, Pikachu, Blastoise, Espeon, Snorlax, and Venusaur—were all formidable on their own. Six of them slammed into his barrier at once—Owen saw cracks forming in the shield before the human grunted. At once, all six stopped their assault.

They stepped back and turned to face their trainer, who was back on his feet, soaked but somehow safe. His arms were slightly red from where he’d shielded himself.

“He… took that hit?” Owen said. “Wow…”

The trainer gave Zena a puzzled expression.

“I—I’m sorry. I didn’t realize humans didn’t literally fight. I never… met one before.”

That earned a surprised expression, but then a friendly smile. Powerful and forgiving. Owen wished he’d seen that combination more often.

“Right, well…” Zena shifted awkwardly. “I know now. Your six spirits—er, sorry, your… summoned Pokémon?”

“From those capsules, Zena. The same ones at the lab in Kilo, with Eon?”

“Oh. The same technology.” Zena was hiding a displeased expression; her tightened coils told Owen the real story. “Well… alright. They seem happy. Sorry, bad experiences with…”

The human frowned but then nodded in understanding.

Owen’s gaze trailed to Charizard. The power he radiated in that one moment… Was that the power of a human’s aura? Or was this some kind of… Legendary human instead, to augment them so strongly? Was this the secret between humans and Pokémon? Was this why Rhys and Nevren and the others—humans and Pokémon at the same time—were naturally so powerful?

He had to know. He wanted to see how strong his brother—mortal, but under a legendary human’s training—held up against him.

“Let’s try this again,” Owen said. “How about… a spar? Two on two. Me against… Well. You probably already know. And Zena, maybe you can fight Blastoise? Similar type matchup.”

“Oh, I would be okay with that. Of course.”

Owen thumped his tail on the ground, pleased. The other Charizard made a similar gesture.

“Let’s have a good fight,” Owen said, his flame sparking blue.

The human tilted his red cap down and withdrew all but Charizard and Blastoise. With not a word, he swung his arm out and shouted; Charizard and Blastoise rushed forward in unison.

And Owen hadn’t felt so thrilled in decades.

<><><>​

Squadron A reporting.

Squadron B gathered.

Squadron C gathered.

Good. All gather in Kilo Village using the waypoints found. It has been restored.

Headcount.


Countless voices echoed in a collection of cells’ minds.

Almost all are present and accounted for. We are missing the one within Spice.

And that will be the one to get last.


The voices continued, all of them him. But they were so much closer. So little of Kilo was under his observation now. All he could see were a hundred perspectives of the same place—different angles of the caldera as they all came nearer. A thousand-foot radius contained ninety-nine percent of himself. Such a thing hadn’t happened since the Dark War, which he could finally remember in full clarity.

One hundred thousand years.

That was how long he had been purposeless and lost, imprisoned in Kilo from simply forgetting his proper job.

To most, it was a ‘mere’ thousand. But Hecto existed in a hundred places at once, a natural surveillance as most Zygarde Overseers were good at doing. He saw and lived each day a hundred times and consolidated those memories.

Even when he lost his past, his purpose and habits remained. He had more than enough information to continue, even if now he was plagued with feelings for one of the gods of the world.

He had to distance himself from her before he became further compromised.

“I think they’re almost here,” Star hummed. The Mew floated right next to him, gently stroking behind his ears.

Compromised. He was entirely compromised.

“Yes,” he replied, leaning against Star. “Soon, I will have my full power again.”

“How are you feeling?” the Mew asked. “Do you know where Spice is? Could’ve sworn she’d be around here by now…”

“She went into a Waypoint,” Hecto said. “I plan to follow her. I will easily know where she is after that. Curiously, it seemed to be Destiny Tower’s Waypoint.”

Anam had informed them. As much as Hecto wanted to go after her now, he needed as much of his power as he could. Diyem was with her—she was likely following his orders. Diyem wasn’t supposed to go there; it was too risky. For him to do this behind their backs…

“Huh? Wow, we must’ve just missed her…”

“I suppose that’s the nature of the Dungeons' twisting space. It would have been surprising if we did run into her before Kilo Village had been restored.”

“Right…” Star nodded. “Well, hey. Destiny Tower is our home! Once we have everyone gathered, we can just get Spice, ask her for that gem again, and then… figure out how to deal with Necrozma. Simple if we put all our heads together.”

“Mm.”

She was comforting herself. It was obvious in the way the Mew kept rubbing her arms, holding her tail, and leaning against him. He wanted to help. An emotional impulse of his compromised mind wanted to help her.

He gave in again. Gently, he leaned his serpentine head against her body, massive as he was, and said, “I’ll do all I can as an Overseer.”

Even if it meant…

No. He’d find a better way. This world could still be salvaged.

As the rest of his selves gathered together in the town square, and as Anam happily waved at them during his trip around town to restore the roads, Hecto took one steady breath.

The key was in this world’s power of Shadows and Radiance. If they found a master of both, or something at least an echo close to it… perhaps the world could be saved.

If only the one key they found hadn’t been spirited away to another dimension.
 

Kiba Makuro

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/Him, They/Them
Hey I’m swinging into Hands of Creation for a quick Review Tag for PMDW United.

I’m covering Chapter 5 Mystic Glow.

So in this chapter Owen gets to tag along with Team Alloy as they head to Calm Water Lake Mystery Dungeon.

Right off the bat there's a bit of telling regarding the Charmander’s emotions. Of course this is relatively easy pickings and all due to the chapter's age.

The main focus of Mystic Glow is Owen, Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy and how their characters and personalities bounce off one another, especially in another dangerous situation. It’s nice getting deeper into the world building again, this time reminding the audience the importance of Aura is this setting. All of the depths of the system slowly but surely trickle in. Especially the big kicker, evolution requirements.

And not solely relying on a Riolu or Lucario character to get to do most of the “trouble-shooting” of aura on screen is pretty fun.

I will say, it would help the reading process if the characters’ species was mentioned in their conversations/ through their actions explicitly, with the actual names. But the quality of the actions and their descriptions, regarding the environment and the characters seems to flip flop.

But back to the plot. The four make it to the end of Calm Water Lake and out of the Mystery Dungeon. And there's a ghost of water Houndour that attacks the gang. There's more ghosts of Pokemon that have probably merged with the Mystery Dungeon and gained the water-type. A bit too much telling during the fight scene regarding move impact and the like.

They “nope” out of the MD and Owen gets to go through the advancement into the Thousand Hearts, only by the grace of Anam, despite James.

The Charmander goes back with Team Alloy for dinner with Rhys. We bring up the Orb and the pink aura- which conveniently ends up with Owen staying the night because it’s too dangerous for him to leave, even with dangerous Pokemon after Rhys’ Orb.

Then we get a confusing section, a sleep sequence with a voice calling out to the Charmander followed by the real pink glow, “an Espurr”, one who tried to touch/steal the Orb.

Rhys puts Owen to sleep and a voice calls out to the Charmander. The signal fades and it’s all over.

Well I was expecting more action from this chapter, because we got another Mystery Dungeon run but I was left hanging. However the bits of lore we did get along with the mounting worldbuilding hooks have pulled me in further.

I’m able to trudge past all the limitations of the 3rd person limited POV that the story seems to have in this early set of chapters and am looking forward to reading and reviewing more.
 
Chapter 164 Defying Destiny

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Thanks for the review, Kiba! Looks like you're getting closer to when things really get rolling. Hope to see you get there soon! I replied to more specifics elsewhere.

And now...

Chapter 164 – Defying Destiny

Nearly at the top, now. Ten floors of Destiny Tower remained, and despite Diyem’s overpreparation, they had ended up going past floor after empty floor.

This seemed to make him even more anxious than before. Sometimes Amelia wondered if that was part of his natural pessimism or if it was Angelo leaking through. Between the two of them, they were probably a ball of anxiety and nihilism.

Reminded her of Klent in a way. Always doting over her, always worrying about what it meant to be ‘a third of someone’ or ‘in danger of being less than dead.’ Come on, it wasn’t going to be that bad!

Besides, Enet was cute and clever, and Spice was cool and smart. And she had bits of all of those things. They weren’t going to disappear. They were just going to… evolve! Together. Evolving together. That’s how science worked.

Amelia waved her leafy hand in front of her, and her vision of the outside world—through Enet’s eyes—faded. She was standing once again in Thundercloud Temple, the place that housed Owen’s former Grass Spirits and many of the Electric Spirits that powered Enet’s abilities in the living world.

She sighed and sat up. Distant thunder, far away and below, relaxed her nerves. Normally that was the sign of a storm, but her instincts had been rewired to appreciate its melody.

Her room in the temple was made of solid fog. The window overlooked a gray field of storm clouds that flashed occasionally with power.

“Amelia?”

“Huh?” The Lilligant—her leaves crackled with electricity—jerked her head to the entryway of the foggy palace door.

“You’re back.” A Jumpluff greeted her. His pompoms were a luminescent yellow. “I was worried things were going badly there.”

“Nah, it’s okay.” Amelia hopped off her bed. The fog had some give against her feet, but never enough to fall through. “I just wanted to see the outside world again. Get used to living. I think I’m gonna go back to that soon.”

Klent winced, nervous. “R-right…”

“C’mon, Dad…” She approached and gently patted him, careful to avoid the third puff of seeds atop his head. “I mean, I get it… it’s scary, but… it’s not as scary as what happened before. I got over my fear of Owen, right? And… good thing, too! Since… you know. He’s my ex-dad.”

The cruel irony wasn’t lost on her. She had this vague sense that the whole reason she’d become ‘Amelia’ was to find him again.

And find him she had…

“You’ve grown so much,” Klent said quietly. “Trembling and afraid, and now you’re… back to your old self again. Finally. It felt like so long…”

“Spirits don’t change much once they die,” Amelia said. “I guess that’s the benefit of… life, right? And when we went into Owen… and then Enet… we got new chances to change with them. I think I like being this way.”

Klent fidgeted again as other spirits passed them by in the halls of the temple. “I suppose so,” he said meaninglessly. “But… how long will you get to ‘be this way’ at all?”

“Well, I…”

He had a point. No matter how she masked it or tried to smile… she was still going to ‘change’ a lot more than she wanted. It wasn’t ‘only’ her terms, and ‘she’ wasn’t totally in control. And that was terrifying, wasn’t it?

But she didn’t feel as afraid.

Somewhere deep down, she wondered if being her father’s spirit, and then Enet—another part of her—prepared her for this. Little parts of her were awakening to the idea, maybe subconsciously.

That’s what it felt like, anyway.

“Look,” Amelia finally said, “I’m… worried. And a little scared. But like, it’s going to happen. I don’t want to spend all day and all night worrying about it when I could be helping everyone. And besides… it’s not goodbye. I’ll just… say hello a little differently. Okay? Dad?”

The Jumpluff’s ruby-red eyes couldn’t meet hers, downcast.

“I’ll still call you Dad,” she said. “You found me and raised me. Even if maybe that was somehow planned… you still did. And you’re a great dad.”

The thunderclouds outside rumbled a little louder. The temple itself brightened.

“Oh.” Amelia nodded, feeling a little colder. “I think Enet’s getting ready for something. We should, too.”

Klent looked even more afraid, too. And when Amelia spoke, she felt a sense of finality in the air.

She pushed it aside and stood up. “Let’s do our best, okay? Power Enet as much as you can. I’m… helping at the front.”

“Amelia…”

She leaned over and pulled him in for a hug. His seeds ticked her face.

“Love you, Dad. And I’ll say it again soon.”

For a moment, she was afraid to let go. She wondered if she would feel the same way. Would Klent still be “Dad?” What about Spice’s parents, or Enet—well, Enet didn’t remember much about hers. And Owen…

This was going to become a very complicated family tree.

<><><>​

Floor ninety-eight. Nearly the top. Enet was good at numbers. That meant they only had four floors to go.

Wait…

“Oh, hello. Why are you taking the long way up?”

Enet’s fur bristled on reflex. Electricity crackled. She felt that her spirits inside were also on edge. Bad things were happening.

“…Hello, Dialga.”

“…Ah. Diyem.”

They stared at each other. Were they being awkward? Were they former mates? She didn’t understand these strange constructs everyone had.

“The Teleporter wasn’t working,” Diyem said. “We think blah blah, blah blah.”

“Hm? Arceus told us blah blah, blah blah,” Dialga went on.

“…Where are the others?” Diyem asked.

Others? Oh, right. The whole place was quiet. Enet didn’t like that. Their scents were around, so they’d been there recently. But not while they went up. They smelled stressed.

“You must have missed Star. She left with Hecto to try to find Kilo Village a while ago. Palkia’s trying to find Nevren again… Madeline is seeing if her powers might help reverse the distortions. Ah, no pun intended.”

Enet didn’t like puns because they made her feel dumb. Wanting to avoid this, Enet crawled up the next flight of stairs to the next floor. The air was even more charged with a weird energy. It smelled clean and ‘heal-y.’ It reminded her of honey. Was this the ‘divine energy’ the others were talking about?

Divine energy smelled weird.

“Hey.”

Enet’s ear flicked. The weird voice part was talking. Her smell reminded her of herself but it was also weird and acidic. Sour. Like lemons. Enet didn’t like lemons, but she liked Spice.

“Yeah?” Enet asked.

“While those guys are debating tech, can we… talk about something?”

Enet cocked her head left. Cutting through the sour smell was the thicker scent of worry. Fear. Was Spice okay?

Enet continued up the stairs. Dialga and Diyem were still talking, though they had tones as if they were going to part ways soon.

“Aren’t you kinda freaking out at all? Even a little? About… us?”

“Us?”

Enet eyed Spice. It was hard to get a read on her beyond scent. Her eyes still didn’t have pupils so Enet didn’t know where Spice was looking. The green gem in Spice’s chest—which had a different smell than Spice herself—didn’t give away anything that made sense, either. Against the white marble of Destiny Tower, Spice’s dark, wraith form looked out of place. Like a stain. Enet wondered if Spice knew that. Was Enet also a stain because she was feral?

“Yeah, us. We’re… one person. That makes no sense, but I know it’s true.”

“Yeah.”

“And… do you… get what that means?”

Enet had a feeling she was supposed to super pay attention to this conversation. She squatted down and sat more attentively.

“Like. The people we are were always just… fragments of someone who used to exist. Even now I get… I get these flashes of—who I used to be, but none of it makes sense. And you might have other pieces, and Amelia—where is she?”

Enet shook her head as if to get rid of water in her ears. Amelia emerged from her fur.

“Hey, buddy-third!” Amelia called with a wave, ethereal as always. “It’s like everyone’s panicking now, huh? I was just trying to comfort Dad about this.”

That! Exactly that!” Spice said. “Dad. Your dad. ‘Amelia’ and her dad. But what about me, and my parents? I mean sure, I might’ve tricked them into thinking I was their other daughter, but like, they were still my family for decades! I’m supposed to throw that all away?”

“It doesn’t have to be like that,” Amelia said. “We’ll just have a bunch of moms and dads!”

Enet didn’t remember the last time she had a good meal. The scary but kind Haxorus should make something later when they returned.

“Is it that easy? What if… what if only one of us can… exist? Or what if all three of us just… poof! And the old Remi wakes up, and all three of us are… gone?”

“Doesn’t make sense,” Enet said, scratching her head to get at an annoying itch. Oh, it was just a Joltik. She tossed it away.

“Spice, you’re overthinking it. Like, sure, we’re probably going to change… but I think you’re both super cool. And… we have to accept this. We can’t go past something this, like, inevitable. So… you know…”

Enet sensed the discomfort from Amelia, too. Weird.

“There has to be another way,” Spice said. “I don’t want to… fade away. I spent too long building up this life. I finally felt like… I had a place again. I lost everything and I made something of myself. I climbed out of the void for this. Now I have to give it all up?”

“But you don’t need to! None of us need to!” Amelia said. “Nothing’s gonna change, like, hugely. We’ll all be around!”

“It’s not gonna be that simple, Amelia. It’s…”

She was shaking.

“It’s not. I can feel it. Either one of us comes out on top, or… none of us will.”

Enet sniffed the air again, then crawled forward. Spice backed away.

“Don’t come close,” she said. “It’s… dangerous. For me. I’ll melt away…”

She remembered that. Enet frowned and growled, crouching submissively. When Spice relaxed, she rose again and said, “It’s okay.”

Spice sighed, looking impatient. Anxiety surrounded her scent like rotting meat. “Sometimes… if something’s scary,” Enet said, searching for the words carefully, “you fight.”

“I… fight. But I’m scared of you, Enet. Of…”

“No.” Enet pointed at Spice. “Scared of dying.”

“And you’re the one who can make that happen.”

“I don’t want to.”

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to, it—”

“Then… afraid of something else.”

“What do you mean, Enet?” Amelia asked. “Afraid of dying, and you’re the one who could, I dunno, claim her, right? Like you can take me. But if you don’t want to… I mean, we’re going to have to eventually, right?”

Enet nodded. “You fight. To be around. Scared of dying… fight dying!”

“Enet, you can’t beat up dying, or… disappearing. It’s what happens after you lose the fight.”

“I died lots!” Enet said. “But I still fight.”

“You—what? No you didn’t.”

“You died a lot? But I thought you, like, always escaped trouble half the time…”

Enet shook her head as little, fleeting memories floated in the back of her mind. Dreams through the eyes of other species, living simple, feral lives. Enet thought they were simply dreams. She understood they weren’t anymore. Not for her. That was ‘Remi.’ Did those past selves also want to live? Did they still want to fight?

She would fight for them. Maybe she knew how they felt.

“Keep fighting,” Enet said. “Remember each other.”

“I think Enet means… when we eventually fuse, we have to remember ourselves. And when we wake up, we won’t disappear.”

“…Then what about Remi?” Spice said.

“She can fight.” Enet nodded confidently. “She wanted this!”

“I guess, we once wanted this, or something?” Amelia asked. “Talking about ourselves in dead past tense is weird…”

“Guess it’s more like future tense,” Spice murmured. “…Fine. Fight. I’ll… I’ll think about it.”

The rotting smell of anxiety was still there but weaker. That was good enough.

Enet’s claws echoed through the silent chambers of the final floor. Ahead was a stairway to the top. Radiant light poured from above.

“We ready?” Spice asked. “Diyem said something bad is up there. Seems pretty bright to me…”

Enet sniffed the air again. The scent was tingly like mushroom spores. High energy. Strong auras. Angry auras. And the sweet smell of divinity wasn’t the dominant one. Enet didn’t recognize the scent at first…

But deep, deep inside, she did. Her eyes widened. “Mom?” she mumbled.

No. Not her mom. Her mom was a feral Zoroark who froze during a bad winter. Who was this?

A fragmented memory of a lunar-winged creature bubbled up in her memories.

Oh. Remi’s.

But Mom wasn’t Arceus. And she was angry.

Enet’s ears shot up. This was bad.

“Uh, Enet?” Amelia asked.

“Trouble!”

She dashed forward, conjuring an illusion to disappear.

“Hey—wait!” Spice called, but Enet had already run up the stairs.

<><><>​

Spice was getting sick of Enet running ahead. So fast, how did she get so fast?! The stairs were a deceptively high climb. She had to stop to take a break once she was three-quarters up, and it was too bright to see past the final exit’s archway.

A strangely familiar voice was shouting.

“Stay down! Hold still!”

And then came the voice of Arceus, their god. “The darkness in you must be purged!”

Oh, goodie. Infighting. “What’s going on?!” she called out.

Her eyes finally adjusted to the light. Arceus had his filaments of light sprouting from his back, collectively aimed at a winged, cosmic creature. Lunala, Spice recalled.

There was a faint trail of something purple from where Arceus stood, going all the way to the edge of the tower. Did something that left a Poison trail fall off before they’d arrived?

A strange, monstrous thing was also flying just beside Lunala—Spice remembered them, too. The fusion of Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi.

On the ground in a singed heap were Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf, as well as a badly injured Snivy—Trina. She was charred the most, but moving. Spice didn’t know what caused those injuries.

Spice also had no idea where Enet was. An illusion, probably. Gods, why did she have to go invisible? Zoroark couldn’t usually do that…

Arceus flicked his head toward Spice. “You,” he hissed. “What are you doing here?”

“Wow, okay, thanks? I’m here with Diyem!”

“That won’t help,” Diyem said as he stepped up the stairs next, holding a hand up to block the light from his eyes. “He’s corrupted. He’s overwhelmed by fear.”

“Fear. Nonsense. All I see is a traitor,” Barky said, turning to face Spice, but Mhynt took the opportunity to strike with waves of psychic energy.

Barky’s body shifted in color. The Psychic waves passed right through him. Did he just change his type? Could Arceus do that without the Orbs?

She didn’t remember Barky doing that before. What awakened in him?

“Fall!” Barky called. “No more darkness! No more compromises! I’ve decided to take this world into my own hands again!”

“What are you—”

Spice swung her arms forward and just barely got a Protect up in time, blocking a downpour of javelins of light. They bounced off of her shield with deafening, ethereal clangs, evaporating against the now-cracked stone. Diyem had casually put up a similar barrier for himself, while others weaved and dodged the rest.

“Stop negotiating! Take him down!” Diyem commanded. “His fear is irrational! Something got into him! The darkness… might be inside him!”

“Shouldn’t have said that part out loud!” Amelia cried.

Barky roared, all pretenses gone. Even if it was for his own good, Arceus had to be taken down. They could figure out what to do from there. Spice brought down her shield and prepared toxic sludge in the back of her throat. When Arceus turned to Mhynt, she fired at his flank, soaking pristine white fur with purple sludge. Then, she dove to the right and avoided a downpour of javelins where she’d just stood.

She cursed. “One hit like that, and…”

Mhynt swept Barky off his feet with a Psychic torque, but he was floating. Gravity didn’t mean anything. An aimless blast of light javelins arced through the air; one grazed Spice’s cheek, sizzling even after it left her. She hissed and clutched at the wound, but it burned her fingers next.

She ignored it for now. Just another reminder that she was a creature of the dark and Barky was supposedly powered by light. If there was darkness in his heart as Diyem said, it wasn’t deep enough to taint his powers. Maybe that was a good thing.

This time, Spice exhaled a thick cloud of intoxicating, violet fumes. She had no idea if Barky breathed, but it would seep into his skin all the same. She got close enough and fired at his underside, then leaped away to narrowly avoid a hoof swung at her head. She tucked and rolled in time to see Diyem throwing void spheres at Barky’s eyes, missing each one.

Migami had rescued their sprite counterparts and blasted Barky with a Solar Beam, forcing him to contact the ground.

Spice acted on reflex. She heaved another glob of sludge on the ground. It exploded, polluting the tile and against Barky’s fur again. This time, the telltale darkness of activated poison took hold of him and Spice almost sighed with relief.

Instead, she leaped to the side again but this time was too slow. A radiant javelin struck at her leg, going clean through. She wailed and tripped onto the floor, hitting her head and elbow against the tile, leaving a numbing buzz through her body.

“A-agh—!”

She reflexively reached for the javelin to free herself. Instantly, the joints of her fingers that touched the javelin dissolved, and the ends of her claws fell to the ground. The stumps left behind on her hand spurted with black blood.

The pain came after. She gritted her teeth and balled up her remaining good fist, pounding the ground. Escape. She could only think about escape. The reality of her grave wound and her inability to heal it properly was only a fleeting realization. But she couldn’t touch it. And if she moved, it would tear through the rest of her leg. But if she stayed, she’d be run through.

Was this it? Did she have no way out? All this time, all this fighting…

She was so close.

If she died… would she become an afterthought?

The seconds passed. Barky wasn’t paying attention to her. In fact, it seemed like nobody was. She was… forgotten already in the frenzy.

Migami smashed into Barky with their axes while the three pixies sent synchronized blasts of Psychic energy into Barky’s neck. Trina relocated and raised her vines, getting picked up by Migami seconds later. A pulse of light went from her hand to Migami’s back, giving more control and clarity to their movements.

Lunala waited for an opening of any kind, but her attacks were useless against Barky’s current element. Diyem was avoiding his Shadow moves, probably because it would only corrupt Barky further. He, in Angelo’s body, was relegated to supporting, healing, and boosting the others when he could.

Something about it was peaceful. Stuck there, watching the titans clash, slowly realizing that she was… completely and utterly out of her league.

“Ha…” She rested her head against her arm. “To think I thought I’d fight that… Why did I bother?”

She tried to stand, but the javelin reminded her not to. She cringed but refused to cry.

“Must be how Jerry felt,” she whispered. “Everything is… too much. Look at you… Gods, all of you, and then there’s… me.”

Barky sent several javelins through Migami’s body. All they did was snarl and tear them back out, the wounds closing in seconds. Lunala and the Trio of Mind tagged in, slinging potshots in Barky’s blind spots.

“Did I really think I’d matter? I’m just… a shadow. I’m not meant for here… am I?” She smiled weakly.

That voice… had it all wrong. She didn’t deserve to be the winning personality. Enet, Amelia… they hadn’t been corrupted. They hadn’t stolen a family just to live a facsimile of life again. They were true to themselves.

Maybe becoming an afterthought would be her release.

The javelin moved. Trembled. Spice, still having enough energy to look back, squinted at the thing so firmly placed in the tile, pinning her. She saw… blood running down and bubbling on the divine weapon.

It wriggled more and popped out. Enet’s illusion disappeared, revealing the Zoroark with bloodied paws and Amelia tending to the wounds swiftly, wrapping ethereal leaves around them.

“Enet?”

“Hey!” Enet greeted, quickly glancing behind her.

Amelia emerged next and bowed to her with what little time they had remaining. “Thought you’d die without some help?”

Barky ran Judgment javelins through Diyem, but his body puffed into smoke. A Substitute. On the other end of the tower’s apex, the Smeargle drew electric spiderwebs and tossed them on Barky like small prey.

“Why are you…”

Enet held a hand out for Spice to grab. She took it on reflex, not realizing the peril.

She gasped at the sudden pain, and Enet gasped at realizing it too late, so she pulled back. But when Spice looked at her hand… she saw that her fingers had been restored. Rather than a dark ink color, though, it was a brighter, almost violet sheen. And it stung. But it was functional.

Enet marveled at this for a few seconds too long. Barky loomed over her.

She gasped. Enet turned around; Spice rolled out of the way. The Zoroark dodged, but a divine spear nicked her on the shoulder, cleaving a waxing gibbous hole through her body.

Wailing, Enet tried to scramble back to her feet, lopsided and frenzied with fear, but she seemed torn on where to go. She fell again, the wound on her shoulder leaving her dizzy. The tiles under her, and the fur along her body, turned scarlet.

“Ahh! Enet!” Amelia reached for her and tried to shield against Barky’s next onslaught. “Enet, concentrate! We need another illusion!”

Now.

Spice stiffened.

Seize the opportunity… and strike her down. Become the dominant one. Persist. Exist.

Spice gritted her teeth. Was this the opportunity she’d been given? The chance to be herself for good? To take ownership of her destiny, to defy her erasure?

Barky charged his next strike, his back alight with more energy. He roared, gravity in the area intensifying. Enet’s fur clung to her body and pointed directly at the floor; Mhynt and Migami nosedived into the ground. Angelo’s feeble body pancaked against the marble floor. Diyem couldn’t find the strength to conjure a new trick.

The weight held Spice down, too. But she had enough strength for one more action.

That, finally, earned a genuine smirk. The world had a funny way of sending her messages. And she had a funny way of answering.

The javelins rained. Everything moved slowly. Spice reached for her teammates…

And past her. While she stumbled, she held her footing well enough to bring her arms up.

Deafening clangs and roars split the skies as Judgment strike after strike bounced off a cracking Protect.

Enet blinked at her. “Spice?” she asked.

“Get away!” Spice called. “These guys are too strong for us. We’re only gonna get in the way! Run, and I’ll—” Another Gravity blast forced Spice to her knees. Her tail felt so heavy that it heavily dragged on the ground. “I’ll keep up with you! Just go!”

Barky was charging another Judgment. Spice wasn’t confident in blocking this one…

“GO!”

Amelia stared, looking dumbfounded. “But… weren’t you afraid?”

“Of course I’m afraid!” Spice said. “But… I’m not gonna let fear make me do something stupid. Fighting you… trying to live by killing you off…”

Enet looked surprised, but not as surprised as Spice had expected. Amelia looked pensive even as she caught her breath.

“I’m not falling to that. I’m not stealing something again just to live!”

“You never stole! You gave! You gave… yourself to a happy family!”

Barky fired. Spice cursed and held her shield up; the cracks crawled to the very edges of the black dome.

“GO! My time… is up! I’m just a shadow. I… don’t want to be afraid of being one anymore. Let me… do this! Let me protect my light! Let me protect you!

The cracks were inches from the edge. Once they got there, it would shatter. Everything would shatter. That fear gripped her again. She heard that voice telling her it wasn’t too late, but she ignored it. Maybe that was how she felt, too.

But this was right. Spice cleared her mind, held her breath, and poured all of her effort into this final, shining moment.

The moment continued. Longer than it should have. And the shield… wasn’t breaking. The cracks filled with a greenish-blue glow—a standard Protect’s energy.

Enet stood by Spice, holding her hand up.

“Enet? You know Protect?” Spice asked.

Barky fired again. Enet and Spice both knelt as the cracks interweaved with one another, yet it never broke.

Golden light sealed the cracks once again. Amelia took the stand next to Spice.

“Everyone got Protect during the whole apocalypse stuff, so once we got out of the Voidlands, it became standard protocol.” Amelia held her leafy petals up. “Didn’t think it’d be useful, but here we are!”

“We’re together!” Enet declared.

Judgment rained. He was hyper-focused on them, now. Maybe he found it blasphemous that they were doing nothing but denying his smite.

“On the next wave,” Amelia said, “we give it all we’ve got! Okay?”

Spice stared dumbly but then nodded. “Okay. Give it our all…”

“For us!” Enet declared.

Gravity forced them to the ground. They held their arms up anyway. The sky glimmered with gold motes and black lightning. Somewhere, the others were fighting back. They couldn’t see the rest of the battlefield anymore.

“Here it comes!”

If you flee first, you can save yourself. Let them fall. Persist.

Spice crouched, channeling even more energy into her barrier. The last of her energy. Take your fear and shove it.

Judgment fell. Spice, Amelia, and Enet roared in unison, their hearts as one, and their world went white.

<><><>​

She blinked, standing in a black void.

Her body was still tense. She knew the battle was ongoing. The pressure of a god’s corrupted smite still surrounded her. But time had stopped for this one moment.

In front of her was a Sceptile. A tall one, too. Grinning. She knew her name because it was also once hers.

“You were
amazing!” Remi cheered, going down for a hug. She picked her up and swung her around before planting her back on the featureless ground. Even after letting her go, Remi held her paw—which was different.

She gasped.

“Hey, no time for that,” Remi said, patting her paw.

“But,” she said, “what do I do now? Aren’t you… going to take over?”

Remi smiled. Even with her cheer, there was a hint of sadness in her eyes. “I’m the past,” she said. “Call on me… when you need it. That’s what memories are for, right?”

She stared, dumbfounded. What did that mean?

“Anyway,” Remi said. “There’s no time. Let’s recall one little trick. . .”


<><><>​

Destiny Tower fell into a brief silence. The energy warped the light and the dust obscured the floor. The poison faded from Barky’s system, and the battle reached a point where everyone had to catch their breath.

“Enet? Spice?” Migami said. “You… Barky! You… killed them! I can’t… I can’t see their auras!”

Barky rumbled. “Then it’s one less blemish on the world,” he said. “One less person to defy me.”

The dust cleared. Finally, Migami could see what was there. They feared the worst. Mangled corpses riddled with Judgment blasts. Maybe even nothing but the gore of the aftermath.

But instead… there was nothing. Not even ash. Instead, there was a perfect circle where the Protect had once been.

“Hold,” Trina whispered to them, still holding a divine gash in her arm that Mispy’s healing could not fully heal. “Do not lose your composure. I think—“

“Hey, ugly!”

Heads turned but they saw nobody there.

“Maybe if you took off that golden fencepost, you’d be faster!” called the voice again. Migami couldn’t recognize who it was… It sounded like Enet, but she was too articulate.

Barky didn’t seem to care. He fired a javelin precisely at the voice. It went right through.

“Almost! Try a little to the right next time!”

Barky snarled and fired instead to the left.

“Well, that’s just rude. Can’t even trust me? Where’s Reshiram when you need him!?”

BOOM!

Thunder scorched Barky from below, going straight through his chest. He roared in pain and doubled over. Migami caught a glimpse of crimson and a new aura just below Barky, but it had only been for an instant.

“What was that?” they whispered.

Whatever it was, Barky went into a berserk frenzy. He arched his back and roared at the sky. Holy thunderbolts rained from the sky, striking the tower itself, leaving glimmering flashes of light on impact. His filaments of light expanded and formed into more spears that shot in all directions, circling back to strike the tower and anyone who dared fly in the skies again.

Gravity had returned to normal. But being airborne now was only a recipe for bombardment. They had to fight on the ground.

Mhynt, recognizing this, had reverted to her Treecko self. Her nimbleness made it possible to dodge, and as a Lunala she’d been helpless on the ground.

“This could… be going better…” Diyem growled, holding up several kinds of energy shields at once to endure what Barky’s onslaught dished out. “He seems weaker… But even in his reduced state, Arceus is still a divine being. How much more…”

“He’s gotta wear out eventually, right?!” Migami shouted, hiding the three pixies beneath their vines for safety.

“This is the Alpha himself,” Trina warned. “I… have a thought that he’s far from done. We can’t defeat him—only his corruption! Somehow…!”

That crimson flash caught their attention again. This time it came from the right, just in the corner of their vision. And once again, there was that flash of a new, powerful aura.

One of the javelins struck something and stopped moving.

“Ha!” called that new voice. “H-hang on, what do I do now?”

Barky faced the voice. Migami followed her instincts and blasted their charged Solar Beam at Barky’s face, distracting him. He snarled through the smoke and aimed at Migami next.

“Uh oh.”

Relying on Gahi’s speed, Migami kited around Barky as the javelin that struck nothing balled up into a sphere of energy. A tinge of darkness traced around the sphere like a colorful marble.

“Got it!”

Just as Barky glanced back at the voice, the javelin—now infused with Shadow—fired at him at double the speed. It jammed into Barky’s chest and knocked him back a few feet, doubling him over.

“Strike!” Diyem commanded just as Barky staggered.

Barky couldn’t defend. Migami went with Demitri’s Dual Chop again, slamming hard into his ribs. The wheel around his body was too hard to break so he instead aimed for his bones—which were just as hard. It occurred to them that maybe his bones were made from the same material.

The flesh wasn’t, though, as he caved through fur and skin before leaping away.

And finally, Migami had a good view of the crimson thing that had appeared.

It was like Enet had lost all her color. Her fur had gone ghostly white, flecked with red on the ends. Her limbs looked like they were dotted with giant rubies and her eyes had become an intimidating, wide yellow. Her hair drifted with the wind, serene, and the illusion that followed wiped her away from view.

Migami had never seen a Zoroark like that before.

“Enet?!”

“Yeah?” the Zoroark called back, now circling invisibly around the tower’s perimeter.

“Where’s Spice?!”

“That’s me, too!”

Migami flinched. “You—”

“Later, later!”

“Right!”

Barky was back on his feet but Migami managed another potshot with a thrown axe, calling it back with Gahi’s telekinesis.

“Can you do that thing again?!” Migami called to Enet-Spice… and whoever. Was this Remi?

“Yeah! Just need an opening!”

“You won’t have one,” Barky snarled. Judgment arose again, aiming haphazardly in her general direction. This time, the javelins were dark, corrupted by Shadow. Barky wasn’t hiding it anymore.

“Watch out!” Migami cried, about to strike, but then a bright light blinded her. “Agh!”

“Sorry about this,” Diyem said with little apology in his tone.

Migami didn’t recognize the technique immediately. Angelo knew practically everything and Diyem was still catching up. But this light—and the way the javelins were suddenly arcing toward them, despite Barky’s attention on Enet…

Spotlight. Everything was going toward Migami now.

Trina cursed and hid within Migami’s vines. “I’ll be hiding here,” she said. “I need my proper body at this rate…!”

Migami held up their arms and writhed their vines, bracing for impact. They conjured a Protect of their own, but the absolute full assault of Barky’s attacks punched holes through it in seconds. A few stray javelins still flew in random directions, not caught by Diyem’s Spotlight, and one such javelin stopped in place once more. It balled up, infused with light this time, and fired back into Barky.

Another clean hit. Weaker this time, but enough to stagger Barky a few more steps. Mhynt took over, leaping as just a Treecko and conjuring a Leaf Blade twice her size. Dark energy at the energy blade’s edge left it serrated as she carved at the spot Enet had struck.

Migami was still recovering and couldn’t follow up. Diyem still lacked power so he instead conjured weaves of numbing electricity to keep Barky in his place.

“How is he still standing?!” Enet complained.

“I warned you,” Trina’s muffled voice came from beneath Migami.

“He’s one of the great gods of this world, Remi,” Mhynt said, leaping for another strike as Barky stood tall. She feinted and struck his throat, but a barrier blocked her from going for anything lethal. Would it even be lethal against a god?

Mhynt hopped back and held her blade forward like a shield. Defensive. “…And… it’s good to see you again.”

Enet—Remi?—smiled faintly, but said, “Yeah. We can do reunions later, though. What’s the matter, Barky?! Ready for round three?!”

“There are no rounds… only your end—the end of all traitors.”

“Theeere it is,” Remi said, hopping from foot to foot. “’Scuze me O Great Alpha, but your evil is showing!”

“This world needs structure. No more chaos. No more uncertainties. All… will be under my control… absolute and obedient.”

“It’s consumed his mind and amplified his fears,” Diyem stated. “That isn’t Barky anymore. We must beat it out of him no matter the cost. If he’s lost, he’s lost! Are you ready?”

“Was thinking you’d never ask!”

Migami’s wounds were still severe. A few holes were punctured in important organs. Thankfully, they were already stitching themselves back together with Mispy’s healing and Gahi’s Guardianship. Good thing they still didn’t feel pain!

“Fall.”

Another Judgment charged on Barky’s back. This time, they were ready. Tired, but ready.

A thousand green arrows slammed into Barky’s side and halved the output of the flurry that followed. Remi grasped at a javelin, but this time slipped up on her form and forced it past her instead, cursing irritably as she clutched at a bleeding paw.

“Huh?”

Just at the entrance was a great green-black serpent of hexagons. Hovering over his crown was a tiny Mew.

“Took you long enough!” Remi called.

“Apologies,” Hecto said. “Dialga was having some kind of episode below.”

“I think he was Voiding out! But Hecto helped take care of him.” Star nodded.

“What? How?”

“I subdued him.”

“Turns out Thousand Arrows is pretty good on the guy!” Star said.

“You… defeated my… Creation…”

“Barky, you’re better than this!” Star called, though despite her bold words she was hiding behind Hecto. “Snap out of it!”

“Star… the bane of my divinity…”

“Oh, enough pillow talk!”

“Oh!” Remi jolted upward. The ghostly Zoroark rummaged through her wriggling fur. “Hey! You need this?” She held up a green emerald.

“…Yes,” Hecto said.

Remi lobbed it at Hecto.

Barky fired a quick Judgment.

Diyem shined a light on Migami and the javelin struck them in the throat.

“Hggkh—rude!” Migami gurgled.

Diyem shrugged. “It worked.”

The emerald landed on the Zygarde’s tail and disappeared instantly. Then, Hecto’s hexagons rapidly flashed in a rhythmic, undulating wave across his body, faster and faster.

Barky charged up another attack. In the end, he didn’t have enough time.

Hecto seemed to have doubled in size, standing on two legs with two hulking arms. The crown on his head had become some kind of fanned cape. The great titan—now towering over Barky—raised his fist in the air and smashed him through the tower, cleanly cratering him five floors below.

“NOW!” Diyem shouted.

“Now what?” Remi called.

Diyem hurled a Shadow javelin at Remi, who caught it.

“Infuse that with light!”

“What?”

“Explanations later!”

“Fine, fine!” White light swirled into the concentrated darkness. “Now what?!”

Mhynt, as a Treecko, sprinted toward Remi and held out a hand. Without thinking, Remi held the light forward.

The Treecko conjured her Leaf Blade. The Shadowed Radiance snaked its way around the blade, crackling like it would explode at any second. She fell down, down, down past the rubbles of the topmost floors of the tower, raised her blade, and plunged it directly into Barky’s chest.

The great god roared. Black lightning scorched the walls of the ninety-fifth floor. Mhynt hopped away, leaving the energy blade stuck and dissolving in him, as some wraith-like thing emerged from the wound. It sizzled and evaporated into nothing.

And, finally, all was quiet.
 
Chapter 165 - Leak

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 165 – Leak

Owen had never felt such intense fire from a mortal in his life.

White-hot flames snapped wood in half, superheating the sap within and exploding the whole tree into splinters.

“Zena!” Owen called.

“I’m fine!” Zena popped out of the soil as a puddle of water. She aimed a beam of water at Hardscale. This time, she struck true. A direct hit!

Owen grasped at that watery energy and pointed at him next. From his fingers came a secondary beam of water—not nearly as strong as Zena’s, but it would do as a follow-up against the rival Charizard.

“Down!” Owen called to Zena.

She followed on command, Diving underwater and dodging a Hydro Pump from Blastoise. Was his Perceive cheating? Maybe, but this trainer’s Pokémon were absurdly strong. Yes, Owen was weaker here, but still! He’d completely wiped his other grown siblings back at the lab. Hardscale was on a whole other level.

Zena emerged near one of the trees and blasted Blastoise with Ice Beam instead. The cold air snapped and solidified the grass below, leaving a trail of ice that struck Blastoise’s leg, pinning him to the ground. It wasn’t effective, but they were naturally trying to fight against their matchups for an even playing field.

Owen took a deep breath and retaliated with flames at Blastoise’s face. He considered switching to Grass… but Hardscale’s pressure got in the way of finding a good time to switch. Hardscale was faster, diving in the way. But just as he did, a blinding light forced Owen to rely on his Perceive entirely. Zena dived under the ground again as water, weaving past trails of ice Blastoise had shot into the ground.

Hardscale’s body was changing. Wings lengthened. His body slimmed down. The heat redoubled from the sun’s abrupt brightness. A prismatic shell surrounded Hardscale’s body, rainbow flames leaking through the cracks of the brief egg that had appeared.

It shattered, revealing a Charizard Owen had never seen before with a large, third horn jutting out the center of his head and small wing fins on his wrists. An orange marble glimmered on Hardscale’s left wrist—something Owen thought was simply decorative before. But now that he had a closer look… He had something similar in his bag, too!

Hardscale’s body language was frenzied. But with a few simple gestures and a grunt from the red-capped human, he was in total control.

Zena popped up and blasted Blastoise with a potshot Ice Beam, freezing him over completely. Hardscale retaliated with a quick-charge Solar Beam from the sky. Zena looked up—

“No!”

Owen reached out and formed a Protect—and then attempted an old technique Necrozma had given him. The shield disappeared… and reappeared over Zena, deflecting the beam to form yet another crater.

The spikey-haired human whistled. “Never saw that move before,” he said. In his lap was Mu, watching the spectacle with wide eyes.

The red-capped human also looked surprised. He brought out a Poké Ball and withdrew Blastoise, who could no longer battle.

It had been a two-on-two fight. Now, Owen had the upper hand. What Owen found unreal was that there were technically four other Pokémon this trainer chose not to use in the name of fairness…

“It’s not over yet,” Owen warned. The heat would make Zena’s attacks a lot weaker. The elemental energy in the air dampened her best strikes while strengthening Hardscale’s. But it also strengthened Owen’s.

A shame Solar Beam wouldn’t be of any use here.

Hardscale lunged forward and feinted. Owen saw it coming, easily parrying a jet of compressed air from Hardscale’s right wing. Air Slash… Owen knew what to do with that. “Zena! Put pressure on him from behind me!” Owen called.

“Right!”

Zena slithered back, gaining ground, and kept her distance from Hardscale. He tried to pursue him, but Owen got in his way. Indigo flames rose from the back of Hardscale’s throat. It was going to be aimed at him, the way his eyes trailed despite his head facing Zena.

Zena flinched and covered her face with her tail-fan. Owen put up a golden barrier with one hand while holding the other back. The Dragon Pulse bled over the shield; Owen grasped at the energy and tugged it into a tight blue sphere.

The two humans leaned forward to observe.

Owen slammed his hand into the ground, shoving the sphere into the soil, and then jumped back. He had to keep up the pressure and taunt him forward. Owen caught a lucky break—Hardscale took the bait before the human could command otherwise.

Blue fire—Hardscale’s own, claimed and reflected—exploded from below. A direct hit and Hardscale didn’t expect it.

Owen also didn’t expect Hardscale to power through it anyway.

“Wh—”

Zena got a potshot Hydro Pump in from the side. Even that didn’t redirect the frenzied pursuit of Hardscale’s fire. Owen was too slow to put up another shield. In moments, his vision was clouded by dragon fire. A moment later, Owen was on his back, even more blue flames pelting his face and burning up his scales. He roared, euphoric fervor kicking in, and lunged for Hardscale’s throat. He couldn’t gain purchase and Hardscale twirled around and thwacked him with his tail.

Zena came in with another Hydro Pump. While it wasn’t strong, it was enough to knock Hardscale off him. Owen followed up with another Dragon Pulse, blowing Hardscale into a tree. He crumpled to the ground, having no strength left to stand.

A few seconds passed. Owen waited for a second wind to come. When light mist drifted off Hardscale, returning his form to normal, Owen knew the battle was over and collapsed onto his rear.

“Good fight,” he growled.

Hardscale snorted back. Owen caught a competitive smile before his form dissolved into the capsule that stored him away.

The spikey-haired human clapped. “Great job!” he called. “I could tell you were all going full force. You’re a cut above the rest to stand toe to toe against Charizard and Blastoise like that.”

“Thanks,” Owen replied, glancing at Red Cap.

He smiled and brought two fingers to his hat, tilting it and his head forward in an acknowledging nod. He then glanced at the other human.

“Yeah, go ahead and heal them up,” he replied as if Red Cap had said something.

Soon, he departed, and Owen rested his back against a tree. Mu ran to Zena and hugged her, resting in her coils while she recovered next to Owen.

“That… was great. I’m glad Hardscale got to be so strong,” Owen said.

“Hardscale?” the human asked. “How’d you know his name? Don’t think he ever told you…”

“Oh, sorry. That’s his ‘feral name,’ so I don’t think you’d understand it.”

“Feral, huh?” Something about that seemed to bother the human, the way he reacted. “I guess it’s just how Pokémon talk here. But y’know, Red calls him Hardscale, too. Thought it was a nickname.”

Owen nodded but then paused. “Wait, that’s right! I never introduced myself…”

“Ah, don’t worry. He’s kinda like that.” He shrugged. “The name’s Blue, by the way.”

“Oh, I see. Because of your clothing?” Zena asked.

“Ehh, sure.” Blue laughed and shook his head. “Red’s my rival and my best friend. We’ve been all over the place. It all started when he took out Team Rocket and became Champion… riiight after I became Champion. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to fight alongside him—and maybe one day surpass him, heh.”

But as Blue rambled, Owen tensed. That organization…

“Something wrong?” Blue asked.

“Sorry,” Owen said. “A long time ago, I… had a run-in with Team Rocket myself. I used to be with a human trainer when I was a normal Pokémon. And… our team was stolen by them.”

Blue’s expression darkened. A hint of fury. “Really? Stolen, huh? How long ago?”

“It’s been decades now,” Owen said. “We had to run away. We got too involved in their organization. We were in danger in Kanto. So… we just couldn’t reunite.”

“Well,” Blue said, digging into his pocket, “let’s help you with that.”

“Huh?”

He pulled out a phone. “It’s an old database at this point, but we’ve got a list of all Pokémon that have ever been stolen by Team Rocket. You know, to try to reunite them with their original trainers. So, if you know your trainer’s identity…”

“I—I do! I mean, I can try…!”

This changed everything. Mu, perhaps sensing Owen’s brightening flame, peered at him and crawled onto his shoulder next. She scaled his cheek and landed belly-down on the top of his head, her chin just above his eyes.

“Alright. Let’s start with a name,” Blue said.

Owen tried to recall everything he could and Blue punched in a few letters in a text box. Technology was amazing—in the palm of his hand, he could look up exactly whose Pokémon might have been lost?

“By the way, uh, your human trainer… He in that other world?”

“Y-yeah.” Owen avoided Zena’s gaze but could Perceive her staring at him. “…He’s… different now. But I think it would give him closure to know that they’re okay, and we’re okay, even if we’ve been apart so long.”

“Nah, I get it. Lots of trainers are like that. You’re not alone.” Blue waited for something to load. “…Well, look at that. We’ve got a match.” He faced the screen at Owen.

The memories slammed into Owen’s heart. Duos, now a Pidgeot, was under the care of someone… just one town over. Trident, now a mighty Nidoking, was cared for in a whole other region. And the rest of Tim’s team, too. All… fine, but elsewhere.

“I’m gonna get Red,” Blue said, standing up. “Looks like we’ve got someone only a short flight away.”

He tossed a Poké Ball into the air, revealing another Pidgeot. Owen suppressed a pang of guilt.

“Meet us in town!” he called, hopping onto Pidgeot’s back

And as he flew away, Zena slithered up to Owen and transferred Mu from his shoulder to her head.

“Will you be okay?” she asked gently.

Owen nodded. “Yeah. In fact… maybe I need this.”

<><><>​

Adrenaline and anxiety still ran through everyone’s systems in the ruined upper floors of Destiny Tower. Diyem could feel it all, like how Star was resting against Hecto’s titanic, full-form body’s shoulders. Arceus remained on his side, partially propped up by his golden wheel and some rubble he used as a pillow. Migami looked twitchy and anxious, but perhaps the one thing keeping them from losing their minds completely was the Trio of Mind tending to them with Trina’s expert hypnosis.

Diyem sat down on a larger piece of rubble, elbows on his thighs, and sighed.

When he exhaled, black smoke thickly pooled on the ground from his mouth. And little by little, that calm exhale became panicked, gasping coughs. The pool of darkness congealed as Angelo collapsed into a shivering heap.

“N-never… a-again…” Angelo whimpered. “I can’t believe I did all of that. I could have died! I could have died from the wrath of God Himself!”

“Yeah, gonna be honest, Angelo, no way you had the mettle to do that without Diyem helping ya.” Zoroark hopped over to the trembling Smeargle and patted him on the back. “Good job, though! You were a nice vessel!”

“Who… who are you?” Angelo wheezed.

“I’m—” She paused. “Er… huh. Three and a half names popped up… couldn’t decide which one to say.”

“…And a half?”

Zoroark nodded. “I’m… Amelia, Enet, and Spice. And before that, I was Remi, but that one’s more… distant. So, half.”

“Wonderful. I have to deal with you again.”

Diyem’s form slowly rose from the dark mass, taking on the shape of a diminutive Charmander with a black flame.

“I don’t think Remi ever met you in person before,” Zoroark said. “Just… you know, secondhand.”

Mhynt, a Treecko, crossed her arms. “And despite knowing me secondhand you’re speaking about yourself in third person.” She paced toward Zoroark nervously. “Are you… Remi?”

“I am,” she replied. “But, uh… I mean…” There was a flash of realization in her eyes. “Oh, that’s right. You’re my original mom, right?”

Mhynt flinched.

Diyem felt a spike of negativity from her. Betrayal? No, not quite betrayal. But it was a sudden and deep sadness. When Mhynt’s eyes trailed to Diyem, that feeling disappeared. Masked. How clever; she knew how to hide her aura.

“I am,” Mhynt said. “To Remi. You… remember being Remi?”

She nodded and then looked at her paws. “…Huh. Hang on.” She twirled and closed her eyes. A wave of light enveloped Zoroark, and suddenly…

There was another flash of negativity, and Diyem recognized it more clearly this time—desperate longing.

Standing before them was a Sceptile with no particularly outstanding features beyond the slight glow her body gave off. She smiled and stood tall. “How’s it look? Just like you remember, right? Just an Illusion, sure, but…”

“Hmph. If you’re part Void Shadow, you could probably make that illusion the real thing,” Diyem finally said after forming enough of his body to talk properly. Charmander… why always Charmander when at his weakest? Owen truly was the gift that kept on giving.

“Oh, can I?” Sceptile asked. “…Oh! Anyway, uh…” She nodded at Mhynt. “This is who I used to be. But… I’ve lived a lot of lives since then. So, you know… times change.”

“…Right. Of course.” Mhynt nodded. “I’ve… also changed, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, no kidding. You’re tiny!”

“No, that’s not—”

“I know, I know.” Sceptile nodded. “…I know. It’s okay.”

Barky groaned, finally waking up. Sceptile dropped her illusion and became a spectral Zoroark again. “Talk later?” she asked Mhynt, who nodded.

“Are you sane?” Diyem asked, carefully approaching Barky.

Angelo was already trembling in the corner of the rubble, hiding behind Hecto’s titanic legs.

Diyem knew the answer. He could no longer sense any deep darkness within Barky.

“Why… was I like that?” Barky whispered.

“A shadow tried to consume you from the inside,” Diyem said. “But it was recent… and not complete. We were able to dispel it without taking dramatic measures. But it also seems like much of your power was stolen, too.”

Angelo sputtered, pointing at the five stories of rubble above them. “THAT wasn’t dramatic?!”

“Well, we’ve got…” Zoroark squinted. “…Ninety-five or so floors more, so we could’ve done more.”

“Ninety-four. We went through five floors and Destiny Tower has ninety-nine,” Diyem said.

He saw a flash of Enet’s hatred of numbers in Zoroark’s eyes.

Barky rested his head on the pure marble floor. “It happened so easily… me, the Alpha, the protector of Kilo, the—”

“Darkness consumes everything,” Diyem said coldly, the black flame on his tail crackling. “Even gods. Do not dwell on this fundamental aspect of the world you created. Let’s figure out how it happened.” Diyem approached, leaning forward with his hands behind his back.

“Figure out…” Barky grumbled and turned his head away. Then he stiffened and said, “Where is Ghrelle? I attacked… I attacked Ghrelle…”

“She was here?” Diyem said. “Hmm…”

“Do you think it was her?” Zoroark asked.

“It’s a possibility. Who else was in contact with you today?”

“Madeline, with Giratina, reporting in…”

Diyem shook his head. “Unlikely, I’ve already handled the darkness in her.”

“Palkia…”

“He’s terrible for other reasons.”

“Dialga…”

“We took care of his darkness; that one’s my fault.” Diyem nodded. “And Star, I presume.”

“And can’t be me!” Star said quickly. “You, uh, you can sense that in me, and stuff, right? I’ve… been trying to lay low and relax. I can’t stand Shadow stuff anymore…”

“Mm.” Diyem nodded. “Dialga’s Shadows were also agitated while we were speaking to him and you went on ahead… Spice.” Diyem just guessed. “I can’t be sure if that was a coincidence or an activation from someone else—another of my fragments. Signs point to Ghrelle… Where did she go?”

“I thought she was tricking me. I attacked her with a Judgment… sent her off the Tower, and—Gravity sent her downward. Gods, how could I have…”

“I didn’t arrive in time to see it,” Mhynt said. “Gahi?”

Migami was still fused, arms crossed and tendrils writhing. They were deeply concentrating. “I can’t remember,” they said. “Don’t think I saw Ghrelle’s aura… but I haven’t seen her aura a whole lot. She’s usually off in her swamp. Which is creepy, by the way, all the melting and stuff we heard…”

Diyem hummed again, arms crossed. Yes. This added up. But he just needed to know…

“Is Ghrelle Kyurem or Zekrom?”

“What do you mean?” Zoroark asked.

“We know that Brandon is Reshiram. We also know that the Trinity made up the components of the Divine Dragon. Therefore, Aramé and Ghrelle were the other two components. Their ability to fuse is based on an old legend in the human world, and three auras fusing into one being was supposed to rise near the upper gods. That is why Nevren attempted to invent a four-way fusion to surpass the gods before the instability forced them to separate.”

Barky sighed. “It’s… foggy. But… considering the way they behave, I could only assume that Aramé was Kyurem and Ghrelle was Zekrom.”

“…No. I don’t believe that’s the case,” Diyem said. “And the fact that you aren’t sure means those memories, despite everything, are still sealed and obscured. Could there be a more powerful, rogue piece than I’d expected?”

“Oh!” Zoroark nodded. “I remember. Back when I was… still Remi, I was attacked by Kyurem, but Zekrom wasn’t anywhere.”

“Zekrom was captured, but not corrupted in the same way Kyurem was. Zekrom is likely a Void Titan to be freed by Brandon’s group today. Kyurem, however… Describe Ghrelle to me.”

“Ghrelle?” Barky said. “She… sings in worship. She only allows those of pure heart to enter her domain. Anyone with impurities in their heart would be killed. She’s crafted her domain so masterfully that it’s a great defense for any Hunter, for one…”

“And her appearance?”

“Usually, an Altaria. At her strongest, she would use her Poison powers and liquefy, becoming—”

“She’s Kyurem.”

“What?”

“Poison isn’t evil, you know,” Zoroark said, arms crossed.

“No. The liquefying. The malleable form. That, combined with her abnormally strong domain, and her appearance here, is enough for me to be confident that not only is Ghrelle alive, but she likely coordinated your retaliation so we’d never see her by the time you went berserk. A carefully crafted plan that could have pointed us at Aramé instead, or just you… had it not been for my existence. A variable another fragment of mine could not have predicted.”

“…So, what’s liquefying have to do with that?” Zoroark asked again.

Diyem held up a hand and let it darken and soften like wet clay. “Anam, Emily. Two people who have more Shadow than Radiance in them. At greater concentrations, Divine Shadows cause your body to take on Void-like properties—in other words, you melt.”

“Oh.” Zoroark hummed. “What’s that mean for Owen? Or… you?” She looked at Mhynt.

Diyem thought about it and then nodded. “Mhynt was infused with Radiance first as a primary blessing, directly from Necrozma. Then she was corrupted by Alexander, a secondary source. While it snuffed out her light, it wasn’t enough to overpower that primary-source blessing in her core.”

“Ugh, primary, secondary…” Zoroark rubbed her head. “Okay. So Anam and Emily were in direct contact with you. But didn’t Emily also take on Necrozma’s blessing?”

“Yes… I suppose by that logic, we’ve seen what happens if someone took both blessings directly and then rejected one down the line. The Shadows dominated Emily. With Necrozma banished, the light faded more… though she kept her size.”

“Owen never liquefied,” Zoroark pointed out. She migrated to Star and Hecto, leaning against the latter’s leg before sliding down into a squatting position, looking pensive.

“Owen may have fought against Necrozma, but I do not think he ever lost his light. He was trying to save everyone. When it comes to compatibility with divine power, that’s meaningful. Divine power operates on a level that transcends the fabric of reality; it allows your will to manipulate the world around you on a scale far greater than a mortal, powerful Pokémon. Therefore, if it bends to your will, then a weak will, or a conflicted will, dampens and destabilizes that power.”

“Guess that explains why Barky’s always got the edge on me half the time,” Star mumbled, rubbing her arm. “He’s too stubborn to falter.”

“Except when you get really mad,” Zoroark pointed out to Star. “Then you trump him.”

Migami, finally relaxing, split into their components. Gahi grumbled to himself and rubbed his arms. “Alright, so… what, Spice-Enet over there ain’t that, either?”

“I’m part Amelia, too,” Zoroark mumbled.

“I noticed that your power was… closer,” Diyem said, “but not a perfect match.”

“Well, let’s trace your aura history, huh?” Star said, disappearing and reappearing in Zoroark’s mane. “Amelia… she was somehow born under Klent’s family, right? How’s that story go?”

“Klent adopted me. I was an egg that he found one day, no parents anywhere. Even though he was a Guardian at the time, he wanted to protect me… He did a great job.”

“Do you remember how that happened?” Star asked. “The… Dark War. That’s when you disappeared, I think…”

Zoroark nodded. “Spice was taken by Alexander. That part’s… still a little hazy. I get serious… dread when I try to think back to it, so, um, I don’t… think I want to talk about that yet.”

“That’s alright. I think we have enough pieces there.” Star glanced at Diyem, who nodded. “How about Enet?”

“Oh, I have tons of memories from Enet… and all the other Pokémon she used to be. I don’t know how Nate did it… but I was put through reincarnation a lot, over and over until I’d eventually get drawn to Owen and the others again to help. That was the plan.” She grinned, showing pointy teeth. “Paid off, huh?”

Angelo gawked. “Reincarnated… you… you’re how many lives? How many times did you…”

“It wasn’t that long. I only remember living… I mean, I’d have to think about it. But it was feral, all of them. Really simple lives. In retrospect… not bad. Brutal ways to die, though.”

Angelo winced. “D-don’t elaborate. Please.”

“Well, there’s one thing you have in common with Owen,” Diyem muttered.

Zoroark rolled her eyes. “So, Enet was pretty simple. Aside from taking on the Radiant blessings from the Electric Orb, she didn’t acquire any special powers. Spice obviously had Shadows going on—”

“From Alexander,” Star said. “So, a secondary blessing. And Amelia… Necrozma must have somehow coordinated for you to have Radiance from there. And you also inherited it, right?”

“You know, how come Alexander doesn’t melt?” Zoroark asked.

“His convictions must be even stronger than the amount of power he took in,” Diyem said. “So strong he does not melt to its negative energy.”

Zoroark stared blankly.

Diyem groaned. “He was evil before taking Shadows. So rather than melt to it, he seized it.”

“Oh. So he’s like. Always been bad?”

“Some Pokémon are not good,” Diyem said plainly. “I won’t be poetic about the whys and hows. Alexander is evil, and he took and harnessed an evil power. This is why he is the most dangerous foe we must deal with.”

“Wonder what he’s doing,” Zoroark remarked, leaning back and using her mane as a cushion. “Big bad evil guy must be on a coffee break.”

“From what I understand, Owen tossed him into the living world. So, assuming he didn’t evaporate and it was only an echo of his corruption in the broken Porygon, he’s recovering again. Even someone as powerful as Alexander cannot last long in the living realm.”

“Right… Okay, well, back to supernatural science. You melt if you have too much Shadow. What happens if you can’t handle Radiance, then?” Zoroark asked. “Like, do you melt?”

“You explode,” Diyem said. “Violently.”

“Oh.”

“Radiance is an excitation factor. Where Shadows tend to pronounce your fears and negative emotions, Radiance tends to pronounce your front-facing emotions. Haywire Radiance leads to explosive personalities as their aura feeds into itself. More and more energy leads to an explosion when it can no longer be contained.”

“So too much Shadows means you melt, and too much Radiance means you explode?” asked Zoroark. “Is it at least a cool explosion?”

“Do not explode.” Diyem glared.

“Hmm.” Trina, still a tiny Snivy sitting atop Gahi’s head, raised a small hand. “I should note, then, that I’m sensing… instability in Zoroark’s aura right now.”

“Oh, come on, why does everyone sense aura?” Zoroark complained. “Isn’t that supposed to be rare and cool?”

“It comes with divinity. Your peers happen to all be divine,” Diyem deadpanned. “Congratulations.”

Zoroark rolled her eyes.

Trina went on, “Perhaps it’s more psychological, but it reminds me of how fused mutants can become frenzied from conflicting thoughts. Her Radiance might be exasperating it.”

“Understandable. She’s still sorting out her three headspaces, yes?” Diyem eyed Zoroark.

“A little… I think I’m excited. I’ll try to stay calm. So… if I’m being overwhelmed by negative thoughts and positive thoughts at the same time, do I make a goopy explosion instead?” Zoroark asked.

“…Sure.” Diyem didn’t want to bother with this battle. “Can we get back on topic?”

“Oh. Right.” Zoroark nodded. “Well… back to me… I guess when you frame it that way, I’m a lot more Radiance than Shadows, even with Spice.”

“That’s why it’s not perfectly balanced for you, either,” Star said, nodding.

“Ugh, whatever!” Zoroark held up her arms. “Why are we talking about balance, anyway?! What’s it matter if I’m a little too Radiant?”

“As it stands,” Diyem said, “we are facing foes that have an abundance of Shadows and Radiance. They are unstable, and they can more or less obliterate anyone with the opposite element. Rhys was very vulnerable to my Shadows because he, as a ‘Mystic,’ was inherently Radiant. Meanwhile, someone like Alexander would utterly dissolve against someone like Necrozma… had he not been corrupted, weakening that pure Radiance.

“The balance is important because it allows you to control your Shadows and Radiance. Remi… or whatever you wish to call yourself… You did that exact thing against Barky.”

“Eh?”

“…Please tell me that was intentional.”

“It was intentional.”

Diyem stared at her. Others looked between them. Zoroark didn’t speak.

“And what was intentional?” Diyem tested.

“…Throwing stuff back?” Zoroark said. “I definitely didn’t have the power to beat the guy. But Arceus had the power to beat himself! So…”

“Oh, good. That wasn’t just dumb luck.” Diyem had a feeling she’d conjured that on the spot. But it had to have come from somewhere—perhaps a teaching from Owen or Necrozma in the past. “If you have perfectly balanced blessings of Shadows and Radiance, you can also perfectly control either incoming element. Too much Shadow, and you can be countered by Radiance, and the reverse. But with both in harmony…”

“Ohh!” Zoroark nodded. “All the benefits, none of the weaknesses.”

“And we need every benefit possible with what we’re against. Even I cannot stand up to Necrozma at this point, and none of us can take Alexander when most of our powers are sourced from weak Radiance fragments. Owen may be weak… but he has the one tool available to us that can overcome the tilted scales. Unless…” Diyem sighed through his nose. “We can think of someone else with that same balance to train. But I’m not coming up with anything.”

“Right…” Zoroark brought her claws to her chin. The others also went back to staring at the ground, ruins, walls, to think.

“What about Emily?” Barky asked. “Her disposition is strange, but if we can rescue her from the piece of Dark Matter within her, will she—”

“It will likely be Anam’s case again,” Diyem answered. “Emily did not accept a full blessing. It overtook her. She was not able to handle it the same way Owen can; you can tell because she melts.”

“And melting is when you’re too Shadowy,” Zoroark recalled.

“Divine Shadows, but yes,” Diyem confirmed. “You become half Void Shadow. It taints your spirit and seeps into the rest of your body. If you do not have the mental, spiritual, and physical fortitude to endure this, even during moments of weakness, you erode until you are a shapeless blob that you call ‘wraiths’ in the living world.”

“That’s terrifying,” Angelo said. “A-am I going to melt?”

“You’re fine. I made sure not to turn you into a blob.”

“Now that I think about it, even Anam is a little more blobby than a normal Goodra.”

“It isn’t as bad as before,” Diyem said, “…but yes. The effects are permanent, barring divine intervention.” He eyed Barky. “Seems we’ve had a lot of that lately. But you know what I mean.”

Zoroark sighed and flopped onto her back, using her mane as a cushion. “Then if Emily has too much Shadows, I have too much Radiance, and everyone else is off balance some other way… that means Owen’s the best bet after all, huh?”

“Yes. Mhynt comes close.” Diyem nodded at her. “But her Shadow blessing is secondary from Alexander. You also come close, but for the same reason, it’s not a perfect balance. Owen… is the only person to directly take on a Shadow and Radiant blessing from the primary source. The only person who took blessings directly from myself and Necrozma, and could maintain both positive and negative.”

“Without goosplosions,” Zoroark clarified.

“…I miss Spice,” Diyem murmured.

Zoroark sighed, leaning back and grabbing Star to rub between her ears. “And Owen’s in the middle of this all because he can’t stop helping people.” She let Star go, who floated over to comfort Barky. “Why can’t you give that blessing now, huh?” She eyed Diyem.

“Unfortunately, as I am, I do not have that magnitude of power. Otherwise, we would have had many ‘Owen’-level blessed people to solve this already.”

“Great.” Zoroark huffed, narrowing her eyes in thought.

“Yes. The same person who got us into this mess is the only person who can take us out the most effectively. And… I cannot sense him in this realm anymore.”

“He’s in the human world. His home world,” Barky said. “I… do not have the power to recall him. Time is also flowing much faster there, which is the inverse of how it used to be relative to Kilo. Dialga, what about him? Where is he now?”

Diyem held still, showing no expression.

“…What did you do to Dialga?”

A few more seconds. Then, he replied stoically, “He’s alive.”

“Did you eat him?” Zoroark asked.

“What? No. I can’t do that when I’m possessing someone.”

“Y-you can eat people?!” Angelo squeaked.

“Everyone can.”

Zoroark patted Angelo on the head. “It’s alright, buddy. Well… okay. So, Dialga’s out of commission…”

Star held onto Barky’s golden wheel like a playground gym. “What’s the time dilation for Owen again?”

“One to a hundred.”

“Oh, wow. Isn’t that the max we set things?” she mumbled. “Okay, cool. So… Owen gets a vacation? How long until we can get him back?”

“I don’t know how to get him back,” Arceus said. “But we can at least get the flow of time back to normal when Dialga’s back to his old self again.”

“That may take a few days,” Diyem said.

“So, a year for Owen,” Star said. “We’re sure he’s fine?”

“With his luck,” Diyem said, “…No.”

“Can always rely on you for optimism,” Zoroark said, patting him on the head. The Charmander’s black flame crackled. He was not a child.

He ducked and evaded further touch. “We’ve done enough for now. Let’s gather our strength, descend the tower, and report to the others in Kilo Village.”

“Good plan,” Star said. “I wish we could let them know sooner, but that’s a long climb down…”

Then came a tiny voice. “Oh! I can help!”

“Uh?” Zoroark fished around her fur and pulled out a little Joltik. “Another one?”

“Willow,” Diyem greeted with a frown.

“I’m even better than Hecto now!” Willow claimed.

The titanic Hecto turned his head in her direction. Diyem thought he’d felt a flash of competitive annoyance from him.

“I can communicate with all two hundred and thirty-seven of me!”

“Two thirty-seven?” Trina said. “I thought you counted a few more than that last time.”

“Got squished.” Willow giggled. “Those hurt. But the rest of me can tell the others!”

“That’s great, Willow,” Star said. “Thanks. That’ll let us not have to rush it and Dialga can gather his strength faster. He’s further below, right?”

“Yes,” Hecto said. “I recall running past him only three floors down.”

“Awesome.” Star lifted herself higher. “Alright, let’s regroup, everyone. We’ve got some answers on that missing fragment! Now we just have to figure out how to catch it…”

Diyem noticed that Star was oddly peaceful lately. He rarely felt the same intense negative waves from her when she’d been pulled from the Voidlands. More confident than before. There was still a deep fear from the trauma that she was masking—he always sensed that—but it was… lesser.

He’d have to figure out why later.

As the team meandered down the partially damaged tower, Zoroark hummed thoughtfully to herself.

“I need to figure out a name.”

And if she came from Owen, her name was probably going to be horrible.

<><><>​

The next town over—Viridian City—was only a handful of minutes away by wing. They landed all at once and nobody seemed to pay them any mind.

Blue warned them to avoid talking if they could so they didn’t draw too much attention. News of them hadn’t spread too far yet, surely.

Then again, with how quickly Blue was able to get that information about Duos…

“Let’s see…” Blue wandered the streets, his shoes making rhythmic tapping on the pavement that fascinated Owen. Zena, too, watched all the new technology that this world had to offer. She occasionally, quietly, asked their escorts what everything was. She learned what traffic lights were, what cars were, street lights, and all other things that Owen took for granted on his return.

Knock knock knock.

And before they knew it, they were standing in front of a small apartment on the third floor. Zena struggled through the stairs, remarking about how uncomfortable the stone was on her scales, and settled along the wall so she didn’t block the walkway. Owen had similar troubles and kept his wings folded behind him.

The door opened. Owen already knew who was on the other side, though with the door open, he now also knew that the human had pink hair and brown eyes.

“Oh, hello,” she greeted. “Wait… I know you!”

Red smiled and offered a small nod.

“Hey! Sorry to bother you,” Blue said with a wave. “We wanted to see your Pidgeot. An old friend of his is here.” He gestured to Owen.

Her eyes brightened. “Oh, that’s wonderful! From…?”

Blue nodded.

“I’ll be right back!” She stepped away and ran into another room. While everyone else waited, Owen curiously watched with Perceive as she moved through her home and picked up one of the Poké Balls, whispering for whoever was inside to wake up.

And that’s when it hit Owen that this was happening. Duos was right there. After all this time, everything that happened, he was… right here.

She returned and tossed the ball in the air just out her doorway. It popped open, spilling light onto the floor.

A Pidgeot spread his wings and flicked off remnant lights from his body. He looked left and right and settled on Owen.

There wasn’t any recognition at first. Understandable; it had been so long and it wasn’t like his mother or father.

But Duos opened his beak in disbelief. “Smallflame?” he asked. “You look so different, but… your eyes…”

“Greatwing…” Involuntary or not, Owen had already switched to his native tongue.

Something about the situation must have entertained Blue. With a warm yet amused smirk, he glanced at Red, who seemed transfixed. Mu, resting on Zena’s coils, let out a whine of discomfort. Zena gently rocked her in her ribbons to calm her down.

“Where have you been?” Duos asked. He hopped forward.

Finally, Owen stepped closer, too, collapsing over Duos’ body in an embrace. He was so soft. He chirped and cooed gently back to Owen, who couldn’t stop shaking.

“It’s been a long, long time,” Owen said with a trembling voice. “Too long, so… so long. I’m glad you’re okay. I’m glad you were saved.”

“Smallflame…”

The pink-haired human wiped a few tears from her eyes. “I’ll—get some food prepared. Please, come in,” she said.

“Not gonna deny a meal!” Blue declared with a smile.

Owen pulled away, sniffling as the weight of an old, old burden seemed to evaporate from his shoulders. His vision was blurry, even after wiping his eyes a few times. A patch of buildings in the distance was just a rippling mess.

“Yeah,” Owen whispered. “Just a day, though. We have… things to do.”

Duos nodded. “Tell me all about it. You feel so strong now…”

Owen sobbed a laugh and nodded. “Yeah! Yeah…”

Zena’s gaze was fixed on something behind Duos, past the streets. The wind blew and metal bird chimes sang. It just occurred to Owen that several cars had stopped by the sides of the street, people getting out to look at something.

Mu’s whining didn’t stop no matter how much Zena tried to comfort her.

Blue and Red exchanged looks, then followed where those drivers were staring.

The warmth of his reunion was doused with icy water. Tears hadn’t blurred that patch of buildings. It was a distortion of light.

One he and Zena knew all too well.

A Dungeon had formed in Viridian City.
 
Chapter 166 - Other Guardians

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 166 – Other Guardians

Dungeons were supposed to be a Kiloan problem. What was it doing in another reality?!

Owen was far more alarmed than any of the humans. When they caught his gaze, some of their worries mirrored his, but he and Zena were the only ones who understood the magnitude of how bad this was.

“You know this?” Blue asked.

“Yeah. It’s… We need to investigate it right now. It’s—dangerous, depending on what’s in there.”

“How big of a problem is this?” Blue clarified.

“…Big? Very big? Huge. Just, huge.”

Blue nodded, his jovial, lighthearted expression completely gone. All business. He stared at Red. “Go with them. I’m gonna make some calls.”

Red nodded, then tossed a Poké Ball in the air, summoning Hardscale again.

“Um,” said the pink-haired human, “did Charizard just talk?”

“Oh, s-sorry, I’m Owen! But I need to go now, um, bye, Duos!”

Duos looked dumbfounded.

Owen sped onward, following Hardscale as they passed several buildings at once. They heard a siren down below chirp once, quickly, as if to get their attention.

“Don’t go that way!” called a human dressed in blue standing near a car that Owen guessed was with the police. “It’s dangerous!”

“We know!” Zena called.

The human said nothing in reply, staring.

“Um, Zena, I think you’re not supposed to talk to humans,” Owen said.

“Didn’t you a few seconds ago?”

“…We’re bad at this.”

They left the officer behind, passing over more buildings. The distortion was clearer now and about the size of a ‘small’ Dungeon by Owen’s perspective, no more than a district wide. But for a place so densely populated, that was as if a Dungeon had swallowed up Kilo Village.

“What do we do?” Zena asked. “Go in, rescue anyone inside, and have Blue call some authorities so we can inform them?”

“I think so,” Owen said. “First is trying to see if that Dungeon can be sealed. Then we can figure out damage control, and why it’s showing up in the first place. It shouldn’t have been more than a few kilos back home right now—did something happen? I haven’t heard anything from Barky since last time…”

“It’s not like he’ll check in more than once every few moons from our perspective,” Zena pointed out.

“R-right…”

They were getting close. “Land here!” Owen called to Red, diving to the streets. Zena landed next to them and he double-checked that Mu was still doing alright. Heading into the Dungeon was dangerous for her, but leaving her with Blue, she might wander off…

Red landed and tossed a ball, forming a Pikachu with a powerful aura that Owen instantly recognized. That was no normal Pikachu…

“Inside, things are going to be twisted around and changed in strange ways,” Owen explained to Red. “It might be like a maze. What we need to do is go through each section and try to rescue as many people as we can. I don’t… have my Badge with me that usually helps with this, but maybe I can replicate its power. I have the same thing that was used to make them, so…”

Red nodded and walked into the distortion without fear.

“He doesn’t even hesitate,” Zena murmured.

“Something tells me this isn’t the first time he’s been through… things.” Owen held Mu a little tighter. “Listen, Mu. You need to behave and don’t wander off, okay? It’s going to be a little dangerous, but we’ll keep you safe.”

Mu stared at him with wide eyes, craning her neck faaaar back to look up.

“I’ll do the fighting,” Zena offered. “Hopefully this Dungeon isn’t too dangerous. Come, Red’s waiting.”

They pushed through the rippling barrier…

The buildings had been twisted and warped at impossible angles. A simple three-story building had twisted into a corkscrew. A human dangled from a second-story window, aiming to drop into a bush below. Ahead, water pipes were contorted into something that reminded Owen of pasta in the central street. The street itself became more like an oblong checkerboard of grass and pavement. Several buildings lined up like soldiers shoulder to shoulder, closing in on once spacious alleyways with only a foot or so of leeway.

“So this is what a Dungeon would do to human architecture,” Zena murmured.

Hardscale roared ahead, just around the corner. A black blob flew past their view and evaporated.

“No! How?” Owen whispered. “Wraiths?! But that can only mean…!”

“This is bad, Owen,” Zena said. “Red isn’t experienced with this sort of thing! His Pokémon can’t handle wraiths!”

Owen flew forward and took a deep breath, preparing the best Flamethrower he could muster. With his Perceive, he detected four wraiths. No more seemed to be pouring in, so at least it wasn’t a huge onslaught.

Three wraiths. One had dematerialized.

No, two. That was another. Owen couldn’t Perceive what was doing that, but their bodies sizzled as if hit by a massive amount of energy all at once.

They rounded the corner just in time to see a bolt of lightning spearing the third wraith, dispelling it instantly. Its ominous fog seeped into the ground; Owen wasn’t sure if it was returning to the Voidlands or lying dormant…

Owen fired at the final wraith. This one was sneaking behind a streetlight that had been curled into a spiral. Just one strike was enough to dispatch it.

“…Any more?” Zena asked, but then gasped and shot at the air. The Hydro Pump left Owen’s Perceive range. When he turned to let his eyes do the watching, he saw a faraway, flying wraith plummeting down, dissolving before it could strike the ground.

“Nice shot,” Owen remarked.

“Yaay!” Mu flailed her arms. “All gone!”

“All gone?” Zena asked.

Aside from distant shouts for help or rescue from citizens—not panicked, but alert—the twisted district was quiet. Calmer.

This was a weak Dungeon. Normal Pokémon could probably deal with them if the wraiths were few. A blessing in disguise, Owen figured.

“Do you think Mu knows they’re gone innately?” Zena asked. “She is part Dark Matter…”

“Maybe,” Owen said. “Mu? Are there no more monsters?”

Mu tilted her head, blinking. Her blue eyes scanned the streets. “Ah!” She pointed down the road and into one of the buildings. Mu wriggled out of Owen’s grasp and landed on the ground. Owen reached for her and passed right through.

“What—”

Mu had disappeared. Some afterimage was all Owen could see. Maybe it was psychological but even his Perceive had been fooled for a split second.

“Oh, not again,” Zena said.

Red grunted and pointed at the far building’s window.

Mu was at the windowsill, staring inside. They hurried along and once Owen was halfway there, his Perceive pinged a human lying on the ground. He spread his wings and sped the rest of the way, landing heavily by the building. It seemed to be an apartment complex that had been twisted into an upside-down U shape. This was either the top floor or the bottom floor.

The building was filled with about five humans in various rooms. All but this one seemed unharmed, just trapped. This human was an elderly male pinned under a dresser, mercifully mostly empty. He was balding with only flecks of gray hair, lying on the former ceiling of the complex. He was trying to pull on a light fixture in the new floor to get out, but his clothes were caught on one of the dresser’s knobs.

“Ah… ah, is someone there?” the man called, hoarse. “Ah, a Pokémon! Please, if… if you can, lift this. I can’t take it off. It’s hard to breathe…”

Owen was going to answer before remembering his species. He nodded and crept through the windows. They creaked and cracked—and one popped off. He winced. Too large, but he had to save this man first. The property was probably ruined anyway.

He put his claws beneath the bookshelf and gently lifted it. Mu crawled to the clothes and pulled the caught portion off the knob, which impressed Owen. Did she know, somehow?

This was a dense shelf. The wood was dark and had metal keeping it all together. No wonder it was so heavy. The elderly man had a few broken bones but it wasn’t severe… still, he was old. Those could be big trouble for him.

After righting the shelf, he gently helped the man up. He had his full weight against Owen, and after figuring out the best position to carry him without aggravating any injuries, he picked him up and cradled him in his arms, turning back to the window. And paused.

Right. How was he supposed to get out? If only he had a working Badge for this sort of thing, but even his communicator wouldn’t…

Would it?

He’d never thought to try.

Zena was at the window, though. He smiled gratefully and handed the old man over; Zena’s ribbons helped with the transfer, and soon he was out.

“Oh, so beautiful,” the man said, smiling at her. “Milotic, what a privilege to be rescued by one…”

Zena smiled awkwardly.

“There are a lot more we need to rescue, but the wraiths are gone,” Owen said in feral to Zena.

She stared at him.

He’d forgotten. Zena didn’t. know the language yet. He glanced nervously at the old man, then nodded at her and headed into the building.

The first order of business after this was settled: language lessons for Zena.

<><><>​

Blue flopped onto the couch and sank into the cushions. “Phew!” he declared. “I’m beat.”

After Blue made his calls, he had come in to help with the distortion and rescue efforts. Between Owen, Zena, Red, Blue, and the local authorities, everyone had been safely evacuated, and with minor injuries at worst. They called it a miracle, but Owen knew it was luck from only having to worry about a young Dungeon. It might get worse. They would have to investigate again to find, perhaps, its core, or some way to seal and dispel it… but with the rescue effort alone, they could afford to wait it out and talk with the others.

Duos perched on the armrest, staring down at Owen, who took a seat next to the couch. He was glad this apartment was spacious enough to accommodate his wings. Perhaps it was for Duos.

“So, you talk human now?” Duos asked.

“I, er, I picked it up,” he lied. The truth was… a bit much. This was easier.

“Cool. Human seemed boring and complicated.”

“It is. But when you’re working with human things a lot, you need more things to say. Human has that.”

“Oh.” Duos looked disinterested already.

Duos then stared at Zena. “Are you his mate?”

“Hm?” Zena offered another smile. She was coiled next to Owen, near a black mini fridge.

“She is,” Owen said, “but she only speaks human.”

“Whaa?” Duos leaned forward. “How? All Pokémon can speak to each other!”

Owen shook his head. “Where I’ve been, Pokémon lost that native communication in exchange for being a lot stronger on average. They’re part-human. They don’t need humans to help them be stronger; they’re just stronger naturally.”

“That’s crazy… But how do they understand each other?”

Owen shrugged. “The same way humans do.”

“Do they have Pokémon that talk like me?” Duos asked.

“Oh, yeah. I can speak to them, too, but normally we can’t. They’re like wild Pokémon here, without any human influence.”

“Ohh… like, wild wild,” Duos said. “Away from routes, where they stay away from humans?”

“Exactly.”

“They’re scary.”

“They can be. But we’re stronger.”

Red was looking at his phone, frowning pensively. He flicked something in Blue’s general direction and Blue’s phone buzzed.

“Uh?”

Blue sat up just as Duos’ caretaker entered the room with some green tea and snacks. Blue’s expression went from tired to grave.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“What’s wrong?” Owen asked.

“Viridian was a bit of a fluke. These distortions are appearing in Alola and Orre, too, and in way bigger numbers!”

Owen blinked. “What? Orre—”

That wasn’t a coincidence. But Alola…

“Why Alola?” he asked. “That’s, uhh… those are those islands way off in the middle of the ocean, right?”

“Yeah. People are theorizing it’s a new kind of Ultra Wormhole,” Blue said, flicking through something on his phone. “But Orre, that’s a weird one. Ever since they took care of that whole ‘Shadow Pokémon’ thing it’s been pretty peaceful over there.”

“Shadow… Pokémon…”

Blue quirked an eyebrow. “That familiar?”

Owen took a slow, steady breath, and then held his hand forward. He tried to draw deep, deep into what he used to have. What he knew he still had. Afraid to draw it, once, but now, with better control, maybe he could try to dig it out again.

Now that all the seals were broken… maybe he would be okay. Power never left the spirit. It should still be there…

A dark flame emerged from Owen’s palm, flickering with light-absorbing embers and purplish smoke.

Duos flinched, feathers puffing out. The humans stared in fascination.

“Usually, Shadows are invisible unless they’re using a move,” Blue said. “How about that? Is that what raw Shadow Aura looks like?”

“I think so,” Owen replied, bringing his tail forward. “Charizard flames are heat and light, but they’re also ethereal. They reflect the state of their aura, too.”

The once orange flame shifted to a similar, dark color.

“We’re dealing with something like this right now. I don’t know if it has the same effects or behaves the same way here, but if there is knowledge about this in Orre…” Owen looked at Zena. “We need to go there next.”

“If you’re gonna go there,” Blue said, “you oughta take a look at Alola along the way. The flight from Kanto to Orre is brutal, but Alola’s practically right at the midway point if you go that route.”

“Alola,” Zena repeated. “That’s where…?”

“Most research into Ultra Wormholes is in Alola,” explained Blue. “If anywhere can get you guys back home, it’s that way. I already made a call or two. They can hear you out.”

“That’d… be great, actually,” Owen said. “How soon can we get a flight?”

“With the money you have? Probably tomorrow,” Blue said. “Especially if you just go in the cargo.”

“Huh? Cargo?”

Blue tapped on one of his Poké Balls.

“Oh.”

Right. That was pretty convenient.

“Only problem is, usually they’d have a trainer to return you,” Blue said, “and Zena, you said you’re registered as the trainer?”

“That’s how they did it,” Zena confirmed. “It’s a little odd, but I guess they never expected a Pokémon to be at human levels of autonomy like this.”

“Ehh…” Blue shrugged. “I think once you start talking, people will make exceptions. Especially if we send word for it!”

“Oh, you… aren’t coming with us?” Zena asked, curling slightly.

Owen could understand her apprehension. They were an anchor in an unfamiliar world. They’d be on their own again without Red and Blue helping. But…

“They need to stay here,” Owen said. “There might be other Dungeons forming, and they need to be able to help the people where they form. Which reminds me…” He sighed. “I think… I’d like to go back to the Dungeon before we go to bed. Can you arrange a flight for us, Blue?”

“No problem.”

“Red…” Owen nodded his head as if to bow. “Come with us? If this works, maybe I can get you something to help with future Dungeons, too.”

Red nodded back and stood up.

“Duos,” Owen said. “It was great meeting you again. I’m going to try to find the others on our team while I’m here if we have time… just to make sure they’re okay.”

“Oh, yeah!” Duos chirped back. “How’s Tim?”

“He’s doing fine. I’ll tell him all about you.” Owen smiled. “He’ll be relieved. But he’s… in another world.”

“Oh.” Duos’ feathers fluffed down again. “Does he remember me? You sound like it’s been a long time…”

“He’ll never forget you.” Owen nodded. “But he wants you to live a happy life here. Okay?”

“Then I will,” Duos said.

That… that was enough. Owen took a slow breath, then let it out.

He’d return to spend the night if offered. He’d swap stories with Duos. But this… Yes. Even if he couldn’t return, he was satisfied here.

With another weight off his shoulders, Owen squeezed through the doorway.

Time for another visit to the Dungeon.

<><><>​

“There it is,” Owen said, spotting an even darker rift at the epicenter of the Dungeon. The pavement that had once been a street was darkened like burned canvas. Streaks of black crawled along the pavement in a starburst. At the center, two feet off the ground, was a rift—like a blanket had been torn open—leaking a reddish-black fog from the other side.

“I’ve never seen a Dungeon Core before,” Owen said. “Anam usually sealed them, or at least… tried to.”

“Is it usually hidden?” Zena asked.

Owen nodded. “Usually nobody can get to it. But with the right power, we can. And this Dungeon is also new. It probably didn’t have time to form any barriers.”

“You talk like it’s alive,” Zena said. “…Is it?”

“I don’t know. It could just be chemistry but on a… distortion level. Over time, it puts up barriers, but since it’s new, nothing’s built yet.” Owen approached the barrier and glanced at Red, who kept his distance and observed quietly. He’d summoned Pikachu and Hardscale to observe by his side.

“We seal it with Radiance, right?” Zena asked.

“Right. I can do that,” Owen said. His hand curled and golden sparks shot from his claws erratically. He flexed his fingers again. The sparks became more controlled. Stronger, concentrated… They connected along his palm. He grasped at the newly formed rod. It extended into a spear that sizzled in his hand.

He aimed it into the rift. The darkness around it sizzled and sputtered violently, lashing out at them; Owen spread his wings and kept the others behind him. He held his free hand forward and put up a Protect shield, a brilliant gold color.

The rift stopped sputtering. Owen released the energy and relaxed his stance.

The air… was less oppressive. Wraiths probably wouldn’t be able to come through. However, that distortive feeling the Dungeon left behind, the Shadows that had twisted reality with its negative energy, was still there.

Anam never tried to harness Shadows in that way. He feared that dark power. And perhaps, in some ways, Diyem did not want to fully cut off his connections to the living world.

But Kanto had nothing to do with their struggles. Owen wondered if he could command this Dungeon to close for good.

“Well,” Zena said, “I think that’s all we can do for now. I’m sorry that this town is distorted as it is, but…”

“Can I try something?” Owen asked.

“Oh?”

“It can’t make it any worse. But if I’m right, I might be able to fix this.”

Mu, struggling out of Zena’s left ribbon, reached out to Owen and appeared to want, as Blue called it, “uppies.”

“Later, Mu,” Owen said. “One second. I just need to concentrate…”

Moments later, his other hand conjured a dark spear, this one cold to the touch and sapping the light.

He pointed it at the inert rift. It felt like a lock and key. Perhaps if he manipulated the energy in just the right way…

Zena and Blue were looking around like something was changing. Owen was too concentrated on the rift to look. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“The distortion. It’s… shrinking,” Zena said.

But as Owen did it, the rift was becoming active again. Shadows seeped from the rift, awakened by the same power Owen channeled into it. His hand was getting cold. The distortions of the buildings receded at the outer perimeters. Some of it was damaged, even after they contorted back to their normal shapes, but it was much better than the twisted lands they’d dealt with before.

But the shrinking slowed the closer it got to the center. By the time the distortion was about a hundred meters out, it had slowed completely, countered by the reawakened rift. If left alone, it would expand again…

“It’s not closing,” Zena said. “But you shrank it, Owen. That’s good enough… It’ll be a big help to the town this way.”

“Not yet,” Owen said. “This is where I need to try something.”

He wasn’t strained yet. This was just Shadows. Before, it was just Radiance. Shadows controlled the distortion, but also fed into the rift; Radiance ate away at the rift, rendering it inert.

What if he did both at once?

Owen used his other hand, channeling Radiance a second time. His scales brightened at the wrist onward like yellow magma beneath orange rocks. It tingled and burned. Nothing he hadn’t dealt with before.

The light fed into the rift, dissolving the Shadows with a ghastly hiss. And the distortion receded even more. Faster and faster. Fifty meters, twenty meters. As the minutes ticked by, Zena reminded Owen to breathe. Each pause made the rift grow a little more but it also restored his strength. Ten meters, five meters. Red stepped out of the distortion, followed by Zena with Mu.

“Bye-bye,” Mu said, waving at the sky.

A strange feeling washed over Owen’s back as the distortion passed over him next.

Sssssssttkk…

The distortion was coalesced into a tiny bubble. A whole Dungeon no larger than an Oran berry. Zena and Blue observed from either side behind him.

Owen grasped the sphere with both hands and crushed it like a glass ball. It warped and compressed like a balloon and the dark and light energies swirled around it like ink in water. Owen’s hands trembled against the chaotic world he created in his palms. He pressed harder and harder, and then—

With a great whistle, then an ethereal POP! that stunned Owen’s aura senses, the solid distortion shattered completely. Nothing at all was left behind, not even a trace of a portal.

It was gone.

The Dungeon was gone.

<><><>​

“Chaos in Viridian City as a strange distortion-like field appears right on the eastern side of the district!

“Shown before you now is what the strange bubble looked like from onlookers all around the city. This odd, water-like rippling atmosphere was filled with strange, dark creatures that were hostile to everyone who approached. Within the distortion itself, the buildings were twisted topsy-turvy, residents trapped within their own homes to defend themselves!

“Miraculously, the distortion disappeared in a matter of hours. Exiting the district after rescuing everyone inside was Legendary Trainer Red and some companions that we had not seen this cryptic traveler partnering with before! Some claim that the Charizard could be Hardscale after undergoing a completely new transformation!

“Red did not respond for comment.”


The news went on and on, covering different angles of the distortion and all the speculation. Blue had pulled off a few evasive tricks to avoid the press, and they’d somehow managed to get back to Duos’ place for one last night.

Owen had slept heavily and saw the reiteration of the news the following morning from his Poké Ball. It was a little muffled, but he heard the gist of what he wanted.

Even Zena experimented with her ball. When their spheres were close together, Owen felt like she was wrapped around him, and they were resting right next to each other. Was that technology of the ball, or something more innate? Owen wasn’t sure.

“Thanks for letting us stay the night. It would’ve been brutal out there after what happened,” Blue said.

“Oh, it wasn’t a problem,” said Duos’ caretaker. “It’s not every day I’m visited by someone my Pokémon had been missing for so long! Oh, I hope they get some good rest. It was such a busy day for them…”

Busy? After everything else, that was a great day. Owen hoped he could get more of those.

Mu, who had elected to rest near Red for the night, crawled over to Zena’s ball and tilted her head. She crouched down and sniffed at it. The ball wiggled in response. Zena must have been listening in, too.

Owen was starting to feel the need to get out and stretch. He wasn’t sure how long it had been. For all he knew, it could have been a whole day in the Poké Ball. But that might have been refreshing.

But no, the news meant it was just the night. His ball wiggled and he expanded his energy against the edge of the ball. It wiggled a little more, enough to get their attention, and he finally released himself.

His vision whitened and then returned to normal. Weight returned to his senses. He stretched his wings and tail, careful to avoid the furniture, and glanced down at Zena’s ball. She still didn’t emerge, but he’d sensed she was awake. Maybe she was just cozy.

With an entertained smile, he gently picked up the ball and tucked it under a wing. The ball wobbled gently and settled.

Mu crawled onto his thigh and under his other wing.

“Good morning,” Duos’ caretaker said.

“Morning,” Owen said. “I think Zena still wants to—” Right he wasn’t supposed to talk. Did he speak in feral or human?

The woman tittered nervously.

Yep, human.

“I’ve never met a talking Pokémon before, let alone three.”

“Three?”

“Your daughter!”

“Oh! Was she… talking more?”

“Only simple words, but that’s more than I’ve seen in any other Pokémon!”

Owen rubbed Mu on the head, nodding. “She’s a fast learner. I think it’s because… the Pokémon in my world were, uh…” Surely, he could think of an excuse mid-sentence. “Blessed with knowledge many generations ago. That just carried over ever since.”

“How interesting…”

“Tsk. Well, sorry to say,” Blue said, “but it doesn’t look like we can get you a flight too early. This whole Dungeon business disrupted a few things at some airports. The ripple effect caused a bunch of delays. It’s chaos over there!”

Duos’ caretaker shook her head disapprovingly. “Oh, it can’t be that bad…”

“Then…” Owen nodded. “That means Dungeons are forming in other places, too?”

“Mostly Orre and the nearby Unova areas,” Blue said. “Makes it pretty complicated, though, with all the flights they do…”

“Right…” Owen nodded. Dungeons and wraiths were appearing in this world. That meant that somehow, there was a connection from the Voidlands to here. If they found another Dungeon… maybe they could return home that way.

But now they couldn’t. If they did, this world would be in danger. At a much faster speed, too! And the opportunity Arceus gave them… They needed to use it to research, recover, train, and prepare with their extra time.

“I… think I know what I need to do,” Owen said.

“You can’t seriously think about going around the world to dispel every single Dungeon, can you?” Blue asked. “There are way too many!”

“I know. That’s why… I want to find people like you two. Like you and Red. And… I need to test something.”

“Eh?” Blue leaned forward. “Test what?”

Red also seemed interested, listening attentively.

“That… special transformation, that stone you had,” he said. “I have something similar. It was given to me by Xerneas to ‘awaken latent potential’ in my species. I never used it yet, was caught off guard the one time I could have, but…”

“You think its power can dispel Dungeons?” Blue asked.

“No,” Owen said, “but… we were chatting about it, right? Its side-effect is that it can make the Pokémon go berserk with that power. A human’s spirit helps to keep them calm.”

“That’s true. Mega Stones aren’t an easy thing to handle. To untrained Pokémon, they could seriously hurt someone. You need a lot of skill as a trainer to use one.”

“Then that’s where I’ll put my power.”

Red’s eyes glinted with his interest.

“One of my powers is the ability to… confer it. To give it to other things like an enchantment. If you already have Pokémon that are capable of controlling a berserk state like I can, then you can handle this power. And it’s exactly what can be done to dispel Dungeons and get this world back to normal.”

“Ahhh, I see!” Blue smirked. “You aren’t taking on this problem on your own at all. You’re getting a team to handle it on their home turf!”

“Exactly.” Owen nodded. “But I’ll need to do some training. And I want a list of as many trusted trainers who have mastered Mega Stones.”

“That’ll be easy. Guess I’ll be Mister Bookkeeper again, but I want my Pokémon to get some of that training, too. Red’s not the only ‘Mega Stone Master’ in this room.”

Red produced the large, orange marble from his bag and offered it to Owen. When he held it, Owen recognized a similar power within it. Not quite divine and self-sufficient like the one Owen had—this one needed a human catalyst to set off—but it would do. It could hold this power the same way.

Owen steadied his breath and let the Shadows and Radiance flow from his chest outward. Into his shoulders, wings, arms, and finally into the stone itself. The process was slow, careful, and took several minutes. The marble darkened, brightened, and mixed with a swirl of golds and purples.

The lights seeped into the marble and stayed there, glimmering and waiting to be drawn from. That was good enough. He handed the Mega Stone back to Red.

“If you do that transformation with him now,” Owen said, “Hardscale can do what I did. Or, he has the potential for it. I’m… going to try to train him a little. Then I want to train others who can do the same thing.”

“You’re sure about that?” Blue said. “Seemed like you were in a rush last time…”

He smiled faintly. “Barky gave us a hundred days to a single day there,” he said. “I’m going to try to relax, but… I want to be ready. And now that things are leaking here, too, somehow… all the more reason to defend my old homeworld, too. Right?”

Something about what he said must have resonated with Zena. The Poké Ball wiggled a little, nudging against Owen. He felt her support.

“Sounds like Zena wouldn’t mind helping, either,” Owen said. “Hope you don’t mind the detour, Red.”

But Owen could already see the glint in his eyes. Red understood his role in all this. Hardscale must have, too.

Owen still envied Hardscale for how lucky he was to get such a good trainer. But he had to push those thoughts aside for now. This was a blessing.

Kanto had its own protectors and its own stories. Owen’s place to them now was to give them a boon to defend themselves.
 
Chapter 167 - Being a Hero

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 167 - Being a Hero

Anam took a seat at the base of Heart HQ’s stairs. His legs were tired from all the walking and his feet ached. He wanted to slide into a pool and fall asleep for a whole day. But a burning urge in his guts told him he had to keep the Village safe. Keep everyone safe, even if he couldn’t do that as well anymore…

The sky was a bright and beautiful orange with purple clouds rolling over calm winds. The Dungeons were at least eradicated from Kilo Village thanks to innovations made by Diyem and the others. Rain Dance, too, flowed through the drainage system into the caldera’s edges. The air was damp with remnant rain and the grass seemed a little greener on the edges of the well-trodden dirt roads.

Someone cursed near the top of the Heart HQ stairs. Anam tilted his head back until he plopped against the stairs, seeing Jerry.

“Hi, Jerry!”

“Eh? Oh, hey,” Jerry mumbled.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just… tired. Glad the day’s over.” Jerry gave Anam an uneasy glance. Anam wondered if he would fly away without saying anything else.

But to Anam’s surprise, Jerry hopped down the stairs and stared awkwardly at him instead.

“…You… seem tired, too. I guess.”

“A little…” Anam trailed off.

More silence. The questions that raced through Anam’s mind were somehow colder than the chilly winds of another winter night.

“I’m sorry,” Anam finally said. The statement had no thought-out plan behind it. It… just spilled out.

“…Sorry,” Jerry said, folding his wings down and sitting a few feet away from Anam on the same step. “…What for?”

“For… the South. For what it did to you. I should have helped more. I… I messed up a lot.”

Diyem wasn’t there to tell him what he said wrong. He had no idea if Jerry hated him or… But if he did, Anam would deserve it, right?

“I used a dark power to get rid of other dark powers,” Anam said. “And… and I used that same power to try to make Diyem happy, but it also meant everyone else had to lose their power. I, um… Was I a tyrant?”

“All this time,” Jerry said, “and you’re only wondering these questions… now?”

Anam winced, wanting to sink into himself.

Jerry seemed to be awaiting a response. When none came, he sighed and said, “Look, I get it. You saved the world from a lot of trouble. And yeah, fine, you tried to preserve the way of life for all those places you conquered… You didn’t even hurt anyone, aside from Dad, but he was… I get it with Dad.”

“M-mm.” Anam nodded nervously. Was there going to be some sort of caveat to it? Jerry hated him, so…

“Why’d you leave me behind for that?” Jerry asked.

“H-huh?” Anam, caught off guard, turned to look at him directly.

Only then did he realize that Jerry wasn’t angry. If anything, he looked… pained. But he was good at hiding it.

“You integrated the Southern Kingdom. You did all you could, reached out, blessed the Dungeons, and made life better for everyone.

“So, why’d you ignore me?”

Anam stared, dumbfounded, as the wind blew a few loose end-of-autumn leaves against his gooey skin.

“Ignore you?” he said. “I… I thought… you’d be fine. You were the king, you…”

“I lost everything,” Jerry said. “When you took away Dad’s power, that… Everything spiraled out. I don’t even know how he lost it all, or if some other leadership took it from him. But we were… stuck in a little house after that, barely a coin to our name some days. Mom was sick ‘n Dad just got worse. And me?” Jerry breathed. “I could’ve had a brother, but that never worked out either. Nothing… in my life… went well after you took away our darkness. Everything was fine… before you took away what had.”

Near the end, the Aerodactyl’s voice trembled and broke, but he didn’t cry. Anam wanted to, though. He trembled and said, “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t know… I thought if I took away your Shadows… he’d just be better. Diyem sensed so much evil in him… that maybe if I…”

“It wasn’t Shadows,” Jerry said. “Dad was just awful. He could harness Shadows, but that’s just power. If you can control it, it doesn’t matter. You saw Spice. She’s just fine.”

“Spice had light, too,” Anam said, “but…”

“But we didn’t,” Jerry said, “and I was just fine. I didn’t change for the better when you ripped that out of my soul, or whatever you did.”

The Goodra had no idea how to reply. He did the right thing, right? Shadows corrupted people. Diyem knew that. But… Jerry didn’t seem that different. And he knew he’d sealed those Shadows completely.

Was Jerry still corrupted by it? No… That couldn’t be it, right?

“You just don’t… get it, do you?” Jerry said.

“Pokémon aren’t… bad. Shadows can make them bad. It can cloud how they see things and make them do bad things, but—”

“You literally had the embodiment of evil in you,” Jerry said, “telling you, in your head, who was evil and who wasn’t. Right?”

“No!” Anam said. “He didn’t say that! He told me the negative things people felt! Not that they were negative! People aren’t evil like that! They—”

“They are, Anam,” Jerry spat. “Some Pokémon are evil.”

“N-no!” Anam said. “They just… do evil things, because they’re afraid, or hurt! Even if they don’t think it, that’s why!”

“And why does that matter?” Jerry snapped, standing up to face Anam, who shrank into himself, neck sinking into his shoulders. “Why’s it matter if someone was sad and afraid? They still made the world worse! Hardship happens to everyone, but y’know what, it’s how you react that matters. Not everyone who’s vulnerable lashes out and claws everyone down. Not everyone who wants to be strong abuses their strength like my father did.”

“But they… just didn’t know any better,” Anam said. “If… if we could show them how to be better—like—like you when you were arrested and became a Broken Heart—”

“Some people don’t want to do better.” Jerry leaned forward. Anam sank even more into his shoulders. “I wanted a good life. I felt bad for what I did to survive. But not everyone feels bad, buddy. You should listen when Diyem says that because I know he did. That’s how the world works. Some. People. Don’t. Care.”

The words echoed in Anam’s head. Over and over, he thought about what that meant. Some just didn’t care. All the people who were in pain, they all seemed guilty of it. But…

“Come on,” Jerry said, his tone softening. “Can’t you think about anyone that Diyem didn’t catch as evil, still doing evil things? Can Diyem feel indifference?”

“I… I mean…” Anam sniffled but then choked in a gasp.

There was one person in recent memory who did. Sure, there were a few times when the cruel actions of some people were not caught by Diyem. But those were for small, petty things. Anam assumed Diyem never bothered to talk about it.

But there was one person. A single person who had done so much evil and yet had not a negative thought about it.

“Nevren,” Anam said quietly. “Diyem… never sensed negative emotions from him. Not major ones. He didn’t like my hugs… but a lot of people didn’t. But even then… there wasn’t anything negative from him. But he was still the one who…”

“Right.” Jerry nodded, looking more thoughtful this time. “So, I guess you do have a real example.”

Anam nodded weakly, playing with his grabbers again. What was he supposed to do about this, though? If he couldn’t sense negativity and still got caught off guard with that…

“I…” Anam squeezed his eyes shut. “I don’t know what to do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jerry said.

Anam opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t find it in him to say it. To say what he was thinking. Would anyone else hear him? Or…

“Spit it out,” Jerry demanded.

“I can’t be the leader,” Anam blurted, shaking. It was out there. He said it to Jerry, who already hated his leadership. This was just going to make him angrier.

“You can’t?” Jerry repeated.

Anam was surprised at the lack of yelling or berating or… anything. He dared to open his eyes.

Jerry had a look of bewilderment. His wings had outstretched a little. The Aerodactyl folded them back down.

“Why?” Jerry asked.

“I… I don’t have Diyem anymore. Everyone knows the secret now. I’ll… I’ll be misled. I’ll do something bad… or they’ll control me… and… and I don’t know how to lead!! I n-never… I was n-never good at it. Diyem told me how… he told me everything… I’m…”

Anam blubbered into his grabbers, sniffling and rubbing his eyes. He went on for a while, seconds passing agonizingly. His mind raced through all the times he’d reversed negative feelings by how Diyem informed him of it all. He knew exactly where to go because Diyem told him.

Now he had none of that. He had nothing. He was… nothing.

“Tch…” Jerry sighed and turned his head away. “…You’re right,” he said. “You don’t have that anymore. You never had smarts for being at the top.”

It hurt to hear… but Jerry wasn’t yelling at him. That was nice. He was expecting so much worse. And Anam said it himself, right? He wasn’t supposed to be a leader. It was all Diyem. It was all off the valor of his mother and father. He wasn’t… right in the head to be a grand leader. He was naïve and just wanted to see the good in everyone. And where did it get him?

And he knew that. He knew that for a long time. He simply refused to believe it’d collapse around him. For a while… for five hundred years, it didn’t. Until the person protecting him from it, Nevren, and the one guiding him forward, Diyem, left.

Now he was nothing.

The wind blew again. It was so cold that Anam half-feared the slime on his body would snap frozen. The heart-shaped building of HQ darkened with the last of twilight over the caldera casting a long shadow over all of town.

“But they still need you,” Jerry said

“Huh?”

The Aerodactyl rubbed the top of his snout. Perhaps it pained him to say anything to Anam? But he forced it through his teeth, continuing, “You did a lot of good. And you were the one with the final say. You listened to your… advisors. Took everything into account. And your direction was always helping others.

“And… people like you.” Jerry’s shoulders sank. “Yeah. Fine. I fell through the cracks. But they were small cracks. And if I’m hearin’ you say… you aren’t a good leader… That you aren’t fit… I’m satisfied.”

Anam sniffled, rubbing his eyes. He was calming down now, but he didn’t know what Jerry was talking about. Why was saying these things making him feel better?

“What do I do?” Anam asked.

“You’re asking me?”

Anam nodded earnestly. “Your dad… was the Southern King. So, you were the Prince. What would—”

“I’m not using him as an example,” Jerry cut Anam off. “Not gonna refer to him for anything good. But… Look. If you aren’t gonna be the main leader, you do need to be in the public eye, putting on a good face, and making sure people don’t lose hope. People look up to you. They adore you. So… don’t be afraid of what people think of you.

“Just be you. Find a position where you can. And, I dunno. Find a leader to take your place.”

“Find… a position… and a leader…”

Tiredly, Jerry stood up and spread his wings. “I’m gonna go,” he said. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“O-okay.”

Jerry stared at him for a few more seconds. Anam wondered what he was thinking. Was he going to say anything?

But then, Jerry took off, leaving Anam by the stairs of Heart HQ.

You are strong, Anam, a voice called from within. His father, James. Anam could always feel his presence, even if he was always a quiet observer. I will help you. We all will. Ask your mother what to do.

She will understand. She’d never be upset at you, Anam.


James had changed so much when he’d been taken by Diyem. Anam could hardly call him ‘Dad’ anymore. Yet… some of that old self remained. He had his family back. And maybe soon, when the Voidlands was freed, he’d awaken his old friends from long ago, too.

He never gave up that hope.

“Thank you,” Anam whispered.

The night was a little less cold. Anam took the time to rest against the stairs until the teams of Destiny Tower and the Voidlands returned for their report.

<><><>​

In one of the many patches of gnarled, blackened trees in the Voidlands, a cyclone swirled, ripping trees from their roots and adding them to the maelstrom of destruction.

“I can’t blast through!” Reshiram shouted. “Ugh, where’s our backup?!”

“Arceus called fer a meetin’,” Marshadow said with a smirk. “Heh. Gotta take this one on a little short on numbers.”

A black-red beam of energy caved into the cyclone, leaving a brief gap. Reshiram shot blue flames through it before the gap closed again. Marshadow wasn’t sure if it connected with anything. Probably didn’t matter yet. They needed a shot at the Titan’s Core anyway…

“Try again! That was a good one!” Marshadow said.

“Watch out!” Yveltal shouted back.

“Whoa!” Marshadow clutched at Reshiram’s fur as he and Yveltal flew back to avoid the cyclone lunging at them. They flew in a wide circle before composing themselves.

“Three is way too small for this,” muttered Reshiram.

“Hold your focus,” Yveltal advised. “Ready…”

Reshiram took a deep breath. Spirits within Marshadow bubbled, ready to power him for a finishing blow with Mystic power.

“GO!” Marshadow commanded.

Another beam from the death bird came first, carving a fissure in the cyclone. Reshiram’s flue flames widened it. This time, the hole was large. Brief as it was, they only needed that. Arcs of electricity connected some of the trees in the cyclone but Marshadow took the risk.

Get ready! Marshadow called inward.

Always are! called one voice.

Marshadow kicked off Reshiram’s chest and jettisoned through the gap in the cyclone. A few sparks of lightning nearly struck Marshadow only to be blocked by spirits forming around him in clouds. First was Cacturne Doll’s arm, then Chesnaught Verd’s shell. Then, Samurott Elbee burst from the right and cleaved an incoming tree in half, splitting it around Marshadow. Infernape Roh burned another incoming wave to keep the gaps wide.

And up ahead, the Titan—a bipedal monster with a bulky tail—loomed over them.

“The Core’s there!” announced Feraligatr Azu, who shrank away with the other spirits.

A dark, pulsing sphere near the center of the Titan’s chest—still burned from one of Reshiram’s precise strikes—was exposed beyond the amalgamated Void Shadows.

Drampa Yen formed beneath Marshadow as a free platform. Marshadow landed with a smirk, then kicked one last time. Yen disappeared, his ember trailing over Marshadow’s shoulders.

“Let’s give this a try!”

Marshadow brought a fist back. All the spirits, as embers, emerged over his shoulder and formed a giant, ethereal fist. Their blurry forms vaguely locked hands, paws, and limbs to form one cohesive group, operating as one.

“Superhuman Punch!”

The Titan roared but was too slow to stop him. The fist slammed into the Core, leaving a shockwave that dispelled the cyclone and stripped the Titan of all its Void Shadows in a single Radiant blast. The shell of the Core broke apart, revealing black scales and electric sparks within.

With his ethereal hand projection, Manny reached for the slumbering dragon and grasped at her. He hurled Zekrom at Reshiram and Yveltal before withdrawing the fist and materializing Yen for a proper flight.

“Hah! That was the best punch yet, eh?!” Marshadow shouted.

“Quite a name for it, Manny,” Yen hummed with an entertained lilt in his voice. “I’ll say you spent… two days coming up with it?”

“Aw, c’mon,” Marshadow said, waving it off. “Felt appropriate.”

Yen sighed. “It’s nostalgic,” he admitted. “I did miss being able to fight alongside you like this…”

“Heh…” He shook his head. “C’mon. Let’s get back ter Null Village.”

<><><>​

“Victory!” Aster held up the burning, unconscious form of Hoopa in his massive, unbound form in the middle of the town square. Various onlookers glanced out of buildings with nervous but unalarmed stares. At this point, hauling in a beaten and battered Legendary Pokémon had become somewhat of a regular occurrence for the civilians.

In Null Village’s eternal twilight, things seemed a little brighter. It wasn’t the same as when the Tree had been there to blow a hole in the sky, but it was better with so many protectors coming in to visit again.

“…He went a bit overkill,” Leph said with a sigh. The young Arceus levitated Hoopa off and placed him down on the ground. She gently patted Aster on the back with the side of her hoof.

Just behind her was a creature that Manny didn’t recognize at first. It reminded him vaguely of Arceus… if Arceus was made of a mishmash of body parts.

“Eh, hang on, I think I recognize ya,” Manny said.

“I’m Lavender!” the Silvally greeted. “I sneaked onto their team when they weren’t looking!”

“He Teleported after us with one of his spirits,” Leph translated. “You can’t sneak up on us that easily. And we were short on Titan hunting anyway.”

“I’m glad you were able to work up the courage to return here,” Yen said, drifting to the ground. He offered apologetic nods to the civilians who were eventually returning to their daily lives. “The help is appreciated. A lot.”

“Yeah…” Leph sighed. “We took some time to heal in Destiny Tower. Mentally and physically. But sitting around left me… restless.”

“How’s that been, anyway?” Manny asked, hands on his hips. “Bein’ with your pops again.”

“He’s not my father,” Leph said. “We’re the same species, sure, but I was not born from him. He took me in, though. And I suppose he was kind for a time. But that’s long past.”

Aster shifted uncomfortably. “I liked being with Mom,” he mumbled.

Marshadow shrugged. “Aah, it ain’t a huge deal,” he said. “Just glad yer findin’ yer place is all. C’mon, let’s head back ‘n see how—”

With no warning, Leph shot a Judgment javelin into a side alley. The red dust kicked into the air.

“Yipes!” Manny hopped onto Yen’s back on reflex. “Leph! What the—”

“Someone was spying on us.”

“This is a civilian area, buddy!” Manny hopped off Yen and sprinted to the alleyway. But there was nobody there… Did Leph’s Judgment incinerate them completely? No, couldn’t be that easy.

Manny paused, checking the ground. The dust was disturbed, but just a little away from the blast site, he saw footprints. It was easy to tell the species.

Manny stepped away and spoke to Leph, “D’you sense anyone now?”

“No. I think they ran off. But I sensed… power behind it, and it wasn’t familiar to me. I didn’t like it.”

“Probably nothin’,” Manny said aloud. Then, once he was closer, he said in a lower voice, “Actually,” he said, “you did almost hit someone. But y’missed… er they dodged. It was an Alakazam.” He rolled his shoulders thoughtfully. “So, Nevren. Figured he was hidin’ somewhere here, but wonder why he’s spyin’ on us…?”

“That guy…” Reshiram folded his wings down. “Makes my fuzz ruffle, if you ask me. Palkia’s a little weird, but Nevren? Guy was the main driver of the mutant army. I should’ve interfered with that more…”

“Hindsight, bud,” Manny said. “You had places ter protect. Mm, speakin’ o’ which…”

“Yeah, trying to get Poké Balls from that abandoned factory isn’t easy now with the Dungeon incidents happening on the Lightlands.”

“…Li—”

“Don’t deny it sounds cool.”

Manny shrugged. No argument there.

“I think it’s cool!” Lavender agreed.

“Yeah, yeah, anyway,” Manny said, “we gotta go and haul these two back home. Let’s get some light crystals on ‘em and take ‘em to their other half ter sort out.”

“Um. Who are their other halves?” Aster asked.

“No clue. Gonna ask around.” Manny brought his hands behind his head. “Alright, folks! Dungeon rift time!”

And after maybe a day or two of wandering, they’d find the way back to the new… landscape of the surface.

<><><>​

“How about… Spice Amnet?”

“One name, I think,” Star said.

“Maybe… something new? I always wondered what it’d be like to be called Penny.”

“Alright, Penny. You like that?”

“Ehh… maybe not. Sounds like a name Manny would come up with.”

The ghostly Zoroark kicked at a stray rock near the edge of Waypoint Road. Twilight sunsets appeared on various parts of the caldera’s edge, distorted by the Dungeons that turned the skies into a glimmering kaleidoscope.

Aside from Arceus, who elected to stay behind in Destiny Tower to recover under the supervision of Dialga, the gang followed Zoroark back to Kilo Village. She was a little nervous about leaving those two alone, but they’d made sure they were safe—and that Ghrelle wasn’t nearby. Demitri looked the most tired, already half-dozed off on Mispy’s back, while Gahi was occasionally leaving through random side roads because everyone else was walking too slowly. Diyem was also atop Mispy’s back, looking thoughtful about something else.

This evening, it was snowing. Already, a thin layer of white covered Kilo Village, and the ground, very cold from rain just in the afternoon, was dark beneath that white layer. Light snowfall covered everyone’s bodies, though some of them had made a detour for Xerneas’ Waypoint in Yotta Outskirts, which had also been restored. Based on the bulletin board near the center of Waypoint Road, most key population centers linked to Kilo Village had their main streets restored.

“You’re going to have a hard time getting a name that puts together all four of your identities,” Star said. “Like, eventually you just want to move on to something else, right?”

“Yeah, maybe, but… I still feel like all of them,” Zoroark said. “It needs to be… all of them in the same way. That’s what I think.”

Hecto had split apart into his different components and scattered, leaving only a single canine Zygarde behind. They’d had an ultimate game of rock paper scissors and kept choosing the same values for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Zoroark wasn’t sure how a winner eventually came out.

“Perhaps,” the victorious Hecto said, “you should take the first letter of each name and make a new name out of that.”

“First letter, huh? Okay. Spice, Amelia, Enet, Remi. Hmmm…”

Normally her tail would have been flicking, as Spice. She missed that. Maybe she could find a way to get one later.

“Oh!” Zoroark nodded. “It’s perfect! Sera!”

“Hey, a normal-sounding name!” Star hopped into Zoroark Sera’s mane. “You sure you want that?”

“Yeah, that fits perfectly. I might’ve even found an accidental meaning behind it!” She nodded. “Maybe. I could just be grasping. It just sounds nice. All right!” She patted her chest. “From here on, my name is Sera. Feels like all the me’s that I used to be agree.”

“Hey, congratulations, I think,” Star said with a nervous smile. “Anyway, uh, I guess… maybe tomorrow, you can talk with Spice’s folks? Since Enet’s fine… and Amelia’s fine… and Remi, uhhh…”

“Yeah, tomorrow,” Sera said. “I’m a little tired.”

Diyem, hanging in the back, grunted and gave her a skeptical look. “This is you being a little tired?”

Sera tittered and shrugged.

Plap plap…

Sera’s ear twitched. “Huh?” She could smell Pecha berries. “Anam’s still awake. You’d think he’d be exhausted from restoring this place…”

“Hi!” Anam called from the southern part of the crossroads. “Everything’s fine here. I don’t want to be leader anymore!”

Sera blinked several times. Did she hear that right? Sounded too cheerful. “Sorry, I kinda had three partial souls mashed together a few kilos ago, say that again?”

“How come, big guy?” Star asked. “And why are you… happy about it?”

“I wanna be the Big Heart Ambassador instead!”

The wind blew. Distantly, Nate stirred as he prepared to guard the skies once more for nighttime and to search for the wandering sources of darkness that they couldn’t quite get rid of—Lugia, and, presumably, Necrozma.

“Alright,” Star said even slower. “Why…?”

Mispy frowned and tilted her head as well. Sera wondered if she could sense any turmoil in Anam’s aura. Wait, couldn’t she do that, too?

Sera focused. Guardian powers, Guardian powers, Enet knew how to do that a little, but there was more nuance to it she could tap into now… There! Yes. She could feel Anam’s aura! And it felt… tranquil? No, not quite. The feeling Sera felt in her heart… relief. Anam was feeling relieved.

And so, Sera tilted her head in the same way Mispy had.

“Hm.” Diyem sighed, stepping forward. “I believe I understand what Anam is saying. Without me, he can no longer safely determine the darkness in the hearts of those who join the Thousand. In other words… what made him such a good leader, leading such a good organization, is no longer with him.”

Anam fidgeted, trying to smile, but eventually, his shoulders slumped. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s why. And… I want to still be good for others and help as much as I can. But I can’t do the… leader stuff anymore.”

“That’s very insightful of you,” Diyem stated. “How did this come about?”

“What, you can’t believe he’d do it himself?” Sera asked.

“Not really.”

“Jerry did!” Anam said with a grin. “He was super supportive and nice. When I told him I was scared, he helped me through it!”

Gahi was suddenly looking skyward as if distracted by something.

Sera followed his eyes but it was just more kaleidoscope sunsets.

“Good for him,” Diyem said idly, walking down the road. “In any case, I’m going to bed. Do not wake me. Tomorrow is going to be a big day of strategizing.”

“Huh? How come?” Anam asked.

“Fourth,” Mispy said. “We… found it.”

Anam gasped. “You mean… the last part of Mi—of Diyem?”

Demitri nodded. “It was Ghrelle all along—the Poison Guardian!”

“The creepy one who sings with her melted soul minions or something,” Sera explained.

“Yes. And now that we know where my four remaining fragments are,” Diyem said, “we can start a more concrete plan on how to take them down. Be ready.”

Without another word, he started down the road for his temporary housing.

“Oh, Diyem!” Anam called, taking three whole paces to catch up to the Charmander. “You don’t have to stay in that place anymore! I made a room for you in mine!”

Diyem paused, stiffened, and then deflated with a resigned sigh. He gestured for Anam to lead the way. Happily, the Goodra picked Diyem up and ran down the road.

“…They’re an odd couple,” Demitri commented.

“I’ve seen weirder,” Sera said. She stretched and let out a big sigh. “Alright. See you guys tomorrow. I’m going to go… uh… Hm. I think I’m just going to sleep out in the woods tonight until I figure out where I’m supposed to live now.”

“Why not Hot Spot?” offered Demitri.

“Oh, hey, that’s an idea,” Sera agreed. “Sure. Thanks.”

But just as she was about to head to the Hot Spot waypoint, Gahi Teleported next to Anam. Her ears twitched as she overheard the conversation.

“Hey,” Gahi said, “quick question.”

“Uh?”

“How’s Jerry doin’?”

“Oh, he’s fine! He’s been really helpful lately… I’m glad he could forgive me for what happened before. I, um, I think. I still need to make it up to him somehow…”

Gahi nodded. “Yeah, alright,” he said. “Thanks, jus’ askin’.”

Anam tilted his head. “How come?”

Gahi shrugged. “One o’ my spirits was curious, is all.”

After some quick idle talk, they parted ways again. Shrugging a little, Sera continued to Hot Spot, thinking nothing of it.

Once she was halfway to Hot Spot, Sera realized why he’d asked.

<><><>​

“Thank you. It looks right this time,” Qitlan said with a coldness behind his voice.

“S-sorry!”

A Dragapult and two Dreepy were assisting with meal prep for Alexander’s recovery. And they’d gotten it wrong again. Alexander preferred a stew that was thicker and meatier. At least that was easy to fix.

Pots and pans clattered in the distance as the dining hall got to work with their meal preparations. Even without Alexander to attend, Cipher Castle’s operations functioned as normal. Alexander made it that way on purpose, making sure that even in his absence, it would keep pushing along. He was the perfect ruler. He did not need to rule with an iron fist. He simply designed everything to run as it should.

Then he could get what he wanted. Always.

The least Qitlan could do in response, now that he had recovered, was pay Alexander back. With everything.

Everything started with a good and proper meal.

“H-how about now?” Dragapult asked. Two Dreepy held up a sampling bowl for Qitlan to taste.

Thick. Creamy consistency. And heaps of extra meat. He caught a hint of garlic, a favorite of Alexander’s.

“We’ll need five portions exactly like this,” Qitlan said with a nod. “Very good. I’m going to inform him of his meal being prepared. How long must he wait?”

“Only—only ten… no, fifteen minutes to make sure the rest of the meat tenderizes properly!”

“Good. But give it extra time anyway. Make sure it would melt the moment he bites down.”

“M-melts? That could take… a whole half an hour!”

“I’ll allow it.” And without a word, the Inteleon turned around and walked down the halls of the kitchen, past the pacing chefs, and into the dining hall where many of the residential staff were enjoying their meals. Qitlan refused to eat before Alexander.

He passed down the halls lined with royal carpets and vases filled with candy. They weren’t eaten as often anymore except by staff, but that was fine. Alexander didn’t care, so he didn’t care.

The larger-than-life doors to Alexander’s chambers greeted him. He knocked twice in a particular rhythm.

“Enter.”

Qitlan’s heart fluttered as it always did and he pushed the doors open.

Alexander lay in a bed five times his size covered in warmed blankets and pillows for all three of his heads. Most were behind him while two small clusters were by his side to lay his smaller jaws. His injuries had healed but the fatigue of his spirit remained. Thankfully, based on what their scouts had stated, the opposition was also recovering from their chaos. That left Alexander with ample time to recover and be stronger than ever.

The scouts had given him even more information and findings about some of the methods the Hands of Creation had allowed. And, by that same logic, the opposing Shadowy power that permeated the Voidlands would be capable of the same.

All he had to do was convince Alexander to do it.

After he got a few other things taken care of, at least.

“Qitlan,” Alexander greeted, looking at him with a grunt. “Is dinner prepared?”

“I made sure they have it prepared exactly as you like it. They will not rush.”

“Mmf. Then another half hour?”

“Yes. However, that makes for a good opportunity to talk.”

“Talk?” Alexander’s three heads all frowned, looking equal parts tired and confused.

“I assure you,” Qitlan said, “this is all positive.”

To that, Alexander relaxed against his pillows again. Qitlan gently moved the blankets over his chest and Alexander relaxed more.

“…May I speak of something personal?”

The tiredness had faded completely, now. Alexander looked curious. “You may.”

Qitlan nodded and clasped his hands together on his thighs, sitting at Alexander’s bedside. “…The blight on the Voidlands, Owen, can create Gone Pebbles. We know this. We planned to use it for the motivation of the troops, but his ability to make them was demonstrated. He offered one to me.”

Alexander’s eyes narrowed, thoughtful. “In exchange?”

“I don’t know what the exchange was. I don’t think he had one in mind. He thought that it would remind me of some sort of memory I’d left behind, perhaps. A reason to turn against you. But he was wrong.” Qitlan deflated. “It was a memory of when I was at my most desperate. When I’d found you.”

“I can barely remember that,” Alexander stated flatly. “I remember something about you impressed me.”

“I’d infiltrated your camp and stole from your supplies,” Qitlan said. His voice was a little quieter. “I’d been removed from my home… and had no choice but to scavenge and steal. And I was very good at it until I’d been caught by you. But you saw my strength… and took me in.

“The Voidlands took that memory from me but not my feelings, Alexander. I still owe everything to you. My life, my strength, my soul, my body… are all yours.”

“Hmph.” Alexander smirked. “I know power when I see it. I made nothing but good choices when keeping you by my side.”

“…And there is… one last thing,” Qitlan said, “from the scouting. And it is… related. We have discovered how the much weaker individuals on Kilo’s side have become as strong as they have. It is not just blessings from the gods.”

“Oh? What more is there?” Alexander squeezed the blankets and rolled a little so his scales brushed against Qitlan’s thigh.

He suppressed a shiver and his heart skipped a beat. “Yes,” he replied. “When you run out of strength that your spirit is capable of manifesting… they found a new source. More spirits, channeling their power through a host all at once. It seems they must be willing for it to work, and often unified behind a driving spirit, like a leader.”

“We’ve tried that before. Those failures are in the Void chambers,” Alexander said. “But, a unified leader…”

“Exactly,” said Qitlan. “Before, we only turned dissenters into mindless Void Shadows as servants. But in that state, they are weak, barely a will to call their own. It seems if we want to be truly powerful… we must have a leader spirit to rally them from within.

“Of course, you never thought to dispose of your truly powerful guards… but you must. You must gather your most loyal, those who believe in the greatness of Cipher City… and take them to lead everyone else.

“With that together… perhaps… you will find your true strength.”

“Even as King,” Alexander said, “I don’t know about that. Willing? I’m not blind to their fear. If I already claim them and they have nothing left to fear, how can I get their power in lock-step with mine?”

“You only need one,” Qitlan said. “One lead spirit to mold the rest. To rally them for a cause, directly, within your realm.” Slowly, Qitlan brought his hand to Alexander’s arm. “…You know I am your most loyal and always have been. You never once had to tie my spirit to your powers.

“But now, Alexander…”

His heart raced. Was he about to propose this? Was he afraid? No. He wasn’t afraid of what would happen. He was afraid that Alexander would deny it.

“You must take me.”

And for a moment, Alexander seemed genuinely unsure. Qitlan had no idea what was going through his mind. He must have been calculating all the possible outcomes, as he always did. Weighing the benefits and risks. But Qitlan had outlined it all, and how, in the end, he would lose nothing. And would gain so much more.

“Claim your spirit,” Alexander repeated. “That’s a big sacrifice, Qitlan.”

“And yet it is… what I have always wanted. With those traitorous others out of the way, I must make my move. I—” Qitlan stumbled. Had he said that out loud? “I… want this.”

Alexander looked puzzled. What was there not to understand?

“But,” Qitlan went on, “I only have… one request before we do. I want you to follow your instincts when you take my soul. And I will be loyal to you forever. To commemorate it…”

Alexander was attentive. The most attentive he’d ever been. Having him in the room, alone, isolated, for so long, after so long…

Qitlan whispered…

<><><>​

Dragapult floated down the halls of gaudy carpet and excessive candy bowls. Her two Dreepy nestled themselves in their launchers, though they didn’t want to be out while she was about to serve Alexander’s meal. Qitlan was always so demanding about how Alexander’s meals were, but really…

She just had to draw the short stick on who served Alexander this time. When he was in a bad mood like this, sometimes people came back feeling like they’d lost part of themselves. That was like death in the Voidlands. And she had a good, long track record of being alive so far! Two hundred years! Maybe a bit longer, but it was starting to get a little fuzzy…

Whatever. Once Alexander had a proper hold of things again, maybe it would all stabilize and he’d be in a good mood again. It was a good life, she told herself. Or a good… un-life. If she was lucky, she’d start forgetting about the details of the many years rolling by and be satisfied with each day as it passed. It was a Zen way of living. She was getting there. Years were already blurring together.

The door was just in front of her. She shook her head a little and her two Dreepy sank into her shooters, hidden away. They melted into Void Shadow blobs and became inert. She didn’t like them seeing Alexander directly. Void Shadows were impressionable.

Her ectoplasmic tail crinkled. She smelled something in the air. It was the scent of when he and that poor Mhynt had to spend some extra time together. What was she—

Wait, that Treecko was gone now.

Before she could think about it more, the door slid open on its own.

“Eep—”

Alexander was floating on the other side, dripping with blood from his mouths and down his chest and belly. Behind him, on the bed, it was all crimson and black and… and was that… were those… what was that? Bones?

“Thank you,” Alexander said slowly, reaching down to the plate in Dragapult’s hands. She handed it over and floated back. Everything felt cold. She was ready to phase through the wall.

“I have an assignment for you,” Alexander said.

“Y-yes?”

“Gather all staff.” He spilled the stew into his main mouth. His other heads continued to talk, their voices twisted and high-pitched compared to his main head. They switched who talked and who held the bowl.

“And tell them to meet in the assembly.

“For an emergency meeting.”

He placed the empty bowl on Dragapult’s head and floated past her.

When she finally dared to turn around, she saw a specter on Alexander’s back. A shadowy haze of Qitlan draped over his shoulders, possessively wrapping its tail around Alexander’s, looking like the happiest phantom in the world.
 
Chapter 168 - Rally and Recover

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. flygon
  2. charizard
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. sceptile
  6. marowak
  7. jirachi
  8. meganium
Chapter 168 – Rally and Recover

Claws of Shadow and Radiance slammed into Owen’s ethereal shields.

The shockwaves left craters in the field. Sparks trailed through the dirt and singed the grass, darkening them with a strange blight or leaving them glowing with energy.

The flame of Hardscale’s tail had taken on a similar glow. His eyes had a hint of frenzy that Mega Evolution always had, but with Red behind him, standing firm, Owen sensed the way their spirits were entwined. Hardscale was in perfect control of himself. The instability of Radiance and the spirit-plunging corrosion of Shadow were kept in check.

Red shouted and swept his arm forward. Hardscale roared and blew a jet of flames, spiraling with black and white embers, toward Owen’s shield. He grasped it, claimed it as his own, let it snake around his shoulders, and shot it back.

Hardscale responded by shielding it with his wings and then spreading them out. The windblast forced Owen back a few feet, claws leaving ridges in the dirt.

The battle had a moment of silence. Mutually, they understood they’d done enough. Red tipped his hat forward in acknowledgment.

“I think,” Owen said, “that… will do. Good job, Hardscale.”

Light pulsed around his brother, his body returning to normal.

“It’s so powerful,” he said. “But… but I can control it now. Better than before…”

Owen grinned. “Well, that was a few weeks ago,” he said. “You only hurt me a few times. I’ve had worse.”

Blue’s Pidgeot cawed and spiraled onto Zena, who parried the attack with an Aqua Tail. She struggled a lot more against her foe without Owen’s ability to grasp and reflect attacks but she held her own enough. Mu, standing behind Blue, pumped her little fists in the air, cheering Zena on.

“Looks like your rival’s doing well, too,” Owen said. “I think… I think we’re done here.”

“You’re going to another region now?” asked Hardscale.

Owen nodded. “I already said goodbye to Duos. He doesn’t want to get involved in all this and I don’t blame him. He deserves a quiet life now. Same for all the others… Blue sent word to them. And I wrote to them. Maybe when this all settles down, I can… try seeing them. But I guess what we have to do back home caught up with us.”

“Home?” Hardscale asked. “I thought here was home.”

Owen opened his mouth, pausing. Then he smiled and looked down. “Yeah,” he lied.

Too much had changed. But… he understood where Hardscale was coming from.

“You’ve been on a lot of adventures even to other regions with Redcap, haven’t you?” Owen asked Hardscale. “But here is still home?”

“Yeah! Because that’s where I came from.” Hardscale faced south where the lab was one town over. “It’s important. Now more than ever, since Mom’s gone…”

A little tightness in his chest reminded Owen that he still needed to heal from that. Perhaps he’d never fully heal. But maybe… she was resting now. He didn’t know how it worked in this world. But surely, she was.

“It’ll always be a home to me,” Owen agreed.

“What are you gonna do in Alola?” Hardscale asked.

“Well… I was going to stop by for a way to get home. But now that Dungeons are appearing, we already have a way. Now, I want to go there to give information I know and maybe find ways to get information to help us too. Then… We’re going to take a flight to Orre.”

“Huh? How come? Isn’t that… where you disappeared?”

A while ago, Owen had filled Harscale in on some of the details.

“Yeah. But I know that Shadow incidents happened there,” he explained. “They might have a way to help us against our own Shadow problem.”

“Ohh!” Hardscale nodded. “Now I get it.”

He didn’t, and Owen knew it. But that was fine.

“…Goodbye, Hardscale. I’m glad you found such a strong human.”

Hardscale smiled. But that finality dimmed his flame.

Blue clapped his hands. “Well,” he said. “You ready to go? That flight’s waiting. Good timing, eh? Guess we trained a little extra with the spare days, but…”

“Yeah.” Owen nodded. “Red, Blue, make sure you take care of any Dungeons that appear in this area. Pass on that power to others if you can with those extra stones I blessed. Only people you can trust, okay?”

“You got it. We know how dangerous this stuff can be.” Blue nodded, as did Red. “You’ve got the eyes of a lot of big names on this. They’ll help.”

A Charmander abruptly appeared atop Owen’s head, plopping between his horns. “Daddy!” Mu said, flopping down so her face rested between his eyes. “I’m bored!”

“But you were watching Mom fight!” Owen said, grabbing Mu with one arm. She giggled and wrapped her tail around his wrist, the flame simultaneously hot and cold as it glowed black and white.

“Perhaps she wants to fight, too,” Zena commented with an encouraging smile. “You’re still very young for that, Mu. Maybe later.”

“Aww…” Mu flailed in Owen’s hold.

It was concerning how quickly Mu was growing up, but at least it meant dealing with her early stages of life wouldn’t be as tumultuous. If she was anything like his siblings growing up, that would’ve been a real handful.

“Let’s get ready,” Owen said after Red handed them their Poké Balls.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Kanto. Owen wondered if this time would truly be the last…

He thought of his father. How much longer would he live? Could he go back to see him again?

No… No. They’d already said goodbye, and he was ready. Daichi was satisfied. To return now… He’d only be chastised for wasting time.

It was time to move forward. Just as Red and Blue now had to pass on their training and blessings to save this world, Owen had to get back to work on saving his new home.

And so, they moved on.

<><><>​

Trina’s army had been whittled down to a squadron after all that had transpired, but those who remained were training to become her elites. And at the top was, of course, the only quartet of Eon’s old army, aside from the originals. The improved Team Alloy… the clones made to replace Eon’s lost companions. A cruel existence.

At least they were more at peace now.

In Yotta Outskirts, where the fields were regrowing wheat after fires and mutant clashes had ruined them, Trina surveyed her remaining squadron of thirty. Their tendency to stick together meant that no set was without a unit, so their fusions were not disrupted. But there was a loneliness in the air regardless, so many others lost to the Void or their natural madness.

“I’m glad to still have you here,” she addressed them. “I promise, when this is over, we will gather every one of our friends and save them.”

Har crossed his arms nervously. “I’m really glad you’re back, Queen Trina,” he said, “but… a lot’s changed since you were here last. Is it alright if I asked a few… questions?”

“Ask as many as you like. I’m… sorry I’ve been gone for so long.”

“Only been a few days,” Ax said, playing with his tusks. “It’s just a lot happened during those few days.”

Har breathed a sigh. “The mutants who aren’t… with us anymore. Do you know what happened to all of them?”

The Serperior’s coils tightened. “Some died and went to the Voidlands. They… may not be themselves or remember anything of their lives. But we can reverse that when we defeat Dark Matter. They can be at peace afterward. Others got lost and they are in the lab they’d been created in—Quartz HQ. Palkia is spearheading an effort of repurposing some of it and mutants there are helping after… Emily ruined a lot of it. Eon is also helping to stabilize them… The ones that survived should be in good hands by now.”

“So… none are wandering around berserk anymore?” Har clarified.

“I don’t… I don’t know for sure. I don’t know if the ones still missing are wandering or dead. I’m sorry.”

At that, the other mutants shifted uncomfortably and nodded in understanding. Despite everything—despite how Trina herself felt about it—she didn’t sense animosity from them. They didn’t blame her.

It nagged at her.

“It’s my fault,” she said quietly.

“Nope. Nu-uh. We’re not having that,” Lygo said firmly. “Without you, we’d’ve been way worse off. Yeah, for the ones who went crazy, it was delaying the inevitable. Fine. But delaying is better than it happening immediately.

“You still saved us.”

“Don’t say it’s your fault,” Ami went on. The mutant Meganium’s vines curled inward. “The person who really should be blamed is Eon. Not you. You saved us.”

In a pocket of silence, she knew they were right. But still, she could not shake the feeling of guilt.

Suddenly, the squadron’s eyes turned to something behind Trina. Moments later, a gust of wind alerted her to Gahi’s arrival.

“Oi, Trina,” he said.

“Oh! Gahi.” Trina twisted her coils until she was facing him, shifting unconsciously. “Hello.”

Gahi held a small package forward. It smelled like meat and spices. “Got y’lunch.”

“Oh. I didn’t… realize I hadn’t eaten lunch. And I don’t… need to, but…” She hooked her vine beneath the paper package’s handle. “Thank you.”

“Ehh, y’had a rough one, figured you’d like somethin’.” Gahi glanced at the squadron. “Oh, hey.”

“Hi?” Har squinted. “…Where’s the rest of your team?”

“Owen’s on vacation,” Gahi said.

Ax squinted. “…Vacation?”

“Uh, he got shot inter Kanto.”

“Where’s Kanto?” Ax asked.

Gahi shrugged. “One universe away? He’ll be back.”

“Y-you don’t just… get shot into another universe!” Lygo said as the others in the squadron murmured in alarm.

“Is he okay?” Har asked.

“Arceus said he was. I figure he’s right. I mean, that was befer we beat ‘im up fer goin’ crazy, but like, Dialga said he was normal.” Gahi picked at a few loose scales on his cheek.

Ani groaned, rubbing her forehead with a vine. “Your answers are raising more questions… We should quit before it gets worse.

“Get used to it,” Har mumbled, sighing. “I think that’s just how they operate now. Glad I’m away from that…”

“When’re you gonna be done with this?” Gahi asked Trina.

“Er, Gahi, I’ll… be done soon. I was just getting a rallying… conference.”

By now, the mutants were murmuring to one another, eyeing Gahi and Trina curiously. Ani’s brow was furrowed, inspecting the two of them.

“I think we’re finished,” Har said. “So… you know, it’s alright if we dismiss here. I can handle the rest.”

“Oh, no, we… I mean, yes, I suppose we were about done…”

Why was she getting so flustered? She sighed, calming herself. “Thank you, Har. That will be everything. Please, everyone, relax for today. We will get through drills and training for any imminent battles tomorrow. Dismissed.”

The mutants stood straight, then relaxed and dispersed. Har and his team remained, though, getting a little closer.

“Yes?” Trina asked.

“Are you two…?” Ax gestured between Gahi and Trina.

“What?” Gahi asked.

“Feels like it,” Ani said.

Har confirmed with a nod.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Trina said evasively. “…I’m… simply… thinking about things, that’s all.”

Not a thought seemed to pass through Gahi’s head.

“I got some lunch fer myself, too,” Gahi said. “I think I’m gonna eat with yeh. Make sure y’ain’t neglectin’ that.”

“She doesn’t even have to eat, does she?” Ani asked.

“Nah. Without too many spirits, that whole thing kinda falls apart er somethin’,” Gahi explained.

Har looked between them again. “Um, My Queen, could I… ask something?”

“Of course.”

“…Are you two courting?”

“Wh-what?!” Trina coiled tighter.

“Yeah,” Gahi replied.

“WHAT?” Trina, losing her composure, whirled around to face Gahi in a lunging position.

Gahi blinked several times, completely unfazed. “I mean, it’s kinda obvious.”

“Gahi, courting is—that isn’t—”

“That makes sense,” Ani said.

Ax nodded, arms crossed. Har, too, looked unsurprised.

“I have a say in this, too!” Trina said. “Gahi! You did not… ask me!”

“Oh. Is that how it works?” Gahi asked. “That part’s kinda foggy still, gonna be honest.” He scratched at the side of his head, running a hand along his left antenna next.

“Do you even know what courting is?” Trina said. “Who told you we were courting?”

“The letters in my head.”

“The—the letters. Do you mean the Unown?”

“Yeah.”

“…And they told you about courting?”

“No, jus’ that I was courting.”

“…Gahi, please ask the letters what courting is.”

Gahi stared at the sky. Trina wasn’t sure how much he relied on those ‘letters’ anymore, but… he seemed to still be his own person. Though, in some ways, she wondered how those Unown could tolerate such a curious host, so unlike the Psychic associations.

“Oh,” Gahi said. “Huh. Didn’ know that was th’ term.”

“I can’t believe we’re related,” Lygo deadpanned.

Ax patted Lygo on the back.

“So, you wanna?” Gahi offered.

“W-wanna? Do I… want… courting.” Trina took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Thought about Har’s observations.

Yes, he was right, she was comfortable around him. After all their time together surviving alone in the Voidlands, the way he understood her position as the leader of the rescued mutants, the fact that they could perfectly split dinners based on the ingredients they didn’t like…

“I like you,” Gahi said, tilting his head. “Courting is when y’figure out how much more, yeah?”

The sun was a lot hotter today.

Trina took another breath, held it, and finally relaxed her coils. She couldn’t admit it now, but she had been… considering it, too. But Gahi always seemed so aloof, so focused on other things, and there was of course the whole ongoing Shadow War happening which was a little distracting. She hadn’t gotten around to asking.

But after spending so much time leading mutants, being at the same level as one not associated with her subjects was… different. Refreshing. A little forbidden. But…

She did consider Gahi a friend. Yet, she considered many of their group friends. Something about Gahi stood out more.

Maybe it was how direct he was. So often, people were hesitant around her, afraid she might control them or impose something with her powers. Gahi never showed any of that.

And, admittedly, the way he was so unfazed about it impressed her. When she looked up at his eyes, through those red lenses… she saw, behind a casual façade, a fearful echo of hope in them.

Gahi must have lost interest in waiting for an answer because he was staring at the fields. She couldn’t get a read on him anymore. Was he nervous? Being patient? Gahi wasn’t patient. Maybe he didn’t mind. Har, Ani, and Lygo were sharing nervous, awkward glances.

“I… may I demonstrate my answer?” Trina asked.

“Eh?”

“About courting.”

“Oh. Sure.” Gahi replied, though his wings had drooped an inch. Was he trying to play casual, and now he was interpreting that as rejection?

Well, she couldn’t allow that.

Trina slithered forward and raised herself to his height. She leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek, holding it for a few moments. His scales were smooth. Unsurprising for their glossy, shimmering appearance in the light.

She pulled away and straightened herself again to look regal.

Gahi blinked again. “…What’s that mean?”

Lygo looked like he was about to die.

“What does that mean? Gahi, that’s a kiss! A means of affection! Between people!” Trina leaned forward. “Surely, you know what a kiss is?”

“I thought that was a mammal thing.”

“Yes, well, cultures… some means of… Gahi, how do you show affection?”

Gahi seemed to be thinking. Then, in his usual, way too fast manner, he stepped forward and bit Trina on the neck.

“OW!” Trina whirled back before the sharp pain got any worse. “Gahi! You tore my leaf!” She nursed the wound with a vine.

“Wh—that’s how Flygon do it, c’mon!” Gahi flapped his wings. “Aw, c’mon, I’ll, uh, hang on, I’ll get an Oran—”

“Wait, don’t—”

Gahi left her vision for a moment. When she blinked, he was by her side with an Oran Berry and she had no idea where or how.

“Let’s go,” Ani said, apparently seeing enough. “They can enjoy lunch.”

Trina took the Oran with a frazzled “Thank you,” as Har’s team departed.

“Geh… messed that one up,” Gahi mumbled. “…Sorry. Jus’… never did this in a while. And kinda fergot when I did… I dunno, must’ve just been lucky th’ times befer this.”

“I see.” The Serperior was calm enough that her coils left their defensive positioning. “…I’m… not familiar, either, admittedly.”

They started through the fields, looking for a relaxing patch to rest and eat. Gentle winds blew the snow over a struggling crop. While Trina was the Bug Guardian, she did have powers over Grass as well. She channeled some of her energy into the fields to help them grow through the winter. It was a natural courtesy.

“You got amnesia, too?” Gahi asked.

“No. Well… yes. I don’t know. It’s more that, it’s been a while.” Trina sighed. “I used to… I was once a spirit that served under Arceus. My life before that is foggy not from anything like divine seals or special powers, Gahi, but… time. But I was told that with my power, I had to be ready to use it to purify the minds of those who had been warped by powers against nature. When I saw the first mutants… I knew what I had to do.”

Gahi cocked his head. His antennae twitched. “Hang on,” he said. “So ol’ Barky knew there’d be mutants, ev’n back then? He got cogwheels?”

It took Trina several seconds to realize what he meant. “…Precognition. And, no, I don’t think he does.”

“Huh.” Gahi reappeared several feet ahead. “Here’s a good spot!”

By the time Trina caught up, Gahi had disappeared and reappeared with a red blanket, setting it down and plopping on the left side. Trina coiled on the right.

He’d bought a heavy, meaty meal, simmered in savory berries and drizzled with vegetables, spices, and rice. Trina wasn’t sure how well she could eat it, but it seemed tasty.

“Here,” Gahi said, offering a wooden fork.

“Oh.”

“Helps pick stuff up easier without usin’ vines and stuff.”

Trina coiled around her plate and nodded. “Thank you,” she said, looming over her meal and awkwardly holding the fork with her vine. It had been a while since she’d eaten… fancy. Was this fancy?

Gahi had ordered the same thing, but it smelled spicier.

“You can handle that?”

“Not the way Owen c’n handle spice,” Gahi replied. He took a few small nibbles, grabbing the meat with his bare hands.

“Mm.” She stabbed her fork into the meat, getting a few veggies and berries with it, and picked the whole slab of meat up, nearly as large as her head.

“You think he’s doin’ alright?” Gahi asked.

“The others seem confident, don’t they?” she asked.

Gahi tore off a tougher piece, chewing on the thought. Trina stuffed the whole slab in her mouth and pushed her coils forward on reflex, tilting her head up. It was a mix of savory and a hint of sweet and bitter to keep the flavors balanced. It was a honey glaze on this meat, fatty and filling. The most satisfying part was the residual warmth through her body.

She sighed, easing her body down. Her instinct to curl up and rest was already settling in…

“I used ter do that,” Gahi commented.

“Hm?”

Gahi leaned over and offered a piece of bread, dabbing it on her mouth, showing some grease. Trina took it, wiped her mouth, and downed the bread next.

“Eatin’ big.”

“Oh. Why don’t you anymore?”

“Mouth got smaller.”

“Oh. Trapinch.” That made sense. “I certainly don’t miss being a Snivy.”

“Kinda liked Trapinch in hindsight. Like, Flygon’s way better, yeah. But I liked the surprised look people had when I went an’ dashed behind ‘em.”

“Still just as fast back then, were you?”

Gahi stretched his wings proudly. “Fastest peanut in the world.”

“Peanut?” Trina giggled, wrapping her vine around her plate. “What does that make you now?”

“Hmm…” Gahi’s tail flicked. “Asparagus.”

“Asparagus? Long and green?” Trina tilted her plate into her mouth, pouring all the rice and extra fixings down at once.

Gahi nodded. “An’ yer a banana.”

Trina nearly coughed but managed to finish her food. “B-banana?”

Gahi pointed at her hood. “Serperior look like bananas.”

“I…” She couldn’t find a retort. “Green bananas aren’t very good, though.”

“Sure they are!” Gahi said. “Means they ain’t gone bad yet. Y’ever see a banana in Hot Spot? Practically can watch the brown spots grow in real-time.”

“Well, hopefully, if I lose this Orb, I won’t brown the same way.” Trina set her plate aside. Gahi wasn’t even a quarter finished with his.

“Did yeh like it?” Gahi asked.

“I did.” Trina smiled nervously. “Sorry if I went too quickly for you.”

Gahi’s tail flicked. “Nah,” he said. “Jus’ means I gotta eat faster next time.”

Trina tittered at that, deciding not to point out that wasn’t what he should’ve taken from that.

She watched him eat again, quickly but meticulously. He always changed from rice to picking at a veggie or two and then returned to the meat, no part of the meal holding his attention for very long.

Courting. How… funny. A year ago, Gahi was the last person she imagined she'd ever consider.

His simple honesty… grounded her. He didn’t revere her like other mutants. He didn’t need her.

For now, she had to focus on her army. They had to mobilize to support the fight against the “Fragments of Darkness.”

But… having Gahi around for that didn’t sound so bad.

<><><>​

A shadowy entity crawled across the floors of Destiny Tower, leaping between cracks and up the stairs like they were water. Spiraling up and into the operational Teleporter and reappearing at the fiftieth floor. The midway point, where Destiny Tower’s physical presence transcended into the aether.

He slipped through without issue and continued up the spiral, finding a second divine Teleporter. So convenient. Barky did a good job.

Someone was talking in one of the strategy rooms on the… oh, what floor was this, somewhere in the nineties, now? It sounded like Owen, but he wasn’t around.

“. . . unknown, but with Alexander still recovering, and Nate handling Necrozma, it’s clear that our best target should be Emily.”

Nate tilted his head. He was handling Necrozma that well? Such a glowing compliment from not-Owen. Was it Har? No, he was training with Trina and the mutant army.

Hello?

“What was that?” growled the Charizard. “…Oh. Nate. It’s you.”

Hello, Darkness, my old friend.

“Mm.” Diyem, the Charizard with a black flame, sighed.

You sound a lot like Owen.

“My body reflected his due to some entanglement issues. I could also be a Goodra, but there are… inconveniences.”

Nate bobbed.

“How are you here? Aren’t you busy with Necrozma?”

I’m everywhere.

“Comforting.”

I wanted to check on everyone… like Hecto. And Willow.

“Wonderful, we have three multi-present people wandering around Kilo, and one of them is potentially an active threat waiting to happen.”

I’m an active threat?

“No, you’re just weird. I was talking about Willow. Xerneas was able to determine that Willow and Hoopa are the same soul. So, we’re more or less waiting for that to blow up in our faces in a few days.” Diyem pointed at a part of the left wall where ‘WILLOW’ was circled in red and connected to several other ‘liabilities’ on some kind of interaction map.

Oh. So you’re going to go after Emily? I think she’s wandering in the eastern parts of Kilo right now.

“Mm, thank you. That might be—wait. That’s meaningless.” Diyem punched forehead. “Dungeons are making the cardinal directions meaningless.”

It’s not that bad. Even though everything is shuffled, local areas are more likely to be where they used to be. Most cold spots are where Step used to be.

“Really?” Diyem asked. “Hmm. It wasn’t always like that, was it?”

Nate shook his head and hopped onto the table, looking at all of their plans.

Barky eyed him warily.

In response, Nate tilted his gaze upward. Underneath the spirit cloth he’d conjured for himself, Nate curled his shapeless darkness inward.

“…I have memories of you,” Barky said. “You only showed up to… consume the Tree of Life. I thought it was the end of the world. Yet then, you disappeared.”

The Tree of Life is my home. I was protecting it.

Diyem sighed. “Well, I suppose that means we have two abominations that protect things by eating them. Wonderful. Speaking of which, if Emily is wandering in the east side, is there anything in immediate danger?”

No, but that could change overnight. She is searching for Tanneth, her other half.

“She’s off the mark,” Diyem said. “She seems to have a gateway on the island where Necrozma had once been, but that is very far removed from where she’s being kept now.”

“But hold on,” Barky said. “I don’t understand what you are, Nate. I did not create you. Are you like Diyem?”

I don’t know what I am. I was here with the first souls of Kilo when it was still called Quartz. I heard all of the voices and thoughts of the people inside who wanted to make a better world. Their hopes and struggles… I felt them all.

“In other words,” Diyem said, “he is my opposite. Where I am all the pain that Kilo feels, and all of its negativity, Nate gets the rest. Its hope and defiance to survive.” He glared at him. “We’re supposed to be enemies.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.

“We will forever be opposed,” Diyem stated. “…But I suppose that does not mean we have to be at each other’s throats. Only that we will always experience what the other doesn’t… and we are both tied to the fabric of this universe. I think…” He looked at Star. “Yes. Nate and I were born from the same instant you created Kilo. Your fear and regrets… became me, and I became sensitive to all the world’s flaws. Your hopes and desire to do better, to survive, to save people? That became Nate. He is the voice of the souls who want to persist in Kilo, despite all its struggles. He is Kilo’s Voice of Life.”

“Voice of Life…” Star repeated the term, staring at Nate curiously. “I like that…”

Diyem growled and crossed his arms. “I think it’s corny.”

“Okay, Darkness Diyem Dark Matter,” Star quipped.

“Most of those were bestowed onto me,” Diyem pointed out.

Star rolled her eyes. “Well, anyway… Barky, what’s got you hung up on that?”

Barky stared at Nate for a little while longer. “Is there something you aren’t telling us?”

…Is Owen safe to return soon?

“He is in the world Quartz originated from,” Barky said. “He should return eventually, once we gather our strength to resummon him. It will be a few days. For him, perhaps a year to recover, and I hope he uses that time to train and not lose his strength.”

Okay. That’s fine. As long as he can come back, because… I still need to complete my part in all of this. I can still feel him over there.

“Huh?” Star squinted. “What… do you mean by that?”

Nate curled up. Um. Nothing.

“Wow, a literal void in a blanket can still look like it’s lying,” Star deadpanned. “C’mon, Nate. What’s going on? I thought you weren’t involved in any of this and are kinda just sitting by.”

“Well, he does step in when truly large cataclysms are at play,” Diyem said. “He took down my initial expanse as well as Necrozma’s rampage himself. Not enough to defeat, but enough to suppress. And it seemed like you’d been preparing for that for a long time…”

…So Owen will be back soon?

“Nate, be honest with us,” Diyem said. “Why have you been coming in to save the day at just the right moments, and sit by otherwise?”

I can only do my big attacks every few days…

“Yes, but…” Barky narrowed his eyes. “Why did you feel where Owen is? Do you have some kind of link to him?”

Er…

Rapid steps came from the main spiraling halls. “Your Radiance! Your Radiance!”

Their heads turned to see a breathless Turtonator.

“W-we have a problem!”

“What’s wrong?” Barky asked. “We are in a key strategy meeting. How important is this?”

“Key strategy meeting?” called a new voice as Turtonator turned around, looking nervous.

“I’m sorry, Your Radiance. I couldn’t stop them,” Turtonator said. “They appeared in a Dungeon, and… I took them to the base of the Tower and told him to wait, but I… I couldn’t disobey him! His words… compelled me!”

An Umbreon and an Espeon entered the area. The Umbreon had a silver visor on his forehead and a belt of Poké Balls on his thigh, each one wiggling as if the Pokémon inside were eager to look around their new environment. The Espeon didn’t have the same decorations, though she was desperately trying to fashion some blue bands around her ear tufts, clumsy with her paws.

Barky and Star looked like they’d seen ghosts.

“Where are we?” Umbreon said with a glare.

“…Please don’t tell me you’re human,” Barky said.

“Eek! Wait!” Espeon whispered, hiding behind Umbreon. “Is that… Are you…”

“Yeah, we are,” Umbreon said flatly. “From Orre.”
 
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