“Is everything in place?” I asked out loud, getting a good look at the area. Quite a few Pokémon had gathered and some of them were still at work, but they raised their thumbs up or whatever they could to signify an OK.
We’d surrounded the Soulstealer in a makeshift tent. Really it was just a thickly sewn web of Galvantula silk, since that’s all that was available. Some Pokémon held it down with Pin Missile pegs, while others cleared the space and acted as guardians. With all that in place, Asor and Azu were brought up close to the weapon, where me and Anne stood opposite.
“If it starts to hurt, hold off and we’ll try again. There’s no reason to force yourself with this,” I said, patting Azu. She nodded and gave me quick peck on the cheek. She downed both ears, keeping both hands cupped around the Soulstealer without actually touching it.
“We’re all okay. Asor, use Grass Whistle, exactly as I taught you,” Anne said, swiping an arm aside.
I watched Asor intently, keeping my own ears pressed down to try and muffle the sound. But I’d have to be deaf or have little notice for music to not be taken away by her little performance. The Maractus shut her eyes and held a thorny wrist by her mouth, using one of the spiked leaves there as her instrument. I was expecting her to sing rather than leaf blow.
She was careful and quiet, too. Almost entrancing to look at. I recognised the song as Oracion, too. The way she played; it was clear that the song meant as much to her as it did the legends attached to it. She was serene, hitting notes perfectly, unmoving to prevent her maraca-like arms from disturbing the tune in any way. I wasn’t supposed to be listening, yet I found myself taking it all in, eyes locked to the young girl and her passionate playing.
When the song finished, I was close to clapping due to how moved I was. If that was the way she used Grass Whistle, then I was a prime target for its secondary effect. I was calmed. Despite what we were doing all this for, any concerns I had vanished, only briefly returning when Azu lifted up her ears.
No one said anything. They all knew the plan and the warnings. With those in mind, I stood back and let her do what she needed to do.
Azu barely hesitated. She planted both hands on the Soulstealer and pulled exactly as she did when she tried to take it the first time. And this time, there wasn’t any pain or slowdown at all. She just pulled it as if it was any old weapon lodged in soil.
“It worked. Gods, it actually worked,” she whispered, resisting getting too excited. Pokémon began to shuffle about and mutter, all concerned that she was handling this dangerous weapon so easily. But she ignored them and got right to work, snapping the lance into three segments. Some previously unseen screws allowed it to do so, showing it was intended to be split into three.
“Azu!” I said, sticking an arm out. She paused, unaffected by it. “Is it…?”
“It’s okay. No effect whatsoever. The Pokémon essence really did prevent its ‘ability’ from working,” she replied. “And now that I’ve taken it apart, it’s totally useless. I can work with this, now.”
“It actually worked? It can’t wake up again or anything?” Asor asked.
“Not until I put it back together and turn it back on. But I don’t intend to put it back until I’ve got it working the way we want it to,” she said, looking up at Asor. She turned to everyone else. “It’s only a matter of time, now.”
“You’re amazing,” I breathed out, a hand on my chest.
“I’m not amazing. You guys’re the amazing ones, figuring that out based on my theories and nothing else,” she cheered. “Especially you, Asor! Where’d you learn Oracion of all things? Using that as Grass Whistle, you’re no ordinary village kid.”
“Ahuh, I just, eep,” the little Maractus giggled, going bright red. “M-mum taught me it. I-I practice when she’s not around.”
“Alright, that’s all, Pokémon. This is not a pantomime,” Miles said, walking around our group. “Let us allow the scientist to work. No the staring. Guards, keep watch from a distance. C’mon now, get moving, back to your duties!”
“Magnolia. You get to stay here if you want,” Azu said, getting to work on the Soulstealer properly. It looked like she was removing parts; small, flat chips that were smaller than my finger. She eventually found and unscrewed a bulb which she proudly held up out to me. “Look at it, I was right!”
“It’s only the size of a candle, but it holds Pokémon essence,” I said, carefully taking it from her. It was a bulb filled with the same snow-white glow that we saw near to Professor Vine’s office. I gave it back to her and she set it down just as carefully.
“So I just have to reconfigure this so that it doesn’t steal the essence from the wielder. If I can get it to do the opposite, we can awaken Mew,” she said, laying out the parts to examine them. She wasn’t even looking at me as she spoke.
“If worse comes to worse, we can use the bulb to energise Mew again too, right?” I suggested.
“Yes. We can do that, too. Part of me believes we’ll need the essence part of this weapon though, so I’ll try not to resort to that,” she said. “Oh, hey. Can you do me a massive favour, though? Hopefully before I finish.”
“You don’t want me to stay with you?”
“I do and I appreciate it. Gives me someone to mumble to. But this is important. Go find out who that Anne Pokémon really is, if you can.”
“So you feel it, too,” I said, tensing up a little.
“Hey I was on the good side of this. An emotional Gardevoir that adopted a kid. Seemed like a reasonably normal, touching tale. But then I heard that the kid knew Grass Whistle, then she started playing Oracion, then when
she said she was ‘taught’ the move, it hit me right in the fears.”
“She can’t be an ordinary mother if she’s teaching a child a special move they can’t normally learn. But it could also just be in relation to legend. Asor was pretty good at it,” I said.
“You’re telling me. I wish I could sing that well or something,” she said, eyeing the inside of a lance part. “This is just to be on the safe side at this point. Miles said that she’s mad, and you’ve already had to fight her once. Now she’s hovering around the Soulstealer. I don’t want her to interfere.”
“If you’re sure you’ll be alright,” I said, standing up.
“I’ve got too many Pokémon watching me to come up with anything naughty.”
I rolled my eyes at that remark, but it did put a smile on my face. I looked around before moving anywhere, having my patented investigative senses kick in at full force.
Down here with all these Pokémon from all over, I had limited resources to try and find out about Anne. No backup documents, authority records, or anything us spies could normally fall back on. Just word of mouth.
That said, the Pokémon of interest lit up various colours to me. Asking Anne herself could raise risk if she took my questioning as a challenge, so that was a last resort that came up red. Pokémon like Miles who had had run-ins with her lit up blue, since they could only give me bits about their experience living with her down here. And Asor, if she cooperated, was the gold that had the most history with her. As such, I made my way back to Miles’ home.
When I got there, Anne and Asor were talking outside, making me keep my distance. I didn’t hide or anything, but I stopped to watch them. It wasn’t until Asor noticed and waved me over that Anne dropped their conversation, approaching me with huge, heavy strides.
“You’re not staying with Azu? Isn’t she your wife?” she said. Even her voice was heavy enough to make my chest tighten.
“She prefers doing stuff like this on her own. We’ve both got our ways of doing things,” I said, smiling.
“You’re either a fool or a playboy. Judging from the species, it’s probably the latter.”
“Seriously, everyone’s always on about the Lopunny. Do I seriously look like pervert bait?” I groaned, shrugging and looking away.
Anne’s face tightened. “Take it from someone older than you, the Pokémon who have decades more experience than you. In a place like this and a situation like this, you never know when the last time you could see your loved ones is. If I were you, I would stay by her whenever you can.”
“I appreciate your concern, but we’re in the charge to lead everybody out of here. We’ve both taken it upon ourselves to get some work done.”
She didn’t seem to take that well, her right eye twitching as if irritated. She stared for a moment and then swung an arm, aiming for my face. I caught her hand so quickly it was as if I had read the move perfectly, but really it was just dumb luck. Our eyes never left one another, even as she tried to shift more strength into that arm to make that connection to my face. I retaliated in kind, staring and keeping her arm held back.
Without a word, she gave in. Her crimson eyes kept burning into mine, fusing with a livid frown to keep me on edge. I feared she knew she had won this little confrontation and even though she stomped off after that, leaving me with that metaphorical hole in my chest.
I watched her until she was a blur in the distance. The way she bore into me with her gaze just now, it wasn’t a new experience. It was all too familiar to me, and it defeated me every single time. Between victims of crime and innocent Pokémon, those who I interviewed and had to accuse had always destroyed me from the inside with their words and looks. I had taken to avoiding showing any emotion during interviews as a result, but the experience still left me with zero appetite.
“Mister Magnolia!” Asor called out, taking me back to reality. I shook my head and blinked, surprised to see her looking so sunny about what she’d just seen. She casually swayed side to side, making maraca sounds with her movements.
“Remember, you can drop the ‘Mister’ part,” I said, coming over.
“S-sorry. That’s going to take me a while.”
“Don’t worry about it too much. You’re excited, though.”
“Yes! You and Azu are going to get everyone free. I’m really happy for everyone!”
I knelt down and sat by her, leaning against the side of the house. “Do you mind me asking? How long have you been down here?”
“I… I don’t know. It’s hard to tell the time here. I’m sorta used to it though, so I guess like… a few weeks?”
My heart sunk. The fact that she sounded this cheerful spelt how eager she was to get out of here. “I’m guessing Anne’s been looking after you for longer. And that she’s doing her best here, too.”
“Mum is Mum. I haven’t called anyone else mum, ever,” she said, smiling. She tried to sit back against the wall with me too, but was happier to stand by it instead. “Say, you and Mum aren’t going to fight, are you? I heard you had to fight already.”
I almost cursed, wishing she didn’t drop that one so suddenly. Once again being reminded of how smart kids really are. Knowing I might regret it, I responded sternly. “If she keeps going on the way she is, I might have to. She has to learn to trust me and Azu and avoid using the Soulstealer. It won’t be long until we’re out anyway, so maybe we won’t have to fight.”
“Please try not to hurt her. Trust her, she only wants peace. She really doesn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Asor begged, looking over at the distance. “She’s been through a lot of battles, from way before she had me. She was… I find it hard to believe, but she was in a war.”
“The Kalosian war. She taught me all sorts of things because she said she hates fighting. All my moves, what to do if a feral Pokémon attacks, everything. She… really just wants to protect me.”
“History and experience with war… If I’m recalling correctly as well, there was a war that was stopped by Oracion being played on a large instrument. I wonder if that’s the same battle Anne was part of?
” I asked myself, scratching my chin. “Sadly, that isn’t how it goes where I work. If she puts us in more danger than we need to be in, me and Azu have the right to apprehend her.”
“… I know,” she moaned, looking down. “I’m sorry, Magnolia.”
“There’s no need to apologize. Everyone’s hungry and on edge. So I just have to ask everyone to be patient for just a little while longer.”
“Of course! I believe in Azu. I know she can do it.”
“Although, this at least explains why Anne is so capable in combat. If it wasn’t for Asor stopping us before, I might’ve gotten into a rougher battle than I bargained for,
” I told myself, recalling my first fight with the Gardevoir. I glanced at Asor. “You know, Miles played a big part in setting us free, too. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
“Wait really? Wa-wait, yes of course! That’s why he’s always going in and out of the house.”
“Yes, Miles took over taking care of Asor. But it looks like that wasn’t a thing that was properly arranged, but more so for the child’s safety…
” I thought, standing back up. “Asor… do you mind if I ask a little bit about Anne in the Kalosian war?”
“H-huh? What about it?”
“Just anything you know about it, really. Do you know what she had to do? What side she was on?” I asked. Asor cringed the slightest bit, going quiet and looking away. “Asor?”
“I… I don’t know anything else. Only that she told me she was there,” she replied slowly and quietly.
I took in a deep breath, knowing I would definitely regret this next bit. I knelt down to put my arms beside her. “You have
to trust me. I won’t hurt her, I promise.”
She cringed again, but this time, she was making the slightest noises of thought. “Do you promise?”
“I won’t hurt her if I have no right to. That’s the best I can promise.”
“… I found her diary and I read it… but I was scared, so I put it back. I just… I didn’t think it was her. It didn’t seem like her at all.”
“What did you find in it? And when did you read it?”
“This was a while before we fell down here. But it was from her time in that war, I think. She was… she called herself ‘Yveltal’s weapon’ and ‘a messenger of torture’.”
My eyes widened. “She was on Yveltal’s side.
“I don’t know what any of that means, though. But then the stuff she was talking about in the diary… it… it sounded like… it sounded like she really hurt a lot of Pokémon,” she said, hiding her face. “But I can’t picture it. Mum’s only fighting now because she really wants to get out of here. I know she wouldn’t want to fight another Pokémon. She wouldn’t hurt a Flabébé.”
“… Unless the situation called for it, she wouldn’t hurt a Flabébé. With that much experience, let alone possibly trauma… it’s no wonder Miles said she was losing it. But with the threat of what she can do—
A scream rang out, and we both flew to our feet. For me, said scream was so loud and clear that my ears were still ringing a few seconds later. I didn’t recognise the voice, but it still put my heart in the most fearful spot possible.
“It came from the centre of the Ark. Wait inside the house,” I said, hopping off.
As soon as I arrived, I knew fate was playing with me. Finding out about Anne’s past as I came to a scene with her holding the Soulstealer felt like no coincidence. Azu was floored a few metres away, though she was conscious. A few surrounding Pokémon were on edge, all in poses that showed they were ready to run or defend themselves.
My arrival pushed Miles into a bit of a frenzy and he kicked me in his attempt to stop me from getting closer. I growled at him, but his halt caused me to observe a little more. Father Venusaur was hanging from the chain again, observing the scene. He was here again, which meant he must have issued another act of violence… which had long since started before I arrived. There were bodies behind Anne. Bodies with mortal wounds in their faces, enough to make me gag on sight.
“He picked a good time to show up. If he finds out about the Mew, it makes things the harder for us,” Miles said, gritting his teeth. I tensed up as well, keeping my eyes on Anne.
“Put it down, Anne. Trust me. You have to trust me. We’re so close to getting out of here,” Azu said, raising both hands.
“And then what? Let this situation reverse?” Anne replied, her eyes twitching. “I’m so close. You
have to trust me
“Trust you with what?” I cried. She seemed to calm down a bit.
“Let me take five lives. I have already taken three. Just two more, and I can go free. With freedom, I can and will
do everything in my power to free the rest of you.”
“She’s already killed three Pokémon?
” I gasped in my mind, sneaking a look at the damaged bodies behind her. There were indeed three of them, and they were even still bleeding. Considering they were all in one spot, this attack must have been very sudden.
“You allowed this to happen so that you could do the same thing, didn’t you?” Anne said, turning my attention back to her. “Two Pokémon from the authorities get thrown down here. They work on the Soulstealer, miraculously removing its ability to steal the powers of Pokémon, but retaining its ability to destroy anything. With a weapon like that in your hands, you make easy work of taking five lives for yourselves, and then vanishing, leaving the rest of us to rot.”
“I wouldn’t do something like that. That’s why I let all of you watch me work!” Azu cried.
“So that you would have easy pickings when it comes to taking five lives. You rich authorities are all the same,” Anne replied. “It doesn’t matter how much work the lower class do for you. They’re all your fodder. Tools which do your bidding and follow your orders, one day hoping that they’ll live a life of luxury.”
“That is assuming I live a life of luxury,” I said.
“But we never do. We follow your orders, no matter how heinous, and then you have us die when we’re no longer useful. We fight your wars like we’re your little chess pieces, shifting us aside into retirement when your game is over,” she said. Her eyes squinted, their red pupils searing into me. “And then when we retaliate, we’re breaking your laws.”
“Look, none of this is important right now. I built the Soulstealer that way so that it could help us to escape, I promise you that. But that’s not in the way where it’s meant to be used,” Azu cried.
“Then what do you propose we do? Why keep it a secret?”
Azu hesitated, and a quick glance at her showed she was keeping an eye on Father Venusaur. “… I can’t say.”
“If we can just get her to drop the attack so that Venusaur leaves, then we can explain everything. But if he finds out, he’ll rally to Professor Vine and things will get more complicated…
“And this is why I hate you Pokémon. You are the two that deserve to die more than anyone else,” Anne said, raising the weapon. My eyes widened, and I hopped to stand guard over Azu.
“Look, stop this! This doesn’t have to be this way. Just put the spear down and we’ll explain everything. I mean it, I promise!” I cried.
A thin smile stretched across Anne’s face, though she looked no less sinister than before. “You really piss me off. I will make you suffer before you die.”
“What?” I whispered. She thrust an arm at me, and just like that, I was trapped by Psychic. I choked, arched back, and then squirmed as I felt my body being stretched and strained in ways I wasn’t moving it. I was lifted into the air and held in place while the Gardevoir began to advance on her real target. It took me a moment to realise who that was, where I brought up all my strength. “Azu, run!”
Miles was the next to act, shifting his way in between them to help fight. He shivered and crackled in attempt to use Thunder Wave, but it wouldn’t come out by the time Anne approached him. He didn’t bank on his attack working and jumped aside long before Anne could stab him, which only allowed her to keep running straight until she made it to Azu.
Thankfully, Azu wasn’t distracted in any way either. She had turned tail, but was still aware enough to have drawn her staff and use it for defence. To my surprise, it blocked the Soulstealer perfectly, its pink length unharmed by the Soulstealer’s sharp edge.
“It blocked it?” Anne hissed, pushing against Azu. Azu could only growl in reply, making Anne’s eyes thin. “You took some of that power for yourself and your own weapon, didn’t you? That’s how you can block a blade that can cut through anything.”
“So what if I did? It only helps in emergency against psychos like you,” Azu growled. Their weapons detached, and they immediately engaged in a close exchange of slashes and swipes. They swung their weapons across their fronts; Anne using one hand to twirl and spin the Soulstealer stylishly, while Azu relied on both hands to keep still and not get pushed back.
“It only gives away that you really were planning to stab us in the back. What reason do you have to turn your weapon into a Soulstealer?” Anne said, almost unhindered by her battle.
It took Azu a while to respond thanks to her concentrating so hard, but she eventually held her weapon against Anne’s, holding a clash in place. “To save Mew!”
“Mew?” Anne gasped, hopping away. Azu let out a breath and slumped forward. “To hell with that. What does Mew—”
“Mew is down here!” Azu shouted.
Anne’s eyes thinned until Miles spoke up, making her spin around. “Mew has been the unconscious in my house for much time, now. But Azu and Magnolia figured out how to use the Soulstealer to save it. With the Mew’s power, we can all defeat Father Venusaur and get out of here.”
“We were trying to hide that fact from Venusaur,” I said, daring to glance at the grass type. He watched the scenario alongside his Crobat entourage, seemingly unbothered. “We can’t do anything with you trying to kill us—”
“Shut up. I didn’t give you permission to speak, snob!” she hissed, pointing an arm at me again. She clenched her thin fingers into a fist, which caused my body to tighten and strain inwards. The pain was so great that I arched back and yelled out again, shutting my eyes. “Do you expect me to believe this? Should anyone believe you?”
With that, she twirled around and addressed the surrounding Pokémon, ignoring the fact that many were now trying to take care of dead bodies. “Well? Do any of you really believe that? That by making this weapon more proficient for killing, that these rich snobs are going to set you free?”
No one responded.
Anne twirled back to me, clenching that arm again to increase the pain. “See? Their faith should be in Pokémon of their status. They know they won’t magically get out of here without suffering greatly. None of your supposed miracles.”
“Then I’ll bring Mew to you,” Azu said, raising her arms. Anne’s eyes thinned until she dropped her staff, kicking it over to the Gardevoir.
“Wait Azu, don’t let Venusaur see Mew!” Miles shouted.
“We don’t have a choice anymore. Anne isn’t going to calm down until she sees and understands the truth,” Azu replied. There was a pause until Anne’s pose loosened up, letting go of her Psychic hold on me. I fell to the ground in a heap, cursing under my breath. My body felt like it had just been thrown through a grater.
“Allow me to go and get it. Mew is asleep in Miles’ house,” Azu said. She waited until Anne nodded before lowering her hands. She was clearly hesitant, but turned around to jog back to the house. “Asor?”
“Asor?” I said, pushing myself up with my hands. I didn’t even get the chance to look for why her name was brought up before Anne’s movements silenced everything to me. The moment Azu turned her back, Anne stood tall, pulled her arm back, and held the Soulstealer like a javelin.
Words left my mouth, as did the involuntary action of my body trying to use Quick Attack. It all happened so fast that I couldn’t even tell what I’d said, but I could tell that the power required to use Quick Attack didn’t come. My body only strained, bringing me to my knees with a painful scrape.
By that point, Anne had already tossed the Soulstealer, and of course, her throw had more than enough force to piece her target right through. Miles had seen and made some attempt to help as well, but he merely ended up in between Azu and Anne, his gaze fixated on the screaming Azumarill.
Asor turned out to be there after all. Azu had obscured her for that brief moment before staggering around in agony, and amazingly enough, remained on her feet. But Asor, her face had gone whiter than any of the Pokémon I had seen down here. Stunned couldn’t begin to explain how still she was, mouth gawking and eyes fading at what she had just seen happen.
“How does it feel?” Anne said, taking a step toward me. “It’s fine. It’s just another lower-class tool of yours thrown away through the orders of those who stand above.”
“… Why?” was all I could mutter, not looking up at her.
“Because I will never
obey you rich ever again.”
The sound of fluttering disturbingly close by felt out of place, so I dared to look up out of fear of further action. The Crobat were surrounding Anne as if celebrating, and in turn, me. I couldn’t stop trembling both with my body and breath, and so couldn’t bring myself to my feet. Everything burnt, my body, my sight, everything I could hear. I couldn’t even think.
The Crobat closed in on Anne, causing her to retaliate until Venusaur spoke. “Well done. By your actions, you have gained the right to ascend beyond the Ark.”
“What? But I’ve only killed four Pokémon. The fifth is right here at my feet.”
My whole body tensed up at that line. Not from fear or foreboding, but of some inner fury. Something awakened deep within me, an explosive feeling that shrouded me in violence.
“The Azumarill was carrying an extra soul. A figure yet to be born that sufficed as another kill. That is all the essence and evidence we require from one who would be worthy of walking in our ideal world,” Venusaur explained. Anne’s arms fell limp.
“So you mean I’m done? I no longer need to fight like this?” she asked. Venusaur’s expression didn’t change. “A-Asor. Asor, come here! We’re free!”
“Only the one who decided who to sacrifice is worthy,” Venusaur said, a certain level of sternness in his tone that made Anne retract.
She still waved at the young Maractus, getting her attention. “Stay here. Stay here and survive for just a little while longer. Asor, I will
come back for you. I promise, I’ll save everyone. You know Mummy keeps her promises.”
She didn’t even get a chance to properly speak to her daughter. The Crobat lifted her up from three sides, soon having Venusaur’s Vine Whip take over, and the lot of them began to rise into the colourless mist above. She kept spouting and crying out her promise and motherly cues the whole time, all the way until she was a recent memory.
And the whole way through, no one said a word.