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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Namohysip, Aug 19, 2018.

  1. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast


    Don't you hate it when your life is a lie?

    Owen, a Charmander that should've evolved a long time ago, accidentally becomes the Guardian of the Grass Orb. To make matters worse, he is plunged into a great conspiracy hidden in the outskirts and Dungeons of the world. He must rely on friends new and old to survive and defeat the Hunters that aim to take the Orbs for themselves. The deeper he delves, the more Owen suspects that his past is a lie, and his future is uncertain.

    Fighting your fate is one thing. But what about fighting your design?

    An original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon setting. No prior knowledge beyond basic Pokemon trivia is required.

    [​IMG]

    Cover art by the wonderful @canisaries
    Hello, everyone! This is it, my main work. Maybe you saw a few of my oneshots here and there, or maybe you just know me from other areas, but this is where most of my effort and creativity goes.

    In terms of my philosophy on fanfiction, I like to take what the canon gave me in terms of the base mechanics, and then work them into a narrative style. I dropped a few things that felt specifically game-oriented (stairs in the middle of a forest...? Nah.) but tried to incorporate things from the game into this original world if it was passable (warp tiles? That'll be useful!)

    Tone-wise, I keep to the general feel of the Mystery Dungeon series -- a lighthearted setting, colorful characters, and dark undertones. And dark plot points. Then I add a bit of my personal flair to it: A bit of divine conspiracy here, an ensemble cast there... I have a heavy emphasis on character interaction and the elaborate plots they weave.

    This will be long. While I've been told that the early chapters are fast-paced, I still feel like they're a bit of a slow start compared to when I finally have all my pieces in place to get things rolling. But as a new reader, I hope you don't notice that and it's a fun ride every step of the way! And for old readers: I hope your rereads pick up on the little hints that a blind reader might not pick up.

    Okay, enough rambling. Have some information, a Table of Contents, and then some fanart!
    Content warning: "T" on FF.Net, "Teen and Up" on AO3.
    Mild to moderate violence; blood; death or themes of death; some suggestive, disturbing, or dark themes and imagery. (I promise the tone isn't grimdark or anything like that)
    This is a work that is posted on FFN, AO3, and Wattpad under the same username, so don't be alarmed if you see it there, too. I'm still working out how to get the work here to "catch up" to my weekly uploads there, but until then, I'll trickle them in to the forums week by week.

    This is going to be a four-act, chapter-based work.

    Serebii, 2018:
    Best Chaptered Fic (new author) 1st, tie.
    Best PMD fic - 1st, tie
    Funniest character (Rhys, the comically serious) - 1st
    Best nonhuman supporting character (Goodra Anam) - 2nd
    Best Plot - 2nd
    Most suspenseful moment (Chapter 8) - 2nd




    [​IMG]
    Art of the Association Head, the strongest* 'mon in the world! This one was drawn by @Psychic! Though his slime is typically purple like the rest of him, fun trivia: When he was younger, the slime was green like the rest of 'em.
    [​IMG]
    Some art from a reader who wished to remain anonymous. Title was "The Call of the Spirit." Alternative title was "Top 10 Images Taken Before Disaster."
    [​IMG]
    Fanart from a 15 minute sketch by @canisaries after inspiration from seeing Owen's, uh, new look! He didn't give it a title, but I think "Grassmander" fits.
    [​IMG]
    Reward art of the lonely heart Zena by @Dragonfree!
    [​IMG]
    A young James and Anam. Credit to aarowtheblacksmith for this one!



    ACT I - A Fragile Identity

    Poison-tipped fangs plunged into Owen’s chest. The Charmander cried out, struggling through his pierced lungs, and pushed against the stone serpent wrapped around him. He didn’t know what it was. It had the face and colors of a Tyranitar, with its rocky edges and black gaps in its armor. Yet it had the winding, coiling body of a Seviper, a poisoned blade at the end of its tail, and long, sharp fangs stuck deep within him. He tasted blood; he couldn’t breathe. His lungs were full.

    “OWEN!” cried a Gardevoir.

    “M-Mom!” Owen mouthed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Shh, it’s okay,” she said, placing her hand firmly on his back. The pain was unbearable. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Calm down. Sleep…”

    The world curled itself up in a tiny circle in front of Owen, darkening into a distant tunnel. But then, the world uncoiled, much to Owen’s displeasure. He just wanted to sleep.

    The Heal Pulse intensified, the warmth almost too hot even for his Fiery body. He gasped his first breath, life—and pain—returning to him in full.

    But then he felt a different energy course through him. It wasn’t healing him. “Shh,” Amia said softly. “Just sleep. Just sleep…”

    It felt awful. Energy drained from his core. His vision faded. And then, darkness.

    <><><>​

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

    Wait. What happened? Wasn’t he—

    “No resting on the fire, Owen.”

    “Wh—huh? I wasn’t!” He rolled away and quickly hid beneath his bed of leaves. Some of them turned black from the fire, but they didn’t burn. “Ngh,” He held his chest. It felt horribly bruised. And his back was killing him. No wonder he was sleeping on the fire! But why did he feel that way? He remembered a fight. A fight that he’d lost. Badly. But was that just a dream? He remembered a rocky serpent. And fire, and explosions. It was all so garbled—he wasn’t sure what was real.

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

    “Yeah…”

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

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

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

    “I think so…”

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

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

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

    <><><>​

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

    “What’s wrong?” Owen asked.

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

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

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

    “Perfect! But, uh, I don’t know. Did you ever have that feeling where you had a really good dream, but then you can’t… remember it?”

    Owen noticed the subtle, shocked expressions in his parents’ eyes, but he didn’t acknowledge it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Owen returned to his meal.

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

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

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

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

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

    Alex gulped. “Amia, don’t you think it’s a little early?”

    “Oh, Alex, we can’t baby him forever. He’s an adult!” she said. “It’s just one exploration. Into a known area. In a Dungeon, sure, but nothing he can’t handle! He’ll be just fine.” She fidgeted with her hands. It was a telltale sign she was trying to convince herself it would be okay. Owen chose not to acknowledge this, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Alex’s fire finally returned to something normal in size. “I hope he isn’t self-conscious of his size. It might affect how strong he is, even if he’s stronger than the average Charmander, you know, given the…”

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

    Alex hummed worriedly. “That was a close call, yesterday,” he said. “I’ve never seen one of those mutants so powerful before. What if he runs into another of those—those things in the Dungeon?”

    Amia bit her lip. “I know, dear. But that Dungeon is safer than most. If he runs into any trouble, well, it’ll be better there than anywhere else. You know it’s me they’re after, not him.”

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

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

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

    “We’ll call the Hearts. I promise.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2019 at 8:43 PM
    git-it likes this.
  2. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 1 – Kilo Village

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

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

    “Oh, Owen!”

    Owen stopped, spotting a large Arcanine bounding over to him. “Hi, Granny Arcanine!”

    “Oh, hush, I’m not that old. Auntie Arcanine is just fine.” Despite this, she smiled, passing a small bag of apples over. “You’re going on a little mock-expedition, are you? I gathered these up just for you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oh, come on.”

    Owen stepped off of the tile, swung his arms back, and hopped a bit higher into the air, putting his full weight and gravity behind the jump. The tile depressed a little, but still, nothing happened.

    He used to open this so easily. Did he lose weight? Muscle weighed more than fat. Owen worriedly pinched at his gut, wondering if his chubby Charizard genes were coming through before the rest. But it felt normal.

    The apparently lightweight Charmander scanned the ground and found a large rock. That’ll do. He hauled it over with him and jumped onto the tile again.

    Click.

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

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

    It was a little raised hill in the distance from his perspective, but that was a whole mountain of black rock. The ground rumbled, the boulder that had led to the opening of his hidden village rolling back into place, blending in with the rest of the hill.

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

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

    <><><> ​

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

    “That was so cool!” Owen said. It wasn’t his first time, but the wonder of being able to teleport from any other Waypoint to the central one would never wear off for him. Just as this wasn’t going to be his first exploration, but it’d be the first one in a slightly harder Dungeon that he could remember.

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

    The buildings that surrounded him were no more than two stories tall. Oblong rocks bound by mortar shaped the buildings near the center of town—the oldest buildings of the crater. These black stones were home to nobody. Instead, it served as a hospital for rescued and injured Pokémon. Owen spotted a Chansey through windows of wood and glass, holding a few soft-boiled eggs in her tiny arms. A Miltank was carrying a large jug of milk in the opposite direction.

    Owen decided not to think too hard about it.

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

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

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

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

    All of the sights and the bright sky lifted his spirits. He couldn’t ignore how nervous his parents were, and that dampened them slightly—but he figured that if he kept acting cheerful, maybe he’d be able to fool himself into truly feeling confident, too. That feeling always nagged at him. The idea that something wasn’t right with anything he did. Not that he did it incorrectly, but that something, in general, felt wrong. Even now, it tugged at his mind.

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

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

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

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

    “Kid. You’re in the way.”

    “S-sorry!” He stumbled. “Wait—I’m not a kid! I told you, I’m a late evolver! I’ll have you know, I—uh—I, er…” He finally realized who he was talking to. Not the Zangoose this time. It was a Golem, a behemoth of a rocky sphere, staring down at him from his great height. Defiantly, Owen puffed out his chest. He was a full-grown adult! Or at least an adult! Lots of weaker Pokémon never evolved. He just happened to be strong and slow at evolution.

    The Golem sighed and wobbled away.

    <><><> ​

    “Kid… not a kid… I’m just a little late, is all. I bet I’m way stronger than even the average Charmeleon! Stronger than that Golem, too, if he didn’t have an advantage.” Owen mumbled more to himself, the rest incomprehensible, clutching his bag. “I didn’t train with Dad for nothing.” He hesitated on that line of thinking. What if he didn’t evolve yet because he never got to train with a Charizard before? Could that happen? Is that how evolution worked? Owen shook his head. No, many Pokémon were raised without the same species around, and they evolved just fine. Adopted Pokémon weren’t at some—some disadvantage, were they? No, he was just fine! “Yeah, I’m just—”

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

    “Ahh, it is not a problem.”

    Owen saw an Alakazam whose mustache was large enough for Owen to walk on like a carpet. Owen’s gut twisted with a feeling he couldn’t comprehend. But then, he shoved that feeling away, and instead tried to take in exactly who he was talking to.

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

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

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

    Nevren continued. “Ahh, I see you have a Provisionary Heart Badge. Training to become one of the Thousand, are you? There are quite a few open slots coming up soon, you know. Sixteen official retirements.”

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

    “Ahh, no, no, it’s nothing like that,” Nevren said. “These Pokémon are retiring on schedule. There will be a ceremony about that soon, you know. Perhaps you should attend and network with the others.”

    “But you’re an Elite Heart,” Owen said. “Do you think I’ll be able to, um, get to that level?”

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

    Owen felt a cold pit in his stomach at that analytical gaze. Was he being judged, right there, by one of the most Elite Hearts in the whole world?

    Nevren nodded. “I see potential. Quite a bit!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oh! That means, so, when I get super strong, that’s when I won’t even need it.” It was a constant reminder that he was a larva when he shouldn’t have been. But, at least now he had a boost. “That’s the perfect item! Thank you!” Psychologically it was undoubtedly going to feed into some complex, Owen thought, but in terms of practicality? Priceless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Y-yeah, that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Meganium…” Mispy said, leaf drooping.

    The three collectively sighed.

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

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

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

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

    “That’s so cool! How’d you get in?”

    “Hard work,” Gahi said.

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

    “What? Who? Which one?” Owen asked.

    “Lucario Rhys,” Demitri said.

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

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

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

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

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

    <><><> ​

    “Peh! Pah!”

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

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

    Owen puffed and leaned against a nearby tree that jutted out from a soft wall. The corridors of Dungeons were always so awkwardly narrow, made from raised ground nearby—in this case, of dirt and rock. A strange gravity prevented him from climbing the walls, let alone flying over them if he ever sprouted wings. Perhaps in his dreams he could.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Rrr… rrrn… rpphhf…”

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

    The phantom pain in Owen’s chest and back suddenly flared up at the sight of this mutated Pokémon. He had forgotten all about it. Suddenly, Owen remembered his dream, or flashes of it. He remembered his father getting struck, and then exploding in a cloud of blue embers. And some creature—he couldn’t remember what—slicing at him. That didn’t feel like a dream. But—his father was alive! It had to be a dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Hey. Kid.”

    Owen bristled. “I’m NOT a ki—id…!” He turned around. On the other side of the Dungeon hall, a few paces behind him, was a creature with gray scales, huge jaws, and large wings. His eyes… Owen didn’t like those eyes. Trained, focused. Malevolent. What did this one have in mind? He saw that look often in town—outlaws that were captured, still bitter with defeat. But this one wasn’t defeated.

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

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

    “Y-yeah. Really easy, ha ha…”

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

    “Y-yeah? What?”

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

    “F… Fire and… Flying?”

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

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

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

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

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

    All that was left behind were a few stray embers from his tail; Owen bolted.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    So, doing chapter 1 for the review game and then I'll be cross-posting this elsewhere, because I can. ;P

    We've got the introduction of our town hub and, of course, an introductory dungeon to go with it. I'll get back to the actual settings so I can focus more on the plot first. For being an introductory chapter, things move briskly. Owen's not dawdling in the town too long and even meets characters that I'm 100% confident will be important later on *looks at signature*. Each encounter has a nagging sense of familiarity to it. It's pretty blatant foreshadowing that something's going on here and that, yes, that dream of his was real. If I had to guess, Nevren (or another psychic we'll meet) erased selected memories from Owen's mind. Because we can't have a PMD story without some amnesia, am I right? :V

    I suppose that, the benefit of Owen being a resident of this world is that he's already familiar with the mechanics of how things operate. This gives you leeway to not need to explain anything to us. The world has teleportation and we can see that. Since Owen knows about, there's no exposition. I'm okay with this as I hate it when the story stops so the narration can just explain something for me. But I think you mostly leaned on the showing side with things like the different Heart ranks. There were a few points I was confused on – like does the Thousand-Hearts Association actually have a thousand members? – but they might get clarified later. On the flip side, the dungeons are a subject where you should find a way to explain things more concretely. From what it looks like, we've got a forest landmass that isn't floors, but sections, divided by the usual weird distortion. But are the layouts constantly shifting? Where are wild Pokémon living, if not in the dungeons themselves? Do they just randomly wander in and attack? Why is there a different in intelligence level b/w wild 'mons and civilized ones? These are worldbuilding questions I'll be looking for answers to in the future.

    With that said, my big issue again was with inconsistency in your descriptions. The issue with Pokémon I brought up in the prologue is still here. It might actually be magnified since you have a couple of instances where you just refer to a 'mon as "someone," which doesn't help with drawing a mental image of what's going on. The other side to that is with the actual settings. While you described the warp points and the Thousand-Hearts HQ, the rest of Kilo Village is a giant question mark, as is the forest dungeon. The crater part was specific, but using vague descriptors like "restaurants" or "item shops" leaves a lot to my imagination... and I'd bet most readers wouldn't create the mental image you're going for without a bit more detail. Like, say, shapes/sizes/colors of buildings. Likewise, the dungeon needs some more setpieces other than just trees and roots, in my opinion.

    Anyway, that's all I've got. Looks like Owen's gonna rock out next chapter. sorrynotsorry
     
  4. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Hi! I'm Canis, but you probably already know that, given we've met on Bulbagarden and the 'cords. I was going to review Chapter One for the Review Game, but Amby ninja'd me hard. ;p So here's a review anyway!

    Hmm... pardon me if it's part of some phrase I happen to be unaware of, but the "they" here doesn't seem to refer to anything. If it's the individuals arriving through the Waypoint, they're a bit too far behind to be matched up with this pronoun. If it's the townsfolk, it's feels kinda reachy. Suggestion: you can use "one" instead, I think that would work.

    Heh, the fire type's spirits are dampened. Intentional or not, that's cute.

    I remember what you said about describing mon over at Bulba, and this way does feel better than the one in the prologue.

    uh oh. better not let Owen near any white vans

    Mmm, the use of the word "larva" here really lasagnas my Garfield. (That's a good thing.) Really vividly describes how helpless and silly-looking a late evolver feels.

    Ooh, this is one of those PMD fics that goes strong on the MD aspect but still makes game mechanics make sense in-universe. Haven't bumped into many yet, but I like the adaptations in this.

    The plot seems to be picking up pretty fast! I was expecting it to take quite a while until Owen realizes something weird is going on with his life. This is not a complaint - I think I'm just used to seeing fics get back to the big main plot after a few chapters. What this tells me, though, is that this fic will likely focus on whatever that mystery is, which sounds like it'll work to set this fic apart from the mountain of other PMD fics.

    The narration and dialogue flow very well to me with witty moments, and these two aspects usually make or break a fic for me (sadly, more often break, as I tend to be picky to a tragic extent). This is simply a joy to read, the opposite of a chore. I'm already engaged with just a prologue and one chapter and I'm actively looking forward for the following ones. That's the mark of a good writer (in my eyes, anyway), so congrats!

    Owen's breezing through the enemy mon is very true to that early-game feeling when you just destroy everything in front of you. The Aerodactyl is very true to when you try to do the same thing in PSMD but everything keeps killing your stupid weak good-for-nothing Fennekin you picked because it was cute. No, I'm not salty at all.

    Owen's a cheerful little thing - yeah, I know he's older than he looks, but he does retain that childlike excitement still. However, this cheer becoming more and more feigned as time rolls on already brings him depth. Loved the line about him hoping his enthusiasm would ease his parents' worries. Pretending to be fine is something a lot of people want to or feel like they have to do.

    Man, I haven't been this positive in feedback in ages... anyway, those are my thoughts. Feel free to ask about any point if it makes you wonder something.
     
  5. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    Hey, welcome to the forums! It's good to see fresh blood in the FF section, not that I'm one to speak (sorta).

    I'm liking the chapter(s) you've posted. The story seems pretty simple and straightforward so far, but that definitely works well in a the sort of adventure stuff PMD does. Everyone's got pretty clear motivations, there are a couple current and future plot/character things you seem to be setting up, and the world you present is pretty clear cut. I think this is a good start, but the what you do with the later chapters will really determine how interesting the story gets.

    Your prose is generally good, but I don't think this line really works well in the context of the flashback. The sarcasm pulled me out of the scene, which was going for a more serious life-or-death tone. Furthermore, I don't think it fits in the earnest, not-jaded style you're going for.

    Overall, it's a good start. Keep it up.
     
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Thanks for the feedback everyone! My home is gonna get hit by a hurricane tomorrow, but if the Internet doesn't go out, I plan to upload chapter 2 then! However, before that, I'm going to be uploading edits that I've made to chapter 1 (and a small line in the Act 1 prelude) shortly after I post this response.

    Thanks for this. I've added a tiny bit of description and exposition, since this chapter was pretty dense with events to begin with. It could afford to have some imagery! It actually gave me an opportunity to get playful. So you don't have to re-read, the basics are that the town is made of mostly stone and mortar, a strange mix between modern and old. Also added some description of what the Dungeon is like, which I took from how the games depict them -- raised ground based on the terrain it's surrounded in, embedded with trees and rocks and so on.

    See above. Thanks again, I've been polishing up this and future chapters as I upload them with these particular pointers in mind.

    This is 100% what I was going for. The early chapters in particular (before the story starts to diverge from basic PMD formula) were a constant struggle to balance "game" elements with the story, without it feeling "too much like the game" at the same time. Very early iterations of this work used to use actual game terminology like "turn" and "KO" before someone pointed out that's stupid. So, if you ever spot those terms, it's a relic, and please point them out so I can purge it away.

    For me, this was Salamence. I think it was the first optional mission I ever got in Super, and it was a SALAMENCE. I used up all my Sleep Wands and Blast Seeds, and I really felt like Owen and his resourcefulness, in hindsight.

    It's very validating to read this. That's exactly what I was going for.

    I'm a little surprised that you think right off the bat that I'm going for an earnest, not-jaded style! You aren't wrong, mind you, but I'm surprised you got that tone so soon. With all the bad stuff that happened, there is a sort of optimism through it all, isn't there? Still, I intended for that to be a sort of dry, dark humor, but it may have fallen flat. I'll modify it to something a little more in line with the rest of the story.
     
    canisaries likes this.
  7. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 2 – Trouble in the Woods

    “Stupid kid—get back—pfwaaagh!”

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

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

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

    Owen stared at the path—or, rather, the lack of a path—ahead of him. He had run into a dead end. There was no way out but to backtrack, and that was where Aerodactyl was rapidly closing in.

    “Heh, well, I suppose our fairness evens out, doesn’t it?” Aerodactyl said. He stopped advancing if only to taunt, but it was clear that he was looking for a good way to strike without dealing with more of Owen’s tricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Th-those are illegal! You can’t use those without Heart permission!” But Owen realized shortly after that this was an outlaw. What was one broken rule if they already cast the law aside?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Wh—huh?! Why you—little—!” He was bumbling where he stood, wobbling horribly. His jaws opened wide and he fired—unexpectedly—a set of rocky pellets toward Owen. Rock Blast—Owen was sure his species wasn’t capable of such a technique normally.

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

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

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

    “You gave me some real trouble, Charmander,” Aerodactyl said. He pulled Owen’s bag away and dug through it, grabbing one of his Heal Seeds. With a chomp, his burn evaporated before Owen’s eyes. “Heh. Well, I’ll just take this bag as payment.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Owen stared up at the outlaw. They locked eyes. His wing was raised. Owen didn’t know if he’d be able to survive the blow. If he’d wake up at all at the entrance, or if he’d just be there, too weak to fight, left for the ferals to eat.

    “Please,” Owen said.

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

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

    “No way!” someone shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Guys!” Owen shouted hoarsely.

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

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

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

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

    “Stop,” Mispy mumbled, shutting her eyes.

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

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

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

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

    Instead, the outlaw roared and ran toward Owen.

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

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

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

    “Mispy! Now!” Demitri shouted.

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

    Owen jumped when he felt something brush against his back.

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

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

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

    That wasn’t a dream.

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

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

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

    “You’re fine,” Mispy said. “Shut up.” She pressed her vines against his back again and focused. Healing energy continued to flow into him, and Owen, after a few seconds of tension, managed to breathe easy. He shut his eyes, thinking happier thoughts, like when he had cut his arm on a rock when he fell, and how his mother used the very same technique to patch him up. Easy, easy… Finally, Owen could breathe easily again.

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

    “Mm.”

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

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

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

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

    Again?

    Owen’s own thoughts gave him another pause.

    “You okay?” Demitri asked.

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

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

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

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

    “You’re weird,” Mispy said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “W-wait, how badly were they—”

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

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

    “Made it,” Owen said, relieved.

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

    <><><> ​

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

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

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

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

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

    The Aerodactyl whimpered and ducked his head down, defeated.

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

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

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

    “Like I’d tell you,” he hissed.

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

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

    “Not really. I just finished an apple.”

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

    And so, he was escorted away.

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

    Demitri tapped his tusks thoughtfully, giving the top of a nearby building a pensive stare. “Well, he was wanted for theft. Targeted explorers and took everything they had on them. We actually took that Mission because he was said to be in the same Dungeon you went into. Sorta spelled bad news, when you put two and two together, y’know? Chances are he’s going to have to work his debts away to pay them all back. Maybe as a volunteer as a temporary rescue team member. I think they call ‘em Broken Hearts. Make a living. Then once he’s done, maybe he can continue that work with full pay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Eh?” Gahi said. “What fer?”

    “Just to check on something.”

    <><><> ​

    “Yer serious.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Paras all hissed at him, poisonous clouds thickening.

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

    “Eh? Yeah, we’ve got one,” Gahi said. “…Wait. Aww, c’mon.” The Trapinch exasperatedly flung his huge head back.

    Mispy knocked a vine on top of Gahi’s back, giving him a firm stare. “Let him.”

    “B-beh, feh.” Gahi clamped his jaws shut tight. “That ain’t even enough, one lousy berry.” He watched Owen as Demitri handed the scarf over. Gahi growled and looked up at the trees. “We’re gonna be here all day if we just let him do his thing. Scalebag, go get more from that tree.” Gahi jerked his head above them. “Orans right up. I’ll help roll ‘em over.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Good going,” Gahi mumbled.

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

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

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

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

    “I guess y’did beat ‘em up kinda bad,” Gahi said. “Didn’t think they looked that bad when we passed ‘em by the first time. Maybe these’re just the ones that got roughed up the most.”

    “To be honest, a lot of these don’t actually look like your flames, Owen,” Demitri said, pointing at the Paras. “Looks like some of these guys got hit by something a lot worse. But at least the burns are gone.”

    Owen rubbed his head. Foggy as his memory was, Demitri did have a point. He hadn’t fought too many of them. He couldn’t have burned these all. Still, it was a good thing he came when he did. “Either way, I’m glad I came to undo some damage.”

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

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

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

    “He ain’t,” Gahi confirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    <><><> ​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mispy, too, was disappointed. “Boring.”

    “I—I’m not boring,” Owen squeaked.

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

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

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

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

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

    “Rhys?” Demitri said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Owen sat at the table. From where he was positioned, he could see further into the cave. It was like a hallway that split off into separate rooms. Four in total. One was the closest, forking to the right. This one led into a room that had a faint, white glow in it. None of the other rooms glowed. The second room was to the left, and two more were further in. Perhaps they were for each of the Pokémon that lived there. Owen deduced that the glowing one was Rhys’ room. What was in there?

    What Owen saw next made him rub his eyes. There was a cloud of some kind—a very fine mist, like a pinkish haze. It didn’t move with any breezes. Oh, no, Owen said. Now I’m starting to see things! Can anybody else—? Owen glanced at the others. Mispy’s leaf was twitching, like she had an itch. Demitri and Gahi were too focused on Rhys’ cooking.

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

    “Y-yes, Owen, why do you ask?”

    Owen looked at the pink cloud. Gone.

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

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

    “Hmph,” Rhys said.

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

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

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

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

    “Yes,” Mispy blurted.

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

    “It’s true!” Mispy said.

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

    “L-look, this place is creepy sometimes, alright?” Demitri said. “We see little, like, colors floating around sometimes. All of us! So, it has to be real.”

    “Colors? Like pink?” Owen said.

    “Pink? No, usually greens and yellows,” Demitri said.

    Rhys sighed, pausing his food prep. “I am the one who is most in tune with the aura,” he said. “And I say that whatever phenomenon it is, it’s nothing to worry about. Now, enough talk of spirits. Dinner is ready.”

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

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

    Owen thought to use his Badge, but having just used it to return to the Central Waypoint in Kilo Village, it wouldn’t have the energy to warp him again until tomorrow. More importantly, he didn’t have a Waypoint registered for Hot Spot Cave—after all, if someone stole his Badge, they could theoretically warp right to that secret village. He’d have to use the public Waypoints instead, and then walk the rest of the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Nope! The Waypoint is really close.”

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

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

    He then glanced at Rhys’ room. He saw the pink mist again. Oh, Mew in the stars, he thought, taking his final bite. Can’t I have just one normal day?
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
    git-it likes this.
  8. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    you can't break the law! that's illegal!

    Did, right?

    Hmm... I'm guessing it's more of a living fossil kinda thing, then, as I doubt they have labs for resurrection here.

    Am I slow for not being able to figure out what kind of seed that was? I thought it was a Blind Seed for a while, but then the Aerodactyl just kind of walks over to Owen and nabs his stuff right after.

    From personal experience, I say be careful with mentioning the big goat upstairs. When I hear someone mention Arceus in the way God would be in Western dialogue, I assume that the character has gained the concept of a god above all others worth praying to from somewhere. If the fic turns out to never address that, it ends up looking like a simple find-and-replace of God to Arceus.

    There's two ways to go about this, really. One is changing Arceus to something pretty vague like "the heavens" to imply that there are some beliefs and religions in the world, but they're not too structured or distinguished where the speaker comes from and live on mostly through sayings and such. The other is to actually create some kind of religion and explain its presence by showing churches, practitioners, religious texts or so on. Otherwise it'll turn out seeming like Pokémon just instinctively know about Arceus since they're born, which in turn kind of raises more questions than it answers.

    Some words missing here?

    I'm a bit curious as to how these badges work... I know the games themselves don't explain this, but can they only teleport the team back once the expedition is complete? How does the Badge know it? Or can they be used to teleport at any time?

    "They" sounds like the wrong pronoun here, or the thing it referred to wasn't properly established.

    I guess this explains where all the outlaws go in the PMD games with no prisons or executions mentioned. It's a very smart, nice solution, at least on paper. Wonder what happens to the criminals that refuse to work, though...

    or..... how to prepare a charmander.....

    Would sound better as "none of the other rooms glowed", imo.

    Phenomena is the plural, phenomenon is the singular.

    Wording seems odd here... but then again, I'm not a native.

    I don't really have anything profound to say about this chapter, just know that I'm still very hooked. See you round!
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2018
  9. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 3 – Ceremony of Advancement

    With dinner finished and plates cleaned, Rhys dismissed the trio to their rooms. Gahi wobbled into the left, deeper room. Demitri and Mispy head into the left room that was closer to the kitchen. Owen noticed that Mispy was being quite pushy with Demitri, playfully prodding at his back with her vines on the way into their room. Demitri, meanwhile, meekly bumped against her with his tusks, flicking his tiny tail against her front legs, which earned a giggle in response.

    “Bah, get a room,” Gahi muttered.

    “We are,” Mispy teased.

    Owen chuckled nostalgically at the three. He decided, for now, to ignore why he had felt like reminiscing on memories he did not have. Seeing the three head into two bedrooms answered the use of part of the house. Figuring one of the remaining two was Rhys’ quarters, that left one unaccounted for.

    “Uh, Rhys?” Owen pointed down the hall. “What’s that room supposed to be? The one there?”

    “The furthest, right room? That is for storage of our supplies,” Rhys said. “Extra items that aren’t supported as easily in the official Heart storage facilities. Spare furniture, and the like.”

    “Oh, so the glowy room is yours?” Owen asked, leaving no question unasked.

    “Yes,” Rhys said.

    “So,” Owen said slowly, “why’s it glow?”

    “I have a few items in my room that glow,” he said. “It is nothing else, really.”

    “Oh, okay.” He wasn’t convinced. “Nothing about any ghosts, maybe? Spirits, little,” Owen paused, “pink clouds?”

    “Pink,” Rhys repeated. “Are you sure it was pink?”

    The right side of Owen’s lips twitched upward. He got him this time. “Yeah, definitely pink.”

    “Hrmm.” Rhys’ ears twitched, the aura sensors accompanying them rising just slightly. “Owen, what was this pink cloud doing?”

    “Kinda, well, bobbing around when I looked at it. And then it went into your room.”

    “I see.” He spoke analytically, but it felt forced. “Thank you, Owen. I will investigate this later, but it’s far too late tonight. I will take you home.”

    Owen relented. It was late, and he was tired, and Alex was going to blow up with worry. A fresh day could help him think straight.

    After a few quick warps—one to Kilo Village, and then another to his usual Waypoint, Owen led the way. His tail flame helped to light the path. “So, this is Hot Spot Road,” Owen said. To the left was a rocky hill with boulders the size of Rhys. To the right was a great field of light green grass that went up to Owen’s chest. With the sun already down, it was hard to see much more than a sea of wavy blackness in the fields and jagged darkness in the mountains, though the tops still stood out against the barely-lit sky.

    “If you take a left into that cave,” Owen said, pointing at a small entrance, “there’s actually a Dungeon that you could explore. A lot of Fire Types live there, and even some Rock and Ground Types. But mostly Fire Types.”

    “Not very advantageous for a Pokémon like myself,” Rhys mused. “Quite, mm, melty, for a Steel Type.”

    “Yeah! Good thing we aren’t going that way.” He continued, waving his fiery tail left and right. The ember at the end fluctuated in its intensity, going from a blazing flame to a shrinking ember. He thought it was just a lingering feeling because he’d seen Rhys all the time as an Elite, just walking through the halls, but the familiarity still felt too strong. He felt so at ease with Rhys, almost like how he felt around Amia or Alex or any of the other villagers.

    Should he say it? No. He’d look like a complete lunatic. But if he didn’t ask, it’d bother him all night, and then the next night. He had to ask. So, he stopped walking.

    Rhys stopped, too, as if he knew it was coming.

    “Rhys…” He turned to face him. “Do I know you?”

    For just a second, it was as if the very wind had stopped between them. For that iota of an instant in time, nothing else mattered but him, the Lucario, and the empty space between them. The rustling, tall grass quieted. The sun set, and twilight ruled the world, save the flame that lit Owen’s back.

    The Lucario’s eyes, which glowed just barely in the darkness, held no expression; that, in itself, was abnormal to Owen. Why would someone not react to such an outlandish statement unless they were prepared for it?

    But after that silence, Rhys replied. “Well, I imagine you would.” He shrugged noncommittally, though his evasion of eye contact said more. “As an Elite Heart, I’m known by many.”

    Not good enough. “No, but… know you, know you,” Owen pressed. “Like I used to chat with you and stuff. Do you ever get the feeling that you know somebody for a lot longer than you actually do? That there’s more to it?”

    Rhys blinked a few times. Owen’s heartbeat picked up in both frequency and intensity. He tried to get a read for Rhys and his tension, but it was too hard. He was too controlled this time. Owen had a knack for being aware of these bodily cues, but he couldn’t get anything from Rhys.

    Finally, Rhys answered. “I do not believe in love at first sight.”

    Simultaneously, Owen’s tail burned white, and his heart skipped a beat. “N-not in that way!” he squeaked.

    He turned around and walked again. He puffed into his hands, letting the flames escape through cracks between his fingers. How could he have said it in that way? As if he was trying to propose to Rhys some sort of—lifelong—Owen shook his head fiercely, imagining a scenario where Rhys would have blushed and said yes. He’d’ve had to let Rhys down nicely, say that wasn’t what he meant. And then, for all eternity, any interaction he’d ever have with his idol would be awkward.

    Slowly, color returned to Owen’s scales. “Sorry,” he finally said. “I guess I’m just a little tired after the day. I didn’t expect to get pelted by rocks in that forest, is all. I don’t think Aerodactyl are supposed to know Rock Blast. Maybe I’m just delirious.”

    “Mm, that could be it. I’m glad that I can give off such a friendly aura, though. Thank you, Owen.” Rhys chuckled. At least one of them got to be happy….

    “Ha! Totally,” Owen agreed. He was screaming inside.

    He didn’t know what to make of it, so he just smiled and laughed. He saw no other opening to probing Rhys for those odd feelings of familiarity. He’d have to deal with tossing and turning at night anyway.

    He huffed a small sigh, a few sparks of irritability leaving his nostrils. He was home. “So, don’t tell anybody about this, okay? We’re going to Hot Spot Village—it’s a secret, underground town. That’s where I live. And, um, you can only get in if you say the passcode, and do the pose.” Owen said the last part at such a soft tone that Rhys only heard it thanks to his keen hearing.

    “Pose,” he said, blinking.

    “Yeah. Okay, so, I’ll do it, but you have to turn away!”

    “Of course,” Rhys said, humoring him. He turned around and waited, arms crossed.

    Owen, after verifying that Rhys wasn’t watching, turned toward what looked like an innocuous boulder next to the road. Each syllable was accompanied by a motion. He whispered, albeit loudly, the words:

    “Hot! Spot! Hot! Spot! Open up, Hotspot Cave!” Owen had raised his left arm up, then his right arm, and then brought his left arm down, and then his right arm. This was followed by swaying to the left, and then the right, and then the left and right again; next, he stepped backward, finally advanced forward.

    Rhys was rubbing the top of his muzzle, cringing. He wasn’t the only one. Every time Owen did this dance, a tiny part of his Char heart withered away.

    “There,” Owen said. He looked back and saw Rhys trying to hide from the world with his paw. “What? It’s not too bad. And nobody would dare do it, so it’s the perfect disguise!”

    After a brief delay, the boulder rolled to the right, revealing a hidden passageway into the ground. It was dimly lit by blue mushrooms that gave off a soft, cyan glow.

    “Thanks, Rhys!” Owen said. “That was a really safe trip. You should get home now, huh?”

    “Yes. Thank you for letting me guard you, Owen,” he said. “Stay safe. Be sure to keep up your meditation.”

    “Oh, sure!” Owen said. “Yeah, you make Team Alloy do the same thing, right?”

    “Yes, I do, that’s right,” Rhys said. “It’s very important for everyone.”

    “Yeah. Okay! See you, Rhys!”

    Owen watched Rhys leave for a bit longer. No, it wasn’t just some delusion. Unless he completely lost it, Rhys was hiding something. And perhaps Nevren, too. But then again, he probably just heard and saw them a lot. Both of them. They were Elite Hearts, after all.

    Owen closed his eyes. There was no use focusing on the negative. Every night ended like this, wondering if he’d done something, or everything, of that day before. A lot of this felt new, yet he still had that lingering doubt. Maybe he was just getting paranoid.

    At some point, it got tiring. He just wanted this perceived monotony to end. But hey, he didn’t have another mental crisis, panicking because he couldn’t remember how old he was. Oh, no. The thoughts were coming back.

    He refocused on the positive. “Oh, wow,” he said. “I met two Elites in one day! That’s so… cool!” He bounced slightly, but then remembered the timer on the boulder. He ran in the cave; a few seconds later, the boulder rolled back onto the passageway.

    He ran past a few other inhabitants in the cavern. There was Auntie Arcanine—an old Pokémon who always had an apple or two for him to eat. She waved at Owen as he passed. There was also a Fennekin, Chimchar, and Flareon trio that often played near the entrance at night, before their parents would tell them to pack it in for the night. If anything, he knew he had the townsfolk to see, even if he wasn’t particularly close to any of them. They were all good friends, the village as a whole, no matter the age.

    Owen’s house was near the back of the village, where it was even hotter. He wasn’t sure how his mother, in particular, handled this heat, but for all his life, she wasn’t bothered by it in the slightest. Blue mushrooms lit the entirety of the cave; now that Owen thought about it, the glow reminded him of the aura fire in Rhys’ paws. The home itself was like a cave within a cave; it was a circular entrance—big enough for his father’s bulky, Magmortar frame to fit through—that led into larger, dome-like rooms. Owen then realized the parallel it had with Rhys’ home.

    “I’m home, Mom! Dad!” Owen called, stepping into the first, largest room.

    “Ohh, Owen!” Amia called back. The Gardevoir adjusted her blue hair; there was a bit of ash remnant on the right side, perhaps from one of the kids’ pranks. She greeted Owen with a scratch under his chin—something Owen always enjoyed. “How did your little exploration go? We heard about what happened. You got in a bit of a scare, didn’t you?”

    “Just a little,” Owen said. Should he ask? He was going to ask. “Hey, how’d you find out, anyway? Nobody knows how to deliver letters here!”

    “We checked the, er, the bulletin board at the crossroads,” Alex said, stepping inside from the bedroom to Owen’s left. “Someone in town must have put it there.” He tapped his cannon-arms together. “Y-you… you did fine, right? You aren’t hurt?”

    “No!” Owen said. “And I already had dinner, too! Lucario Rhys treated me with his Entry Hearts. They were all really nice. Sorry that I was a little late.”

    Both his parents’ eyes widened with alarm when he mentioned them, but Owen was so mentally exhausted that he decided that this was one battle he’d choose to ignore. He didn’t even want to bring up his dream of Alex literally exploding. Too much. Later. Another day.

    The two nodded. “Oh, I heard of them,” Amia said. “It’s nice that you made some new friends, Owen! But you know what we also heard?” She rapidly clapped her hands together. “Tomorrow is another big day for you.”

    “Oh, yeah!” Owen said. “I might become an Entry Heart, too!”

    “Exactly! So, get some sleep, Owen!”

    “Totally!” Owen nodded. He ran right to bed.

    Alex watched him go and then glanced at Amia worriedly. She shook her head and held his shoulder.

    “I trust Rhys,” she said quietly. “His students can interact with Owen. It… I don’t think it’ll result in… I mean…”

    “It won’t happen all at once,” Alex said. “Let’s just be very careful. I’ll come up with some chores that will keep him here when we need him close.”

    <><><> ​

    The next afternoon was cloudier, much like Owen’s mood. He’d slept for perhaps a blink or two. Aside from essential missions for lost Pokémon or dangerous outlaws, there weren’t any Hearts going out that day. Instead, the southern portion of Kilo Village was packed, waiting for a big announcement at the top of the stairs to the main Heart building.

    The southern side of Kilo Village was usually only sparingly populated with passerby Pokémon entering the line of warp pads along the roadway. Now? It was a sea of Pokémon of all shapes and sizes. A Pachirisu was balanced atop a Rhydon’s head. A school of Magikarp hopped as high as they could to get precious glances at the stairs that led to the Heart. A pair of Girafarig chatted while their tails nipped at one another.

    Alakazam Nevren stood at the top of the stairs, assisting with setting up a new technology of his with the help of one of the Heart members—an Exploud. After making that Exploud hold two hooks and keep his mouth open, he handed a strange, black, rod-like device to the leader of all the Hearts, who finally emerged.

    Owen had to pause only to admire the significance of this gathering. The sheer number—almost all of the thousand main members of the Hearts were right there, in Kilo Village, at the same time. That wasn’t to mention all the peripheral assistants, organizers, and suppliers that worked from the sidelines. A sea of shapes and sizes and colors and energy. He shook himself to his senses. He had to get closer for a better view!

    Owen was in the middle of the crowd, trapped between a Tyranitar and a Hippowdon. He stood near the back, trying to get a look—but with all the bigger, stronger Pokémon in the way, this was impossible. “C’mon, c’mon—can I get a little room, please?” Owen begged, pressed between a rocky thigh and a sandy hide.

    “Hey!”

    Owen struggled to look back, finally slipping out from their crushing bodies.

    Demitri waved at him from a little hill. His green, scaly body was barely noticeable—he was just so small! His darker color scheme made for a nice complement Mispy’s light-green body; she assisted him, waving her vines to stand out more.

    Owen thought it was a bit too far away, but he complied anyway, if only so he didn’t get stomped on. He rushed over, weaving between the crowd with a series of ‘sorry!’ and ‘excuse me!’ mumbles.

    When he finally arrived, he sighed, picking off some remnant sand from between the scales of his arm. “Thanks.”

    “Here, if you want to get a better look, Rhys brought a Zoom Lens.” Demitri handed Owen a bulky pair of white glasses.

    “Wh-what? These are pretty valuable, aren’t they? Aren’t these for being more accurate with your less reliable techniques?”

    “Yeah, but there are better items to use in battle, so we just use this for times like these.”

    “Where’s Rhys, anyway?” Owen asked, looking around.

    “All Elite members are supposed to be up front to send off the retired Hearts,” Demitri said. “So, we’re standing here for now to watch. All the front seats are for the Elites, anyway.”

    Owen nodded and put the Zoom Lens on. He saw a bird-like Pokémon with a green, grassy hood. “Oh! There’s Decidueye James!”

    “The second-in-command?” asked Demitri.

    “What’s there?” Gahi asked, struggling to use the Zoom Lens on his huge head. “Bahh, these tools ain’t good fer Pokémon like me. Where’s the Trapinch-friendly gear?”

    “Probably the same place you left half your vocabulary,” Demitri muttered. This earned a swat from Gahi’s head.

    “Enough,” Mispy said, using her vines to pull the two feuding Pokémon apart. They were strong enough to hold Gahi in the air.

    “Oy, oy, l-lemme go!” Gahi wiggled his tiny legs uselessly.

    Demitri huffed and leaned against Mispy’s vines, rolling his eyes. He turned his attention back to the ceremony preparations. “It looks like he’s just working on that Exploud guy so we can all hear the Head.”

    Gahi eventually calmed down enough for Mispy to set him back on the ground.

    “Oh, oh!” Owen said. “There he is!”

    The leader of Kilo’s eyes were big, and his body was slimy as ever. There was always an energetic glow about him. Owen knew the sight well. Goodra Anam had finally exited the building.

    Anam took the device attached to the Exploud and looked at the crowd. He gave off a big, happy smile to them all. Owen didn’t need a Zoom Lens to see a smile that big. Anam waved, and slime shook off from the arm; James respectfully backed up to avoid dirtying his feathers.

    “Thank you, everyone, for coming!” Anam shouted from the top, his voice surprisingly high-pitched and as cheerful as the rest of his demeanor suggested. “I’d like to first welcome our Elite Hearts to the front, so that we can see the best of our Hearts—role models that I hope you all will aspire towards!”

    Claps, stomps, and cheers echoed from the audience while the Elites all walked up. Owen spotted that Golem from before, and Rhys, and even Nevren. “Hey, what’s that?” Owen asked. Rhys was holding onto a small bag. Nobody else had one—why did Rhys bring a bag with him for this event?

    “Feh, he brought that weird glowing ball,” Gahi said.

    “Glowing?” Owen asked, recalling the strange glow when he had dinner with them the night before. “What is that thing, anyway?”

    “No idea,” Gahi said.

    “It’s this weird, green, swirly thing, like a giant orb, y’know? But Rhys always says that we’re never, ever supposed to touch it,” Demitri said.

    Mispy nodded. “Ever.”

    “He moved it with a thick cloth and then sealed the bag,” Demitri said. “Not even he wants to touch it.”

    “I once made ‘m slip, though,” Gahi said. “He told me it’s really strong, heh. So, I guess he doesn’t wanna get too strong.”

    “He keeps it on the highest shelf,” Demitri said. “Too tall for Mispy’s vines to reach, and Gahi’s too short.”

    “And you hate heights,” Mispy mumbled.

    “D-do not!” Demitri said.

    Anam continued. “I would also like to take a moment of silence in acknowledgement of the hard work that our departed Hearts have done for Kilo Village, and indeed, the whole world.”

    This was a lot more formal than how Owen recalled most of Anam’s speeches. It must have been rehearsed extensively. The Charmander could only imagine James exasperatedly trying to get Anam to remember the words properly.

    Anam lowered his head. He then listed off a set of names, some of which Owen caught as familiar. They were all very old Pokémon that had worked at the dojo. Owen also heard names of other Hearts, and realized that all of these ones had, over the year, died one way or another due to a mishap or other fatality in the line of duty. His tail dimmed in solemn respect; as noble as the job was, it didn’t come without risks. That was the whole point of their line of work, after all.

    Owen scanned the crowd immediately near Anam with his Zoom Lens. There was a Granbull next to a Nidoking, shoulder to shoulder. The Granbull was trembling, but remained stoic. The only sign of emotion she showed was when she leaned against the Nidoking. He, meanwhile, was staring intensely at nothing, tears streaming down his face.

    Anam spoke up. “We would like to thank Granbull Jin for his line of work, and grant him the title of Eternal Heart.”

    Owen remembered reading about this story moons ago, during the winter. A strange mutant that had been described as a Golduck by some and a Toucannon by others had gotten dangerously close to Kilo Village. Jin had gotten there first, and he fought it alone, buying time before the Elites had arrived. A freak accident where everything had gone just slightly wrong. Despite Owen’s foggy memory, a vague image crossed his mind of seeing Alakazam Nevren passing through the town the day after, visibly upset, yet silent. He had acknowledged no one.

    “His sacrifice saved the lives of countless others. For that, we are eternally grateful, and we wish upon him eternal peace in the welcoming arms of Arceus.”

    Owen shifted uncomfortably, keeping his head down.

    “By His blessing,” Anam said, raising his arms slowly.

    “By His blessing,” some of the audience echoed; Owen followed, slightly out of sync.

    Owen glanced up, thinking that it was over, but then realized that nearly the entire crowd had their heads down in silence. Flame sparking, he quickly brought his head back down—but the corner of his eye caught something. He dared and looked up again.

    Anam was glowing. It was subtle, but under the dim light of the cloudy sky, the Goodra had a weak, blue glow. Rhys’ bag, too, had an ethereal radiance. The Lucario was trying to cover it up with small movements of his paws.

    As soon as it came, it faded. Anam and Rhys looked normal again, and the moment of silence passed.

    “Thank you,” Anam said.

    I—I’m not the only one who saw that, right? Owen said. No, everyone had their heads down. But someone else had to have—

    He glanced at Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi. They were all looking down, too. He then looked to his right. He saw a pair of Pokémon murmuring to one another. He tried to listen in.

    “Glowed? Did he glow?”

    “He did. It was weak, but I totally saw Goodra Anam glow!”

    “Maybe the rumors are true. They say Anam used to be a priest of some sort.”

    “Maybe he really is holy? Oh, thank Him, the whole town is blessed!”

    Excuse me? Owen thought. What kind of nutcase superstition is that? He dismissed the notion immediately. Glowing like that happened all the time! The Hot Spot mushrooms glowed in the same way! It was simple bio-luminescence. Perhaps Anam was just a rare variety of Goodra, or he had some glowing moss as part of his breakfast or last night’s dinner.

    Owen told himself this to stay sane.

    “And now,” Anam said, “I’d like to have all sixteen Old Hearts come up.” He clapped at the incoming sixteen. “You all have done a great job for all of us, haven’t you? All of your work. None of it will be forgotten! The many Pokémon that you’ve rescued, the many outlaws that you’ve corrected… th-the fun times that we all shared together, training, talking… all of that… a-all of…!” Anam sniffled. Rhys rubbed the top of his muzzle; James visibly sighed; Nevren’s left eye twitched.

    The Goodra broke down in a wail, rubbing his eyes with his free arm, flinging off slime and gooey tears in many directions. The combination of paying his respects to the dead, and then saying goodbye to so many heroic Pokémon, was too much for the leader of Kilo Village.

    James pried the audio-amplifier from Anam’s hands and continued the speech—which he had memorized for just such an occasion. “All of your efforts will be forever remembered in our records, and we all look forward to your relaxed lives as mentors and tutors for the next generation of Hearts that will take your place. We thank you all, and wish you all happy lives for many years to come.”

    The audience, nearly as a whole, sighed.

    Gahi clicked his jaws and bumped against Demitri’s tusks. “Every time with this guy.”

    The Axew picked at his tusks thoughtfully. “It’s hard to believe that the leader of the Thousand Hearts has such a… bleeding heart for all his members.”

    “Not really,” Mispy said, pulling Demitri’s claws away so he stopped chipping at his tusks.

    Demitri awkwardly lowered his claws. “Yeah, I guess when I say it that way, it makes perfect sense.”

    It sounded like James was finishing up the speech that Anam was too scattered to finish. Instead, while James read out the retiring Hearts’ names, Anam shook the hands, paws, hooves, and wings of those retiring or—in the case of a Magcargo—giving a respectful, sniffling nod.

    “Th-thank you, f-for all you’ve done!” Anam sniffed. “Nn… nggooh… mmbbbn…!”

    A few of the Old Hearts were a bit misty-eyed, too. Perhaps it was contagious. Someone approached Nevren on the side. Whatever was said was enough for him to discretely descend the stairs to talk away from the crowd.

    “Anam’s very compassionate,” Owen admitted. “I think that’s a good trait in a leader, even if he takes it a little far.” His fire brightened. “To think I might one day be standing in front of him, retiring after decades of hard work. And then I’d start teaching new Hearts how to fight in a dojo, or something like that. Yeah. That’s what I want. Maybe not the whole Arceus thing, but I’d like to be remembered a little.” He couldn’t wait to start.

    “Ain’t you thinkin’ ahead,” Gahi said, an amused glint in his eyes.

    “I would also like to announce,” James said, scanning the crowd, “that with these sixteen Old Hearts leaving, we now need sixteen new members. To all those, ngh, Heart-working individuals with Provisionary Badges, we will be holding preliminary tests throughout today in the many dojos in Kilo Village.”

    “Heh,” Gahi said. “Well lookit that, Owen. Guess that means yer gonna—where’d he go?”

    Owen was already sprinting to the dojo. He passed by Nevren, overhearing a passing conversation about a strange Pokémon in the woods near the western exit.

    “. . . Some kind of mutant.”

    “Say no more. I will take . . .”

    Apparently Nevren volunteered to take care of it—and at any other time, Owen would have been interested in finding out more. But this time, his priorities were hyper-focused on examinations.

    <><><> ​

    Stiff silence filled a wide room near the training district of Kilo Village. Owen sat on the floor with a small, raised lap-desk in front of him, going just above his belly. His flame was dim with concentration and his claws glowed with residual fire. In front of him was a sheet of paper with thirty questions on it, each one more difficult than the last, though all of them were multiple choice. The dreaded five-option multiple choice, of course.

    An irritable buzzing sounded on his left. He glanced over and saw a Voltorb staring very hard at his paper, which was on a similar desk, though at ground level. His eyes, narrow, stared at the third question, electricity coursing around his body. Then, with a pop, a bolt singed one of the bubbles

    To his right was a Gyarados, mouth closed in intense concentration, staring at a supersized version of the paper below him. His huge, serpentine form was pressed against the corner of the building so he wasn’t in the way, and he was using his whiskers dipped in ink to answer the questions. He was on the fourth, it seemed.

    The questions were changed around this year, so Owen couldn’t just blaze through it like last time. He sighed against his pointer claw, maintaining a small ember at the tip. He scorched his answer into the sixth question. Despite there being thirty of them, they had a large tank of water at the very end of the room, slowly draining into the bottom portion. It was meant to last a thousand seconds—for some reason, Anam had a bit of an obsession with a thousand—but that wasn’t nearly enough time to answer all of the questions. Every single one was tricky in some way. Policies intermingling, rare situations, but they all mattered. Equipment management, dealing with ferals morally, an outlaw with a hostage, survival tactics…

    Before Owen knew it, the Scyther at the front of the room clicked. “Time’s up!”

    “Urgh…” Owen breathed, hissing inwardly, and churred at the four empty questions at the end. He turned his paper over and slid it forward for the assistant Grumpig to collect. Stealing a few glances around, he felt at least a bit more confident that he’d pass. The academics were always easy for him; it seemed that most of the other test-takers could only answer a little over half the questions in time.

    Wait. Did he put his name on the—Yes. He did. He saw his name when Grumpig took his sheet. She even checked herself as part of the routine.

    Owen sighed, standing up. That’s one test down. Time for the fighting. With a quick walk outside—pressing against the wall when Gyarados stormed through, barely able to keep his sobs from becoming wails—Owen went across the dirt road and into the next building, wiping his feet on the grass just by the entrance.

    Something went flying past Owen; he ducked just in time, feeling the cool sting of water brush against his scales.

    “S-sorry!” a Dewott said, but then shrieked when a Shadow Ball slammed against his back. It exploded, sending him toppling forward in a crumpled, groaning heap.

    “Don’t get distracted.” A Decidueye straightened his wings out, looking down at Dewott. “That will be all for the test. Please allow the next in line to fight. Your results will be recorded and presented to you alongside your academic score.”

    Dewott sniffled and stood up shakily. Off to the side, an Audino waved him down; once he was close enough, a healing wave of energy quickly patched up his small wounds.

    Owen breathed slowly. He was going to be fighting James, was he? But he seemed a lot weaker than usual. As Anam’s second-in-command, he could probably beat all of the Heart candidates at the same time.

    Just next door, Owen heard the faded voice of James speaking to another set of candidates. “Substitute…” Owen mumbled. Curse his foggy memory; it was all coming back to him, now.

    James was one of the best Substitute users around. It wasn’t just some doll or some lookalike statue. It was the real deal, making an actual, weaker copy of himself with a part of his own aura. That was how James had described it, at least. He wasn’t sure how he was able to do something so intricate that not even the books had records of it.

    The fight after Dewott—it was a haughty Nidorino this time—didn’t last much longer. He staggered to Audino for a heal, and Owen realized that he had left early compared to other groups. He was next.

    “Charmander,” James said, giving a nod. “Ah. Owen. Welcome again.”

    Owen grinned. “Hey, Decidueye James. Er—just like last year, right?”

    “Yes. I hope you do well this time.”

    Owen suppressed a wince. Last time, he had been so nervous that he tripped over his feet and busted his snout before the battle even started. There had been blood everywhere…

    “Yeah. I’ll be fine.” Owen raised his hands in front of his chest, balling them into fists. Fire blazing, he stepped into the makeshift arena within the sparring room—surrounded by a few observers, and nothing else but sturdy walls to withstand particularly intense battles. This would not be one of them, Owen was sure—particularly because it seemed like even as a Substitute, James was holding back.

    “Ready?” James asked.

    Owen’s fire flashed a bright yellow. That was enough of an answer.

    James brought his wings forward, forming a bow-like weave from his wing. An ethereal arrow appeared where his feathers touched the bow. James tugged backwards; the string of light stretched, arrow aimed for Owen’s chest.

    Owen reacted with a bubble of fire, though James deftly sidestepped. Owen’s attack missed completely, not so much as a singe on his feathers, and James retaliated by firing his feathery arrow. Owen knew what a Spirit Shackle felt like and he’d rather not repeat it. He dove out of the way, the feather grazing the flame of his tail, and then rolled to his side. James was already preparing another arrow.

    Owen’s Fire Traps would be useless like this. James was too fast and too dangerous to get close to plant one nearby—that aside, he also had no time to set one up in the first place. He just had to wait for an opening. But how was he supposed to find an opening from the Thousand Hearts’ second-in—

    Owen didn’t know his legs could send him so high into the air, but he almost made a flip over the ground to dodge another arrow. He landed on all fours, puffing. He had to get James off his guard. He only really knew one way to do that.

    Bitter darkness welled up in Owen’s throat. While James prepared another arrow, he spat a black, cloudy sphere toward him. James sidestepped it again, but that wasn’t good enough. It burst into a thick cloud of smoke, enveloping James.

    The Decidueye grunted, evaporating his arrow in favor of blowing away the smoke. Now was his chance! Owen rushed toward James, closing the gap, and stomped on the ground, channeling his Ember through his foot. Then, he jumped away, right when the smoke cleared.

    Owen spewed a small plume of fire to taunt James. He couldn’t do much after spending so much on the trap, but it had to be enough so James wasn’t suspicious that he did nothing while he was blinded.

    The heat scorched a few of his feathers, but that was all. He wordlessly readied another arrow; Owen retaliated with another blast of fire, this time veering it slightly to James’ left. He sidestepped again—right onto the trap.

    Fire erupted from below James, the Decidueye hooting once in surprise. Owen lunged with fire in his throat, spewing flames at the Substitute, but just then, he saw a ball of darkness in the heart of the fire.

    Eyes wide, Owen had no time to think or block the attack. Instead, the Shadow Ball came straight at his chest, exploding on impact. The force sent Owen flying across the room in a spectacular spiral, ground and ceiling rapidly exchanging positions. He hit the floor three times, bouncing twice, and eventually stopped near the corner of the room.

    Owen groaned, the world spinning around him. “I’m okay…”

    But his fire burned happily. He landed a good hit on James, and historically, that was more than enough to pass. The Heal Pulse that washed over his body—he was starting to worry about how used to this he was getting—only added to his satisfaction.

    By the time his senses returned, he saw a few Pokémon standing over him. James, a Delphox, and the uncannily familiar face of Axew Demitri.

    “Oh, hey,” Owen greeted. “Did I win?”

    James straightened out the last of his feathers. “You didn’t win, but you passed, if that’s what you’re wondering. You nearly broke this Substitute.” He hooted again, inspecting one of his burned feathers as if it mattered. “I’m quite impressed, but I’m going to have to return myself to James so this Substitute can be replaced. Excuse me.”

    The Substitute dissolved in a cloud of black mist.

    Delphox sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “You must have really startled James for him to do an attack like that on you,” he said, pulling Owen up. “Still, you should’ve guarded that attack. Don’t you know Protect?”

    “I was trying to follow up with my Trap!”

    “You got greedy,” Delphox said. “Just remember that next time you fight someone that completely outmatches you.”

    Owen grumbled, breathing flames into his hands. This was going to be at least another session or two of meditating. Still, Delphox had a point. “Oh—er, Demitri.” Speaking to someone more his level was a bit more reassuring. “Guess I did pretty well here and in the exam portion, huh?”

    The Axew nodded twice, clutching at his tusks excitedly. “Yeah, good job!” Demitri said. “So, you’re going to get into the preliminaries! That’s nice, right? That’s gonna happen later in the afternoon, y’know. And then, after that—uh, if it goes the same way as last time—you’ll find out in the evening if you’re in or not. Fast!”

    “Yeah… Yeah!” Owen’s eyes were almost as luminous as his fire. “That’s right! This is my shot!”

    “We don’t have any urgent missions to take care of,” Demitri said, “so we’ll be there to cheer you on when you take them!”

    The Charmander nodded, his flame brighter than ever. Even if he was a bit careless in a fight against someone as strong as James, he would be able to prove himself in the mock-mission. Then they’d see—after that, he’ll finally be a full-fledged Heart.

    Owen took a short breath to gather his thoughts. As excited as he was about the exams, he still had some time to kill. The lingering thoughts of the orb in Rhys’ bag returned to him.

    “Hey,” Owen said to Demitri. “Where’s Rhys? I want to talk to him again.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
    git-it likes this.
  10. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Crossposting from Bulba~

    Missing apostrophe.

    ahahahhaha man you really know how to play with tension

    Ah, I love when diversity in crowds of mon is highlighted in ways like these. Can't expect them all to be two-legged furries mammals.

    Common mistake, the word is actually "complement". Also, missing period at the end.

    Either my brain broke, or there's something off about this grammatically.

    GET OFF THE STAGE

    I have to agree somewhat with Ambyssin (over at Bulba) about Team Alloy, but I can say that at least Mispy has been recognizable to me since her introduction. Granted, it's probably a lot because she's the only girl in the group, but I also have a feel of her personality already - and Mispy just really sounds like a Chikorita girl's name, you know? Demitri and Gahi still feel rather interchangeable to me, though, save for the accent. I mostly know which is which because I specifically memorized it as fast as possible - I tend to be poor with names in general, and I knew that small trouble would save me lots more later on, not having to scroll back or deduce from context.

    Speaking of names, it feels a bit odd that we have Owens and Alexes and Jameseseses, but then also Rhyses and Nevrens and Gahis. I guess Demitri is an example of a name that falls in the middle of the two groups, with not being a common English first name but still being familiar through another culture. I hope there are more characters with names like his to bridge this somewhat jarring gap.

    Also, side note, I always think Owen Wilson when I read Owen. Not your fault but the world's for only having, like, one famous Owen.
     
  11. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 4 – Strange Meditation

    Owen forced himself to settle down for lunch. He didn’t know if his heart was racing or sluggish. It was a strange mixture of beating quickly, and then slowing down to rhythmic, loud booms. The excitement killed his appetite, like his stomach was already satiated with his hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties, but he knew he had to force something down for the mission portion of the exams.

    He was sitting at Ludicolo Café, lined with bright brown walls and large, green tables that resembled a Ludicolo’s hat. Ludicolo himself was dancing along the aisles, serving drinks, along with other assistant waiters and waitresses. The exams were a bit of a spectacle for the average citizen, and the activity was a strain on the staff. Owen hoped they got paid extra for this day.

    He was downing a simple sandwich and an apple smoothie. He spotted Lucario Rhys entering the café with the trio. Good, they got him.

    “Hey!” Owen called, waving. His tail blazed a bit brighter with joy. There was something that warmed his heart about seeing those four, no matter the circumstance.

    “Hey, where’s yer folks?” Gahi asked. “Y’know, the ones at that place Rhys brought yeh.”

    “Oh, they have to stay inside and do their own work and stuff,” Owen said. “They knew I’d be doing all these qualifiers, but…”

    “I’m sure they’ll be very proud,” Rhys said, nodding.

    Owen eyed the bag around his neck. It was glowing again.

    “Well, go on,” Rhys told the three. “Get your food. You skipped breakfast, after all.”

    “Meh,” the Trapinch grumbled, wobbling forward first.

    Owen watched them get in line, but then turned to Rhys. “You aren’t eating?”

    “There is no need for now. I will have lunch later.”

    “How come they skipped breakfast?”

    “They weren’t going on a mission, so I used that as punishment.” The Lucario grunted. “They would have a big lunch to compensate. They were trying to touch some of my treasures again.”

    “You mean that orb in your bag?”

    No reply; Rhys only held the strap a bit tighter.

    “It’s kinda glowing again, isn’t it?” Owen tilted his head. He leaned forward to get a better look, but Rhys placed a paw over it. “I think that pink mist I saw earlier came from that bag. Do you think it wants me to touch—”

    “You simply shouldn’t,” Rhys said curtly. “It would be very bad if you touched it here.”

    Owen watched Rhys carefully. “Do you know what that mist was? Or who?”

    “I cannot be certain,” Rhys lied, and Owen knew that much.

    “Can I at least see it?”

    “You may not.”

    “Is it too strong for normal Po—” Someone tapped on his shoulder. “H-hey! Nevren!”

    “I was looking for you!” The Alakazam gave a cheerful little bow. “I wanted to congratulate you on your successful battle against James, much better than any other Charmander on record. Though, I should probably mark it down as an outlier in the logs. After all, you’re a late-evolver, as you call it, hm?”

    Owen began with a babble. “Yeah. I did well enough that James had to refresh his Substitute. But it was still not that good—I hope I’m not getting weaker from taking easy assignments or something. I’ve been feeling a little off lately, actually.”

    Rhys glanced at Nevren, but then at Owen. “Indeed, you’re quite strong for a Charmander.”

    “It isn’t as if Trapinch, Axew, and Chikorita normally do that well, either,” Nevren noted. “And yes, it’s quite strong, but it’s still weak in the grand scheme of the Hearts. Still, he has the benefits of my Eviolite that I gave him,” Nevren said. “Though, during the exams, you will have to go without it.”

    “Aw, I’ll do fine.” Owen waved his claws dismissively. “That Aerodactyl was a fluke.”

    “Ahh, Aerodactyl, yes,” Nevren said. “He was quite strong, wasn’t he? I imagine if he cooperated, his performance at the test you took would be quite substantial.” He nodded. “Ahh, Rhys. And how are you doing?”

    “Just fine, Nevren.”

    Owen sensed, for the briefest of moments, a thickness in the atmosphere. Muscles on Rhys in particular felt tense, and Nevren was standing still for a longer period of time than usual. Owen rubbed his head—his awareness of the bodies nearby was starting to get to him in such a crowded place. He wished he could turn it off.

    “Back!” Gahi said, hauling his head onto the table; on top of Gahi was his plate, which slid onto the table. Demitri and Mispy took their seats next, carrying their plates in a much more normal fashion, with Mispy using her vines.

    “D’you like this café, Owen?” Demitri asked.

    “It’s good for something quick, and the smoothies! Perfect! I visit here all the time.”

    Nevren eyed the four of them slowly. “Well! You seem to have these trainees in order, Rhys. Will you be overseeing them?”

    “Y-yes,” Rhys said. “I will, though Owen has elsewhere to be than my home.”

    “Ahh, that’s true,” Nevren said. “Though, I suspect you may want to mentor him. Is that right?”

    There it was again. Owen was sure of it this time. Tension. He felt an atmosphere of irritation, the flicking of Rhys’ tail, the bristling of fur. Or perhaps there was something more. What was it? From Rhys? Or Nevren?

    “Yes,” Rhys said. “I think I will.”

    Owen stopped focusing on the atmosphere and realized the words being said. “Wait—Rhys, you’re gonna be my mentor?”

    If you pass.”

    “I’m gonna get Rhys as a mentor! Y-yes! Yes!” Owen stood up. Forget the creeping dread—he was about to get trained by an Elite! He sprinted off; all that was left behind of him was a stray ember from his tail.

    Demitri jumped in surprise. “Wh-where’re you going?!”

    “Exams!”

    Demitri stared, but then looked back at Owen’s plate. “He left a bit of his sandwich,” he mourned.

    One of Mispy’s vines greedily wrapped around the remains.

    <><><> ​

    There was a long line for the exams. Due to the irregular sizes of everybody waiting in the queue, there was no telling how many were actually there. Between the Rhydon immediately behind him and the squad of Eevee evolutions in front of him, it could have been anywhere between five and fifteen Pokémon ahead. Despite this, when Owen stepped in line, it became even longer behind him.

    “Talk about lucky.” He leaned to the side to get a better look at what the exams were like. Last year, they were mock-Dungeon explorations. It seemed to be the same case this time around. Owen was first able to register his ID, and afterward, waited with the other Pokémon agonizingly for his name to be called—one way or the other—to go into testing. All the times before, he had been rejected. He wasn’t sure why. He did well in the academic and sparring portions, to the best of his memory. But there were just so many other candidates that were better, he figured. But despite the pit in his stomach from the past days, he had a good feeling about today. This was going to be better. It had to be. Right?

    It looked like candidates were heading into different Waypoints with established Hearts. Owen recognized most of the tiles as connections to weaker Dungeons that he’d be able to easily beat. If the test was to just get past those—this would be easy! He also noticed Anam standing in the back, watching every Heart get assigned. James was reading from a list, showing it to Anam every time. Every so often, Anam shook his head, and James seemingly skipped that line. How odd. Did Anam have final say? Once a name was given approval, James passed the word to the announcer. Owen’s heart picked up the pace. Did his name just get skipped? Was that it?

    Three more Pokémon were called in, and Owen shuffled aside to let them through. He spotted Nevren walking past them; the Alakazam glanced at him, and then flashed a small smile. He then spoke quietly to the Pokémon at the front, managing the candidates, and then walked away.

    James showed Anam the list again, and this time, he was staring at it for a long time. So long, in fact, that Owen and the others in the group wondered what the holdup was. Anam mumbled something to James, and James mumbled something back. Nevren stepped over and checked who was on the list. He tapped Anam on the shoulder—a trail of slime connected his finger to Anam thereafter—and said something else.

    C’mon, body, why can’t you zero in on what they’re saying? Owen complained, but the crowd around him distracted both his ears and whatever other strange sense he had. There was no body language for him to detect from so far away.

    And then, finally, Golem spoke again. “Next! Charmander-1!”

    Wait. He was called? He was called! He made it into the practical exam! “Y-yes!”

    The crowd waited anxiously for two more names to be called.

    “Oh, sorry, everyone. Nevren wants to personally test Owen alone,” Golem said, “since he is such an exceptional case with his test results.”

    Why did he have to phrase it like that? Owen shrank down. “S-sorry…” He didn’t need to look back to feel the envious glares. “How come I’m exceptional? Oh, because I’m a late-evolver and stuff?”

    “Yeah. For a Charmander, at least. You sure you didn’t eat an Everstone or something?”

    “No! I’ll totally evolve soon! So much for being a kid, huh?” Owen remembered this Golem from before. Still, he figured he should stop letting his size dictate his behavior. If he kept getting insecure about his size and stature, maybe he did deserve to be called a kid.

    The Alakazam approached, his mustache grand as ever. “Good to see you, Owen. It’s about time that we leave for your test. Please, come with me.”

    <><><> ​

    Eternal Whistler Cave was on the northern peaks, with ancient, black mountains carved by a constant, shredding wind. The cave itself was a structure that went in a winding path from one side of the mountain to the other; the cold air blew through this labyrinthine passageway constantly. The result was a noise of wind running through the cave, like a deep whistle or moan of some great titan. The easy way through the cave was to follow the wind, which blew from the south toward the north; the difficult way was against it. Apparently, a very small distortion existed here, leading to a small, junior-level Dungeon that was even less threatening than the one where he had encountered Aerodactyl.

    Aside from the atmosphere itself, that is. The ocean was behind them; sheer cliffs threatened to plunge Owen to his death if he took a single misstep. And, in fact, he had nearly done so quite a few times. He imagined using his Badge as an emergency warp-away would be an automatic failure for this test. Still, it wasn’t the fall that frightened him the most, or the constant wind. Even with his Fiery attributes, the combination of the altitude, the wind, and the cold made for a challenge that no wild Pokémon could pose.

    “S-so… c-cold…!” Owen’s teeth chattered, his hot blood becoming an uncomfortable lukewarm beneath his skin.

    “Keep it up, Owen! The caves will be quite windy.”

    “Y-you don’t s-say?”

    Owen wasn’t sure what was more irritating: the fact that he, a Fire Type, was so weak that he was starting to feel cold in this extreme atmosphere, or the fact that Nevren was, as he always has been, calm and unflinching against the same weather. Waves crashed on the rocks far below. Owen decided long ago not to look down. If he fell, the descent would last at least ten seconds, at least. He didn’t want to find out what would kill him first—the cold of the water, or the force of the impact.

    The black mountain’s rocks were worn down from constant erosion. There were very few loose ones; only the biggest, densest boulders could withstand the constant force. Owen felt like one of the small rocks. He had to lean his body forward just to advance, and a single misstep—he’d tumble backwards and off the mountain for sure. His flame, half its usual size, cried for shelter.

    Owen’s bag was securely fastened around his neck, pushed so strongly by the wind that the strap left an imprint on the scales of his chest. If he stayed in this sort of wind any longer, it’d surely fuse into his body completely. He squinted through the gusts and followed Nevren into the cave. As promised, it was even windier than before. “Oh, come on!” Owen screamed over the wind.

    “We’re almost there!” Nevren said cheerfully.

    The walk took a bit longer until, finally, Nevren made an odd turn into an alcove. There, when Owen entered, the wind became much weaker. It was just a room with a rocky wall, but the tunnel ended abruptly in a dead end.

    “Wh—huh?” Owen built up the courage to open his eyes.

    “This is an offshoot from the main path,” Nevren said. “The wind has nowhere to continue through. It will be weaker here. An ideal spot to meditate, don’t you think? Before we enter the Dungeon proper.”

    “Oh—yeah! Did I mention that I meditate to you? I must’ve forgotten.” Owen’s body relaxed, his flame finally having some reprieve from the bitter gusts. “It really helps me to clear my head. Sometimes I can even get to think up new fighting techniques, y’know?”

    Nevren nodded. “I’ll give you an opportunity to do that before we have our true Dungeon exploration.”

    “Okay, sure!” Owen found a nice spot near the right side of the offshoot and sat down. There, he closed his eyes, trying his best to meditate. Now that the wind wasn’t constantly battering him, the general cold was much more tolerable, the natural heat of his body more than making up for it. Breathe in, breathe out. In a strange way, the chill was calming.

    “…Say, Nevren.”

    “Hmm?” Nevren was settled on the opposite side of the offshoot.

    “You’re a Psychic Type, right? So, does that mean you’re sorta more in tune with the mind?”

    “Well, yes, though I would say the stereotype is a bit exaggerated.”

    “That’s good, um,” Owen said, but then paused to consider how to phrase it, “because I think I’m crazy. I don’t want to—to make you worried or anything, but sometimes I just get this feeling that I’ve done something before. This stuff, right now? This feels new. But, like, talking to Rhys, and his students, feels like I’m having the same conversation all over again.”

    “Ah, how strange,” Nevren said. “But I do not think you are crazy. Perhaps you are just excited.”

    “Excited,” Owen repeated. “And what about if…” Owen wondered if he should mention the pink mist. “Uh… never mind. I’m probably just sleep-deprived. I was so excited for today that I only slept for, maybe, a blink’s worth of time, y’know?”

    “Ah. Well. What better way to freshen the mind than to meditate?”

    “Yeah, okay.” The chilled Charmander closed his eyes and steadied his breath. Clear my mind. Just listen to the world, he thought to himself, and then attempted to think no longer.

    The whistling of the wind was all that filled his head. He was well-versed in this sort of meditation, and he was able to slip into the state very easily, only vaguely aware of the world around him. Owen’s thoughts became deeply inward, envisioning himself standing in a void. His body no longer moved—only his inner body, like his aura, in his thoughts, in this void. He went into a battle stance in this void, blasting plumes of fire in the dark. They became Flamethrowers shortly after. He stomped on the ground, leaving Fire Traps behind. Shadowy creatures, envisioned dummies, chased him to put the traps to use, but Owen defeated them easily. They evaporated in a black fog, much like the ominous shadows that James became.

    Owen was surrounded. He blasted the dummies ahead of him with flames, clearing the way, and stomped on the ground for the dummies behind him. Then, he ran ahead. His form grew. It reddened and became taller; his flame became hotter. A horn emerged from the back of his head. The Charmeleon in the void spun around and scorched the dummies. He crouched forward, and his back expanded; the outer layer of his scales and skin split open, forming wings; the single horn split as well, becoming two on either side of the back of his head.

    Yes! Oh, the feeling, this was what he wanted, what he always imagined. Charizard! To fly through the sky, scorching his foes below. More, higher, stronger—keep fighting! Don’t let the fire go out! It was a surreal mixture of elation and serenity. A fantasy that calmed his aura. Slowly, his Charizard aura touched upon the ground, and the flames died down. Calm, calm. Keep it all calm. Burn slowly. Crackle, crackle….

    In the real world, Owen abruptly jumped to his right. “Ngh—what?” His body had moved on its own, as if he’d sensed something. He looked at where he once was; the rocks were severely warped into oblong shapes by a strange force. He stared ahead and saw Nevren, who was staring back with a blank, emotionless expression.

    “A-Alakazam Nevr—”

    Nevren’s eyes glowed bright, and Owen knew to dodge again. The rocks behind him twisted in the same way.

    “What’re you doing?!”

    The rocks kept twisting around him; he had to keep moving. Nevren held his arm forward; electricity crackled from his spoon. This time, it was too fast. A horrible pain rushed through Owen’s body; his legs refused to listen to any command. And then, he felt another pain—a twisting, indirect, dull, but incredible sensation of pressure across his entire body, like a giant hand twisting him into a spiral.

    Owen screamed and shook. He could move again. He fell on his knees, coughing; everything hurt. Everything felt broken. He tried to take a breath, but something there wasn’t working, too.

    Nevren stared at Owen. His eyes glowed.

    He was going to kill him. Right here, Nevren was trying to kill him. That could be the only explanation. Owen’s mind switched immediately to survival, as if he was fighting a hostile outlaw, but there wasn’t much he could do. His body was already broken. He didn’t have time to reach into his bag for any assistance. Was this it? Why? Nevren, what was he doing?

    Confusion washed into fear—and then—just as quickly, it washed into something primal. A roar of madness echoed in Owen’s mind.

    A burning flame in Owen’s chest seared his insides; his vision felt red. The pain vanished. His body moved. It broke more from it, but without pain to stop him, he kept moving.

    He dodged the Psychic attack and rushed at Nevren. He jumped—the little Charmander was now at Nevren’s height in the air, in for a full collision. He opened his mouth; his fangs were red-hot, and he was in a direct course for Nevren’s neck, but the Alakazam weaved to the right. Owen spun his head and blasted Nevren’s face with fire. Nevren grunted and Owen landed. He landed oddly on his foot, spraining it or worse, but it didn’t matter. He spun and flung himself toward Nevren again.

    Nevren couldn’t dodge this one. Owen wrapped his arms around Nevren, getting as strong a hold as he could; in a split-second, his teeth sank into Nevren’s neck. Owen didn’t hold back. His jaw clenched as hard as it could, until his jaws met—

    “Ng—uff—!” Owen opened his eyes with a jolt.

    The Charmander was on the ground, legs crossed. He was in the right side of the room. Nevren was still sitting where he had been when he started meditating. The only sound was the wind whistling. The rocks in the alcove were normal and untwisted. His body felt just fine. Relaxed, even, like it usually did after a meditation session.

    “Hm?” Nevren asked. “Is something the matter? You weren’t meditating for long.”

    “I… I…” Owen rubbed his head. “I think the altitude is getting to me, Nevren. I don’t think I can meditate here. I’m used to doing it underground, y’know?”

    “Ah,” Nevren said. “I see. Well, there’s no use in trying further if the environment isn’t ideal. Why don’t we simply advance through the Dungeon normally?”

    Owen stood up, dusting himself off. Just in case, he checked his body for any possible injuries, but there weren’t any. Perhaps he really was crazy.

    <><><> ​

    It was easy. The Dungeon was filled with small Rock Pokémon like Geodude and Shieldon, yes, but Owen wasn’t afraid of them. He could tell that they were weak. Unlike the Aerodactyl, which was hard to get close to, Owen could easily approach these slow-moving wilds and dispatch them with a single swipe of hardened claws. This Dungeon was in a rough area in terms of its environment, but the Pokémon themselves were less than formidable. For that, he was thankful—as the wind was still relentless. Nevren had a barrier up ahead of them to ward off most of the atmospheric onslaught.

    The cave itself had the same general layout that Dungeons were known for. Corridors connected small rooms, this time made from the black rocks that had been carved by the cold winds. Within the cave, small pieces of sediment constantly chipped off of the walls, forcing Owen to walk with his eyes partially shut for fear of getting bits of mountain dust in them. Despite the barrier, Owen’s body shivered at every step. It was like walking on frost, yet the dry winds from the south didn’t allow for much ice to form.

    But other thoughts distracted Owen from most of the harsh elements of the cave. He dwelled on the strange dream he had. After his last experience with dreams, he was growing paranoid at what was real and what was a trick of the mind’s faults.

    “N-Nevren?” Owen asked, nearing the final segment of the Dungeon. “When you meditate, do you get weird dreams?”

    “Hm? No, not that I’m aware,” Nevren said. “Is that what happened? You seem quite shaken.”

    “Yeah,” Owen said, deciding not to comment that his current shaking was due to the cold. “At first it was normal. I was just fighting in a big, black room, kinda. I mean, not a room, since there weren’t any walls, but that’s how it usually goes. But then, suddenly I felt like,” Owen hesitated, “you were gonna attack me. And you were! I mean, in my dream. And then… and then I think I went crazy. I started to see red, and I stopped feeling pain from all your super strong attacks, um, and then,” another pause, “I don’t think I remember what happened after that.”

    “Hmm. That’s a very vivid dream.”

    “Yeah,” Owen said. “I think I shouldn’t try to do that on high mountains. O-or cold ones.”

    “Well, regardless of that,” Nevren said, “I’m quite confident in your abilities. I will be giving you a very positive review to James regarding your performance. I can almost guarantee your acceptance into the Thousand Hearts.”

    “W-wait—really?!” Owen asked. A sneaky Geodude threw a rock at Owen, hitting him in the back. Between Nevren’s barrier and how weak the Pokémon here were, he didn’t feel the need to acknowledge it. Seeing this, the Geodude hastily crawled away.

    “Of course!” Nevren said. “This is one of the designated testing Dungeons. If a recruit can pass it without assistance, and shows little signs of struggle, then it means you are ready to be part of the first tier of the Thousand Hearts. You may think of yourself as unskilled—” he shook his head, “—but in reality, few non-wild Pokémon get this strong or adept at fighting to handle such a task without trouble. Most only train themselves until they can reach the final stage of their species’ evolutions.”

    It made sense to Owen. He didn’t know how long he had been training for this moment. He had taken on more moderately difficult Dungeons in preparation for the exams. “So, I’ve just been training for so long, that my normal is most others’ abnormal?” He carefully stepped over a small crevice; Nevren had barely noticed it, but Owen’s shorter stature made it a conscious effort to avoid falling in.

    “Yes, precisely!” Nevren said, chuckling. “You’re quite abnormal indeed, Owen.”

    “Aw, shucks!” Owen laughed. A volley of rocks grazed the top of his scaly scalp.

    A gutsy Carbink threw a rock at Nevren from behind. A barrier blocked the attack, nullifying it completely.

    “These guys are persistent,” Owen said.

    “They’re merely territorial,” Nevren said. “Well! Let’s finish this Dungeon. You can wait for the promotion announcements in the evening. Perhaps with your friends? Team Alloy? I quite like that name.”

    “Totally.” But then, a thought occurred to him. “Abnormal…”

    “Hm? What was that, Owen?”

    “Uh, Nevren? I think I overheard someone after the Ceremony talking about some kind of… mutant Pokémon being spotted. You said you’d take care of it. What was that?”

    “Ahh, that was nothing to be concerned with. Pokémon tend to be a bit jumpy about the wild Pokémon in abnormal places, thinking they’re mutants. Sometimes they just happen to wander. I helped relocate the… creature to its proper place, and all was well.”

    “Oh! That’s kinda cool. So, are those missions usually reserved for Elites?”

    “Actually, Rhys and I reserve those sightings for ourselves, as we’re specifically trained with ‘abnormal Pokémon relocation,’ so to speak.”

    “Oh, wow! That’s so cool!” Owen said. Still, it was odd that there were strange Pokémon to begin with. Where did they come from?

    “In any case,” Nevren said, pointing at the final distortion of light, “let us return home.”

    <><><> ​

    After completing the Dungeon and parting ways with Nevren, he spotted Gahi returning from his squad of potential recruits near the Heart headquarters. Owen ran over. “Gahi! How’d it go?”

    “Went fine. Gonna go and give my report ter James first, and I’ll be right back, eh?”

    “Sure.”

    Fast as always, Gahi didn’t take long to head back out.

    “So,” Owen said, “how’d those recruits do? The ones you handled?”

    “Feh, they ain’t ready.” He clicked his jaws. “Figure yeh passed, though?”

    “Nevren said that he was gonna give me a review brighter than my tail, so I hope so!”

    “Heh.” Gahi’s eyes glinted with amusement. “Well ain’t that something. Maybe we can form a team o’ four, go exploring. Three’s a good number that most recommend, but eh, four ain’t beyond us and what a Badge can handle, even if we gotta rescue a few folks along the way.”

    Owen nodded. “Yeah. But I don’t think I’m gonna go to that Dungeon again. I tried to meditate there, and I think I got a low-air dream or something, because…” His attention was caught by a passing conversation.

    “ . . . Strange, isn’t it?”

    “Creepy, more like!”

    “They should’ve investigated.”

    “No way! That wasn’t part of the mission!”

    Owen cleared his throat. “Um—what was creepy?”

    “Y’didn’t hear?” Gahi asked.

    “What?”

    “One o’ the teams that went out headed ter Calm Water Lake.” Gahi jerked his massive head in the direction of the Waypoint rows. “Around the third section, there was an eerie glow from the walls. A recruit got lost on the path, took a wrong turn, I dunno.”

    “A weird glow?” Owen asked, flame growing just slightly in height. “Was the group the one with Rhys?”

    Gahi shook his head. “Nope. Rhys handled some other team. They’re gonna send someone in ter investigate. Pro’ly gonna see the mission go up soon.” Gahi glanced at Owen. The Charmander didn’t even have an opportunity to ask: Gahi asked for him. “Wanna go?”

    Was it the same sort of glow? That orb? But Rhys didn’t go with them, so it couldn’t be from his weird, green orb. But there was a cold pit in his stomach when he thought about it. That must have been the thought of going to a watery Dungeon. Still, his curiosity trumped his Type, and he agreed.

    “Sure. But we have to be back before sunset! Let’s get Demitri and Mispy.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
    git-it likes this.
  12. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    As I said, cross-posting this from elsewhere for the game. Ludicolo is the perfect 'mon to run a café. I imagine Miror B's Retro Groove playing in the background... because of course it is. alternatively, Wario de Mucho. Anyway, Owen is incredibly perceptive. I say that because I'm not used to seeing a PMD protagonist that's this good at picking up on subtle shifts in body language like Owen is. I'd almost say it's a bit too good but you've claimed Owen is an adult and he's been a 'mon his whole life, so I guess he's learned a thing or two.

    Like before, either I'm getting paranoid in my old age or you do a good job through Owen's vantage of making both Rhys and Nevren seem... less than trustworthy. Especially when the location he goes to doesn't scream "introductory dungeon." It's also a funny name b/c I've skied at Whistler Mountain plenty in the past, so I couldn't stop think about it. That said, I do think you could've done with showcasing the wind effecting the terrain a bit more. Even a mountain would have dust and debris getting blown about that would interfere with Owen's vision. It's not a huge deal, just thought I'd throw that out there. Especially since the description of the dungeon that follows is... bare bones. Like, you don't even mention a single species of Pokémon. You toss out "wilds" and "rock-types" but that's about it. Doesn't give me much to go off of. I mean, Onyx is a very weak rock-type by game stats standards, but it's big and imposing looking. You throw in a Geodude and a Carbink later, but they're not even really considered threats. Just background noise. XP

    I will say you got me with that fake-out in the meditation bit. Then again, I'm not a terribly astute reader. But I did believe that Nevren was ambushing Owen and the Eviolite was just a trick to lull him into a false sense of security. So, points for you, I guess? With the somewhat awkward conversation that follows in the dungeon, I get this unusual sense that what we witnessed was one of the memories Owen had erased. And, on top of that, me thinks he's going to find the source of the eerie glow and, if it is an orb like Rhys', that'll be the one he touches and makes all sorts of bad things happen.

    Last bit is a nitpick: I think you over did it with Gahi's accent here. Way too many letters swapped out with apostrophes. It wasn't as noticeable in the first three chapters, but in the last scene it was... egregious.

    Anyway, nice job. Some closing thoughts to end off:

    In my business, we call that A-Fib or V-Fib and I'm pretty sure the nurses would be standing by with the defibrillator. :p

    Having two "likes" here kind of undermines the simile you're going for and makes this awkward. I'd try to avoid this, if I were you.
     
  13. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    WEIRD WOOOO i like weird

    Come to think of it, Ludicolo's a great choice for a café keeper. That hat's a built in tray.

    Hmm. Really makes you think just how wide this conspiracy Owen's parents are involved in is spread...

    I'm not at all an expert in semicolon usage as I just straight up never do it, but these confuse me even within the little I know. These semicolons don't seem to have any purpose. They could be replaced with periods and nothing would change except the fact that I wouldn't be asking this question.

    General Comments

    I liked the evolution sequence, and the Nevren fight caught me off guard as I imagine was intended. I just hope the explanation behind these events won't be too complicated, as I'm kind of at my limits of keeping up with all the different unexplained phenomena so far. We have the mutants, Owen feeling like he's done things before, Owen being a late evolver, Rhys' glowy thingy, the pink cloud at Rhys' house and now an evolution/fight illusion and a glowy wall in a dungeon. I feel like I'm forgetting a few more, even. It may well all make sense later on, but I fear I'm not even gonna remember half the stuff by then.

    Hm, this turned out more commentary-like than a review... I guess that's bound to happen for a chapterly replier. Still wish I had more to say, though.
     
  14. RocketKnight66

    RocketKnight66 404: Consistent Schedule not Found

    Hello! I'm finally starting to branch out and take a look at more of the fics here. I love PMD, so I definitely wanted to check this one out. I've read the prologue and first chapter, and I'm enjoying this story so far!

    Right off the bat, there's a air of mystery to everything going on. I (and Owen too it seems) believed that beginning sequence was a dream, but some of the dialogue near the end of the prologue made me question that a little bit. Along with Owen getting all these strange feelings of deja vu, like with when he met Dimitri, Gahi, and Mispy. And then there are those mentions of Rhys as well. He sounds like he's pretty important, but because of "I wish Rhys was still here," I have to wonder if something has happened to him. I'm finding myself asking a lot of questions already and it's quite interesting.

    Speaking of Owen, I like him a lot. He's a pretty fun character, and he seems to be a pretty great fighter, to boot. I noticed he seems very insecure about the fact that he's still stuck as a Charmander, what with him trying to correct anyone that calls him "kid." It's perfectly understandable, feeling like he hasn't evolved because he's doing something wrong. It's also pretty interesting to see a PMD protagonist that's not the classic human turned Pokémon type of deal. I like that kind of unique spin on it.

    I really liked the prose for the most part, and I definitely found a few bits amusing. However, some of the descriptions are a bit vague, the town with some of the buildings like the store and the restaurant and the wild Pokémon just being called, well, wild Pokémon instead of a specific species come to mind. I had a hard time picturing those parts in my head.

    The pacing is fast for sure... Owen's already in the first dungeon on Chapter 1, and he's had a run-in with one of those mutated Pokémon (which is something pretty interesting in and of itself), and then he encounters an outlaw on top of that. The stakes are high right away, and I'm curious to see where it goes from here.

    One last note, I do believe I caught a typo.
    I'm guessing you meant "I'm just a late evolver!"
     
  15. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    So many reviews! I love it. I replied to canisaries and Amby elsewhere, but as for you, RocketKnight66...

    Say no more, I love you already.

    It's kinda funny, but I didn't think that would be a unique take on it. I thought I was just going with what folks did when making up original stories! But you know, I think either way works well. It's just that, in the case of my story, there's already enough mystery regarding poor Owen, adding an amnesiac human-turned-pokemon into the mix would've just made things way too crazy, way too fast. Owen has enough problems!

    Ahh, my weakness. I've already added descriptions to what you read, so the older draft was even less descriptive! For future chapters, I'll absolutely keep in mind the descriptions of new areas (and some reminder-descriptions of revisited areas) to keep that imagery in mind.

    Thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate it.
     
  16. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 5 – Mystic Glow

    Watery Dungeons simultaneously fascinated and unnerved Owen. Due to his nature, they would be perhaps the last sort of Dungeon that he’d want to explore. Not only would getting his tail doused be perhaps the most excruciating pain imaginable—aside from being impaled—the terrain also made his Fire Traps useless. Calm Water Lake was no exception.

    The lake—a clear, blue expanse surrounded by yellow-green grass—disappeared the moment they passed through the distortion. It was replaced by blue, rocky walls made from amalgamated sand, rough and perpetually damp to the touch. The ground was covered in a thin layer of water that went just past Owen’s tiny ankles. This was a challenge for Gahi, who was even lower to the ground. His massive, orange head was constantly tilted upward to prevent his lower jaw from dipping underwater.

    “Calm Water Lake is kinda boring.” Owen had his hands behind his head, staring at the wispy clouds. Despite how much he didn’t like the Dungeon itself, it was still better than the cave before. “Hey, do we have any warps left?”

    “I do,” Demitri said. “Mispy used her Badge to get our group back, but mine still has a charge left for the day. Once we’re done exploring this Dungeon, we’ll head right back to Kilo.”

    “Yeah. I hope it goes by soon,” Owen said. “I’m sick of walking through water. Nothing’s happening.” He had been hoping to find mysterious, pink mist to lead the way. Nothing of the sort was around.

    “I mean, it’s called Calm Water Lake,” Demitri said. “Isn’t that kinda what you’d expect? Even its title is boring.”

    “All of the wild Pokémon are asleep. They won’t even bother with you unless you aggravate them first. Where’s the fun in that?” Owen blinked. That was an odd comment from himself. Was he getting antsy again? Did he skip his meditation this morning? The one in Eternal Whistler didn’t count. Not after that dream.

    “I know what y’mean,” Gahi said. “I don’t wanna go ter this place either, ‘cause the wilds’re all weak.”

    “All this teaching hasn’t given me a good fight the whole day,” Demitri said.

    Mispy sighed deeply. Her leaf bobbed and brushed against Demitri’s tusk.

    “You guys like to battle a bunch, too, huh?” Owen said. Such an attitude was incredibly rare among bystander and civilian Pokémon. There was no need to fight, usually. Some Pokémon went their entire lives not evolving simply because their auras never became efficient enough to trigger it. Most only trained enough to evolve and simply stopped after that.

    That was just another layer of kinship he felt with these three. Fellow battle-hearts!

    “I know what that’s like,” Owen continued. “If I don’t get a good fight in for the day, I can’t sleep at night. I’m all restless! And I need to fight something! My parents gave me a rock that I can beat up if I ever get like that. But if that isn’t enough, I need to meditate and stuff.”

    “Baah,” Gahi shook his head. “Don’t even say the word. I hate when Rhys makes us do that.”

    “It calms the mind, though.” Demitri rubbed his tusks, finding a little nick to scrape dirt off. “And we know it makes our attacks more efficient, so it isn’t all bad!”

    “Tune the aura,” Mispy said.

    “Ha, it’s like we get the same lectures!” Owen said. “I wonder if my parents and Rhys went to the same classes.”

    “Feh, wouldn’t doubt it.” Gahi fell into a dip in the watery ground, struggling and gurgling in the sudden increase in water. Mispy fished him out, placing him a few paces ahead. “Bah, stupid water… Say, how come we never saw yer parents, anyway? Figure they’d’ve supported you fer the Ceremony, at least.”

    “I think they’re busy at home,” Owen said dismissively, though his tail dimmed. “My parents have been really hesitant about going out lately. I’m not really sure why. I hope they aren’t afraid of the light or something.”

    An entire segment of the Dungeon passed in complete silence. It didn’t feel awkward to Owen. In fact, it was serene. For perhaps the first time all day, his heart was at ease, traveling with these three like old friends. Without realizing it, a dumb, subtle smile grew on Owen’s face.

    “Y’know, that thing y’mentioned,” Gahi suddenly said. “About us seeming familiar? I’m starting ter feel it, too.”

    “Huh?” Owen asked.

    Demitri tapped his claws against his scales. “Yeah, I’m with Gahi, for once.”

    “Mm.” Mispy nodded.

    Owen stared. “Yeah… it’s weird. But, I don’t know why, either. You guys?”

    They all shook their head.

    Owen shrugged. “I decided that I should just stop dwelling on it. Maybe we’ll figure it out later. Oh, right. Are we at…?” He pulled the mission statement from his bag, and then at his surroundings. They said section three.

    “This way,” Mispy said, suddenly turning. She walked with purpose, but it didn’t appear to be in a particularly interesting direction.

    “How come?” Owen asked, running after her.

    “Mispy can see auras, too, just like Rhys,” Gahi said. “That’s why she thinks ghosts are everywhere. I think her senses are just outta whack.”

    Mispy puffed her cheeks; a vine threatened to bludgeon Gahi, but she restrained herself.

    “A Chikorita? How?” Owen asked. “Does she secretly have aura sensors, too?” Owen knew that Gahi was particularly fast for his species, too. Demitri was an Axew, and they were historically strong… but those strikes he dealt to Aerodactyl were something else. Did Rhys recruit them because they were particularly talented?

    “I dunno. Maybe it’s in her leaf,” Demitri said. “It’s pretty cool. I don’t know how it works. But it’s helped us a lot when we have to chase down clever outlaws. And now, uh, Mispy? What d’you see?”

    “Weird,” Mispy mumbled.

    “She sees a weird aura,” Demitri translated. “I guess it’s a good lead for—oh. Uh, Mispy? I don’t think we need an aura sensor for the rest of this.”

    There was a wall ahead, to their right, that looked like it was easy to break. A dim light shined from the inside, going through the tiny cracks that made this part of the wall more obvious.

    Owen nodded, readying his claws. “Just give me a second to reset my aura for Metal Cl—”

    “I can do this,” Demitri said to the others.

    The Axew backed up and steeled himself, tensing his muscles. He ran forward, slamming his head on the wall; it easily collapsed, falling around him.

    “D-Demitri!” Owen said.

    “I’m okay!” Demitri called back, climbing out of the rocks; he had a few scratches—as well as a bad wound on his head—but he was conscious.

    “Don’t do that!” Owen said; Mispy was already healing him with waves of light. “Next time, let me do it! Metal Claw would’ve done the same thing.”

    “Feh, he’s an idiot.” Gahi wobbled ahead of them and over the rubble.

    They all looked inside. The walls of the cavern beyond the false wall glowed dimly; it reminded Owen of the mushrooms in Hotspot Cave. And, of course, the orb that Rhys possessed. He took the lead, and the rest followed. The passageway was only a few paces wide—and those were tiny paces, considering the size of their bodies. Every sound echoed endlessly.

    Not more than twenty paces in, Gahi remarked, “This place is giving me the creeps. Think there’re Ghost Types wandering around?”

    Demitri shuddered. “H-hopefully n-not.” He looked at the walls uneasily. Mispy wrapped a vine around his torso, squeezing him just slightly. He loosened in response. “I don’t think so, but this weird glow is what I’m kinda worried about. It’s the same as the glow in Rhys’ place, y’know, that weird orb?”

    “Yeah,” Owen said. “You mean that thing he brought with him to the ceremony, right?”

    “Yeah, that one,” Demitri said. “Think it’s related?”

    “Maybe,” Owen said, “but a lot of things glow. There are these mushrooms in my home, um, I can’t say where, but at my home, they glow kinda like this. So, it could just be, like, moss, or a tiny fungus or mold that grows on the rocks.” Owen wanted to believe it was actually related, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up. The past few days have been filled with confusing disappointments.

    Go back… go back!

    Turn away… leave!

    All four explorers stopped walking. Demitri’s knees knocked against one another. Gahi churred a rapid, growling noise. The little buds on Mispy’s neck started to glow.

    Mispy closed her eyes. “I see… something.”

    Owen noticed a pulsing light in the bottom corner of his eye. It came from his bag. “Uh, why is my Badge blinking?”

    “What?” Demitri checked his; it, too, was blinking. “Oh, that’s… that means we just completed a Dungeon.”

    “What?”

    “We aren’t in a Dungeon anymore,” Demitri said. “This cave ahead of us isn’t part of Calm Water Lake’s Dungeon. Which means—” He glanced around uneasily. “—if we get hurt here, or worse, we won’t be warped out. They might just keep attacking us, or…!”

    Owen gulped. “M-maybe we should go back.”

    “What, and miss a real fight?” Gahi asked, stomping his tiny foot on the ground. “Let’s feel it out!”

    “I do want a fight,” Demitri mumbled, unconsciously sharpening his left tusk with his claws. “But this could be dangerous.”

    “Mmn.” Mispy seemed unsure, but she advanced. The others followed her lead.

    Leave, leave!

    Or become one of us!

    Demitri let out a squeaking noise that defied his Dragon pride. Mispy had to prod him on the back to keep him walking.

    “Okay, enough whispering!” Gahi said. “Just show yerself and get it over with!”

    Surprisingly, they complied. Ahead of them, right where the glowing cave had a turn to the right, a creature rose from the ground. Houndour. But the colors were a bit odd—instead of the usual orange-red on black, it was ocean-blue on black.

    “Heh, Houndour, eh?” Gahi said, wobbling forward. “Y’look weird, but I’ll take yeh on!”

    Owen’s fire grew a bit. “Uh, Gahi, I dunno if—”

    Gahi dashed in an orange blur, wiggling his head and jaws; mud formed in the back of his throat, ready to fling. The Houndour opened its mouth and fired a concentrated jet of—water directly at Gahi. Surprised by the blast, Gahi jumped out of the way, hitting the wall next to him. While successful in avoiding the water, he sustained a small blow to his side from the rocks. “Kr—beh! What’s that supposed ter be?! What kinda game’re you playing?!”

    Gahi threw some of his mud at the Houndour; Mispy, whose buds were glowing bright, fired an intense beam of light at the Houndour next.

    “W-wait! Mispy!” Demitri said, but it was too late.

    The Houndour was completely incinerated; in its place was a small ember that floated in the air. It vaguely resembled Owen’s tail flame, only cyan like Rhys’ aura energy. It fled into the wall.

    “Mispy, that’s too much!” Demitri said. “You just obliterated some poor—”

    “It’s a ghost,” Mispy said.

    “What?”

    Whispers filled the air. It was impossible to tell where it was coming from, or how many were even whispering. Multiple. That’s all they knew. And, perhaps, from everywhere.

    “Why is there a Water Houndoom here? How does that even work? A gh-ghost that’s a Water Houndoom?” Owen squeaked the last part, taking a worried step back. He bumped into Demitri, who was practically a statue.

    Three blue-themed Pokémon—even if they weren’t supposed to be blue—rose from the ground. A Nincada, Morelull, and Venipede, rippling like a lake. They all advanced forward, Watery techniques ready. Owen, realizing that there was too much risk involved, with perhaps tens or more others like them ready to close in, shouted to the others, “Let’s go back!”

    This time, they agreed. Demitri grabbed their Badge and held it in the air; thankfully, now that they were outside of the strange effects of a Dungeon, they could use it to warp back to Kilo Village without the Dungeon interfering. Still, it needed a few seconds to gather its charge. The ghosts fired another set of water jets at them—Owen countered with a plume of fire, hoping to soften the blasts. Mispy shot her vines forward and blocked the rest. That bought them just enough time. In a flash of light, they were gone.

    <><><> ​

    They wanted to tell Rhys about what they found before reporting back, but they also realized upon returning that it was close to the evening. Clouds painted the orange sky with lumpy, purple blotches.

    “Oh, Mew, we almost didn’t make it!” Demitri said. “Look! That crowd!”

    “Wait, so do we report first, or—”

    “No time!” Demitri took heavy steps forward, his speed betraying his mental fatigue. “C’mon, Owen! You go ahead to the front! You’re probably gonna get accepted!”

    The ceremony was a rush and then a wait. Owen took the long way around when the immediate path required traversing around a Muk, and instead settled for weaving between the legs of an antsy Rapidash mother waiting for her son’s results. He scrambled between Pokémon tall and small, apologizing to each one, until he spotted a Decidueye.

    There you are,” James said, green-and-brown feathers puffed out. Under his glare, Owen shrank to nearly three quarters of his height. “I imagine you just became aware of the results. Stand there, please.”

    Owen stood at the front row, to the far right, with his eyes fixed on the ground. After gathering enough courage, he leaned forward and counted off the Pokémon to his left. There were fifteen others here, but more importantly, they were all candidates that were practically beaming. He really did make it in! After countless applications—Owen couldn’t even remember how many times he’d tried—he was here, standing in the front row!

    “Ahem,” James began, “Goodra Anam is currently occupied with… processing the retiring Hearts. In his place, I would like to make official the advancement of these sixteen Provisionary Hearts into the fold of Entry-Level Hearts. To commemorate this, they will relinquish their Provisionary Badges, and in return be given their official Thousand Hearts Badge. I shall begin from the leftmost member.” James walked away from Owen. His tail lowered at the realization that he was the last to arrive. Talk about a first impression.

    Owen took the wait as an opportunity to size up the other fifteen members. Nervous shuffling, eyes filled with more ambition than their bodies could handle. They were all weak. He could feel it. What was he doing, taking so long to just enter, if he was already breezing past the easiest Dungeons? Owen refused to accept anything but the idea that it was a mistake—an oversight. “Hmph, well, I’ll show them…”

    Each Pokémon gave up their Badge in exchange for an official one, all the way up to Owen. It was right there. The gravity of the ceremony hit him just then. He was going to do it! Become a Heart! And yet, before James could give him the Badge, before he’d truly become a member of this grand, worldwide organization—

    “Waaaaaiiiiit!”

    All eyes turned to the main building. Anam was running out as fast as he could. A trail of purplish, transparent slime littered the ground behind him.

    “Am I late?!”

    “Yes,” James replied. “I have already started the ceremony. There is only one left.”

    “Who? I’ll—I’ll do that one!” He sniffled. “I’m sorry, Jam-Jam! I didn’t mean to, but I was just so sad! So many good Hearts!”

    James sighed, shaking his head, while the audience gave James amused smiles. “Very well,” Jam-Jam said, holding out the final badge. “I can’t be angry at you, Anam. Please, give Owen his Badge.”

    “Owen? Oh, right, Owen! Of course! I’m so happy Owen could get in this time!”

    James’ glare was so intense that, for a second, Owen thought Anam’s slime bubbled.

    Owen’s heart skipped a beat, and his flame flashed white for an instant. He was about to be given his Badge by Anam himself.

    The others in line noticed, too. They all stared at Owen with mixtures of surprise, confusion, and envy. What’s this upstart doing here? That’s probably what they were thinking. Or maybe they were irritated that being late was suddenly being rewarded.

    Goodra sniffled and wiped his eyes. “Owen—I mean, Charmander Owen, I give you this Badge in commemoration of your advancement into the Thousand Hearts.” He handed Owen the lightweight, golden emblem. It was covered in slime; Owen politely took it and, when Anam turned away, wiped it with the cloth of his bag. He then admired the clean, heart-shaped insignia on the front, using his tail to better see the shining details.

    “And now, of course, we must accept you into the Thousand Hearts more formally. I’m sure you all remember the motto?”

    Owen’s tail grew to twice its size. “Yes!” he said, just a bit too eagerly. A few of the newcomers gave him an amused smile, but they nodded, too. Suddenly, the atmosphere felt charged.

    “Then by my lead.” James looked ahead; with him, the Entry Hearts—and even the many behind him—recited the Thousand Hearts’ mantra. At first, it was a gentle chant, but the final lines transitioned into a rallying cry.

    “A thousand hands
    A single heart
    Working and beating as one.

    Unite the lands
    From worlds apart
    Until our battles are done.

    We serve Kilo and all its parts
    Under one name: The Thousand Hearts!”


    Stomps, roars, and cheers deafened Owen, but he didn’t care—his flame was three times its normal size and his chest felt just as swollen with pride. He screamed with them, straining his throat, blasting little embers into the air. Losing all sense of self, Owen hopped from foot to foot, pumping his tiny fist in the air.

    After some time, the crowd calmed down, and James raised his wing to signal for them all to fall into silence. There was a little, happy gleam in his eye, but that was all he showed. “This concludes the ceremony of advancement. You are all dismissed.”

    Owen spun around to avoid any of the onlookers. His heart was still racing, but on his way down, even with the immovable grin on his face, the pressing issue of what they found in the lake returned to the forefront of his mind. After backtracking through the evening crowd, he spotted the silhouette of Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi in the twilight.

    Demitri had a similar smile. “Okay, I can’t deny that yelling that last part is something I never get tired of.”

    “I know, right?!” Owen said, beaming. “Oh! But—where’s Rhys? We should talk to him about what we found first, right? And then we can report it later. Then, I’m gonna go back to my parents’ place and tell them about what happened.” He glanced at the Waypoint lines and saw a Torkoal enter Calm Water Lake. “Uh—"

    “There.” Mispy pointed her leaf forward. Rhys was walking toward them from the main building.

    “Where have you been?” Rhys asked. His voice sounded suspiciously strained. He cleared his throat in an attempt to get it to sound normal again, but it was no help. “The entire ceremony was almost delayed to find Owen.”

    “We were doing a quick mission,” Gahi said. “How ‘bout we talk about it over dinner? I’m starved. Owen’s coming with!”

    Owen’s stomach growled loudly at the mention of food, his mind suddenly filled with the thoughts of a fine, hearty stew.

    <><><> ​

    Dinner was a savory rice dish. While the food was wonderful, mealtime itself felt tense. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi seemed antsy from not getting a good fight in—and, after getting one, being forced to flee.

    Rhys—his voice recovered—finally broke the silence. “Well, now that you’re here, why don’t you speak about that mission of yours? Did it not go well?”

    “No,” Gahi mumbled. “Hated it. Nearly got killed.”

    “K-killed?”

    Demitri nodded, poking at a stray grain of rice. “We were attacked when we were investigating a weird glowing at Calm Water Lake. But that glowing led us outside the Dungeon early, somehow, which is where we got attacked. By a weird… water-typed Houndour, or something.”

    Rhys scanned the four of them, as if expecting them to say it was a joke. When none came, he said, “I see.”

    Silence accompanied the five while they ate.

    “That’s it?” Gahi asked. “Y’usually have something ter say ‘bout us being reckless, or maybe some theory on why it’s like that.”

    “H-hm? I do? Well. I don’t this time. I’ll speak to Goodra Anam about it tomorrow. Yes, I’ll do that…”

    Owen looked at the others expectantly. He wanted to ask about the Orb again, but after that encounter in the lake, he was too jittery to do it alone. He’d stumble over his words. And what was he going to do? Sneak into Rhys’ room and steal it? That’d just make him an outlaw! There was no point. He could ask politely, when there was less tension. He didn’t see that pink cloud this time, anyway.

    “Um. Well, if that’s all, when I finish dinner, I think I’ll just head home,” he said. “Thanks, by the way! I-it’s really good.”

    “No,” Rhys said. “Just for tonight, I want you to stay here. I will explain to your parents about it later.”

    The Charmander reflexively nodded, but then the words actually registered. Owen felt even more trapped than when they were in that glowing cave. “Y-you? But I can’t, um, they don’t know.” Owen looked like he was going to stand up. “They’ll freak out if I don’t get home by nighttime, and it’s almost that already! So, um, I just… I can’t just stay here without telling them.”

    “They will understand.”

    “Rhys, yer being weird,” Gahi said. “What’s going on?”

    “It’s too dangerous to go out,” Rhys said flatly. “The path to your home, Owen, is dangerous tonight. It will be safer tomorrow. Not tonight.”

    “B-but—” Owen stopped himself, but he couldn’t ignore that serious aura Rhys was giving off. Would him leaving, now, be that dangerous? Or was it bad for some other reason? He didn’t sense any malice from Rhys, but to suddenly make such a request…

    “This is final,” Rhys said. “I’m sure they will just think you need to do overnight training and orientation.”

    Owen looked at Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, but they were equally confused. Rhys wasn’t explaining anything. But, in the back of his mind, Owen trusted what he was saying. He didn’t know why he trusted Rhys, but his gut feelings hadn’t been wrong before, not when he felt so sure of himself. If Rhys said it was dangerous, then it was. “Rhys, um. I’ll stay here. But can you explain why it’s so dangerous?”

    Rhys looked at his rice and ate. The others ate, too, in a silence so thick that Owen felt he was eating some of it with each bite.

    “We are all going to need to be careful for a time,” Rhys said. “There may be Pokémon in search of objects like the one in my room. Anything that gives off that glow may be a target, and I don’t want to risk anything right now.”

    Anything? Owen thought about Hot Spot Cave.

    Demitri swallowed his most recent bite quickly. “S-so, Calm Water Lake might have another of those orb things?”

    “Possibly. But we can’t do anything about it today.” Rhys motioned to the black sky outside the cave, a chilling wind knocking a few ripened Oran Berries from the treetops. “We can explore this further tomorrow, after I see Goodra Anam. He may be able to help.”

    Owen sighed, figuring that was the most they were going to get. “Okay,” he conceded.

    “You will stay in Gahi’s room,” Rhys said. “Demitri and Mispy share a room. We have an extra bed in storage.”

    “Oh! That’s convenient.”

    “Yeah, I kinda always wondered why we had that,” Gahi said. “Ain’t like we get guests.”

    Owen finished his meal; despite the tension, he was satisfied with even the leftover grains of rice and veggies. “Aah, that was good.” He rubbed at an imperfection in his scales. “I, er, I guess I’ll get familiar with—oh! I don’t think I can sleep in your bed, though.” Owen tittered. “See, my tail-flame kinda burns most beds. I know Charmander fire isn’t usually that hot when we’re calm, but I get really worked up when I sleep, or something, so…”

    “There’s no need to worry,” Rhys said. “They’re made from Rawst leaves, so they are flame-resistant.”

    “Oh! Oh, wow!” Owen nodded. “That’s kinda… really convenient, but I guess I’ll take it!” He fiddled with his claws. At this point, he was sick of inquiring.

    Rhys set up the spare bed; Gahi led the way down the hall, past the first pair of rooms, and into the left of the second set.

    “Here’s m’place,” Gahi said.

    It didn’t look different from the others; a simple, rocky room with two beds in the middle. One seemed quite sandy, ideal for Gahi’s species, like a pit in the ground. The new bed was a soft set of Rawst leaves; Owen gently ran his hand across the pile. They were just like the ones at home. This wouldn’t be bad at all!

    He happily hopped on his bed and looked at Gahi. “I hope my tail doesn’t bother you at night.”

    “Nah, I don’t think I’ll notice.” He shook his entire body, vibrating into the sandy pit, and he was gone.

    “Oh.” He wasn’t sure what he had expected.

    Every so often, Owen heard the muffled clicks of Gahi’s massive jaws. He sighed, closing his eyes. Something about that sound relaxed him, but it also kept him up for a while longer than he was used to. Every so often, Gahi’s sleep-churring startled him awake.

    <><><> ​

    Owen was half asleep, somewhere between dream and reality. Something ethereal reached out.

    Owen. Owen? Owen! Hello?!

    That’s a pretty voice…

    Owen! Wake up!

    Five more blinks…

    Ugh, stupid, flaming scale-bag—wake up! HURRY!

    Owen thought he was dreaming, but it felt too real, and too normal. Too groggy. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, squinting outside their room. Something was glowing. That same, strange glow. But it wasn’t like that last time. The old glow was softer and constant. This one was wider; it spilled almost into Gahi’s room. Owen blinked again; the light was getting brighter. Owen hid his tail under the leaves to make sure it wasn’t him. Without the flame, it was clear as day—that light was moving. Was it the cloud again?

    So, this is my night, huh? Owen thought.

    The blur from his eyes completely gone, he spotted something in the corner of his eye. He immediately turned, his heart skipping a beat. The mist. It was right there, like a trick of the eye—just barely visible. Owen thought it was just a splotch on his pupil. It didn’t say anything, but it was very anxiously moving toward the hall, then back to Owen, and then back to the hall again.

    Why me? Owen thought. He slowly got out of bed and wrapped some leaves around his flame. Still holding his tail, he stepped outside. The source of the light was a Pokémon floating in the air. A small one—an Espurr. Floating. High in the air.

    She didn’t notice Owen; she was facing into Rhys’ room, moving inside.

    Trespasser!

    “Um—hey!” Against common sense, Owen shouted. “S-stop!”

    His legs moved on their own until he was at the entrance to Rhys’ home. There, he saw the Espurr going toward the orb—she was about to touch it. “Y-you aren’t supposed to—!” He saw that Rhys was still asleep. The pink mist followed. It pushed futilely against the Espurr, defending the orb to no effect.

    Then, the Espurr and Charmander locked eyes. He couldn’t get a read for her expression, but she didn’t maintain eye contact for long. He only knew that her eyes shined more than anything else. The atmosphere around him changed—he recognized this feeling. It was an incoming Psychic attack, just like Nevren. He jumped out of the way just in time to evade the twisting energy that chopped the wind behind where he had been. The power behind it was incredible—yet Owen had a sinking feeling she could do a lot more.

    The Espurr readied another strike, but a ball of bright, blue energy hit her on the side instead. She yelped and fumbled in the air. Rhys was awake, sitting up in his bed of leaves; he stared directly at the Espurr, who squeaked even louder at the glare. And then, she vanished in thin air—as if she wasn’t there to begin with.

    “Wh-what… what?” Owen breathed.

    Rhys stood up. The silence that followed—with Rhys staring at the pink mist, and then at Owen, and then at the orb—was long enough for Owen to absorb what had just happened. Some Espurr with the same sort of glow as the orb tried to steal it, or something.

    “You should get to sleep, Owen.”

    “Wait, but what—”

    “Sleep.” Rhys held his right paw in Owen’s direction. It glowed an eerie white. Rhys fired, and Owen felt a hot buzz course through him. His vision concentrated into a tunnel and then faded to black. Owen’s consciousness quickly followed.

    So. You’re asleep again.

    Hello, pretty voice…

    Owen. Listen. This is super, ultra-important. The orb. Touch. ASAP.

    But, Rhys said…

    And sometimes, Rhys is an idiot. We’re running out of options and time. Just touch it, okay?

    I’m so tired…

    S-stay with me, Owen. There are lots of bad ‘mon out there trying to get those things, and the more we ha—

    The rest was lost.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2019
  17. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Well with a riveting name like that, what would you expe-

    O.O

    I know dashes were used right in the following paragraph, but I think this sentence could use them too, instead of those commas. I just feel like they'd make it a bit easier to read.

    Hmm, a Chikorita with aura powers, water-type ghosts, that one body horror thing you mentioned for Owen in a chat once... mayhaps there be a theme here... *thinking emoji*

    guys! you need to use a bomb on it!

    Oh gods, it's a sparkledog OC! Run! i'm allowed to make this joke because i used to have a sparkledog OC with those colors too

    This is a really nice line.

    I think this sentence is missing a verb?

    *THINKING EMOJI INTENSIFIES*

    You already know what I'm gonna say.

    *tips fedora*

    Hmm, well, you need to make sure you only write one line per speaker in this format, then. Otherwise it's gonna get very hard to follow. This here right now isn't the easiest, either, but it's not like I have a better idea on how to show speaker changing in these.

    I'm beginning to really like Mispy. She's quiet, but not mute or too scared to react. She feels like a real "quiet person" rather than just a trope.

    Not much smart stuff from me this time, I'm afraid. My brain is totally blanking out. Well, see you later.
     
  18. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Bringing this over for the game, you lucky ducky. Dungeon banter is fine and everything... except for that one part about Owen itching for a fight. Like, I understand that pokémon battle, but in a world without trainers, I do think that you need to have an explanation for why it happens other than "I get antsy if I don't get in a fight." So, uh, I hope you have a reasonable explanation for that coming eventually. I'm sure not everyone's bothered by it, but I always need to point it out when I see it. Likewise, that the only weird blue 'mon that gets described in full detail is Houndour... while the rest are just named. And then Espurr is described later. That goes back to that inconsistency thing I mentioned earlier. If Owen can recognize Houndours you only need to draw attention to the fact that it's blue. It'd save you some lines of text, to boot.

    Too bad that little ambush didn't last long enough for me to get much of an impression as to what was going on with all the spoopy blueness. My best guess is this mysterious orb is, like, a Water Orb that embues the environment around it with the essence of water or something. And it effected all the spirits in turn. Something like that. It doesn't help how hush-hush everything is afterwards, from Anam to Rhys. If you wanted to sell me on the world have a conspiracy of sorts, then you're doing a good job with it. One question that came to mind with this, though, is why Owen's parents wouldn't be there for the testing and (if he passed, which he did) ceremony. I know they were against him trying to join, but you'd think that, if they were trying to keep up the facade that everything's fine, they'd show up and be supportive. Kinda wish we had an in-universe explanation for why they're so MIA, especially with Rhys keeping Owen from returning home.

    Welp, looks like my original thought about him getting hold of Rhys' orb is true and Rhys, buddy, you're not doing yourself any favors casting Sleep on Owen like that. Perhaps he is good and just going to drastic measures to defend this orb thingy. It sounds more like he's got a problem with not knowing the full extent of this crazy thing he's protecting. Also, the orb's voice doesn't leave a lot of room for confidence. Usually you expect your spiritual guides to have a measure of professionalism in the way they carry themselves. Clearly not the case here, lol!

    And now, to end off, some snark...
    Not even being subtle about it, I see. :V

    "I'm sorry, Owen. Tomorrow, we can go to 'Slightly Unnerving Water Lake' or 'Deeply Unsettling Water Lake' if you want!"
    Also, like, wow is that an incredibly lame dungeon name. Someone ought to fire the Association's namer person. Don't they realize how redundant "Water Lake" is? I sure hope there are Lava Lake, Sand Lake, and Jell-O Lake dungeons to make up for this travesty. :p

    Owen did a meme, I see.
     
  19. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 6 – The Orb

    “Ugh, what a weird dream,” Owen mumbled. He rubbed his eyes; he still ached. He must have jumped improperly to avoid that Psychic attack and bruised himself. Wait. If he ached, then that wasn’t a dream, was it? Owen chanted to himself, “Not crazy. Not crazy. Not crazy.”

    “Eh?” Gahi said, peeking out from his sand pit. “What’re yeh mumblin’?”

    “N-nothing,” Owen said. “I think I just had a weird dream. That’s all.”

    “Well, have ‘em some other night,” Gahi said. The Trapinch clicked his jaws. “…I don’t smell breakfast.”

    “Does Rhys usually make it?”

    “Yeah. Unless he made something cold that doesn’t smell. Usually if we’re running behind er something…”

    The kitchen had food on the table—a simple fruit salad—and a note from Rhys saying that he had gone to speak with Anam, and to stay at home until he returned. “That glowing stuff must be real urgent…”

    “Wait!” Owen said. “That’s right! There was an Espurr that was trying to take the orb last night! I remember!”

    “Eh?”

    “What’s going on?” Demitri said. “Are you talking about last night? I think I had a dream of Rhys whisper-yelling. He sounded really angry.”

    Owen nodded incessantly, the memories of the night before flooding back, replaying in his head multiple times. “Last night, while you guys were asleep, I think I woke up and saw a weird Pokémon enter Rhys’ room. She tried to, like, get the glowing orb while Rhys was asleep!”

    “Did she?”

    “No, but she nearly twisted me to shreds with a crazy-strong Psychic attack. I think it was even stronger than Nevren’s!”

    “How d’you know how strong Nevren’s is?” Gahi said.

    “Oh, um—” Owen rubbed the back of his head. “Well, it was really strong in my dream…”

    “Wait, back up,” Demitri said. “An Espurr? That isn’t even fully evolved. Why is it so strong?”

    “The weird thing about that is that she kinda glowed, too. The same way the orb did, and the cave did.” And the mushrooms did…

    A sudden silence filled the kitchen. Realization washed over them.

    “He left the orb alone!” Owen said. “Right? Did he?”

    Forgetting about breakfast, the quartet rushed into Rhys’ room. It was the first time that Owen got a good look at it in the sunlight that bled into the shallow cave. There was a simple bed of leaves to the left corner of the room, and a solid stone desk to the right. There was a strange stash of Pecha Berries under the desk. Owen saw a small piece of parchment lodged inside the pile of berries in the shape of a heart. At first, Owen thought it was from Anam and his saccharine taste in themed shapes, but somehow, that didn’t feel correct.

    The shelves were lined with artifacts both shiny and dusty. Owen saw a number of strange items on the three shelves that lined the cave’s far wall in a half-circle. He only recognized a few of them: an Everstone in the far right, which Owen subconsciously inched away from; something that looked like a prototype Badge, lumpy and bronze; something that looked like one of Nevren’s zany inventions, some metallic bracelet; and what looked like an old, faded edition of the Book of Mew.

    The final item gave Owen pause. “Huh. Didn’t peg Rhys as a Mew sort of person,” he mumbled under his breath. “Seemed more like the Arceus type.” His eyes continued to trail along the other books lining the shelves. There was even a book that didn’t seem to have text on it at all.

    And there it was—perhaps he had forgotten about the orb in his rush to see Anam. For whatever reason, the orb was there, its glow significantly fainter against the morning sun peering through the cave’s entrance.

    Owen squinted, suspicious. Rhys wasn’t the sort to be careless. Demitri mentioned an argument, perhaps after he had been put to sleep. Arguing with who? The mist? The orb itself? Maybe Owen wasn’t the only crazy one in the family.

    This orb must have been there intentionally. That voice—was it the mist?—told Owen to touch the orb. But should he listen to that mist, or to Rhys?

    And sometimes, Rhys is an idiot, Owen recalled. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi wandered the room, looking for a way up. Mispy’s vines were too short to reach on their own, and it was hard to pick someone like her up to begin with. She always did seem heavier, or perhaps denser, than the average Chikorita—though, Owen had a feeling if he said that aloud, he’d face the wrath of her Solar Beam.

    “But it’s still so high…” Demitri finally said. Vines wrapped around his abdomen. “N-no way! I can’t do it!” he protested, legs shaking.

    “Aw, c’mon, it’s barely that high,” Gahi said.

    “I just can’t do it. Demitri shook his head, little feet trembling in the air. “I—I mean, it’s… it’s just too high up!”

    Mispy sighed. Even if she tried, her Chikorita-strength vines weren’t quite enough to lift an Axew like Demitri. But, Owen… Mispy eyed Owen, sizing him up.

    “What?” the Charmander asked.

    Mispy brought two vines forward, wrapping around him.

    “U-uhh—personal space, please?”

    Mispy lifted Owen up. “Hmm. Half.” She glanced at Demitri. She had a much easier time lifting Owen in the air. This just might work. He was even lighter than Gahi—and easier to hold, too.

    “Well, ain’t that something,” Gahi said. “Owen, you were the piece we needed, eh? Okay. Let’s go and lift ‘im up!”

    Mispy nodded, but then nodded at Demitri. He went up to the wall and held his tiny arms against it; Gahi got behind Mispy and pushed his head beneath her. Using Gahi’s front as a platform, she climbed onto Demitri’s back, awkwardly maneuvering until her chest wrapped around his head.

    “W-w-wait!” Owen said. “Wait! What are we doing? M-move slower!” Was this it? He didn’t expect his wish to touch the sphere would be granted in this way. He had been mapping the room in his head, looking for shelves to hop and Rhys’ various knickknacks and books to use as footholds. Owen normally wouldn’t disrespect a book by using it as a stepping stone, but perhaps this time would have been a necessary evil.

    “We’re gonna grab that orb and take a look at it!” Gahi said.

    “O-oh, okay. But—but it wasn’t my idea, okay?! I need to make a good first impression with Rhys, and I don’t want him thinking I’m some—some delinquent!”

    “With a vocabulary like that, I ain’t gonna feel too worried ‘bout that,” Gahi said.

    “And with a vocabulary like yours,” Demitri said, “Rhys will probably think it was your idea.”

    Owen hoped that his parents wouldn’t be upset if they found out. But then again—they didn’t even show up for his acceptance of the Heart position! Maybe a little rebellion was warranted. Yeah, that was a good excuse.

    Owen was at eye-level with the orb. Up close, it seemed bigger—he wouldn’t be able to hold it with just one of his tiny hands. He’d need to grab it by both sides; it was almost half the size of his head. He saw little, flowing lights swirling inside the pale, green sphere. “Just a little more, Mispy!” Owen said. “I can totally get it!”

    Mispy obliged, straining her vines. “Almost?!” She adjusted her vines lower to push him just a bit higher.

    “N-not too low, Mispy!” Owen squeaked.

    “S-sorry!”

    “Almost… got it…!” Owen took a break to let Mispy drift him closer, relaxing his arms. Then, he reached out one last time, feeling that Mispy was at her limit. He knew it, now—he could grab the orb! Owen reached out. “Okay, I—” Contact.

    The Charmander went completely limp; his arms fell forward, the orb still in his hands. Mispy stumbled from the dead weight.

    “O-Owen? Is it heavy?” Demitri asked, unable to look up.

    The flame on Owen’s tail went out.

    <><><> ​

    “Hrrmmnnn, what a mess,” Rhys muttered, walking through town at a brisk pace. His bag hung around his shoulder, the bottom bumping against the spike on his chest. He glanced down inside; he had a few items, along with a cloth wrapped around a large sphere, glowing faintly. He scanned the immediate area. Business as usual for most of the Hearts. Missions, missions, and more missions. He spotted an Aerodactyl grumbling while posting mission statements on the bulletin board.

    “Ahh, Rhys!” Nevren called.

    The fur on Rhys’ body bristled. He walked without acknowledging the Alakazam.

    “Now, Rhys, that’s no way to greet me,” Nevren said. “What are you doing here? You don’t often come to Kilo Village unless there is a ceremony.” He looked at the bag. “…It’s not exactly a good idea,” he said, “to be carrying that around right now, don’t you think?”

    “I will take my chances.”

    “Are you sure?” Nevren tilted his head. “Rim might try to take it from you in broad daylight. Do not think a crowd will discourage her. The Hunters have been getting antsy lately.”

    “And what will she do if she sees me? Glare angrily at my feet?”

    “Now, Rhys, that was uncalled for.”

    Rhys clutched at the bag. “…She entered our home yesterday.”

    “Ah.”

    “I do not want her to endanger my students,” he said. “I would rather take it with me while speaking with Anam.”

    “Hrm.”

    “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Rhys made a motion to walk past Nevren, hesitating briefly, as if knowing that Nevren would say something. Yet, when he didn’t, he continued past him.

    Nevren watched Rhys walk. “Has Elder talked with you about any of this?”

    Rhys hesitated, looking down at his bag. “Of course we talk.”

    Silence.

    “…Where are you going, anyway?” Rhys said, looking back.

    “Ah, well. I was sent on a mission to where Owen had gone the day prior. I need to take care of one of the mutant sightings there before anybody else gets hurt; it was already designated as a restricted zone until further notice. Well, I plan to give that further notice.”

    “Ah.” Rhys hummed, glancing down at his bag, then at Nevren. “Will you need help?”

    “Not at all. This will be trivial. Carry on with your duties so you may return home with that Orb, yes?”

    “Mrm. Very well.” Rhys continued into the office, and Nevren headed out of the Heart HQ.

    The entryway, past the main, heart-shaped exterior, was a building of stone and wood, painted in various shades of pink, red, and purple. Pathways on the ground were painted in a dark violet to indicate which way to go in the main lobby; the walls were a soft, invigorating red, with white stripes separating the red from the purple and other colors. The ceiling was pink, and the upper half of the walls shared the same color. They were all solid colors with no real pattern, except for some floral designs lining where the colors changed.

    The color scheme disgusted Rhys, but he didn’t have the heart to berate Anam for his taste in décor.

    To Rhys’ left was a stairway into the in-house dorms, where Pokémon that preferred to live directly inside of Kilo Village slept. To the right was where official business took place, such as meetings, private assemblies, and administrative work. Rhys entered the right stairway. There were very few Pokémon in the Heart during this time of day. With the morning missions taken and afternoon missions still unprocessed, the boards were being cleared off by the disgruntled Aerodactyl, muttering something about Solar Beams.

    It was dark in the hall, and then brighter at the exit. The colors were the same, and Rhys generally didn’t care for Anam’s style. But he was the boss. The Lucario sighed to himself, fidgeting with his bag.

    A Decidueye emerged from the floor in a black mist—not a normal entrance for his kind, but something that the Lucario was accustomed to, specifically for the second-in-command. “Rhys,” James said. “Is this about the recent sighting?”

    “Calm Water Lake? Somewhat. Where is Anam?”

    “He is in his quarters.” He motioned behind him with a wing. “I will see you there.” He sank into the ground again in a cloud of ominous, black smoke.

    Goodra Anam’s quarters was at the very edge of the building, at the back and center of the Heart. He was staring at a large map of the world on the front wall, above the entryway. Due to Anam’s size, it wasn’t easy to see the rest of his room. However, the gentle, strange, sweet smell associated with the Goodra permeated the atmosphere. It was like he bathed in Pecha juice.

    “Oh, hi, Rhys!” Anam said, waving. “I was just looking at the map.”

    Rhys entered and turned around, looking with him. The map was ancient and hand-drawn. Much better copies existed of the world, but this was Anam’s personal copy. The original copy, apparently, complete with dried slime and illegible scribbles in the empty spaces. Kilo Village, and by extension Kilo Mountain, was at the center of this map, displaying a largely circular country in the middle of an ocean on all sides.

    “…Calm Water Lake,” Rhys said, pointing to the northeastern river that fed into the reservoir. “We always suspected an orb would be hidden there. But we didn’t find one, last we checked.”

    “We assumed it was a false lead,” James said. “Previous signs lasted only for a short while, after all. But it happened again, and this time we have actual witnesses to prove it.”

    “Not good.” Rhys sighed. “They might be taken by the Hunters… But perhaps we should also investigate.”

    “There were sightings of a Torkoal entering the lake,” James said. “I assume you know him, Rhys?”

    Rhys looked away from the map and toward the ground. “Yes, I’m sure that Elder attempted to speak with whoever held the orb. Anam… I actually wanted to tell you about some extra information.” He paused to make sure he had their attention. “It’s very likely that it is the Water Orb—my students explored it, unannounced.”

    “W-wait, your students?” Anam said. “You mean… all four of them… together? Wouldn’t that spook the Guardian?”

    “Yes,” Rhys said. “They are fine. Owen is, too. The Water Guardian may not have realized it, thanks to their current state.”

    James’ feathers puffed out considerably. “Those four are not supposed to be together, ever, Rhys.”

    “I understand,” Rhys said, “but a… series of circumstances caused them to be together, recently. But that will be the end of it. Once I get home”—Rhys let out a defeated sigh—"I will… set things right. Owen will return home. The rest of Team Alloy will forget him again. He will train and meditate, and… things will remain as they have always been.”

    “…You’re lying,” Anam said, nibbling on his slimy fingers. The feelers on his head twitched uncomfortably.

    “Ngh.” Rhys’ head went lower. “Anam, don’t start talking about any silly ‘dark emotions’ you may feel from me. I get enough of that from Owen’s Perception.”

    “S-sorry,” Anam said, looking down. “But… it was just so obvious.”

    “We can’t allow this,” James said. “I understand your feelings on the matter, Rhys. But it’s still too dangerous. Perhaps later. But not now.”

    “It has been that way for quite a while, hasn’t it? Perhaps later. Perhaps later…” Rhys smiled bitterly at James. “That is all I wanted to say. Thank you, Anam. Be careful.”

    “Rhys…” Anam sniffed. “I… I don’t want you to be upset!” He wiped gooey tears from his face. “Can I do anything to help?!”

    Rhys closed his eyes. “Anam. A long time ago, you told me that you saw great potential in the bond that my students shared. That if they could train their spirits to overcome their… weaknesses… they could perhaps tip this teetering scale in our favor. But to you, Anam,” he said, turning around, “what is that favor? What then, if we win?”

    “F-favor…?”

    Rhys crossed his arms. “How do you plan to use my students, Anam?”

    “I… I just, um…” Anam hesitated. “I don’t know. But together, they’re really, really strong.”

    “I see,” Rhys said. His eyes were closed again. “Anam.” He stared at Anam, right in his glistening, green eyes. “I’m sorry to hear that you don’t know what to do with that power. But the world will not wait for your decision. And neither will they.”

    “What?” Anam asked. “What’s that mean? Rhys…?”

    The Elite Heart said nothing else and turned to exit. James, glaring from behind, assured Anam that Rhys was merely upset at his circumstances, and he just had to blow off some steam. While this was normally true, James was worried at how affected Anam was, this time.

    “Anam,” James said, “is he not always like this, when he has that tone?”

    Anam gulped, but then shook his head. “This time… he feels different.” The feeler-horns behind his head twitched. “He’s telling the truth… b-but what’s that mean? I dunno… I dunno…”

    <><><> ​

    “Goodness. You’re an angry one.”

    Nevren tilted his head to the right and stepped away, narrowly dodging a brutal swing from the muscular Snorlax mutant. In the close quarters of the wooden Dungeon labyrinth, it wasn’t the easiest maneuver, but it seemed like Nevren knew exactly where to move before the strikes even began. The air that followed made the Alakazam’s mustache dance with the flow. The strange creature made another brutal swing, trying to punch him in the torso next, but Nevren vanished in thin air.

    The Snorlax stared at his hand, squeezing his claws dumbly.

    “So unhinged. Is there even any reason within you?” Nevren asked, though the question was rhetorical. He floated just above Snorlax’s shoulders. He tapped a spoon on the behemoth’s head, squinting at some invisible spot on his skull. “Yes, very disturbed. There may not be any coming back from this one. You’re simply too berserk.”

    Snorlax roared and swung behind him; Nevren hopped on air, easily avoiding his arm, and then formed a small ball of light in his hands.

    “It’s a shame, really. I don’t know how to dispatch of someone like you most of the time. You’re a danger to all life, you know. Yes, a true shame…”

    Snorlax opened his mouth, orange energy concentrating at the back of his throat. The sphere emerged, aimed at Nevren.

    “Ah. Hyper Beam. I should have—”

    The blast cut through the ground and into the forest behind him; the Wooden Wilds’ trees splintered near the top, and one of the labyrinthine walls of the Dungeon incinerated completely, leaving a scorched hole into another hallway. Embers and smoke filled the air.

    Wordlessly, Snorlax turned around and lumbered through the Dungeon, growling. His arms twitched and swung, and the Snorlax himself was breathing heavily and angrily. For no particular reason, he roared and slammed his fist into the wall, leaving a crater as big as he was in it. Then, he continued forward.

    “Yes. Too far gone.”

    Snorlax spun around, blasting another Hyper Beam through the smoke. This time, it didn’t hit anything for a while. It struck the end of the hall with an explosion that rocked his chest. Glowing eyes of an Alakazam shined through the smoke.

    “Oh? You can blast them repeatedly? What drawback does that give you, hmm? Perhaps it takes up too much energy.”

    Snorlax fired again, this time directly at the glowing eyes, but they disappeared a split second before the blast could connect. He sniffed the air, trying to find the Alakazam’s scent, but the smoke made that too difficult. He opened his mouth again, but then Nevren reappeared right in front of Snorlax, tapping a single, glowing finger to his forehead.

    Snorlax stopped his blast; the energy that had been gathered dissipated harmlessly in all directions. But his mouth didn’t close; instead, it hung open. His legs wobbled, but he didn’t quite fall down, so much as he leaned against the wall that hadn’t been destroyed.

    Nevren sighed, looking at the entranced mutant. “I apologize in advance.” His eyes glowed brightly. Nevren placed his palm on the Snorlax’s chest; the glow of his eyes channeled rapidly down his neck, into his arm, and into his palm, and then into Snorlax.

    After a brief spasm, the Snorlax disappeared from the Dungeon.

    Nevren dug through the bag over his shoulder and pulled out his Badge. He tapped on the Heart symbol in the center twice and held it in the air. After several seconds of waiting for the safe extraction to be established, he disappeared from the Dungeon, reappearing near the entrance. While he fully expected to see the unconscious, or perhaps dead, Snorlax nearby, nothing waited for him at the entrance to the distortion.

    “Hm.” Nevren inspected the area halfheartedly, but then shrugged. He supposed it was already taken care of, then. Efficient. Knowing there was nothing else to worry about, and his mission was accomplished, Nevren walked toward the Waypoint back to Kilo Village.

    <><><> ​

    Rhys’ walk back home was a quiet one. He heard wild Pidgey singing in the trees. Rattata scampered in the bushes. Auras were wild or calm, rushing or resting. They were all weak, really. Wild Pokémon in this area weren’t anything to worry about. That was one reason he enjoyed living in the forest to the side of Kilo Village’s outskirts. The auras didn’t overwhelm his senses. It also meant that if a powerful aura was around, he could spot it instantly.

    “Hello, Rim,” Rhys said. He stopped walking and lifted his head. To his left was the black, rocky Kilo Mountainside. To the right was the surrounding Kilo Forest, comprised of thin trees with thick, lumpy tops. And ahead and behind him, the thin, grassy field that connected the two.

    An Espurr appeared in front of Rhys, ten paces away. She was floating at eye-level to Rhys, but she didn’t look directly at him. She stared at his feet instead.

    “H-hello…” Her voice was like a whisper, barely audible over the wind. Rhys had to strain his sensitive ears just to hear her.

    “I didn’t appreciate your antics last night.”

    “S-sorry…”

    “Will you stop, then?”

    Rim didn’t reply.

    “I see,” Rhys said. “So, it’s begun again. Do not think that I am unprepared, Rim. Send that message to the others.”

    “The… orb… p-please…”

    “The orb?” Rhys grabbed at the strap, pulling his bag up. “You intend to take the orb?”

    “P-please…”

    “I will not allow it.”

    The wind died down. For five seconds, the atmosphere was without sound. Then, it picked up again. The leaves on bushes rustled; wild Pokémon, sensing the tension, fled. The wind stopped again. Rim’s fur, however, continued to blow, energy swirling around her.

    Rhys felt the air twist around him; in a deft movement, he jumped back, dodging Rim’s first Psychic blow. The dirt where he stood warped into an oblong, spiral spike of grass and mud. Rhys countered with a bright ball of concentrated light from his paws, aimed at Rim. It was weakened by an odd, invisible barrier, but still passed through, making the Espurr squeak. She countered with another bout of twisting energy. Rhys dodged it again, but felt the fur at the edge of his tail spiral into a corkscrew.

    Rhys fired another Flash Cannon at her, its brilliance scaring off all spectating wild Pokémon. Rim vanished. Rhys cursed and glanced behind him; he felt a powerful presence in front of him instead, but it was too late. The twisting energy surrounded Rhys, and the attack connected. He lost the wind from his chest; his bones were strained. He jumped away, but dropped his bag in the process. “Ngh—”

    Rim was readying another wave. Rhys ran in the opposite direction, and then redirected himself. He fired another ball of steely light one last time; Rim dodged, but had to close her eyes against the bright detonation. When she opened them again, he was gone, but the bag remained. Based on the dim glow it emitted, the orb was still inside.

    She hastily floated down and pulled the cloth out. The orb fell out of the bag, knocking against the dirt with a dull thud. She smiled in relief and hastily grabbed the orb with both hands.

    Nothing happened. Her smile transitioned into a confused frown.

    In another second, her big, purple eyes bulged with panic. She pulled her hands away, and then touched it again. Nothing. She touched it yet again. Still, nothing. She whimpered and knocked her claws against the side. It made a hollow tink.

    The glow inside was just a latent Aura Sphere; Rhys had mimicked the Mystic radiance perfectly, yet it was all a fabrication. It was simply colored glass.

    <><><> ​

    “Got it, guys!” Owen said. “Ha ha, that was… what?” The orb wasn’t in his hands anymore.

    He was standing in a clearing within a forest that was vaguely similar to the one outside Rhys’ home. Sunlight poured through the treetops above, creating dazzling patterns on the ground. A large, open field sat to his right, beyond tree trunks wider than he was tall. To his left—and in all other directions, really—was more and more forest. Tanned wood topped with bright green. There was no mountain and no nearby cave; Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were nowhere to be seen.

    “Okay. I’m crazy,” Owen finally conceded, looking at his hands. He was certain that he was holding the orb, or that he at least grabbed it. But then, in an instant, it was gone, and then… What happened after that? He did feel a bit strange. He had blacked out for at most half a blink. And then, he was here. It still felt like Mispy was holding him, but it was some sort of phantom sensation. He saw no vines wrapped around his abdomen.

    “Maybe I shouldn’t have skipped breakfast.” But then again, he didn’t feel hungry.

    Something rustled behind him.

    “U-uh—h-h-hello?” The flame on his tail brightened. Fire danced in the back of his throat. His heart was racing with onset panic at being thrown into a completely unfamiliar place.

    More rustling behind him again, where he had once been facing—and to his left, and his right, and above him. Eyes everywhere, little dots in the shadows of bushes and branches. He caught sight of one of them. “H-hey!” he said, pointing. “I saw that! C-come out! And—and do it in a… slow and non-threatening way! P-please!”

    After a few seconds, a Leafeon emerged. Owen deflated with his sigh.

    A few other Pokémon revealed themselves, including a large Jumpluff. Another was a Murkrow—but instead of its iconic, black feathers, it was covered in sharp leaves. Another emerged—this one was a Cubone, holding a solid, wooden stick instead of a bone. Its helmet was made of the same material. The Jumpluff—an actual, normal Pokémon—helped him relax the same way seeing the Leafeon did. If there was anywhere for him to be placed randomly, a place of Grass-Types wasn’t too bad.

    “Hey,” Owen said, lowering his guard. “S-sorry. I’m just a little… confused. Um. Where am I?” He nervously nibbled on his tongue. “I’m sorry if I’m, um, intruding, or anything like that. I think I got here on accident, somehow. I’ll go right home! When… I know where that is.”

    The Pokémon all looked at one another. They seemed to understand Owen, and were murmuring to one another. Owen’s breathing steadied. At least they weren’t wild. Another ideal circumstance. He listened in on the words being said, sensing that quite a few of these Pokémon were tense and ready to fight or flee. He gulped. Was he about to become a Carnivine’s lunch? Some Grass cult’s sacrifice? Even if he had an advantage, he didn’t think he’d be able to take on all of them. It would be the most humiliating way to die, really—a Charmander, eaten by a bunch of Grass-Types.

    The mumbling slowly subsided; more and more of their eyes focused on something behind Owen. The Charmander almost didn’t want to look back. He could feel it. A presence—a powerful, incredible, radiant presence. Perhaps it was the cult’s leader, ready to cook him up. Charmander stew! With only the finest herbs and berries. It cooked itself.

    He couldn’t move; his flame burned brighter, ready to run and torch anything that stopped him.

    “Yo,” said a feminine, yet casual voice. “Took you long enough.”

    By some miracle, Owen heard this voice over the blood pounding in his head. This voice sounded familiar. Recent. Wait! It was the pretty voice!

    He spun around.

    His jaw nearly detached from the rest of his head. “M-M-M… Muh—Muh—”

    “Nice to meet you in spirit, Owen,” the Mew said, smiling wryly. “How’s life?”
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2019
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  20. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Cross-posting with Bulbagarden. If you'd prefer me not to, make sure to let me know!

    Grammar/Style:
    The only grammar mistake I remember right now is the use of 'were' rather than 'was'? Or maybe it was the reverse. There was also Rhys asking about the pose required to get into Owen's house; it ought to have a question mark rather than a comma, unless you were intending for it to sound like a neutral statement. There was also a place you could use a colon where Rhys is describing why he likes this forest setting in this last chapter. Regardless, you've gotten pretty good.

    As for style, you use a more...simplistic voice. Not that that's bad, not at all. It works quite well for quickly describing character actions and moving through the tale quickly. Most of the exposition we receive is through Owen's sight, so I'd say this is third-person limited, with some deviances on occasion. That's the style I tend to use, but I like shifting between two perspectives consistently across a chapter, but that's just me.

    Plot/Story:

    One of the bigger issues I have with fanfiction as a whole is that authors like making it an episodic series rather than the size of an actual novel; it allows for more fluff than needed and doesn't plan for an end in sight. That's something that I doubt will really change, but connected to that is the PMD style of pacing, which is generally slowly bringing the characters up to speed in the Guild, gradually bringing in the large-scale plot, then heaping it on all at once. That tends to be a criticism in the series, and a perfectly understandable one at that. And you mostly avoid it.

    At this point in the story (six chapters), we're already getting to see the bigger picture of what's happening: mutant Pokemon are coming, these elemental orbs are in danger, and there seems to be some meddling by the higher-ups to keep it under wraps--I dunno, it's just how it appears on the last one. Up till now, we've been worried about Owen's sake, but as time goes on, there are questions about the world in general--especially as Owen keeps getting this overarching feeling of familiarity.

    A decent plot so far, but I'd say that I'm in it more for Owen's personality rather than this. That is subject to change, however; PMD plots have the tendency to change from character-driven to plot-driven in the end due to the twists and turns, and that is always something I enjoy.

    Characters:
    So far, I'm not sure I can say much. Little development has happened, and most characters don't feel particularly memorable--mostly because they haven't done anything suited to their species, to be frank. Owen is memorable due to his personality and with his species (Charmander) being used in a believable way in the setting. Rhys I can remember because he's my favorite Pokemon (Lucario) and his personality and plot-importance to his point make readers remember. Nevren as well, especially with the dream battle scene. Then, of course there's Anam with his blubbery nature.

    I remember a thread mentioning how epithets are overused, but in PMD, I'd say it is the only place it is well justified. It can be hard to keep track of all the species of Pokemon, especially when we're just starting out. While it would be difficult to forget Owen's species, the other so-far minor characters are quite forgettable, and I don't remember there being too many reminders on what species they were save for a physical description--which isn't always the most useful. Try to intersperse this sort of reminder n the prose, and I think they will stand out more.

    Other than that, character personalities are somewhat distinct, at least with Owen and the leaders. Can't say the same for his teammates, as they haven't been focused on enough to do that, but it's still early on, so that can be changed.

    Setting:
    I can tell you have made a more traditional take on a PMD setting, choosing to go with the usual format of a Mystery Dungeon and its items. I don't have a problem with that, but I find that trying to incorporate a game mechanic that's RNG more than anything makes it difficult to easily bring into prose. I tried it out in my first two stories, and it ultimately became boring and repetitive. You avoid that by seemingly not using the floor mechanic, which is something I should have avoided. Kudos on that, as it makes Point-A-to-Point-B a lot easier to do.

    In terms of the overworld, it is...fine. The issue is that we don't get to see much of it since your style of writing doesn't tend to allow for detailed descriptions, especially for settings. Often the biggest things that make a world are the small things; what is going on around Owen in the streets? The trees? The village? I tend to use scenes where a character is walking to describe that first, then go on to their actual thoughts, as it tends to be a good transition. You've done better in description in this last chapter you posted with Rhys' room,

    I can tell that there is a deep world waiting to be explored here. You do a good job of letting us see inside Owen's head and see what he thinks, but try using the third-person viewpoint to its fullest by going into setting description. That is arguably its strength over first-person, where you have to stay in character as you describe a setting. If you want help, you can always go to my little thread I made here. I don't usually like advertising, but I made the material, and it can be quite useful if needed--if comments and likes are anything to go by.

    Side Note: I find it interesting that you gave each Pokemon a unique last name rather than first, keeping true to the games while also granting the opportunity to differentiate. It makes sense from a world standpoint, but it would be nice to see that utilized for when we do encounter another Pokemon of the same species. Little details that are used in the world make it feel alive.

    Overall:
    A nice, well-written addition to the PMD universe, even if it so far has troubles standing out with a lack of worldbuilding due to a lack of setting description. Keep at it! You're doing great, especially if you've avoided spelling/grammar errors!
     

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