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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

    Chapter 48 – Flames in the Dark

    Going from Hot Spot Cave to the southern corner of the world took quite a while. The sun was not far from kissing the horizon. It wouldn’t be long until they were above the Chasm of the Void; even in the incoming twilight, they expected to see the blinding darkness that was the crater.

    “So, from there,” Star said, balanced atop Zena’s serpentine back, “half of us will pay a visit to Nate, and the other half will keep to finding Emily with Jerry. How’re you holding up, Aero?”

    “I’m just fine,” Jerry said, twisting his neck slightly at the tightness of his Stable Scarf. “I’m a little nervous about flying with this thing around my neck. It’s messing with my dynamics.”

    “You can land on my back, if you want,” Owen offered.

    “I’ll pass,” Jerry growled. “I’m afraid that you’ll twist and throw me right into the water once we go over the ocean.”

    “Wh-what kind of person d’you think I am?!” Owen’s flame shrank at the accusation. In truth, Owen was simply trying to make up for his insolence prior to their fight. What more did he need to do? Owen struggled to find the words to form a proper apology.

    “If you must,” Zena offered, “you may ride on my back, Jerry. Perhaps you can use my body as a perch? I’m sure I feel a lot like a tree branch if you don’t think about it.”

    “Listen, I’m still trying to get used to the fact that you’re flying like the Legendary Rayquaza. I’m not about to also use you as some kind of stand. I’ll… I’ll just fly on my own. I’ll be fine.”

    “Hm,” Zena nodded. “Very well.”

    A quiet, serene noise filled the air. It was a gentle whistle in an enchanting, organic tune. Almost a song. It pierced through the wind.

    “Um, do you hear that?” Amia asked.

    “Hear what?” Owen asked. “Oh, Gahi?”

    “Ngg—” Gahi beat his wings rapidly and the whistling stopped.

    “Gahi! I didn’t know you could sing!” Amia said. “By the Stars, that was beautiful!”

    Star’s ear twitched.

    “I ain’t singing!” Gahi said.

    “He isn’t,” Owen said. “Those are his wings! If the wind blows at them the right way, they make a really nice hum in the air. I remember Nevren once told me that it’s even louder in sandstorms.”

    “It ain’t pretty!” Gahi said. “Nevern told me that Flygon use that singing to lure prey fer a kill. It’s deadly. I’m deadly.”

    “I thought it sounded quite nice,” Zena said. “I envy that. Despite my species, my singing voice is not quite up to your wings, Gahi.”

    “Well, at least your normal voice is nice, right?” Owen asked.

    “I—I’m sorry?” Zena asked.

    “Feh!” Gahi irritably drifted away from them, flying next to Manny instead.

    “Heh.” Manny twirled through the air, wagging his tail. “I’ve been cooped up in that mountain and then those caves fer way too long! I fergot how great it was ter fly!”

    “Lucario shouldn’t fly,” Zena said. “I much prefer you on the ground. Perhaps with your face in the dirt?” She giggled, hiding her mouth behind one of her ribbons.

    “Hey, don’t go associating me with Rhys,” Manny said. “I know yer history. I ain’t got any bad past with yeh. Don’t gotta worry about me.”

    “Yes, you’re less dangerous,” Zena said. “I heard that you lost to him quite soundly.”

    Soundly?” Manny said. “Who said that? Who said I did it all easy-like?”

    “I believe it was Amia,” Zena said.

    Manny’s eyes flashed with genuine betrayal.

    “So!” Amia said, drifting away from Manny. “Jerry, um.” She fiddled with her hands. “About earlier. The… the Fire Clan.”

    “What of it?”

    “I, um, I’m sorry that your circumstances turned out that way. I didn’t think something like that would…”

    “It’s that Goodra that’s the problem,” Jerry said. Amia didn’t reply. Jerry, perhaps from thoughts that had been bubbling for a while during the flight, continued. “What gives him the right to judge my character at a glance? What gives that stupid Ghrelle the right to judge me?! Neither of them have the right, if you ask me! I was at the top of those exams! I would’ve passed with flying colors! But then he steps in and denies me the chance. How is that fair?”

    “I—I don’t know, Jerry. Maybe we can ask him,” Owen said. “After you’re all healed up, we can see why Anam—”

    “I know why! It’s because there was something in my character that didn’t fit with the Hearts’ policy. I get it.”

    “Then… why are you mad?” Owen said. “If you didn’t have it in you—”

    “Well, maybe I could’ve gotten better.”

    “Y-yeah, maybe,” Owen said. “But if Anam had to choose between someone who already had good character, versus someone who, I mean…” Owen didn’t want to say it, but at this point, he was just dancing around the subject. “You became an outlaw after you were denied a position as a Heart. Don’t you think that kind of reaction isn’t—”

    Owen winced at Jerry’s glare.

    “I’m done talking about this,” Jerry spat. “You better go with the group that sees that stupid Dark Guardian, got it? Because I don’t want to see your scaly hide for any longer than I have to, you pampered little—”

    “Shut up for a second,” Star said, gently holding a paw on Jerry’s muzzle. “What’s going on down there?”

    Jerry was about to protest, but he grunted instead and looked down. “What?” he asked. “It’s just a crater, nothing wrong with—wait a second…”

    “Yeah, exactly.”

    The Chasm of the Void was a shallow crater in the middle of a field of tan rocks and red dirt—no deeper than Kilo Village’s. Surrounding this field of lifeless dust were the thin trees of the southern forest. But that crater wasn’t supposed to be that way—and many in the group imagined it would be quite a lot deeper. Yet, it looked like it only went down for a hundred feet. The ground at the bottom was a barren wasteland of even paler dirt and rocks like the terrain that surrounded it. All the way across, it was about a quarter of the size of Kilo Village’s diameter.

    “That’s not good,” Owen said. “Isn’t it supposed to be this… black circle that’s like going blind?”

    “Yeah. And now it’s gone.” Her voice trembled. “Nate…!”

    “Please don’t tell me Eon got him,” Owen said.

    “N-no, that can’t be it. I mean, Nate’s shy, but he’d’ve told me, right?! Guys? I’m approachable, right?”

    Zena huffed. “I suppose you are friendly, when you aren’t lying through your teeth.”

    Owen could tell that one hurt.

    Zena’s eyes softened slightly. “I… apologize.”

    “N-no, it’s okay. I deserved that. I’m doing better,” Star said in a squeak. She gulped and steeled herself. “Change of plans. Let’s all fly down there and investigate. If there’s trouble, I want us to all be there to fight it off, alright?”

    They all nodded and descended. Before long, they were at the very center of the crater; Owen was the first to land, sensing no immediate danger or foreign presence. “It feels fine to me.”

    “I don’t know if I should be glad or worried about that,” Star said.

    “Oy, Flygon,” Manny said.

    “Eh?”

    “How about we go off and circle the whole crater, see if we can spot anything weird at all angles, eh? My eyes and yer speed.”

    The mutant Flygon made a thoughtful churring sound reminiscent of his Trapinch years. “Yeah, sure. Figure these guys’ll just scan the ground.”

    Gahi put his speed to good use, and Manny hopped onto his back. For just an instant, Gahi felt an odd, nostalgic kinship with him—the Lucario that he had been so impressed by as a delinquent adolescent. Now, as a delinquent adult, Manny got to see him in his full glory.

    “Oy!” Manny shouted at the others. “We’re gonna do a spin around the crater!”

    “Yeah!” Gahi called back. “We’ll let y’guys know if we spot anything!”

    And with that, the pair took off.

    The rest resumed their search on the ground for any signs of oddities. Star spoke up first. “You don’t think Eon got to him, do you?”

    Zena tilted a tiny boulder over with her ribbons, finding nothing. “Didn’t you just say Nate wouldn’t be defeated by Eon so easily?”

    “I meant, like, with words,” Star said. “Eon’s pretty good with those when he has to be. Charisma, like any good leader.”

    “Eon?” Jerry repeated.

    “The leader of the Hunters.”

    “Uh-huh. And the Hunters?”

    “Uh, the people chasing the—look, I’ll explain later, if we even have to explain it.” Star waved her tiny arms in the air dismissively. “But right now, it doesn’t look like there’s anything here.”

    “This dirt,” Zena said, slithering tentatively over it. “It feels… well-traveled. As if there were creatures constantly trotting over it at all times. But I imagine it would be quite lonely down here, don’t you think?”

    “I don’t see any footprints,” Owen said.

    Jerry kicked at a loose rock. “That’s because whatever used to be here didn’t have normal feet. I’ve never seen markings like this before, and I’ve followed lots of tracks. For all I know, this is just more of that weird business you guys deal with. But the way the dirt looks here, it feels like some sort of Ghost Type used to live here.” Jerry huffed. “Or some abomination. What’s the difference?”

    With his foot, the Aerodactyl rolled a rock over and tilted his head. Something flat and yellow had been trapped underneath. He leaned down and picked up a strange cloth. The sensation baffled him—it felt smooth, cold, and wet, yet no water or residue was left on his wing’s claws.

    “Huh.” He didn’t see any importance to it, but perhaps the material would be useful. Making use of the small bag they had given him for his sparring match with Owen, he slipped it inside. Maybe he could sell it.

    Gahi and Manny—who had been specks in the air until seconds ago—descended next to the group, indicated by that same singing from the Flygon’s wings.

    Nada,” Manny reported.

    “What the heck’s a nada?” Jerry said.

    “It means nothing,” Star said. “Lost language.”

    “Doesn’t look like anything’s here,” Zena said. “That’s too bad. I hope Nate is okay…”

    “Guess so,” Star sighed. “Okay. I guess Nate isn’t here. I don’t see any signs of a struggle, though.” She looked over at Owen. “What do you think? Owen? Hello?”

    “Huh? Oh—sorry,” Owen looked back. “I was trying to scan the whole area and I think I got lost.”

    Jerry blinked. “This is a big, open crater. How in Mew’s name do you get lost in here?”

    Star’s ear twitched.

    “It’s—it’s hard to explain, okay?” Owen said. “Sometimes it feels like I’m everywhere at once, and big, open areas make me just bleed my mind all over. I kinda prefer confined spaces.”

    “You’re one of the weirdest Chars I’ve ever met,” Jerry said. “Hmph. So, are we done here? Are we good? Let’s go.”

    “I guess we are,” Star agreed, nodding uncertainly. “Owen?”

    Owen was standing still again, staring into empty space with his mouth agape.

    Jerry smacked Owen just below his horns.

    “Ng—don’t do that!” Owen crouched down, covering his ears. “I was just thinking!”

    “You were thinking for ten seconds. C’mon, let’s get going before you go crazy. Seeing the Chasm all bare like this is giving me the creeps.”

    Owen shrank. “O-okay.”

    “What,” Star said to Jerry, “you mean it being like staring into the abyss is any less creepy?”

    “That was weird, too!” Jerry said. “Tons of crazy rumors about this place. They say that if you fell into the void, demons would claim your soul and turn your body into more darkness.” He shivered. “Some Pokémon once escaped. They said that they felt thousands of hands trying to pull them apart.”

    “Th-that wasn’t what it was like when we came,” Owen said.

    “You went into the Chasm?” Jerry asked.

    “Yeah! We… mis-warped or something, and wound up there.” Owen paused. “I didn’t know Badges could mis-warp.”

    “They can’t,” Star said. “Nevren redirected us there since apparently Eon was gonna head there next. Probably wanted to keep Nate protected. What a load of good that gave us in the end…”

    “Jerry,” Zena spoke up. “How do you know about the Chasm?”

    “I’m from here,” Jerry said. “Ever heard of Pyrock Village? Not that far from here.”

    Amia tilted her head back. “Mm… that does sound familiar,” she said. “But I’ve never been there. Perhaps a few generations back?”

    “Yeah. Back before the ‘Fire Clan’ split up.” Jerry shrugged and repositioned his wings. “Whatever. Guess it doesn’t matter now. The Chasm is just gone, and I say good riddance. All those scary stories about evil spirits stealing you away at night don’t have much weight to them anymore, now do they?”

    “Doubt they had any weight to begin with.” Star shrugged, eyes closed. “Nate’s friendly. Sure, he’s weird, but he’s friendly.”

    “Speaking of weird,” Jerry mumbled. Owen was staring into space again. He flicked his tail on Owen’s thigh.

    “Guh—! Stop that!”

    Star hummed. “I guess he’s getting his powers back gradually. Power before control. You keep that in check, big guy.” She crossed her arms and flicked her tail. “You weren’t like that when you first evolved, so I think you’re getting your powers back in full before you’re getting back the knowledge on how to handle it.”

    “I guess so,” Owen said, shutting his eyes tight. That didn’t help. If anything, it made him even more focused on his surroundings.

    Jerry grumbled irritably.

    They took off. Before long, the now bright, barren chasm was a small speck in the distance, and the thin, pale treetops of the southern forest took over the landscape. Jerry followed behind at a slightly slower pace. The others were quick to notice this, but it was Owen who spoke up first.

    “Jerry, are you okay?” he asked.

    “Yeah, just fine.”

    “How come you’re slowing down? Don’t get too far. If you start melting, I’m gonna need to get that scarf refreshed before we get to Emily.”

    “I feel fine. Lay off.”

    The Charizard winced, beating his wings as if it would help to shake off the rejection. “O-okay.”

    “Hey,” Star spoke up. “How about we go on a little detour first?”

    “E-excuse me? This is a bit urgent, Star,” Zena said.

    “Oh, please, we aren’t in a rush,” Star said. “This is just a bunch of hurry-and-wait. Even once Jerry gets healed by Emily, we need to wait for the Badges to recharge before we can get back home. Jerry?”

    “What? What do you want?” Jerry asked.

    “Want to visit the Western Chasm Glade?”

    Jerry’s flight stiffened into a glide, and he stared ahead, looking at nobody.

    “No.”

    Star blinked. “You… y’don’t?”

    “No. Let’s just see Emily.”

    Zena and Owen glanced at one another, and then at Star. She seemed puzzled at the response, but then said, “Aw, well, I’m sure you really want to. I bet she’d—”

    “Let’s go.” Jerry beat his wings hard, accelerating forward until he was ahead of the entire group. The ocean dominated the landscape, with the forest below transitioning into fields and sand, and finally into nothing but an expanse of water that glistened orange under the setting sun.

    Owen was tempted to ask Jerry what that place was, or why Star was offering, and why Jerry refused so curtly. She was just trying to help, wasn’t she? Owen felt someone brush against his side; he glanced to the right.

    “Oh—sorry,” Zena said.

    “It’s okay,” Owen said. “Hey, are you having trouble flying? I guess it’s pretty weird for a Milotic to be going through the air, huh?”

    “Oh, it’s not strange at all, actually,” Zena said. “This feels very much like swimming. I should do this more often. I would be more worried about your mother.”

    “Uh?” Owen looked to his left. Amia was flying, yes, but she was squinting at the air, struggling to see through the rush. “Mom?”

    “Oh! Yes, dear?”

    “Are you okay? Seems like you’re having trouble, uh, seeing.”

    “Ohh, it’s just fine, Owen.” Her eyes were watering.

    Owen wondered if Pokémon that could naturally fly just had an easier time with harsh winds. Then again, Zena was fine with it, too, but perhaps swimming through water worked in the same way? Owen looked at the others. Manny was flying, and he had no problem with the wind; last he checked, he never saw Rhys fly. No, he did, when they had gone over the ocean the first time—but did that really count as flying? Propelling himself with the sheer force of aura from his paws? It wasn’t like he could keep it up, either; Rhys had been quite strained by the end of it.

    Wings sounded like the most appropriate way to fly, like himself and Gahi. None of these Mystic cheaters. Then again, he supposed lots of Pokémon levitated… But Rhys didn’t. If he wanted to fly, he’d need to sprout an extra set of wings.

    Owen briefly imagined Rhys crossed with a Dragonair, little white wings sprouting from his furry back.

    He snorted out a small flame from his nostrils and tried to cover it up as a cough from swallowing a gust of air.

    “Owen?” Zena asked.

    “N-nothing, nothing,” Owen said. “I was just, uh, I was just imagining what it’d be like if, uh, Manny had wings.”

    “Wings? Oh, flying,” Zena said. She looked at the Lucario, and then giggled. “Oh, goodness, imagine if you fused with him, Owen.”

    “Fused?” Owen said. He imagined himself with Manny’s boisterous personality, and then the mighty wings of a Charizard attached to the thin frame of a Lucario. “That doesn’t sound too bad. For some reason I was imagining the little white wings you see on Dragonair.”

    Zena’s eyes bulged and she stifled a laugh of her own. “Now why are you imagining that?”

    “W-well, I—I mean,”—Owen flushed—“I was imagining how a Lucario could fly normally. M-maybe they could use a bunch of Aura Spheres and use that as propulsion? Do you think they can shoot them from their feet?”

    Manny was too far away to ask without yelling over the wind.

    Zena let loose a small giggle. “And how do you imagine I would fly, Owen?”

    “Y-you? Umm—well, how does Rayquaza fly? You sorta move like I imagine he would. With… wind power, or something.”

    “Wind power,” Zena repeated.

    “W-well, what else would it be? Doesn’t he have control over the sky or something? That’s awesome! Hey, Star? Is Rayquaza real?”

    “Yeah.”

    “W-wow! What, um, what’s he like?”

    “He’s cool. A little uptight, but really laid back. Lots of the pantheon is kinda like that. I think they get it from Barky, you know, since they’re sorta disciples of him and stuff. Created their forms, yadda yadda… ‘Quaza was good friends with Dialga.”

    “Oh? You mean you didn’t make them? I thought you made all life.”

    “All normal life,” Star said. “The Embodiments are his thing, for the most part. But most of them aren’t around anymore.”

    “Oh, that’s too bad,” Owen said. “So Rayquaza isn’t around?”

    “Nope.”

    “Well, I guess that explains why there have never been any sightings,” Owen said, though he couldn’t help but wonder why they wouldn’t be around anymore. “How come they aren’t around?”

    “Eh, stuff happens,” Star said evasively. “Maybe one day Barks will get around to making another.”

    “Hmm.” He knew Star wasn’t telling the full story, but perhaps it was just a sore spot, or an accident. Did Rayquaza die from flying into a mountain when he wasn’t paying attention? If it was something embarrassing, perhaps Star was just covering for his spirit’s dignity.

    Star growled. “Look, I don’t know the full story, either, okay?”

    “O-oh. Sorry.” Owen nodded; if anything, that felt honest.

    Zena sighed. “Speaking of Embodiments, I can’t wait to see Emily again.”

    “Urk.” Owen’s flight briefly faltered. “Y-yeah. She seemed nice.”

    Zena smiled apologetically. “I know you didn’t get the best first impression, but I’m glad you at least see her as friendly.”

    “Y-yeah, I mean, she’s great!” Owen forced himself to perk up. “She dedicates her life to rescuing Pokémon lost at sea! She’s like the ocean’s Thousand Hearts! Except, uh, just one Heart. Well, two, if you count Vaporeon, um… Tanneth, her name. And like Anam, she hugs people. A lot.”

    “Hugs,” Zena said with another giggle. “Is that what we’re calling it, now?”

    “I just don’t want to think of it another way,” Owen said, briefly remembering when he’d also accidentally been halfway submerged in Anam’s slime. No wonder he reminded Zena of Emily.

    Jerry eyed Owen suspiciously. “Hang on,” he said. “What?”

    “Uhh—” Owen shook his head. “It’s nothing! Nothing. Remember, Emily’s probably the only way we can get you fixed completely, okay?”

    Jerry stared. Owen shrank, veering toward Zena if only to get further away.

    “So,” Jerry said, “tell me again what’s going on? Who is this Emily you’re talking about, and how is she able to heal me?”

    “She’s a Lugia with very special powers,” Zena said. “Potent healing abilities—it’s slower, but it’s incredibly strong. It was enough to heal Owen and Gahi’s minds when they fused together.”

    “I don’t think it was just that,” Star said. “But she did help. It’s our best bet at getting you better, Jerry. After that, we’ll drop you off at the Hearts, you can finish your dues, and you’ll find a better job than being a criminal. Alright?”

    “Don’t talk to me like I’m some kid.”

    Star sighed. This was going to be a long flight.

    The sky transitioned to a deep purple in silence, nobody speaking with one another, more involved with their own thoughts. With so many around him, Owen was able to focus mostly on their bodies rather than the great, empty expanse of air that surrounded them, or the ocean below. Most of them were relaxed. Star seemed to be meditating, settled on a spot on Zena’s back. Manny’s lips twitched every so often, occasionally becoming little grins. He must have been talking to Yen. Jerry, however, was still stiff.

    “Oh, look,” Owen said, pointing. “Zero Isle Spiral.”

    “Yep,” Star said.

    The twisted archipelago was to their right. In the darkening sky, they could tell the land apart from the water only because the water glistened orange, while the land itself was dark.

    “Wh—hey!” Owen pointed at the very center of the four-pronged vortex of small islands. “That’s awesome!”

    The center of the spiral glowed dimly.

    “That’s where the treasure is,” Star said with an amused lilt. “In other words, Dragon Guardian Aramé.”

    “Can’t we just fly right to the center?” Owen asked. “We can skip Zero Isle Spiral entirely! Oh, wait,” Owen hummed. “Dungeon space is spherical, right? So, once we get too close—”

    “You’ll land right at the edge, yep,” Star said. “Besides, I wouldn’t go there anyway. Aramé’s all about strength, and Zero Isle Spiral just isn’t a place you want to go. Even Elites struggle with it.”

    “Yer making me wanna challenge it,” Manny said.

    “Go ahead,” Star shrugged. “I’ll come and collect your corpse later. She’s merciful to mortals, but she told me a long time ago that if a Mystic ever entered the Dungeon, she’d have spirits waiting at the entrance to kill the defeated.”

    “She sounds nice,” Zena said.

    “Feh. Doesn’t sound so tough. Maybe she’s all talk.”

    “Wanna test it out?” Star asked. “C’mon, Manny. Don’t be an Owen.”

    “H-hey!”

    Star giggled. “Let’s keep going, alright? One problem at a time.”

    More flying, and the sound of wind blowing past them slowly faded out of Owen’s mind. The gentle singing of Gahi’s wings, too, faded from Owen’s mind. Becoming nothing but background noise, the ‘silence’ ate away at him. He drifted a bit to Zena, and then dipped beneath her until he was between the Milotic and the Aerodactyl.

    “Um, Jerry,” he said.

    “What now?” he groaned.

    “I’m sorry for belittling you. For the fight.”

    Jerry stared at Owen incredulously. “You think I care?”

    Owen flinched. “N-no, I mean, yes? I—I just didn’t want to—I’m just sorry that I said you were weak.”

    “Who cares?” Jerry said. “I fight to survive. Just because you thought I was weak doesn’t mean anything. Actually, you know what? It’s an advantage for me, because that might’ve given me the win in the first place.”

    “Y-yes, but isn’t… I don’t know. Doesn’t it seem like a big insult? I’m really sorry.”

    Jerry wished his wings weren’t occupied so he could rub his face. He compromised by rolling his eyes. “Look, if this is part of your freak-mutant culture of bloodlust, I don’t care. Your apology was losing. So, fine. Apology accepted.” He grunted. “Now how about you stop belittling me for my past, next?”

    Owen winced.

    “Yeah, Mister Entry-Heart. By the way, did you know that they tell you the team name of the group that arrested you? Part of the records. What kind of name is Team Alloy? None of you guys are metallic.”

    “Th-that’s a long story,” Owen said, realization washing over him. Alloy. What a sick joke. “It’s meant to signify a team that can combine their skills into a single, stronger force.”

    “So, your fusion gimmick,” Jerry said.

    “We… didn’t know about that part.”

    “Ohh, so it’s just a subconscious thing,” Jerry said. “Huh. Well, isn’t that something.”

    An agonizing silence followed.

    Jerry went on. “So. You gonna apologize?”

    “For calling you an outlaw?”

    Jerry snarled. “Forget it. I can’t expect someone from the Hearts to understand.”

    “To be fair, Jerry,” Star said, “you are an outlaw who ran away from your sentence. We could send you right back to toil.”

    He growled in response. “Being told off by God herself. Hmph. Guess I should feel honored.”

    “Don’t call me that.”

    “What, don’t like taking responsibility for your mistakes?” Jerry smirked.

    “Do you?” Star replied icily.

    “L-let’s not get too heated,” Amia spoke up over the wind. “Emily! We’re here for Emily, to help Jerry, remember?”

    Jerry and Star continued their glares. Owen, able to see Star’s face from his angle, had to turn away. Jerry’s eyes were no better, and he ultimately drifted back to Zena, taking solace in her graceful ‘swim’ through the sky.

    “So,” Owen said to Jerry, “life was pretty hard for you, huh?”

    Jerry broke his glare to pay attention to his flight path. “Yeah. Guess you could say that. Sure, maybe if I toughed it out, I would be able to get a decent life for myself. But there were easier ways.”

    “Like stealing,” Star said.

    “Like surviving away from a dead-end job.”

    “Dead-end? You had it made!” Star said. “Do you know how good it is to get a job in construction?”

    “Excuse me?” Jerry said, beating his wings to gain some altitude on Star. “You have any idea how high the turnover is for a job like that? Chronic strain would’ve had me out in ten years! Then what?!”

    “A-Anam wouldn’t allow something like that to happen,” Owen defended.

    “And another thing, don’t you think it’s a little weird that Anam’s the law of the land, the Head of the Hearts, and the world’s grand priest?! Sounds like an awful lot of power, if you ask me. I don’t think he can manage playing God of the Living.”

    “Nobody can,” Star mumbled.

    “W-well,” Owen stuttered. “I don’t—I don’t think Anam’s been doing a bad job. The world’s fine, if you ignore all this Mystic stuff. Maybe you just aren’t—” Owen caught himself too late.

    “Aren’t what?” Jerry asked. “Or are you siding with Ghrelle, saying I don’t have the right character or purity to make it in this world? That I’m some lazy trash? Is that it?”

    Amia flinched, ready to speak up, but she couldn’t find the words. Gahi beat his wings irritably, but he lacked the eloquence to counter with anything meaningful. In a rare act of restraint, he said nothing, too. Manny listened with an uncharacteristic, somber silence. Zena looked at Owen, expecting him to respond. Star seemed lost in thought about something else.

    “That’s—no,” Owen said. “You—you work hard. You wouldn’t be so strong if you didn’t work hard.” He looked down, stretching his wings for a steady glide.

    “Hmph,” Jerry said. “I thought so. You just follow the label. I’m an outlaw. Doesn’t matter what or why. I’m a criminal, and you’re better than me for that. Pretty simple mindset. But you know what? I had to make the choice. I either had to doom myself to a short life, wasting away at unskilled labor just to make ends meet, or—actually survive, no matter what I had to do. I don’t want to hurt people. But I needed to if I wanted to live a life of any sort of comfort that you privileged Hearts have handed to you.”

    Owen nibbled on the right side of his tongue. How was he supposed to counter that? He had no idea what Jerry was talking about. Pokémon got along just fine. They worked, they got paid, and they got what they needed to live. It was simple. If there was a problem with the way the world worked—there would have been protests against Anam! Large ones!

    “Owen,” Zena spoke up. “Is the world difficult to live in? I have been away for so long, but the time I’ve spent in Kilo Village—I don’t think I saw that much trouble.”

    “It’s not that difficult,” Owen said. “You just need to get a good skillset, put yourself to use, and you can pretty much just find a job to take care of.”

    Jerry growled. “You talk as if finding a job and getting skills is easy, and then you’re set for life. You aren’t. Sometimes you don’t have the resources to do something the right way. Got it?”

    Star snapped to her senses. “Guys, c’mon.”

    “Hmph, y’know what?” Gahi flapped his wings, briefly cutting off the whistling song. “Owen’s right.”

    “Bah, what do you know,” Jerry said dismissively. “You’re a Heart. You’ve got the best sort of life.”

    “Hah!” Gahi swayed threateningly closer to Jerry. “Easy, being a Heart? Don’t make me laugh. While all the normal folks get to live quiet lives, we’re the ones heading straight inter danger every day. We get paid well because we need supplies, and ‘cause without us, Pokémon would be in trouble and dying a whole lot more often. Mutant attacks alone amount fer a lot o’ our problems, too, y’know. We’re the ones who gotta fight ‘em, not the civilians er whatever. Y’know that one guy, Granbull Jin? Died defending town, jus’ like that. And y’know what? I think I’m starting ter understand why Anam rejected you. ‘Cause he has a sense fer this sorta thing. His power. He can peer inter yer heart, feel yer emotions. Figure that’s a Mystic quirk.”

    “Oh, is that it?” Jerry said. “Anam, the great, compassionate Goodra, is literally able to feel what others feel? Well then enlighten me, Flygon—why did Anam reject me? Because I was too mean? To harsh? Too scaaary for the adult hatchling to handle? I would’ve been the best new recruit they’d’ve ever gotten!”

    “Hmph, no you wouldn’t,” Gahi said. “Strength ain’t why Anam rejects people. That’s what the tests are fer.”

    “Then WHAT?” Jerry shouted, seemingly convinced that Gahi knew the answer. “I had everything! I could’ve turned my life around! None of this would’ve happened if I was just accepted into the Hearts! All of it! So WHY?”

    Gahi snorted. “That’s easy,” he said. “Why’d you wanna join the Hearts?”

    “To make my life better. So I can actually feel secure. So I could actually survive. What’s so wrong about that?!”

    “Ain’t nothing wrong with it,” Gahi said. “But that ain’t enough. Figure I know why. D’you, Owen?”

    Owen gulped. “Y-yeah. I know. I think I know.”

    “What is it?” Zena and Jerry both asked—Zena in curiosity, Jerry with bitter impatience.

    Owen winced. “It’s because you don’t care enough about others.”

    Jerry stared at them in disbelieving, wide eyes. “How can—” he said, but he stopped himself. An opposing gust of wind disrupted their course and the group of fliers had to swerve to stabilize on their way. The sun had finally set; what little light that had brightened the Chasm, by now, was gone completely. The ocean was a sea of undulating darkness, except for the distant factory where Steel Guardian Brandon resided to their left. This factory had no light, but was instead an even darker patch against the water.

    “Don’t care for—” Jerry said again. His wings beat twice, each one angrier than the last.

    How can I care about others when I can BARELY CARE FOR MYSELF?!”

    He made a nosedive toward the ocean, gaining speed, and then tilted up to move forward. He didn’t care where he went; he didn’t even care if he lost his course. He just wanted to get away from them. He tilted his head back to get a look at his tail and feet. They were still solid. For just a brief moment, his thoughts trailed to the idea that if he melted, maybe he wouldn’t have to think about this anymore. The irrational thought remained in his head for longer than he’d wished, but he eventually shook it out.

    “Aagh, what is he doing?” Gahi groaned.

    “You guys need to stop pushing his buttons,” Star said.

    “Oh, like you weren’t?” Gahi said.

    “That was too far,” Star said. “Look, you guys have a point, but we’re trying to help him. If he runs off, we might lose him. Like, super-lose him.”

    “He heading the right way?” Manny asked.

    “Yeah. He’s fine. Let’s just keep up.”

    “So, how exactly are we going to spot Emily’s place?” Owen said.

    “I know the way,” Star said. “But if you guys aren’t sure, uhh, let’s see,” Star scanned the group. “Anybody know Flash?”

    No reply.

    Star sighed. “Yeah, I figured.” She looked down. “Hmm. Well, if Emily’s around, I can sense her aura. Otherwise, we’ll be able to see it on the ocean as a little darker spot. There’s still a little bit of light left. If we speed it up, we’ll actually see it.”

    Gahi grumbled. “It’s getting real dark,” he said. “Kinda… tired, y’know.”

    “Oh, that’s right,” Amia said. “You… you’re a little sleepy, huh? I forgot that normal people have to sleep. I wonder if Jerry’s feeling tired, too.”

    “Doubt it, after getting upset like that,” Star said. “He might be used to long nights.”

    “Um, Gahi, er,” Owen said. “If you need help, maybe we can fuse. Then you won’t have to sleep. Does that sound—”

    Gahi crashed into Owen, melting into his side. Owen gasped in surprise and swerved through the air, twirling without direction. He fell a quarter of the way to the ocean, and then outstretched his four wings, righting himself. “Ugh—” Gawen muttered. “I’m kinda worried that I’m getting used to that.”

    Star giggled. “Doing alright, there?”

    “Y-yeah, I’m fine.”

    “Not, um, not feeling antsy at all, dear?” Amia asked.

    “I’m fine, Mom,” Gawen said. “Gahi’s actually resting. I think he fused differently this time. It feels like he’s… just a little bit there, in the back of my head.”

    “Oh, there are different degrees of fusing together?” Zena asked.

    “I guess so,” Gawen said. “But with Gahi further in, I feel like I can use the Owen part of me a lot easier. Hey, that’s right—so, think I can just use my Perception to find the cave?”

    “I’d be careful about that, but go ahead,” Star said. “You know how open areas can make you feel lost. This is about as open as you can get.”

    “N-no, it’s fine. With Gahi in here, it feels… like I can’t expand it as much. It’s not as easy to lose it. Um… but I don’t feel anything yet. I—oh, wait! There!” Gawen gently banked to the right. “See? It’s right there!”

    “I see it,” Zena said. “I hope Jerry did.”

    “Yep, I see his aura,” Manny said. “Kinda hard ter miss somethin’ so turbulent. Feh… I can’t relate ter what he’s getting at. Like, I get try’na do yer best fer yerself, but there’s more to it, eh? Hearts’re supposed ter be heroes.”

    Star glanced at Manny, smiling slightly. “Yeah, you know, you’d make a good Heart, Manny.”

    “Bahh, don’t bring that up,” Manny waved a paw dismissively.

    The others focused; now that they were closer, they could see the Aerodactyl’s aura standing just at the edge. It was flaring with a mixture of raw emotions, and Gawen felt, simultaneously, pity and annoyance toward the outlaw—an emotion from both his halves.

    “Whoa, you alright there, Gawen?” Star asked. “Felt your aura do a weird little pulse there.”

    “S-sorry,” Gawen said. “Felt some conflict in my head, uh, I think the Gahi half is annoyed, but the Owen half feels bad, or something.”

    “Sounds about right.” Star sighed. “…Uh—wait. Are my aura eyes crossed, or am I counting four auras?”

    “Can aura eyes cross?” Manny said.

    “Shut up, you know what I mean.”

    “I kinda don’t.”

    “Just—count the freaking auras.”

    They all did. They saw a single, gigantic aura—that was most definitely Lugia Emily. Frankly, they probably would have noticed her even if they didn’t use aura. It seemed that she was home tonight. They also saw the tiny—relatively—aura of Vaporeon Tanneth resting on Emily’s shoulder. Or in her shoulder; it was hard to tell. They also saw Jerry… and then, another Jerry.

    Manny flicked his aura sensors. “Oy, what? I think my whatevers’re on the fritz.”

    They descended to investigate, landing on the soft sands. The water was cold on their feet. Gawen in particular sank a few inches into the cold sand, shivering with each wave of water that brushed on his scales.

    Gawen focused and split in half. Gahi stumbled forward and rubbed at the area just beneath his eye-covers, yawning. Owen advanced into the cave, grabbing his tail to light the way.

    “Oh, there’s your friends!” Emily said. Her booming voice shook the entire island; every step of the Lugia threatened to knock the group off their feet.

    Not all Lugia are this big, right? Owen thought. She’s almost as big as the Heart!

    “Hi, Em!” Star waved. “Good to see you again!”

    “Oh, hi! You’re pretty!” Emily said. “Oh, you’re so tiny, too! You’re even tinier than Tanneth!” Emily faced Jerry. “Your friends are cool!”

    “Nrgh, they aren’t my friends,” Jerry muttered.

    “Found the real Jerry,” Star said. “So who’s—”

    The second Jerry, in the darkness, suddenly shifted forms. The silhouette of an Aerodactyl meshed and transitioned before their eyes into a floating, tiny creature—Mew.

    “A-another Mew?!” Owen said.

    “Getting warmer, Owen,” the second Mew said in a voice that exactly matched Star.

    “W-wait, how’d you—” Owen suddenly felt an icy pit in his stomach. He recognized this person. No—he didn’t, not this specific form, aside from it being Star. But he knew who it was. The same person they heard in the Chasm of the Void, before the darkness had gone away.

    “He’s not a Mew, silly!” Emily giggled. “He’s a Ditto! And he’s really funny!”

    The Ditto, as a Mew, gave a little wave to Owen. When he looked at him, he instantly expanded, landing heavily on the ground, and became another Owen—complete with the mutations imbued within his Charizard base.

    Their two flames washed the nighttime with light. And in that light, Owen finally saw this Ditto for the first time in many, many lives. Or, perhaps not; after all, Deca visited him quite often when nobody was around…

    Of the ones he could remember, at least. Flashes of old memories all throughout his scrambled mind danced in front of Owen’s vision. Based on Gahi’s dazed expression, he was seeing something similar.

    What worried Owen the most was that the icy pit in his stomach was fading. Owen spoke without thinking.

    “Dad…”

    Eon grinned, holding his arms and wings out. “It’s good to see you again, Owen.”
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  2. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Only one chapter b/c I'm tired. Stop updating weekly, it's too fast for any sane person. [cough]

    41
    1) This is probably late, but ADAM's name quirk irks me because it reminds me of what Game Freak did with names for Gens I-IV.
    2)
    First... phrasing, Willow. Second, yeah, Owen and Zena totally banged at some point. [insert lenny face here]
    3) Man it's weird having all the side characters muse about all the stuff we learned toward the back end of Act 1. Kinda like those times in anime fight sequences when it pans to spectators for them to commentate. :V
    4) If your narration is from Zena's POV, then the prose refers to Step by name a few lines too early. Y'know, before she properly introduces herself. Anyway, oh, look, it's Step. And she froze Elder. Good for her. This is a proper response to a lucario/torkoal ship. :p She also wins points for not putting up with Willow's sass.
    5) Rim's synthetics can speak. Huh. Guess they're not just mooks to be slaughtered after all. But you still had her sacrifice a ninetales to make a fusion. And I will remember that.
    6) I like how the quirkiest one of the bunch is actually the most pragmatic in this situation. GG, ADAM.
    7) I guess it's fitting the one Hunter who doesn't do any fighting... basically "defects" without so much as even a verbal fight. [shrug]
     
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    You can't stop me from double posting. :V

    The answer to life, the universe, and everything
    1)
    Mispy's horny when she's scared, apparently.
    2) Clones? Oh, well then... ahem. "YOU MIGHT KNOW EVERYTHING THAT I'M GOING TO DO, BUT THAT'S NOT GOING TO HELP, SINCE I KNOW EVERYTHING YOU'RE GOING TO DO. STRANGE, ISN'T IT? GRRRRRRRRR!"
    ... real talk, tho, wow those sucky names really suck.
    3) Oh, the clones serve the bug queen. That's... a convenient way to handwave any potential tension or conflict or what have you. Darn. I'm actually a bit disappointed they're not Hunter minions.
    4) Trina's a Serperior? Oh-ho. So, where's your Dragonair to complete the serpent trio, eh? Eh? Eh? This also doesn't make me feel as bad about how I treated my Serperior. :V
    5)
    In other words, have some saiyan pride, doofuses. :V
    6) I haven't read all that much fiction, but it's rare to see a chracter that has both kindness and royal haughtiness, but Trina seems to fit that. She has that noblewoman elegance and sense of divinity with her conduct, but she's never overly condescending and seems to have a much more positive outlook on things than some of the other guardians. I think it's a nice balance.
    7)
    Yeah, this doesn't work nearly as well when you're not in a visual medium. Sorry.

    43
    1) Y'know that opening is someone's fetish. >_>
    2) [sigh] Jerry.
    3) Jerry has arthritis. Wonderful.
    4)
    This has several alternative meanings in the context of this fic... and I hate you for it. :p
    5) You made an altaria into a poison-type? This is unforgiveable! Also, she insulted Enet. Doubly unforgiveable!
    6) Actually, I take it back, her smack-talking all this stupid divinity stuff has earned her a few respect points. Nice to know someone finds all of this laughable. Honestly, her jaded view of the world (if not for all the Arceus and divinity lines thrown in) would go great with a certain demon bat. They should get coffee sometime.
    7) Anyway, again #BarkyDidNothingWrong, so I'm glad Ghrelle's sticking to her guns, to be honest. I know this fic doesn't do much in the way of battling despite all my shonen jokes, but it's nice to see that the poison guardian essentially wields a poison tongue and does so effectively enough to shut up even Mr. Perpetual Sunshine. I expect Owen to go and sulk after these events, b/c that's how this formula's been going. Let's see what happens.

    44
    1) Owen taking a lava bath? Guess he's embracing his inner Bowser.
    2) [sigh] Jerry. Talking about tentacles. Again, we open with something that's someone's fetish. :p
    3) Aww, look, Rhys is being protective of his man. How, uh, cute?
    4) Oh, thank god, we actually hear what's hidden by the Divine Decrees! And it makes so much more sense! And, like, I don't know if Orre was originally hidden or not... but hearing it piques my interest a lot compared to, say, it being absent entirely. That would've just frustrated me. Of course, there's still the sting of "You're not at the right point in the story for all the secrets to be divulged," but at least you've motivated me more to figure out what the deal is.
    5) Wow, even I feel like punching Owen for tha calculus remark and stealing Schoolhouse Rock's "Knowledge is Power" thing.
    6) I thought the original backup plan was to take Jerry to Emily? Maybe Owen's memories aren't as good as he claims.
    7) I'm not sure what to make of the whole calendar talk thing. It syncs up well with the Orre namedrop, I guess. Maybe Kilo was Orre once? Maybe the factory Brandon's squatting in is actually, like, a facility like the Key Lair or something? My gut response is that either some of the Guardians were present in the old world (and, in the case of the synths, Nevren just imprinted that info into them) or the orbs are giving them this information... somehow.
    8) Jerry is the audience surrogate, I see. Also, Omi? As in... the main protagonist of Xiaolin Showdown? Oh, wow, that really takes me back. XD
    9) Everything about Jerry wanting to fight Owen and having it involve full power and stuff screams DBZ and Goku's attitude, but you knew that already.

    45: IT'S TIME TO D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-DUEL!
    1) In advance of trying to learn what Star's reasoning is, the fact that she's goading the two into fighting honestly leds credibility to the idea introduced last chapter that, perhaps, Arceus' hands-off approach is better than letting Star mingle with mortals.
    2) Star uses PKHeX. Wow. Someone ban her.
    3) Uh... it's about a grudge on Star's part? She's really not making herself look good here.
    4) Power scaling, what's that? Or was this battle designed to show Owen has a glaring weakness: he'll overanalyze everything to the point where it gives 'mons relying on instinct and a much less diverse array of tactics the edge needed to beat him? In any case, again, people mock me for how dark my fic gets but you actually tiptoe into gore and M-rating territory here, so... uh, that's a monkaTOS from me, chief. :V
    5) Again, Star's big explanation might seem significant, but I can't see it as anything other than her expressing her desire to mingle with mortals and throw these dynamics out the window. Not a bad thing on paper, necessarily, and it sounds like this battle was meant to convince Owen (and the others) that mortals should be treated with respect. But, well, that's easier said than done, and with the world you've made... I'm not sure I see it working for her.
    6) Also, I predict Jerry will mega evolve before the end of the fic.
    7) F's for Anam. The squishy boi loved too much. But at least things are progressing on the Nevren front. I... have forgotten Madeline's plot significance at this point, but she wants to chuck people into voids, so she gets a Necrozma Stamp O' Approval.

    Live Free or Special Episode
    1) Nevren is using a Dragon Radar, change my mind. :p
    2) Thank goodness Nevren's slip makes it easy to know when this flashback is taking place.
    3) Hands of Creation: where 'mons wake up to find themselves getting eaten. Rated T for Teen. :V Also, at this point I'm guessing we're seeing the origins of the ghost orb and Nevren's half-millenium plan.
    5) So, basically, Nevren has the do-over button Professor Farnsworth invented in the final episode of Futurama.
    6) I'm-a be honest, all this talk of divine power and stuff makes my eyes gloss over because you have so much use of godly powers going around everywhere that my brain has, really, defaulted to "it's a Mystic thing, don't fuss over it" as the answer for everything. It kinda has to be, for me, or I'll end up scrutinizing this so much it'll make my headaches even worse.
    7) Well, Anam's introduction there was a lot of body horror. You, uh, really might want to toss in a few content advisories on all versions of this for, at bare minimum, "disturbing imagery and body horror," because I don't think you're flirting with a line here, you're long-jumping past it.
    8) So, Nevren's not above using the button to avoid personal embarrassment. Good grief.
    9) Nevren's big plan is... Inception. [insert blaring horn section here]
    10) Perhaps the wraiths are demonic remnants of the old human world? Would make for a nice twist. In any case, I feel like the 'Eon is lonely' bit is actually important in some regard as to his motivations... or something. XP

    46
    1) Oh, hey, look, my 'Owen sulks following a Guardian mission' prediction DID come true. Just not in the way I expected. :p
    2)
    We interrupt this PMD story to bring you the 2014 VGC World Championships.
    3) Welp, guess they need Emily after all. Making the initial healing attempt nothing but a feeble excuse to introduce Omi. :p
    4)
    Pfbt. If only he knew that there could be a double meaning to that. XD
    5) Owen can bless things now, too, huh? See, this is what I'm alluding to when I say my eyes kinda glaze over when there's a display of godly powers. I've said it before, I think, but there's so much overlap between all your Mystics that they're really only set apart by their personalities, as opposed to what they're capable of. Which is fine, except you're writing a pokémon fic and so I'd like to think it's a good idea to also have your cast stand out for their differences. Well, I guess there's still Jerry.
    6) Welp. Guess it's time for Demitri and Mispy to go through their angsty rebellious phase.
    7) ADAM continues to be the most sensible one of the group. i see you trying to put in this subliminal messaging to listen to programmers
    8) Name-dropping a war, are we? Well, that's another thing, I suppose. Head's too scrambled to place it into the timeline properly.

    47: [insert Sonic Adventure ending meme here]
    1) This was beginning to look like one of those Saturday morning cartoon episodes where the blatant coward of the hero group learns to overcome their fears... until nothing ended up happening. Funny interaction, I guess? But probably a big waste of time and word count, too. XP
    2) I, uh, don't have many comments about this chapter. My biggest thought is that, only, I think you missed an opportunity here. After the end of 45 and doing a special episode from Nevren's perspective, I think this chapter would've benefitted far more from seeing things through his POV, seeing him react to everyone and what he was thinking while he was trying to keep the ruse with Anam under control. It would have been a lot more interesting to see what (if any) mental gymnastics he was doing when Rhys got suspicious, only for relief to flood him when he realized it was all about Rim. Since you went with Rhys' POV, we already knew it had to do with Rim and that de-escalated the tension. Had we been with Nevren's POV, you might've been able to make us wonder if Rhys was catching on to Nevren's plan. I feel even more confident about this thought because of what I said in point #1. That scene outside the town is the very definition of irrelevant filler. Reworking things to be from Nevren's perspective would work to your benefit... in my opinion, anyway.

    48
    1) Not about to use Zena as some kind of stand, huh? IS THAT A **********ING JOJO REFERENCE?!
    2)
    We interrupt this PMD story to bring you a... uh... well, a PMD story. But sea-salt flavored! :V
    3) Is it bad every time Owen goes into a Perceive trance I imagine him making dial-up noises?
    4) Hmm... wonder if the disciples were lost in that war that got brought up. It's the only significant thing I can think of about it at this point.
    5) This chapter (perhaps intentionally or not) has a sort of "gods bullying mortals" thing going on. Granted, yes, the fact that Jerry is selfish is true, but it kind of speaks to Star's warnings about not condescending to mortals. At the same time, though, it kind of reads to me as, again, another argument for #BarkyDidNothingWrong and it being better to keep gods away from mortals. They're clearly imperfect, especially if Star's anything to go by, but we've yet to see that imperfection actually make them fit in properly with mortals. Jerry may be a bad example; the cast gets along fine enough with, like, Sugar and Spice, for example. But all it takes is a few bad apples to spoil the dish, is what I'm getting at.

    In any case, I mentioned to you on Discord last time that I was concerned about the formulaic nature of things. And, uh, now that I'm through these parts, that extends beyond the Guardiant hunt. Maybe it's intentional, but this act is a lot like the first one with regards to leaving slight teases or drip-feeding of information that relate to the whole conspiracy overarching plot. It's just, whereas the stuff in act 1 focused on Team Alloy's memories, this time the teases are focused on the old world and the current conflict in the new one. I'm sure they're tied together in some fashion. Perhaps Arceus gained his godly status as a result of the old world's destruction. Like, he could've been human and, rather than getting wiped out, was turned into a god and, uh, became a bit too paranoid of the power that came with it.

    I say this because, if I had to guess, this act is going to end with a clearer revelation about the whole Hunter/Trinity and Mew/Arceus conflict. I don't know how much further ahead you are than this and I know you're writing a sorta kinda conspiracy type of thing, but I figured I'd give my two cents because I can see you doing the exact same thing for at least the next act and I'm worried that this whole repetitive teasing thing is have the opposite effect that it's meant to have. There are so many tiny teases, I'm tempted to just kind of dismiss and forget about them until they're actually addressed in full. I'm basically at a point where, anytime you reveal something new, I just shrug it off, because I know I'm not really going to be learning about the significance of this point until later in the story.

    tl;dr: In my opinion, in an effort not to move things too slowly, the constant teasing of future reveals has left me fatigued. Sorry. XP
     
  4. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Ironic considering what's coming down below, but hey! Glad you were able to catch up!

    Eh, I mean, at least it's only with him, and not with OWEN or RHYS and the others.

    Whoops, I'll look into this next time I revisit that chapter. I remember old versions had it as third-person omni, and I tried switching to Zena for the sake of grounding the narrative. Missed a spot or two.

    Well hey, broken clock's right twice a day, I guess.

    I'm sorry

    Ehh, that's true. But at the same time, having a "dark clone" of yourself feels just a little too on the nose for all the other stunts I pull. What I have planned for these guys later will hopefully make up for it...?

    I'm glad! Trina's definitely got her faults, but she's definitely more kindhearted despite her royal air.

    She may be jaded of the world, but she certainly adores Arceus. Probably because she's so jaded at how everyone else is handling it.

    I never really realized that she has a "poison tongue" until now, so I'm gonna chalk that one up to an unintentional pun.

    You can thank yourself for that one -- this edit was made because of your earlier feedback! And I'm much happier with it, too.

    Or maybe mine got a little mixed up here somehow, too. I'll revisit this sometime to make sure I have the plan straight.

    I... I completely forgot that was an actual name of an actual character. I'm upset.

    Ahaha... ha... yeah, I guess I'll leave a content warning for future readers. Especially for the Special Episode.

    Hmm, I'll have to look into ways to rectify that. It's definitely some nebulous power, just because of how crazy they get about it, but I definitely should look into ways to ground it and make it more exclusive. Some of the basic powers that people have, like flight and greater durability, are sort of "base class" skills, while the more advanced techniques can deal with personality, preferences, and of course, which Orb they have. Rhys and his aura shenanigans, Willow's shrinking (thanks for invalidating that, Dynamax!), and of course the Type-exclusive stuff being examples. Guess I'll see what I can do about that.

    AaaaaAAAAA that's brilliant. I'll look into this in my todo list as well. It'll definitely give this chapter a bit more significance, because yeah, it is a little... It needs more stuff going on.

    Yes, but now I'm doing it too.

    I talked with you about this a bit in private, but yes, I do agree. The formula is still there, and I think part of it is because I'm sort of over-paranoid about having things come up without warning, without any real hint or nod to the reader beforehand. The last thing I want is someone to say, "Well that was made up on the spot!" or something along those lines. But perhaps I overdid it with the info drip, and I could afford to... compartmentalize some of the plot points now and again. But ahh, some of it is already ingrained. I should look into ways to better harness the information management so it doesn't get too sprawling.

    Yeah, same as above. I think I swung a bit too far in the foreshadowing direction for some plot points, at least in terms of obvious "This will be answered later" points. Focusing on the "now" could do wonders for the pacing and narrative. I'll look into this going forward, if I can.

    In any case! The next chapter should be dropping soon, perhaps tomorrow. I want to do some last minute tweaks, taking into consideration what had been said here, to see if I can make a few adjustments~
     
  5. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 49 – Burn Away

    Amia stepped forward protectively. The first was followed quickly by a second. Soon, the momentum completely dissolved the paralysis she once had at the sight of Eon.

    “Amia!” Star shouted.

    But she didn’t stop. She stood beside Owen and then held him on the shoulder.

    “Mom?” Owen asked, looking down.

    “Stay away from him, Owen,” Amia said softly. She pulled him back.

    “Owen,” Eon said, “don’t let her push you around. It’s me! Don’t you remember me?”

    “You murdered Guardians like Owen,” Amia said. “Forrest and Cara were—”

    “They were dead long before I met them,” Eon said coolly. When he looked at Amia, his body slimmed down into an exact copy, including her voice. “What kind of life is it to be sealed away, alone, for the sole purpose of keeping two dead gods in power? That isn’t living. That’s purgatory. That’s prison.”

    Zena, on Owen’s other side, visibly flinched. The Charizard eyed her, but realized why—what Eon just said must have resonated with her particularly strongly. He glanced at Star, but she was suddenly missing. He focused in an effort to find her; she was hiding behind Emily, who was nervously nibbling on her massive arm with her teeth. It seemed like Emily was ignorant to the full scope of their conversation; to her, it was just an argument between people she didn’t know, taking place in her home.

    Amia didn’t break her stare. Flames the same color as Amia’s blue arm enveloped her fist.

    “I freed them,” Eon said. “They are, literally, in a better place now.”

    “They could have been with us,” Amia said. “They could have been happy!”

    “Forrest was sick of living. He didn’t even put up a fight,” said Eon. “Star conveniently didn’t have you speak to him, did she?”

    “F-Forrest said that he wasn’t interested in talking,” Owen spoke up.

    “Who told you that?”

    “S… Star…”

    Eon didn’t reply to Owen. Instead, he looked back at Amia. “Cara is easily swayed by others. Star used her silver tongue to keep her in check, thinking that everything she did was worth it. But really, was it?” he asked. “Was it worth it, Star? You can stop hiding behind the Stormbringer now.”

    Owen blinked. “Wait, what was that last bit you said?” He thought he heard it, but then it left him as soon as it had registered.

    Eon looked at Owen with a gleam of realization in his eyes. “Oh, of course,” he said. “The Decree. You don’t know what Emily is, do you?”

    “I guess we don’t,” Owen said. “Arceus made it so we wouldn’t. Even Emily doesn’t know, right?”

    “Know what?” Emily asked, nervously pulling her arm away from her mouth—a thick line of drool connected the two.

    “Hmph. There’s no point, then. You have to get stronger so you can resist Arceus’ warping of reality.”

    “Is that a Decree?”

    “Mysticism, Promises, Decrees—it’s all the same thing.” Eon shrugged while listing them off. “It all stems from the ability to warp reality to your will. Mysticism is localized to wherever the user is. Promises are rules between two Mystics, with the effect of breaking one resulting on the forfeiture of one’s power. It’s just another rule, with consequences. And Decrees permeate the universe, like a fundamental law of reality, no different than gravity. Which, as you know, Mystics can ignore, if they’re strong enough. Same power, different scope.”

    Owen sighed. “Whatever it is, we don’t know what you said. I guess we can’t resist it yet.”

    “Ain’t that a shame,” Manny said, crossing his arms, tense. He looked at Star, narrowing his eyes, but the Mew shrank away, silently begging Manny to stop staring. Manny grunted and entered a defensive stance, arms forward, waiting for Eon to make the first move. None came. He spared a glance at Owen for only a second before returning it to Eon. “Oy. Where’s yer army, anyway? The mutants yeh send after everyone.”

    “This wasn’t a mission to gather an Orb,” Eon said. “I didn’t think to bring any of them with me. I’d appreciate if you didn’t call them mutants. How do you think Owen feels about that? Or Gahi?”

    “Eh?” Manny asked.

    Gahi rubbed his arm. “Eh…”

    “I guess it has a bad ring to it,” Owen admitted quietly. “But what should we be called? Mods? Synthetics?”

    “Pokémon,” Eon said firmly.

    Manny laughed a bit too loudly. “C’mon, I’ve got a whole army of ‘em, and even we think it’s a little silly.”

    “Why?” Eon asked, becoming Manny. “Are they not Pokémon?”

    “Well, sure,” Manny said, “but—”

    “Then that’s all we need,” Eon said.

    Amia looked at Owen again, nodding. She didn’t want to admit that Eon was right—but this was just what she had been trying to tell him, too. “You’re just Owen to me, dear,” she said. “You, too, Gahi. I’m sure Rhys would say the same thing.”

    Gahi looked at Owen uncertainly. Would Rhys, really? his eyes asked.

    “Why’d you come here, Eon?” Star said, finally emerging from behind Emily.

    “Well.” Eon faced Owen. He immediately shifted to a Charizard form. “I came here so I could take Owen and Gahi home.”

    “What?” Owen said. “Wait, what do you mean?”

    Eon held out a hand to Owen, even though they were many paces apart. “Owen, once I found out you got your memories back, I knew you’d remember life at home. How things were like before all this happened. Don’t you want to come back?”

    Owen’s feet felt like they were glued to the ground.

    Amia’s were not. She instantly took a step closer to Eon.

    Star piped up. “Amia, don’t—"

    “Oy oy, Blue, back up!”

    Zena dared to slither in front of Owen. “Get back!”

    “You,” Amia said, pointing directly at Eon’s chest, “are not taking Owen away. He is my son, and his home is with us.”

    Eon was a Gardevoir, now. An exact copy of Amia, staring right at her. They were feet apart. Owen gulped. What disturbed him the most wasn’t that they looked identical, but that they behaved identically, too. The same glare. The same tense muscles. The only reason Owen knew who was who was because Amia was closer to him.

    He leaned close. “Owen is not your son.”

    Emily’s cave became alight with the glow of blue fire. The dark rocks, damp from the ocean’s rising and falling tides, glistened a brilliant azure. Amia’s eyes blazed; her blue hair had turned into an inferno of the same color, the same happening to her dress. A living, white-hot beacon, the Gardevoir stepped forward with her arm straight ahead. Owen sidestepped and slammed against the wall to avoid whatever his mother had planned, feeling the heat even from behind her.

    Eon had briefly become a copy of Owen when he glanced at the mutant, but he shifted back to a Gardevoir when he looked at his attacker. He stared at his hands. “Ngh—that’s not—”

    Amia fired. Jerry threw himself against the wall and rolled to Owen’s location, scrambling past him. He used the Charizard as a living shield, figuring that he’d do a better job at withstanding the heat than he would. “H-hey!” Owen said. “Th-this is kinda too much for me, too!”

    “Sh-she’s your Mom, get her to calm down!” Jerry said, jabbing him in the back.

    Eon had his hand forward, blocking and deflecting the flames. The beam of white fire hit the walls, turning some of the rocks into flowing lava; sparks and embers danced in the air, biting Eon’s sides. He lost his focus—the flames ate away at his hand. He shouted in pain and then brought his second hand forward. His blue hair shifted to a clear white and an intense air pressure blasted Amia backwards. Her flames flickered from the wind. Everybody else was blown clear out of the cave, including Emily. Her massive form rolled over Manny, Owen, and Jerry, where they became trapped under some portion of her belly.

    Amia hopped to her feet; the sand beneath her dress melted and crystalized into glass. Emily’s huge wing-arm, nearest to Amia, blackened instantly. She pulled her arm back in amazement, staring at its burned flesh.

    “D-don’t burn my cave!” Emily shouted. She looked like she wanted to step in, but didn’t know what she could do to stop them. The flames were so intense that her body would burn up if she got too close. Even if she could heal, she wouldn’t be able to grab them if anything she touched burned away.

    “Listen to the Lugia!” Eon yelled, blasting more wind out. “I’m just here to—”

    Amia waved her right arm horizontally in a brutal swing; aura embers scattered before her. Magmortar Alex took the center, right next to Amia—and a handful of the old Hot Spot Cave inhabitants took on the flanks.

    “STAY AWAY FROM MY SON!” Amia roared.

    Every single spirit fired a volley of flames toward Eon at once. Alex launched two explosive wads of fire into the mix; Amia accented the onslaught with her own blue-white blasts.

    Owen and the others had to shield themselves from both the intense light and heat. Even for Owen, the fire felt hotter than he was used to. The ethereal properties made it sting, much like the flames associated with a Pokémon’s normal techniques. It wasn’t simple fire or lava.

    Amia didn’t stop her onslaught until some of the spirits next to her flickered. A few of the spirits vanished outright, returning to their host. Amia, with flames as blue as her hair, finally stopped her stream then. Her hair returned to its normal, blue, non-fire state. Emily’s cave was red-hot and the sand near the entrance, now glass, glittered against the idle embers. Emily pat her belly to put out the last of the flames that had been on her. Tanneth had long since fled into Emily’s shoulder to avoid the fight completely, but reemerged to douse the heat away.

    The Lugia reached out to try to calm Amia down, but getting within grabbing distance burned her hand to ash. She stared, wide-eyed at her futility, and pulled her stump of an arm away.

    Eon stood near the mouth of the cave, still taking the form of Amia. His hand was slightly burned, but that was all he had sustained. Amia, seeing this, took a threatening step forward—as did all of her spirits in perfect unison.

    “I’m not here to fight, you know!” Eon said. “Why don’t you hear me out, and we’ll—”

    A rainbow of flames blasted Eon, each one from Amia or one of the Fire spirits. Eon held out his hands again and brought up a column of sand with the power of the Ground Orb imbued within him—his body became that of sand, a light tan color akin to Owen’s stomach.

    When the flames died down again, even more of Amia’s spirits flickered and returned to the Fire Orb. Now only five spirits remained: Alex, an Arcanine, a Lampent, a Fennekin, a fiery Buizel with twin flames instead of tails, and a Swalot made of the same material as a Slugma.

    Eon glanced at Owen; his body expanded and shifted. His dress merged with his thighs, which thickened and became encrusted in scales; claws burst from his hands, just as wings exploded out of his back. Horns grew from his head—and in no time at all, he was a perfect replica of the mutant Charizard. Eon stared at the ground just ahead of Amia’s feet. “Please, I don’t want to fight,” he said. Then, after what Owen could easily guess was a pause for whether it was a good idea or not, he continued. “Mom, can’t you calm down?”

    Amia was silent for only a second. “How dare you,” she said in a voice that made both Eon and Owen gulp.

    Another blast of heat sent Eon straight against the back of the cave, slamming into the rocks. Eon left an Owen-shaped print in the wall behind him, and the Charizard grunted. “Thought that’d last longer,” he muttered.

    “You have the—the GALL,” Amia said, blasting Eon for a second, and then a third time, “to impersonate my son—after… after all that you’ve done?” Her eyes were literally flames in their sockets.

    Fourth, and then a fifth, sending Eon further and further into the wall. The Owen-shaped print that he left was well-defined thanks to the heat, like a Charizard mold for history to rediscover later. All of the spirits except for Alex vanished.

    Realizing this, the Magmortar worriedly held Amia on the shoulder. “Amia—we’re too close. We need to go back—if Eon strikes—It’s too hot for the others to—”

    Eon glanced at Alex briefly—and instantly, his body bulked out. His shoulders widened and his wings vanished; his arms became cannons, and soon, he was an exact replica of Alex. “Not what I wanted.” Eon hissed. “Can we stop this? This is absurd! Just—”

    “Oh, and you think turning into my mate will help?” Amia said. “Your mind games won’t work on me, Hunter, I—” Amia’s tiny hands clenched. “Oooough, I can’t believe you’d do something so underhanded!” She threw her hands down beside her. Both Owen and Alex had never seen Amia so upset before.

    Eon tried to speak up. “Wait, that’s not—”

    Amia’s hair ignited again into a white-hot torch. Immediately below Amia, the cave’s floor reddened into molten rock. Clear flames—visible only by the distortion of light that it caused—careened toward Eon, igniting his body again. He held his arms forward in an X-formation, shielding himself from the blast—but even for a Magmortar’s body, these particular flames ate away at him.

    Owen watched Amia worriedly. Was she really doing it? Fighting Eon, right there? He wasn’t even fighting back. He didn’t even look pained. Was this the power of two Orbs? Or was Eon’s form—as Alex, as himself—actually having an effect on Amia after all, weakening her Mystic willpower? Owen recalled the fight against Jerry.

    “M-Mom!” Owen shouted. “Get back! You—”

    Something flashed. Owen saw it for just a second between Amia’s blasts. The white flame atop her head flickered and faded away, and it returned to her blue hair instead. And then—green. Her hair went from blue to green.

    “Mom?”

    Eon, between the blasts, said, “Are you—”

    Amia fired again, but this time she nearly lost her balance.

    “Forget this—” Eon’s arms twitched. “I said—LISTEN!”

    A shockwave rocked the entire island; Amia screamed when a concentrated blast of wind knocked her off her feet, sending her straight back to the mouth of the cave. Owen lunged and caught her, grunting when the impact knocked the wind out of him.

    He wheezed for a while, staring down at the Gardevoir. Her hands were trembling and her body shivered with fatigue. “O-Owen…” Amia said, looking up.

    “Mom—”

    He saw it again. The blue hair that he was so familiar with was fading to green. A normal, green Gardevoir.

    “Mom! What’s happening to you?”

    “What do you mean, dear?” Amia said, slowly sitting up. Owen had to support her. “I feel just fine.”

    “You’re green!”

    Owen felt Amia’s heart skip a beat. “Excuse me?” She then looked at her arm; it, too, was transitioning from its characteristic blue to a typical green.

    “You strained your Mystic powers so much that you’ve exhausted even the most basic aspects of it,” Eon said, crossing his arms. He transformed into a Gardevoir again—this time, green, just like Amia.

    “Stop doing that!” Jerry pointed a wing at Eon.

    “As if I can help it!” Eon growled, missing a step when he abruptly transitioned into an Aerodactyl. “Ugh—forget this—where’s my blindfold—” He tried to grab for something invisible around his neck, but then he turned his head back. He eyed an ashen pile in the corner of the cave. “That… was my lucky scarf.”

    Owen gulped. “I—I’m sorry.”

    “Owen!” Zena said. “Don’t apologize to him!”

    “S-sorry!”

    “Somebody!” Jerry shouted, raising his wings. Apparently, he finally recovered from the shock of the clash. “Explain! Now!”

    Eon eyed Jerry, then the others. “Who’s he?”

    “Someone we’re trying to help,” Star said. “Got melted by Ghrelle, so we were trying to get Emily to heal him.”

    Eon winced, becoming another Mew that floated in the air. “None of that sounds fun.”

    Zena stared coldly at Eon, trying to gauge whether the sand or cave was still too hot to approach.

    Eon glanced at Zena next; his body plopped on the ground, losing its limbs in exchange for long, beautiful coils. “Don’t think to attack me,” he said. “You already saw what happened to Gardevoir.”

    The Milotic hesitated, but then looked at Owen. “The fact that you aren’t attacking us right now means—that you can’t beat us! If we all attack you—”

    “I can just leave, you know,” Eon said, moving back to rummage through the ash. He pulled out a small object, keeping it in his knuckles. Owen focused on the little object “I came here to talk to Owen and Gahi, and when I heard that you were heading to Emily’s home, I waited for you there. I even promised Hecto that I wouldn’t attack you guys.”

    “Was it a Divine Promise?” Zena asked.

    “W-well—I’m certainly keeping the normal promise, aren’t I?” Eon asked.

    “Hmph. A Hunter’s word means nothing to me,” Zena said. Mystic energy circled around the Water Guardian, warping the light around her.

    “Wait,” Owen said, holding Zena’s upper coils. This was enough to make her hesitate. “If he wants to talk, then he’ll just talk. Right? He—you don’t want to hurt me, right?”

    “I don’t,” Eon said. “And I don’t want to hurt your friends, either, if I can avoid it.”

    “Oh,” Manny said, “like we’re gonna believe that load of—”

    “I believe ‘im,” Gahi said. “Besides, I wanna ask a few questions.”

    “Me, too,” Owen said. “E-Eon. Did you kill the Dark Guardian?”

    “Nate?” Eon asked. “No. I invited him over to the lab. He took the offer.”

    “Why would—” Owen shook his head. “So, you’re saying that Nate’s okay?”

    “Yes.”

    “Do you Promise?”

    “Owen, you know if I’m lying,” Eon said, crossing his Charizard arms irritably.

    A tense silence filled the air. A particularly strong ocean wave washed against their feet; Jerry irritably raised one of his legs, wanting nothing to do with the cold water. Owen felt the same, taking a few paces forward.

    Eon wasn’t lying. There was no extra tension in the way he behaved—but then again, for all he knew, Eon was better at hiding it. Perhaps he learned from Nevren, who was equally unreadable half the time. Owen could read bodies, not minds. “I still don’t know, D—Eon.”

    Eon winced. “You can’t even call me Dad anymore? You just did a little while ago!”

    “I—I slipped up, okay? My—my real Dad is with Mom.” He motioned to the green Gardevoir. “And… he’s a Magmortar.” He brought his head down, clenching his fists. “I’m sorry. But they’ve raised me for a lot longer than you have.”

    Even without looking, Owen could feel his duplicate’s body deflate, his breathing slow. Wings drooped, just slightly, but then rose back up. But there was an odd defiance in his muscles, too, like he wanted to fight back. Like what Owen had said was wrong. But Owen had done the math; he had only been under Eon’s care for a few decades, right? Yet with Amia and Alex…

    “I see,” Eon said. His voice was small. “Well. Alright then. But I’m still your… I’m still your Dad, Owen. And if you ever want to call me that again, I’ll happily accept. Quartz HQ is always open to you.” His fists clenched, staring at Owen again. “But I took care of you a lot longer than you can imagine.”

    Owen didn’t respond. The numbers didn’t add up for that… Maybe Eon really was lying.

    Gahi pointed an accusatory claw at Eon. “Why’d yeh make me crazy?! Back in the Void Chasm place!”

    Eon huffed. “It was high time that you guys returned to your true forms. I knew that you’d’ve recovered.”

    “I WENT NUTS!”

    “You’re fine now!” Eon countered.

    Gahi growled. His eyes darted around Eon—now a mutant Flygon—searching for an opening. He saw none. He was tempted to strike anyway.

    “I’m sorry that it gave you a scare,” Eon said, “but I guess I—got a little irritated after that feral bit me on the arm.”

    Owen recalled when they had tried to attack Eon in the dark. He had bumped into Enet, which made her lash out in her own, wild way.

    “It was about time you rediscovered your powers, anyway,” Eon said. “It turned out just fine for you, don’t you think?”

    “You mean you wanted us to be sane?” Owen said.

    “Of course!” Eon said. “I was sick of Rhys taking it so slowly. Constantly resetting you over and over must have been pure torture for your minds.”

    Owen flinched.

    Eon looked at Owen again, and therefore became him. “Don’t you agree? I bet you still can’t sort through anything between your first and last resets. It’s all a blur. Owen, can you even remember how you met Zena?”

    Gahi shifted uncomfortably. Owen didn’t want to think about it, but now that Eon was bringing it up, he was right. That time was a blur. He could barely remember even that. It was all just vague memories. Notions of what had happened. No event stood out in his mind at all. It felt important. It felt like there were important events that took place that he couldn’t remember. Why did that bother him so much? No, that was a silly question. Of course it’d bother him. Entire chunks of his past, his self, were still obscured and scrambled. And it sounded like Eon knew the truth.

    Eon, satisfied with their lack of counters, continued. “And—and how are Demitri and Mispy?”

    “They’re fine,” Gahi said. “Figure they’re the least bothered outta all of us.”

    Eon nodded, but then eyed Manny. He transformed into him. “…You,” he said.

    “Eh?” he said.

    “Gahi ran off a long time ago and met you,” Eon said.

    “Eh. Yeah,” Manny said. “What of it?”

    “Thank you for dealing with him.”

    It was Manny’s turn to flinch. “Yeah, it’s whatever.”

    Eon finally looked back to Owen, a small frown forming. His heart rate increased for a reason Owen couldn’t discern. “Owen. How far can you remember? What do you… remember?”

    “Eon…” Star floated out from behind Lugia, her tail drooping.

    “How much do you remember, Owen?” Eon asked again, raising his voice. “Please. Just—just tell me how far back you can remember of me.”

    Owen focused on Eon’s tail fire next. He didn’t need Perceive to see the ember’s turbulence. But still… Why? “I remember Quartz HQ. I remember living normally, or whatever you want to call normally, there. I remember growing in a glass tube before I even had a flame.” Owen looked at his belly, briefly remembering what that looked like. He remembered seeing something blurry and star-shaped outside his tube, looking at him. And a voice, but it was too muffled to understand.

    Owen shook his head, trying to shake those strange memories away. He was distracted by how dim Eon’s flame had become, and how tense everybody else—particularly Star—had become. “And I remember… a bunch of times when you saw me as a Charmander… called Deca.”

    “Deca…?” Amia whispered aloud. “Owen… how many times did Eon see you… in disguise?”

    Owen didn’t want to answer, especially with how weak, yet energized, his mother had become.

    Amia snapped her head toward Eon. “Get away from here.”

    “Does Owen want me gone?” Eon said, turning into a Gardevoir.

    “I said,”—Amia pushed away from Owen, staggering to her feet. Her hair was blue—“Get… away. You aren’t… to ever… come near my son again.”

    “Mom…” Owen nibbled on the right side of his tongue. “I…”

    Eon glanced at Owen again, transforming into him.

    That was enough to set Amia into another rage. She held her arm forward and lit up again; Eon held his arms and wings forward, ready for the attack. Using Owen’s own Protect technique, the flames were deflected off of him and onto the cave walls by the shield of light. Yet Amia kept firing, even when the barrier faded. Eon grunted, waiting it out. Owen saw Amia’s hair fade to green again, yet the flames continued.

    “Mom, you need to stop!”

    “Listen to your son, Amia!” Star yelled. “You’re losing control! Hello?! Amia?! AMIA!”

    Amia wasn’t listening. She just kept firing. Manny tried to get close to shake her out of it, but his entire arm burst into flames when he got within two paces of her. He jumped away and yelped in surprise, landing in the ocean water to put the fire out.

    Amia’s arms were made entirely of fire. She got to her knees. They, too, were on fire—no, they were fire. Her dress was evaporating into even more of the rock-melting flurry, and Eon kept his wings closed, shielding himself from most of the blast. He attempted to summon a barrier of light again, but to no effect. It flickered and evaporated.

    Star slammed against Zena’s side. “Put her out!”

    “What?”

    “Amia! Water! NOW!”

    Zena stared, wide-eyed, at Star. “No,” she said. “Why would I—”

    Do I look like I’m joking?!” Star shook Zena as much as her tiny, transparent body could.

    The distrust in Zena’s eyes spoke volumes, but the desperation in Star’s spoke more.

    Zena opened her launched a concentrated jet of cold water at Amia; it evaporated almost halfway by the time it got to her, but some of it did make contact. Amia screamed so loudly that Owen had to cover the horns on his head—he felt them vibrate from the Gardevoir’s wail. Zena kept going, her body liquefying completely. She dipped her tail into the ocean and the saltwater fused with her. For just an instant, she gained control of the water by the beach. It washed past them and over Amia and Eon, dousing her completely in the flood.

    Zena stopped and solidified again. Star rushed through the steam with Owen; the Charizard knelt down to pick Amia up.

    “Mom? Mom, can you—”

    Amia felt incredibly light, but it was too hard to see the details in the steam. But he could hear her shallow breathing.

    Eon coughed out water. “Oh, don’t worry about me or anything.”

    “Owen,” Amia said weakly. “I… I can’t feel my…”

    The steam faded. Owen’s eyes widened.

    Amia was nothing but a torso and a head. Her dress was halfway gone, and her legs were entirely missing as well. Her arms were flaming stumps, embers flickering at the ends.

    “What happened?” Owen breathed.

    “I can’t see… Owen, are you there? Who is this?” Amia tried to move her stump. The way she was staring blankly ahead suggested she couldn’t see.

    “I’m here, Mom. Mom?”

    She didn’t respond. She couldn’t hear.

    Eon hobbled to his feet, keeping his eyes closed. The flame on the end of his tail reignited and he groped the ground to go forward. “How does Owen do this Perception—ugh—can’t see a thing without eyes.”

    “G-get away,” Owen said.

    “Shut up,” Eon hissed. “I’m going to save your mother, if you don’t mind!”

    He felt around the ground for a good foothold and finally stood up.

    Owen held Amia a bit harder.

    “Oh, Owen, I’m just fine,” Amia said quietly. “I’m feeling better already.” Her voice was fading.

    “Stupid Gardevoir,” the duplicate Charizard muttered.

    Owen glared.

    “I’m pretty sure you’re glaring at me, Owen, but you know it’s true. She pushed herself beyond her limits and her Mysticism ate away at her own aura for more power.”

    “Ate her body, too,” Gahi muttered.

    “When your Mysticism becomes strong enough,” Eon said slowly, “the body and aura are one and the same.”

    Owen looked back down at Amia. Her blue hair returned for passing moments, but then faded to green again. She was fighting to stay alive, but it looked like a losing battle. He held Amia a bit tighter. He noticed a gentle, golden glow poking out from parts of her body and blinked confusedly. He looked at Eon; the way he stared at this golden light was not one of confusion, but horror.

    “You,” Eon said, pointing at the air. “Heal the Gardevoir. Quickly.

    Emily glanced around and sidestepped into Eon’s pointed direction. “Me?”

    “Yes. You’ll restore her aura just fine. I don’t know if the others can help her in time, and I’m not touching her. She’ll just lash out at me. Hurry, before she fades.”

    “Okay.”

    “Oh, and Em?” Star said. “Once you help Amia, we need you to help Aerodactyl. His aura is hurt, too.”

    “Okay!”

    “Emily can heal that?” Jerry asked in awe.

    “Yeah. She’s pretty nifty,” Star said. “Manny?”

    “Eh?”

    “Restrain Jerry.”

    “Eh.”

    Before Jerry could react, a Feraligatr appeared behind Jerry and held him by the shoulders.

    “Ha ha!” Feraligatr Azu declared. “The outlaw has been apprehended once more! Prepare for your rehabilitation!”

    “H-hey, hey, what kind of joke is this?!” Jerry struggled. “I have a thousand different questions to ask right now!”

    “And you have been apprehended by the Thousand Hearts… and company! How fitting!”

    “That makes no sense!” Jerry managed to free his right wing; he started beating Azu over the head with it, flailing as much as he could. “What are you—where’d Amia go?”

    Jerry saw a lump go down Emily’s throat, and a distinct lack of Gardevoir in the general area. The Lugia then turned around and walked toward Jerry in casual, slow steps.

    “Your turn!” The Lugia smiled, taking only a few strides to get to her next victim.

    “N-nooo, no. No, no—NONONO—AAAAAA—Mmmmnnnn…!”

    With Jerry and Amia taken care of, Star sighed. “That’s not how I wanted this to go,” she said. “Eon! Just get out of—where’d he go?”

    “He left,” Gahi said. “Disappeared a little while after Em ate Owen’s mom.”

    “Please don’t describe it like that,” Owen said.

    “Emily literally—”

    “Please,” Owen begged.

    Gahi rolled his eyes, but then let his wings droop. Something seemed to be bothering him, Owen observed.

    Owen turned his attention to the ruined cave. Parts of the walls were melted and still red-hot, even after the ocean water that doused it. The sand near the front of the cave was sharp with imperfect glass. In the complete darkness of midnight, only Owen’s single tail flame and the glow of the rocks lit the island. The only sound was the gentle bubbling of salt water on sand.

    With Eon and Amia both gone, Owen ended up thinking about them both. He glanced at Gahi, using his tail to see the faint outline of his face. The Synthetic Flygon stared at the empty space where Eon once was.

    Owen struggled to think back to that memory, that early, early memory. It felt so far away. He squinted at nothing, trying to hear the muffled voice, but figured that it was just Eon talking to him while he was developing. The voice was comforting, but perhaps that was because it was the only voice he knew at the time. Figuring that it was simply a time when his mind hadn’t fully developed, he turned to Gahi.

    The Flygon was focused on a patch of land in Emily’s cave, staring longingly at where his father once stood.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 50 – Heart to Heart

    “OUT! NOW!”

    Solid rocks slammed against the fleshy walls that surrounded Jerry. He spun around to make sure he was as far away as possible from any portion of it, and even beat his wings to make sure he wasn’t touching the floor. He spat more rocks against the wall, but they just bounced harmlessly off, shattering on the floor.

    Amia was silent in the corner of the room. Without sight, hearing, arms, or legs, all she could do was feel with her back and her head. Though, she had a peaceful smile on her face, like she knew she would be fine. Or, perhaps more likely, she was hallucinating from some strange cocktail that resided in this cursed chamber.

    “I will NOT die this way!” Jerry shouted. He took a breath, ready to spit out another wad of solid rock, but nothing came. He didn’t feel that solid mass forming in the back of his throat. He didn’t have the aura for it—too strained. He coughed out a few pebbles and roughly shook his head. “Ungh—not like this… not like this…!”

    He was starting to tire out.

    “The air—there’s no air in here,” Jerry said, hyperventilating. He looked down at Amia. Motionless as ever. He looked up at the ceiling, where Emily’s throat had been completely shut. “I have to—”

    “Hey, Mister!”

    Jerry spun in the air. In the strange, glowing flesh, someone had appeared next to Amia. A blue creature that was partially attached to the walls.

    “What?” Jerry beat his wings several times, each one harder than the last. “Who are you?”

    “I’m Vaporeon Tanneth!” She waved a paw at him. “It’s okay! Emily’s perfectly safe!”

    “Yeah, no. Let me out!”

    “Sorry, but we can’t do that,” Tanneth said. “Oh! Um, by the way, when you came in here, you dropped this! Do you need it? It seems really important.” She held up a scarf.

    “What? W-wait!” Jerry clutched at his neck, but this caused him to stop flying. He yelped and beat his wings harder, maintaining his altitude. But that split-second he had to feel his neck indicated, indeed, that he wasn’t wearing the Stable Scarf anymore. He worriedly glanced at his feet, and then his tail, but it all looked normal.

    “What’s the matter?” Tanneth asked, tilting her head. “It’s okay! It’s only a little wet!”

    “It’s wet?” He weighed his options. On one hand, he could probably just put that on and it would dry off after a while. On the other, maybe being a puddle of sludge wouldn’t be so bad. After all, melting didn’t hurt—at least, not the sort of melting he had experienced. And it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as whatever this Lugia and her demonic belly-dweller Vaporeon had in store.

    “It’s okay! I’ll dry it off!” Tanneth got on her hind legs, using her thick tail to retain balance when she leaned back. She shook her front paws furiously, flinging water—Jerry hoped it was just water—in all directions. “There! All dry!”

    Jerry stared. He didn’t need to fly closer, or even squint, to know that what Tanneth did was nowhere near enough to satisfy a Rock Type on what it meant to be dry. “Listen, Water,” Jerry growled, “I don’t know what it means to be dry for someone like you, but me? That cloth is still wet. Very wet. It may not be dripping, but it’s still not touching me. Ever.”

    “No, it’s damp! That’s a lot drier than wet!”

    “IT’S NOT DRY!” Jerry’s wings were getting tired. There wasn’t any updraft in this place—he was either going to lose his stability from exhaustion, or he’d find a place to land. The ground all looked the same; there wouldn’t be a good way to land and not have to deal with whatever dungeon this place was. He grumbled and finally transitioned into a steady glide, sticking out his feet for a landing.

    His toes squished against the malleable flesh. The Aerodactyl gagged, shutting his eyes tight. This entire day has been one long nightmare, and this was the finale, sealed away inside a Legendary demon with no chance to escape, under the pretense of being healed. He should have known better than to trust a bunch of freaks, Hearts, and freak Hearts.

    He heard the squishy pitter-patter of the Vaporeon coming closer. He reluctantly opened his eyes to reintroduce himself to his surroundings. He focused on Tanneth; the Stable Scarf was in her mouth. She stuck her head out, offering it to Jerry. It was a bit darker, and it hung heavily from her teeth. But it was either that, or die. No, not even die. Star said she didn’t know where the auras of those who melted went. That could mean a lot of things…

    Jerry reached out and touched the scarf. Squish. His claws hesitantly wrapped around it completely and pulled back. It felt lukewarm. Tanneth let go, giggling. “See? Dry!”

    In that moment, there was no fiber in Jerry’s being that had even an ounce of joy toward the Vaporeon, the Lugia, or anybody else on that entire island. For the briefest moments, he wondered what it was that led to this very instance. Trapped and eaten, forced to choose between adorning himself with a Lugia-soaked scarf, or a death that would not even grant him the peace of the aura sea. Was it petty? Perhaps it was. But in that instance, Jerry considered throwing the scarf back at Tanneth.

    “What’s wrong?” Tanneth asked.

    Jerry stared at the scarf. That wasn’t going around his neck. “Nothing. Shouldn’t you be chatting with the monster?”

    “Monster?”

    “The one who ate us.”

    “Aw, she didn’t eat you, silly!” Tanneth said, giggling. “Emily doesn’t eat!”

    No words or sounds left Jerry. There was something in his mind—some small, quiet part of his mental fortitude—that finally crumbled away. Perhaps it happened when he stared at Tanneth’s closed, happy eyes. Perhaps it was earlier, when he finally touched the scarf. Or perhaps even still, it was just the culmination of everything in his life that led to that moment. Jerry was sure it was all of these things. But whatever it was, it was enough for him to finally nod to the Vaporeon. He put a smile on his face, dropped the scarf on the ground, and said, “Go away.”

    “Oh! Okay.” Tanneth nodded. “You need your rest! I’ll see you later. You look okay, but your friend will probably need all night until she’s better.”

    Jerry said nothing. He only waved at Tanneth with his right wing, still smiling. He practically mirrored Tanneth’s expression. This satisfied her, and she waved back with her paw, sank into the walls, and left them alone.

    The Aerodactyl waved for a bit longer, as if to be sure that she wouldn’t peek and see him suddenly stop waving. Once he felt an appropriate amount of time passed, he brought his wing to his side. He took two paces to the left and turned around, looking at the walls. He then looked up, at the fleshy ceiling, and at the sealed hole that blocked the way to Emily’s esophagus.

    Jerry closed his eyes and nodded to himself. And then, he looked back at the wall.

    Jerry screamed. With a single, deep breath, and with every ounce of strain in his throat, the Aerodactyl opened his mouth as wide as he could and yelled as loudly as his chest allowed. All of his fears, all of his disbelief, all of his complete resignation was concentrated and distilled into a single, drawn-out roar.

    He eventually ran out of air. He panted, grunting, hunched over. His tail flicked angrily, slamming wetly against the ground. The only reason he wasn’t clawing at the walls was because he didn’t want to get any more of the creature on him than he had to.

    “WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PLACE?!” Jerry roared to the sky. “These—these freaks?! Spirits? Mystics? WHY? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?” He panted again, regaining his breath. He paced across the chamber, feeling even more trapped than before. Despite the ample room that she had—for someone’s insides—it was still too cramped for the flier. He needed air. He needed to see the sky. He needed solid ground.

    Jerry muttered loudly to himself in a mixture of angry shouts and loud whispers. “Oh, don’t worry about it, we’ll help you right up!” His laughter was quick and rapid. “Sure, you’re just a head, and your body is in danger of completely melting away, but it’s fine! We have this magic thingamabob to keep you from dying! Oh, and also, that kid whose team arrested you is the one who made it!” Jerry panted a few more times. He was starting to tire himself out. Even standing felt like a chore. “Why would he do that? Well, obviously, because he cares! Something that you obviously don’t do, oh, no, that’s why you couldn’t become a Heart! You just didn’t care enough! It’s aaaall about having your HEART IN THE RIGHT PLACE—NNGHAAAAGH!”

    Jerry slashed at Emily’s stomach lining, leaving a huge gash against the thick tissue. There was no blood. In a shaking, seething breath, Jerry watched the flesh squeeze itself together, mending the wound from edge to edge.

    “I hate you,” Jerry finally hissed. He didn’t know who he was saying it to. He just kept repeating it to himself, walking in circles, until, finally, something caught his eye. He saw her. The stump of a Gardevoir was propped up against the far wall, only ten of his paces away. Her eyes were open and aware, and her breathing was soft. Her body showed the natural tension of one trying to stay quiet. A stiffness in her breathing, afraid to draw attention.

    Jerry’s breathing slowed and he finally stopped pacing. He stopped mumbling. He happened to stop right next to the Stable Scarf. He still refused to pick it up. He hadn’t melted yet, so he wasn’t going to start now.

    But now, a new problem presented itself. The Fire imp was awake. How much of that did she hear? Should he even care? He was going to be stuck with her for at least a night. Was she going to say anything? So far, she was just avoiding his eyes.

    Jerry growled to himself. Even if Amia looked at him, he couldn’t look back. The catharsis of yelling and thrashing finally wearing off, the Aerodactyl only felt a creeping sense of shame. He saw Anam’s slimy, gooey head shaking in rejection toward his name on James’ list of candidates. He saw Owen’s eyes of pompous concern, looking down upon him when Jerry had no choice but to look at wherever the Charizard decided to position his bodiless head. He saw Star, glaring at him. He saw his mother’s empty eyes.

    “I’m sorry.”

    Jerry jumped at the sound of someone else’s voice. He simply didn’t expect it. Even though Tanneth had been there not long ago, it felt like an eternity since he’d heard anything but his own thoughts. And that’s what he first hears? He stared at Amia. Her eyes were downcast.

    His jaw clenched, sharp teeth neatly fitting together. What right did she have to apologize to him? He wanted nothing to do with her, or with anybody in her family, of her clan. He didn’t care what Ghrelle said. The Fire Clan was real, and in the schism, Amia, or her ancestors, happened to be on the winning side.

    But he wasn’t just going to ignore her. She was nothing but a head and torso, but those eyes. He couldn’t bear having those eyes upon him, and he’d do anything to get her to stop staring so silently.

    Jerry found his voice. It was ragged from strain. “What for?”

    At first, Amia didn’t reply. Her eyes gave little hints of movement, darting minute angles to the left and right, as if searching for an answer in the middle of an invisible book. “I’m just… sorry.”

    Jerry stared at the stump of a Gardevoir and grumbled loudly to himself. He brought his wing to his head and clawed at his skull in frustration. “You can’t just say sorry for no reason. Doesn’t make sense. You sound just like your son.”

    Amia smiled weakly. “Well… Alex and I did raise him for centuries. I suppose he picked up a few of my habits.”

    “Hmph.” Jerry stared at Amia for a bit longer. What was he supposed to say? He couldn’t find it in him to yell now that Amia was able to hear—and now that he was again aware of her presence in the first place. He stared at the helpless thing in front of him. How easy would it be if he just attacked her then? She had no power. What sort of revenge could he take for his lineage of suffering?

    A cold, icy void filled Jerry’s guts. This was why he never became a Heart. He pushed the thoughts away.

    He swallowed, trying to get the roughness out of his throat. “How much of me did you hear?”

    “Oh, not very much.” Amia tilted her head. “My hearing was coming back at around the time you started, but it was all very… muffled. And then my sight came back.”

    “Rrff.” Jerry shifted where he stood, still not used to the horrible, squishy dampness under his talons. “And how are you feeling?” Jerry asked noncommittally. “Other than your missing limbs.”

    “Better.”

    Jerry didn’t say anything in reply. He merely nodded and wandered to a portion of the wall that he deemed the driest-looking. He leaned against a portion of the wall and slid down. It was slick and had enough softness to behave as a pillow.

    Jerry tilted his head, carefully cracking his neck. “Why did it have to be like this?”

    “Be like… what, dear?”

    “You know what,” Jerry said, pointing his wing out. “This. What is Emily? She isn’t a Lugia. She’s… some sort of hollow shell filled with air. Where’s the lungs? The bones? The gut? I’m starting to think this isn’t even a stomach. I don’t think she has organs. I think it’s just a throat that leads to her lower body.”

    “You might be right.” Amia nodded. This motion made her body lose its balance, and she fell to the side with a soft “Oof.” Amia craned her neck. “D-dear, I can’t quite get up. Could you…?”

    Jerry didn’t move. Now she wanted him to help her up? She could help herself. She was practically a god. Since when did gods ask for help from lowly mortals like him? No. She didn’t deserve the help. She brought it upon herself.

    “Jerry? Oh, dear, is my voice going? Jerry, I can’t quite… oh, dear.” Her body rolled until her face was flat on the ground. The Gardevoir’s chest was propped up by her red fin, and she turned her head to get air. “Jerry? Did you fall asleep, dear? It must be quite late. That’s okay. I’ll… be here.”

    If she wasn’t right outside, I’d think this whole mess was one of Mew’s divine pranks. Jerry sighed and got up. He did so slowly, as if not to disrupt his spine, but he looked back with surprise. There wasn’t an ounce of pain.

    He wobbled closer and brought a wing under Amia’s side, pulling her up. He situated her against the back wall and sat next to her afterward, figuring she’d fall over a second time otherwise. If she was going to be this helpless, then he had no choice but to help. Otherwise, she’d whine all night, he figured.

    Jerry adjusted his back again. It really was gone. “So, this place really heals you.”

    “It seems so,” Amia said. “I can already see and hear again. In a little while, I think my limbs will start coming back. Well, I certainly hope so, at least.”

    “What happened back there?” Jerry asked. “It doesn’t look like you have burns. It isn’t like you incinerated your body. It’s just… gone.”

    Amia glanced away. “I’m not sure myself. I just… kept pushing. I felt my power was gone, but… that monster was still there. I kept digging for more energy. Before I knew it, I…”

    “I heard something the Ditto said,” the Aerodactyl recalled. “Something about how when people like you get strong enough, the aura and body become indistinguishable, or something. So, I guess I’m talking to an aura right now.”

    “Mm.” Amia looked down at her partially-deteriorated dress. “If that’s the case, it’s a good thing Emily can even heal auras… at least a little.” She closed her eyes. “I hope Owen’s okay.”

    “He’s fine,” Jerry said, rolling his eyes. “His ‘Dad’ ran off.” Jerry caught the flash of anger in Amia’s eyes. “H-hey, hey, didn’t you hear my tone? I put his title in little air quotes.” He raised his wings and squeezed his claws.

    Amia relaxed slightly, but her displeased expression didn’t fade.

    “So, what, you guys were mates once, and then fell out?”

    “No,” Amia said, sighing. “Eon… created Owen. He created all four of them—Team Alloy. They were meant to be four pieces to a single being that could, well, defeat a lot of things. Guardians included.”

    “Even the big ball of slime?”

    Amia shook her head, nearly falling over a second time if it wasn’t for Jerry catching her. “Thank you—and I don’t know. I haven’t ever seen them completely fused before. And I’ve never seen Anam at full force, either. They’re two big unknowns.”

    “Hmph.”

    Another silence followed, and Jerry glanced to his right just in time to see a little nub forming at the top of Amia’s shoulder, twitching with movement. He wrinkled his snout and elected to not look at Amia for the rest of his stay until it grew back completely.

    “I’m sure Anam will help you get back on your feet, Jerry. He’s a very good Pokémon.”

    “Doesn’t matter if he’s good or bad. Can he solve the world’s problems?”

    “Well—most of the world seems quite good, don’t you think?”

    “Most doesn’t mean all,” Jerry said. “I still fell through his grand vision. The fact that outlaws exist is enough evidence for that.”

    “Mm,” Amia said noncombatively.

    “What?”

    “Well…” Amia hesitated. “Short of controlling everybody, I don’t really see how you can stop outlaws from existing. Some people just don’t want to play by the rules.”

    “Some people can’t afford to,” Jerry muttered.

    “I—I know. I know. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

    “Do you, though?” Jerry asked. “Do you know? Seeing as you grew up under the Guardian side of the Fire Clan, I—and don’t you start about it being fake, it still existed!”

    Amia was about to speak, but she stopped when he had raised his voice. “I’m guessing your family was not part of the ones that were involved with the Fire Orb, then.”

    “No,” Jerry said. “I guess not. To be honest, I’m not even sure why it all happened. They were all just stories. Yet it turns out they were true, huh?”

    Amia hesitated. “I don’t know much about your history, either, Jerry. I don’t even know what the schism was all about. I got the Orb for… different reasons. The whole schism—I don’t know why it started, or what happened from all of it.”

    “Oh, really? And how long have you been Guardian?”

    Amia nibbled on her lips. “A bit over five centuries.”

    Jerry stared. “What—”

    “I was supposed to die a long time ago,” she said quickly. “But—some things came up, and I couldn’t.”

    “Some things,” said Jerry. “You mean Owen. You raised him for five hundred years? No wonder he doesn’t act his age.”

    I don’t act my age,” Amia said. “I don’t think you can act five hundred years old. Mystics… stagnate. We settle into certain mindsets. I’ve noticed that. But I suppose that isn’t a bad thing.”

    “Otherwise, you’d go crazy. Maybe the brain just changes as you age. Seeing as you don’t age, you don’t change.” Jerry shrugged.

    “How old are you, dear?” Amia asked.

    “Thirty-two. Gonna turn thirty-three on the third moon of autumn.”

    “Oh, it’s almost autumn, isn’t it?” Amia said.

    “When’s your hatch day?” Jerry asked with an amused smirk.

    Amia flinched and turned away, nearly falling again. Jerry resituated her again. “I don’t remember.”

    Jerry didn’t expect to feel a pit of guilt in his gut from that one. “Oh.”

    “You’d think I’d remember something that monumental, but I don’t,” she said. “I don’t even remember which season it was.”

    Jerry said nothing. And in the steady silence of the chamber, the Aerodactyl felt his eyelids descend, slowly, without him realizing. There was a strange warmth about this place, and a soothing aura that flowed through the air. It must have been the healing that they talked about before, but now, in the calm, Jerry felt like it was wrapping around him like blankets.

    Jerry jolted upright, catching himself before he fell asleep completely. Amia squeaked, falling onto her side again. “Oof—Jerry, dear, are you okay?” Amia craned her neck to get a better look.

    “I’m just fine.”

    Amia studied him.

    He used his wings to pull her back upright, scrunching his snout at the sight of what appeared to be tiny fingers sprouting from her growing arm-stump. They moved and twitched tentatively.

    “You look so tired, dear.”

    “Hmph, well, I haven’t slept in a while,” he said. “Now that I think about it, I haven’t had a good meal in me, either. I guess that energized pulse Star gave me did the trick because I’m not that hungry yet. Could do for something in the morning, though…”

    Near the end, Jerry’s voice had faded into a disorganized mumble.

    “Ohh, Jerry, get some sleep. We were wondering the same thing on the way here. Gahi was so tired he slammed into Owen and fused with him!” Amia laughed; Jerry preemptively steadied her body for the inevitable topple. “Thank you, dear.”

    “I still don’t know why I got caught up in all this,” Jerry said. “I only went to that swamp to avoid the authorities. Not like they’d ever go there. It was the perfect hiding spot, and after dealing with all the stories about the Void, I figured the swamp wouldn’t be anything to worry about.”

    “Mm, because of all the rumors?”

    “Yeah.” Jerry said. “The Void claiming the souls of those who fall into it? All those strange sightings of dark creatures skittering around the south? The swamp was nothing compared to that. So, I went there. The only story about that swamp was that going too deep into the poison meant you’d never escape, so I just never did.”

    Amia shifted uncomfortably the more Jerry talked about the Void, but she instead focused on what Jerry had alluded to otherwise. “Until you followed us,” she pointed out.

    “Nrgh. I got greedy,” Jerry said. “I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to take Owen down.”

    Amia frowned, finding a way to adjust herself without Jerry’s help. “Owen wasn’t even out there to arrest you. He was traveling, and he was attacked. Team Alloy was the one that…”

    Jerry looked away, and a long silence followed between them. What did it matter? He was just getting some quick goods and cash so he could make a few ends meet. Finding food in the wild was getting a lot harder. Too many territorial wild Pokémon as civilization grew and growing pockets of outskirt towns and villages sent the ferals to get lost in Dungeons. Ghrelle’s words echoed in his mind, but he saw no other, easy way out. The life of an outlaw was just the easiest path. He was already used to it from his father, after all.

    “Why do you hate Owen so much?” Amia asked softly.

    Oh, and this again. He shouldn’t have been surprised; of course his mother would see him as a golden child. Still… “I don’t… hate him.”

    Amia didn’t look convinced, but she also didn’t challenge him. “Oh, okay.”

    “Don’t give me that,” Jerry growled, rubbing his skull. “I know that tone.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Don’t give me that either! Argh, you guys are all the same! I don’t get it.” He leaned back angrily. His back squished against Emily’s flesh, and he reflexively jolted forward again.

    “Perhaps that’s just the sort of personality Anam recruits,” Amia said quietly.

    That brought out another pang of bitterness in the back of Jerry’s throat. He bit on his cheek, getting a phantom sensation of tasting iron, despite not biting hard enough to draw blood. He eased up and sighed.

    It was faint, but Jerry heard quiet mumbles through the walls. They were talking amongst each other. It sounded like they were playing some sort of word game. Emily was too thick to hear the details, only the tone. And then, laughter.

    Amia laughed with them. “It seems that they’re in good spirits.”

    “Mm.”

    They listened to a few of the rounds, not hearing any of the words, just the noises. Manny was particularly boisterous. Every so often, they heard the gentle tone of Zena speaking quickly next, and then Owen at the same pace. Owen stumbled over his words, and that caused another round of laughter.

    Jerry wrapped his wings around himself, finally relenting. He pressed against the fleshy walls and let exhaustion take over.

    He finally found the words. “It’s his eyes.” He sighed.

    Amia looked up. “I’m sorry?”

    “Owen’s eyes,” he said. “They’re just like Anam’s. Have you noticed?”

    Amia looked at Jerry, puzzled. Jerry realized shortly after that, on the face of it, perhaps it didn’t make sense. Anam’s eyes were green like the slimy orbs that lined his body. Owen’s eyes were the natural blue of his Charizard line. Despite being a mutant, that was one feature that didn’t change. Anam’s were also a lot bigger.

    “They have light,” Jerry said. “This… this brightness about them. He’s always… going into things with…” Jerry shook his head. “There’s just an energy to it. Like it’ll all be okay. Like he’ll figure it out. Even if he’s facing someone like me, he still had that light in them. I’ve seen how dejected he was when I slashed his throat, and I still saw that light in his eyes. I don’t know what to call it.” He brought his wings forward, picking at a loose scale on the left wing’s rightmost claw. “I hate it.”

    Amia turned her head toward Jerry, curiously staring into his eyes from the side. She wondered if he had that same light. What was the light? What did it look like? But Amia didn’t know what to look for. All she saw was that Jerry was tired.

    “I’m sorry it bothers you so much.”

    “Don’t be,” Jerry said, grunting. “You guys are the ones who have it all together. My problem with Owen is just that. My problem.” He looked up. “Once I’m healed, I’ll just go back to Kilo and finish my sentence. Then I can put all this behind me. I’ll let Star wipe my memories of all this. Then I can move on.”

    Amia cleared her throat, but nothing followed.

    Jerry glanced at Amia and caught a glimpse of her eyes. He saw it in her, too. She wanted to help him. There was a hopeful light in her eyes.

    Jerry turned away and leaned against the wall. “I’m going to sleep. I need it.”

    Amia nodded. “Okay, dear. Good night.”

    Amia fell over from the nod. Jerry stirred slightly, but Amia quickly said it was okay, and he settled down. The Aerodactyl slept; the Gardevoir remained awake, staring pensively at the walls.

    <><><> ​

    “What do you mean, not healed?!”

    “B-buh, huh?” Gahi rolled over, blinking at the sun. “Aghh, what’s with that light…?”

    Jerry clutched at the scarf around his neck, but then looked at Gahi. “WAH!” the Aerodactyl shouted, pointing an accusatory wing at him. “What happened to your face?!”

    “What d’you mean, my face?!” Gahi shouted in a hiss. “No uglier than yers, stone-breath!”

    Jerry and Gahi both growled at one another like two ferals fighting over territory. Gahi eventually broke his stare to reach down and grab his goggles.

    “Um,” Owen spoke up gently, “the red hoods, on Gahi’s face are actually removable.”

    “N-not for normal Flygon, they aren’t!”

    “Demitri can remove his tusks, too,” Owen recalled, tapping a claw on his chin. “I guess that’s just how Nevren designed us.”

    “WHY?”

    Owen and Gahi both shrugged. Owen did have to admit, though, seeing those coverings off of Gahi’s face made his otherwise entirely green, shiny head a bit bare. “Gahi, does everything look red when you put those on?”

    “Eh?” Gahi asked. He placed the red coverings over his eyes; they sank into his scales, and then made a gentle, organic click once Gahi found the right position.

    Jerry looked ill.

    “Nah, maybe a little? But I think it only looks red on the outside. Y’wanna try’m on?” He pulled one off with a pop.

    Please stop doing that,” Jerry begged.

    “I—I think we’re okay. Just keep them on, Gahi,” Owen said.

    Gahi shrugged and clicked it back on.

    “Emily, dear,” Amia said—she was still green, which bothered Owen. “What do you mean, Jerry isn’t healed?”

    “His aura’s still… bad,” Emily said.

    “Not you, too,” Jerry growled.

    “N-no, no! As in… he has… the bad stuff! Melty-melty if he takes the scarf off!”

    “Wait,” Star spoke up. “You mean you couldn’t cure him?”

    “I got eaten for nothing?” Jerry hissed.

    Emily nibbled on her massive wing-fingers. “Sorry,” she said. “This never happened before. But… I can’t heal you!” The way Emily trembled suggested this was more distressing for the Lugia than it was for Jerry.

    The outlaw paced in a small circle. “So, what, then? I’m just—doomed to melt?”

    “We know that the Stable Scarf can keep you intact,” Star said. “As long as you keep that on, you won’t melt. In fact, I think it got enhanced a little by Emily. I think now if you wear it, it’ll actually restore you back to normal if you take it off and melt. I’ll call it… a Stabilize Scarf!”

    Jerry wondered why the Creator was so uncreative. “And if I lose it, then what?”

    “Then you’ll melt.”

    Jerry growled. “So, I have to stay by you guys so I can get healed. Is that it?”

    “Well…” Star said. “I guess so, yeah. I don’t think any of these guys would want you out in the wild and in their conscience, huh?”

    “Yeah, if Jerry isn’t cured, we can’t let him go,” Owen said. “He still has to pay his dues, but if he’ll melt if he accidentally loses the Scarf, then—n-no, we can’t.”

    “So, you’re saying I’m stuck with you guys for good,” Jerry said.

    “Until we can undo it,” Star said. “Ghrelle isn’t gonna. Maybe Anam can? He’s probably our strongest Mystic.”

    “I will not ask for his help,” Jerry said.

    “Too bad,” Star said. She turned around. “I guess that’s everything. We have a personal Waypoint set for here, right?”

    “We do,” Owen said.

    “Alright. That’s all we need. Badges should be charged for now, so—let’s head home!”

    Owen nodded and pulled out his Badge. Gahi did the same; between the two, it would be enough to warp everyone back.

    Amia glanced at the cave, noticing that most of the glass had been cleared away. “I’m sorry about your home, Emily.”

    “Oh! It’s okay,” Emily said. “The others helped clean it out! And Zena washed away everything else, too!”

    “Yeah, Zena was great!” Owen said. “Would’ve taken forever without her helping.”

    Zena giggled. “Well, everyone was a great help,” she said, nudging Owen.

    Owen stumbled forward when Zena nudged him. He glanced oddly at Zena, blushing. “Hey, are you alright?”

    “Hm? How do you mean, Owen?”

    “I dunno. Sometimes you get weird reactions. So, for future reference, what’re you feeling right now?”

    Zena blinked.

    Jerry rubbed his head. Was he seriously that blind? All that head-scrambling must have really done a number of the kid’s ability to process basic social cues. “How do you function?” he said. “She’s happy, nitwit.”

    “B-but I know what she’s like when she’s happy! This was different!”

    “Oh, Mew, just take us home.”

    Star’s ear twitched.

    “I am happy, Owen,” Zena said with an apologetic smile. “Maybe what you’re feeling is me being comfortable, too.”

    “Comfortable, huh? Okay. I’ll keep that in mind.” Owen closed his eyes, mumbling to himself. “Comfortable.” He rubbed his arm, looking away. “Comfortable…”

    Jerry wondered if he should tell Owen that it was a lot more than comfort. No, he’ll let him figure it out on his own. Jerry doubted he’d ever learn if he just gave him the answers. Besides, maybe Owen could learn what a lost opportunity felt like.

    Jerry tugged noncommittally at the Scarf, realizing that he was going to be living with the smart idiot for a lot longer.

    “Let’s go!” Gahi said, clicking their Badge. Owen did the same after Emily stepped a safe distance away. In a flash, they all left, and the Lugia waved a massive arm goodbye. Tanneth did the same atop her shoulder.
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  7. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    49
    1) The only thing this chapter made me think of is Flame Hyenard. Y'know... BURN! BURN! BURN TO THE GROUND! BURN TO THE GROUND!
    2) Not only does Eon put up a convincing argument about why all the Guardian nonsense is fundamentally flawed, he even points out how ridiculous all this Mystic stuff is! I like him already. :V
    3) I also feel the need to point out that poor Emily doesn't deserve this. She's a sweet bean and you shouldn't be so mean to her.
    4) How to make your supposed bad guy not look all that bad and make it seem like Owen's getting dragged through some sort of shadow conspiracy: have his doting mother-figure go batshit crazy the moment Eon mentions going home and then have him plead to avoid fighting. I mean, seriously, if I were reading this chapter in the space of a void, Eon would look like a nice guy and our heroes would be looking like a pack of aggressors, so to speak. I know, it was mostly just Amia. But, well, you did a good job in showing that absolutely nobody was really attempting to calm her down. Even Star seemed very mute... suspiciously quiet, to be honest. The fact that she wouldn't offer up anything and Eon seemed to make her flinch tells me that maybe he's got more of a point than we've been led to believe.
    5) Also, the fact that he's asking how far back Owen can remember and doesn't seem to be all that happy when it doesn't go beyond Quarts HQ stuff seems to suggest that things stretch back even farther, somehow. Who knows, maybe Eon was present in the old/human/whatever world and there were some sort of versions of Team Alloy as his family. So, when everything went belly-up and the whole Hunter plan was created, Eon wanted to reproduce the individuals he had lost. I mean, if we go by Dex lore or what have you, Ditto supposedly come from failed attempts at making Mewtwo. Eon could be synthetic in the same sense as ADAM but, unlike ADAM, knows something about what happened. There was a war mentioned, after all.
    6) Given that I know about Nate, it was very... Nate of him to just scuttle off to Quarts HQ.
    7) You literally ended this chapter with vore and associated jokes, you're not allowed to complain about people joking about your fetish. <.<

    50
    1) [sigh] Jerry. At least he's right to panic about this. Even he knows the author should keep the vore stuff to himself. :V In all seriousness, it was a decent nervous breakdown.
    2) Amia's bit about controlling everybody is, uh, kinda a good counterpoint to why Mystics are a bad idea in general and maybe Arceus' hands-off (pun intended) approach might be better than, say, Star's micromanagement. Something something "absolute power corrupts absolutely" or what have you.
    3) Otherwise, I don't have much to say about the chapter at all other than of course Jerry can't be healed and that's the reason he has to stay with them. I was honestly hoping there was going to be something better than that. [sigh]
     
  8. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Oh no, I'm making a villain become so likable that he's not seen as a pure villain anymore, what ever will I do...

    To be fair, it's a custody battle. People can get nasty when the idea of losing your child to someone else is at stake. I do agree, though. They could have potentially handled this a bit more civilly, if it wasn't for the fact that Eon's a murderer and all the other emotionally charged rhetoric.

    Another "to be fair" weasel statement: she was literally on fire, and Emily's wing burned off when she tried getting too close. They tried to shout a bit, but ehh... personally a lot of them were stunned at the fact that Amia was behaving this way.

    It's definitely a central theme for this segment of the story, so you're right there.

    --

    Amby, I know you've gone way ahead of the forums at this point and are almost completely caught up on FFN, but thanks for reading! Glad I was able to hold your interest all the way up to the present, and hopefully I can maintain that going forward~

    Next chapter will be coming hopefully sometime soon, either tonight or tomorrow.
     
  9. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 51 – Fickle Soul

    “Mbbfffrr…” Anam slimed his way into his makeshift home in Hot Spot Cave, curling around his favorite rock until it was completely drenched in his purple goo. “I missed sleep,” he said.

    Rhys, doing his best to be cordial, averted his eyes and said, “I believe I will be resting with Elder in my home. So, unless I am needed elsewhere?”

    He was atop Elder’s shell, legs crossed. Elder was only somewhat warm in what would have been the hot spots of his shell, and Rhys had little trouble riding on his back. Despite his typically reserved nature, nothing was going stopping the Lucario’s tail from wagging vigorously at the prospect of finally having a night together with Elder that wasn’t just in their telepathic connections.

    “Ugh…” Demitri stretched his back, hearing a few cracks. “That was such a long walk. We need to install a better Waypoint system for this place.”

    “Well, we can’t have that,” Nevren said. “Imagine if someone from the public sees us using a strange, exclusive Waypoint? We’d have to find a place in secret, and that, well, that would just get even more complicated. We can only use our Badges and their personal warp point.”

    “Is Valle still here?” Willow asked. “I don’t think I saw him in a while!”

    “I am still here.”

    “Enet,” Step said, “perhaps it is appropriate to release your illusions. There is no longer a need.” Indeed, Step was back to her Icy self, gently tapping against her armor to make sure it was back to normal.

    Enet nodded and clicked her claws together, concentrating on the surrounding area. Mispy’s tendrils returned to view. Relieved, she shook a few of them and wrapped a few on her back to envelop Demitri, squeezing him in an abominable hug. Demitri let out a little wheeze, nuzzling the tip of his snout against her back. He was careful not to cut her with his tusks.

    Step scanned the area. “You have not restored Valle.”

    “Hmph!” Enet turned her head, arms crossed.

    “The Shiftry shall return, yes?” Step said lowly. “We do not want to bump into him.”

    “I request visibility.”

    ADAM spun his head irritably. “Restore Valle.”

    “No.”

    ADAM buzzed. “Sudo restore Valle.”

    Enet hissed. “No! He’s dumb!”

    Just in time to evade the scuffle, Elder slipped into Rhys’ home. “Oh, what a wonderful place you live in, Rhys. A bit,” he paused, “primitive, and a tad cluttered, but it’s very quaint, isn’t it?”

    “I’ve grown quite accustomed to the simple nature,” Rhys said. “I certainly miss some of the luxuries that Nevren was able to produce—and in general the technologies of modern Kiloan life—but what we have here is just fine.”

    Elder chuckled.

    Rhys glanced at the giant Torkoal again. He was used to the general smokiness of Elder’s presence. It used to sting his nose, long ago. But now, after all this time away, the smell was nostalgic. He leaned forward, tracing at a familiar ridge pattern. “Being physically nearby… nothing replaces it,” he said. “Meditation is never enough.”

    “It truly isn’t,” Elder said.

    “You don’t have to go back, do you?” Rhys asked. “Elder, I… I simply don’t see why you still want to follow Eon, after all he’s done. Is that truly what you want to do? He’s terrorizing the Guardians. Is he truly the one you’d rather have the Orbs? To have control over the world?”

    “I don’t,” Elder said. “I’m afraid that I… don’t know who I want to have that sort of power, Rhys. But I had nowhere to go. Eon is losing himself, Rhys. If I leave, I do not know if it will be for the greater good. If Eon grows too impatient, he may do something that he’ll regret. For all of us.”

    Rhys gently pressed his paw against Elder’s shell. “Elder, if everybody within Hot Spot Cave gathered together to strike Eon, would we win? Surely you would know.”

    Elder shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know,” he said. “Eon isn’t the one we need to worry about any longer. It’s his army.”

    “A-army, of course,” Rhys nodded. “B-but quite a bit of that army is with Trina, isn’t it? The Bug Guardian.”

    Elder shook his head. “No. There is more.”

    “Why would Eon want to make an army?” Rhys said, raising his voice slightly. “I still don’t understand it. He would never need so many—does he want to start another war?”

    “Is that not what is already happening?” Elder asked. He huffed out a steady stream of smoke. “A war that neither dead god desired, fought in their name by the living. History repeats.” Elder sighed, lost in thought. “I miss Dialga…”

    “That is not going to happen again,” Rhys said firmly. His fur bristled, aura flames pulsing from his paw pads.

    The Torkoal puffed a small plume of defeated, white smoke. “Then you will need to surrender to Eon.” The silence that followed made Elder lower his head to avoid Rhys’ stunned eyes. “You have to either surrender, or Eon will strike. He’s ready, Rhys. Everything is falling into place. That’s what he keeps muttering to himself, and I—I simply don’t know what he means.”

    “E-Elder,” the Lucario finally found his voice, “what’s gotten into you?”

    “I don’t want another war, Rhys,” Elder said. His body was stiff; Rhys recognized this as the Torkoal’s quiet terror. “Please. Just let it all end.”

    “Is this what you tell all of the other Guardians?” Rhys whispered. “Did you come here just to tell us to surrender? You want me to surrender? Are we just another one of your missions…?”

    “No, but… perhaps I still have it in mind.” Somewhere between pleading and resignation, Elder leaned his shell against the wall. “If Eon strikes, it won’t just be our heads on the line. The whole world is going to get caught up in it again. It will be just like before, Rhys. But this time, instead of the Divine Dragon, it’s Eon. Do you really want that?”

    “I never wanted it the first time,” Rhys growled. “And I certainly won’t let Eon rule, not after I’ve seen his methods of gaining that power. He’s worse than Arceus.”

    “Then, you align with Star?”

    Rhys winced, not expecting such a swift retort. “I don’t know.”

    More silence followed, and more smoke filled the room and dissipated into nothing. Elder’s expression, once firm, softened. “You sound quite a lot like Owen. But you know, I think Owen has a personal favorite. He quite idolizes Anam, doesn’t he?”

    “If you want my opinion, Anam isn’t any better. He’s afraid to take action.”

    “I don’t blame him.”

    Rhys grunted. “If Anam had his way, we would all still be in the same strange stasis as before, all the Guardians suffering in isolation, while Eon slowly continues to build his army. We’d be in an even worse position! So, no.” To this, he nodded firmly. “I wouldn’t want Anam to gain the Orbs either. It isn’t as if he can. He also Promised Arceus that he would not possess another Orb.”

    “Most of the Guardians did, really,” Elder said. “What a clever approach, hm? Prevent the Guardians from usurping him by just blocking that option altogether, or risk giving that power directly to him anyway. Barky was always the clever one.”

    “Perhaps we shouldn’t refer to Arceus in that way,” Rhys murmured. “It seems… disrespectful.”

    “Oh?” Elder asked. “A change of heart? You were not typically one to put much respect toward him, Rhys.”

    Rhys ears went down slightly. “I suppose that’s true,” he said. “It merely seems… petty.”

    “I see.” The Torkoal frowned, but then craned his neck out of his shell to nuzzle Rhys on his thigh. “I’m sorry for all of this, Rhys. I wish I was stronger. I wish I had the heart to fight. But it simply isn’t in my nature. You know that, right from the beginning, in our first battle.” Elder saw his body tense. “I’m sorry. I won’t mention it. And I…” He hesitated. “And, regarding Eon, I…”

    Rhys let out a slow, steady sigh, looking at his right paw. It was trembling. It was unspoken, but Elder already knew that Rhys wasn’t going to surrender. And even if Elder didn’t want to leave, he had to, didn’t he? If he abandoned Eon, what would become of him? He could unleash the entire Synthetic army upon the world in frustration. He couldn’t stay here.

    But was he even enough to keep Eon sane anymore? He already killed two Guardians. Perhaps it was already too late.

    The weight Rhys provided on his side was a constant reminder of his presence.

    He also couldn’t leave Rhys. The light in his eyes was brighter than ever when they first touched after so long. And now, he was going to leave him again? Perhaps that would be even more devastating.

    Elder craned his neck to look at Rhys again. He opened his beady little eyes, black and shining with red irises. They held their gazes with one another.

    He wouldn’t leave. Elder smiled slightly at Rhys, and finally settled his shell on the ground completely. Without a word, Elder eased Rhys’ spirit. And for a while, they did nothing together—just like old times.

    “Thank you,” Rhys said softly. After basking in their togetherness for a while longer, the Lucario found enough security to lean back. Elder adjusted so his shell pressed some weight against Rhys’ body, another nostalgic feeling that had been irreplaceable.

    “How much time do we have?” Rhys asked. “Will Eon give warning?”

    “He will. Even if he decided to strike now, he would need weeks to mobilize.”

    “That will do.”

    Elder heaved another sigh, releasing a plume of smoke from his shell that enveloped Rhys. He closed his eyes reflexively, as he always did, and then wondered aloud, “I do hope this smoke isn’t damaging to my airways.”

    “Well, you’re Mystic, so I suppose it will do little harm,” Elder said. “I apologize anyway. Perhaps I can lower it a tad?”

    “There’s no need.”

    “Oh, no, I should. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I may not be the greatest of Mystics, but I can surely achieve that. It isn’t as if Torkoal must emit their smog all the time, yes?”

    Rhys didn’t protest, but he did absentmindedly run his claw against Elder’s shell. He glanced at the glowing portions of it, realizing just then how he had been avoiding the hot portions of Elder’s body with muscle memory alone, even if they weren’t particularly hot.

    “Let’s rest, Rhys,” Elder said. “It has been far too long. We can converse about Eon when everybody else returns.”

    “Hm. Of course.”

    The cozy silence enveloped them again, their eyes trailing across the room. Every so often, Elder looked back and asked about one of the trinkets that Rhys had on his shelves. An old, bracelet-like contraption that Nevren had made caught Elder’s eye, but even Rhys wasn’t sure what it was. Then he looked at the blank book that Anam had gifted him long ago, like some sort of empty journal, wholly unused. And of course, there were stacks of letters that Elder had sent to Rhys to give some sense of physical interaction, even with telepathy allowing for spiritual meetings.

    A while later, Demitri and Mispy passed by their room, going through the halls and into their own on the opposite side. Rhys couldn’t help but crack a smile. They were two pairs across the hall from each other. But his smile faltered when he saw their pensive faces and felt their turbulent auras.

    “They’re thinking about it again,” Elder said quietly to Rhys. “Should we talk to them?”

    Rhys didn’t have much of a choice. Mispy was glaring holes into his fur. He gave Elder a gentle pat, and the two crossed the hall and entered the synthetic Pokémon’s room. Unlike Rhys’ room that was cluttered with Pecha Berries and mementos of the past, Demitri and Mispy lived in a room that was minimally decorated. They had a bed of ample, soft leaves, which they slept together in. And nothing else. Hold on. Where was the bed?

    Rhys tilted his head slightly, realizing that it was gone. Had it always been missing? Rhys briefly recalled the day Mispy and Demitri had fully evolved. Mispy had been uncharacteristically satiated that night.

    Demitri and Mispy, therefore, slept in a room that was devoid of any sort of decoration or furniture. Upon coming to this realization, the first thing Rhys commented was, “I noticed how… empty your room seems. Perhaps we can dip into some of our Heart earnings for some decorations?”

    Demitri and Mispy exchanged a glance, and then scanned the rocky walls.

    “How come?” Demitri asked.

    “Well, because it’s quite empty,” Rhys said. “Wouldn’t you like to have something to… look at? Something pleasing to the eye? …Such as a bed? I must ask, where has your bed gone?”

    Mispy evaded Rhys’ eyes. Despite the pair’s brief falter, the Lucario still didn’t get a proper response from the Haxorus and Meganium.

    Rhys stood up. “Why, right here,” he said, pointing at the corner. “There could be a shelf, right here. I could load it with books. Or perhaps little figurines? There’s a store that sells lovely little figurines, Demitri. And Mispy, perhaps a book of recipes? You could choose which ones I can cook. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

    An uncomfortable silence followed.

    Mispy shifted her vines. “I guess.”

    “And—and right here,” Rhys said, following the wall until he was on the opposite side. “Perhaps a desk for you, Demitri, if—if there was perhaps a need for you to use a desk?”

    The two mutants stared. They recognized that Rhys was just trying to distract them, or cheer them up, or give them some sense of normalcy. But nothing was going to wash away the fact that they were genuinely uninterested in any of those decorations. Their room was barren because they had no use for any of it. They never did. Rhys pushing them to be interested in something so trivial was just a reminder that their minds were incomplete. And Rhys could feel those thoughts radiating off of them by the emotions in their auras alone.

    “We just want to fight,” Demitri stated with an iota of venom. “None of this other stuff is interesting.” He slumped against Mispy, sinking halfway into her tapestry of vines. “Because that’s how we were designed.”

    “N-nonsense,” Rhys said a touch too quickly. “Demitri, you love Mispy, do you not? That’s already one thing that isn’t related to fighting. And Mispy, don’t you enjoy food? Cuisine? Far from fighting.”

    “Mm.”

    “Rhys,” Elder said, “I believe what they mean is, above all else, fighting is what appeals to them the most. More than their hobbies, more than their other interests, they love to fight.”

    Neither protested.

    “I—I see,” Rhys said. His jaw clenched in defeat, mentally cornered. “I see. I believe I understand. And I imagine you are not happy with this.”

    “I don’t know,” Demitri said.

    Rhys stood there at the end of the room. He looked at the corner again, envisioning the desk that he could install. But he couldn’t envision either of them using it. And so, his prospects faded away like the fleeting idea it was.

    “I want to see Trina,” Mispy finally spoke up.

    “Trina?” Rhys repeated. “But—we can’t do that yet. We told her that we would see her in the morning. We have to wait until tomorrow.”

    “No.” Her body shifted. While her height did not change, her vines changed to a more organized, crawling stance. It was clear that she was ‘standing up’ to leave.

    Rhys knew them all too well; between their turbulent auras and how he had raised them for so long, he could deduce every thought they had. Mispy surely recognized that they both meant well, even if their memories of Elder were vague. Yet it still felt wrong—like none of this was correct. That it all felt sick. They didn’t know a thing about themselves, did they?

    Mispy possessively wrapped a few vines around Demitri, squeezing him for comfort. The Haxorus responded by leaning back, closing his eyes. They just wanted to feel like their normal was real.

    Perhaps, then, the only thing that felt real was Trina’s words. Someone they barely knew, yet someone who seemed to know them, and their kind, more than Rhys did. But surely Rhys could do better.

    “Mispy, I won’t allow you to go to Trina,” Rhys said. “It’s not a good time. She seems to be very particular about—”

    “She’ll let us in.”

    “Mispy,” Rhys said firmly, “you are staying here. Do not let her get to you.”

    Rhys stood in front of the exit. Mispy, due to her size, required the entire passageway to go through and had to stop.

    “Why do you want to go there, Mispy? For what purpose? What would this accomplish?”

    “Move.”

    “Mispy.” Rhys spoke a bit more firmly, earning the smallest hint of a flinch from her. In response, Rhys softened his tone. “What’s gotten into you? Please, listen to me.”

    That didn’t help; Mispy’s expression twisted to a glare. “Like I’m designed to?”

    Rhys flinched, tail dipping between his legs. “N-no. Not because of that. Listen to… reason. Mispy, please. We can talk about this, can’t we? It’s just one night, and we can go after that.”

    “I’m not tired,” Mispy said, but her stare faltered. “I…”

    Rhys hesitated, but then looked down at the mess of vines. “Demitri, what do you think? Are you really sure that seeing Trina would be a good idea? What if she tries to control you?”

    Mispy’s vines wrapped another revolution around Demitri, even when he was still buried somewhere inside.

    “I…” Demitri’s voice remained muffled. “I don’t know. It’s all so… I’m… I don’t know what to think anymore.”

    “You feel lost,” Elder spoke up. “And you think Trina can guide you?”

    Mispy winced, but then, suddenly, her body shifted slightly in color. Her usual, bright green became slightly yellowish. Her neck expanded significantly in width, looking more like a torso in shape, and the scales toughened, too. Two large axes sprouted on either side of her face—the upper half of Demitri’s upper body was attached to Mispy’s torso. The last to form were the arms. The first action of the behemoth with these arms was to wipe her eyes.

    “Why am I like this?” she asked. “I… I hate it. I can’t go out anymore. I never will. I can never go to… Ludicolo Café. I can’t take jobs for the Hearts. I can’t even train at the dojo. Because… because I’m fake. I’m a mutant. The Hearts are supposed to kill me! Or at least relocate them for you or Nevren to just… send away.”

    “That’s far from the truth,” Rhys said hastily. “That—that wouldn’t happen at all! If I came with you, and said you were an ally, surely we’d—”

    “Is that why we had to hide?” she asked immediately. “I had to be told to look normal and act normal?” She waited for a reply, but Rhys couldn’t think of one. “I’m a monster. I needed an illusion just to… to…”

    “Mispy… Demitri…”

    The fusion turned away. “Mimi.”

    “Oh, that’s lovely,” Elder said with a smile.

    “Mimi,” Rhys said gently, “I promise you, we will go to see Trina tomorrow. First thing in the morning.” He paused. “After breakfast.”

    “Do you promise?”

    “I…” Rhys hesitated. “Yes. I promise.”

    Mimi held out her hand, claws tense. “Do you Divine Promise?”

    Rhys stared uneasily. “I can’t promise that,” he said. “There could be an interruption of some kind that could prevent us from going there that early. But I do promise, on my honor, Mimi. I will do everything I can so you can visit Trina.”

    Elder spoke up. “I’ll be sure to pester him to do just that.”

    The Haxorus-Meganium fusion stared at Rhys. Deep, red eyes that Rhys matched with equal intensity. They held it without blinking.

    “Fine,” Mimi said, breaking her stare. “Tomorrow.”

    Rhys wondered if Mimi would be sleeping in that fused state. Based on how she was curling up, she was. The Haxorus upper half leaned forward, awkwardly trying to find a cozy position. That didn’t quite work. Next, she tried to turn to the side, and it seemed like she was getting somewhere closer to comfort. She brought a few vines forward to use as a blanket, bed, and pillow. While the thorns were sharp, her scales were tough, and she didn’t get poked by any of them. The rest of her body—the Meganium half—had the rest of the vines draped along the floor, spilling along most of the room.

    “Well.” Rhys stood awkwardly. “Good night, Mimi.”

    Mimi nodded, grabbing some of her vines to squeeze during the night. Elder stepped out of the room, went across the hall, and settled in Rhys’ bed next. “Come, Rhys,” he said. “They won’t leave. I trust them.”

    Mimi squeezed her vines a little tighter, but nodded. “Good night.”

    Rhys saw that little spark in her aura. She had planned to run away. But Elder said he trusted them. Now, she couldn’t.

    <><><> ​

    A seemingly endless hall of white, marble walls beckoned Eon inside. His heavy, scaly steps echoed. The flame at the end of his tail crackled. Great, orange wings were folded behind him, pressing firmly against his back. His fingers tensed, claws prodding at his palm.

    “Back off, I said!” shouted a rumbling voice.

    “Give it back! I totally called dibs!”

    “Rrragh!”

    A plume of smoke flooded the left corridor, dirtying Eon’s left side.

    “Oops—sorry!”

    Eon glanced to the right and saw a mutant Meganium wrapping around a thrashing Garchomp with oversized blades and sharp scales.

    The Charizard continued walking down.

    “What’s got him in a mood?” murmured the Meganium.

    “Lemme go!”

    “Then give me Auntie’s cookie!”

    “Mine!” Loud munching.

    The Meganium gasped. “You JERK!” She slammed the Garchomp against the opposite wall. He broke loose and returned the favor with a heavy tackle. The scuffle continued and faded into echoes.

    Eon spun on his feet and turned to the right, passing by a few more mutants. They all eyed Eon curiously. “Are you okay?” one asked.

    “I’m just fine.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Yes.”

    “If you’re starting to feel unstable, you should see Dad, okay?”

    Eon stopped, staring at the mutant. It was a Lycanroc with a crimson, furry back and scaly, powerful limbs. His Charizard form melted away, shifting into an exact copy of the Lycanroc.

    She gasped. “Oh, Mew! I’m sorry, Dad!”

    “It’s just fine.”

    “Wow! You held onto that Charizard form for a long time! Are you getting better at your, um, issue?”

    Eon winced. “Someone just happened to be in my thoughts.” Even as he spoke, his left arm became orange, and half of a wing sprouted from his back.

    “Oh, okay,” the mutant replied. “Um—okay, Dad.”

    Eon nodded and continued on his way. It only took a few seconds for him to stumble, grow, and return to Owen’s shape. Eon made one last turn and saw a dead end with a large “1” written in black Bluk paint. Approaching the very end of the white wall, he stopped and muttered, “Ten.”

    In less than a blink, the “1” in front of Eon turned into a “10.” He turned around and walked down a new hallway, this one decorated with little doodles on the wall.

    “Rhouff!”

    The bark was loud enough to shake Eon’s ribs. It was a Houndoom, but with a few odd modifications—one with pronounced, bone-like armor on its front half and jagged, sharp horns from either side of its head. His chest armor sported two tusks that hooked forward and out of its shoulders.

    He skidded to a stop right in front of Eon, sitting down with a happy, panting face. He barked again.

    “Lucas,” Eon greeted with a forced smile. “How are you feeling?” His body melted to a quadrupedal form, mimicking Lucas and his pronounced chest armor. This earned a few excited licks from the Houndoom. Eon chuckled quietly, “So, you’re handling that Mega form well, are you? Good. Just remember to release it if you feel uneasy. Fetch Auntie Rim and Uncle Hecto, will you?”

    “Rhouff!” He spun and bounded off.

    Eon watched for a while, and then heaved a sigh. By the time his eyes were open again, he was on two legs, keeping his tail above the ground so it didn’t heat the tile.

    Eon heard—and felt—a distant rumbling noise again, gradually increasing in volume. He recognized that sound anywhere. Eon kept walking, even as the rolling got louder, and suddenly, stopped the intersection between this hallway and the next. Something large and purple rolled past him, much taller than he was. Eon leaned forward to watch the Scolipede slow down, stop, and then roll in reverse. Eon stepped back. It hopped in the hallway—thankfully, the ceilings were quite high—and unraveled in mid-air, landing on its four legs.

    “Papa!” the Scolipede squealed.

    “Hello, Lavender,” Eon greeted, forcing another smile. His body shifted and hardened into Lavender’s double.

    “I thought I sensed you! How come you looked like a Charizard?”

    “I just had it on my mind, Lavvie,” Eon said. “How have you been doing?”

    “I’m doing great! I’m gonna get dinner!”

    “It’s quite late, you know. Shouldn’t you be going to bed?”

    “N-no, it’s not late!”

    “Everyone should be going to bed pretty soon, you know. Go tell them. I still need to do some nighttime work.”

    Lavender stared at Eon with wide, watery, pleading eyes.

    “That won’t work on me, Lavender,” Eon said, quickly turning away. “It’s time for bed. You need to meditate, too, don’t you? Keep your spirits up.”

    Lavender didn’t stop.

    Eon tried to step out of the way, but two Scolipede were just too bulky to squeeze past the same intersection—particularly when Lavender was strategically standing diagonally.

    “Just one more hour,” Lavender begged. “I wanna train some more!”

    Eon sighed. “Fine. One more hour.”

    “Yaay!” Lavender headbutted Eon in the neck, eliciting a wheeze. “I love you, Papa!” He curled up and rolled down the hall again. Just at that moment, Rim stepped into the white hall. Her wide eyes bulged even wider when and she dove back into the hall she came from, narrowly avoiding him.

    Eon smiled at Rim when she approached; his form shrank and shrank until he was exactly her. “Hey, Rim.”

    “Mn…” Rim nodded, stepping closer. She gave him an affectionate nuzzle on the cheek. “How…?”

    “I’m… I’ve been better,” Eon said, turning away. “Where’s Hecto?”

    Rim shrugged. “Lucas…”

    “Mm. Well, I need to talk to Nevren. And… I wanted you all to be there. I want to know how Elder is doing, anyway. If they took him in, then he’s probably with Rhys and the rest of Star’s minions.”

    Rim nodded.

    “Let’s just go to my room,” he sighed, rubbing his forehead.

    Rim frowned, but followed. “How did…?”

    “Owen?”

    Rim nodded.

    Eon didn’t answer.

    Rim gently bumped against her double while they walked.

    They turned after the third doorway, stopping in front of it. Eon held his hand forward, and the metal door parted. The inside was a neatly decorated room. The corner held a large, king-sized bed with a mattress stuffed with cotton and covered by a large, black, smooth blanket. There was a desk with a small nightstand made of dark wood. Atop the desk was a simple, black headlamp. Opposite of the desk was a mahogany bookshelf sparsely lined with a few books on each level. The lowest shelf had what appeared to be a thick, often-opened book. The spine was worn to the point that one needed to be told it used to be a hardcover.

    “Oh,” Rim said, perking up. She dug through the small bag around her chest and pulled out a few rolled up papers, handing it to Eon.

    “What’s this?” Eon asked, opening one. He instantly grew in size, going from an Espurr body to one of a Haxorus. “Oh,” he said, marveling at the detailed sketch of the very form he took. “Nate works quickly, doesn’t he? I never expected the Dark Guardian to be such an artist, but he really is talented. And it’s not nearly as expensive or time consuming as that Smeargle in town.”

    “Mm,” Rim said, giggling.

    “He likes the kids, doesn’t he?” Eon asked. “New bodies for him to study and draw. I’m surprised that’s all we needed to do to convince him to come in the first place. That was good thinking on Nev’s part.” He hesitated, looking at the pictures. He slowly went to the bookshelf and leaned down, grabbing the worn book. “Rim,” he said, “would you mind sorting through this and replacing the old drawings?”

    Rim nodded. Her eyes glowed and, with a gentle Psychic wave, pulled the book from Eon’s claws and lowered it to the ground. It was tabbed alphabetically, and Rim first moved to the H tab and found Haxorus. She winced. She remembered drawing this one. The proportions were all off, and Eon struggled to transition into the species by using it as a reference. There was one time he actually did turn into the sketch, almost exactly, and could barely move. The bone structure was all wrong, and his tail took up more than half his body. She was happy to replace it with a more accurate drawing.

    “How’s Nate doing, anyway?” Eon asked. “I didn’t go to the eighth floor on the way here.”

    “Fine,” Rim said. “Playing.”

    “With the kids? That’s good. I was worried they’d scare each other.”

    “Mm. No.”

    Eon nodded, but then sat against the foot of his bed, sighing. Rim watched Eon, but then wobbled closer and hopped onto his chest.

    “Wh—Rim!” Eon said. His form shrank and fur sprouted all over his scales. Rim pressed against his furry chest, pulling him as close as she could.

    “It’s okay.”

    Eon flinched; their cheeks touched. But after a long pause, he relaxed, wrapping his tiny arms around her the best he could. Rim did the same. And in that quiet silence, Eon’s form slowly shifted again. Fur shrank and hardened to scales, and Rim went from embracing an Espurr to merely hanging on to the belly of a synthetic Charizard.

    Rim rubbed her tiny nose against Eon.

    “He said,” Eon started, “that… the other parents raised him longer. He doesn’t want to come back. All of that time we spent together…” His claws shook. “I lost him. I… I lost him…!”

    “No,” Rim said softly, nuzzling his chest. “It’s okay…”

    Eon was shaking, rubbing his eyes. He didn’t want Rim to look at him, and she honored his wishes, but she still remained on top, embracing his chest as well as her tiny arms could.

    Someone knocked on their door.

    “That must be Hecto,” Eon choked. He took in a sharp breath, wiped his eyes, and sat up. “Rim, could you get him?”

    “Mn.” The Espurr wobbled to the door and pressed her paw on it. The tenth of a Zygarde stepped in, nodding.

    “How is he?” Eon asked.

    “You will need to specify.”

    “Who do you think?!” Eon snapped, digging a claw into his own chest.

    “Hm. I do not know. I do not have a copy stationed on Emily’s island. You never considered it a priority, due to her… condition. However, with one of Nevren’s communicators, I was able to at least overhear their conversations. They are playing a word game while Amia and Jerry heal.”

    Eon’s claws ground against one another.

    “I would also recommend,” Hecto said, “giving up your power, and abandoning your—”

    “Yes, yes, as you always say,” Eon growled. “Remember that I only allow you here to keep me updated, Minion of Star.”

    “I am not her minion,” Hecto said. His expression did not change. “I am her mate.”

    “She only keeps you around because you can survey the world like she can’t.

    Hecto’s right paw twitched. Nothing else moved.

    Rim shifted uncomfortably.

    “Why do you want me here?” Hecto asked. “You never allow me to the tenth floor. Nate’s spirits torment me on the eighth. They do not understand personal space. I have no doubts that some of the southern rumors of the Abyss are true.”

    “Have they said anything about surrendering?” Eon asked.

    “The notion was dismissed silently,” Hecto said. “There was not any discussion on the matter.”

    “Of course there wasn’t,” Eon growled. “That will be all, Hecto. Thank you.”

    Hecto remained where he stood.

    “I said thank you,” Eon said.

    “I am not Star’s minion.”

    Fine, you’re her happy-go-lucky toy-mate, is that better?”

    Hecto stared for a while, but then turned around, leaving. Once the door closed—and Rim confirmed that his aura was leaving for the warp to higher floors—Eon walked toward his desk and pulled open a drawer. He grabbed a single badge, slightly different from the communicators that Nevren had given Star’s group. He pressed on the button and waited.

    “Hello?” Nevren said. “Eon, this isn’t the best time.”

    “Call it off.”

    “What?”

    “Call it off.”

    Nevren was quiet. “Eon, now is truly not a good time. I’m in Hot Spot Cave. Everybody is around. I was barely able to get time to myself.”

    “Did you already perform Plan D?”

    “Yes. I can’t stop it now.”

    “Then don’t move any further. Just… how far have you gone?”

    “Anam has been rewritten, but he can break free at any time if I’m not careful. It’s a very perilous position, Eon. You know I can’t hold it for very long.”

    “Well—how long can you hold him there?”

    “Why must I wait? Owen and the others will be here soon. I can—”

    “Do not,” Eon said. “That is an order.”

    “And when Anam ultimately breaks loose and kills me?” Nevren asked, his tone still as idle as if he was talking about sunny weather.

    “How—how much time do you have?”

    “Well, if I’m very diligent, I imagine I can make this last indefinitely. But a more realistic scenario is that I will make a mistake after a few weeks.”

    “Then—then wait until… wait until then,” Eon said.

    “Really, just wait?” Nevren asked. “That’s your plan?”

    “I’ll think of something.”

    “Is this about Owen, again?” Nevren asked. “Honestly, Eon, if you miss him that much, I could easily make another. And this time, I will make it so he does not care that he is a replacement.”

    “You know that’s not the same thing,” Eon said.

    “What would be the difference? Some fabricated memories here, the same flaws and emotions there, give him a name, and you have Owen. I’ll even try to reproduce memories about the old days—"

    “IT’S NOT THE SAME,” Eon roared. “I WANT HIM BACK!” Eon slammed the communicator on the desk, resulting in the table, and then the concrete beneath it, to shatter. The communicator lay in the rubble, still functional.

    “You know it isn’t the same, and you know that it doesn’t work. I was an idiot to even think to do that, and now they’ve run off, too. I want Owen back. I want my partner back, Nevren. I know you can’t relate to that, but… but if you do anything to him, I’ll… I’ll kill you. And no amount of luck from that charm of yours is going to stop me.”

    Eon tremored. The Charizard glared at the rubble, focusing on the communicator as if Nevren would somehow be able to see his glare. He waited for a reply.

    “Very well,” Nevren said. “I will give you time to win Owen back. But do not blame me if my hand is forced. I will, however, give it an honest effort. Are we in agreement?”

    It took a long while for Eon to reply. “Fine.”

    The communication ended with a light tap. Rim stared at Eon for a while longer. She had never seen him last in the same form, without looking at it, for so long. And in Eon’s eyes, Rim saw the same determined light that Owen had.

    But there was no way Owen was going to happily see Eon again at this rate, and especially not if Nevren was going to have to unleash Anam before Plan D came falling apart. There had to be some way to… ah!

    “Um…”

    Eon glanced at her.

    “I have… an idea.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  10. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 52 – Reunion

    “We’re back!”

    “Owen’s back!” Willow cheered, skittering across the caverns to hop onto Owen’s head, using his lowered hand as a boost. By now, the gesture had become a small ritual for the Charizard and Joltik. “How’d it go?”

    “Uhhh… I mean, could’ve gone better,” Owen said, motioning behind him to the others. “Jerry couldn’t get healed. Emily’s power couldn’t get rid of the melting property, but she was able to enhance his Stable Scarf. Now it’s a Stabilize Scarf. Star made up the name again.”

    “What’s the difference?” Willow asked.

    Owen hummed thoughtfully. “Well, my version kept Jerry the way he was when he puts it on. Emily’s version brings him back to normal if he accidentally takes it off for a little while.”

    “Yeah, that’s the property I felt from it,” Star confirmed. The transparent Mew floated around Manny. “How’re you holding up, Jerry?”

    “Never better,” the Aerodactyl growled. “What do you think? I’m still stuck with you lunatics. I was starting to warm up to the idea of indentured service again compared to this—”

    “What Jerry means is, he’s glad that he can hang out with us for a lot longer.” Star gave Jerry a sweet smile.

    Jerry glared, clenching his jaw.

    The Mew went on. “Until we get strong enough to counter Ghrelle’s Mystic power, that’s how it has to be. Isn’t that right, Jerry? I guess we’ll have to find a way for you to be useful until then.”

    “Oh, I’ll show you useful,” Jerry said, beating his wings.

    “Oh, oh! I know!” Anam’s voice sang from his building to their left. The Goodra waddled outside with his bag lodged partway into his chest. “Let’s make him a Provisionary Heart!”

    Whatever fire Jerry had to lash out against Star extinguished instantly, freezing him in place.

    Anam dug through his chest, as if searching around for something. Not finding it there, he dug into his thighs. “Ah!” He pulled out a small, gold emblem, a bit different than the one thousand full-fledged Heart Badges in circulation, and handed it to Jerry.

    He stared at it, the only sign that he wasn’t a statue being his blinking eyes.

    “What’s wrong?” Anam asked. “It’s not as strong as normal Badges, but it’ll help you! They’re only good for warping yourself out of trouble, and it only goes to Kilo Village, but if you go with a fellow Heart that has a real Badge, you’ll be able to go on assignments really easily!”

    Anam held his hands out again, but his horn-feelers twitched nervously. He pushed his arms a bit closer until the Provisionary Badge was mere inches away from Jerry’s face.

    Finally, Jerry showed signs of movement, but it wasn’t toward Anam. Instead, his eyes transitioned from disbelief into distrust. “Why?”

    “Why?” Anam repeated. “W-well… because!” He pushed the Badge even closer.

    “No,” Jerry said again. “Why? Why do you think I should get one? After all… you put me in jail.” His mouth twisted into a smirk. “You wouldn’t want something like me representing your army, do you?”

    Anam’s smile briefly faltered, his cheerful eyes transitioning into desperation. Owen, on the sidelines, didn’t know what to add. He opened his mouth, but all he could get out was a soft, “Um…”

    Owen regretted making noise at all. Jerry flashed a glare at him that made his flame shrink to half its size; then, he looked back at Anam. “They arrested me. I hurt others and stole their stuff. Still want to give that to me?”

    For just a moment, Anam’s hands drew back, but then he pressed forward again. “Y-yes! You’re a Provisionary Heart now. Congratulations!”

    Jerry still didn’t grab it. Instead, his glare redoubled. “Why?”

    “Because… because anybody can become a Heart eventually.”

    “Even me, an outlaw?”

    “Yes!”

    A bit of slime from Anam’s hand dripped on the ground with a soft plop. Only then did Owen realize how dead silent Hot Spot had become; even ADAM’s typical buzzing had silenced itself, or perhaps he was too far away. Owen had a feeling that Jerry had a thousand things to say to Anam, yet he sensed a bit of fear in his body language, too. It was in his wings, like he wanted to fly away. Owen unconsciously flexed his own, slowly, and glanced at Zena. She was busy biting her lower lip, looking between the Goodra and Aerodactyl.

    “Where’s James?” Zena mumbled to Owen. “Anam needs someone to mediate…”

    Owen wasn’t sure, either.

    But then, finally—and perhaps only to get him away—Jerry reached out and grabbed it, wincing at the slime that squished between it and his claws. “Thanks,” he hissed.

    Anam nodded, but then spun around, quick to walk back into his home. Owen didn’t need Perception to see that Anam was just trying to avoid further confrontation. He then glanced at Jerry, seeing another mixture of emotions in his face. Some of it was relief, perhaps… but he had a feeling what Jerry was thinking, because the stray thought had crossed his mind, too. What kind of leader was he, barely able to handle someone that didn’t agree with him?

    Owen shook his head of the thought. Anam was a wonderful leader—he was a peacekeeper.

    Jerry shuffled off to claim a home for himself, muttering something about where he could go. But then he said, “But they’re all dead, right? Figure the spirits that used to live here don’t need a home. Hmph. I’ll pick whatever.”

    With Jerry gone, and after a long day and night of activity, there was an unspoken agreement among the Hot Spot inhabitants to disband to relax for a while. For Owen, that meant giving Zena a little glance and jerking his head, offering for her to follow him to his parents’ place. The Milotic gladly followed, wondering if they were going to play another game of marbles.

    “Mew, that was awkward,” Owen mumbled. Zena nodded, lowering her head a bit while she traveled so they were at eye level.

    “Can you stop doing that?” Star mumbled, rubbing her ears. Following as one of Manny’s spirits—and with Manny a bit further away, now—she was barely tangible.

    “Huh? What?” Owen asked.

    “Using my name when you say something. Y’mind not?”

    “Oh—sorry. Is that… sacrilegious or something?” Owen asked. “Sorry. Before all this Guardian stuff happened, I didn’t exactly read the Book of Mew or the Book of Arceus, so… you know.”

    “You didn’t complain much about it before,” Zena said. “Is it disrespectful?”

    “No, it’s not that. It’s just you guys have been doing it a lot more often lately, and I figure I’m gonna have to deal with it a lot longer, so, yeah. Don’t do it as much.”

    “How come? Not—not to offend or anything, but, is it a tradition, or respect, or…?”

    “You really think I care about stuff like that?” Star said. “No. Any time someone refers to me by name like that, I hear them. In my head. You’re supposed to call me for a prayer, yeah? And then I hear it. But if you make a reference to me in that way, while I’m here, I kinda hear it double-time. With my ears and my spirit. And there’s a weird delay, so it’s like you’ve got a super-echo. Messes with my brain.”

    “Oh,” Owen winced. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”

    “It’s fine. Now y’do. I’m gonna go and tell the others now, because I think everyone’s been doing that.” And then, with only a brief pause, she stared at the Charizard. “Are you fine, Owen?”

    “Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m okay.”

    “Are you sure?” Star pressed. “Eon didn’t get to you, did he?”

    Owen hesitated for a split-second too long. “He didn’t.”

    Star crossed her arms.

    “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?” Owen said. “I already told him I’m not interested. Mom and Dad raised me for centuries! I’m not gonna throw that all away just to go back with my first Dad.” He stared at the ground. That wasn’t what bothered him. No, it did—but what bothered him more was how Eon spoke of Star. He already had shaky doubts about the Mew, and now this? And there were still… stray thoughts. His memories from that day in Quartz to now felt scrambled, but he had a new nugget of doubt in his mind, too. All over again, it felt like he was missing more of himself. The more he gained, the more it felt like he knew nothing.

    But Star relented. “Good, Owen. Eon’s… twisted. I’m sorry, but he’s lost it. He’s not the same person you used to know. Okay?”

    Owen’s claws scratched against his arm’s scales. “What do you mean that he’s lost it?”

    “Him trying to get you back has become an obsession. That’s really all there is to it. I don’t think it’s very healthy, and you don’t really want someone with that kind of temperament with all that power, alright?”

    Sounds familiar, Owen thought on reflex, but nodded. “Yeah, I understand. He’s… he definitely shouldn’t—yeah. I already knew that, so don’t worry.”

    Star glanced at Zena. The Milotic replied with a nod. Star replied in turn, and then floated back to the main square.

    When she was gone, Zena glanced at Owen. “Not the right temperament, hm? Sounds familiar.”

    Owen smiled a bit too quickly. He hid it and made a hasty glance at Star, but she was already flying into Willow’s tiny home.

    “Hm. There she goes,” Zena said. “Owen, would you like to, perhaps… read a book together?”

    “Oh,” Owen said, nodding. “That sounds fine.”

    Zena brightened, slithering after him. “What will we be reading today, Owen?”

    “Uhh, what did we read before?” he asked nervously.

    “You don’t remember?” Zena asked.

    “Sorry,” Owen said. “I met you before my last reset, right? Everything is… kinda scrambled still. I’m sorting through it.”

    They entered his parents’ home. Amia wasn’t present, and therefore his father. Owen headed to his room and stepped over his bed, digging through an alcove in the back, which held his stash of books in their latest editions. All in the Rawst paper format, of course.

    Zena gulped, shrinking. “Of course. I understand. Well, we read a book about Scarves, and other Dungeon equipment. Do you remember that?”

    “A little,” Owen said, rubbing his left horn thoughtfully. “Mrrgh, I can barely remember getting the Grass Orb, Zena. Did I meet you before or after that?”

    “Well, after. You ran away as a Charmeleon, and you went into my caverns to talk to someone you knew was in a similar situation. A Guardian that was sealed away. You were upset that your parents and your idols lied to you.” The Milotic slithered closer, leaning over his shoulder to get a look at what book the Charizard was choosing. She was careful to avoid the flame at the end of his tail; while Owen’s flame was much colder than the typical flame in his state, if he got too excited, that wouldn’t be the case.

    “Feels like a really long time ago,” Owen said. “A lifetime ago. Literally. It’s like… every time I got reset, it’s just a new life that I live. Reincarnated, with that life and all its memories just… blended up. It feels… distant. Not… me, now. Sometimes I wonder if there’s something even further back than my first memories. Crazy to think about… I wonder if that’s what actual reincarnation is—hey, do you think Star does that?”

    Zena blinked. “Owen, let’s focus. I don’t think Star does that, or she’d probably mention it… But you don’t remember talking to me for the first time? Meeting me?”

    Owen shook his head, but stopped midway. “Well, actually,” he amended, “I kinda do. I remember… yeah. Yeah, I kinda remember. I remember I saw… something I really liked. And I felt really bad, too. I remember those feelings, you know? And then, remember when you first moved in? We made that little lake for you in your place, and…” Owen rubbed his head. “I think I remember that.”

    “Did you enjoy that?” Zena asked. “Did you enjoy being around me?”

    “Oh, totally,” Owen nodded, pulling out a thick book from the alcove near his bed. Survival Guide: Equipment Synergy for Maximum Effectiveness, Fifth Edition. “I love when we talk.”

    Zena immediately perked up. “You do?”

    “Yeah.” He glanced back, tilting his head. “Hey, your muscles did that thing again. So, you’re happy? I’m really sorry I keep asking, uh, you know. I’m still learning the serpentine body. I hope I wasn’t like this before I reset, too.”

    “Of course I’m happy, Owen,” Zena said, giggling. “So, you love being with me?”

    “Yeah,” Owen said. “You’re a nice friend. Everyone is. I love talking to all—uh, most of the folks here.” Owen blinked, looking back. “Zena? Your muscles got weird again.”

    “Oh, I—” Zena gulped. “It must be your imagination.”

    “Seemed more like your muscles did the exact opposite thing.”

    “No, no, it’s nothing like that,” Zena said. “Please, let’s read.”

    Owen stared uneasily. “Did I say something wrong?”

    Zena tried to hide her wince, but Owen’s worried eyes forced the words out of her. “Do you truly not remember anything?” Zena asked. “Anything at all from the last time you reset? What about after that? When you fully evolved, and remembered your first life?”

    “Well, I’m sure I remember some of that,” Owen said, nodding. “After I fused with Gahi for the first time, though, I think I got scrambled again. But only halfway. So, all that’s kinda blurry, too.” Owen shifted uncomfortably. “Sorry. At this point, I’m just taking things one moment at a time. It’s hard to think back to specific times. I just have… flashes.” He nodded. “I guess I can’t remember you too clearly, ha…. But it’s probably fine, right? We can still do stuff now!”

    She tensed, wishing she had fists to clench. “Why don’t we just get to reading?”

    “Um—sure, Zena, but can we talk for a second?”

    “No, reading is just fine. Reading with you is all I—”

    “Hey, Owen?” Demitri called.

    Owen turned back to see the mutant Haxorus and behemoth Meganium at the entryway. Gahi was standing behind them both, trying to lean over their hulking forms in annoyance. His slimmer body allowed him to weave between them, but not much further.

    “We’re going to Trina’s,” Demitri continued. “Want to come?”

    “Trina’s? The Bug Guardian? The, uh, what was she again?”

    “Serperior. We want to see her,” Demitri said.

    “Yeah, I dunno, they’re really bent on seeing her fer some reason,” Gahi said. “So, y’coming?”

    “Owen and I were going to be reading a book together,” Zena said curtly. “Do you need him with you? Why don’t you take Rhys?”

    Demitri and Mispy winced slightly. “He’s coming anyway,” the Haxorus said.

    “Insisted,” the Meganium clarified.

    “Then you’ll be fine. Owen, would you like to read?”

    Owen glanced at Zena. “I mean, yeah, I was kinda looking forward to reading,” he admitted. “But Trina has a bunch of mutants, too, just like us. Maybe we can win her over if we go?”

    Mispy looked at Zena curiously, but then glanced at Demitri. Gahi, who had lost interest in the conversation, wandered into the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards for no reason. He didn’t even look inside any of the ones he opened.

    Owen sighed, shutting the book. “I guess I should go.”

    “Wait,” Zena said. “Could I come, too?”

    “You?” Owen said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Water Guardian, Bug Guardian, but a Serperior… that’s sorta tricky. I think it’d be better if we brought Mom instead. Fire Guard—oh, no, but Psychic, versus Bug…” He sighed. “Okay, let’s rethink that. Valle? No, he’s still kinda weak. Anam? No, he’ll probably rub Trina the wrong way. She’s regal, right?”

    “Kinda,” Demitri said. “Do you want us to go looking around and see what everyone says?”

    “Are we even fighting?” Mispy pointed out.

    “Oh, yeah,” Demitri said. “I guess that’s true.”

    “Well,” Zena said, “if you’re planning, then I suppose I’ll just go for the time being.” Her throat briefly closed around itself. After a pause, she found her voice again. “Excuse me.” She attempted to slither past Mispy, but she was just too large. She had to instead struggle over her vines, tumbling over once she got past most of her. Mispy tried to slide out of the way, but Amia’s home, despite being equipped for Owen’s father’s Magmortar body, was still not large enough to accommodate Mispy’s bulk.

    Once Zena finally escaped, she headed straight for her home, passing by the Gardevoir and Magmortar in question.

    “Oh—what a party!” Amia said.

    Demitri and Mispy looked back and jumped. “A-Amia? New look?”

    The green Gardevoir waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, don’t worry. It’s temporary. I’ll be back to my usual blue soon. I just need to recover a little more. I think my spirit is a bit on the weak side right now. Star told me to conserve my energy. Er, but more importantly, is Zena okay?”

    Owen perked up. “What’s wrong with her? I know something’s wrong, but I can’t figure out what.”

    Mispy stared at Owen. Her wide eyes and seconds of stillness suggested she needed to make sure that he was being serious. “Really?”

    “Yes!” Owen said. “Look, I’m really good at body language, just not her body language. When was the last time I’ve been with someone without arms or legs, you know? …Mispy, what, uh, what’s with the…?”

    Mispy’s vines twitched irritably.

    Demitri spoke up, “I actually kinda thought you two had some tension or something going on. Like maybe you were arguing?”

    “Arguing? No! Why would we be arguing? We were just about to read a book together, but then this stuff came up.”

    “She asked to come with you,” Demitri said.

    “Yeah, but I dunno if that would’ve been the best idea, y’know?”

    “Why?” Mispy asked.

    “Well, Serperior is Grass, and she’s the Water Guardian. It doesn’t really work out all that well, I think.”

    Amia put a hand to her mouth, but then nearly put them together over her chest as if in prayer. “Oh, Owen, honey.”

    Alex mumbled something to Amia and started to walk away, but Amia held him on the shoulder and shook her head. She yelped at the heat of the fire on his body, quickly waving her hand.

    Alex jumped. “A-are you okay?”

    “Y-yes, I’m fine, dear. I’m sorry. Goodness, I forgot what it’s like to feel burned.”

    “Eh? What’s wrong?” Gahi asked, finally finished opening every single cupboard of the home.

    Demitri rubbed the back of his head. “You really don’t notice it, Owen?” he asked. “I thought you were supposed to be the smart one. Did your head get scrambled that badly?”

    “I—I’m smart,” Owen said. “And I’m perceptive.”

    Mispy brought a vine forward, prodding his chest angrily. “Body-perceptive,” she said, and then ran a vine to the lethally-sized nonfiction in his hand. “Book-smart.”

    Owen blinked. “And combat-smart!”

    “And nothing else.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?!”

    Mispy snorted, but then jerked her head at Demitri. He nodded and backed out of the home. Mispy suddenly reached out with her vines, wrapping around Owen’s body.

    “Uh—”

    She tugged Owen forward and turned around, sliding out of the home. Zena’s abode was diagonal to Owen’s, just across one of the cavern halls. In only thirty seconds, with Owen trying to get into a better position along the way, resigned to his fate, they stopped in front of the Milotic’s little alcove. She tossed the Charizard inside and turned around, grumbling something to Demitri, who nodded. Gahi listened, too, looking just surprised enough to pay attention.

    Zena was staring into her lake when Owen had arrived. It was completely dark in her home, so the light that Owen’s tail introduced was enough to get her attention even before Mispy tossed him inside.

    “Uff—” Owen grunted, rubbing his head. “Rude!” he shouted at Mispy. But then he turned ahead and looked at Zena. She had turned around, coiled tightly around herself. “Hey—I’m sorry.”

    “Sorry?” She brought one of her ribbons to her face to scratch at an itch below her eyes. “What do you mean?”

    “Yeah. I’m sorry. I think I said something that offended you.” Owen gave a quick little bow. “Look, there’s—there’s something wrong with my head, you know that, right? Between being designed as a weapon, and how everything beyond a few weeks ago is a total fog, except for my very first life, and then just in general me relying too much on my Perception, I think I’m interpreting what I’m reading off of you wrong. So, I just wanted to say, I’m sorry. If I offended you with something anti-Milotic, or anything.”

    Zena stared in silence. Her eyes were wide, but her jaw was tense.

    “See,” Owen said. “I don’t know what that means. I just don’t. I never read—or, I don’t remember reading—any books about how Milotic or other Pokémon like you react on a muscular level to things. I don’t know if I’m making you madder or if I’m helping. Maybe Mispy’s right. I’m designed to be good at Perception and combat, and I’ve got the smarts from the academic side, but I guess I just—”

    “Owen,” Zena finally said.

    “Y-yes!” Owen nodded.

    “You don’t know how I feel?” she said. “You can read my body, but you don’t know what it’s saying?”

    “Pretty much,” Owen said. He drooped his wings. “I know it sounds really discriminatory and stuff, but I feel like I’m looking at you in the dark. Or that I can recite something in a secret code, but I don’t know what the code’s actually saying.”

    “I see,” Zena said, nodding. She took a slow breath. Her stance returned to its more dignified, steady gaze. “Then I just have to tell you. Is that it?”

    “Until I get better. I—I promise, I’ll get better!”

    Zena nodded. “I’m sure you will, Owen.”

    “Oh, Mew, just kiss already!” Gahi groaned.

    “Hey!” Star yelled from across the cave.

    Zena tensed, as did Owen. “W-wait, you…” It was Owen’s turn to tense up. “You… like me? As in—”

    “Owen,” the Milotic said. “When you come back from Trina’s home, I would… like to have dinner with you. The two of us.”

    This time, Gahi was silent—as was, it seemed, the rest of the cave. It didn’t last; Enet and Willow got into some sort of spat, screeching while tossing Moonblasts and Thunderbolts at one another.

    Tuning it out, the Charizard found his voice. “You? Me? Me?

    “Of course you, Owen!” Zena said, halfway between exasperated and relieved. “What else would it be?!”

    “But—why? Wait. That’s what you’ve been feeling?” Owen slapped a palm to the side of his head. “I thought you figured I was a nutcase! I mean, with the whole thing with me killing Klent, and the crazy battle-mode headspace—I still get chest pains if I don’t get a good fight in, I—”

    “That doesn’t matter,” Zena said. “That’s your instincts, but they aren’t you. They aren’t the Owen I know…” She shook her head. “That was the one that I saw in my lake. The one who talked to me, and… who cared about me. Who spent all that time you could’ve spent with anyone else! You…” Zena looked at him again, and then laughed, staring at the flame on his tail. “Owen! You—you lit up my life!”

    The Charizard stood still. His flame—the only source of light in Zena’s dark home—flickered into a bright yellow. Then, it settled back to its cooler orange.

    The memories that followed were vague, but powerful. Sitting at the lake. Scrambling back and seeing her for the first time. The fear she felt. The loneliness. And then, the desperation to run away. Seeing Rhys for the first time—the one who had tried to kill her. The betrayal upon hearing Star’s revelations, and her involvement with the Hunters. The reason for all that suffering.

    Owen didn’t know what to do with his arms. He ended up fiddling with his claws, as he always did. “I didn’t think you’d think of me that way,” he admitted. “I mean, look at me. I—”

    “Enough, Owen. H-how do you feel about me?”

    The Charizard gulped. “W-well,” he said, fidgeting. “I… that, uh, I…”

    Zena waited, holding her breath. “Or… or are you more interested in Gahi?”

    Owen blinked. “Uh—wait, what? Where’s that coming from?”

    “Well,” Zena looked away. “Demitri and Mispy are together. And you and Gahi… fused together, and you seemed pretty happy about it. I was just wondering if…”

    “Oh, no, no, nothing like that,” Owen said. “I mean—Gahi’s nice, but… that’s all. Can’t really imagine having a romantic dinner with him without it blowing up in our faces.”

    “Hey, what’s that supposed ter mean?”

    Zena hesitantly asked, “So, if Gahi is just a friend, then by comparison, I…?”

    The Charizard poked a claw from each paw together. “I always… liked talking with you, and reading stuff, and training, and all that. But, I still feel like we barely know each other.”

    “I feel like I know you quite well,” Zena insisted.

    “You don’t have broken memories,” Owen replied. “I… I’m sorry, Zena. I don’t remember a lot of it. I don’t remember a lot of… anything. And if I can’t even do that…!”

    Owen was starting to understand how a serpent’s body reacted to despair.

    “But,” he amended, “I want to know you more. I want to… recover my memories. Because I know they’re there. And it’s… ugh.” Owen rubbed his head. “I just hate that I can’t remember what you’re remembering right now! So… so if you can deal with that, then…”

    “Then… then it’s a yes?”

    “To—”

    “To dinner. It—it doesn’t have to be anything grand, just—just so we can talk. This way, you—”

    “Yes.”

    It was delayed, but following a second of silence, Zena let out a sound that was a mixture of a sigh and a laugh, and Owen learned what it meant for a Milotic to feel an emotion that he couldn’t find the word for. “I’ll hold you to it,” she said with a disarmed smile. But then, Zena cleared her throat and straightened her upper body. “Well,” she said. “You should get going, hm? To Trina’s.”

    “Yeah,” Owen nodded. “…Hey, wait a second.” He looked Zena over. “You!”

    “A-ah?”

    “You’d be perfect for Trina! You’re—all dignified, at least, that’s how you present yourself, right?”

    “Well—is that not how a Milotic should be? Graceful?”

    “I mean, I guess. I prefer when you’re just relaxed. But this would be great for Trina!”

    Zena blushed. “Oh, I’m—wait, so you’d like me to come with you?”

    “Yeah! Definitely. I should’ve thought about it earlier. It’ll be Team Alloy, and then you, and I guess Rhys.” Owen shook his head. “Aside from Mom, it’d be kinda like right before we went off to get Willow, Valle, and ADAM, huh?”

    Zena giggled. “Yes. But we should be careful. From what Rhys and the others have said, Trina sounds quite… mm. I don’t know the word.”

    “She sounds like someone you need to show respect, or she’ll make you show it,” Owen said. “Okay. Let’s see if anybody else is interested.”

    They quickly gathered everyone up. Owen pressed on why Demitri and Mispy were so eager to leave, but all he got in reply was that they were curious about Ax and Ani—their doppelgangers. That got Owen curious about Har, presumably a fellow Charizard. Gahi seemed indifferent about meeting Lygo, his own counterpart, but for one reason or another, the Flygon stuck around. It wasn’t every day they got to go as the full Team Alloy, after all.

    “Don’t say that,” Demitri mumbled to Owen.

    “What? Team Alloy? But it’s so cool! It—”

    “Nevren made it up because we’re an alloy.”

    Owen winced, but decided to drop the subject. “Okay.”

    Most of the others seemed uninterested in meeting Trina. In particular, when they asked Manny if he wished to join them, he only laughed. For a while. He didn’t stop. Instead, he kept practicing summoning someone that he called his ‘true’ strongest spirit.

    When asking Azu, who had been standing nearby, who Manny’s true strongest spirit was, he only replied, “Ha HA! While I am among the strongest spirits in the real world, our Guardian has other spirits he can only dream to make tangible! Doll, Elbee, and the greatest spirit, Master Yen, have yet to arrive!”

    All the while, Manny kept laughing quietly to the notion of seeing Trina again. They left him alone.

    It ended up being their team of seven—the Alloy, Rhys—and Elder, who insisted to accompany Rhys—and Zena. With them gathered in the center of Hot Spot, Rhys and Mispy used their Badges to warp them to Trina’s abode, having set a custom waypoint there the day before. In an instant, they went from the cooling corridors of Hot Spot into the white, elaborate caverns of Trina’s web-made labyrinth.

    Owen needed a moment to adjust to the new environment, blinking at the dim, white web all over. He shuffled his weight, feeling the silk under his feet.

    “So,” Trina said, her voice deep and soothing. “You’ve come, right on time, as promised.”

    “W-wow,” Owen said, marveling at the great, silken chamber. He tapped into his Perception, taking full advantage of how much he could extend his senses into the main room. He felt the thick layer of web beneath and around him. Trina, the Serperior, was behind them, by the opposite side of the wall.

    What unnerved Owen was the many cocoons that lined the walls. In every single one, he felt the presence of a body, wrapped up and sealed away. Some were struggling. Others were resting peacefully. A few were awake and listening. Owen shivered. Most of them felt like they weren’t normal Pokémon. Synthetics, like him? Was this their fate?

    He retreated his awareness back into his body, sighing. “This place is creepy,” he mumbled, turning around to address Trina with the others. “Oh.”

    He was so overwhelmed by the many bodies sealed in cocoons that he hadn’t noticed the ones that stood beside the Bug Guardian. It was like staring into a mirror.

    Har, Lygo, Ax, and Ani all stood in front of their queen, in the exact same formation as Owen, Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy.

    “I thought it would only be appropriate to introduce you to one another.”

    Har was, scale for scale, a complete replica of him. The Grass Guardian gulped, raising a hand to wave.

    Har smirked in reply, giving a noncommittal wave at Owen in return. “Hey.”

    He sounded exactly like Owen.

    “Hey…” Owen returned the gesture with an uneasy wave. “Um… Har, right?”

    “Yep.” He flared his wings boastfully. “Nice to meet you, Prototype.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
    Majespectre likes this.
  11. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 53 – Similarly Different

    Being called a prototype was new. Owen knew it was true, but there was something about actually hearing the word spoken by what was literally an improved version of himself that hurt more than he had expected.

    “Har, that was very rude,” Trina said. Her eyes were closed and her head was up. “You will apologize.”

    Har crossed his arms. “I only said the truth. I still owe him a lot.”

    “Can’t you see how offended he looks?” Trina asked, motioning with a vine toward Owen.

    In response, the prototype Charizard flinched. “I’m not offended.”

    “But you are a bad liar,” Trina said. “That’s ironic, coming from someone meant to be aware of all forms of body language.”

    “You don’t say,” Zena mumbled.

    Owen glanced pleadingly at Zena; she returned his gaze with an apologetic smile.

    Rhys cleared his throat. “Well, we have arrived, as promised. It is the morning after our first visit. Have you made a decision on whether you would like to come with us to Hot Spot Cave?”

    Elder waved nervously at Trina, figuring he’d at least try to be useful during this conversation. He was so used to trying—and failing—to convince Guardians to give up their power that he didn’t know what to do with himself when that wasn’t his task.

    “I have come to a decision,” Trina said, “on how I will determine whether I will accompany you there.”

    “Yeah? And what’s that?” Owen asked. “W-we have to fight them, don’t we?”

    Trina gave Owen a wry smile. “That’s very interesting of you to say,” she said. “Is that what you feel would be the most appropriate?”

    Owen fidgeted with his claws. “I mean, what else would it be, right?” he said. “I bet our copies like to fight just as much as we do. And even if that’s how we were supposed to be designed, I mean…”

    Demitri and Mispy both looked at one another. Owen looked back.

    “Hm?” Trina said. “Is something bothering you two?”

    Demitri flicked his tail, avoiding anyone’s eyes, even Mispy’s. “Well, a little,” the Haxorus said. “You told us… that we should be proud of what we are. But I don’t get how we can.” He tapped his left claws against his right arm. “That’s why we wanted to come here again. Mispy and I don’t… get what you mean.”

    “Hmm.” Trina adjusted her coils. “I see. Because you believe that you have no control over your fates. Is that it?”

    Demitri rubbed at his right tusk, pulling it out of its socket and snapping it back in. “I guess so,” he said. “Is that it, Mispy?”

    Mispy shrugged, unsure herself. “I feel…” But she couldn’t finish.

    “Lost?” Trina asked.

    Demitri and Mispy shook their heads. “Not lost,” they both said.

    Owen saw Trina’s eyes widen imperceptibly, but she masked it an instant later.

    “Then you must feel cheated.”

    They shook their heads again.

    “I think I get it,” Gahi spoke up.

    “Yeah,” Owen said, nodding. “I think I know what they’re feeling.”

    “What is it, Owen?” Zena asked. “Is it… that you don’t know how you are?”

    “It’s a little bit of that,” Owen said, glancing at Rhys. “But it’s more like… I think Demitri and Mispy feel guilty when they feel good about something. Remember back when I talked to Brandon, and he said that my whole cleverness thing was just part of my design?”

    The Lucario nodded. “Yes. I remember. You were quite hurt.”

    “Oh.” Zena looked down, contemplative. “Is it because… you felt that a part of you that you felt was you… was just what someone wanted you to be?”

    Owen sighed, giving a sad, yet relieved, grin. “Exactly. It’s like a part of who I ‘decided’ I was, turned out to… not be my decision.”

    Trina chuckled. “None of us decide who we are.” She motioned to the ceiling with a vine. “Not me, not your teacher, perhaps not even the gods themselves.” She closed her eyes, nodding slowly.

    Team Alloy all exchanged glances.

    She went on. “Even I did not determine who I am myself. I was born alone and taken in by my brother and mother. I was shaped by my instincts and then polished by their upbringing. Are you not the same? The only difference is that while I was designed by the ancient hand of nature, you were designed by the careful thought of a father.” Trina looked at the four of them. “We are not very different. And in the end, were you not happy?”

    This seemed like a speech Trina gave often, how rehearsed it felt. Did she tell this to all of her artificial followers? Owen had to admit, it did feel reassuring, in a strange way…

    “Happy? I mean—of course!” Demitri perked up. “We were happy before we started actually thinking about what we were. We were—stupid.”

    “Stupid?”

    “Yeah,” Owen went on after Demitri hesitated to answer. “I think what they mean is, before, they didn’t know anything about themselves. So, of course they were happy. Ignorance is bliss, I guess? But,”—he turned around to face them—“don’t you guys get it?” He waited, but when they didn’t respond, he continued. “I dunno about us being the same like Trina’s saying, but we still get to choose what we like about us, and what we want to change about ourselves.”

    “But is that our choice?” Demitri said. “What we like and what we don’t?”

    “I mean, kinda chipping scales at that point,” Owen said, rubbing the top of his head. “C’mon, can’t you cut me a break? The fact that you feel bad about fighting means you still get to choose!”

    “B-but we want to fight.”

    “Then that’s your choice.”

    “But then it’s what we’re designed to do!”

    Owen shrugged, but kept his tone assertive. “So then, you’re saying you don’t have a choice but to not fight?”

    “No, I—” Demitri blinked. He stared at his hands thoughtfully, squinting as if the answer was somewhere in his palms. “What?”

    “If you’re saying you were designed to fight, then if you wanted to fight your design, you’d have no choice but to not fight. So, either way, you don’t have a choice. Fighting is following your design, and not fighting is going against it, because it was your design.”

    Mispy squinted at Owen, grumbling. “Book smart…”

    “I ain’t got a clue what yer saying,” Gahi told Owen flatly. “Say it in an easy way.”

    Trina chuckled. “He’s right, Owen. You should try to simplify it for your team.”

    “Uhh—” Owen sighed. “Rhys? Help me out?”

    “I do not have a right to tell them how to think on this matter,” Rhys said solemnly.

    “Okay, but can you at least translate me?! Elder?”

    “Oho… I’m afraid I am slightly lost myself, Owen.”

    “Owen means,” Zena said, drawing Team Alloy’s attention, “that your choice is whether or not you want to follow this part of your instincts, and when.”

    “My choice… is to make a choice?” Demitri said.

    “No,” Zena urged, leaning forward. “Your choice is that you get to decide when to fight, and when not to. Just as we all do.” She looked up at the webbed ceiling. “I believe I understand what Trina is saying. We all have those choices. Which one will you make?”

    Demitri and Mispy looked at one another.

    “And you know,” Owen said, “I don’t think it’s just that. I know that you guys want to fight. I do, too. It’s just in our blood, right? But you know what makes it better for me?”

    “What?” the other three asked.

    “It’s not just fighting. And I dunno if it ever was for a while. Sure, that’s part of the fun. But—” Owen dug through the bag wrapped around his neck and pulled out his Badge. “We choose who we fight, and what we fight for,” he said. “Eon wanted us to fight for him. But we don’t have to. We fight for the world.” Owen tapped the Badge to his chest. “C’mon, you know the chant! With me, say it! A thousand hands, a single heart, working and beating as one.”

    Zena tilted her head, but Owen had an expectant look in his eyes.

    Demitri sighed, clasping his claws together. “Unite the lands, from worlds apart, until our battles are done.”

    Owen beamed and finished, “We serve Kilo and all its parts—under one name: The Thousand Hearts!”

    Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi looked at Owen, entranced. They looked at his Badge, then at his chest, and then at his eyes. A bit of Owen’s light seemed to shine in his team, flashes of a grin on all three of them.

    “You’re lame.” Gahi beat his wing toward Owen, letting out a single snort to disguise a laugh.

    Mispy looked at a few of her vines, wrapping them around stray strands of silk. “We choose… who to fight for.”

    Trina smiled slightly but then gave a short nod to Har and his team. “Then, do you choose to fight for your Guardians?” Trina said. “Depending on how this battle goes, I will decide on whether I shall join your cause or not. I would like to take you all to the sparring arena.”

    Owen looked at the three of them. “Well?”

    They all nodded.

    “You guys should cheer us on,” Owen said to Rhys, Elder, and Zena.

    The Serperior slithered further into the caverns, where only the dim glow of the Mystic-enhanced web led the way through.

    “Who we fight for…” Demitri looked at Owen. “I never really thought about it like that, but, that’s how we do it, huh?”

    Owen nodded. “Seems that way to me, at least,” he said. “Feeling better?”

    “A little.” The Haxorus relaxed a bit. “Actually, no. A lot. I feel a lot better if it means we can fight for the people we care about.”

    Mispy nodded. “Like you,” she said to Owen.

    “M-me?” he said. “But you’re Team Alloy’s leader, aren’t you?”

    Mispy giggled. “Officially.”

    Owen let out a nervous laugh, but then Zena gave him a gentle headbutt. “Owen, I think it was unspoken a while ago that you became the Alloy’s leader. You give direction. You evolved first.”

    Gahi snorted.

    “And,” Zena went on, “I think there’s something about you, Owen, that they look up to. You feel a lot like the eldest sibling, in a way.”

    Owen rubbed the back of his neck. “Aw, well, I guess if you guys need coordinating, I’m pretty good at the brainy stuff.”

    “So modest,” Mispy mocked.

    “H-hey, look! I’m just trying to take the compliment!”

    They all laughed; even Rhys broke a small smirk. Har, Lygo, Ani, and Ax continued their walk alongside Trina, not breaking their marching pace, though they did grin at one another, too. Har’s claws twitched briefly, but he shook his head right after, catching Owen’s attention. He decided not to say anything.

    A long, though lighthearted, silence filled the air for a while. The labyrinth muted their steps and echoes were next to impossible thanks to the layout of the walls. Owen briefly worried that his tail might set the web on fire. “Hey, Har?”

    “Yeah?”

    “How do you not set this place on fire when you sleep?”

    “I sleep on a Rawst bed.”

    “Oh, you too, huh?”

    “Everything else, I’m just careful. The fire isn’t as hot as we make it out to be. Especially if you aren’t in a battle or anything. I think there’s an aura component so it’s not so bad. Ethereal, y’know?”

    “I thought that!” Owen said. “Maybe with some focus, I can make it just a warm flame, too. That’d be nice.”

    “Yeah. Why d’you ask?” Har asked. “Afraid of burning someone?”

    “U-uh,” Owen glanced at Zena. “I was just wondering.” He eyed the webbing again, realizing that there was no light source aside from their flames. “Say,” Owen remarked, “how come all this Mystic stuff is usually bluish?”

    “Hm? Oh, that is merely the default color of aura,” Trina said. “I believe that was a creative choice by Star.”

    “Of course,” Owen said, sighing.

    “Is that why the sky’s blue?” Gahi asked.

    “No, Gahi,” Owen said. “The sky is blue because of the way different frequencies of light—”

    “Oh, great,” Ani said, rolling her eyes, “he’s a brainy one, too.”

    “Hmph!” Har flicked his tail up. “I bet I’m smarter. Since I get more books and stuff, I probably know way more than he knows just from raw knowledge alone.”

    “Oh yeah?” Owen said, tail blazing yellow. “How big is your book collection?”

    “I,” Har said, “have the latest edition of ten different books on biology and botany, and I’m subscribed to Pokémon Physiology, so I’m getting new content every full moon.”

    Gahi squinted. “How d’you even get something like that all the way here?”

    “The more normal-looking ones of our Queen’s kingdom go in town,” Har said, shrugging. “They pass. Like Ax. As long as he doesn’t pull his tusks out, he looks mostly normal.”

    Demitri and Ax exchanged glances. The prototype Haxorus waved shyly. The upgraded Haxorus looked ahead with a shrug.

    Owen smirked. “Well, I,” he said, “have the latest edition of every Dungeon Exploration textbook in all of Kilo!”

    “So, what, all four?” Har said.

    “Th-they’re very expensive!” Owen said. “I—I also have a collection on Pokémon physiology, and even the eighth edition of The Unabridged Encyclopedia of Pokémon Species.

    “W-wait, there’s an eighth?” Har suddenly perked up.

    “Yeah, it came out really recently,” Owen said. “Did you get it yet?” He couldn’t hide the smug lilt in his voice.

    Har shrank, but then looked at Trina pleadingly.

    The Serperior sighed. “I will put it on the list.”

    They continued with their walk. Gahi eyed Lygo, sizing him up. They really were identical in appearance. “So, what makes y’ better than me?” Gahi said. “Yer Owen said prototype, so, what? What’s the improved stuff? Faster?”

    “No, nothing like that,” Lygo said, shaking his head. “And what’s with your accent? Did you hit your head in your incubation chamber or something?”

    “Oy, this accent’s awesome! I picked it up from someone I ran into a long time ago.”

    “You mean the other Lucario? The dumb one?”

    “Yes,” Rhys said, “it was Fighting Guardian Manny who influenced Gahi’s accent. He ran away out of curiosity for the outside world. Unfortunately, he was still in a very impressionable, malleable state, so to speak.”

    “Oh, so he didn’t develop properly,” Lygo said. “Makes sense.”

    “You asking fer a fight?” Gahi growled.

    “I mean, that’s what we’re about to do.”

    “I think the accent is quite cute,” Trina commented. “It’s a shame it’s attached to such a crass individual.”

    “Hey, I ain’t crass!” Gahi said. “That’s Owen’s deal!”

    “Crass, Gahi. Not Grass,” Rhys said.

    “And I meant the thick-headed Lucario,” Trina clarified. “You, Gahi, I know little of.”

    “Oh,” Gahi said. “Hmph. Well, I ain’t gonna call it cute, either. It’s cool.”

    Trina chuckled. “I see. I will take your word for it, Gahi. Now then, to answer your question on Lygo’s improvements, it is actually not very much. The original Alloy prototypes were actually already close to what Eon considered optimal. Their largest flaws—that is, the instability you experience upon fusing together—were already fixed by you manually, is that correct?”

    “A-actually, we’re still working on that,” Owen said.

    “Hm? Oh, so you can’t fuse together?”

    “No, we can,” Owen said. He motioned to Mispy. “I fused with her once or twice, and I fused with him, too,” he motioned to Gahi, “but we’re still practicing.”

    “We fused,” Demitri added, patting Mispy’s side.

    “Hm, I see. That is wise. If that’s the case, I won’t have my four battle you as an Alloy. Instead, they will fight individually. I don’t want the sight of your Alloy form triggering any unstable memories.”

    “Thank you,” Rhys and Owen both said.

    Trina quickened her pace and said to the others, “I would like to introduce our guests to the sparring arena. The web here is particularly tough and can weather some of the strongest attacks that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing from my subjects, one being from Ax.”

    The Haxorus proudly held his hips with his muscular arms—or at least tried to.

    The webbing here wasn’t sticky, but the walls were still thick, white, malleable. Owen could tell that they would bounce against any sort of impact. The ground looked like a miniature desert of white silk, complete with lumpy dunes. Owen tested this by knocking a knuckle against it. It wobbled stiffly. Demitri glanced at Trina, but before he could ask his question, she said, “Please, test it out for yourself.”

    Demitri nodded and rammed into the wall with all his might. He sank an entire body length inside, the wall of silk bending in a gentle curve with the mutant Haxorus at the center. It then bounced him back with an equal amount of force. Rhys quickly manifested an aura shield to slow Demitri down, narrowly avoiding his huge body flattening him.

    “Urgh—th-thanks,” Demitri said, getting back to his feet with the aura shield dissipating. “That’s really strong. Did you, er… make this?” he asked Trina.

    She nodded. “Yes. It’s quite useful, I think.”

    Demitri shifted nervously, and Owen could practically feel the words dancing at the tip of the muscular mutant’s tongue. “Where did it come fr—”

    Mispy smacked Demitri on the shoulder, sighing. “Will we fight?”

    Trina smiled wryly. “Of course.”

    “Oh, actually, uh, so if you guys aren’t going to fuse together, I guess that means I can’t use my Grass or Mystic powers, either, huh?” Owen said. “That way, it’ll be an even m—”

    “That won’t be necessary,” Trina said. “Your counterparts will be able to handle that Mystic power without issue.”

    Owen did his best not to keep his fiery pride from getting the better of him. After Jerry, he knew to be open to an idea of a non-Mystic gaining an advantage. “Oh, yeah? How come?” he asked innocuously.

    “Mutant auras were designed with Mystics in mind,” Trina said. “Tell me, Owen. Have you fought a mortal before?”

    “Y-yeah, I have.”

    “How well did it go?”

    “It, uh, depends,” he said. “The first time I fought him, he was kinda on the weak side, and he couldn’t hurt me even if he tried and I just stood still. But the second time I fought him, a little later, he—he actually was a real challenge! So, it was a tough fight against him, that second time, yeah.”

    “He lost,” Mispy clarified.

    Thanks.”

    Mispy smirked at Owen’s glare. Owen didn’t need to read her body to know what she wanted to say. ‘Just keeping you in check.’

    “I see. And this was the same person. What was the difference between those two fights, Owen?” Trina asked. “Yes, he was weaker in your first encounter, but I doubt that alone would have been enough to make you go from invincibility to losing. Based on how you explained it to me, I imagine it was just as unexpected for you. Overconfidence, perhaps, contributed? And then you panicked, further dampening your Mystic power. It was only a sparring match, so you had little to prove. That, too, dampens your Mystic power.”

    “Yeah,” Owen said. “My heart wasn’t really in it. I wasn’t fighting to survive or anything, and I kinda wanted to be gentle. But when he got that first hit on me… I don’t know. Something changed.”

    “Changed with whom?” Trina asked.

    “With him, er—Jerry, is his name. When Jerry attacked, and he actually hurt me, I felt the whole atmosphere change when I fought him. Not… not the air, but the…”

    “The aura atmosphere, perhaps?” Trina said.

    “Y-yeah! Kinda! It was just a feeling, like when a Mystic really exerts their power, and you kinda feel that… that burning feeling. I kinda felt that, but not. Not a burning. More like… I felt like my own aura was thinner. Or something?”

    Trina nodded. “I know what you are describing.”

    “Star said it was because Jerry’s own willpower grabbed hold of my Mystic radiance, and for as long as he fought me, he made it his own, too. So, he matched my power… with my own power.”

    “Used his willpower?” Trina asked with an amused shine in her serpentine eyes. “Is that how the Mew describes it? How cute. I suppose in an abstract sense, that is what happens. Mystics distort reality; strong spirits can reject the Mystic’s distortions. I call it the Mystic Backlash. Whatever happened to Jerry, he must have been particularly motivated to undo some of your Mystic boon.” Trina motioned to her iteration of Team Alloy. “Recent mutants are naturally able to negate this to an extent, hence why they are so dangerous to Guardians.”

    “…Recent?”

    “Yes,” Trina nodded. “Unfortunately, very early iterations of mutants did not have this property. Therefore, your models, as the pioneers, are not capable of this. Not by instinct, at least.”

    “Oh.” Owen shifted his weight.

    “But that makes for a good opportunity, don’t you think?” Trina said. “Now we can compare the effects. Ax and Demitri have similar strengths. Why don’t we have both of them attempt to punch through my Mystic barrier? Or perhaps slice, with those axes of yours? Ahh, that would be a good idea.” Trina nodded. “Ax, why don’t you throw one of your tusks my way? Then we can use Demitri’s lack of natural Backlash as a comparison.”

    “Is that really necessary…?” Demitri’s shoulders slumped. “We get it, you guys are better. I’m not even in the mood to fight anymore…”

    Trina stared at Demitri at his last statement, blinking. “Excuse me?”

    “I just…” Demitri shrugged. “You keep implying that your Alloy is better than us. And, y’know, it’s true, isn’t it? So… what’s the point? I’m just not in the mood to fight anymore.”

    Trina and Ax exchanged dumbfounded glances. The Bug Guardian cleared her throat, regaining her regal composure. “Well, if you… ‘don’t feel like fighting,’ I suppose just this demonstration will do.”

    Ax and the others deflated exaggeratedly.

    Fine,” Ax said. “I’ll go first, alright?” He brought his right hand to his tusk and pulled. With a gentle click, the tusk detached, a bit longer than expected for how deep it went into his head. The handle was large enough for Ax to comfortably hold. He made a few practice swings to make sure he would get a good throw.

    Zena slithered around Owen, inspecting his horns closely.

    “Uh—Zena?” Owen said. “D’you need something?”

    “Is any part of you detachable?”

    “Uhh—no, I think that’s just a Demitri thing.”

    “And a Gahi thing,” Zena said.

    “Oh, right,” Owen said, but then felt Zena wrapping her ribbons around his right horn. “Uh—Z-Zena?”

    Click.

    Zena stopped moving, as if she was staring at something. “…Oh.”

    “Wh-what? What happened?” Owen said, bringing his hand up. “I f-feel weird. Like I just closed one eye. H-hello?” He felt at his right horn, but it simply wasn’t there. Instead, he felt an odd groove where it should have gone, and a strange emptiness overtook his senses. “P-please put it back on.”

    “S-sorry.”

    With a series of clicks, the horn snapped back in place.

    Owen sighed, relieved. “I don’t think I’m supposed to take those off.”

    “Why in the world is that even…?”

    Har tilted his head, running a hand along the back of his horns, giving them a light tug. “I can’t do that,” he said. “I think that’s a prototype thing.”

    “I guess that means Mispy’s the only one who can’t—”

    Mispy, out of her own curiosity, wrapped one of her vines around another, giving it a light tug. It popped right off, moving on its own, writhing like the vine that resided in Owen’s stomach in his Grassy form.

    Owen never felt more like a freak than at that moment.

    Mispy put the vine back in its place, though unlike the others, it seemed like Mispy just partially reabsorbed it. It wasn’t something that simply snapped in place—her body was much more malleable, and must simply grow and stick to whatever gets placed inside.

    This didn’t help Owen’s feelings.

    “Okay,” the freak of a Charizard said, shaking his head. “You know what? I don’t even care. My horns detach. I give up. Demitri? Let’s just let Trina do her… her whatever.” Owen plopped down on the ground with a resigned thud, wrapping his tail around to his front. He sighed. “How strong do you think your throw will be, Demitri?”

    “Well, I dunno,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt Trina.”

    “There won’t be any need to worry about that,” Trina said. “Now, Ax. Would you mind?”

    “Okay.” Ax brought his left foot back, then his right arm up, holding the ax above his head. He tilted his head uncertainly and switched his stance—left arm up, right foot back, and nodded, feeling more confident with this angle. Trina brought two vines forward from behind her shoulders.

    Ax threw his ax at full force; it made a quiet whistle through the air for its split-second travel across the arena, but then hit a barrier midway through. For the sake of visuals, Trina made this barrier visible as a dim, white wall. While the ax was slowed down somewhat by the approach, like moving through thick air, it still pierced the barrier, going to Trina at a quarter of its original speed. She deftly moved back and grabbed the ax by the handle with her vine, a mere foot away from her chest.

    “Very good, Ax,” Trina said, lobbing the ax back to him in a gentle arc. He grabbed it in midair, inspecting the handle. Satisfied with its condition, he slid it back into his face, clicking it secure.

    “Your turn, Demitri,” Owen said.

    “Rrgh… I don’t like that she’s just doing this to demonstrate another thing we don’t have,” he said to Owen. “Do I have to? Let’s just take her word for it. That barrier looked thick, and the other me, he still went through it easier than I’d expect. It reminds me of trying to break through Rhys’ aura shields, but stronger. Mine are just gonna bounce off.”

    “Well, then throw it as hard as you can,” Owen said, holding his fist to his chest. “I bet if you really give it your all, you’ll make Trina flinch. I bet you’ll even pierce through the barrier and make her catch it! Imagine the surprised look on her face!” Owen didn’t believe his own words, but a toothy grin shined through anyway.

    Demitri cracked a smile. “You really think so?”

    Owen didn’t. But he nodded enthusiastically. “Definitely. I bet you’ll at least make her flinch. Just try! Remember, you’re a Heart. You never work half-heartedly. Think of this as a mission!” He clenched his fists and tried to motivate the irritated Haxorus as much as he could.

    “Okay, okay, fine,” he said, giving Mispy a confident smile next. “As a Heart, I have to give it my all.” Then, he walked away from the group, over an odd lump in the arena where the webbing clumped together for some terrain variety, and then over to where Ax had been standing for his throw.

    “Are you ready?” Trina asked.

    Owen nibbled on his tongue nervously. Even though they all knew Demitri didn’t have the inherent Backlash property, Trina was demonstrating her habit of taking every battle seriously. Owen felt a pang of self-consciousness at this. He should probably make a habit of that, too, so he didn’t get caught off guard by someone like Jerry again.

    Demitri got into a similar position as Ax, though he seemed more comfortable using his right hand to throw. He leaned back, looking at Trina. “I’m ready.”

    “Very good. Throw.”

    Demitri swung and threw in the same way that Ax had. It whistled in the air—Demitri’s throw was just a bit faster than Ax’s, perhaps just because he happened to get a better swing, or just by simple luck. The actual difference wasn’t very much.

    In another instant, the ax flew at the barrier. It didn’t slow down nearly as much, either; the ax smashed through the barrier, distorting the light around it.

    Zena and Owen both gasped; Rhys opened his eyes, having been watching the exchange by aura.

    Trina’s eyes widened imperceptibly. She twisted her second vine forward to catch the rapidly spinning ax. The blade sliced cleanly through the first vine. The second vine wrapped around the handle, but it was still moving with such force and speed that it slipped out of her grip.

    While the webbed arena didn’t allow for much of an echo, everyone heard the loud, dull thud of the ax hitting the Serperior in the chest and the sharp crack of a rib or two breaking where it hit. And for a few seconds of shocked pause, Trina stared down at the ax sticking inside of her, straight into her heart.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
    Majespectre likes this.
  12. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Good grief, was the last time I reviewed in MAY? Ugh, that's ridiculous. Time to fix that. So, this review will cover chapters 44-50. I don't know if I'll hit everything in that span (my memory of the more recent ones is certainly stronger) but I'll try to at least mention everything that jumped out at me.

    So, my favorite chapter out of this chunk was the special episode, by far. Going with decay as the theme for the ghost element was brilliant, and the descriptions of that rot taking its toll on anyone crossing the fen was horrible and visceral in all the best ways. I dunno if it's the desensitizing nature of fiction or what, but gaping, bleeding wounds are nothing compared to the "ogod what" of liquefying flesh and skin falling off. The line that really hit me was the bit where Nevren was mid-convo with Mispy and suddenly she just... happened to be a corpse, and it was like "what what what what." Great stuff.

    One thing that's been jumping out at me--in SE4, but also in general--the fic has been really pushing lately just how powerful and important Anam is. And I mean, really important—beyond just being a Guardian and also leading the Thousand Hearts. Granted, he's also a Divine Dragon, so he had a strand of Arceus's power even before getting the orb (guessing he got it from his mother?) I went back and checked all mentions of the Divine Dragons, and I'd forgotten that both Arceus and Star had a group of them. But still, I feel like there's more to it than that. The fic has been very insistent on this. Maybe learning more about his mother will fill in the pieces.

    Anyway, that brings me to Nevren. It was first revealed that Nevren is still working with Eon quiiiite a while back. iirc, it was just Rim showing up while Nevren was working and him casually discussing some plans with her? (Just checked, chapter 29). At the time, I remember being like, “Oh. Um. Okay, I guess this is a thing?” Then nothing happens with it for a dozen or so chapters until we suddenly see Nevren’s subconscious influence plan with Anam coming into fruition. But it didn’t really pack much of a punch because we already knew he was trying to control Anam, and it was revealed in such a casual way. Imagine how chilling it would be if Nevren had suddenly, and without warning, taken control of Anam and we’re left like, “wtfffffff.” And then immediately after that, we get SE4, where it’s shown that Nevren has been building toward this since before the schism even happened. (Curious if Rhys knew that Nevren was doing that with Anam back then.)

    Now, I understand that I’m biased, and I usually don’t like being privy to info that the characters don’t have, as it takes away from the suspense. But I’m okay with what we’ve got now—where we’ve seen Nevren’s plan in motion even though the other characters don’t know about it yet. I just don’t think that earlier reveal added much. Unless there was some critical info present that can’t possibly be moved, I’d consider cutting that scene.

    In any case, moving on to the big confrontation with Eon! I must admit, I was rather caught off guard by his attempt to win Owen back after what he did the last time they met. I mean from what we saw in SE3, he obviously cared about Team Alloy. And now in his most recent appearance, he’s acting like he still does care about them and wants them to come back. Despite the fact that during their previous encounter he callously put both Owen and Gahi through extreme suffering with basically zero remorse?? After that, I was ready to say, “right, so, guess he doesn’t give a crap about them anymore.” But the way the recent encounter is framed, it doesn’t seem like he’s lying about claiming to still care about them. Also that line about Rhys torturing them by resetting them is extra “???” because they had to be reset even back when they were still at Quartz (before Rhys defected) and clearly being reset was for their own personal benefit.

    So like, I know we’re supposed to sympathize with him now, but after him pulling that stunt, I’m just like “yeah, go get bent.” You don’t get to torture your kids and then be all like “why don’t they wanna come home with me?? ;__;” and the fact that he even thinks they’d want to come home after that is almost insulting. Owen and Gahi really should’ve been more pissed about that.

    Also, I know we’re not supposed to agree with Arceus, but like, giving huge chunks of his power to mortals and just making them promise not to hold more than one orb really doesn’t feel all that objectionable. :p But Star also doesn’t appear to want to use the orbs for power or anything, she’s just gathering them so no one else can do it (allegedly, anyhow). It kind of feels like this entire conflict is composed of a bunch of sides opposing each other on principle despite the fact that it doesn’t seem all that bad if any of them got the orbs. (Aside from Eon I guess. Though is it because of what he plans to do with the orbs, or the fact that his method of getting the orbs is… murdery?)

    In general, at this point, I really don’t mind if anyone gets the orbs and kinda just want to see what will happen. :V

    In any case, Amia going all rage on Eon was freakin’ cool and I am 100% in the “Amia did nothing wrong” club. But on the flip side, Jerry is my favorite character, and I love him getting rightfully pissed off at everyone suggesting that he deserves his lot in life on account of not having the right mindset or whatever. Really enjoyed the conversation that the two of them had inside Emily.

    I think that’s everything! Should be able to read the latest three chapters soon enough, just wanted to get all these thoughts out there first.

    ~Chibi~
     
  13. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 54 – Lend a Hand

    Demitri screamed, frantically waving his arms. “AAAAAAAAHHH, I’M SO SORRY!” He rushed toward Trina with heavy steps, tripping over the lumpy terrain. Ani was much faster, gliding over the web with ease, and inspected the ax lodged inside Trina.

    “Is—is she okay?!” Demitri asked with shaky breaths.

    “Of course I’m okay,” Trina growled, blood dribbling out of her mouth. “How did you”—She coughed blood, staining some of the web crimson—“do that?!”

    Ani tugged the ax away with one vine, blasting Trina with healing energy at the same time. One of her vines melted away, and Trina’s chest was back to normal. The Serperior wiped away the remaining blood on her mouth with her one good vine. The other slowly regrew.

    “I—I don’t know!” Demitri winced at the blood, making useless motions toward the ground as if he could will the red away. “I th-thought I just, uhh… I just threw! Like normal! I mean, I guess I was a little fired up—m-maybe I did what Jerry did, and got so fired up that I did a Backlash on accident? Owen’s really motivational, s-so…”

    “Willpower alone isn’t enough for that sort of Backlash. I don’t know who this Jerry is, but he sounds like he got lucky against Owen’s hubris. I doubt that sort of battle will be replicated now that the young Guardian learned his lesson.” The Serperior slithered closer to Demitri, handing him his ax, but then circled around him, inspecting his body.

    Mispy glared.

    “What is this?” Trina muttered, closing her eyes. “Your aura… for just a second, I saw…”

    “Y-yeah?” Demitri said. “I know it looks a little weird. The others told me that it was because I don’t have any ancestry and stuff, since I was created artificially. Rhys has the same sort of thing! Except just Star as a direct ancestor since, uh, she created their auras or something?”

    “It was more or less a symbolic gesture,” Rhys muttered.

    Demitri uneasily put his tusk back in his face, clicking it inside. Then, he looked at Trina, who was still inspecting his body. “Hey, so, uh—”

    “Hush.”

    Trina placed a vine at the center of Demitri’s spine. “Can you do me a favor, Demitri?”

    Mispy growled, vines curling and uncurling. “Vines off…”

    “It will only be for a moment, Mispy,” Trina said to the territorial Meganium. “I won’t hurt him. I merely want to examine something about his aura.”

    Mispy snorted, sinking lower with her vines writhing irritably. She watched Trina carefully for any sign of her trying to hurt the Haxorus.

    “Now, Demitri. Do you know how to draw into your own aura, by any chance? Has Mispy taught you anything about this, or perhaps Rhys?”

    “You mean meditate?”

    “Yes. May you do that for a moment?” Trina asked.

    “Sure.” Demitri closed his eyes. The Haxorus eased his breathing, wobbling where he stood until he planted his rump firmly on the ground, shaking the web. Trina readjusted her vines to be at the center of his spine again.

    “…Hn!” Trina tapped Demitri’s back and he straightened completely upright. Two tendrils of white light burst harmlessly from his chest, right near the center, just below the ribs.

    Demitri gasped raggedly. “Wh-what—”

    Mispy lunged at Trina; it required both Trina’s and Rhys’ barriers to keep her from ripping the Serperior apart.

    “Hold!” Trina said firmly. “Demitri is just fine! Speak.”

    “Y-yeah, I’m fine,” Demitri wheezed. “What’s—?”

    “It’s just what I had suspected,” Trina said, slithering until she was in front of him. “Hm, two… Interesting.”

    “Uhh—help?” Demitri said. “I feel weird. Help? Stop?”

    “I apologize,” Trina said, nodding. “Focus on the two Hands and pull them inward, please.”

    “What? How?” Demitri said.

    Trina sighed. “Just relax. It will happen eventually. Then, you will learn the feeling, and it will happen on its own.” She slithered away, approaching Mispy next. “May you meditate?”

    “No.”

    “Mispy,” Rhys said, “Trina is only trying to help. I’d like to see this as well.”

    Demitri poked at the two tendrils sticking out of his chest. “They’re kinda warm,” he said, grasping one. He felt something, yet he didn’t at the same time. His hand passed through, yet it still felt like part of him was holding onto it. The strange dual-sensation was too much and he jerked his hand away, and it felt normal again. “That’s weird.”

    “Can I do that…?” Owen looked at his chest.

    “I just want to see how many Hands you have,” Trina said to Mispy.

    “Many,” Mispy said curtly. She raised ten of her vines, shaking them threateningly toward Trina. The Serperior was unfazed.

    “You know what I mean,” Trina said. “Please. Let me see.”

    Mispy growled, but then turned her head away. “Fine.”

    Trina slithered closer and asked Mispy to do the same things as Demitri. First, she closed her eyes. Then, she meditated, and Trina tapped at the side of Mispy’s body—she was too large to easily reach the spine. On the opposite side, three tendrils of light burst out. “Three…”

    Mispy used a few of her vines to knock and jiggle at the three tendrils that floated in the air. Gusts of wind had no effect on their gentle flow, though trying to touch them did make them move. Mispy tried grasping it with a vine, but when she did, the vine fell down, limp—as if she’d lost feeling in it for the moment that it had held it too tightly. The feeling returned seconds later.

    Trina looked at Owen. “I’ve never… seen this happen before. I didn’t think it would happen, but, well, the evidence is right before us.” She pointed with a vine at the five tendrils in total. “It appears that Owen’s Mystic power was partially transferred to the rest of the Alloy. Owen, you mentioned that you fused with the others before.” She slithered toward Gahi, gesturing for him to start meditating. Gahi reluctantly obeyed, sitting down with his tail coiled in front of his slender body.

    “Yeah, I did,” Owen said. “I fused with Gahi a few days ago. We kinda went crazy… but after that, we stabilized, thanks to, er, Emily. Long story. But yeah, we fused. Oh—and later on, I fused with Mispy, too. W-wait, are you saying—when I fused with them, they—they took some of the Grass Orb with them?! I thought it was, uh, just one unit!”

    “I did, too,” Trina said. “And yet, here we are.”

    “Does that mean we can summon spirits, too?” Demitri asked. “What about—uh—what about the whole thing with, wait, hang on,” He rubbed his head. “How about going to that weird spirit world that Owen talked about? Can we do that? Rhys can. Right?”

    “Yes,” Rhys said, “but it’s not quite a simple task. I thought—”

    “Mispy, you fused with Demitri recently as well,” Trina deduced.

    “Mm.” Mispy nodded.

    “I see. Then that means… Gahi should have ten.”

    She tapped Gahi on the back and—unexpectedly—only seven tendrils of light poured out of Gahi’s chest, each one flowing to some invisible, idle current.

    “Nngk—I’m with Demitri, this feels real weird,” he muttered, grasping one. His hand instantly felt simultaneously numb and warm. “Gah—what is that?!”

    “Stop doing that,” Trina said irritably. “Why are you all obsessed with trying to grasp your Hands? That’s your aura splitting from your body. What you’re seeing is ethereal. When you try to touch it, your aura makes contact, but your body passes through. It’s fine enough if you’re simply knocking against it, but if you hold it from all sides—grasping, as you are—it has nowhere to go, and it simply pushes your aura away from your body. Be careful, or your aura might detach completely.”

    “And then what?”

    “I was never foolish enough to find out.”

    “H-hey, I got mine!” Owen said, holding out his claws. He had four emerging from the palm of each scaly hand. “Just eight, huh? Not that many. That’s just one more than Gahi, right?” He counted the ones from Gahi’s chest. “Yeah, seven.”

    “Mm. That adds up,” Trina said. “Each Orb contains twenty Hands. Owen, when you fused with Gahi, you fused down to the very cores of your beings. Body, mind, aura, and spirit. Since Hands are tied to the link between the aura and spirit, you must have exchanged powers while fusing with one another.” Trina looked between the four as if mapping out the order in which they had fused to make such an arrangement.

    “Wait, but Rhys totally would’ve noticed that!” Demitri said. “Rhys?”

    “I—I certainly would have, if there were spirits within you,” Rhys said. “Or if you were utilizing your Mystic powers—but I suppose… you haven’t done that, since you weren’t aware of it. Until now, when I suppose Owen’s motivational speech was enough to trigger a Mystic reaction out of you, Demitri.”

    “Wait, so they don’t have spirits in them like me?” Owen asked. Worriedly, he closed his eyes. Hey, guys? Are you in there?

    We are, replied Jumpluff Klent. Owen, everybody is accounted for. We didn’t notice anything, either. It’s strange, but… the spirit world seems completely unaffected by the split.

    “Well?” Trina asked Owen.

    “They’re all there,” Owen said. “They didn’t notice a thing—they’re just as surprised as I am. Wait. So—so does that mean when I was fighting Jerry, I was at less than half my Mystic power?”

    “Hmm… No. That’s not necessarily the case. After all, a Hunter, with just one Hand, can kill a Guardian with all twenty of theirs. Though, having more does have an effect, at least on the scope and range of your power.”

    The Serperior then slithered away from them all, sighing irritably. “Well, seeing as you are now Mystic, and managed to learn how to Backlash against my barrier with your willpower, as Star would call it, I suppose my demonstration can’t be done completely.”

    “It’s alright,” Owen said. “Now we just know that more recent Mods can do it, and we kinda can, too, since—”

    “Mods?” Trina repeated.

    “Yeah, uh, modified Pokémon.”

    “I see.”

    “Is—is it a bad title?”

    “Bad, yes. I suppose that’s a good term for it,” she agreed. “You couldn’t have been more creative?”

    “I think Manny was the one who came up with that one,” Demitri recalled.

    “The other Lucario? I’m not surprised,” Trina said.

    “What do you call them?” Owen asked. “Mutants? That’s what most of the world calls them.”

    “Hmph. I suppose I never gave a name for my subjects,” Trina said. “They are all equal to me, regardless of their origins. Is that satisfying?”

    Demitri and Mispy both nodded. “A little,” said the Haxorus. “To be honest, I feel a little better after… you know. Our talk. And stuff. But—” He eyed Ax uneasily. “It’s still weird to see someone exactly like me.”

    “More than Rhys seeing a fellow Lucario?” Trina asked.

    “But they’re completely different. They’re almost opposites! They don’t even fight the same way.”

    “Well, part of that is due to how versatile the Lucario species is. I was more referring to the personalities you share. I can tell that you are quite different.” Trina scanned the eight of them, and then looked to Zena and Rhys. “Hmm… You all seem unconvinced.”

    “He even does that same thing I do,” Demitri said, mirroring Ax’s foot shuffle to shift his weight.

    Trina sighed. “Very well. If you are so unsure, I have a proposal. You have impressed me enough to consider joining your group under Star, as little as I approve of her cowardice. It seems that she is not quite running your group, anyway, so much as she is helping you find more Guardians, is that it?”

    “More or less,” Owen said. “Some of us aren’t really on super good terms with her just yet…” He glanced at Zena, who nodded.

    “Then it is settled,” Trina said. “I will send Har, Lygo, Ani, and Ax with you to your home for a few days. This works well, as I will need that time to mobilize and organize my subjects. Unlike most of you, many of those you see here are still alive, and cannot simply be withdrawn as spirits. Then, when they feel they have enough information for me, they will tell me whether you are worth joining or not. Simultaneously, you will realize the differences you share with your counterparts. Har, I think this will do well for you, too.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Har said.

    “You know what,” Trina said with a wry smile.

    Har growled and crossed his arms, flashing a glare at Owen. The gesture made the prototype flinch—did he do something wrong?

    “Do you have enough of that strange Heart power to warp back to your homes?” Trina asked.

    “Yes,” Rhys said. “I used my Badge to warp us here, but Owen and the others have their own Badges to bring us back. Considering how many of us there are,” he said, “we should use two of our Badges this time.”

    “Right,” Owen said, fishing out his own. Mispy pulled out the next one.

    “Hey, these things gonna go back in yet?” Gahi aside, poking at the seven filaments of light drifting in front of him.

    “In time,” Trina said. “Just relax. As you can see, Demitri’s are almost inside again.”

    Demitri poked at the little nubs sticking out from the center of his ribcage.

    Owen inched over to Har’s half of the team and the rest moved toward Mispy. “Hey, um,” he said, “I’m sorry if I offended you or anything. I’ve kinda been doing that a lot lately.” He glanced awkwardly at Zena. “I—”

    “It’s fine,” Har said. “Not your fault.”

    “Oh. Okay,” Owen said. “But how come Trina said that?”

    Har glanced at Owen, but then at the Serperior, who was leaving the arena to tend to the rest of her subjects. The Charizard sighed. “Because,” he said, “my first name was Owen.”

    He snatched the Badge from Owen’s hand, seeing that he was too stunned to use it, and thrust it in the air, warping them back to Hot Spot Cave.

    <><><> ​

    “Have fun at school, Saffron!” Salazzle Sugar waved her son down the road of cobblestone, just at the base of Kilo Mountain. The little Salandit glanced back just once to return her wave. Sugar sighed, shaking her head. “I hope he passes that test. He studied so hard!”

    A Rampardos next to Sugar shrugged. “It’s just basic math. He knows his multiplication tables; that should be enough.” He gave her a gentle tap with his snout. “Anyway, I have to head to work.”

    “Guess I do, too.” Sugar licked him on the chin. “Big day today?”

    “Every time there’s a mutant attack, there’s a new request for rebuilding. It’s almost a routine.” He hung his head a bit lower. “I know it sounds morbid, but as long as mutants keep damaging outside settlements, I’ll have a job to scheme out the new foundations. Maybe I can convince them to install improved Protect insulation?”

    “You better.” She reached forward for an embrace; Rampardos had to bend down to get to her height. “Okay, see you, Dezz. I’m heading to the shop.”

    With a wave, the pair parted ways, with Sugar heading to the Waypoint just behind. Dezz, meanwhile, headed deeper into the outskirts to find another Waypoint to a ruined town. From the Waypoint, Sugar followed her usual route to her shop, crawling and weaving past the morning crowd of Pokémon. She spotted a few familiar faces along the way: a Marowak sleepwalking her way to the daycare; a Smeargle completely lost in thought; an Incineroar carrying a bag of medical supplies. Soon, she approached her building, pressing her paw against the open entrance. When it passed through without resistance, she blinked, realizing that the barrier to the entryway had already been taken down.

    The only other aura it had been configured to open to was Spice, but… hadn’t she been on an overnight mission? “Spice?”

    “Hey, Sugar,” Spice called from the storage room. “I got everything ready.”

    “You’re back from your mission?”

    “Yeah, it was pretty easy. Labeling it overnight was an overestimate; we found the guy just fine hiding under a boulder.”

    Sugar went past the white countertop and into the supply room; everything—all of their pastries, ingredients, and tools—had all been neatly organized and resupplied. That was usually her morning routine before opening officially. “Spice, how long have you been here?”

    Spice finally tore her eyes away from the last of the supplies. “I’ve been here for a few kiloseconds, I think. It hasn’t been long at all.”

    “But… that’s insane.” Spice looked at the organized shelves. A pile of Oran Berries in a box, arranged neatly in a grid-like format to take up as little space as possible. She searched for any kind of error or oversight, but as far as she could tell, it was almost better than how she did it. “Spice, did you even sleep?”

    “I tried, but I couldn’t. I’m just… not tired.” Spice pat the box of Cheri Berries. “That’s the last of it. I also got all the pastries made from yesterday out and they’re ready to sell. Sorry if you don’t know what to do, now, but…” Spice tittered, looking away. “I had to find something to do.”

    Sugar held Spice’s forehead. It was hot, but that was normal for her Type; it wasn’t blazing. She checked Spice’s eyes, next, but they didn’t appear bloodshot. Still…

    “Have you tried sleeping again? You can’t just stay awake for so long, Spice; this is starting to scare me…”

    “I would if I could, but I’m not tired. I’m not too worried about it.”

    “Maybe you should have that checked? Why don’t you try a Sleep Seed, or—oh, sorry.”

    Spice scowled. “I’d use one if they worked on me.”

    “Y-yeah.”

    Spice unconsciously ran a hand along her scarred chest, the electrical pattern ever-prominent. “Maybe if I shoveled five of them or something. But I don’t see why I should bother. I’m just gonna go on a mission to get rid of this excess energy.”

    “W-wait, Spice, maybe… take a break today,” Sugar said. “What if you suddenly pass out mid-mission?”

    “What am I supposed to do all day?” Spice jabbed the air in front of her. “I have way too much energy to just sit still. I need to do something.”

    Sugar nervously clasped her hands together. “Spice… This is too strange. I’m sorry. This is just like when Mom was worried about you, remember? I just—don’t want anything odd happening. Can’t you just… patrol town instead?”

    Spice grumbled, but her expression softened. “I guess I could do something like that…”

    “Please. Just for today? And maybe go see the hospital if you start feeling strange again, okay?”

    “It’s not like they can help me,” Spice growled, but then turned away. “But… okay. For you, Sis.” She spun around, holding the edge of the exit. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. Alright?”

    “I really just wish you didn’t go on missions. Blessed items barely work on you. You can’t just…”

    “I made it this far.” Spice grinned sadly. “Besides, I… it’s my calling. Anyway, I’m gonna go patrol.”

    “See you,” Sugar said, and she was gone. Alone in the shop, Sugar worriedly bit at her tongue. With old worries resurfacing, the Salazzle tried to focus her mind on whoever would be the customer of the day.

    <><><> ​

    White tiles lined the floor, pressing against concrete walls. Lights filled the ceiling every few paces in the form of little crystals powered by Mystic energy. In a grid-like formation, strange machines surrounded thick, glass cylinders made to hold small Pokémon, no more than two feet in diameter. Some of them were empty. Some of them were filled with a strange, opaque, brownish-red liquid. Others were a clear green, with little figures floating inside.

    Talons clicked against the tile in addition to claws, tail wagging happily. “Huhu… Aw… look at him! He’s a cute one! Lucas, don’t you think he’s cute?” Lavender asked. “…Lucas?”

    Lavender closed his eyes. Chitin coated his body and solidified, and his purple form grew grabber-like appendages from the side of his head. The newly-formed Drapion scuttled along the aisle of cylinders, but he stopped again when he saw one of them catch his eye. “Hi, hi!” he said, pressing his head up against the glass. “Hi! Hi!”

    The strange, partly-grown figure floating in the green, bubbling fluid stared at Lavender. It appeared to be a Tyrunt, but in some strange development cycle, like it lacked an eggshell. No, it had a shell—that was the glass cylinder that surrounded it. The eyes had no lids. Its little, gooey stubs for arms wiggled at Lavender, and Lavender waved his right, massive grabber in reply. The developing Tyrunt grinned and wiggled weakly.

    “You’re cute!” Lavender said. “Can you hear me?”

    Tyrunt stared blankly.

    Lavender clicked his mandibles thoughtfully. “Oh!” He slammed his head against the glass—startling the Tyrunt—and shifted his form again. Thick, green slime coated his shrinking body until he was nothing but a pale blob floating in the slime. The Reuniclus pressed against the wall and thought, Can you understand me?

    And to this, Tyrunt nodded.

    Ooh! That means you must be Reincarnated! Aww, you look cute! Don’t worry! It won’t be long now! He bobbed his body. Hey! Did you see Lucas anywhere?

    Tyrunt shook his head.

    “Aw, okay. I’ll keep looking. See you!”

    Slime evaporated from his expanding body, and he returned to one of his favorite forms, Scolipede. He rolled through the halls—they were thankfully wide enough for him to do so without much of a risk of running into anything—and stopped only when he made it to the other end of the hall. He shifted back to Drapion. “I smell you…” He clicked his mandibles a few times. “Ah!”

    He tumbled forward, back to Scolipede, and went down three aisles. He turned and uncurled, landing with heavy grace on his feet. “Lucas!”

    The Houndoom spun around, panting happily.

    “There you are! I thought I lost you!” Lavender hopped heavily, disturbing a few of the developing mutants. They tried to turn away, glaring. “C’mon, let’s go! We need to find Daddy and make sure he has the stuff for groceries when Auntie goes!”

    Lucas barked and followed Lavender through the aisles.

    “Lucas! Is your Mega form still okay?” Lavender asked, looking back. “Are you feeling angry or crazy yet?”

    Lucas barked.

    “Okay, good,” Lavender said. “Remember! Daddy said if you ever feel upset, you need to go to him right away!”

    The Houndoom emitted a playful growl.

    Out of the lab, they ran through white hallways and turned many corners. Lavender slammed into the wall that had “10” written on it with a heavy THUD. Lucas pranced behind him, tail wagging.

    “Two!” Lavender said.

    The ten became a two. Lavender twirled around and rolled away. Lucas hopped on top of the spinning wheel and used it as a platform, running backward to keep on top. When Lavender turned, Lucas held on tight. They continued rolling along the halls.

    Just in time, Lavender saw two Espurr exit the hall, smiling at one another. “Daddy!” he shouted when his head was at the apex of his roll.

    Rim blinked in horror at the Houndoom riding the rolling Scolipede and vanished. Eon was not so quick. The pair toppled right over him, flattening the Espurr into a pile of pink ooze. He gurgled, shifting into some strange amalgamation of a Scolipede and Houndoom: a purple exoskeleton covered in black fur. A few seconds later, he became just a Scolipede.

    “Sorry, sorry!” Lavender said. “I’m sorry, Daddy!”

    “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Eon grumbled, shrinking down into an Espurr upon searching for Rim, who had disappeared. “I should really look both ways before crossing the street…”

    “Looking both what?”

    “Nothing,” Eon said. “Seeing how rushed you two were,” he said, “I’m guessing you had last minute errands for Auntie Rim?”

    “Yeah!”

    Rim reappeared holding a small notebook. With a bit of Psychic energy, she wrote down Lavender’s exhaustive, long list of trinkets and items. It had everything from a certain flavor of cookie to an exact number of berries to some sort of new toy he heard about. He then said that Lucas probably wanted some treats, to which he barked an affirmative.

    “Did you get all of that, Rim?” Eon mumbled, still on his back, staring at the ceiling, contemplating why Lavender so frequently flattened him in the halls.

    “Mm.”

    “Okay!” Lavender nodded.

    “Lavender,” Eon said, “you’ve been in that Scolipede form for a while. Are you stuck or something?”

    “No! I transformed a lot while in the lab!”

    Eon’s tiny heart skipped a beat. He sat up. “Th-the lab? You didn’t—”

    “I didn’t break anything this time!”

    Eon sighed. “Lavender, please don’t go in there. I know you’re good at movement now, but you can still trip, and it was a huge mess the last time you crashed into the chamber. And the embryos were very upset at you afterward, remember?”

    Lavender shrank down. “Y-yeah, but… but I apologized!”

    “No transforming, and no rolling, in the lab,” Eon said firmly. “Now go back to your base form. I want to make sure you’re still stabilized.”

    Lavender frowned, but then shook his head. “I don’t think I should look like that right now,” he said. “Maybe later.”

    “…Alright. I understand. Now, Rim will come back with everything you asked. You were the last one we needed anyway.”

    Lavender nodded and slammed his front legs on the ground. “Good! I can’t wait!”

    “…And why do you prefer that form so much, Lavender?” Eon asked curiously.

    “I can roll!”

    Eon sighed, rubbing at the massive space between his two eyes. “Fine, fine,” he said. “But I want you to try maintaining a lot of different forms, just in case, okay? Tap into the memory of every one you can.”

    “Hmmm…” Lavender tilted his head thoughtfully. “Okaaaay, I’ll do it later,” he said. “…After I get my toy.”

    “What even is a Five-Cube?”

    “It’s a cube that’s got twenty-five squares on every face and each face has a different color and you have to scramble it up and then you—”

    “Okay, okay, I get it,” Eon sighed, waving dismissively. “Ugh, turn off the Psychic, please.”

    “Ha ha, you know I can’t do that!” Lavender giggled. “Besides, that’s not the Psychic part at all! Stop playing by stereotypes, Daddy!”

    “Oh? What Type was it?”

    “I dunno!”

    “Wh—then how can you know it wasn’t a Psychic?!”

    Lavender giggled. “I dunno! Maybe it just isn’t?”

    Eon held his tiny arms up, trembling with some strange mixture of exasperation and confusion. He rubbed his eyes. “Okay. Okay, Lavvie. Rim. Go to Kilo and get the usual groceries. And… be careful.”

    “Mm.” Rim vanished.

    Eon stared at the empty space where Rim had once been. “…Lavender.”

    “Yeah?”

    “I want you to follow Rim. Keep her safe. And… don’t hurt anybody, either.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
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  14. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Well, keep in mind! It’s totally fine to have morally ambiguous antagonists, but it occasionally veers into me not caring whether the protagonists or the antagonists succeed, which is… a bit weird since I like the characters! And I want to care if they succeed! But it’s hard to when it sometimes feels like it doesn’t matter who gets the orbs. That’s the main conflict, it should definitely matter!

    Eon, you keep trying to get sympathy from me but I have none to give. :\ I don’t even mind if you get the orbs, but you can’t have Owen.

    THANK YOU GAHI. GAHI IS THE READER AVATAR YET AGAIN. xDDD

    Nah, but really, ohhhhh my gooddddd Owen was cringe in this subplot. xD I totally like how his memory loss was deeply upsetting to Zena, and how he had no idea why he was upsetting her. I really like all the confused, conflicted emotions the two felt as a result. But the weird fixation on not being able to read her body language was just… weird! He was able to read her just fine back when they first met and barely knew each other? Where did this come from? I think it’d work just fine if she got upset from totally innocuous-seeming things and he was like “what did i do???” rather than the weird tangent on not being able to read her body language. (And come to think of it, if it was him being hyper-aware of her emotions as a result of his Perception, which he did not fully have back when they were close, and 100% aware of when he's upsetting her and having no friggin clue why, and her being upset that she can't even pretend she's not hurt by it... that would be amazing!)

    So a lot of the Mystic stuff can feel pretty arbitrary and ambiguous, which is why I want to say that I like this bit: because it’s a rather concrete detail that neatly explains why these god-tier characters are even at risk in the first place. (Though I’m not sure why this couldn’t have been revealed sooner? It’s not really a dramatic reveal, and knowing that modern synthetics can reject Mystic power would help with the nebulous stakes that the earlier chapters had.)

    Huh! That’s unexpected. I mean, I’m sure she’ll be fine, but wow.

    Ah, see, this is another example of something done right with Mystic stuff. Their fusion resulting in some of the Hands leaking into the others’ auras makes perfect sense and has a lot of interesting potential.

    Although, something did occur to me. Is this the first time that Mystic power was referred to as being the Hands of Arceus within earshot of the protagonists? (It was first revealed to the reader by Nevren in SE4, right?) Unless I’m totally off-base, in which case, ignore me. But I’d expect a reaction to that, because that’s a pretty big reveal (to them). They were kinda acting like they’ve always known that this is why Mystic power exists.

    That’s another thing that feels weird—why was that reveal kept from the reader until all the way in SE4? It wasn’t a particularly dramatic moment or anything. And revealing that all the disbelief-stretching Mystic powers are caused by a concrete, measurable phenomenon like having one of Arceus’s hands… actually goes a long way toward making Mystic power feel less arbitrary and unnecessary! That's a really good thing!

    (At this point, in an effort to refresh myself on all the stuff I’d forgotten from previous chapters, I went back and skimmed a lot. Mostly plot-heavy ones like 12, 22, 29 and SE3/4. (I do gotta admit, it’s hard to juggle all the bits and pieces of various mysteries when most of them go unanswered for so long.))

    For starters, I’m now reasonably convinced that Star in SE3 was herself and not a spirit projection like we see in the present day. Both because we saw her outright using her hands, and because they talk about her like she’s gone in SE4 (and they don’t have any orbs at that point, so they prooobably can’t summon her?) This seems to imply that some point between SE3 and SE4 was when Star was no longer able to enter the physical realm herself.

    Also, Eon’s HQ is referred to as Quartz but then in SE4 Anam is living in Quartz Crater, which is an entirely different location. Presumably named that by Madeline who (I think) used to be aligned with Star’s group, before leaving them behind for unknown reasons, possibly related to the schism between Mew and Arceus? (Dangit, I’ve been referring to Star turning her back on Eon, and Rhys leaving the hunters as a ‘schism’ as well. This won’t get confusing at all, haha.)

    Also, there’s the very deliberate calling attention to the wraiths in the fen. I mean, those could have just been manifestations of the ghost orb, and would have been perfectly horrifying still. But the fact that you specified that they were wraiths while also not saying anything at all about what that even means (and everyone was shocked by them being there) makes me feel that they’re important in a way that is completely unrelated to the orb.

    Anyway, that’s just random stuff that jumped out at me on a reread.

    ….okay.

    I’ve been wondering something for a while, and now’s as good as any time to bring it up. You were pretty deliberately obvious in calling attention to it here, so here goes nothing: there have been many instances of humanish things coming up in contexts related to Quartz HQ. From manners of speech, to timekeeping, to the technology, the list goes on. I’d already been theorizing for a while that Nevren is a human-turned Pokémon (or at the very least, a Pokémon from the human world), but now I’m beginning to suspect that most, if not all, of the Hunters are. After all, if Star created their bodies/auras who’s to say their souls weren’t pulled from somewhere else?

    Now, we’ve had the existence of humans confirmed for quite some time, with Brandon. There’s also the long-established fact that Kilo is very much not Earth (as opposed to a lot of PMD settings that are an ambiguously post-human-extinction Earth.) So the exact nature of how humans got to Kilo remains yet to be seen, but I have a feeling it will be central to the plot.

    Huh, so Eon is totally fine with having Lavender leave HQ, but Rim was the one who had to do the errands... (Also Rim wasn’t safe? Rim??)

    In any case. Lavender is a shapeshifter. An artificial shapeshifter. One who can embody multiple types when not transformed into a body that has those types. And you’ve deliberately held off on a species...

    ~Chibi~
     
  15. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Hmm, you have a good point there. I think that's a good one to think about; it's generally not a good idea for anybody, perhaps, to get the Orbs, when you think about it. Eon has already demonstrated the lengths he'd go to in order to get what he wants. He already plays god; if he actually becomes god... What would that mean if someone wrongs him again? And then there's Star--she's being a bit dubious at this point, though she also seems to not really have any desire to get the Orbs so much as she wants to prevent others from getting it. Barky, well, he's been nice lately... but similar to Eon, if someone wrongs him, he gets pretty wrathful. Who's left...? It seems like there's a big catch-22 on what happens with the Orbs.

    ...I'm not sure if that makes things better or worse from your perspective, but maybe I can find a way to contextualize this in way that the real question here--the main plot--isn't really, "Who should get the Orbs / who will get the Orbs" so much as the plot is, "What's supposed to be done with all this power?"

    I dunno... it's hard for me to get into the major plot shift right now. The Orbs are part of it, but there's more to it. And I'm having trouble articulating it.

    Maybe I could have done a better job at tying this back! Because you leaned in it here. The reason Owen had a better job at reading Zena in the past compared to now is because he had less information. Owen's so overwhelmed by his Perceive that he's trying to mechanically decipher everything he sees, and Zena's body language is foreign to him. When he was just a Charmeleon with dulled Perceive, his social side filled in the blanks and he inferred more correctly how she felt. But current-Owen, whose memories are largely scrambled at any point before the first fusion with Gahi, has simultaneously less and more to go by. Less context, and way more immediate information... leading to useless readings.

    Thankfully, it seems that things are getting better.

    Part of it is because nobody thought to explain it. They just accepted via demonstration that mutants are dangerous to Mystics. I guess, if I went back to rewrite it, I could have perhaps alluded to this earlier... but because this is a central part of the scene, I don't think I can fix it and have this just be mentioned earlier.

    Similar to the above, and similar to a statement I had earlier, this was sort of something that I wish I could have dropped earlier. Part of the reason why I held back was because the implied title drop would happen too early, and the other is, well, I guess I couldn't find a good place to have it happen? I suppose I could have had it be mentioned during Star and Owen's talk post-Barky-assault? Hmm. Possibly.

    I'm glad! Finally, something to give this a bit more of a concrete feel, I guess. I'm glad that I can win you over a little with how nonstandard it all is...

    Doesn't help that my plot has multiple schisms to begin with... aha... related to the above, thank you for working with how interwoven it all is.

    Ooh, nice catch! ...Stay tuned for if that pays off.

    Another nice catch! They're definitely using odd terminology, and those little things are piling up. It definitely means something.

    The power scaling continues...

    Once again, stay tuned~ I'm hoping it won't be too long a wait to find out what Lavender is. It's totally another Ditto. Like, as if I don't need more species duplicates, right?

    (real talk: not another Ditto.)
     
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  16. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 55 – Grievances

    In the dim glow of the Hot Spot mushrooms, Jerry’s new Provisionary Badge shined. It reflected the blue light sharply. He couldn’t help but tilt it to see the light caress the rounded edges of the heart at the center of the Badge.

    After all this time, I’ve got another Badge to throw away. Jerry grumbled. I should just toss it in the lava this time, huh? That’ll show them…

    “Show them what?” Star asked.

    “Guh—” Jerry shot up from the ground. He winced as a reflex, expecting his spine to protest with a sharp pain, but when none came, he needed another few seconds to adjust. Right, that freak’s healing…

    “Must be nice to not have that messed up back, huh?” Star asked.

    “Okay, new rule. Stop reading my mind,” Jerry said.

    “Okay, okay,” Star raised her hands. “Sorry. I forgot how easy it was with non-Mystics.”

    “What, Mystics can block you?”

    “Mind-reading is really internal. It’s one of the first things that I can’t do when someone’s aura gets too strong,” Star said. “Unless I really try, but… I’m not like that.”

    “Sure you aren’t.”

    “Oh, come on, I get that enough from Zena,” Star whined.

    “What’d you do to her?” Jerry asked.

    Star stuttered. “W-well, I mean—”

    “So, I figure she’s right to not trust you,” Jerry muttered. He sighed, eyes softening. “Sorry. I guess you get a hard time from everyone, huh? Figure they had big expectations for their Creator and they feel let down because you’re just like the rest of us.”

    The Mew shifted her position in the air. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m just glad they can still deal with me enough to summon me. And hey, some of them are getting strong enough that I look semi-solid now! Or I’m just getting weaker…”

    “What would be making you weaker?” Jerry said.

    Star shrugged. “I don’t think I’m any weaker. Definitely feels that way sometimes, though…” She flicked her tail, trying to form a small, Psychic bubble to rest on. Unfortunately, her presence in the real world was still too weak. It dissolved in a fine mist.

    At the entrance to Jerry’s home, Amia cleared her throat quietly. “Um, Jerry?”

    The Aerodactyl sighed, wondering if it was a custom to bother each other in this place. “What?” He turned his head to address the still-green Gardevoir. “Where’s that blue you love so much? Tired of looking special?”

    Amia winced. “I’m—not strong enough to do that again, yet.”

    “Summoned your mate fine,” Jerry said.

    “I can’t do both. I had to choose.”

    “Oh. Well, good for you.”

    “Er—Jerry, if you want, perhaps we can… find a way to go into Kilo Village and buy you a bed?” Amia held her hands together delicately, almost as if she was pleading, even though her tone suggested it was just a polite offer.

    “I don’t have the money for a bed,” Jerry said.

    “Oh, no, dear, we would get you one,” Amia said. “Before he left, Rhys left me some funds for it. What do you say?”

    “So, you’re saying it’s Team Alloy’s money that would get me the bed.” Jerry couldn’t suppress his snarling expression completely.

    “I mean, well…”

    “Yeah, I’m sure you mean well,” Jerry said, “but you know what, that’s not something I’m gonna accept so happily. Especially if it’s the same reward money they got for arresting me in the first place.”

    “Oh, I’m sure it’s not that.”

    “I had a pretty big bounty, y’know,” Jerry said, smirking. “I was good at what I did. I bet my head was enough to buy a bed or two.”

    Star sighed. “C’mon, Jerry, they’re just trying to be nice,” she said. “Can’t you just accept it? What, you’re just gonna sleep on the rocks?”

    “What, like I haven’t already done that? Please. I’ll be fine.”

    “Ugh, I swear to me, Jerry,” Star muttered. “Amia, how about you just gather up some folks, and we’ll just get his bed? He’ll have to come, unless he wants us to get something stupid. Maybe we can get one in the shape of a Clefable? Ooh, actually, I heard from Hecto that there’s a new bed coming out that’s in the shape of Anam! So every night, you get to feel him hugging you.”

    Jerry’s eye twitched. “You wouldn’t.”

    “Oh?” Star asked. She spun around with a victorious, smug smirk. “Amia, you mind? Just three Mystics should be fine. I doubt Eon would try to take us on in public like that if we kept our numbers together.”

    “Okay, dear. Jerry? Do you have a preference for who comes with you?”

    Jerry folded his wings in front of him thoughtfully. “The ice sculpture looks reasonable. And the weird guy, the crazy red and blue one. What’s he again?”

    “Or, you mean ADAM, the Porygon-Z,” Star said.

    “Yeah, that weirdo. He doesn’t look like he’ll give me any lip, so him.”

    “Well, he doesn’t have lips, so that helps,” Star said. “Alright, so, ADAM and Step. What about Amia herself?”

    “Oh, sure, put me on the spot,” Jerry growled. “…Fine, yeah. But is she strong enough to walk around like that? She can barely summon her mate.”

    Amia rubbed at her arm, nodding. It seemed that she recognized that he had a point; he wondered if these Mystics truly knew what it felt like to be vulnerable. Perhaps Amia was being reminded of that now.

    “Well, uh, yes and no,” Star said. “…Okay, no. I guess Amia should stay back. How about, uhh… d’you mind Manny?”

    “The Lucario with the crazy look in his eyes? I’ll pass.”

    “Beggars can’t be choosers,” Star mumbled. “Okay, fine. How about Willow?”

    “The Joltik? Do you even want her out in public?”

    Star grabbed her tail, gently twisting it. “Okay, good point.” She spun her tail like a rope. “Hmmnnn, okay. How about Enet? …Okay, fine, I guess not. Look, just pick one, alright? Willow, Enet, or Manny, to go with Step and ADAM, because four’s a good number.”

    “Can’t I just get Zena? You know, Owen might be a bright-eyed idiot, but he’s got good taste, eh? Wonder how he got so lucky with a piece like that.”

    Star stared. “Listen, if you say that in front of her, I’m not gonna help you for what happens next. Also, Zena’s with Owen to see Trina and the others. You gotta pick between the other three. Come on.”

    “Fine, fine, I’ll pick, ehh, Enet. Sure.”

    Amia nodded. “Okay. I’ll get those three.” She stood there, motionless. Was she waiting for some kind of acknowledgement? “Um—okay. I’ll go.” She awkwardly stepped away and waved to get the nearest one’s attention, Enet.

    Jerry watched Amia go, but then asked Star, “What’s Enet’s deal again?”

    “Deal?”

    “Yeah. All of you guys have a deal. Manny’s a weird battle heart with a funny accent I’ve never heard before, Valle’s afraid of moving, Willow’s as mature as she is large, ADAM’s… whatever he is, so what’s Enet’s deal?”

    “Well, she’s technically feral… or at least was born feral.”

    “Oh, great. How’d you even get her to talk?”

    “A little Mystic power and maybe some speech therapy.”

    “Right, more godlet powers.” Jerry rolled his eyes.

    “Godlet?” Star repeated.

    “That’s what they are, right? Little mini-gods.”

    “That, uh, I don’t think that’s how it is.”

    “Well, okay. If it’s not that, how do their powers work, again?”

    “Uh—” Star hesitated.

    Jerry tugged at his scarf. “This scarf. Owen literally imbued it with his will and desire to save my life, and went against that toxic Altaria’s poisoned swamp. And Anam. He blesses things, and that’s the same thing, isn’t it? C’mon. What’s with that Mystic junk? You guys can literally rewrite reality. That’s how you phrased it, right?”

    “Okay, okay, so maybe there’s a little bit of truth to that,” Star said, “but it’s not like Mystics can just do whatever they want. In fact, I’m kinda surprised Owen could perform blessings at all—that’s sort of an Anam thing. Mystics tend to specialize in certain talents and they aren’t good at others. It’s not all that different from what you can do.”

    Jerry looked at Star incredulously.

    “It’s the same power all Pokémon have,” Star said. “The auras they possess is just a tiny version of being able to rewrite reality the way they want in specific ways. All those techniques and powers and abilities Pokémon have… that’s just aura! Mysticism just expands their range a little, kinda.”

    Jerry squinted. “Wait, really? So we all have supernatural god powers?”

    “Yeah. Mystic power just adds a bit more to what they can already do, and then, if they have any, you know, tendencies, or any other strange properties to them, that sometimes manifests as extra quirks in what they can do. It’s not like Owen can easily become a Water Type compared to Grass, for example.”

    Jerry huffed, adjusting his wings. “Right. But I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that everyone is somehow magical., and Mystics are just a little more that way.

    “What, you think you have an organ that just creates rocks to shoot at people?”

    “Well, I—”

    “Do you have any idea how energy-inefficient it is to have a tail that constantly spews fire?”

    “Uh—”

    “Like, seriously, if you guys followed the law of conservation of energy, you guys would be dead or boring.”

    Jerry stared at Star, barely understanding what she was saying. He eventually discarded the statement entirely. “Well, great.” He flipped the Badge in his wing-hand a few times, staring at it again. “I guess when you break it down, these Badges are just the Teleport technique for specific locations.” He rolled the Badge idly, making the blue shine from the mushrooms follow the ridges of the Heart emblem.

    Star grinned. “Pretty shiny, huh?”

    “Yeah, I guess,” he said. “Still don’t really like holding it. Just brings back bad memories.” He closed his eyes, sighing. Bad memories were pretty common lately, ever since he ran into that bright-eyed scalebag. “…She’s really fine? Mom?”

    “I mean, as fine as you can get, y’know, yeah. Y-yeah, she’s fine, she’s fine,” Star said after locking eyes with Jerry’s darkening expression. “I promise, she’s fine.”

    Jerry stared for a while longer before softening his gaze. “Then tell her I said thanks. Guess I got a little fire from knowing that she wants me to be stronger, is all. It’s what helped me beat Owen, right?”

    “Definitely,” Star said. “Part of it, at least.”

    “Okay!” Amia called back, knocking at the side of the entrance. “They’re all ready! Do you want to go?”

    “Yeah, sure,” Jerry said, standing. “What’re we getting again? Because I thought of something else. If you’re treating me to a bed, getting some food on top of that wouldn’t be a bad idea, right?”

    “Oh, of course!”

    “Good,” Jerry said. “Guess I can’t complain, then.”

    He stepped outside and flipped the Badge in his wing-claws again, slipping it into the back around his neck. “Guess I’ll hang onto it,” he said in a murmur. He spotted the Zoroark, Aggron, and Porygon-Z waiting in the square, where Valle was also standing as always.

    To Jerry’s surprise, the Shiftry statue’s arms were moving very slowly from parallel to perpendicular to the ground, and back again. “…You’re moving?”

    “Yes.”

    “He’s being better!” Enet said.

    “Valle’s fear of movement is a hindrance to his capabilities,” Step said. “It seems that he is trying to overcome this fear.”

    “Being isolated for so long,” Star said, “poor guy tried to cope by not moving to make the time go by faster. I guess after a while, that’s all he knew. I’m… really sorry I put you through that, Valle. I should’ve realized and checked on you more often. Maybe actually pressed when you said you were fine… But I still don’t get why you can’t change back to normal.”

    “The apology is appreciated,” Valle said. “I am terrified. I need to stop being scared.”

    “That’s good,” Star said.

    “Keep up that arm stuff,” Jerry said noncommittally. “Guess once you’re not scared of that anymore, you can say you did good.”

    “Thank you. I envy your movement.”

    Jerry decided not to question Valle’s twisted perspectives and instead pointed a wing. “What’s with the blob?”

    “Huh?” Star said. She followed Jerry’s wing and spotted Anam waddling down the caves. “Huh. Guess he’s out for a stroll. Weird that James isn’t following him around, but I guess he’s busy in that Ghost Realm.”

    “Right, the realms. That’s still weird to think about.” Jerry watched Anam for a while longer, clenching his jaw thoughtfully. Eventually, he rolled his eyes. “Whatever. He’s probably just guilty for rejecting me.” He suddenly became conscious of the Badge knocking against his chest through the bag’s fabric. “Hmph. Let’s go.”

    <><><> ​

    The transition from the cool, yet stuffy halls of Trina’s labyrinth to the hot, dry caverns of Hot Spot Cave was startling. Demitri and Ax both rubbed their arms at the temperature change.

    “Still need to get used to that,” Demitri mumbled.

    “…There are two of each of you,” remarked a Shiftry statue in the middle of Hot Spot Square. “My movement training has rendered me insane. I shall stop.”

    “Did that sculpture just talk?” Har asked Owen.

    “Huh?” Owen asked—he was still caught on the fact that Har had told him he used to share his name. “Oh, sorry, that’s just Valle. He’s a Shiftry, and the Rock Guardian. He doesn’t move.”

    “But he’s trying!” a tiny voice shouted from behind Valle’s head. Willow popped up, waving a tiny leg at them. “Hi, Owen! Hi, Owen!”

    Both Charizard waved reflexively. Har flinched and brought his hand down.

    “Hey, um,” Owen hesitated. “Do you… prefer the name Owen?”

    “No,” Har replied instantly. “It’s just a habit.”

    Owen gulped. “Okay, sorry.”

    “Mm, Owen,” Zena spoke up. “Why don’t we greet the others? After all, we want them to meet everybody.”

    “Sure,” Owen said. “So, Har, Ani, Ax, Lygo—this is Joltik Willow and Shiftry Valle. Willow’s the Fairy Guardian.”

    Willow sprouted her large, pink wings as a demonstration. “I’m really cute! And I’m also really strong!”

    “And also really irritating,” Gahi murmured to Lygo, who snorted a laugh in response.

    “How many Guardians are here, anyway?” Har asked.

    “Uhh,” Owen brought up his claws, counting. “Zena, Valle… oh, ADAM, where is he?”

    Valle answered. “He left with Step, Enet, and Jerry to Kilo Village to get groceries and a bed.”

    “Oh.” Owen nodded, counting his claws again for Step and Enet. “Oh, and also Mom—I mean, Gardevoir Amia. She’s the Fire Guardian.” Owen looked down. At six, he ran out of claws to count with. He lowered his arms. “I guess we have a lot of Guardians with us, huh?”

    “We do, but that’s a good thing,” Rhys said. “We already have a serious advantage over Eon. Considering his movements, well…” He hummed thoughtfully, crossing his arms. “We should likely prepare ourselves once—well, if—Trina decides to join us. Aside from the Trinity, she’s the last Guardian that has no alliance… or is dead.”

    Owen sensed a strain in Har’s wings. Almost on cue, Har stretched them to loosen them up. The improved Charizard asked, “How many did Eon get to?”

    “Well, while we aren’t certain how they acquired the Psychic Orb under Rim’s control, the Ground and Flying Orbs are with Eon,” Rhys said. “Hrm. If they left for errands, it would be redundant to introduce you to everybody now. Why don’t you two train against one another first as promised? I can tell you are all a tad stir-crazy from your lack of fighting.”

    Owen and Har both nodded. “Yeah,” they said.

    Har flinched again and turned to address his Alloy. “C’mon, let’s go plan out a strategy.”

    “Hey, actually,” Owen said. “I know a good spot where we can train, if you like. It’s a little deeper into the caves, but it’s where we used to fight all the time. How’s that sound?”

    “Sure,” Har replied.

    Gahi rubbed his head.

    “Mm?” Mispy asked Gahi.

    “Nah, nah,” Gahi dismissed. “Just weird hearin’ two Owens. Figure one was enough.”

    “At least they both seem pleasant,” Zena said, slithering after Owen. She almost mistakenly went toward Har—they walked in the exact same way—but corrected herself when she felt a Mystic aura emanating from the other Charizard.

    “Yeah, wrong way,” Har mumbled at Zena with a hiss. “What, you interested in me, too?”

    “Hey!” Owen said. “Just because you used to be me doesn’t mean you—wait. Uh, Zena?”

    “No, no,” Zena shook her head. “I prefer the one I met first. We spent more time together, and… you two still seem a little different.”

    Har flinched at this, a slight smile creeping at the edges of his lips, but it twisted into a grimace seconds later. “Thanks, I… I’m Har, yeah.”

    On their way through the caverns, Owen kept stealing glances at his double. Har did the same thing. Every time Owen glanced at Har, he’d quickly look away, and vice versa. Mispy and Ani both sighed to one another.

    Mispy asked Ani, “Are you the leader?”

    “Har kinda is,” Ani replied. “…But I keep him in line.”

    Mispy giggled. “Same.”

    Ani looked at Demitri, then back at Mispy. “You’re… together?”

    “Mm.”

    “That’s weird.”

    Mispy huffed. “Not to me.”

    “Well, I guess if you spent so much time together not knowing anything… I guess you grew close in a different way than Ax and I did.”

    Mispy nodded, but then looked at Lygo and Gahi. They were definitely the most different of the two—undoubtedly due to Manny’s influence on the Flygon’s impressionable little mind.

    Owen stole one final glance at Har and sighed. “Listen,” he said, “we’re the same person. I can read your body language better than—”

    “I know, okay?!” Har said. “So, turn it off or something.”

    “I can’t,” Owen said. “Maybe you can, but I can’t. I think it’s… stuck on. And it feels like there’s still something bothering you. Is it—is it really me? Is it the name?”

    “It’s not the name,” Har growled. “My name is Har. And you’re Owen. Simple.”

    “But you said—”

    Har beat his wings, sending a gust of wind all around him. Owen winced, covering his eyes with his right arm.

    “I’m a better version of you,” Har said. “So don’t call us the same. Or equal. Or anything. We’re totally different.”

    “What’s got his tail in a knot?” Gahi murmured to Lygo. “Ever since yer Queen went and said Har would need this sorta thing, he’s been in a mood.”

    “He gets like this sometimes,” Lygo said, sighing. “Does your Owen brood about things all the time?”

    “Ehh,” Gahi said. “Sometimes, but I feel like he, eh… was right ter do it. And besides, he helped me out when I was feeling down.”

    “I think we’ve been brooding more,” Demitri said. “Lately. But… I mean… how else are we supposed to feel?”

    Rhys’ ears lowered slightly.

    Mispy, spotting this, tapped a vine on the Lucario’s shoulder, trying to give a reassuring smile.

    “Trina told us that apparently you guys didn’t know you guys were mutants for, like, four centuries,” Ax said. “Is that really how old you guys are? That’s crazy.”

    “Kinda. I don’t feel like I’m four hundred, though.” Demitri started unsheathing and sheathing one of his tusks, clicking it while he thought. “Our memories are still totally scrambled between our first life and now. It’s all sorta blurry.”

    “Owen can’t even remember when we met,” Zena said. “It wasn’t that long ago…”

    “I—I’m working on it,” Owen said. “I’ll remember. I promise.”

    “What is she, your mate?” Har asked Owen.

    “Uh—” Owen flushed. “No. We’re only starting to know each other. We’re gonna go out to dinner tonight.”

    Har looked back at Zena, who blushed in the same way Owen did. She avoided Har’s eyes. “Hmph,” Har folded his wings behind him. “She really likes you. I can feel it in her body language.”

    Owen narrowly restrained himself from lunging at Har out of desperation. He instead was able to mask it as a sharp breath. “You know the serpentine body language?!”

    “Queen Trina is literally—”

    “You need to teach me,” Owen begged. “Please.”

    They locked eyes. Owen hoped that Har had the same do-good Heart-style mindset that he did.

    “I’ll think about it,” Har said grudgingly, looking ahead. That meant he would.

    Owen’s wings lifted slightly. He felt that based on Har’s body language, he was perfectly willing to help him out. Har rolled his eyes, clearly reading Owen’s relaxed body language. It seemed that there was going to be no hiding anything from each other’s Perceive.

    Owen still sensed a small bit of tension whenever Har looked at them, but the anticipated battle overshadowed it. Perhaps letting off some steam would help them both out. The two Alloys, Rhys, and Zena resumed their walk.

    They traveled through the caverns and into the Hot Spot training hall—the same one he fought with Manny in, and where he fought Jerry—Owen turned around. Har continued to walk with the rest of his team to the opposite side. “Okay. Let’s plan, guys,” he said. Zena and Rhys both looked at one another and stood to the sidelines, figuring that this would be something that the Alloys would need to do on their own.

    The two Charizard had their backs toward one another, far, far out of earshot. They stole glances behind one another a few times, then quickly looked toward their team again.

    “So,” Owen said, “I think Har has… some identity issues going on. I don’t want to make him think that we’re exactly the same.”

    Har addressed his Alloy, “There’s no way we’re going to act like them. If Owen thinks he’s going to try to outsmart us by thinking of what he’d do, he’s in for a surprise.”

    Owen nodded. “So, I think we should do something different.”

    Har slammed his right fist into his left palm. “Let’s do something totally different.”

    “Like what?” Ax and Demitri asked.

    “Well,” Owen said, “to be honest, I was kinda thinking, er… you guys remember Brandon?”

    “I, uh,” Har hesitated. “Actually, there’s this idea I heard about from Dad—I mean, Eon, a long time ago…”

    “Brandon?” Gahi asked. “Th’ Machoke? Oy, wait, yeh mean—”

    “What idea?” Lygo asked. “Wait, you mean—"

    “Exactly,” Owen and Har said.

    And after enough deliberating, Owen turned around first, waiting for Har to do the same. “What, you finished planning already?” Har asked upon turning.

    “We had a reference,” Owen said.

    “Well, we’re ready, too,” Har said, grinning proudly. “Don’t think it’ll be so easy to beat us like this. It’s a totally new strategy!”

    “It is?” Owen asked. His flame blazed yellow. “Well, I can’t wait to see it! Maybe we can learn from each other!”

    Har’s tail blazed in the same way. He masked his enthusiasm. “Y-yeah, sure. That sounds okay, I guess.”

    Owen frowned. “You don’t want to?”

    “No, I just—can we just fight?!”

    “Oh, s-sorry. Right.” Owen looked back at the other three, nodding. Har did the same.

    The two trios stepped into the arena, and both Owen and Har drooped their wings.

    “Wait… what?” they both said.

    It was the same formation. Mispy in the middle, with the two Dragons on either side, and with Har and Owen in the back as commanders.

    “But… but it was supposed to be different,” Owen said. “I—I was basing my model off of the Steel Guardian! You know—the human? This was supposed to be like a trainer battle—from that ancient human world!”

    “Wh—” Har shook his head. “We were gonna do the same thing to catch you guys off guard! The—Dad—I mean, Eon told us about it!”

    “Dad—I mean, Eon knows?” Owen asked. “About humans?”

    “Yeah, I mean, he’s been around a while. He probably knows all the tales,” Har said. “Do you remember him telling you about them?”

    Owen winced. “Not yet,” he said. “Maybe vaguely?”

    Har grumbled, crossing his arms. “We… we came up with the same strategy.”

    “If I may interject,” Rhys spoke up, raising a paw.

    “Oh, what do you know?” Har hissed.

    “W-wait,” Owen said, “what is it, Rhys?”

    “I, er…” Rhys hesitated. “I recommend you fight regardless. With the strategies you’ve devised. Perhaps it’s not as similar as you think.”

    The eight all looked at Rhys with skepticism, and then toward one another, at their doubles.

    “It’s quite a tantalizing endeavor, don’t you think?” Rhys said. “You can compete with one another’s strengths directly. You will see the differences then. Besides, Owen, Har, do you not want to determine which of the two of you would work as better commanders? Better leaders, better thinkers in the heat of battle?”

    Both their flames burned bright again. Har folded his wings down, crossing his arms . “W-well, I—”

    Owen shuffled his wings and his feet. “Well, m-maybe—”

    They finally sighed. “Okay,” they both said. They exchanged another look, lingering in each other’s eyes briefly. For just a second, Owen sensed some form of kinship—not rivalry. But that faded into the crackling atmosphere of competition.

    “Ready when you are,” Har said; by his words, Ani, Ax, and Lygo entered a battle stance.

    “Right,” Owen said, and Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi did the same.

    Zena glanced at Rhys with a wry smile. “How manipulative of you.”

    “N-necessary evil,” Rhys muttered, avoiding her gaze. “They need this.”

    “I’m sure,” Zena said, giving Owen an encouraging grin.

    The two Alloys stared at one another again, tense and ready. Yet they didn’t make a move. It seemed like they didn’t know how to begin—at a perfect mirror toward one another, they didn’t know how to approach. Every so often, Ax and Demitri would twitch in the same way, or Ani and Mispy would try to maneuver in the same, mirrored direction. Lygo and Gahi were locked in the most intense stares.

    Har and Owen, a few paces behind their respective trio, looked ready to shout their first order, but hesitated that it might be the same one.

    “…Is something wrong?” Zena called.

    “They don’t know how to begin,” Rhys said. “Hrm. Very well—I will assist.” The Lucario got up from his sitting position and flared his aura slightly. “I’m aware of a few human traditions myself, I must admit. I heard it the same as Eon did. If you wish, I can help… send things off. Would you like me to do something?”

    “Anything,” Owen and Har said.

    “Of course.” Rhys cleared his throat, murmuring to himself. Then, he raised his voice to announcing “…This will be a battle between Team Alloy of the Thousand Hearts, and Team Trina of the Bug Guardian. On my call, this will be a three versus three battle, with assists from their tr—their leaders. Are the combatants ready?”

    “Ready!”

    Har and Owen caught the glint in each other’s eyes. They both smirked, tails burning blue.

    Rhys fired a weak Aura Sphere into the air, detonating it a split-second later. Cyan dots swirled in the air, filling the battlefield with harmless embers.

    “Begin!”
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  17. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Special note: The following battle has more intense violence than usual. Prepare yourself for that; these guys are blood knights.

    Chapter 56 – Mirror, Mirror

    The first clash was between Gahi and Lygo.

    The first blood on both sides came from claw marks, identical, from the two Flygon. They instantly turned around and went at each other again, startling Demitri in the middle of his dash.

    “Demitri, block!” Owen shouted.

    Demitri looked forward and narrowly grabbed Ax’s arm, just before one of his blades would have come down upon him. That left Mispy and Ani to both close their eyes and bring a reflective barrier around both of their teams. The transparent bubbles partially obstructed the strikes from the Haxorus and Flygon pairs—but it wasn’t nearly enough to stop them completely.

    Har shouted next. “Lygo, distract Mispy!”

    The Flygon redirected himself in an instant, slamming straight into the Meganium’s many vines. This was enough to keep her from interfering with Demitri and Ax, who were still grappling against one another near the center of the caverns, though it seemed like Ax had a slight edge in strength.

    Ani slid back. Owen instantly knew what that meant, and he could feel it in the way her muscles tensed, channeling energy through her body. She was charging her Solar Beam—a single one of those strikes could disrupt the entire clash. And with Lygo distracting Mispy—

    Owen didn’t have time to think further. Gahi was moving on his own, chasing Lygo down to keep him away from Mispy. The Meganium, seeing Ani charging, mirrored her strategy—

    “No, Mispy!” Owen shouted, knowing that she’d do it too late. “Heal Gahi! He’s hurt!”

    Gahi, hearing the order, retreated back to Mispy with Lygo in pursuit, but once Mispy sent a wave of healing energy toward him, he smirked at Lygo.

    Har raised his arms and wings. “No, Lygo! Back!”

    The two Flygon narrowly missed one another. Mispy tried to swat at Lygo with a vine, but he was too fast to hit.

    “Ax, now!”

    Ax pulled away from Demitri, but the latter pressed forward in retaliation. He fell on top of Ax.

    With his tail and legs, Ax kicked Demitri into the air. Just then, Ani blasted a solid, white beam of energy from her petals. It was a direct hit, singing Demitri’s scales and blinding him at the same time. Excess energy spiraled in all directions, bouncing off walls and disintegrating mushrooms. Zena ducked and narrowly avoided a stray blast; Rhys remained still, the energy singing a bit of his fur.

    Demitri roared and stumbled back, covering his eyes.

    Ax drew his tusk-blade again and rushed for Demitri for the finishing blow.

    Oh, great, he’s blind?! Owen clutched at his horns in a panic. Ani charged her Solar Beam just a bit faster than Mispy could. Ax was a bit stronger. And while Owen couldn’t quite tell, it seemed like Lygo was a bit more agile, too. They really were slightly better versions of Team Alloy. But that didn’t mean they’d lose. He was better than Jerry in almost every way as far as combat was concerned, and he still lost. It wasn’t hopeless.

    First things first—Demitri was blind. Owen had to be his eyes. “Demitri, dodge right!”

    He obeyed, and just then, Gahi slammed into Ax from the side, knocking him over. Lygo came swooping in a split-second later to grapple against Gahi for a second time.

    “Ani, heal up Lygo!”

    Healing would be the worst thing for Owen. If they could just take out Ani, the whole team’s stamina would go down tremendously. “Gahi, keep Lygo away from Ani!”

    With Owen distracted, Demitri was wide open. Ax swung his blade horizontally against Demitri’s side, slicing through part of his scales like butter. It only stopped because Demitri used his hand to push the blade down, jamming it against his own flesh. Demitri screamed and thrashed his free hand forward, connecting with a single, desperate punch to Ax’s chest.

    The impact was so loud that even Owen felt the air compress around his head. The resultant shockwave was even more devastating to Gahi and Lygo, who had been right next to them. In midair, they stumbled away from the two Haxorus, yet they still clawed fiercely at one another. Blue flames coated their arms, Dragon fury imbued within each blow.

    They wouldn’t last at that rate, and Owen needed Gahi to keep the pressure on the rest. “Gahi, fall back!”

    “Lygo—keep chasing him!

    Owen flinched. Har was actively trying to break the symmetry in their battle styles, wasn’t he? He was being defiant. That wasn’t an optimal choice—Lygo pursuing Gahi would bring him right into their territory. Was Har just trying to break their similarities?

    Owen pushed the thought away. Not important. Not now. He had to win. “Gahi—get to Mispy!”

    Take him down!” Har roared.

    Owen realized that he neglected to give Mispy any orders; now, she was operating on her own. As a result, she blasted her own charged Solar Beam at Gahi. His reflexes were quick enough to see the flash that he tumbled out of the way in midair. The blast singed his wings, but nothing else. Lygo, who had been focused on Gahi, didn’t tumble fast enough. It grazed his entire right side, badly burning his arm and wing. He shouted in pain and banked back, falling toward Ani.

    Owen realized just then that there was no way they were going to make any progress on either side until they took out Ani. Owen recalled during sparring sessions long ago that Gahi could never hurt Mispy faster than she could heal. It had to be Demitri.

    “Gahi! Attack Ax!”

    By now, Gahi was back at full strength, stretching and flexing his wings to ignore the relatively minor burn. “You got it,” he growled.

    “Lygo! Go after Gahi!”

    What’s he doing?! Owen did what he could to stop from hyperventilating. That wasn’t a good strategy at all. That left Demitri free to strike Ani, didn’t it?

    Ani slid away from Demitri, her petals aglow with solar energy. But Demitri, while slow, was still faster than the opposing Meganium’s charge.

    “Mispy, Light Screen! Weaken that Solar Beam as much as you can!”

    Mispy obeyed, a second barrier enveloping and enhancing the first, coating around the team like a suit of armor reminiscent of Rhys’ aura techniques.

    Har stuttered, “A-Ani, quick, Reflect!”

    Demitri was already there, Dragon fire coating his arm. With a single swipe, he slashed across Ani’s huge body, cutting countless vines with the shockwave of his claws while further singing the main body in a diagonal line. Ani roared in anger—she, too, did not feel pain, even as green blood gushed from her body—and slammed her remaining vines against Demitri. That was when the Haxorus used his free hand to pull out one of his tusks.

    Demitri brought his arm up. The blade—A crimson red color like the lining of his claws—swung across all of the vines that wrapped around him, slicing through them like noodles. He pulled back and grabbed his second tusk, knowing that Ani was already severely weakened. They only needed one more strike to finish her off.

    Sick, pale green energy coursed through the blades, channeled through his arms and his thrashing aura. Demitri stepped back once to get in a better position, flicking his tail. Ani flinched, looking for a way out, but her huge body was too sluggish. Lygo was occupied with Gahi; Ax was chasing after the Flygon pair. Mispy struggled to keep up with the speedy duo.

    That left Demitri completely open, no matter how helplessly Har yelled for her to get out of the way. He slashed down, sending that green energy out in a devastating, cross-shaped slash that lit up the cave.

    The X-Scissor left Ani stumbling forward, hissing. Her neck was low and her eyes were crossed. Her petals—a few of them cut up—glowed, then dimmed, and then flickered defiantly with life. But after a few seconds of struggle, the blood loss was too great. With an angry look in her eyes, her head drooped, eyes narrowed, too weak to move.

    “Gahi! Left! Right!”

    All while Demitri was fighting with Ani, Owen struggled to guide Gahi out of the two-pronged attack. Mispy’s petals were alight with energy, but she couldn’t get a clear shot at Lygo or Ax. Was Ax a bit faster than Demitri? No, he wasn’t—but he was staying close to Lygo. They were fighting near one another intentionally—was that part of Har’s plan? To keep Mispy from firing any shots by keeping an ally too close?

    “Wait, no!” Owen said.

    In a brief upper hand, Lygo wrapped his tail around Gahi’s legs. Then, he used his arms to bind him from behind, his slightly serpentine body doing wonders to keep Team Alloy’s mutant Flygon from struggling free. Ax rushed toward Gahi, fist balled up in blue flames.

    “Mispy! Aim right in front of Gahi! FIRE!”

    Mispy obeyed, but the blast came too late to save Gahi from the blow. Lygo pushed him forward at the exact moment Ax landed his Dragon strike. The sound of fist on chest echoed through the cave, the impact sending Gahi flying straight toward Owen. He dove in the way, reflexes telling him to cross his arms in a Protective stance, but he fought it. He held his arms out and caught Gahi with his softer body, skidding backward and onto his back.

    Weak, golden light enveloped Gahi’s body; in seconds, the restored Flygon jolted awake, gasping. “Buh—guh—wh—what—eh?!”

    “HALT!” Rhys shouted.

    The authoritative voice cut through the cave’s chaos. First, Rhys walked to Ani, who was barely conscious, yet standing upright. Rhys’ feet were coated in a bit of aura armor to avoid the blood pooling around her.

    “What’re you doing?” Har said.

    Rhys inspected Ani carefully, holding his hand in front of her face. Her eyes followed them weakly and a low growl emanated from her throat. Rhys felt something gnaw at his shin. He reflexively jumped back—one of Ani’s vines had tried to bite his fur.

    “I was wondering why the Reviver didn’t work,” Rhys muttered. “Ani, you’re in no condition to fight. Return behind Har.”

    “No,” Ani growled, blood pouring out of her mouth.

    “Ani, just because you can’t feel pain doesn’t mean your body won’t shut down. Any further and the Reviver will activate. And you know that means a loss, yes?”

    “No,” Ani hissed again, her vines clumsily pushing her body forward. “I’m… not… losing… first…”

    “Ani, you didn’t lose first,” Rhys said. “Gahi already activated his Reviver.”

    “…Oh.” Ani promptly collapsed. A split-second later, golden light enveloped her, restoring a great deal of her body—but not entirely. It seemed that even for the Reviver—small ones that only restored the body, and not so much in terms of energy—Ani’s body was too bulky to work with all at once.

    Ani hissed to herself and turned around, gliding over the blood that she had lost. She went behind Har and curled around herself, moping. Gahi, it seemed, was doing the same behind Owen, clawing at the ground with an irritated glare.

    “Hey, you did great,” Owen assured Gahi. “You distracted Lygo and Ax! We took out their Meganium!”

    Gahi muttered something in reply and looked away, taking off his goggles to clean a perceived bit of dust from them.

    “Keep it up, Owen!” Zena called.

    Owen nodded, though he sensed a bit of anxiety from Zena. That was anxiety, right? Owen still had trouble figuring it out, but he was having a lot of fun. They never got to go all-out against someone else in so long. He watched Rhys leave the arena and return to his referee position.

    “Are the combatants ready to resume?” Rhys called.

    Haxorus Ax and Flygon Lygo on one side. Meganium Mispy and Haxorus Demitri on the other. Owen knew that their biggest problem would be Lygo. He’d be too fast for either of his team to strike. Owen also predicted that Har was going to try to capitalize on that. He had to take him out first before he became a nuisance. But just as he took down Ani, Ax could take out Mispy.

    He could tell that Har was fuming. Ani was the cornerstone of their team’s durability, after all, and they took it out. It was all because Har got careless. Perhaps this time it wasn’t out of arrogance like Owen had with Jerry, but defiance, just trying to go against what he—and therefore Owen—would have done. He wondered, if they fought symmetrically, would Har have won by now? They were slightly better than they were, after all.

    Or was Har just not as good at strategy? They spent their time under the Hearts, training as a rescue team. What did Har do? They were guards for Trina’s realm, but that was all. Perhaps that was their edge. How could Owen capitalize on that?

    “We’re ready!” Har shouted.

    Startled, Owen responded as well. “Y-yeah, I’m ready, too!”

    Rhys held up his arm. “Resume!”

    “Demitri, guard Mispy!” Owen struggled to recall what techniques Demitri was readily capable of. “If Lygo gives you trouble, try—Stone Edge?! And Mispy—charge a Solar Beam and aim for Lygo!” It wasn’t the best combination, but they both worked from a distance, and since he had two slow team members, that was going to be their best bet at striking the speedy Flygon.

    “Lygo, attack Demitri! Take him down, but don’t get hit! Try for Earth Power! Dodge his blows! Ax, go straight for Mispy! Blades out, X-Scissor whenever!”

    With Owen’s team close together, it was much easier for him to keep track. All of the moving bodies had been close to overwhelming his Perceive, just like it had against Jerry. But now, with just Lygo to worry about as a fast body, Owen thought even faster.

    “Mispy, aim up!” Owen said. “Aim higher!”

    Lygo reacted by dipping down. Perfect.

    “Demitri, now!”

    The Haxorus stomped on the ground. Sharp rocks erupted from just below Lygo; he twisted and barreled out of the way, narrowly avoiding the strike.

    “Mispy, now!” Owen yelled.

    “Right!” Mispy fired her Solar Beam where Lygo had barreled out of the way. Lygo’s eyes widened, but rather than freeze, he beat his wings one last time and narrowly avoided the blast. The residual heat singed his tail, but he sustained nothing more.

    Har hissed and shouted, “Counter now! She can’t charge up another one of those! Lygo, stagger Demitri! Ax—throw!”

    Ax obeyed immediately, grabbing his first tusk. He hurled it straight at Mispy. Both she and Demitri were too slow to do any sort of dodge or deflection. The blade pierced straight through Mispy’s side, cutting through the vines to get to her ribs, but it stopped short from anything vital.

    Har cursed. “Second one!”

    “No you don’t!” Demitri said, acting on his own this time. He glanced at Mispy, who seemed angrier than anything that they got such a good hit on her. Demitri gave her a little smile. “I have an idea.”

    Owen sensed from Demitri’s muscles what that idea was. The arms were tensing too much, and so were his legs, like he was getting ready to lift something truly massive. “Mispy!” Owen said. “One more Solar Beam! Aim for Ax this time!”

    “What, forgot about me?!” Lygo taunted.

    Demitri grabbed Mispy by the vines and snuck beneath her massive body. Then, with a grunt, he lifted Mispy into the air, the Haxorus’ much smaller body standing firmly beneath. Mispy’s petals glowed brighter, Solar Beam nearly charged. She flashed her neck in Lygo’s direction. He reacted by flinching away, gaining more distance from her. Exactly what she wanted.

    “Now!” Owen said.

    Demitri bent his legs and then hopped—still carrying Mispy—and slammed hard on the ground. The shockwave went out in all directions through the ground, rocks heaving in a single, destructive jolt that shook the sturdy ceiling of the cave. Thankfully, this part of the caverns could withstand such force.

    It was a different story for Ax. When the ground heaved, he was tossed into the air like a bag of berries, flailing uselessly. He crashed down on his right arm, leaving a dull pain whenever he tried to move it again. Lygo, in the air, was unaffected. Owen and Har both hopped to avoid the rocks, beating their wings a few times to outlast the Earthquake. Rhys levitated off the ground with an aura platform, as did Zena when she saw the shockwave coming toward her.

    Mispy’s Solar Beam was fully charged. She aimed her shoulders toward Ax—

    A blur rushed past her and suddenly she was blind, dragon fire coating her face. Mispy roared and shook her head, still feeling something caught in her face, though Lygo was already banking around to go for the second strike. Her flailing made Demitri fall underneath her. He frantically climbed out, “M-Mispy! Can you see?!”

    “No!” Mispy reported.

    “Now you!” Lygo said to Demitri, his claw coated in green blood.

    “Heard that!” Mispy hissed, turning her body.

    “W-wait—” Owen said, body twitching into action. This was bad. If they collided like that, they’d be down another fighter—and the last one he’d have was blind! He felt a tingling in his legs; he glanced down. They were green and leafy, his toe-claws digging into the rock. His heart skipped a beat. He looked at the Flygon spinning and zig-zagging to throw Mispy off. At his high speeds, his wings sang in the air. No matter how fast Lygo went, she could hear him.

    Owen recognized that Har saw this, too. The Charizard’s claws were clenched and coursing with wind along his arm. They had seconds—and at the same time, with Lygo rushing toward Demitri, the two Charizard acted.

    Vines shot up from the ground and snatched Lygo right from the air, pulling him onto the ground. A concentrated blast of razor-sharp air slashed along Mispy’s chest, the force knocking her shoulders just enough to miss the Solar Beam completely. Instead, it shot into the walls, incinerating the mushrooms and leaving the wall with a dull, red glow.

    Rhys had been screaming some sort of protest—something about illegal interference—but it was already too late. Owen and Har stared at each other with smoke coming from both their nostrils. Rhys scratched his head with both paws, tugging at his ears. Zena just smiled.

    Owen and Har stared at each other with a strange gleam of recognition in their eyes. Perhaps they were similar, but at the same time, their differences already seemed quite apparent. Owen hoped that Har could see that more as the battle progressed so he could fight at his best instead of defying strategy just to prove a point.

    “So, that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?” Har said.

    “I guess it is,” Owen replied.

    “I’m sick of watching the fight and giving orders.”

    “Yeah, I think we’re better than that,” Owen agreed. “As leaders…”

    “We fight with the team.”

    “GET ME OUT!” Lygo roared, fighting the tangle of vines.

    Owen and Har both smirked at one another—a challenging stare—and flew into the fray.

    Har rushed for Lygo and slashed at the vines that bound him. Owen went in the opposite direction and beat his wings toward Ax, creating a flurry of orange dots in the air. These dots—all trapped explosions of fire—floated toward and circled around Ax like little Volbeat in the night.

    Ax held still, unable to find an opening. If just one of them detonated, all the others would, too.

    “Uhh—” Ax said.

    Har jumped away from Mispy just in time to dodge her vines. He curled a second Air Slash toward her, this time right to her face.

    “Mispy!” Demitri yelled. He pulled out one of his axes and threw it at the incoming shockwave. Owen sensed their trajectories—it was going to miss.

    He slammed his foot on the ground, turning it green. Vines dug through the rocks and emerged right in front of Mispy, taking most of the blast. She earned only a few cuts against her face, red blood trickling down her cheeks.

    Another vine grabbed Demitri’s ax in midair, twirled around, and hurled it right back at Har. The Charizard dodged out of the way, but then abruptly turned back. “LYGO!”

    The ax grazed the Flygon’s wing, leaving a long, shallow gash against the scales. He hissed and landed on the ground, waving his arm toward Demitri next.

    “Uh—” Demitri saw the ground well up beneath him. Earth Power again, and he was too slow to dodge out of the way. Owen didn’t have a counter this time, so instead, he tried to pin Lygo down with more of his vines.

    “Lygo, jump!”

    Lygo obeyed without hesitation, just in time to dodge a frenzied assortment of roots and plant life erupt from the rocks below. Owen cursed—of course Har would’ve been aware of that. Invisible to the eyes, but totally obvious to Perceive.

    What was less obvious were the plans that were cooked up in the minds of the opponents. And, in Owen’s case, his allies.

    Mispy’s remaining vines—few as they were—wrapped around Demitri’s waist. At first, he seemed startled, but the confusion lasted only for a few seconds. As if by some wordless communication that only they understood, Demitri readied himself with his one remaining ax.

    Many of Mispy’s broken vines receded into her body, lengthening the few that remained intact. Then, she pulled back—with Demitri in her hold—and whirled them forward.

    “WHAT?!” Lygo tried to fly back.

    Owen took action. He wrapped his vines around Lygo’s legs when he was stunned by the sight of a Meganium swinging a Haxorus-tipped whip toward him. She only needed a second, and Lygo broke free a scale’s width before that. Not that it mattered. Mispy released Demitri at the apex of her throw. Lygo could only twitch his arms in an attempt to block the incoming Dragon. Demitri held his blade back and sliced forward, piercing through his shoulder.

    Lygo roared and retaliated with dragon fury in his claws, slashing with his one good arm at Demitri’s face and chest. The impact broke Lygo’s chest, and the rocky wall of the cavern was behind him. At the last moment, Lygo rolled his body in the air, whipping Demitri around so that he would hit the wall instead. They crashed into it with a loud thud, the whole cavern trembling one last time.

    Golden light enveloped Lygo and Demitri at the same time.

    Owen sensed something flying through the air. He ducked to avoid it, but realized too late where it was heading. “Mispy!”

    Har blasted Owen with an intense beam of fire. At first this puzzled him—he could just take the heat and protect Mispy with his vines. No—his vines. He was still Grass! Owen shut his wings and formed a barrier of light, blocking the rest of the blast before his whole body would’ve burned to ash. He had no way to save Mispy.

    Mispy was still recovering from her far toss of Demitri when the axes struck her. The one lodged in her body was still a nuisance, but this new ax went straight into her neck. Both were deep, cutting through bone and muscle. Har ceased his flames and cut through the air with his claws again, sending another Air Slash toward the blades in Mispy’s body.

    The hit was precise and decisive. The blade in her side dislodged, opening the wound. The blade in her neck went even deeper, cutting something vital. Her whole body went limp in an abrupt instant. Her petals fired a weak Solar Beam in a random direction, hitting nothing but the ceiling.

    “No!” Owen turned just in time to weave past another Air Slash from Har. He turned and spotted the smoking, but standing, Ax, who had survived his Fire Trap barrage. Two on one.

    Ax slammed his foot on the ground. Owen felt the stone beneath his feet rise and sharpen. He immediately dodged to the left—right where Har had blasted another Air Slash, which grazed Owen’s head. Why was he aiming so often for his head?! If that hit his body, it might have actually done some damage.

    Owen’s reckless dodge made him fumble. He could deal with Har. He knew his body. But Ax was dangerous. A single hit from him would end the fight. Owen stretched his wings and flew toward Ax, knowing that without his blades, he couldn’t throw anything. With gusts of wind twisting around his claws, Owen sent wave after wave toward the weakened Haxorus.

    Har was hot on his tail, pursuing with the same technique. Owen couldn’t afford that hit. Just one blow would put Har too far in an advantage. How was he supposed to protect against Har and strike Ax?

    Ax blocked the Air Slash and stepped out of the way, but he was too slow to avoid Owen after a trivial redirection. But now he was going to collide with Ax!

    Owen’s first instinct was to fly back, but a second thought stopped him at the last minute. His eyes glowed with the idea. He made one final wingbeat and flew a body’s length higher in the air. Then, he closed them completely, creating a Protect barrier around him. Then, still Protected, he went straight for Ax.

    So surprised at the ball of light, Ax only stood there with wide eyes. The high-velocity impact clanged with an ethereal echo that twisted the air around them, golden light from the Protect radiating in all directions.

    But then Ax reached his arms around what part of the barrier he could and clenched his claws around it. And, for the first time, Owen saw his barrier waver.

    “What—”

    Ax squeezed his arms together and the barrier shattered like a glass bubble.

    That’s right…! Owen was helpless. The mutant Haxorus… can smash through Protect!

    The world moved slowly. He saw Ax’s arms crash down around him. It’d crush his neck. In what felt like forever, but was truly only an instant, Owen ducked. It missed his neck—but they hit his horns instead.

    It was like going blind. Ax slammed on both horns and knocked them loose, and then off completely, leaving those same strange holes that Zena had left when she pulled them off in Trina’s abode.

    Owen screamed and slashed at Ax point-blank twice during their fall. Then, he rolled on the ground, bouncing twice with his momentum. Golden light enveloped Ax’s body, but not Owen’s.

    But he couldn’t see. No—he could see, but only with his eyes. His head felt bare. His horns were somewhere near the center of the arena.

    Now, with Owen on his back, Har walked forward cautiously. Ax crawled away, knowing he was defeated, to recover his axes from Mispy, who had since also been restored partway by her own Reviver.

    One on one, Owen to Har. In the back of Owen’s mind, he wondered if this counted as a loss because Mispy had passed out first. But based on the way the counterpart Charizard was staring at him, that wouldn’t be satisfying for either of them. This was the final fight.

    Har didn’t hesitate. He flew over the ground with intense wingbeats, never once touching the rocks on his rapid approach. Owen sprang to his feet and opened with a defensive Protect, blocking the first strike. Har kicked off of the barrier and left behind a cloud of Fire Trap dots in Owen’s way. A trivial matter.

    Owen jumped back and blew a gust of wind at the cloud, sending it to Har. They detonated, harming nobody, but they left behind enough light that Owen had to squint. He tried to Perceive his surroundings, but no sensation returned to him. His horns—they were gone. Were those truly what granted him his Perceive? That explained why it was so weak as a Charmander, and partway strong as a Charmeleon. But with them disconnected and scattered on the battlefield, he felt… normal.

    It was awful.

    He saw Har coming in from the right with another Air Slash. Owen dodged to the right and countered with his own, knowing that was the only effective attack he had against his counterpart. But with Har’s Perception, how was he supposed to be able to strike him?

    The exchange went for a while, Air Slashes going left and right, yet none connecting. Both played evasively. And with only one target to think about, Owen didn’t need his Perception for very much, even when Har occasionally touched down on the ground to throw him off. It was just a duel at this point, but in their clash, they kept stealing glances at one another. Har’s eyes were wide in some strange recognition. Owen, puzzled, squinted at him. Har shook his head in response.

    Neither wanted to stop to speak. They kept fighting, almost at a synchronized rhythm or dance of battle. While Owen had no sense of Perceive any longer, he had a strange feeling that they were breathing as one, hearts in sync. Yes, they were almost the same. Perhaps there were some differences due to how they had been raised differently, but in the end, they were cut from the same cloth. Perhaps literally? And this was something Har refused to acknowledge. But it was something that Owen had already accepted.

    That’s when he realized what he could do. His own weakness was all he had left. The same way Gahi had an advantage over him.

    Owen rushed straight to Har.

    “H-hey!” Har shouted, weaving to the left. He retaliated with another Air Slash; Owen blocked it with another shield of light. Then, when it dropped, he slammed shoulder-first into Har, square in his chest. He felt the wind knocked out of his opponent and dug his claws in. Har did the same, but Owen had the plan mapped out in his head. With his free hand, he slashed at Har point-blank, intense wind ripping away scales. Some of it cut through the membrane of his wings next, tearing the right one apart until it was no use for flight. They went crashing down, tumbling to compete for who would hit the rocks first.

    In the end, Har had more strength remaining, and he gained enough leverage to force Owen’s back toward the ground. Owen concentrated and formed another sphere of light behind them—he bounced, cushioned by the barrier, and rolled further away, kicking Har back. He landed on his feet next and rushed closer while Har was down.

    Air Slash, straight for Har. It connected against his left wing this time, putting them both in tatters. He cried out and struggled to stand. Owen rushed even faster, heart beating in his ears. One more strike—

    The air around him suddenly exploded with whipping, compressed air in all directions. One of his eyes was cut to the point where he couldn’t see through it, and the sudden explosion of air left a deafening ring in his head. Owen didn’t know what happened, or how, or why. But it was like a hundred tiny Air Slashes had been launched on all parts of his body at once. He crumbled forward to the ground, bleeding from nearly every scale. His hearing returned, but barely.

    Har puffed, a foot away from Owen. He had no strength remaining to attack. “…Unlike you…” Har wheezed. Owen felt something squirming in his stomach, but Har was too busy relishing his victorious strike. “I can Trap… all of my attacks. Air Trap… has you done…” Weakly, he raised his arm, gathering energy. His legs didn’t cooperate; whether Har could see Owen’s counter coming or not, he had no way to dodge.

    Owen swung his head forward, mouth agape. From the back of his throat, at rapid speed, emerged a vine. Har jumped, trying to fly away, but his wings didn’t allow that anymore. It wrapped around his leg instead. He raised his hand and slashed at it, severing the vine for a painful sting to Owen.

    But then he turned his arms green. They lost their shape and split apart into countless, tiny tendrils. He slammed them around Har, ensnaring him in a firm bind. His legs lost their shape next, plunging into rocks. The maneuver was enough to barely prop up what remained of Owen’s mangled body, an amalgamation of vines making up his limbs.

    Har opened his mouth and torched Owen’s face with fire. Fire and lava from the environment was trivial. But flames enhanced by aura were dangerous. With the Flamethrower to the face, Owen was blind in both his Perceive and his eyes. But it didn’t matter; he had Har right where he wanted, and he refused to pass out until he landed that final blow.

    Two vines emerged from the ground, sharp like spikes. Har had to have known it was coming, but that was the beauty of this strike. Har had no way to escape. Wings worthless, legs bound. He couldn’t dodge. The one way to beat him—to make even the knowledge of an incoming attack useless. To be too fast to counter. Just like Gahi.

    Perhaps he got lucky. Owen didn’t care. All he knew was that he felt his legs’ vines pierce straight through Har, from the chest to the back. Owen let go, pulling the vines out, and fell onto his back.

    Now on the ground, muscles exhausted and vines wilted and charred, he heard Har let out a grunt. Owen didn’t react. He didn’t have the energy to react. He breathed steadily. His body felt wet from the blood all over, pooling under him. He felt very warm. Almost tranquil. But there was a lingering doubt that Har was still standing. That’s what kept him from giving in. No, Reviver. Don’t activate. Not yet. He could still fight, even if his body refused to move.

    One of the vines from his right arm twitched like a finger. That was all he could manage.

    And then, Owen heard Rhys. “All four of Team Trina have activated their Tiny Reviver Seeds. Therefore, Team Alloy is the winner!”

    A small grin escaped Owen. He heard someone move near him. They weren’t steps, and they weren’t the hulking slide of Mispy. Zena? Owen tried to speak, but nothing emerged.

    Something nuzzled just beneath Owen’s neck. “Open your mouth, Owen,” she said.

    Owen obeyed. Something cold—a mixture of sweet, sour, bitter—all sorts of tastes—slipped just above his tongue. He chomped down. After a brief warmth, his eyes returned to normal. He blinked the blur away, squinting. To Owen’s surprise, his Perceive also returned. He brought an aching arm to the back of his head, feeling the pointed tips of his hooked horns. Did the Oran Berry also restore them? Those were removable!

    The first thing that crossed Owen’s mind was searching for them. He closed his eyes… yes, there they were, on the ground to his right. If he removed his horns again and ate another Oran, would he grow a third set?

    Owen stood up, but then winced. His wounds weren’t completely healed, and everything ached. With the heat of battle leaving him, the pain of the fight came at him in full force.

    “D-don’t push yourself,” Zena said with a titter, supporting him with her ribbons. Owen gave up on standing alone and fell against her body. “Oh, Owen,” she said, sighing. “Good work.”

    Owen weakly nuzzled Zena, mumbling something that even Owen wasn’t sure of. This felt about twice as bad as his training as a Charmander with Azu.

    With his horns back, Owen also sensed Zena’s tense muscles and finally realized that she was nervous. At least he was getting better at detecting her feelings. “Zena?” he said. “Are you okay?”

    “Oh—I’m fine,” Zena said. “It’s just, well… it was a bit… brutal, don’t you think?”

    “Brutal?” Owen asked. His first reflex was to remark that it didn’t seem brutal at all—if anything, it was one of the best fights he’d ever had. But then, with a slightly less blood-drunk mind, he thought about it more objectively, particularly if such a match had taken place in a dojo within Kilo Village. “O-oh. You’re right, I guess in hindsight that was pretty… mmm… Sorry.” He sighed. “I think we all got a little carried away.”

    “Well, it’s in your nature,” Rhys said, shrugging. “I suppose it’s healthy to let off a bit of that steam with those who can reciprocate those feelings. I’m just glad Elder’s napping. He never was one for fights.”

    Owen still ached, even after the Oran. “I hope we didn’t use up too many Revivers,” he said.

    “It wasn’t much. Only seven Tiny ones meant for training like this,” Rhys said. “They hardly are as difficult for Anam to make—let alone hard to find in Dungeons. They aren’t practical enough for proper explorations; without the energy to keep fighting, they’re best used for running away or for practice duels like these.”

    “I’d hope they aren’t hard,” Gahi shouted from the sidelines, slumped over. “I still feel like I got slammed against rocks a million times.” He rubbed his head.

    Demitri laughed, patting Mispy on the side. She was snoozing next to him, and for just a moment, Owen seemed to relearn why they were together in the first place. And then a small realization dawned on him. This was the first time they truly got to fight at their fullest as a team—Team Alloy. A part of him was frustrated that he wasn’t able to do that until now. But most of him was happy that it finally came. His memories with them were cloudy, but it felt like the fog was slowly clearing. Yet it still felt like there was so much more he didn’t know.

    Ax and Ani weren’t nearly as close, it seemed, and they both stared at Demitri and Mispy with confused frowns. Lygo shrugged and bumped his head against Ani. “Hey, are you holding up alright? You really pushed yourself back there.”

    “Hmph, I’m fine,” Ani said, turning her head away. “I’m just mad I was beaten before their Meganium was.”

    “At least it was fun,” Ax said, laughing. “We never got to fight the same models before! And not with Revivers, either. They must really get a lot of money to be able to just throw away seven of them like that.”

    “Mm,” Ani said, but then watched Har. He was approaching them, albeit slowly, and with his drooped wings. “Poor Har.”

    “Why’s he so invested in beating Owen?” Lygo said, tilting his head. “I don’t get it. Sure, they’re the same species as us, but how’s that any different from, say, Rhys and the stupid one fighting?”

    “It’s different for him,” Ax said. “We… don’t have their memories. We were made off their models, but… Har was made from Owen. It’s not the same as us. At least, I think so… You don’t think Har’s keeping something from us, do you?”

    “Maybe, but who cares?” Ani said. “Har’s always moping. Maybe Owen’s why.”

    “Oh.” Lygo nodded. “I guess so. But that was decades ago. He’s a totally different person now!”

    “Hmm.” Ani waved at Har. He didn’t return it. “Like I said… he’s in a mood.”

    “I’d be, too,” Ax said, looking back at Owen.

    The victorious Charizard finally looked up to see Har walking back to his own Alloy. A thought crossed his mind. “Owen!” Owen shouted.

    “What?!” Har roared back, but then flinched at himself. “D-don’t call me that.”

    “I’m glad we fought.”

    Har stared at him. His fists were clenched, almost trembling. “I won,” Har said. “My team lasted longer than yours.”

    “Yeah, they did,” Owen said, grinning. The Oran was not enough to heal his missing left fang that he only now realized was gone. He’d need another one.

    Har flinched, guard lowered completely. After several seconds of confusion, perhaps both at himself and toward Owen, he huffed a cloud of smoke and walked toward the winner. He held out his hand. “Fine,” he said. “Good fight.”

    Owen held out his hand, grasping it. Har’s grip was stronger, making Owen flinch and squeak.

    “What?” Har let go, tilting his head.

    “Wh-why do you shake hands so hard?” Owen whined.

    “You don’t?”

    “N-no,” Owen said, pulling his hand away to nurse it with the other. “I guess I just… got into the habit of being more delicate from Mom.”

    “Mom,” Har repeated. “The Fire Guardian?”

    “Yeah. I guess she always shook hands delicately. And Dad—his arms are… different, so he’s kinda always careful about what he does with them.”

    “Oh,” Har said, looking at his hand. “Right… yeah…” He looked at Owen’s hands again, then at his eyes. “I… I can’t go by that name anymore. Owen. I can’t.”

    Owen frowned. “How come Ani, Ax, and Lygo are different?” he said. “They don’t… feel as upset about all this. But you…”

    Har couldn’t look at Owen in the eyes anymore. “It’s complicated,” he said. “I don’t… I don’t know if I know how to say it. I’m just… I’m you. And I’m not you. And they’re…” Har shook his head. “Well, after a hand shake like that, you’re nothing like me anyway.” He forced a smile.

    “Heh…” Owen mirrored it, but knew the issue wasn’t over. But he knew himself well enough to know he shouldn’t push it. Not now. He did, however, have another concern. “Are you hungry?”

    “I’m freaking starving.”

    <><><>​

    “Anam, out for a stroll?” Nevren followed him carefully.

    “Mhm!” Anam happily walked down the caverns. “I heard that Wen-Wen came back! Right? You told me!”

    “Ah, yes, I did tell you,” Nevren nodded, walking with his spoons floating in front of him. “Quite an interesting pair, the two.”

    “Two?” Anam said.

    “Yes. Owen and Har are of the same species. That is to say, they’re of the same Charizard base, made from the same Synthetic model.”

    “Oh! So, is the other one also called Owen?”

    “Hmm, he used to,” Nevren said. “But I overheard that he changed his name to Har.”

    “Har. I like that name!”

    “I suppose as good as your name hypothetically being Ood,” Nevren said.

    “Ood. That sounds like it could be a fun name, too! Would you call me Ood, Nev-Nev?”

    “I would prefer Anam.”

    “Oh, okay,” Anam said, walking for a while longer. “And I prefer not being controlled.”

    Nevren stopped in his tracks. Anam did the same. The caverns were completely silent. A small bit of slime from Anam’s right arm plopped on the ground, and Nevren was almost positive that he could hear the echo repeat three times.

    It had been longer than a moment that Anam knew this—there was no way he could Revise long enough to make him never realize. After all this time, he became careless. No, that was because of Eon. Anam would have been used by now if it wasn’t for his order.

    “Controlled?” Nevren repeated.

    Anam turned around, frowning. “How come, Nev-Nev?” he asked. “I thought we were friends.”

    “We are certainly friends,” Nevren said. “I value your contribution to the world greatly. It was through your efforts that Kilo is stable. I have no intention of destroying what you worked toward.”

    “Then how come?”

    “It was part of Eon’s orders.”

    “You said you didn’t like Eon anymore,” Anam said. “When I saved the world from the Divine Dragons’ War, you said that I was better than Eon. When I saved Rhys, you said that I deserved to save the world. And that Eon wouldn’t do it right.”

    “And I held my word for four hundred years,” Nevren said. “Times change, I’m afraid. In fact, time is running out.” Nevren held his hand forward, pointing it toward Anam’s head.

    “Don’t.”

    “I must,” Nevren said.

    “I won’t do anything,” Anam said. “If you’re still friends with me… you won’t control me.”

    “I’m afraid you’re already under my control, Anam,” Nevren said. “Your instincts have been rewired. If I give the command, you will obey.”

    “Do you care about me?” Anam asked.

    “I care about you dearly.”

    “Nev-Nev… let me go.”

    “I’m afraid I cannot.”

    “But we’re friends.”

    Nevren nodded. “We are. But I cannot. This is my duty.”

    “Why?” Anam asked. “Why do you need me like this?”

    Nevren was silent.

    “Nev-Nev…” Tears flowed thickly from the Goodra’s eyes. “What’re you gonna make me do…?”

    Nevren stared at Anam for a long while then. And for a single, fleeting instance, Nevren wondered if he felt something. He shoved the emotion away; that sort of useless thinking was what made Eon throw this entire plan into chaos. He had to press onward. Follow his duty.

    The Alakazam finally answered. “I’m going to make you save the world.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  18. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 57 – Golden Breath

    Kilo Village didn’t change much from how Jerry remembered it. The early-noon sun was as bright as ever. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, holding it. Then, he breathed out and stretched his wings, soaking in the sun. Step was back to her normal, Rock-Steel form again, and thankfully Enet and ADAM didn’t have to change much to blend in. They had been worried about Star at first. Step, the strongest of the three Guardians accompanying them, summoned her, but when she emerged, she was instead taking the form of a similarly-colored, but much more mundane Espeon. Unfortunately, she was still see-through. It would have to do.

    “It must be strange,” Step said to Jerry. “You are Rock, yet you are also Flying. How do you reconcile your Types’ desires?”

    “Easy, high mountains,” Jerry said. “Caves are nice, but there’s no open air. What about you? Steel-Rock, and then Ice.”

    “Mm. I’ve grown used to the northwestern tundra. The caves are… not of my Orb’s element, but they appeal at least slightly to my primal desires. It will do.” Step nodded. “Briefly, I assumed the form of a Kommo-o. Caves and dens were appealing to me at the time. Perhaps some of that remained.”

    “A Kommo-o, eh?” Jerry said, intrigued. “So, you guys can just alter your forms, just like that?”

    “It takes quite a bit of energy and focus to maintain,” Step said. “But after a while, you grow accustomed to it. But never completely. It’s still easier to be, well… what you were born as.”

    Enet looked at the nearest building, peering inside, but it looked like a lot of people lived there. She saw three little nests with differently sized Pokémon resting on it. One was being fed a watery, white liquid from a bowl by a Miltank. Another was simply resting. A third was being attended to by an Incineroar. He seemed to have trouble with walking, and the Incineroar was acting as a crutch.

    “What’s this?” Enet asked.

    “Inconclusive,” ADAM said.

    “Hm? I’m not sure,” Step said. “…Ah, wait. I believe it seems familiar to me…” Step suddenly stiffened. She remembered being here, once, only a few decades ago. It was not a happy memory.

    “…Are you guys serious?” Jerry asked. “It’s a hospital. It’s where Pokémon that were badly hurt and couldn’t be healed go to recover. I used to go there for my back issues, actually. Threw it out when I lifted something the wrong way back when I worked in construction.”

    “Construction. For homes?” Step asked, eying the hospital. “Hospital… ah, Cent…”

    “Let’s not get distracted, guys,” Star said. “Let’s head to the marketplace! Bound to find a good bed there.”

    “Are you sure you should be taking the front?” Jerry said. “You look like a ghost.”

    “Aw, it’s fine! I’m just… practicing astral projection.”

    “Is that even real?”

    “They’ll believe it if I say it. After all, what else could I be?”

    “Literally God.”

    “What else could I be expected to be?”

    Jerry rolled his eyes. Nobody was listening from the Waypoint. They came at a good time. Most of the Hearts were out on their assignments, and most of the civilians were working. Too early for lunch, too late for breakfast. “You’re just lucky this is during the lull of the day.”

    Impatiently, Star tapped her ethereal paw through the ground. “C’mon! Let’s go.”

    Enet tilted her head at Star. “Cute.” She pointed at her.

    “Cute, eh?” Jerry said, walking with them. “Hmph. She just chose that form because it’s got a similar color.”

    “Hey, I pick different forms all the time! Kinda comes with the job description.” She suddenly stopped. “Oh, oh! Okay, actually, can we make a detour for a second? Step, how much did you guys bring?”

    Step opened the bag, but before she could speak, ADAM buzzed the answer. “We have been allocated 70,347 Poké.”

    Jerry choked on air. “H-how much?!”

    “Seventy thou—“

    “I heard, I heard,” Jerry growled. “But why so much?!”

    “You will have to ask the Gardevoir that question,” Step said. “And perhaps also the polite Lucario. They were the ones who provided the funds.”

    “How much…?” Enet asked.

    “Ah. You do not know how much that can buy?” Step asked.

    Enet nodded.

    “Hmm, well,” Step said. “I do not know, either. ADAM?”

    “I am not familiar with the raw purchasing power of Poké. However, I am familiar with the prices of a number of items here. Blessed Berries for the purposes of exploration tend to cost approximately one hundred Poké. They are not very filling. Raw foods, such as apples or potatoes, tend to also cost one hundred Poké. Most plant food items cost that much. Meats cost significantly more per energy unit. The cost of food for a carnivore significantly outweighs that of herbivorous or omnivorous Pokémon.”

    “Tell me about it,” Jerry muttered.

    “Considering food alone, assuming one does not go hunting and foraging, I expect the cost of food for a full year to be approximately 300,000 Poké at minimum for a carnivore, and significantly less for an herbivore. Omnivores will therefore be in the middle range.”

    “Sounds about right,” Jerry confirmed. “I had to do these numbers pretty often.”

    “What else must be paid for?” Step asked.

    “Well, your house, if you have one and didn’t just pick out a cave. But thanks to the Association’s whole Beat as One campaign, we still have to pay for any piece of land that we own as a tax. And that’s not counting actually building or buying it.”

    “Is that part expensive as well?” Step asked.

    “Depends on the sort of home you want to build. If you wanna live right here in Kilo Village, with the cutting-edge of technology and all that? Get ready to live in debt for the rest of your life.” He shrugged. “But me? We lived down south in Pyrock Village. Much cheaper. Not the cheapest in all of Kilo, but it worked.”

    “…We?” Step said.

    Jerry’s jaw shut tight from whatever he was about to say.

    “Mm. I understand,” Step said with a nod. “I will not prod.”

    The Aerodactyl relaxed, though his dampened mood didn’t go away. “Thanks,” he mumbled, avoiding eye contact.

    “What’s Poké?” Enet suddenly asked.

    “Uh, money,” Jerry said. “You use it to buy things.”

    Enet stared blankly.

    “…Right. Wild.” He sighed, rubbing the top of his snout. “Okay. Let’s say you want to get an apple. So—”

    “Tree.”

    “Let’s say you want an apple, but you don’t want to go in the trees to get one.”

    “Then… no apple.”

    “Okay, yeah. Normally. But let’s say, eh, someone else got an apple.”

    “Their apple.”

    “Yeah. But then, you give them this. A hundred Poké.” He looked into the bag around his neck, pulling out a little gold coin. He gave it to Enet.

    She held it confusedly in her claws, sniffing it. Her snout wrinkled.

    “Yeah, uh, lots and lots of Pokémon have touched that over time,” Jerry said.

    “Gross.”

    Jerry shook his head and advanced. “For that, I get an apple, and you get a hundred Poké. Now, let’s say you do that a few times. You make it a job for you to gather apples. Then, people give you Poké for the apples you give them.”

    Enet blinked for a while longer, but then nodded. “Apples… Poké. Why?”

    Jerry then pointed to a nearby shop. It had much better food items on display there—pastries of some kind. “Now, you can use the Poké you earned to buy something for yourself, without having to do all the work for it.”

    “I… give Poké… for apples?”

    “Not apples. But it can be, if you want. But for other things.”

    “Apples… becomes Poké… becomes… other things?”

    “There, you’re getting it.”

    “…Gets… everything else? From apples?”

    “Yeah.”

    “So… if only apples… I, apples, with… that become Poké?”

    Jerry’s eyes widened slightly. “Exactly. You’re… you’re pretty bright, aren’t you?”

    “Bright?” Her ears flicked.

    “Smart.”

    Enet flinched. “I’m… smart?”

    “Y’seem smart to me,” Jerry said, shrugging. “You pick up on things fast. That’ll do you well, especially since you used to be feral.”

    Enet lit up, nodding. “Yeah! Smart!”

    “Heh.” Jerry looked off. “Yeah, smart.”

    Step tilted her head, making a low, grinding noise when the plates of her neck ground against one another. “You look much better when you smile.”

    “E-eh?” Jerry struggled to keep his walking pace.

    “Intimidation figures decreased significantly,” ADAM said.

    “Rrff. Well, now I’m gonna think about that every time I smile,” he growled. “Thanks.”

    “You should,” Step said. “I wish I could smile.”

    Jerry looked at the Aggron. “Oh, yeah. Look at that. Your lips can’t move.”

    Step nodded. “I suppose if I socialized, it would be a bit difficult.”

    “That’s odd,” Jerry said. “Sometimes, I get the impression that you were smiling.”

    “Hm.” Step avoided his eyes. “How interesting of you to say.”

    Jerry watched Step, smirking. “Like right now.”

    Her chin flicked upward, jaws closing tight. “Hmph." She snorted out a puff of ice. “Then perhaps we shall both not smile.”

    “Guess so.”

    The further they walked, the more Star picked up the pace. “There!” she said. “Hang on, can we spend a bit on this for a second?”

    “Uh, why?” Jerry said, squinting. “What is this place?”

    Jerry wasn’t very familiar with this part of town. They had gone far north in the crater. Normally, this part was for Dungeon equipment, but even further north held newer buildings for less essential living. The ghostly Espeon stood in front of one of these newer buildings, colored a bright blue, with letters in black at the top. “Smeargle’s Sketches.” Not very catchy, but it got the point across.

    “C’mon!” Star said.

    “What’re you doing?” Jerry groaned. “I thought we were getting a bed. Don’t tell me you’re the sort to go on some sort of shopping spree the moment you have a bunch of money on you.”

    “No, no,” Star said. “Trust me, give me this, okay?”

    “Look at that, God telling us to ‘give her this,’ like she’s some kind of little kid. Hey! Are you listening to me?! I’m calling you a kid!”

    The interior of the blue building was littered with papers and cloths dusted with paint, and the air itself smelled of the same paint. There was a hint of sweetness to it, too, like bits of berry juice was used to make some of the pigments. No windows. Near the back, they saw a Smeargle working on a large canvas almost as big as he was, standing on a wooden stool to get some extra height.

    “Uh, hello?” Star called.

    The Smeargle tilted to the left. “Hm? Oh. How long were you there?”

    “Not long. Can we get a commission from you?” Star said.

    He was so inattentive that he didn’t even realize Star was transparent. “Sure. My prices are on the wall.”

    Star craned her neck to see the prices. A large, full portrait went all the way up to 25,000 Poké, and Jerry, fearing for his funds, was about to speak up.

    “That one,” Star said. “Small frame, full color. That’s about big enough to put on a little shelf, right?”

    “Oh, that’s a popular one. Sure. I’d love to do that. What of?” He stopped his painting and sighed, rubbing the hat-like fur atop his head. “I need a break from this one anyway. I’ll put it on pause. If it’s a small frame, I can probably get it done by the end of today. How’s that sound?”

    “Sounds perfect! Actually, I can give you an exact idea of what I want here. Can you lean forward? Close your eyes. I’m gonna give you a vision.”

    “A vision? You must be an incredibly powerful Psychic—I’ve never heard of that before.”

    “Yep, I’m pretty talented.” Star stuck her nose in the air, earning a muted growl from both Step and Jerry.

    Smeargle put his tail down and leaned forward, closing his eyes. Star stared at Smeargle, the little gem in the middle of her forehead flashing once. Smeargle opened his eyes a bit wider than usual. “I see,” he said, nodding. “Of course. That’ll be 5,000 Poké. I’ll take half now, and half when I’m done.”

    “Deal,” Star said, nodding at Jerry, who, figuring that it wouldn’t be too much out of their supplies, obliged, pulling out two gleaming, silvery coins and five gold ones.

    “Okay. If I had to guess, I’ll be done by the evening. I want to get this in while my mind has that vision fresh.”

    “Don’t worry, it’ll last a while,” Star said, nodding. “Thanks!” She spun around. “Let’s go back.”

    “Sure.” Jerry said. “I take it you aren’t telling us what you had him draw?”

    “Nope. It’s a surprise!”

    “I’m getting really tired of these surprises,” Jerry said, following Star out with the others.

    “Okay,” Star said. “Let’s go back to what we were supposed to do. Jerry’s bed! And then let’s just hang out in town for a while, huh? Wait for his picture to finish.”

    “Oh, it’s a picture for me?” Jerry prodded.

    “Uhh—no, I didn’t say that,” Star said.

    “You’re terrible with secrets,” Jerry said. “Actually, you know what, I—uff!” He bumped into Step’s back, dinging his jaw against one of her armored plates. “What’re you doing, stopping in the middle of—”

    ADAM blared an alert signal, flailing his body. Enet covered her ears and glared at ADAM, muting his general area with her illusions.

    Across the road, exiting out of a nearby building with a bag overfilled with little snacks and trinkets, was a familiar, tiny, deadly Espurr.

    “So what? It’s just some kid on errands,” Jerry muttered.

    “Th-that’s Rim,” Star said. “Oh, of course she’d visit here during the down time.” She looked at the others. “We need to go.”

    Rim turned her huge eyes toward them—it looked like she wasn’t expecting to see them, either, based on how they bulged even wider.

    Jerry rolled his eyes. “Honestly, the way you’re being, I wouldn’t doubt it if…” His voice trailed off in a long drawl. Jerry felt, for just a split-second, a sharp pain in his back, but that faded as quickly as it came. Also fading was his general ability to feel anything. His legs gave out from beneath him, and his wings refused to cooperate. Enet yelped and ran toward Jerry, trying to wake him up with ineffectual slaps.

    The Aerodactyl was awake, but paralyzed. His body twitched and convulsed, a pointed, iron spike sticking out of his back, laced with some sort of potent venom.

    “Got you.”

    Star and the others spun around—Step slower than the rest—and saw a Salazzle clutching another iron spike, just in case it was needed. Step glanced back at Rim next. She was drawing nearer.

    “How bold to try to hide among the crowd, Jerry,” Salazzle said.

    “S… Spice…” Jerry grunted.

    “Oh, come on!” Star roared. “Jerry! You stupid—I thought Anam cleared your—"

    “Sorry for the suddenness, you guys,” Spice said, twirling the spike in her claws, “but Aerodactyl is a very dangerous outlaw. I needed this little activity, anyway. I’m restless. Aerodactyl Jerry! By the power of Team Alight, you’re under arrest!”

    Rim stood right behind them.

    “Who’s the kid?” Spice said.

    “N-now, hang on,” Star said. “Let’s not freak out about this, okay? Let’s just—”

    Step instantly became transparent, covering the ground in a thick layer of ice.

    Jerry now knew what it was like to have a layer of snow over his entire body. He made sure to avoid the north thanks to the intense cold. He was always wary of Ice Types. Even when he preyed upon the weak and unsuspecting for their change and their equipment, he avoided the Pokémon he’d have a natural disadvantage against. He had the fortune of never having to deal with Icy attacks in his life.

    Now he was three feet deep in a layer of slush that froze him like nothing else. He screamed a muffled scream from beneath the snow, beating his wings to break out. By some miracle, he found the surface and clawed his way out and onto his feet. When he emerged, he noticed a distinct lack of Star—Step’s initial blast must have dissolved her spirit, sending her back to the spirit world.

    “What—”

    “GET DOWN!” Step roared.

    Jerry reflexively hit the snow with his body again, wincing at the stinging cold against his front. Just then, a beam of icy energy brushed mere inches above his head, leaving behind a snapping layer of frost.

    Kilo Villagers screamed in panic from their buildings, hiding inside. Jerry dared to peek out from his snowy shelter. ADAM was still blaring his alert signal, but he was also concentrating a bright light at the tip of his beak. Enet had disappeared completely—he had no idea where she went. Step held her hands forward, shooting Ice Beams from each palm at something in the sky.

    “What is that thing?!” Jerry shouted over the icy blasts. He struggled to stand, but then realized that the poison in his system was still hampering his movement even more than the snow. He struggled to dig through his bag, hoping he had a Cheri Berry on him.

    Something touched his left wing. “Spice!” Jerry said.

    “You need to explain to me what in Mew’s name is happening right now,” Spice hissed.

    “Oh, like I’d know!” Jerry hissed. “These people are insane! Get—get out of here. It’s too dangerous.”

    Rim dodged every single Ice Beam. Bags and bags of groceries floated around her. Apples mingled with Oran Berries. Pages of books turned on their own in the wind, large novels trapping smaller comics within. Little trinkets and toys bumped against each other in a cloud above the Espurr.

    “Hyper Beam at fifty percent,” ADAM announced.

    “What? He’s charging a Hyper Beam? I thought that technique went in reverse!” Spice said. “Just fire already!”

    “Normal Hyper Beams are not enough for the Hunter,” ADAM reported. “Supercharging.”

    “What does that even mean?!”

    “Don’t question it!” Jerry said. “Get this Mew-forsaken spike out of my–AGH!”

    To her credit, Spice obeyed, having yanked the spike out of him without a second thought. Blood dribbled from the open wound. Spice slipped a small vial made of sugar into Jerry’s mouth and said, “Bite.”

    Jerry obeyed without thinking. Energy surged through him and his wound closed instantly. “Ungh—” He winced at the strong, bitter aftertaste.

    “Aggron!” Spice yelled. “Stop disturbing the peace!”

    “The Hunter is dangerous,” Step replied, pointing at Rim.

    “That little thing? Come now, she’s adorable! A little creepy, but c’mon! And you just froze the entire street! I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

    Step disregarded Spice’s existence and stared at Rim again. She was still watching them, unblinking.

    Step kept her right hand aimed at Rim but knew that the moment she fired, she’d just dodge it again. She used it as leverage. “Why are you here?!”

    Rim finally blinked at Step, but then motioned to the groceries behind her, as if it was obvious.

    “Tch… a likely story,” Step said. “Where are the mutants, then? You surely have them nearby.”

    Rim shook her head.

    “Oh, really? You just happened to come to Kilo Village at the same time we do? To get groceries?”

    Rim fidgeted with her paws, nodding. The various items scattered behind her rearranged themselves into their respective bags, clicking shut once full. Rim accidentally dropped an apple, losing her focus. She looked back.

    That was Step’s chance. She slammed her tail on the ground, sending a huge wave of snow behind her. It buried both Spice and Jerry, and the hulking Aggron flew straight into the air. Her fist enveloped itself in frosty air; despite her bulky frame, she moved from the ground to the air right in front of Rim in a fraction of a second. Rim only had time to stare back at Step and gasp.

    She collided with the barrier, shattering her own fist upon impact. Step hissed and drew her other arm back. Rim’s eyes flashed purple. Step realized too late that she wouldn’t be able to dodge it.

    The Psychic blasted her to the ground in a spiraling motion, drilling into a building across town. Reinforced rocks and mortar fell on top of her, along with the surprised screams of the inhabitants. They scrambled out of the crumbling home.

    Rim hastily gathered her supplies and shut her eyes, ready to disappear.

    Spice crawled out from the snow. She puffed a plume of fire into the ice and pulled Jerry out next. The Aerodactyl, shivering and wet, only had a few seconds of what he could call stability—as he was at least on his feet—before a new disturbance ruined his balance.

    ADAM fired.

    The Hyper Beam was dense and narrow, but the light it emitted made it appear to be almost a fourth the radius of Kilo Village itself. A white core surrounded by yellow and orange swirls, accented with unstable red sparks, slammed against Rim’s barrier. She shut her eyes tight and held her paws out.

    The Beam scattered across her barrier, blowing huge holes in the clouds above Rim. Some stray beams deflected back to the ground, scorching rooftops. Others carved new dips in the streets like the claw of some titanic Garchomp.

    Step jumped out of the building and then slammed her foot on the air on an invisible platform, reorienting herself straight for Rim. Her fist was healed, and she shattered it for a second time on the Espurr’s barrier. This time, she broke through.

    “Got you,” Step hissed, wrapping her claws around Rim’s throat with her remaining hand.

    Her eyes widened with panic. Psychic, swirling energy churned around Step, but the Aggron squeezed her claws, digging into her throat. That was all she could do. The Psychic blast tore her arm into five icy chunks. The hand remained latched onto Rim, stuck in its clenched position. Desperately, Step slammed her remaining, handless arm down onto Rim and pushed her toward the ground.

    They landed on top of the grocery store, breaking through the roof. Berries, fruits, and vegetables scattered in all directions. An innocent southern Vulpix became buried in the scattered produce. A Froslass and Tangrowth running the shop fled for their lives into the streets.

    Step didn’t even take the time to ask Rim for last words. She brought her one arm down onto her skull. At the last second, a final barrier blocked Step from finishing her off. Her eyes glowed and blasted the icy Aggron out of the shop, breaking the entrance apart. She tumbled across the ground and stopped on her back, too disoriented to get up.

    Rim gathered up her groceries—somehow mostly intact—and emerged from the shop, staring at Step unblinkingly. Step’s icy claws fell from her neck, leaving behind a small patch of blood.

    “Urgh…” Step tried to stand, but a force kept her held in place. “On my back against a Psychic… just like Ra…” She growled out a curse, blowing another puff of frost into the air. “How appropriate.”

    Rim’s eyes flashed—but then her entire body suddenly jerked to the right. The Espurr yelped, a bloody wound abruptly forming on her side. A second one appeared next to the first, slashing down her arm. Rim’s eyes flashed to the right, twisting the air, but whatever was attacking her was completely unaffected. A third slash slammed against Rim’s barrier, but then a fourth cut diagonally across her back. She screamed and fell to the ground, panting.

    Lithe footsteps kicked dirt into the air. That was enough for Rim to flash her eyes again, this time firing a strange beam of Bug-imbued energy toward the steps.

    Enet’s illusion dropped instantly. The once-invisible Zoroark went flying across the street, tumbling and twirling on the ground until she stopped in a dusty, dizzy heap.

    Step managed to get to her feet. In the little time she had, she rushed Rim and raised her remaining arm. The Espurr didn’t have time to react, only to turn and stare at the icy death that awaited her.

    “NO!”

    A concentrated plume of fire slammed into Step’s back, turning a portion of her tail into water. Then, it exploded violently, sending Step clear over Rim and on her partly-melted back. Her left leg shattered, absorbing most of the impact.

    “Who—?!” Step hissed.

    Standing on the opposite side of Rim, rushing to her side, was a Typhlosion, nuzzling the tiny Espurr’s cheek. “Are you okay?” he asked.

    “Lavender,” she said quietly. “Go away…”

    “No! I’ll save you!”

    “I’m… fine…”

    “Get away from the Espurr, child!” Step shouted. “Or die with her!”

    Step rose to her one remaining leg, holding herself up with her one arm on the opposite corner of her body. A cold wind spun around them, snow gathering and compacting around her missing limbs. In mere seconds, Step’s body was in one piece again. She held out both hands toward Rim and left no time for either of them to answer.

    Lavender brought his arms forward and held his head down. A shield of light blocked Step’s onslaught, protecting Rim just behind him.

    “Do you really think a mere Protect barrier is enough for me?!”

    She kept firing. She delved into the depths of her Mystic strength to press even when the Protect barrier started to fade. Lavender grunted and held his hands forward again. The Protect barrier flickered and shattered.

    Lavender yelped in pain, the Ice Beam freezing his chest, leaving large crystals behind that made it hard to move his arms forward again for another Protect.

    “Rim… run away! I… I’m not allowed to hurt them… Dad said so!”

    Rim struggled to stand, looking behind her. She nodded.

    “As if I would allow such a thing!” Step said. She looked up and spotted ADAM finally approaching from the air. She could only tell because of the multicolored blast flying down from him. Freezing, shocking, and burning energies all mixed into one and slammed into Lavender from behind.

    He howled, falling forward. That left Rim open to attack. The Espurr wobbled toward the downed Typhlosion, completely vulnerable. “Now!” Step shouted to ADAM.

    “Target locked.” The Proygon-Z fired another Tri-Attack for Rim. At the same time, Step unleashed her final Ice Beam at her. If those two connected—based on how Rim’s body was so strained, her barrier depleted—it would kill her. It had to.

    “STOOOP!”

    Lavender lunged over Rim and enveloped her body in his fur. Ice wrapped around his left side and the mixed auras of the Tri-Attack scorched, shocked, and froze his right. The flames on his back erupted and melted the ice away, sending plumes of steam into the sky.

    Step saw him move away. She grunted frustratedly. At this rate, they’d escape. She squinted, trying to read their auras through the steam, but something about Lavender’s aura made looking at them sting. It was blinding. Staring at Lavender was like staring into the sun with wide eyes.

    “Ugh, to the void with this,” Step muttered. Her normal sight was more reliable at this point, even with the steam. With a splitting headache from looking at Lavender’s glowing spirit, she opened her eyes.

    She saw a shadow in the rising vapor. She had no idea what it was, but it could only be Lavender and Rim. The icy Aggron readied her hands, taking aim.

    Something jumped out of the steam. Something Step had never seen before. It moved so quickly that she couldn’t get a good look at it—only that it went on four legs, with a white head and neck, a black body, and green forelegs like talons.

    Lavender moved so quickly that Step didn’t have time to change her aim. She fired out of reflex. To Step’s fortune, it hit the creature right between the eyes, split by the strange crest atop its head. To Step’s misfortune, it didn’t even slow him down.

    The talons of the strange creature glowed with a fiery, orange aura. Still in the air, Lavender swung his forelegs down onto Step. The fire melted the top layer of her icy body and the impact shattered the rest of her shoulders, leaving her armless. The forward momentum carried into Step, knocking her backward.

    “Ungh—!”

    Lavender jumped in the air again; his form eclipsed the sun from Step’s vantage point. She only saw his silhouette—and then his eyes, narrow and glowing with a golden light.

    A spirit emerged from Step’s chest—a large Kommo-o. And then two more appeared right beside him. All three of them slammed their chests in unison, sending clanging shockwaves toward Lavender all at once.

    It was barely enough to disrupt his strike; he fell to the ground and shook his head.

    “R-Ra—”

    The largest Kommo-o looked back. “Pull yourself together.”

    The other two went to either side of Step and helped her up.

    Enet, finally awake, struggled to her feet, severely hunched over.

    ADAM’s beak was glowing with a halfway-charged Hyper Beam.

    Jerry and Step finally rounded the corner in time to see what had happened on the opposite side of the street.

    Lavender was completely surrounded, yet it didn’t look like he was anywhere near finished. His eyes glowed, fierce and fiery, like his flame-imbued talons.

    Rim sat up. “Lavender…”

    He looked back. The golden light in his eyes dimmed. “H-huh?” Suddenly, his body convulsed. He bowed his head in a retch, and then a cough. A golden, ethereal cloud spewed from his throat and onto the ground, comprised of tiny orbs of light. Lavender gasped and clamped his jaws on as much as he could, practically breathing them back in. Despite this, some evaporated away anyway. Lavender coughed again, expelling even more of that golden fog.

    In the chaos, Rim crawled to Lavender. She tiredly pulled out a strange device from her pouch—Step caught sight of it. A shining Badge—identical to the ones Team Alloy carried with them.

    Step fired another Ice Beam, this time from her mouth, but by the time it got to their positions, the pair vanished in a golden light.

    She huffed snowflakes. “Pathetic,” she said, though it was hard to tell—even for herself—who that was targeted toward. And then, she fell.

    “Mom!” one of the Kommo-o spirits said. She caught Step under the right arm. “Kana—help—”

    The other daughter held Step up by the other arm.

    The largest Kommo-o walked briskly to her side. “How are you?”

    “The Hunter got away,” she hissed. “Ra…” She glared at him. “Thank you for helping.”

    Ra nodded, offering a proud smile. It faded seconds later. “We must regroup. That thing was not normal. Another weapon of the Hunters.” He looked back at the others. ADAM was dispelling his charged Hyper Beam gradually with a soft glow. Enet had collapsed onto her back, breathing steadily. Jerry and Spice caught up to them.

    “You’re explaining to me everything,” Spice said.

    “I’m gonna tell the same thing to that cursed Mew,” Jerry hissed back.

    “Mew?!” Spice said. “You’re kidding.”

    “I wish I was.”

    Spice looked between them, rubbing her head. She addressed Jerry. “The… ice-Aggron is showing signs of aura fatigue. We need to bring her to the hospital.”

    “Sure,” Jerry said.

    “After that, we’re gonna get you and these three processed.”

    “Excuse me?” Jerry said. “Didn’t you hear me?! I said my name was cle—”

    “Fine, maybe not you, but certainly the Aggron and Porygon-Z.” She pointed to them. “They clearly assaulted the Espurr to cause all of this mess!”

    “Are you—” Jerry paused. With Spice’s perspective, Step did initiate the strike. But there had to be a good reason for it. Step was one of the most reasonable Pokémon he’d ever seen in this insane collection of nutcases. Was she a nut, too? Perfect.

    “Safety first,” Spice said. “Let’s take her to the hospital. If you can explain it to me then, I won’t arrest them, but I can’t say the same for all the other Hearts when they see the damage she did. The—” Spice hissed. “I need to check the other buildings for anybody injured, too. Jerry, you’re helping me.”

    “What—”

    “I’m putting my faith that you aren’t lying to me when you said your name’s cleared. Help me with this. Besides, isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?”

    Jerry grunted. He dug through the bag around his neck and pulled out his Provisionary Badge. “Guess so.”

    Step’s eyes bulged. “You idiot,” she said, shoving him back. “Show me that at the beginning. Now I don’t have to threaten you with my poison.” She pointed to the right street. “Check that side. I’ll check the left. Okay?”

    “Alright. And what about them?” Jerry said. “They don’t know the way to the hospital.”

    “Oh—I do,” Cent spoke up. “I used to work there.”

    “Of course you did.” Jerry sighed. “Fine, then you bring him and the Zoroark to the hospital, got it?”

    “Okay. Dad! Carry Enet!”

    “…Must I?” Ra asked.

    “It’s only fair,” Step replied. Despite her exhaustion, her eyes shined with amusement.

    A smirk that only Ra recognized. “You’re enjoying this.”

    “I am.”

    He awkwardly approached the Zoroark, hesitating to get any closer. She locked eyes with him briefly and growled.

    “Hello, Enet,” Ra greeted.

    A dark aura enveloped her claws. Ra expected as much.

    “I’m here to help,” he said, pointing behind him. “I’m with the Ice Guardian. I cannot hurt you.” A simple lie to get the feral to cooperate.

    Enet stared at Ra. “…You’re mean.”

    Ra swallowed his pride and lowered his head and upper half in a bow. “I’m sorry.”

    Enet huffed and got up to her feet, taking a few stubborn steps past him. She couldn’t keep it up, stumbling over her own feet. Ra held his arm out and caught her. She growled at him again, but finally snorted, resigning herself.

    They walked along the icy roads. The snow was rapidly melting. The overabundance of water drained effectively through the drainage ditches that lined the edges of the streets.

    “Mnngh…” Step groaned. “Golden…”

    “What?” Kana asked.

    “Star’s… telling us to be careful,” Step said.

    ADAM fell in line with the other two injured Guardians. Up close, it looked like the Porygon Z’s beak had somehow deformed from the overexertion of his attacks.

    “I was unable to detect aura readings during the battle,” ADAM reported. “Attempting to scan user ‘Lavender’ resulted in a sensor overflow. The scanner had to be rebooted. Three attempts were made with the same results. When light sensors detected a golden color, aura sensors were briefly operational. A large number of individual auras were detected for three seconds.”

    “Souls…” Step tried to walk normally again, but she heard her icy joints creak. “Star is saying… that those lights… were souls…” Unable to remain conscious, the Aggron finally passed out, leaving her daughters to carry her the rest of the way.
     
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