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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

    I'm glad you caught this! Part of it is because I'm having a bit of trouble juggling between eight(!) characters, and/or four pairs of characters, but Owen and Har are absolutely the "most different" when you go past superficial things, like how Mispy barely talks but Ani has no problem, or the accent for Gahi. Hopefully in a few chapters from now, this'll make a tiny bit of sense.

    You're right that I don't do formal trainer battles that often so there's less "trainerly" strategy going on... but in my defense! Owen's folks rely largely on positioning and brute force to win--they're a sweeper team, with Mispy being the healer in the back. But because they have a glacier like Demitri/Ax, healing doesn't do as well as it should. Additionally, Owen and Har are a bit green on the whole giving-commands thing, and as you see, they're more in line with leading from within the fray than outside.

    I do hope I can get a bit more strategy in for future arcs, though, when perhaps overwhelming power is no longer enough or available.

    Nice! Yeah, I'm slowly trying to get better at how to handle mysteries, which things are good to keep and which ones are fine to toss in.

    I think it was mentioned in one of the flashbacks of Special Episode 2 as an aside.Frankly I forgot where I put it, too, or if I put it at all...

    I kind of muddled the waters here, partly on purpose, and partly because nobody but Star and her ilk would really know the relevant answer. Characters use spirit and soul interchangeably, but there is a difference on a practical level. But for now, all you really need to know is that the body contains the aura, which contains the spirit, which is the golden stuff that Lavender was spewing. Generally speaking, spiritual things are gold, while aura things are cyan.

    Yep! We're slowly creeping toward more plot. We've got stuff happening in three places at once...



    Next chapter should be up tomorrow. A final few chapters for a wild ride before the next Special Episode. I hope you guys enjoy~
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  2. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 59 – Blessings

    Using the Badge to find Owen had been a bad idea: Eon had warped right to the Central Waypoint of Kilo Village.

    His tail-flame erupted, and he realized that he had to put his blindfold on before he lost his shape. Sure, he would be fine if he transformed now, but it was so inconvenient and disorienting. No other Ditto in the world had the same overactive Imposter ability that he did—so active that even his Mystic abilities had trouble suppressing it, somehow.

    He generally preferred the Charizard body, anyway.

    Digging into his pouch, he pulled out his scarf and wrapped it around his eyes, careful that the little lucky charm he liked to keep with it remained between his eyes once the blindfold was tied tight.

    He took a single step, and a new thought crossed his mind.

    Wait. Should I be looking like Owen right now?

    As a Charmander, Owen had the weakest sense of Perceive that Eon was able to tap into masterfully to see where he was going. But as a Charizard, it was almost overwhelming.

    If he used Owen’s Perceive—which he still struggled with fully processing when he tried—he would accidentally transform into someone that he ‘saw’ with the ability. That would’ve made the blindfold useless to begin with! He usually had Owen to concentrate on to retain his form if he didn’t have the blindfold on, but even then…

    He didn’t think this though.

    And why was it so cold? They weren’t deep in autumn yet.

    Wait. Was being Owen a good idea? In the middle of Kilo Village, Step and the others would surely spot him. They’d think he was Owen, and then—that was bad.

    He really didn’t think this through.

    New plan. Act natural. Suppress your aura.

    Perhaps having Perceive would be useful after all. He could sense that Step and the others were in a hospital nearby. Powerful Guardian auras that perhaps only Lucario and skilled Psychics would notice. They wouldn’t find him if he kept his aura low and suppressed; they seemed distracted anyway.

    Tip-toeing his way through the streets, he earned a few uneasy looks by passerby Pokémon. What were they so afraid of? It wasn’t as if he—

    He was a mutant. And he was sneaking around town, and apparently Step had clashed with Rim right in this very street, given how everything was overrun with melting snow. He did it again. He made a rash decision, and now he was in one of the most precarious positions he could have put himself in. A mutant body, with a Hunter aura, in the capitol of the world, filled with Guardians and Hearts alike.

    If Nevren found out about this, Eon could imagine the amused smirk he’d give. No, Nevren never smirked. But he would for this, wouldn’t he? First time for everything.

    He glanced to his right; he saw a southern Vulpix trying to tug a Riolu out from a huge mound of snow that had collapsed over her.

    Eon winced, huffing out a strong plume of fire. Keep the form. He had to make sure Step and the others were still there, and his Perceive was the best way to do that. It was hard to miss a Guardian’s aura and their strange bodies. The strain—reading his Perceive and maintaining the body that could use it—was like holding his breath. He had been holding it for minutes by now.

    “S-so… c-cold…” Riolu tried to squirm out, but Vulpix just wasn’t strong enough.

    “Stupid snow… why can’t I be the cool Fire version of me, huh?” Vulpix lamented.

    Why me? Eon abruptly redirected to Riolu and Vulpix before reaching forward. He didn’t say anything—in fact, Riolu let out a surprised yip—and pulled her out from the snow, nodding. “Sorry.”

    He then turned around and hastily wandered off, barely suppressing the aura sensors from forming on the side of his head.

    “Is-isn’t that a mutant?” Vulpix squeaked.

    “Southern, like you!” Eon shouted back, though if he got a reply, he didn’t hear it. Maintaining the form was starting to bring on a headache; even with his Mystic power, this strange curse plagued him. At least now he could maintain something at all. I should’ve brought Angelo’s sketch of a Charizard or something, Eon thought, thinking back to the local Smeargle’s sketches.

    It seemed that there were still rescues underway within the overwhelming snow. Some parts of the town were buried in several feet of it; entire buildings were snowed over from roof to floor. One building in particular had some movement within that only his Perceive could sense—a Shinx and a Murkrow. The snow was too thick; they couldn’t tell which way was up or down.

    Eon sighed and put both palms on either eye, letting out a frustrated sigh. He paced toward the building, then away and to the southern side of town, and then back to the building, and once again back to Waypoint Road. But ultimately, after taking several circles—and drawing a few concerned looks from others in the rescue effort—he went to the building and blew gentle flames into the snow.

    Using his Perceive, he resolved to at least help with the rescue effort, keeping an eye out for if the Guardians—or perhaps more meddlesome, Hecto—were at risk of spotting him.

    Owen would be fine. He had to help these townsfolk, first.

    <><><> ​

    “Is it just me,” Owen and Har said—both of them abruptly cutting themselves off.

    Har grumbled, but Owen tittered.

    “Sorry,” Owen said. “You go.”

    “Is it just me,” Har growled, but then returned to a neutral tone, “or have we been walking for way longer than we should be?”

    Lygo rapidly beat his wings. “Oh, good, that’s not just me.”

    It felt like they had been walking through the Hot Spot caverns for at least a chunk of the afternoon—though that may have just been the boredom and hunger settling in. Everything looked the same. Owen was almost positive that they’d passed by the same patch of mushrooms five times.

    He had offered to eat the mushrooms—they were actually very filling, even if the taste left something to be desired—but everyone but Mispy and Ani politely declined. The latter two plucked a few to try, though indeed, the taste was… bland. Though it did leave their mouths with a slight glow.

    “We have been wandering for quite a while,” Rhys said, looking at the rocky ceiling. “In fact, it almost feels as if we’ve taken the same turn numerous times. Owen, Har, could you sense the way out for us? Perhaps we should have asked that sooner.”

    “Sure,” Owen said. He closed his eyes, expanding his aura. The knowledge that this was all concentrated in his horns like some kind of freakish, scanner-like appendage was distracting. He thought back to how his senses worked as a Charmander, with only his eyes. Such simple times. Now there was a whole lot more to digest.

    “Ow,” Zena mumbled.

    “S-sorry,” Owen said, having accidentally stepped on part of her body.

    “What, you can’t focus?” Har asked. “Let me do it.”

    “Okay.” Owen sighed. “I think I’m still trying to adjust to it. It’s so overwhelming when I’m out in a big area, too.”

    “No clue why you get that,” Har said. “I just turn it down when that happens.”

    “Wait, you can really just turn it down, just like that?” Owen asked.

    Ani spoke up. “You can’t?”

    “No,” Owen said. “I think it’s all or nothing.”

    “Explains why your horns are removable. I bet Nevren made you that way so if something happened, he can just tug them off.”

    “Right,” Owen said. A thought crossed his mind. “And Rhys! What’re you gonna do with the ones that broke off, huh?! I saw you sneak them into your bag!”

    Rhys flinched, reflexively clutching at the strap across his shoulder. “It might be useful one day,” he said. “It won’t take up that much space.”

    “Get help,” Mispy said with a sigh.

    “I’ll have you know, I have no need for help,” Rhys said. “One day, you will thank me when something seemingly useless becomes useful. I’ve seen it happen countless times.”

    “In comic books?” Demitri asked, earning a deep, trembling giggle from Mispy. “Say Rhys, when’s the next edition of The Steel Chemist coming out, anyway?”

    “Second moon of autumn, why do you—” Rhys shook his head. “It will be useful.”

    Har’s belly abruptly groaned. Shortly after, Ax and Ani joined the chorus.

    “I’m with yeh,” Gahi said, claws grasping at the scales of his gut.

    “I’d ask to use our Badges if it wouldn’t just be a waste of the power,” Owen said, looking at his supplies.

    “I can’t find the exit,” Har eventually reported, absently clutching at a bit of scales on his belly. “I’m gonna starve to death if this keeps up.”

    “Oh, quit exaggerating,” Ani said, rapping a vine at Har’s shoulder. “How far did you check?”

    “I have no idea,” Har said. “It almost feels like I can’t look too far before it gets… blurry and weird. But that can’t be right, so maybe I’m just tired and it’s messing with my Perception.”

    Rhys paused. “Hold on,” he said, looking through their inventory.

    “What’s gonna be useful this time, Rhys?” Har asked with a little smirk.

    Rhys glared, pulling out a Badge. He tilted it left and right, and then held it up. After a second, he brought it down again; the little button in the middle glowed faintly. “…We’re in a Dungeon.”

    They all stopped walking and stared at Rhys, and then at his Badge. While Trina’s Alloy was not familiar with how Badges worked, Owen was. The indicator light meant that, indeed, they were still within the distortions associated with Dungeon atmospheres.

    Owen and Har spoke first. “What?”

    “We’re in a Dungeon,” Rhys repeated. “The Badge is very accurate with this sort of thing. I doubt it is a false reading. The Hot Spot training area has become a Dungeon.”

    “Th-that’s—that’s impossible! Right?” Owen looked at the walls. It explained why their walk had been taking so long, but why now? Did they even notice the distortion upon entering, or did it become one while they were inside? Sure, distortions were subtle, but surely they would’ve noticed it. Then again, with how distracted they all were with the upcoming fight…

    “Dungeons don’t just form spontaneously,” Zena said. “When did the last one form?”

    “They had to form somehow,” Rhys said in a murmur. “But you’re right. A new Dungeon hadn’t formed in at least a century. We need to be careful. If this is a fresh Dungeon, the distortions won’t be very intense, but that can change very soon. It hasn’t been blessed by Anam. We should leave before the distortions become something to worry about. I’d rather not lose you all here. Now, Owen, do you have your Badge with you?”

    “Yeah, I think we all do. That’s more than enough charge to bring everyone back if we just use… three, right?”

    Rhys nodded. “We will perform an emergency exit. Keep all of your belongings near you, please.”

    Har and the others looked themselves over. Having no belongings, they just stared expectantly at Rhys.

    “Er, of course.”

    He, Mispy, and Owen pressed their Badges and held them toward the ceiling. In a flash of light, they vanished from Hot Spot Dungeon and reappeared next to Valle in the town square. Based on the cavern’s glow, more time had passed than they thought. The mushrooms were a lot dimmer in the Dungeon area compared to here, suggesting that it was getting close to early evening.

    “You disappeared,” Valle greeted.

    “Yeah, for some reason the training area became a Dungeon,” Owen said.

    “That is abnormal.”

    “Yeah, really abnormal, actually,” Owen said. “When did we disappear?”

    “Near the midpoint between here and the training area.”

    “Pretty far into the caves,” Owen translated for Trina’s Alloy. “Hmm… that’s not good…” He turned to Rhys. “Did Nevren ever get any theories on why Dungeons appear?”

    “A few, but I can’t be certain unless we ask him. Eon actually was trying to figure out the same thing, before, well, they severed their alliance with one another.” The Lucario crossed his arms, pensive. “Perhaps this new data point is what he would need. Valle, where is Nevren?”

    “He, with Anam, disappeared into the same Dungeon.”

    “Wait—they were trying to find us?” Owen said. “And we missed them?”

    “Anam wanted to go on a stroll. I do not know why.”

    “Bah, want me ter go get ‘em?” Gahi asked, fishing around for his own Badge. “Figure I can just fly along and pass the message. Figure I’ll also be able ter tell ‘em myself in no time.”

    “No, no, that won’t be necessary,” Rhys said. “May I borrow your Badge? I will look for them. You all should stay back and eat with your counterparts.”

    Har snorted. “I was kinda looking forward to your cooking,” he said. “I haven’t had it in a really long time.”

    “Ah, well…” Rhys’ aura sensors drooped slightly.

    “It’s alright,” Owen said. “Elder can tell us how to cook instead!”

    “Ah! Brilliant,” Rhys said, nodding. “He will gladly help with cooking. Does that sound fun to you all?”

    “Kinda,” Ani admitted, glancing at the others. “What do you think, Lygo?”

    “Sure,” the Flygon said. “Maybe we can have a cook-off! We may’ve lost the battle, but I bet we can cook better than you guys.”

    “Oh please, what’s a buncha bug-followers got over us?” Gahi said, crossing his arms. “I bet we can copy some random food in Kilo Village’n beat you.”

    Demitri tittered nervously. “Um, actually, l-let’s not butt heads so soon.” He looked at Ax, who had been unconsciously sharpening his axes with his claws. He squeaked and hid behind Mispy, who glared at the Haxorus copy.

    “What?” Ax said, plucking out one of his axes. “I was getting it ready for slicing berries.”

    “Slicing…” Demitri’s eyes flashed with interest. “That’s right! I could totally use my tusks for easy cutting! A-after I wash them, first.” He poked his claws together, the light of recollection sloly filling his eyes. “I think I remember… being really into cooking before, right?”

    “You were,” Rhys confirmed. “Always trying new dishes, actually, each time I made one. You’d try to replicate it.”

    Demitri’s tail twitched and he played with his claws a bit more. “I don’t think I was any good at it, though.”

    Mispy bumped her snout against Demitri’s shoulder, shaking her head. “They were good.”

    “Mispy loved anything you cooked,” Rhys said. “I’d argue she enjoyed your cooking more than anybody else.”

    Mispy hummed, agreeing, and that made the Haxorus straighten his stance. “Then what’re we waiting for? Let’s get cooking!”

    Rhys smiled, trying his best to keep his tail from wagging, and departed to find Anam. Meanwhile, Trina’s Ax and Ani watched Demitri and Mispy with mild fascination. “We could’ve been like that?” Ax said to Ani.

    “Still weird,” Ani said. “I don’t get why Mispy barely talks, either. Is something wrong with her?”

    “Something’s wrong with all of them,” Lygo said, rolling his eyes. “But you know what?” He motioned for them to look at Har’s tail. “This is the happiest I’ve seen Har in a while. Let’s keep this up, alright?”

    Ax and Ani blinked at the cheerful flame, but then looked at Har’s frowning face. Ani groaned. “He’s trying to be cool.”

    Ax rubbed his forehead. “Charizard can’t mask their emotions to save their lives.”

    <><><> ​

    Now that he was aware of the distortion, it was clear when he passed into Hot Spot Dungeon. The usual, vertical wall of water-like ripples of light—like a giant soap bubble—spanned the entire corridor, and once he passed through, the mushrooms dimmed instantly after passage.

    Without Anam’s blessings to keep the Dungeon structured, he was unsure of what to expect. Thankfully, because of how young the Dungeon was, he didn’t expect the twisted space to be anything to worry about. Perhaps it would be even more benign than the average blessed Dungeon?

    After a mere five steps inside, a sudden chill ran down Rhys’ fur. The aura sensors on the back of his head felt squeezed. Rhys winced, trying to deafen his own senses, and looked around. What was that? It felt like Anam, but… different. He rarely felt that sort of pulse unless Anam’s aura was unstable. That often happened when he had to actually fight seriously. Rhys couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.

    “Anam?” Rhys mumbled, quickening his pace.

    Just in front of Rhys, on the ground, a black splotch formed in the rocks. He stopped, staring at it. Out of paranoia, he formed an Aura Sphere in his paws.

    At first, it was only the size of an Oran Berry, but then it expanded until it was as big as his head. And then bigger, until it was nearly half his size. Rhys stepped back, taking aim.

    A shapeless, black blob rose out from the ground and lunged at Rhys. “Ngh—” He immediately fired.

    It exploded on contact. The inky blackness it was made of went in all directions. Rhys held up an aura shield to block any of it from getting on him, but it didn’t matter. The blackness evaporated into nothing.

    It occurred to Rhys that if that was one of Anam’s Ghost spirits, his Aura Sphere would have been useless. Realizing that a brisk walk was no longer warranted, he sped through the Dungeon in a full sprint.

    A few more black splotches appeared near the middle of the caverns again. Rhys jumped over them, looking back to see more of those strange things form within. They were mostly blobs, but some of them struggled to form more complex shapes. There wasn’t enough time to determine what they had become. He stared ahead and saw three more rise before he had the chance to go past them.

    Not wanting to risk making contact, he fired another Aura Sphere at the middle blob. While that one exploded, the two remaining ones slid toward Rhys and expelled a ring of darkness in all directions. Rhys didn’t react quickly enough; the darkness sank into his fur and the skin beneath, eating away at it. He yelped and jumped away, clutching at his abdomen. It was a good thing he packed his bag. He grabbed an Oran Berry and chomped down. With his free paw, he fired another wad of aura at the darkness.

    The third one showed no fear. It advanced toward Rhys, shooting another ring of darkness out toward him. Rhys held out an aura shield, but his surprise doubled when the dark ring ate through the aura matter like flames on butter. His paws instantly felt like they were burned all the way to the bone. Hissing, he pulled away and fired a final Aura Sphere.

    In an explosion of darkness, it evaporated. Rhys grunted and stared at his paws, the fur falling away. It felt numb. He grabbed a second Oran Berry, realizing he only had one left after this one. He downed it and advanced, sensing Anam and Nevren once he passed through the next section.

    He felt Anam’s presence even more strongly, now. But he also felt the looming presence of those blobs again. They seemed so familiar to him, but it had been ages since he’d last seen one. He couldn’t recall anything but their familiarity. The term was at the edge of his mind. And then, rounding another corner of the caverns, he spotted—

    “There!” Rhys said. “Anam!”

    “Hi Rhys!” Anam waved, but then turned his head to the right and blasted a Dragon Pulse straight into another one of the black blobs, disintegrating it instantly.

    “Greetings,” Nevren said, directing his spoon toward another of the shadows. With a twisting, Psychic blast, it vanished next.

    “Anam! I believe we’re within a Dungeon that had formed recently. I don’t know what these things are, but perhaps that has to do with it. You must bless it!

    “I gotta get to the core to do that!” Anam said. “I think it’s further in!”

    “Then let’s go before these things surround us completely,” Rhys said, looking at his paws. “I can still feel their attacks, even after the Oran Berry. It’s like it ate away at my very aura. No, that’s precisely what happened. What are these…?” When he thought about it, they seemed familiar. The memory was so long ago and so faded, though.

    “I believe we’ve encountered something similar long ago,” Nevren said. “Ahh, the name, what was the name… Ah! Wraiths. That’s what we called them.”

    That did it. Rhys’ fur stood on end, his aura sensors rising on high alert. Flashes of hoards of those shadowy creatures chasing after them from all directions in Dungeons that had been left to run rampant, just like Rotwood Fen where Nevren had found Anam to begin with. “We have to go quickly,” he said. “Anam, can you sense the Dungeon’s center?”

    “It’s not too far. Stay behind me!” The Goodra sluggishly advanced, his horn-feelers twitching. Rhys followed at an agonizing pace, readying Aura Spheres for any incoming wraith.

    “So! What brings you here, Rhys?” Nevren asked. His eyes glowed with a readied Psychic, just in case a wraith tried to catch them by surprise.

    “Ironically, this Dungeon,” Rhys replied. “The two Alloys had a sparring match here not long ago. We didn’t realize we were in a Dungeon until our walk back was… significantly longer than our walk in. A check of our Badge and it all became clear. It’s no wonder ferals get lost within them. We could hardly notice!”

    A wraith pounced at Rhys from behind. Nevren’s eyes flashed even brighter and the wraith spiraled away, slamming into the wall. It splattered and evaporated.

    “Thank you,” Rhys said, hanging his head in embarrassment.

    “Not too far now,” Anam announced. The horns on his head throbbed uncomfortably. “Definitely close.”

    “Quite nostalgic, this,” said Nevren. “We haven’t gone on a blessing exploration in generations.”

    “Dungeons haven’t been appearing for just as long,” Rhys said. “Nevren, do you have any guesses on why they appear when they do?”

    “I’m beginning to form a theory from this new datum,” Nevren said. “Could it have to do with Mystic power? Perhaps. But I will wait until we have this all taken care of before I divulge that. I’d rather not distract us when—”

    Rhys fired an Aura Sphere just above Nevren’s head. A wraith had dropped from the ceiling, threatening to engulf him if Rhys had been a split-second too late.

    “Yes, quite like that,” Nevren replied. “Thank you.”

    Rhys continued on his walk, occasionally glancing at Anam. He had been walking uncomfortably slowly for a while, as if something was holding him back, or something was troubling him. Perhaps he just felt the pressure of another blessing after such a long time. These wraiths were certainly frightening—perhaps Anam was just trying to put on a brave face for them.

    Anam suddenly stopped, pointing a stubby arm forward. “There.”

    A strange, black fog filled the area ahead. A distortion was far down the hall in the opposite direction, indicating the way out of the dungeon. The twisted dimensions would return them either to the opposite side of the cavern they had entered, or back where they came from, depending on how the Dungeon’s layout behaved. Since it wasn’t blessed, there was no way to control this.

    But they weren’t going for the exit. They had to wade through another part of the Dungeon, through the cloud of black fog.

    “This is usually the part where only you advance, is it not?” Nevren said.

    “It’s too dangerous for you to go any closer,” Anam said. “I need to go, um, on my own. Just for a little bit, so I can bless it from the inside.”

    “I’d like to come with you this time,” Nevren said.

    “I as well,” Rhys said. “It has been a while. You might need extra protection.”

    “No,” Anam said.

    “I’m afraid I’m not giving you a choice in the matter,” Nevren replied. “You will let us come with you, yes?”

    “N…” Anam struggled with his own words.

    Rhys watched Anam curiously. “Anam? Are you okay?”

    “Anam,” Nevren said.

    “N… okay,” Anam said. “But be careful! If a wraith gets you… and pulls you under… I…”

    “I’m sure we will be fine,” Rhys said.

    “Mmgg…” He nodded and reluctantly advanced. “Stay close to me,” he said. “The clouds are bad for you.”

    Anam held his arms out, forming what seemed to be a bubble of radiant, golden light. It was too dim to be Protect, yet Rhys felt just as secure within, at least from the darkness. When Anam stepped toward the clouds, they parted away, fizzling when they got too close to the light. Rhys saw wraiths in the walls, staring at them—at least, he imagined they were staring. Without faces or any definable features, it was hard to tell what they were doing. But he could feel their gaze nonetheless.

    “Anam,” Rhys said. “What are these things, truly? You seem to know quite a bit about them. Are they just known as wraiths?”

    “Shh,” Anam said, waving him down. “They’re angry…”

    Rhys stopped. “What?”

    The black clouds whispered incomprehensibly.

    The Lucario’s fur stood on end, aura sensors throbbing in pain. “I’ve never had such a sensation in a while,” he said, digging through his bag. He pulled out a scarf and wrapped it around the back of his head like a reverse-veil. He sighed. “Much better.”

    “Rhys, what is that?” Nevren asked.

    “Thick-Aura Scarf. If my senses are ever overwhelmed, this helps to block it.”

    “Why in the world do you carry that with you?”

    “It could’ve been useful. It’s only a cloth.”

    “You truly must keep your hoarding tendencies in check.”

    “It’s not hoarding,” Rhys said. “I’m merely being thorough. I collect important artifacts.”

    “My Looplet prototypes are next to useless, yet you refuse to part with them,” Nevren said.

    “Perhaps one day it will be useful.” Rhys stuck his nose in the air.

    “And perhaps I should set you up for a therapy routine,” Nevren muttered.

    Anam suddenly stopped walking. “We’re here,” he said.

    The whispers were overwhelmingly loud here—almost like yelling. Rhys was glad for his scarf. “I’ve never been to a core like this before,” Rhys said. “What is all of this? It’s never been like this before.”

    “They’re mad…” Anam said. “I’ll calm them.” Anam raised his arms in the air, and then his horns. This was followed by twenty-one tendrils of light sprouting from his back. He took a deep breath, and then released it. “May your spirits… find peace,” he mumbled.

    A pulse of light emanated from him, passing right through Nevren and Rhys. It expanded into the dark clouds—they all shrieked and backed away, but the pulse advanced too quickly. They dissolved upon contact.

    Rhys noticed Anam’s body briefly darken.

    Seconds later, Anam was back to normal. The golden tendrils retracted into him and the Goodra spun around, grinning. “All done! The Dungeon is nice and stable!”

    “Impressive,” Nevren said, nodding.

    “Yup!”

    “Well, if that’s the case, we should leave,” Nevren said. “Why don’t we advance to the exit of this Dungeon? We can use our Badges for a routine warp to Hot Spot afterward. We have our Waypoints configured for there, yes?”

    “I do,” Rhys confirmed.

    Nevren made a sudden, strange movement toward Anam, like a half-glance, half-gesture. “Should we get going, Anam?” he asked. He slipped his hand into his bag, as if feeling for an item aside from his Badge. Rhys caught a glimpse of a second Badge with a dim, gray center.

    “Nevren, you aren’t nervous about this place, are you?” Rhys asked. “You’ve been grasping at your lucky charm quite often.”

    “Ah, I apologize,” Nevren said. “I suppose I am just trying to be careful.”

    “It’s still very odd that you’re so superstitious,” Rhys said. “How could a Pokémon of science like you wind up believing in a lucky charm?”

    “How could someone so diligent such as you wind up with an endless pile of expired Pecha Berries?” Nevren countered evenly.

    “Rrgh.” Rhys turned around. “Let’s go.” He reached for his scarf.

    “Ah, Rhys—”

    “Yes?” Rhys asked, taking the scarf off.

    He was almost instantly hit by the intense, flaring aura of Anam. He nearly put it back on. “An—Anam, are you okay?” he said.

    “Huh? I’m fine!” Anam said.

    Nevren stood still. He looked at his lucky charm again. Still gray. “Hrm… This may not be worth the trouble of a few hundred Revisions.” He said it under his breath and then slipped the Revisor back into his bag. “I’ve already tried twenty times. It’s quite tiresome. Considering how close we are, this will have to do.”

    “…Excuse me?” Rhys said. “Nevren?” He winced at the flaring aura. It was as if Anam was fighting against something, yet he stood completely still. “Anam, has this blessing destabilized your aura?”

    “No… it’s not that…” Anam said. “I’m just fine! This Dungeon wasn’t bad at all! It was a tiny one. C’mon! Let’s go home!”

    “Anam, you’re acting strangely,” Rhys turned around completely, facing them. Nevren stood still.

    Anam just kept smiling. Rhys squinted, stepping a bit closer. “Anam…?”

    The Goodra’s smiling expression faltered. But then he nibbled his hands nervously. “It’s okay, Rhys. Nothing’s the matter.”

    Nevren’s hand was hovering over a peculiar, blue badge. Rhys eyed this. His lucky charm. “Nevren,” Rhys said, “do you know what’s wrong with Anam?”

    Nevren was quiet. His face held no expression, as usual when in private. His typical, friendly demeanor was tucked away for when it was needed. Right now, it was not necessary. In fact, the façade was not necessary, either. Rhys would have been the first to find out, anyway, along with Elder.

    Rhys looked back at Anam. He took a tentative step closer. No, his aura was all wrong. “You’re unusually happy after a blessing. You’re much more somber most of the time, if I remember correctly. What changed, Anam?”

    “Umm…. I dunno!” Anam said. “I just am! Ha ha!”

    Rhys stepped directly toward Anam, craning his neck to look directly at his face.

    That’s when he saw it. Despite Anam’s cheerful smile, there were thick, gooey tears streaming down his face, mixed with the slime of his body.

    “Are you okay?” Anam asked. “Aww, cheer up! Everything’s fine!”

    “That will do, Anam,” Nevren said, tapping his two spoons together.

    Anam suddenly stiffened; his expression washed away, and he stood still, silent, and neutral. Tears continued to stream down his face, but he did not act.

    Rhys stood still. “…Anam…” The walls felt far away. It was like they were the only things in the world… Rhys, Nevren… and his puppet. “Nevren… you…”

    “This outcome is less than ideal.” Nevren bowed his head. “…Anam. Subdue him.” He flicked his spoon and Anam lunged toward Rhys.
     
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  3. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 60 – Black Clouds

    The rush of thoughts that swirled through Rhys’ mind in that instance was incomprehensible even to himself. His heart raced with an adrenaline he hadn’t felt in centuries; the aura that leaked through his paws felt like cinders. That dense pit in his stomach finally blossomed into a great, burning coal that cooked him from the inside.

    Rhys rushed for Nevren. But Anam was in the way; the bulky dragon swung at Rhys with no technique or reason. That made it easy to dodge, but it was still a dodge. Rhys jumped away, gaining distance between him and the puppet Goodra, whose tears still flowed from his blank eyes.

    “Nevren!” Rhys shouted. He swung his arm to the side, aura embers dancing in front of him in a small shower of lights. “You—what are you doing?!”

    There was no way. Nevren had worked with Anam for centuries. Countless inventions to build Kilo Village to its current, advanced, peaceful state. The world had finally been unified and at peace! Save for the Guardians, there had been no more peaceful a time in all of Kilo than this very day. And Nevren was behind a large portion of it, all for the world.

    “You said that Anam deserved the world!” Rhys roared, aiming an Aura Sphere toward Nevren, but the ember flickered with hesitation.

    “I did,” Nevren said, expression unchanging. “And at the time, I meant it. But unfortunately, centuries have passed, circumstances have changed… and perhaps Eon was right after all.”

    “You… you TRAITOR!” Rhys’ Aura Sphere flared to life. He fired directly at Nevren, but Anam stood in the way, taking the blast instead. His gooey chest burst apart, spattering the walls, but more of the purple slime slid into place.

    This time, Anam’s throat glowed with red fire. Rhys’ instincts screamed to get further away, and he had to obey. He jumped back again, gaining more distance, just in time to leap to the right to dodge the flames that singed his fur. He blasted another Sphere toward Nevren, but once more, in the narrow halls, Anam took the blow. This time, Anam’s arm lost its shape, returning to normal after a few seconds.

    “Ironic,” Nevren said, “to call me a traitor, when you were the first to make that Divine Promise to Zena, explicitly abandoning your role.”

    “My role,” Rhys repeated, aura sensors rising with his anger and overflowing power. “I never had a role here.”

    Nevren shrugged. “Star created us to gather the Orbs. Is that not—”

    “Don’t be so coy with me,” Rhys hissed. “You know that’s a lie. We were never created. We were conscripted.”

    “I suppose, yes. Auras cleansed with just her mark on our ancestry, all for the purpose of her divine mission. A bit haughty, in hindsight, is it not? And Star did warn us herself that should she ever lose heart, we should carry on for the greater good. We all know she was an undisciplined god. She herself knew this would happen. A rare moment of foresight. More irony for the Psychic, I suppose.”

    Rhys finally caught his breath during the pause. “Then I suppose I lost heart just as she did. What we’re doing is not for the greater good. It is just borne from a desire for power. That much is obvious.”

    “Then you would prefer how things are now?”

    Rhys kept his muscles tense and ready for any sudden movements from Anam. Despite this, he faltered briefly. Thinking that Anam would take advantage of this, he redoubled his stance and fired a warning Sphere toward him. Anam swung one of his horns and knocked it into the wall, shattering the rocks.

    Nevren continued, casually waving his right spoon in a small circle. “Biding your time and living in blissful ignorance. Satisfied and resigned with your eternity. Does this not bother you, Rhys?”

    “Of course it bothers me,” Rhys said. “I wouldn’t have become a Hunter had it not. But this, Nevren, is not the right course of action. It will only give way to more blood and more mistakes. Another war. Every time we fight for the Orbs, it always winds up the same way. The Orbs collect and scatter, mortal lives are lost, the Guardians live in stagnation.”

    “And your approach now is different, how?” Nevren asked. “Owen’s charisma is impressive, seeing as he befriended over half of the Guardians, but that is really all he can do. He has no intention of gathering them into his person, just like Anam.”

    “Anam cannot. He made a Promise to never gather the Orbs as part of his spirit.”

    “Ahh,” Nevren said. “That is true. That is true. When a Divine Promise is broken, their Mystic power will be channeled into the other that they made the Promise with. We have seen it before, after all, with Madeline and Tanneth. Yet Star and Arceus… they went to great lengths to not only gain Promises from the Guardians… but to also prevent them from breaking them. Have you ever considered why that is?”

    “No,” Rhys said. “It’s quite obvious that they both want that power to stay separated, and for the balance of the world to be maintained. Arceus with a third, Star with a third, and the world with the rest.”

    “Perhaps,” Nevren said. “Yet, the Promise has never been broken. Guardians fear Promises, because it is so easy to break them. You must have your fullest will when creating one, after all. Did you know that Star implied to Guardians that a broken Promise meant the destruction of not only their power, but their very spirit?” He tilted his head. “What a cruel thing to say.”

    Rhys growled. “It isn’t wrong. Look at what nearly happened to Amia when her power was depleted. Body and aura as one, she nearly faded completely from this world.”

    “The best lies,” said Nevren, slowly lowering his spoon again, ceasing his circle, “are the ones wrapped in truth. That is not why Star discouraged the Guardians from breaking Promises of any kind. The real reason is because if they broke just one Promise… they would learn the truth that Owen inadvertently uncovered for us. That the Orbs and their Mysticism are not intertwined.”

    Rhys stared at Nevren, his guard still up. “How is that relevant? What significance does that hold?”

    “Long ago, Arceus created weak embodiments of the Types. The plates? I believe that was what they were called. He created many of them, really, though only one set was truly filled with any meaningful amount of power. And then he imbued a third of the Hands into a set of them, transforming them into the Orbs. That is the story we were told, is it not? We assumed that the Mysticism was forever bound. But when Owen fused with Gahi… part of that power went to him, did it not?”

    Nevren paced left and right, as if he was reasoning this out for himself just as much as Rhys, perhaps to reiterate for himself the scheme the gods had tried to keep a secret. “I sensed it. I was waiting for it to happen. When Eon unleashed Gahi and they fused together… I checked Gahi’s spirit shortly after. And within him, I detected ten Hands. At the time, at least. With all the fusing they do with one another, I imagine the number has shifted.” Nevren shook his head, looking down. He spotted a bit of rubble caught in his left mustache. He shook it away with a tiny Psychic blast. “Rhys, if a Promise is broken by an Orb holder… they do not lose the Orb. They lose their Mystic power.”

    Rhys blinked. “Then—if someone gains their Mystic power, but not the Orb itself…!”

    “Indeed,” Nevren said. “Someone can gain Mystic power and uphold their Promise.”

    “Th-that’s—that’s preposterous!” Rhys said. “Why would Star and Barky allow such a huge oversight?!”

    “Why indeed?” Nevren said. “While it’s clear that Star and Barky are not fully aware of the very world they created, I doubt they were ignorant of this. Unfortunately…” Nevren clicked his spoons together. Anam, who had been stationary, stiffened. “That is the extent of my theory. I do not know what they planned to do with this knowledge, only that they did not want other Guardians to know about it. Frankly, we don’t even know if they have other Promises with each other.”

    “That’s it?” Rhys said. “The Orbs and the Hands are not tied together, and you plan to use this exploit to gather power into Anam? Why didn’t you just have Eon gather the Guardians together?”

    “Well, we would have,” Nevren said. “Unfortunately, not only were the Guardians extremely evasive, but only Star knew where they were, and only after a lot of sleuthing in the aura sea and the spirit world. Only recently did the Guardians become so visible. Quite curious, isn’t it? And not only that, but Eon trying to fight all of the Guardians himself would be a risk.”

    “So, you admit that Anam is stronger than Eon,” said Rhys. “That if we combined our strength, we would have beaten him?”

    “Perhaps,” Nevren said. “The statistics suggest that Eon would still defeat you, though not without great sacrifice. This plan was merely to minimize casualties. For example, instead of waging a war of mutants—that would be plan D, if I have my lettering memorized properly—we are instead having Anam absorb the power of the Guardians, leaving the mortals uninvolved.”

    “And what does that mean for me?” Rhys asked, aura flaring wildly.

    Nevren stared at Rhys with that same, unblinking stare. But there was a rare moment where he hesitated. “That is entirely based upon how you react here. I do not want to kill you. And the removal of your Mysticism may just do that. So, Rhys, here is my proposal: You speak nothing of this to the others… and I will not unleash Anam upon them.”

    Rhys snarled, showing his teeth. “I have no reason to believe you will hold up such a deal. You’ve already lost my trust, you…” His voice caught in his throat at the sight of Nevren’s cold, blank stare. “How can I call you my friend?”

    “Perhaps one day we can look back at this and laugh,” Nevren said. “But as a friend, Rhys, I do not want to hurt you. Speak nothing of this and lend your Mystic power when the time comes. That is all I ask.”

    “You could not have asked the same from the other Guardians?”

    “No,” Nevren said. “Because ultimately, their goal was to gather the Guardians, not the power. Nobody there wants to be a god.”

    “Then the mission has always been the same,” Rhys said. “To usurp Arceus and Star, and become gods instead!”

    An uneasy silence fell between the pair. Anam continued to stand, awaiting a command that never came. The Alakazam rubbed his chin thoughtfully, pushing the end of his spoon along his left mustache. “Hmm…” Nevren finally crossed his arms. “Yes.”

    Rhys fired three Aura Spheres in rapid succession toward Nevren, each one in three different directions. The first one Anam blocked; the remaining two hit Nevren’s spoons, cupped by the curvature, and redirected to the walls.

    “Now, is this really necessary?” Nevren asked even as two more Aura Spheres came his way. His Revisor a dim gray, Nevren easily moved along, deflecting each Aura Sphere, completely ignoring the ones that he knew Anam would properly block. Like steps to a dance he would only have to perform once, Nevren made easy work of the Spheres the same way.

    The Alakazam pointed his left spoon forward. Anam lunged toward Rhys, who grunted and stepped away. Anam still advanced, trying to grab the Lucario by the arm. Anam managed to grasp the spike on his wrist; Rhys reacted by slamming the back of his other one into Anam’s arm, piercing through with ease. Anam pulled at Rhys, but the puncture weakened his gooey arm’s integrity enough that it tore off completely.

    Rhys flung his arm to dislodge Anam’s hand, spattering it against the cave walls. He panted, realizing that he wasn’t going to be able to last against Anam and Nevren both. Not without pushing himself to the very limit. If he could just kill Nevren, that would be enough. Kill Nevren… would he really have to kill… Nevren?

    “Why?!” Rhys shouted. “Why couldn’t you have just been truthful?! Why are you still aligned with Eon? You told me you believed in Anam!”

    “I did,” Nevren said. “But as I told you before, that was centuries ago. I now realize that Anam’s hesitance to take action with his great power is what made me… disillusioned. Ultimately, Eon is the only one who has a vision for divinity, and one that can fix what the current administration broke. I’m afraid we will not see eye to eye on this, Rhys. I see that. And I apologize.”

    “If you’re truly sorry”—Rhys pointed his paw at Nevren—“then you will stand down, free Anam, and… and I promise not to speak of this.”

    “Oh?” Nevren tilted his head. “If I free Anam of my shackles, all is forgiven? By your honor?”

    Rhys’ paw trembled. “Yes. I only want peace. I only want to live with Elder again. My Promise was made from the bottom of my heart, Nevren. I am truly done with being a Hunter. I am a Divine Dragon.” Rhys slowly breathed out. “And it is the Divine Dragons that fight for the world.”

    Nevren’s eyes widened just slightly in amusement. “Quite a while since we’ve used such a term,” he said. “I believe it has been so underused that its original meaning has been lost to time.” Nevren closed his eyes, turning his head downward. “Much like the reason being a Hunter was lost to you, I suppose.”

    “It’s time that I free Anam,” Rhys said. His aura rose to a fever pitch, the heat in his chest not unlike the fire within Owen. It ran just beneath his fur and exploded out, coating his body in a blinding flare and solid armor. A blade of aura extended from his right paw and a shield formed around the wrist of his left.

    “Well,” Nevren said. “At least you know to wrap things up.”

    Rhys vanished from view, appearing right in front of Nevren. He slashed down the Alakazam’s chest, yet all that remained was a trick of the eye. Nevren was across the corridor, having teleported just a moment before. Rhys turned around and spotted Anam’s horns swinging toward him. He ducked and sliced through the incoming horn, using his shield to block the other. He sidestepped around Anam, lucky to not slip over the slime, and dashed toward Nevren again. The Alakazam blinked, teleporting on the opposite side again.

    Rhys turned around, only to be met by Anam’s horns, the sliced one regrown. It wrapped around tight, pulling him off of the ground. Rhys, choking, tried to pry Anam’s hold off, but not only was his horn too slippery, but his grip was too strong.

    “Let go, Anam! Break free! Break free…!”

    Anam’s grip strengthened. Rhys’ aura armor flickered from the pressure. With one hand, Rhys abruptly let go and sliced at the feeler that held him. It cut through like he was made of water. He fell to the ground, narrowly able to land on his feet. The detached feeler still held onto his neck with the same grip strength. He couldn’t pull it off, the pressure putting immense strain on his armor.

    Rhys rushed for Nevren again. This time, Anam’s remaining feeler extended and hardened into a horn, slamming into Rhys’ chest. He coughed and powered through it again, swiping at Nevren, who only took a step back. Rhys noticed that Nevren’s lucky charm was a dim gray.

    The armored Lucario held his paw out and formed a sphere of aura energy next. If he couldn’t get to Nevren physically, then he’d just have to keep working with—

    Anam opened his maw and sent a precise, silent burst of draconic energy into Rhys’ spine. That was all it took. Too much time had passed. His aura armor shattered and evaporated into little, blue embers. Rhys collapsed to the ground, drained and paralyzed from the waist down. His back had a burning, black hole in the very center.

    “Do you have any further protests, Rhys?” Nevren asked.

    Rhys grunted, staring at the wall to his right. The caverns felt so much narrower now that the Dungeon was blessed and normalized. Even if he wanted to flee, it would be too easy for Anam and Nevren to catch up. The halls, with Anam’s far-reaching strikes, would take him down instantly.

    He was already down, in fact. But a defiance kept him from stopping. He still had time.

    “No… please…” Anam whimpered.

    Rhys’ heart skipped a beat, looking back. “Anam… fight it!”

    Nevren tilted his head. “I have no intention of killing him. The Alloy would be devastated, should Rhys die. Still, we cannot have him injured, either, can we? Rhys, you can’t show signs of damage. Additionally, you are quite dangerous to approach.” Nevren nodded, glancing at his still-gray charm. “Anam, if you may.” He gave a small bow.

    Anam’s hands enveloped themselves in a black fog. He flicked them, and it descended upon Rhys.

    “What—” Rhys tried to move away, but his body didn’t respond.

    “Ah, ah,” Nevren flicked his spoon. “You shall remain where you are, yes?”

    Rhys’ body was rapidly deteriorating. The fur fell from his body in clumps; the flesh beneath it blackened. Rhys twitched to move, trying to push off the ground. With one final breath, he held his arm up. A sphere of white energy collected in the paw… and then faded. Rhys collapsed.

    A golden light erupted from Nevren’s bag and poured over the rotten Lucario. In moments, when the golden light faded, the Lucario remained, healthy, with a vibrant coat of blue-black fur. He gasped his first breath and jolted to his feet. The waste around him from his fallen fur and flesh faded into a dark mist, returning to Anam’s body.

    “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” Anam said, yet his expression was blank.

    “Now, we won’t be doing that again, will we?” Nevren asked.

    Rhys, hyperventilating, looked at his paws, and then back at Nevren.

    “Why are you surprised?” Nevren said. “Who in their right mind would go without a Reviver Seed? Still, a shame I had to use one of mine for this. You will not strike again, yes? Your body may be restored, but your aura is another story.”

    Defiantly, Rhys held out his hand again. A flickering, fading sphere formed. Anam stepped forward—

    “There is no need, Anam,” Nevren said, tapping his spoons together.

    Anam returned to a neutral stance.

    Rhys fired, but Nevren merely waved his spoon, creating an invisible barrier. The Flash Cannon’s energy evaporated like smoke in the wind.

    With weak knees and a light head, Rhys collapsed, paws on the ground.

    “Nevren…! You… you said you were finished with the Hunters,” Rhys said. “How could you lie to me? How could you have hidden this?!”

    Nevren shook his head, returning the Revisor to his bag. “I suppose I was very careful,” he said to Rhys. “After all, I have always been the most intelligent of the Divine Dragons, even before the schism.”

    Rhys was still shaking, even with most of his energy depleted. “Star will know,” he said. “Hecto will surely know… Hecto will tell Star. You know he will.”

    “And that’s just fine,” Nevren said, nodding. “Star has become irrelevant, unfortunately. Like Arceus, and like Anam, she has let her emotions cloud her judgement into inaction. The result? Centuries of suffering in silence by the Guardians, and indeed, by this entire, small world. It is as you said, yes?” Nevren asked. “When you and Star decided to nudge Owen into taking the Grass Orb, thinking that he, unaligned with anybody in this tedious shadow war, would finally lead to a resolution? That is what you meant when you spoke to Anam, when she finally convinced you to let him touch the Orb, correct?”

    Rhys flinched.

    “Yes, he told me everything about that conversation,” Nevren said. “Using Owen to tip the scales in our favor. Yet Anam did not know what to do with that power. Nobody did. Everybody was happy with keeping things as they were. Guardians in isolation. The Orbs, separate. The world in stasis and stagnation. Pitiful, isn’t it?”

    Rhys spat. “Eon would be a horrible ruler.”

    Nevren shook his head. “Anything,” he said, “is an improvement over two dead gods, Rhys. Fault Eon as much as you wish—he is at least compassionate for the plight of mortals, unlike Barky.”

    “Star is—”

    And responsible enough to know how much is too much.”

    Rhys replied with silence.

    Nevren continued. “You believed that Owen, the most intelligent piece of the Alloy, could overthrow Star, Barky, and Eon? And then, at the last moment, you would claim his mind. In the end, Owen is an Alloy, subject to our control. And as the most experienced user of the aura, you could control his very essence better than any of us. Is that correct, Rhys?”

    “That isn’t at all what my plan was!” Rhys shouted. “Owen has just come to terms with who he is. I would never steal that way from him—even if I could!”

    “Ahh.” Nevren’s eyes briefly glowed with realization, holding up a finger. “So, Owen is beyond your power, now? Is that it?”

    Rhys’ jaw locked shut.

    Nevren continued. “An even greater shame is that you made that Promise to Zena. Owen’s Mysticism is what bars you from controlling him. That is when I realized you were no longer working toward this plan. I was on my own. You’ve grown soft, Rhys. You, too, let compassion for the Alloy cloud your vision into inaction. You can no longer possess an Orb to control Owen. He will forever be ahead of you, simply because his Mysticism has outpaced yours. Of course, he could lower his guard, or you could slowly chip away at him…” Nevren glanced at Anam. “But it is impossible for this ordeal will last for another five centuries.”

    “Release Anam, Nevren!” Rhys swung his arm sideways. “This is too far!”

    “That cannot be done, Rhys,” Nevren said. “He was my assignment. And I do intend to let him continue in his position, as always.” He looked to Anam with a small nod. “He will continue to be the Association Head. I will wipe his memories of this interaction so he is not distressed over it.”

    “Memories cannot be wiped for a Mystic, Nevren. You may be able to wipe them from a body, but a soul keeps them all. And a Mystic will ultimately access them more than any mortal could! Anam will remember. Just as Owen’s memories kept returning the moment he became Mystic.”

    “Yes, but Anam will be near me,” Nevren said. “Should something trigger their return, I will seal them again. It is not a problem.”

    Rhys’ glare did more damage than any of his aura attacks currently could.

    “Think about Elder, Rhys,” Nevren said. “What would he do in this situation? I imagine he would tell you to stand down. There is no point in fighting further.”

    Rhys glared at Nevren, but his eyes softened when he thought about the Torkoal. “Elder…”

    Nevren waved his hand slowly in front of Anam. The Goodra blinked confusedly, wiping his eyes. “What happened?” he asked.

    “Don’t you remember, Anam?” Nevren asked. “We were going to return to Kilo Village to perform another Reviver Seed blessing. The darkness of this strange Dungeon must have had you thinking. You got so worked up over the idea of Pokémon dying without them, you may have gone into a panic.”

    “O-oh.” Anam sniffed, poking his fingers together into a big blob of slime. “Yeah.”

    “Come, let’s avoid such a fate! A grand blessing it is!”

    “Yeah!” He ran ahead, feelers twitching with an innate sense of where the end of the Dungeon was. He waited for Rhys and Nevren at the far end of the corridor, waving at them happily.

    The Alakazam tapped his spoons again. “Shall we wait, Rhys?”

    The ex-Hunter stared at Nevren. He didn’t have the power to defeat him. With Anam nearby, he could easily kill them again. Nevren had this all planned out—every piece for five centuries, calculated to this very moment. But this couldn’t be it. There had to be some way out. Some way to stop this madness.

    “If this is too much for you, Rhys, I could wipe this encounter from your mind, if you wish.”

    “I will never,” Rhys hissed, “allow you to manipulate my mind.”

    “I see,” Nevren said. “Very well.”

    Something dawned on Rhys just then. Was Nevren manipulating him, right then? Was Elder, too, being controlled? Rim? Eon himself? No—Eon was too strong. Rim, too. They had Orbs within them. But Rhys was vulnerable. Could he, right now, be—

    Rhys realized, right then, how Owen and the others must have felt. With whatever defiance he may have felt, he tried to push Nevren out of his mind, if he was there to begin with. He did not know. But he pushed anyway as hard as he could. When nothing happened, he did not know whether that was because Nevren hadn’t tried, or his hold was already so deep that it was useless.

    He wasn’t going to let that stop him. Rhys looked at his paw. Nevren couldn’t control him—he’d have been aware of it. If he took so long to manipulate Anam—who was already easily trusting and open—Nevren wouldn’t be able to get him. Rhys sighed, hoping that the same could be said for Elder.

    They walked toward Anam, Nevren to his right, Rhys to his left. Anam hummed a tune to himself, waving his head left and right.

    “Oh, and Rhys,” Nevren said. “As a reminder, if you tell the others about any of this… I will unleash Anam upon them early. If you are looking for a way to counter this plan, you’d best do it silently.”

    Startled, Rhys glanced toward Anam, yet the leader of the world hummed through it all. Did he even hear it? Or was he being controlled to hum? Was Nevren making him hum? Rhys watched Anam closely. He watched his eyes, happy as could be, beaming. Yet he didn’t see the light in Anam’s eyes. Instead, he saw gooey tears again.

    Rhys wasn’t sure what happened seconds later. Something new burned inside of him. He heard a horrible roaring inside of his mind, some primal anger that centuries of discipline had kept level and controlled. But this betrayal—this complete uselessness, despite all of his power, against someone he had trusted for lifetimes and generations—it was enough to shatter any dignified restraint he had.

    “Nevren…” Rhys growled.

    “Yes?” Nevren asked, glancing at his blue, glowing Revisor. Out of reflex, he reached down to hold it.

    “You… truly think… you can silence me like this?”

    “I do, yes.” He held the Revisor.

    His head pounded. Rationality left him. He didn’t care how cunning he was or how much he had planned. Even if this, too, was part of his plan, he refused to take the order quietly. The outcome no longer mattered.

    “I will NEVER—" In a spark of primal, helpless range, all of Rhys’ muscles tensed into a final flash of aura might. His armor and blade returned, dashing straight for Nevren. The Alakazam flinched and jumped to the side—something that surprised Rhys, who had been expecting a perfectly timed Teleport. Anam squeaked, falling on his back.

    “Rhys, stop!” Anam said, trying to get up.

    Rhys didn’t. With Nevren fallen over, he raised his blade and leaped into the air, red eyes glowing with aura. He slammed his blade down, grazing Nevren’s arm. The blade’s sharpness left a cut.

    Nevren pressed on his lucky charm.

    Nothing happened.

    The Alakazam stared at the Badge in pure disbelief, then at Rhys, split-seconds away from him. He blinked and disappeared, reappearing behind Anam. “Take him,” Nevren said hastily, waving a spoon.

    Anam stumbled forward, limbs jerking without total control. He opened his mouth and fired another Dragon Pulse toward Rhys. He easily weaved through it, aura armor flickering. If Nevren was going to dodge behind Anam, then he had only one option left. Rhys brought his arm back and plunged forward when Anam’s Pulse subsided.

    His arm stabbed straight through Anam’s bulk. His momentum carried him straight through Anam, creating a Lucario-sized hole through his gut and out his back. Nevren’s eyes bulged in surprise, but the Lucario was too fast. He sliced at the side of Nevren’s brown chest—the largest wound yet—and then rolled across the floor. His armor evaporated, but Rhys refused to give up.

    Nevren had no idea where Rhys was drawing this power from, let alone why his Revisor wasn’t working. But neither circumstance was favorable.

    Rhys spun and fired one final aura Sphere toward Nevren’s face. He brought his spoon up and clumsily deflected it, but his spoon slipped from his hand, clattering onto the ground behind him. Rhys fired again. Nevren ducked to the left and tried to get in front of Anam—who was standing eerily still—and blocked the second Sphere with his other spoon. He barely retained his grip on that one.

    “Now, Rhys,” Nevren said, pressing his Revisor again. Nothing. “Now is not the time to fight, yes? As I had warned you, Anam will attack all of Hot Spot should you rebel! We wouldn’t want that, would we? Anam, is that correct?”

    Anam said nothing. He was still motionless, the gaping hole in his gut slowly closing. Nevren noticed that Anam’s slime seemed a bit darker than usual.

    “Stop… fighting…” Anam said weakly. “Please… stop…”

    Rhys suddenly stopped, looking back. “Anam! Are you free?”

    “We will stop, Anam.” Nevren waved his hand in front of the Goodra. “Rhys? Please, lower your aura. You know this won’t do us any good. If I am defeated, Anam will lose himself completely and go berserk.”

    Rhys growled. “And if you’re lying?”

    “You know I don’t make such gambles.”

    Rhys stared at Nevren in silence, but finally let his aura armor dissipate. His adrenaline was keeping him up, even as his aura cried out for rest. But now that the armor was gone, his legs wobbled.

    Nevren quickly held Rhys by the chest, holding him up. “Hold, Rhys. Are you okay?”

    “No,” Rhys said. “My aura is… fading a tad. Performing the aura armor technique… twice in a row… ngh. No. I’m afraid I’m not at my best.”

    “Hrm,” Nevren said, nodding. “Very well.” He gripped Rhys’ shoulder firmly, digging his clawed hands into his fur. Rhys gasped, jerking away, but Nevren redoubled his hold the weakened Lucario. Energy channeled from Nevren into Rhys. Then he let go.

    Rhys stared at Nevren, eyes wide. Rhys then channeled a bit of aura through his paws, watching the flare’s steady energy.

    “Better?” Nevren asked.

    “How do you know I won’t merely strike you down?” Rhys immediately said.

    “I know you well enough that you won’t,” Nevren replied. “…And I am still your friend, Rhys.”

    “You killed me.”

    “I apologize, but a single Oran wouldn’t have been enough to restore you, and I unfortunately ran out of them. A Reviver had to work. It wasn’t too painful, was it? From my experience, Anam’s rot doesn’t start to hurt until several seconds pass, and we killed you before that happened. I was being quite utilitarian about this, Rhys.”

    Rhys growled. “You’re lucky that Anam is here,” he said. “If you didn’t have him go berserk if you were harmed… perhaps I would use your gesture of kindness against you for the greater good.”

    Nevren nodded. “I understand,” he said, though he knew Rhys’ words were hollow. “Now then, Anam.” He turned toward the Goodra, though he eyed the slime that flowed through his system. Once pinkish-purple goo had flecks of deep purple swimming inside in a gentle current. “Are you okay?”

    Anam stared emptily at Nevren.

    “Hmm, Anam,” Nevren waved his spoon toward the Ghost Guardian. “You will listen, yes? Return to normal. You remember none of—"

    Anam’s horn jerked forward and slammed on top of Nevren, pressing him into the rocky floor. Rhys leaped back, a mixture of horror, surprise, and glee rushing through him at once. Anam was fighting back! And yet the sight of Nevren crumpled on the ground still unsettled a part of him.

    “Anam!” Rhys shouted.

    A thousand voices spoke at once. “Die.”

    Anam’s second horn darkened into a pure, inky black, the color slowly spreading through the rest of his body. The horn stiffened, straightened, and sharpened, plunging itself into Nevren’s back. The Alakazam couldn’t even cry out. The horn curled around Nevren—still pierced through—and flung him over Rhys. Nevren rolled across the rocks, blood splashing over every spot he went over, until a golden light from his bag washed over him.

    Nevren panted, clutching at the phantom pain where the hole had once been. Rhys spun around and crossed his arms, triumphant. “What now, Nevren?” he said.

    Nevren struggled to remain upright but could only manage to prop himself up with his arms.

    “Anam is free of your hold, and—”

    Nevren’s eyes flashed with Psychic energy. Rhys tried to shield himself from the blow, but none came. Instead, he heard the dull slap of slime on an invisible barrier. He turned back.

    Anam was almost totally black, with fog of the same color pouring lazily out of his mouth. More fog, with black specks of darkness floating inside, seeped from the surface of the Goodra’s body. Rhys’ aura sensors ached again. He watched the horn—which had been poised to stab Rhys though the chest in the same way—retract.

    “A-Anam?” Rhys said.

    The Goodra stared at Rhys. His mouth opened slightly, but no words came out. Instead, it closed… but countless voices followed anyway. “Anam is asleep.”

    “Rhys,” Nevren said. “Small bit of bad news. I’ve run out of Reviver Seeds.”

    “I know.” The fog blocked the exit of the Dungeon completely. “Now you can join him.”

    The Goodra opened his maw and blasted them both with a piercing beam of darkness.
     
  4. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 61 – Enemy of The Enemy

    Rhys found himself on his back with an aching pain on his arms. At first, he thought it was because more of Anam’s rot had gotten to him. Then, surprised he was alive at all, he looked down. His fur was intact and his flesh wasn’t falling off. That was a good start. He then heard a grunt to his right. Nevren was in a similar state, pained but alive.

    The darkness itself must have been blocked by their shields. Nevren always was good with those, and Rhys had put up a similar shield of aura.

    But that didn’t negate their actual threat. Rhys and Nevren exchanged a look. The Goodra stood a stone’s throw away, mouth open and charging a second dark blast.

    “Truce?” Nevren said to Rhys.

    Rhys grunted and got to his feet. “What did you do to him?”

    “This was not part of my plans.”

    The Goodra fired down the hall. Nevren and Rhys squeezed themselves against the edges of the corridor. It grazed against Rhys’ snout; he turned his head away to avoid any further stinging. The black energy smashed the wall at the end of the hall and burned even further through the rocks. It didn’t seem to melt. Instead, it turned the rocks into a strange, ash-like substance that evaporated in the wind, becoming more of the rotting fog.

    “How exactly do we stop him?” Rhys said.

    “I’m afraid that is beyond my knowledge. We should just fight to subdue him.” He looked at his Revisor. “My lucky charm is not working.”

    “You can tell?!” Rhys hissed.

    Anam stumbled forward, growling.

    “Rhys,” Nevren said, pointing. “He’s paused. Now!”

    Rhys fired two successive Aura Spheres toward Anam. The first one popped on the Goodra’s chest; the second one exploded beneath his chin. Nevren followed with a twisting Psychic blast, cutting through the dark slime. Pieces of the Goodra spattered against the walls, sliding and collecting in the corners.

    Rhys and Nevren both panted. The Alakazam inspected his Revisor again, grumbling. “Why did you fail me…?”

    “Does that truly give you good luck?” Rhys said. “Where did you get it from? What science operates behind it?”

    Nevren glanced at Rhys, then back at the Revisor. “It puts the odds in my favor. I suppose you can say I can more easily predict what will happen next with its power.”

    Rhys flinched. “Some form of foresight?”

    “Yes,” Nevren replied. “But it failed me right when you had your little outburst and decided to strike me with a rage you hadn’t shown in centuries.” He watched Anam carefully, but he was still paused. They had a moment to recover their breath. “Perhaps your flaring aura caused it to… no, that’s not enough. I’ve fought countless flaring auras and nothing of the sort happened before… hrm…” Nevren suddenly looked up, realizing that the darkened Goodra had pulled himself mostly together.

    “Your attacks…” Anam said. “Pathetic.”

    He raised his hand into the air; the fingers coalesced into a single, sharp blade that shined in the dim light. Rhys prepared for melee combat, but then Anam plunged the blade into his own chest, right near the heart.

    Rhys and Nevren both flinched. Rhys stared, mouth agape. “What is he—”

    Anam slid the blade across his chest horizontally, creating a deep, open gash through his slimy body. A dark radiance bled out from the open wound, widening into a full circle many times larger than his mouth.

    “Shields!” Nevren shouted, holding his palms forward for a Light Screen barrier. Rhys did the same, forming a wall of aura to reinforce Nevren, just in time for the huge gash within Anam to spew out a blast akin to a black version of ADAM’s Hyper Beams. The impact deafened Rhys and Nevren, shattering the latter’s barrier instantly while leaking through Rhys’ cover next. Deflected blasts tore through the rocky walls and ceiling, poked holes in the aura shield, and cut through parts of Rhys’ fur and Nevren’s skin. By the time it subsided, Rhys was on his knees, barely able to stand. Nevren was no better, staggering and leaning against the wall.

    “You will pay dearly for trying to control Anam.” His black eyes stared directly at Nevren. “Your ego is the only thing to blame.”

    Rhys and Nevren were too weak to fight back. With no equipment to heal with, and no Reviver Seeds to save them, they had to flee.

    “Nevren,” Rhys said in a grunt, “our Badges aren’t working, are they?”

    “I’ve been sending Psychic signals to them for quite a while,” Nevren admitted. “Unfortunately, I do not believe this atmosphere is blessed any longer. Within Anam’s influence, we cannot escape.”

    “Wonderful,” Rhys gathered enough strength to get on one knee. “Then I suppose all we have left is one option.” He stared at Anam, looking directly into his empty, ink-black face. “Anam… are you there?”

    Anam’s blank expression did not change. “You will see him soon.”

    Rhys and Nevren had no energy left to fight, but they could at least stand. “Rhys,” Nevren said softly.

    “What is it, Nevren?”

    “I apologize. This was not in the plan.”

    Rhys grunted wordlessly.

    Anam advanced, taking slow, heavy steps. The movement was a lot more deliberate this time, the slime along his body quivering with flecks of pale purple.

    Rhys blinked, wondering if he was hallucinating. He and Nevren took hesitant steps back. The Lucario remembered his pride. “Anam, I see you fighting!” he shouted, his final embers swimming around his paws. “Are you really going to allow this thing to control you?!”

    Nevren righted himself as well as he could. “Anam, we may have had our differences, but this is a moment where we can certainly unite against a common enemy, yes?!”

    More pink wisps swirled through the black Goodra’s body.

    “Do you really think simple words will help?”

    “They certainly seem to be,” Nevren commented, pointing at the lighter wisps that grew in size along the corrupted slime dragon.

    Anam stiffened slightly. “H-help…”

    Rhys and Nevren both blinked in surprise. A small part of the possessed Guardian’s face was purple again, a single eye green, bright, and tearful.

    The darkness rapidly converged around the light slime. “Your time has ended.”

    Anam’s one eye widened with fear before the inky black slime washed all expression away.

    Rhys’ arms trembled. “Anam… You… What are you…?”

    “It doesn’t matter.”

    He reached forward and grabbed Rhys by the throat, raising him up. Slime coated his neck and seeped into his fur, through the skin beneath, and into his blood. Rhys struggled to breathe, bringing a weak arm forward in an attempt to pull Anam away.

    “Anam… where are you? You’re… still there…! Don’t let this demon… take your body away!”

    Nevren scanned the area for more wraiths, but found none. This whole time, the wraiths were not being summoned, and he was almost positive—if only because of the similar colors and the similar sensations that came from the attacks—that this creature was related to them. But did any of that matter? He only had enough strength in him for one more strike.

    He caught a glance from Rhys for only an instant, filled with defiance. Rhys and Elder had always communicated with one another through the spirit world. Did they still share a connection as well, after all this time?

    Rhys. We need to surprise him. One last attack.

    Rhys lowered his stance, feigning defeat. I don’t have enough strength for much more.

    “To the void.”

    So that’s how it is, hm? Nevren said, sparing one final glance at Rhys. A shame you’re so weak. Nevren figured that would be enough.

    Rhys’ paw flashed with the last of his strength. Nevren smiled, refocusing on Anam. Immediately after, Nevren’s eyes flashed with the remainder of his Psychic energy. Rhys blasted Anam in the chest, blowing him back; Nevren twisted the slimy body immediately after, blowing it apart into several chunks against the wall.

    Rhys raised his second paw once he hit the ground and blasted again, drawing from whatever power source his desperation allowed. Nevren did the same, knowing that even Anam—or this creature—had some sort of limit. But all of their attacks did nothing. It bounced weakly off of the remaining slime, allowing Anam to collect himself once more.

    “Adorable.”

    Black bolts of lightning crackled along the walls, scattering tiny pebbles in all directions. It concentrated at the feet of the Alakazam and Lucario, forcing their bodies to seize up, forming black scars along their legs. They fell to the ground, spasming in their attempts to stand.

    “Why do you keep fighting? I can feel your hopelessness.”

    Rhys held up an arm, firing more hollow Aura Spheres toward Anam. Alakazam clutched at his one remaining spoon and tried to use it as a concentration device. He focused on Anam next, but all he could do was make little ripples along his slimy body.

    “You are now mine.”

    Anam brought both arms forward, but then, suddenly, a new wave of energy pulsed through Anam’s body. Rhys and Nevren both heard the distinct roaring of something, yet no sound echoed in the caves. It came from within Anam, resonating with their auras. But it didn’t sound like the same countless voices. It sounded more like two—and they were loud.

    Anam staggered back, clutching at his chest where the huge gash had been carved. “I told you… it’s hopeless! ENOUGH!”

    The roaring got louder, rumbling Anam’s slime. Rhys blinked. He recognized that roar. He had heard it before.

    Something lit up in Nevren’s peripheral vision. His Revisor was shining, so bright that it glowed through the fabric of his bag, light creeping its claws out from the pocket.

    A huge, black set of claws burst out of Anam’s chest, flailing and slashing at him from the inside. Bright, cyan light exploded next, struggling against the darkness, zapping at the black slime to turn it back to its natural purple. Then, a set of steely hooves smashed out of Anam, trying to break free. They were small when within Anam, yet when emerging, they grew to nearly overtake Anam’s chest. But then the darkness overcame them, pulling them back inside. Afterward, pearl-pink light washed over more of the slime, turning more of the Goodra back to normal. At least half of Anam was restored, including one of his eyes.

    Anam roared in a thousand voices—but two of those voices seemed to be coming from the cyan and pink lights within him.

    An unseen force pulled the claws back inside, accompanied by another set of countless roars. One of the screaming voices became louder than all the others, and this one was labored and garbled, strained and frightened. With this voice came Anam’s natural coloration, and finally, with a cry of pain, purple energy streamed out of Anam’s chest wound—a single burst of Dragon might, taking the shape of a winged drake. This purple fire slammed into the ceiling, sending rocks scattering all around the trio. Following this outburst, golden light enveloped Anam; the darkness sank back into him, leaving nothing but a pale, lavender body behind.

    Rhys and Nevren shielded their eyes; the light stung Rhys, but then a soothing warmth took over. He felt the fur on his neck return and some strange filthiness in his blood disappear. When he finally felt it was safe enough to look again, he saw Anam in front of them, crumpled on the floor. There wasn’t a single sign of darkness in the area.

    Nevren made a sudden look down in disbelief.

    Rhys followed his gaze. “Ah,” the exhausted Lucario said. “It’s gray again.”

    The Revisor had worked again. “Y-yes,” he said. “I’m feeling very lucky.”

    “I should say,” Rhys said with a small laugh. But he was dizzy. Not only was his energy depleted, but his aura felt like it was going to fly away from his body at any moment.

    Nevren looked at Anam. “…Rhys… does he seem stable now?”

    Rhys scanned his aura. He saw no darkness and no instability in Anam’s aura. It must have been sealed away again. He was never able to look very deep into the Goodra. Now he knew why. “Yes. His aura is… normal.”

    Nevren sighed. “Then we should bring him back. We can discuss this with the others.”

    Rhys glared. “Then you won’t be controlling him?”

    Nevren stared at Anam for a while, letting out a small sigh. “If you tell the others about what I’ve done, I will have no choice but to unleash him. However”—Nevren raised his voice before Rhys could protest—“I will use my powers instead to assist Anam in sealing that… demon inside. Fair?”

    “Not in the slightest,” Rhys hissed.

    “Would you rather I stop assisting entirely?”

    Rhys growled, but he was too weak to argue any further. Anam was going to wake up soon, and they would need all of their focus to keep him from unleashing that thing again.

    Nevren looked at Anam and then walked past him to pick up his one lost spoon. “If it is any consolation, Rhys,” he said, turning back to face him, “any plans I may have had for Anam are… now irrelevant.”

    <><><> ​

    Manny crossed his arms, staring at the two dishes that had been placed before him. One was a stew filled with onions, potatoes, some kind of darkened meat, and a Cheri base. The other was a white slab of fish atop a bed of garlic rice and green beans.

    “All right,” Elder said with a nod from the other room. “You all wait there. I’m going to have Manny and Yen judge your dishes. He has no idea who made what, so it will be completely unbiased.”

    Owen and Har both nodded, flashing competitive glares at one another. Their scales were littered with remnants of their cooking—garlic juice and rice, potato skins and Cheri puree. Mispy and Ani had quite a bit of it near their mouths and at the ends of some of their vines, having sampled the ingredients to make sure they were of top quality.

    Gahi and Lygo were meticulously cleaning their scales with cloths, rubbing each other’s backs to make sure they didn’t miss a spot. “Y’know, starting ter regret this,” Gahi muttered, polishing out a blemish near the middle of Lygo’s back. “This one ain’t coming off.”

    “That’s a birthmark,” Lygo said.

    “Eh? I don’t have that.”

    “Yeah you do.”

    “Ehh?”

    “What?” Owen asked, looking back. “Oh, yeah, you have that, Gahi. I actually have a kinda similar one on mine, too. Except it’s a little lower, and it’s more like an odd patch of scales than a discoloration. It’s just a birthmark.”

    “We have the exact same one?” Gahi asked Lygo. “That’s kinda weird. Didn’t know those were genetic.”

    Lygo shrugged. “I think some are, but I think it’s also because we were built from the same model.”

    Demitri prodded at some of the leftovers, taking a few nibbles. He gave the rest to Mispy, whose vines split open to act as extra mouths to eat faster.

    “Um,” the Haxorus said, “tell me again, about the meats we used, this is all fake meat, right?”

    “I think that stuff is,” Ax said, pointing at the darker, tougher meat. “But ours is definitely Seaking.”

    Demitri lowered his head, shrinking.

    “What? Obviously, it was feral.”

    “I—I know, but—but after seeing Enet and stuff, I…” Demitri poked his claws together. “I’m beginning to think about just sticking to the artificial meats.”

    “Hey, if we don’t keep the feral numbers down, they’ll overpopulate.” Ax glanced at Ani. One of her vines was in a competition with another from Mispy over a slab of meat, tugging at it like two rival Poochyena. “Besides, Enet’s a Zoroark. They’re naturally more intelligent than other feral species.”

    “I… guess so…” Demitri still seemed unconvinced. “I’ve just been rethinking it. That’s all.”

    Ax crossed his arms, thinking. “How long have you been brooding about this, anyway?”

    “Just, you know, when I started cutting it for the dish…”

    “Bah, yer too soft,” Gahi said. “Ain’t you supposed ter be the killing-blow component ter the Alloy?”

    “Y-yeah, well, maybe I’m choosing not to be,” Demitri stammered. “Like what Trina said. I get to choose, and stuff.”

    “What, you think you can be gentle?” Gahi taunted, hopping away from Lygo, who was caught up in getting bits of smashed berries off of his claws. Every time he tried, more of it got on the other claws instead, leading to an endless cycle of suffering.

    Gahi puffed out his chest. “If yer so soft, how about yeh prove it with a gentle punch? I bet yeh can’t.”

    “I—I can’t punch you!”

    “Sure yeh can! We do it all the time!”

    “No, I can’t do that now. I’m evolved. I don’t know if I can hold back anymore…”

    Ax growled pensively. “Huh. I never thought about holding back.” He squeezed his fist, then flicked his tail. “All or nothing. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

    “B-being gentle?” Demitri said pleadingly. “I bet I can. Okay, Gahi, hold still. I’m—"

    “Uh, maybe save it for another time,” Owen said.

    “Yeah, don’t do anything stupid,” Har added. “We just finished cleaning the place up.”

    “And we should get a Reviver Seed just in case.”

    Gahi snorted, flaring his wings in an attempt to intimidate. “What, you think I’m weak?”

    “No, but Demitri’s… Gahi, his punches make shockwaves… when they miss.”

    Demitri squeaked, lowering his arms. “Maybe I’ll test it on a Substitute doll or something first. Maybe we can ask Rhys to make one of those cool aura copies of his again?”

    “I dunno, that wore him out,” Owen said.

    Owen figured that Demitri wouldn’t fall for any of Gahi’s taunts and withdrew before he could be dragged in. Mispy looked ready to flick Gahi on the head anyway.

    Har grunted, withdrawing faster, and leaned against the wall near the back of the cooking area. Owen frowned, following Har; the counterpart snorted and turned his head away in response.

    “Hey,” Owen said.

    Har flexed his fingers against his arms. “Look, my whole deal… it’s not your fault or anything; I’m just still getting over it.” The tension of his fingers suggested he wasn’t making much progress. “I really liked the fight, though, so… thanks for that. Even if we’re both… ‘Owen,’ I’m still not you. And that’s…”

    “That’s good, right?”

    Har hummed. “I don’t know anymore.”

    Owen leaned back again, but then trailed his eyes over to where Zena had been. She’d dismissed herself while they cooked so she didn’t distract Owen, but figured she would be back soon. While they made one dish for being judged, they still had a lot left over to enjoy as their promised dinner. He hoped to find someplace private so it could be a proper date.

    “How come only you, uh, have all my memories?” Owen said. “And… when does it cut off? Like, you don’t have me while I was with Mom, right?”

    “No, I don’t,” Har said. “I have your first few lives, the stuff that happened before Rhys stole you away to live with the Fire Guardian.”

    Owen’s tail shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t remember that part of my life yet.”

    “Well, I can’t help you,” Har said. “I only know what happened before all that.”

    “Wait, so that means you—do you remember killing Klent?”

    “Who?” Har asked.

    “The Grass Guardian.”

    Har nearly choked. “Holy—you killed him?! But you’re the Grass Guardian!”

    Owen looked away.

    “That’s messed up.”

    “Yeah, I know,” Owen raised his arms defensively. “I think he’s still a little bitter about it, and I don’t blame him.”

    “Did you kill anybody else?” Har asked.

    “His daughter…”

    Har just stared.

    In an effort to refocus the subject, Owen sighed loudly. “So I guess your memories are from before that. Before Rhys took me away, or something. But why is it that only you have my memories? How come Lygo and the others don’t?”

    Har looked at the three. They were distracted, chatting with their counterparts. “Because they asked Trina to take them away.” Har’s claws traced along his scales, grinding louder and louder. “They couldn’t deal with the fact that they were just fake copies, so Trina obliged and sealed it away. They don’t even know it, because Trina knew that’d just bug them.”

    Owen shook his head. “Har, that’s not a good idea. Sealing memories is the worst thing you could—”

    “So you want them to know about the part of them that’s a lie?”

    “No, I—” Owen hesitated. “It’s just that—you can’t just… take memories away.”

    “You totally can,” Har said. “That’s what Trina did.”

    “But… then why didn’t you forget?” he said. “Were you afraid that the memories would eventually come back?”

    “Even if they did,” Har said, “they’ll be so distant that it won’t matter by the time they do. I didn’t want to forget because… because I don’t know.”

    “You don’t know?”

    “Yeah. I just didn’t want to. It didn’t… feel right to.” He folded his wings over his chest, curling up even tighter than before.

    Owen mirrored Har’s curl partway, focusing on the light of his tail. He looked at Har’s for comparison. It was smaller. Then, he looked at Har. He didn’t need Perceive to tell how much this sort of talk was bothering him. Har’s claws dug into his own arms, and Owen, having a good guess on why, reached toward the top of his own head.

    “What’re you doing?” Har said.

    Owen plucked his horns out, losing his Perceive in the process. “Nothing,” he said. “Just wanted to give you some privacy.”

    Har stared in disbelief, but then uncurled slightly. His flame was a bit brighter, but he still didn’t say anything. Not for a while, when Gahi’s taunts had devolved into various places that Demitri could hit, some places less sanitary than others. It ended when Mispy and Ani simultaneously wrapped their vines around Gahi’s mouth.

    Har laughed weakly, unable to hide a smirk. “Looks like that’s another advantage you have over me,” he said to Owen.

    “Advantage?”

    “I can only give my word when I say I’m not reading someone. But you have proof. Just pull your horns out. It’s kinda funny, though.” Har scratched under his chin, then gestured to his tail. “Even though we’re supposed to have an easy time reading how others feel, the Charmander line is one of the easiest species to read, just at a glance.”

    “Yeah, we’re a bit… expressive.” Owen grabbed his tail, admiring his embers. “But I can’t imagine living without this little guy.”

    “…Was that a joke?”

    “What was?”

    “N… never mind.” Har sighed, settling against the wall again.

    They listened in on the others of their respective Alloys. Lygo was muttering something to Gahi about how everyone was too slow when walking from place to place—something that Gahi finally felt validation for. Ani rolled her eyes at this, asking Mispy who should tell them that they were the abnormal ones. Mispy just smiled, shrugging.

    “Is it weird to have Ani talk so much?” Owen asked Har.

    “Huh?”

    “Ani. Because Mispy, she barely talked. It’s… I don’t really know why. She just has trouble getting words out, so she started getting really precise with what she wants to say.”

    “Oh.” Har nodded. “Ani used to be like that. Trina helped out, did some speech therapy or something like that. I forget what she actually called it, but, well, you know. Trina’s good with the mind.”

    Owen shifted uncomfortably. “I still don’t know how to feel about that.”

    “I’d trust her more than I would Nevren, or Eon.” Har looked ahead. “If someone has to control us to keep us from going nuts, I’d rather have Trina. At least she’s honest about doing it.”

    They went back to watching. It was almost entirely cleaned up by now. None of them had questioned why Har or Owen weren’t helping, but perhaps that was because most of the mess had been caused by the rest of them in the first place. Gahi had resorted to leaning over the table, demanding an arm wrestle from Demitri. Nobody took it seriously except for Demitri, who fretted and hid behind Mispy in a final attempt at avoiding the confrontation.

    “Gahi, leave him alone already,” Owen called. “You’re scaring the poor guy.”

    “Bah!” Gahi raised his arms. “He saves his meanness for actual battles, I bet.”

    “I—I’m starting to think I should be a chef instead,” Demitri said, squeaking. “This was way more fun than battles!”

    Mispy perked up, blinking. Demitri realized it a second later, the two of them exchanging a look. “More… fun.” Mispy looked at her vines, then at Demitri again.

    “You think so?” Demitri asked. “It… It sorta just slipped out, but…”

    Owen spotted a wide smile on Har’s face, but when their eyes met, it quickly disappeared. He turned away, focused instead on the far wall.

    Another odd silence fell between the two Charizard, the question brewing in Owen’s mind. He didn’t want to ask it, but letting it fester was even worse. “…Do you miss them?” Owen asked, but regretted it when he saw Har’s entire body close in. “Sorry—forget I asked. Stupid question…”

    Har’s flame grew, starting to generate enough heat to be harmful. “I’m never forgiving Eon for what he did.”

    Owen tensed at this, wondering how to approach that. Har literally wished he hadn’t been created—that they, the copies of his own Team Alloy…

    “How did he even do it?” Owen said. “This must’ve been a long time ago if you only have memories of me from—”

    He shook his head. “No. I’m not that old. I was ‘born’ only a few decades ago. Apparently Eon had some copy of your memories stored somewhere as a just-in-case or something. I don’t really know why, or how, or…” Har snorted. “And I don’t care, either. I want nothing to do with him.”

    Owen winced. “Y-yeah…”

    Someone cleared their throat near the entrance. It was Amia, squeezing around Lygo, who had humored Gahi on his arm-wrestling challenge. They were equally matched.

    “Hey, Mom,” Owen said. “I saw you. Are you feeling better?”

    “A lot better, dear,” Amia said, back to her blue colors.

    Owen turned and gave her a confident nod. “Where’s Dad?”

    “He’s in the Fire Realm. But he wanted to see how you were doing after your little fight! Did it go well?”

    “Yeah, definitely.” Owen forced a grin. “We all enjoyed it, actually. Um, did you pass by Zena on your way here?”

    “Yes! She’ll be here soon. She just had to get a few things taken care of. I also saw Manny trying out the dishes you made. Are you guys having a little culinary competition? You should have asked Alex to join in! Back when he was alive, he had quite the appetite. He knows his way around food.”

    “Yeah, you told me. Still weird to imagine a Magmortar being able to eat so easily, though, with those arms of theirs.”

    “Oh, well—” Amia hesitated. “Actually, Owen. There’s something I’ve been neglecting to… tell you.”

    Owen’s expression darkened.

    Amia waved her hands in the air. “No, no, nothing like that! I promise this is very small compared to everything else!” She sighed, clasping her hands together, almost in prayer. “With all the chaos that happened the past few days, I forgot to mention that, er, as part of our whole… campaign to raise you normally, I wasn’t… the only one to be in a disguised form. I mean—I’ve always been blue, I just like the look, er, but your father changed for a more practical reason.

    “You see, when I first became the Fire Guardian, the Fire Realm wasn’t… the friendliest toward non-Fire Pokémon. The spirits were friendly, but the environment wasn’t. Lava and fire everywhere. And Alex used to be a Pokémon that didn’t quite survive in such a harsh environment, not until later. Well, no. They could. But it was still uncomfortable compared to being an actual Fire Pokémon. At first, he just took on a Fiery version of what he used to be, but that, er, frightened you.”

    “Frightened me?” Owen said. A flash of memory—he was worried at how accustomed he was getting to these flashes—washed over him. He remembered hiding under his Rawst bed as a Charmander, screaming about a monster. He had seen a great demon of some kind, wreathed in flames with black eyes and deep, dark wings. He remembered it had six of those eyes, all staring at him.

    “Yes, dear. Alex took on a Magmortar form so it didn’t frighten you. You said his lips were funny.”

    “What did he used to be, then?” Owen said. “Th-that fire monster—I think I remember it. That was terrifying! Good thing he—I mean, um, I’m sure it’d be better now, but I guess I was still a lot more like a kid back then…”

    Amia nodded. “Your father was a Hydreigon, actually. He picked Magmortar because the arms were reminiscent of them, a little.”

    Owen’s heart dropped. “H-Hydreigon? You’re kidding.”

    “I hope that doesn’t make you see him any differently, dear,” Amia said. “I know you’re frightened of him. Dark Types in general are a bit scary for you, aren’t they?”

    Owen shook his head, raising a hand. “All this time, my Dad was an awesome Dragon and you never told me?!”

    It took Amia a second to readjust to Owen’s unexpected tone. “T-to be fair, dear, we did try to show him to you before, but you always got shaken up!”

    “But Dark Types aren’t scary! They’re awesome!”

    Har stared at Owen incredulously. “What? Hang on, since when? When did that attitude change? I dunno about you, but Dark Types are kinda creepy. Some of their attacks—Ghosts, too—can literally suck the light out of the air. That’s, like, a primal fear for a Charizard. When did you get a change in attitude?”

    Owen shrugged. “I guess I started to learn more about them. Besides, the only Dark Type that I know personally is really friendly. Have you met Enet?”

    “The Zoroark? Yeah, I guess she’s nice, but she does the same thing! Her home is a black void, just like the Abyss.”

    Owen turned his attention back to Amia. “So, I’m guessing he had to stay a Magmortar so he didn’t trigger my memories.”

    “Exactly,” Amia said. “I’m sorry, dear.”

    Owen rolled his eyes. “And what about now?” he said. “I feel like right now I want to get as many of my memories back. Will he be going back to normal?”

    “Magmortar is normal for him, now,” Amia said. “He’s spent more time as one than a Hydreigon. That’s the case for a lot of spirits, actually. I wouldn’t doubt it if Anam, or even you have spirits that used to be in different forms. But, well, he’ll consider if, if you think the species is cool.”

    “You have no idea how cool it is that Dad’s a Dragon,” Owen said gravely.

    Amia rubbed her forehead, looking at Har helplessly.

    “It’s true,” Har said.

    “Oh, dear. What exactly is so notable about the Dragon type?”

    “I don’t know, it just—sometimes, it feels like that’s what Charizard were supposed to be, you know?”

    “Well, that’s a question that you’ll have to ask Star,” Amia said. “Actually, where is she, anyway?”

    Owen shrugged. “Last I checked, she was going with Jerry to do some errands, like get him a new bed.”

    “They were gone for a while,” Amia said, frowning.

    Har released his arms, rubbing at the little indents he had inadvertently left on his scales. “Maybe we should go and check on them? I usually pass as normal if I say I’m southern.”

    “Let’s just give them a bit more time,” Amia said. “Star would be on her way if something went wrong and they needed backup.”

    “I have decided!” Manny suddenly announced, holding up one of the dishes into the air. The whole crowd in Rhys’ home headed to the deeper room.

    Har broke out into a huge grin. “Ha! Bite my claw!” He pointed at Team Alloy.

    “Yeah, gotta say, I’m a sucker fer garlic rice. It’s exotic, if yeh ask me, and ter be honest, almost reminds me o’ home, in a weird way. Yen liked ‘em both, but I gave it the edge.”

    Owen’s wings drooped. “So, our stew wasn’t any good at all?”

    “Didja hear me? Yen said the stew was good, too! And I agree! But Har’s fish whatever was just a little better cooked. Stew was a little overpowered by the base, is all. Great if yer looking ter fill a belly, but I dunno about fine dining. But hey!” Manny set the bowl down. “Let’s get everyone gathered up and bring this ter the square! Let’s eat!”

    <><><> ​

    Those who hadn’t left for Hot Spot Dungeon or Kilo Village all gathered up in the middle of the square, once again with Valle as their decorative centerpiece.

    “So, uh, you gonna go organic yet?” Manny asked, holding to Valle a humble portion of food.

    “No. Thank you for the offering.”

    “Offering, right. Y’ain’t a Legendary.” Manny placed the bowl by his stone feet anyway. Amia got her bowl next. Zena and Owen sat next to one another, figuring that even though they were planning on having a nice dinner alone, a communal lunch was just as good for lifting everyone’s mood.

    Valle had crafted a tiny, tiny bowl and plate to put little drops of stew, a small pile of rice, and a chunk of fish for Willow. The rest of Team Alloy and Team Trina all sat near one another, mumbling about how their dishes had turned out. “So, you’re saying Rhys usually makes stews?” Har asked. “Guess he hasn’t changed all that much from how I remember him.”

    Demitri inspected his portion curiously, nibbling on one of the potato chunks. “A lot has changed and a lot hasn’t. I mean, seeing as you last remembered them as being allied to Eon—even Nevren, too—that’s a lot that you missed, in a way.”

    Owen looked at Har expectantly, but the latter only tipped the stew down his throat, eyes closed. Owen huffed a small ember against his stew, disguising it as an effort to warm it up.

    “Kinda glad we did,” Ax said. “Not that we have your memories the same way, but, it sounds like a real bother to have a bunch of repeat memories for how-many-centuries.”

    “No kidding,” Mispy said, glaring at the bowl as if it was Rhys.

    “We’re still really sorry for that,” Amia said. “I was part of the same conspiracy for Owen. I don’t think we can apologize enough for—”

    “Um,” Demitri held up a claw, “to be honest… I think you might be apologizing too much at this point. Like, we get it.”

    “O-oh.” Amia brought her head down, clearing her throat. “I’m sorry.”

    Mispy looked between Amia and Owen, blinking. “Similar,” she mumbled.

    Har sighed, breaking the levity. “Anyway, this has been really fun, but I think we should go back and tell Trina what we think.”

    Owen perked up. “Oh, that’s right. That’s the whole reason you came here in the first place, right? Um—so, er, how did we do?”

    “It’s okay,” Har said dismissively. “It’s a little hot, according to what Ani is saying, and the ground is a little too hard for Lygo, but Ax and I are fine with the environment. Actually, I personally like it, so I see why Owen thinks this place makes for a good home. And the community is pretty nice, and I don’t see you guys mistreating Team Alloy at all.”

    “Wait, that’s what you were looking for?” Owen said. “If we were being mistreated?”

    “Yeah. If you guys were being treated like weapons at all, or taken advantage of. I couldn’t say that to you guys or you’d try to disguise it or something, but obviously, that’s not what you guys do anyway. These horns would pick up if you were being deceptive at all.” Har tapped at his left one. “I didn’t sense much. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least.”

    Willow looked up from her nearly microscopic bowl of stew. “So, does that mean we passed the test? Are you moving in?!”

    “I’m gonna tell Trina that you guys are a good bunch, yeah,” Har said. “If that’s all she needed to move in, then she’ll be coming next to inspect the caves. And I guess that’ll leave us to gather up all the other subjects for the move, since it’s probably gonna take a while. Ani, Ax, Lygo! Set to go?”

    “Can I get seconds?” Ani asked, holding out her large bowl and plate.

    “Me, too,” Mispy said.

    “One fer the road,” Manny said, happily filling Ani and Mispy’s bowls.

    “Oh, uh, can we borrow one of your Badges? One that hasn’t been used up yet.”

    “I think this one has enough energy for another warp to Trina’s,” Owen said, rummaging through Team Alloy’s bag. He tossed a Badge over to Har. “See you guys soon!”

    They vanished; Owen returned to his bowl, the fire of his tail glowing happily.

    “Well, aren’t you in a good mood,” Amia said, smiling.

    “I feel like I really helped Har,” Owen said. “I mean—we did. We all did.”

    “Mostly you,” Mispy admitted.

    “It’s only natural,” Demitri said. “I feel like you’d know him better than anyone.”

    “Mm.” Owen turned his attention back to his mother. “Mom, can you bring Dad out? But as how he really looks.”

    Amia flinched. “Owen, dear, it’s really not necessary.”

    Please?” Owen begged. “Even if it’s weird now, I just wanna know.”

    Amia sighed. “Okay, okay.” She held her arm out, summoning a single ember. It formed into something vaguely familiar at first—the shape of two arms that had no proper fingers, a bit wide. A large body… but then it slimmed down, lengthened, grew a tail, and wings…

    A Hydreigon floated before them, levitating off of the ground by some dark force. “Er—hello,” Alex said, bumping his head-hands together, like they were touching snouts. “This is a bit awkward.”

    Owen jumped, but then he beamed. “Dad…!”

    “I really wish you weren’t so pleased at me just for a new species.” Alex crossed his heads.

    “Oh—sorry,” Owen said. “I just, it’s really cool anyway. I still love you all the same and stuff, it’s just, now I know you’re even cooler and all that.”

    “I’m… cool?” Alex asked, floating a bit higher.

    “Totally!”

    “Oh, dear.” Alex flushed, rubbing his cheek with his right head.

    “…Do those talk, too?” Demitri had to ask, pointing at his arms.

    “Hm? Oh, no. These are just, er, extra mouths. Brainless.”

    “Huh, so he can eat with them like Mispy can with her vines,” Demitri said.

    To demonstrate, Mispy pushed one of her vines forward, which split apart four-ways to reveal thorn-like teeth and a gaping maw. Aside from Demitri, those near her migrated away a scoot’s distance.

    “And what do you look like when Fiery?” Owen asked eagerly.

    Alex’s expression darkened. “Owen, are you sure?”

    “Yeah! What do you look like when you’re in the Fire Realm and stuff?”

    Alex lowered his gaze to the ground. “Very well.”

    “Mm…” Amia gave her hand a little flick.

    The Hydreigon instantly burst into flames, the blue underbelly with purple stripes becoming black with orange. His wings became flames, as did the flower-like mane around its head. The eyes, however, remained the same, piercing red.

    Owen’s fire blazed in a flash of terror, whole body stiffening. Amia, sensing this, suddenly drew her hand back, and the flames went out. Alex was back to normal.

    “Th-that was cool, too,” Owen said. “Even better! Now you’re Dragon and Fire, right?”

    “Owen…” Amia said. “I guess now you know why we decided to pick something a little less scary.”

    Owen cringed. “I didn’t mean to get scared. It was just a little startling.”

    “Do you think it’s some kind of old memory?” Demitri asked.

    “Maybe,” Owen said, but was afraid to look back on exactly why it was so frightening. He hadn’t seen many Hydreigon in town before, but he was sure if he saw one, he wouldn’t react like that. It was just the fiery one. Owen looked at his soup again, then smiled at Alex. “Well, hey. Doesn’t matter. You’re still my Dad, and I’ll get used to it if you’re more comfortable in that body, alright?”

    But he sensed that Alex was tense.

    “Or… you could be a Magmortar.”

    The rest of Hot Spot quietly ate their lunch together, absently chatting with one another about the Hot Spot Dungeon and its enigmatic appearance—though nobody had anything substantial to contribute besides how odd it was. Then, the discussion transitioned into Jerry and his new bed, wondering what sort of mattress he would eventually get. Willow was positive it would be pink, though she did not elaborate on why.

    Throughout the chatter, Zena stole a few glances at Owen. The Charizard returned the glances with confused looks, followed by brief tension. And then, Elder spoke up. “Owen, I do believe Zena wants to talk to you.”

    Zena jumped, shaking her head. “N-no, that’s not—I was just looking at him.”

    “Yeah, you were,” Owen said. “You alright?”

    “He still cannot understand your body language, Zena,” Elder said patiently. “Give him time. Why don’t you find somewhere private to chat?”

    “Ooooh!” Willow said, literally sparking with the prospect of gossip.

    Both the serpent and pseudo-dragon flushed beneath their scales. Despite this, Zena led Owen away from the group and into her home—earning an even louder coo from the tiniest Joltik.

    “Are you alright?” Owen asked, doing his absolute best to hide his blush. It wasn’t working.

    “Elder didn’t have to make a scene about that,” Zena said, pouting. “I truly only wanted to talk.”

    “I’m really sorry I can’t read your body language yet.” Owen’s tail bumped on the ground, firelight reflecting off the rocks. “Again, I just get overwhelmed. It’s like being able to recite a book in an ancient language, but not knowing what the words say, you know?”

    “That’s not… what I wanted to talk about,” Zena said. “I know about that already. I’m well aware how dense you can be.”

    “G-geez, have to be so harsh?”

    Zena smiled, leaning forward to nuzzle his shoulder. “Sorry. I suppose I should be nicer now that we’re courting.”

    “C-courting?” Owen squeaked. “That’s so… I dunno if I’m any good at that!”

    Zena laughed loudly, quickly restraining herself to a giggle behind her ribbons. “Owen, I wanted to talk to you about your fight against, er… Team Trina.”

    “Oh,” Owen said, composing himself. “What about it? I—I hope it wasn’t too savage for you. Thinking back, it was actually really brutal, now that, you know, I’m not in any fighting instincts. We went kinda crazy back there.”

    Zena nodded. “I’ll admit, it was… a little frightening to watch. But I’m happy that you won.” She sighed, pausing, no doubt to gather her words. “But what I’m happier about is how you treated Har.”

    “H-how I…?”

    Zena shook her head. “He did nothing but try to treat you as a rival, and I can’t really blame him for it, considering, well…”

    Owen rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah…”

    “But you did nothing but try to include him anyway.”

    “I mean—what was I supposed to do?” Owen turned his palms upward. “I know exactly how he feels. Or, I mean, I can probably guess. I know how my body feels, and he has basically the same one. We were probably reading each other like books. I just… wanted him to feel better.”

    “And how did he feel about you?” Zena asked.

    “Er,”—Owen awkwardly shifted his feet—“At first, he seemed to hate me. Especially after I won. But I guess… maybe he started to get over it.”

    “I think it’s more than that,” Zena said, nudging Owen with one of her ribbons. “Owen… I’m proud of you. Even if your instincts are battle-hungry, I can still see that you’re one of the kindest Pokémon I’ve ever met. You’re… a real Heart, Owen. I think I understand what you mean, now, when you say that. What was the motto, again?”

    “Fight, uh, fight for the world,” Owen said. “To help people who can’t on their own.”

    The Milotic nodded. “I think you did that for Har today.”

    She slithered closer. Their faces were mere inches apart. Owen gulped nervously, glancing to the left and right. He was getting a new set of motions from Zena, and he didn’t quite know what they meant. Before he had the chance to piece together the puzzle, she closed her eyes and gave him a small peck on the lips. Sensitive scales briefly touched one another before parting.

    Speechless, Owen only stared, wide-eyed. He and Zena shared a similar, red hue.

    “Come,” she said. “Let’s finish our lunch.”

    She slithered past Owen, brushing her scales against his thigh. Owen shivered, spinning around to watch her go. “Z-Zena?”

    “Hm?” She looked back.

    “I think I’m starting to understand your body language better.”

    Zena blinked, mouth open a sliver, but no words came at first. Then, she smiled. “I know.”
     
  5. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Special Episode 5 – I Promise

    You must remember your duties and your purpose and follow what your body is most capable of. The Magcargo should not be a woodworker. The Golem should not be a fisher. The Electrode should not be a scribe. All Pokémon should follow their duties and put themselves to their best use. For that is how your villages and your towns and your world may prosper.

    —Book of Arceus, Creation

    Twin Dragon Pulse flames spiraled across the Wooden Wilds, slamming into a strange, black creature, disintegrating it into nothing. Three more took its place, rising from the ground. A third Dragon Pulse burst through the air, slamming into the first one; the resultant shockwave slammed the other two wraiths.

    “Again!” Mama shouted. The Goodra pointed her horns ahead.

    Anam opened his mouth—which took up most of his body—and fired another Dragon Pulse at the right wraith. The force pressed him against Mama’s chest, but he still hit his mark, disintegrating it. Beside him was Papa, firing his own Dragon Pulse from within Mama’s left arm. The Salandit was much more adept, the Pulse hitting the wraith in the core, obliterating it all the same.

    “Perfect,” Mama said. “Good work, you two.”

    With the dark creatures gone, the surrounding field felt a lot brighter. Pale brown grass that went up to Mama’s belly filled most of their view under a sky half filled with clouds.

    “Let’s keep on our guard,” Papa said. “Anam, are you well?”

    “Yup!” Anam bobbed his ill-formed body. The Goomy twisted and turned in Mama’s hold. “This is fun, Mama!”

    The Goodra sighed. “Don’t take this so lightly, Anam. This is dangerous.”

    “It wouldn’t be dangerous if you let me come with you!” Anam pressed his body against Mama in what was his attempt at a hug. “Besides, you said it’s even more dangerous if you leave me alone!”

    “Anam, that’s because you always find ways to wander off.”

    “That’s because I have to find you!” Blissful, Anam nuzzled his forehead against Mama’s chest. “I love you, Mama.”

    The Goodra mother sighed, bringing a hand between the Goomy’s feelers. “I love you too, Anam.”

    This earned a grin that took up the entire width of Anam’s face. Suddenly, he gasped. “Mama! Let’s play Blaster!”

    “N-now?”

    “Now! Now!” Anam squirmed in her hands. “Just once, just once!”

    “Just once…” She shook her head, horns bobbing behind her. “If you wish.”

    Papa crawled from Mama’s arms and onto her shoulders. Then, she positioned Anam on the top of her right arm, angling it upward until he slid down. His back pressed against her snout, earning a giggle from the child. He spun around, face to face.

    “Kiss kiss!” Anam said, giving Mama a peck on the lips.

    Mama smiled back, pressing her forehead against his. “Ready?”

    “Ready… BLAST!”

    At once, he and Mama both shot each other with Dragon Pulse attacks. The energies pressed against one another, burning Mama’s arm, but it was nothing she couldn’t handle. She always did this!

    The force against Anam’s tiny body was much greater. He went into the air, several feet from the weak Pulse, and screamed with joy once Mama stopped. A bit of excess Dragon fury from Anam singed her nose. She rubbed at it, holding her horns out at the same time to gingerly catch him on his descent.

    “Again, again!” Anam bounced from her right arm to her left. “One more, one more!”

    “We have to keep going, Anam,” Mama said. “Don’t worry.”

    “Oh, Madeline.” Papa gently flicked his tail on her neck. “One more won’t hurt.”

    Mama shook her head. “One more. And that’s all.”

    <><><> ​

    Do not neglect your own personal wills and desires. Remember that the purpose of life is to enjoy the bountiful world that I have provided for you. Let the Charizard learn to swim. Encourage the Rampardos to act delicately. Allow the Froslass to dance with the flames. And so long as this is done in moderation, they shall become stronger, and can experience more of the world they own.

    —Book of Mew, Creation

    “That was a very good recitation, Anam,” Mama patted him on the head, rubbing between his two feelers. He purred in reply, listening to her calm praise. “You got both Creation passages correct. A few of the words were a bit off, but I do not think Mew will mind.”

    Anam grinned, but it faltered when he saw the black clouds ahead and all around them. This deep into the Dungeon, the impure corruption and decay permeated the twisted atmosphere. It was only because of Mama’s purifying light that it was safe for them to go so far inside.

    Normally, Dungeon goers had to find ways around the decay, or otherwise face certain death. But for Mama, all she had to do was use her power a certain way and the darkness instantly fell away.

    A thin filament of light spun around them, emerging from the center of her back. It created a spherical barrier with the filament twisting around it. The light pushed away the black mist.

    Ahead of them was the Dungeon Core. This time, it was made of twisted woodlands that formed a spiral in the middle of a clearing of the forest. At the top of this crown of unnatural trees was a sphere of glimmering darkness, emitting small flashes of reddish-purple light.

    Anam quivered. “Scary…”

    Mama raised her right arm into the air. “There’s no need to fear, Anam. I shall take care of it. The wraiths are exhausted and all that remains is the Core.”

    “Oh! Oh! Do the thing!” Anam spun and stared at Mama, eyes shining.

    “Anam, that’s not—”

    “Pleeease? It’s so cool!” He dug his face into her chest, tilting his head up so his gooey eyes just barely peeked out from her slimy, protective layer.

    Papa shook his head, sighing. But he smiled, as did Mama.

    Mama and Anam stared at one another. The former’s will was too weak. With a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes, opening them only after she got into a praying position, hands clasped together and tiny fingers entwined. Anam slid toward the top of Mama’s shoulder, opposite of Papa, and waited.

    “By the power of His overwhelming benevolence, the grantor of the spirit and the light, purify this place and dispel its malice. Let Your radiance eternal cleanse this creation of darkness!”

    Mama opened her hands toward the Core.

    “Gather!”

    The room around them darkened as if the very light surrounding them had faded away. Yet at the same time, Mama glowed, a radian light flowing from her body and toward her hands, forming a golden, blinding sphere.

    “Condense!”

    The light sank into her hands, shooting through her arms like white-hot magma, glowing just beneath her skin. It channeled through her chest, frozen in place. It grew even brighter from the inside, threatening to explode out at any moment.

    “Dispel.”

    Mama opened her maw wide and fired the sphere—even larger and brighter once it left her body—toward the Core. It collided, forcing Anam and Papa to close their eyes and turn away. Even Mama had to squint. Waves of heat washed over them. The dark clouds evaporated. Finally, the light that had been taken away from the land returned.

    “That was SO COOL!” Anam bounced on top of Mama’s head, then back to her shoulders, and onto her head again.

    “I suppose it is,” Mama said, reaching up to grab Anam before he’d slip. With him carefully between her hands, she said, “Now, you won’t ask me to do that again? Giving a whole speech and showy display is really draining. I didn’t need nearly that amount of power to dispel this Core.”

    “I won’t!” Anam grinned, eyes glowing again. “Not until you find another Core!”

    Mama and Papa sighed.

    <><><> ​

    And Arceus descended from his throne to approach the soul that had scaled His eternal tower. Battered and beaten, his ember faded to nothing but a small cinder, and yet he still looked up to witness His wondrous glory. The soul asked, “Arceus, creator of Legends, why has my village fallen to ruin? Can You and Your great power restore it to its former glory?”

    And Arceus, in His great wisdom, shook his head. “My power will not be wasted on a village that will wither away again. For the reason your village fell was due to its own lack of duty and discipline. They did not gather from the rivers and did not plant their seeds. And so, they were ruined.”

    The soul fell to the ground, weeping. He begged and begged again, but Arceus was not one to rescind His divine wisdom. However, His benevolence , with His endless compassion, said to the soul, “You have climbed my eternal tower, faced endless hardship, and now request only to save others. You are a noble soul. And for that, I will grant you one power. The power to save more than you ever could for your village. The power to save those noblest, just as yourself.” The soul bowed to him.

    With a small fraction of His thousand arms, Arceus took the soul and shaped it into something new. He became that of Xerneas, the Lifebringer. And the humble soul, with His new power, descended back to the world of mortals. And there, He became a bastion for future generations, making the world bountiful forevermore.

    —Book of Arceus, Life

    The Goomy opened his eyes. In front of him was an audience of Pokémon of all shapes and sizes sitting, standing, or coiling about in a temple of white marble. Stained glass decorated tall walls and large seats filled the center chamber. Behind the Goomy was a large mural depicting three windows. The middle depicted a great beast of white fur and four legs, surrounded by large blotches of color. The right depicted a small, pink creature surrounded by a rainbow’s worth of tiny dots. The middle frame was completely white.

    The Goomy turned to his left, eyes beaming with overflowing joy and pride. His eyes asked, ‘How did I do?’

    The Goodra next to him smiled, giving a nod. “Thank you, Anam,” she said, and then faced the others in the temple. “That was a wonderful rendition of Life.”

    “I did good?” Anam asked, bobbing his vaguely spherical body from the top of the polished marble podium.

    “Absolutely,” the Goodra replied. She looked to the others. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

    “Aw, the little kid would make Arceus Himself proud!” shouted a Breloom.

    “You’ve got a talented kid, Priestess!”

    “Thank you, but really, Anam has been practicing that speech very dutifully. Any of you could do it with the same sort of effort. Isn’t that right, Anam?”

    “Yes! Dutiful!” The young Goomy bobbed again.

    “But that will be all for today, everyone,” the Priestess said. “Let us all now stand in prayer for the Three Divine Spirits.”

    The temple went quiet then, all Pokémon lowering their heads and bodies, eyes closed. From above, a great, metal bell boomed slowly, each time sending small shockwaves through Anam’s body. His soft form jiggled with each one, every ring of the bell filling him with a sense of purpose and life. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply, and released it on the third and final ring. It was the sound that Anam always looked forward to, without fail. It gave him the energy to take on the school days, the chores, and all of the vegetables.

    The sound faded into a dull echo after several seconds. All the Pokémon lifted their heads, eyes open.

    “Thank you,” the Priestess said. “By His blessing.”

    “By His blessing,” they all said.

    By the time half of the audience had shuffled out, Anam’s mother suddenly jolted. “A-and don’t forget! Book of Mew in five days—make sure you read through Passage of Ice!”

    Weaving between Pokémon large and small, going against the flow of bodies and nearly getting stepped on by a Torterra, a Salandit scrambled to the clearer spots of the temple. “Madeline!”

    “Papa!” Anam said, jumping off the podium. He landed on the ground with a splat, followed by an “Oof,” knowing that his rump would probably be bruised from the fall.

    Papa smiled. “I’m sorry I missed your passage, Anam. But I’m sure it was wonderful.”

    “It’s okay. It went just as good as when I practiced at home!”

    “That’s wonderful, Anam,” Papa said. “Madeline?”

    Mama leaned forward, picking the Salandit up. There was a small piece of paper in his paws—though, considering his size, the paper dwarfed him. After settling on her shoulder, Papa held the letter as far forward as he could so Mama could read it. “We found another Dungeon. This one is quite old, so it’s very corrupt. We need to go in and bless the Core.”

    “Hrm…” Mama rubbed her fingers together. “We do.” She read through the paper carefully, eyes meticulously scanning every word.

    Anam tilted his body. “Where is it this time, Mama? Is it far?”

    “Not very, it seems,” Mama said. “It will only be a few days. We’ll certainly be back in time for the next holy day.”

    “We’re going on an adventure!” Anam said, hopping happily. “Yes! Yes! I get to skip school!”

    “And we’ll make sure you get all of your homework before we go.”

    Anam, both figuratively and literally, deflated.

    <><><> ​

    The creature screamed, begging and praying for safety for his village. He saw as his home fell beneath the merciless orange, glowing wave. The heat burned his body, and the bodies of all the others fleeing. And Mew, watching in horror, cried out to them to flee even faster, but that was simply beyond them.

    And ultimately, when the villagers found nowhere else to go, they saw the lava slowly creep closer. Fur burst alight. Scales burned away. And feathers became naught but ash. And yet, as they all screamed, the villager prayed for forgiveness, for it was by their own sins that the village was now in ruins.

    And then, Mew performed a miracle. With a wave of divine light, the feathers became imbued with fire. The fur harnessed the flames. And the scales grew bright. The villager’s tail, as a symbol of their eternal will, became imbued with pure, fiery energy—his spirit, and all of his descendants, would forever carry the ember of life. It was their second life, their second heart. And Mew told them, it was their second chance. For She believed that even with mistakes made, there is always time to repent and reclaim one’s purity.

    —Book of Mew, Fire

    The wood crackled softly in front of Anam, little embers dancing in the nighttime sky. Anam wiggled his little body, puffing tiny, precise scorch marks into a piece of paper in front of him with practiced ease. Little, simplified letters from left to right covered the paper with black scorch marks. Without hands or feet or even a tail, Anam had to work with weak Dragon Pulse strikes to burn his answers to the homework. Thankfully, it wasn’t too hard. They weren’t very writing intensive.

    Every so often, Anam glanced up at his parents. Papa was reading a book by the fireside, gingerly turning the huge pages with his tiny paws. It seemed to be a story about a great adventurer, hunting for treasure in ancient lands. Mama was reading from another book, but Anam couldn’t tell what it was. The cover was blank.

    “Mama? What’re you reading?”

    “Hm? Oh, just a book, Anam.” She closed it, sighing. “I suppose I can’t say much about what’s in it, unfortunately.”

    “How come?”

    Mama opened the book to a random page, humming. She turned it toward Anam. “See?”

    The pages were blank. Nothing. An empty, white canvas, wordless and without meaning.

    “Huh?” Anam bubbled, confused. “I don’t get it. How come you’re reading a blank book?”

    Mama frowned, turning it back toward her. She closed it again, setting it down, and then picked both Papa and Anam from the ground. The fire crackled after a stick fell deeper into the center of the pit. “I’m afraid it’s a book that only I can read.” She looked at the covers. “Nobody else can see its contents. Nobody else can even know what it says. I cannot read it to you.”

    “Oh…” Anam frowned. “Is it because you’re a Divine Dragon?”

    “I’m…” Mama sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve met other Divine Dragons before and none of them can read it. Only I can.”

    “Oh.” Anam frowned, not understanding. But then it clicked. “Ah! I get it! You’re the best Divine Dragon, and that’s why!”

    Mama chuckled. And this time, it wasn’t restrained. Her belly rumbled, her chest shook, and she brought a hand to her mouth. “Oh, Anam.” She pulled him close, as well as Papa, and gave them both a little squeeze. “You’re too precious.”

    Anam giggled, pressing against her. Eventually, they settled into a cozy silence, only the crackle of the flames filling it. Anam stared at the fire, thinking about the passage they had read just before he’d finished his homework.

    “Mama,” Anam said, looking up at her. “How come fire hurts so much?”

    “Because it has a lot of energy, Anam,” Mama replied.

    “Too much energy hurts?” Anam asked.

    “Too much of anything hurts.”

    Papa crawled next to Anam and curled around him. Anam nestled beneath his chin. “Too much food hurts, Anam. Fire can be both good and bad. We use fire to stay warm. But too much fire and we burn.”

    “How come Fire Pokémon can live in it, then? Are they harmful?”

    “Not in the slightest.” Mama settled down next to them, listening to the feral Kricketot sing with the beat of the campfire’s rumble. “Fire is hard to control. It is the duty of the Fire Pokémon to properly harness it.”

    “But what about the ones that don’t?”

    “Well, they have sinned. To misuse the power gifted upon you by Mew is a sin. They shall not be judged well both in this life and the next.”

    Several beats of silence followed, punctuated only by the clicks and pops of the fire.

    He looked down. “I sinned.”

    “Anam?” Mama tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

    Anam’s eyes watered. “I hurt my friend with my Dragon gift from Mew, and they hit another student. And then they both yelled at me, saying Arceus wouldn’t like me anymore.” He sniffled. “Is that true? Does Arceus hate me now?”

    “Anam…” Mama frowned. “He doesn’t hate you. He could never, not someone as kindhearted as you. And you apologized, didn’t you?”

    “I did! I did! I said sorry!” His mouth twisted into a desperate frown. “B-but they were still angry!”

    “Did you blast them particularly hard?” Papa asked. “You have to remember your own strength, Anam. You’re much stronger than most kids your age.”

    “Nuh-no…”. He sniffed. “They also said I was dumb… that Arceus made me silly because he knew I’d be a sinner…”

    Mama’s chest rose. “Excuse me?” Her green eyes narrowed. “Who told you this? Which friend?”

    Papa glanced nervously at Mama, then at Anam. “What do you mean, made you silly, Anam? You aren’t silly at all.”

    Anam sniffled. “I know I’m silly! I’m a silly-silly funny-head. They called me all kinds of mean words… b-but they’re words that I’d get in trouble for saying…”

    As Anam spoke, small rocks rose around Mama, floating in the air. The ground rumbled. The campfire exploded with life. The little Goomy squeaked in surprise, hiding underneath Papa’s chin. That snapped Mama back to the night. The fire died down. The ground settled. The rocks fell.

    Mama cradled Papa and Anam into her arms, holding them tight. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Anam,” Mama said. Her eyes were stern. “No matter what others tell you, you’re blessed. That’s what you are. You aren’t hated by Arceus or Mew.”

    “Even after what I did…?”

    “You may ask for forgiveness,” Mama said. “You are remorseful of it, and for Mew and Arceus alike, that is meaningful. I am certain that they both forgive you.”

    Anam blubbered again, pressing his face into Mama and Papa.

    “Now we won’t have any more worrying about this,” Mama said. “I am positive that Mew would consider you one of the most adorable, affectionate, and kind Goomy to ever live.”

    “Y-you think so?”

    “I know for certain,” Mama said. “I’ve known Mew in the past. Just as I have known Arceus. And they both would never hate you, so long as you remain as you are today. Kind. Even if you hurt others, you understand now why you shouldn’t, don’t you?”

    Anam sniffled, nodding.

    “Then all is forgiven in the eyes of the Creators. Now all you must do is make it up to those among us, your classmates. You should do everything you can to earn their forgiveness, even if they themselves have sinned.”

    “They sinned…?”

    “They called you horrible things, did they not? Did that hurt?”

    “It hurt a lot…”

    “Then they have sinned. But it is not up to you to judge them for such actions.”

    “What if they never forgive me? I’m supposed to forgive them?”

    Mama frowned, looking down at the little Goomy. His eyes shined with one part confusion, two parts curiosity. “You can forgive,” she said, “but you must also remember in the future how they treated you. You may forgive and allow them the opportunity, but you should not forget until they make up for it.”

    “That sounds hard… can’t I just forgive them?”

    Mama smiled, rubbing Anam between his little feelers. “I just don’t want them to take advantage of you.”

    “What’s that mean?”

    “It means, if you keep forgiving them, they’ll keep doing bad things to you, knowing you’ll just forgive them.”

    Anam’s eyes widened. “They wouldn’t do that! That’s… that’s mean!”

    “They were already mean to you,” Mama said.

    Anam shook his body in protest. “No! That’s super mean! They aren’t like that!”

    Papa interjected quickly, raising a tiny hand. “We just want you to be careful, Anam. That’s all.”

    Anam sank, frowning. “Okay… but they aren’t mean!”

    “Then perhaps they aren’t,” replied Mama. “I’ll give them a firm talking to when we get home.”

    Anam shivered.

    “But that’s for later.” Mama rubbed him on the head. “We should go to bed. We have a lot of traveling tomorrow.”

    <><><> ​

    The warrior passed through the final trial with ease. She had been faced with great darkness that poured out from her own heart, becoming a mirror of herself. Yet her malice overflowed. She craved destruction. She bellowed at the warrior, “We shall rise to the top of the Creator’s Hall, strike Him down, and steal his throne!”

    The warrior laughed. “It would be such a foolish attempt at His life. He is immortal and omnipotent, and I have no reason to kill.”

    “Then why have you come, if not to fight?!”

    “I want to fight. For it is my duty to be the strongest, to protect my village and my people. Those who threaten peace must be destroyed.”

    The darkness roared at her. “Then you are afraid of Him!”

    The warrior walked past the darkness, ascending to the Hall of Creation without it. The darkness roared again, screaming for her to stay down and fight with her. The warrior then turned around, reaching a hand toward the darkness. “Then come with me, so we may battle His glory not as enemies, but as friends.”

    And so, the darkness was dispelled.

    —Book of Arceus, Death

    Anam frowned, looking up at Mama. “I don’t get it.”

    The forest was starting to get darker even though it was early in the afternoon. The trees loomed above them, leafless, and the ground was dreary, gray, and muddy. Papa and Anam were held in Mama’s arms again, kept against her chest while she waded through the gray, rotten ground toward the Dungeon. Despite how corrupted the land seemed, they had yet to find a single distortion.

    “Well, I’m not finished with the passage yet, Anam,” Mama said, placing a bookmark gently between the pages.

    “I know, but… how come the darkness went away? That was the evil, mean side of her, right? I thought darkness gets destroyed!”

    Mama smiled. “Darkness is inherent in all of us, Anam. We all have impure thoughts. The great warrior that scaled Destiny Tower’s ancient corridors wanted nothing more than peace for her home, and yet she still held the power of destruction in her claws.”

    Anam gulped. “That’s scary… how come a peacekeeper is so strong?”

    “It requires strength to maintain peace,” Mama said. “Don’t you remember, Anam? I’m one of the strongest Pokémon in the world. I can rival the Embodiments that are depicted in this very book. Do you think I’m scary?”

    Anam shook his head. “No! You’re scary to others, though!”

    Mama’s left feeler twitched. “Well.” Her eyes briefly darted left. “That’s good.”

    Papa held a paw over his muzzle, stifling a giggle. “I don’t think you’re very scary, Madeline.”

    Mama growled, making Anam tilt his body in confusion.

    “Is Mama scary?” Anam asked.

    “Not toward us, but to those who have darkness in their hearts. She only wishes to help others harness and control their darkness.”

    “Control…” Anam frowned. “What’s my darkness?”

    “Hmm… you are too young to know your own darkness,” Mama said. “One day, when you are older, perhaps you will see it. Then you can confront your darkness and learn to control it, just as we all must.”

    “Oh, okay.” Anam jiggled and bubbled in thought. “…What happened to the warrior, Mama?”

    “Well, that’s for next time.”

    “Can you say it really fast?” Anam asked eagerly. “I wanna know if she’s okay! Is there a happy ending?”

    “There is one,” Mama said, smiling. “The warrior confronted Arceus and asked for a sparring match against Him. But she was not given the chance. Instead, He made her battle the strongest Pokémon of his disciples, an Embodiment.”

    Anam gasped. “Did she win?! Did the warrior win?!”

    Mama stifled a laugh. “Of course not. Embodiments alone are far beyond the power of a mortal, and to fight one of the strongest? There was simply no way.”

    “Who was the strongest?”

    “It was an entity that did not truly have a name to call its own. Not a name that has been written down, at least.” Mama gently slipped the Book of Arceus back into her bag. “But it was known to us as the Divine Dragon.”

    Anam gasped again, accidentally swallowing a bit of his own slime. He coughed for a bit, Mama patting him on the back to loosen some of the phlegm.

    “Calm, Anam,” Papa said carefully.

    “But, Divine Dragon!” Anam said. “Isn’t that what you’re called?!”

    Madeline chuckled. “Yes, I am. We who lead the temples are named after that Embodiment, as the Divine Dragon was the first Embodiment to ever be created. Though, not many Divine Dragons today are very worthy of that title… Perhaps I can read that one next?”

    “Yes, yes! I wanna read about the Divine Dragon!”

    “Next time,” Mama assured him. But then her expression darkened. “We need to focus on this place, first. We’ve gone so deep, and yet we haven’t seen a single distortion.”

    “Hmm.” Papa looked up. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the forward path the entire time. There simply hasn’t been a distortion. Yet it feels as if…”

    Mama’s horns tensed. “I suppose, just to be safe, I should put up the Hand now.”

    The tendril of light spiraled around them in a protective, radiant sphere.

    “Then let’s keep looking for the distortion,” Mama said. “Stay alert, you two.”

    “Mhm.” Anam looked to the left, then the right. He wiggled his horns, trying to emulate what Mama could do with hers, but no matter how he tried, he could never sense the life energy the way she could. “Mama, do you feel anything around?”

    “Yes. Everywhere,” Mama said.

    “Everywhere?” Papa asked. “What do you mean?”

    “I can sense… spirits everywhere. Or nowhere.” Mama winced. “I can’t tell. It’s… it’s overwhelming. I’m—I don’t know what I’m sensing. There are too many spirits ahead that I can’t tell where it all is.”

    “Perhaps we should turn back,” Papa said. “We should regroup for something else if your senses are getting overwhelmed and label this place as a restricted area. Spread the word as fast as we can. Perhaps we can find a Hecto?”

    “As if I’d speak to him,” Mama growled.

    “Madeline, I understand how you feel, but please… if we want to keep others from coming here—”

    “Yes, yes,” Mama said, raising one of her horns since her arms were full. “Fine. If one happens to be around, I’ll tell him. Otherwise, I imagine he’ll try to play protector anyway and spread the word on his own.” She stopped walking, turning around. “Let’s—”

    Ten, twenty—Anam didn’t know. Countless blobs of darkness of varying shapes emerged around them in a semicircle, completely blocking the way back through the gloomy forest. All of them shot beams of darkness toward the trio, and all of them carved partway through Mama’s radiant shield. The light flickered; Mama winced, stepping back.

    “Were they waiting for us?” But even as she spoke, their numbers grew denser. “We have to get through them,” she said. The Goodra tensed her hands around Anam and Papa, ready to fire. “Ready? Now!”

    The Salandit and Goomy opened their mouths wide, blasting a hole through the crowd of wraiths. Mama accompanied them both with a sweeping Dragon Pulse of her own. Blue embers carved through the wraiths, dissolving them into black clouds; Mama sped through the lingering Dragon fire, surprising speed defying her heavy footsteps that left imprints on the ground. A wraith lunged toward her weakened barrier, knocked away by the filament of light. It cut the wraith in two.

    From behind, the remaining wraiths—about half of them left—blasted Mama from behind, further weakening her barrier. She kept running, spotting darkness ahead. She skidded on the ground—her slime doing her no favors—and made a hard right, avoiding that dark squad entirely. But more appeared several throws away, and then even more on her peripheral vision.

    “What are these wraiths doing beyond a Dungeon’s perimeter?!” Mama said.

    “They aren’t very strong, but there are too many,” Papa said. “Let’s just power through them. They can’t possibly go on for much longer!”

    “Then ready another blast. Anam!”

    “Yup!”

    They rushed again, and the same exchange repeated. Dragon Pulses from the holy family, dark beams from the wraiths. Mama’s barrier had briefly disappeared completely, only the filament of light remaining. Excess darkness sparked against Mama’s body, turning lavender slime a deep purple. Mama squeezed Anam and Papa a bit harder, rushing past the ten-or-so wraiths that remained.

    Mama cried out when they fired upon her from behind, most of them hitting her tail and her back. She staggered, struggling to keep up her momentum.

    Then, another crowd of wraiths appeared a stone’s throw away from them. And then another crowd to their left, and to their right, and even in the diagonals.

    Mama didn’t hesitate. She continued through, clutching Anam and Papa against her chest. Anam heard her labored breathing but realized that she was running faster. She seemed a lot lighter.

    “Madeline,” Papa breathed, crawling onto her shoulder to cover the rear. “Where’s your tail?”

    Mama didn’t answer. She kept running toward the wraiths, breathing another blast of blue fire at the forward crowd. The others that closed in from the sides fired volleys of dark blobs; with how far they were, it took several seconds for them to reach her. That was enough time to blast through the next cluster, but not enough to completely escape the dark explosions.

    The forward wraiths shot at them. Mama had no energy left to block it with her light; the single filament had receded back into her body during the run. Anam screamed, but Mama doubled over, protecting him.

    Papa wasn’t as lucky. One of the dark blasts struck Mama’s shoulder, sending the Salandit flying behind her. Mama screamed something, but the blasts were too loud, and Anam was smothered under her slime. Her heart pounded against his head.

    Anam heard Papa scream—and then it was abruptly silenced. And then Mama screamed again. She spun around—Anam caught a glimpse of… something. He didn’t know what it was. It looked like Papa, but something was wrong with his body. Parts were missing, some liquid flowing out of where they should have been. It was a very dark liquid. Almost black. And the wraiths were around him. He was still moving. But then they gathered closer around him, and Anam couldn’t see anything anymore.

    Mama made a single step forward, but then five more wraiths rose from the ground. She stumbled back a step. Anam screamed, firing a Dragon Pulse into the crowd, but it only took out two of them. Mama shook her head, turning around to run.

    The wraiths had converged. Fifty, sixty? All of them several throws away, yet falling in from all sides. The dark wall thickened as more of them got closer and closer to one another. They covered the ground. At a certain point beyond their perimeter, there was more wraith than soil.

    Anam couldn’t see through his tears. He trembled, “P-Papa… Papa! M-Mama… what…”

    Mama put her hand on Anam’s head, rubbing between his horns. Her racing heart… it slowed. In a strange, twisted way, the forest felt quiet for only a few seconds. Anam looked up to see Mama smiling down at him. “Anam,” Mama said. “I’m… going to show you another miracle. But you have to play along. And this will make everything okay again.”

    Anam nodded immediately. “Do it! Hurry, for Papa!”

    Mama brought Anam up. Her grip with her right arm was a lot weaker, and she instead held him on her left. It was already rotting away from one of the wraiths’ attacks. She stepped toward the wraiths, even as the ones behind her, the ones that were ignoring Papa, blasted at her back.

    “You have to say that you accept,” Mama said, slurring her words. “Anam, I Promise that I will keep you safe. Do you accept?”

    Mama held her right, trembling hand forward, still using her left for him to balance on. Her right hand glowed with gold, the radiant light of miracles.

    Anam headbutted her hand. “I accept!”

    The light flashed between them and Anam felt a tiny spark of energy. His eyes glowed. “Yes! I felt it! It was a miracle, right, Mama? You made a super magical Promise, and now it’s safe!”

    Anam turned around to look at the wraiths, fully expecting them to be gone by Mama’s holy light. But they were still there. In fact, they were even closer, almost within firing distance.

    “M-Mama? It’s not safe! I—I don’t f-feel safe! Mama! Let’s try it ag—”

    An overwhelming warmth jolted through Anam’s body like electricity. And then something new was there, deep inside of him, deeper than his body, somewhere inside his aura.

    “M-Mama! I felt something! What was that?! That was so cool!”

    The first thing Anam noticed was her wide, relieved smile. The second, the thick tears streaming from her face.

    “Mama?”

    “One last trick,” Mama said between sobs. “I’m sorry, Anam. This is scary for all of us. But I can make it better. One last trick. Hurry. We need to play Blaster.”

    “Oh! Okay!” Anam said, knowing that Mama would never lie to him.

    Mama raised her arm; Anam slid down, giggling when his back touched her mouth. “Ready… BLAST!”

    Mama fired, propelling Anam high into the sky. He cheered, picturing the wraiths exploding from the shockwave that must have resulted from that power he felt course through him. That shockwave must have obliterated all of the wraiths with their game. It was all practice for moments like these. Mama was so clever. She planned even for when she was outnumbered.

    But then Mama kept firing. The Dragon Pulse lasted a lot longer than usual. In fact, it felt like it was getting stronger. Happy cheers turned into terrified screams; he was too high. The fall would hurt from this high up! He couldn’t turn back for a while. He didn’t know how many seconds it was that the blast kept carrying him forward. It burned. He heard his own slime sizzling.

    It finally stopped. Anam spun his body in the air, slowly, to see how far he had come. They were like dots. Countless, black dots in a huge circle. Anam saw something dark purple near the middle, but—no, that purple was gone, now. Where did Mama go? She must have escaped with Papa after the miracle. It didn’t look like the blobs were moving very much after all.

    But—how was he going to land?!

    The way he was flying, he was already out of that dead forest, heading instead for a large field just beyond it. He saw a crater with seemingly infinite darkness inside. His eyes widened—but he wasn’t going to fly far enough to actually enter it. Instead, he saw another forest near that crater with a similarly gray coloration.

    The ground came fast. Faster. Even faster. “Uhh—uhh—” Anam opened his mouth, hoping that a Dragon Pulse would be enough. He fired, the propulsion of the attack slowing his descent significantly, but the ground still came.

    He slammed into the dead soil.

    <><><> ​

    Trapped within the mountain, the helpless had no chance of escape. A seemingly endless wall of rocks sealed them within, and after the earthquake that followed, the villagers realized that there would be no hope of rescue. Another tremor and they would become one with the mountain eternal.

    Mew called for them to escape, but they had no power. They had been exiled for their own wrongdoing, within a mountain where they could not harm others. And yet, helpless and begging, they became the most pitiful souls of all. They begged for forgiveness, for a second chance to make the world better, rather than worse.

    And so, Mew, moved by their plea, performed a miracle. Their scales hardened, and their claws sharpened. Their bodies became imbued with a hint of the might of the Divine Dragon. And with their newfound power, they smashed through their rocky prison with ease and praised Mew upon their triumphant return.

    And Mew warned them, should they ever misuse their power, more of their kind would be able to oppose them just as easily. By holding the essence of the Divine Dragon, they have also become vulnerable to that same power. And the revitalized souls praised Mew again, and promised to use their divine power for the good of the world.

    —Book of Mew, Dragon

    Anam opened his eyes to complete darkness. He tried turning his head, but he saw nothing no matter which direction he went. Something soft held him. That was the only comfort. He wiggled, trying to stand up, but he didn’t know which way was up. He whined and whimpered, and that was enough to make the soft thing holding him stir.

    It rubbed his back, and then another one patted him on the head. Anam grinned, closing his eyes—not that it made much of a difference—and sighed.

    It must have all just been a nightmare. But if that was the case, where was he? “Hello?”

    No response. Instead, the softness that held him let go, setting him down on a fuzzy ground. He giggled, looking down. “You feel soft!” Anam bounced a few times, sinking partway into the dark. “Am I on your belly? Or your back?”

    The air whispered around him, but Anam wasn’t sure what it was saying. Something glowed in the dark. It looked like an eye. More eyes, all around the Goomy, stared at him, like giant moons in the sky.

    “Wow!” Anam beamed. “You’re everywhere! What’s your name, Mister? Or, um… Misters? Do you know where Mama and Papa are?”

    The darkness continued to stare.

    “Um, if you’re making motions, I can’t see them. I can only see your eyes, Misters. Is it nighttime?”

    More silence. Then, Anam’s stomach growled. He shrank down. “Oof… I think I’m kind of hungry, actually. Um, Misters, is it okay if I find some food to eat?”

    The eyes stared for a while longer, and then, one by one, they closed. Anam was left in total darkness again, but the softness beneath him stirred. He felt himself rising; hands wrapped around his body delicately. Almost on reflex, Anam nestled against them, nuzzling one of them. This one felt like a wing.

    Something bright blinded him. He closed his eyes, wincing at the light. Cool air caressed his slime; he had forgotten about that, and how, in that darkness, there hadn’t been any wind. He finally opened his eyes—just a small sliver—and realized that it was actually evening. After the pitch darkness, even the dwindling sunlight was overwhelming.

    After his eyes adjusted, Anam turned around. “Mister? Oh!”

    It looked a lot like Anam, though a bit… expressionless. Purple cloth and drawn-on eyes made the majority of the thing before him, accompanied by little green circles to emulate Anam’s cheeks. It even had little, dangling horns on the top of the disguise.

    “I know what you are!” Anam said. “You’re a Mimikyu! Aww, is that a disguise to look like me? Where are your eyes, huh?” The Goomy approached the Goomy-Mimikyu, eyes darting left and right for the latter’s. “Oh! It’s actually my eyes, too! Haha!”

    Two pinpricks of white light shined from within the eyeholes, literally beaming at Anam. Then, a shadowy tendril from under the disguise pushed an apple toward Anam.

    “Oh! Thank you!” Anam struggled with the apple at first, unable to grasp it on his own, though after a few bites, he had a good enough foothold over it. Juicy, sweet—maybe a bit of tang; Anam didn’t like that, but he had to be polite—and almost half his size. He swallowed; at the very least, it was filling, even after a few bites. “It’s really good!”

    Mimikyu hopped once. Anam laughed, mirroring the gesture.

    “Hey! What’s your name?” Anam asked.

    Mimikyu tilted his disguise.

    “Can you talk?” Anam asked. “Oh, or are you feral? That’s okay! I’m not mad or anything! A lot of feral Pokémon are really smart and friendly, I can tell!”

    Mimikyu shook, shrinking down.

    “Oh, you’re not feral? I’m sorry. Then how come you can’t talk?”

    The little thing—it was only two-thirds of Anam’s height in its Goomy disguise—trembled with uncertainty. It vibrated, making a low humming noise, but that was all.

    “You don’t know how to talk? That’s okay!” Anam said. “Do you know how to write?”

    Another tremble.

    “How about draw? No? Ohh! I should show you how to draw!” Anam nodded. “Oh. But I can’t draw. My Mom and Dad can, though, but I don’t have hands!” He laughed again, making the Mimikyu tilt his body to the right. “I can do scorch writing, though. But it’s okay. When I see them again, I’ll ask if they can show you how!”

    Mimikyu bobbed again, this time so bold as to bump against Anam’s slimy body, the Goomy’s slime connecting the disguise to him even after they parted.

    “Hey, wait a second. You made that disguise to look like me, right? Then you must be good at art!”

    Mimikyu flinched at this, leaning forward.

    “Yeah, Art! Hey! Come on! I gotta find my way home so Mom and Dad won’t worry. Why don’t you come with me?” Anam turned around. “Let’s go! I can see Quartz Mountain through the trees! Oh, boy, that’s a long walk! But I’ll make it!”

    All while he talked, the Goomy advanced into the dead forest and away from the black crater. Anam checked if Mimikyu was following; he was not.

    “Mister? What’s wrong?” Anam asked, sliding back to him. At this new angle, he realized that a great shadow connected the disguise to the crater, inky blackness cascading off of a long tendril. “It’s okay! You can come with me!”

    He shook his head, trembling.

    “How come? What’s wrong? It’s okay! I know that your kind look scary, but you aren’t bad at all! I can tell, mhm.”

    But the Mimikyu shook again, and them, briefly, looked back. Anam heard whispers from the cave again, scared little whispers. He heard no words from them, only emotions. Fear, apprehension, nervousness, anxiety, and a whole slew of other words Anam didn’t know the definitions of.

    “How come you’re scared to come out?” Anam asked. “It’s okay. As long as you’re with me, they won’t think you’re scary at all!”

    The creature stared at Anam for a little while, and then looked back at the shadows of the crater. With a glow in its eyeholes, he drew the darkness from the crater, just slightly. It stirred like a vat of thick stew. Arms and claws and wings and tendrils, all ink-black, crawled out of the darkness. Individual eyes opened, staring at Anam, and then closed, coming from all over the strange creature.

    The disguise briefly fell off the tiny part of the thing’s body, but he quickly tried to secure it back on. Not that it was hiding much; the disguise was nothing more than a finger puppet of this thing’s true form.

    Anam, petrified, remained in place, a fearful smile frozen on his face. “H-ha ha… ha… n-not scary…! You’re not—”

    The dark entity abruptly shoved itself back into the crater. Limbs and all other body parts disappeared into it, blending as a single pool of shadows once more. The ‘Mimikyu’ shuddered, slithering back into the darkness as well.

    “W-wait!” Anam said. “No, I didn’t mean it! Mister, please! You aren’t scary! You’re just… different! That’s all!”

    But he didn’t listen. He stood at the edge of the crater, giving one tearful look at Anam. He shook its body again. No, he was not coming.

    “Can I at least give you a name?” Anam said, bubbling with worry. “Everyone deserves a name! I’m sorry that I sinned and made you feel bad! Can you forgive me if I give you one?”

    The entity turned fully, staring at Anam again with forlorn eyes.

    “Ummm…” Anam’s face scrunched up in concentration. “Your name is…” Another long pause, the green slime of concentration pooling around the Goomy’s general area. “Nate!”

    Nate blinked in surprise. Just like that, it seemed that the dark body lit up. Not literally, of course—it was still dark as a moonless midnight—but Anam saw it.

    “Your name is Nate! Do you like it?”

    A stunned silence followed. Then, his eyes beamed even brighter.

    Nate…

    “Y-yeah! Nate!” Anam flinched. “Did… did you say something? I think I heard you say something, but I didn’t hear your voice.”

    “Anam?”

    Anam screamed and spun around. He didn’t even know who it was, only that this new voice was unfamiliar, and had come from behind. “M-Mom says I’m not allowed to talk to strangers!”

    “…You have been talking to a stranger already.”

    Standing in front of Anam was a green-black canine that Anam had once only known from legends.

    “Um… m-maybe.”

    Zygarde bowed toward Anam. “My name is Hecto.”

    “Hec-toe?” Anam repeated, frowning. The name was familiar, but he didn’t remember who said it. “That feels weird to say, sorry.”

    The Zygarde stared, expressionless, while a cool breeze blew past them.

    “Can I call you Toto?” Anam asked.

    “…Hm.” Hecto turned around, walking at a slow pace. “I will be escorting you to Quartz Mountain, now. Please don’t wait. It can be dangerous at night.”

    “Okay, Toto!” Anam slid after him, cheerfully humming a psalm into the evening sun. “Oh, and Nate, thanks for—”

    The dark creature was nothing but the Abyss once more.

    (continued in next post)
     
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    <><><> ​

    Countless warriors entered and scaled His great tower, and countless warriors failed to reach the top. Many, whose souls were impure and hungry for power, never returned to the mortal realm again, taken away for purification by His divine light. And for each warrior that entered, the observer at the bottom of the tower took note of each one.

    When the observer himself finally climbed the tower, he reached the top with ease, not because he was powerful, nor because he was studious, but because he had already gained the favor of His divine blessings. The observer requested with great formality and politeness to ascend the echelons of the pantheon, just as the few successful warriors have.

    Arceus granted him his request. And by His divine power, the observer of the tower became the observer of the world. He is everywhere, meant to watch over as the world’s balance ebbs and flows, and vowed to step in when balance must be restored.

    —Book of Arceus, Balance

    “That’s about you!” Anam said.

    The sun was low on the western horizon, setting after a full day of travel. Anam had fallen asleep on Hecto’s back at some point during the trip home, and by the time he was awake, Hecto had a set of berries for Anam to eat on the way back. They had cleared the forest through the night, and during that trip, three more Zygarde accompanied Anam’s escort.

    That had been followed by a long trip where Anam chattered with the Zygarde about his parents and his teachings, repeating over and over different passages from the Books as he recalled them. He knew that if Mama was around, she’d probably correct him about some of the words that he got wrong, but he knew that she’d be able to correct him later.

    “Did I say it right? Were you the observer at the bottom of Destiny Tower? Zygarde, Embodiment of Balance?

    “Hm. I am Zygarde Hecto. I perform observations and, when needed, I step in.”

    “Step in? How come you stepped in for me?” Anam looked at the four Zygarde, balanced atop the central one. “And how come you’re all here? How many of you are there?”

    “One hundred,” Hecto said. “There was a time when, at most, only ten of my kind could maintain themselves at once. But I have since bypassed that limit.”

    “Through Arceus’ divine blessings?” Anam asked.

    “…Yes.”

    And past the forest, Hecto now climbed a rocky path up Quartz Mountain. Black rocks filled their vision, only giving way to the blue, cloudless sky.

    “Mister Toto, I never told you where I lived,” Anam said. “How did you know?”

    “I observe.”

    Pokémon appeared near the top of the crater’s entryway, where an artificial break in the mountainside had been made to allow for easy passage. Anam squinted, the sun obscuring his vision, but the shape was unmistakable. “Hey, look! It’s Auntie Tyranitar! Hi, Auntie!”

    Tyranitar blinked, quickening her heavy pace down the path. “You… you’re… are you Zygarde?”

    “We are,” said the lead Hecto. “Do not be alarmed. I am merely stepping in, as is my role, to return Anam home.”

    “Stepping in? But you are only to do that if… something terrible had happened.”

    “Something did!” Anam suddenly said, causing the three Hecto behind him to suddenly stare at his back. Anam met their eyes with a wide grin. “Mama and Papa got attacked by wraiths! But it’s okay because when it got really unsafe, Mama gave me some power and threw me far, far away so she can go all-out!”

    Anam turned back around to address Tyranitar—as well as the silhouettes of Pokémon that were just by the town’s entrance.

    “Oh, I see,” Tyranitar said with a sigh. “Thank goodness you’re okay, Anam. We were worried about you. And my son has some apologizing to do, too.”

    “He does?” Anam asked, but then flinched. “Oh! Oh. Um… and I want to apologize, too.”

    “Nonsense,” Tyranitar said. “Zygarde, Your Holiness, do you know when Anam’s parents will be back? We can’t have another holy day without them!”

    “Mama said we would be back in time for one.” Anam nodded, but noticed that Tyranitar’s eyes were more focused on the Hectos behind him. He watched her expression darken. For just a moment, the Goomy felt an icy pit in his stomach. “Or m-maybe they’ll be back for the next one, since it was a really scary mission! With lots of wraiths to fight! But they’ll be back. They’ll be… they’ll be back… right?”

    “Anam…” Tyranitar looked like she wanted to say more, but then stopped. “Why don’t we take you inside? I’ll… I’m going to spend the night with you for now, so you don’t have to sleep alone.”

    “Oh, okay!”

    They led Zygarde awkwardly through town. Anam saw many familiar faces; the kids at school, the temple goers, even the village guards. They had all come out to marvel at Zygarde’s presence, and Anam wondered if the image of him riding atop his back would signify anything to them. After all, Mama was an incredibly holy person. It wasn’t too much of a surprise that Zygarde would come to help bring him home while she was out on an important mission!

    Tyranitar played with her claws nervously. “Zygarde, Your Holiness.”

    “Hecto is fine.”

    “Y-y-yes, Hecto.” Tyranitar cleared her throat. “About Anam, what…”

    “The Divine Dragon passed on her power to her child. You will not be able to force it out, but that power is now with him. Take that as you will.” Toto lowered his body. Anam hopped off.

    “Thank you!” Anam squished his body on the ground in his form of a bow.

    He left, leaving Auntie to frown at Anam from above, crossing her arms. “So, you have your mother’s blessings, do you?” she said. “How are we going to train you to bless Dungeons?”

    “I’ll figure it out!” Anam said, bouncing. “And once Mama comes back, I’ll give her that power back! Then she can give it to me again when I’m ready for real!”

    Anam jumped cheerfully each time, jiggling against Auntie’s tail. She led him along a rocky path into a small building next to a rise in the crater’s terrain. There, a pair of Larvitar watched Anam enter. He shied away at first, avoiding their eyes, but then shook his head. “Um—I’m sorry!” he said. “For… for hurting you before.”

    The left Larvitar flinched, but then nodded. “Mom, how come Anam’s sleeping with us today?”

    “Tomorrow. Please, go back to bed, Rora. It’s late for both of you. Anam, you can sleep in my room tonight.”

    “Okay!” Anam grinned, sliding through the doorways.

    It was a strange ceremony to bring Anam to bed. One without any words of thanks to Arceus or Mew for their gifts of life that Anam was so used to each night from his father, or the gentle songs and cool touch of his mother. But that was fine. It was fun getting to sleep over at a friend’s place!

    The next part of the ceremony was getting Anam a simple bed. It wasn’t the coziest, just some extra leaves put together. At first, it irritated his sensitive skin, but once he flattened it out and coated the bed in slime, it became much cozier. Then, they gave him some water in a small bowl. He always struggled with water. Without arms or legs, he had to lean over the bowl, but he was adept at such maneuvers by now.

    And finally, Auntie placed her hand over the small torch near the back of the room, putting it out. “Good night, Anam.”

    “Good night, Auntie.”

    Anam closed his eyes, bubbling silently with thought. It was so cool! His mother and father got to fight the wraiths, and they were blessing that Dungeon, even as he settled into bed. He hoped they wouldn’t be too mad that he had to be thrown out for them to do their work alone. Those wraiths were really scary, but Mama always knew what she was doing. Papa got hurt, but it wasn’t the first time. They were a team. Mama needed all the help she could get, and the three of them, together, provided what she needed.

    But she’d be fine without him for just one mission. Mama was the strongest of all.

    A bunch of evil spirits were nothing compared to them.

    Mama and Papa were fine.

    They’ll come back.

    They always…

    That night, Anam didn’t sleep.

    <><><> ​

    The villagers struggled between endless waves of droughts and storms. Seeds washed away and crops dried out until nothing remained of the village but dusty fields. The villagers had nothing to call their own but the dirt under their feet. Huddled together, they were a pitiful sight for Mew, who had graced them with Her divine presence.

    They smiled at her, saying that there was nothing they could do. They were sorry that Her holy bounty was not properly harnessed by their power. Mew, with eyes filled with tears, watched the life drain from their eyes just then. Her presence gave them peace in death, but Her will was not for them to perish.

    She instead granted them a new power, the ability to live off of the life of others. Their bodies lost form, and they became the closest creatures to the ethereal realm. Alive, yet familiar with the world of the dead, they lived under the ground, and Mew encouraged the living to donate their presence to these new creatures so they may thrive. And should they misbehave, the righteous of their own kind should regulate those who misuse their ethereal powers.

    And so, this generation of spirits with bodies, in essence no different than all life, lived on. And they thanked Mew and Her presence, Her grace, and Her endless mercy.

    —Book of Mew, Ghost

    “Um, hello?”

    Anam jolted from his restless mumbling. “H-huh?”

    At the entrance to his room for the night long gone was a Larvitar.

    “Oh, um, hi, Rora.”

    Rora wobbled over and climbed beside his bed. “I’m really sorry.”

    Anam shook. “It’s okay. I hurt you, too. Does it still…”

    “No, it’s fine.” Rora showed Anam his shoulder. There was a small scar-like blemish on his rocky hide, but nothing more. “See? Doesn’t even hurt. Besides, now I look cool! Dad said that every scar has a story. I’m gonna have a really good one for this one.”

    Anam couldn’t smile, leaving Rora to sit in awkward silence. He drew back, looking outside. Several seconds passed where nothing was said.

    He could still see Papa struggling against the wraiths. He had been still moving. Moving. He had to be alive. And Mama, she’d launched him away because she had to fight at full force. And that might’ve hurt him. So she was just going to fight the best she could, and then she’d be back home. And… and…

    The hard body of a Larvitar wrapped around Anam, stubby arms struggling to get any sort of comforting hold on his squishy body.

    “M-Mama… Papa…” Anam squeaked. He kept repeating their names, pressing his body against Rora. “Come back… come back!” Sniffles became gasps. Gasps became sobs. Anam didn’t know when it happened, but at some point, his wailing drew the attention of the villagers outside. Where he was resting, he could see their prying eyes through his tears. Some watched helplessly; others had their hands clasped or heads lowered in prayer.

    Rora was with him through it all, holding him no matter how loudly Anam cried. He didn’t say anything. Anam wondered if he even knew what to say. The Goomy certainly didn’t. Words were beyond him. But his throat, and his energy, was limited, even with the new power that Mama had given him before she sent him away. He eventually was reduced back to sobbing silently, ever grateful for Rora’s presence.

    Anam’s sensitive sense of hearing did him no favors. He heard Toto and Rora’s mother speaking.

    “. . . lost even my copies that scouted the area. If I couldn’t make it, then without a doubt, James and Madeline are—”

    “Shh, we’re close,” Rora’s mother said. “I—I’m sorry, Zygarde. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

    “No. I understand.”

    “Dad, I’m bored…”

    That was an unfamiliar voice.

    “Shh, we need to be respectful.”

    Rora’s mother again? But that didn’t sound like Rora’s brother talking.

    Two Tyranitar, an almost exact copy of the other, entered Rora’s home. Each one hauled books supplies that Anam instantly recognized.

    “H-how come you have Mama and Papa’s stuff?” Anam blubbered. “Y-you stole from them? G-give them back! Or—or Arceus and Mew will—they’ll—”

    A little Charmander carried a set of books over his head, gently setting them down next to the two significantly larger hauls. He put his hands to his hips proudly, puffing a little ember of triumph with an ‘I helped’ smile.

    “Anam, we’re just moving their things here,” Tyranitar said. “They’re… yours, now. Your parents would have wanted it that way.”

    Anam sniffled, jumping out of his bed. The fall lacked grace; he had been still and sobbing for so long that he’d forgotten how to move. He tumbled onto his face, grunting and snorting, and then slid toward the book piles. “A-all this s-stuff… they’re… they’re for Mama and Papa when they come back. I’m g-gonna keep it all nice and s-safe.”

    “Anam…” Tyranitar winced.

    Toto’s ears flattened.

    The other Tyranitar, who had a blindfold over his eyes, frowned. “Actually, about that,” he said. “I was… wondering if I could offer to—”

    “For the last time, that’s not on the table,” Tyranitar said immediately. “Madeline never said anything about you before, you… what was your name, again?”

    “Eon.”

    “I’ve never heard of that name in my life. And I’m afraid that right now, Anam needs the village. I can’t let the new Divine Dragon go with you.”

    “You don’t understand,” Eon said. “I’m also a Divine Dragon. I knew Madeline! We used to be friends!” He held out his hand, revealing a filament of light. The same sort of filament that Mama had…

    “That’s just like…” Anam stared.

    “Now do you believe me?” Eon said. “I want to take Anam home. I came as soon as I heard from Zygarde. Madeline would have agreed.”

    The Charmander sat by Anam, tilting his head. “You’re Anam?”

    Anam sniffed. “Y-yeah.”

    “I’m Owen.” He held out a hand, grinning.

    Anam sniffed. “H-hi, Owen.”

    “Oh, sorry.” Owen retracted his claws. “You don’t have hands. Um…” He held up his hand instead. “High five?”

    “High… five?” Anam squinted. “What’s that mean?”

    “Uh… I dunno. Dad says it a lot, and when you do, you tap your hands togeth—oh. No hands. Um… I know.” Owen gently tapped Anam on the forehead. “High five!”

    Anam blinked. Owen’s grin was infectious, a tiny smile twitching at the side of the Goomy’s mouth. “H-high five…”

    Tyranitar stared at Eon. “Madeline warned us that not all Divine Dragons might be for our best interest,” she said. “You could easily be lying to me, you know. Or better yet, why aren’t you friends any longer? Why have I never seen you until now, hm? But I know a good way to prove whether you’re one to trust or not.” She walked to the pile, shuffling through the books. Anam tilted his head when Tyranitar picked out a book after just looking at the cover. He saw some letters, but he couldn’t tell what it said. “Read this.”

    “What?” Eon said, grabbing the book. “I can’t see, you know. If I take this blindfold off, I might accidentally transform.”

    “What? Can’t you just control your transformations, or are you some sort of incompetent Ditto?”

    “No, it’s—look, I can’t help it. I’m cursed or something.”

    “A cursed Divine Dragon? That sounds promising. Take it off, concentrate, and read.” Tyranitar’s voice was suddenly imposing, making Anam shrink away. Owen did the same, his little flame dimming.

    “S-scary,” he and Anam both said.

    Eon grumbled, slipping off the blindfold. He stared at the book, eyes concentrated, but then blinked. “What kind of joke is this?”

    “What do you see?”

    “It’s blank.” Eon ruffled through the pages. “This whole book is blank!”

    “Then you aren’t someone I can trust just for your Divine Dragon status. I’m sorry.” Tyranitar took the book right out of his hands. Eon flinched, snarling—but that flash of anger quickly subsided. He breathed slowly, tying the blindfold back on. “Well, if… that’s how it will be, then can I at least visit now and then?”

    “That’s for the village to decide. Right now, the new Divine Dragon is our responsibility.” She nodded at Anam.

    “You’re a Divine Dragon?” Owen asked, eyes glowing with wonder. “Wow! And you’re a real Dragon, too! That’s the coolest, Anam.”

    Anam smiled. “I think you look pretty cool, too, Owen.”

    Eon grunted, head low. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

    “You may be a Divine Dragon, but you aren’t anywhere near as holy as Madeline was. I doubt Zygarde would allow you to do anything rash either… and don’t think we’re without Arceus and Mew’s divine blessings, either. If you try to take Anam away from us with your false righteousness… well, the gods will decide who wins that battle.”

    Owen gulped, shivering. “D-Dad…”

    Eon and Tyranitar stared one another down, even through the blindfold. He exhaled through his rocky nostrils. “Come, Owen. Let’s go home.”

    Owen hopped to his feet. “S-sorry, Anam. Maybe we’ll see each other again!”

    Anam watched him go. With his size, he seemed to be no older than he was. But before he could say anything more, they were gone. He looked at the book Tyranitar held. “Um… Rora’s Mom?”

    “Hm? What’s the matter? I’m sorry if they frightened you, Anam. This must be a very hard time, and… you’d rather be here with your friends than with some stranger, right?”

    Stranger. That’s right—he hardly knew Eon. Even if he had the same power as Mama, it wasn’t the same. Anam deflated. Rora’s mother really saved him there, didn’t she? Still…

    “Can I see the book?” Anam asked.

    “What? I’m sorry, Anam, but only your mother could read it.”

    “But I see letters on the cover.”

    Tyranitar flinched. “You—you do?”

    “Mhm. Mama… I think when she gave me her power, the one that Arceus and Mew gave her, maybe… maybe that means…”

    Tyranitar stared. “You… really are the new Divine Dragon.” She lowered the book, opening it to the first page. Anam read the passage, but Tyranitar heard none of it. Rora didn’t. Toto didn’t. Nobody did.

    Nobody but Anam.

    Once, there had only been darkness in the world. There was an energy missing, an energy needed to spark the miracles that the gods were capable of. And so, with my divine power, I gave your souls a way to manifest among the world of the living. Your souls, now inhabiting golden spirits, can attach to the body, and create the aura to properly harness your birthright. You now hold a piece of my divinity. Use this power to forge your own path.

    —Book of Light, Creation
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  7. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Alright, so I think you already saw it way back when, but just in case, this was my face all while reading the second half of Chapter 59:
    [​IMG]
    By which I mean this is what I was talking about by the potential tension from having the audience know things the characters don’t, which had fallen a bit flat a bit before, but got used to full effect here. Just spending that whole time waiting for things to go wrong, and in a way, desperately hoping that they will, just because it would break the standstill.

    (Also, I see you trying to garner some sympathy there, Eon. >:/ Yer not getting any from me.)

    Nevren seems quite convinced that whatever he was going to do with Anam was necessary. Despite the fact that, as Rhys laid out, the world is generally at peace, aside from all the orb nonsense. This does imply that the various factions fighting over the orbs is not the only threat to the world, even though they’ve been causing the majority of the problems thus far. But still... if there is a third-party threat, that of course begs the question as to why all the story’s factions can’t simply unite against it, since that would seemingly be in their best interest. Obviously, I’m assuming there’s a reason why they can’t, though I’m hoping that gets revealed soon. Mysteries are fine, but I need character motivations in order to stay invested. ;P

    Some additional musing on wraiths: Rhys seems to know very little about them, and clearly hasn’t thought about them in a while. Nevren obviously knows more, but he also hadn’t thought about them in a while. This implies that the goal that Nevren feels so strongly about, that he’s willing to go to such lengths to accomplish… it doesn’t directly relate to the wraiths (though it likely does indirectly, or in ways he hasn’t yet discovered.)

    Still betting they came from the human world. Their bodies might have been created from scratch (hence why they have Star’s ancestry mark or whatever) but their souls definitely came from somewhere else.

    More implication that there’s a third party threat. “Would you prefer how things are now” when things appear… perfectly fine now. Unclear on if Rhys understands what this is referring to. It… seems like he does, but.

    And the implication here is that ending the war over the orbs would not help the world.

    I mean. I would certainly assume that Anam is stronger than Eon. xD (But also, Eon only got any orbs recently. There’s some other reason he’s so powerful. We don’t actually know how many Hands he has or why he’s so powerful.)

    ...yeah, it would really help to know why they want to gather all that mystic power into one person. They clearly believe it’s needed for something. They think the gods’ inactive role was a foolish decision. But the entire conflict feels so unnecessary without knowing what Eon is actually trying to stop. We’ve got all these characters insisting that the world is broken and that they need to fix it, but refusing to tell anyone why.

    Ah HAH, now that’s a fun development.

    Rhys, you of all mons know that’s about the equivalent of saying “you gave me a nosebleed.” :p

    Ah yessss, the voices that killed him back in the fen. Good to see them again. I thought it was Madeleine back then, but her speech isn’t bold, so… not her. The last line before Anan was brainwashed was also bolded, and described as if it was just all the spirits in the orb. But I suspect that there’s more to it than that. This orb is… different.

    Hm. I doubt it’s the being(s) within Anam doing this, as they weren’t able to bypass the Revisor last time. Something else is happening here.

    See. this implies that whatever’s controlling him right now isn’t just the orb’s spirits, as it wouldn’t make sense to call them his enemy. So… something else…? (It could still be something technically within the orb, just not the ordinary spirits.)

    oh-KAY then. So that’s where some of the Legendaries went. :p Guessing they’ve been inside him since before he got the orb? (after all, even before he because a Guardian, he was described as being very special.)

    Oh. Hm. I thought it was implied that the only reason Har had those memories was because only he was specifically a copy of Owen, body, personality, and all (as opposed to just another shot at making the alloy)? I kinda liked that better, as that tied into Eon being specifically fixated on possessing Owen.

    Dammit, that's all I have time for. Really wanted to get to the Special Episode, but that'll have to wait until next time. Hopefully not as long of a wait on my part. Well, until then~!

    ~Chibi~
     
  8. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Darn, I guess I need to give him a cute puppy instead. Oh, wait, that's Lucas. Okay, how about another cute puppy? Wait, Lavender. Uh. Cute cat? ...Pet... turtle?

    That's a good point. I think I'm kind of delaying this for too long, in a way. The Divine Decree sort of made me write myself into a temporary corner until that Decree breaks. But whatever hidden conflict there is that the Hunters seem to know about is hidden behind that. There could be multiple conflicts.

    Well, part of it is to gain enough power to break the Decree mentioned above, and another reason had been stated before--to usurp Arceus. At least, that's what Star said. The Hunters probably also want to usurp Star, too. But, yeah. Still goes back to why, since Eon doesn't seem like the sort to want power for power's sake.

    They can't, which I think is sort of a flaw with the premise on my part. I sometimes wonder if revealing the Decree's secret would have been the better move, similar to revealing Emily's old title as Stormbringer, former Dragon Guardian... or talking about Orre.

    I wonder if you shake Anam around you'll hear a randomly generated Legendary cry, like a candy machine.

    Hmm, I'm not sure if I expressed the right idea or not here. Har IS a copy of Owen... from a long time ago. He has all of Owen's memories, his personality, and a (slightly improved) similar body from a point in time some time after Special Episode 3 or 4, but before Owen killed Klent. Apparently Lygo, Ax, and Ani used to be the same... but Trina stripped them of their old selves. Har refused to go through the same thing. Unless I'm misinterpreting what you're saying here, hm...

    But anyway, glad you enjoyed it. Hope you enjoyed the next Special Episode, too! And soon, we'll be going back to our regularly scheduled programming...
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  9. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Ack, that’s my bad for not explaining that right. I meant that I thought he was the only one of the quartet to be a full-person copy and not just a body clone, as opposed to all four of them being. He’s the only one to still retain those memories, but I thought he was the only one who ever had them to begin with. (Due to Eon’s aforementioned fixation.)

    ~Chibi~
     
  10. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 62 – An Unwelcome Visit

    Within his temple at the far end of the spirit realm, Arceus stood in the middle of his pristine chamber. He watched the world silently, tuning in to the areas that he could, though as of late, that wasn’t much. With most of the Mystics rejecting him, he could only hope to watch from a distance, powerful distortions preventing him from looking too close at anywhere actually important. Quartz HQ, distorted. Kilo Village, distorted, so long as a Mystic as defiant as Step remained nearby. And of course, Hot Spot itself, a place so infested with powerful spirits that the very interface Arceus used to watch Kilo could not even get near before the display warped.

    With an ethereal growl, Arceus tuned it toward Brandon. He was lying on the beach of the factory, scratching his thigh.

    Brandon opened his eyes, staring at the clouds. Ya need something?

    No, I was performing a routine inspection of the world.

    Cool.

    Arceus tuned next to Ghrelle. The Poisonous Altaria was entertaining Ano. The amorphous Gastrodon blob tackled her, giggling, even though he missed. The Altaria weaved to the side with grace, countering with her own dive. She pushed his purple body against a tree. They were face to face, her beak nearly touching his lips.

    Ahem.

    Ghrelle immediately bounced away from Ano, straightening her poison-soaked plumage. Arceus, Your Grace.

    I assume things are going well.

    Yes. I have nothing to report. No mutants have tried to approach my area.

    Thank you. Goodbye.

    With an irritated blush, Arceus readjusted the overseeing display to Zero Isle. Suddenly, it blacked out completely.

    Come back later. I’m busy.

    Arceus’ left eye twitched. What exactly are you doing, Aramé?

    Personal time with Ire. Kindly leave me alone, Your Grace.

    It wasn’t as if Arceus had a choice. The display was forced toward the empty crater that had once been the Chasm of the Void.

    He supposed after such a long time interacting with them, it was only natural for a sort of disrespectful familiarity to form. At least Ghrelle still knew to act properly when he was present.

    A disturbance rippled across the hall, earning an irritated eyeroll from the deity.

    “Barks!” Star appeared seconds later, slamming into the side of his chest. Her size and weight barely disturbed his fur. “Bad news!”

    “About the Silvally? I’m aware of the mess you ultimately caused.”

    “Okay, can you not with that for a second?” Star clambered onto his back, kicked off, and rose to eye-level with him. “What, did Hecto already tell you about it?”

    “He did. Apparently, Eon created some kind of soul eater. I am looking into ways of taking care of that problem.”

    “Yeah, well, there’s another problem, too, if you haven’t noticed.” Star tilted her body, revealing an odd blemish on her shoulder.

    Arceus squinted, taking a closer look. Dark clouds radiated from her fur in the localized area, though it was fading. “What is this?”

    “I was hoping you’d know. I dispelled the rest of it, but this hurts like I got socked in the shoulder by Manny’s Bullet Punch.” Star slapped the dark aura with a small flash of light in her paw, dispelling it completely. She sighed in relief.

    “That resembles the wraiths that Rhys and the others spoke of in the past.” Arceus hummed in thought, finally giving up on the display to turn his full attention to Star. The wraiths had been a problem before, but thanks to Madeline’s—and later Anam’s—blessings, they had been eradicated. A mysterious blemish of their creation, needing to be fixed from the inside. “Are they appearing again?”

    “Hecto’s telling me a new one appeared in Hot Spot for some reason.”

    “A new one? A Dungeon?”

    “Yeah.”

    Arceus growled. “Why…”

    “Like, again, I was kinda hoping you’d know.”

    Arceus shook his head. “Then you encountered a wraith of some kind in Hot Spot’s Dungeon? Who summoned you?”

    “No, I was trying to check on Anam, but I couldn’t get in again. I don’t know what his deal is; maybe his spirits are in a mood again. But on my way back, I was going through my forest, and that’s when I ran into them!”

    This got his attention. “Wraiths in the spirit realm?!”

    Star gestured for Arceus to follow and disappeared in a flash. Arceus was about to leave, but then realized that he’d be in her realm if he left. With a low growl, he kept his guard up, disappearing next.

    The white, marble halls flickered into open air above a forest of dimly glowing, blue leaves. Arceus scanned for any strange presences, but nothing came. He could only sense the Mew just below him.

    “Wait, but…” Star blinked, floating forward again. She flew around Arceus, looking in all directions. To look past the mountain behind them, she flew high into the clouds.

    “What game are you playing, Star?” Arceus warned, his gold tendrils sprouting from his back.

    “Nothing, nothing, I swear!” Star said frantically, waving her tiny arms. “Barky, you gotta believe me on this one, there were wraiths everywhere! It was crazy!”

    “And yet there are none now, and I sense not even the slightest presence of one.”

    “Since when could we even sense them all that well?” Star said. “Can you at least come looking with me? I need to find Owen and the others.”

    “Then go. It isn’t as if you have to find him.” He flicked a hoof dismissively forward. “Just fly and you’ll wind up in the Grass Realm. I have more important things to do.”

    Star flicked her tail. “Oh, come on! Where’s the chivalry, huh? You gotta walk a cute lady down the dark forest and to her destination!” Star put a finger to her lower lip, curling her tail around her body. “Pleeease?”

    “If you want chivalry, seek Hecto.” Arceus turned his head upward with a grunt. “I’m leaving for—”

    A black beam fired from below, striking Arceus in the chest. It completely annihilated the trees below them and cut a purplish-black hole into the blue sky.

    Star screamed with him, the great deity falling into the forest below. “Barky!”

    He grunted, catching himself in the air. “Star, run!” he shouted. “I’ll take care of this!”

    “But—”

    Star looked down. Another beam narrowly missed her had it not been for a dive to the right.

    “Leave!” Barky shouted. “Warn the others! If they can get here, then they can infest their Cores as well!”

    Star shook her head, the wraiths oozing out from the tree trunks below. As the glowing forest turned dark, Star flew away, weaving through two shadowy blasts. “Owen, Owen, Owen, Owen,” she chanted to herself, as if this would somehow bring her to him faster.

    <><><> ​

    Valle rumbled with alarm, disrupting the end of the Guardians’ impromptu gathering. “A powerful presence has just entered Hot Spot’s entrance. I recognize it as Eon.”

    It only took that single announcement to throw the peaceful picnic into a brief and total chaos, followed by rapid mobilization of all the Mystics present. Owen fumbled through his bag for his Badge, but then realized that he had already used it to warp away from Hot Spot Dungeon. “Uh—Demitri! Get your Badge ready!”

    “B-but we don’t have enough of a charge to get everyone out!”

    Owen winced. That was also true. Why did they have to have so many people together?!

    “Baah, ferget this run-away plan!” Manny stomped on the ground, bulking his body out into his Fighting form. “Let’s go!” He summoned three spirits, Azu, Roh, and Verd. Then, he attempted to summon a fourth; it was a swirl of green and white colors, not quite forming into anything at first, before it became the semi-solid, huge figure of a Drampa, several feet taller than Manny and even larger lengthwise. He was transparent, but it would be solid enough to assist.

    “Hah! I actually did it!” Manny pointed at Drampa. “How’s it feel ter be in the real world again, Yen?”

    Drampa gave a little smile in reply, though he knew time was short. “Well, I’ve been in your fur for a while, you know.”

    Willow crackled with pink electricity, landing on top of Manny’s head. “He won’t get past us! Just you wait! I’m gonna destroy him just like that. I’ll shrink him down and squeeze him between two pebbles!”

    The crowd rushed for Hot Spot’s entrance, readying themselves for an onslaught. The Shiftry statue floated behind them. “He is alone.”

    “He didn’t even bring a mutant or two to back him up?” Yen asked as the others glanced at one another confusedly. “Regardless of how strong he is, you’d think that he would have some help.”

    “Don’t ferget, he’s a Guardian. Fer all we know, he’s got mutants in him.” Manny looked at his own trio.

    The Feraligatr shouted bombastically, “Mutant spirit against mutant spirit! The poetry speaks for itself!”

    “Quiet!” Mispy shouted, but her voice, despite her size, was too soft to go over the others readying themselves.

    Owen, near her with Zena, shouted for the Meganium. “Everyone, quiet!”

    It had a marginally stronger effect, Azu and the other two quieting down, while Yen and Manny stood beside one another, watching the entryway closely.

    “Geh…” Gahi rubbed at his arms. “Is this what bein’ Mystic is like? I think I feel his aura, and it’s messin’ with my scales. Feels all…”

    “You’re just more sensitive to flares,” Owen explained hastily. But what puzzled Owen most of all, based on his Perceive, was that Eon was currently in the form of a Charizard. And as a Charizard, it was easier than ever to deduce his mood and his intentions. It was nothing like one that was ready for battle—not a physical kind, at least. He also had a blindfold on. More importantly, it seemed like there was something tucked away beneath the blindfold, held between his eyes, resting on the top of his snout.

    Owen weaved his way around Mispy, past Manny and Yen, and finally between Azu and Roh. Both muscle heads grabbed Owen by either shoulder.

    Azu let go and posed, flexing his muscles. “Be careful, young Owen. Eon is a very dangerous foe!”

    Roh mirrored the pose. “We shall defend you!”

    “…I’m older than you.”

    They grasped Owen again, as if channeling positive vibes into his soul.

    “Owen.” Zena slid her body through the same path the Charizard took with ease. “What are you doing?”

    Willow hopped from Manny’s head to Mispy’s back, and then onto Zena’s, skittering along the scaly path until she was between her eyebrows. “Do you think Eon’s gonna fight if you’re in front?”

    “No.” Owen shrugged Azu’s scaly hand off. He then tried to get Roh to let go next, but he was much more persistent.

    The Infernape shook his head. “Don’t let his mind games fool you, young—er, ancient Owen.”

    Owen glared, though it was mostly due to the new title. He brought a hand onto Roh’s, pulling it away. “I can Perceive his body language. He’s a Charizard, and he’s still walking down. He doesn’t want to fight. So, everyone, just calm down.” He watched all the others’ incredulous looks. His tail dimmed with doubt, but flared again with defiance, turning to face the entrance.

    Eon’s tail flame barely registered against the walls. By the time the flickering orange ember lit up the caves, they saw his toes up the incline. Then came the rest of him, an uncanny replica of Owen’s form.

    “First Har, now Eon.” Yen chuckled darkly, adjusting his furry legs into a more agile battle stance, ready to leap in any direction. Though, without Owen sensing it, that was hard to tell; his legs were hidden under thick, soft, furry armor. “You must be very popular, Owen.”

    “Not funny.” Owen beat his wings once to shake away his frustrations. He stared at his second doppelganger of the day, tail blazing with anxiety.

    Mispy, who had been right behind Owen, realized that part of her vines was on fire. Lazily, she tried to snuff the flames out with more of her vines. It wasn’t working. “Um. Zena?”

    Zena blinked in surprise. “M-Mispy!” She aimed a small stream of water over the flame, putting it out.

    “Sorry,” Owen mumbled, swinging his tail forward to keep it away from the others. He could feel Mispy’s concerned gaze. His flame wouldn’t be that hot unless he was ready for a battle, or anxious, or… any number of things, and he wished his tail wasn’t so expressive.

    Eon’s voice suddenly echoed across the hall. “Owen.”

    Owen snapped back to attention. His fire flashed in front of him, illuminating the other Charizard’s face, so far away. “Yeah, what?” Owen said. “Why’re you here? Don’t think you can just—”

    “I give up.”

    It took a few seconds for Eon’s words to fully register across the group. A wave of befuddlement followed. Even Valle had flinched in some small way, his left arm moving one or two degrees upward.

    “Yeh what?” Manny repeated.

    “Okay, so—I don’t give up give up, but—I just—I, that’s, I…” Eon rubbed the back of his head. “Hang on, give me a second. I lost my words.”

    Owen glared, crossing his arms. “What do you mean, then? You give up? Give up what? Being a Hunter?”

    Eon brought his arms forward, wiggling them together and apart. “M-maybe? Yes? No? I—I don’t know. I just—I wanted to come here to talk. That’s mostly why I came here.”

    Amia held her hand up, blue embers threatening to burn Eon where he stood, even with his Fiery form. “Give us one reason why we should believe you.”

    “Well, I, er…” Eon fiddled with his claws nervously, looking away. Amia’s fire intensified, and Owen knew exactly why. That little tic that Eon was doing, messing with his claws—it was the same thing that Owen did.

    “Mom, it’s fine.” Owen gestured with his left wing for her to stand down. He looked at Eon again. “Look, you can’t be here. This is our home, alright? And… you know that coming here would’ve been a bad idea. If you really feel that you don’t want to fight, then… just go back home. And leave the Guardians alone.”

    Eon winced. “I just wanted to try to smooth things over.”

    That earned an immediate, sharp, and scalding laugh from Zena. “Do you honestly think that’s going to work?!” She slammed her tail against the rocks, making Demitri, near her, flinch back a few steps. “Smooth things over! After all the grief that you specifically caused for lifetimes!” Despite her words, she was still keeping behind Owen and Amia. “I don’t care how strong you are. If you try to make peace with us, I’ll kill you with an ocean’s worth of water.”

    Eon lowered his head, but his tail kept blazing. Each word made the embers dance a little higher. “I know,” he hissed. “But this obviously isn’t working anymore. I just—I wanted to try to make things right.”

    “Oh, make things right? That’s a wonderful idea!” Zena breathed in, steadying her tone. “Now, tell me this, Hunter. Why didn’t you think about that in the first place? Perhaps when you drove Owen insane? Hm? Or was that not enough? Oh, it certainly wasn’t enough. You made an entire army of his kind. Don’t think we’ve forgotten about that. We have some of your army right here.” She gestured to Azu, Roh, and Verd, all three of whom stared at Eon with vague recollection.

    All the while, Owen stood, silent, but pensive. He saw Eon’s pleading and desperate glances toward him, but Owen just shook his head. “Well?” the synthetic Pokémon asked.

    Eon flinched, mouth open, yet no words came. His fire was dimmer than ever.

    “You’ve spent centuries building everything up to something,” Owen said. “You want all the Orbs so you can usurp Star and Barky, right? So that’s what this was all for. Killing the Guardians because you thought it would free them from their duty.”

    “Isn’t—isn’t that exactly it?!” Eon protested, holding his hands out. “The Guardians were killed the moment they touched the Orb. Their lives were over. The best I can do is give them peace!” Eon put both hands to his head, nearly digging his claws into his skull. “Don’t you get it? Star and Barky are just using you.”

    “We aren’t even aligned with Barky,” Owen said.

    “Okay, fine, so Star is just using you,” Eon said. “You’ve obviously noticed it, haven’t you? Where is she right now?”

    “She’s—” Owen paused. “Where is she?”

    “We never really know, do we?” Eon mused bitterly. “She’s playing it safe by letting you think you’re doing what you want, but do you honestly think she’s just going to let you guys all live happily once everyone’s together? That’s the biggest threat to her, you know. Gathering the Orbs will be enough power to usurp her completely.”

    “Well, we aren’t gathering them. We’re just grouping everyone together.” Owen crossed his arms. “Most of us can’t anyway. They all made Promises not to gather more than one Orb into the same person.”

    “Except for you.”

    “Yeah, but—” Owen squinted, tail trying to wrestle its way out of his own grasp. “I’m not going to do that. Everyone here is my friend. How could I—”

    “Where’s Rhys? Nevren?”

    “They left for Hot Spot Dungeon.”

    “Hot Spot Dungeon?” Eon repeated. “What do you mean, Dungeon?”

    Owen just raised his arms in an exasperated shrug, then settled back down. “Why do you need to see them? What’s this got to do with anything?”

    Eon rubbed his snout, “It’s pretty obvious to me that Star might be trying to get everyone together so she can then control you to gather them up, simple as that. Because, Owen—you can be controlled.”

    Owen’s pupils widened to focus on every movement Eon made. “And how do you know?”

    “You know how.”

    Owen stared in angry silence, the embers of his tail enveloping his chin. Zena slithered a bit closer, careful to avoid his tail, and placed a ribbon on his shoulder. It almost startled Owen, but then he remembered to breathe. He closed his eyes, calming the flame. “Because I’m a mutant,” he said. “I was built to be controlled.”

    The other Charizard nodded, a solemn, apologetic expression taking over. “It’s not easy to control someone for very long, especially if they’re Mystic like you. But you have a… predisposition to it. Even… even if you eventually regain control, she could just be waiting until you can get everyone at once. Then you won’t have time.”

    Zena coiled protectively around Owen, who was still standing still, listening to every word. She positioned herself so her front was between the two. “And you expect us to believe you?” Zena asked. “Of course you would know about that—because you created him. You designed him. Owen.” Zena turned, grasping the sides of his head, though Owen was still staring through her. “Owen,” she said more intensely, shaking his shoulders.

    “H-huh?” Owen blinked, rubbing his forehead. “Sorry, I was… distracted. What Zena said.” Owen addressed Eon, though he didn’t even bother moving his head to see past the Milotic. He didn’t need to.

    “What are you saying?” Eon pressed. “That I would try to control Owen myself? Why would I do that?”

    “Because you can,” Zena said. “Isn’t that true?”

    The tension that Owen sensed from Eon was answer enough. Owen’s flame flashed blue. “If you’re trying to take me away, you can leave now.” Owen snarled, though Zena flinched. She was still in his line of sight. “Oh—sorry, Zena.” Owen leaned to look at Eon with his eyes rather than his horns. “Well?”

    Another tense silence followed. Owen could feel everybody behind him ready to strike at any sudden move that Eon made, and Owen was positive that Eon was keenly aware of it. On the other hand, they were in the middle of Hot Spot’s entrance. The narrow passageway didn’t make for a convenient spot to attack a single target, and it only gave Eon an advantage should he lash out.

    But then, far behind Eon, near the entrance boulder, voices echoed.

    “. . . didn’t even finish that piece Star commissioned.” Jerry growled. “The Smeargle didn’t even tell me what it’s gonna be. Now I just gotta wait. Hrgh.”

    Step’s voice came next. “His building was partly destroyed by the battle with Rim. A delay is understandable.”

    ADAM next. “Tomorrow we can try again.”

    “What do you mean, we? I’m gonna go on my own, not with any of you lunatics.”

    Enet growled confusedly. “What’s lunatic?”

    ADAM buzzed louder. “The powerful aura has stopped moving. Get ready.”

    Eon tensed, bringing a hand to his blindfold. After a steady breath, he said to Owen in a hushed tone, “Perhaps we should find a less awkward place to talk.”

    “I think right here is just fine,” Owen replied coldly, knowing that now, Eon would be surrounded.

    “I’m not here to fight,” Eon said. “I just want to talk.”

    “You talked,” Owen said.

    “Owen… your Perceive must be telling you how I feel. Can’t you just listen?”

    Owen’s flame dimmed.

    “Owen, no,” Amia immediately spoke up. “Don’t let him get to you. Remember—he’s Eon. He knows about your Perceive. And he can transform into whatever he wants. What if he’s just tricking you? Don’t fall for his games.”

    Eon’s fire sizzled. “Do you really think I’d toy with my son like that?!”

    Amia narrowed her eyes, squeezing past Mispy, then Zena, and finally, past Owen. The Charizard grabbed her by the shoulder, but she flashed a glare at him. Owen squeezed harder, returning the same glare. Amia’s hair burst into blue fire, but Owen still didn’t let go. He pulled back, keeping her by his side. Alex remained just behind them, though his glare toward Eon was just as intense.

    Amia finally turned toward Eon who, despite the blindfold, had shifted to the shape of a blue Gardevoir. By now, Jerry and the others had turned up on the opposite side, watching in stunned silence. Amia’s hair was partly aflame, too bright to stare at. “He’s not your son.”

    For a split-second, Owen thought Eon was about to obliterate Amia right there. His heart stopped, blindly taking a step forward, but Eon just turned his head away, spitting a sharp breath through gritted teeth.

    “Who is that?” Step murmured to Jerry.

    “That’s Eon, alright,” Jerry whispered. “Leader of the Hunters. Hey—no. Look. Don’t mess with him. You’re still weak from your fight with Rim.”

    Step had tensed for battle, but then relented, settling for a defensive stance. Enet’s fur bristled, crackling with electricity. ADAM buzzed, arms twitching.

    “What’re you gonna do, Dad?” Owen said in a hiss. “You can’t… trick me anymore. I’m not gonna fall for it—not when I know everything that you did.”

    “Why are we all standing here?” Step shouted. “Attack him and we can end this!”

    “Owen…” Zena curled her body around him, squeezing.

    He shook his head, realizing that Zena was trying to keep him grounded. He flashed a small smile at her, but his Perceive wasn’t doing him any favors to calm down. He could sense every minute movement of those around him. The tension—even ADAM, as foreign as his body was, seemed more jittery than usual. Mispy’s vines writhed. Demitri was ready to throw his axes at any sudden move. Gahi was already shifting his weight from foot to foot. Alex’s body was shifting, threatening to become a Hydreigon again if only for more power and intimidation. How effective that would be against Eon was a mystery.

    But he knew that if Owen so much as launched an attack, or even called for them to strike, they would listen.

    He took in a slow breath through his mouth, closed it, and breathed out hot air through his nostrils. Slow breaths. Meditate. Calm. During the tense silence, Eon transitioned back to a Charizard.

    Upon seeing Owen do it, the rest of Team Alloy did the same, mirroring his breathing. It didn’t help much for Mispy, but Demitri and Gahi were noticeably calmer.

    Owen gently pushed against Zena’s coils, giving her an assuring nod. He stepped over and held out a hand to Eon.

    Amia stepped forward. “Owen—”

    Owen held a hand toward her, shaking his head. He turned his attention back to Eon. “After everything you’ve done, there’s no way that we can just forgive you. Pretty obvious, don’t you think? Make sense?”

    Based on Eon’s brief incredulousness, it didn’t.

    “And,” Owen continued, voice a bit lower, “I doubt any of us are going to trust you to not do anything with all that power. We have you surrounded right now, and it’s not like Emily’s cave, either. We aren’t afraid of you.” Owen could only hope that Eon wasn’t as good with his Perceive to detect that some of the group were downright terrified.

    Eon growled, looking away despite his blindfold. “I’m pretty sure I can still take you all on.”

    Step slammed her tail loudly against the wall next to her. “Is that a challenge?!”

    Jerry jumped, nearly beating his wings with fright. “C-calm down already.”

    Manny grunted, motioning to Eon. “Jeez, ain’t you something. Surrounded and all boastin’ about takin’ us all on…”

    Owen’s flame slowly went from orange to an irritated yellow. He refocused on Eon. “So, if you think you really mean it, then first, tell me exactly what you want.”

    “I want…”

    Eon gulped, looking down. And for a while, that was all he did. Both Charizard’s flames dimmed to a neutral orange, but then Eon’s dimmed further, down to a dying ember. Owen took the pause as an opportunity to glance at the others, motioning for them to stand down. There was no need to fight right now.

    Reluctantly, about half of the crowd stood down, but a few of them refused, particularly Amia and Step, who redoubled their tension.

    Finally, Eon spoke again. “I just want you to come home.”

    Owen was ready to pause at that, but Amia didn’t give him the time. “Are you really trying this again?! Leave!” Amia’s right hand flashed with blue fire, but Eon didn’t even flinch. Alex stood by Amia, ready to blast him with the might that Amia couldn’t yet muster.

    Owen raised his voice. “You may be the strongest Hunter, and you know what, you might have two Orbs in you… but against all of us? When Rhys and Nevren and Anam come back, too, you… you need to just leave, Eon. We aren’t going to listen.”

    “Leave?” Step slammed her tail on the wall again. “I don’t think so. He is the reason that we all suffer, is he not?! The reason that our lives were ended the moment we became Guardians?” She aimed both hands at him, frosty air concentrating in her hard palms.

    Eon held his arms up. “N-no, I’m—look. I’m sorry, okay? I think, maybe, I went about this the wrong way. Owen—you believe me, don’t you? About Star?”

    Owen hesitated, his expressive flame saying everything he couldn’t.

    Step slammed her tail one final time. “Stop trying to get in the naïve one’s head! Your silver tongue means nothing here. If you’re sorry, then you will pay with your life!”

    At that final word, Step fired a beam of ice toward Eon. He suddenly turned, bringing his wings forward to block the blast with a shield of golden light. Owen flinched, stepping back at Step’s intense blast. Jerry, meanwhile, beat his wings and flew further out of the cave, yelling something about wanting nothing to do with the fight.

    Step cut off her Ice Beam, snarling at Eon when the shield of light faded. ADAM buzzed next, firing a triple-volley of fire, ice, and thunder spheres toward the Hunter; Step used her other hand and fired another Ice Beam.

    Owen sensed a new energy behind him. “Mispy!”

    Mispy shoved Owen aside with several vines, done with talking. “Too late!”

    The Meganium aimed her Solar Beam past Owen and toward Eon next; Zena opened her mouth and sent a furious, concentrated blast of water; even Willow had a Moonblast prepared, its lunar energy propelled forward through Zena’s Hydro Pump. Amia and Alex, combined, produced three spires of flame, spiraling past Owen.

    For a split-second, Owen felt Eon tense. As if this time, he didn’t have a means to defend against the attack. Just Amia was one thing, everyone else so petrified and hesitant in the cramped quarters that had been the back of Emily’s cave. But now, in Hot Spot—despite its narrow hallway—they had Eon completely surrounded. He had no escape. What if they did it? Could it all be over if—

    “Owen.”

    Eon’s hand was on his shoulder.

    It took a few seconds for it to register, but Eon, once in the middle of a converging blast from all sides, was now right in front of him. His blindfold was off, too. In his hand was the pink scarf; wrapped up in it—that strange object he had sensed on the top of his snout—was a little blue gem.

    “G-get away from—”

    Eon tugged Owen forward, not letting go. “Just breathe—calm down. Okay?”

    “What do you mean, breathe?! You—”

    How were they talking? Wasn’t Eon just in the middle of getting blasted? Where did all the noise go? His Perceive was giving him the strangest reading. Everything… stopped.

    Zena was staring furiously at the empty air where Eon had been. Her Hydro Pump was mere seconds away from striking where Eon had been, yet the water was frozen there like a perfectly clear ice sculpture. Amia and Alex’s spiral flames, blue intertwined with orange, remained frozen in place, the very tip turning Zena’s water to frozen steam. Every ember, every little particle, captured in time. Willow’s Moonblast looked particularly surreal, the once flickering ball of light now a blurry sphere of white.

    In the chaos, Owen hadn’t realized until just then that Enet was crouched just in front of Owen, ready to pounce at Eon’s legs. He’d never seen such a ferocious look in her, teeth bared, eyes showing her feral nature in full. Up above, Roh, Azu, and Verd had vaulted off of Yen’s massive form, like they planned to strike Eon after the initial blasts had worn off.

    But they were all still. Stuck in midair, gravity having no effect. Angry expressions that never changed. Attacks that never connected.

    Rendered speechless, Owen could only stare with his arms, wings, and jaw slacked.

    “A long time ago,” Eon said softly, “I was given a small blessing by Dialga, a Divine Dragon in his own right.”

    “D-Dialga…?”

    Eon nodded. “The Timekeeper, whose spirit was given special privileges over the flow of one moment to the next. I was entrusted with a small amount of that power before he perished.” Eon looked down. “I don’t remember how it happened. I just remember that he and I were great friends. And… if I was ever in trouble, he wanted me to be able to have time to think. Time to escape.” Eon looked at the frozen figures around them.

    “But… but this shouldn’t be possible!” Owen babbled. “If time stopped—how can we see? How can I breathe right now? I—I remember reading about stuff like this—there’s no way that—”

    Eon chuckled, holding up the small, blue gem again. “Dialga’s Adamant Fragment helps alleviate that. When you are at their level, reality can bend as you want. The light you see, the power you feel—it’s all simulated. It’s like a little, temporary Dungeon, controlled by me, warping the rules of the universe in the way that I want. For a little while from our perspectives… I can make time flow as quickly or as slowly as I want.”

    Owen stared at Zena—those angry eyes… then, back at Eon. “Why do you want me to come home so badly?” he said. “What’s this all for? I… I may be your son… in a way… but this is still too far, just for me. So just tell me the truth. Why do you want me to come with you?”

    Eon stared for a while longer, the flame on the tip of his tail dimming significantly. He grumbled, rubbing the back of his head. “You really grew up,” he said quietly. “If you were younger, you would’ve just listened.”

    “Times change.”

    “They do.” Eon puffed out a small plume of fire. “I want to save you from Star. That’s the truth. I want to keep her from controlling you to kill the others when the time comes. If you’re with me… the chance of that happening is as small as it can get. I… I get it. I know you don’t… see me as your father any longer. M-maybe it can work out. For all of us. For your… for them.” He motioned to Amia and Alex. “But right now, with Star, it isn’t safe. Please, you… your Perceive can tell everything, right? I’m your form, now. I’m not lying.”

    That much was true; as far as Owen could tell, Eon’s body language showed no signs of deception. It had never failed him before, not with such a familiar form. If anything, it felt like Eon wanted to say even more, but couldn’t. Perhaps it was the Divine Decree… Yet another part of Star’s manipulation.

    But… that still wasn’t enough. He couldn’t rely on his instincts entirely, especially after all the trouble Eon had caused before.

    “I need proof,” Owen said.

    Eon’s body deflated with what Owen could only guess—with great confusion—was relief. “If I can prove it to you,” he said, “then will you come with me?”

    Owen nibbled at his tongue uncertainly. He couldn’t answer that. “What’s the proof?”

    The gem in Eon’s hand slowly dimmed. The deafening silence ate away at Owen’s head, throbbing against his skull. Eon held his free hand forward. It started to glow with a golden light.

    “I Promise that so long as you are in Quartz HQ… I will not be a Hunter.” Eon gave Owen a pleading smile. “Do you accept?”
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  11. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Aha, I like the contrary nature of these.

    Nice, you call the Legendaries Embodiments too. (Granted, it'll be a looooong time before that term comes up in my writing, but it's been planned for a while.)

    Ahh, okay. Up until this point, I'd had the nagging suspicion that the phrase “Divine Dragon” was being used to refer to like three different things, and it was always a bit hard to follow which one was being used each time. There's the Hunters, who got their Mystic power from Mew (who got it from Arceus). Then Arceus had a group of his own. And then there's Madeline, who got her power from...

    *Exhales slowly.* Right. Ever since Nevren explained how Promises actually work, I had a feeling we'd be seeing someone make a promise with the sole intent to break it. And here we are.

    See... here it's being used as though...

    Oh-ho-ho I almost missed this. The other passages were all from the book of Arceus or the book of Mew. This is the book of Light, which also has a chapter on creation.

    ......
    ...............

    *sideways glance at Necrozma bursting from Anam’s chest in ch61*
    *sideways glance at Anam alongside Mew and Arceus on the coverart.*

    Let me just...
    Allllright. It's all coming together. Mystic power granted by the Hands can't dispel wraiths. Otherwise Nevren would have just... done that. Nope, it's got to come from somewhere else. That's the significance of the Blessings that only Madeline and Anam (and now Owen) have been shown doing. Hands are exclusively described as white. Blessings are exclusively described as golden. It's Necrozma's power.

    ...which means the wraiths...
    .............................

    Chapter 62:

    Oh look, a third-party threat that’s gonna force them to team up. xD (Granted, I don’t think it’s the same third-party threat I referenced in my last review. It obviously can’t be the reason why Nevren is gathering power into Anam, because Nevren really hasn’t had to think about wraiths since the last time a dungeon appeared way back when.) But still—third-party threat!

    Yesssssss go Zena go, tear his argument to bits. Seriously, I am not giving Eon a lick of sympathy, and Zena pretty much stole the words right out of my mouth. If the goals he was working toward were really so trivial that he could drop them on a dime, then there is no reason why he couldn’t have done so ages ago.

    Oh puh-lease, I know Star is sketchy but this is the weakest possible argument for that.

    Eon, you’re projecting.

    That said, this does fit nicely with what Nevren revealed a few chapters pack. It’d be totally possible to funnel all the Hands into Owen without even killing any Orb-holders. Though… if my understanding of Promises is correct, wouldn’t that require the guardians to make Promises to Owen? Hrm. Well, either way, SE5 has me keeping an eye out for Promises made specifically to be broken.

    See, this feeds into that suspicion I had earlier. That Eon must own some other power separate from the Hands, because he’s been described as dangerous long before his recent acquisition of two orbs. Though I gotta admit, not knowing what that power is, my brain has a hard time shutting down the instinctive giggle at a Ditto trying to be intimidating. :p (And as a side note, I’ve theorized for a while that he hasn't always been a Ditto, but I keep waffling on what he used to be, so I haven’t mentioned it. yes, besides the fact that he came from the human world.)

    I am. Getting every abuse red flag from this entire conversation.

    Hm. My question is why he still gets affected by Nevren’s Revisor then. One would think he could easily bypass it if he has something like that. also, LC says hi same hat lol

    Alright, taking him at face value for a second, this is still ignoring one very huge, very crucial detail: Star left him. Not the other way around. He’s framing this whole conflict like he stopped trusting Star and started working against her, when in reality, it’s the other way around. Even if Star isn’t trustworthy, this is a pretty huge discrepancy. That’s also the reason why I will never trust him, no matter how many times the narrative plays the “Eon is sympathetic, Star is suspicious” card. (And it’s been playing it a lot. You’re really trying to convince us on this, aren’t you. ;P)

    ogod he’s making a promise with the intent to break it, isn’t he.

    ~Chibi~
     
  12. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 63 – A Difference in Opinion

    Shrouded in shadows that stung her skin, Star floated unevenly through the forest of the Grass Realm. She shook herself off, dislodging some of the clouds that permeated her spirit, and released a pulse of golden light to get rid of the rest of it. “Ugh—” She grunted, wrapping her arms around her sides. “Wait.” She looked around. The light trees, the sunny weather, the clear sky—The Grass Realm! “Finally!”

    “Stop!”

    A series of high-speed seeds popped on the ground just under her. Dirt and rocks flew from below, blocked by a reflexive Psychic bubble. Star snorted, flashing a glare ahead. “What’s your problem?!”

    Grassy Pokémon of all kinds lined the treetops near the entrance, with even more appearing as reinforcements.

    “W-wow, you guys are fast. Uh—it’s just me! Don’t worry! Did any wraiths show up here?”

    “Why are you here?” a leafy Murkrow said, puffing out her feathers.

    “Stop trying to mess with Owen!” said a Grassmander strongly reminiscent of their host’s lowest form—there were actually quite a few of them. It seemed he had a bit of an impersonator fan club.

    “No, guys, hang on! I come in peace?” Star waved her arms frantically, but she didn’t put her Psychic bubble down. “Look, we sort of have a situation going on, and I need to talk to Owen right away! So again, did any wraiths come through here?”

    Star made a move to fly past the spirits, but a flurry of rainbow-enveloped leaves sliced at her bubble when she tried. She yelped, holding her arms up to keep the barrier strong.

    Lilligant Amelia emerged from the bushes, a scowl on her face. “Here to mess with Owen again?” Just behind her was her father; the Jumpluff floated down from the treetops next to her.

    “What’s gotten into you?” Star said, looking between Klent and Amelia, then at the rest of the spirits. A wave of horror washed over her face. “W-wait. Klent? Amelia? H-how close to Owen have you guys—”

    “Not very,” Klent said, “but enough that we can feel what he feels. We all accepted this long ago, Star, when you told us Owen would take the Orb. Don’t forget.”

    “H-how he feels? How exactly is he feeling right now?!”

    The cold stares said all she needed to know. Star’s paws trembled, tiny claws threatening to emerge. “Are you serious?! Is he still mad about having him fight Jerry?! Come on!”

    Star tried to fly forward again, but every spirit—the crowd rapidly growing—tensed to strike.

    Klent continued, not taking his eyes off of Star for longer than he needed to blink. “Right now, Owen is wondering if you’re just planning to use him. And you know, Star, I’m beginning to wonder the same thing myself.”

    Star flinched, scooting back slightly. “Look, this isn’t the time. There are wraiths that might come here, and you wouldn’t want that to happen, okay? Just let me see Owen so I can warn him, and then I’ll help out with defense! He’ll be able to warn the others, right?”

    “We’ll tell him,” Klent said.

    That wasn’t good enough. “I just need to get to the Core so I can talk to Owen. Let me through, and you guys can watch me as closely as you want. There isn’t any time for this, Klent! Why doesn’t Owen want to see me?”

    They answered Star with an uneasy silence. Klent shifted his weight. Star squinted, a small, subtle wave of Psychic energy radiating out of her. If she could just take a quick peek at what they were thinking…

    Star only saw a single flash of an image in Klent’s mind: Owen, staring down another Charizard with a blindfold. Their hands were held firmly together with a golden light.

    “NO!” Star roared, all pretenses of civility evaporating in an instant. A massive psychic blast bent the light around her, shattering nearby trees into nothing but twisted splinters. More than half of the spirits became embers; the remaining, stronger ones retaliated with seeds, vines, and Energy Balls from all sides. They slammed against Star’s barrier, popping it.

    Star screamed with rage, swinging her tail in the air with a powerful, cutting motion that sliced even more of the spirits in half, sending them right back to the Core. The very Core that Star had to get to. She grunted—that meant she was going to have to fight them again and again just to get to it.

    “Klent! Call them off! You IDIOT! THAT’S EON! WHY ARE YOU LETTING HIM—”

    “Perhaps he has a point,” Klent said calmly. By now, it was only Amelia and himself remaining, and it seemed like he knew that fighting would be of no use. Star realized seconds later that Klent was stalling for time.

    She rapidly flew into the air, air rushing over her ears, but a volley of explosive Seed Bombs fell from the branches of trees that had been out of her first Psychic shockwave. The explosions deafened her briefly, the harsh ringing distracting her from the incoming vines of a Venusaur wrapping around her body.

    From the sky to the ground, the vines slammed her several feet beneath the dirt where more vines met to constrict and tear at her body, but to no effect. She was stunned and immobilized for only as long as the ringing lasted. After only a handful of seconds, the ground heaved upward, golden filaments carving through the dirt. Klent and Amelia doubled back, but no amount of reflexes would help them escape from the explosive blast that followed. A wave of light-distorting energy disintegrated everything within seven trees of the dense forest, sending the rest of the spirits to the Core.

    On the bright side, now Star knew where to go. She went in the direction of all the embers, filaments of light trailing behind her like the tendrils of a leviathan. And while the Core was far, far away, it would only be a matter of time before she got to it, no matter how much petty resistance Owen’s stubborn spirits put up.

    Star saw the second wave of spirits waiting to greet her, projectiles ready to fire. Beyond words, now, the seething Creator readied a volley of her own.

    <><><> ​

    Rhys struggled to walk.

    Yes, his body was fatigued, and yes, his aura was on the verge of total collapse. But that was completely dwarfed by the fact that his best friend had been deceiving him for so long, without so much as an ounce of emotion behind it. He stared blankly ahead, alongside Anam, who was similarly struggling with his walk. Ahead of them both was the Alakazam in question. The very sight of him made Rhys’ stomach turn with anguish.

    There was nothing he could do. If he tried to strike him, Anam would go berserk again. Even more confusing was that this strange entity within Anam wasn’t part of Nevren’s plans. Or was he lying about that, too?

    Nevren mumbled something to himself, tapping his left spoon on his chin. “No, no, that can’t be it,” he dismissed himself. “Ah, Rhys, you mentioned to me before that these wraiths have trace amounts of aura. Is that correct?”

    Rhys didn’t reply with words, but a glare.

    Nevren, not looking back, continued speaking. “Apparently, they’re very strong up close, but otherwise undetectable from afar. Like black holes of aura. Quite curious, like something is syphoning them off. Or perhaps they simply cannot persist for long. They can’t exit Dungeons, after all. We’ve long since left the radius of Hot Spot Dungeon. Ah, is that what we’re calling it? I suppose it’s only natural.”

    Rhys’ face simmered beneath his fur. His unstable aura flickered and crackled in his paws.

    The Alakazam went on with his usual humming tone. “Anam, do you know anything about this? After all, you’re the only one who seems capable of properly blessing Dungeons.” Nevren waved his spoon in the air. “I wouldn’t mind learning such a technique. Could you teach us about it?”

    “I’m tired,” Anam said. “I just… want to sleep…”

    “Hmm, I see,” Nevren said. “Well, if you won’t tell me about it now, perhaps another time. Or perhaps to Rhys. Regardless, there is mutual benefit in taking care of this wraith issue. We will have to send another party into the Dungeon with you to re-bless it, in case that scuffle… un-blessed it. Hm. I’ll need to find another term.”

    “How can you be so nonchalant?!” Rhys suddenly shouted. He could only muster the strength for a stern growl; an actual roar or bark was too much for him, barely able to bring one foot in front of the other.

    “Nonchalant? Rhys, you know I am not the most expressive Pokémon. This is a very grave situation. Still, I suppose I should emulate my cheerful demeanor again now that we’ve come within range of the others.”

    The ground rumbled beneath them, making Nevren pause in his steps. “Hm. That’s a bit concerning. We just came from the training grounds, unless they found a new spot in the caves to spar? Rhys, can you sense anything?”

    “Unfortunately, my ability to sense aura is… dampened. But it feels as if…” Rhys concentrated, trying to feel for something. It sounded like some sort of explosion. But he had the sinking feeling it wasn’t from sparring.

    For just a moment, Rhys sensed Eon’s presence. The Lucario broke into a full sprint, only for fatigue to catch his legs. He fell over, nearly hitting the ground; his muzzle was mere inches from the rocky floor, a Psychic force holding him in place.

    “Don’t overexert yourself, Rhys,” Nevren said, pushing him back up with a gentle flick of his spoon. “I’ll go ahead. You help Anam to his room and get some rest yourself.”

    “As if I would trust you,” Rhys growled. “I just sensed Eon’s presence. I’m coming with you.”

    Nevren blinked several times. “I beg your pardon? Eon? Here? Now?”

    “He knew about Anam, didn’t he? He’s probably just… trying to make up his side of the plan. That’s it, isn’t it?” Rhys panted, shuffling ahead of Nevren even as the Alakazam kept his usual pace.

    “Eon wasn’t supposed to come here, actually.” Nevren frowned. “Anam, you should get some rest. Be sure your spirits are okay after the events in the Dungeon.”

    “I can’t hear Mama…” Anam mumbled, standing in place.

    “To your room, Anam,” Nevren said with a gentle flick. “Get rest. You need it more than any of us. And… whatever it is within you, perhaps try to calm it down, hm? We can discuss this later.”

    “Jam-Jam…” Anam breathed, wobbling home.

    “If you refuse to rest,” Nevren told Rhys, “then at least walk carefully. Let’s see what happened; it sounds like it came from the entrance.”

    <><><> ​

    Guardians and spirits alike lay on the ground in a scattered, groaning mess. Willow was trapped somewhere inside Yen’s furry legs. Manny was sprawled on his back, grumbling about a rock stuck somewhere. Enet, who had been closest to the blast, was now lodged inside Mispy’s vines, growling. Large clumps of her fur seemed to be missing or burning, though with her beneath the Meganium, the fires were quickly extinguished. ADAM twitched in the corner of the hall, part of his body partly cracked. He buzzed about performing a system diagnosis.

    In the middle of where the blast had been was a Charizard—just one. He was surrounded in a sphere of golden light, the Protect shield vanishing once the steam completely billowed out of the caves. Just beyond that sphere of light, the cave walls, floor, and ceiling had been almost completely obliterated, rocks smashed or melted in one way or the other. Remaining was a deep, ring-shaped pit in the ground and several rocks that had fallen from the ceiling all around him. Owen sensed the others’ alarm from behind him, but Mispy seemed calmer than the rest. Perhaps it was because she could sense that it was his aura, and not Eon’s.

    After several seconds in relative silence, Jerry shouted from the entrance. “You guys done yet?!”

    Step grunted, leaning the part of her that wasn’t melted from the intense heat against the wall. “Where did he go?”

    Owen sighed, looking at his hands. From his left, a dim, golden glow faded into nothing. “He’s gone.” Owen turned around to address the others. “He’s not coming back.”

    “Urgh…” Part of her face was blackened by intense fire; another part felt numb from a stray portion of ADAM’s Tri-Attack missing its mark. “What do you mean, he’s gone? How do you know?”

    “Isn’t it obvious?” Willow said, her voice muffled from inside Yen’s fur. “We got him! Eon’s dead!”

    Owen winced, looking away. “No. He just ran away. We had a talk.”

    “Excuse me?” Amia asked, looking around for Alex. She suddenly jerked her head up, touching her chest; it looked like, during the blast, he had protected her from the aftermath. “Owen, how did you have a talk?”

    “I—”

    “Hello!” Nevren called, waving them down. “Did I happen to miss any festivities, by any chance?”

    “Not funny, yeh brainy starfruit,” Manny grunted, putting most of his weight on his left leg.

    “Manny, your fur’s on fire,” Yen said.

    “Eh?” the Lucario felt a heat on the top of his head. “Eh.” He licked his paw and pat out the flame. It didn’t go out. “Ehh…!” Suddenly, he was doused in water by Zena, making his fur stick to his body. He snorted, shaking himself off. Demitri shrank away from the wet fur; Mispy wrapped her vines around Demitri, scowling at Manny.

    “I sensed Eon,” Rhys spoke up. “Where is he?”

    “He left,” Owen said. “Let’s… get everyone inside so we can talk. Alright?”

    “Owen?” Gahi asked worriedly. “What’re yeh getting at?”

    Owen dismissed Gahi with a quick wave. “Let’s just gather in the square so I can say everything.”

    <><><> ​

    Despite his expression never changing, Valle seemed very happy with being back in the center of Hot Spot as its main fixture. “Much better. I shall work on repairing the entryway now.”

    “Oh, is that what you do, now?” Demitri asked. “Wait, is that why I got lost in the caves that one time? Were you making the caverns change around?!”

    “I am stillness. I do not alter the caverns. I only return them to the state that they should be.”

    ADAM buzzed. “I also took the time to polish and further enhance the walls as I see fit. Perhaps I shall make the entrance smooth. Is that to your standards, Valle?”

    “I shall consider it.”

    With everyone settled in a circle around Valle—he insisted—Owen took a few seconds to gather his thoughts. That gave Mispy time to get another bowl of food for herself, which in turn tempted a few others to grab some. Nevren took a small portion and then a second helping for Rhys, insisting. The Lucario glared, but relented. Owen glanced uneasily at Rhys, noticing the sudden animosity. Perhaps he should ask about that later.

    “Okay. Is everyone settled? Don’t start eating yet. This might be big.” Owen rubbed his claws. “Eon made a Divine Promise with me.”

    First, silence. Owen expected as much; the shock came after, when his words registered.

    “He what?” Rhys and Nevren both said, exchanging startled looks. The others buzzed, murmured, or otherwise mumbled to one another.

    Zena cleared her throat, using her size to her advantage to call the room to attention. “What did he Promise you, Owen?”

    “He Promised that…” Owen hesitated. “He, er… that, er…” Now that he actually got around to saying it, this was going to be a lot harder than he thought. If just saying he made a Promise was enough to get them riled up… No, he had to get this over with. “That as long as I stayed in Quartz HQ—his home, with the other mutants—he would not be a Hunter.”

    The second wave of shock was quieter this time; Owen sensed similar reactions to how one would feel after something horrible dawned upon them. Perhaps something more like impending doom, with no idea of how to stop it.

    He could relate.

    “So…” Owen looked away. “Does anybody… want to come with me?”

    “Wait—you’re going?” Amia said, her hair already threatening to burst into flames. “Absolutely NOT! You are staying right here, and that’s final!”

    Alex summoned himself again, the Magmortar’s eyes wide and pleading. “Owen, please think about this. This is Eon. He’s the one who—he’s behind all of this!”

    Star was the one behind all of this,” Owen said. “Maybe Eon’s finally getting a change of heart, huh? He literally Promised that he wouldn’t be a Hunter anymore if I went with him. When did Star ever make a Divine Promise to us? All she ever did was try to ask me to make one.”

    To this, the others had no counter. As much as Star had been helping them gather the Guardians together, it was at arms’ length at best.

    “I just… I wanted to tell you guys, first. So if you came with me, it’d be okay.”

    Zena’s eyes were somehow wider than Alex’s. “Owen, that’s—it’s—that’s unthinkable. I can’t just… go to Eon. He… he led the force that kept me isolated! The—” She glanced at Rhys, then back to the Charizard. “Owen, you aren’t going.”

    Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi seemed conflicted with themselves; Owen was familiar enough with their bodies to tell that Gahi was the most uncertain. After everything they had been told about their former father, they thought he was a lost cause. But if he would go so far as to make a Promise to give it all up…

    “I have to try,” Owen said. “L-look, I know it’s sudden, and I—”

    “Owen, you aren’t going!” Amia cried, clapping her hands together as if that would snap him out of it. It almost did, Owen shaking his head mid-sentence.

    “Mom, Eon literally Promised to stop being a Hunter if I went. I can end this whole thing right now if I just… go there.”

    “And then what?” Amia said. “And then you’ll stay with him forever? Just to…”

    “Just to save the world?” Owen said, the words spilling from his mouth before he had the chance to think about them. “I… I think I have to, M-Mom.”

    Zena clenched her jaw. “Owen…” She looked away. “I don’t—I don’t know if that’s a good idea. He could be tricking you, or—”

    “You can’t just trick someone with a Promise,” Owen said. “Remember, Rhys did the same thing with you.”

    Demitri shifted his weight. “Yeah, um. When we were trying to get Valle, Rhys almost hit him too hard, and his paw started… glowing. That happened, right?”

    “Yes, that’s true,” Rhys said.

    “It’s sorta foggy… I think that was the life before this one. What happened?”

    “I was preparing an Aura Sphere, but Valle’s aura was simply too weak. It could have killed him. Had that happened…”

    Zena’s ribbons twisted against one another in an anxious knot. “So that’s what you meant when you Promised to no longer be a Hunter. Are those Promises sensitive to what the Promiser is thinking?”

    “It only works if we both had the same thing in mind.” Rhys looked at his paw. It was still shaking slightly from fatigue. “It seems we both equated being a Hunter to being a murderer. Owen, if you and Eon had successfully made a Promise… whatever you were thinking at the time was also what he was thinking.”

    Owen looked back to his mother, but regretted trailing his eyes over to his father next. While Amia was defiantly upset, ready to fight Owen to keep him home, Alex was quietly beside himself in a fit of silent tears. He had to look away, but his Perception forced him to see the weeping Magmortar, even with his eyes closed.

    “Just one night,” Owen said. “I’ll—I’ll try to talk to him. Just so… just so I can see what’s going on in his head. Maybe I can talk him out of it. We can make another Promise for him to… give up completely.”

    Nevren hummed, raising a spoon, drawing Owen’s attention. “Do you really think that would work? Eon is quite unhinged. He may not be thinking rationally. If you go to him, it is very likely that he will not allow you to leave.”

    “Well, if that happens…” Owen trailed off. The Promise was to not be a Hunter, but he didn’t say anything about holding him there. But… that just didn’t sit right with him. Not after how he saw Eon react. There was more to it. Suddenly, Owen’s tail flashed, corresponding to an idea. “If I’m at Quartz, he can’t fight back. If he does anything to me, and I end up not returning here after a few days… then you can attack him, and he can’t do anything about it.”

    Owen scanned the room pleadingly. Manny crossed his arms, pensive; Yen was nodding slowly, but the caution was clear. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi looked like they were the most convinced, while Zena was coiling with conflict, as if she hated the point Owen was trying to make, yet couldn’t argue against it. But Amia was the worst of all. Owen couldn’t bear to look at the Gardevoir.

    “Better idea.” Step slammed her icy fist into her palm. “You go to Eon, and we follow, killing him when he cannot fight back.”

    “Hey, I like yer attitude,” Manny said, clapping his paws. “Eon went and trapped ‘mself! Hah! If he can’t kill us, then we’ll—”

    “He can just beat you up,” Owen said casually, his heart fluttering at some reflexive need to defend him. “I—I mean—” He shrank at the startled looks Amia and Zena both gave him. “He can still not intend to kill you. What if the mutants accidentally go berserk? You could set them off, or… I mean, he can still defend himself, right?”

    Rhys looked at the spike on his left wrist, narrowing his eyes. “I didn’t intend to kill Valle, yet when I came close, I felt the Promise nearly break. I doubt Eon’s would be any more lenient.”

    “I don’t want anybody to die from this,” Owen said adamantly, his fire getting just a bit brighter. “So that’s it, alright? I’m going to try. And if it fails, you can… do what you want. But I’m not… giving up on him. Because… when I talked to him—” Owen stopped himself. If he said what he intended to, that wasn’t going to help anybody. He quickly pivoted, “He seemed genuine. And he was a Charizard. You can’t… go past that with my Perception.” Owen looked away. Eon wasn’t his father anymore… but Owen couldn’t shake that quiet, cold desire to change that fact.

    What if Eon was right? And what if he could stop this all by just having a talk? If they all just sat down, said how they felt, and found a compromise? This sort of opportunity never came up before. He couldn’t just pass it up.

    Maybe they could all be together after all.

    Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all looked at one another, but then the former two gave Owen a reluctant, yet genuine smile. Owen flashed one of his own; the infectious grin finally broke through to Gahi.

    “Y’know,” the Flygon said. “Maybe.”

    Step rumbled lowly, icy eyes piercing through Owen’s bright, hopeful expression. “The Grass Guardian is compromised.” Icy wind swirled around her body. Owen felt frost collecting on the fringes of his wings. “Restrain him.”

    Owen’s breath caught in his throat. “W-wait, hang on, that isn’t—”

    Nearly all bodies moved at once, briefly overwhelming his senses. Manny and his spirits moved toward Step; Amia and Alex dove in front of Owen; Zena weaved past them all, trying to get to him, but Owen could not tell if it was to stop him or to save him. Willow and Jerry jumped out of the way; Enet, in a panic, discharged several arcs of electricity in random directions. One narrowly grazed Owen’s shoulder.

    Anam stumbled out of his room from his nap, screaming, “What’s happening?!”

    Nevren slammed his claw on his Revisor, trying to ignore the sting of Rhys’ aura flaring back to life in the chaos. Yet, for the second time today, it failed to work. He stared at it, incredulous, until a furry paw grabbed him by the shoulder.

    “Nevren,” Rhys hissed. “If you want to stop Owen, then I’m letting him go.”

    Nevren’s eyes widened, just barely. “This is against both of our interests.”

    “I don’t believe you.”

    Nevren glanced at Anam. Darkness was already swirling near his chest area. He glanced at his Revisor, and then at the almost stinging, radiant aura flowing out of Rhys’ paw. The Revisor burned in his hand.

    Nevren lowered it, as well as his shoulders, even amid the chaos unfolding around them.

    Step had her arm steady, aiming directly at Owen’s feet. With a precise strike, she hit the ground just below his left foot, ice immediately encasing the limb.

    Owen yelped in surprise, tripping over himself. Alex burst into flames, sprouting wings as his arms shifted into the two smaller heads of a Hydreigon. Owen felt his father’s presence rapidly approaching from behind, and yet the form he now took, chasing him down, ready to tackle him to the ground. Those eyes—those eyes. Without thinking, Owen screamed, pulling his leg frantically out from the ice that encased it.

    A Hydro Pump extinguished the fiery Hydreigon’s body, hurling him across the ground. Owen gasped when instead of his father, it was Zena who caught up to him first. She was just in time for Owen’s naturally warm body to weaken the ice enough to break free.

    “Owen!” Gahi shouted, rushing for him next. Demitri and Mispy were right behind him, but it was Gahi who slammed into Owen’s back, disappearing just as quickly.

    Owen yelped, arching his spine inward, head to the sky in surprise as his mind struggled to mingle with Gahi’s again. He thought they were going to be fighting for control on to stay or go—but the final thought Owen, as himself, had was one of agreement with Gahi.

    Demitri and Mispy spun around. “H-hurry, Owen. If you say this is the right idea—” Demitri said, but then wailed at an Ice Beam slamming into his chest, freezing half of his torso over.

    A second one came careening toward them, blocked by a series of Mispy’s vines. The cold energy froze them completely, solid vines shattering on the ground with a loud crash.

    Step snarled, readying a Blizzard next. “How ironic that three parts of the Hunters’ ultimate weapon shares a common weakness to Ice!”

    “Owen, STOP!” Amia cried.

    Zena only had seconds; she used it to say just four words to the Charizard within the fusion. With her ribbons on his shoulders, her eyes staring directly at his, even through the Flygon lenses that formed around him, she spoke: “You have one day.”

    Then, she shoved him back and turned around. Gawen spared no time in escaping, his speedy body already past the entrance to Hot Spot. Amia was screaming for his name, nearly making Owen’s half turn back, but Gahi kept him pushing forward. They had to take the chance.

    In a blur, they were suddenly flying over the grassy fields just outside of Hot Spot. But no matter how quickly Gawen moved, it wasn’t fast enough for second thoughts to catch up.

    “W-wait—” Gawen suddenly said, stretching his wings to a halt. The wind behind him disturbed the grass of the fields outside, the late-noon sun reflecting off his scales. “Th-this… this isn’t…”

    His mother’s cries echoed in his mind. Gawen clutched his head.

    “No, you idiot, keep going! Otherwise, what’s the point?!”

    The explosions rocked the ground. Step shouted in pain, followed by a loud thud of ice on rock.

    “W-we can talk it out. We just have to talk more,” Owen said, spinning around. “M-maybe if we…!”

    “No! No, no!” Gahi knocked at his cheek. “Zena said one day! We’re gone!”

    “But Mom, she—” Owen clutched at the other side, of their one head, Gahi clutching at the other, then at his horns, squeezing them as if they would somehow give him the answers.

    And, in a way, they did. He sensed a Zygarde watching from the tall grass in the fields, and then he sensed a tiny Espurr appear just behind him, holding a small, gold Badge.

    “Wait, Ri—”

    They disappeared as quickly as Rim had arrived.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2019
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  13. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 64 – Welcome

    From green fields to sandy ground, Gawen was assaulted with the powerful smell of a salty ocean. He stumbled forward, the stress too much for the fusion, and split apart. Owen toppled on top of Gahi, pressing his face into the sand with his weight.

    Gahi hissed and rolled out from under him. Owen grunted, plopping onto the sand with a heavy thump.

    “R-Rim! Where are—oh.” Owen’s breathing was still slowing down, but he realized that they were at Quartz HQ. “Just like that…” Owen sat up, holding his chest. His heart hammered against his hands. He could still hear Amia screaming.

    Rim was right behind him, looking at his back with concern. Owen grunted, wishing he could turn off his Perception so he could focus. Wait—he could! Owen reached up without thinking, grabbing his horn, giving it a light tug. He had to pull a lot harder than he ever would under normal circumstances—almost to the point where he worried he’d break something—but off it went with a gentle click. He did the same with the other one, and suddenly, he was blind, his senses limited to the simple, relatively flat view his eyes provided.

    Owen sighed, setting his horns beside him. He heard Rim’s gentle pitter-patter until she was sitting next to him. Gahi grumbled, rubbing his nose with a snort. “This place…” He snorted. “The smell, too. We’re kinda close to the ocean, huh?”

    “Yeah.” Owen opened his eyes, looking at the sandy field in front of him. “We used to fly around here before you ran off like an idiot.” The Charizard let out a huffing laugh, blowing a few embers against the sand. Stray blades of grass suddenly went aflame, making Owen yelp and pat it out.

    Gahi rolled his eyes, swishing his tail to smother the flame out with ease, though not without getting some sand all over Owen’s arms.

    “Aw, it’s all in my scales,” Owen groaned, rubbing his claws along the ridges between them. He turned his arm over, getting most of it out, but he knew a few grains were going to take a bit more work.

    “At least y’don’t have fur,” Gahi said, glancing at Rim.

    The Espurr nodded, but the way she moved seemed to catch Gahi’s eye; he walked up to her. For Gahi, that was a blurry jog, startling her. “Hey, you—yow!”

    Gahi bumped into an invisible barrier. Rubbing his nose, the Flygon growled, “C’mon, what’s yer deal?”

    “I think she’s just shy, Gahi,” Owen said.

    “What, yer Perceive telling you that?” Gahi crossed his arms and wings, looking at the ground. “I saw her fur looked kinda red.”

    “What?” Owen inspected Rim, leaning to the left and right, and Gahi was correct. It seemed like parts of her fur had splotches of faded red color. The Espurr looked away, getting back to her feet. She dusted off some of the sand on her body with a weak Psychic wave, wobbling toward a patch of sand.

    With a mechanical whirr, a hatch slid open, startling Gahi, but Owen had sensed it before he had taken off his horns. “Th-the entrance is right here?” Gahi said. “How’d we warp so easily?”

    Rim looked onward. “Waypoint…”

    “From the Badge itself?” Owen said, tilting his head.

    “No.”

    Gahi paused, looking down. “Where?”

    Owen stood up and dragged his foot horizontally along the sand. “I think right here.” After a few layers were brushed aside, there was indeed a small, colorful tile hidden away beneath the sand, glowing faintly now that a few layers had been pushed away. “But with it covered up like this, I think you can only use it for coming here, not leaving… Rim. Why do you have a Badge?”

    Rim gulped, hastening her walking into Quartz HQ. Owen and Gahi followed after her, the soft sound of their scaly feet digging into the sand transitioning into the clack of claws on polished tile. The white flooring eased Owen’s mind a bit; the featureless, confined room, despite his Typing, helped him focus less on his surroundings and more on nothing. Feeling at least slightly secure, he clicked his horns back into his head.

    “Rim… were you waiting for us?” Owen said. “Why was Hecto watching me?”

    Rim gave Owen an odd look, incredulous. “Hecto?”

    “Yeah. He, uh, I sensed him before we warped here. What happened? Did he tell you I was here?”

    Rim shook her head.

    Owen sighed. He supposed that was all he could get from Rim if even she didn’t know. And with that, he only had the silence to accompany him, Gahi also lost in his own thoughts, as they went through the halls.

    A door next to Owen accidentally whirred open when his tail brushed against the frame. He jumped and staggered away, bumping into the door on the opposite side. It, too, slid open, sending him crashing with a startled yelp.

    “What’re yeh doin’?” Gahi said with a groan.

    “S-sorry, sorry, I got…” Owen stared inside, eyes widening. He saw countless little trinkets and items, all of them torn, broken, or otherwise damaged. Owen carefully entered, picking up one of the toys so delicately as if he thought it was Willow.

    It was a little Pikachu doll, stuffed with cotton, just the right size to fit in his fist. He squeezed it, part curious, part because he could. It made a soft, squeaking noise. He gingerly placed it back on the ground, right where he had found it, and stared at the rest of the pile.

    “Oy, Owen,” Gahi called, leaning into the doorway. “You coming er what?”

    “I… I’ll catch up. I know the way.”

    Gahi stared, but then glanced at Rim. She shrugged, and they both went ahead.

    Owen rummaged through the pile again, finding broken books, fragmented trinkets, and discarded toys. This must have been their room for trash. A lot of the items looked recent; perhaps they cleared it out every now and then. He figured if there was an army of mutants, they would burn through a room’s worth of toys pretty quickly.

    Where did they get the money for all this?

    A hollow tok made Owen stare at the ground to his right. A little sphere rolled off of a pile of toys, bumping against his foot. He inspected it, tilting his head, turning it over in his palms. Red and white, with a black line along the middle, and a little button at the center.

    Owen gasped a sharp breath, dropping the ball to the floor. He clutched at his head, a splitting headache washing over him, but it was only for an instant. He saw flashes of Eon standing in front of him, smiling, and tapping a similar ball to his head. And then all his senses would leave him, weightless and cozy in the little sphere.

    But getting memories back didn’t usually hurt that much. Why did—

    There was a Malamar in front of him—at least, he thought that’s what it was. The strange creature was more serpentine than aquatic, tendrils trailing off of its head and torso, radiating Psychic energy. Its huge eyes stared at Owen with fear. “D-don’t tell Dad!”

    Owen blinked, rubbing his head. “Did you Psychic me?” He groaned, rubbing his head. “Look, I’ve already got enough head problems; I don’t need another.”

    “I—I panicked!” The mutant Malamar slithered into the piles and curled up. “Dad’s mad at me because I ate third dinner. I just know it! I’m gonna hide until he forgets.”

    Owen rubbed the back of his head. “You can’t just hide here forever.”

    “Can so!” He burst out of the pile and pecked at the Poké Ball next to Owen. In a flash, the ball swallowed him up.

    Owen stared, eyelids lowering with just the slightest amount of sympathy toward Eon, and prodded at the button with his toe. It split open, unleashing Malamar for a second time.

    “No!” He prodded at it again, disappearing inside.

    “Seriously?” Owen prodded the ball again, releasing him.

    This went on for several wordless cycles until, finally, Owen flapped out his wings. “Fine! If that’s how you’re gonna be, I’m gonna tell Eon myself. I don’t want you getting thrown out with the rest of the trash.”

    The ball on the ground wiggled; Malamar released himself, only to scream, “But I am trash!” before hiding inside his tiny home again.

    Owen groaned, rubbing his palms into his closed eyes. “Fine. Be trash. But I’m gonna tell Eon where you are.” He huffed, stepping out of the room.

    The Poké Ball wobbled again, releasing him again. “You’re no fun! I’ll just find a different hiding spot!” A tendril wrapped around his home. “You’re always like this!”

    “A-always?! I just got here!” Owen puffed a little ember. “Don’t go off mistaking me for another Charizard!”

    “W-wait, what?”

    “I’m Owen! I’m just—visiting.”

    “But you look like a—wait. Owen…?”

    Owen stiffened, picking up the pace. The door slid closed behind him, but Malamar didn’t follow.

    <><><> ​

    Eon paced, looking left and right. He checked the mirror in his room, a simple square of glass on silver. He was Owen. Hopefully that wouldn’t be too unnerving. Would it? It might be, but Owen was used to it, at least in his memories. Right? No, they were still blurry, weren’t they?

    Eon huffed out a small plume of fire, tearing his eyes from the mirror. He couldn’t comprehend Owen’s Perceive ability. All of these sensory inputs were—overwhelming, like he was seeing everything in three dimensions. He couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. He was tempted to rip off his horns right then. If only he had figured out sooner how to make models like him where they could naturally turn down the Perceive, like the other Owen.

    Eon wondered how that Owen was doing. That memory was still fresh in his mind, that seething hatred at realizing he was just a copy. All four of them, gone in an instant, all because they learned the truth. Why did he do that? How could he have done that to them?

    The ground under Eon’s feet cracked with the intensifying aura around him. The mirror next to him shattered. Eon flinched, biting at his tongue. He was going to have to go and buy another one again. Seven more years of bad luck. Maybe that’s why nothing ever went right.

    Eon imagined that by now, Owen would be trying to talk to the others. Would they even allow him to come here? Well, that didn’t matter. If they didn’t let him go, that would just prove him right. Then Owen would let him take them out, right? They wouldn’t be his friends anymore. It would hurt, but he’d be with him either way. Gahi and Mispy and Demitri—they’d follow. That’s how they always were.

    Didn’t Owen like Tamato Berries? He should probably ask someone to make some dishes with those. Was Hecto nearby? Maybe he could send word through him. Then he’d actually be useful for once. He was probably trying to report everything he knew to Star. Not that he would find anything, of course. He wasn’t allowed on most of the floors.

    “Um, Da—”

    “GAH!” Eon stretched his wings, fire scorching the bed behind him. He frantically turned around to pat it out before the embers got too high. “L-Lavender, is that—what’s wrong?”

    Lavender, taking the form of a Scolipede again, gave Eon a small, timid grin. “Are you too busy to play?”

    Eon slowly relaxed, bringing his wings down. “I can’t really play right now, Lavvie. I’m sorry. How are your spirits holding up?”

    “They’re okay. Um, oh, umm, Uncle Hecto told me to tell you that a cute Charizard showed up!”

    The bed was on fire again. “Wh-what do you mean? Now?!”

    “Mhm! He just showed up!”

    Eon frantically snuffed out the flames, pushing away from his bed once he felt they were extinguished. “Thank you, Lavvie.”

    “I’m gonna come with you!”

    “Wait, but—Lavvie! How about you meet us at the dining hall instead? That way, we’ll all have a get-together at the same time. Won’t that be better?”

    “Hmm… Will Lucas be there, too? I want Owen to meet Lucas! Oh! And Nate! We gotta get Nate!”

    “I’ll, er, I’ll try for all of them,” Eon said. “But meet us there. Help Auntie Rim with cooking.”

    “Okay, okay!” Lavender spun around. “C’mon, you’re too slow!” Lavender coated himself in golden light and expanded into an Onix, sticking his huge head beneath Eon. He yelped, picked up by the huge creature, and clung onto the horn of the rocky serpent while he slithered through the halls. Mutants ran into nearby rooms or otherwise fled for their lives while Lavender happily rampaged through the halls, toward the warp walls, and said, “Five!”

    And the halls became peaceful again.

    <><><> ​

    “Owen!” Eon shouted, waving a wing enthusiastically. He actually showed up! He was actually here, in his scales, walking through the halls of Quartz HQ. It was like everything was normal again. Eon’s flame glowed bright, the heat and light radiating off the polished floor.

    “H-hey, Eon,” Owen said, avoiding his eyes.

    “Oh, come on, Owen. You can call me Dad here.” Once they were at a proper speaking distance, he held out a hand. “Hey, I’m glad you came. That must’ve been very hard for you. Er… I hope they took it well.”

    Owen seemed to be processing his first comment to even get to the second. Eon hesitantly approached a single step closer, and that made Owen take one back. Eon’s tail burned a bit brighter, unstable and crackling. “It’s—it’s okay, Owen. Remember, I Promised.”

    “Yeah. You did.” Owen watched him carefully. “I just… I don’t know what to think right now, okay? I’m here to… to talk.”

    Eon couldn’t find his voice. He wasn’t alarmed, no. He figured that Owen would say something like that. He’d said as much when time stopped. Yet why did it stun him now, the second time?

    “How about we have that talk over dinner?” he said. “Rim is—Auntie Rim is going to help cook up something. Where is she?”

    “She ran ahead to make dinner,” Owen replied, the smallest hint of a smile curling on his right side. “Guess you had the same thing in mind, huh?”

    Eon nodded a bit too quickly, but only noticed when it was too late. “Yes. Right. We’re on the same wavelength sometimes, y’know. How about we go take a walk around while she gets something set up? Some of the other kids are gonna want to help Rim out, you know, so it might be a mess. And I know how much you like to keep your scales polished. Oh! That reminds me, I have some scale polish for you, if you like.”

    “No, it’s fine. I have some at h—” Owen stopped himself, but Eon already felt the stab through his chest. “Hot Spot. I have some there, so… maybe I can, er… I’ll ask for it to be delivered here, if I stay for…” He tried to shake the thoughts away. “I can’t stay for too long. J-just… a day, Dad—Eon—Dad.” Owen kept shaking his head, ultimately glaring at the ground.

    They stood in thick silence after that. Eon clawed into his own palms, digging at a ridge between two scales. How much did that Fire Guardian brainwash him? How much did he still not remember? Could Rhys have messed with his mind, too? What about Amia? Maybe he should try to undo some of the damage. He should just have Owen forget all of them.

    Eon’s hand twitched.

    Owen instantly stared at him with wide pupils, the lenses of his eyes completely focused on him. Owen’s tail flashed a combative blue.

    Eon froze. It felt like even his flame had frozen. “S-something wrong?”

    But Owen kept staring, focused completely on him.

    “I just…” Eon hesitated, looking down. “It’s just been so long since I got to see you, Owen, as… me. I… I don’t know. I’d want to spar with you, or hold you, or… or anything. But… you aren’t ready for that, are you?”

    Owen remained silent and stiff, but his expression wavered. “What do you mean?”

    “Well, as Deca, I… well, you know how I was.”

    “Deca.” Owen nodded slowly. “Right. I…” He loosened, straightening his back. “I think I’m just being paranoid. For so long, people kept trying to mess with my head to keep me under control. I think I’m just… guarded.”

    An icy knot formed in Eon’s gut. “R-right.” He refused to stoop to their level. “Come on. Let’s get some dinner. Tamato soup, maybe?”

    Despite everything, Eon saw Owen smile. The ice melted away.

    They walked for a while longer through the halls until they reached the wall with the number “1” painted on. Owen stared nostalgically at it, mumbling “three” under his breath.

    Eon’s heart fluttered. “You remember your floor?”

    “J-just came back to me, I guess.” Owen looked down at his toes, clenching them so his claws scraped against the marble floor. “Oh, uh, there was this… I think it was a Malamar-serpent, or something, moping around in the trash room. Something about third dinner?”

    Eon’s body language shifted from tense to exasperated. “Not again.” He sighed, pressing two of his claws between his temples. His hand nearly shifted into the Malamar’s tendrils, but he kept it controlled. “I’ll deal with it later. He’s probably still jumpy.”

    “Hidey, actually.”

    Eon smirked, spinning around. They continued through the halls, and after a few turns in silence, he sighed. Owen’s fearful, yet defensive stare was burned into his mind. “Sorry.”

    “Don’t do that again,” Owen replied with a growl.

    “I—I know. I won’t. I was just…”

    “Everybody keeps trying to control me. If you do anything… I’m leaving. I don’t care how strong you are. Gahi and I will just go. I’ll go right to Star.”

    Eon flinched. “D-don’t say that. She’d control you in ways I wouldn’t even dream of.”

    “I still don’t know one way or the other,” Owen replied curtly, looking away.

    How could he not know? It was so obvious! “Okay,” Eon replied quietly. He was brainwashed, after all. He had to be. All those centuries under that Fire Guardian polluted his mind. Poor Owen had been lied to for so many false lives, and now that he knew the truth, he was giving him a chance. He couldn’t screw this up.

    Soon, they were in front of a large “1” on the wall. Eon made sure Owen was close enough and said, “Five.” They turned around and walked along a similar hallway, though this time the smell of dinner wafted through the air. Something savory. The gentle kick of Tamato tickled Eon’s nose; based on how Owen’s flame perked up, it seemed it was getting to him, too.

    “Smell anything good?” Eon asked.

    “Tamato Berries… It’s hard for me to get sick of them.” Owen stifled a laugh, following the scent. “Is the eating room in the same spot?”

    “It is, but it’s a lot bigger now.”

    “Because of all the other mutants.”

    “All of my children, yes.”

    Owen shifted uncomfortably just then, looking like he wanted to say something, but then stopped himself.

    “Owen?”

    “Ngh.” Owen rubbed at his cheek. “Why do you call them your kids? Aren’t they… your soldiers?”

    Eon flinched. “N-no, not at all. Are you my soldier?”

    “No, but I used to be, right?” Owen said, his voice filled with innocent curiosity. “We were the Alloy. We were supposed to…” Owen paused, rubbing the back of his head. “Actually, what were we supposed to do? Star said we weren’t meant to have an Orb or anything, so…”

    Eon frowned, looking ahead. “It’s a bit of a complicated story. We needed you and others because we were trying to develop ways to take down Vessels—er, Guardians, I mean. Sorry, old terminology—when we didn’t have any Orbs with us. Our auras were limited, but if we made something from scratch that was better, well… we’d stand a better chance. Eventually, that developed into you four.”

    “So we were built to be a weapon.” Owen’s wings drooped slightly.

    “Only if you wanted to fight with us,” Eon said hastily, though neither of them stopped walking.

    “How would we have known any better? How would any of them know?” Owen glanced at Eon, a flash of a glare in his eyes. “It sounds to me like you just raise them to think that this is the right thing to do, like it’s normal to work under your command.”

    Eon stared down at Owen’s fists, both of them clenched together. He nibbled on his tongue. “It’s… not like that. It just isn’t. I don’t know how I can prove it.”

    “That’s because that is how it is.” Owen stared ahead, folding his wings over. “I didn’t know that I’d be killing people. I thought I was just training for fun, and then we’d be going on missions to rescue people or something, or fight bad guys. But you know what happened instead? I killed a Jumpluff right in front of his daughter. And then I killed her next. I’m surprised Rhys didn’t kill me after that. I was the bad guy.”

    Owen stopped walking to stare at Eon, pupils focused on him. “You made me like that. You made me into your personal weapon. So don’t think you can just brush over that, Dad. Or do you think I’m just fooling myself? Like maybe I’m under their control right now?”

    Despite being in a hallway with nothing behind him, Eon felt cornered. His flame crackled with instability, eyes darting left and right for something to focus on, but the featureless walls betrayed him. Brainwashed or not, Owen was technically correct. But he didn’t understand the context. He wasn’t meant to kill them, just—that’s it!

    “I didn’t mean for you to be like that. You weren’t supposed to ever be a killer.” Eon refused to break his stare this time, no matter how hard it was to look Owen in the eyes. “That was my fault. You were supposed to be just fine when you fused. But when the Alloy first formed—something went wrong. Your auras didn’t mesh together right, and it sent you into a frenzy. We didn’t… we didn’t know how to repair that. We had to reset your auras completely. But then, you were still… you barely remembered anything.

    “And when you evolved… you weren’t normal. That frenzy came back once your auras were unleashed again, and—we had to reset you again.” Eon’s voice cracked, images flashing in front of him. He remembered struggling to hold Owen down, claws digging into his body. That was a painful one—in all kinds of ways. He remembered bleeding out pink slime, Owen thrashing against him no matter how much he tried to calm him down. Rhys shouting that it wasn’t enough and they had to reset him again. And again. And again.

    If only he had been more assertive. If he kept them under control some other way, restrained them, maybe, or…

    Eon realized that Owen was still staring at him expectantly, yet his eyes were softer this time. “If I could go back, I’d do it differently,” he said. “I’d… I’d do so much differently. But right now, I just… want to make things right here, okay?”

    “Oy, you two Luvdisc done kissing?”

    Owen and Eon jumped, looking down the hall. Gahi was waving at them impatiently, a bit of stew caught under his chin from what was undoubtedly a taste-testing session gone wrong. Owen and Eon exchanged looks and sighed in unison.

    “I guess I can forgive the others for lying to me all the time when I was recovering,” Owen said in a growl. “Only fair that I give you a chance, too. But…” He looked at his hands, then at Eon. “What do you plan to do, now, with all of this?”

    “All of…?”

    “This!” Owen raised his arms to the hallway, then motioned down it. “The others! Your kids, the—everything. Your whole army that you have set up. What’re you going to—”

    “OWEN! Is that you?!”

    The ground shook to the might of a rolling Scolipede. He was rolling too fast to dive out of the way, so Owen reflexively crossed his arms and folded his wings forward, creating a shield of light. Lavender collided into it with an ethereal KLANG, the shockwave sending a deafening crack into the walls to the left and right.

    Eon held his forehead, staring at the ceiling. “That’s another one to fix,” he grumbled as Lavender’s stationary rolling slowed to a stop.

    “Hi! Hi, hi!” Lavender said, pressing his head against the fading barrier. “I’m Lavender! What’s your name? Oh, wait! Owen! You’re Owen!”

    Eon kept his eyes closed so he didn’t accidentally turn into Lavender. “Owen, I’d like you to meet Lavender. He’s, er…”

    “Another one of your kids?”

    “Yes. Though, he’s a bit different.”

    Lavender giggled, giving a small bow, and then transformed into a Charizard—a normal one, unlike Owen.

    “Oh, he’s a Ditto,” Owen said. “Except he can actually hold a form that he isn’t looking at.”

    “Er, not quite that, either,” Eon said, gesturing for them to follow. Gahi was waiting impatiently at the end of the hall, eventually huffing and returning to the mess hall.

    Owen followed alongside Lavender, whose tail-flame was golden in color. He marveled at this, glancing at the faux-Charizard. Eon noticed Owen’s eyes linger a bit on Lavender, enviously, and then away.

    Eon murmured softly to Owen. “I was building this army to gather the Orbs by force. Like I said, the Guardians are imprisoned in all this. If I could free them, maybe it…”

    “So they’re an army, just like I was supposed to be a part of.”

    Eon winced again, pressing his tail along the wall while they walked. “Power in numbers. After everything was said and done, I wanted to start focusing on living like a family.”

    “That’s… a big family.”

    “Sounds great, right?” Eon said with a titter. Owen didn’t laugh, but the entranced look in his eyes said all Eon needed. His hopeful grin was infectious, apparently, as even Owen smiled a bit. Eon didn’t understand, then, why the air still felt so thick.

    They rounded the corner, overlooking a familiar mess hall, the same one that Owen remembered, only… larger. Bright, colored tile lined the ground to give the sterile white some personality. What was once a long counter meant to fit a large family became a series of long tables filling the room like an upscale cafeteria. The same chandeliers decorated the ceiling, sparkling with artificial, white light.

    “This place is actually pretty,” Owen admitted. “Everywhere else here is so… white. I can’t focus on anything.”

    “Supposed to be that way,” Eon replied, looking back. “We figured that the Pokémon we made would get overstimulated by too many colors in the halls. We limited it to certain rooms so it wasn’t overwhelming.” He sighed. “Does it work for you?”

    “Kinda. I like the colors.”

    “I love the colors!” Lavender giggled, sprinting for the nearest plate.

    Owen watched for a little while, spotting Gahi and Rim on the other side of the table, picking out food from a selection of rice platters, sandwiches, stews… It was a wonder how they made it all, but then Owen spotted more mutants shuffling out from the kitchen adjacent to the room with more plates. Gahi glanced at Owen and gave him a little nod.

    He couldn’t help but smile.

    After watching Lavender greedily grab two plates of fried rice and sandwiches for himself, Owen glanced at Eon. “So what’s Lavender supposed to be?”

    “He’s sort of a mutant,” Eon said, standing in line like all the others in the room.

    None of them seemed to realize that it was Eon until he brought out his blindfold, earning eager “Hi!” and “Hey, Dad!” calls.

    Eon greeted them all with a smile and a wave, but then explained to Owen. “He was made in an effort to bypass that pesky aura efficiency limit.” He tried to maintain his smile, but he couldn’t hide his hint of sadness. “Four auras. That was the best we could do, combining spirits for even more power, without the additional aura matter blocking the channels the spirits provide their power through.”

    Eon looked at Lavender, who was now taking on the form of a normal Flygon, sitting next to Gahi. He mirrored all of his movements, Gahi growing progressively more irritated.

    “What happens if you have one aura that contains many spirits?” Eon said.

    “Contains many…?” Owen repeated slowly, looking at Lavender. His eyes were still noticeably brighter, little sparkles of golden light flitting about inside. “L-Lavender, are those…?”

    “They’re my friends!” Lavender said, giggling.

    “It’s a bit hard to explain,” Eon said. “Lavender is an… artificial repository for spirits, a lot like the spirit world that Star and Barky created. Well, more that, Lavender is an artificial portion of the spirit world that we created. And by doing that, we’ve been able to emulate what power a Hand can normally provide, simply by having more spirits within a single aura.”

    “That sounds… unstable.”

    Lavender’s smile faltered.

    “It is. Sometimes, Lavender gets a bit unstable, and we have to suppress things. We’re still trying to find a way to perfect it, but for now, we have a suppression mask that he can put on.”

    “It’s heavy,” Lavender said, looking away.

    “But he hasn’t had to put it on for a long time,” Eon said quickly, waving a claw. “He’s just fine. Now we’re just working on training him to use the spirits he has to perform feats that were once only limited to Mystics.”

    “Mystics… who also have spirits in them,” Owen said, holding his chest with a furrowed brow. “But we give them an aura temporarily, don’t we? So they can look solid in the real world. What about them?”

    “Not the same. Lavender can’t summon anything. His power is self-contained.”

    “So, he’s just another one of your attempts at making something strong enough to fight Arceus,” Owen said. “But what about those spirits? Are they just… imprisoned there?”

    “Oh, hardly,” Eon replied. “They’re some of the mutant spirits that needed a break, that’s all. So when some of them die, they wind up in the Reincarnation Machine and—”

    “Stop,” Owen said, holding up a hand. “What?”

    “Did… Rhys not tell you?”

    “He didn’t tell me a lot about this place,” Owen growled. “Probably because of all the twisted experiments you do here.”

    Eon flinched. Is that how he was being characterized? His tail flickered an angry yellow, but then eased down. “Owen, do you know why we can see past the Divine Decrees that Star and the others have made?”

    “Because you’re stronger, right?”

    “Part of that may be the case,” Eon said. “But another part—at least, why I have been able to break past it earlier… is simply because we had previously been given her blessing. The Hunters, as you call us, were all given that. And perhaps that gave us resistance to her own Decree. And that blessing, specifically from Mew, creator of life, is what allowed us to assume parts of her role, given enough power. We created the Reincarnation Machine to intercept the flow of spirits into the aura sea, so long as you’re connected to it. That way, any of my children that happen to perish will return here to be reborn.”

    Gahi fumbled with his plate awkwardly, making a loud clatter that drew a few eyes toward him, including Owen’s. “Sorry, eh, nothing.” He cleared his throat, but from then on, it seemed like Gahi was preoccupied with the conversation between Owen and Eon.

    Slithering nearby was a Seviper, glancing at Owen uneasily. The Charizard held his chest in response as if he’d suddenly felt a bruise or cramp.

    “Something wrong?” Eon asked.

    “I think I remember once seeing one of them get killed,” Owen said gravely. “A long time ago, I was attacked by a Seviper… Tyranitar thing. Stabbed me through the chest. At least, I think that’s what happened. I don’t remember—it must have been a few resets ago.” Owen breathed out. “I guess that was one of them? Why do you have the mutants wandering around attacking things? You know that some people have actually been killed by that, right?” Owen’s voice was rising again, making Eon’s throat tighten and his flame grow.

    He pushed the fight-or-flight reaction down and answered calmly. “It’s not like I want that to happen. It’s just—there are so many, and sometimes they wander off. When they’re stressed or upset, they’re still unstable at times. It’s not… I’m still trying to perfect it. Without Rhys helping me to stabilize their auras, that can make their minds go mad. And they have to be reborn.”

    Owen kept watching the Seviper. The serpent’s blade seemed particularly sharp and glowing. And he was slithering toward a Tyranitar with odd, cannon-like appendages growing out of its back, reminiscent of a thinner version of Alex’s arms. The Tyranitar looked at Owen, and they locked eyes. Then, the rocky behemoth quickly looked away, suddenly more interested in his claws.

    “That’s them,” Owen said breathlessly. “Th-they’re the ones who…”

    “M-maybe. Those two did go berserk a while ago. I’m not sure where they went, just that it was all a blur until they died. I-if… if that’s what happened, I’m sorry, Owen. You know I wouldn’t ever want something like that to happen to you. That Seviper can sense Mystic auras. He must have noticed the Fire Guardian. Were you going on a stroll? It must have just been bad luck.”

    “Bad luck,” Owen repeated lowly.

    “Some luck that is when they go off killing Kilo Villagers, eh?” Gahi replied with an angry smirk, his claws digging into the edge of his plate.

    Rim shrank into herself, huge eyes focused on her food and nothing else.

    If it wasn’t for the idle buzz of other mutants in the cafeteria, it would have been completely silent then. It may as well have been.

    “Um… I’m gonna go.” Lavender shifted into a Drapion and skittered away.

    Owen spared Eon an extended silence, finally breaking it. “So, he can transform into any Pokémon he wants?”

    Eon nodded, though it took him a few seconds to find his voice again. “With all the spirits inside him, he can turn into anything within Mew’s blessings, aside from his base form.”

    “What’s his base form look like?” Owen asked.

    “Oh! I can—”

    “Not now,” Eon said. “Just show the picture.”

    “Aw…” Lavender shifted into the form of a Zoroark, and then conjured an illusion of his Silvally form. Owen’s eyes widened, mouth slightly agape.

    “Wow… that’s… awesome! You look like you jumped straight out of The Steel Chemist! E-except you’re friendlier.” The light returned to Owen’s eyes and Eon mirrored it, small smiles tugging at their jaws.

    Owen quickly wiped it away, like he was trying to stay upset. Stubborn, it seemed. But Eon saw it; there was still a bit of that glimmer, even now. Maybe he wasn’t completely gone after all.

    Lavender dropped his illusion, looking between the two of them with wide, curious eyes. He became a Charizard again. “Charizard buddies!” he said, clapping his hands together frantically.

    Eon forced a grin. “You’re right, Lavender. We’ve got a lot of Charizard here, don’t we?”

    “Yeah, I guess there are a lot of me around here,” Owen said with a pensive hum.

    Eon’s stomach felt cold from those words, yet more came after.

    “Eon, why did you make another one of me? As in… literally another me. Did you somehow just… steal a copy of my memories?”

    The more Owen spoke, the more the pit in Eon’s stomach grew. Har… of course Owen would have found out about that. How could he not? He had been sent on a mission to the Bug Guardian and never came back. The same went with all the others. And without them returning to the Reincarnation Machine, it was clear that their souls had been claimed by the Guardian instead.

    “Well?” Owen said, voice rising just enough that it drew the attention of nearby mutants. They shifted uneasily, avoiding interaction, and the cafeteria seemed quieter.

    “I wanna hear this, too,” Gahi said, now completely ignoring his plate of food in favor of glaring at Eon.

    “It was a moment of weakness,” Eon said hastily. “When—when we were trying to repair you guys, over and over and over, we… we just… I… I didn’t know if I’d lose you guys. If your spirits were just completely damaged. And I… I devised a plan to find a way to maybe bring you back, if there was just no other—”

    “You wanted to replace me,” Owen said. “Replace all of Team Alloy just because—”

    “No!” Eon immediately said. “That’s not how it was. I just—I mean, I—” Eon’s claws dug into his palms. That wasn’t what he wanted to do. Owen was irreplaceable. All of Team Alloy was. They were his children. He couldn’t lose any of them. He just had to bring them back somehow, even if… No, he didn’t try to replace them. That just wasn’t how he was thinking.

    “I just… wasn’t thinking rationally,” Eon said. “It was a spur of the moment thing. I—I had Mew’s blessing, and your spirits were just sitting right there. I pieced together as much of your memories as I could from them, and transferred them over to ones that were being recycled, and… And I wasn’t thinking, okay?!

    Eon slammed his hands on the table, stunning the entire mess hall to a complete silence. Gahi didn’t flinch, nor did Owen. They both stared, expressions like steel.

    Lavender shrank back, lowering his head. “D-Dad…” The spirits inside him swirled turbulently in his eyes, and Lavender abruptly grasped at his mouth, clamping it shut.

    Owen’s eyes and pupils both narrowed, looking like he was either about to say something or blast Eon with a jet of fire… but then his head suddenly jerked up, staring blindly at the sky.

    “Owen?” Eon asked, voice cracking. “A-are you okay?”

    Eon’s outburst had left him almost in tears; mixing with his sudden concern over the mutant’s abnormal silence left him standing dumbly. Forgetting about any pretense of a good dinner—not that he had to eat—he stood up and prepared to hop the table to get over to him.

    “Yo,” the entranced Charizard suddenly said.

    Eon froze, a wave of ice coursing through his blood. No. That didn’t happen. That didn’t happen. Owen is fine. Owen is right there, in front of him, just like he always wanted. He was upset right now, but they just had to talk it out.

    With that hope, Eon said in a small squeak of denial, “Y-yo? What do you mean, yo? Since when do you say—”

    Owen jerked his head toward Eon. His body turned green and leafy, arms transforming into vines. The flame on his tail bloomed into a giant daffodil. Without any help from his wings, Owen rose into the air, levitating with ease.

    “Did you really think you could take Owen like this?” Owen asked, yet despite it being his voice, Eon knew exactly who it was. “That you could take advantage of how naïve he’d be, trying to give you the benefit of the doubt? Tricking him with a flimsy Promise like that?”

    Eon’s body shrank and dissolved into a small, pink feline. Now a Mew, Eon floated back in stunned silence.

    “Thought so,” Star hissed.

    Hundreds of filaments of light violently sprouted out of Owen’s back.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2019
  14. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 65 – Realm to Realm

    “I should kill you where you stand!” Step roared, restrained by Manny and Yen on one side, and Azu, Roh, and Verd on the other. The Fighting Guardian and his spirits struggled to keep the Icy Aggron down.

    Demitri and Mispy ineffectually hid behind Rhys, while Zena stood in front of all three of them, staring so coldly that it rivaled Step’s own element. The Milotic replied to Step with clear, pronounced syllables, “Then try.”

    “Yer not helpin’!” Manny roared, slamming Step back onto the ground when she heaved forward, nearly overpowering all of them.

    “Th-the Queen of Ice is powerful!” Azu declared.

    “I think I feel my head cooling,” Roh said with a little grunt, the fire on the Infernape’s skull dimming considerably.

    “Hold… her back!” Verd said, the Chesnaught’s arms almost completely frozen over, similar to Yen’s fluffy legs.

    Amia’s arms were shaking, even still, and her head flickered between normal and fiery, though both states were blue. “Step, there’s no point,” she finally said with a resigned grunt. “Owen… left already.”

    “Because of THEIR carelessness!” Step growled, but this time, she stopped resisting. Based on how her eyes briefly glanced above her, and then aimlessly toward her chest, it seemed she was listening to something her spirits were saying. She eventually snorted and glared at Amia. “And you’re fine with this? Allowing Owen to go back to the very person who ruined our lives? To his ‘father,’ as he loves to call himself?”

    Amia winced; Alex’s arms felt the need to protectively grab at the air next to him, as if Owen had been there. Instead, he wound up bumping his arm to his side. “We couldn’t just stop him,” he said. “Owen’s just trying to make his own choices. His Perception hasn’t lied to him before, has it?”

    “His Perception, bah!” Step shook off Manny and the others, and this time they relented. She adjusted her icy shoulders. “If there is anybody who can trick Owen’s Perception, it’s the very one who designed them!”

    Nevren raised a spoon. “Well, technically, I was the one who—”

    Or the one who raised him.” Step glared. “Amia and Alex may have been their adoptive parents, but nothing will change the fact that Eon was the first parent he truly had. Perhaps he has Mystic power over him that we aren’t aware of. That you aren’t aware of. Have we ever considered that? Apparently Eon had a long talk with Owen in the middle of battle. What other powers does he possess? What if he is controlling Owen as we speak?”

    “H-he can’t be,” Alex said, his voice a squeaking crack. “He made a Promise! E-Eon did, I mean, and—”

    “That so long as Owen remained in Quartz, he could no longer be a Hunter, yes? What if he moved away from Quartz? What then?” Step narrowed her eyes, frost coating the area around her feet. “You fell for a trick by a Ditto, a species born to deceive and disguise as one of your own! And for what? To let Owen feel happy?”

    “Owen is not that easy to fool,” Amia said. “He’s a smart—”

    “I beg to differ,” Step snarled, stomping toward Amia. “Clear your eyes. The Charizard bows to authority. It’s in his blood. And what greater authority than the one who raised him first? It’s primal. Instinct. Even those two have it, letting him escape.” Step gestured to Demitri and Mispy, who couldn’t decide whether to glare or avoid eye contact.

    “Owen’s—he’s not like that. He wouldn’t follow Eon. He didn’t follow Star.” Alex gulped, the flames on his shoulders reduced to a mere glow. By now, Step was a single stride away from both of them, her icy aura clashing with the flames that pulsed through Amia’s body.

    “I’ve raised Owen for centuries,” Amia said lowly. “He won’t just abandon us like that. This was all to get Eon to come to our side.”

    “He’s only going to be there for one day,” Zena added, but her voice was shaking. She didn’t believe her own words. “He… he has to come back. To us. To m…” Zena’s voice caught in her throat. “I—I need to… I need to think. I need to think.” She shook her head, slithering away.

    Jerry, silent through it all, found a moment to speak up as Zena left. “I don’t know the guy all that much, but he’s got an optimistic shine to him.” He looked at Amia and Alex. “Owen’s gonna try to convince Eon to stop everything, yeah. But I bet Eon already knows that. What happens after? Eon comes off as the sort of person who thinks way too spontaneously. Changing decisions more than the guy changes bodies, I bet.” Jerry folded his wings over. “Not to discriminate, but I think it’s a little silly to think a Ditto is gonna hold to something for long. Aren’t they naturally forgetful?”

    Step grunted and nodded. That was precisely it, and a good point to add to the pile. Even if Eon meant what he said during his Promise, it was all too easy for him to find a way to work around it. A poorly-constructed Promise could still have loopholes. “It isn’t as if we know the full scope of how Promises work. Star is intentionally vague about it. Her words on the outcome of a Promise is just as vague. Do we even know what happens to a Guardian who breaks one?”

    “We know what happens to a Mystic who does, at the very least,” Rhys replied darkly, speaking up. “Where is Anam? His mother…”

    Heads turned to Rhys, then to Anam, who had retreated to his room at some point during the argument. They saw his big, glowing green eyes near the entrance, hiding behind the wall. A strange fog coursed just below his gooey body’s surface.

    “What’s with him?” Jerry said.

    “Anam doesn’t do well in arguments, I’m afraid,” Nevren said. “He’s always been very sensitive to them.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” Step said, waving her arm dismissively. “What of his mother, Rhys?”

    “She used to be Mystic, yet through some way or another, her power was transferred to Anam long before he became the Ghost Guardian. I suspect a Promise was used to transfer that power, though Anam is extremely evasive about the circumstances…”

    Nevren nodded. “I have not been able to glean much information from him, either. Apparently, it is a painful memory.”

    “What, you can’t just read his mind?” Jerry said.

    Nevren shook his head. “Mind reading for complex thoughts and memories is extraordinarily difficult to do for a Psychic if the target isn’t willing, and even more difficult against a Mystic.”

    “Then what happened to his mother? Surely she resides within his realm.”

    “I thought she had gone across the aura sea for a permanent retirement,” Nevren said, “but recently, I actually met her.”

    Rhys and Elder jumped. “What?” said the Lucario. “Madeline? She’s—”

    “Yes! I was surprised myself. A very fierce personality. No word on the father.” He tilted his head upward. “I’m a bit curious as to why Anam never speaks of them.”

    Rhys settled against Elder’s shell, humming in thought. “Well, surely both are within Anam. Apparently, his father was always the sort to avoid attention. It wasn’t as if we got to properly meet him before she, er, left.”

    Nevren nodded, addressing Step next. “We can at least know that a Mystic who breaks a Promise loses their power. That happened to Madeline, and at the very least, Star told us the truth about that. However, what happens after was a mystery. We did not know whether the Promise-breaker would die immediately, or perhaps worse, would their aura simply… evaporate?” Rhys shuddered. “Such a thing is unheard of, but Star certainly wanted to make us think that. Which leaves me to wonder…”

    Step’s eyes widened imperceptibly, but she refused to acknowledge it. “Just because Owen may have been right about Star—which we all have agreed upon regardless—doesn’t mean he’s right about Eon.” She stared at Amia. “What will you do if he’s completely controlled by Eon?”

    Amia flinched, her flames briefly going out. “I—”

    “We need to find him,” Alex said simply, looking down. “We’ll—we’ll bring him back.”

    “Oh? You will?” Step’s frozen face twisted into a cruel sneer. “And the moment Owen steps out of Quartz HQ with you, Eon will order the attack that will annihilate us all from within his own homeland. You don’t get it, do you? He already cornered us!” Step slammed her tail on the ground, as if her words were the manifestation of her own realization. “We rescue Owen, Eon kills us! We leave Owen there, he controls another Guardian!” Another slam on the ground, shaking the entire cave.

    Valle groaned uneasily. “Stillness… I need stillness… Why can’t you all rest like Zena?”

    “Zena’s resting?” Rhys said. “Hrm, well, I suppose we can understand that much… Perhaps she needed a break.”

    “Resting,” Mispy repeated, observing Zena’s abode with a gentle twitch of her vines. The little antennae on her head flickered, reading her aura. “No… Meditating.”

    “Meditating?” Rhys glanced at Nevren, but then at the others with a gasp. “Meditation! We—we have to meditate! We’ll go into Aether Forest and navigate to Owen’s spirit realm!”

    Amia frowned, “Didn’t Star say that it was a bad idea to go to another Guardian’s—oh. Star.”

    Precisely,” Rhys said. “It’s already dangerous enough to get to Owen physically. We just have to do it spiritually.”

    “Wait!” Willow squeaked, her tiny voice cutting through the murmurs. “Star said going to other Orbs was bad! Really bad!”

    “Yes, Star said this,” Rhys said. “Has she ever substantiated that claim?”

    Step was about to agree with Rhys, but then let out an irritated grunt. “Somewhat.” She turned her head away, focusing on a random mushroom. “Migrating to an Orb that is not your own carries a risk. It’s much easier to perish in the spirit world and evaporate. If you’re tied to an Orb, you will return to its Core. But my mate knows firsthand what it means to die when you are not tied to a Core. You will go to the aura sea. I doubt Hecto will be merciful if we are defying Star.” She looked to the others. “We may not return.”

    “And we will also be going into Star’s own territory,” Rhys said. “But… Owen…”

    “She doesn’t want Owen with Eon, either,” Step said.

    An uneasy silence fell. ADAM buzzed, drawing everyone’s attention. “We shall meet in Aether Forest. Some should remain online to guard Hot Spot as firewall for our hardware. Latency across the forest may significantly throttle upload and download speeds.”

    They all stared blankly at him.

    Manny rubbed his forehead. “Some o’ us should stay awake ter guard the folks meditating. Might take a while ter get back if Eon wants ter pull a fast one on us.”

    “I shall stay awake as messenger,” Elder said. “Rhys and I have a powerful connection from, er… frequent chatting over the years. If you need to return home, I will tell you.”

    “I refuse to allow you to handle this on your own,” Step told the others. “I shall join you in the meditation.”

    “I dunno which one I should do, but I wanna talk to Star if we can. Figure she’ll be in Aether Forest? I’ll go with yeh guys.” He looked back at Anam’s home, still looking at his trembling form. “How about the blob?”

    Nevren shook his head, wandering to Anam. “I imagine he would prefer being awake. I shall remain behind as well.”

    Rhys glared, but before he could say anything, Nevren continued.

    “Rhys, I will keep Anam calm. Your spirit is much stronger than mine; I recommend you rescue Owen.”

    He was starting to hate when Nevren was right. “Of course.”

    Amia already withdrew Alex, leaving for her home to get in a safe place to descend into the Fire Realm.

    Willow jumped onto Jerry’s head, jabbing him in the skull. “You! Make sure you keep a good eye on everyone!”

    “Why am I involved in this?” Jerry growled, struggling to look at the Joltik atop him.

    “Because I said so! Now go patrolling!”

    Jerry grunted and wobbled toward the entrance, but then glanced at Enet. “Does she even know how to meditate?”

    “I dunno. Enet! Come with us! We’re gonna keep an eye on things here!” Willow hopped off of Jerry and landed on the Zoroark’s fur, nestling herself inside. “I’ll sneak up and shrink them!”

    Slowly, the group split off. Those closer to Owen and those who could fight better in the spirit realm left to meditate, consisting of Step, Amia, Rhys, Manny, and Zena. The rest remained behind to guard Hot Spot in case Eon returned that way. With tense looks, they all nodded, knowing nothing about what would happen when they cross into Star’s domain.

    <><><> ​

    Blurry rocks fed into an infinite river of orange magma. The sky was a murky blackness, and the fiery landscape was illuminated only by the melted rock and embers. But that was more than enough.

    Amia stepped over the magma with ease, her body awash in blue fire. Her arms were crossed, pensive, while she waited for Alex to mobilize the other spirits, the former residents of Hot Spot.

    “We’ll keep the Fire Core safe while you’re away, Amia,” said an Arcanine. “You can count on us.”

    “Thank you, dear,” she said. “Sorry if you’re all anxious. I know I am. Leaving the Orb… I didn’t think I’d ever want to do that.”

    “Star always said it was a bad idea. Just don’t do it for too long, I suppose. After all, Owen left his body before when Barky—er, Arceus summoned him. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

    Amia sighed out more blue fire. “I suppose,” she said. Then, in the distance, Amia spotted a Hydreigon flying toward her, his body the same color as the magma below. In fact, he dripped of it, the fan at the back of his neck made of fire instead. Amia’s heart skipped a beat, her body tensing for combat—but then, seconds later, she loosened. “Alex.”

    “S-sorry for the scare,” the Hydreigon replied, shifting back to the more familiar, Magmortar form. “I hate it, too, but it’s more mobile. I had to act fast, and, er…”

    “It’s fine, dear.” Amia gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. “In fact… go back. Even after all this time, it never really leaves you, does it? That old body of yours.”

    “It… it is more convenient,” Alex said grudgingly. He turned around, but he didn’t revert just yet. “But I spent more time as a Magmortar in the physical world, now. Ironic, in a way. I should be used to that.”

    Amia smiled, but Arcanine spoke up in a growl. “Isn’t Owen in trouble? Hurry, bring him back to us!”

    “R-right, sorry,” the duo said.

    After a few extra seconds to hesitate, Alex became a Hydreigon again, flexing his ominous, fiery wing-tendrils that levitated him above the ground. Amia hopped onto his back, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I’m settled,” Amia confirmed.

    “Then let’s go. Aether Forest…”

    As the spirit world liked to work, they just had to fly forward and they’d reach their destination. After that, they just had to redirect to the Grass Realm right after.

    Rocks and magma dried up around them; the sun rose as if Dialga had accelerated time a hundred-fold; soon, they weren’t in a river of fire, but a forest of aura. Blue, glowing leaves covered the sky and black, sturdy trunks stood on the ground.

    Amia squeezed Alex’s shoulder. “Let’s think to meet with the others, first. We need to—”

    A deafening snap and then a deep, thunderous crash shook the ground, sending even more loose leaves to the forest floor. It came from the right; Alex ascended above the treetops to get a better look.

    Barky was fending off what appeared to be a cloud of black fog.

    “What is that?” Amia said, getting ready to fly on her own, but Alex took the lead, beating his wings. “Ah—Oh, Alex, I really need to get used to this again.”

    Alex grunted in reply. “I could say the same thing, but like I said, it’s necessary. I should have done this a long time ago. If Owen can get over his past, then so can I, right?”

    Amia flinched, just slightly, looking down at Alex. His dark eyes were staring straight ahead. She knew that look. “Alex…”

    “It’s okay,” Alex said. “You aren’t scared at all, are you?”

    Amia gently rubbed at his neck, pressing a bit hard so his tough scales could actually feel it. “It’s still you,” she said gently. “Now fight with all you have! I’ll keep you backed up. Just like old times, hm?”

    The fiery Hydreigon smiled at that, but it disappeared as quickly as it came when a jet of water tore through the cloud of darkness ahead. It was distant and came from somewhere to the right of Barky, but they recognized that Hydro Pump anywhere. Alex flew a bit faster, embers dripping from his three heads’ mouths. “Looks like Zena’s already here.”

    “Get ready,” Amia said, head and dress aflame. “What are those?”

    Up close, the cloud of darkness wasn’t a cloud at all—it was a swarm. Strange, winged creatures, inky black in color, encircled Barky, fended off only by the filaments of light that surrounded him. Their main bodies were shapeless lumps; even the wings seemed to only be half-formed. They flew by some other power, much like Alex.

    “You don’t think Barky will try to hurt us, do you?” Alex mumbled worriedly.

    “If he’s fighting those wraiths, I don’t think we’ll need to worry,” Amia said. “But I’ve never seen ones like those before…”

    Another jet of water sliced through the swarm. The ones that it hit disintegrated into black dust, fading before it even hit the treetops below them.

    “Barky!” Amia yelled.

    “ARCEUS!” The Creator retorted reflexively, but then returned his attention ahead. “You shouldn’t be here. Get away! I can handle these things myself.”

    “I tried to escape,” Zena, flying behind him, said. “But they kept swarming me. I—I can’t leave!”

    “I’m waiting for an opening so you can run ahead and find Star,” Barky said. “But they just keep coming. I have no idea where.”

    “B-but how could you not know?! What are these things?” Amia said. “Wraiths, here?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “HOW?!”

    Barky grunted, watching the cloud of darkness. “There’s something you should know about creation.” He held a hoof forward. The ground heaved, shooting molten earth into the cloud of wraiths, dissolving some of them instantly in an even finer fog. “We make the rules. But we do not necessarily know how the rules interact. Creation is delicate.”

    Amia looked down at Barky’s abdomen, noticing that some of his fur was oddly charred. No, not charred; he didn’t show any signs of burning, and she smelled no burned fur. It smelled almost like lingering rot, just slightly. And near the affected area, black fog silently flowed over his fur.

    “Don’t worry about it,” Barky said. “It’s fading. They caught me off guard, but it will take much more than that to take down me.”

    Barky flicked his hoof again, and another plume of magma from the ethereal earth exploded upward, taking out another swarm nearest to them. Zena blasted more of the lingering swarm before they could get closer, and Amia and Alex joined the fray with twin beams of blue-and-red fire.

    But their numbers kept growing, coming from some distant part of Aether Forest.

    “D-don’t you have anything better you can do?” Amia said desperately. “You’re Arceus! Can’t you just get rid of them?!”

    Barky glared directly in front of him. “Of course I can,” he said. “Anywhere else, I can. But this is Star’s domain. And she has neglected to allow me to use my fullest potential here, including my divine Judgement. But it’s no matter. This will do.” Another flick of the hoof, and the devastating Earth Power enveloped another swarm.

    “What if she allowed you for now?” Amia said. “What if you ask?”

    “Star would never allow me to use my Judgement in her realm. She told me herself.”

    “When?”

    “A long time ago.”

    “Just—just try!” Amia said. “What if she let you for now?!”

    The swarm was closing in; the sky seemed a lot darker with them blotting out most of their vision of the forest. Barky stomped his hoof in the air again, shooting more magma into the sky. The other three blasted in other directions, ridding most of the swarm again, but a new wave was already incoming. Worse yet, stragglers of the initial wave had closed in on them.

    Alex yelped, ducking down to dodge a few of the black birds’ strikes. Up close, he couldn’t see any features on them. Faceless, nearly shapeless even when they were a foot away. Without a mouth, it screeched and slammed into Alex’s neck. He screamed—it was like acid, and however fleeting the contact was, the pain lingered. Amia blasted the wraith away, brushing her hands on his scales. They felt soft and raw. “Alex…”

    “H-heal it, please,” Alex begged.

    Amia pumped healing energy through him, and to her relief, it did what she wanted. The wound quickly disappeared, the shadowy fog dissipating.

    But the swarm was still coming, this wave just as thick as the last. They seemed even angrier this time, some fizzling and screeching from far away.

    “Why do I feel so tired here?” Zena said in a pant. “I never get this weak in the spirit realm.”

    “It isn’t your domain,” Barky said. “We are strongest when we are within the domains that we control. Beyond it, we are inevitably weaker.” He growled, flicking his hoof for another Earth Power. “This is the best I can do at the moment. I did not expect them to be so much trouble.”

    “We need to get to Owen,” Zena said.

    “Hmph, as if he would allow me to stay in his domain again,” Barky said.

    The Milotic briefly glanced at the Creator, then at Amia, who shared a similar look.

    “If it means your safety, perhaps he might,” Zena said. “You just have to promise to behave.”

    “Promise to behave,” Barky repeated with a growl. “I am the embodiment of behavior.”

    “Then don’t threaten my son,” Alex abruptly said, the tone of his voice uncharacteristically harsh. Even Amia flinched, placing a hand on his shoulder. Alex, surprised by himself, shook his head. “P-please.”

    Barky flicked his hoof again, but the rate that they were being destroyed was a lot slower than the rate they were coming back. Zena, Amia, and Alex were trying to build up their strength, but they couldn’t muster up the energy for another blast, let alone one that could rival Barky’s power.

    “I don’t know if we’ll be able to last much longer,” Alex said. “D-do we have a way back, Barky?”

    “Do not call me that.”

    “Do we?!”

    “Ngh… yes. But if we go back, we won’t be able to help Owen, and those wraiths are surely trying to get there, too. I can take us to the Hall of Origin. We will be allowed some reprieve.”

    “Owen…” Zena suppressed a tired whimper.

    The wraiths were closing in again, and the Guardians knew they didn’t have the strength to fight back. They could only go back.

    “Never mind,” Barky abruptly said, his eyes flashing a glint of confidence. “We have some company.”

    A wall of ice abruptly rose from the ground where magma had once stood, exploding into a cloud of steam that burned away at more of the flying wraiths. Another cold wind of frost washed over the rest of them; it didn’t quite destroy them, but it did slow them down.

    “Step!” Amia shouted, squinting to find the source. The Aggron was flying toward the other Guardians; behind her were three Kommo-o, each one blasting beams of cold, cyan light at the evasive darkness. Ice crystals formed along the beams, exploding upon impact with anything that grazed it when it fell to the forest below.

    “Apologies for the delay. I was restless and couldn’t meditate properly,” Step said. “You cannot force such things.”

    Boisterous shouting sounded from the other side of the field. With the wraiths slowed, the group spared a second to look back.

    “Ah! Manny!”

    The Lucario stood on top of Drampa Yen’s back, holding one foot near the back of his neck, and the other near the middle of his spine, pointing forward with a loud rallying cry. Behind him, the spirits of Azu, Roh, and Verd spiraled around one another, chanting some sort of rehearsed speech.

    “The unbeatable!”

    “The invincible!”

    “The unstoppable!”

    “Ultimate Fighting Spirit!”

    Manny raised his arms in the air; his aura enhancing that of his spirits, all three of them glowing with an unknown power. Then, the three punched forward simultaneously, creating a shockwave that bent the light.

    “DOWN!” Barky shouted, diving below the incoming blast; Zena, Amia, and Step followed with their spirits.

    Yen opened his mouth and spat a gout of Dragon fire into the shockwave, and Manny finished with a two-pawed Aura Sphere. The fire twisted around the shockwaves, imbued itself into the Aura Sphere, and then the full amalgamation of energy gained a new shape, heading straight through the trees.

    Amia stared dumbly. “Is that…”

    “A giant fist?” Zena finished.

    The fist, reminiscent of a Machoke’s, toppled over an entire row of trees on its way to the wraiths. The swarm roared and tried to move, but the sheer size of the incoming embodiment of Fighting energy made the maneuver impossible. It hit the first layer, smashed through the second, and exploded in the middle, obliterating every single one, including several trees.

    Yen hovered near them and Manny hopped off, standing on an invisible platform. “Oy, how’d it go?”

    The trio of muscle heads gave one another high-fives behind him—a gesture that Zena tilted her head at.

    “Better now that you’re here, I suppose,” Step admitted grudgingly. “Let’s not waste any time. We must find Owen!”

    “Yeh got it,” Manny said. “We waitin’ on anybody else?”

    “Rhys,” Amia said.

    “He may take a while,” Barky said. “His connection to the spirit world is much weaker. I will send him your way when he arrives.”

    The group all hesitated.

    “You have my word.” He gave a firm nod. “This is larger than the conflict Star and I share, and Rhys and I share common ground in honor. Please, help Owen.”

    Alex, cautious as always, squeaked and pointed. “They’re coming again!”

    “They don’t look like they’re much larger than last time,” Amia said. “Manny, can you get another one of those blasts ready?”

    “I, eh, we kinda used all our juice on that one.”

    “We had to finish them quickly,” Yen said. “We made an opening. Let’s go before they close in. Barky, will you come with us?”

    Barky hesitated, but then shook his head. “I don’t want to intrude on Owen’s territory. I shall retreat to the Hall of Origin and speak with the Trinity to escort you back to your Orbs when you’re ready to return. Go!” He faced the incoming swarm.

    Amia pleaded, “But what if—”

    Step flew in a random direction, knowing how Aether Forest worked. The others followed on reflex; Amia and Alex were the last to leave.

    The further they went, the quieter the wriths’ shrieks became. The ground split open to another Earth Power, drowning out their screams.

    <><><> ​

    A cacophony of roars and screams filled the dining hall of Quartz HQ. Tremors shook the labyrinth and vines coated the walls from inside. A Mew frantically flew out of the eating area and into the sterile, white halls, eyes wide with fear.

    “GET BACK HERE!” Star roared at the Mew.

    Eon, not used to this tiny, floating body, struggled to escape. His throat was constricted with panic, swerving around corners and into curious onlookers. Why didn’t he take his timestopper with him?! He should have known Star would try to interfere, but that was all the way on the tenth floor. Even if Owen got suspicious, it was for safety! He should have brought it with him.

    “Daddy!” Lavender squeaked; within the mess hall, the mutants were, at first, too stunned to react.

    Gahi was the first to get moving, his lighting-fast strikes going right for Star’s back. His Dragon Claw cut through her wings. Gahi made sure to tug as hard as he could, trying to dislocate one, but it wasn’t enough. He beat his wings to gain some distance; Star’s arm suddenly turned green and lengthened, slamming Gahi in his chest, and then Gahi himself into the wall.

    The Flygon coughed, the wind knocked out of him. He struggled to break free, but Star slammed another vine into his gut; he nearly lost his dinner, but instead fell forward, clutching his stomach.

    A Seviper and Tyranitar ran toward one another, quickly fusing into a single being. The rocky serpent made a move to go after Star, but she was already out of the mess hall, leaving all of the stunned mutants behind. Some had tried to tackle her or blast her, but the various filaments of light deflected them. Gahi had been the only one fast enough to get close.

    Lavender was fast enough to keep up with Star, even after she left the halls, but he wasn’t fast enough to catch up. But he didn’t let that stop him; eventually, Eon would slow her down. He just had to save him!

    Across the hall, Eon shouted for everyone to get into their rooms and not come out. Dumbly, this gave away his location; even without sensing for Eon’s aura, Star could hear his voice.

    More importantly, Star tapped into Owen’s Perceive, slowly learning how it worked. Seeing in three dimensions was invaluable; even if Eon wanted to hide, she could find him.

    Okay. Okay. Eon panted, spinning around. Owen’s possessed. He has… at least a third of the Hands in him. I just—need to wait until he can regain control. C’mon, Owen…!

    Eon figured that with Owen’s body, it would be easy to find him no matter where he went. But what if he could get far enough away that trying to scan the whole facility would stall Star? He just had to stall. That’s all he needed; she couldn’t control Owen forever, right?

    If he could go to a different floor, would he be able to hide?

    Something green flitted across the corner of his vision; Eon glanced to see a Zygarde staring at him from across the hall.

    Hecto was reporting where he was. There was no doubt about it; surely there was one in the Grass Realm telling Star everything.

    Hecto was everywhere in Quartz HQ. How could he—

    No. Not everywhere. He detested being near Nate—his touchy-feely habits and the strange, dark aura would be enough. Hecto would take the longest to find him there.

    The halls trembled again. “EON!” Star roared. Hearing Owen’s voice with such a deafening shout sent a cold chill down his spine. He didn’t look back; he ducked into the corner, narrowly dodging a huge vine; it slammed into the wall, digging into the marble. Roots formed within, crisscrossing along the hall to completely block it off.

    But Eon knew this labyrinth much better than Star did. There was still another path to take. Just one more turn—there!

    He saw a number at the end of the hall. Floor five. He had to get to Nate, floor eight. That would be far enough to stall Owen’s Perceive, and Hecto wouldn’t be on that floor, either.

    Eon stopped himself from praying—Star would hear it, after all—and could only quietly hope to himself that the walls would answer to whispers.

    “Eight, eight,” Eon said, pressing his tiny head against the paint. He could just barely smell the pigments.

    Eon disappeared just as Star rounded the corner, an endless tapestry of vines burrowing into the walls.

    Star hissed, seeing the number at the end of the hall. Great, she growled to herself. I have a one in ten shot of finding him if I pick a floor randomly. Hecto, find him!

    I shall try.

    Actually, you have a one-in-nine shot because you’re already on a floor, Owen’s voice chimed in. Also, GIVE ME BACK MY BODY!

    Simmer down! Star sped toward the numbers. I’m doing this for your own good, got it?! Just listen to me for once!

    How about no?!

    Star’s body abruptly jerked to the side, slamming into one of the doorways. Despite the reinforced, metallic barrier, she slammed through the door with ease, tearing the frame along with it. “Augh! Owen! Stop!”

    YOU stop! I said we were going to talk it out! He literally Promised to not—

    Eon doesn’t think like you do, Owen! He’s impulsive, and he’ll easily find some loophole in such a stupid Promise, no matter what it was! I can’t believe you just agreed with him like that!

    Star staggered out of the broken room, clutching her head. Plumes of fire escaped her open maw while her claws dug into the marble floor. Some filaments of light curved toward her. “If you aren’t going to let me do this…”

    Wh-what’re you doing?

    The filaments of light pierced back into Star, earning a wail from the possessor and a scream from the possessed. Star gagged and fell forward, barely catching herself from falling face-first. She gasped for air, even though her body didn’t need it, but heard nothing from Owen within.

    She wobbled down the hall, several filaments of light lodged along the back of her ribs, nestled between the countless others that were still extended around her like seaweed in the ocean. “P-perfect,” she grunted.

    A rush of wind blew past her, accompanied by a green blur.

    “Get out of Owen,” Gahi commanded, slamming his tail on the ground.

    “Out of the way, hothead.” Star growled lowly, puffing a threatening ball of fire toward Gahi. It evaporated before it got to him, but it came dangerously close; despite this, the Flygon didn’t flinch. His glossy body reflected the orange light, glimmering against the red lenses over his eyes.

    “I dunno what yer planning,” Gahi said, “but at least Eon tried ter talk. Anybody who tries to go an’ control Owen like this…” He snarled, lowering his stance for a lunge, wings outstretched.

    Star pinched between her forehead. “Gahi, it’s not that simple. Just—”

    “I ain’t having it!” he roared. “The last thing Owen wants is to lose control o’ himself again, ya got that?! Give his body back, er else!”

    “Or else what?!” Star yelled back, green vines trailing around under the marble. She could feel it right below and around Gahi, just beneath the walls.

    Gahi huffed, looking at the walls. Star realized he saw the cracks forming. She had to act fast. “Ya know,” Gahi said, “that ‘wings o’ light’ thing yer doing… Figure that helps with channeling yer power more.”

    Star winced, remembering that some of them were still pierced into her spirit to keep Owen down. Star shook her head; she just had to knock Gahi out. She tensed her body, channeling some of that tension into the vines along the walls; they burst forth, pulling apart the cracks—

    The vines wrapped around Gahi from all sides, thorns and brambles overtaking the corridor surrounding Gahi. Star squeezed the vines around him, making motions with her hands. “Yeah, just stay there for a while,” she growled, releasing her invisible grip. Star watched for a few seconds, a cold feeling in her gut telling her not to turn around. Her Perceive was telling her something, but she wasn’t familiar enough with Owen’s power to know what it was saying. “Gahi?” she asked worriedly. “Y-you’re still alive in there, right?”

    Did she go overboard? Owen was remarkably quiet… He wasn’t resisting as much anymore. Was he just too weak?

    The defiant Charizard quietly spoke, strained and barely holding on. You know… I never won against Gahi. She could feel his smirk.

    The vines tore apart in a flurry of blue dragon fire. Claws shrouded in the flames ripped each tangled plant like brittle twigs. Behind the fire and the burning flora, Gahi’s gleaming eyes shined. And behind Gahi was a small bouquet of Hands--the Hands that Owen had given him.

    Gahi gave Star a wry smile. “Wanna try that again?”

    In her surprise, Star blinked, and in that blink, Gahi slammed his fist square in the Charizard’s chest.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2019
  15. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 66 – From All Sides

    “That took far too long,” Rhys grunted, looking left and right. He hissed, covering his aura sensors in pain. “What is this feeling?!”

    Rhys heard the ethereal cry of Barky in the distance—almost like a rallying cry. Then, the ground trembled. The trees of Aether Forest next to him trembled; Rhys hopped into the air, jumping from tree to tree, until he could get to the tops, using aura platforms to better distribute his weight on the leaves for easy footing.

    “Wraiths… here?!”

    Barky was still fending off the wraiths. It didn’t seem like they were taking any notice of him, but Barky was struggling against the endless onslaught. Why was he here? Rhys shook his head, leaping from treetop to treetop, blasting heavy aura streams to give him an extra boost when he could.

    “Bark—er, Arceus!” Rhys shouted.

    He looked back, but then stared ahead. “Hello. If you’re looking for the others, they have already left for the Grass Realm.”

    “Why are there wraiths here?”

    “I don’t know.” Another Earth Power shook the land, disintegrating countless wraiths, only to be replaced by countless more. “These things all look the same. I have the sinking feeling that some of these I have already vanquished previously. But it isn’t a matter of fending them off before they strike; it’s simply destroying them faster than they return. Surely they will eventually run out of energy!”

    Rhys grunted, thinking about Anam and the wraiths that seemed to associate with his blessings. Normally, they could stem the flow of them by simply cutting off the Dungeon Core. But this wasn’t a Dungeon. Where were they coming from, then?!

    “I’ll help to fend them off. You’re being overwhelmed.”

    “I do not get overwhelmed,” Barky growled. “I am merely limited by Star’s domain.”

    Rhys propelled himself upward with a burst of aura, landing on the great Pokémon’s back. “Apologies,” he said, though the massive god had ample standing room from on top. “Let me help.”

    “You can’t fight in your aura armor for long, Lucario.”

    “I have other techniques that can help,” he said. “Have you considered calling upon the Trinity?”

    “They are coming. I’m sure they are.”

    “Then I shall stall until they get here.”

    Rhys raised his paws in the air, forming a small Aura Sphere. Then, he pushed more energy into it, expanding its size and radiance. Barky lowered his head when he felt the aura lick against his fur.

    “What are you doing?!”

    “Crowd control,” Rhys said, pushing the sphere higher. “Apologies. I’m not used to doing this while on top of someone else.”

    Barky marveled at the Aura Sphere that was approaching his size. “Excuse me?!”

    “D-don’t—don’t unsteady my stance, please!” Rhys requested, nearly dropping the Sphere.

    The swarm was getting closer, perhaps only ten seconds away from them. Their shrieks and angry cries were louder than the low rumble of Rhys’ giant sphere, but the Lucario didn’t seem worried. Instead, he said, “Between the two of us, we should be able to fend them off. How long has it been since you called the Trinity for help?”

    “When did you ask me when the Trinity would be here?”

    “S-seconds ago?”

    “I called for them then.”

    Rhys didn’t have the time to berate the god for his stubbornness. Instead, he looked at the swarm, held back briefly by another of Barky’s Earth Power strikes. “Then we will just have to wait.”

    The giant Aura Sphere flashed, creating a small, continuous rhythm of shockwaves above the former Hunter. Rhys kept one paw up and aimed his second paw forward, focusing on the incoming wraiths. From the large Sphere, a smaller, but still sizeable, Aura Sphere burst forth, singing through the skies and into the swarm. It exploded, scattering into countless smaller Aura Spheres. These burst against any wraith it came into contact with, disintegrating them instantly.

    Rhys sighed in relief. “They are weak,” he said. “I was right to try this technique, seeing how easily they fell in droves.”

    Aether Forest was even brighter from all the blue fire let out by the fallen trees burning in lava, and the ground glowed dimly from both the flames and the lava’s orange light. The once beautiful Aether Forest was a fiery wasteland of embers. Rhys could only hope that Star would be able to repair this when she returned.

    Once Rhys was confident that the main Sphere was steady, he lowered both of his paws and collapsed, panting.

    “Are you finished?” Barky said.

    “I don’t need much to maintain it from here,” Rhys said. “With just my thoughts, I can send the rest their way. Not to… not to worry.” He panted, leaning to get a look at the wraith swarm. They were pushed back, not because they were frightened, but simply because their frontlines and the second waves behind were obliterated.

    “Why does being here hurt my feelers so much?” Rhys grunted, holding his aura sensors in a wince.

    “It’s the wraiths,” Barky said. “Something about their auras is—difficult to look at. Perhaps it is especially pronounced in you, Rhys, for how sensitive you are.”

    “That must be the case,” he said, the main sphere firing another volley of scattershot Aura Spheres.

    It seemed like they were getting a good rhythm. Rhys’ aura sensors twitched again; he glanced to his right, and then his eye twitched in annoyance. “Unbelievable.”

    “Honey, I’m home!” called a metallic Machoke, riding on a steel plate. He leaned forward and grabbed it by the edges, pulling it out from under his own feet; he flung it, spinning, into the distant crowd of wraiths, where the metal sheet exploded into shrapnel, piercing through a chunk of them. He stopped next to Barky, standing in midair. “What’s going on?”

    “Wraiths,” Rhys replied.

    “Oh, ‘sup, Rhys. That thing yours?” He pointed at the main Sphere right when it fired into the crowd.

    “No, it’s my mother’s,” Rhys hissed. “Please, help us! We don’t know where they’re coming from, but it’s obviously nothing that we can’t handle if we don’t just try to fight them at once.”

    “I’d try Suppressing them, but Star’s domain makes it kinda hard,” Brandon admitted. “I’ll try, though.”

    He held his hand parallel to the ground below, then pressed downward. Suddenly, all of the wraiths lost altitude, but didn’t stop. “Hey-y, look at that!” Brandon cheered, pressing his hand down a bit more. “Looks like it’s working just—Rhys?”

    Rhys was groaning, barely able to stay on top of Barky’s back. He hugged at the god’s fur, struggling to not fall off. “Uh, hey, Boss, you might wanna give Rhys a temp blessing or something so he doesn’t get affected by my antics.”

    “Ngh, fine.” A single filament of light sprouted from Barky, pointing at Rhys’ forehead. A pulse of light channeled from the filament into Rhys, jolting him upright.

    “Th-thank you,” Rhys muttered, refocusing on the main Sphere.

    “Oh, hey, look. We’ve got another one.” Brandon pointed just as Rhys felt the presence of another powerful spirit.

    “Who—” Rhys squinted, but something else caught his attention. The sky was alight with bright, indigo meteors, rapidly descending down onto the wraiths’ general location.

    “Party on Boss’s back!” Brandon shouted with a tinge of fear, hopping right next to Rhys. He then ducked, hiding behind his neck, grabbing the exhausted Rhys to keep him steady.

    Rhys gasped for air—this was like getting grappled by Manny, but with something literally made of metal. “Let go—let me go—!”

    “Nope, hold on tight!”

    With a deafening BOOM, the meteors struck the ground, sending shockwave after devastating shockwave across Aether Forest, obliterating all of the wraiths that had made themselves known. The gusts of wind generated by the explosions nearly blew Brandon off of Barky; Rhys was like a scarf in the wind, held only by Brandon’s metal arm. The Creator floated back, but otherwise remained steady.

    “You should have requested for assistance earlier, My Lord.”

    Rhys puffed, looking for the source of the voice. A Salamence, wings outstretched, yet no need to beat them.

    “Thank you, Aramé,” Barky said.

    “That was good aim, but I think you missed a spot of a hundred.” Brandon said, pointing at the stragglers that still lined the horizon, albeit thinly.

    “Then we will just pick them off, won’t we?” Aramé said, growling. “I took care of the majority of them; you should be thankful. This whole battle is pointless anyway; I don’t understand why we are wasting our efforts on aiding the lesser god.”

    Barky snarled and kicked a hoof at some of the remaining wraiths. “As much as I loathe to admit it, Aether Forest is the center of this side of the spirit realm. If the wraiths claim it, we won’t have a means to communicate with the Guardians very easily, perhaps at all.”

    Brandon hummed, finally setting Rhys down once the wind of the Draco Meteor wore off. “Well, as omnipotent as you want to think you are, we can’t fight forever. Why don’t we just go back and regroup, and then find a better way to take these guys down?”

    “We can’t risk that!” Barky said. “Not until these wraiths are gone completely! What if they spread into the aura sea? What then? The entire afterlife could be at risk. No.” Barky turned toward the thin cloud of wraiths. “It is my duty to fight for order. Star feels the same way.”

    Rhys stood up. “I must catch up with the others in the Grass Realm. I’ve already used up too much of my power here.” He motioned to where his Aura Sphere shooter had once been, then at Brandon and Aramé. “Thank you for all of this, but I feel I must go to Owen. Will you be fine without me?”

    “We’ll survive, but it’ll be a real struggle,” Brandon said with a wry smile.

    Rhys blinked, giving Brandon an incredulous look. Then, he chuckled, hopping off of Barky. “Well, I suppose I’ll be going. It was good to see you again, Brandon. Aramé.”

    “Take care of yourself, Rhys,” Aramé said. “Clean after yourself.”

    Rhys snarled, readying to land. But then, as he descended, his aura sensors throbbed painfully. The splitting headache that followed distracted his descent.

    “RHYS!” Brandon shouted.

    Wraiths infested the forest floor. They had been underground. Black blobs sprang from the bushes, several ones latching onto Rhys instantly. Brandon kicked away from Barky and slammed into Rhys, smashing a few of the wraiths easily. Some of the others still clung on, eating away at his fur and flesh. He howled in pain, slamming his arm blindly; Rhys fired an Aura Sphere to the sky in a panic, hitting two of the wraiths, but neither were the ones on him.

    Brandon clamped his metal fingers around one of the wraiths, tearing it off of Rhys’ arm. He winced at the blue embers that fell off of Rhys when he did, the arm almost eaten away to the core. Brandon then looked at his fingers where the wraith had remained; his eyes widened. His fingers were emitting the same embers—they had been corroded away.

    “What are these things?! It’s like they eat aura!”

    While he spoke, he weaved between three of them.

    Rhys was shivering in Brandon’s hold. “I c-can’t—feel my arm.”

    “Hold tight, buddy,” Brandon said, jumping in a single leap to Barky’s back.

    “These things never did that kind of damage in the living world,” Brandon muttered, setting Rhys’ trembling form on Arceus’ back.

    “Their powers must be more focused on aura,” Barky said. “Their shadowy auras… it just eats at aura.”

    Their cover blown, the wraiths emerged from their hiding spots underground, and Aramé reflexively beat her wings to gain altitude.

    “They’ve been surrounding us the whole time,” Aramé said, hissing. “We have to go back. Aether Forest is lost!”

    “Judgement, bless us.
    Watcher of Creation.”


    Barky blinked, looking back. Brandon looked up, too, and followed his ears to the ominous song’s source. An Altaria, most of her form shrouded in a great, poisonous cloud, drifted toward the rest of the Trinity.

    “Flesh, blood, chains us.
    Free us from our prison.”


    The wraiths that had surrounded Barky on all sides—some of them firing strange, black beams toward him—turned their attention to Ghrelle next. Several wraiths fired more shadowy blasts, but Brandon held his hand parallel to the ground again, doing everything he could to keep the wraiths down while they could. His hand shook from the strain—now that the wraiths were fighting back, he could barely keep it up. But that didn’t matter anymore; they just had to last two more couplets.

    “Unending Light,
    Cleans our spirits; shine bright.”


    The wraiths were glowing—little pinpricks of golden light shined through their black bodies. The bodies themselves started to evaporate in a fine mist, but not completely. Rhys, meanwhile, groaned loudly, his body losing shape.

    “AAH! B-Boss! Rhys!” Brandon realized what they had forgotten.

    “Nrgh—!” Barky, a bit more roughly than intended, suddenly produced a filament of light from his back, jabbing it roughly into the Lucario’s torso. Rhys’ eyes bulged with even more pain, but he was too weak to pull it out. But rather than fade completely, his body regained its shape, even while the final couplet rang through.

    “Into aether, into aether
    To stillness eternal!”


    It wasn’t with a roar or even a shriek or even a cacophony, but a quiet hiss, that the wraiths of Aether Forest evaporated completely. Black smoke briefly covered the landscape, slowly fading into the air. Not wanting to take any chances, Barky created a small barrier around them, deflecting any of the residual shadows.

    “They may return,” said Barky.

    Rhys shuddered, breathing heavily.

    “I apologize,” Barky said to Rhys, gently pulling out the single filament that had stabbed him. “Ghrelle’s Perish Psalm doesn’t affect those blessed by me. I had to give you temporary respite.”

    “Perish… Psalm,” Rhys repeated, but had no more energy to speak. He closed his eyes, embers flowing out of him like blood from an open wound.

    “Let’s get outta here before that happens,” Brandon said. “Rhys, we’re gonna take you to the Hall of Origin for now to recover, alright? Hey, Rhys? You with me?”

    “Owen…”

    “Owen’ll, uh, he’ll be fine, I think. You won’t if you go.” Brandon gave a nod to Barky, then at the other two. “Ladies?”

    “If I’m no longer needed, I will return to Zero Isle,” Aramé said with a shrug. “Rhys will live. I expect more from him.”

    “My most—sincere apologies for taking so long to come here,” Ghrelle said, finally close enough for the poisonous Altaria to get within speaking distance. “If I came earlier, none of this would have happened. I did not think it was so urgent as to—”

    “Your carelessness is forgiven. Be quicker next time,” Barky said immediately, jerking his head back. “Let’s hope we gave Star and the others enough respite to return everyone to their proper Orbs after Eon is taken care of.”

    “You really think Star’s gonna take down Eon?” Brandon asked.

    Barky created a large portal for them to pass through. Light poured out of it. “Hmph. I don’t see why not,” he said. “Owen trusts Star far more than he’d ever trust me.”

    “You are pretty bad at social skills,” Brandon quipped, hopping into the portal.

    “Don’t listen to him,” Ghrelle said, patting Arceus on the back. “Owen should have known better than to listen to Star over you, O Lord.”

    Barky’s eyes gleamed. “I suppose so.” With a spring in his step, Barky passed through the portal with Rhys on his back.

    <><><> ​

    “Where is he?” Zena said frantically, almost breathless at the speed they had propelled themselves through the spirit world. The blue trees and dark trunks gave way to paler colors and a brighter sun. While they never knew what the Grass Realm truly looked like until then, it seemed pretty clear that they had arrived.

    To their ears, the forest was eerily quiet. Normally they would expect there to be spirits abound in the treetops or the bushes, but there was nothing. No sign of life beyond the unresponsive plants.

    But their aura senses had another story entirely. Upon arriving, a massive influx of Mystic energy strained their vision, practically warping the light from its pressure, even at such a distance. It stung at their scales and skin; getting too close could mean their spirits would dissolve right there.

    “Be careful,” Step warned them. “If you’re feeling weak, stay behind. Remember: death in another realm will bring you to the aura sea, and we will be at Hecto’s mercy.”

    “Yeah, about that,” Manny said, motioning with a paw to something not quite the same color of green as the rest of the trees—not to mention the black and white that accompanied it. “How ya doing?”

    “Hello.” The canid Zygarde gave a nod.

    “What’s going on? Where’s Star?” Amia said. “Is Owen okay? Something about this place feels odd. Is that his Core?” Amia pointed at the distant distortions.

    “That is the direction of the Grass Realm’s Dungeon, yes,” Hecto said. “Star is there, assisting Owen.”

    Amia sighed, giving Hecto a smile. “Thank you. We want to help—Owen’s in trouble against Eon, isn’t he?”

    “Star would prefer not to be disturbed while assisting. You should return to your Orbs where it is safe. If you are concerned about the wraiths, they have not appeared, and I have been keeping an eye on them in case they do.” The hexagon eyes of the Zygarde brightened slightly. “Star did warn you that it was very unwise to leave your Orbs and enter another realm. Please, return.”

    As Hecto spoke, the friendly atmosphere from Amia and the others quietly drifted away. They were there to help Star and Owen; being turned away so suddenly…

    “Mm… nah.” Manny walked past Hecto, flicking his tail against him in a taunt. “We figure we’re gonna see what Star’s up to.”

    “Hm.” Hecto watched Manny move past him, then the others that followed slowly after. “I would advise the dead to remain behind, at least.”

    “The dead?” Ra repeated, crossing his arms. “Why exactly would you say that? That would be myself and my daughters.” He clinked his icy scales against one another, making a dull clacking noise. “Why is that?”

    “The distortions being left off by Star will likely dissolve your auras. I would rather not risk you getting lost in the aura sea before I can find you.”

    “Distortions? What for?” Amia said.

    Zena narrowed her eyes. “Then she is up to no good, is she?”

    Hecto’s hexagon eyes dimmed slightly. “I said too much.”

    Step redirected her lumbering pace toward Hecto, leaving cold imprints in the dirt with every step. At nearly double Hecto’s height, Step towered over him.

    Hecto’s ears twitched backward.

    “Ra. Perhaps he is telling the truth. You should stay back with Kana and Cent. Don’t you agree?” Step looked back at the pair and their father. Cent was already clapping her fist into her palm, smirking.

    Hecto made a move to bolt, but his legs were locked firmly in place. He yelped in surprise and stared down; ice had rapidly formed over the lower portions of his limbs, attaching him to the ground.

    “How interesting that you are so weak when spread so thin,” Step said. “How many of you are there, Hecto?”

    “Killing me will mean nothing,” Hecto said immediately. “It is as you said—I can’t be threatened with death.”

    “Death is the least of your problems.” Step looked at Ra and the others, then at Alex. “You should stay back, too, Hydreigon.”

    “A-ah, of course. Amia…”

    The Gardevoir gave an uneasy nod, not wanting to waste any more time. She hopped off of Alex and floated over the grass. The others quickly followed.

    “Oy, stay back, too,” Manny told Azu, Verd, and Roh.

    All three gave him a pose in return, Azu speaking for them. “We shall stand guard!”

    Manny spared a glance to Yen next, but the Drampa already knew to stay behind. He leaned forward, gently nuzzling his snout against Manny’s chest. “Be careful.”

    “Yeah, yeah,” Manny replied, giving him a little peck on the bridge of his snout. He held on for a while longer before breaking away, catching up with the other Guardians with an Extreme Speed sprint.

    The spirits looked at Hecto, who was still trying, uselessly, to escape from the ice along his limbs.

    “If any of you could release me,” he requested.

    “Seriously, what’s Star doing?” Kana asked; the Kommo-o rubbed at her huge scales, feeling an odd itch from the distortions toward the Core.

    Ra didn’t even blink when addressing Hecto. “For there to be such powerful shockwaves, we can only suspect that Star is having a fierce battle with Owen’s spirits, or perhaps even Owen himself and his Core.”

    The three muscleheads hummed pensively in unison.

    “We see similar pulses when we spar in the Fighting Orb,” Yen added, sliding until he could see the distortions without anyone else obstructing his view. “Star is fighting something right now, isn’t she?”

    “But, Hecto, why my son?” Alex said. “What’s Star doing to h-him? Why is she here, after…?”

    Hecto’s eyes dimmed even more, almost like he was closing them, and he looked toward the distortions that cut through the light. “She’s trying to save the world.”

    <><><> ​

    The Grass Dungeon was twisted even more than usual with gnarled branches and a frozen sea of wood. Amia’s feet made hollow toks against the uneven, wavy floor, entire corridors either twisted shut or spiraled into strange, twisted tunnels. Overgrown plants and remnants of Seed Bombs and Energy Ball scorch marks riddled certain parts of the labyrinth, making it very easy to track down exactly where Star had gone.

    Some rooms had been completely obliterated, showing nothing but huge, circular craters where trees and corridors had once been. Many times, they spotted lacerations in the walls that could only be attributed to some powerful attack that Star had unleashed upon the spirits.

    The further they went, the more concentrated these battle scars had become. The air was polluted with the smell of cut leaves and splintered wood.

    “What did she do?!” Amia exclaimed, voice caught in her throat when she spotted a grassy Charmander in the corner, clutching at a wound that bled ethereal fire. “Owen!”

    She lunged for the fallen Grassmander, stopped only by Step’s powerful claws. “That isn’t Owen! Just a spirit, and he will be fine! We need to keep going!” She didn’t even let Amia have time to compose herself; she was carrying Amia by the torso with one hand, using ice to extend the size of her palms.

    It took Amia several seconds to come back to her senses. “R-right, right. Owen must just—have a bit of a fan club.”

    Still running, Step tossed Amia forward, where she landed gracefully and in a sprint. “He must be further ahead.”

    “She really went all out on ‘em,” Manny muttered to himself, spotting another mini-Owen that had been embedded head-first and halfway into the wall, legs flailing uselessly.

    After a final turn, they saw a short passageway that led to a small, dark dome of twisted branches. That must have been the room with the Core; based on the bright glow that came from the ceiling, just above the entryway, that was surely the case. Step briefly worried that she wouldn’t be able to fit through the passage, but then realized she could just break the walls. Simple.

    Zena went in first without a word, scanning for any abnormalities. Amia went in next, followed by Manny, and lastly by Step, who slammed her shoulders against the branches to make the Core room’s entrance a bit larger, permanently.

    “Owen?!” Zena shouted, wincing at how intense the pressure of the room had become. The moment they entered the Core’s chamber—from the inside, it was still a sphere of twisted branches and leaves with a bright ball of light floating in the center—it felt as if their very bodies were being burned by something more than simple fire.

    A small, blue ember flew past them from behind, evaporating into the ball of light. It must have been a spirit that had perished from Star’s onslaught. But where was Star?

    It was hard to see anything except the huge ball of light. It somehow didn’t light up the dome as much as it simply lit itself up. The walls felt much further away than they should have been.

    “Owen…” Zena said, breathing quietly.

    “Didn’t Hecto say somethin’ about warnin’ Star?” Manny said. “Think he’s gonna do that telepathically or if there’s one nearby ter talk ter her?”

    “I’d love to search for his aura,” Step said, “but the intense light from the Core is interfering with anything I try.”

    “It’s not supposed to be that bright,” Amia said, wincing at the pressure. “I feel like I’m going to just fall apart right here…”

    “Don’t do that yet,” said Step, eyes scrutinizing every detail of the Core, but then said. “Perhaps she fled.”

    Manny crossed his arms. “I don’t buy that,” he said. “Woulda sensed someone as strong as her leavin’.” His aura sensors throbbed and his ears twitched. He flicked his gaze up, and then quickly down, as if he’d looked at the sun. “Oy, Amia.”

    “Yes?”

    “You know Shadow Ball?”

    “Oh, goodness—it’s been a while, but I can tune my aura to it if you give me a moment…”

    “Yeah, you do that,” Manny said. “Anybody ‘ere know Bug, Dark, er Ghost attacks?”

    No reply from Zena, Step, or Amia, who was currently focusing inward.

    “Bah, fine.” Manny’s body bulked out, muscles visible just barely beneath his pelt. “I’m gonna punch th’ Core.”

    “Ah, so you are still an idiot,” Step said.

    “Hang onter that thought.” Manny crouched down and jumped, pulling his arm back. With a decisive smash, Manny slammed his fist against the Core, sending shockwaves of light in all directions, including toward Manny. The Lucario coughed when one particular wave sliced against his chest, throwing him backward at the same time. A Psychic barrier cushioned his fall.

    “Ngh, thanks, Green,” Manny muttered, glancing at the Gardevoir.

    Amia flinched, trying to look at her hair, but it was blue. She huffed, “That isn’t funny.”

    “Aah, why d’you hide it, anyway? Both’a you.” Manny motioned to an imaginary Hydreigon behind Amia.

    “What were you trying to do?” Step interrupted, radiating frost. “Are you trying to hurt Owen?”

    “Nah.” Manny inspected the wound on his chest, grimacing at the blue fire that poured from the shrinking wound. “Star’s in there. I know it.” He let out a weak laugh, tapping at the area just above the wound. “Take it from the Fighter in me—up close to that Core, I felt a real powerful Psychic inside. That’s Star.”

    “She’s in the Core?” Amia said.

    “Couldn’t you have just stood next to the Core?” Step pressed, if only to prove her point.

    “Sure, but then we wouldn’t’ve gotten a shock on her,” Manny pointed at the Core again. “What d’you think she’s doing in there, eh?”

    Amia looked at Zena, then at Step, and finally back to Manny. The three other Guardians didn’t know what to say; Zena was practically twisted in knots, glaring at the ball of light. “She’s controlling Owen—I don’t need to know anything else,” Amia said. “We’ve been fighting all this time to free Owen, and now this…?”

    “Heh… hmm… What if she was trying ter save Owen from some kinda trap?” Manny mumbled aloud, wondering if his punch had been premature.

    “Hmph. You’d think she would have told us about that.” Step stared the Core down as if it had eyes. “But I wouldn’t put it past the fickle god to do something without telling us.”

    “Owen…” Zena slithered a bit closer. The pressure of the Core would certainly have destroyed all the weaker spirits if they had come with them; they had to be careful if a clash became too intense.

    “Guess we’re decided, eh?” Manny asked, turning toward it. “Let’s beat it up and knock her outta Owen.”

    The three others stared at him incredulously. Amia and Zena were hesitant—it would hurt Owen in the process, after all. Step, meanwhile, was still questioning the Fighting Guardian’s sanity—if there truly was any brain there, or if it was all just flexing muscles.

    “Or,” Manny said, “we can just go. Let Star do whatever, eh?”

    Step snarled, bashing her tail on the ground. There was nothing she hated more than when someone like Manny made sense. “Fine,” she said. “We will try it your way.”

    “That’s th’ spirit! Heh. Get it?”

    “Do not press your luck.”

    “I have a bad feeling about this.” Amia lifted her hand toward the orb, creating a ball of ghostly shadows.

    Watery energy concentrated at Zena’s open mouth, though she had to squint when looking directly at the orb.

    Manny formed a sphere of his Fighting aura in both his palms, just enough after having recovered from his onslaught on the wraith swarm prior. “Fire!”

    Amia’s ghostly blast swirled with Manny’s Aura Sphere; Step’s beam of ice synergized with Zena’s Hydro Pump, creating super-chilled water.

    And then, without warning, Owen fell out of the golden light. Owen saw the attacks coming for him, but couldn’t react in time; the Charizard screamed at the same time that Amia and Zena did before all four attacks hit him at once, filling the room with ghostly stream. Owen’s body dissolved instantly, a blue ember returning to the Core.

    Amia covered her mouth in a gasp; Zena rushed blindly toward the Core. “O-Owen?! Owen?!”

    Manny rubbed his forehead. “Whoops.”

    Step slammed a fist against the Lucario’s shoulder. “Attack the Core! Brilliant!”

    “Oy, you attacked, too!” Manny growled.

    The Core shifted slightly; Zena, the closest, felt the gentle murmurings of spirits within the Core helping someone through. Then, from the Core, a Charizard dripped out of the sphere, plopping softly on the ground with some help from Amia’s Psychic cushion.

    “Owen—I’m so sorry,” Zena said, draping her ribbons over him. She cupped his head in her brows. “Are you okay?”

    Owen blinked a few times, lifting a claw to Zena’s face, trailing it wordlessly along her cheek. “Zena…”

    “Y-yes? Owen? Amia—h-heal him, please!”

    “R-right, okay.” Amia quickly charged up her Heal Pulse, pink energy concentrating in her hands.

    Owen ran his scaly paw against Zena’s forehead next, giving her a tranquil smile. “Pecha Berries are really sweet. I don’t like them as much.”

    Zena blinked. “Wh-what?”

    “Gahi kissed me. I gotta get him a Dragon…”

    Briefly, everything was silent. Zena couldn’t quite find the words, her worry suddenly replaced with befuddlement.

    “…Can spirits get concussed?” Manny said aloud.

    Amia unleashed her healing wave over Owen, reinvigorating him. His eyes uncrossed and he blinked a few times, regaining a bit of his sanity.

    “Ugh—” Owen rubbed his forehead. “What did you—wait! What?! Why are you guys here?!”

    “We were worried, Owen,” Zena said. “We couldn’t follow you in the real world, so why not the spirit world?! What’s going on?”

    Owen pointed at the Core, finally aware enough to remember the situation. “S-Star stole my body. She’s trying to kill Eon!”

    <><><> ​

    Star, in Owen’s body, skidded across the halls from a full-body tackle by Gahi. The Flygon, speedy and gleaming as ever, grabbed Star by the chest and slammed her into the floor, beating his wings furiously to continue her extended fall across the tile. She grunted, the friction starting to heat up her leafy scales, and spun around, swinging a vine-arm toward him.

    Gahi smirked and let her go, easily evading the vine. The filaments of light behind him danced in tune with his aura, boisterous and taunting. “Something wrong?” Gahi sneered, hopping from one foot to the other. “Get outta Owen!”

    “Gahi, you little pea-brain! Listen!” Star slowly rose to her feet, briefly losing her balance from dizziness. “Are you seriously trying to defend Eon right now, after everything that he did to you?!”

    “Yeah, kinda!” Gahi shouted back. “Unlike you, Eon’s actually listening to us! Before you came and ruined everything, we were actually grilling the guy on all his stunts! Maybe he would’ve listened, eh?!”

    “Eon doesn’t listen. He broods, shuts down, and convinces himself that he’s been doing the right thing all along. That’s how he got like this, Gahi! He’s stubborn and won’t admit he’s wrong!”

    “Boy! Ain’t that FAMILIAR?!” Gahi rushed for Star, swinging his claws back. Dragon fire swirled around it, but this time, Star was ready. Recalling one of Owen’s favorite techniques, she crossed her arms and formed a shield of light in front of her. Gahi snarled and beat his wings to stop his momentum, flying back. In response, Star dropped her shield and swung her arm forward, flesh becoming vines once more.

    The narrow quarters didn’t do Gahi any favors; Gahi clumsily pushed his Hands forward to block it, the filaments of light forming makeshift barriers by his sheer will, but he still staggered back at the first strike. Taking the opportunity, Star swung her other arm and weaved through the disorganized tendrils, striking Gahi square in the chest. The wind knocked out of him, he grunted and fell onto his back, legs twitching for a run, yet no ground was beneath them.

    Eon is on the eighth floor, Hecto called to Star. Also, Step, Manny, Amia, and Zena are near the Grass Core. You should hurry.

    They’re WHAT?! How did they get past the wraiths? Is Barky okay?!

    They all seem fine. The swarm is infesting Aether Forest, but it seems to be a stalemate.

    Gahi, pinned under the branches, couldn’t summon the same power that he had gotten before. He struggled against the vines that further ensnared him, but mobility was limited; he could barely move his legs anymore to gain momentum.

    Wordlessly, Star rushed toward Gahi, fully intending to fly right over him to get to the floor warp.

    “Leave him ALONE!”

    Searing, cold pain ran up Star’s spine. The Charizard shrieked, swinging around despite the pain. Her blood ran cold.

    Lavender, with frost billowing out of his steel jaws, was in a full sprint toward her. Star glanced back at Gahi; she couldn’t retract her vines or she’d be dealing with him, too. She’d have to try to do it partway.

    Just her head and chest turned orange, powerful scales replacing soft feathers. Opening wide, Star launched a fireball at the incoming Silvally. He yelped, body suddenly turning dark; he leaped into the wall, disappearing without a trace.

    “Wh—how—” Star stared at the ghostly shadow that remained on the wall. Swimming through the solid wall, the shadow rapidly approached. She snarled, slamming her fist into it right before it could emerge; it shrieked hollowly. Star pulled, throwing Lavender onto the ground, spectral clouds fading. “Glad you came, you little soul eater,” Star hissed, her vine-arm suddenly shifting into a fine point. It was another one of Eon’s abominations; it would be so much better if something like him was purged from the world. Those spirits had to be freed. They all had to be freed.

    Lavender’s eyes went wide. “N-no!” He rolled, but Star would have hit him. The only reason she didn’t was because a fireball had completely incinerated her arm, earning another pained wail.

    Lavender sank into the ground again, his shadow rapidly swimming through the floor and behind the source of the blast, the Houndoom, Lucas.

    Oh, great, now the Mega is here, too?! Star grunted, swinging her tail irritably. The flower on her tail was still glowing bright, but she was starting to get outnumbered. She just wasn’t used to this body, and she had to get to Eon, not these ones! She could deal with Lavender later; she had to get to Eon.

    On the opposite end of the hall, behind Gahi, a few other mutants rounded the corner, having taken the long way around. These kids were more coordinated than she gave them credit for.

    Lucas lowered his body, ready to pounce; flames licked at his fangs, and his molten claws dug into the marble. He stepped forward once, threateningly.

    Star snarled back. “I don’t have time for this!” She turned toward Gahi, crossing her arms to block another speedy strike. The Hands on his back lashed against her shield; Star pushed back, blasting Gahi with fire. He yelped and covered his snout; Star followed up with a slash of wind from her claws next, sending him toppling over some fallen vines.

    Gahi stirred, looking like he was about to get up. He rolled onto his belly—and Star knew, just then, that she had no choice but to slow him down by force.

    While she was just over the Flygon’s back, she balled her fist together into a tight knot of vines. The fan of filaments behind her flashed; she punched Gahi’s back with all the force that Owen’s body could muster, combined with the enhanced power of her Hands, and felt something inside Gahi snap. Gahi wailed, his lower half completely limp. The Hands on his back writhed aimlessly.

    Star hopped over Gahi and flew further; the Flygon, meanwhile, tried to send an eruption of earth from below Star, rupturing the floor in the process. The Charizard flew over it effortlessly, clogging the halls with more vines to entangle the mutants in her way.

    Still, no matter how quickly she flew, the mutants kept her outnumbered. Their fearless onslaught from ahead and behind was almost irrational… But they weren’t in their battle modes. Eon hadn’t converted them into that. She didn’t know the signature to put them to sleep, either. But they were still reasonable. Lavender was already too afraid to attack her, too startled by the mere threat of harm. He was a child. All of these mutants were like children, yet they weren’t afraid to die… because they could just come back.

    Star realized how she could stop them. She just needed an example.

    A Seviper-Tyranitar fusion was a few doorways ahead of her, the most prominent of them all. She remembered these two; vague recollections from Owen’s memories suggested that these two had almost killed him before. How funny that now they wanted to defend him by killing him all over again.

    “Let Owen go!” the rocky serpent said.

    “You’ll do.” Star shifted the hand that had paralyzed Gahi into a two-pronged grabber. She swung it forward, taking the poisoned tail-stab from the fusion with just a wince, even when it went straight through her extended arm. Her grabbers wrapped around the serpent near the middle of its flailing body.

    Star raised her other arm; then, a few of the lights on her back drifted back into her, through her body, and emerged along her wrists, intertwining with her vines in a green-white spiral.

    The fusion stared at the strange arm with a new fear. Star knew he had no idea what to expect—and for good reason, or he would be struggling a lot more.

    Fire!

    Star heard that one. They were already inside the Core room?! And they were about to strike it, too! No, no, that wasn’t going to do. Not in the middle of this mess. Where was Lucas? There was no telling how close behind her he was.

    With a bit of quick thinking, she plunged even more of her tendrils into her own back, screaming in pain as more of her spirit was torn up, just to find Owen somewhere within the Core. There. He was there. Away!

    She pushed Owen out as a shield. That would distract them for a while—it even deflected some of their blasts from inside. She had a second to recover, but then realized that she was still trying to restrain a—

    The Seviper-Tyranitar fusion opened its maw wide. Considering the species, Star thought that it was about to try to bite her, but the glow in the back of its throat told a different story.

    The next thing Star knew, her face was being burned away by a point-blank Hyper Beam; Her scales went first, and then the flesh beneath, completely incinerated at such close proximity to the blast, right at the source. She didn’t even have time to scream. The Hyper Beam went past her body and into the ceiling, sending huge cracks through the rocks both there and on the nearby walls. Part of it melted and fell onto the ground, burning several of her vines, while Star herself stood, everything from her shoulders and above completely missing.

    The Seviper-Tyranitar struggled to break loose, but Star’s grip was still locked onto him. “H-help!” he cried. “S-someone help me out! He’s—s-still holding me!” Tears flowed off of his eyes. “I d-didn’t meant to k-kill h-him! Th-that’s not s-supposed to happen! M-my Hyper Beam doesn’t—do—that!”

    It was true; Owen’s body was a lot more fragile than they had anticipated. Even now, it seemed like it was a lot weaker than usual, or perhaps not weak, but malleable, easily giving way to external forces. Just like Anam, a body so stuffed with divine power that it no longer kept its natural shape. Perhaps that was just from the struggle of Owen trying to take control over Star. And yet, that simply meant…

    “Owen… I’m sorry…!” The fusion sniffled, even while some of the other mutants stepped over the globs of molten ceiling and burning vines. Smoke floated at the top of the room while little embers flitted about.

    The filaments of light abruptly burst to life again, white light briefly blinding all of the mutants in the room. Lucas yelped in surprise and fired a reflexive plume of fire, but a set of vines blocked the way.

    Star’s body surged toward the fusion again, squeezing him tight. A voice sounded from somewhere near her chest. Even without a head, the divine power within the Charizard body kept it alive and functioning, controlling it with its Mystic core.

    “Did you really think… that would stop me?!”

    Leaves, vines, thorns, branches—they all sprouted from her torso and filled in the missing parts of her shoulders. They replaced her head and neck in a tapestry of plant life and filaments of light. Her eyes were nothing but blazing white embers; the back of her throat glowed with divine power.

    “You aren’t afraid to die because you’ll just be reincarnated!”

    Her arm brightened. The fusion in her grasp seized up, his struggles briefly stopping. “A—ah—ungh—!”

    Star turned her blazing eyes to the horrified mutants behind her, countless vines ensnaring their forms with newfound ferocity.

    “I CAN STOP THAT.”

    The whites of her arm overtook everything else. The fusion screamed and flailed, trying to fire another Hyper Beam, but nothing came out. A second later, the fusion stopped struggling completely, going limp. Two pulses of light went from the fusion’s chest and into Star’s arm; it channeled from the branches into her chest, where they faded into her.

    The Charizard with the ethereal head addressed the others, who were now completely frozen in place, not even bothering to fight against the vines. Their eyes were locked on the soulless body that had been cast aside behind her.

    “Any questions?!”

    They were too stunned to reply. Star took a few steps back, stretched her wings, and gave one last, decisive beat, blowing smoke and embers into a blinding whirlwind.

    Her heart—if she had one anymore, considering how much Owen’s body had been chock full of Mystic energy—felt like it was racing, or perhaps that was just her divine flame. But this was the choice she made when she took Owen’s body from him. She had to kill Eon. She had to get the Orbs back. Even if it meant betraying Owen’s trust, this was the one time that she could put a decisive end to the nightmare that she had started. She had to. And even if she didn’t have to—she’d come too far to stop. She had to follow through.

    Without a care, she slammed her body against the end of the hall. “EIGHT!”
     
  16. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 67 – Out of Control

    On the eighth sublevel of Quartz HQ, all Nate could feel were the distant rumblings from above. It was such a strange feeling to have all this activity going on. It was exciting, in a way! But then again, he was starting to wonder why Eon wanted him here in the first place. He was so full of hope and promise when they talked. That’s one reason why he was so drawn to him—not that Owen and the others weren’t, either. But they seemed to be afraid of him. Perhaps being the Dark Guardian was more frightening than he had anticipated. But he couldn’t help that. He couldn’t help much of his appearance, either… but at least he had darkness to cover that up.

    Still, their spirits were bright with hope and kindness toward one another. That was impossible to ignore. But so was Eon’s. Not to mention all of the strange new Pokémon that lived here. There were so many that he could make little images of, little variations that didn’t excite him ever since he discovered what southern Pokémon were!

    The fact that Eon was a Ditto made coming to the lab all the more appealing. If Nate could just ask, maybe he could transform into something exotic. Something that he’d never seen in a long time. Dialga! Oh, to be able to draw a Dialga again. He missed that Embodiment. What ever happened to him?

    “N-Nate! Nate!”

    Oh? Someone was calling for him. He had to get used to that; it had been so long since anybody wanted to speak with him, aside from his fellow voices. That voice sounded like Eon, though there wasn’t a lot of joy from his heart this time around. His light felt very faint.

    How was he supposed to talk again? Eon taught him how. Ohh, how frustrating! He couldn’t remember. He had to form a body, and then make some vibrations, just like their throats. Something like that.

    Ohh, but he sounds so frantic. He’d just talk the old fashioned way.

    Getting his voices together, Nate asked, Is something wrong?

    “Gah—” Eon stumbled over himself, taking the form of a Mew. He seemed to have a lot of trouble floating through the air. Wait. A Mew! That’s wonderful! And he seemed so tiny! Or was it she? Eon sounded very feminine. If it wasn’t for how panicked he or she looked, he’d ask to make sure. “I thought I told you not to talk with all those voices?!”

    Sorry, I forgot how to talk again.

    “Oh, for the love of—not important.” Eon held his tiny, adorable hands up. “How good are you at fighting? Because the person who looks like me right now is possessing Owen, and in his body, is trying to kill me.”

    After a pause, Nate’s presence shuddered. Darkness poured out of the large room that he housed himself in, more like a stadium, really, before he recollected himself. That would be rude, after all, invading in the space of the others. It was still a bit cramped, though, compared to how open the crater felt.

    What was Eon talking about again? Kill! Yes, kill. Why?

    “It’s a long story, Nate, but—I just need you to help me. C-can you? Anything? You’re some kind of—I don’t know what you are, but you certainly have some sort of way to stop her, right? I’m at the end of my rope here!”

    Nate’s darkness fizzled uncertainly. I don’t know how to fight.

    “H-how?! You have—a thousand limbs in there! I saw them! And aren’t you a Mimikyu? At least Shadow Claw or something? Star’s terrified of Ghost attacks!”

    But I’m the Dark Guardian.

    Eon slapped his paws to his face. “Ohh, come on! Mimikyu! Shadow Claw! I’ve seen it before, when you—gah!”

    Eon suddenly plopped on the ground, his form shifting to a strange, black mass. A shoddy imitation of a Pikachu coated him seconds later.

    “This! You can do this, can’t you?!” Eon said, waving his newfound, ghostly claws out of his disguise.

    Well, he could certainly try. Nate brought one of his tendrils out into the halls, swinging it haphazardly. It slapped against the walls and dug into the stone, leaving cracks and chips in the marble.

    “Th-that’s perfect! Exactly that, do that!”

    Oh, dear, what was he supposed to do with that? That looked like it could really hurt somebody. I hit Owen?

    “Y-yes? No! Yes! It’s Owen’s body, but Star’s in there instead. He’ll be fine—we just have to weaken her until Owen can take over ag—”

    “FOUND YOU!”

    That voice didn’t sound normal at all! Who was that? It sounded like Owen, but it was distorted, like he was talking from beyond a great inferno.

    Oh, that’s why! His head was on fire!

    “H-how did she find me so quickly—?” Eon squeaked. “Ah—Owen’s Perception—it must be…” Eon spun around.

    The Charizard was completely green, covered in leaves, except for his head. There, it was made from branches and vines twisted together in the vague shape of a head; white fire—oh, those are the holy flames of Mystic energy!—erupted from the back of the Charizard’s throat, and made up the entirety of its ‘eyes,’ if they could be called those. And from what he could tell, the Charizard’s body in general seemed very unstable; the sheer magnitude of all that Mystic energy was tearing it apart. Poor Owen! That was going to hurt in the morning, assuming he’d be able to see another rising sun.

    “Uhh—I mean—I, uh—” Eon looked back, turning into a Charizard while the Pikachu disguise that covered him tragically melted away. He staggered back, crossing his arms. A shield of light protected him from Star’s first blast—white fire that curled around and—Ouch!

    Nate’s tendril dissolved away at the burning light, leaving a black mass that evaporated in the air. He recoiled, pulling the rest of it back. If that’s how Star was going to be, he didn’t want to fight!

    But Eon wasn’t giving him much of a choice. Eon ran back and into—him! Oh, that felt strange; he was lodged somewhere between the arms. The voices were getting agitated; they pushed against Eon, trying to send him out of the darkness, but he was persistent—and surprisingly strong.

    Also surprisingly strong, Star. “Get out of there!” Star hissed. “Nate! Let him out! He’s evil, don’t you get it?! Eon is killing people!”

    He is? How could he? Someone with so much light in his spirit couldn’t possibly be killing people. Star, meanwhile… Nate felt very little light coming from her at the moment. That could only mean her heart was filled with malice and hate, given how she was behaving, trying to kill a spirit of light.

    No, that was too presumptuous. There was still light in her, but it wasn’t at all directed at Eon. It felt… what was that feeling? What was her light toward? It felt like hope. Like she was close to something, close to…

    “Nate, please,” Star begged. “I don’t want to hurt you to get to Eon. This is between us!”

    He had to know. Star might have been telling the truth, if there was at least a little light there. What did Eon do?

    “Don’t listen to her!” Eon said hastily, but Eon’s light felt weaker just then.

    “All those Pokémon you see that live here? They were made to be weapons to kill Guardians! Guardians like YOU, Nate!”

    That was silly! In fact, that cute Zygarde said the same thing, and he couldn’t feel any light from him. He couldn’t be trusted that easily. But then again, he wasn’t able to feel much from Eon, either. Of course, that was until Eon approached him in the Chasm and offered himself; oh, he felt so full of light then! How odd that it had been so hidden away before, but then again, Eon had such a strange soul to begin with.

    But Star? He knew Star. She had light already, but it was weak. Could they both be telling the truth? Was that possible? Eon?

    “I—it’s not like that at all,” Eon said, his light even weaker. Suspiciously weaker.

    Suddenly, Star jerked her head up. “You’re kidding me—” she said, as if she’d heard something that nobody else could. Countless Hands sprouted from her back again, curving back into her; Nate had never felt such a turbulent aura before. It wasn’t just on the outside; the very spirits within Owen’s body were rebelling against Star from within!

    “Aaaagh!” Star suddenly clutched at her stomach, leaning forward in some strange pain. “I don’t—have time for this—! Sorry, Nate, I need to—”

    Star made a move to leap into Nate’s darkness, but she didn’t even have the chance. Another tiny, adorable creature appeared right behind the divine Charizard—an Espurr, grabbing onto her thigh.

    “What—?” Star looked down in a snarl.

    Nate felt Psychic energy deep within her Mystic aura flow out. From it was the power of Teleport—and in a flash of light, the Espurr and Charizard disappeared.

    Eon sprang from the darkness, shaking off some of the odd, black material that covered some of his scales. He screamed for Rim, but they were long gone.

    <><><> ​

    “Owen, Owen, talk to us again! What do we do?!” Manny shook the delirious Charizard; he had been falling in and out of consciousness ever since his first warning, yet they didn’t know what to do with that information. Star was trying to kill Eon—but wasn’t that a good thing?! Wasn’t this what they had been planning from the start?

    Step had blasted it with a tentative strike of ice after Owen had fallen, but when he had cried out in pain from it, she stopped herself from doing a follow-up, just in case. “Perhaps we should allow Star to summon us to assist,” she suggested, staring at the Core with a glare.

    Manny, Amia, and Zena all gave Step an uneasy glance. Owen’s eyelids fluttered open. “H-huh? H-help Star? Why would you want to do that right now?” the Charizard said.

    Zena cupped his head in her ribbon-eyebrows, but said nothing.

    “I was joking,” Step replied. “That was a joke.”

    “It… it was?” Amia said.

    “Well, it ain’t funny,” Manny said.

    Step grumbled under her breath. “Ra would find it perfect,” she muttered. “Tend to Owen. I will disrupt Star’s—”

    A flurry of green beams of light shot out of the Core and into Step, chipping away at her icy body. She roared in surprise, blocking the rest with her arms that extended into shields of ice. She dared to peek through when the blast finished.

    A Zygarde stood before them, but not of the sort that they were familiar with. Rather than a canine, it was a great serpent of black and green, staring at Step with the same expressionless look of his canid form. Yet without ears, it was even more difficult to tell what the Embodiment of Balance was thinking.

    “I warned you not to come here,” Hecto said, his voice much deeper than before.

    Connecting Hecto to the Core were several filaments of light—several of Star’s Hands. Step had planned on boasting to Hecto that she knew of his weaknesses—and that she was one of his greatest threats. Yet with those Hands in the way…

    “What are you doing to Owen?” Step said.

    “Whatever it is, you could have asked, first!” Amia said. “Look at him! Owen’s hurt!”

    “Owen will be fine. Star is borrowing his body and using it as a vessel in order to combat Eon when he is most vulnerable. Owen was not capable of the same thing. He was unwilling to fight Eon.”

    “That’s the point!” Zena said. “Owen—he said that he could have ended this without fighting. Without any of us having to risk our lives for your war!”

    Owen struggled to sit up; with some help from Zena, he was able to at least get upright, though not without a heavy slouch. “My head’s killing me…”

    “Eon is too unpredictable to trust, even with a Divine Promise, and especially with one as easily exploitable as the one he made with Owen.” Hecto’s eyes brightened. “Now, please, leave Star to do as she must. It won’t be long now.”

    That icy, sinking feeling returned to Zena’s stomach. She gave a single look to Amia; she was thinking the same thing. Not this time.

    Step spoke for them. “No. You will return Owen his body and leave this place. Now is not the time to simply betray us.”

    “Betray,” Hecto repeated. “We are fighting Eon. This is the exact opposite of betrayal.”

    “You betrayed our trust. We came here ready to help you fight Eon, and yet look at what you have done to the naïve Guardian.” She motioned to Owen, who could only give a halfhearted, irritated glare at Step.

    “Were you not ready to rescue Owen from Eon?” Hecto said. “I recall observing that Owen had been compromised by his own emotions.”

    “I do not trust anybody who wrests control of another’s autonomy.” Frosty air filled the room, making Amia shiver. “If we are being refused entry to Owen’s spirit, that is suspicion enough. If I must fight Star and Eon, I shall.”

    Uneasy silence followed, Owen rising to his feet. He leaned heavily against Zena, shaking off the last of his dizziness. “Hecto, please, tell Star to hold off. This isn’t helping anyone. Eon—he was really listening to me. I could feel it.” Owen shook his head furiously, spreading his wings. He held his arms out, clasping his claws together. “It’s not too late!”

    <><><> ​

    “There, you should be better, now,” Lavender said, stepping away from Gahi. He was taking the form of a Blissey, tossing golden, glowing eggs toward everyone in the room who needed it; The fused Seviper-Tyranitar body, intact yet lifeless, was placed in one of the rooms near the mess hall. Some of them nudged at his cheek helplessly, asking him to wake up, but there was nothing inside to wake.

    Lavender sniffled. “What happened to them…?”

    The Flygon grunted, rubbing his head. The shine of his scales were smudged by deposited smoke, embers, and plant matter. Everything ached. But what felt worse than all of that was the fact that Owen was still under Star’s control… and he couldn’t stop her.

    He should have known that Star would pull something like this. Sure, maybe Eon was completely twisted, but Owen almost had him! Why couldn’t Star just trust Owen the same way everyone else did?

    All of these mutants would be devastated if they lost their father. It just didn’t feel right to kill him, not anymore. Maybe it would stop the Hunters… but it still didn’t feel right, in his gut. He didn’t care if those were his instincts; his gut was all he had! He wasn’t smart like Owen, and he knew it. He knew it the moment he fused with him.

    “Owen…” Gahi slammed his fist against the wall, wincing when the pain shot through his wrists. Lavender hastily threw a tiny golden egg at him. “That freaking pink god… I’m gonna…”

    Lavender transitioned back to his Scolipede form next, sniffling again. “Daddy… wh-what do we do? Where did he go?”

    Gahi stood up. “I dunno. We gotta just check all the floors. Yer pops ain’t gonna die that easy, y’got it? Even if some crazy god is after ‘im, he feels like Owen. Gives off the same kinda energy, y’know? And he ain’t someone that’ll back down.”

    Lavender looked down at Gahi, yellow eyes wide with hope. “You mean it? Owen… is like that?”

    Suddenly, countless mutants crowded around Gahi in the mess hall, a cacophony of questions filling the air. They all asked about Owen and Eon, how similar the two were, and what Owen was like, as if they could extrapolate from what Gahi knew of the Charizard to what that meant for their father. If Owen could really fight back from within.

    “Oy, oy, stop with the questions!” Gahi shouted, waving his arms above his head. “We can chat after. I’m all energized. Thanks fer all the help, Lav.”

    The Scolipede perked up, hopping on all fours.

    Lucas skipped to Gahi next, nudging him with his snout. He tilted his head and gave a small growl-snort of concern.

    “Bah, I’m fine,” Gahi said, scratching Lucas between the eyes. “You feral er something?”

    The Mega Houndoom barked, nudging Gahi again, but then winced, stumbling to the side. Lavender rose up quickly. “Lucas? Is it too much?”

    Lucas growled defiantly, crouching down to hide beneath his paws as well as the giant skull-chest plate would allow.

    “Dispel it, Lucas. The stress of the fight was too much!”

    Lucas whined again; Gahi, meanwhile, said, “What’s up with him? He’s a mutant, too? How d’you even make a feral mutant?”

    “No, he’s—”

    “RRAGH!”

    In a flash of light, a Charizard appeared a few corridors ahead of them. It was made of glowing vines from the chest up, with white, flaming eye sockets. Rim was in Star’s claws by now, her tiny form grasped easily. “Stop teleporting me!”

    The mutants were too stunned to react—except for Gahi, who disappeared from the middle of the crowd.

    Star raised Rim in the air, squeezing her claws into her body. “Drop your Orb.” Star growled. “I may not be able to take it, but I’ll at least make you lose it!” She squeezed harder; Rim’s huge eyes bulged wide.

    Hands spiraled out of Star’s back, each one taking aim for Rim’s body. Star knew this method well—the same thing that Barky had tried on Owen. But now it was for the right reason; even more convenient, with it happening in the living world, she could relocate the Orb at the same time.

    Rim’s mouth was open, but she couldn’t find a way to scream. But at the same time, she had glanced at the other mutants; a small smile formed.

    Star squeezed harder while the Hands behind her got into their positions. The fire in her eyes glowed even brighter, drawing out whatever she could. They plunged down—

    Gahi slapped into Star with a full-body tackle. What surprised Gahi was how much give Owen’s body now had; it felt like a cross between Anam and Emily. He wasn’t quite solid anymore. Gahi flipped his body with a wingbeat and kicked at Star next, catching a glance at the damage he’d done. Whole portions of Star’s belly spewed white fire, covered up by a tapestry of vines immediately after.

    “Get out of my—”

    Gahi rushed for Star again, slamming a dragon fire-coated fist in her face, tearing apart some of the vines. Furious eyes stared back at him, but Gahi returned with a smirk. He beat his wings and flew further back.

    Star realized that something felt like it was missing. She turned and saw that it was her hand—Gahi had ripped it clean off her destabilized body. Now all that was left were writhing vines and holy fire.

    “Take care o’ her,” Gahi muttered to Lavender, but then a mutant Meganium pushed Lavender aside.

    “I’ll do it,” she said, giving Gahi a nod. She tore away at Star’s hand that still held onto Rim; it fell to the floor, writhing mindlessly.

    “M-Mispy?” Gahi blinked. No, it didn’t act like her—and not like Ani, either.

    “Try again,” the different Meganium giggled, wrapping her vines around Rim. “Tell Big Sis I said hi.”

    <><><> ​

    The Core suddenly let out a shockwave of Mystic pressure that made all of the Guardians in the room—even Step—wince and shudder in pain. Their bodies bled aura embers and golden light, but it stabilized seconds later. Those were the same shockwaves that had nearly dissolved their weaker spirits when they had first entered the Grass Dungeon. The distortions were getting stronger; whatever Star was doing, it was intensifying.

    Amia gasped for air, her whole aura fizzling dangerously, but then stabilized.

    Hecto spoke with his typical, neutral tone. “Eon has been performing his original mission for longer than you have been alive, Owen, and for much longer than you can possibly remember in your current state. Eon is impulsive; his feelings, while genuine in the moment, are fleeting and fickle. No matter how good your Perception is for how someone feels in the present, Owen, you simply do not know how someone will feel in the future. We know Eon. It is far too late.”

    Owen had no words, but he still wanted to refuse. His desperate eyes said all he wanted for Zena and Amia, who finally stood a bit taller in front of Hecto. Owen tried to step with them. “Wait…”

    “Stay back, Owen,” Zena said softly. “We’ll take care of this. Just get ready to return to your body.”

    Step slammed her tail onto the ground. “What will it be, Embodiment of Balance?” She held her hand toward Hecto, frost surrounding her palm in a brighter and brighter sphere. “Will you move aside… or will I have to destroy you?”

    Hecto didn’t reply at first, hexagon eyes staring at Step a bit more intensely than usual. Then, they flickered, and the serpentine Zygarde shook his head, as if he had been briefly dazed.

    Owen raised his voice again, just a bit louder. “I said… wait…”

    This whole time, Owen was watching all of their actions, feeling the subtleties of what he could from their strange bodies. Hecto was as difficult to read as ever, especially in his much larger form. Step, with her icy, solid body, didn’t make things any easier for him. Amia and Zena were a lot easier to read, along with Manny, all bodies that he had grown accustomed to. Amia was tense and ready to fight, all to defend him. What mother wouldn’t? Zena just wanted to keep Owen safe, refusing to leave his side. And Manny… he felt odd. He didn’t seem to want to fight, yet he stood by anyway and let Hecto and Step work things out for themselves.

    Manny spared a glance at Owen. “Oy, just rest up. We’ll take care o’ yeh.”

    “This is beyond your scope, Grass Guardian,” Step said without even sparing him a glance. “You’ve fallen to Eon and you’ve fallen to Star. I have fallen to neither, and I have no plans to now.”

    “But I don’t want this,” Owen said quietly, even while Step and Hecto continued to stare one another down, both of them looking for an opening. Green energy pulsed through Hecto’s body; if Step fired, he would, too. Step had the advantage of her element, yet Hecto had Star’s divinity behind him.

    And neither even gave him a second thought. Hecto didn’t acknowledge Owen; Step had made it clear with her last words. But that’s how it always was, wasn’t it?

    “Can’t you just… stop?” Owen said dumbly, the words falling from his mouth.

    Because even from the beginning, that’s what it was always like. He was created to be used by Eon to usurp Arceus. He was born to be obedient and loyal to some divine leader. And then he was put under the care of Amia and Alex, raised anew to be docile and as far away from his life as possible.

    He had been ignorant of it all. And then, memories returned, they did all that they could to keep him under their eyes. Star telling him only what she wanted to; Rhys keeping him away from the rest of Team Alloy, the first friends he’d ever had. His kind. His family.

    Not once did they ask him what he wanted. And he just let it happen, because that was his nature. It was in his nature to obey.

    “I… You guys need to listen to me,” Owen said. “You’re both just staring each other down. I can tell that even with all that you’re saying, Step, you know you can’t beat Hecto, not with Star’s—”

    “Bite your tongue,” Step spat, flashing a glare toward him.

    “But you aren’t even thinking,” Owen said. “You want to take down Eon! Star does, too! And I don’t!”

    “Owen, please,” Amia said softly, “Don’t—don’t let Eon fool you like—”

    “No, he’s not fooling me,” Owen interrupted, voice rising in volume. “You know who’s been fooling me? You! Rhys! Star! Eon’s been the only one who has been trying to tell me the truth!”

    “Owen—you know why we couldn’t have told—”

    “Oh, because maybe I would’ve learned too quickly?” Owen wobbled forward. “S-Step, that’s enough. Hecto, get Star, just… tell her to stop. She can’t take us both on, so just have her stop, and we can talk this all out.”

    “I’m afraid I won’t be doing that,” Hecto said. “But I do agree that a battle here would be disadvantageous for all of us. With the Core nearby, any disruption could harm not only Star, but Owen’s body, his spirits, and perhaps the entire Grass Realm.”

    “Then you’ll know to back down?” Step said, making a gesture to feign her icy blast.

    Hecto responded with an abrupt blast of green energy—an arrow that struck the center of Step’s blast. The Aggron’s eyes widened in surprise, firing her own blast at the same time. That earned an even more powerful retaliation from Hecto, countless spears of green energy buffeting Step’s thick hide and armor on all sides. Step opened her mouth and fired a thick beam of ice at Hecto next, but the Zygarde retaliated with a second volley of Thousand Arrows.

    Step roared, flicking her head toward the incoming attack; some of the ice nicked against the Core, making the whole thing flicker.

    Owen wailed, clutching at his chest; he sank to the ground, his whole spirit fizzling for a split-second.

    “O-Owen!” Zena breathed, wrapping her ribbons around his shoulders.

    “You should be careful, Step,” Hecto said tersely. “You don’t want to harm Owen.”

    “Tch, then neither do you.” Step struggled to stand, countless parts of her body missing in tiny pieces all over her, like she had been chipped away by a spiteful sculptor. Subtle plumes of aura embers and spiritual light leaked from those missing pieces.

    Manny raised his paw, Amia mirroring the gesture. “Well, if yer gonna be like that,” the Lucario said lowly. He gave Owen a quick glance and a reassuring smirk. “Guess we’ll have ter protect Owen, too.”

    “You aren’t going to control my son.” Amia’s hair flashed to fiery life. “Not Star, not Eon.”

    Zena let go of Owen and slithered in front of him; all Owen could see were their backs, all four of them acting in his stead. Hecto, meanwhile, looked between all of them with that same expressionless gaze.

    Owen wanted to say something—anything—but once again, he felt too small. He felt like a Charmander again, everybody around him making the moves in his place. Nothing had changed at all, had it?

    He was still someone that had to fall in line.

    <><><> ​

    Star examined her empty paws; that Flygon, using his intense speed, had stolen Rim from her at the last moment. “GAHI!” she roared, pointing her reformed hand at him.

    Before she could say anything, Gahi spat back. “Save it! Everyone!” He raised his wings, channeling what he knew about Owen to give the command. He was the leader, after all. And what would a leader do? “FIRE!”

    That was all they needed. A flood of attacks of all elements—Ghostly orbs, flaming beams, icy blasts, electric bolts—trailed along the walls and through the air, all toward Star. She crossed her arms, forming a shield of light, but Gahi shouted to fire again. “Keep at it!”

    Through the smoke, he saw the shield of light fading. Vines writhed to protect Star from the rest, but their onslaught was too much, even for her. She had been worn down too much, and perhaps, finally, their wills were performing a Backlash against her own power. No matter how desperate she was, she was not going to keep Owen’s body. He was family. She was not.

    Star screamed; Gahi saw that the blasts were missing, flying straight through the smoke. “Stop!” Gahi shouted; embers, smoke, and debris obscured his view, but the Meganium next to him had her eyes closed. “See anything?”

    “She’s still there.”

    Gahi grunted, flexing his wings, feeling that tension in his back. One by one, the filaments of light returned. “I’ll finish ‘er off. Force Star out.”

    “W-will that work? What if—what if you kill Owen instead?”

    “Feh, he’s survived worse.” Gahi didn’t actually know, but anything was better than letting Star have free reign.

    Gahi disappeared in a flash; his green blur trailed through the halls, straight to the core. He spotted a heap of vines in the center of the corridor, a bright, glowing ball in the middle. That was Star, no doubt about it. He leaned forward—

    A huge pillar of wood slammed into Gahi’s chest, knocking the wind out of him. He spat blood when that same pillar slammed him into the ceiling.

    <><><> ​

    “I s-said… that’s enough. Please, it’s… just going to hurt me.” Owen took a step forward, nearly losing his balance, but his exasperation fueled him. The flame on his tail got just a bit brighter. For some reason, seeing all of their backs toward him made it all worse. “Just listen to me.”

    Step snorted. “Stay down, child,” she said. “Save your strength for when you can take back your Core.”

    “Be ready, Owen,” Zena said, not sparing him a glance; she was too focused on Hecto, like all the others.

    Hecto’s eyes flashed as if he was giving off a warning signal. “Then you choose to defy Star? This is a fight that you all wished to assist. The fight against Eon.”

    Amia’s hair matched Hecto’s brightness. “I never agreed for anybody to take Owen away from me.”

    “Has Star been able ter do this all the time?” Manny said. “Just take us over? Fat chance I’ll let ‘er inter my realm again!”

    “That’s likely why she never did so until now,” Step said, her eyes gleaming with malice. “She was waiting for the perfect opportunity to take the power all at once. To gather us together, so she can have Owen kill us all in one fell swoop. Because he’s the easiest to control. Isn’t that right?”

    “Completely incorrect,” Hecto replied. “Star intended to end Eon and the Hunters and nothing more.”

    “Your words are meaningless!” Step shouted back, and with that, she fired her icy blast. Manny, Zena, and Amia all fired their respective elements toward Hecto at the same time in a four-way onslaught.

    Hecto retaliated with another Thousand Arrow volley, hundreds of beams of light knocking away at the individual blasts. The many Hands that connected Hecto to the Core brightened with every arrow sent out, channeling more and more of Star’s divine energy into the fight.

    Some of the fire and ice got to him, stinging his scales. Hecto winced, shrinking back from the four-on-one. Manny’s Aura Sphere exploded on Hecto, the blast partly hitting the Core again.

    “N—gh—!” Owen gasped, falling to one knee.

    “Bah! Sorry, Owen!” Manny shouted, taking a more careful aim with his next one, but a volley of arrows struck him through the arm. He yelped and clutched at his shoulder, blue embers pouring out of the wound. The Aura Sphere that he had been forming fired at Hecto, but he brushed it away and to the wall. Step snarled and flicked her wrist, summoning a pillar of ice to bounce the Sphere back; it struck true, hitting Hecto on the head.

    His eyes flickered; more energy channeled through and into his body, even as Zena prepared another Hydro Pump.

    The Core glowed brighter.

    <><><> ​

    The heap of vines in the middle of the ruined corridors of Quartz HQ twisted themselves into something vaguely Charizard-shaped. Beyond words, Star looked at all the other mutants next; without warning, countless vines tore open the walls and the floor, entangling the mutants all at once. Some of them shrieked, struggling against them, flailing and biting and spinning. But even if they destroyed a few, more vines took over, thorns prodding into their bodies.

    It started glowing. They screamed even louder, recognizing this feeling from before. The same thing that happened to Seviper and Tyranitar.

    Lucas whined, his power uncontrolled and too weak to fight.

    Lavender was not; he flailed one last time and curled into a ball. His whole body spun, knocking any vines from wrapping around him, and he rolled forward. The Scolipede bounced over even more lumps, screaming quiet apologies when he accidentally ran over some of his mutant brethren. He slammed into the pillar keeping Gahi in place next; at first, the gesture further crushed the Flygon, but then he was freed, both the pillar and Flygon falling to the ground.

    Star’s body exploded into even more plant matter, the bright, white core protected by a solid layer of wood, leaves, and brambles. The rest crowded around Lavender, slowing down his spin until he, too, became lodged in the mass.

    He squeaked, shifting back to a Silvally. The strange bolts in his cheeks turned red and his body erupted in flames. “L-let go!” he screamed, but the more he burned, the more came to take their place. He turned cyan next, frosty air cracking and smashing it, but more came. He bit down with his jaws next, tearing away at the vines that tried to choke him, a Bug-infused aura further eating away at the plants. When that didn’t work, he shifted to a clear white, compressed slashes of air ripping them apart. But no matter how much he struggled, the vines were faster to replenish.

    Lavender screamed, as did the spirits inside him.

    <><><> ​

    Through it all—this battle between Guardians and gods—Owen gasped as residual damage struck his Core, and as he felt the very power within his body drain into Hecto, all for the sake of fending off the ones that fought in his place.

    “Please…” But nobody heard him.

    They were all fighting their own war, and he was just being dragged along for it.

    “St… stop…” But nobody heard him.

    Hot, burning energy bubbled in the back of his throat, but it didn’t feel like fire. It felt like the sun. Why? Why did he have to be born into this position? Was he just designed to be this way? Trina had said that he wasn’t born from the reckless hand of nature. He was designed with the careful hand of a creator.

    “I’m… I’m so tired…” But nobody heard him.

    What if he didn’t like what the creator came up with? Eon turned him into something that he could raise as some underling forever. All of the mutants were like kids to him. He was like a kid to him. He wasn’t some equal.

    “I’m so… s-sick… of…” But nobody heard him.

    <><><> ​

    Star stared at Lavender, moving closer. Her movements were slower, almost a struggle. Her flames flickered. “You shouldn’t exist,” she said, her hand narrowing into a single point. “None of this should have happened. The Hunters, the mutants, the wars… Every single spirit here… none of you deserved this.”

    Lavender struggled even more, whimpering. “Th-these spirits are my friends! I promise! P-please! D-don’t kill us!”

    “Everybody here has already died once.” Star pointed at Lavender. “I’m ending this… NOW!”

    Star slammed her spear toward Lavender; a Psychic barrier blocked it, the spear clanging against the ethereal wall.

    Star snarled. “WHAT NOW?!”

    Lavender dared to glance behind him. It was Rim, glowing again, with a fierce look right at Star, fearless against the god that had nearly killed her moments earlier. “No.”

    She held her paws forward, closing her eyes. Small embers flew from them, materializing into strange, black creatures in the shape of letters, each one with a single eye somewhere on their bodies.

    “Unown?” Star hissed. “Why are they on YOUR side?!”

    “Go.”

    The living runes swarmed Star without fear, blasting spheres of energy of all attributes toward her. Every attack was weak, yet built up, Star had to release Lavender to Protect against them.

    “Don’t think this is enough!” Star raised her hands, taking several Hidden Power strikes. A wave of vines took out half of the Unown spirits. Another wave took out most of the rest. Rim just summoned more. But that’s what Star wanted; she let the smoke build up and let her blazing aura obscure even more of Rim’s aura vision. Slowly, Star brought as many Hands as she could out without inhibiting Hecto’s defense.

    Rim squinted, eyes shining to see where Star’s aura was. With all the smoke, normal vision was useless. But when she tried to see anything, all she could see was a blur of white fire in all directions—Lavender’s spirit alone was blinding, and she could see the bright spot that was his spirit cluster. But Star was everywhere. In the walls, in the vines all around. Her core would be too hard to see, let alone strike, with all the chaos.

    Rim realized too late that Star was in front of her. Intense pressure—vines constricted all around the Espurr. The last thing Rim saw was the white eye sockets of Owen’s possessed body, and then a piercing pain in her back. Not vines, but Hands, sprouted from Star and into Rim. It didn’t pierce her body; it pierced her aura, and further, into her spirit.

    Rim blacked out when Star tugged. It came ripping out of Espurr’s body, bloodless, yet with a flood of golden embers.

    In that brief moment, Star could feel the Orb within Rim struggling to resist her hold. At first, she wasn’t sure what to make of that. The Unown were easily influenced, from her past experiences with them. Impressionable and easily swayed, especially if they were attached to Rim’s spirit. Perhaps they were working for her because of that reason alone—so well-synced to her mind.

    That was just another reason to put an end to it so the Unown could think for themselves. She got Rim. All that was left was Eon. If she could get him to forfeit his Orbs—they could be done with all of this. No more hunting. No more wars. The Mystics can get out of Hot Spot and live normally. Maybe they can find a place to live in Kilo Village? Maybe when she was done apologizing to Owen, maybe when they forgave her in a few decades, they could laugh about it…

    A sphere of pink clouds fell to the ground and Rim’s limp body dangled in Star’s clutches, eyes half-open and vacant. The few Unown that remained outside screamed, dissolving into the Orb again.


    Star pulled out her Hands from Rim and glanced at the Meganium nearby. She feigned a toss; her vines lurched forward reflexively. They locked eyes, and Star gave a quick nod, tossing the motionless Espurr to the Meganium, who caught her in a clump of vines.

    Star squinted; two of her vines seemed to have been severed… A rush of wind blew past Star; she looked down. The Psychic Orb was gone.

    Gahi, using the severed vines like gloves to keep the Orb from touching his body directly, flew straight for the warping wall. He muttered a number Star couldn’t hear and vanished.

    <><><> ​

    The Core’s radiance blinded them all. Owen closed his eyes, but his Perception let him see the whole field and all of its flurries. Amia was doing the most damage to the Core, her Shadow Ball strikes disrupting Star’s control. But at the same time, it made Owen feel like throwing up, like he was going to rip apart at any second. But if he could just outlast it, then maybe—

    Amia shrieked, but the cry was cut off just as quickly. The Core had blasted the Fire Guardian with a Psychic blast, followed by Hecto’s follow-up Thousand Arrows when her guard was down. Owen felt the holes running through Amia’s aura, and then felt her entire body burst in a flurry of blue embers. And then she was gone.

    “M-Mom—!” Owen opened his eyes, blinding himself.

    “Amia!” Zena shouted.

    “Amia’s down!” Manny announced.

    “W-wait—where—where did she—” Owen frantically searched for her, but she was gone. Just gone. “St—stop! STOP!” Owen cried. “Where’d Mom go?! What happened?!”

    “Aura sea! Precisely where we will send these traitors!” Step hurled an explosive chunk of ice toward Hecto, who dispelled it with another volley of arrows and divine light.

    More energy; more blasts; more injuries. Owen didn’t bother to keep track of it anymore. His mind was replaying the moment that Amia had vanished in his head over and over; the way her ember hadn’t even gone anywhere. It just disappeared.

    They were all bleeding their auras all over the ground; his Core was shining from something happening to his body. They fought over him, just so they could be the ones to control him.

    That’s how it always had been.

    “I said to stop—I said to stop…!” Owen begged, but once again, nobody heard him. Those that did, simply ignored him. Zena, on the opposite end of the fight, was too focused on trying to free him. Manny was too busy dodging attacks from the god and her disciple. And of course, then there was Step, who was not only closest to him, but also the least likely to ever give him a chance to speak his mind.

    “You aren’t stopping—why aren’t you stopping? I said enough! E-enough!”

    Step snorted; her reply was a flick of her tail and another flurry of ice crystals toward Hecto.

    For a brief, brief moment, that hot, boiling feeling his Owen’s chest became unbearable, and he wanted to do nothing more than pass out and push it away. He wanted to curl up and cry to himself, to just forget that it was there. But now, with all of these spirits here, invading his realm, assuming what was best for him… He took that energy instead. A handful of filaments of light exploded from his back.

    “I SAID ENOUGH!”

    The ground heaved, a massive shockwave centralized around the Core sending the three remaining Guardians into the wall and Hecto flat on the ground. The Hands that had connected him to the Core separated, retracting inside. But Owen wouldn’t allow that. Completely unaffected by the shockwave, Owen beat his wings and, in a single leap, slapped his body into the Core. Hitting it hurt him a lot more than he thought—it was like he’d stabbed himself in the heart.

    He slammed his fist against the core, screaming. “GET OUT!” He ran his fist against it again. “I SAID GET OUT!”

    <><><> ​

    “I’LL KILL YOU!” Star roared, speeding through the halls right after Gahi fled. She only got through a few corridors, ignoring the flyby strikes of the mutants she’d passed, before her entire body seized up. “W-wait—no, that’s—Owen! S-stop!”

    The vines that had been holding the mutants all in place slackened. Most of them were able to break free in that brief lapse of focus; the rest were freed by the stronger mutants. All eyes turned to Star, but none of them attacked. It seemed like something was attacking from within.

    “Owen!” one of them cried.

    “Owen! Fight it!”

    “Kick her out!”

    “Owen! Wait! I’m so close! I’ll give your body back in a second! Just—let—me—FIX—THIS—STOOOOP!”

    <><><> ​

    Hecto tried to get up, but another shockwave blasted him further into the floor; the other Guardians suffered a similar fate.

    Owen brought his arm back one last time, one of the Hands spiraling around his arm until it enveloped his fist. He swung forward; it pierced the Core, the sphere glowing so brightly that the entire room looked white. Inside, he felt the presence of countless spirits, but he wasn’t looking to take any of them out. In fact, he felt many of them helping, wriggling, shifting to press the one that he was looking for toward him, no matter how much she struggled.

    Found her.

    With a roar to drown out the pain, Owen tugged as hard as he could at the spirit he felt deep in the Core. He pulled out Star, and all of her Hands, where she struggled, startled, in his scaly grip.

    “Urgh—what—what happened?” Star gasped, locking eyes with the huge Charizard that was holding her.

    The typical, soft look that Owen always had was gone, replaced by a snarl that showed all of his teeth, and pupils that had become nothing but lines against his blue irises.

    Star’s many filaments twitched weakly; in Owen’s domain, she could no longer do anything. With wide eyes, Star forced a cheerful, disarming smile. “H-heya… Owen… h-how’s it goin—hrgnk!”

    Owen squeezed. “Get out of my realm.”

    A sphere of fire formed in front of Star; for the briefest of seconds, the embers reflected in her eyes. Then, in the explosive inferno, she burned away.
     
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  17. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 68 - Quiet

    “Big Brother? What happened to Mom?”

    Klent wasn’t really sure how he wound up in this situation. In some twisted sense of irony, he was the Grass Guardian again, at least temporarily. And not only that, he was taking the form of the very person who had killed him.

    He had to admit—he was envious of actually having fingers and claws. But being in such a heavy body was new—not to mention the splitting headache he had, or how strange everything felt. His body was tougher; tough, yet leafy feathers covered every part of his body. Running his foreign claws over his face, he felt that with Star’s divine energy fading rapidly, his head was returning to normal. He had eyes again, and proper flesh and blood, and the vines that had once made up his warped form slowly transitioned into something at least vaguely resembling a Charizard’s natural insides.

    It felt like his entire head had been squished and pressed many times over, and all the other parts of him that had been damaged in the fight—from his arms to his gut—felt like they had been crushed under a thousand Emilys.

    Klent only realized a bit later that the reason he was conscious at all was because of the healing waves of a mutant Meganium, in addition to other healer mutants.

    “You’re… you’re Big Brother, right?”

    Klent figured that, for now, it would be best to tell a little white lie. “I am,” he said. “I’m… sorry, though. I need to rest.” Oh, how did Owen talk? He was polite, but informal. He was from a different time. He had no idea how to emulate it. Hopefully the kids wouldn’t catch on. “I don’t feel like myself. Sorry if I sound strange… I think my body is trying to… go back to normal.”

    “You do sound funny,” Meganium said, frowning. “Are you sure the scary god is gone?”

    “She’s gone,” Klent assured her, raising a claw. “I made sure of that. Star can’t fight me in my domain… She just caught me, and all my spirits, by surprise. We didn’t think she’d ever do something like that… but now we know better.”

    The Charizard finally found the energy to sit up. Rim was lying on the ground with countless mutants many times her size huddled around her unresponsive form. Her eyes were half-open, yet empty and unfocused. Her mouth was similarly neutral.

    Klent approached and ran the back of his claw along Rim’s chin, earning barely a response. “Do you know what happened?” he asked. “Right before she became… like this?”

    Klent felt the presence of someone behind him. Owen’s Perception was such a strange thing to comprehend. He had flashes of it when he was part of Owen’s consciousness, but to experience it firsthand…

    The sensations were almost overwhelming, but he could at least discern that it was someone large. Looking back, he confirmed that it was another Charizard—Eon. Klent instantly tensed, but then remembered—yes, Eon couldn’t possibly hurt him. Not without risking his Orbs next.

    He seemed a bit preoccupied anyway.

    “Rim…!” Eon ran past everyone—who instantly parted ways—and scooped the Espurr in his arms. But the gesture couldn’t last; his body shifted and shrank until he was just another Espurr, barely able to hold her with his new, tiny arms. “Rim, what—”

    “The scary ghost controlling Owen…” One of the mutants sniffled. “These big… scary… white tentacle things… they stabbed Mom, and…!”

    “The Hands…?” Eon stared at Rim, wide-eyed. “Rim. Rim, answer me. Rim?”

    No response. Her eyes stared at Eon—she focused on him, but she said nothing. But it was a sign that something of her remained.

    Eon’s huge eyes welled up with tears; he pulled her close, wrapping around her limp body. “Please… Rim, what…”

    “What happened to her?” Lavender said, squeezing past a few of them, though he didn’t dare move closer. He winced, looking like he was about to retch. Several mutants huddled around him, urging him to change into something other than a Silvally. He nodded; his eyes glowed and the bolts in his cheeks spun rapidly. He shifted to his other preferred, Scolipede form. He collapsed soon after, but he shrugged off any assistance, giving a little smile. Still, Lavender said nothing afterward, focused on his breathing.

    Lavender wasn’t the only one having similar issues; some mutants, too stressed to cope, were being shuffled out by the more sane ones, like it was some sort of procedure. Murmurings of ‘Get his Poké Ball’ and ‘Put her to sleep’ filled the rapidly thinning crowd. As much as they wanted to see Rim, they couldn’t do anything if their minds were slipping.

    A loud, deep whine shook the walls. Eon recognized that one. Lucas was on the ground, pressing his paws over his eyes, but flames gushed from his mouth and claws. Any attempts to touch him made the Mega Houndoom lurch and snap, and then immediately recoil into a frightened, curled up position.

    “He’s going berserk, Dad!”

    Eon finally found enough sense in him to bring a tiny paw forward. A ball of rainbow light formed on his paw pad, shot into Lucas’ chest. His entire body glowed white; when it dissipated, a normal Houndoom remained, collapsed and unconscious. A few mutants got closer, deflating when his breathing steadied.

    Eon, after making sure he was okay, looked back at Rim, whose only reaction had been a weak, empty glance to the sound of Lucas whining.

    “A pink orb fell on the ground,” another mutant reported. “But then Gahi stole it. He ran away.”

    “Star… tore the Psychic Orb out of her. She ripped her spirit apart…” Eon pulled Rim away, looking at her vacant eyes again. She finally blinked. Eon held her a bit tighter. “She didn’t take all of her power. I still feel… a little bit of Mystic power in her—maybe the one Hand she has as a Hunter. She’s… she can… I can help her. I have to. There… there has to be a way. I…” His eyes grew more and more desperate the longer some imaginary idea, some awaited miracle, eluded him.

    Klent, watching from the side, had intended to say a million things to Eon for what he’d done to Owen. All of the sins he’d committed for hunting down Guardians, playing Creator by designing the mutants, all of these strange experiments that he’d been running. The terror that he had put them through. The trauma he’d caused Amelia. The horrors that bubbled into the surface, killing innocents of Kilo every time a mutant went berserk.

    Yet now, seeing Eon desperately holding onto Rim’s faded husk… He couldn’t find those words anymore.

    “It’s not the first time someone’s been shattered,” Klent said gently. While he could tell that his own eyes were cold, what he said at least had some truth. “Team Alloy had been shattered by Hands in the same way, right? And Owen—er, I had been threatened by Arceus by the same thing. There must be a way to reverse it… even if the only cure is time.”

    Slowly, Klent’s words calmed the trembling Espurr.

    “…What about Tox and Soli?” another one squeaked.

    “What?” Klent asked.

    “Tox and Soli… th-the scary god… she said she… stopped their reincarnation… d-does… does that mean…?” Her voice cracked. “What happened to them?! You can’t… you can’t d-destroy a…”

    Klent’s heart sank, but then said, “N-no, that’s… Star wouldn’t…”

    But then he felt something in his core. He looked down, touching his chest. Two spirits, desperate to come out.

    Before Eon could ask, Klent made a gentle motion with his claws. Two little embers emerged, expanding and solidifying into a familiar, yet confused, Seviper and Tyranitar.

    After a second of disbelieving shock, the mutants erupted in subdued shouts, crowding around the pair to see if it was really them. Mutants near the back wept with relief, while more boisterous ones tried to pinch or squeeze them to make sure they were real. The dazed spirits tried to shake them off, since they seemed just as confused.

    The Tyranitar spoke up first. “I thought… we died,” he said. “She stabbed us and… and then everything went dark. I thought we’d go into one of the spirit chambers, but… but then there were all these voices…”

    “That was the Grass Core,” Klent said. “Were they okay to you?”

    “They were telling me to… just stay put. That Owen would make things right.” Tyranitar looked around. “I guess he did, huh?”

    “I… I certainly hope he at least made things better,” Klent admitted. “I’m sorry for what happened to you, Soli.”

    Tyranitar gave him a confused look. “I’m Tox.”

    “I—I’m sorry?” Klent said.

    “I’m Soli,” Seviper said, raising his tail.

    “But… Tox means…”

    “We traded names when we were really young. We thought it’d be cooler that way!”

    Klent looked between the two mutants—who were back to grinning dumbly, as if they had never been killed. Choose your battles, Klent, the former Guardian thought to himself. “Well—regardless, I… I don’t know if there’s a way for me to reverse this. Star certainly stopped you two from being Reincarnated. She severed your ties to whatever machine Eon has and linked your spirits to Owen instead.”

    “I don’t know if it’s something I can do right now, either,” Eon admitted, finally letting Rim go. “They’d have to cross Aether Forest and into any of my realms.”

    “That might not be a good idea,” Klent said. “Apparently wraiths are showing up there.”

    Eon jolted, glancing at Klent. “What do you…?”

    “I—it’s okay!” Tox said, raising his arms. “M-maybe Owen can take care of us for a while! Right?”

    Eon winced, but it seemed that he knew it was the best option. He turned his attention back to the vegetative Espurr. “I… I need to take care of Rim right now. Whoever you are, just… take care of Owen for me.” He looked down. “I assume he doesn’t want to be with me right now.”

    That… was true. But Klent wasn’t sure if it was Owen’s natural kindness or how pitiful Eon looked that made him instead say, “I’m sure he’ll want to visit again later.”

    Eon laughed sadly, glancing at a nearby Rapidash with an extra set of arms that resembled a Scyther’s. He hesitated at first, but then looked to the Breloom with a Parasect’s’ mushroom cap next to her. He handed Rim to Breloom, then turned around to Klent.

    “Just tell him that… that I’m sorry.”

    “He hears you,” Klent said. “He’s waiting for me to… get further away. He needs to think for himself right now. I think you understand.”

    Eon, a Charizard again, drooped his wings and nodded. “Just make sure he’s careful. You’re… you’re his guardian just as much as he’s yours. I—I need to start repairing the damage here.” He looked at all of the mutants, then at Rim, and it was only then that Klent realized that Eon was the last of the Hunters in Quartz HQ. Rim, if she could be considered present, wouldn’t be of much use for the cause. Everybody else left him.

    “Take care of yourself, Eon,” Klent said without quite registering his own statement. “If you can promise not to control Owen again, perhaps he’ll be willing to visit.”

    “I never wanted to—” Eon started, but something stopped him from finishing. His wide eyes, protesting, contrasted the dim flame of his tail. Looking even smaller than before, he lowered his head and nodded in silence; he didn’t watch when the mutants parted ways to allow Klent to leave. A Tauros, Ninetales, and Roserade shuffled past Klent, helping to carry Rim to one of the many rooms in the labyrinth.

    Realizing they didn’t have much of a choice but to follow, Tox and Soli hastily said their goodbyes to the other mutants, saying that they’d be able to visit later with Owen again. Despite their optimism, the shock of what had happened was keeping the gravity of what had happened to them from truly sinking in.

    Klent imagined that this would be true for everyone.

    <><><>​

    Everything became quiet after Star’s aura disappeared. The glow of the Core softened back to normal; Owen let go, landing heavily on his feet. His wings draped over his sides, but he didn’t collapse. He refused to collapse. His eyes met Hecto’s next; his body had dissolved into five canid Zygarde instead, all crumpled over one another. It seemed that he was no longer able to sustain his form without Star’s assistance. They wobbled to their feet, all staring at Owen.

    “Well?” Owen said lowly. “Aren’t you going to get her in the aura sea?”

    The five all stared at Owen; despite their expressionless faces, Owen could tell by their flat ears and lowered tails that Hecto was in complete shock.

    “Leave.”

    After a bit of delay, the five scampered out of the Core.

    Owen looked back at the others, finally getting to their feet. “Heh.” Manny rubbed his snout, still bleeding aura from his shoulder. “That wasn’t so bad. Good job, Owen, heheh… eh…” Manny realized that Owen was glaring at him, too.

    “I need to think.” Owen pointed toward the Core’s entrance. “Just… go.”

    Step growled. “Do you really think that’s—”

    The Core blasted Step with a green wad of energy; she reached out and blocked it, only for it to knock her hard against the wall again.

    “I am done,” Owen said, still pointing at the entrance. “I’m done with you assuming I can’t handle myself. That I’m compromised because maybe you’re wrong. I’m sick of you fighting everyone when maybe we could have talked.”

    Step’s glare didn’t lower, but she stood up anyway. She gave a wordless snort and walked toward the exit. The Ice Guardian looked at her paws, inspecting the way that his blast had melted them. “Hmph… then I trust you to not fall to Eon.”

    Owen looked to the remaining two next. “I need to… I need to sort out my thoughts. I—I’m sorry.” Owen lowered his head. He felt that subservient nature kicking in again; defiant, he intensified his glare. “Please, go. And find Mom. She might be in the aura sea, too, and… I don’t want Hecto to do anything to her. They… they can’t. They still need me anyway.”

    They both stared, still stunned and recovering; Manny held his shoulder again and left first. “Just make sure that Eon guy doesn’t go off and—” Manny accelerated his pace when the Core brightened.

    That just left Zena.

    She had stared for quite a while, with Owen not returning her gaze. Instead, he was staring at the ground—it wasn’t her fault. None of this was. But he couldn’t give in to that instinct again.

    Eventually, Zena followed Manny, glancing back at Owen while his head was still facing the floor. Owen clenched his fist, digging his claws into his scales. He wanted to call out to her—maybe she could stay? But it would be dangerous to keep her away for long; as much as Star had betrayed him, he had a sinking feeling that she wasn’t lying when she implied that straying from one’s realm in the spirit world would be bad for the body. He didn’t want to tell her as much; he couldn’t speak. He felt that if he made a single sound, he’d break down in front of them. He couldn’t have that.

    And so, even when Zena stopped at the entryway, staring back at him, Owen remained frozen. He prayed—to whom, he didn’t know—that Zena wouldn’t notice how dim and conflicted his flame was.

    “Owen…” The Milotic sniffled. “Please… look at me.”

    “P-please go,” Owen squeaked. “It’s dangerous.”

    Zena stared for a little while longer, but Owen just wished she would understand. Who was commanding him now? Who was he supposed to follow? No—those weren’t the thoughts he was supposed to have! He was… who was he? Star, Eon, Rhys, Amia, Anam—they all kept him in the dark for so long, all for his own good, but was it really?

    Despite all the Perception in the world, Owen didn’t realize that Zena was in front of him again. He only noticed when he saw her prismatic scales and felt her ribbons wrap around his back. Her cheek rested against his. She felt cold, so cold. Her body was so familiar, now. He was starting to understand the subtleties of her limbless form and what all those powerful muscles meant. His eyelids lowered halfway, finally bringing his arms around her. Maybe this was all too much. He should just…

    He felt it again. That feeling. Like he was going to lose himself—was that the feeling? He didn’t know what it was, but it was toward Zena. Just like how he felt toward Rhys, and Amia, and even Eon. His heart pounded against his chest; he grabbed Zena and pushed back, making her yelp.

    “P-please, go,” Owen finally said, eyes wide. “I—I need to be alone. Please…”

    Zena’s eyes were wide, stunned, even when Owen let her go and stepped away. “B-but…”

    Owen shook his head and focused on the ground again. This time, Zena didn’t approach, but he could still feel her presence. He shut his eyes tight and reached for his horns, plucking them out.

    He couldn’t see anything, now. It was all gone. His flame was burning the grass beneath it into a little black scorch. He grasped each detached horn firmly; his legs felt weak and every breath he made was shallow at best.

    After so long in darkness, Owen wondered if he should at least tell Zena that it was going to be fine. She deserved it. It wasn’t like she was trying to coerce him into anything, right? If anything, it dawned on Owen—now that he had time to actually think rationally—that perhaps Zena was the only one who had been consistently on his side, not lying.

    Well, aside from when she played along with Star and the others when his memory had been reset again… but… that was different, right? But wasn’t that the same for all the others? What if it really was for his own good?

    He felt it again and shook his head violently. He wasn’t going to listen to that feeling. That’s what he was designed to do. He refused to let it control him again.

    Owen finally opened his eyes. “Ze—”

    Nobody was there.

    Owen’s flame slowly shrank until it almost disappeared completely. He lowered his wings and shoulders the more the silence ate at him, the dying light fading to the overwhelming glow of the Core behind him. But even that was fading now that the battle was over, the Grass spirits finally settled.

    The fatigue finally caught up to him. His legs wobbled and shook, and then, finally, he fell back and onto his rear with a light grunt. Just that one little noise reminded him that he had a throat, something to breathe with. A lingering, distracting thought ran through his mind—did spirits need to breathe? He was so used to being alive that he didn’t know what it was like to be a spirit. The thought passed, replaced by images of the Guardians’ backs toward him, Hecto in front of him… that feeling of their attacks striking his Core. That uselessness of just sitting back. Of Star stealing his body. Of Zena slithering away.

    Owen covered his eyes, taking in a long, deep breath. In, out. Meditate. Calm. He took in another long, deep breath. In, out. His exhale was shaky this time.

    Something shuffled nearby; remembering that he still had his horns off, he jumped and looked for them.

    “Here.”

    Owen blinked, looking at the leaves that held his horns. Then at the Lilligant before him.

    “Amelia,” Owen greeted with a sniffle. He took his horns, staring at them, yet not putting them on. “Hey, I—sorry. I’ll get back to my body soon, and—”

    “It’s okay. Daddy has it covered for now. He’s giving Eon a firm talking to.”

    “Wh—what?” Owen said, about to stand up.

    “Shh, it’s okay. Eon can’t hurt you, remember?”

    Owen was stuck in the motion of standing up, but he eventually relented, returning to the floor. He glanced at Amelia; her leaves shifted uncomfortably. His wings drooped further. “You’re still scared of me, huh?”

    “N-no,” Amelia lied.

    Owen smiled slightly, looking down. “So you mean if I put my horns on, your body language will feel just fine to my Perceive?”

    Amelia didn’t answer, but the flower on the top of her head lowered subtly. But then it went up, Amelia puffed her cheeks, and she defiantly approached Owen, sitting right next to him. She bumped her hip against his and crossed her leaf-arms. “I’m not,” she said. “You’re my Guardian, so of course I’m not afraid. Besides, you’re just a big hatchling.”

    “H-hatchling?!”

    “Yeah.” Amelia turned her head up. “So I’m not scared of you at all. You’re too nice.”

    Owen stared, mouth agape between insult and shock, but then it melted into a relieved smile. “Right…”

    They sat in silence for a while after that. Owen flipped his horns over, inspecting the little rivets at the edges. He traced his claws along the edge, feeling for how it must have snapped into his head when he needed to. As much as he hated the fact that his powers could be taken apart like some kind of build-it toy, he couldn’t deny Nevren’s ingenuity when designing him.

    “A lot of the spirits really like your Grassmander body,” Amelia said, giggling. “I think it’s cute. Even though they’re so old, they’re like kids again. It’s nice to see.”

    “I saw.” Owen grinned, returning Amelia’s giggle with one of his own. “I had no idea. I really need to visit you guys more often. Maybe if Zena did, she wouldn’t have felt as lonely…”

    “It’s not the same,” Amelia replied sadly. “Talking to your spirits… doesn’t give the same sort of need that the body does for having company. It’s weird, in a way. Besides… in a lot of ways, it can start feeling the same.” Amelia motioned to the Core. “See… spirits take on a lot of traits from their host. Because we’re part of you, kinda. For now, at least. And everyone else used to be part of my Dad, when he was Guardian.”

    Owen frowned, looking away. “I don’t really like that.”

    “Huh?”

    “That you guys start acting like me after a while.”

    “I mean, I don’t feel that much like you,” Amelia quickly amended, raising her leaves. “It’s more like—we feel what you feel, sometimes. We just know how you are and what you think, because, well…” She motioned to the Core. “That’s you, right there. We’re all connected to it. So, what do you expect, right?”

    “I guess…”

    Amelia frowned, placing a leafy hand on Owen’s side. “Come on, what’s up with you? You fought off Star! That’s gotta count for something, right? And there’s no way Zena’s mad at you. She understands!”

    Owen winced, wrapping his wings around himself. “I don’t want to talk about that right now. Sorry.”

    “O-okay.” Amelia shrank away, fidgeting with her leaves. They made a soft, fabric-like sound with each stroke. She sat back down next to him, making little motions on the ground. Out of curiosity, Owen watched what she was doing. A little vine popped out of the ground, no larger than his fingers. A flower sprouted from it; the little vine swayed left and right before sinking back underground.

    Owen tilted his head. He turned his hand green and made a similar motion toward the ground, forming a similarly sized vine with a daffodil, just like his Grassy form’s tail. He and Amelia exchanged a glance, a smile, and then looked back at the ground.

    With a small smile, Owen finally found the courage to put his horns back on. He felt a bit of nervousness from Amelia right when it came on… but it didn’t seem to be because of his presence. She was just worried, perhaps, of what he’d see. A self-fulfilling prophecy. An amused smile formed on his mouth, but not on the side that Amelia could see.

    Finally, while making another small, intertwining set of vines, he spoke again. “All this time, I just wanted to be myself. I wanted to… I don’t know. Maybe make decisions for the way I want things to go for once.”

    While Owen spoke, Amelia made smaller vines form around the large vine that Owen made, growing in a small, protective circle.

    “Not have… my parents, or my mentors, or our freaking gods decide what I’m going to do. And now, look. I have you guys, and you’re falling to my will, just like I fall for theirs. I don’t… I don’t like that.”

    “Oh.” Amelia halted the vines that were guarding the larger one. They shrank back into the dirt.

    “I know that you guys think that it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “That maybe it was your choice to follow me, or whatever. I get it. Because that’s exactly how I had been. It’s what that Bug Guardian, Trina, told me. What she told Demitri and Mispy—you know, that whole thing about choosing who to follow.”

    Amelia listened obediently, and that just dug away at Owen further.

    “I want you guys to think for yourselves,” he said firmly. “If there’s… if there’s any way that I can have you guys do that, that’d be great.”

    “W-well—if that’s the case, I choose…” Amelia brought a leaf to her chin, orange eyes focused on Owen’s arm. “…I can’t think of a good reason to go away, Owen. Sorry.”

    “I can think of a few,” Owen said reflexively.

    “Oh, what?”

    “Well, I killed you, for one.”

    Owen had been expecting Amelia to flinch and shrink away at that, but instead he felt a strange anger from her body.

    Her eyes narrowed, “I blame Eon for that, not you. The Owen that I’m looking at right now would never kill me. That’s just some beast that Eon tried to make you become. That kill’s on him, got it? I’m sick of feeling you get all self-pitying about that like it’s somehow your fault. Just… get over it.”

    “Get… get over it.” Owen took off his horns, flipping them in his hands. Did he put them on in reverse? He swapped hands and replaced the horns They didn’t quite fit properly, so he switched them back. Still felt the same.

    Amelia tapped one of her vine-feet on the ground. “Yes, get over it,” she said. “Look, I know I took a few centuries to get over it, but now that I see who you are, and the kind of Pokémon that you want to be, and just… just everything about you, Owen, no. That wasn’t you, and you can’t convince me otherwise.”

    Owen opened his mouth to speak, but Amelia brought up her leaf.

    “And I know you’re about to say something like—” she comically deepened her voice “—Oh, but Amelia, it was me, that was my body and my movements.” She huffed. “No, Owen. That wasn’t what I mean, and you know it. I didn’t read enough books or whatever like you did to know what the right word is for it, but I know that the you back then and the you now aren’t enough the same for me to call you now… the same one that killed me. Alright?”

    They locked eyes again, blue and orange. This time, Owen shrank away; he had no idea Amelia could feel so imposing. Morbidly, he missed when she was timid. But one thing was true: either he couldn’t feel it, or Amelia was displaying no fear.

    So, the synthetic Charizard breathed a small stream of fire that went no more than a head’s length away from him. “Alright.”

    “Good.” Amelia said, finally relaxing. “I know that you still don’t know who you want to follow, or… if you want to follow anybody at all, but…” Amelia struggled to reach up to pat his shoulder. “Just know that you have us with you, okay? And it’s not just because you have us under some kind of control. We can leave whenever we want; you never forced us to stay or anything. This is our choice. And you know, Owen—here’s a little taste of your own medicine. You have your Perceive to feel what others feel, right? Well, I’m part of you. I know what you feel, too.” Her eyes softened again. “Besides, I’m dead. I’m not ready to pass on while all this is happening, so I choose to fight for you.”

    “Choose to fight for me, huh?” Owen’s smile was wider, but mixed with perplexed amusement. “I… I think I know who I want to talk to, actually.”

    “You do?” Amelia paused, squinting at him. Then, her eyes widened. “Ohh!”

    Owen stood up, facing the Core. He reached up, pressing his hand gently on its surface. “Hey, Klent? I’m ready to come back.”

    Golden light leaked from Owen’s form, siphoning into the Core. Amelia giggled, giving him a little wave, and he was gone.

    <><><>​

    The aura sea flowed with its usual, tranquil rhythm. Dots of cyan embers, barely containing the golden spirits within, went past Hecto above and below him, to his sides, and around him. The Dusknoir’s single, red eye scanned the void, and the large antennae on his head tuned in to the various thoughts of death that emanated from each one. He was used to listening to so many voices at once; it was easy, really. At the same time, he reserved part of his mind to keeping up with Star’s endeavor in striking Eon down.

    He couldn’t deny the recklessness of what Star was doing, and he’d warned her as much. This was going to betray all the trust that she had tried to build up with Owen. More worrisome, there wasn’t even a guarantee that she’d be able to get to Eon in time. Hecto wasn’t sure what exactly that device of his did, but it seemed to let Eon do countless things in an instant. Did it pause time? That was his running theory. If only he knew how he’d gained Dialga’s blessing… Particularly when they didn’t know what happened to Dialga at all, body or spirit.

    But based on how well Star was doing against Eon, it seemed that either that power was not as effective now, or he simply didn’t have the device with him. He had been in the middle of dinner with Owen, after all. A bit rude, but certainly advantageous if she wanted Eon dead. She took care of Rim already… but Star became quite incomprehensible after that. Clearly what happened next didn’t go as planned.

    And then, inevitably, her time ran out. Hecto was surprised she lasted this long. Then again, Owen had a tendency to not rebel. The trend broke, it seemed. It wouldn’t be long now until Star wound up in the—

    She appeared moments later. Hecto let out a small grunt, the sound echoing in his body, and watched the dejected, pink Pokémon float toward him. It was listless, like she was still coming to her senses—understandable. According to what his copies were telling him, Star had been incinerated by Owen. Witnessing that had been apparently more shocking than Ra’s Thunder.

    She wasn’t drifting toward him. It seemed that the currents of the aura sea were running oddly—that was concerning, but there were more pressing matters. He made a gentle gesture with his hands, drawing Star toward him. The Mew drifted a bit closer, eyes barely open.

    Then, suddenly, she shot up with a gasp. She looked at her paws, then at Hecto, and the realization hit her.

    Hecto took a breath that he did not need and braced himself.

    Star screamed. She flailed her body in the air, creating Psychic bubbles in front of her just so she could punch them out of existence. Solid blocks of purple energy formed in their place; she slammed her whole weight in it, biting, tearing, clawing at all she could. The blocks flickered away; she couldn’t maintain enough concentration to keep it stable. She squeezed the air, glaring into space. Various auras nervously drifted away from Star along the current, accelerating toward the great light on the other side of the sea.

    Star shot herself to Hecto next, slamming into his ghostly body with a wail. With how tiny Star was, Hecto could only wrap one of his hands around her, gently using one of his fingers to stroke behind her ears. She sobbed, pressing harder against Hecto. He watched her body curl up, tighter and tighter, until she was just a pink ball in his palm. He brought his other hand over her, protecting her in a little dome.

    They remained this way for a while in silence. Quiet sniffles crawled out through his fingers, punctuated by hiccups and sobs. But, eventually, Star uncurled herself, migrating to his wrist, and then she graduated to his shoulder. Her eyes were red, but Hecto didn’t have any words to help. He knew that this could have happened—and so did she. But she had just hoped that, for once, it would have worked out in her favor. Yet Fortune did not favor this god. He wondered if Star would have had better luck if she actually tried to create a sense of fate for the world. But that went against her philosophy; she never liked trying to predetermine anybody’s actions… even if, ultimately, it would have made this ordeal much easier.

    Even in a deterministic world, she could only predict so much before she interfered with the system directly. Hecto brought one of his hands—massive compared to Star—to her again, rubbing her back. Her sobs were getting quieter, but she still trembled, pawing at her eyes.

    The aura sea returned to its quiet peace. She and Hecto watched it for a while. Countless lives coming and going with no idea about the divine battle that took place for centuries. The ideal outcome, in a way, though Hecto wondered, morbidly, how many of those lives had been ended, one way or another, by mutants.

    Finally, Star took in a breath, and Hecto knew she was finally going to speak. “It’s over… isn’t it?”

    “Hm.”

    “Eon’s gonna win Owen over. He’s gonna get all the Guardians rounded up. H-he’s gonna k-kill me… kill us…”

    “You’re already dead, Star.”

    “Y-you know what I mean!” Star sniffled again, her voice cracking. She settled back down, mumbling a quiet apology, though Hecto hadn’t felt offended. He had expected as much of a response. If anything, he was frustrated—there was nothing he could say or do to help. With all his copies and all his knowledge, all of his experience, he didn’t know what he could say to help. Perhaps there was a situation in the deep past that he could recall, but now, seeing Star like this, his mind was a blank.

    His single, red eye flickered. No matter how useless, he had to say something. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more.”

    “Oh, please,” Star said, bumping her head against his shoulder. “It’s not your fault at all. I messed this all up. You warned me! You… you warned me that this could backfire! A-and you were right! As—as always, maybe I should’ve just listened instead of getting impatient! B-but… but Eon! What if… what if he just controlled Owen right then? That Promise wasn’t gonna do anything for him if he was under Eon’s control, right? I—I had to, I… there was nothing else I could’ve…”

    Through Star’s rambling justifications, Hecto nudged her until she was resting in one of his arms, nestled against his chest. He knew the phase. Trying to justify every action she took, making sure that, had she done it again, it would have made perfect sense. Even when, ultimately, it failed. Covering up her regrets with a patchwork of reasons and excuses.

    “Owen’s never gonna let me in again,” Star said. “And then he’s gonna tell all the other Guardians. Zena, Manny, Amia, Step… oh, God, Step. She’s gonna make sure everyone never lets me in again. I’m… I’m gonna be stuck here. Aether Forest is filled with wraiths. Where are they even coming from?! No way Barky’ll let me in the Hall of Origin after all the stupid stunts I’ve pulled. Once he finds out, I’m done. I may as well just cross the sea and never come back. I…”

    Hecto switched arms, letting Star toss and turn to get more of her energy out. “Give it time,” Hecto said. “There’s nothing you can do with Owen right now. He’ll just kick you out again if you try to reenter, and I do not think it would be safe to go to Aether Forest yet.”

    “Right…” Star hesitated. “Wait—Barky. Is he okay?!”

    “He is fine. Arceus, the Trinity, and Rhys are recovering in the Hall of Origin. Ghrelle was able to dispatch of the wraith army with Perish Psalm, but there’s no telling when another horde may return. So far, none have appeared, but do remember that the last time they came, they had first appeared when trying to get you.”

    Star nodded, shuddering. She rubbed at her shoulder where the wraith had first struck her. “Are they okay?”

    “Rhys was badly hurt.”

    Star shrank again.

    “But he is recovering. There is no need to worry about them.”

    Star nodded, relaxing slightly. She then turned over, using one of Hecto’s fingers like a pillow. “Eon’s making so many horrible experiments. He’s making a Pokémon stay in a Mega form, Hecto. That poor feral’s aura is tearing itself apart. A-and speaking of that. Did you see that… thing?”

    “I had thought nothing of it at the time,” Hecto said, “but I believe you are talking about Lavender.”

    Yes!” Star shuddered. “I—I never felt so sick in my life. All of those spirits are just trapped inside him, and for what?”

    “Based on his performance, it’s an effort to mimic the power of Hands without any need for them. Concentrate enough spirits into a single aura and you can achieve similar, albeit unstable, effects.” Hecto blanketed his other hand over Star; she curled up, hiding in his palm’s shadow. “But, Star, you have to acknowledge that none of them seem to be suffering.”

    Star didn’t reply.

    “The mutants are happy together. Lavender and Lucas are among them; while they are all experiments, I have observed Eon doing nothing but good things for them… aside from their creation, at least.”

    “Yeah, and that’s the problem,” Star said flatly. “None of them deserved to be born that way. Just look at all the grief it caused Team Alloy. Look at their doubles with Trina. Aside from Har, they were so upset that they sealed their memories. Lucas’ aura is practically melting from the inside-out. Lavender’s could explode at any second if he’s not careful.”

    “Then what did you plan to do with them?” Hecto said.

    “Just… undo it.”

    “Undo it.”

    “Just think about it, Hecto. If I took Eon’s Orbs out, and then Rim’s, and then maybe did a thousand apologies to Owen, I’d be able to convince them to lend me some power to fix them up. Normalize the mutants, or something. There’s gotta be a way, right? And then free the spirits in Lavender. He’s usually a Scolipede, right? Just let him be that all the time. Or maybe he can keep that Silvally body! I think it looks awesome! Just not the soul eating part. And Lucas… Just stop him from Mega Evolving so long. Maybe smooth out his aura a little.”

    All the while, Star’s voice calmed down. The entire hypothetical, perhaps now completely out of reach, at least gave her something to focus on.

    “You could have potentially talked to Eon instead,” Hecto stated.

    Star poked her head out from between Hecto’s fingers. “You’ve tried that a thousand times. What makes you think he’ll listen to me?”

    He didn’t have a counter for that.

    Star shrank down again. “I know. I should’ve. But when I saw that flash of… of Owen and Eon making that Promise… that was a worst-case scenario, Hecto. The guy knows Owen more than anyone; of course he’d get into his head. They were partners forever.”

    “Then perhaps trying to interfere with that bond was your first mistake,” Hecto said.

    “Go tell that to Rhys,” Star muttered, rolling over. “He’s the one who stole him away with Team Alloy.”

    “Mm.” And they settled into silence again. Hecto watched the currents with her until a new thought crossed his mind. “What happened to the Psychic Orb?”

    Star snorted, rubbing her eyes again. “I was about to give it to Owen, but then Gahi snatched it. Stupid Flygon… he’s way too fast. I should make that illegal or something. If I could…” Star curled up again, grabbing the end of her tail. “I think I overdid it on Rim… m-messed her up pretty bad… But—but she’s strong. She’ll push through it; I know her. But I had to get it out. What were the Unown doing on her side, though? I thought for sure the spirits would’ve abandoned her the second she took it. You don’t link minds that fast.”

    “Hm. It is likely that Gahi now has the Orb, one way or the other.”

    “Well, either way, no way I want to go to the Psychic Realm for this one. Ugh… I used to love going to that place, too. The Unown were really fun.”

    “You certainly enjoyed the Unown visitors.” Hecto briefly admired the auras flowing along the sea. “Something still doesn’t feel correct.”

    “Yeah, Eon’s about to steal Owen’s mind or something.”

    Hecto looked down at Star. “You do realize that Owen is perhaps the last Pokémon that he would want to control in that way… don’t you?”

    Star curled up. “Maybe long ago, but I dunno anymore. He wants Owen back so much that he tried making another one. I wouldn’t put anything past him anymore.”

    “Some bonds may be too sacred to forsake, even for Eon in his state.”

    Star didn’t reply. Instead, after a silence, she rose out of Hecto’s arms. “I’m… I’m gonna try again. I need to at least warn the others about what happened before—before Step gives the wrong idea. I, uh… I know. Manny’s spirits. They know me. You think Elbee and Doll are still there?”

    “I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” Hecto remarked. “Are you sure you want to go there, though? Manny will be quite displeased.”

    “I’m—I won’t do anything crazy. Once I sense he’s coming, I’ll just slip away.” Star glanced around. “Actually, speaking of that, did you send Amia back to the Fire Realm already? I, er, you know what happened back there. I felt her aura get destroyed, so…”

    Hecto hesitated in his reply.

    “What? Did she tell you off or something?” Star smiled. “Sorry. I know you don’t like getting yelled at. But I guess she fits her Orb Type, huh?”

    And still, Hecto said nothing. His fingers briefly twitched, earning a confused blink from the Mew.

    “…Uh, so, where’d you send her instead? I’ll—I’ll get her and apologize and bring her back. She needs to protect her Realm anyway.”

    Hecto didn’t want to admit it—it didn’t make sense to him to begin with. Amia’s aura was distinct. It glowed with Mystic power. She was likely strong enough to retain her body’s appearance, even here. And yet, despite this…

    “I can’t find her.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2019 at 8:24 PM
  18. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 69 – Cosmic

    “A thousand hands
    A single heart
    Working and beating as one.


    Unite the lands
    From worlds apart
    Until our battles are done”


    Anam rubbed his forehead, humming. He paced back and forth in his office, glancing outside at the setting sun. Then he looked to the entryway, where it showed a few Pokémon shuffling through the Hundred Hearts HQ to get some evening missions complete. He grinned and giggled.

    “I like those lines. I think I’m gonna keep those for the Hearts motto. But what should I do with the way to finish it off? We need, um, we need a good rallying cry! Maybe… Oh! Maybe… maybe, maybe, maybe…”

    An excited gasp filled the office.

    “The darkness will fall to spirits of light!
    We’ll protect our world and keep up the fight!”


    He grinned, looking up. “I think that’s great!”

    “I do not.”

    Anam frowned at the voice in his head, rubbing his chin. “Aw, how come?”

    “I find it offensive.”

    The Goodra puffed his cheeks. “I guess so. Well, what did you have in mind, Mr. Matter?”

    Anam gasped the moment he woke up, suppressing a shudder right after. Green eyes darted left and right until he remembered where he was—Hot Spot Cave.

    “Ah, you’re awake. Wonderful.”

    Nevren sat in the corner of his little cavern, reading a book titled The Whimsey and Wonder of Forest Ferals.

    Tears immediately welled up in Anam’s eyes, stinging his face. “I—I want to go for a w-walk.”

    “Hmm, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Nevren asked, rising from his seat. He made a gentle flick, and the book set itself down on the table. Psychic energy swirled around his claws. “Now, I recommend you—”

    Anam felt something prodding at his mind again; overwhelming fear took over. He was going to do it again—Nevren was going to strip away his sense of will. Just like before; he’d be helpless to do anything but watch as he ‘behaved’ normally. No. He had to be himself—truly himself—he couldn’t let Nevren get away with this! But it was already too late; Nevren was inside the core of his mind. The thought to resist was already washing away; smiling sounded a lot better. In fact, resting in general felt a lot better than a silly walk. Why did he even bother with that, anyway? He didn’t remember why he was crying.

    But then a new power took over, pushing Nevren’s influence away. A new, cold force, like Anam was falling into a dark pit. Anam’s mouth moved on its own and his vision went dark. “If Anam wants to walk, he will walk.”

    The pink energy sustained itself, Nevren and Anam locking eyes. That coldness swirled along his body, black ink permeating his lavender slime. Please… stop, Anam begged. Don’t hurt him…

    He doesn’t deserve your mercy.

    Please…

    Nevren dispelled his influence. “Very well.” He gave a short bow. “But I request that the walk be within the confines of Hot Spot. It is a bit late for an afternoon walk, and we should all remain here in case Eon attacks. I would rather that not happen while Owen is with him. This situation is… not expected for any of us, yes?”

    More silence followed. The darkness faded from Anam’s body, and with it went the cold. Anam wobbled outside, sniffling and wiping his eyes. Were the others at least enjoying themselves?

    Demitri and Mispy were the first that Anam saw; the pair lounged near Rhys’ home, neighbors to Anam.

    “Hmm?” Mispy lazily turned her head. Demitri, somewhere inside her vines, wiggled until his head poked out.

    “Oh, Anam. Are you doing alright? That whole blessing thing didn’t take out too much of you, did it?” The Haxorus was missing his axes. They were lying nearby; he must have taken them off so he didn’t cut Mispy while they relaxed together.

    “I’m okay,” Anam lied, smiling. “Where’s everyone else?”

    Mispy shrugged, resting her head near Demitri again. “Where?”

    Demitri tilted his head back, using a few vines as pillows. “Uh, last we remember, ADAM’s making Hyper Beam traps near the entrance in case Eon or someone else shows up. Willow’s keeping him company and trying to figure out a way to make some of her shrink mist a trap, too. It’s kinda similar to when Owen puts his Fire Traps in the ground. I guess you could dig through them, but not if they don’t expect any of this! Right? Pretty cool, right?”

    “It is!”

    They’re sick of you. They want you to go. You’re bothering them.

    “Thanks! I think I’ll go and see how they’re doing next.”

    Mispy and Demitri waved politely. Demitri sank back down and leaned his head against a twirl of Mispy, looking up at her chin. She leaned forward, nuzzling him, while they mumbled to each other.

    Anam glanced at Valle next, but decided that he would only irritate him with his constant movement. The Shiftry statue was where he always was, and while he was tempted to chat with him, he didn’t really know how to talk to a statue. He continued down the caves until he spotted Jerry’s abode.

    Why bother? He blames you for every wrong in his life.

    Anam frowned, continuing past the building. But then he stopped, squeezing his fist tight. No, he said. I… I still want to try.

    He is perhaps even worse than all the others. You won’t convince him.

    Maybe I will! Y-you just have to help me! Okay?

    Anam turned around and stepped into Jerry’s home, knocking on the side. “Mister Jerry?” His soft knuckles made little plaps against the wall.

    “Yeah, what?”

    The Aerodactyl was perched on a small nest made of leaves from a spare bed that he borrowed from Rhys’ hoard some time ago. Since their attempt at getting a bed from Kilo Village hadn’t worked out as planned, Jerry just had to deal with a leafy nest.

    He doesn’t like his bed.

    “Um, are you feeling okay?” Anam asked. “I’m sorry you couldn’t get a good bed. Maybe after this is over, I can get you a better one?”

    He hates that you’re trying to help him. He doesn’t want your pity.

    “Why do you care?” Jerry asked, looking away.

    He wished he could just disappear. He is plagued with thoughts to tear away that scarf that keeps him alive.

    “I care because you’re my friend!” This earned an incredulous look from Jerry, followed by an eyeroll. Anam persisted, “I can see that there’s a lot of good in you.”

    He thinks you’re a fool.

    “Um, can I come inside?” Anam asked.

    Jerry stared for a while, narrowing his eyes. His eyes trailed to the glimmering Provisionary Badge in the corner of the room; it looked like it had been tossed there.

    He wants you to leave. He’s ashamed.

    Right before Anam thought to turn back, Jerry snorted. “If you want.”

    He’s scared.

    Anam made careful, slow movements, not doing anything sudden. First, he walked to the Badge, picking it up.

    He wished you didn’t notice.

    Anam smiled, looking it over. “Is it pretty?” he asked. “Sorry if it’s just a Provisionary one, but it’s really hard for me to maintain too many of the really strong Badges, and a thousand is a nice number, you know?”

    Jerry stared for a while, eventually settling down on his nest of leaves. He grunted, trying to get in a better position. “Yeah, well, maybe I’m not good Heart material.”

    Anam approached, step after wet step.

    Fool! Don’t ruin his bed!

    He quickly stopped, sitting when he was a few paces away. Jerry deflated subtly with relief. And then they sat in silence, Anam looking at the Badge to think of what to say. Jerry, too, stared at it, but Anam didn’t hear any advice on what Jerry was thinking.

    Was it really true? Did he ruin Jerry’s life by rejecting him? How badly was he impacted when he rejected him off of only the darkness in his heart? He was desperate; he wanted safety and power; he had been wanted for so much before, so many crimes before he had even become a candidate. Yet, was it wrong to reject him? Could he have… become a better person by becoming a Heart?

    He is feeling awkward and confused.

    Anam blurted his next statement without thinking. “I’m sorry.”

    “Eh?” Jerry blinked several times, looking Anam over, and then at the Badge that the Goodra was now squeezing tight.

    “I… I ruined your life. You were looking up to me, and… and I let you down. I’m s-supposed to be the person who saves this whole world and makes it a better place. I b-bless the Dungeons and make powerful berries and seeds and scarves all to make the world a better p-place. A-and I still failed you. I f-failed so many people, and… and you’re right. You’re r-right to be angry at me.” Anam couldn’t see.

    Everything was blurry; the world was on his shoulders, and Jerry was a reminder that even if he could make the Hearts sweep that world, and make Kilo Village a place of peace for all Pokémon, there were still others like Jerry who fell through. Those that he didn’t help.

    “Oh,” was all Jerry said. He shifted in his nest, looking outside.

    He’s still confused.

    Anam didn’t know what to get from that. Why would Jerry feel confused after that? He was just apologizing, right? There wasn’t any hidden meaning behind it. It just meant that he had to work harder to make the world better.

    He misses his mother.

    But there was nothing Anam could do about that. “If—if there’s… if there’s anything I can do?”

    “Forget it.” Jerry squeezed his eyes shut. “It’s already too late for me anyway. This—this Badge you gave me. What’s the point of it, huh?”

    Hopelessness.

    The Aerodactyl tucked himself under his wings, but he peeked out if only to address Anam. “When this is all over. Let’s assume you find some way to fix my… whatever this is.” He motioned with a wing-claw to the scarf. “What then? I take the exam and become a Heart? After everything I’ve done?”

    “It’s—never too late! Definitely not. You can still make things better.”

    “Yeah, and for who?” Jerry said with a defeated laugh. “Myself? Because that’s what it boils down to. For myself. For the pay. So I can live easy. Oh, sure, it’s not easy, because I have to do dangerous things every day. But so what? I always lived that way back in Pyrock. This is a step up. At least here we have blessed items.”

    Hatred. Lost opportunities. Regrets. A longing to try again.

    “I’ll wipe your record clean,” Anam said automatically. “E-everything. You can start new. After that, you can… you’ll be able to find something new to do, right? As a Heart… you can start a family, maybe?” Anam waited for the voice to say something, but he never did. “I just… I just want to make things right. I broke everything, and I just… please… just…”

    Pity.

    Anam sniffled, wiping his eyes. Gooey tears slapped the ground.

    “That’s really all you want, huh?” Jerry was no longer looking at Anam or the Badge, but instead the gentle glow of a nearby mushroom. Its blue radiance was the only thing that gave any light to the cave. “I don’t get it. For someone who has total control over the world, I don’t get it. I can’t get it, can I? Ha… everything is under you. You can do it all. Nobody can stop you. And all you want to do is help everyone.”

    He doesn’t understand you.

    “I know it doesn’t… I know it seems weird,” Anam said, “but it’s true! I… I just want people to be happy. That’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted!”

    “One person can’t do everything. Guess that’s why you have a thousand others, huh?” Now, he gazed at the rocks at the edge of his nest. He squeezed his talons. “I just want to know why.”

    “Why?”

    “Why was I rejected? After that… it all fell apart. My whole life fell apart. I had it all going for me up until that moment. I just want to know why. What made you look at me, my top scores, and say… no.”

    He’s scared. More than ever.

    And so was Anam. He couldn’t just tell Jerry why—he wasn’t allowed to talk about the voice. But he also couldn’t just tell him that he saw all his darkness, all his misdeeds, all his selfish thoughts. Jerry knew it was coming, but he didn’t want to hear it. If Anam spoke about it now… what would keep Jerry from losing that scarf? He could do it right then. He could walk away and do it in private. They’d see nothing left of him.

    The voice was right. He shouldn’t have come here. He should have let Jerry relax alone.

    “W-well? What is it?” Jerry asked, his wing-claws squeezing next. “Is it because I—” It looked like Jerry had been about to go on a tirade, but his voice caught in his throat. “Oh—forget it. What’s it matter?” He slacked his wings, a claw tentatively brushing at the scarf, but he ultimately pulled away before he could tug.

    “I was wrong,” Anam said. “I… I knew about your history, but I should’ve known that you were just… desperate to make things better for your family. I should’ve… I should’ve given you a chance. But I didn’t. And I…” Anam squeezed his eyes shut again. “I’m—I’m sorry. I’ve done so much to—”

    “YAGH!” Jerry abruptly jumped out of his nest, swatting at his side. Anam jumped next; the voice in his head apparently felt no need to acknowledge the obvious emotions. Instead, a Zoroark appeared in thin air, sitting next to Jerry’s nest with her head cocked innocently.

    “Hi, Enet,” Anam said, sniffling.

    “H-how long were you there?! Stop doing that!”

    Enet tilted her head in the opposite direction. Then, she held out a bowl.

    “Eh?” Jerry inspected its contents; it looked like leftovers from the cooking competition that the Alloys had with one another.

    Jerry is dissatisfied with the offering.

    “Thanks,” Jerry said with a sigh, taking the bowl. “I guess since all the good cooks are out, I should just be thankful for what I have.” He took a tentative nibble, but then looked back at Anam. The Goodra had finally calmed down enough to look at Jerry directly.

    Enet crawled a bit closer to Jerry, tilting her head. He didn’t react, so Enet went a bit closer, mere inches away. Jerry squinted, but didn’t move. Finally, the Zoroark curled up next to him, making a point to drape her hair over his lap with a protective growl.

    Jerry took a deep breath, then let it out, unconsciously running his claws through her fur. “Look,” Jerry said. “I get it. You just want to make the world a better place. But y’know, I just… fell through the cracks. You can’t save everyone.”

    “I—I can!” Anam said. “I just need to try harder. Then I can save everyone.”

    He doesn’t believe you.

    Jerry snorted, looking at the Badge. “I guess that’s the attitude that keeps your organization going, huh? Feh…”

    Bitterness.

    “Maybe one day—when all of this stuff is over—maybe you can tell me more about why?” Anam asked hastily. “I—I think I can learn a lot from you! Maybe that way, what happened to you won’t happen to anybody else.”

    He’s annoyed. You aren’t getting through to him.

    “I don’t get how you can be so hopeful all the time, you know that?” Jerry snapped, his calm eyes suddenly shifting into a spiteful glare. His wing-claws held the bowl of leftovers a bit tightly. Enet’s fur bristled, making her appear nearly twice her size. Electricity coursed beneath her, making Jerry flinch. He didn’t try to push her away; instead, “Just—why? What’s with that look you always have? I see it in that kid, too. I just don’t get it.” He stared at Anam expectantly. “Just answer me this. Why? All of this. Why do you want total control of—the whole world? Is it really just so you can make everyone happy?”

    He doesn’t want you to say yes. But he doesn’t want you to say no.

    Anam had no idea what to make of it, so he defaulted to the truth. “I do. That’s my… my purpose. As a Divine Dragon, and as a Guardian, and as a Heart, that’s my purpose.” Anam closed his eyes.

    “A Thousand hands
    A single heart
    Working and beating as—”


    “Oh, stop with that,” Jerry said, waving his free wing in protest, even while he took another bite of soup. Enet watched Anam curiously, her ears flicking at the Thousand Hearts’ motto. It was clear that she had no idea what the words were, but perhaps the rhythm intrigued her.

    “…as one,” Anam finished, looking at Jerry more thoroughly now.

    “Unite the lands
    From worlds apart
    Until our battles are done.”


    Anam them looked at Jerry, frowning. “You used to want to be a Heart… right?”

    He hates that you are correct.

    Jerry sighed, looking at the rest of his soup. He had barely taken a few bites. Resigned to his fate, he recited the final couplet.

    “We serve Kilo and all its parts
    Under one name: The Thousand Hearts.”


    Anam beamed. “You still remember!” He clapped his hands, but then listened to the voice.

    Shame.

    So Anam beamed even harder. “Jerry! Even after all this time, you remember! You know—I think that means you still have a lot of good in you. Don’t be so down on yourself, okay?”

    “I wasn’t down on myself,” Jerry said defiantly. “I just don’t understand it. That’s all. I had a different upbringing, okay? You can’t just shake away habits like that.”

    “Well, you can always try. You should try going on missions again, the ones open to Provisionaries like you.”

    “I’m not a—”

    “Nu-uh, you totally are!” Anam pointed at the Badge.

    “I—that—you…” Jerry finally sighed. This time, he was completely defeated. “…You still don’t understand. But it’s your world. I’ll just play by your rules and… be glad that you really are just… trying to help.”

    He leaned forward to get one last bite of soup, but something finally occurred to him. “Enet, can you stop making the place so dark? I can barely see a thing.”

    It was true—it was indeed very dark. Gradually, ever since Anam had come in, or perhaps even a bit before that, it was becoming harder and harder to see even the walls. Yet, despite this, Enet tilted her head. “Dark?”

    “I don’t think that’s Enet,” Anam mumbled, looking back. “The mushrooms…”

    Slowly, yet certainly, the Mystic glow of Amia’s Hot Spot mushrooms faded away.

    <><><> ​

    Gahi’s wings sang a wonderful tune through the afternoon air. He banked right, turning his head back just to see how far he’d gone. The Sceptile and Ampharos that had been guarding the entrance seemed too surprised to try to stop him. Did they even know what had happened?

    Despite everything that had happened, the world still turned, the sun still set, and the world at large had no idea that Mew herself had tried to take down a Hunter. Something in Gahi’s gut made him try to stop her. Like Owen had the right idea—that perhaps they could have talked their way out of it all. Yet Star didn’t do that. “Feh…”

    Gahi looked down; his hands felt sticky from being lodged in the severed ends of the mutant Meganium’s vines, but he knew from before that touching the pink, swirling Orb in his claws would kill him.

    Gahi dove forward once he felt he was far enough away. Star couldn’t get him here, right? But what was he supposed to do now? Owen—no, he’d fight her off. Some dumb, pink furball wasn’t going to beat him for long. She just got the jump on him—if anything, Star would be begging Owen for mercy when this was over! Gahi smirked, looking down at the Psychic Orb.

    Hopefully Rim was alright. But he probably couldn’t give it back to her, either. She was still a Hunter, and maybe this was the best way to get it back, right? But who was supposed to control the Orb now?

    He landed in a small clearing where the ocean’s salty air was faint, yet the ocean itself wasn’t visible. The trees here were few and far between—it seemed to be more of a grassland than anything. He had landed on top of a small hill without a Pokémon in sight. He’d stand out, but the area was the best he could think of.

    If he stayed in the shade, maybe his shiny body wouldn’t give himself away.

    Settling down, the Flygon placed the Orb in front of him and threw off the vines. It was in the back of his mind, but it crawled to the front, now. Star might still be inside Owen; if that happened, and she found him, he might not be able to run away as easily again. None of the others could take an Orb—from Owen’s memories, Gahi knew that all of them had Promised in one way or another to not claim another Orb.

    Gahi didn’t see many other options. He also didn’t make any Promises. “Heh. Well, this’ll be stupid.” He shrugged and reached forward, grasping the Orb. Yet, strangely, it disappeared from his grip in an instant. “E-eh?!” Frantically, Gahi brought his second hand forward, as if it had somehow gone from his vision. And then, another second later, he realized that he had gone blind—no, that wasn’t quite right. He could still see himself, yet the afterimage of the shaded field he had been sitting in quickly disappeared.

    “Wah—ah.”

    That must have been how Owen felt when he first became the Grass Guardian. Gahi grunted and stood up, taking in his new surroundings. From above to below, Gahi only saw a black void speckled with white lights, much like a cloudless night. Though, it was a bit unnerving that this darkness was not only above him, but all around.

    His eyes adjusted to the darkness—and, briefly, Gahi wondered why his eyes had to adjust at all, if he was technically dead—and a few new colors swirled in the black void. Red and blue hues mixed like nebulae, accompanied by an odd, disc-shaped, swirling aurora that faded in and out.

    Gahi had never seen anything like it, but fragments of what memories he had of Owen’s life told him that this was a lot like a galaxy. Where did Owen get that memory from? Their sky looked nothing like this. He wasn’t even sure what a galaxy was, yet that knowledge was there. He only wished he had a bit more of Owen’s knowledge to figure out what it meant.

    “Eh… anybody home?” Gahi called out; his voice had no echo. He took a tentative step forward; his green feet made a pulse of the same color on the flat, transparent ground. Soon, the pulse moved vertically several paces away from him, giving the outline of a wall. The pulse went higher and higher until it reached a tall ceiling; he’d be able to fly in a place like this without a problem.

    With an intrigued hum, Gahi swept his tail across the ground next. A more rapid pulse of his green tail and red-and-green fan covered the room in a thin, murky outline of colors. He saw where it became a corridor.

    He also noticed that some of those white specks in the air had black dots in the middle… and they were moving.

    “Eh?” Gahi tilted his head upward, squinting at them. His eyes were good enough to spot things several seconds away from him at top speed, but in this strange place, it all felt distorted. Besides, how were they even doing that? That was past the wall. Which was also see-through. Was it just a barrier? Was this all a barrier?

    Maybe his lenses were smudged. Gahi popped them off and inspected the red tint on the other side, making sure that they were clear on one side, but red on the other. It all seemed fine. He popped his lenses back on again and looked up; they were still floating around, though now they seemed a bit bigger.

    And now he was starting to hear strange voices. They spoke in little squeaks and peeps and whistles, incomprehensible. But they were definitely voices—or at least, sounds? He had no idea what they were. “Eh—hello?”

    Bah, c’mon, Owen, where’s this knowledge, eh? Gahi struggled to think back to his foreign memories, hoping that something—anything—from Owen would help him with this. But he couldn’t find anything. But now that they were closer, he realized what those things actually were.

    Letters? They looked a lot like letters. Strange letters with—those were eyes.

    The white things were eyes, attached to letters. Eon had called them something… Were they called Unknown? No! Unown! From the Book of Arceus! He knew that one. He didn’t even need Owen’s help for that.

    “Oy, so, eh, figure I’m gonna get yer Core now,” Gahi said. “Rim’s sorta outta commission, so I’m gonna take over. D’you mind showin’ me the way ter that?”

    The Unown swirled around in a great circle, each one glowing in the cosmic darkness. Gahi took an uneasy step back, another green ripple trailing through the invisible room. He glanced to the right and saw an opening to flee. If anything, he could probably find the core if he just ran along there.

    The Unown flashed, each one a slightly different color. Gahi’s instincts warned him of the presence of Ice energy coming for him, followed by Fairy and Dragon energy, among the swarm. His muscles kicked into action; in a burst of speed, he evaded the convergent blasts and flew into the invisible hallway. Gahi brushed his tail on the walls again, revealing several corridors to follow. Behind him, the mix of Hidden Powers had turned the room he had stood into a swirling mess of chaotic, multicolored energy that sustained itself for several seconds.

    He probably shouldn’t get caught up in something like that.

    “Bah!” Gahi weaved through the halls again, thankfully that the velocity that he swept on the ground translated directly to how quickly the ripples rushed through the invisible halls. He kept his wings outstretched, only using his feet to turn quickly.

    The Unown were singing above him—at least, if he could call it singing. But then Gahi realized that part of the singing was because of his wings through the air; could that be drawing them to him? Well, didn’t matter—he couldn’t help that, and they were going to find him in the void anyway. Even in the weak light, he noticed that his shiny body still glimmered against what little it provided.

    Gahi brushed his tail against the walls for the umpteenth time for another turn, but when he tried, his tail hit clear air. But why? He had been in a hall the last time he checked! Gahi banked left, swiping his tail on a wall that could have been further away, but nothing came, and the Unown were closing in as a sea of letters.

    Something caught the corner of Gahi’s vision. A bright, glowing orb of golden light, far, far away. That must’ve been it—the Core! The Unown screamed again. Gahi decided to land; he descended to the ground, waiting for his feet to touch something—yet nothing did. The invisible ground that he had once used had evaporated.

    It was a good thing he could fly. With a few powerful wingbeats, he raced for the Core. It would only take a few seconds for him to get to it, and the Unown had no hope of keeping up with him. This was a lot easier than—

    Suddenly, Gahi’s wings stopped generating lift. There was no friction against the air, and therefore nothing to push off of—because the air was suddenly gone. Gahi tried to gasp, but instead, air escaped him. He clutched his throat and spun around, floating. Gravity was gone, too, and the Unown were right behind him, all glowing with another volley of Hidden Powers.

    These Unown were controlling this Psychic realm. How was he supposed to go against that? No—Rim found a way. She had taken over this place the first time. But how was he supposed to rewrite a reality that these Unown had control over?

    Gahi paused in his own thinking, even while the Unown had gathered in a circle around him. Rewrite reality. He’d just done that a little while ago, the same power Rim must have used.

    Hopefully Owen wouldn’t call him an idiot for taking so long to realize it.

    Filaments of light sprouted from Gahi’s back. Alright, how’m I gonna… bah, whatever. Gimme air!

    Gahi swiped his claws forward; the Hands on his back brightened, and suddenly he could breathe again. “Hah!” He beat his wings, flying through the Unown swarm, knocking against a few of their bodies—they were a lot harder than he had expected—and then flew back to the swarm.

    The Unown screeched; air disappeared again. “Nice try!” Gahi twirled his body, returning the atmosphere for his local area, and then kept flying until the Core was right in front of him.

    The Unown stared, stunned, but Gahi wasn’t sure why. Maybe they didn’t expect another host to be so strong. Not that it mattered.

    “Hah! I win!” Gahi didn’t know what to expect, but he slammed into the Core shoulder-first, grunting at the smooth, hard impact it returned to him. He adjusted until he had his arms wrapped around it, using his tail and wings as further leverage. What’s it supposed ter do now? Gahi said. The Core was supposed to just accept him, right? “Eh…”

    The Unown floated toward him again, and Gahi was now frozen without an idea of where to go, a Flygon wrapped around a sphere in the middle of nowhere. Stars chaotically swirled around in a slow circle in the far distance.

    “H-hey, oy, oy!” Gahi raised one of his arms. “Don’t think ter attack me! I got yer Core! What’re you even bein’ hostile fer?!” After all, he was on their side. They had a pretty basic choice—either let Gahi take him, or they’d be without a host and some other random person could take him instead. Most likely, Star! And they didn’t seem to care for her very much, either. Was that Rim’s influence on them?

    Gahi squeezed his claws on the Core. C’mon, just let me in! he said. I promise, I ain’t that big an idiot!

    If only because bits of Owen helped him make up for the fact.

    The Unown collected in a small clump behind Gahi, strange shockwaves of clear energy radiating from them the closer they collected together. “What’re you doin’?”

    The light distorted so much that new colors formed within, and soon, after white swirls faded to greens and reds, a second Flygon floated behind Gahi. It was an exact replica of him.

    “Oh, eh… hey. Who’s the new guy?”

    The Flygon, with several Unown floating around him like a storm cloud, squinted interrogatively at him.

    “…Look, I dunno what yer deal is, you weird… letter-eyes, but I just wanna help. I’m Owen’s bro, an’ Rim’s… son, I guess. This is the Psychic Orb, right? Go read my mind er whatever. That’s a thing with you guys, yeah? Er what, is that Typist o’ me ter say?” Gahi briefly wondered if Owen could ever have privacy if Amia was his mother.

    This Unown-doppelganger placed a claw on Gahi’s back, then his whole palm.

    “E-eh? What’re yeh doing?” Gahi tried to pull back, but realized that he was stuck to the Core. “W-wait, eh—hang on, gimme a sec!”

    Flygon pressed harder; it was starting to feel hot—scalding. Energy like electricity ran through Gahi’s spirit—being Ground all his life, he didn’t really know what that felt like until just then, the jolt of electricity that ran down his spine and to his chest. He gritted his teeth, even when his head fell in next. “C’mon, that all ya got?! I can take it!”

    Flygon tilted his head curiously, then looked up at the Unown. Despite having no features to do so, it seemed that they shrugged with Flygon, and then pushed Gahi all the way in.

    For a few seconds, all Gahi saw was golden light. He didn’t care for it; too bright, too hot. And then, he blacked out; and then, he was staring at the cosmic sky, several Unown floating around him, with a smooth, yet bumpy floor beneath him. “Urgh… so I take it yeh read my mind after all?”

    The Unown bobbed.

    “Well, good. Do that first next time, instead o’ that whole stunt.”

    It seemed that the Unown were sorry.

    “…Where’s the rest o’ you? Figure there were way more.” The swarm was a lot smaller. He followed the Unown’s bodies, tilting their gaze to something below Gahi. He tilted his head and realized that the smooth, bumpy ground was… more Unown.

    The Unown greeted Gahi.

    It wasn’t quite a thought sent to him, yet it was the impression he had in their cheerful gazes. A thought below his conscious thoughts, subtly telling him what they were saying. “Hey,” Gahi replied back, squinting. “…Alright. So, not very talkative, eh?”

    It didn’t seem that they were, though he could hear their thoughts very easily.

    “Whatever. Look, how long do I gotta wait?”

    He wouldn’t have to wait long; like what happened with Rim, once they decided she was worthy to hold the Orb—well, more that she was too strong for them to fight off—she woke up. At least Gahi seemed fun.

    “Fun, eh?” Gahi smirked. “Good. I’ll be fun. Just… help me out with how ter use this power when I wake up. I’m gonna fly back t’ Hot Spot, tell everyone what happened.”

    The Unown didn’t know about Hot Spot. What was it like? Was it a friendly place?

    “I think you’ll like it,” Gahi said, shrugging. When he shrugged, he noticed that little, golden lights were leaking from his body. “Eh? What’s that?”

    The essence of the Core was linking itself to Gahi, and how that it was done, their spirits—the base of what manifested them within the realm—were leaving his body. Spirts were golden, after all. And more importantly, Gahi’s spirit was about to leave for the world of matter again.

    “Oh, alright.” Gahi nodded. “Cool. I’ll figure out how ter visit you guys later.” He blinked a few times, shaking his head. “I gotta stop talking to myself. I’m becoming Owen.”

    And then, Gahi was staring at a clear, blue sky. “Eh?” He sat up, rubbing his head. His scales felt a bit different, not quite like scales. In fact, he felt very smooth, or perhaps less smooth and more… He wasn’t sure what. Glassy. That was the word. Like his claws were running over a smooth statue, but then, when he went a bit deeper, it also felt like he was running them through his body, too. He squinted, finally looking down.

    “Eh?!”

    His body was completely black, save for some white, glowing specks beneath his body. “Huh. I kinda look like nighttime,” Gahi remarked, wondering if Rim had a similar form, or if it wasn’t as dramatic due to her Typing already being Psychic. He shrugged, briefly wondering if she was okay—but it wasn’t going to be a good idea to go back there. Star might still be rampaging… “You guys in there?” Gahi murmured, closing his eyes.

    The Unown were there, and they were trying to figure out how he was feeling. He seemed worried, and they were worried about Rim, too. But they didn’t know what they could do. Did they have anybody to warn?

    “Well, yeah, we’ve got someone,” Gahi said. “That’s right, yeah. We’ll go and fly back—”

    Telepathy was a lot more useful to talk to them.

    Gahi blinked, rubbing his head. Eh… I’m gonna go to Hot Spot. Warn ‘em there.

    Gahi stretched his wings, flinching when he realized that they were transparent and filled with stars. He made a tentative wingbeat, feeling some lift, and then nodded. He hopped in the air, flying into the sky, but then the whole ground left him a lot faster than he expected. He fumbled through the air with a yelp, hovering in place. He had only beat his wings a few times, yet it was like he had suddenly jumped several tens of feet higher than usual—he didn’t feel that much stronger. What happened?

    It wasn’t that hard to figure out; it was just a bit of Psychic teleportation.

    “Eh? Teleportation? Hang on, lemme try that again…”

    Gahi stared ahead; in what felt like a blink, he was suddenly over a different patch of forest. “Okay, I can get used ter this…”

    Gahi flew over the forest, blinking ahead with every wingbeat.

    “Eh?”

    Far ahead, in the darkening sky, clouds formed a vortex directly above Hot Spot Cave.
     

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