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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.
     

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