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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

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

  1. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 72 – Water and Fire

    Zena’s realm was entirely underwater, complete with bubbly sea beds and rich, colorful reefs of coral. An undersea cavern lined with red and pinkish polyps marked their entrance into the Water Realm, opening into a shimmering field of white sand and dark green seaweed. Few spirits lived here, though those that did peeked out and watched Zena’s return.

    Ever since she’d come to Hot Spot, things felt a lot more cheerful and much less gloomy in the Water Realm. Even the shimmer of the water’s surface seemed brighter. Zena propelled herself out of the cavern first and looked back. “I want to thank you for escorting me, Man—er… Manny?”

    Manny’s eyes were wide, paws covering his mouth in shock.

    “Ah. I forgot. You should be able to breathe here, Manny, if you… simply think to do so.”

    Manny gave Zena an incredulous look, a few bubbles escaping his snout. Behind him, Azu proudly beat his chest, smiling triumphantly at being in an environment that favored his Watery side. Verd, meanwhile, was rolling his eyes at Roh, who was flailing in dramatic, agonizing pain, the flames on his head and tail bubbling in the water. They eventually went out, and the Infernape turned belly-up, motionless and dead.

    The Chesnaught jabbed Roh on the side. The fiery fighter puffed out a plume of hot air and flailed again, glaring at Verd. In response, he pointed at Zena; after following the claw, Roh shook his head and gave a polite bow.

    She had to admit—it was odd to see an Infernape without their fire. He almost seemed… bald. “I suppose you’re all a bit out of your elements.”

    Azu shook his head emphatically and opened his mouth. Huge air bubbles escaped him in a rhythm that could only suggest laughter.

    Yen, behind them all, shook his head, eyes lowered.

    “Well, I won’t keep you,” Zena said. “I can handle myself from here. Return to your realm; I have… a few things that I want to do.”

    Manny and the Fighters tilted their heads.

    “Do you have an idea where Owen may have gone? I have my doubts about him returning to Hot Spot so soon, the way he was… but I also don’t think he’d remain with Eon. Surely he’d…”

    To this, they could only reply with pensive frowns.

    Zena smiled sadly. “Well, I will figure it out. Thank you. Please, we can talk again in the living world.”

    They all nodded—Roh the most enthusiastic—and spun around to return into the cavern that they had entered from. Zena flew through the water, making little conversation with the shy spirits of the ocean, until she found a great dip in the sea floor.

    A few other watery spirits floated about listlessly in the sea. They spared a glance at Zena and gave awkward waves; Zena did the same with her left eyebrow. She wondered how they were all doing. Admittedly, she hadn’t spoken to them very much. They had grown lonely together, often spending most of their time sleeping or hibernating to waste the years of eternity away. It wasn’t much of a waste if there was no end to it.

    A Swampert out from the sand near the bottom of the riverbed before the dip into the abyss, tilting his head at Zena. He waved a huge arm her way, and Zena waved back. She figured most of them were already caught up in everything, and, briefly, she wondered if she should stay back to talk to them more.

    Owen spoke with his spirits now and then. They always had useful advice. She’d tried that with them, too, but perhaps she had been too depressing and lonely before. Who would want to hang around someone like that, if only out of obligation? Her tail twitched and her eyebrows curled up. No, that wasn’t a healthy way to look at things.

    She had a small bit of time. Perhaps she could spare a chat with them. She drifted toward the Swamperd, whose eyes widened slightly. “Hello,” Zena greeted.

    “Hey,” Swampert replied.

    Zena wasn’t sure what to do next. And neither did Swampert. They both stood there; he played with his massive hands. Zena curled one brow around the other. “Um… Have things been well here?”

    “Yeah.” Swampert rubbed the left fin on his head. “Well, actually, we’ve been a little anxious. Probably felt a bit of it from you. Are things… okay?”

    Zena frowned.

    “Is Owen alright?”

    “I want to find out—but—but actually, if—could I ask you something about that?” The words fell like sand into the undersea valley. “I—does he want to be left alone, truly? I don’t actually—”

    “H-hang on, hang on. What actually happened? Did he tell you to faff off?”

    “No, not quite, just—oh, I don’t know,” Zena admitted with a little, irritated sigh. “It’s my fault, not his. I… oh, let me just touch the Core. I’ll share my memories with you.”

    “Sure.”

    By now, quite a few spirits had gathered to the curious display with their host. Zena shrank at their eyes; she didn’t expect so many to still be around. Why would they bother? They should have crossed the aura sea to someplace less…

    In that endless darkness, she saw a tiny pinprick of golden light. Descending, the dot grew into a large sphere; she gently curled around the golden Core, resting her head on top of its tingling warmth.

    Swampert closed his eyes, as did the many other aquatic Pokémon. Several of them were Milotic, though they were smaller than Zena, perhaps intentionally. A Skrelp and a kelp-themed Grovyle inched closer with concern as the memories flooded over. A transparent, crystalline Solrock rumbled sadly. “Poor Owen…”

    “He’s gone through so much,” Zena agreed. “But I don’t know how to comfort him at all. I just… left!”

    “You had to. If you stayed, he’d just feel like you were trying to order him around.”

    “Are you sure?” Zena looked to a pensive Nidoking with a Vaporeon-like lower half.

    “I’m sure,” Nidoking said. “But maybe if he’s not back yet, you an ask around for where he went. It’s all about timing, you know. Why, with my mate…” He reached out and embraced a blue Marowak next to him, who giggled in reply. “It was all about the timing. Sometimes they’ll be upset, but when they cool down, they want nothing more than to hear your voice. And knowing that Charizard, he’ll want nothing more than that pretty soon. I feel it.”

    “I have to agree,” Marowak said after Nidoking let her go. “From what memories you just showed us, there’s no way Owen dislikes you. He’s confused. The only one he’s mad at is Star.”

    Almost instantly, everyone in the sphere of spirits darkened their expressions.

    Swampert slammed his fist into a palm. “Unforgivable…”

    The various Milotic mirrored Zena’s similarly seething expression, but Nidoking raised an arm. “Let’s focus on the positive for now. For Owen, right?”

    That was enough to calm her down. She rested her head on her Orb. “I… I need to speak to you more often. I’ve neglected you all so much and drove so many of you away with my… tendencies.”

    “We were all in a bad place,” Nidoking said. “We didn’t want to leave you because of how lonely you were, but it just dragged us down, too.”

    A stiff silence suddenly followed. A dark thought crossed Zena’s mind, and she wondered if the others thought it, too. Not wanting to let it fester—trying to take advantage of her newfound openness with her spirits—she said, “I wonder if Owen’s the same way…”

    “I’d like to think there’s more to it than that,” Marowak said curtly. “If you’re so concerned, that’s all the more reason to see him. Communicate. That’s how relationships work, you understand?”

    “We’re in this whole mess because nobody talked to each other. Nobody wanted to. People kept secrets and plans. Don’t do that to your mate.”

    “M-mate. Right.” Zena stared into the Core, blushing slightly. “Do you really think that’s possible? Between us? I—I’d love to… oh, I won’t tell this to Owen, not yet—timing, you said—but oh, to be able to settle down one day, perhaps an egg or two…”

    A few of the spirits laughed. A twisting, crushing pressure that had plagued Zena loosened steadily.

    “One step at a time, Zena,” Marowak said. “You need to find Owen, first. I have faith that he’ll love to see you.”

    The Water Guardian looked into the Core. “Thank you. I’ll… do my best. Please, be there for me… even if it’s, er, in spirit.” She pressed harder into the Core. Everything faded to white.

    Zena opened her eyes, now at the bottom of a new cave floor—her lake within Hot Spot. It was good to be home. Rising from the depths, she blinked away the darkness she presumed was because of being inactive for so long. But it didn’t go away. Next, she feared that she had gone blind, somehow—but then her natural, Mystic glow contradicted the thought. She glanced at one of the mushrooms, realizing that they had gone completely dark.

    “H-hello?” Zena called. Where did the light go? Hot Spot was typically very warm, yet now, it felt almost frigid. Perhaps it was all relative, but the darkness didn’t bode well. Amia kept Hot Spot illuminated at all times.

    She slithered out of her lake and turned to the first sign of light. “A-ah—” She didn’t expect it to be so bright. Something was glowing brightly in the middle of Hot Spot. There were shadowy figures nearby in familiar shapes, silhouettes against the central light source. She saw two: Manny, based on the muscular Lucario frame compared to Rhys’ lithe one, and ADAM’s twitching form nearby.

    She slithered silently, feeling guilty for eavesdropping, but she didn’t want to interrupt their conversation at the same time.

    Only… she didn’t hear them talking. They were looking at the ground, playing some sort of board game; Valle must have generated it for them. Zena suppressed a giggle; Valle, making stones for them to move around? How much he had grown.

    “Ugh, these rules are stupid,” Manny shouted, raising his paws in the air. Zena wasn’t surprised that Manny would struggle with a game of smarts; he was all muscle, wasn’t he? Just like his spirits. Very headstrong… not that he’d need much else if he could just punch his problems away. Now that she thought about it, he really was the perfect host for mutants, if they enjoyed fighting as much as ferals seemed to.

    Manny certainly got back to his realm quickly

    “The rules are well-defined. There is no ambiguity.” ADAM twirled his head, then used his beak to flick one of the disk over another. “King this unit.”

    The disk grew in height.

    “How am I even supposed to win?!” Manny said. “This is totally unfair, you know that?”

    Manny was speaking very oddly. And he didn’t usually get this openly frustrated, did he? Zena squinted, wondering if—

    “Star, you should consider thinking more patiently.”

    Zena froze. Of course Manny wouldn’t have returned yet. Star was already here—and she must have told the others… No. They wouldn’t believe her so easily. And why was Valle glowing? She continued listneing.

    “Yeah, well…” Star flicked a digit over one of her pieces, claiming two of ADAM’s in one swoop. ADAM countered with a move that he had clearly planned, cutting the rest of Star’s army in half. She sputtered incoherently, flashing a fierce glare at ADAM. He drifted backward nervously. “…Ugh. Forget it. I surrender.” She fired a small Aura Sphere at one of her own pieces, shattering it. “I guess I suck at all kinds of patience.”

    Zena kept herself from snorting. Certainly, you do.

    “Yes, you do,” Valle said, earning a flinch from Zena. “Despite how you two often clash, you and Step are not very different. Hasty. Quick to draw conclusions. Quick to take action. Yet in the long term, I do not believe your actions provide much benefit.”

    “Excuse me, quick to take action?” Star growled, leaning forward to grab one of the disks. “I spent hundreds of years just sitting by and letting things happen because I didn’t want to step in and mess things up. I was hoping that the Hunters would just… misstep. They were never strong enough to take a Guardian down without my help, you know? But then they just kept going, and… and by then, all the Guardians were all isolated, and…”

    “So now you are overcompensating by taking action too quickly, instead of not quickly enough.”

    “What was I supposed to do?”

    “A number of things would have been more appropriate than stealing Owen’s body. You could have tried speaking with Eon, or listened in on what they were saying. Perhaps, if Eon tried to control Owen, you could have taken over to help him. Instead, you are now the one who overstepped.”

    It was almost like Star was entering a battle stance, but she had no intention of fighting. Instead, the Lucario looked down, breathing out sharply.

    “Hello, Zena,” Valle said.

    “Z-Zena?” Star jolted up. “H-hi! Zena! Um—I, uh… sorry about… look, if you’re looking for Amia, Hecto’s grabbing her now.”

    Zena was in no mood to speak to her directly. It wasn’t just a misstep. Star’s lapse in judgement showed what she truly thought about Owen: a mere tool to get what she wanted, a weapon to use against her enemies. Just like everyone else.

    Star cleared her throat. “So, anyway—"

    “Do not speak to me.” There was no emotion in her tone, only enough coldness to rival Step’s power.

    Star, too stunned, shrank back with her tail between her legs.

    Then, Zena turned to the others, bowing politely. “Hello, Valle, ADAM. I’m actually looking for Owen. Did he return home yet?”

    “No,” Valle said.

    “Star may know,” ADAM added.

    Zena narrowed her eyes at the Porygon-Z, who buzzed nervously in response. She didn’t look at Star, even now, and instead said, “Well, what does she know?”

    The Lucario shifted from left to right, no standing position, or perhaps any position, comfortable to maintain. “H-he flew off to, um, well, Hecto told me that he went to Brandon’s place.”

    Brandon… why Brandon? What was so important about him that Owen would want to…

    Thinking about why Owen wanted to leave, and it suddenly made more sense to Zena. Brandon had made an entire career in his human life with training Pokémon, leading them in a way that was apparently ethical. And Owen, having the same disposition…

    “Well, if that’s the case, I will be going to him. Thank you.”

    There was one place that she knew she could rely on to get to Owen quickly. Flying would take too long, especially from where she was… but they still had a faster way of getting to Brandon through Waypoints. They didn’t set one up for that strange factory, but they did set one up for Emily’s home, which was nearby. Perhaps she could pay a visit to her anyway—surely Emily wanted to see her again.

    She quietly slithered into Rhys’ home, hoping that he wouldn’t disturb his meditation—was that even possible? At some point his spirit was simply gone from the body. She went past the kitchen table, glanced into Demitri and Mispy’s barren room, and then entered Rhys’ overstuffed room. The Lucario’s body leaned against the back wall, cross-legged on the bed. Elder was next to him, snoozing. Zena closed her eyes and, relying on her rudimentary aura sense, found that there was no life energy coming from Rhys. No sense in trying to wake him, and she didn’t want to disturb Elder. The giant Torkoal looked so cozy.

    Still, it felt thieving to take his Badge…

    Zena spared a few moments to fumble with a nearby sheet and ink by the table, writing a short note with her ribbons. I’m borrowing your Badge to see Owen. –Zena

    That should do. Then, struggling against even more piles of junk, she searched for Rhys’ bag. From afar, it almost seemed organized, yet now that she was actually within his room, inspecting and searching for something, the illusion shattered. She couldn’t figure out what half of these things were for. She happened upon a strange bracelet with open slots along the outside, strange sticks that radiated some of Anam’s Mystic energy…

    “Finally.” From the mess came a bag, and within it, a Badge. Owen had taught her how to use it; it was, thankfully, intuitive. Press the center, think of the destination, and hold it high.

    Emily…

    The salty air told her to open her eyes. The sun had already set, leaving a chill-wind to accompany the waves that washed over the shore. Signs of the old clash between Amia and Eon had all but vanished, the only sign remaining being the slightly smoother interior of the caves.

    “Emily? Sorry for disturbing you, er…” She slithered out of the cave. If Emily wasn’t here, she’d know it—how does one miss a gigantic Lugia?

    A great, white lump lay near the cave, curled up with her head tucked under her wing-flippers. “Zena?” Emily said with a groan. “Hi… sorry… I’m sick.”

    Zena blinked, slithering closer to her. “Sick? …You can get sick?”

    “I guess so.” She rolled onto her back, groaning again, while Tanneth emerged from beneath her wings.

    “She’s been feeling kinda bad all day, but it got really bad now,” the Vaporeon said, nuzzling at her shoulders—she had to get on her hind legs to reach them, even with Emily lying down. “She wants to go rescuing other Pokémon, but she can’t do anything like this…”

    Zena frowned, but then dug through her bag. “Well, I always bring some supplies along with me. Consider it a habit from Owen. Why don’t I give you a Pecha Berry? Or maybe a Heal Seed?”

    “Oh, you don’t have to—”

    “No, please,” Zena insisted. “Emily is my friend, too, even if… it’s been a while.” She produced both for her, offering the Pecha first. The berry wasn’t even as big as one of her teeth. “Er…” Not knowing what to do, Zena just tossed it in her partly opened mouth.

    “Mm… a little sweet.” Emily rubbed at her belly, smiling. “I feel a little better!”

    “Were you poisoned by someone, perhaps?” Zena said. “Here, take this Heal Seed, too. I—I really don’t know if just one Pecha can help you, Emily. Did you eat a Tentacruel or something?”

    Emily ate the Heal Seed next; Zena could tell that the Lugia was recovering, bit by bit, and sighed. How could Emily get sick if she didn’t even sustain injuries properly? Something must have been terribly wrong, but she had no time to investigate further. “Emily, perhaps after I finish my, er, errand, I can return here with more supplies for you.”

    “You’d do that for me?”

    “Of course!” Zena laughed, hiding her mouth behind a ribbon. “Owen always talks about not knowing what to use his Heart funds for. This would be a wonderful opportunity.”

    “There’s… is there more in your bag? Do you need it?” Emily asked.

    “Only if you can spare some,” Tanneth said, nodding. “I just wanna see Em get better.”

    “Well, I have a few more Pechas and Heals, but I’d rather save a few for…”

    “No,” Emily said, poking a huge finger at the bag. “There’s… other things in there.”

    “Oh, well, those aren’t… edible.”

    “Can I see?”

    Humoring her, Zena pulled out the first object she could find—a small Orb. “Well, this one is a Totter Orb, in case we run into trouble and need to escape during the confusion… but it’s not too reliable because of how chaotic the battleground becomes. Do you want to, er, inspect it?”

    Zena offered it to Tanneth, who held it up to Emily’s nose. She crossed her eyes in a struggle to see it, then lunged her head forward, taking the Orb and Tanneth with it. The Vaporeon giggled and slipped out from the side of Emily’s jaws, but the Orb remained behind.

    Zena heard something shatter. “E-Emily! That’s not edible!”

    “Aaah…” Emily sighed, suddenly hopping onto her feet—the ground trembled. “That was amazing!” She looked down at Zena and grinned; her eyes were slightly crossed.

    “Er—try not to move for a little while, Emily.” Then, she produced one more Orb, struggling with the concept that they were somehow helping. Did any blessed item help Emily? “Er, why not one more?” she said. “A Slow Orb, perhaps?”

    Emily opened her mouth, eyes closed. With a nervous smile, the Milotic lobbed the sphere down her throat. This time, the dull smashing noise came from deeper within Emily, but it was destroyed all the same.

    Emily gave a slow, approving nod to Zena, waving at an abnormally leisurely pace. “Oh, you’re… slowed, too. Er… apologies. I’ll return with more of our Orbs later, if it’s any help and you still aren’t feeling well.” She didn’t wait for Emily to nod, figuring she at least heard her. “Tanneth, thank you for looking after Emily. I’ll return with more Orbs tomorrow.”

    “And thanks for bringing them! We’d go in and get them ourselves, but I don’t think Emily can figure out how to get around Kilo… and we also don’t have any money.” Tanneth stuck her tongue out playfully. “I’ve been feeling amazing lately, though!”

    “Well, at least one of you do.” Zena giggled, but then slithered to the shoreline. “Sorry for intruding. I have to get going.”

    “Okay, see you!” Tanneth waved.

    Zena touched the water, making one more glance back at Emily when she finally shouted, “See you, Zena!” in half the speed. She slipped into, and became, the water, the currents rushing through the ocean.

    She hoped that Owen wouldn’t mind. She thought back to the spirits within her; they seemed confident, so she had to be, too. Owen didn’t resent her, right?

    <><><> ​

    Owen wasn’t sure how he wound up in this situation. From being possessed to telling everyone he knew and loved to go away, and now, sitting in front of a former human that he barely knew, laying bare his soul for him to evaluate.

    A lot about what he had to say made sense. He didn’t like it, but having a ‘feral mind’ or whatever Brandon called it fit Owen too well. Pokémon of his world—some of them looked up to humans for leadership and guidance. They were domesticated. Like Zeke, his Blaziken. And Eon made him the same way, domesticated.

    He understood that much. But that just led to a completely different problem. And, somehow, it felt even more pressing than anything else.

    Brandon sighed, moving so he was sitting in front of Owen, legs crossed. Owen folded his wings around his chest, hiding beneath it for shelter.

    “Alright,” Brandon sighed, shaking his head. “Look, I’m really good with the relationship between humans and Pokémon and stuff, but girl problems aren’t really my thing. But I’ll try. What about Zena?”

    At least Brandon was willing to humor him, but now Owen didn’t know what to ask. How was he supposed to start with something like this?

    “Just speak your mind, buddy. First thought.”

    “What am I supposed to feel about her?”

    The words surprised both of them. Brandon squinted, rubbing the back of his neck. “Eh… what? You want me to tell you? C’mon, I may tell Zeke to use Blaze Kick, but I don’t tell him to use Pay for Dinner.”

    Owen stifled a laugh, looking away. “Y-yeah, I know, sorry. It’s just—what you said before. About having a tendency to follow what other people tell me, and… and stuff like that. What if… what if that’s the same way for Zena? I…” Owen had to look down. With his eyes closed, he started to feel around the factory, sensing all of the Poké Balls on the conveyer belts. He followed the tracks to the assembly line, and then tried to go back to the offices.

    “Hey, Owen.”

    “H-huh?” Owen looked up. Brandon’s eyes were on the ceiling.

    “No offense, but you always getting distracted with that Perception of yours really drags down the pacing of my conversation. You mind turning it off?”

    “I can’t,” Owen said. “I mean, I can take my horns out, but…”

    “Does that hurt?”

    “No, but… it’s… embarrassing.”

    Brandon crossed his arms. “Nobody’s judging you. Just do it for now, alright? Get insightful while we talk. This is for Zena, right?”

    Owen grunted; he didn’t know if it was his natural obedience or not, but he reached up and clicked them out. He placed them by his side, muttering, “Bet if I was less loyal, I’d still keep them…”

    Brandon frowned and looked to Zeke, who just shrugged. “Look. Maybe saying you’re domesticated was too strong a word. It’s just, it’s sort of like Zeke. Back when I was a trainer, he was selected to be someone’s first Pokémon because he was just really friendly toward humans.”

    “I thought they were cool,” Zeke said, going into a throwing stance. “Go, Zeke! Blaze Kick!” He tossed an invisible ball.

    Brandon held up his arms in an entertained shrug. “It’s sort of to help trainers get to know how to work alongside Pokémon without, you know, more troublesome personalities.”

    “Like Viper?” Zeke asked, giggling.

    Brandon winced, tapping his chest. “Hey, I earned his respect eventually.” He then motioned to Owen. “It’s not like you’ll just blindly follow what others say. I mean, look at you now! You told Eon off, you beat up Star, and from what I’ve been told, you were a bit of a rebel to your folks from time to time.”

    Owen, unconvinced, nodded anyway. It still felt like he was looking up to Eon when he probably shouldn’t have—like there was a nagging feeling in the back of his head that Eon was worth following. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t be. Not after everything he did.

    “Look, you’re asking how you’re supposed to feel about Zena,” Brandon said, which distracted Owen from his thoughts. “So what, how far’d you guys take it? First base, second base?”

    “…What?”

    “Like, how close do you guys get? How much have you, uh, done together?”

    “Well, we do a lot together. Every night, usually, after we’re done sparring and meditating and stuff like that, we’d read a book together, or we’d play marbles or something—you know, nothing too noisy so we didn’t disturb anyone who actually had to sleep or relax.”

    “Okay, I know, but—never mind. So you guys are close, right? Like, how serious is this? I’m trying to get a feel for how much you guys actually do together.”

    “What do you mean, do?”

    “Like, you seem like the kind of guy to really wait until you guys do anything physical, if you ask me.”

    That much seemed to be true; maybe Brandon had a good read for him even with this after all. “Yeah, I think so.”

    “Well, have you guys kissed?”

    Owen’s face reddened beneath his orange scales. “W-well—yeah. We did.”

    “Alright, that’s first base. How about touch? Have you guys, you know… touched?”

    “Oh, all the time.” The Charizard nodded. “Usually while we’re reading, Zena would wrap her ribbons around—”

    “Okay, okay, don’t need to hear that.” Brandon waved his arms in the air.

    Owen blinked. Humans had odd customs; how was her wrapping her ribbons around him while they read worse than kissing? He wasn’t going to question it. “I guess we’re kinda serious.”

    “I’ll agree there.” Brandon sighed, giving Owen an amused smirk. “Well, look at you.”

    “What?”

    “Landing a Milotic. Prettiest Pokémon in the world?”

    Zeke let out a loud trill, like he was cooing at Owen enviously.

    “Th—that’s not what I was—” Owen quickly brought his wings forward to hide. He spoke from behind them, giving his voice a muffled filter. “She’s pretty, but that’s not why—I mean—actually…”

    “Aaah, come on, I’m just teasing. I get it. From what Boss keeps gossiping about, seems like you guys have decent chemistry. Maybe you’ll really get her in a knot if you start pumping iron, eh?” He flexed a bicep, but the phrase didn’t register with Owen. How does one pump iron?

    Owen breathed out of his nose, finally coming out from his wings. “I know. I was… too stupid and my head was so scrambled that I didn’t even remember half the stuff we did together. She was a great friend for the whole time, though. Kept tolerating me being a huge idiot.”

    “Hey, that was only slightly your fault,” Brandon said, shrugging. “You can’t help that you can barely remember anything. But look, what’s this got to do with what you’re asking me? Like, do you want to ask how to go on a date? Because I’ve got great one-liners if you’re doing that whole courtship thing now.”

    “I—I don’t think Zena’s into that kind of thing. I’m more focused on…”

    “Aww, c’mon, not just one?” Brandon asked. “Like, hey, girl, if I could rearrange the alphabet, I’d put U and I together.” He clicked his fingers, the metallic echo lasting several seconds.

    Owen squinted, envisioning the alphabet. Those letters were pretty far apart; why would he arrange it like that? “…Wait—oh! Oh, I get it!” Owen gasped, suddenly laughing. “That’s really clever! But—I don’t know if I want to have a funny one like that. Wait—no! I’m not asking for a pickup line—we’re already courting!”

    “Well, a lot of pickup lines can be substituted for little sweet nothings.” Brandon tapped his chin, but then performed a small flourish, holding his right palm out, “Hey, baby, you’ve got a bit of cute on your face.”

    Owen blinked several times, his wings unfolding at the same time that his face flushed. “W-wow, Brandon… I bet you had a lot of people trying to court you.”

    “Not really.” Brandon crossed his arms. “Oh, I’ve got a good one. Between your Typings… oh, she’s the Water Guardian, right?”

    “Yeah.”

    Brandon cleared his throat, this time going on one knee, spreading his arms wide. “Zena, you’re the only body of water I’d ever swim in.”

    Owen flushed again, recalling the time he actually had done that. “I—I think that one would make both of us pretty, uh, flustered.”

    “Yeah, maybe that one was a bit much.”

    “No, keep going!” Zeke suddenly interjected, leaning forward with wide eyes. “I want to hear more of your pickup lines! Oh, oh, I know!” Zeke chirped a few times, like he was trying to articulate himself. “Zena! You’re the only Water that makes my flame brighter!”

    Owen gasped, slamming a fist into his other hand. “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

    “You should totally tell that to her! I bet she’d totally swoon over it!”

    Owen’s flame burned a bright yellow, the light in his eyes reflecting something similar.

    “Hey, now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Brandon patted the air down. “Let’s pull things back for a second. You got sidetracked.”

    The sudden seriousness of Brandon’s tone threw Owen off. He shook his head a few times, remembering why he had come in the first place. “Right—sorry. But… thanks for cheering me up a little. I feel a lot better about… I mean, I think I do.”

    His flame returned to its usual orange; with it, his thoughts returned to the brief flashes of Zena staring so pleadingly at him in the Grass Core. No matter how many fancy human pickup lines he learned, or whatever other special secret techniques Brandon had, it wouldn’t mean much if that moment was going to be in the backs of their minds.

    “Sounds to me like you’ve got a lot of self-doubt,” Brandon said. “Ever since you turned Zena away. Run that by me again? With all that recap you told me, I think I forgot a few of those details.”

    “Y-yeah. Okay. Here’s the thing, I… I do like Zena. A lot. And if we can get more serious with that courtship thing… and I don’t mess it all up with my memory problems… “

    “Hey, quit beating yourself down about that. I think, out of everyone, Zena would understand that the most. She’s already had to deal with it for a few moons already, right? Heh.”

    Owen’s wings drooped at this. “Everyone knows. Zena’s just the one that it probably hurts the most.”

    “Well, I figure it hurts your family, too,” Brandon said. “It isn’t like anybody here wanted your memories to be scrambled like they are. But that’s not really what this is about, is it?”

    “No.” Owen heaved a sigh, accidentally puffing out an ember that scorched Brandon’s toes. “Sorry!”

    “I’m good.” He used the bottom of one to rub the top of the other. “Go on. You turned Zena away like everyone else. Why? If you know you like her and you can trust her, why’d you do it?”

    “Because…” Owen’s voice became quieter, more flashes of Zena in his mind. They were starting to feel so cold, like he’d thrown it all away when he shouldn’t have. He squeezed his hands, reaching for one of his horns so he at least had something to hold.

    “Hey, don’t get distracted,” Brandon warned.

    “I—I wasn’t gonna. I’m just… I need something to hold.”

    “You can hold me,” Zeke offered, scooting closer. He wrapped his arms around Owen, earning a small, reluctant smile from the Charizard.

    Owen finally composed himself enough to say, “The reason I pushed Zena and everyone else away back there was because… I realized that it’s all part of my instincts. The fact that I just trust anybody that’s stronger than me, or that seems smarter than me, or just… maybe knows something I don’t. I just… I just automatically trusted them. Star, Anam, Rhys, Mom… and maybe even Zena.” The final part was almost inaudible.

    “And maybe even Zena,” Brandon repeated.

    “And what you told me just confirmed it. I’m… domesticated. Eon made me… docile.” Owen put the back of his finger to his forehead, leaning down. “The Bug Guardian, Trina—she and I told the rest of my team that even though we have an instinct to fight, we still got to choose who we fought for, and why we fought. B-but we do even have that?! Or are we just—are we just predetermined to do that, too?! Just designed to… to always…!” Owen covered his eyes, flame blazing white. “What am I? Who am I supposed to be? NO! Why—why am I even saying that? Why am I saying, who am I supposed to be? Th-there I go again, asking and asking for an answer…!”

    Zeke struggled to keep Owen composed, his talons gently wrapping around his arms next. He chirped quietly, “It’s okay, it’s okay. My trainer knows.”

    Owen shuddered a few times. “I need to stop breaking down l-like this. It can’t be healthy. Even Mystics can only take so much, huh?” He blubbered out a laugh, wiping his nose.

    Brandon waited a while until Owen was calmer. “Well, Owen,” he said, “I don’t really know what to tell you. That Bug Guardian had a good point that you got to choose who to fight for… but you know, I think now that you’re aware of your instincts, you might be able to choose who you want to follow, too. It’s not ideal… and maybe one day, you can figure out how to follow yourself, too. But I’m just speaking realistically here. The truth is, you aren’t ready to stand on your own. You don’t have the training to do it. So if you want my opinion? You should start looking at people who can help you think independently. Someone who might ask for your opinion just as much as you’d ask them.”

    “Someone like… Zena?” Owen said.

    “Well, hey, you said it, not me,” Brandon shrugged, though he grinned anyway. “Ideally, couples are equals. Sure, in truth, that’s not always the case… but hey, you can get pretty close. And I think Zena’s well aware of how you are.”

    “I’ll have to tell her the truth, though,” Owen said. “I dunno if she’d… think of me the same way after that.”

    “Owen, I dunno if that’s a problem,” Brandon said. “For one, she’s already stuck with you this long. She just wants to be there for you.”

    “Yeah, exactly,” Owen said, claws scraping the ground. “And even though I knew that, I still told her to go.”

    “I bet she understood why you did that, too. After all… with everything you’ve been through, why do you think she left so easily?”

    “Because—” Owen looked up, but he couldn’t find the answer. Brandon’s head tilted to the left, inquiring for Owen’s theory. “Because she…”

    “You think maybe she already had an idea why you wanted to be left alone?” Brandon said. “She’s not psychic, but I bet she’d have some good intuition on you. After all, how could you know who you are if you’re always attached to someone else’s orders?” The Machoke shrugged. “You know, if you want my opinion in all this, I say you just think about what I said, really rationally-like, and then decide if any of this is even worth your time. Who’s worth it to you? Anybody? Everybody? Nobody?”

    “There are too many of them that I care about,” Owen said. “Even if I think about it rationally—”

    “Ah, ah,” Brandon held up a finger. “No knee-jerk reactions. Those are your instincts talking. Just let it simmer, alright? Just think about Zena for now. Let’s narrow it down. Thinking rationally, do you think Zena has your best interests in mind?”

    “Of cour—”

    Brandon gave Owen a stern glare, crossing his arms.

    “R-right. Rationally.” Owen looked down, focused on his feet. “…We met by chance, in a way. I mean, I guess not really, but… I went to her on my own. And ever since then, we just… became friends. We cared about each other because we were in the same situation. And then we started reading together, playing some games… we trained together and… we were equals. I think out of everyone, she’s the one that I blindly followed the least. And I still cared what she had to say. I dunno if that counts as rational, but…” Owen paused, a thought crossing his mind. “She… she left. She left me in the Grass Core because I asked her to. She… she actually listened to me.”

    “Which means what?”

    “…That I’m not just someone who takes orders from her.” Owen squeezed his hands. “Zena… listened to me.”

    “So what’s your answer?” Brandon asked. “She worth fighting for? And why?”

    “She is,” Owen said. “I—I get that now. And it’s because she sees me as an equal. Not somebody to give orders to.”

    “And that,” Brandon said, “is what makes a partnership work.”

    Zeke pulled away from Owen and stretched. “It’s the philosophy of Pokémon training, too!” he said. “Even though humans are the ones that give orders, that’s because they can’t fight. We put our trust in the human to do the planning for us so we can focus on fighting. But if we’re mistreated… that’s not a good bond at all.”

    “It’s kind of a weird way to look at it, but it’s true,” Brandon said. “All bonds are a bit of give and take. Trainer to Pokémon, mate to mate… I guess that’s the best advice I can give you.”

    Owen sniffed one final time, wiping the last of his tears away. “I don’t get a lot of your human culture, Brandon, but I think I understand what you mean.” He felt the weight from his shoulders lighten. “Now I just have to repeat all that to Zena somehow.”

    “Heh.” Brandon motioned to Owen’s horns. “I think she gets it.”

    Figuring the conversation was over, the mutant leaned for his horns and snapped them back on. The moment his Perception was back in full force, Owen’s eyes widened and he spun around.

    “Z-Zena?!”

    She was right by the entrance, only a few seconds away, with tears and a big, sad smile on her face. One of her ribbons covered her mouth, while the other one waved at Owen in greeting. Without thinking, Owen stumbled forward; Zena returned the favor by slithering the rest of the way, wrapping her neck around his and embracing the rest of him with her ribbons.

    “Oh, Owen… I’m so sorry…”

    “N-no, I—I wasn’t—how much did you…?”

    “Right after we stopped giving you some hot pickups,” Brandon said. “Sorry for lying to you like that, but Barky told me that Zena was on her way here. Decided to stall for time until I spotted her at the entrance. Even Hecto pitched in to help out, told Zena to stay quiet before she went in. I figured it would be easier this way.”

    Zena pulled away, nuzzling him. “I wanted to just go right up to you and tell you it was okay… but Brandon kept giving me the fiercest looks when I tried, when you weren’t looking. Oh, something about that presence…”

    “I call it the trainer’s glare,” Brandon said with a smug grin. “Doesn’t matter if you’re domesticated or not, you can command a real presence when you need to. But I think deep down, you already knew to just let it happen.”

    Zena shrugged Brandon off, focused on Owen. “I understand, Owen. Everything. You were just trying to figure out who you were again, and—and how can I blame you? I don’t. It hurt, but I don’t blame you, and… and you’re fine now, right?”

    Owen’s grin wavered.

    “Oh—don’t—don’t feel pressured. I understand.”

    “No, that’s not—I’m fine with you. I just… it’s everyone else. I need to really sort things out for everyone else, still. Everyone… I can’t just go with my gut anymore. I can’t trust it.”

    “Good, focus on that, alright?” The Steel Guardian clicked his fingers together to make another dull clanging. “Now get outta here. I kinda prefer the quiet. This is more socializing with folks that aren’t my spirits that I’ve done in a while, and I’m starting to feel all introverted.”

    “Okay, okay,” Owen said, though he still grinned. “Oh, actually, but… Brandon, while you’re still here.”

    “I mean, not like I’m going anywhere.”

    “Can you tell me about why you follow Arceus?”

    Brandon blinked, glancing to his left. “What do you mean?”

    “Well, you’re talking about thinking rationally for everything, and how you can choose who to follow, and how it’s sort of a mutual respect sort of thing. So that’s probably the same thing between you and Arceus, right?”

    “I guess it’s kinda like that,” Brandon said. “At least in the sense that we sorta listen to each other. I feel like we butt heads more often than we need to, but hey, Boss has a big ego. Then again, so does Star, and Eon… they’re all stubborn, if you ask me.”

    “Yet you choose Bar—er, Arceus.” Owen didn’t want to prod so forcefully, but he didn’t think he was going to visit Brandon all that often. He wished he could—perhaps a change in his schedule would be helpful? But still, it would nag at him if he didn’t ask. “Why are you working for him?”

    “Geh…” Brandon shrugged, looking over at Zeke. The Blaziken chirped again, uncertain, and looked at Owen.

    “I don’t know,” Zeke said. “He says Star isn’t a responsible person.”

    “Basically,” Brandon said, “I guess it’s sort of the lesser of two evils.”

    “I suppose I can agree,” Zena said. “But from what Owen told me about Arceus, I’m not quite fond of him, either.”

    “What Star did to Rim,” Owen said slowly. “Isn’t that… isn’t that exactly what he tried to do to me? He used those white lights and tried to…”

    “Ehh…” Brandon rubbed the back of his head. “Yeah.”

    Thoughts swirled around Owen’s head. Star never tried to do that—well, she did, back when he, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi had first become the full Alloy. But that was to keep them from rampaging. If anything, that was for their own good. But Barky…

    “I’m not gonna excuse his actions,” Brandon said, “if you’re fishing for me to try to justify the way he is. He was just trying to take you out of Star’s paws before she used you against Eon. Because you’re susceptible to commands. If you trust someone enough, they could probably lead you right into spearheading a war.”

    “W-war…” Owen’s heart suddenly raced. He shook his head. “I—I wouldn’t do that.”

    “Right.” Brandon sighed, looking back. “Well, anyway. I’m gonna go back to meditating. You still want to stick around?”

    “No, I think I should start heading back,” Owen said. “To… Hot Spot.”

    “Hot Spot?” Zena said. “You’re sure?”

    Owen nodded. “If I think about it rationally… Mom and Dad raised me for centuries, and they only wanted me to live a normal life. Yeah, there were… a lot of lies… but did they ever actually try to hurt me? They love me. So… if anybody deserves me, it’d be them.”

    “Deserves you.” Zena blinked at Owen in surprise. “That’s very… assertive of you, Owen.”

    “Oh.” He shrank down. “Was that bad?”

    “No, no, not at all,” Zena said. “You need a bit of that. Perhaps I should think that way for a little while, too.”

    Owen grinned, but then looked behind him. “Thanks for everything, Brandon,” Owen said. “Sorry about disturbing your meditation.”

    “Eh, I’m over it.” He waved him off. “Fly safe.”

    “See you!” Zeke chirped.

    “See you,” Owen chirped back.

    Brandon and Zena exchanged entertained looks. Deciding to take the scenic route back, Owen and Zena took to the skies under the cover of twilight.
     
    git-it likes this.
  2. Kindoflame

    Kindoflame Member

    I have read the entire story and it is absolutely fantastic! Easily one of the best character-driven stories I have read. Every major character is given unique personalities and goals, and none of them are carbon copies of archetypes.

    I think what I like the most is how you tie themes of free will, identity, and memory together. How can you make decision when you do not know who you really are? What do you know about yourself when you cannot trust your memories? Can you be responsible for actions when you never ever remember doing them? That last one is explored less than the other two, but we get a hint of it whenever Amelia talks with Owen.

    My biggest problem is with the world-building. More specifically, the lack of it. Hot Spot is an isolated location, far from any large populations. Every Guardian lives in an isolated location, far from any large populations. Emily lives in an isolated location, far from any large populations. The Hunters' base is in a isolated location, far from any large populations. Do you see the pattern? Because of the beginning we have a good sense of how Kilo Village functions and what life in there is like. Outside of that though, how ordinary Pokemon live their lives is a bit of a mystery.

    More importantly, we do not see how they are effected by the war between the Mystics. Are people cowering in fear or going on with life despite it? What do people suspect and what wildly inaccurate rumors are being spread? Do citizens have resentment toward the Thousand Heart for failing to stop the mutants? With Nate at the Hunters' base, a giant geological feature of the continent has disappeared; people should be freaking out pretty hard about that. One nice thing you could have done is make the population more and more distrought as the story progressed, which would help shift the tone of the story overall.

    On a different note, have you considered characterize the Hunters as a cult. Even if you ignore the surface level similarities (separate from larger society, hostile to non-members, charismatic leader) there is still a lot that makes the Hunters like a cult. What really makes the difference is how specifically Eon controls the mutants, psychologically speaking. We have not really seen a lot of the inner working of the Hunters, so there is certainly potential to do this.

    If this is the direction you want to go, can I suggest making the 'battle mode' of the mutants be activated by a dead-man switch. Something along the lines of if Eon does not give a mutant a specific aura-signature every 36-hours, then the mutant will automatically enter 'battle mode'. If this is not the direction you want to go, I would suggest reading up on cult survivors at least a little so you can characterize Tox and Soli well.
     
  3. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Aaah! I'm glad you enjoy it so much! Thank you! Always good to find a new reader when it's not just someone on the discord server or something and they just pop up in the wild.

    I wholeheartedly agree, and this is actually something that I've been hoping to rectify with edits when I have the time. Just more tidbits about the world and so on, like the grocery shopping scene, or the scene with Smeargle, or Sugar 'n Spice, and so on. I need more of that. However, I will point out that some of this is a design flaw borne of the plot -- the Guardians are supposed to be isolated. Which leads to...

    ...They aren't! In fact, for the most part, most life in Kilo Village is completely ignorant of Mystic happenings, by design of everyone involved. It's a shadow conspiracy bubbling to the surface. Step having her outburst in Kilo Village, which will have repercussions later, is actually the first major Mystic incident that Kilo Village had in public in this lifetime. So, we'll be seeing that later, but for now, this is intentional... for now~ After all, the public knows, now. And this can't stay in the shadows forever...

    Now this, however, is a very good point. I think I will look into highlighting this both in edits and in future chapters. I definitely need to find a way to point that out without bogging down the plot.

    It's definitely got some cult vibes. I'm aware of the psychology behind it, and I hope I can explore some of that in the future.

    This would be completely out of character for Eon, unfortunately. Their 'battle mode' of them slipping away uncontrolled is a design flaw that he's been trying to fix; it's not meant to be their defaults. So I'll definitely take a look at the above if I can.

    Thanks for reading!
     
  4. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Special Episode 6 – You Promise

    Sunlight filtered through stained glass and onto the Pokémon congregation in the audience chamber of a pristine, white temple. Long, large seats covered the majority of the room, only half-full. At the front was a Goodra, riddled with countless scars and old, old wounds. He recited off of a book—this time, the Book of Arceus—to the audience, which seemed to be paying attention, or at least feigning it.

    Anam shut the book a moment too quickly, sending a cloud of dust into the air. He suppressed a sneeze, wincing at the particles that stuck to his arms and chest. That was going to take a long time to get off…

    His single, green eye scanned the temple audience. Two Tyranitar sat at the front seats, grinning at Anam when he finished, though the left one looked like he had just woken up. Off near the middle-right of the audience were two other Pokémon, standing up at the sound of the book closing. Near the back corner was a group of younger Pokémon quietly chattering with one another, stopping only when they realized the Goodra had stopped talking. They glanced nervously at one another.

    “Thank you all for coming!” Anam said to the handful of Pokémon. “We’ll have another holy day in twenty days!” Because five days was too often nowadays. “I’ll make sure to put notices up on Quartz Square when that day comes! See you, and thank you!” He waved, though half of them had already shuffled out. Anam kept smiling until everybody left.

    All but one of the Tyranitar. “Hey, Anam!” He waved him down, lumbering across the aisle.

    “Hey, Rora,” Anam said. “Did I do well? I think I made some of them a little bored…”

    “I think you did great.” Rora patted Anam on the shoulder, careful to avoid a new bruise that had formed from his last dive into a Dungeon. Rora brought his hand back, slime connecting it to the Goodra’s shoulder. “You didn’t stumble over your words or anything.”

    “I know! I did so well that time! I just wish there were more people!” He lunged forward, and for just a moment, Anam saw a flash of terror in the Tyranitar’s eyes. In a caring embrace, Anam heard the slime squish between them. “Thanks for listening, Rora. I know you heard that story a lot.”

    “Y-yeah… that’s great… real great…” Rora slowly pulled away, wincing at the many strands that tied them together like some twisted sense of fate. “It’s always good to hear the story again. You notice new things, you know?”

    Anam grinned, stepping through the temple doors and into the afternoon sun. He breathed through his nose, opening his right eye. He tried to open his left, but it didn’t quite work.

    Rora winced. “Are you alright?”

    “Huh? Yeah, why?”

    The Tyranitar looked away. “It’s just, a lot of those injuries seem really painful. You’re more scar than skin.”

    “Oh, it doesn’t hurt! Well, this one does, but that’s because I just got it from the last blessing.” Anam pat his shoulder gingerly, rubbing at the darkened bruise. “And Goodra scar easily, remember?”

    “You need to stop flying solo for Dungeons.” Rora crossed his arms and growled. “Your mother did fine because she had you and your dad to help cover her blind spots, but going alone keeps getting you injured one way or the other. And also, your Mom was huge. I didn’t realize how big she was until I realized you, um… you’re smaller. Well, normal.”

    “It’s not that bad,” Anam said. “It was only bad once!” He held up his right hand, as if to bring up a finger, but it was missing. He hastily swapped for the other hand, which had a proper pointer digit. “How come you’re bringing this up, anyway?”

    Rora tensed. “It’s… because we found another Dungeon that has to be blessed. But it’s… in Rotwood Fen.”

    The color drained from Anam’s expression, but he held up his smile nonetheless.

    “But we set that place as restricted,” Anam said, voice quivering. “Nobody’s allowed to go there.”

    “I know,” Rora said. “But recently, someone got close to that place, and they spotted a wraith at the border of the forest. Further than it had ever gone before. And our scouts are saying that it’s getting a lot closer to the Chasm of the Void, too. And who knows what’ll happen if those two come into contact somehow.”

    Anam frowned. He hadn’t visited the Chasm in a long time. It was too close to Rotwood Fen, and it was such a long walk. Most fliers weren’t too keen on carrying him, either. Nate… hopefully he would be okay. He didn’t want the wraiths to get him.

    “No,” Anam said. “I’ll go alone.”

    “But Anam, that place was that killed your—”

    Anam abruptly brought his hands to his ears, loudly singing a psalm. “O Arceus, let your light shine on—”

    “ANAM!” Rora bumped his fist against Anam’s unbruised shoulder. “Stop. The wraith perimeter has been steadily moving toward the Chasm for a while. It’s getting too close. I know you keep saying that dark crater isn’t something we need to worry about, but what if the wraiths reach it, huh? What then? We have to stop it before it gets to that point. And I’m not letting you go alone.” Rora turned around. “I got a bunch of us together. A squad of eight, plus me and you. We’re gonna be ready this time. But I need you to be our figurehead, alright? Like always. Oh, and that whole divine protection stuff.”

    Anam shook his head. “N-no, no. It’s not good there. It—it’ll be fine! We just have to keep praying to Arceus, and Mew, and eventually if things get bad, they’ll—”

    “Anam.” A rumble echoed from the back of his throat. “Look, I know that you want to keep up that whole faith thing… and I get it. You lead the temple, you want to follow your mother’s footsteps. But the Book of Arceus taught us that if we need to do something, we have to take action ourselves. The Book of Mew only says that Mew will help us once everything else is lost, and I don’t want it to come to that point. We can’t rely on them to step in. What ever happened to Zygarde, huh? He barely visits anymore.”

    “H-he’s busy! He’s busy trying to summon Mew again!” Anam nodded fervently. “I saw Mew myself, and She could totally help us out when she’s at full strength! We just need to have more faith in her, and pray!”

    “Is that what She told you?” Rora said. “Or are you just guessing that based on what the Book of Mew says?”

    “Isn’t—isn’t that the same thing?” Anam said defensively. “Mew… told me that she just needs more time to help. That she isn’t needed yet. That’s all… so that wraith problem is just fine!”

    Rora’s eyes narrowed. “We’re going to be at the entrance to Rotwood Fen in two days. We’re leaving tomorrow. If you don’t come, we’re going to investigate on our own. Now what?”

    Anam froze. “Y-you can’t go in. You’ll… you’ll die.”

    “Then you’ll come with us to help, won’t you?”

    “No. I’m gonna go in myself, and—”

    “We’re going in no matter what,” Rora said. “You will die if you go in. Your Mom died. So, we’re going to back you up. I’m sick of you going in solo, getting hurt, and then smiling like everything’s okay. It’s not. Quit trying to act like God and let us help you.”

    Anam stood still. He looked back at the bell tower—the bell itself had long since rusted into uselessness, but it was still there as a figure. He looked at Rora again, but he was already lumbering away.

    “Rora, wait!” Anam said. “I’ll… I’ll go. But you have to promise to stay close! And to run away if it gets bad! Okay?!”

    The Tyranitar didn’t turn around, but he replied in a yell. “Sure. But you’ll be running away with us!”

    Anam nodded, but he knew that he still needed to prepare. While it would take a lot of energy out of him—and he wasn’t nearly as practiced as he wished he would be—he had to put some of those new, blessed equipment to use.

    <><><> ​

    “By the holy names of Arceus, and under Your divine power, may our travels be blessed and our paths clear. We ask for Your mercy and for our pure wishes to be granted. We beg for good luck today so that we may continue enjoying Your world and continue praising Your name in life. By Your divine light.”

    “By Your divine light,” the crowd repeated.

    Anam clapped his hands together. “Perfect!” He spread his arms out to them, accidentally creating a trail of green slime between his hands. “Are we all ready? Then let’s go in!”

    Right behind Anam was Rotwood Fen, as dead as ever. The ground was gray and murky with a thin layer of unknown mud. The cold, heavy, humid air sent a shiver down half of the Pokémon in front of Anam. Among them were a few friends and colleagues of the Hundred Hearts—a small collection of fighters meant to defend the town and keep resources plentiful during its steady growth.

    Rora led them, and he led this squad, now. “You got it, Anam. Lead the way and we’ll stay back.”

    A Scrafty wobbled next to Anam, shuddering. “H-how unsafe is it? I’ll fight as hard as I can, but…”

    “It’ll be fine!” Anam said, reaching forward to shake her hand. He tugged her forward for a hug, her short stature bringing her only up to the Goodra’s belly. “You’ll be nice and safe.” He held the back of her shoulders assuredly. “I promise.”

    She nearly melted in his embrace, closing her eyes. Anam knew that she liked these hugs—even if the size was awkward, he wondered if it was his size that made her feel safer. She pulled away, brushing off the slime as politely as she could with a conjured veil of darkness. “I have faith in you, then.”

    An Absol barked next. “Look, I’ve already got a really, really bad feeling about this place, but it always feels a little better with you around, Anam. So… I’m gonna have some faith, too.”

    A Linoone spoke up next. “But use that sixth sense of yours to tell us if something bad is coming.” He pawed at his ears. “Forget faith in luck, if you sense something bad, we need to bail.”

    Others in the group murmured in agreement.

    Anam nodded. “If something bad happens, I’ll go back and we can prepare more. That’s the promise, okay?!” He clasped his hands together. “Nobody has to die!”

    “Then let’s go,” Rora said, marching forward. Anam went right beside him, raising his arm to summon his one tendril of light. It created a golden barrier around them, spiraling in a half-dome, and coated the ground beneath them in that same radiance.

    They hadn’t walked very far at all before the familiar distortion of space, rippling and bending the light, flashed before them. Anam took a steady breath. “It won’t be easy to get out once we go inside,” he said. “I wish it was still just a normal forest…” But since the last time he’d come here, a Dungeon had formed. He’d have to use a lot of divine energy to break out by force.

    “Just save enough energy for an escape, alright?” Rora said.

    “Yeah. Okay. It should be easy!” Anam nodded, stepping through the Dungeon barrier. “The same energy I use to bless it, but… for us! Easy, h-ha…” Anam fiddled with his fingers again.

    “Do you have enough energy for all of us?” Rora asked worriedly.

    “Oh, definitely.”

    “AaaAAA—I really don’t like the feeling I just got.” Absol shuddered, shaking her head furiously. “It feels like we’re already surrounded!”

    “Surrounded?” Anam asked, gulping. They had entered the Dungeon only moments ago. Was that just the distortion messing with Absol’s perception? Or—

    “Left!” Linoone shouted.

    Rora slammed his foot on the ground; seconds later, a spire of stone pierced through a nearby tree. It shrieked, black matter erupting from its body. It evaporated into nothing.

    “Trevenant…?” Cacturne said.

    “No.” Anam gulped. “That was just something to look like one.”

    “Wraiths… already…!”

    “No time! Let’s go, Anam. Stay close! If anybody slows down, carry them! Okay?”

    Anam stayed in the center of the crowd, making sure his radiant barrier kept everybody inside.

    It didn’t take very long for more wraiths to show up, though most of them were deterred by Anam’s barrier. After just two of them, the rest hissed and sank deeper into the Dungeon.

    “K-kinda wish we had those segments to the Dungeon right about now,” Cacturne said. “Can’t you bless it from here and stabilize the place?”

    “N-no, I can’t,” Anam said. “Just be careful!”

    “We’re still at the outer perimeter of the place,” Absol said, “and I already feel awful the deeper we go. I th-think we’re already being followed. And the atmosphere feels… twisted. I don’t know what’s going on here, just—”

    The sun abruptly disappeared.

    Three of the team screamed in surprise. Absol shook her head again, whimpering loudly. Anam stiffened, but it was Rora who shouted to the others. “Stay close, keep it together! Don’t leave the barrier!”

    Whispers filled the air, yet they couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Anam swiveled his head around, horns flicking slime onto Rora, who shook it off and grumbled. “Anam, are you doing alright?”

    “I’m sensing… something. But I can’t—”

    “AAAAH!”

    Anam spun around to see Linoone leaping into the air and onto Absol’s back, screeching and pointing at the ground. All heads turned below.

    Eyes. Countless eyes in pitch-black ground stared up at them through the barrier of light that Anam had created, some tiny, some as large as Rora’s head. Tendrils poked between where the eyes weren’t, trying to break through the barrier. While their darkness dissolved, some of the light faded wherever they touched.

    “They’re trying to eat through the floor!” Linoone screamed.

    “Get off me!” Absol shook him away. “Anam! Let’s hurry and get to the core! We can’t be that far, right?!”

    “I—I dunno!”

    Rora stomped on the ground, forming another column of stone just beyond the barrier. The darkness persisted, but in the dim glow of Anam’s shield, they saw a handful of wraiths evaporate.

    Without a word, they all sprinted along, the slowest of them falling behind. Linoone shouted for them to slow down, and while they did, that only made the stragglers panic. Scrafty was nearing the back edge of the barrier by the time Anam slowed down.

    A team of wraiths lunged at Scrafty, piercing through after only half of them evaporated. The other half latched onto Scrafty —she screamed, flailing against them. A dark swipe evaporated another, but two still remained, eating into her skin. An Armaldo hopped back, slashing at one of the remaining wraiths. The other one kept dissolving her left arm, only for a Golisopod to wrap his claws around the misshapen blob, tearing it away.

    “Get away from her, you—” He tried to tear it apart, but it suddenly changed shape. Spikes covered its body, dark points melting Golisopod’s chitin. He yelped and threw it away, but it stuck to his arms, flowing into his blood. Then it lunged at Golisopod, enveloping his face. He screamed, muffled, but by then, Anam had finally arrived.

    One touch from his tendril of light evaporated the wraith completely, but the damage was done. Golisopod’s chitinous armor had decayed, both eyes rendered useless.

    “I—I can’t see,” he stuttered. “Anam, I can’t—”

    Another scream, this time to the left. Flareon’s leg was caught by a series of tendrils. In mere seconds, his entire lower half was enveloped in melty darkness, threatening to pull her into the ground. It was only by the quick thinking of a nearby Nidoking that Flareon hadn’t been consumed entirely. He grabbed him by the forepaws, and Rora followed next, grabbing his midsection from the other side. The darkness lashed out at both of them, stinging their hands, but Flareon was freed—though most of the fur on his lower half was gone.

    Flareon opened his mouth to speak, but then passed out.

    More eyes leered at them from the ground, and now even more from above. The group shrank to the center of the barrier, injured and burned, as the light that protected them slowly faded. To keep the barrier strong, Anam had to shrink the barrier’s radius. The eyes closed in, hungry.

    “This… this isn’t how it was supposed to go,” Anam said. “I… I had to… I had to save you! M… Mama… P-Papa…”

    “Anam, don’t lose it now,” Rora said, holding his shoulder. “If we can fight this off, we can still escape.”

    The light was a dim flicker.

    Rora rumbled. “One attack. Just one attack, okay?! Everyone! WITH ALL YOU’VE GOT!”

    The whole group, aside from Flareon, blasted the darkness with their strongest attacks. Rora aimed to his right, blasting a thunderous beam of light energy from his maw, sweeping his head to the side. The Hyper Beam dissolved a good chunk of what was ahead of them. Scrafty slammed her good arm on the ground, Sending waves of darkness in all directions to sting and dissolve as much of the wraiths as she could, even as the returning rot ate away at her arm.

    Golisopod stretched his arms out, forming a barrier of his own that enveloped the whole team; immediately after, Nidoking gave a quick nod to Golisopod and jumped in the air. He landed hard, shattering the ground around them; all of the ground-bound wraiths dissolved, while the squad remained protected by the Wide Guard. Anam handled the rest in the sky, sweeping his Dragon fury across the blight.

    Suddenly, from chaos, came silence. Rora fell to one knee, wheezing. Scrafty nursed her arms. The others panted, feeling their residual injuries. Linoone inspected Flareon worriedly, but he was breathing.

    The silence only lasted for a few seconds. The whispers came back. Without the sun, there was no telling if they were near or far.

    “No…” Scrafty squeaked.

    Golden light coursed through Anam, readying a second attack, no matter what it took from him. He raised his hands. “Get ready! I’ll—I’ll hold them off!”

    Green light shined above them. Anam blinked. “What?”

    Hundreds of beams of green light rained down from the sky, briefly illuminating the dead forest around them. There were wraiths everywhere – in the trees, on the ground, by the rocks, and right next to them. Yet the Thousand Arrows pierced through them all, bouncing off of Anam’s barrier at the same time.

    In the green light, Anam saw the flickering image of a great, green-black serpent. “Toto!” Anam whispered.

    “Wh-what a miracle, Anam!” Cacturne said.

    Absol whimpered, shuddering. “Too much… it’s too much…!”

    Anam winced, biting his lip. Absol was right. This was far too much. They had to go. Half of them were too badly injured to keep fighting, and the other half wouldn’t last long before suffering the same fate. They needed treatment—Flareon especially.

    “Absol!” Anam rushed toward her, but stopped short of touching her fur—he knew she didn’t like that from his slimy body. “Did it feel like there was anybody watching us before we entered?”

    “No,” Absol said, holding her dirty paws over her head, as if it was pounding. “No, and now that I’m in here, I just—I just know that we are. They were all inside here, waiting…! And now we can’t even get out! Th-they feel so much stronger in here… and…”

    Anam nodded. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I can handle this, alright? Watch. I’m gonna do some magic that’ll make this all okay.”

    “A—a miracle? Now?” Absol asked.

    The other eight in the crowd watched Anam curiously.

    “Yeah. It’s a secret technique. Super special secrets!”

    His audience cringed.

    “Show us,” Rora said. “Anything to make this easier.”

    Anam closed his eyes. He breathed in. His horns twitched; wraiths were near, but they couldn’t get through his radiant barrier. Not yet. “By Arceus’ holy light and Mew’s divine mercy, bring safety upon my friends, who are not so blessed as to have your power. Grant them safe passage through the Dungeon, so they may escape and—”

    Rora’s eyes bulged. “ANAM!” He lunged at the Goodra, holding him by the shoulders.

    Anam sniffled, bopping his snout against Rora’s. “…Escape and live another day.”

    The light intensified. Anam squeezed his hands together; little bolts of lightning zapped all nine of his friends, giving each one a little, startling jolt. All except for Rora.

    Rora couldn’t say anything for a few seconds. Little golden specks of light flickered beneath their feet for everyone but Anam. Tears—Anam didn’t know what they were from, anger or panic or something else—formed at the corners of Rora’s eyes. “Why—”

    “Bye, Rora. I’ll be back soon.”

    The nine became balls of golden light and shot through the sky, higher and higher. Wraiths tried to strike them from the air, but their radiant protection was too strong. The dark creatures evaporated upon contact. Rora’s spirit rumbled at Anam, but no words came. Far, far away… then, a flash in the high barrier of the distortion. And then, they were gone. Safe.

    Anam looked back at the dim, green glow of the serpentine Zygarde. “Toto… you showed up!”

    “I step in when necessary,” Toto said. He came closer, but then Anam’s eyes widened. Toto’s scales were already partway decayed; his natural glow, faded. Entire portions of his tail were missing, oozing a strange, translucent-green fluid out of his wounds.

    “T-Toto…!”

    “This body won’t last much longer. Anam… you need to leave. I don’t have enough power for another attack like that.”

    Already, the light from Toto’s body dimmed, leaving only gray hexagons that had once been white.

    “B-but…!”

    “I will be fine.” The giant serpent looked down. “Use your power to leave this place. It is too much for you.”

    “But what’ll happen if it reaches the… where Nate is?”

    “I do not know.”

    “And… my parents. You said you monitor the aura sea. And you never found them.” Anam hesitated. “What if… what if they’re…” He looked back. “What if they’re still fighting?”

    “I doubt they would be capable of fighting for so long.”

    Anam bit his lower lip, Toto’s stoic indifference settling coldly in his stomach. “Well, they have to be somewhere,” he said. “I think they’re inside.”

    “And you intend to join them?”

    “I’m gonna save them.” Anam’s radiant barrier flashed. Then, it became solid again. “You’re too weak to continue. I’m gonna send you back.”

    “Anam, you must leave. This thing might be trying to gather the Hands, and you have one.”

    “Then I won’t let him have it.”

    “Do not be so childish. You can’t—”

    Anam’s horn twitched. “I’m not childish!” He shoved the Zygarde back. Due to the sheer difference in size, Toto didn’t even move. But the tap was all he needed.

    “Anam, you’re being childish at this very…” Toto’s body was awash in spheres of light. “That was very clever.” And then he was gone, flung out of the Dungeon like the rest.

    <><><> ​

    “Mew, by Your name, I request for your blessings, guidance, and miracles. While our travels have been filled with hardship and peril, we have not lost our faith in You. And we hope that we can continue for another day by Your radiant light, and may the darkness before us melt away. By Your divine light.”

    Anam cleared his throat. “That one sounds really appropriate right about now.”

    The deeper he went, the more the wraiths surrounded him. The eyes on the floor, and now eyes in the sky well beyond his barrier. His horns throbbed painfully, their mere presence like a sting across his whole body. He was getting close. And by keeping his barrier much closer to his body, it was a lot harder for these lesser wraiths to come close.

    He’d come across a few stronger ones, but his Dragon Pulse dispatched most of them easily. The stronger wraiths had shape to them, vaguely resembling Pokémon, almost like imitations of what they were trying to mimic. He’d even come across ones that were almost exactly like their uncorrupted counterparts, yet were veiled in a shadowy aura, invisible to the naked eye.

    Something was glowing ahead. Purplish and very weak. Compared to the infinite darkness around him, it was still too bright.

    But then, one such example of a solid wraith appeared, right when the darkness was so thick that he could barely see a step past his barrier. The eyes all disappeared, which somehow plunged Anam into an even deeper darkness without moving him an inch. He gulped, feeling a new, powerful presence before him, rising from the ground in a black cloud.

    Brown and green feathers wreathed in a dark aura greeted Anam. Cold eyes stared him down. Anam tensed, readying his Dragon Pulse, but something held him back. The weakest feeling in the back of his mind stopped the blue fire from escaping his throat. Instead, he stood there, chest puffed out, a blue glow bubbling through his neck.

    The Decidueye hooted lowly. “Leave. Now.”

    “No—blrghh.” Anam burped out half of his Dragon Pulse. Decidueye weaved to the right, dodging the flames that lit up the right side of his body. “Sorry.”

    Decidueye brought a wing forward, using the other to draw an arrow from the shadows. “Leave. Now.”

    Anam gulped, staring the arrow down. The power that radiated from the tip threatened to pierce right through his barrier. “How… how come you don’t just attack?”

    The wraiths whispered around them. Quiet whispers, incomprehensible sounds. For a while, that was all the noise that Rotwood Fen had. Decidueye’s arrow didn’t advance, and Anam’s flames had completely died.

    “Are you their leader?” Anam asked.

    “No.”

    More silence joined the darkness. By now, even the wraiths were quiet.

    Decidueye continued. “What do you think your friends are doing right now?”

    “They’re safe. I sent them away.”

    “Where do you think they went?”

    “I—I sent them so they could go back to Quartz Mountain.”

    “Only some obeyed.”

    “What?”

    “You should have known better than to come here. They are approaching, even now. Three of them. A Tyranitar. A Scrafty. A Golisopod. The rest fled with their lives.”

    “They came back in?!”

    “Of course. Because they knew you would die. And they wanted to save you.”

    The darkness in Decidueye’s arrow intensified. Anam winced, his foe’s pull on the arrow growing stronger. The shadows darkened into something that was like becoming blind.

    “You should have known that only the strong survive in a world of chaos.”

    He let go. The arrow pierced through Anam’s barrier, the shadowy feather striking the Goodra in the chest. Anam gasped, immediately tugging the feather’s tip out. The clouds poured into the hole of the barrier, but Anam immediately closed it. His chest felt cold. He didn’t have to look down to know that the shadowy rot had spread there, but he’d been through worse. It was just going to become another scar.

    Anam breathed out a plume of blue fire against the shadows, neutralizing them, but Decidueye already had another arrow ready. He fired again; Anam was ready this time, using the single tendril of light—a more solid part of his barrier—to deflect it.

    “Tch.”

    Anam retaliated with his first true strike, another beam of blue fire against him. Yet the wraith commander sank into the ground, two Decidueye appearing. But the aura on the left felt a lot stronger.

    “That’s a good Substitute, Mister Decidueye,” Anam said reflexively.

    The darkness in their auras weakened, making Anam tilt his head curiously. Had the wraith reacted to that, or had he lost his mind?

    Perhaps he had. The darkness was back and even stronger than before. Decidueye hooted lowly, almost a half-screeching growl, and said, “And now only two are coming.”

    “Wh-what do you—”

    Anam heard a scream from behind him, far away. He gasped, spinning around, but then realized a split-second later that Decidueye would shoot from him behind. He jumped out of the way, narrowly evading a shadowy arrow that grazed his left arm. Residual rot darkened his elbow.

    Another screech that was violently cut off midway. That one was Golisopod.

    “ANAM!” the final voice cried, dripping with desperation. “ANAM, WHERE ARE—" And then, just as unceremoniously as the other two, he was cut off in complete silence. Anam couldn’t find his breath; it was like time had stopped.

    “You did this to them,” Decidueye said.

    It didn’t fully register. They were fine! The reason their voices had cut off so suddenly was simply because a residual amount of his blessings were still there. When they were defeated, they were ejected from the Dungeon, just like any blessed one would operate.

    “Face the truth, Anam. You killed them. And here’s my proof.”

    Three lumpy shadows emerged from the ground—crawling, struggling against the dirt. Moans escaped misshapen throats; decayed claws pushed the dirt away. Anam staggered back, falling onto his rear. “W-wait… no…!”

    Their auras felt the same. It wasn’t some trick or illusion. Auras couldn’t be replicated like that so easily.

    “Rora!”

    Parts of the Tyranitar were missing, replaced by chunks of shadow that dribbled and oozed on the ground. His face was missing. Scrafty and Golisopod were no better, shambling forward as the darkness crept over them.

    “Anam,” Rora moaned. “H… help…”

    Anam gathered a golden light in his hands. “It’s—it’s okay, Rora! I’ll save you, I—”

    Rora suddenly screamed, cowering away from Anam. The other two did the same, staring with wide, empty eyes at the divine light in Anam’s hands. The Goodra shook his head. “No, it’s okay! This will help you, it’ll—”

    Anam hastily shot at Rora, but he jumped out of the way. Instead, it hit Scrafty, who had been hiding behind the Tyranitar. She screeched, flailing, and then she evaporated.

    The Goodra’s eyes widened as far as they could go. “Where’d she go?!”

    “I already told you it’s too late,” Decidueye said. “Her spirit belongs to the void. They all do. Everything does.” The dark aura spilled over, flooding the ground. Clouds ate away at Anam’s shield, or what little remained of it. The flickering radiance was only further weakened by the Goodra’s shattered will.

    Rora trembled, more and more shadows covering his decayed body. His mouth opened, but no words came out. He slouched, as did Golisopod.

    More wraiths emerged from the ground, these ones much more solid and defined than the blobs that he had encountered before. While they had some form, they were half merged, limbs and heads crawling over one another.

    Yet it still nagged at him. This Decidueye’s aura felt so familiar. And— “How did you know my name?”

    Decidueye flinched. “They called you Anam all the time. Now this is your final warning—you’re going to leave, or I’m going to—”

    “Well, I can’t leave now! You took my friends!” Anam slammed his arms to his side. “Give them back!”

    “They’re gone, Anam.”

    “Nu-uh, because they’re right in front of me!” Anam walked toward Rora, who flinched again at the light that got too close.

    “The light will burn them, Anam,” Decidueye said. “I said leave.”

    The surrounding wraiths all whispered angrily. But their behavior was too strange, now. They weren’t blindly attacking, and one was even talking to him. Wherever he was… the wraiths were under some kind of different control here.

    “Please…”

    “You saw what happened to them,” Decidueye said.

    Moans filled the air. The bodies of Pokémon stared at him with empty eyes, calling his name. Anam shut his eyes tight, covering his face with his tiny hands. “No…! It’s… it’s not too late!”

    Decidueye prepared another arrow. “At the very least,” he said, “you will join them.”

    “Please… Mister Decidueye, I just want my friends. We’ll leave you alone, I just want my friends! We… we were going to save the world together!”

    The arrow was taut, but he didn’t fire. “Save the world?” Decidueye asked. “I’m afraid the world is far beyond saving, Goodra. There is no law, only chaos. That is how the world has always operated. The strong survive. The weak die. Surely you know.”

    “It doesn’t always have to be like that!” Anam said. While he spoke, the corpses kept piling onto him, digging into his flesh. He refused to back down and shook them away. “Just because the world is how it is, doesn’t mean it will always be that way! We can make it better! I can’t do it alone… but with all my friends… just think of what we can do!”

    Decidueye let go of the arrow and it struck through Anam’s chest.

    “Ughh—” Anam tried to grab it, but his strength left him. He tried to breathe out, and then in—barely, he managed. He tried again, bringing his arm forward weakly, wrapping his fingers around the feathery, shadow arrow. Anam tugged at the arrow and pulled it out completely; he focused, dizzy, and felt the heat from a seed in his bag. The mystical glow enveloped him, and then the wound—and all of his recent injuries—vanished. The corpses shrieked, blinding by the brilliant light of the Reviver Seed.

    “What was that—?” Decidueye hissed.

    Anam struggled to his feet. “It’s something that I’ve grown for a long time. A Seed, imbued with a power so potent that it can bring you back from the brink of death! I learned these arts long ago… from the Book of Light. From Necrozma’s teachings in them. But… but it’s still not good enough. It didn’t… work when my friends were in trouble next to me. I need to make them better. I…” Anam stumbled forward. “If I could just find Necrozma, maybe I could… but nobody hears me when I say his name…”

    Decidueye scoffed. “Apparently I can’t hear the name, either, because I didn’t understand a word of your fragmented speech. So. You created a seed that can heal you in an emergency. That changes little. I’ll just kill you twice.”

    He shot at Anam again. The Goodra pulled the arrow out and grabbed an Oran Berry.

    Decidueye hissed. “Really, eating, at a time like this? You insult me.”

    Anam swallowed it whole, and the wounds vanished.

    The Decidueye glared. “I’m beginning to notice a trend.”

    “My name is Goodra Anam…” He held his head up, staring straight at Decidueye. “Head and Founder of the Hundred Hearts…” He pointed at the ghostly avian. “I’m fighting for the world. And I… I refuse to die because you’re afraid to change it!”

    The moans quieted down. Soon, only the wind filled the silence. Decidueye stared down at Anam with a scornful glint in his eyes. “Your eyes… I don’t know how someone can be so bright in a world so dark. It’s… disgusting.” He glared, and then raised a wing. “Kill him.”

    The corpses moaned… but didn’t move.

    “Excuse me?” He raised both wings. “Have you lost your hearing? I said kill him!”

    The corpses ignored him. Their eyes were fixated on Anam.

    “Nrgh, then I will just kill you myself. Nothing can revive you if you don’t have a mind!” James aimed for Anam’s head, but the Goodra didn’t even move. He just watched Decidueye. And he stared back. Between the eyes. The perfect shot. He just had to fire. He just had to let go… Let that spiritual bow pierce the Goodra’s soul, and sent him to the depths of this corpse garden. Just let go. Let go. Let go…

    “What’s your name?” Anam asked. “Your aura… my barrier. Now that my barrier is gone, I…” He gulped. “I feel your aura so… so clearly. I’d never forget it. You…” Tears welled up, but they didn’t escape him. Not yet. “Your name is James.”

    James’ dead heart skipped a beat. And that moment of weakness made the corpses rise up in a frenzy. Anam didn’t know why, or what caused them to do it, but he suspected it had to do with all the light that they were being exposed to. Could Necrozma’s techniques be working on them?

    They climbed the trees and piled on top of one another, going higher and higher until one grabbed James by the ankle. He shrieked and fell into the pile, where they swarmed and slammed him into the ground, pinning him down.

    “What—what are you doing?!” James said. “Stop! I am your leader! Don’t fall for his lies! He knows nothing about this world! He is a mortal! He hasn’t seen death! He—what is—what are you doing?! No—! STOP!”

    A few of the corpses were sliding something toward Anam. A gray orb with little white specks floating through it. All of the corpses seemed to be tied to this orb by thin, white, immaterial strings.

    “What’s that?” Anam asked, reaching toward it.

    “No!” James said. “Don’t you dare! You are the least worthy to harness this terrible power! The LEAST! I REFUSE you! I REJECT you! STOP! DON’T YOU DARE!” James screamed unendingly, but Anam ignored it all. This was clearly some sort of key.

    Wait… this looked familiar. Mama talked about it once, but it wasn’t in either of the Books. Not even the Book of Light spoke of them. Was that… an Orb?

    Of course. That’s where the spirits went. They were part of an Orb. But where was the Guardian?

    “It’s okay, Papa,” Anam said.

    “I—” James stopped. “I…!”

    Anam reached forward, pulling James close. “I missed you so much…”

    “Anam… please… get away… don’t let them take you…”

    “It’s okay,” Anam said, squeezing tighter. “I’ll… be okay.”

    He reached out and touched the orb.

    <><><> ​

    Anam bubbled curiously, squeezing his hands in empty air. “Huh?” He stood upright, but he couldn’t see anything around him. “That’s weird. I thought I was just touching the—”

    “Hello.” The distorted sound was like countless voices speaking at once.

    A tendril of fuzzy darkness, almost like tiny particles of dust concentrated together, slammed into Anam, sending him several feed backwards with a scream. Another one wrapped around his body, holding him tight. It squeezed.

    “A-agh! S-stop!” Anam struggled, chanting weakly. “B-by Mew’s divine blessings—”

    “ENOUGH with your silly chants!” he squeezed tighter. Anam screamed, spurts of golden light from his single filament lashing out at the shadows. “AAH!” The tendril swung, hurling Anam on the ground.

    He splattered there, winded. With one arm, he tried to prop himself up. The ground didn’t feel like anything. Ethereal, almost. With his other hand, he formed a small blob of golden light, shining it in the air. All around him was the dim glow of a sky, both above and below him, specked with little, white stars. Somehow, Anam felt like those stars were watching him. Ahead, in this dark realm, he saw a sphere shrouded in black dust, pulsing with purple energy. The tendril that had grabbed Anam shrank back into the sphere.

    The sphere rumbled, throbbing with waves of shadows. “How did you make my spirits rebel?”

    “Huh?”

    “Your father, I understand. He was already resisting me. For a mere mortal… his spirit is stubborn. The moment you entered the forest, he fought back.”

    “That’s because he’s my Papa! He’s super cool!”

    Another rumble. “Yet all of my other spirits… stopped as well. What did you do to them?”

    Anam frowned, slowly getting to a sitting position. He wasn’t attacking anymore. “I, um…” Anam looked down. “I just wanted them to be happy… I wanted my friends back. They weren’t being themselves.” He looked up. “Can I see them?”

    A hollow noise, like a deep bell ringing too many times, echoed from inside the core. “No.”

    “The spirits…” Anam’s horns twitched. “My friends… Papa… and… Mama!” He struggled to his feet, nearly falling over again. “They’re… they’re all inside you!” Anam broke out into a wide grin. “I—I knew it! Can they hear me? Rora! Mama! Papa! It’s me, Anam!”

    “SILENCE!”

    A shadowy blast shot out from the sphere, straight to Anam. He had expected as much. He held his arms forward, creating a golden shield with his filament. He winced as some of the darkness licked at his shoulders and sides, but otherwise, the blast had been completely deflected.

    Anam hobbled forward. “It’s okay. It’s—it’s okay! I’m here! And I’m gonna help! Because as long as I have faith, Mew and Arceus will help me!”

    “Mew… and Arceus…” Despite having no features, Anam sensed the dark orb sneering. “If they were helping you, none of this would have happened. Your friends wouldn’t have died. All of their hate… all of their resentment… I feel it all, Anam. I know it all.”

    “I don’t understand,” Anam said. “My friends… they all liked me. They wouldn’t have come with me if they didn’t!”

    “It was a holy obligation in their eyes. It was not for your friendship; I sense no love from them. Only begrudging duty and fear from their final moments alive. They only became close to you because of your Divine Dragon status. Only because of that single Hand in your possession.”

    Anam flinched, shaking his head. “That… that doesn’t make any sense. The whole village… all of Quartz Village came together to help me! They wouldn’t have done that out of duty! Not just duty! M-maybe a little bit, but it couldn’t have been…”

    The darkness swirled again, surrounding Anam on all sides. He held the filament out, creating a protective barrier.

    “I am the embodiment of negativity. Every cry of pain, every twinge of guilt, every deep, dark regret… I know every one. I feel every single one. Even you. I sense your fear. Your hopelessness. Your doubt.”

    Anam’s eyes widened, realizing that this could be true. But the embodiment of negativity? That didn’t make sense, either. “Why would… why would you exist?” he said. “I don’t understand. A-and… I still don’t believe you. I think my friends cared about me. They wouldn’t have gone so far if they didn’t. Ever since I was little, they helped me. When Mama and Papa died…”

    “They suddenly became nice to you.” The darkness pooled over Anam, obscuring his vision beyond the barrier. “Because you were their power. They used you. It’s nothing more than that. You were useful to them, and so they befriended you. But if you lost your power, none of them would care about you. Just like before.”

    “I… I…”

    The shadows thickened. “Close your heart and give up. It would be much easier to feel nothing than to realize how pathetic it is to cling to this façade.”

    Anam blinked again, looking at his hands. They were trembling. Then, he looked at the shield around him and the darkness that threatened to pierce through the moment he dispelled it. “I don’t understand.”

    “What do you mean?”

    The Goodra crossed his arms, and then his horns. He focused in front of him, shining his barrier to clear up some of the fog. He wasn’t sure if this entity had eyes, or if he could see, or—well, how he could see, but he wanted to make ‘eye contact’ anyway. “You’re just wrong.”

    More hollow rumbling that shook the slime on Anam’s body followed. Then, he said, “There is no way for me to be wrong: I feel what I feel. There is no point in lying. Because I feel your doubt, too. And your fear, and your confusion.”

    “But…”

    Another blast of shadows slammed into the barrier, and, briefly, that shield of light flickered, tiny holes leaking darkness into Anam’s bubble. He winced when some of that brushed against his body, seeping into his slime. He shuddered—it went deeper than his aura, like it tainted his spirit. He breathed slowly, concentrating on whatever inner light he may have had to push it out.

    “If you’re so certain that your friends and family care so much for you… then I’ll just prove to you how wrong you truly are.”

    Black lightning slammed into the ground, deafening Anam. While his ears rang, the darkness dispelled itself, making the black spirits fully visible.

    “Papa!”

    That was the first spirit, the Decidueye.

    “R-right? Papa…?”

    But he only stared, hate in his dark eyes.

    “He has known my suffering for so long, and has lost track of his own sense of self, that he does not even remember his old body. He understood immediately how much his old life was an illusion. Or perhaps he willingly abandoned his form? The Salandit species… the males are useless. They shall never reach their full potential. Yet he was born into it. Such a cruel world…”

    “That’s not true! Papa was very strong, and he was small! So it was really convenient! And Mama loved him!”

    “Deny as much as you want. But you cannot deny it for the rest.”

    More thunder boomed, and another wad of darkness formed where the lightning struck. This one shaped itself into a Tyranitar. “Rora…” But just like before, his eyes returned nothing but darkness. A shadowy aura radiated from his throat, threatening to blast Anam whenever he let his guard down.

    “Rora regretted following you into this place, just like all your friends. All of their struggles in life, amounting to getting killed in a forest that you led them into. Years upon years, washed away in moments. And it’s your fault.”

    “Rora, that’s not true, is it?” Anam said. “I’m sorry that I hurt you so much by bringing you here. But I’ll make it better! Just like I did with the Dungeons! And town, and… and the way you made it all better for me, too. Everyone at the village. I owe everything to them.”

    “Pathetic. I almost feel pity. But not enough. Why don’t I show you what’s become of your beloved mother? The Divine Dragon you took over. Do you think she’s proud?”

    Another boom formed a dark blob, coalescing into a Goodra nearly twice his size. Anam beamed, taking eager steps forward. “Mama!”

    A dark blast slammed into Anam’s barrier, piercing straight through it. He screamed, a huge, dark blotch rotting his chest. He gasped, the barrier closing before more darkness could seep in, and struggled to keep his breath level.

    The dark orb didn’t say anything at first. Then, after a strange hesitation, he said, “That is what your mother thinks of you—that you’re weak. That you’re foolish. Don’t you see? Give up. There’s nothing left now that you’re within my domain.”

    Anam rubbed his chest, staring worriedly at his fading barrier. Then he looked at Rora and his parents. All of them stared down at him, glaring. He could only see one thing in their eyes. The expressions were the same. But in what the entity called hatred, Anam saw something else. Those eyes weren’t filled with hatred or disappointment or disdain. If anything, Anam saw challenging eyes, like he could do better. He knew those eyes. Mama’s firm look…

    She really was a lot bigger than he was. At least two heads taller, even as that blackened wraith. He could only dream to be someone as big and strong as her.

    The darkness and rot faded from Anam’s chest quickly. So quickly that it surprised even the Goodra, who looked down, then at the barrier. “I… I understand.”

    “Then lay your head down and accept your fate. This exchange has become tiresome.”

    “You can’t feel the good parts.” Anam straightened his stance, giving the dark orb a firm look. His horns twitched, curling and uncurling. “You’ve felt negativity so long… that you don’t realize that there are good things in everyone, too. You don’t understand it.”

    “I understand that such things are fantasies. Fabrications. Illusions to make living tolerable.”

    “But that’s just wrong,” Anam said, advancing toward Papa first. He smiled at the Decidueye, who continued to glare. “Papa, it’s okay. I’m gonna make it better, alright? I’ve… I’ve missed you so much.” He held out his arms. “I know it might mess up your feathers a little, but… can I… hold you? I never got to.” He laughed. “We used to be tiny compared to Mama, and now, I guess we still kinda are… but we’re still the same size, too! A little.” Anam had to look down, still. But they both still had to look up to Mama.

    “Anam…” The Decidueye’s wings twitched open. Anam beamed, lowering his shield.

    “You fool—they don’t want your silly hugs. You disgust them!” Papa’s body abruptly disintegrated into a black fog, returning to the dark orb.

    Anam yelped, grasping at where the Decidueye wraith had been, but then looked at Rora, who similarly disintegrated. Then he looked at Mama, but she remained standing.

    He forgot to put up his shield again.

    Clearly, the darkness had been waiting for that moment, because a dark, misty arm wrapped around Anam’s body, lifting him like he was nothing but a hollow Pecha Berry. Anam writhed in his hold, the tendril eating away at the parts that it touched until it became a thick, black sludge, oozing onto the featureless ground. The Goodra gasped, kicking his legs uselessly.

    “If there is one emotion I know well, it is denial.” The red eye in the center of the orb flashed. “How self-destructive creatures become when they deny the obvious and throw themselves into the abyss. They see nothing but horror, and yet they march forward, happily, to their deaths. To me. To the abyss.”

    “It’s… it’s all to help each other. The world… is good… because we help each other.” Anam wriggled out from the darkness’ grip, but he could only accomplish a few inches. “The Book of Arceus… teaches us to be dutiful… to do what we can for the community… and the Book of Mew… teaches us how to care for ourselves. If we just—HRGK!”

    The pressure redoubled, threatening to snap Anam’s bones and crush whatever was left of his muscles. Anam couldn’t move them anymore.

    “Your faith? Is that what you rely so heavily upon? With my countless spirits, do you really believe I am ignorant of every word within those texts?”

    Anam wheezed, staring at nothing.

    “Blind faith is nothing but thinly veiled denial.”

    “No, it’s… it’s not just… They’re real… They’re here to help… Mew gave Pokémon their Types… so they could help others. Arceus created the Embodiments to ease the powers of nature. It was all for us… They all care so much for us! And—and they can care for you! Please! There must be a way to—AAAH!”

    The darkness tightened even more, crushing a number of bones that Anam could no longer comprehend. He screamed; something metallic pooled in the back of his throat.

    “You naïve child. Do you not understand that they are all mere stories?”

    Anam kept screaming, gagging on his blood before the pressure loosened. He felt warm—something in his chest made the tendrils back off, but only slightly. Anam struggled for air; this felt worse than normal injuries. This was his aura. And the darkness was trying to break his spirit. He couldn’t let that happen. He had to save him. He had to save his parents. But what was he supposed to do? Arceus and Mew—would the help him, just like in the books? “Arceus… Mew… save me…”

    “Disgusting. Even now, you deny your reality, even as it digs into you.” The tendrils tightened, burrowing past Anam’s skin and muscle. Somehow, as an aura, it felt worse. The darkness was rotting his aura and polluting his spirit.

    “H-help…”

    “The Book of Arceus. The Book of Mew. Those grandiose tales of the gods being heroes for the mortals they lord over… Who wrote those books? Do you believe the gods to be reliable writers of their own histories? No. The gods did not write them. The Books are nothing but constructs generated by power-hungry mortals to keep the masses behaved.”

    Anam heaved, his vision blurry. He could only hear the darkness’ words, now. Everything else was fading.

    “How convenient that a god wants order for society to fall in line. How convenient that another wants the masses to be content with what they have. How easy it must be to control a world when an invisible force watches over them.”

    Anam coughed, gasping wetly for air. “S… stop hurting me…”

    The darkness advanced, sinking fangs and claws into Anam from all sides. He screamed, but the darkness hissed into his ears. “No. They aren’t just stories. They are all lies.”

    Something hot flew past Anam’s right side. Then, thousands of screams deafened him, and Anam fell to the ground, his broken body lying on its back. He coughed, staring at the final trails of dragon fire leaving Mama’s mouth. The dark core floated backwards, a dark mist fizzling around him.

    “You… DARE…”

    “Don’t forget, Anam,” Mama said.

    “Forget?”

    But then Mama disappeared, and it was just him and the dark core again. “And now you are alone.”

    Anam squinted, the feeling in his body returning. And that warmth was back, too. He blinked at a golden glow flooding his vision; something from his chest. The Hand… The warmth! That was it! It was living proof of Arceus’ blessing. Was that what kept this darkness from taking him away like it did with all the others?

    It all clicked. The light…

    “You wanted me to be like you.”

    “What?”

    “You can’t kill me… you can’t do anything to me.”

    “I have done everything short of that.” The tendril coalesced into a single, fine spike, hovering over Anam’s chest. “Don’t force me to kill you. I will annihilate you.”

    “Was that a lie?” Anam asked. “You… already would have. If you’re so negative… you just want to get rid of me. But you can’t.”

    Anam’s body, all over, felt better. Horribly bruised, but better. He staggered to his feet, giving a polite nod to the spike that threatened to impale him. But it didn’t move. And that, above all else, confirmed it to Anam that there was nothing to be afraid of.

    The Goodra’s body glowed like a single flame in a dark room. It was dim, but in the void, it was the brightest thing in that reality. Anam grasped the spike with both hands, squeezing it. “I just want things to go back to normal.”

    “Let go of me.”

    Anam didn’t listen, squeezing harder. “Please, let everyone go. I don’t want to fight. I don’t want any of this. I just want everyone to be happy—I want to go home. I want everyone to go home…”

    “I said… let GO!”

    The spike flew forward, through Anam’s slimy grip, and straight into his chest. Anam’s eyes bulged, but instead of blood, a golden light poured out of him. The core screamed and recoiled and the dark spike’s tip was reduced to a fine mist. It flailed in the air, slamming into the ethereal ground, and Anam tried to maintain his stance. His wound closed; the dark core shined slightly.

    It shined? Anam tilted his head. “…Do I need to…” Anam moved forward slowly, arms outstretched.

    “What are you doing? Leave! Get away!”

    The sprits swirled around inside the dark core. He could practically hear them. Mama, Papa, Rora, and all his friends. So many lost souls waiting to be freed. He had already accepted that strange power once, before he had entered this void; it was rightfully his. He just had to do it again.

    Anam touched the shell of the core, first. It sizzled against his hands, but it didn’t hurt. But the darkness screamed, trying to pull away, yet Anam was in control of this reality, now. This wasn’t the negative entity’s domain. It was his.

    He held it tighter. “Hold still.”

    “NO! LET GO! DIE! DIE!”

    The tendrils slammed against Anam’s radiant body, but without any despair, the darkness evaporated before it could so much as touch him.

    “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! STOP! STOOOP!”

    “Shh… I’m sorry. I need to do this. The spirits… accepted me. It’s only fair that… I take control.”

    He leaned forward, staring at the great, red eye in the center of it all. He saw within it no expression, yet he could feel something, just briefly. Fear. This darkness was afraid of him. Was he already part of this negative entity? He’d never felt so intimate with such horrible emotions before.

    “This… this world…” He thought of Mama. “I’ll make it better!”

    He reached out to the core. His vision went white, and then in all faded to black.


    ---


    (continued in next post)
     
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  5. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    <><><> ​

    Dull thuds filled the air in random, occasional beats. They sounded wet, like a log slamming onto fresh mulch. Anam blinked and tried to rub his eyes. It felt like he was still in the void, but it felt like he had the most wonderful nap!

    Unfortunately, he couldn’t feel his arms. Or legs. Or much of anything below his neck, actually. His horns twitched; he used one to wipe his eyes instead, yawning. It was odd; it didn’t feel like the air he was ‘breathing’ went anywhere. Simulated from familiarity.

    The wet thuds continued; in the darkness, Anam thought to brighten things up a little. While the ground was still invisible, the individuals within the void brightened. He saw two, not including himself: the dark entity, still as an orb with a single, misty tendril… and himself? He saw himself lying on the ground; the dark tendril slammed onto his body, smashing it over and over again…

    “Um, Mister? What happened?” Anam asked, trying to move his arms. Still no luck. He tried to move his horns instead—they were always stronger than his arms—and pushed his head up.

    It was a lot lighter than expected. “A-ah! Whoa!”

    He looked down, but he didn’t have a neck to look down with. Instead, he tilted forward, falling onto his face with a grunt. His horns twirled around and lifted him back up. “Ugh… I’m… I’m just a…”

    He was just a head; the rest of his body was being slammed into the ground.

    “So you’re awake. Wonderful.”

    Anam gasped. “Hey! Wonderful? That means you’re happy, right?!”

    “I am capable of sarcasm.”

    “Oh…” Anam frowned. “Well, at least you know how to act like you’re happy! Kinda. Right?”

    Slam. Bits of slime and goo flew across the void, splashing onto Anam’s face. He closed his eyes, opening one to see the tendril picking it up and tossing it back onto the ground. Anam realized—he had two eyes again. It was disorienting; he wasn’t used to having depth perception again. “Um, how come you’re beating me up?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “…But… why am I just a head?”

    “At some point it fell off.”

    Anam wriggled his horns until he managed to position them like legs. Anam’s head waddled a few paces closer, wincing at how beat up the body appeared to be.

    His horn-legs bent and lowered his head down. He crossed his ‘legs’ beneath his chin. “Are you doing this because you’re bored? Is that a negative emotion?”

    “For some reason, pummeling your body makes me feel less unhappy.”

    “Oh…”

    The tendril made a motion to strike one last time, but he hesitated. Eventually, it lowered, leaving the Goodra body where it was.

    “I guess that means you couldn’t kill me after all.” Anam, seeing that the body was unusable, turned his attention back to the darkness. “But… I really did mean what I said. I want to help you. It’s not fair that you were born only feeling all those negative emotions. You should be feeling the happy ones, too. Maybe… I can show you some of that?”

    “It is not like I have a choice.”

    “Yeah, but maybe it’ll be fun! I’ll show you what it means to feel something like that! Because we’re together now, right? If I accepted the Core, and stuff, I mean. The Ghost Orb… and you! Um… actually, I don’t even know what to call you. Do you have a name?”

    The thing hesitated in its next pound. “I… I do not remember. I don’t know. I only remember waking up in fear, confusion, and sadness. I don’t know my name, if I ever had one. I simply… am.”

    “Oh. That’s… that’s also unfair. You went all this time without a name?”

    “It was not as if I ever needed one. I am… all of negativity. Do I even have an identity?”

    “I say you do. Because I’m talking to you right now, and you feel like a person to me. So let’s name you!”

    The ethereal darkness rumbled irritably, but didn’t protest.

    “How about we name you… do you want a normal name, maybe? Or maybe we should call you something more exotic? My Dad was named something exotic, kinda like Mom.”

    “Your mother was human. Her name is a human name. Their culture permeates Quartz. James was named by Madeline; he used to just be named, Salandit.”

    “O-oh… um… I didn’t know that.” Anam blinked, looking down. “Humans… what were they like?”

    “Not very different from Pokémon: Uselessly fighting to persist in a world where they will ultimately die.”

    Anam frowned. “Let’s get back to your name, then. How about we call you… All?”

    “No.”

    “Then how about a normal name, like, um, Dariko?”

    “Never.”

    “I guess you want a special name, huh? Okay. I mean… oh!” Anam clapped his horns together excitedly, his head wobbling on the ground. “I have a really clever one! If you’re kinda like everyone, that means, when I’m talking to you… there’s a little bit of my thoughts that you can feel, too, right?”

    “That is true. I feel all of your negative thoughts. I know that you are doing this for me because…” But he couldn’t finish. He just grumbled again. “Tell me your idea, Goodra.”

    “If you’re me, then when I’m talking to you, it’s like, I’m you! So… let’s call you, You!”

    A brief silence fell between them in the void. Anam’s eyes widened with hope, but then he rumbled, “I hate you.”

    Anam lowered his head until it touched the ground again, his horns flexing. “I guess You isn’t a good name after all… Okay. Let’s keep thinking.”

    It was quiet for a while after that, with Anam focused on trying to name his new spiritual companion. Eventually, the darkness rumbled again. “Don’t you have some waking up to do?”

    “Not until I name you.”

    “Why do you care?”

    “Because you deserve a name! You’re my friend now, right? I need something to call you.”

    “…Friend?”

    “Yeah! Have you ever had one before? You have a lot of spirits in the Ghost Orb, but not a lot of friends, I guess. Maybe we can try it out! I’m, um, your host, right? So I should be a very good one. It’s polite. And we can be friends, too.”

    He didn’t reply.

    “Hmm…” Anam studied his body again, seeing how dark it was. He wasn’t really sure what kind of material he was made of, either—spiritual in some way, probably. But that did give him an idea… “I don’t know what species you are. The first name is usually the species, but you’re just… darkness. That’s what you are. So what if your first name is Dark? And your last name is what people would call you informally. And since you’re made of everything… I mean… I really wanted you to be called You, so, um, Dark You, but I guess that’s stupid…”

    “…Perhaps not stupid… but I refuse to be called something like that. I am everything. I am… the darkness of everything. That is… my identity.”

    “You are everything…” Anam repeated this to himself, over and over, in little whispers. Then, he gasped. “Matter!”

    “Matter?”

    “If you’re everything negative, then that’s your name! Matter! Your full name is Dark Matter!”

    “Dark… Matter…”

    “Do you like it?” Anam could tell; something about that name resonated with this ball of evil, even if he didn’t want to—or perhaps couldn’t understand how to—admit it.

    “I don’t dislike it.”

    “Then that means you like it!” Anam clapped more with his horns. “Yes! You have a name, Dark Matter! Can I call you Mister Matter, though? Or just Matter?”

    “Mister Matter. I refuse to be called so informally.”

    “Okay, Mister Matter it is!” Anam giggled, righting himself. “I’m really glad that I could help you even a tiny bit, though. I’ll show you that the world can be a lot better than all the negativity you’ve been feeling. And maybe you can help me. Tell me about the negative thoughts that people have, and maybe I can help to make them better. If you feel less negativity in the world… then that means there would be more positivity to take its place, right?”

    “…Do you truly believe it’s not an illusion? Positive emotions. They can’t be real…”

    “They are. And I’m gonna show you. I’ll tell everyone about you, and then they can—”

    “NO!”

    Anam flinched, whatever he planned to say lost to the void.

    “You cannot tell others. I… they will try to find a way to destroy me. And they will destroy you, too. You have no reason to tell them.”

    “Oh…”

    “I want you to promise me that you won’t tell them. I… don’t want that. And I will disrupt your every move if you refuse.”

    “Okay—I promise,” Anam said. “I don’t want them to hurt you… that might hurt all the spirits with you, too. I want to make this better so… so you can release them, right? I’ll try my best. I’ll show you hope, and happiness, and warmth. Yep! So, I promise!”

    “No. I need more. This is too big of a secret. I can control the spirits within me and make them forget; I cannot release them because… if I do, they will speak of me to the gods. And they may try to get rid of me, too.”

    Anam frowned. “Do you really think they would? You… you said those stories are lies. Does that mean…?”

    “They are only out for their own interests. Just as I am. But I do not want to be destroyed. That is surely what they will try to do.”

    “But… but then what do you want? You want to be happy, right?”

    Dark Matter didn’t reply immediately. It sounded like he was trying to say something, but then stopped, like he didn’t know how to articulate it.

    “You said that being happy was an illusion, but… Are you sure? Or is that just… denial? You said you were the most familiar with denial. Because maybe… That’s what you’re doing, too.”

    “I can’t be happy. It is an illusion… to me. It is part of my reality to be… negative.”

    “Well, maybe I can change that,” Anam said. “Or maybe… Arceus and Mew can? Are the stories really… lies?”

    Dark Matter growled. “The stories are glamorized or outright lies. But the gods themselves… are clearly real. You already met Zygarde, who has ties to Mew. And yet… That changes nothing for me.”

    “But what if their miracles are real, too? What if I told them, and they—"

    “The gods hold the power to help me. Yet they do not. Because if they ever find out I exist… they will destroy me instead. They will refuse to help me. I’ve felt their negativity, too. I know this. They will kill me…”

    Anam gulped, wanting to protest, but he seemed so convinced of himself… Could he be telling the truth? Or was it warped like the rest of his perception?

    “If I want to be fixed, I must do it myself. With their own power. The scattered power, like what is within this Ghost Orb—the Hands.”

    “What do you mean?” Anam asked. “You want… the Hands. This?” Anam made a motion with his horn, producing his single filament.”

    “Yes. Anam… I need those. I must gather them. The very things that can destroy me can also help me. If I can get enough, perhaps I can rewrite my own reality. The same way Arceus had used them long ago to create reality itself.”

    It started to piece itself together for Anam. While Anam suspected that not even Dark Matter himself knew why he existed… it seemed clear that he wanted to change his fate. But, just to be sure, Anam said, “So you want their power, because…”

    “I want the Hands of Creation so I can finally be happy.”

    There it was. That was good enough for Anam. But at the same time, giving all of that power to someone like Dark Matter would be… risky. And if he thought that, then Dark Matter heard the thought, too. “I’m sorry…”

    The sphere lowered in the void. “It’s hopeless. I’ll never be happy.”

    Somehow, seeing the giant ball of evil lament made Anam’s heart sink. Frantic, he said, “No! I’ll find another way! I promise! I’ll make the world happier, and then, if you’re part of me, maybe you’ll start to feel a little happy, too. And I won’t tell anybody.”

    “And would you make that a Divine Promise?”

    The sky—the invisible, dark sky—rumbled lowly, getting Anam’s attention. The Goodra looked up, nearly toppling over from his imbalance of just being a head and horns. “What’s that?”

    A dark tendril moved toward Anam, who lowered his head down so he could reach out to it reflexively.

    “It means that should you break it, I would gain your divine power. It would be a way that I can be sure you will follow. Otherwise, I will have one more Hand to get closer to what I need. Because if I’m not convinced… if you fall into despair… Then you’ll accept that you were wrong.”

    “Well, okay,” Anam said. “That sounds fair! And it’ll make you feel better?”

    “…You will make a Promise to me? You will risk your power just for the chance to make me happy?”

    “If that’s the only way you can feel better… then yes! Because I’m not just helping you. I’d be helping everyone. The whole world! And you’ll get to help me! Because what’s a better way to fix the world than to know everything that’s wrong with it?” Anam grinned. “Okay, I Promise! Oh!”

    Just then, from Anam’s right horn, a glowing light erupted, twisting around the dark tendril of Dark Matter. The entity flinched back at first, but then floated forward. He was silent for a while.

    Anam tilted his head, careful not to fall over. “Something wrong?”

    “You’re really doing this.”

    “Yeah! But are you okay with helping me?”

    “Why?”

    “I said why!”

    “No. Why? The real reason.”

    This again? Anam tried to be polite. “I don’t understand…”

    The sky rumbled again, but then he reached forward and twisted the tendril around Anam’s horn. “Then that makes the two of us. Restate your Promise.”

    Anam frowned, but he did so. “I Promise to keep you a secret for as long as you help me save the world!”

    The glowing brightened. Dark Matter said nothing, but the sky rumbled again. The red eye in the center of the shell pulsed anxiously. “So long as I help you, the secret will be kept. And once I stop, you become free to speak of me to the others. Is that your deal…? How… one-sided. Your naïve faith… Of course a Divine Dragon of Light would behave this way… Why should I be so confused? I accept.”

    The golden light blinded them both.

    Slowly, it all faded, and Anam dared to open his left eye. He saw Dark Matter there, as usual, floating, with his red sphere gleaming in his protective shell. “Where are my parents?”

    “With me.”

    “…Can I… see them?”

    “Not now. It would be… bothersome. But I will teach you how to summon them… and how to speak with them.”

    “Oh… You’ll teach me?”

    “I have to help you if you’re going to keep me a secret. That was the deal.”

    Anam bobbed his head. “But what about all my friends? If I can summon them, then…”

    “I will suppress their memories if you summon or revive them. It is not difficult since they are already under my control.”

    That seemed satisfying enough. With a happy bounce, Anam said, “How do I go back out?”

    “That should have happened a long time ago. Your spirit acclimated to the Ghost Orb and you should have woken up… but it seems that it was too much for your body. It must be sustained only by the Orb’s power and my own. You need to focus to wake up; I refuse to be trapped with you for eternity.”

    “Okay, focus…” Anam closed his eyes, trying to sense through this void where his body was. It wasn’t much of an instinct or a feeling so much as it just came to him; it wasn’t anywhere around him, not above or below, but afar. He found his body. “I think I see it.”

    “I feel it, too. And—We have visitors.”

    Anam felt it, too. The presence of two auras just at the edge of the pit he’d grabbed the Orb from. An Alakazam and a Chikorita. “Why are they here?”

    “The Chikorita feels fear and disgust. Your body must be an awful sight.”

    “And how about the Alakazam?” Anam asked. “Is he afraid? I should go and help them.”

    “…I feel… nothing… from the Alakazam.”

    “Nothing? Then he must be…” Anam gasped. “His soul must be pure! No negativity at all! That’s amazing! I’m totally gonna—”

    “No. A pure soul is impossible. His aura… was not forged in this world. Just like your mother… He is human. Or, perhaps… was human.”

    “So you can’t feel the negativity from people whose auras weren’t made in this world?”

    “…I do not know… That is only my theory.”

    “Another human… wow. What’s his name? I wanna greet him!”

    The darkness rumbled. “From Madeline’s memories… he is Michael.”

    “Michael. That reminds me of Papa’s name, in a way.”

    “They are human names. As I said… their culture permeates this world in the smallest traces. But perhaps he will go by a different name. It has been… too long, since he had been human in any way, according to Madeline.”

    “Well, I’ll wait for him to introduce himself.” Anam closed his eyes, golden light pouring from his head as well as his body a few feet away. Dark Matter shrank away from the light, grumbling something to himself. “And, Mister Matter…”

    “Is that my name, now?”

    “I just wanted to say… Thank you.”

    Dark Matter said nothing. The golden light that flowed out of Anam became too bright to look at; he shrouded his shell in a dark fog, but even then, the light cut through.

    “For helping me make the world a better place. And in return… I’ll find a way to make you happy.”

    And then the light stopped. Dark Matter remained in the void, left behind again, but not without the smallest hint of Anam’s essence left behind—the link they now shared. And from it, Dark Matter felt… something new, for an instant.

    “…Thank you…”
     
    git-it and Kindoflame like this.
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 73 – Gather

    With so much that had happened, it was a miracle that they could clean up Quartz HQ at all. There was still a lot more to do. The walls of the fifth floor were still wrecked here and there, holes making new passageways into rooms, rendering the actual doorways useless. Blood coated parts of the halls on various other floors. Severed plants, rubble, cooled molten rock littered the floor, and the air was filled with the lingering pressure of countless stressed mutants.

    What’s wrong? What’s wrong?

    I can’t see. Can’t see.

    Lavvie, open your eyes! I want to see!

    Lavender frowned, complying. His eyes trailed over the trembling mutants, still in shock from the battle. Next to Lavender was Lucas, no longer in his Mega form, looking skinny and frightened. He let out soft whines now and then, flinching to any form of contact. Lavender tried to ease him out of it, but he was inconsolable.

    Dad? How about Dad?

    Is Dad okay?

    He’s alive, right?

    Lavender let out a sound that was a mixture of a whine and a chirp. The chimeric Pokémon crouched down and paced toward Eon, bumping his beak against the other Espurr. “Dad?”

    Eon jumped, looking at Lavender, then back at Rim. She was still staring emptily forward, a bit of drool collecting at the corner of her mouth. Eon reached forward with a paw and cleaned some of it off; Rim didn’t respond. Was she getting worse? Her aura felt so weak. It was barely keeping itself together.

    “Rim…” Eon reached closer, rubbing under her chin. Her eyes remained open; Eon looked like he was in pain when he reached forward to close her eyelids. They didn’t reopen.

    “No,” Lavender whispered. “She’s… she’s still alive. I feel it.” He reached out to paw at her, but then stared at his own talons. He’d risk cutting through her fur if he got too rough. A simple scrape, the way she was… Rim was always delicate. Her barrier kept her safe, yet now…

    “She just n-needs some rest,” Eon said, nodding. “I… St-Star… Star did something bad to her, Lavender,” he explained. “B-but I’ll find a way to fix it. Always do. I’ll find a way. I’ll…”

    They all fell into silence; Lavender looked at the remaining mutants.

    Can we help?

    What can we do?

    Lavender, do something!

    Countless voices echoed in Lavender’s mind. He winced. Shh, shh, let me think… And the voices quieted down, though a few of them still seemed to mutter little concerns and ideas.

    “What happened to Owen, Dad?” a mutant asked—this one was a Raichu with the wings of a Mothim and the claws of a Sandslash. “He looked so…”

    “Star possessed him. And then she…” Eon shook his head, his body expanding and shifting from an Espurr to Owen’s mutant form, towering over all of them. He staggered back so he didn’t accidentally crush the comatose Espurr. “She must have planned to do that eventually. Using Owen to kill me. M-my own Owen… h-how could she—how could she—”

    “Dad,” Lavender said shakily.

    Eon took in a muted gasp, hiding his face from the others. “I—I’m sorry. You shouldn’t see me like this. I’m… I’m your father. We need to get through this together.”

    “But how?” Lavender asked. “Owen… he looked so angry… but why? Shouldn’t he be angry at Star, and not… you?”

    Eon clenched his jaws. A few of the mutants looked at one another with uncertainty, then back at their father.

    “Dad?” the mutant Raichu asked. “How come Owen’s mad at you, too?”

    Eon looked back at them, and then looked at his paws. “I… He doesn’t like what we’re doing with the Guardians. Taking their Orbs, I mean.”

    “But you said that it was to free them,” Raichu said.

    Lavender nodded. “It’s mean, but it’s even meaner that they have to stay like that, right?”

    “I…” Eon never completed his answer.

    “Dad…” Another mutant stepped forward, this one with the body of a Flareon, the fur of a Jolteon, and the fins of a Vaporeon. “Is he mad because we kill people?”

    Various mutants shifted uncomfortably.

    “When we black out, sometimes you say that something bad happened. We know what that means, Dad…”

    “N-nothing happens,” Eon said hastily.

    The mutants frowned. Lavender shrank away. “Dad’s been getting better at that. We don’t go berserk nearly as often, and… and now it’s usually only when he switches us to battle mode. That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? Then you don’t have to actually… see it happen.”

    And once again, the audience found various parts of the hall to observe instead of their father.

    “Dad?” The Eevee-evolution fusion looked up. “When this is all over… Are you going to turn it off forever?”

    “Yes,” Eon said immediately. “Yes, with all my power. I… We just need to save the world from them. You’ve seen what they’re like. And…”

    “How come you need Owen for it?” Lavender asked. “And the rest of Team Alloy?”

    Eon ran a claw over Rim’s limp form, and then picked her up. “Owen… all of Team Alloy, but Owen most of all… we were partners. We worked together just like Rim and I a long time ago. It’s the sort of bond that… I don’t know how to replicate. It’s irreplaceable. And it’s tangible. It’s something that we could use to usurp them, give me the edge that…” Eon’s voice quickened, but then he slowed to a stop. “But… but he doesn’t remember that anymore. It’s gone.”

    “Because of how he was split apart?” Lavender asked.

    “No,” Eon said. “Well… some of that might be true. But the rest…” He shook his head. “It’s hidden behind that Divine Decree. He doesn’t remember. And I can’t tell you about it, either.”

    “If he remembered, do you think he’d partner up with you again?” Lavender asked. “If any of them did?”

    “I don’t know anymore,” Eon finally said, slumping over. “I wish that I could just say one magic word and Owen would suddenly remember everything, smile, and go by my side. Would be nice to have the power over wishes, huh? Maybe I’d be able to pull another miracle like the Reincarnation Machine all over again.”

    Lavender glanced at Rim, then at Eon. But when he did, there was something new in Eon’s eyes—they were wider.

    “Star possessed Owen,” Eon repeated. “What if… that also gave him Star’s blessing?”

    “Huh?” Lavender tilted his head.

    “What if that broke the Decree?”

    “Maybe?” He wasn’t sure how significant that was. Eon always thought it was important to break through that thing, but why did it matter here?

    Eon suddenly stood up. “If I had to know where Owen was, right now…” He paced around, letting a few other mutants inspect Rim, though he warned them to be gentle. “…He left for Brandon’s… but I don’t think he’ll stay there that long. I don’t know what he’ll tell him, but… But Owen will definitely want to go back to Hot Spot. It’s his… home. Even after all this. Maybe he’s heading there now? I… Does that make sense?”

    The mutants all stared blankly at him, including Lavender. None of them knew Owen the way Eon did.

    “I’m going to try. One last time, I want to see if he hears me.” He backed away from Rim, giving her one last look. “Please—take care of Rim, okay? I’ll be right back.”

    “Okay, but—what are you gonna tell Owen?” Lavender asked. “Try on me!” And you guys, try to listen, too. Maybe if we work really hard, we’ll hear him!

    The spirits within Lavender all agreed and listened with all their might.

    Eon hesitated, but then gave Lavender a small smile. “There are so many things and so many places that I’d want to talk to him about. But, to start… I’m going to ask Owen about Kanto.”

    Lavender’s head-crest fanned out, then relaxed. “Can you say that last part again?”

    I didn’t hear it.

    Me neither.

    I think I did, but I forgot.

    Eon shook his head. “I need to go. Take care of Rim, okay?”

    The Ditto, still as a mutant Charizard, sped through the halls, using generated updraft to glide the turns with ease. Everyone’s attention then turned to Rim. The Meganium from the battle earlier nuzzled Rim with concern. “Her aura’s getting so weak…”

    “What can we do?”

    “How… how weak is it?” Lavender asked, leaning closer. He nudged Rim; no response. She used to react at least slightly, but now, it was like she was completely asleep. She was barely breathing. “N-no, don’t answer. I… she’s…”

    She’s dying.

    She’s fading.

    What do we do?

    We have to do something.

    Lavender, do something!

    You can save her, right?

    Do something!

    Do something!

    Lavender shook his head, trembling. Quiet, quiet, please, I… I can’t hold you all in if you get so…

    The spirits settled back down again.

    Lavender nuzzled Rim closer, feeling her weak breaths against his feathers. She wouldn’t last before Eon got back, would she? And if he came back without Owen, and then Rim was gone, too…

    Can’t we do anything?

    Anything?

    Lavender listened to Rim’s heart. It was beating, but… That wasn’t the problem. It was her aura. He couldn’t feel it. Soon, her spirit would slip away, and…

    Her… spirit.

    Lavender glanced at all the other mutants, then at Rim again. Then back at the mutants. “I can save her.”

    They all perked up. “How? What will you do?”

    “I’ll save her the same way you guys get saved. Do you guys trust me?”

    The mutants nodded unquestioningly. Lavender was one of their strongest and smartest mutants—even if he was a little different, with all of the friends inside of him.

    A few mutants realized what Lavender was about to do and beamed. Lavender beamed back, turned to Rim, and gently wrapped his beak around her chest. He closed his eyes, searching for her essence… There it was. That flickering, golden light within her aura, weak as it was…

    He breathed in. Rim’s body breathed out. And then, it lay still. A new warmth to accompany all the others flowed into him, caressed by the countless other spirits that tried to talk to Rim. They got weak, confused replies from her.

    La… ven…der…?

    It’s okay, Auntie. You’re safe now.

    What’s… where… so warm…

    Just rest, Auntie. I know what to do. I’ve done it all the time! I’m gonna Reincarnate you, okay?

    He sensed apprehension from Rim then, but she also seemed too tired to question it. She was already sinking into the cozy warmth inside his being. Just… be careful…

    I will.

    He was already bounding through the halls. He whispered “ten” to the wall, then spun around and down the new halls. Into the lab, he found the nearest empty Reincarnation chamber, staring at the clear glass. He pressed a button and the machine lit up. He read the interface, squinting at the small screen in the center, and pressed his talon on the start button.

    Two words appeared on the screen: ‘Insert spirit.’

    Lavender looked at the apparatus to the side that opened up, glowing slightly with something that resembled a Protect barrier. He sifted through his spirits until he could find Rim’s, leaning forward for a gentle breath. A single, golden orb floated out and into the tiny Protect sphere, which snapped shut before Rim’s spirit could fade. The sphere sank into the machine; shortly after, he saw the spirit at the top of the cylinder. He smiled, nodding, and looked at the interface again.

    ‘Provide body specifications.’

    Lavender typed in “Rim” and confirmed. His tail-fin wagged with anticipation; he looked up at the spirit again, and then back at the screen in time to see the confirmation page disappear. “Good!” Lavender said, already seeing artificial aura channel and coat the spirit, and then the cylinder itself filling with a thick fluid.

    Satisfied, Lavender pressed his forehead softly against the cylinder and backed away. Feeling cheerful, he shifted to his Scolipede form and rolled back down the halls to tell the others the good news.

    <><><> ​

    “Good. Then everything is in order.”

    Mobilizing an entire mutant bug army was more work than Har could have anticipated. Sure, the spirits were easy enough—they could go in the Bug Orb and forget about it. But the actual, living mutants? Har grumbled, rubbing his forehead. He needed a break. After what felt like half the day of nothing but walking and coordinating, he wanted to curl up and nap.

    His room within Trina’s abode was coated in Rawst leaves, lined with books. Well, it used to be; they had packed most of it away to go to Hot Spot. That would be another worrisome change, but… maybe it was for the better? His annoyingly cheerful, ‘complete’ counterpart, even with his inferior body, was at least tolerable. But the way Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were toward one another was going to be an aching needle in his brain any time he looked at the erased versions that he lived with. The ones he called his partners.

    Trina was coming; he sensed her from two turns down in the labyrinth. She seemed to be carrying something with her vines; scarves? Har wasn’t all that interested in fashion statements… Maybe they were for someone else. He sat up, straightening his back to look as formal as possible.

    The Serperior nodded at Har as her first action, and Har nodded back. “I trust you are doing well?”

    “Yeah.”

    “I wanted to give you something.”

    “Oh, that’s for me?”

    “In a sense.” Trina handed them over; each one was a pale green color and radiated Mystic energy. He felt it upon contact, like a dull pressure all around his scales.

    “What’s… what do they do? I get the feeling these aren’t just normal scarves.”

    “This is something that will be a bit stronger than the average Scarf. It’ll only work once… but I have three of them. And they only activate under a specific circumstance.”

    Three scarves… Har tensed his jaw, not wanting to ask another question. He took them wordlessly and returned to his nest. “Well, thanks.”

    “I’m assuming you know what they’ll do?”

    Har growled, tracing a claw along the soft fabric. Three scarves, and after what had happened with Team Alloy, and Trina’s little remarks about how meeting them would be good for him…

    “It’ll return their memories,” Har said, unable to suppress a snarl. “They wanted them gone. I don’t see why you should give them back. That’s not fair.”

    “Mystics can only seal memories, not erase them,” Trina said, shaking her head. “They are never truly gone. That’s something fundamental, according to Star: the persistence of memories in the spirit. Nobody, not even a god, can change that.”

    “Well, they said they wanted to keep it away. I figure it’d only be fair to honor that for as long as possible, huh?” Smoke trailed out of Har’s nostrils, ready to blast the three scarves into piles of ash.

    Trina stared, expressionless. She was daring him. Daring him to destroy the scarves in front of her—or at all. She suddenly felt a lot larger. Har shrank back, the flame on his tail dimming. The smoke cleared. He balled up the scarves and set them by his bed. “They don’t even know they have them.”

    “I told them from the outset that it was temporary until they could find new identities. I advised against it, but I’m not one to deny my subjects something they truly desired. And perhaps it did delay their grief. But, Har… even if the memories that had been sealed away are incomplete, it was the basis of who they were. By sealing that away, I’ve observed that we may have… stunted them. You have already grown to be someone completely unlike Owen. But now you only want to see your old Team Alloy back to normal.”

    “No.” Har narrowed his eyes. “I wanted them to be happy. I don’t care how.”

    Trina closed her eyes and turned her head down, breathing through her nostrils. “When you’re ready, Har, I have put that power to you. I trust that you will at least tell them the truth. I believe, after seeing their copies, they are ready to make that choice, and they are ready to accept their full identities and retain who they are now.”

    The Charizard said nothing. His eyes were fixed on the scarves; he knew he couldn’t destroy them. It would betray the trust that Trina had given him and, more importantly… it would put him in an unjust control over the rest of his team.

    “I trust that you won’t misplace them,” she said. “Conferring blessings is incredibly difficult. I don’t know why it is such an easy thing for Anam to do, or how your counterpart did it without any practice. Perhaps it is some kind of specialty in their Mystic powers. But I won’t be able to replace them.”

    “Okay, then how long do I have?” Har asked in a growl.

    “The power will fade by tomorrow.”

    Har jolted upright, but Trina was already slithering out. He squeezed his claws over the scarves, piercing the fabric with tiny holes. “Why couldn’t you have just given me time to decide for myself?”

    “This is what they wanted long ago. It has nothing to do with you. Now, I’ll be going to speak with Owen and the others in Hot Spot to make final arrangements for our arrival. Everybody will be gathered in the central chamber for our migration. I shall return with another Badge’s power and guide us all there under the cover of night.”

    Her voice faded as she turned down the next corner of the labyrinth of silk.

    Har sat in the middle of his room, staring at the scarves again. “Guys…” He didn’t know what it would do to them.

    Ani, Ax, and Lygo. Would he lose them? Or… would he have them back?

    <><><> ​

    Where was Owen when they needed him?! The sky was falling! Or—or what, what was it doing? It seemed to be growing a huge vortex right above Hot Spot. Demitri didn’t know the first thing about vortexes or rips in reality or any of this Mystic junk beyond fleeting thoughts from Mispy, who had gotten them from Owen. Secondhand-secondhand thoughts. Double-secondhand. Thirdhand?

    Demitri took a shaking step back, eyes wide and pupils narrow. It was darker than the evening sky. There was blackness, and then a purplish outline, and then… it was like going blind. Complete absence of light. He felt as if he couldn’t look at it for long without getting swallowed completely by it.

    Vines wrapped around his torso, anchoring him back to reality. He looked at Mispy, her eyes just as wide, saying everything that she physically couldn’t. Without a clue what to think of it themselves, they turned their attention to the other two—the Elite and the leader himself. “Nevren? What’s happening?” Demitri said. “P-please, you gotta know!”

    Nevren wasn’t looking at the sky. Instead, he was looking at Anam, who was still digging into his own skull with his slimy claws. Black ooze seeped out of the Goodra’s eyes and head wherever the claws pierced. What was happening to Anam? Did it have anything to do with the strange void over them?

    “P-please… stop…” Anam said, but then his head sank into the ground, becoming nothing but a purple, bubbling puddle flecked with black.

    A different voice came from the puddle. “You were wrong… accept it.”

    Demitri exchanged a look with Mispy, but they were equally confused. That wasn’t Anam’s voice. It was… what was it? It sounded like all of the spirits inside of Anam were talking at once, through him. How was that even possible? Where was it coming from, or was it… just there?

    Why couldn’t he go back to being ignorant and blissful? He longed for the days when he was resting with Mispy—Axew and Chikorita, sparring against boulders and trees and each other. Little Heart missions to rescue a Pokémon in need, or arrest some outlaw in trouble. Sure, he didn’t have his memories back then, but did that matter?

    Okay, maybe it did. He glanced at Mispy, then back at Anam’s puddle. “Should—should we get the others?” Demitri asked, defaulting to seeing if someone else could do something—anything—to help Anam.

    The void above them let out a low rumble, like deep, distant thunder. It shook Demitri’s chest, leaving him to shake his head. “That felt crazy… Mispy?”

    She had crumpled over, eyes wide, like she had been punched in the gut. The wind had completely left her. To his right, Nevren had staggered back, holding his chest as well, before his breath returned to him.

    Anam’s body was a lot darker. “No… It’s… it’s not too late…”

    “Nevren… You used your power… and used Anam… to create the Waypoints. You designed all of the technology. You gave Anam what he called hope…” The Goodra stood up, his entire upper half infested with inky blank sludge. It seeped into his lower half like dye in water. “Yet it was all to weaken his mind. All to control him. All to betray him.”

    Nevren blinked several times, looking at Demitri and Mispy.

    “I was right all along. No matter how much good Anam does for you all… It means nothing. People like you… will undo it all.”

    “N-Nevren?” Demitri asked. “What’s Anam—what’s that voice talking about?”

    “Nothing. Something within Anam is out of control. Go and get the others, quickly. We need a means to subdue—”

    Nevren suddenly turned toward Anam and held his hand forward. A transparent barrier formed, flashing when Anam abruptly got to his feet and slammed his body against it. A single, red eye glimmered in the faceless Goodra’s head. Despite having no mouth, the Goodra spoke, its red eye flashing. “This world…” He raised a shadow-infused fist. “Anam failed to save it.” The shadows intensified; Nevren launched a precise Psychic blast at the fist, knocking it clean off. It flew behind them, splattering in a pile in the grass, which instantly withered away.

    But the shadows remained on the stump at the end of Anam’s arm. The fist didn’t matter anymore. “Now,” the voices said, “it is my turn.”

    He slammed down onto the barrier, shattering it effortlessly. Nevren immediately jumped away and shouted to Demitri and Mispy, “Into Hot Spot! Now!

    He shut his eyes and disappeared in a flash of light.

    Demitri stepped back next, followed by Mispy trying to slide into the caverns, but they were both too slow. Even Anam, now that he was back on his feet, outpaced them. Black fog seeped from his body in black boils like the gaseous pits of hot mud.

    “M-Mispy—” Demitri turned around to run, but Anam opened his mouth and fired a beam of blackness at the Haxorus’ back.

    He wailed, the blast splashing in all directions, but the impact site was left blackened, exposing bare skin beneath his tough scales. Mispy wrapped her vines around him, pulling him close, but they didn’t have time to fuse. Demitri couldn’t concentrate enough to do it safely—what would happen if they did it under so much stress? He pushed away from her; Anam was charging up another blast.

    “No!” Mispy lunged forward and wrapped a layer of herself around Anam’s head. A shadowy explosion expanded the plant wrapping, leaving huge patches of rot that seeped into the outside. Mispy winced.

    “M-Mispy? Does it… hurt?” Since when could Mispy feel pain in this form? Her body didn’t register that sort of thing. Unless… it wasn’t hurting her body.

    “Y-yes,” Mispy said, blinking back tears.

    They had to get it away from them. They needed time to warn the others before Anam killed them all—or whatever it was that took control of him. That wasn’t Anam—that was… Demitri, hyperventilating, could barely think straight at the sight of Mispy actually in pain. He hadn’t seen that since she was a Chikorita.

    What would Owen have done in this situation? He always had some way out of things, didn’t he? He was supposed to be the one to strategize or give solid advice.

    Having no idea what else to do, Mispy wrapped more vines around Anam, even as the current ones started to blacken and fall away at the tips.

    Demitri tried to think back to the last time they had fought together. Their fight against their counterparts—what did they do then? Did any of that apply here?

    More and more of Mispy wrapped around Anam, sealing him away, while her main body shrank back. She curled her neck down, sniffling—clearly no longer used to pain in general, let alone at this magnitude. “Mispy!” Demitri wanted to run toward her, hug her, find some way to comfort her while they bought more time—Nevren would be warning them, right?—but until then, he couldn’t see her suffer. He wanted to comfort her, pick her up, take her to—

    Pick her up…

    Demitri’s arms twitched and his claws clenched. He glanced at Anam. He was completely wrapped up in vines by now, like a grotesque cocoon of plant and rot. Every so often, it expanded with a shadowy explosion, but Mispy diligently sealed him with another layer each time. She looked like she was about to throw up with how her eyes bulged with every explosion.

    Demitri grasped at one of his tusks and pulled it free. “Sorry, Mispy!” He raised the blade and swung it down on the first vine, but that wasn’t his true aim. While that slash was indeed enough to cut through it like butter, the shockwave that followed from his desperate strike expanded the cut to all the other vines, and then into the ground beside them in a straight-lined fissure.

    Demitri dropped his blade and lunged for the cocoon, wrapping his arms for whatever sort of grip he could possibly find. Then, he curled his neck around to get it over his back, crouched down, and, with all his strength, hurled Anam with the power of his entire upper body. For good measure, he used the back of his head and neck to lob the cocoon even further.

    His claws throbbed with a dull pain. He looked at them to see what was wrong, but regretted it when he did. They looked like they had gone through a thousand years of sun, brittle and chipped away on all sides. Clicking them together, he feared, would make them fall off.

    “H-how does m-my neck look, Mispy?” Demitri squeaked, not wanting to know what touching the cocoon had done to it. There was a dull pain there, too. And it was starting to feel worse.

    He tried to focus on how far he had thrown Anam instead. He was a little, black dot, still flying through the air until he landed hard on the prairies. It was about six Gahi-seconds away—more than enough time to try to get everybody out of Hot Spot if they hurried. They could warp to Kilo Village!

    He finally turned around to see how Mispy was doing. The mutant Meganium looked a lot smaller than usual, most of her body—that is, her vines—cut away. But her tears had stopped; Demitri cutting them off actually relieved the pain, rather than worsened it. He had hoped as much; his slashes didn’t cut into her the way Anam’s strange attacks did.

    “Let’s go inside,” Demitri said, but then felt lightheaded. He retched, reflexively bringing his claws to his mouth to hold down his bile, but when he did, one of his claws fell off. “Wh-what…”

    Mispy wrapped what little was left of her around him and urged, “Inside.”

    “O-okay… okay…”

    But before they had the chance to go in, Mispy turned her head to look up, vaguely in the same direction Demitri had thrown Anam, but further south. “Gahi?”

    Demitri heard it, too. It sounded slightly like the singing of his wings, but there was something different about them. It sounded more like metallic wind chimes. In the dark, it was hard to see anything, but they could at least see the silhouette of a Flygon heading toward them—or was it a Flygon? It seemed too dark, and, even stranger, there were dots of white all along it, like stars. But the stars weren’t part of the sky—they moved below the clouds.

    The starry Flygon landed in front of them earlier than expected, several feet away from them at first, and then right on the ground a blink later. Demitri yelped, stumbling onto Mispy.

    “What’s going on?!” the Flygon shouted. “The whole freaking sky’s tearing open!”

    “In! In!” Mispy pulled Demitri back. Gahi followed after, hiding inside Hot Spot the moment the void in the sky thundered.

    Gahi’s wings folded to their sides; he clutched his abdomen and crumpled over, groaning. “What… what was that…?”

    Mispy had to stop to catch her breath. Demitri’s vision had gone into a dark tunnel; he could only focus on Mispy’s vines that were wrapped around his arm, guiding him forward. He heard muffled noises of the others, who seemed to be in similar strained positions.

    “What’s going on…?” Demitri wheezed, finally able to see something flickering in his darkened vision. It looked like a flame. “Owen? Is that—”

    “Yeah, it’s me,” Owen said, and then Demitri felt a warm presence in front of him. “Demitri, eat this.”

    Without thinking, Demitri opened his mouth and downed an Oran Berry. Warmth spread through him, followed by a soft light, and then some of his vision returned. He sighed in relief; the pain in his claws and back had faded significantly, too. Just a weak throb, now.

    “Thanks, Owen,” Demitri said, looking to see that Mispy was feeling more revitalized, too. Though her vines didn’t grow back, her main body looked much better after two Orans.

    “What happened?” Owen asked. “And why is—”

    Another thunderous boom shook the caves; Enet wailed and crawled out from Jerry’s abode and hid near Owen in a tight, furry ball. Owen jumped and leaned forward, growling soothingly at the feral Zoroark.

    “The sky’s falling!” Demitri blurted, motioning to the ceiling as if he could point at the sky from there. “There’s a huge hole in the—no, worse, Anam’s gone NUTS!”

    Mispy straightened and flashed a glare at Nevren. “Anam said…”

    Demitri glanced at Mispy, then at Nevren. That’s right—Anam was saying something about Nevren being the one who betrayed him. But how, and why? He didn’t know who that voice was—but it seemed like Nevren wasn’t denying it. Demitri leaned against Mispy, her vines wrapping around him in response, and he said, “Nevren, what did Anam mean? He said that you… betrayed him. Is that why he’s gone crazy? How come he—” Demitri held up his claws, realizing that they were still trembling. “His Ghost powers or something…”

    “I don’t know what Anam is speaking of,” Nevren replied. “There is a strange entity in the Ghost Orb that is making him behave this way. I suggest we come together and fight it off so Anam can regain—”

    “Wait, hold on,” Manny said, raising his voice. “What do you mean, the Ghost Orb’s going nuts? Those spirits should be fine with Anam, right? That’s, like, how spirits work!”

    Demitri squinted. “Manny? Where’d your accent go?”

    “Oh, uh—I’m actually Star right now,” the Lucario explained. “L-long story. I—”

    “Oy, oy, hang on fer a hot second,” Gahi said with a snarl. “First you take over Owen, and then you think I’m just gonna let yeh slide with takin’ over Manny next?! Get outta him er I’m gonna—”

    “No, no, he’s fine with it, I promise!” Star held her arms forward, waving her paws frantically.

    “Oh, sure, like I’ll believe you, body-thief!” Gahi made a motion to stomp on the ground, but Mispy knocked one of her vines on Gahi’s cheek. “Yow!”

    Mispy pointed with another, rotting vine behind her.

    “Not right now, Gahi,” Demitri translated for Mispy. “We’re—Anam’s… We need to focus on that right now.”

    Gahi growled, fists clenched tight. The cosmic Flygon snorted out a plume of white stardust and conceded, though not without glaring at Star. “Fine.”

    Mispy blinked, nudging Demitri again. The Haxorus glanced at her, then followed where Mispy had been staring. From there, the others did, too, looking deeper into Hot Spot.

    Heads turned to Rhys’ home to see the lithe Lucario staggering out. While his body seemed to be perfectly fine, he was fatigued that he had to lean against Elder to stay standing.

    Demitri pulled away from Mispy, but she followed him anyway. “Rhys!” Demitri shouted, tempted to dive to save Rhys from his collapse. Instead, Mispy held him up on the other side.

    “His aura…” Mispy shook her head.

    “I’ll be fine, I—I’m just tired. I had a difficult fight against wraiths. They—they sapped my aura. I was caught off guard… used too much energy in the spirit realm. I’ll be fine, but Nevren…” He pointed at him. “I don’t know how, but you did this. The wraiths, Anam, the Dungeon in Hot Spot—it’s all connected, and you’re behind it.”

    “Rhys, be careful of what you’re saying,” Nevren said. “You have no proof. I am just as surprised by these developments as you—”

    “You turned Anam into your puppet, unleashing some kind of—some kind of evil that he’s been keeping under control,” Rhys said. “I felt it in his aura. When you ordered him to strike me down, and when he rebelled against you, I felt it. A dark… dark aura, like I was going blind simply seeing it. It was so overwhelming that I couldn’t see anything else, and…”

    Rhys nearly fell forward again. Mispy channeled energy into Rhys—of what she had, at least—and propped him up more.

    “Rhys, please,” Elder begged. “Don’t strain yourself. Rest, rest…”

    “I cannot rest while Anam is rampaging,” Rhys hissed, “all because of Nevren destabilizing whatever control Anam must have had—I’m sure of it. Nevren! You—you TRAITOR!”

    “Rhys, now is not the time for—”

    “Wait, hold on, hold on,” Star said, holding her paws up. By now, everyone had gathered to see what the commotion was. Jerry glared at Step, but then growled when Willow hopped onto his head. ADAM buzzed with anxiety and spun his head around several times. Zena curled closer to Owen, whispering something to him. At the same time, Enet was growling at the air, which earned a similar, perplexed growl from Owen. Valle remained where he stood.

    “Excuse me,” someone called; a Serperior slithered toward them, looking puzzled at the social chaos. “Why is everyone here?”

    “Hi, Trina,” Star said with a wave. “Sorry, we’re busy trying to sort something out. Nevren here, he’s—”

    “As if you’re one to talk,” Zena immediately said, growling at Star. “You stole Owen’s body! If anybody here is a traitor, it’s you!”

    Star’s eyes widened as far as they could go, shockwaves of Fighting energy radiating off of Manny’s body. She spoke slowly, but loudly, “I was trying to HELP!”

    “Your idea of help is—”

    Demitri finally found his voice. “GUYS!” But it was so loud that it startled that Haxorus himself, making him cover his mouth. But it did its job; all heads turned to him, and a few of them winced, including Owen and Enet.

    Mispy prodded Demitri to keep going, using another vine to wrap around his shoulders, gripping firmly.

    That was the push he needed. “Can we argue later? This is pointless! Anam—he’s still going crazy, and I only threw him so far. If we take too long, he’s gonna come right back and…”

    Star dug her claws into her head’s fur. “Why is Anam even going nuts?! He didn’t have anything to do with this!”

    “Maybe all of your scheming made him upset,” Zena said.

    “REALLY?” Star hissed.

    “It was Nevren who destabilized Anam by turning him into a puppet,” Rhys hissed.

    “St-stop arguing…” Mispy’s voice was too soft over the rest of the bickering. “St… st…”

    Demitri clenched his jaw. She was trying so hard to talk, but the stress of everything was bringing back her stutter. He held her shoulder, but couldn’t find an opening to keep them from focusing on each other. No—they had a common enemy. He had to remind them. “Guys?! Anam?!” Demitri waved his arms, catching some of their attention.

    “Is this really the time?” Nevren reinforced, motioning toward the entrance. “We can discuss my alleged treason later. Perhaps we should all focus on—”

    “Owen!” Eon shouted from the entrance to Hot Spot, rushing in as an identical Charizard. “Owen, I know it seems bad, but—”

    “OH, AND NOW HE’S HERE!” Star roared, slamming her paws against her eyes.

    “W-wait, wait!” Eon motioned frantically behind him. “Before I came in here, I saw Anam—he’s—we need to get out, now! I think the wraiths—”

    “Too late.”

    With black flames covering his whole body, Eon flew limply across the room.
     
    Kindoflame likes this.
  7. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 74 – Collapse

    Feral Kricketune punctuated the air, deafening Spice. She tried to ignore it, but Milli Town was right next to a whole nest of them. Small buildings made of clay and stone dotted a lumpy field of grass. To the left, a forest blackened by day’s end sang the first few notes of its nighttime tune. To the right, boisterous singing and dancing to drums and strings rang out in friendly competition with the wild chirping.

    “Ohh, I can’t thank you enough for taking on this job.”

    Next to Spice was an elderly Mamoswine. She seemed to be enjoying the cool, outdoor air of nighttime; perhaps it was her Ice attributes. Mamoswine’s eyes followed Spice’s hands with each deft motion. In front of the Salazzle was an assortment of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats sourced from all over Kilo. Spice had gone all over the place to gather them, though she was grateful for it. This town needed it after everything they had gone through.

    “It’s the least I could do,” Spice said. “I just had to take my mind off of things, anyway.”

    “Oh, because of that attack on Kilo Village? That must have been frightening. Oh, miss Spice, could you cut that one up a bit more? The chunks are a bit large.”

    Spice obeyed, taking some of the sliced Orans to more finely chop. Her eyes trailed left to a dim glow in the corner of her vision. “Leo, wake up.”

    “Buh—huh? What?” The Delphox’s hand was hovering limply over a boiling pot of stew, keeping it cooked to a simmer. The chilling wind would cool he stew a bit more than necessary, but Leo’s fire more than made up for it. “I’m awake.”

    Spice sighed, shaking her head. “Why don’t you just take a nap for now? You really shouldn’t have come with me.”

    “I’m just—” Leo suddenly yawned, nearly dipping his hand into the stew “I’m just worried about you, Spice. You haven’t slept in days.”

    Mamoswine gasped, turning her huge body to address the Salazzle directly. Spice narrowly ducked to avoid one of her tusks. “Days? Goodness, you could have fooled me.”

    “Yes, yes, days, but it’s nothing to worry about. I feel perfectly fine. When I’m tired, I’m tired.” Spice had to admit—though not aloud—that the fact that she wasn’t even slightly tired was starting to worry her. Was something wrong with her head? Did something just snap? Or was someone slipping Chesto Berries in everything she ate? Not that they worked well on her, but pack enough into something…

    What was more worrying was that Spice not only felt fine—she felt amazing. Energized. Like she could take on the world! And after the day’s events of half of Kilo village being flooded with snow, living ice-sculpture family under an Aggron matriarch… and then Jerry. Spice rolled her eyes. Jerry. How he got involved with their ilk… She should ask him next time. They were in such a rush to go back to his new home that they’d left her in the dust, all because of that Zygarde.

    Zygarde! Since when did he exist? She had been sure it was just a myth. Legends in general were just that—legends. They never really existed. But then not only had she met one, but Jerry spoke with Mew? After the crowd he came with, maybe he was telling the truth…

    She had brushed it off as one of his insane ramblings, but in hindsight, it felt different.

    “Spice, wake up.”

    Spice straightened, flicking her tail irritably. “I’m awake. I was just thinking.”

    “About Jerry?”

    Spice paused for a split-second too long. “No, about Kilo Village.”

    “Mhm.” Leo yawned again, backing away from the stew. “This batch is ready. I’ll carry it over to the party.”

    “You do that,” Spice said, suddenly aware of the Kricketune again. Seconds later, they all stopped chirping.

    Spice’s heart skipped a beat; Mamoswine shifted her weight. “Ooh. They aren’t singing. That’s… ominous…”

    Then, they heard thunder, yet the skies were clear all around them. Or was it thunder? It lasted for too long, like the aether itself was growling at them. Spice’s heart fluttered again.

    They were currently in the far east of Kilo, and the explosion felt like it came from the north of Kilo Village. Spice wasn’t sure why she knew that—everybody else had been looking around in random directions for the source, but her eyes turned northwest. “What was…”

    She narrowed her pupils, focusing on the distant sky. It was too dark to see, perhaps too far away… but something was there.

    Several lights went out, Luminous Orbs embedded in walls and ceilings all snuffed out in an instant. Pokémon shrieked in surprise—the party in the community hut switched from laughter and singing to groans and annoyed grunts. A Gardevoir near the middle of the crowd raised her hands, forming a sphere of light. The Flash helped illuminate the houses, as did a few other Pokémon with the same technique.

    “What’s going on?” Mamoswine asked. “Did someone use a Jammer?”

    “They better not have,” Spice growled. The last time she had to deal with one of those was with Jerry, and last she checked, they had confiscated his. “Come on, we need to investigate what’s going on. Sorry, but we’re going to have to cut short this little service.”

    “Not a problem,” Mamoswine said. “Please, get back to us as soon as you can if you find out anything.”

    Spice nodded. “Leo!”

    The darkness had made Leo nearly fall asleep. The Delphox jolted awake. “H-huh? What?”

    “We’re heading back to Kilo Village.” She headed down the road, pulling Leo along to keep up the pace. “I’ll drop you off at home so you can sleep, and then I’m gonna keep investigating what’s going on.”

    “You’re still not—” Leo interrupted himself with a yawn.

    “No, not tired at all. So I’m gonna take full advantage of it until I crash.”

    “Keep this up and I’ll just have to get someone to Sleep Powder you,” Leo mused.

    She hadn’t considered that. Still, now that something was actually happening, she’d rather be awake. “Maybe later.”

    They walked over to the edge of town. Leo held up his hands and created a small flame to illuminate the way forward. “Oh, there it is,” he said, pointing at the Waypoint on the ground ahead.

    “Great. Let’s—”

    A shriek echoed from the left, deeper in the forest.

    “Oh, what now?!” Spice reflexively slipped a hand into her bag, drawing out a few iron spikes.

    Leo bumbled after her, but she motioned quickly. “Stay behind me, Leo.”

    “Okay, okay.”

    She weaved into the forest, stepping carefully over a few small rocks. Slipping into a bush, she heard another shriek further ahead. It was too dark to see easily, but the steps were from a heavier Pokémon. Then came a grinding of some kind. She only knew that kind of sound came from a large, serpentine creature going over twigs and roots.

    She readied one of her poison-laced spikes. The fleeing Pokémon ran past her; the grinding was getting a lot closer. And the sound of hissing, a feral growl punctuating it.

    Something moved in front of her. She burst out of the bushes, slamming her spike down on the incoming aggressor. It shrieked and slammed into Spice, a beak cutting into her arm. She grunted in reply and blasted the thing with a jet of fire. It let go and slithered past her, but in the fire, she saw what it was. It had the face of a Malamar, but it was longer—serpentine. A mutant running wild.

    “Wh—Leo!”

    Leo, too startled to react, misfired a Psychic blast. It did nothing to the serpent, but it twisted the branches and rocks around in a rapid cork-screw. He staggered away and fired a jet of flames from his hands next, completely missing. Instead, he hit Spice, who had to shield herself. She hissed at the intense burn, but it was nothing compared to the holler that came from Leo.

    When she lowered her arms, the Malamar mutant turned in the opposite direction and fled deeper into the forest. Leo was crumpled on the ground; residual dark energy mingled with scattered embers, and Spice knew instantly what had happened. It had landed a Night Slash on Leo—on the side. Blood was already seeping through his deep fur; she couldn’t tell how bad the cut was, but in Leo’s state, that didn’t matter.

    “Come on, Leo,” Spice said, fishing through his bag. Her own didn’t have the healing supplies necessary—they were for her. While her arms were still tingling from the burn, it was nothing compared to the Delphox’s wounds. She pulled out an Oran Berry from his supplies. “Here, Leo, open up.”

    He eagerly chomped down, swallowing in big gulps. He grunted, panting a few more times.

    “Slowly, idiot, slowly.”

    A few more bites and it was down, but that sickening, golden light that usually followed never came. Leo kept panting, clutching his wound. “Why isn’t it going away?” he wheezed. “It—I still feel it. I don’t…”

    “H-hang on, maybe it was—I don’t know.” Not knowing how else to react, she grabbed another Oran and shoved it into Leo’s mouth, not even asking this time. He grumbled through his chewing, trying to stand up at the same time, but Spice had none of it. His wounds weren’t closing—why weren’t they closing?! Two Orans weren’t enough? That had just been a basic Night Slash.

    He needed a Heal Pulse, and from someone strong. Thankfully, there was a Waypoint just out of town. “Hang on, Leo. I’m gonna carry you back, alright?”

    “Urgh…” Leo lifted his hand, staring at his bloodied fur. “Why isn’t it…”

    “I don’t know. We just need to go.”

    After a short walk, with a mercifully quiet town with the inhabitants trying to sort out the sudden drop of all Orb technology, Spice hopped onto the Waypoint. She closed her eyes—the warps always disoriented her when she wasn’t careful.

    “…Spice?” Leo groaned.

    “What?” Spice looked back, but then realized that they were still at the village. Then, more bewildered this time, “What?”

    She stepped off of the Waypoint. Back on. Nothing. Off, then on again. Nothing.

    “It’s… it’s broken.” The Salazzle stared at the horizon, so far away that they couldn’t even properly see Kilo Mountain.

    “What do you mean?” Leo winced, trying to readjust his wounded side.

    Spice stepped off of the tile, staring incredulously at it. Like it was impossible. Because it was impossible. This had never happened, not once in all her life since the Waypoints had been introduced to the south. Yet, there it was, right in front of her.

    “The Waypoints are broken.”

    <><><> ​

    “Other Owen’s hurt!” Enet shouted.

    After all the power that Eon had demonstrated before, and the fight he tried to put up against Star, Owen didn’t expect to see him so easily hurt by Anam’s shadowy blast. Yet there he was, spinning across the ground in the remnants of one of Anam’s strange techniques.

    Nevren took a step back and looked at his lucky charm again. A dim gray colored its center. Rhys, meanwhile, stumbled over himself trying to get to Eon.

    “We have to get out of here. We can’t fight Anam like this!” Demitri shouted.

    Mispy still ached from her last attempt at holding Anam off. It was a dull pain, but the fact that she felt any kind of pain at all…

    “What’s wrong with him?” Zena whispered to Owen, but the Charizard only shook his head. He dug through his bag in an attempt to find his Badge. Fighting in Hot Spot after all that had happened was going to only cause more trouble. Anam had the advantage in the chaos; he didn’t have to worry about friendly fire or ruining the caverns. They just had to find a way to get out.

    “Let’s just go.” Owen found his Badge and flashed it at the others, who got the signal. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were quick to grab their own; they weren’t sure which Badges had a charge and which ones didn’t, but each Heart had one. As long as some of them were operational, they would be able to escape, right?

    They had to at least try.

    Anam fired another beam of shadows toward the congregation, but this time Owen was quick to react. He leapt in front of everyone else and crossed his arms; the shield of golden light worked the same as it always did, dispelling the shadows completely.

    To counter, Willow fired a ball of shrinking mist toward Anam, but it evaporated in an oppressive atmosphere before it could even reach him.

    “I don’t get it—what’s going on? Why is Anam—” Star winced, holding up the barrier again. “He sounds like—l-like…”

    “You know who I am.”

    Star’s blood ran cold and her wide eyes darted to the others. “We need to run! NOW!” Panicking, she fired an Aura Sphere toward Anam, but his Ghostly aura absorbed it.

    Owen blindly fired a wad of flames at Anam. “We’ll go to Kilo and buy us more time. Everyone! Come close!” he shouted. “Behind me!”

    Rhys fished around for his Badge, panicking when he realized that it was missing.

    “Oh—sorry,” Zena said, revealing Rhys’ Badge in her ribbons. “I used it.”

    “I also used one of yours,” Trina said. “It may not do much.” She then shoved her vines into the ground; just ahead of Anam, a flurry of silken webs covered the entryway. The fact that he was so slow to charge his attacks and approach was their only saving grace.

    “H-hopefully three is enough?” Owen said, but that just made everyone gather up closer.

    “Hurry, Owen!” Enet growled at him.

    “Okay, okay,” Owen said, which earned an odd look from Enet.

    “Owen, focus,” Zena said urgently. “You don’t need to growl at Enet right now, she’s just stressed.”

    “Growl? What do you—” Owen shook his head. Not the time. He held his Badge in the air and closed his eyes.

    He still heard everyone’s worried mumblings and the sound of Anam blasting through the thick wall of silk. It was already dissolving into black sludge. Zena fired a cone of water at Anam from the other side; Step followed up with a beam of ice, freezing the water in place as a solid wall.

    Owen lowered his Badge. “It’s not working?!”

    Heads turned toward Owen expectantly; they had been ready to warp out, but now, without any sense of getting out, they scrambled to enter a more defensive stance. Step stomped her foot, frosty air swirling around her hands. ADAM’s beak started to glow with a charging Hyper Beam.

    “No, no, no—” Star tugged at her ears, eyes darting in all directions like a trapped feral.

    “Why isn’t it working?!” Demitri looked at his own. “Trina! Yours worked, right?”

    “Y-yes, it did.”

    “We used Owen’s to get back here, too,” Zena said quickly. “Did it run out of power?”

    “That doesn’t explain ours!” Gahi looked at Mispy and Demitri; their Badges had been similarly useless. They weren’t in a Dungeon, were they? Anam’s aura wasn’t strong enough to disrupt warping, too, was it? Or…

    “It’s too late. I have revoked Anam’s blessings.”

    “Wh… what?” Owen felt his chest tighten. “Revoked? Just like—”

    The barrier of ice shattered; a shroud of black fog flooded Hot Spot Cave, making Owen’s tail flame grow to twice its size in alarm.

    “Left! G-go left!” Owen cried, narrowly dodging a stray beam of dark energy. Anam fired in all directions in a scattered shot.

    Trina shouted in pain from one, leaving part of her front darkened. She winced, coiling her body in a reflex.

    “Owen!” Zena slithered toward him and fired another Hydro Pump toward Anam. That was accompanied by Step blasting the water with another beam of ice from her palms, keeping the wall thick to stall for time.

    “Do none of the Badges work?” Demitri shouted, flailing his in the air like that would actually help.

    “Anam disabled them,” Rhys said. “He disabled the Badges—we don’t have a means of escape here. Not an easy one.”

    A thunderous crack shook their auras; several of them collapsed into a heap and struggled back to their feet. The ice chipped away.

    “Asserting Normalized atmosphere,” ADAM announced, followed by sending a pulse of white light toward Anam. It coated him, briefly solidifying his ethereal, dark body. Then, in a loud, rallying buzz, he shouted, “Attack!”

    Enet created a ball of lightning in her paws and hurled it at Anam next. Perfect aim—she threw it through one of the crevices and zapped Anam’s solidified body. His Dragon resistance to electricity had been completely nullified. Enet turned to Owen. “Attack! He’s vulnerable!”

    “Okay, okay!” Owen said, blasting a gout of flames toward Anam from afar. While it widened the icy wall, that didn’t matter; they were pushing Anam back.

    More sticky webs curled around Anam’s legs and tail, locking him in place for easier strikes. Trina grunted, clearly still impaired by the first blast. “If you think a simple blast like that is enough to stop me…”

    Star fired ineffectual Aura Spheres at Anam. His Ghostly power had been inhibited by ADAM’s blast, but Owen didn’t feel that same power from Manny’s body. Was she still exhausted from her time possessing him? What great timing, Owen hissed to himself. Enet was getting close to Anam and in the way of some of the crossfire. “Enet! Get back, you’re too close!”

    Enet hopped back obediently. “Sorry, I’m trying to get a good attack in!”

    “Will you two quit making those feral growls at each other?!” Willow said. “It’s scary! And I can’t get a good shot in! Hold still!”

    The Joltik landed on top of Owen’s head, forcing him to keep his neck steady. “What do you mean, growls? I’m just talking to Enet!”

    “No, you were growling, now shut up!” Willow charged up pink energy, sprouting wings on her back. Between those wings, which flexed upward, a sphere of light, like a pink Aura Sphere, formed in an unstable glob. “Keep him still!” she shouted.

    “Your simple tricks will do nothing.”

    Another shadowy blast cut through the web. Owen sprang into action then, rushing forward to cross his arms. The blast deflected upward and into the ceiling, disintegrating some of the rocks in an instant. Black ash rained down on them, but Gahi beat his wings rapidly, blowing the debris to the side of the cavern. Demitri yanked one of his tusks out and wound his arm back, taking aim at Anam.

    He threw it. The sheer speed of his throw created a small shockwave, bending the light around it. The blade struck Anam by the tip first, piercing into his body, but the shockwave blew it apart at his core. Black sludge scattered behind and to the sides, most of it collapsing below it, but they knew Anam better to think that would be the end of it. Zena and Step launched another Frozen Hydro Pump toward the wriggling blobs of sludge, freezing them all under a large heap of water, like it had stopped in time.

    Willow didn’t lose her charge, glaring at the frozen water. “Did we do it?” she said.

    Owen took an uneasy step forward, closing his eyes. “No,” he said, still feeling their movements. “He’s—he’s melting through the ice and gathering himself up again!”

    “Oh, great,” Star said, rubbing her paws together. “What’s taking Manny so long?! He can do this way better than me!” She tried to charge up another Aura Sphere, but it was so unsteady from her panic that nothing could hold its shape. Even her voice trembled.

    The dark sludge had formed a small dome within its icy prison, coalescing into a single mass once more. “F-freeze it again!” Owen ordered.

    Zena, exhaustedly, fired another Hydro Pump at the melting ice. Then, seconds later, Step followed up with another freezing beam. Zena didn’t stop until she had run out of all the energy she had. Step clenched her fists, cutting off her beams. The entire cave entrance was frozen over.

    “Oh, great, wise guy!” Gahi shouted, pointing at Owen. “You just froze over the exit!”

    “How are we supposed to get out?” Demitri said. “If we break out of the ceiling, we might cause a cave-in!”

    They were still moving. Deep inside the ice, they still burrowed through the dome to combine into a single entity again. Even if they escaped, it would chase after them, perhaps take innocents along the way. What were they supposed to do?

    He was already regenerating. By the time he broke out, Anam would be back in a single piece—the very thought that they were trying to kill him… Owen didn’t even have time to process it. They didn’t have time to think about what they were trying to do, just that they had to or they would all die.

    “Guys,” Owen said, getting an idea. “He’s already regenerating. We—if we want to beat him, and m-maybe get whatever’s in Anam out… we have to hit him all at once. With everything we have, the second he—”

    “Are you CRAZY?” Star shouted. “No! We need to get away!”

    “But we—”

    “Owen!” Star interrupted with an exasperated sigh. “Think about it! Anam is literally the strongest Pokémon in the world, behind maybe Aramé, but guess what, she’s not here! The only person who came close to beating him was Rhys, and that was before we knew that the Wraith King was inside him!”

    “The what?” Owen said.

    “Long story! More later!” Star pointed at the blob in the ice. “We have to run. We can’t beat that thing. Trust me, I know we can’t. We need to regroup. I know I got off on the wrong foot, but can you at least trust me on this?”

    The ice was melting. Everyone else seemed uneasy. Demitri prodded at the empty space where his tusk used to be, now frozen with the blob somewhere. Owen didn’t have the heart to tell him that it had already been disintegrated by Anam.

    “Regardless of what you choose, Rhys is in no state to battle,” Nevren said. He had been staring at his lucky charm the whole time, its color a deep gray. “We must escape. Fighting him is useless. Rhys, come with me.”

    “I r-refuse to—”

    “You don’t have a choice,” Nevren said impatiently, shoving him forward. “Elder!”

    “Y-yes, I’m coming,” Elder said.

    “Charge all the power you must,” Nevren said. “I know I can’t stop you from trying to free Anam from that thing’s hold, but my personal recommendation is you evacuate!”

    “What’re you suddenly giving up fer?” Gahi growled, flicking his tail. “I thought you—”

    Nevren disappeared in a flash of light, along with Rhys and Elder.

    Owen blinked, but then Gahi cursed at the air. “Of course his Teleport still works!”

    “H-he’ll come back for us, right?” Owen said. “How many can he teleport at once?”

    “Just two is a stretch,” Star said, finally forming an Aura Sphere.

    Owen sensed Eon stir, finally returning to the waking world. Nobody tried to help him up, but Owen was tempted to ask Mispy to heal him—if they had the time.

    “Here’s the plan,” Star went on. “We wait for the ice to break, blast the ever-loving tar out of him, and then run for it.”

    “W-wait! Mom!” Owen looked at Star. “Where’s Mom?”

    Star flinched. “Hecto’s still looking for her across the aura sea. I—”

    “Her body. We need to bring her body with us.”

    “Well, that’s true, I—”

    “Gahi!” Owen said, motioning toward his chest. For some reason, that gesture was all they needed. Gahi rammed into Owen, disappearing inside. After a pulse of weak light converted their bodies to their fused self, Gawen spun around and flew toward Owen’s home.

    Mispy wrapped her vines around Demitri’s arm, pulling him closer. They exchanged a wordless nod; the Haxorus sank into the Meganium.

    “She’s right this way,” Gawen said to himself, as if both halves wanted to communicate to one another verbally. He could sense her body, still unoccupied by any of the spirits within the Fire Realm. Perhaps they didn’t want to, or they felt it would be safer if the body lay inert, totally unaware of the battle going on outside. But something felt off about it. Gawen wasn’t completely sure why at first, until he entered the bedroom and saw it for himself.

    It as a subtle change to his Perceive, but not to his eyes. Just below her chest-fin was a strange, rhombus-shaped object, transparent and deep red. At first, Gawen thought it was her heart, but it only matched the color. There was no blood. But he didn’t have time to think about that; he sped toward her and picked her up, holding her across his chest. Using his four wings and a dash of levitation—either innate to the body or his Mystic power, he wasn’t sure—he glided across the ground and to the rest of the group. They were in the middle of a hasty preparation for their departure, though it seemed that those who still had strength left were gathering in an attack formation. A final assault.

    “Let’s go, Owen,” Zena said. “I—I don’t have enough power in me for another attack like that.”

    “Hyper Beam fully charged,” ADAM reported.

    “I’ve got a shrink ball!” Willow announced.

    “Zap!” Enet clicked her claws together.

    “Yeah, I’m gonna go.” Jerry tiptoed to the blocked exit, but once he got close, he screamed.

    All eyes turned toward the exit—wraiths stood on the opposite side, their shapeless masses flooding the narrow, blocked path. Some of them rose from the ground, clawing at the air as they took form. Some resembled Pokémon; others, only vaguely. But Gawen recognized one from the masses instantly.

    “James!”

    The Decidueye wraith stared at the Flygon-Charizard, drawing a feather of darkness from nothing. Despite a thick wall of ice separating the two of them, Gawen had a feeling it wouldn’t mean much against a darkness-reinforced arrow.

    “Guys! Focus!” Star shouted, pointing at the main blob. “It’s about to—”

    James fired, blasting a hole through the ice without effort. Gawen crossed his arms and blocked the incoming arrow. “We have to take care of these guys, too!” he said, stomping on the ground. Molten earth erupted beneath the wraiths and James, disrupting their stance. A few remained, but a ball of lighting exploded in front of their group, stunning them.

    “Precious seconds, wasted.”

    “Guys, NOW!”

    The ice shattered in another ear-splitting explosion, sending fragments of ice in all directions. The explosion itself dissolved the rest of the wraiths, which returned to the central body—vaguely in the shape of a Goodra—in a stream of smoke. Everyone else had to shield their eyes from ice fragments. The explosion left several cuts across most of their bodies, but once the initial blast wore off, Gawen roared, “WILLOW, NOW!”

    “Aaaah!” Willow hurled her sphere of shrinking energy toward Anam.

    He turned his head, but before he could react, Gawen shouted preemptively, “Mimi, NOW!”

    The Meganium-Haxorus fusion brought several vines forward; they opened up, revealing the mouths within, as hot energy channeled out of them all, firing in front of her central body. The various beams collected into a single point and blasted forward toward Anam. In response, the Goodra opened his maw, collecting shadowy energy—

    “STEP!” Gawen shouted next.

    Gladly!” Step, on the opposite side of Anam, blasted the demon with another Ice Beam just in time. She knocked his blast off-course—

    “Jerry, DOWN!”

    The Aerodactyl slammed himself against the ground, the misfired blast of shadowy energy grazing his horns.

    Working on overdrive, Gawen felt a headache coming on. But he refused to fall to the chaos—if there was any time that he needed to put his Perceive to use, it would be now, to overpower Anam. He didn’t have time to say anything but commands. He just had to pray they would realize he knew what he was doing.

    His heart fluttered at the thought—they all listened to him. They trusted him!

    Anam was about to dive out of the way. Not while he was around. He slammed his foot on the ground, sending molten earth behind Anam. He staggered forward, further pressing into the oncoming Solar Beam, and then—finally—Willow’s slow-moving ball of energy enveloped him. His body rapidly shrank down to something no larger than a Joltik—a small speck of void-like darkness.

    Eon finally got to his feet, clutching at his side where the rot had settled in. “Owen—we need to go, I—”

    Gawen used his free hand to grab Eon by the shoulder. He pointed him toward the prone Goodra. “ATTACK!”

    Eon reflexively blew a plume of fire toward Anam. Then, when he came to his senses, he channeled some of his Mystic power through it, too. Pressurized wind and billowing sand surrounded the flames, rapidly crystalizing into sharp bullets of molten glass.

    Gawen followed up with a blast of his own, the twin flames mixing into a single column of bright, orange light. Step followed it up with another blast of Ice, this time sending an entire blizzard—a chilling wind that cut through the caves. Complementing the wind was Enet’s lighting, tossing more heaps of electricity toward Anam. Then, Star fired off two Aura Spheres, one firm, the other one dissolving halfway. She cursed under her breath.

    ADAM fired his Hyper Beam. This time, the burning blast of energy—both of heat and force—tore holes into the ground and shook the cave walls. Gawen feared that it would collapse over them, but by some miracle, the rocks were sturdier than expected.

    Instead, when the blinding beam had subsided—along with the ringing shock of the blast itself— Gawen found a burned, melted portion of the cave where Anam had once been. Clouds of smoke, little wisps, floated in the air, obscuring something in the middle.

    For a few tense seconds, only the deep, labored breaths of the injured and the tired filled the air. Then, little jingles and crackles of bits of glass and rock punctuated the aftermath. The demon had been silent during their strike, but Gawen knew they hit it. He felt it.

    “A-Anam…” Gawen wasn’t sure what had happened to him. But his body was gone, evaporated, disintegrated. The flames, the beam, the ice, all of their auras clashing against his had finally—

    “I told you,” the air around them said. “It is useless.”

    The clouds parted to reveal a dark, purple sphere, roughly the size of Gawen’s fist. An Orb—the Ghost Orb, perhaps? But then, something clouded over it. A red, crackling energy, pulsing with life. A dark shell formed around that sphere a second later, and the smog solidified around it, turning into Anam’s body once again, pure black.

    Gawen could sense something festering underground, but he didn’t have time to warn any of the others.

    “Aw, forget this!” Jerry shouted, shoving his way past Mispy.

    They were too exhausted. They had put everything into that attack, and Anam was still standing.

    “RUN!” Star shouted uselessly, sprinting for the exit. But of everyone, she had been the furthest from it. Anam held his hand forward, blasting the air in front of Star; she stopped with a shriek and lost her balance. Then, with his other hand, he blasted Jerry on the back.

    The mortal Aerodactyl shouted and fell forward, groaning.

    “Jerry!” Gawen flared his wings, but had to jump away instead, dodging yet another blast from Anam. They were going out in all directions, striking everything they could hit. Enet narrowly dodged several of them, a few stray blasts grazing her ample fur.

    “Your energy is expended.”

    Anam stepped back, lowering both arms. Mimi finally made it through the ice, but she was looking around blindly. Could she not see the exit? Gawen tried to fly toward her to guide her out—his tail could show the way even as the darkness of outside swallowed the rest of the light.

    Mimi yelped; wraiths oozed out from the ground near the entrance. Gawen suddenly realized what had been underground.

    They were surrounded.

    “Fall.”

    And one was right beneath him. He hopped into the air. The wraith grazed his foot, grabbing hold. He kicked frantically, breaking free before it could rot him away—but it felt different that time. He felt a new sort of pull from the wraith, but then his Perceive warned him of an incoming blast.

    That same Perceive overwhelmed his senses with the actions that all of the others had been taking—too frantic for him to completely discern. Step blasting everything with ice, Mimi flailing her vines and axes toward incoming wraiths. Willow had sprouted her fairy wings to fly above them all, shooting Moonblasts at clusters of the blobs. Zena slammed her liquefied tail over several in front of her, then swept in a semicircle to slice through the rest.

    He had no means to maneuver away in time. Instead, with crossed arms, he guarded himself with a shield of radiant light. Gawen looked back at Anam; he was still black as ever, but he saw tiny flecks of bright, lavender slime coursing just beneath the surface.

    But that was all he saw. When his shield faded, Gawen spread his wings to flee.

    A beam of darkness shot out from below, hitting him at his core. He hollered in pain and twisted back to the rocks, where several wraiths oozed out of the ground. One enveloped his left wings, and another tried to consume his arm. “N-NO!” He flailed, tail blazing a frantic orange. Beating his wings, he expelled several Fire Traps in all directions. They detonated instantly, blowing him left and right, but it also blew the wraiths away.

    Mimi fired a Solar Beam toward the wraiths, destroying several, yet more took their place. James stood at the very top of the exit, aiming shadowy arrows toward anybody who tried to advance. In all the chaos, Jerry had been struck by one; he lay on the ground in a heap, clutching at a wound on his shoulder.

    Another scream echoed behind him. Gawen had completely forgotten about Eon. “Dad!” He spun around just in time to see that Eon, battered from several disorienting blasts, had been swarmed by wraiths. He saw the Charizard’s flame, but then saw the wraiths coalesce around him until nothing was left.

    “DAD!”

    Gawen turned and tried to fly again, but he felt heavy. He looked to his right and saw that more wraiths were forming in his wings. “No—I—” Gawen shook weakly, but they wouldn’t come off this time. His muscles burned. His throat was strained. And, most of all, his aura felt like a candle in the rain. He had nothing left.

    Gawen couldn’t even find the strength to cross his arms for one last Protect, useless as it would be.

    Two thoughts entered his head at once—the first, to fight back. And the second, to save who he could. At first, it was unclear whose thought was whose, but then, as the consciousnesses split, Owen held his arms forward. “Gahi—RUN!”

    The Flygon was hurled out of his chest, back to his normal color, but still imbued with half of their shared power.

    Or more. Owen wasn’t sure how much he had given him… but his vision went dark after that. He heard Gahi scream his name. “Run, Gahi.” He wanted to shout it, but he didn’t have strength. His hearing went next. Despite the fact that all sense had left him, Owen still twitched his body with what energy he could. That pulling sensation was back, even stronger. He realized, then, what it meant: They were taking his spirit.

    The wraiths enveloped Owen, plunging him into complete darkness.
     
    git-it and Kindoflame like this.
  8. git-it

    git-it Member

    ...Now I'm up to date with HoC. And I can tell you, I had fun reading.

    It was different from PMD I knew by now, because the protagonist is not (known) human. But that doesn't mean it's less good than those.
    Learning about the past of the characters to understand the present was very interesting and gave everything and everyone depth.
    So far, the object has been the preparation against the hunters. What a twist that they aren't the main opponent. The situation is just becoming critical, but if it wasn't like this, it wasn't PMD.

    You know how to keep curiosity up. You have a good style of writing, a good story and well thought out characters.
    Keep going, I will follow you. I might comment if I have thoughts to speak out, but don't expect too much from me.
     
    Namohysip likes this.
  9. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    I've been watching your 'likes' climb all the way up to the most recent chapters, @git-it , and it's been fun to watch! I'm glad you've been enjoying yourself, so here's to more chapters to come!

    Chapter 75 – Descend

    He’s supposed to be dead!

    Star could barely run. Barely focus to fire an Aura Sphere, or anything, at what Anam had become. The sight of Owen and Eon being consumed by the wraiths had left her not knowing how to feel. Disbelief—that was all she could feel. That this had all been a single, giant nightmare, a warning that she should have just worked with them all from the start.

    But she wasn’t waking up. By now, Hecto would have nudged her awake, told her it was alright, and asked to talk about it. That wasn’t happening. Hecto was nowhere. He still didn’t find Amia. And Anam had become the demon they thought they had annihilated a thousand years ago.

    Amia’s soulless body lay on the ground where Owen had been taken. There was no way that they could have saved her in time; the wraiths wrapped around her next. Gahi, stunned only for a second, shook his head and flew backward. He was too panicked to use his Psychic powers. Now that he was back to normal, did he even know how to tap into them again?

    Star tried to find her voice—she wanted to shout, to remind him, to do anything in this useless body of Manny’s. No—it wasn’t his fault. She had exerted herself too much, and now…

    “And now, the useless one… is you.”

    Star swung her arm to her right, screaming. She hit something and it dissolved into mist.

    Wraiths flooded the caverns. Step blasted several with Ice Beams; ADAM stayed close to her, while Enet scrambled away from a horde. Her illusions didn’t work well here. All of the smoke left clear disturbances whenever the Zoroark moved invisibly.

    “And it’s all your fault.”

    Star spun around, using her momentum for a powerful kick on another formless wraith. She stumbled after it passed through, surprised at Manny’s strength, and fell on her back. She squeaked—her tail bent in an odd direction.

    She rolled back to her feet, only to see Anam’s blackened form staring down at her, towering over the Lucario.

    “If only they would listen.”

    Star flinched, taking another step back. She blasted Anam with an Aura Sphere, then fired a half-formed one from her other paw. Neither did anything; ADAM’s ‘Normalize’ aura had worn off, perhaps it was because the Porygon-Z had fled the entryway.

    Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that Step had rammed her way through the wraiths, losing only an icy arm and part of her tail in the process, while carrying ADAM under her remaining arm. The wraiths tried to ambush her, but she radiated too much icy energy—like a sort of frosted Protect—for them to break through as easily. Willow was balanced on the top of Zena’s horn, zapping several wraiths from her vantage point. But the Milotic was surrounded, and despite Anam being so focused on Star, the wraiths acted on their own.

    Zena screamed for Owen again—Star didn’t know if that had been the first time, or the first one that she had noticed. Demitri and Mispy, still fused as Mimi, couldn’t find a way out of the caves. Still, it wasn’t like they were trying anymore.

    Enet and the rest of Team Alloy had stayed behind with Zena, perhaps in an effort to free Owen from the wraiths that had enveloped him. “No!” Star yelled. “Run away! He’s already gone!”

    “They would never trust you.”

    Anam blasted Star with another beam of shadows. She wailed, the force of the explosion sending her tumbling across the cave. The wraiths swelled, covering huge swaths of the floor in their shapeless darkness. They concentrated around Zena next, latching onto her lower half in an effort to pull her under. Some readied weak beams of shadow at her sides, but Enet blasted several of them with more electricity and dark slashes.

    Gahi slammed down onto the ground, earthen explosions dissolving even more. Any wraith they hit fell with ease, but that didn’t stop even more from replacing them. The source was Anam. They came, endlessly, from him. If they wanted to stop the wraiths, they had to stop him—even Anam ran out of energy, presumably.

    And Star was the only one who could do that, now.

    “And so you’ll help them, even after what they did to you?” The demon possessing Anam took a single step toward Star; in return, Sar took another one back. “Do they deserve it? You’re wondering that. If they were smart, they would have fled. Yet now they’re caring for the spirit that I had already claimed.”

    “Yet you’re not f-finishing me off.” Star focused her energy into a Flash Cannon this time, blasting Anam with white light. It took off part of his shoulder, but tar-like slime took its place. “Because you can’t. I’m—”

    “I can easily end this.” Anam reached toward Star, but she yelped and hopped away. The momentum carried her too far and she fell backward, though she pivoted so she didn’t crush her tail again.

    Star scrambled up, but Anam stomped on her thigh, slime enveloping and pinning her down. She didn’t feel any pain, but she also couldn’t move; panicking, she fired more Flash Cannons at him. When Anam moved away, his leg remained on her—it had become another wraith, staring emptily at her.

    “N-no—get away. You don’t—”

    “I’m keeping you here.” Anam leaned forward, wrapping his hand around her neck. She jerked her head away, but Anam squeezed tight. A hoarse squeak escaped her and nothing more. “I want you to witness your failures before I claim you last.”

    He pulled her up. Her arms hanged limply by her sides, and Anam turned her so she could see, just in time, the wraiths topple over Zena. She fired Hydro Pumps in random directions, each one completely missing its mark. Mimi screamed and slashed at the wraiths that had surrounded Zena, readying another Solar Beam.

    But it was all useless. Gahi’s Earth Power, Enet’s Thunder Bolt, the Solar Beams, the Hydro Pumps… There were just too many wraiths.

    “Because I am the source of them. And as you said… Anam is the strongest.”

    “St-stop that!” Star shouted, slamming her fist into Anam’s face. It sank into his cheek; she yanked her arm back, shaking off the slime futilely.

    “All of the Guardians that you had tormented. The plan you laid out just to try to make as if everything was okay. The lies you wove to keep them all content, like there was no other way…”

    Anam leaned forward, empty eyes piercingly staring at Star’s. She couldn’t look away—Anam’s hand was wrapped around her head, preventing any movement. But then, he forced her to stare at his torso instead, which began to ripple and split open. Star couldn’t find her voice to scream, so she only watched with wide eyes. There wasn’t anything inside but more darkness, but when it split further, she saw through to the other side. He widened more and more until it became an empty window to the battle.

    Zena had been completely overtaken by wraiths, her ribbons reaching uselessly for where the wraiths had wrapped around Owen. Next to her was Mimi, who had been bogged down by too many to fight off fast enough. A Solar Beam exploded from within the pile of darkness, but only a few rays of light had escaped before being snuffed out. Haxorus fists smashed through more wraiths, but several others enveloped the holes made.

    Gahi grabbed onto Mimi’s shoulders, beating his wings as hard as he could to break her free. That only made him get caught up in the wave of wraiths that had already consumed several of the others. Star didn’t know what happened to them—but she couldn’t sense Enet or Trina, and Step, ADAM, and Willow felt incredibly faint. They were either distant, or…

    “Already gone. That’s what you fear. And it’s all because you failed to destroy me. Because you failed to even notice me…”

    “Y-you… you can’t…” Star tried to turn her head again, but Anam’s gooey hands kept her still. “How are you still alive? We—we destroyed you.”

    “Yet, you didn’t.”

    Star couldn’t watch anymore. She forced her eyes closed, trying to ignore the desperate shouts of the others. She heard their prayers—desperate cries to the heavens for some way to save them. They weren’t coherent sentences. They were primal thoughts. Star curled up more, held up only by Anam’s grip.

    “I said,” Anam said, “you need to watch.”

    Tiny tendrils slithered around Star’s face and through her fur, collecting around her eyelids.

    “St-stop… stop…”

    They tugged her eyelids up. She twitched her head; she felt them like a thick spiderweb. All she could see were the lumps of Zena, Mimi, and Gahi, trapped beneath the wraiths. Their struggles became progressively weaker, Hydro Pumps and Earth Powers completely absorbed by the sheer quantity of darkness around them.

    At the far end of the hall, Step and Jerry fought off wraiths at the fringes of the shadow swamp. Jerry was barely standing, while Step was closer to the entrance. A small collection of wraiths separated the two of them, and Star had no idea what happened to the rest of them.

    Just then, a flash of light appeared behind Step. An Alakazam, who tapped on her back. She shouted in surprise—but then, in another flash, both he and the Aggron disappeared. Only Jerry remained.

    But the wraiths were all around him, and he was too weak to fly.

    “Do you want to know something, Star? None of them trusted you. They resented you. For everything that you did to put them in their situations, for all of the secrets you kept from them, that you still keep… too afraid to face your old shames. Thinking that they would judge you for what had happened. For what happened to Quartz. For what happened to the humans who saved you.”

    Star couldn’t watch. But she couldn’t close her eyes—Anam wouldn’t let her. She gritted her teeth and did what she could to look away—the last of her own free will that Anam was allowing of her. She turned her eyes, and only her eyes, downward, staring at his feet. She just had to gather a bit of her strength back and she could get away. She could let him talk.

    Something crept along her face again. And then she felt a pressure—a strange, new, sharp pressure around her eyes. And then, by force, her view went back to the wraiths.

    “I won’t let you run away from your problems. I won’t let you look away.”

    Star’s mouth opened, but she couldn’t make any sound. A weak whimper escaped after a few seconds of struggle, but her view was firmly locked. The tendrils had locked her eyes in place.

    Jerry swiped at several wraiths away, but several more latched onto his back. He roared and spun around, but that was when the second wave toppled over him. A few wraiths landed on his scarf. They screeched, dissolving instantly.

    Anam’s colors flashed purple again, little swirls of light fighting to escape from the oppressive darkness. His grip loosened from Star’s eyes just enough for her to feel it. She had only a second to react.

    Star closed her eyes and focused as much as she could, holding her breath. Before the demon could catch what she was trying to do, everything faded away, and she withdrew deep into Manny’s body, ejecting herself from the Fighting Core.

    Relief washed over her even during her fall—her tiny, feline body bobbled in the air just below the golden orb in the center of the Fighting Realm. Nobody else was in the Core’s main chamber.

    Too exhausted to float straight, Star struggled to fly out of the first room. Behind her, the Core rumbled with a distant roar, countless spirits inside suddenly bursting out and flying past her. Their embers materialized into little Riolu, mostly, but others transformed into different, smaller forms, all eager and hasty to get out of the room.

    “Wh-what’s—”

    The Core was swirling with black smog.

    “We have to find Manny!” one of the Riolu shouted.

    “Faster, faster!”

    “Hurry!”

    One ember had half-formed into a Riolu before a black tendril wrapped around its body, tugging it back into the Core. He screamed, followed by several failed escape attempts by other spirits.

    Star didn’t look back after the first time. The spirits were right: she had to find Manny. Not because he could take down this darkness—none of them could alone, at this point—but because he was surely on his way back, and he would run right into the demon’s trap if she didn’t stop him.

    The screens overlooking the fighting arenas displayed empty fields and barren seats. Exercise equipment lay strewn about, some still running with nobody on them. Once a source of happy nostalgia, the strange devices now reminded Star of the human world—something that she did not want to be thinking about during this chase.

    After several rooms that seemed to repeat the same abandoned scenery, several Aura Spheres flew through the air a single passage away.

    “Manny?”

    It wasn’t Manny, but it was a lookalike—Star could only tell because his aura didn’t radiate the same power that the true Guardian did.

    “Star? What’re you doing here?” the lookalike said. “Doll and Elbee are further back, we—”

    He fired another Aura Sphere, disintegrating a wraith that had climbed onto the wall. That one had been in the shape of a Spinarak.

    “Sorry about that. We’re trying to fight off these wraiths! They came outta nowhere—maybe from Aether Forest? That’s the only place we’re connected to from here, I mean, except the Aura Sea, but—”

    “Everyone needs to get out of here.”

    “What do you—”

    “Oy!”

    Star’s heart sank.

    The real Manny burst through a collection of wraiths with a single punch, pointing at Star. “What’re yeh doing here? Get outta here befer these wraiths get ya!”

    “No, you get out!” Star shouted. “The—Anam, the—the source is right inside Hot Spot! And he’s trying to—”

    Star realized that Manny was not staring at her, but behind her. She turned back just in time to see a wave of shadows topple over her.

    For a few, terrifying seconds, Star’s world went dark. She could hear his voice all around her, no way to escape it. His voice was no longer being said to her—it was being injected right into her consciousness.

    It’s as I told you. You can’t escape your problems by running. Even as you abandoned them all… I will always find you.

    Star blasted the darkness in front of her with a Psychic wave. She saw brief flashes of light and nothing more; she was still too exhausted, the very strain of unleashing any attack in the spirit world leaving her fatigued and fading. And if she faded while this thing was around her, what would…

    Do you think any of them would ever come to your rescue after what you did? Do you think you deserve that?

    Star blasted again. A single dot of light blessed her vision, but it was fleeting. The oppressive darkness collapsed around her, squeezing her spirit. She tried to breathe, like her spirit actually needed it, but the air only left her.

    Answer me. Do you think you deserve anything from all those that you’ve wronged? For all their lives you’ve destroyed? For every century they suffered?

    Star’s ears rang. Every beat of her heart filled her hearing and throbbed against her temples. She couldn’t speak back.

    You don’t. You never did. Because this world was born of an original mistake. I was born from it.

    Star was too strained to fully register her surprise. This demon had nothing to do with any of them. It was just an anomaly! How could she have possibly created—

    Even now, you deny. Deny, deny, deny, deny, DENY.

    “A-ahh—” Something cracked. Star didn’t know where. She couldn’t feel anything for parts of her body.

    It’s no wonder I’m so familiar with the emotion when the gods themselves are plagued with it. I’ve had enough. Give up.

    Star made one more Psychic blast, but this time, not even a speck of light got to her. She tried again, but the blast was even weaker than the last time. Her cries made no sound; was there even any air around her?

    The ringing in her ears was back. She couldn’t feel anything below her neck. She wasn’t even sure if there was anything left. It was all numb and cold.

    You created me. You created me like the rest of this world. Accept it. Accept your punishment.

    She couldn’t think anymore. All she could hear was the demon’s words in her mind.

    Let the world you created consume you. Just as it always happens to those who meddle with their own design…

    Sleep was all she wanted. A long nap, away from all the trouble. She didn’t care about the Hunters or the Guardians or Barky or…

    Hecto

    The thought crossed her mind for only a few, fleeting seconds. He was still out there, searching for Amia, and what would happen to him if she…

    Light flooded her vision, as did air into her lungs. A huge, blue paw wrapped around her chest, yanking her out of the demon’s expansive form. A split-second later, she saw the blurry image of Manny. He was saying something, but she wasn’t sure what. He sounded concerned.

    Her body jerked around when he jumped away, still holding her tight. The air rushed around her thin fur, stinging every inch that it touched. Did a whimper escape her? She was sure it did, but she couldn’t hear it… But then Manny’s paw pressed onto her back, holding her firmly.

    She didn’t hear him, but she knew what he said. That she was okay. It was odd how she could have that weak connection with him, even now—she didn’t need to hear him or understand him to feel how he felt.

    It was funny, people like him.

    But Manny was still running away, and rather than get better, the stinging was only getting worse. Her vision, once blurry, was now fading completely. She whimpered again, wanting to see the light, but it didn’t come back. Manny held her tight against his chest; she felt the hard, cold spike against her cheek, and the warm, firm muscles beneath his fur.

    Unable to see anything, her mind started to make it all up. She saw Hecto, a Dusknoir, floating in front of her. His single, blazing eye stared intensely.

    Star, hold on. You will be okay.

    Behind Hecto was a Riolu standing atop a Drampa. The Riolu held out a paw, sticking his leftmost digit up.

    We’ll figure this out, hah!

    The Drampa nodded, knocking the Riolu off balance in the process.

    A demon like this is formidable, but I don’t see why we should stop now.

    Then she saw a Samurott and Cacturne appear on either side of them. The Samurott brandished her blade menacingly.

    If that thing thinks it can just wipe us out, he’s got another thing coming!

    Er, let’s just be careful about it. Head on, we might, um, die.

    Star begged the illusions to listen to her and help her now. But that was all they were. Illusions. None of them cared about her anymore.

    Manny’s paws held her firmly again, tucking her beneath his arms. He weaved left and right, then flipped, kicking something. Then, he pressed her against his fur again, dodging something. He shouted and staggered, now holding Star with just one arm.

    A final image appeared behind all the others. But this one confused Star. She knew Manny, the little Riolu who tried to save the world. And he knew about all his partners back then: Yen, Doll, and Elbee. But… who was…

    The statue of a Shiftry appeared behind the rest, floating stoically.

    Do what you want, Star, but you will let me fight him first.

    Star’s world tumbled around her. Manny lost his hold on her and she hit the floor. The coldness of the tile seeped into her body, but an even colder, vile feeling crept over her after. Manny shouted, but his voice was distant. He didn’t pick her up.

    The images disappeared—melted away in a black fog. In the middle of it all, a crackling, red sphere shined through.

    The past is the past… Finite and gone. Just like you.

    The shadows invaded her skin, rotting her from the inside. With no strength to fight back, she only screamed in her mind. There were no words to give, only primal thoughts to survive and fight and live. The red sphere faded away. Her consciousness slipped away, going somewhere else.

    Whispers filled her head. They were urgent whispers, not threatening, but not calming, either. None of it made sense, but she got a feeling from it. The voices sounded so familiar. A different demon.

    Struggle!

    Star’s arms, wherever they were, twitched.

    She channeled energy from a place she didn’t know and sent it forward.

    And then everything stopped.

    <><><> ​

    “Manny! We have to go!”

    Elbee swung her body around, making a crescent-shaped slash of water around her entire left side with her blade. Several wraiths split in two, disintegrating, but several more oozed out from the ground. The Samurott snorted proudly, but then turned her attention back to her leader.

    “STAR!” Manny shouted for the umpteenth time, slamming his fist downward. The shockwave rolled the ground, turning the wraiths all around him into mist. He then disappeared where he stood, utilizing the blink’s worth of transport that Extreme Speed granted him, and reappeared where he had seen Star last. He plunged his paws into the darkness, punching and kicking his way through, but felt no sign of her.

    “She’s already gone, Manny! We need to save ourselves!” Doll swung her arm next, a volley of needles impaling the wraiths to her right. Then, the Cacturne rolled, dodging one of the many blasts that the wraiths had attempted to shoot at her. “They’re starting to get stronger, Manny! The guy’s channeling more power into them or something!”

    Elbee sliced through another set. Manny jumped away from the advancing wall of darkness, towering over them like a landslide.

    “She ain’t gonna be gone that easy!” Manny shouted back. “Star’s stronger’n that! She’s—”

    A shadowy blast struck Manny on the side, making him curse loudly. He slammed his fist into the ground again, clearing an entire column’s worth of wraiths with the shockwave. His muscles were already starting to feel strained—a manifestation of his fatigued spirit. No matter how much he wanted to fight, these wraiths won by sheer numbers. He had no idea where the core of this thing was, either, unless this was just an onslaught with no end.

    He jumped away and stumbled, losing his balance. If he fell on his back, the wraiths would surely take advantage of his prone state. In an attempt to roll and fall on his paws instead, he instead landed face first into Elbee’s side. She grabbed him and flung him onto her back, then leapt into the air with jets of water from her feet.

    “Hang on tight, Manny,” the Samurott said. “Doll!”

    “Right here!” The Cacturne slammed her arms into the ground; the momentum sent her flying forward. After a flip, she swung onto Samurott, catching on her body with her needles. Elbee shrieked, but held strong, and by the time Doll had clambered on completely, they had left the bulk of the wraiths behind.

    “Where’s the color trio?” Elbee said.

    “Further,” Manny grunted, forming a few Aura Spheres to keep the wraiths from advancing. It hardly left an impact; most of their evasion came from their ride being so fast.

    “You can’t sense their auras?” Doll said.

    “Was never good at that.” The Lucario tried to form another Aura Sphere, but the sheer act left his arms feeling like jelly. It dissipated before he could fire.

    “Just hold still, Manny. This place is draining too much of our power. It was bad enough trying to fight our way in!” Elbee blasted a jet of water forward, clearing the way. Doll took out the flanks, standing on top of Elbee to blast Pin Missiles in both directions.

    “How do we even get out of here, again?”

    Further,” Manny urged.

    Without a sense of direction, Elbee kept moving forward, repeating the same patterns again while doing her best to conserve her energy. A Hydro Pump here, a Pin Missile there—somehow, they had a decent enough rhythm despite the wraiths trying to surprise them around every corner.

    What did surprise them was a wave of blue embers disintegrating a clump of wraiths to their right. Beneath the wraiths was a flailing Garchomp, hissing and snapping at anything that tried to get close.

    “Who’s—”

    “Oy, that’s Clair!” Manny said, pointing. “Clair! O’er here!”

    The Garchomp stopped fighting to look.

    “Clair—oh, that one mutant spirit that gave you trouble,” Elbee recalled.

    “I remember watching that fight,” Doll said. “You stole her spirit last, right?”

    “Yeah, ‘cause she kept puttin’ up a fight,” Manny said. “Clair! This way!”

    She obeyed without a second thought, though she did hiss at a few wraiths on her way to them. Further ahead, shockwaves indicated the presence of Azu, Verd, and Roh.

    “Perfect,” Manny said. “C’mon! We gotta go!”

    “Guardian Manny!” Azu declared. “You won’t believe how many wraiths I’ve defeated! Out of the three of us, I would say that I claimed the most of—”

    “Time to go, scalebag!” Elbee said, shoving past him. Doll fired another set of Pin Missiles at the few remaining wraiths that had made it this far in the ruined Fighting Realm.

    The Feraligatr, Infernape, and Chesnaught chased after Elbee, but they still protested despite this.

    “But what about the other spirits?!” Verd said.

    Roh’s head-flame was at least three times its normal size. “We can’t leave them! We—”

    “Already gone! Star’s gone! We gotta—” Manny’s voice cracked. “Gotta regroup!”

    Clair stopped and spun around.

    Elbee stopped next. “What’s she—”

    “Keep goin’!” Manny said. “She knows what she’s doin’!”

    She hesitated for only a second before catching up with the rest. Clair, once the wraiths got close, growled. She jumped into the air and slammed into the ground; it heaved, an Earthquake destroying all of the wraiths in that section of the gym at once. Veiled in a huge swath of smoke, Clair spun around and caught up to the rest of them with ease, a confident smirk on her face.

    “Good job, Clair,” Manny muttered. At least he could save one of them… even if, in a way, she had only saved herself.

    The rooms of the Fighting Realm transitioned into patches of grass overtaking the concrete. Walls broke apart for trees. Soon, the artificial landscape of the Fighting Realm faded to the mystical aura of Aether Forest.

    “Where now?” Elbee asked breathlessly.

    “I—”

    A beam of darkness blasted Clair on the side. She shrieked, hissing and rubbing at her now limp arm; a Pin Missile from Doll took out the wraith that had been hiding. “This place is infested, too!”

    “Then we just gotta keep running,” Manny said, pointing forward. “Let’s find another Guardian’s spot!”

    “Who should we try?!”

    Manny thought about who they could see. They ran forward blindly; if Manny’s Orb was somehow infected with the wraiths, then that meant so was all of Hot Spot. All of them would be a risk. There was no way Eon would be happy to greet them, either, or any of the Hunters.

    “Ferget the Guardians,” Manny said grudgingly. “We’re heading ter the Hall of Origin.”

    <><><> ​

    The Hall of Origin felt emptier than usual.

    Like something was missing. Yet, for the most part, Arceus had always been there in relative solitude, watching the world from above, with what limited interface he had been allowed.

    Rhys had been very cordial. Perhaps part of it was because he had been too exhausted from the wraiths attacking him, but he had always been very respectful. But the wraiths attacking at all was a concern. Once Star returned, they would have to deliberate on how to deal with it. Assuming she was interested in doing that at all.

    Arceus narrowed his eyes at the wall, tapping a hoof on the pristine floor. Perhaps this stress would finally be enough for her to give up her power entirely. Then he could fix the return of the wraiths and the Hunters in one motion.

    And then the silence was disturbed by the loud pitter-patter of several large Pokémon—though, compared to him, they were still insignificantly tiny.

    He sensed various Fighting auras, as well as the unmistakable aura of…

    “Manny.” Arceus turned and looked down at the Lucario, a small, cordial grin in his eyes. Still, there was a hint of concern. “Why are you here?”

    “Hey, big guy, eh…” Manny panted a few times, then motioned behind him to the others. “Can yeh help out Clair first?”

    “Clair?” Arceus surveyed Manny’s spirits. There were the three mutants that Manny had assimilated into his Core—Roh, Verd, and Azu. The Chesnaught in particular seemed shaken, being comforted by the Infernape with gentle pats on the arm.

    Then there was Doll and Elbee. The latter was missing a few needles, but she seemed fine. Elbee, however, could barely stand, and it looked like the Samurott had been running across all of Aether Forest.

    Were the wraiths already back there? He had told the Trinity to keep an eye on their Dungeons for now, just in case wraiths tried to attack them. The last thing he needed was for them to run into trouble in their own domain like the other careless Guardians might.

    Then there was Yen, who had someone on his back… a Garchomp. The only one he didn’t recognize. Arceus floated over to Yen and felt her artificial aura radiating off, just like the mutant trio, and hid his grimace. He’d much rather do away with someone like her, but Manny was the one making the request…

    “Of course.”

    Arceus inspected Clair. She had countless injuries over her body, each one lined with black fog that suggested a wraith’s shadows. That would be trivial. He tapped his hoof on the ground, washing Clair in a radiant light. The shadows dispelled instantly, leaving only the wounds behind. Another tap and the wounds sealed themselves.

    “Thanks,” Manny said.

    “What happened?”

    “Wraith’s source was inside’m.”

    Even Arceus couldn’t hide his widening eyes. “What do you mean, inside?”

    “Hot Spot’s infested with wraiths. I dunno if they got out. I couldn’t get ter my Orb, ‘cause wraiths were coming outta the core. Star was there, too, but…”

    Arceus saw a flash of regret in Manny’s eyes. He knew that look. That he failed to save someone—but he was still trying to keep a strong face. “What do you mean?” Arceus said. “Where’s Star?”

    Manny couldn’t answer, so Yen did. “The wraiths got her. She’s… gone.”

    “…Gone.”

    “We saw it happen,” Elbee said immediately, clutching at one of her blades with a trembling paw. “There’s no way Star escaped. They… they got her.”

    “…The empty feeling…” Arceus looked up. “Star’s influence is gone.”

    “How bad is that?” Manny asked.

    “Well. That part is not catastrophic.” Arceus shook his head. “Star and I shared many of our blessings, and a lot of what we did is self-sustaining. However, with Star gone…”

    Filaments of light sprouted from his back, Arceus simply too eager to hide it. “I have some work to do.”

    “Eh—what? Wait, we gotta regroup and need ter take down this thing!”

    “I will. And for that to happen, I need to do a few things so I can step in directly.”

    Arceus hastily walked across the Hall of Origin, deeper into its chambers. At the far end, opposite of where Manny had entered, was another white door large enough to open for Arceus to enter.

    “With Star gone, nothing is holding me back,” he said. “It’s time I returned.”

    <><><> ​

    With every Luminous Orb in Kilo rendered useless, only the flames of Pokémon and their natural light source kept the world from falling into complete darkness. It had been a cloudy night for the eastern parts of Kilo. Chilling winds bit at Spice’s scales. She had lost count of how many days she’d gone without sleeping, but now, even if she was tired, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to fall asleep.

    “How is he doing?” Spice asked.

    “He’s doing better,” Mamoswine said. “That Delphox really is a fighter.”

    “Can I see him yet?”

    “Not yet. The healers still need to take a look at him. We don’t have any good Heal Pulse users in this village… We usually just relied on Orans and Revivers. Oh, I’m so sorry…”

    “No, don’t be.” Spice looked down the road. A helpful Chandelure was passing out torches to other villagers; his own body glowed with an eerie light to keep the rest from going blind.

    “Need one?” Chandelure asked, levitating one of the torches toward Spice.

    “Thanks.” She grabbed it, holding it above her head. Chandelure spat a few blue flames toward it, igniting the wood. Blue transitioned to a more natural orange once the wood caught fire properly.

    “Everyone’s panicked auras have been a little tasty,” Chandelure admitted guiltily. “But I’m starting to feel bad. A little light should calm them down, right?”

    The town was already starting to feel brighter. Almost… too bright. “Yeah, uh, you’ve got some pretty strong fire, actually. Maybe we should shove you in the ceiling and—what?”

    Chandelure’s gaze was focused behind and above her. Almost afraid to turn around—the day was already hectic as it was—she spotted something glowing in the distance. It was dim, but steadily got brighter.

    “Okay, what in Mew’s name…”

    The glow was bright enough that it sharply contrasted the night sky, leaving a very clear shape to see.

    “Wait a second,” the Salazzle said, absently running a claw along her scar. It was starting to throb—she felt a weak presence coming from that spire. It reminded her of how that thunderstorm in Nightshade Forest had made her scales tingle. The memory left her chest with a weak, burning sensation.

    She refocused on the bright, tall structure. It looked like some kind of triangle, or a—“That’s the Spire of Trials!”

    “Spire of Trials?” Chandelure said. “That weird Dungeon that just has a bunch of ferals that punch you to death?”

    “Yeah, but… I heard the Dungeon suddenly lost all of its inhabitants a while back. Now it’s glowing?” Spice frowned. “Has the world gone insane?!”

    “Probably.”

    Spice flashed a glare at Chandelure.

    “What?! Waypoints broke, Orbs broke, even Orans broke. How do you break an entire species of berry?! World’s gone—AHH!”

    Spice had to shield her eyes, too. The Spire of Trials had become like a second sun; shrieks of the village filled the air. Then, the ground rumbled, just softly enough that it didn’t knock anything over, but just enough that it still made Spice crouch down as a precaution.

    The light dimmed to something more tolerable again.

    “Holy…”

    Chandelure, if he had a mouth, would have been agape. Instead, Spice saw his flame flicker with awe, shrinking at the sight of the source of the glow.

    “Yep. That’s pretty holy, alright,” said a nearby Empoleon, pointing a wing forward.

    A quick scan of the roads revealed a few Pokémon kneeling or bowing on the ground, all in the same direction, muttering something fervently under their breaths. Spice’s scales felt like they had bristled—a cold shiver ran down her spine, and her tails flicked a bit of poison mist behind her. “Sorry,” she murmured, but then, finally, looked back at the source of the ever-dimming glow.

    The Spire of Trials was gone. Replacing it was an even taller structure made of luminous, white marble. It pierced through the sky, the top just as wide as the bottom. It seemed thinner, yet taller than the Spire.

    And at the top was a gleaming, white figure. It was too far away to see what it was, but the way so many Pokémon had fervently bowed down, Spice felt a sinking feeling in her gut.

    And then the white dot flashed. First, countless trails of white light went off in all directions—long tendrils that lit up the sky in a web of white, flowing lines. Then, those faded, forming a bright, yellow-gold, unmistakable wheel of light above the tower.

    “Arceus! Oh, it’s Arceus! He’s returned!”

    Countless Pokémon cheered and raised their heads, arms, wings—anything that they could to wave at their god, no matter if the Creator could actually see them.

    Spice squeezed her hands, unable to get rid of that horrible feeling on her scales. She should be happy. If all those stories about Arceus were true, then they were saved, weren’t they?

    The wheel finally faded, as did the light, and even the tower had been reduced to nothing but a small glow. And with the glow, the cheers faded, too, though the rush of optimism within the crowd was palpable.

    Spice breathed out sharply through her nose.

    Now she remembered.

    “Well, would you look at that,” Spice acknowledged, tapping her claws on her hips. “Destiny Tower’s risen again.”

    <><><> ​

    Tall trees with no leaves thwarted any attempt to see beyond a few layers of the forest. Left, right, none of that mattered. Up? The sky was a perpetual, ominous crimson. The ground a bleak, ashen brown. Everything smelled of ruin. What kind of ruin was hard to discern. Rot? No, it wasn’t quite rot, not just that. Flames, fire? Possibly, but perhaps only as a trick of the mind. Dust, age, perhaps?

    “Oh, dear. It all looks the same.”

    A green Gardevoir held her hand against the tree trunk. Its outer layer crumbled to the touch, revealing soft, squishy insides that, too, withered away if she pressed too hard. Amia grimaced, brushing it off, but it was persistent. Her hands were speckled with that strange blackness.

    She could only go forward. But she had no idea where anybody was, or where she was, or anything of the sort. One second, she was fighting Star within the Grass Core. The next, she had been hit by one of Hecto’s many arrows. Then, she had blacked out—appearing in the aura sea… or did she? She couldn’t remember. It had been so fast. A strange force—it felt like something had pulled her in an odd direction, against the sea’s flow.

    Then, she was groggily waking up in this strange, endless rot with a red sky, a black ground, and dead trees. The forest in particular reminded her of Rotwood Fen, back when she used to live in the south. It didn’t bring back pleasant memories.

    She shook her head. Focus, dear, focus. Where was Alex? Was Owen okay? Did they defeat Star? What about Eon?

    None of that mattered if she couldn’t even find them to learn the answer.

    Amia was about to take another step when she felt a light rumble in the ground. She blinked, staring at the trees. Bits of loose ash and rot fell from the branches; she had to shield her eyes from the stray particles.

    The rumbling was getting louder. She recognized the sound—she heard it often from Zena when she was exploring Hot Spot. It must have been a serpent… but the sound was too loud, too powerful. Deeper than Zena’s, and she was already exceptionally large.

    And then it got softer. Whatever it was, it was slithering away, now. The tension in Amia’s chest—which she had only just realized she had—loosened.

    Something shuffled behind her. The tension came back; Amia spun around, raising her hands to strike—and then screamed.
     
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  10. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 76 – Flashes in the Dark

    Red skies oversaw a silent, somber land covered in purple dust. Scattered like giant trees were great plateaus, all at equal heights despite their random assortments across the purple landscape. Red-purple lightning bolts shattered the sky, drawing the attention of two Pokémon stationed at the top of one of the plateaus.

    “Found one,” said the first creature—a dark, metallic bird with red eyes. “But I think it’s too far away. Too far, too far…”

    “We should try anyway,” the other said—a Sandslash with a few too many spikes missing. “Come on. Up!”

    Corviknight watched closely at where the thunderclap had originated, its rumble still echoing across the plateau field. “It’s falling.”

    “Where? My vision’s not like yours.”

    “I’ll just fly. But it’s too late, too late.” Corviknight spread his wings once Sandslash hopped on. “He might be dead already.”

    “Always worth a shot. It’s been a slow shift anyway. C’mon, fly!”

    “I will, I will.”

    “Any Titans?”

    “No, just one, just one.”

    “Okay, a Titan. Avoid it.”

    “I will, I will.” Corviknight took off, watching the orange creature fall closer and closer to the ground. “Hmm, hmm, he’s falling fast. That won’t end well.”

    “Well, if he’s lucky, he’ll survive.” Sandslash pointed ahead. “Yeah, I see it. Let’s—”

    Another lighting bolt crackled to their right, a bit closer than the first bolt.

    “…Priorities. Let’s try that one instead.”

    “But the other?”

    “We’ll save the closest ones first, we—” Sandslash couldn’t finish. Another thunderclap behind them caught their attention, but they missed where the bolt had specifically come from. He growled. “Did you see where that one came from?”

    “No, no.”

    “Alright. Closest one first.”

    Leaving the original faller behind, they instead chased after another falling creature. They recognized this one as a small, shapeless, pink blob.

    <><><> ​

    “Ooh… the thunder’s really loud,” Lavender said, shivering. It sounded as if the whole sky was splitting apart. But even more frightening was that he could hear its boom even from where he was—at the bottom of the lab, ten floors underground.

    He glanced to the left, frowning with even more concern. Rim’s body wasn’t forming right; it didn’t look like a developing Espurr at all. It was rounded and bulbous, and it looked like something was growing out of the top. He whined loudly, pressing his head against the cylinder. “It’s gonna be okay. Are you okay?”

    But Rim had barely developed enough to hear him. It would take moons for her to be back in any sort of living condition without Eon to accelerate the process. But he would be back soon, and everything would be okay.

    And then the lights flickered. An alarm sounded on the opposite side of the hall, buzzing Lavender’s head. Lucas, far down the hall, howled and paced around worriedly, little flames leaving his mouth.

    “It’s okay, Lucas!” Lavender cried over the beeping.

    The lights stopped flickering, but instead gave off a red glow. Lavender worriedly looked at Rim’s tank; nothing was failing, but he knew what the red lights meant. Last time this happened was when he had blacked out and destroyed one of the generators—at least, that’s what Eon said happened. Did that mean one of the generators failed again?

    The alarm meant something else went wrong, too. A lot of somethings, maybe. But he didn’t know the first thing about how this lab worked or what he could do to fix it!

    But he did know that he could help to power it. “Lucas! Go check on the others! Umm—find, um—find Nate! Yeah, find Nate! Maybe he can help? I’m gonna—I’m gonna fix the power!”

    Lucas barked and sprinted away. Lavender, going deeper into the lab, thought to become a Scolipede again, but Eon’s words echoed in his mind. Not in the lab. I’m gonna use you today, he said to one of his spirits.

    Okay! Don’t fall like last time!

    Lavender nodded and his body shrank down, grew wings, and sped up even more. The Ninjask fumbled in the air.

    No, not like that!

    Sorry!

    He regained his composure and flew ahead again, moving past the last of the grid-like arrangement of cylinders, before coming to the back room. He shifted back to his Silvally form and placed his talons on the door. After a pause, it slid open—Lavender sighed in relief. At least the door still worked.

    The door opened to a small chamber that had a single, mechanical pillar in the middle of the room. A screen near the bottom of this pillar showed various statistics about the power level of the lab and any critical issues present. Lavender didn’t understand most of it, but he did understand one part—the status message that had most recently come up.

    ‘Critical power failure – Central Infinity Energy Core destabilized. Relying on Secondary Chamber.’

    Lavender only knew one thing from that status message—that the main energy reserve had lost its power somehow. Eon was the one who kept that powered with the help of Rim and Elder, before Elder left. The secondary core was new, and he was, indirectly, the one who kept it powered.

    Lavender decided to check on the primary core, first. He trotted over to the left side of the pillar and poked at one of the metal coverings. It slid open in response, revealing a small, faded rhombus. He frowned. “It’s out of energy?” he mumbled to his spirits. “But it’s called Infinity Energy. It’s not supposed to run out.”

    Eon only put a blessing on it, though. And Rim. He didn’t put his actual spirit inside.

    “But that won’t run out as long as Dad’s…”

    There’s still some energy left, another spirit said. Why don’t you power it with some of us for now?

    “But what happened to… I… D-Dad—”

    Focus, Lavender, it’s okay!

    It’s okay! He’ll be back.

    Maybe he’s just fighting.

    Lavender whined. “Okay. Who wants to power this one?”

    Several volunteered and collected at the base of Lavender’s throat. He puffed out a golden cloud of light toward the rhombus; the spirits drifted toward the little crystal, brightening it. The gem glowed, and then lost its diamond shape, becoming instead a sphere. Lavender pressed his head against it.

    Are you guys doing alright in there?

    Everything’s good!

    I think you gave enough.

    Does it look good out there?

    Lavender opened his eyes. The alarm stopped. The lights weren’t red anymore. And most importantly, the status screen on the central chamber was back to normal. All green, with no scary red lights or flashing exclamation points. He sighed, closing the chamber, and then moved to the right side.

    It was about time he switched out the spirits anyway.

    The chamber opened to a similar, golden sphere. Lavender pressed his head against it. Hey guys! Having fun?

    What happened?

    Suddenly it needs our power.

    Did something happen to Dad?

    Lavender winced. I don’t know. But I’m gonna swap you guys out, okay?

    Okay.

    I was getting bored.

    Lavender nodded and asked for volunteers again. They were more reluctant this time, murmuring that Lavender should tell them what happened to Dad as soon as he could. After agreeing, several more of his spirits funneled into the sphere, and at the same time, the spirits within leapt out and toward Lavender. It was a routine—one that most of them were very familiar with.

    With both chambers fully powered—and Lavender feeling a lot more empty—the Silvally turned around and listened. Even within the bottommost, centermost part of the lab, he could still hear faint rumbles from outside. And there was something else accompanying it, too. A sliding feeling… No, more like… What was that?

    What is that? Lavender asked, not wanting to speak so he could still hear the noise. A grinding, like something semisolid passing through a narrow hallway. He’d heard that before. Where was—

    That’s Nate!

    How come Nate’s moving?

    Go check! He’s only two floors up!

    Lavender didn’t want to bother with taking the elevators—too far away. Instead, his eyes shifted to a dark purple and he sank into the shadows, going up. He passed through rubble and stone before settling on the ninth sublevel. Nothing was happening here except for a mutant Tyrantrum giving little love bites to a mutant Noivern.

    “Eek! Lavender! We weren’t doing anything!” Tyrantrum said.

    “Do you guys hear anything?” Lavender asked hastily. “Did the lights go out?”

    “Oh, they did.”

    “Even on this floor, huh…” Lavender frowned. “Okay. I’m going to see Nate.”

    “N-Nate? Are you sure?” Noivern shrank down. “He’s kinda creepy…”

    “Yeah, but I can sense him moving. He’s pretty big, after all… and I guess I can feel his energy a lot more than everyone else here.”

    “Oh, well, my aura sonar can sense it,” Noivern said, tapping her massive ears. “Hey, yeah… he’s definitely moving.”

    “Thanks.” Lavender gave them both a quick bow and hopped into the wall, ascending further until he rose into a large, empty chamber.

    Nate used to be there. He scanned for any signs of him, but all he saw were papers strewn about with completed and half-completed drawings of the various mutants, as well as countless fabrics of half-made costumes. A few of them were fully constructed. There was one of Lavender’s true form, though only the head and neck were complete; based on how there were more materials and cloths scattered nearby, Nate must have found his chimeric body to be a real puzzle.

    But there was no Nate.

    In an effort to pick up the pace, Lavender searched for another speedy Pokémon. Ninjask—where was… Lavender froze. He’d left him back at the Core chamber. He wasn’t supposed to be without so many spirits—he couldn’t find his form.

    G-guys! I need a fast one! A-anybody?

    Lavender bounded down the hall anyway, waiting for his spirits to deliberate. Eventually, he felt the presence of one spirit get brighter. Closing his eyes, he braced for whatever came next; his limbs suddenly disappeared under him, replaced by wings. The new Crobat toppled over in a crumpled heap, groaning.

    Warn me next time…

    He slammed on the ground to gain altitude, air channeling around him. With newfound agility, Lavender banked around the sharp corners and followed any possible trace he could feel from Nate’s massive aura.

    After one turn, he spotted something dark in the corridors, draining into the next. “Nate!” Lavender shouted, flying until he was right on top of him. “Nate! Hang on!”

    But he kept slithering away. The only thing that Lavender got in reply was a small pause from part of his body. Black limbs pushed Nate forward, crawling on the ground in tandem in undulating waves. A few eyes on the ink-black body opened and stared at Lavender.

    Lavender landed on top of Nate and switched back to his true form. “Nate,” he said again. “What are you doing? Where are you going?”

    Several eyes closed, and a few of the arms grabbed at his forepaws. Lavender lifted one and shook it. “Um, hi, Nate, but where are you going?”

    I feel like I need to go somewhere.

    “Go somewhere? What do you mean?”

    It’s calling me.

    “It? What’s it?”

    I don’t know. It’s struggling to live.

    “Struggling to—but Nate, you’re not supposed to leave! Remember? I mean, that’s what Dad said.”

    I can’t find him. I’ll ask later.

    Lavender realized that Nate was trying to push him away, but he shook his head. “Nate, we can’t go right now. Not until Dad comes back. Something’s wrong, and I have a bad feeling…”

    So do I.

    “Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to go, though? If it’s a bad feeling, maybe you shouldn’t be going.”

    Nate’s massive body—of which Lavender could only see the tail-end—slowed down. Up ahead, a frightful shriek rang out. A few seconds later, Lavender saw a lump run beneath Nate, like he was lifting himself over something… And then, he lifted Lavender next. Left behind was a curled up, trembling form of a fusion with the body of an Abomasnow, the colors and hands of a Hitmonlee, and the lower half of a Carnevine. A while later, the fusion lifted her hands from her face, looking around confusedly.

    “Um, Nate, I think you’re starting to freak out some of the family…”

    Sorry. I’m in a rush.

    Lavender noticed that Nate was going away from the teleporter wall. “Um, Nate? Teleporter’s that way.”

    I’m too big. Taking the emergency stairs.

    “Oh. Wait—you shouldn’t be doing that anyway! Please, can’t you stay?”

    Lavender realized that, given how big Nate was, he was probably already going up the stairs… He sighed again, trying to find another way to convince him. He couldn’t think of anything, and instead watched as Nate went on an upward incline. The marble halls transitioned into an alternating stairway that zigzagged its way skyward. Every bit of metal that Nate nicked on the handlebars—indeed, he used them for safety, because it was polite—echoed all the way up and all the way down the concrete walls.

    Several arms, tentacles, and wings wrapped around Lavender to brace him in place. At first, Lavender wondered why, as he was only trying to convince Nate to stay back… But the alternative was Lavender constantly nipping at his heels. Did Nate have heels? Well, yes. Several, in fact.

    Lavender shook his head, trying to refocus. His spirits were doing no better, unable to find a way to convince the Dark Guardian to halt his enigmatic advance.

    That was, until Nate did it himself. With a lurching halt, Lavender found himself swinging forward and past several of Nate’s limbs, though a few of them caught Lavender in time. His talons accidentally jabbed at one of the many eyes, causing it to wince in pain.

    “Oh—sorry,” Lavender said, but the eye already sank into the darkness. “Nate? What’s wrong?”

    The limbs started to push Lavender forward, but then Lavender gently broke out of his binds. “Want me to go up? I’ll do that.”

    Something’s wrong.

    They urged Lavender to go up. Channeling his ghostly powers again, he sank into the wall and quickly ascended from the eighth floor, to the seventh, then the sixth… how far did Nate’s body stretch?!

    Lavender finally found the surface floor and emerged to complete darkness. The sun had set long ago, but he could still see the vague shape of Nate’s upper body leaking out of Quartz HQ. “Nate? What are you doing?”

    I need to go.

    And then, without warning, Nate’s huge body lifted itself into the air, more and more of him rising like a serpent reaching for a low branch. But in this case, it seemed like the only branch Nate intended to grab was the clouds themselves. Wings outstretched from all sides and, despite not flapping, seemed to generate an updraft, the same way a Dragonite managed to take flight.

    Dragonite. Lavender searched for the species, but couldn’t find it. He settled for becoming Crobat again, ascending with Nate, but he was rising even faster than he could manage. The air current that flowed around the black amalgamation ripped through any sort of updraft that Lavender could make, sending him spiraling down. Lavender called for Nate one last time, even as he was sprawled out on the floor, but he kept climbing higher.

    The last of the Dark Guardian’s form plucked itself out of Quartz HQ. His entire body levitated just below the clouds as a great, fat serpent, coiled together like he had been in the Chasm. Its body spiraled around itself, leaving only what vaguely resembled a head to poke out from the black coils. Ethereal, black wings, looking unnaturally attached to the rest of the serpentine form, spread out. It glided over an updraft that didn’t exist. It moved unnaturally, like it was hanging off of a ceiling that moved forward, the head training itself on some far-off entity in the horizon.

    At the front of Nate’s body, where the serpent’s head extended forward, came a glow. At first, it seemed white, but it was too dim. He beat his wings once, ascending higher into the sky while battering the distant ground below with small twisters of wind. Lavender, caught up in one of them, barely stabilized himself in time to avoid the second wingbeat, and then the third.

    A low rumble shook Lavender next, down to his core. The beat pressed against his heart, and then rippled to the surface of his body, and then back in again. Wave after wave dizzied Lavender until he had to land, heaving. The spirits inside of him shuffled worriedly, asking Lavender if he was okay, asking him to get up. But he couldn’t handle being in anything but his base form. His body shifted back to his chimeric self, and then he rolled to look at the sky.

    Pink. The light was pink, at the mouth—if Nate’s body as a whole had one. The head was split open five-ways, like a giant, clawed hand. The fingers opened like they were mouths of their own. The light… brighter. What was it?

    Another rumble shook Lavender, followed by its aftershock. Ba-thump. Lavender’s heart ached, heaving again.

    “Lavender! Are you okay?!”

    “What? What?”

    Someone was beside him. He saw crackling orbs of electricity—the Ampharos standing guard, along with the Sceptile, he was sure.

    Another rumble, ba-thump, made Lavender curl up. Ampharos and Sceptile winced, too, and looked up. “That’s Nate?!”

    “What’s he—”

    The pink energy doubled, then tripled in intensity. A shockwave cracked the air, knocking fruits off their trees and snapping the weakest branches into splinters. A line of pink stung Lavender’s vision, cutting across the sky.

    <><><> ​

    Hot Spot Cave lacked any light. The stars, the moon, the clouds themselves—gone and replaced by a swirling vortex of red, purple, and void-black.

    “Why did Anam contain the Wraith King?” Rhys wheezed, barely able to stand.

    “How can we possibly hope to…” Elder could only watch as the void expanded farther.

    “We have to calm Anam,” Rhys said. “We need to regroup and fight him. Find some way to bring that demon out of him, or—or find a way to seal it again.”

    Nevren appeared in a flash of light. With him, an icy Aggron, an agitated Porygon-Z, and a Joltik with fairy wings. Three Guardians, but Nevren then said, “I can’t bring any more.”

    “What do you mean—”

    “I can’t bring any more. My luck’s run out, I’m afraid.” Nevren held his lucky charm forward, revealing its dim, gray glow. “These three are the best I can do. The Wraith King has either already claimed, or is too close to, the others.”

    “But—Owen! Team Alloy! All of the Guardians, the—”

    “Gone. We must go.”

    It didn’t look like Nevren was giving Rhys much of a choice.

    “The void in the sky is expanding. What happens if it covers the world?” Elder said. “We can’t stop it from advancing this time. The Chasm is—Star and Barky aren’t… The Tree—”

    The void rumbled, making ADAM and Willow shake. Step looked up at the void defiantly. “I doubt there is nothing to be done,” she said, holding her palm toward the center of it. She fired a blast of icy energy toward it.

    “How can you expect that attack to—”

    The ice melted away, but the remnant energy that remained from Step’s attack—the aura that tried to produce the ice as it sailed through the sky—continued to battle with the swirling void before ultimately fizzling out.

    “You don’t have enough power to counteract something like that, Step,” Nevren said.

    “I beg to differ,” Step growled. “Something inside me is telling me I can. I will destroy that—that thing if I must!” She fired again, but the same result occurred. The ice melted away, and the aura battled weakly against the expanding vortex. By now, three quarters of their sky had been consumed by the void.

    “How are you…” Nevren trailed off, looking at Rhys next. He was too weak to fight back.

    Are you still trying to fight?

    Nevren halted his words to stare at the sky. “It’s… that’s him.” He squeezed his spoons a bit tighter. All of the others turned their attention to the expanding darkness, a soft rumble like never-ending thunder shaking small rocks in the dirt.

    All life has proven its uselessness. Nothing but suffering permeates your world, propped up by a single soul’s ambition to alter the natural state of reality. I gave him a chance, I watched from within as he slowly, yet in vain, tried to repair the world, only for it all to be wiped away by those who hungered for power. Had I let it continue, the war would have escalated to ruin what little structure you had. And then, what would become of me? You would destroy me, just as you try to destroy each other.

    You do not know what to do with power. I am Dark Matter, named by your god, Anam. The old god, Mew, has been claimed by me. The old god, Arceus, is next. The Hunters are all but vanquished. All those who seek power will fall to the void.

    The joy your old god tried to manufacture in this world is false and fleeting. His heart was the only one that shined, and now it is tarnished by hopelessness thanks to his very subjects and their greed. I will show you the world for what it really is. I will show you the world you ungrateful souls have been blinded to: A world without blessings, a world without your god to unite it so tenuously.

    I am your new god. I will show you a life without suffering. I shall shape this world into its ideal form: A state without suffering or pain. A state… of terminus.

    As Dark Matter spoke, the void in the sky expanded further and further, wrapping around more and more of the sky. Nevren couldn’t see the stars no matter where he looked. His Revisor remained useless in his hands. Despite the fact that they had been rewound every single time, his fingers felt raw. How many times had he just heard that speech? He lost count. Rushing in, running out, nothing was enough to stop Dark Matter from expanding across the sky.

    Step was inconsolable, launching Ice Beam after Ice Beam into the sky, only achieving the weakest pauses in the void’s expansion. Soon, the whole world would be covered, and this time, there wasn’t a reserve of power to prevent it from staying that way.

    Someone kept repeating his name. Only when he felt the sting of electricity did the Alakazam look to his right, seeing an angry Joltik clinging to his mustache.

    “You’re the smart guy!” she shouted. “Think of something!”

    ADAM spun his head several times. “Calculating probability of victory…”

    Nevren didn’t need to wait for the answer. He looked at his Revisor again; bright blue. He could use it, but for what purpose? Did it matter anymore?

    It was tiring. So, so tiring, going back, over and over, to find a solution that simply didn’t exist.

    “What are you doing?!” Step shouted at Nevren, blasting him with a weak gust of frosty air. “The brainy one will help!”

    Nevren flinched, blinking several times at Step. Her piercing gaze didn’t stop her from firing at the sky, not even looking anymore. She didn’t need to—the general direction of up was enough to hit her target. “The sky has an aura! Therefore, we can strike it!”

    But how could such an immense aura be fought, even slightly?

    Something flickered in the corner of Nevren’s vision. At first, he thought he was hallucinating, but then Rhys, barely on his feet, turned toward it, and then Step, and then ADAM and Willow.

    “What is that?” Elder said, extending his neck to gain extra height. “Pink…”

    It was getting brighter—and closer. It cut through the darkness like it was fog. A roaring rumble echoed from the vortex’s core, shaking Nevren’s very spirit. He shuddered and took a knee. “Step,” Nevren wheezed.

    The Aggron didn’t kneel. Nevren could feel her stubbornness—even if her body was falling apart, she’d refuse to kneel to the dark god.

    The pink light struck the center of the vortex, creating a shockwave that—despite Step’s adamance—knocked everyone several feet away and into the air. Nevren slowed his and Rhys’ fall with a Psychic barrier, while Elder skidded across the ground with a strained grunt. ADAM flailed, and Willow flew over tall grass before landing on a nearby clump. Step landed the hardest, cursing loudly, and then stared back up at the crackling vortex.

    The void had been cut down by more than half, yet it still remained, struggling to expand further. Someone cried out inside the cave—the unmistakable voice of Anam.

    “Is he still fighting it?” Nevren said.

    “Anam is the center!” Step said—but Nevren doubted she was correct.

    “Step, wait!”

    But she was already rumbling toward the cave entrance. Nevren, knowing that she’d be claimed like all the others if someone didn’t Teleport her out, followed her.

    In the corner of his eye, Nevren also spotted another flickering, white light. Now that the void had been cut through with the assistance of that attack—that pink light that seemed so familiar—he saw a follow-up. Flying filaments of white energy curled through the sky and descended upon Hot Spot.

    “Step!” Nevren shouted. “Brace yourself!”

    Despite her fervor to run forward, she listened and tensed her body. “Why?”

    The ground heaved from several ethereal impacts. Hot Spot’s cavernous ceiling partially collapsed, large boulders tumbling and slamming onto faded mushrooms. Several wraiths screeched and dissolved, but a few times, the fallen boulders bounced off of something solid, too.

    Streams of white light pushed through the cave’s ceiling and struck homes built into the walls, cracking their structures. The sky was alight, punctures of divine energy dotting the once perfect void.

    Dark Matter roared, and this time, Step was forced to all fours, grunting. Nevren couldn’t move; his whole body felt compressed by the pressure Dark Matter gave off. He could only stare through the darkness to see Anam’s form in the middle of it all, staring emptily upward. Swirls of lavender competed with black ooze within his body. Nevren couldn’t see anything else with all the wraiths, aside from a few fallen boulders, streams of light from punctures left in the cave’s top, and near the middle of Hot Spot—

    How did he forget about Valle?

    His aura had always been so weak, and his presence literally like a statue, that he had completely forgotten that he was still there. He didn’t glow. The Shiftry statue remained where he always had, unmoving, and Nevren couldn’t safely get to him. He looked at Step.

    “And what is your plan?” he said, finally finding his breath. “Step, how do you expect to—”

    “If your Anam is as strong as you say, then he can still fight this demon,” Step replied. “We just need to help him.”

    “I feel that this is beyond help.”

    “I’ve already decided that for you. Now choose: Die here, or assist and I consider whether to kill you later.”

    Nevren blinked. “Excuse me?”

    “You caused this by tampering with the vessel. Now help me fix it!” Step fired several Ice Beams at incoming wraiths before turning toward Nevren. She grabbed him from under his arm and forced him to his feet. “Now will you fight?”

    Nevren suppressed a shudder from her icy touch. “I can’t fight.”

    Step eyed him, looking at his limp arm, then at his tired eyes. She snarled and shoved him back; he fell to the ground with a painted grunt. “Useless.”

    Then, the Ice Guardian turned back to Anam. “Ghost Guardian! Stop letting that demon control you!”

    She blasted more wraiths, using the tunnel as a choke point. Nevren rolled to his front and pushed up, getting to his knees. The wraiths seemed a lot weaker, but the sky was darkening again. Was Arceus’ Judgement not enough? And that last attack—it wasn’t coming again, was it?

    “H… help…”

    “Anam!” Step blasted the wraiths in front of her with a wall of ice. The Blizzard destroyed most of them, leaving only a few stragglers to ice over. “Keep fighting!”

    “I… I…”

    Not even Judgement is enough to stop me. What hope do you have to—

    “Please… Mister Matter, enough…”

    “Keep fighting!” Step roared.

    From the ceiling, a wraith dropped down. Step looked up too late—two more had appeared.

    Suddenly, a blast of ice, fire, and electricity knocked away all three, destroying them. ADAM swept forward. “Refreshing calculations.”

    Two Moonblasts arced past Step and dissolved another cluster of wraiths. Willow landed on Step’s head, shrieking. “I’ll help!”

    Rhys, using Elder as support, staggered into the cave next. “Anam, just a bit longer. Arceus and—and someone else is already trying to help. Can you keep fighting?!”

    It is too late to fight back! Give up!

    “Bluster!” Step took aim at more of the wraiths. “Just what would happen if I struck Anam’s body, I wonder? Would you have to retreat?”

    You would only harm your precious god!

    “He’s not my god.” Step pointed her hand forward.

    A heavy rumble staggered Step, forcing her to misfire into the floor. She tried to get up, but a few wraiths fired shadowy blasts at her, deflected only because Willow and ADAM were quick to counter with their own blasts. Step got back to her feet, but another tremor knocked her to the left.

    “Aah… aaaah!” Anam whimpered, then wailed. Swirls of lavender briefly overtook more than half of his body before the darkness came back. Dark Matter roared again; Anam’s body became pitch-dark, but then more bright purple shined through. Step snarled; the bright spots were clearly Anam fighting back. All this time, he had been trying to fight against Dark Matter for control? Perhaps the squishy dragon was mentally stronger than she’d given him credit for.

    It won’t be enough! Just give up!

    “A bit forceful for someone who claims it is hopeless!” Step said. “Anam! Put an end to this!”

    “I… I…”

    Anam, I already felt your despair. You know this world is rotten. Let me fix it. I can end all of this.

    “This isn’t… what I wanted…”

    Endings are always painful. But the sooner you accept it, the sooner this can all be fixed.

    “Yes, trust the cloud of evil.” Step snarled and finally righted herself just in time to see Anam glow.

    Anam. Anam, what are you doing? That’s enough. That’s enough!

    “St-stop… I changed my mind! STOP!”

    IT’S TOO LATE!

    It was too bright for them to look at directly. ADAM buzzed and blared an alarm.

    With an incomprehensible scream, a bright, indigo flame exploded from Anam’s body, shooting through what little remained of Hot Spot Cave’s upper ceiling. An intense shockwave, followed by a rush of hot wind, sent Step and all the others flying out of the cave, smashing against some of the walls along the way. Sparks of a bright, golden energy singed their bodies and knocked away chunks of Step’s icy form.

    On the outside, the few who weren’t face-first in the dirt saw a large, indigo drake made purely out of flaming Dragon energy. It smashed into the void above, sending a golden ripple throughout its influence; at some point, the gold light overtook the void completely, disintegrating it. The heat melted Step’s icy snout and several of her claws.

    And then it was quiet. The wind blew, the void above rumbled lowly, stabilizing… but it didn’t expand. The sky was still mostly blotted out, but the darkness didn’t expand. The aftershocks of gold were far into the horizon, revealing the stars and clouds again.

    Rhys slowly righted himself with Elder’s help. Willow and ADAM figured out which way was up. Step panted, growing back the parts of her that had melted away. “It’s still there.”

    But it wasn’t expanding.

    “What was that attack? What did… what did Anam do? I’ve never seen such a technique before.”

    Rhys looked back to see Nevren picking up his spoons.

    “We’ve seen it before,” the Alakazam said. “I don’t know what it is, but he’d used it in Hot Spot Dungeon when under extreme stress, too. It was filled with more Dragon energy than I’d ever seen… It certainly wasn’t a normal technique.”

    “But whatever it is,” Rhys said, “it subdued Dark Matter, as he calls himself. Yet…”

    They all stared at the now dormant void, neither shrinking nor expanding. Then, they turned their attention to the east.

    “Arceus has descended,” Nevren remarked. “That means Star is…”

    “Gone.” Rhys looked at the cave entrance, so small from how far away they’d been flung. A black fog seeped outside…

    “I believe Dark Matter has been rendered dormant, but we can’t do anything here,” Nevren said.

    “But the others—”

    “Are gone. We need to salvage what we have left and refocus.” Nevren stood up, spoons in one hand. “We have no choice. We’re useless here.”

    “Useless…” Rhys tried to channel some of his aura power, but nothing but a small spark came. He tried harder, but Step cut off his concentration with an angry slam of her tail.

    “Where can we go?”

    “I’m going to return to Quartz HQ and round up what we can,” Nevren said. “There may be some help from them. You should go to Kilo Village and ensure that society isn’t in chaos.” He made a reflexive draw for his Badge, but then realized how useless a gesture that now was. “…Hm. This could be a problem.” He turned to face Kilo Mountain. “That’s at least a day’s travel.” He then faced the southeast. “…Quartz HQ, even longer…”

    “Waypoints are gone. Can’t we fly there?” Rhys looked back.

    “Well, I certainly can’t fly. Rhys, you can only fly with your aura power, and you lack it.”

    “What good would the town be for us? If there’s power in your lab, we should focus on there only.” Step crossed her arms. “The mortals are useless here.”

    “I beg to differ. Even if we are strong, Jerry has demonstrated that even mortals can match Mystics under the right circumstances.”

    “Against a naïve Charizard,” Step corrected.

    “And he is not even of the Thousand Hearts. Some of you should go there.”

    “And we are listening to you, why?” Step pressed. “You are the cause of this.”

    “Irrelevant. We are on the same side, regardless of the cause of the problem. Or do you believe I also want the world to plunge into darkness?”

    “I have no ties to Kilo Village, and I trust you with nothing.” Step walked toward Nevren. “Therefore, I am coming with you to Quartz. If you cannot fly, I will take you there.”

    “Then I will be going to Kilo Village,” Rhys said, grunting. “On foot until my energy—”

    “I can help!” Willow said.

    “What do you—”

    A pink mist suddenly overtook Rhys, Elder, and ADAM. Before any had a chance to react, a yellow fuzziness followed, and then intense gravity.

    Rhys grunted loudly, trying to stand, but the downward force was too strong.

    “Calm down!” Willow said. “I’m gonna fly us there! If you’re too weak, then I’m all that’s left!”

    Rhys rolled over and buried himself in Willow’s fuzz. Next to him, ADAM spasmed and muttered various diagnostics.

    “Willow! Warn us next time!” the tiny Lucario tried to stand, but one of Willow’s fairy wingbeats toppled him over. “I… urgh…”

    “Oho… well, this is very convenient, isn’t it, Rhys?” The hard shell of Elder bumped against Rhys’ side. “There isn’t much else we can do. Why don’t we rest?”

    “Rest…” Rhys sighed tiredly, looking away. “But the void, it’s…”

    Elder looked past the forest of fuzz. “I see stars. That’s good enough, isn’t it?”

    Rhys glanced to his side, where pink wings the size of Emily beat up and down. “Shrinking down and resting on a Joltik’s back,” Rhys mumbled. “Not how I intended to end the night.”

    With one final sigh, he stared at the starry sky. “Arceus returned, and with it his Judgement to stop the void from expanding. And then that energy Anam gave off…” Rhys closed his eyes. “So familiar, but… why can’t…” The thought escaped him, drowned out by fatigue as the weight of the battle completely crashed on him. “Pink energy…” The sight of that beam tearing through the sky entered his mind again.

    “That was Fairy energy,” Willow said. “But I’m the Fairy Guardian! No fair! Why can’t I use that technique? I’ve never seen anything like it!”

    “It’s not a normal attack,” Rhys said slowly, drifting in and out of consciousness. “Light… of Ruin…”

    If Willow had said anything after, Rhys didn’t hear it. The Lucario faded into his dreams.

    <><><> ​

    All of Owen’s senses gave way to nothing but an intense, unbearable, throbbing pain. The metallic taste in his mouth wouldn’t go away no matter how much he tried to spit it out—and that, in itself, sent needles through his throat. He tried to groan, but nothing came out. Only one eye could open, and with it, all Owen saw was a blurry, purple landscape and tall, dark structures. The air smelled of dusty stagnation and blood.

    It was dark. Owen’s tail felt cold. His wings, when he tried to move them, gave the sharpest pain of all—that was, until he tried to move his legs, and then his arms. Was everything broken?

    By some miracle, he realized that his left arm was still functional. With a grunt, he moved it over his throbbing head, feeling something… sticky. His head didn’t feel as solid as it should have been. And where were his horns? He felt the cavity that they should have gone in, but…

    It was getting darker. Why couldn’t he see anything? Something primal stirred in Owen’s chest—a tightening, gripping fear. Charizard weren’t supposed to see darkness. They were never in darkness. To be in the dark meant death. Where was his flame? Where was his flame?

    Owen twitched his tail, but a sting of agony shot through him when he tried. Part of it was bent at an odd angle. Like everything else on him, apparently. He opened his mouth to let out a cry for help, but a wad of blood escaped his throat instead.

    His head hit the ground hard, breathing through his nose.

    This felt too familiar. Lying on the ground in debilitating pain, unable to move, unable to breathe, with his vision rapidly fading. What was he supposed to do? Who usually helped him?

    He felt a phantom of something holding his back. It felt like Amia. Mom… help…

    But nobody was there. No Heal Pulse came. His wings twitched one last time. Finally, Owen closed his eyes—seeing no difference when he did—and tried to focus. It was all that he could do, and soon, even that became too difficult. His mind swam in a blurry soup of thoughts, images passing through his mind’s eye. Zena fighting off the wraiths, only to be overwhelmed by them. Amia disappearing in a flurry of embers from a Legend’s onslaught. A Charizard, several times his size, smiling down at him…

    Mom…

    <><><> ​

    A chilly breeze threatened to snuff out his flame. Charmander shivered and curled up tighter, grasping at his flame to hide it under his chin. It wasn’t as if it was truly in danger of going out… but it felt that way. He remembered how important that flame had felt to him. He wanted to protect it more than anything in the world.

    Hot breath washed over his back. Charmander reflexively uncurled, letting out a long, drawn-out chirp. He looked up into the sharp, blue eyes of Charizard. He could only see her nostrils and her eyes. She leaned forward and nuzzled him, knocking him onto his back. He chirped again, kicking the air. Charizard pressed a paw on his chest; Charmander chirped and kicked harder, giggling. He lunged his head forward and snapped at her claws, leaving no mark when he latched on.

    Charizard blew a puff of embers in his face; Charmander yipped and let go, falling onto Charizard’s tail tip. The warmth covered him like a blanket. He rolled and curled around it, breathing in the flames the way grass would take in the sun. That’s what she taught him. That Grass ate the sun, and he ate the flames.

    Another flick and the tail pushed Charmander under Charizard’s wings. There, two other Charmander and one Charmeleon lay nestled in a warm cluster, the heat making everyone look blurry. It welcomed him.

    Charizard nuzzled his back again, finally pushing him inside. Reluctant, still full of energy, Charmander settled under her wings, pressed against Charmeleon’s shoulder, and then nestled between two of his younger siblings.

    Dark tendrils suddenly started to fill his vision from the sides. Charmander whined, curling up a bit tighter, but the heat made him want to fall asleep. The darkness covered half of his vision, but then he spared a glance to his mother’s tail. The light overwhelmed him as well las the dark tendrils. They all disappeared.

    All he saw was the flame and its comforting warmth.

    “Good night, little ember.”

    <><><> ​

    Owen awoke to the painful sting of water all around him. He thought to gasp, but a primal thought told him not to breathe. Not while he was underwater.

    With every ounce of strength he had left, he kicked his legs and wiggled his tail, clawing his way to the surface. His vision was red, and the sky beyond the water looked purple and murky. Freezing liquid rushed past his face; his tail bubbled in it, puffing clouds of steam that rose faster than he did.

    It was getting dark again. Even more frantic, Owen saw the rippling surface get closer. Closer, closer. Just a little closer, a little more! He tried to motivate himself, but his lungs felt like they were about to collapse. It was at his throat. The water crept into his snout when he had nearly let in a half-breath. It tasted foul.

    Sound returned to him next, as did that first, sweet, painful breath of air into his burning lungs. He gasped loudly, sputtering and flailing for the water’s edge, which was miraculously nearby. Keeping his tail above the water, he paddled toward the edge and rested only when he was finally on dry land.

    The loose dirt stuck to his body in a thick layer, coloring his body like a bruise, but he didn’t care. He didn’t even want to move for a while, not after that.

    His chest rose and fell quickly, but it slowed down when the sense of danger finally passed. The dirt caked on his body, which didn’t help at all—the dirt was just as bad as the water, and dealing with both was anything but pleasant—but with some tired wipes on his scales, he got at least some of it off.

    A few embers escaped his mouth, like he was testing to make sure he still could produce them. They didn’t feel like they were enough for a proper technique, but at least he had his flame again. He still felt blind, but at least he could see with his eyes.

    Reluctantly, he rolled onto his chest and pushed himself into a sitting position. He thought he could see, but it was all so blurry. The water shock must still be affecting him. It had been a while since he’d felt true water shock—when was the last time? Oh, when I drowned in…

    It hit him all at once. “Zena!” he cried, springing to his feet too quickly. The wave of dizziness that followed made him fall forward, caught only by his arms and a bit of quick thinking. “Ugh—” He may have been dizzy, but he still had to find her. “Zena! Anyone?!” He could only see a red lake behind him—at least, he thought it was a lake, since it was still too blurry. And tall, imposing figures far ahead, like black tree trunks. Crimson skies, violet dirt. Where was he? Was this Ghrelle’s place, the poison swamp? Even there, the sky wasn’t red. Maybe it was some kind of freak storm, or…

    That darkness. Did the darkness cause this?

    He didn’t want to spend more time thinking about it. He’d wait for his vision to come to him normally. It already felt a bit like it was coming back to him.

    That was a good enough excuse to start flying. It didn’t feel like there were any obstacles in the way; the only thing obstructing his flight would be those tall, black things, which were starting to look a bit like plateaus.

    Feeling lighter on his feet than usual, Owen gave himself a wobbly, running start. Blood rushed to his legs. His tail—he felt the flame blaze, filling him with vigor. Yes! He could fly with this kind of energy. All he needed was a bit of pep.

    He had enough speed. With a crouch, Owen hopped into the air, leaned forward, and planted his face firmly in the dirt.

    His back flew ahead of the rest of him until his tail touched his snout. Then, when his inertia finally gave out, his belly hit the ground with a rough thud. Owen groaned and rubbed his bleeding nose, only realizing then how odd that felt. His snout was… short. And his fingers felt delicate.

    “Wait… wait, what—”

    His vision was clear enough to see the details of his orange scales. He looked down; cream scales. That was normal. He looked at his tail, the same fire as always. But he felt thinner. Of course, he was always thin for a Charizard, perhaps part of those mutant genes, and his horns were—

    Owen frantically grabbed at his horns, but all he felt were smooth scales. A loud whimper escaped him. He didn’t want to test it, but he had to: he flexed his wings.

    He had no wings.

    “No…”

    Owen spun around, staring at his feet, at his tail, feeling physically for his wings as well as he could. He couldn’t believe himself when he ran straight for the water to see his reflection, and that confirmed it.

    The Charmander’s shriek carried on into the plateaus.

    End of Act II
     
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  11. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Act III – A Faded Voice

    A red sphere shielded itself inside a hollow shell. While it could not curl, it was the closest equivalent to hiding away from the world: within its void, within its own small reality. All around it, above and below and behind and in front, were little pinpricks of light. False stars like the night sky of the living world.

    Little droplets of slime punctuated the otherwise complete silence. It was annoying. He didn’t have to be here. He could have wandered off to do whatever he wanted while he took care of annihilating the world. Was moping around really necessary? Dark Matter rumbled irritably, turning his attention toward the Goodra that refused to leave.

    “Why are you still here?”

    “Please stop this.”

    The words felt like little daggers against his core. He contracted his shell like a child hiding deeper under the covers. What was he doing, hiding away from the Goodra? He had the upper hand! Judgement, Devastating Drake, Light of Ruin—all three attacks only paused his advance. The real stopping point was this pestering Goodra. With him around, he…

    “I changed my mind. You… you tricked me. That wasn’t fair.”

    “I only made you realize the truth. Because you denied it all, too. For so long, you tried to convince yourself that the world—”

    “It’s not ruined! It’s not rotten!” Anam squeezed his fists together, slamming them against his sides. “The world’s just hard to live in sometimes, and that’s just life!”

    “It is the reality the old gods created.”

    “So?” Anam challenged. “With all the bad stuff, there’s also… also good stuff! And that means—”

    “Fleeting pleasures in a world that was built on survival. By default, life persists only for its own sake, and only by taking away from other living things. That is the rule of nature molded by Mew, based on the laws formed by Arceus.”

    “And what about Necrozma?” Anam said. “He’s in here. How come you never talk about him?”

    This child was actually growing a spine. He’d never seen Anam talk back to him like this before, in all those centuries. Always kind, always delicate, and now he was yelling… But the way his lips quivered, his tail flicked here and there… He felt his fear, his sadness. He was only lashing out because of how all other mortals lashed out. Kilo’s new god was cornered, and now he only knew but to struggle aimlessly.

    Pitiful.

    “Don’t just stare at me like th-that,” Anam said, his voice hitching at the end. “Necrozma’s why I made the world better in the first place. What did he do wrong, huh?”

    Another long silence followed, the fake stars in the fake sky rotating around them. A few more globs of purple slime fell onto the flat and featureless void, the imaginary floor formed by Anam’s own desires. It was a wonder how long the floor would exist before he fell into despair like everyone else.

    Stubborn.

    “His mistake is the same one you made,” Dark Matter replied. “He trusted mortals.”

    Another quiet rumble shook the void, and Anam finally looked down, flicking his antennae. He sat with a childish plop and looked up at Dark Matter.

    “So you refuse to leave?”

    “You can’t do anything while I’m here.”

    Dark Matter growled at that, looking down. Even now, he was tied to him, stuck in a perpetual deadlock so long as Anam continued to have hope. How irritating. Anam had lost hope so completely for that one instant, and he’d already recovered? What fueled him?! Why?!

    Dark Matter slowly formed a black cloud from deep within his core, aimed at Anam. His bright, green eyes stared back, filled with defiant sadness. The darkness crackled more, concentrating into a fine point. It stayed there, ready to fire at any point.

    Anam stared.

    The beam smashed into Anam’s body and bent around, spraying flecks of slime behind him, yet the main part of his body, his core, amorphous as it was, still remained completely unharmed.

    Dark Matter rumbled and compressed his sphere again. “Pest.”

    Anam’s horns crossed in front of his chest, his eyes now transitioning to one that was more like a disappointed father’s. “You said you wanted to be happy.”

    That one hurt. Dark Matter lacked a head, yet it still somehow felt like a headache. It cracked through his shell and into his core, and then somehow into the core of his core. That wasn’t fair. Someone like Anam wasn’t allowed to say something like that.

    “What happened?”

    Stop, stop. Anam wasn’t like this. He wasn’t angry. Anam didn’t get angry. Why was he looking at him like that? Dark Matter shrank away. It wasn’t fair. Anam was supposed to agree. He was supposed to give up and agree. This was the right thing to do, after all.

    “It’s all fleeting. Even if I did become happy, it would go away. I… don’t want it anymore.”

    “You’re… denying it.” Anam gulped, looking away. “You lost hope.”

    “I can’t hope.”

    “You can!” Anam shouted, squeezing his fists again. “Y-you can! When you reached out to me, when you agreed to help me… th-that was hope! That had to be—”

    “I just wanted you to shut up. It was desire and hunger… Not hope.”

    “That’s not true.” Anam’s eyes turned fierce, like his mother’s. “Y-you… you hoped, because you wanted to be happy. And you thought I could do it. That was hope! And… and you still care enough about the world… don’t you? That you helped me for so long, telling me about everyone’s darkness so I could make it less, and less. That’s true, isn’t it? You feel less darkness than before. I-it’s not… it’s not all for nothing.”

    “Nevren would have ruined it all.”

    “No, he… he just wanted to save the world. He told me so.”

    “From gods who also wanted to save the world?”

    “Y-yeah, but—Nev-Nev…”

    “Is just another fool who thinks the world can be saved.”

    The pain wasn’t going away. Dark Matter had hoped it would—no. No, he couldn’t hope. That wasn’t part of him.

    Anam let out another laugh, snapping Dark Matter out of the silence that he hadn’t even noticed. “What?”

    “E-every time I think I understand you, I learn a little more, Mister Matter.”

    He hated when Anam laughed. Why couldn’t he laugh?

    “What do you mean?”

    “You spent so many centuries trying to make the world better with me, but one little thing makes you give up on it all… i-it’s sad. Maybe I lost a little hope, but it’s never too late. You can turn this back… can’t you?”

    No, no, stop talking. He didn’t need to hear this nonsense. The world was hopeless. Hopeless! There were no clean souls. Even Anam was tarnished and imperfect; he just denied the negativity and shouldered it all for himself, as if a single person could handle all the flaws of the world. Clearly, he couldn’t. He was a fool to even try.

    “Please, Mister Matter. Turn it back. We can try again. I’ll tell everyone what happened. I’ll tell them what you are, and I’ll explain everything. They’ll pool all of their power together for you, and they’ll make you happy. I just n-need you to listen.”

    Dark Matter couldn’t press his shell tighter. Any more and it would crack. “No.”

    Another silence followed with Dark Matter refusing to look at him. Pest, pest, pest. Leave. Go away. He didn’t need Anam anymore.

    “How come?”

    His voice was so soft. Why did it hurt more than when he was shouting? “They won’t help me. It’s as I said. They’ll kill me. They already tried. There’s no going back now, Anam. It’s… too late for me. I can’t go back.”

    “Y-you’re wrong. I’ll protect you. I will!”

    And then, Dark Matter laughed. It was foreign to him—the laughter was one of disgust. That was why, he was sure of it. Because of course Anam would try to shoulder even his burdens.

    He hated him.

    He always hated him.

    “Then you’ll die, too.”

    The Goodra’s eyes didn’t waver. Dark Matter turned his attention to Anam again, but it wasn’t enough. He focused his attention away, snarling out another rumble.

    Finally, Anam closed his eyes, and the tightening feeling Dark Matter felt around his core faded away. The Goodra brought his hands together, and then his horns back. He breathed steadily.

    “What are you doing?” He recognized that posture.

    “Praying.”

    Dark Matter wished he could scoff. “To Star? To Barky? To Necrozma? None of them can hear you here. Your voice is silent.”

    “That doesn’t matter.”

    “Then you’re throwing it to the wind, hoping the nothing will pick it up? You’re a fool.”

    “You’re here.”

    “I’ll ignore them all.”

    “That’s okay.”

    Then it was to stop him. Holding onto blind hope was all Anam had left. In fact, Dark Matter knew it was just more denial; he could feel it radiating off of the Goodra. The hopelessness, the fear, the regrets, all of it swimming around in his pathetic form like the ink-black corruption that infested his body. Dark Matter knew that the face Anam gave him now, so tranquil and confident, was nothing but a thick mask. He saw through it.

    Yet despite all of Anam’s doubt, and all of his fatigue, Dark Matter couldn’t feel defeat from him. And that was the one thing he needed—for Anam to submit again, this time for good. He just clung to this “hope” he claimed to have because that was all he had. But for what purpose? Why? Why? WHY?

    “They’ll help you. All my friends will know to help you.”

    “Half of them have already fallen into my realm. It won’t be long before Kilo collapses. And as despair spreads… so will I. You won’t be able to stop me once you’re convinced of that.”

    “Prove me wrong.”

    Anam didn’t open his eyes at all. The Goodra kept breathing. Dark Matter couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t understand him. He never did. He pretended to.

    Anam was riddled with every negative thought that he should have had. And despite this perfect formula, every single fact lined up in front of him to show how he was wrong… He refused it anyway. Was there even a point to understanding how such a warped mind could function?

    That was it—he never desired to understand Anam. Yes! Of course. He was just playing along. And now that Anam was wrong—then he was right. He was right. This was what he had to do.

    “You’re their god, now, and all the other gods are useless or dead. Who could you possibly be praying to?”

    A small smile tugged at Anam’s lips. “I don’t know why you keep calling me their god,” he said. “But I think I know who gods pray to.”

    “Nobody. Prayer from a god is pointless. You’re speaking nonsense.”

    “I think gods pray to mortals.”

    The Goodra was delirious. “Really. You think Star, Arceus, you think they pray to their creations?”

    “Mhm. Maybe they don’t know it, but I think they do.” Anam opened one eye, peeking at Dark Matter. “They just want friends in their own way. And I bet Necrozma was like that, too, huh?”

    “I wouldn’t know. Everything you just said made no sense.”

    Anam closed his eyes again and returned to a neutral pose.

    “Then you’re praying to nobody. Nobody can hear you. It’s pointless.”

    Anam’s smile returned, tranquil. Dark Matter sank back into the void and seethed silently, getting at eye-level.

    The irritating Goodra didn’t change his expression, even after Dark Matter threatened to shoot him again. He formed another shadowy beam, making sure it crackled loudly so Anam would hear, but he didn’t react. It wasn’t like it would actually go through to him—the same way Anam could strike him in return. And those negative emotions were subsiding, despite all his efforts. Envy toyed with Dark Matter next.

    “Then this is your new normal. Praying to the void.”

    “I’ll call out to anybody who will listen,” Anam said.

    “Nobody. Nobody can hear you.”

    “You’re still here.”

    More silence followed. Eventually, Dark Matter stopped his futile charge, staring Anam down. He just had to bide his time until he finally lost hope… Or maybe he could do something a bit more active.

    “No.”

    “What?”

    “I won’t let you stop me this time. If you can stop me…” Dark Matter rumbled deeply. “Then I just have to gain more power.”

    “But you said you were afraid they’d—”

    “I don’t care,” Dark Matter hissed. “I refuse to wait while the world suffers. While you try to perpetuate it. It’s over. You lost. You’ve gone back on your word. So—I’m taking this into my own hands.”

    Anam stood up. “Think about this, Mister Matter. You—”

    “Star is here,” Dark Matter said, his core crackling with anxious anticipation. “How long until she loses herself?”

    Anam’s eyes darkened, lips quivering. “She wouldn’t—”

    “Goodbye, Anam.”

    And with a final crack of lightning—one that Dark Matter knew Anam would try to follow—he disappeared from the void.
     

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