• Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
  • If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 99 – Together Again

Owen didn’t know what to do with himself for a while within Hakk and Xypher’s home. He didn’t even know they’d lived together. So much had happened in the past few minutes that he didn’t know where to begin with processing it, so he instead explored his temporary hideout.

The furniture was similar to what he’d had in his room during evaluations, though a few tools and decorations seemed specialized for Hakk or Xypher specifically. Certainly, the gigantic bowls were meant for Xypher, and there seemed to be an abundance of towels. Somehow, Owen figured he would be a messy eater. There was a sharpening post nearby that was probably for Hakk, and Owen wondered if he could use his claws on those if he asked…

“It was this one.”

Owen blinked, glancing at the entrance. Was that Gahi? He sounded far away.

“Guys?” Owen called, but he didn’t speak up enough. He scampered to the doorway, but he was too short to get to the button to unlock the door. This house was discriminating against his stature!

Even when he jumped as high as he could, he couldn’t quite reach the button.

“Hey! You in there?” Gahi called, and Owen heard knocking… on their neighbor’s door.

“I don’t think he’s in there,” Demitri said.

“Shh,” Mispy said.

“Can’t yeh just look fer his aura? C’mon,” Gahi growled.

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“The walls…”

“Insulated,” Demitri finished.

Owen slammed his fist against the door. “Guys! Wrong house!”

“Eh?”

“Idiot,” Mispy grumbled.

“Oops… wrong house.” Demitri’s voice got louder.

“Oi, Owen!” Gahi knocked what might have been his fist, or his head, or maybe his tail, against the door. “Open up!”

“I can’t.”

“What? Are they keepin’ you imprisoned in there?!”

“No! I, uh, I just… can’t reach the button to open it.”

Silence.

“Okay, well…” Gahi stumbled over his words, “Demitri, how about you force it open?”

“I—I’m not gonna do that!”

“Well how else’re we gonna get in?”

“…Wait for Hakk,” Mispy deadpanned.

“That’s the smart answer,” Gahi growled. “I ain’t gonna wait that long.”

“But shouldn’t we do the smart answer?” Demitri asked. “The door might be expensive to make, and, um…”

“Maybe there’s a window we can get in through…”

“Too big,” Mispy said. “And you have to break in.”

“Well, mister muscle here ain’t gonna do it!”

“Sorry…”

Owen was, at this point, repeatedly bumping his forehead against the door.

“Alright, I got an idea,” Gahi said. “Hang on, Owen!”

“What? Gahi, if you’re going to break anything, don’t. Hakk and Xypher are just normal Pokémon here!” He frantically scanned the room for something to reach the button with. “Some of this stuff looks really expensive!”

“Aaah, I ain’t gonna do nothin’ bad!”

This did not bode well.

“There! See? Easy.”

“Gah!” Owen spun around; Gahi was inside the building without ceremony. “What! How did—”

“Teleported hard. Worked before.” Gahi explained, stepping to the door to press the button. Owen had a strong suspicion that Gahi made a fifty-fifty shot at which one was the one to open it, and guessed correctly.

“I thought these buildings had a bunch of insulation to prevent that kind of thing,” Owen said.

“Like I said”—Gahi flicked his tail, pleased that the door opened—“worked before. Guess I’m special.”

“Might be the Psychic Orb that makes you stronger than the insulation,” Owen concluded.

“Feh, ruin my fun.” Gahi paced around the room, familiarizing himself with the new environment.

“Don’t—don’t open anything randomly,” Owen hastily advised. “No touching. We’re guests here, okay?”

“Fine, fine.”

“What are you guys doing here, anyway?” Owen asked when Demitri, last to enter, closed the door with another button push. “I’m trying to hide from someone that Alexander sent here, so I don’t think showing up to the building I’m in is a good idea.”

“Well, maybe.” Gahi looked off. “But we wanted ter see yeh anyway. Moral support.”

“Gahi didn’t trust Marshadow,” Mispy translated.

“We followed from away,” Demitri added. “And it was a calculated risk Mispy made as leader while you’re away. If Marshadow sold you out, we’d be here to give you a chance to escape.”

“Well, that’s…” Owen tried to find an objection he hadn’t already raised. Eventually, he smiled and sighed. “Well, that’s good. I guess I was getting bored anyway.”

The other three smiled back, and Owen tried to keep up his grin, but it faltered a little. And his flame was dim, too, once again giving himself away.

Silent expressions said it all, little flashes of concern in their eyes. Then Owen looked away, urging them not to worry. Yet they continued to stare.

“And,” Demitri broke that tense silence, “it’s been a while since we got to just hang around as Team Alloy, y’know?”

“Yeah…” Owen looked down.

The silence returned and he felt their eyes on him.

Gahi, perhaps not knowing what to say, went back to wandering around the house, entering and exiting rooms several times to keep moving.

“Tell us what’s bothering you,” Mispy commanded, her voice soft as ever, but the words instilled an authority that Owen thought he was supposed to have as the technical Alloy leader.

“You don’t mince your words, do you?” Owen mumbled, scaling one of the oversized beanbag seats.

“Pretty hard to when she’s only got a few ter say,” Gahi commented, and then ducked, narrowly dodging a vine jabbing the air where his head had been.

Owen stifled a laugh and curled up on a cushion, fixing his eyes between the three. Mispy was right; she didn’t need to read auras to tell. His flame probably gave it away well enough. All this time, with Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all part of this fight, this whole Guardian business, the Mystics, and then the Voidlands, and now his recent memories…

“Are you overwhelmed by all this?” Demitri asked softly. “I can’t blame you. If I even had a fraction of all this circling directly around me, I dunno what I’d do. I might just… not do anything.”

The Haxorus settled down next to Owen’s cushion and delicately curled his tail away from it so he didn’t accidentally cut the stuffing out. Mispy slid next to him and rested her head on Owen’s other side, looking at his tail. Owen quickly pulled it toward his chest in an effort to hide it.

Demitri had it wrong. If anything, he was getting used to how much this whole crisis was apparently trying to use him as a key to it all. Between Star, Eon, and now Marshadow, he knew he was being used for everyone’s personal gain one way or another. That was fine. He was used to it. And he knew that it gave him power; he could choose who he wanted to help.

Gone were the days that he’d let others push him around—and, in a way, he appreciated Marshadow being so open. So far, he had no reason to doubt that Marshadow was doing things to help Owen, too, rather than just himself. Perhaps it was for the greater good of the world? To get out of the Voidlands?

No, there was something else bothering him, and they weren’t going to leave him alone unless he spoke up about it. Maybe telling them directly would help, too.

“It’s not that,” Owen said, and by now even Gahi had settled down next to him. While Demitri was on Owen’s left, and Mispy was curled around the back and his right, Gahi sat near the front and left of him, with Owen near the center.

“Yeah, y’know,” Gahi said, “you’ve been acting real different lately. Not as… y’know, cheery. Your eyes ain’t as bright.”

Owen looked at Gahi incredulously. “Not as bright?”

“Yeah. Like, I dunno. You look confused, er somethin’.”

“Confused…” His gaze trailed to the cushion.

“I noticed it a little, too,” Demitri admitted. “Just, emotionally, you… I—I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t try to dissect how you’re feeling; that’s… rude of me. Sorry.”

“You’re just worried,” Owen assuaged.

Mispy tilted her head, looking Owen over. She said nothing but her eyes asked him to go on.

“…I don’t know if I know you anymore.” Owen curled up a little tighter. He couldn’t look at them directly.

“Eh?” Gahi said. “Aw, c’mon, you didn’t lose yer memories again, did yeh?”

“No,” Mispy said for Owen, and her voice had enough understanding that Owen could let her—slowly—do the talking for him. “It’s because… you’re getting them back.”

“Eh?” Gahi said once again, then looked demandingly toward Owen. “What’s that supposed to mean? How can you know us less when you get more memories back?”

Finally, Owen raised his head. “You aren’t in them.”

When nobody said anything, he went on.

“I’m native to Kanto. A world with humans and Pokémon who live side by side. They fight together, in a way. It’s… complicated. And my human partner… was Eon. And… you weren’t there. And I just know, just by the feeling I get when I look at you, think about you, that you won’t show up. You guys… aren’t from Kanto. You weren’t ever my partners there. You’re native to Kilo. I’m…” Owen laughed a little. “I’m not—”

“Stop.” Mispy held a vine to Owen’s shoulder, firmly, practically digging the thorns into his scales. “That’s enough.”

“But I’m not—”

Enough.” Mispy shook him, then pressed him into the cushions.

“Mispy…” Demitri held her side, and finally Owen got a look at her expression.

Her eyes shined, but Owen couldn’t tell what they shined from. They weren’t tears; she wasn’t crying. Maybe she was holding them back? But there was some concern in them, too. And maybe annoyance.

“I think what Mispy’s try’na say,” Gahi went on, “is, why does that matter?”

“What do you mean?” Owen said. “You three were together before meeting me. That’s something that I…” Owen felt it in his core. He knew, when he said it, that this was true, some locked away memory he’d yet to recover. “I know you three used to be some kind of trio before all this mutant business. And I was just… there. I’m not part of your lives. I—”

“Well, that’s a pretty big leap,” Gahi growled, narrowing his eyes. “How did ya get from ‘We were a trio’ to ‘I don’t belong,’ eh?” He leaned forward, prodding Owen in the chest, and Owen tried to push him away with an annoyed grunt. “Teams get new members, y’know. What’s all that Guardian business? We were getting new folks all the time!”

“I…” When outlined like that, Owen wasn’t sure why he thought of it that way.

“This… this is more than just us as a team, isn’t it?” Demitri asked.

“I don’t know.” Owen slumped over, breathing a small ember in nobody’s direction. “I’ve spent so much time with everyone trying to keep us apart. Specifically, me from you three. To the point where you guys completely forgot about me for lifetimes, and I forgot about you guys. So then when we’re finally together, after everything keeps trying to tear us apart… I start finding out that we were never really together to begin with?”

There it was. Owen could tell because suddenly his chest hurt and his eyes were hot.

“What kind of joke is that?” Owen laughed, but he could only imagine the anguished face he was giving them all. “I was fighting so much for something that ended up being nothing. Everything I’ve been fighting for was just—”

A vine smashed Owen across the face. Vines cut his scales and his head started ringing. A thin trickle of blood ran down his cheek, and his tears stung the new wound. He stared, wide-eyed, at Mispy. Gahi didn’t react; if anything, he’d been thinking the same. Demitri, stunned, looked ready to stop Mispy if she did that a second time.

“Feeling better?” Mispy asked, frowning as she inspected the vine that had struck him. Orange scales decorated part of its side.

Owen ran his hand against his cheek, staring at his bloodied hand. Not much of a wound, all things considered. And the sting was a distraction at most.

Owen brought his hand down, staring emptily downward. “A little,” he finally admitted.

“Good.” Mispy huffed, then wrapped another set of vines around Owen to pull him close.

Gahi stared enviously.

“I—I think what Mispy means,” Demitri said, “is, er, that she wanted to snap you out of it. But, um, Mispy, I think Rhys said we aren’t supposed to be violent like that.”

“He’s like us,” Mispy said simply, pulling him closer. The pressure made it hard to breathe and Owen tried to pull away, but a part of him didn’t want to. “Nobody else is here.”

“I—yes, but,” Demitri started, but couldn’t find his conclusion.

He’s like us. It echoed in Owen’s mind. Mispy always knew just what to say.

“Mispy’s right,” Owen said, laughing. “Hitting someone and making them bleed would just make things worse for anyone but us. We’re… violent little monsters, after all. Built to fight. A-and…” He laughed a little more. “It’s funny. I used to be the same way back then, too. Pokémon in Kanto loved to fight. We healed from wounds so easily; we understood each other through fighting. I wonder… why that happens. Why wild Pokémon are like that, yet Pokémon in Kilo aren’t.”

Mispy relaxed her hold. “Analytical,” she remarked.

“Huh?”

Demitri held down a giggle. “She means you’re getting analytical again. It means you’re feeling better.”

Owen stumbled over his words; Gahi laughed, breaking the relative quiet. “Back ter theorizin’ already, huh?”

At this point, Owen was tripping over his words more than Mispy. “Yes, I—I mean, what else would—I know you—that’s—”

The three laughed while Owen tried to find a way to hide behind his hands. Gahi reached over and held Owen from behind.

“Look, I don’t care what yer past was. What matters is now. And now? Yer Team Alloy’s leader. An’ from here on, I’m not gonna let us get separated fer longer than we need to. I’m done with all that.”

“Deal?” Mispy asked, holding a vine forward. “Thousand Hearts?”

“Oh!” Demitri fell in, placing a hand on Mispy’s vine next.

“…What’re you doing?” Gahi asked, but Mispy wrapped another vine around Gahi’s wrist and forced it in. He scowled, but didn’t pull away.

It had only been a few seconds of staring, but he didn’t want that little, simple, silly moment to end. Just the four of them, with nobody to watch their display. It was for the team and no one beyond. For him, to make the trio into a quartet.

The three of them, watching him with eyes pleading, confident, and hopeful, Owen thought for that brief second that it was true. That was all he needed.

The Charmander’s hand was so tiny among their fully evolved forms that he had to really lean forward to get in.

“Alright, team,” Owen said firmly. “I think we should, uh…” No, no, keep up the momentum. “Figure out our next steps.”

“Next steps?” Demitri asked, breaking formation as he crossed his arms. “As in, how to fight Dark Matter?”

“Nah, he means how ter get out,” Gahi said.

“…Fight Aster?” Mispy theorized.

“There’s a lot on our plate,” Owen agreed with all of them. “I think the first thing we need to do is figure out everything we have at our disposal.”

He settled back down. The wind of his original momentum was gone, but now he was carried forward by the need to plan.

They no longer had Rhys to tell them where to go. He didn’t have Amia to guide him forward. They had Marshadow, who was at the whims of a higher authority, and an entire town held hostage. He knew nothing about Aster or Alexander personally, but the way Marshadow behaved, it was clear that his true interest was protecting this town.

So, Marshadow wouldn’t be able to help them escape. As nice as he was, there was a chance that he would cave if, for example, Alexander decided to come to Null Village himself. He did not blame Marshadow for any of this, but on a practical level, they could not trust him.

Owen quietly expressed this to the others, adding, “And even if Marshadow doesn’t turn on us, I don’t want to risk all the villagers here. What if Aster attacks them to smoke me out?”

“Why do they want you, anyway?” Mispy asked.

“No idea—no. I have an idea.” Owen turned to show them his back. “I’m tied to Necrozma. And Necrozma seems to be some huge threat to Dark Matter. I don’t know why Alexander cares, but I bet that has to do with it.”

Mispy blinked, but then wrapped a few vines around Gahi, forcing him to turn his back to the team.

“Hey,” Gahi growled.

Mispy looked at Gahi’s back, just above the base of his wings, and then at Owen’s mark.

“Oh, hey, that’s right…” Owen trailed off. “You have the same birthmark, I think…” He squinted. It was hard to tell, actually.

“Faded,” Mispy confirmed, motioning to Gahi’s. Between the two of them, Owen’s was much more pronounced. Gahi’s, unless they were really looking, could have been mistaken for a trick of the eye.

“…Gahi,” Owen said. “You were the one who used that extremely powerful move that defeated the Dialga-Titan thing, right?”

“Yeah. Eon tried to, too, but he almost passed out.”

“He tried at the same time you did?” Owen asked.

“Yeah, we were right next to each other.”

“Right next to… And how did you feel?”

“Like I was gettin’ stronger. A ton o’ energy was flowin’ into me, felt like.”

The light of realization hit Mispy’s eyes, and Owen nodded toward her. “I think so, Mispy,” Owen said. “I think Gahi drew from Eon’s power, and then channeled it through one of those crystals. They have something to do with Necrozma; maybe he made them? Either way, I think that’s why it resonated so strongly with you. Not sure about why Eon’s power drained into you, though…”

“Well, either way,” Gahi said, “sounds like something ter use against Titans.”

Owen agreed, then looked to Demitri and Mispy. “You two don’t have the mark, do you?”

“We checked,” Demitri said. “We don’t. Just you two, for some reason. Sorry…”

“Don’t be,” Owen said. “You two are still strong fighters. In fact, if I can get to my fully evolved form again, we might be able to fuse together and still draw from your power, too. And until then”—Owen motioned to Gahi—“you can fuse with him and augment his power that way.

“So, that’s our best plan for fighting Titans if we need to. Other Pokémon like Dialga might be in the stronger ones. If we find any, we can take them down and free them. We might even be able to send them back to Null Village to recover while we do the rest of our mission…” Owen furrowed his brow. “Bringing them with us might draw too much attention right now. They’re so big, you know? And if Aster is so strong, he might overpower them. Diagla’s weakened right now.”

“That’s true,” Gahi said, “but at the same time, who else’re we gonna bring? Zena, Trina, Jerry?”

“Jerry? Why him?” Owen asked.

“I dunno. Just listin’ off names we know.”

Owen hummed. “This isn’t like Hot Spot. I don’t know if it’s safer or riskier to gather everyone together. If only there was a way to—Palkia.”

There was a beat of silence, and then Demitri said, “Um, I think you just took… five leaps of logic in your head and didn’t say it out loud.”

“Right, er, sorry. Dialga. We have Dialga. And you guys, you guys somehow found each other, right?”

“Well, yeah, I sorta had this feelin’ where Demitri ‘n Mispy are.”

“I dunno why that happened,” Owen said, “but what if Dialga can get a sense for where Palkia is? He said he had a sense that he tried to escape, too, right? If Dialga came with us, we might find Palkia, and then Palkia—the Spacial Dragon—might be able to warp us around as we need to! We can redevelop Waypoints!”

Demitri brightened. “That means we won’t have to take days to travel around anymore!”

“We should ask,” Mispy said.

“Right.” Owen nodded. “And maybe from there, we can also ask about ways to get out.”

“There’s a way,” Mispy said, earning a quizzical look from Owen.

“Right,” Demitri added. “We didn’t get it at first, but when we first got here, we were in these mountains. But before that, we found this cave, and it took us to… a really high up place, really cold and windy. The wind was making this whistling sound… And it definitely wasn’t the Voidlands. But when we exited the Dungeon, it felt like we were burning up! So, we ran back.”

“Trina had somethin’ similar,” Gahi said. “Except she actually burned, and woke up as a Snivy.”

“Right…” Owen frowned. “Marshadow said that Dungeons were a gateway between the Voidlands and this world, but they were all plugged by Anam, maybe to stop Void Shadows from getting out. But then why would we…”

He shook his head.

“One thing at a time. Let’s talk to Dial—I can’t leave. Um. You guys talk to Dialga, okay? Do you want me to write this down?”

“Please,” Mispy replied.

“What about Jerry and Zena?”

“I don’t know if they should come right now,” Owen said.

Demitri gave him an odd look. “Are you and Zena fighting?”

“…What?”

“Remember last time you said not to bring Zena? She got pretty upset…”

“We’re just friends right now,” Owen said. “Er, uh, ask if she wants to come, then. But tell her the whole plan first; maybe she could help out in town if something happens.”

The door to their house opened just as Owen hopped out of his seat. Hakk stepped in first with several paper bags of groceries piled over him, and with Xypher carrying another bundle under his neck.

“Oh, sure, yeah, break into my place and make yourselves at home,” Hakk growled as he dropped off his bags. “What did you guys break?”

“Nothing! I told them not to touch anything! We were just resting on this bed.”

“Um, sorry if it’s your bed.” Demitri poked his claws together.

“Whatever.” Hakk motioned for Xypher to start putting away all their supplies, then looked back at Owen. “So, what? You guys planning something?”

“Kind of,” Owen said. “If we can get this working, we might have a big boost against Alexander, and—”

“You’re seriously gonna try to take him on? What ever happened with escaping?”

“That, too,” Owen said. “But all of this… has to do with everything else. I don’t think… anything that’s been happening to me or my team has been a coincidence. Someone’s orchestrating it. Maybe Necrozma? He might be trying to guide me into fixing all of this, if I was his disciple.”

“You weren’t his only disciple, you know,” Hakk said. “At least, I don’t think so. Why would he place all his eggs in one Charmander?”

“Don’t… phrase it like that.” Still, Hakk had a point. Others who had the powers of light might also be related, like Anam.

“Either way,” Owen said, “that’s the plan. But right now, our short-term goal is to avoid Aster and find a way to get out, get Palkia, and then set up some connections.”

Hakk seemed mildly interested, but he was more interested in getting his groceries away before they went bad. “Good luck,” he said. “I’m not about to go risking my life for this when I can just live a normal life as a guard here.”

“That’s alright,” Owen said. “Sorry that Marshadow threw me in your place…”

“Whatever, part of the job,” Hakk dismissed. Then, he murmured, “Better get paid for this…”

Owen smiled a little, though Hakk didn’t see it, and gestured for Gahi to leave first. It was time to stagger out their departures and put the plan into motion.

<><><>​

Hakk and Xypher had a guest room. The Sandslash insisted with the politest tone that they go there and only there. And so, after figuring out how to shove Mispy through the corridors, they sat in a room that was large enough for one of them, but a little close-quarters for all three, particularly with Mispy, whose vines, if she wanted to stretch out, took up a large portion of the floor space. Owen navigated around them, occasionally getting a few pricks against his front, until he settled for resting against another one of the beanbags. This one was a bright cyan, and Owen wondered if Hakk had picked it out to match his colors.

There were a few purple ones to match Xypher’s steely feathers, too. The cyan and purple went oddly well together for the internal decorations, though each room tended to only have one color as the dominating one, with the other as bright or dark spots.

Now that Owen had a closer look, the flecks seemed to be roughly the same size as Xypher’s talons and beak…

“This place isn’t so bad,” Demitri said, leaning into Mispy’s side. “I guess eventually one of us will go out next,” he added. “Um, Mispy? You, or me?”

“Mm…” Mispy shrugged. Though, she then glanced at Demitri with concern. “Do you… know the way back?”

“Yeah, I do,” Demitri said. “Memorized the turns.”

“But in reverse.”

Demitri suddenly looked trapped.

Owen giggled. “You know, then again, I don’t think it would be that suspicious if you two went out together. In fact, they might find it more suspicious if you didn’t.”

“That’s also true…” Demitri looked down. “Well, either way, I wanted to relax with you anyway. I don’t want to leave you alone after that talk we just had, y’know?”

“Even Gahi didn’t want to,” Mispy remarked, but something Demitri said seemed to bother her. Her eyes narrowed, and she suddenly looked pensive.

“Groaned the whole way out of the house,” Demitri agreed, not noticing. Then, after some reflection, he sighed and said, “I’m glad he found us so quickly, though. And he managed to keep his Psychic power, too.”

“You guys found that cave outside,” Owen said. “But that place was really rocky and barren, right? How did you survive out there?”

Owen regretted asking; they had seemed peaceful before, but then both their expressions had darkened.

“Never mind,” Owen said. “Sorry, forget I asked. It must’ve been tough out there…”

Mispy curled her vines around herself, and Demitri suddenly seemed uncomfortable leaning against them. “It’s okay,” Mispy said. “It’s… behind us.”

“It really was hard,” Demitri said, taking a deep breath. “But Mispy’s right. It’s behind us. We… You used to go to therapy right? M-maybe we can ask about it or something.” He laughed, waving it off, but Owen wondered if that was a truthful plea.

“For my fighting instinct, mostly,” Owen said. “I’ve got vague memories about my parents trying that for a while, but then it sorta faded out. But maybe it’ll help?” Now Owen’s curiosity was eating at him, but after how uncomfortable they got, he held it back.

He didn’t have to ask, anyway. “There wasn’t any food. That was the worst part. We had each other for company, and we had a goal of going forward, but the only thing we could eat were Void Shadows. And half the time, they disappeared after we attacked them.”

“Oh… That explains why you were so…” No, he wasn’t. He was weakened, but he didn’t look like he’d wasted away.

“Yeah, we… had to find other ways to survive,” Demitri said.

Mispy continued to curl her vines away from Demitri, instead opting to nuzzle him. “It’s okay,” she said gently. She seemed less bothered by it all, which surprised Owen. He always imagined that Mispy would be the one to be the most horrified by a food shortage. In fact, she’d wasted away a lot more than Demitri had.

Now that he thought about it, Mispy seemed to be short by almost half her usual vines, even after the time spent in Null Village. But if all they encountered were a few weak Void Shadows, where did—

Oh. Oh.

Owen failed to hide his realization; Demitri and Mispy both couldn’t look at Owen, let alone each other. Mispy looked like she didn’t know whether to distance herself from Demitri, or go closer. So instead, she was paralyzed, neither close nor far.

Demitri looked sick. His fingers trembled. And the room fell into a cold silence.

“…You guys really were strong together,” Owen finally said. “You did everything you could, and you’re back here now. It’s alright.”

“I know,” Mispy said, but Owen knew she hadn’t. Her eyes seemed a little brighter.

“But was it?” Demitri asked. “I… what if it wasn’t enough, you know? What if—”

“I don’t think either of you would have forgiven yourselves if you let the other die,” Owen said.

“Well, of course—”

“But,” Owen said firmly, “I bet if you were the one who died, you would have forgiven the other, too.”

“I…”

“Yeah…”

Owen hopped off of the beanbag and made sure he was getting both their gazes. “And we’re all together now, right? If there’s anybody who should be worrying about the past, it’s me, not you guys.”

At this, Mispy let out a weak laugh, and Demitri winced. “Wow,” he mumbled. “When you put it like that, we seem really petty, don’t we?”

“Er, no,” Owen said. “I think what you went through is anything but petty, just—you know, I get it, thinking about the past trials and stuff. But… you guys got through it, and you’re stronger for it. Um, mentally. You guys should still take it easy for a while physically.”

“Right.” Mispy deflated a little, looking suddenly tired.

That reminded Owen of something from earlier. “By the way, Mispy, a little while ago it looked like you were thinking about something. Anything on your mind?”

The Meganium blinked at that, the little antennae on her head twitching. Then she furrowed her scaly brow, curled her tendrils again, and then the light of recognition flashed in her eyes. “Alone,” she reminded them.

“Huh?”

“Should we really… leave you alone?” Mispy glanced behind her, curling her tendrils inward in thought, like she wanted to look smaller and stealthier. Impossible task.

“What do you mean?” Owen asked, lowering his voice in case someone might hear.

“Oh, right.” Demitri interweaved his claws. “The second reason Mispy wanted us to come here with Gahi and all that—it wasn’t just that we didn’t trust Marshadow, but what if that Aster guy found a way here? He could force the information out of Marshadow. Mispy had a feeling. And Aster could read minds, too.”

“A feeling,” Mispy explained. “Just… a feeling.”

Owen had a feeling Mispy was right.

“We can’t leave you alone with two normal Pokémon,” Demitri concluded. “But maybe we can figure out what to do next later.”

“I guess you made Gahi go out before he remembered,” Owen remarked. “He would’ve wanted to pull me out immediately with you guys. That’d make Hakk and Xypher pull up a stink and probably tell Marshadow right away.”

Demitri nodded. “I think when we have a good opportunity, we’ll try to sneak you out in Mispy’s vines.”

“And then what?” Owen asked.

“We’ll use it as a test,” Demitri said. “If Aster found his way to Hakk and Xypher’s place, that means it’s not safe to trust Marshadow, even if he might want to help us.”

“And if it’s safe and Hakk and Xypher get really mad?” Owen frowned, arms crossed.

“Well, uh… We apologize really meaningfully,” Demitri said.

Mispy shrugged. “Better them than Aster.”

He couldn’t argue with that. “Let’s wait a little so they don’t get suspicious. I saw Hakk and Xypher getting a little tired, but not completely. If you say you’re spending the night, I bet they won’t complain.”

“Maybe we actually should,” Demitri mumbled. “It’s been way too stressful. I could use a nap.”

“Same,” Mispy and Owen breathed.

Owen continued, “Let’s do that to pass the time, huh? I want to meditate again and find more memories.”

“You can do that?”

“I mean, that’s been the pattern. Sleeping or meditating.” Owen nodded. “Sometimes it’s mundane like trying to sleep out at night when Tim and I were going camping, and other times it was more important stuff… Those ones stick out the most. I was hoping to get more of that.”

“Oh, okay.” Demitri nodded to Mispy, who did the same. “We won’t bug you.”

“I wonder if we…” Mispy searched for the words. “Memories.”

“Hey, yeah,” Demitri said. “We’ll meditate with you!”

Owen giggled. “Sure. Let’s try it together!”

<><><>​

“Okay, Owen! Use Mimic, now!”

It was surreal. It didn’t make sense to him. Yet intuitively, he reached out—he grasped at what felt like little invisible threads, little thicker parts of the air, and pulled it toward him. And suddenly, in place of this empty part of his mind where Mimic had been, it took on the flavor of crackling electricity.

“Now use it!” Tim shouted.

He knew that Ire resisted this kind of strike, but that was the point of practice. Owen shoved his arms forward, and electricity came rushing through his arms, out of his claws, and then through the air. Ire winced at the sudden bolts, but none of the snapping lines lingered.

“Good! Great job, Owen!” Tim said, and the little praise, routine as it was, made his flame grow.

Something caught his eye to the right, but he ignored it. It seemed to be a Jumpluff, perhaps a curious spectator.

“How long until Mimic wears off and he can copy another one?” Tim asked.

“In the heat of battle, it won’t fade,” said Ayame, opposite to Owen. “But if Owen ever takes the time to relax himself, he might let go of Thunderbolt and be able to acquire a new attack.”

“So, nothing practical in the moment,” Tim said, frowning.

“Perhaps not in a formal battle,” Ayame said, “but if we plan to take on the goons that stole your team, the versatility might be useful. Don’t forget that, alright? This goes beyond formal battles, now.”

“Right…” Tim nodded. “Still, it’s not really…”

Whatever trainer theories they were going on about, Owen wasn’t interested. That Jumpluff was still in his peripherals, this time in another part of the surrounding forest. Now that he thought about it, why was that Pokémon here? They weren’t native to Kanto.

…How did he know that?

“Owen?” Tim called. “Let’s get back to training!”

The Charmeleon spun around, and then glanced at the bushes again, but the Jumpluff was gone.

They went back to training for a while longer, and Owen got to experience for the first time what it felt like to expel beams of ice from his maw instead of fire. It was strange. Cold. A little hydrating, actually.


“You were pretty adaptive back then, too, weren’t you?” Jumpluff asked.

Owen whirled around. “What?” he said, but then chirped and tried to blast an Ice Beam on the ground to scare him away.

Jumpluff leapt to the right and gracefully floated down. “Wait, stop!” he pleaded. “Owen!”

“What—how do you know my human name?” Owen said. “Wait… I…”

“Owen, I have no idea what you’re saying,” Jumpluff said. “You’re speaking wild or something.”

Owen blinked several times, then looked back. Ire and Ayame were staring, looking bewildered, and then he looked to Tim, who seemed just as confused.

“Um, what’s going on?” Tim said. “I thought Owen was dreaming. Ah, wait. Now I’m not real.” And then he disappeared.

Ire and Ayame evaporated next. A gust of wind blew away their colorful dust.

Owen rubbed his eyes, dream and reality scattering around in his mind. “Wait… hang on… something…”


“It’s me, Owen. Klent. Remember.”

“Klent… Klent!” Owen gasped, and suddenly it felt like a switch had been flipped in his mind. His mouth formed words differently, or it felt like it was—he couldn’t tell—and then he stared at the Jumpluff before him. “But you’re… wait, am I—I was in the middle of remembering things in my dreams! How are you—are you real?”

“I hope so,” Klent said. “I certainly feel real. Owen, we’ve been watching you for a while. We’ve been trying to reach you for… days! What in the world is going on?!”

“Uh, I don’t know where to begin.” Owen sat down, crossing his legs. “…You don’t need a recap, right?”

“Voidlands, perpetual darkness, Titans?”

“Alright, you’re caught up.”

Klent nodded solemnly. “I’m… sorry about Amia.”

He wished Klent hadn’t mentioned it, but he knew Klent meant well, so he nodded. “There’s still hope,” Owen said. However small it may have been.

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to hear me or any of the others,” he said, “but if you do, we’re here if you need any advice, okay? Try to reach for us now that you know we’re here.”

“You guys are okay, right?” Owen asked.

“Yes. Well, I believe so. It’s… different. We no longer have a Grass Realm. We are merely… there. Within you, we—ah. It’s as if we are seeing through your eyes, if we wish, or we may sink into a slumber. I do not truly know how else to describe it. I much prefer the Grass Realm, in all honesty… Do try to return us, if you find a way.” The way Klent was smiling suggested it wasn’t an urgent request.

“Sure,” Owen replied, mirroring the smile.

Some calm silence passed, and Klent eventually turned around. “Kanto, hm?”

“Yeah. Home world. Still trying to recover the part that brought me to Kilo, but it’s been nice. I hope Kanto is still around…”

“Oh, I’m sure it is,” Klent said, admiring the buildings that Owen had remembered from so long ago. “I doubt a whole world can be destroyed so easily.”

“Don’t jinx it,” Owen said darkly, sighing. “At this point, I’ll believe anything.”

“Well, do be careful.” He jumped, floating down after several seconds as he spoke. “After all, believing everything ended with you being misled.”

“I guess so.” Owen still wasn’t sure if he’d been misled malevolently, though. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed like everyone had a small secret to keep for his sake. Amia kept secrets from him to protect him from Eon and keep him happy. Deca kept his identity a secret so he could just… be with him for a while. Anam kept—

“Why didn’t Anam tell us about Dark Matter?” Owen suddenly mused.

“Hm?”

“It seems like such a big secret… and there’s no way Anam wanted this to happen.”

“Well, retaliation, perhaps,” Klent said. “If Anam told anyone, Dark Matter could have struck at any moment.”

“But then why not do that immediately? He had five hundred years. Anam must have been forced into it… Must have been a Divine Promise. But why would Anam have agreed to one?”

“Well, he is naïve,” Klent pointed out.

“Maybe…” But that was too simple. “We should ask him when we find him. Maybe he’s in here, too. The powers he had… I think Anam is also immune to Voiding, like me. So he must still be around.”

“Another task on the list,” Klent remarked.

Owen sighed. Indeed, another task. But at least now he had a defined list instead of a vague item called ‘survive.’

“Would you like to resume your dreams?” Klent asked.

“I think I get the picture.” Owen stood up. “Next time, I’m going to try to focus on… on something else. I want to see if we ever got Duos and the others back.”

“Why do you ask?”

Owen looked skyward. No matter Kilo or Kanto, the sky always looked the same, yet he knew it was not the same one. “Before I confront Eon about all this, I want to know everything about him that I forgot.”

“I see. Evidence against him.”

“Evidence to understand him,” Owen said simply. “I know Eon is a good person. I’m not… doubting that anymore.”

Klent shifted uncomfortably. “I see.”

“But I also know he’s done awful things. To you, to me, to all of Kilo.”

To this, Klent relaxed.

“I don’t want to return to his cause. I don’t want to call myself a Hunter anymore, either, or ever. I’m doing this so I can see how he got to this point. Then, I can find the path to snap him out of it. Otherwise, if we beat Dark Matter and get out of here, we’re just going to be back where we started—a war between Guardians and Hunters. And then what?”

“I… I think I understand,” Klent said warily. “Snap him out of it… Then you believe that everything Eon has done was out of misguided honor and valor?”

“Maybe,” Owen said. “But what if I ended up being the only Pokémon that stayed with him, and everyone else he loved was taken away forever? It’s no wonder he became so obsessed with me.” Owen puffed a small plume of smoke. “Just because what he did was wrong doesn’t mean I can’t see why he did it.”

Every word Owen said seemed to make Klent even more tense. “Then you’re trying to forgive him. After all he did to you. To me.

This wasn’t a conversation that Owen was expecting to have in the middle of his dreamscape. “It’s not like that,” he said a little too hastily. “I’m not looking to forgive him. I just want to understand so we can put an end to this without having to fight.”

“…Right.” Klent stared, stone-faced. “But don’t forget what he did.”

“I won’t.” And he was annoyed Klent thought he would.

The world dissolved into a haze, and Owen woke up.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 100 – The World’s Eyes

33. Badly injured. Consciousness fading.

89. Three mutants laying waste to Milli Town. Abandoned. Seven casualties. Three saved, four dead.

1. Continue duties as normal. Requesting status report from 44 on northern vortex.

44. Northern vortex is stable. Dark Matter does not appear to be active.

1. Requesting report from 23 on Lugia.

1. Requesting report from 23 on Lugia.

1. 23?

52. 23 is unconscious at sea. Rescue?

1. Let it die. Continue duties as normal.


Hecto sighed and brightened his red eye, returning his attention to the surrounding aura sea. Roughly a tenth of his copies had been killed during the sudden crisis, which was a serious uptick in deaths compared to his usual casualty rate. A decimation. Most of it was due to the mutants, but the few Zygarde assigned to Lugia had all slowly perished. Those memories were not pleasant to recall.

That wasn’t all. Most worrying was how empty the aura sea had become. The passage of spirits from the living world to beyond had been interrupted.

Hecto stood in the now lightless void that was once the glimmering aura sea. All Guardian realms were under attack or disappeared completely, though thankfully those who remained alive were able to fend off the wraiths.

But the likes of Owen, Enet, Gahi, and Eon, whose realms had completely disappeared from the aether, Hecto was less optimistic. He did not know where their spirits went, but it was not across the sea.

Where were they?

Arceus theorized that Dark Matter was taking them, somehow. And if so, to where?

Even more worrisome was that any attempts to locate Step were met with death. He supposed being Ground-Dragon did not help matters, but being in the path of destruction of mutants as the Ice Guardian hunted them down was not easy. Only once did he get injured by Step’s residual attacks, but the mutants, who were openly hostile and berserk, possibly agitated by Step’s own aura, were much more lethal.

More memories he preferred to not recall.

When mutants died, they did not go to the aura sea for long. Their spirits were tied to Quartz and the Reincarnation Machine. Hecto did not remember how such a machine came into Eon’s possession and that irritated him, too, but that was not relevant at the moment. There was something more troublesome.

There had not been a single new incubation since Dark Matter’s attack.

The implications were very inconvenient.

More inconvenient was being unable to reach Step to deliver this news in a timely manner. She was ignoring everyone, and traversing the spirit world was dangerous with wraiths out and about. His individual fragments were not powerful. He was meant to watch the world with his hundred pairs of eyes. But perhaps it would be appropriate to gather himself, should his actual power be needed…

Not yet. He had more use spread thin.

1. Requesting report from 62.

62. Nearing Yotta Outskirts. Parts of the forest are frozen over. It is not due to incoming winter cold.

1. Continue following the path. Use caution. Shout if you must if you get close.

62. There are others. The town is populated.


Hecto paused, one of his fingers twitching in thought. He floated idly in the void for a few seconds, considering his options.

1. Who is near Yotta Outskirts?

97.

52.

3.

1. Converge. Save who you can. Hope Step notices you.


And now, Hecto could only wait. He peered into their fragments to see firsthand what was happening…

<><><>​

Step was missing her left arm and that was more trouble than she’d been hoping for. The clearing, beyond the thinned forest, showed huge fields of some crop, though it was empty, perhaps recently cultivated. Good. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about destroying it all while defending the town.

With her one good arm, she aimed forward and gathered clouds of frost at the center of her palm. The white beam that followed cracked the air and formed ice crystals along its path, splashing into the chest of a crazed Sawsbuck with the lengthy body of a Linoone. It roared and snorted, its maw glowing with the orange energy of a Hyper Beam, but Step blasted directly into its mouth with a second frosty line.

The crystals coated the roof of its mouth and covered the rest of its head instantly, freezing it in place. She didn’t stop; the beam spread, the crystals growing and snapping until its entire body was coated in a gigantic, jagged boulder. Its angry expression was frozen in time.

Step slammed her tail on the ground and pivoted her body, preparing to shatter it like she’d done to so many others.

“Halt!”

That was a new voice, and she’d rarely been spoken to. It was enough to give her pause. To her left was a Zygarde with its leg completely frozen in a patch of icy ground.

“…Please free me and then I would like to talk,” Hecto said. “Leave that mutant frozen. We need to prioritize the others in town.”

Step narrowed her eyes, approaching with heavy steps. “Fine. I shall free you, Zygarde. But you will—”

“And,” Hecto said, “be gentle.”

She growled. “You are asking for a lot.”

<><><>​

Yotta Outskirts was a mixture of hail and flames. The ice pelted the rooftops while the flames crackled outside, sizzling against any chunks of ice that were unlucky enough to land in the inferno. Frantic and disorganized, Yotta Outskirt’s residents scrambled toward Kilo Village where it would be safer, or at least away from town and toward the faraway mountain. The older population was less able, and while several younger Pokémon helped them escape, some were still left behind.

“I can still fight!” shouted an Arbok, hissing at an incoming, berserk Tyranitar with silver scales that jutted out of its body like knives. “You can’t get past me!”

“Father!” Leo shouted.

“I’m on it, I’m on it!” Spice sped forward, but Leo’s fireball was faster. It flew overhead and slammed into Tyranitar’s face. In a rage, it blasted several knife-scales forward, narrowly missing Tari’s abdomen.

He weaved out of the way a split-second after the knife had gone past him, and his bold taunts faltered.

“Get back!” Leo shouted, and Spice pulled on Tari so he’d follow. The old Arbok complied, spitting several more curse-laden taunts toward the burning Tyranitar.

“I think that’s the last one,” Spice panted. “How’s your mom doing?”

Leo looked back. She was clutching at her side, where a nasty gash had cut into her fur, leaving crimson to darken the orange coat. She had trouble standing, but that was nothing abnormal, and her conjuring stick was still firmly in her grasp.

“Which way, Leo?”

“Aries,” Tari growled, and the Arbok snarled at Spice to let him go. “How dare you force us to flee! What about our pride?!”

“Will you be reasonable for this one fight?!” Spice snapped.

The Tyranitar had its bearings again and curled into a tight ball. Its bladed scales stiffened and pointed outward.

Spice knew what that meant.

“Get back!” Spice shouted, taking long strides to get in front of Tari and Aries. Leo was about to step forward next, but then the Tyranitar erupted with blades of steel. The sound was quick and decisive. Dull thuds from them digging into the dirt came first, but then came cracks of metal clashing against stone, destroying the outer layers. Last, but only by instances, were the ethereal clangs of the blades that bounced off of Spice’s black Protect barrier.

All but a few. Spice hadn’t felt it at first until she tried to move again, but a sudden, searing pain in her chest made her buckle to the ground.

“Spice!” Leo cried.

There were three blades jammed into her. They’d slipped through before her Protect. One was in her shoulder, which made moving her right arm too painful. The other two were in her chest, and she wasn’t sure how serious those ones were. She could breathe. That was a start.

Tyranitar crouched down again, more blades rapidly regrowing. Another volley, already? Spice didn’t have the strength to block that one again.

A plume of fire spontaneously enveloped Tyranitar’s head. Spice heard the sound of metal grinding against metal as it clawed at its own face, trying to put out the flames that didn’t go away.

Behind Spice, Leo held his mother’s arm and aimed it forward. Grasped in her paws was her stick, which glowed a bright orange at the tip like a burning coal.

“Am I hitting it, Leo?” Aries asked, her unseeing eyes narrowed.

“Yes,” Leo said. “Keep it up and maybe we can keep it back.”

“Like I’m gonna let my mate fight without me!” Tari declared while an orange glow danced in the back of his throat. Before anybody could object, a stream of flames joined the ball of heat around Tyranitar’s head, and Spice had to duck to make sure she didn’t get a scorched scalp.

“Your parents are strong,” Spice remarked; even she couldn’t stand too close to the heat.

“Just because our bodies are frail doesn’t mean our spirits are,” Aries said, firing a second fireball from her wand when Tari cut his flames. He coughed a few plumes of smoke, licking his lips with a confident smirk.

Tyranitar slammed its face into the ground. The impact left Spice wobbling where she stood, and she’d looked away from Tyranitar for only a second. That one moment was all that she needed to lose track of it. Gone! Where did—

There was a shadow on the ground without a body.

“Up!” Spice shouted.

It had jumped at least twenty feet into the air and had curled up into a ball of spikes. Tiny shadows speckled the ground, each one a knife that rained down onto the whole street like rain. Blades stuck into the rooftops and clanged off of boulders; they dotted the soil like macabre flowers; but, somehow, the ground around Team Alight and Leo’s parents was completely untouched.

A thin, wide barrier above them all turned the sky orange. Flying in from the west was a Smeargle with—was that a Smeargle with wings? Spice squinted, trying to make sure her eyes weren’t seeing the wrong thing, but no, that was definitely a Smeargle with black wings. Though, it looked more like a painting.

That was confirmed when the wings disappeared upon landing. A Sketched Fly. His eyes darted left and right, and he called, “Get this way! We’re going to evacuate while the Elites can step in!”

“Elites? We have them still?” Spice called back, but she wasn’t going to complain. “Angelo, how did you block that?”

“Wide Guard,” he replied breathlessly. “Now please, can we hurry? I—I’m not strong enough to fly people too big, but I can at least get us away where we’ll lose its trail!”

“Well what about our home?” Tari said. “You expect us to abandon our homes just like that?!”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” Angelo replied desperately, but then Tyranitar landed on the ground with a heavy thud, shaking the earth. “No time! We need to run!”

Spice ignored the pain in her chest every time she moved, but it was a struggle. She grunted and was about to pull the spikes out.

“Ah—you’re hurt,” Angelo said. “L-later. We need to—AAH!”

Tyranitar rapidly shook its body, countless steel knives falling away from its once armored frame. Leaner and lighter, it revealed a disturbingly thin frame that only slightly resembled the bulky Tyranitar it used to be.

“Automatize,” Spice hissed. “RUN!”

She didn’t have to shout twice, but the Salazzle herself tripped and landed on some of the extra spikes in her chest, driving them further in. She gasped—but her lungs didn’t cooperate.

Tyranitar was upon her, claws primed. For just a second, Spice saw something black and sinister in the corners of her vision that nobody else seemed to see. Her heart raced but her body felt cold, scales crawling with something horrible. She felt like laughing in the midst of terror.

But then something wrapped in gold knocked Tyranitar away. Red fur and a black, striped tail—Incineroar? The nurse?

Tyranitar, dazed, shook its head, and Phol followed up his Protect bash with an uppercut wreathed in flames. His flaming knuckles knocked Tyranitar in the jaw, smashing a few steel teeth. Phol spun and raised his leg, smashing it into Tyranitar’s side with a thud that shook the knives in Spice’s chest. Tyranitar went flying into one of the empty buildings, which collapsed over it.

Phol plucked Spice off the ground. “Let’s go!” he shouted. “Elites are here to clean up! I’m part of rescue! Angelo! Ready Trick Room!”

“Trick—right! Right! I forgot!”

“You shouldn’t have!”

Mid-stride, Angelo grabbed his tail and sketched another wall of symbols. The ink-black paint twisted and flattened in the air and fell into the ground. Where the drops landed, perfect squares of light appeared.

“What’s taking so long?!” Spice hissed as Tyranitar roared. Rubble from the building that should have buried it went flying in all directions.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! This takes a very long time to manifest!” Angelo drew more symbols in the air, faster than before, though he occasionally cursed with each mistake he made. His hands were shaking uncontrollably.

Phol abruptly stopped and crossed his arms, forming a Protect just in time to block a volley of knives, and then kicked away to keep up with the crowd. Tyranitar chased them on all fours with limbs far longer than they should have been.

“Done!”

Tyranitar was seconds away from them, and suddenly a pulse of deep blue light radiated off of the squares that Angelo had left behind, and continued to radiate the more Angelo wrote.

“Everyone, stop running! Walk! Walk slowly!”

Not like they had a choice. Suddenly, the air around them felt thick, like the more they moved, the more the air pushed back against them. It was like quicksand; breathing itself felt difficult and uncomfortably stuffy. Angelo, more practiced with this technique, took slow, steady breaths and walked in a mock-leisurely pace. His eyes were wide with terror.

Angelo whimpered. “Walk… slowly… away.”

Behind them, Tyranitar roared, but despite the great strain in its muscles, it could not move more than a few inches every second. It wasn’t smart enough, or perhaps it was just too focused on chasing them, to counter the Trick Room’s resistant atmosphere.

“Got any more in that bag of tricks you call a tail?” Spice asked, spitting a glob of blood on the ground. “How many moves do you even know?”

“Um—l-lost count.” Angelo walked ahead of everyone and helped demonstrate to them the proper pace. “An old blessing that runs in the family.” The edge of Trick Room’s radius wasn’t that far away, and Tyranitar was still trapped in place.

A green-black canine stood at the edge of the Trick Room. When they drew closer, he stepped aside and nodded at them.

“The area west of Yotta Outskirts is clear of mutants and other hostiles. Wait there,” the canine reported.

“You’re that… what was your species again?” Phol asked.

“Zygarde.”

Phol hummed in recognition. “Thank you, Zygarde. What will we be waiting for?”

“I ain’t waiting!” Tari shouted, glaring daggers toward Tyranitar. “I’m gonna fight!”

“I shall do the fighting,” Zygarde said. “You will be waiting for a Joltik to fly you back.”

“Oh. That Joltik,” Phol said, growling.

“Joltik?” Aries asked, frowning. She tapped her wand against her chin. “I don’t think she can carry all of us, let alone a Delphox like me…”

“It will make sense later,” Zygarde said with a nod. “Now, excuse me.”

He stepped into the barrier and gently waved a paw forward, like rolling a ball. All around Zygarde, tiny, green arrows emerged from the ground. With another flick, the arrows launched from invisible bows and rained down on Tyranitar, who roared and fought against its invisible binds in vain.

“Go, go, go!” Angelo begged the others. By now, Phol was dragging Tari away, with Leo guiding Aries. Finally, they were able to leave the battlefield behind, but not without seeing the ruin that Yotta Outskirts had been reduced to. Tyranitar had not been the only mutant; a whole slew of them had appeared in a wave of destruction. Where had they come from? As if the world had not already fallen into chaos…

“Angelo,” called Zygarde, which confused Angelo. Had Zygarde not been fighting Tyranitar? But no, there was another one beside him, keeping pace as they walked.

“Yes?” Angelo said, looking back, then back at Zygarde.

“You are an inheritor of Mew’s Blessing, correct?” Zygarde asked.

“Mew’s…” Angelo’s voice dies in his throat. All eyes were on him, most of them puzzled.

“Blessing?” Tari said. “Bah! As if someone as scrawny as him would inherit something like that! Besides, kinda meaningless on a Smeargle, eh?”

“I do,” Angelo replied. “But…”

“I would like to visit you later,” Zygarde replied. “Phol. Your Protect is golden, correct?”

“It is. But my services are dedicated to enchanting empty orbs right now, if you’re asking me for something else.”

“I see. I will remember that. Thank you. Spice.”

“Mine’s black. I don’t know why,” Spice said.

“I understand. Please report to me if or any of the Elites if you learn anything about that.”

“Sure. You’re an Elite?”

“Yes.”

“Never saw you as part of the Hearts.”

“They did not have enough badges for all of my bodies. Also, my status as a Legendary Pokémon should be enough.”

That was when it all clicked, and Angelo stopped walking to stare, wide-eyed, at Zygarde. “Th-that’s right! You… you are a—but I thought the Legends simply disappeared!”

“That is true. I did not.”

“Disappeared?” Phol said, frowning. “Not, never existed at all? The Book of Arceus, just like the Book of Mew, is nothing but stories to convey values.”

Aries gave Phol a disapproving look.

Phol cleared his throat. “In my opinion, at least.”

“It is a mystery that I am trying to decipher now,” Zygarde said. “But that is not something you need to worry about. Was I clear with my instructions?”

“Wait for a Joltik,” Angelo repeated uncertainly.

“Correct. Goodbye.” Without so much as a smile, Zygarde left in an expressionless sprint into town. Angelo, Spice, Leo, and Phol exchanged uneasy glances.

If there was any omen for the world’s end, it was the return of Zygarde, the embodiment of balance. The legends stated that it would bring the world to order… but how it did so was ambiguous. It could either be by eliminating the power that was causing the world such strife… or by wiping the slate clean entirely.

<><><>​

71. Approaching Arachno Forest interior. Decayed webbing is abundant.

12. Accompanying 71.

1. Where is 62?

71. Left behind due to getting captured in webbing.

62. Currently captured in webbing. A mutant is near. I may die.

1. Continue onward. You are close. 62, continue attempts to escape and catch up with 71 and 12.


Damp, smashed, decaying spiderwebs covered every inch of this portion of the forest, and the two remaining Hectos had to tread lightly through uneven terrain. This had once been a great labyrinth held by Trina, the heart of her Bug domain. All around them, remnants of that isolated civilizations stood, proud but feeble. There were domes that operated like little huts for Pokémon to live within, propped up, under, and between the trees. Further along, large swaths of webbed fields made for squishy, lumpy silk that they had to regularly help one another out of while in search of what was left of their mutant, former-outlaw civilization.

There was a dim glow of a flame ahead—one that was not part of a forest fire. It had recently rained here, so perhaps if there was a fire, it would have been small or diminishing. But this was the flame of a Charizard—the second Owen, the replacement Owen, Har.

62. False Owen in sight. Very likely to be the new leader.

12. Approaching now.

1. His name is Har.

62. Requesting verification: Har is the preferred title?

1. Most likely.


The webbing dulled their steps, and at first they wondered if Har would be able to see them. Of course he would—he had Perceive, after all. But there did not appear to be anyone else around…

The two Zygarde scanned the immediate area before advancing. This particularly lumpy field was otherwise empty, and Har was slumped over.

62. Subject is not moving, but has a flame.

1. Verify that he is sleeping.

12. There is little reason to sleep out in the open.


The pair approached cautiously, but even that wasn’t enough. Without warning, Har abruptly spun around and blasted 12 with a great sphere of fire from his maw, solid and explosive. All 62 could see by the time he had a chance to react was black smoke, and all he heard, aside from the ringing in his ears, was a dull thud of 12 hitting the web behind them.

Har was on his feet, crouched down with a crazed look in his eyes, several feet away from where he had been seconds earlier.

“Hello,” 62 greeted. “You are Har?”

His tail kept crackling and flaring like an overfed campfire. 12 didn’t move, but he was still alive, because 62 did not receive any of the memories that 12 would have transferred over upon death. He did, however, get a set from 46 a few moments later, though he would sort through that death later, or wait for another copy to report a summary.

“I am here to speak to Trina’s allies,” 62 reported again. “My name is Hecto.”

The crazed look softened. Good. Progress.

“Where is the rest of your team?”

Har watched a while longer, waiting for sudden movements. The pair realized shortly after that perhaps it was because Har was trying to read them. Hecto was notoriously difficult to read. What was it that Star said he had to do in order to be more friendly? Smile, yes. He had to smile.

Hecto curled his lips upward and showed some of his teeth, and tried to flicker his eye lights in a more friendly manner. He did not know what that meant.

Har’s eyes softened more, though they were replaced with confusion.

Smiling efforts were less than successful, but the goal was still accomplished. He could work on that later.

“Right, my…” Har rubbed his head. “Sorry. I was… We were in the middle of chasing someone down who had gone berserk, but they had sleeping spores. I took a hit so Lygo could keep going…” He looked back. “They should be ahead.”

“Then Trina’s former allies are losing themselves?”

Har nodded. “A lot of us are fine, but there are a few that are less stable. They weren’t under Trina for as long.”

Commenting on the fact that Har also seemed to have lost himself was not worth the risk.

“How many of you are stable?”

“Why are you asking?”

“We are in the process of consolidating power. Anyone capable of fighting Dark Matter and his related forces should gather at Kilo Village for safety.”

“Sorry, can’t,” Har said. “Like I said, we aren’t stable enough for that anymore.”

“There may be a way to assist in taming that,” Hecto said. You will only lose more of your numbers if you continue to stay here and stagnate.”

By now, 12 was finally returning, though he had a noticeable limp.

“Sorry for that,” Har mumbled apologetically. “Look, we’re mutants. We don’t pass as safe. I don’t know if it’s a good idea. One wrong move and…”

“We will vouch for you. Guardians who knew of Trina are there. I highly recommend you gather who you can and arrive. Are you their leader?”

“I guess I am…”

“Understandable. Will you need assistance convincing them?”

“No, I think I’ll… Are you really sure we’ll be accepted?”

“No. But I will help.”

“At least you’re honest.” Har’s wings drooped. “I’ll do what I can. Wait here?”

“Of course.”

12. Har is leaving to rally the mutants. They are few in number, but they are the most sane of them.

1. Then the others?

64. Likely among the berserk mutants.

1. That explains the increased rate of mutant attacks in this area, particularly Milli Town and Yotta Outskirts west of it. Very well.

12. We will wait for Har to gather them and lead them to Kilo Village. Who will alert the Guardians?

1. I will coordinate. Continue your tasks.


<><><>​

It had been at least a week and Nevren hadn’t left his room in all that time. Lavender was starting to get worried. The behemoth paced around the halls that connected to Nevren’s room, occasionally stopping to press his head against the doorway that wouldn’t open for him. His crest bumped against the steel, but then he pulled away, not wanting to irritate Nevren with all his noise. He was probably deep in concentration.

Lavender didn’t know when it happened, but perhaps during the night, Nevren left that room to get food. He still had to eat, right? Or did he have a secret stash of food in his research room? The fiend! He probably kept all the best snacks in there for himself. Like the Leichi Berry Pops that always went faster than the rest. Or the Exeggupuffs. Sure, Eon always said they were unhealthy, but they tasted so good

The heavy pitter-patter of paws on tile made Lavender’s cheek bolts whirr. “Hmm?”

It was Lucas, back in his Mega Houndoom form. That was risky, but as long as he stayed calm, it would be fine, right?

Lavender’s concern redoubled when he saw a Cherrim riding on his back. “Um, Lucas!” The Silvally rushed, but then slowed his pacing. “Are you sure you should be carrying Auntie Rim around? She’s…”

In reply, Lucas let out a defiant growl and then a snort. How rude to assume he couldn’t handle himself around his auntie! Rim was stronger than she looked, even if she was in an unfamiliar body and more or less helpless.

Wait…

A bark snapped Lavender out of his thoughts and he shot to attention.

“Oh! Okay, well, if you’re so sure,” Lavender said.

And suddenly, the doors to Nevren’s door opened, and Lavender as alight with glee. “Father! You’re up!”

“Up? I’ve always been up.”

“I mean, out!” His tailfin wagged and he lunged toward Nevren for a tackle.

Nevren disappeared and reappeared behind Lavender, scratching Lucas behind the ears. “Hello, Lucas. Rim, are you feeling well?”

The Cherrim tried to look toward Nevren, but her huge, purple petals got in the way and she fell over. By a Psychic barrier, Nevren kept her up.

“I’m…” Her voice was similar, but still a little off compared to how she used to sound. It was scratchier and had a warble to it.

“I suppose it is quite an adjustment, but unfortunately we cannot afford to spare much power right now to give you your old body,” Nevren said with a sigh. “In any case, I shall be going to my motivation quarters. Take care.”

Nevren had a room just down the hall that he frequently visited, though he disallowed anybody from entering on their own. Lavender knew what was inside, and it wasn’t all that interesting anyway, but the fact that Nevren called it his motivation room always made him curious.

After seeing Nevren holed up in his research quarters for the better part of a week, Lavender had to know. “How come? What are you gonna do in there?”

“Get a few fleeing reminders. It is typically enough.”

“Does that mean you aren’t feeling very motivated right now?” Lavender trotted after Nevren, and Lucas followed with Rim still on his back.

“I suppose I am,” Nevren replied. “A week of nonstop toil can do that to a man. Though I also have lost track of the end goal of some of my inventions and would like to remind myself of them.”

In Nevren’s hands was a small notebook that looked well-worn but also well-maintained. Lavender tilted his head, wondering which one it was. He kept a lot of those. This one could have been a calendar, or maybe a logbook from his experiments. He was very rigorous about those.

Nevren held his hand in front of the metal door. It slid into the frame, revealing a gray room with countless drawings, posters, words, symbols, and arrows scrawled on all parts of the wall, with a large, brightly-colored word, ‘START,’ at the very center of the square floor.

It was the ‘crazy room,’ as Lavender called it, and Nevren stepped in the middle.

“…Would you care to join?” Nevren asked Lavender, whose cheek bolts whirred. His eyes flashed a nervous cyan.

“Okay,” Lavender agreed, but then looked back at Lucas and Rim. She seemed very tired. “Um, Lucas? Maybe you should take Auntie Rim back to her room so she can rest.”

“Better yet, take her to get some sunlight. Do be careful. Her body will appreciate the sun much more now, after all. Though, Rim, I must say… All things considered, you’ve adjusted to the Grass type very well. Had I not known any better, I would have assumed you’d always been one.”

With her petals in the way, there was no way to tell if she had smiled at that or not, but she did shiver a little. A laugh.

“Rest up, Auntie,” Lavender said, nuzzling between two petals.

The great riddle began, of course, with the ‘START’ in the middle. From there, it pointed forward toward some words Lavender couldn’t see from where he stood. Nevren’s eyes darted about, and then he scribbled into his notes.

“Now, I know you have quite a few questions,” Nevren said. “I will answer them all, but afterward, I expect you to be respectfully quiet. Will that do?”

“Um, okay.” Lavender looked at the notebook. “What’s that for?”

“These are my questions,” Nevren said. “I write down my questions, and then consult this room for answers. I write them down when I realize what it is, before I lose that answer mentally. When written down, it is immortalized, so I may remind myself of my goal on a practical level.”

“…How come you don’t just write down all your reasoning immediately?” Lavender asked. Scrawled on the eastern wall was a symbol that looked like an eight-sided star, the cardinal directions much longer than the diagonals. But the drawing itself was basic, like lines. Like it should have been colored in.

“Because complete thoughts are erased,” Nevren replied. “I can only give myself instructions based on partial data. Any memories and thoughts I do have about what I realize in this room are fleeting, and must be immortalized in writing. But even then, the writing shall become impossible to perceive if I am too thorough.”

Lavender stared dumbly toward the southern wall. Here, there were two symbols and a noticeably empty space between them. One was a small, pink creature with a long tail, and another was a large, white creature with a golden ring around its body. Lavender recognized those creatures; he was based off of one, after all. But the way this was arranged, there was something missing between the two of them.

Meanwhile, Nevren stared at the ground, his eyes following arrows faster than Lavender could reason them out. Some were simple words. ‘Brightness’ or ‘after second.” Lavender saw a drawing of a strange circle with numbers on the edges, starting from “1” and going to “11.” At the top of the block, between 1 and 11, was a skull. Beside the clock were the words, “One hour is three hundred seasons, plus more.”

“I don’t get it,” Lavender said. “These are all weird… drawings, and words, and it doesn’t mean anything!”

“It can’t mean anything,” Nevren replied calmly. “If it meant exactly what the truth was, it would be rendered invisible. Useless. I’ve had many missteps before I was able to deduce something close enough to the truth that it would not be erased. The great, hidden history that the gods did not want known. I suppose that was due in part to the flaw in the Decree they had hastily cobbled together to hide it.”

“Oh… So you can’t ever know the full story, but you can give yourself instructions on little pieces before you forget?”

“Yes. Whatever this Decree is hiding, it is only hiding the event itself, and does not seem to prevent me from taking action against whatever it is trying to hide. Thankfully there is no Decree that prevents me from realizing something is hidden in the first place. Now, I do not know what I called this creature before, but I shall refer to it as Prism, based on the symbols that seem to be associated with it. Prism… Prism, Prism, what is important about it…”

Nevren looked at the great symbol on one wall, then at the empty space in another. “That missing space is in the same dimensions as the large symbol there. Ah, yes. I must have done that intentionally… Or perhaps the symbol is already there, and I cannot see it?”

There were many blank spots on the wall where it seemed like the drawing was supposed to continue, yet didn’t. “All of these empty parts on the wall.” Lavender pointed at one of them. “Is something actually there?”

“Certainly. And at some point, as I drew it, it vanished before my eyes. That is how I knew how to hint at it. I drew hints around the blank spots. I am tiptoeing around the event horizon of the Decree’s erasure to deduce properties of what was hidden within.” Nevren sighed, wistful. “Perhaps overly poetic, but there is a certain elation in being able to outsmart a god.”

“So, the Decree is the thing you’re supposed to not know, and this room gives you hints on what you’re not supposed to know?”

“Essentially.”

They spent a while longer looking through the strange symbols, glyphs, and scribbles, but Lavender couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

“…There we are,” Nevren said. “Fascinating. I do keep forgetting that Arceus and Star are not our enemies, yet every time I write that down it seems to erase itself. A shame. I need to find a way to keep myself from misattributing malice. Regardless, I believe I have the information I need. We must continue constructing artificial Dungeons. Recover Owen and the rest of Team Alloy. That is our best bet so far, yes.”

“Why?” Lavender asked.

“I believe these recent events have solved a longstanding mystery.” Nevren jotted down his final few notes. “The Legendary Pokémon, those who used to guard this world, were erased from history some time ago. Their names are stated in the Book of Arceus but are never seen nor remembered. All we have are the likes of Hecto and Emily, and the latter’s history is also muddled.”

He continued to ramble, writing down more notes in vague instructions, sometimes saying them in repeated or vague ways, as if one that was too specific ran the risk of erasure.

“I’m certain I saw Dialga and Palkia emerge from Anam very briefly during his outburst,” Nevren continued. “Anam is connected to Dark Matter, as are these wraiths, and the Dungeons that spawn them. There is a very strong chance that Dungeons are a connection between our world and the world of Dark Matter. I have artifacts from both Dialga and Palkia with me; perhaps I can tune to them wherever they are sealed. If we can control that connection, we may be able to rescue them and resume with our original plans.”

“Original plans. Saving the world?”

“Of course.”

“From who?” Lavender asked.

Nevren paused, looking at his notes, then at the symbols on the wall. “That is a good question.” He shut the book. “I do not believe there is a single person we are saving the world from. Unfortunately, that is too shrouded in secrecy for me to find the true answer. If I had to guess…” He pointed at the blank space on the far wall. “The third god is a risk, as is Dark Matter, and perhaps Arceus and Star themselves. All for different reasons.”

“That’s… a lot.”

“Indeed! Still, we must fight.” Looking satisfied, Nevren exited the room. “And as far as I can tell, our first step is harnessing Dungeons the same way Dark Matter is. Ah. Hello, Hecto.”

Standing at the entrance was the canid Zygarde, who bowed in greeting.

“It has been quite a few days,” Hecto greeted. “Have you found Star?”

“I have not.”

“Ah. Anything you are able to tell me?”

“I have halted Step’s slaughter of the mutants.”

“She has been slaughtering them?”

“Yes.”

“That is strange. They have not returned to the Reincarnation Machine.”

“That is why I had her stop.”

“Ah. That is troublesome.”

Lavender didn’t quite understand what they meant by that. So, they had to find some of the other mutants, too? Were they okay? When Lavender tried to ask, both Hecto and Nevren did not answer directly.

“Optimistically, they are in the same place Owen and the others have been taken to,” Hecto continued.

Nevren nodded, and then said, “Then I shall continue my research on Dungeon harnessing. I suppose you should tell Step to hold off on destroying the mutants, then. I shall try to salvage what I can with the ones we have remaining, who are all stable.”

“How many mutants remain with you?” Hecto asked.

“Not very many. Only twenty sets, totaling roughly fifty souls, though we have another few hundred in the power generator. But withdrawing them now would power down the Reincarnation Machine and the rest of the lab’s facilities. Quite a conundrum.” Nevren studied Hecto. “The Beammaker is next to useless… Ah, and what is your plan?”

“I am nearly done with gathering everyone in Kilo Village,” Hecto said. “I assume you shall not be doing this?”

“Oh, certainly not. Many of them likely want my head. I shall remain here in Quartz HQ. If I can assist in the efforts against Dark Matter from a distance, I shall.”

“Of course. Then, take care.”

Hecto turned, about to leave, but stopped after only a few steps. “Nate,” he said. “Do you know anything about him?”

“Unfortunately not.”

Lavender made a small barking noise, earning both their attention. “Not even in the crazy room?”

“No, not even in my motivation room. I was not able to deduce much about who or what Nate is yet, as he was only a relatively recent discovery. Before, we thought the pit in the Chasm was merely a manifestation of his Dark power, but it seems that was only a disguise for his true nature. Which we cannot deduce yet. I did not spend time on it.”

“His basic shape is something that has been seen in worlds beyond,” Hecto said. “A Pokémon of nearly apocalyptic strength and immense, reality-distorting powers. But Nate’s form is highly corrupted from what they usually appear as.”

“He’s certainly friendly, though, is he not?”

“Yes. But as a great unknown, it is still a concern. I advise that you deduce more about him when you can. However, he was the source of a strange attack filled with life energy that was able to severely dampen Dark Matter’s assault from Hot Spot. We are going to make use of that again for a counterstrike when everyone is gathered in Kilo Village. Perhaps there is something within Hot Spot cave that can assist us, too.”

“I see… Yes. That would certainly help, if he’s gathered that power again. An assault… Perhaps that can help us free the spirits Dark Matter has seized. I can only hope they are recoverable. And I imagine you will be trying to find Star?”

Hecto paused for longer than usual. “I am not going to prioritize my feelings over the greater mission.”

“Of course. Then we are to gather those who Dark Matter might have imprisoned, including Star.”

“That is correct.” The Zygarde’s eyes flickered. “Then I shall be going.”

He left as silently as he had arrived, and Nevren turned his attention to Lavender. “I am going to write a message for you to send to Kilo Village. You must go on foot due to the destruction of the Waypoints, and it may take several weeks on foot.”

“Several weeks?” Lavender complained. “But what about Auntie Rim and the other mutants?”

“I shall tend to them. If things go as planned, your trip back will not take nearly as long.”

Lavender’s cheek bolts whirred and his eyes turned a gloomy blue.

Nevren sighed. “Go with Lucas and Rim, then. But you are to keep her safe.” Tending to her would be a bother anyway, and he wanted to focus entirely on his research without those trivial matters. He can keep all the other mutants in Poké Balls anyway. They rarely put up a fuss after that. Submissive by design. Convenient.

“Okay!” Lavender’s eyes shifted to an energetic yellow. “I’ll get them right now!”

“Take care,” Nevren said. “Ah, and don’t forget—” Lavender was already gone. “…Your supplies. Mm.” He was tempted to revise that moment… but Lavender had already exhausted so much of his patience. It was time to get back to work in peace.

If everyone listened to him obediently, perhaps this mess could have been avoided altogether. That was what Nevren always thought, and the more the world plunged into its inevitable chaos, the more he knew that was true.

<><><>​

1. Announcing that most tasks have been completed. Gather all units to Kilo Village to prepare for an assault against Dark Matter in Hot Spot. Once mobilization is complete, prepare for delving into the labyrinth for supplies.

100. I have another announcement.

1. 100. Your task was to search for Star.

100. I have found a trail toward Star.

1. R-requesting location.

100. Void Basin.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 101 – Dark Approach

In the outskirts of East Null Village, Anam stood with the guards at the edge of the encampment that had been formed within the trees. Clearing out the Void Shadows that were hidden in the roots and underground were easy with how practiced the guards were, some of them with centuries of experience.

Anam was ready to confront Dark Matter right then. He wouldn’t let Dark Matter take the fight to the innocents. He walked through the hastily formed tents, past the crystals buried in the ground as wards against Void Shadow attacks, and finally beyond the loose ring of guards at the edges of the expansive encampment. It was impressive how quickly they had mobilized to evacuate, considering the fact that the town’s size rivaled the basin of Kilo Village. In less than a quarter of a day, according to their clocks, the town was completely abandoned. Dropped everything and left.

They had drills for such a thing, after all. If a Titan came too close, or some other emergency. It was sad, but effective, that they could leave so perfectly.

“I’m glad you have everything taken care of!” Anam said cheerfully, smiling at the guards, who were still unnerved. One of them was the guard that had punched through his chest, and he was avoiding eye contact.

“Er, yeah. So, we have everything taken care of here, I think. Dark Matter is…?”

“He isn’t coming right now.” Anam frowned, trying to assure them that he was competent. Without Dark Matter’s advice, he could no longer tell with certainty whether they had negative feelings about him or not. “He should be here soon, though. So, I’m going to go out and fight him and try to keep him away from your group, alright? It should be safer. If you can see him coming, keep moving. You can do that?”

“Won’t be hard,” said a Rhyperior to the left, scoffing proudly. “You saw how quickly we moved on our own. We know our formations.”

“Great!” That was good enough. Anam turned, flinging a little slime with his momentum. The guards grimaced and distanced themselves. “I’m gonna go, then. I’ll fight Dark Matter, and then you’ll be safe. I should be back in a few days, but if I don’t, um, well, do as usual until Latios and Latias come back. They’ll know what to do, right?”

“We were fine without you before and we’ll be fine without you after,” Rhyperior said, nodding.

Anam could only hope that was true.

<><><>​

That had been at least a day ago. From there, Anam departed from the camp and headed northwest, following where he had last felt Dark Matter. He first checked the abandoned East Null Village for any sign of his twisted aura, but found nothing but abandoned buildings. Chores and tasks had been left completely undone, and only the occasional winds of the Voidlands accompanied the soft, slimy steps the Goodra made.

Did Dark Matter simply ignore the village entirely?

He surely would have sensed Dark Matter if he tried to go past him to the camp. Anam made sure to be careful of that, even making irregular, zigzag-like flight patterns to cover more ground in case Dark Matter tried to go around him. Even with the delay of getting an entire city’s worth of Pokémon evacuated, they had had a great deal of a head start.

Do you sense anything, Anam? Madeline asked.

No, I don’t.

Then perhaps he has gone someplace else,
James said. I was watching your flight path. Dark Matter wouldn’t have been able to go past you unless he went so far around that you’d beat him back to camp. Which you should do.

Right…
If he delayed for too long, then a clever way around would have led to an ambush. If Anam wasn’t there to defend them, he wasn’t sure if they’d stand a chance.

Something bothered him, though. He didn’t think Dark Matter would be going for the town in such a roundabout way. He was clever, but that was too much trouble. It would surely get him caught; is how Dark Matter would think. Anam knew Dark Matter for five hundred years. There was a thing or two he could deduce from guts alone.

So, where would Dark Matter have gone otherwise?

Anam stopped walking, placing all of his focus on that question. Where could he have gone? He rubbed his forehead, digging his hands into his skull in deep concentration. He pulled out, then rubbed his cheeks, then under his eyes, like it would help him think harder.

…Oh no. Anam stiffened. He saw it in his mind; Null Villages in a circle around Cipher City, in the cardinal directions. Dark Matter had briefly gone to the north, which repelled him. Then, he seemed to be going east, so Anam sped ahead to warn East Null Village.

The map confirmed that, didn’t it?

But then, what if he redirected? He couldn’t strike Cipher City; Dark Matter always feared that place, or at least knew not to strike directly.

That only left…

“South Null Village is in danger,” Anam said to himself. “Ohh, I hope my friends aren’t there…”

What do we do? Madeline asked.

I suggest we return to camp to make sure Dark Matter isn’t nearing it, proposed James. Then, perhaps we should play catchup.

That was sound advice. With a nod, Anam turned and rushed back for the East Null Village camp. Dark Matter couldn’t have gotten to the South by now, right? Though, the time to travel from the North to the East, compared to the North to the South, with only a small bend to avoid the center…

No, no! Dark Matter couldn’t be that fast. It was fine. He’d just have to be faster.

Anam refused to acknowledge the fact that it might have already been too late.

<><><>​

Marshadow couldn’t sleep. Aster was too noisy.

It was supposedly nighttime, but all Aster could do was toss and turn in the bed that Marshadow had provided for him. The Mewtwo’s tail flicked. Marshadow rested within the darkness of another bed, though even if his eyes were closed, he could feel the Psychic radiance of his guest at all times. Fighting Pokémon were naturally sensitive to that sort of thing.

He’d never felt so trapped before. In mere days he’d gone from the monotony of keeping Null Village afloat to finding a slew of radiant spirits, and then Aster came and threatened to take them all with him.

What was he supposed to do about that? And not only were they radiant spirits, one of them was Owen. This would have been a whole lot easier if Owen had found Jirachi in West Null first.

“Marshadow?” Aster asked.

Marshadow’s thoughts froze like the rest of his body.

“I’m sorry. For being here, and everything.”

Too little, too late, buddy. Marshadow didn’t know what he could actually say in response. Aster may have been a victim in all this like everyone else, but the difference was Aster was still following Alexander’s orders. In the end, that made them enemies.

“I know you know where that big power is.”

He figured it was obvious. After all, Marshadow was only playing with Aster’s mercy here. If he got reckless, he could simply destroy the place or kill the civilians until he found what he was looking for. The fact that Alexander sent Aster meant he wasn’t taking this seriously yet.

“Please,” Aster begged. “I don’t want to do anything bad. Just tell me…”

And let Alexander get one of the few hopes in upsetting this balance? Marshadow thought not.

“It isn’t like it’s enough to beat Alexander anyway,” Aster dismissed. “Please? He just wants it. And if he does, maybe he’ll help out this place in return, right?”

Didn’t need it. Didn’t want it, either.

“Okay,” Aster finally said, and it just occurred to Marshadow that he might have been trying to read his mind. That wasn’t good. “If you aren’t going to talk, I’ll tell Alexander that you did. That you were really nice. That you eventually decided it was better to give it to me.”

What? Where was this—did he figure it out? How? Marshadow would have sensed an intrusion on his mind.

Aster got up. Marshadow did, too. The height difference was the least of the shade’s problems.

“Yer makin’ a mistake,” Marshadow said. “It ain’t worth it.”

“If Alexander says so, it’s worth it to me,” Aster said with dull eyes. “I’m sorry,” he went on, his voice trembling.

There was a small, blue orb in the Mewtwo’s right hand. At first he thought it was an Aura Sphere, which would have been a useless effort against someone like him. But then he realized it had a solid appearance to it—glassy, smooth, rounded. Wait—that was one of Leph’s orbs. There wasn’t any light inside, though. It could become anything Aster wanted.

“Aster,” Marshadow said steadily, “this ain’t you. You don’t gotta do this.”

“Please tell me where it is.” Aster held the orb tighter. It started to glow, wisps of light swirling inside. It was listless, resembling a lazy pond of stagnant water.

Marshadow braced for whatever torment he was about to endure. Aster wasn’t going to get it out of him.

The orb shattered and a wave of energy coated everything but Aster in a fuzzy, blue light. It seeped into Marshadow’s body and left him feeling muddled and groggy. He stepped back and sighed, his clenched fists loosening as he stared dimly at the ground.

It was suddenly so hard to care.

“Marshadow, where are you hiding it?”

Marshadow continued to stare down, though his mind wandered to that little Charmander, where he’d carried him off to Hakk and Xypher’s home, the tiresome route he took to avoid detection. So much effort, and for what? To draw out the inevitable?

But he couldn’t tell Aster, right? He felt the Mewtwo’s presence in his mind. He was going to find out. Did that matter? It did. But fighting him off was so tiring.

No—no! He wasn’t supposed to let it happen! How much did Aster find out? Marshadow repelled Aster from his mind with a halfhearted effort, but it was enough. Aster’s hold on his mind was gone.

“You’re hiding… a Charmander?” Aster said, frowning. “Well… alright. I guess I’ll have to see for myself.”

“Wait,” Marshadow said, but made little effort to go after him.

“It’s okay,” Aster said. “This way, everyone will be happy. I’m sorry I had to use an Apathy Orb on you. It’ll wear off soon, but don’t go after me, alright?”

The door opened. Marshadow stood up, forming a ball of darkness in his hands. He fired too late; the door closed, scattering the attack into a small blotch against the stone.

<><><>​

Hakk awoke to three taps to the front door. And then three more. The icy Sandslash groaned and rolled to look at the clock, which showed in its digital lights a bleary three in the morning. So, this was what it was going to be like, was it? Now he just had to wait for a third set of three—

There it was. Perfect. Now he could begin his ungodly-hours morning with everything lined up perfectly.

“Hang on, hang on,” Hakk called, sitting up. Xypher was already looming over him and waiting anxiously for Hakk to answer. Xypher was never good at talking to strangers. Maybe when he was Class C he’d be better at it, but he needed more of his sanity before that happened.

Hakk gently pat Xypher on the head. Satisfied, the Corviknight trotted down the short hall and in the center of the living room, looking, uncharacteristically, graceful. Reminded Hakk of a proper guard, and he let a tired, small smile trace his lips.

Before opening the door, he glanced to the door’s left. Buttons to open and close. Then he looked to the right. A third button, which he silently pressed. A small square in the middle of the door lit up, revealing who was standing on the outside through a video feed.

Hakk’s stomach dropped.

Mewtwo Aster.

What.

Why?

How?

Was Marshadow okay? Did he follow those team members? They better know how to fight, because he wasn’t about to risk his hide for them.

Or was he? That was Marshadow’s orders. But this was Aster. He didn’t stand a chance.

“Uh, yeah?” Hakk dumbly said when his thoughts finally sorted themselves into something coherent.

“Can I come in?” Even though Aster was asking, what was he supposed to say? No? And have him blow the house up? If Aster wanted something, he was going to get it.

“Sure.” Hakk did his best to stay calm and prayed to the god that couldn’t hear him that Aster wouldn’t read his terror.

The video feed disappeared and the door slid open, revealing the Mewtwo that towered over him. At least twice his height. That helped nothing. Gods, why was he so huge? Wasn’t Mew supposed to be adorably tiny?

Aster moved past Hakk without so much as a nod and looked left and right. “Where is he?” Aster asked. “The one you’re hiding.”

“Guest room,” Hakk replied immediately. He glanced up at Xypher, who may as well have been a metal sculpture. Aster disappeared into the guest room and the door closed behind him. Hakk shakily stood near the exit to their home, not sure what else to do.

It wasn’t that he wanted to help Aster. He just didn’t want to turn into a brick. And between having Marshadow be angry at him and Aster killing him or worse, he picked angering Marshadow. Besides, if Aster figured out where the kid was being held, then that probably meant Marshadow already failed his part of the plan. Or he was dead. That’d be wonderful; this crummy place could finally collapse in on itself! He’d be able to ruin his life all over again. Maybe he’d take up a soldier position under Alexander.

No, that’d never happen. Xypher didn’t like Alexander, and even though the southern settlement of Null Village was technically a large town, Cipher City would be way too large and overstimulating. Pretty sure they didn’t allow Class D Pokémon either. Also, Alexander was evil. Nobody who could control Titans was a good person. Not to mention his iron rule. Any challenge would be faced with death. Hakk wasn’t sure if he could get over that part yet.

Aster reemerged from the guest room and Hakk was fully expecting there to be a Charmander struggling in his arms. Yet the Mewtwo emerged with nothing, and Aster frowned at him.

“He’s not there,” he said.

“…What?”

“Nobody’s in there.”

“But I—but they’re—what?”

Aster studied Hakk momentarily, and the icy Sandslash felt something wash over his thoughts. It was like a stifling static, like he was waking up all over again. Then, the haze was gone, and Aster was leaving the house.

“Sorry,” Aster said. “I guess he ran away already.”

The door closed and the two were left alone.

Hakk had never seen Aster look so serious before. Didn’t even bother smiling. He had that same, cheerful tone, but his expression was like he’d seen a dead body.

Or would Aster just smile at that? Hakk didn’t know.

“I made a mess,” Xypher whimpered.

Hakk glanced at Xypher, then below, and then frowned back up at him. “It’s alright,” Hakk said gently. “C’mon. Let’s wash up and go back to bed.”

Or try to.

<><><>​

Owen had let Mispy smuggle him out when Hakk and Xypher fell asleep. He felt a little bad about betraying their trust, but it would have been for their safety, too, if this all went badly. Mispy seemed to have a hunch that Aster would have figured out where they were soon.

They went the long way around where they thought Marshadow had gone and navigated to the large evaluation buildings. The secretary and guards had apparently been prompted to allow them through without a fuss, and they soon gathered together with the others to discuss what to do. Eon, however, hadn’t made it, and while Owen wondered why, he didn’t think it was worth it to go searching for him when time was a factor.

Dialga was surprisingly accurate on where he sensed Palkia. Not only did he know the direction that Palkia was held, but also how far away he was. That, combined with some estimation on travel time, led to an inconvenient conclusion: Palkia would be seven days’ travel into the Nil Plateaus, and by then perhaps another day simply searching for his Titan.

But what if they had Gahi? By their estimates, even if they were inexperienced with the plateaus, if Gahi went out with the others, travel would perhaps only take four days. Though, that was in itself a big unknown…

Still, if they could get Palkia in time, perhaps that meant they would be able to return instantly with the help of his warping. They were putting a lot of faith into that possibility—did they actually know if Palkia could warp them?

They only had five days to get this done. After five days, according to Marshadow, his hand would be forced. They would either take on Aster, let Owen be taken to Cipher City, or let Marshadow go in their place.

When they found it safe enough to leave, Mispy snuck Owen from Xypher and Hakk’s home to Dialga’s abode by stuffing him in her vines. Aster must have been distracted by Marshadow, because they hadn’t run into him along the way there, and they quickly hashed out their plans from what they knew.

They could easily assemble a small team to go after Palkia. They knew how to defeat those Titans. Weaken them with Owen, and then strike with Crystal-enhanced moves. They were weak now, but by the time they found Palkia, their strength would have returned. They knew that Eon and Gahi were a sure success in landing one, but perhaps there were other combinations they weren’t aware of.

They had to go as one or two flying units. They had to be fast; Eon would be able to mimic Gahi’s form, but what of the others? Jerry would be too slow to fly and too large to carry; the same went for Zena. They would have to stay behind in Null Village, perhaps to keep an eye on things.

They seemed to have everything settled on what to do, except for one snag.

“Alright,” Jerry said, sitting across from Owen in the large circle in Dialga’s room. “Seems like an easy plan. Gahi and some passengers take down the Titan. We can grab Marshadow and make it like before, right?”

“Gah! Marshadow. I forgot.” Owen rubbed his forehead. “No, we need Marshadow to take down that Titan. I don’t think we have the strength on our own. But there’s no way Marshadow is going to let us go. Aster’s right here, and if Marshadow’s gone…”

“Hold on,” Trina said, holding up a tiny hand. “What exactly are your options here? This Aster apparently wants to take you to Cipher City, correct?”

“Cipher City being the Voidlands’ capital,” Dialga clarified. “Ruled by one Hydreigon Alexander, whom we know little about, though he sounds both powerful and, well, not someone with your best interest in mind.”

“Right, yeah.” Owen kept his arms and legs crossed, staring at the floor in front of him like it had an invisible map. “So, I can’t get caught by Aster, or it’s all over.”

“Of course. And therefore, your top priority should be to get away from Aster, yes?”

“Yes…? But we can’t really do that out in the open. He’ll know for sure if scouts leave, right?”

“That is a possibility,” Trina said.

“But the alternative would be hoping he goes away,” Zena pointed out, curling her ribbons worriedly. “Or… fighting him.”

“We don’t really know enough about this place to make an informed move,” Jerry said. “And let’s face it, if we can’t stand up to Marshadow, then we can’t stand up to Aster. We should ask the guy what our options are and have him help.”

“I guess so,” Owen said. “You don’t think he’s going to cave to Alexander’s pressure, though, right?” Saying ‘Alexander’ still felt odd on his tongue. He had to remember it wasn’t his father.

“If he does, we’re done anyway,” Jerry said. “Then we go with the old plan of flying on our own.”

“Right…” Owen looked to the others. “Can one of you get Marshadow? I probably should stay here for now.”

“Shouldn’t we smuggle you back to Hakk’s place before they panic? By whatever they call ‘morning,’ since that’d probably be when Aster would’ve tried to find you.” Demitri looked at the ceiling, and then through it, as if he was trying to judge the perpetually dim sky. “I don’t really know their sleep patterns, but…”

“Right, er, sure. I guess, Mispy, hide me again?”

Mispy wrapped a few vines around Owen and pulled him under, where the Charmander tried to position himself in something at least vaguely comfortable among the thorns. Mispy was courteous enough to form a small dome under her belly that allowed for something less precarious, and his fire kept the hideout well-lit.

Owen heard Zena’s characteristic slither. “Well, Dialga,” she said, “I suppose we shall leave you to continue your recovery. Thank you for the directions.”

“Of course. Take care. I do hope when Aster leaves, I can leave this dreary room.”

“Are you coming with us?” Demitri asked. It sounded like he was on top of Mispy.

“If it isn’t any trouble,” Zena replied. “As long as Aster doesn’t see us, right?”

The door opened and closed, and Owen leaned back with his hands folded over his abdomen. There wasn’t much he could do, now, and it had been a long walk just to get to the facility. This village, like the so-called Kilo Village, was a lot larger than it had any right to be with that name. Maybe he could try some meditation. He knew that Klent and the others were there, but he couldn’t hear them yet. That must have been terrifying for them—he hoped they’d come back soon so they’d at least have something to do.

Owen tried anyway for the whole trip back, which proved fruitless. Couldn’t even turn his scales green, or dim his flame into a flower. Though, the thought of losing that flame, and therefore the darkness that would follow, awakened a primal fear. Could that be holding him back?

Suddenly, after what Owen estimated was three quarters of the trip, Mispy jerked to the side and Owen tumbled around in his dome, bumping his head against a few thorns. He suppressed a squeak and clutched at his chin. No blood.

“What’s going—”

Vines wrapped around his head, silencing him.

Owen really wished he had his Perceive right about now. When was he going to evolve, anyway?! His old track record was only a few days before that came along. This whole Charmander schtick was getting really old.

Now that he thought about it, he wasn’t nearly as strong as he used to be, either. Perhaps even weaker than when he’d first become a Heart.

Had being killed in the Voidlands actually stripped him completely of his power? It could take years to evolve at that rate… No, there had to be a way to accelerate it.

Mispy’s frantic shuffling finally slowed down. Good, because he was pretty sure he had a few new cuts under his scales from all the stray thorns. She finally let go of his face and he took deep, long breaths.

“What was that for?”

“Aster,” Mispy replied simply, and Owen thought at first that he’d misheard.

“What? But Marshadow should have…”

Could Aster have spotted them? Now that he thought about it, Mispy really stood out… Aster couldn’t read auras, right? Was his aura disguised if he was hidden under Mispy?

By the time Owen was done sorting out all of his questions, though, they all came tumbling out when Mispy rolled him onto the floor into Hakk and Xypher’s home. Hakk, looking annoyed, and Xypher, looking frazzled, stood before him, and Owen realized they were back in their home.

“Alright,” Hakk said, “so I don’t know whether I should call you lucky or stupid.”

“Wait, I—”

“What do you think you’re doing, getting smuggled out in the middle of town where you could have been caught?” Hakk jabbed a claw in Owen’s chest. “But you know, maybe that was the right choice, because during sleep hours, guess who visited? Freaking Aster.”

He spun back and puffed out a frosty, snowflake-riddled breath into the air away from them. Something about those cyan eyes of his made Owen look down, apologetic. “Aster came here?” Owen asked, glancing back worriedly.

“Yeah, and you know what, so what? I didn’t sign up to harbor someone that the Void King wants. Waaay above my pay grade. You want my opinion on this craziness? You’re dead. Stop thinking about escape, alright? You don’t just come back from the dead.”

“I’ve done that, like, twice.”

Hakk squinted. Owen tittered.

Xypher lectured Owen. “Danger. Danger, danger.”

“Look,” Hakk went on, claws pressing into his wrists. “Maybe Alexander would give you a good life, y’know? He clearly needs you for something and he’d want you to stick around, and I heard he gives a pretty cushy life to his immediate subordinates.”

“Sorry, that’s not really something I want to do,” Owen replied with a hint of venom. Mispy and Demitri shared a glare toward Hakk, who, outnumbered, backed down with a scowl.

“I know it was dangerous,” Owen went on. “Sorry, but it was even more dangerous for us to do nothing at all. And we have a plan. Dialga told us where Palkia is. We can find him, take that Titan down, and—”

“That’s way freaking easier said than done.” Hakk looked at Owen like he was denying basic math. “You took down one Titan. One. With the help of Marshadow and a whole ton of luck and at least two different flukes. And you almost dying. Do you really think you’re going to pull that off again?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“We know their weaknesses and we know how to take them down.” Owen refused to back down and carried his momentum. “With that knowledge we can—”

“Alright, wise guy, listen to me again, and this time I want you to put your big boy brain on.”

Owen glared, flame popping a few times, but he listened in silence.

“It takes huge amounts of Z-Energy to take down a Titan the way you did. That was the very thing that drew Aster here in the first place. No other reason he’d be making a weird visit like this. So, if that happens a second time, what do you think follows?”

That was a good point. They’d know for sure that something was wrong then. Once was a coincidence, or at least something that might have a little doubt. Twice? That would be enough for someone like Alexander to send a lot more than Aster.

Owen glanced around for what the others might have to say, but then realized that Mispy and Demitri were alone. “Where’d Gahi and Zena go? And Trina?” Sure, she was a lot smaller, but she had been on Gahi’s shoulder again. Probably out of habit.

“We split up to lose Aster,” Demitri said. “Which means… they probably didn’t know how to get back to us.”

“Should we look for them?” Hakk asked. “Aster’s on the prowl for you. And he can read minds. If he finds out that they helped smuggle you away…”

Silence followed, Owen looking at the flame of his tail.

There wasn’t really any backing out of this, was there?

“Oh, no, don’t get that look,” Hakk immediately said, grabbing Owen by the shoulder before he could think to act on his morale. “I’m under orders to keep you here and I already failed that once. Aster checked here so he’s less likely to check again.”

“But what if Aster attacks the city?” Owen countered immediately, gears turning in his mind. “Hiding me would just cause even more bloodshed, wouldn’t it?”

Hakk narrowed his blue eyes, then looked to Xypher, who squawked confusedly.

Finally, Hakk stared at Owen again, and the Charmander, staring up, didn’t look away. “You aren’t going out until it looks like that’s what’ll happen.”

The timing was too perfect; the moment Hakk turned to leave for his room, the ground shook, and the Sandslash groaned.

Xypher chirped curiously.

A mixture of self-satisfaction and dread filled Owen—he was right. And that was bad.

Demitri pressed the button to open the door. Gahi’s war cries mixed with water cutting through the sky filled the town’s atmosphere.

“Get out,” Hakk relented.

“Stay here,” Owen replied. Nodding to Demitri and Mispy, the Charmander rushed for the exit.

<><><>​

Have to hurry, have to warn Marshadow, I can see the beacon! It’s right there!

Latias had flown nonstop over the Voidlands for the past few days, only slowing down to powernap mid-flight. It was risky, but it had paid off. High altitudes were risky—the clouds in the sky weren’t hospitable—but just below allowed her to avoid most Titan blasts, or sense them coming.

Once, she had to stop briefly to rest, and she was sure she’d gotten a far enough head start that Dark Matter or a Titan or anything else wouldn’t have found her. That was the advantage of being a small Legend. Long ago, most of the larger Legendary Pokémon had been simply too big to hide from Titans and Void Shadows. No matter how much strength they had, a few decades of constantly whittling them down and waiting for an unguarded moment was all they needed.

Smaller Legends, though. They were the lucky ones. But this was the riskiest move they’d made in a while. Latias was surprised at how eager her brother had been to take it. Sure, Dark Matter had changed around his strategy, and Alexander was making weird moves, but why now? What set it all into motion?

Oh, what did it matter? She’d spent too many hours ruminating over that. Now that South Null Village was in sight, she could focus on the task at hand. Warn Marshadow that Dark Matter was approaching, maybe about finding some of Anam’s allies, reunite them, and they could make more decisive moves.

Easy, easy, easy.

She tried to ignore the fact that they had no idea what those decisive moves were.

A strange energy was coming from Null Village. Tasted like purple. Latias focused a little harder, furrowing her brow, and saw a flash of a smiling, happy face in her vision and her heart skipped a beat.

Aster’s here!

What was she supposed to do now? No, no hesitating. She was here on a, what could she say, scouting mission! That would do it. Wait, no, no! That was the exact opposite thing she was supposed to say!

Maybe she—

Something dark caught her lower vision and she swerved left in a spiral. A dark beam of energy scorched her left wing, shriveling the very tip into a dry husk whose feathers flaked off in black ash. She winced and maintained her course, but a second blast forced her to twist in the air again. Time slowed and the beam, the same size as her neck, grazed her arm, leaving another black scorch where it touched.

She lost her momentum. Countless thin wires snapped from the ground and into the air, wrapping around Latias by the neck and body, and an overwhelming force pulled her from the skies.

The black strings slammed her hard into the ground and her inertia toppled over a few trees in the way. Up was down and she couldn’t see well. The nausea left her dry-heaving, but for better or worse, she hadn’t eaten in a while.

Making a sound somewhere between a groan and a whimper, she lifted herself off the ground, only for more of those shadowy threads to hold her in place. They were cold. Too cold. Her body felt like it’d been flying through a blizzard.

“H-help!” Latias cried. “Someone! I’m tr—brother?”

Were her eyes playing tricks on her? She saw her twin, blue feathers and red eyes, yes, that was him! Latios!

“Try again.”

Her relief mutated into horror.

The Latios form melted and changed, thinning out into a lighter frame and red feathers until Latias stared at an expressionless double of herself. It drifted toward her idly like a predator after its injured and trapped prey.

Latias conjured a ball of psionic mist above her. It hummed in the air and illuminated the dark, but when she fired, she missed completely in her panic. It flew past Dark Matter’s head and into the tree behind him, disintegrating the parts that it touched and then flew further ahead. It finally exploded, shredding several trees and creating a new clearing where they’d once been. Ashen splinters rained down on them both.

So, she fired again. Not only did he take the blow, but he made no effort to dodge out of its path. The attack had simply been absorbed into him. Nullified. Like she didn’t even matter.

“Hello.”

“Please, don’t… I…”

“No.”

Dark Matter’s arm reached out to Latias’ forehead.

That was when she screamed. She didn’t know how far the cry would go or how long she could hold it, but that was all she could do. She readied another Mist Ball, and then his claw tapped her on the forehead. Why was she attacking Dark Matter? She stopped screaming, feeling silly. The Mist Ball evaporated on her own volition.

The threads of Shadow Hold released her. Latias floated up, shaking her head and coughing.

“You’re very loud,” Dark Matter commented.

“You didn’t have to be so rough,” Latias muttered back, poking her claws together.

“Mm.” Dark Matter seemed annoyed at something, but then shrugged it off. “Stay here. You’ll know if you’re needed.”

Dark Matter continued to Null Village, and Latias waited patiently. Though, she was curious about something. “Did you get my brother?”

“No. He must have taken another route.”

Latias shrugged. Probably. “If you talk like that, they’ll find you out immediately,” she pointed out.

“…Right.” He cleared his throat and something about him changed. The oppressive aura swirled around him, but it was compact, hidden. “Better?”

“I guess so…” She didn’t really care for him using her voice, but he could do what he wanted, she supposed.

Without another word, the disguised Latias took to the skies and flew for South Null Village.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Chapters 81 - 90

Alrighty! Combination of Review Blitz on TR and a couple long flights let me chew through another ten chapters! Only... twelve more. Ogod. :'D
I didn't manage to grab quotes for all the chapters I read, since about half of them were on the plane. So I'll just go over my general impressions first.

I'm of two minds about the entirety of the Owen Whump Arc now that I'm pretty much through with it. On the one hand frick yeah owen whump. But on the other hand, it did slow the pacing down tremendously. It's a tricky balance because Act II ended so catastrophically that the beginning of Act III had to take the time to show the fallout. And I'm glad you didn't glaze over the impact that Dark Matter manifesting and Destiny Tower appearing would have on every day life, not to mention stripping away all the blessings. But on the other hand, the cast is so huge and there are so many side characters that having their scenes interspersed caused the Owen whump to span a lot more chapters than it normally would have, and there was a distinct feeling that the plot had slowed to a standstill.

But on the positive side, I think you did a really good job with combining the physical suffering with the emotional strain for a tangible feeling of pushing on through a truly hopeless situation.

I think I had some quotes from the Angelo scenes saved that must have gotten eaten when I reloaded the page one time. Well I thought you did a really good job setting up a thick haze of guilt and frustration with his scenes. From his exhaustion and desperation to get away from the hospital, to that horrified realization that people are literally dying without him, and even though it's not fair that a small moment of self-care on his end literally spells death for someone else, that's just the way thing are, and there's nothing that can be done about it.

Another detail I liked was the way all those scenes served as fantastic buildup to the Shadow Lugia reveal. First Rhys trying to get someone to fly with him to Emily's island before ultimately deciding to go alone. There's no real reason to think all that much of the fact that he's going alone, to the point that I found it a bit odd that you bothered to have Rhys "recruit" Angelo, only for Angelo to back out. There'd also been quite a lot of characters touching base with each other after the disaster. So all of that really made the Shadow Lugia reveal hit like a truck. It was horrifying and visceral in all the best ways. Really loved the description of Shadow Sky. Great stuff.

But I've gone all this time without mentioning what is obviously the best part of all these chapters. That's right--Trainerverse stuff. Pokemon going out of their way to 'get' a human, in order to evolve, as part of their culture and tradition. The expectation that they'll leave if they're not satisfied or impressed. The way that the pressure to obtain a human is one that exists within Pokemon culture. I swear it's like this is tailor-made to appeal to chibs.

And hey! We're finally starting to get some answers as to why the plot situation is... like this! Marshadow's a lot of fun and it's nice to get confirmation on all the Necrozma stuff that I'd already been figuring. Not sure if I've got a lead on who erased Necrozma from history. Looking forward to meeting some of the other dead Legends, since I think that'll clear up a lot. In particular the state of the world when Owen (along with the various human characters) got called to Kilo in the first place.

So.. wraiths. Wanna get my thoughts in order on everything we know about them. They spawn from mystery dungeons. They're made up of corrupted souls that died in the Voidlands, and are therefore associated with Dark Matter. Unsure if anyone who dies to them in Kilo gets sent to the voidlands or if only DM can do that. (Leaning toward the latter?) Oh, and a lot of them spawned from the Ghost realm, which was where DM was... imprisoned(?). Oh, and there's still the fact that Nevren needed Anam for ~something~ which seemingly has nothing to do with DM since he did not know that the Ghost orb was harboring DM. Can't recall if it was implied that Nev and the other former-humans were originally summoned to Kilo for anything DM-related. I think Star was surprised by the DM stuff because DM was defeated like, ages ago... Bah, I need to refresh myself on all this stuff. The orbs feel pretty minor in comparison! Star and Barky can slap each other all they want, but the universe kinda has cancer. :V

I'm curious to learn where some of the other inhabitants of Null Village are from, since it's pretty obvious that most of them aren't from Kilo. (Plus they've got a decent amount of human tech and human terminology.) I wonder if Earth has any means for folks to get banished to hell! :D Or maybe this is like Blacklight and we've got an "Oops all Dark Matters" situation with multiple worlds. Who knows!

One minor note that I know I grabbed quotes from but must have lost them--I thought that the Trina & Gahi conversation sort of went in circles for a bit. I did like the clever switcharound where it seems like she's being stuck-up, but actually not wanting Gahi to demean himself. But I figured out what she meant, and then the conversation proceeded to have the two of them go in circles around what she meant by "degrading" for a little too long, imo. A bit of trimming would make it feel less repetitive.

“They aren’t dumb, Smallflame,” Charizard said. “Not all of them. Some humans… are worthy of your time.”

“Some.” Charmander spat a small ember on the ground. “What if I get a dumb one?”

“Then leave them.” Charizard smiled, prodding at Charmander again.

“Then they’ll be too weak.” As far as Charmander was concerned, if he picked a human, he was going to have to stay with them so they didn’t get into any trouble.
Really love this casual use of ownership language by Pokemon to refer to humans. It immediately makes it clear that this arrangement only exists because Pokemon allow it to exist, because it serves their needs.
The vine was getting very close. He could smell it. A mixture of cut grass, berries, morning breath—Oh Mew, what did she eat?!—It was about to enter him and rot his brain.
I love how this is simultaneously utterly ridiculous and completely horrifying, lol.
Har looked the three over, hesitating, like this would be the final time that he would get to see them as they were. Yet, they had this grave look in their eyes that tempted him so badly to turn up his Perceive. He’d know instantly what they were thinking if he did, but…. It would also break their trust. He couldn’t do that to them.
This was really, really fun to read after the absolute disaster of uncontrolled mindreading in Blacklight.
Ani frowned, sighing. “Trina’s not here to give you therapy,” she muttered. “…Whatever.” She slid toward the bag, tugging it open. “Then are we allowed to wear them?”
I was actually kind of surprised that they're doing this! I mean, don't get me wrong, loss of identity and recovery of identity are obviously huge themes in the fic. But this is a bit different than Owen because his was taken from him, whereas they willingly chose to give up their past in order to have the chance to be their own person. But.. I guess they already have their own personalities by now, which formed without those memories, so...
“Did you ever have that right?” Ani asked, and Har realized that, indeed, keeping his Perceive off was the best choice. He didn’t want to know how Ani felt just then, because her voice shook for the first time.
Again, really love the confirmation that not reading them was absolutely the right call.
He settled for resting most of his weight on his arm again. “Why didn’t you tell me?!” he shouted, a sudden, seething anger putting a pressure on his neck and forehead. “I—I was getting all worked up over something that already happened, and—”
Ohh my god. Alright, I admit it, I fell for it just as hard as Har did. Lmao.
And then Har wailed, covering his eyes with his claws. His wings shielded him from the outside world, his sobs amplified within the protective shell. Two sets of claws held him by the shoulders and vines wrapped around his torso; three heads pressed against him on all sides, and in that instance, those relieved, sad sobs became happy tremors. He opened his wings enough to let them in, then his arms, and he cried into their shoulders. Tears weaved between scales and onto the damp ground. Their pressure relieved him, and he wanted to pull them even closer, even if it crushed his bones.
Aww, this was a really cute moment.
She was the ultimate healer, even if her methods were undesirable. Would they need someone to demonstrate?

…Would he have to demonstrate?
( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
And then something burst out of Emily’s side, screaming. Rhys couldn’t recognize it at first; it was some blackened creature, covered in wraith material. But he also saw a blue paw struggling to free the rest of itself.

The Vaporeon—Tanneth—screamed and pulled herself out more, making eye contact with Rhys. She screamed even more, reaching helplessly toward him; her blood was black, and wraiths within Emily were dragging her back inside with barbed tendrils.
Ohhhh man this was good and horrifying. I distinctly remember being half-asleep on the plane while reading this chapter, and then this scene just jolted me the hell awake. Good thing the mask hid my facial expression, lol.
No, he still hated it. He wanted to move his limbs again before he got too used to that feeling, yet they were still airborne. He wiggled again to voice his protest, but this time Brandon didn’t reply. So, he wiggled again, this time bumping against his thigh.
This image of just. an angry little Pokeball wiggling in protest is hilarious.
“Hmm… May I at least analyze your psyche, then?”

“How invasive is that?” Spice said tentatively.

“Not at all,” Aries said. “I don’t read your thoughts. I only see if there is any turmoil in your mind. For me to go deeper, I would need your cooperation.”
I really enjoy this scene of wholesome Delphox mindreading therapy in light of the recent happenings in Blacklight.
There were so many battles to not fight. But this was one she had to speak for. “We aren’t even in the same egg group, you know,” she said, glancing at Leo, who shook his head pleadingly.

“Bah, you and your newfangled Orb technology makes anything possible! I heard all about it! You’d make Mew cry, I tell ya, changing the gifts ya got!”
Lmao. (also lmao at the idea that Star wouldn't be all for it.)
“Then what about when I become a Charizard? Can I just leave my human?”

Marowak’s bony mask made it impossible to read his expression unless he wanted it read. But this time, his eyes were smiling. “If you want to, you can leave whenever you want, Smallflame. But when you meet your human, I don’t think you will.”
I'm a simple chib with simple needs, I see casual Pokemon agency, I'm all over it.
That—that wasn’t a real danger, was it? She wouldn’t dare. Then again, she dared to eat her bed. And did. Owen wouldn’t mind eating a bed at this point. Or maybe a bed of leaves in a salad. He wasn’t sure what would kill him first, the hunger or the wraiths that were surely hidden somewhere, watching him. Waiting for the next moment he had a chance to eat. Were wraiths edible?
Methinks Owen might have food on the mind, maybe.
He kept moving. More resistance. Was this even the right direction? He didn’t know which way was up—he had to breathe—but was he just going deeper? He couldn’t see anything—just one breath, a little air—but could he sense up and down some other way? The mud was too thick—could he breathe mud? His body thought so—no, that was no good. Maybe the crystal—yes, the crystal!
Really enjoyed the sheer level of panicked desperation, and his narration sort of unraveling as he gets more and more oxygen-deprived.
Smallflame spat a flame on the ground and stomped his foot. “Fight me!”

“Oh! Well, that’s pretty obvious.” The human laughed, digging through her pockets. “I think I understand. You want to see how strong Pokémon can be, huh?” She pulled out a clipboard. “Why don’t you wait here? I know just the thing.”
Of all the things that have got to be the easiest to translate, this has gotta be one of them, lol.
“No,” Jerry snapped. “First, like I said, berries for food just doesn’t cut it for me. And second, all the berries here are poisonous.”

Another cruel wind blew across the wastes outside. Some of the dust kicked up and flew into the cave, littering the ground and adding to its dry layer. Jerry used his wing to shield himself from a small cloud that blew into the cave, and then the wind settled. Through it all, Owen stood in complete stillness.
I really, really love how understated this moment is. The fact that you don't actually spell out the conclusion makes it so much stronger. Just a quiet dawning realization as the reader processes, with Owen, the fact that the berries he gave her killed her. And even though we know he can still be reunited with her, the fact that she'll be much weaker, and much more vulnerable to the titans now, gives it some real weight.
Owen grasped at the edge of one and pulled, but it slipped out of his hands and left a black residue on his scales. He grimaced, not even wanting to taste it, and tried again, digging his claws into the slippery flesh. Claws punctured skin; sticky, black fluid oozed out of the hole like a molten chocolate cake, and even more gushed over the ground when he tore away. It didn’t make a sound, like ripping at gummy candy.
Wow!! I hate it!! Oh, this is terrible! The worst!!
“I—” Owen tried to answer, but realized he didn’t have one. It was pretty. That had been the main reason, but also, well, he had been drawn to them. They called him. Didn’t that mean something? “I found it because it felt like, I dunno, it was drawing me toward it. If I left it behind, I’d still feel the call from it.”
Can't remember if I commented on the Z-crystals in my last review. The thing that jumps out at me is that he describes the way he's drawn to them as similar to the way he's drawn to mystic energy. But Z-crystals come from Necrozma, and Hands come from Arceus. Unless the two overlap somehow...
“I’m giving you,” Jerry said between bites, “every opportunity to not die. So if you do, that’s your fault.” He swallowed the final bit, then pointed at the piece in Owen’s hand. “Now choose. That’s either yours or mine.”
I-it's not like we're FRIENDS or anything! Baka!
“How did you know my name?”

Owen babbled uselessly again, starting with an explanation before transitioning into a question seconds later, but neither attempt at speaking was accomplished. Eventually, after several more attempts, he said, “What?”

“I don’t believe we’ve met before,” Zena said. “How did you… know me? You aren’t some kind of…”
Haha, oh man, if this isn't a reversal on what Zena went through all those chapters ago.
“Uh—” Suddenly realizing that Hakk was the first person he’d met who could probably answer this question, he quickly asked, “Where are we? What happened? Do you know?”

Hakk sighed, rubbing his forehead. Then, like a routine, he said, “You’re in the Voidlands. You died. You can’t go back. Come with me to Null Village or stay out here and pray to the god that can’t hear you. That clear it up?”
Really love the bluntness of this. No ambiguity. No going back. And even though as the reader, we can assume that they will in fact find a way to go back, it sets up the expectation that it better involve some really weird **** if no one's figured it out in thousands of years.
He realized too late that his flame was blazing with excitement. Trying to hide it, he shifted his weight and stared up at Timothy with more awed hope than he’d ever admit.

“Heh, looks like you’re already looking for a fight,” Timothy said, grinning. “Number one! I’m gonna call you… Owen!”
I know what you're doing here and I don't like it. Don't try to make me like him. Illegal. >:[
“It’s just evals,” Owen admitted. “A lot of people had wishes, and, well…”

“Hey, no rush,” Jirachi said. “I probably grant too many anyway! Let’s take it easy. You can take off the Wishkeeper hat for a
day, can’t you?”
Oh, huh. Well this sure explains why I had no idea wtf was up with Wishkeeper in BLC, lol. So, to recap, at one point Owen managed to join the Legends as a Gmax charizard? Huh. It feels a little out of left-field, but I'm definitely curious to learn more. I'm assuming this was probably well before all the orbs/hunters/alloy stuff.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Thanks for the review, Chibi! To be clear, it wasn't a gMax Charizard, but more someone Totem-sized. I don't have any intention of including Dynamax stuff as a core plot concept. I'm tempted to have Titans have moves akin to Max Moves, but that's pretty much the extent I plan to delve into it. This story was planned out pre Gen 8, and I can only incorporate so much. Dynamaxing is... really specific.

Chapter 102 – Clash at Null Village

Owen, Demitri, and Mispy emerged to a sky carved in two by a Hydro Pump, and then further impacted by purple crescents of energy that cut the water into strange, oblong and jagged shapes. The Hydro Pump stopped, and a Mewtwo reappeared in the middle of the sky, looking left and right with a wide grin. Owen quickly hid behind Mispy’s foreleg, but Aster wasn’t looking for him.

In a blink, a starry Flygon rammed into Aster from behind, digging his claws into flesh. It left barely a scratch by the time Aster propelled himself forward with a kick, Psychic energy bursting from his feet.

“Gahi’s fighting Aster?! When did that happen?” Owen tried to keep up with them, but both Gahi and the Mewtwo were teleporting across the sky every few seconds, occasionally clashing in random spots in the air. It seemed like Gahi was holding his own, but Owen feared that Aster wasn’t taking the battle seriously.

“You two need to help him,” Owen said, staring up. “I—I don’t know what I can do against…”

“No.” Mispy used several vines to wrap around and then guide Owen to her back.

“If we leave you alone,” Demitri translated, “Aster might pluck you right off the ground mid-battle. If we’re fighting Aster, you’re coming with us!”

It was unintuitive, though it was better than hiding and hoping he wouldn’t be found. But what was he supposed to be able to do to help?

“Let’s try to get closer. Follow the streets!” Owen could use the time to think.

Owen could see several townsfolk were either watching from their doorways or windows. Shadows deeper inside suggested more were hiding. The streets were empty aside from guards rushing to secure the premises, but none of them looked eager to fight Aster directly. Owen could imagine why. One strike from him ran the risk of instant death, and then who knows where they’d wake up in the Voidlands—and how much of their selves would remain.

Owen could only imagine that terror… And was thankful, in a morbid way, that he was apparently immune to it. Perhaps that was one reason he could afford to risk himself more.

Think. What could he do? He didn’t have strength behind him. He had already realized long ago that he wasn’t going to rapidly evolve. Whatever happened when he had first died in the Voidlands, it stripped him of his power, even if it couldn’t take his memories. He had to be clever. His most useful technique had been Protect, but what good was that if he couldn’t get into the fray?

They made more turns through the streets but had to stop when a stray Shadow Ball vaporized the ground only a few feet ahead of them. A crater of rubble that crackled with black electricity remained—that wasn’t a normal Ghost attack.

“It’s rot,” Owen said to himself. “We need to be careful. It’s the same power Anam has!”

Balls of psychic energy followed in a rapid-fire line that hammered into several buildings.

“This guy’s way out of our league,” Demitri panted. “What’s Gahi thinking?!”

“He doesn’t,” Mispy concluded, though her serrated flower petals were glowing.

Owen’s eyes widened. “Uh—Mispy?”

“Shh.” Mispy kept following Aster’s movements. She was waiting for the right moment to launch a Solar Beam…

If only he had Perceive. He could have potentially read where Aster would appear, maybe try to sense distortions in the air. Would that work? He didn’t know. It could also overwhelm him.

No use thinking about things he didn’t have. He needed to find a way to get them to Gahi to help. There was a Hydro Pump back there—Zena! Where was she? She had to fire another so they could figure out her location.

Mispy suddenly jerked to the left, changing course mid-stride. Owen fell off and into Demitri’s arms with a yelp.

“Mispy?” Demitri called. “What’s going on?”

Aster managed a powerful kick on Gahi, slamming him into the ground a few streets over. Not even missing a beat, Gahi appeared in a flash of light above Aster and slammed down on him with his cosmic tail, dealing the same blow.

Then, he whipped around and clawed at the air behind him—where Aster had appeared, only to get a slash across the chest. Aster gasped; Gahi smirked. Then, they both disappeared to opposite sides of the town.

“I can’t believe he’s holding his own against him.” Demitri tripped, but regained himself.

Owen tried to ignore the odd warmth in his chest. This was serious. “Aster might be holding back for fun, or something. Or maybe he’s trying to draw me out. This—this isn’t a trap, is it?”

“Gahi will die,” Mispy replied immediately.

“Right, we don’t have a choice…”

Aster was standing still in the air for too long; a second Hydro Pump smashed into him from the forward-left of the town from Owen’s perspective. That was only a few streets off—and Mispy was already running that way to regroup. Aster formed a barrier after getting soaked by some of the blast. The rest of the water split the low clouds. Behind the gray splotches was a bright, crimson sky of even thicker fog. It coated the town in a malevolent, red tint. Aster stood in the middle of it with a wide grin.

“You really are hiding someone!”

He raised his right hand. Psychic crescents whipped around it like a small tornado.

“My turn!”

He swung, unleashing the twister of Psychic blades toward Gahi. The Flygon disappeared in a Teleport’s flash. Aster dramatically swung his arm to the left and the tornado followed, curving toward Gahi again. The Flygon disappeared higher and it curved toward him again. Gahi disappeared next to Aster, but then must have realized how terrible of an idea that was because he disappeared milliseconds before Aster could grab him.

Demitri hopped off Mispy and went below her after some brief communication. He hefted Mispy into the air and threw her onto the rooftop of a nearby building. After a rough landing—and wrapping a vine around Owen to secure him—she reached down and pulled Demitri up next. At this vantage point, they saw a third Hydro Pump coming from two streets over.

Gahi disappeared low to the ground, like he was about to bait the psionic tornado into the ground.

“Gahi, no!” Demitri cried. “There are people in there!”

Gahi seemed surprised that they were there at all, but he hissed and disappeared again, redirecting the tornado toward him.

Aster was preparing a second twister with his other arm, weaving around another Hydro Pump. He launched that second twister toward the source.

“No!” Owen cried.

Then, Mispy fired. Blinding light forced Owen to cover his eyes just in time for the Solar Beam to connect. The explosion rocked the ground and cracked the reinforced rooftops of the nearest buildings. The ringing in Owen’s head didn’t stop for a while, but Mispy had sighed with relief. So, it was deflected? But Aster had prepared it so quickly. Mispy took far too long to charge an attack to deflect it; the next one wouldn’t be so easy.

“We have to do something,” Owen yelled over the ringing.

“They’re flying through the air,” Demitri said. “We can’t fly! And Zena would just be exposing herself if she went out now!”

Demitri threw Mispy over to another rooftop across the road, and Owen heard the rooftop beneath them groan from the force. Mispy grabbed Demitri mid-throw and pulled him along. In the arc above the road, they had a much better vantage point for the battlefield. Owen scanned the roads. Demitri’s throw had been so strong, and Mispy was so much heavier, that even after she picked Demitri up, her momentum in the air had been barely affected. The rooftop once under Demitri, though, had cracked…

Zena was in an alleyway, occasionally peering out to look for Aster to fire. Good, she had cover, though that would be meaningless if Aster teleported.

Trina was on Zena’s head, unable to do anything, so instead she behaved as a second pair of eyes.

On another side street, a trail of shadows that Owen knew was Marshadow ran swiftly toward Aster’s location.

“Marshadow’s alive and heading to Aster,” Owen said quickly.

“Okay, so Gahi won’t be alone, but we still need more help.” Demitri looked up, frantic. “Aster’s too far away for me to hit with my axes. If I miss, that’s it!”

That was it. Aster was too far away. The only way they could even hope to keep up would be if they could Teleport, too! And Gahi only could because of his Psychic Orb. How was he supposed to—

Something clicked at around the same time the ringing stopped, and Owen’s pupils dilated and focused in on Gahi.

He just needed time.

“Distract Aster a little longer,” Owen said, suddenly crossing his legs and grabbing onto one of Mispy’s vines for leverage. “I need to focus.”

Because he had it. He knew he had a way to help. It wasn’t at the forefront of his aura—he needed to tune himself first. Breathe, breathe…

By Necrozma, he hoped this would work.

It was somewhere. Somewhere deep. He had to think back. A time when Tim was still training him, a time when he needed to protect him, when he had to learn about his opponents on the fly. When he had to be ready for any Pokémon, not just the ones he’d have an advantage over. When Tim’s whole world was on Owen’s shoulders.

Demitri had, in his desperation, tore off a small fragment of the roof and threw it at Aster, who was now controlling two twisters at an ever-more-tired Gahi.

Mispy’s petals glowed once more.

Zena hadn’t fired another Hydro Pump, but she was certainly on standby.

What was Marshadow doing?

…There. Owen was ready. “Gahi!” Owen shouted, and then said, “Demitri, call Gahi!” Owen, meanwhile, made sure he was hiding behind Mispy’s neck so Aster couldn’t see him.

They both called again, and Gahi, between his dodges, turned to them.

“Come here!” Owen ordered, and then Demitri and Mispy looked at him like he was insane.

But Gahi obeyed without question, disappearing and reappearing.

“What?!” Gahi said. The Psychic twisters were upon them, seconds away.

“Okay, Teleport away,” Owen immediately replied.

The Flygon squinted exasperatedly.

“GO!”

“Alright, alright!” Gahi disappeared, and the Psychic auras twisted away.

Okay, worst part of the gamble was over with. Owen was banking on Mispy being able to take a hit or two, but they didn’t even have to worry about it. He had a Protect ready in case that didn’t work. But now—even more time.

Owen focused on the space that Gahi had once been, feeling a strange, new trace, like a sixth sense, where he had been. Gahi didn’t go far, either, and that residual trace of energy was even stronger when Owen focused on that.

Mentally, he reached for it. Grabbed it, seized it, pulled it forward. That energy was what Gahi used to Teleport. And with that old technique from Ayame…

“Demitri,” Owen said. “I want you to get ready to throw your ax as hard as you can at Aster.”

“But he’s too—”

“Trust me. You’ll know when. Okay? No time.”

“Okay.”

Mispy glanced back at Owen with a combination of recognition and disbelief. Yes, Owen could tell; she was smart enough to figure out what he was planning. But she probably didn’t know how.

She wrapped a vine around Demitri and nodded, then wrapped one around Owen.

“Here goes.” Owen concentrated on that new kernel of energy. Mimic.

That stolen power was his, at least temporarily, and now it was time to use it. He let his mind fall into his instincts, and then let those guide him. He envisioned Aster, dancing with his blades as Gahi’s Teleports became slower and sloppier. He saw where Aster was and then focused on the space above and behind the Mewtwo.

That new part of Owen’s core, malleable and adaptive, coursed a tingling energy from his mind into his claws.

And suddenly, they were behind Aster, in freefall.

Demitri overcame his split second of panic and pulled his arm back. Aster was mere feet away from him.

Owen remembered that Demitri was afraid of heights.

Yet he pulled through. The natural tomahawk soared through the air and lodged itself firmly in Aster’s back with a loud, dull THUD, and Aster went spiraling forward with blood streaming behind him.

“The other one!” Owen barked.

Demitri reached for his second tusk, but then looked down and froze.

“No, Demitri, throw! THROW!”

Demitri’s gaze was frozen at the ground.

“Demitri,” Mispy pleaded, and he snapped out of it.

He squeezed the tusk tight and readied another throw, but when they all looked for Aster again, he was gone. And Owen noticed, thanks to the brighter sky, a shadow above them.

Owen didn’t even look up. He grasped Mispy again and focused, and they were suddenly above Aster instead of below. His body interrupted their descent; Gahi sped toward them and rammed into Aster headfirst, indigo flames coating his body. Mispy wrapped a vine around Owen and Demitri to keep them near, but the impact sent Owen flying. It was only with another quick vine that he didn’t freefall on his own.

Aster curled up into a ball and formed another barrier around him, this one a bright sphere tinged with black ripples. It expanded rapidly, and then bent off of Aster and around Team Alloy.

Demitri, coming to his senses, pulled his fist back and readied a punch. Aster hurled the sphere into the town below. Owen’s stomach was in his throat as they went tumbling in the air, the ground rapidly getting closer.

“Sorry, guys,” Owen said, and then crossed his arms, forming a Protect that pushed the others away from him. He could afford a rough landing, but risking a crushing landing from any of his larger teammates wouldn’t do.

It was surreal. Aster was probably trying to pull out one of Demitri’s axes from his back; they were plummeting to the ground in tense, prepared silence. Another crystal-clear beam of water soared through the air and Aster shrieked like he’d been doused in ice after a warm shower. Mispy held Demitri a little tighter. Demitri held his breath and closed his eyes.

Gahi muttered, “Get ready ter heal.”

Mispy replied with a silent, “Mm.”

“Get ready, Owen,” Gahi added.

“I’m ready.”

Within his golden barrier, Owen smiled. He knew they would survive the landing. An odd serenity washed over him, because that brief silence in the battle let him finally stop to think. Was this what he had been looking for all this time? A team he could put his complete faith in? Someone he could trust completely, who’d always shared the same goal as him—to be together.

Together…

A Flygon stood in front of him, barely half his height. Flygon had his hands on his hips and his tail flicked irritably; just behind him was a Meganium and Haxorus. Meganium shuffled her feet, kicking at a nearby pebble.

“So, how’s that sound?” Flygon asked. “You’ll join our team. And you aren’t allowed to worry about us dying off while you get to live with Legends. And in exchange… you train us to climb Destiny Tower, just like you.” He held out a hand. “Deal?”


Owen had blacked out. He hoped it had only been for a few seconds. Demitri groaned to his left; Mispy’s vines writhed to feel for everyone.

“Get your butt outta my face,” Gahi said, muffled.

“That’s me,” Mispy grunted; she moved as if something in her chest had broken.

“You have one?”

They rolled off of each other, Gahi in particular wheezing.

Healing energy washed over them, and Owen remembered where they were. He shot up into a sitting position; the sky was still a bright crimson and Aster was inspecting the ax that had once been tossed at him. It had a small trickle of blood on it, but little more. That had been a direct hit from Demitri…

But they were still standing, and they were together. Together, that word, why did that…

“Guys!” Owen stood. “I think… I think it’s time to fuse. You three.”

“What? Fuse?” Demitri glanced at Mispy, who shook her head.

“Yer nuts,” Gahi stated flatly. “We’ll lose it! Never fused since we got ‘ere, an’ this place messes with yer head, I swear!”

“It’s our best shot!” Owen pointed skyward. “We gave them everything we had and even new tricks and—”

“Look out!” Gahi tackled Owen, but Gahi was struck in the back by a stray Shadow Ball. He roared and curled up, squeezing his eyes shut, and Owen smelled something exposed on Gahi’s back. Demitri looked horrified, but Mispy was reflexively channeling healing energy into her ally.

By the time Owen was unfocused on Gahi and looking for Aster, Demitri shrieked next.

“Hi!” Aster had appeared right next to him.

Demitri threw a punch, hitting air when Aster appeared on his other side. Mispy tried to grab him next, but a Psychic barrier blocked her advance.

“You did a nice shot on me,” Aster said, turning around to show the vertical scar where the ax had once been. It must have been a hasty heal to leave a mark at all…

Demitri stepped back, his foot slipping on a patch of loose dirt. Aster appeared next to Demitri again and grabbed his tail. He grinned wider. Demitri did not.

And then they both disappeared.

Aster appeared several houses away, holding Demitri by the tail like he was a toy. He lifted him up, swinging, and made a motion like he was going to slam him on the ground, despite being in midair.

Another flash and Aster was suddenly just above a rooftop, slamming Demitri hard onto it. Demitri cried out, but before he could flail out of Aster’s hold, the Mewtwo swung him in the opposite direction and disappeared, smashing him into the wall of a separate building. Aster’s laughter filled Owen’s ears with each hit, the disorienting movements leaving Demitri no room to figure out how to block the blows or where the next one would take him.

Owen could only watch in horror. He had copied the Teleport for now, but he had no idea how to keep up with that. Aster had lifetimes of experience with the technique. Owen had just learned it, fleetingly.

“You’re strong and sturdy!” Aster said, lifting Demitri higher. He let go, a Psychic grasp keeping him in place so they stared face-to-face, Demitri upside-down. He was barely conscious, one eye open. “I think you’re the one I’m looking for. I’m gonna take you to Alexander!”

Bad to worse and Owen still had no idea how to counter it. Demitri—he was going to take Demitri away? Teleport, he could Teleport and try to—no, he had no power. Where was Marshadow? Waiting for an opening? There was no time to wait anymore!

A vine wrapped around Owen’s torso and pulled him up. He had been so involved in planning how to take down Aster, or at least free Demitri, that he didn’t realize Mispy and Gahi had already planned something. What were they—

That wasn’t Mispy or Gahi.

The petals that had once been around Mispy’s neck had migrated to the fusion’s back as wings, lined and reinforced by vines. Several more trailed behind him, ready to block or jab at anything that came their way. The two antennae that Mispy used to have were now merged with Gahi’s, which turned a yellower color, longer and thinner.

While the base body was still a Flygon, the legs and arms were longer and thicker—just more of Mispy’s base form. Owen wasn’t sure how they were going to run in a form like—

Owen lost his breath when the fusion jumped into the air, massive acceleration pinning him into the vine that had wrapped around his torso. Then came a rapid deceleration, his balled up left ‘arm’ smashing into Aster’s chest in less than a second’s time to move. Owen wasn’t even sure if they’d Teleported or if that was just Gahi at full speed.

Aster was equally surprised, his grip on Demitri loosening enough in that split-second for the fusion to grab Demitri and disappear.

“Ah!” Zena flinched.

They were in the alleyway where she had been hiding.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help,” Zena said quickly. “I can’t find an—"

“Guard him,” the fusion said, shoving Demitri into Zena’s hold.

Were they about to hand Owen off? No, he couldn’t let that happen. He still needed to help, and being thrown around like this was giving him an idea. “Mispy, Gahi, we—”

“Gami.”

Whatever, just, keep me with you! I can help!”

“I know.”

And then they disappeared, and then Aster was right in front of them again.

“Oh!” Aster tilted his head. “You look different.”

It was like Gami knew their body innately. Tendrils rose from over his shoulders and split open, revealing black mouths that parted four ways. A bright light formed in the back of each one’s throat, and then blasted where Aster had once been with a scattered Solar Beam—Gami had charged it so fast! But Aster had already disappeared. Gami’s antennae twitched, and both Gami and Owen disappeared, reappearing several feet away, right behind Aster. Gami went for a swift jab, but Aster disappeared again, and Owen started to get dizzy with how often they tried to out-Teleport each other.

At some point, they’d both landed a strike and blasted each other away. Aster stopped earlier and Gami could only hold a vine forward on reflex. Owen’s vine, and now he was the only thing between a ramming attack from Aster and the prone fusion.

His trained reflexes kicked in and he crossed his arms, staring Aster down. A golden shield blocked Aster’s advance with an ethereal clang. The Flygon-Meganium then swung forward, parrying Aster and staggering him back.

Finally, something connected: another Solar Beam sent Aster flying back, and then a shadowy blob struck Aster from below. The Mewtwo’s eyes bulged—a sign of actual pain?—and he reappeared a few streets down, rubbing at his plexus.

Gami appeared below Marshadow, letting him land on his head. “Took you long enough.”

“Feh, waitin’ fer an opportunity,” Marshadow replied.

Gami’s antennae twitched and she glanced to the northeast. Owen tried to follow his gaze, but it wasn’t very easy with all the vines in the way. Through the dreary crimson light, something red flew toward them from the town outskirts. Owen recognized that general shape from books, but he couldn’t recall the name. But it was certainly a Legend.

“Latias?” Marshadow said.

Sounded familiar. “Is she here to help?” Owen asked.

“Probably, but she ain’t s’posed ter be here,” Marshadow said. “No time!” He pointed left, but Gami already held Owen up. He cast another Protect just in time to parry another of Aster’s strikes. Marshadow tried to follow up, but Aster offset his own position a few feet up. Then came a Psychic blast that rumbled Owen’s chest and sent Marshadow into the streets, upending the tiles and leaving a crater upon impact.

“Aster knows it’s one of us,” Owen said. “We can’t beat him. We have to run!”

“But how?” Gami said. “We can’t just leave everyone behind!”

“They’ll chase us,” Owen said. “Aster wants me!”

Far ahead of them, Latias and Aster were in a Psychic power struggle. Latias didn’t seem that strong, and she moved like she wasn’t used to her own Psychic attacks. Owen didn’t have time to think about why. For all he knew, she had been flying for days.

“I can’t outrun Aster like this,” Gami said. “I’ve got speed but I’m too heavy—I don’t have the stamina to…”

Owen refused to let this hope of escape slip him by. They had Gahi in there! Psychic Gahi! There had to be a way to power that up and make up for the lost weight.

Power…

“Demitri,” Owen said. “Let’s get Demitri! T-triple fusion!”

Gami gasped.

“Either that or fight Aster.”

“But what if we…”

Owen hesitated for only a second, but then he twisted himself around to face Gami, staring him in the eyes. He saw their fear—he knew what that was like. He knew that fear of losing himself. But he also knew how to combat it.

“You’ll make it,” he said. “Just think about all we went through. Now and way back. Because we’re Team Alloy, right?”

Gami stared, then smiled wryly. There was a snide comment in his throat, but he never said it. Instead, they were suddenly on the ground in a flash, startling Zena again.

“Will you please give advance warning when you Teleport?” Zena begged.

“I don’t think you can warn for that,” Trina remarked.

“What’s happening?” Demitri asked, delirious. He was covered in crushed scales.

“Hi.” Gami tossed Owen to Zena, who caught him in her ribbons. “Demitri. Fusion time.”

“Just a short nap…”

“Too long.”

The vines wrapped around Demitri and pulled him under, but Zena was more focused on Owen, whispering, “What’s happening up there?”

Aster cried out, dull thuds popping their ears. A nearby building’s wall cracked from the shock.

Owen scaled Zena’s neck and used her horn as a pillar to hold while looking up. From where they were standing, they couldn’t see anything. It sounded like three people were fighting, and Aster and Marshadow were the ones in melee.

“Latias is here,” Owen told Zena. “She’s helping fight Aster, so I think we should ask her what’s going on when we can, but we need to run.”

“But what’s our end plan?” Zena said. “How can we outpace them?”

Owen gestured to the fused Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, trying to shake off the nerves. He had faith in them. If he showed weakness now, it might make them panic, and their mental state would collapse. This was the closest they’d ever come to the Alloy, under a time of stress, in the middle of a fight between three Legends. There was far too much that could go wrong for him to lose his nerve now.

“Guys?” Owen called. “Talk to me. What’s going on?”

“Shh.”

Owen flinched. New voice. Gahi and Mispy together was already strange—his voice had been like sandy winds, or a grassy beach. But Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi together all at once had a deeper undertone to it. It had Mispy’s soft whisper with Gahi’s sharp cut, but Demitri’s gentle depth.

Owen searched for the parts he could recognize. Gahi’s eyes and general head shape was there, but his scales had toughened and yellowed to match Demitri’s hard armor. The Flygon’s swiftness remained in the generally lean build for the upper half, but it thickened and transitioned into a Meganium’s, green vines along his lower half. Jutting out from the rear was a tail that had a Flygon’s length but a Haxorus’ colors, with three pairs of blades flexing at the tip like fans. His arms seemed a little longer and thicker, and Owen feared that he’d be snapped into a thousand tiny pieces by a single punch. A punch that, he was sure, would smash through even his Protect…

And he’d been silent for a while. Owen dared not speak. Trina and Zena had the same idea.

The triple fusion slowly breathed in, then slowly breathed out, even amid the clashing above. Aster had no idea where they were.

“Thank you,” the fusion finally said. “I’m Migami.”

“Not surprised,” Trina said with a mixture of disappointment and relief. “Never had a talent for creativity…”

“Hey,” Owen growled.

“I wasn’t referring to you,” Trina replied.

“I know.”

“Shh.” Migami held up an arm. “No arguing.”

“Right, sorry.” Owen nodded.

“We’re running?” Migami asked.

“We need to. It’ll draw Aster away. So we—”

“Nah.”

“Uh—”

“Fight first.”

Owen held his arms up. “Okay, hang on—”

“Convince him we’re strong.”

Owen’s fingers flexed in the air, and then he looked down at Zena, who tried looking up.

“They have a point,” Trina commented.

Migami smirked at Owen.

Oh, no, Gahi’s attitude was still there.

Owen had to be the voice of reason. “Only enough to guarantee he goes away from town.”

“Why?”

This was bad. There was a manic grin on their face. They were losing themselves.

“Guys, breathe. Calm. Remember, we need to protect people. No fighting. No fighting.”

Migami grinned a little wider, stretching his wings. “Fine,” he said. “Zena, Trina, go hide. We’ll be fine on our own.”

“What? But what if Aster catches up?” Zena asked.

“Catch up? Pfft.” Migami grabbed Owen by the scruff of his neck and used a vine for extra security. The fusion’s wings seemed to expand with petals, reinforced by vines to catch even more updraft. “I’m gonna drive him away.”

“Just hide,” Owen said, defeated, to Zena.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Trina lectured, pointing a tiny hand their way.

“I won’t, I won’t,” Migami lied.

Zena left with Trina, and once they did, Owen turned incredulously to Migami, ready to lecture him. Gahi’s side was far too strong, and—

“Tell me when to run,” Migami said. “I’m gonna be too involved. I’ll listen.”

Migami looked skyward, waiting for the right opportunity, and Owen sputtered. “What? What was all that bravado, then?”

“Bravado.”

“Oh.”

Just then, Marshadow shot across the sky, and Migami caught him like a ball. Owen didn’t even remember going to the sky. Was that a Teleport or did he just move really quickly? He would have felt the force involved in moving, right? Or was this part of his power?

“What the—” Marshadow tried to fight back, but Migami tossed him in the air.

“Oi, oi!”

“It’s just us,” Migami said, and then held Owen up. “Help us fight As—”

Migami thrust Owen forward and he reflexively formed another Protect, narrowly parrying another barrage from Aster. Aster disappeared behind Migami, but Migami answered with a cutting tail whip. With a flick of his tail, the three twin blades went spinning off and in midair, converging toward Aster in a wide arc. He disappeared, but a Psychic glow course-corrected the blades toward Aster’s new spot.

“How’d you know you could do that?” Owen formed another Protect, which Migami used to block a flurry of Shadow Balls.

“I guessed.” Migami then beamed Owen at Aster, which was a genuine surprise, but he had complete faith in Migami by now. He readied a ball of fire with his momentum. Aster and Owen locked eyes, and a flash of confusion crossed the Mewtwo’s expression.

He was getting used to Migami’s lightning movements. He didn’t understand—Gahi used to be a lot slower when part of Owen. But perhaps as a triple fusion, they covered their weaknesses?

Migami appeared beside Aster and rammed into him. With a connection, Migami fired a Solar Beam point-blank into Aster’s chest. Aster yelped in surprise, but not before Marshadow slammed into Aster from below with rapid Shadow Punches, sending him sky-high and into the ashen clouds.

“You dropped this,” Latias said, catching Marshadow on her back.

“Oh, sorry,” Migami said. “Thought Marshadow could take the fall.”

“I can,” Marshadow defended, green flames rising. “Still real rude!”

Migami tittered a little, but then looked up. Latias flew around Migami and touched him on the shoulder. “Be careful,” Latias warned. “If you can’t see Aster, he might see you from another place.”

Migami stiffened and Latias drifted away, Marshadow readying for another rapid Shadow Punch.

Then came Aster, this time from the left. Migami took a hit—Psychic powers twisted at the scales along his side and the rest of his body followed, spiraling downward. Owen screamed and held tight, crossing his arms for another Protect out of panic.

“Ghh—” Migami lost focus somehow. He slammed into and then through a building’s reinforced wall. Owen smelled something cooking, a passing scream, and then they were outside the house again.

“S-sorry,” Owen mumbled. “Guys? Are you okay?”

They were in a garden of red void plants, gnarled things that resembled mourning, bipedal creatures. Migami was letting out slow, shaking, deep breaths. Owen searched for a wound but couldn’t find any. Had Migami already healed from it? Then what was getting him all shaken up?

“Is he too strong?” Owen asked.

Latias floated high above, but couldn’t descend in time. She clashed with Aster again, and then Migami grasped Owen by the shoulder.

“That’s not Latias,” Migami said. “I… We need to go.”

“What?”

But then they were in the outskirts of town, and Migami jumped into the air. The wind blinded Owen; by the time he could see again, they were speeding away from Null Village, going south. Far along the horizon was the edge of Nil Plateaus.

“Migami!” Owen shouted. “What about everyone else?!”

“You said they’d chase us, right?!” Migami went faster. “Then let them! But we can’t fight now!”

“Why?! What’s going on?!” This made no sense. Only a little while ago, Migami was saying he’d wait for Owen to say to run. They could have at least waited for Zena and the others to rendezvous somewhere!

They were so far away that he couldn’t see Null Village through the trees. Instead, when Migami sighed in an impossible mixture of relief and dread, they saw Latias flying after them. It was odd, because she’d come from a direction away from Null Village; had Aster knocked her far away?

“What do you mean, that isn’t Latias?” Owen said. “Are you sure we shouldn’t slow down?”

Something black was glowing in the back of the pursuing Dragon’s throat. Seconds later, a Shadowy blast flew toward them, easily dodged by Migami.

“Okay!” Owen squeezed at the vine around him. “Run away time!”

And while Owen wasn’t sure if leaving everyone behind in Null Village was a good idea, they also knew that Aster wanted them, and that some kind of Dark Latias was after them, too. Fighting in Null Village was out of the question. With luck, they could circle back and meet up again.

But right now, Migami was too shaken to fight, and Owen had to find out why.

<><><>​

The clash could have gone better. Even as Aster slammed Dark Matter into the ground from yet another Psychic pulse, Dark Matter bided his time and calculated his next strategy.

“Huh?” Aster stopped the onslaught and turned around. “Wait! Where’re they going?!”

Perfect opportunity. He left Marshadow behind and jumped into the air, touching the distracted Mewtwo on the arm. Contact. Finally.

Aster looked at Dark Matter with a confused blink. He lifted his other arm and conjured a Shadow Ball.

What—

It exploded in Dark Matter’s face and Dark Matter lost his grip. He spiraled into the wall of a nearby building, leaving a Latias-shaped imprint in the stone as the rest of the wall cracked and collapsed. The crystals of light embedded within them stung his feathers like solid acid.

Dark Matter stared in disbelief. From his angle, he could barely see the Mewtwo flying after Latias, whom he’d sent to pursue Owen.

And then it hit him. “Alexander,” he hissed, slamming his fist into the wall, which shattered the rest of it.

“Hey,” called an annoyed-looking Sableye from within the broken home. “I hope you’re gonna pay for—”

“Shut.” Dark Matter flicked him on the forehead and he stopped talking. He floated up and levitated higher, scanning the horizon.

He growled lowly. This was less than ideal. But no matter. Owen was effectively his, now. All that was left was a little insurance.

Marshadow, Dark Matter called. Contact Alexander and tell him I’ve come to say hello.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 103 – Legendary Friendships

Latias was getting closer.

“Migami?” Owen couldn’t figure out how fast they were going. The Teleports were so far he couldn’t see what the previous landmarks were. Everything in the Nil Plateau looked the same, from the deep violet rocks to the lighter magenta tops. What Owen did notice, however, was how much less frequent the Teleports were becoming, and his flier’s labored breathing.

“We can’t keep running,” Owen said after Migami didn’t answer.

“Gotta run,” Migami replied, their voice ragged like something was stuck in his throat. Owen caught a thin splotch of blood in the corner of his cheek.

“Migami, you’re pushing yourself way too far,” Owen urged. “Find a plateau to disappear behind!”

Latias was a dot in the distance, but that meant she could still see them. Aster was much further behind, but Migami was much more afraid of Latias, and they never explained why.

“Just hide now! We can’t keep this up!”

“No… gotta—” The sky’s jittering position told Owen that they’d Teleported again, but that was when Migami’s flight suddenly hit turbulence. Migami coughed, tiny drops of blood blowing in the wind, spraying Migami’s chest with a spatter of crimson.

“Migami, please,” Owen begged. “As… as leader, I’m commanding you to hide instead of run. Understand?”

Migami scoffed, though it was strained. The vines tightened around Owen, but Owen held his glare and refused to let out even a wheeze.

This was for Migami’s own good. They were too stubborn. This team needed a steady hand, one that wasn’t hungry for battle. And while Owen was still that, he was the sanest of the four right now.

Now, Migami,” Owen said firmly.

“Tch.”

Migami flared their wings, the petals looking a little stretched from all the flying. Owen had been unsure of its aerodynamics before, but now they seemed like they were only there for decoration. That was made a lot clearer when Owen realized that, despite their flight stopping, they were still floating.

And then, in a blink, they were on the ground of another cave. A cold chill ran through Owen’s spine at the similar scents and sights. Dark purple, shadowy alcoves. The dry, oppressive, vaguely foul stench of void dust, like an ancient and uncleaned room. Owen thought he smelled the beginnings of rot, and then he saw Amia’s face.

Migami collapsing snapped him out of his thoughts, but Owen’s heart was already racing. “Migami?” he asked automatically, but received no response. They were still just outside the cave that he’d spotted.

“Come on, we have to get inside,” Owen begged, struggling out of his hold. He pulled at the vines, thought of pulling at the tail but decided against it after seeing the blades, and then sprinted around to the head. “Migami?”

They were breathing and they were conscious, but not completely responsive. He waved his hand in front of one eye, and the pupils followed him, but when he said their name again, he got little reaction.

Owen stepped away, steadying his heart. He wasn’t strong enough to pull Migami in. The three of them together were at least an order of magnitude larger than he was, and several times more than that in mass. He needed incredible force to get them inside, even a little.

An indifferent wind blew past them, and Owen briefly wondered if he could find some way to fashion sails to sweep them in with the wind, but that would take too long.

Time was short. Latias would be here soon if they were unlucky.

His eyes darted left and right, but there was nothing to use other than himself and what Migami could provide.

…Maybe… that would be enough.

Better than nothing. Owen rushed to Migami’s back and stomped several times on the ground, channeling energy from his core to his feet. This time, he didn’t store Flame Bursts, but a more gradual, yet intense flame. Then, he moved to Migami and climbed their body, traversed the vines, and finally stood atop their back, where he squatted down and tried to heft their wings up. The vines fell away, revealing nothing more than useless, floppy petals. Needed to be reinforced.

“C’mon, c’mon…”

Owen thought back. There had to be something in his memories that could be useful here. Another breeze blew. A distant thundercrack shook the air. Owen didn’t know it could storm here. Was that even a storm?

Storm—rain. He’d seen barriers fashioned into bowls to capture the rain. Could he do the same to capture the wind?

Owen crossed his arms, forming a golden Protect. He knew how to concentrate the barrier ahead of him, how to make it a sphere around him, and he saw it twist and turn itself inside-out. Could he reshape it another way?

Slowly, he uncurled his wings and concentrated on the barrier. He envisioned wings, his Charizard wings. Maybe like an armor around them, like a Steel Wing strike. Something vaguely flight-worthy formed in front of him.

Now the hard part. The part where he didn’t know if it was possible or not.

Owen clutched at the base of Migami’s wings and held them up. He stared at the gold, concentrating as hard as he could, digging into parts of his aura that felt weak from atrophy. Small flashes of memory raced through him. The storage of his techniques, his Fire, into the ground. Of Har, storing even more techniques the same way. Marshadow’s words, that he could somehow transfer power into simple objects. It was like Anam’s blessings. And Jerry, that time he’d been so desperate to save him.

Why did all of that feel related?

A dragon of light was before him, four wings outstretched, standing tall. His prismatic eyes shined a little brighter, and the great Charizard’s heart thumped with awe and anxiety. “This is my power,” Necrozma said. “The same power I am using to give it to you: Bestow.”

Owen didn’t realize it until a second later. The Protect disappeared from the front and curled around Migami’s wings. Now they were at least twice as large with the golden extensions, and when Owen gave them a testing flap, they held. It was no heavier, but it was larger.

Next, he concentrated on the spots he’d stepped, curled his toes, and spat an ember at the base of his target. He braced for impact.

A pillar of fire several feet tall—but relatively quiet—burst into the air. The energy pelted his body and cut through his own Fire resistance, and some of the scales of Migami’s body turned dark from the scorch. The wind nearly blew Owen away, had it not been for his grip. The ground heaved—and the ground, for Owen, was Migami themselves. The wings caught the burst of wind and dragged Migami’s entire body back several feet into the cave, but then their body caught on the soil and bumped Owen off.

Migami crushed his lower body, and then rolled further and on top of Owen—and then it all went dark.

<><><>​

It was still dark, and Owen wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He felt fine, but he couldn’t move properly. And he couldn’t feel properly, either. Was he falling? Floating? There was no floor, and his flame wasn’t lighting anything but the parts of his body that its light touched.

Tentatively, he tried to move his arms. They felt longer, and his three claws told him the rest of the story. Charmeleon again, so he was dreaming.

“You’ve got this, Owen! Mimic that Ice Beam!”

He tried to shape his aura into the icy, chilly stance required to channel that cold energy, but there was nothing to draw from. These were blurry memories, less significant to him. Training, over and over and over, getting ready to take on that organization that stole away the rest of the team.

“Owen?” someone called, to his left.

“Oh, Klent.” Owen turned. In the void, all he saw was the Jumpluff.

“Asleep again, are we?” He tried to be funny, but his tone had a hint of gravity.

“Yeah.” Owen sat up, swishing his tail. Looks like I got crushed or something, or the exhaustion overwhelmed me. I extended myself too much.”

Klent rubbed his pompoms together. “You’re oddly calm about it.”

“Because if I wake up, I need to think of my next move. I get really groggy when I get up but I might not have the time to react.”

“That’s great! Keep it up! Blast them with Ice Beam some more!”

“Ire, don’t let a little ice take you down!”


Owen chuckled. “That hardly feels like me anymore. It’s not, is it?”

“What do you mean?” Klent asked.

“Smallflame. I’m not… really Smallflame, am I?”

Klent frowned, pensive. “I suppose, no more than when I had been a mortal Pokémon. Give enough time and your past self will be unrecognizable. But what does it matter?”

“Mm.” He had a point there. “Guess that means the same is for Tim, then. And what Eon is now.”

Klent looked relieved just then, but Owen’s disapproving stare brought some of that fear back.

“I’m not dismissing all of it,” Owen said. “I still want to get everything back. There’s still more I need to know. But I won’t forget the present.”

“Mm. Of course.” Klent looked up. A glimmer of light cut through the void. “It looks like you won’t be asleep for much longer.”

“Yeah. Klent, were you watching?”

“I was, but I don’t know more than you do.”

“Did it feel like you were closer to being summoned?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright. I’ll keep trying.” He stood, knowing time was short. “Again, sorry that these memories don’t make you happy.”

“That isn’t…” Klent sighed. He was about to say something else, but then Owen woke up.

<><><>​

“Migami,” Owen slurred, sitting up despite the dizziness. “Migami, are you okay?”

“Just fine,” Migami half-wheezed.

Owen groped for any sign of him, touching dust and rocks before finding a vine. “I’m right here.”

“I know, I’m not blind.”

Owen almost was. Everything was so blurry. With a free hand, he rubbed at his eyes, blinking.

Migami was holding their forehead with one hand and a few vines with another, breathing steadily. “I need… I need to fight.”

“Well, there isn’t anyone you can fight right now,” Owen said.

“There… there is.”

Owen wasn’t sure what they meant at first, but then sighed when several vines rushed him. Owen stepped back and crossed his arms, parrying most of them. He weaved left and dodged a few more, which lacerated the rocks behind him. Before Migami could strike again, Owen spat a small ember at Migami’s chest, which barely did anything, and Migami struck at Owen for a second time. And again, the Protect parried the vines away.

It was like a twisted dance, though there were only a few steps, and it lasted only seconds. By the end of it, Owen was trying to hide a smile, and when he finally managed to land another little ember at Migami, he went for the kill. Owen leapt for Migami’s face, using one of the vines as a spring when it had pulled up, and bopped Migami on the snout before clutching at their shoulder.

Owen giggled. “Got you.”

Migami sneezed, vines slashing at more of the rocks, and then let out a bestial growl. “…Cheater.”

A vine wrapped around Owen’s abdomen, holding him in midair so they could stare eye to eye.

“Feeling better?” Owen asked.

Migami’s intense, brown eyes dilated, and then he looked away, shameful.

“Hey, it’s alright,” the Charmander said. “I knew you wouldn’t really hurt me.” When Migami didn’t say anything in response, Owen added, “You didn’t break my Protect. There’s no way you lost that part of Demitri.” He reached up and patted the vine that held him. “Good job. You held on. That’s the important part, right?”

“I still… attacked you.”

“Well, hey, uh, every hatchling takes their first step, right?” Owen pried one of the vines loose and the rest fell away. He landed with a stumble at Migami’s feet. “Migami, can you sense Latias or Aster?”

“Oh.” The task, Owen hoped, would distract them from that urge to fight. Migami closed their eyes and hummed, and Owen waited nervously. He tried to feel around for a bag, but then realized that they hadn’t brought anything with them. They had been in such a rush to flee…

A creeping sense of dread washed over Owen. They were lost in the plateaus again. No food, no equipment, nothing but their scales.

But panicking would only make Migami’s psyche worse. Steadying his breath, Owen said, “It’s alright. We got all the way out here, so when we get our strength back, we can make our way back. We just have to lose them. If we don’t have anything on us, then that means there’s no way they can track us, either.”

“About that…”

So much for optimism. “They’re getting closer?”

“I can feel Latias getting closer. Not… not Latias. Dark Matter.”

“What?” Owen’s flame snapped and he tried to hide it behind him. Now was not the time to show fear, for Migami’s sake. “Is she coming this way right now?”

The cave didn’t look deep enough for them to hide at all. It only went a few more feet inside from where they were hiding. Latias would find them easily if she knew where to look.

How long had they been out? Last Owen remembered, Migami had been bleeding from the mouth, barely conscious, and now, they were standing and ready to run. Latias had been perhaps only minutes away from them… Mispy’s part didn’t heal that fast, did it?

“She—he, she knows where we are,” Migami said. “He’s coming right for us.”

“Can we run?”

“I don’t know.” Migami tested their wings, but winced. “I feel fatigued.”

So, running wasn’t an option. Not yet. “Can you gather your strength for one Teleport?”

“Maybe,” Migami said. “I’ll need time.”

“Then get that ready,” Owen added, stepping to the mouth of the cave. “I’ll, uh, stall for time?”

You?”

“Just be fast.” Owen approached the cave’s mouth, steeling himself. He just had to keep Latias out, maybe parry a few attacks with Protect, and if he was lucky, that Teleport was still part of his aura thanks to Mimic.

“She’s right around the corner,” Migami whispered, sliding further into the cave. “I’ll support from behind.”

“Focus on that Teleport,” Owen replied flatly.

“Don’t let her touch you,” Migami suddenly added.

“What?” Owen glanced back.

“Trust me.”

So, not enough time to explain. Alright. Owen could ask later.

A dim shadow crept to the mouth of the cave and Owen readied himself. He was just one Charmander about to face off against a lower Legend, but he knew all he had to do was stall. He had to bank on the idea that they wanted him alive. Killing him would only send him somewhere else to find again. If that was the case, they’d be forced to hold back. And he would just become a Charmander again. There was little to worry about. He literally could afford to die.

Migami did not have that same luxury.

Latias swooped down like red lightning. Owen quickly erected a barrier, blocking a predicted Psychic blast, but nothing came.

“What’s taking you so long?” Latias said, glaring at them. “We have to get back to the village!”

Owen remained skeptical and Migami refused to move. That was reason enough to retreat further into the cave.

“Hello? What are you doing?” Latias angrily gestured for them to come out.

“How do I know you aren’t Dark Matter?” Owen said. “We saw that blast of black energy. That was…”

“Shadow Ball? What, you never played around with how your moves are shaped?”

“No, I just did for Protect, I—there’s no way that was Shadow Ball. That was the same thing Anam did when he was corrupted!”

Migami was breathing quickly and shallowly. They didn’t have Gahi’s nerve; Demitri’s flighty tendencies were starting to take over. If Owen didn’t do something soon, they might panic, or worse.

“Just stay calm,” Owen assured. “She isn’t coming in because she knows she can’t take us.”

“Take you?” Latias jettisoned forward. “I’ll show you taking, I just need to—”

Owen crossed his arms and formed another Protect; Latias bumped her hands against the barrier, and Migami, screaming, fired a charged Solar Beam over Owen and into Latias’ face. She had been staring, transfixed, at the barrier for that split-second, and that was all Migami needed to send her skidding outside the cave. She didn’t get back up; she trembled and curled, hugging herself, sniveling.

“That… was too easy,” Owen mumbled, gesturing for Migami to stay put. This could be a trap. “Get another Solar Beam ready, just in case.”

“Don’t let her touch you.”

“Right.”

But he still had to get closer. They were at a stalemate now, and unless they forced Latias to flee, the stalemate would remain. “Hey,” Owen said. “Dark Matter. I know that’s you, so drop the disguise.”

He wasn’t sure what Dark Matter actually looked like, now that he thought about it.

“I’m—I’m not Dark Matter,” Latias choked out, though she still trembled on the ground. The dusty ground dirtied her feathers.

“Okay…” Owen carefully approached. “Then who are you?”

“Latias. I’m Latias, I’m… oh, gods, I can’t… I’m sorry, can you give me a second?”

This seemed too genuine to fake, but Owen didn’t have his Perceive to tell for sure. Afraid to so much as take his eyes off of Latias, Owen called back, “Migami? Did her aura change?”

“I… don’t know.” Their vines uncurled. “Maybe? She’s really distressed. It wasn’t like before.”

“I was under his control,” Latias said. “I was… I was just, it was in my head, I just felt like it was perfectly n-normal to follow what he said, like s-suddenly I… oh, gods…”

Owen’s compassion was forcing his legs forward, but his mind halted him after one step. “You’re saying he controlled you?”

“She’s safe,” Migami suddenly said.

“What?”

Migami emerged from the cave with much less fear than before, and Owen finally took his eyes off of Latias. When she moved again, though, his head snapped back to her and he crouched into a defensive stance, arms tense. But nothing came.

Latias tried to rise, but she was so unfocused that she couldn’t even levitate. She thumped on the ground and curled up again, sniffling. A few tears fell into the dust, turning that part of the purple ground a deep red.

“Hey, it’s… it’s going to be okay,” Owen said, and he finally took those last few steps forward. “I’m going to hold your shoulder, alright?”

She was soft like a pillow; a little deeper, below the feathers, her collarbone revealed a lithe frame meant more for stealth and flight than combat. Perhaps her psionics made up for it, but Owen still didn’t think she was much of a fighter.

She lunged for him, pulling him into a hug. Owen yelped and tried to break free, but no matter how weak a Legend may be, he was still a Charmander. Latias sniveled and cried and squeezed the Charmander into her chest, where his face drowned in sleek feathers.

“You’re… squishing me…!”

Latias sobbed, and between her sputters, she said, “I’m so glad you’re alive, Owen.”

Owen furrowed his brow even as his breath left him. Struggling to turn his head, he saw a similarly dumbfounded expression on Migami’s face.

Mercifully, Latias released Owen, and the Charmander plopped on the ground, gasping for breath.

“Sorry,” Latias said, laughing between sobs. “That was just… really scary. Like a nightmare where I was in total control, and yet… wasn’t.”

“I know what you mean,” Migami said, holding a hand to their chest. “Felt the same thing when that other Latias touched me. That’s what happened, wasn’t it? Dark Matter transformed into you…”

Latias nodded. “Can… we go in that cave?” And just then, the ground rumbled. “I think we have a lot to talk about.”

<><><>​

“So Anam’s in East Null Village,” Owen said, sighing. “At least he’s okay. And he can fight off Dark Matter…”

Latias nodded. “My brother is probably warning the other towns right now. We’re doing it manually so Alexander won’t intercept. But… Owen!” Latias laughed, a direct contrast to her trembling form only a little while ago. “I can’t believe it’s you! I mean, you certainly, um, downsized, but—”

Small, small, always with the small remarks. “Yeah, well, before I died, I was a Charizard, you know.”

“I know!” Latias giggled. “Which is why it’s so cute to see you like this!”

Migami was puffing their cheeks, holding back what must have been a bellowing laugh.

Owen liked her better when she was trying to kill them. “So, you knew me before.”

“Of course I—what? What kind of question is…Well. That’s fair.” Latias frowned, looking away. “After all, it’s been… how long? Lifetimes… So, you must have forgotten.”

“Yeah.” Lots of forgetting lately. “My memories are really spotty right now, but I’m getting a lot of them back. Maybe I’ll meditate to get more of them. Fill me in?”

“That’s a big request! But, sure. I’ll try.” Latias settled into a more comfortable position, laying her body flat on the ground. Then, she rotated and curled her neck so she could look at Owen. “Hmhh, where to begin…”

“Who is Necrozma?” Owen immediately asked.

Latias looked taken aback. “Oh, Owen… You can’t be serious?”

While Owen and Latias talked, Migami started to pull apart into their components, starting with Gahi. He, in turn, tried to shake away and grab Demitri with him.

“I am serious.” Owen dug his claws into his thighs. “I have little fragments of it, but that’s all. I barely remember anything about my time with Legends. That’s crazy to think ab—just a few months, I mean, moons ago, I thought you guys were just that! Legends! Myths! And now apparently I used to live among you guys like it was a thing to do.”

“That’s awful…” Latias squeezed her claws. “I’ll try. And I hope those memories come back, Owen. Necrozma was your master, after all. Or, well, not master. Teacher?

“He was just another Legend?” Owen asked.

“Not at all.” Latias nearly gasped. “He was in charge of everything! In fact, I was a little worried about how Star and Arceus were going to take up the mantle since he’s stuck in the Voidlands with us…”

Necrozma… was above Star and Barky? How? Owen frowned. How did they not know about him, or even acknowledge him? Were even they under the effects of a Decree? Because despite everything, Owen did not think that was something they could keep a secret for so long. But it didn’t look like Latias knew much more.

“Either way,” Latias said, “you worked under him. You and a few other students, a lot of them Legends themselves…”

“Which ones?” Owen asked.

“Well, Lugia, Rayquaza, oh, Giratina, too. Azelf…” She winked at him there. “And er, um… and Lunala.”

Owen tilted his head. Why the awkward hesitation? Why the wink? Before Owen could hide his incredulous expression, Latias frowned and said, “Oh, you… you don’t remember them.”

“I remember Lugia,” Owen said. “She’s still in Kilo. I don’t remember partnering up with her, though, or anything. I didn’t know she existed for a while. She also, uh…” Not worth bringing up. “A little eccentric.”

“You don’t remember Rayquaza?”

“I remember… wondering about him, I guess,” Owen said. “But only as in, wondering where a Rayquaza was in this world, like Lugia. And Azelf… Isn’t that from the Creation myths?”

“The being of willpower,” Latias said, nodding. She waited a little while, but when Owen didn’t say anything, she frowned and sank lower. “He’s very strong-hearted. And he’s still himself, here, in the Voidlands. Most of the smaller Legends had a better time hiding from Dark Matter, you see. Until recently…”

Owen kept digging his claws into his arms. There was this burning, heart-pumping frustration that kept crawling up and down his spine and it made the back of his head feel cold and tingly. All of these people Owen knew that weren’t triggering even the slightest sense of familiarity to him now.

“You don’t remember him?” Latias asked.

“I don’t remember any of them in that way,” he said. “Just Lugia because we met recently. And she didn’t recognize me, either. She was really nice, though.”

“Nice?” Latias asked. “To you?”

“Yeah?”

“Hmm…”

“Was she… not supposed to be?” Owen released his arms, the puzzled expression on Latias distracting him.

“No, unless she got over it,” Latias mumbled. “You were on opposite sides of the war. Lugia had aligned herself with Dark Matter, even! There’s no way she’d…”

“You know, maybe it was a different Lugia,” Owen said flatly. “Emily wanted nothing more than to help others. She’s a benevolent sea monster.”

“Emily… I don’t know if that was the name she went by.” Latias floated a little higher as her strength returned more. “As part of becoming a Legend, you’re supposed to abandon your mortal name. Erased, practically, so you can make a proper transition to being a Legend…”

Owen stared at Latias like she’d suddenly started talking in a different language.

“What? You don’t remember?” Latias asked.

“Just assume no. Actually, before we go further into that, please don’t tell me I used to be a Legend.”

“No. You denied your ascent, remember?”

“Just said not to ask if I remembered,” Owen replied with a smile both jovial and annoyed.

“Oh. Um, right. No, you didn’t. That made Lunala pretty upset, actually. You two broke up.”

Owen clapped his hands together and closed his eyes. Some small part of him had been expecting this.

“Um, Owen—”

Owen held up a hand and Latias silenced herself. He brought them back together and took a long, slow, deep breath. Then, a few more.

Finally, he moved his hands to his lap. “Okay. Say that again?”

“You… and Lunala broke up because you denied, um, you didn’t…”

“This ain’t a giant fib, right?” Gahi asked.

“It’s… incredible,” Demitri added, looking at Owen with a mixture of awe and disbelief. “Owen with Legends, sure, but courting one?”

“It’s not quite like that,” Latias said. “He knew her from before she ascended Destiny Tower and succeeded. They had trained together under his partner, erm… I’m sorry. He ascended, too, so much of their mortal time was—”

“He became Jirachi?” Owen asked.

“Yes! That’s why you worked under him, actually. You guys went way back. That’s all I really knew.”

“Right.” Owen didn’t need to know more.

Eon…

“And what was my relationship with Rayquaza?” Owen asked.

“Hmm… Not much. Rayquaza was more interested in Dialga.”

The image that appeared in his mind wasn’t pleasant. “Right, uh, okay—how about Azelf, then?”

“He was your rebound.”

“What.”

“You and Azelf. Um. It was kind of the talk of the town for a while, but—”

“So, not only did I court, break up with, and forget Lunala,” Owen said slowly, “but I also then got together with Azelf right after?”

“Not right after. A lot of time passes for Pokémon! And well, it’s complicated. We’re gods, yes, but we came from mortals. We still have remnants of that time even if we’re given minds to whether eternity. And part of that is companionship, simple petty desires, and things like that.”

“Why in the world are gods acting like mortals?!” Owen shouted, a sudden, throbbing anger surging through his temples. “I didn’t even believe in you guys a few seasons ago! And now this! Maybe you were better off as mortals! What’s the point of gods if all they’re going to do is gossip about who’s with who and, and, how can we trust something like that?! No wonder I denied ascent!”

“I-I’m sorry,” Latias squeaked, shrinking away. “G-gods, even as a Charmander, you’re scary when you get mad, Owen…”

“I,” Gahi said, “think it’s cute. And he’s right, y’know.” He seemed to be ignoring Mispy’s incredulous expression. “Sounds ter me like Arceus, I’m gonna guess, ain’t got his head screwed on right if that’s how he wound up makin’ all the Legends. Can’t just make ‘em from scratch?”

“Why need them at all?” Owen muttered, taking some time to quell his flame, physical and mental.

Latias bit her lip.

“Sorry, sorry.” Owen sighed. “I’m not mad at you, just… What’s more? I was with Azelf, so I knew them as a mortal. Do you remember who they were?”

“No, sorry.” Latias sighed. “It’s strange, actually. I know who I used to be as a mortal, but I simply can’t remember for some of them. Maybe it’s just been so long…”

Owen squinted. “You do?”

“Mhm. I used to be a Blissey!”

“…Not much correspondence between mortal body and Legendary body, then?”

“No. It’s more based on your personality and mental aptitudes.”

“See, that’s strange, because Marshadow never told me any of this.”

“Marshadow’s one of the ones I don’t remember,” Latias said. “Jirachi, too.”

“Lunala and Azelf, too, then?”

“Lunala… I can’t remember as easily, but it’s strange. I feel like it’s always on the tip of my tongue, just barely there, but it slips away. I know that you two were around the same size before, uh, getting bigger, though. In fact, I think you were almost the same height… Ohh, and she was probably Grass, too. You always had an affinity for Grass.”

“You don’t say.”

“Hmm… and Azelf…” Latias hummed, then sighed. “Nope. Same as Marshadow.”

“Strange,” Mispy remarked.

“So, there are some Legends that you simply can’t remember who they used to be, and others that you can?” Demitri leaned against Mispy, humming. “Why?”

“Like everything else,” Owen said, “there’s a reason for it. It’s too… distinct. What are some other differences they have?”

“Hmm… They’re weaker,” Latias said. “Dialga, Palkia, Giratina? The three Dragons of Creation? I don’t know what any of them used to be, and they don’t, either. And they’re a lot weaker than they should be for their status. Jirachi barely has any wishing power, not like he used to. The same goes for Azelf and his partners.”

“So, they don’t remember their pasts, and they’re weaker.”

“We think Dark Matter had gotten their spirits more strongly upon entering the Voidlands, and they simply haven’t been able to recover their strength.” Latias lowered herself a little and covered her eyes when another breeze sent dust into the cave.

“Suppressed…” Owen nodded. “That’s possible, but…”

Jirachi was among them.

He wasn’t sure why Lunala was such an anomaly. He’d ignore that for now and focus on the easy pattern.

“Why only Azelf?” Mispy spoke up.

“Huh?” Latias asked.

“Azelf, the…” She tried to speak more, but her words halted. Her vines curled, and Demitri whispered something to her, and she whispered back.

“Mesprit and Uxie are the other two, right? Why didn’t they align with Necrozma?”

Latias shrugged. “Necrozma was very picky. Just because they were part of a set doesn’t mean he’d accept all three to be his students. Though… if you ask me, he played favorites. It might have been because Owen taught him how to play on his good side.” Latias smiled a little, but nobody else did.

It was all so strange…

But Owen was focused on something else. “Azelf and I were close… and he had the same marking as me, then? Necrozma’s mark?”

“Oh, he did. You two got matching positions, too. Right in the middle-ish of your back.”

Mispy gasped quietly, and had it been any other time Owen would have mistaken it for a sharp breath or the beginnings of a sigh. But Owen’s heart had leapt at the same time.

There was no way—

But just then, the ground shook, followed by an ear-splitting roar. Owen covered his earholes and tried to see through that hammering pain. It was something that, at first, was foreign to him—bright, white light. It was coming from the right side of the cave’s mouth, skyward. Without thinking, he walked toward it, and Latias did the same. Mispy took more initiative and shoved past them both, shielding them from the unknown threat. Demitri stayed behind, nervously playing with his claws, and Gahi disappeared completely.

“Oi!” Gahi pointed up, now outside the cavern. “Sky’s fallin’ again!”

It was like someone had ripped a hole in fabric. A great gap had torn itself open in the sky, revealing what appeared to be a white background and little else. At the edge, Owen saw someone, a figure, something Pokémon-sized that showed the sheer massiveness of this rip in the sky.

They also saw a Titan a few plateaus over, bipedal and wide, running toward the hole.

“Should we investigate?” Owen said, the roaring finally subsiding.

“We fusin’ again?” Gahi asked, stretching his wings.

Owen looked at the hole, then at the Titan, then at Latias. Finally, he nodded, saying, “Let’s go.”

<><><>​

“Fascinating. It actually worked.”

Nevren stood in what had once been a large chamber for training, having fashioned the Beammaker into a conduit for the first Dungeon prototype. He was on the observational deck a few stories higher, looking down at his handiwork—or at least, the center of it. He’d turned all of Quartz HQ into a Dungeon.

An artificial Dungeon… The technology was large, bulky, and required extensive configuration, and also needed a linking catalyst—he used an old gemstone from Palkia from long ago—but it was enough.

Now that it was working, and he had created a Dungeon, he also got to finally bear witness to a Dungeon Core. It certainly wasn’t what he was expecting. It wasn’t a core at all—without the shadows and dark fog obscuring his vision, it was a gateway. It was more like a long, eight-sided star, the cardinal directions longer than the diagonals. Something about it was familiar.

There were so many things to derive from this! It had to be studied further.

Several notepads hovered above Nevren, each one with its own pencil. Each one frantically scribbled down as many notes as he could in what little time he had to observe it. Nevren did not know how long the Dungeon would last, but with the energy required, and their already somewhat scarce resources, he predicted only a Revisor’s worth of time.

The other side of the gateway was clearing. He saw a great landscape from high above. Red, perhaps a magenta color? It was like a desert in twilight, with many rocky plateaus. He saw a few black figures running about, but one was much larger than the rest. It was gazing up at him.

Nevren’s writing halted. He heard something. Wordless, thoughtless, but it was there in his mind, when he stared at that creature. It pulled at something deep within himself, and he knew in an instant who it was.

“Palkia?”

The gemstone had linked the Dungeon’s gateway directly to…

No, that simply was not possible. Palkia, Nevren knew what Palkia was supposed to look like. But this gateway, what was it? Where did it lead?

The thing reached out toward the gateway, and Nevren realized that it was tall enough to grasp the edge. A great hand emerged from the gateway, its black body practically absorbing the light around it. Its arm was made up of countless smaller organisms, all meshed together into a great being, an abominable mockery of the work Nevren had designed long ago.

This was too dangerous. Time to close the gateway early.

With a few button presses, Nevren cut power to the gate. The hole shrank, but then the creature reached out with a second hand and held either end of the shrinking portal…

And it stopped.

“Ah.” Nevren distanced himself from the observation deck. “Time to go.”

In a flash of light, Nevren Teleported away…

And reappeared directly in front of the Titan, his feet inches away from the gate.

That wasn’t intended.

When the beast roared again, stretching the portal even further, Nevren realized that this experiment had been far longer than a moment to rewind away.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 104 – Gateways

It was only with quick thinking that Nevren had survived the first Shadow Blast. Staring at the beam was like going blind. What in the world was he supposed to do against an attack that literally incinerated the reinforced concrete ceiling?! Nevren’s own thoughts had transitioned from befuddlement to terrified incredulity. There was a hole in the ceiling meant to take the Beammaker’s blasts. Its head was large and its neck even longer, with a wide frame and a draconic face. Even with its dark colorings and miasma, something about it was familiar…

Was this Palkia?

“Father?” someone called from the far end of the chamber. “What’s going—AAAH!”

“Keep the door closed!” Nevren called in as casual a tone as he could muster. He considered using a mutant or two as a decoy to get away, but not only was that impractical in terms of how far they were, but he wouldn’t hear the end of it from Eon if they ever recovered him. Along with that, they weren’t going to the Reincarnation Machine anymore. They might actually die, or worse.

What to do next? If he stayed there, he would surely die, which would be troublesome. He could escape, seal this thing inside, and that would at least buy some time to evacuate. Yes, short term, he would do that. Better plan later.

Nevren sprinted away, kicking off of psionically conjured platforms to give him an even greater stride. It was like surfing, only with a lot more death nearby.

With a sudden pivot, Nevren avoided a predicted Shadow Blast that had hit where he was going only a second prior, and then he kicked off the ground to avoid the blast’s turning radius. The blast itself was several times his height; one wrong read and he might not be able to dodge in time.

The draconic Titan couldn’t raise its head fast enough, and its mobility was limited by the portal it was dangling out of. Another advantage for Nevren. With its arms occupied, it could only attack with its head.

Nevren readied his Revisor in case things went south. He didn’t want to know how those Shadowy attacks would feel. They were familiar, yet so much worse than that time in the swamp where Anam had been discovered. And therefore, Nevren knew that this was a more concentrated evil than whatever had been filtered through Anam’s purity.

Why did the air taste of rot?

Another blast forced Nevren to swerve out of the way for a third time and he tried to steady his heart. His breaths were becoming ragged. Panting, he looked down and saw a drop of crimson land on the otherwise pristine floor.

In disbelief, he rubbed the back of his palm against his mouth—his entire hand had turned red.

The very air around that thing was corrosive. The atmosphere around those blasts stripped away at his insides.

Picking up the pace, Nevren dodged another blast and tried to avoid the black haze it left behind, assuming that would only accelerate his death.

The door was closer. Logically, this was true. Why, then, did it feel so far away? He had to hurry. A little more. Now, a nap. That sounded wonderful. However, he knew that, right now, the need to sleep was only death’s call, and he was far too busy to answer.

His psionics were weak. Once solid platforms for boosting his stride had become jellylike in texture, his feet sinking into his own weakened force. His heel brushed against the ground. Accelerated levitation would be even more work, and he could barely concentrate as it was. Could he revise this moment and find a better path? Perhaps. But it was so tiring. He’d already gone nearly optimally with those blasts in the way.

Those blasts had become a lot less frequent. He could hear again, aside from the dull ringing that accented everything else in his senses. Daring to look back, Nevren realized that the thing had company… only it seemed they were feuding with one another—much smaller, emerging from the portal behind the behemoth.

This thing was a lot smaller and more well-composed, but still clearly an amalgamation. Its black body weaved through the air as the titan’s head struggled to keep up with its movements. There was something else in the smaller wraith’s tendrils: a creature of the same variety. Could it be two distinct creatures, or a part of the amalgamation that was trying to break free? Nevren’s curiosity overpowered his need for survival and he stopped when he felt he was a healthy distance away. He didn’t have the energy to keep running. Mostly because he’d tripped and fallen to the floor, but that was irrelevant. What were those creatures doing?

Were they wraiths? They looked so much like them, and yet, they behaved… differently. They were more advanced.

What was Dark Matter doing in that realm?

The Shadow Blasts were all wildly off the mark, but each one left huge scorches and craters in the walls. The smaller wraiths were getting small but meaningful hits against the great titan’s head. But then, one of the Shadow Blasts finally found its mark, and Nevren was certain they were finished—only for a flash of gold cut through the darkness.

Nevren mouthed, “Pardon me?” but his throat, he realized, wasn’t working well enough to actually form the words.

But there it was, gold. Gold, in the darkness! And he recognized that particular glow, too. It was the same color that came from Protect, from Pokémon that had that odd sheen. Owen was among them. Was there a chance…?

Nevren tried to focus his gaze on the battle. The amalgamation, the shape, the movements.

They were winning. They were at an advantage from the giant wraith’s positioning, of course, but they were still winning. They flew too fast for the lumbering beast to keep up. Each counterattack pushed creature further into the portal until it was hanging by the claws—and then, without warning, the smaller wraith darted toward him at bullet speeds. Nevren couldn’t react. He barely had the strength to press the revisor. But he knew that all he needed to do was send a psychic blast toward it to activate it all the same. Or, alternatively, if he died, surely the dead man’s switch would still work. Right?

“Nevren?” said the voice, and a few dark tendrils wrapped around Nevren’s body. He tensed, trying weakly to struggle out of its hold, but he was weak. He tried to speak and only tasted blood.

The smaller wraith on its back said something frantically, but its voice was so warped that he had no idea what it said. And the larger one said something back, and that was just as impossible to comprehend.

To Neven’s surprise—just as he was preparing to wipe away these moments to try again, a great amount of energy channeled into him. With a cold, shuddering gasp, his lungs filled again with air, and he hacked up whatever had been melted from before. He didn’t want to look. The taste was enough of an indication.

And then it dropped him, rudely. He hit the floor and they flew back to the titan, where yet another wraith, this one speedy and flying with seemingly unmoving wings, pushed the titan deeper and deeper into the portal. It sent a few more helpless blasts skyward, scorching and disintegrating more and more of the ceiling.

When the beast’s roars were finally and abruptly silenced, Nevren took a few seconds to recover his composure. The cool air stung his reformed lungs. A welcome feeling. It meant he was alive.

That hadn’t been so bad. A few moments of mortal peril, yes, and he’d certainly get a nightmare or two, but it was nothing he couldn’t move past. More important, though, were the countless notes he’d be able to take from this discovery! How many pages could he fill with just the observations alone? He’d have to prioritize what to explore later.

But then more roaring, more panicked chittering, echoed from the center of the room. Nevren stood to see that the smaller beasts were writhing in agony, their amorphous bodies evaporating before his very eyes. The Dungeon’s twisted dimensions were fading, too, with the closure of the gateway.

Were they not able to exist outside of that realm?

The smallest creature, the one that had used Protect… He was the most solid. He seemed to be panicking for the others, who were fading fast.

Should he flee? No, that wasn’t very useful. There was still more to learn! For example, would they survive if tossed back into their realm? For healing him, it was the least he could do. And more importantly, he had a strong suspicion on who some of those wraiths were.

His Teleport was back in working order. With a flash, a blip, and a few missteps that had to be revised, Nevren stepped over to the control module at the top of the observation deck.

“Now, now,” Nevren called. “I’ll be sure to send you back. Try not to evaporate too rapidly, hm?” Nevren quickly pressed a few buttons, adjusted the charge capacity—there was no need for a large one this time. It would require additional power from the lab, but he would be able to make a small portal.

A few pushes later—their panicked cries were very distracting and not at all productive—the portal opened. Nevren disappeared down and by their sides, where he said, “Well, go on. Take care. I shall try to contact you later. Owen, is that you?”

The smallest wraith said something frantic and Nevren couldn’t discern the words.

“Speak slowly, please.”

With a frustrated growl, the wraith said, “Help me push them in!”

One of them was practically smoke with a vaguely central core.

“Ah. Of course. I shall try.”

With a leisurely flick of his wrist, a Psychic wave gently rolled them into the portal, where the largest one fell first, and the medium-sized wraith fell next. Nevren peered downward even as the smallest one—who looked a little hazy—ran for the portal.

“How will you find us?” the wraith asked.

“I’ll figure it out in time. Take care, Owen.”

The wraith seemed to nod, and then jumped down. The portal closed, and Nevren watched the empty floor for a long while. The notebooks were overflowing with scribbles and sketches and words and ideas.

All in all? This experiment was a grand success.

Hm?

There was something on the floor…

A bag. Interesting.

<><><>​

It was a miracle that they had survived, and it left a bitter taste in Owen’s mouth when he thought that it was Nevren who had facilitated it.

Seeing him after so long, after knowing what he had done to Anam, he didn’t know whether to be mad or confused about it all. He still had no answers on what Nevren truly wanted from Anam, or why he had betrayed him. Dark Matter… wouldn’t have lied so specifically about that, would he?

Hopefully he could ask Eon about that later, when they returned. For now, though…

Migami had carried a severely weakened Latias back to the caves, evading detection by Void Titan Palkia. Still, it was nearby, and they had to defeat it. But they couldn’t do that while Latias was unconscious.

After some time, she came to, but then frantically searched her neck and shoulders. “My bag!” she shouted. “Where’s my bag?!”

“Your… bag?” Realization hit him. “Did it fall off during that attack?!”

“I was practically e-evaporating up there,” Latias said. “Did it fall right through me?”

“…Gahi remembers that happened to Trina,” Migami reported. “She evaporated after passing through a gateway, and… then woke up as a Snivy. Demitri and Mispy nearly had that happen, too.”

“I remember…” Latias rubbed her eyes. “I remember it fell on the ground! It was still solid! It’s… it’s still up there!”

“No, the gateway closed,” Owen said. “It’s probably with Nevren…”

“Who?”

“Someone I know,” Owen said, but then quieted down. Another rumble outside. Close. Palkia was close.

“Consider it gone for now,” Migami said. “What do we need to free Palkia?”

“Um… I, what? I thought you knew.”

“Right. Right.” Migami glanced at Owen. “We need a crystal thing for power… And we need someone to draw that power from… Eon was the one who did—” They were missing Eon. But someone else could channel that power, right?

“Crystal?” Latias looked around. “There are a lot of those all over Nil Plateaus and the forests up north. But they aren’t easy to find…”

Migami winced at something, and Owen noticed his vines squeezing the air. “You should split up for now,” Owen said quietly. Migami looked away, ashamed once again, but started the same process as before.

Owen rubbed one of the vines reassuringly, then answered Latias. “I can find them. I know the way once I get close. We just need to—”

The rumbling was getting noticeably louder. Owen still didn’t know how sensitive their hearing was, if they even had hearing, or if all the individual bodies that made it up simply heard… collectively. He lowered his voice to a whisper.

“If I concentrate, I might find one.”

“If you want to use it, it needs to be of a type that you’re capable of using,” Latias said.

“What? Type? Like, Fire?”

“One I got was pinkish,” Gahi said. “Felt like Psychic energy.”

“You know a Psychic move?” Latias asked, squinting. “You don’t look very… you know.”

“What’s that supposed ter mean?”

“Um. Nothing. You had a Psychic move?”

“Kinda. Psychic Guardian.”

“I don’t know what that is, or why you’d be one…” Latias sighed. “But okay. And Owen, what types of moves can you use?”

“I—a lot, I think. Metal Claw, so, Steel… I’m the Grass Guardian… Fire, obviously… Pretty much everyone has a Normal technique or two…”

Latias glanced outside, trying to discern where Palkia was. “Let’s try to find one. Owen, I think you’ll be able to use those crystals on your own. They’re part of Necrozma, after all. You might not even need to draw from someone else like you said.”

It was as good a shot as any. “And if we fail, we should fly back to Null Village,” Owen concluded. “Sound good, team?”

“If that’s the case,” Demitri said, “I think we should stay here for now. You guys don’t stray too far, but… we need to recover our strength if we want to fuse again.”

“Mm. Teleport…”

Gahi sighed, grunting. “Yeah. Not gonna be able ter do that if I’m tired. Need ter recover.”

“That’s alright. I’ll fly Owen around and we’ll come right back. If something bad happens, umm…”

“Solar Beam,” Mispy said.

“Oh! We’d notice that!” Latias beamed. “Perfect! Okay, Owen. Ready to go?”

Owen half-nodded, but stopped himself. And he paused, which left Latias looking uncertainly at Mispy and the others.

“Um…” Latias tried to break the silence, but Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi all looked at Owen expectantly.

Could this all be a ruse? What if Latias was still under Dark Matter’s control? And she was waiting for him to be alone, and she’d abandon the rest of his team right then? He couldn’t afford that kind of risk. How could a single touch from his Protect cure her?

“Owen, what’s wrong?” Demitri asked. “You look… stressed, or something. Like you flashed back to something. It’s—we’re still here, alright?”

“Yeah, sorry.” Owen glanced uneasily at Latias. “I don’t know if you’re still under Dark Matter’s control.”

“Oh.” Latias looked down. “Right. That’s… that’s fair. That’s fair. I might not know myself…”

Owen felt rotten. How could he have said that to her? Still, it had to be said. He couldn’t harbor something like that to himself.

“No,” Mispy spoke up. “She isn’t.”

“Mispy, what if your aura sense doesn’t get that?” Owen asked. “You couldn’t tell when Latias first showed up. He can suppress his aura.”

“Don’t need it.” Mispy looked a little more firmly at Owen, practically like she was ready to go off on a lecture. Not that she was wordy enough to get into one.

Owen stared dumbly; was he forgetting something?

“We were, too,” Mispy pointed out.

They were… too? Owen gasped. “He touched you, too.” An icy pit formed in his stomach at first, but then a wave of realization. “Wait, then… why haven’t you tried to abduct me already?”

“Mm.” Mispy smiled.

“Because we aren’t under his control!” Demitri laughed, holding his chest with relief. “You had me going there for a second, Owen. I was ready to tie myself up so I couldn’t hurt anyone! E-especially because, while we were fused, we had some crazy thoughts…”

“You don’t always have those?” Gahi asked.

“I mean, kinda, but they were stronger…”

“Crazy thoughts?” Latias asked.

“Uh, not important. Fighting instinct stuff.” Demitri tried to dismiss it with a wave.

“Bah, talkin’, talkin’, so we’re safe?” Gahi thumped his tail impatiently. “Owen, go with Latias and Mispy’ll keep an eye on yer auras. If somethin’ goes wrong, we know we c’n catch up.”

“Right. Um, sorry, Latias.”

“No, no! It’s fine.” Latias tried to grasp at the bag around her neck, but when she only touched air, she frowned and said, “We’ll be, um, back as soon as we can. Don’t move from here, alright?”

Owen carefully mounted Latias and waved back at the trio. With a little care, they’d be able to get a crystal and take down Palkia. From there, long travel would be a thing of the past…

<><><>​

Alexander steadied his aim and fired a beam of darkness into the wall, leaving deep craters in the presumably element-proof material. Seething, blinding rage clouded his vision and his heart thumped in his ears. He visualized ripping that Mewtwo into tiny little pieces, piecing him back together with his dark power, and doing it all over again. Twice, maybe three times. No, that wouldn’t be enough.

Why did he trust him to do this trivial mission alone?

Not only did they escape his clutches, they also attracted Dark Matter to South Null Village. And Aster’s cheerful summary of his complete failure—

Alexander fired another blast into the wall, leaving a deeper crater.

There was no chance that he would catch up in time. Dark Matter was going to claim the source of power first, no matter how much of a dead end it was. This wasn’t a game for resources anymore. It was pride. Dark Matter had defiled his pride. Aster squandered an easy recovery mission. If he had an ounce of logic, he would have razed South Null Village until Marshadow caved and revealed the source.

He should have ordered that outright. But he had been too cautious of Aster’s inability to perform under pressure.

Leph would have been back already. Mhynt, the same. Yet he chose Aster. Why? Why?

Alexander roared and used his central head to blast a hole clean through the wall, revealing another room where a Treecko stood, reading a half-annihilated book. She stared at the empty space where it had once been, and then turned her head casually to Alexander.

Alexander growled. “How long have you been there?”

“Mm, only one blast ago,” she said. With a flick of her wrist, the book disappeared, and the empty husk of a Honedge reappeared. “Tell me,” she added, setting the blade’s tip on the ground and resting her chin on the hilt, “did the mission go well?”

“Do not test me.”

Mhynt hopped over the hole made in the wall and landed in a slow fall. “If this mission was so trivial that you sent Aster,” Mhynt said, “why are you so worked up over it, if I may ask?”

“You may not ask.”

“Mm. Of course.” She craned her neck to meet eyes with him. Her expression was blank, bored, unintimidated. He hated it. She was the one Pokémon who refused to fall in line, yet she still followed his orders. But only because she wanted to. Of course, he could always force her, yet it never came to that. She always complied. Yet why, then, was it so frustrating to give them?

His badge buzzed. He looked to Mhynt, who wasn’t moving. Alexander snorted and spun around. It was from Marshadow. His muzzle crinkled with disgust and he answered. “If this isn’t about turning over that source of power, I want nothing of it, and I will command Aster to start his death count early.”

He’d start diplomatically.

“Well, that power source ran off. Yeh probably figured that out.”

“Then will you be recovering it?” Alexander asked, voice even.

“Figure that’s already gonna happen. Called fer somethin’ else.”

“My time is far more valuable than you’re presuming.” Alexander would raise their taxes in retaliation, maybe send a controlled Titan or two on their town to put them in place. Something to give their defenses a scare. He still needed their resources for Cipher City. “Go on, then. I’ll give you one sentence.”

“Dark Matter says hello.”

The call disconnected.

Alexander could barely hear whatever it was that Mhynt had said after that silence. Some quiet rushing of blood through his head muffled it all. His vision blurred with every second, until he caught himself and took a breath. Calm. He was past this. After holding that breath, he turned toward Mhynt, who was waiting patiently for him, her expression blank.

“It’s probably Owen after all, you know,” Mhynt said.

“Owen…” The very name was like bile in his throat. “The one that refuses to die.”

“And to think, Necrozma himself killed him, and yet he remains. Do you think that was part of his plan, too?” Mhynt tilted her head, feigning innocence.

“Don’t get wise with me. You’d know Necrozma’s mindset far better than I would.” He growled, drifting toward one.

Mhynt stepped toward Alexander and kicked up a pebble, grasping it in her hand. She seemed to be looking at the way his Shadows had broken the stone apart.

“It must be so frustrating,” Mhynt said. “Of Necrozma’s disciples, you only have little old me. And another one is all the way across the Voidlands, probably trying to drink the contaminated water, knowing him.”

“I don’t just have you,” Alexander snarled. “Azelf is effectively—”

“None of them truly listen to you, though,” Mhynt pointed out. “I could try to convince them again, you know.”

“I can’t afford that risk.” Alexander drifted to his desk on the opposite wall. Without Aster there to constantly relocate it, he was actually able to get some work done.

“Mm, speaking of not taking risks,” Mhynt said, like she’d been waiting for him to bring it up.

Of course she had an ulterior motive for approaching him. Always asking for assignments. If he needed something, he’d speak to her, not the other way around. Pest.

“If it is Owen,” Mhynt continued when Alexander didn’t answer, “how do you suppose Aster will react?”

That stopped him.

“They were very good friends, you know,” Mhynt said. “And Aster isn’t very observant. He might not realize until someone says something in the heat of battle. With how unpredictable he is…”

She always knew how to push his buttons, and what he hated more was the fact that she was right. “He’s under orders to return the strongest creature there,” Alexander said. “He isn’t foolish. If he sees Owen, he will know that even if he isn’t strong, he is still valuable. He wouldn’t spare him.”

“Oh, spare him? You’re more merciful than I thought.” Mhynt tutted and ran her empty Honedge blade against the ground. The Treecko went on, “I heard that Leph gave Aster two Wonder Orbs, as he calls them. Blank ones, to his whims.”

“She what?” Alexander snarled. “Why did I not hear of this?”

“Your reaction, most likely,” Mhynt hummed.

“Do not get smart with me.” Alexander drew toward Mhynt, staring her down from his great height. She returned to him that same indifference. “Or would you like to spend a day among the Shadows again?”

A flash of fear. Yes. That would do. Mhynt would never acknowledge it, but he saw it, and he smirked. By the Void, he loved that look. He’d etch that into his mind later tonight. But he had to keep things professional, so he spun around. “Two God Orbs, and the chance it’s Owen. If he gets reckless, Dark Matter will get him first…”

“What are your orders, King?”

With another annoyed grunt, Alexander conceded. “Fine. You’re fast enough to catch up to Aster anyway, I suppose…”

“I think I am going to meet Owen when he returns to Null Village. That is the most likely outcome if Aster panics. I do not think there will be much hope in intercepting them now that so much time has passed.” Mhynt put a finger under her chin, pensive. “I’ll need a motivator, too. I am going to try my hand at convincing that Zoroark to help us again. I suspect she may know Owen.”

“Oh? You’re so sure?”

“The pieces are fitting together,” Mhynt said. “She has a piece of Necrozma’s power in her, too. We’ve seen it. A dim glow, weak psychic powers, levitation… Hmm, perhaps she has a fragment that he had left behind. There must be a link. I will check.”

“Fine. She wasn’t being cooperative anyway, and she isn’t that strong. Do what you want with her. But if you need to kill her, make sure you absorb her spirit.”

“Always,” Mhynt replied leisurely, holding up her blade. “It’s empty, after all. I have plenty of room.”

<><><>​

Cipher City’s capitol building had several underground floors carved into the dust and rock that made up the Voidlands’ surface. After only a few stories, solid, impenetrable rock impeded any further progress down. That made deep basements impossible when on the surface, but it still allowed for a few floors to make captive retainment chambers.

Compared to the more polished halls of the surface floors, the underground levels were dull and less refined. No cracks, of course, but they certainly weren’t meant to be presentable to the general public.

Past the cold halls and through one of the doorways, Mhynt entered one of the observation rooms, manned by a single guard. The Swampert had a bag of chips larger than his head on one side and his belly pressed heavily against the desk in front of him. Mhynt grimaced when he wiped his hand on his slimy chest, then licked his fingers.

“Ah-hm,” Mhynt announced.

“Buh?” Lazily, he glanced with one eye toward her. In an instant, he yelped and hopped out of his seat—the most exercise he’d done in weeks, she imagined—and stood with his back straight. “M-Mhynt! A p-pleasure to—everything is safe and secure!”

“Mhm.” Mhynt tapped her blade on the ground idly. Swampert’s eyes followed the blade’s edge. “What is the status of Zoroark?”

“The same as always, sir!” He quickly pressed a few buttons to focus in on the screens, putting one on display, which revealed Zoroark curled up in the corner of a white room. There was a plate of half-eaten food near her. “We’ve been able to condition her perfectly. If she puts on the Nullify Looplet, she gets food. Intelligent ferals are very easy to train.”

“How long did it take to condition her?” Mhynt asked.

“Only a few days. She’s been like this for a while.”

“And there were no security breaches? She is a Zoroark, after all. Why did you not simply attach the Looplet to her so she couldn’t remove it?”

“We tried, s-sir, but she somehow kept taking them off. We had to go with psychological conditioning.”

“Mm. Talented at escape, then. Yet she never left the room?”

“No, sir. Never. Sure, there were a few times where she kept running away from us and took the Looplet off, but that was when the door was closed. There was no way she’d be able to escape.”

“Tell me, were you the one they assigned to chase and capture her, should she escape?”

“No, sir.”

“Why do you think that is?” Mhynt tapped her blade again, then released it. By a dark force, it floated above her and then behind her, completely vertical.

“B-because I’m… not… with the pursuit division. I’m observations. Monitoring. Security.”

“I see.” Mhynt looked at Swampert’s belly. He sucked it in and puffed out his chest. “I’m going to see to it that you get increased access to the castle’s eateries.”

“B-huh?” His gut popped out again, jiggling like an ocean’s waves.

“Yes. Specifically, the healthy foods we serve. I will also be sure to give you access to the recreational and exercise facilities in the entertainment district.”

Swampert gulped. “But, um, but why, sir?”

“Because your physical shape is unacceptable. If Zoroark escapes, you will never capture her. Now, I’m going to be going on a mission very soon. If I come back and I see you are even fatter”—the blade tilted so the light reflected in Swampert’s eyes—“I will remove it myself. Now, go.” Mhynt flipped her hand and produced a card with a note on it, written with dark, shadowy burn marks. “Those are my orders. You can’t forge my scorch writing.”

“S-sir!” He sprinted out of the room, leaving his chips behind.

Mhynt sighed, shaking her head, and then eyed the bag.

And paused.

With a small exhale through her nose, she flicked her hand and pulled a single chip from the bag. It smelled like Cheri. Perhaps Tamato. She always liked spicy. Crunch, crunch…

She snapped her fingers and the chips were engulfed in shadowy flames. Nothing was left behind.

All things considered, she saw why he loved them so much. The flavor gave her a hint of nostalgia, though she pushed the thought away.

Time to focus on Zoroark.

That Swampert had been even more unobservant than she’d thought. Near the very edges of the doorway into the containment chamber, there were tiny strands of fur on the ground. Brown on dark gray didn’t stand out, but someone in observations surely would have noticed. There was always the assumption that Swampert or someone else had gotten into a scuffle with her, but that wasn’t good enough.

No, Zoroark had escaped a few times. But she did not leave completely. She was scouting the area. Searching for a way out. Planning her path.

This wasn’t an average feral. Zoroark were clever, and this one even more so.

She opened the door an inch, then a little more, and then slipped inside, shutting it behind her. Now, she was in a featureless hall meant to separate the observation room from the main chamber.

After taking a few steps forward, she eyed her surroundings without moving her head. Her movement was silent, and she focused on the scents instead. Yes… Just as she thought.

Mhynt slid her foot forward and conjured a rippling darkness through the floor. It bounced off of the walls like a pebble’s waves through water, and then hit a disturbance only a few feet ahead of her, then to the left. Mhynt pointed her blade forward in a gliding motion and pointed directly at the ripple. She narrowed her eyes, then smiled wryly.

“Shall we talk in the main room?” she asked the air.

No reply audibly, but the ripples on the floor told a different story. A step forward, then a step back. Weighing her options. Considering whether the tiny Treecko was a danger or not. In the end, the Zoroark chose wisely.

When the disturbances in the dark ripples moved toward the chamber, Mhynt brought her blade down and followed her inside.

Mhynt approached the half-eaten food and prodded the plate with her blade. Solid, so that wasn’t an illusion, though she suddenly heard a growl behind her. “Hm?”

The Zoroark loomed over her, snarling.

“Oh, I don’t intend to eat it.” Mhynt pulled her blade away. “I was testing how elaborate your illusions were.”

Zoroark growled, backing away and crouching down.

“You seem like an intelligent Pokémon,” Mhynt said. “I don’t think the others have been giving you the respect you deserve. Even now…” Mhynt pointed at Zoroark, blasting a small beam of Shadows into her chest. It passed through harmlessly, “You are misleading me. That’s something to commend.”

She growled again, then snarled.

“Hm?”

“Big words.”

And to this, Mhynt blinked. Her stoic mask cracked to reveal a hint of surprise. Then, she slipped it back on. “You can talk.”

“Stupid.”

“You certainly gave the wrong impression.”

Zoroark snarled again.

Mhynt held up her hands, eyes closed. “We didn’t know,” she rephrased.

Zoroark huffed and crouched down again. Mhynt, meanwhile, crossed her legs and slid her blade across the floor. It clattered and clanged against the wall. Zoroark, perplexed, flicked her ear and leaned forward.

“I’m only here to talk,” Mhynt said. “Why don’t we begin with names? My name is Mhynt.”

Another growl was all that she replied with, and then she snorted and turned away.

“Do you not have a name?” Mhynt asked, tilting her head. “Surely you do.”

“Small,” Zoroark replied.

“Your name is… Small?” Mhynt asked.

“You,” Small replied.

“…Me. You’re calling me… Small?”

Zoroark nodded. “Not interested.”

Mhynt squinted. “Interested in what?”

“Bad father.”

Mhynt brought her hands together and held her chin between her fingers. She stared at nothing, contemplative. This wasn’t expected. What part should she correct first?

…Not worth it.

“Do you know Owen?” Mhynt asked.

Zoroark narrowed her eyes at this, like she was suspicious. “He sent… you?”

For what? Why would Owen send her? What did she mean? Was Owen organizing an army? But that did answer a question, that she did know Owen. Perhaps he was more competent than she gave him credit.

“Still not interested.”

All gone in an instant.

“Zoroark,” Mhynt said, “I would like to take you to see Owen. You must be confused about why you’re here. If you work with me, I can take you back to him. Would you like that?”

“Hmm…” And then, a nod. “Okay.”

“Good. Now, I’ll ask again. Do you have a name?”

“Enet.”

Finally. Now, they could work together. “Then it’s good to meet you, Enet. I am Mhynt.”

Enet flicked her ear, then leaned forward, sniffing a few times. Then, she nodded, as if approving of something.

No. No, she wasn’t going to ask.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 105 – Titanic Rescue

“Fascinating…”

Nevren spent several Revisor cycles looking through different parts of the bag that had been left behind from those wraiths. There was quite a lot that he could learn from it. It appeared to have a connection to some form of long-distance communication. However, that connection was not operational. Nevren suspected that it would be open if he turned Quartz HQ into a Dungeon again, but he still needed to work on making that technology portable.

He also learned that perhaps the reason these wraiths were different was because they were sentient—perhaps even sapient. Were his suspicions true? They were very familiar. It had been a spur-of-the-moment assumption, one in particular seemed like Owen. And that giant one… there was something about it that felt… familiar. The fact that Nevren had no proper words for it was a mild source of irritation.

Speaking of mild sources of irritation…

Arceus, are you there? Nevren called. I trust Dark Matter has not made any advances.

“He has not. The storm above Hot Spot has calmed, but the area itself remains corrupt.”

Where is Lavender?

“Still quite far from Kilo Village. You know, you could have asked me to relay a message if you needed to…”

I could have, yes.


A pause. “You just wanted him gone.”

Not just that,
Nevren replied coolly. These experiments are becoming very risky. I’d rather Rim be in Kilo Village where it is safer for now.

“But essentially so Lavender would be away.”

In any case, I do actually want you to relay a message to Kilo Village. Tell them to be careful when entering Dungeons and approaching cores. If a wraith appears to be sapient, act cautiously and not aggressively.

“Excuse me?”


Nevren decided to stop inspecting the bag, placing all of the items where they had been previously. Yes, he said, halting his notes. I recently performed a successful Dungeon creation and destruction event. There were wraiths emerging from it. One was a gigantic, hostile creature that was perhaps once too large to pass through other rifts. There were several smaller ones that were fighting against it, going so far as to protect me.

“This… is unprecedented, you know. I don’t know if I can believe you.”

Perhaps it is too unbelievable to make up. I doubt you can see any reason for me to fabricate this.

“We aren’t exactly on the best of terms, Nevren. You caused this by trying to tamper with Anam, who wound up being the seal to Dark Matter.”

None of us were aware of this. In any case, I do have another piece of information. Regarding those sapient wraiths…

“Potentially sapient.”

One behaved like Owen.


Silence, then. Nevren could understand as much. It was hard to believe himself. But there was no questioning those gestures—and that amalgamation… He would not mistake his own creations, even if they had been warped and distorted. That was the Alloy.

“You aren’t one to make such bold claims normally,” Barky finally said.

I am not.

And then, more silence. Nevren was finished packing the bag again.

They have great technology, Nevren continued. The world the wraiths come from seems to have its own small society. Advanced. Perhaps that is where they went. Perhaps that is where a lot of missing spirits have gone.

“Then Star could be there.”

Indeed. And all of the others as well.

“How can we help them?”


Finally, some progress. Nevren started with his plans. We have a means to enter their realm. Next, we should find a way for them to exit. They can’t seem to last when outside of a Dungeon’s space, which leads to even more questions. I’ll explain more later. For now, tell the others what I found.

“Yes. Should we hold off on attacking Dark Matter?”

…No. Continue. Perhaps it can give more data, and there are still things in Hot Spot Cave that we must investigate.

“Very well. I shall see what those at Kilo Village are planning.”

Do not tell them it was from me,
Nevren said idly. I do not think they will take kindly to my advice right now.

“…Of course.”


<><><>​

“Okay,” Latias said. “On three!”

“Three’s too long!” Migami said, diving left to avoid a Shadow Blast that singed their antennae. “On two!”

“How do you go by on two?!”

“NOW!” Owen shouted.

It was the best plan they could think of with the information they had, and Palkia’s strange abilities were starting to manifest from the behemoth. They didn’t want to see how far it could get with them, especially when it had somehow swapped the locations of two plateaus. Owen held a green crystal that they had found after careful scouting. Migami held another psychic one after swatting away a Void Shadow that had been trying to keep it.

Latias had told them that the radiant energy within those crystals was something that could, if tapped and unleashed, defeat a Titan. If they had done it before, they could do it again.

But why did it have to involve throwing Owen into it?

“Get that Protect ready!” Migami shouted, and then hurled Owen toward Void Palkia’s shoulder.

He’d fashioned his Protect into wings. Now it was time to fashion it into a spike. Owen crossed his arms and focused, first creating the sphere, and then narrowing the point in front of him into a dull cone. He was seconds away from contact, and Palkia charged another blast meant for Migami. Perfect.

He flew forward even faster thanks to a Psychic from Latias. The wind whistled around his cone, and he hoped the rapid deceleration wouldn’t hurt too much.

All became darkness, aside from the golden glow of his barrier. He’d pierced right into the shoulder and lodged himself somewhere in, if Owen had to guess, the upper chest. The Void Shadows that made up the Titan closed the gap behind him, and Owen balanced his feet on the bottom of the spherical barrier.

Now he had to wait. He heard tremors, blasts, other indicators from outside that they were getting their hits in.

The Protect shield was starting to crack. Owen concentrated more and the shield repaired itself. The crystal in his hands glowed bright and, despite his Fire nature, it burned him a little. It was ready. Just like Latias said, he could activate the crystals on his own thanks to Necrozma’s blessing. Could Gahi as well, if he tried harder? Perhaps Eon only made it easier…

Please, work, Owen thought to the crystal. Guys? Are you ready yet? But, of course, they could not hear him.

The barrier was cracking again, and this time it wasn’t repairing itself. The moment the barrier dropped, he’d have no choice but to attack. He didn’t know if he could trigger a radiant attack while Voided, even temporarily.

He saw in his mind’s eye a little Ralts, confused and terrified. Those eyes, showing no recognition of him, yet they were very clearly his mother’s. He’d see them again. With some luck, maybe his father wouldn’t even have to find out until it was all over.

The beast stumbled left, and that was as good a signal as Owen was going to get. He clutched the crystal tight against his chest and then raised it in the air just as his Protect shattered.

Come on, Palkia. We need you!

<><><>​

“What’s taking Owen so long?!” Migami shouted, weaving around a claw strike from Palkia. The trailing darkness was like a miasma, rotting their scales on contact. They grunted and swooped down, focusing their powers on healing next.

“Just give it time! That was a strong hit!” Latias called back, hurling several mist balls into the beast’s head. Smaller blasts came out from the creature’s side, striking Latias in the chest. She screamed, but Migami knew this cycle and blasted Latias back with healing light. Latias regained consciousness mid-fall and used her downward momentum to twist one of its limbs with Psychic.

Up close, this thing was several floors tall, and they had no chance of taking it down effectively from afar.

“Wait, I’m seeing something!” Latias shouted.

Palkia must have been feeling it, too. The Titan held its chest, trying to pull something out, but it was already too late. Huge portions of its amalgamated body were falling away as cracks of light shined out from within; leaves and flower petals seeped out with an invisible wind.

The Titan’s body expanded in a disturbing bloat, ripping at the seams where more light poured out. Finally, with an explosive and unsettlingly fragrant blast, the Titan burst. Migami and Latias flew backward and caught the gusts of wind. Latias had more trouble, getting caught by Migami so she didn’t go flying too far.

Latias was a frail thing and Migami could feel the muscle and bone under her feathers. Her weak points. They were tempted to press against her neck to see how much give it had, how easy it would be to snap.

After violently shaking the thoughts out of their head, Migami looked down. “Where’s Owen?”

“I can’t tell,” Latias said, squinting. She was blinded, which made her vulnerable to attack. No, the fight was over—Migami had to stop thinking about that.

There was something orange falling amid the scattered Void Shadows. Migami focused on that; in a flash of light, Void Shadows were now raining down upon Migami, but along with them was Owen.

“Uff!”

Owen landed on top of Latias, the wind in her chest leaving in a harsh squeak.

Another frail creature in Migami’s arms. They could drop Owen and he’d be helpless; there was no counter for such a far fall. No, he could break it with Flame Bursts.

“Migami, get us to Palkia,” Owen said firmly.

“What?”

“Palkia. Look down. Keep it together.”

Keep it together? They were just fine.

“Breathe.”

“What’s wrong?” Migami asked, looking between the two of them. Latias seemed nervous for some reason, and Owen wasn’t taking his eyes off of them. What an intense look… They should listen.

Migami didn’t realize until just then how firmly they’d been holding Latias. Releasing her, Migami watched a few feathers, tinged with crimson, drift to the faraway ground.

“Palkia,” Owen said again.

“Right, right.” Migami turned their attention downward. Palkia, Palkia… there! Among the mass of black sludge was the pinkish form of the Spacekeeper. “Okay, how about we—”

Latias squeaked and pointed. “Aster!”

“You’re kidding.” Migami turned, and indeed, he was seconds away. He must have been attracted by the fighting; that burst of energy was surely enough to guide him there. Had he been following them all this time?

There was a hint of eagerness in Migami’s voice that betrayed the gravity of Aster’s arrival. Owen must have noticed because he was already shooting an ember in their face to get their attention.

“We aren’t fighting head-on. We lost the first time.”

“We lost because Dark Matter touched me,” Migami said. “We don’t have that this time. I’m gonna win.” And Migami believed every word of it. This time it was one on five, or three, however they counted. Owen sort of counted as half a Pokémon, and Latias was on even footing, so maybe it was two and a half. Or—

“Migami, focus,” Owen pleaded. “Come on, we need to get to P—”

Aster disappeared and the tingling to Migami’s left made them reflexively swing at the air. A vine grazed skin. With a manic grin, Migami met Aster’s gaze only a few feet apart.

“Hey,” Migami greeted.

“Hi!” Aster giggled.

“Round two?”

“No, no round two,” Owen said firmly, pointing at Aster. “You—leave us alone! What do you even want us for?!”

“Alexander wants the strongest person here, and that’s you!” Aster pointed at Migami. “Who was the one who made that huge blast of light? I won’t hurt anyone if you just give that one to meeee!”

“You’ll have to get ‘im over my dead body!” Migami held Owen forward like a prize.

“Huh? Him? That little Charmander made that huge blast of light?” Aster wavered.

The disappointment Migami felt was immeasurable. Were they not going to fight? Aster didn’t look like he was interested. “If I throw him away, can we fight over him?” Migami proposed.

Owen gasped, staring at Migami, wide-eyed. “Migami, think! Don’t let your fighting instincts take over, alright? Please?”

Fighting instincts? Was that this?

“Wait a minute…” Aster frowned, but then drifted closer.

Migami beat their wings back and searched for Latias. She was just behind them, on guard, but Migami could tell she was ready to run. Far below, Palkia was unconscious and the Void Shadows were scattering aimlessly. If they waited too long, they might coalesce around him again…

“Our top priority is Palkia,” Owen whispered. “It’s like Aster doesn’t even notice him… And why is he staring at me?”

“Let me see him!” Aster shouted. And Migami knew what was coming before Aster disappeared.

They ran on instinct.

Swinging left, Migami struck air, but the tingling feeling on their side was an easy read. Extra vines shot in that direction, swiping Aster’s arm. He disappeared and, predictably, appeared behind next. An easy target for Migami’s tail. Flexing a strange muscle, they swung their tail and ejected one of its tail-blade pairs, enveloping it in Psychic energy to guide it toward the assaulting Mewtwo.

Owen was saying something, but Migami didn’t hear it, nor were they interested. Not when it was obvious that they were supposed to keep fighting. Aster’s little game of Teleport was becoming predictable, like he never had to actually fight someone at his level before. Inexperienced. Softened from too many easy beatings.

Aster got a few lucky shots in, of course. Between using Owen as a Protect parry—which was starting to have more of an effect on Aster than before—and having so many bases covered, Aster couldn’t get a solid hit in. Only a few grazing shots. It was odd, actually. Was Aster being cautious of Latias, who didn’t know when to strike? Or was Aster holding back? He wasn’t this easy before.

Owen shouted something again, and this time, Migami decided to listen.

“Migami, run away!”

Maybe listening could wait for later.

Yet, only a few seconds later, Aster changed his rhythm. Migami faltered, and that was all Aster needed. The Mewtwo’s fist knocked Migami in the jaw and sent them spiraling down. They tried to pull Owen closer to his chest, but when they did, nothing but empty air separated him and his hands. Owen was gone.

Migami slammed into the rock and the dull, loud cracks told him that several bones broke from the impact with a nearby plateau. Large rocks fell around them and to the dusty ground far below.

“Owen—” Migami choked out, slamming their whole body against the plateau to get back in the air. They saw a flash, and that was all. Latias was frantically flying toward them, and Migami had half a mind to attack for approaching him too quickly.

“I’ll look for him!” Latias said. “He disappeared, but he couldn’t have gone far! Oh—but what about Palkia? Do I stay back? Um, Migami?”

All of that was pointless to reply to. Migami ascended, and Latias said something too soft to hear, and they scanned the plateaus. He was around here somewhere…

“Owen…” Migami’s heart thumped in his chest. There was a lingering regret in their head and he wasn’t sure why. They weren’t done with his fight. Aster wasn’t about to run away from that. And Owen, he…

He told him to run away. Owen had known it was coming. And they hadn’t listened.

A wave of rage shook Migami down to his core. Their fists trembled; his tail whipped the air, his own blades slicing into bits of his scales. The fusion roared, psychic crescents splitting the air and the plateau behind him, leaving massive gashes in the purple stone. Latias squeaked and flew down to Palkia, spending her time brushing away Void Shadows from above.

“I’ll kill him,” Migami hissed, clenching the air. “He’s here somewhere… Owen… hang in there…”

They flew higher, throwing any sense of stealth away in the process. If Aster could see them, then they could see Aster.

And then they wouldn’t have to apologize.

<><><>​

Even after being torn away from his team and tossed to the dusty ground, spending several seconds without movement, Owen’s world was still spinning.

“Ugh…” He rolled onto his belly and pushed himself up. “Hello?” Was he rescued?

Something wrapped around the back of his neck and pulled him. Owen struggled, but he was already off the ground and he couldn’t reach or strike anything. He made feral, chittering noises, tail blazing, but the assailant was unaffected.

“What’s your name?”

Aster. It was Aster. His grip was gentle, but firm.

“Why do you want to know?” Owen asked back.

“Do I know you?”

“What do you—”

Owen remembered a much smaller Mewtwo during that picnic. Azelf had been there, too, with the others of that trio. Quite a few Legends had been there…

Aster spun Owen around, leaving the Charmander floating without anyone actually holding him. Aster wore an uncharacteristically serious expression, like he was afraid of something.

“Just tell me your name,” Aster said.

The psychic force around Owen felt turbulent. Owen’s tail was already sparking from his anxiety. If he said the wrong thing here, would he die? Well. That probably wouldn’t matter, but it would be inconvenient. Worse, he might be taken away. But if he didn’t answer… Aster was a Mewtwo. Would he simply… break his mind open to find the answer?

“Owen,” he finally said.

That Psychic grip wavered.

“And… were you named after your dad, or something?” Aster asked, voice trembling.

“No. My old human named me Owen.”

Owen regretted giving that detail; Aster looked like he’d been overcome by a wave of sheer panic and confusion. There was a manic look in his eyes for half a second, some mixture of thrill and relief, and then a dark, dark horror.

“Y-you’re really Owen,” Aster said, and then he laughed. “Owen, ha… h-ha, you’re alive, you’re really alive, and you’re here…”

“Well, alive is stretching it…” Owen tried, subtly, to break free, but it was no use. Aster pulled him closer, but then suddenly shoved him away, and Owen toppled over the dirt with a grunt.

“I—that means I have to… you’re the one he… no. N-no, I can’t! H-ha, Alexander wouldn’t know i-if I just… h-ha, I can’t… you’re Owen! S-so there’s no way I… we…”

“Aster, what’s wrong?” The Psychic hold had completely disappeared. Maybe, if he was lucky, he would be able to convince Aster to work with him. “Aster, I remember you,” he said. It was the truth, even if the magnitude was probably being falsely implied. “Please, just talk to me. It’s okay.”

Carefully, Owen stepped forward, and Aster took a single step back, more than making up for it.

“I’m u-under orders… that i-if I see someone like you, I have to…”

“Then don’t follow them. You don’t have to, Aster.” Owen had no idea what he was saying. “Please, just stay with us. Alright?”

“No, I can’t, I can’t, I—” He laughed again, squeezing his forehead with both hands. “I can’t, I can’t, it’s his power, it’s his power!”

“What’s his power? Aster, come on, talk to me—”

“No. I can’t talk to you! You… aren’t even here!”

This seemed like it was going badly. Owen searched, with just his eyes, for an escape, but he was on top of a plateau. He could probably try to jump, but Aster would catch him. No, he was stuck. He had to calm him down.

While Owen had been thinking in those few silent moments, Aster pulled from a small bag a sphere. It reminded Owen of the Wonder Orbs he’d used in Dungeons, though this one did not seem to have anything in it. Just raw, white essence, ready to shape itself into anything. And that alone filled Owen with a strange, primal dread, like every single part of him was telling him, right then, to run away.

“You’re not here… I’m… I’m not seeing Owen! You’re… not Owen! You’re not a Charmander! You’re… g-gone!”

Aster slammed the orb at Owen’s feet; he had a second to run, but that was all. A wave of lethargy washed over Owen as strange threads of light wrapped around and dug into the Charmander’s scales. He felt its sting and then a gentle warmth, then an uncomfortable chill that only intensified. Owen tried to cry out, but nothing came. He felt immobile—he was shrinking. That cold feeling was digging into his brain. A horrible headache, just for an instant. He felt a sweet taste in his mouth and nostrils. The flame on his tail sputtered out, and then the tail itself seemed to recede.

Then, he blacked out.

<><><>​

Migami split into three after having little luck in finding Aster immediately. They’d have to do extra scouting, or Mispy would need to focus her aura sensing, before they could find him—if that.

Latias and Demitri tended to Palkia, who was still unconscious. The Void Shadows were dazed and injured, most of them already scattering away from the blast that had destroyed most of them. That made getting to Palkia trivial, with Demitri tapping on one of his pearls. “Palkia?” he said. “Are you awake?”

“Palkia, wake up,” Latias said. “Can you hear me?” She floated to his head, frowning. He was massive—his head and neck alone were practically the length of Latias’ whole body.

“Rrgh… Hm? Mm…” He opened one eye, and Demitri braced for some kind of panic or roar or space-shattering attack. “Ah. Am I awake?”

“Um, yes, Palkia. You are.”

“That’s wonderful!” He rolled over, crushing several Void Shadows, and got to his feet to brush himself off. Demitri yelped and stumbled away, falling onto his back. Mispy stood on her guard, ready to fight, but then Palkia clapped his hands together.

It was so off-putting that Mispy lost her stance.

“Goodness, I’ve lost track of the time. Tell me, how long has it been since I was uncovered? I do have a vague dream of fighting back very recently, yes, but that was after I believe I heard Dialga crying out. Ahh, but the passage of time while being sealed away is difficult to discern. Hm! Latias. How have you been?”

“Um. I-I don’t know which question to answer first…”

“Oh, nonsense, surely you can answer one of them! Ah, for example, where is Dialga? Do you know?”

“He’s, um, back at Null Village,” Demitri said. “But we—”

“Oh, wonderful! Point me in that direction and I can take us there right away!”

He raised his arm, but Latias quickly cried, “Wait, no! Not yet! Um—we need to find someone else first! Do you remember Aster?”

“Star’s child? Certainly! How is my adorable creation doing?” Palkia looked left and right, then at Latias with those same, bright eyes. “Where is he?”

“Um. He abducted Owen and is taking him to Alexander.”

“Alexander? That sounds familiar.”

“Emissary of Darkness.”

“Ahhh, right. Of course. And Aster is working for him, then? A shame.” Palkia sighed and pat down the rest of his scales of any Void mess. “Well, I suppose I should dispose of him. Truly unfortunate. Where is he?”

“I don’t think you’ll be strong enough. He’s enhanced by that same darkness, and, um—”

“Wait,” Demitri said, “you’re just going to try to kill him? Just like that?”

“Well, he’s with Dark Matter now. I certainly must.” Palkia nodded. “It’s a shame, but he will only be a threat now. If we kill him, then he will be stripped of his power.”

“Actually, Dark Matter is fighting Alexander for control.”

“Oh?” Palkia hummed, arms crossed. “Are they both simply different sides of evil, then?”

“Kind of.”

“Well, I suppose that does complicate matters. If we take out too much of one side, the other may gain the upper hand and we can’t win at all. We will have to be more careful. Very well! No killing Aster today. You said you were looking for him, however?”

“That way,” Mispy suddenly said, pointing in what Demitri thought was a random direction, yet she pointed with purpose.

“Of course.” Palkia lifted himself off the ground, a gentle wind circling over his oddly small wings. “Hmm, I’m not as fast as I would like,” Palkia said. “My strength is certainly less than usual. You all go ahead! I shall catch up.”

“After all the work we went through to get you?” Demitri said as Gahi flew ahead to where Mispy had pointed. “Um, also, can you carry us? Since Gahi’s… flying ahead.”

“Well, if you sense something, I imagine he would want to go there soon,” Palkia said. “Goodness, what an interesting Flygon. I’ve never seen a color like that before.”

“Yeah, he’s the Psychic Guardian.” Demitri climbed onto Palkia’s back with some effort, but then stiffened. “U-um, how high do you plan on flying?”

Mispy climbed on next and made sure to grasp Demitri so he didn’t pass out. “Focus on me,” she said gently.

“Y-yeah, sorry.”

Mispy smiled. It wasn’t that bad when he was fused with someone else, but on his own, getting too far from the ground still gave him tremors.

But Gahi was already returning, looking confused. Mispy sensed an aura—Owen’s aura, getting closer, too. He must be on his back. With relief, she said, “Gahi found him.”

“No way!” Demitri tried to lean forward, but then realized that they were a lot higher off the ground than before. He yelped in surprise and pulled back. “G-Gahi, where’s Owen? Owen? Are you alright?”

No answer. Instead, Gahi said, “I didn’t find Owen. Felt like he was s’posed ter be there… Aster was flyin’ away, but I dunno. Didn’t look like he had Owen with’m…”

“Wait, what did you bring back?”

“Was weird. Never saw one in… fer a while.” Gahi held out something that, at first, Demitri and Mispy hadn’t registered. It was so bright and vibrant compared to the desaturated purples and ominous reds that they had to make sure they’d seen it properly. An apple. An actual, red apple, even with a stem on top, the size of Gahi’s fist.

Mispy was tempted to grab it, but something stopped her. Some strange feeling in her chest.

“An apple, out here?” Palkia asked.

“I’ve never seen one so pretty before,” Latias said, practically in awe.

Mispy squeaked, her antennae twitching. “Owen…”

“Eh?” Gahi looked around. “Where? He in trouble?”

Mispy pointed at the apple. “Aura…”

Gahi, Demitri, Mispy, Latias, and Palkia all stared at the apple, a mixture of feelings washing over Team Alloy. The stem, just barely, wiggled left and right.

Palkia hummed. “Fascinating.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 106 – Brewing Darkness

After the chaos of chasing Aster from Null Village, the whole town had gone into lockdown, leaving Jerry stuck with a lot of the others in the evaluation building. Aster had fled with Latias hot on his tail, and after that, it didn’t seem like anybody else had remained. The reason for the lockdown, though, was because Dark Matter had been detected rapidly approaching Null Village at around the same time Latias had been spotted, which led to a lot of cautionary procedures Jerry hadn’t even known they had.

That left him stuck in a room with Zena, Trina, and a bubbling, growling Amia in her element-proof container.

“So much for running off with them to find Palkia or whatever that plan was supposed to be,” Jerry muttered. “He ditched us!”

“It wasn’t like he had a choice,” Zena said, though she’d been squeezing her ribbons repeatedly to pass the time. “I do hope he’s okay…”

“I believe so,” Trina replied. “I caught glimpses of that fused version of Team Alloy. They’re fast. I don’t think Aster will be able to catch up very easily.”

“I’m worried about how quickly Latias fled, too,” Zena hummed. “One was real, and I think the other… She used an attack I’d only seen from Anam, when…”

“Kggrrr…”

“Yeah, Amia’s got a point.” Jerry rolled his eyes. “You guys speculate too much. I just want to get out and see if my place is set up yet.”

“Your place?” Zena tilted her head.

“You know, for living here.” Jerry sighed. “Now that we’re cleared of corruption or whatever they search for, I’m going to get a Class and then a job to go with it. Didn’t they prompt you at all?”

“No… They’re still evaluating my Class.” Zena looked rolled her ribbons again. “Since my memories aren’t complete, they said they’re determining if I’m B or C.”

“Rough. I’m A here.”

“They seem certain that I’m a Class B as well,” Trina added. “But I can’t recall what I forgot.”

“Uh, duh.”

Trina scowled.

Light footsteps followed by a gentle knock at the door caught their attention.

“Finally, maybe we can get outta here.” Jerry stretched his legs from sitting down for too long.

The door slid open; in came Marshadow and a red-white, floating Pokémon. There had been a lot of unfamiliar Pokémon recently.

“Lemme guess.” Jerry folded his wings. “Friend of yours?”

“Yeh.” Marshadow gestured to her. “This is Latias.”

“Sounds familiar…”

“Legendary Pokémon, same ol’ same ol’.” Marshadow waved dismissively.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Latias said, floating forward with her hand outstretched.

Jerry tilted his head. She didn’t seem very friendly. Polite, maybe, but…

Zena reached out with a ribbon and shook Latias’ hand, and Trina, struggling to reach, did the same while looking away.

“The sooner I can evolve again, the better,” Trina muttered.

Latias then approached Jerry, holding out her hand.

“Kinda formal,” Jerry remarked.

“It’s polite,” Latias said without a hint of a smile.

“It’s not so hard, Jerry” Zena stared at him. “Be polite.”

“It may be unorthodox, but we may as well.” Trina added.

Something about this didn’t sit right with Jerry. They were all staring at him. What was going on? The air in the room seemed… different.

“Bbgg…” Even Amia seemed a little more docile than usual. And that was probably the strangest thing of all.

Whatever. This wasn’t important. “Alright, fine, fine.” Jerry reached out and shook her hand.

As soon as he did, Latias let go and spun around. Wordlessly, she exited the room. Marshadow followed, but before Jerry could say anything in annoyance, Zena and Trina went next. Jerry blinked and, without thinking, followed after them in silence.

What was that? Jerry glanced at Trina. She didn’t look back. Instead, she hopped onto Zena’s head and stationed herself there, anchoring herself to her horn using a vine. Zena, too, stared directly ahead, though she seemed conflicted about something. Did I black out? Did I forget a whole conversation? What’s going on?!

But Jerry knew that speaking up about everyone else acting strange would only draw attention to himself. Then they might attack him or… something.

Keeping his pacing normal, Jerry followed the others down the hall and out the main building. Dialga was probably somewhere nearby. Would he be under the same spell? That was the last thing they needed.

The strange potted plants that lined the halls were a good distraction while they walked, and it didn’t seem like any of them suspected him as abnormal. Or, in this case, normal.

Once out of the building, Latias growled and Jerry was certain that was going to be the end for him. But instead, she was focused on some speck of purple in the sky—and then Jerry growled, too. He’d recognize that shade of purple anywhere… And the fact that it was flying in the sky?

Anam for sure.

Wordlessly, Latias flew high and away from town. Zena, with Trina on her head, went in another direction. Marshadow sank into the ground, his black haze following yet another path. Jerry, following their behavior, took off next and flew in another direction entirely, heart hammering in his chest.

Finally, some reprieve. Alone from… whatever just happened. That wasn’t right. None of that was normal. And it was right before his eyes, too. That handshake. It must have been the handshake.

But he had no idea what to do next.

Why did they run from Anam?

A horrible realization came over him: Anam was who he had to talk to.

Why? Why like this?

Banking to the right, he redirected his path until he could see the flying Goodra descending. With a permanent scowl, the Aerodactyl lowered next. It seemed like some scouts were investigating whether Anam was safe to let through or not, but Jerry knew. He knew what Anam looked like when he was possessed by darkness, and this wasn’t it.

But for now, he’d have to wait it out, and pray that Zena and the others, under whatever spell they were in, wouldn’t come for him next.

By the time Jerry landed, he could hear only the last part of Anam’s plea.

“You need to let me in! Dark Matter is right inside!”

And that was really all he needed to know. “He’s right,” Jerry said automatically.

“Oh, hi, Jerry!” Anam said cheerfully, waving at him.

Jerry didn’t wave back. He addressed the guards, “Something weird happened inside with Marshadow and some of my friends. There was someone called Latias. She touched Zena, Trina, and me, and I think Marshadow before, and… it was like they just wordlessly followed him after that.”

“He didn’t touch you?” Anam asked.

“He did. But nothing happened to—back off!” Jerry beat his wings and hopped away when Anam had lunged at him. “You aren’t gonna slime on me again, no way!”

“Please, I need to check!”

The guards were having no effect on pulling him away. Any effort led to him literally slipping through their grasps. Several guards readied attacks. A nearby Luxray’s fangs glittered with ice, while a Marowak readied his club, which looked like it had been fashioned out of stone.

“Check what? Words! Use words!” Jerry landed when Anam finally looked like he wouldn’t go for another awful Goodra hug.

“I need to look if the darkness in your heart is there or not,” Anam explained. “I can purify it! I promise!”

“Darkness in my freaking heart, wow, that’s something even for you.” Jerry couldn’t help but laugh. “Let me guess, you’re telling me that it’s the darkness in my heart that led to my whole life falling to—”

“Yes! Actually!” Anam clasped his hands together, begging. “Please, just let me try something. It won’t hurt this time, maybe.”

“You’re gonna explain exactly what you’re going to do, and then we’ll see.” Jerry couldn’t believe he was humoring him, but Anam, being so earnest… He probably wasn’t lying. He was misguided and he probably did a whole lot of bad that he didn’t even realize, but for once Anam looked like he knew what he was doing.

And it was better than facing those spellbound Pokémon back in Null Village.

Anam quivered, which left ripples in his semisolid body. “I’m… I inherited my mom’s power a long time ago, when she died. She gave it to me by breaking a Promise. Y-you remember those, right?”

Jerry had no idea what Anam was talking about, but he had enough pieces to guess. “I’ll assume it makes sense.”

“Part of her power was from Necrozma—his light could dispel corruption from Dark Matter. Some of his disciples had the same power. Cresselia, Celebi, um—and Mom, too.”

“Was this the same thing you tried on me before?” Jerry asked, a phantom pain throbbing in his chest. “Back with my folks. My dad. You took away his power.”

“It was evil, Jerry, I’m… sorry. It corrupts you. But it would have brought you to this world if you kept it…”

“Wow, ain’t that something, I’m here now!” Jerry had half a mind to leave. He wanted to. He didn’t care what would happen. Just one step away…

“I’m sorry! But… I need to try now. Okay? Please?”

“Look, forget it. I don’t care anymore. Just tell me if you can fix what’s going on in town. You, guards. Any of what this guy says making sense?”

“No.”

“Do you think he’s telling the truth?”

The guards hesitated.

“Yeah, I get that feeling, too,” Jerry grunted. He hated how Anam somehow had that effect on people. Or maybe it was his sheer power. The guards wouldn’t be able to stop him if they tried. Was that it?

“Can you show us what that purifying power looks like?” one guard, a Gallade, asked.

“I’m kinda curious, too,” said a Greninja next to him. He poked his slimy fingers together. “Been a while since we had this much excitement.” To this, Gallade rolled his eyes.

“I will,” Anam said. “But I need to see someone who’s like that first. Who was acting weird?”

“Zena, Trina, Marshadow,” Jerry listed off, “and this Pokémon called Latias spread it.”

“That’s Dark Matter. I can try to get him to go away, but… I can’t beat him.”

Something about that was worrying. Of course Anam couldn’t beat Dark Matter—he had been possessed by him, for one. Yet if Anam had been so horribly powerful against Jerry and his father so long ago, and even he couldn’t beat Dark Matter…

“Let’s just try to find Zena and the others,” Jerry said. “Maybe Dark Matter’ll just leave. He seemed pretty keen on doing that.”

“What’s he doing here, anyway?” asked the Gallade guard. “What’s the point?”

And as Anam stepped through the town, looking pensive, he said, “I think he’s trying to build an army.”

<><><>​

Poison spikes clanged against metal walls, leaving Owen startled by how loud it was. But he kept going, and right by his side was Tim, panting and nearly tripping over himself. Ayame had gone ahead with Ire. He and Tim had stayed behind to distract some of the humans and their Pokémon. Smoke Screen did wonders for that, but they had to maintain it and give false paths along the way.

All of Ayame’s research and their contacts with the police had led to this moment—a lead in where the rest of his team had gone. It was amazing how the clues had practically fallen into their laps, like someone had been helping them from the shadows. And maybe they were!

They’d infiltrated one of the hideouts hidden in plain sight. The place had a strange feeling of both danger and mysticism. Danger from the countless criminals that infested the place, ad mysticism because… Owen wasn’t sure. He felt a presence here. Were they keeping something important in the area, or was something else here, watching?

But that didn’t really matter. They had to get in and get out. The police would have taken too long and they were already on the move, according to Tim.

Owen had a feeling that wasn’t a good idea, but he also wanted to get his team back before they were gone forever. Tim knew the way, and he followed. He trusted Tim.

Ahead was another set of guards, each one with a Poison Pokémon. This team really loved debilitating and wearing down their opponents, and Owen couldn’t be more irritated at it. Why did these Pokémon choose to side with them, anyway? Was it for the power? Or were they pampered? It didn’t make sense…

Did some Pokémon not care who they were with, as long as they could fight?

Another poison needle zipped past his head and he dove out of the way as a delayed reaction. That was a mistake; a violet glob flew through the air and directly toward his chest. He tried to swat it away, but that was his second mistake as it burst violently, smashing him into the wall. He heard Tim cry his name, then yelped as several needles struck where he’d once stood.


No, Owen hissed, you don’t attack my human! How dare you!

He shakily got to his feet and spewed a beam of fire blindly forward. Someone cried out—not a Pokémon. That was a human, and Owen abruptly cut off his flames. Through his blurry vision, he saw a human, standing upright, and a slightly burned Weezing.

That was a trick!

And then the Weezing spat up another Sludge Bomb toward him. He was so stunned by the underhanded move that he only barely dodged out of the way. Rewarded by sharp pains in his side, he tripped into the wall, crying out. That one got into his system. That cold, numbing feeling was starting to seep into more than just his arm. If that kept up, he’d be down in no time.

Tim! Was he okay? Yes, and he was running past him.

“Owen, this way!”

“Hang on!” Owen called, panting, and Tim slowed down.

“What’s wrong? Ah—you’re poisoned! I—okay, hang on, let me—”

“Do it while we’re running.”

“Okay, okay—”

Now, Owen was ahead, but not by much. A stinging warmth spread over his back and his arm, potent chemicals seeping into him. Owen had no idea how those things worked, but after that initial pain, the relief that followed was worth every battle. Though, he wouldn’t have minded powering through the pain for a little while longer. But not now. They had to go ahead. What if they got—

“Ayame!” Tim stopped by the fallen girl, who was clutching at a wound dripping with poison.

“I’ll be fine,” Ayame hissed, though most of her left side was splotched with purple. Her eyes were tearstained, but it wasn’t because of the pain. “Ire. They took Ire. I couldn’t…”

“Which way? Which way?!”

Ayame pointed down the left hall. Tim was ready to go, but then hesitated, looking at Ayame. “Take this, okay?” he said, placing down a Pecha Berry for her. “We’ll go on ahead. Owen! Let’s go.”

“But what if they hurt her again?” Owen asked.

“Just go!” Ayame shouted. “I’ll catch up. I’m not letting them take Ire away.”

That was enough. They ran for a few more halls, narrowly avoiding a few of the grunts that had ambushed out from the sides, and Owen wondered if they’d even find a way out at this rate. He was strong, but he didn’t know if there were any truly powerful Pokémon lurking about here.

Most of them weren’t. They didn’t have strong bonds with their humans. They weren’t disciplined. But maybe there were a few that were.

“There!” Tim shouted. He saw it, too. Ire’s Poké Ball was just ahead, with the little stickers that Ayame had put on it. It was in the hands of one of the grunts, out in the open down a dimly lit hall. They sprinted, but Tim was faster.

“Stop!” Tim cried, like they’d listen.

Owen breathed out another Flamethrower, torching a Zubat and a Golbat this time, but the moment they rounded the corner, metal clangs sounded behind him, and a cold feeling spread through his chest and gut. When he looked down, the searing pain followed, his whole front riddled with Poison Stings. He slowly looked left, dreading what he would see…

Tim was slumped over, clutching at one of the worst of his wounds. His breathing was quick and shallow.

“Owen,” Tim wheezed. “Pecha. I need…”

Owen hastily grabbed one, hoping it would be enough. They weren’t as effective on humans, and he had several needles in him…

Before he could pass the Pecha over, several more needles struck Tim, a few of them several inches into his chest. His eyes bugged out. Owen felt similar stings on his side; he turned in disbelief to see that the guard was still there, smirking, with his Nidorina by his side.

Why were they still trying to fight? The battle was over! They won! But… he was still going to attack. And Ire’s Poké Ball was right there. He had to get past Nidorina.

Owen stood between Nidorina and Tim, arms spread out. Nidorina crouched down and stomped and snorted. Owen took one step, and then fell to a knee with a pained howl, an older injury from earlier in the assault catching up to him.

The trainer behind Nidorina laughed. “And here I thought it’d be hard! Whatever! Finish them off!”

Everything moved so slowly. The Pokémon in front of him, the human behind her, and Tim… slower, darker. His mind was running as fast as it could, but his body couldn’t do anything more.

And then, he heard a voice.


Looks like you guys are having trouble.

It came from inside his head. Was this… telepathy? He’d seen Psychic Pokémon do it before, but only powerful ones. But this voice was so loud, so clear, that Owen could not even comprehend how powerful it must have been. It felt like he was talking to his mother.

These guys are bad news. But I can’t show myself to them. They’re too crafty, and they might catch me, too. But hey. If you promise to cause some chaos for them… I’ll get you out of this mess.

I want to save my human, Owen replied desperately.

Your… human? Why?

Please… let me save him.

You domesticated Pokémon make me sad. Buuuut okay. One miracle, coming right up!

And then, time started to flow normally again. Was that a vision? A hallucination? Owen took a breath and realized that all of his injuries were still definitely there, if not worse. The poison was seeping into him. Miracle, what miracle? He glanced at Tim. The human was barely conscious.

Miracles were useless here. He had to be his own miracle. Slowly, Owen staggered back to his feet, but Nidorina slammed into him. The Charmeleon went flying into Tim and a few of the poison spikes sank deeper into both of their bodies. Owen whimpered, trying to get back up, but Nidorina slammed into him again, and again, even more poison seeping into him. His scales darkened, closer to purple than red.

Nidorina stomped again, snorting, looking back at her trainer for the next order. The grunt was reveling in this, giddy, ecstatic at some sadistic pleasure in what he was doing. “I’ve never gotten this kind of action before,” he said. “Nidorina, what do you say? They can’t fight anymore. Should we catch that Charmeleon next, or maybe… Mm, nah. He’ll never obey.”

“Definitely not. He’s too loyal.” Nidorina smirked at Owen. “I’ll give you one last chance, Charmeleon. Leave your trainer and we’ll let you both live. How’s that sound? You know, fighting is fun, and you’ll get to do a lot of that with us. Your human will slink back to his home and forget all about you anyway. Partnerships aren’t meant to last.”

What did that mean? Of course they didn’t last. Countless humans and Pokémon paired off and then split away when their journeys were over. They had different lives to live.

But Tim was different. Tim was
his human. And he wasn’t done with him yet.

“I’m sorry,” Tim whispered. Owen knew he wanted to say more, but he couldn’t.

But Owen had more to say. A seething, burning rage welled up in his chest. Power from someplace he didn’t know built further, ready to burst from his throat. Yet when he tried to breathe it out, nothing came, and his vision went white. The last thing he saw was Nidorina and her human flinching in surprise.

Tim was his partner. He was the best human he’d ever met. Ayame and Ire were the same, and these humans were trying to split them apart.

No, he
refused to let that happen. Not again. Never again.

He saw flashes of his former team. A Pidgeot, proud and boastful. A Nidorino, reckless and inexperienced but eager to learn… Gone. Taken. And that a sinking feeling that he’d never see them again came back tenfold in that white haze.

Had they been convinced by these humans to fight without Tim? To forget Tim?

Owen’s vision returned. Everything was… smaller. He felt heavier. There was a new weight on his back, and when he turned to look, he realized his head had a lot more mobility. His neck had grown.

Wings.

He had wings…

Nidorina’s ears pinned to her head. A single Flamethrower took her out, and rather than withdraw her, the human kept running away.

Running away with Ire.

The rage wasn’t going away. That seething heat, that power, that
elation was only getting better. Tim was propped up against the wall, trying to eat a Pecha. He got a bite.

“Stay here,” Owen said, thumping his tail on the wall. So powerful. And that human. He loved to fight, didn’t he?

“Owen,” Tim said, “wait—he dropped it. Look.”

Ire’s ball was tossed to the side.

Owen flew past it. The human was close. Slow. Weak. Weak. Weak. He wasn’t going to let him take away another Pokémon.

The human looked back and screamed, pointing at something behind Owen, on the ground. Probably the ball. But the Charizard didn’t care about that right now.

Nidorina’s trainer screamed; Owen roared. His claws sank into flesh. All he saw was crimson.


<><><>

Demitri was beside himself, and it took assurances from Latias, Mispy, and even Palkia to calm him down. He kept blubbering that Owen was dead, and that had sent him into a full panic, no matter what that really meant in the Voidlands. Mispy wrapped her vines around him and squeezed hard, rocking him left and right while gently shushing him. Gahi, rolling his eyes, tossed the apple from left to right in his hands absentmindedly.

“Um, maybe you shouldn’t do that?” Latias said gently.

“Eh?”

“That’s… Owen, after all…”

“Oh, right—eh…” Gahi had forgotten. “Look, it ain’t like I’m used ter an apple bein’… an apple.”

“I’m recovered enough by now,” Palkia said, tapping his claws together while grinning warmly. “This has been very exciting! Though I’m still not sure how long I’ve been gone.”

“Centuries,” Latias said. “And yet it’s like you hardly changed at all!”

“Well, I imagine so! I don’t remember most of it. A shame. I was very curious what it would have been like to rampage as a Titan! Instead, I was placed in stasis. I suppose some Legends are simply too powerful to directly corrupt. Perhaps the higher ones such as myself.”

Latias seemed unnerved. “Um, double back for a second. Did you just say you were curious about becoming a Titan?”

“Most certainly!” Palkia nodded. “I feel cheated, really.”

“But, um, if you actually Voided, you might forget who you are.”

“Ahh, that is a disadvantage.” Palkia sighed. “Well, I suppose I should count my blessings. For example, some of my strength has returned, and I would love to see Dialga again. Where precisely is your village? I will warp us there immediately!”

“O-oh, um, you need the exact location?” Latias asked.

“Well, yes. I am the Spacekeeper, not the Locationkeeper. I suppose Zygarde would be more appropriate for such a task. Ah! Is he a Titan as well? I would love to witness a rescue of another Legend.”

“This guy sure talks,” Gahi murmured to Demitri, who kept staring at Owen’s shiny, round, fruity form.

“I’ll try to give a good guess,” Latias said. “Can you warp multiple times?”

“Certainly!”

After some descriptions and several back-and-forth frustrations on how far a ‘minute of flight’ was, Palkia nodded and raised his right arm. “Now, stand back! I shall carve a portal for us to go through. It’s not the most powerful use of Spacial Rend, but it does clear a path, so don’t go between it, yes?”

Palkia slashed the air; the light itself seemed to part in that line before spreading into a black void. A faded image took its place, like a rip in fabric, and a cracking noise vibrated across Gahi’s head.

“Geez, sounded like glass breaking,” Gahi mumbled.

“Ah, that was not the portal.” Palkia clutched at his shoulder, where that large, pink gem inside had gained a few lines, ready to shatter.

“P-Palkia! Are you—”

“Hurry through, now!” Palkia urged cheerfully. “We can handle this later! I shall follow behind.”

They didn’t hesitate and slipped through. It was surreal; it wasn’t like one of the distortions seen within Dungeons, passing through a vertical barrier of water-like ripples. It was simply a flat portion of space that, no matter which way they looked at it, seemed to transfer into a different place than it should have.

In this case, only for a small portion of their vision, there was a forest, and everywhere else was more of the Nil Plateaus. Gahi, curious, quickly sprinted around this segment of space, and found that no matter which way he looked, the forest was always only there in that part of the flatlands. Palkia disappeared completely when he was opposite to the Spacekeeper, the tear in space between them.

“Now, now, in you go! It won’t last too long,” Palkia added as his second gemstone made worrying crackling sounds.

They all passed through, and Gahi made sure they still had Owen’s apple. Now they were in a forest, but Latias’ directions hadn’t been quite enough to direct them to the proper spot. Latias cautiously went above the trees, but not for too long in case there were hidden Void Shadows among the dead forest’s hideaways.

“Not bad!” Latias said, descending. “We’re close. If we fly, it’ll only be a few minutes. I see the spire ahead!”

“Flight… may not be an option,” Palkia admitted, and finally a hint of pain leaked through his expression.

“Are you okay?” Demitri asked, stepping closer. “Those… those stones in your shoulders, they’re—”

“A bit of a natural conduit of my power, yes,” Palkia said. “Unfortunately, under the strain, and my recent… recovery… I may have overexerted myself. Yes, very unfortunate.”

“Then we’ll walk the rest of the way,” Gahi said, marching. “Gotta be some way ter fix Owen. I liked’m when he was a plant, not an apple.”

Mispy whipped Gahi on the arm not holding Owen. “Oi! Plants’re nice!”

“Careful with the apple,” Demitri squeaked. “Owen might be scared…”

Mispy closed her eyes to check, then frowned. “He’s… dreaming.”

“Apples c’n dream?”

“Same… feeling,” Mispy explained. She looked at Gahi, then at Owen again. “Telepathy?”

“Eh? Telepathy?” Gahi looked down. “With an apple?”

“Mm. If he’s dreaming… then…”

“Hey, yeah!” Demitri piped up. “If he’s dreaming, then maybe you can use some Psychic power to communicate with him! Try it, Gahi!”

“You’d have… a strong connection,” Mispy said.

“Eh? Why us?”

Mispy stared. Like she knew something. Was it something from earlier? Not like it mattered.

“Bah, whatever.” He pressed his head against the apple. Owen? Y’there?

GAH!


Gahi, pulled the apple away, staring. “Yep, he’s there.”

“What’d he say?”

“I think I startled’m.”

“Ask him if he’s alright!”

Gahi rolled his eyes and obeyed. You alright?

No! I don’t know where I am! It’s dark and I can’t move or see or… I don’t know! Am I in the aura sea? It feels… kinda similar.

Nah, yer an apple.


Gahi didn’t get a reply, so he used the time to explain to the others, “He doesn’t know he’s an apple. I told him. He ain’t talking.”

“Understandable.” Palkia nodded. “Goodness, I wonder what it would be like if I were an apple. Hmm, perhaps I could—”

“No tests!” Latias peeped.

The ground shook and a series of panicked cries emanated from town. The team picked up the pace, Gahi leading the way with Owen in his hands. “Dark Matter might still be fighting in there,” Latias said. “Be careful. Don’t let him touch you.”

“How’d we recover last time?” Gahi looked to Demitri and Mispy, but they both shrugged.

“It just wore off suddenly,” Demitri said. “Right when… When did it happen for you, Latias?”

“When I bumped into Owen’s Protect, it was like Dark Matter flew right out of me.”

“Protect…” Mispy nodded to herself. “That.”

“Owen’s Protect did it?” Demitri looked at the apple.

“Of course!” Latias flew a little higher. “His spirit is infused with Necrozma’s light. That Protect must be manifesting it. Just like Cresselia or Celebi!”

More shrieks, and it sounded like a gushing blast of water had slammed into stone.

Just at the edge of town, a Goodra stood beside an Aerodactyl, the former missing an arm. Instead of blood, the Goodra oozed purple mass.

“Anam?!” Demitri shouted.

Anam glanced back, then turned completely around. He gasped and leaned a little, like he was waving, but it was with the missing arm. He leaned the other way and waved properly. “I’m—”

Another blast of water knocked his head clean off, sending it skyward. Jerry watched in horror before diving out of the way of another beam of water. Anam’s head landed in Demitri’s arms.

“—so glad to see you guys!” Anam finished. The rest of his body wobbled toward them. “Can you guys help me get Zena? I already caught Trina, but Marshadow and Zena are still controlled. Eon’s trying to get Marshadow.”

“Owen can purify, too,” Gahi held up the apple.

“Oh! I didn’t know the Grass Guardian could do that.”

“Well,” Palkia said, raising a claw, “I do not believe that’s the case here.”

“Hey, can we do reunions later?!” Jerry shouted. “She’s getting away!” He gestured left, where the faint prismatic sheen of a Milotic slithered around one of the buildings.

“I got this,” Gahi said, speeding forward. He pressed Owen’s apple form to his forehead. Hey, you awake?

Am I really an apple?

I want you ter try a Protect.

Why am I an apple? How?

We kinda need a Protect!

Can I even do that? …Okay, fine, but answer me after. Hang on.


Gahi saw Zena ahead. When she looked back, she glared and opened her mouth. Blue energy and mist circled around the edge of her mouth like a vortex; Gahi waited, timing things just right.

I’m gonna do it, Owen said. Ready?

The apple had a faint, golden glow. It wasn’t nearly as strong as Owen’s standard protects, and he had a feeling he’d have a lot less time to touch Zena, too. Would it even purify her? Gahi tried to channel some power into the apple, too. Maybe that would help. A light, fluttering feeling in his chest, accompanied by a brighter glow in the apple, at least gave him some confidence.

Yeah. Do it when I say, Gahi replied.

The mist flashed white and expelled a concentrated beam of water. The speed would have been too much for anyone but Gahi, who weaved out of the way as it carved a hole in the solid roads behind him.

Now!

Gahi disappeared and reappeared next to her. Zena reared up and slapped Gahi across the face with a watery tail. It stung and left a sharp ringing in his ears. But the apple was golden and Gahi slammed it on Zena’s side.

The Milotic went stiff, gasped, and then leaned onto him. Gahi fell over and let go of Owen, grunting. “Oi, get off!” he hissed.

“What happened?” Zena asked breathlessly. “I—why was I—I was attacking you, what did you do to me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there must have been a very good reason I wanted to kill you!”

“There ain’t!”

Zena narrowed her eyes, pulling away. “Well, I don’t anymore… I don’t understand. It… was a feeling that came over me—”

“Dark Matter got yeh,” Gahi said. “Happened ter me, too. Yer fine now.”

“I… what? When? How?”

“Can we discuss this when we’re safer?” Latias asked. “Where’s Dark Matter now?”

“Away,” Anam said. “I think he wants to avoid me…”

“Good! Then let’s gather everyone. Who’s missing? I, um, I don’t know any of you…”

“Eon?” Mispy asked.

“He’s at Dialga’s,” Jerry reported.

Palkia perked up.

“Alright, then let’s go there,” Latias said.

Palkia clapped excitedly. “This has been a wonderful first day back.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 107 – Dark Addiction

“What do you mean you lost sight of the power source?”

Alexander stood in his office, opposite his table. He stared at the empty space, his thinking spot. The open area was good for leisurely flying under the high ceilings to keep his wings stretched and not make him feel so trapped, even if the furniture was therefore sparse. The wall had been mostly repaired by now, with the repair crew retiring for the day. For some reason a Swampert from the observational division had been among them under related orders from Mhynt, but Alexander decided that wasn’t worth questioning.

What was? That Aster failed in his mission after being attacked by Dark Matter. And not only that, but finding it, then losing it, when it was supposed to be trivial.

“I, um, I didn’t find it. I thought I did but I didn’t, because it died too easily. Um, so it wasn’t what we were looking for.”

“You KILLED the potential power source?!” Alexander yelled into the receiver.

“No, no, no, I didn’t kill anyone! I, um, I just blew him—uh, it away! But when I went to investigate, he ran off, and, um—”

“Who? Who was he? Search for him now.”

“No, he’s gone now. And he wasn’t what I was looking for. Um—”

“WHO?!”

“Ummmmm Leph! Someone who looked like Leph.”

He was shaking. He could hear the blood rushing through his head. Seeing red. Seeing black. He was so mad he could destroy the whole city. “You’re lying to me.”

“No, no, I’m not! I’m not! I wouldn’t lie to you, I just got out of the fight, I don’t remember it that well!”

“Then tell me the truth. Who was it, and why? What REALLY happened?”

He heard sniffling on the other side of the receiver. A sick grin crossed Alexander’s face. Good, he was scared. He’d actually answer soon. Aster deserved a little terror after failing so miserably. Dark Matter might have taken the source instead, and then he’d have to find another way to fix the setback.

“Well?” Alexander pressed on, trying to hide the grin in his tone. “What did you do? If you’re honest with me, I won’t punish you as harshly. And you know what the harsh punishment is…”

Aster gasped on the other side of the receiver. Alexander’s heart pumped more. Just a little more terror and he’d be satisfied. The Hydreigon was breathing heavier. Couldn’t let that get across to Aster, so he held his breath, waited for a few more sniffles, and then said, “Answer me, Aster. Now.”

“It was Owen,” Aster sobbed. “I’m sorry! I couldn’t do it!”

Whatever thrills he was getting evaporated instantly. “It was what?”

“Owen. He’s alive! And he has Necrozma’s light! But I couldn’t do it, I—I… I’M SORRY!”


“So you killed him instead?”

“N-no, I… I used one of Leph’s Orbs and… turned him into something else. So now he’s just like that.”

“Turned him into what? Get him and bring him back.”

“I dunno where he went. I ran away, they took him, he’s an apple, I—”

“Is he dead?”

“No, I felt his presence inside. S-so he’s alive, um…”

He could thank Mhynt later. “Come back to Cipher City, Aster. You’re done for now. Mhynt is going to see Owen instead.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You will be. Now return.”

Aster’s whimper as the call ended gave Alexander no pleasure.

Still shaking, the Void King looked at his papers, his reports, and then the rest of his empty office. Owen was here. Alive. He could have had him. But Aster ruined it. And Leph… Leph was responsible, too.

Where was she?

He needed to make up for this travesty.

Alexander flew down the halls with his spectral wings outstretched, making leisurely curves around the corners. He considered knocking over a few tables to give the cleaning staff something to get busy with. He decided against it. While he was in an irritable mood, he could at least direct it at the proper offenders.

He made it up one of the upper floors of the castle, passing by a window. It overlooked Cipher City, a twinkling network of buildings tens of stories high amid a cleared-out portion of the Void Forest, like an island of stars dropped in an ocean of darkness. The watchtowers were active and several Titans under his control loomed in the horizon.

Just ahead was Leph’s door at the end an ornate and shimmering passageway of silver and gold. Her name was embedded into the center, and Alexander wondered if he could blast it open for an entrance. He had half a mind to. But he’d see if she’d open it first. He could sense her inside.

“Leph!” Alexander barked, pounding the side of his left, smaller head against the wall. It, too, was snarling to suit his mood. “Open the door, now!”

“It’s unlocked!” she called back, indignance in her voice.

“I said open it!”

She was mumbling something but he couldn’t hear it. That throbbing anger knocked against his temples. The door clicked and slid open.

Leph’s room was filled with little, round, multicolored baubles like stars that infested the air like dust in an old library. All the bright colors annoyed him, reminded him of the Fae, and wondered if that was done on purpose.

The younger Arceus herself, meanwhile, sat at the far end of the squarish room, curled up in a round, soft bed on the floor. She had a thick blanket over everything but her head, with the wheel around her abdomen shrunken down for comfort. In front of her, a book.

So, she didn’t even get out of bed to open the door?

“Why did you give Aster your power?” Alexander demanded.

“He asked.” A soft glow overtook a bookmark, which slipped into the pages before they closed. “He said he needed it for the mission.”

“I didn’t approve of this,” Alexander said. “And what you gave him ruined the mission entirely!”

“What do you mean? How did I ruin this?”

“You know Aster doesn’t work well with any toys he wants,” Alexander hissed back, drifting forward threateningly. He made sure the darkness in his body coursed visibly through his already blackened wings, giving off a menacing, dark haze.

Leph tensed, avoiding looking at them. “He wouldn’t leave me alone, and I figured it was important enough. That’s all.”

Not good enough. Alexander leaned forward again and said, “You simply didn’t care. You know well enough by now, and do you know what he messed up this time?”

“Wasn’t it just a potential power source again?” Gaining her interest, she glanced at Alexander.

“Not just any power source,” Alexander said. “Necrozma’s prized disciple.”

Leph tried to hide it, but Alexander saw that disgusting glint of hope in her eyes. “What?” she asked. “Owen’s alive?”

“And Aster turned him into nothing but an edible fruit.” Alexander snarled at Leph. “And then left him to the rest of his team instead of bringing him back. I lost my best opportunity at taking that stubborn flame here for good, all because you sabotaged the mission.”

“Sabotaged?” Leph stood on her bed and hopped down. “How would I have known Owen was alive?”

Alexander flared his wings again, but this time Leph didn’t back down. He drifted closer, but Leph didn’t even step back.

“Well, what are you going to do next? Why are you in my room?” Leph tapped her hoof on the ground, making an ethereal ringing noise. “I was ready to take a nap.”

“Do not take this lightly,” Alexander rumbled, feeling his anger tipping again. He was here to blow off some steam. And this… this insolence. Why? She was supposed to be cowering, showing respect.

“I won’t,” Leph said, then gave a respectful bow. She had no fear. He couldn’t sense any. He was hungry for it. Starved. Ravenous.

“What are you doing?” Alexander growled.

“Whatever do you mean?” Leph asked, her near-featureless face staring at him.

“You aren’t taking this seriously.” Alexander’s mouths leaked a bit of dark haze.

“Are you going to send me to see Owen next?” Leph asked. “Because if not, I want to get some sleep.”

“How dare you disrespect me.” Alexander rose higher, so much that Leph had to tilt her head. He was smaller, but she was weaker, and they both knew it. She’d better know it.

“I would never,” Leph replied, closing her eyes. “You are the Void King, true ruler of the Voidlands and the rightful heir, by might alone, to its full powers.” She turned around, stepping toward her bed. “For now.”

Defiance. Did she just—did she just—do that? Why? Since when did she have the gall to—

Before Alexander could stop himself, he shot toward her and loomed over her shoulder. “What was that?” he spat, black smog sticking to the back of her neck.

“I said”—she coolly turned her head back—“for now.”

That throbbing, seething anger was back and stronger than ever. Darkness wormed its way into the corners of his vision.

“You should be more careful if you want to keep your power,” Leph went on, like she could save face. “I wouldn’t want to see you fall because a light source is out of your control.”

Like she was trying to be helpful.

Leph continued, “If you want me to help, I can, if you’d trust me.”

He knew what she meant. That slip-up when she’d felt emboldened. She was hoping that Owen would be coming for her. That was it, wasn’t it?

The Creator’s daughter took another step away. “So, that’s all I meant.”

For just a second, he sensed a flash of fear from her, and that was his tipping point. He needed more.

The left diminutive head clamped down on the back of her neck and she froze.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice stiff and composed, but by now her fear was growing.

“Do you really think”—Alexander squeezed harder and she winced, but refused to crouch—“I’ll allow you to say something like that to me?”

“I didn’t mean—"

“LIAR!”

In one fell swoop, Alexander hurled her into the wall, smashing several fixtures that had been in the way with a loud, silence-splitting clatter. Crimson mixed with black on the fur around Leph’s neck.

“It seems that you’ve forgotten who’s in charge here.” Alexander formed a ball of darkness in his right head. The jaws widened, and he made sure Leph saw it before he fired into her side.

She cried out, all of the fur incinerated, leaving gray, burned skin in its place. Black electricity and haze rose from the impact site. Alexander fired again, this blast even stronger than the last. The blast split the air and deafened them both; the shock rumbled through his chest, which meant it would be even worse for Leph, who was now gasping and curling away around a now bleeding, open wound where the blast had struck exposed skin.

“St-stop!” Leph shouted, but that fierceness in her voice had all but evaporated.

Now he was getting somewhere. Alexander moved closer until his shadow cast over her body. He readied another blast, a spiral of black energy coalescing in front of his left head’s jaws. This time, Leph deflected it with a tendril of light from the very wound that the Hydreigon had inflicted. The blast left a crater in the wall, destroying even more baubles in a harsh clatter.

It flickered and faded; that was the extent of her strength against him. His dark energy, flowing through her, inhibited her too much. This time, he wasn’t allowing her the liberty of channeling her energy on her own accord.

“You should remember who really controls your power, Leph.” He drifted closer and her fear grew, feeding him. His heart thumped in his head and his breathing deepened, more black haze pouring into the room, sticking to her fur like dust. “Let me remind you.”

“N—”

Another beam slammed into Leph, but this time it stuck, like it was solid. Leph couldn’t even scream; the spear broke something in her chest, then glowed, sucking the light out of the air. Leph’s eyes darted this way and that, at her hooves, her fur, her body, as it darkened and lost its shape. Her whole chest lost its fur; her hind legs looked more like black tendrils than limbs.

And finally, she found her voice, and she used it to scream. “ST-STOP! PLEASE!”

More of her body lost its definition, looking more and more like a common Void Shadow. Alexander made sure it was slow, until nothing but her upper body remained vaguely like what she used to be. All the while, she writhed and tried to crawl away, but it was all useless.

And there, he stopped, by the time he had gone right up to her side.

“Stop?” Alexander repeated. “Will you listen?”

“I will, I will.”
Black tar oozed from what had once been her eyes. “P-please…”

Complete despair and hopelessness, just as he wanted. He was tempted, oh so tempted, to leave her this way, but she’d be of no use as a Void Shadow. He pulled the darkness from her core, draining it until just that usual filament remained in the center so he could maintain his hold. Her body became solid; her fur came back. In a much better mood, Alexander also restored the parts he’d wounded.

She was sobbing, and Alexander ran his right head across her back as he rose above her. Leph stood, too, though she couldn’t look at him. To think that a failed god’s face could be so satisfyingly ugly when crying. An ecstatic grin spread across all three of his faces.

“I’ll do what you want,” Leph finally said, sniffing. “I…” She looked like she wanted to ask to rest. She was tired. Perhaps she was telling the truth when she said she was going to sleep. And maybe he’d allow it. But there was one last thing he had to make sure of, first. He needed to see it. Just a little.

“Kneel.”

Leph tensed, letting in one last sniffle. And then, she did, golden hooves and forelegs pressed on the ground. She lifted her head, her teary eyes staring at his.

And there it was. Amid all that sorrow and hopelessness, he saw boiling, bubbling, pure hatred. That, above all, was better than any feeling Alexander could hope for. He held his shuddering breaths for later, gestured with his left head for her to rise, and she did so.

“You may rest,” Alexander replied sweetly.

Leph nodded and walked shakily to her bed, though she put every effort into feigning composure. Alexander left the room and waited by the closed door, listening.

A little longer…

Muffled by the walls, Leph screamed into her blankets, pounding her hooves into the fabric. Alexander drifted down the halls with a long, deep sigh, ready to take on the rest of the day.

<><><>​

Anam said that Dark Matter was far away from Null Village, but he wasn’t going away. He also wasn’t coming closer, which suggested he was waiting for something. But that would be the best they were going to get for now, so the team headed for Dialga’s room. Seeing Palkia had, understandably, put the town in a mild uproar. With some shouts from Jerry to lay off, they were allowed through. They had to repeatedly stop Palkia from getting sidetracked talking to the locals.

“Then it’s Marshadow and a handful of guards who are still missing?” Dialga summarized.

“As far as we can tell,” Jerry said. “I went and tried to send a message over to Hakk and Xypher, those two who were assigned to us as, like, escorts or something, to see if they knew where he might’ve gone. But they might take a while to get here.”

“Dark Matter must have gotten control of him,” Anam said, frowning. “Marshadow isn’t a higher Legend, so his spirit must not have been strong enough to resist Dark Matter… that’s too bad.”

“Higher Legends,” Dialga repeated. “So, essentially myself, Palkia, Giratina… Rayquaza, Xerneas, Yveltal… as opposed to the lower gods.”

“How do you guys know which ones are which?” Jerry asked. “I’m not really all too familiar with that pantheon junk.”

“It’s mostly cognitive knowledge,” Palkia said. “There isn’t quite a pattern otherwise. Still, alright. What do we do?” Palkia tilted his head. “My powers over space need… work. Dialga, how are you feeling?”

“I’ve only been able to pause local areas and not much more.” Dialga tapped a hoof on the ground, grumbling. “I’m far from my best. I feel as though I’m missing something…”

“Hmm…” Latias looked to Anam. “Is there a way to stop Dark Matter? What does he want?”

Anam winced, poking his claws together. “Dark Matter, um… he wants… he wants the Hands of Creation. Because he wants to use it to rewrite reality in a way where he can be happy.”

“Happy?” Latias chirped.

“Dark Matter can feel every negative emotion of everyone in all of Kilo, and probably here.” Anam clasped his hands. “He just wants that to stop! That’s all he wants… but…”

“But he’s trying to flip the world upside-down to get it,” Jerry concluded. “So, these Hands or whatever. How many do you think he needs?”

“I don’t know.” Anam toyed with his fingers. “But… if Dark Matter wants to rewrite something like that… something so fundamental to the whole world’s creation like him… He’d need at least half of them.”

“Half.” Jerry looked back. “Let me guess. Star has half?”

“Star has a third-ish,” Anam said. “Barky has another third-ish… and the rest are in Hunters and Guardians.”

“So, he just needs to grab two of the three.” Jerry rolled his eyes. “Great. Cool. Who’d he already get?”

“Mew is somewhere here,” Anam said. “And a bunch of Guardians. But… I dunno where Mew is… She’s been missing.”

“Safe to assume Dark Matter’s already got her?”

Anam shrugged.

Jerry’s eyes trailed over to Gahi, who had been pressing his head against an apple. “Okay, Gahi, c’mon. What’re you doing?”

“Talkin’ ter Owen. He’s askin’ why Necrozma doesn’t have any Hands if he’s supposed ter be more important than Star ‘n Barky.”

Jerry glared. That had more questions than answers.

“Oh, that’s right.” Demitri nodded. “Necrozma was supposed to be a god above Barky and Star for some reason. But that doesn’t really add up. Between Star, Barky, and the Guardians, that’s already supposed to be a thousand Hands. Where’d Necrozma’s go?”

“Owen says the Orbs might be Necrozma’s power,” Gahi relayed. “Weird.”

“Okay, no, hang on.” Jerry pointed at Gahi. “Is that apple seriously Owen? How? Why? I could accept the whole Florizard thing, but turning into an apple is where I’m drawing the line.”

“Aster did it with Leph’s loaned power,” Latias said. “It’s… it’s blank magic. Raw divine power. Leph is Arceus’ daughter.”

“Oh, well, excuse me,” Jerry said, followed by muttering various curses under his breath. “How is that even possible? Not even the Book of Arceus mentions a daughter.”

“The more we hear about the outside world, the more it seems like we were somehow… forgotten, or erased completely from history.” Latias floated a little lower. “Even Necrozma…”

“Where is Necrozma?” Gahi asked. “Y’keep talkin’ about the guy but never where he is.”

“Far north,” Latias said. “That’s where everyone says he is. They call it ‘north’ but it’s just a general direction people feel his presence. Almost like he’s calling out to them… But the problem is, it’s far, far north, across the Abyssal Ocean. Anybody who’s tried to cross it either turns back half-Voided, or not at all.”

“Sounds like a great place ter fly,” Gahi pointed out, smirking.

“Not even Aster tries to go there,” Latias cautioned. “You’d need another way to get across. And if you tried, I’d bet money Alexander would try to stop you. He wants Necrozma, too, but not if someone else goes with him.”

“Wants?” Gahi asked.

“Let me guess,” Jerry said. “Necrozma’s the key to more power here, right? This Alexander guy and Dark Matter are competing for control over the Voidlands, and Necrozma is there holding down the fort.”

“That’s… exactly it. H-how did you—”

“Same thing is apparently happening in Kilo, except between Arceus, Mew, and their disciples.” Jerry snorted. “Except this time, they aren’t even trying to look trustworthy.”

Eon tapped at the doorway before walking inside. He was still a Charizard.

“Late,” Mispy said with a frown.

“Sorry, sorry,” the transformed Ditto said, waving them down. “I wasn’t sure if it was safe yet, and—excuse me?”

Anam held Eon by the cheeks. After a moment of stunned silence, Eon pulled away and winced. “Not interested,” he growled, wiping slime off his face.

“He’s safe,” Anam reported.

“Good to see you, too, I guess,” Eon growled, tense. His body shifted pink and lost some definition, but extra focus brought him back to normal.

“We don’t have to be enemies anymore,” Anam said. “Mom thinks there are bigger things to deal with.”

“M—wait, Madeline?” Eon asked, a hopeful uptick in his voice.

“Mhm! She’s in my head right now.”

“H-how is she doing?” Eon asked. “Er, aside from…”

“She’s been better.”

“Right…” Eon shuffled in place. “Right…”

“Cool. So now that we’re nice and awkward,” Jerry said, “what’s our plan from here?”

Demitri held up a hand. “Dark Matter might have Marshadow. Can we rescue him?”

“If we get close enough…” Anam frowned. “But now that Dark Matter knows I’m here, and Owen’s here, and stuff, he might not want to come in…”

“What, we can beat him here?” Jerry asked.

“Not alone,” Anam said. “Which means… maybe someone else is making him worry? Do you think someone else is trying to fight him?”

“Maybe Kilo is still fighting Dark Matter in the living world,” Demitri proposed.

“Both sides,” Mispy added.

“Just like when Starr took over Owen,” Gahi remarked. “She could beat us from one side, but if we’re fightin’ in the livin’ world and the spirit world, she can’t do both. What if it’s the same way here?”

“Perhaps we can defeat him the same way,” Dialga said. “This is an unprecedented change in the tides.”

“Ahh, but if we defeat Dark Matter, that may give Alexander some relative power.” Palkia glanced at Latias. “That’s what you told me, yes?”

She hummed worriedly. “My brother is warning North and West Null Village. East Null evacuated a while ago… Anam! Is—is—”

“Everyone’s fine,” Anam said, and the brief panic Latias had worn immediately disappeared. “Dark Matter skipped the town and tried to throw me off. That’s why I was late to get to this one… It’s kind of a good thing you were able to get away. I dunno what he wants with Owen or the others here, but…”

“Orbs?” Mispy asked.

“Oh, maybe…” Anam nodded.

“Orbs? That’s the Guardian stuff, right?” Latias asked. “Hmm, if Alexander finds out, he might try to gather them, too. That’s the source of all that light crystal energy, isn’t it?”

“…Oh, that reminds me,” Eon added, coughing. “I, er, I probably should have opened with this. The scouts told me to find Marshadow and let him know that Mhynt was coming, but if he’s not here—”

Latias gasped. “Mhynt? Here? Now? How soon?”

“They said she’d be here in an hour, about half an hour ago.”

Latias bolted toward Gahi and shook him violently. “You need to hide.”

“E-eh? Who’s Mhynt again?”

“Treecko Mhynt—I—I know this sounds silly, but you absolutely need to stay away from her. No matter what. Okay? If you see Mhynt, run. Immediately. Maybe she won’t try to chase you.”

Gahi narrowed his eyes. “I ain’t running from a freakin’ Treecko.”

Please,” Latias begged. “Mhynt isn’t any normal Pokémon. There’s… there’s just something more to her. She’s too strong. I had a brush with her once, and I do not remember what happened. B-but I know what she’s capable of. She can absorb spirits, just like that. Like it’s nothing! And then… and then I don’t know where she takes them, i-if she takes them anywhere at all!”

“How strong can she be?” Gahi asked.

“Flygon, do not test this.” Latias’ expression was fierce, to the point where even Dialga and Palkia looked unsettled.

“Why a Treecko?” Dialga asked. “Of all Pokémon?”

“The rumor is that she was one of Dark Matter’s corrupt, but then stole some of Necrozma’s light for herself,” Latias explained. “So she has both. Nobody knows for sure. They say that anybody who finds out the truth gets Voided. Don’t. Fight. Her. Okay?”

“Ehhh, I’ll think about it.”

Latias clenched her fists and shook them at Gahi, but Mispy placed a vine on her shoulder and shook her head.

“Can’t fix stupid,” Mispy explained.

“Oi!”

“Where can we hide? Do we distract her?” Eon asked.

“I’m gonna take Owen someplace they won’t think ter find,” Gahi said, speeding away.

“Um, where?” Demitri asked.

“I ain’t tellin’!”

And he was gone.

Mispy sighed. “Hakk’s,” she predicted.

<><><>​

“Oi, Hakk!” Gahi pounded on the door. “Open up!”

“Screw off!”

“I’m gonna Teleport!”

“Oh, for the love of—” The door opened, but by the time it did, Gahi had already disappeared inside. Hakk swung around and flicked a dull ice shard at the Flygon’s back. “Do that again and I’ll draw blood!”

Xypher squawked loudly; Gahi shouted back; Xypher squawked louder, and Hakk waved his arms around to calm him down. Xypher beat his steely wings in response, then made a few chirps, and finally settled down.

“What do you want?” Hakk said, collapsing into a bed that had near-perfect imprints of his spikes. Xypher eyed the apple Gahi was holding.

“We gotta hide here fer a bit,” Gahi said.

“…We?”

Gahi held out the apple.

“Oh, you’ve finally cracked.”

“It’s Owen.”

Xypher looked concerned. Hakk, sighing, said, “Alright, fine, sure. Keep ‘Owen’ nice and safe, alright? And make sure he’s not in the fridge because I might mistake him for food. That apple looks really good, actually, where’d you get it?”

“I’m tellin´ you, it’s Owen! Aster did somethin’ and turned him into an apple.”

“Aster—right, he was after you… Wait, how’d you escape Aster?!”

“Teleported and fought a bunch.”

“R-right…” This, of all things, shook Hakk. “You actually fought Aster and escaped alive.”

“Yeah. And Owen’s an apple. But we’re gonna figure out how ter fix’m.”

“An effect like that sounds like something Leph gave him.”

“Leph?” Gahi had a feeling that name had been said before, but he hadn’t paid attention during their talking. It was all boring. In fact, he was getting bored now, and he’d realized that if he had to hide with Owen, that meant he was going to be cooped up in a little house again. Annoying.

“Forget Leph—Aster’s still chasing you? Because he’s already been here. He might check again.”

“Nah, Latias said ter hide from Mhynt.”

Hakk audibly gasped, then looked at Xypher, who had gone stiff as a statue.

“Get out.”

“Eh?”

“Nope. Out. That’s the line. I’m not harboring you from Mhynt. I like my soul right where it is, thanks!”

“No yeh don’t, we’re in the Voidlands!”

“Shut up and get out! I didn’t see you here!”

“Explain why! What’s so scary about a Treecko?”

“That’s not just some Treecko,” Hakk said. “She is the one person under Alexander who’s got power over light and dark. She not only has Alexander’s darkness, but she also absorbed the spirit of a creature of light.”

“What does that even mean?” Gahi said, exasperated. “And I’m stayin’ until you do.”

“It means,” Hakk said, “that she has the power of a Legend inside her.”

<><><>​

“Careful. You’re going to fall.” Mhynt leaned forward, holding Enet’s lower back.

“Won’t fall,” Enet replied with a growl, adjusting her position atop her ride—a shadowy, winged creature with two great crescents at the edges of her large wings.

“If you say so, but if you fall, I’ll be carrying you in rope.”

“Hmph!” She flicked her head, making sure some of her mane got in Mhynt’s face.

The Treecko sighed, brushing it away before pulling on the shadowy tendrils wrapped around her hands. Lunala, below her, stretched her wings and went into a gentle glide, wordlessly staring forward. Enet looked down at the shadowy creature, then at Mhynt with concern.

“Hm?”

“Hurts?”

“Hurts? What hurts?”

Enet pulled at one of the ropes that went from Mhynt’s wrists to Lunala’s body.

“Oh. No, it does not.”

Enet’s gaze narrowed, but then she turned ahead again. “Plan?”

“You want me to go over the plan again?” Mhynt leaned left, trying to get a closer look at Enet’s face, but she was hiding it deliberately. “Well, yes. The plan is that you will help me find Owen and your friends so we can have a talk. After that, I plan to leave you there to stay near them.”

“To spy.”

“Yes, to spy.”

Enet’s claws squeezed into her fur. “Don’t like that.”

“You can tell them if you like,” Mhynt said. “How do you think Owen will react?”

Enet looked away.

“Oh? He won’t be happy?”

“Don’t know.”

“Well, it’s up to you what you say,” Mhynt said. “But you do want to see them again, don’t you?”

“…Using me.”

“I am.” Mhynt tilted her head. “Was that ever in question?”

“Mean.”

Mhynt smiled a little, looking down. “I suppose I am. But this is necessary. You have no choice. You want to see Owen.”

“Maybe not.”

“But you do.”

“I don’t like you.”

“You’re free to feel that way.” Mhynt tilted her head left, leisurely but narrowly dodging an arc of electricity. “We’re close to Null Village, by the way.”

Enet growled lowly, crinkling her muzzle, and then looked forward with a huff. She made sure to brush her mane against Mhynt’s face again, and then draped it over her so she didn’t have to hear her at all. Mhynt tried to say a few things, but Enet didn’t respond.

Mhynt reached for her blade carefully, but the moment she did, Enet spun around and hissed at her.

“I’m only preparing for the landing.” Mhynt pulled it closer and brushed Enet’s fur away. “You wouldn’t want that clattering on someone, would you?”

“Why?” She pointed at the sword.

“Why? Well, it’s dangerous to leave a blade unattended.”

“No. Why blade?” She poked at the lifeless eye of the Honedge, which of course did not respond.

“It is a container for those that I vanquish,” Mhynt replied. “It’s convenient.”

Enet frowned. “Who was it?”

“The blade?” Mhynt turned the blade over, noticing a small nick in the edge. She’d have to fix that later. “Merely a shell.”

Enet looked skeptical. “Lying?”

“I am not in a position where I need to lie.”

Enet leaned forward, sniffing Mhynt’s face. The Treecko narrowed her eyes and reeled back, suppressing the urge to sneeze.

“…Mint.”

“Yes, that’s my name.”

“No.” Enet sniffed Mhynt’s face again, which was starting to disturb Mhynt. “Smell. Mint.”

“Oh.” Mhynt sighed. “Yes. That was why my father named me Mhynt. It was because of the natural scent of my Grass attributes.”

“So… if you smelled like… Lemon, you’d be… Lymn?”

“…Yes.”

“Weird.”

She wondered how Owen dealt with this. “It was a bit of a family tradition,” she conceded.

“Still weird.”

“Well, I didn’t have an intention of following it with my own child.” Mhynt held her blade a little tighter.

“Child?” Enet asked, tilting her head.

“We’re done talking. It’s time to land.”

Lunala disappeared in a sudden, black haze just as South Null Village came into view, and Enet yipped in surprise. She flailed and tried to grab something, eventually reaching for Mhynt, pulling her close.

“Let go! You’ll hurt yourself on my blade!”

Enet didn’t listen, squeezing her tighter.

“Unbelievable.” Mhynt growled and freed one of her arms as the ground rapidly came closer. Their fall slowed, though Enet still clutched onto Mhynt for dear life until the Treecko found a way to squeeze through her arms and onto the ground.

“There.” Mhynt frowned at Enet, who was trying to figure out why the fall had been so soft. “I have some of Necrozma’s power, just like you do, Enet. That includes levitation. Don’t you know you can fly?”

Enet stood up, looking around uncertainly. “I forgot.”

“Mm. Guardians all have the power of Necrozma, Enet. Light, levitation, some Psychic abilities, and all-around power. That you didn’t know this means perhaps even Necrozma’s fragments’ true origins are still lost to the living world.”

Enet’s blank stare suggested she understood perhaps two of her words. Mhynt, exasperated, gestured forward. “Just help me find Owen. I’ll help.”

The feral Zoroark sniffed the air, which Mhynt, by now, had realized was her means of sensing Pokémon energy. She led her down one of the roads speckled with light crystals and clay tiles. Enet scampered forward, waiting impatiently for Mhynt to catch up, and she tried, but her stride wasn’t the best.

Several passerby Pokémon yelped and ran away when Mhynt passed, to which the Treecko rolled her eyes and wondered if the floating blade behind her was what frightened them. She could make it disappear, she supposed, but she also wasn’t in the mood to socialize. She’d rather get frightened looks than cooing or funny looks.

Mhynt had a strange sense of familiarity, like the air was a little thicker. Many, many familiar energy signatures nearby, so much that it made her scales feel like they were brushing past thin water.

Unown. Why did she sense Unown? And in such large numbers, all concentrated into a single—

“Gahi!” Enet clawed at the door to one of the residential rooms.

A muffled, hissed curse came from inside.

“Gahi?” Mhynt repeated.

“Owen’s friend!”

“No, I know that,” Mhynt said, stepping toward the doorway. She knocked the hilt of her blade on the entrance. “Gahi? Are you in there?”

“Who’re you?” Gahi called back.

“Open the door, please,” Mhynt said, holding her blade in preparation, because she knew he wouldn’t.

Someone else was talking, shouting in an angry hiss, and Mhynt tapped her blade on the door. “One.” Nothing. “Two?” And again, nothing. She sighed. “Three.”

Silence. Well, she’d said three. She flipped her blade and made an upward, diagonal slash. With her free hand, she pushed forward, and a black gust of wind pushed the bisected door into the home.

Before her was a Flygon, an icy Sandslash, and a Corviknight. The latter two looked frozen with fear, while the Flygon looked down at her with an impressed smirk.

“Hey, ain’t that somethin’,” Gahi said. “Cool sword.”

Mhynt weighed her options. It wasn’t Owen, but it was close…

“And hello to you, too,” Mhynt replied, rotating her blade as it floated behind her. “Where’s Owen?”

“I dunno,” he clearly lied, bringing his arms behind his head.

Mhynt made sure the gleam of her blade flashed in Gahi’s eyes. “I don’t ask twice.”

“An’ I don’t answer twice.”

That gave her pause. She squinted. “You didn’t answer once.”

“Guess that means I ain’t gonna do it twice neither.”

The Sandslash looked like he was going to suffer an aneurysm. The Corviknight might have passed out upright.

Mhynt chuckled. “You haven’t changed much.”

“Eh?”

In a deft motion, Mhynt grabbed her blade and sped toward Gahi in a blink.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 108 – The Reaper

Mhynt hit empty air, sticking her blade into the wall instead. The Sandslash shouted in lamentation and anger, but then covered his mouth when Mhynt flashed a glare at him.

“Uh—he broke in, by the way,” he said. “I’m not harboring—”

“Stop talking.”

“Y-yeah, okay.”

The Corviknight fell over, unconscious.

“Hm…” Mhynt slowly pulled her blade from the wall, eyes closed. Enet had run off somewhere. Gahi, where did he go? She couldn’t sense him anymore.

Except for one instant—right beside her. He grabbed her arm, and suddenly she was high in the air above Null Village, hanging by his grasp.

“Nice try,” Gahi said, smirking.

Mhynt hissed and swung her blade, knowing she’d miss. Gahi was too fast to fall for something so basic, and indeed, he disappeared and left her to fall. The Treecko grasped the air and caught a ledge she’d conjured from the darkness. There, she feigned helplessness, dangling in midair.

…He wasn’t falling for it. How could someone so dumb be so sharp? No wonder he paired off with Owen.

Letting go, she landed on a dark platform just large enough for her feet. She adjusted her stance and the platform adjusted with it. From high above, she could see the buildings of South Null Village and the many Pokémon staring in awe from the ground. Gahi was probably among them, looking for an opening, because distance was not a factor for him. How long had he been with her Orb? Apparently long enough to become adept at Teleportation. She was almost jealous. Almost.

“Hah!” Gahi was behind her, so Mhynt swung around and blocked the claw attack with a conjured, circular shield. Gahi’s speed forced her to skid back on her platforms, which followed her feet.

“You telegraphed your attack, you dolt!” Mhynt spat. “Who shouts just before they’re going to strike?”

“Someone who’s totally gonna win and doesn’t gotta be careful!”

Mhynt twitched. “Are you seriously doing this right now?”

“I think so. Dunno, feelin’ playful.”

“Things aren’t the same between us anymore, Gahi.” Mhynt tilted her blade behind her. “I’m not here to spar.”

“Eh?”

Mhynt kicked off of the shadowy platforms and accelerated through a dark vortex. Her blade followed behind, inches from Gahi’s chest before he’d vanished again. She looked up; wrong guess. Indigo flames crawled across her eyes and a sharp pain in her chest sent her flying higher. Half-blind, she grabbed at the air and slowed her fall, but another blow sent her plummeting to the ground. She twisted in the air and landed on her back, leaving a small crater from the speed. Clay tiles and dust rained down.

Gahi was shouting something, but he was too far away to hear. Mhynt grumbled, arms crossed in thought. So, he was fast, but his attacks weren’t very strong. Typical. He hadn’t improved much, it seemed, even if his appearance had changed. And why was he carrying that apple? Was he toying with her?

And that aura of all the Unown in his system was messing with her senses. She wasn’t going to be able to find Owen like this. Restraining him, or perhaps even subduing him to find Owen, would be the right plan of action here.

And then Gahi disappeared.

Right. What trick was he doing this time? She couldn’t feel him nearby yet, but—

And now she was doing cartwheels across the ground and out of town. Another strike; she didn’t even know what it had been this time. His tail? He wasn’t this fast before. Not even the Psychic Orb could do that.

“Uff!” Mhynt hit one of the trees at the edge of town hard, smashing further into the wood. She came to a stop on her back and stared at the sky, eyes narrow.

So, he was too fast to hit. Hm. She’d have to get him while his guard was down. Thankfully, he was an idiot. Perhaps some acting would do.

Mhynt clutched at her blade and staggered to her feet, feigning weakness. “Ngh, don’t think a lucky shot or two is going to be enough to win, Flygon!” she shouted, wincing at how humiliating this was. Like she was acting out some kind of play. “The… the darkness will claim you!”

“The darkness will claim me? What are ya, a comic book villain?!”

He had a point. But she couldn’t drop the act now or he’d get suspicious. “We’ll see who’s laughing when I’m through with you!”

Gahi liked attacking from the left. Or perhaps that was coincidence because of the way she often rotated when fighting. When he approached, Mhynt knew that he would be at the highest alert. She’d have to focus her efforts on withstanding the hit without losing her stance, and then counter with a jab. He was fast, but he was predictable.

Countless lesser souls were watching her. Guards, civilians, those of Null Village seemed surprised at how she was being attacked by Gahi. If she didn’t demonstrate her power soon, they’d pester her about her true strength. As a Treecko, she only had her reputation to go by. If that was tarnished, it was square one again for building it back up, no matter how established the truth had been in the past.

The air shifted and the tingling on Mhynt’s scales meant Gahi was approaching from the left again. She planted her feet on the ground, firm, and spiraled tendrils of darkness from her ankles into the dirt, deep and hooked.

Gahi’s claws slashed along her scales, leaving only a small blemish, but that alone surprised her. It cut through the dark armor just beneath her skin. So, Gahi really did still have Necrozma’s light in him, and not just from the Orb…

Just what she was hoping for.

<><><>​

“This way!” Demitri shouted, riding atop Mispy’s back. “Mispy sensed him fighting on this side of town!”

“Why does he have to be such an idiot?” Jerry beat his wings to fly higher.

“Condition,” Mispy theorized, charging a Solar Beam as she kept up.

“It’s rhetorical!” Jerry dipped below when Mhynt glanced his way. “What are we supposed to do about this Treecko? How is she taking such a beating and looking like she’s not even hurt?”

“We keep being told that we just don’t beat her,” Demitri said. “We need to hide. And especially hide Owen! They’re after him, right?”

“Don’t say that out loud!” Jerry hissed. “We don’t know how good her hearing is, either!”

“Oop! S-sorry.” Demitri lowered his head, then pulled one of his tusks, ready to throw. “They’re so far… I can’t aim from here. Gahi was the one who guided them last time.”

Gahi and Mhynt were still clashing in the air. Mhynt lacked wings, but she made up for it with platforms that appeared to be made of nothing but black haze. She didn’t have any maneuvers otherwise, and Demitri wondered why this was the one they were so afraid of. The sword did look kind of scary, though. Did she kill a Honedge just to use it like that?

“Gahi!” Mispy suddenly fired a Solar Beam at him. The flash caught his attention and he weaved out of the way, which was just in time to dodge an upward slash from Mhynt.

“Oi! I don’t need yer help!” Gahi shook his fist at Mispy, but then dodged out of the way of another slice. This one grazed his thigh, leaving a tiny trail of blood.

“Gahi! Watch out!”

Mhynt didn’t move naturally. It was like some other force was moving her body, but nobody could see it. But Mispy’s eyes were darting in odd directions, too.

“Mispy, what is it?” Demitri asked in a whisper.

“Something’s… moving with her,” Mispy said. “It’s dark…”

“More of that dark power? What’s it look like?”

Mispy shuddered, not wanting to look for long. “I don’t know.”

Gahi flew down, narrowly dodging another slash. He was losing his momentum. No matter how much he struck Mhynt, she didn’t tire out. Every scratch he made closed up before she could even bleed. Every pummel that should have broken half the bones in her body only tossed her around like a dense bag of sand. Gahi was panicking. Demitri could feel it. They had to help. Maybe if they—

“Here.” Gahi had appeared right in front of Demitri and handed him an apple. And in another blink, he was gone.

“Ga—”

They were clashing again, but Gahi had a more desperate look in his eyes. And that’s when that playful look in the Flygon’s movements had transitioned into something more primal. He was acknowledging what he verbally couldn’t, and what the others were realizing… Mhynt really was stronger.

And she wasn’t even trying.

She said something to Gahi in midair that made Gahi stumble.

“Like I’ll tell you!” he shouted back.

Mhynt tilted her head. She seemed to be smiling, amused.

“Shut up! Y’don’t know! I’m way too—”

Mhynt said something else, then gestured to Demitri, whose blood ran cold.

Gahi turned toward them and shouted, “Look out—”

Mispy suddenly pushed herself off the ground to look larger. “Gahi, up—”

A shadowy figure materialized above Gahi. The silhouette of a Sceptile. It smashed into Gahi’s back, sending him tumbling into the ground. The Flygon wailed and roared, cut short when he hit the clay roads. Tiles clattered against tiles; a plume of smoke and debris obscured the state of Gahi’s body, aside from the silhouette where he stood. Mhynt’s small figure rushed toward it; Mispy, Demitri, and Jerry all fired at once, a Solar Beam, tusk, and rock flying toward her at the same time. Every single one was dodged.

She pulled her blade back—

“GAHI!”

—and plunged it into his spine.

His head jerked upward and he froze in place; Mhynt jammed the blade a little deeper, a faint glow radiating out of the impact site. Gahi’s wings drooped and his arms went limp.

Mispy choked. “No…”

The sword trembled a little. As the dust settled, they saw Mhynt pushing the blade lodged into Gahi’s back, her feet planted on his upright body like she was bracing for a climb. Her fingers wrapped tightly around the blade, and then, for an odd moment, she looked like she was bracing for something else.

Mhynt’s eyes widened. “Ng—”

A bright light erupted from Gahi’s back and Mhynt was jettisoned across town, into the outskirts, and against a tree. The blade followed, soaring so fast that its metal whistled in the air before landing with an audible thud. Mhynt shouted, but it had been cut short—the blade was lodged directly through her chest, into the wood behind her. She was pinned.

Gahi’s body moved on its own and disappeared toward the rest of Team Alloy. He looked at the others unblinkingly, his wings twinkling with cosmic light. They were see-through, and his body darkened until it looked like a starry sky.

“Gahi? You… your back,” Demitri pointed at the wound, which was slowly closing.

It was not Gahi, but the Unown inside of him.

“What?” Demitri blinked. “The Unown? Since when did—”

“Psychic Guardian,” Mispy said. “They’re still there?”

They were, and with Gahi’s spirit taken away, the Unown took over. They had to get away and devise a strategy to rescue him.

“Wait, we need to get away?” Demitri repeated. “H-how are you—wait, you all heard that, right? Gahi isn’t talking.”

The Unown were communicating with them in their usual way, and they shouldn’t be alarmed by it.

“I’m kind of alarmed,” Demitri admitted.

There wasn’t any time to waste. The Flygon gestured for them to follow, and then disappeared, because he had left further into town. They knew where Palkia and the others were.

“Wait!” Demitri shouted. “Ugh, this is weird…”

“Let’s go,” Mispy said, pursuing.

Demitri glanced at Mhynt, who was still pinned to the tree. Did she really take Gahi’s spirit? How could they get him back?

“Even like that, I get the feeling she’s still too strong to take on,” Jerry said. “Let’s go before she gets another one of us.”

<><><>​

The Ice Orb’s inner realm was starting to grow on Alex.

Yes, for a while his true, Dragon nature—and his preferred climate being the Fire Orb—made the Ice Orb nearly inhospitable to him. Perhaps it was psychological, or perhaps it was due to the nature of his spirit, but Alex had barely been able to move in the icy tundra for quite some time.

But now, his scales, and whole body, were transparent like the many other Pokémon that lived there. The bitter cold of the snow was like a welcome breeze, and now, he was nestled under a thick layer of soft snow. He wriggled, testing his six tendrils that made up his wings, and then flicked his tail.

Aside from the snow, it had been awfully quiet lately. He still wasn’t adept enough at his new element. The other spirits that Step used for battle were much stronger. And so, the Hydreigon stayed behind, buried in snow with his thoughts.

“Do you really think Owen and Amia are okay?” Alex said softly to nobody. Perhaps to himself.

He pushed his left, smaller head forward, opening and closing the mouth like a puppet. “They’re too strong to simply be killed, aren’t they? They aren’t in the spirit world. They must be fighting somewhere else.”

This comforted Alex a little. He always did this if he was truly conflicted. Alex brought the right head forward next, making similar motions.

“But if they’re sealed anywhere, it’s in Hot Spot, amid all that darkness. If they’re fighting, it’s not a winning battle.”

Alex whined a little. He didn’t like the right head. But he also knew he spoke the reality he often tried to ignore.

“Xander, please,” Alex said for the left head. “Can’t we have some hope?”

“Only if that also includes action,” Alex said for the right head, deepening his voice. “Look at us, moping around in the tundra!”

The left head nodded. “We’ll do action, as soon as we—”

“—As soon as someone tells us? That Aggron doesn’t take us at all seriously.” The right head’s face twisted into an annoyed snarl. “Meek as always, Alex.”

The left head shrank away, as did Alex himself.

“Owen is out there, lost and confused, no doubt. And Amia… She’s probably holding her own, but she could use our help, too.” The right head stared the left head down.

The left head sank down. “We’re usually just in her shadow…”

The right head glared. “What a better time to change than now?”

“Um, what are you doing?”

Alex shrieked and leapt out of his snow puff, spinning to face a Kommo-o standing only a few feet away. How had she come up so quietly? Behind her were two others of the same species, one a little smaller, and one much larger.

“A-ah, hello. I, er, um, I was just resting.”

The largest Kommo-o, Ra and mate to Step, crossed his arms, his large, icy scales clanging dully. “I overheard that you were talking about trying to help out?”

The two daughters, Cent and Ana, seemed pensive.

“To be honest,” Cent, the larger one, said, “trying to clear a safe route from here to the other side of the spirit realm would be nice, but even Hecto is saying we shouldn’t bother because of how strangely the aura sea is flowing.”

“Sorry about your family, um, by the way,” Ana added.

Cent and Ra both glanced worriedly at the smaller Kommo-o.

“Um, we won’t bring it up if you don’t want us to,” Cent added.

“It’s fine, it’s… well, it’s not fine, but I appreciate the concern. I just don’t know where to begin with trying to find them. How is planning for the assault on Hot Spot going?”

“Mobilizing is taking a while.” Ra huffed. “We’re growing impatient, too.”

“I suppose I’m the same way.” Alex poked his two smaller heads together. “Ohh… I just wish I wasn’t so…”

“Meek?” Ana asked, repeating what the right head’s commentary.

“Unaccustomed?” Cent asked, gesturing to his icy body.

“You don’t have to say it,” Alex muttered, floating a little lower. “I’m not even used to this species in general sometimes. I haven’t used it for combat in such a long time…”

“Right.” Ra frowned. “Despite this being your original form, why did you choose a Magmortar, of all things?”

“Well—similar arms, for one, and it’s used to the fire…” Heads and cannons weren’t quite the same, but they were reminiscent. He did miss flying, though. But he also enjoyed not having to fear Amia’s Fae element… Ah! He shouldn’t call it that. Old terms. Fairy.

“You alright?” Cent asked. “You’re kinda…”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Alex shook all three heads. “I’m all out of sorts. I don’t really like this body but I know that I’m ultimately better in it for fighting.”

“How come?” Ana asked.

“Y-you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” Cent added again.

“Oh,” Alex said with a sigh, “it’s really okay. I’m just not proud of my father’s lineage. I suppose at some point I made the decision to change what I looked like to defy it. Silly when I say it out loud…”

“Oh. Daddy issues.” Ana nodded. “I get it.”

“Ana, please,” Cent begged in a whisper.

Ra rubbed his forehead.

“I’m, um, I’m sorry for your dad,” Cent went on. “It’s… fine, right? Your dad isn’t around anymore?”

“Goodness, no.” Alex shook his heads. “He’s long dead. And g-good riddance, at that.” He felt awful for saying it, and the brief fire that burned in his chest felt like it’d melt him. “He’s… he was truly an awful person. I’d rather not get into it. But he held great power, the—he was the Fire Guardian, once.”

The three all flinched.

“What?” Ra whispered. “But is your mate not the Fire Guardian? How did she acquire it?”

“Well… typically, to extract an Orb, you must kill the host.”

“Then, your father is within the Fire Orb, or did he leave afterward?” Ra asked.

“No duh he left,” Ana said. “I bet Amia rejected him the second she gained control.”

“She didn’t need to,” Alex replied, feeling his mood plummet. “I’m not really sure what happened. But somehow, he’d been killed, and Amia took the power before anyone else could. After that… we fled.”

“…Fled?” Cent said. “Why?”

“There were a lot of people after that power,” Alex said, “as I’m sure you know. Whole wars had been fought over them in the past… Though I don’t think you were aware?”

“I kept to myself per Star’s advice,” Ra said. “It was… lonely. But if the alternative was war…”

“How big was the war?” Cent asked. “How long ago was it?”

“Centuries,” Alex said. “So much was lost… We had to go into hiding before it got out of hand.”

“What stopped it?” Cent leaned forward like a journalist getting a big scoop. “I don’t think I was around for this.”

“This… feels familiar,” Ra said, “but I don’t remember, either. Too long ago, perhaps…”

Alex shook his head. “I don’t know what stopped it. I was only a small part of something that ravaged the whole world. Civilizations and settlements wiped from Kilo. We probably don’t even follow the same calendar system after something like that…”

“But this war—it was over the Orbs?”

“Yes. A-and…” Alex hesitated. “And… my father was the lord of the losing side, so to speak. N-no… there were not really any winners here. But in the end, my father lost his power, and the southern area off Kilo was fragmented from its former kingdom.”

A beat of silence passed over as the three considered Alex’s words. Then, Ana blurted, “Hang on a second! That means you’re a PRINCE?!”

“Don’t… please do not call me that,” Alex begged. “I truly don’t want that.”

“Oh, um. Right, sorry. It just—”

“I don’t really think Ana gets it, but we won’t call you that,” Cent promised. “Right, Ana?”

She nodded, and then said, “So, that means your father was the southern king way back when?”

“Yes. I don’t really know if my lineage survived for very long, but I was not the only child. I’m certain that darkness carried on…”

“Um. Darkness?” Cent asked. “As in… the same darkness above Hot Spot right now?”

“It feels similar,” Alex admitted. “I don’t know. It’s been so long. Perhaps this is a new darkness, or something related to what my father had. Passed on by blood, I—”

“But your spirit doesn’t seem all that dark,” Ana said. “What gives?”

“Anam took it away from me,” Alex said. “Amia and I fled from the kingdom after my father was slain. And we took the Fire Orb with us. And for a while, we remained in hiding, hoping to not be detected or found by anyone. And goodness, we were good at hiding. But… Anam had a sense for darkness. When we met, we had a talk, and he asked me if I wanted to be rid of that power. I… don’t really know what kind of power it was, but, oh, I was more than happy to get rid of it if it had anything to do with my father.”

“Anam was able to purify you?”

“I think so. Just as he was able to seal Dungeons and make them safe to traverse. So… I suppose that’s how we became involved with the Hearts.”

“I see…” Ra nodded. “Very… interesting. I did not know this about Anam.”

“For some reason, he never talked about it much,” Alex said. “Still… oh, I’ve rambled…”

“Well, regardless,” Ra said, “I hope this shame of your species won’t hinder you when we put it to use. Perhaps we can train, Dragon to Dragon.”

“I, er, perhaps.” Alex shrank at Ra’s glare. “I-I mean, yes! I definitely would like to train under you. I, er, oh, dear, I don’t know where to begin…”

“Hmhh.” Ra gestured to Cent and Ana, who went left and right. “We’ll start with some basic sparring to get your fighting instincts active. We’ll train you in the traditional Dragon way.”

“Oh, I see. Er. Traditional Dragon way. What does that mean, specifically? I do not believe we are from the same regions…”

“You’ll learn. Are you ready?” The icy Kommo-o entered a battle stance.

“Um! Ah! Right now? We’re beginning training now?”

“Yes.”

Ra socked Alex in the jaw, spiraling him across the tundra.

<><><>​

Hakk emerged from his rudely destroyed home and checked the damage of the street where he lived. Somehow, only his house had been damaged in all that carnage, even if parts of the road had also been destroyed. Annoying. At least Xypher wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t sure about his tech, but he could at least replace those with time.

“Xypher, let’s get out of here before—oh, come on.” Hakk spotted a bunch of guards gathering around Mhynt, who was pinned against a tree by her own bla—

“Holy—”

Hakk cursed several times, rubbing his eyes as if he’d been hallucinating. No, that was it. Mhynt was stuck against a tree, pinned by her own blade. She was reaching for the hilt, but he couldn’t tell what her expression was like. Morbid curiosity drove him closer.

Xypher, finally outside, cawed at Hakk.

“It’s alright. She’s stuck,” Hakk said. “I need to see this.”

And a crowd was gathering anyway. If she broke free, he could scatter with the rest of them. He knew the way around, and from the outskirts, there was an easy way to escape while the others fled in the open.

They only got close enough to hear what they were saying. It was easy since nobody dared make too much noise while in her presence.

“Well, this is annoying,” Mhynt muttered. She reached for the hilt again. “Curse these short arms…”

Hakk dared get a little closer until he could see the basics of her expression. Narrow eyes, gritted teeth, and the sword glowed a little. She really was stuck. Dark energy coursed through her arms in spirals, fizzling out when it tried to leave her scales. Something was sealing it away. Hakk had seen this before—her method of attacking by summoning the spirits of those she’d absorbed. That was the rumor, and apparently there was also a Legend or two. How much was true? Could he find out? Did he want to find out?

But it was how she was so strong. How she could do that, he didn’t know… but he didn’t want to be her next victim, either.

Most of the crowd was civilians. Several guards were telling them to disperse, but this unprecedented situation left them lingering. And who could blame them? Mhynt was their superior, yes, under only the Void King in terms of authority. And there she was, pinned and helpless. South Null Village didn’t view Cipher City in the most favorable light, either. What were they going to do?

“Someone.” Mhynt had been glaring at them, the words at the tip of her tongue, yet she’d hesitated until now. Perhaps swallowing her pride? Something about that forced Hakk to hide a smirk. “If someone could remove this blade…”

Nobody moved. They all hesitated.

Mhynt growled again. “Now,” she snapped.

Hakk’s claws twitched into a fist, but he didn’t move. He felt even more frozen than his breath. Just being around her made the air cool over his spikes, ready to snap into frost at a moment’s notice. This was Mhynt, the strongest hand of Alexander, pinned to a tree. What if they—

“ATTACK!” shouted a nearby Espeon, followed by a wave of psionic energy warping the light around Mhynt. The rest of the idiots followed, blasts of water, fire, electricity, rocks, everything all at once concentrated on Mhynt. Several of them missed wildly; it was all topped off by a Hyper Beam where Mhynt was still pinned to the tree, which was amazingly sturdy. Hakk didn’t know why until he saw several vines curling around and reinforcing the trunk thanks to a nearby Venusaur.

Unsurprisingly, Mhynt was still there, the blade still in her chest, and the Treecko still pinned to the tree. She was dripping with water. Lingering elemental energy danced around her body, dissipating into the tree behind her.

“If one of you removes this blade from my chest,” Mhynt said, her lungs completely undaunted by the obstruction, “I will pretend that didn’t just happen.”

Hakk was positive at least a few of the guards were looking for a way to run, now. Tails between their legs, ears pinned behind their heads… What happened to all that bravado?

“You.”

Her gaze pierced right through him. Hakk stiffened and gulped. Gods, was she looking right at him? She was! Why? Why him? No—it was because he’d been there when Gahi was—curse that Flygon!

“Come here.”

All eyes were on him, now. He could turn around. Ignore it. Walk away. But then he’d be dead later. Dead now, dead later? Maybe Mhynt would be in a good mood because he hadn’t tried to attack her.

Just to survive. He just had to survive another day, and then another. This was the next step. And so, the icy Sandslash approached, his legs like lead.

“Pull the sword out?” Hakk asked.

“Yes. Thank you.”

He was going to regret this. There was no way he wouldn’t. But he already had his claws over the hilt and, after pushing away one final doubt, and ignoring all the Pokémon that were staring at him, he tugged.

It was really jammed in there. He grunted and pulled a little harder, sticking his foot on the trunk behind Mhynt. “Nnnngh! What did you do to get pinned like this?!”

“I’m still trying to figure that out myself.”

“Well, just remember, I was the one who helped—agh!” The lifeless Honedge broke free and Hakk tumbled onto his spikes, wincing. “Ugh. There. H-happy?”

The blade lifted out of his hands, but not because Mhynt had grabbed it. It was floating on its own. Mhynt, still with a large wound in her chest, stepped forward. Darkness poured from the wound, and within her body seemed to be a core of golden light sealing itself away.

“Yes,” Mhynt said.

The blade spun until its point was aimed at his chest.

Hakk couldn’t react in time. “Wait—”

Hakk jolted and stiffened, trying to gasp, but it wasn’t working. He heard the crowd shriek and he looked down at the blade plunged into his chest. It didn’t hurt. Why didn’t it hurt? He felt warm. Too warm. His vision was going dark, and something tugged at his torso.

Then, nothing.

He was falling. He couldn’t hear anymore, and he only had a body because he remembered what having one felt like. He flexed his claws, and it didn’t feel real, even though he was sure he could.

He couldn’t breathe, but he also didn’t need to. In this endless darkness, the only thing he saw was a slim Flygon floating in the void. The Flygon crossed his arms, looking pensive and irritable, floating in a slow rotation. Their eyes met.

Gahi snorted, looking off.

Hakk snarled back. “You’re an idiot, you know that?”

Gahi dug his claws into his arm. They were intangible, and it seemed like they pressed far more than they should have. Despite this, he did not bleed. “So?”

But before Hakk could respond, another tugging motion pulled him up and away. Gahi rapidly became nothing but a distant, green speck of light.

And then he was standing again, taking his first breath, staggering forward before catching himself. “What? What happened? I—” He felt his chest. Bruised beneath his fur. But there was an odd color there, some mark. It looked like a star.

Mhynt cleared her throat. “Your help is appreciated.”

“Gah!” Hakk jumped away, then blinked when he realized he had to look down quite far to see the Treecko. “What? When did you get so small?”

“Try again.”

Hakk looked himself over, marveling at how everything suddenly looked a few heads shorter. He felt a little heavier… but the strength in his movements made him light as a feather.

“Where is Owen?” Mhynt asked.

“Uh?”

“Owen. That is your first assignment under my command. Get him, bring him to me, and we can work from there.”

The guards and civilians—those who remained, at least—watched with their breaths held. Hakk knew that they only didn’t move because they didn’t want to attract Mhynt’s attention, like she was some motion-based predator.

“So, what, that’s it? Just like that, I’m under your authority?”

“You always have. The difference now is I’m giving you direct orders.”

“Fair.” Hakk still didn’t like it. He rubbed at his chest. “What’s this supposed to be?”

“The mark of Necrozma. I have his power. Now, you have a hint of it as well. …The growth is a side effect.”

“You don’t say.” Hakk tried to get used to his new size, unnerved at how he made the ground rumble a little more than he was used to after so many centuries being the same.

Mhynt still regarded him with that cold, indifferent stare. She tapped her foot. “Are you going, or not?”

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” Hakk growled back. “You know, I don’t really like this whole recruitment thing.”

“You don’t need to like it. You just need to understand that you have to.”

“Or what?”

Mhynt tilted her blade.

“Okay, okay! Geez, it was rhetorical.” Hakk steadied his heart, then looked down at her chest. Defiance was welling up inside him, though. He wasn’t going to let this Treecko get control of him without a fight. “I think this mark thing is pretty stupid, though. It gets in the way.”

“A slightly different color gets in the way?” Mhynt frowned.

“Yeah. Now people are gonna ask, and that’ll blow my cover, won’t it?”

“Hm, perhaps you’re right,” Mhynt said, though her tone hadn’t changed in the slightest. “Do you want it somewhere else?”

“Yeah, how about the same place you can kiss?” Hakk snapped, stomping his foot. “Why do you think some threats are gonna—” An electric feeling forced him to crouch and clutch at his chest. It had lasted only a second. When he looked down, the mark was gone. “What did—”

“I put it where you wanted me to kiss.” Mhynt smiled wryly, crossing her arms.

Hakk flinched and felt around his mouth, like the color would have a different texture.

“Try again.”

Hakk snarled. “You b—”

“Pray I don’t change it further.” Mhynt’s glare intensified. “Is there anything else you want, or are we through here?”

Hakk gritted his teeth, frosty air circling around his spikes. But before he could continue with his death sentence, he heard a squawk from far away. A Pokémon had bumped into Xypher, and he was trying to stay calm. The Corviknight kept muttering apologies and bowed frantically.

He’d stared for too long; Mhynt had followed his gaze. Cursing under his breath, he looked back at Mhynt and said, “Don’t… hurt him.”

Mhynt stared up at Hakk and tilted her head, inquisitive.

“…Please.”

And she continued to stare, calculating, thinking. Then, she closed her eyes and nodded. “Understood.”

Some sort of caveat or snide remark was the next thing Hakk was expecting, but when none came, he hesitantly stepped away and said, “Well… okay. I’ll go find Owen.”

He didn’t know why she couldn’t just do it herself.

Wait, if he was trying not to be obvious, why was he twice as big?!

Before he had the chance to question it, Mhynt was already gone.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 109 – The Light of Hope

Rhys stood at the top of the Thousand Hearts HQ, ready to address them now that he was back at full strength. Countless questions were flitting about, and he had a whole paper of them to answer, as well as notes for each one to guide him. Elder stood next to him, the giant Torkoal surveying the crowd with an anxious hum.

"You don't suppose they will reject your assurances, Rhys?" Elder asked.

As he spoke, a nearby Infernape, slightly transparent, stepped past Rhys to light the nighttime lanterns. Its orange glow flickered against the cool evening darkness. From the top of the stairway, similar lights dotted the wide, wide path that led all the way to the town square. The glowing eyes of nocturnal Pokémon stared back at him, blinking, occasionally looking at one another. Waiting for him to talk. But it wasn't time yet.

"They might, but I have to try." He sighed, running a claw over no line, just the paper itself. The words wouldn't mean anything to him until he started talking. To what was rapidly looking like all of Kilo in his mind. Or all that was left.

No, he couldn't think like that. Even with Waypoints ruined and most supply chains disrupted, there were surely other patches of civilization out there holding their own. Villages and towns and settlements that didn't rely on Kilo Village or its network for everything. They were few and spread far, but they were smart. Pokémon were smart. Especially the ones of this world.

"Where are they?" Rhys muttered, looking to the left.

"They had to wrap up a report from another of their rescues." Elder nodded at the Infernape, who made a wave goodbye before evaporating in a flurry of blue embers. "But if Roh was just here, that means Manny must be nearby."

Rhys wished the Infernape had at least told them. "Right. Mm. I can start without them. Most of this is good news anyway." Relatively speaking. His empty platitudes of hope and perseverance were no longer bluster. Kilo Village had finally stabilized after a moon of uncertainty and decline.

The hospitals were no longer beyond capacity. Injuries were frequent but manageable. Several Pokémon abandoned their old careers and took up a new passion of helping others with all they could. Those with innate healing abilities shined the most.

Of course, the lowered demand was also because so many Pokémon had succumbed to their injuries. Mutants had run rampant, but they, too, were neutralized. And from what Arceus told them, unlike all the other times, they weren't reincarnating. They were gone.

The lives that had been lost due to the world's collapse were impossible to estimate, even now that the initial crisis was over. Communication lines were severed. They had no way of knowing if, for example, Pyrock had been abandoned, killed off, or maintaining themselves in isolation. But for Kilo Village alone, of those who had been rescued or saved, the dents in their populations were a literal decimation. That did not bode well for settlements less equipped.

But he couldn't focus on that. Low morale would only increase casualties. His speech was to show them all that despite the state of the world, they had a path forward.

"Oi, sorry fer that."

A muscular Lucario with fairy wings approached with a firm nod. "Rescued survivors over at Centi River. Lots."

"They're fine?"

"'T's why I took so long."

A Joltik hopped onto Manny's head. "Five people called me a hero! How many times have you been called one, huh?" She raised her body threateningly.

“Enough, enough.” Rhys waved them off. “I think it’s time I get to announcing. Thank you for coming, Manny, Willow. Please stand here while this happens…”

“Fer confidence?” Manny asked, crossing his arms while folding his fairy wings back.

“Essentially.”

With Manny and Willow standing nearby on one side, and Elder firmly planted on his other, Rhys felt ready.

The audience's murmurs died down and even more of those glowing nocturnal eyes were on him, watching and waiting like a sea of tired stars.

The Lucario produced a small orb from his bag, one of the few that were made in the recovering industry. This one was simple, making his voice louder, now that the amplifiers they had once used had lost their enchantments.

A gentle warmth from Elder helped him break through with his first word, and the rest followed.

"Thank you," Rhys began, "everyone, for all of your hard work this past moon. It was not without the efforts of everyone here that we were able to stabilize Kilo Village and rescue countless Pokémon from the brink of death and societal collapse."

The murmurs had come to a complete stop. Now, they were all listening in total silence. His voice, amplified by the orb in his hands, would only be able to carry across Kilo Village for a short while. He had to make this speech count.

"Our work is far from over, but the initial storm has passed. Yotta Outskirts has been recovered with minimal casualties, and a supply chain of berries, grain, and other essential foods has been established along a secure trade route. The survivors of Milli Town and many others like it have been welcomed with open arms into our stronghold here on Kilo Mountain. Dungeons have been guarded to keep wandering souls from getting lost within. And thanks to the good graces of Arceus Himself, Dark Matter is unable to advance beyond his vortex to the north, nor can the shadows beyond the horizon come any closer to our homeland.

"We have stabilized."

No objections and no murmurs. Rhys saw in the eyes of his audience equal parts hope and exhaustion. They needed direction and the idea that the end of their struggles would be over. That helpless feeling couldn't win over the hope to press on.

But they also had to stop and reflect. If they didn't allow that, they would burn out.

"This newfound stability did not come without a cost. Many of us have perished during this new era, and some perished to save many more souls that are still with us today. We all know… at least one person important to us that we have lost. Those that we wished still here today to enjoy what will be a better tomorrow.

"For those who have been lost… let us now have a moment of silence."

Rhys lowered his head, clearing his mind. He used this time to consider the second half of his speech. He was surprised at how deafening the silence had suddenly become. Even the lanterns that dotted the walls had quieted down.

Several important Pokémon had made their way to the front in their respective spots. There was Incineroar Phol, the keystone leadership of the medical facilities, who had risen not because of his natural abilities as a healer, which he lacked, but his clear dedication to organizing a once overwhelmed infrastructure. There was Smeargle Angelo, the multitalented but meek descendant of one of the strongest Hearts of modern history, barring the Elites and Mystics among their ranks. There was Team Alight, Spice and Leo and the rest of their team, as well as so many Hearts who had gone above and beyond to protect their fellow Pokémon. And then, he turned his gaze to the mutants who had come from Trina's former abode. Compared to the implied army that she had once held, more than half had gone missing. He could only hope they were lost, waiting to be rediscovered.

Ani, the Meganium parallel to Mispy, was notably missing, but Rhys was not surprised by that. As one of the best healers left in the world, she was hard at work at the hospital, no doubt tending to the Pokémon Manny had returned.

That silence was enough.

"We can only hope that they have found peace across the aura sea," Rhys said, and while that was possibly reassuring to the Pokémon of Kilo, Rhys had a sinking feeling that it was not true.

"But now that we have made it so far together to bring the world back from the brink, it is time now to seize what we once had. And to do that, our greatest and strongest have all been prepared and briefed on what their next mission will be."

As he spoke, several Hearts straightened their backs and firmed their stances. Spice and Leo turned around to face the crowd. They both held dull badges, no longer imbued with the power of Heart of Hearts Anam, but symbolic nonetheless of their drive to carry on his wishes. Phol held a badge, now. It was new and shiny, and he looked reluctant to have it in his hands, but he held it nonetheless. His tail thumped against Angelo's back, and the black-brushed Smeargle jolted and stood with him. He, too, had a badge. His father, Rhys was sure, would be proud. And then Har, Lygo, and Ax, the mutant parallels to Team Alloy, turned around next, all three of them with the same emblems in their hands. Several in the audience cast them wary, reluctant stares, but the three stood strong and resolute.

"These elite and many Hearts like them will be spearheading assaults against Dark Matter to drive him to the void from where he came. Our top researchers are finding solutions to push back against the dark storms covering the world as we speak, and our elite fighters are on standby to put our mission into action. Arceus, too, is prepared to give everything to save our world.

"And I ask of you all, while we prepare for our most important mission yet, to do what you can at home during your daily lives. Support your neighbor and those in mourning. Conserve your resources and share excess with the needy. And most importantly, remember to care for yourself and those around you, no matter their origins, appearances, or powers. Our hearts shall beat as one."

It felt like the world's eyes were on Rhys. What was left of the world. And then, their eyes trailed to one another, a few glancing toward the mutants that had aligned with them. Others looked at the Hearts, who were tired but resolute. And then, as Rhys' aura sensors twitched behind him, he could tell that many of them were hardened. And this fed into his own confidence. He stood even straighter and took a breath.

"A thousand hands, a single heart, working and beating as one.”

Tense silence. Rhys pressed onward. He had to ignite that hope.

“Unite the lands, from worlds apart, until our battles are done.”

There were a few murmurs. Those ripples spread as hesitant Pokémon followed the more eager ones. Their voices picked up…

"We serve Kilo and all its parts. Under one name: The Thousand Hearts!”

The sky rumbled. Surprised cries and yelps rippled across the audience, followed by shouts to look north. Even Nate, the great leviathan curled around Kilo Village, turned his many eyes to the sudden light that sailed over the horizon.

The streams came from Destiny Tower to the east, bombarding the dark vortex above Hot Spot. The storm fizzled and shrank, snapping rumbles leaving bright, golden waves in the sky. By the time it was over, the vortex was less than half its size, having crept larger and larger over the course of several days.

Awe washed over the crowd, and then, starting with a few enthusiastic Pokémon, cheers spread next. And then more, and more stomps and roars, flames and sparks and beams of energy tearing through the sky, the same beams that had driven away the darkness just one moon ago.

Manny punched Rhys on the shoulder, smirking. "Looks like we've got work ter do," he said. "Go on, wave at 'em."

He'd nearly forgotten. Rhys held his arm up and waved at the crowd, bowing and firing a small Aura Sphere into the sky. A sign of power, the light of hope. The applause only grew, and Rhys felt that now was the time to take his leave.

As he retreated into the Heart HQ, a voice echoed in his head.

Did that help? Arceus asked, and Rhys was positive he could hear a wry smile.

Rhys found himself mirroring the expression. Immensely.

<><><>​

“And you killed the human because you feared for your life?” Alakazam asked, his gaze stone-like.

“Yes.” Owen curled his tail forward, displaying his flame in a gesture of honesty. “And my human’s life.”

The Charizard looked to his left, where Tim was sitting up in a hospital bed and talking quietly with a police officer, wrapped in bandages while drinking a bitter tonic.

“Did, at any point, the human try to run away from you?”

“Yes.”

Alakazam’s expression cracked a little, like he didn’t want to hear that answer. He glanced at Owen’s tail, then back at his face. Owen felt a dull pressure in his forehead. Alakazam was trying to read his mind to see if it had been a lie, which was odd. He’d given the honest answer, and he knew the answer wasn’t favorable.

“When running,” Alakazam said, “did you think he was going to try to hurt you again?”

“No. But maybe my human.”

“Did you feel provoked into attacking?”

“Yes. They were trying to kill us.”

“If you could do it all over again, would you have killed him?”

Owen hesitated. He remembered that terrified look in the human’s eyes as the light left them and his face grew rapidly paler. He remembered that metallic taste in his mouth, that sticky feeling on his scales. Tim’s frantic look when he’d pulled Owen away from the human, who had been grasping at his wounds in futility. Ayame catching up with Ire, covering her mouth in shock.

And he remembered that they had no idea where the rest of his team was.

“I might have,” Owen said.

Alakazam stared for a while longer, like he was waiting for Owen to elaborate. But he didn’t. He didn’t know. He still didn’t know if he regretted it. That human probably had friends and family. He probably had Pokémon that looked up to him. And maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t a terrible person like he’d been for the few minutes he’d known him.

But he also tried to take Ire away, just like all his teammates. His friends. And he tried to kill Tim.

Burning fury roiled in the back of his mind. It was only when Alakazam spoke again that he broke out of it.

“Would you,” Alakazam said, “ever do it again?”

More uncomfortable silence. Would he do it again? Was there a reason to do it again? …Yes, there certainly was. If he ran into someone who would try to steal from Tim again, or from Ayame, or anyone.

But he also knew Alakazam was looking for specific answers. Owen wasn’t helping. If he gave the wrong ones, what was going to happen to him?

“Only in self-defense,” Owen replied. “If the life of my human is threatened again. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

“It is.” Alakazam said, and while he seemed to be staying neutral, it was clear that the answer gave him some relief. He asked another question, “Do you hate humans?”

“Humans like them,” Owen said simply. “But Tim isn’t like that.”

“Okay.” Alakazam stepped back, then looked at his human, who had finished talking to Tim some time ago. They stepped aside and spoke to one another, nodding quietly, and then the officer wrote something down. After confirming, she looked to Tim.

“Alakazam says that Charizard is shaken, but not any danger to civilians. But… we’re going to recommend therapy. For both of you. It’ll be provided, and I’m also going to make sure you guys get protection against that organization you infiltrated. You’re probably a known target. Which means… well, if we get approval, we don’t really know if you’ll be safe in Kanto anymore.”

Not safe in Kanto? Where would they go? How powerful were these humans if even the police didn’t know how to handle them?

“But—but what about—I had a journey to go through, a… I was part of the program for, I…”

“Like I said, we’re going to see. Right now, you need rest.”

And after a few other things were taken care of, the officer left, and Owen and Tim remained in their room. The shock hadn’t really registered until then, and even now, Owen didn’t totally understand what that officer was talking about.

Sometime later, maybe a whole hour, Tim started crying.


<><><>​

“Goodness! This Treecko sounds like an extremely powerful Pokémon. Imagine how strong she would be as a Sceptile!”

Palkia tapped his claws together excitedly. His tail flicked against the pristine walls of Dialga’s chamber, and several rocks meant to accent the false mountainous environment rotated around Palkia’s head like moons. Palkia didn’t seem to be taking this with the same gravity as everyone else was.

“I don’t think this is something to be excited about,” Demitri said. “We need to run before she gets Owen! He’s—just an apple. He can’t defend himself…”

“Well, I think our first order of business is finding a way to transform him back,” Palkia said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of power at my disposal, nor does Dialga. And if this is power from Leph, I do not think anybody can very easily override it short of Mew or Arceus themselves. And Necrozma, too… but as we know, he isn’t available at the moment.”

Gahi’s body had his head pressed against the apple.

“Still talking to Owen?” Demitri asked.

The Unown were, and Owen was a little disoriented at a new voice speaking to him. He did claim to have a plan. The Unown themselves, however, did not have the reality-altering powers necessary to override Leph. Unown were able to replicate such powers, but not now.

“Wait, that’s right!” Demitri perked up. “Mispy, didn’t we read about a story once about how Unown and Arceus are kind of related?”

They were. Unown could link their auras together with some of the greatest efficiencies, to the point where large numbers of them could replicate the powers of Legends themselves, like false Hands.

“Ahh, that’s true. The Hands are not the only form of reality-bending powers. All Pokémon have some of that, to an extent.” Palkia leaned against a nearby boulder, which toppled over. He hopped away, shrugging at the glare Dialga shot him. “But I suppose with that option also off the table, perhaps we can work within the bounds of what we have. Owen is an apple. If we channel more power into him, can he return to his former self on his own? He can use Protect, albeit limited. His power isn’t entirely gone.”

“He’s also the Grass Guardian,” Demitri said. “So, what if—”

This was related to Owen’s idea.

“What?” Mispy looked at Gahi. “What did… he want?”

It was a similar idea to what Haxorus might have been thinking of. He needed a source of power, and the help of Dialga, Zena, and Eon.

Zena, who had been pensive and staring at the apple, flinched at the sound of her name. “Me? What could I do?”

“Where is Eon, anyway?” Jerry asked, looking around. “I thought he was with you.”

“I am.”

The tiny voice startled Jerry and he looked down. “Oh.”

“I’ve… had a lot on my mind.”

It was an Applin. The little fruity dragon, nestled within the shell of an apple, looked up at the Aerodactyl apologetically.

“You know, that Impostor thing is pretty rough,” Jerry commented.

“I know.”

The Unown waited for the others to stop talking.

“Oh, right. What was Owen’s plan, then?” Jerry asked, looking at the apple.

Power from Eon, water from Zena, fertile ground, and a lot of time.

“...No.” Jerry pointed at the apple. “His brain’s applesauce. Don’t listen to him. We aren’t about to—”

“Oh, that would work,” Palkia suddenly said. “At least, it might. Better than what we currently have planned. That is to say, nothing.”

The Unown were keen on trying to get things started now before Mhynt caught up to them.

Someone knocked on Dialga’s door.

The Unown had a feeling it wouldn’t be friendly, but it did not feel like Mhynt.

“I guess we have to check anyway,” Demitri said, glancing at the others. “Um… Who wants to answer?”

Palkia was about to suggest it, but Latias smacked him on the thigh. “It can’t be us! That would give us away.”

“Well, I don’t see myself hiding very easily,” Palkia said.

“Just--hide in the corner or something!” Latias urged, then motioned for Jerry to answer.

“What? Why me?!”

“Hey! Open up!”

“Oh, it’s just Hakk.” Demitri sighed, relieved. “Okay, we can answer.”

Gahi’s body took on a cautious stance anyway, legs tense and galaxy wings flaring to life.

“Hey, is it just me, or does Hakk’s voice sound a little deeper?” Demitri asked just as Jerry opened the door, revealing a Sandslash that had gone through quite a growth spurt.

“H-Hakk!” Jerry hopped away. “You, uh, since when can Sandslash learn Growth?”

“Is that a southern thing?” Demitri asked. “Pretty sure Sandslash are usually, you know, sandy. Maybe this is—”

“Listen, I don’t really know what’s going on, but can you just hand over the apple?” Hakk interrupted, holding out a hand. “Mhynt sort of… needs it. Needs Owen. And if that’s gonna be what gets her out of here, better sooner than later, alright?”

“If we refuse?” Mispy slid between Hakk and the Unown controlling Gahi’s body.

“Uh.” Hakk looked at Mispy, then at Gahi’s body, then the literal Legends behind him, and he likely realized that he stood no chance. “Okay, hey, you don’t have to spell it out to me,” Hakk growled at the Flygon. “And what’s with the new look? That more of that… whatever you guys have going on?”

“Leave.” Mispy loomed over Hakk.

“Or what, plant?”

Several of Mispy’s vines split open into mouths.

Wordlessly, Hakk spun on his feet and walked out of the room.

After he left, and closed the door behind him, the group silently agreed that he was about to report to Mhynt. Hakk was under her command for one reason or another and probably didn’t have much of a choice. The fact that he hadn’t even put up a real fight meant he was only doing the bare minimum. But that also meant Mhynt would be coming next, since Hakk knew where they were.

“Right.” Demitri looked at the Unown. “Can you do anything to, um, hide us?”

Mhynt would easily detect the Unown. There was someone who could help. She was in the corner of the room. She was going to attack Hakk, but when he turned around, she stopped.

Heads turned to an empty corner between two large boulders. Mispy closed her eyes and scanned it, only to see more nothing. When Mispy shook her head, the Unown explained that the illusion had distorted just before the strike, and it was a Zoroark.

“Wait—Enet?” Demitri said. “Enet! It’s alright—you can show yourself!”

“Lucky,” Mispy remarked.

It was brief, but Zena, Mispy, and Demitri all gathered around her to ask how she was doing, and the Zoroark looked pleased with herself. She growled and nudged against Zena, nipping at a ribbon in greeting. Zena, a little unnerved, smiled and patted her on the head.

“How did you even get here?” Demitri asked.

Enet came with Mhynt. The fact that she attacked Hakk meant she wasn’t aligned with her. Probably.

“Okay, so we can hide from Mhynt. Let’s not waste any time and try whatever stupid idea Owen has, because it’s better than standing around here and waiting. Alright? Where do we have to go? What’s a good power source?”

The Unown had been observing from within Gahi for a while and knew a good place to start.

<><><>​

The Unown called out to Owen, informing him that they were nearing the central pillar of Null Village.

Okay. Thank you. Do you think this will work?

It was likely, eventually.

What?

No reply. Owen was getting really sick of not being able to see. Everything was cold and stiff; he had nothing to move and yet he felt cramped. Gahi had been dropping him and he was pretty sure, based on Gahi’s worried questions before getting replaced by his Unown, that he’d accidentally punctured parts of his skin at some point. He hadn’t felt a thing.

The most Owen had felt was a jostling sensation when Mispy had knocked the apple away from Gahi’s mouth which, after some interrogation, had been because Gahi forgot he was holding him, not a regular apple.

But even then, Owen hadn’t felt anything. Was that good? Was that bad? The most he could do was try to wiggle, and even that had faded out.

Which meant he was probably something deeper in the apple. Was he a seed? Wonderful.

Being in total darkness, Owen had taken to meditation. Getting back some of those memories was nice. Occasionally, he felt flashes of seeing something, or someone, or perhaps hearing them. He wasn’t sure if he could hallucinate if he didn’t have a proper brain anymore. It must have been a manifestation of his Mysticism. Unfortunately, he could still not tap into Klent, Amelia, or the other Grass spirits, but he could feel their presence. Despite being unable to hear them, he felt comforted anyway. He occasionally sent them thankful thoughts.

They have arrived at the pillar.

Okay, plant me at the base and have Eon try to channel energy from the pillar into me. Just a little. It won’t take too much energy, right?

That was doubtful.

Owen missed talking to Gahi. The way he spoke was always so casual and comforting. These Unown felt like they didn’t have any sense of tone to them; it was practically a thought in his head. A thought that wasn’t his. Creepy. Did he even have a head? Was the seed his head or his body? Maybe this was how Jerry had felt when he lost his body…

Owen had given the plans to the Unown, and with any luck, he’d have enough power to get away from Mhynt. As an apple, he had a lot of time to think and plan for a lot of scenarios and thank goodness Gahi realized he could talk to him so he could stay updated. It wasn’t totally hopeless. First, he needed to stop being an apple, and chances were whatever Aster did wasn’t going to be easy to reverse.

It was silly. But it was all he had. He was the Grass Guardian. He had total manipulation of plants and his element. He could summon spirits. He could even change his form. If he had enough power and time, could he do the same now?

There was an odd, tingling sensation on what Owen could only assume was the equivalent of his back. What’s happening? No response. Anxiety started to build within his fruity core. Hello?

The Unown assured him that everything was okay. Mhynt was nearby, but she could not see them.

Then, all was quiet, and a few seconds later, the Unown asked Owen how long it had been since they’d last talked.

What? You just talked to me.

This was good, because Dialga had tried something on Owen’s body, but thankfully not his spirit. And now, Owen had to brace for the next step.

The former Charmander wanted to enter his usual meditative stance, then, but he had no eyes to close, no legs to cross, and no flame to quell. It had to be something purely mental. Ease his mind, steady his spirit...

He felt hot. Too hot. Energy flowed through him with nowhere to go but up and out. He wanted to shout or yelp but that, too, had no way to escape. Flashes of white filled his vision after what had once been total darkness. Images of familiar faces surrounded him. He saw the outline of Dialga, Mispy, and Demitri, their auras, the flames of their life force radiating like little, anxious infernos. Zena was there, too, channeling energy toward him in the form of a rapid beam of water. He saw Enet, but her aura was all around them—that was her illusions, suppressing detection from anyone else. He saw an aura he only recognized from ancient memories—Palkia.

Jerry looked worriedly to his left, where a Treecko was walking toward them. She didn’t seem aware of them, but she was also drawing near. Something about the Applin near Jerry’s feet was familiar, but he wasn’t sure why. And it was hard to see much more from Owen’s current angle so low to the ground.

Can you—

He could only get that thought out when a searing, splitting pain felt like it was cutting him in half. Again, he tried to scream, and again nothing came of it. He tried to kick without feet and flail without arms. Parts of him he didn’t know he had felt like they were growing and stretching impossibly. He felt like he was both drowning and taking in too much air. And he still had no way to scream.

He instead yelled in his thoughts, desperately, for them to stop whatever they were doing. His vision of them had been completely blinded by white energy.

And finally, amid all the pain and heat and chaos, a new sensation overtook him. Legs. Did he have legs? No, he had far too many of them, but they were on his lower half, like tendrils that dug through the dirt and tile. He saw flashes of the town around him in more detail, the many souls that lived in the buildings giving enough of an outline of where everyone was. And he saw something else, a great structure wrapping around and completely engulfing that great spire in the middle of town.

More clarity came to him. He didn’t know how, but sight of some kind had returned. He was high above the town, atop an ever-growing and widening tree trunk. The leaves were of vibrant greens and reds, mixing his Guardian’s colors with the soil of the Voidlands. Gold flashes coursed through the branches in waves, each one like fire through his veins.

No… he wasn’t on top of the tree. He still had no arms, no legs. He felt like he was still planted in the ground.

Ah… Owen.

Without thinking, Owen gasped. For the first time, he got the sensation that air had filled his lungs. He had arms, and legs, and he was a Charmander again, floating in a void. This was oddly familiar. He half-expected to see Barky standing before him, demanding allegiance.

But instead, he saw a silhouette of a golden, tall star with eight points.

“Necrozma!”

The shape morphed, some of the points becoming wings, a tail, legs… But it was too bright to look at.

This power is too much for you to contain, Owen, Necrozma told him.

“Wait—where are you?”

I am too far away for now… but you will always know where I am.

“Do you need help?”

Necrozma chuckled a little. Always. But right now, you need help more.

It was true. Even now, Owen felt that heat running through his body. They’d given him too much power. If this kept up, he was going to explode!

The heavens, Necrozma said. Shoot toward the sky… and make a statement for all of Void to hear.

Owen’s vision was fading to white again. “How do I do that?” he struggled to get out.

He had a feeling Necrozma was smiling. I will guide you.

And then, Owen’s vision returned to the tree. Everything was searing. The tree would burst into flames at this rate, and Owen had a feeling that wasn’t going to feel good compared to his usual body. But then, a strange instinct took over. It felt like words from far, far away. The energy stopped flowing chaotically and instead swirled in spirals along the trunk, down into the roots, and then rapidly upward to the branches.

Like fingertips. It was like scorch writing, but hotter. Upward, toward the heavens…

The energy released all at once with shockwaves that cracked the ground far below. Nearby buildings trembled and fell despite any reinforcement; a shockwave kicked up dust and snapped several trees in the outskirts of town.

Radiant, golden energy carved through the impossibly dense clouds and the red skies beyond, dissolving it like cotton candy in water. The red light disappeared, giving way to a deep, black sky speckled with tiny, white dots.

Stars.

<><><>​

Arceus stood at the top of Destiny Tower as he always did, overseeing everything he could through the Mystics’ reports, Hecto’s regular updates, and his own eyes. The moon was bright tonight, not that it mattered, and Dark Matter’s vortex continued its steady expanse. He’d soon have to launch an all-out Judgement again to cut away at it again…

This stalemate was becoming tiresome, both mentally and physically. Emily, on the opposite side of the world, continued to corrode the atmosphere and the oceans, and weather was becoming more and more erratic and hostile.

Was there anything they could do other than this desperate assault? Or would the world simply rot away if they took no action?

It was a suicide mission. Attacking Dark Matter when even his Judgements were only enough to stall him… whatever Nate had done to attack had left the leviathan completely lacking in energy.

Arceus sighed. All he ever wanted was a world where Star was no longer in power, the Hunters were no longer a problem, and he could sit at the top, alone with his thoughts.

Now he had all that. And yet now he wished… that perhaps Star had worked with him instead.

Thunder sounded, and Arceus thought that it was another explosion from Emily’s maelstrom. But it sounded different. Nearer. And from another direction, too. Worried that perhaps Emily’s influence had expanded faster than expected, he turned his attention to the west.

From the epicenter of the vortex, above Hot Spot Cave, a pillar of golden light erupted into the sky.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 110 - Halves

Hakk had forgotten what the sky was supposed to look like.

He’d gone blind for a long while. Suddenly, everything had been a bright light, originating from the center of town. Only after some time passed did Hakk feel it was safe enough to open his eyes again.

“Oh, you’re kidding me…”

In the center of town, where the sentinel tower had once been, an even greater structure now loomed over Null Village. At first, Hakk didn’t recognize it; it was too foreign. Tall, cylindrical at the base, but with a great, overflowing bloom of prismatic leaves and golden lights. It hurt to look at for long and Hakk averted his gaze.

Something brushed against his nose and he sneezed, blinking several times. His vision was spotty, glimmering lights obscuring his view, before he realized that the spots didn’t move with his eyes. He grabbed blindly at one and felt something in the air.

Transparent leaves, like feathers, rained down. It got in his spikes and clung to his body.

The leaves sparkled against the bright glow that the tree gave off, and for a while, despite everything that happened, Hakk could only stare at it, transfixed. He’d never seen anything like it in… ever? Had he ever seen something like this before, even when he was alive? He couldn’t remember anymore. It had been so long. Shimmering, prismatic rain.

Someone pecked at his shoulder. He knew the feeling anywhere; there was no need to look. “Hey, Xy.” He rubbed his cheek, thoughtful.

Xypher cawed.

“Pretty, huh?” Hakk said.

“You’re big. Big, big…”

“Oh, yeah. That. Don’t worry about it. Hey, did Mhynt mess with you at all?”

“No. No, no. We ate.”

“You… ate?” His heart skipped a beat. “You didn’t cook anything for her, did you?” Trying to keep his tone even, he glanced at the Corviknight. He had to crane his neck a lot less to address him. This wasn’t so bad.

Xypher cawed again. “She liked it! Good. Good, good.”

But then, someone just down the road caught his attention. Mhynt was coming closer, though she was speaking into her badge.

“Yes,” Mhynt said to it, “I am not able to get Owen at this time. The mission was a failure. I will be returning with my intel as soon as my powers return.”

“Until your—what do you mean, return? Where are they?!”

“The sheer radiance of that tree, combined with my encounter with the new Psychic Guardian, countered your power, sir. My powers are not usable. I will return once I am able.”

“Is Dark Matter also there?”

“Yes. He is likely also not going to be able to approach Null Village.”

Hakk wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be hearing this. Mhynt was looking right at him. Oh, Stars, he was dead. He was supposed to get Owen and he just walked away. Did she find out? Suddenly, Hakk wanted Xypher to get away as fast as possible.

“Rrgh, fine. I’m going to send guards your way to escort you back early so you can’t be attacked. Wait a day in hiding.”

“Of course.” Mhynt shut the badge off, then stared at Hakk. “You are now my bodyguard. Understood?”

“What?”

“You heard this. Now, hide me in your home.” Mhynt gestured behind him. “I will be sure repairs are funded.”

Hakk stood back in slight awe, but then sighed. “Well, guess I am under your authority,” he muttered. “Fine. But keep Xypher out of this, you got it?”

“Very well.” Mhynt looked at the Corviknight. “I suppose he should be earning his ranks over time anyway.”

“Right.” Hakk wondered if Mhynt could undo the memory locks within Xypher, maybe upgrade him to Class B… There was no telling with her. She kept those powers quiet. Only now did he realize how truly powerful she was, despite only being a Treecko…

“Are you going to continue staring?” Mhynt asked.

“Geh—no. Right. My place.” Hakk spun on his heel.

“And how did acquiring Owen go?” Mhynt added with a knowing hum in her voice.

“One of those freaking mutant things threatened to eat me, so that was way above my pay—way more than I could handle.”

“A wise rephrase.” She tapped her blade on the ceramic tile. “Very well. And they evaded me, as well, so I suppose I cannot blame you completely.”

Oh, completely? “Yeah, they’re clever. Y’know, they know where I live. They might find you.”

“Hmph. Even if I’m weak, I can handle them,” Mhynt said leisurely. “Let them come.”

<><><>​

The peace and quiet that Nevren had to work on his projects had been a true godsend. And, ironically, it was largely because a certain god was not trying to speak to him. Nevren greatly preferred ninety seconds of silence so he could Revise as much as he liked to think and think and think over the same issue before finally putting something to work.

Nevren was very particular about his free moments. If there was any little disturbance or any sudden noise, he’d reset his countdown. Any idle noise, any constant hum, even the smallest pitter-patter of a mutant walking outside counted as a disturbance. And once he was met with a completely empty moment, that was the best time to revise. Peace, for as long as he wished.

And with all that time, he was finally able to get the next mockup of his Dungeon opener, and this time with a faster closure mechanism! He could only hope that whatever that pearl resonated with would not resonate again… or they were at least less hostile. Owen—or someone that was certainly much like Owen—had been fighting that behemoth. It would be safer now, yes? Or they were dead. That was also possible. But not knowing was worse. If they were dead, he could report that as a certainty to Arceus and the others. A decrease in morale? Likely. But they at least would get it over with and focus their energy elsewhere.

Back to the repurposed Beammaker he went. Standing in the observation deck, he revved up the engines required, drew from the power like before, and idly wondered if Lavender would be back soon to exchange the spirits within so they didn’t get stir-crazy. He supposed it wouldn’t be much of a bother.

The beam fired, forming another eight-sided star that constantly felt familiar and frustratingly at the forefront of his mind, yet unreachable. Cursed Decree. Nevren wondered how long it would torment him.

Below, a truly unexpected sight greeted Nevren. This time, it was a town with a huge, glimmering tree in the middle, with bright bark and glassy, rainbow leaves. A town of dark stone and clay streets, which he saw from a bird’s eye view. Countless wraiths shuffled about inside, near the edges of town, and Nevren hopped down when he realized that there was no titanic monster this time. Still, he kept the remote shutdown switch in his hands to be absolutely safe.

Several wraiths stopped moving and looked skyward—at least, he imagined so. Why else would they stop moving? Their undiscernible forms made it hard to read where they were looking.

Nevren squinted. Could that be right? Were those… actual Pokémon? It was hard to tell with the rainbow leaves speckling the ground with color, but—

Yes! They were! Though, they were only gathered around the tree. He recognized a few of them instantly.

“Team Alloy!” Nevren called, hoping he was close enough and loud enough that they noticed. “Hello!” He waved from the edge of the portal, careful not to fall in. Curiously, the portal’s edge felt rounded and warm.

And there was someone else there. Two someones that were so large they were hard to ignore.

Nevren’s heart fluttered. Dialga. Palkia. He recognized them. Dialga especially, with an odd fondness. And Palkia… His form had been so thoroughly missing from his memory. He couldn’t look away. Those pearls within his shoulders glowed brightly. They looked cracked.

“Ah…” That explained it. The pearl he had used for the Dungeon resonance machine and the power within Palkia were one and the same—yes! That meant if he had another means to resonate with someone, he would be able to create a portal above them! Frantically, Nevren wrote down several of these notes as Palkia ascended to the sky and toward the portal.

Halfway there, his form suddenly dissolved into a monstrous, blackened creature that was only vaguely the same shape as before. Nevren steadied his heart and prepared to close the portal.

“Hello!” greeted the beast, waving.

Nevren was millimeters from pressing the button when he stopped.

“From what I was just told,” it said, “you have opened the sky twice now! Congratulations! That means your experiments are slowly forming a pattern. Very good!”

“Yes, very good indeed…” Nevren slowly lowered the device. It really was Palkia. Inhabitants of that horrible landscape appeared this way naturally, and yet when near that tree, the illusion was dispelled. Or was the realm itself the one casting an illusion? Or were they both real? So many questions… He could start with one he suspected the answer to. “You are… Palkia?”

“Indeed! And you are Alakazam!”

“Yes. I am Alakazam Nevren. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise!” He gestured below. “Do you recognize anyone else? Perhaps my comrade in arms?”

“…Dialga?” Nevren said. “Yes. I remember Dialga fondly. I’m… afraid I do not recall why.”

“Ahh. Erasure from history, and yet your bond with Dialga has not been shaken! How poetic! I do hope we can compare notes on how we have interacted with that phenomenon.”

…He liked Palkia.

The titan attempted to emerge from the portal, but once he did, he seemed to wince and fall back. “Ah… I’m afraid I do not think I can go through here. Quite painful. You are in the living realm, correct?”

“Yes. And where are you?”

“A place known as the Voidlands. It is Dark Matter’s domain, though I have recently been told that it is also Hydreigon Alexander’s, too. They are competing for power. Very curious.”

“Hydreigon? Alexander?” Nevren tilted his head. “I know an Alex of the same species. Are they related? What is his temperament?”

“Quite evil! Devious! Devilish!”

“Ah, unrelated.” Nevren noted it down regardless. “In any case, I will be opening this portal regularly within the next few days to continue contact. Will that inconvenience anyone?”

And he wondered why Gahi was not flying toward him. Surely, they felt a need to do that. In fact… where was Owen?

Dialga was coming with Demitri and Mispy atop his back. Curiously, Gahi was not present. Their bodies also dissolved into shadowy wraiths, and once again Nevren suppressed his reflexes to close the portal.

“Demitri, Mispy,” Nevren greeted, but then smiled at the four-legged titan they were riding on. “And… Dialga.”

“Nevren. I can’t believe it… After all this time, you’re still alive.”

“I could say the same to you, old friend.” Nevren’s heart fluttered a little. “I kept your charm safe all this time, by the way.”

A horrible rumble that was supposed to be his laugh shook Nevren’s chest. He suppressed a wince. This darkness was truly awful; he had to find a way to free them.

“Really!” Dialga shouted. “Well, I hope it was of use!”

“It certainly was. But right now, I’d like an update on what exactly is happening down there. Who all is there?” Nevren pulled up yet another notebook. “We’re missing quite a few from Hot Spot,. But seeing everyone there is encouraging.”

“Right, um, Zena, Jerry, Enet, and Trina are with us, too. It’s called the Voidlands, and we’re in Null Village. And Anam, but, um, he’s busy searching for Dark Matter. Owen’s that tree.” Demitri pointed down toward the radiant landmark. “Gahi got… attacked. We’re trying to find a way to get his spirit back. Right now, he’s under control of the Unown.”

Nevren jotted it all down and decided to cover the more absurd statements later. “And what of Star and Valle?” he asked. “Those are the two still unaccounted for.”

Demitri made what might have been a shrugging motion. “No idea for either of them.”

“Hmm.” Well, Valle wasn’t very important, but the fact that Star was missing was worrisome. “Thank you. Now, I’d like to return to something you said.”

“Okay.”

“Owen is a tree.”

“Yeah.”

“How and why?”

“Um, Aster turned Owen into an apple, and Owen had the idea to be planted with a bunch of energy so he’d become a tree. Actually, it was kind of both the Unown’s idea and his, or something.”

That… led to more questions than answers. He wasn’t sure how much energy was left in the Beammaker to maintain the connection.

“I see. Well. I will try to resonate with you again shortly,” Nevren said. “It was good to see you again, Dialga.”

“Likewise,” said the Timekeeper.

“Ah, and Palkia… from what Rhys has told me, I will be sure to send him your regards.”

“Ah, perfect, perfect! So he’s alive as well? That’s truly wonderful.”

“Rhys, Rhys…”
Dialga hummed. “I don’t know who that is.”

Nevren was about to explain, but then paused.

Something… felt strange about that.

Irritatingly, it was rattling around in his mind but he had no means of sorting it out with the Beammaker’s distracting hum in the air. “Right. I will contact you all later. Do take care, and—ah. I would like to return the bag that one of your companions dropped. One moment.”

After a few Teleports, Nevren returned and handed it over.

“Oh, that must be what Latias lost,” Demitri said. “Um… thanks, Nevren. So you’re helping us now?”

“I always have been,” Nevren said.

A tense silence followed, and Nevren was glad the Beammaker was starting to fizzle, because he did not have the time nor patience to explain himself again.

“The portal will close soon,” Nevren said, “Goodbye for now.”

“Right…”

With a wave, they descended back into the Voidlands, and the portal closed.

<><><>​

The pillar of light had briefly turned the nighttime sky to something like the late afternoon. And when it faded, and after only the stars were left to light the sky, a meeting was held with all the top Hearts. Leo and Spice came first, followed by Phol carrying a half-asleep Angelo; Rhys, Step, and the other Guardians with their spirits were also there. Representing Trina’s mutants, Har also attended, though the Charizard’s dim flame suggested he’d barely gotten up from the mutant encampment in Kilo Village’s outskirts.

“Right.” Rhys sighed. “This complicates things. What do we do? Was that a signal? Not even Arceus knows what that was truly about.”

“All I know is when I first saw it, felt like I’d been in the sun for five days straight.” Spice rubbed her arms, as if the burn was still there.

“It was very bright,” Leo agreed. “I was seeing spots for a while.” The Delphox gestured to the Salazzle next to him. “But it also looked like it really took out that dark vortex. Do you think it’ll happen again?”

“If it does, that may be our best time to storm Hot Spot and eliminate the vortex completely.” Rhys paced in the middle of the main lobby of the Heart HQ. Bright lights countered the nighttime sky and felt somehow more intense, perhaps because most of the mortals among the crowd just wanted to sleep. “If only we knew when another strike like that would happen…”

“Hey, so, what’s this mean for our current mission?” Spice asked. “I’m set to go to Void Basin, down southwest?”

“That may still be necessary for scouting,” Rhys said. “But perhaps a smaller team, if we decide to go for that vortex. We’re communicating with Arceus now, who is speaking to one of our researchers to see if we can get more information before heading in.”

“Speaking to Arceus,” Phol said with a wry smile. “To think he’s saying that seriously, and it’s true. What a time to be alive.”

Elder stood by the Lucario’s side, leaning his shell against his thigh. “There is a lot that we still do not know, and yet that light is one of the greatest beacons of hope we’d seen in a long time.” The Torkoal smiled at the corners of his mouth. “Blinding as it was, I think everyone was filled with hope from that.”

“Gyehh.” Nearby, one of the many shapeless things that came from Nate bobbed in affirmative. There were a few speckled around the conference area.

Rhys tried to be cordial. “Nate, or, er, one of Nate’s… disciples… do you have any news?”

The thing trembled and three of its seven eyes blinked.

“That means… no, I believe. Well. It’s not a bother. Thank you. Has Nate’s strength returned at all?”

“Nngg.”

Spice shifted uncomfortably. “What are those things? They’ve been here for days and I don’t really know what to think of them. Do they eat? Breathe? Sleep?”

“As far as we can tell,” Rhys said, “they appear to be the Dark Guardian’s spirits. But I’ve never seen creatures become so warped by a host’s influence—well, aside from ADAM, but that’s beside the point.”

The Porygon-Z in question buzzed. “Systems are fully operational.”

Suddenly, Rhys’ gaze shot to the ceiling of the Heart HQ. “What? …They—they’re really alive? That blast… was Owen?!”

A ripple of surprise washed over the group, striking Willow the strongest. She jumped onto Rhys’ head in a single bound. “What? Owen? We talked to him?! Where? Let’s save him NOW!”

Rhys plucked her from his head and placed her on Elder’s shell. “Owen… has apparently been residing in a strange world where the inhabitants all appear as wraiths. And not only that, but Legendary Pokémon that have been faded into myth are there, too. It must be a plane of reality that is beyond just our own. And if they’re wraiths…”

“Whoa, that was five different crazies you just said there.” Spice raised a hand. “One more time, and slower.”

“…It’s apparently called the Voidlands. Our top researcher is investigating it now, opening a portal several times to ask more questions while he can. And Owen has become something that can blast from within the Voidlands, and apparently to our realm. Since his body is probably still in Hot Spot, that must be where it manifested…”

“Owen became something?” repeated Brandon, looking incredulous. His steel fingers tapped loudly against his biceps. “What’s that mean, exactly?”

“Er. A tree. A large tree.”

Silence.

“Eh. I buy it.” Brandon shrugged. “Better question: can he do that again?”

“We don’t know. But it’s likely he can, when he has the energy. I think we have our new mission.” Rhys faced them all. “Most of us will be preparing a timed assault on Hot Spot to see what we can do against that vortex and, if immediate action can be taken, eliminate it right then. Some of you will continue investigating points of interest.” Rhys nodded at Spice and Leo, who were tasked with investigating Void Basin. “Some will also remain behind in Kilo Village to continue defending the city.” And at this, he nodded at Phol.

“Is everything clear? I will be setting out specific assignments to you all in the coming day.”

There were various affirmations from most of the team. Rhys took note that Angelo had looked away, murmuring something. He’d have to talk to him later.

“Good,” Rhys said. “Dismissed. Good work, everyone. Perhaps this will be over soon.”

Mercifully, the rest of the night passed uneventfully.

<><><>​

“MUTANT!”

“H-hey, get out!”

“Get out!”

“Seriously?” Ani snarled, her many vines thrashing in random directions. “I’m here to help!” She pinned the injured Croconaw down and channeled healing energy through one of her vines and into his shoulder.

“G-get off! AAAH! It’s—it’s gonna eat me!”

“Oh, shut up!” Ani tossed the terrified creature into a few of the other onlookers, several of them making empty, threatening gestures toward her. They scrambled behind tables and hid around the corner of the hallway that led into the patients’ room, where several recently rescued Pokémon lay injured. Healing supplies were short as usual and the usual healers were totally tapped out of energy. Ani had sensed their dying auras through the wall. How could she turn away from that?

An Incineroar shoved his way past a few terrified nurses. “What’s going on in here?” he snarled. “We—oh. Ani.”

“Can you get your idiot subordinates to lay off?” the mutant Meganium pointed an accusatory vine at them. “If they actually removed me, these Pokémon would have died!”

“They seemed stable…” Incineroar pointed out.

“Their auras were weak. I could tell from the outside,” Ani said. “In fact, everyone here seemed weaker, maybe from fatigue, but these ones were a flicker away from dying.”

“…Ani, the walls here are Protect-insulated. It makes it harder to see through by elemental sight. For privacy.”

“What?” Ani looked back again, even as the Croconaw and others pressed firmly against the wall.

“They were healthy.”

“O-oh.”

The head nurse sighed and rubbed his snout. “Go back to the rest of your team, please. I—”

“Hang on,” she said. “Is there anyone here who does need healing?”

“I don’t know what you can do that we can’t on our own,” Incineroar said, “and there isn’t anyone who—hrm.” He stopped himself. “How powerful is your healing?”

“Mutant injuries linger because they disrupt aura,” Ani said. “But I can heal even aura. What’s wrong?”

“…Come with me.”

Ani followed Incineroar—who, after asking, said he was Phol—and entered a small room that had several patients resting on small beds in different parts of the room, and then, curiously, a single empty bed that had and odd, red capsule. Ani recognized it immediately. “Why do you have a Poké Ball here?”

“The Machoke who gave it to us called it the same thing but didn’t bother explaining what it was,” Phol said, gesturing to it. “Inside that ball is a Vaporeon who was very badly injured. We brought Rhys here to take a closer look, but he said that her aura was so badly damaged that her body can’t sustain itself. Vaporeon are known for relying in part on their latent energy to keep their bodies together… and something disrupted it for this one.”

As Phol spoke, Ani inspected the capsule and saw a little, scrunched up ball of energy hidden inside. It was weak and faded, but stable, which was expected if they were stored in one of those. She didn’t know what would happen if they released her.

“I can help,” Ani said. “Or, I’ll try. It’s hard for me to heal when they’re inside that, though. How much time do you think she has if you release her?”

“I don’t know.” He looked pensive. “But she’s been in there for days. We don’t know how it’s possible to—”

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Just release her, but be ready to bring her back in, alright?”

“Brandon showed me how to do that.” Phol picked the capsule up. “When you’re ready?”

After some time for Ani to charge, Phol clicked the sphere, expanded it, and tossed it clumsily. Out came a Vaporeon that oozed with dark, blackish-purple liquid from several wounds, and radiated a horrid aura that made her antennae scrunch up. Ani fired her mutated Heal Pulse at the creature and—to her surprise—a significant portion of that dark energy had disappeared like brush to a flame. So, she pressed, and indeed, more and more of that darkness washed away until just a depleted, weak, and oddly melty Vaporeon remained.

But she still sensed a dark nugget in the center of her aura, and Ani wasn’t sure how to get rid of that. Most of that had been rot, but that core of darkness felt… different. Worse. “Okay,” she said. “I did what I could. But she still seems like there’s something wrong. Can you do your other checks or whatever?”

Phol was already on it, taking a few devices and tools from the nearby cupboard. He placed one on Vaporeon’s chest and looked at a needle that bobbed in a radial meter in his hands. “Hm.” Then, he grabbed a small towel and placed it on Vaporeon’s thigh, then pulled away and inspected the dry cloth. “Mmhm.” Finally, Phol pulled away. “She’s healthy. Weak, but healthy. You really are a miracle worker.” Despite his words, his expression remained stoic.

Vaporeon stirred, one eye barely opening.

“Tanneth, correct?” Phol said, looking over a notepad that had been by the wall. “You were rescued out at sea by a Machoke Brandon. Do you remember—”

“No…”

“Right. That’s okay. All you need to know is you’re safe now, and—”

“No, I’m… I’m not… Tanneth.”

Phol stared, eyes looking up from the notepad without moving his head. “You aren’t Tanneth? Who are you? Brandon seemed very certain—”

“Tanneth… isn’t real. I was never real…” The Vaporeon weakly curled up, her voice barely a whisper. “I’m… Emily…”

<><><>​

“Thank you for the tea.” Mhynt sipped the cup that was two sizes too large. The starry sky was above them thanks to the destroyed roof from their recent clash. “How did you know I liked mint?”

“…Hunch.” Hakk didn’t make eye contact. He kept struggling with all of his tools. Everything was so small. He had to be extremely delicate when pouring, delicate when putting things back in the fridge—how did Xypher deal with it all?! Maybe that’s why he kept breaking everything.

“I will not be here for very long.” Mhynt took another quiet sip. “Escorts from Cipher City will be here in a few days to return me there, and I intend to distance myself from Null Village.”

“I take it the roaming Void Shadows aren’t a problem for you, even if they’re out of Alexander’s control?”

“Trivial,” Mhynt confirmed.

Xypher kept eyeing the dead Honedge next to Mhynt. The Treecko finally noticed, following Xypher’s eyes. He squawked and preened his feathers.

“It’s a sword,” Mhynt said. “A weapon from the era of humans meant to augment their fighting abilities, because humans themselves did not have much. They modeled swords after the effectiveness of a Honedge and, in fact, there are old, old tales of a human and a Honedge who worked together in combat.”

“So, you killed a Honedge to make that happen for you? Why not craft a ‘sword’ yourself?”

“Natural blades from Pokémon are simply much stronger than what can be crafted by underdeveloped metallurgical facilities.” Mhynt pulled the blade toward her. “They naturally sharpen themselves through Infinity Energy. I only have to channel some into it and the edge is good as new.”

Hakk wondered if Mhynt would kill him if it would be more useful that way.

“And for the record, I didn’t kill this Honedge,” Mhynt added. “I displaced his spirit and made use of the body left behind.”

“Oh, that’s much better,” Hakk let slip, realized his mistake, and quickly added, “I mean—okay, sure. I, uh… take that back.”

Mhynt eyed him, expression stone-like, and Hakk searched for the best thing to do to look busy. More tea. Yes, that would do. Hakk brushed aside a few feather-weight, glassy leaves from the counter and got to work.

“So, uh.” Another bag in the kettle. “Why a sword?”

“As a Sceptile, I made use of Leaf Blade at all times. As a Treecko, it’s not very large.”

“Why not evolve? You’re probably, like, a bajillion times stronger than what’s needed for it…”

“Simple.” Mhynt rested her chin against the end of the blade’s handle. “My strength is not drawn from my body nor my evolution. Evolving would only provide a marginal improvement in what I can do. Far less than the benefit being a smaller target provides. Using this blade to augment my reach is all I need.”

“Still seems pretty out of the way,” Hakk said. “Especially since it looks like someone used it against you in a fight, eh?”

Ah, he shouldn’t have said that. Mhynt held the blade, now.

“N-not that—I mean, you were caught off guard and stuff. That’s no big deal—”

“No.” Mhynt sighed. “You’re right.” Her grip relaxed, as did Hakk’s muscles. “I suppose… some of it is sentimental and nostalgic.”

“Sentimental, huh…” Hakk knew not to pry there.

“Yes. Someone important to me once said it was… appealing, the way I fought with Leaf Blade. And I’m used to the fighting style as well. There are simply a lot of factors that make it the best approach.” Mhynt tapped the blade’s hilt, thoughtful. “Of course, that was a long time ago. Perhaps now I’m just used to it on a practical level. Muscle memory.”

“Yeah, that’s fair, too. Dunno how I’d be able to change up my strategies in a fight, either, after all this time.” Hakk sat down again, having to use one of the spare seats once meant for Xypher. “Y’know, you aren’t half bad.”

“Don’t get comfortable, soldier.” Mhynt glared, but for the shortest, briefest instant, Hakk saw a soft look in her eyes. It… puzzled him. “You are still my subordinate.”

“Right, right.” He raised his claws. “My bad, sir.”

“That’s more like it.” She took another sip of her tea.

Knock knock.

Mhynt tensed. The door had been pieced together and then taped. It was still barely functional while awaiting repairs, so whoever knocked must have been very polite. So, not any of that Team Alloy crowd. Through the cracks of the door, however, Hakk was surprised to see that it was Gahi.

Which was the last person he expected to kn—wait. Gahi was dead.

“It’s the Flygon,” Hakk mumbled.

Indeed, it was, and it would be nice to open the door. They wished to get their spirit back.

“Bodies don’t move on their own! What’s going on!? You should be dead on the ground!” Hakk stepped back, his spikes bumping into the table behind him. “Ugh! It’s like you’re talking in my head! Who are you?”

Open the door, Hakk.

“Go away!”

The door fell forward, nearly crushing Hakk’s toes had he not jumped left. Xypher squawked and Mhynt was already on her feet.

“I’m not keen on giving up anything right now,” Mhynt said.

The Unown knew Mhynt was vulnerable.

Mhynt hissed and jumped away, her nimbleness allowing her to get to the broken wall’s hole in a single bound. The Flygon followed with a jittering, cosmic wingbeat, disappearing and reappearing in front of her and grabbing her by the throat.

“Ghk—!”

And then, she disappeared with him.

It took a while for Hakk to find the courage to move. Slowly, he advanced to the tea, where a few more prismatic leaves had fallen in.

“…Right… she’ll… be fine, I think.” Hakk didn’t want to help. He also didn’t know how to help. “You alright, Xypher?”

Xypher was upright and conscious, but he’d gone mute until just then. He opened his beak, made a little, uncertain caw, and closed it again. He shook his wings and several fallen leaves drifted to the ground.

“I want things to be normal,” Xypher said. “Normal, normal…”

Hakk dug his claws into his fists. “Yeah,” he said. “Me, too.”

The Sandslash patted the Corviknight on the back and gestured to the wall. “How about we relax in the basement for a while?” he asked. “Just for some quiet.”

<><><>​

Mhynt smashed against a tree near the southern outskirts of Null Village. The buildings were several stone’s throws away, and this was a dangerous place for anybody who didn’t know how to fight Void Shadows.

Sliding down the trunk, Mhynt glanced to her right and saw her blade sliding along the dirt. She reached for it, only for the Flygon’s claws to plunge into the bark around her arm, pinning her there.

“Tsk.” She eyed the Flygon directly, those blank, stoic eyes staring back. “It’s been a while.”

It has, to a mortal.

Mhynt smirked and the Flygon let her go. She reached for her blade and shoved it into the dirt, using it as something to lean on, like a tall desk.

“What’s been happening in the living world, hmm?”

Typical stagnation under the rule of the Thousand Hearts.

“Oh, Thousand Hearts? Someone expanded.”

Indeed.

“And the… idiot that claimed your Orb. Was that your choice? Mm. Don’t answer. I suspect you had to pick the least of all evils.” Mhynt tapped her chin. “I think I’ve done enough. Owen’s smart, and between all the allies he’s amassed, they’re bound to realize Alexander’s weakness and how to exploit it.”

The Flygon approached the blade and pointed at it, because that was something they intended to retrieve.

“Yes, yes, but I don’t want him hearing this.” Mhynt sighed. “Don’t tell him anything. I still need to work by Alexander’s side, and I’m sure you know how unable he is to keep his mouth shut.”

He was not the ideal host.

“Indeed. And perhaps not the ideal mate for Owen, either.” She rolled her eyes. “I digress.”

Owen was with another.

That one gave Mhynt pause. “Oh?”

The Milotic. They recently wished to only be friends as they discovered their codependency, but inevitably the Unown suspected they would rekindle.

“I see.”

The Unown were curious whether or not Mhynt harbored ill feelings because of that.

“Do you really think I’m so petty?”

The attacks against the Flygon’s body were more than necessary.

Mhynt chuckled, shrugging. “It was part of the plan. I only added some flair.”

The Unown stared, then gestured to the Honedge again.

“Very well. I hope to see you soon. Be careful while you’re here. If Alexander gets too agitated, he may attack on his own, and that won’t be good. They aren’t ready, not until they become whole. They will hopefully think to go to West Null Village next.”

The Flygon unearthed the Honedge and looked it over, but they were not familiar with how to retrieve Gahi.

“I need to touch it and I can work from there.” She gestured for it to be handed over.

Nodding, the Flygon flipped the blade in the air, grabbed it by the hilt, and then lifted Mhynt with a Psychic hold.

“What are you—”

The blade plunged into Mhynt’s abdomen, pinning her to the tree.

Mhynt tried to gasp, then growled and tried to pull herself free. Once again, it was out of her reach, and her dark powers weren’t properly manifesting yet. “What are you doing?!”

The requirement was needing to touch the blade; the Unown were only adding some flair.

Confusion, befuddlement, then anger, and then resigned defeat in that order washed over Mhynt’s face. She sighed. “You win this round. Now, hold still.”

Mhynt drew from the blade, tugging as if from a loose thread on a scarf. Out came a strand of gold, and then a hazy glob. She lobbed it toward the Flygon and, like a magnet, it flew into the body, and suddenly it went stiff.

“Ngh—you pest!” Mhynt shouted, struggling against the blade as it started to loosen. “How dare you—consider yourself lucky, because I will not allow a—”

“Hah! Well, lookie there, I really can beat yeh in my sleep!” Gahi sneered at Mhynt, leaning forward. “What’s the matter, eh? Couldn’t beat me over my dead body af’er all?”

“You spent far too long in my blade coming up with those,” Mhynt said as she finally managed to get her palm against the base of the hilt so she could push.

“Eh…”

By now, Mhynt suspected the Unown were telling him something to get him to flee.

“Geh! Yer lucky I ain’t gonna finish yeh, but I gotta make sure y’ain’t got an ambush fer the others. That’s right, I saw through yer plan. Y’ain’t clever.” With a smirk, Gahi disappeared in a flash.

Left alone with her thoughts, Mhynt pushed the blade out as her wound sealed itself without even a scar. Some of her Shadow power was back.

She picked the Honedge up and, if only to get out some pent-up frustrations, sliced the tree that she’d been pinned on. The trunk fell, and countless extra blades of darkness diced it into firewood.

“Idiot.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 111 – Truth Isn’t Bright

Dark Matter lay on the ground in the outskirts of Null Village, vomiting darkness as countless holes on his body sealed themselves shut. He groaned and wheezed as half of his body struggled to keep its shape while the other half barely retained what form it had left. Currently a Goodra, the other Void King tried to stand again, but his leg collapsed from underneath itself and he fell back down.

“That cursed tree will be the death of me,” Dark Matter hissed. “How? How did he replicate it? Why?” He rolled onto his back, staring at the starry sky. “My realm… he tore open my realm…”

“Looks like he tore more’n just that.” Marshadow watched uncomfortably from the edge of the clearing. Dark Matter could feel it. “Need help?” Marshadow asked.

“Yes. Stay quiet.” Dark Matter tried to stand again. “That radiant power ripped a hole through the Voidlands. Though me. I can already tell that this will accelerate Kilo’s efforts to attack from the living world. The last thing I need is for them to be another thorn in my side.”

Speaking of thorns in his side, he sensed another presence drawing near. “What do you want.”

“Um, hi, Mister Matter.”

Dark Matter closed his eyes, wondering if dying would have been favorable just then, not that he could. Not on his own. He turned his attention to Anam, who was nibbling at his fingers as he always did when he was nervous.

“Are you okay?”

“I am never okay.”

“I—I mean, less okay than usual?”

“A hole was ripped through my spirit. How do you think I am?”

“Probably not very good…”

“Then don’t bother asking.”

“Was kinda obvious,” Marshadow pointed out. “Yer gonna wanna be quick. He’s all outta sorts.”

“Okay.” Anam approached. “I think you should try something different now.”

This song again. “No.”

“But you’re going to lose!” Anam motioned behind him. “You can’t beat Owen. I told you! And, and, well, and now you see why! All he has to do is touch someone and your Shadow Aura goes away!”

“Incorrect.” Dark Matter rolled his eyes. “My trivial Shadows are dispelled by touch, yes. However, thorough corruption is not. Given time, Owen won’t be able to cure someone with deep Shadows.” He gestured to Marshadow. “Soon, I will have one lower Legend fully corrupted in the Voidlands. Lugia in the living world will pull Kilo into the Voidlands next. That will be more than enough.”

“But now Owen found a way to disrupt that,” Anam said. “All you want is to be happy, right? That’s what you said?”

“Enough. I don’t need to hear this again.” Tiredly, Dark Matter got up. He was still pained, but it was fading, and the gashes in his spirit were finally healing. “Marshadow, let’s complete your Shadow Aura.”

“Y’know, I do wonder if yer friend there’s got a point,” Marshadow said. “If they beat me up, I’m gonna go right back ter their side. Sure, a touch ain’t gonna do it, but enough with that Radiant Aura and it’s gonna nullify.”

“Hmph, Radiant Aura. Just because someone has more of Necrozma’s power doesn’t mean it’s enough to nullify mine.” He stared at Anam. “After all, you couldn’t.”

Anam winced, looking down. “…Well… I’m not like Owen. He was a direct student.”

“Your mother stood no chance, either.” Dark Matter stared at Anam. “Ask her yourself. She was powerless against me.”

To this, the Goodra frowned, and he was no doubt listening to Madeline saying a few taunting or defiant words toward him. Words that Anam was wise not to repeat.

Of course, Anam didn’t know that he’d also caught Madeline at her weakest. Radiant power like that was a weakness he had to be cautious of. And, indeed, Owen was not at his weakest. He was too alert, that cursed Perceive, and now he was a Tree of Life?! When would it end?

Necrozma must have orchestrated this.

Someone gave Owen the idea. Owen was clever, but he shouldn’t have had any knowledge of the Tree to replicate its power. It had been erased. That memory hadn’t returned to him, had it?

“I still don’t think you need to fight,” Anam insisted.

“Why are you still here?” Dark Matter growled, walking away from town. “Leave. I need to assemble more of the mutants that died.”

“What if you talked to him just once?” Anam asked.

“Give me one reason why that will be worth my time.”

“Because if you work with everyone else, you can beat Alexander together. And maybe they can help you be happy!”

To this, Dark Matter stopped, but not because he was convinced. Ohh, no. He had been convinced of something else long ago.

“Anam.” He spun, facing him again. “I am not looking to be happy anymore. Joy is an illusion. Propped up by harming and exploiting others to keep what little you can. The world revolves around taking from others. It is rotten at its base. There is nothing to salvage. I am going to destroy it so something better can take its place. And sometimes, nothing is better. Literally nothing. That isn’t my goal, but it is an outcome I am willing to accept over how things are now. Do you understand?”

Throughout it all, Anam only frowned defiantly, like he always did, like he was disappointed in him, or that he knew better despite being eras younger. And he wasn’t going to leave him alone, either. Just get in the way until Dark Matter could get rid of that last speck of hope that he refused to let go.

“You need to try,” Anam lectured.

“Why? Because you’ll stop me if I don’t? I’ll send my army at you. You’ll never catch up.”

“Because you still can’t win without their help.”

“And how, precisely, do you think I will be able to so much as have them listen to me? It’s too late. I threatened their existence. I intend to destroy their world, just as your precious Necrozma intended.”

“You don’t mean that. It’s not the same. You—”

“I know myself and I know what I want. Why should I bother with anything else?”

Anam stepped forward, a hand to his chest. “There’s still hope, Mister M—”

“Go away.” Dark Matter stepped back. “Your hope is sickening, and I’m already in a vulnerable state.” The blackened rot around his face sizzled as if to demonstrate.

“Sorry…” Anam fidgeted.

“Er, if I c’n interject at all…”

Marshadow cleared his throat, standing on a fallen tree to gain some extra height. It wasn’t much.

“Did I just hear that Necrozma wanted to destroy th’ world? That ain’t right.”

“How little you know,” Dark Matter said, scoffing. “And telling that to Owen, who is surely learning about all the good Necrozma did?”

“He might be trying to hide it,” Anam said, frowning. “If… if you told Owen the truth, what if we can all work together so everyone is happy?”

“Again with happy.Dark Matter snarled. “If I align with them, it will be solely to betray them when they’re no longer useful. They know this. You know this. Why bother?”

“Why do you have to be this way?” Anam blurted before he could control himself. He gasped at that, then looked down, like he was ashamed.

“Why indeed?” Dark Matter gave Anam a twisted, cruel grin, even if the smile was a little painful. “I have already accepted that I will not be able to change without the Hands. And I have learned that even with the Hands, true happiness will be beyond me.”

“But that’s not true! You don’t know that, we—”

“Enough.” He raised his arm. “I have an army to prepare.”

“Please,” Anam begged. “Just once. Tell him, um… all the lies that they’ve been keeping from him because of history being erased. You know what Owen dislikes, but I know what he likes! If you told him the truth, even if—"

“If I speak to him once,” Dark Matter said lowly, “will you shut up and leave me alone?”

“I…”

“Will you go away and let me assemble my army, put the world to its proper end, and you won’t complain?”

“…I’ll…” Anam hesitated again, and Dark Matter waited for that hope to go away. Just one moment. He wanted to see it. The light leaving his eyes, when was that going to happen? Dark Matter’s glow darkened in anticipation.

Finally, Anam continued. “If you talk to him, and he doesn’t listen… then I won’t ask you to try that anymore.”

Specific, how specific. He was still searching for ways around it. “Will you make it a Promise?”

Anam shrank away. “I—I don’t want to make another Promise with you.”

“Hmph. The last one is no longer valid anyway, now that I am known generally. Why not fill the void with a new one?”

When Anam didn’t answer, Dark Matter walked past him and toward town.

“I will ask,” he said, “once. And when he refuses, I will assemble my army, strike Kilo, and plunge everything into the void. You will lose hope, admit I am right, and then I shall personally send you into your eternal darkness.” The false Goodra turned his head back only slightly to see Anam balling his fist, trembling. “Does that count as a promise?”

Yet again, Anam didn’t say anything, but he could tell that he was trying to hold back tears. That would do.

“Stay there,” he told Marshadow, and then started on his way to Null Village.

<><><>​

Owen had been slumbering peacefully in that strange half-sleep of torpor that prolonged time in a Poké Ball tended to put him in. He liked it. He was conscious, yet only barely, just enough to be aware, and yet so snugly asleep. That sort of pleasure wasn’t possible in the world of matter, where sleep passed in an instant and he had no memory of it but strange dreams.

Ever since that encounter to rescue Ire, and also to find his team and failing, Owen had been plagued by stranger dreams than usual. Fighting humans, blood on his claws, metallic tastes in his mouth, and Tim shouting. He saw flashes of a pink, small creature that he’d never seen before in his dreams, too.

It had been a few days since then. They hadn’t gone on any battles. Apparently, their adventure through the League was over, and Tim was laying low in a nearby human settlement for some news from that nice human, or the ones she worked for. But for once, Tim was walking through a forest. Owen liked forests. Though he didn’t like fighting in them.

Trees…

Simple thoughts flitted through his mind as he stared at different angles from his ball, no body to shift with, only a general, floating consciousness. He wondered how Tim was feeling. The pacing of his steps was different. Tim got like this when something was bothering him. Happened a lot lately.

“Okay,” Tim said, and he raised Owen’s capsule. “Time to come out.”

He didn’t feel like it, but he supposed he could. With a toss, Owen poured out of the ball and his body was back and heavy and solid. A gentle tingle and the fresh scent of the air hit him first, and then he spread his wings and stretched his body. Psychological, not that he truly needed to, and then he smiled down at Tim.

Wings. It was so nice to have wings.

But it was so strange to look down, rather than up, at his human, now. It didn’t feel right. Not yet.

Tim looked so small. Owen had gone through a growth spurt as a Charizard, going from smaller than average in his lowest form, to something much more towering. It must have meant that Tim was a strong partner to have, for Owen to grow so quickly. Why did his eyes look so defeated?

“It’s time for you to go,” Tim said, and the human couldn’t maintain eye contact with him for long.

“What?” Owen asked. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that you don’t need me anymore.” Still no eye contact.

Owen’s flame crackled. Tim wasn’t supposed to be this weak.

“You came with me to be stronger, right? To go on this adventure through the league?”

Yes, for years. That was part of the process. Sure, Tim was slower, but whatever program he worked with provided for a lot of time to get things done before it was over.

Owen narrowed his eyes. “Sure…”

“Well, I can’t go through it. The police got back to me. I can’t stay in Kanto anymore. I have… to go away from this region. I might not even be able to go back to Unova anymore, either. Ayame’s coming, too. We’re providing the police with everything we know and then we have to go away so they can’t get us. It’s for our safety. But they won’t recognize you like they would other humans. Your home is Kanto.”

Tim was speaking nonsense. They had to run because of a bunch of weak humans? He was giving up just like that?

“Why do you have to run? They aren’t strong. I killed one of them.”

“That was… that’s not how it works, Owen.” Tim shook his head. “There are others way stronger than him, with Pokémon
so much worse. We can’t… we can’t beat that.”

“Why not? Why can’t we get stronger?”

“We don’t have
time to get stronger.” Tim was shaking. “I—I made a huge mistake trying to go in there. It was reckless. We got lucky with that information. We don’t even know how we got it in the first place. I… I just, I wish I could go back where it never happened at all. Then I’d…”

“Then we never would have tried to get Duos and the others back.” Owen growled. “We wouldn’t have done that.”

“I guess not, but… That doesn’t change how things a-are now. I have to go away somewhere. You’re my only Pokémon and you have so many other things you can do here. I don’t. Not anymore. Just… stay here. Go back to the lab and find a better human, okay?”

“You’re being stupid,” Owen said, his voice rising into a crackling growl. “There isn’t a better human. I spent my time with you.”

“I’m not special, Owen! I’m just another trainer who failed the league! I wasn’t gonna win anyway, I couldn’t even get my fourth badge! Just find another human who’s better!”

“You may not be special, but you’re special to
me,” Owen snarled. “You’re having a nightmare but you’re awake.”

“What? Owen, this is
real, it’s going to be a nightmare if I…” Tim shook his head. “Oh… forget this.” He pulled out his capsule, and Owen was ready for Tim to withdraw him to continue the argument later. But then, Tin popped the ball open, hollow inside, and used his hands in an odd way to pull it more than it should have.

“What are you doing?” Owen asked, confused.

A horrible squeaking noise followed as the hinges of the ball creaked and cracked, until finally it snapped completely. Owen felt a strange jolt of energy in him, like something had been returned, some tiny thing that connected him to that ball. And it was back. It felt… wrong.

Small chips of the capsule and the two greater pieces fell to the grass.

“I’m… not your human anymore,” Tim said. “Find someone better. That’s… my instruction to you. Okay?”

He stared at the fragments for a long, long time. Tim didn’t move. Owen didn’t move. The wind didn’t move.

The Charizard’s body moved on its own. A single, swift motion. His wings flared, he lunged forward on a burst of heated tailwind that caught in his wings, and he slammed
hard into the human, who hadn’t seen it coming. He pushed with flaming claws and let go; the human sailed across the clearing, rolled on the ground, and hit a tree with a gasp. His bag was left behind and his clothes were singed in places and torn in others. The tiniest of embers shrank and became small streams of smoke along parts of the fabric.

Little sniffles sounded from the clearing’s edge as Tim sat up. He didn’t stand. Slumped over, he looked even smaller than before.

Owen stomped over to the human’s bag and riffled through it. Found what he needed. He put the bag over his shoulder and approached Tim, setting it down nearby. Then, he tossed an unused, empty Poké Ball at the human’s forehead, where it landed in his lap, inert.

“What…” Tim picked it up dumbly.

“Humans are supposed to be smart,” Owen said. “You’re acting like a wild Pokémon. Dumb choices. I’m not your Pokémon anymore so I don’t have to follow what you said.”

Tim didn’t reply at first, but then he looked up. Their eyes met for the first time and Owen just realized, with a frozen pit forming in his stomach, just how tired he looked.

“You… said you were my Pokémon.” Tim stared with dull, yet wide eyes. “You never say that…”

To that, he flinched and glanced away. “…What of it? We’re each other’s.”

The wind picked up again, the breeze of the forest filling Owen’s senses. He sighed heavily and took a few more steps until he was by Tim’s side, then let his legs fall out from under him, landing with a ground-shaking thud.

“Why?” Tim said. “Why do you want to stay? I failed you. I…”

“Because I don’t think you did. And I want to go with you. That’s all.” He snorted. “If these are the decisions you make without me, then you need me anyway.”

That earned a small laugh. Tim played with the button on the empty ball a few times, like he was contemplating it, entertaining the idea. Of course he was.

Owen wrapped a wing around the human’s shoulders and pulled inward. Tim didn’t resist. He rested against his scales. The human’s cheeks were wet.

“It’s going to be a strange place,” Tim said. “It’s a region that doesn’t even use Poké Balls. It’ll be very, very far… You might not be able to see your parents if you wanted to. Maybe messages, if you’re lucky, but…”

Owen felt some conflict there. But his parents were strong. He would find a way, one day. But for Tim… No. He couldn’t lose Tim.

“That’s fine,” Owen said. “They’ll let me in?”

“Yeah.” Tim fiddled with the ball. “I might have to break it again when we get there, or just keep it someplace else. It’s just not something they do there.”

“I hope I can keep it at home,” Owen said. “I like being in one.”

“Yeah.” Tim laughed again. He seemed brighter. “Yeah, I hope so, too…”

And they didn’t say anything more for a long while. The wind spoke between them, and Owen listened to it and the leaves and the hum of his flame. They had no idea what would be waiting for them in that new region, but somehow, he felt like it was going to be just fine.


<><><>​

I see you.

“Gah!” Owen stood upright, feeling small and frail again. He looked at his hands. Charmander.

Where was he? How did he get there? Everything felt like a haze. He remembered becoming an apple, and then a stretch of darkness and flashes of aura, and then a tree, and more dreams of Kanto, and—

And suddenly he had arms, and legs, and a tail, and—he was standing in the middle of a small clearing in a thin forest. The sky was a bright blue, and that alone mesmerized him. It had been so long since he’d stood under a sky that wasn’t a blotched red. Unfortunately, none of it felt real.

“Ahem.”

Owen spun around, arms tensed and in front of him for defense. It was a Treecko, with her arms crossed and head tilted left. Behind her was an expanse of trees that only went a few stone tosses away before dropping off into a black haze.

“A-are you Mhynt?” Owen asked.

“Are you Owen?”

“M-maybe.”

“Then, maybe I am,” Mhynt replied, and her eyes trailed from Owen’s face to something just above him.

Owen looked up and saw nothing, but realized just then that there was a subtle weight on his head. He felt around and grasped something thin and plant-like. A stem. An apple stem.

With an irritated frown, he tugged lightly at it and, like one of his feathery leaf-scales as a Grass Guardian, it popped out. Owen winced—that hurt, and he inspected the apple stem curiously. It was about the length from his finger to his lower wrist.

And the weight returned.

“It just grew back, didn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

Owen tossed the stem in his hands away, never taking his eyes off of Mhynt. “Is this some kind of dream?”

“Shared headspace,” Mhynt said. “A psychic link.”

“How and why?”

Mhynt answered with a wry smile. “You’re taking this well.”

“Please,” Owen said, almost begging, “I have been tossed around so much that I just want answers.”

“I know.” Mhynt stepped forward, but Owen took a step back in response, arms still tense. She looked, in a flash of emotion, hurt. But then her expression slipped back into amused neutrality. “I am here to tell you to give yourself up to Alexander peacefully,” she said. “We will be able to defeat Dark Matter together, therefore saving all of Kilo from its otherwise inevitable demise.”

“Alexander.” The name of his father—well, now that he thought about it, wasn’t it just Alex? He never used ‘Alexander’ from the fragments of memory he had. “Isn’t he… evil?”

“Very. But he can be reasoned with. And he is better than Dark Matter’s nihilistic goals.”

“What is Alexander’s goal?”

“Power. A way to escape the Voidlands. Is that not too far from your goals?”

“One of them isn’t,” Owen said lowly.

“You don’t want power?” Mhynt tilted her head, quizzical.

“Not really.”

“Then you are happy to let people order you around?”

“N—”

That was true. The only reason people started taking him seriously, that he could start making his own decisions, was because of the leverage he held over them. The knowledge they had withheld, one way or another, was the one thing that kept him in line. Now that he knew how much they wanted him—for his mutant nature, for his Guardianship, or now, for his ties to Necrozma—he was able to use that as a bargaining chip.

“I guess I need some power,” Owen admitted. “But I don’t want it. I can need something and not want it.”

“That, you can.” Mhynt looked like she was conceding, but Owen knew she had coaxed that answer. She was clever. She was honest. He liked that. Something about that made him feel like he could trust at least the words she was saying… even if she might be omitting things like everyone else.

And she wasn’t going away, but she wasn’t talking, either.

“Was there anything else?” Owen asked.

“If you oppose Alexander, he will burn your new form to the ground,” Mhynt stated. The way she presented it was not as a threat, but as a fact, the same way one would warn a Magikarp not to traverse the desert.

“I’m working on a way to come back,” Owen said, “and then he’ll have to chase me down anyway. You have Hakk under your control, don’t you? You have power, too.”

“I do.”

More tense silence followed. She didn’t advance; Owen didn’t retreat. There was nowhere to go, but Owen had a feeling that, if he wished, he could break this psychic link and send her away.

Yet, he didn’t. He didn’t want to. Was that her doing? No… By now, Owen was far too familiar with the sense of his mind being altered by another. This was coming from himself.

“Sorry,” Owen said. “I’m not interested. You opened with a threat that if I refused, I’d be killed. I already got that once from Arceus. I’m not going to fall for it now.”

The Treecko stared, an expression as rigid as Valle’s stone form. Unreadable. Owen wondered if, had he access to Perceive, he’d’ve been able to sense anything at all.

Finally, she closed her eyes. “I will check with you later,” she said, “to see if you change your opinion.”

And then, she disappeared, and the world around Owen dissolved with her.

<><><>​

Palkia and Dialga had flown off with the rest of the team to investigate Nevren in the hole in the sky. Zena couldn’t care less for him. Several of the others departed after seeing nothing more to do now that Mhynt was gone. Gahi’s body had left with Trina to try to confront Mhynt while she was weakened—she had looked to be in pain when the tree first sprouted.

But someone had to stand guard by the tree in case something went wrong. Zena volunteered for that with Eon, who was now a Trevenant on the opposite side of the huge trunk that took up nearly the entire width of the street. Zena’s long, long body didn’t even make up a quarter of the tree’s circumference.

“Oh, Owen.” Zena sighed. “The messes you get yourself into.”

She’d gotten flashes of memories for a while of her time with him. She remembered how desperately lonely she’d felt, and couldn’t help but feel shame at how she’d used Owen to satiate that. She wondered if that was why Owen wanted to just be friends. All things considered… it made a lot of sense. And she wasn’t sure if wanting to reconnect was more of that loneliness, or something genuine.

She brought a ribbon to her forehead and brushed aside more of the prismatic leaves that constantly fell from the sky. And, indeed, it was a sky—a starry night. It almost felt like a true nighttime. Several Pokémon left their homes to stand on their rooftops to get a better look. Others still looked like they were finding ways to climb the tree—though Zena made sure they didn’t get themselves hurt, as did Eon. There was little to do about the flying Pokémon, though, who sat atop the tree like it was their new home.

Zena rested her head against one of the roots, each one thicker than her body at its widest point. There was a little flower with a black center facing her. She smiled a little. It reminded her vaguely of Owen’s tail.

“How pretty,” she commented. “I’m not sure if you can hear me, Owen, but you’ve really done something incredible. And… I’d like to also thank you for everything you’ve done for me.

“I remember how I was toward you. And now I understand why you wanted us to just be friends until I got my memories back. Even though the feelings I had for you were… undeniable… Oh, how do I phrase it…” She sighed, tapping her horn against the trunk. “Those feelings could have come from someplace… unhealthy. That’s what you sensed, wasn’t it? And yet everyone else seemed to think we were such a cute couple.” She rolled her eyes. “I can only see it as codependency. I can’t believe I didn’t see it in the moment. So… embarrassing. It’s amazing what a fresh perspective can do, with losing my memory of it for a while.

“Mm… now that I think about it… That was probably in bad taste to you, wasn’t it? I can’t imagine the things you’re remembering right now. That new perspective might be pained from how much you’d left behind.” She smiled sadly at the flower. “Memories can be so hard. But being without them feels worse…”

She’d gone on for a while. But she had a feeling Owen could hear her. Hear her very much, in fact… She was getting an odd feeling from that flower.

Was it… had it always been facing her in that way?

“Owen?” Zena asked.

She tilted her head. The flower tilted in kind. She went in the opposite way. The flower did the same. Feeling a little silly, she bobbed her head. The flower mirrored her.

“Stars above,” Zena whispered, “Owen! You’re—er. You’ve gotten a new look.”

The flower’s stem wiggled.

“But you can’t talk. Well. That’s okay. Er, I’m sorry if what I said was… embarrassing. Goodness, this reminds me of when we first met. Talking to a river, not really knowing where I was, but that I was listening, hm?”

It was hard to read a flower’s expression.

“…I hope, if we can find a way to restore you, we can start things over again, Owen. I have enough memories to know where I went wrong.”

To this, the flower tilted itself, as if confused.

“You… you are still interested, right?”

The flower made a hesitant bob, but then wriggled about, like he wanted to say more, but couldn’t.

Zena frowned, anxiety eating at her mind. “W-well, I guess I shouldn’t make assumptions. It’s okay if you aren’t—really. I’ll respect that, if you felt I had been too needy. We only knew each other for a few moons, after all. Barely got started! And, er, I’m certain we’d gone into things too quickly for our own good. Largely because I urged you. You barely knew. And, er… Owen, are you all right?”

Owen hadn’t stopped flailing for a while, to the point where one of the petals had fallen off and he still didn’t stop. Only then did she realize the flower was staring at something behind her.

She held her breath and concentrated a fixed point of light just in front of her mouth. Then, she spun around and hesitated for only a split-second to verify what it was. She saw Anam, but his eyes were dark, and that was all she needed.

The Hydro Pump slammed into the Goodra’s chest, leaving ice-cold water in a wide spray that mixed with blackened slime and sent the Goodra himself back a few paces. Zena didn’t let up until he was several body lengths away.

“Eon!” Zena shouted. “Eon, get over here!”

“What? What’s happening?” Eon’s voice was distant from the other side of the tree.

“You know”—that was anything but Anam’s voice—“trying to fight me is pointless. This is my domain.”

“You stay away from Owen,” Zena hissed. “I’ll fight you until there’s nothing left if it means—”

“Enough.” Dark Matter casually waved toward her. From his palm came a beam of darkness, but Zena, reflexively, swatted at it with her ribbon. It flew high and over the rooftops, leaving a cold sting where it touched, but nothing more.

This seemed to surprise Dark Matter enough that he didn’t fire another immediately. Instead, he glanced toward the tree. He lifted his hand and took aim, but Zena was faster, blasting his arm clean off with another Hydro Pump. Dark Matter stumbled, hissing. “Pest.”

“Don’t think you can get to him with us around,” Zena replied breathlessly. That second Hydro Pump was her strongest yet, and all it did was stagger him.

Eon had finally arrived, quickly shifting to a Goodra’s form. “What—”

Dark Matter used his remaining hand to fire a blast toward Eon. It landed squarely in his chest and sent him tumbling back, a black ember smoldering where it had struck. The air cracked upon impact.

“No!” Zena hissed and prepared another, but a hasty beam of indigo fire was faster. It struck Dark Matter on the side of his head.

Eon, on one arm and clutching at a burned chest, forced himself back to his feet. “Not so strong here, are you?” Eon grunted. “This isn’t your domain anymore.” But he didn’t try to attack; he looked too hurt to try something again.

Dark Matter clicked and narrowed his eyes, calculating something. Zena tensed, trying to focus on her peripherals for signs of wraiths, but none came. It was just Dark Matter. Owen… would he warn them if Marshadow was nearby?

“I can feel your paranoia,” Dark Matter said. “I came alone.”

“Then we can kill you right here.”

“Cute.” Dark Matter took a step forward and Zena readied another Hydro Pump. Dark Matter shifted his weight to one foot. Zena felt an odd coldness beneath her coils. Gasping, she rolled out of the way and narrowly dodged an uprising plume of darkness that raged like a black inferno. A few embers left minor rot-scorches on her scales; she countered with another Hydro Pump.

This time, Dark Matter made another motion with his left arm, like an upward point, dredging up some great power from the abyss. Zena felt another cold chill beneath her and rolled away again, but this time countless threads of darkness sprouted around her and bound her to the ground. She shouted and aimed for his face again.

“You know,” Dark Matter said, “I’m disappointed at how effective Shadow Hold is becoming.”

“Is that—what you call this technique?”

“No, it’s what I call my mother.” Dark Matter reached toward Zena. “Now hush.”

Zena was running out of energy. She struggled to escape and barely managed to get her tail free. She twisted her form and dug it into the ruined ground—loose dirt and dust. Perfect. With a lurch, she heaved a dusty clump of the ground into Dark Matter’s face. It spattered against his gooey front and directly into his eyes, which didn’t blink. It only paused Dark Matter briefly while Zena squeezed halfway out of the black threads.

“These eyes are fake, you know.”

He squeezed his fist and the threads tightened. Zena yelped and tried to break out, but now they threatened to snap her spine if she tried resisting any further. She couldn’t move. And then, Dark Matter touched her side. And yet… nothing happened.

“Now, I’m going to talk to Owen,” Dark Matter said. “Anam said I should. You trust him, don’t you?”

“I’m beginning to wonder,” Zena hissed. “How long has he been working for you?”

“…You aren’t under my control.”

“It seems I’m not,” Zena replied, glancing at where Dark Matter had touched. A trace of shadowy energy was there, struggling to maintain itself, but it evaporated. Zena had a feeling it was because of Owen.

“Then be quiet.”

“Owen can’t talk to you,” Zena said.

“I will talk to him as long as—”

“No,” Zena said, glaring. “He literally can’t talk to you. He’s a tree. I was speaking to him with—”

Dark Matter shoved his hand into the bark. Zena shouted, but the Shadowy threads pinned her to the ground. Dark Matter stared into the tree, completely still.

Owen, Zena said, only able to watch, hang in there. I’ll get him away…

<><><>​

The Charmander stood in the small, ethereal clearing with a black sky and trees that seemed to light up on their own. Everything towered over him. Golden balls of light speckled the air, floating like Illumise in the summertime. The trees only went a few layers deep before falling into an endless abyss, but those that were there had full, vibrant leaves and a dim glow of blue aura.

Across the way, on the opposite end of the glade within nothing, was a Goodra with dark slime and a blank expression.

“Hello.”

Owen was trapped. Dark Matter had somehow infiltrated his realm. Was this a vision? Was he already claimed by Dark Matter, or was this him trying to seize control of the tree?

The moment Dark Matter had touched the tree, he’d been enveloped in cold, like dead fingers wrapping around his skull. And now he was here.

“Hello,” Owen replied back, not sure if being polite was the best route. Or if anything was. Maybe it didn’t matter anymore.

Dark Matter narrowed his eyes, then raised his hand. The moment he saw darkness forming, Owen crossed his arms and narrowly blocked a beam of Shadows, and then another, and then another. Each one made Owen buckle a little more, the Protect shield flickering and fading, before it finally gave way after the fifth one struck. The sixth landed squarely on his chest; the blast sent him skidding backward and over the abyss.

He flailed, then landed on solid ground—new ground that had conjured itself where there had once been nothing. Dark Matter stood on his own island of the forest, which was now filled with dead, leafless trees like the ones in the Voidlands.

“Now you know that I cannot harm you.” Dark Matter’s voice carried as if they were face to face.

Owen felt his chest. No pain, no wound, not even a trace of darkness. “And what if you could?” He stepped closer, and when he did, each step made the forest behind him disappear, and new forest appear in front of him.

“Then it would have been very convenient for me. And lucky. But I am not a lucky person. Some would hardly call me a person.”

As Dark Matter spoke, their islands touched, and Owen’s trees looked a lot less bright, while Dark Matter’s trees gained some life and leaves.

“Then you really came here to talk.” Owen stopped after he felt they were at a speaking distance, even if it was apparently unnecessary. He didn’t like any of this. This was someone who had taken Amia away from him, who stole Zena’s memories, who threatened to plunge all of Kilo into darkness.

“Tell me,” Dark Matter said, “why Anam thinks it would have been a good idea to speak with you.”

That wasn’t expected. “Anam told you that? How do I know you aren’t lying?”

“Because you can easily ask him later.”

Owen tried to think of a way to counter that. Could Dark Matter have found a way to control Anam? No, because then he would have found a way to control him, too… Was Anam dead? No, that would prove everything was a lie, and Owen didn’t plan on doing anything until he talked to Anam anyway.

“I would be a fool to expect you to believe anything I say without proof.”

“Right. Okay. Look, I don’t know why you want to talk to me, but if you’re asking for some kind of deal, or a Promise, I’m not interested. I’m pretty sure everyone has approached me about a Promise at this point. I’m not doing it.”

“I don’t intend to,” Dark Matter said. “Whatever I tell you is pointless anyway. You won’t believe me. I only want to reclaim the Voidlands and my proper power.”

“So you can kill everyone.”

“Yes.”

Owen couldn’t believe how audacious this thing was. The little Charmander’s tail flicked, trying to find some hidden meaning, some other motive, but it didn’t make sense.

“Is that not what you wanted?” Dark Matter asked. “Necrozma wanted the same.”

“…That’s not at all something Necrozma would say.”

“I now know what Necrozma has hidden from you.” Dark Matter shook his head. “Fine. What I tell you is pointless until you come to me.”

“I don’t plan on it. You’re… trying to destroy the world—how can I allow that? I’m a Heart. I’m supposed to protect the—”

“Stop.”

“I don’t think I will!” Owen’s tail sparked and he took a threatening step forward, which he realized the moment he did was a silly gesture for his size. “Get out of my tree! I don’t know what Anam told you, but I’m not going to negotiate with someone like you! As a Heart, I—”

“I will not”—Dark Matter shot a beam of shadows into Owen’s face, which was parried by another Protect—“listen to you prattle about Hearts. I have suffered through the headspace of your leader for five hundred cycles. I do not have the patience to deal with your disgusting, misguided, and futile ambitions. But that is one thing I’ll point out. Anam sent me, your leader. That implies that he thinks what I have to say is worthwhile, despite everything. Can you argue against this?”

Owen was starting to doubt Anam’s sanity. He really had been harboring this dark entity within him all this time. All his power, and that power of rot, was that Dark Matter? To disguise it as the Ghost Orb’s power… What more did Anam hide? And why?

Since Owen was silent, Dark Matter continued without resistance. “He told me you enjoy the truth. I have been nothing but honest. There is no point in lying because you will just ask Anam later.”

It was easy to recognize that Dark Matter spoke meticulously, logically, in ways that did not rely on Owen having faith in Dark Matter’s credibility. Owen could… appreciate that. But he was still cautious as he listened.

“I know that you are regaining your memories. You must have a lot of them by now.”

“Of Kanto. And little bits from before I became a mutant, but after I was in Kilo.”

“Since you’re a tree, you have a lot of time to think about things. I want you to think about a place called Orre. Maybe later, you can ask for more of the full story. Because apparently, I’m the only one bothering to reveal it to you.”

That term made Owen’s chest flutter and he didn’t know why. “What about Orre?”

“They’re prying me out of the tree. I don’t have much time left.” Dark Matter’s form faded into a hazy, black cloud. “Recall your memories at the end of Kanto. Think about Necrozma. And think about his only wish. …Hmph. Chances are, those memories are sealed, and not by me.” He was barely a presence, now, but his voice echoed. “I’ll be waiting just west of Null Village. You’ll find me.”

The world around Owen was dissolving as he became more aware of the village around his wooden body.

“Start with Orre. Learn the truth about why you are here at all. I will unlock the rest of the answers that are sealed away…”

--

Author’s Note: Hey everyone! Thanks for reading up to this point! I have a few announcements to make. First, the next chapter is going to be delayed… because it’s Special Episode 8! Where we will finally see the conclusion to Owen’s time in the human world, and just what it was that brought him to Kilo. This episode will be published on the June 20.

While that’s going on, I’d like to take some time to thank my beta readers, Ambyssin and Shadow of Antioch, authors of Guiding Light and Path of Valor, and PMD: Rebirth respectively. All incredible stories that are definitely worth reading! They have been an invaluable resource for these chapters and will continue to be going forward.

Additionally, if you’d like to chat about Hands of Creation, or would like to speak with me or even other PMD authors, I have a discord server dedicated to that topic right here. Feel free to join and find other stories to read while waiting for HoC to update! You'll have to PM me for the link, though, per the rules.

And as a special note for here in particular, I'm not actually sure if I'm getting much readership on this forum any longer. Is it worth still updating here? I update in quite a few places, but it's hard to tell what sort of feedback I'm getting here. Anyone out there? Silent readers? Gah! It's a lot of work to maintain on a lot of sites, after all, so I've been weighing my options.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for reading, and I hope you’re looking forward to the next chapter soon!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Special Episode 8 – Normal Living

Lightning shattered the sky.

Torrential rains obscured anything more than a few feet ahead. Owen’s wings were heavy and his flame sputtered boldly against the storm. Lighting the way, aside from his own embers, was a horrible forest fire that had been started by an unlucky lightning bolt. A rare natural disaster, where the rains were not enough to put out the intense flames that fed off of the overgrowth. It would be short-lived.

But there were still Pokémon and humans helpless in that storm, and they had to find as many as they could.

“That way, that way!” Tim called over the wind. He pressed on Owen’s left shoulder and the Charizard banked. His pupils dilated, seeing the faded silhouettes of several creatures. He folded his wings down and descended, then abruptly spread them out for a quick stop.

Two humans, a Gabite, and a purple Nidoran were being attacked by agitated-looking Pokémon—a Cherubi and a Grovyle. The humans were shielding the two injured Pokémon.

“Keep them safe,” Tim said. “I’ve got this.”

His human jumped from his back and landed. Tim wore a red shirt and black shorts with a yellow stripe that glowed. He quickly pulled out a device from a pouch on his thigh, aiming it at the Cherubi first. It was an odd device that looked similar to a levitating, spinning top; from its bottom point came a trail of bright light that cut through the storm’s darkness.

Tim made various rapid gestures with his arms using a control device in his hands, and the Pokémon attacking briefly stopped. The top spun and twirled through the air, forming ethereal ropes that dissolved into particles and clung to the Cherubi. Before she could react, the light completely enveloped her, and she looked briefly dazed.

“It’s okay!” Tim shouted, squeezing the device. “We’re here to help!”

Cherubi blinked, but then looked at Grovyle, who was rushing toward Tim with his leaves primed for a slashing attack.

Tim deftly hopped back and spun the top around Grovyle next, but he sliced through the threads instead. The top made a worrisome popping noise and Tim tried to recall it for another throw.

“Owen!” Tim shouted.

The Charizard swooped in and blocked the Grovyle’s follow-up strike.

“Calm down!” Owen shouted at Grovyle.

“They started the fire. I know it!” Grovyle hissed back.

The fire had them too agitated to think straight. Owen beat his wings and parried Grovyle, just in time for Tim’s second attempt. Threads of light dissolved and clung to Grovyle; he snarled and tried to slice at it again, but Tim was faster, skillfully weaving the thread between Grovyle’s slash. Then, the light enveloped him next.

“It’s okay,” Tim pleaded. “Work with us! We have to get you out of here!”

Grovyle had a similarly dazed look, eyeing Cherubi.

“What… did you do?” Grovyle asked Tim.

“It’s human magic,” Owen explained to Grovyle. “It lets them show you how they truly feel.”

Grovyle looked at the little lights that still clung to his scales. He brushed them off, and with it their effects also waned, but Tim didn’t look alarmed.

“Fine,” Grovyle said. “…Sorry.”

“Thank you,” said one of the humans that they’d rescued.

“Get out of here,” Tim directed. “There’s a safe path that way, and rescue crews are waiting. Can you walk?”

“We can,” said the other. “Thank you!”

They departed, but Owen had a feeling they weren’t done. Tim was speaking into his communicator.

“Ayame, are you there? Some rescues are coming your way. We’re still looking for more.”

Meanwhile, Owen asked Grovyle, “Is anyone else here in danger?”

The forest native immediately pointed further into the thunderous gloom, which was glowing a faint orange. “The fire’s too hot.”

“Not for me,” Owen said, smiling. “Tim, I’m going in to rescue a few more.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“The fire’s hot.”

“I’m used to it.” Tim nodded at Grovyle and Cherubi. “Follow those other humans to safety. We’ll save the others.”

“Th-thank you!” Cherubi called as Grovyle picked her up and ran.

They wasted no time; Tim hopped on Owen’s back, and then Owen sped through the trees and toward the glow. Tim pulled out yet another device from his pouch—everything was element-proof to handle any situation—and said, “They’re right, it looks like there are still a few Pokémon that got cornered off from the fires. I’m counting five… All small. This should work out. I’ll try to calm a few, and you can grab the rest. Talk them through it.”

Owen grunted in understanding and accelerated. “Fire’s coming. Get ready.”

Tim held Owen tight as the flames licked at the Charizard’s scales. The human pressed hard against Owen’s back, squeezing his shoulders, and Owen saw a particularly orange tree up ahead. It cracked and crackled. Not good.

But his momentum was too much. The tree splintered, the sap within vaporizing, and it exploded right next to them. Tim shouted in pain and buckled against Owen, and he was about to turn back and flee. Instead, Tim slammed a hand against Owen the moment he made a motion to try.

“Keep going,” Tim hissed. “I’m fine.”

While apprehensive, it was far from the worst they’d gone through. Obeying, Owen sped through the flames and searched for more survivors, the flames and crackling wood being all he could hear.

<><><>​

Birds chirped under another calm morning sky. A ray of light shined through the window, and a summer breeze finally coaxed Owen out of his slumber. His body no longer ached from the rescue a few days ago. Which was good. He’d been getting restless.

Uncurling from his flame-proof beanbag for a bed, the Charizard swiveled his head around the room in search of Tim. His bed was empty with the sheets thrown in random directions, as usual. Tim never made his bed. So, he was awake. Owen therefore checked his bedside. His human magic devices weren’t there, so he wasn’t showering or doing anything from his morning routine.

Definitely late morning, from the sun’s position. Had Tim let him sleep in again, just for the sake of recovery? Hmph. He didn’t like sleeping in that long. Owen flicked his tail and shook off the flame veil that covered it, and his ember lit up the rest of the room instantly.

He pulled the door inward and stepped into the halls. A simple green carpet covered the middle portion of the hall, leading to a main lobby on one end and further human facilities on the other. Tim probably went that way. Before he could go, he was immediately greeted by another of the humans in this settlement.

“Owen! Good to see you up and about. Feeling better?”

This one was shorter than Tim and had long, brown hair. She grinned with her hands on her hips. This one, Owen knew, couldn’t understand him well, so he nodded and growled in affirmative.

“Great! Oh, are you looking for Tim?”

Another grunt.

“He’s over having breakfast. He’s looking a lot better. Talk about a quick recovery! Not everyone can walk off being crushed by a tree in a few days, y’know.”

Owen winced. That had only happened because he had gotten careless during the rescue…

“Aw, hey, it’s alright. It happens in our line of work.”

That didn’t make it any better.

“Hey, I bet Tim would love to have breakfast with you again. Go see him!”

Owen grumbled in farewell and spread his wings, flying through the halls to catch up. He eventually found his way to the mess hall and scanned the many large, communal tables where humans and Pokémon alike partook in their meals. At one, there was Tim, in his usual uniform, but with a few bandages over his chest and neck. Smiling, Owen drifted toward the food stands, got a plate from the smiling cooks, and sat next to Tim.

“Hey,” Tim greeted.

“Feeling better?” Owen asked.

“A lot.” Tim patted his chest and suppressed a wince. Owen didn’t look impressed. “Eheh…”

Owen was about to explain to Tim exactly why he shouldn’t be moving around so much just yet when a brief dizzy spell struck him. Looking unfocused, he hummed a confused grunt.

“Owen?”

It came again, this time with a hazy image of something pink. And then it was gone.

“Hey, Owen?” Tim said again.

“Oh, sorry. I saw something, or at least, I thought I d—”

Help!

Owen immediately stood up, wings flared. Several others in the cafeteria looked at Owen, sensing his alarm. That made several other humans and their Pokémon scan the surrounding area next.

But there wasn’t anybody there.

“Did you hear something, Owen?” Tim asked gently.

“I thought I did…” Owen looked down. “I saw something… pink. And someone calling for help. Like a thought. I don’t think I actually heard it.”

A stiff silence followed. Owen sank back into his seat, folding his wings down.

“It’s alright,” Tim said. “Maybe we’re just tired. Let me know if it happens again, okay?”

Owen nodded, returning to his meal. It was too real to be some kind of hallucination. And something about that pink haze felt… familiar. Years ago. What was it?

<><><>​

The night was calm again but Owen had trouble sleeping regardless. His flame veil was irritating him, which wasn’t normal. It was soft and weightless and he was used to the dark by now, especially since Tim left the window open so the moonlight and the stars gave him something to sleep under. And his flame, while veiled, still had a soft enough glow that it comforted him.

But he still couldn’t drift off. It was suffocating. That cry for help was too real to ignore, and yet he was doing nothing. He was supposed to be a Pokémon for search and rescue. A Ranger’s Pokémon. And he was just sitting idly by as a cry for help went specifically to him. Had he really hallucinated?

Eventually, with those thoughts endlessly circling around his head, the Charizard drifted off into something that resembled sleep.

Black space greeted him, and he floated like a wandering spirit. Not fully aware of his own thoughts, the Charizard flew without need for air or wind, lazily tilting his head left and right, half-wondering if it was a dream. After moment after empty moment, he realized that something was drawing him in a certain direction. There was a light.

Can you hear me?

He could. He tried to speak, but didn’t have the energy.

I can see you. This way, please…

This voice. So familiar. But maybe only from a single moment in his past. Where, where…

Do you remember how maybe I helped you out a long time ago?

Helped, helped… Yes! With a gasp, he remembered. That was so many years ago, but it was when he’d first evolved. No wonder it sounded so familiar. That voice had offered him some power in exchange for ‘causing trouble’ with those horrible people. A sick pit formed in his stomach. That had also been when he killed someone.

That means you owe me, right? You totally owe me!

Owen wasn’t sure what that meant. But now that he thought about it, the way they had been given their hints to find that hideout out of the blue. And Owen wondered if there had been any signs of this strange presence then, too.

Look, I know you might think that there are some signs that I’ve been around before. Yeah. I get around a lot, I help out; miracles are kind of my thing. But now I’m in trouble. I need help. You’ll totally help me, right?

This was all a little too strange to be a dream, but did that mean he could trust this voice’s word?

My name is Mew Star. I… got captured. I’m being held somewhere on an island in the Orre region. Please… help. I can’t… get out on my own. This is the last of my strength. If any of you can accept… I’ll send someone to guide you to me. Please.

‘Any of you.’ Then she was sending this out to several people. But that didn’t mean much if any of the others weren’t capable of rescuing her. He was a Pokémon who had dedicated his life to rescuing.

He tried to reach out. It felt draining, like it required more energy than he could truly offer. But something came out. “I’ll try…”

Owen wasn’t sure if his voice had reached out. But soon, he couldn’t hold on, and this strange semi-conscious state left him entirely.

A horrible pressure was wrapped around his chest and he couldn’t get rid of it. Limply, he tried to pull away at something… That only made the pressure worse. He groaned…

Whimpering woke him up. Hazily, Owen blinked and saw three figures nearby. He recognized one by the outline alone as Tim. The other had hair that seemed to reflect the moonlight very well—Ayame. Which could only mean…

The pressure was from a Dragonite that had climbed into his bed. Tim’s door was hanging off of its hinges. Ire hugged Owen and refused to let go, growling something between his whimpers.

Owen wheezed. “Help… me…”

Tim and Ayame’s combined strength wasn’t enough to pull the hulking Dragonite away.

“I had a nightmare,” Ire said. “It was so scary…”

“So did I… but it wasn’t scary.” Owen tried to squeeze between his arms. No use. “Ire, I can’t breathe…”

Finally, Ire had enough sense to let go. Owen took a deep breath and expelled a few embers.

“What’s gotten into you?” Ayame pulled Ire away. “What nightmare?”

“Someone called Mew Star,” Owen said. “Did you get that dream, too?”

Ire nodded. “It was dark and scary. And she said she needed help and she’d send someone to get me!”

“…To guide us there,” Owen finished, which looked like a correction to Ire.

“O-oh.”

“Did you agree?”

“No…”

“Well… I did.” Owen glanced at Tim. “Does the region… Orre sound like somewhere to you?”

“Orre?” Tim repeated. Owen nodded. “Mew Star… Mew. Is that a Pokémon name?”

“It is,” Ayame said, “but this sounds like some kind of Psychic prank to me. Mew is a Pokémon of myth; nobody’s ever actually seen one before. They’re said to be the ancestor species of all Pokémon, but they all either died off or their offspring became the many species. The Mew species itself just split off into the countless ones we see today, and the originals died off over time thanks to environmental changes. It just became more favorable to be specialized instead of generalized, or something.”

“So, Mew were very generalized Pokémon? Kind of like Eevee, who then evolve into something specific?” Tim tilted his head. “I didn’t look into this before…”

“That’s the theory,” Ayame said. “I don’t think anybody has ever seen a real Mew before. I mean, apparently they’re invisible, so that makes it pretty hard to verify. Either way, if Owen and Ire both got the same dream, it’s probably some Psychic trick.”

“Was Mew Psychic?” Owen asked.

“…Yes, but that’s not my point.”

“But what if it really was a Mew?”

“Then I’ll owe Tim two thousand Pokédollars.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Tim said, smirking.

Ayame jabbed Tim in the side and he yelped and crumpled to the ground in pain. “Get some rest. We’ll tell the others about this and see what they think, but real or not, you’re in no condition to go to Orre of all places.”

“Yeah okay,” Tim squeaked.

Ayame hauled Ire back to their room, Owen helped Tim into his bed, and then fell asleep. Thankfully, this time, it was restful.

<><><>​

Several weeks passed uneventfully. For a while, Owen was sure that it really had been a dream, or a Psychic prank like the humans had suspected.

Why, then, did Owen often find himself searching the skies for signs of a Mew, or someone that a Mew might send?

They were back in top form and performing rescues as a team, mostly as a pair, but sometimes with Ayame and Ire, especially for larger missions. Normalcy had returned, but it was short-lived.

After another day of patrolling through a mercifully quiet shift, Owen and Ire landed with their humans in front of their boss. He was waiting for them outside the main base. He was a tall, muscular man with silver hair and a silver beard that made him look a lot like an Abomasnow, if not for his tanned skin.

“Owen, Tim,” Boss-human said.

“Oh, hey, um—is something wrong?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” He was always like this. Gesturing behind him, Boss-human continued, “Someone’s here to see you. Had some strange things to say. Figure he’ll repeat it and see if there’s anything you can glean from the crazy talk. We tried removin’ the guy, but he went and phased into the wall and politely waited.”

“That’s an odd way to describe someone’s polite behavior,” Tim commented, following Boss-human inside. Owen walked by his side and Ayame and Ire followed behind. The hall was the same as always, but there was a trail of water from a loose Hydro Pump from some other incident that might have happened earlier in the day. Nobody paid it any mind.

A quick turn brought them to a side-lobby, one of the break rooms of the simple naturalistic-themed base.

“There he is.” He pointed at a pair of large arms sticking out of the wall, crossed against a broad, gray chest.

“Oh, he really is just inside the wall.”

“Dusknoir,” Ayame said, shivering. “Just the Pokémon? Is it wild, or does it have a human nearby?”

“Wild… I think.” Boss-human rubbed his beard. “Let’s go give this talking thing another try.”

“It can talk?” Tim asked. “You aren’t exactly the best at understanding Pokémon, Boss.”

“Did say he was an odd one.” Boss-human led the way and called, “Alright, here’s the Charizard and his friends! Don’t try anything funny, but we’re here to listen.”

“Good. Thank you,” the wall said as its arms made a bowing gesture. The wall sprouted the head of a Dusknoir during that bow before it returned inside. “My name is Hecto. I have been sent by Mew Star as per Owen’s agreement to repay his debts and divine obligations.”

“Like I said, nonsense,” Boss-human drawled. He looked toward the others and saw the grave expressions they all wore. “What? That actually makes sense?”

“I know Mew Star from a dream I had a while ago,” Owen said. “Ire had one, too.”

“You guys can have dinner now if you want,” Boss-human confirmed.

Owen squinted.

“Owen said,” Tim translated, “that he saw Mew Star in a dream.”

“Mew. The mythical Pokémon.”

“The one that up and don’t exist,” Boss-human added.

“I can assure you she is very real,” Hecto said. “While her species is rare, they are present in the world, albeit very timid. She, however, is divine in nature, and requires your help. I believe this makes her even more important than a standard Mew under your established moral standards.”

“And why exactly are you coming here to request a save from these fellas in particular? We’ve got plenty of talent in our ranks that are up for divine missions.”

“Mew Star resonated with them and therefore has a connection that can be used to track her down innately. Such things cannot be done by any person, only those who have been blessed by her previously.”

“Mmmhm. Blessings. Sure.” Boss-human hummed skeptically. “You got any proof that this is some kinda divine Pokémon?”

“I am a talking Dusknoir.”

“Fair ‘nough.” Boss-human nodded, crossing his arms much like Hecto. “Got any more proof, though?”

“Mm. She was right to grant me small charges of her power.” Hecto brought one of his massive hands forward. “Hold this, please.”

“Eh?” Boss-human stared. “If you’re divine, you ain’t about to pull me to the spirit world, are you?”

“Not today.”

Ire shuddered.

“Aren’t you a comforting fella. Alright. I’ll bite. What’s this for?” He held one of Hecto’s large fingers.

A pulse of white light flowed from within the wall, through Hecto’s arm, and then into the Abomasnow-like human. He seemed to bristle and jerk his hand back, but whatever Hecto intended to do had been completed.

“You now know Thunder.”

“…’Scuse me?”

“Use it carefully. It will fade in an hour.”

Skeptical, he looked at his hand, then at a nearby window. He walked toward it and pushed it open, glancing at the Dusknoir in the wall. “How do I use it?”

“It should be innate. Follow your heart.” Despite the symbolic and flowery tone, Hecto’s voice was as monotone as ever.

The Thunder-infused Abomasnow-Boss human looked outside and focused on the pavement. A shadow formed in the skies above and a sudden burst of electricity scorched a small portion of the ground. Someone sitting on a bench a few feet away yelped in surprise.

“Well, that was disappointing.”

“You aren’t a Pokémon.”

“Fair ‘nough. Alright. Guess I’m convinced now.” He faced Hecto. “But I’ve still got valid concerns about my crew if they’re gonna be safe.”

“They won’t be. But I can assure you they will be rewarded for their efforts in this world or the next, whichever they end up.”

“So it’s a possibly lethal mission.”

“I believe your occupations carry that same risk.”

“They do, but that comes with hazard pay and safety processes, securities, and regulations.”

“Well, good karma is probably good hazard pay if it’s from someone literally divine,” Tim mumbled aloud, earning odd looks from everyone except the wall, who did not have a look. “What? A-am I wrong?”

“Let me do the thinking,” Owen said, patting Tim on the shoulder. He pouted. Then, the Charizard faced the wall-noir. “What happens if we don’t go on this mission? I want to help Star, but I don’t know if this is something worth doing.”

“I do not know how many others will agree to this, how many are capable, or how many Mew was capable of adequately reaching before she completely ran out of strength. Therefore, if you refuse, the results may be anywhere between inconsequential or world-changing.”

“In other words,” Ayame said, “if we go, it will have to be because we think it’s worth it all on its own.”

“Correct.”

“Wait.” Tim looked at Ayame. “We? I thought Dusknoir came for Owen and I.”

“Ire got the same dream, so we could help all the same, can’t we?” Ayame frowned. “Besides, I don’t want just you on a mission like this.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“Ire might have been one who refused in his dreams, so Star did not bother to reach toward him again. If you agree, I recommend deciding now. We will depart tomorrow.”

“This is all real sudden, y’know. But after what I’ve seen… sure. I just gotta know one thing. What exactly are they fighting to rescue Mew from?”

“A budding but dangerous criminal syndicate of the Orre region intent on corrupting Pokémon of all kinds using a strange technology. They got a hold of Mew Star. If she becomes corrupted by that same technology, the results could be devastating for more than just the world.”

“Ah. Well. That’s a tall tale I’m inclined to believe.” He looked at his hand again. It sparked with electricity, yet seemed painless. “You’re gonna keep us updated on how they do, I’m hopin’?”

“Yes. That should be the case. I shall remain behind to give them to you,” Hecto assured.

“All right. Well. I guess if that’s settled…” Boss-human was still clearly unsettled about this, but with the proof provided, perhaps that was all he needed. “We’ll try to make arrangements. Saving the world. Heh. I’m… gonna ask for a little more proof later, if y’don’t mind.”

“I have influences elsewhere that may be able to pull strings to reward your organization for your efforts.” Hecto nodded. “Thank you for your time.”

“Right. Well. You gonna come out of that wall and have something to eat, then?”

“Mm.” Hecto uncrossed his arms. “I forgot there was a wall.”

“…Right.” He patted Tim on the shoulder. “Well. Good luck. That’s gonna be your mission for a while, depending on how good his next proof is.”

“R-right, yeah…” Tim looked uneasily at Ayame. “Are we sure about this?” he whispered.

Owen wasn’t, at least not about his confidence in the mission itself. But Hecto showing up suddenly, after that dream a few weeks ago, and everything else? It felt like it was starting to come together. It was true. But he had no idea what would be waiting for him once they got there…

<><><>​

The following days were a confusing haze of activity. As it turned out, Hecto did provide more proof to their boss, from making secret calls to authority figures around the world to outright demonstrating a few more miracles that simple tricks could not replicate. And as Hecto’s final trick, he seemed to have an endless, careless supply of funding to get them immediate and private flights to Orre. Those were apparently agonizing for the humans, but Owen, back in a Poké Ball that was ever so nostalgic, couldn’t have been happier.

The hours passed slowly and cozily until the plane landed. Tim picked Owen’s ball up and slipped him, with a slight and hesitant unfamiliarity, in his bag.

“Now, be careful around here,” said Ayame said. “Orre isn’t exactly the nicest place to be, and we didn’t land in a good spot, either. There aren’t really a lot of good airports in the region…”

She held a hand over her eyes and looked forward. Owen wiggled in his ball.

“Oh. Hang on.” Tim pulled Owen out and released him. Ayame did the same with Ire.

Hot, dry air blasted him immediately, and Owen never realized until just then how much he loved the heat. It was no volcano, but the hot desert had a certain appeal that lush forests, while pleasant to look at, couldn’t provide his fiery scales.

Could do without the sand, though.

All around them, away from the small and barren, gray airport, was an expansive and flat desert of soft sand. Though, there was something strange about Orre that Owen couldn’t quite place…

The wind howled. Plumes of sand scattered across the airport’s roads, obscuring the markings the pilot had probably used to land. The simple street they’d walked through was more a suggestion than a defined path, with only a few vehicles parked in unmarked stalls next to the building. An island of concrete in the middle of a sandy ocean.

“Is it just me or is it kind of… lifeless here?” Tim said.

“There are a few Pokémon in the sands here and there, but most of them died off or went away,” Ayame explained. “You didn’t read anything about Orre, did you?”

“I did!” Tim said.

“He didn’t,” Owen clarified.

Ayame sighed. “A horrible drought that even the desert Pokémon couldn’t bear had bombarded the entire region like a curse. They’re calling it some kind of divine omen, but to me it sounds like a massive upheaval of the climate. Maybe those environmentalist freaks in Hoenn I’ve been reading about are just in the wrong region.”

“What happened to all the Pokémon?” Tim asked. “It’s… empty.”

“For a long time, wild populations had been in massive decline. They say that not a single wild Pokémon lives in Orre, now, not even in the patches of land that are fertile. All the humans caught them. In some ways, it’s a place where the unification of Pokémon and humans reached its logical conclusion… No wild Pokémon. At all.”

Owen’s frown deepened. “That doesn’t sound like how it would turn out.”

“It’s a possibility,” Ayame said, “if we do it wrong, I guess. But this is more from the environment… not from the culture.”

“And what a culture it is!”

Behind them, a tall man with green eyes and red, wild-looking hair approached. Despite the sand flying every which way, his hair seemed to be standing up on its own, like it was genetic, rather than from all the wind.

“I would like you to meet Michael,” Hecto said.

“GAH!” Tim leaped a whole three paces away from the Dusknoir. “When did you get here?!”

“I have been in your shadow.”

“What?!”

“Ahh, hello again, Hecto. A pleasure to see you. As instructed, here I am.” The red-haired human gave a light nod, holding out his hand to Ayame, then Tim, to shake.

“Um, good to meet you. Who are you?” Ayame asked.

“Michael is an esteemed public figure,” Hecto explained, “and is mostly known for his assistance and funding of the Pokémon HQ Lab to the western regions of Orre, quite far from here. They research and study Pokémon extensively and comprehensively, with a focus on ecosystems and battling.”

Owen glanced at Michael. That seemed interesting.

“Oh, you flatter me.” Michael chuckled. “Well, regardless, I am ultimately your guide for this excursion to Orre. We will be going on quite a trip, but I have made all the necessary preparations. You are the last to arrive due to your relative distance and… difficulty with traveling from Almia to Orre.”

“It was pretty far,” Tim said. “How long was that flight? Felt like days…”

“Never were good at math,” Ayame hummed. “Who else is with you?”

“We’re all in there. Come, come!” Michael spun on his heel and walked toward an unassuming but large, brown truck that blended with the sandy horizon.

It beeped twice and the door opened, which prompted someone in the back to shout, “Hey, hey! You’re letting all the cool air out!”

Owen peered inside.

“Oh, great, a Charizard. Get in your ball! I stayed in this truck to keep out of the heat!”

Scowling, the Charizard defiantly continued to inspect the interior.

It was spacious. The truck went back at least three rows, with enough seats to account for a full squad and then some. Michael was the driver, of course, and sitting in the passenger seat was a Vaporeon pressing her face against the air conditioning, looking very content. In the back were several other humans, and they quickly introduced themselves once Tim and Ayame found their seats in the very back.

The rude human, who wore a faded purple jacket and had sandy brown hair, was named Brandon. He radiated an aura of calm confidence and power, and it showed in his belt of six Poké Balls. A full team… Something about that sent a sad pang through Owen’s heart.

The second human was quiet and looked like he was from Kanto, or perhaps Johto, based on his attire and the familiar equipment. This, too, was something Owen didn’t want to look at for very long. This human was named Rhys, and he only had a single Poké Ball with him, which housed a Torkoal.

“That’s curious,” Ayame remarked. “You don’t look as if you’re from Hoenn. Oh, I’m sorry if that’s an assumption, but—Torkoal, was he from somewhere else?”

“Ah, well.”

Instantly, the accent made Ayame flinch.

“Galar, actually. A pleasure to meet you. This is quite a faraway place…”

“I—I’m very sorry.”

“Nice one.” Tim smirked.

“My equipment was actually donated to me thanks to her.” Rhys gestured to the next human.

She was starry-eyed, excitable, and possibly the youngest in the group. “I’m Gurere Utano! And this is my Gastrodon, Ano!”

“NooOOO!” Brandon pointed at her. “Not again! Not here!”

She pouted and put Ano’s ball back in her bag.

“Now, now, play nice!” Michael called back as he took the truck out of park. “Is everyone seated and belted?”

“Uh, yeah, seatbelt’s on,” Brandon said.

“Sorry, Owen. Might be better if you stayed in your ball for now.”

Owen nodded, but then growled at Brandon, who raised his hands mock-disarmingly.

The truck rumbled, and soon they were off and going across barren desert sands.

“No time for sightseeing, I’m afraid,” Michael said, glancing back once they were driving smoothly. “Our first and only stop prior to our destination will be Gateon Port. From there, we will be taking a special trip south, across the sea, to a nearby offshore island called Quartz Isle. That is where Mew is held.”

At the mention of Mew, everyone’s expression seemed to harden—even Hecto, who was floating next to Tim, and was jammed partway into the corner of the truck.

“What’s got all of you guys here, anyway?” Brandon asked with a leisurely shrug.

“Mew helped us try to get my team back,” Tim said. “We were fighting some kind of crime syndicate in Kanto.”

“Oh, Team Rocket,” Brandon said. “Didn’t they get taken down a year or so ago?”

“They—they what?”

“Yeah, it was all over the news. Did you not see it?”

Tim and Ayame stared at each other. Owen tried to get a better angle, but it was hard from Tim’s pocket.

“We’ve sort of… avoided news about Kanto when we could,” Tim admitted. “And Almia is pretty far away.”

“Huh. Well, yeah. They’re taken down. Maybe you should visit sometime.”

“Maybe we should.”

Owen wondered the same thing. Perhaps after they rescued Mew, they could return to Kanto for… something. He wondered if his parents were still at the lab. Probably. It hadn’t been that long, after all, and they’d probably be happy to see him big and strong and with wings… Especially his mother.

“It might still be unsafe,” Ayame hummed. “How thoroughly taken down were they?”

“No idea how thoroughly,” Brandon said. “Some mute kid in red took the big boss down or something. Overwhelmed him with sheer force of will and a crazy energy about him. Pokémon were unnaturally strong and he practically beat the big boss into reforming, somehow. Craziest story I ever heard. Dude had a Pikachu and a Charizard, dunno about the rest of his team. A Pikachu! That one’s his ace! How’s that even work?”

It did sound unbelievable. But this ‘Team Rocket’ being taken down at all was absurd… If Tim couldn’t, then nobody could.

“How about you?” Brandon asked Utano.

“Well, I’m a devout follower of Arceus, you see,” Utano said, and that curious light in Brandon’s eyes immediately went out. “And during one of my prayers, I saw a great, white light, and He told me that I had to do a few things to make the world better. Most of them were community issues, but some specific ones had to do with something awful happening on the east side of Orre. Well, I put a stop to it right away!”

Brandon quirked a brow. “You what now?”

“Utano is responsible for dismantling another budding organization’s efforts to develop a technology that could steal Pokémon from their trainers. It’s actually something that I had been in the middle of investigating myself.”

“Steal—what?” Tim repeated. “How? Grabbing their Poké Ball and—”

“Ohh, far worse than that,” Michael said. “I suppose it’s not relevant right this instant, but there are certainly some shady organizations out and about in Orre. Utano here has a special talent for seeing strange auras around certain Pokémon. She will be able to help us determine if Mew has been tampered with.”

“It runs in the family,” Utano said. “My little sister might be able to do it, too!”

“T-tampered with?” Tim squeezed at Owen’s capsule a little tighter. He was nervous. But Tim didn’t have to worry; Owen knew he couldn’t get tampered with like that.

“Yes. Likely irrelevant. Possibly not. In any case, are any of you fond of particular radio stations? Otherwise, I may just switch to national radio.”

Brandon was already breaking out his earbuds. Utano asked if there were any religious channels. In response, Brandon raised the volume of his music, to the point where Owen could hear it from his Poké Ball.

Eventually, though, Owen drifted off to a nostalgic half-sleep as the truck’s rumbling growls lulled him off.

<><><>​

Owen rolled and tumbled in his ball, the sudden motion startling him awake. He’d hit the ground and hit the far end of whatever room he’d been placed in. Tim was scrambling to him, tripping and tilting in a weird way, and as he tilted, his ball rolled more along the floor. Finally, Tim scrambled enough to pick Owen up.

“Sorry about that,” Tim breathed.

Owen wiggled.

“Ah, no, don’t get out yet,” Tim said. “You might, uh, fall over. We’re on a boat right now.”

First a plane, then a car, now a boat? How much travel did this Quartz Isle need?

Someone knocked on the door to Tim’s cabin, which was filled with only the most basic needs of a bed, a desk, and a light.

“Everything alright in there?” Ayame called through the door.

“Yeah! Uh, my bag just fell.”

“Is your bag filled with concrete?”

“I also fell.”

“That makes more sense. Well, get out already! We’re getting close to shore and we might be in for a rush.”

“A rush?” Tim pulled what he could into his bag and stood up, wobbling his way to the entrance. He slipped Owen into his bag, double-checked his Ranger equipment, and then headed down the boat hall. Owen couldn’t see any particular details other than the fact that it was a medium-sized boat meant for tens of human passengers, perhaps more.

“There is a chance that we will need to fly there,” Michael commented, eyes pressed against binoculars. “Their base of operations is near the shore, but they seem to know we’ve arrived. How interesting!”

“Uh. Interesting?” Tim asked once he got to the deck, where the wind whipped at their faces. “How do you know they see us coming?”

“The incoming Hyper Beam.”

“The wh—”

Wood exploded, metal bent, and glass shattered when the blast of energy struck the area only a few feet away and behind Michael.

Owen poured out of his Poké Ball and grabbed Tim by the shoulder. He flared his wings and bumped Tim on; muscle memory took over from there. The human latched to his back and Owen jumped from the boat, ascending tens of feet into the air in a matter of seconds. Ayame wasn’t far behind with Ire, and Brandon outright threw himself off the boat for a Gyarados waiting for him just underwater. Utano had jumped with him after a second of hesitation.

And Michael just stood there.

“Tim! He’s not moving!”

“What?”

Ire had flown ahead, leaving Michael behind, standing at the front of the dock with his binoculars. He took them off to glance up at Tim. Both the human and Charizard made the same exasperated motion with their arms. Michael waved at them in response like they were passing during their lunch break.

“By the skies, what’s with him!?” Owen muttered. “Alright! I’m going back!”

Michael was pointing toward the shore.

Another Hyper Beam exploded a hole through the ship as more of the skeleton crew scrambled to get out. Michael glanced back at one of the rescue boats; one of the men was ordering Michael to come with them. He shooed them away. Befuddled, the sailor ran with the others to get on the lifeboat.

Owen plucked Michael from under the arms and continued to fly.

“What is wrong with you?!” Owen snarled at Michael.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand you very well.”

“He said what’s wrong with you!” Tim shouted over the wind. “You could have died!”

“Well, the Hyper Beams were clearly going to miss,” Michael pointed out. “I only had to move aside a few steps.” He kicked his feet leisurely, dangling over the ocean. “You have a firm hold of me, yes?”

“He does,” Tim said. “We do rescues like this all the time. He has practice carrying humans this way, but it’s still dangerous. Not exactly used to being under fire—why are you taking this so calmly?!”

“Oh?” Michael tilted his head up. “Well, panicking makes your jobs harder, does it not?”

“Why didn’t you go with the others on the life boat?”

“Well, we’re on a mission, I believe. It seemed you were going to carry me back.” Michael idly kicked his legs again before squeezing his arm to force the binoculars over his eyes. “Ah! They are aiming at Brandon. Hopefully he is quick to avoid those. Oh, very good, very good!”

Brandon had indeed weaved through the ocean at an alarming speed, grasping onto Gyarados’ upper half with practiced ease. Utano was having less luck and was clinging to Brandon’s back with terrified screams that Owen could hear all the way from the skies.

“The closer we get, the less time we have to dodge their attacks,” Tim said. “Soon one of those Hyper Beams will hit us. How do we get out of the way?”

“Well, we should be thankful that they’re not very numerous. They must have done a rush job to stop us. Hmm.” Michael scanned with his binoculars. “I see a few faraway shooters.”

An orange beam cut across the air again, but this time it was going toward the shore.

“Oh, look, that Hyper Beam is from us!”

“Whoa…” Owen had almost forgotten how much power Ire had behind him. The Dragonite’s Hyper Beam left a huge scorch along the sand, sending plumes of debris in the air.

“Hey! Good thinking!” Tim shouted, but they were too far to properly communicate. “Owen, speed ahead. They can’t see us with all that sand.”

“I recommend shooting fire in random directions. Try to make them linger.”

“What? Why?”

“They might try sensing you via heat.”

Owen didn’t know what technology that was, but human magic always had little surprises. He followed Michaels’ instruction, sending the occasional blast of fire ahead of him, behind him, and in trails that would have been possible paths he’d take. He made them slow, hot blasts, ones that stayed for a while—no good for striking, but good to draw attention away.

The shore was visible, white sands blinding against the sun. Owen squinted, using the haze of the debris that Ire’s Hyper Beam kicked up to speed through to find an opening. It occurred to Owen that they had no idea how to regroup with the team. Hopefully Hecto would be able to coordinate that; he seemed to have a talent for appearing just where they needed him.

“Get low to the ground!” Tim shouted. “Keep going forward! Ire’s already through the smoke and—”

Another Hyper Beam shot through the smoke in a complete misfire. There was another explosion and faint shouts of voices Owen didn’t recognize.

By the time they’d gotten through the smoke and landed on pavement—an abandoned street—all Owen saw were fleeing humans and Ayame standing tall with Ire. They were at the very edge of a small town on the island, where the paved roads were halfway covered in the sandy beach. Trees dotted the medians and no place was taller than two stories. Warm but subtle colors dominated the buildings, from soft reds to bright browns, accented occasionally by darker, cooler rooftops.

“Well. That wasn’t so bad.” Ayame clapped her hands together and nodded at Tim. “Their defenses weren’t very strong at all, so it must have been a frantic prep.”

“Which means their real backup should be coming soon,” Tim warned.

“Indeed. We should hide.” Michael adjusted his shirt from all the wind and flames. “Hecto!”

A Dusknoir rose from the ground, pointing to a nearby structure that Owen recognized as a place traveling humans used to roost.

“I have reserved a room for us to stay in for a brief time,” Hecto stated. “We will be found if we stay long, but it can be a moment to breathe before relocating.”

“Right. And the others—”

“I shall gather them. Waste no time.”

<><><>
(Continued in next post)​
 
Last edited:

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
<><><>​

Owen and all the others were crammed into a single-bedroom motel room on the second floor. The carpet was a gross green-blue speckled mess and the beds looked like they had only been cleaned the legally required amount. Owen hoped there was a legally required amount, because he’d much rather sleep outside with how they smelled. In the middle of the room was a table with a map of the island spread out. Hecto pointed a massive finger at a spot just slightly inland.

“We are currently on the southeastern corner of this map, nearest to where their underground headquarters are located. It seems that they take advantage of the tourist scene to smuggle their supplies without being detected by authorities. To go deeper inland, perhaps, was a risk. But now we are exploiting it as a vulnerability. Only an hour’s travel is required if we want to be careful and slow, and I’ve arranged for a quiet route.”

“Um, arranged? How?”

“I am in possession of a few assets that will allow you passage there.”

Someone knocked on their door. Everyone stopped murmuring to one another; Owen tried to keep the hum of his flame as quiet as possible.

“It is safe,” Hecto said.

Michael was the one to answer. “Well, thank you, Hecto.” He opened the door to see a Dusknoir with an armful of takeout. “Ah! Well, thank you, Hecto.”

“Wha—” Tim stood up. “You—how—” He pointed at the Dusknoir by the table, then the other one by the entrance, who was setting everything down before disappearing into the wall. “Wait. Why did you knock if you could just pass through the door?”

“It’s polite,” that Hecto said before disappearing.

“I believe these are all of our orders.” Michael handed out each marked meal to everyone. “We shall eat, rest, and then depart first thing in the morning. Will we have enough time for that, Hecto?”

“Yes, that should be safe. I will warn you if we are found sooner.”

While unnerved, they all sat around the table and had their dinners. Brandon had a plate of rice and meats with sides of dumplings, while Utano and Michael both had heroes from the same eatery down the road. Tim and Ayame both ordered the local curry, which turned out to be well-made. Rhys had a sushi plate and seemed to be the only one paying attention to Michael’s babbling about the melting pot of culture that Quartz Isle had, and how it was a shame that it was also the heart of such shady underground activities. Owen tried to pay attention, but something about Michael’s manner of speech made him drowsy.

Another Hecto had returned shortly after with a generous portion of high-quality Pokémon food, and for that, Owen was grateful. He wasn’t used to this particular brand, but it was a decent substitute. He hoped that after the mission was over, he could try something that he’d picked on his own. Surely a melting pot would have all kinds of Pokémon food to try…

“So, uh,” Brandon said near the end of their meal, “Hecto, right? When did you learn how to talk?”

“I acquired this language several centuries ago.”

“Oh. Uh. Didn’t know Dusknoir were immortal.”

“They are not.”

“…So, you’re some demigod Dusknoir servant of Mew?”

“I serve a higher authority.”

“Riiiiight, okay.” Brandon seemed to believe it, yet simultaneously recognized that he wasn’t going to get more. “So, this Mew Star. Can she talk like you?”

“She can, but she prefers not to. She isn’t very fond of humans.”

“Eh, I don’t blame her.” Brandon shrugged. “Humans can be pretty awful. How’d she get caught, anyway?”

“Star has a habit of descending to this world and performing little miracles to help where she feels it’s necessary. And while she generally doesn’t care for humans, she does recognize that a few of them are… better. You all are proof of that. Each of you received help from her in the past, directly or indirectly. That is why she was able to reach out to you in the first place. Receiving such help left behind a trace of a link between you or your Pokémon.”

“Uh-huh. So basically, by chance, she found us, gave us a few perks, and now we gotta return the favor.” Brandon hummed. “Is that the basics?”

“Yes, though you did have a choice.”

“Yeah, yeah. I bet she reached out to a lot of people, the way you describe this being some kind of divine habit.”

“How’d she get caught?” Tim asked.

“Humans are clever,” Hecto said. “When Star descends to this world, she is not at her strongest. It was an inevitability that she would one day get into this kind of trouble, but she does not wish to let Arceus know about it. She is worried about what may happen if—”

“Okay, hang on, you can’t just gloss over that. Arceus, the Sinnoh myth?”

“Yes. He is real. In any case, she doesn’t want—”

“You can’t just drop something like that, hold on!” Brandon narrowed his eyes.

“Well, of course He is real,” Utano said, stars in her eyes. “But I believe that if we pray for help, surely Mew would—”

“He said that he’d be mad,” Tim said, looking at Hecto. “Why?”

Hecto’s red eye flickered. “Well, Arceus had warned not to associate with mortals at all.”

“I mean. He’s right. Mortals suck. I should know, I am one.” Brandon thumbed his chest.

“…Mm. I am losing confidence in this team. I will get back on topic. Mew was captured when she was reckless, and now the humans here are attempting experiments that will put her under their control. The results could be catastrophic, but frankly could be even worse if Arceus finds out. So, your mission is the same. Rescue Mew, and save perhaps this entire island or greater from divine smite.”

“Oh, sure, just throw the world on our shoulders while you’re at it.” Brandon grunted.

“He would not be so cruel.” Utano frowned.

To this, Hecto said nothing.

Rhys, silently eating his meal, placed his fork down and nodded respectfully toward Hecto. “I will trust your judgement. We have only you for guidance in saving her, and I am thoroughly convinced that you would not have gone through this trouble otherwise. I do have one last question, however. If you were so capable of arranging all of this, why were you unable to save Star yourself?”

“A fair question. It is because despite Star’s disdain for humans, she also acknowledges that the bond between humans and Pokémon is something that I alone cannot replicate. Despite my power, I am spread thin, and am not able to do much in a swift manner. I am not the same body you met in Kalos, nor am I the same one any of you met. I am in many places, monitoring this world. But that is what I am best at. Monitoring. I suppose you could call me an Overseer.” His eye flickered again.

“And hooking us up with some great food,” Brandon added, his plate now empty. “So, uh, you’re basically an average Dusknoir, but a lot of them?”

“In power, yes, with a few minor abilities.”

“Like what?”

“Perhaps they will be relevant later.”

“That’s not ominous…”

“It was not intended to be.”

Owen liked Hecto. He had a funny sense of humor.

<><><>​

Morning came, and Hecto reported little in regard to those of the underground organization. One way or another, he had hidden them from detection, or perhaps they were just lucky. But just one night, Hecto explained, had been risk enough. Before noon, they would have to get Star out of trouble, or they may lose their chance for good.

Hecto had procured a tour bus. A strange man in a sea-green uniform drove it, and he looked at them blankly with dark, dark eyes.

“Uhh… are you sure this is safe?” Tim whispered to Hecto.

“It is safe,” the Dusknoir and bus driver said in unison. When the bus driver spoke, a spectral mist poured from his mouth instead of air.

Ayame covered her mouth in shock. “Y-you… that person is…”

“I am in possession of a few assets.”

“H-he’ll be okay, right?”

“Yes. As soon as this drive is complete, he will continue on his way with only a brief lapse of memory.”

“…We’re the good guys, right?” Brandon asked as he entered the bus.

“You are freeing Mew from a terrible fate.”

“I guess.”

“If it is the will of Arceus, then it must be good, by definition,” Utano stated.

“Hrm.” Rhys took a seat first, looking unfamiliar. “Public transport. I have not used it in quite a while.”

“Well, it’s not nearly as bad as it usually is,” Brandon said, taking up three empty seats as he laid down. “The whole bus to ourselves! This is awesome!” His hand landed in an unknown stain and he quickly jerked back. “You know,” he added, wiping it on his shirt, “I went on a party bus back when I was graduating. Now that was a time.”

“You certainly peaked then, didn’t you?” Rhys asked as he sent out his Torkoal, opening a window so any smoke he may form would drift away. It wasn’t very much, thankfully, and the prospect of a smokey smell tempted Owen to come out of his capsule, too.

“Those were the days,” Brandon replied, leaning back with a smile.

“I never really went to school,” Tim said. “Was part of the starter program.”

“Well hey, you got into a successful job in the end, so it worked out.” Brandon shrugged. Tim seemed tense.

“Mm.” Hecto, as the bus driver, spoke up. You will be meeting with one other person when we get there. One person that Mew had connected with lives on this very island. Due to how nearby it was, perhaps it was out of convenience that she helped, but I suspect that she, too, has a strong heart like you all.”

“Oh? One more person?” Brandon asked. “Who?”

The bus stopped at a light. “She is an older woman with a lavender vest. She has knowledge about the security within this underground facility as one of the guards there.”

“What? How come she’s a guard? Is that, uh, is that safe?”

“Yes. There are great punishments for going against their secrecy, but generally speaking the benefit of saving Mew outweighed that. It is hard to compete with divinity.”

“No, but can we trust someone who signed up for that sort of thing?” Brandon asked, skeptical.

“Yes. She, like many in the world, was only looking for a job. She was not aware of what she was guarding until she was informed by me. The horror in her eyes was unmistakable.”

“And not because you were talking to her as a Dusknoir or some other possessed schmuck, right?”

“No, that panic passed quickly.”

“You really gotta work on your social skills.”

“Mm. Noted.”

“I think he’s quite fine, social wise!” Michael said cheerily. “A very well-adjusted Pokémon.”

“Well, when Michael’s the one vouching for you, I guess I’m the wrong one.”

<><><>​

The bus dropped them off near an unassuming parking lot of a barren strip mall. Not many cars parked here and the stores were run-down and only a few seemed to show any signs of being active at all. Was it some kind of front? Not many roads led there, either. Owen couldn’t get a good look from inside his capsule, but Tim seemed cautious.

The bus drove away and another Dusknoir emerged from the ground. “Come.”

“You know, this could still be an elaborate plot to get a bunch of people together to kill them,” Brandon mused to the others as they walked. “You think that’s what’s going on? Go around the world, multicultural killing event? You know, for diversity.”

“You’re not very funny.” Utano pouted.

“And there is Madeline,” Hecto said.

Standing by one of the abandoned stores was a woman with dark purple hair and a vest to match. There was a piercing look about her green eyes that Owen saw even from his ball.

“Hello, Madeline,” Hecto greeted.

“Is this everyone?” Madeline asked. “You said six trainers.”

Tim counted their group. Himself, Ayame, Utano, Michael, Brandon, and Rhys. That was six, which made Madeline their seventh. Seven made sense. The strongest Pokémon teams involved six Pokémon and a human. But to have seven humans, did that mean they were a super-team? Though, not all of them had six Pokémon. Tim and Ayame both only had one…

“Okay. Once I get you all inside with clearance, you’ll only have a few minutes to get in there and rescue Mew.”

“A-a few minutes? To explore a whole facility?”

“We have a map and Hecto told me which room has Mew,” Madeline explained, pulling out a strange device to display a screen to the humans, who all huddled together. Owen, in Tim’s pocket, saw nothing.

“That’s deep,” Brandon said lowly.

“The elevator works, right?” Tim asked worriedly.

“What’s our exit strategy?” Rhys asked.

“There appears to be a fire exit we can take. It’s only a few flights.”

“Yeah, a few flights with the whole facility on our tail…”

“Time is short,” Hecto said. “This is going to be reckless, but we have no choice. Are we ready?”

“No.”

“Then let’s go.” Hecto disappeared into the wall, gesturing for them to go ahead.

“…I said no, but alright,” Brandon growled, but then, perhaps for the first time, the gravity of what they were doing must have dawned on him. He glanced back at the others. “I know we went all this way, but—”

“It’s for Mew,” Tim said, nodding. “She saved all of us once, right? So…”

Brandon sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “I better get a good afterlife for this.”

<><><>​

Madeline had taken on the role of showing some new recruits around the facility, up to the point where they had been authorized to go. The walls were a sterile white and her steps often echoed against the concrete halls. Lights evenly illuminated the halls, and there was nothing organic or appealing about it at all. Owen hoped they would leave soon. Pipes lined the higher portions of the ceilings, probably carrying water and other building-essential material.

Hecto was hiding in the walls again. Owen spent his time listening carefully to what Madeline was saying as they went deeper into the facility, showing what might have been an abridged version of the same tour Madeline had once been given.

Owen had no idea what sort of strings Hecto had pulled, or what sort of planning Madeline had performed, but they made it to a lower floor without incident.

Tim clutched at Owen’s capsule, signaling to him that he should be ready to be summoned at any time. Owen wiggled in response. Yes, he was ready.

Madeline suddenly dropped the tourist act and everyone’s pace quickened. “From here on out,” Madeline said, “if we’re questioned, we just have to power through. There’s no point anymore, right?”

“Yes. Subdue them.”

“Uhh, subdue?” Tim asked. “How? I only have a Charizard, so he’s not very good at—”

“Hey, what’s going on? You aren’t supposed to be—”

An unknown voice was abruptly shut down after a soft POP noise startled Owen even as he was weightless in his capsule. Then there was a thud.

“M-Michael!” Utano gasped.

“Yes?”

“What did you do?!”

“Subdue.”

“With a—what is that?” Brandon pointed.

“Portable Thunder Wave.”

“When did you—”

“Shall we advance? I have a few more of these in case it’s needed.”

“Gah—you’re nuts. Zeke!” Brandon tossed a Poké Ball and out came a Blaziken, already prepared for stealth. “Ready to kick some faces if we need to?”

Zeke hesitantly nodded.

“Don’t worry, just enough to knock them out,” Brandon added.

“Humans?” Zeke asked uncertainly.

“Trust me, we might need to here,” Brandon said. “Only this once, alright?”

“What did he say?” Michael asked Brandon.

“He’s just apprehensive. Let’s go!”

“Should Owen come out?” Tim asked.

“That flame won’t help us stay hidden. Save it for fighting.”

Owen shifted restlessly, but the rude human was right. More loud POP sounds meant Michael was making good use of his Thunder Waves, while Brandon’s Blaziken kicked down several doors that had required passcodes. So much for being subtle. They’d asked Hecto why the security cameras didn’t alert anyone to anything. Hecto’s reply had been, simply, that he’d ‘taken care of it.’ Nobody asked him to elaborate.

“Looks like a lot of these doors aren’t element-proof,” Brandon remarked. “Which means we need to go deeper for the real high-security stuff, don’t we?”

“Yes. We need a key to get through those,” Madeline said. “We’ll have to find an administrator. They’re deeper inside, but their Pokémon are extremely powerful.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Hecto said. “There is one who had been on a lunch break with their Pokémon in another location. Security negligence. It was an easy social manipulation. I am in the process of subduing him. Continue down this hallway.”

How much had Hecto arranged for this? Owen took note not to be on his bad side.

Down the hall, in a large but empty cafeteria, someone was screaming bloody murder.

Brandon kicked the door down unnecessarily and searched for the source. “Whoa!” He cursed several times, reeling at the sight.

A man was being dragged into the ground, kicking and flailing and screaming, by great, powerful arms. The shadows expanded and the man disappeared, his screams cut off in an instant. Several seconds later, a second Dusknoir rose from the ground and tossed a card toward the first. He then handed it to Brandon, who stared at them with wide eyes. He asked Hecto about what had just happened using words Owen wasn’t allowed to use.

“I have acquired a key card to enter the deepest areas of the base. We should not wait any longer. They may put the area in lockdown soon.”

“N-hang on, did you just—where’s that guy now?”

“Nowhere to concern yourself with.”

“Is he okay?”

“Physically.”

They all stared.

“Shall we rescue Mew?” Hecto asked.

Owen was definitely glad Hecto was on their side.

They made it to more stairs that were, after a painful revelation from Zeke, element-proof. The card, immediately useful, opened the path down, where the concrete walls transitioned to more reinforced hallways that lined several more rooms all evenly spaced throughout the facility. Their steps echoed across the way and had it not been for Hecto’s guidance, they might have been lost for hours finding where the specific room had been.

Many times, they were stopped or pursued by guards. With help from Elder’s Smokescreens, Brandon’s team’s general prowess, or, indeed, the brute force of Ire’s Hyper Beam, they were able to power through after great effort.

“They really weren’t expecting us!” Tim shouted.

“We’re almost there. The hard part will be escaping,” Hecto stated. “One of us will go inside to rescue Mew. The rest must hold off every single guard. Prepare to push through for our escape. Failure will mean death for you.”

“Oh, I didn’t get that part of the memo,” Brandon grunted, stopping at the door that Hecto gestured to. “I’ll hold off the guards while I can.”

“I will, too,” Ayame added, sending Ire out again. “Tim! Go inside and get Mew. She might need to be calmed down and you’re better at that.”

“Oh! Thanks! I—”

“Gratitude later, Tim!”

Tim grasped at Owen and sent him out; finally, he could spread his wings! Owen scanned his surroundings to make sure he had the right impression. Inside, Michael had already dispatched a few scientists that had been working on a large computer. There were several guards outside that Brandon and Ayame were fending off. Utano was pointing frantically at a chamber deeper inside, behind a glass window, and then further in a large, glass cylinder in the center. A small, pink creature was writhing in pain inside as a strange energy coursed through metal.

“It’s horrible, all those black clouds,” Utano said, but Owen could see no such thing. This must have been her special power. “We need to break that glass! And be careful not to be too close for too long!”

“What is happening to her?” Michael asked, looking over the computer systems carefully. “It appears that whatever is being done to her, it seems to be at around half of its maximum capacity, climbing steadily. I do not want to adjust anything I’m not familiar with. A manual override may be necessary.”

“How do you manually override?”

“Find a weak point in the chamber and break it open. It seems to be all kinds of element-proof, so that may be easier said than done…”

Owen stomped toward the computer. “I can break it if you want.”

“Are you trying to help? No, don’t press anything,” Michael said. “Destroying the computer could do something even worse. Give me time. I’m going to try opening the chamber first, once I find the proper command in this… awful interface, really.”

Just outside the room, Ire barked in pain.

“We need to hurry,” Tim said, grabbing the card from Hecto before pressing it randomly on the glass.

“What are you doing?” Hecto said.

“There’s got to be some way through this glass, right? There’s no doorway inside so you probably need to—”

“Ah! Tim, go back a few paces!” Michael yipped.

Tim followed Michael’s instruction. After a few moments, Michael performed a few keystrokes, and the glass door slid just slightly to the side.

“Perfect!” Michael clapped. “Go inside and see if the glass inside is breakable, too!”

Owen followed Tim inside and he started to tap the same card on the inner chamber, frowning at the twitching Pokémon inside. Owen had never seen it in person before—at least, he didn’t think so. Yet, she looked so familiar to him. Her presence was familiar. That same, powerful feeling when they’d raided those evil humans’ hideout…

“Oh, hello,” Michael said. “Yes, I believe this should do it.”

He pressed something, and there was a beeping noise, then a loud alarm and flashing lights. The Mew in the chamber dipped lower and the glass unsealed itself… but then the thick, glass window behind them also sealed itself, trapping Tim and Owen inside.

“Uh—Michael?” Tim called, but Michael didn’t hear him. The glass was soundproof. Michael stood from the computer and approached the window, saying something, but Owen couldn’t hear it.

“G… gh… kkhhh…”

Michael was pointing urgently toward Mew, who was trembling in midair, curled up tight.

“Go… away…”

“Mew, it’s okay. We’re here to help,” Tim said gently. “Is something wrong? Are you hurt?”

“I want… you to… go away. H-humans… all humans…”

“I can’t understand her,” Tim whispered to Owen. “What’s she saying? She sounds distressed.”

“She doesn’t like humans,” Owen summarized.

“What? But—”

“I SAID GO AWAY!”

Owen didn’t see it directly, but it was a distortion of light tinged with a strange, horrid feeling. When it struck him and bludgeoned his chest, it also felt like it was acidic, eating away at his scales like hot sand against ice. He screamed and found himself on the wall; the pain of hitting it came seconds later. The burning on his chest took precedent.

He’d never felt that kind of power before. Was this what it meant to be a god? How strong was she?

Owen couldn’t even see straight, but he saw the pink figure drifting toward Tim, who had been slammed against the opposite wall, and that was more than enough to shoot a gout of flames as a warning shot.

The embers didn’t even touch her. She wasn’t even aware that he was there, and his flames bounced off of an invisible wall around the Mew. Despite this, it got her attention.

And for that brief instant, he saw her face. It was awful. A mixture of cruelty and anger and pain and tears. But that was all he saw before another distortion, this one tinged with darkness, rushed toward him. Unable to move quickly, he brought his wings and arms forward to block it.

The next thing he knew, he was laying on his side with more burning pain on his back. He tried to sit up and search for Tim, but a wave of nausea and dizziness stopped him. He tried to hold up his arms, but only one responded, with most of the scales peeled clean off, revealing tender skin. His back was stuck to the wall and he forced himself to his feet, wincing in pain.

He didn’t want to know what his wings looked like. Not after seeing the stain of blood on the wall he’d stood up from.

Ahead, Tim was dodging the same blows that Mew had sent his way, and Mew herself was snarling at a ring of energy that surrounded her.

“Please!” Tim shouted. “It’s—it’s going to be okay! Please calm down, Mew!”

Michael was frantically pressing several buttons on the computer to try to do something, but nothing was helping. The system had gone into some kind of secure lockdown mode; escape was impossible.

Further back, Ayame and Ire, with Brandon, were losing ground against the onslaught of guards, and no doubt the elites were there. Even if they calmed Mew, would there be a way out?

Tim encircled Mew again, more and more, but it didn’t look like he was able to calm her at all. There was something in the way, something weakening his human magic. Owen had to help. Mew seemed distracted. Maybe this time, he’d be able to get a shot in.

That attack. That strange attack that she’d done. Could he copy it?

He grasped at the lingering air… No. It was too horrible. He’d never seen something like it before, something that couldn’t be copied. But there were other essences he could try. Grasping at one, he pulled it toward himself and tried to sent it back.

A ball of darkness—he recognized this one. It felt like Hecto’s. Was he also trying to calm her from somewhere?

Owen held out his good hand, forming that Shadow Ball in his palm. Then, clenching his three claws together, he fired—contact! Mew didn’t have a shield this time!

But all it did was dissolve against the back of her head, and she turned around with fire in her eyes.

Owen’s body jolted. He didn’t even see the attack coming. Another distortion of light, ringing in his ears—he heard Tim scream.

Then, he made the mistake of looking down. He wondered if he would ever forget what that attack had done to his body… There wasn’t a hint of cream-colored scales on his front anymore. It was all crimson.

Mew drifted toward him. There was another distortion, but this time Tim tackled her from behind. Mew screamed, and then Owen acted without thinking. Nothing hurt and he knew everything should have, but Tim was in danger. That mattered more. A burning, final gout of fire shot toward Mew, and Owen didn’t let up. He stared at Tim as well as he could, glaring. Keep calming her, he ordered.

Somehow, Tim heard him. And somehow, Tim kept going. Those final few rings made Mew waver. She stared angrily at Tim, but then back at Owen, and that final hesitance allowed Tim to fully envelop her in light.

“Please,” Tim begged. “We aren’t like the others. We came here to rescue you. H-Hecto sent us!”

Mew gasped. The lights disappeared, but so did all the fire in her eyes. It was like she’d woken up.

Ayame and Brandon had to fall back and shut the door to recover. Ire was badly hurt; Brandon was clutching at his arm and one eye was closed and bleeding.

But that was all Owen could see. His vision was darkening rapidly. He glanced down at his tail. The flame was wavering.

“Owen.” Tim held his shoulder. He felt so warm. “Owen, stay with me, okay? L-let me get your Poké Ball, o-okay? I’ll—” Tim dug through his bag, but it had been torn to shreds from some of Mew’s attacks. He looked around frantically for his supplies, but the metal of the room had been so warped. Owen’s ball might have fallen through the cracks of the room. “Just—just hang on, okay?!”

Owen tried to reach for Tim with his one arm, falling onto him. He couldn’t see anymore. But he could hear him sobbing. It’s okay, he told him. He wasn’t sure why. Things were most definitely not okay, but that’s what Tim needed to hear. It’s okay. Can you hear me?

“Owen… please… st-stay awake, okay? Okay? We’ll get out of this s-soon…”

The doorway smashed open due to some Pokémon’s strikes, far stronger than anything Owen had ever dealt. The ground rumbled. Ayame shouted a command; Ire roared. Ire’s roar was cut short and Ayame screamed. And then her scream, too, was cut short.

“It’s my fault…”

That was Mew’s voice.

“Oh, God… it’s my fault…”

Brandon barked a taunt, then called for Zeke, and then flames and kicks rocked the air. Owen finally realized that meant the glass door must have opened again, or perhaps shattered.

“No… I…” Mew’s voice was shaking. “I can’t… no! Please! St… stop!”

Brandon cried Zeke’s name. A cruel human’s laughter echoed. Owen envisioned Zeke crumpled to the ground and Brandon trying to protect him with his body. He practically saw it, even though he was completely blind. That seemed like the kind of human Brandon was.

Utano screamed next. Rhys called for a Smokescreen. Madeline was wordless, but Owen heard her grunts as she tried to fight back herself. Nothing was working.

So many other shouts… Humans he didn’t recognize. Humans that he did. But then, crying above them all—

“STOOOOP!”

Metal twisted from under Owen; glass shattered and particles of it landed painfully in his flesh. The humans that Owen didn’t recognize were screaming, but they all were cut off with gurgling wheezes. Something pulled him away, and he fell a foot in height, landing roughly on hot ground. The sun was beating down on him and the humid island air filled his nostrils.

He was so tired. The sun was so comfortable. Tiny, soft paws touched his cheeks, and a voice, so clear, spoke to him.

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry… Please, are you awake? Can you hear me?

It was a struggle just to reply in his mind, because that was all he could do. …Mew… Star?

Something embraced him. Tim’s hand was still firmly on his shoulder, refusing to let go.

Warmth spread across his chest, then an uncomfortable, tingling feeling of electricity. It was an itch he couldn’t scratch that evolved into an excruciating, needle-like sensation all over his wounds. He whimpered again, and then realized that he could talk. Blurry shapes returned to his vision.

All he saw was Tim, his face screwed up in a horrible, pained cry. Owen spat a tiny ember in his face and tried to smile. With that ember was a small spatter of blood, and Owen grimaced at that.

“Owen?” Tim asked. “Owen?!”

Owen could only smile back. He glanced at his flame. It was growing.

Mew pulled away from him and drifted to another one—Ire. He had a hole straight through him. What kind of destructive power could have caused something like that?

Ayame was holding Ire in her arms, but he was unresponsive. Mew coated him in a pink light…

There were unrecognizable humans nearby. Confused, terrified Pokémon stood next to them, like they didn’t know what to do with themselves. Were they being commanded by those humans?

Owen stared at the humans for a little while longer, like he couldn’t register what had happened to them. And soon, he realized why—human bodies… didn’t twist in that way.

He averted his eyes. Couldn’t stomach that for long.

“I’m sorry,” Mew said. She was in the hand of Hecto again.

The Dusknoir had a grave look in his red eye. “Do not worry. You are safe. Those who rescued you are safe. Your assailants cannot pursue you now.”

“I… told him.”

The grave look redoubled. “What do you mean, Star?”

“I told him that… I was there… I w-was so desperate, I…”

“Who? Merely one of His avatars, or…”

But Hecto’s answer came from the sky as a deep, thunderous rumble shook the earth.

Silver bolts of lightning traced the sky at a speed far slower than any kind of electricity Owen had ever seen. A swirling vortex of gray clouds with a central circle revealing a starry void overtook all of Quartz Isle’s sky. Owen saw a white figure with a gold ring around it somewhere near the middle of that vortex… He also saw that many of those stars were getting brighter.

Madeline suddenly cursed, standing up before, just in time, Brandon’s Salamence fired a Dragon Pulse to deflect an incoming Flamethrower. That fire would have hit Madeline directly…

Countless guards were pouring from the secret entrance.

Mew was making strange gestures as a white light formed around her paws, but then fizzled out. Was she trying to Teleport? What was blocking her? Owen saw traces of ethereal chains around the Mew’s shoulders; following them with his eyes, they seemed to go toward an Alakazam. He was sealing Teleport, but that same Alakazam was making Utano tremble. Owen figured she was seeing another dark aura.

Owen tried to stand, but he was too weak. The guards were closing in.

“I see,” Hecto said solemnly, amid all the tension and rising panic. He folded his fingers over themselves. “Tim. I would like to personally thank you for freeing Star of that dark power—”

“Y-you can thank me when we escape!” Tim was searching for Owen’s Poké Ball again.

“…And I am sorry,” Hecto finished.

And that was all.

The sky was bright. That once-black void with only pinpricks of stars had become a blinding field of countless suns. Trails of light rained down on Quartz Isle, all the way up to its shores. The ground shook; an ethereal hum muted all other sounds. Hecto’s red eye was dim in acceptance; nobody else understood what was happening.

One of the beams of light was upon them. Owen remembered a great heat and Tim holding his body in a final embrace, and then nothing.

<><><>​

It isn’t right. None of it is right… I’m going to fix it. It’s the only way I can make this right. I hope… I hope you can forgive me. I’m sorry for causing all this.

Pain.

Sharp, seething pain jolted its way up and down Owen’s body, accompanied by an intense, dull pressure that squeezed against every muscle. Movement hurt. Stillness hurt. Breathing hurt. Thinking hurt. He tried as hard as he could to roll, but it wasn’t working. Everything was still a hazy ball of pain that he didn’t even know the terrain he was on. He couldn’t focus on what he was seeing or smelling.

He blindly reached forward, realizing that his eyes were closed. It was nighttime, but the dim glow of his flame was bright, and he tried to curl it forward fort an easier look. Yes, no injuries, so that was a good start. His flame was bright. Then why did everything hurt so much?

Someone was groaning next to him. He didn’t have the strength to move. So instead, he gave in, just for a short rest. Perhaps that was all he needed to feel better…

His dreams were nothing but flashes of images and emotions and sound, but no comprehensive sequence of events. He saw a pink creature and felt an emotion of relief and urgency, but he couldn’t remember why. There was also a sense of dread and maybe a little pain. Shouting. He saw a bright sky when there shouldn’t have been one, and then—darkness. Screaming, only to be cut off. He heard an apology afterward. And then, and then, and then… No. He couldn’t remember.

While he hadn’t been entirely sure it would happen, Owen woke up, and the pain had almost completely vanished. All that remained was a phantom, dull, bruise-like feeling all over his body that didn’t get better or worse no matter what he did. Perhaps that, too, would eventually fade. He sat up and grunted lightly to himself.

Surrounding him was tall grass and a far, flat field. Dotting the field were ruined buildings that had been covered in dirt and sand. It was like a bomb had gone off and then nature reclaimed the land…

He was on the top of one of the few hills in the entire landscape—at least, as far as his blurry morning vision could see—with only a tree to keep them sheltered. It hadn’t rained, and he didn’t feel uncomfortable aside from that phantom full-body pain, so it was probably a drier environment. But it wasn’t too dry, because his flame hadn’t left scorches on the lush grass.

For a while, Owen ran his claws along the ground in fascination, distracted, thoughtless. But then something came back to him.

Tim!

Where was—

How did they get here?

What… happened before?

“Ughh…”

Owen jumped, startled. Someone was there?

Amid the tall grass, there was a pink figure curled up, small and delicate. “Um… hello?”

“Hello?” the creature groaned. He was barely bigger than Owen’s hands. “Who’s there?”

“Just me.”

After more groaning and rolling, he finally sat up and brushed the grass off of his head. He blinked several times at Owen as his view presumably cleared up.

“…GAH!” He yelped and fell backward. “Yeowch, okay, hang on. Sorry, startled me. You are… a lot bigger than me.”

“Uh, sorry.” Owen rubbed the back of his head. “Hey, you’re… familiar.”

The pink creature hummed. “I am?” He played with his ears, fascinated by them for some reason. “I don’t feel familiar at all… That’s strange, isn’t it?”

Owen had no idea what he was talking about.

“But you definitely are familiar. Your name… I remember your name. Owen, right?”

“Y-yes.” Owen stared, and the next words came without him thinking. “And you’re… Tim.”

“That’s right!” Tim gasped. “I—” Suddenly, he stopped talking, and Owen felt a massive pressure smash into his forehead.

Tim must have felt the same, clutching at it, groaning, falling onto his back.

Then, he gasped and sprang onto his feet. “Owen!” Recognition flashed in his eyes. “What in the world was that? I’d completely forgotten about you!”

“Me, too!” Owen tried to stand, but it was hard at first. Too long on the ground. “I feel kinda bad about it… I feel like I shouldn’t just forget you like that.”

“Do you remember anything?” Tim asked, floating a little higher, wobbly. “Ugh, I feel like I can’t… move this body right at all. Something’s off. What am I again?”

“What are you? How hard did the brain block hit you?” Owen remarked, but then frowned deeply. That was true. Something happened to make them forget…

But he did remember one thing. “You’re a Mew,” he said to Tim.

“Mew… Mew… That sounds familiar.” He nodded. “Okay. I’m a Mew. And you’re a Charizard.”

“Right.” At least that one Owen also knew.

“And right now, we’re…” Tim floated a little higher until he was at Owen’s height. “…I have no idea where we are.”

“Maybe we should fly around and see?” Owen asked. “Here, hop on.” He crouched down so Tim could hop on.

The Mew tried to climb, but quickly got frustrated and fell off, but then realized how slowly he’d fallen. “Wait a minute…” He kicked the ground and held his position. “…Hey! I can fly!”

“Y-you can?” Owen blinked. “That’s… odd.”

“Yeah… I don’t remember flying before. But I think I naturally can? Ugh, my head… Whatever. Let’s look for the others, alright? I know there were others with us.”

Owen grunted in approval and helped Tim on anyway. The Charizard and the Mew ascended to the skies of a strangely familiar, yet unfamiliar horizon, with nothing but ruined buildings and fields of grass in sight. Owen vaguely recalled this world to be called Quartz.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 112 – From a Flower

One last Hydro Pump for good measure, and Zena was certain that she’d warded Dark Matter away. With an angry huff and a defiant glare, she slithered only a little away from the tree that Owen had become to make sure the false Goodra was truly leaving town.

Zena searched the roots for any flowers that happened to be staring at her. Unfortunately, there were none, and instead she checked to make sure that everyone else was okay. Eon had been reduced to a puddle of pink slime, but his bubbling suggested he was alive.

She tried to help him up. “…And you’re okay?”

“Never better,” Eon groaned. At least, she thought it was a groan. She wasn’t even sure where his head was supposed to be. “Where did… Dark Matter go?”

“Away. I fought him off.”

“How?” Eon drew out the question, as if both exhausted and truly befuddled.

“I’m… not sure, but I think the tree that Owen became is giving off an… energy that weakens him. But not enough that we could actually beat him. Only fend him off.”

“That’s good, at least.” Eon bubbled some more. “I’m going to sleep.”

“Right there?” Zena asked, but she never received a reply. Frowning, the Milotic turned her attention back to the tree, which was unresponsive. She still had a weak sense of his presence. He was there, safe.

She closed her eyes, finally feeling relaxed enough to doze off herself. Or, perhaps, she’d been so tired fending Dark Matter off that there was little else she could do. A few others came by soon to check on things—first, Gahi, who said that Mhynt was no longer someone that they had to worry about. That was a relief. Had he defeated her? Maybe he was stronger than she’d given him credit.

“So, eh, you gonna stay here?” Gahi asked.

“Mm, I think I am. Someone needs to guard Owen, just in case.”

“Right, yeah… He ain’t answerin’, but I feel’m in there. Maybe he’s sleepin’.”

“That’s what I think. And what of Palkia? Or the other Legends?”

“He’s with Dialga. Keeping hidden.”

“Good. We actually have some calm for once.” Zena sighed. “Still, I’m nervous. Are you sure Mhynt is taken care of?”

“Pinned to the tree by her own blade.” Gahi brought his fists to his side proudly. “The Unown that took care o’ my body did it to ‘er. She’s done fer a while. Told me ‘mselves.”

“What’s ‘a while’ here?” Zena probed.

“Ehh…” Gahi rubbed his nose, turning around so nobody could see his face. “Couple o’ days.”

Zena glared. “What is a day here, Gahi?”

“A few sleeps, I dunno! Hey, wait!” Gahi whirled around and pointed skyward. “We c’n tell now! Bah! What’s a day, we got days now!”

“It looks like night to me.” Zena squinted at the shimmering leaves. They were bright on their own, but past them, the sea of stars was surrounded not by a black void, but a deep, deep blue. “Oh… oh, goodness, you’re right…”

“Heh. Told ya.” Gahi grinned again, flicking his tail a few times.

“The sky… it’s really becoming the sky.”

Apparently, word had spread. Pokémon were gathering around the tree’s perimeter, climbing rooftops, perching on the branches… Zena and Gahi made a point to ward off anybody who tried getting too close to the trunk itself, but nothing stopped them from staring skyward.

Some Pokémon were crying. Some seemed fearful, despite its distant, faraway familiarity. There were a few who wailed openly, like they’d simply remembered something they’d missed for so long. It was bizarre to see… but, Zena thought, she’d only been there for a moon at most. Would she have been the same, being trapped in the Voidlands for centuries… or longer?

Suddenly, another Pokémon cried out, pointing at the very edge of the swirling vortex of clouds. At first, Zena wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but everyone’s eyes were suddenly on that edge.

It occurred to Zena that they were staring at a golden glow that dissolved some of the gray clouds. Yes, that had to be… sunlight. Sunlight, of course!

Second after agonizing second, that golden glow became larger, and it was like the whole village had stopped. The streets were a sea of Pokémon, neighbors sitting on their rooftops side by side. In particular, several good Pokémon were helping the Grass and other plant-like Pokémon to the rooftops, where they felt the warmth of the sun for the first time in generations.

Now, Zena thought, perhaps she understood a small amount of what it all meant to them. That warmth… She never realized how much she’d missed it. All that time in caves, alone or in Hot Spot, she should have spent more time appreciating it.

“Oi!” Gahi shouted, waving someone down. Not long after, Demitri and Mispy arrived, along with Jerry and Enet, the latter riding on Mispy’s back. “Was wonderin’ where yeh went.”

“Got lost in the crowd,” Demitri said. “How’s Owen?”

Enet hopped off Demitri’s back and sniffed at the roots, looking concerned.

“He’s been quiet, but I don’t think he’s stressed,” Zena said. “Maybe he’s sleeping?”

“Aura seems calm enough fer that…” Gahi’s left antenna flicked.

Quietly, they accompanied Owen—whether he was conscious or not—as Null Village experienced daybreak for perhaps the first time.

<><><>​

Something about Kilo Village had become strange in the past few days. Usually, the Pokémon that lived there were some of the best of the best in their field, so there were going to be a few eccentrics among them. Typically, the civilians that lived there evened it out. But recently, he’d been seeing stranger and stranger things.

Next to Angelo was an Aggron, perfectly alive, perfectly aware, yet made completely of ice. He could see right through her, little clouds of something flowing within her body like sand on the shoreline. They were apparently spirits. How terrifying… They just allowed this? A soul-catcher living among them like some friendly demon? And yet now, she was a known and normal resident.

“Smeargle.”

Angelo yipped and straightened his back. Oh, gods, she noticed. “Y-yes, ma’am!”

“Is something bothering you?”

“No! I was just… um… passing the time.”

“You are the one Rhys spoke of. I am Step.”

Gods, her stare was intense. Maybe it was because they had no color. Or that she didn’t blink. Outside, in the middle of a walkway, with the sun glimmering on her brilliant body… It would be good inspiration for Druddigon Cube, at least.

“Um, I might be? I’m Angelo. I’m an artist. I—I know, not a very surprising profession, er, um…”

The Aggron’s unblinking, icy gaze didn’t let up.

Angelo tried to look smaller and smaller until someone poked him in the thigh. “Ah! O-oh, it’s you.”

Gyeugh.” The strange wraith-like companion had an apple balanced on its… head, he assumed. Three of its eyes stared at him expectantly.

“Thank you.” After his first bite, he gave a nervous smile to the icy Aggron. “Um, and who are you? I’ve seen you take up the front lines with those… other Pokémon. That Porygon-Z, the Joltik with fairy wings, and that metal Machoke.”

“Mm. Guardians.” She looked down, finally closing her eyes. Angelo didn’t like that he could still see them through the translucent lids.

Nate’s wraith, whom Angelo had decided to call Shady, worriedly slid closer to him.

“I actually was sent to get you,” Step said. “We can use your help.”

“Oh. You don’t say.” Angelo’s shoulders sagged. “What for this time?”

Aggron regarded Angelo with a judgmental stare. “You do not have strength, but you have utility. We are making preparations for the assault on Hot Spot.”

“I—I’m not interested in fighting at the front, or getting involved in any of that,” Angelo replied immediately. “Sorry. I’m just an artist.”

“You will not be at the front. But you will come with me. Understood?”

It wasn’t ever his choice, was it?

“Y-yes, ma’am…”

Step showed him the way into parts of the Hearts HQ that he had once hoped to never see. The very back of Kilo Village, the administrative halls, the place with all the records and archives and offices… Trails of red paint were faded on the ground, and soft lavender walls against the tanned stone made for a soft, lighthearted atmosphere.

It only sickened him further. It reminded him of Anam, how horribly intimidating he was, how Angelo never learned what happened to his grandfather, how his father had worked himself to death for him…

And now he was walking the same halls. Funny, that.

The atmosphere was different without Anam, though. The goo-covered books had been cleaned up to a more usable state, yet Angelo noticed to his horror that all the shavings had been piled up and kept in the corner of the office space, next to the stagnant pond in the back of the room. Some of the water had evaporated, leaving a few inches of darkened soil where it had once been filled. Or perhaps that was just the room left for when Anam sank his body into it. Disgusting…

“Angelo,” Rhys greeted, sitting behind the desk that was thankfully cleaner. “Thank you for coming all this way. We are currently strategizing our teams and arrangements for the Hot Spot assault.”

“Er, um, I’m not entirely aware of that. Any of it. I, that is, I’m just an artist. I don’t really do combat.”

Rhys’ brow furrowed. “You trained under Elite Heart Angelo, your father, did you not?”

“I did, y-yes. I know his techniques, yes. But I don’t have his skill.”

Silence followed where Rhys only stared, and Angelo wondered if he was reading his aura, or his mind, or whatever this apparently-immortal Lucario was capable of.

“Sir,” Angelo added to try to break the silence, but it only piled on thicker.

“I see.” Rhys nodded. “Well… If that is the case, perhaps some training is in order to gauge how strong you are. You will not need to be in the front lines, no. But, perhaps as support, you will be very useful with the plethora of techniques you have. Angelo, you understand the talent there is behind being able to call upon so many different techniques at will, yes? Typically, Pokémon can only rapidly channel energy for a few attacks.”

“I—I know. I know, my aura has that property about it, but…”

“It’s known as Mew’s Blessing. And it’s particularly strong in you.”

“I know, I… Yes. Yes, I understand.” Angelo deflated. “I understand.”

The icy Aggron was glaring at him, but Rhys’ eyes softened. “What is holding you back from helping?” the Elite Lucario asked. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

His immediate thought was how he could possibly and rightfully refuse this offer. How could he say, to an Elite Heart requesting help, that he simply did not want to? That he had tried to escape this sort of life by dedicating himself to the arts, to things that didn’t involve violence and bodily risk? That he didn’t want to work for the same organization that kept hidden so many little secrets?

And the secrets they held! Immortal demigods, seals of darkness, what was next? For all he knew, the wraith that followed him around—they called him Nate, or his ‘spirits,’ like he somehow had a name—was another secret they were keeping hidden.

But… it was also Rhys. He’d spent his life—several lives’ worth of years, then—keeping Kilo safe from mutants and whatever other shadow threats there were. And this was the greatest threat yet. No matter how scared he was… wasn’t he obligated to do this?

Why, then, did every cell in his body scream at him to back down?

“I… I suppose I am just…”

Scared. Lazy. Conflicted. Resentful. Tired.

“Unsure of… my specific purpose, if I will not be at the front. Which—which I’m not strong for, again, I want to emphasize…”

“Yes. I understand.” Rhys nodded, though his gaze had changed slightly. “You won’t need to battle head-on against Dark Matter. Support will do just fine. And to see what you can do, perhaps some training?”

Same question and it was even harder to refuse. Had he even refused the first time? He’d been so feeble. Always being pushed this way and that. That wraith was pressing against his leg again and he glanced down.

“Gygh.”

The wraith was right. Why was he listening to them so much? Was he going to be at his best? Maybe he should say no. Ask for better terms. They didn’t… have authority to compel him to this, did he? Would he have to run away as some kind of fugitive if that were the case? No, no, he couldn’t have that. That would take him even further from his art.

“Yes. Just to find out what I can do. I’m… not familiar with the battlefield anymore. I didn’t really intend to ever become familiar again. Not ever since my father… died.” Worked to death by the Hearts. Worked until he’d been estranged from his mate. Worked until that was all he knew. All because of his power. And then one day he died in the line of duty.

“Ah, I’m sorry,” Rhys said gently, nodding, but he was still formal. He probably didn’t care. He just wanted an affirmative.

He hated it here. Anything to get out sooner. “When can I expect to go for training?” Angelo asked.

“Tomorrow,” Rhys said. “Why don’t we meet just before the sun’s apex?”

“Okay.” He straightened his posture. “Is that, erm, is that all?”

“Well, one more thing,” Rhys said. “Really, if you do need rest, it’s quite alright, Angelo. We understand that you are not one for battle.”

Why did that hurt so much? “No, no, it’s fine,” Angelo said quickly. “I—apex, sun. Tomorrow.” Hastily, he turned to leave. Rhys said something, sounded like a goodbye, but Angelo didn’t hear the details when he shut the door behind him and fast-walked toward home. His wraith barely kept up.

Angelo made it all the way to the central crossroads in silence before the wraith bumped into him again. “Ah!” He spun around, frowning. “What is it this time?” he asked, apologetic instantly afterward when he realized he’d been rude.

“Ggrss…”

“I’m fine, really,” Angelo said. “I’ve just been a little overwhelmed. I’m not a Heart, after all. In fact, I’d avoided it. I just want to draw the next chapter of Druddigon Cube and then maybe do a quick commission or two that’s on my backlog…”

“Hhrh?”

“What? Well, I suppose they’re two different kinds of art. One is a long-term project, but I do still like diversifying…”

“Rrrw.”

“No, it’s hardly overworking. I… Overworking is becoming a Heart. No matter how much art I do, I’ll never work that much.”

“Mmg.” The wraith bobbed and slid purposefully east.

“Er—wait! Where to?!” Angelo chased after him anyway. He ran past a few people—Spice and Leo were recognized faces. Spice was showing off her black Protect to the others, who seemed puzzled and fascinated by it. Further down the road, that Fairy Joltik was chasing down a tiny, terrified Manectric and Crobat with a frantic Porygon-Z just behind her. Perhaps trying to stop her.

But eventually, Shady led Angelo to the very edge of town, where there was a noticeable incline as the crater of Kilo Mountain transitioned into the wall that surrounded the whole settlement. Not as many Pokémon traveled here anymore. Mostly because of… that.

Looming over the crater was a five-headed leviathan. Each head was triangular and faceless, each one connecting to what almost resembled a blackened palm. This shadowy thing was supposedly the source of all the wraiths, and, while friendly, was still so massive that it curled around part of Kilo Mountain. Practically floated there.

And he had the most mundane name—Nate.

“Oh. You want me to… see your, er… leader?”

The five heads and many, many eyes that dotted its body seemed to be staring at him and only him. He was the only normal Pokémon in the area. Did this thing count as a Pokémon at all?

“Er… hello.”

Hello.

The voice rattled in his mind. He shuddered, trying to block it out. So loud, yet his ears did not hear the voice. It was sent directly to his mind. He heard countless voices accompanying the main one, all little whispers and murmurs. Many of them were in-step with the main voice, but several were saying accompanying, little thoughts. Different ways of saying hello. Some even sounded like feral growls.

“Did you… need me for something? Your friend here has been, uh, keeping me company during these… trying times… and…”

He didn’t even know which head to look at, or which set of eyes. This was all so bizarre.

I was worried about you.

“Oh. Um.” He wasn’t expecting such a fatherly tone there. Or motherly? He couldn’t tell. “Thanks, but… I’ll be fine.”

Are you sure?

“Yes! I am. I’m being a hero. Just like the comics I write. A-aha…”

One of the five heads seemed to be frowning at him, but that couldn’t be. It didn’t even have lips. Its face was a prism.

“Okay, fine, maybe I’m a little nervous, but—but can you blame me? The Hearts… I never wanted to be part of the Hearts. And look at me now!”

A few of the many eyes blinked sympathetically, while the leftmost head nodded slowly. It’s too bad that happened to you, he said. Why are you so nervous about the Hearts? They seem like good Pokémon.

“They are, of course they are, but it isn’t my line of work. My father and my grandfather both died while working with the Hearts, and I’m just not interested in that kind of job mortality.”

You come from a line of Smeargle?

Angelo nodded. “Bit of a family tradition to keep the species,” he said shamefully. “All to preserve Mew’s Blessing.”

The leviathan was silent, attentive. It was a little intimidating, actually. Why were they—it—he?—all staring…

“Ah, I’m sorry. Mew’s Blessing is what my father called it. Pokémon normally can only quickly conjure a few techniques at once, and anything else takes some time to channel. And while Pokémon can change which ones they can quickly do… well, I simply don’t have that limitation. But I, well, I never practiced it. Not like my father, or his father.”

You’re that Smeargle Angelo…

“Er, no, I, well… My father is the famous one. And my grandfather before him, except he… er… well, one day word about him just stopped. He died in the line of duty. The manner of his death was… a mystery. N-now, I’m not one for conspiracies, so I do not think the Hearts killed them—”

They didn’t.

“Yes, that’s what I thought,” Angelo said. “It must have simply been part of a top secret mission, or—I’m sorry, you said that with such certainty. Do you know what happened?”

Nate stared.

“If it’s… classified, I understand…” He didn’t understand how something like Nate could be privy to classified information, but he at least understood the concept of secrets.

You should stay away from this Dark Matter fight, Nate said. Otherwise, you’ll follow where your grandfather went.

“I, er, I’m sorry, I’m not very religious. Where exactly has he gone?”

…Didn’t Arceus visit recently?

“Right. I used to not be very religious.” Angelo sighed. “But where did my grandfather… go?”

He went to Void Basin.

“Void… Basin. That’s where Spice’s team will be investigating soon.” Angelo grabbed his tail, toying with the brush-end nervously. “It’s supposedly restricted only for Hearts to enter and was dubbed inhospitable, so only outlaws would go there. But from afar, there doesn’t seem to be anyone there.”

There usually isn’t. It’s cursed. If you go too close, or stay for too long, a dark aura corrupts you. You become a… beast. And then you become something even less.

“M-my grandfather went there? Did he…?”

I’m sorry.

Everything else seemed to go dark. He heard his own breathing. His ears rang. Numbness spread through his mind, but not his body, or at least, he didn’t think it was. He wasn’t sure when, but Angelo eventually realized that he had been sitting down, collapsed, like his legs had stopped obeying his will to stand. Or did he want to stand?

Could Nate be lying?

It was such a feeble, defiant thought, that Nate was lying. But why would he lie?

Dumbly, Angelo accepted it as the truth. There was no reason for Nate to lie about this. All the conspiracies, how many were actually true?

“What a world…” Angelo’s voice was a whisper. Nate surely didn’t hear it. He couldn’t even find it in him to cry. It was all cold. He could have been there all afternoon.

Nate didn’t say anything. His many eyes stared, most of them looking somber. This leviathan was one of the few people who was so openly honest and caring. Why wouldn’t the Hearts tell him this? It would at least give him closure. But then again… if his grandfather had become a beast, what did that mean? Was he still wandering the world as one? Or ‘something less?’

Finally, Angelo scrounged up the energy to speak, this time loud enough for Nate to hear. “My father. He, he died the same way. I-is he a beast, too?”

No. Your father is fine.

His heart skipped a beat. A flickering ember of energy returned to his eyes. “He’s alive?”

Oh. No. He’s dead. I’m sorry.

“Oh.” Fire extinguished. “Dead, right. So that’s still true.”

I killed him. I’m sorry.

“Ha.”

He couldn’t stop it. The single, empty, dry, dead laugh, one that could have carried all the way across whatever aether his father had passed through. Had he heard that right? A thousand images flashes in his mind as he envisioned what that could mean. Vaporized by one of the leviathan’s blasts? Crushed by any single part of its body? Or just eaten outright?

“So you did. Ha ha… you… murdered my father… then? Ha ha…” He was dreaming, certainly. All of this was one great, surreal nightmare. His father, killed by the town’s evil-eyed savior.

Overwhelmed tears begged for release but Angelo refused. He didn’t know why. Shame, perhaps. What little shame he had left.

I had to. Nate seemed to fidget. He was going to the basin because he thought he saw his father. He would have become another victim. I tried to stop him, but he was already half-gone. I had to take him away.

He tried to keep a level head. This monster killed his father, because he’d investigated the Basin. But his death was classified in the same way, only it hurt more because Angelo was closer to him. Maybe the Hearts were keeping an eye on him because he might die the same way. If Nate killed his father, then he could easily kill him the same way.

Following the wraith was a mistake.

“I—I need to go,” Angelo said. Finally his legs obeyed, and he stood.

Okay. I’m sorry, again.

“Is he—you said he was fine. What does that mean? How can you be fine if you’re dead?”

The Void Basin is worse.

“What does that mean?” Angelo blew at the flames of his will, making some little spark to keep talking. He wanted to yell, but it only came across as a trembling whimper. “How do you become… less than a beast? What… is that?”

Three of the five heads seemed to clench their jaws, or what might have been jaws. The many eyes of the thing were avoiding his. Angelo tried to get an answer from the wraith, but of course it said nothing, and in fact seemed to be sliding away.

Maybe this was why the Hearts never told him. The truth was worse. Now he knew that his father was killed by this… thing, and—his grandfather was worse than dead. “I—I need to go.”

I’m sorry…

“Enough, just… enough.” Angelo couldn’t believe he was walking away. Even harder to believe was that Nate let him. Maybe he was good. But this was too much. He didn’t want to talk. He just wanted to sleep. Maybe when he woke up, it would make more sense. Maybe at least some of this would make sense…

What was wrong with just staying home to forget the world?

<><><>​

Warm, cozy, soft darkness surrounded Owen from all sides. He couldn’t breathe, but he felt that he didn’t need to. Everything had a lingering, sweet taste. He couldn’t see, but for some reason that did not set off his instincts. Everything else felt too safe. Against his back was some kind of membrane, and all around him felt cramped, forcing him to curl up tight. But he didn’t really mind. Everything was peaceful and hazy.

Slowly, memories returned to him. Null Village. The attack on Hot Spot. And, further back, his time as a Guardian, and before, a Heart. A mutant. And then… there was a strange blackness that he knew was an absence, but he could not yet fill it. A long, long darkness followed, before his memories of Orre, then Almia, then Kanto, the lab, his parents…

It was just one gap. His once spotty, confusing memory only had one true gap remaining. And while it was the largest void yet, it was also singular, and parts of it were already filling in. His time with Legends. His time during Kilo’s beginning.

Quartz Island became Kilo after a great calamity had destroyed it.

Kanto still existed. His home still existed. He did not know why, but that feeling was so strong within him. He knew it to be true.

Was that what Eon had been fighting for all this time? To return home?

Was it still the same Kanto…? How much time had passed? How much was kept hidden away by a Divine Decree?

So cozy… Owen felt himself drifting off again. He let it happen. After everything he’d gone through, he didn’t mind it. He felt he wouldn’t mind if that was all he did for the rest of his life. A good rest in cozy darkness as all his thoughts drifted away.

Though… he did worry about the others. They were probably waiting for him. A lot of people were.

No, he couldn’t rest. Not forever. Owen had a sinking feeling that the world wouldn’t carry on without him, and that burden… He didn’t think anybody should ever be put in that situation. Yet there he was.

More time passed. He wasn’t sure how long it had been. Minutes? Hours? Days? His legs twitched.

Legs. Right, he used to have legs. After all this time, it occurred to him that his limbs had returned. He tried to open his eyes, but nothing greeted his vision. So, he closed them again and drifted…

<><><>​

Most of his vision was green and he was weightless. He drifted forward and pressed his tiny, tiny paw against a smooth surface. On the opposite side he saw a star-shaped figure staring back at him. It had a huge head compared to the rest of its small body, with three points going left, right, and up.

“Hey, Owen. Do you remember me?”

Owen stared dumbly. That name sounded familiar. He didn’t understand the words, though. Or, he did, but it was fleeting. He liked this person, though, whoever he was. So he smiled a little, and the floating star on the other side beamed.

“I’m so glad… I thought I’d lost you. Don’t worry. You’ll be out of there soon, and we can talk all about it.”

His voice was really muffled. Owen smiled again and pressed his forehead against the glass, but a weak force pulled him away. The star-shaped creature laughed.

A deeper voice called from the opposite side. “Jirachi. How is he?”

“He remembers me, Xerneas!”

“…He does? That’s a surprise. The way I brought him back… his brain shouldn’t hold any memories at all. I told you this.”

“Turns out you’re wrong, and we don’t need any Psychics to fix it at all!”

“Well, good, because I didn’t get any.” Xerneas snorted. “We’re trying to keep this covert. I’m telling you, this is a big risk…”

“Don’t go calling Yveltal now,” Jirachi growled.

“Please. She would never, even if I told her what happened. You know how she is.”

The rest of their conversation faded away…


<><><>​

Another sleep, another memory, and another round of floating in nothing. Except this time was different. That felt like a new memory from the last gap. And Owen knew what he was floating in this time. That was Eon’s Reincarnation Machine… An early version. One that couldn’t preserve memories? Right, because it made an entirely new body and that was all. Only by tapping into the spirit could old memories of old lives be reawakened. That was what was happening to him, now, wasn’t it?

Why was it made? Owen couldn’t remember.

It wasn’t total darkness anymore. And it felt warmer, too. Like sunlight, but that couldn’t be why. It felt like it was above him, though, and he heard dull chatter of other Pokémon. He tried to listen in…

“I’m gonna touch it.”

“No, don’t touch it! What if it’s important?!”

“I’m gonna do it!”

“Hey!” This third voice was coming from far below. It sounded like Zena. “What are you doing?”

“Gah! See? Let’s get outta here!”

Two pairs of wings flapped and faded away. About a minute later, just as Owen was getting more comfortable, a much larger set of wings landed on something next to him, and Owen’s whole world shook.

“Huh.”

Jerry?

“It’s a fruit!” Jerry called to someone.

“A fruit? On the tree?” Zena called back.

What were they talking about? After so much quiet, Owen was intensely curious. He tried to move.

“Guh! It’s moving!”

“Moving? How do you mean?”

“I mean it’s—”

Everything shook, and suddenly Owen wanted to scream, but couldn’t. He was falling from somewhere high up. Lights flickered around him through an opaque wall, and then a dark shadow loomed over him. An intense, sharp pressure wrapped around him and his fall slowed. Jerry, muttering a few more curses, continued the descent until Owen felt he was on solid ground again.

“What an odd fruit. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

By now, Owen knew what had happened, and he wondered if he could undo it to avoid the humiliation. No, it was probably too late.

“I sense Owen’s aura inside,” Zena said hopefully. “Owen? Are you… in there?”

Now, he had two choices. He could either pretend to be dead and avoid this. Or he could be honest and try to move.

“Owen?”

Why me? Reluctantly, he wiggled and pressed against the outside of the fruit that had become some kind of egg.

“Owen, wiggle twice if you hear us.”

It was muffled, so he wondered if he should wiggle once and a half, but he complied.

“Let’s get him to the others,” Zena said, and then Owen felt the pressure of her ribbons around him.

Complicated feelings filled his head. He liked that. But he also didn’t.

<><><>​

Demitri and Mispy sat in the same room as Dialga and Palkia, in one of the large evaluation buildings, mostly out of standard procedure than anything at this point. Dialga was reading a book; Palkia was studying the mechanisms of the refrigerator. There wasn’t a lot for them to do while everyone gathered their bearings and figured out how to restore Owen, and they’d decided to take a break hanging out with some Legends that Owen apparently once knew.

“Dialga,” Palkia said, “who do you suppose is more flexible between the two of us?”

Zena knocked on their door. “We found Owen!”

“Owen?!” Mispy jolted upright. Demitri stood on his feet.

“…Let’s revisit that topic later,” Dialga said. “Come in!”

The door opened; Zena entered first, followed by Jerry and another Milotic. Dialga assumed it was Eon. That was odd. Usually, he was a Charmander. Perhaps whatever Zena did was so striking that he’d taken on her form next.

Demitri ran over; Mispy followed behind. She was at a loss for words. Owen became a tree, so did they find a way to turn him back to normal?

But then Zena held what looked like some kind of black-and-white lump. It reminded her of those really expensive berries that were apparently hard to find, let alone grow. Enigma Berries? They were too spicy for her, but she imagined Owen would like them.

But then it moved, like the outer skin was soft, and something was stirring inside. Mispy gasped and focused her aura sense.

Clear as day, it was Owen, curled up, tiny, but alive. He seemed to be listening to them. Something about his aura was different, though. Weaker, but stable, and a tinge of… There was a color to it that she couldn’t place. Golden?

The others were conversing and debating what to do. “He’s alive,” Mispy said, pointing a vine. “Let him out.”

“H-he is? Are you sure?” Zena asked. “I’m… a bit worried it’s an egg.”

Mispy hummed. That was true, but the aura inside was already solid and ready. Eggs usually needed time before they were ready to hatch, but this was the aura of someone either about to hatch or already hatched.

“It’s fine,” Mispy confirmed.

“Well, Owen? Did you hear that? Try to, er, break out on your own…”

The aura inside was hesitating, but it didn’t seem distressed. In fact, it seemed cozy. It was a lazy feeling. Mispy, frowning in disapproval, balled up one of her vines and readied to thrash the thing. That’d wake him up. But before she could, Zena gave her an icy glare. “If he doesn’t want to come out, he doesn’t have to.”

“He’s being lazy.”

The aura spiked, like it’d been caught trying to steal from storage at night.

“Lazy, what do you mean, lazy?” Zena frowned, then looked at the black-white fruit. “Owen wouldn’t stay in there if he knew we needed him.”

But before Mispy could press the issue, Owen shifted around in the fruit and seemed to sigh, or some equivalent while inside. He stretched and prodded at the edges of the container, finally making a puncture.

“Ah!” Zena set the fruit down.

“Do we, uh, do we help?” Demitri asked.

The inside was green, and out came a dark, green arm to match. It tore open, spilling fruit juice all over, and revealing Owen, with olive-colored feathers on his front and fussy, leafy ones everywhere else. The end of his tail transitioned into an autumn-colored leaf to match the season of Kilo—assuming it was still autumn—and it resembled a flame.

The Grassmander hacked and coughed even more of that green fluid, taking deep, raspy breaths before coughing even more. Dialga watched with disgust; Palkia had to be warded off by Eon and Zena so he didn’t poke and prod Owen for study.

“Owen?” Mispy asked, leaning forward. “…You hatched?”

“Don’t call it that.” Owen wheezed, and then another round of coughing kept him from saying anything more.

“We should get him washed up,” Demitri said. “And maybe a blanket so he stays warm?”

Owen was already trembling. Mispy wondered if that was an odd feeling for him—as a Fire, he probably rarely got cold. But now, not so much.

Now that Mispy thought about it, Owen was much smaller, perhaps only a foot in height. She had to admit—internally, never externally—that it was a little cute.

They helped Owen to one of the strange water-dispensing facilities. They made sure to set the water to warm so they didn’t shock him into the heat. Zena took the liberty of using her ribbons to wipe off most of the fruit, which was starting to get sticky in some places, while Eon and Demitri helped clean the mess left on the floor. Jerry, meanwhile, departed to find Trina, Gahi, and Enet, who had gone on a stroll through town.

“Owen, are you feeling okay?” Zena asked. Mispy wondered that, too. There was a distant look in Owen’s eyes. Definitely thinking about something. Mispy had shades of that in his aura before, but now it was very strong. What was going on in his head? It seemed to be a deep conflict…

Did he remember something?

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he said, but his tone was off. “Actually, when I’m… feeling better, or, back to normal or close to it, is it alright if you take me somewhere?”

Mispy didn’t like where this was going.

“Of course,” Zena said. “Where?”

“West of town.”

“Why?” Mispy asked before Zena could agree.

Owen looked at Mispy pleadingly, but she didn’t soften her glare.

“You trust me, right?” Owen said. “So, when I say why… it’s just my reasoning.”

Definitely wasn’t going to like what he was about to say.

“Go on,” Mispy said cautiously.

“I want to see Dark Matter.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 113 – Nostalgia

Owen stood under the shower with a resolute look in his eyes, staring at Zena and the others despite being many times smaller than them. He’d been given a lot of time to think and ponder about everything that he’d recalled, being inert for so long. That didn’t even include the portions still missing, that final gap to fill. The parts that he still needed time to think through. To make sense of it all.

And despite everything, he believed that the first person he could ask was the very one who’d sent him to the Voidlands. His only obstacle was convincing everyone else of the same thing.

“I’m sorry,” Zena said, “I don’t think I heard you properly over all the water.”

“Dark Matter,” Owen repeated himself. “I know where he is. He told me. I think we should talk to him.”

“Are you…” Zena blinked.

She towered over him and Owen tried not to get intimidated by that. As she spoke, Owen focused on getting the juice out from under his leafy feathers. He missed scales.

“Owen, I mean this with… the most respect possible—are you—have you been deprived of air in that fruit?”

“No. I had a lot of time to think. And I remembered a lot about my past and how I got here.”

“What’s that mean?” Demitri asked, coming in with an armful of towels, all heavy with the fruit juices left behind. He left with a batch of fresh ones for more cleaning, but listened with Mispy.

“Kanto,” Owen said. “None of you know what it is, but it’s a region in the human world.”

“Human world… So it’s real?”

“It’s real. And I was born there… And so was my trainer, Eon. You know all about that, right?”

“I do,” Zena said darkly. “But… the past is the past, isn’t it? Eon isn’t—”

“I know.” The tiny Charmander held up his hands disarmingly. “I… I know. I’m—I don’t want to think about that right now. I want to think about everything else.”

That seemed to be enough for Zena, who didn’t reply.

Owen started on his explanation, stopping several times to go more in-depth about his time as Tim’s partner. Near the middle of his explanation, he’d attracted the attention of Dialga and Palkia—mostly Palkia—and later still, Enet, Eon, and Jerry had all been gathered up to talk.

Apparently, during his absence, Mhynt had left town after some Cipher City guards came to escort her back. There was a chance she would return. Owen didn’t pay it any mind; they had to tackle one thing at a time.

The explanation continued, from Kanto to Almia to Orre, and finally—and this got everyone’s attention—the results of their mission, and then the aftermath, if it could be called that. From rescuing Star, to her massive power and the strange corruption that drove her mad, to the lights in the sky, and finally to waking up to Tim as a Mew.

“And you simply didn’t remember?” Zena asked. “How could that be?”

“That’s where I woke up.” Owen ignored their disappointed looks. He felt the same. “That’s where I think I still need to remember. I think… there is still a block there. Made by Dark Matter, maybe. Or by…”

“Wait, but how can we trust Dark Matter for this?” Demitri pointed out. “He’s… literally called Dark Matter. He’s just evil, right? Are we seriously going to take his word for anything he says?”

“I’m not going to,” Owen replied. “But… He’s doing this for a reason. If he wanted to take me, he would have by now, but he didn’t.”

Zena bit her lip. “Owen, this is starting to sound familiar,” she said. “Didn’t you do the same thing with Rim, back when you didn’t have all of your memories then, too? That was a huge risk. I know that you knew, deep in your heart, that Rim wouldn’t have hurt you… and you were right… but this is different. This is Dark Matter. The one who… who caused all of this, Owen.”

She had a point. And it gave Owen pause. Could she be right? Maybe he’d been getting ahead of himself. Dark Matter had made an offer, but he could have also just as easily been waiting for the right moment to take him away, or claim him, or whatever else Dark Matter was capable of.

“We’ll guard you,” Mispy said, nodding. “It’ll be different.”

“Dark Matter doesn’t care about you guys,” Owen quickly interjected. “That means he might…”

Mispy looked skeptically at him. “He won’t go… against you?” she questioned, stumbling over the sentence a few times.

“What, like, you mean if he doesn’t wanna mess with Owen, he won’t mess with us?”

“I think he messed with us enough already,” Zena murmured.

“No, Zena’s right.” Owen rubbed under his arms, thoughtful, but satisfied now that it didn’t feel heavy and thick. “Dark Matter could try to force me to get on his side by holding any of you hostage. He can do it with just one touch.”

“But you can free them just as easily,” Eon said, standing near the back as an equally tiny Grassmander.

“Right. I have that. And that’s probably also why he can’t touch me. Even if he killed me, I’d just wind up somewhere else. And now that I’m so… this”—He gestured to himself—“I don’t think I would care if I died. I don’t have any power left to lose.”

Zena and the others looked suddenly uncomfortable.

“What?”

“Don’t treat your life like it doesn’t matter,” Zena said gently.

“What? No, I meant—”

“I think it’s just how you phrased it,” Demitri said, just as gently, and Owen felt patronized.

Sighing, he tried to move on. “What—whatever. Look, I can’t go and be touching all of you at once.” Zena was blushing. “There needs to be some other way to protect against Dark Matter if you guys want to guard me. Maybe we should take some time to think about that. Anam’s… Anam talks to Dark Matter a lot, right? Is he still here?”

“He’s around.” Gahi shrugged.

“Tell him that I want to talk in a few days. We can think of some precautions then.”

“Will Dark Matter even want to wait?” Zena hummed.

“If he doesn’t, then we didn’t have much to bargain with anyway,” Owen added, arms crossed as he stared at his belly. “So maybe we can use this to figure out just how badly he wants to talk to me. If he’s willing to wait.”

“That’s… calculated,” Zena commented, looking at the others. “Should we do that?”

“Hmm…” Mispy slid toward Owen and looking him over. She was huge—Owen could use her vines like a house at this size. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I am.” Owen nodded firmly.

“Okay.” Mispy brought a vine forward. “What’s your plan?”

“Uh—Now?” Owen tried to look tough, puffing out his chest. Mispy went lower and poked his gut and all the air left him.

“By the way… why are we all gathered in the shower with Owen?” Eon asked nervously from the back. “Isn’t that kind of… weird?”

“…What’s weird about it?” Zena asked.

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi also gave Eon an odd look. Enet, meanwhile, crawled forward and joined Owen to investigate the warm water.

“Ah… um… never mind. Forget I said anything.”

Owen assumed it was a lingering human thing. But that bought him some time to think and respond to Mispy.

“If I can find a way to spread some of my power to you guys, that might give some protection against Dark Matter’s corruption.”

“So that’s what you’re going to experiment with?” Demitri asked. “And what if it doesn’t work?”

“Then we’ll find a place where we can talk to Dark Matter and fend him off if things go badly. Have Anam there, too.” Owen turned so the water went down his back, the last of the grime. Zena leaned forward and offered to help, and Owen nodded gratefully. “Do you think that’ll work?”

“I hope so,” Zena said. “How long can we get Dark Matter to wait?”

“We’ll have to see,” Owen said. “Someone find Anam and ask him to do that. I’m going to finish washing up and then… figure out if I can get bigger, or something.”

“Was gonna say.” Gahi squatted down to get closer to his height. “Yer adorable.”

“You’re smaller than I am,” Trina commented. The Snivy was balanced atop Gahi’s head. “And if you want my opinion, I think you should prepare for Dark Matter to refuse outright. I don’t see the point in trying to work with him after all he’s done. Do you really think what he has to say is worth listening to?”

“I do,” Owen said. “Even if he twists the truth, he still knows what the truth is. If only I could evolve…”

“Perceive?” Mispy asked.

Owen nodded.

“Assuming Dark Matter follows the same biology,” Zena pointed out. “He might not react the same way as a normal Pokémon would.”

“Doesn’t matter anyway,” Gahi said, making a gesture like he was about to pick Owen up, but Owen growled back and spat a single volley of Bullet Seeds at his chest. They bounced off harmlessly. “Feisty li’l guy.” Gahi smirked.

Owen had the vague sense that this was revenge for something.

“Well! I suppose if that’s everything in order,” commented Palkia from outside the hall, “I wish you the best. Where will you be staying now?”

“Oh, actually, while you were away,” Demitri said, “we were looking around for homes. We found a spot nearby, but it’s, uh… well, it’s new housing. It’s kind of awkward because Hakk and Xypher are also there…”

“What? Why?”

“Their home got destroyed,” Trina explained.

“How? When was this? Weren’t we just there?”

Gahi was avoiding everyone’s stares.

Owen deadpanned, “He blew it up somehow, didn’t he?”

“Ain’t my fault! It was that stupid Treecko who sliced it in half!”

Owen squinted.

“We have a lot to catch up on,” Trina said, “but I think we should keep you protected for now. Hakk tried to take you to her, possibly under orders ever since he… grew in size.”

Owen’s interest doubled. “Grew?” He ignored Gahi’s amused look. “I—whatever. Explain on the way.”

At least, for once, it felt like they had a moment to breathe. Soon, Owen was finished washing up and bid farewell to Palkia and Dialga—who themselves were still recovering—and followed the rest of his team out of the evaluation buildings and down the road. Behind him, the strange tree and the morning sky lit up Null Village. His eyes lingered on the tree, smiling a little, and then he faced forward.

“Some real handiwork y’did there,” Gahi commented to Owen, following his gaze.

“Yeah.” Owen rubbed his wrists, still unaccustomed to the green feathers. “Just a little trick I came up with. Maybe it’ll be useful later.”

He already had a small backup plan in case all else failed.

<><><>​

Owen hadn’t expected the home to be a communal one.

At the edge of town, where the trees were visible a little further away on the northern side of Null Village, there was a large, purple-brown building. The entrance was wide and doorless, leading into a hallway that split off into several separated rooms. Demitri rummaged through his bag and pulled out a little, glowing card with a blue portion at the end that shimmered. He led them down the hall and to one of the rooms.

The door slid open after he flashed it against some device next to it, revealing a bare rectangle of a room with a gray interior and only the most basic of furniture. Body-universal beanbags were piled up in the corner with a few set out in the middle of the room with an adjustable-height table in the center. On the table was a basket of odd fruit and empty plates. To the right was a fridge, and further back looked to be a Null Village kitchen. There was another doorway to the left that was still open that led to a washroom, as well as another room in the corner that seemed to be for storage.

“That’s all, huh?” Owen wasn’t sure what he expected. “Guess it’s not that different from the other facility I was kept in before.”

“If we want a proper house,” Demitri said, “we’re going to need to save up some money to buy one, and that might take a while. We might not even need one, if we’re going to be leaving soon… We’re leaving soon, right? With what Nevren’s trying to do?”

“Maybe…” Mispy looked down. “Mm…”

“Save up,” Owen repeated. “What jobs have you taken up?”

“Mispy’s a guard on the eastern perimeter,” Demitri explained. “Most of her work is making sure Void Shadows don’t get too close. She might get transferred to the northern perimeter so it’s closer to home, though. She also wants to apply for healing and the medical field. She’s already healed a few people who got eye damage from staring at the sun—they forgot they weren’t supposed to do that. Can’t blame them, if they’ve been sunless for so long…”

“Sounds like a real walk to get there every day. But you definitely should try for healing,” Owen agreed, then glanced at Zena. “How about you?”

“I, er, work at a bathhouse,” Zena said awkwardly. “I suppose it’s not very surprising. Though, I could do without the remarks…”

“Remarks?” Owen asked, feathers puffing slightly. He wasn’t sure why.

“Mm. I suppose a radiant-looking Milotic draws some… attention.”

“You can’t just fight them to keep them from staring?” Owen asked, which earned a surprised look from Zena.

“Well, no. I don’t think I should settle things by fighting.”

That concept was still foreign to Owen.

“She’s not a battleheart like us, Owen,” Demitri chided. “Most aren’t.”

Battleheart. Right. Owen was still trying to sort out his memories. Back when he was Tim’s Charizard, settling things with a little fight seemed like the natural thing to do. Was he the same after Tim became a—

“Hey, by the way,” Owen said, “where does Eon live?”

“Next door.”

Owen nodded. Something to do later. “Right, okay. And your job, Demitri?”

“I help with construction,” Demitri said. “They saw my strength and decided I’d be the best fit there.”

“That means Gahi probably goes with scouting teams,” Owen concluded.

“Hey, how’d yeh know?”

“You’re fast and can teleport.”

“Huh, yeah. Makes sense.” Gahi nodded. “And you, eh… well. Yer kinda small. Maybe you c’n take on an administrative job…”

A beat of silence. Then, Mispy thought about something, then giggled.

Owen’s feathers puffed out. “What’s funny?”

“Tiny desk,” Mispy replied.

More silence. Then, Demitri tried to look away, shuddering to suppress his giggles. Owen’s feathers were even puffier.

“You know, getting jobs and all that… Are they just in demand?” Owen tried to change the subject.

Thankfully, Demitri was quick to follow. “Yeah. Though, you’ve been asleep for a few days, I think. So, we had some time to try to, you know, settle in. Anam’s been around and we know that Dark Matter is in the outskirts, so we’ve been avoiding him, and everything is… really tense because of it. He obviously wants you. But he can’t get close thanks to that tree.”

“Right.” But why would Dark Matter want him? Not something any of them would know, though. “A few days… Anything from Mi—I mean, Nevren?”

“No, nothing.” Demitri sighed. “I think maybe he ran out of energy, or he’s finding a way to build up more. The last time he tried to contact us, the portal was a lot smaller, and he mentioned something about mobilizing for Hot Spot. But we’re trying to coordinate that, and, well…”

“Fighting from both sides?” Owen figured it would be similar to when they had tried to fight Star when she’d possessed him. But if that was the case, they would need to find the Core, wouldn’t they? Or was Dark Matter himself its Core?

“What was the holdup?” Owen asked.

“No contact from Kilo, and us having no idea what we can do against him from here.”

Gahi, as they were talking, wandered around the house, opening and closing empty cupboards. Nobody paid it any mind.

“A standstill… More stagnation. Everyone waiting for the other one to make a move…” Owen trailed off, autumn tail flicking behind him.

“Owen?” Zena asked. “That sounded… more thoughtful. Is something on your mind?”

“…I don’t want to sound self-centered,” Owen began, “but it sounds like any time I’m being reset or paused or incapacitated… the whole world just stops with me. Everyone’s… waiting again. Waiting for someone else to make the next move. Dark Matter wants to see me, so he’s waiting until that can happen. Maybe he’s impatient and maybe he’ll do something else, but there he is again, waiting. And before, the whole Hunter thing with Tim…”

“Um. Tim? I don’t recall a Tim.” Zena tilted her head. “Owen, are you okay? You’ve been acting… different lately.”

“D-different?” Owen puffed up his back feathers in alarm. “I’m not that different.”

“…You… are Owen, right?” Demitri asked nervously.

“Of course he’s Owen,” Mispy growled back, gesturing to her own eyes.

“Oh, right. But you said he looked a little different…”

“Still Owen. Just… less of Owen… I think…”

“I’m right here, you know,” Owen huffed. “Look, I’ve had a lot on my mind! And I’m, like, a foot tall! Of course there’s less of me! Give me a break!”

A squeaking rumble followed; Owen’s gut felt like it had tightened and loosened. He tried to look even smaller.

“Someone’s hungry,” Demitri commented.

“Mm. Me,” Mispy agreed, sliding to the cupboard in search of something and directing Gahi to fiddle around somewhere else.

“I suppose lunch would be good…” Zena nodded at Owen. “Oh, and I think we can find a space for you to rest here, too, Owen. The rooms are all occupied, but I think nobody would mind sharing.”

“Who’s all roomed together?”

“Jerry’s with Eon,” Zena explained.

Not yet. Owen wasn’t ready for Eon yet.

“Gahi and Trina are sharing a room, too.”

That was possible…

“Demitri and Mispy, too, of course.”

Yeah, he wasn’t going to get in the way of that.

“And myself and Enet.”

Everyone was paired up nicely. “Will I be sharing a bed with anyone?” Owen asked.

“We might be able to find one. Considering you’re so small, it won’t be that hard.”

Right, small again. Still annoyed him. “…How about with you, then? We could sleep together.”

A beat of silence first, and then Zena sputtered, “I’m—I’m sorry?”

“You probably have the biggest room, and I probably take the least space aside from Trina, so we can probably sleep together.”

Zena was breathing a little faster. “Y-yes, I heard—I thought. Owen, are you sure?”

“Yeah.” Owen grinned, trying to get some of his pep back.

“…Wow,” Mispy said, sounding impressed.

“B-but did you not want to just be friends? Or, well, starting off, or starting over, that, as you said…”

“What do you mean?” Owen asked, cocking his head. “We don’t have beds yet, so I can sleep with you. It’s not like it’s the first time we slept together. You remember the position, right?”

Gahi tripped over his feet. Demitri stared in slack-jawed awe.

Owen led the way and asked, “So, which one’s your room? That’s fine, right?”

“I… y-yes! I’m sorry, I was—Perhaps it’s some culture shock.” She glanced at Mispy and Demitri, who got back to their senses next.

“Position?” Demitri asked Zena.

“I think he means how I can leave some room in the middle if I coil properly,” she explained. “It’s an alcove, in a way. A bed within a bed? Th-that’s what you mean, yes, Owen?”

Only mostly, but Owen was glad it helped everyone relax. Everything was so tense that he could afford feigning some obliviousness again to help them forget about Dark Matter. “Mhm. In that way I’m not taking up any extra bedspace at all. It’s not uncomfortable, right?”

“Not at all!” Zena said a little too quickly.

Owen grinned. So, she was still interested. “Yeah,” he said. “And… I wouldn’t mind the company anyway. I’ve…” Owen trailed off, then shook his head. “We can talk more at night.”

Enet was already pawing at the door and barking at Owen to come along. She understood. As much as Owen tried to give them some pep, he was still exhausted. Everything still felt hazy. Maybe tomorrow, Owen thought, he’d feel a little more put-together.

Something wet knocked on their door.

“That must be Anam,” Demitri said. “He might have talked with Dark Matter.”

“It might also be Dark Matter himself,” Owen cautioned.

“No,” Mispy said after opening her eyes.

A Goodra stood on the opposite side of the door with green eyes and a tired smile. “Hey,” he said. “Oh! Owen! You’re, um… a Charmander again! Kind of.”

“Yeah, kind of,” Owen replied politely. He noticed that Anam didn’t go for his usual hugging attempts. “Did you talk to Dark Matter?”

“Um… I did, but, um, well, he said… one day. You have one day. On the sunset after this one.”

Demitri fidgeted nervously. Gahi, meanwhile, growled. “Well, so much for valuing you,” he said. “What’s gonna happen if we don’t show?”

“He’ll go forward with his plan,” Anam said.

“Which is…?” Owen tried to get a read on Anam’s expression, but all he could see was evasive nervousness.

“Probably something bad. He’s been gathering strong spirits lately. You know, ones that died in Kilo. And the mutants…”

“Then we’ll need to use that day to prepare. Tomorrow, I’ll try to come up with something. I have a few ideas, but… er, I’m… also tired. Really tired.”

“Sleep!” Enet commanded, and then growled at the door again.

“Enet, you need to use that password-card,” Zena called. “It’s in your… Where did you put it?”

The Zoroark stared at Zena dumbly.

“The rectangle. This one?” Zena produced her own from her bag, with the glowing portion on one end of the card.

“Oh.” Enet dug through her mane and pulled it out. She pressed it on the door again, eventually figuring out how to activate it. She slipped in and the door closed behind her.

<><><>​

After a short tour of the building in case Owen needed something from any nearby facilities, he finally felt tired enough to return to their room. He ultimately decided to go with Enet and Zena after all, and went in with the latter once everyone else was informed. Eon, in particular, looked bothered, but Owen didn’t acknowledge it. Still not ready.

Enet’s bed was in the far corner, a simple circular mattress-like beanbag. On the other end was a long, thin mat that seemed to have the subtle, circular indent of Zena having coiled in it for a few nights. Owen smiled a little; it was good that they had a place to sleep in the Voidlands. A place to feel safe.

Just as Owen stepped inside, though, he saw something in the corner nearest to the entrance—a large, glass tank with a Void Shadow inside. Owen stopped immediately. Everything else went dark in Owen’s attention.

“Oh! I’m sorry, I nearly forgot. We also, er, have… Amia… here. She was the least hostile toward me, and quieted down when I was around, so… well…”

The Void Shadow seemed to be staring at Owen.

“How come she’s here?” Owen asked in a whisper. “I thought they were working on a way to help her in the evaluation building.”

“Er… Well. They tried, but there wasn’t…” Zena trailed off.

Then… that was it. Amia was just like that now. Owen stared at the Void Shadow more, walking toward it. It inched closer to the glass separating them.

That was Amia. The one who cared for him for hundreds of years. Who dedicated so much of her time to someone she once never knew. In some small way, Owen thought he would have seen her in his memories of the distant past… yet she wasn’t there. Probably never even born yet.

“Owen, don’t—”

“KRRKH!”

It smashed into the wall and snarled at Owen; the tiny Charmander flinched, unable to suppress a gasp. When Owen stepped away, it stopped attacking, but still stared at him, docile again.

“It… still gets violent up close,” Zena said. “I mean—she. But compared to everyone else, that’s the closest people have been able to get…”

“…She’s just… mad that she can only stay in there,” Owen rationalized. “She wasn’t like that before, when it was only for a little while.” Owen smiled desperately. “I’d be pretty mad, too, if I was stuck in there…”

“Owen…”

“I-it’s fine. I’m fine. I’ll figure something out for that, too. Marshadow mentioned something about Gone Pebbles that can help recover memories. Maybe I can do something about this later. A-after Dark Matter, I can fix Mom, too.” The words poured from him thoughtlessly.

And then, silence. The Void Shadow slid around its cage. Zena and Enet went into their respective beds awkwardly. And, finally, Owen followed them, climbing onto Zena and then somewhere in her middle.

“Are you sure you don’t want another room?” Zena asked gently. “If… Amia is too much, I—”

“When I fix her,” Owen said, “I want her to remember that I stayed.”

“Ah…” Zena’s eyes glistened, and then she nodded. “Of course, Owen. That’s… very strong of you.”

Enet stared at both of them, unblinking. The way her ears were positioned, she was listening in.

Owen deflated, feeling that he had a moment to himself. Despite how tired he was, he felt so restless. There was so much to do and so much to prepare for and he was still lying in bed, waiting for sleep to take him. And he ran from that, too. He couldn’t relax. Every so often, he stole a glance at Amia, who was presumably staring at him.

There had to be some other way to rest. Thinking about Amia was getting to him. “…Zena?” Owen finally called. Enet’s ears twitched.

“Yes, Owen?”

“Sorry. Are you still awake?”

Zena’s breathing meant she was.

“I’ve been having trouble sleeping.”

“Me, too.”

Enet made a growl to agree.

Owen sighed. Talking to them was nice. And he hoped the rest of his team was doing alright, too.

“…Hey, Zena,” Owen began, “what about your parents, anyway?”

“Oh, mine?” Zena trailed off. “Well… they visit me in my Core every so often. I believe Hecto had ferried them. But the visits became less and less frequent. I suppose as time goes on, so do they… We weren’t particularly close. After all, I’d ‘left the nest,’ and, well… people move on. I did care for them, though.”

“That’s odd,” Owen said. “I mean, yeah, a lot of time passed, but they’re still your parents, right?”

Zena chuckled. “That’s true. But… like I said, we weren’t close. It was… formal, in a way. Cultures can be different in the ocean. Oh, I truly didn’t care for it. It’s very strange there, you know, compared to Kilo. Feral Pokémon are much more common, but integrated into society, to the point where you may see them doing civilian jobs.”

“Civilians, in the ocean?” Owen asked.

“Far below,” Zena confirmed. “I don’t know if it’s still around, really. Scattered villages floating in the ocean, usually offshore, or far in the depths. I was… well, it would be the equivalent to you of a richer family. I was expected to be graceful and proper. A Milotic. That’s simply how it is for us. Apparently, straying from that culture makes it so you cannot evolve… I do wonder why Star designed such a pretentious species.”

Owen winced. “That does sound cruel. You have to be graceful and proper to evolve? You can’t just get stronger?”

“Apparently not.” Zena sighed. “But once I evolved… I was so tired of it. I… regrettably, I left. I was strong enough to fend for myself. I knew how to survive on the surface, too. But I’d gotten turned around and lost my way. Perhaps by luck, I’d met Emily. We talked, and she tried to assure me that things were okay, but I don’t think she understands mortal life.”

“So that’s how you met, huh?” compared to everything else that Owen had seen, Zena’s life sounded… normal. By the stars, he would love something normal again. He wanted to hear more. “How did that go?”

“For a while, I lived with Emily,” Zena said. “She liked the company, and I needed a place to stay. Occasionally, I visited Kilo, and then returned to tell her about it. It was… peaceful. A routine. Apparently, most were quite fearful of Emily and generally fled from her…”

“How come you didn’t?” Owen asked.

Zena hummed, considering this. “I’m not sure. Maybe she was simply so isolated, she never had the opportunity to befriend someone until then. Until I happened upon her. She’s lived for so long… surely someone would eventually stay. Like Tanneth. Oh, Tanneth and I spoke quite a bit. They’re a lovely couple.”

Owen paused. “…Wait, Tanneth and Emily are a couple? That Vaporeon?”

“Mm. They’ve been together for longer than they can remember. Which led to the next problem… I was mortal, then. And I wasn’t really sure how I would be able to be with her for very long. I think I was… actually getting along in my age at some point. Swimming far distances from the island to Kilo were more and more difficult. In the end, I feared that my time with Emily was short… and Emily did not like that. She wanted to find a way for me to stay.”

“The… Water Orb,” Owen said slowly. “How did you get it?”

“Emily gave it to me. She said she was guarding it.”

“Guarding?” Owen asked.

“I think so…” Zena seemed unsure. “It’s… foggy. Perhaps you would have remembered it more clearly, if it’s behind a Decree. Emily had given me that Orb because she wanted me to survive.”

“I thought giving up an Orb killed you.”

“She didn’t have it ‘in’ her. Er, well, no. She did. But she didn’t… claim it. I’m not really sure how, but she had it within her without it fusing to her aura. Though, she’d always been a little strange…”

Maybe Owen could have a talk with Emily later about that. It was too strange to ignore. “Do you know why she had it?”

“Safekeeping, apparently. Part of how all the Orbs were scattered.” With another sigh, Zena settled back down. “That’s all I know about her. Eventually I had to flee when the Hunters tried to get me. Emily fended them off, but even with her durability, it was still unsafe. And when I found that Dungeon, Star helped me stay hidden. And… nothing changed until you met me. I don’t even know how long it had been. Centuries, surely…”

“Why didn’t Emily go find you?” Owen asked.

“It’s strange. It’s as if she’s bound to the ocean.” Zena adjusted her coils and Owen adjusted with her. “She never wanted to set foot on Kilo. I didn’t really press the issue.”

So that’s how it happened. He’d never thought to ask until now, so absorbed in his own worries and thoughts. Sure, between the whole new Guardianship, old mutant, and scattered memories, he had good reason to be occupied, but he felt a little bad that it had taken all this time just to… ask.

“Owen?” Zena asked. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. Sorry. Just occurred to me that I never bothered asking until now…”

“Well, I never shared, either.”

Enet growled curiously and pawed her way toward the pair.

“And how about you, Enet?” Owen asked. “Star helped you get the Electric Orb, but d’you have anything interesting on how that happened?”

She just stared blankly, then curled up again.

“Guess not.” Owen giggled, already feeling lighter.

“And what about you?” Zena asked. “Before… all this. Is there anything you wanted to talk about?”

“I don’t even know where to start,” Owen admitted. “And some of it I don’t remember yet.”

Zena nodded. “Well, that’s okay,” she said. “I liked talking a little about the past anyway. It was so long ago. And… Oh, never mind.”

“No, go on.”

“It’s silly.”

Owen waited patiently.

She sighed. “I enjoyed talking to you again. It’s been too long.”

“How come that was hard to admit?” Owen asked.

“I’m… not sure.”

Owen grinned, leaning against her again. “Well, so did I. I’m feeling a lot better. Maybe some normalcy is all I needed.”

“Mm, normalcy…” The Milotic rested her head against the top of her coils, glancing down at Owen further down. “Do you have any memories of… normalcy, like I do?”

“Mhm. That’s back when I was in Kanto. But the normal there is nothing like the normal here. It has humans, and Pokémon worked with them in weird ways compared to how things are in Kilo. Some humans can’t understand Pokémon, either. I mean, the Pokémon there.”

“Oh? Were humans feral?”

“Other way around.” Owen couldn’t imagine a feral human. “All Pokémon where I came from were what we’d call feral. I’m feral, actually—just like Enet. That’s why I can understand her, too; feral Pokémon speak a totally different language. It’s simpler, but it conveys ideas quickly. I don’t really know how it works… but sometimes, we can convey those same thoughts and ideas to humans that we share a strong bond with.”

“That’s so interesting—humans aren’t Pokémon, yet they can form bonds with them?”

“Pokémon and humans become stronger if they grow together. A lot stronger. My species, in Kanto, we usually don’t get strong enough to grow wings unless we bond with a human. It’s part of our culture to choose a human or… well, sometimes a human chooses us.”

Zena looked like she wanted to ask something, but had refrained. Her voice had caught in her breath and she nodded.

Owen frowned. “And my human was… Eon, yeah. Back then, his name was Tim.”

“R-right.” Zena nodded nervously. So, that really was what she was thinking.

“A lot can change. People change. I don’t think… the Tim I know is alive anymore. Eon is someone completely different, even if they have the same spirit. I… don’t know how I can confront him about that. I don’t know how to tell him that.”

“Because he still wants to be your partner,” Zena summarized. “He’s done so many horrible things just to be with you again. Rhys, Amia, Anam, they all kept you away from him because of what he had turned you into. You and the rest of Team Alloy.”

All the while, he nodded along. Owen still didn’t know what led Eon down this path—that gap in his memory was still there—but the simple fact was, Eon was not the same selfless ranger, that same young trainer, that he’d dedicated his life to.

Why did that hurt so much, now?

“It’s okay,” Zena said. “We don’t need to talk about that anymore.”

“H-huh?” Owen looked up. “What do you mean?”

“You looked uncomfortable. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, I…” Even without his flame, was he that easy to read? He needed to work on that. His enemies toyed with emotions; if he was so readily open about how he felt…’

But this was Zena. He could afford to be open around her.

“Y-yeah. I don’t want to talk about it right now, but thanks.”

“Is there anything else about Kanto you could tell me about instead?” Zena asked. “What about before… Tim?”

Owen considered that. The only thing before Tim was… “My parents.”

“O-oh.”

A fond smile followed from Owen. “It’s alright. I think I want to talk about them a little anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Zena asked, but Owen nodded anyway and pressed a little more against her.

“Yeah. My mother was a Charizard, and my father was a Marowak. Mom was with a trainer and she cared about her very much, but she died early—the trainer died, I mean.”

Zena listened quietly. There was a softness in her eyes that made Owen melt.

“She loved humans because of how wonderful her trainer was. Dad was more, y’know, skeptical, but he loved Mom, so he stayed with us. It was a tradition for… for us, for my species, to pair off with a human trainer so we could get our wings. After that, it was up to us what we’d do, but… That also meant it was my time to go, one day. When I was old enough, I’d pick a human, and… and leave them behind.”

Owen didn’t understand why that hurt to say. No, he did. He did. Because he once thought he’d return when he got his wings. That his time with the human would be brief, as most trainer journeys were, until…

But that didn’t happen. Now he was a world and ages away…

“Owen…”

“Huh?” Owen perked up. “S-something wrong?” He only realized just then how hard it was to talk and how much his eyes burned.

Suddenly, a bundle of fur enveloped him and Enet growled soothingly.

Owen groaned, smiling. “Not again…”

“We’re here for you, Owen. You’ll remember that?”

“I better,” Owen replied, exhaustion pressing over him in waves. “I’ve forgotten too much to start all over again.”

His eyes flitted closed in Enet’s warmth and Zena’s pressure. Enet growled again and said, “You’re small…”

Of course she’d focus on that.

“But… big.”

Owen opened an eye. “Huh…?”

Enet didn’t reply.

<><><>​

“So, that’s what happened? It was… Shadows?”

Owen stood atop Destiny Tower, bruised, battered, and covered with countless wounds. His left arm was broken in two places and his wings were unusable. His blood sullied the white tile. And despite this, he had made it, and floating nearby was Tim, the Mew. He had a few injuries, but had made it through just fine.

“Yes,” replied Arceus, across the palace’s central chambers. Next to him was another Mew, one who had a certain glow to her that Tim did not. This was the divine Mew, the original Mew, the progenitor, the start of common life. That meant Tim was a direct descendant of her, didn’t it? Perhaps that was why he had ascended Destiny Tower so easily.

But next to them both was a dragon of light and gold prisms. He had no pupils and his eyes were of flickering crystal, so it was impossible to tell where he was looking at any given time. The radiance of that one was overwhelming.

“Shadows were what brought our world to ruin?” Owen asked.

“I am afraid so,” the dragon of light said. “It was a horrible blight that had to be expelled… but in the process, so much was destroyed and lost. That included memories of the event. It is a truth that… the world does not need to know.”

“Why not?” Owen asked.

“It would only cause more panic,” the dragon said. “Mortals don’t need to worry about divine matters just as we shouldn’t have to worry about theirs.”

The divine Mew looked away, clearly uncomfortable.

“What can defeat these… Shadows if they come up again?

“Many things,” the dragon of light replied. “The will of the spirit alone is sometimes enough. The bonds one makes with others can help you climb out of even the deepest darkness… This is a very symbolic way of thinking, something abstract and metaphysical. But these Shadows are, by their very nature, beyond the material plane. They infest the spirit and the very foundations that make up this world.”

“I’m… not good at… symbolism,” the Charizard said. “I see things and those are real. I’m not good at figuring out the rest.”

The dragon of light smiled. “Day to day, that is not a difficult philosophy to follow. Yet… you’re curious, aren’t you? How to combat Shadows… in a way that you can see, and feel?”

“Um.” Tim held up a paw. “If we’re talking conceptually… if we want to get rid of a Shadow, or get rid of this darkness… don’t we just add light?”

The dragon looked down. His tail curled in a small circle. “You are correct. If a spirit cannot combat their shadows, or cannot overcome this dark aberration’s power…”

He held two of his four wings forward. Light coalesced between them, forming into a crystal with the symbol of a flame inside, which he handed to Owen. It was warm and smooth to the touch, and he briefly thought he heard voices coming from it.

“You must use light.”


<><><>​

“And that is what he said? Light? As if it is that simple…”

“…Well… isn’t it?” Owen tilted his head, adjusting his wings while standing in the great void. After all, you’re afraid of the light. I had that talk with him… a long, long time ago, but that kind of thing is hard to forget. Light gets rid of the dark.”

“That is a vast oversimplification of his true nature and you know it.”

Owen smiled wryly. “But it makes it pretty easy to remember.”

“Rrrgh…”

“Aw, c’mon, I’m just trying to make a joke!”

“I do not joke.”

“Well, it… was worth a try.” Owen sighed. “But that’s what he told me back when I first woke up. That’s all I really know about what it means to dispel Shadows. I don’t think he even knows you exist…”

“None of them do. They never have. I am a mistake of this reality. If they find out about me, they will try to… fix it.”

Owen’s wings drooped and his flame dimmed. “I know. It’s going to be alright.”

“It won’t. Your world is ending, after all.”

“…Is there a way to stop it?”

Aside from the low whistle of the void that seemed to echo through Owen’s very soul, all had gone quiet then, like the red core in front of Owen had fallen completely silent.


“There is one way.”

“Uh?”

“You are Necrozma’s disciple, correct?”

“Well, kind of… Not really. My mate, Mhynt—I mean, Lunala, she…”

The core of darkness said something, but the memory suddenly halted in its tracks, all sound abruptly ending. A stifling cold washed through Owen, and a bright light, inescapable, shined in front of him. The light of Necrozma—but he wasn’t supposed to be here.


“Not yet, Owen. You can’t see this memory. He was only trying to mislead you.”

A dragon of light appeared, obscuring Owen’s vision. The memory paused and then rewound. It all faded away.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
It would seem that plane trips are just the designated time when I read HoC. I actually read about half of these in January, and then the other half on a plane trip in May, and then some more during my trip last weekend. Let's see if I can try to get some coherent thoughts out.

91-93

Good to see the team slowly coming back together! I think part of what made the early Act III chapters a bit hard to get through at times was the way that we were forced to bounce around to so many individual struggles, and now there's finally the chance to unify some plot threads and get solid answers to things since the inhabitents of the Voidlands know a heck of a lot more about what's going on.

More solid trainerverse stuff in these chapters, you know I'm always a sucker for that. I'm enjoying the dynamic between Tim and Ayame, and it's of course making me wonder if she's involved in the main plot at all. We've got an awful lot of humans running around.

The scene with Owen and Zena discussing their old selves was nice, and it was good to see Zena get the chance to stick up for her old self. It's interesting because it's almost like we're getting a look at her without all that Guardian baggage, which is nice, but at the same time, it's not like she just wants to forget, even if that part of her was so damaged. It's also making me vibrate to keep from talking about the LC take on that subject.

The scene with both Owen and Tim blaming themselves for the Gym loss was cute, and Owen concluding that Tim just had to yell louder. :p And I just generally like the vibe of Ayame giving Tim another Pokemon because it wanted a human, but she didn't want another team member, so she decided to help it get a human another way. Pokemon attacking humans specifically to get a strong trainer, yes plz, all of that.

And now we've got a Team Rocket subplot and stolen Pokemon and damn--the Kanto part of this could be its own fic. Actually... there are like three fics worth of backstory overall. xD

94-96

The titan fight was nice and intense, and of course the reveal that the titans are Legendaries was cool. I can't remember if it was established who put the legends in the Voidlands--DM? Well, anyway, the threat of Voiding makes for nice stakes, and it successfully feels like a way worse outcome than death was back in Kilo. The moment where Owen reunited with Amia in particular was really tense.

I'll just be over here side-eyeing Eon for defaulting to being pleased that Owen might need to depend on him for support again. Buuuut he was at least willing to let Gahi fill that role because it was what Owen wanted. ...It's a start.

Hm, I doooo have to admit I'm not quite as interested in the politics of the Voidlands compared to like.... everything else (the struggle against DM, the memories, etc.) Especially since right now it basically just feels like Alexander... just wants to rule the place? Of course, I'm assuming there's more to it (and it's implied that he needs Necrozma's power for something) but as it stands, DM's goals and actions feel a lot more threatening.

It was interesting to see Zena feeling conflicted about not having known Owen for very long. Them deciding to start over was cute.

SE7

I always love the trope of characters imprisoned that can break out at any time. :p

I caaan't quite remember if it was explained why the Void Basin has shadow power coming from it (at least, in a way that feels different than just the way that unblessed dungeons do.) I also keep mixing up void basin with the chasm of the void. Which one was Nate from?

It's interesting that while there are some passing similarities to colonialism in this chapter, Pyrock got to keep their land, their leadership, basically everything except access to Void Basin? It really was just... Jeremy's pride that led to his downfall.

I've been noticing that the recent chapters use a lot more of a technique I've seen you use in Blacklight as well--using understated indirect references to things to magnify the impact. "She fell" in particular is such a chilling line that packs so much into just two words.

97-99

So there's been a lotta hints that something basically triggered the current plot right before the story started, since basically no one in Kilo knows half the backstory. Also, I'm not sure if I'm reading this correctly but... was it implied that the orbs have Necrozma's power, almost as if they were also Z-crystals? But like, I'm still pretty sure that they really are from Arceus (I mean. The whole Hands thing is pretty irrefutable.) But maybe they were imbued with light or something?

Interesting that it seems to be the case that Anam sealing the dungeons technically trapped the Voidland inhabitants? Although... I guess it's not like they could have gotten out so easily anyway--they'd have burned just like Mispy/Demitri, right?

Really enjoyed Owen's desperate training after the rest of his team got stolen, and his feelings of uselessness. Always a fan of seeing obscure old TMs coming up.

Really interesting to learn that Shadow Pokemon could beat legends. No wonder Emily was so unbeatable when she was Shadow. Which makes me wonder if DM was the one who erased knowledge of her or not. (Alsooo... was her stint as Dragon Guardian before or after the shadow war... or during?)

Interesting that Null Village has more human stuff than Kilo even though Kilo also has lots of human stuff thanks to Nevren. But Null just has more for some reason. (Also, Owen being baffled by apps and touchscreens was amusing.)

Good to see Owen sorting through the distinction between being used, and being openly called on for help. Others needing your skills/strength isn't always a bad thing!

It's great that while Owen is angsting about not really being part of Team Alloy, none of the other care at all that he's from somewhere else or that they were a trio before him. ("Teams get new members" thanks Gahi.) Actually, I legit really enjoyed the Alloy friendshipping we got in these chapters. I know that early on in Act I, it was a rough ride making them feel distinct and getting the reader to care about them, but I'd say you've pulled it off by now.

Gahi having Necrozma's birthmark is weird, yeah. I feel like someone would have mentioned by now if he was also a disciple of Necrozma? Or maybe not. Also, I'm just assuming that Eon lost energy from the Z move reaction since he's human.

"Ah, wait. Now I’m not real." This is the best portrayal of dream logic I've ever read.


...Anyway, I've read up to 106 but this is all for now because I need sleep lol.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Thanks for the review, Chibi! I responded to you more in depth elsewhere, but I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far!

Chapter 114 – Despair Flame

The most irritating sound had returned. Sloshing, wet footsteps. Dark Matter squeezed his own fists and spitefully changed his form to that of a Charizard; he needed some practice to intimidate Owen later anyway. His flame, however, was black.

“I’m so proud of you, Mister Matter,” Anam said.

“Go away.”

“No, I really am! Not only did you agree to wait, but you actually listened!”

“I have no choice. I cannot forcibly go within the perimeter of the new Tree of Life yet. I need more power. Any less and I am at risk of shattering.”

“Well, I don’t really know what the old Tree looked like. But I’m still glad! You could have threatened so many different things!”

Why was Anam bothering to feel so positive when Dark Matter could not feel any of it? Did Anam realize this? Or was he so hopelessly lost without his guidance that he now thought everyone was happy with him?

Anam sat next to Dark Matter, leaning forward to play with his slimy toes. “I like this new you.”

“There is nothing that changed about me.”

“I think something has! Compared to when we first met, you never would have done any of this. You would have been totally dedicated to destruction and suffering! Instead, you’re here looking for other ways to solve problems!”

“Enough…”

“In the past, just think back! You were beating me into the ground for hours and hours until you got tired of it! Now I can sit right next to you like buddies!”

“Will you… just stop?”

“A-and, well, and I really do think that if you put your all into it, and I was there to vouch for you, maybe we can work together after all! We can still make you happy! That’s why you’re doing all of this, right? Because he’ll—”

“ENOUGH, ANAM!” A shadowy fist slammed into the Goodra’s side, blowing a clean hole through him and spattering purple slime into the tree opposite to them. Anam was silenced, looking at Dark Matter, stunned, betrayed, and then he saw it. That very brief look of disappointment.

Why did that hurt so much?

Dark Matter pulled his hand away and stood up. He took a few paces away and slammed it into a tree next, disintegrating it into a fine ash. He then leaned against a nearby boulder and went back down to the ground, ignoring his small, black flame. Anam, by now, had rubbed the wound back to normal.

“I don’t understand,” Dark Matter growled. “You know I cannot feel these… positive emotions you keep asking for. I only feel fewer negative emotions. The greatest I can hope for is nothingness. No”—he raised his hand immediately to halt Anam’s protest—“I won’t hear it. Not only can I not feel the hope you are trying to send me… but it only teases me with what I will never have. Enough. Do not try to convince me.”

But he saw that stubborn look in the Goodra’s green eyes. He wished nothing more than to…

It was tiring to even think of what he wanted to do with Anam. Maybe it didn’t matter.

“Then why?” Anam asked. “Why do you want to get to Owen so much? He’s… all he wants to do is save everyone. He won’t cooperate with you to kill them instead.”

“Perhaps he will cooperate long enough that it would be beneficial to both of us.”

“Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you sure that’s why you want to work with him?” Anam leaned forward, even though it barely made a difference with how far apart they were. “You say that you hate him, that his power is a nuisance, but…”

A pang of irritation ran through his upper back like a cold needle. He squeezed his hands, claws digging into his scales so they oozed dark blood.

“Were you trying to lead me to a conclusion only you understand?” Dark Matter snarled. “Talking to me as if it was an answer I had to learn?”

“You’re pursuing him too much,” Anam went on without acknowledging him. “I… I think I understand why, now, though. You never told me, but…”

“Why should I tell you anything?”

“Mister Matter, can you answer something for me?”

He said nothing.

“Why did you keep telling me to deny Owen’s position as a Heart? Over and over and over, but you didn’t have a problem with letting the rest of Team Alloy become Hearts for real.”

Still nothing.

“I followed you because you said you sensed a darkness in him… but then suddenly you let him through. I was a little surprised, but… was it because the Orbs were getting brighter? Was that what you were waiting for? Is that… why you told me Owen should get the Grass Orb? After all, it was kind of weird you’d go along with what Necrozma probably wanted…”

“All of this prattle is useless,” Dark Matter said. “Get to the point. Otherwise, I’m going to check on Marshadow and the Titans.”

“Okay.” Anam nodded. “I think… that there’s more to why you’re trying to make Owen work with you than his closeness to Necrozma. Otherwise, you would have tried to pick Elder, or Mom, or even Emily!”

“Emily is… not under my control any longer, and you know that. Elder cannot fight, so he would be useless even if I took control of him. And your mother is a fool who sacrificed herself to protect useless little you.”

“But Owen would have done the same thing,” Anam said frantically. “He’s… one of the most positive Pokémon I know!”

“Yes. He is.” Dark Matter’s voice deepened. “They’ve brainwashed him to be like that.”

There was a glint in Anam’s eyes. “…I knew it…”

Dark Matter realized his mistake seconds later. His claws dug into the dirt. “What do you know?”

“Mister Matter… you never told me what happened during the first war. The war that erased the Legends. The one that tried to end the world, where you controlled people to—”

“Get to the point,” Dark Matter snapped.

“Owen was on your side! Wasn’t he?”

“Ngh—”

“I knew it!” Anam pointed at the Charizard. “I knew it! Ever since we came here, ever since you were so obsessed with finding him even though there are tons of other Radiant Spirits to pick from… you wanted Owen. Because… you used to be friends!”

Another crackling blast of Shadows sent various parts of Anam’s body in scattered globs. Anam’s upper half rolled and righted itself with an intact arm.

“Do not,” Dark Matter began, “mock me. Do not taunt me with this concept that I can make friends, that I can have any joy out of it. It is an empty gesture. After five hundred pointless cycles with you, I would think that you would have learned. Yet all you do is disappoint me and remind me that you cannot and will not change.”

“Then why?” Anam asked, pulling himself together. “It’s obvious that you and Owen… there’s something about it. I mean, look at you! You look like him right now!”

“I am practicing the form of a Charizard. There is nothing special or strange about that. It will unnerve and unsettle him and make him easier to read.”

“But Owen is already easy to read,” Anam said.

“No. He is not. That is a front. Owen can control his flame to deceive.”

“What? That isn’t true at all!”

“…Hmph. Then perhaps it is not true any longer.”

“Well… and the other reason I knew…” Anam pointed, but fell over. He righted himself, grew his arm back, and pointed again. “You really do look like Owen.”

Realizing that Anam was pointing just above him, Dark Matter reached up and felt the pointed horns on his head. Just like Owen. “Mrm. Coincidence.”

“Mister Matter…” Anam frowned, disappointed again.

“I owe you nothing. Leave. If Owen refuses to appear, then I will carry on with my plans.”

“And what if Kilo attacks you first? You aren’t ready, and then you’ll die.”

“Cute.” Dark Matter turned around and folded his wings over in a gesture of finality. He said nothing more to Anam, and while the Goodra tried to say a few more things, he answered nothing.

Finally, Anam left. And that heavy, cold, empty feeling returned to Dark Matter.

“Friends…” Dark Matter’s teeth cracked against themselves. “Just like you were ‘friends’ with me?” The cruel wings answered him with indifference. “My existence dictates that I can never have friends, fool. Only… allies. Tenuous agreements. Compromises and mutual goals.”

Dark Matter looked at his hands, conjuring a small, shadowy flame.

“The fabric of reality itself dictates that I suffer. If I must rewrite it entirely so that can be fixed… so be it. You agreed with me once before, Owen.” Dark Matter looked up. “…Perhaps you will agree again.”

A sudden pang shot through his heart and he shouted, doubling over. He clutched at his chest as if an icicle had jammed through it. Squeezing his eyes shut, he took steady breaths. His claws dug into his thighs, drawing black blood. They went deeper, ripping flesh, and the pain eased. The claws withdrew. His body healed.

Cursed… hope, Dark Matter thought. Tentatively, he pulled his hand away from his chest. Within, his red core pulsed rhythmically. Normal. I nearly shattered myself with that… little hope. He waited a little longer, then stared behind him at the tree.

He couldn’t look at it for long. It all hurt too much.

<><><>​

“Oi, breakfast!” Gahi shouted down the main hall.

“I… forgot to eat after everything that happened,” Owen mumbled aloud, hopping onto an oversized seat. Apparently, Demitri had taken up the cooking role, and was getting quite good at it. Breakfast appeared to be a savory, thick soup of reds and greens. Owen wondered how much work had gone into Null Village figuring out how to make foods of this nature at all. Then again, after so much time here, and being immortal, they had probably come up with an innovation or two even in this desolate land…

“Well, you should eat now,” Demitri said, pointing a ladle at the tiny Charmander. “I dunno how much you need to eat, but food’s kind of expensive here, so I’m going to start you with a small bowl and you can ask for seconds, okay?”

“Sure.” He hoped the ‘small bowl’ wasn’t bigger than his head.

As everyone gathered around the large table in the common area—including Hakk and Xypher—Zena coiled near Owen and asked, “Did you happen to get any memories last night? You were murmuring about it in your sleep.”

Owen’s feathers puffed out. “I w-was, huh?” Great, now he had that going for him. “Well, I did. Just a short memory with Necrozma, though.” He had a feeling that there was another, but he couldn’t remember anything else. That was fine—the one with Necrozma gave him just what he needed. “When we’re done eating, I want some of you to come with me to ask around about a few things.”

“Ask who?”

“Some guards, maybe some authorities.”

“You have the clout for that?” Hakk asked.

Owen was still trying to get over the oversized Sandslash’s apparent attempts to turn him over to Mhynt or Alexander… but it seemed like he didn’t have a choice there. He could confront him later. Later, later, later, always later.

“Clout?” Owen instead asked.

“It’s not like you can waltz into a place and say ‘hey, tell me classified info’ or whatever.”

“I gave this town the sun, so I guess that would count for something.”

Hakk’s face twisted into a mixture of consideration and befuddlement. Eventually, it furrowed into a resigned, impressed frown. “Huh,” he said. “Y’know, point taken.”

They had some small talk over breakfast. Hakk mentioned a few errands he had to run, including picking up some of their stuff from their old home that wasn’t ruined or stolen, along with a few of Hakk’s projects that he’d forgotten. Demitri offered to help, but Hakk said they’d be fine on their own. Eon came to breakfast a little while later with Jerry, but neither seemed to be much for conversation, and Owen wasn’t interested in talking to Eon yet anyway.

“Hey, uh,” Owen cut in, “is it alright if I help you guys out a little anyway? I don’t really have a job here, and I need some extra time to think. You know, for Dark Matter. I might have something that I can do there, actually…”

“Ehhh…” Hakk glanced at Xypher, who chirped. “Fine. You aren’t worried I’m gonna, like, steal you or something?”

“Mhynt isn’t here, right? Besides, if you do, you’ll have to answer to them.” Owen gestured to the rest of Team Alloy, then at Zena, Enet, and Eon. Jerry, leaned out of the way of Owen’s gesture.

Hakk, meanwhile, avoided Mispy’s stare in particular. “Yep. That’s also a good point.”

Mispy nodded firmly.

“If Owen is going, then so will I,” Zena said. “My shift isn’t until later in the day anyway.”

“Oh, come on,” Hakk groaned. “I’m not gonna take him! I was just pointing it out!”

“It’s not just you I’m worried about.”

“What’s Xypher gonna do?”

“Dark Matter,” Zena said.

“Oh. I mean. Okay.” Hakk shrugged. “Whatever. But don’t get in the way, alright? You’re kinda huge.”

One of Mispy’s vines split open, hissing.

Hakk muttered something about a house of lunatics before leaving the table.

<><><>​

“Do you suppose Mispy is… intense at times?” Zena asked Owen.

“A little.” Owen held onto her horn while he rode on her head. “I think since she has trouble talking, she uses actions to make her point.”

“That’s one way to put it.” Hakk crossed his arms. “She’s gonna get put in the slammer one day for turning someone into paste.”

“Well, her job was usually to turn people into paste and then put them in the slammer…”

“Kilo sounds like it’s worse than here.”

“I—I think I phrased that badly. She has the same job you guys have, in a way. Guards?”

“Oh, so she’s part of the VPN of your world.”

“The what?” Zena asked.

“Voidlands Protection Network,” Owen and Hakk said. Then, Owen continued, “Yeah, and in Kilo it’s called the Thousand Hearts.”

“Right, right, I remember that. So, what, taken in for strength, or what?”

“Strength, good character, aptitude, stuff like that.”

“Good character,” Hakk repeated. “Who judges that?”

“Usually Anam…”

“…The manchild Goodra.”

“Er… h-he’s a lot better than he presents himself. Really. Kilo’s a great place!”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Hakk lied.

They stopped in front of the ruined home, which was mercifully untouched by any potential looters or other thieves that would take advantage of the broken home. Perhaps they assumed it had already been cleared out… or perhaps they only stole what little remained that wasn’t hidden.

“I don’t sense anyone in there,” Owen said. “It’s safe.”

“What, you can sense auras, too?” Hakk asked.

Owen paused. He’d said that without thinking… “Uh, yeah,” he replied. He hadn’t actually checked for auras. He just didn’t sense any life inside…

“Owen?” Zena asked gently.

Owen placed a hand on her horn assuredly. “I’m fine.”

“Mm.”

They continued inside and Owen slid down Zena’s neck and onto the ground. “You guys can help move things around. I’m going to check the outside, if that’s alright.”

“What for?” Hakk asked, but Owen was already looking at the fallen portions of the building. Hakk headed in with Zena, telling her to search around the ground floor while he and Xypher went into the basement.

“It’s those crystals in the walls…”

“What about ‘em?” Hakk asked, letting Xypher descend before walking back to Owen.

“These are the same crystals we used against the Titans, aren’t they?” Owen asked.

“Ehhh yes and no,” Hakk said, leaning down. He started with one of the fallen slabs of rubble. “They’re depleted. Inert. They don’t have the sort of power that the energized ones do.”

“How do you energize them?” Owen asked.

“Usually we can’t, at least, not easily. Takes time. I dunno the process.”

“Okay… So, these are the same things, but they’re depleted. Zena?”

“Yes?”

“Can you put some high-pressure water here to dig out this stone?”

“Are these crystals fragile?”

Hakk hummed uncertainly, then said, “Stronger than the stone.”

With some work, Zena concentrated a thin but powerful stream of water against the rock, eventually breaking loose one of the crystals—a dim, yellow hue radiated from it.

“Y’know, even though they’re depleted, they’re also expensive,” Hakk grumbled. “I gotta repair this, y’know.”

“I’ll pay you back,” Owen said. “Electric…”

“Huh?”

“It’s an Electric crystal.”

“Duh, it’s yellow. You don’t know your element spectrum?”

“I, uh, we weren’t taught that.”

“Each elemental type corresponds to a color. Dragon is indigo, Psychic is pink, Grass is green—it’s derived from the color of their crystals.”

“Oh. Didn’t know that.” Owen held up the yellow one. “So, yellow’s Electric?”

“How did you not—Yes. It is.”

Owen nodded, then directed Zena to pull free a blue crystal next, and then a green one, and finally a pink one. Owen picked up the green one first, holding it tight.

“So, are you just gonna loot from my wall all day, or…”

The green crystal’s glow brightened twofold, hot in Owen’s hands. He held it to Hakk, who was staring, wide-eyed.

“It’s energized now?” Owen asked innocently.

“…How… did…”

Owen’s grin was giddy. “So it did work!” He sprang to his feet. “Zena! We can ward off Dark Matter like this!”

“Hang—hang on, did you just energize a crystal like it’s nothing?! Don’t blow over that, you have any idea how—no wonder Alexander wants you do—y’know what? Gonna pretend I didn’t see that so Mhynt doesn’t order me to grab you. Kid, you need to keep that a secret, immediately.”

“Not a kid. And, it’s that valuable?” Owen asked.

“You just did in a second what usually takes weeks per crystal, assuming we don’t find them by chance out in the plateaus.”

“I… wow. Alright. I’ll, uh, keep that in mind…” Holding the blue crystal next, Owen faced Zena. “Hold this.”

“How do I energize this one? It’s Water, I’m guessing?”

Owen nodded. “Focus like you’re meditating, first. Kind of like summoning a spirit. Then, focus that power into the crystal. It might take some effort…”

As Owen spoke, she followed along, breathing deeply. A soft light started from her head, trailing through her ribbons and into the crystal. The light from Zena faded back to normal, but the radiance from the crystal remained.

“You’re kidding me,” Hakk muttered. “Both of you?!”

“I’m… a little tired,” Zena admitted to Owen. “Are you?”

“A little, but I think I have some practice. This isn’t about power, but how to draw from yourself, if you want to activate a crystal like this.” Owen gestured to the wall. “I’m going to get some for all the Guardians. Jerry might be in danger, though, and the same goes for Demitri and Mispy. But any of the Guardians can do this. I, uh, I’ll handle Enet, since I think I know how to explain it to her.”

“Jerry should be okay,” Zena said. “He’s immune to Dark Matter’s touch.”

“What?”

Zena shrugged. “He won’t say.”

“Hmm…” Yet another thing to discuss.

Xypher emerged from the basement and chirped at Hakk. He had a few things in a bag, but it seemed whatever was down there, it was staying there or it wasn’t worth salvaging.

“Well, I guess that’s all for here,” Owen said. “Uh, sorry for the wall, Hakk.”

“Ehh, just gimme a cut of what you get paid,” Hakk muttered.

“Sure.” He grinned. “I don’t think I’ll be using money too much anyway! Okay, Zena. Let’s gather the others and find Dark Matter.”

“And you’re sure this will be enough?” Zena asked. “What are we going to talk to Dark Matter about?”

“I want to see what he has to say.” His expression was serious, but even he knew that this was only a gut feeling. “If he tries to only get us to follow him by his word alone, then we won’t.”

“He thrives on negativity,” Zena warned. “He could just try to fill us with doubt.”

“And if it seems like he’s doing that, stop listening and we can go,” Owen said. “We still have a counterattack against him, don’t we? All we have to do is coordinate with Nevren once he gets that portal open. After that… Against all of us?” Owen shook his head. “I don’t think he can win. We have the upper hand, now.”

“Just be careful,” Zena warned. “This won’t be the first time you’ve been overconfident with your Mystic power.”

A phantom pain of Jerry’s icy fangs briefly tightened Owen’s chest. “Right.” He nodded. “Right. We’ll be careful. And… make sure we don’t leave any weaknesses. We’ll try to stay near the tree, too.”

“That’s better,” Zena said, and then she smiled.

Right. As long as they were careful… they would be able to confront Dark Matter. Maybe he could get some answers, and maybe there would be a way to fix all of this. Owen could only hope that this lingering feeling in his gut that he had to speak to Dark Matter was the right one.

<><><>​

Trina, Gahi, Enet, Zena, Eon, and Jerry were the ones that came with Owen to meet Dark Matter. Demitri and Mispy—the only ones not known to be immune, or without a proper Orb to resonate with a light crystal, stayed further behind, but kept a distant watch nonetheless.

Owen stood atop Zena’s head for the greatest vantage point, and they led the way forward. Eon, as a Charmander, rode on Gahi’s shoulder, while Trina balanced between the slender Flygon’s antennae. Jerry trailed behind, making frequent, paranoid glances left and right. He muttered to himself about how stupid this was, and why everyone had so much faith in the idiot Charmander.

The idiot Charmander ignored him. He knew, deep in his gut, that seeing Dark Matter, at least to hear what he had to say, would be worth it. He once feared his instincts, but now, he realized that many of them were his past selves trying to tell him what to fear, and when to press forward. The influence of his mutant self was weakest now, and his mind felt clearer than it had been in centuries.

There was something about Dark Matter that drew him in. But if he was meant to be a creature of the light, why was that? He had to know. Perhaps seeing Dark Matter would answer that question. And even if it didn’t, he would at least have an opportunity to glean the entity’s full motivations. Perhaps even a weakness.

“We’re pretty far from town,” Eon, another Charmander, hummed.

“Dark Matter doesn’t like that tree,” Owen said. “So if we’re in trouble, we can run toward it. Everyone, you have your crystals?”

They all murmured in affirmation. Some had them grasped in their hands; others had them tied around their necks.

“Don’t lose them. I think that’s the one thing protecting you from his influence.”

The forest was darker. The air seemed denser. Light from his flame didn’t go as far as it should have. It was like the atmosphere itself was closing in on them the deeper into the forest they went. Trees loomed over them, as if making faces, mourning their arrival, and they groaned with every bitter gust of wind.

They passed by another aberrant cluster of berries in the ground and Owen’s stomach twisted in knots. He looked away quickly. When Zena asked if he was alright, he only muttered a halfhearted dismissal.

After perhaps a half hour of travel, Owen caught a glimpse of a dark glow. It was an impossibility; it flickered like fire, but where it touched was darker instead of bright.

“Stop.” Owen slid off of Zena, landing lightly on his feet. He steadied his breath, puffed his chest, checked his feathers like it was some important job interview, and faced the dark.

“We’ll be right here, Owen,” Zena assured.

“Don’t be scared,” Enet added. “He’s not strong against us.”

“Yeah, whatever she said.” Gahi gestured at Enet, who Owen realized had said that to him in the feral tongue.

“Be careful,” Trina said, “but so will we.”

“Do you need anyone with you?” Eon asked.

“…Just stay within earshot,” Owen said. “I want you to hear this, too. Just in case I forget, you know? It’s… happened before.”

“Just don’t die on us,” Jerry murmured. “I know you like doing that, but this would be a bad time.”

Owen smiled a little, but nodded and walked forward. His feathers were puffing out, and he really wished he was back to his Fiery self, but this would have to do.

“Dark Matter!” Owen called. “I’m a little early, but I’m here.”

The dark flame moved, but before it came into view, someone else stepped out from the trees to the left.

“Owen!” Anam called cheerfully. “Hi! Got here alright?”

“It was a little far.”

“Enough smalltalk.”

The world went dark. The sky went from its purple, dreary color to a black haze. The ground itself gave way to nothing, even though he could still feel the dust beneath his feet. Jerry cried in fear, but then masked it with an angry shout.

Before them was another Owen—or Dark Matter impersonating him as a great Charizard with a black flame. He stomped forward leisurely, as if he had a thousand better things to do, and was only here out of obligation. But his eyes were trained on Owen and, once they were five feet away from one another, he scowled.

“Look at you.” Dark Matter’s claws curled into the dirt. “And this is who you thought was worth waiting for?” He glowered at Anam, who strained to keep his smile.

“You were the one who went through all that trouble and risk to talk to me in the tree,” Owen replied calmly. His heart was hammering in his tiny chest. He realized, just then, how easily Dark Matter could make an attempt on his life, or whatever equivalent in this realm. Or would he capture him? Claim his spirit? No, he had light; Dark Matter couldn’t so much as touch him if he wasn’t careful.

That gave Owen pause. Why did he know that innately? That Dark Matter couldn’t touch him?

“You’re getting distracted and we barely started talking,” Dark Matter said.

“What?” Owen snapped to attention. “Oh—sorry. I was getting some thoughts.”

“You do that a lot.”

Owen said nothing. His heart felt better. His breath did not. It was hard to keep it steady in all this darkness. Something primal told him to run away, but he knew not to. “What did you want to talk to me about?” He glanced at Zena and the others around him, but they were reflexively taking steps back to keep their distance. They were all quiet, and a few looked like their breathing was labored just by being near him, so far from the tree that warded his influence.

This was bad. He had to be careful. He hadn’t expected Dark Matter’s aura to have that much of an impact on them… Would it affect him, too? So far, he felt okay…

“Straightforward. Fine. And you want all of your allies to hear this?” Dark Matter gestured to them in the back. “Some things are easier said privately.”

“I’m done with secrets.”

“Hm.”

Owen knew that Dark Matter couldn’t feel pleased, but he wondered if that had an effect in other ways.

“Fine. What do you want to know?”

“I remember everything about Kanto,” Owen said. “And Almia, and Orre, and Mew, and how humans corrupted her. I remember seeing a light from a vortex above Quartz Isle, and then everything going white. Then I woke up. My human trainer became a Mew, and I thought it had always been that way.”

This was probably a surprise to his team, too. He hadn’t told them all the details, and he probably should have, but in all the mess of things, he’d forgotten. He could apologize later, hopefully. But so far, they said nothing, focused on keeping from falling to that exhausting aura, no doubt. Hang in there, guys. Be there for me…

“And that’s all?”

“For now.” Owen looked up. “What will you tell me instead?”

“You won’t believe me.”

A pang of irritation, but Owen stuffed it away. “I won’t until I remember.” Owen hardened his stare. “I’m not going to believe anything anyone says until I have proof. I didn’t have faith in gods before, and I still don’t have faith in them now.”

“Then you acknowledge that I’m a god.”

“Broadly, I guess.” Owen wasn’t really sure himself, but from what he’d seen with what a god could do… it was close, wasn’t it? An evil god was still a god.

Owen’s neck was getting sore, but he kept staring up.

“Fine. I do not know the full extent of everything. But I do know that you were Necrozma’s student, along with a few others. But you were one of his finest. You were diligent, humble, consistent, and had a good heart. But you also perplexed him, because you refused Ascension. None of his other students did. So, instead, Necrozma granted you more power than he normally would have, and made you somewhat of a demigod. You gained greater influence over blessings. And while not a Legend, you held a shadow of what they were capable of in your spirit.”

All of that made sense. Owen had no reason to doubt any of that because he already had fragments of those memories. He nodded and waited for Dark Matter to extrapolate, mentally guarded for possible deceit.

“The light you saw from the sky in Quartz was that of Arceus, the very one you know. Star had prayed to him in desperation, despite the risk it would cause, and he answered the moment she had been rescued. In a bout of rage, Arceus cast his Judgement upon that land, annihilating Quartz Isle entirely and leaving nothing but a volcanic wasteland in its place. Not only that, but the island itself was erased from history, its inhabitants forgotten or presumed missing to the rest of its world.”

“And then Kilo was born,” Owen said, the words still not fully registering. Arceus destroyed Quartz Isle? And everyone on it? That was the light? “How do you know this?”

“I am Dark Matter. I am made of regrets and pain and hatred. Those who remembered that world filled me, whether they knew it or not, with that knowledge. I was here for the world’s beginning.”

There was no proof of this, so Owen didn’t take it as fact, but acknowledged it as a possibility. He ignored the lingering feeling in his gut that it was true. That all of it was true.

Or was that his head being muddled again? Could Dark Matter be doing that to him, right now? Was his strength against Dark Matter an illusion?

“Nothing?” Dark Matter growled. “How much of your mind has been wiped, Owen? How much of you is gone to the whims of those who wish to control you?”

Owen was glad to not have his flame, but instead it felt like the autumn leaves that made up the frills of his tail had flared out. “And how are you any different?” Owen asked with a bite to his tone. “You steal memories all the time. You turn people into Void Shadows by taking their memories away.”

“I do. And I will not deny that it is monstrous. But it is no more terrible than killing in a war, something mortals do on the regular. But you, Owen. They take away your memories selectively. They want to turn you into a puppet all by your own volition. Ignorant that your will was never your own, but the wills imposed upon you by others. You are their perfect, obedient weapon.”

Those words dug into Owen more than they should have. They were like parasites digging into his forehead. Were his friends saying anything? He couldn’t hear them. Where did they go? Were they still behind him? Owen couldn’t turn around. He didn’t want to find out. But their silence sank into him.

“I’m not—I’m not a weapon. I make my own choices.” Owen’s words were feeble. This shouldn’t be getting to him. Why were they sticking to his mind so stubbornly? He’d said it to himself all the time before, that he’d been pushed around by so many of his superiors all his life, but why did it weigh so much when coming from him? No, he wasn’t supposed to let Dark Matter get to him. These were mind games. It was… a distortion. It had to be.

This was part of Dark Matter’s ploy. He wouldn’t fall for it. Clenching his fists, Owen steadied his breaths.

“You spent nearly all of your life following the choices of others. The only time you chose otherwise…” Dark Matter took one step closer. Owen took a step back, but it was nothing compared to the dark Charizard’s stride. “…Was when you chose to side with me.”

“Well, that’s obviously not true,” Zena interjected immediately, her breaths coming in scattered heaves. Owen’s world felt lighter and his feet were firmly planted on the ground. He was trying to process what Dark Matter said but it all felt cold and numb and heavy. He wanted to cling to Zena for any sort of mental warmth, but his body didn’t move. This was not a time to show weakness.

“Oh?” Dark Matter’s eyes narrowed. The black flame on his tail grew. “Deny, deny, deny. Because you do not want to consider the truth, you assume it is a lie.” He stared at Owen, expression blank. “He obviously does not remember. He is trying to keep a neutral expression.”

“This was obviously a waste of time,” Zena spat back. The amount of energy she was able to put into those words impressed Owen. “It’s time to go.”

Without thinking, Owen took a step away, nodding.

“Of course.” Dark Matter scowled. “Look at what’s happened to you. The moment someone gives a command, you listen.”

Owen stopped.

“Owen…” Zena spoke lowly. “Be careful. He’s trying to mess with your head. Let’s just go!”

“I am doing no such thing. I cannot. You know this. I am only using my words. Is that so dangerous?”

It was all reasonable. It all felt reasonable. Why? Why was Dark Matter making sense? He was waiting for some kind of flaw, but he couldn’t see any, and his head was pounding, and everything was cold.

Owen asked dumbly, “How could I have been your ally?”

And without a pause, Dark Matter answered. “You wanted to help me. You wanted to save the world. That much about you has not changed.”

“Save the world, and help you?” Owen asked. “How? You want to destroy the world.”

“I do, now.”

“Now. Then who was destroying the world instead? Necrozma?”

Dark Matter frowned again. “I told Anam”—he gestured to the silent Goodra, who flinched when he was mentioned—“that I would not tell you anything that I could not prove. My word is nothing. Any truth I tell that cannot be backed with evidence will fall on deaf ears.”

“At least you understand that much,” Eon spoke up. “You would—”

“I want to hear nothing from you, whelp.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Eon growled, but the more he spoke, the more his stance slackened. “I came here like all the others, and I don’t need—”

“Enough!” Owen and Dark Matter growled back. Owen flinched, unable to believe he’d just shouted with the other, and he looked back apologetically at Eon.

Zena was horrified. “Owen, let’s go,” she said. “This was a mistake. We’ll get back to Null Village and regroup. Let’s go before he tries to mess with us more.”

“Of course. The moment your narrative is at risk, you call the truth a lie and flee. Continue to deceive Owen so he will happily pay his life and limb for your cause. Pokémon like him were born with the intent to be used as tools.” Dark Matter glared at Owen. “Go, then. When you find the strength to face the truth, seek me again.”

“You’re going to be gone, though. A-and I’m… choosing not to see you again.” There was no energy behind what was supposed to be a firm declaration.

“…Cute.” Dark Matter held his hand forward, conjuring a black haze above his palm. Immediately, everyone went on guard, but Dark Matter paid them no mind. Owen watched cautiously.

Above his palm, the darkness condensed into a black, coin-like object with a needle balanced on the top. It pointed toward Dark Matter, no matter how it was turned. Dark Matter tossed it to Owen.

“Those with Necrozma’s blessing have an innate sense of where he is. In the Voidlands, his location is considered ‘north’ and is universal across this plane. If you squeeze that coin, you will gain a second ‘north,’ which will point to me.”

“Don’t do it, Owen,” Zena said instantly. “He’s trying to corrupt you! Dark Matter said that Necrozma’s blessing gave that sense if north—so by taking that, you’ll—”

“He already has,” Dark Matter said, “my blessing, fool. Have you been paying attention?”

“Not once has Owen shown any sign of your… your horrible power!” Zena shouted back.

“Of course he hasn’t. It’s been sealed. Sealed like everything else. But that’s all it is; it can be unleashed again. Just like his mutant, weaponized self, suppressed for so long by his own, latent dark power…”

“What?” Owen asked in a whisper. “What do you mean?”

“Let’s just go,” Zena urged. “Please, Owen.”

Dark Matter’s expression was neutral as always. He watched, saying nothing. The coin felt even heavier in Owen’s hands.

“Just leave it behind and come with us,” Zena said gently. “Please, Owen. You can’t possibly believe what he’s saying!”

Owen held the coin a little tighter.

“Owen!”

And then loosened. Dark Matter frowned just barely.

“Not yet.” Owen placed the coin in his satchel along with the spare crystals he’d brought.

“Not yet,” Dark Matter repeated. “And what does that mean?”

“I’m keeping my options open,” he replied hollowly, like a default. “I’m not making any decisions when I’m… stressed.”

Demitri and Mispy got closer, but were held off by Enet, who growled at them to keep away. Jerry muttered something about not getting too close.

“Then I believe we’re done here.” Dark Matter turned and gestured at someone in the shadows of the forest. Moments later, Marshadow emerged, looking normal, but frowning. “I will also be returning this one to you.”

“What?” Owen blinked, but then winced. “You… totally corrupted him, didn’t you?” His heart sank. So, Marshadow was just…

“Yeppers, I’m really goin’ fer my namesake now,” Marshadow said, nodding apologetically. “But hey, orders’re pretty simple. Just do my usual thing, then go back when’m called fer stuff. Guess I ain’t gonna be goin’ inter any high security places anymore, but hey. I’ll work somethin’ out.”

“…You’re supposed to be a Legend. Why were you corrupted at all?”

“A lower Legend. Didn’t get caught ‘til now since I was small ‘n spry. And Dark Matter was all, eh, y’know, busy an’ away.”

Marshadow disappeared into the ground, reappearing near the others with his hands on his hips. Mispy growled and threatened him with the beginnings of a Solar Beam, but he held up his arms pacifyingly.

“Y’know, I have one question.” From behind, Jerry stepped forward, a skeptical look in his eyes. “For the dark god that created this whole place, I’m surprised you’re humoring this at all. You came in here swinging and nearly took down the whole Null Village, and suddenly you’re out here sulking. Doesn’t seem like you, now does it?”

“Get to the point.”

“My point is, if you could get rid of us, you would have. Are these dumb charms that Owen made actually warding you off?” Jerry motioned to the crystals in the Guardians’ possession.

“They are.” Dark Matter nodded, then turned around. “Of course, if someone were to knock them away, you would be vulnerable again. But you took precautions to keep yourselves secure. Otherwise, I would have possessed all of you by now. Also…” Dark Matter stared to the left, glaring at Anam. “He has been focused on suppressing me.”

So that was why Anam was so quiet… How precarious is their situation? Owen had felt for a time that he had to see Dark Matter. He didn’t know why. It was a gut instinct; a feeling, perhaps from a buried memory. But this truth Dark Matter had given him… It was more than that.

What did he forget? What was left in that gap of lost memory?

“Now, go away.” Dark Matter started to walk.

“Wait.”

And he stopped, like he was expecting it.

That discouraged Owen some, but he pressed onward. “I have one last thing I want to ask.” When Dark Matter said nothing back, Owen continued, trying to keep his feathers from puffing out again. “Tell me why you want me to know the truth. Won’t that just lead me to trying to save Kilo?”

“You aren’t ready.”

“Try me.”

“Rrgh… I hate that confident tone.” He turned his head only so one eye could glare down at Owen. “You know nothing, yet you think you can handle what hides in the dark. You, a species that cannot live without light.”

“I’ve been in the dark for centuries,” Owen said. “All I want is to get my memories back. If I get any of them from you, then fine. At least I know. So, what? Are you hoping that if I get them back, I’ll side with—”

“I do not hope.” His eyes hardened. “I desire. I see several options, all of them painful, but some less than others. You gaining your memories is convenient. I will not tell you anything that would be inconvenient to me… and I will not bother telling you anything your original patron will simply erase.”

“My original patron… Necrozma.” Owen’s feathers were rising against his will. “He wouldn’t do that.”

“Believe what you want.” Dark Matter walked into the gloom. “That’s all mortals do.”

And then he left. Owen felt like he had so much more to say, and yet he was already gone. He wouldn’t come back, either. Not today.

So instead, he gazed at Anam, the Goodra’s expression no longer as concentrated, but now tired and relieved.

“Owen,” Zena said gently, and finally she put a ribbon over his shoulder. It dwarfed him and he leaned into it.

“Right. Let’s go back.”

He felt so heavy and hollow. Even when Dark Matter left, that feeling lingered. At first, Owen had thought that it was simply because Dark Matter’s aura had that effect—especially since everyone else looked visibly relieved once he was gone. Like they could breathe again.

But not for Owen. He climbed onto Zena in silence, stared at the compass that Dark Matter had left, and contemplated squeezing it right then. But why?

Shaking his head, Owen looked down. “Zena.”

“Mhm?”

“I want you and the rest of Team Alloy to talk to me after you guys are done with work, okay?”

“Do you want to do it now?”

“No. I need to think.”

“Okay.” Zena didn’t nod because he was on her head, but he could tell she was trying not to fight him on anything. She’d been so persistent in getting him to go away; maybe she was feeling guilty over it.

“Thanks for being there,” Owen added. “A-all of you.”

“Hey, it’s ter keep us safe,” Gahi said.

“That was very strong of you,” Trina said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t of any help. When we got there, I felt… drained. I could barely will myself to say a word…”

“That might have been him,” Owen said. “It might have been even worse without those light crystals.”

“He wasn’t like that before,” Zena said. “Is… is he becoming stronger?”

“He ain’t attackin’ us yet,” Gahi said.

“He’s waiting,” Mispy concluded. “When… will he?”

Nobody had an answer that they wanted to say aloud.

They slowly returned to Null Village. The tree that Owen had created worked as a beacon for them, and very few Void Shadows tried to get close anymore. There were a few hiding in the trees, but none dared attack them when they were so numerous, and with those crystals.

And they were going to reconvene with Nevren and the others soon, too. And all of this worrying wouldn’t matter anymore, because then they would be able to fight Dark Matter from both sides. They were going to dispel his power, fix Amia, free all the Void Shadows, free every single spirit from the Voidlands, and return Kilo to its proper state. It was all going to be okay.

Those were all things that Owen thought. Yet, for some reason, none of it stuck in his mind. Because unlike everything Dark Matter had said, Owen didn’t know if any of it was true.

What Owen hated most of all, on a primal level, was how he’d fought and lost without throwing a single attack.
 
Top