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Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 115 – Espionage and Deception

The walk home was like a new breath of fresh air every step of the way. The further they got from Dark Matter, and the closer they got to the tree, the more everyone’s spirits seemed to be back to normal. It quickly dawned on them all that Dark Matter’s very presence had done that to them—and getting any closer, or staying any longer, could have made it worse.

But those feelings lingered in the back of Owen’s mind. He couldn’t shake them. It didn’t feel like some… external, dark presence. But now, he couldn’t be sure…

Gahi was muttering something to the others about beating Dark Matter up. Trina lectured him about the dangers of that, and how most of his fighting involved making contact. Demitri suggested throwing his tusks, but Trina tried, and failed, to explain that fighting him was a bad idea in general. As a solution, Demitri suggested throwing from even further away. By then, Trina gave up. Gahi suggested Psychic aiming.

Before Trina could reply, Zena cut over the banter. “I think,” she said, “I’m going to stay with Owen today, and… report as sick to work.”

“Lovesick?” Jerry murmured, earning a hiss from one of Mispy’s mouthed vines.

“I want to keep him company. Owen, would you mind that?”

“I—”

“But it ain’t easy, y’know, gettin’ away with that…” Gahi hummed. “And I dunno if they’ll jus’ fire yeh, y’know?”

“Heh, maybe,” Marshadow remarked, hands behind his head. “Employment’s kinda tough sometimes. Where d’you work again? Service? Yeah, yer kinda expendable.”

“I work at a bathhouse,” Zena said.

“As a Milotic? Heh, maybe not too expendable.”

“…You can’t find a better place to work?” Owen asked.

“Not really.” She looked down. “I’ve been isolated in a cave for quite a while, Owen. I’ve lost a lot of my career skills.”

Owen seemed pensive about that. And Zena, when she spoke about work, was starting to look visibly uncomfortable. Marshadow’s quiet laughter wasn’t helping things. Something about that made his feathers puff out.

“I’d probably need some work, too,” Owen said. “At least to keep things comfy while we work out what to do about Dark Matter. Maybe I should take up a job at your place, too.”

At first Zena seemed hopeful, but then she quickly shook her head. “Oh, you don’t need to…”

“Would you like me to?” Owen pressed, and to this, Zena seemed conflicted again.

“It won’t be a bother?” she asked. “It’s… it would be odd, I think. But maybe just for a day, if…”

That was all Owen needed to know. There was more to it, wasn’t there? “Better than sitting around in my thoughts,” he stated.

“W-well. Sure. I’ll see if it’s allowed. But… Well, I still think you should rest. I’ll go in late, send some word to them…”

“Lookit you,” Marshadow said, eyeing Owen with an entertained smirk. “Feelin’ possessive?”

“…I’m starting to think Null Village doesn’t have the best employment practices,” Owen muttered.

Marshadow shrugged. “The world’s godless.”

Says the Legend. Owen glanced at Zena. “Only if you’re okay with it,” he said.

“Just for one day, I think I’d like that,” Zena admitted. “Maybe… at least to find a job for you.”

It was an excuse, but they both knew it.

<><><>​

Owen hopped off of Zena once they were back in their new home and walked down the hall. Enet pawed at the entrance again and Zena helped open the door. The Grassmander nodded a greeting to Amia, who did nothing, and then he hopped onto the bed that had the imprints of Zena’s body. Scaling the hills, he rolled into one of the crevices with his hands clasped over his belly, thoughtful.

“Hello? Yes… yes, this is Milotic… Yes, Milotic Zena. I’m going to come in late for work, I’m sorry.”

Owen, puzzled, rolled so he could get a look at what Zena was doing. Enet was sprawled out and rolling on her bed, snorting and sneezing and subbing her head against the bed. Zena was coiled in the corner with what looked like another strange device in her ribbons, much like the one Marshadow had shared with him before. Was she speaking to it? Was that badge her employer?

No, wait. This was… technology, something he’d only expect from the human world. Or Nevren’s communicator. But Zena had one?

“Yes, I know. I’m sorry. It was a personal matter. …I… Am I supposed to say? Y-yes, yes, it’s—it was for someone close to me, an important meeting, I had to guard him. N-no, it isn’t like that, I—”

Owen’s claws dug into the bed. The leaf on his tail glowed softly.

“Yes. Yes, it won’t happen again. I understand. Yes, I’ll take a late shift. Thank you.” She tapped something on the badge with her other ribbon, but Owen saw that she was trembling.

“Zena?”

“Oh! Right. You’re here.” Zena cleared her throat. “That was my boss. He, er. Well, I did throw this on him short-notice…”

“Was he yelling at you?” Owen asked.

“Like I said, it was short-notice, so…”

Owen hummed a little loudly, disapproving of something. He wasn’t sure what. “Something about this doesn’t sit right.”

“That’s just how bosses usually are, Owen,” Zena said. “I can’t find anything better. And I don’t really have the time, either. Sometimes, I have to clean up after work, and by the time I get home, well, I’m quite tired. I was lucky enough to get this day off, though I don’t have any pay for it. I don’t have that same power as a Guardian. I need to work to sustain things until this Dark Matter business is taken care of. Being hungry isn’t very fun, you know. And decent food here is expensive…”

This sounded like Zena was in a bind not over physical power but social power. Would Zena enjoy if someone else was there to make it more bearable? Even worse, Owen wasn’t sure if the work environment was healthy for her mental health—or if something else was going on that Zena didn’t have the clout to go against.

He didn’t want to impose anything on her, let alone embarrass her, but… Maybe he could get something out of this that was productive, too. Anything to stop stewing in his own thoughts. “I’m fine with working there, you know, until I find another job,” Owen offered. “It’ll help make things easier here, right?”

There was a hopeful look in Zena’s eyes, but it seemed her pride kept her from accepting outright. “Oh, well,” she said, “I wouldn’t want to burden you with that.”

“No, I think I’d want that,” Owen said. “Anything to stop thinking about all this. Maybe a basic job is what I need.”

Again, she hesitated, but it didn’t seem like it was because she didn’t want him there. “It’s a little odd,” she admitted. “You don’t usually… well, perhaps if you’re looking for work, yes. That could be it…” Zena nodded. “Right. Right… But first, let’s relax. After what just happened with Dark Matter, I think I need it…”

“Yeah.” They definitely needed it. Zena didn’t look like she wanted to talk about work in any sort of depth, so he didn’t press it. “When is Nevren going to talk with us again?”

“He said fifteen days at the latest, when we’d seen him before,” Zena said. “Assuming time moves the same here—and we don’t really know for sure—that’s tomorrow our time.”

“How long was I…”

Zena smiled sadly, coiling around the bed so she didn’t take up Owen’s space, though he would have preferred it. “And how are you feeling, Owen? After…”

A fair question to ask, so Owen took the time to think on his answer. “I’m feeling better.” It was technically true. Not great, but better than before. He could tell that Zena knew. “I’m sorry if I let him get to me.”

“He got to all of us, but he was definitely targeting you,” Zena agreed with a cautioning tone. “I can’t believe he’d say such a thing to you…”

“He was trying to make me doubt everything,” Owen summarized. “But the thing is, I think a lot of what he said was… true.”

“It can’t possibly be,” Zena replied instantly, like it had been in her head. “You, aligned with him? With the same powers as him? I can’t imagine it at all.”

Deny, deny, deny, Dark Matter’s words echoed in his mind. It really did hurt to see Zena like that, but wasn’t it the truth?

“Are you sure he isn’t manipulating you? F-false memories? Ah, I’m… I’m sorry if that’s a touchy subject, I—”

“It’s alright. It’s… I get it. It might be, from your perspective, I just—I don’t think that can be it. He takes away memories and he makes negativity, but I’ve never seen him implant memories. I don’t think he can do that. And when I think about what he said, I’m… I feel confident that… at least some of it is true. And I don’t think confidence is something he can implant, either.”

“Confidence…” Zena shifted her weight. Enet was watching them closely.

“Sorry. I promise, I’m not gonna, like, side with him or anything, not after everything he’s done. It’s just, there must have been something different in the past that made me think differently, or maybe Dark Matter himself was different! It’s just like Eon. He’s different now.”

“Just like Eon.” Zena repeated that to herself, quietly, and that put a little light in her eyes. “That’s true. People do change a lot, and perhaps Dark Matter most of all, for you to have once sided with him.”

Hearing it back from Zena reinforced it. That was true, wasn’t it? Perhaps it wasn’t that Owen had once been somehow bent on Dark Matter’s nihilistic philosophies—but that Dark Matter had once been different!

Because he was trying to save the world, Owen realized. But what does that mean for Necrozma?

“You have that thoughtful look in your eyes again,” Zena said gently.

“Y’know, I thought losing my flame would make me harder to read.” Owen huffed, crossing his arms.

“No, I think I just know you well enough by now.” She curled one extra coil around the bed.

He couldn’t hide a smile. “Guess you do,” he said, heart fluttering a little. Then, after a pause, he glanced uncertainly at her. “Are… are we courting again?”

“Well, I—”

“Yeah,” Enet stated.

Zena blinked, glancing at her, then at Owen. “Did she just agree?”

“Oh, was that feral again?”

They stared in a brief silence, and then Zena laughed. “Well, Enet has always been more insightful than she lets on. I… I suppose we might be.” More silence. She was searching for the words.

Owen weighed it in his mind. He had initially been trying to start fresh with Zena. It was because they’d started off out of necessity, to stay sane. Zena was lonely; Owen was confused. They’d defended each other… but they still had things in common after all that. And now, despite everything, it felt… right, this time. Right enough to try.

Zena went on, “I know that we wanted to take things slowly, or, er—”

“Let’s do it.”

Zena’s scales flushed a deep red. “I’m sorry?”

“Courting. Let’s do it.”

Zena visibly relaxed, laughing along with her sigh. “Owen, you really… catch me off guard with your phrasing.”

That one, he hadn’t realized. “Sorry.” Grinning, he sat up. “Does Enet keep watch while we’re gone?”

Zena nodded.

“I know it’s weird for me to go to your work, but I’m too small to be a guard or a scout, and you’re my best reference. It’ll help bring in more money. And I want to try a few things to prepare for Dark Matter.”

“Oh? A few things?” Zena asked.

Owen nodded. “In case Dark Matter tries to force anyone to tell him, I need to keep it to myself. If… if that’s okay with you.”

Zena seemed unsure about that, but then sighed. “Well, you’re the last person I’d expect to keep a secret unless it was for a really good reason. Just… don’t do anything reckless. Okay?”

“This is the opposite of reckless,” Owen assured her. “It’s a plan for if something goes wrong. Speaking of which, will Enet be okay on her own?” he glanced at the Zoroark. “What if someone with Dark Matter tries to get her?”

Enet disappeared before his very eyes.

“Oh.”

“She’s very good at it,” Zena explained, and that was enough.

<><><>​

Aster stood in an empty room, his ears ringing after another bellowing, angry roar from Alexander. Next to him was Mhynt, standing stoically as ever. He had been there for what felt like an eternity. Was he going to stop soon?

At this point, whatever Alexander had been saying was completely meaningless. He had no idea what was actually happening now. What he was saying. Why he was there.

Oh, because he’d failed. Now he remembered…

“Aster.”

“Y-yes?” Finally standing at attention, the Mewtwo stiffened and stared straight ahead. Alexander drifted around him, his breaths coming in low, echoing growls tainted by darkness.

“What did I just say?” he quizzed.

“U-um… that… I’m a disgrace, and didn’t achieve even the s-simplest task.”

“…Mmff. Then you were listening.” Alexander leaned closer, growling

“Your Greatness,” Mhynt said, “I have good news, at least.”

“Good news? And you held it until now?”

“Yes. I did not want this to be over remote communications, and you took me to this meeting straight upon my arrival.”

Alexander’s expression twisted into a somehow deeper snarl. “Are you calling me a fool?”

“No, sir. Your anger is justified.”

“Then what is the report?”

“I lent some of my power to one of the guards of Null Village. I subtly altered his preferences to be partial toward being near Owen as a companion. Subtly enough that he would not realize it. With my latent Psychic power, I can see through his eyes when I focus, and I can read through his memories at will. He will be a valuable spy to keep an eye on Owen’s whereabouts.”

“Hmmm…” Alexander floated back, some of his anger ebbing away.

But Aster couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Was Mhynt really that powerful, all this time? Or did she simply never have that opportunity before? Sure, she only recently got her full power back, but was it really this much that was sealed away?

“That is helpful…” The shadowy haze around Alexander’s body disappeared and Aster relaxed. The Hydreigon’s breathing no longer echoed. “And what did you learn already, then?”

“Owen intends to confront Dark Matter soon. He is likely going to figure out how to counter his power, even though he is weak. I also have learned that those in the living world are going to fight Dark Matter from the outside at the same time. In other words, a two-plane assault.”

“A battle from both sides.”

“If they strike soon, I suspect Dark Matter will be defeated with ease.” Mhynt straightened her posture. “His army is not ready. We will be able to take the remnants of Dark Matter’s army for ourselves and there will no longer be another Void King to challenge you.”

Aster did his very best to suppress a shudder. The only thing that held Alexander back from absolute rule was Dark Matter vying for the same power, and Necrozma across the Abyssal Ocean who was already powerless. If Dark Matter was gone, Alexander could…

But that was what he wanted, right? Alexander would be happy. Then they could have fun. Alexander wouldn’t yell at him ever again.

“That’s great!” Aster said, grinning. “That means Owen would do all the hard work for you!”

“And then we can kill Owen,” Alexander said, rumbling with a new laughter. “Perhaps your mistake was a stroke of luck instead, Aster. Maybe I won’t turn you into a Void Shadow after all.”

The Mewtwo’s blood ran cold. “Y-you were going to do that?”

“Perhaps for a few weeks,” Alexander said leisurely. “But now, I’m feeling generous. I’ll let you remain… intact.”

Aster forgot to breathe. He nodded and tried to speak. No words came.

“You’re dismissed. Mhynt, I want a report every day of your findings.”

“Of course.”

Alexander said nothing more. Aster nodded and disappeared, searching for a quiet space in the castle to cry.

<><><>​

Cipher Castle’s courtyard was an excessively vast space of reddish green grass and glistening, black ponds. It was cleaner than untreated water of the Voidlands, but it still had a tinge of rot that, for the most part, people had become used to. An overweight Swampert was running laps around one of the blackened ponds, struggling every step of the way.

Mhynt strode along a stone walkway, the same color as the blotchy purple sky, and turned her attention to the left. Guards who were chatting next to a fountain in the shape of Alexander spewing water noticed her stare. One by one, they stood at attention, and Mhynt sighed, walking past them. They immediately relaxed, and one of them—a Luxray—mumbled to the others about how scary she was.

Feeling a little impish, Mhynt flicked her hand and launched a spear of darkness over the guard’s head, scorching the upper tip of his mane. The guard yelped, but Mhynt had already gone down a different path.

Alexander was probably watching, so she had to keep the cruelty up. Their fear fed him.

Once she was halfway to the courtyard’s exit, she stopped near a hedge maze and ignored the Void Shadows trapped inside the brambles. She leaned against it and the wraiths shrank away from her. She then flicked her hand, materializing a badge, and flicked through the holographic display with a conjured, shadowy claw.

She found Leph’s contact and waited for her to answer.

“What do you want?”

“I want to go out for some lunch.”

“What? Why?”

“Why not?”

Leph paused and Mhynt heard a small whimper. She hardened her expression and transferred that to her voice. “Is something wrong, Leph?”

“No, I’m just feeling under the weather. Fine. I’ll come with you.”

“I thought gods didn’t get sick,” Mhynt commented dryly.

Leph paused again, then said, “Is Aster coming?”

“If you want.” That was an odd request. Leph usually hated having Aster around since he was so disruptive. “Why don’t I contact him?”

“Fine. But be nice to him.”

“Why?”

“You know why. Alexander has been awful to him.”

“Mm. For failing a critical mission.”

“Mhynt, I’m not having this conversation.”

“Okay.” Mhynt held a breath, sighed quietly, and added, “I won’t mention anything of the sort.”

“Thank you.”

“And how have you been?”

Silence, and that was all Mhynt needed to know.

“I’ve been under the weather. Like I said.”

“Mm.”

“Did you see Owen?”

For only a moment, Mhynt was glad nobody else was around. At least, nobody that could see her face. There was of course that one person a few paces away. They would have seen her stoic mask break for a split-second. She hastily composed herself. “I made contact with him. But he’s nothing like I remember,” she lied. “Lost cause.”

“Oh…”

“It’s nothing to be worried about, Leph. It only reaffirms my purpose here.”

“Right.”

Mhynt said nothing. The Swampert completed his first lap around the small lake.

“Well. I’ll see you at the front of the courtyard, like usual.”

“I’ll call Aster. Goodbye.”

Just as Mhynt ended the call, she sighed and tilted her head upward. “What do you want?”

“Oh? You knew I was here?”

An icy, haughty voice came from the other side of the hedge maze. The Inteleon, Qitlan. While he was by far the weakest, he was considered Alexander’s second in command, if only because he’d done the perfect amount of steady work, reports, useful praise, and general tail-kissing to the Hydreigon’s ego. And he was also apparently one of the best at getting information, and was already hard at work getting what they could from the captive Mew, slowly but surely.

“Of course,” Mhynt said. “You wanted something?”

“Oh, no, no. I was only checking on you. After all, it must be very heartbreaking to see your old mate so twisted and reduced to a shadow of themselves…”

“Get to the point.”

He chuckled. “I’m sorry. I thought you said it was beyond you now. I didn’t think you actually cared.”

Mhynt mentally cursed. She’d slipped. There was no point in hiding it now. “I won’t deny some bitterness,” she said, “but that comes with the territory. It changes nothing; he’s still gone. The one I knew is buried forever in his memories.”

“Of course. I’m sorry.” And Mhynt thought for just a second that it was genuine. “I’ll admit, though, I was worried about this. Alexander has more faith in you than I have for a mission like that. Granted, if you actually had come back with Owen, I would have been entirely convinced of your convictions…”

“Mm. It would have been convenient for me. Unfortunately, my powers were stalled. It is Owen, after all.”

“Yes. Your only true rival at the moment. One with Light and Shadow…”

“The Shadow half is still sealed,” Mhynt said. “I suspect Dark Matter will try to draw it out, but Necrozma’s light will win. Owen will kill Dark Matter, and then we will be one step closer. There was no risk of Owen being claimed after all, if he was able to ward me so easily. It was a strategic retreat. Why interfere when the enemies are fighting one another?”

“Hm!” Qitlan sounded surprised. “You’ve told Alexander already?”

“I have. He was happy.”

“Now that’s the true surprise.”

Mhynt chuckled at that one, and Qitlan did, too.

“So, to half-celebrate,” Mhynt continued, “we’re going for lunch. I have to call Aster, now.”

“Of course. Enjoy yourself.”

“And what about you?” Mhynt asked. “Progress with Star?”

“She’s a tough one,” Qitlan said. “Her mind is a maze and none of our psychics have been able to break through her memories. I suppose it’s to be expected… but it’s cumbersome nonetheless. Ah, well. We will break her eventually.”

“Mm.” Mhynt nodded. “Good luck with that, then. Now, if you don’t mind…?”

“Ah, of course. Goodbye, then.” Qitlan stepped away, his lithe footfalls even softer before, finally, she couldn’t hear them at all.

Star… Mhynt searched for Aster’s contact. Hold on a little while longer.

<><><>​

Cipher City was the largest settlement in all of the Voidlands. Kilo Mountain’s crater was large enough that it took an afternoon to walk from one end to the other; Cipher City sprawled across the center of Void Forest, destroying the dead trees to make room for more buildings for its growing population. Two, perhaps three Kilo Villages could fit inside the city, and that was ignoring the fact that the buildings were tens of stories high in some places.

Mhynt was accompanied by Leph and Aster, two of them riding on the former. They had left the aged Cipher Castle to go into more modern and less traditional parts of the city. The buildings were square and dotted with depleted light crystals, looking like stones dotted with rainbow geodes. Some of the fancier buildings got more extravagant with their crystal work, shaping the colors of each one to depict a picture if far away.

The roads were wide enough to accommodate even Groudon’s wide stance and still have room to spare. Everything was some shade of purple or black at its base, though the dark buildings and colorful lights gave some flair to the dreary atmosphere. Far ahead was a great pillar with an orb of light at the top. It didn’t do much for Mhynt’s scales, and staring at it was not nearly as harmful as the true sun, but it at least provided some light and a sense of time to Cipher City’s inhabitants.

Mhynt sighed, looking down at Leph’s fur. She hadn’t washed lately and it felt matted and thick. How low the gods had fallen.

“Oh! Is that where we’re going?” Aster asked, leaning forward and pointing over Mhynt’s head. She leaned left to see past Leph’s neck. She was at least glad that the holy ring around Leph’s abdomen made a proper, tangible divider between her and Aster so he didn’t accidentally knock her over.

“It is,” Leph said. “I thought we would go somewhere a little more energetic.”

“Energetic, hm?” Mhynt eyed the building’s decorations, unimpressed. It was mostly a bunch of green crystals in the shape of a Tyranitar in a suggestive pose. The Tyranitar’s Tail. “Why?”

Leph only shrugged.

“I think it’s neat!” Aster said.

Mhynt could already smell something vile inside and masked it with a snort. She’d have to get used to that scent later.

The interior of the bar was no better. Sickly brown wood, polished and brightened artificially with some dubious paint, covered the walls, and the tables looked like they were only washed with water for the legally required amount. Mhynt wasn’t going to look under them. After ordering a large booster seat for her table, and for Leph to clear out a spot where she could sit on a mat without a seat to even their heights out, they got situated.

It was different, speaking at near-eye level to Leph and Aster alike. It felt like she could actually get a word in.

“Come here often?” Mhynt hummed, glancing at the patrons that still watched them. There was a light buzz, but it was quieter than before they had entered. Eyes of countless patrons stealing glances at Alexander’s finest. Of course they would watch.

“Not too often, but I was curious about its energy,” Leph replied.

“Energy. Mm.” No, there was more to it. A noisy place. They were getting eyes, but not many were coming close. Hiding in plain sight? Was that what Leph was doing? This area was wholly unexpected…

Occasionally, Leph made a glance at the entrance. Nobody of particular note came in, and with how far in the back they were, did it matter?

No, it didn’t. And that was important.

“Hey, there.” There was a hint of nervousness in the waitress’ voice—a gruff looking Mightyena—but she at least had the courage to approach. Mhynt could respect that. As she used a free paw to pass the menus on her back to the trio, she asked, “Can I get you anything to drink to start off?”

“Oran juice!” Aster said cheerfully.

“Just water, please,” Leph replied.

“Your strongest drink. Titan sized.” Mhynt didn’t look up, so she didn’t see the waitress’ expression, and instead looked through the menu’s appetizers.

There was a pause, and then the Mightyena nodded. “Of course! And would you like to hear about our specials?”

“Only one,” Mhynt said.

“Oh! Erm. Yes. Well, er, we, um…”

“Mhynt, stop being so intense!” Aster laughed, patting Mhynt on the shoulder, who barely moved.

“Hm?” Mhynt glanced up. “How do you mean? I think I only want to hear the best special right now.”

“Oh! Well, the best one.” Mightyena visibly relaxed. “I’d recommend the spicy rocky wings. They’re a new item made with extra crispy batter, and real meat!”

“Real meat, hm? And just how was that acquired?”

“Legally,” Mightyena said, like it was rehearsed.

“I’ll order that, along with the bottomless chips. I’d also like the Tyratail Sliders.”

“Me, too!” Aster added. “Oh! And can I have the Cheri burger to go with it?”

“The cheese-veggie salad, please,” Leph finished. “That’s all for me. Titan sized.”

With their orders taken, Mightyena left, and Mhynt faced Leph again. The Creator’s daughter was always so polite. Mhynt figured she must have gotten it from the holy father’s mannerisms. So, why here? The Treecko’s yellow eyes bore holes into Leph’s face.

“Well, I guess with that look you’re giving me, you know something must be strange,” Leph finally said.

Mhynt said nothing.

Aster, too, said nothing.

“…I wanted to talk to you about Alexander.”

“Oh?” Mhynt asked. “I thought you preferred not to speak about work when on a break.”

Leph’s expression was inscrutable. She wasn’t nearly this unreadable during poker. And Aster was being remarkably quiet, too.

“There’s a resistance brewing,” Leph continued. “They’re done with his rule. I’ve… kept it a secret for a while. But I’m their leader, and… I got careless. I defied Alexander too openly and he nearly Voided me. I think he’s afraid. And I know you hate him, too. Even if you follow all his orders, I know you hate him. If we all work together, we can overthrow him. But we have to act fast. It has to be tomorrow.”

Mhynt’s face was like stone. She heard the words, and she understood the impact, but she did not let it move her. “I see,” she replied. “You’re keeping this resistance stronghold a secret even here, so it does not get out, then.”

“I am.” Leph was intentionally hiding her movements, tensing her muscles to keep still. Aster was less subtle, fidgeting nervously. They were afraid of something. That she would betray them after all this trust they’d built?

“Aster?”

“Y-yeah?”

“You’re part of this as well?”

“M-mhm.”

“I see.” Mhynt nodded. “That was very smart of you to do this here. Alexander’s spies wouldn’t already be here, because it is not your usual haunts. But you made sure to see everyone coming in. Very good.” Mhynt sighed. “But by now, one probably came. Let’s enjoy our food.”

Leph and Aster were silent again, glancing nervously at one another, then back at Mhynt.

“You—” Aster hesitated. “You mean, you’re fine with it? A-after all the work you’ve done for Alexander?”

“Hm?” Mhynt didn’t look up again, reading aimlessly through the menu. “You seemed confident about your deductions. Why doubt it now?”

“Well, we… I…” Leph fidgeted. More silence. Yes, something was wrong. How much of what Leph just told her was a lie? “It’s nothing.”

“Then it was nothing,” Mhynt agreed, and just in time, their waitress returned with drinks and appetizers.

“Enjoy!”

“We will.” Mhynt slid her drink—which was larger than she was—toward her and then forward, and then grabbed a chip the size of her hand and nibbled at it, piece by piece.

Mhynt would have enjoyed the relative peaceful respite after that exchange, perhaps savoring some of the food the bar had to offer—it was a guilty pleasure—but all of that came crashing down when a cross-eyed Ursaring wobbled toward their table.

“Hey,” he said in a slur thicker than Aster’s head. “You’re that Minty Treecko everyone knows about…”

She considered ignoring him, but the stench was getting to her. She would shoo him away. A warning first. “I am Mhynt, yes. And you’d best—”

“Y’know, I always had a thing for small, powerful Pokémon like you…”

The warning expired. With a flickering motion, Mhynt produced her Honedge blade from thin air and pointed it just under Ursaring’s chin. “Leave.”

Ursaring’s smile broadened, but there was a tinge of fear in his eyes. “Feisty,” he commented. “Y’know, maybe I’ll buy you a drink or two and we can go to my place tonight…”

He grinned again, though his smirk held a bit of hopeful fear in him. Was he really asking her out? She really needed to work on her ‘go away’ default expression. With a sigh, she said, “Fine.”

Much to Aster and Leph’s surprise.

“Um—Mhynt? Are you feeling okay?” Leph asked. Any attempt at stoicism had disappeared from Leph in an instant.

“Of course. Ursaring, why don’t you come with me to the washroom?” Mhynt stepped off of her seat and landed far to the floor. “Leph, Aster, feel free to start eating if your food comes before I return.”

She didn’t look back as she stepped past the other patrons and into the back corner of the room. Ursaring followed, fidgeting nervously, giggling to himself, while a few nearby waitresses sighed and seemed to play fire-water-grass against each other for who had to perform cleaning duty next.

The washroom hall had several doors, but Ursaring kindly opened one of the larger ones so she could step in. The strong, chemical smell of cleaning liquids wafted toward her and made her inner Grass shrivel.

“So, uh, why here?” Ursaring asked, followed by a deep giggle.

Mhynt kicked off the ground and leapt onto a sink, turning so she was closer to his height. “I didn’t want anybody else to see, of course. I like leaving things to the imagination. Now, why don’t you give me a kiss?”

“O-uhuhu-ohoho… a kiss?” Ursaring, flustered, shifted left and right. “S-sure, sure! And, um, a kiss?”

“We’ll see what happens from there,” Mhynt said. “Maybe we’ll hold hands next.”

Ursaring’s fur puffed out and he nodded quickly.

“Now, close your eyes.”

He obeyed and leaned forward. Mhynt concentrated, watching his wobble… Her eyes flashed with pink light.

She saw an Ursaring working in heavy lifting in a company a few blocks from the bar. He was supposed to be at work, but he often shirked it. He went to the bar for extended breaks and spent a portion of his money on drinks and treats for random ladies he’d see. Then, he would go home to a makeshift family, and he felt powerful around them, often because he did still make the most money. But they also resented him, and he liked that look in their eyes.

She saw flashes of the things he did to them.

A rotten spirit, like so many in Cipher City. Only the rotten survived.

She’d seen enough.

Mhynt broke her concentration; only a few seconds had passed, and Ursaring was still waiting, eyes closed, for his prize. Mhynt reached up and pressed a finger to his lips, and he stopped breathing. Seconds later, bits and pieces of his fur fell off of him like dust in the wind…

Hopping off the sink, she made sure her movements were lithe, and she eagerly left the chemical smell and returned to the table. During that short time away, their food had indeed arrived, and Mhynt gladly returned to her seat with a quick hop.

Leph looked unamused, staring. The Treecko, in response, took her first extra crispy wing, savoring the taste. It really was crispy. Good crunch. Just the right flavors to balance it out. No wonder the bar was so popular. Crunch, crunch.

“You aren’t going to explain yourself, are you?” Leph asked.

“Hm?” Mhynt tilted her head.

“Can I have some?” Aster whispered.

“I’m far too small for all of this,” Mhynt said, gesturing for Aster to go ahead. “By the way, we should leave soon. Have we paid?”

“I paid in advance,” Leph confirmed, a small pouch levitating next to her to reveal a small, glowing card inside.

Mhynt nodded back. “Good. The smell of this place is starting to get to me. Though, I will admit, the food is good. But I’d much rather enjoy it at home.” They even had the courtesy of putting the food in some to-go boxes. Wonderful. Maybe they just didn’t want more tables to clean, or they wanted fresh customers to occupy them.

Just as they were finished packing up, a high-pitched scream sounded from the bathroom, calling the attention of about half of the patrons. The huge doors to the larger washroom opened, but no large creature emerged. Instead, it was a disoriented, frightened, confused Teddiursa covered in dust, staring at his paws like he was in a nightmare.

“I suppose that’s our time to leave,” Mhynt said, closing her box. “Let’s go.”

<><><>​

Mhynt was not sure where Leph and Aster had gone after their fun at the bar. They had gone back, business as usual, spoke to a few guards, asked why that Swampert was still swimming around the lake, and then headed back to their quarters. Mhynt had a lot to think about, mostly to do with what Leph had told her. A rebellion, really? Centered right in Cipher City, where Alexander’s influence was the strongest? She wasn’t going to believe that, but the reason behind telling her in the first place interested her. Leph wouldn’t be coming up with some false narrative just to throw her off without any good reason. No, in fact, this sounded more like a setup.

Leph had been ordered to say that, and then Aster had been told to keep quiet. It was the only way it made sense. This was a test from Alexander. So, with that in mind, it was trivial enough to know what to do next—tell Alexander and throw Leph under. On her way to Alexander’s quarters, she’d tried to find where Leph and Aster had gone, but for some reason she was unable to find them.

Leph’s door was askew down the long hall. There was a table that had been overturned, when she leaned over to take a look at what was in her room. Not good. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time that Aster had gone in to pester her, only to get an angry Judgement in response. But this time, Mhynt didn’t think that was the case.

More likely, they were ordered to avoid her until she turned them in, like a sort of test to make sure she wouldn’t ask for more information and get it wrong, or catch them in a lie. But there was still a sinking feeling in her gut that they’d been sent off to another mission, which would leave her alone with Alexander. And she hated nights like those.

Mhynt shook her head. Time to see Alexander. She had no choice.

The halls on this floor of the castle were ornate with regal blues and purples. Black stone was the dominant color, and it narcissistically represented the Hydreigon’s natural colors. There were even flecks of red here and there, like his eyes would be watching her no matter where she went. He wasn’t omnipresent, but he certainly liked to give off that impression.

“Your Darkness,” Mhynt said, rolling her eyes. She knocked on the door, knowing that at this hour he would be awake. But she always made sure to keep her knocks gentle, so he didn’t have a reason to yell at her for being too loud.

One problem with Hydreigon is that she had no way to tell where he was in the room. His wings made no sound when flying, and his levitation meant no footfalls. Maybe he enjoyed that small twinge of paranoia it gave her. For all she knew, he was down the hall. Her scales felt colder behind her and she spared a glance back. Nothing.

After a long while, Alexander finally answered. “Enter.”

Because he wanted to make it all the more inconvenient. These doors were meant for large Pokémon. At least she could conjure a Shadow for that. She held her hand up; over her shoulders, the silhouette of a Sceptile appeared and mimicked the motion. She pressed forward and the Sceptile did the same, pushing the door open, before disappearing. Mhynt stepped through and regarded Alexander’s room idly while he rose from his desk.

This was his bedroom. It was big enough that Mhynt could make a large house and yard for herself out of the square feet, and probably have a little shed for Aster, too. Near the back of the room was a large bed fit for a king, obviously, with enough pillows to satisfy Groudon himself. They towered over themselves, and Alexander must have recently toyed with them, because a few had been torn open and shredded. Mhynt wondered what he did in his sleep.

“This had better be important,” Alexander said, checking his badge for the message she had sent. It was a curt, businesslike one, simply that she had to speak with him, nothing more.

“Yes,” Mhynt said. “I wanted to report to you about a rebellion effort.”

Alexander’s scaly brows furrowed. “And you didn’t quash it immediately?”

“I did not know its full headquarters nor did I know the full extent of it. I was hoping to gather more information… and to inform you of it quickly. The participants involved made the circumstances… strange.”

“Strange? Who are they?”

“Aster and Leph. With Leph as the leader. Or, at least a figurehead. I do not know how they managed to do that without your detection until now, nor do I know how even I did not see it, but they disclosed it to me during an excursion into the city. They were careful to evade any possible retainers that you sent along with them, as well. They had planned to inform me of this in a coordinated manner. In fact, I would not be surprised if they had some kind of contingency should I have disagreed, not that I am confident in their ability to apprehend me.”

She’d rambled for longer than she should have. That would make her seem nervous. She hid her irritation with a firm stare. “I seek your advice on what to do next.”

Alexander listened with an amused smile. “They really thought that, did they?”

“I believe so. They appeared to be genuine; while I would not put such a prank past Aster, Leph was the one leading the discussion.”

“I see. Well, Mhynt, that is wonderful. I had suspected for a while that they were planning something; that is why I took the liberty of going ahead and apprehending them preemptively. When you told me that you wanted to speak to me about something… yes. I was certain that it would have had to do with them.”

“Apprehended?” Mhynt repeated, keeping her tone as even as possible.

Alexander grinned even more, a malevolent twinkle in his dark eyes. “Follow me. It’s time you saw them.”

Alexander drifted out of his room, his tail flicking in the air. He did that when he was eager, excited. She hated that. So many horrible memories. But she knew how to disguise those emotions, even from Alexander, as they continued through the halls. Down the spiral staircase with the red and purple carpet that looked like rotten blood. Down the darker, duller halls that were decorated far less. Where the windows stopped appearing because they’d gone underground, and where the damp air made Mhynt’s scales wither on reflex.

They walked along the dungeon’s first floor. Metal bars glowed softly with the aura of Protect energy, meant to nullify any elemental attempts of whoever was there. The air inside some of the inactive cells smelled vaguely of nullifying gas. Not potent enough to have an effect anymore, but she was certain that particularly troublesome Pokémon would get it. After taking a few glances at some of the Pokémon sitting inside, she decided instead to keep her gaze forward. Some of them looked malnourished; others still had wounds on them. A few looked like little more than lumps of darkness, as if Alexander had descended upon them on a whim. He probably had.

In the very back, as Mhynt tuned out the groans and whimpers of some of the dungeon Pokémon, Mhynt realized Alexander was leading her to a door that was closed off by solid, glowing metal. A high security room that not even she would be able to break out of with much ease.

An Inteleon—Qitlan—was standing right next to it, looking at something on his badge until they’d arrived.

“Hello, Mhynt,” Qitlan greeted with a bow. “How interesting to see you a second time today. Usually, we don’t cross paths often. Sometimes I think you schedule lunches around me.”

“Don’t be silly.” She did. “Are you here tormenting someone else? Star is down the other hall.”

“Oh, I’m giving her a break for now,” Qitlan said. “There’s something much more interesting behind here. Your Mightiness?”

“Open it.”

“As you wish.” With a few taps on his badge, he pressed the device next to the door, which slid open. There was a second door on the other side, keeping whoever was in the main chamber completely trapped. Once they passed through again, the door closing behind them, Mhynt saw what she’d been expecting, and dreading.

Tied in chains, energy and elements suppressed, and pinned uncomfortably against the walls, were Leph and Aster. Both looked exhausted, but uninjured; they’d been here for a few hours.

“All over a mere suspicion?” Mhynt asked Alexander.

“They’re rarely wrong.”

“Mhynt…” Aster winced, like speaking was a strain to him. His voice was raspy. “What’s going on? I don’t get it…”

Leph said nothing, but she was staring at Alexander with a seething hatred.

“It seems pretty clear to me what should be done here, Mhynt,” Alexander said. “What do you think?”

Mhynt stared at Alexander with her usual, blank face. Her yellow, reptilian eyes then trailed to Leph, then Aster. He, in particular, looked at her with desperate, confused, hopeful eyes, all at once.

“I agree,” Mhynt said. “All this time, they had been preparing for an overthrow. To be this far into their ranks, there is no telling how much they have leaked to them. And how much more they will leak.”

“W-wait, I don’t—”

“Enough, Aster,” Leph said quickly. “Don’t… say anything.”

“But—”

“Silence,” Alexander hissed, pointing one of his smaller heads toward the Mewtwo. A chain of darkness shot from its mouth and into Aster’s throat, coiling around it and squeezing. His eyes bugged out and he tried to breathe; he only let go once Alexander was sure he’d lost his voice again.

Mhynt flicked her hand; from the darkness, an empty Honedge appeared and placed itself in Mhynt’s right hand.

And then, with a low rumble, Alexander said, “Kill them.”

Mhynt moved deftly. She began her motion with a crouch, and then she’d disappeared, snapping in front of Aster just as her upward swing completed, cleaving him in two. Aster didn’t even have time to react, and her blade was coated in his blood and the dim glow of light and shadow. Mhynt was surprised at how easy it was; Alexander must have weakened him considerably.

Leph cried something. Mhynt didn’t hear it over the sound of her blade cleaving the stone behind Aster’s body.

Mhynt hopped back and shook her blade, spattering excess blood on the wall.

Something golden shined behind the wall. Tendrils of darkness jutted forward and around Aster’s halves, pressing them together. The body stitched itself back, leaving a fading, black line where Mhynt had cut, Aster’s face frozen in unaware horror.

And then, he blinked, and gasped, and tried to break free on reflex. He cried from the overwhelming phantom pains.

Leph screamed, “MHYNT! YOU—”

“Was that all you wanted?” Mhynt asked Alexander, annoyed.

“Well, well.” Qitlan idly clapped. “She didn’t even hesitate, Your Greatness.”

“She didn’t.” Alexander grinned again, lowering until he was closer to the Treecko’s level. “Tell me, how did that feel? I’m sensing… something from you that’s unpleasant.”

“Yes. I’m annoyed.” It was a lie; she was terrified. That could have gone horribly, and she’d taken a gamble with Aster’s life. But there was simply no way Alexander would want to dispose of Aster so readily, let alone Leph. None of it had added up unless it was all a ploy. So now, she had to keep with the act. Her heart threatened to explode.

“Annoyed?” Alexander asked, looking briefly and genuinely confused.

Good. She could lull him in. “I have a report to do, and I am being pulled aside to not-kill a not-treasonous person. I don’t have time for torture. Leave it to an underling. This is beneath me.”

“Ah. Of course.” Alexander nodded, looking entertained. Perhaps he’d even laugh later. “Well, Mhynt, since it’s fine now, I’ll tell you. I ordered Leph to fabricate a story about a rebellion, and then she would report to me on how you reacted. This was a test.”

“What did I do to question my loyalty?” Mhynt said with a bite to her tone.

Alexander raised his smaller heads disarmingly, but he still grinned, like he had all the cards. “It was just a suspicion that your drive wavered after seeing… him again. After what happened with Aster, I had to be sure, after all.”

“The Owen I knew is dead,” Mhynt spat. “Nothing will bring him back. He lives only as memories. What he became now is…” She was giving away too many genuine emotions. Stopping herself, she turned away. “There is nothing to salvage. My loyalty continues to be toward Cipher City and you.”

“Then you really were caught off guard?” Qitlan asked, still leaning against the wall. “I find that surprising, considering how easily you complete just about any other mission or target we throw at you.”

“Alexander would know better than you that Owen is a unique subject, along with any allies he enchants.”

“Yes. He has the same properties as Mhynt,” Alexander said.

“Actually,” Mhynt added, raising her blade before dispelling it. “I forgot to mention something during by verbal report. It is going to be in my written synopsis. Owen has lost his power over darkness. It has atrophied.”

“Hmm.” Alexander’s tail flicked again. “Then perhaps he isn’t a threat after all…” Alexander hummed. “But weakened does not mean gone. Dark Matter is there, too.”

Mhynt nodded. “He may be trying to reawaken that power. If it is, then he will become a threat again. However… Owen does not realize this. He intends to defeat Dark Matter.”

As Mhynt spoke, Alexander’s grin—all three heads—grew wider. “That is our time to strike,” he said. “Qitlan. Unbind the two. Mhynt, finish your report. I will be making arrangements to time our assault for when Dark Matter is at his weakest.”

He drifted out of the dungeon.

“In one swoop, we will eliminate two of our greatest threats.”

The door shut, leaving Mhynt alone with Qitlan, Aster, and Leph. She spared a glance back at them, out of Qitlan’s vision, and flashed an apologetic frown. But then, she hardened it again, and faced Qitlan. “Clean them up. I have a report to finish.”

“Of course.” Qitlan gazed at Mhynt. “But do not think I am fooled, Mhynt. I know you still have feelings for Owen. Don’t let that shake your loyalty. Otherwise…”

“I’m aware.” Mhynt stepped past him, pushing the dungeon door open. “Goodbye. Also, if it is true that Leph and Aster are still allies… I expect you will not treat them in the same way you are treating Star.”

“You have my word. I intend to only free them.” Qitlan flashed two glowing cards in his hand. “Speaking of which, you asked if you could see Star. After all you’ve done… why not? Pay a visit. Perhaps you can get more information from her.” Qitlan tossed Mhynt a third card, this one heavier than the two meant for the chains.

“Thank you.” With a flick of her wrist, the card disappeared. “I will do that after my report.”

She walked through the dungeon, silently pondering her options. She’d escaped that test unscathed, but at what cost? She could only pray that Aster and Leph would understand when it was all over. And soon, it would be. Soon… she hoped. But to whom she hoped, she no longer knew. Perhaps it was just to the aether.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 116 – Call of the Void

Owen had a few reasons for going to the bathhouse that Zena worked. For one, he wanted to see what kind of lives Pokémon had in Null Village properly, now that he was out of the evaluation room. Along with that, he wasn’t sure if Zena was tolerating possible mistreatment at work; something about the place gave him a bad feeling, just from how she’d talked about it at home. If he could help her see that, or at least ease the burden if he worked with her, perhaps that would be enough. And lastly, he needed to clear his head someplace that wasn’t right by his reduced shell of a mother.

The bathhouse was further down the road, along a street that still had small signs of that battle in the skies between Migami and Aster. That felt like such a short time ago, and Owen reminded himself that he had been dormant for longer than he remembered.

Plumes of steam constantly blew out from the bathhouse, which was blocked off by a thin curtain. Owen wondered, if the facility they were in had baths and wash areas, did some homes not? Or was this more of a communal thing? As Owen’s mind wandered, they headed inside, where a Carnivine with a kind smile and seething eyes greeted them.

“Ah, Zena!” Carnivine greeted with a saccharine bite. “You’re here earlier than expected!”

“Yes, I’m sorry for calling late,” she said. “I was able to finish what I had to do early. I can take up my shift now.”

“Wonderful, wonderful!” Carnivine brought his leafy arms together.

Something about this Pokémon made Owen’s feathers rise defensively.

“Well, and who is this? The one you need to guard?”

“Yes. I’m sorry if it’s a bother.”

“He is… a bit odd looking. I’ve never seen a Pokémon like him before.”

“I’m a southern Charmander.”

“Oh! My apologies.” Carnivine bowed his massive head, his whole body floating up and down with the momentum. “Well, it’s a bit unorthodox, but if he’d like to help sort towels and assist with cleaning, I’d be happy to pay him for the day.”

“I can do that,” Owen agreed, wanting to give Zena as little trouble as possible.

“Good, good! Then, Zena, why don’t you get ready? I’d like to talk with you before you start working.”

For a fraction of a second, Owen felt a pang of fear from Zena. He wasn’t sure how he knew that. The way she tensed, perhaps? But then it was gone, and she steeled herself.

“Yes,” Zena said, “of course. Owen?”

“Right that way,” Carnivine said, gesturing to the left, in an area that had a misty sign that said ‘Employees Only.’

Zena followed Carnivine across the hall to the other side, into her office. As she passed, a few patrons stared at her, and one asked a receptionist at the front when she was going to be available. Available, for what? Just to tend to the baths?

Zena slithered around one of the early customers, giving him a stiff smile. The customer returned it with a hungry grin, passing by much slower, taking up part of the hall. Zena had to squeeze by, and he apologized for taking up all the space, but the Nidoking was smirking. The back of Owen’s head felt hot, feathers puffing out, but Zena glanced at Owen—like she knew—and shook her head placatingly.

He held his breath. One, two, three. An old mutant instinct told him ways to attack. Four, five, six. But he knew he shouldn’t do that.

Clearing his mind, Owen hesitantly made his way through the halls on the opposite end, careful not to get stepped on. Navigating the way through the employee only area was easy enough, and soon he found his way to the laundry room, where towels upon towels waited to be loaded up for washing. He’d never seen so many in one place, and some of them looked filthy, purple and red with void dust. Maybe that was why Pokémon went here—so they didn’t have to spend the time cleaning it themselves.

A Gardevoir passed by Owen and his heart leapt in his throat. On reflex, he looked up, but saw that she had green hair, and a different face, and he winced, feeling like an idiot to even consider it. She was at home, in a cage. She was gone.

“Oh, sorry, kid—wait. What’re you doing here?” The Gardevoir’s voice was harsh and she leaned over. “Can’t you read?”

“I-I’m not a kid,” Owen said.

“Look like one. Even the ones who died don’t look young like you.”

“Well, I’m not. I’m a Charmander.”

Gardevoir looked his leafy body over, then rolled her eyes. “If it makes you feel better.” She turned and headed down the hall. “What, you a new hire?”

“For the day. I’m here with Zena. We’re courting.”

“Oh, her.” Gardevoir grunted. A Lopunny, Braixen, and Vaporeon giggled with one another.

“What?” Owen asked.

“Nothing. She’s just new. To the Voidlands, too, obviously.” Lopunny sighed, shaking out void dust from a crumpled towel before tossing it to a tub in front of Vaporeon, who washed it down with a jet of water.

“She is. We came here only a few weeks ago.”

“Mmhm. She thinks she’s above it all, but we’ll see how that lasts.” Gardevoir twisted one of the washed towels with Psychic energy before lobbing it next to Vaporeon for another cycle.

“Above it all?” Owen repeated.

“Are you just gonna stand there? Help out!” Vaporeon growled.

“S-sorry! Where, what, is there a place to—uff!”

A pile of towels covered Owen in several layers. Once he struggled his way back out, he saw Braixen standing in front of him, tapping a blackened, wooden stick on her arm. “Fold those. Just got done drying it off.”

Owen shuffled to a free spot in the laundry room, which was starting to feel cramped even for his size, as Braixen started to load up more damp towels from the basin.

After getting into a decent rhythm with folding towels several times his size, Owen went on to ask, “What’s wrong with Zena?”

“Oh, sweetheart.” Gardevoir hummed. “Nothing’s wrong with her. I’m not gonna say your girlfriend is some horrible person. She just needs time to fit in, that’s all. Milotic from the living world are always like that, y’know. Prim and proper and elegant because that’s how they need to be. But here in the Voidlands, white scales don’t last.”

“I don’t understand. Do you mean that this, the, uh, the way everything is so harsh here, you’re saying it’ll… change her?”

“That’s how the world works, child,” Vaporeon said.

“I’m not—“ Owen stopped. “I get it. Okay.”

“Still, she’s getting us some extra profit, so that’s nice,” commented Braixen, slapping another damp towel on the pile before frowning at the next one, tossing it back into the tub. Vaporeon scowled, like she was offended her cleaning wasn’t good enough.

“Extra profit?”

“Oh, easily. Milotic like her?” Gardevoir twisted another towel and tossed it over Vaporeon’s head. “Sure, they don’t last all that long, but that elegance is a rare sight. People have been paying just to have a look at her, not that she reciprocates. A shame. We’d probably get more if she did. But that’s part of the purity act, I guess.”

Owen’s stomach twisted in knots. He stopped folding briefly, but Braixen slapped his head with her stick and he quickly continued. “Isn’t this just a bathhouse?”

“Here’s the thing, Charmander, yeah, this is a bathhouse, but it’s the sort that people come here just to wash up and get some company, you know?” Braixen sighed. “Not sure if you noticed, but the boss has a certain taste in who he hires. Hmph, and apparently Milotic is getting paid more than me and she just started…”

“I see…”

“What?” Braixen growled. “Don’t get judgmental on us, here.”

“No, I’m not! I—it’s just not something I think Zena would—er, I mean, Milotic would be interested in.”

“The money probably got her interested,” Braixen said. “If she just got here, she’s probably desperate to get some kind of established home and shelter.”

“Heh, that’s how they get ya.” Gardevoir shrugged. “It’s not that bad of a job, when you get down to it. We’ve got protections. And if any of the guests decide they want more than they paid for, the girls here know how to rough someone up.”

Braixen and Vaporeon both smirked.

“Next load!” Lopunny grunted, tossing another pile of towels near Vaporeon. “Watch out for that top one. A very fine guest used it.”

“Oh, gods,” Vaporeon groaned, “please don’t tell me it was the Skuntank.”

“Okay, I won’t.” Lopunny left again.

The conversation died away, the smell of that towel too distracting for anything else. Owen got into a calming routine with his folding to help distract himself until that smell went away, and he felt almost meditative. He could think about other things. Zena and what she was doing worried him… but he could see how she felt about it when they were home. She agreed to him coming for a reason. Maybe she wanted a second opinion?

A stray thought crossed his mind and he tried to concentrate, folding blindly.

Are you there? He waited for a response.

Silence at first, and he moved onto a second towel, then a third.

Owen? replied a familiar voice.

He smiled. Hey. Sorry if you’ve been in silence for a while.

Oh, it’s all right,
Klent said. We were resting.

How’s Amelia?

She’s fine. We’re… vaguely aware of what you’ve been through. The memories are coming to me now. How awful…

Yeah… But it’s not so bad. I think we’re going to defeat him soon.

Mm.


That was an odd response. Something wrong with that?

I’d ask you the same. You sound conflicted about it, and there’s no hiding that from me, you know.


Right. Klent, Amelia, all the other spirits must have felt what he felt, no matter where he was. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, Owen said. I don’t want to slip back into following what everyone else wants, but now that I can actually try to make a choice, I’m… lost. M-maybe Dark Matter was right about that. Maybe I’m just… built to follow directions.

Now, Owen, that’s not—

No, I’m not gonna do that,
Owen replied quickly. He’s right. That is how I’m built. But I need to move past that. I need to… make choices for myself. I just don’t know what yet…

I see… And were you asking for opinions? Not choices, just opinions.


The way Klent spoke so delicately… He was trying not to press. Trying to give Owen the opportunity to choose for himself. It was patronizing… but he appreciated it anyway.

What do you think? Owen asked.

I think no matter what alliance you may have had with him, Dark Matter lost his way, Klent said. You surely don’t want Kilo destroyed. And you surely don’t want some eternal darkness, either. If you can choose to fight against it…

I don’t want that,
Owen agreed. I just wonder if…

Klent didn’t answer. Owen felt a new presence bubbling up—Amelia, this time. You’re trying to save Dark Matter, huh? Just like Anam?

It sounded silly when it was told back to him. Yeah.

Well, we want to help, but you gotta figure out how to do that, first. He’s kinda bent on world destruction right now.

Right.
He sighed. I’m thinking about ways to help, but I have no idea. I have a backup plan if he really does try to kill me, or something, but… I don’t want to give that away so soon.

Yeah, we won’t tell,
Amelia assured dismissively. But I’m more worried about what everyone else will think if you went off to see him alone.

Yeah…
Owen sighed.

“Hey, you okay?” Vaporeon asked.

“Huh?!” Owen had forgotten he was working. “Y-yeah, sorry.”

“Look, if you’re worried about Milotic, don’t be. She’s probably got some toughness in her. We all know what happened by that big tree and how she fended off that weird guy! Word spreads fast, y’know.”

“That weird guy,” Owen said. “You mean Dark Matter.”

“Pbbbt, sure.” Vaporeon laughed. “Good one. I mean, with how creepy he was, he may as well have been.”

Maybe it was better they didn’t know.

Braixen cursed and slammed her stick on a strange machine in the corner of the room.

“S-something wrong?” Owen asked nervously.

“It’s this blasted—look. My fire power is good, but I use a fire crystal for a conduit to keep the distribution even. See?” She opened a lid on the side of the machine, revealing a red crystal under the top of the machine with the symbol of an ember in the middle. “Keeps it controlled. But it’s starting to go out, but Boss doesn’t want to replace it, saying it still works. I’m tempted to break it myself, but…” She sighed. “Then we’ll go without a regulator and that’s no good.”

“Can I take a look?” Owen offered.

“What’re you gonna do?” Braixen asked skeptically.

He stepped away from his folded towels and climbed into the chamber.

“Hey, careful,” Braixen said. “Those things can get kinda volatile if you mess with them.”

“I know. I’m… a crystal technician before I died, or something kind of like it.” He tapped at the symbol, thoughtful. “Yeah, I think I see what’s wrong with it.”

“Really? Just like that?” Braixen asked, trying to look inside, but Owen shooed her off, muttering something about concentrating. She scowled and turned away.

The coast clear, Owen channeled some energy into the crystal. Not enough to fully power it, but enough to make it more like those inert ones in the wall. Then, he pulled back. “Okay. It’s fixed. But I can tell you now, it won’t last longer than a few more moons—uh, months. You’ll have to get a replacement soon or it might start a real fire.”

“Tell Boss that,” Braixen dismissed, but then tapped her stick on the machine skeptically. She tossed a few towels in, pressed her stick again, and the machine hummed satisfyingly. She gasped. “I don’t believe it! It’s practically good as new!”

The light in her eyes made it impossible for Owen to hide his smile.

“Oh, I—thank you!” She beamed. “This’ll make things so much easier.”

“He-hey, can you fix this one, too?” Vaporeon pointed at the basin. “I dry out like five times faster without the crystal helping me, and it’s totally busted.”

Owen did the same process as before, channeling a tiny bit of energy into the crystal when they weren’t looking. When Owen hopped out, the tub itself filled automatically with crystal-clear water. Vaporeon, thrilled, looked like she had half a mind to hop inside.

“Well, look at that. We’ve got ourselves a repairman on the job.” Gardevoir giggled, and it reminded Owen of Amia briefly. He glanced away, hiding a grimace.

“Really, though, thanks,” Vaporeon said. “Guess Milotic got lucky with you after all.”

“H-ha, yeah…”

“A shame,” Braixen hummed. “Wouldn’t mind someone like you around the house.”

“Uh.”

“What’s going on in here?” Carnivine called, floating into the room.

“Looks like your one-day employee is a repairman.” Gardevoir gestured to Owen. “Fixed up the crystals!”

“Really?” He looked down at Owen, his massive jaws twisting into something of a pensive stare. “How about that.”

“You should replace them soon before they get volatile,” Owen said, and it was only a half-lie. He wouldn’t be around to replenish them again. “You have maybe a month before it’s too risky.”

There was a disinterested light in Carnivine’s eyes, but he nodded amicably. “Of course, of course,” he said. “Thank you, Charmander. Now, about Milotic…”

“Yeah?”

“I want to know why she was off galivanting with you this morning. Now, I know that you’ve recently passed and are probably thrilled you were able to stay together even in the Voidlands, but that’s no excuse to shirk work!”

And this is my problem, slimeball? Owen thought.

This guy reeks of bad news, Amelia commented, and Owen didn’t realize he’d left that connection open. No, he liked this.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “She was doing something important. It’s a classified assignment.”

“Classified? Classified how? She doesn’t seem like someone too important.”

Owen’s feathers puffed out.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Of course, to you, she’s important.” He wrapped his leafy arms together pacifyingly, radiating a false smile. “But I meant in terms of… to Null Village.”

“She and I work with Marshadow and others at his rank,” he said. “I’m one of the lead crystal technicians in the village,” he continued, a total lie. Probably. “But I also have some authority besides that. For example, I was part of the rescue operation for Dialga and Palkia.”

That caught Carnivine’s attention. Suddenly, he seemed nervous. “Well, what’re you doing here, then?”

“Mission finished early. Nothing for you to worry about.”

“Y’know, forgive me for asking,” Carnivine added a little hastily, “but how is someone as weak-looking as you part of a rescue operation for a lost Legend?”

“Want to find out?” Owen asked.

“I, uh, you, uh, what?” Carnivine sputtered. “How would you… prove that?”

“That tree in the middle of town.”

“The one that messed up the sewage system for a little while? Yeah, I know it.”

“That’s warding off Dark Matter as we speak. It’s filled with the same energy that makes up those crystals, but as a constant aura. It gave this village the sky back.”

“Yeah, that… that was nice, but what’s that got to do with you?”

“I made it.”

“Hah!” Carnivine instantly relaxed. “And here I thought you were actually someone to worry about! Well! Sure, kid. You created the second Tree of Life. Why not? Next, you’re gonna tell me you’re Necrozma’s disciple, just like Elite Mhynt!”

Owen clicked his tongue, then walked toward the room’s exit, gesturing for Carnivine to follow. Maybe this show of power would be useful. As far as Owen was concerned, everyone who he didn’t want to know he was here—Alexander, Mhynt, and Dark Matter—already knew. There was no harm in letting more people know. He suspected that Mhynt and her team would return to take the Tree somehow, and he couldn’t have that. Drawing attention away from the Tree and spreading rumors that he was back again… Yes. This would be a good thing.

Geez, Owen, how many steps ahead are you thinking here? Amelia asked.

Even if we can beat Dark Matter, Owen replied, it’s Alexander I’m worried about. And we can’t have him harming the Tree. If he wants me, I want him to think I’m not in it.

They made it outside. He had a small audience, and on the way, he asked if Vaporeon or the others had a lunch that had a fruit or a berry to work with. There was, as it turned out, a spare Oran that he could work with. That would do.

He made a small hole a few feet away from the bathhouse. By the time he was done, his claws covered in purple soil, Zena had emerged from the bathhouse to observe with several patrons. They must have followed Zena, though their attention had peeled away from her and toward the strange, green Charmander playing in the dirt.

“Why’re we all watching this?” asked one, frowning.

“He’s apparently going to do some kind of magic trick.”

“No, he made the Tree of Life in town.”

“That kid? Please.”

“I mean, have you seen him around?”

Owen perked up. “Zena!” He grinned, waving.

Zena flinched; all eyes turned to her. Owen gestured for her to come closer and she did, quickly.

“Owen, what are you doing?” Zena whispered. “We were supposed to keep ourselves quiet.”

“That won’t work,” Owen explained. “Everyone who wanted to know where I am already knows. I need to get their attention so they don’t hurt the Tree.”

“What? Why? What’s so important about it?”

“The town likes it.”

Zena squinted, but then sighed. “You’ll tell me later.”

Good, she understood. Owen gestured to the soil. “Can you put some water over this?” he asked once he put the Oran inside and filled it with dirt again.

“Any special kind?” Zena hummed, a faint glow coursing through her scales.

“Yeah. Put on a show.”

Zena frowned pensively. “What is this for?”

“I have an idea on how to get you out of here, if you want.”

Murmurs around them… “Is she glowing?”

“I knew Milotic were radiant, but I didn’t think that was literal…”

“Can I touch her scales?”

“Careful, she froze the last guy who tried…”

Owen glanced at the patron who said that, then glanced at Zena with a quirked, feathery brow. Zena tittered in response, but Owen only smiled, proud.

Damp soil and an Oran in the ground, Owen placed his hands on the dirt and closed his eyes. By now, the performance had garnered attention from several others in the streets, even nearby buildings. Crowds formed and a few guards came to check if a fight had broken out, only to get caught up in the same curiosity.

When Owen channeled this energy—both of Grass and of Radiance—he felt a little closer to the spirits he housed. A little closer to Necrozma. Taking advantage of the last time he’d done something like this, he tried to reach out.

Are you there? Necrozma? Can you hear me?

He didn’t really think it would work, that he would get a reply.

Whenever you’re able to, I want to talk to you. It’s about Dark Matter. I know what he said is true, so I want to hear what you have to say back. The part of me aligning with him. I don’t know why I can’t remember that, and I think you do. Talk to me when you can. Okay?

No reply. Owen opened his eyes; before him was an Oran bush several times his height. The leaves glowed a brilliant, prismatic color, like the back of a Technical Machine, or Zena’s scales under the sunlight. The rainbow, pastel-like colors reminded Owen of Fae, Fae Forest, back when they’d rescued Willow. And within the bush, dotting the branches generously, were several Oran Berries that had a soft glow to them. Owen recognized them immediately as enchanted, the same way Anam could.

So, he really did have that same power. Dormant all this time, awakened only after he remembered…

Owen’s gaze trailed to the Tree that towered over Null Village, aware of the gawking crowd only moments after. “Uh, here’s your berry back, um, Vaporeon.” Owen picked one and handed it to her, though she was too stunned to say her thanks when she took it. “Is it time for our lunch break?” Owen asked Carnivine.

“Wh, uh, sure. Yeah. Uh. Yeah. S-so you really are with that authority, then? The… with Marshadow, and rescuing Dialga and Palkia.”

Owen nodded. “Why? Is that a problem?”

“Well, no, no, not a problem at all! But I must ask, er, what were you concerned with regarding, regarding your, with your, the stay, with—my establishment?”

“Yeah, I did,” Owen said with a thoughtful nod. “I think you should consider how you treat your employees. You wouldn’t want an inspection to find anything questionable, would you?”

“Of, of course! I take wonderful care of my employees!”

Owen made a glance at Vaporeon, Braixen, and Lopunny. All three shrugged and nodded. Owen hummed, then looked at Zena. “I guess that’s all for this berry bush. Take care of it, alright? Those berries are strong.”

“There is something different about it,” Vaporeon admitted. “What… is it?”

Owen picked a few. “Something that I think would be good to give to the guards once I grow more. I have enough energy to do that a few times a day… Zena, want to get lunch together?”

“Oh!” Zena nodded. “Yes, if I can take my lunch with him…”

Carnivine didn’t object. Perhaps he was afraid to.

“I’m going to go around town.” He glanced at one of the guards. “I need to head back to see Marshadow. Can you take me there?”

“Er, well, I’m not sure where he is…”

“The evaluation building is fine.” With that out of the way, he nodded at Zena and smiled. “Then, after work, we can have dinner together. How’s that sound?”

Zena’s coworkers all gave her mock-swooning gestures, to which she smiled and rolled her eyes. “I would love to.”

<><><>​

“Did I ever tell you that I’ve never actually been to Void Basin?”

For some reason, Leo was a lot more talkative than usual. Spice tried to ignore the Delphox’s ramblings, but with only herself and a few other squads for company—all spread out to cover more investigative ground—there wasn’t much else to catch her attention. There was, of course, the odd, black blobs that had spawned from the many-eyed leviathan guarding Kilo Village, but she didn’t like thinking about them, even as one followed their team.

So, the Salazzle relented and asked, “Is it because of the official restrictions?”

“Well, yes, but even when the Kingdom was still functional, it was forbidden, right?”

“Yeah. Though, I visited it all the time.”

“You did?! Then the rumors were false? They say that Pokémon who come here… go mad!”

“Sometimes they did. But I didn’t.” Spice shrugged. “And that Aerodactyl outlaw, Jerry? He didn’t, either.”

“Right, outlaw…” Leo’s ears drooped. “How far that family had fallen…”

“House of cards,” Spice said dismissively. “I won’t get into details, but behind the scenes, they didn’t have a happy relationship.”

“I see…” Leo shifted uncomfortably, and Spice knew why. They didn’t talk about it often, but Leo knew full well that she and Jerry used to be friends. Possibly more, had they gone different paths… had Jerry not fallen into his criminal lifestyle. Had she not assimilated into the rest of Kilo’s empire the way most of the Kingdom did.

But that was the past, so she shoved past it with a new topic. “You’re feeling alright, then?”

“So far.”

“And your wounds?”

“Oh, those are practically gone.” Leo patted his torso. “See? I don’t even need bandages anymore. Still, those mutant injuries… certainly can make even blessed healing difficult. Now that we’re short on those…”

Spice nodded. “A day in my life, huh?” With a smirk, she went on. “You know, I always wondered why.”

“Hm?”

“Why blessings simply didn’t work on me. Orans don’t have that same effect. I have to be incredibly careful since Revivers don’t, either.”

“Well, it goes to show how strong you are despite that. I can’t recall a single time where you’d been defeated in a Dungeon…”

Spice said nothing, glancing to her left, toward the ocean. The horizon was eternally black with the clouds of the Shadow Beast, as the town was calling it. Rhys claimed it was Lugia. She wasn’t sure which was worse.

“You still haven’t slept, have you?” Leo asked. Before Spice could growl back, he quickly amended, “I know, I know. I’m just asking. You’ve already proven that you’re fine without sleep.”

“Well, I haven’t,” Spice replied defensively. “Let’s drop it.”

“I will.”

It had been weeks. Pokémon died without sleep for this long. She felt perfectly fine. It was starting to scare her.

“Mmbb…”

“Can I help you?” Spice snapped, glancing behind her to see the three-eyed blob trailing after them. Spice hissed and walked faster. “Creepy thing already terrorized Angelo into silence. What do you want?”

“We really don’t know what happened, do we? They seemed friendly, but now Angelo refuses to talk to the one with him.”

“Maybe it ate a piece of art he was working on,” Spice grumbled.

The team to their left, consisting of a Lapras on his own conjured water and a Houndoom and Vileplume on his back, was a minute away. They were getting closer together. Accompanying those three was yet another Shade. That one seemed to only have two eyes, but they were mismatched.

Void Basin was unpredictable, but the approach was not, and they had been ordered to fan out to cover more ground for any suspicious triggers. Once they got closer to the crater’s edge, they would group back up to defend against anything odd.

It was all silly. There was nothing wrong with the place. What was really wrong was the Chasm to the east, where apparently Nate came from. Did the Basin ever house eldritch beings of incomprehensible size like the Chasm? No! That made it better by at least one order of magnitude.

The walk continued. Leo was starting to look nervous.

“You alright?” Spice asked.

“No, if I’m being honest,” Leo said. “I’m getting this horrible feeling…”

“We were just told to go to the edge,” Spice said. “We don’t have to go inside. It’s just to investigate something, maybe get some drawings—ahh, if Angelo wasn’t training, that might have been useful…”

Leo made an uncertain whine, and that’s when Spice knew he was actually nervous. Leo hated making noises that his feral counterparts did. Some kind of pride thing.

“If you’re not sure, you can stay back. It’s alright.”

“What? No,” Leo said. “I wouldn’t be much of a team leader if I sent you on your own.”

Spice wanted to roll her eyes, but her concern was stronger. “Tell me if you’re feeling weird, okay?”

They were a few minutes from the edge, now. Spice had a vague sense that someone was calling her from somewhere, but she ignored it. It wasn’t like it was beckoning her or tempting her or anything ominous. Maybe she was just paranoid.

Spice could see the other end of the crater and a bit of what was inside, but it was, expectedly, just more reddish-brown rock, barren of all life. Though, now that she thought about it, the rocks looked a shade more purple than usual.

“Stop!”

“Oh, what now?” Spice was about to turn back, but a green-black canine ran past her and spun. “Zygarde? Again? Where have you been?!”

“Investigating,” Zygarde said breathlessly. “Hello. You should turn back. This place is not safe.”

“Mmb!”

“Oh, now you tell us?” Spice hissed at the Shade.

“I have already sent one of my copies here and he has not returned; there is not even a trace of his body. Worse, his spirit did not return to the rest of us, either. A fragment of me is completely unaccounted for. This is unprecedented, and you should not continue. You may suffer the same fate.”

“Okay, we aren’t gonna go far,” Spice said. “It was just to investigate.”

“You’ve investigated enough. Turn back. It’s… the curse of this place is true. It is a restricted zone for a reason.”

Spice glanced at the other teams. Both other squadrons had a Zygarde lecturing them, too.

But that feeling of someone calling Spice was getting stronger. She furrowed her brow, wondering if she was starting to feel its effects after all. But, no, she didn’t feel drawn to the Basin. Someone was just calling her. She tried to focus on the voice.

She tuned out Zygarde’s warnings and the Shade’s gurgling.

Only the voice from the Basin. It felt unpleasant—she recognized it as Psychic energy, similar to Leo. But it also felt very far away.

Please…

Spice held her gasp, but crawled forward, despite Zygarde’s protests.

“Do you hear that?” Spice asked.

“Do not follow any impulses,” Zygarde said immediately. “You must turn back.”

“Im—impulses?” Leo said. “In… in what way? To be honest, it’s not as scary up close…”

Please, help… Is anyone there? I’m sorry… what did I do to deserve this?

“Someone needs help in there,” Spice said, slipping past Zygarde. He shifted his paws and tried to draw out green, arrow-shaped energy, but Spice immediately said, “Will you just wait?! Leo, stay back! It’s not safe for you!”

“No less safe than for you,” Zygarde warned.

“I’m immune, okay?!” Spice, with a frustrated growl, crawled the rest of the way toward the basin. Zygarde, for some reason, did not follow, and instead advised Leo to stay behind. The Shade accompanying them pinned itself on Leo’s fur, tugging him back with what might have been a mouth.

Satisfied they were letting her go, she gazed into the crater.

It was like an empty lake, or like a bowl had been carved out from the land, and then time was left to unevenly erode what was left. No grass, no trees. Spice found it nostalgic, because she liked gazing into that emptiness to think on her own. Nobody bothered her there.

But it seemed darker than usual. The red-brown rocks were more like purple, and a dust storm was kicking up near the center. Purple, faint twisters, visible from dust of the same color, spun and spun at the basin’s very center. That was also where the voice was coming from.

Spice tried to answer. Hello? Can you hear me?

Silence. She glanced back at the others. Zygarde and the Shade were stationary; Leo was getting anxious, asking to get closer to make sure Spice wouldn’t fall. Zygarde dug through Leo’s bag and told him to put on a rope, which he obeyed with a hint of reluctance.

Rolling her eyes, Spice refocused on the voice.

Please, someone, anyone. I can’t take it anymore. I… I just want it to be over. Please…

So this voice couldn’t hear Spice. She cursed under her breath, wondering if she should go further. No, that was too risky. But she would have to report back.

One more try. My name is Salazzle Spice. If you can hear me, tell me where you are.

This time, she tried to reach out as far as she could. Leo had tried telepathy like this with her before, using Psychic power. She was never any good at it, and telepathy in general—especially without a mutual Psychic—was spotty at best. But it was still worth trying.

All Spice heard was more of the same. It was more desperate this time, like her thoughts themselves were being interrupted by her real-world sobs. Spice’s claws dug into the stone. Someone was in trouble, and she was just going to walk away?

“Spice.” Leo’s hand touched her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Spice jerked her shoulder away, but then flinched at the crazed look in Leo’s eyes. “A-are you okay?”

“I’m fine. What do you hear?”

She regarded him for a breath, and then answered hesitantly. “A girl’s voice. Tiny voice. Maybe a powerful Psychic…”

Zygarde’s eyes dimmed. The Shade looked anxious, bobbing up and down, gurgling something urgently. Leo looked… wrong, somehow.

“Do you want to save her?” Leo asked. “I think we should go in and save her.”

And in that moment, Spice decided they had to retreat. “No, Leo. Come on. Let’s tell the others.”

“What? But someone needs to be rescued!”

“What happened to your fear, Leo?”

“I wouldn’t be a team leader if I was abandoning someone in need.”

“Your eyes are wild, Leo. We need to go back. Something’s wrong.”

Leo laughed. “I’m finally getting some courage, and now you’re the one with cold feet?” He gave her a toothy grin. “The basin isn’t so bad! Now that I’m looking at it… it really is just an empty crater.”

The other two teams were heading back. Their Zygarde escorted them, along with their respective Shades. Both squadrons were staring at them with worry.

“Leo, I want you to focus. Get that thought out of your head. Think back to a few minutes ago, okay?” Spice held his hand, clasping one in both of hers. “Remember when you knew this place was cursed?”

“I was wrong. And now we need to save someone.” Leo nodded, then gave her a confident smile. That wasn’t Leo’s smile. Something was twisting it, pulling it up by his lips. Was this still Leo?

“…What’s… your father’s name?”

Leo gave her an odd look. “Tari. Spice, what’s gotten into you? I…” There was a flash of recognition in Leo’s eyes.

Spice tried to latch onto that. “And we need to get back to them, right? Come on. We should—”

“I can’t go back to them and say we abandoned someone in need!” Leo shouted immediately. “Spice, as your leader, I’m ordering you to head down with me.”

“That’s enough,” Zygarde said, and then gave a mighty tug of the rope wrapped around Leo’s torso. Leo wheezed as the wind left his chest, but then he grasped the rope and channeled flames through his hands—to no effect. Leo’s rope, of course, was flame-proof. Instead, he gave a crazed look to Spice and, in a deft motion, flicked his other hand, the hand with his conjuring stick—

Spice was flying before she realized what had happened. The pain came later, first in her chest, then her head. And then she saw the ground far below her, and the crater’s edge rising higher and higher. Spice saw a green flash of Zygarde’s Thousand Arrows, but then she hit the rocks.

<><><>​

With a pained grunt, Spice rolled onto her back. Something was broken. Maybe her arm. Or her shoulder. Possibly a rib. She’d need to sleep that one off for a day or two.

Opening one eye, her vision didn’t change very much. The air smelled stagnant and damp, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Where did the sun go? The way her breathing echoed meant she was inside a solid building. The damp smell, some kind of basement?

Hadn’t she just been in the open air by the crater?

No, then she’d been pushed…

“Leo?!” Spice called, and was surprised at how much her voice echoed back at her. “What—”

Something growled and she heard footfalls. Her instincts told her to roll, narrowly avoiding a snarling beast that bit the air where she’d been. She kicked hard, then blasted a disorienting plume of poison forward. She hopped and her back slammed against a stone wall.

She couldn’t get a good look at what had attacked her. It was small and four-legged and dark. It jumped at her and she caught a glance of green and white hexagons just as she kicked it away again.

Zygarde. But why was she being attacked by him?

A heavy, metallic creak, like a huge, heavy door opening, caught both their attention. Spice was faster; she dug for her bag and found an iron spike. She hurled it toward Zygarde, landing a perfect shot at his upper foreleg. He yelped and Spice ran toward the door, cautious.

“Hey, careful!” Spice shouted. “There’s a feral—thing in here!” No time to explain beyond that.

Spice expected to see someone huge pushing open the door, but all she saw was the hallway. More dreary stone and only dim lights thanks to scattered crystals embedded in the ceiling.

It was a Treecko, staring curiously at her.

“You aren’t supposed to be here,” Treecko said.

“Yeah, I know!” Spice spat, but then realized she’d been ignoring Zygarde for too long. She spun back, but saw that it was only growling. “What’s gotten into him…?”

Treecko paced toward the beast, sighing.

“What’s your name?” Treecko asked.

“What’s yours?” Spice replied cautiously.

“I asked first.” She smiled wryly.

Alright. She could respect that. “Salazzle Spice.”

“Treecko Mhynt.” She took one step closer to the beast.

“Careful, he’s—”

Zygarde roared and lunged. Shadowy arrows conjured around his shoulders and fired toward Mhynt, leaving small slash marks wherever they hit the stone behind her. Mhynt didn’t flinch. Spice had no idea how none of those hit Mhynt.

The Treecko made a waving motion above her; at the apex, a Honedge appeared in her hands. Spice had no idea where she hid it. And then, Zygarde was right upon her, inches away—and then his roar was cut short. The blade protruded through his back, covered in a clear, dark fluid. The blade shined gently with a golden light.

“What did…” Spice trailed off, staring dumbly. That Treecko had singlehandedly…

Zygarde’s body burst in a plume of darkness that swirled around Mhynt, collecting in the blade like water down a drain. The blade darkened; the colors siphoned and collected near the empty, soulless eye of the Honedge’s hilt. A green teardrop grew and landed into Mhynt’s free hand, roughly the size of a baby apple. It reminded Spice of an emerald.

Treecko approached Spice—at some point, the blade disappeared, and Spice didn’t know when—and gestured for Spice to take it. She obeyed without thinking, briefly touching Mhynt’s hand. They were tough and scaly, much like hers, though there was a softness that Spice would never be able to replicate.

“What did you do?” Spice finally finished.

Mhynt seemed to make sure that Spice was holding the gem firmly before she actually let go, patting Spice’s hand for good measure.

“I have great power over spirits of this world. I can shape them and manipulate them as I wish. I have placed your friend in a dormant state while his spirit cleanses. Put him under the care of someone important to him. An acquaintance would do. When the time is right—and you will know—place the gem under soft, radiant light.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Someone in Kilo will.” Mhynt gestured toward the back of the room. “Go away.”

“How? I’d love to.”

“I will help. Hold that gem tight to your chest. It won’t be able to leave without your help.”

Why?” Spice asked. “What’s going on?! Where am I?!”

Mhynt tilted her head. “You don’t know?” she asked. “But you’re…”

She didn’t finish. But the way her eyes glanced left, behind Spice, and then back at Spice again, she was thinking. This Treecko seemed like the kind of person to think a lot, to have her mind wander. Reminded her a lot of that regular Charmander customer when he was ordering chocolates.

Something flickered, like a shadow in the other hall, and Mhynt’s movements became more urgent. She pushed forward; something grabbed Spice by the shoulders. She only briefly saw what she thought was a Sceptile made entirely of black haze picking her up. It hurled her into the wall. Bracing for impact, she curled up and held the gem tight to her chest.

She gasped for air and suddenly felt uncomfortably hot, like she’d been baking in the sun. The air was dry. Her mouth tasted of iron. With a painful breath, she knew she was still alive and rolled onto her back, squinting at the sun and the crater’s edge high above her. A few things were broken. Definitely. But she was alive.

Had that all been a dream?

“Ugh… What’s…” She wondered if she’d fallen asleep, because she was starting to forget what that felt like, but no, she’d passed out from the fall. She heard some activity higher up.

“Hey!” Spice called. “Is anyone there?”

No answer. Whatever activity there was had gone quiet.

Growling, she searched for her bag. “Oh, for the love of—”

Scattered, smashed, most of her supplies ruined from the fall. Her edible vials had been destroyed or disorganized, but a few still seemed good. She grabbed an intact Oran infusion and bit down. It would ease the pain, even if the healing blessings didn’t work on her.

It seemed steep, but her nimbleness, even with one of her arms not totally cooperating, let her climb. She felt at home with the ground. The ground spoke to her, like she knew just where to step, and the idea that such a thing was strange didn’t occur to her until she was at the top. She’d heard that Ground Pokémon had this kind of affinity with soil at times.

“Hey,” Spice shouted, realizing that Zygarde, the shade, and some of the team wasn’t very far away. “Did you guys not hear me?! I nearly died! Leo! What’s gotten into—”

Spice ducked and rolled past a Hydro Pump from Lapras that had narrowly hit her. The water sailed into the crater.

“H-hey!” Spice shouted.

Zygarde was next, preparing many green arrows over his shoulders. Spice knew that one. She dashed forward and waved between the first volley, then crossed her arms for the next. A black Protect deflected every blow as she advanced.

“Guys, it’s me!” Spice shouted. “Hello?! What’s going on?!”

And to this, they all looked startled. They stared at one another, then back at Spice.

“What’s your name?” Zygarde asked.

“Spice. Is Leo okay?”

Leo had been staring at her for a while, but she noticed, now that she was closer, that his arms were tied up. There was a crazed look in his eyes.

“We need to leave this place,” Zygarde said. “You… How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling just fine,” Spice said, putting a hand to her chest. “But I—"

Her hand struck something hard and she looked down.

In her chest, embedded where her heart should have been, was an emerald gemstone surrounded by plate-like, hexagon scales.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 117 – The Shell

No matter how many times Spice ran her claws along her chest, the stone did not go away. She’d wondered if it was all a hallucination all the way back to Kilo Village, a long trek that had taken the bulk of the day. It was evening, now, in one of Kilo Village’s hospitals.

She was afraid to pry it off of her, and some core part of her instincts—an instinct she was sure she didn’t have before—told her that she shouldn’t ever try to remove it. This time, she listened. The sense of dread she felt at the thought was equivalent to removing her own heart.

Leo was next to her, restrained in powerful, glowing bindings while sitting on the adjacent bed. Currently in front of her, inspecting the gemstone, was Phol, who asked her several questions. How she was feeling, if this hurt, if that hurt; all of it felt mundane to her. They’d brought in a Psychic or two as well, and found Spice to be of sound mind, but they had trouble with Leo. His own psionics interfered with theirs, and they eventually said that he was not stable and needed to be put under observation.

The Basin’s effects were never this acute, not when they weren’t even within the crater. Had its influence expanded? Yet, the only ones who would have been able to warn them… Anam, perhaps, or even Jerry… They were gone.

“All right, Spice,” Phol said, “you seem to be healthy.” The Incineroar looked over his charts, flipping a few pages. “But I want you to visit every few days. Do you want me to set up an appointment?”

“Yes, please. I may not care about the whole sleep thing, but this… this is different.” She ran a claw around the emerald’s edge again.

“Mm. Of course. And, your appearance…”

Spice winced. “I don’t think I can face my family like this…”

“Hmph. Then I will go with you.”

“Sugar would be terrified, and her poor kid, I don’t really know if I want him to see…”

The gem wasn’t that bad. The hexagons were probably ‘cool’ on some level. But she’d seen her reflection upon her arrival. She wasn’t a Salazzle anymore. She had the vague shape of one, and when she looked with her own eyes, she seemed to be the same. But in her reflection, in the way she appeared to others, she looked like some kind of wraith. Her whole body had become a deep black; her eyes, featureless yellow lights.

Why, then, did she look normal to herself, yet not to anyone else? Was this some kind of curse?

“And about what you saw in the Basin,” Phol went on, humming. “Do you want me to make a copy of everything you said, so you can remember?”

“Yeah. Just so I don’t get it wrong. I need to put it to a report or something, maybe to Nevren when he gets back from his research.”

“Mm. The basement of some building, a powerful Treecko, and Zygarde in your chest. If I didn’t know you, I would have assumed you were coming up with some kind of elaborate prank.”

“I still don’t totally believe it,” Spice admitted. “If it wasn’t for this”—she gestured at the gem—“I would have thought it was all a dream.”

“Mm.” He nodded. “I’ll get you a copy. As for him…”

During this whole exchange, Leo’s eyes were darting between the speakers. Spice wasn’t sure if he had blinked. He looked simultaneously afraid and eager of… something.

“He’s… staying here.”

“Leo… can you answer me?” Spice asked.

“Answer?” Leo repeated, his voice raspy. He cleared it. “Why am I here? What’s all this for? Don’t we need to go to the Basin to rescue someone… We need to save that voice, don’t we? We’re wasting time…”

“We can only hope that time away from the Basin will let his mind heal,” Phol said gently. “He is in good hands.”

“Right. Leo… don’t run off, alright? I’ll take care of that part of the mission because I’m immune to the Basin’s effects. How’s that sound?”

“No, no, no, no, I need to go, too,” Leo whispered madly. “I’ll bring someone else, too. We need a whole team to go. This is a great effort. That’s fine, right? I’m the leader. So, that’s my strategy. Tactician. Strategy. We’ll go soon, right?”

It took every ounce of her will to not scream at him then, but she knew it wasn’t any use. He’d babbled like this the whole way home, but at least he wasn’t screaming it anymore. Maybe that meant the madness was fading. She glanced at Phol. “I’ll take care of letting his folks know,” she said. “Do you think he’ll… ever be suited to have visitors?”

Phol hesitated. That was all she needed. But before she could leave, he quickly said, “Yes. Once we have better measures in place. Perhaps some family would help him recover.”

It was a grasping hope, but hearing it from Phol, of all people… Maybe it was true.

“Okay,” she said. “If that’s the case, I’ll wait for that copy. Thanks for everything.”

<><><>​

On her way across town, Spice tried to ignore the looks she was getting from the others. Hushed whispers, a few frightened cries… This was much more than the usual reactions she got from her scar. She never had a good look at it in her reflection; was that gone? She could still see it when she looked down, but to everyone else, she was a shadowy wraith.

“They’ll get used to it,” Phol muttered. “You’re a Heart. That’s more than enough reason to trust you. Keep your credentials handy.”

“I will,” Spice muttered, holding her badge in one hand.

“…By the way, have you heard anything new about Angelo?” Phol asked. “He’s been shut in his home all day. He missed his training with Rhys, but he didn’t seem concerned. Said he wouldn’t want to bother Angelo. But I’m concerned. It was ever since he was spotted talking to the Kilo Guardian.”

“…We’re calling that thing the Kilo Guardian now, are we?” Spice had missed the memo.

Phol and Spice exchanged a glare; Spice silently dared Phol to remark about her being the one to call someone a ‘thing,’ while Phol seemed to be weighing his options.

Spice huffed. “And Angelo talked to him?”

Eventually, he said, “It seems so. Which is surprising. Based on the rumors, Nate said something truly horrible to him before that sucked the morale right out of him.”

“Well, I doubt it would take much, coming from… Nate.”

“Is something wrong?”

“It’s such a normal name,” Spice said. “That’s a human-era name, isn’t it? Or, associated with them? How’d he get it?”

“Apparently, Anam named him,” Phol said. “That’s what he’s said, at least.”

On reflex, Spice thought it was absurd. Then she thought about everything else that Goodra had kept hidden, and it all made sense. “I’d buy that.”

They got closer to the crater’s edge where the flood channels on either side of the roads led into a carved-out, wide path through the mountain. From there was a long path that led down. Still more walking, but it would give Spice time to think.

Nate enjoyed resting the upper portion of his body near this passageway. The many eyes that dotted his form stared at them as they passed, and Spice decided to focus ahead. In response, Nate waved one of its five upper tendrils at them.

Unsure, Phol waved back, but continued on his way.

And as they descended the mountain, yet another newcomer bounded upward.

“Oh, what now?” Spice wasn’t sure what to think of the figure from far away. Four legs, but a mismatch of body parts. No—a mutant? “Phol—get back.”

“You can’t heal,” Phol countered, flames dancing around his wrists and waist. “That’s a mutant, no doubt. Get ready.”

Spice opened with a warning shot, balling up a Sludge Bomb in her hands and lobbing it forward. Phol pointed at the ball of sludge in midair and the emblem-like embers on his waist shot forward, enveloping the bomb in fire. The chimera didn’t even bother to dodge, powering straight through it. Poison and flames licked at its metallic beak to nearly no effect.

“Gah! It’s tough!” Spice readied another.

Phol went for a Flamethrower directly this time, but this time the beast leapt high into the air, landing a few feet in front of them.

Spice launched a Sludge Bomb from her hands, then in desperation one directly from her mouth. It dodged both with a quick roll, then pounced on Phol.

“NO!” Spice shouted, readying a good shot.

“Hi! Hi!” the beast said, talons pressed firmly on Phol’s shoulders. It was taller than them both and had a massive crest on his head. Spice had never seen anything like it… “You look important! Is this Kilo Village?”

Spice noticed, on the thing’s back, there was a Cherrim, nervously shuffling and trying to stay situated. Down the mountain, a hulking Houndoom with an oversized skull-chest plate bounded toward them.

Phol was trying to push the beast off of him, but not only was he heavy, he was pressing his full weight onto Phol. But he wasn’t attacking and, once the initial rush wore off, Spice realized the thing wasn’t actually fighting.

Grumbling, she eyed the incoming, strange Houndoom next. “He with you?”

“Yep! That’s Lucas!”

“Get—off me!” Phol pushed and rolled away, grunting as he straightened the fur on his shoulders.

“I came with a message from Nevren! Are you a Heart?”

“I am,” Spice said. “Nevren? Where is he?”

“He’s in Quartz HQ making sure all the mutants are being taken care of and stuff!”

“I thought Nevren dispatched them, not took care of them.”

“He does both!”

For some reason, Spice could easily imagine Nevren doing questionable science experiments on his captures. “Right. Okay. The message?”

The Cherrim wobbled closer and held out a small paper. Spice recognized Nevren’s handwriting…

To the Thousand Hearts,

I trust that all is well! Very good work keeping the town properly managed. I am very proud of my organizational preparation and your execution of my plans. I have delivered to you one Silvally Lavender and his companions. Within this Silvally is information that should be delivered to the leviathan, Nate, who should be stationed around Kilo Mountain. If you have further questions or clarifications, seek out a Zygarde Hecto, who will be able to provide further guidance.

This message is void if not delivered before the twentieth day of Autumn’s third moon, and plans have already been set that would render this message unnecessary.


“What day is it?” Spice asked. Without sleeping, she’d lost track.

“Nineteenth of Autumn’s third,” Phol said.

“Well. Nevren planned out when you’d arrive, too,” Spice mumbled, looking at Lavender. “Talk to that thing.” Spice pointed at Nate.

“Thanks, creepy lady!” Lavender happily bounded away with Lucas.

“Creepy…” Spice felt her blood pressure rising. “Whatever. Let’s go. Those two freaks can do what they want.”

<><><>​

A sharp cry put Spice in defense mode immediately, ready to block anything that might be thrown at her. But, to her luck, that had been all—Sugar had been the one to answer the door.

“Who’s there?!” a booming voice called from inside, and a Rampardos stomped in next.

“Calm, enough,” Phol spat. “It’s Spice. I came to let you know that she’s back from her mission. With a new look.”

“It’s really me, Sugar,” Spice said with a frown. “I’m sorry for giving you a scare, but… I mean. I still live here.”

The other, normal Salazzle held her chest, sighing. “That really scared me,” she said, “Spice! What happened to you?!”

“I don’t know,” Spice said. “But I feel fine. That’s… all. Where’s Saffron?”

“Sleeping,” Sugar’s mate said.

“Let’s hope he still is!” Spice growled, flicking him on the nose. “Dezz! What’s with shouting when it’s his nap time, huh?!”

“I—I—I mean—Sugar screamed, and—”

Sugar relaxed more. “It really is you.” She tried to giggle, but it was nervous. “Spice… You know, Mom’s been even more nervous than usual. I think she’s aware of what’s going on.”

“She is?” Spice asked. “I thought she didn’t care about all this.”

“Maybe it’s big enough that she’s paying attention. But she’s been saying some really odd things lately, when I visited. I’m… worried her mind’s starting to go.”

Phol shifted uncomfortably. “Er, well. I suppose I should be going. I don’t think I should overhear family matters.”

“Oh, I’m sorry—you’re Phol, right? Thank you for bringing Spice to us.” Sugar nodded.

“And, uh, sorry for the scare,” Dezz added.

“Mm.” Phol left. “Take care, Spice. You know where to find me if you need anything.”

“You got it.” Spice waved him off, and then looked to Sugar again. “What was Mom saying?”

“Strange things, I don’t really remember,” Sugar admitted. “Just that something was… wrong. She said to look out for wraiths. Which, well…”

Spice tensed. “I’m not a wraith.”

“I—I know. I know. Sorry, I shouldn’t have… mentioned it.”

But it was obviously on her mind. Just as Spice came home looking like this… She sighed. “I need a drink.”

She let herself in, leaving for the kitchen.

After all that, it was quiet, and Spice could finally take a moment to breathe. She dipped a ceramic cup in a bowl of water and took a long, lukewarm drink. It was a shame their cooling Orb had broken during the cataclysm. Those were too expensive to get new ones, for now.

Sugar gasped when she entered the kitchen, then held her chest. “Sorry, still getting used to it,” she said with a strained smile.

“Yeah, yeah.” Spice dismissed her with her free hand. After getting something from storage, Sugar offered to make dinner, which Spice obliged. Saffron was napping; he’d probably be startled, too, but he was a resilient kid. He probably knew some friends at school who were just as scary-looking as her anyway, right? He’d be fine if Sugar was there to prompt him.

Setting the cup down, Spice stared out of her home and toward the clear, orange skies. The wind blew and a flurry of autumn leaves danced across the window. It was a beautiful evening, like always.

Thunder boomed distantly. It was a regular occurrence by now. Spice knew that her innate sense for the stirring beneath the earth was actually Lugia on the other side of the planet. Every day, it got a little stronger…

<><><>​

After work, Owen ended up having a very productive day. Thanks to the sun in Null Village, he now knew that it was actually afternoon. First, he asked Marshadow where the crystal refineries or whatever equivalent was, and he was taken to a spot in Null Village that was in the manufacturing district. He offered to energize some of their most necessary equipment, but quickly tired out after only a few fully energized crystals. He wasn’t sure what it was for, but it would perhaps help, and more importantly, it seemed to impress the guards.

Owen then tried to purify Marshadow, and apparently Dark Matter did not give him any commands to resist. He held Marshadow’s shoulders and hoped for the best. If he did anything, Marshadow didn’t react. He had only shrugged. “Eh, maybe next time.”

Then, he tended to the Tree of Life in the center of town which, after speaking to some locals, he learned had completely grew around the sentinel tower that protected the village. It had been what fired those beams of ice at Gahi when he’d first arrived, and apparently was also used as emergency fire against a violent Titan. But now that the Tree took it over, the Titans avoided Null Village entirely.

Owen felt a little proud, but he tried not to brag.

On his way home, Owen walked familiar roads and decided to take a route that passed Hakk and Xypher’s old home. Repairs must have been continuing, but with nighttime approaching, they must have stopped. It was funny how quickly Null Village had adjusted their schedules to day and night.

Owen was about to pass by, but then noticed that a few of the gems installed in the walls were too dark. Depleted. What kind of shoddy crystal installments were these?!

Shutting his eyes, Owen marched onward. Maybe they’re just busy with other parts, he rationalized, but then glanced back. No, that wall seemed complete otherwise. And there were other parts that also seemed fully installed. Like they’d given up on those ones. Those weren’t going to get fixed, were they? Forever dim unless Hakk complained about it. He probably would. But it might stress Xypher out. He seemed peculiar and might notice the depleted crystals first.

You’re thinking way too much on this, Amelia commented.

It’s your equipment inventory all over again, Klent added, sighing.

H-hey, proper equipment is important! Especially now that I’m weaker than ever!

Just fix the darn thing if it’s bugging you so much!
Amelia growled. All this obsessing over a freaking wall…

Maybe I will!
Defiantly, Owen spun on his heels and marched toward the crystals.

In the end, they weren’t very urgent, but Owen was feeling too restless to go back home. He felt he still had to do things, to fix things where he could to make up for lost time. And after Gahi and the antics of the team in general had led to Hakk’s home getting destroyed, pitching in for some fixes would be worth it, wouldn’t it?

The door was still open and most of the valuables were already taken out. It was dubbed inhospitable until the walls were repaired, and so far, they were only halfway complete.

“…Owen?”

“GAH!” Owen nearly leapt out of his feathers. He spun around and gasped again. “D-Demitri! Mispy!”

Mispy frowned disapprovingly. “Looting?”

“What?! No!”

The mutant Meganium slithered forward; Demitri looked around the empty rooms.

“He-hey, hang on, I didn’t do anything here. It, uh, it was empty when I got here. I was energizing the crystals and stuff and—what are you doing?”

Mispy prodded at the ground with one of her vines, which opened to reveal a hissing mouth. “Hunting,” she murmured.

“Mispy senses the aura of a Void Shadow underground right here,” Demitri said. “The way it’s moving, it must be some kind of chamber. It wasn’t here before.”

“It snuck in?” Owen asked. “Doesn’t this place have a basement? I think Hakk mentioned that, but there aren’t any stairs down…”

“Hmm… hidden passage,” Mispy said, and then leaned her head down to the ground, sniffing. She followed the corners of the room, and Owen decided to try the other corner. Demitri stood awkwardly in the room, playing with his claws and cleaning some perceived dust on the wall.

“Here,” Mispy said, pointing. “Demi.”

“Oh, okay.” Demitri ran his claws along where Mispy pointed. “Oh, hey, this wall goes in… Hang on.” He gave it a firm push, and after some initial resistance, it gave way. The wall slid open on a hinge, revealing a wide, short stairway. They all silently listened… Movement downstairs in the dark.

“It’s pretty dark down there,” murmured Demitri, gulping.

“I’ll help,” Owen said, scaling Mispy’s vines before turning around so his tail faced forward. He focused on the leaf, calling back some of that radiant energy… Yes. The autumn leaf began to glow like a dim flame.

Demitri and Mispy seemed mesmerized at first.

“…Um. You can go ahead now.”

“Oh.” Mispy nodded, then used Owen’s light to descend. Demitri followed from the back, looking behind him nervously.

“Maybe Void Shadows go to places like this if it’s abandoned. That’s… creepy.” Demitri toyed with his left tusk, ready to pull it out in case they had to fight.

“Don’t hurt it yet,” Owen said softly.

“What?” Mispy asked.

“It might still be a person… or multiple people… I don’t know. Sorry, if it attacks, attack back.”

Mispy frowned, looking skeptical, but didn’t press.

The basement wasn’t any larger than the upper floor, but it was too dark to see many details. Owen shined his leaf brighter and saw shelves filled with jars of unknown contents—maybe some kind of storage? But what got his attention next was the blob of dark sludge wriggling around in the corner, hissing.

“There,” Mispy said, readying another Solar Beam.

“Mispy, wait—” Owen put out his leaf, making it too hard to aim.

“Why?!” Mispy hissed back.

“It didn’t attack.”

“It will.”

“I…”

“It’s not Amia.”

“That’s not—” It was. And that gave Owen pause. “Can’t we just shoo it away?”

“Mispy’s a guard. Her job is to kill these things. Besides, they’ll just wake up someplace else in the Voidlands… There’s nothing left of them, so…”

“So that means we can mistreat them?” Owen argued.

This time, Mispy paused, and the petals around her neck dimmed. “…Okay,” she said. “But… I don’t know how.”

Owen gratefully lit his tail again. “…Excuse me,” Owen said. “You can’t be here. Can you leave?”

It hissed in response and slid toward them, but Owen recognized it as a slower, cautious approach.

“Guys, move aside.”

“And let it loose?!” Demitri said.

“It’s just a weak Void Shadow. It can’t hurt anyone.”

“These things are mean, Owen,” Demitri squeaked.

“Hey. You won’t hurt anyone, alright? Just go back to the forest. Otherwise, you’ll have to answer to her.” Owen pointed at Mispy, who growled and opened one of her vine-mouths threateningly.

It opened its face, or some equivalent of a face, in response, hissing, as it skittered off.

Mispy seemed to be watching its aura, so Owen took a moment to relax and breathe.

“That was… Maybe that was a higher Void Shadow than the ones we’ve had to deal with,” Demitri said. “They usually just attack blindly.”

Now that they were deeper in the basement, Owen could properly see what was on the shelves and nearly gasped again. “What—”

“What’s wrong?” Demitri asked, following Owen’s eyes. “Ah—!”

Eyes.

The jars each had single pairs of eyes in them. All staring, unblinking, frozen and floating in some kind of thick, clear syrup. Owen wasn’t sure how many there were. A dozen on each shelf, and quite a few shelves… Some looked recently placed. Some were dusty and untouched. Small eyes, big eyes, black, brown…

Demitri squeaked. “W-wait, those are…” He pointed a shaking claw at one on the far end, one of the most recent additions based on how clean it looked. There was even some damp residue of that preserving fluid on the outer, metal seal. And in it were striking, reptilian, blue eyes. The shape of the pupil wasn’t like the normal sort of its kind. Slitted, narrow, forever focused on something far away.

Owen didn’t realize it at first because he often didn’t look at them. Instead, he looked through them. Those were his eyes, from his first body that had died in the Voidlands.

“W-we should go. We should—”

“Too late.” Mispy’s head jerked toward the entrance. Someone had just come into her range of vision, and that could only mean…

“Oh, why now?!” Demitri squealed.

“It’s the end of the work day. They must have been on their way back…” Owen hissed. “We took too long in here.”

“Do we hide?” Demitri asked frantically. He searched and searched, but the way things were, they were simply too large. Mispy grabbed Owen and shoved her in her vines; Owen protested at first, but then he remembered what he’d just seen. What if Xypher wanted another set?

Hakk cursed from above. He’d seen the open door. No hiding now. In seconds, he was down, staring at Demitri and Mispy while Owen put out his leaf’s light.

“…Hey,” Hakk said.

“Please don’t eat us,” Demitri begged.

Owen just remembered that they both had a weakness to Ice. And so did he.

Hakk looked insulted. Xypher squawked from the first floor.

“I’m not gonna eat you,” the huge Sandslash said. “Look, just… can you keep a secret?” there was a nervous waver in his voice.

“Why?” Mispy challenged.

“Because he didn’t hurt anybody.”

So it was Xypher’s collection. That strange Corviknight, Class D, with barely any memories to his name, did this? He collected… eyes?

“H-he didn’t—he didn’t—but! But!” Demitri pointed at the jar. “Those are Owen’s!”

“Yeah, so?!” Hakk spat. “Not like Xypher killed him! We found him during scouting and Xypher, look, this isn’t important. Just—promise, you won’t spread any rumors about this? Xypher’s safe. He won’t hurt anyone. You don’t need—this is okay, alright? Don’t tell anyone.”

“What happens?” Mispy asked. “If… if…” She stumbled over her words.

“If you do? Then… Xypher will probably be sent away. He’d be considered too at-risk for Null Village, too dangerous and at risk of fully Voiding, and they’d send him off. And then he really will, alright? But he needs this, alright? Just—you don’t get it. Do you have any idea what it’s like to not…”

“But why?! What’s the point?!” Demitri’s voice cracked. “This—this is wrong! It’s so… creepy, I—”

“Will you get over it?! People die! What use is a dead body?! Xypher keeps them, okay, who cares why, he doesn’t take it from living folks, so—”

“What if he starts to?! W-we don’t know, we—”

“Is he dangerous?” Mispy pressed.

No, he’s not. I said he’s not!” Hakk roared. “Just leave! Okay?! Don’t—don’t tell anyone!”

Mispy regarded the shelves, then Demitri, who was leaning hard against Mispy’s body. Owen felt all of these movements, and how tense Mispy felt, as he tried to get a good look at Hakk’s expression. He wasn’t familiar with Sandslash, and he once again cursed his lack of Perceive, but he still sensed… panic. Fear. But there was more to it. He couldn’t place it, but…

Speak up, Klent encouraged.

C’mon, Owen. Don’t just watch.

“Wait,” Owen said, and all eyes—it felt like the jars were watching, too—were on him. Owen climbed out from Mispy’s hold, even after she tried to pull him back for safety, but a quick glare made her reluctantly relent.

“Oh.” Hakk glanced at the jar, and he suddenly looked trapped and desperate. Ice was swirling around his claws whether he wanted it or not. Like a trapped feral with no way out. Would he do something so terrible just to protect Xypher?

“I want to talk to Xypher,” Owen said. “Alone.”

More hesitating. Hakk shifted his weight. “Fine.”

“You guys all go up. I’ll stay here.”

“But what if he kills you?” Demitri asked.

“Then report it and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Owen wasn’t sure why they looked so disturbed by that, but they shuffled out one by one. Some chatter and squawks later, as Owen tried to keep his tiny heart rhythmic, Xypher descended.

He seemed significantly bigger than before, but that, Owen knew, was all in his head. The Corviknight’s steely scales reflected the dim light his tail was giving off to keep things visible, as did the jars’ edges and the glistening eyes within. The collection, of which Owen had become part of. This was all some strange, walking nightmare, and yet…

“Hey, Xypher,” Owen greeted, bowing lightly.

Xypher squawked. “Hello. Hello, hello.”

“Sorry for, uh, coming into your room. We sensed a Void Shadow here and didn’t want it endangering anyone.”

“Oh.” Xypher’s head twitched into a tilt. “Thank you.”

So many questions from such an incomprehensible Pokémon. His mind wasn’t all there and Owen knew it. He felt silly just for asking for this meeting, but…

“Do you know why you collect these?” Owen asked.

“I like them. They’re bright. Bright, bright…”

Owen wasn’t sure how to reply to that. Bright eyes? Maybe, under the right kind of light, but it was pretty dark in the basement. How did Xypher see them normally?

“I don’t want to forget,” Xypher said. “I can’t. Can’t, can’t…”

“What?” Owen asked. “Forget?”

“I can’t forget you.” Xypher shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t.”

He glanced at the jar, then at Xypher. The Corviknight’s eyes were… there, yes, but vacant. A shell. Maybe, somewhere deep inside, the true Xypher was calling upon this shell to give an impulse or two to collect eyes. Eyes were important to him, and Owen couldn’t know why. Not even Xypher did.

That understanding suddenly washed over him. Xypher was one death away from being Voided, and this was his effort to remember people. A small, desperate attempt… even though these jars were covered in dust, some so old that perhaps Xypher truly forgot them, he still wanted to ‘keep’ those memories. Owen wondered why Xypher, then, wanted to honor Owen’s when they hadn’t even met when he must have found his body.

“I thought I was put in a stew,” Owen murmured.

“Found you before,” Xypher said. “There are others. They live… in that place. They eat what they can. What they can, what they can… But I saved you first. I saved you, I saved you.”

“You saved me…” Owen glanced at the jars again, at his own, judging him, or perhaps only watching and wondering. “Do you hurt anyone?”

“No. Only save. So you’ll never die. Never, never…”

“What about people who are alive?” Owen asked.

Xypher looked confused. “Then they don’t need to be saved.”

He probably didn’t have the capacity to lie. That… was enough. It wasn’t like Xypher had any ‘missing people’ associated with him… And while it was… strange…

“Xypher, can you come close for a second? Lean down.” This was silly. This was stupid. This was going to hurt. “Can you look at me?”

Still confused, the Corviknight approached and leaned forward—leaned so much that he fell onto his chest with a light chirp, and even then, his eyes were just barely level with Owen’s.

And Owen leaned close until he could see his own, dim reflection in his shiny beak. He stared into Xypher’s eyes. Xypher stared back, blankly, curiously, but there was a little glint in them, like he was pleased.

“Thank you,” Xypher said. “I like your smile.”

“Uh.” Owen decided not to comment on it. “And… thank you for… keeping my old eyes safe. You can keep them. Just, don’t do that too much, okay?”

“But how will I remember?” Xypher asked, and a flash of distress crossed his expression. “I… I can’t forget. I can’t. I can’t.”

“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” Owen said, putting a hand on Xypher’s beak. It was cold and hard, not quite like ice, but close. “Why don’t you… draw them? Work on drawing them?”

“Drawing…”

“That way, you can draw the eyes even of people who are still alive.”

“Drawing…” Xypher said it again, but with enthusiasm. But then he deflated. “I’m bad at that. Bad, bad…”

“Aw, well. Maybe you can practice for now on the ones you see here. How about that?”

“Mm. Maybe. Maybe.”

Owen stepped back and Xypher stood up. “I think that’s all,” Owen said. “Let’s go back upstairs.”

“Can I help?” Xypher asked, lowering a wing.

The motion startled Owen not because of how sudden it was, but how fluid and naturally it came to him. There was an ancient grace in the way Xypher leaned forward—the motion so ingrained in his core—that, for a split-second, Owen thought he saw the true Xypher awaken.

He couldn’t refuse. “Sure.”

Xypher gave Owen a ride to the first floor, where Owen smiled at Mispy and nodded once they got to the top. Demitri was a nervous wreck as usual, but Mispy was glaring at Hakk the whole time.

“It’s okay,” Owen said. “It’s fine. Xypher is totally safe. How about we go home and get dinner?”

Mispy gave Owen a skeptical look, but Owen returned it with a firm, confident nod. Mispy kept her skepticism, but her expression softened enough. Owen knew what that meant. She would ask later… but for now, would take no action. She was too smart to operate purely on Owen’s judgement, and that was fair.

And as Xypher marched outside, Owen couldn’t get the sight of the jars out of his mind. Not because of their terror, but because of what they meant. There was no telling how many of them were like that in Null Village, desperately grasping for any way to hold memories down, no matter how strange.

That was what he was fighting for. That was what Dark Matter took away. And as Hakk remarked on the construction workers ‘finally’ getting to fixing the crystals, Owen couldn’t stop looking at the back of Xypher’s head.

<><><>​

Finally, he returned home.

They’d all gathered again for dinner, and it occurred to Owen that this had become somewhat of a tradition. Team Alloy helped organize an extra seat to fit Owen in properly, and he sat between Zena and Mispy. That evening, Demitri cooked for the team a Null Village staple of void plant salad with purple spice and red dressing. The result was a surprisingly appealing tapestry of dark leaves and red-purple sauces and powders.

“It’s cheap,” Demitri said, “but you kinda get used to it. These plants grow really well in the Voidlands and are actually pretty full of nutrients!”

“Most of your energy comes from the sauce, so make sure you eat all of it,” Zena added, holding a fork in one of her ribbons tentatively.

“Mm.” Owen eyed the plate, then glanced at Jerry down the table, who had previously expressed a preference for meat. Even he was eating it with a stoic expression. Owen wondered, as an outlaw who had to steal to get money and food, if Jerry was used to eating what he could.

Hesitant but not wanting to seem ungrateful, Owen tried his own, the fork unfamiliar in his claws. How much had changed in the few weeks that had passed. Some of the group were using technology that were more reminiscent of what he’d see in Kilo: special equipment that stuck to paws or appendages just as well as he could work with his hands, including the utensils. Even the bowls seemed to be crafted with fine materials procured in the Voidlands. Polished stones, ceramics, a lot of it totally smooth to the touch.

“Owen, are you okay?” Zena asked. “You seem… distracted.”

“Just getting used to everything,” Owen said with a smile. His eyes were tired, but Zena’s had even less energy. Must have been a long day for both of them.

“Eh, makes sense.” Gahi chomped on one of the leaves. He offered one to Trina, who was sitting on his head and eating her own, tiny plate, and she happily took the offer before exchanging for what looked like a tiny, blackened cherry tomato. Gahi caught it with his tongue and continued eating.

Finally, Owen tried it. Bitter. Very bitter. His tongue shriveled up. But he powered through and tried some of the dressing with it. Salty, sweet, actually not that bad. He had flashes to when he’d tried the red river water when he’d first arrived in the Voidlands, but it was brief.

The second bite was easier, and he took more of it this time. Somehow, bigger bites made it tastier. It was tough and crunchy in some parts. Bitter fluids were in the stems, and he wondered if it was supposed to be that way or if Demitri hadn’t cooked it all out.

Owen felt like he was being watched. Glancing up, he caught three pairs of eyes on him. One was Zena. Comforting, concerned, and he smiled to try to ease her worries. The next was Eon, the other Charmander at the table, who smiled at him before he could react. Stars above, he still had to talk to him. Maybe later.

“You know, I actually got paid for that day of work,” Owen said. “I think he might have given me a bonus for the repairs, but, uh, it might also have been for… giving him a scare about inspections. I hope I don’t get in trouble for that.”

“I think you’ll be fine.” Zena gently rubbed his shoulder.

“What, the bathhouse?” Jerry asked. “Anybody try and put the moves on you yet?”

“A few times,” Zena said before Owen could object. “If anyone tries to get touchy with us, though, we’re free to retaliate as we like.”

“So, Hydro Pump.”

“Ice Beam, actually.”

“Y’know, that’s better.”

“Are all of you guys treated, y’know, questionably at work, or anything like that?” Owen asked.

“Well, some of us,” Zena said, sighing. “But… we can defend ourselves. And Null Village is just like that. It isn’t… like Kilo Village. People are different here.”

“I heard some talk about that, actually,” Jerry said. “At least before all this stuff with Dark Matter happened, the Voidlands was usually a place where lost spirits went, I guess. Those that died but had too much ‘negativity’ in their heart, or whatever. Personally, I don’t buy it. But if it is true, then maybe the culture here is more hardened from harsh lives.”

“Hardened,” Owen mumbled.

“What, you think you’re above it?” Jerry pressed. “You’re right here with us, buddy.”

“No, that’s not—” Owen winced. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t think… I mean, it’s just a shock. That’s all. I’m hoping that I can try to make some money or at least get some better living conditions for us if I find a job, too.”

“Hmph. If you can prove you made that tree, or maybe show that you need to maintain it or something…” Jerry leaned forward. “I bet that would make you a killing.”

“Maybe…”

“It’s all temporary anyway,” Zena dismissed. “All until we can be free from the Voidlands, right?”

“Yeah! Right.” Owen nodded, taking another bite. The food wasn’t too bad, but it was still bitter.

Xypher cawed nearby and Owen remembered that he was the third pair of eyes on him. The creepiest ones; did Xypher even blink? And he had two whole plates of Demitri’s cooking, too.

“They say that the lower your Class, the more this weird food tastes good,” Hakk said. “Guess that’s why Xypher loves this stuff.”

The Corviknight screeched.

“Y’know, that reminds me,” Hakk said, “we oughta pay a visit at home again once we’re through eating.”

“Not done moving out yet?” Owen asked.

“Nah, just checking repairs,” Hakk replied leisurely. “Anyway, let’s eat. Here, Xypher, grab this weird thing.”

Hakk tossed Xypher a squishy, purple fruit, and Xypher caught and swallowed it in mid-air. Owen realized that one was on his plate, too, but the smell made him suppress a retch. He glanced at Demitri, who wasn’t paying attention. Owen hastily tossed it to Xypher next. Zena did the same.

And for a fleeting moment, everything felt normal.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 118 – Just Acquainted

Dark Matter stood face to face with Anam. He took on the form of a familiar Charizard, blue eyes tinged with streaks of darkness. Anam didn’t like looking at those, and Dark Matter knew it.

All around them were Void Shadows. Under the ground, in the trees, and all around the forest.

“I did everything you asked,” Dark Matter stated. “Nothing came of it.”

“You just need to wait. He’ll find a way to help.”

“They’re going to kill me. And I know, from the recent arrivals, they are planning an assault soon. I will not wait while they plot my demise.”

“Please. Just one more day,” Anam begged. The Goodra squeezed his hands together.

“No.” Dark Matter redoubled his glare. “I will not allow you to stall for any longer. I am going to fight. I refuse to be erased. Not until I am done.”

Another stare down. How long had they been at this pointless exchange? Dark Matter turned around. “When the time comes, I am going to fight you. I will overwhelm you with so many Void Shadows that you will not be able to catch up to my main army. By the time you arrive, it will be too late.”

“I won’t get in your way,” Anam said, and there was a suspicious weight behind his words. “I know that we can’t… we can’t hurt each other. Because we’re linked. Because I’m the Guardian, and you’re the spirit.”

“You can still seal me. I know what you will do and I won’t allow it this time. I will not be held back.”

“You’re sealed… but you can also draw from my power.” Anam held his chest. “…I’m… not going to let you do that. You can’t use my power anymore. Necrozma’s light… I… I’m going to make you fully vulnerable!”

Dark Matter quirked a scaly brow. “Oh?” He faced the Goodra again, looming over him. “And just how will you do that if we are linked?”

Anam closed his eyes. “…I’m going to release you.”

The false Charizard narrowed his eyes. “Then I’ll kill you. Nothing would stop me from overtaking your spirit.”

“You will still become weak to Necrozma, fully. Even a touch…”

“They won’t be able to get close.” Dark Matter stepped closer to Anam. “Do it, then.”

Anam stared, eyes wide but not with fear. They glowed as they always did, those green irises etching themselves into Dark Matter’s mind. Even now, they were bright. Always bright. How he hated and envied that light. If he could blot it out…

“I trust you,” Anam said.

A stabbing pain went from Dark Matter’s chest to his forehead. He snarled, withholding a wince, as a dark haze leaked from the corners of his mouth.

“I’ll kill you the moment you let me.”

Anam finally closed his eyes. Dark Matter wondered if Madeline and James were readying a counterattack. If this was all a trap. Perhaps it was. But he couldn’t sense it from Anam.

“It’s going to be okay,” Anam said. Dark Matter didn’t know who he was talking to.

A thread of gold appeared between Dark Matter and Anam, connecting their chests. The end attached to Dark Matter severed… and he was released.

<><><>​

The rest of Owen’s meal passed without much incident. Quietly, they all regarded one another as they stacked their bowls by the counter, and it seemed to be Eon’s turn to do cleaning. “Oh, and I can help, too,” Owen offered quickly.

That earned a concerned look from Zena, but Owen stared, stone-faced. Their eyes didn’t leave one another for a few moments, but then she silently nodded and slithered back to her room with Enet.

Eon got a few booster pillows from nearby to climb, careful that they were stacked securely, and Owen climbed up with him on the opposite side. Eon turned the faucet; purple water flowed out and Owen winced.

“We use the filtered water after the first rinse,” he explained.

“Right…”

It was odd to work with running water. Back in Hot Spot, most of their cleaning for dishes involved flames and burning away the mess, then dusting off the ashy remains. Not that the tradition continued once non-Fire spirits were—

What happened to Amia’s spirits? Auntie Arcanine, all the false kids that used to inhabit Hot Spot? Were they stuck inside Amia? No…

“Owen?” Eon asked.

“Oh, sorry. I… Right. Dishes.”

“If the water scares you, it’s alright,” Eon said gently.

“It doesn’t. I’m not Fire right now anyway.”

“Right…”

Despite Owen’s current state, Eon was still a proper Charmander. At least they looked different this time.

“So, you’re getting better at holding that form?” Owen asked.

“Yeah. Not the best, but it helps to have a default. Being smaller uses less energy anyway.”

“Mhm. Not a lot of energy to spare here when everything’s so expensive, huh?” Owen glanced behind him. Their home was barren aside from the absolute essentials, if that. For how many people lived in the communal home, it seemed like there hadn’t been much space. Maybe Trina sat on Gahi’s head because they’d run out of room once he’d arrived…

Enough small talk. Owen knew why he wanted this.

“I remember everything about Kanto,” Owen said. “And Almia, and Orre.”

Eon nearly dropped his dishes, but he nodded quickly and said, “Y-you did, huh? Just like that?”

“While I was a tree, I had a lot of time to think about things and, you know, remember.” Owen passed a plate for Eon to rinse. “You’ve changed.”

Eon was no longer interested in washing the dishes, but he still made a halfhearted attempt.

“The Tim I knew wouldn’t have done anything that you did,” Owen said. “Raising a whole army of artificial Pokémon just to get me back? Trying to fight the gods themselves and throw Kilo into… just, centuries of fear of those mutants? Turning me into one?!”

“I know, I know,” Eon said quickly. “I—”

“If you knew, then why’d you do it?!” Owen had wanted to keep his voice down, but it all spilled out the second he’d said even a small portion of his thoughts. Now the flood was unstoppable. He wanted to stop but didn’t. “Did you ever think that I would have hated what you did to me? How many lives you ruined all because of me? How do you think I feel?”

No words from Eon. Despite the false Charmander being twice Owen’s height, Eon seemed a lot smaller. Owen hated how he looked like ‘Smallflame’ even now.

“I hate,” Owen snarled, “what you did. And what you kept doing, like there was no other solution. I just want to know… why. Why did you do all of that? Was it really just so you could get me back? Was it because you wanted to go to Kanto? Because Kanto’s gone. We’ve been on Kilo for centuries… m-maybe longer. Everyone we knew there, assuming Arceus didn’t just destroy the whole planet, is—”

“Still there,” Eon said hastily.

“What?! What are you even—”

“Kanto is still there. W-we found out. Nevren found out.”

Owen was still in the mood to argue. He searched for somewhere to counter that, but it was so surprising that he only stumbled over his words. Owen stayed on guard, but he listened.

“Nevren has a room,” Eon said. “It’s… it’s a room where he puts down notes about things he can guess about the world. Things about the Divine Decrees that affected even us. Parts of history that are being suppressed so nobody can remember. It’s like a property of the world itself and happens automatically by some… logic of the gods who put it there. Secrets to keep things hidden. And while we can never know what those secrets are directly, Nevren can leave instructions to himself on what to do about his findings, while he’s in that room.

“A-and one of those things was that Kanto still existed. That whole world still does; he only destroyed Quartz Isle, and then erased the fact that he did. For all we know, we’re just… missing, or we died some other way. And most of all… this world, Kilo, follows a different time flow. We don’t know by how much, but… time in Kilo is so much faster. Even after all this, if we go back now, if we can align the worlds, we could go back to Kanto and… and it’ll all go back to normal. We can live normal lives again.”

“Wh…” Owen stared, slack-jawed. “How can we live normal lives after all this? How can we even think to go back when we’ve been doing this for so long? That’s… stupid! And you know it! I’m not gonna pretend all of this didn’t happen!” Owen chirped and roared at Eon, completely disregarding the dishes at this point. “I’m guessing you never bothered to tell us because the Decree made it all hidden away, and we should just blame Star and Barky for all of this, right? Well, maybe, but I’m not… not after this. Not for all you did. Some of that’s on you, for taking it this far. You chose to do all of this, and you could have stopped at any point, but you didn’t. You even made a copy of me just to try to have me back some other way!”

That one looked like it hurt Eon the most. He held back a gasp and turned his head away hard, biting his tongue.

“You tried to copy my memories and put them in some other artificial body just to have ‘me’ again. And then you created my friends to do the same thing, didn’t you? My ‘team,’ just like in Kanto.”

“I wanted you to be happy,” Eon choked.

“No, you wanted ME!” Owen spat back. His eyes felt hot. It hurt to say. He couldn’t believe that he was saying it to him at all. Flashes of his memories echoed in the back of Owen’s mind of that fateful day in the forest. The day he decided to partner with Tim for good, to leave Kanto behind when he could have easily gone back home with his wings.

Owen wondered, if he went back now to tell his younger self about what would happen, would he have gone back? Would he have let Tim go with Ayame and Ire, and would he return to the lab to live a quiet life?

Deep in his heart, he knew he wouldn’t have, no matter who told him. And even deeper, Owen felt a strong, bubbling, hateful realization that he wouldn’t try to avert it, either. Why? Why? After spending so much time trying to shove Eon away, that instinctual drive to go back plagued him.

“I’m sorry,” Eon finally said. “I… I…”

Owen hadn’t been looking, so he was surprised to hear a loud thump, and then Eon not there when he looked up.

On the floor was a blubbering puddle of ooze. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Eon said, unable to focus on any form at all. “I just kept going, little things led to big things, I just kept going, I’m sorry…”

It was pathetic. Owen could only stare. He wanted to leave, to let him wallow in that regret that he was finally feeling…

But he couldn’t. Because Owen also knew that Eon had been regretting this for a long time. Driven helplessly by his own willpower.

Eon was saying something more, but Owen was too focused on his thoughts to register any of it. He climbed off of the platforms and walked toward Eon, sitting nearby while he cried it out. Owen wanted to cry, too, but it was quieter. Relieving. He’d finally gotten to say something he hadn’t even known he’d wanted. But it was still a wound; he still felt so empty and lost. He also wanted Tim back. And he wasn’t sitting next to Owen anymore. He hadn’t been for years and years…

“I just don’t know what I would have done,” Eon said. “But this was all wrong… I did everything wrong… I lost everything… A-and… and I failed you.”

He had. He really had. But… “You didn’t fail me before. You just… lost your way. I don’t remember when it happened or how it happened, but you did. And you became a monster.”

“Y-yeah…”

“I can’t ever forget that.’

“And I don’t want you to,” Eon said. “I n-never wanted you to lose your memories.”

Owen lost his breath. He forgot whether he’d just let out one, or took one in, and was stuck there, frozen, as those words echoed. That was right. Eon had been driven to near madness trying to restore Owen’s memories. Gahi’s, Mispy’s, and Demitri’s, too. But every time he did, it brought out that instinctual madness, too. And they’d get reset, over and over, by some dark power that wrapped around their aura.

Eon was vulnerable, here. Owen could ask anything and he’d probably get the truth. He composed himself, navigating carefully. Owen knew that just as Eon was vulnerable here, so too was he.

“Eon…” Owen sighed. “No. Tim. I… don’t want you to try to win me back. It’s…” Say it. Say it. ‘It’s over,’ say it. Tim had done far too much for him to ever be Owen’s partner again, say it. Owen knew that he just had to say, ‘I don’t want to be your partner,’ and be done with it. He could leave Eon to despair about it, and then he’d move on one day. Or he’d become a Void Shadow, whatever. But Owen owed Tim nothing. Say it. Say it.

“What are you going to do now?” Owen asked.

“What?”

“You did all that. Can’t change it. So, what now?” Owen felt some of his anger ebbing away with each careful breath he took. Eon talking slowly, and taking so long to reply, was doing wonders for calming his emotions.

Owen helped Eon regain some semblance of a body. He solidified and shifted until he was at least reminiscent of a Ditto. His dotted eyes still had a sorrowful glint to them, and he couldn’t look at Owen directly. As a Ditto, his voice was high pitched and scratchy, not unlike a child. No wonder he tried to avoid it. But for now, it suited him.

“What have you been doing in Null Village?” Owen prodded again.

“I’ve… I’ve been trying to help out here. I don’t have a lot of power. I think… most of it is sealed, or something, like yours. But what I can do, I’ve been trying. Helped rescue Palkia, a-and rescue you, er, not that you needed it…”

On the contrary, he did. But at least Eon was trying to downplay it.

“And,” Eon continued, “I’ve… I’ve been avoiding you a little. I figured you didn’t want to… see me right now.”

“I didn’t,” Owen agreed. “I noticed that a little.”

Silence. Eon looked like he wanted to transform again, but couldn’t think of anything to become.

“It’s alright,” Owen said. “Pick what form you want.”

Eon flinched, his body jiggling. “I didn’t want to… take you or anything.”

Owen rolled his eyes, sighing. “Oh, don’t be dramatic about it. Just… do it like you’ve always been. It’s fine.”

Slowly, his body shifted again. Scales formed around flesh and a little flame erupted at the end of his tail. By the time he was done and calm, he glanced at Owen again. “Is there something more I should be doing?” he asked. “I… I know I want you back, but… but if… if that’s n-not what you want… then okay. Then, okay. I’ll… Then, okay.”

He kept repeating it, nodding, like he was trying to tell it to himself. Owen knew Eon. He knew every little tic about him, and when he took on the form of a Charmander, he knew it even more. In the end, this let Owen get a good, hard look at how Eon really felt. His flame, his twitches, his eyes…

All genuine.

He really was going to give him the choice to leave. If Owen left, Eon would accept it. If Owen left, Eon would try to move on. He might fail, and he might fail for a long time… but Eon looked, finally, willing to accept that.

“And what will you do for the mutants?” Owen asked.

“I need to help them,” Eon said immediately, and a nostalgic fire was in his eyes for only Owen to see. “I’ve… been thinking, maybe I could find a way to convince Nevren to make a school. We know their psychology really well, and most of their spirits are from feral Pokémon, so we can help educate them. Maybe Trina, she knew a lot about how to temper their spirits, so maybe if we combined those two, they won’t be at risk anymore, and . . .”

He went on and on and on. Always looking forward. Always trying to help others. That… was the Tim he knew. Some of his ideas were silly and frankly wouldn’t work, but that was also the Tim he knew.

So, maybe he was still there, deep down.

When Eon paused enough for Owen to interject, the Grassmander said, “Then you want to repair the damage.”

“I do.” Eon nodded. “That’s what I’m gonna do no matter what.”

Owen wanted to leave it at that, but he took the risk and asked one more question. “Why?”

And, to his relief, the answer came quickly. “It’s just the right thing to do. And a return to form. I liked… when I helped Pokémon, back when I was a ranger. And being a ranger and part of a team for Dungeons, that isn’t too different, right? I think I want to do that when this is all over.”

Owen felt the fanned leaf of his tail flex. It reminded him of his flame growing. “Yeah,” he said. “And… maybe we can start up that partnership again. From the beginning. How does that sound?”

Eon’s flame was blazing, but he kept himself calm. Owen could tell he was trying not to look desperate. “I’d like that.”

“But for now”—Owen wanted to temper that hope—“I’m not doing anything. We’re fighting for the same cause, but… that’s all. Okay?”

“Y-yeah. Right, sorry.”

And they stood in silence again, and Owen wasn’t sure what to do next. He somehow expected this. Maybe, deep down, he knew Eon was still the same trainer he’d trusted his life to. It had to be reawakened… but Owen couldn’t be the one to do that. Eon had to find it on his own. And maybe, later, he could prove himself. This was going to be as hard for Owen as it was for Eon.

“It’s really okay,” Eon added, nodding. “I… I think it’s better this way. I don’t think, after… after everything that happened, it can just… flip to normal. I-in fact, don’t even consider it until this is all fixed!”

Owen let his guard down for a split-second, but then steeled himself, nodding. It all seemed so genuine. And maybe it was. He just didn’t know anymore. But Zena and all the others would be so disappointed if he gave in so easily for his old, long-gone trainer.

“Good,” Owen said. “And… thank you.”

That was it. His heart felt lighter, then. That’s all he had to say. Odd… it seemed easier to be in the same room, now.

Awkwardly, Eon picked up the dishes again, returning to washing, and Owen fell back into the old routine.

“Why Eon, anyway?” Owen asked.

“H-huh?”

“I don’t have that memory yet. Why did you pick the name ‘Eon’ after, you know…”

“Oh.” Eon blinked, like the thought had never occurred to him. “I don’t know. I don’t think I remember, either. One day I just went by it. Woke up one day, my name is Eon, and I thought nothing of it. I knew I used to be called Tim, but… Huh.”

A pensive silence followed. They were thinking the same thing. “Do you think it has to do with a Decree?” Owen asked.

“It might,” Eon hummed. “But what would I have to do with that? Nevren, I—I mean, Michael, he remembers his name the same way. That’s so odd… Madeline apparently never forgot hers. Ayame sort of forgot hers, now that she’s the Dragon Guardian, but…”

“I thought their names were similar,” Owen murmured. “Aramé. I haven’t met her yet. She’s, uh, kinda scary, from what I heard.”

“Y-yeah, she’s… time hasn’t been kind to her.”

“And Brandon…”

“He remembers, too. I think he remembers more than most of us, which is also weird to think about. What makes him so special?” Eon sighed. “Maybe it was just coincidence.”

“I don’t think anything is a coincidence anymore,” Owen said. “There might be more to it. But, Eon, I think your name specifically… Do you think it has to do with the time between Kilo forming, and us forgetting that part?”

“What do you mean?”

“That time when you were a Mew. I’ve only gotten a fragment of that memory so far, but you used to be one.”

Eon stared at Owen dumbly.

“You know, Mew. Like Star? I think you were a little bigger, though…”

“I… have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“It was definitely you. And—oh, and I also think you… No, I’m pretty sure you were also Jirachi.”

“Are… are you okay, Owen?” Eon asked, leaning forward to feel his forehead.

Owen flinched back. “I’m fine! Seriously, I have memories of when I was a huge Charizard, and back then, I knew a ton of Legends! Mewtwo—Aster, I mean—I knew him, and there was this really tiny Arceus, and Azelf was—was…”

“I… think I remember Mispy mentioning something like that,” Eon said. “But, Jirachi? Me? I don’t have any memories of that at all.”

“Nobody does. I think you were split in half. Jirachi was here the whole time, probably with all your memories from that blank era I talked about.” Owen hummed. “And I think that has to do with a few other things going on, too. Legends that are weaker than they should be, or ones that don’t remember their past compared to those that do.”

Eon rubbed his head. “If I’m Jirachi, does that mean we should find him and… I don’t know, figure something out?”

“Once we have a means to get to him,” Owen said. “I think I heard something about him being in West Null Village. I don’t think Dark Matter touched that one. Latias is from East Null Village, too, so…”

“If they’re all the same village, why are they in totally separate areas?” Eon complained. “So confusing…”

“It might be something historical.” Owen shrugged. “Something to think about. Maybe when Palkia is feeling better, we can try going there.”

“Right.” Eon finally stood up and climbed the platforms back to the sink. “Um, I can handle the rest, Owen. Thanks for… for talking. I’m going to think about all this a lot. But you should get some rest, alright?”

Owen nodded. “Okay. We’ll talk later, alright?”

He turned, glad to be let go. He still wanted to talk with Zena a little, and the rest of Team Alloy.

<><><>​

First, Owen checked on Zena and briefly told her that he was going to see Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi. He wasn’t sure where Enet was, but he could catch hints of her scent nearby, and that was enough.

Next, he knocked on Demitri and Mispy’s door—he’d not want to walk in on anything—but got no response. The door was unlocked, curiously, and opened on its own. Inside he saw no bed and a few books that seemed to be about cooking. Owen wondered if Mispy ate the bed, or they didn’t buy one because of the risk of eating it. So, he went down to Gahi’s room next, hearing muffled chatter inside between him and Trina.

“Hello?” Owen called, and soon the door opened.

“Oi,” Gahi greeted with a casual wave. He and Trina were playing some kind of card game. Owen briefly wondered if this was really Gahi.

“Have you guys seen Demitri and Mispy around?” Owen asked.

“Evenin’ stroll,” Gahi said. “They always do it. Probably ‘cause the walls’re kinda thin.”

Gahi passed five cards to Owen; he and Trina shared a stack of small discs—tokens, perhaps?—and he realized they were playing poker. Great, what were the rules again?

“How’d yer talk with Eon go?” Gahi asked.

Thin walls. “Uh, how much did you hear?” Owen asked.

Trina tossed in a chip with a vine and said, “All of it, I think. Though, we only really understood half of it. You were growling and chirping for a while.”

“I—I was?” Owen was mortified. Slipping into feral when he was distressed… Wait, but Eon still responded. Did he just not want to embarrass him, or did he also not realize it?

“Eh, no biggie, we get it,” Gahi said. “That feral thing, right? Bet that’d be pretty useful. Oi, make a bet.”

“Oh—sorry.” Owen tossed in a token. “Two cards. Yeah, I guess I’m sort of… I had a lot on my mind.” He sighed when the two cards he got back were junk. “I want to give him a chance because he said he’d try to fix things. I just don’t want to fall into my old habits…”

“I think what you did was a good compromise,” Trina said. “If you’re anything like Har, it’s simply not in you to push someone out of your life completely. He thought about Eon a lot, you know. I think it still torments him.”

“Yeah… Same for Ax, Ani, and Lygo, I bet.”

“Mm.” Trina looked at Gahi, who shook his head and placed his cards down. Trina and Owen did the same, and Trina collected the round’s winnings. “I think, after getting to know Eon more, he is someone who was not ready for the power he was given. Perhaps nobody is. And he made terrible mistakes over an unhealthy obsession. A good person with bad choices. But it is not any obligation for you to follow him as he makes those choices.” Trina passed out a new set of cards. “While I ensnare wayward outlaws and mutants into my Bug army, I do grant them the will to leave once they have been calmed down. It simply takes time for that to happen.”

“I don’t really like that,” Owen admitted. “It’s kind of… creepy.”

Trina suppressed a scoff, passing Owen the last card. He started off with two pairs. “Well,” Trina went on, “I think I’m far better at keeping the land safe compared to what Eon does with them.”

“Ehh, let’s not do this,” Gahi murmured. “Like, mutants’re all messed up, yeah. But I guess we c’n, I dunno, focus on fixin’ that later.”

“Okay.” Owen decided to drop it. Trina’s methods were weird, but she at least seemed to care for more than just some obsession. He had to pick his battles. “Trina, why do you do that, anyway? You know, the whole Bug army thing. How’d you get around to doing that?”

“Mm. It just happened, really. I happened upon the Bug Orb a long time ago; it seemed to be unguarded. Star was there to help guide me through things, of course, and afterward I left for my own devices. I was hesitant to enter society proper, so I learned about it from lost souls in the Dungeon where I had found it. Curious, really. I didn’t feel the need to leave after I spent enough time there.”

“Why’d you leave so suddenly, then?” Owen asked.

And to that, she paused. “I, hm.” And thought some more as Owen passed in one card and upped the ante by two. “Well, your group asked. It didn’t really cross my mind until then.”

“Because we asked,” Owen repeated.

“Honestly, when I sent Har’s team, it was just a formality. I was already… convinced that I could go with you. Or, that it would be more interesting. Star had prompted me earlier, too. But I wanted Har to help convince the other mutants that it would be okay to go. It’s… too bad that never came to be.”

“Hey, it’s not too late,” Owen encouraged. “Once we’re out of here, we’ll try to pick up where we left off. Dark Matter’s in the way right now, but… yeah. We can still work through that. Okay?”

Trina chuckled. “You would say that,” she remarked. “Fine. No use worrying about what I can’t do anything about right now.”

“What’re we doin’ next, anyway?” Gahi asked.

“Nevren’s coming tomorrow with news, or, he should. After that, we can take on Dark Matter from both sides—Kilo and Void! Just like when Star took me over. Maybe if we get Anam back in control of his body, we can seal Dark Matter and, y’know, think of a way to finish him for good after that.”

Owen placed his cards down, grinning. He’d won, this time. And just then, he heard the door open from the main hall, so he nodded at them and said, “Um, glad you guys are doing alright. Gonna talk with the others before I get some sleep.”

Gahi waved idly and they split Owen’s tokens evenly.

Out in the hall, Owen didn’t see Demitri and Mispy and frowned. Must have been Hakk and Xypher coming back, so he headed to Zena’s room after all. He could talk to the others in the morning.

“Hey,” Owen greeted, smiling at the empty spot Zena had left for him in her bed. Crawling in and getting comfortable, he murmured, “Sorry I drew all that attention to you at work.”

“Oh, it’s alright. I, er, I think I understand what you’re trying to do, at least.” She shifted awkwardly. “Don’t do that again, though.”

“I won’t.” Owen smiled apologetically. “You know, maybe my job can be in farming, or something. A quiet life for a little bit. Dad always wanted me to be a berry farmer.”

Zena giggled. “Farming. And here I thought you’d try to avoid plants.”

Owen shrugged. “It’s growing on me.” He shifted around and sat up, restless. He still wanted to try something, so he leaned into his bag nearby and pulled out a dark compass. It seemed to be pointing to the northern part of town.

Zena’s expression darkened. “Owen?”

“What do you think I should do?” he asked. “I spent a few kilos on and off thinking about this. Why did Dark Matter give me something to locate him?”

“To control you.”

“But he can’t.”

“What if he can with that?” Zena quickly countered. “If you willingly let in something like that into your spirit… what if he controls you from the inside?”

“If what he says is true, I already have that in me,” Owen said. “I don’t feel all that controlled. And I know what that feels like.”

But Zena was still uncomfortable, so Owen frowned and only looked at the compass again.

“You really believe him, then?” Zena asked. “That you used to…”

“I think it’s true,” Owen said. “I don’t have any memories or evidence of it, but I think it’s true. It’s… a feeling. And when I get these feelings, it’s because it’s a hidden memory trying to warn me.”

“What do you feel when you think about Dark Matter?” Zena asked. “…Loyalty? Joy? Power?”

He hadn’t thought of that. He pressed his back against Zena’s coils and thought. Dark Matter, standing in front of him, he’d only felt fear and uncertainty. But if he thought about Dark Matter as someone he’d worked with before, what did he feel? Who was ‘Dark Matter’ in the past? He felt…

Owen held out his hand to a black haze. He said something and it shrank away, lashing out at him. Owen stepped back, frowning, huffing, saying something, but the haze would have nothing of it.

“Okay,” Owen said—this voice was clear, like he’d said it many times. “I’ll try again tomorrow.”


Owen took in a quick breath through his nose, not enough to startle Zena. He opened his eyes, though he stared at the compass only.

“Pity,” Owen finally answered.

“You wanted to help him,” Zena concluded, “because he was hurting. Is that it?”

“Dark Matter can’t feel positive emotions. They hurt him. I… I think I remember that. He’s miserable. I think I wanted to… help him.”

“That sounds a lot like Anam.”

“Yeah…”

“And look what happened to him.”

“He’s sealing him away,” Owen countered gently. “It doesn’t seem like he’s under Dark Matter’s control, does it?”

“That’s… that’s true. Owen, do you really want to use that compass? To… crush it, so that power will…”

Another long pause. Then, sighing, he said, “If you think it’s a bad idea, I won’t. It could be a trap. But it could also be a chance.”

“A chance to help him.”

“…This is stupid,” Owen muttered, tossing the compass aside. “I can’t… help him, can I?” He sighed, rubbing his eyes. “We’re supposed to defeat him tomorrow. What am I doing, talking about helping him?”

He heard Zena moving around while his eyes were closed.

“It really is you,” Zena said, “to want to help everyone. I heard your talk with Eon, and… well, I didn’t understand all of it, but I think you wanted to give him a second chance. And for you to do that with Dark Matter, too, it’s… I think you know what terrible things he’s done, Owen. Not just for Kilo’s present, but so many spirits in the past. This whole world, the Voidlands, all of it. Does he deserve forgiveness?”

“Who said anything about forgiveness?” Owen asked. “I want to help him, sure… but just like Eon, he needs to make up for what he did. He needs to free everyone in the Voidlands, and then he needs to fix everything he ruined. We can help… but I bet it would be a lot easier with him on our side than if we just destroyed him.” He glanced away. “If we can even do that…”

“That’s… a good point. If Dark Matter is some kind of entity, we don’t really know if we can destroy him. But, still, Owen…”

“I won’t defect to him,” Owen added. “If he doesn’t listen to anything…”

“Then you intend to talk to him again, after what happened last time?”

“I—” Owen flinched. “I… don’t know.”

“It sounded like that’s what you wanted to do. Just… Owen, I don’t want to force you. But this is Dark Matter. You need to promise me that you won’t defect to his side.”

“Promise…” Owen squeezed the compass, then nodded. “Right. Okay.” He looked toward Zena. “I can do that.”

He held his hand forward, a golden glow emanating from it. “That’ll keep things secure. I Promise that—”

“Owen, no.” Zena smiled, pushing his hand back with a ribbon. “A promise… between us. I don’t want you to feel forced to follow me.”

“But—but that will guarantee it. If I defect, then I’ll lose my power. It’ll go to you.”

“Perhaps that dark power will, too,” Zena said. “I don’t know if we can afford that.”

“O-oh.” He didn’t know if that was true. But it was possible.

“And,” Zena said, “I think… just a promise between us would be enough. Don’t you think?” She tilted her head, and Owen gazed at her for a few long seconds.

“Alright. Then, it’s a promise. To you, and to Team Alloy. I won’t leave you, no matter what happens.”

Zena nodded, then gestured to the compass. “I’ll be right here.”

Owen sighed. Enough discussing, time for action. He hoped this was the right decision. He squeezed the compass a little harder; Zena held her breath. She was tense. Understandable. He kept calm.

A little harder. The compass was losing form. And then, once he felt a crack, it burst in a sudden plume of dark haze that collected along his arms and chest, sinking inside with a cold feeling. He felt tired and drained, but it lasted only seconds.

“Owen?”

“I’m fine,” Owen immediately said. “Sorry. Sudden. Do I look any different? Sound? Act?”

“Well, it just started, but no, you don’t look different.”

“Not even a little bigger?”

“That better not have been a reason you did this,” Zena growled.

“N-no, it wasn’t.”

Zena didn’t look convinced.

Owen searched for Dark Matter. That was what this compass was supposed to do, right? ‘North’ was Necrozma, but now he had a second ‘North.’ And it did feel different; he could tell who was Necrozma, and who this new presence—Dark Matter—was. North, just like the compass said. But closer.

A lot closer.

In fact, it felt like—

Owen sprang from his bed, eyes wide. “H-he’s outside.”

“What?”

Owen bolted for the door, but a ribbon caught him by the torso and Zena lifted him up.

“What happened to not leaving?” Zena hissed.

“I—I’m sorry, but he’s waiting right outside!” Owen pointed at the building wall.

“What do you… mean, outside?”

Knock. Knock. Knock.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 119 – Darkness Rises

Owen’s blood turned to ice. Zena froze in place. It came from where Owen had pointed, on the thin wall that separated their room from an alley between the buildings.

“Zena,” Owen said softly. “Complete guess, but… did Demitri and Mispy come back home yet?”

“They shouldn’t have gone far,” Zena whispered. “Dark Matter can’t come inside the city, can’t he?”

Knock. Knock. Knock.

No, he was unmistakably on the other side of the wall. He wanted something.

“Stay here,” Owen said.

“No,” Zena replied, and they stared at each other, both their breaths held.

“Then stay close,” Owen conceded, and they both left their room.

It was dark out, which meant nighttime thanks to the new sky. And for a moment, Owen considered going back and ignoring he’d heard the knocking at all.

The darkness provided little comfort. Owen’s legs locked up, primal fear tugging at the back of his mind. No flame. That was normal, though; he didn’t have a flame anymore. But his mind was tricking him. It meant he was dying, and he had to hide to recover. He had to hide.

“Owen,” Zena said gently.

He remembered. “Right. Let’s go.”

And there, between the buildings and in the dark, was a Charizard with a black flame. In his hands were the torn horns of a Goodra, which he made a point to toss away only when Owen was close enough to see it.

No introductions, no welcomes. Dark Matter only said, “I am here to discuss your surrender.”

This was different from the last time. Owen did not feel that same dark, oppressive aura that had permeated the air from before, and, looking behind him, Zena looked neither fatigued nor tired. Null Village was immune to his dark aura, so long as that Radiant Tree remained.

So for him to come so brazenly into town, knock on their building, and then request a surrender from Owen? It was silly. So silly that Owen laughed.

“My surrender? What?” Owen asked, and he was disturbed that he felt like he had been speaking to an old friend.

“Yes,” Dark Matter said, crossing his arms slowly.

“I think you’ve gone insane,” Zena said flatly. “Surrender? Why, when your power gets weaker by the day?”

“Where do you get that impression?” Dark Matter asked.

“Your influence is even weaker here,” Zena said, and Owen, emboldened, stood straighter. “You must know that we are about to strike you down.”

“Mm.” Dark Matter closed his eyes, and Owen had a feeling he wasn’t really weighing or considering anything. Was he only pausing so Zena could reflect on her own words? “You are wrong. My power continues to grow. I am here to accelerate things and request your surrender early and put an end to this tedium.”

Zena scoffed, looking to Owen. “Let’s go. I don’t want to risk him trying anything.”

“You’re free to.” Dark Matter shrugged. “I’m only being practical. I’m getting impatient.”

“You can’t even corrupt me.” Owen stepped forward.

Dark Matter glared in response, shifting his weight.

Owen pressed. “What makes you think you can win?”

“…Mm. I see.” The dark-flamed Charizard sighed through his nose, similarly black embers escaping. He walked forward and Owen stepped back on reflex; another step forward.

Owen took several more steps back, shouting, “Hey! Stop—stop that! What are you—” when Dark Matter didn’t stop, Owen blasted a volley of seeds at him, but they bounced pointlessly off his scales. Zena followed up with a Hydro Pump, aiming first for his face, but then at the flame of his tail. The fire crackled; Dark Matter’s eyes twitched to a partial squint, but then he pointed over their shoulders.

The ground shook and it felt like Owen’s chest had been struck by a massive fist. There was a loud sound like air sucking through a huge pipe, and then a ringing silence. Stone pierced his leafy feathers and he staggered back to see a whole building completely demolished. Chunks of stone hit the ground, cracking the ceramic pavement. Was it empty? Owen’s eyes frantically searched for bodies, finding none. But that could mean anything.

“I can kill as many as I wish,” Dark Matter said, eyes closed. “That was the home of an adopted family of three. None of them held solid memories beyond a few decades ago, and they came together by happenstance. Of course, they’re all dead now. They will awaken as hollow shadows, like they’d never even met.”

“What—YOU!” Owen felt his chest tightening. “Stop! What are you trying to prove with this?! He—help! Someone!” Owen spun around. The streets were quiet; a few people were peeking outside, but then shrank back when they locked eyes with Dark Matter.

Zena and Owen could only watch helplessly. None of their attacks would work. Where was Anam? What happened to him?

Another deafening explosion rocked his body, this time from several houses down. A scream accompanied this one as a plume of void dust rose into the air, blotting out the nighttime sky for part of the district.

“A single, lonely resident, living in the same home for a hundred years. He lived a quiet routine, waiting for the day something would change. There was nothing of value that he lost when he died tonight, and he will wake up not knowing where he lived.”

Why are you doing this?!” Owen screamed, and, without thinking, he sprinted toward Dark Matter. All the Charizard did was shift his weight and blow a massive gust of wind at Owen, knocking him off his feet and back into Zena.

She fired another beam of water at Dark Matter, which was deflected by a black barrier.

“I’m proving a point,” Dark Matter said. “You are not, and never have been, stronger than me. You impede my progress. I concede this. But you never had any hope of stopping me.”

“I sure did a good job at it before!” Owen said, gesturing to the tree.

“You have, and I cannot destroy that,” he said. “That Radiant Tree of Life is your domain. I cannot overpower it while you are near, and I cannot defeat you for the same reason. The world operates on domains, and so long as I am in yours, I cannot win. Just as you can overpower and eject Star from your Grass Realm… you can do the same to me, should I stray too close. But its range is small and has no hope of completely covering Null Village. You were foolish to assume it could, living in these outskirts, the newly developed buildings at the village’s edge.”

Dark Matter paced. Every move he made, Owen positioned himself between him and Zena, as ineffectual as it would be.

“And what is the point of this, then? If you can’t defeat Owen, is this just for show?”

“Yes.” Dark Matter looked at the next building.

“Stop!” Owen said swiftly, and his voice cracked. “Please. Y-you made your point.”

“Have I?” Dark Matter narrowed his eyes. “I sense doubt from your partner.”

Zena flinched. Owen bit his tongue, holding his breath. Please, don’t say anything.

“You prepared those buildings to scare us,” Zena said. “This is all a show, like you said. All of this is… performance. Owen, let’s go. We can just—”

“Choose.” Dark Matter averted his gaze from his intended building and stared directly at Zena.

“Excuse me?”

“Choose a building.”

Owen’s blood felt like ice running across his scalp. Zena had gone stiff.

“Excuse me?” she whispered again.

“Pick one. Surely I didn’t prepare every building.”

Silence.

“Choose.”

“I—I cannot do that.”

“Then how am I supposed to prove myself to you?” He scowled. His slitted pupils focused on Owen next. “Choose.”

“I’m not—I’m not doing that.”

“You expressed doubt. I am removing that doubt. You have no reason to trust my word.”

“F-fine, I believe you,” Owen said hastily.

“There is still doubt in her.” He stared at Zena. “That this is all a trick. That even now I am playing mind games to force you into despair. I am not here for tricks. I will not lie to you. There is no point. So, choose any target you wish, and I will demonstrate my power, with no chance of preparation.”

“Can’t you hit—hit a nearby tree, or something?” Owen asked frantically.

Dark Matter growled. “What a waste,” he muttered, then glanced down the road. The edge of the village was there, along with a guard resting his back against it. He raised his arm—

“Wait—STOP!” Owen barked.

“Nngh, what now?” Dark Matter snarled, lowering his arm.

“There’s a person there!”

“I cannot believe how lopsided your priorities are.”

“You’re a monster,” Zena hissed. “We aren’t… going to sentence anyone to death over this. Over proving a point.”

“I’ll admit the first building was entirely my fault,” Dark Matter said, shrugging, “but I only struck the second one because you did not believe me.”

“But why?” Owen said. “What are you doing this for?!”

Dark Matter sighed, this time more forceful. “Because I am trying to convince you to surrender.”

“Y-you know, telling me that is only going to make it less likely.”

“I am only doing this to be completely honest with you. As the embodiment of negativity, hatred, and malice, you have no reason to trust me at my word. I have said this many times, so stop questioning why I only speak facts to you.”

The false Charizard waited for a reply, but Owen gave none. They both only glared.

Rolling his eyes, Dark Matter continued, “I cannot defeat you directly. That is plain and simple to see. Your light from Necrozma will counter any efforts to do real damage to you. Even if I attacked that one”—he gestured with a head jerk to Zena—“you would find a way to defend her, the rest of your team would emerge and drive me away, and so on. Still, you also cannot kill me. This is my domain. Is this a stalemate? No.”

He gestured to the town. “You cannot protect everyone here. When you strike me, I will retaliate with more forces than you can hope to imagine. I will overtake both Null and Kilo Village, and then expand beyond. You will live. You and any few refugees you can rescue underneath your precious Tree. And that will be all. You will be alone, without supplies, without civilization, and your tiny kingdom’s people will never be able to escape its perimeter without succumbing to the Void Shadows.

“All of their loved ones will become part of my ranks, and I will be certain to station the ones most relevant to them as the primary insurgence, so they will need to kill them over and over again just to survive. Soon, gripped with despair, they will join the Void Shadows so they may at least be with their family again. Resignation. Bargaining. Desperation. It will consume them.

“And then it will just be you, the Radiant Tree of Life, and an endless wasteland of nothing as you hold out for a miracle that will never come. Your resistance, now, will only delay the world’s intended and proper end. That will be the existence you will impose upon those you wish to ‘save.’”

Someone was weeping far away. Loose rubble from the explosions collapsed another wall, leading to startled cries. A cruel wind picked up loose dust and ruin. Then, it faded to relative silence again.

“Is that what you want?” Dark Matter finished.

The sheer horrific nature of what Dark Matter was describing to him felt impossible, like Owen couldn’t so much as register what had been outlined. He stared, wide-eyed, realizing how far gone Dark Matter had become. There was no way he could reason with this, was there?

“You still don’t plan to surrender,” Dark Matter concluded. “Fine. But now, you know where I am when you do. You are no longer in a position where it is possible to win.” He walked toward and then past them. Zena kept the greatest distance, while Owen only stared. His arm brushed against Dark Matter’s leg. He was warm, yet a cold tingle ran through his body where they touched. And Owen caught a wince on Dark Matter’s face. Owen tried to move his arms, but he felt paralyzed. His breathing didn’t start until Dark Matter was a whole house away.

That was when he finally collapsed to the ground.

A thousand thoughts ran through his head. Of Dark Matter, of defeating him—of being defeated. Of trying to befriend him, that vague sense that it had been done before. And the idea that such a prospect was long dead.

He stared at the sky as his vision curled into a small point. The stars twinkled above him, and then his mind faded to darkness.

<><><>​

The Wishkeeper, a great Charizard, presided over a small squadron of Pokémon, all of them battling one another in competing pairs. They were working in a warm, southern part of Quartz, where the air smelled salty from the ocean and the ground was a fine mixture of sand and dirt and short grass. Still, the beach was too far away to hear. The sun was high but mercifully obscured by clouds, only slightly warming Owen’s scales.

He towered over them all, standing at just over double a Charizard’s typical height. Every step he made shook the earth and, weighing an actual ton, he was considered an indomitable force.

They were winding down. Owen thumped his tail harshly on the ground, which caught all of their attention.

“That’s all for now. Let’s take a break!” He nodded, then smiled encouragingly. “You’re all growing quickly, but if you overwork, uh, you’ll just burn yourselves out.”

Owen walked to the far end of the sandy clearing and sat with a grunt. He’d been standing all morning and afternoon and his legs could use a break.

“Oi, Wishkeeper!” a harsh voice called.

Owen flared his wings and turned his head back. The exhausted training team tensed, murmuring to one another.

“What? How?” said one.

“G-get ready for a fight!” said another, exhausted trainee.

“No,” Owen said, holding one of his wings out far. “Stand down. It’s only four of them.”

“Feh. So it’s true. You can see auras.”

“That would be my mate,” Owen replied. “I just sense your bodies hiding behind the trees.”

Marshadow stepped out, but Owen knew there was also a Cacturne, Drampa, and Dewott hiding nearby. The Drampa, he didn’t even need Perceive to sense. The fluff of his large body bled around the tree trunk.

“We’re here ter put a stop ter Dark Matter’s war, here ‘n now,” Marshadow said, taking on a battle stance, hands forward, body low. A small target like that wouldn’t be easy to hit, and he was probably fast, too. Ghostly fighters with martial arts along with it… He trained Gahi, too. And Gahi was too hard to hit.

“I don’t want to fight you,” Owen said. “You trained my mate. Practically raised him.”

“He didn’t wanna fight you, neither,” Marshadow said lowly. “But now yer an enemy. The Void King’s best general.”

“And you came alone?” Owen asked. “Don’t you think that was risky? What if you were killed,
hero?”

“Heh. Sure.” Marshadow hopped from foot to foot. “Enough talkin’. Let’s fight.”

Dewott was sneaking in the shadows. Drampa and Cacturne were going in the opposite direction, ready to flank.

“Everyone,” Owen said, glancing behind him. “Get a safe distance away.”

“L-leave? But, Wishkeeper, sir, you can’t…”

He flashed a smile. “I’ll be fine.”

Marshadow seemed unnerved. “Four on one? Well, fine. Just ‘cause yer massive don’t mean I can’t take yeh down! NOW!”

Dewott, Cacturne, and Drampa all emerged from the trees and shot volleys of needles, water, and indigo fire at Owen all at once. He raised a single hand, conjuring a dome barrier that was striped with gold and black. The attacks bounced off, but Owen sensed that Marshadow had disappeared. Spreading his wings, he kicked off the ground. Gusts of wind sent the trio skidding backwards from his wingbeats alone, and Owen narrowly dodged a sweeping punch from the shadows beneath him. Marshadow had disappeared into the ground to evade his Protect.

Owen twisted in the air and spiraled downward.

“Geh! Hit the deck!” Marshadow shouted, leaping toward the trees just in time to avoid the worst of Owen’s attack as he slammed into the ground.

A wave of energy sent shockwaves upward from the ground, forming a crater beneath Owen and an outward pulse in the earth everywhere else. Nearby trees shook, but he held back enough to preserve their upright positions.

Owen huffed and stood upright, flaring his wings threateningly. “Last warning.”

“Or what?” Dewott challenged, still on two feet. Drampa had protected Marshadow from most of that, landing on the ground. Cacturne was pinned against a tree, unable to break free of her own thorny body’s hold on the bark.

“Or I’ll have to kill you.”

“Yer bluffin’,” Marshadow said. “The Wishkeeper I know wouldn’t do somethin’ like that.”

Owen stared, unmoving. Drampa shrank back, but Marshadow stood forward defiantly. “Like I said ter Mew, we’ll figure this out! Hah!”

“Y-your leader may be formidable… but I don’t see why we should stop now,” Drampa said.

Dewott produced a shell, pointing it at Owen. “If that thing thinks it can just wipe us out, he’s got another thing coming!”

Owen glanced left. He sensed that someone was watching this fight from a great distance. That was fine.

“That isn’t why we’re here, you know,” Owen said. “My friend needs to be purified with the Hands of Creation, and the ones who hold them won’t cooperate. If they worked together to heal him, this would all be over.”

“Fat chance!” Marshadow spat, hopping from foot to foot. “He’s gonna destroy the world!”

“No, you have it wrong,” Owen growled, clenching his fists. “The one who wants to destroy the world is
Necrozma!”

But Marshadow didn’t listen. He kept his stance, as did the other three. This was pointless; they were just going to try the same volley again.

Marshadow shifted his weight to one foot, then took a slow breath. That was apparently the signal for the four to rush him.

Owen gave them no more chances.

From the corners of his mouth, blue flames sprouted. His wings tore themselves apart into a new, jagged form. The scales of his body darkened from orange to black, cream to blue. Then, they darkened further, and the flames turned a pitch dark accented with golden streaks.

His wings radiated a ghastly aura, and a wave of dark energy unavoidably struck all four of them. Instantly, Dewott, Cacturne, and Drampa tripped over themselves, losing their momentum and energy. Struggling to breathe, they crawled forward for only a second before, wheezing, they could only watch.

But Marshadow—to Owen’s surprise—was completely unaffected. “What—”

He struck Owen in the jaw, and the battle was on.


<><><>

“Gah!” Owen shot up, breathing quickly. Dizzy. So dizzy. His head hurt. Someone pushed him back down. “Wait—ha-hang on, where—”

“Owen, Owen, shh, it’s okay,” Zena whispered. “It’s okay. You’re here. Null Village. Your room.”

“What? What?” He was still trying to get up, but Zena easily overpowered him. It took a minute or so, but he finally came back to his senses. “I… Dark Matter… buildings…”

“He left,” Zena assuaged. “It… it was a warning. But he didn’t do anything else.”

Enet was crouched over him on the other side of the bed, sniffing his forehead. She was warm. Over her shoulder, Demitri and Mispy were watching with concern. Further back, Gahi was playing cards with Trina, apparently unaware that he’d woken up, or had just gotten bored of waiting for him to come to his senses.

“Where’s Tim—er, Eon?” Owen asked.

“Sleeping. Do you want me to get him?”

“No—it’s okay. Just checking. Everyone’s okay?”

“They are.”

His heart still hammered in his chest.

“What were you mumbling?” Zena asked softly. “It was so strange… You were talking about… Necrozma, and someone not understanding… You were growling, and something about shadows…”

Owen tensed. Should he… say that? Explain to…

They all stared at him with concern in their eyes. To the left of the room, even Amia seemed to be staring at him for one reason or another.

Yes. He had to tell them. No secrets. He’d promised. Who he promised to, he didn’t really know, but that didn’t matter.

“I had another memory,” Owen said. “I… I answered to the name Wishkeeper. I was training a bunch of Pokémon. Basic exercises. We were getting ready for some kind of battle, and I was confronted by… Marshadow. Marshadow and three partners he had.”

“What? He was fighting you?”

Owen nodded. “Trying to stop my leader—someone I called a friend. I remember… I was preparing these Pokémon as part of a massive effort to… to…” Owen trailed off. His heart was hammering again and he couldn’t calm it down. Before he knew it, Zena had wrapped her ribbons around him, and that soothed him somewhat. Her cool body against his leafy feathers quelled his anxieties.

“What I’m about to say,” Owen said, “I… I don’t want you to… get worried. Okay?”

“W-well, now I’m gonna worry even more,” Demitri whined.

Owen rubbed his face. “Please.”

“I’ll try…”

More silence. The concern in their eyes only strengthened, and all he wanted was to shrink away and hide.

Enet wrapped her claws around Zena’s ribbons and tried to pull Owen into her mane again, but Zena tugged back, earning a growl.

“O-okay. Okay, sorry.” Owen raised his hands, pulling free from Zena. He sat in the middle of her coils, legs crossed, hands on his feet. “…I’m…” He nodded. “Dark Matter didn’t lie. I was… I fought for him once. N-not only that, I was one of his main tacticians. A lead general. Maybe the lead general, I don’t know, I’m foggy on that.”

As he spoke, their expressions didn’t change dramatically. He was expecting them to. The fact that they didn’t unnerved him, and he kept talking. “So, that settles it. I really was partnered w-with Dark Matter once. Somehow, something changed, from then to now, a-and…”

“Wait,” Demitri said, the first one to break his stoic expression. “You actually believe that?”

“What?”

“Didn’t you get that memory right after using that compass thing? Zena told us.”

Mispy frowned disapprovingly.

“Well, yes, I—”

“What’s to say that isn’t some false memory?” Demitri asked.

“But it felt so…”

“Har,” Mispy pointed out.

“What about—” Owen hesitated. “That’s not… the same. Har was made from—His memories were just…”

“I dunno, Owen,” Demitri said, arms crossed. “Are you sure this isn’t just all fake memories Dark Matter tried to put in your head?”

Deny, deny, deny. Dark Matter’s voice echoed in Owen’s mind, not from manipulation, but from what he’d heard just the day before.

That was what mortals did. Denied what they disliked. But were they mortal? Was it all true? Or was this fake? Maybe none of it applied…

“This doesn’t change anything, though, does it?” Zena asked.

“No, it doesn’t.” Owen quickly said. “I still can’t, I mean, I obviously can’t condone what Dark Matter did! I just… It’s so strange that Dark Matter would have thought a fake memory”—it wasn’t fake. It couldn’t be—“would convince me to side with him. It won’t. So…” He sank back. “I guess that’s it. Tomorrow, we end this.”

“That’s what I wanna hear,” Gahi murmured, nodding. He hopped to his feet. “Yeh. Gonna sleep now. Demitri, yer gonna make a good breakfast, yeah?”

“Of course!” Demitri glanced at Owen for approval.

The Grassmander forced a smile and nodded. “Yeah. Good night, you guys.”

Satisfied, they all left, leaving just Zena and Enet behind to rest. Owen glanced at Amia, too, who had lost interest in what was happening and slid into a far corner of her cage.

“You think it’s real,” Enet said.

“H-huh?”

Her eyes shimmered in the dark, focused completely on Owen.

“What did she say?” Zena asked.

“You should tell her,” Enet growled at Owen.

“She… she says that she knows I think it’s real,” Owen replied softly. “But… that still doesn’t change anything. We still have to stop him and free everyone. That hasn’t changed.”

He could tell that Zena wanted to talk more, but he was so tired. Owen continued, “In the morning, I’ll… No. It doesn’t matter. We don’t have time, right? We have to kill him, or whatever. And—”

Zena’s ribbons wrapped gently around him, pulling him close. “It’s going to be okay,” she said.

That made him melt into her. He just needed to sleep.

“Right,” he said, feeling more at ease. Nothing had changed. But he was at ease. “Let’s rest.”

While he slept, though, he would try one last time to reach out…

<><><>​

Owen wandered a starless void. He walked ‘forward,’ but it could have been toward anywhere. His steps made no echo and the ground lacked any sort of texture. He worried that he would trip over something, but there was nothing at all. Everything felt thick, like the air resisted any attempts to move, but he pressed onward.

Trailing lights glimmered over his shoulder, materializing into a Jumpluff and Lilligant.

“Try this way,” Amelia encouraged. The Lilligant drifted left, adjusting her orange flower to make sure it was still there.

Klent, meanwhile, drifted ahead and looked left and right, bumping his pompoms together. “Mm, I’m not sure…”

“How can you tell?” Owen asked, feeling perpetually tired. “What is this… mental journey, anyway?”

“We aren’t really sure ourselves. In the Grass realm, or, well, the version of it where we are now, there seemed to be a new passageway that nobody remembers. It led to here, and we saw a great light in it, once. Sifting through your memories… it seemed pretty clear that it was Necrozma’s light.”

“Necrozma… Then I can contact him through here?” Owen looked up. “That makes… some sense. It wasn’t the first time I talked to him, but back then, he reached out to me.”

“Perhaps it’s the Tree of… what was it called?”

“It’s not really a Tree of Life,” Owen said.

“What is that?” Amelia asked, floating around Owen.

“An important landmark back when Kilo was younger,” Owen said. “It was filled with energy. A rainbow, prismatic light that strengthened Pokémon who were near it, and maybe the whole world… Xerneas helped to guard it.”

“What… happened to it?” Amelia’s drifting slowed. “I don’t remember anything like that, even in history books.”

“Must have been destroyed…” Owen rubbed his head. “I don’t know what happened to it. One day it… disappeared. But if I remember right, it was… somewhere south. Maybe a little southeast…?”

Klent seemed to be getting nervous after wandering so long in this part of Owen’s mind.

“Do you want to go back?” Owen offered.

“No,” he added quickly. “Sorry. Just, unfamiliar territory. Very strange…”

And then, in that great void, a flicker of light caught all their attention.

“Hey!” Owen shouted. “N-Necrozma? Is that you?!”

It was a persistent, golden splotch of light. It had to be him. “Can you—”

And then it overwhelmed them.

Blinding, golden light forced Owen to squeeze his eyes shut, and even then, he saw the light. He whimpered and covered his face and he saw the outline of the bones of his false body.

Finally it dimmed, but Owen was blind, and it didn’t sound like Klent and Amelia were faring any better.

“Owen.”

A warmth spread over him.

“How far you’ve traveled.”

“N-Necrozma…” It hurt to open his eyes. I wanted to talk to you. A-about everything. How much time do you have?”

“Very little. I am using… what light I have gathered to complete this connection. We have… moments.”

“Then please, just answer me—why did I join Dark Matter? Was I tricked? Why would I do something like that?! Is it true at all?”

Owen cracked open an eye. Hurt less. He lowered his hands, then opened his eyes more.

Floating before him was not Necrozma, but a dim projection of him, a tall star with flickering, rainbow eyes.

“Yes.” Necrozma dimmed more, but this seemed to be of perhaps remorse or sorrow. Owen couldn’t tell. “It is true. You joined Dark Matter, and you were not tricked. At least, not in the way I believe you are thinking.”

“Then… then why?!”

Necrozma hesitated.

“Please, tell me. I need to know. Just be honest! What is it with you gods and not being honest?!”

“I am sorry, Owen. Please, be still. Calm your mind. Stress… will quicken the connection’s shattering. Stillness. I need stillness.”

That was very hard to do when Owen’s mind was racing. But he tried. He took his breaths, he meditated, he tried to stay calm. Klent and Amelia did the same, halfheartedly.

Amelia spoke up first. “Look, we’re about to fight Dark Matter. He feeds off of doubt and stuff, right? So, we need you to clear that up. Otherwise, that guy’s plans might work out!”

“On a basic level,” Klent said, “we know that Dark Matter is evil. Why, then, would Owen willingly choose to side with him?”

“I just need to know,” Owen begged. “Then, I can see that things changed. And… a-and I can, I don’t know, I…”

“You are lost.”

“OF COURSE I’M LOST!” Owen snapped, his tiny voice cracking. Necrozma dimmed dangerously and Owen quickly composed himself. Deep breaths. Slow breaths. “I’m… Everything. E-everything is on my shoulders. Kilo. Everyone who’s ever died in Kilo. The Voidlands, everyone here, maybe even Kanto, and all my past lives, and everything I don’t even know yet, what am I supposed to do?! I s-spent so much of my life following someone else, how am I supposed to know what to do?! I’m just a Pokémon! I’m just…”

“Follow your heart,” Necrozma replied.

“My heart. My heart.” Owen laughed, falling onto his rear. His hands squeezed his knees, tempted to pull the feathers out.

He didn’t. Deep breaths. Long breaths. Hold.

“Do you know about the Thousand Hearts? Because those are the Hearts I’ve been following for a while.”

Necrozma said nothing. He listened.

“They stood for working together to make the world a better place. To take outlaws…” He thought of Jerry. “And help them get on the right foot again. Anam… believed that no matter how terrible the crime was, they deserved a chance to correct themselves. That they could contribute back what they took away. I… I believed that, with everything I had. Now, seeing how the world is, what that forgiveness got us, I don’t know anymore.”

“Forgiveness,” Necrozma repeated. “Why are you bringing that up now?”

“Anam wants to save Dark Matter. In… in some way, that means he forgives him, right? For all of this. I can’t… understand it.”

“But it’s eating at you. You want to forgive. Not just Dark Matter, either.”

Eon’s screwed up, crying face etched itself into Owen’s memory like a scar.

“Forgiving people… giving them the benefit of the doubt… trusting them with so much of myself… They all took advantage of that. How many others are gonna…”

“You don’t want to forgive them?”

Of course he didn’t, he wanted to say. For all they did, they deserved to have all the suffering they’d put on him. Reflected back. Right?

His heart wasn’t in it.

“I don’t understand why I want to help them.”

“That is who you are,” Necrozma said. “There are people in the world who only want to help, at the expense of themselves. And there are those who take, and take, and take, until there is nothing of you left. Who in your life is like that?”

Owen thought about them. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were part of his team. He didn’t remember when or how, just that they were. Zena was there, around his body right then. She didn’t take; they didn’t take. Even Jerry had gone out of his way to get food for him. He wasn’t taking. Owen spent some time thinking about Eon next. Tim, his trainer. In the past, he certainly didn’t take. He gave and gave and gave, up to and beyond his very life. But then he’d gone down the wrong path, and… he took lives. All so he could take Owen back.

“What is Dark Matter?” Owen asked Necrozma. “Are you saying he’s someone… who only took from me?”

Owen wanted to believe it. What else would the very embodiment of negativity be, but something that takes and takes?

“Can you think of anyone else in your life,” Necrozma said, “who did nothing but take from you?”

He couldn’t. Was it because he was too forgiving? Was he blind? Was that what Necrozma was trying to say?

“You’re saying Dark Matter took advantage of my willingness to help,” Owen said, voice wavering. “Is that what you think?”

Klent and Amelia glanced hopefully at Necrozma.

“What does your heart say?”

“It says that’s not true,” Owen said, hand squeezing tight. “Which is why I need you to tell me… why I’m wrong.”

A pause. Klent and Amelia seemed worried again. “Owen,” the Lilligant started, “Necrozma is right there. How can you… tell him that? How can you just say, hey, maybe Dark Matter isn’t so bad?”

“Is that what you wish to tell me?” Necrozma asked, completely calm.

Owen’s eyes were squeezed shut. “You were the one who said we only had moments. Just tell me, a-am I wrong? Dark Matter’s going to attack Null Village in a matter of kilos and I don’t know what to do about it! H-he’s going to kill everyone and make sure I’m alone until I just give up! What do I do, how am I supposed to beat that, I’m just a Charmander! I denied becoming Solgaleo! Probably because I knew I wasn’t ever going to be fit for it! I can’t take on Dark Matter! I can’t take on anything like this…”

“Calm. Stillness.”

“Right, right, calm, stillness…” Owen rubbed his eyes, breathing harder.

“Calm,” Necrozma said lowly.

Owen shuddered, holding his breath. Dizzy. He felt dizzy. In, out. In, hold, out. Deep. Slow. His eyes were hot with tears. He was probably crying in the Voidlands, too. A phantom sensation of Zena rubbing a ribbon on his forehead followed. The breathing got easier.

“I’m running out of time,” Necrozma said.

“If I can’t beat Dark Matter, and he’s just going to kill everybody I care for if I don’t join him, and if I don’t even know why I’m fighting him to begin with… th-the only conclusion I can come to is the one I said I wouldn’t do. Joining him.”

“Is that what you want?” Necrozma asked.

“…I’ll make my decision,” Owen said, “if you tell me why I joined. T-tell me why I betrayed you.”

“So,” Necrozma said, “you betrayed me. You know that?”

“I—”

It hadn’t occurred to Owen just then, but he did. He really had betrayed Necrozma. And… now he was talking to him.

“I…”

“Owen?” Amelia asked worriedly. “That, ha, that’s just a joke, right?”

Necrozma dimmed further. “I have been sealing your memories the moment you arrived,” Necrozma said. “I have been unsealing them slowly. So you could handle them. If what you want to know is why you joined Dark Matter… I will give those to you next, slowly. But, Owen, I will tell you now.”

He betrayed Necrozma. Why, then, was Necrozma helping him now?

“You sided with Dark Matter because you wanted to save Kilo,” Necrozma answered, “along with Dark Matter himself. I sought to destroy both.”

Then… Dark Matter told the truth.

“Follow your heart,” Necrozma said. “You will make the right decision in the end. I have faith in you.”

“You… have faith in me. After telling me what you did. A-after saying that Dark Matter… didn’t lie at all.”

Necrozma began to fade. Owen had a strange feeling that the dragon of light was smiling. “You do not need my answer.”

“What does that MEAN?!” Owen screamed, like it would make Necrozma stay longer.

But that was the last of him, and Owen’s tenuous hold of this half-reality slipped away.

<><><>​

The air was charged with persistent dread. Angelo smelled breakfast from Shady. Smelled extravagant, like he was still trying to apologize for being responsible for his father’s death. Maybe after a thousand breakfasts he’d consider it.

“Mmbb.”

“Why should I?” Angelo groaned. “Maybe I should stay in bed all day.”

“Tsskk!”

“Like any of that matters…”

Shady gently placed a bowl of soup on a table nearby and slid it closer. It did smell good…

The Smeargle eventually found himself sitting up, taking his first bite. Then another. He glanced at Shady, who was sitting at the foot of his bed, his misshapen eyes downcast.

“Today’s the day,” Angelo said ruefully. “They’re going to gather up the elites and go north to the vortex’s center. And I’ll be here while they all curse my name as they die, because maybe I could have saved them with… whatever my talents are.”

His shoulders sagged. He looked at his finished art pieces. He’d done them all, aside from the next chapter of Druddigon Cube Ultra. But without a proper printing press—it was still recovering, and prioritized news rather than entertainment—it would be hard to publish the next chapter.

Oh, to be like the hero. A little dumb, but blissfully ignorant enough, and strong enough, that the world changed around him. How easy it was to live that life.

“Rrh?”

“Oh, sorry,” Angelo said. “I was… thinking. A-about what it means to have power. If… you have power, are you supposed to use it? Or… or can I live… as I want? I didn’t ask to be talented. Is that… my duty? That’s how the Arceans would follow it. But the Mewites… they’d certainly say I would follow my heart. Hmph. But look who came to save us. Arceus. Perhaps a life of duty was the correct answer. Mindless duty until I worked myself into the grave…”

“Ouuu…”

“I don’t think there is a middle ground,” Angelo said. “Not in a time like this. H-how can I possibly… halfway assist in something like a war?”

“Drrww.”

Angelo shuddered. Even working in the back lines terrified him. He’d be killed! They’d go after him for sure! He was certain of it. The moment he stepped into the front lines, he would be spotted and killed by the opposition for being too dangerous. This wasn’t some mindless feral—this was a god. A god that shouted his declaration of the apocalypse as his first act.

Shady had gotten near Angelo before he’d realized it and pressed its… Angelo assumed forehead against his side. “Aahh.”

“Well, thank you for the kind words, but it doesn’t make it any less scary.” The soup bowl was empty and Shady reached out with an amorphous tendril and pulled it onto its head. It hopped off and headed for the other room to clean it.

“…F-fine. I’ll go to the square and see what’s needed. From the back lines. I’ll prepare some Tailwind, or some other conjurations to help the outbound fighters, a-and… and I’ll get as close as… comfortable for…” Angelo’s heart raced. “Just… just this once. It will be a short battle. Just this once…”

Angelo held his breath and stopped at his bedroom’s exit. Shady looked at him encouragingly. He continued through the living room, then his storefront, and finally to the exit.

And promptly froze where he stood.

The gravity of it all washed over him. He was going to war against a demon that held all of Kilo in a shadowy grip. One that twisted Dungeons and summoned wraiths. He was going to witness some death march toward the vortex where Pokémon and wraiths would tear each other apart until nothing but darkness and blood coated the dry northern roads.

And he would become part of that carnage. Inevitably, he would die. Deep in his soul, he knew that would happen, and he collapsed to his knees at the exit to his home.

“I can’t,” he whispered. “I can’t do this. I can’t…”

Shady bubbled something but Angelo heard none of it.

“I can’t, I can’t…” He rubbed his arms, then wrapped them around himself. He couldn’t stop shaking. Visions of what was to come flashed in his mind of bodies falling and blood spattering around him. Wraiths clawing at his flesh and tearing out his living organs. They’d leave nothing of him behind.

He didn’t know how long he’d been there. Everything was cold. His fur did nothing. But at some point, he noticed the presence of someone to his right. Taller, an aura of power. And this person knelt down.

“Angelo,” he said gently, a paw holding his shoulder. “You look truly awful. Come, let’s go inside. Come on, come on…”

He obeyed without thinking, putting most of his weight on this person, whose body was thin in frame but with long, matted fur. Messy fur. It reminded him of himself, in a way. Oh, how long had it been since he’d even bathed, during all this? He must’ve smelled awful.

Once again, he was in bed, staring emptily forward. It still didn’t register who he was talking to. Everything was muddled.

“Do you need anything?” the person asked.

“I want to die,” Angelo said quietly. The words tumbled out of him. Did he even mean it? Why did he say that?

“You don’t mean that,” the person said gently, holding him more firmly now. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“They’re going to kill me. I… I don’t want to go that way. There’s nowhere for me to go. I have no way out. I can’t, I can’t, I…”

“Nobody is forcing you to do anything,” he said gently.

“Everyone is counting on me. I’m the son of Angelo, the hero. I’m the next in line with Mew’s Blessing. I carry the legacy of all Legends in my paint. And now I need to fight. I need to, I need to… a-and I’ll die. They’ll kill me, and… and I’ll… I can’t do it. I can’t do it…”

“You’re in no state to fight. You don’t need to.”

“I can’t tell them that.”

“You don’t need to,” he repeated firmly. “You’re going to be okay. Not everyone must fight, Angelo.”

“If I don’t fight, people will die. They’ll die instead of me. Wouldn’t it be better if I… i-if I…” Angelo trembled again, hugging himself, curling tight. His knees pressed against his chest.

“You’ll be of no use to anyone dead,” he replied. “You need rest. Understood?”

“I can’t rest. I can’t rest when a fight’s about to start. When the whole world is… c-counting on me, I… I can’t do it, I…”

“Angelo…”

“Don’t Angelo me; it’s very clear I’m needed! Why else would Phol visit me day to day? Why else would Rhys force me into training, or why would I be called for all of these… these clear hints of my talents that I’ve… wasted on art all these years!? I’ve wasted my life as a coward, a-and now I can’t even muster up the courage to fight when I’ll die anyway when we fail!”

Angelo weaved his paw in the air, creating the head of a great beast that opened its mouth to spew flames blindly forward. They barely did anything, couldn’t even scorch the wall. He tried again, but the Pokémon’s paw held him firmly.

“Enough,” he commanded.

Angelo gasped, jerking his hand back. Trapped. Couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t fight, couldn’t hide, couldn’t die. He had no options. So, he curled again, trembling, squeezing his eyes shut.

“I’m such a failure,” he whimpered. “I’ve done nothing with all my might. All because I just wanted to live peacefully, like it’s some great sin…”

“Hey!” a shrill, new voice called from Angelo’s home entrance. “Are we going or what?!”

The person next to Angelo growled in annoyance. “I will be there shortly! Go on ahead!”

“Your speed will need to be 150% faster,” buzzed another.

“I shall handle it.”

“That Smeargle coming with us?” the shrill voice asked again.

“No, he is not.”

“Then what’re you doing?!”

Leave. I shall catch up!”

“Whatever. You better hurry up, Rhys!”

Angelo’s eyes shot wide. Those other voices were gone, but he finally looked at who was talking to him, feeling stupid for not thinking enough to verify. He’d been so out of it, all out of sorts, that…

It was Rhys. The Lucario’s eyes were tired and he looked like he’d skipped the past few nights of sleep, if he even had to. He was like a demigod to Angelo. Like all those other strange elites. And he was here…

“I…”

He’d said that Angelo wasn’t going with the others. Had he said that? Or did he imagine it?

“I’m sorry.”

“No. There will be no apologies.” Rhys sat on Angelo’s bedside, hand on Angelo’s wrist. “I was so focused on the mission that I didn’t realize all the true weight over your shoulders.”

“I still need to help…”

You need to do what’s best for everyone, but that includes yourself.” Rhys pressed down, like he was making sure Angelo could feel the weight. “You are in no state to fight. You will rest. If you are needed, it will be for supplies in the town square to send our way. Your best techniques seem to be ones for utility rather than combat; put that to use when you are ready.”

“I don’t need to fight?”

“No.” Rhys stood up. “And that’s just fine. You are an artist. You uplift others through morale, not through muscle.”

Angelo was sure Rhys was just saying this to help his mood… but at least he was off the hook. He couldn’t shake the nagging sense of shame, though. A sickened feeling twisted around in his gut. All that training and thought and he wasn’t even going to go. What worth was he, then?

“You need to see the others,” Rhys stated, never taking his eyes off of him. “You have energy to spare and this is no time to feel weak. You are not.”

“L-Lucario can’t read minds, can they? I thought that was just a rumor…”

“We cannot.” Rhys held a paw forward, which Angelo hesitantly grabbed. Pulling Angelo to his feet, Rhys went on, “But I know the ebb and flow of an aura well enough to have my guesses.”

Shady bobbed its body excitedly, encouragingly.

“I suppose I can go,” Angelo said. “Where can I help? I’ll… start with resupplying more of those Technical Machines. Those were in dire need, right?”

“Yes, we still need more. Start there.” Rhys nodded. “Take care, Angelo. May this battle be our last against Dark Matter.”

“Right…” He felt so empty, but… he had to at least, at the very least, help out in town. While all the others risked their lives. “Um—good luck.”

Rhys nodded firmly, and then, in a single leap, crossed several blocks toward Kilo’s edge.

<><><>​

Alexander had chosen to take a gamble. Getting reports of Dark Matter’s movements and the rumors of South Null Village, he deduced that the attack was nigh. If Alexander traveled there by wing, he would not get there in time. He would need to travel even faster, and, therefore, had called upon the efforts of a small, specialized team while Qitlan was left behind to hold down the fort.

Leph, the lost daughter of Arceus, would alternate Teleportation with Aster to take Alexander forward faster than ever. Alexander would speed forward with them tied by darkness to his body, like chains. After all, he still was not sure if he could trust them.

That left Mhynt to ride on Alexander’s back, accelerating Alexander’s flight with her power. With this kind of travel speed, and the four of them at once, the forest below them was nothing but a blur of purples and blacks. Trees fell from the sheer speed they flew, and the odd shockwaves they left behind from the Teleports created small craters when at low altitudes. Mhynt was certain they’d decimated a small village during one of them, and Alexander teased her for that pang of guilt he’d sensed from her.

“We’ll need to slow down so our arrival isn’t obvious,” Alexander said. “But we should have more than enough time. I can already see that strange… tree ahead. A convenient landmark.” He tugged at Aster and Leph’s shadowy chains. Leph grunted; hers were embedded into her shoulders. Aster yelped; his chains dug into his upper back.

Mhynt had no such chains. Instead, the Treecko sat between Alexander’s wings, mentally preparing for the battle ahead.

“It won’t be long now,” Alexander said. “Soon…”

<><><>​

“Soon… this war for my Voidlands will be over.” Dark Matter raised a single, scaly arm to the air.

Behind him, in a clearing of Null Forest, a lake’s worth of Void Shadows writhed and swirled. The moment he squeezed his fist, they all stood to attention, that black sea perfectly still.

These souls were new and old. Some were ancient, here since the first war, powerful souls reduced to shells of their former selves, if that. Some were new, dead from the recent seals breaking after Anam’s downfall. These souls still had a vague echo of what they used to be, having wings or arms or even a shadowy face if they were particularly strong. He was interested in those… because they were already geared for combining into something greater. Mutant spirits… would be his ace against Null Village.

Ahead, the Radiant Tree of Life taunted him. It was a little brighter today. Owen was undoubtedly rallying the villagers, designating safe zones. None of it mattered. This was only the beginning of the end, but Dark Matter was patient. But he was not foolish. Any extra day given was another day Owen could find some way to gain an advantage.

Best to eliminate them all at once.

And with the mutants…

<><><>​

And with the mutants… Nevren was certain that Null Village would be bolstered.

“All right, everyone,” the Alakazam said to the mutants who remained in Quartz HQ. “As you may have seen, all power has been diverted from the lab to this room alone. We will be forming a portal to the Voidlands. I will send you all inside to strike Dark Matter. I trust at least some of you have read the debrief?”

Awkward silence.

“Wonderful. Follow your leaders, namely whatever Owen and those associated with him say. That should be easy enough. Now, Owen looks different now. I’ve been told that he is now a Charmander, roughly half their normal size, with green feathers and a brown autumn leaf for a tail. You will be fighting someone who can change his appearance at a moment’s notice; trust the judgement of your commanders and strike your targets. Do not go berserk, and subdue any of your allies who have done so. Are we clear?”

A few affirmative nods this time. “Perfect. Then if that’s the case…”

<><><>​

“We’re just about ready.” Rhys stood in the northern outskirts of Kilo Mountain. Far behind them was the ascending climb into Kilo Village, and not long ahead of them—perhaps only a short walk—was the familiar path that led to Hot Spot Cave. The entry had been blown open from the attacks a moon ago, and the vortex was swirling above them. There was a noticeable hole in it where the sky shined through, but otherwise it was the same as before.

Behind Rhys was a replica of Team Alloy—Har, Ani, Lygo, and Ax. Har’s Perceive would be invaluable. They could find supplies in Rhys’ room that they needed to acquire, if they were not destroyed, and there was also the slimmest chance that they would be able to find the bodies of their Voided companions still imprisoned inside. Their goal was to strike Dark Matter and rescue or take what they could, if at all possible.

Simple in concept. But as the sky rumbled above, the purple clouds expanding ever slowly, it would be anything but.

“We’ve got this,” Willow said confidently, hopping on ADAM’s beak.

“Hmph.” Step crossed her arms. “We shall see.” The icy Aggron eyed the portal. “If we see Dark Matter, I will fight him myself.”

“Don’t be reckless,” Rhys chided. “This isn’t going to be easy.”

Step thumped her tail on the ground, making a loud, deep rumble. “If he feeds on fear, I will give him none.”

She marched forward, leading the way that Rhys hesitated to follow.

As he stared at the vortex, he could only think to himself…

<><><>​

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Angelo murmured, stacking unused Technical Machines in one corner while sketching little symbols of light onto another. Shady bobbed confidently next to him, some of his eyes narrowed with determination.

“Nnn!”

“I know, but a… worse feeling than usual. Does that make sense?”

“Bbb…”

“Well of course it’s anxiety! But, well, I, er, oh, forget it…”

“Yo, Angelo!” someone called.

“Uyy…” Angelo rubbed his eyes and waved at the approaching, metallic Machoke. “I have it right here,” he said, gesturing to the discs. “All prepared.”

“Good work.” He gently patted Angelo’s shoulder. “Hey, by the way, Phol wanted to know how you were doing. He’s busy taking care of Tann—Emily. She’s been getting more agitated than usual.”

“Oh, do you want me to do some Aromatherapy?” Angelo offered.

“Yeah, actually. Take a break from all this.”

Somewhat grateful, Angelo ran for the hospital, though by the time he’d arrived, there was some kind of uproar with Phol right in the middle. A helpless Blissey was trying to console the Vaporeon—Tanneth or Emily depending on the day—who was screaming and covering in the corner. Meanwhile, Phol was attempting a full-body tackle on Leo, who was trying to crawl his way out of the hospital with a crazed look in his eyes.

Maybe I’ll come back later. Angelo spun on his heel.

But the moment he did, he noticed that the whole town, aside from the hospital, was quieter than usual. Pokémon in the streets were staring at something to the south, some squinting, some already running. Angelo didn’t want to look, but curiosity got the better of him. After finding a good, flat roof, Angelo drew a small symbol in front of him and swiped it. In a flash, he appeared on the rooftop, and then realized he wasn’t the only one. Several Pokémon had climbed up—mostly winged Pokémon—to get a better view over the crater’s edge and all the other buildings.

The sky was black and creeping forward. White flashes and a sickening, purple-black rain poured down. And to the southwest, where Void Basin was, a great spire of darkness pierced the clouds…
 
Last edited:

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 120 – Judgement Day

Thick, hearty stew bubbled within a cauldron, set inside a giant cave fit for a great behemoth. And a behemoth he was—it was one of the few caves that Owen could comfortably rest in. He didn’t care for proper houses, but he still liked to have shelter when it rained, so a cave worked just fine.

Beside him was a beaten and battered Riolu with wisps of shadow—his former form—still clinging to his fur.

The Riolu stirred, groaning. Then, he gasped and sat up straight. “Wh—”

Owen thumped his tail on top of him, pinning him to the ground. He screamed and roared, punching ineffectually, until he tired himself out again. Only then did Owen release him.

“Awake?” he asked.

“You…” Riolu snarled. “What did you do to my friends, eh?! Where—” He pointed, but then gaped at his blue arm. He turned his paws over in horror.

“We tied them up,” Owen said, “carried them away, and sent them home.”

“Yer lyin’…”

“Why would I?” Owen grabbed an empty ceramic bowl and a metal ladle, then handed Riolu a full cup of stew. Next to it was a steaming pile of rice, which Owen offered next.

Riolu stared at it, suspicious.

“Really. Poison?” Owen replied. “Why?”

“Dunno. Maybe y’did, and—”

Owen dumped the entire contents into his mouth and swallowed, and then took the bowl of rice next and did the same. Then, he stared, making a new bowl for Riolu, who grudgingly took it.

“So, what, I’m prisoner here?” Riolu asked.

“No. Once you get your strength back, you can leave.” Owen made a larger bowl for himself.

“…Why?”

“To prove a point,” Owen said. “I don’t
want to be your enemy.”

“Look, I don’t care what yer gonna say,” Riolu growled. “Save it.”

“All right.” Owen set the bowl down and resumed meditating, eyes closed. He could see, without his eyes, Riolu sizing him up. Looking for an opening. And then, wisely, deciding against it. But it seemed like Riolu wanted to say something anyway.

Owen took another, smaller portion of stew for himself, eating quietly, feeling awkward. He wasn’t sure what kind of small talk to make with Riolu. Maybe about the latest stories?

Just then, it felt like Riolu was about to say something, so Owen put those topics away for next time.

“Remi misses you, y’know,” Riolu said.

The memory drifted away…


<><><>​

Owen gathered everyone to the Radiant Tree, including Hakk and Xypher. After making sure Hakk and Marshadow in particular were away—in case Mhynt could spy through Hakk, and the same for Marshadow—he tried to hash out a plan of defense and offense. Scouts were already reporting strange movements to the west of town that usually meant Titan activity, but a lot of it. Owen was positive that was Dark Matter.

Then came the plan for those who had more strength. The guards were strong, yes, but none were Guardians, and none still had the strength of their living selves. Null Villagers were, in general, weaker on average than what they’d seen in Kilo.

“So, run this by me again,” Gahi said, pointing at Owen. He made sure to poke a claw into his feathery chest. “Yer gonna go, alone, an’ seek out Dark Matter personally, and we’re supposed ter be fine with that?”

“No, that’s only going to be if we lose,” Owen said. “I’m not going to let Dark Matter draw this out to the point where he can… whittle us down and force us to stay only by this tree.” He gestured to the behemoth behind him, which towered over everything else in the village. Up close, even Dialga looked small next to it. It seemed like it had grown.

“So yer just gonna turn yerself in?” Gahi asked.

“Yes. Because it’s more likely to stop everyone from dying if I do. I think he’ll only listen to me, out of anyone here in Null Village. But if I can avoid it, I will.”

“We ain’t gonna let you do that,” Gahi said.

“I agree,” Zena added, frowning. “This… this isn’t going to work. He won’t listen—you saw what he did! He’s beyond help, no matter how he was in the past.”

“It doesn’t matter if he’s beyond help or not,” Owen said. “I said I could reason with him. If we’re going to lose in strength, then we need contingencies!”

“And the contingency is to… give up,” Zena said.

“Yes,” Owen said. “Strategically.”

“I don’t like that,” Mispy growled.

“This isn’t like you,” Demitri added. “You’d never talk about giving up a few moons ago. You’re…”

“Owen… talk to us,” Zena said. “Why are you so ready to give up?”

“I’m not!” Owen squeaked, clenching his fists. “It’s just… an option, now.”

“Now?” Mispy asked. “Why?”

“Did something change from last night to this morning?” Trina pressed, narrowing her eyes. “The only difference was that compass you broke. What did that change?”

“It wasn’t that. It was—I…” He sighed. “I talked to Necrozma. In a dream. And the things he told me…”

“Wait, in a dream?” Demitri asked. “Necrozma? Are you sure? What if it was a hallucination, or a false dream from Dark Matter, or something?”

“What?” Owen said, incredulous. “Someone would impersonate Necrozma? I don’t think Dark Matter can do that.”

“Doesn’t seem too hard to believe,” Gahi murmured. “Dark Matter feeds on doubt, y’know? Maybe he can, uhh… grow it, too.”

Owen flinched. In all this rush, he hadn’t even considered that possibility. False memories, false dreams. No, those memories felt real. His feelings felt real. Right? Were those real? Or were they implanted?

Pink ribbons wrapped around his shoulders, pressing him down. “Owen.”

“Huh?” Owen flinched.

“I don’t think you should trust anything that comes from your dreams for now. Trust what you can see and feel. Okay?”

Her intense, red eyes left him transfixed. He nodded dumbly. All that confidence was gone.

Look at what’s happened to you. The moment someone gives a command, you listen.

“No,” Owen said. “I think it was real. I…”

“Owen…”

“I know I’m right!” Owen snapped, and this time Zena flinched. Owen felt a pang of guilt, but he pressed on defiantly. “I’m not going to let more people die, or Void, or whatever, because of something between me and him. I have plans. I have contingencies. I’m not just throwing myself to him and hoping it’ll all go alright. O-okay?”

“Then what’s your plan?” Gahi asked again. “C’mon, don’t keep us in the dark here.”

“I… can’t tell that.” Owen looked down. “If I did, Dark Matter could try to take it from you if we get separated. I don’t want you to be valuable to him.”

“So we just gotta blind-faith believe ya?” Gahi growled.

“Hmm…” Trina crossed her tiny arms. “You have spent all your life in the dark. Well, a large portion of your recent life. For you to keep us not fully informed…”

“…Means you have a good reason for it,” Zena finished, looking displeased, but she relented. “Please, be safe, Owen. No matter what happens.”

“I will,” Owen assured. “Now, let’s get ready. Gahi, I want you to fly me up when you can, okay? Through that portal.” He pointed at the morning sky.

“Eh?”

“I think it’s the same sky as Hot Spot. Which means if we go up, we’ll be able to see what Rhys’ team is doing. The whole top of Hot Spot was blown open, remember?”

“Oh, right…”

“Nevren is going to send surprise reinforcements through the other portal,” Trina said. “From the portal he made in the Beammaker that’s tied to someone in Null Village, possibly Palkia. How odd, using the Voidlands as a means to travel between two parts of Kilo instantly…”

“I heard some Dungeons can be like that,” Owen said. “If the Voidlands is related to Dungeons, I guess that adds up…”

The ground rumbled. Footfall to the north. A tree fell somewhere.

“What was that?” Zena raised her head over everyone else.

Seconds later, an alarm sounded, howling across all of Null Village, and all of the guards were running into formation, some heading for the border, others falling in near the center of the village where the Radiant Tree stood.

“What’s taking Nevren so long? He’s never late,” Owen mumbled. “We should have gotten a signal from him by now…”

“Clearly this is the one time he’s decided to fall behind,” Trina spat. “He will have to send his reinforcements when he can.”

“Time to go,” Zena said. “Owen, how quickly can you see from that vantage point?”

“I—right. I know what to do,” Owen replied. “I’m tied to this tree. I can sink into it and appear on another part. Tested it yesterday. I can get up, come down and report what I see, and then go back again. No badges. They can’t listen to what I’m saying if I report it person to person. I’ll—I’ll give fake orders through the badges.”

“Clever,” Mispy murmured with wide eyes.

More rumbling. The sirens quieted, but everyone was ready. Shouts overtook the howling alarms next, and Mispy must have heard her squad’s name, because she prodded at Demitri and they both ran south. Gahi took to the skies, circling high above the Tree. Hakk and Xypher headed north. Zena kept to the Tree.

Owen, someone called—Klent.

What? Owen called back.

Don’t forget about us, if you need help…

Right. Owen could still send them around through the Tree, but… What if you get captured?

Then free us later. We have faith that you will.


Owen didn’t answer. He only nodded and gave Zena a quick hug.

“I’ll be right here,” Zena said, “defending the Tree with you.”

Someone tapped Owen on the shoulder. Owen spun around and flinched, quickly getting on his guard.

It was Marshadow, but he held his arms up. “Nope, no orders ter attack yeh yet,” he said. “Just sayin’, I still wanna help if Dark Matter ain’t tellin’ me ter not. If y’ever wanna send Dark Matter a message directly, I’ve got a signal er two he told me I c’n do. I’ll do it fer ya.”

With tensed muscles, Owen nodded, but then said, “I’m sorry you’re under his control.”

“Yeah, real annoyin’,” Marshadow replied, and there was a hint of genuine sorrow in his eyes that the rest of Dark Matter’s commands disallowed. “Anyway, I’m gonna be in that building. …Please win.”

Tearing himself away hastily, Marshadow disappeared into the ground, a trail of smoke left behind.

That just left Owen and Zena.

“Be careful,” Owen told her.

“You, too.”

He hesitated, but then gestured for her to come closer, like he had a secret to share, a quiet order or tactic for the fight. Zena leaned in, attentive. Owen pecked her on the cheek, then stepped back, smiling a little. “For good luck.”

She was stunned. Blinking. Her eyes had a hint of recognition in them, and Owen noticed a faint, golden glow where he’d touched. The light faded, and so did that expression, which melted to a little grin.

“I…” Zena shook her head. “I won’t let anything get to the tree.”

Owen hopped backwards. He fell into the trunk like it was water, swimming to the top.

<><><>​

The sky boomed constantly. It was a low, unending rumble that seemed to originate from the vortex above Hot Spot, one that shook Rhys’ chest and made it hard to breathe.

A chilling wind forced his fur to stand on end. The source was the icy Aggron that stood next to him. “Do not lose resolve now,” she said, staring forward unflinchingly. “The roar is a call to battle.”

“No, the call to battle is Nevren giving us the signal,” Rhys said.

“Will it be through another one of his pets?” Step growled, knocking her arms together with a deep, dull noise. “To take so many days just to supply Nate with souls… disgusting… A mockery of life…”

Rhys gave Step an odd look, but didn’t press the subject. Instead, he said, “No. This will be through Arceus, as intended. I do not know why he did not tell us about Lavender in advance, but I’m not going to question him. Perhaps he thinks there was a spy, somehow, listening to our telepathic conversations.”

“Perhaps he is rightfully paranoid.” She puffed a cloud of fog. “What is the signal?”

“Arceus will launch another Judgement attack upon Hot Spot. Only a single one. Then, if we need more help, we will call him for a second. We will see it coming.” Rhys pointed east, not really looking.

“…Does this Judgement appear to be trails of holy light?”

“Yes, that’s what it should look like. We’ve seen them before, when—”

“Signal.”

Those same streaks of light were crawling across the sky—Judgement, from Destiny Tower. Was Arceus already going to fire? Nevren must have sent an alert already. And forgot to tell him. How polite.

“E-everyone!” Rhys called. “The time to approach is now! Now, now! Ahead! Ahead!”

They were already dashing right away on reflex. There was an army of mortal support further behind—the best of the Thousand Hearts, numbering in the hundreds, all they could spare. They wouldn’t be entering Hot Spot; they would be firing at the vortex from afar, getting close without endangering themselves.

Moments later, Rhys heard from Arceus. Go now. Sorry for the hastiness. I had no choice.

We already are, but what? What happened?
Rhys rushed forward with the others behind him. Volleys of elemental energy soared across the sky above. He glanced back to make sure everyone was in formation and other high-ranking Hearts were properly delegating tasks. Fliers carried ground-bound Pokémon to get closer to the vortex, aiming for direct hits, just like when it had originally tried to consume the sky above Kilo Village.

There is a storm rapidly expanding on the other side of the world. I see it across all horizons. Dark Matter is surely driving it forward as a preemptive strike.

What? Now?!

He was waiting for us to spread our resources. This is bad. We need to rush; going at our intended pace will lead to a pyrrhic victory.
The rest of Kilo would be in ruins.

And finally, the Judgement beams of light slammed into the vortex from above, two ethereal forces colliding like a spear against a shield. Sparks of light went in all directions, most evaporating before it hit anything, but a stray blast left a crater hundreds of feet away from the advancing army.

Careful! Rhys shouted.

It tried to deflect. I won’t let him do that again this time… Go in! Now! I’ve got his focus!

Rhys could only hope as he silently ran ahead. Step brought out her mate, as well as her two daughters and Alex. Willow had summoned Manny and was now riding his head, commanding him to fly faster on his Fairy wings. Behind them, the musclebound team flew in formation. Azu, Roh, and Verd had gotten accustomed to their wings, while a curious other trio briefly caught Rhys’ attention. A Samurott, Cacturne, and Drampa. Something about those three were familiar, but he wasn’t sure why. He shook it off; no point in dwelling on Manny’s spirits.

How are the others doing? Rhys called.

Fine so far. Focus on your tasks and I will inform you of any change in strategy.

That would do. The entrance to Hot Spot sat ahead of them, radiating a malevolent, black haze. Rhys fired into it with an Aura Sphere, bursting it near the entrance. It was enough to dispel the haze, but he’d need to keep that up with a sustained sphere. “By me!” Rhys called, and their mission was on.

<><><>​

Hot Spot’s internals had been transformed into a shifting nightmare. The stone rocks were cold like ice, even to Step, who remarked that it reminded her of death.

But there weren’t any wraiths. And that was a good start. The ominous aura felt draining to wade through, despite the atmosphere still feeling, physically, like air. Breathing was harder. Even Step, who did not have proper lungs, made gestures as if she had to pant and take more air in.

“Are you all right?” Rhys asked in a whisper, worried that they would be spotted even as they walked through Hot Spot’s no-longer-familiar entrance.

“This land is cursed,” Step replied.

Willow had taken refuge between Rhys’ ears. ADAM was floating behind, buzzing and beeping. Even farther back, Har and his team looked winded just from the first corridor inside. Everyone else remained behind, leaving it to the Guardians, the mutant clones, and the former Hunter. They had Teleporters waiting to be called, and brutes and solid fighters to extract them should something truly go amiss. With the ceiling of the cave completely blown open, it made for an easy place to shoot upward with an explosive Aura Sphere, Hyper Beam, Blizzard… They had options.

Rhys reminded himself of that. The sense of dread was natural from an expanding, cursed Dungeon. He’d brought the few Escape Orbs that remained, too. They had options.

On a whim, Rhys focused his aura sensors and scanned the immediate area. Ever since he’d gone into the new, cursed Dungeon, he’d sensed nothing but malice in the air, blinding him. But he checked every so often anyway, just in case there was something to find in that darkness.

And this time, finally, there was. It was a faint and familiar light deeper in the cave, but Rhys couldn’t remember who. Someone recent. He glanced back at Step and the others, who were close behind. He made a gesture forward, then advanced, but a cold spot of ice nicked his back.

He suppressed a hiss and glared back, but then Step pointed forward, then to the left.

Wraiths were swarming about just across the way. He’d been so focused on the light that he hadn’t seen them with his actual, physical eyes.

This would be their first encounter within Hot Spot. Fighting just a few would alert the rest, and from there, they would be surrounded. They were outnumbered, and fighting mere wraiths would be a waste of energy. They were searching for Anam’s body. That was their best chance at finding some weakness to Dark Matter within the physical world, and he was probably deeper inside.

ADAM buzzed weakly and produced a curious orb from Step’s pouch. She glared at him, but he only held it up for Rhys to inspect. It looked empty, but when he tilted it, it gleamed like a transparent, glass window. Of course. If they wanted to get deeper without detection, this would have to do for now.

They’d modified it to work on everyone in a small area. They only had one. And with how many it would affect… It would only last a few moments.

Rhys glanced at Har next. The Charizard shook his head in response. He could not yet Perceive anything of interest. Lygo, Ax, and Ani were similarly alert, but they were present for combat. A pang of nostalgia distracted Rhys, but he pushed it aside.

A war was raging in the Voidlands. No use waiting. After finally nodding, Rhys whispered, “Stay close. We won’t see each other. Use Step as a beacon.” Because even if they were invisible, she was still cold.

“Do nothing foolish,” Step muttered.

As quietly as he could, Rhys activated the orb, holding it firmly. It brightened for only a moment—he hoped the wraiths did not see it—and suddenly, it was as if Rhys was alone. He saw, if he squinted, faint outlines of his allies and very dim dark spots where their pupils would have been.

And, of course, the cold chill of Step nearby. He’d have to use that as a reference moving forward—and Step, assertive, took the lead. Her steps were slow and heavy, and they had to be careful not to disturb any loose rocks. They were thankfully able to cross the first passage without those distant wraiths spotting them.

He could see that light more clearly now. After focusing more, and making sure they weren’t surrounded, Rhys tried to combine his senses. He saw… a statue, with his eyes, but the way it glowed in his aura sense meant it was alive. A living statue? That could only mean…

Yes, he saw it. Stone leaves. Firm eyes. It was a Shiftry, and wraiths occasionally passed him without a care. Perfect camouflage.

Rhys felt like he was being watched. The bright aura of that statue resonated with him. He was aware of their presence.

The arm, just barely, moved.

Arceus, are you there? Rhys called. This has become a rescue operation as well. I have found Valle. Inform Nevren and the others to distract Dark Matter when you can, if you can, as we go deeper. Valle is alive.

All this time? How?

I do not know. Perhaps he fooled them by already being a statue.

Then I will try.


Valle… All this time, he was here, enduring. Had Rhys known, perhaps he would have tried to rescue him sooner. But now, they had to go deeper.

Hold strong, Valle. We will rescue you soon.

He felt a warmth passing him and Rhys reached for it, feeling scales. He whispered to Har, “You can save him when we leave.”

Har growled back, but must have relented.

In the end, he really was a lot like Owen.

<><><>​

Owen felt useless. He sat on the tree, used as many vantage points as he could from branch to branch, and called down any orders to the ground level. Countless elemental attacks colored the sky in volatile and often changing lines. Clear water, red and orange flames, crackling electricity. All of it clashed with dark and explosive beams of seemingly pure shadows, like staring into a patch of blindness. From there, they would rapidly send messages to any squadrons that would need that information, and then Owen would run back to scout more.

Xypher and Hakk were among the flying squads that were more mobile, rapidly changing formations to give support on the ground. Most of their time was spent shooting flying Void Shadows that tried to flank outer ground forces. Compared to his usual, jittery self, Xypher seemed like a completely different Pokémon in the air. Graceful, deadly, and with a focused, lucid glint in his eyes. And every time he took down a Void Shadow, Hakk smiled with pride while helping from his back.

Meanwhile, Mispy and Demitri were near the northern edge of town. He saw Mispy’s large form pulling injured Null Villagers to heal them before sending them right into the fray. Nods of approval were followed by even more injured. Mispy even took a few strikes to her body, yet she regenerated almost as quickly. Apparently, her healing that countered even the strange, dark powers of Void Shadows was rare and potent.

Most of the buildings were still intact, even on the far ends of town, thanks to their hasty but effective preparation. Angry shouts came from squad leaders as less experienced Pokémon got lost in the chaos. Occasionally, Owen flagged down a flying Pokémon with a wave—emphasized by making whole branches of the Tree wave with him—and sent coordinating orders to relieve pressure.

So far, most of the assault was coming from the western side of town. Void Shadows infested the forest densely there, to the point where the ground was more of their black bodies than the purple soil.

Most of the Void Shadows were being taken down by ranged attacks; Null Village knew not to engage directly with them if they could avoid it. The scouting towers had been repurposed to sniping towers; the gateways had become barricades. There were even traps set up that acted both as deterrents and beacons for areas of higher pressure.

But Nevren had come late, and upon realizing this, looked distraught. A rare sight. But seconds later, he sent the first wave of mutants inside.

Above him, they descended upon Null Village and joined with the guards with relative ease. It was surprising how stable they were. Maybe Nevren had prompted them… or maybe only the most stable mutants remained after all that had happened.

The ground rumbled from an explosion to the northwest. Owen fell backwards and into a tree branch, reemerging within a bushel of prismatic leaves to overlook the battle area. He saw dark bodies flying around like ragdolls. Void Shadows. So, the explosion was thanks to Null Village. Good.

Movement caught his attention. Left. From where he was, that meant west again. Same location as Dark Matter, which he could feel in his heart.

Titan. First one. And a big one, but far off.

Owen slipped into the tree and pushed his head out of the trunk only a few feet off the ground. “Hey! Titan is coming from the west! Get our blasters ready and I’ll set up the Tree!”

A few heard him, but he’d been talking specifically to a Dragonite, one of the strongest guards in Null Village, who nodded and flew off.

Not sparing a moment, Owen disappeared into the wood again and stopped at the top, below the leaves but where most of the branches fanned out. There, he sat, cross legged, and closed his eyes. His hands felt hot from the energy within the tree and the leaves began to glow brighter.

Guide me, Owen thought in a whisper.

Spirits swam through the leaves, many of them strongly resembling Owen himself. Grassy Charmander that took his form ever since he’d acquired the Grass Orb. Klent led them, drifting through the leaves and at the top, while Amelia and those two mutant spirits he’d acquired helped channel energy through the branches. They drew from the crystal-encrusted spire that made up the tree’s core.

You’re aiming to the right, Amelia reported. Yes, right there!

Owen couldn’t see well through the branches, but he had his focus ready. It was too bright for his eyes. He closed them, seeing the leafy outline of his feathers through his eyelids.

Here I go!

A deafening roar drowned out any other sound as the luminosity of the Tree redoubled. A beam of white-gold light shot across the sky, leaving nothing behind but the Titan’s legs, which collapsed into a heap of disoriented Void Shadows. The rest had been dispelled.

Owen hopped through branches to get a better look, frowning. No Legend in the core that time, he remarked.

Left! Amelia shouted.

What? Another?!

There’s another to the north as well.

You’re kidding…


Owen prioritized the one to his left. It was a pincer attack. The Titan to the left appeared to be another four-legged one, but with a longer body, almost like a serpent that would coil around the tree and snap it in two.

Okay. I’ll get another one ready. Owen rushed to the center—but just then, he caught a shadow in the corner of his eye that shouldn’t have been there. He shifted his weight and fell into a larger branch, holding a breath he didn’t have.

There was a dark splotch a few feet from the center of the tree. He recognized the size—Marshadow.

Owen? What’s the holdup?

Marshadow’s there.

What?

Do I go?


Seconds passed. Then, Klent spoke. Just be careful. We still need you to fire off those beams. We can’t do it well enough on our own.

I can get Eon to do it. He’s a Guardian, too.

Or maybe a human? Apparently, they can channel this energy pretty well even without your blessing.

He’s both.


Owen steadily approached, emerging from the tree like it was water. The wood curved around him before settling flat. “Hey,” Owen said warily.

Marshadow was hopelessly strong. He knew this much. There was nothing he could do to keep Marshadow away if he could help it, and perhaps they both knew. He also couldn’t let Marshadow rile him up; managing the Tree and its beams of light required intense focus, almost like meditation. Heightened emotions was the last thing he needed when targeting Titans.

The ghostly fighter emerged in a sitting position, tilting his head. “Oi, how’re yeh doin’?”

“Going to get another beam ready. Don’t… try anything. I can zap you in here and there won’t… It’ll hurt.”

Marshadow held his hands up. “Like I said, I ain’t been given orders ter attack. Just ter pass a message.”

Owen wasn’t sure if he could trust that anymore… but he couldn’t waste further time. He couldn’t do anything about it. So, he focused on what he could, making sure his answers bought as much time as possible.

“Do you want me ter wait?” Marshadow asked.

“I’m concentrating.”

His hands were hot again. The energy flowed through his chest and back out, getting stronger and hotter. Marshadow’s form fizzled amid all the bright lights, but if it bothered him, he wasn’t showing it. Or Owen couldn’t see.

Distantly, a familiar roar—was that Gahi?—echoed. Then an earthquake, and laughter. Gahi was doing fine, it seemed. Crashing rocks and a speck of light suggested Mispy’s Solar Beam had gone off next. Keep it up, guys…

The fighting was getting closer. He shouldn’t be hearing these shouts from so high up. Were the Void Shadows advancing? Owen dared to peek, but the bright lights shot his vision instantly. He had to focus on the beam.

“So, how’s that work, anyway?” Marshadow asked idly.

Owen didn’t answer.

“C’mon,” Marshadow said. “I’m curious. Seems like this takes time, not effort. Humor me a li’l.”

Owen growled. If he didn’t answer, Marshadow could become hostile. He could give some information to buy time, but also sent a signal to Zena below. He hoped she would see a flower trying to alert her of trouble above.

Owen finally answered, “I gather energy into my body and feed it back.”

“Necrozma zap the technique inter yer head?” Marshadow asked.

Owen flinched, but maintained his hold. “I guess he did. Or maybe it’s a memory. I’m feeling things out.”

“Nice, nice.” Marshadow nodded. “What happens if yeh stop?”

“I… don’t really know. I guess I keep the energy.”

“What’s the energy?”

Was that safe to answer? No, Dark Matter must have already known this. Test questions? Maybe it was small talk. “Probably the same energy that powers Pokémon in general… It’s being fed in by the light crystals and the spirits of my Orb.”

“Same difference,” Marshadow replied, leaning back. “One is little pieces of Necrozma’s energy and the other is from spiritual energy, but it’s the same energy, eh?”

“Why are you asking me this?” Owen asked.

“Hey, like I said, curious.” Marshadow frowned. “Gotta know if yeh stand a chance.”

It’s enough! Amelia called. You have the right spot, Owen! Fire!

The second beam tore across the sky, this time to the southern, serpentine Titan. It skewered a hole through its long body and the rest of it collapsed inward, but that time, it withstood. Some of it remained.

No way! That one has a core!

What?!


Owen opened his eyes once it was safe enough.

“Yep,” Marshadow replied. “Giratina.”

The serpentine Pokémon floated in the air like it was water. Six spectral tendrils, three on either side, curled and extended like wings, tipped with red spikes. The leviathan’s face was armored with gold mandibles, and Owen could swear it was staring directly at him. Through all the beams of attacks that were going through the air, through the prismatic leaves, those red eyes bore holes through Owen’s skull.

“What’s wrong with her?” Owen asked. “I… I defeated the Titan!”

“Mm, not enough. One blast on a core? Nah. She’s still got that darkness in ‘er. Heh. Would be scary if I weren’t on ‘er side.”

“Giratina… I… I remember her. She was… Who was she? Someone important, someone who…”

“Ol’ Dark Matter told me, actually,” Marshadow said. “’Parently it’s too late fer it ter matter. Want me ter tell yeh?”

“Who? Who she is? Giratina…”

“She was a real tough one ter crack, accordin’ ter Dark Matter. Despite the whole… spectral appearance, she used ter be a real bastion o’ light.”

“Necrozma…”

“Yeppers. A disciple, just like you.”

“She was a supersized Pokémon…” Owen paused. “Just like Emily—!”

“Hey, now yer puttin’ it t’gether.”

Owen saw flashes of Giratina in his mind. Faded ones, distant memories. They didn’t interact much at all. And, for some reason, he also saw…

“Eh? That look in yer eye…” Marshadow leaned forward. “Necrozma unlocked that memory, did he? Or maybe yer seizin’ it fer yerself…”

“…Madeline…”

A Goodra. A Goodra who had a striking resemblance to Anam, all those years ago. Giratina was her other half.

“Anam—where’s Anam?” Owen asked.

Marshadow shrugged. “Last I heard, Dark Matter got him outta the way.”

“Out of the…”

Marshadow didn’t provide any further info, and Owen wasn’t sure if it was because he was ordered not to, or he genuinely didn’t know. Either way, though, that didn’t matter. The chaos was getting louder; the Void Shadows were definitely winning.

No time. Owen thrust his hands into the tree again and focused on that energy.

“Gonna try shootin’ ‘em all down?” Marshadow asked.

“I have to. Gahi and the others can handle maybe one, but… but I need to support the rest.”

“Yeah, I figure.”

He gathered more energy, his tiny body barely able to support it all. But he was a conduit. He knew how to do this. Somewhere deep in his memory, in his past, it was telling him what to do. A light at the bottom of a deep, deep lake.

“Hey, wanna know something?”

“What?” Owen groaned.

Before he could react, Marshadow was upon him, holding him under the arms and pressing him back. Owen flailed his legs but he was already off the ground.

“Let—let go of me!”

Owen used a tiny bit of that energy to dig his claws into Marshadow’s spectral flesh. It felt like dipping his hand into cold, tingly cake batter.

“That compass you broke is two-way,” Marshadow whispered to Owen. “Sorry, I gotta hold ya still.”

“What for?!”

“You ain’t the only one who can fire from far off.”

Owen struggled more, eyes darting left to a movement that he’d seen. His eyes locked with Zena’s. Fury. And then a Hydro Pump that went directly over his shoulder, but Marshadow had pivoted to dodge it completely.

Snarling, the Milotic advanced, but Marshadow spared an arm to point a Shadow Ball at her. At that range, with Marshadow’s corrupt powers… No!

And again, in the corner of his vision, he saw something coming. Rapidly. A dark beam of energy that sizzled in the air, whistling as it pushed the Voidlands’ atmosphere aside.

Something primal took over. In that split second, Owen pulled his head back, felt his own neck bones strain from the contortion, and swung forward. He chomped down on Marshadow’s arms. He didn’t wait for a reaction; he chomped harder, ready to break his own jaw if it meant applying more force, and channeled some of the tree’s energy into his teeth.

Marshadow cried in pain and that drove Owen’s instincts harder. He thrashed, shaking his head, felt something rip between his teeth as an acrid ooze filled his sense of taste and smell. Zena was probably trying to get a good hit in, but they were moving too much. He felt ribbons grab his arm; he tried to follow them.

He jerked his whole body aside and focused, trying to cross his arms. He couldn’t, but it was enough; a golden barrier appeared before him, narrowly blocking the blast from Giratina. If it hit his Protect, he hoped it missed Zena. He heard her cry his name, but she sounded distant.

But then he realized the ground was no longer below him. When he opened his eyes—after only a brief flinch—he was flying through the air. Falling. And the tree was already far, far away.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 121 – Shockwaves

Owen awoke to the brief sounds of struggle down the hall. It was close. Too close. In the dark halls, he could only rely on his second sight to guess what it was.

One of the guards shrieked, but was abruptly silenced after a strong
thunk. Someone was about to cry out for support, but a flash of light silenced that one, too. A small body was thrown across the caverns into a crumpled, groaning heap next, and then a figure cloaked in light sprinted into Owen’s view.

The great Charizard had less than a second to react, and in that time, he could only sit a quarter of the way up and tune his Perceive. He raised an arm to fire at what came, but it weaved out of the way deftly, and Owen felt the dull of a Leaf Blade against his throat.

Staring into his eyes were a pair of yellow irises and reptilian pupils. They shined with energy and light.

“Hi, Dad!” she whispered cheerfully. The Sceptile’s great tail rattled noisily, as if she had energy to spare after being quiet for so long.

“Hi, Remi…” Befuddled, Owen pushed her so he could get up, and she complied. "Did you just infiltrate the Lightless Labyrinth to see me?"

"Mhm!"

"How many guards did you beat up?"

"Uhhh..." She counted on her claws, quickly running out.

Owen sighed harshly and grasped her arm.

“Hey!”

“I’m walking you out.” He marched, practically dragging her. He walked past several guards, all of them too dizzy to so much as stand. Remi had struck them all with the dull of her Leaf Blades expertly. Had it been any other circumstance, he would have been proud.

He wasn’t sure why, but it was becoming hard to move, and his head and the whole world felt fuzzy.

“Don’t forget, Dad, he fights dirty!”

Owen blinked. The caverns around him melted into clouds of dust. “What?”

“He follows you in your shadow. But he can’t chase you if it’s too bright!”

She dissolved from his grasp.


<><><>​

Owen landed hard on the ground, the wind knocked out of him. His small size and light form had spared him from serious injury. He wondered, dizzily, if his feathery body had contributed.

With a groan, he slowly got to his feet, but then some primal part of him alerted him and he ducked. An instant later, something burned the feathers on his scalp, leaving behind a shadowy residue that felt cold and tingly.

“Nice reflex,” Marshadow said. “Ain’t gonna miss a second time, though.”

“Wait,” Owen said quickly. “M-Marshadow, don’t you remember? Remember fighting Dark Matter in the past… back when he was the Void King?”

“Void King…” Marshadow nodded. “I think I remember that… rings a bell.”

“Do you remember… fighting me? The Wishkeeper?”

Another long pause, but there wasn’t as much recognition in his hum. “Guess I fergot that one. Lost ter the void.”

“You used to fight… against Dark Matter, Marshadow! You were a hero! You had… a partner. No, three of them!” Owen tried to press on. “Remember! A Drampa, a Dewott, maybe a Samurott now, and a Cacturne!”

Marshadow looked strained, like he was trying to recall, but nothing came.

“You were a Riolu,” Owen said. “Your mortal body was a Riolu!”

“I ain’t got any of those memories, kid,” Marshadow said. “Yer gonna be fightin’ a losin’ battle. I lost those ter the void a long time ago.”

“But you can still get them back,” Owen urged. “Fight it! Come on!” Because he certainly couldn’t fight Marshadow himself.

Distantly but omnipresent around them, elemental attacks catapulted through the air, clashing with dark energy from the outer perimeters. The Void Shadows were advancing and ground troops were rushing to meet them. If any fell, they were at risk to join Dark Matter’s ranks.

“Heh, look at you,” Marshadow said with a grin. “Yer a riot. Tryin’ ter buy time when the town’s fallin’ around yeh.”

It was true. Even now, there were distant shouts and explosions and they were coming closer. Flying Pokémon bombarded the Void Shadow front lines with as many elemental attacks, gusts of wind, and falling explosions and rocks as their stamina could muster. There were some points where portions of the sky were more of elements than clouds. While most Void Shadows were ground-bound, some were able to fly, but the Null Villagers’ formations were too tight to allow impersonators among their ranks. Every second was accompanied by a distant rumble. The directions were becoming hard to distinguish. Rarely, a shriek from one of the Titans shook loose dust from the rooftops.

Owen wasn’t sure if his lightheadedness was coming from those sounds, the adrenaline of facing Marshadow down, or the amount of energy still coursing through his body that he couldn’t send back to the Tree. If Amelia, Klent, and the others were calling out to him, he couldn’t hear it.

The standoff didn’t last long. Marshadow shifted his weight; Owen brought up his arms, narrowly blocking a shadowy fist. He tried backing away next, but rubble on the ground tripped him and he fell backwards.

He never hit the floor. Marshadow’s kick was faster, sending him over one of the buildings. He couldn’t breathe. Marshadow leapt and grabbed him from behind; his body was cold and tendrils of darkness lengthened his arms. The shadowy fighter twisted in the air and aimed Owen’s skull toward a nearby rooftop.

Thinking fast, Owen twisted back and curled inward, flipping in midair. He tried to draw from his inner fire—what little he had in this form—but couldn’t get anything. Instead, he coughed up an ineffectual Seed Bomb that popped in Marshadow’s face. The flashbang was a distraction; Owen jerked his whole body to the left and narrowly avoided the rooftop, tumbling out of Marshadow’s grip and onto the ground a story below.

Wheezing, Owen took only two steps away before Marshadow landed on him with a downward punch. He’d blacked out for half a second. When he woke up, he was face-down in the ruined ceramic path with green blood pooling around his head.

Owen thought he said something, but he didn’t understand his own words. He stood up, but a jab to his back downed him again.

“Y’know,” Marshadow growled, “this ain’t makin’ it easy. Just follow me and we’ll finish this, eh?”

“Why…” Owen spat to clear his mouth. Was he missing a tooth? Oh, there it was, a foot away. He liked that fang.

Marshadow grabbed Owen by the scruff of his neck and pulled him to his feet. He wobbled there.

“Surrender.”

“Can’t.”

Owen woke up with a terrible headache, back embedded into a house. Marshadow was walking toward him with a blank expression a few houses away. He felt the back of his head; his leafy feathers were sticking together from a wound.

Can’t. Why did he say that? Owen had literally said surrender was an option only a little while ago. But some defiant part of him said otherwise.

From where he was, Owen could see Titans looming within Null Village, held back by the front lines, but slowly, but inevitably, advancing. By now the outer rim of houses were completely destroyed and flattened. Livelihoods gone, memories in the form of games and books and rooms lost to the battle.

Surrendering… would save everyone. The Titans are gaining on us. And I’m not at the Tree. If I surrender now, will Dark Matter stop… just for a little while?

Lose now, lose later…


Marshadow was taking his sweet time approaching. Maybe he knew there was no way out for Owen.

If I give up… will that save everyone? What if I talk to Dark Matter? Reason with him? Maybe he’ll make a better world. I believed that before, didn’t I? And Necrozma… He’s just another god sealing my memories. The only one who’s been trying to unlock them is Dark Matter. He’s the only one who understands… how awful it felt to realize it was all fake. Because of course he’d know about how awful something feels…

Marshadow was a house away. But he slowed his pace more, tilting his head. “That look in yer eye,” he called over. “Yer shoulders’re slumped. You done?”

Am I? Owen pulled himself out of the house and staggered onto the ground, falling on all fours. He wobbled up. The dizziness left him as he took longer, steadier breaths. Little pulses of gold light patched up his wounds, remnant energy from the Tree.

“Say the word, and we c’n stop all this,” Marshadow said gently. “We don’t gotta fight. My orders’re simple. Get the Charmander to surrender.”

Owen’s breathing paused as a thought crossed his mind. “That’s how he said it?”

“Nah. He said, get yeh. But I asked, hey, so track down the Charmander? And he waved an’ said hurry up. Took that as a yes, heh.” Marshadow crossed his arms. “So, surrender? Otherwise…”

Owen’s mind raced. He forgot about surrendering when Marshadow asked, because now he had a new idea. “Before I do, I want you to answer some questions,” he said. “So I know I’m making the right choice.”

Marshadow regarded him with a suspicious air, but then huffed. “Alright. I’ll give yeh… two questions.” He held up fingers to match.

He only needed one. “If Dark Matter wasn’t controlling you, but you still knew everything he told you, would you still fight for him?”

“Aw, now that’s a question I almost wanna say costs double,” Marshadow replied with a wry smile. “Testin’ my loyalties? Well, that ain’t gonna work, buddy. So long as Dark Matter’s got me, I ain’t gonna go against ‘im.”

Owen sighed, looking displeased, but that was exactly the answer he wanted to hear. Marshadow was speaking in code. “Fine, fine. One more question, then?”

“Yeah, fine. One question left.”

“Fine.” Only needed one more anyway. There was something fast in the distance, and green, and that was enough for him. “Did you know about that thing behind you?”

“Really?” Marshadow looked genuinely disappointed.

Owen shrugged, smiling bloodily.

“Guess I hit yeh too hard. All yer wits’re—”

<><><>​

Impressive punch,” Nevren hummed, peering over the side of the portal with a Zoom Lens over his eyes. He twisted a knob on the top and got a closer look at the clash, barely able to keep up with the wraith that he identified—if only by the speed alone—as Gahi. He had punched a tiny wraith, who had been striking an even tinier wraith that had been shot from the top of the tree.

Which was likely Owen. Not good.

But now, Owen was running away! Quite good.

“All right, I would like squadrons three into seven heading in next. I will be directing you to handle the eastern district. For those who cannot tell, that is in this direction from our relative standpoints.”

Nevren stood up, but just before he could leave to organize, a wraith flew up to the portal.

“Nevren!”

He was still startled by their distorted voices. “Yes?” The Alakazam removed his Zoom Lens.

“When will the reinforcements be coming? We need more now—there’s a third Titan coming!”

“Very soon. Tell them three squadrons will be coming. How are the ones I sent so far?”

“Fighting very well. I’ll tell them.”

Once the wraith flew away, Nevren sighed and commanded several more of the mutant leaders. Among them was a Tauros, Roserade, and icy Ninetales.

“So, what, we’re in next, right?” Ninetales asked, pawing at his face to groom.

“Yes, you will be. Keep to cautious efforts for now.”

“Pbbb, boring… Fine, fine, don’t glare.”

“I wasn’t glaring. I was merely expressing disappointment.”

“Yuh-huh.” The Ninetales nodded at the Tauros and Roserade next, then spread his tails. “Let’s go!”

Nevren had been rushing them a little, but that was largely because, somehow, they were off schedule. He had timed himself perfectly to the Voidlands’ time, which, as far as he could tell, ran at the same rate that Kilo did. Despite this, he had been several minutes late, to the point where Dark Matter had gotten a head start on the assault with no mutants to help.

No matter. They were back on track now.

The ground shook, and that didn’t sound like mutants preparing, either. After quickly glancing at the battlefield to make sure everything was going smoothly—or as smoothly as one could hope—he Teleported a few blinks through the halls, up the floors, and to the surface.

Instantly, he was pelted with a rain that stung him in more than just his body. He hissed as some of it got in his eyes, nearly blinding him. “What—”

This rain and flashes of light instantly ate away at his energy. He disappeared a floor below, wheezing, collapsing to his knees. He looked his hands over, then his arms. No wounds, yet the rain felt corrosive. To his aura? His hands were trembling. Flashes of that cursed forest echoed in his mind, where he’d seen Anam’s decayed body, where he and Mispy had died several times, saved only by his Revisor.

That was it. That was the same power. Ghost? No, it couldn’t be that. This went deeper. He knew that, now. It was a different element entirely. Shadow… Yes. It had to be Shadow.

Nevren step-Teleported his way down the hall—his equivalent of running—until he got to the entrance to Quartz HQ. The way opened to sand soaked in dark-tinged water like free-flowing ink. Some of it washed into the hall and he put up a small Psychic barrier to keep it from flooding.

He braved the storm, this time prepared. He held a barrier above him like an umbrella and floated over the black water. He winced at the sting of a few stray splashes, and hoped that his Psychics would be enough to keep the rest away for a time, as he searched for the source.

Flying in the dark clouds with silver, glowing eyes was the unmistakable form of Lugia. It was a great leviathan’s silhouette, wings beating and parting the clouds only to reveal even darker, purple clouds behind it. He was facing down a god.

The air twisted around him. Water splashed and kicked up. The clouds formed a vortex, and Nevren realized too late that it was an incoming Aeroblast. His Psychic barrier twisted apart and he clicked on his Revisor just in time to only have part of his body twisted and cut into ribbons.

And then he was standing by the Voidlands’ portal again. The respite lasted an instant; right after, a horrible, deafening BANG knocked him sideways, shaking his insides. He was pretty sure an organ or two ruptured. He coughed and tried to look through blurry vision.

What? When did an explosion happen 90 seconds ago?

On reflex, he pressed a hand on his chest, a healing aura of Recover bringing him back to proper health. Or decent health. He was still dazed and bruised, but he didn’t want to spend the extra time healing.

There was a routine he had to follow first. What had he done a moment ago? Right—Reinforcements. Squadrons.

“Sorry for that,” Nevren dismissed to the startled-looking wraith that was by the portal. “Tell them three squadrons will be coming. How are the ones I sent so far?”

“…Three more?” the wraith asked. “You just sent three.”

So, we’re next, right? Nevren remembered, looking toward the icy Ninetales who wasn’t there.

Who wasn’t there.

What?

What?

“Nevren, are you okay? What happened?”

“What?” Nevren, suddenly feeling lost and confused, darted his eyes left and right to find his missing squadrons. There were tiny cracks on the ground where they had once been.

“You sent those squadrons in. What was that explosion? Why did you Teleport back here?”

Nevren looked into the portal to see the icy Ninetales speaking with Zena by the Tree. Zena looked frantic. The rest of his team was there, nodding and getting a quick debrief, and then they left toward one of the Titans.

The Revisor didn’t work.

No, it worked on him. It worked on most things. But not the team he’d sent into the Voidlands. Did it not reach into that domain?

Then that explosion… It was like a vacuum wave of pressure. Where their bodies had once been, there was a vacuum. The air pressure, yes! It must have collapsed… It must not be a perfect vacuum, because Nevren had a feeling a true one would have been even louder, perhaps lethal. Aside from his ruptured organs, at least.

“Nothing to worry about,” Nevren said. After counting the seconds, he disappeared for the entrance again, then counted for a few seconds longer. He didn’t want to relive those shockwaves, so he let those seconds pass, forever solidified, and finally opened the door. The rain was the same. The bright lights of Quartz HQ bled into the darkened ground despite it supposedly being noontime. When Nevren listened quietly, he was sure he heard wingbeats, but they were large and far away.

Lugia wouldn’t come here if he kept hidden, right? He could only hope.

Just in case, Nevren would have to put a few more experimental projects to work. He disappeared into his room and picked up three gadgets. One had pink crystals within a lightbulb-like mechanism—his portable Dungeon. The other looked like an experimental Wand, much like the ones he had attempted to create, probably no longer usable in the Heart HQ. And the last one was a haphazardly puzzled together rifle that stored a pulsing, white energy rather than bullets.

He glanced at his Revisor. Perhaps, with some luck, he would be prepared.

It was awfully windy, Nevren realized.

Quartz HQ shouldn’t have wind. And with only a few instances to react, a cutting gale blew open the entrance to the labyrinth, and alarms sounded throughout the facility.

Lugia had broken in.

<><><>​

The invisibility was wearing off. Rhys had thought it would last much longer; was the enchantment weaker, or was the distortion of Hot Spot stronger?

It didn’t matter now. Around him, very faint outlines of his allies reminded him of their presence and their perilous state. Valle was far behind them, but they knew the way back. They’d run past countless wraiths and still found no sign of the Dungeon Core. Hot Spot felt like it had become a lot bigger on the inside since they’d last visited, but that was the way Dungeons operated.

He passed by a corridor that, in the back of his mind, felt familiar. He held his arm out and they all stopped. They were definitely much more visible, now.

“Near here is my home,” Rhys whispered, glancing skyward at the broken mountaintop. It looked so strange with the natural light, however obscured it was from the swirling vortex. Or perhaps that was just the shadowy haze making everything feel so different.

“Where next?” Har asked. “Hurry. My flame…”

Rhys stifled a hiss. Right. His flame was going to be visible, too. They were going to have to fight their way out the moment they gathered everything they could.

“Just this way.”

Rhys took a single step forward and abruptly crouched down to a heavy, heavy feeling in the air. He wheezed, like he could no longer breathe, and felt the empty thud of Ani’s heavy body falling against Lygo. The others weren’t doing as well, either. That was the power of Dark Matter’s glare.

Spotted. Rhys’ gaze darted left and right, but all he could see was more haze. His aura sense was completely shot. All was darkness. He had to rely on normal sight again.

He took a burdened step forward and encouraged the others, silently, to do the same. Maybe it was a bluff. He didn’t see any wraiths, and Dark Matter himself was occupied in that strange other plane.

They trudged through the heavy atmosphere again, and by now even Step looked hampered. A few times, Rhys jumped at the sound of gravel moving or a loose stone falling, but with the recent tremors, that wouldn’t be enough to give them away.

There! His home! He recognized the layout of the entrance, even if some of it had been blown away. The motivation lightened his spirit. He pressed onward, faster, and placed his paw on the entrance with a relieved sigh.

Forward again. Through the entrance hall. Past the kitchen, which was dusty and speckled with fallen gravel. Past Demitri and Mispy’s room, completely bare. Down the corner, he saw where Gahi slept, the sand of his artificial pit blown in all directions. But Rhys’ room was untouched and, surprisingly, brighter. A beacon that drew him closer.

There had been a book that Anam gave him a long time ago that he said was very important to keep. Books were always important to keep. But that one in particular, Anam said, would be needed in a time of crisis.

What Rhys didn’t understand was that it was completely blank. Yet when he had explained this to Nevren the day before, Nevren urged him to get what he could. Rhys had a plethora of ‘useless’ items in his room; what if some of it was worth something after all? That was another reason for going here.

His shoulders were light. He knew where it was in this untouched clutter. He pushed aside some rotten Pechas without a second thought, but took a moment to make sure his letters were still all there. They were. And on the shelf—near that empty spot where the Grass Orb had once been designated, where Rhys never found a replacement object—was a book. What little fog that entered his room dissolved completely when it got within a foot or so of its empty pages.

A horrible feeling gripped Rhys’ heart. An omen of death.

An instinct told Rhys to dive, so he did. The shelves exploded and a hole wider than Rhys was left behind, turning countless treasures into rotten ash. Even the rocks had disintegrated into blackened dust.

Anam’s rotten body stood at the entrance to his room. Hollow eye sockets glared at him while deep purple sludge coursed just beneath his slimy skin.

Wordless, he opened his mouth and fired again, but Rhys was faster. With a deft movement, Rhys grabbed the book, then his bag of supplies that he’d left behind, and then an armful of Elder’s letters.

Another blast completely missed him—no, it looked like it had been deflected by something. Rhys glanced at the book.

“Did you even realize,” Dark Matter said, “that you’re alone?”

Rhys froze. The others. Where did—

Narrowly ducking beneath a shadowy blast, Rhys felt the fur on his head evaporate along with a small part of his scalp. Blood trickled down his forehead. He couldn’t feel one of his ears and a dull pain was overtaking where it had once been.

“Did you really think you could distract me?” Dark Matter growled, shooting Rhys again. This time, a hole was left where his bed had been, but Rhys dodged it completely. He weaved past the rotten Goodra, arm grazing his body. It had a cold sting to it and when Rhys brushed away the slime, he felt the pads of his paws shrivel. The part of his arm that had scraped against Dark Matter was completely blackened down to the bone, but he couldn’t stop yet.

In less than a second, he was outside his home. A volley of ice and a bright light greeted him; a swarm of wraiths—some of them were winged—surrounded them. Step was battling alongside ADAM on one side while Willow, Manny, and his Fighting spirits battled on the other. Near the center, Har and the Team Alloy mirrors backed both sides up from a distance, though the atmosphere had a particularly bad effect on them. They looked the most fatigued despite not fighting any of them directly; in fact, Rhys saw dark patches on parts of their bodies…

“You’re all here.” Dark Matter pointed at them. “It’s time you joined the Voidlands.”

Without another warning, Dark Matter fired. This time, Rhys couldn’t dodge.

<><><>​

As it turned out, Lugia was targeting Quartz HQ. Not only that, but she had already blown away the first two floors of the underground labyrinth with her gusts alone. The alarms were deafening and Nevren took some time to Teleport to the control center just to turn them off—as well as, of course, diverting power to the essential areas to maintain the Voidlands’ portal.

Then he waited a moment’s time to make sure that decision was locked in, counting the seconds up to ninety as he rushed through the windy halls. Even on the sixth sublevel, the gusts were enough to topple the last few sets of mutants who hadn’t been sent into the Voidlands to battle.

He needed to find a way to scare Lugia off. Any way at all. They couldn’t have her make it to the portal. It would disrupt everything! Thankfully it was above the power supply, so there was no risk of that being disrupted… but the Beammaker itself was vulnerable if at least the fifth floor was infiltrated.

Using his Revisor would come with a risk. He could have a sudden shockwave from someone who had gone into the Voidlands. He felt, somewhere in his mind, that this strange property of only rewinding Kilo could be useful, but in the heat of the moment, without being able to buy more time, he couldn’t think of it.

Arceus, Lugia is attacking Quartz HQ. If she gets too deep, it will disrupt the portal. Can you spare a Judgement?

I cannot. Rhys is under attack as we speak. I am sending a Judgement there.

Understood.
He was on his own for a while. He’d fought Lugia once before, and that was when she was harmless. He’d been imprisoned. Horrible memories. And one of the few times that his Revisor had failed him. He’d lost it in her body, and because he hadn’t been in any danger, its dead man’s switch hadn’t activated, either. It was torture.

Not again. He wasn’t even sure if it was safe anyway, with how corrosive that rain had become, or how cutting the gales were.

But he had a portable Dungeon, and he could make the smallest of portals that led to the Voidlands. It was experimental, but perhaps it could be useful.

The lights flickered. Nevren’s eyes darted around. “Already?” he whispered, Teleporting a few floors up. He regretted it. His skin corroded in seconds; cuts lacerated his entire front. He went blind almost instantly. He only caught a glimpse of the halls to suggest Lugia had already demolished the top three floors.

On reflex, he pressed the Revisor.

<><><>​

Rhys was starting to feel lightheaded, and not just because one of his ears had been blasted off. Ringing filled the one ear that remained as roars from Ax and Solar Beams from Ani exploded past him. They clashed with a blast of darkness from Anam’s body, deflecting downward to turn part of the stone into dust and rubble. Stray beams left craters in the walls and avalanches of that same rotten dust to fill the corners of Hot Spot Dungeon.

Step’s Ice Beams frosted Dark Matter fleetingly, but it was enough time to give Rhys some distance to recover. He jumped back, only to hit a wall from his clumsiness.

“Ngh… I need help,” Rhys drawled, not sure if anyone heard him. A green flash crossed his vision—Lygo trying to distract Dark Matter, but he was struck by a blast instantly and downed. That forced Ani to run toward him to heal. Rhys’ blurry vision only let him see two green lumps flying in different directions, but only one moved, the one Ani was trying to heal.

Was he going to get out of this alive?

That thought crossed Rhys’ mind without realizing it.

He didn’t have the strength to flee. They had to escape.

Step held out her arms and summoned her family; three Kommo-o darted toward Dark Matter, encasing him in a thick wall of ice. It rapidly cracked, thin beams of darkness cutting the ice like paper.

Willow had a similar idea, bringing out more backup, both Manny’s immigrant spirits and her more disruptive Fairy spirits. Mushroom spores clouded the area around Dark Matter, trying to infect him with some kind of illusionary effect, but they weren’t working. A pink mist followed, but a shockwave blew it away with ease; the Joltik shrieked in anger.

ADAM was waiting for something. Rhys felt the heat and saw the light from his charging blast.

Dark Matter’s weaker than usual, Rhys stated to Arceus, strained.

He’s spread thin, Arceus replied. He must be halfway focused on the Voidlands… Part of his spirit is dedicated to that front. Hold out a little longer! We need to force him to spread more!

It’s becoming… difficult.
Even as Rhys projected his thoughts, Dark Matter took aim at ADAM, who fired just in time to match the blast. It sent ADAM flying against the wall, cracking part of his body; Ani was too busy tending to Lygo to help.

I’m preparing a Judgement.

The wait was agonizing. Rhys had never felt so useless. All of his aura wasn’t being channeled properly, like Dark Matter had sealed it. He could only lend it elsewhere… Rhys aimed a paw at ADAM, channeling healing energy toward him before diving behind a fallen boulder.

Precious seconds to recover. But would it be worth it? The thought flitted in his mind again, obsessively. He didn’t know if it was Dark Matter’s influence or his own rationality telling him that he was too weak to continue. This was just like when he’d fallen under Lugia’s storm.

Maybe if he spared his power in another way… just in case…

Rhys pooled as much power as he possibly could into his paws, forming a dense, glowing sphere. He glanced behind him. Nobody. He glanced ahead. Nobody. Nobody would see this.

Someone would find his spare power eventually, and only an ally would know what it was, surely.

With that small piece of faith, he pressed his paws on the ground and released the energy deep underground. He sent a few thoughts into it, too, for good measure.

Then, he turned over his bag. Inside-out. Everything tumbled, muted by the chaos of battle. He found random stones and quickly filled his bag again, closing it tight. He glanced left and his eyes met Lygo, who saw the whole thing. Rhys grinned weakly.

There was a strange gravity to the gesture; an overwhelming sense of dread washed over Rhys the moment he stood up.

Just as he did, Dark Matter stared directly at him. “There you are.” He pointed, and Rhys crouched.

A cold beam grazed where his ear had been, spattering blackened blood next to him. His head jerked slightly from the grazing impact. When he leapt out from behind the boulder, there was a brief, horrified look that flashed on Willow’s face when she glanced at him. Rhys didn’t want to know what she saw.

He dashed. Dark Matter wanted him.

Why, he didn’t know.

But if he could get Dark Matter away, that was all that mattered. The others could escape with Valle and the supplies.

Rhys held the bag tighter to his chest and ignored the weird, cold feeling where his ear had been. The throbbing had stopped and it was becoming difficult to think and breathe. A small part of him wanted to collapse and whimper, but his pride and drive told him to do anything but.

“You aren’t going to get away.”

The voice sounded far closer than it should have been. Rhys weakly tried to form an Aura Sphere, but it fizzled. He was completely sapped of his strength; he’d put it all underground.

A stray stone hit his toe. That, and his rapidly declining sense of balance, was enough to knock Rhys onto the ground. Rhys thought Dark Matter’s aura had overtaken him, but that was only his clouding vision. When he turned to look back, Dark Matter was running toward him, powering through three beams of ice…

And then a great pillar of light, followed by several more, struck the vortex in the sky. Dark Matter suddenly keeled over, holding his chest, retching out thick pools of black sludge.

Did that hit? Arceus asked.

Rhys scrambled away and dove into a random house without thinking. His foot hit water that had gone black and he pulled it away. Mercifully, it didn’t rot away his fur. But he recognized the basin as Zena’s pool.

“…The rift.”

His voice was further away. Good. But it was overpoweringly loud, and the only reason he could hear it over the rumbling skies and crackles of elemental attacks and wraith screeching.

“You’ve torn… a hole in it…”

Thunder. A different kind of thunder. It was sustained, long, and made his one good ear ring. He covered it quickly, and felt a strange, uplifting sensation—literally. It felt as if something was trying to pull him toward the sky, yet he did not feel any physical sensation to accompany it.

“What… have you done…”

Rhys dared to peek outside. Dark Matter was advancing quickly; he knew exactly where Rhys had hidden. But he had no energy to go anywhere else. What were the others doing?

Then he saw Step’s family shooting toward the sky—falling upward. The two daughters, Cent and Ana, were clutching onto the arms of Ra, the father Kommo-o. He was the one that had been drawn skyward. And then Alex, now an icy Hydreigon, shouted frantically for them to get back down, clamping his smaller heads onto the tails of the daughters. But all three of them couldn’t stop Ra from drifting away.

Not just him. Manny was flailing, six of his musclebound Fairy-Fighting spirits trying to pull him back. Willow was flying around them, but she was simply too small to do much.

Then Step jumped into the air, propelled on a platform of ice, with a mad, desperate look in her eyes, as she reached toward Ra.

He was flying toward the vortex. It swirled, destabilizing. Red clouds from within that terrible place seeped into Kilo, along with purple dust from a brewing storm. Step passed through the portal just as she lost her grip of Ra, who had rapidly accelerated even out of the grasps of his daughters and Alex. Manny was close to the portal’s edge next. He was about to suffer the same fate.

And then it all stopped.

Rhys was frozen. Everything was frozen. Step was falling through the portal with her daughters, who now appeared to manifest more solid-looking forms before falling out of view. But everything else had stopped.

And then Manny started falling toward the ground, rapidly. Their movements were quick and even more frantic than before, but in a bizarre, unnatural order. Manny looked at something startling happening to the left, but then turned away just as it ended. Explosions were falling inward, leaving behind perfectly intact walls. And then Rhys realized his own body was moving without his orders. Backwards. His gasps were in reverse, breathing out and then in. He knelt down and then went flat on the ground. The injuries from his fall stitched themselves together, and then he rapidly scrambled back, far too quick with his weakened state. Perhaps ten seconds had passed, and then everything was back to normal.

Except for a massive, new explosion nearby that blew apart a whole section of the cave. This shockwave was louder than anything, and it was filled with a frigid air that he knew was Step.

Step… And her spirits. They had fallen through the portal, yet—they weren’t there anymore. The explosion blew away so much of the cavern that he could no longer afford to hide in Zena’s home, and it looked like most of the front of Rhys’ abode had also been collapsed.

Did that hit? Arceus asked.

Rhys fell over, gasping, mind completely muddled. What? Yes, of course you hit, did you hit again?

I only hit once recently. I’ll try to charge another, but Nevren is in trouble with Lugia.

Did you not see what happened?
Rhys said immediately.

What?

Step fell into the Voidlands. And—


Rhys glanced at Willow. “Willow! Withdraw Manny immediately!”

“What?!” Willow dodged a blast of darkness.

“Do as I say!”

Willow usually would have objected, but the urgency of his voice and the grimness of his appearance must have been enough for her to obey. Manny disappeared into Willow as a blue wisp, but the rest of his spirits remained to fight.

Rhys didn’t know what happened. But it had given him a second chance. It felt like… time, time itself had gone backwards. Why? When did that happen, why did he notice it just then? And why did some primal sense of anger well up in him at the thought of time being tampered with? And it still felt like something in the Voidlands was trying to pull his spirit toward it.

He had no hope of escape. The portal was going to consume all of Hot Spot.

But he knew he could save the others.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 122 – The Timekeeper

A little Treecko climbed on Owen’s shoulders, grasping at his cheek.

“Yes?” Owen cooed.

She tried to climb onto his head, so Owen bent his neck and let her. She fell quickly, tumbling into Owen’s ready hands with a yelp.

“Almost, that time,” commented Mhynt, sitting next to him. The Sceptile helped Remi try again, guiding her with a single claw. She was so tiny compared to the two of them.

The sun was bright. Clear skies. It was a great day for Grass Pokémon, and the warmth was nice on Owen’s scales, too. He spread his wings and called upon the sun, intensifying its power.

“Aaaah!” Remi fell back, too fascinated by the new light, and landed in Owen’s arms again. She reached for Mhynt next.

“Hey, Owen!” someone called.

A Mew flew over with a package in his arms. Owen’s stomach growled.

“Got the takeout!” he said, puffing.

Behind him, a Meganium, Haxorus, and battered Flygon followed with their own packages.

“What happened to you?” Owen asked Gahi, smirking. “Marshadow run you into the ground again?”

“Nuh-no,” he replied quickly. “I’m, uh, I’m learning. Not a big deal, er whatever…”

“Gods, you’re even picking up his accent!” Owen laughed.

“Impressionable,” Mispy said with a sigh. She trotted to a sunny spot on the ground and fell on her side, stretching her legs.

Demitri’s eyes drifted to Remi. Owen was familiar with his body language by now and sensed envy. Seemed that the couple hadn’t been able to get an egg yet. In due time, Owen figured.

Mew set the food down and produced a much smaller package inside. “For Remi, too,” he said.

“No junk food, I hope,” Mhynt hummed, though her voice lacked hostility.

“Hey,” Gahi said. “You have time for, you know.”

“I don’t know,” Owen lied, raising a scaly brow.

Gahi growled.

“He-hey, don’t do that with Remi around,” Demitri said quietly. “She’ll get scared…”

Remi was pointing and laughing at Gahi, who stiffened up and looked away.

“Yeah, well…” He fidgeted. “Fine. We’ll spar when she’s tired.”


<><><>

Necrozma, if you’re throwing memories at me, not now, please! Owen said as he panted, running as fast as his tiny legs would allow. Trying… to not die! Not yet!

No response, of course. He still wasn’t sure if Necrozma was responsible, if this was a continued deluge from Dark Matter, or just something else. He didn’t have time to process it. He didn’t want to think about it in this chaos. Remi. A daughter. He had a daughter, and he’d forgotten about her for countless centuries. Where was she now? Did she wonder what happened to him? How different had they become?

Marshadow had been an ever-looming threat, so it was good that they’d dedicated some time to planning how to mitigate his impact. Unfortunately, he was still hard to stop. Too strong, too evasive, and even if they all focused on him—

Owen glanced at what he thought was a threatening shadow, but nothing came up. He pressed on.

—Marshadow would just sink into the ground. They couldn’t spend all their time thwarting Marshadow when there was so much to plan… And yet there Owen was, staggering away from the roads to get away from that unstoppable threat. It was good that Gahi had been ready.

He hoped Gahi would last. Demitri and Mispy would probably be close behind.

Every so often, Owen passed by brawling guards, desperate to avoid combat that he simply couldn’t handle. Their shouts were terse orders to get away, to watch their back, and occasionally they cried in surprise when a Void Shadow struck. Their foes were eerily silent, never giving away their location with grunts or roars. The guards were able to defeat several Void Shadows decisively; the problem was how long they had to keep it up. Soon, their energy would wane and fatigue would set in. Owen saw it in some of their battle stances. Unguarded, drooping, panting. Fire Pokémon were sputtering flames; Water Pokémon were drying; even the spectral Pokémon, more common in Null Village, looked faded and hazy as their energies dwindled.

But the Void Shadows, while weak, were infinite. One that fell would just be replaced by another seconds later.

Void Shadows had advanced a fifth of the way into the city; homes were locked up, some well and others ineffectually. Shrieks came from all directions with no pattern. As the Titans drew nearer, standing tall above even the largest buildings, the Void Shadows themselves became thicker and denser in number.

Owen? Can you hear us yet?! It was Amelia.

I can! I can! Owen stopped to catch his breath. His wounds had healed. It was amazing how durable he’d become; last he checked, even little jabs from the stronger members of his team had nearly put him out of commission. Now that he thought about it, the nasty fall he’d taken should have killed him in this state. Maybe it was the Tree’s energy.

Are you okay? Klent asked next.

Not really. But I got away. Marshadow’s… chasing me. But I have an idea, I don’t have time to explain. I need to concentrate. Can you see me from where you are?

Yes!

How about Gahi?

He’s still fighting Marshadow.


Then he had time. There was an abandoned building nearby. He quickly slipped inside, only to see a frightened Lillipup trembling in the corner.

“Hi,” Owen greeted, taking up residence on the other side of the ruined room.

“H-hi? Wait… you’re that Grassmander-thing! You’re supposed to be at the big bright tree!”

“Yeah.” Owen shut his eyes. “I need to concentrate right now. Hide somewhere.”

“That’s what I’m doing.”

“Oh.”

Should have known that. Too scattered. Owen went back to concentrating, looking first at his arms, then toes. The Lillipup was shorter than him. He was definitely bigger. That energy had accelerated his growth somehow; was that it?

He took the reprieve to process his memories, too. He and Mhynt had grown close, somehow. Mhynt was native to Kilo; that, he knew. They’d had a family together. When did Owen learn how to speak the human tongue that former humans had inherited? Must have been over time. Perhaps that happened to all Pokémon who had been with humans, instead of true wilds.

He couldn’t get Remi out of his mind. She haunted him. It was a horrible pit in his stomach. A cold ball of dread at what happened to her, where she was, and the fact that she might have been wondering the same thing about him for hundreds of years. Then came anger that bubbled in his chest at the idea of how many must have known the truth.

Eon… No. There was no way he would have kept that from him. If Eon knew he had a ‘granddaughter,’ he would have fought just as hard to find her as he did Owen. Amia… No. They weren’t involved in anything to do with the past before Quartz HQ, where he’d been reincarnated in a mutated body.

Star? Would she have known? Could she have known?

Or was Remi erased from history like the Legends had been?

The cold pit redoubled.

What if she was a Void Shadow? Gone, a dark shell of that bright, smiling face he’d seen in that vision…

Necrozma knew. He had to know the truth. Where Remi was, what happened to her, if she was okay. If she knew the same about him. No, was he okay? Had he ever been okay since his memories were sealed?

“A-are you okay?” Lillipup asked.

“Huh?” Owen broke his trance.

“You’re crying…”

Gulping, Owen hastily touched his cheeks, pulling away when his feathery fingers came back wet. He hadn’t even realized it.

“I’ll be fine,” Owen said, but then realized it was getting hard to speak. Now was not the time. He nodded curtly at Lillipup and focused again, trying to clear his mind. He had to save the tears for later.

If Remi was a Void Shadow, then Dark Matter knew. All the more reason to put his plan into action and confront him directly.

Owen had a few more minutes to recover. By the time he heard from Amelia again, he felt like he was back at full strength, perhaps even more.

He’s coming, Amelia said. You have maybe half a kilo.

That’s enough time.
Owen got up again. He stretched his legs, then his tail, then curled his back. That energy had to go somewhere… Time for the next part of his plan.

Owen? Amelia asked. What’re you doing?

Getting something over with.


The inside of the building lit up, the source being Owen himself. Hot, white light enveloped him, and he saw everything around him look just a little smaller. His leaves thickened until they were more like the thick foliage of a greater tree, waxy and sleek. The great autumn leaf that flattened out his tail also grew, making tiny wisps of dusty wind any time he swished it. His horn grew, and it was a little more jagged, like a bare branch.

Then, he stopped it, just as his form filled itself out.

“Oh,” Owen added, “and if Marshadow comes here and asks where I went… just be honest. For everyone’s sake.”

The Lillipup gaped, trembling with what Owen hoped was awe. As he left, though, it seemed like there was some light in his eyes. For a fleeting moment, Owen felt like a Heart again.

Owen rushed into the streets and then ran to the right, toward where he’d last seen Marshadow, and then made heavy footsteps that he knew Lillipup’s keen hearing would pick up. He went around the house and toward the next street over, still empty, and ran into an abandoned building. He ignored the half-eaten dinner and the overturned seats and instead paced around, holding his hands together to pull at something he’d grabbed several minutes ago. He had been concentrating to keep it in him for a while longer, that lingering power Gahi had granted him before…

Hey, guys? Owen called. Do you think if Marshadow saw me, and I said I wasn’t me… he’d leave me alone?

That’s probably the dumbest thing you’ve said all day,
Amelia said.

What’s your reasoning? Klent asked patiently.

Marshadow phrased his orders really strangely before. That he’s searching for a Charmander. If I’m a Charmeleon, say I’m not Owen… What if Marshadow’s trying to evade following Dark Matter’s orders, by following them exactly as he was told?

Dark Matter will just tell him to chase a Charmeleon next? Or say Owen exactly? You might get Marshadow in trouble if you do that, too.
Amelia hummed. Also, that’s still the dumbest thing you’ve—

Fine, fine, different plan… But that might be useful later. We need to learn how Dark Matter controls people… Marshadow behaves differently from the others. Maybe he’s still trying to resist?

Just find something else.

I am, I am!
Owen grumbled, chittering irritably. It totally would have worked. But maybe it was also too risky, and would endanger too many people. Thankfully—as he felt that Psychic pulse of power still there in his hands—he had a backup.

Owen looked behind him and saw that he’d left a small trail—nearly imperceptible—of leafy feathers. That was perfect. After some searching, Owen opened a cupboard and stuffed himself inside, feet knocking against some containers of a dusty product probably meant to have water added. His tail curled around a pipe.

…This is your plan, Amelia commented. Hiding in a sink.

He can probably track my spirit. I’m going to leave an echo of it behind.

Do you… have the spare spirit to do that?

I’ll make it work. I just need to be there for a little while.

Guardian of Grass, wielder of light and shadow, everyone!
Amelia declared. Hiding in a sink!

Give me a break!
Owen grumbled as he pooled some of his energy into his chest, and then—as his vision blurred—he searched around and shoved the golden orb inside an open bucket of dust. It quickly sprouted into a small daffodil. Okay. That should do, he said, feeling winded, but he had to push a little more. Teleporting now.

Be careful, Owen,
Klent said.

In a flash of light, Owen disappeared and went as far as he could, to the top of a roof a few streets down. Then, in another breath, into the main road of another. A headache encroached upon him, so he pushed for one last Teleport before releasing his hold on the Mimicked technique. Now in a deserted side-road far from the current battle lines, only a few streets from the Tree, he had to go the rest of the way on foot.

I just need to hope that Marshadow doesn’t catch me in time, and maybe have faith that he’ll be slow on purpose.

Faith, huh? From someone like you?
Amelia remarked idly.

It’s all I have left. Owen grinned, then channeled that hope into more energy for his legs.

It was hard to tell how the battle was going. He was nearly three times his height, but the buildings were still so much taller. The best he could guess was that the Villagers were still losing ground, and he could only hope that not too many were claimed by the Void Shadows to become part of their army. The very thought tightened his chest, and again he could only imagine Remi fighting among them as a mindless puppet.

Wah! A bunch of people just appeared from the sky! Well, not a bunch, I—wait, is that Ra? Nope, there he goes…

Owen craned his neck, seeing several transparent creatures falling from the sky. It wasn’t through Nevren’s portal, but the one that the Tree had blown open in the sky from before. Most of them seemed to have gone to the east, but he recognized one in particular. Step, riding on a chunk of ice, losing her momentum and falling somewhere to the eastern side of town. Owen skidded to a stop as two smaller Kommo-o spirits, looking more solid as they got closer, flailed helplessly in the air until a Hydreigon came after them, catching both.

And for a split-second, Owen locked eyes with him. He was sure of it. A horrible feeling crawled across his back. Those eyes… this shadowy place… What memory was buried that he couldn’t recall?

The Hydreigon twisted, adjusting his falling path, and stretched his spectral wings to slow the fall while carrying the two Kommo-o. It wasn’t enough; he was going to crash, and badly!

Owen fell onto all fours and dug his claws into the ground. A pulse of prismatic energy radiated outward. He directed the energy forward, judging where they would fall, and pushed even deeper into the ruined street. Flowers bloomed around him in a small circle, but even more grew in the target ahead. Then, a leafy bush sprouted and flourished in seconds, leaves upon leaves forming what Owen hoped would be a decent cushion. The roots writhed in the ground, loosening the soil, and that was the best he could do.

Hydreigon slammed hard into the bush and one of the passengers yelped. The foliage had been almost completely flattened, but the Pokémon that landed on it were in one piece. Owen rushed toward them. “A-are you three okay?!”

“Never better,” grumbled the smaller Kommo-o.

“Gonna feel that one later…” The other yanked herself out of Hydreigon’s grip.

Primal fear still strangled Owen, but the tiny rational part of his mind reminded him that this wasn’t Alexander. He’d never even seen Alexander before—in his current memories, at least.

And then, in all of his panicked thoughts, it finally dawned on him who this really was.

“D… Dad?”

All six of his eyes were wincing in pain, but he opened the left eye of his main head to stare at Owen. “Oh… Owen! Is that…”

“Yeah, uh, b-been a while, huh?”

Despite the fall and the fatigue, Alex lunged toward Owen and pulled him into a tight hug. Owen yipped and chirped in surprise, trying to pull away, but he’d never realized how strong Alex could be. Perhaps it was the body, his true body.

“I was so worried!” Alex whimpered. “Oh, Owen, Owen, Owen, I’m so glad you’re okay! I… I didn’t know what to think! Th-that you’d been taken by this horrible demon, that I wouldn’t see you again, I… oh, Owen!”

The panic and primal fear slowly left him, enough that he could realize what was happening. Owen tried to wrap his arms around Alex, but he was still too small, even as a Charmeleon. His feet were dangling in the air.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine…” Owen took a steady breath. “I’m… I’m fine. I…”

The panic was gone, now. Alex felt colder than usual, but there was a different kind of warmth that he felt all the same. This was his father. He hadn’t even known, after everything that happened, if he was alright. Truly okay. But now, he was here.

The back of his mind found it irresponsible, but he forgot about the battle for a half second. He wanted to cry again. To pull Alex closer and ask for a bedtime story. He was far, far too old for it. But after everything that had happened, it was all he wanted to ask for.

But he couldn’t.

Holding back a sniffle, Owen said, “I need to get there.” He pointed, and Alex followed his gaze to the Tree. “You two, it’s not safe here…”

“Gee, ya think?” The first Kommo-o prodded the second. “Ana, what’re we doing?”

“Um… Cent, I dunno if this is… uh, within our… Where’s Mom?”

“Look for her,” Owen advised. “I don’t think you should be straying too far from Step right now.”

“Um, I’m technically a spirit of hers, too, for now,” Alex said, prodding his smaller heads together. “It’s… complicated.”

“Well, either way, I think we should get going to the tree, a-and you’re the one who can fly! Things are bad right now, dad.”

“Then quit talking!” Cent grabbed Owen by the back of his neck and lobbed him onto Alex’s back.

“I can climb, you know!” Owen said.

“Fly!” Cent said, prodding Alex with an icy claw in the backside.

He squeaked and took off, wobbly at first, but then found his tempo.

It was a mesmerizing sight from above without all the branches getting in the way. On all sides of Null Village, elemental attacks—mostly fire and lightning for the moment—collided with beams of darkness that absorbed the light around it. Occasionally, the particularly strong blasts had a slightly purple glow to it, like a ghostly aura.

There were four Titans in the air, and Owen realized, to his horror, that one Titan was familiar. The very one he’d taken down at the start of the fight. Dark Matter had recreated it… because of course he could. Even if he killed one, they would reappear nearby, and Dark Matter could claim them, coalesce them, control them all over again. Even at their weakest, if they were numerous enough, they would overwhelm their finite numbers and resources.

It really was a losing battle. Not unless they did something to upset Dark Matter’s plans.

Shrieks from below caught their attention. Alex narrowly rolled out of the way of an Ice Beam, and then rolled—with a terrified scream—away from a Moonblast’s blinding aura next.

“Alexander!” cried a guard. “Alexander’s here!”

“H-how do they know my name?” Alex whimpered. “J-just Alex is fine, thank you! Please stop shooting me!”

“Their ruler is a Hydreigon called Alexander, too,” Owen whispered. “But he’s a tyrant. And powerful. Extremely powerful, a-and you must remind them of him.”

There was a deep horror in Alex’s eyes that Owen couldn’t fully comprehend. Like he’d realized something.

Owen worriedly looked down. “Dad?”

“It can’t be…”

“Watch out!” Owen leapt from Alex’s back, tail caught by the clamped jaws of Alex’s left head. He swung through the air freely and crossed his arms, narrowly deflecting another Moonblast.

“STOP ATTACKING!” Owen roared as loudly as his voice would allow. He searched desperately for the source, but they hid the moment they fired.

“I—I certainly look like him,” Alex said quickly, spinning to get Owen onto his back. “I certainly do. Perhaps e-even my spirit. Owen, he’s my father. I thought he was dead. M-maybe he is, and his spirit went here… I can’t…”

“You share the same name?”

“Southern tradition,” Alex explained.

Owen couldn’t imagine how someone as kindhearted as his father could have been born from such a tyrant… He figured this was the case, yet having it confirmed made it so much harder to believe.

“Let’s hurry to the Tree,” Owen hastened, clutching Alex’s shoulders. The wind made it hard to see, but they were only a few seconds away. “I need to let them know you’re friendly.”

“Can word get out that quickly? It’s chaos down there…”

“We can try…”

Fliers were trailing them. Owen recognized one instantly. “GAHI!” Owen almost laughed, waving him down. The Flygon sped up, looking confused.

“Gahi, tell everyone that Hydreigon is my dad, and he’s not Alexander. Okay?”

“Yeh evolved.”

“Later! Tell everyone that! Okay?”

Yer welcome fer rescuin’ yeh, by the way.”

“Y-yes, thank you! Really!” Owen urged him to go, but Gahi smirked at him and nodded. He started to fly, but then Owen shouted, “Wait!”

Gahi stumbled in the air, glaring back.

“How’s Demitri and Mispy?”

“Killin’ it. I’m gonna go help’m out now.”

Owen nodded. “Don’t fuse unless you need to,” he added. Last thing they needed was a mindless fighter with no direction; Owen couldn’t afford to direct them right now. Right?

No… he could.

“GAHI!”

Whaaat?!”

He disappeared and reappeared next to Owen, keeping pace easily.

“New idea! Get Demitri and Mispy to the Tree. We need to change our strategy.”

Gahi made an annoyed grunt and flew off again. Skies, Owen hoped Gahi remembered to deliver both messages. That might have been too much for him.

Owen searched for Zena next, noticing that she wasn’t near the Tree. She must have gone after him. Milotic, Milotic—she shined among everything else. It would be easy to find—there! No! She was looking away!

“Dad, hold still for a second, if you can,” Owen said as he balled up his fist. From his palm, a sphere of energy formed and solidified, feeling slightly like the outside of a heavy seed. He threw it as far as he could toward Zena, then popped it when it was seconds from hitting the ground.

Zena jumped and spun around. Owen waved frantically. He saw her whole body deflate with relief as she returned.

They got heavy fire from guards that had been placed by the tree, but Alex slowed down and kept his distance long enough for Owen to call it off. They seemed skeptical, but after some shouting, they allowed Alex to land and rest his wings.

“Goodness, this is a bright plant,” Alex remarked, nestling against some of the prismatic leaves.

“Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?” Owen touched the bark, treasuring the stable seating. “Close your eyes when I do this. I need to channel more energy. I can probably only do this once or twice before Marshadow is ordered to stop me again.”

“Who?” Alex asked.

“This town’s leader. Except Dark Matter got him. His will isn’t his own anymore…”

“That’s awful…”

“That’s what it’s like for everyone fighting us.”

The battlefield was even grimmer than before. It was easy, at a glance, to read how the battle was progressing. Void Shadows darkened the battlefield, while Null Villagers were an eclectic arrangement of colors and elemental beams of energy. When the battle had begun, the field was bright from the Tree’s radiant energy and the Void Shadows only being at the edges. Buildings stood tall and proud, and the outer walls held strong. Now, Titans knocked over huge portions of that outer wall. Void Shadows darkened the outer perimeters. Many of those buildings had collapsed, and with it the memories treasured inside.

Four Titans were present, one in each cardinal direction. One was Giratina. It still looked weakened; maybe if he fired again, she would be freed? Yes, that was a certainty. They had to endure, and Owen taking down a Titan or two would help the army on the ground handle the rest.

“Dad. Can you go down and ask which of the Titans seems to be the strongest?”

Alex nodded. “What will you be doing?”

“Getting ready to go on the offensive.”

<><><>​

Rhys finally found it. Somehow, amid all of that chaos, he’d found the Dungeon Core. It wasn’t as deep as he’d expected, or perhaps it had shifted during their time away. But now, it was near where he remembered Amia’s home once being. Appropriate, if that was where the Guardian of Hot Spot had once lived.

Dark Matter had left the others alone; perhaps he wanted to get at least one of them, and didn’t bother splitting his efforts across Hot Spot. And by luck—good or bad, Rhys wasn’t sure anymore—he chose to go after Rhys.

There had been several frustrating times when time had been rewound again. Reliving a moment’s time over and over, but at least it gave Rhys some time to try better ways to move ahead. At some point, it seemed like it had stopped, and now Rhys was alone in the back chambers of Hot Spot.

Now that he’d made it to the Core, Rhys only had one thing left to do.

With what little power he had left, he brought his paws together and pointed it at the Core. It was a great, ominous sphere of red light that dripped with heavy-looking, black fog. Anam had used a strange light energy to seal it away; Rhys had to settle for the one Hand he had within him to make up for that. If he could stabilize it, if he could seal it, then Dark Matter wouldn’t be able to seep into Kilo. Nevren had found other ways inside the Voidlands; therefore, perhaps that meant he was also finding ways to free them.

He fired. It was agonizingly stressful on his body, but he fired. The Core rumbled and a deafening, almost corrosive wave of energy forced him to one knee. The sky warped and straightened out, like a thin barrier had given way. Was it stabilizing? Was his blast enough to help it?

“Why are you here?”

Rhys rolled, dodging nothing. Dark Matter hadn’t even fired that time. He had waited.

Then he fired, and it struck Rhys square in the chest. In a single, devastating blow, Rhys rolled all the way into the corner of the room, where he had a view of the long, long cavern through which he’d traveled. There was a ripple in the air that suggested he’d passed through one of its zones without even realizing it.

Finally finding his breath, he said, “Attacking… the Core.”

“That will accomplish nothing. You can’t control it.”

“I certainly did something…” Rhys smirked weakly. His mouth tasted of rot and metal.

“Not enough.”

Dark Matter held a hand out and fired again, but Rhys dodged this one, stumbling. Someone passed through the distortion before Dark Matter could fire his follow-up. He instead turned his hand and fired at the intruder.

It bounced off of a greenish barrier, hitting the wall instead. Flames enveloped the false Goodra in an instant, and then something wreathed in that same fire shoved Dark Matter toward the Core.

Dark Matter fired again, missing completely and vaporizing part of the wall instead.

“Owen—no,” Rhys shook his head. “Har…”

“We’re getting you out of here, Rhys!” Har shouted, glaring at him. “Why did you go deeper into the Dungeon?”

“He was after me,” Rhys snarled. “We wouldn’t have been able to escape.”

“So you’re just gonna die for it?!” Har weaved between two blasts from the demon, then blasted Dark Matter with indigo fire. A second beam struck Dark Matter from the distortion entrance—Ani. Just behind her was Lygo, and then came Ax.

“I don’t have time for this,” Dark Matter snarled, taking aim at Ani. Har immediately intercepted with another Protect, its cyan shield illuminating the rest of the chamber even more than his flame already was.

Rhys felt something on his side and tried to move, but then bumped into something soft and cold. Wraiths—and they were upon him!

He tried to shout, but Dark Matter had already struck at Lygo, who already looked injured from a previous skirmish. Had he known they were coming? Or was he just too strong?

They looked like they were losing ground. The atmosphere was too oppressive. “You have to get away!” Rhys shouted, pulling away from the wraiths.

Dark Matter lunged at Rhys, finally grasping him by the arm. He gasped.

“Let’s go somewhere more private,” he growled, and then hurled Rhys toward the Core. He was helpless to stop it. One moment, he was flying, all of his wounds stinging in the rush of air, and in the next—darkness.

<><><>​

“H-help…”

Rayquaza helplessly reached forward. His arms were too small. But Dialga reached out anyway, as well as he could manage, even channeling some psychic power in a feeble attempt to hang on.

Drawing Rayquaza down was a horrid force; half of his body had already descended into a blackish-purple pit. The sky was dark despite being noon.

Then, Rhys felt a light from behind, casting sharp shadows. The heat was unbearable. Rayquaza, in desperation, clamped his jaws onto Dialga’s foreleg, and Dialga pulled and tried to cooperate.

Dialga glanced back when the light got even brighter. He saw Necrozma, or the shape of him. And a beam of light…

The burn. He would never forget that burn.


<><><>

Rhys gasped himself awake, chest tight, head dizzy, eyes blind. No, it was dark. When Rhys channeled aura into his paws, there was a dim glow. Dimmer than it should have been. When he tried to sit up, nausea took over, and he settled for the ground.

His moment of reprieve ended with a stomp. He felt the spike on his chest pierce something, but it powered through and pressed against his lungs. Rhys clawed at it, desperate for a breath, and felt cold fur. He saw… himself, looming over him. An empty expression and dark eyes stared at him. The assailant’s foot was bleeding, not that it mattered. The blood itself was corrosive, only adding to the pain, mixing with his own as that same coldness raced through his body like venom.

“Rhys! RHYS!”

“Where’d you take him?!”


Har, Lygo. They were shouting somewhere far away.

“They can’t save you,” the second Lucario said. Thin strings of darkness wrapped around Rhys’ arms and legs, pinning him against the stone. He couldn’t move. Could barely breathe. Any resistance was met with lacerations from the thin strings that held him in place. “This is where you’ll die. In a cave in the Voidlands, surrounded by nobody you know.”

Countless, formless masses stared at Rhys. Each one was a wraith. Some sort of pit of them.

Dark Matter took his foot off of Rhys and he breathed deeply, only to stop midway. The pain was excruciating. He coughed and hacked, raspy breaths all he could manage.

“Owen is losing the war. Anam has given up hope. And soon, all of Kilo will become nothing but an extension of the Voidlands.”

“I know… that isn’t true,” Rhys wheezed, trying again to move, but nothing allowed it.

He couldn’t hear Har or the others anymore. That small comfort was gone.

“I’m going to kill you,” Dark Matter said, walking even closer. From the false Lucario’s paw, a flat rod of shadows emerged, splitting flesh and fur in favor of that wretched blade. “Do you know what happens to those who die in the Voidlands?”

“Enlighten me,” Rhys hissed.

Dark Matter’s glare somehow became fiercer, like Rhys had spat in his face.

“Their memories are sealed, claimed by me. The more of themselves they lose and the more of them that I gain, the more I control them. The more they are under my rule.”

Rhys remained resolute. “Yet you couldn’t claim all of us. I know… that we will be freed. Is that right?”

“But you…” Dark Matter’s hold on him tightened, the dark strings threatening to meet bone. “You saw it, didn’t you? A memory.”

It was that memory of Rayquaza. It was through the eyes of Dialga…

“Whose memories were those? It felt… like a very powerful being, trying to save… Rayquaza.” He had vague memories of Rayquaza. He remembered knowing one in the distant past, but perhaps only in passing, only in stories. Yet, seeing that Pokémon, it tightened his heart. He wanted to see more of him.

“Yours.”

“Mine…” Rhys wasn’t sure if he was lying. Yet it felt so true. Dialga? Why was he entertaining this concept at all?

“You fought in the dark war, so long ago. You remember this, but perhaps mixed that memory with the memory of the second dark war only a few centuries ago. You remember none of the details of the first. Faded from your mind, because perhaps it was too terrible. That is only a half-truth. The reality is that your very spirit had been split in two. The mortal half that had been born from the human world, transferred to Kilo by the wrath of a reckless god… and the half that was later repurposed into a god, to preserve the false world on borrowed time.”

Rhys said nothing, conserving his energy, trying to buy time. There would be a rescue soon. He needed to have faith.

“And so,” Dark Matter said, “when you die, you will not drift across the Aura Sea. You won’t even reawaken as a shell in the Voidlands…” The grip tightened. “You will return to Dialga. You will become nothing but a memory. You… will cease.”

A cold feeling coursed through his veins that he knew was Dark Matter’s corruption. He pressed against it, defiant, refusing to let that plunge him down.

“You’re only telling me this… to make me lose hope,” Rhys grunted.

“I am only telling you the truth. There is no point in lying to someone about to disappear.”

“I won’t,” Rhys replied, a harsh smile breaking through his previous stony expression. “As you said yourself… I shall persist within Dialga. I will reunite with him… and my memory will live on. I will live on!”

“How much could you possibly think,” Dark Matter taunted, “that a mere Lucario’s livelihood would last against the sea that is the embodiment of time itself? How long do you think you existed as Dialga, compared to anything else?”

It was getting dark. Rhys only felt pain and only heard Dark Matter’s voice. He had given up on moving and struggling long ago. It was easier to focus on breathing. Slow, shallow breaths for that extra iota of air.

“You are nothing. And you will become nothing. I will fill you with so much darkness that it will carry into Dialga, corrupting him from the inside. He will kill everyone.”

So that was his plan… and Rhys couldn’t stop it. In, out. Breathe. He could only mitigate it. Endure this torture and make sure his other half, his greater half, would endure as well.

“There it is…” Dark Matter was close to him. Rhys could feel the cold touch of death sweeping over his decaying body. “You humans from other worlds. I could never feel that negativity. But now that your spirit is between my fingers… I finally can feel the darkness consuming you. That is the despair I have been waiting for…”

Somehow, it was peaceful. In, out. Breathe.

“Are you listening to me?” He squeezed.

In… out. Breathe.

“Answer.” Dark Matter’s breath rotted part of Rhys’ one remaining ear.

Rhys wasn’t sure why, but he complied. Perhaps there was nothing better to do. “Even if I fall, my team… my students… my family… will defeat you. And for that…” Rhys felt lighter. “I am satisfied.”

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He was fading in and out. But Dark Matter didn’t answer quickly. Was he walking? Was he preparing the final blow? A small part of Rhys was waiting for it. Anticipating, almost hoping for release. How far he’d fallen.

“I feel your fear,” Dark Matter said. “You cannot hide it from me.”

“Yet… you cannot feel the rest,” Rhys replied. He tried to laugh, but he didn’t have the energy. But there was an ember of defiance that kept him going for one last taunt. “Go on. Finish what you started, demon. It will be your final victory.”

Rhys smirked. Little images flitted through his mind. Hazy ones. Owen, smiling, holding up the Hearts’ badges. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi turning in yet another outlaw. Elder, in his thoughts, in his dreams, and finally in person. He lingered on the Torkoal for a while, praying that, if any part of him would persist in Dialga, it would be to wish him well. He saw hazy figures of humans… Was that his family, of the world he’d left behind? It had been so long, yet perhaps that was the clearest he’d ever remembered them.

He envisioned his team leaving Hot Spot with all he’d left behind. The power deep underneath Hot Spot, waiting to revitalize whoever would take it. Dark Matter could not feel hope; he would never know the truth of what Rhys felt. He’d lost against Dark Matter, but it would guarantee the victory of his new family in the future.

This, he knew.

Even as Dark Matter pumped him with so much corrosive energy that he could only feel that infinite void closing around him, Rhys clung onto those memories. Dark Matter snarled at him, and Rhys only smiled. He couldn’t see very well, but Dark Matter was getting frustrated. His corruption wasn’t working. That was truly his goal, wasn’t it? And in the end, Rhys would not give it to him. He never would.

Even as he took his last breath, Rhys had won.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 123 – Grasping at Gold

Owen had enough time to launch two Radiant Beams—attack names he coined—at incoming Titans. The first was on the advancing Giratina, this time so thoroughly that it seemed to take her down completely. There was a rumble from most of its disintegrating body smashing into the dust, but it was softer than expected. Most of the body was already its component Void Shadows, and the core—Giratina herself—was much smaller than the Titan it had once been.

The second Radiant Beam was to that same Titan from before that had gotten even closer, destroying it for a second time. Without a core, the rumble was more like a wash of Void Shadow bodies for the ground troops to take care of with a bombardment of elemental attacks.

Afterward, Alex returned with a team of fliers. Owen wasted no time, and asked the others to hold their ground for as long as they could while he went to the source. In the end, Dark Matter was right. If they continued to play defense, the infinite army would gain more ground. This was when Dark Matter was the least protected, presumably, when he was dedicating resources to offense. It was now or never.

He flew on Alex, who was a slower but safer flier, while Gahi scouted ahead with his speed uninhibited.

Palkia was using what he could of his diminished power to keep an entire side of the town safe, warping swaths of Void Shadows and its accompanying Titan further away, stalling for time.

On the other side, Dialga was slowing the onslaught in the most literal sense, allowing Null Villagers to attack Void Shadows with little fear of a counter. They were even knocked back in slow-motion.

“Let’s keep going,” Owen said quietly. “It’s a risk, but… But we have to try.” He held onto Gahi’s shoulders, looking at the others who had come with him. Alex was opposite from them, along with Eon, who took the form of another Alex. Owen suspected that Eon wanted to replicate a Charizard form, but in the heat of battle, wasn’t able to concentrate enough. He’d shifted through countless forms while battling, and his mind was frazzled. Flying behind Alex must have been his attempt at keeping focus on a single, stable form.

On the ground, Zena led the charge with Demitri and Mispy. Owen wasn’t sure where Trina had gone, but it was probably someplace safer. She couldn’t fight in that state. He wasn’t sure where Jerry had gone, but he was still fighting with the others to the west; maybe they’d pass by on the way.

Owen had to be at the Tree in order to help it charge at its best, but the Tree could charge on his own, too. Just slower. They had enough power for one charge in case of an emergency, but really, if they could attack Dark Matter directly while his army was pressing inward, that could turn the tides. And that was Owen’s ultimate goal. Defy Dark Matter’s predictions of huddling by the Tree… and lash out into the heart of his domain.

The plan sounded so obvious when he laid it out to them. Perhaps that was why they were eager to put it in motion. Owen only hoped it would be as simple in practice.

“We need to clear the way fer the ground,” Gahi said, like he was reciting something told to him. “How’re we gonna do that?”

Below and ahead, Null Villagers were holding back a thick sea of wraiths that spilled over the corners of ruined houses and through the once beautiful, if not dreary, streets. He couldn’t recognize the district anymore; they were ruins flooded with black, squirming waters.

They were just about to breach the blurry line that delimited the Null Villagers and the Void Shadows. Then, a horrid roar caught their attention.

“What?” Owen winced. Even as a Charmeleon, it shook his chest.

Something was wrong with Dialga.

He was crouched down as the cyan lines along his body pulsed with a deep red instead. Lines of darkness flowed like blood through that scaly armor.

“What happened?!” Owen looked at the Tree, which was starting to glow brighter.

Something’s wrong with Dialga! Owen called. Aim at him… in case he’s Voiding somehow!

Dialga didn’t seem to be doing anything, but Void Shadows were advancing without his support.

But what about the other Titans?! Amelia called, and the Tree’s branches seemed to be denser toward the advancing, southern side of town. Only then did Owen realize how many of their perimeters were dwindling. There was no longer a defined point where the Null Villagers were actively fighting off their foe. They were falling back toward the Tree. Just like Dark Matter had predicted.

I… I mean… Owen bit his tongue. On one hand, they needed to get to Dark Matter. On the other, if they left now, with Dialga losing it to some strange corruption and the Titans on other corners advancing… Would there be anything left when they won?

They couldn’t lose the Tree.

Owen suddenly couldn’t feel Alex beneath him. “B—huh?! W-wait!”

He was flying, held under the arms by a speedy Flygon. “Gahi?!”

“You can purify Dialga, yeah?”

“I can, but—”

“Then let’s do it quick! OI! You guys go ahead!” Gahi shouted back when he spotted them trying to follow.

“G-go on ahead! We can catch up!” Owen confirmed, still unsure of the plan. But Gahi had already set his mind to it; there was no stopping him now. He figured that was natural for the living aspect of willpower.

In seconds, they approached Dialga. There was a strange wave of energy around him and Owen had a feeling it was some attempt to slow their movement… but Gahi was still too fast. Maybe he was ignoring it entirely; he couldn’t tell. The light warped around them, and Dialga was instantly a lot closer.

“Your Teleports are gonna make me sick,” Owen complained.

“Yer fine,” Gahi dismissed, disappearing again before landing on Dialga’s back.

The darkening Legend roared and tried to buck Gahi off, but he flew again and avoided most of the turbulence. Owen could see it—Shadows dancing around Dialga’s scales, coursing through his spirit.

“I need to touch him,” Owen said, coating one hand in a golden Protect.

“Go fast.”

Dialga crouched down, growling. “Kill… kill me… before I…!”

“Nah,” Gahi shouted. He slammed Owen onto Dialga’s back.

“Ow,” Owen grunted, but clutched at any purchase he could make. His illuminated hand dug at two tough, steel scales, while his other hand grasped a piece of armor near Dialga’s tail, and Gahi kept his wings spread wide.

“RRRRAAAAAGH!”

Owen’s instincts screamed to defend. He tensed his whole body, envisioning it crossing his arms, and a golden barrier appeared around him. Gahi’s hold was ripped away, leaving massive claw marks in Owen’s shoulders that earned an audible gasp, but that was all. He’d stayed put.

He couldn’t hear over the sudden cacophony of stone grinding and wind blowing. He was weightless, and then everything was heavier. Dark blotches danced above him. By the time it was quiet again, his barrier had been covered in light debris and stones, and he felt like he’d fallen several feet. Dialga must have collapsed.

“Gahi—?”

He was tumbling away limply, caught by one of the other fliers, trying to talk to him. Gahi was unresponsive, so they flew him to the Tree next. All around him, entire buildings had collapsed, and he could see unmoving bodies of wraiths and villagers alike among it. The wraiths, less durable, all looked dead and motionless. Some of the rubble was moving, though, and villagers were trying to get up. Not all of them, though, and Owen’s chest tightened.

“Rrrrrgh…”

Owen pressed hard against Dialga’s back, channeling more of that energy inside. He closed his eyes, searching for something. He envisioned a flame in his mind, but then saw it covered in an inky black film. With his mind’s hands, he reached toward it and pulled away. Embers puttered out from the gaps he’d made. He pulled more, feeling tired, those hands dissolving from overextension.

There was so much. What was this darkness? How did it get inside Dialga so easily, when he had been fighting so well seconds prior? He couldn’t… get rid of it. There was too much. And soon, Owen’s energy started to ebb.

Press on.

Something pushed Owen’s mental presence closer. Without thinking, he followed the order.

Don’t forget to breathe. Meditate. In, out.

The voice was distant. It sounded like it was coming from inside the flame… So familiar. But it was fading, too, becoming part of it.

Very good. That will… do…

Owen gasped, returning to consciousness. Someone had called him, but who? Not important, no time. Instead, he called, Is Gahi okay?

He’s healing at the tree,
Amelia said, But I think he’s out of commission for a while…

As long as he’s okay. Keep him safe.

You will.
Amelia left Owen at that, and he turned his attention to Dialga, who stirred.

“Rrgh…”

The distortion in his voice was gone. “Dialga, are you okay?”

“I’ve had better days.” His voice was strained, but measured. “Dark Matter… He’s…”

“Stay put, okay? Something tried to corrupt you from within.”

“I see… I don’t feel quite myself…”

“I think I purified you, but you need to get to the Tree to stay safe. Okay?”

“Tree…” Dialga groaned. “Rhys…”

“Rhys? What about Rhys?” Owen asked.

“Dark Matter… fought him. I saw it in a vision… I… You must find him. He’s in danger…” Dialga was dazed again. “I can’t remember…”

Owen scaled his neck and waved to get his attention, then pointed at the Tree. “I’ll handle it. Go to the Tree. There, okay? Fly there. And—and I need to catch up to the others.”

“Right. Right… I’ll help.”

“No, I don’t have the time for—”

“I am time.”

Owen stuttered when a wave of energy made his feathers puff out, an odd tingle electrifying his body.

“This will last for a while. Take advantage of it while you can… My powers are still weak.”

“What?”

But Dialga was slowly, slowly, rising to his feet. And Owen realized that it wasn’t just Dialga, but everyone. Wingbeats moved at a pace far too slowly to stay in the air. The Titans, slow already, moved even slower.

Far west, Alex was still flying out of the perimeter. Zena’s squad was just behind them.

“Go,” Dialga said, immune to its effects enough to speak, before he resumed his slow ascent.

“Th-thank you.” Owen hopped off and sprinted down the road.

Everything was too quiet. He didn’t like that. It felt like his breaths were echoing in that empty moment. There were two guards clashing against a giant Void Shadow, not a Titan, but certainly many of them merged into one. To Owen’s horror, he realized they resembled mutants. Rage bubbled inside him at the reminder that Nevren’s tactics caused this.

He sidestepped a downward slash aimed at him. It moved at mere inches per second. Owen took an extra breath to swipe under the semi-Titan’s legs. They felt nearly immovable; something about Dialga’s enchantments made it harder for Owen to interact with the rest of the world thoroughly. Even the air seemed thicker, unless it was a trick of the mind.

Down the road, he locked eyes with Marshadow, who had a grave look on his face. Owen knew what that meant—new orders. He wouldn’t be able to escape him this time, and Marshadow wouldn’t hesitate.

It felt like he still had ample time with Dialga’s blessing. He had to slow Marshadow down again. The tiny ghost disappeared into the ground, and Owen saw the details of what gestures he made to swim through the ground before he was hidden from sight.

As Owen ran, he flicked his wrists, forming spheres of plant matter and infusing them with explosive energy. He tossed one in the air tentatively. It slowed down rapidly the moment it got too far away from him.

Perfect.

Marshadow emerged from the ground for an uppercut. Owen weaved around it like he was in air and Marshadow was in thick, thick syrup. He focused, some part of this blessing pulling on his instincts. Did some of this enchantment from Dialga also tell him how it worked? He didn’t have time to think about it thoroughly. He followed his instincts. It reminded him of when Tim had helped him learn a technique through technical machines long ago. Maybe this was the same.

He focused, and Marshadow slowed even more, almost to the point where he was standing still. It became a lot harder to breathe and fight against the air itself, but Owen persisted, lobbing Seed Bombs as quickly as he could. Every time they left him by only a few feet, they halted in the air, moving slowly forward.

Exhaustion was getting to him. This would have to be all.

To be absolutely sure, though, he added one final trick. Channeling his inner flame, noticing his leaves turning an even deeper autumn red, he built up a thick glob of black haze in the back of his throat, covered with a thin membrane. He delicately spat it into his hands and tossed it lightly at Marshadow’s feet. Then, he produced a second Smokescreen, but this time threw it directly at Marshadow’s face, just close enough that it exploded and then froze mid-burst as Owen jumped back.

Then, he sidled the edge of the road and continued west.

He felt Dialga’s blessing fading already. But he was more than halfway caught up. Soon, he would be back on track. Distantly, a rapid set of pops and explosions led to Marshadow shouting in surprise.

Dark Matter… this is it, Owen thought, wondering if such thoughts could reach him. I’m coming for you. No more running away.

<><><>​

Perhaps running away is the best option here. Nevren stepped into his room and thought about his options as a storm whirled through the fourth sublevel. Quartz HQ was a lost cause. Lugia was tearing through the underground, Protect-insulated stone like it was made of hay. Nevren couldn’t risk using his Revisor more than necessary unless he wanted to be blasted by shockwaves without the time to recover.

He considered using those shockwaves to strike Lugia when she was vulnerable, but the logistics weren’t sound. That would have required timing himself and others being next to her for any point in time, or in her path of destruction. It simply wasn’t an option.

Several mutants tried attacking her, too. Nevren didn’t know what happened to them. But he’d never seen them afterward.

“GRAAAAAGH!”

That was louder than before. Closer. Was she already on the same sublevel?

Nevren jumped out of his room and saw dark wisps of wind cutting the walls, corroding the material. The walls were dimmer, too, suggesting the Protect insulation had already been siphoned away.

An Ursaring with a Scizor’s pincers launched a powerful Hyper Beam down the hall, striking something. A low rumble—no, that was a growl—made the fusion stand down. He and the fusion shared a glance. Nevren saw the fear in his eyes.

A spiraling blast of darkness sailed through the hall, and Nevren only saw the first instants of the fusion’s body being knocked away and out of his view. Then, the air seemed to go in a different direction, instead of toward the blast, backwards. Drawing toward Lugia. Nevren felt a light tugging at his chest from a great hand that wasn’t there and clutched his heart.

“Ngh—”

Two blue embers flew from where that fusion had been blasted. Nevren sensed a wave of panic from those two embers, but they were helpless in the wind tunnel. He could Teleport to try to grab them, but would that do anything? Too great a risk. Those two were now casualties.

Nevren disappeared backwards and felt that pull on his chest weaken.

At least now he knew where those mutants that fought her had gone. Curiosity satisfied.

Lugia was gathering spirits like a Guardian would. Was that making her stronger? Was she drawn to Quartz HQ because of all the enhanced spirits within? Or was there a concentration of them—

The generator!

But that was powering everything. The Beammaker, the Voidlands portal, the facility as a whole… But if he took that away, drew Lugia away, maybe they could repair it.

As it stood, nothing could be restored if Lugia got to the generator. That concentrated gem of souls would only be a boon to her. With a few desperate Teleports, Nevren fled to the deepest floor of Quartz HQ. The dim, flickering lights of the empty Reincarnation Machine repositories, unused for months, led the way to the end of the great room. He opened the generator, where the souls inside were still bright. Lavender was the one who knew how to speak to these; he did not. But he knew they could hear him.

“It is time for an evacuation,” Nevren said. “Stay with me for now, yes?” He reached inside and pried the gem away, stowing it in the bag over his shoulder. All around him, the downward hum of countless machines shutting down echoed. The lights went out, so Nevren lit the way with some pink psionics.

By now, the rest of their army had either been sent into the Voidlands or were taken by Lugia. He could afford to close the portal. If some hadn’t gone through, well, they were late. And tardiness now was not his problem.

After putting away the gem of spirits, Nevren pulled out that energized rifle and waited a few moments to gauge how far away Lugia was. The rumbles were stronger, and she would probably try to investigate until she could no longer sense these gems. He wouldn’t know for sure… but he wasn’t going to risk himself here.

He took aim ahead and fired. The white sphere in the chamber shot out and detonated a few feet ahead, expanding into a large, white circle. The circle faded and revealed the ground level of a dreary place covered in thick tree roots—the base of Null Village.

Upon stepping through, he flipped the switch on the rifle and the portal closed. The white energy siphoned back into the chamber. “Test two,” he said, and fired again. The same portal appeared in the same spot he’d once left. That wasn’t ideal, because he didn’t want to go back to Quartz HQ, but it was a start. And if he fired again from somewhere else in Kilo, that would be the new drop off point.

“Hm? Why, hello.”

A deep voice greeted Nevren and he spun on his heel. “Ah.”

It was Palkia, tilting his head. “You must be Nevren.”

“Indeed. A pleasure to see you in a non-wraith form.”

“Oh, do we appear that way, truly? Fascinating.”

“Fascinating indeed.” Nevren liked this one. “I had to evacuate from Quartz HQ due to Lugia attacking.”

“Lugia? That could be troublesome.”

“Valuables have been removed, mostly,” Nevren said, flashing the spirit gem. “With this gem free, I do not think she will be advancing further inside, for now.”

“Very good, very good. What is your next move?” Palkia asked, tilting his head. “Quartz HQ is lost. But I believe the battle in Hot Spot is raging on. As is the battle here. Will you fight?”

“I will. Could you take me to the rift in the sky that leads to Hot Spot? I have… an idea I would like to attempt.”

“Well, certainly.” Palkia almost snapped his claws, but then paused. “How good are you at falling?”

“Somewhat above average.”

“That should do.”

In a flash, Nevren disappeared through a distortion behind him, and then re-emerged with the portal to Hot Spot’s sky just behind him. A final wave of energy pushed him out, and he Teleported the rest of the way, offsetting himself in the cold late-autumn breeze until he saw Hot Spot below.

What startled him was the sudden onslaught of attacks. Flames, ice, and water were first, followed by an even faster arc of electricity that spiraled around all of it. He disappeared in a flash of light, but mistakenly fell into a Flamethrower, Hissing, reflexes took over, and he squeezed the Revisor.

Nothing changed except for a gust of wind all around him, as if he’d been bombarded by air. He went into a disorienting spin, burning, as he tried to press the Revisor again to no luck. It had run out of energy.

“How—”

No time. He forced his hand below himself and channeled some Psychic energy to soften his landing. An ill-defined bubble separated him from the ground, cushioning him before the force was too much. Most of the impact was dulled, but he still knocked his head against the dirt and tumbled along the road, wheezing. His fingers still pressed against the Revisor uselessly.

Vines wrapped around him, thorny and prodding at his skin. He winced, trying to pull free, but that only made the pain worse.

“…Nevren?”

Was that Mispy’s voice? That should be impossible… “Mispy?”

The vines tightened, but only slightly. “Ani,” she corrected grimly.

“Ah…” He didn’t know who that was. Perhaps another model based on Mispy.

To his relief, a wave of healing energy eased his headache and most of his burns. He sighed and, once his vision cleared, was still confused at the fact that he was certainly looking at Mispy and, just behind her, Demitri, Gahi, and—well, that certainly wasn’t right. “Owen?”

The Charizard couldn’t seem to use his right arm, which was hanging limply by his side. With his left, he pointed at Nevren and growled, “No. I’m the fake you created out of his memories. Nice to meet you again, Dad.”

“Ah…” He remembered that, a little. Just some Psychic trickery, a stray feral soul without any real identity, and the Reincarnation Machine… Such an easy thing to create, once the theory was put to practice. It really was a shame that Eon discontinued it after the first successful run. Perhaps, with him gone, he could try again …

“Hey,” Har snapped him back to attention. “Why are you here? I thought you were at Quartz.”

“Well, yes, I was. Unfortunately, Lugia attacked it and I had to abandon it.” He sighed. “What’s going on here? Why was I attacked?”

“They, uh, thought you were a wraith,” Ax said. “Sorry about that. But you came straight out of the portal!”

Nevren noticed that there was something beside Ax leaving a long trail in the dirt. “…Is that Valle?”

The statue had been dragged all the way out of Hot Spot. Mispy—no, Ani had several bags of supplies tucked under her vines, too. “The recovery team,” he murmured. “Then those are the supplies in Rhys’ room? And Valle as well?” He nodded. “Return to Kilo Village at once. And—did Rhys go on ahead to send word?”

Har looked pained while a dark expression crossed the other three.

“Where is Rhys?” Nevren asked.

“D-Dark Matter threw him into the Dungeon Core,” Har said. “We tried to fight, but he was too strong, and… and we had to flee. He didn’t chase us…”

“You left Rhys behind?” Nevren asked, his breath quickening. “Where is he now?”

“In the Core, so, probably whatever’s… on the other side.”

The rumbling of battle, elements and darkness sailing over them, felt quiet and insignificant for the briefest moment. A thousand jumbled thoughts raced through Nevren’s mind as his expression remained stoic. Several times, he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. He couldn’t recall several of his thoughts. He only saw Rhys laughing across the table at a little joke he’d once said. He couldn’t remember what it was.

“Yes, well.” He nodded. “Then you must—hold, please.” Nevren realized a way he could check. Arceus, have you been in contact with Rhys?

No. Where are you? Your message feels like it isn’t coming from Quartz.

I took a portal to Hot Spot. Contact Rhys.

Of course. I will get back to you.


Nevren didn’t wait. “Go back to Kilo Village with your supplies. Deliver them to Heart HQ, and then return with more supplies for the fighters in Hot Spot. We will be performing an all-out assault.”

“Wh—already? Now? Why?”

“I saw… the status of the battle in the land beyond the Dungeons. We cannot afford to give Dark Matter more time. We will press our resources now to strike. Go!”

Thankfully, they were still obedient by nature, and despite whatever petty bitterness they held toward him, the quartet left with the supplies and Valle in tow.

Nevren rubbed his head, his wounds still aching. He looked at the sky, at the portal. So, his Revisor also failed if he hadn’t spent the full moment in Kilo, even if he ended it there. It couldn’t send him back into the Voidlands. So exciting! Not even a quarter of the day and he made two marvelous discoveries with his tools!

He mentally pocketed that information for later. Now, he had a different plan in mind. Arceus, are you there? Nevren asked. I have another idea. Where does your energy for Judgement come from?

Where? Well, as a god, I conjure it from the spiritual planes…

Is it a finite resource?

No.

But it is a strain to repeatedly blast?

Yes, somewhat. The act of transferring that energy into the physical world strains my physical body.

I see.
Nevren felt so devilish! I have a plan.

<><><>​

A vortex to the north, a spire of darkness to the south, and a storm to the east. The world really was coming to an end, and Angelo was watching it helplessly from the center of town.

Tanneth was screaming nonsense in the hospital with Leo, and Angelo hadn’t known if he wanted to get involved in any of that. His conscience had gotten the better of him, though, and he walked through the halls and toward the cries.

“What’s going on?” he called tiredly. “D-do you need—”

It was quite a scene. Furniture upturned, bedsheets burned or torn, the remnants of a few elemental attacks on the otherwise reinforced walls… Leo, that manic Delphox, was tied with flameproof rope in a nearby chair, but he could tell that his claws were already getting through the last of it. Tanneth, that frightened Vaporeon, was being wrestled to the ground by the Incineroar nurse, Phol. And then Brandon, the odd steel Machoke, was carrying a large bucket with a lid over it, for some reason, holding it forward like he was about to catch the Vaporeon in it.

Spice, meanwhile, with her eerie green gemstone in her chest and hexagon scales near it, was guarding the entrance in case either of them approached.

“Why are you here?” the wraith-like Salazzle asked him.

“I—I’m sorry!” Angelo peeped. “I th-thought you needed h-help again!”

Spice’s eyes were so different now. Yellow, no pupils, yet somehow it felt like she was glaring at him. He gulped without realizing it, knees shaking.

“Right, I think I know how you can help,” she said calmly. “Go and find—”

“Where is my baby boy?!” a loud, demanding voice hissed from the hall. Angelo turned to see an old Arbok with fading scales slithering their way.

“Tari,” Spice said. “Leo’s this way.”

“Baby boy? Him?” Angelo blinked. An Arbok and Delphox. They were compatible? Angelo never would have guessed. Or maybe it was one of those strange Transfer Orbs made in Kilo; if Leo was a Heart, he definitely could have gotten the funds for one…

Shortly after Tari came in, a Delphox that looked a lot like Leo followed. But she seemed lost, walking carefully and with a long wand in front of her. Angelo hopped out of the way when she rounded the corner.

“Leo?”

“M-Mother?”

And for a brief moment, that manic look in Leo’s eyes vanished.

“You’re here,” Leo breathed out. “Mother! Father! We must go southwest! There is something very important—”

“Gotcha!” Brandon suddenly slammed the large tub over Tanneth, then slid the lit shut. Screams and sloshing came from within, but it was watertight. “Sorry about that, boys ‘n girls, but I kinda had to seize that opportunity. Keep doing whatever you’re doing!” He carried the wobbling tub to the corner of the room, keeping it sealed as Phol dried himself off with a towel and his own flames. He looked fuzzy afterward.

“Aries,” Tari said, “he’s got a crazy look in his eyes! Crazy! He’s been touched by darkness, yep, seen it before!”

“Leo, you must snap out of it.” Aries knelt beside him. She felt the rope around his chair. “What—why are you tied up?”

“They won’t let me go on my mission,” Leo explained. “It’s… I’m sure it’s important.”

“Like I explained before,” Spice said, “Leo got close to Void Basin and it messed him up. Now he feels like he has to go there.” She shook her head. “It’s insane… How can a place twist someone like that so easily? Leo’s…”

“You’re stronger than this!” Tari hissed, coiling around the legs of the chair before staring Leo in the eyes. “Now, you snap outta it!”

“But… but my mission…”

Spice watched with interest, as did Angelo, standing uselessly in the corner. Touched by darkness. Void Basin. Was that the same thing that happened to his grandfather? The fate that the leviathan protecting Kilo had spared his father, by killing him before it could happen? It didn’t seem so bad… Leo just… wanted to go there. And bring his family with him.

What would happen afterward?

…Where did his grandfather go, if dying was a better option? How many others had he taken with him?

“Wait,” Spice whispered. “Keep talking to him.”

Angelo tried to follow where Spice was looking. His bindings were nearly broken, but Leo was no longer trying to break free. Despite what Spice and the others had tried, his father’s words were getting through to him more.

“Leo, please,” Aries said.

“I… the mission…”

“What mission? To protect others? We’re safer in Kilo. You know this.”

“Protect… safer in… Y-yes. But, but I need to…”

“Why, Leo, why?” Aries said. “Tell me exactly why.”

Angelo felt a weak throbbing pain in his forehead. Spice, too, winced and took a few steps back.

“Ugh. Psychics…”

Aries… Was she trying to treat him mentally?

Phol frowned and said, “His ropes are looking nearly broken. Don’t worry. I got a spare…”

“Why is he tied up like this?!” Tari protested. “I say let him go! He’s my boy, he’ll know to handle himself!”

“Untie him and you’re tied into a knot instead,” Phol stated immediately, holding a new length of rope in front of Leo. “Hold still. I’m going to make this one extra tough with some Protect insulation.”

“What? You can do that?” Angelo asked. “Th-that’s incredible!”

“Mmf.” Phol dismissed it with a shrug. “It runs in the family. Easy for us to enchant things this way.” A pulse of gold went from his arms and into the rope, leaving it with a shimmering glow.

“Oh, what a beautiful color,” Angelo said.

“Yeah, real pretty,” Spice mumbled, idly forming her own, black Protect around her fist ruefully.

Leo stiffened. Aries seemed close to calming him down, but the moment that glowing rope got close to him, his eyes were wide with fear again. “G-get that thing away from me!” he shouted, struggling from his binds. “It’s—don’t do it!”

“Hold still,” Phol snapped, wrapping the first coil around his shoulders.

But the moment the golden rope touched Leo, he let out a yelp that deflated into a whimper… and then he went limp.

The shift was so sudden that Phol stopped what he was doing. “Leo?”

“Leo?” Spice went closer. “What did you do?!”

“It’s a rope!” Phol snarled. “What do you think—”

Spice grabbed the rope and immediately screamed like she’d dipped her hands in acid. She hurled it on the ground and fell back, curling into a pained ball as she nursed her hands. They looked like they were evaporating on the palms.

“A-ah! Hang on,” Angelo said quickly. “I’ll—I’ll get you some healing, just give me a moment…” He quickly sketched a pink circle in the air, pointing it at Spice, but she snarled so fiercely that he lost his focus and the circle shattered.

“Just rope? That thing nearly burned my hands off!” And even when she pointed at Phol, her hands were still smoking.

Befuddled, Phol sidestepped Spice and picked the rope up. He was unaffected. Locking eyes with Angelo, he offered one end to him.

Why me? Angelo whimpered, poking it tentatively. Didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary. Puzzled, he grasped it next. A little rough, definitely uncomfortable to be tied up in, but no searing pain or anything…

“U-urgh…” Leo blinked several times.

“Ah! Leo…” Aries shook him gently. “Are you okay? Leo?”

“Not really,” Leo murmured. “What… was going on with me?”

“Thatta boy!” Tari grinned, thumping his tail on Leo’s back. He then looked smugly at Phol. “Like I said, all he needed was a little pep talk!”

Phol stared at the rope, which was probably miraculous as far as Angelo was concerned, and then at Angelo.

“You,” Phol said.

“Y-yes!”

“I’m going to make more of these ropes. Deliver them to everyone you can. Double-time. Teleport if you have to.”

“Sure?” Angelo looked at Spice, who was still looking at the rope like it would lunge at her.

“I don’t know why, but something dispelled it from Leo and it hurt Spice,” Phol explained, grabbing the final length of rope from the corner of the office. A flood of golden energy went from his arms and into the thick fabric. “Spice looks a lot like those wraiths. What if it helps against them in Hot Spot?”

“Ah!” Angelo perked up. “Y-yes! Okay! Make more! But—why can you do this?”

“I don’t know. Ask around, show them this one.” He tossed the rest of the rope onto Angelo, who nearly collapsed under its weight. “Maybe this can turn the tide in this war. I’m going to contact some of my family; they have the same talent.”

“W-war…” It still made his chest tight. “Okay! I’ll go. I’ll be back as soon as I can!”

Angelo rushed through the hall, sidestepping a mutant Meganium dropping off a Shiftry statue, and into the streets. The wind was picking up from the east, enough that he had to close his eyes when facing that direction.

Was a storm coming?

And then came a cry of some great beast—why were there so many superpowers clashing at once?!—coming from the same direction as the storm. To the southwest, that spire of darkness was still bleeding into the sky. And the end of the world felt like it was a little bit closer. Holding the end of that golden rope, Angelo pressed onward to Heart HQ, ignoring his apprehension as he ascended those cursed steps.

It just occurred to Angelo that Shady was missing.

“What—Shady?” Angelo spun around, but there wasn’t a sign of him at all. Sighing angrily, he marched into the Heart HQ and nearly toppled into a huge Torkoal. “Ah! Oh, I’m—oh! Torkoal! Just the person I was looking—are you okay?”

The large Torkoal seemed low in spirits, somehow. “Oh,” he said quietly, “yes, I’m fine. Sorry. I had… must have not slept well. I have not been feeling well, so suddenly.”

“I’m sorry.” Angelo really could empathize. Speaking softly and erasing any frustration from his tone, he said, “I’ll make this quick.” He held the rope forward. “This rope was imbued with… a golden light. From Phol—er, the Incineroar at the main hospital—he had a golden Protect. He somehow… blessed this rope with that same aura. And when it touched Leo, who was under some dark influence, it instantly cured him. What if this does damage to the Void Shadows?”

The Torkoal leader nodded and, despite his dampened spirits, said, “Oh, yes, yes! I think I see… Yes, I’m quite good at these same blessings, actually. If I had put myself into practice more, perhaps I could even rival Anam. Oho…” The laugh seemed forced. “Thank you, Smeargle. I know just who to contact. You may leave it with me.”

Angelo was about to, but then recalled how slow their temporary leader was, now that Rhys was off on his mission, Anam and James were missing, and Nevren was… Well, he didn’t really know either. Off experimenting somewhere even when the world was ending, apparently.

“Er,” Angelo interjected, “why don’t I walk it somewhere else? You can… make more, right?”

“Oh, yes, I can…” Torkoal tilted his head. “Is something the matter?”

“No, it’s just on the way,” Angelo lied. “I’ll bring it to one of the fliers. How about that?”

“Ah. Yes, okay. Ohoho, then again, perhaps I would have been too slow anyway…”

Angelo nodded politely and jogged back down the stairs, nearly tripping when the ground rumbled again. This time it was from Nate shifting his weight around the mountain, raising his whole body up—that was an unusual, rare movement from him.

Shady…

Nate seemed bigger than usual. In fact, all of those odd, many-eyed, shapeless things had disappeared. Was Nate gathering them up again? For what?

Getting hasty, Angelo drew a portal in front of him and slipped through it, reappearing far down the street. He happened to spot a speedy, sleek-looking Flygon and shouted for his attention, waving his arms before handing off the rope and saying to deliver it to the enchantment division.

“Okay. By the way, can you help out in the hospital?”

Gods, all the favors. “Okay. What’s going on?”

A high-pitched wail echoed from the hospital from far away, followed by a blast of water breaking one of the windows.

“That.” And without further explanation, Flygon dashed away. Before Angelo got his first word out, he had already crossed the street and flew several blocks away, heading south with a few notes in his claws.

“Everything’s happening so quickly,” Angelo said, jogging to the hospital, where he saw the metallic Machoke, Spice, Leo, and his parents all trying to pin down a leaking and overturned bucket.

From within the bucket, Vaporeon screamed. “I NEED TO GO! I NEED TO GO! SHE’S COMING!”

“Who?!” Machoke snarled, tapping the bucket, irate. “Who’s coming? Speak! Words! Use words!”

Words weren’t going to help. Angelo hastily drew a flower in the air with hovering ink, then tapped the petals. It bloomed, producing a fragrant, calming aroma that even helped take the edge off for the Smeargle himself.

“H-hey, hey, hey,” Angelo said between her screams. “It’s okay. Take deep, calm breaths, okay? Can, um, can you do that for me?”

She didn’t at first, but the Aromatherapy was doing some of the work just with her short gasps. But her eyes were still wide with fear, from the glances Angelo got when the bucket nearly tipped open. The struggling slowed.

“…If you don’t run, we’ll help you with whatever you’re afraid of. Okay?”

“No. I have to run,” Vaporeon said. “E-Emily… L-Lugia. I remember. I r-remember… She tried to absorb me. B-because… because she’s… me. We’re the same… T-two halves. We’re two halves a-and we both didn’t remember. Please… I have to get away. If we combine, she’ll… Please! You have to take me far… far away before she destroys Kilo!”

“…The city, the region, or the planet?” Angelo asked.

“All of it!”

“Guess that’s a yes.” Machoke tapped a finger to his chin.

Spice, once Vaporeon was calm enough, rose from the bucket. “Away. How far away are we talking?”

“As f-far as we need to…”

Phol glanced at Angelo.

The Smeargle tensed instantly. “Don’t give me that look!”

“You are one of the best Pokémon at running away from danger,” Phol said. From anyone else it may have been an insult, but Angelo oddly felt that it hadn’t been one from him. “You need to do this.”

“Alone?” Spice asked.

“We’ll help,” Leo said, nodding.

“Leo, you aren’t.”

“I’m fine now,” Leo said with a more serious look. He stared directly at Spice. “Really.”

For a few seconds, they maintained that stare down. Then, with an uncertain growl, Spice nodded.

“Leo…” His mother walked to him, reaching for his hand, which Leo obliged.

“I will be fine. This will just be to defend Angelo. We already have the supplies.”

“Y’know.” Machoke casually pointed at Angelo. “I’ll come with. Figure you can use some demigod strength, too. In case we need to fend her off, or whatever. Are you sure Emily will leave the city alone if you go?”

“I think so. Please, hurry…” Vaporeon nodded. “I feel her… She’s lost it!”

Angelo slipped out from the hospital to check outside again. The ground was still shaking with weak tremors; Nate seemed restless…

“Oh.” So that was why.

The leviathan was staring eastward, where the clouds were getting darker. From the center of that storm there was a large, distant figure. Twisters spun around and tore up the ground below; tiny dots that Angelo realized were trees twirled in the sky like batons. And Nate was about to fight her.

Angelo wasn’t sure if there would be a village to return to.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 124 – Father and Son

“So, Rhys is in trouble with Dark Matter as we speak?” Alex asked as they flew over the last part of town, with Zena and the others finding an opening in the chaos to keep up. It wasn’t at its thickest yet.

“That’s what Dialga told me,” Owen explained. “I don’t have a lot of power left, but it’s going to be enough for what I need to do.”

“And that is to confront Dark Matter directly, I presume?” Alex asked, humming anxiously. “I hope it’s enough…”

“I think it will. A-at least, once Dark Matter weakens, I’m… I’m going to have to trust that everyone else will know what to do. I have a feeling that the others are about to do an assault at the same time.”

“You’ve been running on feelings a lot,” Eon commented from behind. “Are you sure this isn’t just one big assumption?”

“It isn’t. I planned this. We’re coordinating with the spirits right now. I mean, I’m coordinating.”

Eon gave Owen an odd look. The false Hydreigon’s scales turned green and he stiffened, focusing until his colors returned to normal.

“Uh, careful,” Owen said. “Focus on that form.”

“Right, sorry.”

Owen wondered why his body was so unstable. It hadn’t been like that before the war…

“Do we need to time anything?” Alex asked.

“Just keep at full speed for now.”

Alex looked down, all three heads’ expressions contorted with worry. “It’s getting thick. I don’t think we can have Zena and the others follow us safely at this rate.”

“Right.” Owen looked behind, where indeed, they were slowing down against the Void Shadows that were closing in on them. “Time for the first part of my plan, then. Veer left so you’re lined up with Zena and the others!”

Alex obeyed, as did Eon. It was a little awkward to look behind to see them, now, but then the Tree glowed brightly.

“Um, is it supposed to do that?” Alex asked.

“Yep. Close your eyes, by the way.”

“Wh—”

Owen did so first, but even then, he saw the shadows of his leafy feathers through his eyelids and felt the tingling heat of another Radiant Beam carving a line across the ruins of Null Village. The deafening, burning roar started from behind, and then sailed far, far ahead, cutting a path five streets wide and disintegrating the countless Void Shadows along the way. It left behind a deep, hot, and glowing ground that the Void Shadows couldn’t tread, at least for a little while. It went all the way into the forest, too, destroying the trees and creating a new, Radiant flatland.

“Follow that path!” Owen shouted, looking down to see if Zena, Demitri, and Mispy were doing so. They caught on fast; the trio was already on the way, and, during their traveling, it seemed like they had found a new mode of travel.

“Hey, look at them!” Owen cried with a laugh. “That’s amazing!”

Taking inspiration from Step’s strategies, Zena had formed a platform of constantly-reforming water and froze it with Ice Beams. Demitri, wielding stone slabs that he’d picked up from town, slammed them into the ground and pushed them forward at incredible speeds. Mispy steadied their movement, steering with long, thorny vines and precise slams against the ground. Zena, meanwhile, conjured water ahead of them, creating a slick surface.

Based on how Mispy was murmuring to Demitri, the Meganium had been the one to come up with the idea.

“How far away is Dark Matter?” Alex asked as they flew over the new flatlands.

Owen focused. If he knew where Dark Matter was, then Dark Matter knew the same for him. But at this point, he had to set aside his fears and his caution—something that his foe took full advantage of—to press against those expectations. Dark Matter set himself up to be an invincible foe, to the point where he hadn’t even thought to raise a claw against him. That was how hopelessly strong he was. Dark Matter’s sheer confidence—no, not confidence, but cold, factual statements—made Owen think that there truly was no point in fighting.

But now, he wondered if that had all been one great deception from the start.

“We’re almost there,” Owen finally reported. “We just need to fly for a few more minutes.”

“Minutes?” Alex repeated.

“Er, a few hundred more seconds. Three hundred or so.”

“Oh! That’s not far at all.”

“Let’s keep up the pace while we have that path the Tree made for us intact.”

“Of course.”

They flew for some time without incident, to their fortune. Even in the air, the residual radiant power was keeping the flying Void Shadows away. Owen wondered if Amia was okay, and if that blast bothered her at all. She wasn’t in this district, obviously, and had been evacuated deeper into town. Still… He worried. They could still restore her, right?

He still hadn’t told Alex. How could he? Not now. He would get… distracted.

It was nice, though, to be so close to him again. After all that happened, this sense of normalcy with his father was… good.

Briefly, Owen found the opportunity to smile. “Hey, um. Dad?”

“Yes?”

“…You didn’t even… hesitate much, you know, on going with me, when I asked.”

“You seem to know what you’re doing,” Alex said. “After everything that’s happened, don’t I owe you that much? And, besides… There’s something about you, Owen. You seem to know just how to counter these wraiths. How do you know it so well?”

“Experience,” Owen said. “Came with some of my memories.”

“Experience?” Alex frowned. “What do you mean? I know there used to be wraiths inside Dungeons before Anam blessed them, but…”

“…Dad?” Owen pivoted. “How long ago did you meet Mom?”

“Oh. Well, goodness. Centuries ago. Before your time… or so I thought. Owen, just how old are you?”

“Uh.” He wasn’t really sure. “So. Okay, so. I’m actually—so, you, the…” Words, Owen, words. “I’m older than Kilo.” Good words. “But, so, what all this is about… I wanted to know about the Fire Orb. Mom said that one day, she planned to pass it down to me, like it was a Fire tradition. Ghrelle said the same thing, that it used to be part of a Hydreigon family line, right? What… does that mean?”

Alex seemed tense, maybe distracted by Owen’s age, but he answered eventually. “I’ll tell you the short version. We don’t have much time, do we?”

Indeed, they were getting closer to the forest edge, where the Radiant Beam’s influence waned.

“Before Kilo was unified, there was a dominating force in the southern region that was ruled by the Fire Guardian… M-my father. Obviously, I wasn’t fond of talking about him. And he was dead, so there was no need, either. I’d rather not speak ill of the dead, after all. And I only had ill to say.”

That, he could understand. “It’s okay. I’m not mad you kept it from me or anything. I, er, I know you guys did that a lot, but this one makes sense…”

After all, nobody really knew the Voidlands existed. Not even Star or Barky, apparently…

“Thank you,” Alex said, looking guilty all over again anyway.

Owen sighed, patting his shoulder. “Keep going.”

“R-right. Well, there was a bit of a… strange event that took place in the past that had to do with an upheaval. A power shift that just… changed everything one day. It’s odd. I don’t really know why Amia’s clan was afraid of us when they simply have the Fairy element on their side. Yet one day, they simply realized this and…” He shook his head. “Well. It’s all the past, now. Where is Amia, anyway? Is she alright?”

Nope. He wasn’t going to answer that directly. “She’s hiding in one of the buildings,” he quickly said. “She can’t fight.”

“Ah. Okay.” Alex nodded. There was doubt in his eyes. “I’ll… Yes. We should focus on this for now.”

While looking away in an effort to avoid Alex’s gaze, Owen spotted something on the horizon that made his heart drop: another Hydreigon.

And he froze. It would have been nice to have Dialga’s blessing again so he had more time to think. That was undoubtedly him. Alexander. And the very sight shook some memory in the depths of Owen’s mind that he didn’t even know about.

“It’s him!” Owen blurted. “A-and he’s…”

He had reinforcements. Behind Alexander was Aster, that same Mewtwo who had tried to apprehend him before. On Alexander’s back was a small, green—Mhynt. She looked so much like Remi. And most surprising, something Owen still couldn’t totally understand, was another Arceus. Smaller than Barky, perhaps half his size if Owen remembered correctly, and lither in frame. Another Arceus. Barky’s daughter? When? How? For what purpose?

But an instant later, a lightning-fast beam of darkness struck Alex square in the chest. He cried out in pain, tumbled through the air, and flung Owen far through the skies.

“DAD!” Owen cried, flailing.

“Get him!” Alexander snarled.

A rush of activity followed. While flipping in the skies, Owen caught glimpsers of Aster appearing in front of him, but then a reddish-black burst of energy from Alex blotted out the sky. Dark Pulse? Alex had regained his composure mid-fall! But it wasn’t anything to Aster. It only startled him. Owen stabilized himself in the air, getting a better look at the battle while he was falling.

Next came something grayish-white as his vision cleared. The Arceus? She flew toward Owen next, and a telekinetic grip held Owen in place, halting his fall but also his escape. There was a mournful look in her eyes and it looked like she was deliberately approaching slower than she could have.

Aster was holding off Alex and the others of their flying squadron while Alexander came up from behind and shoved past Leph. Mhynt was on his back and she was clutching a dead Honedge, her blade, eyeing Alexander at first, and then Owen. She gripped her blade tighter, and then raised it. Owen nearly gasped, but then icy shards smacked Alexander on the side.

Rather than look hurt in any way, he snarled and glanced at the offender. A Corviknight was flying an oversized, blue Sandslash toward them.

“I thought he was your servant,” Alexander snarled. Owen wasn’t sure what that meant; were their suspicions right after all?

“He’s resisting,” Mhynt replied, pointing at Hakk, who fired another volley of ice at Mhynt. She switched her stance and slashed the ice away. “Leave!”

“How about no?!” Hakk snarled. “Get away from our one ticket outta here!”

Mhynt wasn’t controlling Hakk. But was she faking it? What did that mean?

“Leph!” Alexander snarled.

“What?!” Leph shouted back.

“Kill them.”

Leph hesitated, but the chain in her back was pulled taut and she winced. She stared at Hakk and the wheel around her torso brightened… and then dimmed. From Alexander’s back, Mhynt was making odd motions with her free hand while concentrating on Leph.

Owen thought that Leph’s distractedness would disrupt her telekinetic hold over him, but any attempts to move were met with insurmountable resistance. He glanced at the Tree, wondering if he should use his shot… No, not yet. He needed time, and only enough for one more…

“What are you doing?!” Alexander said, yanking on the chains enough that something audibly cracked from Leph, who screamed.

“I’m t-trying!” Leph cried.

“I’ll do it!” Aster disappeared toward Alex after kicking Eon away, who wasn’t effective in the air. He had to concentrate too much on maintaining his form, Owen suspected; he was too sluggish in battle.

Aster lunged forward more, but then yelped and fell back when the chains in his shoulders kept him firmly near Alexander. He tried to speak but even his jaws were locked shut. He tried to channel flames into his fists instead, anything to fight back… The radiance from the blast was fading. They were running out of time.

“Don’t stray!” Alexander hissed at Aster, yanking him back.

“F-father!” Alex shouted. “It… it really is you. It… oh.”

Owen had heard a flame of defiance in Alex’s voice, but that was short-lived, possibly when Alex realized just what he’d done.

Alexander was bigger, with darker scales and a more intense face, like his scaly brow was permanently creased with anger. His teeth were bigger and dripped with a thin, dark film of shadowy energy. Bigger wings, darker wings, and an aura of power that practically twisted and darkened the air around him like an invisible flame.

“…You.”

He didn’t command Leph to do anything, but Hakk and Xypher were looking for an opening. Yet, they seemed so insignificant to Alexander, who was paying them no mind.

“Yes. Me.” Alex stiffened, drifting back when Alexander advanced. “And here I thought you were dead. No, you’re just here…”

“What is your name?” Alexander said.

Owen blinked. What? He recognized Alex, clearly, so why…?

“Alex,” Owen’s father replied with a firmness that suggested Owen didn’t know the full story.

The tyrant Hydreigon’s eyes blazed with fury. “Alex?” he growled deeply. “ALEX?”

“Xander hates you, too,” Alex said. “If I had the power…”

Something about Alex’s voice changed just then. Owen couldn’t place it. It was him, yet… different, like it was someone else, too.

“If I had the power to do it, I would feed you to your own heads. You… don’t deserve to be my father!”

Then came a gust of wind from below, aimed not at Alexander but at Leph. That made Owen get a sense of falling again; he yelped, and Alex reacted quickly, on instinct. He swept beneath Owen, catching him, and started to fly away. Aster clashed with Eon again, who had taken on the same, Mewtwo form. That not only unnerved Aster, but Eon seemed stronger because of it, too.

Alexander was faster. In a single, deft motion, he had closed the distance between the other Hydreigon. The smaller heads clamped down on Alex’s main neck; Alex froze with sudden fear. Once again that defiance was gone the moment he needed it most. And Owen was right on his back, just as frozen, having no idea how to counter. Time slowed to a stop. His mind raced.

Alex was in danger. Alexander was totally ignoring Owen, now. That meant he could try something. Protect Alex. How? How could he…

This is my power… The same power I am using to give it to you: Bestow.

Necrozma, are you watching?
Owen called, but received no answer. He didn’t know if the thought came to him from Necrozma, or from his own memories. But he knew what to do; he’d been able to do it all along.

The world moved slowly, and Owen took action. He envisioned crossing his arms, channeling that golden ward around him, but instead of forming it, he stored it in his hands. It became a tiny golden sphere, and he instantly slammed it into Alex’s back. It felt warm.

Instants before Alexander crushed Alex’s neck, gold light spewed from the surface wound, forcing Alexander’s jaws to open. The barrier pressed outward even faster and Alex, seizing the opportunity, spewed a jet of indigo fire at Alexander’s face. It barely did anything, but it did blind him enough for Alex to fly away.

But Alexander was relentless and fired another Shadow beam. It carved across the sky with a hideous sizzle, like it was corroding the air itself, and slammed into Alex head-on. The golden remnants of Owen’s barrier deflected most of it, but it was dispelled at the same time, and the lurching impact sent Owen flying.

Owen tumbled down, down, down. He couldn’t see where everyone was and could barely tell which way was up or down. But he did see three figures above him. One tried to race toward him, but was held back by another—the two Hydreigon were clashing. Far away, were there others? That was possibly Leph or Aster, neither one able to stray too far from Alexander, thanks to their chains.

And then there was Xypher. Yes, that was the other dark figure in the sky; Owen could tell from the pale blue ball of spikes on his back. Hakk was too large for comfortably flying, Owen mused.

He could only hope it was a rescue, but he decided to be cautious as well. He crafted another Protect shield, but this time focused hard on the topmost part of the sphere, where it bent and twisted into a vaguely-shaped handle. Xypher must have figured out what to do, because those massive talons clamped down on it instantly, and then Xypher banked to the left, far and away from Alexander and Alex.

Over the wind that whistled around Owen’s Protect, making an ethereal hum, he couldn’t hear what Alexander shouted. But it made Leph glow, and then countless beams of light flew skyward, raining down on them.

“No!” Owen expanded his Protect as far as it could go, a splitting headache nearly forcing him to drop it. Nearly. But not enough. Xypher swerved out of the way of most, and the rest were deflected, but then the golden light shattered and Owen had to shrink his barrier back down.

He didn’t have the energy for what came next.

Sailing through the sky with uncanny precision was one of Alexander’s beams of darkness. That sickening sound through the air, cooking it, made his feathers crawl.

But then the sound was interrupted by a deeper pop, and then a pained squawk that etched itself into Owen’s memories.

Suddenly, he was falling. The Protect disappeared and the ground rapidly approached. He was going fast both downward and westward, no idea if he’d land on his head or his feet.

With some quick thinking, Owen broke his fall with several downward blasts of fire like before, and then crossed his arms in a Protect when he saw the trees coming. The fire wasn’t as strong as he would have hoped, but it made his whole body feel warmer and warmer. It was a welcome change that he hadn’t realized he’d wanted all this time. Thankfully, most of his momentum came from the tumble and falling sideways rather than down, but he couldn’t clearly remember just how he landed or how long he’d been rolling. He only remembered soft, dusty ground and the ethereal barriers of his Protects cushioning the blow.

He was heavier as a Charmeleon and that made the landing more painful. But he was also sturdier, and didn’t feel like any of his bones had broken this time.

There was a chance, which Owen chose to ignore, that he would feel it in the morning. “Dad…?” Owen croaked, sitting up. “D—”

There was only one other person with him. And he realized why his fall had been survived at all. Crumpled against the tree just behind him was Xypher. He couldn’t see where one of his legs was and there was a huge hole in his steely belly. Black haze seeped out of it, obscuring whatever wounds it had left, but Owen was almost positive he could see through it and to the other side.

“Xypher,” Owen whimpered.

He opened his beak. “Are… you okay? Okay… okay…”

“I’m fine It’s you that—” Owen hastily crawled to Xypher, about to inspect the wound, but stopped when he got too close. He didn’t want to hurt him. This was a delicate situation.

Ignoring the lingering smell of the morning’s breakfast, Owen searched for leaves, dirt, anything to help cover the wound. Would that even work? Was that safe? No, it wouldn’t. Did he know any healing techniques—anything that he could grasp to help?

Help, Owen begged. What do I do?

H-Heal Pulse, try Heal Pulse!
Amelia’s voice was shaking. Do you know it? Hang—hang on, maybe we can channel some of that to you!

Until then, Owen desperately searched around and, miraculously, found a bunch of fused berries near one of those odd trees. But as he pulled and separated them out, his eyes grew wide and grave. No, he’d remember that subtle appearance anywhere. Those wouldn’t heal Xypher. Even if they did, they weren’t blessed. Owen had forgotten.

“Little… flower…”

“Huh?” Owen noticed that Xypher was looking even more deflated than before. A pool of rotten blood was expanding around him, tarnishing his dark feathers. That strange darkness had gone so deep.

There was no time to wait for healing or finding berries; he had to work with his own abilities and save him. “Hold on. Just hang on,” he begged, and breathed. In, out. Just like he always had.

He saw another flame. This one was a sputtering, dim mess, like its core was coated in thick tar. He could barely plunge his spirit into it, let alone pull away at all the grime. Darkness encroached; the flame shrank away from him.

No, no! I’m here to help!

It listened only enough that it stopped fleeing. Owen reached forward again, pulling at some of that tar… but more was coating onto it. Some got on his hands; it didn’t burn, but it was eating away at his presence. He pumped as much light as he could, but then realized something—what would he do against Dark Matter? And if Xypher was dying… he had to focus on the wounds first.

Realizing this, he withheld that light and pulled away. Heal Pulse. Amelia said they’d tried to channel it to him, even if it was from so far away. He didn’t know how that felt, but maybe he could Mimic it.

Please, please, please…

Grasping at the air by his side, Owen squeezed his eyes shut. He felt something tangible, little threads that wrapped around his claws. A soothing light.

Do you feel that? Amelia said. Grasp that power! C’mon!

We can’t hold this aura for long, Owen!

I’m fine! I copied it!


Owen felt that healing energy rush through his arms. It was dizzying. With an intense frown and wide, determined eyes, he pointed at Xypher. “H-hold on!” he said. “This will heal you!”

Accompanying the pink light was an unfathomable drain on his system, the moments of fatigue that struck him all at once forcing him to a knee. He wheezed, taking deep breaths that hurt his throat. The light faded, and that was all he could do. Everything else was meant for Dark Matter, and it wasn’t healing energy anyway.

Finally working up the energy to look up, Owen asked, “How are you now?”

It was still there. Owen’s heart dropped to his stomach.

A dark energy ate away at whatever healing light tried to reach those wounds. It was a deep, corrosive energy that was too hard to heal for someone as novice as him at the art. “No… Xypher, just… just hang on, okay? Mispy… will be here soon! She has to, she can find my aura, okay? Xypher?”

He crawled toward him, vision blurring halfway there. He didn’t know if it was from tears or fatigue.

“I’m… so glad…”

“Huh?” Owen dragged himself to his side, where Xypher had leaned against an almost-fallen tree. The blood stung Owen’s legs.

“I’m so glad… that I got to see your smile… one last time…”

“No, n-no, no, don’t talk like that!” Owen shook Xypher gently, but when he winced, Owen stopped. “What about Hakk? He needs you! A-and what about, what about being a guard? Xypher, come on!”

Xypher couldn’t die. He didn’t have enough memories to survive it. If Xypher died here, there wouldn’t be anything but a Void Shadow left, not even a shell of what Xypher used to be. They could happen upon him as a hostile a few days later and never know it.

“Never lose… that smile, little flower…”

“Xypher, I’m not smiling! Please, j-just hang on!”

All those years under the control of those who knew his past, all of the work he’d done for the gods, all that time wandering the Voidlands as the tiniest Charmander, and only now did he feel completely powerless.

“You are… You are, you are…”

“How? Xypher, stay awake, okay? Hello? Xypher?” He wanted to slap him awake, but he didn’t know if that would help or not. He warmed his claws and pressed against Xypher’s cheek. “Xypher, I’ll smile if you stay alive, okay? Okay?”

“You already are… already, already…”

“I don’t understand,” Owen croaked. “Hakk’s almost here. Mispy’s almost here. They have to be. Okay? Then I’ll smile, okay?”

There was a little twinkle on Xypher’s beady black eyes, but it was fading. Owen had a horrible sense in his gut that the flame in Xypher was disappearing. Even when he closed his eyes, he saw that fire in front of him. That life, that drive to live, was being blotted out.

“Your eyes…” Xypher’s own twinkled. “That light. You smile… with your eyes. Your eyes… your…”

Owen held his breath. Xypher never took his. The beak was half-open, about to say a word, but Xypher wasn’t there anymore. The light, and the flame, disappeared.

And for a while, Owen stood there, grasping the dead Corviknight’s cheek, feeling the last warmth disappear from the feathers. Some primal emotion forced out a whimper, then a sob, and he rapidly shook his head, staggering away until he landed on his tail. Rolling to his front, he stumbled across the small clearing and to the nearest tree. Hoping that Xypher would miraculously rise again, some delayed attribution of his healing. Owen turned around, only to see that Xypher’s body had fallen over.

It all seemed so quiet. It only barely registered to Owen that Alex was still fighting Alexander and the others, or that Demitri and Mispy were with Zena for some of that clash. That others might still be fighting. That Hakk could have been killed the same way as Xypher; he had no idea where he had landed, after all.

All the while, Owen couldn’t take his eyes off of the body. That tightness in his chest was overwhelming. He had to let it out.

Not thinking, perhaps not even caring or realizing, he screamed. All of that frustration, fear, anger, and whatever other litany of pains he’d felt during his Voidlands had finally pushed him over. It was here, where it was just him and Xypher, where he’d failed to save just one simple soul—it still etched itself into his brain. That last light. That fire. He was gone. He was gone. He was gone.

Eventually, Owen couldn’t scream anymore. He coughed and wheezed on the ground, digging his claws in the soil, blasting stray flames into the inert dust. Fists met wood as he feebly struck at a nearby trunk. Amelia and Klent were calling to him, but he ignored it.

It didn’t feel like anybody was nearby.

Feel.

Feel?

Perceive. It was back. He had a horn again. Finally, it was back. Owen’s feathers were hardening, too, turning a deep red color.

The tears and the air had both run out. He could only stand. Stare. The body still didn’t move. Cruel winds cooled it even more.

He could bury him. Something. Anything. Kind words. But he didn’t know Xypher well enough. He could only commit to memory the location to tell Hakk later.

Because he finally remembered that there was a mission to complete before more like him died.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” he told nobody.

He looked down, focusing. Around his right hand, a radiant light swirled between his claws. Dark Matter was only a handful of seconds away if he sprinted.

So, he did.

<><><>​

The one the Voidland inhabitants called North stirred. A constant, stabbing pain coursed through his near-lightless body. Necrozma focused on something far away, tuning his spirit toward his many pieces, watching as the world moved without him.

In Kilo, Lugia, corrupted by Shadow, was flying from east to west, now only a few moments away from clashing with the Dark Guardian, who had dedicated himself to protecting Kilo Village.

The Fairy, Rock, and Normal Guardians encountered Nevren from the vortex over Hot Spot, who had escaped Lugia through some novel technology. But in their battle prior, they had lost the Ice Guardian, who had been separated from her mate. The Fighting Guardian, too, had been pulled toward his other half, but escaped his fate, for now.

The Steel Guardian, who always stood for frankness and truth, elected to assist in bringing Lugia’s mortal half as far away as possible, hoping to spare Kilo Village of its destruction.

The other two who aligned with Arceus, the Dragon and Poison Guardians, remained on standby in their Dungeons while Arceus battled Dark Matter from the surface. Necrozma knew they did not want to leave their domains, where they were strongest… But their inaction was disappointing. Had that been an order from their leader?

The Bug Guardian, weakened and nearly powerless, watched over what remained of the Fire Guardian, who thrashed and growled within her container. Protecting them both had been the Electric Guardian, until an apparent restlessness overtook her, and she and the Bug Guardian were now chasing after Owen in silence. It seemed they were not the only ones, as they’d happened upon the fallen prince of the south along the way.

And then there was Owen, in a rage, sprinting toward Dark Matter for a final confrontation, as the Water Guardian gave chase. The Hunter who had slain and claimed his Flying and Ground fragments, too, was there, along with the new Psychic Guardian, newly recovered, and his allies.

In, out. Meditate. He did not breathe nor did he need to, but it was the same sort of lesson he had taught his students, and then what those students taught others. In, out. He let what little light his blackened, crystal body had flow through it, soothing that torment, as Void Shadows routinely encircled him. They could never get through his Radiant ward.

This would be it. Necrozma had arranged so delicately for this to happen, ever since he’d awakened the radiant glow of the Orbs. And now, with the light he had been able to slowly, slowly gather… he could gift it to Owen in order to slay Dark Matter. He was the only one who could. Mhynt, the other with light and shadow, was under Alexander’s control… but Owen was under no domain. He defied the Hunters; he rejected Arceus; he condemned Mew; he even doubted the Hearts. He would only listen to the light. In the end, Owen would make the right choice.

Owen… For now, I will grant you one more memory. Do not lose sight of your purpose.

<><><>​

“…So, that’s who he is,” Owen said, hands clasped together. He smiled up at Necrozma, tail flickering brightly with flecks of gold. “He doesn’t really have a name, and he got mad when I tried suggesting a few, so I just called him the Void King for now. Sounds pretty cool, if you ask me…”

But the bright dragon’s multicolored eyes were grave. Dimmer than usual. “How long has it existed?”

“He says he’s always been around,” Owen explained. “He woke up one day feeling confused and scared… And that’s just how it’s been. He’s actually just—Er. Um. He doesn’t want me to say specifically where he is, but…”

“Where?” Necrozma asked, and Owen sensed the haste in his voice.

Owen clammed up.

“This is important.”

“The reason I brought him up was because I think it’ll take an act of the gods to fix him. He’s… I don’t know how to phrase it, but it’s like he can only feel negative emotions. And he feels it from everyone else, too, i-in the whole world. It’s awful! And we—”

You,” Necrozma said, “aren’t answering my question, Owen.”

“Will you help him?” Owen asked, tuning his horns on Necrozma. He felt a brief tingle, like a warning, but defiantly Owen kept going.

“…You’re still using your Perceive.”

“Will you,” Owen said, “help him?”

Tense silence. Then, Necrozma turned away. “You know the answer,” he said. “I intend to help… But not in a way you would like, Owen. I’ve always appreciated your… mortal way of thinking. Your ties to the material world. But this is something out of your scope.

“This… Void King. I think I know what he is, how he came to be. Creation is… a delicate, fickle thing in its early stages. And this world was created from gods who were traumatized by their own creation long ago. By humans, the worst of them. This Void King… must have been a stray thought of one of those gods when the world was at its most malleable, down to its very fabric and physical laws. That hopeless fear and pain, during that instant when this reality was formed… It became your ‘friend.’”

“Why did you say it like that?” Owen pressed. “…Just help him. You’re gods. If he was created that way, can’t you fix him like that, too? Get Arceus, get Star. All three of you have the full power of Quartz, right?”

“The only way to fix something like that—someone who is tied to the very fabric of the world… is to destroy it.”

“I’m not letting you do that,” Owen said. “I won’t… And—and you’d need Star and Arceus to approve it, too. And you know they won’t.”

More silence. The heat had subsided; Necrozma wasn’t warding him away from trying to Perceive his intent. It wasn’t like there was a lot for Owen to learn; he already knew much about Necrozma’s past, and his Perceive, strong as it was, wouldn’t reveal much more.

“…That’s it, then,” Necrozma said. “Owen… No. Wishkeeper.” He turned, but kept his gaze on him with one eye. “I will see you tomorrow at the entrance to Star Cave. Bring Jirachi.”

“For what?”

“A wish for your friend.” It sounded charitable, but his voice was grave.

Owen knew that the wish would be one for death.

He wasn’t going to allow it. He’d simply deny the request, deny it from Necrozma himself… And it would all be fine.


<><><>

Necrozma leaned against his bed of rocks and stone, which he’d resided for centuries, and relaxed. The pain eased, if only slightly. That is the most I can give you, Owen… with what time you have left to make your choice. I hope that memory… will make things clearer to you, and not overwhelm you.

He wondered if Owen would answer. If he would send a thought at all.

But in the end, none came. Through Owen’s eyes, watching from the Grass Orb, Necrozma saw Dark Matter just ahead.

I know, in the end, you will make the right choice…
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 125 – Shattered Core

Dark Matter, taking the form of a Goodra, turned to face Owen just as he cleared the final set of trees. Void Shadows had no chance to catch up to him, and any attempt at stopping Owen was met by a ruthless slash of golden energy. His body was glowing unnaturally, and Owen didn’t care why. It was, undoubtedly, because of that stored light.

“So, you’re finally here,” Dark Matter growled. “Have you come to give up?”

A dark atmosphere filled the air, filling Owen’s nostrils. The light countered it; nothing weighed Owen down. Wordlessly, he continued to run, closing the gap. They were twenty feet apart.

“You shouldn’t bother,” Dark Matter stated. Ten feet. “Surrender, and I’ll—”

Owen lunged, roaring, and Dark Matter sidestepped him, far too fast for a Goodra’s form. He fired a beam of darkness that Owen reflected with only a flick of his wrist, perfectly parrying the blast into Dark Matter’s face. It only proved to annoy him, but the distortion of light obscured the demon’s vision. Owen seized that opportunity to lunge again, but Dark Matter had predicted it. He hopped away, leaving behind a pulsating orb of darkness that burst in Owen’s face.

Holding his breath, Owen powered through, coating his body in a thin shield. Some of his scales tore off of him from the blast, but the rest of his body was intact. He pressed on, Necrozma’s light fueling his Protects for far longer than they should have persisted.

Every claw slash that Owen attempted was dodged by Dark Matter’s simple maneuvers. He knew each one was coming, but Owen was keeping up the pressure while devising a good way to get him despite the advantage. He already had one plan ready, and just needed time.

When it was clear that they had fallen into a rhythm, neither side tiring, Owen knew persisting was futile. He slowed his pace and shouted, “Why? Why are you doing any of this?! What’s the point, when the whole reason I helped you before… was to fix things! Not make them worse!”

“Your attempt clearly backfired. Everyone’s has. There is no point in trying to help me.” Dark Matter weaved to the left, his body hardening. While the body type was similar, something shifted as he fought Owen. Scales; shorter, harder horns; and something growing from his back…

“We had every reason to help you,” Owen said. “It’s because if we didn’t… then the world would just be destroyed, wouldn’t it?”

“You don’t remember it all, do you?” Dark Matter asked, swinging his lengthening tail at Owen, who hopped over it before landing his first, grazing punch. Dark Matter’s scales were dry and cold.

Owen caught his breath, but kept on his guard. Dark Matter wasn’t attacking, but Owen had a feeling it was because he hadn’t left an opening. “I’m here. Isn’t that what you wanted? Withdraw everyone.”

“You haven’t surrendered.”

Owen was going to say, maybe he would if he withdrew. But once again he couldn’t bring himself to say it. A fire in him refused to allow it. Pride? This felt like more than pride.

Dark Matter’s body shifted again, becoming a little taller. Wings emerged from his back as his slimy body hardened to a proper, scaly hide. Orange scales dotted his sides before becoming the dominant color, as did an off-white front. A black flame emerged from his tail.

“You think that’s going to scare me?” Owen said. “Mimicking my species?”

“You said it was cute, once,” Dark Matter said in a mocking tone. “How things change. How some things don’t change at all.”

Owen held a breath, steadying it. Dark Matter shifted his weight, but Owen quickly refocused, and Dark Matter relaxed again. He was still looking for an opening. He couldn’t let his focus down for an instant.

“If you surrender, I will battle against Alexander. He could be slaughtering your allies as we speak. They won’t be able to defend against his corrupting touch.”

“They’ll be fine against that,” Owen said. “If it’s anything like yours… I’ve protected them. I put some blessings on everything they had.”

“Then all that has to be done is separate them from their trinkets. How many already have? How many already died?”

Owen sidestepped left in a steady spiral. Dark Matter followed the counterclockwise path. Maybe a better angle, a misstep, was what they needed. This would be a gamble, but he had to start moving again.

“If you withdraw everyone, we can start over,” Owen said. “I’ll… vouch for you. We can take Alexander down together. And then we can try again. From the start. My offer… still stands. The Hands of Creation can fix what happened when you were created… If we just talk, they’ll understand. We don’t have to destroy everything to do it!”

“Give me one reason why I should believe you,” Dark Matter said with a growl behind his words. “Anam’s offer. Your own that you can’t even remember clearly. Both times failed. I have no reason to think this will work out any differently. If you want to stop me… it will have to be by force.”

Owen stopped. Dark Matter did the same. A cold, dry wind carried the dust of the Voidlands. No leaves, no ash, only dust from countless dried corpses since Kilo’s creation.

“You won’t have it any other way?” Owen said.

“Surrender, and I will achieve your goal myself.”

They both knew that wasn’t an option. Owen exhaled through his nostrils, a steady, light-warping stream of heat distorting the air in front of him.

“Fine.”

Owen brought his hands forward, collecting a small, golden glow of light, and Dark Matter narrowed his eyes.

“Really?” he repeated. “That was all of the energy you had stored? That won’t do anything.”

A glimmer shined beyond the forest, precisely behind Dark Matter. It got brighter within split-seconds, and by the time Dark Matter could look behind him, it was too late.

The Radiant Tree of Life’s final beam tore through the forest, avoiding most of the trees, deliberately avoiding the ground, and fired directly at Owen. Thanks to their walk, though, Dark Matter was caught in the crossfire. Owen widened his eyes and planted his feet, screaming when that overwhelming power spiraled toward him. The golden light around his claws formed an inverted dome, collecting the light and channeling it through his arms and into his chest. It felt like he was going to explode.

Owen wasn’t the only one screaming. A roar of pain cut through the deafening blast as Dark Matter’s body was torn apart; Owen could barely see, so he relied instead on his budding Perceive to get a vague idea of what Dark Matter was doing. Even when the light faded and all had become quiet again, Owen was blind.

But Dark Matter was slouched over, clutching at one of the many wounds that riddled his body. Dark haze poured from every cut.

“You said… you were out of power… You would use it all… against the Titans!”

Owen lowered his shaking arms. His body was a glimmering gold between the ridges of his red scales. He had more than enough power to do what he had to.

“I lied.”

While wounded, Dark Matter still had his new wings. He stretched them, crouching down, and leapt into the air.

Owen mirrored the motion, channeling that same Radiant power. It was the same as Mysticism, after all, but more. The Psychic element of Necrozma, those wings of light, the levitation, and the glow. He would draw from Necrozma’s power once more.

False wings of light sprouted from Owen’s back, anchoring themselves there. He leapt into the air and flew toward Dark Matter at twice the speed, past him, weaving around a blast of darkness that fizzled against the irradiated environment, and reappeared in front of the shadowy Charizard.

“You aren’t getting away,” Owen said lowly.

Dark Matter answered with a gout of black flames. Owen spat a golden Flame Burst in reply, neutralizing it. Then, from his hands, he fired a concussive beam that sent Dark Matter spiraling back to the ground.

The true battle had begun.

<><><>​

Nate wasn’t completely sure how everyone else was doing, only that the cute denizens of Kilo Village—and, no, all of Kilo—were counting on him to keep his part of the world safe. To keep the heart of the world safe!

A strange, chimeric Pokémon had approached him only a few kilos ago, offering the life force of countless Pokémon within him. Now, that chimera—Lavender, he called himself—was nestled between several of his eyes, standing gingerly. For someone so strong, he was so gentle! If only he could pet him safely, or if he had the time to try.

No, no, he had to focus. He had gathered all of his Dark spirits again, getting the news from them on how Kilo Village was doing, and also took in all the spirits that Lavender had offered. They were strange spirits, twisted by new properties that felt artificial. Still, a soul was a soul, and they were all so excitable and friendly! They would do well in his realm.

Now, on the darkened horizon, there was Lugia and the shadowy storm behind her. Above all else, he had to protect Kilo Village. They were helpless against her, and he was the only superpower available to truly battle against her. Most of the others had left again for Hot Spot to fight that dark source. Lugia was just a pawn… but Nate sensed something else deeper inside. Was that a piece of that very darkness?

Yes… It was. It was a flame. An unnatural, black, cold flame that absorbed the light and heat around it. That… was what controlled Lugia. If he could blast that out of her…

But how?

“Excuse me, Mister Dark Guardian?”

Several of Nate’s eyes crossed to focus on Lavender, between two of the five finger-like extensions of his front.

“I don’t really know what I can do extra, but I’ll try to fight! I need to protect Auntie Rim, too!”

Right, that Cherrim. Her aura was incredibly weak, but stable. Still, any attack from this darkness could kill her outright. Perhaps worse. They couldn’t afford that. And the strange Houndoom… He was not strong enough for this fight, but something about his and Lavender’s aura was unique. Like those other artificial Pokémon in Quartz HQ. An aura that could slice through other auras. Those spirits provided by Lavender had similar properties. Healing from those injuries was harder; it cut through divine barriers as well and down to the very aura.

That Alakazam was smart to provide him with that power.

The immortal Lugia was finally close enough to attack, just as the sun’s light was blotted out by the incoming clouds.

Stay on me for now, Nate told Lavender.

The chimera nodded happily, crouching. “I’ll jump once I’m needed and I’ll do my very best!”

Protect the town, too.

“Mhm!”

The details of Lugia’s body were starting to get clearer. That was the time to strike.

All but five of Nate’s countless eyes closed. Only the eyes at the very tips of those tendrils on his face remained open, and they were focused on Lugia with an intense glare.

Vague recollections of a fragmented past surfaced. Nate recalled a similar sight, long ago, him curled around a great tree as a looming shadow consumed the rest of the land. He remembered crying out for help… of Xerneas falling into that darkness, yes! He remembered Xerneas! And then, a great light shooting toward him…

And then…

What happened after that?

Lugia’s cry pushed the memories away. The present was more important! And his energy was fully charged. He locked onto Lugia, understanding her movements… She would not be able to sweep away from this one. Though, it didn’t look like she was trying.

Protect the town! Nate begged. Get everyone to shelter! Now! I’ve taken as much power as I can!

“Okay!” Lavender dismounted, shaking off the fatigue. Nate could feel how tired Lavender was beyond his bright smile.

The winds twisted. A Shadow Aeroblast that cut everything in its path, scarring the land far below just from proximity, surged toward Nate. And the Dark Guardian countered with his own blast. Five beams of light concentrated into the palm of his face, one from each tendril. He braced against the mountain, hoping it wouldn’t crack under the pressure, and fired. Pokémon-sized boulders scattered in all directions; a shockwave warped the light and left a wide, tangential fissure at the circular mountain’s base. It sliced through the Shadow Blast, dissolving it, and Lugia shut her mouth to swerve out of the way. Too slow.

She cried again, a second shockwave leaving a crater a quarter the size of Kilo Village in the fields east of the mountain. The field crackled with a dark power, flecked with white and gold energy otherwise… but Lugia was still flying. She roared weakly and pressed on.

How…? That was a direct hit!

But she wasn’t healing. He felt that lingering, painful energy clinging to her. Lugia couldn’t heal! Not from those strikes!

But… that was everything. Nate had spent so much time gathering and focusing that he couldn’t do that again. He could only fend her off from Kilo Village, now, and hope his attack slowed her enough that the citizens could find safety.

This strange, satisfied feeling… It had been nagging at him. But that moment, expending all of his power… He felt it had been his purpose to do that. A long-dormant feeling bubbled up—duty. It was his duty to protect Kilo.

Another memory flashed in his mind of a great dragon of light. For some reason, Nate felt a sense of anger and horror all at once at this dragon of light falling into a pool of darkness. And then, a gold fragment—a spirit, or part of one—jettisoning away from the dragon of light… piercing through Nate… and then going deeper into Kilo.

Back to his senses, Lugia was too close for comfort. He prepared a weaker blast of energy, his many spirits offering to help with what little energy they had left. But no, he would let them rest; they had done their part.

The world was falling apart, and yet the people within continued to press onward. Their cries to survive, their will to continue, flowed through him. He felt it from all who fought in Kilo. He was their voice… That was how Nate felt, deep within him. He did not know why; it only felt correct. He didn’t mind the details for now; perhaps one day soon it would reveal itself to him, currently sealed behind some divine ward.

But for the first time in centuries, he’d found his purpose. With renewed vigor, the Dark Guardian propelled toward Lugia, two beams of darkness clashing between them.

<><><>​

At the rate things were going, the war would be lost.

Nevren stood atop Lygo’s back, staring into the portal, never properly entering it. He would—casting information security to the wind—tell Lygo to count to 90 seconds before taking a risky approach again, saying that he needed just that much time to recharge his Psychic energy. Not entirely true, but technically relevant.

But every glimpse into the Voidlands painted a darker and darker picture. The Titans were almost at the central tree, and Nevren wasn’t sure what would happen afterward, only that there was only so much land for the Null Village residents to take shelter in if the worst outcome became a reality…

Are you adequately charged yet, Arceus? Nevren said.

Nearly, Nevren. You asked that not too long ago… I actually have roughly ten seconds remaining.

Very well.


That would do nicely. He wouldn’t even have to come up with an excuse for his impatience, since Arceus wasn’t going to remember it. It was curious that Owen was able to have a vague recollection of that rewound bit of time, yet everyone else did not. What had interfered with him then? What changed?

He was getting distracted. Five seconds, now, and Lygo was still weaving around shadowy blasts effortlessly while Nevren hung on.

“Lygo, it is time to fall back,” Nevren said.

Do it now, Arceus! The way is open!

This better work…


Even if it didn’t, Nevren could give an alternative strategy next time.

Arceus disappeared from Destiny Tower. The instant he did, the vortex pulsed with power, reacting once again to Arceus leaving his perch, but that was a risk they could afford. Arceus appeared in front of Nevren, staring into the portal while his whole body was alight with power. The wheel around his torso sprouted countless filaments of light, numbering at just over three hundred if Nevren’s guess was correct. Each filament shot a beam of light into the vortex, which Arceus then guided with care to not hit the Tree. Instead, it struck wraiths individually, every filament precisely aimed to deal damage to all nearby foes. Several more struck Titans all over, breaking apart their amalgamated limbs and exposing their Cores. One of them had a Core inside… It looked like a blue body with antlers.

Arceus’ glow was dim, now. “That was my best,” he said. “Dark Matter’s strength… I don’t know what more I can do. I’m… I’m sorry.” He bowed his head in shame.

Nevren pressed his Revisor.

In a blink, Arceus disappeared. Nevren was in a different position, and Lygo was weaving past shadowy beams that sizzled in the air.

Ngh—Nevren! My gathered power… I lost it!

Dark Matter tried to nullify it. I do not think he can do it again. Gather more power! Are you fatigued?

No, I’m fine. I’ll push harder.

Very good. I will tell you when.


A pleased smile crossed Nevren’s face. All according to plan. He tapped Lygo and directed him forward, not caring much for whatever grumbling protests Lygo made, because he wasn’t going to remember it anyway.

The repeated ninety seconds were practically the same, but Lygo had an even easier time dodging the incoming blasts. They were slightly thinner. Nevren also felt less nauseous from less turbulent flight patterns.

“Is it just me,” Lygo said, “or are they getting weaker?”

“They certainly are,” Nevren hummed, counting the seconds, glancing at his gray Revisor for that cyan flicker to return. Closer, closer…

Do it now, Arceus! The way is open! Nevren repeated, his mind quickly falling into a routine. He would be patient. Their thinning numbers would mean this Revisor-Judgement cycle was their trump card. One they hadn’t even discovered until the eleventh hour; this frustrated Nevren.

Even as Arceus blasted the insides of the Voidlands with his second volley, nearly as strong as the first, Nevren ruminated over the fact that this strategy had only been by a fluke of discovery. No careful planning, no coordinated front. He’d happened upon it. Yes, he was a genius for devising the strategy so readily, but he should have discovered it earlier. He could have done so much more! He could have singlehandedly commanded everyone to fix the problem trivially.

“What?” Arceus said, blinking. “Is that…”

Nevren was about to press the Revisor, but Arceus’ puzzlement overrode his caution. He became curious. Tapping Lygo, he gestured forward.

Arceus’ gaze was focused on a strange wraith in the sky, but it indeed gave off a curiously… divine aura.

“Is that my power?” Arceus sounded insulted.

The wraith had four legs and a dark body, but the shape was unmistakable. That rigid structure around its abdomen… That was just like the wheel around Arceus.

Oh no. Arceus was floating toward the portal. If he did that, he wouldn’t be able to recharge effectively. Just then, the badge turned cyan. Press, press!

Everything reset.

Ngh—Nevren! My gathered power… I lost it!

Nevren exhaled in relief. Good. Crisis averted. Next time, he would make it so Arceus wouldn’t see inside for too long…

Dark Matter tried to nullify it. I do not think he can do it again. Gather more power! Are you fatigued?

No, I’m fine. I’ll push harder.

Very good. I will tell you when.


<><><>​

Angelo had done more running the past few days than he’d possibly done for several years combined.

Everything burned. His legs, his lungs, his throat, his eyes. How was he running for so long? How many times had he conjured Teleport gateways to take himself and his team out of the fray? Kilo Village was far behind them.

Somehow feeling even larger than Kilo Village, though, was that leviathan battling against Lugia above it. He’d sent a massive blast Lugia’s way and she still hadn’t gone down! What more could it possibly take to defeat a Legend?

Things were so frantic that it hadn’t registered to Angelo until just then that, yes, Lugia did exist, and she was trying to kill everything. What in the world?!

With him were Phol, Brandon, Spice, and Leo, creating a team of five. A nonstandard size when it came to Heart regulations, but was the Thousand Hearts even a defined organization anymore? Was anything organized? Everyone was running about managing what they could to defend against a demonic foe.

“Angelo!” Phol called.

“Coming!” Angelo panted, but the Incineroar had already turned back to pick him up in a sweeping motion, carrying him like he was a giant squash. “Th-thank you,” Angelo said.

“Rest while you can. How much energy do you need for a Teleport?”

“I’m, I’m a bit out of energy, really.”

Phol nodded. “Spice! Get an Elixir!”

“I don’t have too many of these,” Spice warned as the team slowed down to coordinate. “Let’s try to ration them.” She passed the bottle delicately to Angelo, who took small sips at first, wincing at the bitter taste.

“Strong taste,” Angelo complained.

“Eat the bottle with it,” Spice explained. “Have you never had Heart equipment before?”

“Sorry, I don’t usually eat my cups,” Angelo said with an irritated frown. The bottle was quite small, so he ate it like an ice cream cone, which seemed to annoy the ever-impatient Salazzle wraith. “Why is this… sweet?”

“To make it more tolerable,” theorized Spice, glancing back. The green gem in her chest flickered, as did her eyes, which widened in surprise. “We need to hurry.”

Phol turned back as well, and Angelo followed their gaze. Lugia had blasted Nate clear into the crater—Angelo’s heart leapt, wondering how many buildings had been toppled from that single maneuver—and was advancing their way. Tanneth’s Poké Ball wobbled in Angelo’s bag; she must have sensed her getting closer.

Angelo stuffed the small bottle in his mouth and chomped, a vile mixture of bitterness and sweet, crunchy wax filling his senses, both smell and taste. He whined and tried to down it quickly. The wax shards were mercifully flexible enough not to cut his throat on the way down.

“You Hearts are insane, tolerating that,” he mumbled.

“You don’t have time to have a cup of tea in the middle of battle,” Phol said flatly, setting Angelo down.

The Smeargle carved another Teleport and gestured for them all to follow.

“Okay, so, if we keep up that pace, how far’s this gonna take us?” Brandon asked, hauling a bag over his shoulder that clacked with the sound of six of those strange Poké Balls.

Angelo looked behind him. Lugia was still giving chase, but now Nate was following after, firing downward. It seemed like a conscious effort so he didn’t accidentally strike them, but it left huge, five-circle craters every time he missed, each one shaking the earth. Angelo had lost his footing a few times.

Everything surrounding them was open wilderness. The mutants hadn’t really migrated very far to the east from Kilo Village, and by now they must have all been dispatched if they had.

“Um. I think she’s getting closer at this rate,” Angelo said. “I—I can’t really Teleport faster, though!”

“Well, I guess I’ll have to use some of my energy next,” Brandon said. “How good are you guys with flying?”

Leo whimpered. “I’m not the best at that,” he said, but his mind seemed preoccupied. “N-Nate would protect everyone in the Kilo Village, right? I don’t think Lugia got a good shot in…”

Angelo had seen Lugia get several, but didn’t have the heart to say that out loud. Maybe people got lucky.

“Okay, I’m all set,” Brandon said. The metallic Machoke had planted his feet in the ground, staring at a boulder along the dirt path. “Get ready, boys and girls! I’m gonna pull a sheet out of this hill!”

“You’re what—”

Brandon shoved his fingers into the stone, making a horrible grinding noise. A wave of energy flowed from his chest to his shoulders and then his arms, pulsing through the rock. It glowed suddenly, and then collapsed into itself, along with several parts of the surrounding terrain. At the same time, it seemed like part of Brandon’s arms had become liquid, flowing into the rock, and when he pulled, his arms seemed far larger than they should have.

These arms and whatever he’d taken from the rocks coalesced into a blob of liquid metal, rapidly hardening into shining steel. It flattened out, forming curves at the edges, and Brandon set it down, hopping inside with a loud clang.

“In we go!” Brandon said. “I even gave you railings this time so you don’t fall.”

Phol and Spice entered with confused but unflinching expressions; Leo was slower. Angelo was the last of them.

“Can you sketch out wide Teleports?” Brandon asked as he pulled Angelo into the bowl-like platform.

“It’ll take energy, but… I should.”

“Good. Get that ready.”

This was going to be nauseating, wasn’t it?

Brandon led the way once the platform was set, advising everyone to find someone to hang onto. Phol’s grip was strong, and Angelo was able to keep a strong hold around both Leo and Spice. The latter felt cold and a little tingly. Maybe it was her ominous aura.

Speaking of ominous auras, Angelo didn’t even have to look back to feel Lugia getting closer, even as their new platform accelerated to its full speed, the ground a blur below them. Storm clouds were darkening above them and the occasional rumble of earth, audible even from the air, reminded them that two leviathans were only moments behind them.

“Got any good escape ideas?” Brandon asked Angelo.

“Teleport’s my best,” Angelo said. “A-and even then, she can outpace me…”

“Maybe not with this bad boy.” He tapped the front of the metal, flying bowl, and it occurred to Angelo just then how absurd this was.

“Do you regularly go riding on floating disks of your own creation?” Angelo asked.

“Yeah, when I’m bored. Which is a lot, back then, when I’m not just being dormant out in the factory.”

“Factory…” Angelo glanced at his bag. “The place that made these?” He raised the Poké Ball that contained Tanneth, which was still trembling with fear.

“Yeah. Still not totally sure why Boss Man wants it preserved, but maybe it can help us… down the line.”

Lugia roared again, rumbling Angelo’s chest. It was getting to the point where every roar, every blast of darkness that seemed to suck the light out of the air, made it impossible for Angelo to breathe. And this was a long roar, dizzying Angelo.

And then something splashed on his shoulder.

“H-huh?”

It was a dark substance, like water, but he couldn’t see through it. Purplish black. It… stung. He tried to brush it off, but once he managed that, another few drops struck his other shoulder, and then his back.

Brandon visibly winced, closing one eye. “That’s… that’s a bad sort of rain,” Brandon grunted.

Spice looked up, largely unaffected, while Leo shuddered.

“I recognize this feeling,” Leo said. “That storm’s rainwater is… corrupted.”

“Forget corrupted,” Brandon said, focusing on the bowl. “It’s corrosive.”

Angelo checked Brandon’s shoulder. To his horror, the metal on his back and shoulders looked deformed, bubbling and melting in some tiny parts where the water touched.

“Gods—” Angelo glanced at Phol, who looked particularly unwell. “Um—um—” Angelo hastily drew in the air the shape of a sun. It became a solid circle, which he hurled skyward, tethering it by a string of paint that, too, became alight. Like a balloon, this circle glowed and radiated a great warmth, cleaving the clouds immediately above them.

“Thanks.” Brandon sighed, and it just occurred to Angelo then that Leo, Spice, and Phol could all appreciate the Sunny Day.

But the clouds were squeezing that light shut. Lugia’s aura was stronger. It was only a moment’s respite. “Let’s hurry,” Angelo said. “Faster!”

Below them, the rocky terrain gave way to open fields. The dirt path was gone; they were in true wilderness, now, with a forest to their right and plains to the left.

“We’re gonna hide,” Brandon said. “We gotta get outta here. Lugia’s just gonna catch us if we stay in the open, and even at max speed, I’m gonna get outpaced eventually. I only have so much energy under that… that rain. Got worse since last time…”

“You’ve encountered this rain before?” Angelo asked. “What is it?”

“No idea. Did a real number on Rhys before I rescued him. But last time, I fought it off. This time, it’s… denser.”

“It felt like I’d been under a waterfall after just a few drops,” Phol described, finally returning to his senses.

“It wasn’t that bad for me,” Leo said, “but… I’d certainly prefer to avoid it.”

Eyes turned to Spice, who sighed.

“Yeah, yeah, I didn’t mind it at all. I liked it. Can we skip the concerned looks this time?”

Angelo glanced away quickly, catching a glimpse of how terrifyingly close Lugia was, now. He could probably strike her with his farthest-reaching attacks by now, maybe a very precise Hyper Beam from across a large field.

Which meant she could do the same to them. And with more power, too.

“What’s the nearest Dungeon?” Brandon asked flatly.

“Fae Fae Forest to the north.”

“That pastel-lookin’ forest?” Brandon asked, gesturing to their right. “…Yeah. Yeah, we can make that.”

Another roar took Angelo’s breath away and the sunlight above them disappeared.

“Teleport, Angelo!” Brandon shouted.

Angelo sketched a wide circle and willed it in front of them. When they passed through, they escaped just out of the storm’s perimeter. It wouldn’t last.

“Fae Fae it is,” Brandon said. “Anything we gotta worry about?”

“There used to be stories of strange mushrooms attacking travelers… but we know that was just Willow, now,” Leo explained. “It should be safer, aside from the wraiths…”

“Oh, aside from the wraiths,” Angelo grumbled.

“More sun!” Brandon commanded.

“Ah, s-sorry!”

Angelo tried the same cycle, feeling the fatigue already. Something about the rain was making it a lot harder for Angelo to maintain that Sunny Day aura against it, constantly reestablishing its warmth against the oppressive darkness.

When the circle flickered at last, he switched to Teleporting instead.

“We gotta gain enough ground where we enter long after she does,” Brandon said.

“Right. That way, maybe the distortion will pick us up and put us in a different spot than her…”

“Last thing we need is her following us successfully in the Dungeon, too,” Phol said.

“All right. If you guys can maybe attack back?!” Brandon leaned forward. “I’m gonna put my hundred percent into this. Final push!”

But he wasn’t the only one. As if sensing their desperation, Lugia let out a roar louder and longer than before—Nate was so far behind it didn’t even matter anymore—and fired a beam at the closest range yet. It obscured where Lugia was until Brandon swerved out of the way, but part of it nicked their ride. It was only due to Spice bringing up a deflecting, dark Protect that they hadn’t been spun through the skies.

She cursed. “My arms are numb,” she muttered.

“Your form is off. You shouldn’t dedicate a body part like that. The recoil strikes your body’s aura,” Phol said.

“What are you, some kind of tutor?” Spice growled.

“Sorry. You’re clearly just inexperienced with Protect. Take the advice.”

“Fine. What should I do?”

“A compact stance. Arms crossed, crouched down, like you’re bracing. Don’t lock any joints.”

Lugia was readying another. Phol stepped behind the team and demonstrated, crouching down, holding his arms out. Then, he crossed them, forming a golden shield. Then, he reached his arms out and expanded the shield just in time to block the next blast. But unlike Spice’s, this golden barrier was eaten away like paper and Phol shouted in pain. The recoil looked like black electricity that ripped through his arms. Blood exploded out from each one and he collapsed, unable to move them at all.

“Phol!” Angelo cried.

“Another one’s coming!” Leo shouted, and then the rain began to fall.

“On it!” Spice snarled.

The blast went wide after bouncing off of Spice’s barrier, carving a fissure of darkness through a portion of the forest ahead. Brandon’s platform lurched and plummeted ten feet, putting Angelo in a screaming freefall. By the time they all landed, Brandon said, “Sorry, I—ugh, just that thing’s aura gets to me…”

“It’s strong against you Guardians, isn’t it?” Phol said. “And me… Why does it hurt me so much?” He flexed his arms to summon another barrier, but he winced and it fizzled instantly.

“Here comes another!” Angelo cried.

“I can’t make another barrier,” Spice said, struggling to conjure one. Phol could barely move. Leo didn’t know any proper barrier techniques. And Angelo was out of energy to try the same.

“C’mon, we’re almost there!” Brandon shouted.

But they weren’t going to make it in time. Thinking hastily, Angelo said, “Dive down!”

Brandon did. “What’s your plan?!”

The whole metal plate lurched and Angelo’s feet suddenly felt horribly cold. He looked down and his breath caught in his throat—the whole plate had been eaten away, and the bottoms of his feet were narrowly spared a rotten death. The rest of the bowl was blown through, the whole team hanging on the edge… but it was at least one barrier.

Brandon struggled to maintain their flight, but had to make an emergency landing. He grunted something and said, “Everyone, brace!”

Angelo blacked out for a few seconds before the landing. The next thing he knew, everything about his body hurt, and he was staring blurrily at a two-headed, steel Machoke.

“Angelo, wake up!”

“What? What?”

The two heads merged into one as he was shaken awake.

“Get up already! I can’t carry everyone!”

“We were falling…”

“Yes, and now we’ve fallen, let’s GO! The Dungeon’s right ahead, and—”

A roar cut the air. Lugia was upon them, charging her final blast. There would be no escape. Brandon’s melted shoulders sagged. In Angelo’s bag, Tanneth trembled within her capsule.

And then… she stopped. Lugia’s whole body flashed with gold sparks and she screeched, tumbling into the ground with a mighty tremor. She struggled to her feet, but another spark left her shrieking again, but this one didn’t make her flinch as much.

Finally, back to his senses, Angelo found everyone else was also on their feet, even Phol. Their platform lay in ruins on a downward hill. “What happened to her?”

Distantly, ethereal shockwaves to the east—north of Kilo Village—boomed like thunder.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Brandon said. “Let’s go. Whatever miracle just happened, it bought us time. Now, NOW!”

Angelo didn’t have to be warned again. The team fled into the relative safety of Fae Fae Forest, leaving, for now, the corrupted Legend behind.

<><><>​

The winged Charmeleon weaved between spires of darkness and surges of black flames. The very landscape was trying to bring him down, but he was too fast. Even with just one horn, even as a mere Charmeleon, this temporary power he’d gathered from the Tree and whatever else was empowering him put his Perceive into overdrive. He could see everything; he could handle everything. He knew where Dark Matter was fleeing, where every attack was coming, and precisely where to go to avoid it all and strike where he had to.

Dark Matter was struggling. The beam had hit him when he’d least expected, and his attempts at evasion were stopped by blasts of light from Owen. He didn’t even have the energy to fly away anymore. He half-expected backup to arrive to make the challenge even greater, but when Owen glanced toward South Null Village, he saw divine spears raining down upon Titans and Void Shadows from the Hot Spot portal. Owen didn’t know how Arceus was gathering the energy to put out such massive blasts so rapidly, but by the fourth volley, the numbers had thinned to less than a third.

It was over. Dark Matter had lost. Now, all Owen had to do was deliver the final blow.

The final blow…

The dark Charizard dived down, feinting a blast before swerving away and down.

Owen grunted and sped after him, ducking to graze past two giant trees that tried to collapse around him. Then, he rolled left and perfectly avoided an upward spire of Voidland stone. He’d closed half the distance between himself and Dark Matter.

The demon glanced back and blasted light-eating flames toward Owen next; he countered with a beam of gold fire and held his fist forward for the rest. A golden, drill-shaped Protect cleaved the beam of flames apart. A quarter of the distance remained.

He was going to do it. He was going to kill Dark Matter.

Next, Dark Matter flared his wings, trails of shadowy haze filling the air. It all dissolved against Owen’s temporary wings. Like a candle in a dark room, he illuminated this portion of the forest in one final blaze.

Up close, Owen realized how malleable and weak Dark Matter’s body was. He wouldn’t even have to cut through. His Perceive saw within his chest a red sphere where his heart should have been. That was ‘him.’ That was Dark Matter’s core.

Owen thought he saw fear in his eyes just then. He almost, almost, hesitated.

But just as another column of stone rose from the ground, Owen surged forward with a final burst of strength, channeling the light for his wings into propulsion instead, and plunged his fist directly into the false Charizard’s chest.

His claws wrapped around something hard like glass.

Got you.

The golden wings disappeared completely. Dark Matter gasped, breath hitching, as his flight failed him. A tree was just ahead; they both crashed, but Owen kept his grip around that glassy core. It pulsed in his palm, faster and faster with panic.

They struck the ground hard but Owen held strong even after that. Dark Matter groaned from the pain, taking most of the fall as Owen landed on top of him. They skidded to a stop in a quiet spot just beneath a looming, dead tree.

He was frozen. They both knew what positions they were in. Dark Matter, if he made any hostile action, would be filled with light and shattered completely, wouldn’t he? Would Owen have enough to do that? It seemed even Dark Matter didn’t know, because he wasn’t trying to overpower him anymore.

Necrozma’s words echoed. Follow your heart…

Owen remembered seeing Dark Matter in his dreams. That frightened, scared little nebula that didn’t know where to go or what to do, trapped and lost in an abyss of his own creation.

You will make the right decision in the end.

He knew Dark Matter was woven into the fabric of Kilo itself, down to its very laws. That only with the collective power of all gods would he be unwound from it, freed and released… or if the world itself was destroyed. Even if Owen destroyed him right here, he would only buy a few centuries. And what then? Would they have even recovered from this clash by then?

I have faith in you.

“Give me one reason,” Owen said. It was completely silent. No wind. No thunderous booms. Everything was far, far away.

Dark Matter said nothing. He only stared, wide-eyed. The first sense of true emotion Owen felt from him.

“Give me one reason… not to kill you.”

“What…?”

“You have three tries.”

Dark Matter’s influence was gone. None of that could affect Owen anymore. This was all him. These were his memories. He remembered pleading to Necrozma, and getting cold indifference. He remembered talking to Dark Matter, offering a name. He refused it, wanting to die. And Owen urged him to press on.

Dark Matter had listened, somehow. That meant there was hope. Right?

“Why?” Dark Matter said.

“Give… give me a reason. One good reason.”

Dark Matter wasn’t even trying to push Owen away. Was he afraid? Did he know that, if he did, Owen would kill him right then? Did he believe that?

The fallen demon opened his mouth and closed it several times. He was flustered, vulnerable. He looked exactly as he had when they’d first met.

“I’ll… restore Amia. She is sealed, but not gone. That is the nature of Void Shadows.”

“But she won’t be the same, will she?” Owen said. “She’s spent too much time as one. Her past will be like a dream.”

“With time… there is a chance of return.”

“You’ll only use her… to control me. A bargaining chip, because she’s under your control.” Owen tightened his hold, just as his throat, too, constricted. “Two chances.”

How had it come to this? Why did Necrozma give him that memory? What was he trying to say? All this time, Owen thought Necrozma, with his light, wanted Owen to destroy Dark Matter utterly. Push him into the very depths of Kilo once more to buy time to fully eradicate him later. So why that memory, where Necrozma seemed to have been at his cruelest?

You do not need my answer.

“You… you need me to defeat Alexander. I’ll fight for you. With you. And the Voidlands will be freed of his influence.”

“So you can have the power for yourself. So you can continue it all… uninhibited. Then it will all be gone, won’t it? You’ll destroy everything… That’s your answer. That’s what happened when you betrayed Anam.”

“That isn’t why I—”

“One chance.”

Owen had started a whole war against Necrozma to save Dark Matter, this demon who was now trying to destroy the world. All because he tried to help someone who didn’t want his help. And now he was broken, about to plunge everything into oblivion had Owen not stepped in. He could end it. Kill Dark Matter; defeat Alexander; then, with that extra time, purge Dark Matter from Kilo’s fabric, somehow. It would all be over.

Do not lose sight of your purpose.

“You hate me.”

Owen winced. Did he? No… Dark Matter could feel that. Dark Matter wasn’t lying. This was the truth. He hated Dark Matter… But that, that wasn’t right. Not entirely. Because Dark Matter only saw that negative.

“One… chance,” Owen said, voice wavering.

Owen hated Dark Matter… because of what the world made him. And if Dark Matter was destroyed, it would only repeat the cycle. Dark Matter would come back more vengeful than ever… irreparably so. Would anything they tried work then? How many more would die, or worse? How much more history would be lost, lives destroyed, societies felled?

Dark Matter, finally, closed his eyes. “Do it.”

Distantly, one of the Judgement barrages rumbled the earth, destroying even more of Dark Matter’s army. If Dark Matter was defeated, the army wouldn’t return. Null Village would be safe. But… he’d come back later. They might not find a way to destroy him without destroying the world… just like what Necrozma wanted.

Just as Necrozma had planned.

“Why?” Owen pressed.

Dark Matter said nothing, resigned.

“Give… give me a reason,” Owen whispered.

“There is none.”

“I need… I need a reason,” Owen said. “I can’t… there’s…”

Nothing.

“Give me… a reason. Please, I…”

Nothing.

“Give me a reason! Please! There has to be a way!” He pressed a little harder.

He saw himself reaching out to Dark Matter, day after day, until the nebula had finally reached back. It was possible for Dark Matter to hope for something. It was the only way to end the cycle. He knew it was. He could still save Dark Matter and, therefore, the world.

And yet, Dark Matter wasn’t answering him. His eyes stayed closed.

“Just give me a reason, damn it!”

He squeezed too hard. A burst of light turned the flame on his tail gold. Before Owen could stop it, a weak pulse of light went from his chest to his arm to his claws, dancing over the core. A little went inside and Dark Matter’s mouth opened a little in pain. It was melting him from the inside. His face screwed up from a new, deep pain.

Owen yanked his hand away. Shadows that clung to his claws evaporated and he dispelled the gold light. A dim glow radiated from the false Charizard’s open chest, most of it that ominous red, but some of it a faint gold. Dark Matter stared emptily skyward.

“You… st… stopped…”

The wind was back. Bits of dust fell in the open wound on Dark Matter’s chest, but he didn’t seem to care.

“I can’t destroy you,” Owen said, voice trembling. “It’ll lead to Alexander taking over and bringing everyone else down. It’ll throw everything off balance. Necrozma will try to destroy the world again, won’t he? Star and Barky might go back to fighting over who deserves that power, too. And then you’ll come back, too… because you’re part of this world’s strife. And it’ll happen all over again.”

“…You have those memories…”

“I… hate you. After all I did to help you… this is what you’ve done. Coercing me into siding with you. Scaring my friends into giving in. Killing others, and… and all of this that you haven’t even told me.”

He gestured to the Voidlands around him. “If it was anyone else, anything else, I… I don’t think I’d spare you the same way. But I need to save this world. That’s… the purpose I was given. A-and it’s the only one I agree with. Kilo gave me a second chance. This whole world is a second chance. And… you’re part of it… so you had a second chance, too.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Even if you’ve squandered it.”

More rumbling. This one was harder, like it was running out of targets and was instead bombarding raw earth. Owen’s light had all but faded by now… but, somehow, perhaps from some mutual resonance between the two, Owen knew that Dark Matter was done fighting.

“I’m so tired.” Dark Matter’s voice was slow but not deliberate, and it was like his whole body had deflated. “Every second, I can feel the pain of the world. I can’t stop it. I am… this world’s negativity. And I cannot feel… these mythical things called joy, or contentment, or even… safety. It’s only absence… emptiness. Why… must you force me to continue this? Please… let it end… please…

The sound that came afterward was… familiar, yet foreign. A mournful, weak roar, maybe even a cry, but it was so filled with despair that the already dead trees sagged around them, sharing his grief.

Owen couldn’t stand to hear it for very long. Wincing, he stepped closer and, when Dark Matter’s long, drawn-out weep had subsided, he said, “It’s not fair. But… that’s how it is. And I’m here to change it. And I need your help. Please… I’m not going to show you some new way like Anam. And I’m not going to defend you like I once did.”

Owen held his hand out. The wind picked up again, carrying a charge that he didn’t recognize. It felt like neither his nor Dark Matter’s power. “I’m going to fight. Just… do it with me. One last time. I’m not trying the same thing again.”

He stared Dark Matter directly in the eyes, and neither could look away.

Owen kept his hand extended. “Please.”

They could have stayed like that for an eternity and Owen would not have been able to tell. Dark Matter, staring at the hand. Owen, staring at the demon’s eyes, a mixture of hatred, resignation, understanding, patience… He didn’t know how much of that was out of compassion and how much out of obligation. But it was enough.

Dark Matter reached for Owen’s hand, and Owen was almost positive—maybe it was a trick of the eye—that Dark Matter smiled just then. He held Owen’s firmly and looked him in the eyes.

He was about to say something. But then his expression washed into a mixture of alarm and horror as he stared at something over Owen’s shoulder. The next thing Owen knew, Dark Matter yanked Owen to the ground and pushed himself forward, holding his arms and wings wide.

Dark Matter conjured a black barrier in front of him, but it shattered just as quickly. A javelin of light plunged through Dark Matter’s chest, through his core, and then into Owen’s own chest right after. A horrible, searing pain of his own light used against him blotted out all senses. Some of the shards of Dark Matter’s core dug into Owen’s scales, but it narrowly missed his heart. Dark Matter’s body had stopped its advance by mere inches.

“D… Dark…”

The false Charizard’s body crumpled lifelessly to the ground.

And, with him fallen, Owen saw the source. As the javelin dissolved and as Dark Matter’s body liquefied into a colorless sludge, a lone Hydreigon descended a stone’s throw away. His right head was partway dissolved from where he’d thrown the javelin. There was a mad grin spread across the two remaining heads.

“Hello,” Alexander said, “Owen. So glad… to see you again.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Author’s Note: It’s Alexander versus Owen, so… this chapter has more violence, blood, etc. than usual, and has a temporary rating of M.

Chapter 126 – Outskirt Showdown

Dark Matter was nothing but a pile of sludge in front of Owen. The Charmeleon’s own light had been depleted to the point where he could barely draw enough energy for another attack. He was too far away from the Radiant Tree of Life to get more, even as he heard the panicked shouts of the spirits watching through his eyes. Hopeless as the events unfolded in front of them.

Owen did not know how to fight Alexander. It was only the two of them. He’d hoped that everyone else would be able to fend him off, and then he would work with Dark Matter, somehow, to take Alexander down next.

But in a single blow, Alexander dashed that option.

“H-how… did…”

“How?” Alexander repeated. “I saw what you did…” His smile didn’t fade. The dissolved head wasn’t regenerating, but it was stable enough that perhaps it would in time. “A mighty blast of light to weaken Dark Matter. How lucky that I was not struck by that same power, or perhaps I would have had a few bruises…”

Owen eyed the missing head again.

Alexander must have noticed, because he frowned, furrowing his scaly brows. “Dark Matter was a nuisance. Keeping me from rightfully claiming the Voidlands that I had tended to and created a safe place out of for centuries. I already stole away some of his power once. Now, it’s time for me to take the rest.”

Alexander was upon them, looming over the sludge like a predator over its kill. Owen was only a few feet away, instincts telling him to run, everything else telling him to stay. He stood his ground. On Alexander, there was still that mad grin, too, as he opened wide and sank his fangs into the remains.

“What—what are you doing?!” Owen shouted over the crunching. Some instinctual part of him knew this was bad. That was Dark Matter. Alexander was—was taking some part of it. No, he couldn’t let that happen.

“STOP!”

Owen lunged forward. He expected an initial parry, so he weaved to the left. His judgement was accurate—he narrowly dodged a quick blast from his remaining head, and then deflected one with a quick barrier. He hissed at the recoil; Alexander’s attacks were strong. Those Shadow beams felt like they would kill him in one swoop if they were at full power…

Balling his fist, he was unable to create light, and instead encased it in flames as he pounded Alexander’s nose. It was like punching stone. Still, even as Alexander chomped and crunched on the shattered core, Owen punched and punched, grabbing at a few of the red shards that had once been Dark Matter’s core and scattering them about.

That got to Alexander. He stopped eating and went for Owen instead, and Owen was too slow. The major head clamped down on Owen’s arm and unceremoniously twisted it backwards. Owen wailed and Alexander tossed him into the tree.

The arm was broken in three places. He couldn’t clench his fist anymore. It wasn’t responding. He didn’t want to look. Fleetingly, Owen wondered if attempting his backup plan would give him better luck, but he quashed the thought. Not yet.

With his good arm, he staggered back to his feet, distracted.

When he looked forward again, two empty eyes stared back—the remaining, minor head. It opened wide and clamped over his throat.

“A-ahh… ugg…!” Owen couldn’t breathe.

Alexander’s face was dripping with dark sludge. “Do you really think you can stop me?” he said. “Make me flinch? After how small, tired, pathetic you’ve become? You did my job for me. You put Dark Matter at his weakest. And now…” Alexander leaned closer, his breath in Owen’s nose. It smelled like cold death. Every syllable was like a crunch of a leaf in wintertime, grinding against his head and threatening his inner fire.

He still couldn’t breathe.

“Just what should I do to you… before I drag you to the dungeons, I wonder?” Alexander pondered, squeezing tighter. “Rip your arms off… and one leg… leaving you to hop back home? And then I take you anyway… You wouldn’t bother to run, would you? Would you prefer that?”

He didn’t understand why Alexander was doing this. Why? Why was he taunting him? He already couldn’t fight back! What was the point?

He’s drunk with the power of Shadows, Owen heard. His eyes bugged out; where had he heard that voice? He couldn’t tell where it came from…

“You’re responsible for me being here, you know. Do you remember that?” Alexander pressed more, only giving enough room for a single breath so Owen didn’t pass out. “Do you remember? That wonderful little war…”

He didn’t. He really didn’t. Perhaps Alex would have known the full story there. But this wasn’t adding up. Was Alexander alive during the era of Legends? No, that was impossible. Alexander was Alex’s father, and surely, they were not alive when he was the Wishkeeper.

Was this the other war?

There had been two…

It was all a blur. Owen didn’t know what was what. His arm being broken and his body in general bleeding all over wasn’t doing him any favors, either. Or perhaps it would… Tentatively, Owen tested something silently. He felt a dull, painful throb in his broken arm. That pocket of energy he’d stored there in case of emergency was still there. Alexander hadn’t ruptured it.

“Answer me,” Alexander snarled, clamping harder on his throat.

He tried to speak—didn’t know what—but no words came. No air to exhale.

And then he let go and Owen could breathe again. He gasped a deep, loud breath, and then seconds later a deep pressure snapped his other arm—he’d gone for that one next. Owen didn’t scream this time and that seemed to perplex Alexander.

“Cry,” he snarled, pressing harder.

He is addicted to misery.

“CRY!”
Alexander blasted Owen in the chest, blowing half of his scales off in one strike.

It won’t satisfy him for long.

For a fleeting moment, Owen’s vision was clear. Far from him, he saw ice and water. Fliers in the air. But they weren’t going to reach him; their path was askew.

Maybe crying was a good idea.

“I said cry,” Alexander snarled, pressing into his shoulder.

“S-STOOOP!” Owen screamed, letting out a bloody, agonized roar, hiding his disgust as Alexander’s face twisted into an ecstatic grin. He pressed again and Owen cried in unison.

This was humiliating. His body was already in some kind of shock because he couldn’t feel any of it. He fell to the ground. Alexander pressed his good head against his back, drilling a spear of darkness into his spine. The cold spike felt like it was carefully avoiding vitals.

Owen screamed again and Alexander hissed with delight. The mangled Charmeleon’s eyes scanned the ground, then at where he’d seen the fliers and ice. Their path had changed, and suddenly. Quickly. With purpose.

Did you just utilize your own pain to call them?

Where are you? Owen called. Are you… Dark Matter?

…I don’t know where I am.

“You… stopped crying. Wake up.”
Alexander pulled Owen back to his feet, biting into his shoulder with the smaller head to do so.

Owen couldn’t move his arms and standing was difficult and unbalanced. Still, he stared at Alexander, savoring his breaths. How was he still alive? Something was keeping him alive far longer than it should have. But he couldn’t afford to die yet… So, that worked out.

“Can you even hear me anymore?” Alexander said. “Wake up. Feel this. You—”

“You really can’t control that power… can you?” Owen wheezed, looking up. He couldn’t really tell, but he suspected his throat was going to hurt later from all that wailing. “It’s controlling you, isn’t it?”

Alexander furrowed his brow, like he didn’t understand. There was something frenzied about him that felt… uncharacteristic. All he’d heard about this tyrant was that he was cold and calculated; when he tried to torment someone, it wasn’t with this kind of primal disregard. But Owen couldn’t afford to spend time puzzling over that now, staring at him, helpless. He had to distract him. There was just one part left of his plan to execute. He’d saved it, never needing that desperate gambit for Dark Matter after gaining that upper hand.

“Don’t think you know what I’m capable of and what I’m not.”

This was getting tiresome. But Owen wondered, in the back of his mind, if that was what Alexander wanted. Owen wasn’t afraid of Alexander. He was furious. But he didn’t have the power to strike back… And now, Alexander was a hair’s width away from losing himself to the darkness he’d just acquired. Was that better, or worse? Maybe he could take advantage of that…

His thoughts were cut off by another crushing blow to his sternum. Several deep cracks echoed and he wheezed out a bubble of blood, falling again.

“I’ll show you how weak you truly are,” he finally said. The Hydreigon’s main head sank its fangs into the back of Owen’s already broken shoulder. Something cold ran through his blood like ice, like it was trying to grasp at something inside him, pull it away, corrode it, encapsulate it… Defiantly, Owen fought back. His muscles couldn’t move, his mind felt muddled from the pain, but something else fought back in full and unrestrained force.

And, like some reflex, Alexander sputtered into his shoulder and reeled backwards. His mouth was coated in blood, but the blackened color… That wasn’t Owen’s blood. His jaws were agape with confusion as sludge dripped from his melted teeth and blistered tongue.

Yes… Light. He couldn’t break past Owen’s light.

Never lose… that smile, little flower…

“Something wrong?” Owen asked, his voice a pathetic rasp. “Too… spicy?”

Alexander brought his good minor head to his face to wipe some of the sludge away, wincing. “You…”

“So long as you don’t break my spirit, there is going to be no way you’ll ever claim it.” Owen coughed out a laugh. “Dark Matter might have been defeated, but I won’t be. Not by you… No matter what you try.”

Alexander was trembling with frustration, but not fear. It was a standoff. Owen wondered if he could turn off his light at all, should the torment be too much, but it was only a fleeting thought. Alexander was thinking. If he could wait it out a little longer…

Yes, Alexander was thinking of ways to break Owen’s spirit, now. Owen had inadvertently give that hint, though he wasn’t really sure if it was true. This light was innate. Even at his lowest, it had always been there. Xypher had said as much, during those last dying breaths. He couldn’t lose his light, even if he wanted to.

How could he use that, how could he use that? Owen puzzled over this while Alexander stared him in the face. Owen wondered if he’d try tearing it off. He wouldn’t put it past the savage thing.

Would he need to make use of that gambit after all? Maybe if Alexander needed time to think, he’d carry him away and not hurt anyone else. That, now, was his goal. He had to force Alexander to flee, even if it meant taking him away. Before anyone else got hurt. He needed to apply some pressure.

He had just a little bit of light remaining that wasn’t innate to himself. He’d implanted that energy into parts of his body, just in case, like traps. Traps that had burned Alexander by surprise, of course… but they were also traps he could detonate himself, no different than one he would have put in the soil.

Time was hard to keep track of, but Owen’s patience was finally answered with an Ice Beam to the back of Alexander’s head. He stumbled forward from where he floated, but it, despite everything, did not harm him. But it was enough to get his attention.

Leading the charge was Zena, shimmering from her own glow, her powers enhanced by the residual Radiant energy of the Tree’s blast. Just behind her were Demitri and Mispy, both looking a little slow. Owen spotted hints of melting ice on their body from their traveling method. In the sky was Gahi, panting heavily, as well as Jerry and another Jerry behind him. Lingering further, but with a fierce look in his eyes, was Alex, the other Hydreigon, riddled with hastily sealed wounds and one eye half-closed.

“Looks like you’re out of time,” Owen said. “Your underlings… What do you think happened to them?”

The glare that followed almost made Owen flinch, but it wasn’t enough.

“Owen!” Zena looked between Alexander and Owen. The Hydreigon turned toward her, and instantly she blasted him with ice. It was weak—which made sense. While related, it was not her true element, Orb or otherwise.

“Let him go,” Mispy demanded, struggling to get each word out, and yet her snarling tone forced her onward.

Rather than reply with words, Alexander opened his mouth and spat a glob of darkness toward Mispy. Demitri stepped in and hurled a tusk at it, splitting it in half; it instantly exploded, but nothing got onto the team. A psychic aura enveloped the tusk and withdrew it back to Demitri’s hands.

“Yer outnumbered,” Gahi spat. “Attack!”

Owen winced. They should have opened with a taunt and nothing more—a bluff. Because…

A flurry of attacks rained down. Ice, Solar Beams, indigo flames, Psychic blasts… Eon contributed with gusts of wind that seemed to drill through the air, and Jerry, watching cautiously, crept toward the team to get into some other position. Owen wasn’t sure why; there was some sort of recognition in the Aerodactyl’s eyes. But he wasn’t attacking.

Alexander countered all of it with a single pulse of Shadows. Zena yelped and tried to slither back. Mispy braced and primed another Solar Beam while Demitri brought his arms back to toss both of his tusks. Alex seemed fiercer than ever, not even flinching at the initial shockwave. A second volley of dragon fire slammed into Alexander’s face, the sheer force bringing his head down. Alexander snarled louder at that, followed by one of Demitri’s tusks lodging itself in his chest.

That earned a deep, bellowing growl, and Owen was suddenly filled with horrible dread. “GET AWAY!”

Too late. Cutting crescents of darkness radiated out from Alexander in all directions, more powerful and concentrated than they had been before. Alexander’s guard was down when he’d done so, but that didn’t matter if his foes couldn’t take the hits. All of the trees behind Owen’s friends were sliced to bits, while their bodies, barely able to resist it, were left with deep gashes all over.

Demitri screamed and held one of his arms where Owen saw bone; Mispy had lacerations all over her front and couldn’t slither forward with most of her vines severed; Alex lost the opposite diminutive head that Alexander had; Zena dodged most of it, but lost one of her ribbons, which bled at the severed end; Jerry was a little bruised, but Owen was certain a few had gone his way. Had he dodged them when Owen wasn’t looking? And Eon was clutching at a missing wing that oozed pink slime.

All from just one retaliatory attack. They wouldn’t stand a chance. Please, go away! Owen begged, but they, of course, didn’t hear him. You don’t want to—

Zena glanced behind her for a split-second too long. The world moved slowly just then as Alexander’s missing head regenerated, but not as something of scales and flesh, but of darkness and red, glowing eyes. Its razor-sharp fangs extended, wraith-like mouth agape, as it wrapped around Zena’s midsection as she tried to reel back.

And then he crunched, splitting her in two.

Owen could only watch, unable to find his voice, croaking out half of her name. Zena’s upper body collapsed to the ground while her lower half flopped lifelessly in the opposite direction. Mispy collapsed, unconscious from residual effects that her healing couldn’t outpace. Demitri was trying to shake her awake.

“Who to kill next,” Alexander hummed to himself, eyes scanning the fallen crowd. He aimed again, but missed completely and looked perplexed. In the corner of Owen’s eyes, there was a distortion of light. His Perceive weakly informed him that it was Enet, hiding in the darkness. Could Alexander sense her? If she wasn’t careful…

“St-stop,” Owen said. “I’ll…”

“You think you can stop me?” Alexander said. “I’ll kill all of them… and then take you back. You are powerless.”

“Powerless…” That was it, then. It all clicked into place.

Alexander was toying with him, extending his suffering, not only because he was addicted to it, but because he thought he could get away with it. Torturing his friends because he could. Prolonging all of this pointless torment because it fed him more. Gluttony and tyranny.

It looked like that final backup plan was good after all.

Owen took a few breaths. Quick ones. He tried to make them deep, but it wasn’t enough. Not for what he knew had to be done. Then, screwing his eyes shut, gritting his teeth, he concentrated on the power in his arm. Something pulsed there like a heart, and then there was a flash even in the corners of his closed eyes, and a blast sent Owen flying a foot to the left. He’d gone into some kind of shock because he couldn’t feel anything but cold. The first trap exploded, the one planted right in his arm.

Alexander stared back with surprise, moments away from attacking someone else. “What—”

“I’ll do it again,” Owen stuttered. “I st… still have… one arm left. My legs. My heart. My head. I’ll… I can destroy any of them.” Owen curled his body, inching his way back until he could sit upright. In at least five different ways he should have been dead, but some combination of light and dark kept him breathing.

But he still needed a head, surely. That, he believed, and that firm tone and doubtless mind would be enough to convince Alexander of the same.

“You’ll die? You wouldn’t dare.” He smirked. “You’re afraid.”

Owen squeezed his eyes shut again. There was a throb in his other arm, now—

“STOP.”

You can’t control me.

A second explosion knocked him over, but this time he saw it coming and he braced against the tree, giving Alexander a sick smile. This reminded him of an ancient, macabre game back home, each wrong letter affecting another limb…

Gods, it hurt. His mind stopped processing the true extent of the injuries. In a strange way it felt good. Perhaps the mutant blood in him. Or perhaps he’d finally cracked. Probably both.

“You need me,” Owen said hoarsely. He didn’t know why. Not completely. Not without all his memories. But that was what everything pointed to. Necrozma, Alexander, Dark Matter, all of them valued something about him, and that was where his true power lay dormant.

“…I’ll do my head next. Then… you’ll have to find me. While everyone hunts you down… You won’t win. You’ll lose… your one chance.”

Alexander looked trapped—finally, a sign of hesitance. Perhaps he was even lucid, that tiny, calculating part of his mind pushing through the Shadow-stupor he’d plunged himself into.

It was time to go for the kill.

“Leave my friends alone,” Owen said slowly, “and you can have me.”

Alexander blinked, trying to weigh the options. He was calculating his odds again. He was coming back from that brief, overwhelming drunkenness. That would be bad for Owen. He could find an opening, see through the gambit…

“Otherwise…” Owen closed his eyes. A dull, rapidly intensifying headache throbbed—

“No—you… have some sense.”

He let the dull pain ebb away, fighting back nausea.

“…Hmph. You’re lucky, then. But don’t think you can—”

A beam of ice struck Alexander on the side. He stared, somewhere between offended and surprised, at Zena’s upper half. She glared at him, blood and water dribbling from her mouth, as she steadied herself with her one good ribbon for another shot. Her eyes were wide with pain and madness.

Alexander didn’t even dignify her with a word. Raising his wraith-head, he fired. Owen’s heart dropped and suddenly everything was twice as cold.

Gray wings swooped in, absorbing the hit, and then knocking the rest of the blast into a nearby tree, where a small imprint had been left behind, but nothing more.

Jerry?

The Aerodactyl shook his wings, like they were numb, and glared up at Alexander. “You got your prize,” he snarled. “Leave us alone, beast.”

Jerry was speaking with an odd familiarity. Owen knew—well, it was obvious—that Jerry and Alexander knew nothing about one another. Yet that tone… Was Jerry speaking to someone else, in his mind?

“You have my blood,” Alexander whispered. Then, with a dismissive grunt, he drifted to Owen and picked him up by the neck. “If this is a ruse… If you destroy yourself on the way… I shall do far worse than kill them.”

It had been a possibility… but Owen looked away anyway, saying nothing. If Alexander could think he’d outsmarted Owen, then the lives of his friends would be spared after all.

Wasting little extra time, Alexander grabbed Owen with his diminutive heads and flew away with haste. The one made of Shadow seemed colder, while the normal one had streaks of indigo fire digging into his chest where it wrapped.

He had time to think, finally time to think without worry about what was going to happen within the next few seconds. Even as a scuffed-looking Arceus drifted after Alexander from a distance, a Mewtwo and Treecko on her back, Owen focused inward. He could finally hear their voices again.

Owen! What are you doing?! Was THIS your plan?! Amelia shouted, somewhere between aghast and frustrated.

It was one of them, Owen replied quietly. A fallback. He’s too strong. I’m going to buy you some time… and hold out with him. He won’t get to me.

But… if he has you, what does that mean? Why is he after YOU specifically?


Owen had his guesses. He doesn’t have me, he replied coolly. I’m here by choice. If something goes wrong, I’ll… go back. But then he’ll be mad, and… he won’t be so merciful. I have him scared right now, but it was a bluff.

But where are . . .


They were fading out. He was too far away. Owen smiled a little, eyes closed. He’d… left them all behind. Let Alexander take him. There was a crushing sense of defeat at that thought, but it was better than utter destruction. He’d saved what he could.

He gritted his teeth again, thinking of Xypher. He couldn’t save everyone. He… just couldn’t lose another. Not like that. Not to him.

Owen’s arms sprouted fleshy vines that twisted around themselves, forming makeshift arms. His body was repairing itself. Maybe their situation, too, could improve.

Zena’s final gaze never left his mind’s eye. Please, stay strong, Owen thought. I will, too. No matter what.

But the fatigue was finally setting in. He was tired. And after making sure that sleepiness wasn’t from blood loss—and, indeed, he’d stopped bleeding—and once he was sure he wouldn’t die in Alexander’s arms, he let his guard down and drifted into darkness.

The captured Charmeleon dangled, asleep, in the grasp of the Void King as they flew north. His final, waking thought was that he would soon be far and away from the closest thing in the Voidlands he could’ve called home.

<><><>​

Owen was floating in a void again. Lucid, he realized that perhaps this was probably what would now always happen when he fell asleep. At least it was restful. He could float there, not thinking, and enjoy that brief peace.

He could have stayed there forever, but lingering thoughts always reminded him of his duties. His friends. He hoped they would know this was part of… one of his plans, at least, even if it wasn’t the best one.

Dark Matter, though… He’d failed him.

What was he supposed to do there?

Eventually, stewing in his own thoughts, that peace fading to anxious stirring, a light flashed in the void. A cold pit grew in Owen’s nonexistent stomach.

He was coming again.

Preparing as much as he could, Owen steeled his nerves, stood up straight, and got ready for the third god he’d managed to defy. Maybe this time he’d actually finish him for good… No. No, he couldn’t do that yet. He still had work to do.

Necrozma appeared and Owen did not avert his eyes, though he still had to squint, pupils narrowing to slits.

“Owen,” Necrozma greeted. His voice was a little clearer this time, deep but sharp, with a constant warmth to it, or maybe that was just his presence. He hated how comforting it was.

“I hope you’re happy,” Owen said. “Dark Matter’s dead… even though I defied you.”

The dragon of light paused, puzzled, and Owen thought he saw in those multicolored eyes and crystal jaw the hints of a smirk. The god confirmed it with a chuckle. “Goodness, Owen,” he said, “you aren’t usually the sort to be wrong twice in a row.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Owen snapped, fists clenched.

“You didn’t defy me,” Necrozma said, “and Dark Matter isn’t dead. In fact… it was as I predicted. In the end, you did exactly as I had hoped. You made the right decision in the end.”

“Wh…” This threw Owen so far off that his stance faltered. His tail slumped, his shoulders fell, and before he could regain his composure, Necrozma continued.

“I’m sorry for confusing you so much, Owen. I really am. But I know you perhaps too well. If I told you to do something directly, well, after all you’ve been through, you would have certainly done the opposite.”

Flinching, Owen took a step back and searched around, expecting someone from nowhere to mock him. Necrozma was completely right. There was an instant there where Owen had thought Necrozma wanted him to kill Dark Matter… after the war that he’d spent aligning with him. And Owen had chosen not to, just to defy Necrozma, to defy some plan he refused to tell him all about.

And in the end, he’d played into it instead.

“I wanted you to make a decision for yourself,” Necrozma said. “It was perhaps the only thing I could have requested of you… that you would have followed to the very end.”

“Why?” Owen whispered. “Why… any of this? Why, after I… betrayed you… after you entrusted me with your power, and after I defied you to save Dark Matter? I don’t… I don’t get it! Why can’t you gods just make sense for once?!”

His voice echoed back to him despite there being no walls to bounce. Every breath came to him a split-second later, making him self-conscious of all the noise. Even the hum of his flame was audible.

“Gods,” Necrozma said, “seem to have a bad habit… of assuming the mortals to whom they speak would accept what they say without question. That they do not need to explain their full rationale, their whole plans, to the souls below. Or perhaps, they try, but the perspective is from something so far removed that it does not make sense.”

As Necrozma spoke, Owen calmed down. He shifted on his feet, awkward, and Necrozma made a small, downward gesture that Owen understood meant he could sit. He decided to partake in that. The ground was featureless. It was hard to find a good position, but he eventually did. He found his legs crossing and tail wrapping around, too. An old habit.

“The world you were reborn within was meant to be temporary. Created by the whim of a god with regrets… and to be eventually destroyed when those lives cut short ran their course. It was never meant to last, to sustain. It was… a bandage over a wound that time had to heal.”

“Star getting taken by the humans… and those strange experiments done to her. And then Arceus…”

“Destroying the island… and then wiping that mistake from history. Not even the world knows what happened, you know.”

Owen flinched. “It’s still there? The world?”

“It remains, and it prospers… And it had gone through and survived its own set of troubles, just as this world has. Though, time moves a lot slower there. That was by design, so those who lived here would not be too far removed from the world proper. Even if things… have gotten out of hand, the world itself isn’t far too old. I would say that perhaps only a handful of years have passed, from their perspective.”

Strange, conflicted feelings washed over him. Eon was right. He’d said the truth. And they were all alive.

“H-ha… they… they really are…”

He didn’t know why, but images of an old, wizened Charizard appeared in his thoughts, and then that stern, glaring Marowak next to her.

Owen’s eyes felt hot.

“Take your time,” Necrozma said gently. “…Dark Matter lives. He is still there, and fragments of his power remain throughout the world, both Kilo and the Voidlands. The battle is not over… but you have gained at least one thing from that clash, after all your sacrifice.

“Dark Matter… a fragment of him was left behind. Perhaps you did not notice it, but I was watching through your eyes, fleetingly. He persists in the piece that you had given light. It’s just stable enough… And also…”
He trailed off. “I think I sense some of his essence within you, too. Faintly… Perhaps that is not even him anymore. A shard must have touched your heart. Admittedly… I don’t know what that will do.”

Owen frowned, confused again. But at least he was feeling calmer. His home, his true home… Was it his true home? He’d spent so little time there compared to…

“Do you miss Kanto?” Necrozma asked.

“I do,” Owen replied automatically. “I… I do. For a lot of reasons.” Some that he did not know how to express. There was so much from before all this that he wanted back. He missed saving Pokémon with his trainer. He missed traveling the roads and helping him with homework. He missed when his greatest trouble was scheming how to defeat the neighboring Squirtle.

“Do you want to go back?”

Owen laughed weakly. He did, there was no way he could deny that. He wanted to. But— “I can’t.”

Necrozma tilted his head, as if waiting for him to elaborate.

“Even if you had the power to, even if you’re trying to offer that, I… can’t. Kilo needs me to settle all this. If I disappeared, everyone here would suffer because of it, wouldn’t they? It’d return to this stagnation… or worse, it would fall into these Voidlands. And because of how everything fell… because of where the power of your light and his darkness wound up… I don’t know if I can… leave it behind without trying, with everything I’ve been entrusted.”

Some of that, he believed. Some of that, he still didn’t fully understand. It had only been what was told to him, or how others treated him. By coincidences and luck and perhaps a little drive, he’d been given the powers of a demon and two deities. First from Mew, who wanted to cause some trouble; then from Necrozma, who wanted a new pupil with some experience already behind them; and then from Dark Matter, who only wanted help, with Owen being the first to offer it.

Barky had asked a similar question to him what felt like ages ago. He’d presented an option to give up, to submit and leave his power behind. And some things didn’t change; Owen had given the same answer to Necrozma. Would he give the same reply back? He was… far too tired to fight. And Star wouldn’t be there to rescue him this time, either.

“Then, perhaps when this is over, you can at least visit,” Necrozma concluded. “I won’t take no for an answer, hm?”

“Ha!”

It escaped Owen before he had a chance to hide it. He should have been used to being surprised by Necrozma by now, but it still got him. Necrozma hadn’t been after that at all. He had been trying to cheer him up. Gods, he was an idiot.

“Maybe after all this, sure.” He sniffled, cringing to keep the tears at bay. “Sure…”

They enjoyed the silence together. Necrozma was looking focused; it was probably taking a lot of energy to project himself in this way, but he was lasting a lot longer this time. Right, Alexander was heading north; if he got closer to Necrozma—the source of that northern feeling—would that mean it would be easier to contact him?

He sighed. He wouldn’t want to keep him. There were still a few things he had to do, and Necrozma needed to be at full strength for it.

There was one pressing question Necrozma could probably answer, though. “Can I ask something?” Owen asked after calming down.

“Of course.”

“Why me?”

Necrozma tilted his head.

“Not as in… why do bad things always happen to me. I’m used to that. I meant, why did Alexander… go to such lengths to get me? Why Barky? And Star, and Dark Matter, and—you, too. I’m just some Charmander from Kanto who got caught up in something I shouldn’t have. I don’t have anything special that you couldn’t have given to anyone else… Maybe someone more obedient, too.”

“Ahh…” Necrozma nodded. “It must have been eating at you. Yes, I know the answer. It is perhaps more complete than the impulses that drive the other gods and their fragmented memories.”

“What is it?” Owen urged.

“You said it yourself,” Necrozma said. “A mere Charmander and his human partner, working together to get involved in something far larger than them. From what Star had told me, you had taken on the responsibility of rescuing your friends from an evil organization. By chance, she saw you, and decided to help. She had a habit of doing that to many people back then—it’s what had gotten her in trouble in the first place. Kanto, Orre, those aren’t her proper domains. She’s weaker there, and she got caught in the humans’ traps.”

“Then, because I rescued her… I caught her attention? That’s… it?”

“The gods can play favorites, too, Owen. Especially ones as impulsive as Star.”

Well, he couldn’t deny that…

“And the attention of one god begets the attention of another. And another, and another. Exactly that amount, actually! If you count Arceus trying to covet your allegiance, at least.”

Was… was that a joke? Owen couldn’t remember if Necrozma’s humor was this dry.

“Erm. In any case,” he went on, “over time, you also drew my attention. You scaled Destiny Tower and impressed Arceus, who normally only allowed strong hearts, strong bodies, and strong minds to ascend the tower fully. And considering what you had already proven of yourself, Arceus did favor you. He cares deeply for Star, you know… despite everything.”

“That’s a big despite…”

“And in the end, you denied the usual offer to become a Legend. It wasn’t exactly a glamorous role since it was for a temporary world… Only meant to keep things steady until it was time to end it. There wasn’t a very strong need to be stringent about who ascended. But your denial… and just, well, what I’ve seen…”

“I got your attention next, and that’s how I became Wishkeeper.”

“Precisely. And then came finding Dark Matter, which was… unexpected. You had the power of both Shadow and Radiance within you. One of a kind, Owen. But even greater… And this is a curious habit of yours, Owen… You swore loyalty to your human trainer, and nobody else. And when you lost that bond, you swore it to no other.

“You were under nobody’s domain. You were your own. And, Owen, to a god… domain is everything.”


“Domain is everything…” Owen nodded. So in the end, he was someone that had gained several blessings, independently, and then never aligned with any particular god. Then he up and got enhanced with Nevren’s experiments, too, becoming a possible threat to them all… Yeah. That explained it. And Alexander was going to try to force him to align… Just like Mhynt.

Mhynt! He wanted to ask—

But then, Necrozma seemed to dim, and he knew what that meant. But this time—and, finally, without any doubts—Owen felt that he could trust him just a little bit more. And after all that happened, that was a milestone in itself.

“Have to go soon?” Owen asked.

“I’m afraid I do.”

“I’m going to reach out to you again soon, if you can spare the energy. It might be a long one.”

Necrozma hummed, but nodded. “I will try.”

“Thank you.” Owen sighed, standing up. He felt ready. “You said Dark Matter is still alive… that the piece of him that has light is still with the others?”

“I’m certain of it.”

Owen nodded. “I’m… going to try a few things. Not like I have anything better to do right now.”

“Then, good luck,” Necrozma said, grinning. “In fact, I believe I can say the same thing.”

“Then, good luck.”

They shared a smile, and the vision faded.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Plane trips continue to be my Designated Time to Read Hands of Creation. These notes are somewhat scattered since it was just a bunch of disjointed comments left in the notes app, so I'll attempt to work it into something cohesive.

100-101

Fascinating to get that look into how the Zygarde function.

Wild to think that Trina's mutants are mostly the ones attacking people nowadays. It does make sense, given the situation, but man. That's gonna be disheartening, given how well-adjusted they'd been earlier.

Really liked the protrayal of Angelo's sketched moves! Trick Room in particular was neat.

Soooo Spice's weird traits. I've mostly just been shelving them like "uh huh we'll probably get an answer later." Obviously, after SE7, all signs are pointing to her having Void power, but also I feel like that's a bit too easy? Also I feel like someone would have... correctly identified that as the source of her weirdness, if it really was 'just' Void. Since Void weirdness isn't totally unheard of? Hmm.

So Nevren doesn't even know what he's trying to save the world from. Well, I guess that would explain why he refused to just tell anyone, yes. :V Given the look we just got of how vague and murky his recollection process is, I'm gonna guess that he managed to discern that he needed Anam for something, but not sure why. It couldn't be because he was DM's vessel because he was already after Anam before Anam even got the orb (and no one knew DM was in the orb). Potentially because he has Necrozma's power?

Holy **** Aster is a terrifying trauma child. Wow! Weirdly enough, he kind of reminds me of the child from Salvage. Cheerfully and obliviously sociopathic while also terrified of the few people strong enough to hurt him. I think he would adjust considerably better if given some actual positive guidance though.

Really loved the chilling effect of DM just cutting off Latias's pleading with "No." Intimidating as all hell.

102-103

Some real solid fight choreography in the battle against Aster! Particularly liked the way the town setting shaped the tactics they had to use. And of course the first move Owen would mimic is Teleport. Of course. xD Blacklight just proved it is the most useful move ok. And I liked the way they used it to catch Aster off guard!

Eyyy, Demitri-Gahi-Mispy fusion! Really fun to see their behavior. Also, I know that "namo can't keep pronouns straight" is a meme, but the constantly shifting pronouns for Migami was a fun reminder of the multiple personalities at play.

Interesting that DM can't possess Aster. I'm wondering if that's because of Alexander's influence? In general, it's really interesting that this one really evil Hydreigon dude is powerful enough to rival the literal embodiment of negativity in his own domain. How on earth did this happen. Really not a good look DM smh my head. (I'm assuming it's because DM got knocked down quite a few pegs in the mortal world, heh.)

“That hardly feels like me anymore. It’s not, is it?” Oh man, this line from Owen really hit me. I want to say more but I can't because of LC spoilers.

I love how Owen just sighs when Migami attacks him. He's not concerned at all, he's just like "allll right, fine, let's get this out of your system."

104-105

Artificial dungeons! What a cool concept. Pretty hilarious to see things going to hell all around Nevren and he's still just like. "hm yes this isn't quite what I expected." dammit he really is Sebastian isn't he. Pretty wild that all the characters stuck in the Voidlands just look like Void Shadows to anyone getting a look from the outside in. But hey, at least he figured out that Owen and the others are all 'alive' and well in there. I... think this is helpful for them? God dammit Nevren I don't hate you but I don't get you.

Anyway, cool to see them figure out how to use the Z-crystals to more deliberately free titans, after the accident that freed Dialga. And you know I'm here for the arrival of titan Palkia. His cheerful curiosity about being a titan is a delight.

Oh man, the encounter between Aster and Owen was... unsettling. It did feel like Owen was really close to getting through to him too! Gah.

> perfect apple
thanks i hate it

106-108

Always here for more Kanto flashbacks. And hooo boy this one was a doozy. "No, you don’t attack my human! How dare you!" :copyka: I know I already mentioned it, but Owen's evolution was incredibly LC-core and I had the biggest grin once I realized where it was going. While also being aaaaaa because he just wants to save his human. Owen is a good.

And then we cut back to Owen stuck as an apple. This fic, man. xD At least Palkia is having fun.

The scene with Leph and Alexander was interesting, and I remember it pretty clearly because I had a hard time getting a read on Leph's angle at the time. She starts out being really dismissive and insolent towards Alexander, like she really has no reason to fear his anger. Definitely got a strong vibe like she wasn't too impressed with his posturing. But then the moment he flexes his power, it turns out that holy ****, he can actually wipe the floor with her, by all accounts she ought to be terrified of him. And at this point, she is! Very much. So... has he never actually hurt her before? Her behavior at the start of the scene didn't seeeem like an abuse victim putting on a "you don't scare me" front, it genuinely seemed like she didn't think he could do jack to her.

"I could accept the whole Florizard thing, but turning into an apple is where I’m drawing the line." - I'm with Jerry on this one. xD (damn you for making the whole apple thing actually make sense in context)

So we finally get a little bit of level-setting on Necrozma. I imagine we'll be needing to cross the Abyssal Ocean at some point, as it's hard to imagine the Voidlands arc getting too far without someone seeking him out. What with him basically holding the key to plot. At least everyone's slowly putting together how the Legendaries were erased from history. Oh yeah, and the freaking type Orbs are Necrozma power, not Arceus. Well, they obviously have to involve Arceus power in some fashion, since that's where the Hands come from. Did Arceus ever give any Hands to Necrozma? Can't recall if any characters have theorized that, it seems pretty natural to wonder now that the origin story for the Orbs has been shaken up.

“That’s not just some Treecko. She is the one person under Alexander who’s got power over light and dark." - She's got BLACKLIGHT

Gahi being totally unimpressed by the most powerful beings around gives me life. And he proceeds to have an extremely anime fight with Owen's wife. Cool to see the Unown 'prose narration' show up here after seeing it in Blacklight.

I... think Alex is implying that Alexander was his father? Sounds like Amia managed to strip the Void corruption out of him. Presumably it ran in that family just like it ran in Jerry's family centuries later.

109-111

All these freaking metric names back to back youuu

Eyy, more motifs from Blacklight, inspiring hope in the population to give power to Arceus.

Hoo boy, Owen's interrogation was rough. Especially when he had to admit that he might have killed the Rocket again, if given a second chance. I suppose it's heartening to see that therapy is part of the order, given what happened to them. But their old life, their old journey, is essentially over now. It's a pretty heavy blow.

The moment when I pieced together where the Unown's plan was going, I swear to god namoooooooo. I hate it. It makes perfect sense. After all the "haha owen tree" memes, it actually makes perfect sense. There is a perfect logical explanation, reinforced by canon, for every single step in the path to Owen Tree, and I hate it. xD

"Cursed Decree. Nevren wondered how long it would torment him." - Us too, Nevren

Palkia just barging through the portal and cheerfully addressing Nevren while still appearing to be a Void Titan, amazing.

Still have no idea wtf Nate's deal is lmao. Is he even a Pokemon???

Holy **** Tanneth being Emily's imaginary friend sure is a thing. (Sad day to the people who shipped them lol)

Hakk looking after Xypher in the midst of all this craziness is wholesome. I was gonna say it was pretty funny how he was just "lol i guess I work for you now" when Mhynt totem-ified him, but it's obvious he doesn't have too much allegiance to anyone in this whole mess. He just wants to protect bird friend.

heck I'm out of time and I don't really want to rush SE8 because that's THE BIG ONE THE ONE WE'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR so I think I'll get to that one next week. Along with 112-117 hopefully. Until then~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Thanks for the review, Chibi! I'll respond to it more thoroughly in a bit. It's been a very busy weekend for me!

Chapter 127 – Direction

It had all happened so quickly. To go from so much activity to none at all was almost enough to put her into a new kind of shock. The numbness of adrenaline was wearing off. The fact that her entire lower half was missing caught up to her. Vision blurry, mind slipping away, she tried to speak and only vomited blood. Breathing wasn’t working at all.

That look Owen had given her. Those eyes, defeated yet determined. Like he was already calculating what to do after the loss. She needed to have faith, for now, that he could carry on alone, somehow. And perhaps he had faith that they would find a way to get him back.

So, she couldn’t die. She couldn’t forget him again. She wouldn’t fall to the Void the same way Amia had. It was unacceptable, inexcusable. Especially to that false god. She had enough troubles from the real ones, usurpers, and now that mockery.

A mockery that nearly killed them all… How were they supposed to stand up to it?

Those fading thoughts buzzed in her mind as her scales lost their shine. She had to focus, single-mindedly, on surviving. She didn’t know when or for what aid or even if there would be any aid, but that was her focus. She’d forgotten who was with her, who could save her, and briefly, she forgot about Owen in favor of her next breath, her next empty thought.

Something blurry waved in front of her. She squinted, focusing her gaze on it. An olive-green arm. Olive green scales. Green scales, yellowish. Claws. Demitri, it was Demitri. She tried to speak his name but nothing came. Then, the arm reached forward and held her cheeks, and he said something comforting, which made her feel even less comfortable. Something bad was about to happen.

Sharp, hot, twisting pain electrified her midsection and her eyes shot wide. She curled and flailed, but then it felt like a hundred arms descended upon her, pressing her into the earth. Then came ten thousand needles against her scales, along her lower body, and a deep, snapping noise as something cracked into place, repairing itself impossibly fast.

She took her first, stinging breath and wailed.

A gruff voice shouted something that felt sarcastic and annoyed, but also relieved. She had a sense of the emotions in his words, but not the words themselves.

Then, the voice spoke again, “Hold still, it’s almost over.”

Jerry, it was Jerry. He was the one who’d saved her from another strike. How strong was he, truly?

She tried to focus on those thoughts instead of the pain, but it was hard. Every movement she made—and something about her body felt the need to move just then—brought about a redoubled, tingling electricity. She convulsed and curled and that only made the pain worse. A side of her head felt hot next, and healing light draped down that same side, restoring her ribbon. It was paler. Discolored. That wasn’t typical of healing. What sort of curse did those blighted attacks have?

“Zena, can you hear me? Can you reply?” Demitri asked.

Zena tried to speak again but all that came were grunts. She felt like she couldn’t breathe, or if she tried, she would only use all the air to scream.

“Slowly, slowly,” Demitri said, and only then did Zena realize how frantic her movements had been.

It was… embarrassing, and she looked away, ashamed. Like she was some primal feral caught in a cage. That brief instant that she’d lost her composure, though, and her vision blurred again. This time it was from tears. No, no, she couldn’t do this in front of everyone. But it hurt, it still hurt, even after the healing. Echoes of the pain were still there; she couldn’t forget it.

Face screwed up, eyes squeezed shut, she wailed again, slamming her tail against a tree. Another electric tingling rattled her whole body and she yelped; several of the team cleared the way.

“Hey, Zena, Zena!” Demitri said, holding her firmly. It wasn’t as strong as Demitri was usually capable of. “It’s alright. It’s alright. You… g-got sliced in half. Just take it easy, don’t… Just breathe, okay?”

She sobbed again, hiding her face behind her ribbons. It all hurt, but it was fading, in the same way a hurricane could fade into a great storm. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been there, recovering, trying to compose herself. Several times it crossed her mind that she was holding them all up. Cursory glances suggested she wasn’t; all of them looked exhausted. Alex was nursing a scarred-looking arm where the head had been reattached, bleeding from its mouth even then. Mispy wobbled occasionally, only present enough to heal people by some muscle memory than a conscious effort. Eon had passed out, unable to retain a form, and had become nothing but a pile of pink slime that Jerry occasionally prodded to make sure he was alive.

The only one who looked anywhere fully present was Jerry, who was standing guard over all of them. There was, occasionally, a Void Shadow in the distance, but Jerry seemed quick to spot them and send a Rock Blast or two as a warning. That was enough for them to scurry away.

Perhaps one or two whole kilos had passed before she felt that speaking wouldn’t be screaming instead. Mispy, perhaps also more present, was sliding toward her. The Meganium was probably the reason she was in one piece again, too. Was she trying to heal her again? Was she still injured? Perhaps she was and she didn’t even know…

But Mispy left a trail of green blood behind her, and there was an awful puddle of it where she’d been slouched.

Zena’s first words finally came. “Heal yourself… I’m in far better shape. Mispy. Please.”

“You’re in pain…”

“Heal… yourself,” Zena asserted, giving no further argument. Mispy, flinchingly, relented and looked over her own wounds, discolored vines growing back, patches of scales marking where the wounds had carved her. A wave of energy pulsed over the Meganium, though she seemed regretful about it. But she was looking better, if only slightly.

Zena checked her body, spotting a discolored ring around her abdomen and puncture wounds where Alexander’s Shadow teeth had dug into her. Those weren’t going to go away, were they? A blemish on her that not even healing got rid of. It hadn’t even been very long; the wound couldn’t have settled. This was a different kind of attack. Had it cut her very aura?

“It still hurts a little,” Zena admitted, wincing when she moved her tail. It all felt like electric shocks.

Mispy gently tapped at her rear and Zena winced again. Mispy nodded. “Nerves react… reactivating,” she stuttered, clearing her throat. “It… will fade.”

“Right. Thank you.” It already was, slightly, but she didn’t want to move. Not her lower half, anyway. “I’m sorry for how I was acting,” Zena said. “I wasn’t myself.”

“You were half of yourself,” Jerry muttered, earning glares from the entire team. He flinched, holding up his wings disarmingly. “Look, I’m just saying, nobody’s gonna blame you. Besides, you—OW!”

He sidestepped from an invisible strike, snarling. Dust shuffling on the ground from some invisible creature suggested Enet had her own way of glaring at Jerry.

Jerry sighed. “Point is, you stood up to Alexander like all of us. And even after you were down, you kept fighting. That’s how I’m gonna remember this.” He rolled his eyes, looking away.

It softened a lot of the glares, and even Zena relented. She was too exhausted to be angry at anyone but Alexander, now.

The whole place smelled like blood and death and she didn’t want to think about what else. It was a miracle that they’d all survived. Then, her eyes trailed to the pile of sludge that had been Dark Matter, sensing a malevolent aura still lingering there. They’d seen it from far away. Dark Matter had pulled Owen toward him, but then he got hit by the javelin of light instead.

They hadn’t expected Mhynt to strike the Tree and steal some of its light, passing it to Alexander. Mhynt had claimed it ruined her stamina. And Alexander could barely hold the holy weapon. Zena wondered why Mhynt had tired so easily; it seemed too suspicious. But now it was quiet. Dark Matter was dead. And they had a whole new foe to worry about, all over again.

They spent even more time recovering. For all that time, there had been no sounds from Null Village. The battle was over. Perhaps, with luck, a rescue party would find them and make the trip home easier. She doubted it, though. The town was in ruins, even if they’d driven off the enemy.

By now, Zena was the only one still in no condition to move. Even Mispy had recovered enough to wander around and get more limber.

Her eyes happened to trail to the sludge that had been Dark Matter’s body.

A single bubble rose thickly from the sludge, and then another. Zena’s breath hitched and she didn’t take her eyes off of it. She had to watch for any signs of…

Another bubble, and now the sludge was moving.

“He’s not dead,” Zena whispered, but couldn’t find the strength in her to conjure an attack just yet. She looked back at the others, but they were all focused on healing, and her voice had been too soft. She tried again, “He’s—”

A claw weakly emerged from the sludge. Orange scales. Slightly darker than she remembered, but unmistakably of the same type.

“Ughh…”

An arm, then a head of a tiny, tiny Charmander. He pulled himself out of the clumps, took barely a step forward, and then collapsed again. His tail had no flame, but Zena couldn’t ignore what she was seeing. Those features, that mark on his back like a faded star, the way his mouth shape was just slightly feral…

“Owen?”

That was her loudest word yet, and all eyes turned to the fallen Charmander. Mispy immediately closed her eyes, looking at his aura. Yes, she could try the same. She focused… But the whole place was filled with a deep, dark fog when she tried to look. She couldn’t tell if it really was Owen.

But Mispy must have seen something else, because she slithered forward and picked the Charmander up, carefully, and set him on her back. One of her vines, wrapped around one of the light crystals, squeezed… But nothing seemed to happen.

“He needs help,” Alex frantically said, almost babbling. “We—how did that happen? Is that Owen? But he was flown away…”

“Let’s go,” Mispy said.

She was already heading back to town.

The team did one final headcount, making sure everyone was in one piece, and any missing pieces were accounted for. Realizing that Zena was still in no condition to move, Demitri helped with carrying her back, gently coiling her body before holding her from below. Several others helped keep Zena steady, carrying her awkwardly back, and Zena insisted that she go on her own.

They didn’t entertain it; she was far too weak to move, even if she wanted to.

Jerry was the most unscathed, evasive about why, saying it wasn’t important. He helped Demitri carry Zena, along with Alex’s assistance. Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi had off-colored scales where their wounds had been healed, and Zena was, obviously, the most exhausted from the ordeal.

Eon was in some kind of shock, occasionally a gibbering mess and Zena was unsure if she wanted to comfort him to leave him be. Even if she wanted to, would it be any help? Now that he was more awake, Eon was stuck in a Charmeleon form long after Owen had left. Gahi was carrying him back.

They did one last headcount… Zena was cognizant enough to assist.

“Hakk and Xypher,” Zena suddenly said, and a wave of realization hit the rest of them. Those two hadn’t been on their team very much at all; their absence hadn’t registered. “Where’d they go?” Zena looked for faces that knew the answer, but they were all wide-eyed and clueless.

Mispy nodded at Gahi, as if giving a silent instruction, and the Flygon flew up high. Mispy checked the ground, eyes closed. As they traveled further from the battle site, the dark fog thinned, too, and Zena had a better time searching around.

Gahi blinked toward them first. “That way.” He pointed just slightly off the path to town.

After their time was wasted just to recover, the walk itself was short. The explosions from the Judgment barrage had subsided. All of the Void Shadows had been slain or driven away. Titans were vanquished, their cores freed. The battle was over on all fronts, at least for Null Village.

Now… came the aftermath.

“No…” Mispy whispered.

When they found Hakk, he was sobbing over a mound of steel feathers, a deflated, long dead body of Xypher beneath him. Whatever words he was saying were strings of incomprehensible sobs and sharp curses, followed by whining that could have fooled Zena into thinking it came from a feral.

It was hard to watch and even harder to speak up. She stood there, frozen, until she realized that everyone else was, too. Even Jerry was glancing away, clenching his teeth. Was he thinking of what to do, what to say? So was she.

“Hakk,” Zena finally said.

No response, but he seemed to know they were there. He spared a glance and quieted down. He kept clutching at Xypher’s feathers, shaking the dead body which, of course, did not reply.

“He’s gone, he’s gone, please, wake up, wake up, don’t… don’t leave, don’t… You can’t, you’re… You can’t afford to die, you were just a Class D, you were just… Where… Where are you now? A-are you… Were you…”

Xypher, or what was left of him, must have reappeared somewhere in the area… as a Void Shadow. If it was fast enough, perhaps he’d even appeared during those final Judgment barrages, fighting on the enemy team. Slain by those tendrils of light, only to come back again somewhere else, over and over.

It wasn’t fair. None of this was right. And this reality… was created by Dark Matter. Perpetuated by Alexander. All of this fighting, this horrid world…

Demitri placed a hand on Hakk’s back. He shrank away, clutching onto Xypher like they were going to take him away. Demitri held strong. Frost appeared on Hakk’s back as he screamed for him to go away, but Demitri shook his head.

“I’m not leaving,” Hakk blubbered. “I’m… I’ll never leave. Th-there’s no point. Xypher… Xypher!” He kept repeating it, on and on. And despite frosting over, Demitri didn’t let go, but he also wasn’t pulling Hakk away. Nobody wanted to interfere. And, somehow, Demitri seemed to know that Hakk wouldn’t have outright struck him down for trying.

Movement caught Zena’s eye again. Charmander was awake and sitting up, looking half-asleep, but paying attention. There wasn’t any light in his eyes and his tail was flickering with a dark ember.

That… wasn’t Owen.

But it was his body? Or…

She quickly glanced at Mispy. Was she already under Dark Matter’s control? No—she was holding a light crystal. She was fine. When Zena looked at the Charmander again, he was staring back at her and she froze. It was surreal. It was Owen’s body, and he looked exactly the same, but his eyes were completely different. The little downturn of his mouth, the lazy gaze and bored head-tilt…

Finally, Hakk was calming down more. Rationality won over. He slowly stepped away from Xypher with some help from Demitri, who had a thin layer of frost over his scales. He was moving slowly.

“He… he’s smiling,” Hakk said. “I don’t… I don’t understand why… Why would he…”

Zena wasn’t sure how Hakk could tell that a bird could smile, but maybe it was something only Hakk knew.

“He saved Owen,” Alex said gently. “That was the last thing he did. He must have… I, I don’t really know. I’m sorry, Hakk. I don’t know what to say…”

Hakk started with a fierce glare at Alex, but then a confused expression flashed in those striking blue eyes. Alex flinched, too, hiding behind Mispy. That meek attitude caught Hakk off guard enough that his ire ebbed.

“Who are you?” Hakk said. “I saw you fighting Alexander…”

“I want nothing to do with him,” the Hydreigon replied immediately, “but… he’s my f-father. I thought he was dead. Preferred that. Even more, now that… this happened.”

The icy Sandslash’s countenance darkened with defeat, like he was searching for someone to be mad at. With Alex being so apologetic, he seemed to have run out of targets. The Charmander was either not recognized, or out of his line of sight behind Mispy’s neck.

Zena was about to raise her concerns, but a sharp look from Charmander gave her pause, and she wasn’t sure why. He brought a claw to his mouth and looked down, eyes closed. Did he just shush her?

“Later,” he mouthed.

Well, why should she? Later. Like he had any authority on the matter. “I—”

“Do you want to bury him?” Demitri offered, and Zena stopped herself.

Charmander rolled his eyes, his dark eyes radiating an ‘I told you so’ attitude.

Perhaps so, just this once.

“Is there someplace we can bring him?” Zena added, prying her eyes away from Owen’s mockery.

“I… I just need time. I need…”

“Time… here?” Demitri offered. “Well, the fighting is over. If you want some of us to stay to keep guard or something, would… would we be able to do that?” Demitri looked desperately at the others.

“…Yeah. Yeah, I’ll stay back,” Gahi said. “I’d be fastest anyway ter, y’know.”

“No,” Jerry said, “I’ll stick around. Look, I’m not gonna explain this, but you saw me back there. I can fight these Void Shadows fine. Check on us if you want, but…” Jerry eyed Charmander, then Hakk. “Figure you don’t want a crowd.”

“Can’t I just be alone?” Hakk asked, though there was little force behind it.

“We’ll tell the guards back in the village what happened,” Jerry said. “They’ll send some folks over to do whatever’s the procedure here. Gahi, why don’t you, I dunno, go ahead and tell ‘em?”

“Eh, sure…” Gahi gave Jerry a suspicious look, but Jerry only seemed annoyed.

Jerry was hiding something, but there was nothing dark about his aura. Zena didn’t know why he was so resistant to Alexander’s power, though.

“Is there anything else?” Demitri asked.

Hakk sniffed, completely deflated as he sat opposite to Xypher. “No,” he said. “Thank you.”

After a long silence, the team finally got their compromise, leaving Jerry behind to return to the village safely. The rest of the trip was uneventful and quiet, and Zena turned her attention to Charmander, whom she was certain was actually the very foe they’d been trying to kill.

But Zena said nothing for now, instead cautiously watching him as they continued through town. She finally—and truly, this time—felt her strength return enough to move on her own. Now she could move closer to Mispy to check for anything odd, but her aura was just fine.

Charmander gave uneasy glances at the Radiant Tree now and then, ignoring any small talk the team tried with him. They didn’t want to press.

It wasn’t until they made it to their apartments that Zena asked them to set Charmander on one of the common room seats. Demitri left for the kitchen to make a meal; Gahi left to check on Trina, catching her up on everything that happened. She seemed a little down; Zena couldn’t blame her. Reduced to a Snivy, no real power at all…

They eventually gathered back together. Demitri prepared a few simple snacks. Charmander hadn’t said a word, so Zena felt it was time to acknowledge it.

“So,” Zena said once everyone else was present, “why exactly are you with us now… Dark Matter?

Mispy kept walking to the pantry for a snack, but Demitri seemed startled.

Alex flinched. “D-Dark Matter? I—but Owen, I thought he’d… somehow done a trick, or…”

“We saw him fly away,” Zena said lowly. “Mispy, why did you…”

“But he has that birthmark; how can it not be Owen?” Alex pressed. “It—it’s really you, isn’t it? Owen? You tricked Alexander somehow, didn’t you?”

Charmander slowly closed his eyes during their talking, and then finally turned his head to Mispy, who was munching on some canned fruits, followed by the can. “You’re the smart one,” he muttered. “Demonstrate.”

Mispy furrowed her brow, looking skeptically at him, but then approached. Her vines writhed, guiding the light crystal she’d been holding—green, like a meadow—to Charmander, who on instinct seemed to inch away from it.

“That isn’t what I meant,” he growled at Mispy.

“Too bad.” She wrapped a vine around his body so he couldn’t escape. Then, she tossed the crystal at Charmander’s cheek. It sizzled. He hissed and flicked it away, where it was caught by another vine.

“Don’t toss that!” Demitri shouted. “He’ll control you!”

Some wanted to go in, but they didn’t know if it was already too late.

“Mispy, get away from him!” Demitri shouted.

“Enough nonsense,” Dark Matter snarled, his voice a harsh squeak in that body. “I’m… exhausted. You’re exhausted. Emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually. You do not have the fire to strike me and I am the same.”

“Fire to strike, I’ll show you fire—” Gahi growled, marching forward. “Who d’you think y’are?!”

“Dark Matter.”

“Don’t you get smart with—give me one reason I shouldn’t pop yer head!” He reached out and pressed Dark Matter against the cushion of the beanbag seat. He pressed a claw against Dark Matter’s throat to prove a point.

“Do what you want.” Dark Matter stared blankly forward. “I don’t care.”

Gahi didn’t go on, but he was frozen there, like he was weighing his options. “…Mispy, yer crazy. He controllin’—”

Mispy raised a vine, showing the light crystal.

“…Well, okay, maybe not, but—"

Mispy dropped the crystal, still holding onto Dark Matter.

“Mispy!” Demitri shouted, exasperated. “What are you—”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” Dark Matter leaned over to Mispy’s side and dug through her bag until he found and pulled out a cloth bigger than he was. Mispy looked offended, tugging it back. Then Dark Matter looked offended, and he glared at Gahi. “I have a headache. Mispy already understands the situation, as you can see. Shut up, and we can talk when I have the energy.”

“Can you even get headaches?” Demitri pressed. Zena wasn’t sure if this was a useful line of questioning, and Mispy, looking impatient, was already looking for a second can of food. Demitri went with her to look for ingredients for a more proper lunch, mumbling something, and Mispy mumbled back, perhaps explaining herself.

“I am the essence of negativity. Of course I can get headaches.” Dark Matter squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing his chest. There was a faint, red glow coming from where his heart should have been.

“…Mispy says… she tried tossing her crystal in the air where it’d touch her again later, and Dark Matter never tried to control her then. Maybe he can’t.” Demitri glanced uneasily at Dark Matter. “But… why are we…?”

“Hrrrgh…” Dark Matter covered the sides of his head. “I know where Owen is with complete precision. I’m valuable to you. I’m also powerless. We have a mutual interest in getting him back. Stop asking questions. You annoy me.”

Stunned silence. Alex stumbled over his words before finally muttering, “R-rude…”

Dark Matter winced again, then let out a raspy cough. Clouds of black smoke left his throat, floating in a way that smoke normally didn’t. It seemed to follow some other flow than the wind.

“A-are you okay?” Demitri asked on reflex.

“No, and I never am,” Dark Matter said, “but I will… improve… if you give me time to rest.”

“And we should allow that… why?” Zena kept her voice steady. She still didn’t understand Mispy’s rationale for bringing him here. She may have been smart, but Zena was not sure if she was wise.

“Look at me.” Dark Matter held out his tiny arms. “Mispy can sense the weakness of my aura, and I’m in no position to disguise or suppress it. I can hardly break through the binds of mundane rope.”

“And…” Mispy led on, waiting for Dark Matter to finish.

“And what?”

Mispy waited, staring, and Dark Matter stared back.

He furrowed his scaly brow. “There is nothing more to it. What?”

Mispy pointed a vine at Dark Matter’s chest, prodding it. Once again offended, the Charmander swatted it away. “Congratulations, you can sense my core. Does your aura sense give you anything interesting?”

“Light,” Mispy said, jabbing the vine.

Dark Matter let out a low growl, the flame on his tail darkening further. He searched around for something to hide under, finding nothing, and said, “Owen did that. He… was going to kill me, and couldn’t bear it. But just before he pulled away, his emotions flared. Some of it pierced my core. That part of me is what Alexander left behind. That part is the ‘me’ that you see now.”

“So,” Demitri said, holding up a claw, “you’re… Light-Dark Matter, now?”

“That’s a terrible name and you should feel bad for coming up with it.”

“A-actually,” Demitri quickly said, “speaking of names… A-are you really… Dark Matter? Is that your name?”

“Yes.”

“Who gave it to you? Or did you come up with it on your own?”

“…Anam gave it to me. I had no name before. I refused when Owen asked to give me one.”

“Why?” Demitri asked. “Everyone deserves a name…”

“I just want the pain to stop.”

Gahi grumbled, crossing his arms. “Well, yer fun at parties…”

Something seemed to be on Dark Matter’s mind, and it was strange to see those mannerisms. They reminded Zena of Owen, leaving a sickening feeling in her gut any time she realized it. Before she could muster up the courage to ask, though, he answered for her.

“Anam is to the west, in the back of a cave infested with Void Shadows. I doubt he is dead. When I have the strength… I will guide you to him.”

“Wh—just like that?” Demitri blinked.

“How can we trust you?” Zena asked yet again. “What if it’s a trap?”

“Then don’t trust me,” Dark Matter muttered. “I am only doing what would help get Owen back faster. We both want that, don’t we?”

“If you want to do that, you’ll start by reversing all the trouble you caused.” Zena felt the air dampen with her element, cooling the room. She didn’t quell it. She wanted Dark Matter to know that nobody trusted him.

“Some things cannot be reversed.”

“Then reverse what you can.”

“P-please,” Demitri said gently. “If… if you really want to work with us, that’s how you can prove yourself. Prove yourself by helping us.”

“How?” Mispy murmured to Demitri.

“I—well, I mean…”

Awkward silence fell, and Zena understood the dilemma. They couldn’t kill Dark Matter here, because what would that accomplish? And Owen… had spared Dark Matter. They’d seen it. He must have done so for a reason; he couldn’t be corrupted the same way Dark Matter corrupted others. Why, then?

But that was the sole reason the whole team was no longer killing him right then. His sole lifeline was some vague interpretation of Owen’s actions… Still, Zena knew that was how Owen felt. And while he was taken away, she had to honor that.

“Fine,” Dark Matter finally said.

“What?” Zena repeated.

Dark Matter dragged himself out from his seat and stumbled to the floor, walking with careful, wobbly steps. “I am… requesting free access to this home for… some number of seconds. If I do anything dangerous to you, kill me. Not that I can.”

The team looked at one another suspiciously. “What will you do?” Zena asked.

“Something that looks ominous. But I won’t tell you. Owen says that some measure of trust is involved in teamwork, and it will take far too long for me to explain it all. I’m tired.” As he spoke, wobbled down the hall and toward Zena, Enet, and Owen’s room. He pointed at the door and looked expectantly at Zena.

She, in turn, looked at the others, a glare on her face. Mispy looked like she was weighing her options.

“Anything suspicious, and we’ll… kill you on the spot,” Zena said.

“Your words are empty,” Dark Matter replied as Zena opened the door, “but I will honor them regardless.”

He stepped through the doors and his eyes traced the room. “You.” He pointed at the wall. “Stay there.”

The wall growled. Enet must have slipped in early.

Then, Dark Matter approached the cage, and instantly everyone tensed. That was where Amia was—or, what was left of her.

Zena was about to speak, and then Dark Matter said, “Hush. If I wanted to save Owen, the last thing I’d do is harm his mother.”

“W-w-wait, that’s… A-Amia? What?” Alex gulped. “What… ha-happened to her… I…”

Demitri and Gahi swiftly got under Alex to hold his descending body, the Hydreigon unable to keep up his levitation.

Dark Matter pressed a few buttons like he knew precisely what to do, and the cage opened. Mispy expanded her tendrils near the doorway to prevent Amia from escaping if she tried, but the blob had been completely docile, focused on Dark Matter. No, of course… He was their patron. He innately commanded their obedience.

He reached toward the top of its shapeless body and his hand glowed a dark color. He squeezed and the Void Shadow churned before them, shrinking, slimming, lightening, while Dark Matter’s arm darkened more and more, that color feeding into his shoulders.

Zena watched in awe as, like removing a veil, Dark Matter pulled the dark curtain off of the solidified mass underneath, revealing a dazed-looking Ralts with green hair.

Right, her hair was false before, disguised with Mystic power…

Alex and the others continued to stare. Had that just happened? Zena couldn’t find the words. Alex was babbling something, delirious, but unable to move. And, for fear of accidentally crushing her, Demitri and Mispy weren’t letting him advance.

The dazed Ralts blinked awake, red eyes gazing upon them. “Oh,” she said. “I’m… not sure how I… I’m sorry. Did I wander in here? I feel as though I’ve had a… Oh, dear, I’m sorry. How rude of me.” She gave a gentle curtsey. “It’s… odd. You seem so familiar, yet I can’t even remember your names!” Even as the team stared in a mixture of relief and horror, she giggled into her hand. “You may call me Evelyn. The second, of course. Or… No, that’s strange. That name doesn’t… feel right. How odd!” She laughed a little more, almost a snort. “Oh, dear, I’m rambling! Ah… where am I? Who… are all of you?”

“Amia…” Alex breathed.

She turned her head, reflexively answering to the name. A bit more relief. It was Amia. Then why…

“I don’t have the power to restore everything,” Dark Matter droned, “but I freed the spark. Figure out the rest. But she won’t be the same regardless.”

The Ralts—Evelyn, or Amia—walked toward Alex in a slight trance, raising her hands to him. The great Hydreigon lowered his head to her level, bowing deep, deep to the ground with tears in his dark eyes.

She closed hers and leaned forward, kissing him. Just a little peck. And then, she pulled away, eyes fluttering open. Zena felt like she shouldn’t have seen that, but she was so transfixed that she couldn’t look away. Dark Matter restored Amia. Even if it was a little, he had done it.

“…I’m… I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that…”

“Rrgh. I’m going to be sick.” Dark Matter wobbled toward Owen’s side of the room and flopped down onto part of the indent Zena had left behind. “Bed.”

And just like that, he was already out.

<><><>​

It was a miracle that Nate hadn’t killed anyone with his final collapse. Lugia had struck Nate and sent him toppling down, directly over a street and all of its buildings. And just when Nevren had sent Har’s team except for Lygo back, saying that it would be safer at Kilo Village. They could defend against any stray mutants. And then Lugia decided to show up! Lugia! They couldn’t have done anything!

Har had been there when Nate was defeated, recovering from his injuries, too weak to get out of the way in time.

A great dark figure had eclipsed the sky—Nate and his countless eyes.

And then Nate’s very body seemed to rip itself apart, forming holes, tendrils, all kinds of wounds that did not bleed. Its eyes had gone frantic, looking at everything as it fell, and then, when Har had crouched down, helpless…

“Har?”

“Guh—” The Charizard jolted up, rubbing the side of his head. Beside him was Lygo, tilting his head with concern. “You’re bac…”

The Flygon prodded him. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Y-yeah. Just thinking back.”

He was still too weak to do anything. Ani and Ax had left to help with moving debris.

Those strange, wraith-like creatures that Nate was made of were wandering around in small swarms, making little, cute noises as they hauled huge chunks of debris from one part of town to another. It was mesmerizing, watching those tiny things work together to carry something so much larger across the streets…

He still shuddered, though. Only a little while ago, those creatures had nearly fallen onto him and so many others, but Nate had contorted himself so perfectly that only structures had been destroyed… and those under the rubble had been swiftly rescued.

How did Nate know the perfect position for that? Was he some sort of all-seeing god? The way all of those eyes had stared at him from all sides, like a dome, wide and concerned, after the crash would be the stuff of his nightmares for years.

Nate wasn’t a god. He was a demon. A kindhearted, gentle demon the size of a small town… but still a demon.

“Bbbbrr?”

“I’m fine,” Har muttered back. He wasn’t looking, but he could sense that this strange blob was carrying, with uncanny skill, a plate of food. Stir-fry noodles.

Actually, that smelled too good to pass up. With a sigh, he reached out and pulled the plate toward himself. “Thank you.”

“That guy’s a cute one,” Lygo said.

“You’re crazy, you know,” Har said. “But… they’re friendly.”

“Bbb!”

“No, sorry. I didn’t see one around…”

“A Smeargle? Oh, the one with Mew’s Blessing?” Lygo asked.

“Mew’s what?”

“That’s what they call someone who can rapidly channel more than four techniques at once,” Lygo said. “I think there’s a Smeargle with it. I heard it’s hereditary.”

“I don’t think I read about that…” Har frowned, not appreciating this gap in knowledge. Now that gods and demons were wandering the world like it was perfectly normal, his neglect of the subject was coming to haunt him. He wondered if Owen was the same way…

“I saw him head that way,” Lygo said. “It was during the chaos with Lugia, but it looks like she made landfall to the west.”

“We need to get ready to defend if she comes back, though,” Har warned.

“Yes, we will,” Lygo prodded Har’s chest. “You are staying put and recovering.”

Har grumbled.

The blob was already leaving. “Guess he wanted information in exchange for stir-fry,” Har theorized. “Hope he finds that Smeargle.”

Just then, there was a commotion up ahead. Har’s flame grew—it was Nevren. Even with his fatigue, he stepped forward.

But he was already swarmed with so many other Pokémon. Countless questions and concerns—who lived, where was everyone, how did it go? Lygo had been there with Nevren, arriving early to send quick news, but Nevren would have the final report.

Har noticed, morbidly, that Nevren’s team seemed… smaller than before. Not by a lot, but enough that he noticed. The ice Aggron was missing, for one. And…

And…

And Rhys.

And Rhys, right.

He was… He wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t.

But maybe he was in the other place, the spot across the portal. Somewhere there. If they defeated Dark Matter, then Rhys was possibly still alive, like all the others. Like Trina, Team Alloy, even… even Eon.

Har wasn’t sure how to feel about Eon… But Trina. Trina was the top priority, and they’d already gotten reports that she was alive. Hopefully that didn’t change.

“We will have to give full reports later in a closed session,” Nevren said, hands raised to placate the crowd of Pokémon—all sizes and shapes—around him. A few bigger Pokémon, like a nearby Ursaring, tried to grab Nevren for more answers, but a Psychic barrier blocked their grasp.

“I can assure you of one thing: Dark Matter’s army has been defeated, and all other foes have been driven away. Casualties are high but not devastatingly so, on both ends, compared to previous estimates.”

In other words, it was a decimation, but not an obliteration.

“Dungeons are still cursed, the portal is still open, and many of our own are still confirmed trapped in that world. We will now be shifting our focus and all of our efforts into rebuilding and establishing connections between here and there while the storm is calm. We do not know what other forces are in play… but Dark Matter, it seems…” Nevren paused, perhaps to be dramatic, perhaps to find his words, “has been defeated.”

And in the end, that was what they all wanted to hear. Cheers rang out, roars that shook the air. Jovial cries and relief washed over so many faces around him—an overwhelming sense that made Har turn off his Perceive.

All around him, everyone was happy. Lygo smiled encouragingly at Har, patting him on the shoulder. Tired volunteers and Hearts paused what they were doing to breathe and sigh as the news spread. It was a victory. The world had been saved.

All Har could see was Rhys’ desperate look as he fell into the void.

<><><>​

This darkness was uncomfortable. Owen never liked the dark—it was primal, after all, for him to fear it—but sometimes he appreciated giving his eyes a rest. This, though, was a cold, oppressive atmosphere that wanted him to go away. It was also familiar.

He continued forward through his mental travels, not worried about where he would go, and only worried that Alexander would abruptly wake him.

Are you there? Owen called, wondering if he would get a reply. At first, there was, of course, no answer. Dark Matter wasn’t the sort to answer calls like this. Perhaps a more demanding approach would work. I’m not leaving until we have a talk. You’re… still alive, aren’t you? Somewhere? I… I heard you. I heard your voice. You’re still out there… right?

Owen wasn’t sure how long he had wandered, but he wasn’t going to give up. He had nothing better to do, after all.

Dark—

What do you want?

The heaviness in the air doubled and Owen winced, holding his breath. It passed. And when Owen looked up again, he saw a Charmander with dark orange scales.

Flinching, Owen opened his mouth to speak, but Dark Matter preempted him.

“It’s not by choice.” He looked uncomfortable with his own size.

“R-right.”

They stood in silence. Owen had forgotten what he wanted to talk about, but he noticed that everything about Dark Matter, in some of the must subtle ways, seemed different. The way he shifted his weight, the way he glanced away, and most importantly, the way his flame had flecks of golden light amid that darkness… Something was different about Dark Matter, down to the way he carried himself.

He seemed calmer, too. Almost… casual, like speaking to an old friend.

What changed?

“Well?” Dark Matter asked.

Another long beat, and then, “Uh—How are you?”

Dark Matter stared.

“You… got shattered. And Alexander, er…”

“Your friends took me in. I revived your mother. That should keep them from killing me.”

“You—”

“Partially. I only returned the core of her memories; the rest have to come naturally over time. She doesn’t remember you clearly yet, if I had to guess. She won’t be the same, and never will. Do not get your hopes up. It is like growing up again, your past coming to you in a dream.”

He stared directly at Owen just then.

“You can relate to that very strongly, can’t you?”

That one… struck hard. But he was still… Owen. So Amia was still Amia. She might be different, and perhaps as the memories come back, it would be in a new context of her current life, and the ‘old Amia’ would never truly come back… And maybe, with time, it would be like normal again, too.

Pursuing that hope with Dark Matter of all people wouldn’t be productive, though, so he moved on. “And everyone else?”

“Of your friends… they survived,” he replied, “aside from Xypher.”

“Can you—”

“He was killed by Alexander. He is no longer under my domain. I cannot save him.”

“Right…” Owen lowered his head. Hopes dashed before they even had a chance to rise. Dark Matter was a master at that, wasn’t he?

“Is that all?”

“What are you going to do now?” Owen asked.

“Get you away from Alexander, once I find the power. Kill Alexander. Reclaim the Voidlands. Destroy the world, probably. Terminus. And so on.” He waved his hand noncommittally, looking away.

“You don’t sound all that dedicated to world-ending anymore.”

“I’m not, but the rest of me is.” He looked at his hands. “I’m only a fragment of myself… The part you gave light.”

“…Does that make you Light-Da—”

“Stop.”

“Sorry.” Owen awkwardly shuffled his feet, then conjured a boulder to sit on. The rest of an imaginary, thick forest rose up around them, and Dark Matter rolled his eyes and leaned against a tree instead.

“You’re only a fragment?” Owen asked.

“Yes. Alexander has more. And I had left fragments in others, too… as insurance in case I was ever defeated.”

“Great… How many?”

“Myself excluded… four. Alexander obviously has one. Emily almost certainly has another. The other two… I do not know.”

“Kept even that a secret, huh? Can’t even trust yourself with the information.”

“Clearly, it paid off.”

Owen laughed a little, but the true meaning of that phrase dawned on him. “Wait. You would have told me?”

“Don’t press this.” He seemed to growl, a thin trail of black haze leaking from his mouth like blood.

Dark Matter seemed to be hurting, so Owen obliged with a nod. Instead, he said, “I don’t have much energy to continue this, especially as you get further away. And you’re probably the same.”

“Then make your next question count,” Dark Matter grunted.

“…You said that you have light now,” Owen said. “Does that mean… you can feel positive emotions?”

In the imaginary forest, a breeze blew. Owen hadn’t conjured it. Maybe Dark Matter did. Or maybe it was some kind of turbulent manifestation.

“I don’t know,” the dark Charmander finally said. “I don’t know what that feels like. I don’t know if that’s what it is.”

“So, you’re feeling something different.”

“Yes. Sometimes it hurts. But there’s… something else, too.”

He was having trouble articulating it; Owen could tell this much. Maybe he could guide Dark Matter through this as a learning experience… without making him feel patronized.

“What made you feel it?” Owen asked.

“Hrmgh.” He grumbled and looked away. “The bed.”

“The… bed.”

“Apparently it used to be yours. I fell asleep in it from exhaustion. And… there was a feeling about it. Being in that bed. I’m still trying to comprehend it.”

The Charmeleon crossed his legs and leaned forward. “How about you try to describe it?”

“Mmhh… It is the feeling like being near a flame, but it’s of a material. And the flame doesn’t burn you. I think that was the cushioning. I was not as heavy when on it. I no longer felt a desire to move from that place. I believe my body also was curling by some instinct… And that’s all I remember. I must have passed out.”

Owen nodded, eyes closed. “That’s called being cozy.”

“Cozy. That is cozy?” He repeated the word a few times, studiously.

“Did you like it?” Owen asked.

“…I don’t know.”

“Right. You don’t know how to… or what it means to—I know. You said you… no longer felt a desire to move from that place. Another way to phrase it is, you wanted to stay in that place. Right?”

“I suppose that’s similar. What’s your point?”

This was going to be difficult. But Kilo wasn’t made in a day.

…Well, maybe it was.

“No point for now,” Owen said. “Hey, right, I remember now. Later, when I have more time and energy, I’m going to reach out to you again. Okay?”

“I won’t stop you.”

Owen nodded. “Well, if that’s the case, then… I’ll see you around, er… Dark Matter.”

He squinted at that. “What was that pause for?”

“N-nothing.”

He growled.

“Just, well, the name.”

“Anam imposed it on me.”

“Right… Well, I mean… It seems more like a nickname than an actual name, if you ask me.”

“You’re going to force a name upon me next.”

“N-not if you don’t want to!” Owen held his hands up.

“What’s wrong with ‘Dark Matter’?”

“Well, it, er, I mean, it’s… nice, and all, just… a mouthful, a little foreboding, two words…”

He looked genuinely offended.

“I—I’m sorry! Just, if you’re only a fragment or whatever, and maybe you wanted to… turn a new leaf? Differentiate yourself? Or, well, or try something different…”

Dark Matter was rubbing his face in annoyance, now, sighing into his hands.

“I don’t have time for this.”

“Aren’t you just sleeping in bed right now?”

“And this still isn’t worth my time.”

Bitter, Owen thought. “Do you want to keep Dark Matter?”

“Do you have something better?”

“I’m… thinking.” He looked away. “…Dark Matter. If you’re defensive over it, maybe we can keep the basics. Your initials, maybe?”

“D-M? That’s all? No. I won’t be reduced to initials.”

“Hmmh… Names. Eon gave me a name that also meant something. Owen… sort of a play on ‘one’, because I was his first. And I was going to be his number one partner.”

Dark Matter was leaning back and staring at an empty sky, frowning and with dulled eyes.

“It sounds kind of like a word used in an ancient language. Diem.”

“Mmh. I don’t know that language. It must not exist in Kilo. Did ‘Eon’ study it?”

“Yeah. I picked up some of the basics. Something… diem. It means day.”

“A name based on the concept of daytime?” It seemed like Dark Matter was rapidly losing interest. The fact that he had interest at all, though, was revolutionary.

“I don’t remember. It was a phrase based on… opportunity. Taking that opportunity. Kind of like what you can do here.”

“There it is.” Dark Matter sighed. “You want to name me, this fragment of Dark Matter, after a barely-remembered, partial and foreign corruption of daylight’s opportunity. Is that it?”

“I-isn’t that good? And clever?”

Another long sigh escaped him as he brought a hand over one eye. The other one was closed. “It’s better than Light-Dark Matter.” He then glanced Owen’s way. “How is it spelled?”

Owen got up, walked toward him, and sat next to him. He pointed at the grass as trails of fire wrote the name down.

“…That’s not how it’s pronounced. That’s clearly die-m.”

“No, I think in the accent you use, it’s—”

“If you want ‘diem’ you would spell it like this.” He twisted the flames into dark splotches, adding an extra letter. “There. Now it’s clear and unambiguous.”

“…Diyem.” Owen tilted his head, considering it. “You know… Now you made it your own.”

“Don’t try to make this symbolic. You were never good at it.”

“I think,” Owen said, “I’m getting better.” He smiled proudly, head tilted upwards.

“Hmph.” The dark Charmander looked at the word on the ground, reaching toward it. The flames disappeared into his palm. “Maybe you are.”

For a brief moment, as their tenuous connection began to fade, Owen thought he saw Diyem smile.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 128 - Honesty

Spice ran through at least four distortions once they’d passed through the entrance to Fae Fae Forest. Leo’s panting was ragged and Angelo had collapsed long ago, only to be carried and hauled forward by Phol. The Incineroar was holding up better than most, though he was still bleeding slightly from the cursed attacks they’d taken.

“Stop,” Spice said in a quick bark.

Leo stumbled and collapsed against a tree, panting even more before going to his knees. He’d nearly bumped into her from behind. “Why’d… you say that? Oogh, the fatigue’s catching up already…”

“Take a rest,” Spice glanced around for supplies, but of course Fae Fae Forest had also become cursed. There would not be any hospitality to be found inside, not easily at least. “I don’t think Lugia can find us for a while if we stay here. Big Pokémon like her… It’ll take a while for her to traverse a Dungeon.”

Phol set Angelo against another pastel-colored tree. The Smeargle’s fur was covered in Phol’s blood, looking completely ragged, but Phol himself was also slumped over.

“Phol, take some of this.” She offered another wax-sugar vial. “Oran potion. It’s really potent… Will probably do wonders for you.”

“Blessed?” Phol asked.

“No. So, it’ll take time. Just try it.”

He nodded, biting into the potion and downing it in one go. The relief was gradual, but his posture eventually straightened. He tentatively flexed his arms; the bleeding had stopped.

Spice leaned against a tree and sank down, relaxing a little. Pastel-rainbow colored tree bark surrounded them, the leaves a solid teal or ocean green. Occasionally, distant giggles—apparently a product of the Dungeon—disrupted the tranquil silence. It was a reprieve after all the running, all that chaos. She still wasn’t tired; not even sleepy as Leo had always worried about. But really, he should stop pressing her on it.

She still ruminated over the mess that she’d caused with him getting touched by that darkness. Of course, it wouldn’t do anything to her, but she should have been more cautious about Leo. He was normal. He was mortal, just an innocent Heart.

Why did he have to be so stubborn, getting involved in her problems like this? She missed when everything was normal and she could live a normal life in a normal family. Sugar was always so kind.

They were fine. Spice knew where they evacuated, and they were fine. The area she’d gone had so little darkness. And Lugia felt far away, too. She couldn’t sense her great, dark aura anymore, either. Perhaps many sections of the Dungeon away, or perhaps still reeling from what had happened.

Tanneth still didn’t emerge from her capsule, but at least she was away from whatever Lugia wanted to do with her. Spice didn’t know what was going on with that not-Vaporeon-maybe-Lugia fragment, but all that mattered was she was safe.

Spice looked at her claws again, trying desperately to will the shadowy colors away from her, but exposure to the crater made hiding it impossible. All the questions kept coming back to her. Maybe being away from town was a blessing in disguise, not that she could ever be blessed. Ever.

A warm hand touched hers and she flinched.

It was Leo, smiling at her. Skies, how long had she been looking so troubled? Could he even tell with her new face? And he looked so tired. He shouldn’t have been expending so much energy on trying to cheer her up. All she had to do was play dumb again. “Hey, don’t go asking me if I’m fine again,” she said once again.

“How are we?” Phol spoke up using his medical tone.

“Surviving,” Leo croaked.

“Dying,” Angelo said offhandedly, and then he retched behind a tree root.

“Trouble,” Brandon called from ahead, having scouted just in case. “Wraiths incoming from… Uh, everywhere.”

Spice cursed and drew two spikes from her bag, twirling them to intimidate. She didn’t know if that would work. Why did she even think they’d have enough time to recover?

The dark, shapeless bodies of the wraiths stood out against the bright colors of the forest, like spilled ink over a watercolor painting. They were hostile. They were always hostile. She had to make a show of it.

“Back off!” Spice commanded. “We’ll just fight you. And I won’t make it painless, either!”

The wraiths had been advancing, but they all stopped when Spice shouted. Which, really, she hadn’t been expecting. At least a little hostility…

But then she realized her appearance and cursed. She should have thrown the spike first.

She made eye contact with one of the wraiths, staring at that faceless body, wondering why it felt like it was staring back at her. Eye contact with no eyes. It was like staring into the Void Basin. Familiar, comforting. Now that she thought about it, when the southern kingdom had never been blessed, the wraiths never bothered her, and she always wandered unharmed into Dungeons. Because that was natural. She always would—but that would be dangerous for Spice. Going into Dungeons was supposed to be dangerous for everyone. But not for her.

No, it was—she was normal. She lived a normal life and just happened to not be bothered by darkness or the wraiths or the madness-inducing Basin or… or any of that. And everyone believed that, so it was true.

Spice was standing there, doing nothing, and the wraiths did the same. Paralyzed with indecision, and every second that ticked by seemed to claw at her psyche. It felt like things were crumbling around her and nobody knew it.

Normal, normal. Right, what was all of this? None of this made any sense! Why were the wraiths not attacking?!

Leo, Angelo, and Phol were all too exhausted to fight effectively. Brandon was putting up a display, but he also seemed tired, and didn’t look willing to send out his spirits against wraiths. Guardian spirits were apparently very vulnerable to corruption against them. So, in the end, it really was just Spice who could do her best against the others…

“They stopped?” Angelo whispered. “Why did they stop? They never stop!”

“Shh,” Spice growled. Strange feelings were welling up inside her and she didn’t know where or why.

If she attacked, they might attack back. She’d get them all killed, even if she survived. She… she couldn’t afford that.

It was time. Maybe she could play it off. She was following an instinct, an intuition. Nothing more. “…Leave us alone. We aren’t worth fighting. And they’re my friends. Understand?” Spice gestured to her team.

Nothing at first, but then the wraiths disbanded after a long, tense, windless silence. They went in the opposite direction. A few remained behind, but they, too, slithered away. Spice took several moments in that quiet to sort through her thoughts, shove most of them away, and tell herself that this was unexpected, lucky, and abnormal, and that none of it made sense.

“S…Spice?” Leo whispered.

“Don’t ask. I won’t have an answer, either.”

She then pointed at one of the wraiths. “You.” Suddenly, it jolted upright, as if standing to attention. “Gather food for us. Get a team to find anything valuable here and bring it here. Understand?”

Yes, ma’am!
And it left.

Ma’am? Spice growled.

“Wh-what did it say?” Angelo asked as they were left alone. “It just… shrieked at us and left! S-Spice…”

She turned around, tracing a claw along her dark chest, around the gemstone in her.

“Spice…” Leo looked at her uneasily. They all did. But Leo’s was the weakest, like he was conflicted. Then, his gaze hardened, and he nodded. “Whatever’s happening…”

“I really don’t know,” Spice said quickly. A hint of desperation broke through her voice, because she didn’t realize until just then that her actions might have cost her a position on the team, not just her façade. Communicating with wraiths, commanding them, and it worked? And she looked just like them. “Please, you have to—”

Leo shook his head. “Spice, I’m worried about you.”

“Leo, I—”

“I trust you, Spice.”

She flinched. Hadn’t been expecting that. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but she couldn’t find the right sentence.

“Think back… Why? Why is this happening? Maybe we can use this.”

“What?”

“You can command wraiths! Think back to why, and… and maybe we can turn this fight around with it! As long as it’s not some… strange weakness or trick of that demon.” Leo’s tone was forced, and he looked at Phol, Brandon, and Angelo next.

“I… don’t know,” Spice replied, a little weaker this time. Because she didn’t know. Spice never knew what any of this was. She was just a normal Salandit who grew up in a normal, southern family with two Salandit sisters. She didn’t remember anything before that. She couldn’t. “It just happened. I was always like this.”

“Spice…” Leo took a step closer. Brandon and Phol stood up, guarded. Angelo was terrified into paralysis.

“Leo, don’t get too close,” Phol murmured, uncertainty in his eyes, too. “Spice… This is a step too far. You commanded those wraiths casually, like you knew it would work.”

“I didn’t know it would work. I was desperate. I would have tried anything, so I tried that. It wasn’t like we were going to fight. So that’s it, okay? I got lucky.”

Nobody believed that. Not even her.

No no no no no.

It was all falling apart.

She should have diverted them. Made a decoy of herself. Said that she lost them in the chaos, and come back to save them later. Anything. Anything else. She wanted to rewind time. Try again. But she couldn’t.

“Wraiths can mimic people,” Phol said to Leo, and suddenly it was like a horrible, grinding, gripping feeling clutched at Spice’s chest. She couldn’t breathe; her eyes were wide. Everything was cold like the deepest depths of the ocean.

“What?” Leo asked.

“In all this commotion, what if a wraith separated Spice from us?” Phol eyed her suspiciously.

Spice said nothing. Her mind raced even faster. If she behaved like a wraith now, she could run, and go around from the back and say she’d gotten lost. That’d be perfect! But her legs didn’t respond. She never had the instinct to flee, always fight, in the face of adversity.

“She’s… a f-fake?” Angelo squeaked. “Wraiths can do that?”

“Powerful ones can,” Phol said. “They can mimic basic personality traits, too. Didn’t think I would ever put that knowledge to use ever since Anam blessed all the Dungeons, but… Well, they aren’t blessed anymore.”

She was still paralyzed. Her eyes darted all around, as if searching for the words. Something deep, deep in her mind was unraveling, like she was feeling something slipping away from her. Without realizing it at first, her arms wrapped around herself.

“C’mon, I kept a good eye on you guys,” Brandon muttered. “Mostly. I mean, sure, I was at the front, but I glanced back and stuff. We would’ve noticed something like that. And we’re too strong to get picked off like that! Especially Spice.”

They stared at her expectantly. Like she had some way to prove it. Her vision was focusing on just their faces and nothing else. The forest was a mesh of twisted, bright colors.

“I’m Spice,” she told them. The Heart who saved people from fires and lit the way forward in the dark. The partner to Leo, Team Alight’s leader. Sister of Sugar, aunt of Saffron. “I’m… I’m Spice. You have to…”

Dark. Cold. She couldn’t focus on anything anymore. All because she commanded those wraiths, when they were desperate, when there was nothing else she could have done. She had to! She had to! She stopped paying attention to them, once again desperately burying thoughts down.

But in the end, she’d taken it all in stride so well. Shrugging everything off, saying it was nothing to worry about; not needing sleep, the black Protect, any single one of those would have made a normal person worry. Perhaps Spice’s mistake was trying to shrug it off.

“Leo,” Phol yelped, “STOP!”

“Oh, enough!” Leo spat, and then Spice felt a warmth around her. His fur. His robe-like fur. His thin frame, his trembling body, but it wasn’t from fear. She would have felt that. No, this was fatigue. “Spice…”

His paws ran down her head, then her back. Without thinking, she leaned into him. He went to his knees and fell; startled, Spice caught him and eased the Delphox the rest of the way down.

“Sorry,” Leo said with a titter. “I’m… so tired. I haven’t run like this in a while. Some Heart I am…”

“L… Leo…”

“Leo, this… this is reckless,” Phol said, but now his words had less fire in them.

“Spice,” Leo said, “do you remember why you came up with our team name? Team Alight?”

“…I thought you came up with that,” Spice murmured, ashamed at how quiet her voice was. She forced the words out with more assertiveness, “You did! You said…” And she lost it again. Her voice hitched. Wincing, she said, “What’s this, some kind of test?”

“I guess it was,” Leo replied. “For them… not for me.”

“What, you gonna tell us your ‘Psychic empathy’ is telling you it’s really her, or something?” Brandon asked, huffing. “That’s cheating, you know.”

“No,” Leo growled. “I was directly behind her the whole time. This isn’t exactly a dark Dungeon.”

“…Oh.” Brandon’s hand clanged when it rubbed the back of his head. “Gods, I’m out of it.”

“Spice,” Leo whispered, “I’ve been thinking for a while about… your condition. Your sleepless nights, but having no fatigue for it. That blessed items simply never worked for you. And all of those other things…”

“Leo, enough. I’m fine. Please… drop it.”

“You didn’t want any of us to find out… did you? That you’re—”

“Please,” Spice begged, “please, don’t.”

She didn’t want to hear it. That would shatter everything. It would ruin that perfect normal life she’d built for herself.

She felt sick. Sicker than she’d felt in so long. Angelo’s terrified expression couldn’t escape her attention, even as she squeezed her eyes shut and focused entirely on the warmth of Leo’s fur. Phol’s skeptical gaze, like he would drive her away the moment she made a sudden move.

Brandon shifted his weight, mumbling something that Spice couldn’t hear to Phol. Phol murmured back, and Brandon said something a little louder. Angelo whimpered at them both.

Finally, “Man, I hate secrets,” Brandon said loudly, hands behind his head. “Alright, Salazzle. How about this? What do we gotta do for the truth? I’ll pay you… two dinners. Most expensive one you can get! Under three thousand Poké.”

Phol narrowed his eyes at Brandon. “Was that a joke?”

Brandon shrugged. “Trying to lighten the mood is all…”

Leo chuckled. “Lighten the mood… I hope that doesn’t offend you, Spice.”

Spice blinked, looking at Leo, who was smiling at her.

And that’s when Spice realized he knew.

He knew.

No. No, he couldn’t have. He wouldn’t have. If he did, he would have killed her.

“Spice… please,” he whispered, holding her hands.

That was why he wanted her to talk about it. Why he’d sent the rest of his team on less dangerous missions, away from the battles. They weren’t as strong anyway. Not like the two of them. Was he waiting for her to admit it? To explain? But… But why?

“How long do you think it will take,” Leo said, “for those wraiths to return?”

“What?”

“They’re gathering for us, right?” Leo asked.

“They… they are.”

Leo waited.

“A-about… about, I don’t know. A kilo or two. It’s not a very big Dungeon…”

“I guess that’ll buy us some time to relax,” Brandon said. “Right?” He glanced at Phol. Or, at this point, stared.

In some ways, Spice respected Phol’s caution. But that didn’t make it hurt any less. She felt so exposed, like fighting an outlaw without her equipment.

“Will you tell me later?” Leo asked. “Privately.”

The tightness was loosening. She could breathe properly again. Her emerald heart flickered with an echo of light. She wrapped her arms tighter around him, pulling him close, and sobbed. But she refused to make any noise out of it, so only Leo would be able to hear. He reciprocated by bringing his arms over her back, resting his muzzle behind her neck.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. “You’re a Heart. You’re part of Team Alight. And you’ve saved so many lives. Nothing will take that away.” He leaned close. “You’re Spice. Even if you’re a wraith, you’re Spice.”

So, he really did know.

Gods, she was an idiot to think he was that oblivious.

It all collapsed. Decades of work, gone. Her guard went down. Actual whimpers escaped her that time, a hitched gasp and blubber, an ugly little cry that she prayed everyone would forget.

Brandon elbowed Phol on the side and muttered, “Can a wraith mimic that?”

Phol sighed, relenting. “I suppose not. I’m… sorry, Spice. Whatever this is, just explain yourself, and we can move on. Maybe even use it. I’m… not mad. I’m just confused.” When Brandon gave him an impatient look, the Incineroar added, “But it can wait for now.”

Angelo just seemed confused, but understood enough that he was relaxed.

“Let’s get some rest,” Leo said gently.

She held him for a while longer. Everything felt exposed and open and confusing and inside-out. But there was a lightness to it, too, that was similar to all those times—most of her life, really—when she’d forgotten about it all. When pretending to be normal became… normal.

Yet it all seemed so different as she thought back to all the times Leo had pressed for her to say more when they were alone, nobody else around. She was cursed, but she’d used that to save her team. And she was lucky that they didn’t drive her away right after. Perhaps that was what it meant for Leo to be a Heart.

As she leaned into Leo’s body, she let the tears silently flow. For the first time, she truly felt blessed.

<><><>​

Zena slept with Enet that night, leaving her normal bedding for the lone Charmander. What was once an odd comfort, twisted as it was, had become a surreal and nauseating experience to see someone in Owen’s likeness yet with the countenance of that thing inside those eyes.

At least Enet was warm. And she had to admit, having someone big and warm was a nice comfort. In an odd way, Enet reminded her of Owen in ways she couldn’t describe.

They’d taken shifts keeping an eye on Dark Matter for the rest of the day. Eventually, after being certain that he was truly asleep, they relaxed their guard. Amia—Evelyn, as she confusedly insisted—chatted politely with Alex, having no clear memory of who he was. It was painful to watch, but Zena could relate, and she occasionally visited to give them food or something to drink. While the Ralts knew little about Alex, Zena could tell there were still feelings that Dark Matter’s amnesia had not erased, echoing her love for Alex, keeping her engaged in conversation. It was a small, but powerful, beacon of hope that she could yet be restored.

Marshadow had been found battered from a series of explosions that he hadn’t even been certain the origin of, only that Owen had been extremely fast in creating them. With the fighting over, he’d become docile again, but it would be some time before they could verify with Dark Matter if that was true. That was, if they could trust his word.

The other Legends were nearly comatose and barely responsive. Xerneas, Giratina, and Yveltal had been rescued from their Titanic prisons. Between them, Dialga, and Palkia, it felt like some of the greatest in the pantheon were slowly being rescued. Latias and Dialga worked some healing and time abilities to accelerate their recoveries, but even with their powers combined, it seemed like it would take a while. Getting a smiting Judgement by Arceus was not as gentle as the attacks brought down by the light crystals. Because of that, Giratina was recovering faster than the rest.

Hakk and Jerry finally returned later in the day. According to Hakk, they had made arrangements with the guards for a proper burial later to honor his memory, considering Xypher to be lost to the Voidlands. If his memories could no longer live with Xypher, then they could live with Hakk and those who knew him.

Zena wasn’t sure how to comfort Hakk other than to offer condolences and favors. He accepted none and asked to be left alone, though he did thank her anyway. That would do. She would check on him later, perhaps bring a simple meal.

She really couldn’t imagine the loss he felt. How long had he and Xypher spent together? How much time nursing Xypher’s memories, all for it to…

A cold nose pressed against Zena’s cheek, making her flinch. “H-huh?”

Enet stared at her.

“Oh. Enet. I’m sorry. Am I taking up too much space?”

She stared longer, then crawled over Zena and curled up under her chin. “Sad.”

“Sad?” Only then did Zena realize that she’d been crying. “Oh, I—really, it’s…” Why bother hiding it? She took a shaking breath and lowered her guard. Enet growled comfortingly, embracing her. It really did remind her of Owen. “I’m sorry. It has been a lot lately.” Her ribbons wiped at her face. She winced a little at how one seemed off-color, the one that had been torn away by Alexander’s dark power.

“It’s okay.” Enet nuzzled against her, but then eyed Dark Matter on the other side of the bed. Amia had been moved to the common area where they slept in makeshift beds made from the seats. Alex had been bold enough to ask to share a bed with her, and she had gladly complied.

Enet’s ear twitched and she focused harder on Dark Matter.

“Is something wrong?” Zena asked.

The Zoroark crawled to Dark Matter and Zena, more alert, slithered to follow. “Be careful, now,” she said. “He’s…”

“Crying, too.”

Little tears in the corners of his eyes were unmistakable. But was she supposed to care about that? She did, but it felt… wrong to.

“Excuse me,” Zena said. “Dark Matter?”

“Please… please, leave me be…”

“You’re crying,” Zena said, and then, grudgingly, she added, “Are you hurt?”

“Go away… Please. Let me rest…”

He was curling up more, hiding under a thin sheet that had been given to him at some point during the night. They’d left the door unlocked in case they needed to immediately enter for some trouble. If Zena had to guess, Demitri had come in to offer it.

“Were you unable to sleep?” Zena clarified.

“I slept,” Dark Matter said, and he didn’t elaborate.

Enet tilted her head, ears flicking. Then, she curled around the bed, sniffing at Dark Matter’s head. He curled up again, flashing a glare. Eventually, Enet left him alone, disappearing into the common area.

It was just Zena and Dark Matter. It occurred to her how dangerous this was. If he so wanted, he could silently take advantage of this moment. She locked her eyes on the sleeping, trembling thing under the covers, but he didn’t change his behavior at all. Not even a hint of him rising.

Perhaps a whole kilo had passed in that silence. Zena wondered if she would have to go to work. She wasn’t sure if all of the workforce had… survived. If any of them had. If the building had. The early morning had all been a blur of recovery and they hadn’t even started half of it. Dark Matter had been bedridden all that time.

Dark Matter stirred, sticking his head out from under the covers. His tail flopped out the other end, the black ember burning steadily. The tears were gone, now, and he was back to that blank, perhaps grumpy expression, like a child punished for some trivial misdeed. But it was calmer than she’d ever seen him.

“Did you need extra sleep?” Zena said. “I didn’t know such a thing was possible for… someone of your composition.”

“It isn’t,” Dark Matter grunted. “It’s this… body. This fragment that I am. It’s… twisted by the influence of other essences. Of Owen’s, when he struck me with light.”

“I see.” Zena nodded. “You were in tears. Does that light hurt?”

“Yes.” Dark Matter clenched his fists. “It hurts. It will always hurt. It hurts as we speak.”

She didn’t know how to respond to that. What a miserable existence. It was no wonder he—no, no. She couldn’t sympathize with him like that. She’d spent a miserable experience alone and she hadn’t been wishing for the world to end for it.

At least, she thought so. Perhaps at moments of weakness…

“And,” Dark Matter said, “it… was comforting. Being under the covers. Warm. Resting, asleep. Safe.”

“Well… I suppose so,” Zena replied, puzzled. “Sleep refreshes you, if you didn’t know.”

“I do. But you don’t understand.” Dark Matter curled up. “Of course you wouldn’t.”

“Then enlighten—explain to me.”

He grumbled at her. “…Think, Guardian. Warmth, comfort, recovery. The smallest… hint of…”

This cryptic puzzle was tiring, but Dark Matter was actually humoring her with it. The least she owed was to give it a try. All of that seemed like the natural reaction to sleep. What of it?

Natural… reaction.

“You… aren’t supposed to feel those things,” Zena concluded.

He was sitting up, now, that thin veil draped over his shoulders, making him look several decades older. “That was the first time,” he said, “in my entire, long existence, that I… that I felt… that I felt that. Any of that.”

“Oh.”

Silence. They said nothing. And she didn’t know what to say. How old was Dark Matter? How long had that only been a fantasy to him, that the rest of all existence taunted him with?

“Is it because of that light?” Zena asked.

“…It… twisted me inside.” He looked at his knees, now. “My spirit is not meant for light. Any positive emotion, it… it makes that light flare up. It hurt, oh, it hurt, but I… I couldn’t stop. I feared that if I woke up, I would… That feeling would go away forever. I don’t know how long it lasts.”

“But it hurt?” Zena clarified.

“Of course it hurt. Everything hurts.” He waved dismissively. “But beneath that, those… n-new things. I needed… I needed more. I needed more, Guardian.”

Then was that what was needed? Light? But such a minute amount, and with the influence of a mortal body. Dark Matter was given a gift of that smallest hint of it from Owen, at the hefty price of his power and stability. Even now, Zena saw that little wince of pain every time he ran his claws over the warm blankets. Yet Dark Matter still did it, for that tiny iota of comfort beneath the pain.

That wasn’t very fair, now was it?

“Then do you see?” Zena asked, this time with actual gentleness in her tone. “If we can work things out with the gods… We can fix what you’ve done. And we can help you with your… aversion to light. Make things tolerable.”

Dark Matter’s ill-defined shoulders slumped, and Zena had a feeling he’d heard this many times before. Still, this was different. It had to be! “You have proof, don’t you? Isn’t this groundbreaking?”

“Perhaps it is,” Dark Matter said, “but… Mmph. I can’t feel hope for my future.”

Zena sighed.

“No. Do not misunderstand me. I cannot… or… should not. Because… I am still unstable. Too much of this… positivity… and I would be writhing in pain from this seed of light in my core. And this… hope you are talking about… That could be fatal. I cannot feel it. I must… become stronger for that.”

It was so foreign to her. Calculating when to feel hope, when he could afford it? When he had the strength to feel hope? Hope was what gave people strength, and yet Dark Matter needed to build strength to handle it. How backwards… And this was how he lived all the time?

Incomprehensible…

And yet, now she understood why Owen had been so conflicted.

“Tell me why he spared you,” Zena said.

Dark Matter sighed loudly.

“No,” she amended. “…Do not misunderstand me.”

“Don’t think you’re clever,” he muttered.

Zena huffed. “I want to know why. When we find Owen, he will tell me the same anyway, won’t he? Please… Tell me about your history.”

Somewhere outside in the common area, something sizzled loudly. Demitri was cooking something savory and she wanted to investigate, but she felt it would be rude to leave now. She waited for Dark Matter’s response.

“You know him well enough,” Dark Matter said. “He found me by chance while meditating. Traveling the world to learn more about it on Necrozma’s behest. Or maybe it was an inevitability, with how thoroughly he had to travel…”

Zena nodded slowly, and then a floating bowl of food entered their room.

“Enet?” Zena guessed, and then the bowl of food set itself down in front of Dark Matter. The Zoroark appeared as the bowl was set down, a gradient of visibility starting from her arms and ending at the tip of her mane.

“Eat,” she said.

The little Charmander stared at it with a furrowed brow, like he was trying to solve a math problem.

“What is this,” he stated, like it was insulting him, rather than a question.

“Food. Soup.” Enet nodded. “Heart-y.”

“No,” he said, gesturing to the bowl again. “What is this. Why?”

“Enet sensed that you’re tired,” Zena answered, “if I had to guess.”

Hesitantly, he picked up the bowl, but his hands trembled. It wasn’t from some strange panic, but fatigue; Dark Matter’s ember was flickering, and the bowl was quite heavy for someone of his size.

“Ngh—”

It fell out of his hands, the bowl striking the ground, not shattering, but spilling its contents on the floor. Zena acted on reflex, her eyes flashing. The liquid froze in place, strong and thick enough that it also held the chunks of vegetables and meats in place. The spill funneled back into the bowl.

“You really do need energy,” Zena murmured as Dark Matter stared at the bowl, then his trembling hands. Still, Zena couldn’t… find it in her to do what was required next. She couldn’t help him, not after…

Enet reached forward instead, picking up the bowl with one hand. With the other, she took Dark Matter’s and placed it under, supporting the weight.

Zena wasn’t sure why she felt ashamed just then. Gods, this was a mess…

“…Eat up,” Zena finally said. “Gather your strength. You’re going to be guiding us to Anam later?”

Dark Matter seemed to be lost to the soup for a while. Demitri’s cooking must have really improved. When he finished his first heaping gulp, he winced, a dark fog leaking from the corner of his mouth.

“Are you all right?” Zena asked.

“Core acting up,” Dark Matter grunted. The fog slowly dissipated. “…Yes. Later, I’ll find Anam for you… He shouldn’t be far. He is safe.”

At this point she had to say it. Nobody else would, and by now she’d been the one to talk to him the most, short of Owen or Anam. It was odd to think of it that way, but really, had Dark Matter interacted with anyone else for this long before killing them, or… whatever he did?

“This is quite a change of heart from you.”

It only annoyed him. Zena expected as much, but it had to be said. “I’m barely myself,” he muttered back. “This light… changed me. It’s changing how I feel things. These… thoughts. Intrusive. I don’t like them.”

“The bit of Owen,” Zena said. “Is it his spirit?”

“No. But his influence.” He looked at his claws again. “I can’t say the same for the rest of me.”

“The… rest?”

The soup was halfway gone, and he took a break to let it settle. He took slow breaths, and Enet let Dark Matter hold it on his own.

“I am only a fragment of Dark Matter. The part that Owen infected with light. Small enough that it doesn’t shatter me, but large enough to hold myself together independently. A split soul.” He eyed Zena, then Enet. “Well. You may not understand, Zena. But many of your friends will, soon.”

“Split… souls,” Zena echoed. “I don’t understand.”

“A soul can only exist in one reality at a time… The Voidlands are part of Kilo, two sides of the same plane, connected through Dungeons, just as it is connected to Kilo’s own spirit realm. But that does not mean a spirit—the light that a soul manifests—cannot be split apart. While the soul is immaterial, connecting all of one’s self together regardless of distance… the spirit, the part that creates aura when bound to a body, can be divided.

“You’ve already seen examples of this before with that Zygarde of yours. He is always splitting himself off into weaker versions of himself, but all together, he is one of the strongest forces at your disposal. He referred to himself as an Overseer… though that term is probably a self-assigned title for his natural role in the pantheon.”

“Sub-sti-tute,” Enet added.

“Mm. That is a weaker example… but one, too.”

“Three?”

Dark Matter stared, then ignored her. “I am a tiny, weak fragment of my whole self. Alexander took most of me. And the rest… are scattered elsewhere.” He closed his eyes. “I know how many there are… but I do not have their memories. And I am a blight to them, so they will not reply to anything I say, either. But I can sense… how many of me there are. Three… No, four, now, with Alexander. And the fifth one, myself.”

“And you can’t tell us where they are?”

Dark Matter shook his head. “I would if I could. You’ve given me… proof of concept. Something that I’ve never experienced before. I’m convinced. If only it could have been done sooner…”

“I doubt you would have accepted a sampling of light,” Zena remarked.

“I wouldn’t have. Owen would have had to do it by force. Anam would never have. He was too kind. Owen does not hold that same kindness.”

“Owen’s very kind,” Zena defended.

Dark Matter sighed loudly. “You do not want to be as kind as Anam. Had it not been for my guidance or his raw power, he would have been a failure, taken advantage of by the wicked until he was left destitute.” He stared at Zena, unflinching even as she scowled. “All it did was leave his world in ruins and his body left in a cave, surrounded by Void Shadows waiting for his light to fade.”

“All due to your actions,” Zena spat. “You did that. You ruined the world. You betrayed him.”

“All true,” Dark Matter said. “He was a fool to trust me. I told him time and time again that I would go against him the moment I could, and the moment I saw no progress in his vision.”

“And he kept it up for how long?” Zena pressed. “…How long did Anam make Kilo a better place?”

“With my power aiding him,” Dark Matter corrected slowly, “he subjugated local authorities and absorbed their societies into his own. He was able to quite literally waltz into the hearts of neighboring civilizations, destroy their morale, and take their people.”

“Anam isn’t a killer,” Zena said. “He’s… not a conqueror. Or are you saying that he wiped that history, too?”

Dark Matter snorted, and she was positive she’d seen him smile. “With all that happened, I could say it was, and you might believe me. But no.” The smile disappeared. “There are indirect ways to destroy a hierarchy. Undermine leadership by doing everything they could do, better. Conjure miracles like they were mundane tasks and then give it all for free. Ask only for safe passage so that Kilo can seep into the local culture like dye into a flower petal.”

“Is that not… sharing ways of life? Unifying the world? How did the Thousand Hearts’ motto go again…”

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, unite the lands from worlds apart. That motto has become redundant for some time, but before, it was a drive to bring everyone in the world together. First with roads and maps, and then the Waypoint system to shrink the world into only a few short walks to any major location. As the world unifies, the individual parts lose their identity. Histories are neglected and forgotten.”

“Just from Anam?” Zena asked. “You make it sound so sinister… but didn’t Anam make the world a better place? He blessed Dungeons, enchanted equipment, all of that technology…”

“Mmph.” Dark Matter sighed. “I only feel the negative aftereffects. Your list of the benefits… I don’t know how much they weigh against the pain of those who felt their homes lose their identities. Their pride squashed. Their kingdoms assimilated. Jerry was once a prince, you know. Heir to the Pyrock Kingdom, now nothing but a village northeast of the Chasm.”

“…And you let him do it,” Zena said. “Why?”

“Anam showed how unification results in less negative feelings overall,” Dark Matter said, shrugging. “It softened my pain. I had more than enough reason to help him, so I followed his command. It wasn’t as if I had a choice otherwise…” He trailed off. “I… trusted him. I do not know… how. Perhaps his light had reached me enough to humor it all. Eventually, I turned my sense of negativity into a way to accelerate Anam’s empire. When you know precisely how to cause civil unrest… with my absolute sense of negativity… collapsing authority is trivial.”

“That’s… awful,” Zena had to admit. “You used your own knowledge of a world’s problems to precisely…”

“Prod at their society’s specific insecurities in a way a politician could only dream of? Yes. His kindness was in response to me telling him exactly what a society lacked. All I did was tell him how to do it, and he was none the wiser on the true effect it had on the ruling party.”

After a long silence, Dark Matter bowed his head. “That is Anam’s secret. It was not his strength, though that was useful. It was not some hidden, savant mind or overwhelming charisma that won over the hearts of the world. It was me, telling Anam precisely what good deeds he can perform to undermine everyone else. So long as Anam himself remained ignorant of this, even the greatest Psychic would see nothing but good intentions. A pure heart.

Demitri was sizzling something in the kitchen. Gahi shouted that breakfast was ready. Someone was approaching from the hall.

“And so, Anam invalidated every single other kingdom and won the hearts of the people. Those who resisted, he had the physical strength to defeat. And none could outsmart me, because I sensed their distaste before they even realized it themselves. Though,” he muttered, “I believe the original spirits—the ones not originally native to Kilo—are… difficult for me to read. Those like Nevren… are not as firmly under my domain. Ngh. Regardless.” Dark Matter glanced to the left to see Enet enter holding two more plates of food. “In the end,” he addressed Zena, “Anam, during the Thousand Hearts’ rise, was invincible. Physically, socially, and politically.”

He took the smaller plate, which had a bowl of some kind of purple rice and unknown meat. Zena took a much larger bowl, but she wasn’t sure if she had the appetite to try any of it.

Enet tilted her head, sitting next to Dark Matter. “Okay?” Enet asked Zena.

“I—I’m fine,” she said. “I just… need to think.”

“Mm.” Dark Matter took a few bites. “Perhaps I could have eased you into it more.”

“I just cannot believe that something like that is true. There must be more to it. I—the rulers, they must have been… corrupt, or…”

“Every single ruler?” Dark Matter. “By some miracle, only Anam was the greatest ruler, and all others were corrupt, power-hungry warmongers? Is that your rationalization?” He shook his head, sighing. “Deny, deny, deny. Mortals do love to rationalize their sins.”

Zena hadn’t even known the world for that long outside of her little cave, but she’d heard so much from Owen about it. This kind of news would be devastating to Demitri and Mispy. She only hoped they didn’t—

“The walls are thin,” Dark Matter said. “Everyone was listening.”

“Oh, so you can read thoughts, too, can you?” Zena growled weakly. She felt sick.

“No. Just a good guess.” Dark Matter glanced down the hall.

More footfalls. Heavier ones this time. And a low, constant noise of something large sliding across the ground—Mispy.

“You’re wrong,” the Meganium said, keeping her voice firm despite her stutter.

“Oh, joy.” Dark Matter sighed, taking another bite. “Go on. Give me your platitudes.”

She opened her mouth again, trying to say something. “You… misled him. He wouldn’t…” Another long pause. Her scaly brows furrowed. Zena had never seen Mispy look so furious; she knew that look. But what did she want to say? With that kind of expression, Zena would have gone off on a tirade at Dark Matter. But for Mispy, the words simply didn’t manifest.

“You think I’m wrong,” Dark Matter said. “I misled him because I did not tell Anam the full situation. So, it’s my fault.”

Mispy snarled, but it wasn’t aimed at him. She nodded, dejected.

“Perhaps you’re right. But that doesn’t change the truth of what happened. Do you really think Anam would have ‘won over’ the corrupt powers that dotted Kilo’s landscape?”

“There’s a better… better…” Mispy stumbled again. Demitri held her shoulder.

“You cannot play nice with tyrants,” Dark Matter spat, “and peace treaties are written in blood. Anam asked me to help him save the world as quickly as possible from the Dungeon threat. I gave him the answer.” He looked away. “To his credit, he talked me down from killing everyone as the initial solution.”

“How is that a solution?” Zena asked.

“He asked to minimize my pain. I get my pain from others. The solution is to get rid of all others.”

Demitri gaped. “That’s not—”

“Yes, yes, I know.” He waved Demitri away. “I heard it all from him many times. The other fragments of me don’t agree, obviously.”

Mispy whispered something to Demitri, and then the Haxorus said, “Then you’re saying that… even though what Anam did was bad, or what you guided him to do was, um, underhanded… he still wasn’t a tyrant? Still made the world safer, better?”

“Even if I wanted to be a cruel leader, Anam certainly would not have allowed it,” Dark Matter stated. “I know my fair share of powerful rulers of old. How power corrupts their decisions. Having Anam as the ultimate world power for so many centuries is nothing short of a miracle.” He leaned back. “I was only stating that the pristine history you believe from Anam is backed by underhanded deceit that any other great power would need. And as with any grand, sweeping change, innocents suffer for it.”

“Was there… a better way?” Enet asked, tilting her head.

“They’re saying no,” Dark Matter grunted.

“Mn.” She prodded him in the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” he growled.

“You.” She poked him again. “Do you think… a better way?”

“You want my opinion.”

Enet gazed at him, eyes wide with curiosity.

The little Charmander seemed unnerved. “…With what I know, perhaps there could have been. But Anam… I suppose Anam did what he could to mitigate it. He is not evil. He can’t be, after what he’d done to guide me.”

Enet tilted her head the other way this time, ears flicking.

“What?”

“You said… you guide Anam.”

“I did.”

“Oh,” Demitri whispered. “You said Anam guided you, too.”

“Well, of course he did. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here now. Wouldn’t have made the world he did.”

“Proud?” Enet asked.

“I—” He flinched, then winced as black smoke leaked from the corners of his mouth. He coughed violently, plumes of the haze pouring onto the ground before dissipating. Everyone backed away, aside from Enet, who went closer to pat his shoulder. “Let’s stop this conversation, please.”

“Oh, a-are you okay?” Demitri fidgeted.

“Go away.” Dark Matter wheezed, the stream of darkness subsiding. His flame was a little smaller, but still larger than when they’d gotten him. “I still need… to rest. Anam will be fine, and you need to help with restoring the town, don’t you? By… later today. Lunch, or dinner, I’ll be ready to go. And I feel someone calling me anyway.”

“Someone—”

“Owen, it’s Owen.” He took a large gulp of his meal. “He said he wanted to sp—”

“You can talk to Owen?” Zena pressed.

“How is he?” Demitri asked just as quickly.

“Oi, what about Owen?!” Gahi teleported into the room.

“Owen?!” Eon called from the common area.

“OUT!”

He sent them all away, though Zena remained in the room so long as she promised to leave him alone. Enet, too, made herself scarce and curled up for some extra time napping.

Zena sighed. “Is he at least… doing well?”

“For now.”

“I see…” She decided not to ask more. She didn’t want to press her luck.

“…Mmh. By the way.” Dark Matter opened one eye, staring at Zena, then empty space where Enet was.

“Yes?”

“You may call me Diyem.”

<><><>​

To the void again. Owen waited patiently, peaceful like before, and took the time to meditate and ease his mind.

Eventually, Necrozma’s glimmer of light appeared. Owen glanced around him and focused, conjuring a small, rocky landscape overlooking a false countryside. Far and away there was an ocean, but perhaps it was just a backdrop.

“Hey,” Owen greeted.

“It’s much easier to contact you now,” Necrozma admitted.

Owen nodded. “I’m heading north, closer to you technically. You haven’t been watching?”

“I conserved my strength for this.”

“Oh, right.” He squinted at Necrozma’s bright body. “Does being that… big take up energy, too?”

“Well, no. This is all mental. Rhys and Elder did it all the time. They had quite a mental connection.”

“I heard about that…” Owen frowned. “How long can you keep this up?”

“At this rate, a while…”

“Good.” If that was the case, he could try something else next. Concentrating, he reached out again, just as he had tried earlier. Are you there?

What, what? grumbled another voice.

Necrozma sensed the presence and tensed, but Owen gave him a firm look. It didn’t change anything, but Necrozma at least did not speak up. After some waiting and more grumbling, a dark flame appeared in the far distance, seemingly darker than the surrounding void that went beyond the hills of the landscape.

Once the dark clouds got closer, it was clearer that he was taking on the form of a Charmander with a glowing, red chest. He stared lazily forward, but then stopped when he saw Necrozma standing there.

He spun on his heel and started walking away.

“Hey, get back here!” Owen shouted.

Diyem growled and turned his head back so one eye could look at Owen. “Give me one reason.”

“Oh, don’t give me that,” Owen grumbled, rubbing his arm. “That one still stings a little…”

With a small, angry sigh, Diyem approached again and eyed Necrozma suspiciously, then winced when he got too close. “You can’t turn that off?”

“My… light?”

“Yes.”

“Well, yes, but it’s quite painful.”

Diyem stared.

“Ah… poor taste. Of course. Well.” Necrozma shifted awkwardly. “This is a mindscape. I suppose I could be anything. Give me a moment.”

Both Owen and Diyem winced when Necrozma suddenly brightened, and then the light abruptly disappeared. Where Necrozma once floated now stood a Charmeleon with gold scales and a flame of the same color.

“There. To fit the theme, hm?” He leaned forward and fell, not even properly catching himself. “Ah. I cannot float.”

Diyem, looking offended somehow, focused on his own body until he grew into the same form, though he made sure his scales were darker.

Owen covered his eyes, sighing. “Happy with your new forms?” he said, still refusing to look at his two patrons. Maybe this was where he got it from.

“Well, Owen,” Necrozma said, experimenting to find a good sitting position, “you… called us. Now we’re here. Is this some kind of… mediation?”

“I’m not interested,” Diyem said. “Necrozma intends to kill me.”

“Well,” Necrozma interjected, “actually, I—”

“Don’t care,” Diyem interrupted.

“It’s not mediation,” Owen said, sighing. “I’m not going to try to get you guys to be friends after all this. In fact, the fact that you guys don’t trust each other is why I brought you here together.”

“Oh?” they both said.

There wasn’t really a guarantee that they would agree with this, even one of them. But if he could play to their own distrust…

Well, in a way, was this underhanded?

Did that matter anymore?

Owen pushed the thoughts back. Now or never; there was no way Necrozma would have the energy for another of these in a while, and Diyem, well, he wouldn’t have the patience.

“You both want me to side with you in this whole feud you have, right?”

“Feud,” Necrozma hummed disapprovingly.

“Far from a feud, but I’ll allow it,” Diyem grunted.

“And I take it you both know what I really want above all else, right?” Owen went on. “Diyem, you know about longing and desire.”

“I do.”

“Your memories,” Necrozma raised a hand. “Ahh… I see, I see. Very clever.” He brought a paw to his mouth, chuckling. “You’re forcing us to disclose everything with the other to check us for the truth. There is little, if anything, that we mutually want to hide from you. Is that your thought process?”

Diyem narrowed his eyes at Owen, studying him. A bit of dark haze leaked from the corners of his mouth as he cleared his throat, muttering, “A little impressive.”

“I want you to tell me everything,” Owen finally said. “From start to finish, as far as Quartz and Kilo are concerned. I want to know my past again. And then… I can trust both of you to work with me to take down Alexander.”

“And after?” Diyem said. “I have no intention of trusting Necrozma once Alexander is out of the way.”

“We’ll… handle that later. Right now, I’m focused on him.”

They both considered the proposal, looking at Owen, then studying one another. With all of them taking on the same form, Owen had a good idea what they were thinking and feeling, even in this mindscape.

“I have no objections,” Necrozma said, the first to speak.

“Mrm.” Diyem agreed second.

“And you’ll both trust me with this?” Owen clarified. “My promise is to work with you both, and find a way where we can all get something good out of this. Maybe we can end the fighting. Okay?”

“After what you did,” Diyem said, holding his chest, “I have no choice but to trust you. You wouldn’t… have gone that far to save me if you felt differently.” He grimaced, fist clenched. “I suppose I can see that, now.”

“And you?” Owen asked.

“Well, I thought that was a given,” Necrozma replied calmly. “After all, I had told you in our prior meeting that saving Diyem was just what I had hoped for.”

“Excuse me?” Diyem glared, but the surprise in his voice was palpable.

“That’s what he told me, at least,” Owen said to Diyem. “He never told me to kill you. In fact, he kept showing me memories of when I betrayed him, and my reasons for it.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie when he’s right there?”

“This… is some kind of trick to—”

“Already spared you when I could’ve killed you,” Owen reminded.

“Nghh…”

Owen sighed and crossed his legs. Diyem did the same, bringing the black flame on his tail forward. Necrozma… took some time to attempt the same posture, ultimately falling over. He eventually settled with being prone on the ground, belly-down.

“So,” Owen said, “let’s start when I first woke up.”

Owen could feel it. With Necrozma and Diyem balancing each other out, neither one able to tell a lie and each one keen to speak the truth, Owen was finally going to learn everything. His whole past. Start to present.

Finally.

With a flame aglow, he listened intently as Necrozma started them off, when the world had just been formed.

--

Author's Note: Thanks for reading, everyone! As you can tell, the next chapter is Special Episode 9.As with all Special Episodes, it will be four weeks instead of 2 before this one is published. See you then for Special Episode 9: Wishkeeper.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Special Episode 9 – Wishmaker

“I suppose I should be the one to begin, Owen.”

Okay. Is it because Dark Matter wasn’t around yet?


“I was. But Necrozma probably has a better perspective. During Kilo’s beginning, I was lost and in my own personal torture realm… Irrelevant to this.”

Right…

“Hmm, where to begin… Ah! Owen, what is the first thing you remember of Kilo?”

Waking up next to Tim, who was… Mew. Things were scrambled, like something was wrong, but I didn’t think about it much.

“And then?”

Still a haze…

“We shall begin there.”


<><><>​

Year 0

Owen and Tim flew side by side. Tim seemed playful, spiraling around Owen with great agility, occasionally banking under Owen’s outstretched wings during a glide. Then he dipped down and squinted at the ruins below.

“It’s some kind of explosion that hit this place,” Tim said. “It’s awful!”

“Quartz looks like it was bombarded by something massive,” Owen agreed. “Wait! Up ahead!”

“I see it, too. Those are people!”

“Let’s see if anyone’s hurt.”

It felt familiar. Owen and Tim surveying the land from above, searching for those in trouble…

There was a Salamence and a Dragonite leading the effort. Owen furrowed his brow, thinking hard.

“…Ire!” Owen shouted, diving down until he tackled the unsuspecting Dragonite. At first, he was startled, clawing at Owen, but Owen held strong and growled against his cheek.

Tim went flying after him, shouting to fall back, until Ire pulled away with a happy growl of his own. They stepped away from each other, beaming, and then Owen looked at the alarmed Salamence next to him.

Surrounding them all were several other Pokémon scattered throughout the ruins. Many of them were emerging from rubble or helping others emerge, and several eyes were on them with the sudden reunion.

“Owen,” Salamence said, sighing. Her voice was deep and Owen didn’t recognize it. “What are you doing? You’re late for the recovery!”

“Recovery?” Owen tilted his head. Her accent was hard to understand. It felt like they were speaking totally different languages. Owen must have hit his head pretty hard; the way he himself spoke felt… unfamiliar.

“Who are you, again?” Tim asked, pink tail flicking as he thought. “Sorry, I think we got hit by… a massive wave of forgetfulness, or something.”

“You’re familiar, too,” Salamence said. “Hmm…” She squinted, studying the tiny Mew. “Wait. You were with Owen?”

“Of course!”

“Tim.” She sighed, nodding. “It’s me, Ayame. Do you remember anything?”

“No. But we were in the middle of… something, weren’t we?”

“Yes, we were defending against something. It must have hit. Let’s gather survivors.”

Owen tensed. “Survivors?”

“Well, I say that…” The Salamence turned, looking heavy-footed when she did so, and scanned the environment. “All this rubble, collapsed buildings, completely ruined roads… This is the kind of destruction that you would expect to see many bodies. And yet…”

Urgent shouts rang out, catching their attention. Some rubble was being cleared, and then out came a Lucario, easily pushing the rest of the rubble away. Next to him was a tiny Torkoal curled up in his shell, a little scuffed but otherwise unharmed.

“Just like that,” Ayame said. “Not a single soul left us, I feel. It’s nothing short of miraculous.”

“Miraculous…” Tim looked at his hands. It seemed like he was at the cusp of some realization. And then there was a look of alarm on Tim’s face, and he took a breath, about to say something—and then he stopped. The thought left him, perhaps. Letting out a frustrated grunt, he crossed his arms. “We’re forgetting something important. Gah! I feel crazy!” He raised his tiny, pink arms skyward. “A hint would be nice!”

They all looked skyward, as if expecting to get one.

And then, northeast, a golden light washed out the blues in the sky.

“Attention, all of Quartz,” boomed a voice that, no matter the distance, was equally clear to all.

Cries of shock, fear, and awe all rang out. Ire hid behind Ayame. Owen and Ayame, meanwhile, only turned to face the light, narrowing their pupils against it.

It looked like a tall star with eight sides, golden crystal legs and prismatic eyes. Rather than arms, it had four great wings. Its whole body was taller than any mountain, and when it spoke, its crystal jaw did not move. Without pupils, there was no way to tell what it saw. Perhaps it saw everything.

“A terrible calamity had befallen your world, one so tragic that even the event itself was lost to you. That is the source of all the ruin and rubble. But please, do not fear: you are all alive and well. My name is Necrozma. I shall help you rebuild what was lost, so you may live your lives properly once again.

“This will be my first and last message to you in this way, in an ideal situation. I shall only see you again like this if a time of crisis of the same magnitude threatens to befall us once more. To prevent that from happening once again, I urge you all to work together and pave the future you desire from the ashes of your own history.

“Good luck, and I will do everything in my power to ensure such a calamity will never happen again.”


He bowed. His form, made of seemingly pure light, dissolved, and only then did Owen notice a tall tower in its place. The crowd around them began to move again, murmuring to one another. Tim was about to speak to Owen about it, when—

“And to those who can hear me now…” Tim, Ire, Owen, and Ayame all looked at the tower again. So did that Lucario and Torkoal. Nobody else did. “I have seen into your hearts, and I know of the past you have forgotten. The heroics performed in the time that had been erased. If you desire to rebuild this world with your ideals, come to Destiny Tower.”

To their eyes only, as nobody else noticed, the great spire became brighter.

“I wish to speak with all who can climb its labyrinth.”

<><><>​

Necrozma… who are you?

“What do you mean?”

Arceus was the one who destroyed Quartz. And Star—er, Mew was the one who got into all that trouble. Why is it that, after
that, you’re the one we see? Wouldn’t it be Arceus apologizing for what happened?

“Arceus… is filled with a great pride, Owen.”


“He would never admit to such a mistake.”

I guess so…

“When someone is killed, the natural flow of the spirit is to go on to the next world. It takes a great deal of effort or special privileges to go against that current. Even you, Owen, would struggle to return from the dead without the power of so many gods requiring you alive. The Reincarnation Machine is a bypass that kept you alive… but if you were to die now, you would be nothing more than a spirit tied to an Orb.

“Arceus killed every single person who lived in Quartz Isle at the time of its demise, and then erased from history the event that caused it. All who died there… the effort required to bring them back, to undo that damage rather than make it forgotten, was too great.


“Both for his efforts, and for his pride.”

“Indeed. And Star was… traumatized by the ordeal. A god outside of their domain becomes vulnerable and weak, only a few degrees removed from mortal. And Star flew too close to that mortality when meddling with the world she had created. Humans caught her and tried to use and abuse that divine power. In the end, she died for it, as did all who lived on that island.

“That is where I stepped in.”

You… stepped in?

“There is more to Creation than a single reality, Owen. The world you are from, with Kanto and Orre… I call that a ‘favored’ world. It is a world that the creators pay… more attention to. Where they are likely to dwell within as their false domains for a semblance of mortal living. The risk of harm is less than the joys of living, to Star. That is how she felt… before that fateful day when she was captured, and that risk caught up to her.

“But a ‘favored’ world means there are other worlds that the gods do not watch. These worlds rise and fall without need for their original creators, and follow their own cycle. Perhaps they create gods of their own, in a figurative sense. Rulers and wielders of that domain’s power, masters of its closed rules. Star, Arceus, they are indeed gods of Creation. But I am… an Overseer. A visitor who has… ehm, an extended stay.”

Overseer… wait—
an Overseer? There are more Necrozma out there?!

“Aha, well, yes, I suppose that’s also true. But anyone can be an Overseer. Do you really think I would stay in a single form for eons? …Ah, you look overwhelmed.”


“This is news to me, too. I knew you weren’t native to this world. But you aren’t even native to this realm.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true…”

“You stepped in because a god abused their power?”

“Not necessarily. I only stepped in because I saw a disturbance. I offered… a solution.”

Kilo was your solution?

“Rather than send all the spirits from Quartz on their way, Mew was filled with regret over her actions, and Arceus, too, wished to try again despite their inability to outright reverse it. They could not revive those spirits. But they could reincarnate them in a new world. In nothing, a Creator is at their most powerful. Crafting a new reality to house these spirits was trivial.

“Quartz, the world rather than the island, was born.”

Okay. Okay… Let’s go on. Sorry. Just needed some time.

“Right. Let’s take a break. Then, we can recall a bit ahead, when you were training to climb the tower…”


<><><>​

Year 1

There had been a plaque at the front of Destiny Tower saying that those who ascended the tower required strength of mind, body, spirit. Owen, not quite knowing what it meant to have a strong spirit, and fairly confident that Tim was not of strong mind, felt that ascending the tower as they were wouldn’t be enough, despite Necrozma’s urging.

It was a tower that dwarfed the very skies, its top disappearing through the clouds above.

Rather than scale it and leave everyone else to recover, they vowed to return when their duties were complete.

Tim had tried to call out to Necrozma again, asking if it would be okay to return later, but received no reply. The Mew hoped, ultimately, that it would be okay. Gods worked on longer timeframes, right? A few weeks would be nothing…

One day, Ayame and Ire left for the tower. Tim and Owen caught up to them just at the Tower’s entrance, where the dirt of a forest clearing transitioned into pure marble.

“So soon?” Tim said worriedly. “Just like that, you’re gonna…”

“I’m just going to get it over with,” the Salamence replied with a sigh. “There’s no point in anticipating any of this. I’ll just try it once… Apparently, a few people have already tried scaling it multiple times. All of them failed, waking up at the base of the tower in a flash of light. But one person made it to the top… and didn’t find anything.”

“Oh. Well, then why bother?”

Owen rumbled as he thought about it. What would have caused them to not find anything?

“My theory is, Necrozma hadn’t called them specifically, or you have to get to the top of the tower on your first try. Otherwise, you weren’t meant to complete it.”

“Wait, then wouldn’t that be all the more reason to stay?!”

Ayame shrugged. “Necrozma called me. If I scale this tower and fail, then it wasn’t meant to be. That would be my fate. I want to know what’s waiting at the top already… I’m not feeling patient. Come, Ire. We shall ascend.”

The Dragonite followed her, looking confident. Owen wished he could have felt the same about Tim… but right now, neither of them felt ready to scale it.

They disappeared into the gray spire.

It was the last time Owen had ever seen Salamence Ayame. Ire had appeared later that evening in a flash of light, defeated.

Ayame had never climbed down that tower for weeks. They tended to Ire, who fretted over her disappearance, but they tried to assure him that things were okay. But eventually, after realizing that she indeed wasn’t coming back—or perhaps too much time had passed—it had become a rescue operation. What if, somehow, she had become trapped?

“We’re going to have to cut our training short, Owen,” Tim said, looking determined. “Let’s climb that tower and rescue Ayame.”

That was his decision. Rescuing someone… It was so familiar to Owen. They’d done it a lot in the past, right? It was a fuzzy memory, the old calamity still obscuring it, but he definitely remembered some of that…

“Right,” Owen agreed. “Ire, do you want to come with us?”

“I’ll try…”

Tim still had trouble understanding Ire’s accent. But he got the gist. The Mew floated out of their home—a simple hut made from clay and grass—and stared the tower down. His tail flicked anxiously. “We might fail the first time,” he said, “but we’ll keep trying until we can get her. Whatever reward—forget it. Ayame might need our help, and that’s more important. Right, Owen?”

Owen had some doubts, but Tim’s resolve encouraged him.

They entered the tower… and, instantly, Tim disappeared from view.

<><><>​

We can skip this part.

“Oh? You remember?”

I remember enough. You didn’t make it easy…

“Well, it was meant to test your will.”

I think I took more Rock attacks to the face in that tower than the rest of my life up to that point.

“A
strong test of will…”

When we went to the top, I remember meeting Tim. He made it through, too. And you told us that Shadows were the cause of Quartz’s destruction. I didn’t really understand it at the time. But the truth is, humans were doing something horrible on that island, and they got Star in the process. They tried to use Shadows on her, or something, and Arceus retaliated by destroying the island and everyone on it. Then you stepped in and made Quartz Island the
world, and put us here.

“Correct. I am sorry for not being upfront.”

But what happened after… I’m not going to forget that.


<><><>​

“Well, um… hey! Good work on getting up here and stuff,” Mew said, her voice hiding the most subtle of trembles.

“Yeah, uh…” Tim drifted a little closer, but Mew drifted back when he did. It seemed involuntary, like she hadn’t realized it herself.

Owen then looked at Arceus, and then at the bright dragon between them. It was still hard to look at that one directly. He didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what he was facing just then, but on some innate level he felt a reverence he’d never experienced before. These really were great beings… Things far larger than him on a scale he only saw the very edge of.

Up until then, Owen only really paid attention to the world he could see. After all, what was the point of the rest? He hadn’t even been sure that they truly existed.

And yet… they did.

It dawned on Owen just then who he was truly speaking to.

“Why did you call us here?” Tim asked. “What’s all this for?”

Arceus nodded. “This is… a renewed world,” he explained. “And it is going to be a temporary one, only for a little while. But even a temporary world needs gods to keep it stable.”

“People can’t maintain it on their own?” Owen asked.

“Normally, they can,” the dragon of light said. “Unfortunately, this world was not built to be self-sustaining. It was made after recovering from a great crisis, and only through divine power is it kept together. It needs divine power to sustain as well… and we cannot do it alone for very long. We must delegate our efforts to other, physical gods local to the domain.”

“So, where are they?” Tim asked, tilting his head. “The other physical gods.”

There was a long, long silence. The divine Mew glanced uneasily at Arceus, and then at Necrozma.

“Temporary gods mean temporary lives can fill it,” Arceus said. “The easiest way to make this all work swiftly before the world’s ecosystem falls apart would be… if we did not create them from scratch, but instead built them off of noble souls already present.”

Owen rolled that sentence in his head multiple times. Noble souls? Temporary gods? …Ayame was still missing.

Tim was faster. “Where’s… Ayame?” he asked quietly. “Y-you… what did you do to her?”

“Phrasing it that way is so ominous.” Necrozma tilted his head. “Ayame is just fine. She is in a deep sleep while her spirit acclimates.”

“You can’t be serious!” Tim said, half shouting and half whispering. “You… turned her into—”

“In truth,” Arceus said, “she was a very noble spirit, but one that needs two more to fully form. We are waiting. During your ascent of Destiny Tower, we were able to get a very deep look at your spirits and the experiences that shaped who you are today. What we saw was… promising. Therefore, we are making the same offer to you. Both of you.”

“Both—” Owen flinched. “Me? I’m… just a Charizard.”

“And I’m just—well, I mean, I guess when I’m staring right at another one, it sounds kinda silly…” Tim laughed nervously, glancing at the divine Mew who couldn’t make eye contact with him. She looked guilty.

“The choice was easy for you,” Arceus said, looking to Tim. “You are a Mew now, yes… and we already have a divine Mew. But your drive to help others, that need to assist even the smallest requests… You want to be charitable, and you have given much in order to achieve that. You have great dreams, but also think about the dreams of others.”

He glanced at Owen at that one, and Owen flinched. He had a vague sense of what that meant, but couldn’t fill that foggy part of his memory.

“You…” He addressed Tim first. “A spirit like you, filled with dreams and charity… You will be Jirachi, the Wishmaker.”

“We had two candidates for you, Owen,” Necrozma went on as Tim absorbed that information. “A burning spirit, undaunting. And I’m also sensing a great… inquisitiveness in you, even if the full scope does not register. Not yet. But with time, you will easily understand it. Stubborn and unyielding, yet material and not one to put faith in what you cannot see or prove yourself. A dauntless spirit like you could become Solgaleo, the embodiment of the sun. Or, as one who seeks only evidence, you can become Reshiram, the Dragon of Truth. Though, in truth, that would make you part of a set, and join Ayame as you wait for the final third. Do not worry—it won’t be permanent. Only in emergencies would your full power, as one, be required.”

None of that registered to Owen. And he felt it would be rude to ask again. Instead, he gave an uneasy glance at Tim.

But the Mew had a totally different expression. His eyes were wide and bright and thrilled. Owen couldn’t mirror it, and it was surreal that there was such a disconnect.

“When can I start?!” Tim beamed. “Owen, which one, huh? You should go for Reshiram. Fire and Dragon, right? I remember reading about that. I dunno what a Solgaleo is, though. Is that also a dragon? Owen might be interested in that.”

Owen wasn’t sure, but it seemed like Necrozma had brightened even more.

“As soon as you’re ready,” Arceus said. “Owen? What about you?”

He was just a Charizard. And the idea of becoming something else… Was that the right thing to do?

“Owen?” Arceus asked.

“I’m… not ready.” He shook his head. “But if Tim wants this, I’ll… Can I still be with him?”

“Well, of course.” Arceus nodded. “It may be a bit awkward, as Jirachi is quite small, but the discrepancy between you two already is—"

Owen looked down, and Arceus stopped. “What I mean is,” Owen said, “if… I said no.”

“Oh.”

“No?” Necrozma asked, leaning forward. “We are offering you something undeniably positive. Are you sure?”

“I’m not ready yet. Maybe later, or…”

“It is a lot,” Mew said, having been quiet all this time.

The two larger gods softened at that, their once puzzled gazes transitioning to one of solemn understanding.

“Well, that is fine,” Arceus said. “You completed the trial. You are free to visit without obstruction again in the future. Perhaps, until then…”

“I could grant you a title instead,” Necrozma said, “and a token of my power. A gesture of good faith.”

And to this, Arceus and Mew both looked at Necrozma with a flash of surprise.

“I’m not ready,” Owen said again, shaking his head rapidly. “Can’t I… learn first?”

“Learn.” Necrozma repeated it, and Owen was certain, this time, that he’d brightened more. “Very well, Owen. You may learn.”

<><><>​

I still don’t know what that was all about after all this time, Necrozma.

“It sounds to me like he was impressed that you denied such great power being offered by an even greater authority.”

“Well, to an extent… yes. But personalities like that aren’t unique. I suppose it had been a while since I’d seen one with all the experience that Owen had. As a mortal, at least. I’d seen his past and his desire to help, and I was giving him the power to help more. Timothy’s emphatic acceptance is the norm, for those whose hearts we deem worthy.”

“You were surprised. That’s rare for a god.”

“Perhaps I was also easily impressed. It had been a while since I got to interact with sapient life… It isn’t usually my domain. It was all such a novelty. I’m sure you saw how excited I was in this little toy universe.”

Toy.

“Ah. My apologies. It is still your home.”

…After that meeting, Tim stayed behind. He… You put him in a ball of light, and I couldn’t see in it.

“Ah, I didn’t. Arceus did. Jirachi is under his domain.”

Right. And I stayed, and you left to observe others ascending Destiny Tower. You even offered to let me fight alongside the others who defended the upper floors. I was a little excited, but I think I said no?

“It really was to pass the time, but I sensed you were worried that partaking in anything was some contract into servitude. Really, Owen, I admire your caution, but even back then you were quite overly skeptical.”

Kept me going this long…


“It’s a useful skill.”

“Ah…”

And eventually… Right. Eventually…


<><><>​

They had set up an alcove for Owen in one of the floors just below Destiny Tower’s apex. Secluded from the very, very few who tried to climb it, but still near enough that he heard the occasional traveler.

Time was a strange thing in the Tower. The sun rose and set as it wanted, and Owen oddly never felt the need to sleep unless he wanted to. He occasionally spoke with the spirits of Destiny Tower—apparitions that were apparently dutiful spirits loyal to Arceus, perhaps from another world—and they, too, did not remember how long it had been. That was unnerving.

Eventually, he’d had enough. He ascended the final few floors again, nodding at familiar faces that he knew at these top echelons of divine defense.

He had to ask about Tim, of course. But he also needed to ask about why everything felt so strange lately.

“Necrozma?” Owen called. “Uh… Our Light… or whatever?” He winced. “Er, forget I said that last part…”

His wings bumped into the wall on either side, which was new. Did the hall get smaller since he’d last visited?

“Hello, Owen.”

Preemptively, Owen squinted, but noticed that Necrozma’s brightness was more tolerable than usual.

“You must have sensed that your friend is ready.”

“What?”

Necrozma gestured behind him, where a light was starting to fade. Within that light were little runes that encircled a sphere; they looked a lot like letters, the way they drifted around.

“You’ve grown,” Necrozma said with an amused uptick in his voice.

“S-so it’s not just in my head! What’s going on?”

“It’s only slight… but I think you’re picking up some of the power of Destiny Tower. I’ve found that aspects of divine strength can sometimes make Pokémon… larger. You look like you picked up some of my light.”

Owen seemed apprehensive.

“Don’t worry. This doesn’t mean anything in terms of allegiances.” He held up his wings placatingly. “Consider it a gift.”

“Right. Sorry, I don’t mean to disrespect you. I’m just not ready for the responsibility, that’s all. Not…”

Necrozma nodded, but then gestured to the shell. “Would you like to see your friend, now?”

The shell suddenly cracked and Owen held his breath. Tim. That was Tim. Would he remember? Would he be a totally different person? He still had no idea what happened to Ayame, and Ire was a nervous wreck over it, too. He’d climbed the tower a second time and made it to the top, but as it was his second time, he did not qualify for ascent, and received no such blessings. Now that Owen thought about it, Ire wasn’t getting any bigger, like Owen was.

“Don’t be so nervous,” Necrozma said. “It’s like I said. He will be just as you remember. Well, not physically, of course, but—”

There was an ethereal snap! like a metal rope whipping the air. The light shattered and evaporated, revealing an even smaller figure. The light spilled off of the new figure like water over wax. A three-sided star for a head and a tiny body… Jirachi.

He still didn’t take his breath. Necrozma seemed to be suppressing a light chuckle.

Jirachi floated upside-down, and then blinked awake. “Hm?” He flipped right side-up. “…Oh, come on!”

They locked eyes and Jirachi growled at him. “What’s the big idea?! I’m even smaller?!”

“Tim?” Owen asked, reaching forward. He looked totally different. Not even his voice was the same. It felt more distant, the faintest echo in every syllable.

“Actually, you’re about the same size, Jirachi,” Necrozma said. “It is Owen who has grown since you fell asleep.”

“But Owen was already fully grown! How long was I out?”

“Wait, wait.” Owen held up his hands. “So, you remember me?”

“Of course I do!” Jirachi grinned. “You remember me, right?”

Necrozma nodded. “Are you satisfied now, Owen? I’m sorry if I laughed at your distress.”

“I think so… Sorry. Just, someone totally changing species like this—I don’t know how to react to it. You feel normal, Tim?”

Jirachi looked at Owen with an empty smile at first, like he was furrowing a brow that he didn’t have. “Tim… Tim…”

“Ah, of course,” Necrozma interjected. “A small side effect, but no greater. As part of the ascent, their mortal name will be… unfamiliar. But I assure you, that—and a few new instincts pertaining to their new body—is all that has changed.”

Owen tried to tell himself that it was okay.

“Oh, wow. That’s spooky,” Jirachi said. “I used to be called Tim? I think I remember you calling me by a name tons of times before, Owen. Just blanked out! Is it alright if I go by Jirachi for now?”

“I guess so…” Owen felt numb about it. Maybe it didn’t sink in yet.

“Anyway, c’mon!” Jirachi floated up to Owen’s face and waved. “I know where I need to go! It’s a cave nearby. Let’s set up a base already!”

“B-but what about Ayame?”

“Who?”

“Kyurem,” Necrozma said.

“Oh! Right! She’s gonna take longer. It’ll be alright. We can tell Ire.”

“And it’s really you, right?” Owen asked.

“Yes, Owen.” Jirachi sighed. “Just because I have a different name and body doesn’t mean I’m not the same Jirachi—uh, Tim—you knew from before. I remember all the rescues we’d gone on together, how we saved Mew, the dark power that Arceus had to stop, and so on. It’s fine!”

Owen’s flame was dim and his head was low, but he nodded.

“You’ll get used to it,” Jirachi assured, but even he looked conflicted. He hummed, as if thinking of a solution. “Umm… I know. How about we go and… fish around for some math homework to do, huh? You were always better than me at it.”

It was a strange request and Owen still laughed at it. “Sure.” Such a dumb little thing and his chest felt lighter. He could finally breathe.

<><><>​

Why did you take away his name?

“Sealed, not taken away. There is little we can take away. It’s a symbolic gesture… to put your divine duties above your mortal ones. You are, after all, vessels for a purpose of keeping the world safe.”

What about Emily?

“She… is a special case. She abandoned her divine duty and took the side of Dark Matter—but we will get to that later. But in that process, she regained her name.

“Moving on, Owen… After you settled with Jirachi in Star Cave. Jirachi’s duties were to grant the wishes of mortals who truly needed help, in miscellaneous ways that the higher pantheon could not. It was precisely the sort of duty that you performed in the past. You did not enact policies or grand, sweeping changes, and instead were the people on the ground who helped those in immediate need. The duty fit. And so, despite your original apprehensions… you were quite happy. Do you remember?”

I do. It was actually a good life. I never became part of the pantheon in the same way that Tim did. I guess I was more of a noble follower, or something?

“That’s a way to put it. And for a while, you trained near Destiny Tower… and also saw many prospective ascendants. Among them, as you recall…”


<><><>​

Year 10

It was another day just in front of Destiny Tower—not too far from Star Cave, where Jirachi had set up “a base” to dwell. It was a good place to hang around and train without being bothered by those who wanted to see the Wishmaker. It was a good thing Tim had a habit of sleeping and being impossible to disturb, since that was when he could take his breaks.

Owen breathed a bright, golden fire over a rock, melting it into a fine molten pile. He then reached toward the pile and shaped it like clay, squeezing here and pressing there. The stone itself glowed a bright orange, but there was also an outer gold glow accompanying it that kept the heat for longer. This was part of endurance training, but it was also something to keep his mind occupied. Simple crafts, shaping the stone into something before it cooled.

He wasn’t any good at it, though. Everything was misshapen or lumpy. It wasn’t something made for fine craft.

“A Charizard making sculptures out of magma?”

At the forest edge, a Trapinch waddled toward him. Owen always felt nervous about such small creatures approaching him. One wrong step and he’d squish him like a grape. An orange, crunchy grape. Peanut.

“Hello?” Trapinch called.

“Oh, sorry. You’re…?”

“Trapinch Gahi! I’m gonna climb Destiny Tower.”

“…On a dare?”

“No!” Gahi snapped his jaws disapprovingly, then jerked his massive head behind him. There, an Axew and Bayleef were catching up. “But we’re gonna totally climb it.”

“Sorry, but kids aren’t really what we’re looking for,” Owen said.

“Okay, I’m not a kid! We just didn’t really get into the whole training thing, and we’re kinda on the slow-to-evolve side! Except Mispy. She’s fine.”

That must have been the Bayleef. Still, not even at their full forms…

“You need to train first,” Owen said routinely. “You can only truly ascend if you climb Destiny Tower on your first try. It’s a test of your strength. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. Only those worthy will be able to make it to the top. Even if you’re spiritually and mentally strong… physically, you aren’t ready.”

“But you are, right?” Gahi asked.

“I was.”

“And you ascended into a Legendarily Fat Charizard?”

“I—” Owen kept his cool, but that one stung. “That’s just how Charizard are. It’s not fat. I’m fit. Actually, I’m thinner than average.”

“Yeah, but…” Gahi gestured behind Owen. There were deep footprints in the dirt.

Owen grumbled. “It just comes with the size. I ascended in a different way than usual. I didn’t want to become a Legend, but Necrozma took me in as a student anyway.”

“So, if we beat you, we’ll be able to ascend?”

Gods, this one was thick. “You’d… have a slightly better chance.”

“Alright, alright.” Gahi nodded, his beady eyes looking contemplative. Of what, Owen wasn’t sure, but that empty head probably had something knocking around.

“You should probably fully evolve first,” Owen said before the peanut got the wrong idea.

“Fine! You’re on.”

“Um, Gahi? I-is that Charizard safe? He won’t eat us, will he?” Axew called. Bayleef sighed, shaking her head.

“Eat? What do I look like, some pure battleheart?” Owen snorted a plume of smoke.

“Well, you kinda look like it…”

“I’m a first-generation battleheart. I don’t know my parents, but they were battlehearts the same way. I’m not like that, though. Obviously. Because I can talk.”

“You have the accent, though.” Gahi nodded. “It’s kinda funny.”

“I’ll show you a funny accent,” Owen muttered.

“What was that?” Gahi asked.

“Nothing.” Owen dismissed him with a wave. “Come back when you’re stronger.”

“How about we train with you?”

Owen blinked. “What?”

“Is that against the rules?” Axew asked.

“No, I guess it isn’t. But my training regimen is very strict, you know.” Though he wondered if the meditation would be the hardest part for the jittery Trapinch.

“We can handle it.” Gahi tilted his head up with pride. “Just you watch!”

<><><>​

Owen tossed a bag that contained his leftovers from lunchtime to the corner of the room, as he usually did, and flopped into a bed of Rawst leaves.

“Owen?” Jirachi called.

“Muuh,” Owen called back.

“Hey! You look cheerful.” He floated inside, a dim, silver glow suggesting he’d just finished granting a wish.

“Just a long day,” he said. “I think I got roped into training three kids who wanted to climb Destiny Tower, or something.”

“Three kids, huh…” Jirachi tilted his head. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Well… I have a job to guard Destiny Tower, right?”

“Well, watch. You don’t really prevent people from going in. And it’s not like it can be destroyed… You’re just there for training and being able to talk to Necrozma, Arceus, and Mew easier.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Owen rolled onto his back.

“…Is that getting boring?”

“A little.” He hummed. “I miss rescuing people. I kinda wish I could do that sometimes.” He furrowed his brow, not looking at Jirachi, but he somehow felt the little sprite’s smirk. “No, not literally a wish.”

“Not allowed to grant our own wishes anyway,” Jirachi reminded. “Y’know, maybe you should go on missions with them. It could be fun!”

“But what about my training?”

“Train with them?” Jirachi hummed again. “You know, the others were never really sure what to do about… where you’re going and stuff. Necrozma kinda left you to figure that out. I know you like being given orders and tasks, but… why not branch out and figure things out for yourself? Make your own decisions! You aren’t under any duties!”

Jirachi’s eyes were glowing with enthusiasm. Owen had to admit, seeing Jirachi like that was nostalgic. It reminded him of when he was a Mew.

“You’ll be fine without me?” he asked.

“I think I will. My duties don’t normally need an assistant, after all!”

“I guess not.” Owen sat up, rubbing his head.

Jirachi floated to the tossed lunch bag and floated into another room in the cave that seemed to have spring water from the rocky walls with the pull of a lever.

“Say, what wish did you grant, anyway?” Owen scratched his cheek, suppressing a yawn.

“Oh, it was a petty wish, but one with low impact. I didn’t sense any malice from them. They wished for a new recruit to complete their team.”

Owen stopped scratching. Did he want to ask? Yes, he had to ask. “What were they?”

“Uhhh… a Trapinch, Axew, and Bayleef.”

“Huh.” Owen glanced at his supply bag. He conjured a small gust of wind, grabbing the misshapen, handcrafted badge they’d given him. “How about that.”

<><><>​

“So, it was a wish?” Owen pressed, arms crossed. “That’s what led you guys to me?”

Like before, he was at his post in front of Destiny Tower, where he’d told them to meet. The sky was a brilliant, pale blue from late morning, without a single cloud in the sky.

“A w-wish? What are you talking about?” Axew asked, immediately nervous. “W-we totally didn’t make a wish that’d mind-control someone into joining our team!”

Bayleef balled up a vine and gently knocked the top of Axew’s head.

“That isn’t how wishes work,” Owen said. “Wishes are only granted to those pure of heart. Or, pure enough, if the wish is harmless. Jirachi normally has an assistant who helps to determine if someone is worthy of a wish, but he can do it on his own, too. Wishes alter the flow of the world to make something happen, if it wasn’t going to. Or make it more likely to happen. It alters the world in tiny, tiny ways. The more energy Jirachi puts into it, the greater the change.”

“Oh. So it doesn’t… conjure a new teammate out of thin air?”

“No. Chances are it just gave you the idea to go someplace that might have someone to complete your team.” He looked them over, frowning. “For example, your massive Ice weakness.”

“Oi! We just won’t take missions in cold places.”

“And if you’re dealing with someone who knows Ice attacks?”

“Eh…”

“S-so you didn’t get mind controlled into joining?” Axew asked again, trembling.

“No. Jirachi’s wish… guided you to me. Maybe I was on his mind. Or maybe I was… the most likely person to join, who’d also be a big help to the team. But wishes can come with side effects or ironic solutions, you know.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Like me completely outclassing all three of you.”

“You wanna say that to my face?!” Gahi snapped his jaws in his general direction.

Owen’s shoulders sagged and he stared skyward, groaning. He did say it to his face. Unless Gahi wanted him to bend all the way to the ground. Then, he looked down at the jawed peanut and motioned for him to strike.

Gahi opened his jaws wide and lunged, bumping into a golden barrier instantly. Owen flicked a finger in Gahi’s direction when he was down and dazed.

“Eh?”

A pinprick of orange light appeared in front of him that expanded and burst into a plume of fire and heat. Gahi screeched and rolled away, but lost his footing as another explosion enveloped him.

“Gahi!” Axew cried. Bayleef narrowed her eyes, then glared at Owen.

When the smoke cleared, Gahi was covered in soot, but unharmed.

“H-ha! Yeh missed!”

“I know.”

“Eh—”

He was surrounded by a perfect ring of scorch marks.

“I may not be good at shaping molten stone,” Owen said, “but I at least know how to control a flame.”

While Gahi gathered his bearings, Owen approached the trio and crossed his arms, dwarfing all of them. His shadow completely smothered the three.

“If I’m going to be part of your team, it’s going to be as your leader until you can get to my level. I ascended Destiny Tower, you didn’t. You’re training for that by helping others and getting stronger, right? So, I’ll help you do that. If Jirachi didn’t sense any malice from you, then you’re at least pure with your intent.”

“L… lea… der?” Bayleef said, her voice a raspy whisper.

“Are you okay?” Owen asked, gaze softening. “Are you hurt?”

Bayleef’s glare doubled. Owen squinted, unsure if he’d offended her somehow.

“Don’t… p… pity m… me.”

She didn’t seem nervous. Perhaps she just had trouble getting her words out, for some reason. “It’s not pity,” he said. “Are you their leader?”

She tried to speak again, but now no words came. She nodded, in the end.

“Then what is your answer?” Owen asked. “Do you want me on your team?”

She couldn’t speak, but her eyes said everything about her. Calculating, weighing her options calmly. While Gahi was too reckless, but certainly determined, and Axew was cautious but feeble, Bayleef perhaps knew how to direct them both and take advantage of their strengths. Yes. She was their proper leader.

Bayleef nodded, but there was a defiant look in her eyes, like she didn’t truly want to give up her title as leader. Pride? No… she didn’t seem like the sort to hold petty pride.

She pulled Axew close and whispered to him. Owen couldn’t hear it.

“Um… Mispy says, you need to prove that your attitude matches our team’s first. We wouldn’t want a leader that doesn’t know how the team works.”

At first, Owen wanted to scoff. Know how the team worked? Obviously they would have flaws, glaring ones, if their composition already had weaknesses. Yet… they were also a successful team to be taken seriously, and he had to admit, the strike Gahi attempted did have substantial force. They weren’t aimless. Maybe they had merit on their own.

“Deal,” Owen said. “When is our first mission?”

<><><>​

“Do you need a moment, Owen?”

No, no, I’m fine. Sorry.


“You were a team even then. And for five years, you were part of it, going on all kinds of odd jobs across the scattered lands.”

Because back then, there wasn’t really any central society. Bandits were everywhere, and weird… instabilities cropped up like the world wasn’t really holding together. They weren’t Dungeons, just… odd things that happened.

“Mostly my doing. I was in my infancy at the time, and I lashed out where I could.”

In fact, that reminds me of someone who was sent to go on missions related to that…

<><><>​

[Continued in next part]
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Year 11

Owen was in a staring contest. It had been minutes by now. The great Charizard versus the tiny Riolu. What irritated him more than anything was that he was losing. His tail lashed and thumped against the ground; the sun beat over their heads. There was no wind in front of Destiny Tower today.

“I don’t get it,” Owen finally muttered. “How are you so strong?”

“Pure, natural talent.” Riolu smirked and held his hands on his hips, chest out. Taking the opportunity, Owen poked him in the gut, letting out all the air in the much tinier Pokémon.

“Oi, oi, what’s th’ big idea?!” He looked ready to kick off the ground to sock Owen in the jaw.

“You let your guard down.”

“Why, I oughta—”

“Hey, hey!”

Before Riolu could do anything more, Jirachi flew in with what looked like a bag of packaged food. More than usual, suggesting that he’d gotten some for Riolu as well.

“Looks like you guys already met,” Jirachi said. “Why the serious faces?”

“He challenged me to a staring contest,” Owen said. “I wasn’t going to lose.”

“You looked away first,” Riolu pointed out, smirking.

Owen let out a long, rumbling growl.

“Competitive as always,” Jirachi said, shrugging. He set down the largest container of food for Owen, sliding it forward with a Psychic aura, and then asked, “I wasn’t sure what your favorite is, so I got something basic for you, Riolu.”

“Eh, sure, yeah. Name’s Manny, by th’ way.”

“Right, right. How casual of you.” Jirachi offered a fruit salad to Manny, who took it with a polite nod. “Where’s the rest of your team, anyway?”

“Training. Gotta catch up, heh.”

“Jirachi, is it true that this… Riolu is someone Mew specifically picked for something? He has Mew’s blessings?”

“Fits the personality, doesn’t it?”

“I—” Owen was about to protest before he realized how true that was. Carefree, confident, a little boasting… Yes, that fit Mew a little too well. “He isn’t even ready for Destiny Tower. Why did she pick him specifically?”

Jirachi shrugged. “Only Mew knows that one. You know how gods can be with secrets and agendas.”

“You’re a god.”

“Yeah, that’s how I know!” Jirachi grinned.

“…What secrets or agendas do you have, hmm?”

“Uh… I’m sure I have one or two sitting around…”

“Oi, which one’s this?” Manny lifted a pink berry from the bowl.

“Pecha,” Owen said, squinting.

“I like it.” He munched on a few, then added, “Hey, y’got any potatoes er somethin’?”

“Potatoes, huh?” Jirachi asked. “Sure, maybe next time I’ll get that! I heard there’s a farm run by a Dunsparce family that grows some of the best potatoes.”

“Well, alright,” Owen said, sighing. “Then I have to go back to wishkeeping.”

In the end, Manny was not someone that Owen saw very often, but he always heard little stories about his escapades around Quartz, often to do with strange shadows or other distortions in the world. Owen associated them with pockets of power that the gods had yet to stabilize, which meant more were needed to ascend to fill the gaps of the world after the calamity that had hit Quartz before, from the erased era.

Owen’s thoughts trailed to his friends. They, too, would probably be part of the effort to fill those gaps…

<><><>​

Manny wasn’t really around in most of my life back then. Who… was he, exactly?

“I suppose you could say he was another hero when the Legends were busy keeping the world stable, and that included you. Manny had a special talent for detecting instabilities that none of us could find as easily. We capitalized on that and searched for them quickly, where we could.”

So he was sort of a special agent for things we missed? I think I remember some of that…


“I remember him being a thorn in my side.”

“Let’s not skip too far ahead, now…”

I wonder why Manny didn’t mention any of—well, now that I think about it, he mentioned that he and Star go way back. Maybe they just forgot the details because of that seal that made us forget you…

“That is likely. Manny was a hero, even prior to ascending. But I do not really know all of the details for it, only that—”


“Can we move on.”

Right, okay… Well, how about when Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were finally…

<><><>​

Year 15

There was a slight tension in his chest. Owen was starting to feel old, but not that old, surely. But as he sat at the apex of Destiny Tower, staring at one of the marble walls, he couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to lose another friend. Three friends, in fact.

They’d all made it. All that training, all that hard work, and then forgetting about it for years, and they finally got around to scaling Destiny Tower. And they’d succeeded. He wasn’t going to call them by name, anymore. They wouldn’t realize it was them. Instead, they would be Azelf, Mesprit, and Uxie. He should have seen it coming with how their dynamic worked. And, in some small ways, he felt left out. Once again, Necrozma offered a position to him, and once again he found himself deciding. He was ‘Owen.’ Was it wrong for him to want to keep that? Did that count as unnecessary pride?

Something flew at him and he quickly raised a wing, blocking it. A light body slammed into it, and then came a groan from the attacker.

“Can I help—” Owen stopped. That was Azelf… Gahi.

“So? How do I look, eh? Eh?” He spun around, tails spiraling beneath him. “I guess it’s kinda petite, but ehhhh I’ll get used ter it.”

Uxie floated after them, Mesprit waving nervously at Owen. “Um, we know you get kind of wound up when this sort of thing happens, but it’s really us,” Mesprit said. “Are you gonna be okay with this, Owen?”

“Y-yeah! I made peace with it and everything, I think. I mean, I know!” He nodded quickly, too quickly. “Sorry. Sorry, I’m a mess today. I’m getting nervous over n—”

Azelf headbutted him on the chest, then knocked his tiny fist against it. “Yer fine, yer fine. Oi, let’s do normal stuff. Get you outta that headspace.”

Doing normal things just reminded him of how different they’d become, but it at least made them feel normal. It let them acclimate.

“Sure. How about a mission?”

“Heheheh, we’ll blast any mission outta the water now!” Azelf rocketed into the air and then landed between Owen’s horns. “C’mon, Owen! Time ter go!”

Gods, that reminded him of when he’d been a Trapinch, claiming that he could be leader for a day. He’d scaled his whole body and situated himself on his head like a throne. Owen’s heart felt lighter.

Maybe this, too, would pass into normalcy.

<><><>​

“There was always a lingering sense of doubt, wasn’t there?”

Yeah. There was…

“I’m sorry for how your position became, Owen.”

It’s okay. I liked it, overall, you know. But anyway, I’m starting to remember something else. When Xerneas ascended, and he started to reawaken the life energy of the world so it could flourish, you said there was… a reaction to that. Bigger than usual, right?

“Yes. Usually, when we bring about a Legend, there is a small reaction in the world to signify their ascent. Xerneas was a pronounced one, though. The Tree of Life had formed. But there was something unexpected there, too, that we sent you to investigate. We considered Manny, of course, but it was far, and along with that, you were able to get there faster. Arceus, I recall, said he wanted you to go there fast. Rather than send Manny and his team, we sent you with yours.”


<><><>​

Year 34

Owen hadn’t explored this part of Quartz before. Down south, where it was humid and the trees were tall, there seemed to be a section in the far south, near the center of the continent, where the trees seemed to glow, even at night.

He wasn’t one for flying at night. His flame gave himself away, and some primal part of him said that was bad. But this forest was easier to see at night, so he had no choice.

His paranoia led to him calling for help, though. Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit accompanied him for this trip—Jirachi had to grant a few wishes, apparently, and then had to write reports of what was wrong to the upper pantheon for adjustments that had to be made. Owen didn’t envy him.

“It’s… crazy dark,” Mesprit said, huddling against Owen’s shoulder.

“The moon isn’t out tonight,” Uxie commented in their minds. “The stars are so bright. If we covered your flame, Owen, it would be perfect.”

“I’d like to keep that open, thanks,” Owen muttered.

“Scared o’ th’ dark?” Azelf said, smirking, as his red gemstone gleamed against the flame.

“Yes. It’s kind of an instinct. It means I’m dying,” Owen replied with a growl. “How would you feel if I put you in a room full of Ghosts, huh?”

“Not the same. And besides, I’d totally beat ‘em.” Azelf smirked.

This wasn’t a battle Owen would win. Instead, he stretched his wings and gained speed. Over the horizon, he saw a tree that was much taller than all the others and blinked. “Was… was this tree always there?”

“Couldn’t be,” Azelf said. “That huge? Nah. We would’ve seen it, easy.”

It was several times the height and width of any other tree around it—and those alone dwarfed even some hillsides. Draped down from the branches were long strands of golden bubbles, and the leaves themselves were like staring at a rainbow. Owen had a feeling that it was even more striking, being nighttime.

“Go lower,” Uxie advised. “I can sense something near the base. Only… three, though, that aren’t just wild Pokémon.”

“Three’s better’n zero,” Azelf said. “Maybe they’ll have answers.”

Owen found a good landing spot and spread his wings, careful not to knock any branches. Even though he was confident in his flame’s control, he kept his tail elevated and verified with Uxie which way to go. It was nice that Uxie was able to use her telepathy to speak to them so readily; as a Meganium, she had always struggled to talk.

This was a great forest. The leaves glowed brighter than any moonlight and he had no need to flare his tail to light the way.

“Here?” Owen said.

“Yes, somewhere here.”

Owen nodded and folded his wings behind him. “Hello?” he called. “My name is Charizard Owen. I’m here from Star Cave, assistant to Jirachi. I’m here on behalf of the newly ascended Xerneas in search of a great life force found here. I mean no harm!”

A breeze rustled the treetops, but little else happened. The great, radiant tree loomed above them, lighting the forest like a dim sun.

“There’s no way a place like this existed before,” Azelf said. “Then again, how’s a whole tree pop up like this?”

“I understand if you are suspicious,” Owen called out again, “and perhaps they should have sent Xerneas himself, but he is still, eh… acclimating to his power. And I know having someone like me, with my fire, might be… scary to the forest, but I have good control over it! And I’m big, but I, uh, I was careful to land?”

“…You need to work on your ‘be not afraid’ speeches,” Uxie said. Despite her eyes being closed as she scanned her surroundings for life energy, Owen could sense her glare.

“I don’t have to do it that often, okay?” Owen hissed back. “Um, I mean—so, it’s safe! Really!”

The wind blew again. Uxie spotted something, but didn’t tell him where. Perhaps they were approaching.

“I just—”

“I’m here.”

Off the path, between two trees, stood a Goodra that dwarfed even Owen by at least a foot. The Charizard gaped, having no idea there was another like him. “Y-you… you what? You’re…”

She squinted as well, looking Owen over. “Wait… I’ve seen you before.”

The way the Goodra spoke was itching something in the back of Owen’s mind, too, but it was too faded for him to tell.

“Well, it’s probably not important,” she said, sighing. “My name is Madeline. I… woke up near here a long time ago, and I’ve been taking care of someone ever since.”

Owen felt that there had been a lie there. “You’ve been taking care of someone?”

Madeline nodded. “Yes. Someone. And it’s nothing for you to worry about, so you may leave.”

“How long has this tree been here?” Owen added.

“It’s a tree. I imagine it’s always been here.”

It could have been sass. But it was an odd way to answer the question. “Then, it used to be smaller?” he guessed.

“Can you leave?” Madeline hissed, the air around her seeming to sharpen. Owen could feel a tingling feeling along his arms, like it threatened to slice his scales apart if he got too close. She was strong.

“Um.” Mesprit raised a tiny hand. “You’re both super big. That’s something you have in common, isn’t it? You don’t have to be afraid… You both probably got your power in a similar way.”

“Hey, yeah! And we’re sacred and stuff!” Azelf plopped onto Owen’s head, facing Madeline. “C’mon, lighten up! Ain’t worth fightin’ over this.”

Uxie drifted closer as well. “What would help you believe us?” She looked back. “If only one of us went, would you feel safer? You can overpower this one easily.” She gestured to Owen.

“Excuse me,” Owen grunted.

“He is not ascended like us. He is weaker. We could turn him into a wallet if we wished.”

“That’s really specific, Mi—Uxie!”

“…Then stay away, far away,” Madeline commanded.

Uxie nodded and floated back, grabbing Mesprit and the much larger Azelf’s tails to follow behind her. Azelf growled but complied.

Madeline led Owen down a path that went around the huge tree before turning toward the tree’s base. There, one of the roots had been raised to reveal a cave that went underground. It looked like part of the cave had collapsed, yet there were signs of something powerful blasting a way out again. The scent of lingering dragon fire tickled Owen’s nostrils. Spicy.

“Do not come any closer,” Madeline said, and Owen stopped immediately. She commanded such authority… And she had a sophisticated accent. Nothing like his.

“Is here alright?” Owen asked.

Madeline said nothing, but didn’t disprove, so Owen remained. The Goodra then peeked inside the cave and called, “Aster. Leph. You may come out.”

Owen’s eyes went from half-open from boredom to bulging from surprise. Shyly emerging from the cave underneath the radiant tree were two familiar figures, scaled down until they were barely larger than his foot. Someone who looked just like Arceus, but with a duller ring without any gemstones around her abdomen, and standing, from hoof to head, only a foot in height. And just behind her, floating like a little sprite, was someone like Mew, like Tim, only small enough to curl up inside an Oran. He would barely be able to hug one of his fingers.

“You… you need to—I’m sorry,” Owen said, standing more respectfully. “I did not know you were caring for… someone of that nature.”

“What do you mean?” Madeline said. “Of what nature?”

“Who are you?” the tiny Arceus said, her eyes filled with suspicion. But Owen saw something more in the way she stepped forward. She looked thin. Did she need to eat? Had she been eating? Owen glanced behind him, at the trees. There were plentiful berries… “Things just got better here. Are you here to steal? Auntie Madeline said… bad people stole from good places. Are you a bad person?”

Madeline’s gaze softened, but she kept her eyes trained on Owen.

“…My name is Charizard Owen, of Star Cave. I am the assistant to Wishmaker Jirachi. My job is to judge the lightness of one’s heart and the heaviness of one’s wish before allowing them passage to see Jirachi. I have been given the blessings of Necrozma as proof of my merit.” He turned to reveal the mark on his back, focusing to make it glow.

Madeline tilted her head. “You spoke well there,” she said.

He was a bit ashamed of it, but his flame grew at the compliment. “Do you trust me now?”

“This… Necrozma. I heard his voice, too, but had no means to travel to the tower he wished. I stayed here all this time because I found these two and… felt a need to take care of them.” Madeline hummed. “This place was a wasteland until a few days ago. It was haunted by strange creatures that… Well, we haven’t seen them lately. But they didn’t bother us if we stayed put…”

Strange creatures? Perhaps he could ask about that later, if they found anything like that. But there was something much more pressing in front of him. “That one is… supposed to be one-of-a-kind,” Owen said, gesturing to Leph. “And he’s with a Mew like that one. Only, er, they’re both bigger.”

“And what do you plan to do with this information?” Madeline asked. “They are children.”

“Would you like to come with me to Destiny Tower?” Owen said. “They can be helped there. Perhaps from… for all I know… their real parents. N-not to insult you, or anything.”

“…How can I tell that you’re speaking the truth?” Madeline asked.

Owen sighed, thinking. Proof, proof… “Oh.” He nodded. “If I had the gods give you a sign, would that be enough?”

“…If you can perform such a miracle so easily, then of course,” Madeline said with a smirk, like she knew it wouldn’t happen.

Frankly, he’d have reacted the same way.

Normally, Owen would not make use of such a channel, but this seemed… like an okay exception. He closed his eyes in prayer. “Arceus, Mew, can you hear my call? This is Owen. Sorry if this distracts from other prayers you hear. Arceus, Mew, I have found children that resemble you, being taken care of by a noble Goodra. Please, send a sign my way to prove my worth to her, so she may entrust them to us.”

“Um, Auntie?” Leph asked, shrinking. Aster was hiding behind the Goodra’s tail. “Why is the crazy dragon talking to himself?”

The sky suddenly lit up with gold. Leph cried out; Aster made a weak whimper. Madeline instinctually swung her tail such that it protected Leph from the light. It was a single spear of light, and Owen, as if following a thought that wasn’t his own, raised his hand. The spear, at absurd speeds, flew toward him, and he followed a silent command to clench his fist just then.

A horrible burning singed his palm, but he’d caught the spear, which crackled with holy light. He winced, but kept holding it, and faced Madeline.

“Will that do?” Owen asked, twirling the spear as it dissipated.

“I…” Madeline clearly hadn’t expected to see proof. “I suppose it will, Charizard.”

<><><>​

Year 35

“Are you sure this is right?” Owen said with mild concern, staring into the stone oven. A traditional contraption. The heat washed over his face, leaving the great Charizard unbothered.

Next to Owen was a ghostly figure with a wispy head and blue eyes. He wore a necklace with a pink crescent that rested against his chest, glimmering in the dark from the soft light of Owen’s flame.

“I think so,” Darkrai said, hand to his chin. “Er, let me take a look.” He waved Owen aside, but the moment he got close, he yelped and rapidly pat his face. “Hot, hot!”

“Oh, right, yeah.”

“Too hot! What did you set it to?!”

“You said until I could feel the heat.”

“Until I can feel the heat, Owen! Oh, no, no, this is a nightmare!”

Owen stared, but realized Darkrai couldn’t see him.

“Take it out! Ah, too hot!”

The Charizard reached into the oven and pulled out the sizzling dough. Cookies… how was he supposed to make cookies? Why was dough so fickle? None of this made sense. Why couldn’t he just bake them instantly with a very hot flame? Why did it have to be slow and ‘gentle?’ Flames weren’t gentle. They were hot!

“Let’s have this cool down and… I think we can salvage this on a low flame. Sorry, Owen. I should have been clearer.” He sighed again, shaking his head. “Oh, if only Cresselia could help. She’s so much better at explaining…”

“Why are we using such an old-fashioned oven, anyway?” Owen complained. “Can’t we use one of the thousands of ovens Palkia probably invented?”

“Because the last invention I got from him turned my hair orange for a month!”

Charizard looked at the white, wispy clouds that radiated off of Darkrai. “…I mean, it didn’t look that bad.”

Darkrai huffed and returned to cooling the stone oven. Owen rolled his eyes, but then something tiny and pink caught his attention in the corner of the room. “Hm? Oh!” He quickly softened his voice. “Hey, little Aster… You visiting?”

The Mew, so small he could fit in Owen’s palm, floated backwards and against the wall. “U-um…”

“Ohh, Aster. So good to see you.” Darkrai tried to make his eyes as friendly as possible, even tilting his head. Owen could tell, though, that the ‘king of nightmares’ wouldn’t look very kind to a young child, even with the cute necklace.

“It’s okay. This is Darkrai. He’s friendly!”

“I—I’ll just take my leave for now,” Darkrai said with an awkward nod, drifting deeper into the caverns. Soon ,he was just a glowing eye in the dark.

Owen sighed, but then smiled at Aster. “What’s got you here, Aster?” he asked, walking gingerly closer. Another flash caught his attention and he quickly raised his hand, blocking several javelins of light that had nearly pierced through him. The attack itself had little weight behind it, though.

“Leph,” Owen growled, eyes narrowed.

“It… it just came out!” someone squeaked. “You got too close to Aster…”

Something that resembled Arceus peeked around the corner of the hall before drifting forward. Her green-red eyes had suspicion in them and Aster flew away, hiding behind the little goddess.

“You can’t go off shooting anyone that you think is suspicious. This is why you can’t see normal people yet, Leph…”

“Maybe I don’t wanna,” Leph said back, but flinched when her eyes met Owen’s.

The great Charizard sighed, rubbing his eyes. “What am I gonna do with you…”

<><><>​

So, they were… born from the Tree of Life?

“I had a guess that they were meant to be the gods of this world, born when it was created. Replicas of ‘youthful’ versions of the true creators. I wasn’t sure what to think of it, but, well, they existed. It was only right to care for them until they found their place like all the other Legends.”

Yeah… But as the years passed, I, well… I was still mortal. And I was slowing down. Tim was getting worried about that and asked Necrozma what would happen. What did you tell him?

“I said in no uncertain terms that if you did not choose an ascended form, you would die. Your spirit would go to me and rest until the world’s end. I thought that would mean you would finally choose that, as I didn’t want you to leave Tim in such a way, but… Well. Tim had a different idea.

“It all started one day, when you finally, truly showed signs of age…”


“It was around this time that you also softened, didn’t you?”

“Softened?”

“You began to toy with the idea of descending, even temporarily, to better relate to mortals.”

“Oh, that wasn’t my idea. It was Jirachi’s, and Owen’s. To be able to return to your mortal forms, temporarily.”

I remember that. Even you came up with one, didn’t you? You became a…


“Owen?”

“Ah… Yes. I do not think my other half knows who he truly is. Unfortunate.”

<><><>​

Year 63

It was just another day in front of Star Cave. Unless it was an emergency—and the gods had ways to tell if it was—mortals were turned away from the cavern’s clearing by a faraway, magical ward. Today was the time to celebrate a new year.

There was only light snowfall tonight, and most of it evaporated before it could touch Owen anyway thanks to his natural heat. He spread his wings and gladly shared his warmth with the others, who subconsciously huddled near him, particularly those weak to Ice—and there were a lot of those in the pantheon.

“I really do appreciate these potlucks,” Palkia said as he set down a large tray of glittering snacks. “Gives me the perfect opportunity to share my experimental treats with you all!”

“Specifically, those who won’t perish the moment they try a volatile one,” Rayquaza said with a disapproving frown, pulling the tray away from Owen.

“I wasn’t gonna,” Owen lied.

A breeze blew through the clearing, picking up some of the snow. A bit actually touched his scales and he winced; for once, the water felt cold by the time it got to him.

“Pretty chilly today,” the Charizard said.

Giratina lost more than three quarters of her height as she sank into the ground like a pool of steaming water, looking more relaxed.

“That’s cheating,” Rayquaza complained, but all Giratina did was close her eyes nonchalantly.

“Mesprit’s cooking is always the best!” declared Aster. The Mew held up a sandwich layered in meats and vegetables, steaming in the cold weather. The full moon illuminated the bread like it was somehow as sacred as the rest of them.

Owen reached for one of the sandwiches as well, taking a grateful bite as Yveltal flew in from the edge of the clearing, careful not to disturb any of the food with gusts of wind.

“Hello,” she greeted, lowering further so Xerneas could climb awkwardly off of her back.

“We’re late,” Xerneas announced.

“Not too late,” Owen replied, taking a bite again. The taste wasn’t as good as it usually was, which puzzled him. The cooking seemed fine.

The rest of the conversation between them all seemed to blur. He noted that Necrozma and the other high gods hadn’t arrived yet, based on how so little was illuminated, until a flash of light announced their arrival.

“Fashionably late as usual, are we?” Palkia said, waving a claw idly at the four arrivals. There was Star, of course, as well as Hecto next to her. The Zygarde must have only brought some of him to the party, as he was only a canine this time. Just behind Star was Arceus, perhaps here out of tradition and formality.

“Where is Necrozma?” Owen asked, looking around for the light dragon.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” Star said. “I finally convinced him to agree to one of my tricks!”

“Tricks?” Owen squinted. “I don’t like the sound of—oh, er, hello. Are you lost?”

Standing behind Arceus, Star, and Hecto was a Shiftry, standing awkwardly with both arms out like he didn’t know what to do with them. Star was cackling, rolling in the air before conjuring a psychic bubble, only to pound it like a table.

“He doesn’t even recognize you!” Star wheezed.

That got all heads to turn.

“Wait…” Owen blinked. “…N… Necrozma?!”

Necrozma, the Shiftry, nodded curtly. It was… surreal to see him with pupils.

“Goodness,” Rayquaza said, curling his body downward as if to get a better look. “How… diminutive.”

“I’m quite vulnerable like this,” Necrozma said. “This is very off-procedure. But… as you know… I’ve been told that I can ruin the night sky in my proper form. And this is a very rare, traditional gathering. I decided, perhaps just this once…”

“Wait, so does that mean your mortal form is a Shiftry?” Owen asked.

“No. This was an arbitrary form. Which means it’s likely even weaker.”

Yveltal shuffled away from Necrozma, gently pecking at Xerneas to switch places with her so he’d be closer.

“Not that weak,” Necrozma grunted. “Really.” But in this new form, Owen could see that flash of doubt in his voice. He certainly wasn’t comfortable.

“All just so we could see the sky easier?” Owen asked.

“Just for this time. That is all. I’ll be returning right back to my proper form when the opportunity is given.”

“So sweet.” Star was still giggling, but she sighed long enough to give him a genuine smile. “It was still really nice of you, Necrozma. Thanks.”

“…I’m not used to it being so dark…”

That… resonated a lot with Owen. It was awfully dark tonight. “You can hang around by me,” Owen offered.

He took the offer quickly but gracefully, even in his quasi-mortal form, and they continued to eat. Owen went for a second sandwich before going for one of Darkrai’s sweet treats—he was a master of pastries, after all—and the night got darker. A lot darker, to the point where most eyes were on the sky to admire it all. Azelf rested against Owen’s side, staring with him, and he liked that. They all twinkled so beautifully.

It seemed like the clouds were rolling in, but everyone was still staring at the sky. That was odd. He eyed some of them, and then noted that it was getting very dark without that starlight. It was starting to get him anxious. Charizard weren’t supposed to see such darkness. That only meant—

Worriedly, Owen glanced behind him, at his tail, but then, alarmingly, he realized he could barely see. Was some sort of darkness crawling over them? A magical darkness? What did that mean?

He heard a faint buzzing around him, like talking, speech he didn’t understand. Something was wrong, definitely wrong, so he tried to stand, and suddenly a force kept him from moving. He cried for them but the words weren’t forming in his mouth.

Little hands touched his cheek and he recognized them vaguely as Azelf. In his vision was the vague, blue shape of his head and those red gems and wide eyes. What was happening? Were they under attack? Paranoia gripped him and he reeled back, blasting fire skyward, like that would scare the darkness away. He couldn’t be in darkness. And he could barely see his flames.

He whimpered helplessly and flailed when more hands or wings or hooves held him down. It all faded into a blur of horrible colors and feelings and sounds. Bile rose in his throat. He tried to hold it down, like it mattered, as his body moved on its own.

Vision left him next. In pure, primal panic, he lunged forward in a void, then fell to the ground. Motionless, he focused on his labored breathing, finally realizing how hot everything felt.

Blurrily, he faded in and out of consciousness, confused, scared, disoriented, until colors started to return. Then clarity and light, and that panic quickly left him. His eyes darted around frantically, a feral growl behind his every breath. So many eyes were on him and there was a foul smell in the air.

Right by him was Jirachi, looking like he’d seen a ghost. There was a sorrowful but composed look from Arceus near the back, and Star couldn’t bear to look at the scene, either. Azelf and Jirachi were both floating in front, asking him something, but Owen couldn’t quite register the words yet.

Yveltal was far away, trembling, with Palkia and Rayquaza assuring her that it wasn’t anything she’d done. And Owen just realized that Xerneas was next to him, holding a hoof to his side, his horns alight. Owen’s flame was blazing with life again. It all felt… temporary.

Finally, everything came into focus, his mind the last to catch up. Wanting details, he could only meekly ask, “What happened?”

<><><>​

“In the end, what happened was… you simply were getting old, Owen.”

“Mortal bodies can be at their prime and slowly fade. Some can be just fine before a single incident, sometimes out of pure chance, plunges them into their final years.”

“But Charizard in particular tend to age gracefully, with a very long prime, before hitting rapid decline. Your shift in health was dramatic and sudden, even for your kind. After that incident… well. Jirachi feared the worst.”

“And with sudden changes come sudden decisions. He toyed with the cycle of life and death.”

“With the help of several Legends who were friends with him, of course. And by the time they were well along and I found out… I suppose I let it slide. You had all the qualifications to become a Legend, after all. It was… a unique circumstance. And the world was temporary. There didn’t seem to be any harm in it.”

Who helped?

“Well, Palkia was quite inventive, thanks to having been Michael—er, Nevren to you. He schemed out the idea. It was then the combined power of Azelf’s will, Jirachi’s wishes, and the very embodiments of life and death themselves to—”

Sorry, I don’t remember this yet. Who were Yveltal and Xerneas?

“Step and Ra.”

You’re kidding.

“I am not. In fact, in the past, Yveltal was much… nicer than you’d expect, knowing Step. In any case, between gentle Yveltal and Xerneas not caring for your departure, they all agreed… and created what still exists today: the Reincarnation Machine.”


<><><>​

Every movement was laborious. He no longer had the strength to fly. Owen was not afraid of death and had in fact come to terms with it long ago. He was friends with Yveltal, after all, and knew the kind quiet his final moments would provide, and the warm comfort of all his friends around him.

So, when Jirachi had approached him about some strange machine that would let him remain, he was apprehensive. He hadn’t told Necrozma. It was all apparently a great secret in the southeastern corner of Quartz, in some underground facility. Ruins that had been rediscovered from the time before the cataclysm. Lost technologies there, combined with new technologies in Quartz…

“What… is this?” Owen asked, wobbling forward.

“Whoa there, big guy.” Azelf tried to hold Owen up while his much smaller counterparts struggled to keep up.

On even footing again, Owen made sure to thank the three.

Ahead was a single glass cylinder with an odd interface at the bottom. He didn’t understand any of it, but when he looked at the top of the chamber, he saw an empty orb, longing for something.

“Owen,” Jirachi said, “I found a way that you can still live. It’s not too late after all.”

“What do you mean?” Owen asked. “Tim, I’m… old. Even if I could live longer, it’s getting hard to move. Hard to do anything…”

“It’s okay, Owen. This will return you to your youth, too. You’ll get to live life again.” Jirachi spoke in a soft whisper. “Wouldn’t you want that? Then you won’t have to…”

Owen frowned. “Just me? What about everyone else who dies as they should? I’ve lived a long life, Jirachi…”

“But you live with us. With the Legends. You could have, too, but—”

“But I denied that. Why should I get the rewards if I denied the responsibilities?”

“What you’ve already done is responsibility enough! And perhaps more. You could keep working for us, so it’s not like you’re freeloading!”

Owen was getting tired again. He just wanted to nap. Maybe he could think about it tomorrow, whatever crazy scheme Jirachi had come up with.

“I… I don’t want to leave you behind. That’s true.” Owen looked down. “What should I expect?”

“You’ll be falling asleep, and then you’ll be in there.” Jirachi pointed at the empty orb. “That’s where a small piece of your spirit goes. Then, whenever you die, your spirit will go there instead of to Necrozma… and we can place your spirit in a new body.”

“New… body. But will I remember anything?”

“I know you will. Even if it’s not immediately, you will eventually. I’m sure of it. Memories are eternal in a spirit. Besides… Uxie is friends with us. She can help! So… a-are you ready? You want to do this?”

He couldn’t say no, really. Not with those hopeful little eyes. And part of him didn’t want to go, either. So, with a resigned smile, he nodded.

“Hold your hand right here,” Jirachi directed. “I’m going to turn it on. This shouldn’t hurt.”

Owen placed a hand on the side of the container. This part of the glass felt different. Colder, and like it was drawing a part of him in. Moments later, Jirachi pressed a few buttons on the interface and told him to keep still.

The most surreal feeling passed over him. He was staring down at himself for a glimpse, and he saw how old he truly was. Dull scales, sagging skin, a sputtering flame, and wrinkly wings. And he also looked up, and he made eye contact with himself. Sleepy eyes waiting for the next nap, not really paying attention to the full details around him. He felt sorry for him.

And then, the feeling passed. He was staring up at a little golden ember in the orb, blinking.

“And that’s all?” Owen asked. “Do I sleep now?”

“You do. Just rest, Owen. One day, you’ll wake up here.”

<><><>​

Year 64

Top-heavy, weak, wobbly, and soft-scaled, Owen wanted to cry. But that wasn’t too different from how he had normally been feeling lately. All around him were things that were frustratingly familiar. A bed that he instinctively wanted to climb onto; strange, square things with flat bits to turn over to reveal many drawings and symbols, but he didn’t know what they said; other creatures walking or floating into his room, and he felt he should be scared, but he also knew them, even though he didn’t.

Everything was new to him, and yet everything was also familiar. And every time that happened, he wanted to cry, because that felt like the default.

The big, star-headed thing was the happiest to see him. And that made Owen happy, too.

“Owen, breakfast!” someone called.

He knew that word, and he wobbled out of bed, tripping over a small fire—he grabbed a piece of wood to eat later—and sniffed around for more proper food.

“Hey, over here, Owen!” It was the star-headed creature. The name flashed in his mind. Jirachi. This was Jirachi. And Jirachi was nice. He knew this. For some reason, he also remembered him being a lot smaller.

“You liked Tamato berries, right? So this is a Tamato salad I made. I kept them on the more mild side, though. You’re still young.”

“Tamato,” Owen repeated, his voice extremely high and juvenile.

“Yes, good!”

Owen chirped happily, tail flame swishing behind him.

Moments later, three similar-looking Pokémon floated into the room, though these ones had gray bodies and red, blue, or yellow heads.

“Hey, Owen,” called the blue one. Azelf. The name popped into his head.

“Hi!” He waved, giggling. So many familiar faces.

But then he noticed one more person walking into their little cave. This one was a Shiftry that had a soft, golden glow. Suddenly, the atmosphere seemed to get heavier, and Owen went quiet.

“O-oh, it’s… Hello.” Jirachi flew in front of Owen, with his back facing him. “How are you doing?” he asked the Shiftry.

“I’m doing well,” he said.

Silence. Owen tried to lean over to see past Jirachi. It was weird that he was on the ground.

“Uh, eh, so, yeh doin’ alright?” Azelf asked.

“Yes, I said that.”

“E-eh, righ’…”

“May I see your friend?”

There was renewed tension. He raised his leaves.

“I only want to speak to him.”

It seemed like they couldn’t refuse. Eventually, Jirachi stepped aside, and Owen stepped back, feeling guarded. He didn’t know why he felt guarded. He trusted this face, too, so he didn’t know why the others felt that way.

“Do you remember me, Owen?”

The Charmander hesitantly nodded. “Necrozma…”

“Good. Good.” His face showed no expression. It was weird. But he was nice, right? “I want you to know, Owen, that when you’re ready, I’ll happily continue training with you. I understand the circumstances behind—”

Owen growled.

“…Is something the matter?”

“Big words.”

“Ah, I apologize. Your vocabulary must still be returning to you, along with… everything else.”

Owen growled again. “Not stupid.”

“Yes. Of course.” And this time, it seemed like Necrozma was shifting uncomfortably. He stepped back. “Well, when you are… returned to your old self, or whenever you wish to see me, I will be around. As… Uncle Necrozma?”

He scrunched his muzzle at that. “Weird.”

“Weird indeed.” Necrozma seemed to smile just then. “Just Necrozma is fine. Well. That will be all. I have other things to do. Thank you, Jirachi.”

“Er, thanks…”

And without another word, he walked back out of the cave. Jirachi and the others exchanged uneasy glances at first, but then Mesprit smiled.

“Looks like he’s fine with it after all,” he said.

“Yeah…” Relief washed over Jirachi’s expression at the realization. “Yeah. Well. I guess we’re in the clear after all…”

“Sometimes I don’t know what goes on in that guy’s head,” Mesprit said, sighing. “What do you think, Azelf?”

“Eh. Who cares?” Azelf floated over to Owen and grinned. “Glad ter have yeh back, partner.”

Partner. Yes, he liked that.

It felt like everything was going to be okay.

<><><>​

And that’s how it all started. I guess even before the mutant stuff, I lived life after life…

“And died many deaths as well. Some were quite sudden. And embarrassing. For example, when you hadn’t fully regained your strength, there was an incident with a horde of angry—”

I’ll remember those later, thanks…

“Right… Perhaps not relevant. Still, that was how things had gone for a while. You would wake up in a new body, recover your memories rapidly, and repeat the training cycle again. Your spirit was already strong, so your body caught up very quickly. You were an unofficial Legend, as far as everyone was concerned. As part of your duties, you were given portions of Jirachi’s power to carry with you. If you saw someone in need, you used that raw power to help them. Over time, you got the title of Wishkeeper because of it. Tell me, just who did you meet during those travels?”


“That would be—”

Mhynt…

“Nngh…”

“Patience, Diyem. In time.”

My first life in Quartz was the most eventful. And had it not been for the Reincarnation Machine, that would have been it.

“But in the end, that is not how it turned out. You’re here with us, after all.”


“All of your other lives were quite routine, but not without their own stories. Stories you don’t have time for… I’m getting tired.”

That’s okay. I can think about those later. What’s important is… what happened almost a thousand years later.

When I met Mhynt… and when the world was going to end.


<><><>

Author’s Note: Thanks for reading! And a special thanks to Ambyssin, soliloquy, Shadow of Antioch, and Sparkling Espeon for beta reading and going above and beyond in making sure this Special Episode (and the next) are in good form. It was a very tricky one to write out and went through a lot of changes for pacing. As a result, the next chapter will be, already, Special Episode 10 – Wishkeeper. Expect to see it in another four weeks. It’s another big one. Thanks for your patience!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Special Episode 10 - Wishkeeper

Year 982

“Okay, okay, it’s okay!” Wishkeeper held his hands forward firmly, but the Sceptile in front of him was inconsolable. “Please, speak carefully, and from the beginning. What’s going on?”

“My daughter, my daughter, please!”

It was a whole scene inside a small village south of Quartz Mountain. A Sceptile, wailing desperately for help, only a few buildings away from the actual place she was supposed to report problems. Instead, she’d seen Wishkeeper, who of course stood out from everyone else thanks to being taller than the buildings themselves.

“What in the world is going on?” called someone from a nearby home.

“Someone was kidnapped!”

“Kidnapped?”

“Bandits…”

Wishkeeper took in the context clues, but let Sceptile calm herself. She was old. Her scales were sagging and her leaves looked soft and withered. If she had to fight, perhaps she could, but she was nowhere near a state to assist in any rescues. If she offered, he would firmly refuse.

“Tell me everything and I’ll help.” Wishkeeper nodded.

Suddenly, Wishkeeper got a flash of something when he locked eyes with this old Sceptile. Images. He saw a little Treecko swinging a wooden sword strapped to her arm. Horrible stance. There was a Rhydon nearby, smiling cheerily. Then the images rapidly melted to an adolescent Grovyle, rolling her eyes and nodding. Exasperated about yet another question about her wellbeing. Then, a Sceptile, lithe but powerful, holding something over her shoulder. It looked like delivery supplies. Yes, she was a messenger.

This was a power granted to him by Necrozma to help with his Wishkeeping duties, but it had been recent. He still wasn’t that used to it… being able to read someone’s past that way. In some ways, it was overwhelming.

The images disappeared and Wishkeeper was staring at Sceptile again. No time had passed. In fact, she’d only just started talking. Details, details. A forest to the west, along the trail, was where her daughter—a Sceptile named Mhynt—had last been seen. She had disappeared a day ago, which made Wishkeeper’s stomach feel cold. A whole day. Anything could have happened to her.

Wishkeeper nodded and asked for some distance. He flew directly to the forest.

The trail was easy to see even from above, and once he landed, he saw what looked like signs of a struggle a quarter of the way along the known trail. He landed and checked. He nearly touched some of the ground, but then recalled the blessings he’d been granted by Necrozma and closed his eyes. The center of his back felt hot as he channeled energy from the mark placed there. His body was still young and acclimating to that power again, so it burned.

In moments, he knew the area around him completely. Buried rocks and stones, discarded berries, the network of roots, and all the abnormal gashes left in the trail to the left, along the wood. Gashes that perfectly matched a Leaf Blade. There were also patterns of puncture marks in the soil that matched a thrashing Sceptile’s tail. Accompanying the marks were other footprints and markings impossible for a Sceptile to make unconsciously.

Kidnapping. So, she had lost. He didn’t sense any thick liquids in the dirt or congealed mud, and it hadn’t rained recently. No blood had been spilled, or if it had, it wasn’t significant. Perhaps there was still time.

He followed the trail of destruction, noting that these struggles were getting weaker. They abruptly stopped, and that only meant there was a hidden passageway. He was starting to get a headache from keeping Perceive active for so long. He would have to take a break soon.

But he at least found a suspicious vine whose connections went beyond his normal vision. He suppressed his Perceive and sighed with relief as the pressure on his head and the burn on his back both subsided.

The secret entrance was an underground tunnel obscured by leaves and tree branches.

He was also too big.

Muttering a curse, he folded his wings and then crouched down, and he barely fit through the entrance. This was going to be horribly claustrophobic, and his sheer bulk kept his natural flame from illuminating the way forward. Primal fear gnawed at him, but there was a Sceptile in need to rescue deeper inside. He couldn’t stop.

But only five steps inside and he stepped on a part of the ground that felt too solid, and yet gave way too much to his weight. Then came a click, and he realized he should have set his Perceive on anyway. Now, it was too late.

A strange, yellow powder filled his vision and he snorted to burn most of it away. Some of it clung to and between his scales, sinking into his blood next. His muscles were locking up, but he tensed and resisted most of it. He powered through, releasing the tile.

Then came a deluge of greenish powder, and he held his breath. That didn’t stop it from entering his scales the same way. He powered through again, hearing shuffling ahead.

“Hey!” spat a Gabite, crouching down with his claws forward. “What’re you doing in here? Who’re you working for?”

“I am here,” Wishkeeper said, realizing that his voice was more slurred than he wanted it to be, “to find Sceptile Mhynt and put an end to whatever bandit gang you have operating here, at once!”

“Hah! Good luck.” He slammed his claw into the dirt next to him and then ducked. Wishkeeper wasn’t sure why until a segment of the wall opened up. A vacuum sound followed, and then three poison-laced thorns whirled through the air.

Without a twitch, a golden barrier conjured itself in front of the Charizard, deflecting them. But several more came from other directions, and he couldn’t block them all. From other alcoves, nocturnal eyes reflected the dim light of his flame. This wasn’t a gang. This was a whole squadron!

<><><>​

“In retrospect, your first mistake was entering without taking a break.”

I know, I know…


“Did you really enter hostile territory alone and unequipped?”

I got careless! Besides, I died all the time!

“Oh, don’t worry, I reprimanded him about it.”

Can we just move on?


<><><>​

Wishkeeper stomped over a ground that was more Pokémon than dirt. Despite the fact that he’d defeated them all by his own flames, that fire was finite. He was bruised, cut, wounded, and dizzy. All kinds of toxins were flowing, and he briefly wondered if his blood was still the majority of what flowed through him.

But as he rounded the corner and saw a Sceptile standing at the entrance, looking battle-ready, he smiled with relief. That was easily her.

“What are you doing?” she asked, cautious and not lowering her stance. She was covered in small wounds herself. Had she been fighting off the bandits, too?

His orange flame reflected off of her eyes as he wobbled. He reached out, knowing that they’d all been defeated. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go. It’s safe.”

Her mouth was agape with surprise, then a flash of exasperation. She dug through a bag under her neck and produced a small sack of powder. “Idiot,” she muttered, tossing it at Wishkeeper. In his surprise, a single breath was all it took for him to fall asleep.

<><><>​

Time passed in an instant, and he was on his back. His stirring brought about fearful shouts, but they were all quieted by a single, cutting voice above them all.

“Quiet!”

His vision returned in blurry shapes first, seeing mostly greens and yellows.

“Are you awake?” called a gentle voice.

“Sleepy…”

“Yes, you’re sleepy. What’s your name?”

“Mmggh, Wishkeeper Owen… Charizard, if you couldn’t tell…”

“That was unclear to me, thank you.”

“You’re welcome…”

“Wishkeeper? Did he say Wishkeeper? The Wishkeeper? Oh, Gods, we’re in divine trouble now!”

“I’m not ready for divine retribution!”

“If he beat us up already does that count?”

“Shh!” Mhynt snarled at them. “…I’m sorry if they gave you any trouble.”

“Muh?” He finally found the coordination to sit up. The ceiling nearly touched his horns.

Aside from Mhynt herself, they were all staring fearfully at him. Pokémon of all kinds, fur or feathers, scales or skin. All a little beaten up or burned. He slowly realized that those were burns from him.

“They’re under me,” Mhynt explained. “I… put them in their place.”

“You what?”

Mhynt sighed and gave what felt like a very brief explanation. She was part of the town that Wishkeeper had been sent from as a messenger between two settlements. That was her official career. On the side, however, she led a team of enforcers that kept the traveling paths safe, and had recently caught wind of a gang of troublemakers who stole from unlucky travelers.

This strange Sceptile had intentionally gotten herself caught after having gauged their strength, and beat them all from within. She had tied up their leader and somehow asserted herself on all the underlings, and suddenly she was their leader instead.

“All in one day?” Wishkeeper asked, incredulous.

“After some planning,” Mhynt clarified. “I want you to look at them closely, Wishkeeper. They are Pokémon who can hear the feral tongue. They tend to listen to strength and have trouble finding guidance on their own.”

“Listen to the…” Wishkeeper frowned. He, too, could hear those words, as could Ire, but he didn’t know what that had to do with anything. Their kind were rapidly assimilating into the rest of society, after all, generations upon generations until the two accents became one. It did make Wishkeeper feel lonely, his accent so strange in the current era, but times change.

“They aren’t at their best. I knew this after some study. So, please, they will be better now. Do you understand?”

“…You beat them all up?”

“Didn’t you?”

Wishkeeper blinked. “Yes, but, you know, I work under Necrozma.”

Mhynt nodded, then looked him over. “I suppose you do.” She was half his size. “Do you need anything?”

“I should be fine…” He finally staggered up. “I’ll send word to your mother that things are fine.”

“My mother? I had already sent word a while ago. Long before you’d arrived.” Her eyes trailed behind Wishkeeper, glaring at someone.

It was the Gabite from before, who hissed fearfully. “Y-yes! I sent a message, said… said that Mhynt was safe, and she would be home soon!” His smile was wide. Too wide. He was nervous.

“…To which town?”

“Eh… there are two?”

Wishkeeper couldn’t see Mhynt’s glare, but Gabite looked like he was staring at Yveltal herself.

“…It was nice meeting you, Owen,” Mhynt said, turning her head. “Perhaps we’ll meet again sometime.”

“Sure.” He grinned, and Mhynt flinched. “Oh, uh, something wrong?”

“You have a big smile.”

“Well, I have a big body.”

She opened her mouth, but was stopped by a small giggle. Then a sigh, and she ushered him along. Everyone else in the room looked completely dumbfounded and Wishkeeper didn’t know why.

<><><>​

Year 984

Energy leaves collided with an ethereal spear. Wishkeeper snarled and pushed as hard as he could, beating his wings to knock her off her feet. But her claws were firmly in the dirt and her stance was unshakable, even with his weight thrown around. But she, too, was large.

“Something wrong?” Mhynt whispered, leaning into her advance. Wishkeeper’s hands were trembling.

“Not at all,” he grunted back, finding the strength to push her back. She kicked off of his gut at just the right moment, gaining several feet of ground before jumping off of a tree behind her. She collided with him again and Wishkeeper held a Protect shield out to parry, conjuring another javelin of light as a follow-up.

He pointed at Mhynt’s chin, but before he could declare a technical victory, the Sceptile weaved around the javelin and swung her blade at his neck. In turn, Wishkeeper conjured a small Protect directly in her path, parrying the blow. Flicking his wrist, he used the javelin’s side to pin Mhynt against the tree behind her.

“Ugh!” Mhynt tried to push against Wishkeeper, but he had gravity on his side, too. Owen pressed harder, immobilizing her shoulders.

“Give up?” Wishkeeper taunted.

Mhynt puffed again, going for one last push against the radiant javelin. Her own Leaf Blade was glowing with the same light and sparks licked at both their cheeks.

With one last roar, she pushed just enough to get some ground. Wishkeeper’s eyes widened, but he couldn’t react in time and was suddenly toppling backwards. Mhynt had gone too far and fell on top of him next, piling on and losing her stance. They both lost their focus and the radiance around their conjured weapons vanished instantly.

Wishkeeper was breathing hard. That had taken a lot out of him, and it wasn’t often that Mhynt was able to overpower him, even with the agreement to not abuse his elemental advantage. Mhynt was still on top of him and he couldn’t find a good way to get up without giving free hits to his opponent.

“Alright,” Wishkeeper grunted. “You win this one. Gonna get off me?”

She breathed with him, body still tense like she was ready to fight. But then, she relaxed, though she still did not rise. “Maybe I don’t want to.”

“Ng—” Wishkeeper gulped, feeling his scales get hotter. Mhynt was… very close to his face. “What for?”

“Maybe I like being on top.”

“I thought you preferred being under my wings.”

“Depends on the mood.”

Wishkeeper’s tail flicked against the dirt, sending little embers into the air. “I must be a soft place to rest.”

“Your scales feel pretty hard right now.”

“I am pretty solid.”

She leaned closer, then pressed her snout under his neck.

“I… actually can’t get up,” Mhynt admitted. “Why don’t we stay like this for a while?”

“That worn out,” Wishkeeper remarked, “after just one round?”

“You came at me with everything you had that time,” Mhynt said. “I felt like I had to reciprocate.”

Wishkeeper sighed, bringing his neck back until the top of his head was on the ground. “I’m done, too. Exhausted. At least we’re finished at the same time.”

She practically sank into him. Wishkeeper’s wings crawled over her back in a warm embrace.

“…So…”

Mhynt abruptly rolled off of Wishkeeper at the sound of the new voice, rising to see Marshadow standing awkwardly with Azelf floating nearby. Azelf seemed bothered by something for an instant, but then smirked at Wishkeeper and Mhynt.

“M-Marshadow,” Mhynt said quickly, crossing her legs. Her shoulders were still slumped; she was quite weak. Wishkeeper, meanwhile, mentally chided himself for not sensing him coming. Had he been so exhausted he couldn’t even…

“Hi, Marsh,” Wishkeeper said, not sitting up. The world was upside-down. “Looking for Jirachi?”

“Nah. Just here to send a message from Necrozma.”

“He couldn’t send it himself?” Wishkeeper said, his scaly brow rising to the earth.

Marshadow shrugged. “He said that if y’want, Mhynt oughta consider climbing Destiny Tower.”

Wishkeeper squinted. “What?”

“Guess there’s an open position.”

“It’s been centuries. How? Did—” Wishkeeper suddenly tried to sit up, fighting the dizziness that came. “Did Arceus… actually, uh, descend someone?”

“Nah, nah, nah.” Marshadow held up his hands. “We’d’ve heard about that. Dunno. Guess there’s need fer one. Maybe Groudon, finally, eh? Make the world bigger fer once.”

“We’d need a Kyogre, too,” Wishkeeper said.

“Well, regardless, I don’t intend to for some time,” Mhynt said, holding Wishkeeper’s hand. “Perhaps later. Much later.”

Wishkeeper glanced at Mhynt, tilting his head. “Why?”

“I think I’d like to spend more time with you,” Mhynt said.

“Being a Legend doesn’t usually change that. Look at me and Jirachi.”

Mhynt’s eyes narrowed the smallest amount. “Perhaps more quality time together.”

“Like sleeping together?” Wishkeeper said. “We do that all the time.”

Azelf, who had been quiet, looked like he’d just seen a Mimikyu’s true form.

“Owen…” Mhynt’s squint became even narrower. “Are you doing this on purpose?”

“Doing what on purpose?”

“Jeez’m.” Marshadow shook his head, shrugging. “You really know how ter pick’m, Mhynt. You sure that’s a life yer lookin’ fer?”

“It’s been years. I think it’s time I made my decision.” Mhynt nodded. “Owen. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

“Yeah, I do,” Wishkeeper replied, nodding sagely. “It’s alright. I’ll teach you everything you need to know if you want to ascend.”

“No, that—”

Wishkeeper’s wings wrapped around Mhynt, pulling her close. Firm. She was silenced instantly, eyes wide as they stared into his.

“We’ll need to spend a lot of time together, though.”

She blinked, staring at him.

“Think you’re alright with that?” He leaned forward and gave her a lick, then a nibble, and then a little growl.

For once, and only once, she was spellbound.

<><><>​

Year 996

Wishkeeper and Mhynt had a single egg together, which hatched into a healthy baby girl. A Treecko, though her tail had a tinge of autumn scales to match Wishkeeper’s fiery orange. She was a little feral, wanting to fight mere days after hatching, and Wishkeeper humored her by letting her battle his claw and little else. He knew not to use his flames against her, and Mhynt didn’t seem at all worried until she started trying to wrestle with his tail.

His flame was ethereal, but if he was surprised, it could get hot like a real fire. But perhaps she had a little Fire in her anyway, because she lacked the instinct to fear it, and Wishkeeper was positive that even when she was burned, it bothered her little.

Years passed like days. Remi grew up from a delicate Treecko to a plucky fighter who wanted nothing more than to follow in her parents’ footsteps. Perhaps not work with the gods, but at least work for the people. Before Wishkeeper and Mhynt knew it, Remi was a Grovyle, training every day to fight and keep the peace of the ever-evolving world.

And just as quickly, Mhynt seemed to notice the first signs of her own aging. Unlike Wishkeeper, whose kind took long to waste away and burn, Mhynt’s kind showed signs early. It was, in some ways, convenient; the minor blemishes did not impede her, and showed experience to other Pokémon in ways that Wishkeeper could not. Her scales were a little darker, her leaves wilting faster with each cold season.

But that was the time Mhynt had agreed to make her ascent before that age caught up to her.

“You got this, Mom!” Remi cheered, standing with remarkable balance atop Wishkeeper’s head. The Grovyle did a flip off of Wishkeeper, falling thirteen feet to the ground and landing with grace. She did a few slashes in the air with a Leaf Blade, imitating Mhynt’s style with a more reckless flair that she’d developed.

Destiny Tower loomed ahead of them, with Mhynt standing at its entrance. She smiled at Wishkeeper, looking fully confident that she’d make it. And Wishkeeper knew she would, too.

That’s why he felt so nervous.

“GOOD LUCK!” Remi said, waving as she finally passed through the entrance, disappearing. “How long do you think she’s gonna take, Dad? A day? Two? The record was two days, right? She’ll do it in one.”

Wishkeeper forced himself to laugh, if only so she could be reassured. “I don’t know about a day, but after all this time and all this training? She’ll give the… record holders something to worry about.”

He stared for a while longer, flame crackling behind him as he ruminated over it all. The free slot a thousand years into the land’s age was suspicious, but what reason did Necrozma have to lie to them? Maybe it really was just a coincidence.

“Dad?” Remi tapped him on the forehead while sitting between his horns. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Wishkeeper nodded. “Let’s… go home for now.”

Remi shrugged and kicked off of Wishkeeper’s back. She twisted in the air, falling slowly, as transparent wings briefly formed around her back, resembling his own. With a brief updraft, she slashed at a branch, then slashed twice more to dice the wood, before landing gracefully on the ground.

“Let’s train when we go home!” she proposed. “I wanna practice Aerial Ace again!”

“Are you sure you aren’t already a master at it?” Wishkeeper glanced at the chopped wood. Remi pointed at the severed portion of the tree while her other hand touched the trunk. In seconds, the branch regrew.

“Maybe,” she said, “but I wanna get even better!” She conjured a prismatic Magical Leaf like pulling a card from a sleeve and tossed it at the branch again, expertly severing an apple from the leaves.

Wishkeeper caught it. “Well, sure,” he relented. Perhaps it would distract them both.

<><><>​

“I’m going to be sick.”

“Personally, I think it’s adorable.”

Please…

I didn’t shirk my travel duties, but… yeah. I spent a lot of time with her. Maybe it was luck, or something, but, you know. When I had mentioned it to you, I figured you’d say that I should focus on my duties, and I guess I would have been fine with that, but instead…

“Instead, I suggested you see her more, yes… I did.”

Why?

“Well…”

Why, when right after that, you were going to…


“Perhaps that is precisely why. He was guilty.”

“Yes… to an extent. I no longer feared you making a family despite your reincarnation cycle because… this was going to be your last. For everyone. And I owed it to you at least that you could make a family in the end.”



“I’m sorry, Owen.”

It’s over with.


“He doesn’t accept your apology.”

Diyem…

“I understand. But I am sorry regardless. I understand that you have many happy memories of developing your relationship with Mhynt.”

I did.


“He doesn’t feel very happy about them now.”

Diyem… Don’t broadcast my feelings.

“I see. Very well.”

“Perhaps we should continue to after Mhynt became Lunala. Is that okay, Owen?”

Yeah. We’re getting close.


<><><>​

Year 998

It was, in a way, a second honeymoon. Mhynt was now Lunala, and while she occasionally returned to her Sceptile form as a means to blend in like several other Legends did, her new sense of duty drew her back to that new, immortal form. What thrilled Remi the most, of course, were her wings.

They’d gone on evening flights, morning flights, even flights at noon, at least one flight a day. Even though she could have done so all the time with Wishkeeper, it was different when both of her parents were able to accompany her so easily. Now there were two pairs of wings in the sky, rather than just Wishkeeper’s and Mhynt on his back.

She bragged about it at first at school, because of course kids would. They were quick to tell her not to, as not only was this sort of arrangement unprecedented, but she would only endanger herself should less noble, perhaps stupid people catch wind of it. Being Wishkeeper’s child was notoriety enough—but the child of someone who ascended? Unheard of.

That thought bothered Wishkeeper at night. Why, after almost a thousand years, did Necrozma and the other gods relax their policy? It had been, for a fleeting fifteen years, almost relaxing to no longer have that lingering sense of obligation to ascend. Really, Owen had almost considered broaching the subject of retiring to Jirachi. Wishkeeper did not have perfectly clear memories of all his lives, but it was starting to feel like a lot. A staggering amount that he could no longer fathom.

He never had the heart to, though. And Wishkeeper wondered if he’d forgotten about all the other times he’d been on the fence about it.

But then he had Remi, at Necrozma’s approval. Was that his hint that perhaps he could remove his spirit fragment from the Reincarnation Machine? That he could become mortal, and there would be no hard feelings over it?

“Owen,” hummed Lunala, pulling him a little closer. “You have such a serious face.”

“Sorry,” Wishkeeper murmured, but he forgot to follow it up with a smile, or anything, really.

“What’s bothering you?”

“Well, just… Why do you think Necrozma let us have Remi?”

“That’s an odd way to phrase it.” Lunala loosened and shifted upward until she was in something like a sitting position. It was hard to tell with the new body, which still, admittedly, was not something Wishkeeper was used to. “I feel like we could have done just what we wanted.”

“It’s… a thing to do with ascent. Necrozma always wanted me to because I fit all the qualifications, or something. Never did. Maybe he thinks it’s some kind of challenge.” Wishkeeper sighed, leaning into her chest as he thought. “But now I think he’s finally accepted that maybe I just wanted to be mortal. Instead of all the reincarnation stuff…”

“Why did you, then?” Lunala asked, adjusting so her wings went behind Wishkeeper. He reciprocated, curling up. This night, he was the one being wrapped up.

“I don’t really know anymore,” Wishkeeper admitted. “It just… was something I decided to do. And kept deciding once the cycle started. It wasn’t really so bad. I liked being around everyone. They were my friends.” And while he didn’t like to mention it often, he’d thought of a few of them as something more, but had never asked it of them. Then, once ascent happened to each of them over time, it was no longer an option. They had become bonded instead to their duty.

It was a relief that Lunala hadn’t changed in that way, even if she still preferred the new form.

“I… I’m sorry if that isn’t what you wanted to hear,” Wishkeeper said. “I don’t know. I’ve been feeling strange lately. Having Remi, and you, it’s… it’s been different. Like… loosening something from the bottom of a lake, or something. Everything is moving again. It feels like these fifteen years have been more than I’d lived for the past centuries. I—I know it’s because it’s different, so that’s why I see it that way, but. It’s better, too.”

As Wishkeeper spoke, Lunala gently ran part of her wing over his head, stroking him. That always relaxed Wishkeeper, and he leaned a little more against her.

“You should do what you want, Owen.” She nodded. “I appreciate what you’re doing. But it will be okay… I’m sure of it.”

“That obvious, was it?” Wishkeeper smiled sadly, keeping his eyes closed as he focused on their breathing.

“You know,” Lunala said, and Wishkeeper could hear the grin in her voice, “it still isn’t too late.”

“Too late…” Wishkeeper opened one eye.

“You can still become Solgaleo. We’re meant to be pairs. Lunala and Solgaleo… We can still be the same, just like we are now.”

The thought only filled him with more conflict as he shifted his weight. “Maybe,” he dismissed. “But I’m… I’m tired for now. We can talk about it later.”

She nuzzled his cheek. “Okay. Good night.”

“Night. Love you.”

She nipped his cheek, and they settled again.

But in the end, Wishkeeper was never the one to bring it up.

<><><>​

Year 999

With an ethereal clang, sharpened blades of Grass energy slammed into a golden Protect. Wishkeeper pushed forward a little harder than he normally would, and the Grovyle he sparred against yelped in surprise, her back slamming into and then through a tree, leaving a Remi-shaped hole where she’d hit.

“Oww, no fair!” Remi complained, having left a gash in the dirt behind the tree. She sat up, looking dizzy, as she pointed at the tree. Her hand glowed with energy as the trunk sealed itself up, slowly.

“Err, too hard?” Wishkeeper said, tittering.

“I’m not Mom, you know! Parry like a normal Pokémon!”

“Eheh…” Wishkeeper dispelled his Protect and rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I guess I—” He abruptly spun around and conjured another shield, narrowly blocking a stab to his side. Another Grovyle was right there, eyes wide. “Nice try,” he whispered.

The other Grovyle disappeared in a puff of golden smoke.

“Oh, come on!” the real Remi complained. “That was perfect!”

“Maybe,” Wishkeeper said, “but I guess I got lucky.” Or he knew her tricks. Still, that was one of her best Substitutes yet, and so young, too… She had talent. His chest swelled with pride.

She kicked a little more before finally settling down. Wishkeeper silently noted her movements; she was worn out.

“How about we take a break?” he offered. “I’m feeling a little tired after that.”

“Fine, fine,” she said with a dismissive wave. “What’s for lunch?”

Lunala was off on some mission, leaving Wishkeeper with Remi again, as was the norm most of the time. It was, once again, a nice change of pace to spend most of his time at home. He and Remi enjoyed a small prepared lunch of rice and meats, apparently a bento from recovered cultural projects. Something about it felt familiar, but Wishkeeper ignored the feeling. It was probably from some faded life in his many reincarnations.

Remi seemed a little tenser than usual. She wanted to say something, but Wishkeeper waited patiently. She finally broached the subject when there was only a little rice left in their ceramic platters.

“Mom told me something kinda cool yesterday.”

But despite her words, there was hesitance in her tone.

“Cool?” he asked. It was also an odd descriptor. “What d’you mean?”

“Do you know what Cosmog is?” she asked.

It was like all the air in the clearing had been sucked out. A chill ran down his spine and he suddenly knew precisely where every beat of the conversation would go. He hoped Remi did not see his darkening mood in his expression.

Thankfully, she was looking at her near-finished lunch. “It’s a rare sort of Pokémon that’s considered ascended but not fully formed. A Legend that can evolve. Usually, the ones that are female become Lunala, and the ones that are male become Solgaleo. In that way, there can be more than one. They’re like guardians of the stars, of light itself. Guardians of the spirit.”

“Yeah, that’s correct, Remi,” Wishkeeper said in as even a tone as he could. “How come she told you about all that, anyway? It’s not really important to, you know, daily life. It’d just distract you from school.”

Remi smiled a little. “Well, it’s because she wanted me to climb the tower a little early.”

“Oh.” His mask slipped just then and he quickly amended, “That’s great! I mean, if that’s what you want, and—”

“Dad, why did you never ascend? Mom says you could any time you wanted. So, you don’t want to…”

This was more of a corner than Remi had ever put him in battle.

“Do you want to become… Cosmog?” Wishkeeper asked.

But then, suddenly, Wishkeeper sensed Lunala’s presence and glanced above him. Moments later, the light around the clouds warped oddly, and Lunala burst out from seemingly nowhere, like a pool of water in thin air. She descended quickly, fanning out her wings to slow her descent.

“Back early,” Lunala replied, pecking Wishkeeper on the cheek. “How was lunch?”

“Just finished,” Wishkeeper said, nipping at Lunala’s wing before nodding at Remi.

Remi, however, had gone quiet, and was now looking at the ground.

“Remi?” Lunala asked. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, um.” She hesitated. “It’s about… Cosmog.”

“Oh, of course. Have you come to a decision?”

“A bit of a rush, don’t you think?” Wishkeeper asked Lunala warily.

“I—I don’t think I want to,” Remi said quickly. “Dad didn’t ascend because he wanted a family. And… and I want one, too.”

Wishkeeper blinked, but then glanced at Lunala just in time to see the smallest hint of a scowl on her face. It was faint, and gone in an instant, but he’d seen it. That image chilled him to his core.

“Oh,” Lunala said, “well, that’s… fine. I understand, Remi… And you’re still quite young anyway. It isn’t as if there is a rush for it.”

“Yeah. Sorry, Mom…”

“No, don’t be sorry. It’s your decision. Climbing Destiny Tower halfheartedly will surely result in being rejected.” She nodded.

She leaned down and rubbed her on the head, and Remi smiled a little, looking relieved.

But Wishkeeper couldn’t forget that look in Lunala’s eyes. It was still there like a cold lump of ice in his chest. Like all of his quiet fears had been confirmed just then, for an instant, a little seed of doubt. That he was no longer with Mhynt. That it was “Lunala,” and nobody else.

No. No, that wasn’t true. It was still Mhynt, just like Jirachi was still Tim, or… everyone else who’d ascended but him.

They were still themselves.

<><><>​

“Owen… They truly were themselves.”

I don’t want to talk about that right now.


“When they ascend, they are not the same. Their minds are altered to handle their longer lifespans, and to have tendencies related to their duties. You would not simply place a mortal spirit into the duties of a god and expect them to perform as they would. In the end, even gods have… instincts.”

“Indeed. And so, the decisions they made were… with their duties in mind, but not without their memories as well, and—”

Can we just move on?

“…Of course, Owen. Let us move on to… the decision I made, when I called Jirachi and you to Destiny Tower.”


<><><>​

Year 1000

“I’m not doing that.” Jirachi shook his head. “It goes against my very duties. Did Arceus approve of this? I bet he didn’t.”

“Arceus is not the authority here,” Necrozma said firmly, his light reflecting off of the countless gems in the cobalt caverns of Star Cave. “You know as well as I do that there is an instability in this world, and we can’t find it. Before something even worse than death happens, we need to end it.”

“Why can’t we find it?”

“Finding it is not so easy. If we weren’t aware of it when it was created, it simply isn’t… something to detect. It’s better just to end the world entirely. We’ve gone on for long enough. The world has gone on for long enough. I fulfilled my promise to Arceus and Mew. It has been a thousand years. Civilizations have risen and fallen, leaderships transferred, kingdoms made and lost…”

They continued to bicker. Meanwhile, Wishkeeper stood in awe. He had gone through so many reincarnation cycles that he was not clear how long it had truly been. Each cycle, he forgot swaths of his past, and when he recovered them, they were hazy and blurred together. He did not have a mind that could withstand long, long stretches of time the way Jirachi had been blessed with one. His mind was simply unable to hold it all together. When Necrozma and Jirachi got into these talks, he often tuned it out.

This time, though, he held his attention. He tried to follow every term thrown out. He eventually caught on when Jirachi made another proposal.

“I’m not ending it. The world needs time. It’s… I don’t want to just end it where the sun won’t rise again tomorrow.”

“It will have to stop eventually. And then all can be at rest and all can be still. This was an inevitability. Only when it is upon you do you object?”

“Yes?!” Jirachi said. “I thought you’d come around, not actually follow through! How many zeroes are in the number of lives at stake here?! You’re just going to take everyone here, store them up in your… prism of death body, and that’s it?”

“That is where all life goes in death, yes. They will die, but they will no longer suffer after. They will be still. At rest. I could ask the same thing if you wish to plunge these souls into a chaotic world when the instability prevails.”

“And how instantly will that happen, huh? Will we see it coming?”

“It could happen in a matter of years as soon as we see the first true signs. If that happens, it must be ended immediately.”

Jirachi shifted his weight, looking conflicted. Wishkeeper understood some of it. Jirachi’s duty was to protect the world, and sometimes the greater good meant sacrifices. Some wishes had downsides, but for a greater end. But this was taking it a step too far, wasn’t it? Killing everything to save it from a worse fate? A fate they did not even fully understand?

“Is there another way to… quietly let everyone wrap things up?” Jirachi asked. “That’s what I want.”

“A way for the world to end without killing everyone,” Necrozma repeated. “Well. I suppose one way to go about that would be… taking advantage of the mortality of the world. If no new lives are born, eventually the current lives will be all that’s left. Then, nothing. A quiet end…”

Necrozma had come up with that too quickly. Had he predicted this?

But Jirachi was buying it. “That might be okay,” he said, apprehensive.

“Okay?” Wishkeeper protested. “But that would still—”

“Owen, I… I’m sorry. But I do still need to protect people here. And this seems like a good solution. You don’t understand, Owen, we can feel that instability growing. I don’t want to kill people. But preventing new people from being born might be okay. If it gets too large, it might become something that has its own domain. And if it does, we can’t fight it or dispel it. It might take over. It might even hold spirits hostage within itself. Then what?”

“There is already a risk of that happening. But… this will minimize that risk. I’ll revise my wish, then. My wish… is for no new souls to be born within Quartz. No children. All eggs formed now will be the last generation. And then, as the population dwindles, it will be our responsibility as gods to guide everyone in their final years. It will be our payment to them.”

A noble way, Wishkeeper thought bitterly, for them to pretty up the fact that they were about to make a whole era suffer. He thought about Remi. If he’d delayed, he never would have had her. She never would have existed.

But Wishkeeper felt unheard. No matter what he said, this was a decision for the gods to make, not him. And perhaps even if he’d chosen to become Solgaleo, or Reshiram like Brandon had, there was nothing he could do. It was not his domain.

Wishkeeper gave Jirachi one last, pleading look. But as silver lights began to encircle Jirachi’s head, and as the whole cave lit up with silver and blue, Wishkeeper knew that it was too late.

“Wish granted,” Jirachi whispered. And with the power of Necrozma and Jirachi combined, a great pulse of light escaped from Star Cave and sank deep, deep into the earth. Unshakably, the wish had been granted. And now, the only way to undo it would be with an equal power.

In that solemn silence, as the lights blinded them all, Wishkeeper whispered for only himself to hear. He kept away from the one he’d once looked up to so much. He turned away from the one he’d been with all his lives.

He had Jirachi’s power, too. And Star Cave was still resonating.

For the first time, Wishkeeper decided to slip in a wish for himself. It was forbidden. He didn’t know if it would work. But that didn’t matter anymore.

I wish I could find this instability myself.

<><><>​

“So that’s what you did…”

I don’t think it actually worked. I don’t think granting my own wishes is possible. Maybe it was from Jirachi, and we felt the same wish? That could have been it…

“Or perhaps it was my own. Perhaps all three of us wished there was another way.”

Sure. But… Diyem. Do you remember any of that?


“I only know that, not long after that wish was made… we met in a dream during your travels. When you were spreading the news about what had happened, along with so many other Legends.”

“This is where, for now, my part of the story ends, Owen. I was not aware of much of what you had been doing in the interim. I will explain what happened, but… go on, Diyem. Now it is your turn.”

“…I’m not going to enjoy this.”

I thought you were waiting for this?

“I was. Now I’m regretting it. Whatever. Let’s begin.”

<><><>​

Year 1003

Wishkeeper often dreamed. It had become an acquired skill, being able to dream lucidly like the gods often did. They used it to communicate with one another at night. Rayquaza and Dialga often doted over each other; Kyurem had even found a way to communicate with Ire; but Wishkeeper didn’t feel like playing with Tim tonight. In fact, he felt as if he didn’t have a choice. He wasn’t in his usual corner of the mind. He felt distant. Elsewhere. And… cold.

“Hello?” Wishkeeper called. “Who’s there?”

He heard no words, only a horrible, cold wave of dust that buffeted him. He winced and pulled his wings over his head. His flame flickered against that haze.

“Is anyone there?” he called again.

Another haze, but this time he saw something faintly red beyond it. In the otherwise void-like surroundings, it was the only thing he could walk toward.

“I’m here to help!” Wishkeeper called blindly. It felt like his voice didn’t carry past a few feet ahead of him, so he roared louder. “I DON’T WANT TO HURT YOU!”

The winds continued, but they slowed. He eventually dared to open his wings. His flame was stable. And, in front of him, there was a great, red sphere. Wishkeeper felt like it was staring back at him.

“I—”

Wishkeeper had tried to reach forward, but then it roared back in a noise irreplicable by anything mortal. A scream that was more like glass grinding against stone and metal. It blasted him away at speeds that felt like hundreds of feet in a second.

He woke up with a start.

“Owen?” someone whispered.

“Wh-what?” Wishkeeper sat up, panting. His flame was bright; it must have woken her up. And it was humming loudly, too. He glanced worriedly around him, hoping that latent battleheart didn’t set anything alight, too. No burns, thankfully.

“I’m okay,” he said. “Just had a startling dream. That’s all.”

Crescent wings draped over him in a nuzzle. Wishkeeper leaned into them, but he couldn’t feel that same warmth in his chest when they touched.

“It’s going to be okay, hun.”

They sounded genuine from her, but felt empty to him. Wishkeeper’s eyes trailed across their room. It was a small and simple abode with oversized furniture to compensate for Wishkeeper’s size. It dwarfed Remi, who had been sleeping across the hall soundly. The little Grovyle hadn’t stirred. Remi… What would become of her?

“It’s for the greater good,” Lunala said, correctly guessing his thoughts. “I’m really sorry, Owen…”

He didn’t want to fight her on this. Not her. Not when he could either find a different solution or let it happen. In neither case did they need to fight about it.

“Are you okay?” Lunala asked.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” He leaned against her, appreciating the cool, smooth touch her wings provided. He tried to remind himself that it was her. “…Love you, Mhynt.”

She always humored him, even though she no longer acknowledged the name. “Love you too, Owen.”

He drifted off again. Perhaps, when he had a better grasp of what he’d seen in his dreams, he would be able to tell her more.

Somehow, Wishkeeper knew he never would.

<><><>​

…Don’t feel sick this time, Diyem?

“No, the heartbreak evens it out.”

“Mhynt didn’t so much as read your mind with how much she trusted you.”

I don’t want to think about that…

“You must. It is likely why she felt so betrayed when you learned more about Diyem. Night after night, you tried talking to him. For how long?”

Years. It was a slow, slow process. I usually could only get a word in, but eventually, he answered, and… we talked. The same way Anam talked with you, I bet.


“And you told someone else before you told Mhynt, didn’t you?”

“What?”

I… I don’t…


“He could not trust his own mate. And Jirachi was all the same, loyal to Arceus. But there was a single other that you trusted. And in a moment of weakness…”

That was the start… of when I took more drastic actions. When I started betraying everyone’s trust. I remember, now…

<><><>​

Year 1004

Wishkeeper parried another Psychic blast, sensing it from the distortions in the air rather than the energy itself. Sensing the air was difficult, but such dramatic changes made it easier.

Ahead of him was Azelf, a larger target compared to Mesprit and Uxie thanks to Necrozma’s blessings, but that meant little when he moved around so swiftly.

“Better get ready!” Azelf telegraphed, forming a Psychic blast for Wishkeeper to quickly deflect. With a flick of his claws, flames erupted from below and Azelf yelped in surprise. Moments later, he spiraled to the ground, looking only slightly singed, but that had been the wager.

“Gah, no fair!” Azelf flailed on the ground before going limp. “Feh… got lucky.”

“At some point, my luck is going to be a pattern,” Wishkeeper taunted, sitting next to him. The tremor knocked Azelf off balance the moment he tried to sit up.

“Yeh did that one on purpose,” he growled.

Wishkeeper shrugged innocently.

With a flick of his wrist, Wishkeeper drew out from seemingly nowhere two boxed lunches, sliding the smaller one to Azelf.

“Eh?” Azelf tilted his head. “Usually Lunala drops one off fer yeh so it’s fresher.”

“Oh, I made one myself this time. Lunala’s been busy.”

“Mmeh…” Azelf narrowed his eyes.

The silence felt more tense than usual. Azelf could probably tell, couldn’t he?

“So… still arguin’ about…” Azelf trailed off.

It was such an awkward subject to explore, but… “Yes,” Wishkeeper said with a sigh. “I… I still haven’t told Remi. I don’t know what to tell her. And… if I tell her, and she ascends, would that be… tossing her life away anyway?”

“Tossin’ it away? Ain’t it gonna make ‘er immortal? Well… not like it’ll matter…”

Wishkeeper paused. Not like it would matter…

“…Why… did Mhynt ascend?”

Azelf tilted his head.

Wishkeeper groaned. “Lunala.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. Hey, wait! Yer right? If the world’s endin’, why’d he go an’ have her show up? An’ then offer fer Remi ter ascend next… oi, that don’t make sense at all!”

A new seed of doubt began to form, wondering what Necrozma’s ulterior motives were for that. Was it all to attract him into his fold? But why?

“Owen,” Azelf said, breaking Owen’s concentration. “Jus’ tell me what’s up. We’re a team. Yeah?”

They were. And… Wishkeeper couldn’t sense anything strange from Azelf, either. Not that he would delve deeper. Maybe he could trust him with this, just once…

“You can’t tell anyone about this,” Owen said.

“What about Mesprit ‘n Uxie?”

He hesitated. More people to know, more chances for the secret to spill. But if he told Azelf to keep quiet… No. Uxie would tell; she was too smart. And Mesprit would sense the emotional distress.

“Fine, you can tell them, too,” Wishkeeper said. “Listen, I… I spoke with it. The instability.”

Azelf’s eyes widened a little, but he didn’t interrupt. He urged him, silently, to continue.

“I think we can save this world, if we just save him, too.”

<><><>​

I was eventually able to get words from you. And I gave you my name. And eventually, we figured out what you were. The instability. A poor little… entity that was born from… Y-yes. I remember now. You were the fear and doubt… that Star had when she created the world. And the hatred and betrayal that Barky felt. Those stray thoughts… became you! And… I proposed trying to convince all three gods to help you, and you weren’t sure. I wasn’t sure, either. So instead, we tried to fight and rally for undoing the apocalypse. There were already resistances forming for it, even if there was no real way to stop it… Not without power.

“Power I had.”

“There was a turning point eventually, wasn’t there? Tell us about that.”

<><><>​

Year 1007

“Hey. I’m here,” Wishkeeper called routinely, flicking his tail across the landscape to form a simple, nighttime hillside. The instability, who refused a name of any kind, preferred the night. Sometimes Wishkeeper had a feeling he also did not like his flame or his golden spirit, but there was little he could do about either.

“Today… hurt less…”

“That’s good.”

“Good?”

He winced. Right, he couldn’t feel that. He didn’t know that. Wishkeeper sighed. “Sorry. Anyway, I heard that there’s a lot of outrage over… uh, you know, and that it’s still growing, but that’s not going to amount to anything. Even if they try to scale it, or destroy it, or anything. It isn’t even an actual tower. It’s just a gateway to the ethereal plane… Destroying it won’t do much. If we want to stop this, we have to convince them that you’re safe.”

“I’m… not. They hate me… They want me gone…”

“If they find you, you’ll—”

“No. No. No.”

“Okay, okay!” Wishkeeper held up his hands. The quickly churning winds slowed.

It had been a decade. He was getting older. And if he wasn’t going to go through a reincarnation cycle, he would actually die. He’d return to Necrozma. And then… Necrozma would be able to see all of his memories. He’d be helpless. All that knowledge… Necrozma would destroy the instability, and then the world next.

It just wasn’t fair. He couldn’t trust Necrozma anymore, but it was getting dicey, always evading the subject with Necrozma. Thank goodness he assumed it was only because he was unhappy with the circumstances.

“…I agree,” the instability said. “You’re out of time soon. If you die…”

“You heard all that, huh?” Wishkeeper sighed. “Yeah… I’m getting old again. It’s starting to catch up to me. It’s hard for me to do the things I used to, but only a little. But I really am out of ideas, and I think I’m getting complacent.”

“If you reveal me… I’ll die. But not if…”

“Not if… they can’t kill you. If you’re strong enough to subdue them, right? Then we can work together to fix you instead.”

“Fix… me…”

“Sorry. You aren’t… broken. But we can help you stop feeling pain, right? And you won’t die. Nobody has to die. There will be a lot to repair, but it’s not all gone. But…” That just led to one uncomfortable question. “My power is a gift from Necrozma, and he’s pretty adamant about… you know. And he’s not the only god here. He seems to have, you know, the most sway. How are we supposed to convince all three? Or to any of them?”

“…I… have power, too.”

“What do you mean?” Wishkeeper asked. “You have…”

A dark haze drifted toward Wishkeeper and he held out his hand on reflex, like the instability was reaching toward him again. A rare thing.

“Take this…”

<><><>
[Continued in next post]
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
That very night, Wishkeeper woke up because he thought he’d heard sobbing. He opened his eyes, but did not move from his spot. He listened quietly, only to hear Lunala soothing Remi with kind words and gentle nothings.

“Remi, it’s okay,” she said softly.

It was a strange sense of normalcy to be comforting their daughter over something so mundane—a breakup. Such things happened. But the backdrop reawakened that cold pit in Wishkeeper’s stomach all the same.

She had moved back in after sending word, and Wishkeeper and Lunala gave her no shame over it. It would be nice to spend time with her during the end-times, after all. They’d been there to support her, and he figured she was still heartbroken. But when he listened longer…

“Remi, it’s… just how things are. How it was meant to be,” Lunala said softly.

“I wanted a family,” Remi sobbed.

An awkward, tense silence broken only by her sniffles followed. Wishkeeper tried his best to suppress the popping of his flames.

“He wanted a family, a-and… and because nobody can anymore, he… c-couldn’t take it and… just left me…”

“Remi, no, it really isn’t your fault… I’m sure it’s not that clear cut.”

“Everyone’s scared, Mom. I… I’m scared. Is it all just going to end? Is the world really… emptying out? I don’t… I don’t want that!”

“Remi…” They shuffled. Wishkeeper could sense how much Remi was trembling, all that frustration and pain, while Lunala only pulled her close for a hug. Wishkeeper didn’t know if Lunala truly cared or not, or if she was just echoing her dutiful statements as part of Necrozma’s goals. None of her words felt real anymore. Wishkeeper wondered if Remi felt the same.

As they continued to talk, Wishkeeper finally came to a decision. A dramatic one. And he had a strange feeling that if he lost his resolve now… he may never get the chance again.

When the time came, and he found the opportunity to slip away… he would start the fight against Necrozma. He would reverse the wish and save the world. And the first step to doing that… was defeating him any way he could.

Perhaps this “instability” they feared so badly would be the answer.

<><><>​

It was another lunch out while Lunala left for her usual duties, some of which Wishkeeper still did not fully understand. The Charizard and Grovyle spent another afternoon out as father and daughter.

But Wishkeeper felt tenser than usual, the night several days ago weighing heavily on his mind.

“Dad?” Remi asked.

“Oh, uh—hi. Yeah. It’s good as usual, Remi. Your mother cooked it herself.”

“I thought you cooked this one?” Remi asked. “You use different spices.”

“Oh.” Right. He had.

An awkward silence followed. Wishkeeper took a few extra bites.

“Are you going to fight Necrozma?” Remi asked.

A cold chill ran down the back of his head, like his horns were being gripped by ice. “What?” he mumbled. “I—no, that’s…”

“…Are you going to convince him to stop destroying the world?”

“He’s not… destroying it, he’s… just not letting new Pokémon be born. It’s… different. It’s different.”

The Grovyle’s frown deepened, and she curled her claws around her sandwich, prodding at the soft bread beneath the hard crust.

“Are you going away?” Remi asked.

“Remi, what’s this all—”

“Please just tell me,” Remi said. “I’m not a kid anymore, Dad. Just… just tell me.”

Any number of things could have clued her in. She was too perceptive for her own good. Probably took after him. And he knew, without having to check, that she wasn’t doing this to deceive him. She simply wouldn’t.

She was looking down, unable to maintain any sort of eye contact. “Are you going to fight Mom?”

“Remi…” His wings struggled to stay folded by his side. They wanted to droop. But he had to keep a strong face in front of her. Otherwise… everything was going to collapse. Her whole world would.

But wasn’t the world already…?

“You have a plan, don’t you?” Remi asked. “You’re going to go against everyone just to save the world. Because you refused to become a Legend. You’re… fighting for mortals because all the strongest aren’t. Except for you.”

“I never… saw it that way. I just…”

The bread in her claws crunched quietly. “I… I don’t know what to do, Dad. I don’t know who’s right. Mom… says everything would be fine. B-but I’m scared to ascend. Why didn’t you?”

He didn’t have an answer for her. All of his words had left his mind. Listening to her was all he had left.

“I don’t know what to do, but… but you need to stick to it. Okay? If you and Mom are on opposite sides, then… then maybe it’ll work out. Maybe the right side will win and everything will be okay. Right? You can fix it, right? Dad?”

To this, too, he had no answer. He was still stuck on how she’d figured this all out. So clever… Had it not been such a dire subject, he would have been filled with pride. But now all he could feel was a bitter lump in his gut.

“Go,” Remi whispered.

“What?”

“Go now. Mom’s got a long day. She told me. Just… go now. Whatever plan you have. B-but… but promise me—”

She paused and he didn’t interrupt. She was shaking, trembling.

“Promise me you won’t kill anybody.”

A summer breeze kicked up loose blades of grass. Wishkeeper breathed with the wind, unfolding his wings; his natural warmth carried on to Remi, and he draped them over her.

“Of course,” he said. “I promise.”

<><><>​

“Not long after that, when agreeing to use my power fully, you told me Remi’s wish. I did not understand it… but those were your conditions. You were adamant. So, I had no choice but to comply. I knew you did not make allegiances and did not force you there, either. I never felt any deception from you, or distrust. I eventually learned that it was because you were not truly native to this world… and that Necrozma’s blessings further masked your feelings. But at the time, I had no reason to doubt you.”

And I used that power as a way to catch Necrozma by surprise. Or, that was the plan… Necrozma. How come you didn’t just try to attack me immediately? The moment you knew, for example, that I… betrayed you?

“I simply didn’t know until it was too late. And once I learned… Mew and Arceus were not fully onboard with ending the world. I think, in a way, my forcefulness on the matter discouraged them. They wanted this world to remain. I
tried to overrule them, then convince them, but…”

“I played my part as well.”

“Oh?”

“Doubt is a powerful emotion to anchor myself. I sensed the gods’ doubt and amplified it subtly. It was one of the powers I learned I had over the world, along with other destabilizing abilities.”

“Destabilizing abilities… ways to cause chaos?”

“In a sense. Curses with the power I had acquired. Rifts in the fabric of the world. Not quite Dungeons, but distortions that, if done right, could have drawn out the gods for me to strike on my own. None worked, though. Most of them were… aimless. I did not know what I was doing.”

“…Manny’s assignments. He often thwarted you. Him and his team, while the rest of the pantheon maintained the world’s turn.”

“Indeed. Like I said… a true thorn in my side.”

Manny…

“He tried to play both sides, in a way. But I appreciated that of him.”

I remember. He kept trying to challenge me with his resurrected team, but I beat him. Sent him away, and once he saw that I knew mercy, well… He sent word to meet me one on one.


“Obviously, you were stronger. You took the offer.”

<><><>

Year 1018

Wishkeeper walked, alone, up a large hill with a note in his hand. It was extra-large paper, of course, which meant whoever had sent it certainly had him specifically in mind. The big print was a nice touch.

He’d brought backup. Hiding away and watching from afar with farsighted Pokémon were Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf, his closest allies during this struggle. But Wishkeeper honored this one request to meet alone with someone of similar strength. Weaker, but better able to flee.

Even this had been calculated. Wishkeeper wasn’t sure what they wanted to accomplish out of it this time, and he could not sense anything in the immediate area that was a trap. Only Marshadow standing at the top, and a large board game next to him, already folded out and set up.

“Hey, y’made it,” Marshadow greeted, smirking. “Got yer favorite.”

“You’re no good at chess.”

“T’keep it fair, you get five seconds fer yer move, an’ I c’n take all the time I want.”

“Sounds unfair for you,” Wishkeeper mocked once he was on the opposite side of the board, slowly taking a seat. Marshadow did the same. “You first, then.”

“Heh.” Marshadow moved a center pawn forward two spaces.

Within a second, Wishkeeper mirrored the move. “So,” he said, “you wanted this talk for…”

“Just talkin’ similarities,” Marshadow said.

“Between us,” Wishkeeper clarified.

“Yeh.” He moved another piece, and Wishkeeper responded instantly. Marshadow smirked, murmuring a curse. “Y’see,” he went on, not making his next move yet, “we both were put in our positions ter save th’ world.”

“I put myself in that position,” Wishkeeper clarified, “but yes.”

Marshadow nodded. “So we both have an interest in savin’ the world.”

“Yet you’re siding with the person who intends to put an end to this world.” Wishkeeper stared hard at Marshadow as his next move was made, using yet another pawn. Wishkeeper moved aggressively, countering with a knight’s advance. “Necrozma intends to destroy the world and take all of the spirits for himself. The prism of death, where we shall go until the end of everything.”

“So dramatic,” Marshadow chided, sighing. “Death is death. All he’s doin’ is holdin’ onter our souls ‘til it’s time fer whatever comes after, all at once. Won’t even feel like a second ter us.” Marshadow raised a hand before Wishkeeper could protest. “I know, that ain’t the point. Since it’s the world yer worried about. New life, yer home, not yer self. If it meant savin’ the world, you’d choose death, too, eh?”

“I would,” Wishkeeper said. “I’ve lived long enough. If I could guarantee this world’s safety in exchange for my overdue life, I would give it up instantly.”

“Heh. I believe ya.” Marshadow moved yet another pawn, and Wishkeeper touched his knight, but then froze. Too aggressive. He wanted to capture the pawn on reflex, but that would…

“Once yeh touch a piece, y’can’t let go. That’s the rule, ain’t it?”

Wishkeeper growled and took a more conservative movement, just outside the pawn’s range.

“Good save, good save.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

“Lighten up!” Marshadow laughed, raising both hands again. “Look, I know yer workin’ fer someone with spooky Shadow powers, but this ain’t you, all that intensity. Where’s that light in yer eyes, eh? Those cute feral chirps yeh always make.”

He hated those. But what he hated more was how intensely he listened to what Marshadow was saying, if only so he could find a way to deny it.

But he couldn’t find a way to do it.

“It’s difficult to be lighthearted in the face of oblivion,” Wishkeeper said.

“Heh. Nah. That ain’t it.” Marshadow shook his head. “You were ready ter face ‘oblivion’ a thousand years ago. All this seriousness… is b’cause yer friends’re all on the opposite side, now. Yer mate. Yer kid. An’ all yer mentors.”

“I have Azelf and the others,” Wishkeeper said. “He’s… he’s been wonderful to me ever since I left Mhynt.”

Marshadow tilted his head.

“Lunala.”

“Right, right. So y’two hit it off, eh?”

“Apparently, he’s felt that way for a long time, but wanted to respect Mhynt. And before then, of course, he was duty-bound. Now that he’s rejected Necrozma’s rule… he is not bound the same way you are.”

“Hah!” Marshadow shook a finger at Wishkeeper. “Y’ferget that Star summoned me.”

“…Star. Right. Mew.”

“An’ she’s a real free spirit. She believes in th’world, too, y’know.”

Marshadow made his move. Wishkeeper countered it with a proper capture this time, and Marshadow sighed, as if he’d expected to miss something.

“You know I can’t give up now,” Wishkeeper said. “I need to save this world and… the one person who needs saving the most.”

“The instability,” Marshadow clarified with a nod.

Nothing was said for a full minute as Marshadow stared at the board, making two moves that Wishkeeper responded to within his five-second limit.

“My goal was ter save this world from little gaps that the gods missed,” Marshadow said. “Blind spots. The story was that without a full pantheon, there would be things that the world just… messed up on. That as more gods came about, fewer of those blips would happen. Turns out, that was a mistake, y’know.”

“It was the instability itself you were plugging the holes of,” Wishkeeper stated.

“Yeppers.” Marshadow moved the piece forward again, taking on an aggressive strategy. Wishkeeper parried it with a bishop blocking one pawn’s path, enroute to capture another. “Yer convinced he c’n be helped?”

“Yes. But not with my power. He needs… Necrozma’s power. And Arceus, and Mew. All three of them need to band together and rewrite his reality. It’s the only way.”

“Every reality has a god,” Marshadow said. “A single spirit, many spirits, er maybe even the spirit o’ the world itself an’ its laws an’ rules… But here, it’s the Hands, eh? The thousand Hands used ter make it. That’s this reality’s god.”

“And we need every single one to work towards the goal of saving him,” Wishkeeper said with a nod. “I know for sure that Mew and Arceus, if I asked, would agree, if it meant saving this world.”

“And it’s Necrozma yer convinced is ready ter zap the place an’ call it a day.”

“He’s said as much directly to me… And I know, now, that that’s why he was so persistent in having me ascend. His favored pupil. He wanted me to be happy doing it, so even when the world was gone, I’d go with him. So he let me have a mate, a child, and would have them ascend just like me.” The temperature on the hillside rose. “He dictated every aspect of my life and only let me live because he thought he could have me after. I was just a toy to him. I wonder how many others he’d once had like me, only to discard and absorb their spirits like everything else.” A sick grin that showed his teeth plastered over Wishkeeper’s face. “Quartz is nothing but a nuisance to him. He’d never save it.”

“Then what’re you gonna do?” Marshadow asked, moving his queen out of the back row.

Wishkeeper blinked, not sure what that meant. Quickly, he made another move, hasty, and left a few pieces open for capture, like a strategic buffet for his opponent. He muttered a curse.

Marshadow continued, “Say you climb Destiny Tower, win over the hearts o’ the two gods other’n Necrozma. What’re you gonna do ter get Necrozma on yer side?”

“…If he doesn’t listen… then we will take away his divine power with the help of the other two. Have him scatter his power some other way.”

“Not give it to you?” Marshadow asked, raising a fiery brow curiously.

“I’ve spent all this time saying I don’t want to become a god,” Wishkeeper said. “Why would I decide to become one now?”

“Makin’ decisions for the whole world sounds pretty godly ter me,” Marshadow said.

“This is different.” As Marshadow made his move, Wishkeeper countered instantly. “I’m not deciding for the world. I’m stopping them from deciding against the world’s wishes.”

“Neutralizin’ a decision, then. Contrarian, fer their sake. That it?”

“I guess that’s a way to phrase it.”

“Yer gonna ask Necrozma ter scatter his power. Force it, if you gotta. That’s yer goal?”

“At least then, the world can keep existing.”

“What’ll yeh do with Necrozma after?”

“Well… then he’ll be free to go to whatever other worlds he has. His domain in those realities wouldn’t be affected, right? We’d just take away the power he has in this reality.”

Marshadow shrugged. “Dunno how that works. Maybe.” He made another move.

And Wishkeeper countered again. “Check.”

“Gahh.” Marshadow’s eyes darted about to see the issue. “Well, alright. I guess I get yer perspective.”

“And what will you do?” Wishkeeper asked. “If you win. Die? Let the world end?”

“Gonna appeal ter recreate it. Maybe give this instability a new life. One where he ain’t in pain.”

Wishkeeper snorted. “Any way to ensure that?”

“Nah… Guess not. Just trust.” He made one more move, saving his king. “Guess that’s where we’re different. I don’t blame ya.”

“Right.” Wishkeeper snorted, a few embers escaping his nostrils as he placed his piece down decisively. “Checkmate.”

“Eh?!” Marshadow leaned forward this time, incredulous. He murmured a few curses and then said, “Yeh actually beat me.” And then accented it with another string of defeated mutters.

Wishkeeper started placing the pieces back in a nearby case, figuring their talk was over.

Marshadow helped. “Well, y’know, here’s my proposal. If y’win, I’m gonna be right there with you. Fight Necrozma, I won’t interfere. What happens, happens.”

This… surprised him. Perhaps Mew was even more fast and loose with allegiances than he’d expected, for Marshadow to even be able to utter such things without intense feelings of dread.

“That scatter idea, maybe it’ll be a win fer everyone. Necrozma sure seems ready ter move on, but we ain’t interested, yeah?”

“I guess not,” Wishkeeper said.

“Heh. Then it’s a deal.” He held out a tiny hand. “Good luck, Owen.”

Wishkeeper didn’t want to bother with looking into Marshadow’s past. He was too keen. But his Perceive, of his body, told him everything he figured he’d need to know. Marshadow felt… genuine.

He brought a single claw forward—the most Marshadow could grasp—and returned the shake.

“And good luck to you, too, then. Manny.”

“Heh. So that’s my name.” Marshadow stepped back, case folded and under his arm. “Maybe I’ll get ter use it more someday.”

<><><>​

“Quite a hero of his own story, isn’t he?”

I feel like you aren’t telling me everything, still. That’s all I know about Manny.

“Admittedly, Manny’s status is more… Star’s jurisdiction. Always having someone personally on the ground to carry out little duties.”

Little duties like keeping the world from ripping apart.

“Minor rips, but, I suppose, phrasing it that way…”


“Moving on. Owen… We should talk about your war effort.”

War. It was a war, wasn’t it?

“I suppose, in a way, it was. And you were their tactician, their commander. And every commander… has their generals.”

No, I… that can’t—


“Breathe.”

He couldn’t have been…

<><><>​

Year 1015

“That’s the fifth time you’ve sent Remi back home, you know,” Mesprit said. “She really just wants to be with you…”

“I know, I know.” Wishkeeper sighed, rubbing his forehead. “No matter how much we reinforce the place, she somehow gets through it every time. How does she even manage to do that?!”

“Well, she is your daughter,” Mesprit replied.

Wishkeeper again rubbed his face, then turned to the main conference room. Several Pokémon were shuffling in and out, placing papers on tables for other Pokémon to read over. A few of them gave nervous glances at Wishkeeper, who only nodded formally and respectfully toward them in response.

He had been intense lately. Trying to get others to relax around him was a personal goal of his for morale, though being thirteen feet tall made that difficult.

“Another report from the Gamma Squadron,” hummed an Inteleon, sliding a few papers forward.

“Mm, thank you,” Wishkeeper rumbled, picking it up to read it over. He had to delicately pick it up with two claws, holding it in front of him like a stiff tissue, but he could still read it well enough.

They were glowing reports of incredible forward progress, capturing a few strongholds without much resistance. It seemed like some of the most strategic locations that he’d entrusted Gamma Squadron to handle were all controlled by their army, now. Perfect. He’d surely assign him to another batch, then. A few more of those and they’d be able to storm Destiny Tower directly. Even if Necrozma had gone against his own system to resurrect Marshadow’s old team to combat him, they wouldn’t stand a chance against an entire army trained in the ways Necrozma had taught him.

He also knew that Lunala and Remi would also be leading that charge, and a pang of hesitation washed over him. No. No, he had to. He would push them aside, save the world, and… come what may after, at least he’d accomplished that for their own good.

For everyone’s good.

There he is,” Wishkeeper said with a wide grin.

“Hm?” called the leader of Gamma Squadron—his top general, now, a Hydreigon named Alexander.

“Alexander! This way, right here.” He gestured for him to enter the main conference room. “I just read the report. Another stronghold captured. And they just surrendered?”

“Oh, of course.” Alexander grinned, but it twisted into a smirk. “They knew strength when they saw it. Whatever resistance they attempted was short-lived.”

Wishkeeper nodded, taking a seat for the time being in one of the custom-oversized chairs meant for him. “You’ll need to tell me about it,” he said. “I know some of my strategies are restrictive, so working around some of them…”

“It only takes some creativity,” Alexander replied with an even wider smile, but there was something in the back of Wishkeeper’s mind telling him to keep asking questions.

His instincts were telling him something was wrong.

“How many new forces did we get from this?” Wishkeeper asked, the thought coming to him suddenly. And after he posed the question, he thought back to the reports that came back to him. The captured areas usually had Pokémon that fled, and surprisingly few new recruits. Usually, a campaign to save the world after telling them the truth got at least a few new recruits each time with his methods, but Alexander’s were…

“Not very many,” Alexander replied leisurely, shrugging as his smaller heads frowned. The Hydreigon drifted listlessly toward the far side of the room, where a few ceramic cups with water were, and he took a drink with the left head while speaking. “I suppose I’m just too intimidating. I will work on being more presentable, Commander.”

Wishkeeper glanced at the Inteleon suddenly. The quick gesture made him almost imperceptibly flinch.

Which didn’t make sense. His sudden, feral gesture would have gotten an odd look, but the Inteleon was unmoved. He was hiding something.

“What do you usually witness, Inteleon?” Wishkeeper asked.

“What’s this questioning about?” Alexander asked, frowning as he went for another cup. “You send me to the most difficult strongholds of Necrozma’s forces. Of course they’ll be the least likely to turn. What of it?”

It was logical but his instincts were screaming that he was lying. Was he getting paranoid? Did he ever send Mesprit, Azelf, or Uxie with Alexander to do these kinds of checks? No. He’d always been the special forces; the Legends couldn’t bear to face the leads of the divine army directly. They would be weak to Arceus’ influence in particular if they got too close. They were under his domain, after all.

Wishkeeper didn’t want to ask the question. But he had to. “Alexander,” he said, “how have you been capturing strongholds?”

“I follow your procedures exactly,” Alexander said. “I’m—”

“Recite them.”

He stopped drinking. “What?”

“Recite your procedure. You’ve done them a few times, haven’t you?”

Wishkeeper took slow, deliberate steps toward the unmoving Hydreigon. Pride was in his eyes, refusing to back away even as the gap between them closed.

Then, he flashed his eyes. Alexander resisted; he couldn’t read into what Alexander had done. He was aware of it, and he resisted?

“Excuse me, Commander,” Alexander snarled, “but my mind is private, and I’d appreciate not violating that.”

“Your past is written to the world,” Wishkeeper said lowly. “I don’t read minds. I read your past.”

“My past is for the eyes that saw it, not yours.”

“How many of them did you kill?”

“None. That is against your policy.”

“Are you lying to me, Hydreigon?”

“I can’t lie to you.”

“You’re right. You can’t.”

Because he could see the tense body structure on his person. He was lying. Hiding something.

Wishkeeper turned his eyes to Inteleon, who had been slipping out of the room. Unaware. Wishkeeper’s eyes flashed—

Blue fire knocked his head an inch to the right. Alexander glared at him, “What are you doing?”

But Wishkeeper had seen a flash from that Inteleon’s past. A single image from only a day ago. It was an intense feeling of admiration as Alexander pressed two Divine soldiers—one a Staraptor, another a Tauros—into the ground. There was blood in Alexander’s mouth, and it wasn’t his, the way he had a manic grin on all three of his mouths.

Everything had gone still. That was his top general. The one he’d sent on the most important missions to capture strategic areas. To ensure their forces would not run out of supplies, and the Divine army wouldn’t completely overtake their disadvantaged position. He was winning because of Alexander.

“…Your tactics are soft, Commander,” Alexander said slowly.

Everyone else in the room, by now, knew something was wrong. Tens of eyes were watching this exchange, and several tens more listening outside. It was like the whole encampment had gone deadly silent, and Alexander was projecting his voice to be heard.

“Had it not been for my maneuvers, this entire movement would have been lost from the outset. I only did it as a last resort. To secure the victory when peace and diplomacy failed us. Your priorities—”

“Then why were you smiling?” Wishkeeper asked, an ancient, feral growl accenting every single syllable.

Alexander hesitated, and in those eyes Wishkeeper saw someone calculating the perfect response. That mask of composure had slipped, and Wishkeeper saw Alexander for what he’d become on the battlefield.

He saw red. The next thing Wishkeeper knew, white, radiant light and black, cold shadows curled around his arm and coalesced into a black-white spear. Alexander’s eyes widened with panic, but that was all he could do before the spear pierced his chest, pinning him to the wall. Blood sizzled against the spear and dripped from his mouth.

The spear went deeper and Alexander let out a gurgling wail. The spear twisted and the wail became a bloody yowl.

He held it there, listening to the sound of his blood cooking against the spear. A horrible, sick satisfaction at the gesture coursed through Wishkeeper, and that made him dispel it. He couldn’t let that overtake him.

“We are here to save the world,” Wishkeeper said, “not pillage it. We are saviors, not conquerors. If you are going to go against that vision, as my subordinate… and then try to hide it from me… I will purge you from this world myself, so that even Necrozma won’t find your spirit.”

Snapping his claws, three spears of shadow and light appeared above Alexander. Two of them pierced the smaller heads straight through; the third grazed his snout and pierced the ground in front of him. He could only wordlessly stare, unable to breathe.

“Never show your face here again,” Wishkeeper snarled. He then looked at all of the others, including the Inteleon, frozen with a mixture of fear and silent understanding.

Nearby, there was an Audino trying not to be seen. When Wishkeeper met her eyes, she yipped and looked down.

He softened his gaze. “Heal him, please.”

Without another word, Wishkeeper dispelled the spears and returned to his papers.

<><><>

Alexander… was my general. And after that promise I made to Marshadow, I let him command an army to…

“He was very effective, you know. Your idyllic approach to war… Do you think you would have won?”

But that wasn’t the point! If we won that way, what would be left of… What would that mean for what we saved? If we can even call it saving anymore…

“Hmph. Despite all your years, you do not know what war truly means.”

“Mm. Well, in any case, Owen… I understand this all must be very hard for you. But, these next memories… may be difficult for you as well. Perhaps the most difficult. How your part in the war… ended.”

Why are you saying that now?

“Just remember how things are now. Things are different.”

That’s not foreboding at all.

“Can you promise me this, Owen? Something that happened after you fully defected and left Mhynt behind. After Alexander’s exile. After the word of what he had done, under your orders but without your knowledge, spread to us. After the meeting, and the promise that if you won, perhaps a compromise would be made. After all of that, the final thing I did?”


“…Speak carefully, Necrozma. I’m suddenly getting a lot of stress from Owen.”

Just talk.

“I… reached out to your allies who I sensed disagreed with what happened. That things were not going in the trajectory they wished, with word of what happened with Alexander—and others in your army, they thought—and what they did on the field. I gave them… a solution, and a compromise.”


<><><>​

Year 1019

Wishkeeper did not need much to rally an entire, loosely associated army to save the world. By now, the youngest Pokémon in the world were fifteen years old. Wishkeeper himself was in his sixtieth year in his current reincarnation cycle, and his flame was stable but waning. He was far past his prime. But through divine and dark power, he was far stronger than any other mortal, and with little effort behind it.

He wasn’t alone. A few friends were with him during those dark years. Azelf, Mesprit, and Uxie were all with him, and Azelf most of all, by his side when Mhynt no longer was.

“That should be everything,” Wishkeeper said with a sigh, beating his wings. “Azelf?”

“Yeh.” It was a short reply and not as enthusiastic. Odd, coming from him.

“Everything alright?”

“Yeh, jus’ a little nervous.” The larger sprite glanced away, still not making eye contact with Wishkeeper. Was he having second thoughts?

“If you don’t want to do this, I’d… understand. I have to. But you don’t.”

“Y’ain’t usin’ that mind reading thing, are yeh?”

Wishkeeper smiled sadly, but it did hurt. “No,” he said. “I can’t ‘mind read’ for Legends. But I wouldn’t want to anyway. Please, tell me what’s wrong.”

Azelf’s eyes trailed all around him. The war room. All that planning, battle maps depicting Destiny Tower’s surroundings, the way to ascend the floors when the gods truly didn’t want them to rise, where Necrozma would be, where perhaps even Star and Arceus would be able to help. Every possible plan, and all hidden from Necrozma thanks to the instability’s dark power.

They weren’t going to kill them. They were only going to prove their worth. The right for the world to continue.

“Y’ain’t gonna be mad if I…”

“Azelf…” Wishkeeper reached out and held the back of the small sprite’s head. Even with the increased size that came from working so directly with Necrozma, Azelf was simply so much smaller than him. He pulled him close until he pressed into his chest. Azelf closed his eyes, and so did Wishkeeper.

“We won’t kill anyone. That isn’t the goal. We only want to save the one person who truly needs saving. Okay?”

“It ain’t gonna work, though,” Azelf said. “This… the instability. It’s jus’ evil. Ain’t it?”

“It doesn’t have to be that way. We just need to change things.”

“…Just call it off,” Azelf said. “They’ll listen. Jus’… call it off, and maybe we c’n talk things through instead.”

“Azelf?”

“Call it off. Ferget the fight. This… ain’t right. World’s already two decades inter th’ end. It’s goin’ just as we wanted, and… it’s all a huge risk. I don’t wanna send folks ter some bad place when its time is up ter begin with. None o’ this is natural, an’…”

“Who put you up to this?” Wishkeeper asked, a little more seriously this time.

Azelf clammed up. There was fear in his eyes that Wishkeeper hadn’t seen before. Azelf was never like this. Did Necrozma put him up to this? Was Azelf being threatened? Wishkeeper’s gaze hardened even more, and he was about to speak—harshly, this time, to snap Azelf out of it—when the blue sprite spoke first.

“You changed, Owen.”

He blinked. “I… I what?”

“This ain’t you.”

More stunned silence, a cold feeling running down his spine and through his forehead. Azelf was still not looking at him. And then, suddenly, his flame dimmed to half its size and he staggered back.

“A-Azelf, what just…”

Azelf was holding something in his hands. It looked like a little blue light. It had a small string tied to Wishkeeper’s chest.

“I ain’t gonna… let this happen. Yer sidin’ with evil, and I just wanna save you. So… I’m gonna take this fer a little while. I’m takin’ away yer will ter fight.”

“My… will.” Wishkeeper felt like he should have been mad. Furious. He was being betrayed, and Azelf was misguided about it. He wanted to fight to get it back. But any time he tried, the thought floated away from him and slipped through his weakly grasping fingers. Azelf, the being of willpower, the ultimate rallying force… took his will away. His resolve. He couldn’t find the energy.

“Good job, Azelf.”

A cold voice sounded in Wishkeeper’s mind. From the entrance to the war room was another sprite, this one with a yellow head and closed eyes, Uxie. She was half Azelf’s size. Another one was just behind her, completing the set, Mesprit, the same size.

“Owen, we’ve weighed all of our options. I thought about this a lot. And the more we look into what this instability is, the clearer that it is an inherent blight to the world, down to its core. To defeat it, the world itself has to be destroyed. What happens after is up to Necrozma and the other upper gods. Mew and Arceus both want us to persist. If we surrender and the world is destroyed, there is nothing stopping them from recreating the world properly, without the instability.”

“But I want to save him,” Wishkeeper said, barely a murmur as he leaned against the wall, staring at that blue sphere in Azelf’s hands. “Please, give it back. I need to do this…” His words felt empty. It terrified him. And he still couldn’t find that fire to battle.

“Mesprit, it’s your turn now,” Uxie said.

“Owen, I’m… I’m really sorry. Don’t be afraid, okay? When it’s all over, you’ll wake up like nothing happened. The world will be restored, the instability will be gone, and… that’ll be the end of it. I know it’s not fair, but… we have to save everyone, Owen! It’s our duty! You may not be bound in the same way, but we need to. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

“You’re just being controlled,” Wishkeeper whispered.

“Are you really going to try to save one person by risking the entire world?” Uxie’s frown was thin but present. “Your compassion is blinding you. This creature, this thing in the world’s very fabric, is only made of malice and evil, and must be removed. It is a disease that cannot be cured. The best thing to do is stop everything now, and try again without it. That is the compromise Necrozma proposed to us.”

“He never even had a chance,” Wishkeeper said. “That’s not fair to him.”

“I do not think we are in a position to do what is fair anymore, Owen. Mesprit, do it.” Her brow furrowed, and Wishkeeper sensed a hint of reluctance. But not enough to rescind the command.

Another cold feeling washed over Wishkeeper, but this time he felt… fine. That terror was gone, along with the despair and foreboding. There was a warm, red sphere in Mesprit’s hands. Another part of Wishkeeper’s spirit? He didn’t know what was taken away, but he didn’t feel scared about it. Did that mean it was okay?

“Owen, you have spent a thousand years training and learning how to fight and defend and save others. While the gods had other duties to perform, your duty was general protection itself. You are the instability’s greatest tactician. And with the instability fighting without you, we will surely win.”

There was a long pause as Azelf and Mesprit stared at Uxie. Her hands tightened. She had to take something away next, didn’t she?

Images flashed in Wishkeeper’s mind as a cold feeling ran through his head again. He saw a Mew, smiling and doing flips in the air—and then it was gone, and he didn’t remember it anymore. He saw a Trapinch, a Bayleef, and an Axew, and then it was gone. He saw so many other Legends, but those faded next. A rapid and blurry reel of memories evaporated in front of him, and he didn’t feel a thing. And then, he saw a Sceptile, and that turned into a Lunala, and that was gone, too.

He saw another, younger Sceptile, smiling. Bruised and burned, but smiling after a great time training.

Uxie looked strained, trying to pull.

Wishkeeper saw a Grovyle, crying in her room because of the news she’d been told. He patted her on the back, and he felt a foreign sensation that made his chest tight and his flame swell. He didn’t remember what that was. Mesprit had that in his hands, after all.

Uxie furrowed her brows, pulling harder, but Wishkeeper didn’t let go, even as Azelf held that blue ember in his hands.

Then there was a tiny Treecko looking up at him with wide, curious eyes. So small that her whole hand couldn’t fully grasp his claw.

“I’m…” Uxie spoke without her mind this time. Her voice was soft and stumbling. She always needed telepathy to speak. But perhaps she was entirely focused on her task that she couldn’t. “I’m s… s… sorry.”

There was a yellow sphere in Uxie’s hands.

All of the memories went away.

<><><>​

“That’s what happened. Afterward, you were—”

Get out.

“Owen?”

Get… get out. I need…


“He needs time, Necrozma. We’ve said enough for now, and you’re fading anyway.”

“But there’s a lot more that I need to—”

To justify? For having them rewrite everything about me? After the promise Manny made… Were you the one who sent them? Coerced them?

“Owen, it’s as Mispy said. I had a whole world’s souls to consider, versus just one… mistake. And—”

I don’t want to hear another word from you. Leave.

“You wanted all of your memories, didn’t you? I—”

Then maybe I’ll get them back myself!

“Then at least allow me to unseal the rest so—”

I SAID GO!

“…Very well. I do not blame you. I should have expected this. I will return later, if you allow it. Goodbye.”



“…Does that extend to me as well?”

I’m tired, Diyem. But… no. You can stay.

“Mm.”



“It’s… good to have you back, Owen.”

I remember… one last thing.

“You do?”

Yeah. Can I talk about it?

“Go ahead.”

<><><>​

Everything had become a blur. Hazy memories of wandering around, being guided somewhere. He followed, passive. He occasionally said something, and they replied, and then there was a great darkness. He wasn’t able to see. Then a sharp feeling in his chest, and then… nothing.

“H-hello? Hello? Owen?”

Whose voice was that? It seemed familiar, somehow. Or maybe it was just the tone they gave off.

He wasn’t sure how he wound up there, but he was standing inside of a strange, glass tube, feeling heavy and wet. A green fluid was at his feet, draining into the sides of the glass chamber. Struggling to climb into the chamber from the ground was another Charmander whose body seemed to ripple beneath the surface, as if it could barely hold its form.

“Owen?” the Charmander said again.

Who was he talking to?

The Charmander grabbed him by the arm. That startled him and he tugged away, blinking.

“Do you remember me? It’s… it’s me,” he said. “It’s…” He looked like he was having trouble recalling his own name.

Behind the Charmander was an Alakazam writing down something in a notepad. “I’m not seeing a reaction at all, but it is certainly his spirit, Ditto,” he said, humming. “Can you speak?”

Eye contact. He understood that. The strange blob was talking to him. “Me?”

“Yes, you. Do you remember your name?”

The nameless Charmander frowned, pensive. He shook his head, not particularly alarmed by this. He simply didn’t know his name. Was that bad?

“Your name is Owen,” Alakazam said. “I’m afraid we both do not know our names, either. I’m sure with enough research we will rediscover them. Do you have any recollection of your efforts in a recent war?”

Owen stared blankly at Alakazam.

“Unfortunate. We were hoping for answers.” He sighed. “Never fear. Ditto?”

“Owen, do you remember me, at least? I… I know. If I go to my true form, you’ll recognize me! H-ha… One second.” Charmander focused, relaxed, and… melted.

That startled Owen enough that he took a step back.

“Ah, ah. It’s quite alright,” Alakazam said, raising a finger.

A pink blob… thing was staring back at him, now. Dots for eyes and a thin, hopeful smile. “Well? Owen?”

“How do you remember my name?” Owen asked.

“Well, that’s what this sign says.” He pointed at a label next to his tank. “I feel like that must be right. And Rhys, he had a journal. So that must be his name. It seemed right to him, too.”

“You know, I could always make a permutation of all possible letter combinations,” Alakazam suggested. “Eventually we will find a match.”

Ditto didn’t seem to be listening. “Does Owen sound like the right name? I know it is. It must.”

“I think so.” Owen nodded. Yes, Owen. He answered to ‘Owen’ a lot.

“Something terrible happened recently,” Alakazam said. “I’m afraid we don’t know the answers. But with some research and this lab, once I rediscover its capabilities, perhaps we will be able to rebuild. It isn’t a very pretty world on the surface, however. Perhaps we should take some time to recover.”

Ditto nodded, but then turned his head to other chambers. Owen followed his gaze and saw other Pokémon floating in chambers just like his. Eyes widening, he clumsily stepped closer, squinting for a better look. The bodies seemed to still be developing. He could see their transparent skin and internals. It was fascinating. He tilted his head, curious, wondering who they were. Who they would become. There were golden spheres above each one, draining into the forming bodies, and when Owen looked up at his own, he noticed that it was an empty sphere instead.

“Well! Let’s go, Owen. We won’t remember anything just standing around!” Alakazam clapped. “My first goal will be to find out why all of my research has been erased…”

As he talked to himself, he walked down the hall, the rest of his mumbling impossible to make out.

Ditto sighed, looking at Owen again. He tried to smile. His body twisted again, becoming a Charmander, feebly. That was still a little unnerving. But… it was nice, in a way.

“You may not remember anything, but… A-and I’m not really sure why I’m saying this, but…”

He smiled, partly desperate, partly relieved.

“It’s… good to have you back, Owen.”

End of Act III
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Whelp, dunno how wise it is of me to be posting one of these at this hour. But eh, it's better to square away commitments sooner rather than putting them off, and I’ve got a review event to make good on, so let's get straight into making the Great Mistake.

ACT I

Poison-tipped fangs plunged into Owen’s chest. The Charmander cried out, struggling through his pierced lungs, and pushed against the stone serpent wrapped around him. He didn’t know what it was. It had the face and colors of a Tyranitar, with its rocky edges and black gaps in its armor. Yet it had the winding, coiling body of a Seviper, a poisoned blade at the end of its tail, and long, sharp fangs stuck deep within him. He tasted blood; he couldn’t breathe. His lungs were full.

Oh, so there's fusions in this story, huh? Definitely quite an introductory paragraph there, since you don't see too many start out with that much of a bang.

“OWEN!” cried a Gardevoir.

“M-Mom!” Owen mouthed.

Behind the Gardevoir was a Magmortar. With fire in his eyes, he launched a volley from his cannons that exploded right next to the amalgamation. It hissed in pain; the Flame Burst sent him flying, along with Owen. The bursts lit up the surrounding field of lush grass, cutting through the evening twilight’s darkness. Only the fading fire of Owen’s tail and the Magmortar’s shoulders lit the area—making them easy targets.

Yes, that... would be an unfortunate side effect of fighting in the dark as Fire-types. Honestly a neat consideration there that somehow doesn't feel like it comes up as often as it should in Pokémon stories.

The impact on the ground gave Owen just enough time to escape, wriggling out of its rocky hold. He felt free for only half a second. Owen turned his head and saw the thing launch a succession of large rocks toward his father, the Magmortar. Three hits. They went straight through him. Blue fire erupted from the resulting holes. And then, his father exploded in a flurry of embers.

D-dad? Owen stared with wide eyes, distracted.

Owen: "I-I'm pretty sure that Rock Slide or whatever the hell that was isn't supposed to do that!" O.O

The serpent hissed and swung its tail forward—a sharp pain surged through Owen’s back. A jerking motion forced Owen’s head down. He saw the blade coming out from his chest. He had no way to scream.


... Not sure if I follow here, since aren't his vocal chords perfectly functional right now? Like if he could still croak out noises with filled lungs just a few paragraphs earlier, what exactly changed? ^^;

“Get AWAY!” the Gardevoir, his mother, screamed for him. An incredible heat washed over Owen’s back, and then a horrible, shrieking wail filled his ears. He fell; the tail slipped out from behind. Blood gushed on the dirt beneath him.


Whelp, so much for mom's life expectancy doing well right about now.

Owen fell face-first into the dirt, but despite this, it felt like the coziest pillow in the world. Everything felt cold, and then warm.

“Owen! Owen!” She rushed toward him, paying no mind to the fire on the ground. It didn’t look like the flames affected her body at all. “Owen, it’s going to be okay!” She held his back, pushing wave after wave of healing energy through his body. His breath returned to him; he coughed the remaining blood out.


Owen: "H-How... are you still alive? H-How am I still alive?" @.@

What happened to his Dad? Owen’s eyes darted in all directions, his expression asking what his mouth couldn’t.

“Shh, it’s okay,” she said, placing her hand firmly on his back. The pain was unbearable. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Calm down. Sleep…”

The world curled itself up in a tiny circle in front of Owen, darkening into a distant tunnel. But then, the world uncoiled, much to Owen’s displeasure. He just wanted to sleep.


Pretty sure that that's how you die in these situations, but there wouldn't be any need for about 900k+ words after this if Owen just died here with no way of coming back, so let's see where things go.

The Heal Pulse intensified, the warmth almost too hot even for his Fiery body. He gasped his first breath, life—and pain—returning to him in full.

But then he felt a different energy course through him. It wasn’t healing him. “Shh,” Amia said softly. “Just sleep. Just sleep…”

It felt awful. Energy drained from his core. His vision faded. And then, darkness.

Owen: "And thus, the story of my life ended-"
- Checks chapter -
Owen: "Wait, what? There's another scene to this thing? But how in the-?"
:riOMEGAlu:


The dim glow of nighttime mushrooms colored the rocky walls of the cave. Mixing with this light were flickering embers of orange and yellow. Owen was lying in the middle of these flames, enjoying the warmth; they licked at his scales and washed over his back. The flame at the end of his tail got hotter, brimming with energy. He rolled over to sear his belly next.

Wait. What happened? Wasn’t he—

“No resting on the fire, Owen.”

Owen: "... Yeesh, talk about your vivid dreams there." @.@
- Beat moment -
Owen: "Except since when did you feel pain in a dream? This isn't some sort of Madoka thing where I was remembering an alternate timeline or something like that, right?" ._.;

“Wh—huh? I wasn’t!” He rolled away and quickly hid beneath his bed of leaves. Some of them turned black from the fire, but they didn’t burn. “Ngh,” He held his chest. It felt horribly bruised. And his back was killing him. No wonder he was sleeping on the fire! But why did he feel that way? He remembered a fight. A fight that he’d lost. Badly. But was that just a dream? He remembered a rocky serpent. And fire, and explosions. It was all so garbled—he wasn’t sure what was real.


... Yeah, that happened somehow. I don't know how Owen either survived that or rezzed afterwards, but even without the story summary in mind, I don't believe for a second that that was really just a dream.

The Gardevoir peeked into the room, her white dress aglow from the mushrooms and the fire. She sighed, smiling. “You’re lucky we got you that special Rawst Leaf bed, or we’d need to replace it every night!” She laughed, but then walked over, patting him on the head. “Go to sleep, dear. Tomorrow’s a big day for you, isn’t it? Another expedition as a trainee. You don’t want to do that while sleep-deprived, do you? When you get up, Alex and I will get you a good meal ready.”


Oh, so Rawst leaves are fire-retardant in this setting. I mean, I guess the logic would track there, though it makes me wonder what other properties other parts of berry plants have in this setting.

Also, yes you can go on an expedition sleep-deprived. Psychic Sheep taught me that all you need is to inhale unhealthy quantities of Chesto Berries beforehand. Is it wise? Probably not, but hey, it's doable.
:loltias:


“Yeah…”

Another voice whispered quietly from the other room. “Amia, is he okay?”

Owen saw the burning shoulders of his Magmortar father. A vague image flashed in front of his mind of that very same Magmortar bursting into an explosion of blue embers. Bluer than his mother’s hair. That must have been a dream.

:sceptical~1:


If it really was a dream, why are you trying so hard to convince yourself of that? Even if I have no clue what on earth that blue fire was supposed to be or else how Alex magically got better from that.

“It’s very late, Owen. Get some rest.” The blue Gardevoir gently pressed her hand against his back, making him reflexively tense. She frowned at this, biting her lower lip with concern. “Owen, did you have a nightmare?”

“I think so…”

Well, it’s gone, now,” Amia said. She looked back to Alex, who shuffled to the other room. “Get some sleep. It’s still late at night.”

Image


From everything that I've heard of HoC secondhand, I don't believe that for a minute.

Owen eased himself onto his bed of leaves again, giving a defeated nod. “Okay, Mom.”

Right before going to bed, his mind felt muddled again. In the corner of his eye, he saw an eerie glow. His consciousness abruptly cut out.

Well that's not ominous at all.

Breakfast was a hearty stew. The table had three seats. Two were sized for the smaller frames of the mother and son. Both were approximately the same width, albeit oversized for Owen. The third seat was much larger than the rest—in order to accommodate for its usual occupant. Alex, bumping his cannon-arms nervously, looked down at his food without a hint of an appetite.


Wait, so is that a low table, or is Owen in a booster seat right now? Since you'd think that if Owen's sitting on a table sized for Amia to sit comfortably on it, that he'd still have trouble seeing over the top of the table. :V

“What’s wrong?” Owen asked.

“N-nothing,” Alex said. He refused to make eye contact.

Owen: "Really? Nothing that might've had something to do with you blowing up into blue fire?"
:what:

Alex: "Owen, I said nothing was wrong!" >.<

Owen squinted suspiciously. He glanced at Amia, who giggled nervously and looked at her half-eaten bowl.


Owen: "... Mom, was I stabbed at all recently?"
Amia: "Stabbed? Owen, do you see a stab wound on your body right now? What on earth would make you think something crazy like that?" O_ó;
Owen: "... (Okay, mom and dad have to be hiding something from me, but why?)" .-.

“Mmm. How are you feeling, Owen?” she asked.

“Perfect! But, uh, I don’t know. Did you ever have that feeling where you had a really good dream, but then you can’t… remember it?”

Owen noticed the subtle, shocked expressions in his parents’ eyes, but he didn’t acknowledge it.

Owen: "You know, you two could at least try to make it less obvious that you're trying to hide something from me right now."
:absus:

Alex: "... Owen, as your father, you should probably stop thinking so hard about dreams. Just enjoy your breakfast." ^^;

“I had one of those. But I can’t remember any of it. I think I was having a really big fight. I remember my heart racing!” Owen played with a lump of a potato in the stew. His parents always got uncomfortable when he talked about his dreams, and he never knew why. He did admit that they felt too real to be dreams, but what else could they be? He had decided long ago not to press the issue. He grabbed his bowl and downed half of his breakfast. His parents’ expressions were grave, but they feigned a smile when he looked at them again. “Weird, huh? Dreams are funny.”


I kinda wonder whether it'd have made sense to have depicted Owen trying to remember specifics of that """dream""" and illustrating what details he comes up blank on. To better illustrate roughly where Owen's level of detail for things he does remember is.

“Oh, Owen, m-maybe you’re just nervous about all this,” his mother said. “Becoming stronger, more responsibilities. Being part of the Thousand Hearts is a big deal, after all! …If you get in. Remember, there’s no shame in failing the exams.”


- Beat moment -
Owen: "... (Why am I getting the feeling that my 'dream' there was me failing one of said exams or something like that?)" >_>;

She was trying to help him feel better, but that didn’t help the knot of inferiority tightening in his gut. How many times had he tried and failed to get in? No, this would be different. That was the whole reason he was going out on a practice exploration in the first place.

“Y-yes, exactly,” Alex said. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not too late to… live quietly? Perhaps take on a farming job.”


Alex: "Since, you know. We would really, really like it if you took on a quiet life."
:fearfullaugh~1:


“No way!” Owen said, beaming. “Fighting is the way to go. I can’t live without a good fight. And what better way to fight than to, uh, y’know, fight bad guys?”


Yes, because you did such a fantastic job of that in the first scene there. >:V

“Of… of course.” At this point, his father’s flaming shoulders were mere cinders. Owen’s mother put her hand on Alex’s back, shaking her head.

Owen returned to his meal. [ ]

. “So… today’s the day, right?” Alex asked, breaking the tense silence.


... Was there supposed to be something after "Owen returned to his meal"? Since you have a dangling period there and that feels really brief as a paragraph. To the point where it feels like there ought to be like at least 2-3 sentences just showing proverbial time flowing and Alex and Amia glancing at each other uncomfortably or something.

“Oh, Alex, you weren’t up all night, were you?” Amia asked.

Owen wouldn’t doubt if Alex spent all night fretting over his planned excursion. [ ]

“No! I shut my eyes,” he said. “…Owen, are you sure about this?”

“Super totally!” Owen said, tipping his bowl of stew directly into his mouth.

Alex gulped. “Amia, don’t you think it’s a little early?”

On the one hand, I get that HoC is a story that heavily relies on a sense of mystery and gradually revealing answers, but I kinda wonder if some indication or hint of what that excursion would entail and why Alex might worry about it would be called for. Since this is your opener where you're establishing your characters and their circumstances to the reader for the first time.

“Oh, Alex, we can’t baby him forever. He’s an adult!” she said. “It’s just one exploration. Into a known area. In a Dungeon, sure, but nothing he can’t handle! He’ll be just fine.” She fidgeted with her hands. It was a telltale sign she was trying to convince herself it would be okay. Owen chose not to acknowledge this, either.


Oh, speak of the devil... never mind then, I suppose. Still think it would've been fun to see how Owen parsed that upcoming expedition, though.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “And if I get horribly maimed, I’ll just warp back to the entrance! It’ll be fine!” He grinned, but he wondered if his word choice could have been better. He was trying to be funny, but he practically heard his father’s heart explode through his giant torso.


Well that's one way to imply in passing that you have a high healing factor in this setting, since I can't think of many without them where cracking a joke about "don't worry about me picking up horrible injuries, I'll just [X]" would be something that would logically occur to someone as a reassuring joke.

“B-but it will still be dangerous! You’ll be badly hurt, Owen! There are stories of bandits and outlaws and even ferals waiting for defeated Pokémon to return to the entrance. You’ll be too weak to fight back, and then—and then—” Alex’s shoulder fire nearly touched the ceiling of the cavern. “And what if you bring something important with you? If you get kicked out of a Dungeon in that way, you’ll—lose it! You’ll lose almost everything on you! Perhaps even your—your life!”


That... is actually a pretty clever strategy for the likes of an Outlaw if there's a predictable pattern for unplanned exits from MDs in a setting. Might have to file that one away for some future writing.

“Well, if wild Pokémon think it’s safe,” Owen said, “then it must be really nice, y’know?”

Image


“B-but…! That’s…!” Alex’s arms heated up. He looked like he was going to collapse into himself with worry. “Wh-which Dungeon is it again?”

“It’s only the Wooden Wilds, dear,” Amia said. “It isn’t even very far. And it’s mostly just Bug and Grass Pokémon—you have nothing to worry about! He won’t strain himself.” She nodded at both of them.

Owen: "Oh thank goodness, mom coming in with the save there. At the rate I was going, I was starting to get worried that dad would lock me in my bedroom for the rest of my life."
:sweats:


Alex hummed against his lips, expression twisted with an endless pit of worry. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. Then… then, you can go, Owen. But—be careful! Very, very careful. And if you ever run into trouble, we’ll tell the Hearts about it right away.”

“I’ll be fine, Dad,” Owen said. How humiliating would it be for his parents to ask the Hearts to rescue him? He was supposed to be part of them, not one of their clients! He hopped out of his seat. “Okay! I’m gonna go now, alright? See you!”


I mean, I'm pretty sure that's not that rare of an occurrence for amateur MD explorers/delvers/what have you, so might not wanna tempt fate so hard, Owen.

“W-wait!” Alex said. “Did you meditate?!”

“Did this morning!” Surprisingly, this was the truth.

Meditation, huh? Wouldn't have pegged that as being a thing for a Charmander, but filing that one away for the future and keeping an eye out for why it might be important.

Owen hopped out of his seat. He grabbed a small, lightweight, golden Badge with a heart-shaped insignia from a nearby rock, and then grabbed his little exploration pouch from the front, wrapping it around his back. “See you!” He glanced at the Provisionary Heart Badge within his claws, nodding to himself.


>Provisionary Badge

You sure you're not gonna need a rescue in like a chapter, Owen?
:loltias:


They watched Owen leave. Amia leaned into Alex’s chest, sighing.

Alex’s fire finally returned to something normal in size. “I hope he isn’t self-conscious of his size. It might affect how strong he is, even if he’s stronger than the average Charmander, you know, given the…”

... Somehow it never occurred to me that Magmortar has honest-to-goodness open flames on its body. I blame the Gen 4 sprites.

Amia giggled, patting Alex on the shoulders, completely unaffected by the flames. “He’s got a strong will, though, and he’s resourceful, too. He’ll make up for it. And who knows? Maybe this adventure is what he needs to control that spirit of his.” She sighed, staring at the empty bowl Owen left behind. “I wish Rhys was still here. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to…”


After reading GL and seeing that trippy opener, somehow I doubt that Amia meant that in just a figurative sense.

Alex hummed worriedly. “That was a close call, yesterday,” he said. “I’ve never seen one of those mutants so powerful before. What if he runs into another of those—those things in the Dungeon?”


Aha, and there's our confirmation that that dream wasn't really a dream. Even if I have no clue how on earth Alex came back from that.

Amia bit her lip. “I know, dear. But that Dungeon is safer than most. If he runs into any trouble, well, it’ll be better there than anywhere else. You know it’s me they’re after, not him.”


Amia, you do realize that if those mutants are more than mindless monsters, they can literally just target Owen and use him as a hostage to force compliance, right? Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to let Owen go in light of that.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.” Alex rubbed his cannons together. “If I was just a little stronger, I could have defended us both. But I just… evaporated after the first strike. Curse this body. It’s so foreign, even now. Sometimes I wish I…”


... Oh, so Alex's original / proper body isn't a Magmortar's huh? I have no clue what on earth his OG/proper one would be in that case, though filing that one away for the future.

“It’s not your fault, dear,” Amia said soothingly, holding his shoulder a bit tighter. “It’s my fault, too. I should have been more careful when leaving the caves. If we just stayed put, we wouldn’t have had to put Owen through all that again.”

Alex frowned, but then the Magmortar forced a smile to the Gardevoir. “Let’s clean up the table,” he said. “And—and if he isn’t back by the evening… N-no, late-afternoon…!”

“We’ll call the Hearts. I promise.”

Boy it sure is a good thing you're not insisting Owen go under the wing of some sort of trusted type that can apprentice him in the Thousand Hearts or something like that, since this just screams "won't end well" right now.

... And since Serebii's character limit is a thing, let's just chuck that Chapter 1 review into its own post, huh?
 
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