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Dragon Enthusiast
Thanks for the reviews, Fobbie! I got to you elsewhere, but I appreciate the reviews as always and am glad this first arc has been shaping up so well!

Next up ,chapter 152... the first chapter in a while to not feature any scene breaks.


Chapter 152 – Battle of the Abyssal Sea

Alexander blasted through the ship’s mast. They hadn’t seen it coming and had no time to maneuver it, but Dhelmise was already shouting at the skeleton crew to get to work pulling the ship away from the next incoming blast.

“Why?! Why is he following us now?! I thought the clash at South Null put him out of commission!” Owen frantically searched for something he could do, but at such an incredible distance, he had no idea. He didn’t have the power to properly deflect those attacks… did he?

No. No, he did! He’d done it before, and that was up close! Maybe…

Another blast soared through the skies. At its trajectory, Owen was sure it would be hitting the mast again, and without that, their remaining travel time was going to double or worse.

He spread his wings and leaped in the way, crossing his arms to form a Protect shield. The golden light shifted and hardened, lined with tinges of dark tendrils. Owen gasped softly but decided to worry about that later as the blast approached.

With the Protect still up, Owen breathed and focused on that energy. Once it struck—much weaker from such a great distance—he squeezed his claws and twisted it around. He felt it, that horrible energy. He could control it. It was so familiar.

The dark tendrils of his Protect surged with power and helped him grasp it completely, and then reflect it all at Alexander.

He easily weaved out of the way. It would be several seconds before it would even get to where it could have hit Alexander. Parrying them to hurt Alexander would be pointless at this distance.

But he could still deflect it.

“Good job!” Demitri cried. “Are you hurt?!”

“No! Just fine,” Owen said. “But it’ll get harder the closer he gets…”

Was there a way he could try to weaken Alexander?

“How far is he?!” Owen called.

“Better question, how soon ‘til he gets here?” Gahi added, flying up. “Ehhh…”

Owen couldn’t rely on Gahi to give a good estimate, but he had a feeling they only had a few minutes before Alexander would start doing melee combat, and at that point, it would be far too dangerous. They had to drive him away before that.

At this point, the crew had rushed out of the deck, about ten strong along with Team Alloy. But really, Owen didn’t think these ten would be able to do much against Alexander himself. Was there any point in them even being out here?

The next blast was incoming, and five of those Pokémon rushed forward. All of them could fly or levitate.

“No!” Owen cried. “Don’t—”

The blast struck something with a horrid, ethereal ringing that deafened Owen. Something splashed, and Owen could only imagine, just outside of his Perceive’s range, a Pokémon being pulled underneath those black depths forever. But when he counted the heads, all five were still there, surrounded by golden spheres in a hexagonal pattern.

“What?” Owen whispered. “They all have Necrozma’s blessing…”

“We brought specialists for just this problem,” explained Dhelmise in another of his ominous whispers. “According to our findings, we are quite resistant to the dark. It seems to be… hereditary.”


Owen gulped hard. These… were his children. His descendants. Did any other person blessed with Necrozma have children? Were all of them descendants of Alexander too, who broke off because they had inherited the light, not the dark?

He couldn’t tell them. It wasn’t even relevant to their lives. He was nothing but a historical note to them, in the end; that connection… was a secret he had to keep to himself for now.

Mispy was staring at him.

“I’m okay,” Owen said to her.

“They can’t last,” Mispy warned.


A third volley came, deflected again, but some of them were wavering and sinking, their stamina wearing down. She was right; this was yet another instance of just buying time.

“I’m gonna help,” Gahi finally said.

“Gahi, you can’t take Alexander on directly! Just one strike and—”

“Maybe I can’t,” Gahi snarled, “But we can! Demitri, Mispy! C’mon, you with me?!”

“I am,” Mispy said, nodding.

“W-wait!” Owen shouted. “We just—fight him at sea? What if we fall?!”

“Carry me with you,” Mhynt ordered. “I will help you resist any Shadow tricks he throws.”

Zena winced; Owen realized that she, without being able to take advantage of the seas, would not be able to do much here except—

“Zena, accelerate the boat from here!” Owen said. “We can get more time that way so we can think of something else.”

“Of course!” Zena nodded.

“Owen,” Trina spoke up next, frowning at him. “I think what we should do now is coordinate with Palkia and the others. This is a crisis; perhaps Arceus or the others may be able to help.”


“I’ll get the communicator. You help deflect more blasts. We cannot let the boat sink!”

Another clang, but this one was a stray shot easily deflected. It seemed Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy—fusing into Migami—were already halfway to Alexander with Mhynt on their back.

Mesprit and Azelf, meanwhile, emboldened the defending crew with valor and extra bursts of courage to keep fighting, while Uxie augmented their defenses directly with psychic barriers.

Once their strength began to waver, Owen swapped in next, trying to distract Alexander with a scattershot repulsion of his next attack. When the Shadow Blast struck the barrier, rather than reflect it exactly, Owen tried to aim it skyward and curve the energy downward. It wasn’t nearly as effective, but it did force Alexander to watch more cautiously as Migami lobbed potshots from afar.

He wanted them to return quickly, though. One wrong move and Migami would…

“Owen!” Trina called, tossing the communicator to him.

“Is something wrong?” Palkia said.

“Palkia!” Owen said. “We have a problem. Alexander found us and he’s flying straight for us!”

“Goodness, that’s soon. I thought he was recovering.”

“Did you ever see actual injuries on him, or was he just turned away?”

“Hmm, our scouts were quite confident he’d been wounded… But there is no telling. Ah, well. A shame, really. So! What is your plan?”

“MY plan?!” Owen sputtered but then jumped in the way to take over for more blasts. They were getting faster; Alexander was starting to fire more wildly, and he was halfway to them. Rapidly closing the distance. And they couldn’t let him get into melee range…

“As much as I want to help, I do not think I can safely use my spatial warping to get to you,” Palkia remarked. “And, really, Alexander would surely trump my powers in that realm, to begin with… I could certainly try if you wish.”

And risk Palkia falling under Alexander’s control again? Or any of the other Legends? That wouldn’t do.

Another rumble. Migami had to fall back; it looked like one of the Shadow Blasts had nearly grazed them. Thankfully, Mispy’s judgment trumped Gahi’s pride, and they were falling back.

Alexander was nearly as fast. This wasn’t going to work! And at this rate, even with Zena’s acceleration, the ship was…

“…Palkia,” Owen said, “Palkia! Can you get me a Dungeon?!”

“A Dungeon? Right where you are? Not really, no. I would need something to tune to, and is Mu there?”

“No. We haven’t found her. She’s—”

“Mu is with us,” Spice reported. “Dunno if she’ll understand to go to you guys, and—”

“No, no, no, don’t put her here. If Alexander sees her—”

A chorus of objections accompanied Owen.

“Alright, alright!” Spice said. “I wasn’t suggesting! But what, Owen, a Dungeon?”

“Yes. If Alexander is too strong in the Voidlands, what if we… just… put him into Kilo and tried to take him out there?”

A beat. Then another chorus of objections. Reshiram’s was the loudest. “Bring him right home?! Are you insane?!”

“We need to get to Necrozma,” Owen said. “And… if you can get to a remote area, it’ll be safer. Get some of the Guardians to suppress him. We might be able to get rid of Alexander and get to Necrozma on this one trip! If he’s going to chase us this aggressively…”

Mhynt hurled a conjured Leaf Blade at Alexander’s chest. For once, it had connected, but the rampaging Dragon kept flying as if he didn’t even feel the blade in his body.

“That still has the problem of not having the means to connect to you, Owen,” Palkia pointed out. “I’d need a part of your body, and you did not donate such things for research.”

“Why would I—” Owen grumbled, rubbing his forehead. “There has to be some way. Maybe some dropped scales from Zena at home? I shed patches of scales, I think, err…”

“That would produce quite a weak signal,” Palkia hummed. “I may not be able to get a substantial enough connection to form much of anything like that.”

Dialga exclaimed. “No! We have just what we need!”

“What? How?” Owen asked.

“When Rhys—when I had taken your horns after sparring with Trina’s doubles of Team Alloy!”

Owen thought back. Yes, he remembered seeing Rhys slip those broken horns into his bag ‘because it might be useful later.’ He was just hoarding.

And for once it was true.


“You still have those?!” Owen blurted.

The crew cried out again, several of them forced to fall back to the deck. They were trembling with fatigue and didn’t have the strength to fly or float any longer. Owen grunted and went back to the skies again. Alexander was getting more distracted by Migami, but that meant he was spending time trying to down them.

“GET BACK!” Owen shouted. Then, to the communicator, “Okay, please, get it quickly! Palkia, how soon can you configure that device to create a Dungeon in front of me?”

“Well, I suppose I can quickly find a free area, get some Guardians, perhaps two minutes?”

“Then go! Don’t hesitate, go!”

No response. Another Shadow Blast carved its way across the water, leaving a fissure down the blackened sea. Owen dove down, mere feet away from the water’s surface, and conjured another Protect to block its path and scatter it back. The countless rays would make it harder for Alexander to dodge, but he could only hope Migami would avoid any friendly fire.

There still was no response from Palkia, but Migami was retreating more, disappearing in flashes of light to get faster. Alexander was hot on the trail.

“Hello?!” Owen called again. “Palkia, answer!”

“Erm, he left,” Dialga said. “When you said don’t hesitate, well, he disappeared into the floor.”

“Oh.” Well, at least his very literal interpretation helped this time around. “Er—good! Hopefully, he’ll be back on time… We’ll hold the line!”

The crew seemed exhausted. Alexander did not. But now that Alexander was closer—he could see the three heads individually, now—it seemed he was switching his rhythm to stronger, mid-range attacks. From his smaller heads, he opened his jaws and blasted into the water, conjuring whirlwinds of darkness. He hurled them in horizontal arcs toward the ship, flanking them on both sides.

“Zena! Give us a push, we need to outpace that storm!”

“I can’t outrun that!” Zena shouted from below.

But she could slow its approach. “Go as fast as you can! I’ll try to dispel them!”

“Dispel?!” cried one of the crewmates—an Illumise who seemed aged enough that her tone alone explained to Owen, ‘You idiot, that isn’t how storms work.’

A lot of things didn’t work properly anymore. Owen had to try what he could.

He veered to the right, going straight to the first storm, and conjured another shield. The storm batted against him while cutting up his back, deafening him to everything else. He’d have no idea if they were calling for him anymore amid the acidic howling. Everything in front of him was a swirl of purples and blacks, but all the same, he could feel that essence. Control it, claim it, all the same, Mimicking that power and then claiming what was in front of him as his own.

Once he became the eye of the storm, Owen whirled around and pointed at the other one, and the storm obeyed. They clashed, opposites in direction, leaving turbulence in the water and nothing to strike the ship itself but a few flecks of water.

“H-ha!” Owen panted. “That… that worked.”

A shadow loomed over the ship.


Alexander had conjured a wave twice the height of the ship.

And Owen had no idea how to counter something like that.

“Zena! Just keep pushing!” Owen sputtered just as Migami appeared beside him, grabbing him by the arm and hauling him to the deck rather than floating above the water.

“Migami! I can’t just sit here—”

“Hold still,” Migami ordered. “Keep this place stable. Save anyone who falls!” And then, they Teleported behind the boat.

Just as Owen got to his feet, the boat lurched forward and knocked him over again. Muttering to himself, Owen focused on his Perceive…

Zena was at the deck’s very edge, practically hanging off the back of the ship while focusing on the water’s currents. Blackened and tainted or otherwise, it was still water, and Zena had control over it.

But what worried him more was Migami flying near the ship’s base, hands only inches away from the ship itself as their wings pumped and pumped. Owen didn’t understand the pose; their hands weren’t touching the ship, and it was like their many tendrils were pushing off of something that wasn’t there, being crushed by an unseen force.

And then he realized it was their Psychic energy. They were creating barriers to gain purchase on thin air. Perhaps they were pushing another barrier on the ship itself, literally using brute strength and the Psychic Orb’s energy to push as far as they could to accelerate.

Migami was roaring just barely louder than the incoming wave that loomed over them like a blackened avalanche. Alexander’s eyes, like red pinpricks behind the water, locked onto Owen’s for a split second and the breath in his chest left him.

“H-hurry,” Owen whispered. “P-please, hurry.”

He had to do something. Anything. But what was he supposed to do?

The ship was decelerating. Migami didn’t have enough power to outrun a ship, even with all their speed and Zena’s assistance.

“Migami!” Owen cried, finally finding his feet.

“I’m tryin’!” Migami whimpered back. On their backs, the Trio of Mind was enhancing their barriers, but they could only do so much, too. They just needed a little more power.

Just a little more.

Owen took a slow breath. He had to stay calm, but he couldn’t think slowly. He was useless here.

He thought back to his nightmare. When he was useless, he had to rely on his friends. He had to lend them his power, even if it was direct, and even if it would leave him with nothing.

While he couldn’t go to that extreme, he could still do something. He could Bestow his power, just like before. Bless his friends, not just objects or the ground. Store his power within them.

He envisioned his friends not as immutable people, but as vessels for more power. Something that can take more than he had given before; entrusting them with himself, in a way. And as they struggled and cried for everything they had, Owen tried to answer.

“Take it,” Owen whispered. “Just one more push!”

The membrane of his wings flashed gold, and he slammed his hands on the ground. The energy shot through the wood, ignoring it completely, and siphoned into Zena. His other hand aimed at Migami, and the same golden energy enveloped them. His Perceive couldn’t see the effects, but his eyes did. A bright gold enveloped them both.

He couldn’t stand. When the boat lurched again, doubling in speed, the most he could accomplish was feebly reaching out to scattered, toppling crewmates so they didn’t hit the deck’s edge as he had.

Somehow, they outpaced the wave, and the wave itself lost its momentum. Distantly, Alexander’s frustrated cursing reached them.

Migami Teleported next to him, setting down a limp Zena.

“G… good job,” Owen said. “How’re you feeling?”

Migami collapsed into a pile of a Haxorus, Meganium, and Flygon.

“Yeah… figured,” Owen said.

“Owen!” Palkia said. “Owen, if you may answer? I have everything set up!”

A nearby crewmate stared at the communicator on the ground. Owen gestured tiredly for it, while Uxie looked through their bags for a spare Oran or Elixir to help return their strength, offering the latter to Owen.

“Good,” Owen said. “When I say now, you need to activate it. Okay? Are you somewhere safe?”

“On such short notice gathering who I can, yes. Near enough that backup can be called, but far enough that immediate threats are not a concern.”

Owen nodded, then remembered Palkia couldn’t see that. “Okay. Just wait for my call. It might be a few.”

Alexander was out of massive storms and waves. Perhaps he was also tired. Or he was just impatient. One way or another, though, he was still surging forward. Without Zena or Migami to accelerate them, he was also so much closer.

“He wants me,” Owen said. “I’ll take him on.”

“What?!” Demitri shouted. “We can’t do that! You’ll—”

“If you hit that water, it’s over, Demitri,” Owen said. “It was risky enough with you taking him on once. We can’t do that again. I just need to… get close to him.”

“Owen, can you explain what your plan is? Please?” Demitri begged.

“Palkia will make a Dungeon and warp him out right on time. Into Kilo, where that place will dissolve him. He’s of Void, so he’ll dissolve. He might even become a Deino again if I’m lucky!” Owen puffed. “Trust me, okay?”

He looked uneasy, but the hasty explanation was enough for Demitri to acquiesce. “Let us help, too. We’re still weak, but…”

“I’ve got a second wind goin’,” Gahi growled.

Mispy ate a pouch of Elixirs and pulled Demitri into her vines. As Gahi taunted the air, she dragged him in next.

The Elixir did its job for Owen, too. His stamina, while temporary, had been restored. With a powerful kick off the deck, Owen flew through the skies and got at the same elevation as Alexander, about twenty feet above the sea.

“Alexander!” Owen shouted. Then, murmuring into the communicator, he said, “On second thought, Palkia, not when I say so. Wait until I roar.”

“Ooh, dramatic.”


Alexander was not one for conversation. By Owen’s estimates, he was about ten seconds away. Owen tried to close the gap, flying forward.

Alexander veered away.

“What?” Owen whispered. “H-hey!”

By the time Owen countered his momentum to chase Alexander again, he’d clashed with Migami. He could only be glad that Migami was fast enough to dodge it.

Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf backed them up. Each psychic blast was tinged with their divine power, trying to siphon away from Alexander’s mind like before.

But this time, he’d been more prepared. Every time Uxie tried to erase Alexander’s memory of his attacks, a puff of darkness splashed off of the Hydreigon’s forehead. Every attempt to demotivate him from Azelf only made a dark, once invisible armor over his chest flash. Mesprit tried to make Alexander apathetic to those same tricks, but that strange dark shield blocked their attempts.

“What is that?” Owen whispered. “Was that what he was preparing?”

He’d seen something like this before. It reminded him of the way Rhys had armor made of solid aura. Could that interfere with psychic waves? He had no time to theorize—only that Alexander had come prepared this time.

He was overpowering Migami and the three. Trina had gone in to hide with Zena, but they were still watching as if to find an opportune moment to strike.

Where was Mhynt?

Just then, a beam from above slammed Alexander into the water. Owen gasped and followed the beam to its source—Mhynt, with a shadowy Lunala looming behind her, fading away just as the beam’s true might ended.

“Nice shot!” Migami shouted.

“He’s coming back!” Mhynt warned.

Of course. Alexander was immune to the water. If anything, it was his domain more than anything else.

Mhynt conjured a Leaf Blade and crouched, but a blast from below caught her off guard. She narrowly dodged out of the way, deflecting the blast over her shoulder.

Cursing, she called, “Don’t let that hit you if you don’t have Shadows!”

“Oh, I never would’ve guessed!” Migami shouted back.

The Hydreigon burst from the water, snarling, wordless. He lunged for Migami again, and this time, he was just fast enough to graze their shoulder. The cut ate away at their flesh by several extra inches, widening the wound before a wave of healing halted its advance.

“Stop!” Owen cried. “Don’t you want me?!”

But Alexander pursued. As Migami tried to blip away to gain more distance, Owen noted their stamina was running low. That graze wasn’t doing them any favors, either. The Trio of Mind tried to halt Alexander, but all that accomplished was earning a few retaliatory blasts from Alexander’s scales, like his body itself was repelling against him.

Alexander was closer. And Owen felt… something. His Perceive clued him in… on a squirming inside Alexander’s body. Void Shadows—how many?—stuffed just beneath his scales, powering him while tearing up his insides at the same time. Owen had no idea how painful it was or how long Alexander could maintain it… but it was augmenting him the same way his Orb was.

He was even stronger than before.

“C’mon!” Migami shouted. “That all y’got?!”

They finally gathered enough light and blasted Alexander with a searing ray of a Solar Beam. It was a direct hit, enough that Owen had to double back and cover his eyes.

But his Perceive showed him the result. Alexander, parts of him ripping off only on the surface level, flew straight through the beam and followed it to its source. Migami couldn’t see it. Too focused on the beam. There was no alarm in their body language.

“RUN!” Owen screamed.

Alexander’s jaws clamped onto their neck. Crunched. And their body went limp, shocked surprise in their expression.

He crunched harder and something tore. Owen’s curse of perception forced him to witness every detail of that chunk of flesh sliding down Alexander’s throat, and then, with a careless push, Migami was thrown into the water.

They were still alive, barely. But that was worse. They were falling into the ocean.

Without thinking, Owen dived toward them. He could barely think. Alexander was flying toward him next. Pest. Demon. Monster.

He had just enough presence of mind to enact the plan. He pressed the communicator and screamed, banking upward and toward Alexander. He caught a glimpse of the blood-soaked mouths of the Hydreigon, and then a distortion appeared in front of him.

Alexander gasped in surprise, but couldn’t halt his momentum. He passed through the portal and it closed.

Owen fell into the water, hard, and dove down six feet. Nine feet. Twelve feet. He Perceived their body in the water and Perceived an overwhelming number of hands, limbs, and barely-formed bodies drifting toward them from all directions. Lost spirits, Void Shadows of the Abyssal Sea, coming to claim another to their fold.

Below, Migami was being split apart. Tendrils dug through their flesh and split the trio into their parts. And then dug further, intending to split them even more. They were barely conscious; Mispy was healing the fastest, but her body was losing its shape at the same time. Demitri and Gahi were barely recognizable anymore, and it had only been a few seconds.

“STOP!” Owen cried. “Give them back! Don’t… don’t take them away! I’m so tired… of losing everything…!” The water tasted foul. The bubbles of his words resonated. His wings were bright, scaring the dark things from grabbing him, but the same couldn’t be said for those around his friends. They were drifting further but had slowed down.

“GIVE THEM BACK!” Owen roared again, pulling his arm back, channeling power from somewhere deeper. Such a strain, a searing pain in the center of his chest. It crept over his shoulder and out his palm, and then snaked back around his arm, forming a lance of light and darkness.

Before he had the chance to use it for anything, though—and he didn’t know what; he was running on instinct—the flow of the sea… stopped.

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi—still bleeding, still melting—were stabilized. Mispy’s eyes fluttered open. Per routine, she glowed, and her wounds began to close. She saw Demitri and Gahi, and she glowed, and their wounds closed next. They all looked at Owen and tilted their heads.

They were fine.

They were… fine?

Owen had stunned them. That was his conclusion. And he wasn’t going to let them come back to their senses and take them again. He gestured for them to follow, and they quickly did, swimming upward. Gahi grabbed Demitri, who grabbed Mispy, and they all ascended to the Sea’s surface. Upon glancing at the ship’s deck, all four of them disappeared and reappeared on the deck.

Owen coughed out mouthfuls of sour, bitter ocean water. He grimaced when he realized some of it was… chunky with Void matter.

“Oh, gross,” he mumbled. “I-is everyone okay?”

Demitri made a gurgling noise and collapsed. Mispy picked him up by the legs and held him upside-down, Abyssal water pouring from his mouth. After a fit of coughing, Demitri smiled and gave a nod to Mispy, who set him down again.

“Been better,” Gahi groaned, rubbing his forehead.

“How in the world…”

At the entrance, some of the crew emerged.

“They’re alive! H-ha! No way!”

Some were cautious, but three of them rushed over to look Team Alloy over. One also approached Owen and offered a hand.

The Charizard smiled gratefully and took the offer. Some Abyssal water still soaked him.

“Oh—sorry,” he said, but the person he’d touched stiffened a little.

There was a look of… horror in his eyes, but then it washed to his simple smile again.

“You okay?” Owen asked.

“Just fine,” he replied.

“Okay.” Owen let go, nodding. “I’m fine. Uh—help the others, they were the ones inj—”

The crewmate walked to Team Alloy to inspect them.

“…Right,” Owen said, looking at the others. “Sorry about that, everyone… I… Actually, can I just… go to my room and cry for a bit?” He tittered, the emotions finally coming back to him as the adrenaline wore off.

“Take all the rest you need,” Mhynt said with a firm nod. Zena and Trina coiled up nearby and nodded the same way, and Owen was glad to see them all unharmed.

“Thank you,” Owen said with a small sigh. “Hey, guys?” He addressed the rest of his team.

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all looked toward him, attentive. It was a little weird.

“Uh… just rest, okay? Don’t strain yourself.”

“You got it,” Gahi said, nodding, as did Demitri and Mispy.

They remained there as the crew looked them over. One was murmuring about being checked in the medical ward a little more thoroughly, just in case.

“Good idea,” Owen said. “How about you guys rest up there and—”

They were already heading down to the lower levels of the ship. No snide remarks, no resistance, simply…

“Wait,” Owen said, and they all looked back at him. Obedience in their eyes.

The coldness that ran through his body was a little faster than the logical realization. They weren’t listening to him. They were obeying him.

“Something wrong, Owen?” Zena asked.

“I—just need a moment,” Owen replied. And it was technically true. “Just a second, sorry, I—I—”

Zena and the others looked at him with concern, but before they could touch him—he had no idea what activated this—he rushed for one of the empty cabins. He closed the door. He found a wooden plank and lodged it on the door. He found another and lodged it further.

Zena was slithering toward the door, concern in all her movements. Owen ripped out his horns.

“Owen?” She knocked against the door. Jiggled the handle and tried to push it. “The door’s stuck, Owen, er…”

“Later,” Owen whispered. “Please, later… I—I’m okay. I’m okay, I promise. I need… to… ch-check on Palkia. I just need to check on Palkia.”

Mhynt spoke next. “Take your rest, Owen, but you’re answering our questions after. Understood?”

Icy dread raced along his back. “Okay,” he croaked.

With a quiet sigh, Owen reached for the communicator again and quietly asked, “Palkia? How’d it go? Did Alexander… dissolve?”



“Palkia, are you okay?” Diyem’s voice came next. “What happened?”

“I heard the plan, what’s going on?” Spice said. “That should’ve worked. He’s the Voidiest of all of us.”

“Ah… h-hello,” Palkia said, sounding strained.

“Palkia!” Owen’s chest tightened. “What happened? What’s going on?”

“Small… problem. Ah, you see. Dissolve, he did not. Some kind of… shield around him? Quite a lot of screams! But not his. I don’t think I can feel my other arm, quite difficult to move right now. But the wound has… stopped spreading…”

“W-what about the others?!” Owen asked, trying to keep his voice down and he didn’t know why.

“Wounded or dazed. Alexander… avoided most of us. We were too alert. Ah… but… alert everyone, please.

“He is flying toward Kilo Village.”


Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 153 – The Curse of Power

“Okay,” Owen whispered shakily, “you can wake me up now, Darkrai. This is… just an extended nightmare, right? Please. I give. It’s too much…”

Nothing replied to him. The communicator was murmuring with the others frantically coordinating what was happening on the other side of reality. Palkia gathering his bearings. Xerneas rushing over to treat the rest.

Owen lowered the communicator and tried to ease his breathing. He wasn’t entirely sure what was happening on their side anymore, only that he was powerless to stop any of it.

“Alright, Owen,” Mhynt said. “Zena is too kind to you. Open the door or I’m cutting it down.”

“I—I’ll open it.”

Awkwardly, the Charizard started pushing aside the wood meant to keep anyone from entering, realizing how futile that was against so many of them. He had simply not been thinking. It was all a panic. And his first instinct was to push everyone else away. What did that say about him?

The door creaked open. On the other side, the Trio of Mind, Zena, Trina, and Mhynt were all there, which surprised him until he recalled tossing his horns away.

And they could tell he was without them, too.

“Owen,” Zena said. “What happened?”

Mhynt eyed the horns tossed on the ground. Owen quickly picked them up, snapping them into place.

“I’m sorry if I… scared you, or anything,” he added. “I’m okay. I’m… I’m okay. And I think Palkia and the others are okay, too, just—”

“We heard,” Mhynt said. “It’s okay. We can’t do anything about it right now, but… they’re smart. They’ll figure it out. From where they were to Kilo, how long is it? It could be hours—many kilos for them.” Her eyes narrowed. “But you were distressed even before that, Owen. Speak.”

Zena frowned at Mhynt and amended, “We’re just worried about you. Please—”

When she moved forward to hold him, Owen staggered back and shouted, “No, it’s—!”

She pulled her ribbons back, startled and hurt. That hurt Owen even more. But what was he supposed to say?

“Sorry,” Owen said, deflating, “it’s okay. I can talk.”

“What’s happening?” Zena whispered to him, not moving closer again. “Are you… hurt? You’re so afraid…”

“He fell into the ocean,” Mhynt said. “The rest of Team Alloy was also behaving strangely…”

“Perhaps I should return to them,” Trina hummed. “My hypnosis seemed to keep them from stirring…”

“Of course it would; that’s what Hypnosis does,” Mhynt murmured, earning a brief glare.

Owen found his way to the wall and slid down, staring at his tail flame, which was dimmer than usual. He couldn’t find the effort to disguise his mood. It wouldn’t have been honest to them.

“May we come in?” Zena asked, her voice delicate.

Owen nodded weakly. “But… don’t touch me,” he said, “for your own good…”

Mhynt’s eyes narrowed, and then she glanced at Trina. “Check on them again, actually,” she said.

Trina seemed confused but nodded and slithered out.

The door closed behind Zena, and it was just the three of them in a gently swaying cabin on a boat going deeper into the black oceans.

“Don’t touch you,” Mhynt echoed. “You don’t look Voided. Which isn’t a surprise; none of us are surprised by this. Now, please, Owen. Speak.”

No matter how many times Mhynt demanded it, Owen still felt that horrible feeling in his gut about giving the truth. Maybe, if the currents of the ship were a little friendlier, they would get there sooner. Maybe there wouldn’t be any time to talk. That would make this easier. And delay the inevitable.

So, with a defeated sigh, Owen squeezed his eyes shut. “I… think something killed them down there. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, I mean. And… a-and the dark power down there awakened something in me, too. I c-can’t control it, I don’t think I can control it.”

Mhynt’s expression was stoic, but there was a hint of grave darkness in her eyes. Zena looked more confused than anything.

“What awakened?” Zena asked. “Why are you… Are you hearing any voices? Of the spirits in the ocean? We—we’ll free them, Owen. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing, right?”

“That isn’t it,” Owen said. “The sea, Zena. It killed them. No, not even killed, it—it Voided them. They aren’t immune like I am. Even Guardians like Gahi aren’t immune. And… I saved them. But when I did that… they’re mine now.”

Owen’s claws went to his head, digging into his scales.

“They’ll follow my every command, Zena. I don’t even have to try. I say it, and… and they listen… no questions… they just do it, Zena.”

Steady breath in, steady breath out. He could feel the horror in their bodies. That cold shock, that tension of trying to say the right thing. In Zena, he sensed… what might have been fear or hesitance. Did she think he would control her next if they reacted badly?

“I know how to work around this,” Mhynt replied.

Owen blinked, pausing, registering the words. “You what?”

“I’ve seen something similar with how Alexander commands Void Shadows,” Mhynt explained. “If you are worried about their free will… until we find a way to revive them—perhaps a trip to Xerneas, or even Diyem—I know how you can get their true desires out of them. It’s a small logic trick that can work around the new rule of obeying you.”

Zena seemed lost in the explanation. “That means they can still… be themselves?”

“I believe so, or close to it,” Mhynt said. “It’s not a clean fix. However, Owen… not being able to touch your allies is going to be a problem.”

“I think I agree,” said Owen. “After all, if I can’t be close to allies in battle, that’d be like having another enemy on the—”

“I meant psychologically,” Mhynt hummed. “You’re a very physical person. I suspect it’s some of your feral instincts, but you prefer to huddle against things at night. The isolation is not going to be good for your mental health.”

“That is true,” Zena added. “And I… do not know how I feel about not being able to so much as hold you, Owen. There must be a way to control it.”

“I think he’s overreacting,” Mhynt stated.


Mhynt held up her hand and Owen simmered down, though his flame sparked.

“You can’t control people with a touch so easily. Here’s my theory: you spoke to someone already weakened by the sea, and you were already damp. Therefore… you are likely safe now.”

“I don’t want to test that,” Owen said flatly. “I’m not testing any of my friends to see if I’m—”

“Would you like to live the rest of your life in fear of basic contact?” Mhynt pressed. “I’m confident you are safe here. And if you aren’t safe, Diyem can help, or Xerneas, or even Necrozma himself. If even they cannot override you, well… that puts you at a great advantage against Alexander. So. Test?”

Looking briefly helpless, he turned to Zena for her opinion. She seemed conflicted, but then gained resolve in her eyes. She held a ribbon forward.

“I trust you,” she said.

“It’s not me you have to trust,” Owen countered. “It’s… my power.”

“I trust you to use it right,” Zena replied. “Even in the past, you only wanted what was best. And you wouldn’t ever impose your will on others, would you? Not after what you did.”

Mhynt only crossed her arms, as if studying Owen.

“You’re afraid of it,” Zena went on. “That’s reason enough for me to think you won’t misuse it. And I don’t want you to be afraid. We’ll accidentally touch anyway, I know it. So let’s just get it over with.”

Owen sighed. That was probably also true if a careless scale brush would be enough. “I’m sorry,” he said in advance, reaching out. Zena showed a flash of fear before he touched her.

The tension remained. Anticipatory.

One second. Two. Five.

“…Does it feel like anything?” Zena asked when Owen let go.

“I don’t know,” Owen replied. “Coil up.”

“What? Why?”

Owen laughed a little; Mhynt smiled wryly, heading for the exit. Just as Owen pulled Zena in for a tighter hug, Mhynt said, “I’ll take care of Team Alloy. Owen, you relax.”

“Thank you,” Owen whispered as Zena wrapped around him.

“Am I under your control?” Zena asked.

“No,” he replied. “No, it’s… it was just a flare-up, maybe. It’s not so bad. We… we can work through this.”

He took more steady breaths, trying to sort through his thoughts. They could save Team Alloy later. And they probably had a workaround for now. That just left…

“Ngh—!” Owen struggled for his communicator, which Zena grabbed for him. “Palkia? Wait, no—Spice? Any news? Is Alexander coming?”

“Not the best time, buddy!” Spice replied over the noise in the background. Explosions and shouts.

“Oh no.” Owen looked at Zena, then back at the communicator. “Light! Shoot light at him!”

“We’ll let you know once that starts working!”

“Just listen for updates, Owen,” Zena said. “Don’t distract them.” Gently, she helped him set the communicator down. Reluctantly, Owen obeyed.

He just didn’t understand. How was he becoming so strong, yet feeling so much weaker?


Spice lost track of how many times she’d cursed.

But every time a new frantic blast of darkness came, a new protector had to block the strike, and ultimately be too tired for the remainder. That forced Spice to get out to the front and block it with her own, black barrier. And each time, that barrier wasn’t enough, and it instead blasted away some part of her body.

Her body was a suggestion. It was a startling revelation, but she’d lost her arm three times, and with a little focus, she had grown them back.

Because she was a Void Shadow. She’d forgotten for so long that those powers had gone dormant, but she had the power to shift and adjust her body as desired. The healing, the scarring, all of it was just to get back to a normal appearance.

She wondered if those blessed items not working, the scarring, all of it was just… her fooling herself. No. Surely her body was solid enough that she’d just been unable to heal it.

She still had that normalcy. She still had a body!

Spice cursed again when a blast struck the side of the crater. Another missed shot. Alexander was firing wide; there was no way she’d be fast enough to block all of them, and Nate was already hiding inside the crater to avoid getting hit too often. He was practically as big a target as the caldera itself.

“He’s coming in!” announced one of the Hearts.

“Fall back!”

“But what do we do?!”

“Defend from inside buildings if you have to!”

Those buildings would be pointless. Alexander was shattering Protect barriers with some of those attacks; the weaker barriers in the buildings wouldn’t hold up nearly as well.

“Get the Guardians!” called another.

“But they’re our backup!”

“And we need that now!”

Another blast drowned out the rest of their deliberations and Spice was left defending again. She’d gotten distracted; a blast was coming straight for her face. Hastily, she brought up a sloppy barrier, but then a blur of gray dove in, bringing up his own.

An ethereal clang followed, and then the shot went high into the clouds, splitting them apart.

“Jerry,” Spice wheezed.

“You good?”


Jerry stood by her side and got into a defensive stance. “You handle the left side. I’ll handle the right. I think our backup’s coming soon.”

With a firm nod, they went in opposite directions and prepared for Alexander’s next assault.


Storms, gales, rain of dark and flashing lights. Nate didn’t know what to make of the return of such terrors, only that he was hurting, and he had to save up his power for another great blast. But he didn’t know if the spirits within him had the power to offer. Not yet, so soon.

But maybe he had to try anyway to slow Alexander down. That shadowy Hydreigon… Nate could sense countless tortured spirits just beyond the surface of his scales, protecting him, insulating him, from the atmosphere. The spirits were being used like an artificial Void atmosphere around him, but the outer surface was evaporating away rapidly, called back to the Voidlands. Soon, the same would happen to Alexander.

But he was coming too fast. Nate had to stop him!

He called upon the spirits within him to help, and of course, they agreed. Energy funneled through his long body, swirling in his chest, and channeling their way to his five heads. Many of his eyes closed as each spirit, each eye, closed in turn, concentrating to donate their power to their host.

Nate opened the palm that made up his face and aimed his five finger-heads toward Alexander. The power of the lost Tree flowed through him, and it would only be poetic that it would be aimed at its destroyer.

But moments before Nate could fire, he realized, to his horror, that he could not. It was not because he lacked the energy, but because of the angle. If he fired at Alexander, and missed—and surely, he would, at least for an instant—then he would hit… Yotta Outskirts.

He simply could not do that. They were innocent, and to strike Alexander, especially if he dodged or survived it… their blood would be on Nate’s hands.

The closer Alexander got, the higher his angle became. It was deliberate. He knew Nate wouldn’t fire…

The leviathan squirmed nervously. What was he supposed to do?

Nate dispelled the charge. He wouldn’t destroy a village just to target Alexander. He had to use weaker, more precise attacks. He aimed upward, firing a shower of similar energy skyward, and then directed them down. In response, the Hydreigon weaved between many of them but shrugged off the few that hit. But each one wore away at his shield.

Nate winced, hearing and feeling their screams. Those poor souls were used as shields and then dragged back to the Voidlands to be used over and over by this dark god’s whims.

Alexander got past Nate’s barrage, and then past Nate himself, even after a desperate swipe and grab to pin him down. Nate was too large and Alexander was too fast, and now, even Nate’s shower of attacks would risk harming the civilians of Kilo Village.

He’d have to instead try to empower others. He shifted his energy again, many eyes opening and searching for fighters who were about to take on Alexander.

At least his barrier was almost gone. They just had to outlast him for a little while longer…

Most of the citizens were hiding, but he sensed many of them with heightened energy. They were going to attack if Alexander got too close, and that was probably a good thing. More slowing down.

He just hoped nobody would die because of this.

Angelo was hiding in his room. Nate could sense his aura shifting around as if trying out different techniques, unable to choose which one to open with.

The strongest auras were emerging from the Heart HQ, including Anam. His powers had been significantly reduced, but he was still the Heart of Hearts. Even without the power of darkness, he was formidable. By his side was ADAM, the strange Porygon Z, as well as Willow, the tiny Joltik. Both of them were so adorable, even if Willow was only a half-soul. She hadn’t wanted to go with the others just yet for Titan hunting—her shrinking powers didn’t work on things that large; she’d tried on Nate—so now, she was trying to shrink Alexander down.

And to Nate’s amazement, as Willow pushed her power over him, he did shrink. Within the pink cloud, Alexander’s body became a small, berry-sized thing unceremoniously. That was it! He was contained!

…Ah, no, he just blasted Willow three streets down and undid the effects.

Nate lobbed a dark spirit toward Willow, who quickly enveloped her and cushioned the impact on the ground. Then, he turned his attention to the remaining Guardians. Anam was trying to score a few hits, but he was too slow. Alexander was avoiding him entirely.

Get him away! Nate urged, holding his attacks. He was tempted, ever so tempted, to fire, but then he imagined all the citizens in the area. Buildings, people… He already felt bad about killing those who wandered too close to the Void across his crater. But the citizens here weren’t corrupted or about to enter a fate worse than death. In fact, their world was just about to turn things around!

“Fire!” Spice cried.

What? Fire? Why would he do that? Down below, the cute little Salazzle-wraith was waving and urging him.

“C’mon, we can treat injuries, but we can’t treat what that guy’ll do!”

She had a strong argument. But he was a big scary monster. If he hurt the citizens, would they exile him? It was why he’d fled at all in the first place…

But she was also a monster to them, and they accepted her even when she was a little rude. Could he be rude?

The Porygon-Z Guardian blared a distressed klaxon before firing a Hyper Beam down the road, melting part of the main street. Alexander endured almost the full hit, but his shield looked significantly depleted. Maybe he was starting to evaporate…

But now, the Guardian was exhausted. He wouldn’t be able to fire again.

Yes! It was time to fire!

Nate shot into the air, and as the energy beams curled downward by his will, it was like a fabled meteor shower had turned hostile.

But Alexander was fast, dodging and weaving. Sometimes he went too close to the fleeing Porygon-Z to fire. He might hurt him instead…

What was Alexander going to do to him, anyway?

That stray thought rattled around in Nate’s mind for a second too late. By the time he realized what it meant, Alexander lunged and finally connected.

He was going to enter his Orb.

Nate charged the most concentrated blast he could, hoping that the lives within the nearby buildings would survive—or forgive him if they did not. He used only one head, aiming not at Alexander, but the Porygon-Z. It had to be done. The air warped around the blast, the smallest vapors in the air sizzling. Alexander pulled the startled, flailing Porygon into the ground.

No! Nate tried to angle his shot toward the ground instead, but it missed. The boulders just beyond where Alexander had been exploded out, molten rock leaving the spot aglow.

Where did he go?

Nate couldn’t sense him anymore. Did he kill him?

No… it was too easy.

“Did you get him?!” Spice called up.

He didn’t, but he also didn’t know how to give a response.

He hesitated for a few seconds too long, because Spice sighed and said into a communicator, “He seems to be gone for now. Not sure what happened. We’ll get back to you after we regroup.”


Mhynt’s blade struck the wall just beside Demitri’s yead. The Haxorus screamed and covered his eyes a split-second after it hit, his reflexes too slow. Mispy snarled and was about to wrap the Treecko in thorns before she hopped back and across the room. The conjured Leaf Blade disappeared, reappearing in her hand.

“Good,” she said. “You still have a sense of self-preservation.”

“Duh?” Mispy said, still looking cautious and annoyed.

Demitri uncovered his eyes. “Wh-why are you saying that?”

“I just wanted to see how far gone you were. But it seems that you’re still mostly yourselves.”

“Hey,” Gahi said. “How’s Owen?”

“Strategizing with Palkia and the others,” Mhynt half-lied. “I wanted to talk to you about something you may not be aware of. Where are your other halves?”

“Helping the crew repair the boat,” Demitri said.

Mhynt nodded, crossing her arms. “Then we can talk in private and you may choose what to do with this information. You’re Void Shadows.”

A beat.

Then, Demitri tilted his head; Mispy’s scaly brow furrowed; Gahi scoffed.

“Yeah, right,” Gahi said, holding out his arms. “I’m green, sleek, scaly, an’ a real good looker.” He flexed, revealing vaguely defined muscles.

Demitri, curious, did the same and looked at his arm. When he flexed, the air around his arm pulsed outward.

Gahi scowled. “Cheater.”

“Did you just flex out a shockwave?” Mhynt narrowed her eyes. “How strong are you?”

“I—I don’t know… That just happens when I channel my strength. You know, aura stuff…”

“Aura stuff.” Mhynt waved it away. “I want you to think back to when Owen told you to go to this room. Did you feel compelled to follow that command?”

“I dunno about compelled,” Gahi said. “Jus’ seemed reasonable, so we did it. What, is listenin’ ter our leader a sign o’ bein’ a Void Shadow?”

“How can we tell?” Mispy asked.

“…Later, I’m going to call for Owen to come this way. And when he does, he will ask you to do a few things, and that will be enough, rationally, for you to realize this. But before we do, I would like to ask a few questions of you, for Owen’s sake.”

“Okay…” Gahi still looked skeptical. He crossed his arms and glared. “I ain’t in anyone’s control. I’m me.”

Mhynt nodded at the mutant super soldier and then looked at Demitri and Mispy. “Now, first question. If Owen told you to die, would you?”

“Um. No?” Demitri poked his claws together. “That doesn’t sound like him at all…”

“Hah!” Gahi pointed at Mhynt. “We disobeyed Owen! We ain’t Void Shadows!”

“Hypoth… thetical,” Mispy chided, gesturing with a vine for Mhynt to continue.

Mhynt nodded. “And if he told you to do anything, would you listen?”

“I mean… he’s our leader,” Demitri said. “And aside from Mispy, he’s usually the best person to go for tactics…”

Mispy shrugged. “Not the smartest… but… tactics.”

“Exactly,” Demitri explained. “I mean, I guess now that he’s got all his memories back, he might have an edge there, too, but—er, I mean—sorry, Mispy.”

The Meganium seemed competitive and indignant. Demitri rubbed her side and she seemed to settle down.

“Hmm. Overall, this is good,” Mhynt said. “Perhaps it’s a credit to Owen’s unconscious desires that you’ve kept your individualities.”

“How can you prove it?” Gahi asked again. “C’mon, just get Owen in here already!”

Mhynt sighed. “Will you have some patience?”

“Feels like we can’t do anythin’ else ‘til that happens! C’mon!”

“Okay. Fine.” Mhynt was getting a headache from the Flygon, and not because of his psionics. “Wait here. Surely you have the patience for that.”

Gahi scoffed and pressed his back against the wall, crossing his arms in a pout. But she saw a few uncomfortable twitches in his claws. It was bothering him.

Perhaps this proof would at least help them come to terms with it, and then they can figure out ways around it.


Mhynt returned only a few minutes later with Owen behind him. The Charizard was a nervous wreck, mumbling about how he could face his team again, and Mhynt offered halfhearted assurances to him while he and Zena walked down the ship to the other room.

Once they were back, Mhynt stood aside and watched how things played out. She didn’t intend to step in unless Owen looked stuck, but as far as she was concerned, this was something for him to figure out. Spotting Zena already looking for ways to step in, she whispered her over.

“Yes?” Zena asked.

“Let him handle this.”

“He seems overwhelmed, Mhynt…”

“Has he done well under pressure before?” Mhynt asked.

“Sometimes,” Zena said.

“How about now that his memories are returned?” Mhynt offered. “He’s quite different now, isn’t he?”

“In a lot of ways, he’s also the same,” Zena said. “Is that necessary?”

But before Zena could object further Owen stepped up to his team.

“Hey,” Owen greeted.

“Hi?” Demitri said. “We’re Void Shadows, apparently.”

“Y… yeah.”

“We don’t feel like it,” Demitri said. “Mhynt said you’d have some proof.”

Owen nodded. “For… for this proof, will you be mad? If it turns out… you are Void Shadows?”

“No,” Demitri said, “that’s—”

“Yeah, I’ll be mad!” Gahi waved his fist at Mhynt. “I ain’t someone ter control!”

Mispy rubbed her forehead with a vine. “Circumstances,” she said.

“She means, she’d be mad at the circumstances,” Demitri explained. “Let’s just do the test. I don’t think any of us will be mad, Owen. A-at you,” he hastily amended when Gahi glared.

The ship rocked gently. Mhynt wondered how much faster they were going now that Owen had, perhaps consciously or subconsciously, encouraged the currents to speed their trip up. Zena picked at a splinter in the wood, trying to repair it with a gentle stream of water and ice. Mhynt quietly informed her this was a bad idea.

“Okay,” Owen said. “Demitri.”

Demitri’s head snapped to attention. Owen glanced at Mispy and Gahi for their reactions; they did look a little unnerved.

“Punch your left arm with your right.”

Demitri raised his right arm, curled his claws in, and slammed it into his left arm. There was a horrible, sickening cracking and squelching sound as the arm bent impossibly in two places. Owen looked ill.

Mispy and Gahi both blinked, staring at the injury, then at Owen.

“What was that fer?” Gahi asked.

“This sort of hurts,” Demitri mumbled.

“You… you aren’t freaking out,” Owen said. “Mispy, heal him!”

Mispy obeyed, almost mechanically wrapping her vines around the injury and pumping healing energy into him. Bones snapped back into place, flesh wrapping and stitching together, wrapped finally in scales. The blood remained on the ship and the wall—now cracked—behind him.

“You know,” Mhynt said, “you should have asked someone without absurd strength to do that.”

“It was the first thing that came to mind,” Owen said. “I didn’t want to get… elaborate on my friends hurting themselves!”

Mhynt sighed, punching her snout. “Please, continue.”

“Well—look, that was weird, right? Guys? Do you agree that was weird that Demitri just listened to that without a care?”

“It was,” Mispy said. “But… you commanded it.”

“Okay—no, no, see, don’t do that. Don’t listen to my commands just because I say them, okay? Because you’re Void Shadows now, and… and I’m the one who controls you. Void Shadows just… do that, and usually it’s Diyem, or Alexander, b-but now it’s me, too. So… I don’t want that. Especially not you. Okay?”

“I don’t want that, either,” Gahi muttered. “But… it ain’t like I can freak out about it.”

There it is. “Good,” Mhynt said. “You’re self-aware of your condition. That’s what we’re looking for. Owen?”

“Right. N-now that… that you’re aware… I want you to answer my questions, as a hypothetical. Okay? A hypothetical where, if I didn’t command you to do something, what would you do in response, okay?”

The three exchanged looks, as if a little confused, but Mispy got it the fastest.

“Okay,” Mispy said.

“Demitri, Gahi, follow her lead. Mispy, if I wasn’t controlling you… what would you want to do right now?”

“Sleep,” Mispy said.

Owen paused. “Oh. Right, it’s… been a while since we had our last sleep.”

“Has it?” Gahi asked. “I ain’t tired.”

“I’m a little tired,” Demitri added. “Maybe it’s because it’s darker below deck.”

“Okay, so Mispy, if you want to sleep, you can sleep after this is over. Is that okay?”

Mispy nodded.

“…If you weren’t under my control, would you say that’s okay?”

Mispy nodded again, after a pause.

“That’s good. She thought about it,” Mhynt said. She offered a smile, “They aren’t all gone, Owen. But until we get a way to free them from your spell, that’s how you need to ask questions, okay?”

“Impract… actical,” Mispy said. “Battle.”

“Oh, Mispy means… like, if in the middle of battle, you had to do that whole thing,” Demitri said, “we won’t be that effective.”

“I… I know, but…”

“I’ll agree,” Mispy said.

“I trust you,” Demitri said. “…Even if I wasn’t under your command, I say I’d trust you!”

Gahi crossed his arms, giving Owen a little glare. Of the three, Gahi seemed to resist this control the most, and for that, he appreciated it. He huffed. “Only fer as long as y’gotta. My will’s mine.”

“I know, Gahi. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“Nah. I know y’didn’t. I’m just sayin’, my will’s mine.”

“It is. And I’ll… respect it. Always. But in battle, if I give a command, I can’t… do it with all the caveats if you’re in danger. Do you trust me to make the right decisions?”

“No,” Gahi growled. “…But if y’gotta, I’ll listen. I ain’t gonna hold it against y’ ‘til this is over.”

Owen’s wings lowered, and Mhynt felt that little tightness in her chest loosen up. “Well,” she said, “it seems you have some loyal allies even without the Voiding. Congratulations.” Mhynt nodded at Zena. “Now, we should get ready. With how fast the ship is going, we’ll probably arrive at the Abyssal Sea far ahead of schedule, perhaps by the time you wake up. You should get an early rest just in case.”

“Right, okay. Um… does everyone want to rest in the same room again?” Owen glanced at Team Alloy but was deliberately avoiding Zena’s gaze.

“Is it safe?” Zena asked Mhynt. “Owen tends to get battle-excited in his sleep. His tail can go from ethereal to burning. Can the same happen with these Voiding powers?”

“As far as I can tell,” Mhynt said, “it wasn’t Owen who did the Voiding, but a splash from the sea augmenting it. As long as Owen stays dry, he is safe.”

“Good.” Zena slithered up to Owen and curled around him. He leaned into it as if he’d been touch-starved. Perhaps he was.

There was that small pang of longing in her chest. Something that she dutifully tried to shove away, mentally, while on this trip. She only closed her eyes and sighed. “Very good,” she said. “I’ll get Trina and the Trio and let them know you’re alright.”

“Thanks for all the help, Mhynt,” Owen added, looking relieved. “I’m… er… sorry if…”

“Don’t,” Mhynt replied tiredly, stepping out.

She’d said she would be strong, but it was admittedly getting harder than she’d anticipated, seeing them together. She really needed to sort through her feelings when this was over.

But on the next awakening, they would finally be on the island. From there… Necrozma awaited.

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Heya, this took a bit longer than I initially anticipated to get this together since this chapter is on the chunkier side, but I figured I might as well get things rolling since I do have a couple deadlines to meet, so let's jump right in with:

Chapter 11

Kricketot chirped in the bushes. No moon filled the sky, but tiny white pinpricks, painted on the sky, took its place. Amia, with Alex beside her, led the way home with Owen and Zena. There was a little spring in the Gardevoir’s step. Owen’s tail and his Magmortar father’s shoulders lit the way.

“Uh oh,” Owen suddenly said, stopping.

“What is it, dear?” Amia asked.

“How is Zena gonna get inside if she’s alone?”

For a second, I was going to ask if they literally painted the ceiling of Hot Spot Cave, but I guess it's just a night with a new moon right now.

Zena blinked. “What do you mean? Does it not open to certain individuals?”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Owen said. “You need to do the password to get in. But you can’t do it, because you don’t have any limbs.”

inb4 she somehow manages to do the M3-esque dance to get in anyways... somehow.

The Kricketot filled the void-like silence that followed.

“What?” Zena said.

Amia giggled. “Oh, Owen, that password is just for non-Guardians. If you’re Mystic, it’s easy to just will the boulder to the side, you know! I just put that switch there because once we had you, well, it wasn’t going to just be me heading in and out of that spot…”

Owen: "... Why are you just telling me about this now?!" >///<
Amia: "In my defense, you've been Mystic for all of a day so far."

“W-wait… so only I was…?” Owen trailed off.

“What is this password?” Zena asked.

“Uhh—” Owen blushed. “It’s not important.”

Zena: "No, really, what is this-?"
Owen: "Completely irrelevant since I'm Mystic myself now! Eh heh heh... let's just go in now, please."

“We’ll have to teach it to Gahi and the others anyway, dear,” Amia said. “But you won’t need it if you’re Mystic, Zena. So, Owen, that means you won’t have to do the dance anymore! Isn’t that nice?”

inb4 Owen gets stuck with teaching Gahi and the others the dance so he still has to keep doing it more anyways.

“A dance,” Zena repeated, staring at Owen. She was clearly envisioning Owen cutting some form of a jig, based on the smile she valiantly suppressed.

Owen wondered if drowning was the better outcome after all.

I can already tell that Owen's going to be flushing beet red through his facial scales a lot in this story. >:V

“Ah, here we are!” Amia flicked her hand at the boulder. It rolled away effortlessly.

Owen looked crushed.

Owen: "Mom, I swear to gods, if you've been hiding other secrets that could've spared me untold embarrassment..." >///<
Alex: "(Remind me, dear, you did tell him that the sand next to the lava pools are made of crushed bones, right?)" ^^;

On their way in, Owen’s fatigue returned to the forefront of his mind. “I can’t wait to get some sleep.”

“I just might sleep, too,” Amia said. “It’s not really something that we need to do, but—”

“Wait,” Owen said exhaustedly, exasperatedly, “you don’t have to sleep?”

Owen: "Wait, huh? Are you sure? Since I feel exhausted right now." ._.;

“When you become strong enough as a Mystic,” Amia said delicately, “a lot of the things that mortals need to perform become optional. Eating, sleeping…”

Amia: "Dying, as I'm sure you've learned from experience..." ^^;
Owen: "Why on earth am I just finding all of these things out now?!" >.<

“But I like both of those things.” Owen frowned. “What’s the point of living if you can’t get a good meal?”

Alex: "It gives you extra time to go and do stuff like read Angelo's comics? Those are always good for a hoot."

Amia: "I mean, you could always do them anyways, just saying. (Preferably not the 'dying' part, since boy would that get creepy fast.)" ^^

“Well, nothing’s stopping you!” Amia laughed. “A meal every now and then is wonderful! Besides, Owen, you just became a Guardian. You still need to eat.”

Huh, so the story actually explicitly acknowledges that. Neat.

Owen shifted uncomfortably. “I slept quite a lot,” Zena admitted. “It gets… boring, down there.”

Zena: "In retrospect, I probably should've brought some reading material or something before shutting myself up in isolation for untold centuries. But oh well, hindsight is 20/20 and all that." -_-;

“I can imagine,” Owen said. But on second thought, he couldn’t.

I'm actually morbidly curious as to how on earth Zena stayed sane down there given how solitary isolation over sufficiently long periods IRL is well-documented to have detrimental effects to mental health for humans. .-.

He eyed the glowing mushrooms. “Mom? Are these mushrooms glowing because of your power?”

“They are, dear,” Amia said. “I thought it made the cave look very pretty.”

Owen nodded. “Do you like them?”

“Yeah!” Owen said. “So—can you keep that, maybe?”

Owen: "... Wait, but isn't that something that I should be able to do as the Grass Guardian? I thought you were the Fire-?" ^^;
Amia: "They're very fiery mushrooms that respond to my powers?"

Amia beamed. “I’d love to. What about you, Zena?”

“They’re much better than my dreary cave.”

They walked through the empty town. The pit in Owen’s stomach returned. He remembered the Arcanine that always greeted him. The kids playing in the main path. All his neighbors. Now it was empty and silent. Their steps echoed across the corridors.

Owen: "... So is everyone else just gone for good now, or...?"
Amia: "Meh, didn't feel like dealing with dozens of spirits while showing company around. Especially since I doubt it'll just be Zena and your new friends from Team Alloy who will be coming in soon enough."

“I think this home in particular, Zena, would do nicely for you,” Amia said. It was right next to their own cavern, though it seemed a lot cooler inside. Within this alcove was a large pit filled with rocks. Amia stepped toward the entryway and held her hand out.

Owen yelped when Amia’s head and dress burst into blue flames. More fire spewed from her arm, colliding with the rocks. The heat was enough to make Zena slither back a few paces. The loose rocks melted and compressed into liquid, creating an even deeper pit. Then, the flames stopped, and Amia’s body extinguished.

Zena: "... I'm sorry, but how is this place supposed to be suitable for me again?" .-.

Owen’s jaw may as well have been on the floor.

Alex approached the lava, jumped in, and shoved his cannons into the molten rock. It looked like he was siphoning the stuff into his body. Then, he lifted his arms—which looked much heavier—and ejected that same molten rock to the far side of the home. Amia did the same thing, using psychic energy to haul more of the molten rock away to the corner of the room.

Alex: "It's a work in progress? Just give us a couple minutes here." ^^;

Amia finished by holding her other hand out, releasing a concentrated beam of ice into the pool. Plumes of steam filled the air and faded, leaving a pit of smooth obsidian behind.

Zena: "Wait, you can do that?! But you're the Fire-!" O_O;
Amia: "Gardevoir can learn Icy Wind by TM. Good enough."

“There!” Amia clapped her hands together. “Just one Hydro Pump, Zena, and you’ll have a lake to rest in!”

... Wait, just how much water does Hydro Pump disgorge in this setting? .-.

Zena slithered tentatively closer. She gently prodded at the cooled obsidian, and then at the depths of the pit. It would fit her comfortably, and then some. She nodded. “It’s wonderful, Amia,” she said. “Thank you.”

Owen: "Wait, that obsidian isn't warm still? Like at all? But how does that-?" .-.
Amia: "Practice? I have been around for quite a while to get good at my moves, Owen." ^^

“We should go to bed, Owen,” Alex said. “You still need to sleep.”

“Oh, yeah, right,” Owen nodded.

Owen: "Wait, am I still getting my same old bed with the Rawst Leaves, or...?" ^^;

Amia and Alex left, but Owen didn’t follow just yet. He turned his attention back to Zena; she was filling the pool with multiple, gentle Hydro Pumps, made from pure, crystal-clear water. It only took three to finish the job, cold water filling it to the very rim. She looked back. “Owen?”

Owen: "Whuh? Huh? Sorry, I just thought you looked pretty gir- I mean, pretty good. Your place that mom made looks pretty good."

Zena: "Uh... huh." ¬_¬

Owen glanced at the missing scales along her body; it occurred to him that Zena would be resting alone for the night. He could never sleep if it wasn’t at home in his bed. Would Zena be the same way, or was she used to it? “Will you be okay?”

“Will I be… okay?”


Zena: "Owen, I've literally slept on my own for hundreds of years. One more night won't hurt."

Owen: "Look, it's just- I... was a bit worried since you got thrown around a bit earlier, alright?"

Zena tilted her head. “How do you mean?”

Owen played with his claws. “You said you were alone for centuries…”

Zena’s expression was oddly neutral. “That’s true.”

Owen: "... I mean, wasn't that lonely at all? Since I've heard stories of Pokémon that went insane being cooped up all on their own for way less time than that." .-.
- Beat moment -
Owen: "... Not that I'm implying you're insane! That's not at all what I was trying to-!"

There was another long silence. He didn’t want to impose anything upon her, but part of the pit in his gut was certainly the thought of Zena being alone again. He’d never get to sleep with thoughts like that plaguing his mind. He glanced at Zena again; her expression was regal, but it felt like a mask. She had been so expressive before; now it was gone and emotionless.

Wow, Owen's falling for his sea noodle even faster than Flame did in Rebirth. I think this must be some sort of world record or something. o<o

He didn’t believe it for a second. So, he spoke. “Do you want—”

“Yes. Please.”

“O-okay.” Owen scampered into his home. “Mom!” he called. “I—oh, thanks.”

Amia handed him a bowl of Tamato soup.

“Keep Zena company, dear, at least for tonight.”

Owen: "Can't tell whether my heart should be aflutter or if I should be keeling over from embarrassment right now." ^///^

“Would you like me to carry over your bed?” Alex asked, peering out from the kitchen corridor.

“Oh, sure, yeah.”

Owen: "Dad, I'm a Charmeleon now. Are you sure that this isn't going to be difficult and awkward for-?" -_-;
Alex: "Nonsense, Owen. You might be a bit bigger now, but you're still my little boy." ^^

Owen returned to Zena’s home and found a spot in the corner to drink his soup. Zena had slipped into the water during his absence, but he could still vaguely sense her presence as part of the water. Steam filled the air and clouded his vision; the soup’s red base was scalding, just how he liked it. The Charmeleon drank in greedy gulps. Alex returned with his bed, setting it down next to him. Owen crawled on top, finished his bowl in one last gulp, and handed it to Alex.

Thanks,” he said, and then eyed before eying the lake.

IMO, enough happens in the paragraph before Owen's line of dialogue here that it might make sense to hack this one bit in two and play around with the verb tense a little bit to facilitate the dialogue and speech tag bit being standalone.

“So, I’m gonna rest here for tonight,” Owen said. “Hope that’s okay.”

The lake didn’t reply. Owen didn’t mind. He curled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around, resting his chin atop them. He then wrapped his tail forward, noticing how the flame lit up the whole room.

“Does my tail bother you?” he asked. “I—I can probably cover it, if you like.”

... Wait, is it possible to air-starve a Char's tail fire in this setting? If so, does that feel painful much like dousing it in water? Or is that its own distinct sensation?

Owen took her silence as indifference. Another glow illuminated the entryway; Alex entered, a book precariously held in the claws within his cannons. “I found this on your bed,” he said. “Looks like you have it bookmarked. Latest edition of,”—he squinted at the cover’s title—“Ho-Oh’s Absurd Escapade, I think?”

Ah yes, the first of Angelo's works in this story, though somehow I didn't realize that in spite of his species, he made text works and not visual ones. Even if I suppose that it helps add a layer of difference from the material being shouted-out.

Also, Monado: Beginning of the World among Angelo's bootleg stories when?

“Oh, right!” Owen’s flame brightened. He looked the cover over—a comic book—and figured if he couldn’t sleep, he could read through a few pages. “Thanks, Dad.”

Oh, I take that back. Guess Angelo's fare are comics after all in this setting.

With a nod and a few hesitant glances back, Alex finally left Owen alone with Zena. His tail was even brighter, now, and he was certain that it would be distracting the Milotic who probably just wanted a good night’s sleep.

They're going to act out your TR signature art in live-time in about 30 seconds, aren't they?

Owen then remembered that Mystics didn’t need to sleep. Was Zena just doing it out of habit? Either way, he knew his endless light would be bothersome.

“Sorry if it’s too bright. I guess I’ll cover it.” Owen looked for a patch of Rawst leaves to hide his tail under. “It wouldn’t be too hard to—”

“It’s okay.”

Owen: "Huh? It... is?"

Owen jolted, not expecting a voice. Zena had her head out of the water, staring at him. Most of the rest of her body remained liquefied.

“O-oh,” he said.

“Leave your tail out,” she said. “Sleep as you want. I’m not bothered by it at all.”

Zena: "Honestly, after sleeping in a dark cave for the better part of a few centuries... it's nice to have a bit of a change." ^^

Owen nodded wordlessly. Zena sank back into the water, blending into it.

The soup’s warmth spread to the rest of his body, and his eyes grew heavy. He wasn’t going to last much longer. He curled up in bed, closed his eyes, and drifted away. Unfamiliar as it was, his bed made the new cave feel like home.

Zena slept soundly for the first time in decades.

A reminder that if your story is sticking to third person limited framing that the last bit probably needs to change in framing a bit since this scene has been written from Owen's perspective, while this is a detail he logically wouldn't know while dozing off. e.x. a passing mention that he found this out the next morning after waking up or something.

Granted, if you're doing omniscient at times, go ahead and disregard that.

“It’s a dance?” Gahi growled, angrily clicking his jaws.

The morning sun accompanied the arrival of Rhys and the rest of Team Alloy, just beyond Hot Spot Cave’s entrance.

Lemme just get the right reaction for this upcoming moment:


“I’m not that good at dancing,” Demitri said, glancing at Mispy, who rolled her eyes.

“Maybe we can simplify it for you!” Amia said. “A phrase, or I can just manually check your auras instead of automating it.”

I can already hear Owen moaning about how it's not fair that he had to do a stupid butt-shaking dance all his life until yesterday and the rules are suddenly getting changed the moment they have company.

Rhys nodded. “Well, in any case, we have about half of our essential supplies with us,” he said, motioning behind him. Demitri was singlehandedly hauling the bulk of it in a gigantic bag that had a color suspiciously similar to Rhys’ fur coat. Owen stared in disgust.

Owen: "... If I see that thing in my room, I'm burning it."

“We have a home just for you!” Amia said. “I set it up overnight while Owen and Zena were sleeping.”

Zena straightened her stance to appear taller. “I—I wasn’t sleeping. I was merely meditating, as I always do.”

Narrator: "She was sleeping. The text literally said so."

Owen was positive he’d heard the lake snore. Or perhaps that was a dream.

Zena: "No, you were just dreaming, Owen. There was no snoring of any sort." >_>;

“Once we haul the rest of our supplies,” Rhys said, “we will return home to get the last of it. Afterward, we will continue with our usual regimen of training, missions, and so on, until Star is ready.”

Zena huffed at the mention of the Creator. Rhys glanced at the Milotic next; they briefly locked gazes, but Zena’s was a cold stare. Rhys looked to the floor next. “Do you need something, Hunter?” she growled. “Now that I think about it, I likely won’t be sleeping for the rest of my nights here.”

Owen: "... Look, Zena, it's been centuries since Rhys was an active Hunter. Are you really going to keep holding a grudge against him like-" ._.;

"He knows what he did, Owen. And I have no reason to believe he won't relapse."

Rhys’ tail lowered, but he had no words.

“N-now, now, we just have to wait,” Amia said. “Owen! While your friends go on their usual missions, why don’t you stay back and train with Zena and I under Rhys? Perhaps we can help you get a better hold of your Mystic powers.”

Zena: "Hey! I never agreed to do anything with that Hunter-" :mad:
Amia: "It's for the good of Owen and the world at large for making him more competent as a Mystic?" ^^;

“Oh, that could work,” Owen said. Though he longed for a normal day, he supposed such a privilege would need defer to his new duties, forced as they were. “What kind of training?”

“Train under him?” Zena asked. “The Lucario can go on missions with the rest of Team Alloy.”

Yeah, I figured that Zena would be an "oh hell no" to the idea of training under Rhys based off her earlier dialogue.

“P-perhaps that is for the best,” Rhys said quickly. “I should supervise them for now, anyway, now that the mutants are at another resurgence. It could be dangerous.”

Zena didn’t smile nor smirk, but there was a bit of relief in her relaxed coils. “When we train, Owen, the first thing you should learn,” she said, “is how to control your ability to harness your Orb. So, becoming Grass.”

Owen: "... Wait, but how are you going to teach me this when you're the Water Guardi-"

Zena: "The process of controlling Mystic power is relatively constant regardless of type? Probably?" ^^;

Owen recalled when he’d been nothing but a torso and vines. “Th-that sounds like a good plan. How do I do that?”

“Practice,” Amia said. “It shouldn’t be more than a few days for something that simple, so the timing works well!”

I can already tell that I'll be needing to break out the popcorn gifs a number of times during the inevitable training montage. >:V

Owen wondered if it was possible to die of boredom as a Guardian. That sounded much more lethal than drowning.

Zena: "Well, actually..."
Owen: "Look, I don't need to know the answer to that question, okay?"

“Heh, good luck, Grassmander,” Gahi said with a mocking churr.

Owen growled, ending it with a defiant chirp. “Don’t forget that Grass trumps Ground.”

Gahi: "Not once I evolve, it doesn't-"
Mispy: "Gahi, enough, seriously. And trust me, even after you evolve I'll be able to trump you just fine." >:|

“Aah, you’ll do fine,” Gahi said, wobbling into the cave. His voice echoed when they entered Rhys’ new abode. “Huh. Place looks almost like home.”

Owen: "It's actually a room-for-room duplicate. I already checked." ^^;
- Blink moment -
Gahi: "... Weird that your parents would just have this lying around for us in advance, but eh. I can't really complain here."

Owen sighed, looking at his paws. He couldn’t get that feeling of his whole body melting into vines out of his mind. The Charmeleon suppressed a shudder, sparing a glance at his tail to make sure it was still alight. He then looked at Zena, following her glare.

She and Rhys were looking at one another from across the cave. The Lucario was the first to break his gaze, shrinking into his home with his tail between his legs.

Owen: "(Yeesh, Rhys. What on earth did you do as a Hunter if you're that ashamed over it?)" ._.

Flames and steam filled Hot Spot’s central road. Jets of water blasted the ground, narrowly avoided by a grassy Charmeleon in the center of the soaked, rocky field. He panted and rolled, frantically looking up; Zena stared, waiting for him to get on his feet. Scalding puddles of water surrounded Owen in small pools from previous attacks. He wanted to stay down, if only to take a few extra seconds to breathe, but he knew that the last time he did that, she just blasted him anyway.

“Don’t stall, dear!” Amia sang, white-hot embers floating around her head. Just behind her, Alex stood with a meek smile, waving at Owen, as if that would somehow encourage him.

Owen: "Oh my gods, when you all said that I'd be training as a Guardian, this was not what I had in mind."

“C-can’t I take a second to rest?” Owen said.

“Just a bit more, dear. You said you wanted to push yourself, right?” Amia flicked her hand.

Owen: "W-Wait, when on earth did I-?!" O_O;
Amia: "Offscreen, dear. Things like that happen in stories like these sometimes."

Owen screeched and closed his eyes, focusing on his leafy feathers. They hardened, turning red, but it was too slow. He jumped out of the way again, but the ember redirected itself toward him. He screamed again, panic redoubling, and spat an ember of his own; that was just enough to cancel the attack in a swirl of orange and white fire.

- Zena winces from the side -
Zena: "Er... Amia? Do you think that we might be overdoing it a tad-?"
Amia: "Nonsense, this is but child's play for a Guardian. Owen's perfectly fine."

Owen’s throat burned—he was still a bit on the grassy side. He coughed smoke, taking in ragged breaths, and fell to his knees. “W-wait—wait.”

“Should we stop?” Zena asked.

“Hmm…” Amia tapped her chin. “Just one more volley.”

Boy, can I call 'em for characters or what? :V

He finally got a break; he wasn’t going to bargain for more.

F-fine, just one more,” Owen said, rubbing his eyes. “When are you gonna—AAAA!”

He ducked, narrowly dodging another beam of water. Owen’s horn carved the bottom of the beam; he felt the torrent tug his whole head backward, but he reacted just barely fast enough to duck further down.

Even as Owen’s scales transitioned to leaves, he couldn’t help but think that the most horrifying part about all this was he knew they were holding back.

Owen: "I... think that I'm ready to train with Rhys for a while, honestly."

Also, IMO the paragraph with Owen's line of dialogue works better as two smaller ones.

Zena leaned her head down, redirecting her blast to hit Owen again. He rolled in response, the blast grazing his leafy arms—but compared to when he had been fiery, it didn’t hurt nearly as much.

The air felt hot, the power imbued within Pokémon techniques cutting through his body’s natural immunity to mundane flames. The Charmeleon dared to glance at Amia, but he couldn’t see her—instead, he only saw orange fire taking up half his vision. He screamed and crossed his arms, finally giving in. There was no way he’d be able to transition back to Fire that quickly. A shield of golden light appeared in front of Owen once he crossed his arms; the flames curved around the shield, splitting and evaporating behind the green Charmeleon.

Wait, was that Protect there? Or are those Mystic powers in action that just saved Owen from becoming a Grassmeleon fritter?

Owen’s Protect dissipated. His arms hung limply beside him.

Ugh…” Owen finally collapsed onto his rear. “D-done. I’m done.”

Whelp, Protect it is. Though this is another paragraph that IMO works better as two.

And this time, Amia and Zena complied.

He sighed, unable to suppress the relieved smile on his face. “Thanks.”

“We didn’t push you too hard, did we?” Zena asked. “I personally thought we went a bit too far near the end, there…”

Owen: "Whuh? Oh, no no, you did pretty girl- I mean, you did pretty good, pretty good. I... just need to get used to this, that's all."

Zena: "(And to make it a bit less obvious when you've got a crush, as well.)" ¬_¬

“No, I—I think you stopped at the right time. Mom knows.” He gave a little smile at the Gardevoir, and then at the Magmortar that stood behind her. Alex held out a cannon for Owen to grab, pulling him to his feet.

I fizzle out sometimes, but I still have some energy left in me. I just have to push a little more than I think I can. That’s part of Mystic training, right? I—I’m way better than I was last session!”

IMO, this should be at least two paragraphs. But 'last session'? Just how far ahead in time are we relative to the last scene?

“That’s definitely true,” Amia agreed, holding her hands together. “It’s only been a few days and you’re already switching so fast!”

Huh, that's definitely more of a jump ahead timewise than I was expecting. Guessing there will be fewer popcorn gifs to throw around than anticipated.

“Not fast enough to just do it on the fly, though,” Owen mumbled. “…I want to train again, and you have to promise to push a little harder, okay?”

“N-now?” Zena asked; even Amia flinched.

Amia: "Owen, I would just like to remind that you yourself were fairly worn out by the end of-"

Owen: "Look, I'm not going to get any tougher just sitting around and waiting. I can handle it, I know I can!" >_>;

Alex tittered, patting Owen’s back. “N-now, why don’t we take a break, first? F-for a bit longer? You may be Mystic, but you still don’t have the same stamina as before. P-perhaps some meditating instead?”

“Aw, but I already meditated this morning.” Owen puffed out a small ember in protest, crossing his arms over his chest. His stomach felt like it was tying knots, but he ignored it.

Which is a sign that this can only end well™️ by ignoring it.

“Well, it’s also almost lunchtime, isn’t it?” Amia said. “Owen, did you eat breakfast?”

“B-breakfast?” Owen repeated. “…O-oh, right. I think I forgot…”

Wew, somebody's been getting into his training if he's been letting bodily needs slip from his mind like this.

The knot loosened, but with it came a fierce growl, deeper than anything Owen could produce with his throat. “E-eheh…”

Amia raised her head to the sound of a boulder moving. “Oh! Looks like Team Alloy’s back, dear.”

Owen perked up, spinning around. “Just in time for lunch!”

- Beat moment -
Owen: "... Wait, is Rhys with them still, since if he is... uh... Zena has been getting used to his presence, right?" ^^;

Amia and Alex both laughed. “We’ll get it ready, dear.”

Rhys, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all entered, though curiously, Nevren was also behind them.
Oh, hey, Nevren,” Owen greeted with a formal bow. “How come you’re here?”

My sus-meter just pinged, since I do not trust Nevren based off what we've seen of him in this story thus far.

“Ahh, I just wanted to inspect the landscape. I’m curious what Rhys’ new home looks like, and I was also promised a heavenly meal.”

Sticker, sceptilisk,

Really, Nevren. That's what you're going with?

“From Rhys or Mom?” Owen poked a claw behind him. “She’s already making something, so you might want to hurry.”

Rhys bristled. “But I asked her to hold off on dinner. I had just the dish in mind.”

inb4 it's something that makes Owen wince just hearing it.

“…Dinner?” Owen leaned to the right; orange light bled through the entryway before the boulder closed it off. Demitri yawned, which made Mispy yawn next. Gahi clicked his jaws and clenched them shut. “How long have I been…”

“Had a really long mission,” Demitri said, picking tiredly at his tusks. “A mutant—some kind of Electivire… thing, they weren’t sure what other features it had—had been on a rampage through a town a little north of the Wooden Wilds. Like… half of the buildings were either collapsed or cracked.”

Oh, well that's a good omen for how the townsfolk fared from that whole rampage that went down.

“Quite impressive, really.” Nevren raised one of his spoons. “I’m certain those buildings were reinforced with Protect insulation. It had hit hard enough to dissipate it, and then continue through. Very impressive, if we want to at least give credit where it’s due.”

Owen: "I'm... just going to not ask what happened to the townsfolk there, since I can already tell that I really don't wanna know."

Team Alloy—Owen included—glared at Nevren. Zena, too, huffed. “What are these mutants? Owen mentioned them to me before, but all I know is that they’re strange Pokémon that seem to just appear.”

“Well, effectively, that is what they are,” Nevren said. “They’re so few and far between that they aren’t necessarily a concern… until a particularly troublesome one appears. And that has been happening more often lately.”

inb4 they're something like Pokémon leaking out from the Spirit World, since it'd explain a thing or two about why all the mutants we've seen thus far seem to be Pokémon with a shift in type-affinity like the Swolax.

Rhys hummed, shaking his head. “If you must know, they have to do with the Hunters. I’m certain of that. We couldn’t find the mutant itself, only its path of destruction. It will take a while for that town to recover… but we did what we could in the immediate sense. Anam and James are arranging for long-term assistance as we speak. We may station a few Hearts there for morale and security in case another mutant happens to appear there. A second attack would wipe them from the map without our help.”

inb4 they station the Hearts there and the town just gets wiped off the map anyways. Since the fact that Nevren is bringing up how precarious that town's situation is feels like a terrible omen for its long-term existence.

Owen shuddered, nodding. “I ran into a Snorlax mutant a while ago. Ugh…” He turned around. “I’m gonna help make dinner.”

I... kinda wonder if this would've had more impact if Owen elaborated on the Swolax encounter and how he can relate to how dangerous they are. Since something about the line that's there feels a bit disconnected from Nevren's point, even if I get that meta-wise this is supposed to be a transition.

“Hey, I’m coming, too,” Demitri said. “I want to see what we’re having! It should almost be ready, right?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it. If they aren’t finished, I will get my dish ready.” Rhys took advantage of his longer strides to cross Hot Spot and enter Amia’s home. “Amia! Amia, don’t forget that it’s dinnertime, and you promised me . . .”

Whelp, guess we're not finding out what Rhys cooked for dinner, even if I'm a little surprised that he doesn't just blurt out what he made tonight.

No longer able to hear Rhys, and with Nevren walking ahead, too, Owen looked back at the rest of Team Alloy. “How’d the mission go? Did Rhys help out a lot?”

“It was a bunch of rebuilding and gathering supplies,” Demitri said.

“Boring.” Mispy’s leaf drooped.

Owen: "... Were the villagers not grateful for the help or something? Since I'm surprised you're not saying anything at all about that." .-.

“Yep, boring,” Gahi clicked. “Barely got a good fight in. Was glad we ran into some territorial ferals on the way, otherwise we’d be all stir-crazy.”

Peanut's got his priorities in order, I see. o<o

“Yeah.” Owen glanced back at the clouds of steam that coated the ceiling, condensing into droplets to rain back to the floor. “I got my fill of fights during my training, at least.”

“Lucky you.” Gahi wobbled past them; the other three had to walk quickly to keep up. “Bah, at least you can actually relate ter us. Nobody gets it, that need ter fight, y’know?”

“Y-yeah, but I think I get weird looks when I try to talk about that.”

I mean, considering your seeming talent for bumbling into accidental innuendoes, I wonder why you're getting those weird looks, Owen. >:V

At the dinner table, Zena struggled to find a place where she would properly fit. In an effort to include her in daily life again—at least, as close to normal daily life as they could manage—they had invited her over for dinner every day. Her size made things a bit awkward, though she eventually figured out to coil near the corner and lean her head toward the table.

... Wait, was it ever mentioned that the gang went to the table? If not, it might have made sense to do a scene cut to basically jump ahead from Team Alloy chatting with each other to "now we are seated for noms".

But Owen noticed that there was a scowl on her face. He had a good idea why, based on where her eyes were glaring.

Amia had graciously allowed him to add his dish to the spread—it seemed to be some sort of spicy rice, speckled with Cheri bits and seasoned with a dark brown sauce. But his fur stood on end; he felt it, too. Perhaps it was her aura, but Zena was making her glare plainly obvious.

Owen: "Zena, I thought you were getting over your thing with Rhys!"

Zena: "Well, I'm not ranting about how he's a waste of space and flesh right now at your dinner table as I rightfully ought to, so I suppose that I am, now aren't I?" >:|

Owen decided not to speak and instead sat next to the Milotic. He flashed a forced smile, and Zena reciprocated with the same.

“How long ‘til it’s done?” Gahi shouted, banging his chin on the table. “That mission took ferever and I’m starved!”

“Very soon, Gahi; be polite.” Rhys tossed the pan’s contents up, slicing Cheri Berries with tiny blades of aura in midair. After a few tosses, he poured the last of the brown sauce in, which Owen realized was the main source of the savory smell.

Owen: "... I don't even want to know what on earth that is, do I?" ^^;

“Rhys is pretty good at cooking, huh?” Owen asked Zena, hoping that she’d at least have some shred of recognition for his talents.

“Mm.” Zena’s scowl softened, but she also looked away from him.

Owen: "... This dinner is going to be really, really awkward, I can already tell." ._.

After what felt like forever, Rhys finally turned around with the spicy rice, as well as Amia’s simpler, but hearty, potato-Tamato stew. Owen wasn’t sure which one to go for first; he just took half of both for himself. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi took after him while Amia placed bowls of water near the middle, warning them that it was a bit spicy.

I take it that Amia doesn't eat a lot of spicy food, since milk is actually a lot more effective at dealing with capsaicin than water is.

“You guys really like yer spice,” Gahi said.

“It’s okay,” Mispy said.

“Feh, you’d eat anything.”

“Say that again.” Owen didn’t have to look to know that Gahi had inched away from the Chikorita.

I mean, considering some snippets of later HoC I've seen floating around on the net... Gahi isn't wrong there. ^^;

Zena didn’t take a bowl for herself, but she stayed for the company. Though, compared to the previous dinners, she was a lot quieter than usual. And the only real difference was that Rhys was eating with them—and Nevren, but Owen knew that it was mostly the ex-Hunter Lucario that she was focused on.

Wait, was Rhys also present for those other dinners? Since if she's quieter than them, that... has some implications for what those other dinners were like.

It was either because nobody else spoke, or because he, too, caught the tension, but even Gahi was quiet during dinner. In an attempt to stuff the thickness of the air away, Owen finished his meal first; almost immediately after he set his bowl down for the final time, Zena moved to speak.

Thank you for the dinner, Amia. It was lovely.”

“Oh, you’re welcome, dear.”

“I will be going.”

Small recommendation to break up this first paragraph here. Though I can already tell this is going to take a turn for the awkward in 3... 2...

Without any further goodbye, she slithered out.

“I—I’ll go, too,” Owen said automatically, stepping away.

Rhys stood up next, which made everyone except Nevren stare in alarm. “Er—Rhys, dear?” Amia asked. “Is something the matter?”

Rhys: "... Amia, are you seriously asking this question when one of your guests was very deliberately ignoring me and trying to make me feel unwelcome during dinner?"

Amia: "... It was worth asking anyways?"

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Nevren said leisurely, taking another spoonful of stew. “Amia, you must tell me how you cook these potatoes. The texture is marvelous.”

“Oh—I’ll tell you about the recipe, dear, but—”

She'd have to kill him afterwards? ^^;

“Would you excuse me?” Nevren stood up with more agency than usual. Rhys had already gone out, following Zena. Owen, watching it all, sped up his pace to make sure nothing particularly insane happened—not that enough had already befallen him the past few days.

“Hey, uh, Zena?” Owen said, stepping inside Zena’s abode nervously. “Er… sorry if I’m bothering you or anything, but…”

You aren’t bothering me at all, Owen.” Zena slipped into the lake and kept her upper body above the water’s surface. While her eyes had a fire that defied her affinities, Owen could only assume she was telling the truth, particularly when her glare was aimed behind him.

Owen: "U-Um... you are trying to get over your thing with Rhys, right?"


Owen: "... R-Right?"

“Ah… yes. Hello, Zena.” Rhys gave a formal bow. “I didn’t mean to intrude, but—”

“Then why are you here?”

Both Owen and Rhys winced. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi caught up to them, Nevren right behind.

Owen: "(I'm... just going to take that as a 'hell no' there.)" ._.;

“I… I wanted to apologize, again, for my actions in chasing you down. It wasn’t right of me, and I regret it—all of it. I want to make things right, and I want all of the Guardians to stop living in isolation and fear because of what the Hunters—myself included—had done.”

While Zena didn’t look convinced, she still replied enough to humor him.

And how do you intend to do that? By approaching the Guardians again, but in peace? Just like that Torkoal tried? I doubt they would believe you.”

That was that same Torkoal that's Rhys' lover, wasn't it?

“That is why I came here,” Rhys said, paws squeezed into little, anxious balls. “I need your help.”

“Rhys, what exactly are you doing?” Nevren said.

“Something I should have done when I first met her,” Rhys said, taking slow, deliberate, and careful steps into Zena’s home.

Owen: "Um, Rhys? Maybe you should ask the 'mon who hates your guts if this is alright before-" o_o;

“Don’t come any closer, Hunter,” Zena hissed. “We may be working toward the same goal, but I refuse to—”

Rhys held out a paw and lowered his head.

Owen: "(Rhys, seriously? What are you doing?!)"

The Mystic flash that came from Zena’s mouth suggested she was about to blast him until his head went down. The light disappeared, replaced by words.

What are you doing?”

Oh hey, I knew I was onto something, even if I didn't get who'd do the wondering right.

“I, Lucario Rhys, Promise to abandon my role as a Hunter. Do you accept?” His paw glowed in a soft, golden light.

While Owen sensed no reaction from the rest of Team Alloy, the way Nevren ended up blinking several times, and how Zena flinched, made the Charmeleon let out a quick, confused chirp.

Doesn’t he already promise that, implicitly?”

Owen: "Rhys, I thought you stopped being a Hunter forever ago-" .-.
Rhys: "I'm making it formal as a gesture of good will?" ^^;

But Zena didn’t answer him; she was completely focused on Rhys.

A Divine Promise, you mean?”

“Yes. I won’t kill another Guardian. My work as a Hunter is done, officially, and by Divine Promise.”

Owen: "... I'm sorry, what's a 'Divine Promise' again and why are you two treating it like it's some sort of blood pact-?" .-.
Rhys: "Owen, please. You're ruining the moment right now." >_>;

“…This is a trick,” Zena said hastily. “You couldn’t simply—abandon your—”

Rhys repeated, more firmly this time, “Zena, I hereby Promise to abandon my role as a Hunter. Do you accept?”

Owen: "... Rhys, just out of morbid curiosity, but what exactly happens if you break a Divine Promise again?" ^^;
Rhys: "I'll explain later, but it's irrelevant, since I won't break this one."

She stared at his paw for a while longer, the significance completely lost to Owen. He could only infer that this was a lot more than Rhys’ word alone…

“Do you accept?”

More silence. While he didn’t know her for long, Owen had never seen Zena’s eyes so wide. Shakily, she held out one of her ribbons, grasping Rhys’ paw.

I… I—I accept.”

... Wait, is the room going to blow up or something in like 5 seconds? Since that sure seemed really tense and heavy for a promise between two Pokémon there.

Nevren looked like he was about to faint. Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy all looked at Owen for an answer, but the Charmeleon only replied with a shrug and wide eyes.

The golden light between Zena’s ribbon and Rhys’ paw flashed, then faded. Rhys stood up, his expression firm, and bowed at her again. Zena, meanwhile, was stunned into complete silence, ribbon still hovering where Rhys’ paw had been. She finally closed her mouth and looked down.

Th-thank you, Rhys. But I’m very tired.”

Owen: "... Rhys? What on earth was that-?" o_o;
Rhys: "Again, I'll explain later, Owen." -_-;

“I understand.”

She doesn’t look tired at all, Owen noted, frowning. Why were serpents so hard to read? “Um, Zena, will you be okay on your own?”

I actually find that hilarious that Owen would have trouble reading a serpentine creature given that snakes and lizards are relatively close to one another on the taxonomic tree.

And to this, Zena gave him a warm smile that Owen hoped was genuine.

I’ll be fine tonight, but thank you. I… need to think.”

Owen: "... Which I suppose given that I'm actively hoping it was genuine, it probably isn't." ._.;

“Do you feel safe, dear?” Amia asked, holding a hand to the fin on her chest.

Alex bumped his cannons together. “If you would like company, we could always stand by your home.”

Owen: "I'll come too!" ^^
Zena: "Um, Owen, as much as I appreciate the thought, but if Rhys doesn't keep his word, I think you're going to be more than a little outmatched-" ._.;

“I believe I will be okay. There will always be others awake, yes?”

“Oh, certainly. Owen, you still need your rest, but we will be awake to keep an eye on things.”

Zena looked at her ribbon. “…I won’t deny that I feel at least slightly safer. But… thank you anyway.”

She turned around. [ ]

I’m going to meditate and converse with my spirits. We’re all a bit… Well. I’ll be seeing you tomorrow morning. Hopefully Star will finally return with news.”

Would recommend splitting and expanding the "she turned around" part of the last paragraph. Though wait, is the "I believe I will be okay" meant to be from Zena, or from Owen? Since I assumed it was from Zena, but Amia's line there is also addressing Owen when he didn't speak up for three lines prior to this one.

The mushrooms were dim compared to the fire in the center of the room. Owen was always fond of the light; if anything, he was glad that the bright flames didn’t bother his parents’ sleeping patterns. Since they lacked one. He wanted to sleep right on top of it, but Amia said it would make him smell of smoke all the next day. Instead, he went for his boring Rawst bed and lazily rolled until his arm dipped into a small alcove in the wall. Out came a book titled The Power and Peril of Seeds and Scarves, with Owen hoping that a bit of nonfiction could take his mind off of things. As interesting as it was, every page made his eyes just a bit heavier, the existential worries of his relatively newfound power and problems washing away.

I suppose that I should be less surprised that a technically-oriented book would help put Owen to sleep. But hey, that's not exactly a rare trait.

Alex knocked his cannons against Owen’s room, the sound echoing hollowly. “Owen?”

“Hey.” Owen placed the book, open-faced, on his chest. “Something wrong?”

I didn't realize that Amia and Alex were right there. While I get that they mentioned that they'd help keep watch over Zena's place, I wonder if there was a more explicit way of saying that they're literally in the room with Owen in the intro paragraph or something.

The Magmortar smiled. “I was about to ask you that.” He sat down near his bed—due to his size, he towered over Owen without any effort. “The past few days must have been really hectic.”

“Yeah, a little,” Owen said, shrugging. “But I’m starting to get used to it.”

Owen: "... Which I should probably be more concerned about given how much of the past few days have been outright traumatic, but it is what it is."

“I can tell.”


Alex chuckled quietly. “Well, this is the first time that you’re still awake after all your training.”

That intensive, huh? Though I guess it makes sense with what we saw of how Owen's latest session went down given that he was visibly winded at the end and that was after improvement from the past days.

Owen blushed, hiding beneath his book, focused on an image depicting a Reviver Seed’s healing light.

Did I really just pass out that fast?”

“It certainly seemed that way.” Alex pressed his cannons together. “Owen, er… is there anything that you’d like to talk about? Anything that might be bothering you, or…?”

Oh, so that little light visual effect from the games literally happens in this setting. Noted, then.

Owen’s expression slowly transitioned from flustered to subdued, though he remained hidden behind the pages. He had been focused so much on training that he never had the time to really reflect on why he was doing it in the first place, or what had happened on that disastrous day. He felt his scales crawl, like they were about to become leaves, and shuddered.

Owen: "I'm... never going to get used to this, am I?"

He felt Alex staring at him. Something had to be said to that, and it felt almost like a disservice to just tell him that everything was okay. Owen sighed, relenting.

I guess there’s one thing that sort of bothered me, but… I just…”

“Yes, Owen? Please, anything. I want to be as open as I can with you, now that, well… this is happening.”

Owen closed his eyes, focused on the dark. It was rare that he’d want to see nothing—especially since his flame kept his species perpetually in the light.

How come you guys wouldn’t show up when I became a Heart?”

Well, this is going to get nice and awkward in short order, I can already tell.


Owen waited. All in all, it was one thing that certainly bothered him, out of everything. Becoming a Heart was monumental… and yet they weren’t even in the crowd.

“Well, we… it was dangerous. What if the Hunters tried to attack us while we were out in the open? We could possibly fight them off on our own, but if there are innocents nearby…”

Owen: "Dad, Anam is a Mystic himself and he was literally right there."

Alex: "... He's Anam so it doesn't count?"

Owen figured that would be the answer. It was only fair. But after those countless attempts, year after year, of trying to join the Hearts—he had no idea how many times he had been rejected—the day he was accepted, they couldn’t just take one risk?

“Why were you able to show up at Anam’s place?”

Owen: "Since, you know, this whole 'Guardians can't gather together for safety from Hunters' thing just seemed to conveniently go out the window the moment that I became one."

“Anam came to get us,” Alex said. “Out of all of us, he’s the one strong enough to be in public… and he’s the only other Guardian we know.”

Kek, I knew I was onto something with that joke about "Anam doesn't count", though yeah. Anam being significantly up there on the power scale tracks and is kinda foreshadowed by the cover art, so...

Though Owen’s claws were still squeezing the book cover, he knew that was a reasonable enough answer. But something still felt wrong.

“Owen, what’s this really about? I think… you already knew those answers.”

Owen: "I mean, we could get into why it suspiciously feels like you're lying to me still, but..." >_>;

Owen snorted a bit of fire; his heart skipped a beat, reflexively trying to put out the flames on the page, but then he remembered he had bought special Rawst editions. The pages remained unaffected. He sighed, finally lowering the book.

Why didn’t you tell me?”

Alex flinched. “T-tell you?”

“About… you. That the whole village is dead. And that Mom’s…”

Can't tell if we're about to get a proper explanation now that Owen's properly Mystic or else if we're going to get more deflection and lying since there had to be a reason why Amia and Alex tried to keep this all hidden from Owen all this time.

“We just wanted you to live a normal life, Owen. That’s really all.”


That's not how this story works, buddy.

“But—that was just a huge lie!”

Owen dared to peek out from behind the book. He regretted it immediately; Alex’s eyes were right on him, accompanied by an apologetic frown. He couldn’t bear to look at it for much longer, yet without thinking placed the book to the side of his nest. The Charmeleon rolled on the leaves, staring at the fire in the center of the room. For some reason, the flames seemed a lot colder tonight.

Wait, is the cold flames supposed to be a sign of regret by spirits / channeling them wavering or something? Or is that just Owen being plagued with feelings of regret right now?

“I’m sorry, Owen.” Alex placed his arm on the Charmeleon’s back, giving it a gentle press between his shoulders. Owen’s body loosened, muscles relaxing. “We just didn’t want you to panic. If you could have just had… the smallest sense of normalcy… where you wouldn’t have to feel afraid, or wouldn’t get scared by anything you saw, or what you knew… I—I didn’t want you to worry.”

I legitimately can't tell if this is earnest or more BSing, but if nothing else, it seems that Amia and Alex at least wanted Owen to not get sucked into life as a shonen protagonist in his most recent memory loop. If not an outright reincarnation cycle given that we've seen that rezzing is on the table in some circumstances in this setting, so…

“Right.” Owen should have expected an answer like that, too. He already knew that the rest of the village spirits—now within Amia so she could spend more power training him—were surely proud. And perhaps, when his training was His eyes softened, finally gathering enough nerve to look at Alex directly. “What’s Mom doing, anyway?”

“Standing guard outside, as always.”


Alex: "Owen, it's been a long day for you. Do you seriously think that I'd lie to your face now of all times?" -_-;

As always. Owen wasn’t sure what his face looked like, but it was apparently insulted enough that Alex looked at the fire next.

“I’m sorry.”

Owen couldn’t stay mad at that face. With a sigh of defeat, he just smiled at his father, “It’s okay. I… I get it. You guys just wanted me to be happy, and… I was.”

Somehow, Alex’s relieved smile spread to Owen’s, too… or perhaps that was because he could barely stay awake. The fatigue was starting to set in again. At least he had some time to chat.

How have… I been doing?” Owen asked. “With my training… Mystic… strong.”

Alex: "... Not terrible, at least?" ^^;
Owen: "Dad, if I wasn't doing good, you can just tell me, you know." >_>;

“You’ve been doing well, Owen. I’m so proud of you for how well you’re taking all this. So is your mother.”

“Mhmm…” Owen’s eyelids fluttered. The flames were a blurry, dancing blotch in front of his eyes, ever-present and cozy. “Guardians… Star, gonna…

Ah yes, her again. Only good things can come from Star coming into the mix here, truly.

“Soon, hopefully,” Alex replied. “Maybe if we can get them together, we can take on the Hunters. If they. . .”

Owen wasn’t sure what Alex said after that. He curled around a clump of leaves, the tip of his tail touching his snout, and faded. He had many nights to rest, but it was the first time that he hadn’t just passed out immediately. Yet, despite this, it was the most restful sleep he’d had since becoming the Grass Guardian.

In his sleep, Owen heard his mother’s voice.

Good night, little ember.

That last line's adorable. Though it makes me wonder if stuff like 'ember' or 'cinder' are common terms of endearment among Fire-types in general in this world (or set of them based off some passing lines of dialogue from Anam and the gang).

Though thanks to Serebii's character limits at the time of posting, the portion of this review covering the final scene was moved into its own post.

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Chapter 11 - cont.

“Well… I know for sure that Rim already stole one of the Orbs,” Star said, sitting on Anam’s dark wooden desk. In the morning light, James felt it was appropriate to gather everybody together once Star brought news to Amia that she had gathered all the intelligence she needed. It had been another few days, but the rest was well worth it—at least from Owen’s perspective. While he was never allowed to go on missions with Team Alloy, his meditation and training with Zena and Amia, while excruciating, was also… fun? Perhaps that’s how it felt, finally able to truly exert himself and fight in ways that most civilians felt uncomfortable with.

Ah yes, a Star scene. Time to see how fast things go from 0 to
given that I can already tell that the skeletons are going to be flying out of the closet in live-time.

“She has the Psychic Orb, actually. Appropriate, given she always likes being an Espurr, but…” She shook her head. “That one wasn’t very well-guarded. Some village had it as an artifact, hidden in plain sight, so all she had to do was sneak in and steal it. Didn’t have any power. Folks who tried touching it never woke up again, so, guess they just saw it as too dangerous.”

Likes being an Espurr? Implying that Rim isn't really one? What is she, a Ditto? A Zoroark? Or do Mystic Orbs grant the ability to species-shift akin to the property of Transfer Orbs?

“How about all the other Orbs?” Owen asked.

“As far as I know, they’re all with a Guardian, but most I wouldn’t recommend going to just now,” Star said. “Still, we’re in a good spot. Four Orbs with us, one Orb to them.”

Again, I am not convinced at all that gathering all the guardians in one place isn't just going to result in someone, potentially Star at this rate, just knifing everyone in the back to take all the power for themselves.

“How come you can’t just tell them to come over?” Owen asked.

“For one,” Star held up a nebulous claw, “a lot of them are kinda leery about me since, you know, I told them to stay put and all that, and suddenly changing my tune is gonna throw them off. And two, even if I did tell them that, uh, news flash, Hunters might get them on their way over. We need to go to them as a group in case we run into trouble.”


Star, just saying, you're giving me some really strong Airy vibes right about now, and I know how that turned out since I played Bravely Default back in the day.

Zena, while still flashing glares at Star whenever she could, kept herself professional enough to contribute. “I suppose she has a point. If that’s the case, let’s begin with Orbs you believe are the easiest to access. That means the Hunters would have the easiest time getting them, too.”

“Okay. I’ll put down those dots first,” Star said. “Then you guys can grab the first one. Uhh…”

She looked up at the huge map on the front wall of Anam’s office. The others followed her gaze. It depicted a great, roughly-circle-shaped country that comprised almost all of the world’s dry land. Everything else was just ocean. Owen saw the marking of his home to the north of Kilo Mountain in the center of the map.

- Beat moment -
Owen: "Wait, our entire world is literally one country and a surrounding sea?" .-.
Star: "Well, our setting may or may not have been duct taped together from some odds and ends by Arceus. Kinda a common theory among the readerbase, and hey, it's not that rare a premise among PMD fics, is it?"

“This one’s pretty good. She’s a little weird, but she won’t hurt you, maybe. Willow, the Fairy Guardian. She’s right here, in a hidden garden inside that forest….” She pointed at a pale green patch of land within a northwestern woodland called Fae, Fae Forest.

Demitri shuddered slightly. “Fairy, huh…”

Oh, so we're going to see Demitri have a moment like:


one of these days, huh? :V

“Oh, calm down,” Star hushed him. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“I—I do!” Demitri said. “I just… won’t try to fight her.”

Narrator: "He absolutely does not want to go."

“How about all the other locations?” Owen asked. “We should try to rescue them all at once!”

“No-go on that,” Star dismissed. “Spread ourselves too thin, the Hunters will beat us down.”

Star: "Seriously, Owen, there's at least a dozen others out there. Words do not begin to describe how bad of an idea sending one or two Pokémon at a time to each would be."

Owen: "... But don't we risk the Hunters just picking off other Orbs and Guardians that are just completely undefended at the moment?" .-.

“Hrm.” James fluffed up his feathers. “At the same time, we risk giving the Hunters even more time than necessary if we all go to them one by one. Perhaps we should follow official Heart protocol—teams of four or fewer. On a practical level, it’s the most optimal size for a mission of this scale.”

And conveniently, it keeps things from being a massive mess for the author and keeps narrow and focused party sizes. :V

Which will probably go out the window in due time given that IIRC this whole orb hunt thing goes off the rails within the span of an Act, but hey. It's nice to have plans.

Owen nodded. “I feel like you’d need someone dedicated to just managing things if you have too many Hearts fighting on one team.”

Nevren chuckled. “A Heart manager. It sounds as if you want a tactician.”

Rhys glared at Nevren. The Alakazam ignored it.

I mean, considering how we've already learned that Nevren casually manages Kilo Village's minds, that comment about being a 'Heart manager'... probably is going feel dramatically less funny in retrospect in like 20 chapters or so.

“What an interesting concept, Owen,” Nevren went on. “Well, I’m not much of a fighter, so perhaps I can play that role,” he said. “Would you care if I gave you all communication devices? I’ve actually been working on this for quite some time, and it may actually be useful in this case, hm.”

“Y-you can do that? How?”

Wait, badges? Or something more advanced than that?

“It’s similar technology to how my Waypoints have been working, but instead of transferring solid material such as Pokémon and their possessions, it transfers energy, such as, in this case, the vibrations of the air made by speaking. Quite useful, yes?”

Nevren pulled from his bag—as if he’d been waiting a while to announce this—what appeared to be three silver Badges.

I only have two at the moment… ah, no, three.”

Yup, I called it. Though wait, how on earth have the Thousand Hearts been coordinating all this time if badges in this world are prototype technology?

“They look… kinda like our Badge,” Owen said.

“Yes, I wanted there to be a resemblance. However, the color is quite different, so I imagine there will not be much confusion.”

Well, never mind then. Though I doubt that the only thing separating these from normal badges is a color scheme, so that's got me wondering...

It was indeed a lot like the Badge, but the design in the center was not a heart, but a diamond. However, it was the silver sheen, compared to the typical gold, was the most immediate difference.

Mispy prodded one of the communicators with a vine. “Mnn… nice.”

Are there others that are spades and clubs as well? :V

“How do you use it?” Owen asked.

“You press the center rhombus and speak into it. So long as the other badge is not pressed, it will reflect what it ‘hears’… to put it simply.”

Gahi pressed the little rhombus with his tiny foot. “Can yeh hear me?”

Can yeh hear me? the other two said at the very same time.

Owen: "Huh... convenient. Though what happens if multiple wearers press the diamond thingy at the same time?"

“Whoa!” Owen said. “That’s… really cool!”

The Trapinch clicked. “That’s how I sound?”

“Sounded normal to me,” Demitri said.

“Mhm.” Mispy nodded.

Ah yes, Gahi discovering that "wait, do I really sound like that?" dynamic that happens since a person's voice as heard with their own ears travels differently than sound coming from an external source. Though it makes me wonder if some species of Pokémon are uniquely prone to "wait, I sound like that?" relative to others.

Gahi grumbled something and pushed the communicator to the others with a flick of his head. “I don’t like it.”


Demitri: "I'm sure you'll get used to it soon enough, Gahi." ^^;

“Aww, you sound fine, Gahi. We’re used to it,” Demitri teased. “Hey, how about we compete for second place on evolving on this mission, huh?”

Almost instantly, their cheerful expressions shifted to challenging glares, and the challenge was on.

- Blinks -
I didn't think that we'd seriously be broaching the topic of evolution for party members this early in the plot, but considering how fast Owen got his first evo and with the implication a couple chapters back that Team Alloy used to be fully evolved, well...

“Hey!” Owen perked up. “How about for this mission, all four of us team u—”

“No!” Rhys and Star said.

Owen jumped.

Owen: "H-Huh? Is... there something wrong with that idea?" ._.;

Rhys shook his head. “That is not a good idea. We need at least one elite with you. Don’t forget, you’re all only at the Entry level. The Hunters… No. I shall accompany them.”

I mean, I suppose that logically makes sense given that Rhys has been apprenticing Team Alloy to begin with. Even if I'm kinda expecting Zena to cut in and throw a fit in short order.

“And your father and I will go with you instead, Owen,” Amia said, smiling.

Owen deflated. He really wanted to fight as a quartet…

Zena: "Ahem."
Owen: "Oh! Wait... are you actually here right now? Or is that a cutaway gag thing-?" ^^;

“So that will be a team with Rhys and his students,” James said, “and a team of Owen, Amia, and I presume Alex. That leaves you, Zena… perhaps to come with myself and Anam. Do you have a spirit to accompany you?”

Zena glanced at Owen, but then sighed and addressed James. “None that I can solidify usefully.”

Owen: "Wait, but Nevren, if she's here, couldn't she come with-?" ^^;

“I can’t go,” Star said. “I’m too strong to solidify completely, and I want Anam to focus that energy on keeping James out. I’ll just cheer for you guys... okay?”

Nevren nodded. “I wish you all luck,” he said. “I will remain behind to manage the Hearts while you are away, yes?”

Owen: "H-Huh?! B-But-!" :<
Star: "Sorry, Owen, but such is life when canon buts up against these gags. It was a cute thought, though."

“Oh! Yeah, thank you, Nevren!” Anam said. “Um… I think that’s everyone! Yeah! So, we’ll have three teams! Star? Where should we go?”

“Hmm, okay. Like I said, Fairy Guardian is one. Rock and Normal are also ones that I’m kinda worried about the Hunters reaching sooner, so let’s do them, too.” Star pointed to the map. “Great Crevice for the statue.”

On the map, a great, rocky gash trailed across an eighth of the land’s diameter, like a great titan had cut across the southeastern part of the map. Then, Star pointed to a spot in a western forest near Kilo Mountain.

And not too far from here, there’s an abandoned temple deep in the woods. Nothing’s really there anymore, but… Anam, you’re familiar with that place, right? You should go there, since you know the way.”

A great titan did cut across the southeastern part of the map, huh? Though Star's paragraph is long enough that it could probably work best cut into three smaller ones, as demonstrated above.

“Why is the Normal Guardian at a temple?” Owen asked.

“He kinda likes modern architecture.”

“What’s a modern?” Gahi asked.

“Uhhh—it means ancient. Sorry, I kinda get my terms mixed up. Generational lingo, y’know? Kinda hard for a god to keep up when you’re cooped up in the spirit world.”

Ah yes, the first hint that HoC's world is descended from a mainline one, which I would suppose would explain the Word of God note of how In Beta ties into this story in spite of it being radically different in premise and setting on its face.

Owen was busy chatting with Zena to notice what else Star was saying. He already had his assignment. “I guess it’s good that I’m not a Dragon Type after all, huh?”

“Oh, you aren’t?” Zena asked. “You know, I always thought the Charmander line was part Dragon.”

Owen: "Haha, not all dragons are Dragon-type Pokémon!" ^^
Gahi: "Feh, that sounds more like a cope if you ask me-"

Owen: "Oi, that's literally canon now! And you're one to talk! You don't even get Dragon-typing until you evolve!" >_>;

“Believe me, I wish that was true,” Owen grumbled. “Dragons are awesome. We even look like one, if you compare us! But I guess someone”—Owen glared at Star—“thought we were better off with things like Pidgey. N-no offense to Pidgey or anything.”

I can already tell that someone's going to have quite the party if and when he ever gets a moment as a Megazard-X.

Zena nodded. “Well, I think you’re just fine, regardless of your Type. Fire… or Grass.”

Owen tittered. “Yeah, I guess Grass isn’t so bad after all.” He lied aloud, if only to keep Mispy from dismembering him in his sleep.

Mispy: "Very smart of you, Owen." >:|
Owen: "Y-Yeah, I know. A-Anyhow, let's just move right along from that, shall we?"

Zena giggled—something that surprised Owen at first, how bright her eyes looked for just a flash—and then she composed herself. “Well, in any case, good luck, Owen, with the Fairy Guardian. I hope we can spend some time reading a book together when we return?”

Wait, scratch that, that's going to be the siggy art moment from TR. I can already tell.

Owen tilted his head. That was an odd set of muscle movements. He wasn’t sure if Zena was tense for the mission, or what. Perhaps she was just nervous, and Milotic expressed that differently. Defaulting to a cheerful smile, Owen said, “Hey, sure. That sounds great! And good luck with the Normal Guardian!”

With the teams prepared and Badges charged, they all dispatched for their respective Waypoints.

Owen: "Whelp, look out world, since we've got Guardians to find! And nobody's gonna stop us!" ^^
Alex: "... (Think we should encourage him to pace himself, Amia? He is still early on in his training.)"
Amia: "(Nah, it'll be fine, I'm sure.)"

Alright, made it to the end, and there's quite a bit to pick over thought-wise, so I'll do my best at trying to keep things coherent in a recap:

This chapter felt a bit more transitional than most that I've seen thus far, but between the sheer amount of cuh-ray-zee that's been going down over the 10-ish chapters before this and the fact that the first SE of the story immediately follows, perhaps that was deliberate. Since even if it was a lower boil than normal, it did feel like we got plenty of direction, since we've left behind the old paradigm for real and Owen and the gang have been given a new goal for now to get pointed off at, which is definitely a nice hook to encourage readers to come back.

As for criticisms of the chapter, I don't have too many of them. The low-hanging fruit is that there seemed to be a few paragraphs here and there that were very long and "dense" that would likely benefit from being broken up into smaller ones. On a more structural side, but part of me wonders if this actually would've benefitted better as being two chapters with each half modestly expanded, since the bit with Owen's training as a Guardian admittedly felt a bit compressed since we essentially fast forward from zero to a few days in, which doesn't quite give the same dynamic as seeing Owen faceplant and get back up and improve "on-screen" and then showing Amia and Alex react to that. But that might just be me, and I fully understand the argument for letting the cards fall where they may on old writing.

But altogether, I think that this chapter turned out pretty good @Namohysip . It felt like a decent arc sendoff leading into SE1 and what I presume will be the next arc of Act I afterwards. Thanks for your patience for these prize reviews, and I'll be looking forward to diving into the last of them sometime in the near future. ^^


Dragon Enthusiast
Thanks for the review, Fobbie! Really appreciate it. I got you elsewhere, but it's been fun watching you get through these early chapters.

Now, for a very later chapter...

Chapter 154 – Void Isle

The ship groaned and creaked as it reached the isle and the crew let down the anchors. Owen quietly told the currents to slow down as they made landfall.

It had indeed only been another sleep before they’d arrived, and there was still no update from the team in Kilo Village, only that ADAM had gone missing. That wasn’t good. Hopefully, they would find him after finding Alexander, as morbid as it was. There was nothing Owen could do about it now, as much as his hands shook at the thought of what it could mean.

“So this is the Voidlands’ Zero Isle. Uh, Void Isle, I guess,” Owen said, looking ahead to see a small island of sparse, thin trees with dark purple leaves and even darker trunks. In the center of the island, only a handful of kilos of flight away, there was a great spire of rock as black as obsidian.

Lumbering through the forest and around this rock were Titans. Owen counted at least ten, and some of them vaguely resembled familiar Legends. Several of them he recognized from their dim, glowing, six eyes in peculiar patterns. Though, he never met any of the Regis in person before. They were meant to be guardians.

“We aren’t seriously gonna fight all of those, are we?” Demitri asked, whimpering.

Despite how pathetic he sounded, he was hauling Valle over his back like it was petty luggage. Valle himself was content with being a statue, as always, and nothing convinced him to move otherwise.

“If Owen gives the command, we gotta,” Gahi stated flatly, sounding like he still hated that fact.

Mispy only stared at Owen.

“…Are you waiting for an order?” Owen asked.

“What else?” Mispy stated.

Owen sighed. He supposed she had a point there.

“My order is…” Owen closed his eyes. “Tell me what you think.”

“I think this is somethin’ doable, but I ain’t gonna like it,” Gahi said.

“There’s only a few of us… we’re nearly outnumbered by Titans!” Demitri pointed at them. “And we can tell these are all Titans with a Core, too! Isn’t this, um, isn’t this sort of the job of the other group?”

“I’ll admit,” Mhynt said, “I wasn’t expecting this number. However… we can sneak past them, too. A shame Enet didn’t come with us.”

“Do we have any other ways to hide?” Demitri asked.

“Speed’s another option,” Trina suggested. “And, Owen, is there not that gift Xerneas gave you?”

“Gift?” Owen asked. “He never gave me a gift.”

Trina stared. “No marble with blue in it?”

Owen slowly shook his head. “We were going to get a bunch of blessings, but Alexander’s sudden attack expedited it and I couldn’t get too many. I just have some from Azelf. Besides, Xerneas can’t give blessings; he didn’t get Necrozma’s—”

“This is with Xerneas’ power alone,” Trina said. “Did he really not give it to you? I was speaking to him about my own ‘Team Alloy’ and how well they’d come along. I’m surprised.”

Despite this, the Snivy looked pensive. “I suppose it was a long talk while he was having me evolve… But he mentioned that his power over life also ties into evolution. He can apparently give some sacred power that goes beyond… oh, never mind.” She sighed. “We can ask him why he didn’t give it to you later. I have my suspicions.”

Owen gave Trina a tired look. Picking his battles, he refocused on the mountain, so near, yet so far.

“Let’s just go,” Owen said. “We’ll try to sneak past the normal way. Hide my flame, and…”

Mhynt sighed. “That is our best strategy. We are not equipped to defeat so many Titans at once. One of them is likely Emily, too, and she will be especially powerful, even if it’s only a piece of her.”

The last thing Owen wanted to deal with was an aggressive Emily.

With the danger of being eaten again—to add to the uncomfortable number of times Owen could already recall something similar in the past—looming over him, Owen hid his flame with a simple black veil he’d brought. They checked one another for any glowing they might have forgotten about—now that they knew the Orbs were related to Necrozma, it made sense why it always happened—and they were confidently dim.

“That’s everything,” Owen said.

“Ladies first,” Mhynt said, gesturing for Owen to take the lead.

“…I was a girl in a few rebirths, you know,” Owen muttered, taking the lead.

“I know. You told me before.”

“You were?” Zena asked.

“Did it hurt?” Demitri asked.

Mispy gave Demitri a befuddled look.

Owen rolled his eyes. “Nevren didn’t perfect the Reincarnation Machine for a while,” he explained. “Sometimes, the body my spirit was put into wasn’t the same. To be honest, I don’t think he was able to restore it to how it used to be at all. Too many variables, he said.”

“Fascinating… He really did just grow a new body for you, just like that?” Zena tilted her head.

“More than that,” Owen said. “To be honest… I think one thing Nevren did was give me a sharper mind. I used to be pure feral. I always wondered if…” He trailed off.

“Oh.” Zena glanced away. “I… That seems like something complicated to think about, considering how he is now.”

“Yeah.” And Owen still didn’t know how to wrestle with that thought.

They’d found a favorable patch of gnarled trees to sneak through. The soil was incredibly soft and dampened even Demitri’s heavy footsteps. Eventually, over harder patches of dirt, Demitri elected to ride atop Mispy, who could glide over the ground with her countless vines. Zena was silent along the earth. Mhynt, so small, simply rode atop Mispy’s back. Trina rode on Gahi’s shoulder, occasionally speaking to him about something or another.

Gahi floated, because, according to him, he wanted to show off that he could. Azelf did as well, and Uxie quietly reminded him that he could always do that. It didn’t seem to register. Mesprit nervously stayed close to Mispy.

Owen had tried the same with his conjured gusts, but the soil, while soft, was also loose. His gusts kicked up dirt and would easily give them away.

“Have you considered becoming a Charmander again?” Mhynt offered. “It shouldn’t be hard for you. Being small is probably favorable now.”

“I know,” Owen said. “But… if we do get attacked… it wouldn’t be good, now, would it?”

Mhynt crossed her arms. “I don’t remember you ever devolving intentionally before.”

“Hey, y’know, now that I think about it, yer right,” Gahi said. “Hey, c’n I do that?”

“Anyone with divine power has control over their bodies. Old shapes are easy, just as younger ages are maintained.” Mhynt hummed.

“Well, I ain’t gonna,” Gahi said. “Flygon’s cool.”

“Gahi gets it,” Owen said.

Mhynt squinted. “But it’s much more practical to remain small,” he said. “You out of all of us would be spotted easily, Owen.”

“She has a point,” Zena said. “Owen, can you? Just for a little while, before we get closer to the Titans.”

Owen sighed. “…Fine, fine,” he said. “How do I do it?”

“You haven’t at all?” Uxie asked.

“No,” Owen said shortly. “So just tell me how to do it already.”

Mhynt gave Owen another disapproving look. “You’ve done it before, surely…”

Now, he could feel all their eyes on him, closing in on all sides. Their inquisitive stares, every curious muscle of their bodies.

Except for Trina. “Does it hold bad memories?” she asked.

He flinched. That was absurd. Sure, being a Charmander was humiliating, and being a Charmeleon was awkward and too gangly for his liking. But bad memories? That was… silly.

But Owen couldn’t reply as the words sank in more. Bad memories. “They weren’t bad,” Owen said, more as if he was trying to convince Trina than anything. “But… I mean, well… I don’t know. I doubt that’s it…”

“Owen,” Zena said, her voice a little softer. “It’s okay if… it reminds you of the ‘Reset’ times.”

The rest of Team Alloy flinched and looked away; Trina only bowed her head in understanding.

“…I’ll do it,” Owen said, an odd heaviness in his chest. “I’m not gonna let some… fear of that… get in the way. It’s… irrational.”

Despite this, he didn’t change. It was an act of will, wasn’t it? And he couldn’t find that will. He’d crossed whole oceans of darkness and pushed through all that came before, and yet now he was wavering? What would the others think?

Mhynt suddenly hushed them, and all went quiet. Owen made sure his flame was veiled. The ground rumbled; one of the Titans was nearby. Were they spotted?

Each slow step rumbled the ground. A little louder. Each one a little harder. And then softer. It was leaving… Simply passing by.

“Okay,” Owen finally said. “Give me a second. I’ll… do it. I’ll do it.”

He steadied his breath, envisioning a smaller self. Smaller, smaller. He lost his height; while he wasn’t as bulky as a normal Charizard, he was still bulkier than a Charmeleon, let alone a Charmander. His scales shifted to red. Realizing he could also hide his flame, he shifted to Grass as well and finally sighed. “That’s better,” he said.

Charmeleon was an acceptable middle ground. Long strides, but no bulk. That lankiness it had was an advantage here.

“And you feel okay?” Zena asked, her voice more delicate than usual.

“Yeah. Thanks,” Owen said. “I’m… it’s fine. I was psyching myself out for nothing.”

“Not for nothing,” Mhynt hummed, pointing forward so they could continue. “I’m sure there are some things that I’d hesitate on, too. Like the opposite of your problem… I’d rather not evolve for a time.”

“Eh? How come?” Gahi asked.

“Mm.” The Treecko shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’d rather not talk about it.”

Gahi and Azelf both squinted, but Mispy and Uxie respectively tapped them on the shoulder and shook their heads.

“Let’s sneak by. Keep quiet,” Owen said, and suddenly, Team Alloy went dead silent. Owen sighed. “I mean… you can talk if you want. Just be careful.”

The sooner they could be free from him, the better.


In Kilo Village, an emergency meeting was called after realizing that ADAM was missing. Nate explained what happened from his perspective, and Barky used that to scan for ADAM’s aura. While his Orb didn’t perfectly resonate with his power as they’d believed before Necrozma’s erasure had been lifted, he could still search for it a little.

That was when a scout returned with some news of activity in an old, abandoned temple that had been a small Dungeon. That put all the pieces together—that was the same temple they’d found ADAM almost a year ago. However, it had become shadowy in nature… They had a strong suspicion that Alexander only used ADAM to return to the Voidlands where he would no longer melt in the light. However, in his wake, ADAM had been corrupted. They had to find a way to purify him before he became another Emily.

Based on those findings, it was clear ADAM had fled to his original hiding spot—the little Dungeon that had formed within the abandoned temple southwest of Kilo Village. There was a Waypoint there, but it had been destroyed with Dark Matter’s attack and not restored. It would take a short trip to get there.

“Well, that’s great,” Star said, crossing her arms. She was still nervous around others, but compared to before, her spirits had been lifted. She figured it was because her talk with Owen had helped resolve some of that unspoken guilt. “I guess we could get a small group to Teleport in, but we can only do that to the Dungeon’s edge. Even worse, I’m pretty sure Emily is starting to drift that way, too. If we linger outside, she might get drawn to us.”

Essential team members were hastily gathered in the Heart HQ office. Those who could make it were Anam, Hecto, herself and Barky, Spice’s team, Marshadow Manny, Eon and Jirachi, Willow, and Nate, who was curled outside the caldera and projecting a little Mimikyu wraith to represent him.

“It’s troublesome either way,” Barky said. “We can either send a team forward to navigate while I try to support you from the air with my stored divine energy to keep Emily away, or we warp in swiftly with a smaller team and hope that’s enough to subdue a Shadow Guardian.”

“An’ it ain’t any normal Shadow, either,” Manny added, arms crossed. “This is Alexander we’re dealin’ with. He may not have Hands, but he’s got the primordial power o’ Kilo’s evil forces behind’m. ‘S far ‘s I’m concerned, that’s a match fer you, big guy.” He gestured nonchalantly to Barky.

The god of gods harrumphed and looked down. “I can’t dispute it. I’ve lost hold of my domain, and now I know why.”

Star knew it was largely because of his temper. She could remember some of those scattered memories of Necrozma, now. After he’d lost it and killed Quartz Isle, Necrozma had shown up to investigate the cosmic disturbance as an Overseer. Nothing but a bureaucratic nut who claimed to manage the gods as part of some upper organization. Like they needed their help.

Okay, maybe they did. But she wasn’t going to admit that to someone so haughty. ‘Give me some of your power for regulation; the two of you in a deadlock is not constructive.’ Yeah, that turned out well.

Hecto was fine, though.

Star had zoned out from the logistical discussions and tuned back in.

“. . . attacking directly. Is Alexander still there, for example, or are we only dealing with a remnant?”

“We should probably get someone with blessings to go in,” Barky suggested. “Necrozma’s, specifically. He had tuned himself to counter Dark Matter’s power with his own, and that carries into Alexander’s.”

“He c’n jus’ do that, eh?” Manny said. “Always wondered how that worked.”

“We allowed him to access the tapestry of Kilo itself. Its ‘core,’ you could say, of the world. And when he saw the flaw, he began to research ways to tune his energy the same way. But… we couldn’t remove it directly without breaking everything… and we didn’t want that. Hence, his light became something to counteract the darkness. It was very… symbolic, but I’m not against it.”

“What, yer sayin’ that if he wanted, he could’ve made a special song a counter instead?”

“Well, er, perhaps,” Barky said. “We’re getting distracted.”

“So, someone with blessings,” Star piped up. “That’d be… Owen, who’s out, or any of his… er… descendants.” She glanced at Phol, part of Spice’s team. But he wasn’t especially powerful. One strong Shadow strike could do him in. Spice could help, but she could only guard so much…

“One problem with tuning his energy in such a way,” Barky said, “is that it made him mutually vulnerable. Just as Shadow is weak to Radiance, Radiance is weak to Shadow. That’s why he fought from great distances so his opponents had no chance to get close.”

“The warping and wormholes helped,” Star murmured, recalling scattered memories of trying to fight something that disappeared into odd portals any time she got close. It was slower than her Teleport, but Necrozma could do it to her attacks, too. Reflecting attacks. Annoying.

“Hmm… Who is our most powerful fighter right now with blessings? Any Legends?”

“They’re still in the Voidlands helpin’ out,” Manny said. “Titan huntin’ and all that. Got kinda cut off when the rift over Hot Spot disappeared, so that’s cut most communications back…”

“Well, that just means we remain with our old problem,” Phol said. “Hmm…”

Something was crackling near the entrance of HQ, down the hall. It was getting closer.

“Excuse me! Where is Heart of Hearts Anam?” called a voice, sounding unpleasantly staticky. Star realized moments later that was panting, or simulated panting. Something like that.

In came a Porygon Z, accompanied by a Rotom who had possessed a ball. Did that make him move faster?

“Hi?” Anam called, waving a slimy hand. He sat awkwardly on the far end of the table, so he stood up and waddled across the room.

“We… we heard that it was that strange Porygon Z Guardian who had been in trouble, right?” Porygon Z asked. His eyes flickered and became what looked like six lines meeting in the middle, with each line darkening in a rhythm, one after the other like tracing a circle. “Hang on, hang on… ADAM! Right?” The eyes returned to normal.

“Do you know him?” Spice asked.

“Y-yipes!” Each of his eyes became an exclamation point in a triangle.

Spice growled. “Answer.”

“Yes! We, um, we tried to treat him before with, uh, some bad programming in his operating system, or something, but that didn’t work out. But! But we know the layout! Let me load it up…”

The circling lines reappeared. Meanwhile, Rotom-ball-forme rolled forward.

“Sorry for my partner’s forwardness.”

“Oh!” Anam clapped. “You’re the specialists for all things electrical, right? You’re our lead techs!”

“Oh! Y-you remember us! That’s wonderful!” Rotom fizzled around the ball like he was holding it to fidget. “Th-thank you. Um. Yes. And well, the Porygon line happens to be derived from ancient human technology, or, um, that’s the tale, and so we help with repairing them when they’re hurt, too. Or, er, hurt in ways that Orans and traditional therapy don’t help with.”

Porygon-Z was buzzing a lot. Star’s ear flicked. Annoying. But he was probably just thinking very hard. She had a soft spot for Porygon.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think your kind of help will work here,” Phol said with a hum. “This is more than… technological malfunctions.”

“The same energy that made me look how I do,” Spice said, “is flowing through him. It’s gonna take more than… technology repair to fix something like that.”

“Complete!” Porygon-Z pointed his beak downward and blasted a tiny and oddly-shaped beam into the ground, scorching it. The Hyper Beam pulse had Spice reflexively on guard, but Anam only walked closer to see what the scorch was.

To Star’s surprise, it was a map. Once Phol seemed to realize what this was, he pulled out a notepad and began to copy it down.

“This is what the inside of ADAM’s programming looks like. It is completely unlike anything that I’d ever been to before and resembled a Dungeon in shape, except for one aspect of its behavior. It did not appear to shift or change. All the segments were the same dimensions, perfectly square, and separated in identical distances with hallways of identical width. It was…” Porygon-Z’s eyes became teardrops. “Beautiful.”

“…Right… So…” Spice crawled to the map. “There aren’t any markings except for the start.”

“Ah, yes. We’d been ejected very quickly, but that was the most my scans showed during our brief time inside.”

“Hmm… I think this could still be useful,” Phol said. “If we’re supposed to be navigating through that Dungeon and finding a way to purge him of that darkness, a basic map would be helpful, even if unmarked.”

“He does have dimensions,” Spice said.

“Yep. ADAM’s internal Dungeon is a perfect 32-by-32 two-dimensional array.”

“I’ll pretend I know what that means.”

“I believe I understand,” Phol said. “Thank you. Now, as for our plan…”

That gave Star an idea. “If we’re dealing with a superpowered Guardian, I know one way this might work,” she said. “It’s the same thing that did me in when I tried to possess Owen.”

This earned a few uncomfortable or dirty looks.

“E-eheh, look, we made up. And now that’s useful!” Star shrank back. “We need to attack from both sides. A team on the surface to keep him busy, and a team on the spirit side infiltrating the Dungeon from my realm, the Ethereal Forest.

“Um, we may be… lowly mortals… but, err… could we also help?” Porygon-Z asked.

“Hmm…” Barky spoke up, making himself known by standing taller and glowing.

Star suppressed an eyeroll. “Yes, Barky?”

“I will grant you a temporary boon of protection,” Barky said. “That way, you will have a chance to flee if things become too dangerous.”

“O-oh! Thank you, Original One!”

Barky radiated a little brighter. Star decided to make all of his things in his room slightly askew again later.

“Well,” Barky said. “Let’s get to logistics.


Getting through the entire dead forest of the island had been a fantasy. Especially when they were encumbered with carrying Valle’s statue.

They’d made it so far. Maybe halfway there, slowly and steadily, with only a few spots where they had to crouch and hide in what little cover they could find.

But Demitri had to sneeze.

Owen didn’t resent him for it. Mostly. And in some ways, it was Owen’s fault for hesitating in commanding him to stop. He didn’t even know if that was possible, but perhaps it had been. But he never commanded Demitri to stop—and he also wasn’t sure if his command would have drawn too much attention.

But after that horrible second of silence, wondering if they’d been spotted, they’d all heard the rumbling of two Titans changing directions. Yes, they’d been found.

Owen panted heavily; they’d been running for a few minutes at top speed, with Gahi leading the way.

Massive beams of darkness carved through the forest, once ancient trees now part of the damp void mulch of the island. Diagonal fissures from near-misses became cold ditches for them to hop over before the lingering corruption singed their scales. Occasionally, Gahi had to go back to divert them as Demitri hurled Zena and the others over them—they’d noticed some time ago that something about the island’s atmosphere kept them from going too high.

They were all half-covered in purple soot by the time a straight shot was visible to them. The base of that strange mountain. The sense of ‘north’ to Owen was stronger than ever, and that was enough.

“Almost!” Owen cried. “Keep going! I’ll hold them back and follow after!”

“This is risky!” Mhynt called.

“That’s why I’m only doing it once!”

He skidded to a stop and turned around. He had about ten seconds before two Titans would be within strong firing range. By his estimates, the team had a whole minute before they’d get to the mountain.

“I’m stayin’, too,” Gahi said. “I’ll help y’run an’ catch up.”

Azelf flew by Owen’s side as well, determined.

“C’mon!” Azelf said. “We’ll all hold ‘em off!”

“Azelf, we can’t fuse,” Owen said. “Get back with the others!”

“I’m sick o’ runnin’!” Azelf said, headbutting Gahi. His eyes squeezed shut, but nothing else happened.

The Titan on the left—its angular and bulky shape suggested Regirock—charged up a crackling ball of blackened electricity. Owen held a hand out and prepared to time his Protect. His other hand was ready to grasp the energy and throw it at whatever the second one—Regice, probably—was going to throw.

“How do we fuse?!” Gahi shouted, hugging Azelf, but nothing seemed to work. “Ain’t the same!”

“Why now?!” Owen, befuddled, shouted back.

Regirock fired the Shadowy Zap Cannon. Owen brought up his Protect—a shield of black this time to resist the strange incoming element—and then reached toward the incoming blast with his other hand. First came the impact, the barrier’s force recoiling back against his body as he dug his heels into the ground. Then, he tried to grasp that energy as it crawled around, zapping his scales. His tail thrashed on the ground, kicking up more dust. The burning coursing through him was familiar. Not as bad as Alexander’s. But still painful.

Then, in another breath, he hurled the energy toward the other one just as it fired. The collision left an explosion followed by a vortex of darkness and electricity that singed the forest in a crater, taking out a wide cluster of trees. A jagged crater riddled with black electricity was all that was left behind.

“Azelf,” Owen said. “Start running now. Gahi!”

Gahi’s head flicked to him, attentive.

“Just as they charge up a second blast, fuse with me and run.”


Azelf growled and tried to send some enchantment toward the two Titans. A pink wave washed over them, but they were either too strong or still too far away for it to have much of an effect.

“Don’t die!” Azelf ordered, flying to catch up with the rest.

Owen remained on his guard. The second volley was coming. He didn’t want to risk parrying another one; the first was already harsh.

“I didn’t overstep by ordering you, right?” Owen said, still watching cautiously.


Regirock jolted.


Gahi tackled Owen and melded into him. They fell backward, but then, in a flash of light, they Teleported away.

This fusion felt different. It was like Owen had total access to all of Gahi’s abilities while still feeling like himself. He felt a smidge of confidence, too, but he couldn’t tell if that was because his plan worked, or because of Gahi’s influence. In another Teleport, he disappeared again and flew onward, rapidly gaining some distance.

They’d made it to the others in seconds, the Titans a half-minute away. Only the longest shots would reach them.

“Congratulations,” Mhynt said. Despite her flat tone, her eyes had the light of being at least slightly impressed. “Your calculated risk paid off.”

Owen split away from Gahi, both halves flopping into the dust.

“Gahi, are you okay?” Owen asked.

“Gehhh…” Gahi rubbed his head. “What happened?”

“Do you not… remember?” Owen asked.

“I tackled you, ‘n then…” Gahi shrugged.

Owen gulped. So he’d completely…

“It’s alright,” he said. “We bought some time. Let’s get to that spire.”

Though when Owen looked back, the Titans hadn’t advanced. About three hundred feet from where they stood, the Titans merely resumed their patrol.

It felt brighter, too. Naturally, Owen checked the sky… but it was the same dim red.

Everything was brighter, and not because of the sky—the ground, the trees… Aside from the obsidian spire itself, everything around them was a little brighter.

Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi seemed ill, shaking off lethargy in their own ways. Mispy shook her head; Demitri rubbed his eyes; Gahi beat his wings.

“We’re definitely in the right spot,” Mhynt hummed. She raised a hand, materializing her Leaf Blade. It glowed with golden light. “It’s much easier to draw upon Radiance in this place. Makes sense, being right next to its source.”

“Necrozma’s… somewhere in this mountain?”

“Likely, there’s a cavern to enter. We should go that way. We will be safe here… so let’s take a moment to gather our bearings.”

Trina dusted herself off but then called for Zena to help wash them all down instead. It’d be much easier that way. While they all bathed from light bursts of water, Trina remarked, “I’m glad I was taken for security… but it seems like all of you are handling yourselves well,” Trina said. “I was hardly needed to calm you. Though, I nearly did with you, Owen.”

“It’s… uh… nice to know?” Owen didn’t want to rely on Trina’s hypnosis just to stay calm. Though, if he did panic, maybe…

Thoroughly washed, refreshed, and most importantly no longer in danger of being chased by Regi Titans—Owen wondered where the Lugia one was supposed to be—the team took their final steps to the obsidian spire. Up close, it felt warm, like the sun on a summer afternoon. Trina and Mhynt kept their distance, but Owen appreciated the warmth and went even closer, reaching out to touch the stone.

He could tell it was hot. Scorching, like metal left too long in Hot Spot.

Something called out to him. He recognized it as a psychic pull. It told him to push some of his power into the crystal. Suspecting who it was, Owen obeyed.

That warmth redoubled. A sigil of Necrozma—a lengthened, eight-pointed starburst—appeared in bright gold light where Owen had touched. And then, the wall sank inward, melting into a new hallway for them to enter.

Or, so Owen thought. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi had hissed and backed away all in unison.

“Hmm.” Mhynt closed her eyes. “Trina, you should calm them.”

“Right.” The Snivy walked first to Gahi, the fastest and flightiest, and said, “Gahi… keep calm. What’s wrong?” Even in her diminutive state, her hypnosis was still their asset to keep them steady. Perhaps the small size was useful here, for stealth…

The Flygon’s eyes darted toward the obsidian spire, then at Trina, rapidly. “…Dunno. Don’t like it,” he said. “Prob’ly the light. I’m a Void Shadow now, yeah?”

“You’re well put together for one,” Trina said. “Come. Let’s keep you calm for now…”

Whatever Trina was doing, it was relaxing Gahi’s muscles enough that he collapsed where he stood, slouched over. Owen’s Perceive couldn’t detect energy, so he could only guess it was her specialized Hypnosis.

“Trina,” Mhynt said, “if Owen, Zena, and I enter here, will you be able to handle these three on your own?”

“I believe so,” Trina said, looking next to Mispy, then Demitri.

“Um.” Mesprit raised a hand. “We’ll help, too. Figure we should, you know, stick to our doubles…”

Azelf looked unnerved, perturbed by Gahi’s sudden behavior. “Yeah,” Azelf murmured. “You guys be careful…”

Zena picked up Valle’s statue again, hefting him onto her back. She slithered forward.

“The four of us, then?” she asked, nodding at Mhynt and Owen. Though, just before Owen wanted to go, when he took another glance at the spire, he couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of unease.

“But… are we sure it’s okay?” Owen asked. “There’s something… uneasy about… I don’t know.”

Trina gave Owen a more cautious look. “You aren’t destabilizing, too, are you?” She glanced at the rest of Team Alloy.

“No, no, I—I’m okay,” Owen said. “Just, you know. It’s a little weird.”

“I also have a sense of foreboding,” Valle reported. “I suspect it is because I might cease to exist soon as ‘Valle’ and the weight is beginning to catch up to me.”

The way he said it so nonchalantly didn’t suggest otherwise… Owen didn’t comment.

“I feel fine,” Zena said. “…Which is surprising. Usually, I’d not like any of this, but I don’t sense any… foreboding. No more than when we got on the ship in the first place, at least…”

Mhynt sighed. “Foreboding or not, we’re here. Just stay on your guard. So, Owen… are you ready?”

“Yeah.” Owen folded his wings back. He didn’t like it, but they’d come far enough. And they had no other leads. “Let’s go.”

The quartet approached the passageway of the obsidian spire. Necrozma’s sigil still glowed like a hologram in the middle. Finally, after all this time, they were going to see him.

Once this was done and Necrozma was restored… they would finally be able to take out Alexander. One more step. Just one more step.

Please, just work out for once.


The spire went downward. While on the surface it had been about the same size as the Spire of Trials that Manny had once lived in—and now, Destiny Tower—this place seemed vaster beneath the island’s surface. After a minute of walking, Owen, Zena, and Mhynt could walk side by side with ample room for Owen to stretch his wings.

“So, now that we’re here,” Zena said, “what is Necrozma like? Is he… stern, like Barky? A, er… free… spirit, like Star?”

“He’s a little closer to Barky,” Owen said. “Stern, sure, but he’s not… haughty about it. He’s more businesslike. Sort of how you’d imagine some entity that was powerful and way above mortals, y’know? But still… working to help them.”

“There isn’t a chance he’s still bent on destroying the world once his power is restored?” Zena clarified. “I understand that he is the direct counter to Dark Matter and our best shot at defeating him. But… I don’t really…”

“I think it’s okay,” Owen said. “Necrozma was only trying to look out for us when he sensed Dark Matter… and he’s learned since then. We want to live. He’ll only get his power back if he promises to fight to save Kilo.”

“And the chances of him honoring that?” Zena clarified. “Are you going to ask for a Divine Promise?”

“Would he accept that?” Mhynt hummed. “Gods do not take that very lightly, you know. Divine Promises.”

“Obviously,” Zena agreed. “You wouldn’t want divine power to be siphoned into someone who doesn’t have the aptitude for it. We already see echoes of that problem in some of the Guardians.”

“Yeah…” Owen sighed.

“Not only that,” Mhynt said, earning all three of their quizzical looks. “Necrozma, Star, Barky. All three of them are the gods of this world and are tied to it with that power. Unlike mortals, who can live without that power because they are of that world, gods are only here by that power. They temporarily gain bodily avatars to represent themselves.

“Do not forget: Kilo is only a side project to them. Their true domain is the world beyond. And while I don’t know Necrozma’s relation to all this specifically… I know that for Star and Barky, they would never make a Promise. It would mean the loss of their power, yes… but it would also mean the end of their existence in Kilo. A Lockout.”

“Lockout…” Owen echoed the word. “What we thought happened to Necrozma before, when he was erased from history. When a soul is destroyed so the world can’t recognize it anymore, it can never return. Right?”

Mhynt nodded. “From what Necrozma told me, they will then be ejected into the Overworld and will need to find a new universe to inhabit. But, yes. There is no hope in returning to the universe they’d been destroyed within. It simply does not acknowledge their existence, forever.

“Due to the way Star and Barky set up the Divine Promise system, they are beholden to that flaw. Breaking that Promise would result in a total Lockout. And a god certainly would not want to be removed from their world permanently.”

“That’s… quite a grave flaw,” Zena said. “Why would they design a world like that?”

“It’s intended,” Mhynt said. “Should a god ever lose confidence in themselves, perhaps they must pass that power on. Let the world run without them, and let a new god take their place.”

Owen stopped walking. That… that couldn’t have been Star’s true intentions. No. That…

“But it’s not guaranteed, right?” Owen said.

Mhynt gave him a knowing look. It felt like pity. “I suppose not,” she said. “A Promise is just that. They can choose to keep it. But unless it’s revoked, a god has an eternity to break it. It will, inevitably, happen.”

“Then, when Star gave me that Promise… I wonder if…”

“It’s possible,” Mhynt said.

“If that’s the case, I can’t take a Promise from Necrozma. It’d have to be one of you. It’s… too risky for me to take any more power. Just—just having one is too much. Is there a way to revoke a Promise?”

Owen tried to hide his panic, but near the end, he slipped. The gravity of what Star had done… Maybe it hadn’t fully registered until then, as Mhynt outlined it. Not only would Star cease, but he’d… No. He can’t allow that. His entire purpose, the way he’d built himself up, was to oppose them. He didn’t have the temperament for that kind of power. What if he went berserk? Could he cure himself of that, or was that ingrained within him?

“Calm, Owen,” Mhynt said like she recognized his panic.

“You’ll be okay,” Zena added. “We’ll help you through it, okay? Ideally, Star will learn from this.”

Owen nodded, sighing. Great. Now he was antsy for the talk with Necrozma, and his rehearsed lines all felt out of place and wrong. He’d just have to play it by ear and hope Zena and Mhynt could back him up.

“Valle,” Owen said, “do you have any thoughts on this? You’ve been awfully quiet…”

“I am always quiet.”

Good, he was still alive. The Shiftry statue didn’t give any indicators, since he never moved…

“You know that when we meet Necrozma, we’re going to probably fuse you with him, right? Are you okay with that?”

“Yes. I feel him calling to me. This is correct.”

Owen and Zena exchanged perturbed looks. “Valle,” Owen said, “you haven’t really talked about your feelings about this. Or your feelings at all, actually…”

“Are they relevant?”

“Of course they are,” Zena said. “Please, if you’re afraid at all—”

“I am not.”

“Well… I mean, if you are worried about… no longer being yourself—”

“I am hardly a person.”

“What?” Owen squinted. “What does that mean?”

Valle was quiet.


“I spoke out of turn.”

“Speak your mind, Valle,” Mhynt said. “If you return to Necrozma, it will not be your own mind anymore. This is your final chance to speak purely as yourself.”

“…I am unable to return to normal. This statue I am. It is not by choice. I have learned this.”

“What? But I thought you were the Rock Guardian and just took on that statue form because…” Zena trailed off. “I mean, well, you enjoyed stillness… And it helped bide time like that, right?”

“Yes. But I cannot revert. I cannot feel. I can only barely move. It is not just fear. If this will save me from this fate, so be it. I have been speaking to Necrozma on the boat ride here. I am ready.”

“All this time?” Owen whispered. “I guess that explains your silence…”

“Yes. I will be fine. We share a lot in common. Obviously.”

Valle and Necrozma didn’t seem all that alike to Owen, but he decided not to vocalize it. He seemed content. But being unable to revert… was strange.

“Right…” Owen gave another uneasy glance at the others. “Let’s be more careful here. Talk to Necrozma a little before… doing anything. Something doesn’t feel right.”

Mhynt nodded. “I’m also skeptical. But we can interrogate Necrozma for that.”

“Interrogate?” Zena echoed. “Do we have that kind of leverage?”

Mhynt hummed, eyes closed. “…Yes. I believe we do. Even if we need Necrozma to defeat Dark Matter, we have not tried to explore other options yet. We can leave him here. I don’t want to, but I’m not taking the option off the table.”

It made Owen feel dirty for agreeing, even mentally, but she had a point. Necrozma was the obvious answer, but not necessarily the only one.

This talk would be the decider.

Something entered the edge of Owen’s Perceive and he stopped.

“Hm?” Mhynt looked back.

“That’s him,” he said. “About a hundred feet ahead, around the next turn.”

“Only a hundred? You’re getting rusty,” Mhynt said with an eyeroll, advancing.

“Something around the air is… thick. I can’t see far.”

“It must be a strong atmosphere if it’s interfering with your Perceive,” Zena said, slithering onward. “How far below are we…?”

“I can’t see the surface anymore,” Owen said. “So, at least a hundred feet down, too.”

“Hopefully the structural integrity of this spire is sound.”

“Don’t… don’t jinx it,” Owen murmured, double-checking for cracks and faults around them.

The walls were brighter here. The black had transitioned into veins of dim gold, denser as they turned, up until they could see the source in the back of a small chamber. It was reminiscent of how Gahi had described them finding Valle… An isolated little cave.

Rather than rock, though, it was made of black crystal. Owen thought it was obsidian, but it didn’t smell of lava or sulfur. It was crystal. Necrozma’s…?

“Where is he?” Owen asked. He was expecting to see a great dragon of golden light, like his visions. His Perceive could never see the energy parts of his body, only the crystal skeleton and the odd triangle prism in his forehead. But all his eyes saw was more obsidian.

There was a pile of crystal aheads of them that looked vaguely like a half-complete sculpture. Owen had mistaken it for Necrozma, but it didn’t seem to be moving.

“Hmm…” Mhynt continued ahead.

“Um, wait. There’s no path ahead. I think we must have… missed a turn, or something…” Owen knew that was impossible. But there was no other path forward. And—

“No,” Zena said softly. “He’s… he’s there. That’s him.”

“Don’t rely on your Perceive so much, Owen,” Mhynt warned. “You’re Mystic now. Check for auras.”

“Auras…” Owen saw Rhys in his mind’s eye, followed by a pang of grief. He pushed it away.

The crystal ahead—that half-made sculpture—flickered to life when he checked his aura senses. It… was Necrozma.

“What?” Owen whispered.

Part of the sculpture—the right hand’s fingers—twitched.

“Necrozma… what happened to you?” Owen whispered.

More little twitching. Feeble movements. Owen took the lead this time, kneeling after he was a foot away from him. He heard a hollow rattling.

“You made it,” Necrozma whispered, his voice a harsh scratching that Owen tried his best to not wince over.

“Yeah. We made it. What happened?”

“Oh, this… I… ran out of… power,” Necrozma said. “It comes… and goes… Not much… light… here…”

Owen looked up. There was a straight shot upward from here, at the very top of the spire, where he could see a red dot where the sky was. Could Void Shadows enter through here? Or were they warded off by the natural radiance of this place?

“May I…” Necrozma slowly raised an arm. “May I… borrow… your… light…?”

Necrozma’s hand trembled before Owen, clearly asking for it to be held.

“What do you mean?” Owen asked.

“I need light… to… stop the pain…”


“This form is… like… starvation…”

“Oh.” Owen looked back at the others. “Can we give him light?”

“Your flame could help,” Zena said. “And I naturally glow. Valle, why don’t you glow, too?”

“I may.” Already, he brightened enough to light the room.

Owen noticed that the area around Necrozma was noticeably darker despite this, absorbing the light in the room. But even that, Owen realized, wasn’t everything. His Perceive was significantly dulled around him… and he also felt weaker. The light wasn’t the only thing being drawn in. He already felt like he’d been flying at top speed for several minutes.

“Your generosity… is appreciated,” Necrozma said. “I already feel… a little better. Ha ha…”

He sounded miserable.

Necrozma’s hand still lingered in front of Owen. He interpreted it as an ask to be pulled to his feet. Owen reached forward and grasped it.

“Here,” Owen said.

Necrozma’s crystals were very cold.

“Up, with me, alright?” He pulled, but Necrozma was heavy. His hands were massive, too. His whole hand could only wrap around a finger.

When he tried to pull his hand away, though, he felt… stuck. Crystal had formed around his palm like he’d been suddenly attached. “Uh—”

Something pulled at Owen’s chest. Not physically, yet a tug, like he was about to fall into a great void. And then—

Owen woke up, dazed, staring at the red dot of the sky through the faraway opening. Zena was coiled protectively around him, while Mhynt hadn’t moved from her spot. Valle, of course, hadn’t moved at all.

“Huh?” Owen mumbled. “What happened? Where…”

His head was pounding.

Necrozma was still collapsed on the wall, still pained, but he could speak a little louder.

“I am… sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean… to blast so violently toward you. I… had… a moment… of weakness.”

“Why did you blast him into the wall, then?” Zena snarled. She was glowing brighter, water flowing through the ridges of her scales.

“Zena,” Owen said, “hang on. I’m okay, I think. Just… hit my head, I think…”

“I was trying to draw some of your power into me,” Necrozma said, rattling more. Gathered his strength. “But… I was taking too much. You would have… been… overtaken. I refused… to give in to that. I am sorry. I should have been… transparent.”

“Wh-what would’ve happened to me?” Owen asked.

“My crystals would overtake your body… and I would be in control. I would have… released you afterward. But… I know your history. You would never forgive me…”

He had a point. That sounded terrifying. Was he always capable of that?

“Considering your circumstances,” Mhynt said, “I’m willing to let that one slide, so long as you don’t try it again. Owen?”

“Y-yeah. It’s okay. You, uh, you stopped… yourself…”

Necrozma had no proper face to read, no body language he could recognize. Owen had to rely on his gut. His naturally obedient, super mutant gut.

“Zena?” Owen asked instead.

“…Can you function with just our ambient light?” Zena asked.

“I can, for a time.”

“…Then while we talk, we will talk from a distance. Here.”

With Zena’s help, Owen got to a sitting position, the last of his dizziness leaving him.

“That is fine,” Necrozma said, rising enough that perhaps he was also in… some kind of sitting position. “How do you want to begin?” he asked. “I think I heard echoes in the cavern of… an interrogation.”

Owen winced. Right. Sound probably bounced very well here. “Right,” he said. “Well… Let’s open with the first question, Necrozma.

“Do you still want to destroy this world?”

The acoustics of the room made Owen’s words echo back to him. It made him question whether or not that was a fair question, or if he could hope to get an honest answer. If he said no, could he trust that?

After that silence, nobody speaking at first, Necrozma rattled out what might have been a sigh.

“That is not something I want to do.”

Owen felt relieved, even if it could have been a lie. That was what the interrogation was for.

But then, Necrozma continued.

“It is beyond my power to stop its destruction.”

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Whelp, dunno how well-advised it is to kick up one of these at this hour, but I finally squared away that last prize review you’re due from Union. Kicking things right off with the first of like a dozen Special Episodes in HoC to see what on earth I'm in for…

Special Episode 1

Lightning shattered the sky.

A squadron of Pokémon consisting of a Flareon, Delphox, Salazzle, and Rapidash stopped to avert their eyes. A thunderous blast deafened them, and the ground trembled when a follow-up explosion—this time, one of a tree crashing down—dwarfed any other noise. It was midday, yet the sun did not shine through the thick clouds for even an instant. Even truer to its name than usual, Nightshade Forest was navigable only because of the crackling flames on Rapidash Tee’s back.

I wonder if these faces are going to be recurring or one-offs, since I could've sworn there's actually a prominent Salazzle character in this story later on. Will keep an eye out for namedrops, even if I see Rapidash there's got one, at least.

It was hard to see. Even with the orange glow, the tree trunks were coal-black, and the plants were all the darkest shade of green in all the worlds’ forests. Rainwater glistened against the flames of Tee, but ahead was an even greater glow of a distant, freak inferno that mocked the torrential rainwater.

“LET’S GO!” the Delphox roared. He held his arm up and guided the team with a flame from his palm.

Is that a 'roar' or more of a 'yip' there? Since Delphox are foxes, after all. :V

“Leo, slow down!” the Flareon huffed.

“We can’t,” Leo said. “Faster, Emby! What’s taking you, Tee?!”

And we have two more names there, even if I did a double-take at Delphox being called 'Leo' given its semantic meanings.

“It’s—it’s not very easy to work under these conditions!” the Rapidash replied with a hiss that rivaled the stinging fire on her back. Every drop of rain was like acid against her, and the steam that came off of her body was a constant reminder of the thunderstorm above. “Spice! Pick it up!”

Ah yes, so we will be seeing more of this Salazzle in the future. Since I distinctly recognize that name there.

“Oh, you hush!” the Salazzle replied. “Pick it up?! You’re the one stumbling over your own hooves!”

“Now’s not the time, girls!” Leo grunted. “Emby, what’s going on?”

“Just ahead,” Emby said. Her bushy tail was soaked from the rain, and it doubled her weight. Between her new bulk and lopsidedness, she was barely able to run. “There’s someone there—who is it?!”

Oh? A new face to keep track of for the future-?

Leo saw, just barely, the signature, dancing ember atop a Charmander’s tail. It walked with great labor—hauling something on his back.

Oh, it's Owen, isn't it? If from a memory loop from before his current one.

“Kid!” Leo shouted. “What’s wrong? What—”

He gasped. He was hauling a Bulbasaur that was more ash than plant. Half-dead eyes stared emptily toward the ground.


Leo ran close and wrapped his arms around the charred Pokémon. “This is bad,” he said. “Spice! Oran Berry!”

“I don’t think an Oran’s gonna be enough for this!” Spice said, but she dashed forward anyway, handing Leo the blue fruit.

I mean, you never know considering the way that HoC's power scaling gets reality warping tier at times, but... yeah. From the way Leo and the gang were reacting to the Bulba barbecue, I figured that this would be out of the purview of healing items to deal with.

Leo tried to shove the berry into its mouth, but it didn’t work. Too weak. “C’mon, just a little, get that energy back. This Berry is blessed, you have to eat it!

Wait, so are 'blessed' items the ones that carry their PMD-esque properties versus their mainline ones? e.x. a 'blessed' Oran Berry heals 100 HP while a normal one heals 10?

The Bulbasaur wasn’t even awake.

The Bulbasaur isn't even alive right now, is it?

“Oh, give me that!” Spice said. Her dark claws snatched the berry from Leo and she shoved it in her mouth. Leo’s eyes bulged in protest. He grabbed her arm, but Spice shoved him aside.

“Spice! Stop with that Salazzle gluttony for a second and—”

He tried to grab her again, but Spice whipped Leo with her tail, binding his arms against his body. He writhed to break free, always surprised by her strength.

Leo: "Seriously, Spice! What the hell are you doing?!"

Spice then shoved her mouth against the Bulbasaur’s, promptly stopping the rest of Leo’s retort. Spice forced the mashed berry into the Bulbasaur’s larger mouth and down his throat with an amount of practiced ease that unnerved Leo.

Leo: "Oh gods. Spice! You could've given some warning, you know!"

It indeed wasn’t enough—but the energy was enough of a jolt to get the Bulbasaur awake. He cried out, suddenly aware of the pain that permeated his body, even with some of the wounds healing. He flailed weakly, flinging bits of burned plant and flesh matter that washed away in the rain.

“I need another!” Spice said. “And a Heal Seed! NOW!”

Tee: "Yeah, yeah, coming right up. (Boy I hope we packed the Lum Berries since my stomach's going all sorts of places from seeing that.)"

“R-right,” Leo said, handing the seed, and then the berry. Spice tried to feed it to the Bulbasaur the normal way, but he was too panicked. She cursed under her breath and shoved both in her maw again, chewing quickly, and forcing the food in.

Emby: "... Wait, is there a reason why we're not hitting the obviously injured and panicked Bulbasaur with something like a Sleep Seed to restrain him during this-?"

Spice: "Now now, Emby!" >_>;

Leo motioned for Emby and Tee to run ahead; they nodded and dashed. If this was the Bulbasaur’s condition, there was no telling how many more needed rescue from the inferno ahead.


Ah yes, that's a good omen for what the overall mood of this SE is going to be like. Straight into the deep end of things.

“Backup should be here soon with more supplies,” Leo said, looking back. “Ugh—this rain! Why is there a fire in the rain?!”

It's burning sufficiently hot that the rain can't smother it? I mean, it's not as if this is impossible with the right temperatures in play.

“This is the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever seen,” Spice said. “Some freak accident must have caused it. The—"

Another bolt split the sky in two. Leo covered his bushy ears. The flame-colored fur that covered the holes shook against the booming sound.

Spice: "... Well that might explain a thing or two about how there's fire in the rain right now."

When the thunder subsided, Spice turned her attention to the one that had brought the Bulbasaur to them. “You! Thank you for your help, kid—now, get out of here!”

“N-no way!” he protested. “And—I’m not a kid! I’m Charmander Owen! Maybe you’ve heard of me?!”

Yeah, I knew it. Though I wonder when relative to the events of the last 12 chapters this is going down.

Though due to site limitations here on Serebii, I'll be moving the rest of this review into its own post.

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Special Episode 1 - Cont.

Owen had a strange dream about taking a hot bath in the pit of a white, featureless room. His tail was just above the water’s surface. Then, he saw Deca on the opposite side of the bath, laughing. And Owen laughed, too. He heard footsteps behind him. He turned around, but the fragile dream faded away.

Narrator: "It was not a dream but a subconscious memory."

Then, he felt cold—like ice, to the very core of his body. And then something tingled, and he felt warm again, starting from his belly, and then over his chest, and then his face. It smelled like Oran Berries.

His vision was blurry. Owen could only see the outline of something orange. Was it a mirror? A blurry, wobbly reflection of himself. Flames danced over his face, and Owen sputtered in surprise.

It's Deca again, isn't it?

He blinked the blur away and squinted. Deca? He was saying something, but it was all muffled. There was concern in his eyes, but when Owen gurgled some sort of wordless reply, his double let out a laugh.

“He’s okay!” Deca shouted.

Owen heard cheers from a crowd. His ears rang, but that faded and gave way to more precise noises.

Oh, so the crowd didn't burn to death from the botched firebreak creation at the end. I was starting to get a bit worried there.

He sat up with a start. “What happened?!”

He sat up too quickly. His vision faded, and he held his head, breathing heavily. That, above all else, was the loudest sound—his own breathing unnerved him. He caught a glance at his tail, which was emitting a steady stream of steam, but no flame. Deca breathed a small ember at the tip; it tickled a bit, but then it reignited. This sent a slight jump-start to the rest of Owen’s system, and warmth spread completely after a few seconds of stillness.

Deca: "TL/DR: you got caught up in the flood of water for making the firebreak, your tail went out, and we've been hard at work resuscitating you since then."

Rhys stood in the distance, looking like he hadn’t moved in ages. He was fixated entirely on Owen, fidgeting with his paws, clenching his claws into the pads. He’d never seen a Heart look so guilty. A small crowd of the Pokémon that had been trapped previously were around him, just as others surrounded Owen to get a better look.

These two have a lot of history with each other from before Owen's present memory cycle. I mean, I already knew something like that was in play from the earlier chapters, but this makes me think that it was a lot longer and deeper than I suspected.

It wasn’t raining anymore, but it was incredibly dark. Owen turned his head to the sky and saw stars peeking through the burned treetops.

“Where am I?” he said. “Is this the Dungeon?”

“No,” Deca said. “The Dungeon rejected you when you got hit by the water.”

Ah, so Owen hit 0HP and got yeeted out. He's... fairly fortunate that there wasn't anyone around like a hungry feral waiting to spawn camp him. ^^;

“Water…” Owen recalled trying to take out the fuel in the Dungeon halls. “Wait, Water! The—what happened to the—”

“It worked,” Deca said. “The fire got close, but it couldn’t clear the gap you created on both sides. We waited until the fire died on its own, and after that… We figured it would be safe where the Dungeon sent us out. And it was, so we circled back to the entrance to find you.”

Owen: "... Wait, but wasn't the entrance on fire when we went in? How on earth am I not-?"
Deca: "It was less on fire by the time you were sent there?"

Owen rubbed his fingers together, and then his arms. “Everyone’s okay?”

“Everyone that was with us made it out fine,” Deca said.

Owen breathed a small sigh. “Good,” he said. “I’m just glad that I survived. When the Dungeon rejected me, I thought some stray wild would’ve attacked me while I was down, or something. But—”

Ah yes, the acknowledgement that Owen could've become somebody's lunch. I'm actually a little surprised that wasn't played up more in the earlier chapters, since that would've been a really nasty thing to dangle over Owen back in Jerry's encounter with him, where he was clearly ready and willing to knock him into next week and let the Dungeon deal with him.

“Actually, we scared one of those ferals off!” one of the forest natives piped up. “It was such a weird creature!”

“Don’t be stupid, that wasn’t a feral! That was a guardian spirit, I just know it!” another native retorted.

“You and your ‘guardian spirit’ mumbo-jumbo.”

Narrator: "It was indeed a spirit of some sort."

“No, it’s real! There have been sightings! A four-legged creature with a green and black body—exactly like I keep telling you! I’ve seen it!”

“Green-black and four legs? That sounds like Zygarde.”

Well then. I see that the locals weren't kidding about their "guardian spirit" being in action. Even if I didn't expect Zygarde to already start factoring into the plot.

“Maybe you should lay off the funny berries.”

So... recreational Lansat is a thing in this setting too, huh? Or else something analogous to it. :V

Owen tittered. “So, some weird creature was guarding me?”

Deca nodded, as did the rest of the crowd. “That’s the consensus. But it ran off before we could thank it.”

Which would've been quite a feat had it been in a Forme other than 10%, but being hound-like has its advantages for getting away in a hurry, yes.

Owen paused to silently thank this creature anyway. If it wasn’t Zygarde—which Owen wasn’t sure even existed—then perhaps it was some kind of forest guardian. After all, the trees of this forest were blackish and green. It could have just been camouflage. “And what about the fire?”


Since Legendaries having their own little "pet"/favorite corners of their worlds is a thing across multiple parts of franchise canon, so...

“It’s burning,” he said. “But we got everyone evacuated. All the wilds are… either dead, or ran away.”

“The fire started in multiple places due to some freak thunderstorm,” Rhys spoke up, and Deca refused to remove his eyes from Owen for the entirety of Rhys’ explanation.

This portion of the forest was trapped by a ring of fire, which was what caused us to send in the Fire teams to rescue the trapped Pokémon. We did our best to rescue who we could,” Rhys said, “but… obviously, we will have to perform a search for those who may not have escaped.”

inb4 this all came from some pissing match between the Taos. Though I'd recommend breaking up Rhys' dialogue paragraph into two.

Owen gulped. “What caused this…? This thunderstorm was… it was way too strong.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Deca said. “What matters is we made it out.”

Money is on an Electric Legendary having a normal one. And I can already tell that Deca's dismissal there isn't going to age well.

By now, the bystanders—tired from the stress—were starting to disband. Now that they knew their savior was okay, they refocused on how to recover from the disaster. Despite their burned home, they still knew where to go. Rhys volunteered to help guide those who were less sure of themselves. After a passing glance at Deca and Owen, he grunted and walked.

“Rhys!” Owen shouted.

He stopped.

Owen paused, finding the words. “Thanks for helping! It’s—it’s okay! Everyone’s saved because of you!”

Rhys: "... Hmph, don't mention it. I was just doing my job, and so were you. (Even if I have no idea how you knew about that firebreak trick since I could've sworn that forest management wasn't a component of the Heart entrance exam.)"

Rhys’ paws relaxed slightly. He gave a short nod, not looking back, and then walked away with the rest of the rescued Pokémon.

Owen shook his head. “He seems like the type who’ll beat himself up for a while over dousing me,” he said. “But, I don’t think it would’ve worked without his help.”

“He’ll reconcile,” Deca said. “Trust me. That guy will just turn it into more fire for him to do better next time. It’s not healthy, but as long as he doesn’t burn up from it, right?


Since now that Deca mentions this, I'm convinced that something like that is going to happen. If not necessarily in this SE.

They both laughed. Owen finally found the strength to get on his feet. He eased his way into it. Deca held him by the shoulder and back to keep him steady until he could stand on his own.

“Thanks,” Owen said.

Deca nodded. “Thanks to you, too.”

Owen: "Also... Deca, I know it sounds stupid but... do we know each other?"
- Beat moment -
Deca: "Well, I certainly won't be forgetting you after today, that's for sure..."

Owen noticed that the strain in Deca’s voice was gone now that they were alone.

It’s too bad you’re so tense around others. I hope you can get better at that, huh?”

I could've sworn that that was Rhys specifically he was tense around, Owen. Even if you're not exactly a master at connecting dots for your observations what with that credulity field that seemingly surrounds you constantly.

Deca smiled wryly. “I’ll do my best.”

Owen pulled his tail forward to inspect the flame. It was a healthy orange.



Deca stared for a while. Owen sensed something from his doppelganger—a strange tension of some kind. Like he wanted to do something, yet couldn’t. His paws twitched forward, then pulled themselves back.

Owen: "(Okay, we've totally met sometime before this in the past. But... why don't I remember anything of it?)" .-.

“What’s wrong?” Owen asked. “L-look, if you’re gonna ask me out, I don’t know if I have the time for stuff like that. I’m training to be a Heart. I—I mean, you seem like a really nice ‘mon and all, but we barely know each other!”


Owen: "... Oh my gods, that's not what I meant to say there!" >///<

Deca let out a sound that was a cross between a sigh and a laugh. He shook his head and fell forward, wrapping his arms around Owen. Startled, Owen could only take a step back, but that only made Deca squeeze tighter. He didn’t know what to say, let alone how to react, so he just stood there. Eventually, he brought his hand around Deca and patted his back.

Owen: "(Maybe I should ask Deca how on earth he seems to know me when he's a complete stranger to me...?)"

“Hey,” Owen said, figuring this had to do with Deca’s social anxieties, “it’s alright. I bet it’s hard, but you can overcome it, right? Maybe with some meditation? That’s what helps my aura calm down. I dunno if it’s the same thing, but—"

Owen: "(... Crap. At least it'll put him in a good mood?)"

“They’re so proud of you, Owen.” Deca trembled, the spasms shaking Owen.


I mean, given that you've Word of God-explained that Owen's name is a play off of 'one' and Deca's name semantically means 'ten'... Deca's referring to mutual family right now, isn't he?

Deca kept holding onto Owen. He felt Deca’s hands press flat against his back; something stirred in Owen’s chest, and that advanced to his throat, and then his eyes. His vision felt blurry—tears welled up, and this sent him into a mild panic.


“Don’t forget that,” Deca said. “Okay? Don’t ever forget…”

And then Nevren promptly lazored all of this from Owen's mind like a week later.

Owen blinked, confused. His emotions weren’t matching his thoughts. His mind had no reason to think of anything about Deca other than the fact that he helped with the fire. Yet all he wanted to do was bawl and cry and stay with Deca the whole night. His heart raced, and he held Deca back. He kept his emotions together enough to speak.

Okay. I won’t… forget. I won’t forget.”

This is at once touching and really
knowing that barring memories lingering deep in his subconscious, that Owen does forget this moment by the time of the present day in the story.

Deca kept holding him for what felt like forever, and yet still it wasn’t enough time. Owen wondered if Deca would let go at all. And if he didn’t, he wouldn’t complain. He kept holding on, memorizing the scales on Deca’s back. They were exactly like his own. Curious, Owen felt for the strange patch of scales whose pattern didn’t quite match the surrounding area—a small, natural irregularity of the body, much like a birthmark. And he found it in the same spot.

That's going to become plot/character important later on, I can already tell.

Eventually, Deca let go and pulled away. Owen was startled to see the streams of tears running down Deca’s face—a flow that was even greater than his own.

“What’s—what’s going on?!” Owen said, wiping his eyes. “Deca! Who—who are you? Do you know my parents?”

Deca laughed again. “Oh, Owen… I’m…”

Owen saw Deca’s hand glow with a strange light. Deca sniffled once. The hand that didn’t glow wiped his eyes. Owen mirrored the movement, clearing his vision.

Yeah, these two are totally family if not outright siblings. I would be more surprised if it turned out that they weren't down the line.

“Good night, Owen.”


Deca tapped Owen on the forehead with his glowing hand. Owen’s thoughts grew muddled. In an instant, it all faded to nothingness.

... Wait, so if Deca can do this to Owen, that means that Owen can also make others (or at least other Chars that may-or-may not be intimate family with cosmically important attributes) conk out like this with an appropriate power unlock?

Deca’s ears still rang from the roaring flames. Not only that, but his mind was completely fatigued. He had been doing the mental equivalent of holding his breath for at least half the night, now. The identical Charmander stared down at Owen in his arms, struggling to carry him along—after all, they were completely identical in weight and—more importantly—strength. Owen needed to work out more.

“Mnngg, more apples,” Owen mumbled. His tongue dangled from the side of his mouth, a bit of drool dripping onto Deca’s right arm.

Deca: "... In retrospect, I should've brought a pull-cart for this since it'd have made my life a lot easier." -_-;

Deca sighed, but he couldn’t hide his smile. But his heart sank back down. It wouldn’t be long, now.

He had to admit, it was a peaceful place. Calm, open field. A hot cave for him to live in, even if it was just due to the Fire Guardian’s antics. It seemed nice enough. There weren’t any particularly interesting landmarks this way, either, which made it quite secluded thanks to travelers just using Waypoints to skip over this path entirely.

“You’ve got a good life, Owen,” Deca said. “I’m… not going to lie to myself and say otherwise.”

... Wait, implying there that Deca doesn't have a good life? .-.

“Too sweet,” Owen babbled. “Needs Cheri…”

Deca sighed. He carefully set Owen down, making sure his tail rested against the dirt and not the grass, and then eyed the great boulder ahead of him. His hand glowed with a Mystic power, and he held his hand forward, toward the boulder. He swung his arm to the side.

... Wait, so is Owen's family or however he's related to Deca all Guardians or something? Since if Deca literally rocks all of Owen's power and he's literally using abilities that only Guardians and Hunters have...

Nothing happened.

“Ngh.” Deca tried again. The glow, the swipe. Nothing. “Oh, come on, it can’t be that strong.” And so, he tried again. Not even a wiggle.

Whelp, guess there's one power that Owen has over Deca here.

“How are you supposed to open this thing?!” Deca mumbled. “Password. There’s supposed to be a password, right? Ngh, what’s a…”

He paced, tapping his chin. Every so often, he glanced at Owen, and each time he did so, it was like a breath of fresh air in his mind.

Open… now!” Deca shook his claws toward the unmoving boulder. “Open… Hot Spot Caverns! Open… sesame?”

He knew it wouldn’t work, but he was desperate. After a full fifty seconds of staring, Owen snorted in his sleep. Deca jolted and spun around. But the sleeping Charmander didn’t stir.

... Wait a minute, I just realized. Hunters have Mystic power as well, and Deca met Rhys in the past. And Deca's presently trying to force his way past a password-protected door to where the Fire Guardian presently is...

Though this paragraph here works better cut up. Doesn't necessarily need to be into this many pieces, but it definitely felt like there was enough going on in it that it shouldn't have been one.

And then, Deca watched Owen for a while, entranced by him. He stared at the gentle rise and fall of his back and the flickering, lively flame at the end of his tail. The small, subtle frown while he slept, like he was pensive about something in his dreams. Probably whether he should use Cheri or Tamatos to cut through the sweetness.

Deca took a single step forward, and then another. He was right in front of Owen, now. He leaned forward and picked him up; Owen hummed in response, bumping his head against Deca’s cheek.

And he stayed there. Despite the dead weight, Deca stayed there, wrapping his arms around the Charmander double, memorizing every single scale that he could. He felt hot tears welling up again. They poured slowly onto Owen’s shoulders, and then to the ground. Deca stared with a fierce glare against the air ahead of him. He finally let Owen go, wondering if it would be the last time.

Oh, well... that doesn't bode well for Deca's continued existence there. .-.

With a resolute glint in his eyes, he faced the boulder, sat on the ground, and concentrated. He took a steady breath…

O Holy Creator Mew. Deca projected. I call upon you to hear my prayer.

Deca paused for a bit longer, and then dug his claws against his thighs. It was just a formality, really. Any sort of thought toward her would have been sufficient. But, from what he knew, prayers tended to be louder if he started politely. The same didn’t have to go for the rest of what he had to say, and his thoughts became a few tones harsher.

"Creator Mew", huh? Well that's certainly at odds with the official story of how HoC's world came to be. Is that implying that Deca / Owen / others like him are direct creations of Star, or...?

A few days ago, Owen failed to become a Heart again. Didn’t pass Anam’s final check. Flying colors with the practical exam… yet never past Anam himself. Always the same story, year after year. No wonder he took on this horrible mission, just to prove that he could do a Heart’s job.

Oh, so Deca is an agent of Star. That's... wonderful, really.

Deca looked down, glaring at the dirt. Kricketot were chirping. Deca counted their cries four times in sequence, like a little conversation among the wilds.

Is that your plan? Deca said. When Anam deems Owen worthy of becoming a Heart, he’s ready for the Orb? And do you think he’ll be ready for what comes next, too?

Well, all those cute moments like a scene or two ago suddenly got a lot more ominous now. Since I already know that Star blatantly has ulterior motives and is not trustworthy, which doesn't bode well for what it's going to be like when Owen and Deca cross paths again in the future.

Three chirps. Deca wondered if she was even listening, or if she was just stubbornly sitting in her own little realm, ignoring the world’s problems as usual. She needed an ultimatum.

Star… if we find an Orb first, we’ll figure out how to take the rest. And your defenses won’t be enough once we have the power of one Orb. When that happens… you better be ready. Because I’m done waiting.

Oh, so Deca really is a Hunter. Even if I'm getting some really mixed messages with this connection that he apparently has with Star here.

Deca ended the prayer there. He brought his arm to his eyes and wiped them dry, and then glanced back at Owen. He let out a gentle curse from his breath and stared ahead. He wanted to finish on an awesome one-liner, but now he had a sleeping Charmander out in the cold.

…Also, can… can you tell the Fire Guardian to open her cave? Owen’s asleep and I don’t know how to open it.

Amia clearly did well hiding the "password" to Hot Spot Cave if it's never been reproduced all this time. Though I suppose its knowers being too mortified to ever willingly share it with other souls is handy for keeping it from getting around.

With that final message, Deca stood to his feet and turned around to looked at Owen one last time. He figured he only had a few more seconds. He walked over and gently held Owen’s shoulder. His eyes clouded once more, but he shook it off.

“I’m sorry,” Deca said.

And then, when the boulder behind him rumbled, Deca bolted into the night.

For now, anyways. Since I'm not convinced that he doesn't pop up again a few times in the 140+ chapters following this one.

Alright, and time for the recap:

A bit chunky, but I think that it was a fun special episode, even if I gather that the main point behind it was basically to tease characters that would be appearing later on in the story plus a glimpse of what the "before times" relative to the present "loop" in-story were like. It feels like we at once got to know the characters that were focused on better, while a whole lot of "hold onto that thought"-esque questions were raised. Which I suppose is only to be expected since that's kinda HoC's MO. Also, the firebreak technique drawn off of IRL fire management techniques with a more fantastical skin was particularly clever, especially since I think this is the first time that I've ever seen any story in this fandom do something involving manipulation of fire like that, so kudos there.

As for complaints, it's mostly similar ones to the past couple chapters. Some paragraphs are big and bulky enough that they'd probably merit splitting up, some spots would benefit from slowing down and describing a bit more to be a bit more "visual", and a couple spots had wording that seemed a touch clunky. That said, it's really well put-together on balance, with the only hard structural complaint that I have being that there's at least 2 spots in the first scene that I could find that felt like they could've very well had a hard scene cut dropped in without missing a beat. But altogether, those are relatively minor quibbles, and they didn't really get in the way of the experience as a whole.

And that rounds out the last of my prize reviews from Union's RE5. Hope you had fun with them @Namohysip . It'll probably be slower going in this story for the foreseeable future, but hey, you've left a decent hook for things thus far, and I'm sure that whenever I get back to it, that it'll be an experience to see where things wind up going and what the answers to some of those lingering mysteries are.