• Hi all. We have had reports of member's signatures being edited to include malicious content. You can rest assured this wasn't done by staff and we can find no indication that the forums themselves have been compromised.

    However, remember to keep your passwords secure. If you use similar logins on multiple sites, people and even bots may be able to access your account.

    We always recommend using unique passwords and enable two-factor authentication if possible. Make sure you are secure.
  • Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
  • If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 165 – Leak

Owen had never felt such intense fire from a mortal in his life.

White-hot flames snapped wood in half, superheating the sap within and exploding the whole tree into splinters.

“Zena!” Owen called.

“I’m fine!” Zena popped out of the soil as a puddle of water. She aimed a beam of water at Hardscale. This time, she struck true. A direct hit!

Owen grasped at that watery energy and pointed at him next. From his fingers came a secondary beam of water—not nearly as strong as Zena’s, but it would do as a follow-up against the rival Charizard.

“Down!” Owen called to Zena.

She followed on command, Diving underwater and dodging a Hydro Pump from Blastoise. Was his Perceive cheating? Maybe, but this trainer’s Pokémon were absurdly strong. Yes, Owen was weaker here, but still! He’d completely wiped his other grown siblings back at the lab. Hardscale was on a whole other level.

Zena emerged near one of the trees and blasted Blastoise with Ice Beam instead. The cold air snapped and solidified the grass below, leaving a trail of ice that struck Blastoise’s leg, pinning him to the ground. It wasn’t effective, but they were naturally trying to fight against their matchups for an even playing field.

Owen took a deep breath and retaliated with flames at Blastoise’s face. He considered switching to Grass… but Hardscale’s pressure got in the way of finding a good time to switch. Hardscale was faster, diving in the way. But just as he did, a blinding light forced Owen to rely on his Perceive entirely. Zena dived under the ground again as water, weaving past trails of ice Blastoise had shot into the ground.

Hardscale’s body was changing. Wings lengthened. His body slimmed down. The heat redoubled from the sun’s abrupt brightness. A prismatic shell surrounded Hardscale’s body, rainbow flames leaking through the cracks of the brief egg that had appeared.

It shattered, revealing a Charizard Owen had never seen before with a large, third horn jutting out the center of his head and small wing fins on his wrists. An orange marble glimmered on Hardscale’s left wrist—something Owen thought was simply decorative before. But now that he had a closer look… He had something similar in his bag, too!

Hardscale’s body language was frenzied. But with a few simple gestures and a grunt from the red-capped human, he was in total control.

Zena popped up and blasted Blastoise with a potshot Ice Beam, freezing him over completely. Hardscale retaliated with a quick-charge Solar Beam from the sky. Zena looked up—

“No!”

Owen reached out and formed a Protect—and then attempted an old technique Necrozma had given him. The shield disappeared… and reappeared over Zena, deflecting the beam to form yet another crater.

The spikey-haired human whistled. “Never saw that move before,” he said. In his lap was Mu, watching the spectacle with wide eyes.

The red-capped human also looked surprised. He brought out a Poké Ball and withdrew Blastoise, who could no longer battle.

It had been a two-on-two fight. Now, Owen had the upper hand. What Owen found unreal was that there were technically four other Pokémon this trainer chose not to use in the name of fairness…

“It’s not over yet,” Owen warned. The heat would make Zena’s attacks a lot weaker. The elemental energy in the air dampened her best strikes while strengthening Hardscale’s. But it also strengthened Owen’s.

A shame Solar Beam wouldn’t be of any use here.

Hardscale lunged forward and feinted. Owen saw it coming, easily parrying a jet of compressed air from Hardscale’s right wing. Air Slash… Owen knew what to do with that. “Zena! Put pressure on him from behind me!” Owen called.

“Right!”

Zena slithered back, gaining ground, and kept her distance from Hardscale. He tried to pursue him, but Owen got in his way. Indigo flames rose from the back of Hardscale’s throat. It was going to be aimed at him, the way his eyes trailed despite his head facing Zena.

Zena flinched and covered her face with her tail-fan. Owen put up a golden barrier with one hand while holding the other back. The Dragon Pulse bled over the shield; Owen grasped at the energy and tugged it into a tight blue sphere.

The two humans leaned forward to observe.

Owen slammed his hand into the ground, shoving the sphere into the soil, and then jumped back. He had to keep up the pressure and taunt him forward. Owen caught a lucky break—Hardscale took the bait before the human could command otherwise.

Blue fire—Hardscale’s own, claimed and reflected—exploded from below. A direct hit and Hardscale didn’t expect it.

Owen also didn’t expect Hardscale to power through it anyway.

“Wh—”

Zena got a potshot Hydro Pump in from the side. Even that didn’t redirect the frenzied pursuit of Hardscale’s fire. Owen was too slow to put up another shield. In moments, his vision was clouded by dragon fire. A moment later, Owen was on his back, even more blue flames pelting his face and burning up his scales. He roared, euphoric fervor kicking in, and lunged for Hardscale’s throat. He couldn’t gain purchase and Hardscale twirled around and thwacked him with his tail.

Zena came in with another Hydro Pump. While it wasn’t strong, it was enough to knock Hardscale off him. Owen followed up with another Dragon Pulse, blowing Hardscale into a tree. He crumpled to the ground, having no strength left to stand.

A few seconds passed. Owen waited for a second wind to come. When light mist drifted off Hardscale, returning his form to normal, Owen knew the battle was over and collapsed onto his rear.

“Good fight,” he growled.

Hardscale snorted back. Owen caught a competitive smile before his form dissolved into the capsule that stored him away.

The spikey-haired human clapped. “Great job!” he called. “I could tell you were all going full force. You’re a cut above the rest to stand toe to toe against Charizard and Blastoise like that.”

“Thanks,” Owen replied, glancing at Red Cap.

He smiled and brought two fingers to his hat, tilting it and his head forward in an acknowledging nod. He then glanced at the other human.

“Yeah, go ahead and heal them up,” he replied as if Red Cap had said something.

Soon, he departed, and Owen rested his back against a tree. Mu ran to Zena and hugged her, resting in her coils while she recovered next to Owen.

“That… was great. I’m glad Hardscale got to be so strong,” Owen said.

“Hardscale?” the human asked. “How’d you know his name? Don’t think he ever told you…”

“Oh, sorry. That’s his ‘feral name,’ so I don’t think you’d understand it.”

“Feral, huh?” Something about that seemed to bother the human, the way he reacted. “I guess it’s just how Pokémon talk here. But y’know, Red calls him Hardscale, too. Thought it was a nickname.”

Owen nodded but then paused. “Wait, that’s right! I never introduced myself…”

“Ah, don’t worry. He’s kinda like that.” He shrugged. “The name’s Blue, by the way.”

“Oh, I see. Because of your clothing?” Zena asked.

“Ehh, sure.” Blue laughed and shook his head. “Red’s my rival and my best friend. We’ve been all over the place. It all started when he took out Team Rocket and became Champion… riiight after I became Champion. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to fight alongside him—and maybe one day surpass him, heh.”

But as Blue rambled, Owen tensed. That organization…

“Something wrong?” Blue asked.

“Sorry,” Owen said. “A long time ago, I… had a run-in with Team Rocket myself. I used to be with a human trainer when I was a normal Pokémon. And… our team was stolen by them.”

Blue’s expression darkened. A hint of fury. “Really? Stolen, huh? How long ago?”

“It’s been decades now,” Owen said. “We had to run away. We got too involved in their organization. We were in danger in Kanto. So… we just couldn’t reunite.”

“Well,” Blue said, digging into his pocket, “let’s help you with that.”

“Huh?”

He pulled out a phone. “It’s an old database at this point, but we’ve got a list of all Pokémon that have ever been stolen by Team Rocket. You know, to try to reunite them with their original trainers. So, if you know your trainer’s identity…”

“I—I do! I mean, I can try…!”

This changed everything. Mu, perhaps sensing Owen’s brightening flame, peered at him and crawled onto his shoulder next. She scaled his cheek and landed belly-down on the top of his head, her chin just above his eyes.

“Alright. Let’s start with a name,” Blue said.

Owen tried to recall everything he could and Blue punched in a few letters in a text box. Technology was amazing—in the palm of his hand, he could look up exactly whose Pokémon might have been lost?

“By the way, uh, your human trainer… He in that other world?”

“Y-yeah.” Owen avoided Zena’s gaze but could Perceive her staring at him. “…He’s… different now. But I think it would give him closure to know that they’re okay, and we’re okay, even if we’ve been apart so long.”

“Nah, I get it. Lots of trainers are like that. You’re not alone.” Blue waited for something to load. “…Well, look at that. We’ve got a match.” He faced the screen at Owen.

The memories slammed into Owen’s heart. Duos, now a Pidgeot, was under the care of someone… just one town over. Trident, now a mighty Nidoking, was cared for in a whole other region. And the rest of Tim’s team, too. All… fine, but elsewhere.

“I’m gonna get Red,” Blue said, standing up. “Looks like we’ve got someone only a short flight away.”

He tossed a Poké Ball into the air, revealing another Pidgeot. Owen suppressed a pang of guilt.

“Meet us in town!” he called, hopping onto Pidgeot’s back

And as he flew away, Zena slithered up to Owen and transferred Mu from his shoulder to her head.

“Will you be okay?” she asked gently.

Owen nodded. “Yeah. In fact… maybe I need this.”

<><><>​

Adrenaline and anxiety still ran through everyone’s systems in the ruined upper floors of Destiny Tower. Diyem could feel it all, like how Star was resting against Hecto’s titanic, full-form body’s shoulders. Arceus remained on his side, partially propped up by his golden wheel and some rubble he used as a pillow. Migami looked twitchy and anxious, but perhaps the one thing keeping them from losing their minds completely was the Trio of Mind tending to them with Trina’s expert hypnosis.

Diyem sat down on a larger piece of rubble, elbows on his thighs, and sighed.

When he exhaled, black smoke thickly pooled on the ground from his mouth. And little by little, that calm exhale became panicked, gasping coughs. The pool of darkness congealed as Angelo collapsed into a shivering heap.

“N-never… a-again…” Angelo whimpered. “I can’t believe I did all of that. I could have died! I could have died from the wrath of God Himself!”

“Yeah, gonna be honest, Angelo, no way you had the mettle to do that without Diyem helping ya.” Zoroark hopped over to the trembling Smeargle and patted him on the back. “Good job, though! You were a nice vessel!”

“Who… who are you?” Angelo wheezed.

“I’m—” She paused. “Er… huh. Three and a half names popped up… couldn’t decide which one to say.”

“…And a half?”

Zoroark nodded. “I’m… Amelia, Enet, and Spice. And before that, I was Remi, but that one’s more… distant. So, half.”

“Wonderful. I have to deal with you again.”

Diyem’s form slowly rose from the dark mass, taking on the shape of a diminutive Charmander with a black flame.

“I don’t think Remi ever met you in person before,” Zoroark said. “Just… you know, secondhand.”

Mhynt, a Treecko, crossed her arms. “And despite knowing me secondhand you’re speaking about yourself in third person.” She paced toward Zoroark nervously. “Are you… Remi?”

“I am,” she replied. “But, uh… I mean…” There was a flash of realization in her eyes. “Oh, that’s right. You’re my original mom, right?”

Mhynt flinched.

Diyem felt a spike of negativity from her. Betrayal? No, not quite betrayal. But it was a sudden and deep sadness. When Mhynt’s eyes trailed to Diyem, that feeling disappeared. Masked. How clever; she knew how to hide her aura.

“I am,” Mhynt said. “To Remi. You… remember being Remi?”

She nodded and then looked at her paws. “…Huh. Hang on.” She twirled and closed her eyes. A wave of light enveloped Zoroark, and suddenly…

There was another flash of negativity, and Diyem recognized it more clearly this time—desperate longing.

Standing before them was a Sceptile with no particularly outstanding features beyond the slight glow her body gave off. She smiled and stood tall. “How’s it look? Just like you remember, right? Just an Illusion, sure, but…”

“Hmph. If you’re part Void Shadow, you could probably make that illusion the real thing,” Diyem finally said after forming enough of his body to talk properly. Charmander… why always Charmander when at his weakest? Owen truly was the gift that kept on giving.

“Oh, can I?” Sceptile asked. “…Oh! Anyway, uh…” She nodded at Mhynt. “This is who I used to be. But… I’ve lived a lot of lives since then. So, you know… times change.”

“…Right. Of course.” Mhynt nodded. “I’ve… also changed, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, no kidding. You’re tiny!”

“No, that’s not—”

“I know, I know.” Sceptile nodded. “…I know. It’s okay.”

Barky groaned, finally waking up. Sceptile dropped her illusion and became a spectral Zoroark again. “Talk later?” she asked Mhynt, who nodded.

“Are you sane?” Diyem asked, carefully approaching Barky.

Angelo was already trembling in the corner of the rubble, hiding behind Hecto’s titanic legs.

Diyem knew the answer. He could no longer sense any deep darkness within Barky.

“Why… was I like that?” Barky whispered.

“A shadow tried to consume you from the inside,” Diyem said. “But it was recent… and not complete. We were able to dispel it without taking dramatic measures. But it also seems like much of your power was stolen, too.”

Angelo sputtered, pointing at the five stories of rubble above them. “THAT wasn’t dramatic?!”

“Well, we’ve got…” Zoroark squinted. “…Ninety-five or so floors more, so we could’ve done more.”

“Ninety-four. We went through five floors and Destiny Tower has ninety-nine,” Diyem said.

He saw a flash of Enet’s hatred of numbers in Zoroark’s eyes.

Barky rested his head on the pure marble floor. “It happened so easily… me, the Alpha, the protector of Kilo, the—”

“Darkness consumes everything,” Diyem said coldly, the black flame on his tail crackling. “Even gods. Do not dwell on this fundamental aspect of the world you created. Let’s figure out how it happened.” Diyem approached, leaning forward with his hands behind his back.

“Figure out…” Barky grumbled and turned his head away. Then he stiffened and said, “Where is Ghrelle? I attacked… I attacked Ghrelle…”

“She was here?” Diyem said. “Hmm…”

“Do you think it was her?” Zoroark asked.

“It’s a possibility. Who else was in contact with you today?”

“Madeline, with Giratina, reporting in…”

Diyem shook his head. “Unlikely, I’ve already handled the darkness in her.”

“Palkia…”

“He’s terrible for other reasons.”

“Dialga…”

“We took care of his darkness; that one’s my fault.” Diyem nodded. “And Star, I presume.”

“And can’t be me!” Star said quickly. “You, uh, you can sense that in me, and stuff, right? I’ve… been trying to lay low and relax. I can’t stand Shadow stuff anymore…”

“Mm.” Diyem nodded. “Dialga’s Shadows were also agitated while we were speaking to him and you went on ahead… Spice.” Diyem just guessed. “I can’t be sure if that was a coincidence or an activation from someone else—another of my fragments. Signs point to Ghrelle… Where did she go?”

“I thought she was tricking me. I attacked her with a Judgment… sent her off the Tower, and—Gravity sent her downward. Gods, how could I have…”

“I didn’t arrive in time to see it,” Mhynt said. “Gahi?”

Migami was still fused, arms crossed and tendrils writhing. They were deeply concentrating. “I can’t remember,” they said. “Don’t think I saw Ghrelle’s aura… but I haven’t seen her aura a whole lot. She’s usually off in her swamp. Which is creepy, by the way, all the melting and stuff we heard…”

Diyem hummed again, arms crossed. Yes. This added up. But he just needed to know…

“Is Ghrelle Kyurem or Zekrom?”

“What do you mean?” Zoroark asked.

“We know that Brandon is Reshiram. We also know that the Trinity made up the components of the Divine Dragon. Therefore, Aramé and Ghrelle were the other two components. Their ability to fuse is based on an old legend in the human world, and three auras fusing into one being was supposed to rise near the upper gods. That is why Nevren attempted to invent a four-way fusion to surpass the gods before the instability forced them to separate.”

Barky sighed. “It’s… foggy. But… considering the way they behave, I could only assume that Aramé was Kyurem and Ghrelle was Zekrom.”

“…No. I don’t believe that’s the case,” Diyem said. “And the fact that you aren’t sure means those memories, despite everything, are still sealed and obscured. Could there be a more powerful, rogue piece than I’d expected?”

“Oh!” Zoroark nodded. “I remember. Back when I was… still Remi, I was attacked by Kyurem, but Zekrom wasn’t anywhere.”

“Zekrom was captured, but not corrupted in the same way Kyurem was. Zekrom is likely a Void Titan to be freed by Brandon’s group today. Kyurem, however… Describe Ghrelle to me.”

“Ghrelle?” Barky said. “She… sings in worship. She only allows those of pure heart to enter her domain. Anyone with impurities in their heart would be killed. She’s crafted her domain so masterfully that it’s a great defense for any Hunter, for one…”

“And her appearance?”

“Usually, an Altaria. At her strongest, she would use her Poison powers and liquefy, becoming—”

“She’s Kyurem.”

“What?”

“Poison isn’t evil, you know,” Zoroark said, arms crossed.

“No. The liquefying. The malleable form. That, combined with her abnormally strong domain, and her appearance here, is enough for me to be confident that not only is Ghrelle alive, but she likely coordinated your retaliation so we’d never see her by the time you went berserk. A carefully crafted plan that could have pointed us at Aramé instead, or just you… had it not been for my existence. A variable another fragment of mine could not have predicted.”

“…So, what’s liquefying have to do with that?” Zoroark asked again.

Diyem held up a hand and let it darken and soften like wet clay. “Anam, Emily. Two people who have more Shadow than Radiance in them. At greater concentrations, Divine Shadows cause your body to take on Void-like properties—in other words, you melt.”

“Oh.” Zoroark hummed. “What’s that mean for Owen? Or… you?” She looked at Mhynt.

Diyem thought about it and then nodded. “Mhynt was infused with Radiance first as a primary blessing, directly from Necrozma. Then she was corrupted by Alexander, a secondary source. While it snuffed out her light, it wasn’t enough to overpower that primary-source blessing in her core.”

“Ugh, primary, secondary…” Zoroark rubbed her head. “Okay. So Anam and Emily were in direct contact with you. But didn’t Emily also take on Necrozma’s blessing?”

“Yes… I suppose by that logic, we’ve seen what happens if someone took both blessings directly and then rejected one down the line. The Shadows dominated Emily. With Necrozma banished, the light faded more… though she kept her size.”

“Owen never liquefied,” Zoroark pointed out. She migrated to Star and Hecto, leaning against the latter’s leg before sliding down into a squatting position, looking pensive.

“Owen may have fought against Necrozma, but I do not think he ever lost his light. He was trying to save everyone. When it comes to compatibility with divine power, that’s meaningful. Divine power operates on a level that transcends the fabric of reality; it allows your will to manipulate the world around you on a scale far greater than a mortal, powerful Pokémon. Therefore, if it bends to your will, then a weak will, or a conflicted will, dampens and destabilizes that power.”

“Guess that explains why Barky’s always got the edge on me half the time,” Star mumbled, rubbing her arm. “He’s too stubborn to falter.”

“Except when you get really mad,” Zoroark pointed out to Star. “Then you trump him.”

Migami, finally relaxing, split into their components. Gahi grumbled to himself and rubbed his arms. “Alright, so… what, Spice-Enet over there ain’t that, either?”

“I’m part Amelia, too,” Zoroark mumbled.

“I noticed that your power was… closer,” Diyem said, “but not a perfect match.”

“Well, let’s trace your aura history, huh?” Star said, disappearing and reappearing in Zoroark’s mane. “Amelia… she was somehow born under Klent’s family, right? How’s that story go?”

“Klent adopted me. I was an egg that he found one day, no parents anywhere. Even though he was a Guardian at the time, he wanted to protect me… He did a great job.”

“Do you remember how that happened?” Star asked. “The… Dark War. That’s when you disappeared, I think…”

Zoroark nodded. “Spice was taken by Alexander. That part’s… still a little hazy. I get serious… dread when I try to think back to it, so, um, I don’t… think I want to talk about that yet.”

“That’s alright. I think we have enough pieces there.” Star glanced at Diyem, who nodded. “How about Enet?”

“Oh, I have tons of memories from Enet… and all the other Pokémon she used to be. I don’t know how Nate did it… but I was put through reincarnation a lot, over and over until I’d eventually get drawn to Owen and the others again to help. That was the plan.” She grinned, showing pointy teeth. “Paid off, huh?”

Angelo gawked. “Reincarnated… you… you’re how many lives? How many times did you…”

“It wasn’t that long. I only remember living… I mean, I’d have to think about it. But it was feral, all of them. Really simple lives. In retrospect… not bad. Brutal ways to die, though.”

Angelo winced. “D-don’t elaborate. Please.”

“Well, there’s one thing you have in common with Owen,” Diyem muttered.

Zoroark rolled her eyes. “So, Enet was pretty simple. Aside from taking on the Radiant blessings from the Electric Orb, she didn’t acquire any special powers. Spice obviously had Shadows going on—”

“From Alexander,” Star said. “So, a secondary blessing. And Amelia… Necrozma must have somehow coordinated for you to have Radiance from there. And you also inherited it, right?”

“You know, how come Alexander doesn’t melt?” Zoroark asked.

“His convictions must be even stronger than the amount of power he took in,” Diyem said. “So strong he does not melt to its negative energy.”

Zoroark stared blankly.

Diyem groaned. “He was evil before taking Shadows. So rather than melt to it, he seized it.”

“Oh. So he’s like. Always been bad?”

“Some Pokémon are not good,” Diyem said plainly. “I won’t be poetic about the whys and hows. Alexander is evil, and he took and harnessed an evil power. This is why he is the most dangerous foe we must deal with.”

“Wonder what he’s doing,” Zoroark remarked, leaning back and using her mane as a cushion. “Big bad evil guy must be on a coffee break.”

“From what I understand, Owen tossed him into the living world. So, assuming he didn’t evaporate and it was only an echo of his corruption in the broken Porygon, he’s recovering again. Even someone as powerful as Alexander cannot last long in the living realm.”

“Right… Okay, well, back to supernatural science. You melt if you have too much Shadow. What happens if you can’t handle Radiance, then?” Zoroark asked. “Like, do you melt?”

“You explode,” Diyem said. “Violently.”

“Oh.”

“Radiance is an excitation factor. Where Shadows tend to pronounce your fears and negative emotions, Radiance tends to pronounce your front-facing emotions. Haywire Radiance leads to explosive personalities as their aura feeds into itself. More and more energy leads to an explosion when it can no longer be contained.”

“So too much Shadows means you melt, and too much Radiance means you explode?” asked Zoroark. “Is it at least a cool explosion?”

“Do not explode.” Diyem glared.

“Hmm.” Trina, still a tiny Snivy sitting atop Gahi’s head, raised a small hand. “I should note, then, that I’m sensing… instability in Zoroark’s aura right now.”

“Oh, come on, why does everyone sense aura?” Zoroark complained. “Isn’t that supposed to be rare and cool?”

“It comes with divinity. Your peers happen to all be divine,” Diyem deadpanned. “Congratulations.”

Zoroark rolled her eyes.

Trina went on, “Perhaps it’s more psychological, but it reminds me of how fused mutants can become frenzied from conflicting thoughts. Her Radiance might be exasperating it.”

“Understandable. She’s still sorting out her three headspaces, yes?” Diyem eyed Zoroark.

“A little… I think I’m excited. I’ll try to stay calm. So… if I’m being overwhelmed by negative thoughts and positive thoughts at the same time, do I make a goopy explosion instead?” Zoroark asked.

“…Sure.” Diyem didn’t want to bother with this battle. “Can we get back on topic?”

“Oh. Right.” Zoroark nodded. “Well… back to me… I guess when you frame it that way, I’m a lot more Radiance than Shadows, even with Spice.”

“That’s why it’s not perfectly balanced for you, either,” Star said, nodding.

“Ugh, whatever!” Zoroark held up her arms. “Why are we talking about balance, anyway?! What’s it matter if I’m a little too Radiant?”

“As it stands,” Diyem said, “we are facing foes that have an abundance of Shadows and Radiance. They are unstable, and they can more or less obliterate anyone with the opposite element. Rhys was very vulnerable to my Shadows because he, as a ‘Mystic,’ was inherently Radiant. Meanwhile, someone like Alexander would utterly dissolve against someone like Necrozma… had he not been corrupted, weakening that pure Radiance.

“The balance is important because it allows you to control your Shadows and Radiance. Remi… or whatever you wish to call yourself… You did that exact thing against Barky.”

“Eh?”

“…Please tell me that was intentional.”

“It was intentional.”

Diyem stared at her. Others looked between them. Zoroark didn’t speak.

“And what was intentional?” Diyem tested.

“…Throwing stuff back?” Zoroark said. “I definitely didn’t have the power to beat the guy. But Arceus had the power to beat himself! So…”

“Oh, good. That wasn’t just dumb luck.” Diyem had a feeling she’d conjured that on the spot. But it had to have come from somewhere—perhaps a teaching from Owen or Necrozma in the past. “If you have perfectly balanced blessings of Shadows and Radiance, you can also perfectly control either incoming element. Too much Shadow, and you can be countered by Radiance, and the reverse. But with both in harmony…”

“Ohh!” Zoroark nodded. “All the benefits, none of the weaknesses.”

“And we need every benefit possible with what we’re against. Even I cannot stand up to Necrozma at this point, and none of us can take Alexander when most of our powers are sourced from weak Radiance fragments. Owen may be weak… but he has the one tool available to us that can overcome the tilted scales. Unless…” Diyem sighed through his nose. “We can think of someone else with that same balance to train. But I’m not coming up with anything.”

“Right…” Zoroark brought her claws to her chin. The others also went back to staring at the ground, ruins, walls, to think.

“What about Emily?” Barky asked. “Her disposition is strange, but if we can rescue her from the piece of Dark Matter within her, will she—”

“It will likely be Anam’s case again,” Diyem answered. “Emily did not accept a full blessing. It overtook her. She was not able to handle it the same way Owen can; you can tell because she melts.”

“And melting is when you’re too Shadowy,” Zoroark recalled.

“Divine Shadows, but yes,” Diyem confirmed. “You become half Void Shadow. It taints your spirit and seeps into the rest of your body. If you do not have the mental, spiritual, and physical fortitude to endure this, even during moments of weakness, you erode until you are a shapeless blob that you call ‘wraiths’ in the living world.”

“That’s terrifying,” Angelo said. “A-am I going to melt?”

“You’re fine. I made sure not to turn you into a blob.”

“Now that I think about it, even Anam is a little more blobby than a normal Goodra.”

“It isn’t as bad as before,” Diyem said, “…but yes. The effects are permanent, barring divine intervention.” He eyed Barky. “Seems we’ve had a lot of that lately. But you know what I mean.”

Zoroark sighed and flopped onto her back, using her mane as a cushion. “Then if Emily has too much Shadows, I have too much Radiance, and everyone else is off balance some other way… that means Owen’s the best bet after all, huh?”

“Yes. Mhynt comes close.” Diyem nodded at her. “But her Shadow blessing is secondary from Alexander. You also come close, but for the same reason, it’s not a perfect balance. Owen… is the only person to directly take on a Shadow and Radiant blessing from the primary source. The only person who took blessings directly from myself and Necrozma, and could maintain both positive and negative.”

“Without goosplosions,” Zoroark clarified.

“…I miss Spice,” Diyem murmured.

Zoroark sighed, leaning back and grabbing Star to rub between her ears. “And Owen’s in the middle of this all because he can’t stop helping people.” She let Star go, who floated over to comfort Barky. “Why can’t you give that blessing now, huh?” She eyed Diyem.

“Unfortunately, as I am, I do not have that magnitude of power. Otherwise, we would have had many ‘Owen’-level blessed people to solve this already.”

“Great.” Zoroark huffed, narrowing her eyes in thought.

“Yes. The same person who got us into this mess is the only person who can take us out the most effectively. And… I cannot sense him in this realm anymore.”

“He’s in the human world. His home world,” Barky said. “I… do not have the power to recall him. Time is also flowing much faster there, which is the inverse of how it used to be relative to Kilo. Dialga, what about him? Where is he now?”

Diyem held still, showing no expression.

“…What did you do to Dialga?”

A few more seconds. Then, he replied stoically, “He’s alive.”

“Did you eat him?” Zoroark asked.

“What? No. I can’t do that when I’m possessing someone.”

“Y-you can eat people?!” Angelo squeaked.

“Everyone can.”

Zoroark patted Angelo on the head. “It’s alright, buddy. Well… okay. So, Dialga’s out of commission…”

Star held onto Barky’s golden wheel like a playground gym. “What’s the time dilation for Owen again?”

“One to a hundred.”

“Oh, wow. Isn’t that the max we set things?” she mumbled. “Okay, cool. So… Owen gets a vacation? How long until we can get him back?”

“I don’t know how to get him back,” Arceus said. “But we can at least get the flow of time back to normal when Dialga’s back to his old self again.”

“That may take a few days,” Diyem said.

“So, a year for Owen,” Star said. “We’re sure he’s fine?”

“With his luck,” Diyem said, “…No.”

“Can always rely on you for optimism,” Zoroark said, patting him on the head. The Charmander’s black flame crackled. He was not a child.

He ducked and evaded further touch. “We’ve done enough for now. Let’s gather our strength, descend the tower, and report to the others in Kilo Village.”

“Good plan,” Star said. “I wish we could let them know sooner, but that’s a long climb down…”

Then came a tiny voice. “Oh! I can help!”

“Uh?” Zoroark fished around her fur and pulled out a little Joltik. “Another one?”

“Willow,” Diyem greeted with a frown.

“I’m even better than Hecto now!” Willow claimed.

The titanic Hecto turned his head in her direction. Diyem thought he’d felt a flash of competitive annoyance from him.

“I can communicate with all two hundred and thirty-seven of me!”

“Two thirty-seven?” Trina said. “I thought you counted a few more than that last time.”

“Got squished.” Willow giggled. “Those hurt. But the rest of me can tell the others!”

“That’s great, Willow,” Star said. “Thanks. That’ll let us not have to rush it and Dialga can gather his strength faster. He’s further below, right?”

“Yes,” Hecto said. “I recall running past him only three floors down.”

“Awesome.” Star lifted herself higher. “Alright, let’s regroup, everyone. We’ve got some answers on that missing fragment! Now we just have to figure out how to catch it…”

Diyem noticed that Star was oddly peaceful lately. He rarely felt the same intense negative waves from her when she’d been pulled from the Voidlands. More confident than before. There was still a deep fear from the trauma that she was masking—he always sensed that—but it was… lesser.

He’d have to figure out why later.

As the team meandered down the partially damaged tower, Zoroark hummed thoughtfully to herself.

“I need to figure out a name.”

And if she came from Owen, her name was probably going to be horrible.

<><><>​

The next town over—Viridian City—was only a handful of minutes away by wing. They landed all at once and nobody seemed to pay them any mind.

Blue warned them to avoid talking if they could so they didn’t draw too much attention. News of them hadn’t spread too far yet, surely.

Then again, with how quickly Blue was able to get that information about Duos…

“Let’s see…” Blue wandered the streets, his shoes making rhythmic tapping on the pavement that fascinated Owen. Zena, too, watched all the new technology that this world had to offer. She occasionally, quietly, asked their escorts what everything was. She learned what traffic lights were, what cars were, street lights, and all other things that Owen took for granted on his return.

Knock knock knock.

And before they knew it, they were standing in front of a small apartment on the third floor. Zena struggled through the stairs, remarking about how uncomfortable the stone was on her scales, and settled along the wall so she didn’t block the walkway. Owen had similar troubles and kept his wings folded behind him.

The door opened. Owen already knew who was on the other side, though with the door open, he now also knew that the human had pink hair and brown eyes.

“Oh, hello,” she greeted. “Wait… I know you!”

Red smiled and offered a small nod.

“Hey! Sorry to bother you,” Blue said with a wave. “We wanted to see your Pidgeot. An old friend of his is here.” He gestured to Owen.

Her eyes brightened. “Oh, that’s wonderful! From…?”

Blue nodded.

“I’ll be right back!” She stepped away and ran into another room. While everyone else waited, Owen curiously watched with Perceive as she moved through her home and picked up one of the Poké Balls, whispering for whoever was inside to wake up.

And that’s when it hit Owen that this was happening. Duos was right there. After all this time, everything that happened, he was… right here.

She returned and tossed the ball in the air just out her doorway. It popped open, spilling light onto the floor.

A Pidgeot spread his wings and flicked off remnant lights from his body. He looked left and right and settled on Owen.

There wasn’t any recognition at first. Understandable; it had been so long and it wasn’t like his mother or father.

But Duos opened his beak in disbelief. “Smallflame?” he asked. “You look so different, but… your eyes…”

“Greatwing…” Involuntary or not, Owen had already switched to his native tongue.

Something about the situation must have entertained Blue. With a warm yet amused smirk, he glanced at Red, who seemed transfixed. Mu, resting on Zena’s coils, let out a whine of discomfort. Zena gently rocked her in her ribbons to calm her down.

“Where have you been?” Duos asked. He hopped forward.

Finally, Owen stepped closer, too, collapsing over Duos’ body in an embrace. He was so soft. He chirped and cooed gently back to Owen, who couldn’t stop shaking.

“It’s been a long, long time,” Owen said with a trembling voice. “Too long, so… so long. I’m glad you’re okay. I’m glad you were saved.”

“Smallflame…”

The pink-haired human wiped a few tears from her eyes. “I’ll—get some food prepared. Please, come in,” she said.

“Not gonna deny a meal!” Blue declared with a smile.

Owen pulled away, sniffling as the weight of an old, old burden seemed to evaporate from his shoulders. His vision was blurry, even after wiping his eyes a few times. A patch of buildings in the distance was just a rippling mess.

“Yeah,” Owen whispered. “Just a day, though. We have… things to do.”

Duos nodded. “Tell me all about it. You feel so strong now…”

Owen sobbed a laugh and nodded. “Yeah! Yeah…”

Zena’s gaze was fixed on something behind Duos, past the streets. The wind blew and metal bird chimes sang. It just occurred to Owen that several cars had stopped by the sides of the street, people getting out to look at something.

Mu’s whining didn’t stop no matter how much Zena tried to comfort her.

Blue and Red exchanged looks, then followed where those drivers were staring.

The warmth of his reunion was doused with icy water. Tears hadn’t blurred that patch of buildings. It was a distortion of light.

One he and Zena knew all too well.

A Dungeon had formed in Viridian City.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 166 – Other Guardians

Dungeons were supposed to be a Kiloan problem. What was it doing in another reality?!

Owen was far more alarmed than any of the humans. When they caught his gaze, some of their worries mirrored his, but he and Zena were the only ones who understood the magnitude of how bad this was.

“You know this?” Blue asked.

“Yeah. It’s… We need to investigate it right now. It’s—dangerous, depending on what’s in there.”

“How big of a problem is this?” Blue clarified.

“…Big? Very big? Huge. Just, huge.”

Blue nodded, his jovial, lighthearted expression completely gone. All business. He stared at Red. “Go with them. I’m gonna make some calls.”

Red nodded, then tossed a Poké Ball in the air, summoning Hardscale again.

“Um,” said the pink-haired human, “did Charizard just talk?”

“Oh, s-sorry, I’m Owen! But I need to go now, um, bye, Duos!”

Duos looked dumbfounded.

Owen sped onward, following Hardscale as they passed several buildings at once. They heard a siren down below chirp once, quickly, as if to get their attention.

“Don’t go that way!” called a human dressed in blue standing near a car that Owen guessed was with the police. “It’s dangerous!”

“We know!” Zena called.

The human said nothing in reply, staring.

“Um, Zena, I think you’re not supposed to talk to humans,” Owen said.

“Didn’t you a few seconds ago?”

“…We’re bad at this.”

They left the officer behind, passing over more buildings. The distortion was clearer now and about the size of a ‘small’ Dungeon by Owen’s perspective, no more than a district wide. But for a place so densely populated, that was as if a Dungeon had swallowed up Kilo Village.

“What do we do?” Zena asked. “Go in, rescue anyone inside, and have Blue call some authorities so we can inform them?”

“I think so,” Owen said. “First is trying to see if that Dungeon can be sealed. Then we can figure out damage control, and why it’s showing up in the first place. It shouldn’t have been more than a few kilos back home right now—did something happen? I haven’t heard anything from Barky since last time…”

“It’s not like he’ll check in more than once every few moons from our perspective,” Zena pointed out.

“R-right…”

They were getting close. “Land here!” Owen called to Red, diving to the streets. Zena landed next to them and he double-checked that Mu was still doing alright. Heading into the Dungeon was dangerous for her, but leaving her with Blue, she might wander off…

Red landed and tossed a ball, forming a Pikachu with a powerful aura that Owen instantly recognized. That was no normal Pikachu…

“Inside, things are going to be twisted around and changed in strange ways,” Owen explained to Red. “It might be like a maze. What we need to do is go through each section and try to rescue as many people as we can. I don’t… have my Badge with me that usually helps with this, but maybe I can replicate its power. I have the same thing that was used to make them, so…”

Red nodded and walked into the distortion without fear.

“He doesn’t even hesitate,” Zena murmured.

“Something tells me this isn’t the first time he’s been through… things.” Owen held Mu a little tighter. “Listen, Mu. You need to behave and don’t wander off, okay? It’s going to be a little dangerous, but we’ll keep you safe.”

Mu stared at him with wide eyes, craning her neck faaaar back to look up.

“I’ll do the fighting,” Zena offered. “Hopefully this Dungeon isn’t too dangerous. Come, Red’s waiting.”

They pushed through the rippling barrier…

The buildings had been twisted and warped at impossible angles. A simple three-story building had twisted into a corkscrew. A human dangled from a second-story window, aiming to drop into a bush below. Ahead, water pipes were contorted into something that reminded Owen of pasta in the central street. The street itself became more like an oblong checkerboard of grass and pavement. Several buildings lined up like soldiers shoulder to shoulder, closing in on once spacious alleyways with only a foot or so of leeway.

“So this is what a Dungeon would do to human architecture,” Zena murmured.

Hardscale roared ahead, just around the corner. A black blob flew past their view and evaporated.

“No! How?” Owen whispered. “Wraiths?! But that can only mean…!”

“This is bad, Owen,” Zena said. “Red isn’t experienced with this sort of thing! His Pokémon can’t handle wraiths!”

Owen flew forward and took a deep breath, preparing the best Flamethrower he could muster. With his Perceive, he detected four wraiths. No more seemed to be pouring in, so at least it wasn’t a huge onslaught.

Three wraiths. One had dematerialized.

No, two. That was another. Owen couldn’t Perceive what was doing that, but their bodies sizzled as if hit by a massive amount of energy all at once.

They rounded the corner just in time to see a bolt of lightning spearing the third wraith, dispelling it instantly. Its ominous fog seeped into the ground; Owen wasn’t sure if it was returning to the Voidlands or lying dormant…

Owen fired at the final wraith. This one was sneaking behind a streetlight that had been curled into a spiral. Just one strike was enough to dispatch it.

“…Any more?” Zena asked, but then gasped and shot at the air. The Hydro Pump left Owen’s Perceive range. When he turned to let his eyes do the watching, he saw a faraway, flying wraith plummeting down, dissolving before it could strike the ground.

“Nice shot,” Owen remarked.

“Yaay!” Mu flailed her arms. “All gone!”

“All gone?” Zena asked.

Aside from distant shouts for help or rescue from citizens—not panicked, but alert—the twisted district was quiet. Calmer.

This was a weak Dungeon. Normal Pokémon could probably deal with them if the wraiths were few. A blessing in disguise, Owen figured.

“Do you think Mu knows they’re gone innately?” Zena asked. “She is part Dark Matter…”

“Maybe,” Owen said. “Mu? Are there no more monsters?”

Mu tilted her head, blinking. Her blue eyes scanned the streets. “Ah!” She pointed down the road and into one of the buildings. Mu wriggled out of Owen’s grasp and landed on the ground. Owen reached for her and passed right through.

“What—”

Mu had disappeared. Some afterimage was all Owen could see. Maybe it was psychological but even his Perceive had been fooled for a split second.

“Oh, not again,” Zena said.

Red grunted and pointed at the far building’s window.

Mu was at the windowsill, staring inside. They hurried along and once Owen was halfway there, his Perceive pinged a human lying on the ground. He spread his wings and sped the rest of the way, landing heavily by the building. It seemed to be an apartment complex that had been twisted into an upside-down U shape. This was either the top floor or the bottom floor.

The building was filled with about five humans in various rooms. All but this one seemed unharmed, just trapped. This human was an elderly male pinned under a dresser, mercifully mostly empty. He was balding with only flecks of gray hair, lying on the former ceiling of the complex. He was trying to pull on a light fixture in the new floor to get out, but his clothes were caught on one of the dresser’s knobs.

“Ah… ah, is someone there?” the man called, hoarse. “Ah, a Pokémon! Please, if… if you can, lift this. I can’t take it off. It’s hard to breathe…”

Owen was going to answer before remembering his species. He nodded and crept through the windows. They creaked and cracked—and one popped off. He winced. Too large, but he had to save this man first. The property was probably ruined anyway.

He put his claws beneath the bookshelf and gently lifted it. Mu crawled to the clothes and pulled the caught portion off the knob, which impressed Owen. Did she know, somehow?

This was a dense shelf. The wood was dark and had metal keeping it all together. No wonder it was so heavy. The elderly man had a few broken bones but it wasn’t severe… still, he was old. Those could be big trouble for him.

After righting the shelf, he gently helped the man up. He had his full weight against Owen, and after figuring out the best position to carry him without aggravating any injuries, he picked him up and cradled him in his arms, turning back to the window. And paused.

Right. How was he supposed to get out? If only he had a working Badge for this sort of thing, but even his communicator wouldn’t…

Would it?

He’d never thought to try.

Zena was at the window, though. He smiled gratefully and handed the old man over; Zena’s ribbons helped with the transfer, and soon he was out.

“Oh, so beautiful,” the man said, smiling at her. “Milotic, what a privilege to be rescued by one…”

Zena smiled awkwardly.

“There are a lot more we need to rescue, but the wraiths are gone,” Owen said in feral to Zena.

She stared at him.

He’d forgotten. Zena didn’t. know the language yet. He glanced nervously at the old man, then nodded at her and headed into the building.

The first order of business after this was settled: language lessons for Zena.

<><><>​

Blue flopped onto the couch and sank into the cushions. “Phew!” he declared. “I’m beat.”

After Blue made his calls, he had come in to help with the distortion and rescue efforts. Between Owen, Zena, Red, Blue, and the local authorities, everyone had been safely evacuated, and with minor injuries at worst. They called it a miracle, but Owen knew it was luck from only having to worry about a young Dungeon. It might get worse. They would have to investigate again to find, perhaps, its core, or some way to seal and dispel it… but with the rescue effort alone, they could afford to wait it out and talk with the others.

Duos perched on the armrest, staring down at Owen, who took a seat next to the couch. He was glad this apartment was spacious enough to accommodate his wings. Perhaps it was for Duos.

“So, you talk human now?” Duos asked.

“I, er, I picked it up,” he lied. The truth was… a bit much. This was easier.

“Cool. Human seemed boring and complicated.”

“It is. But when you’re working with human things a lot, you need more things to say. Human has that.”

“Oh.” Duos looked disinterested already.

Duos then stared at Zena. “Are you his mate?”

“Hm?” Zena offered another smile. She was coiled next to Owen, near a black mini fridge.

“She is,” Owen said, “but she only speaks human.”

“Whaa?” Duos leaned forward. “How? All Pokémon can speak to each other!”

Owen shook his head. “Where I’ve been, Pokémon lost that native communication in exchange for being a lot stronger on average. They’re part-human. They don’t need humans to help them be stronger; they’re just stronger naturally.”

“That’s crazy… But how do they understand each other?”

Owen shrugged. “The same way humans do.”

“Do they have Pokémon that talk like me?” Duos asked.

“Oh, yeah. I can speak to them, too, but normally we can’t. They’re like wild Pokémon here, without any human influence.”

“Ohh… like, wild wild,” Duos said. “Away from routes, where they stay away from humans?”

“Exactly.”

“They’re scary.”

“They can be. But we’re stronger.”

Red was looking at his phone, frowning pensively. He flicked something in Blue’s general direction and Blue’s phone buzzed.

“Uh?”

Blue sat up just as Duos’ caretaker entered the room with some green tea and snacks. Blue’s expression went from tired to grave.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“What’s wrong?” Owen asked.

“Viridian was a bit of a fluke. These distortions are appearing in Alola and Orre, too, and in way bigger numbers!”

Owen blinked. “What? Orre—”

That wasn’t a coincidence. But Alola…

“Why Alola?” he asked. “That’s, uhh… those are those islands way off in the middle of the ocean, right?”

“Yeah. People are theorizing it’s a new kind of Ultra Wormhole,” Blue said, flicking through something on his phone. “But Orre, that’s a weird one. Ever since they took care of that whole ‘Shadow Pokémon’ thing it’s been pretty peaceful over there.”

“Shadow… Pokémon…”

Blue quirked an eyebrow. “That familiar?”

Owen took a slow, steady breath, and then held his hand forward. He tried to draw deep, deep into what he used to have. What he knew he still had. Afraid to draw it, once, but now, with better control, maybe he could try to dig it out again.

Now that all the seals were broken… maybe he would be okay. Power never left the spirit. It should still be there…

A dark flame emerged from Owen’s palm, flickering with light-absorbing embers and purplish smoke.

Duos flinched, feathers puffing out. The humans stared in fascination.

“Usually, Shadows are invisible unless they’re using a move,” Blue said. “How about that? Is that what raw Shadow Aura looks like?”

“I think so,” Owen replied, bringing his tail forward. “Charizard flames are heat and light, but they’re also ethereal. They reflect the state of their aura, too.”

The once orange flame shifted to a similar, dark color.

“We’re dealing with something like this right now. I don’t know if it has the same effects or behaves the same way here, but if there is knowledge about this in Orre…” Owen looked at Zena. “We need to go there next.”

“If you’re gonna go there,” Blue said, “you oughta take a look at Alola along the way. The flight from Kanto to Orre is brutal, but Alola’s practically right at the midway point if you go that route.”

“Alola,” Zena repeated. “That’s where…?”

“Most research into Ultra Wormholes is in Alola,” explained Blue. “If anywhere can get you guys back home, it’s that way. I already made a call or two. They can hear you out.”

“That’d… be great, actually,” Owen said. “How soon can we get a flight?”

“With the money you have? Probably tomorrow,” Blue said. “Especially if you just go in the cargo.”

“Huh? Cargo?”

Blue tapped on one of his Poké Balls.

“Oh.”

Right. That was pretty convenient.

“Only problem is, usually they’d have a trainer to return you,” Blue said, “and Zena, you said you’re registered as the trainer?”

“That’s how they did it,” Zena confirmed. “It’s a little odd, but I guess they never expected a Pokémon to be at human levels of autonomy like this.”

“Ehh…” Blue shrugged. “I think once you start talking, people will make exceptions. Especially if we send word for it!”

“Oh, you… aren’t coming with us?” Zena asked, curling slightly.

Owen could understand her apprehension. They were an anchor in an unfamiliar world. They’d be on their own again without Red and Blue helping. But…

“They need to stay here,” Owen said. “There might be other Dungeons forming, and they need to be able to help the people where they form. Which reminds me…” He sighed. “I think… I’d like to go back to the Dungeon before we go to bed. Can you arrange a flight for us, Blue?”

“No problem.”

“Red…” Owen nodded his head as if to bow. “Come with us? If this works, maybe I can get you something to help with future Dungeons, too.”

Red nodded back and stood up.

“Duos,” Owen said. “It was great meeting you again. I’m going to try to find the others on our team while I’m here if we have time… just to make sure they’re okay.”

“Oh, yeah!” Duos chirped back. “How’s Tim?”

“He’s doing fine. I’ll tell him all about you.” Owen smiled. “He’ll be relieved. But he’s… in another world.”

“Oh.” Duos’ feathers fluffed down again. “Does he remember me? You sound like it’s been a long time…”

“He’ll never forget you.” Owen nodded. “But he wants you to live a happy life here. Okay?”

“Then I will,” Duos said.

That… that was enough. Owen took a slow breath, then let it out.

He’d return to spend the night if offered. He’d swap stories with Duos. But this… Yes. Even if he couldn’t return, he was satisfied here.

With another weight off his shoulders, Owen squeezed through the doorway.

Time for another visit to the Dungeon.

<><><>​

“There it is,” Owen said, spotting an even darker rift at the epicenter of the Dungeon. The pavement that had once been a street was darkened like burned canvas. Streaks of black crawled along the pavement in a starburst. At the center, two feet off the ground, was a rift—like a blanket had been torn open—leaking a reddish-black fog from the other side.

“I’ve never seen a Dungeon Core before,” Owen said. “Anam usually sealed them, or at least… tried to.”

“Is it usually hidden?” Zena asked.

Owen nodded. “Usually nobody can get to it. But with the right power, we can. And this Dungeon is also new. It probably didn’t have time to form any barriers.”

“You talk like it’s alive,” Zena said. “…Is it?”

“I don’t know. It could just be chemistry but on a… distortion level. Over time, it puts up barriers, but since it’s new, nothing’s built yet.” Owen approached the barrier and glanced at Red, who kept his distance and observed quietly. He’d summoned Pikachu and Hardscale to observe by his side.

“We seal it with Radiance, right?” Zena asked.

“Right. I can do that,” Owen said. His hand curled and golden sparks shot from his claws erratically. He flexed his fingers again. The sparks became more controlled. Stronger, concentrated… They connected along his palm. He grasped at the newly formed rod. It extended into a spear that sizzled in his hand.

He aimed it into the rift. The darkness around it sizzled and sputtered violently, lashing out at them; Owen spread his wings and kept the others behind him. He held his free hand forward and put up a Protect shield, a brilliant gold color.

The rift stopped sputtering. Owen released the energy and relaxed his stance.

The air… was less oppressive. Wraiths probably wouldn’t be able to come through. However, that distortive feeling the Dungeon left behind, the Shadows that had twisted reality with its negative energy, was still there.

Anam never tried to harness Shadows in that way. He feared that dark power. And perhaps, in some ways, Diyem did not want to fully cut off his connections to the living world.

But Kanto had nothing to do with their struggles. Owen wondered if he could command this Dungeon to close for good.

“Well,” Zena said, “I think that’s all we can do for now. I’m sorry that this town is distorted as it is, but…”

“Can I try something?” Owen asked.

“Oh?”

“It can’t make it any worse. But if I’m right, I might be able to fix this.”

Mu, struggling out of Zena’s left ribbon, reached out to Owen and appeared to want, as Blue called it, “uppies.”

“Later, Mu,” Owen said. “One second. I just need to concentrate…”

Moments later, his other hand conjured a dark spear, this one cold to the touch and sapping the light.

He pointed it at the inert rift. It felt like a lock and key. Perhaps if he manipulated the energy in just the right way…

Zena and Blue were looking around like something was changing. Owen was too concentrated on the rift to look. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“The distortion. It’s… shrinking,” Zena said.

But as Owen did it, the rift was becoming active again. Shadows seeped from the rift, awakened by the same power Owen channeled into it. His hand was getting cold. The distortions of the buildings receded at the outer perimeters. Some of it was damaged, even after they contorted back to their normal shapes, but it was much better than the twisted lands they’d dealt with before.

But the shrinking slowed the closer it got to the center. By the time the distortion was about a hundred meters out, it had slowed completely, countered by the reawakened rift. If left alone, it would expand again…

“It’s not closing,” Zena said. “But you shrank it, Owen. That’s good enough… It’ll be a big help to the town this way.”

“Not yet,” Owen said. “This is where I need to try something.”

He wasn’t strained yet. This was just Shadows. Before, it was just Radiance. Shadows controlled the distortion, but also fed into the rift; Radiance ate away at the rift, rendering it inert.

What if he did both at once?

Owen used his other hand, channeling Radiance a second time. His scales brightened at the wrist onward like yellow magma beneath orange rocks. It tingled and burned. Nothing he hadn’t dealt with before.

The light fed into the rift, dissolving the Shadows with a ghastly hiss. And the distortion receded even more. Faster and faster. Fifty meters, twenty meters. As the minutes ticked by, Zena reminded Owen to breathe. Each pause made the rift grow a little more but it also restored his strength. Ten meters, five meters. Red stepped out of the distortion, followed by Zena with Mu.

“Bye-bye,” Mu said, waving at the sky.

A strange feeling washed over Owen’s back as the distortion passed over him next.

Sssssssttkk…

The distortion was coalesced into a tiny bubble. A whole Dungeon no larger than an Oran berry. Zena and Blue observed from either side behind him.

Owen grasped the sphere with both hands and crushed it like a glass ball. It warped and compressed like a balloon and the dark and light energies swirled around it like ink in water. Owen’s hands trembled against the chaotic world he created in his palms. He pressed harder and harder, and then—

With a great whistle, then an ethereal POP! that stunned Owen’s aura senses, the solid distortion shattered completely. Nothing at all was left behind, not even a trace of a portal.

It was gone.

The Dungeon was gone.

<><><>​

“Chaos in Viridian City as a strange distortion-like field appears right on the eastern side of the district!

“Shown before you now is what the strange bubble looked like from onlookers all around the city. This odd, water-like rippling atmosphere was filled with strange, dark creatures that were hostile to everyone who approached. Within the distortion itself, the buildings were twisted topsy-turvy, residents trapped within their own homes to defend themselves!

“Miraculously, the distortion disappeared in a matter of hours. Exiting the district after rescuing everyone inside was Legendary Trainer Red and some companions that we had not seen this cryptic traveler partnering with before! Some claim that the Charizard could be Hardscale after undergoing a completely new transformation!

“Red did not respond for comment.”


The news went on and on, covering different angles of the distortion and all the speculation. Blue had pulled off a few evasive tricks to avoid the press, and they’d somehow managed to get back to Duos’ place for one last night.

Owen had slept heavily and saw the reiteration of the news the following morning from his Poké Ball. It was a little muffled, but he heard the gist of what he wanted.

Even Zena experimented with her ball. When their spheres were close together, Owen felt like she was wrapped around him, and they were resting right next to each other. Was that technology of the ball, or something more innate? Owen wasn’t sure.

“Thanks for letting us stay the night. It would’ve been brutal out there after what happened,” Blue said.

“Oh, it wasn’t a problem,” said Duos’ caretaker. “It’s not every day I’m visited by someone my Pokémon had been missing for so long! Oh, I hope they get some good rest. It was such a busy day for them…”

Busy? After everything else, that was a great day. Owen hoped he could get more of those.

Mu, who had elected to rest near Red for the night, crawled over to Zena’s ball and tilted her head. She crouched down and sniffed at it. The ball wiggled in response. Zena must have been listening in, too.

Owen was starting to feel the need to get out and stretch. He wasn’t sure how long it had been. For all he knew, it could have been a whole day in the Poké Ball. But that might have been refreshing.

But no, the news meant it was just the night. His ball wiggled and he expanded his energy against the edge of the ball. It wiggled a little more, enough to get their attention, and he finally released himself.

His vision whitened and then returned to normal. Weight returned to his senses. He stretched his wings and tail, careful to avoid the furniture, and glanced down at Zena’s ball. She still didn’t emerge, but he’d sensed she was awake. Maybe she was just cozy.

With an entertained smile, he gently picked up the ball and tucked it under a wing. The ball wobbled gently and settled.

Mu crawled onto his thigh and under his other wing.

“Good morning,” Duos’ caretaker said.

“Morning,” Owen said. “I think Zena still wants to—” Right he wasn’t supposed to talk. Did he speak in feral or human?

The woman tittered nervously.

Yep, human.

“I’ve never met a talking Pokémon before, let alone three.”

“Three?”

“Your daughter!”

“Oh! Was she… talking more?”

“Only simple words, but that’s more than I’ve seen in any other Pokémon!”

Owen rubbed Mu on the head, nodding. “She’s a fast learner. I think it’s because… the Pokémon in my world were, uh…” Surely, he could think of an excuse mid-sentence. “Blessed with knowledge many generations ago. That just carried over ever since.”

“How interesting…”

“Tsk. Well, sorry to say,” Blue said, “but it doesn’t look like we can get you a flight too early. This whole Dungeon business disrupted a few things at some airports. The ripple effect caused a bunch of delays. It’s chaos over there!”

Duos’ caretaker shook her head disapprovingly. “Oh, it can’t be that bad…”

“Then…” Owen nodded. “That means Dungeons are forming in other places, too?”

“Mostly Orre and the nearby Unova areas,” Blue said. “Makes it pretty complicated, though, with all the flights they do…”

“Right…” Owen nodded. Dungeons and wraiths were appearing in this world. That meant that somehow, there was a connection from the Voidlands to here. If they found another Dungeon… maybe they could return home that way.

But now they couldn’t. If they did, this world would be in danger. At a much faster speed, too! And the opportunity Arceus gave them… They needed to use it to research, recover, train, and prepare with their extra time.

“I… think I know what I need to do,” Owen said.

“You can’t seriously think about going around the world to dispel every single Dungeon, can you?” Blue asked. “There are way too many!”

“I know. That’s why… I want to find people like you two. Like you and Red. And… I need to test something.”

“Eh?” Blue leaned forward. “Test what?”

Red also seemed interested, listening attentively.

“That… special transformation, that stone you had,” he said. “I have something similar. It was given to me by Xerneas to ‘awaken latent potential’ in my species. I never used it yet, was caught off guard the one time I could have, but…”

“You think its power can dispel Dungeons?” Blue asked.

“No,” Owen said, “but… we were chatting about it, right? Its side-effect is that it can make the Pokémon go berserk with that power. A human’s spirit helps to keep them calm.”

“That’s true. Mega Stones aren’t an easy thing to handle. To untrained Pokémon, they could seriously hurt someone. You need a lot of skill as a trainer to use one.”

“Then that’s where I’ll put my power.”

Red’s eyes glinted with his interest.

“One of my powers is the ability to… confer it. To give it to other things like an enchantment. If you already have Pokémon that are capable of controlling a berserk state like I can, then you can handle this power. And it’s exactly what can be done to dispel Dungeons and get this world back to normal.”

“Ahhh, I see!” Blue smirked. “You aren’t taking on this problem on your own at all. You’re getting a team to handle it on their home turf!”

“Exactly.” Owen nodded. “But I’ll need to do some training. And I want a list of as many trusted trainers who have mastered Mega Stones.”

“That’ll be easy. Guess I’ll be Mister Bookkeeper again, but I want my Pokémon to get some of that training, too. Red’s not the only ‘Mega Stone Master’ in this room.”

Red produced the large, orange marble from his bag and offered it to Owen. When he held it, Owen recognized a similar power within it. Not quite divine and self-sufficient like the one Owen had—this one needed a human catalyst to set off—but it would do. It could hold this power the same way.

Owen steadied his breath and let the Shadows and Radiance flow from his chest outward. Into his shoulders, wings, arms, and finally into the stone itself. The process was slow, careful, and took several minutes. The marble darkened, brightened, and mixed with a swirl of golds and purples.

The lights seeped into the marble and stayed there, glimmering and waiting to be drawn from. That was good enough. He handed the Mega Stone back to Red.

“If you do that transformation with him now,” Owen said, “Hardscale can do what I did. Or, he has the potential for it. I’m… going to try to train him a little. Then I want to train others who can do the same thing.”

“You’re sure about that?” Blue said. “Seemed like you were in a rush last time…”

He smiled faintly. “Barky gave us a hundred days to a single day there,” he said. “I’m going to try to relax, but… I want to be ready. And now that things are leaking here, too, somehow… all the more reason to defend my old homeworld, too. Right?”

Something about what he said must have resonated with Zena. The Poké Ball wiggled a little, nudging against Owen. He felt her support.

“Sounds like Zena wouldn’t mind helping, either,” Owen said. “Hope you don’t mind the detour, Red.”

But Owen could already see the glint in his eyes. Red understood his role in all this. Hardscale must have, too.

Owen still envied Hardscale for how lucky he was to get such a good trainer. But he had to push those thoughts aside for now. This was a blessing.

Kanto had its own protectors and its own stories. Owen’s place to them now was to give them a boon to defend themselves.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 167 - Being a Hero

Anam took a seat at the base of Heart HQ’s stairs. His legs were tired from all the walking and his feet ached. He wanted to slide into a pool and fall asleep for a whole day. But a burning urge in his guts told him he had to keep the Village safe. Keep everyone safe, even if he couldn’t do that as well anymore…

The sky was a bright and beautiful orange with purple clouds rolling over calm winds. The Dungeons were at least eradicated from Kilo Village thanks to innovations made by Diyem and the others. Rain Dance, too, flowed through the drainage system into the caldera’s edges. The air was damp with remnant rain and the grass seemed a little greener on the edges of the well-trodden dirt roads.

Someone cursed near the top of the Heart HQ stairs. Anam tilted his head back until he plopped against the stairs, seeing Jerry.

“Hi, Jerry!”

“Eh? Oh, hey,” Jerry mumbled.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just… tired. Glad the day’s over.” Jerry gave Anam an uneasy glance. Anam wondered if he would fly away without saying anything else.

But to Anam’s surprise, Jerry hopped down the stairs and stared awkwardly at him instead.

“…You… seem tired, too. I guess.”

“A little…” Anam trailed off.

More silence. The questions that raced through Anam’s mind were somehow colder than the chilly winds of another winter night.

“I’m sorry,” Anam finally said. The statement had no thought-out plan behind it. It… just spilled out.

“…Sorry,” Jerry said, folding his wings down and sitting a few feet away from Anam on the same step. “…What for?”

“For… the South. For what it did to you. I should have helped more. I… I messed up a lot.”

Diyem wasn’t there to tell him what he said wrong. He had no idea if Jerry hated him or… But if he did, Anam would deserve it, right?

“I used a dark power to get rid of other dark powers,” Anam said. “And… and I used that same power to try to make Diyem happy, but it also meant everyone else had to lose their power. I, um… Was I a tyrant?”

“All this time,” Jerry said, “and you’re only wondering these questions… now?”

Anam winced, wanting to sink into himself.

Jerry seemed to be awaiting a response. When none came, he sighed and said, “Look, I get it. You saved the world from a lot of trouble. And yeah, fine, you tried to preserve the way of life for all those places you conquered… You didn’t even hurt anyone, aside from Dad, but he was… I get it with Dad.”

“M-mm.” Anam nodded nervously. Was there going to be some sort of caveat to it? Jerry hated him, so…

“Why’d you leave me behind for that?” Jerry asked.

“H-huh?” Anam, caught off guard, turned to look at him directly.

Only then did he realize that Jerry wasn’t angry. If anything, he looked… pained. But he was good at hiding it.

“You integrated the Southern Kingdom. You did all you could, reached out, blessed the Dungeons, and made life better for everyone.

“So, why’d you ignore me?”

Anam stared, dumbfounded, as the wind blew a few loose end-of-autumn leaves against his gooey skin.

“Ignore you?” he said. “I… I thought… you’d be fine. You were the king, you…”

“I lost everything,” Jerry said. “When you took away Dad’s power, that… Everything spiraled out. I don’t even know how he lost it all, or if some other leadership took it from him. But we were… stuck in a little house after that, barely a coin to our name some days. Mom was sick ‘n Dad just got worse. And me?” Jerry breathed. “I could’ve had a brother, but that never worked out either. Nothing… in my life… went well after you took away our darkness. Everything was fine… before you took away what had.”

Near the end, the Aerodactyl’s voice trembled and broke, but he didn’t cry. Anam wanted to, though. He trembled and said, “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t know… I thought if I took away your Shadows… he’d just be better. Diyem sensed so much evil in him… that maybe if I…”

“It wasn’t Shadows,” Jerry said. “Dad was just awful. He could harness Shadows, but that’s just power. If you can control it, it doesn’t matter. You saw Spice. She’s just fine.”

“Spice had light, too,” Anam said, “but…”

“But we didn’t,” Jerry said, “and I was just fine. I didn’t change for the better when you ripped that out of my soul, or whatever you did.”

The Goodra had no idea how to reply. He did the right thing, right? Shadows corrupted people. Diyem knew that. But… Jerry didn’t seem that different. And he knew he’d sealed those Shadows completely.

Was Jerry still corrupted by it? No… That couldn’t be it, right?

“You just don’t… get it, do you?” Jerry said.

“Pokémon aren’t… bad. Shadows can make them bad. It can cloud how they see things and make them do bad things, but—”

“You literally had the embodiment of evil in you,” Jerry said, “telling you, in your head, who was evil and who wasn’t. Right?”

“No!” Anam said. “He didn’t say that! He told me the negative things people felt! Not that they were negative! People aren’t evil like that! They—”

“They are, Anam,” Jerry spat. “Some Pokémon are evil.”

“N-no!” Anam said. “They just… do evil things, because they’re afraid, or hurt! Even if they don’t think it, that’s why!”

“And why does that matter?” Jerry snapped, standing up to face Anam, who shrank into himself, neck sinking into his shoulders. “Why’s it matter if someone was sad and afraid? They still made the world worse! Hardship happens to everyone, but y’know what, it’s how you react that matters. Not everyone who’s vulnerable lashes out and claws everyone down. Not everyone who wants to be strong abuses their strength like my father did.”

“But they… just didn’t know any better,” Anam said. “If… if we could show them how to be better—like—like you when you were arrested and became a Broken Heart—”

“Some people don’t want to do better.” Jerry leaned forward. Anam sank even more into his shoulders. “I wanted a good life. I felt bad for what I did to survive. But not everyone feels bad, buddy. You should listen when Diyem says that because I know he did. That’s how the world works. Some. People. Don’t. Care.”

The words echoed in Anam’s head. Over and over, he thought about what that meant. Some just didn’t care. All the people who were in pain, they all seemed guilty of it. But…

“Come on,” Jerry said, his tone softening. “Can’t you think about anyone that Diyem didn’t catch as evil, still doing evil things? Can Diyem feel indifference?”

“I… I mean…” Anam sniffled but then choked in a gasp.

There was one person in recent memory who did. Sure, there were a few times when the cruel actions of some people were not caught by Diyem. But those were for small, petty things. Anam assumed Diyem never bothered to talk about it.

But there was one person. A single person who had done so much evil and yet had not a negative thought about it.

“Nevren,” Anam said quietly. “Diyem… never sensed negative emotions from him. Not major ones. He didn’t like my hugs… but a lot of people didn’t. But even then… there wasn’t anything negative from him. But he was still the one who…”

“Right.” Jerry nodded, looking more thoughtful this time. “So, I guess you do have a real example.”

Anam nodded weakly, playing with his grabbers again. What was he supposed to do about this, though? If he couldn’t sense negativity and still got caught off guard with that…

“I…” Anam squeezed his eyes shut. “I don’t know what to do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jerry said.

Anam opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t find it in him to say it. To say what he was thinking. Would anyone else hear him? Or…

“Spit it out,” Jerry demanded.

“I can’t be the leader,” Anam blurted, shaking. It was out there. He said it to Jerry, who already hated his leadership. This was just going to make him angrier.

“You can’t?” Jerry repeated.

Anam was surprised at the lack of yelling or berating or… anything. He dared to open his eyes.

Jerry had a look of bewilderment. His wings had outstretched a little. The Aerodactyl folded them back down.

“Why?” Jerry asked.

“I… I don’t have Diyem anymore. Everyone knows the secret now. I’ll… I’ll be misled. I’ll do something bad… or they’ll control me… and… and I don’t know how to lead!! I n-never… I was n-never good at it. Diyem told me how… he told me everything… I’m…”

Anam blubbered into his grabbers, sniffling and rubbing his eyes. He went on for a while, seconds passing agonizingly. His mind raced through all the times he’d reversed negative feelings by how Diyem informed him of it all. He knew exactly where to go because Diyem told him.

Now he had none of that. He had nothing. He was… nothing.

“Tch…” Jerry sighed and turned his head away. “…You’re right,” he said. “You don’t have that anymore. You never had smarts for being at the top.”

It hurt to hear… but Jerry wasn’t yelling at him. That was nice. He was expecting so much worse. And Anam said it himself, right? He wasn’t supposed to be a leader. It was all Diyem. It was all off the valor of his mother and father. He wasn’t… right in the head to be a grand leader. He was naïve and just wanted to see the good in everyone. And where did it get him?

And he knew that. He knew that for a long time. He simply refused to believe it’d collapse around him. For a while… for five hundred years, it didn’t. Until the person protecting him from it, Nevren, and the one guiding him forward, Diyem, left.

Now he was nothing.

The wind blew again. It was so cold that Anam half-feared the slime on his body would snap frozen. The heart-shaped building of HQ darkened with the last of twilight over the caldera casting a long shadow over all of town.

“But they still need you,” Jerry said

“Huh?”

The Aerodactyl rubbed the top of his snout. Perhaps it pained him to say anything to Anam? But he forced it through his teeth, continuing, “You did a lot of good. And you were the one with the final say. You listened to your… advisors. Took everything into account. And your direction was always helping others.

“And… people like you.” Jerry’s shoulders sank. “Yeah. Fine. I fell through the cracks. But they were small cracks. And if I’m hearin’ you say… you aren’t a good leader… That you aren’t fit… I’m satisfied.”

Anam sniffled, rubbing his eyes. He was calming down now, but he didn’t know what Jerry was talking about. Why was saying these things making him feel better?

“What do I do?” Anam asked.

“You’re asking me?”

Anam nodded earnestly. “Your dad… was the Southern King. So, you were the Prince. What would—”

“I’m not using him as an example,” Jerry cut Anam off. “Not gonna refer to him for anything good. But… Look. If you aren’t gonna be the main leader, you do need to be in the public eye, putting on a good face, and making sure people don’t lose hope. People look up to you. They adore you. So… don’t be afraid of what people think of you.

“Just be you. Find a position where you can. And, I dunno. Find a leader to take your place.”

“Find… a position… and a leader…”

Tiredly, Jerry stood up and spread his wings. “I’m gonna go,” he said. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“O-okay.”

Jerry stared at him for a few more seconds. Anam wondered what he was thinking. Was he going to say anything?

But then, Jerry took off, leaving Anam by the stairs of Heart HQ.

You are strong, Anam, a voice called from within. His father, James. Anam could always feel his presence, even if he was always a quiet observer. I will help you. We all will. Ask your mother what to do.

She will understand. She’d never be upset at you, Anam.


James had changed so much when he’d been taken by Diyem. Anam could hardly call him ‘Dad’ anymore. Yet… some of that old self remained. He had his family back. And maybe soon, when the Voidlands was freed, he’d awaken his old friends from long ago, too.

He never gave up that hope.

“Thank you,” Anam whispered.

The night was a little less cold. Anam took the time to rest against the stairs until the teams of Destiny Tower and the Voidlands returned for their report.

<><><>​

In one of the many patches of gnarled, blackened trees in the Voidlands, a cyclone swirled, ripping trees from their roots and adding them to the maelstrom of destruction.

“I can’t blast through!” Reshiram shouted. “Ugh, where’s our backup?!”

“Arceus called fer a meetin’,” Marshadow said with a smirk. “Heh. Gotta take this one on a little short on numbers.”

A black-red beam of energy caved into the cyclone, leaving a brief gap. Reshiram shot blue flames through it before the gap closed again. Marshadow wasn’t sure if it connected with anything. Probably didn’t matter yet. They needed a shot at the Titan’s Core anyway…

“Try again! That was a good one!” Marshadow said.

“Watch out!” Yveltal shouted back.

“Whoa!” Marshadow clutched at Reshiram’s fur as he and Yveltal flew back to avoid the cyclone lunging at them. They flew in a wide circle before composing themselves.

“Three is way too small for this,” muttered Reshiram.

“Hold your focus,” Yveltal advised. “Ready…”

Reshiram took a deep breath. Spirits within Marshadow bubbled, ready to power him for a finishing blow with Mystic power.

“GO!” Marshadow commanded.

Another beam from the death bird came first, carving a fissure in the cyclone. Reshiram’s flue flames widened it. This time, the hole was large. Brief as it was, they only needed that. Arcs of electricity connected some of the trees in the cyclone but Marshadow took the risk.

Get ready! Marshadow called inward.

Always are! called one voice.

Marshadow kicked off Reshiram’s chest and jettisoned through the gap in the cyclone. A few sparks of lightning nearly struck Marshadow only to be blocked by spirits forming around him in clouds. First was Cacturne Doll’s arm, then Chesnaught Verd’s shell. Then, Samurott Elbee burst from the right and cleaved an incoming tree in half, splitting it around Marshadow. Infernape Roh burned another incoming wave to keep the gaps wide.

And up ahead, the Titan—a bipedal monster with a bulky tail—loomed over them.

“The Core’s there!” announced Feraligatr Azu, who shrank away with the other spirits.

A dark, pulsing sphere near the center of the Titan’s chest—still burned from one of Reshiram’s precise strikes—was exposed beyond the amalgamated Void Shadows.

Drampa Yen formed beneath Marshadow as a free platform. Marshadow landed with a smirk, then kicked one last time. Yen disappeared, his ember trailing over Marshadow’s shoulders.

“Let’s give this a try!”

Marshadow brought a fist back. All the spirits, as embers, emerged over his shoulder and formed a giant, ethereal fist. Their blurry forms vaguely locked hands, paws, and limbs to form one cohesive group, operating as one.

“Superhuman Punch!”

The Titan roared but was too slow to stop him. The fist slammed into the Core, leaving a shockwave that dispelled the cyclone and stripped the Titan of all its Void Shadows in a single Radiant blast. The shell of the Core broke apart, revealing black scales and electric sparks within.

With his ethereal hand projection, Manny reached for the slumbering dragon and grasped at her. He hurled Zekrom at Reshiram and Yveltal before withdrawing the fist and materializing Yen for a proper flight.

“Hah! That was the best punch yet, eh?!” Marshadow shouted.

“Quite a name for it, Manny,” Yen hummed with an entertained lilt in his voice. “I’ll say you spent… two days coming up with it?”

“Aw, c’mon,” Marshadow said, waving it off. “Felt appropriate.”

Yen sighed. “It’s nostalgic,” he admitted. “I did miss being able to fight alongside you like this…”

“Heh…” He shook his head. “C’mon. Let’s get back ter Null Village.”

<><><>​

“Victory!” Aster held up the burning, unconscious form of Hoopa in his massive, unbound form in the middle of the town square. Various onlookers glanced out of buildings with nervous but unalarmed stares. At this point, hauling in a beaten and battered Legendary Pokémon had become somewhat of a regular occurrence for the civilians.

In Null Village’s eternal twilight, things seemed a little brighter. It wasn’t the same as when the Tree had been there to blow a hole in the sky, but it was better with so many protectors coming in to visit again.

“…He went a bit overkill,” Leph said with a sigh. The young Arceus levitated Hoopa off and placed him down on the ground. She gently patted Aster on the back with the side of her hoof.

Just behind her was a creature that Manny didn’t recognize at first. It reminded him vaguely of Arceus… if Arceus was made of a mishmash of body parts.

“Eh, hang on, I think I recognize ya,” Manny said.

“I’m Lavender!” the Silvally greeted. “I sneaked onto their team when they weren’t looking!”

“He Teleported after us with one of his spirits,” Leph translated. “You can’t sneak up on us that easily. And we were short on Titan hunting anyway.”

“I’m glad you were able to work up the courage to return here,” Yen said, drifting to the ground. He offered apologetic nods to the civilians who were eventually returning to their daily lives. “The help is appreciated. A lot.”

“Yeah…” Leph sighed. “We took some time to heal in Destiny Tower. Mentally and physically. But sitting around left me… restless.”

“How’s that been, anyway?” Manny asked, hands on his hips. “Bein’ with your pops again.”

“He’s not my father,” Leph said. “We’re the same species, sure, but I was not born from him. He took me in, though. And I suppose he was kind for a time. But that’s long past.”

Aster shifted uncomfortably. “I liked being with Mom,” he mumbled.

Marshadow shrugged. “Aah, it ain’t a huge deal,” he said. “Just glad yer findin’ yer place is all. C’mon, let’s head back ‘n see how—”

With no warning, Leph shot a Judgment javelin into a side alley. The red dust kicked into the air.

“Yipes!” Manny hopped onto Yen’s back on reflex. “Leph! What the—”

“Someone was spying on us.”

“This is a civilian area, buddy!” Manny hopped off Yen and sprinted to the alleyway. But there was nobody there… Did Leph’s Judgment incinerate them completely? No, couldn’t be that easy.

Manny paused, checking the ground. The dust was disturbed, but just a little away from the blast site, he saw footprints. It was easy to tell the species.

Manny stepped away and spoke to Leph, “D’you sense anyone now?”

“No. I think they ran off. But I sensed… power behind it, and it wasn’t familiar to me. I didn’t like it.”

“Probably nothin’,” Manny said aloud. Then, once he was closer, he said in a lower voice, “Actually,” he said, “you did almost hit someone. But y’missed… er they dodged. It was an Alakazam.” He rolled his shoulders thoughtfully. “So, Nevren. Figured he was hidin’ somewhere here, but wonder why he’s spyin’ on us…?”

“That guy…” Reshiram folded his wings down. “Makes my fuzz ruffle, if you ask me. Palkia’s a little weird, but Nevren? Guy was the main driver of the mutant army. I should’ve interfered with that more…”

“Hindsight, bud,” Manny said. “You had places ter protect. Mm, speakin’ o’ which…”

“Yeah, trying to get Poké Balls from that abandoned factory isn’t easy now with the Dungeon incidents happening on the Lightlands.”

“…Li—”

“Don’t deny it sounds cool.”

Manny shrugged. No argument there.

“I think it’s cool!” Lavender agreed.

“Yeah, yeah, anyway,” Manny said, “we gotta go and haul these two back home. Let’s get some light crystals on ‘em and take ‘em to their other half ter sort out.”

“Um. Who are their other halves?” Aster asked.

“No clue. Gonna ask around.” Manny brought his hands behind his head. “Alright, folks! Dungeon rift time!”

And after maybe a day or two of wandering, they’d find the way back to the new… landscape of the surface.

<><><>​

“How about… Spice Amnet?”

“One name, I think,” Star said.

“Maybe… something new? I always wondered what it’d be like to be called Penny.”

“Alright, Penny. You like that?”

“Ehh… maybe not. Sounds like a name Manny would come up with.”

The ghostly Zoroark kicked at a stray rock near the edge of Waypoint Road. Twilight sunsets appeared on various parts of the caldera’s edge, distorted by the Dungeons that turned the skies into a glimmering kaleidoscope.

Aside from Arceus, who elected to stay behind in Destiny Tower to recover under the supervision of Dialga, the gang followed Zoroark back to Kilo Village. She was a little nervous about leaving those two alone, but they’d made sure they were safe—and that Ghrelle wasn’t nearby. Demitri looked the most tired, already half-dozed off on Mispy’s back, while Gahi was occasionally leaving through random side roads because everyone else was walking too slowly. Diyem was also atop Mispy’s back, looking thoughtful about something else.

This evening, it was snowing. Already, a thin layer of white covered Kilo Village, and the ground, very cold from rain just in the afternoon, was dark beneath that white layer. Light snowfall covered everyone’s bodies, though some of them had made a detour for Xerneas’ Waypoint in Yotta Outskirts, which had also been restored. Based on the bulletin board near the center of Waypoint Road, most key population centers linked to Kilo Village had their main streets restored.

“You’re going to have a hard time getting a name that puts together all four of your identities,” Star said. “Like, eventually you just want to move on to something else, right?”

“Yeah, maybe, but… I still feel like all of them,” Zoroark said. “It needs to be… all of them in the same way. That’s what I think.”

Hecto had split apart into his different components and scattered, leaving only a single canine Zygarde behind. They’d had an ultimate game of rock paper scissors and kept choosing the same values for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Zoroark wasn’t sure how a winner eventually came out.

“Perhaps,” the victorious Hecto said, “you should take the first letter of each name and make a new name out of that.”

“First letter, huh? Okay. Spice, Amelia, Enet, Remi. Hmmm…”

Normally her tail would have been flicking, as Spice. She missed that. Maybe she could find a way to get one later.

“Oh!” Zoroark nodded. “It’s perfect! Sera!”

“Hey, a normal-sounding name!” Star hopped into Zoroark Sera’s mane. “You sure you want that?”

“Yeah, that fits perfectly. I might’ve even found an accidental meaning behind it!” She nodded. “Maybe. I could just be grasping. It just sounds nice. All right!” She patted her chest. “From here on, my name is Sera. Feels like all the me’s that I used to be agree.”

“Hey, congratulations, I think,” Star said with a nervous smile. “Anyway, uh, I guess… maybe tomorrow, you can talk with Spice’s folks? Since Enet’s fine… and Amelia’s fine… and Remi, uhhh…”

“Yeah, tomorrow,” Sera said. “I’m a little tired.”

Diyem, hanging in the back, grunted and gave her a skeptical look. “This is you being a little tired?”

Sera tittered and shrugged.

Plap plap…

Sera’s ear twitched. “Huh?” She could smell Pecha berries. “Anam’s still awake. You’d think he’d be exhausted from restoring this place…”

“Hi!” Anam called from the southern part of the crossroads. “Everything’s fine here. I don’t want to be leader anymore!”

Sera blinked several times. Did she hear that right? Sounded too cheerful. “Sorry, I kinda had three partial souls mashed together a few kilos ago, say that again?”

“How come, big guy?” Star asked. “And why are you… happy about it?”

“I wanna be the Big Heart Ambassador instead!”

The wind blew. Distantly, Nate stirred as he prepared to guard the skies once more for nighttime and to search for the wandering sources of darkness that they couldn’t quite get rid of—Lugia, and, presumably, Necrozma.

“Alright,” Star said even slower. “Why…?”

Mispy frowned and tilted her head as well. Sera wondered if she could sense any turmoil in Anam’s aura. Wait, couldn’t she do that, too?

Sera focused. Guardian powers, Guardian powers, Enet knew how to do that a little, but there was more nuance to it she could tap into now… There! Yes. She could feel Anam’s aura! And it felt… tranquil? No, not quite. The feeling Sera felt in her heart… relief. Anam was feeling relieved.

And so, Sera tilted her head in the same way Mispy had.

“Hm.” Diyem sighed, stepping forward. “I believe I understand what Anam is saying. Without me, he can no longer safely determine the darkness in the hearts of those who join the Thousand. In other words… what made him such a good leader, leading such a good organization, is no longer with him.”

Anam fidgeted, trying to smile, but eventually, his shoulders slumped. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s why. And… I want to still be good for others and help as much as I can. But I can’t do the… leader stuff anymore.”

“That’s very insightful of you,” Diyem stated. “How did this come about?”

“What, you can’t believe he’d do it himself?” Sera asked.

“Not really.”

“Jerry did!” Anam said with a grin. “He was super supportive and nice. When I told him I was scared, he helped me through it!”

Gahi was suddenly looking skyward as if distracted by something.

Sera followed his eyes but it was just more kaleidoscope sunsets.

“Good for him,” Diyem said idly, walking down the road. “In any case, I’m going to bed. Do not wake me. Tomorrow is going to be a big day of strategizing.”

“Huh? How come?” Anam asked.

“Fourth,” Mispy said. “We… found it.”

Anam gasped. “You mean… the last part of Mi—of Diyem?”

Demitri nodded. “It was Ghrelle all along—the Poison Guardian!”

“The creepy one who sings with her melted soul minions or something,” Sera explained.

“Yes. And now that we know where my four remaining fragments are,” Diyem said, “we can start a more concrete plan on how to take them down. Be ready.”

Without another word, he started down the road for his temporary housing.

“Oh, Diyem!” Anam called, taking three whole paces to catch up to the Charmander. “You don’t have to stay in that place anymore! I made a room for you in mine!”

Diyem paused, stiffened, and then deflated with a resigned sigh. He gestured for Anam to lead the way. Happily, the Goodra picked Diyem up and ran down the road.

“…They’re an odd couple,” Demitri commented.

“I’ve seen weirder,” Sera said. She stretched and let out a big sigh. “Alright. See you guys tomorrow. I’m going to go… uh… Hm. I think I’m just going to sleep out in the woods tonight until I figure out where I’m supposed to live now.”

“Why not Hot Spot?” offered Demitri.

“Oh, hey, that’s an idea,” Sera agreed. “Sure. Thanks.”

But just as she was about to head to the Hot Spot waypoint, Gahi Teleported next to Anam. Her ears twitched as she overheard the conversation.

“Hey,” Gahi said, “quick question.”

“Uh?”

“How’s Jerry doin’?”

“Oh, he’s fine! He’s been really helpful lately… I’m glad he could forgive me for what happened before. I, um, I think. I still need to make it up to him somehow…”

Gahi nodded. “Yeah, alright,” he said. “Thanks, jus’ askin’.”

Anam tilted his head. “How come?”

Gahi shrugged. “One o’ my spirits was curious, is all.”

After some quick idle talk, they parted ways again. Shrugging a little, Sera continued to Hot Spot, thinking nothing of it.

Once she was halfway to Hot Spot, Sera realized why he’d asked.

<><><>​

“Thank you. It looks right this time,” Qitlan said with a coldness behind his voice.

“S-sorry!”

A Dragapult and two Dreepy were assisting with meal prep for Alexander’s recovery. And they’d gotten it wrong again. Alexander preferred a stew that was thicker and meatier. At least that was easy to fix.

Pots and pans clattered in the distance as the dining hall got to work with their meal preparations. Even without Alexander to attend, Cipher Castle’s operations functioned as normal. Alexander made it that way on purpose, making sure that even in his absence, it would keep pushing along. He was the perfect ruler. He did not need to rule with an iron fist. He simply designed everything to run as it should.

Then he could get what he wanted. Always.

The least Qitlan could do in response, now that he had recovered, was pay Alexander back. With everything.

Everything started with a good and proper meal.

“H-how about now?” Dragapult asked. Two Dreepy held up a sampling bowl for Qitlan to taste.

Thick. Creamy consistency. And heaps of extra meat. He caught a hint of garlic, a favorite of Alexander’s.

“We’ll need five portions exactly like this,” Qitlan said with a nod. “Very good. I’m going to inform him of his meal being prepared. How long must he wait?”

“Only—only ten… no, fifteen minutes to make sure the rest of the meat tenderizes properly!”

“Good. But give it extra time anyway. Make sure it would melt the moment he bites down.”

“M-melts? That could take… a whole half an hour!”

“I’ll allow it.” And without a word, the Inteleon turned around and walked down the halls of the kitchen, past the pacing chefs, and into the dining hall where many of the residential staff were enjoying their meals. Qitlan refused to eat before Alexander.

He passed down the halls lined with royal carpets and vases filled with candy. They weren’t eaten as often anymore except by staff, but that was fine. Alexander didn’t care, so he didn’t care.

The larger-than-life doors to Alexander’s chambers greeted him. He knocked twice in a particular rhythm.

“Enter.”

Qitlan’s heart fluttered as it always did and he pushed the doors open.

Alexander lay in a bed five times his size covered in warmed blankets and pillows for all three of his heads. Most were behind him while two small clusters were by his side to lay his smaller jaws. His injuries had healed but the fatigue of his spirit remained. Thankfully, based on what their scouts had stated, the opposition was also recovering from their chaos. That left Alexander with ample time to recover and be stronger than ever.

The scouts had given him even more information and findings about some of the methods the Hands of Creation had allowed. And, by that same logic, the opposing Shadowy power that permeated the Voidlands would be capable of the same.

All he had to do was convince Alexander to do it.

After he got a few other things taken care of, at least.

“Qitlan,” Alexander greeted, looking at him with a grunt. “Is dinner prepared?”

“I made sure they have it prepared exactly as you like it. They will not rush.”

“Mmf. Then another half hour?”

“Yes. However, that makes for a good opportunity to talk.”

“Talk?” Alexander’s three heads all frowned, looking equal parts tired and confused.

“I assure you,” Qitlan said, “this is all positive.”

To that, Alexander relaxed against his pillows again. Qitlan gently moved the blankets over his chest and Alexander relaxed more.

“…May I speak of something personal?”

The tiredness had faded completely, now. Alexander looked curious. “You may.”

Qitlan nodded and clasped his hands together on his thighs, sitting at Alexander’s bedside. “…The blight on the Voidlands, Owen, can create Gone Pebbles. We know this. We planned to use it for the motivation of the troops, but his ability to make them was demonstrated. He offered one to me.”

Alexander’s eyes narrowed, thoughtful. “In exchange?”

“I don’t know what the exchange was. I don’t think he had one in mind. He thought that it would remind me of some sort of memory I’d left behind, perhaps. A reason to turn against you. But he was wrong.” Qitlan deflated. “It was a memory of when I was at my most desperate. When I’d found you.”

“I can barely remember that,” Alexander stated flatly. “I remember something about you impressed me.”

“I’d infiltrated your camp and stole from your supplies,” Qitlan said. His voice was a little quieter. “I’d been removed from my home… and had no choice but to scavenge and steal. And I was very good at it until I’d been caught by you. But you saw my strength… and took me in.

“The Voidlands took that memory from me but not my feelings, Alexander. I still owe everything to you. My life, my strength, my soul, my body… are all yours.”

“Hmph.” Alexander smirked. “I know power when I see it. I made nothing but good choices when keeping you by my side.”

“…And there is… one last thing,” Qitlan said, “from the scouting. And it is… related. We have discovered how the much weaker individuals on Kilo’s side have become as strong as they have. It is not just blessings from the gods.”

“Oh? What more is there?” Alexander squeezed the blankets and rolled a little so his scales brushed against Qitlan’s thigh.

He suppressed a shiver and his heart skipped a beat. “Yes,” he replied. “When you run out of strength that your spirit is capable of manifesting… they found a new source. More spirits, channeling their power through a host all at once. It seems they must be willing for it to work, and often unified behind a driving spirit, like a leader.”

“We’ve tried that before. Those failures are in the Void chambers,” Alexander said. “But, a unified leader…”

“Exactly,” said Qitlan. “Before, we only turned dissenters into mindless Void Shadows as servants. But in that state, they are weak, barely a will to call their own. It seems if we want to be truly powerful… we must have a leader spirit to rally them from within.

“Of course, you never thought to dispose of your truly powerful guards… but you must. You must gather your most loyal, those who believe in the greatness of Cipher City… and take them to lead everyone else.

“With that together… perhaps… you will find your true strength.”

“Even as King,” Alexander said, “I don’t know about that. Willing? I’m not blind to their fear. If I already claim them and they have nothing left to fear, how can I get their power in lock-step with mine?”

“You only need one,” Qitlan said. “One lead spirit to mold the rest. To rally them for a cause, directly, within your realm.” Slowly, Qitlan brought his hand to Alexander’s arm. “…You know I am your most loyal and always have been. You never once had to tie my spirit to your powers.

“But now, Alexander…”

His heart raced. Was he about to propose this? Was he afraid? No. He wasn’t afraid of what would happen. He was afraid that Alexander would deny it.

“You must take me.”

And for a moment, Alexander seemed genuinely unsure. Qitlan had no idea what was going through his mind. He must have been calculating all the possible outcomes, as he always did. Weighing the benefits and risks. But Qitlan had outlined it all, and how, in the end, he would lose nothing. And would gain so much more.

“Claim your spirit,” Alexander repeated. “That’s a big sacrifice, Qitlan.”

“And yet it is… what I have always wanted. With those traitorous others out of the way, I must make my move. I—” Qitlan stumbled. Had he said that out loud? “I… want this.”

Alexander looked puzzled. What was there not to understand?

“But,” Qitlan went on, “I only have… one request before we do. I want you to follow your instincts when you take my soul. And I will be loyal to you forever. To commemorate it…”

Alexander was attentive. The most attentive he’d ever been. Having him in the room, alone, isolated, for so long, after so long…

Qitlan whispered…

<><><>​

Dragapult floated down the halls of gaudy carpet and excessive candy bowls. Her two Dreepy nestled themselves in their launchers, though they didn’t want to be out while she was about to serve Alexander’s meal. Qitlan was always so demanding about how Alexander’s meals were, but really…

She just had to draw the short stick on who served Alexander this time. When he was in a bad mood like this, sometimes people came back feeling like they’d lost part of themselves. That was like death in the Voidlands. And she had a good, long track record of being alive so far! Two hundred years! Maybe a bit longer, but it was starting to get a little fuzzy…

Whatever. Once Alexander had a proper hold of things again, maybe it would all stabilize and he’d be in a good mood again. It was a good life, she told herself. Or a good… un-life. If she was lucky, she’d start forgetting about the details of the many years rolling by and be satisfied with each day as it passed. It was a Zen way of living. She was getting there. Years were already blurring together.

The door was just in front of her. She shook her head a little and her two Dreepy sank into her shooters, hidden away. They melted into Void Shadow blobs and became inert. She didn’t like them seeing Alexander directly. Void Shadows were impressionable.

Her ectoplasmic tail crinkled. She smelled something in the air. It was the scent of when he and that poor Mhynt had to spend some extra time together. What was she—

Wait, that Treecko was gone now.

Before she could think about it more, the door slid open on its own.

“Eep—”

Alexander was floating on the other side, dripping with blood from his mouths and down his chest and belly. Behind him, on the bed, it was all crimson and black and… and was that… were those… what was that? Bones?

“Thank you,” Alexander said slowly, reaching down to the plate in Dragapult’s hands. She handed it over and floated back. Everything felt cold. She was ready to phase through the wall.

“I have an assignment for you,” Alexander said.

“Y-yes?”

“Gather all staff.” He spilled the stew into his main mouth. His other heads continued to talk, their voices twisted and high-pitched compared to his main head. They switched who talked and who held the bowl.

“And tell them to meet in the assembly.

“For an emergency meeting.”

He placed the empty bowl on Dragapult’s head and floated past her.

When she finally dared to turn around, she saw a specter on Alexander’s back. A shadowy haze of Qitlan draped over his shoulders, possessively wrapping its tail around Alexander’s, looking like the happiest phantom in the world.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 168 – Rally and Recover

Claws of Shadow and Radiance slammed into Owen’s ethereal shields.

The shockwaves left craters in the field. Sparks trailed through the dirt and singed the grass, darkening them with a strange blight or leaving them glowing with energy.

The flame of Hardscale’s tail had taken on a similar glow. His eyes had a hint of frenzy that Mega Evolution always had, but with Red behind him, standing firm, Owen sensed the way their spirits were entwined. Hardscale was in perfect control of himself. The instability of Radiance and the spirit-plunging corrosion of Shadow were kept in check.

Red shouted and swept his arm forward. Hardscale roared and blew a jet of flames, spiraling with black and white embers, toward Owen’s shield. He grasped it, claimed it as his own, let it snake around his shoulders, and shot it back.

Hardscale responded by shielding it with his wings and then spreading them out. The windblast forced Owen back a few feet, claws leaving ridges in the dirt.

The battle had a moment of silence. Mutually, they understood they’d done enough. Red tipped his hat forward in acknowledgment.

“I think,” Owen said, “that… will do. Good job, Hardscale.”

Light pulsed around his brother, his body returning to normal.

“It’s so powerful,” he said. “But… but I can control it now. Better than before…”

Owen grinned. “Well, that was a few weeks ago,” he said. “You only hurt me a few times. I’ve had worse.”

Blue’s Pidgeot cawed and spiraled onto Zena, who parried the attack with an Aqua Tail. She struggled a lot more against her foe without Owen’s ability to grasp and reflect attacks but she held her own enough. Mu, standing behind Blue, pumped her little fists in the air, cheering Zena on.

“Looks like your rival’s doing well, too,” Owen said. “I think… I think we’re done here.”

“You’re going to another region now?” asked Hardscale.

Owen nodded. “I already said goodbye to Duos. He doesn’t want to get involved in all this and I don’t blame him. He deserves a quiet life now. Same for all the others… Blue sent word to them. And I wrote to them. Maybe when this all settles down, I can… try seeing them. But I guess what we have to do back home caught up with us.”

“Home?” Hardscale asked. “I thought here was home.”

Owen opened his mouth, pausing. Then he smiled and looked down. “Yeah,” he lied.

Too much had changed. But… he understood where Hardscale was coming from.

“You’ve been on a lot of adventures even to other regions with Redcap, haven’t you?” Owen asked Hardscale. “But here is still home?”

“Yeah! Because that’s where I came from.” Hardscale faced south where the lab was one town over. “It’s important. Now more than ever, since Mom’s gone…”

A little tightness in his chest reminded Owen that he still needed to heal from that. Perhaps he’d never fully heal. But maybe… she was resting now. He didn’t know how it worked in this world. But surely, she was.

“It’ll always be a home to me,” Owen agreed.

“What are you gonna do in Alola?” Hardscale asked.

“Well… I was going to stop by for a way to get home. But now that Dungeons are appearing, we already have a way. Now, I want to go there to give information I know and maybe find ways to get information to help us too. Then… We’re going to take a flight to Orre.”

“Huh? How come? Isn’t that… where you disappeared?”

A while ago, Owen had filled Harscale in on some of the details.

“Yeah. But I know that Shadow incidents happened there,” he explained. “They might have a way to help us against our own Shadow problem.”

“Ohh!” Hardscale nodded. “Now I get it.”

He didn’t, and Owen knew it. But that was fine.

“…Goodbye, Hardscale. I’m glad you found such a strong human.”

Hardscale smiled. But that finality dimmed his flame.

Blue clapped his hands. “Well,” he said. “You ready to go? That flight’s waiting. Good timing, eh? Guess we trained a little extra with the spare days, but…”

“Yeah.” Owen nodded. “Red, Blue, make sure you take care of any Dungeons that appear in this area. Pass on that power to others if you can with those extra stones I blessed. Only people you can trust, okay?”

“You got it. We know how dangerous this stuff can be.” Blue nodded, as did Red. “You’ve got the eyes of a lot of big names on this. They’ll help.”

A Charmander abruptly appeared atop Owen’s head, plopping between his horns. “Daddy!” Mu said, flopping down so her face rested between his eyes. “I’m bored!”

“But you were watching Mom fight!” Owen said, grabbing Mu with one arm. She giggled and wrapped her tail around his wrist, the flame simultaneously hot and cold as it glowed black and white.

“Perhaps she wants to fight, too,” Zena commented with an encouraging smile. “You’re still very young for that, Mu. Maybe later.”

“Aww…” Mu flailed in Owen’s hold.

It was concerning how quickly Mu was growing up, but at least it meant dealing with her early stages of life wouldn’t be as tumultuous. If she was anything like his siblings growing up, that would’ve been a real handful.

“Let’s get ready,” Owen said after Red handed them their Poké Balls.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Kanto. Owen wondered if this time would truly be the last…

He thought of his father. How much longer would he live? Could he go back to see him again?

No… No. They’d already said goodbye, and he was ready. Daichi was satisfied. To return now… He’d only be chastised for wasting time.

It was time to move forward. Just as Red and Blue now had to pass on their training and blessings to save this world, Owen had to get back to work on saving his new home.

And so, they moved on.

<><><>​

Trina’s army had been whittled down to a squadron after all that had transpired, but those who remained were training to become her elites. And at the top was, of course, the only quartet of Eon’s old army, aside from the originals. The improved Team Alloy… the clones made to replace Eon’s lost companions. A cruel existence.

At least they were more at peace now.

In Yotta Outskirts, where the fields were regrowing wheat after fires and mutant clashes had ruined them, Trina surveyed her remaining squadron of thirty. Their tendency to stick together meant that no set was without a unit, so their fusions were not disrupted. But there was a loneliness in the air regardless, so many others lost to the Void or their natural madness.

“I’m glad to still have you here,” she addressed them. “I promise, when this is over, we will gather every one of our friends and save them.”

Har crossed his arms nervously. “I’m really glad you’re back, Queen Trina,” he said, “but… a lot’s changed since you were here last. Is it alright if I asked a few… questions?”

“Ask as many as you like. I’m… sorry I’ve been gone for so long.”

“Only been a few days,” Ax said, playing with his tusks. “It’s just a lot happened during those few days.”

Har breathed a sigh. “The mutants who aren’t… with us anymore. Do you know what happened to all of them?”

The Serperior’s coils tightened. “Some died and went to the Voidlands. They… may not be themselves or remember anything of their lives. But we can reverse that when we defeat Dark Matter. They can be at peace afterward. Others got lost and they are in the lab they’d been created in—Quartz HQ. Palkia is spearheading an effort of repurposing some of it and mutants there are helping after… Emily ruined a lot of it. Eon is also helping to stabilize them… The ones that survived should be in good hands by now.”

“So… none are wandering around berserk anymore?” Har clarified.

“I don’t… I don’t know for sure. I don’t know if the ones still missing are wandering or dead. I’m sorry.”

At that, the other mutants shifted uncomfortably and nodded in understanding. Despite everything—despite how Trina herself felt about it—she didn’t sense animosity from them. They didn’t blame her.

It nagged at her.

“It’s my fault,” she said quietly.

“Nope. Nu-uh. We’re not having that,” Lygo said firmly. “Without you, we’d’ve been way worse off. Yeah, for the ones who went crazy, it was delaying the inevitable. Fine. But delaying is better than it happening immediately.

“You still saved us.”

“Don’t say it’s your fault,” Ami went on. The mutant Meganium’s vines curled inward. “The person who really should be blamed is Eon. Not you. You saved us.”

In a pocket of silence, she knew they were right. But still, she could not shake the feeling of guilt.

Suddenly, the squadron’s eyes turned to something behind Trina. Moments later, a gust of wind alerted her to Gahi’s arrival.

“Oi, Trina,” he said.

“Oh! Gahi.” Trina twisted her coils until she was facing him, shifting unconsciously. “Hello.”

Gahi held a small package forward. It smelled like meat and spices. “Got y’lunch.”

“Oh. I didn’t… realize I hadn’t eaten lunch. And I don’t… need to, but…” She hooked her vine beneath the paper package’s handle. “Thank you.”

“Ehh, y’had a rough one, figured you’d like somethin’.” Gahi glanced at the squadron. “Oh, hey.”

“Hi?” Har squinted. “…Where’s the rest of your team?”

“Owen’s on vacation,” Gahi said.

Ax squinted. “…Vacation?”

“Uh, he got shot inter Kanto.”

“Where’s Kanto?” Ax asked.

Gahi shrugged. “One universe away? He’ll be back.”

“Y-you don’t just… get shot into another universe!” Lygo said as the others in the squadron murmured in alarm.

“Is he okay?” Har asked.

“Arceus said he was. I figure he’s right. I mean, that was befer we beat ‘im up fer goin’ crazy, but like, Dialga said he was normal.” Gahi picked at a few loose scales on his cheek.

Ani groaned, rubbing her forehead with a vine. “Your answers are raising more questions… We should quit before it gets worse.

“Get used to it,” Har mumbled, sighing. “I think that’s just how they operate now. Glad I’m away from that…”

“When’re you gonna be done with this?” Gahi asked Trina.

“Er, Gahi, I’ll… be done soon. I was just getting a rallying… conference.”

By now, the mutants were murmuring to one another, eyeing Gahi and Trina curiously. Ani’s brow was furrowed, inspecting the two of them.

“I think we’re finished,” Har said. “So… you know, it’s alright if we dismiss here. I can handle the rest.”

“Oh, no, we… I mean, yes, I suppose we were about done…”

Why was she getting so flustered? She sighed, calming herself. “Thank you, Har. That will be everything. Please, everyone, relax for today. We will get through drills and training for any imminent battles tomorrow. Dismissed.”

The mutants stood straight, then relaxed and dispersed. Har and his team remained, though, getting a little closer.

“Yes?” Trina asked.

“Are you two…?” Ax gestured between Gahi and Trina.

“What?” Gahi asked.

“Feels like it,” Ani said.

Har confirmed with a nod.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Trina said evasively. “…I’m… simply… thinking about things, that’s all.”

Not a thought seemed to pass through Gahi’s head.

“I got some lunch fer myself, too,” Gahi said. “I think I’m gonna eat with yeh. Make sure y’ain’t neglectin’ that.”

“She doesn’t even have to eat, does she?” Ani asked.

“Nah. Without too many spirits, that whole thing kinda falls apart er somethin’,” Gahi explained.

Har looked between them again. “Um, My Queen, could I… ask something?”

“Of course.”

“…Are you two courting?”

“Wh-what?!” Trina coiled tighter.

“Yeah,” Gahi replied.

“WHAT?” Trina, losing her composure, whirled around to face Gahi in a lunging position.

Gahi blinked several times, completely unfazed. “I mean, it’s kinda obvious.”

“Gahi, courting is—that isn’t—”

“That makes sense,” Ani said.

Ax nodded, arms crossed. Har, too, looked unsurprised.

“I have a say in this, too!” Trina said. “Gahi! You did not… ask me!”

“Oh. Is that how it works?” Gahi asked. “That part’s kinda foggy still, gonna be honest.” He scratched at the side of his head, running a hand along his left antenna next.

“Do you even know what courting is?” Trina said. “Who told you we were courting?”

“The letters in my head.”

“The—the letters. Do you mean the Unown?”

“Yeah.”

“…And they told you about courting?”

“No, jus’ that I was courting.”

“…Gahi, please ask the letters what courting is.”

Gahi stared at the sky. Trina wasn’t sure how much he relied on those ‘letters’ anymore, but… he seemed to still be his own person. Though, in some ways, she wondered how those Unown could tolerate such a curious host, so unlike the Psychic associations.

“Oh,” Gahi said. “Huh. Didn’ know that was th’ term.”

“I can’t believe we’re related,” Lygo deadpanned.

Ax patted Lygo on the back.

“So, you wanna?” Gahi offered.

“W-wanna? Do I… want… courting.” Trina took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Thought about Har’s observations.

Yes, he was right, she was comfortable around him. After all their time together surviving alone in the Voidlands, the way he understood her position as the leader of the rescued mutants, the fact that they could perfectly split dinners based on the ingredients they didn’t like…

“I like you,” Gahi said, tilting his head. “Courting is when y’figure out how much more, yeah?”

The sun was a lot hotter today.

Trina took another breath, held it, and finally relaxed her coils. She couldn’t admit it now, but she had been… considering it, too. But Gahi always seemed so aloof, so focused on other things, and there was of course the whole ongoing Shadow War happening which was a little distracting. She hadn’t gotten around to asking.

But after spending so much time leading mutants, being at the same level as one not associated with her subjects was… different. Refreshing. A little forbidden. But…

She did consider Gahi a friend. Yet, she considered many of their group friends. Something about Gahi stood out more.

Maybe it was how direct he was. So often, people were hesitant around her, afraid she might control them or impose something with her powers. Gahi never showed any of that.

And, admittedly, the way he was so unfazed about it impressed her. When she looked up at his eyes, through those red lenses… she saw, behind a casual façade, a fearful echo of hope in them.

Gahi must have lost interest in waiting for an answer because he was staring at the fields. She couldn’t get a read on him anymore. Was he nervous? Being patient? Gahi wasn’t patient. Maybe he didn’t mind. Har, Ani, and Lygo were sharing nervous, awkward glances.

“I… may I demonstrate my answer?” Trina asked.

“Eh?”

“About courting.”

“Oh. Sure.” Gahi replied, though his wings had drooped an inch. Was he trying to play casual, and now he was interpreting that as rejection?

Well, she couldn’t allow that.

Trina slithered forward and raised herself to his height. She leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek, holding it for a few moments. His scales were smooth. Unsurprising for their glossy, shimmering appearance in the light.

She pulled away and straightened herself again to look regal.

Gahi blinked again. “…What’s that mean?”

Lygo looked like he was about to die.

“What does that mean? Gahi, that’s a kiss! A means of affection! Between people!” Trina leaned forward. “Surely, you know what a kiss is?”

“I thought that was a mammal thing.”

“Yes, well, cultures… some means of… Gahi, how do you show affection?”

Gahi seemed to be thinking. Then, in his usual, way too fast manner, he stepped forward and bit Trina on the neck.

“OW!” Trina whirled back before the sharp pain got any worse. “Gahi! You tore my leaf!” She nursed the wound with a vine.

“Wh—that’s how Flygon do it, c’mon!” Gahi flapped his wings. “Aw, c’mon, I’ll, uh, hang on, I’ll get an Oran—”

“Wait, don’t—”

Gahi left her vision for a moment. When she blinked, he was by her side with an Oran Berry and she had no idea where or how.

“Let’s go,” Ani said, apparently seeing enough. “They can enjoy lunch.”

Trina took the Oran with a frazzled “Thank you,” as Har’s team departed.

“Geh… messed that one up,” Gahi mumbled. “…Sorry. Jus’… never did this in a while. And kinda fergot when I did… I dunno, must’ve just been lucky th’ times befer this.”

“I see.” The Serperior was calm enough that her coils left their defensive positioning. “…I’m… not familiar, either, admittedly.”

They started through the fields, looking for a relaxing patch to rest and eat. Gentle winds blew the snow over a struggling crop. While Trina was the Bug Guardian, she did have powers over Grass as well. She channeled some of her energy into the fields to help them grow through the winter. It was a natural courtesy.

“You got amnesia, too?” Gahi asked.

“No. Well… yes. I don’t know. It’s more that, it’s been a while.” Trina sighed. “I used to… I was once a spirit that served under Arceus. My life before that is foggy not from anything like divine seals or special powers, Gahi, but… time. But I was told that with my power, I had to be ready to use it to purify the minds of those who had been warped by powers against nature. When I saw the first mutants… I knew what I had to do.”

Gahi cocked his head. His antennae twitched. “Hang on,” he said. “So ol’ Barky knew there’d be mutants, ev’n back then? He got cogwheels?”

It took Trina several seconds to realize what he meant. “…Precognition. And, no, I don’t think he does.”

“Huh.” Gahi reappeared several feet ahead. “Here’s a good spot!”

By the time Trina caught up, Gahi had disappeared and reappeared with a red blanket, setting it down and plopping on the left side. Trina coiled on the right.

He’d bought a heavy, meaty meal, simmered in savory berries and drizzled with vegetables, spices, and rice. Trina wasn’t sure how well she could eat it, but it seemed tasty.

“Here,” Gahi said, offering a wooden fork.

“Oh.”

“Helps pick stuff up easier without usin’ vines and stuff.”

Trina coiled around her plate and nodded. “Thank you,” she said, looming over her meal and awkwardly holding the fork with her vine. It had been a while since she’d eaten… fancy. Was this fancy?

Gahi had ordered the same thing, but it smelled spicier.

“You can handle that?”

“Not the way Owen c’n handle spice,” Gahi replied. He took a few small nibbles, grabbing the meat with his bare hands.

“Mm.” She stabbed her fork into the meat, getting a few veggies and berries with it, and picked the whole slab of meat up, nearly as large as her head.

“You think he’s doin’ alright?” Gahi asked.

“The others seem confident, don’t they?” she asked.

Gahi tore off a tougher piece, chewing on the thought. Trina stuffed the whole slab in her mouth and pushed her coils forward on reflex, tilting her head up. It was a mix of savory and a hint of sweet and bitter to keep the flavors balanced. It was a honey glaze on this meat, fatty and filling. The most satisfying part was the residual warmth through her body.

She sighed, easing her body down. Her instinct to curl up and rest was already settling in…

“I used ter do that,” Gahi commented.

“Hm?”

Gahi leaned over and offered a piece of bread, dabbing it on her mouth, showing some grease. Trina took it, wiped her mouth, and downed the bread next.

“Eatin’ big.”

“Oh. Why don’t you anymore?”

“Mouth got smaller.”

“Oh. Trapinch.” That made sense. “I certainly don’t miss being a Snivy.”

“Kinda liked Trapinch in hindsight. Like, Flygon’s way better, yeah. But I liked the surprised look people had when I went an’ dashed behind ‘em.”

“Still just as fast back then, were you?”

Gahi stretched his wings proudly. “Fastest peanut in the world.”

“Peanut?” Trina giggled, wrapping her vine around her plate. “What does that make you now?”

“Hmm…” Gahi’s tail flicked. “Asparagus.”

“Asparagus? Long and green?” Trina tilted her plate into her mouth, pouring all the rice and extra fixings down at once.

Gahi nodded. “An’ yer a banana.”

Trina nearly coughed but managed to finish her food. “B-banana?”

Gahi pointed at her hood. “Serperior look like bananas.”

“I…” She couldn’t find a retort. “Green bananas aren’t very good, though.”

“Sure they are!” Gahi said. “Means they ain’t gone bad yet. Y’ever see a banana in Hot Spot? Practically can watch the brown spots grow in real-time.”

“Well, hopefully, if I lose this Orb, I won’t brown the same way.” Trina set her plate aside. Gahi wasn’t even a quarter finished with his.

“Did yeh like it?” Gahi asked.

“I did.” Trina smiled nervously. “Sorry if I went too quickly for you.”

Gahi’s tail flicked. “Nah,” he said. “Jus’ means I gotta eat faster next time.”

Trina tittered at that, deciding not to point out that wasn’t what he should’ve taken from that.

She watched him eat again, quickly but meticulously. He always changed from rice to picking at a veggie or two and then returned to the meat, no part of the meal holding his attention for very long.

Courting. How… funny. A year ago, Gahi was the last person she imagined she'd ever consider.

His simple honesty… grounded her. He didn’t revere her like other mutants. He didn’t need her.

For now, she had to focus on her army. They had to mobilize to support the fight against the “Fragments of Darkness.”

But… having Gahi around for that didn’t sound so bad.

<><><>​

A shadowy entity crawled across the floors of Destiny Tower, leaping between cracks and up the stairs like they were water. Spiraling up and into the operational Teleporter and reappearing at the fiftieth floor. The midway point, where Destiny Tower’s physical presence transcended into the aether.

He slipped through without issue and continued up the spiral, finding a second divine Teleporter. So convenient. Barky did a good job.

Someone was talking in one of the strategy rooms on the… oh, what floor was this, somewhere in the nineties, now? It sounded like Owen, but he wasn’t around.

“. . . unknown, but with Alexander still recovering, and Nate handling Necrozma, it’s clear that our best target should be Emily.”

Nate tilted his head. He was handling Necrozma that well? Such a glowing compliment from not-Owen. Was it Har? No, he was training with Trina and the mutant army.

Hello?

“What was that?” growled the Charizard. “…Oh. Nate. It’s you.”

Hello, Darkness, my old friend.

“Mm.” Diyem, the Charizard with a black flame, sighed.

You sound a lot like Owen.

“My body reflected his due to some entanglement issues. I could also be a Goodra, but there are… inconveniences.”

Nate bobbed.

“How are you here? Aren’t you busy with Necrozma?”

I’m everywhere.

“Comforting.”

I wanted to check on everyone… like Hecto. And Willow.

“Wonderful, we have three multi-present people wandering around Kilo, and one of them is potentially an active threat waiting to happen.”

I’m an active threat?

“No, you’re just weird. I was talking about Willow. Xerneas was able to determine that Willow and Hoopa are the same soul. So, we’re more or less waiting for that to blow up in our faces in a few days.” Diyem pointed at a part of the left wall where ‘WILLOW’ was circled in red and connected to several other ‘liabilities’ on some kind of interaction map.

Oh. So you’re going to go after Emily? I think she’s wandering in the eastern parts of Kilo right now.

“Mm, thank you. That might be—wait. That’s meaningless.” Diyem punched forehead. “Dungeons are making the cardinal directions meaningless.”

It’s not that bad. Even though everything is shuffled, local areas are more likely to be where they used to be. Most cold spots are where Step used to be.

“Really?” Diyem asked. “Hmm. It wasn’t always like that, was it?”

Nate shook his head and hopped onto the table, looking at all of their plans.

Barky eyed him warily.

In response, Nate tilted his gaze upward. Underneath the spirit cloth he’d conjured for himself, Nate curled his shapeless darkness inward.

“…I have memories of you,” Barky said. “You only showed up to… consume the Tree of Life. I thought it was the end of the world. Yet then, you disappeared.”

The Tree of Life is my home. I was protecting it.

Diyem sighed. “Well, I suppose that means we have two abominations that protect things by eating them. Wonderful. Speaking of which, if Emily is wandering in the east side, is there anything in immediate danger?”

No, but that could change overnight. She is searching for Tanneth, her other half.

“She’s off the mark,” Diyem said. “She seems to have a gateway on the island where Necrozma had once been, but that is very far removed from where she’s being kept now.”

“But hold on,” Barky said. “I don’t understand what you are, Nate. I did not create you. Are you like Diyem?”

I don’t know what I am. I was here with the first souls of Kilo when it was still called Quartz. I heard all of the voices and thoughts of the people inside who wanted to make a better world. Their hopes and struggles… I felt them all.

“In other words,” Diyem said, “he is my opposite. Where I am all the pain that Kilo feels, and all of its negativity, Nate gets the rest. Its hope and defiance to survive.” He glared at him. “We’re supposed to be enemies.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.

“We will forever be opposed,” Diyem stated. “…But I suppose that does not mean we have to be at each other’s throats. Only that we will always experience what the other doesn’t… and we are both tied to the fabric of this universe. I think…” He looked at Star. “Yes. Nate and I were born from the same instant you created Kilo. Your fear and regrets… became me, and I became sensitive to all the world’s flaws. Your hopes and desire to do better, to survive, to save people? That became Nate. He is the voice of the souls who want to persist in Kilo, despite all its struggles. He is Kilo’s Voice of Life.”

“Voice of Life…” Star repeated the term, staring at Nate curiously. “I like that…”

Diyem growled and crossed his arms. “I think it’s corny.”

“Okay, Darkness Diyem Dark Matter,” Star quipped.

“Most of those were bestowed onto me,” Diyem pointed out.

Star rolled her eyes. “Well, anyway… Barky, what’s got you hung up on that?”

Barky stared at Nate for a little while longer. “Is there something you aren’t telling us?”

…Is Owen safe to return soon?

“He is in the world Quartz originated from,” Barky said. “He should return eventually, once we gather our strength to resummon him. It will be a few days. For him, perhaps a year to recover, and I hope he uses that time to train and not lose his strength.”

Okay. That’s fine. As long as he can come back, because… I still need to complete my part in all of this. I can still feel him over there.

“Huh?” Star squinted. “What… do you mean by that?”

Nate curled up. Um. Nothing.

“Wow, a literal void in a blanket can still look like it’s lying,” Star deadpanned. “C’mon, Nate. What’s going on? I thought you weren’t involved in any of this and are kinda just sitting by.”

“Well, he does step in when truly large cataclysms are at play,” Diyem said. “He took down my initial expanse as well as Necrozma’s rampage himself. Not enough to defeat, but enough to suppress. And it seemed like you’d been preparing for that for a long time…”

…So Owen will be back soon?

“Nate, be honest with us,” Diyem said. “Why have you been coming in to save the day at just the right moments, and sit by otherwise?”

I can only do my big attacks every few days…

“Yes, but…” Barky narrowed his eyes. “Why did you feel where Owen is? Do you have some kind of link to him?”

Er…

Rapid steps came from the main spiraling halls. “Your Radiance! Your Radiance!”

Their heads turned to see a breathless Turtonator.

“W-we have a problem!”

“What’s wrong?” Barky asked. “We are in a key strategy meeting. How important is this?”

“Key strategy meeting?” called a new voice as Turtonator turned around, looking nervous.

“I’m sorry, Your Radiance. I couldn’t stop them,” Turtonator said. “They appeared in a Dungeon, and… I took them to the base of the Tower and told him to wait, but I… I couldn’t disobey him! His words… compelled me!”

An Umbreon and an Espeon entered the area. The Umbreon had a silver visor on his forehead and a belt of Poké Balls on his thigh, each one wiggling as if the Pokémon inside were eager to look around their new environment. The Espeon didn’t have the same decorations, though she was desperately trying to fashion some blue bands around her ear tufts, clumsy with her paws.

Barky and Star looked like they’d seen ghosts.

“Where are we?” Umbreon said with a glare.

“…Please don’t tell me you’re human,” Barky said.

“Eek! Wait!” Espeon whispered, hiding behind Umbreon. “Is that… Are you…”

“Yeah, we are,” Umbreon said flatly. “From Orre.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 169 – Spreading Darkness For Good

Umbreon wobbled around the conference table like he’d never walked a day in his paws. And… he hadn’t. This was a human. No, two humans! Humans who had been transformed by some force into a Pokémon the moment they’d come into Kilo.

Star didn’t know how to feel about humans pouring into the world she’d made specifically to get away from them. But these… didn’t seem bad. Irritated or nervous, sure, but the Pokémon in Umbreon’s belt seemed curious and eager, not afraid or miserable.

With their arrival, the meeting’s whole atmosphere had shifted. Most left to handle other tasks, hoping to return for more strategy later, and all that remained were herself, a Hecto, Barky, whatever Nate was presenting himself as, and Diyem.

“Alright,” Umbreon said. “I think I understand.”

“You mean that these ‘Dungeons’ form when there’s some weakened part of the wall that separates realms?” Espeon asked. “That sounds like something out of a science fiction movie!”

“It’s less like a weak point and more an active gateway,” Barky explained. “There were reinforcements to prevent these from being created between our realm and a lower realm. However, with protections against them waning, the person trying to create them… made more.”

Star glanced at Diyem but he did not comment.

“To go further,” Barky went on, “we suspect that Necrozma is actively creating these Dungeons due to his natural ability to create Ultra Wormholes. Ultra Wormholes and Dungeons are fundamentally different but similar in how they interact with different parts of reality or, in the case of many Dungeons, how they interact with different realms.”

“And this world,” Umbreon said, “is related to ours because it… was split off from it long ago. I think I follow that.” He tripped and landed on his side, cursing as Espeon helped him up. “No idea how he handles four legs like this,” he muttered. He nuzzled Espeon but then paused as if the gesture confused him.

“This Umbreon stuff isn’t permanent, right?” he asked.

“Uhhh… I’ll… figure something out,” Star said awkwardly.

“Well, aside from that… There’s only one other thing I care about,” Umbreon said. “Can we fix this?”

“We have a theory on how, but we’re missing a cooperative Necrozma for doing it from our side,” Star said. “Not just any Necrozma, either, but one with some divine power imbued in it, too. So… not exactly something you can look around for that easily.”

“And the other half is…”

“We call it Shadows,” Star said, though she noticed Umbreon and Espeon had both gotten tense at the mention of it.

“Then that’s you,” whispered Espeon, looking directly at Diyem.

He furrowed his brow. “In part, yes. How did you know? …My flame is… from a special berry that colors flames.”

“Wow, all this time and that’s your best excuse?” Star chided the Charizard.

“I’m sure that exists,” Diyem defended.

“You, too,” Espeon said, looking at Nate.

Huh? Oh, I’m Shadowed, too. Long story.

“You don’t act like Shadow Pokémon, though,” Espeon said. “You aren’t closed off, or acting like a hostile fighting machine.”

“Well, one for two, but yeah,” Star said, gesturing to Diyem. “This guy’s about as edgy as they come even if he secretly cares about a few of us.”

“Do not turn me into a romance novel cliché.”

“Stop being one.”

“Let’s focus,” Barky growled. “You two.” He nodded at Umbreon and Espeon. “Did anyone else come with you?”

“My Pokémon,” Umbreon said, jerking his head toward his belt. “Otherwise, no. But we oughta get back if the time dilation thing you said is still there.”

“Yes. You may have already been gone for a few days, and we don’t want that happening.”

“Alright. But before that… Why are two of you Shadowed?”

“I am a source of that corruption in this world,” Diyem said. “We’re trying to get rid of other sources since I am the most ideal… host for it. As for him…” He glanced at Nate with a disapproving stare. “Corruption claimed him long ago. But because the Shadows of this world bring about negative emotions, and Nate’s nature inherently defies this, it did not affect him.”

I melted more.

“Aside from that, I suppose.” Diyem glowered.

“I’ve never seen Shadow Pokémon be this… in control of themselves without a proper trainer to care for them,” Espeon said. “Amazing…”

“It’s usually much less pleasant,” Diyem grunted. “We are exceptions.”

“If there’s anyone who could help you,” Diyem said, “it would be one of our own in your world. I doubt he is in your region, but knowing him, he may travel there to study Shadows. Send word for a Charizard named Owen.”

“I take it he talks like you all can?” Umbreon asked. “Am I gonna lose that when I transform back?”

“He is fluent in your language,” Diyem said. “We all are.”

“Neat.” Umbreon glanced at Espeon. “Alright. Let’s get going. I don’t want anyone worrying about us disappearing if the time dilation is… as bad as you said. Let’s walk and talk for the rest of what you need to say.”

“Right! Um, and thank you, everyone!” Espeon said.

“Take care,” Barky said, nodding formally.

As the duo made their way to the teleporter to Destiny Tower’s base, Barky turned to address them all.

“We cannot allow this to persist,” he said. “We need to redouble our efforts into stabilizing the realms before Kilo and the world it came from become indistinguishable.”

“Agreed,” Diyem said. “Regardless of the circumstances that gave rise to this world, it is in no position to ever return. These Dungeons are going to be a problem. It means… it’s spreading there. But why? Is it because Owen is there at all?”

As that question lingered in the air, Nate nervously curled inward, and a new question formed in Nate’s mind. Bubbled from echoes of doubt that he couldn’t fully comprehend.

Was this the right plan to follow? Did Owen know what he was doing? Or had this strayed from its intended course long ago?

For now, Nate held his words close. Things weren’t in a horrible crisis… yet… right?

Yes. It was fine. They were going to be just fine! He could still feel the beating pulse of the world fighting to survive. That much, despite everything, had not changed.

There was still hope Owen’s plan would work.

<><><>​

Me, a hero, eh? Yeah… nah. That ain’t…

But you are! You… have to be. He… he said you were.

I dunno, this is… doesn’ seem fair.

I brought you here for a reason… can you give it a shot? Just once?


Manny looked through his office. Marshadow’s office, now his.

He had the memories. He was the same person as before, and he was also the Lucario who’d holed himself in the Spire of Trials while waiting for things to get rolling again. As the years turned to decades turned to centuries, that purpose had faded into a stagnant complacency. Even he was not immune to the static inertia that settled into a Mystic mind as they awaited a change.

All this paperwork and tracking of resources, taxes to Cipher City, funding, and regulations, all because of his status. He had been in charge. The Pokémon looked up to him innately.

Didn’t seem fair. It never seemed fair. But that was the way the world worked.

He had to grow into the job. He knew for sure he wasn’t doing a good one at first. The leeway they allowed him, though… If he said the whole truth to them, would they see him the same way?

On his desk, too small for a Lucario but a little too large for a Marshadow, the latest report on the Titans was freshly set down. They had most of the Core Titans either defeated or located. It would be a matter of days with their newfound power and Radiance that they would liberate them all, and safely, without Dark Matter or Alexander encroaching on them when their resources were strained.

That crazy Charizard upset the balance and they were lucky—or, sure, skilled—enough to make that imbalance in their favor. Even befriended a piece of Dark Matter in the process.

Did a lot more than he did…

The report suddenly singed itself with ghostly fire in the corner. “Gah!” Manny hastily hopped onto the desk and stamped it out. He sighed again, easing his breath.

He should be happy. Everything was working out. Yet now that he had time to breathe, to remember, to consider everything he’d lost between his halves… those obligations were catching up to him. Old tasks were taken over by better people before he’d even realized it.

Maybe talking to Star about it would be a good idea. She was feeling better, right? How long… had it been at this point?

SLAM!

His office door burst from its hinges and went flying toward him. Manny held up a hand, blocking it and diverting it over his head and into the wall behind him.

Mewtwo Aster was panting heavily on the other side, eyes wide with fear.

“Those doors ain’t cheap,” Manny growled. “C’mon, what’s got—”

Aster babbled too quickly for him to understand, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him like a ragdoll.

“Whoa, whoa!” Manny said, waving his arms. He squeezed out of his grasp and slipped into Aster’s shadow.

Leph caught up and stood at the broken doorway.

Manny poked his head out like he was hiding in a swamp. “What’s goin’ on?”

The daughter of Arceus translated for Aster. “A refugee from Cipher City was rescued by one of our scouts an hour ago,” she said. “I healed her with some of my power. Enough that she could talk again. She’s a Dragapult who witnessed…” Leph trailed off. She steeled herself.

“Alexander is on the move. He’ll be here in a matter of days.”

“Days? That slow?” Manny said. “That ain’t alarmin’…”

“…And,” Leph said, “he has consumed all of Cipher City.”

<><><>​

Bright white sand kicked into the air amid a salty ocean’s spray.

Owen staggered backward and spread his wings like an air brake, claws digging into a wet oceanside. Everything was so humid here—his fire felt weaker, even if it was slight, and that subtle change in atmosphere messed with his tempo.

The Alola region was even smaller than Kilo. Owen wasn’t sure which island this was—all strange names to them—but when he’d arrived, he met with the lead professor of the region whom he mentally called Barechest. While they didn’t have any knowledge of Shadows, they knew of a similar power to Radiance, and they’d been referred to “Ultra Beast” specialists.

And the son of that specialist had a Pokémon that alarmed Owen with his raw power.

“Silvally! Multi-Attack, now!” Cresthair called.

Silvally crouched and allowed Owen no reprieve. Owen quickly brought up a Protect, parrying the strike and countering with a Flamethrower.

The flames didn’t do as much as Owen had hoped. “What—type is he?”

“He’s staggered! Go for another!” Cresthair shouted.

Silvally roared and pressed past Owen’s flames and slashed across his chest. Owen grunted and crouched, tapping his hand on the ground, his scales flashing green where his palm met the sand. Then, he beat his wings to blow Silvally away. He landed heavily, prone.

“Keep up the pressure!”

Silvally obeyed without hesitation, covering half their distance in one leap.

Just as Owen planned. The trap went off beneath Silvally, piercing him with Grass energy.

That worked very well.

Silvally roared in pain and stumbled ahead as that same energy twisted into temporary vines, ensnaring him. Owen opened his mouth, facing the sky, as he pulled in as much solar energy as he could at once. Silvally broke free from the vines with countless snaps and grunts but was too slow.

Sand kicked up with every leap Silvally made to get closer. Owen had his Solar Beam ready. But Silvally was going to feint the attack and Owen saw that coming. He was going to feint to the right…

“Now!” Cresthair commanded. Ambiguous, but it was an unspoken bond, a practiced strategy, that Silvally knew. Owen recognized this bond. Even if he was fighting trainerless, he had to outsmart them.

Silvally feinted and then jumped to the right. Owen acted like he was about to unleash his Solar Beam straight ahead, but then held up a wing to shield Silvally’s incoming attack.

It hit hard. But Owen could counter harder.

Owen turned his head while Silvally was still contending with his momentum and unleashed the Solar Beam point blank. The beam carved a rift through the ocean, spraying salty mist into the air and leaving behind a rainbow. Silvally staggered and collapsed on the ground, too weak to fight on.

Cresthair sighed and withdrew Silvally with a beam of light. He murmured something assuring to the ball, then approached Owen.

“You’re strong, even without a trainer,” he remarked. “How’d you see that feint coming? Silvally and I trained hard on that…”

“Lucky guess from how he glanced his true direction,” Owen half-lied. “I’ve got good eyes for that… Er, anyway… Why didn’t you use that special disk they made for him?”

“We’re still training it up,” Cresthair said, one eye hiding behind his bright hair. “It’s unstable. Silvally is still trying to harness it. But we’re getting better!” He glared challengingly at Owen. “You’ll see. Give it another week or so!”

Owen held up his hands and wings. “I believe you. “I’ve seen how well you can fight, and… Silvally’s unique ability to acquire ‘memories’ to channel different kinds of energy was just what we needed to help.”

Cresthair relaxed, nodding. “Okay,” he said. “Promise, we’ll get it done soon.”

“The only problem is…” Owen frowned. “Silvally can’t dual-type himself, can he?”

“Not really,” Cresthair said. “But it’s alright. You gave me the Shadow Memory, but my sister got into contact with someone in Galar who has a Silvally, too, who might be the perfect match for taking the Radiant Memory. We’ll have this covered for sure.”

“All the way in Galar?” Owen asked. “There aren’t any other Silvally? I mean, I know they aren’t in the wild or anything, but…”

“…Yeah, there’s another kid around here who befriended a Silvally,” Cresthair said reluctantly. “You made multiple copies, right?”

“Yeah. If you think that… friend of yours would be a match?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Cresthair seemed touchy about it so Owen didn’t press.

Cresthair’s gaze shifted behind Owen.

Far down the road, near town, Zena slithered down the path with Mu happily riding atop her horn to get a full view of the beachside. In Zena’s ribbons were several bags of groceries.

“Looks like your… wife? is back,” Cresthair said.

“We’re still cour—dating,” Owen explained. “The Charmander is, um… adopted.”

He wasn’t sure how much of a lie that was.

Still, it was enough for Cresthair, who waved him off and said, “Let’s train again tomorrow.”

“Definitely!” Owen brightened, and once he was far enough away, Owen kicked off the sand and flew to meet with Zena and Mu.

“Owen!” Zena called, rummaging through the bag before pulling out a large, sugary lump of fried bread. She tossed it in the air and Owen spat a small fireball at it in midair, flash-caramelizing it. He chomped down, enjoying the burnt, crunchy taste, and landed next to them.

Mu clapped happily and coughed a few embers into the air.

“Oh, good job, Mu,” Zena encouraged. “That was a bigger flame!”

“Yeah! Big fire!” Mu said. “Watch!”

She took a deep breath and leaned forward on Zena’s head, using one arm to hold her horn as support. Then, she breathed between Owen’s horns as a target, spewing a thin, concentrated jet of black-white fire. Even after she stopped firing, little motes of that energy drifted in the air for several seconds before evaporating.

“That was great, Mu,” Owen said. The rate at which she was gaining strength… It must have been all the human contact.

He and Zena exchanged a smile. “Well,” he said, “why don’t we head back to Tapu Koko’s place?”

Zena nodded. “Let’s… keep away from the electric fields tonight, though.”

Owen tittered. “Y-yeah… right.”

<><><>​

They weren’t sure where Tapu Koko had been that night—probably off somewhere with that trusted human, or taking care of business on another part of the island—but they were used to this during their stay in Alola. Instead, Owen inspected the temple for any signs of Shadow or Radiant damage, and determined that things were just fine.

All things considered, Tapu Koko handled training with these new elements well. And being the dedicated guardian of this island, perhaps it would be able to convey those teachings to the other Tapu of the islands. Dungeons had formed in Alola as well, though they were much smaller.

It hit Orre the hardest, and some people who had gone into the Dungeons were still missing. Owen feared the worst, but… If time dilation was at the pace Arceus said, it was obvious where they went. Hopefully, the others would get them back within a few weeks. He needed to have faith in them.

“Something on your mind, Owen?” Zena asked.

He had been staring at the cloudless sky. They’d camped out on the bridge across from the temple, enjoying the amazing weather Alola had, with only his and Mu’s flames lighting the night alongside the stars.

“Do you think they’re mad at us?” Owen said.

“Mad… for being here?”

“The past few weeks have been… mostly relaxing and waiting for others to do their research. I’ve just been… training, resting in new regions…”

“Owen, Arceus himself told you to take things easy. It isn’t the same as relaxing while they’re hard at work. The way time is moving here, it’s…”

“I know. But… at this point, it must have at least been half a day for them. That’s a half a day that I wasn’t helping.”

“And in that half day, you learned about the nature of Dungeons, have spread some power to others here to stabilize it better, and now you’re researching things about Necrozma with the help of all the resources you have here,” Zena said.

“I feel like they’re being too helpful. Like we’re asking too much of them,” Owen said.

“Because you saved the island already, Owen. You patched up every single Dungeon that appeared in Alola.”

“There were… three, at most,” Owen said. “They weren’t even that big.”

“They could have gotten worse. Owen…” Zena nudged him. “This is a world effort. Two worlds at this point. You’re helping. Don’t feel bad that you can finally relax while doing it, or you won’t be as effective when it counts.”

Mu crawled to Owen and tilted her head, squeezing her hands over his cheeks.

“Mu?” he asked.

“Sad?” she asked back.

“Oh… no, Mu, I’m fine,” Owen said. “You should sleep.”

“Daddy’s fine, Mu,” Zena assured her. “He just has a lot to think about for work.”

Work. It didn’t feel like work. It felt like… duty. Was he shirking it by relaxing?

“I think it’s because I’m restless,” Owen said. “We need to train harder.”

Zena sighed, though she wore a smile. “Alright, Owen. Why don’t we try… honing your parrying techniques tomorrow? You can try to toss back my Hydro Pumps.”

“I’d like that…”

Zena nuzzled him again and curled up next to him. Owen rested against her. Mu stared at them for a while longer and curled up, too, resting against Owen’s flame.

The night crawled by quietly…

<><><>​

Owen had a dream about studying for the Hearts exams and failing on the test. Then he had to recite a speech in front of the class that he completely forgot all the details of.

Which was weird because Owen never went to school. He only read about it in comics.

He awoke when it was certainly past midnight but the sky was only a very dark blue. Too early to wake up. Zena was snoozing next to him, sound asleep. And Mu was—gone.

Owen held his gasp to not startle Zena and instead focused on his Perceive. He expanded his range, further, further… there! She was fine. Wandered off again. They told her not to do that, but…

He watched her for now. She was about two hundred feet into the forest, and there weren’t any dangerous Pokémon nearby. She was looking at a little bird Pokémon that seemed quite young. A feral that fell out of a nest, perhaps? No… those were severe injuries. Maybe she was trying to help the poor thing.

Owen slowly sat up and crept away from Zena, but realized that his lack of warmth might wake her. He held a hand over the ground and conjured a small mote of fire. That would do for now.

He turned his attention back to Mu, dimming and cooling his flame as he pushed through the bushes and trees. Mu was reaching toward the bird, who recoiled in fear but seemed too weak to do anything else. Mu stroked the bird’s head and the bird relaxed, but when Mu pulled away, the bird seemed uncomfortable again.

A hundred feet away now. He considered calling out but he was still too far. He’d draw the attention of other sleeping Pokémon and make the whole night noisy.

Mu reached for the bird again and—Owen gasped—snapped its neck. The bird twitched and went still. The little Charmander continued to stare at it for a while longer and then smiled like she was satisfied with herself.

Fifty feet.

Owen noticed that there were a few other tiny carcasses like that in the area. His heart sank and his gut twisted with anxious confusion. Mu? Why was she doing this?

“Mu,” Owen finally called and Mu perked up.

“Daddy!” Mu happily walked to him.

“Mu, what are you doing?” Owen said. “You… why are you…”

“I was helping the birds,” Mu explained.

Owen held a cold silence in his chest, panicked at how he could possibly approach this. He eventually found the words, staggeringly. “Mu… you… killed them,” Owen whispered. “That isn’t helping them.”

Mu tilted her head. “Kill?”

“Y… yes! Kill! That’s not… You don’t do that for no reason.”

“I had a reason… Was helping.” Mu gestured at the carcass. “Was… her suffering. It was bad. And now it’s not bad.”

Her innocent eyes glimmered in the starlight. She stared at Owen, curious, inquisitive, like she got a math problem wrong.

Owen had a feeling he knew what happened. Mu… was Diyem’s daughter. And with it came some of his powers…

At least it didn’t seem to be the suffering of the whole world.

“Mu… That isn’t how you stop suffering,” Owen explained gently. “You don’t kill them because then… they can’t live anymore. Most people, once they’re dead, they can’t come back to life. Especially normal Pokémon like them.”

“Huh? But… but they were hurting.”

“They were, but Pokémon heal,” Owen said. “And if they don’t heal… they do die sometimes. But a lot of the time, they can heal. And when they heal, they can feel happy some other day, even if they’re suffering today.”

“And… can’t, if they die?” Mu asked.

“It’s not the same,” Owen said. “They can only live this one time. I don’t… know how it works in this world, but back home, that’s how it was.”

“But… your friends,” Mu said.

“O-oh. You remember them.”

“They are dead, but… didn’t die.”

Having a child grow up in Owen’s environment wasn’t healthy. But Owen had no idea how to remedy that, especially for someone like Mu…

“Yes,” Owen said, “my friends are… different.”

“When normal people are killed… they die?”

Owen gently pulled Mu close. She reflexively grasped at his fingers and curled around his wrist.

Owen cradled her and glanced at the bird, frowning. “You can’t kill people who are hurting. It causes more suffering.”

Mu flinched. “More?! But… but I don’t feel any!” Her eyes welled up with tears. “How more?! How?”

Owen quickly rocked Mu in his arms, folding his wings over his chest to protect her from the outside world. “It’s okay,” he said. “You didn’t know. I can explain. But it’s not your fault, Mu. You didn’t know any better, okay?”

“Didn’t want to hurt…” Mu sniffled. “Didn’t feel them hurting… thought it was okay…”

“When people die, they… leave behind family. And that family is sad because they can’t see them again. So, when someone dies early… that family hurts early, too.”

“Oh…”

Owen approached the body, already dead and cooling. Now that Owen had time to concentrate on the details, this little Pikipek had been wounded already. Perhaps it had narrowly escaped a predator but not enough to keep going for much longer.

“This one was already badly hurt when you found it,” Owen said gently. “It’s hard to judge if you want to put something doomed out of its misery. That’s why you should ask an adult first, okay?”

“Ask adult… okay…” Mu sniffled. “Not fair… how come hurting?”

Owen rubbed the top of her head. “The world… has bad luck sometimes, for some people. And sometimes lives are cut short. If you’re lucky to live for a long time, or you’re lucky to be strong enough that it’s harder to be hurt… you use that power to help others hurt less. You were trying that, Mu. It’s okay.”

“But I made more hurt…”

“But now you know how to do better,” Owen said. “It’s okay.”

“Not okay… not okay!” Mu said, and suddenly she disappeared from Owen’s grasp.

“Mu!” Owen called. She reappeared next to the corpse and looked wildly around her toward where the other bodies had been. She sniffled and pressed her hands into the feathers of the little bird. Her claws, to Owen’s Perceive, dissolved into the bones.

“Mu, wait!” Owen said. “What are you—”

“I don’t want to hurt!” Mu said. “I… I don’t want…!”

Owen grabbed her. At the same time, a pulse of black energy knocked his hand away, the recoil jostling his shoulder. He shouted in surprise and tried to grab at her again, but at that point, Mu had already sniffled and pressed her head against the body’s still-warm feathers.

“Mu…”

She just didn’t understand it. Maybe he’d said too much… He should have come up with a nicer story. But if he lied, how was she going to learn about… how to interpret the world healthily? Especially if she could sense pain like Diyem could. This… was just going to be a painful lesson, but Mu would get better. She had support.

Owen looked at the sky, sighing. The stars were so pretty tonight. No clouds. They glimmered a little, warping around as the light bent around the leaves…

That wasn’t right.

“What?” Owen mumbled.

The air… was changing. He could feel a Dungeon forming around him. Suddenly and without warning. But—no, this one didn’t have the stagnant, dusty air of the Voidlands, and it didn’t smell like Kilo, either. This was… a Dungeon that was localized to Alola.

“Hello?”

A feral chirp was distorted by Shadows. The carcass was moving again.

All of them were. Owen could feel each one rising from their dead positions, looking confused or sleepy. Each one didn’t have organs. Each one was just… a blob in the shape of what they used to be.

Oh, gods. What did Mu… what was she capable of?

“Huh?” Mu sniffled. “You’re… okay?”

The Pikipek-shaped Void Shadow tilted its head, chirped a distorted warble, and then flew onto Owen’s left horn like a perch.

“I’m better. Thank you.”

The language was simplistic. Owen associated it with ‘low-level’ feral talking, for Pokémon that didn’t have the capacity for higher intelligence. But that basic feeling of gratitude was conveyed.

The Dungeon was fading. It had no Core. “Mu,” Owen said hastily, “why don’t we go back to bed now? We can talk about this later…”

“Okay…” Mu reluctantly reached up for Owen to grab her. He folded his wings over her body so she didn’t have to see these Void Shadows evaporate when the Dungeon dissipated. She didn’t need to know.

The sky returned to normal. That feeble, temporary Dungeon space that Mu had created evaporated just as quickly. And now, the Void Shadows would disappear with them, able to pass on…

Any second now…

Right about… now.

…They weren’t fading.

Pikipek nibbled on a stray scale on Owen’s forehead.

The Void Shadows were stable.

This… is going to be awkward to explain to Tapu Koko…

<><><>​

Owen had a fitful sleep for the rest of the night. About fifteen Void Shadows in the shape of various feral Pokémon had gathered around Mu and the others overnight. They were… docile. But they also seemed to think Mu was now their protector.

Under Owen’s wings, Mu was curled up and comfortable with all of those tiny Pokémon-shaped blobs of darkness, each one normal to the naked eye, but his Perceive made the experience maddening. He eventually removed his horns to sleep.

This led to a staggered and groggy explanation to Zena in the morning, the Milotic’s eyes getting wider with every new piece of information.

“Then, Mu… inherited Diyem’s Dungeon powers? And now they’re manifesting, just like that?”

“I think so,” Owen said. “But… as for these Pokémon…”

Mu was playing with all fifteen, and they were laughing, chirping, hissing at each other like it wasn’t a problem. Like they hadn’t been killed and then revived as demon spawn. They were… normal. Normal in every way except physical.

“Hey!”

It was hard to see in the morning sun, but Owen recognized the incoming body of Barechest, Alola’s professor.

“Hope I didn’t wake you,” Barechest said. “Last evening, I got some awesome news.” He waved some papers by his head. “The results of your energy signature readouts are finally in!”

“Oh!” Owen perked up. “What did you find out?”

“I’ll admit, I only read the abstract and didn’t have time to get into all the data of it,” Barechest said, “but it sounds pretty definitive, yeah?” He handed over a copy to Owen. “I think the part you care about—”

CRACK!

Whatever Barechest wanted to say was interrupted in seconds by the crackle of lightning coming from Tapu Koko’s temple across the bridge. Arcs of black and gold electricity traced along the temple walls…

“That… sounded angry,” Owen said. “H-how good is Tapu Koko’s vision?”

“Well…” Barechest scratched the back of his head. “He flies around the region in a matter of minutes from high in the sky, so… vision strength somewhere between a Noctowl’s and a spacefaring satellite’s.”

He’d seen everything.

“Oh no.”
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 170 – Accidental Connection

In less than a second, a bolt of black lightning zig-zagged across the sky and splashed onto the soil on Owen’s side of the bridge. Motes of white light drifted around where Tapu Koko landed, his intense eyes focused entirely on Owen. Electricity—its natural color as well as its unnatural, Shadow-and-Radiant-tinged variety—arced across the halves of his shield.

“Tapu Koko!” Owen greeted. “Hi! How are—”

He held a shield half up toward Owen. “Quiet.”

Owen shut his mouth and stood stiff. Zena glanced between them and said nothing. Barechest offered a respectful nod.

But Mu was still playing with the Void Shadows. Tapu Koko’s attention was slowly drawn to the Charmander necromancer.

Zena looked ready to leap in to defend Mu. Owen wasn’t familiar with Tapu Koko’s body language, but if he could extrapolate from bodies he knew, he didn’t seem hostile. And Owen wasn’t sure if fighting him was a good idea. Battling his brother was one thing, but a guardian of the island? Right near his home, on his turf?

Tapu Koko inspected Mu in silence. She finally noticed him and tilted her head up, up, up until she fell onto her back.

“Hi!” she greeted.

Tapu Koko once again sank a little lower and Mu showed no fear in response. Then, he faced Barechest expectantly.

“Everything okay?” Barechest asked. “Seems there’s… a lot of strangeness happening here, yeah?”

“You could say that,” Owen said, looking between Barechest and Tapu Koko. Maybe he should explain now that he was listening.

“Okay,” he said. “Here’s what’s going on. . .”

They took a seat and talked. Barechest’s expression went from puzzled to concerned to trailing over to those tainted wild Pokémon that Mu was playing with. Tapu Koko’s expression was entirely inscrutable. Even to Owen’s Perceive, the guardian of the island gave nothing away.

By the time Owen was finished with the explanation, Barechest was approaching one of them, kneeling.

“Wait,” Owen said, “I don’t think you should—”

“It’s alright,” Barechest assured him. “I’m a professional with this, yeah? Regional variants… This might be the same thing.”

“Regional… variants?”

“In some parts of the world, Sandshrew are well-adapted to sandy environments. Here in Alola? They’re happy in the high snowcaps. Maybe these ‘Void’-adapted Pokémon are the same.”

“But… that’s very different,” Owen said. “You—”

“It is,” Barechest said, holding out a finger horizontally. The little Fletchling hopped onto it and chirped happily. “When you first encountered this power, it must have been scary. But here, from your daughter? Looks like they behave like normal Pokémon to me.”

Tapu Koko observed the same way, hovering behind Barechest. There was a curious trust between the two of them that Owen sensed. The lead professor of this region must have built up a great deal of credibility for the local god to trust him in this way. Owen wondered what his story was.

“I’m… I’m very sorry for this,” Owen finally concluded to Tapu Koko directly. “If there’s a way to reverse it, I’ll find a way. But…”

But they were still trying to save their world. And they were already making things worse here…

Tapu Koko moved with purpose toward the Void Shadows taking the forms of their old lives. He descended and placed his shield over them, bringing them all close. They chittered in greeting, a few trying to climb his arms and onto the top of his shield instead. Tapu Koko allowed it.

He also seemed to glance at Owen. His gaze focused on something on Owen’s chest. Owen wasn’t sure what that meant. Following his gaze more closely, it was the necklace he’d fashioned out of Amber’s claw bone…

“They are,” Tapu Koko finally said, “of the island. I will guard them the same way. They are friendly. I will learn about them.”

“You will?” Owen asked.

Barechest smiled and stood up. “I don’t need to understand you to know how you feel,” he said. “Sounds like Tapu Koko knows what to do here, yeah? Those ‘Void’ variants will be just fine under its care. Let’s trust the island’s guardian to handle this.”

Owen nodded. “Y-yeah, okay,” he said. “Um… thank you. I hope you can forgive us…”

“Go away.”

“Y-yeah, we deserved that.” Owen bowed stiffly.

“Hey, before you go,” Barechest said, “mind if we chat a little more? We still have those findings to read…”

“Oh! Right.” He glanced at Zena, who was gathering Mu and saying a few farewells to the little Voids and Tapu Koko. He seemed to recognize Zena as the more responsible one, since he was more cordial to her as they left.

They walked and talked and Owen read through the document with Zena. A few times, Owen got distracted trying to stop Mu from hopping from Zena’s head to his, but they eventually got through the paper’s introduction and summary.

A few of the lines weren’t surprising. Some of it noted their strange energy signatures, unlike anything they’d seen before. Other parts talked about how Zena’s signature was very hard to isolate, which also made sense due to the extra spirits she had, even if they were dormant in this world. But most importantly…

. . . There was one prominent abnormality we noticed in the energy signatures from Milotic. While said signatures were powerful and defined, the ‘extra spirits,’ as she called them, felt distant, not weak. What we at first thought were dormant energies were actually from very far away, like they were being filtered through a great barrier. You could equate it to trying to listen to someone through a foot of solid concrete.

Owen frowned, thoughtful. “The Water Spirits are dormant because they’re far away?” he said. “But that means…”

“Oh, I think I understand,” Zena said. “Our Orbs are basically like Dungeons, but internally. What if being here in this world… means we are only gateways to the Orb Dungeons we have? Their spirits still give off energy, but if they’re elsewhere…”

“Oh…”

That… might add up. The Water Spirits were still in Kilo, even if the Orb hosts’ bodies had been transported to this world. And their bodies had their spirits… but if the Water Orb was just a gateway to somewhere in Kilo’s realms…

“I… I think I get it?” Owen said uncertainly.

He kept reading…

My theory is this energy signature is not within Milotic at all, but is instead being channeled through her. We have seen similar readouts before when studying Ultra Wormholes and determining how far certain energy signatures are from our current location.

Regarding Charizard’s energy signature, it did not have the same distant spirits so it was easier to analyze. However, we still identified an abnormality. Pokémon that are whole—that is, their full energy signature is within one body—give off a consistent, uninterrupted wave pattern when analyzed through our machines.

Charizard’s signature is missing a minute fragment. Perhaps only a percent of a percent. Not enough to be noticed except by our eyes on a graph of the wave. You’d normally see this kind of signature from a Pokémon using an advanced Substitute, such as a top league fighter. But from the moves Charizard listed to us, he does not use Substitute and does not recall any other parts of himself that are missing.

In summary, Charizard is missing a minute fraction of his energy signature.


Owen uneasily glanced at Zena. “I thought I was… whole,” he said. “I’d split myself into three and that was my limit. But why do I still have a tiny part of me missing? My spirit?”

“Where could it even be?” Zena asked. “You were removed from the Reincarnation Machine, right?”

Owen nodded. “That was a long time ago. Rhys busted it so Eon couldn’t just kill me to get me back.”

“…He wouldn’t dare do that,” Zena murmured.

“It’d be practical. And I died all the time. I wouldn’t have been offended, in hindsight…”

Zena looked horrified. Barechest scratched his head, looking concerned but unsure if he should step in.

Owen tittered. “Er… let’s just keep reading.”

On a whim, one of our other scientists suggested offsetting background noise in Charizard’s energy signature with the same offset that Milotic’s distant signatures came from… and we found a match.

The piece of Charizard is in the same general world as Milotic’s background energies.


“Same general realm,” Zena said. “Then… Owen, a piece of you is in someone’s Orb Dungeon.”

“Since when would I…” Owen paused. “Mom’s? No, it couldn’t be that… Sure, I was a Fire Spirit and didn’t know it for a while, but…”

“But a part of you is kept in the Fire Core as a form of recall,” Zena said.

“No, it can’t be that,” Owen went on. “The Grass Orb overrode that. So, I’d only have a bit of me in the Grass Core.”

“My spirit is whole,” Zena pointed out. “It can’t be that.”

Owen scratched his head, stumped. He resolved to check the Fire Core, just in case, when he returned. Because where else could he be?

“It’s probably nothing,” Owen said, doubting his own words. “Or… nothing we can deal with right now. That’ll be the first thing we look into once we get back.”

There was still more to read.

We lastly checked Charmander’s. While strange, it was whole and had the fewest abnormalities. She is a healthy baby girl. Congratulations!

For some reason that offended him. Mu was the most normal of the three. Really?

Still, with that covered, and their findings in his hands, that was the last thing they needed to do in Alola. Cresthair had Silvally taken care of and they would be able to send that knowledge to the most capable people they knew.

Ultra Wormholes had been their original intent for Alola. But with the discovery of the Dungeons connecting, it wasn’t as necessary… Guiltily, Owen considered Alola to be a nice stop during their flight, and the scientists here with outer-world experience would have been a good group to seek advice from anyway. They were lucky to get all they did.

“Thanks for everything you’ve done for us,” Owen said to Barechest.

“What’s your plan from here?” the professor asked.

“We have one place left to go,” Owen said. “Orre. The origin of the Shadows we know about… They might have information on how we can combat it in our world. After that, we’re going to find a Dungeon still there and head home.”

“Well, good luck, yeah?” Barechest said. “That look in your eyes reminds me of a lot of talented Pokémon and their trainers I’ve seen here and all over. If you ask me… you’ll get this done.”

Owen’s flame grew and he nodded. Zena had relaxed, too, and Mu happily curled up in her ribbons.

Suddenly, Barechest stopped and stretched his arms up. “Woo! But before that, how about we send you off with a good meal?”

“Oh! Well, sure,” Zena said. “We need time for our flight to be scheduled anyway, don’t we?”

“Right, Orre’s… very far by wing. We could use one of those planes again.”

“Then it’s settled,” Barechest said. “I’ll treat you to a great Alolan feast!”

One last sendoff would be nice, Owen thought. And in exchange, perhaps he could provide more for Barechest’s research.

But soon, Owen would have to resume his research on the hardest subject they had… Shadows.

And he’d have to return to the region where he’d lost his normal life, just to leave this world behind again. Hopefully, this time, he could leave without regrets.

<><><>​

“So you’re saying I need to look for a talking Charizard named Owen,” Umbreon said. “With pointed horns that constantly invade everyone’s privacy within a three-hundred-meter radius.”

“Yyyyes?” Star tittered.

They’d descended Destiny Tower and traveled swiftly to a nearby Dungeon pocket where other ‘Orre refugees’ had gathered. Most had already traveled back, but a few lingered, waiting. Espeon had gone ahead to assure people on the other side that things were okay.

On the left was part of a house that had been split by distortions such that a lake now ran through it. On the right was what looked like a part of Fae Fae Forest intermingling with a sandy beach.

Several other human-turned-Pokémon were gathered up and clumsily trying to walk around in their new bodies. Some didn’t have legs, which complicated matters.

“And this is temporary, right?” Umbreon asked Star again, gesturing to himself.

“Y-yes!” Star said, with no confidence one way or the other. “Temporary! We’ll send you right on your way back and it’ll probably wear off after a few days… and if nnnot, I’ll fix it once I get the chance!”

“…I’ll find you,” Umbreon said. It was a threat.

“I believe you,” Star squeaked.

Umbreon exhaled through his nose and then turned to the confused Pokémon. “Okay, everyone. Back through the portal! Let’s go home.” He glanced back, looking at Star with one eye. “I’ll look out for this Owen guy. He’s trying to fight Shadows, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I know someone who did something similar,” Umbreon said. “I’ll get in contact with him and the lab his mom helps run. They have a machine that can purify Shadow Pokémon, no divine magic required. Maybe it’ll help.”

“Cure…” Star frowned. “Are there other cures?”

Umbreon seemed impatient. “Yes, there are others. Look, can you ask me this on the other side? Every second is more than a minute here.”

Star winced. “I… I’ll send someone after you,” she said. “I don’t want to… I mean, I can’t cross the barrier. But what’s the other way?”

Umbreon was already walking to usher the former humans through the portal. A Growlithe was helping to roll a Voltorb down the road while a Misdreavus tried to use her ectoplasm to crawl across the ground, too stubborn to ask for help. An Ekans rolled next to a Spinda that walked perfectly straight.

“Celebi,” Umbreon said. “Celebi’s power to return happy memories. Using the power of time to remind the Pokémon of their past. That’s the secret to dispelling Shadows.”

“Remind them of the…” Star squinted even as Umbreon was too far away to reply.

It was that simple? Memories of the past, powered by Celebi, could help dispel Shadows? But Celebi couldn’t do that in Kilo, not the one they created. Traveling through time was too dangerous, so she was more like a guardian over it… Like Dialga, she regulated time’s flow but didn’t hop through it.

How else could they dispel Shadows through memories?

As the rest of the former humans passed through the barrier, and as Star floated back to Destiny Tower, she helped one of the former humans who had tripped over a pebble.

That wasn’t so bad. The human was kind and didn’t seem to realize she was a Mew. Perhaps the shock of everything left them too stunned to acknowledge it.

Her gaze lingered on the little stone the human tripped over.

Star gasped. “Gone Pebbles!”

<><><>​

Mispy stared at the ceiling, laying on her back while her many vines lay splayed on Palkia’s cutting table. She stared at a mirror that Palkia had set up so she could see what he was working on. It was a rare moment of downtime while the others recovered their energy. And she wanted to take on a proposal that Palkia had given her a while ago.

This was a special room in Palkia’s makeshift lab in Kilo Village. No windows, only Luminous Orbs in the ceiling, most of them bright and facing her body on the table. The walls were devoid of decorations and there was a large table—small for Palkia—next to him with various instruments to pry, hold, bind, or remove soft matter.

“How fascinating,” Palkia said. “I’ve never seen a stomach like this before, especially for a Meganium.” Palkia held up a claw, which was enveloped in a mysterious energy that warped the light around his finger. He ran it along a membrane and pulled it out of her chest. “Shall we see what’s inside?”

Mispy nodded. Owen always talked about how her insides were strange. She never got to enjoy it herself.

“Right, let’s make a precise cut here—”

Knock knock.

“Hello?” called Demitri.

“Ah, Demitri! I apologize if you were waiting at the entrance,” Palkia said, waving at him.

“Oh, no, it’s fine. I actually…” He stopped, staring at them.

Mispy smiled and waved a vine.

Demitri’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he collapsed, completely out cold.

“Ah,” Palkia said. “Perhaps he’s tired.”

Mispy frowned, sighing. She’d explain later. Her eyes trailed to his right hand, clutching something. “Mm?”

“Hm? Ah.” Palkia followed her gaze. He reached into a tiny portal in front of him and his hand appeared next to Demitri’s, taking the paper. “Let’s see… Ah! Strategy. For you, I imagine. Now, let’s get back to this stomach… Oh, don’t worry, I’ll take pictures later, Mispy.”

“Mm.”

While Palkia continued to study her insides, Mispy took the paper and read it over…

Her casual gaze slowly hardened to a more serious, analytical stare.

Report from South Null Village.

All known Core Titans have been defeated and all Legends within are being recovered or reunited with their twin selves. A more thorough list of that will be provided later. More pressing matters have arisen.

We have a report from a refugee Dragapult from Cipher City who once worked in Alexander’s castle staff. He has killed Qitlan, claimed his spirit, and is now covertly calling in much of his staff and city into Cipher Castle to do the same to them. We do not know why he did not do this first or what the effects are, but this sudden change in strategy means we have little time to prepare for whatever he’s planning.

An army was our main expectation. Now, it may only be Alexander as a ‘Super Guardian’ of Shadow itself. Diyem informed us that his Shadow powers are innate to this world and are distinctly anti-Mystic, like an opposing force. However, while divine, or Radiant, power is divided amongst Star, Barky, and the Guardians under Necrozma, the Dark Matter fragments are the corresponding Shadow power. Alexander has the majority of this power and will only grow stronger the more he finds.

Alexander is currently moving to North Null Village. He initially was heading south but suddenly changed course. This is abnormal because Alexander’s movements are usually very strongly planned. He may be operating alone, mentally, after consuming all other spirits to become his thrall rather than a thinking army.

We suspect he is either flying for Emily or Tanneth since they correspond directly to another known Dark Matter fragment. Since East and West Null Village have been abandoned and consolidated into South Null Village, he only has two choices and we are confident those are his targets.

Tacticians must meet in South Null Village Town Hall in Kilo’s next noon. Scouts must take the Calm Water Lake Dungeon’s passageway into the Voidlands to verify Alexander’s location. Remain low to the ground. Bring at least one Joltik Willow with you and a table’s worth of sweet pastries provided by Sugar ‘n Spice in case you run into Hoopa, who escaped our surveillance.

Offensive forces must meet in North Null Village by traversing through the Fae Fae Wilds Dungeon. Prepare to defend and retreat if Alexander’s attacks are overwhelming. Do not risk Tanneth’s well-being.


The rest of the letter continued with more details for various groups, but Mispy wasn’t too interested in the rest of the details. It didn’t apply to her. With Owen gone, she was back to being the tactician for Team Alloy, but Demitri and Gahi were still the muscle. Would they have to split up here? Then again, she still couldn’t shake her speech problems…

No, Uxie could help. She was comfortable talking to Uxie and Mesprit. She could whisper her thoughts to Uxie, who could transmit them, just like Demitri. And… one day they’d fuse anyway. But she didn’t want to do that while Owen was away. He… deserved to be there.

It’d sure be convenient, though. What was she doing, getting sentimental about it? Nothing would change. She and Uxie were already so similar.

Maybe she was afraid. It was a big leap. Uxie was probably afraid, too, no matter how cool and collected her aura was.

“Ah, how fascinating! You have another stomach! Or, I think it’s one. Let’s find out…”

Mispy gently folded the paper and watched Demitri, who was dizzily returning to consciousness.

“M-Mispy? A-are… are you okay? I think I passed out…”

“Oh, she’s just fine!” Palkia said. “Mispy wanted to study anatomy.”

“Isn’t this a bit… extreme?!” Demitri couldn’t look at the operating table. “Doesn’t it hurt—oh, right… S-still, Mispy! This is dangerous!”

“Nonsense! I’m using the warped fabric of space as my cutting instrument. That’s as sterile as it gets! Not to mention, it’s quite difficult to maintain any wounds on her. She heals them very quickly without thinking.”

Demitri whimpered anyway and kept his eyes on the floor. “…W-well, did you read that paper?” he asked.

Mispy hummed affirmatively.

“I think we should gather everyone up, um, s-soon,” Demitri said. “I already went to get Mesprit and Uxie. I couldn’t find Azelf, but he must be around…” The Haxorus held the extra axes on his tail. “I have no idea how they expect us to fight Alexander…”

“Indeed. We are quite outmatched,” Palkia hummed. “Really, you can categorize it quite well and determine from there how the odds are stacked against us.”

“Categorize?”

“Yes.” Palkia grinned. “The frail, the mortals, the demigods, the pantheon, and the forces. Generally speaking, if you’re in one category, you will be below the others, though enough skill will sometimes let you break barriers and defeat those one bracket above you.”

“Demigods…”

“Yes, that would be you, at the moment,” Palkia said.

“I—I’m not a demigod!”

“Are you mortal?”

“Well… no, I guess not…”

Palkia made a gesture as if for Demitri to go forward with the reasoning.

“…I guess… I’m a demigod, okay…”

“But Alexander has transcended the typical powers of the pantheon. We aren’t sure precisely how, but supposedly Diyem’s theory is there were ‘Shadow Hands’ created along with the Hands of Creation. And Alexander gathered that power from the Voidlands, more and more. His capstone, of course, was consuming that fragment of Diyem. While inside the Voidlands, he is its driving force, rivaled only by Necrozma, who is berserk.”

“Doesn’t that mean… we don’t stand a chance?”

“Well! That’s where you come in with your fusions. I think ‘Migami,’ as you call it… could rival those in the pantheon. Perhaps with some skill you could challenge Alexander. Cautiously, at least. We can’t afford to leave him to his own devices, now can we?”

Mispy nodded along, contemplative. A fusion of Migami would go from demigod to the power of the pantheon. From there, a ‘force’ like Alexander was something they could challenge… though maybe not win.

She hoped Owen was finding a solution to this…

“Well, we’ll be sure to wrap this up,” Palkia said. “Thank you for letting us know, Demitri. Oh! Would you like to see Mispy’s liver? It’s so large!”

Mispy knew by the shrinking of Demitri’s aura that he was going to pass out. She sighed in advance and her gaze returned to the mirror.

<><><>​

Rim gingerly placed a cold cloth over Lavender’s forehead. It steamed within seconds. The Cherrim frowned and swapped it out for another, and then another.

Lavender had been just fine at the end of their Titan hunting. The problem was his body didn’t properly ‘shut off’ its battle systems for a while longer, leading to his mechanical body overheating and his spirit transformation to fry. Nevren usually did maintenance and repairs, but…

“Here.”

Behind Rim was Leph, ducking to enter their little home at the edge of Kilo Village’s caldera. Through one window they could see Nate’s shadowy, leviathan form caress the outermost ring of the caldera and the way the sun shined on his countless, glistening dark eyes. It was once a horrid sight but lately had become a sign of protection and comfort.

Leph floated a wet cloth wrapped around a blue orb.

“It’s a Hail Orb. Made it myself. Specialized for him,” Leph explained. The Arceus placed it on Lavender’s forehead. Finally, the Silvally sighed with relief.

“Thanks, Auntie Fence,” Lavender said.

Leph narrowed her eyes.

“Are you… okay?” Rim asked, wobbling unevenly to the chair. She was getting more and more used to being in her new body, though she did miss fur. And not getting depressed without sunlight.

“I’m fine. Took it better than Lavender, at least.” Leph leaned forward and pressed her cheek against Lavender’s forehead. “Yow!” She quickly pulled away, wincing. “Lavender! Do you have a Fire Spirit active?”

“Noooo I’m just siiiick,” Lavender complained.

“Aren’t you half-machine? How do you get sick?” Leph frowned pensively. “I think we should ask Eon about this. He might know, right?”

“Daddy’s at the lab gathering supplies,” Lavender said. “Lucas is helping out…”

“Back soon,” Rim clarified.

“I know. Aster’s there, too,” Leph said. “Still, Lavender…”

“Can’t you just fix it with your godpowers?” Lavender begged. “You’re, like… another Arceus!”

“I… I’m out of practice,” Leph said nervously. “…Barely had any training from Father anyway.”

Rim settled against Lavender’s chest, where his body wasn’t as hot, and listened to them talk.

“What’s, um, you know, what’s your whole deal, anyway?” Lavender asked. “I thought there was only one Arceus.”

“There is supposed to be,” said Leph. “Or, just one who sends his avatars out. But I’m not the same as Father. When Quartz—sorry, when Kilo was created… I was born with it. I woke up one day after hearing so many little thoughts shape who I am, I… I think. I remember hearing a lot of thoughts that weren’t my own before I woke up.”

“Where’d you wake up?” Lavender asked.

Leph sighed and settled against the side. The wheel around her body dissolved into motes of light. “Well, I was born in—”

“You can do that?”

“What?”

“Your fence. It went away.”

“Oh. Yes. Why?”

Lavender stared for a while longer. Rim was admittedly also fascinated.

“Nothing. Um… go on.”

Leph lounged against one of the spare nests. “I woke up under a place called the Tree of Life. It isn’t around anymore… I don’t know what happened to it. Disappeared during the Dark War and I was taken into the Voidlands after that. But me and Aster, we’re kind of like siblings with Nate.”

“Whoa… Nate’s your brother?”

Leph nodded. “He was never given a name until after we fell into the Voidlands, but if he likes Nate, I’ll call him that.” She chuckled. “We just called him Tree for a while. He lived in it. I thought he was the Tree, actually…”

“But he’s a big friendly monster instead,” Lavender stated.

Leph nodded. “Nate always felt like a big brother to me. Maybe he’s the oldest thing here? You know, aside from… Father.”

Lavender oohed in response. He adjusted the cooling cloth on his forehead. “If you were born with this world… and Barky isn’t, like, native to this one, he just created it… does that mean you’re the true guardian of Kilo?”

“Maybe.” Leph looked away, bending her hooves inward. “…Some guardian I am, if so…”

“Aw, don’t say that!” Lavender said. “Barky was barely around, too!”

Rim winced.

Leph laughed ruefully. “Like father like daughter, then,” she said.

“Daughter, right…” Lavender tilted his head. His eyes made a mechanical noise. “But you aren’t a girl.”

Leph rolled her eyes. “And Barky isn’t male nor female. I picked it. I suppose I could choose a different form with some effort, but… why bother? Seems… needless, if you ask me.”

“Like your fence?”

“…Y… yes. Like my fence.”

A Mewtwo Teleported into their room and dropped a large pile of mechanical scrap in the corner of the room. “Mission complete!” Aster declared.

“Hey, Aster,” Leph and Lavender said with opposite levels of enthusiasm.

“Hey!” Aster glanced at Leph and his smile cracked. “Oh no. Your fence is off… Are you sad?”

Leph squinted at Aster, then glared at Lavender like he was responsible for something.

“I’m fine, Aster,” she said. “How did your lab mission go?”

“We got lots of stuff! Mister Jirachi is nice and Lucas is fun to play with.”

“Jirachi came, too? What about Eon?” Leph asked.

“Oh, he’s there, too. He was the other Jirachi.”

Rim tilted her body. Jirachi? Well, that was an improvement. At least he wasn’t a Charmander.

Lavender tilted his head. “Daddy said that he helped make your body, too. You were the first mutant, right?”

“Mhm!” Aster nodded. “I used to be a normal li’l Mew before Jirachi made a wish so I could be stronger! And then he did cool science stuff to the wish!”

Rim had a feeling it was the other way around. Science powered by wishes. She sighed, wondering when Celebi would be recovered… Maybe then she could have the power to help again. As she was, she was useless…

“Auntie Rim?” Lavender asked, nuzzling her.

“Ah—”

“Are you okay?”

Was it that obvious? Rim shrank away, hiding behind her thick, purple petals.

“What’s bothering you, Rim?” Leph asked. “Was it… about the mutants?”

“No…”

Leph hummed like she disapproved. “Well… it’s okay. I mean, I saw what happened to my brother. Aster is fine. A little excitable and battle-hungry, but some Pokémon are like that naturally!”

“Oh! Yeah! A lot of my spirits are Battlehearts!” Lavender’s cheek bolts whirred. “Say… if you’re, like, the true god of Kilo, what do you think about Pokémon that were modified, um, artificially? Or me? I was created, so I’m artificial!”

“Well, however you were created, I can sense your spirit, despite all the other ones inside you…” Leph nodded. “And… I… think I’ll be getting rid of the mutants if I ever have control of the world like Father said I might.”

Lavender’s countenance shifted to a nervous one. “G-get rid of…”

The young god seemed confused. Then her eyes widened. “Ah! No, like, not kill! Like… use god powers to give them normal bodies, is what I meant. I wouldn’t kill them, no way.”

“Oh.” Lavender relaxed. “How come?”

“Well…” Leph shifted her weight to a new resting position with her legs straightened. “Seems like it causes more problems. They’re stronger, they’re unstable, and the fusion thing is… a little weird, gotta admit. Just all around unnatural. If they weren’t so harmful I’d be less worried, but… I dunno. Just one of those hypotheticals.”

A very real hypothetical, though. Rim’s petals tensed and relaxed.

“Sorry. I guess that’s a little forward of me,” Leph said. “Maybe I’ll ask them. Besides… I’m thinking way too far ahead. I’m so low on the pantheon right now. I’m nothing compared to the real gods.”

“But you’re the realest god,” Lavender pointed out. “All the others are just ascended mortals and stuff, or Barky and Star. And, um, whatever Hecto is.”

“Right, I guess that’s… also…” Leph sighed harshly. “I don’t know what to think.”

And nobody else seemed to, either. The silence returned.

“Maybe I’ll just fix their minds so they aren’t unstable,” Leph finally said. “All mutants are sterile anyway. The least I can do is let them live out their lives.”

“I like that answer,” Lavender agreed. “But what about the mutants that want kids?”

“…Adoption?” Leph offered. “Lots of people probably died so there are lots of kids to adopt.”

Everyone else’s expressions darkened.

“…Er… sorry. Probably brought the mood down with that one.”

“Maybe a little,” Aster said.

“Well, hey! Having a mutant army on our side would be super useful against Alexander, right? Since… um…”

Lavender lost his optimism when Leph’s expression quickly became grave.

“They are very susceptible to corruption,” Leph said, “and from what we’ve heard, Alexander has gone on the offensive. It makes him vulnerable… but he’s also even stronger, too. Anyone who falls to him…”

“Oh…” Lavender looked down.

“He’ll claim them and add to his power. He seems to know that if we get the strike on him first, he’ll lose. So now… he’s throwing everything he has into one last attack.”

Rim sensed someone coming. A dull psychic presence in the air that she recognized as Jirachi.

Then, he appeared in the room, looking frazzled and wide-eyed. “Guys!” he said.

“Hi, Wish Daddy!” Lavender cheerfully greeted. “Leph gave me a magic cold pack!”

“Th-that’s good,” Jirachi said. Moments later, another Jirachi appeared at the doorway. “But we have a problem! We just got word from Null Village scouts on our report back with some lab supplies.”

Leph tensed, reapplying her golden wheel and standing straight. “What’s happening?”

“Alexander’s a lot faster than we expected,” Jirachi said. “He’s already there! North Null Village is under attack now!”

Rim gasped, shrinking away. She couldn’t help. That useless feeling coiled around her tiny body.

“…Then we have to go,” Leph said. Her voice was grave and her eyes had widened with fear. Rim could only imagine the feeling of facing someone like Alexander down… especially Leph, who had been under his rule for so long. “Aster?”

Aster’s tail flicked. “Y-yeah,” he replied.

“Aster. We can’t run from him. Not when that means others would—”

“Y-yeah. Yeah.” Aster took a sharp breath. “I’ll go.”

Jirachi hastily flew out. “I’m gonna warn more people. If we can repel him here, we can go on the offensive!”

“That’s the most we can do,” Leph said.

“Can I help?” Lavender asked.

“No, not yet,” Eon said. ”You’re still overheating… I’ll bring who I can, but not if you’re already recovering. Next time, okay? When we go on the offensive.”

“Okay…”

Several of their Teleporting members vanished. Others ran out of their home. Rim settled against Lavender… The best she could do was pray for their safe return.

A shadow crossed her vision while she hid behind her petals. It was a small, flying creature passing by the doorway.

“Huh?” Lavender asked.

“Mm?” Rim asked back.

“I thought I saw someone… A green, flying Pokémon.”

Rim tilted her body but then shook in negative. That could have been anyone…

“Cute little wings,” Lavender mumbled along. “I never saw a Pokémon like that before.”

Rim froze. Then, without hesitating further, she pushed off Lavender and said, “Stay.”

And she wobbled out the door.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
SE 8+9

I read these chapters in 2022 sob cry

So, despite the whole point being that Diyem and Necrozma are going to corroborate each other's stories, I really don't believe either would want to deceive him at this point.

Oh wow, I had completely forgotten that Aster and Leph formed naturally as the actual gods of Kilo, since its creators were from the mainline world instead. I guess that explains where they came from! Makes sense that they would've fallen into the Voidlands too. Although there's obviously a bit more to the story since Aster became a Mewtwo at some point, and seems to have the mind of a child even a thousand years later.

Speaking of things I'd forgotten, Necrozma had a mortal form too... and it's SHIFTRY. Wow, that came outta left field.

Man, I feel bad for Owen. He seems so tired but everyone else is obsessed with prolonging his life indefinitely and never letting him rest. :(

Honestly, I'm still on team Necrozma even after seeing all of this. Kilo wasn't able to last forever, but no world lasts forever. Nothing lasts forever. They might as well get mad at the concept of entropy. That said, the way they went about ending it wasn't great. Just ending the world all at once would have been better than dragging things out tbh. But that was also Necrozma's original idea and everyone got big mad about it. :V There's even a provably real afterlife, c'monnnnnn.

Man, it's really painful to watch Owen stop trusting everyone around him, just because they're legends. Yes, they're undeniably changed, but they're still the same person. Even mortals don't stay the same as they age. He's just driving a wedge between himself and everyone who cares about him.

Anyway, Owen's paranoia towards everyone grows, especially his former mentor, whom he suspects of convincing everyone to turn against him, including his wife, so he turns to the dark side and--hang on...
unknown.png


It was kind of inevitable that this would happen when needing some way of neutralizing someone too powerful to stop and whom you don't want to kill. It was a catch-22 for everyone involved tbh.

Anyway, we skip ahead to after Owen was reset and the legendary era got erased from history. No one knows what happened, including Mew and Arceus, who also died in the process. I think Arceus wanted the past to stay erased, and since Star is the contrary one, she was immediately like "we gotta find what was hidden from us. :copyka:" Thus, she made the Hunters, but then regretted it after seeing all the strife that came about from that, and ironically ended up taking a position very similar to Arceus by instructing the guardians to stay hidden. Did I get it all?

Yet again, I've gotta say that it's pretty astounding that almost everyone's agenda in Act I was nowhere near as important as everything that came before. We knew all along that Mew and Arceus didn't want the other to get too many Orbs (although Arceus wasn't exactly trying to get them himself) but the why felt extremely vague. I think, if it had been established earlier that it wasn't just that they both wanted to prevent the other from getting all the orbs for... ~some reason~. That something terrible happened in the past, and that getting all the Hands would grant enough godhood to undo the seal that was hiding the truth from everyone. I think that would've made the hunt for the orbs in the early chapters feel less arbitrary and get rid of the "everyone wants to save the world but no one even knows what's wrong with it" vibe. Obviously we (the reader) did learn about the Divine Decrees fairly early iirc, but that also felt sort of arbitrary at the time. Just a bit more clarification that "this world has a terrible history that was hidden from everyone, even the gods need more power in order to recover it" was the reason behind the decrees might've added some additional intrigue while preserving the mystery, I think. Heck that would also make Nevren's actions in Act 1 less bewildering.

Things we still don't know: I'm a bit murky on the whole two dark wars thing, though I know there are some special episodes that will clear that up. I guess the second one probably happened after Owen was reset and was less Owen rebelling against Necrozma and more Alexander trying to seize godhood now that Owen was gone. Interesting that that means that the second one must have been so much of a shitshow that it got the entire history of the world erased.

Oh, and what the heck Diyem was doing in the Ghost Orb, still no clue there. Might've had something to do with ~something~ Giratina did during the second dark war, I guess? There's a bit of a throughline there since Madeline was a Necrozma follower and one of the few people who still remembered him after the legendary era got erased.

Anyway--on to Act IV, finally!

This interlude is a lot less mysterious than they usually are since we just got a whole lot of answers given to us. The most noteworthy thing is getting to see Owen's parents again! And aaaaa, go ahead and break my heart why don't you.

129

So Remi never passed on, but she also managed to escape the Voidlands without burning up. At this point my brain was pretty much just like "o yea she's Spice isn't she" but the thought was so self-evident in my brain that it's almost like I'd already learned it before? Or maybe I'm just remembering from having skimmed some of these chapters before reading them properly later.

Only one of them, between Owen and the other Alloys, can be right, "at most." I like this way of conveying that they both made mistakes. I don't think that painting the trio as fully wrong for doing that, (or Necrozma for allegedly coercing them) is the right call. They were in a really painful situation and didn't have many options.

Owen is pretty dang clever, using his confinement to infer useful information about his captors.

Aaand the scene with Spice drives it home. "Just wanted to be part of a family," indeed. I don't think I have a concrete guess as to how she made it out of the Voidlands without burning, though. Some kind of divine power, maybe?

I do appreciate the mention that Xypher would never be the same, even if they managed to restore him. Makes his loss feel like it had meaningful consequences.

130

Hooo boy Mhynt is here. It's starting to become more clear that's she's playing an extremely long con. And yet, Alexander isn't stupid--he either has very good reason to believe she's loyal to him, or he has very good collateral. Given that she still gets 'tested' from time to time like what happened with Aster that one time, I'm inclined to believe the latter. Very clever that Owen picked up on her conveying information to him indirectly. I would've missed it completely, it was that subtle.

I can't help but feel like Zena is the real MVP of the HQ meeting. Everyone's all fussing about the legends recombining or freaking out about Diyem, and she manages to keep her cool even while having a bunch of revelations dropped on her.

131-132

Spice and company emerging into the bath is a hilarious image.

And wow, alright, just gonna drop "Brandon is Reshiram" on us just like that. Makes me wonder who was Zekrom, them--I'd expect someone with some ties to Brandon, since all the other "duos" ended up that way, but he was isolated in the factory for so long that it's hard to tell. Maybe one of the other guardians aligned with Arceus, since Ayame became Kyurem?

Random side thought, but we've seen no mention of Ho-oh despite Lugia being extremely prominent.

People keep saying that Rhys's life would be so small compared to ~the timekeeper's~, which sounds very impressive, but has has Dialga even lived that much longer than Rhys? I mean, they're both halves of someone who was older than Kilo!

God, Xerneas is such a bag of dicks, but then again so was Ra, so not much has changed. :V

Interesting that Remi also got split apart just like the legends. It's making me realize that I don't think I know why any of the legends got split apart. Probably another thing to add to the pile of "and then things got worse" from the second dark war.

133-134

Now that was a very interesting card game. I think I failed to grasp the significance of what was going on and why Owen was floundering so much despite having perfect knowledge, so a reread was helpful. As far as I'm understanding it:

- Owen has perfect knowledge of the cards, but poor knowledge of Qitlan's intent.
- Qitlan has excellent inference of Owen's intent and can use that to infer the cards.

So as a result, it ends with Qitlan gaining the edge. Almost reminds me of the "counting horse" trick, where the horse doesn't actually have to know math to infer what the human wants it to answer. Both situations involve being very good at reading the other party.

Tbh though, the declaration that this ~proves~ that Owen's priorities are selfish feels like a pretty big stretch. If anything, it proves that Owen panicked and couldn't risk ending up with nothing when even the ""selfish"" prizes could still be useful for helping his friends.

GIratina is based and her interactions with Madeline were fun. Both of them dunkingon Xerneas is satisfying as heck, and I'm glad they're getting the chance to know each other before recombining.

It occurs to me that I don't actually know what Palkia's blessing was that Rhys should have had, since Nevren had the Revisor. I also don't know if it did get revealed at one point, and I just forgot, or if it never got revealed. Gotta say though, this ending scene does a good job of showing that Dialga and Palkia do mesh surprisingly well.

135-136

Man, I feel really bad for Rayquaza having to deliver the news to Elder like this... it's heartbreaking.

Presuuumably Spice was drawn to Enet’s den. Iirc she got the lightning scar from the same storm that gave Enet the lightning orb way back when? Ah, wait, Enet's one of her pieces, isn't she. That makes me curious if Owen was drawn to her at all during their first meeting.

Step standing up to Xerneas and actually getting him to soften a bit was a heck of a moment.

And maaann, Rayquaza refusing to recombine while Elder is compromised... ;-; Good for him, that would've been miserable for them both. Here's hoping they can have some peace.

I thiiiink I lost track of how step got back to Kilo from the Voidlands. Presumably through the portal that Palkia made? And she doesn't look like a Void Shadow because she never actually died, right? (Whoops it's easy to lose track of who's dead and who's not.)

The scene with Step and Yveltal was hard to read in all the best ways. It was so hard on both of them, Step being so harsh and suspicious, and Yveltal trying to gently reassure her. But then, Yveltal has all the experience of one who has comforted those in death before, so it's no wonder it comes naturally to her.

137

Hoo boy. Even the name of this chapter is one to remember. God the tension, it's unreal. I had abolutely no idea what to expect from this reunion. Even if Qitlan was telling the truth and they really would have privacy, there's no way they'd trust that to be the case, and I absolutely can't blame them for that. Which is why the secret telepathic conversation caught me off guard almost as much as it did Owen. In a way, it feels like we're finally seeing the real Mhynt under the mask. Even if it's a Mhynt that's been so thoroughly changed by a thousand years since Owen last knew her.

I’d previously said that “she fell” was the most efficient dose of understated horror in the fic. The newest is "the Sceptile queen card." Less is so, so, so much more. Spelling out Owen's thoughts would have been so weak by comparison.

Alas, the one hour is up and Owen gets to pick his servant and ohhhh my god he picked Remi. I am cackling so hard, that's freaking ingenious of him to force Qitlan to reveal that he doesn’t have her. Wish you could see the copyka on my face as I read that. And then!! Making Qitlan give away the fact that he clearly expected Owen to pick Mhynt, by picking some rando instead. Absolute chad move.

138

Y'know, I'd been pretty much resigned to not understanding the second war until getting to the SE that explains it that I didn't stop to consider that it's kinda weird it even ended at all. Something must had ended it. And shattered all the legends and erased history. Necrozma sacrificing himself to drag Alexander into the Voidlands would certainly be on-brand for him. I feel like he was probably feeling a lot of regrets by then anyway.

Y'know, it is kind of fitting that the halves of the Mind Trio ended up becoming the alloy, what with the whole "red chain to shackle a god" thing and the Alloy being intended as a godslayer. Just a neat bit of poetic overlap--was it an intentional one?

139

Wow, it's wild to get some actual humanity (er, so to speak) from Qitlan. He's always just been this evil, manipulative right-hand to the big bad, but even someone like that can experience love, and loss. It's got me thinking... obviously I know Alexander isn't going to be redeemed, but it is interesting to think about who he was, what he valued, before he was consumed by lust for power. Sort of like how even Ganondorf must've been a kid with hopes and dreams once.

And we've got Zena as our MVP yet again with some radical communication! \o/ No most secrets and lies and doubts--it ruined Owen once before, and by that I mean he was just as guilty of it as everyone else. I think Zena will be good for him, in that regard. Also, it's a really good point that staying close to Zena means not losing sight of what it means to save Kilo and its people, as opposed to getting caught up in all the divine drama.

140

God, I just. Feel so bad for Dialga. He's trying, ok. I don't see this as him "pretending" to be someone else, so much as trying to tap into that lost part of himself, like someone grasping as old memories. It doesn't come naturally, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't care.

Still, even if Rhys's old stuff didn't have any instinctual importance to him, he really should have read the room a little and realized that throwing it out was a bad call. Maybe sorting through it and rereading letters could have even helped stir some buried memories. Oh well, at least they found Rhys's last fragment of aura. And having to battle it to claim it is a fitting end.

~~~~~

Gotta say, the pacing of these chapters has been pretty solid. Possibly because there’s fewer parties to check up in and more cards being lined up so to speak. I remember in mid-book 3 there were a few times it felt like we had to cut away from the group I was most interested in following but that feeling hasn’t come up in a while.

Another year, another "try not to fall hopelessly behind." Maybe someday I'll actually catch up ahahah. Until next time~
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 171 – Lord of Nightmares

North Null Village was in pandemonium. From the distant horizon, dark meteors arced through the red skies and demolished entire buildings, shattering light crystals and leaving corrosive craters in their place. Civilians fled into a Dungeon portal meant for travel and were hastily given light crystals to wear if they ended up in Kilo. They were running out of those. Some would have to take refuge in the Dungeon itself.

As higher class Pokémon ushered disoriented Class D Pokémon into the portals, Darkrai remained behind with Cresselia and their specialized forces. Even more ran down the roads to join their ranks.

“Everyone’s coming,” called Star, flying quickly until she was just in front of Cresselia.

“Good,” Cresselia said.

Darkrai tried to calm his nerves. Every explosion rattled him. “Everything we’ve tried to throw at him doesn’t work,” he reported. “Even our sentinel beam washes right away!”

“It’s just for show. Fire everything!” Star said. “It’ll weaken him at least a little!”

“They’re close to abandoning the post,” Cresselia said. “But… okay. Maybe if we have a few people giving more power to it, maybe a human? Some Legends can, too. Marshadow was always good at powering them.”

The ground rumbled from a nearby blast. None of them were close enough to strike where Darkrai stood but they were getting uncomfortably close. Could Alexander see them from so far away? Was he just guessing?

“Let’s move,” Star said. “The crystal spire! The others should be heading there, too!”

Darkrai drifted after them. Something caught his eye in the corner of his vision. By the time he turned to face it, Star had already dashed in the way and held up a purple barrier.

Then, there was a flash, Darkrai’s whole body compressed against the air, and all sound left him save for a high ringing.

He was on his back. Burning ash and stray black embers gently rained down in grotesque, beautiful destruction.

Muffled shouts were all he could hear amid the ringing but the ground rumbling told him the fighting didn’t stop. Had he passed out at all?

Something wrapped around his arm and flooded him with healing energy. Darkrai gasped and pushed himself upright, seeing a horrifying monstrosity in front of him. Scales, vines, intense eyes, but not a Pokémon he recognized. Some kind of horrible fusion—a mutant!

“Are you okay?” it asked.

“Y-yes,” Darkrai said. “Wh-who are you?”

“Migami. Get to safety, okay?”

“No, I—I need to help. I’m better now!”

“Fine.” Migami disappeared. It could teleport?

Darkrai took a moment to figure out where the spire was and then glanced at Alexander’s previous location. Skies, he was a lot closer now. He could see where he was from the origin of each dark blast. The sky swirled above him in a vortex, the very weather darkening to his presence.

Cresselia. He had to find Cresselia. She was too proud. If he wasn’t by her side there was a chance she would try to take Alexander out on her own. He was a coward who knew when to run. And ever since Cresselia had been there for him all those years ago, he owed everything to her.

“Ah!” There she was at the top of the crystal spire. She shouted something down below and the spire lit up. She ducked beneath the observation tower as a mote of light emerged from the very tip of the gray spike. Each crystal lit up starting from the bottommost diamonds, all the way to the top where the light was like a tiny, marble-sized sun. A hum rattled Darkrai’s head and fizzled his wisps.

Then, concussive force warped the light around the spire, trailing behind a beam of energy—a Radiant Hyper Beam.

But Alexander drifted left, dodging the attack easily—or so Darkrai thought. He was too pessimistic.

Suddenly, the Hyper Beam split into ten different beams, curling and weaving through the air. At the tip of the spire, Migami was holding some kind of pink gem—a Psychic crystal?

Alexander’s distant movements suddenly turned frantic. He ducked beneath one of the beams only for a second one to graze him. Two others closed in on either side but he spiraled through it and neutralized another with a Shadowy blast. The beams all curled inward to catch up to Alexander. One struck his back, sending him plummeting halfway to the ground. He endured.

He was so strong. That blast would have vaporized anyone else. Perhaps even Darkrai himself! But that’s what Alexander had become. A one-person army. A whole army inside of him, all so he could…

What was he aiming for? Power? He had power. What more was there?

Something tickled the back of his neck.

“Ugh, it ain’t workin’,” Azelf growled.

Darkrai yelped and spun around. The three pixies were floating there, covered in ash from the recent explosions.

“What are you doing?!”

“I was tryin’ t’give you a little willpower,” Azelf said.

“You seemed stressed,” Mesprit said, holding his hands anxiously. “But we need to keep fighting!”

“Too late.” Uxie sighed.

At the top of the spire, a second Radiant Hyper Beam tore through the skies, sending a reckless scattershot of twenty small beams toward Alexander. This time, Migami disappeared, too, racing the beams to Alexander head-on.

“Ahhh!” Darkrai held his head. “They can’t do that! They aren’t supposed to do that! No going alone!”

“They were frustrated,” Mesprit said. “They missed so they’re trying to end it now, Guardian to Guardian. But Alexander outclasses them…!”

“If Alexander truly has the ‘anti-Hands,’ the Voidlands fragment of power that is opposite to Kilo… then Migami is not just fighting a Guardian. They are fighting a god.”

“Why is the Mispy third of them allowing this?” Mesprit squeaked.

“Because she’s drowned out by two idiots.”

“H-hey! My other half isn’t like that!” Mesprit said. “Azelf, tell her! …Azelf?”

“He left while you were worrying.”

“And you didn’t stop him?!” Mesprit grabbed Uxie by the shoulders.

“I was busy talking to you.”

The volley crashed into the distant forest. Storms brewed, whirlwinds of Shadow picking up whole trees and making them dance into the clouds.

Azelf had thankfully not run to join Migami. Instead, he was at the top of the spire talking with the others. Darkrai followed with Mesprit and Uxie, overhearing the conversation.

“So what, they went t’ fight?!”

“W-we couldn’t stop them!” said a trembling Ledian. “How do you stop someone that… m-massive, who can also Teleport?!”

Over many rows of trees, Alexander clashed directly with Migami. But this time, there was a delay in Alexander landing a strike. Was he waiting for something?

Migami had no such hesitation. They blasted him point-blank with a Solar Beam, the light splitting across his heads to make several beams on the already scorched ground. Alexander blasted back, completely missing when Migami Teleported behind him and jammed an ax into his back.

The phantom of Qitlan emerged from the wound and grasped at Migami, tearing part of their face clean off. Migami snarled and, with a contortion of vines, kicked off Alexander while healing, the wound healing. Alexander chewed on what had been torn off, saying something to Migami like a taunt.

As Migami’s wounds closed, Darkrai, holding back a retch, scaled the spire with the other pixies.

“He’s too close,” Mesprit said. “Alexander is still trying to make his way here. He wants the town!”

“We need to evacuate everyone.”

“It might be Tanneth,” Darkrai said. “She’s part of Emily, right? If he wants to take the pieces of Dark Matter.”

Cresselia spiraled around the spire and floated on the lower observation deck to speak with Darkrai. Countless little beeps of the radar and other technologies chittered in the room.

“Tanneth was evacuated already,” she said. “Should we start evacuating everyone?”

Darkrai hesitated. “He’ll just follow,” he said. “How long can Migami stall? We need proper backup… why are the others taking so long?!”

“It was all short notice,” Azelf said. “Ain’t like walkin’ here is easy anymore. Kilo’s all… scrambled!”

Darkrai glanced at the brawl just in time to see Migami bite off Alexander’s left arm’s head. Black blood gushed out of it. Then, it coagulated into an undead cloud of wraiths that latched onto Migami’s mouth. They spat a Dragon Pulse and gained more distance as Alexander’s wings writhed into more snarling wraiths.

He was unstoppable. The wraiths, too, were all unstoppable. He had so much Shadowy power that even their spire shots did nothing. They… wouldn’t be able to fend him off like this. They’d evacuate North Null Village, but what then?

“Darkrai,” Cresselia said. “Darkrai!”

“S-sorry, what?” Darkrai jolted upright.

“It’s time to go. Azelf and the others will call for Migami to return. Psychic link.” Cresselia drifted down the spire.

“And what then?” Darkrai asked.

“What?”

“…Nothing.” He drifted after her. “Let’s evacuate everyone.”

<><><>​

And thankfully, that was nearly done. Everyone had gone through drills of this very event. By the time they’d checked homes and houses, almost everyone had already fled. A few stray, docile Void Shadows who’d gotten lost were ushered along, while some more hostile ones fled and were beyond help.

North Null Village, beautiful in the darkness it had to work with, had fallen quiet. A tapestry of dusty red streets trampled with footprints of all sizes told a story of abandonment in a single hour. Appliances still ran in a few of the buildings, glowing dimly with the power of faded Radiance. Darkrai heard a radio in a building two doors down blaring static and occasionally distorted commands and updates from South Null village. Because it couldn’t have been anywhere else. Every other settlement had been abandoned, destroyed, or… consumed by Alexander. The South would be the Voidlands’ final bastion after this.

Soon, Darkrai and Cresselia were all that remained, along with a distant Migami, who would be agile enough to outspeed Alexander. But perhaps only by a minute.

Migami was stubborn. They kept trying to fight and clash with their limitless energy but Alexander was just as persistent. And Alexander outpaced them. It wasn’t enough. Their attacks were graceless and Alexander had gotten a read on them. They had to rethink their strategies, find a new approach… Anything. That was what Uxie transmitted to them.

And, finally, they’d gotten through. Migami roared in frustration and slammed Alexander into the earth with one final strike, pinning him down with axes they’d regrow later.

Darkrai watched Migami fly toward them, covering the whole distance of town in the time it took for him to draw a single breath.

Wordlessly, they passed through, twitchy and crazed. The distortion bubbled from their power. And Darkrai nodded to himself.

“Let’s go,” Cresselia said. “We have to keep running before he realizes which Dungeon we—”

Darkrai held Cresselia’s forehead and pressed against her mouth. Cresselia yelped but melted into it. When she pulled away, and he got to see her beautiful, rosy eyes, he had second thoughts. But Alexander’s distant roar as he emerged from the soil reaffirmed his resolve.

“See you later,” Darkrai said.

Cresselia was about to ask a question when Darkrai shrouded her in darkness. She screamed. The horror was not against him but for him. He knew why. And it was too late.

The darkness faded and Cresselia lay in a gentle crescent on the ground, sound asleep. She didn’t suffer bad dreams near him. Never did. Or maybe she was good at hiding it. Gently, Darkrai carried her through the barrier, but he did not pass through it. Someone grabbed her and tried to peek through, but he put up a dark shroud. Nobody would dare pass through without falling asleep.

He hoped that was enough of a signal that they wouldn’t return.

His heart was hammering. The wisps of his head bubbled like a campfire in the rain. Alexander was in the skies, scanning the town. If he was lucky, truly lucky, Alexander wouldn’t find the distortion at all. But he had to prepare. He placed a small portal of darkness on the ground that would explode with any disturbance, even the air of a hovering Hydreigon.

He hid in a nearby home of the silent town where he’d be able to intercept Alexander if he moved closer afterward. He went over what he’d say, how he’d stall, how he’d react, over and over in this reckless, horribly reckless, improvised distraction.

And the thought did flit in Darkrai’s mind that he could flee. It wasn’t too late. Maybe the trap he laid would be enough. Maybe he could ask for backup. But that would risk everyone. This? Only he would be lost. The little cowardly Legend who fled and died during the Dark War. He had no strength and everyone knew how to counter nightmares. They already lived in one.

Alexander would find no use in him, but so much use in everyone else. This was the way.

These thoughts steeled Darkrai as he waited for the tyrant Hydreigon to leave and wander toward the portal. Though the chances were slim, if Alexander triggered the trap, he'd fall asleep, and perhaps Darkrai would be a hero. But barring that stroke of luck, he had to be ready to block the way… and stall as much as he could.

But Hydreigon didn’t step. How would Darkrai hear him? They merely… floated through the air by some spectral power. Or, Alexander did. Hydreigon were very rare Pokémon. When was the last time Darkrai had seen one other than Alexander himself? There were rumors that Alexander killed them all and Voided them to be part of his army long ago, but that was baseless. Surely.

Darkrai tried to listen a little harder…

Soon, he realized he didn’t have to listen. The sheer aura of power and malice was enough to make his wisps crinkle into his neck. What a dreadful aura. It was coming closer. Closer. It was hard to breathe.

Darkrai couldn’t remember what it was like to see the sunset. But he had a feeling it wasn’t this sinister. The dusty purple ground darkened and a miasma of black smoke crept along the road, heavy with gnarled, spindly fingers curling around every corner. Darkrai floated higher so it wouldn’t grasp him. Contact alone might’ve been corrosive.

He dared to peer outside.

And that’s when he finally saw Alexander up close. Ten… twenty feet at most, a dark nucleus surrounded by clouds that snuffed out what little light was allowed to exist in the Voidlands. His arms were scarred with black scales and part of his face had been healed over with more darkness. Part of his face had melted into a permanent, wraith-warped snarl.

And he was five feet away from where Darkrai had prepared a Dark Void. Just a little closer…

Darkrai tensed. The pillar erupted—and Alexander was too fast. He hovered backward and completely avoided it, though he went from idly approaching to fully alert. Darkrai steeled himself one last time and emerged, holding his hands together with his charged attack.

“You.” Alexander’s voice rattled in Darkrai’s head even from there like the buzzing of so many insects crawling through his skull.

“I—I’m here to stop you. Even a second, even a minute… it will buy them time to destroy you. Look at… look at you. I thought you wanted to run this kingdom for everyone once. A long, long time ago, at least…”

“Do you think I care?” Alexander said.

“Just… why?” Darkrai asked.

Alexander drifted closer but Darkrai held his hands up quickly, threatening him.

And… Alexander stopped. He recognized what would happen. He wasn’t beyond reason.

“What are you going to do?” Alexander taunted. “A Dark Void like that would put you to sleep, too. What then? Will you gamble… on who awakens first?”

“I’m… not strong. You know that,” Darkrai said, voice trembling. “I’ve always been… a-a coward. Always tempted by darkness to strengthen me, but I resisted! All this time, I resisted! And… if you claim me… th-the only way I’d ever fight for you is as nothing but a hollow Void Shadow. None of my powers… would go to you. I would resist…”

“So many say that.” Alexander’s smile curled unnaturally upward. “So many were wrong. Do you know how many I have already claimed? Do you know how many… were so much more than you?”

The oppressive atmosphere constricted Darkrai’s chest.

“You didn’t even fight in the Dark War. You ran away. You fled the village that had taken you in when the source of darkness had killed Cresselia. You left them to die. Do you know how I know that?”

“I—I’m different now. I’ve saved this village and I’m saving everything from you, too… right now!” And despite barely being able to breathe, he felt some warmth push against that miasma. He could maintain himself.

“I will wait one day,” Alexander said, “if you kneel to me now. I need… to gather my strength again anyway. It would benefit both of us… wouldn’t it?”

A day. Could he keep Alexander asleep for longer than a day? Would he be able to resist that darkness if he knelt?

…No! He couldn’t be tempted.

“No deal,” Darkrai said, taking a careful breath.

“Really?” Alexander said. “You’ll put me away for… a little nap, in exchange for your soul? Is that how little you’re worth?

“You wouldn’t make this deal if you thought you could get… more another way,” Darkrai said. “I learned… I learned that tactic. Owen used it on you, too, didn’t he?”

And suddenly, Alexander’s smirk froze. His eyes, those red-pinprick eyes, darkened.

“Don’t move,” Darkrai said. “Or… I’ll put you in a nightmare. The nightmare I know you have, Alexander.”

“And what would that be?” Alexander said, the buzzing becoming the rumble of gravel.

Darkrai’s resolve finally solidified. He knew that once he said this, there would be no turning back. Alexander would attack. Darkrai would defend. And for both, their worlds would become darkness, and perhaps one of them may never wake up from it.

He was ready. Even in the worst outcome… he’d bought everyone time.

“That Owen would banish you… for a second time. And that you would be left… with nothing. That the power you control… will consume you. That you won’t have anything… not even your name.”

The winds stopped. Alexander hovered in total silence. Darkrai wondered how correct he was. Alexander didn’t laugh. Did that mean something?

“All you want is power,” Darkrai said. “Why? What’s the point of it?”

Now frowning, Alexander snorted and shook his head. “Life has no point,” he said. “It is an existence to climb to the top. I am transcending this. Climbing further than any mortal deserves, as decreed by the gods who created us. I am powerful because I can be. I dominate because I can. Why… should I ever hold back?”

“That’s all?” Darkrai asked. “It’s just… power? Power for the sake of power? Nothing more?”

Alexander chuckled. The rattling rhythm nearly knocked Darkrai’s breath out of his body. “Are you just stalling for time again?”

Darkrai was about to answer. Alexander advanced first, so swift, so surprising, Darkrai nearly missed his opportunity.

But he’d been ready. And, luckily, being surprised was a trigger to release the attack. Dark Void expanded through the whole block before Darkrai realized he’d done it.

Just before it blackened him and blotted out all light, he saw the look of shock on Alexander’s face.

And that, as he clutched at Cresselia’s charm around his neck, was enough for sweet dreams to claim him.

<><><>​

Night fell. A bonfire burned in the middle of Fae Fae Forest to keep the night from growing too cold. Surrounding it were Team Alloy, their Trio of Mind counterparts, and Cresselia. Demitri shuddered in the cold, but the fire was too hot. Owen’s flame was so much more controlled.

Backup had arrived but had been dismissed just as quickly. It was too dangerous to enter North Null Village. They were instead assigned to organize the refugees while they figured out their next move.

Cresselia had tried to pass through the barrier only to collapse into deep sleep almost instantly. That was as much a signal as any that Darkrai didn’t want them passing through. And the fact that Alexander hadn’t followed…

Darkrai bought them some time. They could heal Cresselia, but facing Alexander was too risky.

“Can’t we jus’ use Chesto Berries?” Gahi asked again. “I ain’t sleepy.”

“Not against the King of Nightmares,” Mesprit said. “Mundane protections just don’t work against Legendary Pokémon. Maybe he’s holding back, but I get the feeling Darkrai put everything he had into this one…”

WHAM.

Gahi’s fist slammed into one of the pastel tree trunks, startling everyone.

“Couldn’t do a thing,” Gahi hissed. “Couldn’t… ev’n land anything that mattered. Now we’re all hidin’ here… Darkrai’s out, ‘bout ter get killed maybe…”

“Gahi…” Demitri reached toward him but hesitated on grasping his shoulder.

Gahi kept punching at the tree, leaning the whole thing an extra angle or two with every strike. The scales on his knuckles chipped away, leaving little bloody streaks. Mispy, sighing but without her usual annoyance, charged a Heal Pulse. Gahi held up his hand to her and stepped to the other side of the bonfire, curling his wings and tail around himself.

“Don’t let those wounds settle, Gahi,” Demitri said gently. He reached one hand to the tree and, with a gentle nudge, pulled it back into place.

“We completely underestimated how strong a single Pokémon could be,” Mesprit said, despondent. “That kind of power would have been enough to take on all of Kilo Village at once. Yet Alexander was just… mildly slowed down by everything we threw at him. How did he get so strong, so fast?”

“He obviously had that as a final plan,” Azelf muttered. “Maybe he wanted ter keep that kingdom intact, ‘til he got desperate. Maybe it just never occurred t’the guy.”

“No,” Uxie said. “Something this obvious would have been done long ago. There was a risk.”

“What’s the risk?” Mesprit asked.

Uxie shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m only deducing our unknown variables. I don’t know what they actually are.”

“Right…” Mesprit sank a little lower.

“St-still,” Demitri said, “we were up close and held our own. We just… lost our stamina. We were pushing hard to keep up.”

Mesprit and Azelf looked at one another. Uxie nodded and crossed her arms.

“I think… we need to do our desperate measure, then, before we’re caught off guard.”

Gahi stopped his muttering to glance at them. “What’s that, then?”

Mispy gave a knowing look to Demitri. His chest felt cold.

“You don’t mean…” Demitri’s axes on his tail accidentally got lodged in the tree. “Ah—sorry,” he apologized to the tree. Mispy frowned and silently repaired the gash while Mesprit spoke.

“You know, all things considered… we aren’t too different. Funny how that works out,” Mesprit said. “We were… hesitant for a long time. Because… b-because we’d still be giving up ourselves, and you, yourselves. But it needs to happen. We need to… become whole again. A soul’s a soul, and we’re sharing it… and weakening ourselves while divided.”

“Tch.” Azelf looked away. “Hate that we’re doin’ it fer power, not… ‘cause we’re ready.”

“We have been ready for a while,” Uxie countered. “But now we can turn a catastrophe into an opportunity. It’s as you said… we are similar. A trio. We even looked up to our halves of Jirachi.”

Team Alloy collectively winced.

“…At a point in time, at least.”

“Can’t wait ter figure out how he resolves,” Gahi muttered. “…Rhys… is still around… ev’n if he’s…”

Demitri couldn’t bear to look at Gahi with that one. Rhys’ soul was around, yes… but ‘Rhys’ was so wholly eclipsed by Dialga that it frightened him what would happen with Mesprit. Such long lives…

Then again, their lives were also long. It was only due to how Rhys died that… he was so faint. But not gone. Maybe he could come back.

Or maybe ‘Rhys’ was… tired.

“So, are we ready?” Uxie asked.

She faced Mispy. Azelf faced Gahi. Finally, Demitri stared at Mesprit… but in his eyes, Demitri only saw doubt. Concern, uncertainty. Demitri wasn’t sure why. Gahi was headstrong—he would certainly try to get it over with first. Mispy was logical and saw the benefits outweighing the risks. And Demitri acknowledged both. Yet…

Uxie reached toward Mispy. Azelf held his hands out for Gahi. Mesprit… did not. And Demitri, too, was frozen. He wasn’t very smart. He hesitated all the time. It took those two to drive him forward to take these risks. But—

“Wait,” Demitri blurted.

The other two pairs stopped.

“What?” Gahi said. “C’mon, we were havin’ a moment.”

“I… I don’t know if we should do this yet,” he said. “It… Something doesn’t feel right. Think about it…”

Mispy frowned, looking skeptical. Demitri shrank back, his claws trying to find something to hold other than his tail.

“…Bah, c’mon. Mispy’s the thinker an’ she thinks it’s alright,” Gahi said.

“But… aren’t we doing this a little rashly?” Demitri said. “Th-think about it. We’re weak. We’re still barely able to keep ourselves together when we fuse. We’re… broken still. If we fuse now… we might lose our lifeline.”

“Lifeline?” Mispy repeated. Then, a moment later, she glanced at Uxie with a more meaningful look. “Oh.”

“Those three are the ones keeping our tempers sane when we’re Migami,” Demitri said. “We don’t even know if we can fuse after that happens! And say we still can… If they fuse with us… Will we always have that? Or will we never have that?”

Mesprit’s expression turned horrified. “W-we won’t lose like that! We won’t… just be subsumed by those instincts, right?”

Meanwhile, Azelf exploded into the debate with, “Hang on, if we ain’t even able to fuse… then we’d totally lose! Fusion’s all we’ve got that messed Alexander up! …But c’mon, it’s totally gonna work, why wouldn’t it?”

“…No. We don’t know for sure,” Uxie admitted. “…Thank you for spotting this, Demitri. We were behaving rashly. We have no need for fusing right this instant anyway. Alexander is dormant and he makes a show of all his arrivals. We will know when he wakes up.”

Mispy nodded as well, offering an encouraging smile to Demitri. Gahi, meanwhile, grumbled something and crossed his arms in a way almost identical to Azelf.

“It’ll work out if we try,” Gahi said. “We’re hesitatin’. Any time we hesitate, stuff goes wrong. C’mon, we were about ter get it workin’. It’d work out!”

“But can we afford that risk?” Demitri said.

“It ain’t a risk! I know it’ll work!”

“How?”

“Gut feelin’.” Gahi tapped his chest. “We’ll be jus’ fine.”

“Gahi, I…” Demitri shook his head. “I’m sorry, Gahi. But I can’t accept pure guts here.”

Gahi looked like he’d been slapped across the face.

“B-besides,” Demitri added. “Think about Owen. He’s probably hoping to see us one last time, minimum. What if we… change forever somehow? What then?”

“Tch…” Gahi whipped his tail on the ground. “…Don’t like this,” he spat. “But fine. I ain’t gonna go ahead.” He glanced at Azelf, who nodded reluctantly.

“Thanks, Gahi…”

“But we still need to work toward this,” Uxie went on. “We aren’t just waiting for Owen. Why don’t we ask Palkia to compile research notes on you three? It’d be nice if we had Nevren, but…”

“Oh, that’s true,” Demitri said. “If Palkia can give us an answer for how it’d turn out… then we can do it!”

“Better not experiment on us again,” Gahi grumbled. “…Alright, whatever. So what now?”

“I think we three will go ahead to find Palkia,” Uxie said. “Why don’t you… stand guard over Cresselia, try to wake her up, and then catch up with us?”

“That’s fine,” Demitri said. “Thanks, you three…”

“Aah, don’t mention it.” Azelf dismissed Demitri with a wave and drifted away from the campsite. “C’mon! Ain’t gonna stall now!”

That… sounded passive-aggressive. Demitri let it slide and the Trio of Mind left them.

He sighed, feeling uneasy, but less uneasy than before. It would have to do. Now, as for how to wake up Cresselia—

“Oi, oi! Wake up already!” Gahi was rattling Cresselia like a giant maraca.

Alarmed, Demitri jogged to him. “G-Gahi! Don’t shake sleeping Pokémon! Especially the Pokémon of sweet dreams! You’ll get nightmares forever!”

“Bah! Darkrai’s not around, ain’t he?” Gahi said, setting her back down and crossing his arms. “She’s out cold. Ain’t wakin’ that up.”

Mispy rubbed her forehead.

“Maybe,” Demitri suggested, “we need to do something special to wake her up…”

“How ‘bout we put her hands in water?”

“I think that does something else…”

Gahi grumbled and drifted closer, crouching until his head was on the ground at Cresselia’s level. “Well, there’s gotta be some way ter wake her up…”

Mispy slid over, frowning pensively, and glanced at Demitri. He shrugged.

Gahi was starting to poke her cheek. He was about to poke her eyelid when Demitri said, “Um! Let’s try something other than that…”

“Geh.” The Flygon rolled his eyes and stood up.

“Hmm…” Mispy approached next. She brought a vine next to Cresselia’s mouth, then her nose. “Through… her nose…”

“What about it?” Gahi asked.

Mispy placed a vine beneath Cresselia’s nostrils. The Legend of Dreams’ brow furrowed and her body squirmed in discomfort. She opened her mouth and gasped, but it seemed uncomfortable and unnatural to her.

Mispy squeezed a little harder around her muzzle next. Suddenly, Cresselia took in a great gasp and her eyes shot open. Mispy quickly let go.

“What? What?” Cresselia said after a snort. “Where… what happened? Darkrai, where is Darkrai?”

“Still in the Voidlands,” Demitri said. “But… I think he used Dark Void on himself and Alexander. You know, to make sure it hit… I think he hit everything in there. And it must’ve worked. Alexander isn’t here.”

“What…” Cresselia looked around. “We’re still in the Dungeon…”

“Yeah. An’ the wraiths ain’t botherin’ us, meanin’ Alexander ain’t givin’ out commands er whatever.”

Cresselia let out a shaky sigh. “Darkrai…” Her little fists trembled.

“I’m… sorry,” Demitri said. “I know this isn’t… easy, but we shouldn’t let it go to waste. We have a little more time now. Let’s regroup. Maybe we can ambush him when he’s asleep, right?”

“Right.” Cresselia sighed. “Right. Darkrai… He’s usually so afraid. I want to honor his… bravery here. His courage to risk so much for us. Did you already send word?”

“Yeah.” Demitri nodded. “We just wanted to make sure it was safe first. I think we got our answer.”

Cresselia spotted a supply bag nearby and pulled out a light crystal on a necklace. She slipped it on.

“Let’s go to Destiny Tower,” she said. “There should be another Dungeon mapped to near North Null. We can send fighters through there to bombard Alexander while he’s down.”

“How long will that take?” Demitri asked.

“Couple kilos fer me,” Gahi bragged.

“For a real strike? It might take an hour or two.”

Recognizing the urgency, and after asking what an hour was again, Team Alloy and Cresselia departed. Demitri spared one last glance at the rift into the Voidlands… and then followed the others to the recon squads to get out of the Dungeon.

“Wonder how Owen’s doin’,” Gahi muttered. “Hope he’s havin’ a good vacation…”

“Gahi…”

“I know, I know,” Gahi said. “Jus’ irritated. Necrozma was the one who sent ‘em back. He’s… researchin’. Longer he has, more time he’ll get, yeah? He’ll find an answer… Always does…”

At this point, buying time was the best they could do.

Hopefully, Demitri thought, it would be enough.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Chapter 172 – Memory and Light

Something about Orre’s arid desert appealed to Owen a lot more than it did to Zena. The two of them flew over the skies after they’d made their landing from before. By now, he and Zena had become accustomed to using phones and computers to contact others, and thanks to the help of Barechest and Blue, they’d been able to get special, temporary passports for international travel.

Owen wasn’t sure why that was so important, but it seemed to make their trip from Alola to Orre a lot less complicated than Kanto to Alola.

They’d been given instructions to fly from where they’d landed to a town called Agate Village. Even though the lands below them were green, the desert to the east was still clear in their vision. Everything was hot and dry at this border between grasslands and wastelands.

“Slower!” Mu complained, riding atop Owen’s back.

“Slower?” Owen repeated.

Mu was reading a brochure half her height that she’d picked up at the airport. It talked about the triumphant return of wild Pokémon to the region and many tourist spots that were “must-visits” during their stay.

“Can we go to… to… to… Real-Gem Tower?” Mu asked.

“That’s a little far, Mu. I think… We need to focus on Shadows right now.”

Mu whined. “Boooring!”

Owen glanced helplessly at Zena, slithering through the wind, but she shrugged her ribbons in response.

“M-maybe if we have some time later,” Owen conceded. Gods, she wasn’t even a year old and she was already…

Zena drifted closer until she was within Owen’s natural wind barrier. It was easier to speak while flying.

“She’s growing up so fast,” she said. “Do you think it’ll stop?”

“I have no idea where she’s getting it from,” Owen murmured. “But I did notice that it happens the most after we pass through cities…”

“It’s homework,” Mu said, grumbling. “Nobody likes homework.”

Owen blinked. What in the world did that mean? She was speaking nonsense sometimes, but… maybe they could ask the experts if they had extra time.

“Oh, I think that’s Agate Village just ahead,” Zena remarked. “That wasn’t too long.”

Still a lot longer than any flight they’d’ve had to do in Kilo, but he supposed that was true for anywhere “a little far” in this world. Owen switched his flight to a descending glide. “Want to go swimming, Mu?” he said. “Looks like a clean river up ahead.”

“Don’t like water,” the Charmander grumbled, turning the page. “Agate Village,” she repeated from the brochure, squinting at the words. “…Old people live here.”

“We’ve seen old humans before, right, Owen?” Zena asked.

“Yeah, we have. And some humans can get pretty old, a little older than you’d expect a Pokémon to get, at least…”

Subconsciously, Owen touched the claw of his necklace.

He continued, “We’re supposed to go to the big house in a tree trunk near the center-top of the village.”

“Oh, I see that.” Zena pointed ahead with a ribbon.

Agate village came into view. With the backdrop of a mountain and a vast desert to the east, it was unreal to see such a lush, green hillside where great trees and rivers dominated the landscape. It wouldn’t be Owen’s first choice for an environment, but Zena would love it. Maybe they’d let her swim in the water, too.

“Slow your flight,” Zena reminded. “We don’t want to scare anyone.”

“Oh, right. Charizard aren’t native here.”

“Native means born here?” Mu asked.

“Kind of, yeah. It means you’d naturally see them born here and they didn’t come from another land.”

“What does it mean if they came from another place, but then had family?” Mu asked. “And then the family had a family? Are they native?”

“Uhh… No, I think that’s a different word,” Owen said.

“Where are humans native?” Mu asked.

“I don’t… I don’t know. I never asked. But humans have been around for so long that I think they’re just native to everywhere.” That didn’t sound right to Owen even as he said it, but where else would they have come from? Pokémon stuck to their regions for the most part and humans went a lot of places that Normal Pokémon did. Humans were probably Normal Type, now that he thought about it.

“They don’t like lava. They burn,” Mu said.

“That’s true. They aren’t native to volcanoes.”

“They drown, too.”

“Oh, yeah. They aren’t native to the ocean.”

“They don’t like caves. They starve.”

“That’s also true. And they don’t like the dark, either, kind of like us.”

“The dark is scary,” Mu agreed. “And my tail doesn’t light things up…”

“Would you like us to get you something for that, Mu?” Zena offered. “There are little Luminous Orbs that can light up a room back home if Dad ever needs to go out at night.”

Mu was quiet, turning the page. She was pensive and tense like she didn’t want to admit anything.

“Maybe,” Mu said.

Owen and Zena exchanged little smiles as they landed at Agate Village’s entrance.

“My goodness!” someone immediately cried. It didn’t sound alarmed, though. An old man in a yellow shirt with big glasses ran toward them, using a walking stick to stay standing. “If my eyes aren’t fooling me, that’s… a Charizard! And a Milotic! Amazing! Where’s your trainer, you two?”

Mu knew not to speak in front of random humans. Owen was glad she followed that practice.

Owen said in feral, “We came to see someone in the big tr—”

“Ah, I’m sorry, big fella. I lost your language a long time ago. But hey! You seem friendly. Welcome to Agate Village! Just be careful with that flame, yeah?”

Owen awkwardly nodded and ascended the hillside with Zena.

The door to a great old, dead tree opened in a sliding motion. On the other side was a human in a blue overcoat.

He peeked outside and frowned, glaring at them before they’d even gotten close. Well, that was a rude welcome…

This human had weird ears. Owen never knew humans had those.

“Owen, right?” called Bluejacket.

Owen made sure nobody was within earshot before he said, “Yeah, me. This is Zena and Mu.”

The human’s long, furry, black ears twitched. “Right,” he said. “Come in.”

They followed him inside, Owen folding his wings and ducking to pass through the door. It was a quaint little home inside the tree with a small set of bedrooms on the upper floor, a little kitchen and living room on the lower floor, and some facilities in the back. It seemed very old and lived-in.

Another human was sitting at the table. She was feeding an Umbreon and Espeon some pellets of some kind. That had Owen feeling hungry again. He wondered if Zena would try some, too…

Mu was already hopping off Owen’s shoulder, running to beg for a sampling.

“This is a cozy place,” Owen commented. “If I wasn’t a Fire, I think I’d like it in this village.”

“It’s… a relaxing place to retire,” the Umbreon-eared human said. “Name’s Wes. This is Rui.” He gestured to the girl. “And I already met your friend, Star.”

The world froze. Star… It had been months and it already felt so far away. Then there was that cold guilt that for them it had only been a few days at most.

“We, uh—How?” Owen asked.

“The Dungeon, they call it? While we were investigating a few things happening with the distortions here, we got sucked in. It wasn’t for all that long, but by the time we got back, it had been a few days. It was all over the news. And I’m still recovering.”

“R-recovering?”

Wes’ ears twitched with his annoyance.

“…They don’t look injured,” Owen said.

Umbreon’s ears twitched next and he looked up at Wes from the couch. He trilled, “I like his new look!”

“Don’t mock me!” Wes called back.

Umbreon made a playful growling noise, clearly teasing him, and went back to eating.

“Um, hello,” Rui greeted. The red-haired woman waved and bowed politely. “I didn’t have any lingering changes. Star said that Wes’ change should… wear off after a few weeks.”

“You turned into Pokémon?” Owen deduced. “Humans don’t normally take on Pokémon attributes?”

Wes stared at Owen like he was an idiot.

“H-hey, I’ve been gone for a while. You never know how much things changed…”

“To be honest, Owen,” Zena said, “most species don’t take traits on that easily. It’s usually just a color pattern from the parent that you don’t share a species with…”

“And,” Wes said pointedly, “humans don’t usually pair off with Pokémon like they’re married. Except for that weird old lady down the hill, but—look, either way, no, it’s weird.”

“Oh. Right.” Owen forgot that detail. Pokémon of this world… operated differently. “Sorry. In our world, er… Never mind. But we were told to meet you here. Why is that?”

Wes crossed his arms. “We wanted you to meet someone who might be able to help with your Shadow problem.”

“Someone?”

“Well, two someones.” Rui stood up. “We aren’t the only people who took on Shadow Pokémon before! There’s someone on the green side of Orre that you need to meet. We’ll give you directions later. But first… We wanted to show you Celebi’s shrine.”

“Celebi? Is that a Combee with a party hat?” Mu asked.

“Huh? No, Celebi is a very rare Pokémon. C’mon, we can walk and talk!”

“Uh, is that a good idea?” Owen asked.

“Oh, it’s fine. People either know about you already or they’ll just think we’re talking to our Pokémon like friends! That’s normal.”

Wes nodded.

“You two behave,” he said sternly to Umbreon and Espeon. Both grinned in such a way that Owen knew they wouldn’t.

<><><>​

Just down the hill and through a cave with a small river cutting through it, there was a glade that radiated a sacred atmosphere.

“Your world has a Celebi?” Wes asked.

Owen nodded. “We do. She’s very soft-spoken and worked alongside Dialga for… I’m not sure what they did, now that I think about it. We don’t have a lot of time issues in our world.”

Zena gazed at the water. “Maybe that means they were doing a good job,” she said. “The gods usually do their best work when it’s not noticed, yes?”

Mu was slouching against Owen’s shoulder, looking drowsy.

“You doing alright, Mu? You didn’t stay up late again, did you?”

“No…” Mu yawned. “I’m just resting…”

“Are you sick?”

Mu sighed, annoyed. “Nooo. This place is just… quiet for once.”

“Quiet?” Owen eyed the river, which was pretty loud, and heard birdsong up ahead.

“Oh,” Zena whispered. “You mean… the negative aura?”

“Yeah. It’s quiet,” Mu said again. “All the… old people…”

“Your kid feels negative auras?” Wes asked.

“It’s a long story,” Owen said, “but yes, she does. She, uh, she’s a Shadow Pokémon, I guess. But not in the same way.”

“Oh! So that’s why she…”

They all looked at Rui.

“I’m sorry. You see, I have aura sight,” Rui explained. “I was trying to figure out why Charmander’s aura was so dark despite behaving… normally. As normal as a talking Pokémon can! I—oh, is that offensive?”

“It’s alright,” Zena said, giggling. “We’re used to it. We know.”

“Huh. A stable Shadow Pokémon.” Wes eyed Mu warily. “…Well, she doesn’t seem unhappy.”

“I’m not,” Mu replied. “Just feel... everyone else’s.”

“Sounds like a drag.”

They passed through the cave and stopped just by the entrance. It seemed to be cleaned regularly. Something about this place felt quieter. Even the water that flowed through the cave seemed calmer in response to the cool breeze and even lusher greenery deeper into the valley.

Birds were singing high in the trees. The air smelled of morning rain, despite it being later in the day. Lights danced on the ground in patterns drawn by the forest canopy.

To the left near the entrance, there were two gravestones with a strange soil consistency. Rui knelt by the grave and closed her eyes. Wes didn’t kneel, though he did lower his head.

“Up ahead is a shrine to Celebi,” Wes said. Even he spoke softly. “Want to look?”

The shrine was an odd cylinder that looked like it was deliberately breaking apart in little quarter-segments all around its structure. Owen had never seen a structure quite like it.

“Is Celebi inside that shrine?” Zena asked.

“No,” Owen and Wes replied at once.

“Eh?” Wes said. “Why do you know?”

“Because there’s nothing inside it,” Owen said, pointing.

Rui stood up from her kneel. “How can… you tell that, though?”

“It’s my Perceive.” Owen pointed at his horns. “I can see anything. Kind of like seeing in three dimensions.”

A beat of silence followed. The birds chirped. The breeze let the tall trees dance. Rui suddenly gasped and covered her chest for some reason.

“Neat,” said Wes, deadpan.

“Can you turn it off?” Rui asked.

“Oh, uh, sure. Sorry.” This must have been offensive to humans. They were a very private species. He reached for his horns and popped them off.

Rui yelped. “You don’t have to be so drastic!”

“Also neat.”

“Oh, they just come off,” Owen explained, slipping them into his satchel.

Rui stammered and Wes continued to the shrine.

“They’re weird, Rui. The longer we focus on it the faster we’ll go crazy. Let’s just give them a chance to look at the shrine and then send them to Pokémon HQ Lab.”

“Pokémon HQ Lab?” Zena asked, looking disappointed about something.

“Best in the region. They’re comprehensive about all things Pokémon, but they have a few Shadow specialists.”

When Owen’s expression darkened, Wes raised his hands.

“As in, for purifying them. Don’t worry, all the folks behind the Shadow part are behind bars at this point.” He glanced away. “…Mostly.”

Owen relaxed his stance. “Right. Speaking of purification… How does this shrine do it?”

Wes tapped a knuckle on the odd cylinder. “This thing has a tiny bit of Celebi’s power in it. The power helps good memories surface. If Celebi is supposed to be a Pokémon with control over time, I think it uses its Psychic power to remind people of the past. Of good times, or something.”

“It… can’t be that simple, can it?”

“No, it is,” Wes said. “It’s just hard to do. A Shadow Pokémon’s heart is sealed tight and they no longer think about… their past before becoming a Shadow Pokémon. They just fight. They’re either mindlessly fighting or they’re in a negative frenzy. Calling them helps calm them down, but… it’s temporary.” Wes gestured to the shrine. “I had to bring a lot of Shadow Pokémon here after months of trying to get them to open up even a little. But that… speck of darkness never goes away. Not without the shrine here.”

“So… reminders, and a blessing,” Owen said. “Reminders of…”

It was starting to fall into place.

“Owen?” Zena asked.

“If Radiance isn’t enough to get a Shadow Pokémon to open up to us alone, then maybe memories are another key,” Owen said. “Void Shadows lose their memories. And when they’re purified, those memories start to come back, but it’s incomplete. Even Mom, who lost her memories, was never really the same when she was purified again, and… what if… what if that’s because it’s backward? What if memories purify Shadow, not the other way around?”

“You might be onto something,” Wes said. “But you still need both. We didn’t have any of that divine energy, aside from when we could call Celebi to help.”

“So you can call Celebi?” Owen asked.

“Not anymore,” Wes admitted. “Though, I did keep the flute… They’re sacred items that summon Celebi right here when you play it. But only… once. Annnnd I sorta used them all.”

Wes pulled out one like he figured it’d be relevant. It looked unassuming; a flute made of tan wood. Entirely mundane. Curiously, though, Owen saw a chamber near the bottom of the flute that was empty.

“Can I hold it?” Owen asked.

“Can you restore it?” Rui asked as Wes handed it over.

“I don’t want to abuse it if Celebi only wanted a few of these,” Owen said, “but this is important. Maybe I can.”

He wasn’t sure what was in that chamber but it wasn’t normal for a flute to have it. Maybe it was where the energy used to attract Celebi was placed. And if that was the case… what if he put Radiance into it?

Owen tried that, Bestowing a tiny amount of that energy into the flute. Then he offered it to Wes.

“Play it. I think I… did something.”

Wes looked skeptical but tried anyway, blowing a simple, improvised tune. When he did, sparks of light shot from the flute and to the cylinder, startling Rui and even Wes.

After he finished, he said, “That didn’t happen last time…”

Wes squinted. “You put a little Radiance into it and the flute… fired it out?”

“There was a chamber inside the flute that seemed like it stored something. I put a little Radiance in it, and that’s what happened…”

They all waited. One whole minute passed with idle chatter and birdwatching. Unfortunately… Celebi did not appear.

“Guess it stored a different energy,” Owen said, wings drooping. “Still… That’s a weird flute.”

“You want it?” Wes offered. “I have two more. Not like I’m good at it anyway…”

“Oh, if it’s not any trouble?” Owen asked.

Zena tilted her head. “What use would it be?”

Owen shrugged. “It’s weird. It might help. Anything that can interact with Radiance might be helpful…”

Wes tossed it to Owen, who slipped it into his pouch.

“Guess that’s everything, huh?” Wes said. “You be careful, alright?”

“Yeah,” Owen said, glancing at the gravesite that Rui had knelt next to before. “So… who are they?”

“Oh, that’s where my grandparents were buried. They used to own the house we live in now,” Rui said. She smiled fondly, but it was tinged with that usual, nostalgic sadness. “They lived long, good lives. Grandpa was a really accomplished trainer back in the day. His Pikachu is still roaming around the village. He’s kind of Agate’s guardian! I think… grandpa’s spirit lives on in him, too. Grandma is the same way.”

Owen offered a warm smile. “Sounds like they did all they could.”

“Mhm.” Rui smiled and sighed. “I miss them, of course, but… Well. They had other things to do. Same day, you know, right overnight.”

“Wow, same day,” Owen said, running a claw over his necklace.

Rui eyed it. “…Is that… of a relative?”

That earned an awkward titter from him. “Dad’s a Marowak. He, er… you know how it is.” Wait, no she didn’t, she was human.

Rui smiled politely. “I think it’s a beautiful gesture,” she said. “I think the Sinnoh region believed that Pokémon spirits reside in their bones for a while, too. Maybe your father said the same thing?”

“I figured the claw would, uh, point me in the right direction,” Owen said. “I have a lot of things to think about. I don’t know. Some guidance feels… nice.”

Mu was starting to get bored, wandering around the cave again. Zena smiled and gently offered to take Mu out to the rest of the village to play, nodding at Owen as she left.

“Oh, sorry,” Rui said. “We won’t be holding you up. Um, good luck with… Dungeoning?”

“Thanks.”

“Oh, yeah.” Wes, near the mouth of the cave, suddenly spoke up. “When you go to HQ, look around for Ho-Oh if it’s there. You can communicate with Pokémon, right?”

“Oh, I can. Wait. Ho-Oh? What’s that?”

Wes blinked. “I thought your world had Legends?”

“Not Ho-Oh. I guess we didn’t have all the ones here.”

“Huh. Well, just say hi for me. It tagged along with me for a while, but, you know how Legends are. Gotta wander and do… whatever they do. Last I heard, it wanted to go there for some reason.”

“Sure. I’ll say hi for you,” Owen said.

What a strange request. But after saying his farewells, Owen went over to Zena and Mu to relax before their next flight.

This was probably the last time they’d see Wes and Rui for something this important. They seemed satisfied with having a simple, quiet life here in Agate. If Wes was supposedly responsible for thwarting some of the Shadow forces, he could understand why.

Owen wondered if he’d be allowed the same opportunity one day.

<><><>​

It was ironic how little of Orre’s desert they were seeing. Most of where they had to be was on the green side of the region.

Further west, where the lush grass was even more pronounced than before, Owen followed the directions Wes had given them all the way to Pokémon HQ Lab, quite possibly the most generic-sounding location Owen had heard of yet. And that was saying something. He supposed that the region being so deprived of Pokémon for so long meant the basic names weren’t taken…

“I think that’s it,” Zena announced.

“Huh?” Owen had been so lost in thought that he wasn’t paying attention ahead of him. His Perceive handled anything in range that he’d collide with.

Up ahead was a large, white building on a hill with a giant, floating Poké Ball hovering on top of it. It seemed to be two stories tall with large, glass windows and a Lugia nesting in front of the—

“Why is there a Lugia in front of that building?” Owen said.

Zena frowned. “That’s an awfully small Lugia…”

“No, Emily’s just very large,” Owen said.

“Or baby?” Mu suggested.

“Can… can Lugia be young? Or are they created?” Zena sped up as they descended for a landing.

“I don’t know for this world,” Owen said.

Lugia perked up and spotted them. They let out a roar that Owen wasn’t sure how to interpret. The dialect was… strange.

“What is Lugia saying?” Zena asked.

“I… I don’t know. It might be an ancient dialect or something.”

Mu suddenly tensed. “Watch out.”

And moments later, Lugia opened their mouth and twisted the air. Benign winds became cutting gales that spiraled in their direction; he and Zena banked in opposite directions, avoiding the blast that turned a treetop into sawdust and dry mulch.

“Did we come in wrong?!” Owen shouted. “Zena! Let’s find some cover!”

“Where?!”

She was right. It was just trees. And those didn’t stand a chance against Lugia!

Another Aeroblast was charging up. This would get bad, fast.

Owen grasped at the air with a flick of his right hand. The air was still charged with the last attack. He grasped it. “Zena! Behind me!”

“Right!”

Just in time, too. The second Aeroblast spiraled through the air and Owen reached toward it with his Mimicked energy, then brought up his shield. The winds curled around him and he braced himself as well as he could. Zena held his back to help, having no grounding to hold his position.

He Bestowed his power into the blast itself. Waited for that connection. There! Like chaos in his hands, the power of freedom of the winds and destruction of the gales. It was his now. He twisted the blast into a little, concentrated ball, compressing his Protect around the volatile energy—

“WAAAIIIIT!”

Lugia stopped. Owen held his position. Zena made sure Mu wasn’t hurt—and, thankfully, she wasn’t.

A man with red, spiked hair and a yellow shirt ran into the yard, waving his arms toward Lugia. Whatever he was saying placated the great guardian of the sea. Lugia said something and their booming voice was a lot easier to hear than the man’s. Unfortunately, Owen still didn’t recognize most of the sounds… But he recognized one pattern. ‘Shadow.’

That Lugia was incredibly sensitive to Shadows, then. Mu… or maybe even he might have set Lugia off.

“Okay!” the man called. “You can come over now! Soooorryyyy!”

<><><>​

The man’s name was Michael and something about him bothered Owen. He’d never met the man before in his life and yet something felt disturbingly familiar about him.

They set up a small picnic where Lugia kept staring in his direction. Mu was having a staring contest with her. Like a competition.

“Hokay, sorry about that,” Michael said, plopping himself down on the gigantic red-and-white picnic blanket. He sat beside Lugia and on his other side was a Vaporeon enjoying some cold water from a bowl.

“It’s alright,” Owen replied. “Uh, sorry if we came sooner than expected…”

“No, no.” Michael raised his hands. “I sorta put this off. Got distracted with research again.”

Research…

“So! Talking Pokémon! You must get that a lot.”

“We get it,” Owen replied.

“It is a bit strange being the only ones who talk… Well, I heard rumors about one back in Kanto, but—ah, well, not here.”

“And you’re from another world where talking Pokémon is the norm, right?” Michael said. “I bet the folks in Alola had a field day with that one!”

“You could say that,” Owen said with a titter.

“Ahh, well… Anyway, you’re here because Wes told you about this place for its Shadow research, right?”

Owen nodded. “In our world, we’re dealing with a massive Shadow problem. If we can find a way to combat it or even cure it, any method would help. We already got one answer from Wes with Celebi. That might help. But if there’s anything that a common Pokémon can do…”

Michael nodded. “I see, I see…”

Lugia made a low growling noise again.

“Hey, it’s alright, it’s alright,” Michael said.

Lugia growled again.

“No, they’re fine, promise. They’re heroes from another world!”

“You understand her?” Owen asked.

“Sure I do! Took a while to get the feeling behind her words, but she’s a Pokémon, isn’t she?”

“I’m not familiar with her dialect,” Owen admitted.

“What is she asking?” Zena asked.

“Well,” Michael gestured to Mu, “Lugia is wondering why Charmander over there feels like a Shadow Pokémon.”

“Oh. Well, she was born as one, but just that she can harness the power. Her heart isn’t closed.”

“Hi!” Mu waved. “I’m not evil! Promise! Look, I have light, too!” She waved her hands in the air, forming little motes of golden lights.

This surprised Lugia. What about Mu caught her off guard? One way or the other, she lowered her guard and rested more comfortably near Michael.

“Lugia was the only result of an experiment to make an ‘impossible to purify’ Shadow Pokémon,” Michael explained. “I still don’t know what they did to make that happen, but it must have been awful.”

“Impossible to purify,” Owen repeated. “But I don’t sense a speck of Shadows in her.”

“Yep. All thanks to some crazy research we have going on, studying Pokémon, their auras, and how their hearts and emotions play a part in Shadows taking hold. How much time do you guys have?”

“Oh, well… Our world is running at one percent speed compared to here,” Owen explained. “But I don’t want them to be waiting for more than a day at this point.”

“So, a hundred days here,” Michael reasoned.

“…You caught onto that quickly,” Owen remarked.

Michael grinned broadly. “I bet you’ll only need a month to study all of this!”

“A month?” Zena said. “That’s practically as long as our time in the Aether Foundation alone…”

“Can I go to Real Gem Tower?” Mu asked.

“Oh, yeah!” Michael said. “All work and no play will make your brains mush! We need to relax between all that reading.”

“Maybe a little,” Owen said reluctantly. “But we really need to—”

“No, you don’t understand,” Michael said earnestly. “It’s too much for the brain to handle. If you read a ton, and then take a break to rest, it gives your subconscious mind time to sort itself out and really learn what you read about. If you don’t give your mind time to rest, nothing will stick!”

Owen wasn’t sure if that worked. Despite everything, Owen never had a formal education at any point in his life. This… study habit was something he’d only heard about and never experienced himself.

Was he about to get homework?

“Oh, by the way,” Zena spoke up, “Michael, is Ho-Oh around?”

“He left a while back,” Michael said. “Should be back soon. He said something about investigating an island offshore. That can only be Citadark, but that place is abandoned… Hopefully. I told him to turn back at the first sign of trouble.”

Citadark… an island offshore? “That sounds like Quartz Isle,” Owen said.

“Quartz what?” Michael repeated.

Owen couldn’t believe he didn’t know. Quartz Isle was the island destroyed by Arceus. It should have been all over the news! And yet… nothing? A whole island’s population had become Kilo!

“I think we need to talk about that later,” Owen said, not sure how to sort through his thoughts just yet.

“Alright. If that’s the case…” Michael suddenly got to his feet. “You guys enjoy your food!”

Owen had forgotten they were supposed to be eating. He hastily picked up what appeared to be a sausage in an elongated bun.

“I’m gonna get a lesson plan together.”

“Wait, what’s—”

But he was already gone. Why did that attitude feel so familiar?

Mu groaned. “Homework,” she murmured. “Nobody likes homework.”
 
Top