1. We have moved to a new forum system. All your posts and data should have transferred over. Welcome, to the new Serebii Forums. Details here
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Hey Guest
    As I'm sure you're well aware, sites aren't free to run and so we run leaderboard adverts to fund the site. These ads are often specific game ones run by Sega etc.
    To make sure we get relevant ads as much as possible, could you fill out this survey my ad network is running? It's 100% anonymous and will just help us keep relevant ads on the site
    https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/8GL2ZTK
    It's open til April 3rd
    Thanks :)
    Dismiss Notice
  3. Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
    Dismiss Notice
  4. If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders
    Dismiss Notice

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

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

  1. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    One of the pitfalls of having a character whose memory has been so thoroughly tampered with is that it makes it hard for me, as the reader, to feel some of the things you want me to feel about certain scenes in this fic. I'm referring mostly to his talks with Zena and his "parents." They're supposed to be heartwarming, but the cynic in me just looked at them and said, "Okay, yeah, but how many times have his parents told him they're proud, only for said memories to later be completely wiped away?" Or, similarly, what if there was a 'mon Owen had feelings for much like with Zena. It's one of those cases where you might've written yourself into a corner... at least from my perspective.

    At least I can a kick at Own being used as a pawn in these gods' machinations. This is looking like a case of nobody really being trustworthy and this being a sliding scale of villainy, so to speak. Where any one faction (Hunters, Star, Arceus) getting their way creates a less-than-ideal ending... but it's a matter of trying to figure out how those endings stack up and I don't entirely have the information necessary to make that call. Namely because we've gotten this far and Arceus is thrown into the mix when we still haven't seen much of the currently-active Hunters. Which is funny. Me thinks the reason you're keeping Eon hidden away is because he's got much bigger secrets. like, y'know, being the one who originally raised owen before alex and amia stepped in. The ending implies this Arceus was real. If you wanted to stir the pot, you could've deleted those last two paragraphs and left it very ambiguous as to whether that was actually Arceus or, say, some sort of dreamscape assault by Rim or, worse yet, Star putting on a little show to try and better earn Owen's trust for her own plans. As it stands, I think it's a bit of a bait and switch where Arceus is shown as malicious to deceive the reader into thinking he's a villain. I mean, if you're a Creator living in isolation, odds are your social skills are absolutely terrible, which would explain why he doesn't really know how to interact with Owen.

    C'mon Mispy, show some tact. We all know you go cool off in a vat of salad dressing. Don't judge.

    I'm reminded of that ridiculous plot thread in Shadow the Hedgehog where he thinks he's an android. God damn it.

    and then they banged

    Owen, please, I doubt your mom really said—

    Oh, huh, guess Arceus really is omnipotent. PRAISE BE THE LLAMA-GOD!

    Wow. A spunky OC has been summoned by Arceus himself. What am I reading here, fanfi— oh, wait, that's exactly what this is. :V

    Owen's got one hell of a harem.

    uh... wow. Dr. Arceus, Veterinarian, reminding you to spay and neuter your Charmanders. Poor Zena. ;~;

    I see the narrator drank extra lemonade before filming.

    Not snark but, um, this reads as pretty flat... coming off of several chapters where Owen's questioning just how much he's forgotten. Like... if he feels supported, great, but odds are he has in the past and this kind of thought would, based on his behavior, only upset him... which wouldn't help in this scene.

    Phrasing *cough*

    Divine plan? That you, Zamasu? 3/10 not enough ningen.

    Upon further reflection, I have concluded Owen's "instincts" are just Apollo Justice's Perceive ability dialed up to 11. That silence you hear is the sound of me slow-clapping through the internet. G'night, everybody!
     
  2. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    This is... a very good point, and it's probably something that Owen should be considering at this time. I think I'll actually add in a small bit of introspection on why things are a little different here. Basically, unlike all of the previous times, Owen has a tangible "light" at the end of the tunnel--that is, he was actually able to hang on to his sanity for a little while before being reset, suggesting that the next time he evolves will be the last. Uh, after Charmeleon. The next two times, I guess....

    This is actually how the chapter used to end! ...And it didn't go well, more or less. In fact, I'd like to cite some previous feedback about "mystery overload" during the early parts of my fic. Frankly, I can afford to make a few things unambiguous here. I'd rather not make any needless "or is it?" plot threads when Owen's already messed up enough.

    See my first statement on why Owen thinks it's "different" this time. I'll be sure to highlight that a little more. It's definitely bittersweet -- he has a lot that he has to work through... but the sweet part is, he might be getting the opportunity to actually sort through it in the first place.

    It, uh... yes.
     
  3. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 22 – The Endless Forest

    “Wh-what’s going on?” Owen said.

    He was weightless – it didn’t look like there was anything around him except a swirling, blue-black void in all directions. He looked up; he saw blackness with a flickering, cyan mist. But then, when he squinted, he saw that this mist also had brighter spots in it. “Are those…” They reminded him of Rhys’ paws when he was meditating or fighting. “Are those auras?”

    “Yep,” Star said.

    “W-wah!” Owen jumped, losing his balance in the void. “Where’d you come from?” He was stuck rotating laterally.

    “Oh! Sorry. I got lost along the way, nearly lost you, ha!” The Mew chuckled, patting him on the back. She grasped him gently by the shoulders to halt the spinning.

    Owen sighed. “Don’t—don’t do that! Just tell me where we are!” Owen pointed at the mist but then noticed his arm. It looked… blurry. “What’s…?” He brought his left hand on his right arm; it passed right through. The scales were flying off like dust in the wind—along with everything else in him. His hand went first, the little fingers washing away like a wad of mud in a river. There was no pain—and for some reason, that made it worse. “Wh-what’s happening?!”

    “D-don’t panic, Owen! You’re fine!” Star said, holding his right shoulder. “Uh—oops,” she said. When Star pat him, his entire arm fell away, floating in front of him. It dissolved into a fine, cyan mist. Owen stared helplessly as his body dissolved into light. While it didn’t hurt it didn’t feel good, either. He lost all sensation. He tried to move his arm—but he no longer had an arm to move.

    After the arm, everything else advanced much more rapidly. His toes and tail, then the legs. Did he have a head? He couldn’t use his arms to feel for his head, because those were already long gone. His torso floated past his vision like smoke. He tried to gasp with the lungs he no longer had.

    He tried to talk, but it didn’t work. He didn’t even know how he was seeing anything—he had no eyes. No eyelids to blink with—no mouth to speak with, nothing. Nothing.

    “Just—just talk with your thoughts, Owen. It’s okay,” Star said. “You’re in the aura sea right now, Owen. You’re pressed up against the edge of, uh… the living world.”

    Owen struggled to work with this new sort of communication. It felt like it was all he had left. What do you mean, the edge? Isn’t that just the Grass Orb, and the other Orbs?

    “Yes and no,” Star said, rubbing her head. “C’mon, stay by me, okay? Or you’ll get caught up in the flow.”

    Flow… right… Owen reflexively tried to look down at his hands. Not only did he not have hands, but he also didn’t have a head to look down with, or a neck to curve. He didn’t know what nothing felt like, but this was as close as he’d ever gotten to it.

    Sensing his panic, Star said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. This’ll all go back to normal soon. It’s just, weaker auras don’t last very long here. They dissolve into their most basic component, the flare.”

    Owen adjusted. He looked at the many others who looked exactly like him. They were moving in the opposite direction that he and Star were, toward some other void. Where are… they going?

    “Oh, just the spirit world,” Star said. “This is sorta the passageway from the point when an aura passes on, to the spirit world.”

    So this is… I heard legends about this…

    “Legends? Huh. Once a mortal gets here, there’s no going back, usually. I guess some of them just guessed correctly.”

    Owen saw something else ahead. A hulking creature, to be sure, with a gray body with yellow stripes and a single, glowing, red eye. Dusknoir. Owen hesitated on advancing, but when he fell too far behind Star, he felt a strange force pulling him toward the void that the other auras were heading toward. He tried to call out to Star with his nonexistent mouth.

    “Don’t be afraid,” Star said, reaching over to keep Owen from slipping away. The mere gesture of her hand created a force that drew Owen closer. “That’s just Hecto.”

    Hecto…?

    “Well, one of him.”

    They were going right toward him. Eventually, they were right in front, and the Dusknoir stopped… whatever he was doing. “Star,” Hecto greeted. “Hello. I didn’t expect to see you here. Are you not with my others?”

    “Oh, I was, but I had to grab Owen,” Star said, pointing at the flare. Owen felt himself shrink.

    “…He has perished? Already?”

    “No, no, nothing like that,” Star said. “Barky summoned his aura when he was asleep, and now I’m taking him back on the down-low so the Alpha can cool off.”

    Wait, Barky? What? Huh? Oh, you mean….

    “She means Arceus,” the Dusknoir said. “It is a nickname developed by Star, specifically because, as you put it, he barks a lot.”

    “Barks orders, more like,” Star muttered. “Just because he has a few more Hands than I do doesn’t mean he’s the strongest in the pantheon. I’m important, too!”

    “You certainly are,” Hecto said. He was… quite expressionless. Owen had no idea if his statement was sarcastic or genuine. “Would you like me to create a fast route to your home, then?”

    “Nah, I could’ve done that myself. I just wanted to take the scenic route so Barks can cool down.”

    If I call Arceus that… will he kill me? Owen said.

    “Probably,” Star said. “But hey, do what you want. I’ve got you protected.”

    Okay, actually, hang on, Owen said. Why am I protected? Compared to the other Guardians? What’s so important about me? I’m not even that strong compared to some of the others.

    “Hm. So you haven’t explained this to him?” Hecto said.

    “I mean, I explained most of it. But now that Barky’s in the picture. I guess I should give him more of the story. Did your others tell you about what happened?”

    “Of his memories returning? Yes.”

    Star nodded. “Owen… I think it’s time that we explain to you why you’re so important in all this. I mean—I don’t think we can tell it… tell it all just yet, but at least what sets you apart from the others.”

    You mean aside from the fact that I’m a freak of nature, Owen said.

    “Yeah, actually,” Star said. “There’s more to it. Want to come along, Hec?”

    “My others will be there. I am still watching the flow.”

    …What do you do here? Owen asked.

    “I watch,” Hecto said. “There is a lot to learn… if you just watch.”

    Watch…? Owen turned his focus on the flowing auras. All he saw were a bunch of cyan flames in a thin steam.

    Star sensed his concentration and chuckled. “Sure, let’s spend a bit of time doing this.”

    Owen stared, and stared, and stared…. And then, he started to hear something. Little whispers, voices. Confused voices, mostly. Some sounded sad. Others were relieved. And others still, angry. Desperate. Eager. Worried. But he couldn’t make out what they were saying—it was a cacophony. He heard words, but he couldn’t make it all out. There was too much to hear—a thousand words a second, a million… He had to break away.

    U-ugh…

    “Pretty overwhelming, huh?” Star said. “Don’t worry. Let’s get going, huh?”

    Y-yeah. I’ll leave that stuff to Hecto.

    Owen appreciated that the rest of the trip through the aura sea was quiet. Star didn’t ask any questions, but she did give him a little, reassuring smile when she sensed he was feeling uneasy. Somehow, it helped. He knew he was still experiencing some sort of shock from having the very creator of reality try to kill him. How deep into this mess was he? Still, Star had his back. And she seemed to be able to fend him off, at the very least.

    Star eventually broke the silence. “Oh, we’re almost there. It’s gonna get bright.”

    Just then, Owen’s surroundings lit up—he was still an ember, but now he was floating in a brown, rocky cave. Directly ahead of him was the mouth of the cave. He couldn’t see anything from where he was standing, but it appeared to be overlooking a cliff. Behind him, further inside, was a complex network of tunnels and corridors, and even some furniture. Owen was unnerved at how… normal it all seemed, after what he had just gone through.

    “Welcome to my hangout,” Star said. “Oh, uh, sorry. Forgot that your body dissolved. So, just focus, and you’ll form it back.”

    Just focus? Owen said.

    “Yeah, like, imagine that you have a body again, and you’ll become what you’re thinking about.”

    Owen bobbed in the air and concentrated. First, he felt his legs return to him, and then his tail and waist. Then came his belly, and then his arms, and finally his head; next, from his back, two large wings sprouted, followed by two horns on the back of his head.

    Star blinked, but then smiled sadly at him. “Oh, Owen…”

    “H-huh?” Owen said but then gasped, clutching at his long muzzle. He didn’t expect his voice to be so deep. “Oh, I… I guess I…”

    Star chuckled. “You really want to evolve, huh?”

    Owen looked back at his massive tail, swinging it a few times, and tried to outstretch his wings. It felt… strange, having two new limbs, yet familiar. “Did I… look like this?” the Charizard asked.

    “Mn… no,” Star said. “You… didn’t look like a normal Charizard. But, you know—just work with this! I think you look good in whatever you’re comfortable with, Owen. Just, uh, walk carefully. Your balance is going to feel different.”

    Owen rubbed the back of his neck. That was strange, too. It felt so much longer now.

    “Actually, this might turn out to be useful,” the Mew said. “See, I want to go down there.” She pointed to the mouth of the cave and floated to the entrance. Owen followed, wobbling for the first few, heavy steps, but had to stop just to admire the view.

    “Whoa…” Owen said. “It’s… it goes on forever…!”

    Below him was a sea of green leaves atop tall trees. There was a bluish tinge to them, vaguely reminding Owen of the auras of the sea he was just a part of. There was certainly something mystical about it—it must have been the glow. And indeed, it went on endlessly, blending into the purple horizon like a lumpy field of aether.

    “This is the ethereal forest,” Star said. “It’s kinda where I go if I want to think—I made it myself a long time ago.” She jerked her head to the side, motioning for him to follow, and floated down to the forest floor. Owen hopped and stretched his wings—by instinct, he knew how to glide and descend to the bottom.

    His heavy body felt like air for that brief moment; a stupid grin spread across his face halfway down. He broke through the trees and landed on dark, blue grass, where the leaves blocked most of the sun. Instead, the plants underneath glowed, similar to the mushrooms of Hot Spot Cave. The same went for the black tree trunks. Owen kicked over a pebble and saw a fine, cyan mist puff out and dissipate. Entertained, he kicked over another, and another; he accidentally crushed one, and it, too, burst into little blue lights.

    Owen suppressed his smile to address Star. “Um, so, why did you want to come here?” Owen asked.

    “To talk,” Star said. “This is my turf. Barky can’t bother us here. So… I just wanted to tell you about… what makes you so special. And not in the stupid way where everyone is special. I mean like, on a practical level, you’ve got something that sets you apart from the other Guardians. And also, you’re synthetic, but that’s beside the point—okay, so… are you still with me?”

    “Halfway.”

    Star sighed. They walked through this ethereal forest. Owen took some time to admire the blueness of the leaves, and then at the seemingly infinite web of trunks ahead, behind, and all around him. He ran his hand along the trunk. The wood was hard, but it wasn’t dry. He’d have to really put forth an effort to knock one down.

    “Let’s just put it this way,” Star said. “Yeah, you’ve got special powers, and maybe a few perks from being genetically crafted by crazy aura-bio science, but… the main difference that you have between all the other Guardians with us? It’s that you aren’t… aligned with Barky yet.”

    “What? You mean the Guardians all made a Divine Promise to him?”

    “Yes,” Star said. “But Barky didn’t see them as a threat. He made them Promise… to never gather the Orbs together into one person. I guess that’s why he’s not complaining about them joining up with you to fight the Hunters, because even if they win, they still can’t overpower him.”

    “Wh—I mean, yeah, isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid?” Owen said. “That’d usurp Arceus! And I feel like that’d be really, really bad news.”

    Star was quiet. Owen stopped walking through the infinite forest; Star floated a few more feet ahead.

    “Star…?” Owen said. “What… what are you getting at with this?”

    Star stared at the treetops, flicking her tail. For just a second, her tail split in two, akin to an Espeon’s, and the two ends swatted at one another.

    “Owen,” Star said. “Times… change. And leaders… that are in power for too long… can lose touch with the world they rule. Don’t you think?”

    This time, Owen was quiet.

    “There’s… a lot that I don’t know if I’m ready to tell you, or anyone,” Star admitted. “But… you saw how Arceus was to you. That wasn’t some exception. He’s just like that, now. High and mighty, forgetting that he works for mortals, not the other way around.”

    “Wh-what do you mean? Aren’t… aren’t we supposed to be thankful to Arceus for all he’s done for us? Maybe he’s a little worried or—” Owen shook his head. What was he saying? He tried to kill him!

    Star laughed weakly. Owen never heard a laugh so bitter. “Maybe that’s the opinion you were taught,” she said, “but come on. I know you weren’t the sort to believe in either of us until recently. But you know what? I think we can do better than sit in our kingdom and stare down at the world. If you guys are forgetting about us, we aren’t doing a good job, are we? I know we can do better.”

    Owen shifted from his left foot to his right, shuffling his wings awkwardly.

    “I know you aren’t ready to decide or anything, Owen,” Star said, “but… you want all this to end, right? You want to stop the Hunters from trying to gather the Orbs, and you want to stop Arceus from being… well, the way he is?”

    “I—I do,” Owen said. “I just want everyone to be happy, and I don’t want anybody to feel afraid.” He felt like he’d said this a thousand times, but he said it again. “Just like Anam.”

    Star nodded. “Well, I’ll… help you, okay? We’ll stop Arceus and the Hunters, together.” She stopped floating ahead and turned around. “Hey, Owen. Would it be okay if…?” Star looked right in the Charizard’s uncertain, blue eyes.

    Owen gulped. He got that feeling again, even from Star. An icy pit formed in his chest, already flashing back to that warmth that Arceus radiated while coercing him to make a Promise. He didn’t feel that from Star. But knew the question was coming. She was going to ask him the very same question all over again. She just rescued him to get Owen’s loyalty for herself

    Star smiled slightly. “…No. It’d be wrong of me to ask you that now, of all times, huh? Okay. No Divine Promise from you. But… can you just give me a regular promise that… you’ll hear me out when the time comes?”

    The icy pit subsided, but only slightly. No Promise? His pulse slowly lowered, but that didn’t free him completely of his lingering doubt. He just got through denying one deity a Promise, and he felt like he had just gone into round two. “What’s a regular promise to you?”

    “The ones you can break… if… I dunno, if you need to,” Star said. “Won’t take your power away or anything. Just a normal one.”

    Owen shuffled uncomfortably where they had stopped walking, admiring, again, the dark trees that glowed with some mystical power. It distracted him. If Star could just vanish for a while, that’d be lovely. Unfortunately, Star seemed adamant about staying by Owen. “I guess so,” he said. “I’m just not comfortable making promises to a god right now, okay?”

    Star winced. “Y-yeah, I’m really sorry,” she said. “I didn’t think it through. I shouldn’t have hinted like that. Bad taste. Too soon.”

    “I mean, you were planning to ask me this some time anyway, right? To pledge… loyalty to you, or something.” Owen looked down. “I’m just not comfortable doing that, Star. To anybody. Because that’s not what it means to be a Heart.”

    “Not what it means to…?”

    Owen shook his head. “Hearts aren’t loyal to Anam. We fight for the world and everybody in it. We’re supposed to keep them safe.”

    Star stared at Owen for five seconds. Owen maintained his eye contact. If anything, his gaze, while neutral, intensified, never breaking. And then she smiled, breaking the stare, laughing.

    “What’s so funny?!”

    Star shook her head, covering her mouth with her left paw. “Your eyes looked just like Anam’s for a second,” she said. “I mean, yours are blue, and his are green, but they were so full of light! I don’t know, Owen. I just felt really happy for a second, if that makes any sense.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Owen frowned.

    “I should expect it. That’s the sort of personality that Anam likes to recruit. Bright-eyed.” She nodded.

    Owen sighed, settling down. Star slowly did, too, lowering her altitude until she was at eye-level again. A slight tension returned. Aftershocks from meeting Arceus, he was sure. Owen clenched his claws and breathed deeply. He wondered if meditating worked in the spirit realm.

    “Star…” Owen said. “I’m… I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a Promise to you. Ever.”

    “Oh,” Star said quietly. She curled her tail around her floating body. “H-how come?”

    Owen rubbed his right arm with his left. “I know that you saved my life a little while ago, and I know you’ve been going out of your way to try to get as many Guardians together as you can, but… after what happened back there… How do I know you aren’t doing the same thing to me?”

    “Well… I’m not trying to kill you right now, aren’t I?” Star said.

    Owen flinched. “I guess,” he said. “But—”

    “Owen, do you seriously think I’d try to kill you? I’ve been trying to help you guys this whole time!”

    Owen wondered how much he should press when in Star’s ‘turf.’ But he still had the smallest bit of trust in Star, at least enough to believe that she wouldn’t kill him. It was a low bar of trust.

    “How do I know you aren’t just doing it to eventually turn on us or something? Gather up the Orbs to steal from us all at the same time…” he trailed off.

    Star crossed her arms. The Charizard gulped, realizing the flaw in his idea. “Go on,” Star said.

    Owen sighed. “You could’ve just killed us one by one if you could’ve done it to all of us at once.”

    “Uh-huh. Also, if Barky’s worried about gathering the Orbs together, then you’re technically a threat to me, too. Just pointing that out.”

    “R-right. Right.” Owen nodded. “Okay.”

    “But,” Star said, “I’m glad you’re being careful, Owen. To be honest, I think a lot of the other Guardians are kinda indifferent about me.” She rubbed the back of her neck thoughtfully. “And Zena’s… uh… I need to try to patch things up with her in particular. And the others… They’re just going along with it because it’s better than how they were before. It’s not like they… trust me, either. I know what I did to them.”

    Owen briefly thought back to Zena, alone in her home just that night. His heart hurt just thinking about it.

    “I—I just want to make things right, Owen,” she said. Owen looked up, hearing her voice, just barely, strain. “I’m sorry that I’m not ready to tell you guys about all the mistakes I’ve made. But I will, okay? I will. Then I’ll… let everyone judge me. For everything. I’m… I’m just not ready yet. I thought I was, but then, the way Zena reacted…”

    “Rightfully,” Owen said automatically but regretted doing so moments later.

    Star shook her head. Owen was ready to vocalize an apology, but Star held her paw up. “Y-yeah. I just—I need time. I’m sorry. I’ll feel better about it after I actually fix everything I broke. Okay? Do we have a deal?”

    Owen tensed.

    “Sorry, bad phrasing,” Star tittered nervously. “I mean, are you okay with that?”

    The Charizard relaxed, puffing a small plume of smoke from his nostrils. He nodded. If anything, he sensed no malice from Star the same way he did from Arceus. He supposed that, deep down, he trusted Star for him to question her so openly in the first place.

    There was still one question nagging at him. “So,” he said, “how about why you can’t tell me about my issues?”

    He caught a twinge of annoyance in the way Star’s left eye twitched.

    “Listen,” she sighed, rubbing the bridge of her tiny snout. “Think for a second. What happened when you found out that you killed Klent? All the memories started flooding back, right? And why I told you not to try to jog Gahi’s memory. Because that’d make him get the same panic attack, yeah? You were losing it. Now, imagine that, times, like, fifty. That’s why I can’t tell you yet.”

    “Oh.” Owen nodded. Those memories were… overwhelming. “But—does that mean I have to never remember at all?”

    Star shook her head. “They have to come slowly, and when you can control yourself when you’re totally… unsealed. If you can fully evolve, and stay sane—that’s gonna be the best time you can handle it. Your brain won’t… break, trying to reconcile all the craziness of remembering being a Charizard when you’re still a Charmander.”

    Just listening to that statement gave Owen a sharp headache near his right temple. He grumbled and grasped at the area just above his right eye.

    That,” Star pointed at him, “is my proof. Believe me now?”

    “O-okay,” Owen said. If just knowing a little about his past made him panic, he can only imagine what would happen if he knew the trigger.

    Star sighed again, shaking her arms and legs as if getting the last of her vulnerability away. “Are you satisfied, now?” she asked. “Your memory seal is teetering, and if too many come at once, it’ll scramble all over again. Don’t make me do that again.”

    Owen felt the tension leave his chest. He nodded, but then said, “No promises.” He smirked.

    “Not funny.” Star smirked back.

    They spent a few seconds just staring at one another, and Owen finally had the sense to continue walking. But then, he heard something off to the side; his tail-fire lit up bright and he swung in the direction of the noise, ready for some disciple of Arceus to come to take his soul. He spotted something—a strange, canid creature with a black body and green, hexagon-like markings all over, with white, hexagon eyes. “W-wait, isn’t that a…?” Owen trailed off. “That’s—that’s a tenth of a Zygarde!”

    “Oh, don’t worry!” Star said quickly. “That’s just another Hecto! Yo! Hecto! Were you eavesdropping again?!”

    “I apologize,” Hecto said. He stepped out from the bushes and bowed to Owen. “You already met my Dusknoir manifestation, yes? I monitor the flow of the spirits transitioning into the spirit world, but most of my copies are dedicated toward observing the living realm. I suppose you can call me Star’s eyes.”

    “And my better half,” Star winked at Hecto.

    The Zygarde, expressionless, said to Owen, “Yes. That as well.”

    Owen had to stare between the two for a while. He shook his head. “You guys are weird,” he said. “I don’t think all this cosmic stuff is good for my head. Got me all confused and… I dunno. I feel like I should focus on simpler stuff.”

    “Hah!” Star said. “You’re my kind of guy, Owen. Glad that you can keep a down-to-Kilo head even after becoming Mystic and stuff. You’ll need that.”

    “Y-yeah,” Owen tittered. “So, uh… where does this forest go, anyway?”

    “It goes to where you wish for it to go,” Hecto said. “I mean this literally. Moving forward is all that is required to reach a place you desire, so long as it is within the spirit realm. It takes some time, but you will indeed arrive.”

    “Wow,” Owen said. “That’s crazy. And why does it work like that?”

    “Just because,” Star said. “It’s the spirit world. I mean, it’s my realm. I kinda make the rules.”

    “Oh, yeah, that’s right.”

    It only took a few steps before Star saw what appeared to be a forest that was paler and greener than her blue, ethereal one.

    “Oh, so you wanna go to your Orb’s realm?” Star noted.

    “Yeah,” Owen said. “Just… I think I’m ready to talk to them. And see Amelia. Like how you wanted me to at the lava river.”

    “O-oh,” Star said.

    “I want to apologize, even if… I know that’s not enough.”

    Star nodded. “I think it’ll go okay,” she said. “Not great, but… okay.”

    Owen smiled slightly. “Thanks.”

    Eventually, they were halfway toward the Grass Realm. Owen found himself focusing on how the sounds of his footsteps were louder like this. He was starting to grow self-conscious of it. Was that loud sound annoying the other two? Hecto walked softly, and Star simply floated. “Star,” Owen said. “In the memories I have right now, I… have really vague memories when I was a Charizard, or—the synthetic version. I felt… fine. Felt normal. I didn’t really… go crazy.”

    “You weren’t in your battle mode,” Star said. “That’s when you go crazy. Synthetics like you have two modes—controlled by your masters. Or, well… that’s how it was supposed to be. Something went wrong with you guys, and you couldn’t get out of that mode. Manny figured out how to sorta grind it away it for the spirits he has, but it’s not as easy for you guys. You’re unstable.”

    “I mean… we were the first of our kind, right?” Owen said. “I guess that’s part of the reason.” He looked at Star again. “What… caused it to go wrong for me? Do you know? What’s the trigger that made us go crazy and couldn’t get… not-crazy without resetting us?”

    Star hesitated. “Didn’t we go over this already?” she said. “Please, Owen. Not this line of questions.”

    “…Oh, is that one of the things that might make me lose it?” Owen said.

    “It’s probably the single worst thing I can make you remember,” Star said.

    Owen gulped.

    “You’re close to suppressing it already,” Star said. “You almost pulled through at that fight with Azu, but we lost you. Amia had to reset you—Rhys taught her how, since we had to keep you with her so you were away from the other three. Rhys could handle them.”

    “Not me?” Owen said.

    “Ohh, no,” Star chuckled. “Of the quartet, you’re the brains. Rhys saw you as a real threat if you had enough resources. That was your specialty—being resourceful. Your head… it was just so good at using everything at perfect efficiency. That’s your special move, Owen. Fire Trap. A trace of your true abilities…. But… I don’t want to trigger the memories yet. It might mess with you even in your current state,” she said. “So… I’ll just tell you this. If you ever see Demitri, Mispy, or Gahi evolve to their synthetic forms…” The Mew stopped floating to look right at Owen. “Run. Okay? Get as far from them as possible.”

    The forest stood still, and Owen gulped. He nodded.

    “Good!” Star grinned. She turned around and advanced. “C’mon! The Grass Realm is just this way!”

    Hecto and Owen watched her. Then, the Zygarde turned his head, looking up at Owen with his blank, hexagon eyes. “She is very proud of you,” he said. “It isn’t often that she puts so much trust in a mortal to handle something this large.”

    “Oh, really?” Owen said.

    Hecto nodded. “You have potential,” he said. “She wishes to harness that potential for the good of the world. I do hope you can align with her one day.”

    “I—I don’t think I’m at that level,” Owen said. “I just want to help everyone…. And no alliances! Not until she tells me everything. I already had Arceus try to trick me onto his side, and don’t think Star’s getting any favors, either! As far as I’m concerned… they’re just trying to use me for their own war. And I’m not having any of that.”

    “Mm,” Hecto said.

    Owen tried to push his powers into overdrive to sense any sort of twitch from the Zygarde. Now that he knew this was part of his synthetic, weaponized talent, he had even more confidence than before that he’d be able to use it. And yet… nothing. From Hecto, Owen couldn’t sense anything. No positive or negative reaction. Could he be hiding it? Even from him? Hecto was listening, and that was all Owen knew for sure.

    “U-uh, anyway,” Owen said, unnerved, “what’s your story? With Star?”

    “Hm? My story?” Hecto said. They finally resumed their walk. “Star and I are partners on the cosmic scale. While I am native to the world she created, I suppose I caught her heart, long ago.”

    “…Huh?”

    “We have a history,” Hecto said.

    “I mean, sure, I figured that much,” Owen said. “You… caught her heart?”

    Hecto stared at Owen. “Hm.” The Zygarde walked on.

    “W-wait! What does that mean?!” Owen said, chasing him.

    Soon, they exited the ethereal forest.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2018
  4. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Here, have a review while I'm taking a short break despite still being at work (send help).

    And so, our proverbial layer cake of godly conflicts has yet another level added onto it. I fear Chef Namo will soon need to graduate from stepladder to fire rescue crane to keep building it...

    Overall this is, uh, trying to explain some of the stuff that came up last chapter. First off, considering this chapter takes place in an ethereal realm entirely, I think you could've done with turning up the fantastical elements behind it. As it is... nothing about the forest or Star's little cave do anything to scream "spirit realm!" Heck, as I'm writing this I can't really identify them beyond "generic cave w/ furniture" and "forest," which is... uh... I guess it depends on how much you really want your readers caring about the actual setting of the spirit realm. Anyway, back to the main point. In attempting to answer questions, this chapter replaces them with new ones. Good to keep someone addicted to reading, I suppose, though not as good in the sense of getting that satisfying payoff of having a plot-point resolved because, in actuality, it isn't. I guess there are a couple of facets to that.

    The first is a line I jokingly quote below about Owen's extra level of specialness beyond the already-special supporting cast. While I am used to the whole multiple levels of divinity thing (I mean it's basically just the different super saiyan levels), I have to admit I'm honestly losing track of who falls where in the pecking order and why at this point. Part of it comes down to the fact that, outside of memory-wiping and Rhys' spurts of aura power we really haven't seen much Mystic or godly power at work. In my opinion, the lack of any way to solidly visualize what exactly the power scale looks like among the cast could be a potential issue. I think you've mentioned that, eventually, we're going to see a "normal" denizen of Kilo show up in the cast and, while I'm sure the point is for them to be overwhelmed by everything going on around them, since it's mostly been a lot of talking about crazy powers and not actually seeing anything in action, it's hard to buy into the whole "deity power struggle" overarching plot. If that makes any sense. It probably doesn't and I'm rambling like an overworked fool.

    On the "Well, this is interesting" side of the spectrum, we have the revelation(?) that, apparently, the current Hunters are acting under Arceus' orders. I hesitate to say that definitively because, well, Star and Hecto are the source of that information and they are biased, so I'm not 100% inclined to believe them. I mean, they might very well be right, but the motives are still up in the are. Hearing everything that Star says and Owen's general skepticism does indeed make me wonder if that idea I posed about Arceus' relative isolation causing him to lose all manner of social skills (and possibly some sanity) might have more weight behind it. Maybe Eon and Rim actually don't mind their Divine Promises and see good reasons to go through with it. The fact that Star wants to take a more hands-on approach to the world was the big red-flag for me that something really is off and we're looking at a villain ensemble with either two or three different factions to it all locked in a game of Xanatos speed-chess.. And only time will tell who actually turns out to be the Big Bad... or if there's some presently-unknown individual puppeteering all of this.

    Err, is "chuckled" supposed to be a dialogue attribution? Because "The" shouldn't be capitalized if it is and, if it isn't, it's redundant since you end with her actually saying "ha." On a less serious note, jeez, Star, what kind of god gets lost in her own domain? >_>

    So, what would happen if the tide in the aura sea rises, huh? #StopAuralWarming

    Arceus is best llama-doggo confirmed? Also, the irony that this is coming from someone who can manifest as a doggo is not lost on me.

    Would you say that they have... Hands of Creation? Nyek nyek nyek nyek!

    I'll bet Hecto is the kind of guy who watches PBS in his spare time just for fun.

    Star confirmed pansexual. and owen's harem grows ever larger

    Wait... why am I even reviewing this when Owen says what we're all thinking?

    Like you?

    Of course not! You'll wait until the MacGuffins are in a position where you can get them and then overwhelm him with sheer godly force.

    Namo, uh, I think Owen might be trying to tell you something, here...

    For pity's sake, Hecto, could you try making that sound less like well-intentioned extremist talk?

    "I lowered her health to red, paralyzed her, and caught her in a Love Ball. Obviously."

    G'night everybody!
     
  5. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Thanks, Amby! I appreciate the feedback as always, and you brought up a few really good points that I'm gonna have to go back and address just in case, and perhaps think about for a few future chapters.

    Well, the aura sea is pretty out there, but you're right about the suddenly-normal cave and forest right after. I guess I can play up a few things for the fun of it, since yeah, the laws of reality more or less fall apart at a glance as desired here. It's just that Owen didn't think to do those things, since all he desires right now is a little bit of stability.

    Part of that is by design, but part of that is also my clumsiness. As long as it's obvious that Anam is the strongest of the group, and Owen and a few others are the weakest, I'd be satisfied--but even then, knowing who the weakest ones are is kinda hard to tell, now that I look back. I think part of that is because I don't really focus on battles as much, especially these past few chapters. Very combat-light. Next chapter is the same way. Hopefully I can make things a little more clear after that.

    Another bit of clumsiness, I suppose. Indeed, it's just talk and buildup, while this Act is largely focused on Owen and the mysteries surrounding him, his past, and his... head, I guess? And in the meantime, we're gathering Orbs and fretting over the Hunters and all the stuff going on around him. Hopefully things will solidify further as the plot progresses.

    Okay, this is 100% my fault for giving the wrong idea. I discussed this with you privately, but for other readers, this is not the case, and I made things ambiguous unintentionally: When Star was talking about the main difference between Owen and "all the others," she was referring to the Guardians, and NOT the Hunters. The Hunters did NOT promise Barks to never gather the Orbs. The Guardians did. The Hunters are not aligned with Barky, either.

    I'm going to go back and tweak this so it's not ambiguous, because making this point unclear is a serious error on my part.

    Hey man, it's an infinite expanse that goes out in all directions, give the lady a break.

    I guess he's just very relatable in more ways than one.

    Sick burns. If Owen had a defiant streak in him, he'd've probably said exactly that. In fact, I think in scrapped drafts of this conversation, Owen DID say that, before my betas said Owen was being uncharacteristically harsh. Such an exchange instead got converted into the spat between her and Zena a few chapters ago.

    Shhh, we have a slice of life chapter coming up, he'll get all the simplicity he wants.

    Hecto's the kind of person where everything he says sounds ominous because he says it with the same tone all the time.
     
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 23 – Past and Present

    “Hello?” Owen called. “Klent? Everyone…?”

    It was like what had happened when he had first arrived. A clear, bright glade without any sign of Pokémon life. But Owen could sense them this time. He figured it was because his aura was getting stronger and more tuned to his Mystic energy, or perhaps as a Charizard, his natural perception abilities were heightened. He could sense Klent specifically, as one of the strongest spirits of this realm.

    He turned to his right. “Hey, what’re you so shy for?”

    The Jumpluff quietly emerged. “I, er… I wasn’t sure if you were still upset or not,” Klent said. “Are you…?”

    “Don’t worry, guys,” Star said. “He’s fine. And Barky didn’t get him, either.”

    Klent deflated with relief. “When I felt him leave for his realm, I thought it was over,” he said. “Owen, you’re still free to… choose what to do?”

    “I, uh… yes?” Owen said. “Free to choose what?”

    “What to do with your power, compared to just following what Arceus says,” Star said.

    “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I can,” Owen said. “And I’m not with Star, either. I’m just me. Actually, about that, um, about power, and stuff. Klent, I… I’m really sorry about what I did to you, y’know, when…”

    “It’s okay, Owen,” Klent shook his head. “I… suppose I’ve also been holding a grudge. You weren’t in control of yourself. But… well. It’s hard to shake the image. But I’ll move through it. You’ve changed… and you’re in control, now.” He spoke as if it was rehearsed, but Owen chose to believe that it was coming from the right place. He was the one who killed Klent and his daughter, after all. Even after a few centuries, that might still sting. He wondered if it was true that spirits held grudges for much longer than mortals.

    Owen shook his head, shaking the distracting thoughts away. “How—how in control was I against Azu?” Owen asked.

    Klent rubbed his pom-poms together. “A bit… ruthless, yes. You used the same attacks that we’re… familiar with. But Amia was able to calm you down enough to reset your form.”

    “Calm me down…?”

    “That was impossible before,” Klent said. “That shows just how much progress you made. And I have… more faith in you, now, in controlling yourself when you evolve again. Perhaps if we can do it in a less stressful situation, you’ll have a better chance at controlling yourself. But for that to happen, we’re going to have to keep training you—in the mind, body, and aura—to make sure you’re ready for what’s to come with the Hunters.”

    “Y-yeah. We’re fighting them, huh?” Owen said.

    “Unless we find some way to make a compromise, yep,” Star said.

    Owen nodded, but then gently shuffled his wings, grabbing his right one to pick between the scales. “Klent… where’s Amelia?”

    The Jumpluff’s gaze darkened slightly. “I—er, she’s… she’s nearby.”

    A little gust of wind blew through the otherwise still forest. Owen wondered if he should drop the subject. But his mouth moved on its own.

    “Should I turn to my Grass form?”

    More silence filled the air. The gust of wind had passed, leaving the forest in complete silence.

    “No,” Klent said. “Stay… stay in that form.”

    “As—as a Charizard?” Owen stuttered. “Is—isn’t that the form that—?”

    “Not that Charizard,” Klent said. “…This will do. I’m sure of it. You look… a bit cuter that way.”

    Owen blushed. “Wh-what do you mean?”

    “Well, you’re shorter, less muscular, a little chubby… much less intimidating than how you normally look.”

    “I—I’m not chubby!” Owen protested, clutching at his round belly. “Th-that’s the natural look for my species! It’s—it’s healthy!”

    “I’m sure it is, Owen,” Klent chuckled, “but that doesn’t hide the fact that it’s cuter.”

    Owen whined and looked at Star helplessly.

    The Mew giggled, “Well, I did design you guys to look like chubby bipedal fire-dragons,” she said.

    “Would it’ve hurt to give us the actual Dragon type…?” Owen mumbled.

    Klent and Star both chuckled.

    Owen pouted again. “Well… if you think Amelia is ready, and she’s fine with me looking like this, then I’ll… be here.”

    “I’ll see,” Klent nodded. “It won’t be long. I’ll be back.” The Jumpluff floated into the forest.

    Owen had a few seconds to himself. Star was chatting with the other Grass spirits. Hecto was silently gazing upon the field nearby. The Charizard rubbed the back of his head, startled at the two horns that sprouted in the back. Did he have horns in his true form, too? They felt so foreign, somehow… Perhaps they were different. He vaguely recalled having horns of some kind. He hoped they looked cooler.

    “Hey, Hecto,” Owen said.

    “Yes?”

    “Are there other Legendary Pokémon like you around?” Owen asked. “I never see them. You only read about them.”

    “Mm. There is one more,” Hecto said.

    “Oh. Just one, huh?” But before he could ask, he heard the bushes shuffling, and the thought left him.

    Klent returned after only a few seconds, nodding. “Just don’t make any sudden movements.”

    “Y-yeah, totally.”

    The bushes breathed out a whisper. Owen gulped, wondering if this would trigger any memories, but held strong. He kept himself as neutral as possible, but couldn’t keep his eyes from locking onto the movement. His heartbeat quickened.

    Finally, she revealed herself—a Lilligant. Her orange eyes were fearful, and she, like a nervous tic, adjusted the orange flower atop her head to keep herself calm. She froze once she was halfway to Owen, and it didn’t look like she’d take another step forward.

    Owen carefully lifted his hand to wave; Amelia flinched but held steady. “Hey,” Owen said. “Um… you’re Amelia?”

    The Lilligant nodded. “A-and… you’re… Owen?”

    “Yeah,” Owen said.

    Star and Klent both stood to the side and didn’t interfere. Others were watching from the outskirts of the clearing—it seemed that everybody knew their history. Unsurprising—many of them probably witnessed it from within Klent.

    “I’m sorry,” Owen said. “I… I wish I could’ve stopped myself back then.” He felt a pit in his stomach when he didn’t get any new memories from seeing her. He wanted to know what happened, and not knowing somehow made it worse.

    Amelia nodded. “But… but you’re better, now,” she said. “Th-that’s good… I… I’m glad that…” The Lilligant shook slightly. “I’m glad that they aren’t using you anymore.”

    “Y-yeah…” Owen shifted where he stood. “I hope I didn’t scare you when I attacked Azu. I don’t remember… what happened yet, but I know it scared Willow a lot.”

    “I didn’t watch,” Amelia said.

    There was a tense silence between them. Owen took in a breath, as if he was about to say something, but then breathed out.

    “Are you… going to be like that again?” Amelia asked.

    “N-no,” Owen said automatically. “I’m going to—I’m going to keep myself from doing that. I don’t want to lose control of myself at all, and I almost made it last time, right?” He looked at Star.

    She nodded. “Almost there.”

    “Then I’ll do my best, okay?” Owen said. “That way you won’t have to be afraid anymore. And even if I look big and scary, I’ll… still be in control. Right? There’s lots of scary Pokémon that are actually really nice.”

    “Yeah, like Alex,” Star said. “Magmortar look pretty scary, but he’s as gentle as you can get. You saw him, right? The scary fire Pokémon that’s with Amia?”

    “Y-yeah!” Amelia said. “I like him, even if I probably can’t get too close to his body…”

    Owen grinned. “Y-yeah! I’ll be just like that.”

    Klent’s eyes lit up imperceptibly. “Amelia, would you like to do anything else?” he asked. “Owen probably has to wake up soon, but we still have some time.”

    Amelia hesitated.

    “It’s okay,” Owen said. “I think I’m gonna wake up sooner than soon. I kinda feel it, you know? But maybe tomorrow night, we can do something. How’s that?”

    Amelia nodded.

    “Alright,” Star said. “See you, Owen. We’re gonna do some training today, maybe, or maybe tomorrow, before we go after the other Mystics. I’m gonna have Hecto try to monitor the Hunters and see if those Mods are going anywhere else. Until then, we need to hope that the Association’s scouting turns something up.”

    “Right,” Owen said, but then looked down. It felt like his body was being pulled away somewhere, little golden pieces of light rising from his body. “I think I’m waking up.”

    “Yep! See you, Owen!”

    And then the Charizard vanished in a mist of orange and white.

    Klent watched the mist dissipate. Amelia collapsed where she stood, alarming half of the crowd.

    Star floated toward her and helped her up. “Hey, hey, that was really good,” she assured her. “How are you feeling, Amelia?”

    The spirit nodded. “That was scary… but… he’s totally different. He’s…” She looked at Klent. “His eyes were sad.”

    “Of course they were, Amelia,” Klent said. “Owen’s… sapient, right now. And hopefully forever. I guess Star was right after all. Maybe this is the real Owen, and everything before was just… his instincts.”

    “The line is pretty blurred,” Star said, “but if you want my opinion, I like this Owen better.”

    Amelia laughed weakly. She slowly walked back to the bushes, mumbling to Klent what they could do when Owen came back again.

    <><><> ​

    “Ugh… my head,” Owen said, sitting up. He was in the middle of the fire in the middle of his room. Wait, his room? His parents must have carried him back while he was asleep. And, he must have rolled into it in his sleep again. He groaned. The Charmander tried to stretch out the wings he didn’t have. “Ngh… that’s right,” he mumbled, disappointed.

    “Owen! You’re awake?” Amia asked.

    “Y-yeah!” Owen called.

    “Star told me everything,” the Gardevoir said, rushing into his room.

    Alex was somehow faster, and he scooped him up and pressed him tightly against his chest. He frantically mumbled something, asking if he was okay and if he was in one piece. Owen tried his best to look dignified. It wasn’t working.

    “Ohhh, you were so brave, Owen! I’m so proud!” Amia said from the side.

    “Nng—th-thanks…!” Owen said, kicking his legs helplessly.

    Alex set him down. “I’m so sorry that you had to go through all that,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be that scary. Ooh, to say no to Arceus…”

    “S-so, Mom said yes?”

    Amia nodded. “A long time ago. It was a basic Promise, though—nothing like what he was asking of you. I just Promised to never have more than one Orb within me. I had no intention to, and, well, at the time… it was Arceus! I think a lot of Pokémon here would tell you a similar story.”

    “Mm.” Owen looked down. “Well, I don’t plan to gather the Orbs, either. That would mean killing you guys. I doubt that’s what Star wants.” Owen paused. “Wait. But Barky—I mean, Arceus—I mean—ugh. What he told me was that he wanted me to just… give up my power. And when that didn’t work, to work under him. Not to Promise to not gather the Orbs or anything!” Owen shuddered. “Was he going to make me kill you guys?!”

    “I doubt he’d do something like that,” Alex said, flinching. “I—I hope not. Star never said he was an evil person…” He looked to Amia, who shrank uncertainly.

    “I’d hope not!” Owen said. “He’s Arceus! He can’t be evil!” Right? Star, you there?

    No answer.

    “Guess she’s busy,” Owen said.

    “What was that?” Amia asked.

    “Oh, sorry—I was trying to call for Star. Anyway, what were we doing?”

    “Well, we were thinking about doing some meditation,” Amia said.

    Owen instantly deflated.

    “But,” Amia said, “we were also thinking about heading into Kilo Village to get some supplies for Team Alloy, since they still need to eat. But it’s a bit dangerous, considering Eon might be waiting for us if we left. We were going to split into two groups—half of us would go to Kilo Village for supplies for the rest of Team Alloy, and the rest would stay back here. That way, Eon can’t split us up.”

    “Right, okay,” Owen said. “So, can I go to Kilo Village, then?”

    Amia nodded. “If you want, dear. Rhys was also going to go, and Anam to check on the Association with Nevren. He’s still at the village keeping the paperwork flowing. Your friends are going to be meditating, though. They need it more than you do.”

    “How about you?” Owen asked.

    “Your mother will need to stay back to keep Kilo Village safe,” Alex said, shaking his head. “With Rhys and Anam gone, she’s the strongest Mystic here.”

    “Oh, yeah,” Owen said. “How strong… are you? Wait—and what about Manny? Isn’t he stronger?”

    Amia giggled. “Well, he’s definitely a better fighter.”

    Owen gulped.

    Hey, yo! Yes? Hello? You called?

    Oh! Hi, Star! What took you?

    “Owen?” Alex asked nervously. “Is Arceus trying to…?”

    “Oh—sorry. No. Star.”

    I was searching the spirit realm. Takes a bit of time to make my back to the Grass Orb.

    Oh, okay.

    So, what’s up?

    Is, uh, I was just wondering, is Arceus evil?

    A pause. That, uh, she said. That’s a loaded question.

    I mean, yes or no, is he evil? Owen said.

    You can’t just… call someone evil. It’s… I mean… c’mon. He’s my cosmic roommate. I know the guy. He isn’t all bad; he’s just… warped.

    Warped, huh? Owen said. What was he gonna make me do, Star? If I followed his orders?

    I dunno. What, you think I can read his mind?

    …Yes?

    Well, I can’t. Can barely read you guys; what makes you think I can read him?

    Right…

    Anyway, that all? I want to find the next Orb asap.

    N-no, that’s all. Thanks, Star. Sorry for bothering you.

    No prob. Gonna go now.

    Mm.

    Owen noticed that his parents were staring at him. “Uh—sorry. Star says Arceus isn’t evil, just warped.”

    “I don’t know if that’s any better,” Alex frowned, the flames on his shoulders dimming.

    Owen sighed. “I need to take a walk, I think. I’m definitely going to Kilo Village.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “…Can Zena come, too?”

    Amia and Alex blinked, exchanging looks. “Zena?” Amia said. “How come?”

    Owen closed his eyes. “I don’t know,” he said. “Just a feeling.”

    “Well, you’d have to ask her,” Alex nodded. “But if not, bring ADAM instead. He’s about as strong as Zena is, from what we can tell by his aura.”

    “Okay, sure,” Owen said.

    He ran straight across their dividing cavern and knocked at her home’s entryway.

    “Zena?” he called. “Are you—oh.”

    “Do you like it?” Zena asked. The Milotic was sporting a bag with a long strap that was tied around the base of the horn on top of her head. From there, the strap led down and behind her brow-ribbons to a bag that rested comfortably below her neck. “I’m not sure who made it for me, but it was too lovely to pass up. I found it in front of my home.”

    Owen squinted. “Huh. That looks like Rhys’ handiwork.”

    Zena’s bright expression dampened slightly. “Oh? Rhys?”

    “Yeah. It looks great!”

    “Mm. Well,” Zena nodded. “If you say so, I’ll gladly use it. Now, what did you want?”

    “Want to come with me to Kilo Village?”

    Zena flinched. “W-with you?” She rose with hope. “Just you?”

    “Yeah! Oh, no. You, me, Rhys, and Anam.”

    Zena’s stance lowered.

    “H-hey, I know you don’t care a whole lot about Rhys, I think, but…”

    “No, it’s fine,” Zena said, nodding. “I’ll come. Certainly.”

    <><><> ​

    The enthusiastic Charmander took a deep breath, exhaling a plume of fire. “Ahhh, light! Sunlight!” He spread his tiny arms. “I hope I went out often in the past. I did, right, Rhys?”

    “Mm, I believe so. You went on small-scale missions quite often.” Rhys looked down at Owen. “Do you remember any of that?”

    “Not yet,” Owen said. “What sorts of missions did I take?”

    “Simple ones. Lost item recovery, a thief here and there, troubled Pokémon, and the sort. But they were typically only for Provisionary-approved Dungeons.”

    “Provisionary?” Zena repeated.

    “Pre-Hearts, kinda. Kinda like an apprenticeship!” Owen said. “For… four hundred years… now that I think about it.”

    “Hmm. Sounds like quite the career path,” Zena said absently.

    “…Was… was that a joke?”

    “Hey!” Anam suddenly said. “Look! It’s Nev-Nev! I’m gonna go catch up on Association stuff with Jam-Jam!”

    And just like that, the Goodra and Decidueye were off to the Alakazam, leaving Rhys and Zena with Owen.

    Zena watched. “Does it ever bother you that your leader is an adult hatchling?”

    “Yes,” Rhys said.

    “I dunno, I think it’s kinda cute,” Owen said.

    Rhys sighed. “So long as Nevren and James can handle the complicated work, I do not mind Anam as a figurehead. I won’t deny his positive effect on Kilo’s morale, let alone Kilo Village itself.”

    “Mm.” Zena nodded. “That, I suppose, is fair. Well, Lucario. You know your team more than any of us. What do they want for food?”

    “Ah, I know just the place,” Rhys said, inspecting his bag of Poké to be sure they had enough funds.

    Owen heard the jingle of coins, but then had a brief moment of panic, like he couldn’t see.

    “Hm?” Rhys glanced at Owen. “Are you okay?”

    “Uh—I don’t know,” Owen said, holding his chest. “I…”

    Rhys stared worriedly, as did Zena. But then the Lucario’s eyes flashed with recognition. “Ah,” he said. “Not to worry, Owen. You might be reacting to your senses being so dull as a Charmander. Perhaps the jingle of coins made you curious how many there are inside. Would you like to see?”

    “Y-yeah, please,” Owen said, reaching out to grab it. “Sorry,” he mumbled, avoiding Zena’s confused stare. He looked into the bag and fiddled with its contents for a little while—a mixture of silver, gold, and shimmering coins. He made sure to get a glance at the very bottom, getting a glance at every small circle. Satisfied, he closed the bag and returned it to Rhys. “Thanks.”

    “…Owen?” Zena said.

    Rhys explained. “Owen has impressive perceptive senses, but they aren’t their best as a Charmander.”

    “They were a lot stronger in the spirit world,” Owen said. “But I think out here…”

    Rhys nodded. “It must feel like he’s blind, or walking in the dark,” he said. “Are you sure you’re fine, Owen? I can let you hold our funds, if you wish.”

    “No, it’s okay. Let’s go!” He nodded. By some miracle, he remembered the name of one of his favorite stores. “And maybe after, we can stop by Sugar ‘n Spice?”

    Rhys chuckled. “Of course,” he said.

    <><><> ​

    Shopping was surprisingly easy. First, they headed down the road from the main Waypoint and advanced north. They went past the multicolored, old buildings that sold Dungeon equipment—some shops were now closed for an early-noon break while Heart traffic was at its lowest—and continued further down the paved roads. The further they went, the more developed the buildings became, transitioning from stones and mortar to bricks, and later to what seemed to be carved and colored stone of some kind. They only passed by a few Pokémon on the way. Kilo Village was eerily quiet, but it was only expected thanks to their odd time to visit.

    They went into a general store for their main supplies, with foods of all kinds stocked on shelves almost as tall as Zena. The middle shelves immediately in front of them held things like berries, vegetables, and fruits. The outer-middle shelves had things like sugar, breads, and oils. The walls had strange, large tubs that contained meats, juices, and other perishables. A Froslass patrolled these tubs, radiating freezing air over them one by one in a routine cycle.

    Near the front, a Tangrowth oversaw the shoppers, counting coins and bagging items in little, leafy pouches for customers to take home. He glanced worriedly at Owen, who gave a nervous wave back. His tail always made shopkeepers nervous. He had a pang of guilt whenever he looked at the Froslass. Based on how she hovered protectively over the produce… he had an idea why.

    “No sneezing,” Rhys mumbled to Owen. He then headed to the produce section.

    To Owen’s retroactive relief, nothing befell them in the market. Owen didn’t sneeze once; he kept his tail in check; and best of all, he convinced the others to buy a few Berry Pops from the frozen section to try later. Owen glanced back to see the Froslass and Tangrowth collectively sigh when he left. Pushing that to the back of his mind, followed Rhys and Zena to Sugar ‘n Spice next.

    “Such interesting architecture,” Zena said, looking at the buildings. She had been politely silent while they went shopping, but Owen knew that she was trying her best to take it all in, and had been careful not to touch anything the whole time. “Why do the buildings change so much? These seem so much more… refined than what is near the Waypoint.”

    “As the population grows, so does Kilo Village’s size. Thankfully, the crater of Kilo Mountain is quite accommodating. The outer buildings are more advanced because they were made with better technology.”

    “Mm. A crater…” Zena eyed the distant, black hills. “And what if it floods?”

    “We have runoff systems,” Rhys said, motioning to the dips in the roadsides. “Among other precautions.”

    Owen walked ahead, eager to get to their last stop. His mind filled with fuzzy, vague memories and strong, precise feelings. There was something there that he really liked. Something heavenly that they always sold. He had no idea what it was. He’d just have to look at everything until the feeling struck him.

    “Eh?” Owen blinked, realizing that he was already there. “Wow, I walked fast,” he mumbled. The building was pink on the outside and a pure white on the inside. Shelves were lined with samples to pick from, though Owen was a bit too short to see most of them. Thankfully, a menu had been commissioned by some Smeargle long ago to illustrate most of the items.

    It hit him. That was it! He stepped inside, his little feet making scaly taps on the marble floor.

    “Hey, there,” greeted a Salazzle at the front desk, behind a white counter. There was a little tag on her chest that said ‘Sugar’ on it.

    “Hi!” Owen said. “Um—give me a second.”

    “No problem,” Sugar replied.

    A second Salazzle peered out from the back-room’s curtains. Owen did his best not to gawk or flinch, but it was hard to ignore the gigantic, explosive scar that tore across her chest like lightning. She had ‘Spice’ written on her name tag in the same spot Sugar’s was.

    Owen averted his eyes to be polite and said, “Uh, those. The cinnamon Pecha bonbons.”

    “You got it,” Sugar said, giving Spice a nod. She headed into the backroom again. When Sugar looked back at Owen, she blinked, as if startled. “Oh! And how about your brother?”

    “…What?” Owen asked, but then looked back. “Wh—"

    A Charmander stood behind Owen, identical to him in height and build. The only difference was that this one had a green scarf wrapped tightly around his eyes, blindfolding him. “Oh, we’re not brothers. And I’d like ten of those, too,” the Charmander said. “Do you guys still sell Cheri chocolate?”

    “Oh, sure, but it’s spicy,” Sugar warned.

    “I know.”

    “Cheri chocolate? Spicy?” Owen asked.

    “It’s very good,” the other Charmander said.

    “Oh.” Owen paused. Where were Rhys and Zena? He was sure they were right behind him… “Uh—hang on,” Owen said. “I need to check something. I think I lost the rest of my group.”

    Owen walked around the other Charmander, but couldn’t keep his eyes away from him. That nagging feeling got to him, but even without that, how could he react any other way? Another Charmander! This was amazing! He never got to—well, then again… perhaps he had before, and he just didn’t remember it.

    Owen glanced outside but saw that nothing was waiting for him. The town was completely still in midday. Not even the clouds moved, and there wasn’t even a hint of wind. Owen sighed, spinning around. “How’d I…?” he mumbled, nervous.

    “Something wrong?” Charmander asked.

    “Um, my folks. A Lucario and Milotic. Did you see them around?”

    “Mm, can’t say I have,” Charmander said. “Hey, if you’re waiting for them, how about I stay by you, huh?”

    “That’d be great.”

    “Something wrong, kids?” Sugar asked. “Lost your parents?”

    “We’re not kids,” they both said.

    Owen flinched, looking at Charmander. “H-hey, uh…”

    Sugar shrugged and looked back to Spice, who came out with their orders.

    Charmander walked over and paid for his piece, and then Owen realized he didn’t have money on him. He should have volunteered to take the bag after all. “Uh—hang on,” Owen said. “When my folks find me, they’ll pay. They have the money.”

    “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll pay,” Charmander said.

    “N-no, you shouldn’t,” Owen said.

    “It’s fine, it’s fine. I’ve got lots to spend. Besides,” the blinded Charmander turned back, “I feel like we should look out for each other, y’know? Same species and all that.”

    “Oh, you two are adorable,” Sugar said. “Spice! Come here and look at how adorable these two are!”

    Spice giggled, weaving out of the back-room. “I wouldn’t mind inviting both of them over to our place some time, Sugar.”

    “N-no, thank you,” they both said.

    The two Salazzle giggled.

    “Say, uh, Charmander,” Owen said.

    “Deca.”

    “Deca, where are you from? I’ve never seen you before!”

    “You haven’t?” Deca said coyly. “I think I’ve seen you around. You’re a Heart, right? Charmander Owen?”

    “Yes! But, only recently.”

    “Yeah, but I saw the ceremony. You looked awesome, actually!”

    “R-really?! Aw, c’mon, it wasn’t that grand…”

    “Yeah, but you stood out the most,” Deca said. “Hard to miss that tail-fire, eh? We’re naturally pretty easy to spot.”

    Owen tittered nervously. “Yeah, I guess.”

    An awkward silence followed.

    “Say,” Deca said. “Your folks, you said. A Milotic and Lucario?”

    “Oh, yeah. I’m not actually… sure where they went. I hope they get here soon.”

    “Well, you couldn’t have gone that far ahead. They should be here soon,” Deca said.

    Spice walked over with two stools for the pair to sit on. “You two seem familiar,” she remarked. “Have we met before?”

    “Have we?” Owen said. “I’m not… sure… H-ha, sorry. I have really bad memory.”

    “No, we definitely met before,” Spice said. “Ahhh…” She tapped her chest thoughtfully. “Now I remember. You little bright-eyed idiot…”

    “I-idiot?!” Owen said; Deca giggled.

    “It’s no wonder Anam let you in after that stunt,” Spice said, wiggling a claw. “Aw, good on you, little guy.”

    Deca adjusted the blindfold around his head. “Bad memory?” he asked.

    “Yeah, but it’s getting better,” Owen said. “I guess I had some past trauma, but thanks to my friends, I’ve been slowly getting it back. It’s kinda a long story.”

    “Your friends, your friends, right…” Deca said. “How many friends?”

    “Oh, lots! We’ve actually been making a sort of mini-Heart team, kinda,” Owen said.

    “And they’re all your friends?” Deca asked.

    Owen nodded. “Yeah. I only met a lot of them recently, but they feel like family to me. It’s kinda funny how that works, huh?”

    “It is, it is,” Deca nodded. “It sounds like you care a lot about them.”

    “Yeah,” Owen said, but then caught himself. Why was he being so open with this random stranger? Even though he was a fellow Charmander, he shouldn’t be giving out this kind of information! But… Why did it feel like he still wanted to talk? “Hey, Deca. Have we met before?” He wondered why he was being so coy about it, if that was the case, unless he already knew he had memory problems. Was Deca an old friend, too?

    “We have,” Deca said. “I was just playing along because you mentioned you had bad memory.”

    “Oh. Sorry,” Owen said. “Ugh, wow. That sucks. I have no idea who you are. I’m really sorry.”

    “It’s okay,” Deca said, tilting his head down as if to stare at his hands with his blinded eyes. “We didn’t know each other for very long. Maybe a few times we crossed paths, y’know?” He stood up. “I think your folks will be coming back soon. Can you hear them?”

    “No,” Owen said.

    “Oh. I guess those sharp senses of yours aren’t that good right now, huh?”

    “I—I told you about that?”

    Deca nodded. “Hey, it’s alright. I’m not mad. Actually, I’m really happy I got to see you again, Owen. Glad you’ve got a lot of new friends. But… you seem worried about them.”

    Owen winced. “I mean, kinda,” he said. “We’re in a dangerous business, you know?”

    “You’re telling me,” Spice murmured, tracing the scar along her chest.

    “Mm. I understand,” Deca said. “But I wouldn’t worry. If you’re with them, they’re bound to be safe!” He laughed. “…I’ll see you around, Owen.” He walked toward the exit.

    “Wait…” Owen said desperately.

    Deca stopped, turning back. Even with the blindfold, it still felt like he was staring at him.

    “S-sorry,” Owen said, shaking his head. “Sorry. Don’t know what came over me there.” He laughed. “My head’s all kinds of messed up. I think I just like being by another Charmander, is all.”

    Deca sighed. “It’s okay, Owen. Take care. Tell your friends I said hi.”

    “You don’t want to meet them?” Owen asked.

    “Can’t, I already gotta rush back home.”

    “Oh. Okay. See you,” Owen said, but Deca was already gone.

    Owen remained there, on his stool with his bonbons, for fifteen silent seconds. Did that just happen? Who was he? Why did he ask all those questions? No, why did Owen answer all those questions?

    “You know,” Spice said, “if I didn’t know any better, I’d’ve called him your long-lost twin. Who was that?”

    Owen glanced at Spice, then at Sugar. “I have… no idea,” he said.

    “He’s a lot like you,” Sugar said.

    “Don’t be like that, Sugar. Just because they’re both Charmander doesn’t mean they’re alike. Look at us! A Heart and a confectioner!”

    “OWEN!”

    The Charmander nearly fell out of his seat. “Z-Zena!” Owen said. “Hi?!”

    The Milotic barged into Sugar ‘n Spice, staring desperately at him. “H-how did you…?”

    “Uh—I just walked?”

    Rhys entered next, quick to scan the room with fierce eyes. Sugar and Spice both tensed.

    “Is—is something wrong?” Sugar asked.

    Rhys was silent for some time but then shook his head. “No. I apologize.”

    “You practically vanished from us,” Zena said. “One moment, Rhys and I were looking at one another to chat—it’s polite, after all—and I look back to see you, and you’re gone!”

    “M-maybe it was a lapse in memory? Like, I get those all the time, apparently, so, I mean—”

    “That’s hardly a normal thing to happen,” Zena said.

    Rhys growled. “Owen, was there anybody with you?”

    “Yeah, actually,” Owen said. “Another Charmander! Oh, Mew, he sounded just like me, too! It was surreal! But he looked so cool! He had a blindfold on, and it made him look totally awesome! Like—like if he stood in the wind, it would be all flowy behind him and…” Owen paused. “And, uh, I mean, it was nice to talk to him.”

    “I see…” Rhys said. “Well. It looks like he bought you your sweets.”

    “Y-yeah. He offered. Seemed rude to say no. I’ll pay him back next time I see him! Promise!”

    Rhys sighed. “Of course,” he said.

    “Oh, and he told me to tell you guys hi.”

    “Oh, that was nice,” Zena said. “You must have talked now and then in the past. Perhaps you crossed paths during missions?”

    “I think so,” Owen said. “He knew me. I just have to remember him. He didn’t seem all that mad about it, but…” Owen paused, rubbing his head. “Actually, hang on. This is starting to add up in a really weird way. I guess he’s just really eccentric…”

    Rhys nodded, holding the spine on his chest thoughtfully. He sighed. “Well. My pulse is back to normal, at least. I thought you were in actual danger when we lost you. Thankfully… none of that happened. But I’m too nervous to stay here any longer, Owen—let’s return to Hot Spot.”

    Owen nodded. “Sure,” he said, stepping outside. Just then, a gust of wind blew past him, and he had to keep his eyes closed so dust didn’t get in his eyes.

    “Let’s be fast,” Rhys said. “The wind has been relentless ever since we left the market.”
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2018
  7. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Here, have a thing while I'm eating lunch...

    Hooray, Owen apologized! And I'm glad there's even a bit that points out that it should be hard for Klent and Amelia to forgive Owen because, control or not, he still murdered them. Though, with the way your world works, death seems less like an ending and more of a transition to a different plane of existence, so I guess it's a very different philosophy. Still, glad the grudge thing was addressed. Made everything feel much more genuine.

    I'll be honest, when shopping got brought up, I thought maybe this was the point where we'd meet our recurring normie character, but that doesn't seem to be the case. As soon as Sugar & Spice got brought up, I had a feeling we'd be referencing events from the Storm... and that's exactly what happened. Deca shows up out of complete nowhere, but it's interesting to see him again. He's not being overly-cryptic about anything, either. Just a casual chit-chat and then he nopes on out of the place. I found his white lies to Owen perfectly believable and I think Deca did a good job "playing it cool" despite his fire-typing. I suppose the one thing I was a bit confused about was how Owen got separated from Rhys and Zena and stayed separated for as long as he did. I think it's a naming thing, really. "Village" doesn't convey the idea of a sprawling populace, but from the sound of things Kilo's a pretty big place. More of a city than anything, I suppose. The person who named the place obviously didn't expect it to grow this big and then was too lazy to change it. *looks at Anam*

    But there was lots of quotable goodness with this part!

    Owen made a good future in Act 1!

    Which, I'm guessing, is the one thing you don't want to happen.

    ... so, you're telling me Modwen (as I'm affectionately calling him) was bigger, with unnatural muscles. scalebait, in other words

    No, Owen, you're a big lizard, not a puppy. You don't whine. Also, not only does Owen have Apollo's Perceive ability, he most definitely has the same butt monkey status.

    Star's a chubby chaser, I see. Well, I suppose Arceus is kinda chubby and if they're roomies, then she must've taken that to heart...

    I see the author's projecting onto Owen again. XD

    Alex couldn't be more of a doormat if he had "Welcome" scrawled on his stomach.

    And the harem grows further...

    Because you can manipulate him?

    Star dodging the question because it could apply to her. Also, apparently, Arceus is the third Crash Bandicoot game. Go figure.

    Huh. Internships seem like a very... uh... modern human society concept for this world of magical creatures. Wouldn't "apprenticeship" work better?

    "But we can't make him upset or he'll murder everyone and turn them into sweets."

    I hope they have an option on the menu called "Everything Nice."

    You use headed three times in two sentences, here. Fine if it were dialogue, but a bit clunky for narration.

    Why do I have a bad feeling this is foreshadowing? It's such an odd detail to casually bring up out of the blue...

    ... wouldn't the size different make things awk— what am I talking about, they're Salazzles, they like guys with small packages. Aaaaaand we're done here
     
  8. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Yeah, this is a really, really tricky subject. One one hand, the spirits are already dead and they seem more or less okay aside from the dead part. Additionally, it has been many lifetimes since their deaths. Buuuut on the other hand, their murderer is their host now. So that's sorta a sting.

    Yeah, I definitely went with the subtle nod before suddenly bringing the whole Storm cast in--well, aside from Leo and the less important folks from his team.

    Hmm, while this was intended to be a mystery, I didn't want it to come off as a "this doesn't make sense" mystery. This was intentional. Kilo "Village" is indeed large... but it makes no sense that Owen would lose track of them when he was going at a walking pace the whole time. It's supposed to not make sense with the information provided--some guesswork is required until more info comes later.

    I showed this to my betas and we all unanimously agreed. To add, he's also got parental troubles.

    I spent a lot of time trying to think of the right word for this one line. I guess apprenticeship works better? We sorta have a magical-technology era going on here, so internship sorta fit... but apprenticeship probably fits the tone better, yeah.

    They likely do, but since this fic is rated T, we'll never find out what that menu item entails.

    One of the big ships sailing so far is a two foot Charmander and a twenty foot water snake. Salazzle is nothing.

    To be fair, it could also just be world building banter for the logistics of living on top of an ancient mountain. And seeing as Zena's the Water Guardian, she's a bit water-minded. But hey, foreshadowing is also a possibility.


    Thanks for the feedback, Amby! Just a few more tweaks to go before I push the next chapter.
     
  9. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 24 – To Death and Back

    After the unnerving encounter with Deca in town, Owen had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go out again for a while. Hindsight—after the thrill of meeting a fellow Charmander—suggested that even if Deca was someone he could trust, he wouldn’t want to endanger him with this Guardian business. He sighed at the thought. Just when he thought he’d be making a normal friend…

    Why did that not settle right? Deca didn’t seem like a normal friend. He knew that for sure. He shook his head. It was a memory still locked away. A few days passed after that where they went back to their usual routine of meditating and training—for Team Alloy, it was to calm their auras for their inevitable evolution. For the Guardians, it was to continue their everlasting struggle to tune their auras with their Mystic spirits.

    Owen almost fell into a routine on the third day and meditated with Zena the most often. Each day they greeted one another, sat nearby—or in Zena’s case, coiled up—and closed their eyes. Zena mentioned that this was what she did on most days when she was in her cave, but that it was much better now that she had company. Owen couldn’t understand how lonely it must have felt before.

    On the fourth day, right when he was leaving his room, Amia approached.

    “Owen, everybody else is gathering together for some training. The scouts at Kilo Village didn’t turn anything up yet and, apparently, Star hasn’t been able to find anything good in the spirit world, either.”

    “Oh, okay,” Owen said. “What kind of training? Meditating again? Why’d you tell me if…?”

    “Umm…” Amia rubbed the back of her head. “We’re going to be pairing off, actually. An advanced Mystic training a junior Mystic… so to speak.”

    “And I’m… a junior Mystic? So, you’ll be training me?” Owen said, perking up. “That sounds awesome!”

    “A-actually,” Amia said. “I… am going to be training Willow.”

    “Oh,” Owen said. “So… Zena?”

    “Zena’s going to be trained by Anam, actually,” Amia said.

    “…ADAM?” Owen said.

    “ADAM and Valle are going to be sparring one another as fellow mid-tier Mystics.”

    “W-wait, then who’s left?” Owen asked, mentally going over everyone in his head. “Wait! Am I gonna be trained by—by Rhys?!”

    “No.” Amia sighed. “Rhys is going to train the other three.” She watched her son count on his fingers. “Owen… Manny personally asked to be the one to train you.”

    Owen felt the ice in his stomach return, this time from dread. “Y-you mean… the Fighting Guardian?” he said. “B-but I barely beat Azu…”

    Amia shrugged slightly. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’m sure Manny will… do something helpful.”

    “C-can’t you ask him to maybe… not?” Owen said.

    “Believe me, I tried,” Amia said, “but everybody else was in favor of it, dear. I… I couldn’t go against the majority. And they did have a point. Of all of us, you have the most potential to grow—and Manny knows how to do that. He specializes in training your… you know. Your kind. S-so, er… Let’s go!” She headed out.

    “W-wait! Don’t I have to eat breakfast?”

    Amia paused in her exit. “Do you?” she asked.

    “I…!” Owen paused, feeling his stomach. “…I guess not. Huh.”

    Amia smiled and led the way out.

    <><><> ​

    “Hah! Th’ sleepyhead’s finally awake,” Manny said, clapping his paws together, making a muffled, furry pat. “Took long enough! Oy, did yer mom fill yeh in?”

    “Y-yes! Um… but I kind of don’t want to die,” Owen said.

    “Aaah, you’ll be fine,” Manny waved his paw. “C’mon! We’re gonna start with Azu like befer. Don’t worry, he ain’t gonna be scared this time.”

    “S-scared? I scared him?”

    “Yep! I hyped ‘im up, though. He’s good.”

    Owen sighed, looking at Amia helplessly as if expecting her to change her mind.

    But she just smiled and shook her head. “Good luck, dear.”

    “Heheheh…” Manny walked down the rocky caves, deeper into the complex. It was a bit cooler where he was heading; Owen figured it would be easier for him to fight there. The Charmander hesitantly followed, wondering if Manny wanted to train him to help… or to get back at him.

    “Um… Auntie Amia?” asked Willow, watching the Charmander leave with the rowdy Guardian.

    “Auntie?” Amia repeated, looking down at the tiny Joltik. “When did I get that title?”

    “I dunno…” Willow said.

    Amia smiled. “Well, what did you want to ask, Willow? Before we get to training.”

    “Is Owen gonna be okay?”

    “Oh, Willow…” Amia sighed. “Yes. Owen will be fine.”

    Willow hopped on one of the glowing, blue mushrooms, then another, and then stopped on top of a large one. She wobbled when the stem broke, the cap hitting the floor on its corner. “Y-you mean, you didn’t send Manny to assassinate him?!”

    “O-of course not!” Amia said. “Why would—no! That’s not it at all! I trust Manny. He knows that Owen is stable as a Charmander. So… he won’t have to do anything like that.”

    Willow sparked uncomfortably. “Owen’s scary when he…”

    “I know, Willow. You were so shaken up,” Amia said. “I’m sorry you had to see him like that. But he’s nice now, right?”

    Willow hopped off the mushroom, mumbling to herself.

    “What was that, dear?”

    “…Which one’s the real Owen…?” Willow asked.

    “The real…?” Amia repeated, but then went quiet.

    “If this way that Owen is now is just… him being suppressed… and sealing away his memories and stuff… and in the end, when he evolves, he becomes… that… then who’s the real Owen? His suppressed form, or his…?”

    It was as if Willow was pulling from Amia’s deepest fears. The Gardevoir was frozen in place.

    Willow, oblivious, kept talking while staring at the mushroom’s dimming glow. “It’s like we’re only seeing a tiny part of him, and there’s this… this huge part that’s waiting to break out. And… and when that part comes… what’ll happen to this tiny Owen? If you’re tiny… you’ll just get squished. Who’s… who’s really Owen?”

    The Gardevoir finally came to her senses. “The one we know, of course,” she said. “Owen used to be in control of himself all the time—but something happened… that made him—all four of them, actually—unstable. Like something didn’t… quite go right. So maybe the Owen you saw… wasn’t the real Owen, either.”

    “What happened?” Willow asked.

    “I wasn’t around to see it myself,” Amia said evasively. “So, I’m not sure. But—Rhys could tell you!” She nodded. “We… we aren’t supposed to talk about it. They might overhear, and that might trigger the memories. It’s too risky.”

    Willow buzzed irritably. “Is Owen evil?”

    “No! No, nothing like that. I promise,” Amia said, nodding.

    Willow’s big, blue eyes stared at Amia. She huffed. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s train.”

    <><><> ​

    Owen sputtered and coughed, feeling something crack in the back of his head. He slammed against the rocks and felt the entire world go dark. In what felt like an instant to him, his eyes shot open, gasping for air. He panted and felt the back of his head—no wounds, but he felt something crusted and caked on. He pulled his hand forward; dried blood fell from his scaly hands. “What—”

    An Aura Sphere slammed into his chest, smashing him against the rocks again, dislocating his arm. He yelped and tried to find the source frantically, spotting Manny. “W-wait! That’s not fair!” he shouted. “I—I was fighting Az—”

    A blue, scaly fist slammed into Owen’s stomach, pushing him even further into the wall. He was positive that a few of his organs had flattened against the back of his body from that one. He groaned and panted. “W-wait… t-time out…!”

    Azu punched him near the center of his forehead, and he blacked out again.

    Another instant in Owen’s mind passed, and he opened his eyes. “Wh-what?” he said.

    He saw a fist going right toward him. Owen held his arms up in a cross—he blocked it in a shield of light. “Ng—” Even with the Protect barrier, the shockwave knocked the wind out of him.

    “Eh?” Azu said. “Hey, look! The little guy blocked it!”

    “Hah!” Manny said.

    “Y-yeah…! I did!” Owen said, thrilled. “I blo—”

    Azu’s second fist slammed into Owen’s chest, rupturing his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. The Charmander’s eyes bulged out—vision fading… He fell to the ground. He saw Azu’s tail swing toward him, slamming him into the opposite wall across the training grounds. Then, he blacked out completely.

    And again, Owen’s eyes shot open. But this time, only slightly. He didn’t want to look awake yet. Through the thin sliver he opened, he saw two blue figures sitting nearby. Azu and Manny. They were staring at something on the ground. He focused… They were playing some sort of game with rounded pebbles. Owen breathed a bit too loudly, and the two looked at him. They both stood up.

    “W-wait, p-please—” Owen begged.

    Manny casually fired an Aura Sphere from his right paw. Owen reflexively opened his mouth and blasted a plume of flames. It slowed the attack but didn’t stop it, and Owen flew across the ground in a messy, rocky twirl, losing some scales in the process. He flicked his tail to alter his angular momentum just enough to get his footing. He landed on his feet and used his good arm to stabilize. Azu rushed toward him with a firm punch. He dodged to the left and countered with another Ember.

    “Gah—” Azu turned around and swiped at Owen with his tail, trying to trip him up. Owen jumped and turned green, opening his mouth again. A huge vine shot from his throat, wrapping around Azu; he swung his head and slammed him on the ground. Azu grunted and broke free, but Owen turned orange again and the vines became flames, burning the Feraligatr. He chomped down, snapping the burning vine away to extend the burn even longer while Azu tried to pull free.

    Azu struggled to his feet, panting. “W-well… that ain’t so bad…” he said. “Heh… the Charmander’s much better this time. It only took a few mortal blows.”

    “C-can’t you tone it down a little?!” Owen begged, seizing the opportunity. “You could’ve killed me!”

    “Ha-haaa!” Azu declared. “But we did kill you, Charmander! Quite a few times! In a technical sense.”

    “Well, if yeh were a normal Charmander,” Manny said, “we totally would’ve killed yeh fer real. But yer Mystic. Amia said y’ weren’t eating. That’s th’ sign.”

    “The sign?” Owen asked. “Not eating? Wait,” Owen said. “When was the last time that I ate…?”

    Manny looked at Azu, but then flicked his head back. Azu nodded and disintegrated into a blue ember, returning to Manny. The Lucario motioned for Owen to sit down; he obeyed and, thankfully, Manny did as well.

    “It’s like Star said,” Manny said. “Mystics… don’t get strong th’ same way normal Pokémon do. Eh… they do, but their Mysticism, heh… it goes up in another way.”

    Owen hesitated. It wasn’t his perception talking, just general intuition. Was he about to get an important lesson from Manny about Mysticism? He gulped. “Um, Manny,” he said.

    “Eh?”

    “You’re gonna explain to me a lot of stuff, right? You’re giving me a lesson?”

    “Yeh.”

    Owen shifted where he stood. “I… can’t understand what you’re saying half the time.”

    Manny flinched. “E-eh, yeh, I figure,” he said.

    “I’m—I mean, I hear it from Gahi, but for you, it’s—”

    “Nah, nah, I get it.” Manny shifted awkwardly. “Feh…”

    “I’m sorry. I’ll try to understand! It’s just, I’m apologizing in advance if I have trouble with what you’re saying.”

    “Nah, nah,” Manny said. “I got an idea. Hang on.” He shut his eyes, breathing deeply. For a split-second, Manny jostled where he sat as if he thought he was falling. Then, his eyes shot open. He stared at Owen, then at his paws, and then at Owen again. “Hello.”

    “…Hi.” Owen knew this was someone different. “Did Manny just… switch places with one of his spirits? You can do that?”

    “Mm, yes. My name is Yen. It takes a lot of energy to do this, but I suppose this would be easier for a lesson. I always was the better teacher, ironically.”

    “Ironically?”

    Yen chuckled. “Ah, just thinking. You’d expect Manny, as Guardian, to be better than me. In any case. You wished for an explanation on Mysticism?”

    “Just a little. I’ve been going through the motions, but I don’t know what the motions are for. Does that make sense?”

    “Very well.” Yen held his paw forward, creating a small Aura Sphere. Owen reflexively flinched and brought his arms in a cross, forming another Protect shield.

    “Now, now, there’s no need to worry,” he assured him. “This is only for visual aid.”

    “O-oh, okay,” Owen said. He lowered his battle stance, but only halfway. His muscles twitched, ready for anything.

    The Lucario resumed. He held the sphere forward, and then faced his paw upward, like a stage. “Now. Let’s say this is the aura for the average inhabitant of Kilo. Not just Kilo Village—the whole world. Most Hearts reside in the crater, so that skews the average quite a bit.”

    “Okay,” Owen said. It was about the size of a small apple, and about as bright as one of the mushrooms in his room, barely enough to illuminate it in the dark to see the walls. “Hey, is this like Nevren and Rhys’ whole theory on aura efficiency?”

    Yen stared at Owen with an odd look. “Aura efficiency?” he said. “You’re aware of that?”

    “What? Uh… I mean… kinda. Rhys is kinda pioneering the theory. And Nevren has this scanner that measures our… aura efficiency, or something, based on how much power we can dish out, and how fatigued we feel after. Last I was scanned, I scored—er—really high! For my species. Pretty high.”

    “Hm. How interesting. Very well. We shall call it that, aura efficiency.” Yen continued with his explanation. “The more you use your techniques to fight others, or to simply train in other ways, the more you…” Yen watched Owen. “Your eyes are glossing over.”

    “H-huh? No!”

    “Hm. A book-smart Charmander. How interesting.”

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

    “Well, I imagine Charmander would struggle to use books. The burning,” Yen said evasively. “Er, well, Owen. Tell me what you know, first. I can build off of your understanding. Does that sound fine?”

    “Oh! Y-yeah, Rhys taught us this!” Owen said. “Basically… every technique that we do is actually channeling from the aura’s inner energy. The same energy that helps some Pokémon evolve, when our aura becomes strong enough. It’s like… a little bit of power that helps us do what we want it to do. Breathing fire, or weakening the enemy, or even making it rain! It’s all because of that power in our aura cores. We use that same power to resist what others are doing to us. So weaker Embers hurt less… because our auras deflect a lot of it.” Owen rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I guess that means I still have a long way to go, if your host is getting me in just a few hits. I can’t deflect those attacks at all.”

    Yen nodded. “Very good,” he said. “Efficiency is indeed how rapidly you can draw from that aura core.” The aura in his paw glowed brighter. “So… how does Mysticism come in?” He nodded. “Everyone’s core’s output is fixed. Once at full efficiency, you can go no further.”

    “Yeah. That makes sense. Once you’re fully efficient, you can’t really draw more than everything!”

    Yen’s brow raised slightly.

    “Y… you can’t, right?”

    “Well, yes,” Yen said. “If you have ten apples, and your arms are large enough to carry twenty, you can only carry ten apples regardless.”

    “…Why big arms?” Owen asked.

    Yen waved his paw dismissively. “But what if,” he said, “you made more apples? Different apples?”

    “Uh—”

    Yen brought his second paw forward and created something else—it wasn’t another sphere. It looked more like a blue, bright flame. It reminded him of the spirits in the aura sea that Hecto oversaw. “Hunters, Guardians, and the Creators all possess Mystic Energy. It’s similar to what you know, but it provides so much more.” He combined his two paws into a bowl-like shape, and the flare enveloped the sphere, creating something that Owen had to squint at to see. “Now, there’s more to get.”

    “But it looks different,” Owen said. “It’s not just more power. There’s… it doesn’t…” Owen knew that much. The moment he became a Guardian, he already did something that no ordinary Pokémon could do—become a Grassy Charmander, humiliating as it was. Not to mention drown and survive. And apparently, in a little while, he was going to learn how to fly, too, just like his mother. “That power doesn’t feel… solid, like our aura powers normally.”

    “Mm. So, you mean it isn’t defined?”

    Owen nodded.

    “That’s because it isn’t. Not quite. Normal energy is defined. You can only do certain things with it. Flamethrower… Aura Sphere… they’re defined techniques, crafted by Star, I imagine, for mortals to access controlled versions of the divine power inherent in all Pokémon. But Mystic Energy? Quite broader. Yes, it may be easier to perform certain actions—for example, become an embodiment of your Orb’s Type—but then… because it is not defined, you can get creative, with enough skill and power. Indeed, after enough time training, you practically become a spirit in the flesh.”

    “A spirit… in the flesh,” Owen said, pinching his arm thoughtfully. The scales held their pinched shape slightly along his elbows. Owen made a mental note to drink some water later.

    Yen nodded. “Guardians can bend reality just a slight bit more… dynamically, harnessing the same power that the Creators used to craft the world.”

    Owen gulped. “That’s… not what my power feels like at all.”

    “You’re still weak,” Yen said. “And it’s not as if we have any significant portion of that power on our own.” He shrugged. “At most, you can easily change things about yourself, and perhaps the area immediately around you. With the little amount of undefined energy provided by a single Orb, you cannot go beyond that sphere of influence. Still, you can certainly hone its intensity…”

    Owen blinked. “How?”

    Yen went on. “As Star said, Mysticism is not strengthened the same way the traditional aura is. You must connect with your core directly by performing actions that affect your flare—powerful emotions, deep meditation, and, ah… almost dying.”

    “A-almost…?” Owen said.

    Yen chuckled. “Well. Once you reach a certain point, nearly dying does not become viable. Diminishing returns. Still, so long as we don’t hit you too hard, it’s a very effective method for weaker Mystics to become stronger. So, we can ‘kill’ you all we want,” Yen smiled apologetically, “and you’ll come back. Consider it… an at-death experience. Right up to Dusknoir’s Door, hm? But then you turn around and return to the living. But every time that happens…”

    Yen showed the flare dying down and rising up, dying down, rising up, stronger and stronger each time. “You tap into that power a little more. Make your arms bigger to grab hold of those apples.”

    “Again, with the arms… Do you guys have a thing for arms?”

    Yen shrugged. “Once you have full access to your Mystic power through this method, you can meditate to hone the specifics and refine it. That is what most of the mid-level Mystics, like ADAM and Zena, are doing at this point. You are still catching up.”

    “S-so, at first, to get full access to my power as a Mystic, I need to… die. A lot. And after that, I can work on actually improving it?”

    “Yes! Well, to get there the fastest,” Yen said. “Still, I recommend you fight back. Mysticism is strongly tied to desires, and the desire to fight back can accelerate the process further.”

    “But why do I need to die for that? How come all of those things with emotions, and dying, and meditating—that’s all with the aura, too, right?”

    “There is a key difference,” Yen said. “Normal training. That’s how the body and the mind connect to the aura, which itself channels the defined power, provided by Star.” Yen closed his eyes. “Mysticism, you can’t rely on that defined connection. It is not your body to your aura. Mysticism is tied to something deeper than the aura—to the very source of your power. This training is for the connection between your aura and your soul. Something normally untouchable. The body and the mind are the outermost layer. Then, there is the aura. And within the aura is your soul. That is the true source of power. The aura is just a filter on what that power can do. Mysticism… weakens that filter.”

    “The… soul,” Owen said. He hadn’t realized it until just then, but without any fighting in this part of Hot Spot Cave, everything was silent. He could hear his own little heart struggling to beat. He hadn’t realized how broken his body still was. “Sorry,” Owen said, realizing he’d been silent for too long. “Before all this Guardian stuff, I didn’t even think Star was real, forget the soul. I guess I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

    “I understand,” Yen said. “Manny and I were the same way. Take your time.”

    Owen nodded, but then gathered his bearings. “What’s… the difference? The aura and this… soul thing.”

    “Ahh…” Yen’s tail wagged twice in a slow, rhythmic motion. “How nostalgic, that question.”

    Owen waited patiently. His eyes were bright with curiosity—but, more importantly, the longer he could stall, the longer he could catch his breath.

    “The soul… it’s an interesting concept. It’s something that I learned about a long time ago. Old, old culture. Something you can’t quite see. Something you can only feel.” Yen looked up. “The inner aura. The source. Where you are. What stays when everything else goes. That… is the soul.”

    “Isn’t that just the brain?” Owen mumbled. “I read books on this. All that stuff is just the brain.”

    “Well, er, I suppose, physically,” Yen said, his momentum completely interrupted. “B-but it isn’t as if you’re carrying your brain with you in the aura sea, hm?”

    “…Good point,” Owen mumbled. “What stays when everything else…” he repeated. He thought about the aura sea. His body dissolved there. In the spirit world, like the Grass Orb’s realm, or the ethereal forest, he was an aura—a spiritual form that looked like his body. But in that strange void, even that body dissolved away. He was nothing but his aura flare. Yet he was still there.

    Owen looked at his hands again, as if they weren’t real. He sighed. He should have become an academic. Or maybe it wasn’t too late to become a farmer as his father had suggested.

    “The connection…” Owen said again. What could that mean? It didn’t sound like Yen knew the full extent of this ‘soul’ business. Perhaps Star did, but Yen just saw its effects. Still, one thing was clear: Yen, and by extension, Manny, were looking for results, and what he was doing supposedly made Owen’s Mysticism stronger.

    “So, you’ve been ‘killing’ me all this time to… make my aura closer to my soul? Or to make my Mystic power connect to it better. So, by dying, and meditating, and having these emotions, that speaks to my soul, which the power of the Orb can let me… harness?” He paused. “Wait. This sounds more like you’re just making my aura unstable so more ‘Mystic’ leaks through!”

    “Yessir.”

    Owen flinched. It was Manny again. Based on the smirk the Lucario gave him, Yen must have either lost hold of his control or relinquished it upon completing his explanation. Owen missed him already.

    “…Couldn’t you have told me that?!”

    “Nah, bein’ scared an’ fightin’ fer yer life? That builds th’ spirit, too.”

    “That’s…!”

    “Well, enough talkin’,” Manny said, cracking his neck. “Y’know what I’m doin’.”

    “W-wait, bring Yen back, please, I—”

    “Nope!”

    Manny fired that Aura Sphere he was preparing straight at Owen, and the helpless Charmander hit the wall once again.

    <><><> ​

    Willow screamed in the blue flames that surrounded her. In an instant, they died down; the smoldering Joltik twitched and opened one eye. “What?” she coughed.

    “Y-you were screaming,” Amia said, shivering.

    “And you stopped?!” Willow said, hobbling to her tiny feet. The very tip of the fur on her tiny body was still on fire; she shook, ridding herself of most of the ash, and the flame went out.

    “Y-yes!” Amia said. “Because it… it looked like it hurt!”

    “Of course it hurt!” Willow said. “But we’re training! Don’t stop!”

    “B-but, Willow, you’re half-ash at this point!” Amia said.

    “But I didn’t pass out, so let’s keep going!” Willow said.

    “I—I can’t do this,” Amia said, turning around. “I’m sorry, I just—ow!”

    Willow zapped Amia with a bolt of electricity. She sped toward her. “Don’t you dare stop now! You’re way stronger than me, and I want to get to that level, too!”

    “B-but, I can’t, Willow, I just…!”

    “What kind of Fire user are you? You can’t even go full-force!”

    “I—I’m just… I’m just not a fighter, Willow. I’m strong, yes, but…! But this is too much! It’s torture! I can’t—”

    “Keep fighting!” Willow said.

    “B-but you’ll die!”

    “I won’t die!” Willow said. “So… stop being so weak!”

    “I—I…!” Amia gulped.

    “DO IT!”

    The Gardevoir shut her eyes and blasted Willow with another flurry of flames. She tried to dodge, but the blast radius was simply too large. She screamed and collapsed on the ground, unconscious.

    “I—I can’t do that! I can’t!” Amia said, covering her eyes.

    “Wh-huh? Did I pass out?” Willow coughed a cloud of ash.

    Amia was trembling and had to sit down. “It’s too hard to hurt friends! This kind of training is… is too much!”

    Willow shook away the soot from her body and skittered toward the Gardevoir. “Mnngh…! I can’t believe you! All that power and you’re afraid to use it!”

    Amia covered her face. “I know, I know…”

    Frustrated, the Joltik shook her fur and started creating little sparks. Eventually, however, she settled down in a huff.

    It was a quiet part of the cave. Manny was still beating Owen to a pulp a few corridors down. Owen was screaming for help. Manny just laughed.

    “Scared of your own power…” Willow repeated. “Maybe that’s where he gets it from.”

    Amia watched Willow with concern; the Joltik could barely climb her dress, but she managed it. She sat atop her lap.

    “…If someone like you raised Owen…” she trailed off. “…and if he took on even the littlest fraction of how you are…. I see why you think he can overcome that battle instinct he’s stuck in.”

    Amia flinched. She bit at her lower lip and tried to stay calm. At least this was giving Willow some time to look less charred. “Y-yes,” she said. “I’ve shown Owen… a lot of love. And he’s been so gentle… So, he’d surely be able to… overcome it.”

    “I think he can, too,” Willow said. “…He’s too nice.”

    “Y-you think so?” Amia said.

    Willow nodded. “…So… you aren’t gonna beat me up?” she asked.

    “I… I don’t think I have it in me,” she said, lowering her head. “I’m sorry…”

    Disappointed, the Joltik turned around. “Then I guess I’ll train with them, instead,” she said, turning to look down the large cavern. In the open area, the group was locked in combat.

    ADAM and Valle were sparring with one another. At similar strength, they grew together almost as rapidly as the weaker ones who were trying to catch up. While the Porygon-Z was not able to have much of an effect with his Normal attacks against Valle, the rocky Shiftry was not quite able to hit ADAM as easily due to his lack of movement.

    “Well, um… okay,” Amia said. “I’m sorry that I can’t…”

    “It’s okay,” Willow said. “At least we have someone who can tell us to not get so angry, right?”

    Amia gently touched her chest. “Oh…” she said softly. “…Thank you, Willow.”

    And with that, Willow dashed toward ADAM and Valle. She hopped in front of a Hyper Beam, blocking most of it, but screamed nonetheless. Amia tittered; that tiny Joltik really wanted to work hard…
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2018
  10. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    I don't really have much to say about this chapter. I think the bulk of it, the exposition, was just fine. Nothing was structurally wrong about it and I thought there was a good give and take between Owen and Yen (lol he was talking to a currency... or a Disney character, your pick). And I guess there's something humorous (in a dark way) of watching Owen get tossed around like a proverbial rag doll. The big thing for me is my own personal mental block. While I can follow the logic behind how Mystic training needs to be different, everything else blended together. Which I know is the exact opposite of what canis told you, hence why I'm labeling it a personal mental block and something that I'd expect each individual reader to view differently. I think I can differentiate some of the stuff, but not entirely. You have spirits, souls, divine power, aura... but the aura can be sub-divided into your typical Pokémon fare (that's actually derived from divine power) and the batshit crazy stuff a Mystic is capable of (that's still, uh, derived from divine power... but it's divine power plus ultra)? That's about all I could take away. This chapter doesn't exactly answer the question of what the limits to Mysticism are. Actually, if Yen's explanation is anything to go by, it does the exact opposite and suggests that, in theory, it's limitless and a Mystic could, with the proper meddling, start warping reality around like a proper god.

    Which sounds exactly like the kind of thing Owen could accidentally bumble his way into far down the road, thus furthering the "I just want to be normal" conflict that's going on with this piece. :V

    Wow, way to piss off the friends you actually have, Owen's inner monologue. You could consider, y'know, being grateful for them. Some of us don't have friends we can see... ;>.>

    Struggle
    [​IMG]

    When death is but a slap on the wrist, you can afford to be so cavalier, apparently.

    This sounds awful...ly suggestive taken out of context.

    You already have, though. Several times!

    Like, zoinks Scoob, I gotta bad feeling about this one.

    So... Mysticism (and/or Reviver Seeds) can heal you from a pneumothorax? That's incredible! It also pisses off the medic in me, but I think you mentioned you made 'em like senzu beans so, I don't know what I expected.

    Y'know, I really hope you're not planning to kill anyone off for real, because I'm not sure it'll have the intended emotional impact for me when this keeps happening to Owen. :V

    ... oh my god i just realized nevren literally made his own scouter. gg, buddy.

    discount power level.

    Damn, Yveltal got shafted in this universe. Even Darkrai would be a more fitting grim reaper alternative. XD

    i know this was written before i started making dbz jokes about everything, but you can't act surprised about it when the first two things that come to owen's mind are literally gohan's and goku's professions. :p

    Well, it's worked plenty of times before. Just ask Zero... and Drawcia... and Marx, Magolor, Sectonia, etc. etc.

    oh god, the horror! amia's transforming willow into an obnoxious anime character! turn back! turn back!
     
  11. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    We discussed this quite a bit privately so I can outline exactly what I did wrong so I can better explain this sooner. Canis indeed got it pretty easily, but I was definitely expecting a reply more akin to yours than hers. It's a really complicated thing to explain, and to be honest, I'm not very happy with how info-dumpy it became. I sprinkled in a little action, but I still wasn't satisfied.

    The main thing is that I don't think I properly explained the "layers" going on in this reality. The outermost layer is the body (and by extension, the mind, unless you want to count that as a quasi-second layer.) That's what interacts with the physical world. The place we're all familiar with.

    Then there's the aura--it's what Rhys can see, and other Mystics who get good enough at aura reading. It's the "true" second layer, not part of the physical reality, but still something that interacts with it. It's a go-between for the third layer, the soul. Canonically, we haven't seen a soul yet. Funnily enough, the MMM epilogue bonus blurb depicts a soul--it's a golden orb of 'light.'

    All Pokemon-related power--Abilities, Moves, etc.--come from the soul, filtered through the aura. The soul can warp reality. The aura allows the soul to warp reality in specific ways. Those "specific" ways are what we know as Flamethrower, Sturdy, Focus Punch, and so on. Mysticism is basically streeetching that aura filter to the point where it becomes a lot easier to do custom things. Easiest examples is Typifying yourself to your Orb's type. There's also summoning other spirits by giving them temporary auras. Then there's "flying," which is essentially just ignoring gravity. And so on and so forth.

    Continuing from what I mentioned above, yes! Theoretically, Mysticism bends the chains that the auras have built-in to keep all Pokemon from warping reality willy-nilly. However, the limit is the scope and range. Hunters have a much smaller range than Guardians, because the "amount" of Mysticism they have is much smaller. 5% as large as a Guardian's, in fact, but we'll get into that later in the fic. Not important. But while the range is smaller, the potency is not so--obviously, as Rhys can still beat Owen to a pulp if he so desired.

    If he dies again, he gets a free sundae from Hecto!

    Healing factor in general is quite strong here. After all, Rhys stabbed Manny with some aura-tearing blades and that turned out just fine! Just sparring, after all. Nothing major, only extreme internal and external bleeding.

    Hah, well, Legendaries aren't very prominent in Kilo. We've got a Hecto, and... that's all so far. Oh, well, Mew, but she's dead, so that doesn't really count. Arceus too.

    The fact that I didn't even intend nor realize this until you pointed it out means that I'm finished. Stick a fork in me.

    Anyway, the word wall above? I'll be working to patch those up a little for a better explanation before I get the next chapter posted. Thanks again!
     
  12. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 25 – A New Sighting

    For the next few days, the Mystics in Hot Spot cycled between training and resting to the point where they lost track of time. In the caverns, there was no real way to tell if it was day or night, especially since Amia was usually the one to keep track of that with the glow of the mushrooms. With her preoccupied with training with Willow—and later, cycling with the others—they were only able to determine how many days passed based on how often Team Alloy—sans Owen, at least—came back from daily missions.

    Owen had asked time and time again to go on a mission with Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, but it was always shot down with the fact that he still needed to train. Not only that, but after the strange encounter with Deca the time before, they were hesitant to send him out again to be lost in town. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all said they didn’t see Deca around after that. He couldn’t argue back, since he still had to train.

    Owen was glad to finally get a break from Manny’s method of training, and on the previous day, he had trained with Zena. This was short-lived. For some reason, Zena wasn’t able to fight at her best against Owen. The Grass Guardian figured it was because of his Type advantage in his Mystic form that unnerved her, though Zena couldn’t find the words or explanation on why this was the case herself. She did know, however, that it wasn’t because of his Type. For some reason, when Zena and Owen asked Star why they weren’t able to hurt each other effectively, the Mew just rolled her eyes and floated away.

    So, instead, Owen returned to reluctantly training against Manny, and Zena instead challenged Anam when he was available and not managing the Association with Nevren.

    Zena was barely able to open her eyes after every strike that Anam delivered. She felt powerless against him. Her watery attacks weren’t very useful against a Dragon type—let alone one that was so gooey like Anam. “Anam—are all of your kind like this!?” Zena said.

    “Like what?” Anam asked, holding his hand out to block most of her Hydro Pump attack. That simple gesture split the beam of water in two, missing the rest of him completely.

    Zena panted. “So… immune to water!”

    “No, but I’m a little different because I’m Mystic. I like being like this!”

    “Extremely… slimy? You have the consistency of a Muk, Anam.”

    “Aww, thanks!” Anam giggled. “But I think I’m a little thicker than a Muk,” he rubbed his cheeks. His fingers sank into his face, slime merging into slime.

    Zena, seeing this as an opportunity, launched yet another Hydro Pump at Anam. The Goodra gasped, swallowed a bit of it, and then fell back. “Owowow…” he mumbled, rubbing his head. “Good job! I didn’t know you could use Flatter!”

    “I—I can’t,” said Zena. “…Anam… are you taking this seriously?”

    “Seriously?” Anam repeated. “Of course I’m taking it seriously! I mean… I need to train you, right?” he asked.

    “Of course,” Zena said. “But I haven’t seen you use your Mystic powers much at all. Your Ghostly abilities, that is. I’ve already exhausted my Water form against you…”

    “B-but it’s scary…” Anam said. “It’s not just spooky Ghost powers, it’s—it’s a lot of things, you know?”

    “That’s…” Zena shook her head. “Can’t you just use a little bit of it, then? It can’t be that bad.”

    Anam bit his lower lip helplessly. “O-okay. I’ll—”

    A muffled voice echoed from Anam’s thigh. “Hello?” the voice said. “Anam, are you there? I have a report!”

    “Oh! Nevren!” Anam said. “Um—Zena, hold on!” He plunged his hand into his thigh and pulled out one of their silver communicators. “Hi, Nevren! Do you mean there’s a report about a possible Mystic sighting?”

    “Yes,” Nevren said. “At first, we believed that the Mystic that once lived in Nightshade Forest was relocated or otherwise… removed, but we found new sightings in the depths of it. It’s very likely that the Electric Guardian is still there after all.”

    “Electric Guardian? That’s cool!” Anam said. “Okay! I’ll go and gather the others right away! Um—any other sightings?”

    “None yet,” Nevren said. “I am still coordinating other scouting missions based on preliminary reports and rumors.”

    “Got it,” Anam said. He nodded at Zena. “We’ll train later?”

    “Yes,” Zena said. “…Perhaps I will train with someone else for now. I do not think I should go to this particular Mystic, considering my Type…”

    Anam nodded and ran to get the team together.

    <><><> ​

    “Nightshade Forest…” Star said, shivering slightly. “Talk about bad vibes.” Everybody was gathered in the middle of Hot Spot Square. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were all having a small snack in the middle of their training, all panting from whatever regimen Rhys was putting them through.

    “Don’t like Dark Types?” Owen asked, amused.

    “H-hey, it’s not my fault! That’s instinct! N-no offense to any Dark Types or anything, I just… you know. It’s a little unnerving to go there, sometimes, since a lot of the wild Pokémon are Dark Types and they love defending their territory.”

    Anam nodded. “Star doesn’t like my power, either,” she said. “But it’s okay! I don’t have to use it yet. Um—I can go, though!”

    “That’s a good idea,” Star said. “I’m going on guesswork, but the Electric Guardian… she can scare easily, last I checked on her. But that was a long time ago. Really jumpy, so you can’t have any scary people or sudden movements.”

    “Feh, guess I’m out,” Manny said, shrugging.

    “No sudden movements?” Owen repeated. “I mean… I can probably go, if I move carefully.”

    “You don’t look that intimidating right now,” Star agreed. “As long as you keep calm, you’ll be fine.”

    “How about us?” Demitri asked.

    “Ehh… maybe not,” Star said. “Let’s stick to Mystics for this one. Enet, the Guardian, might be able to read auras—and I think she’ll only really trust Mystic auras.”

    “Hmm, well, if that’s the case, I guess we can’t go…” Demitri sighed.

    “There’s no need to worry,” Rhys said. “We can continue to train here.”

    Star surveyed the group. “So, we’ve got Owen and Anam, who else wants to go? Amia?”

    “Oh! I can, definitely.”

    “Amia’s definitely great if we need a friendly face!” Willow said.

    “Three should be good enough. Four might be overwhelming for her,” Star said. “So, that’s the plan! Just make sure you guys have a communicator with you in case something goes wrong, either here or there, okay? Oh, and be careful. She’s a Zoroark. Don’t trust your eyes.”

    “How’d you know about all this?” Owen asked. “We were looking for a while!”

    “Actually, Nevren pointed out the possibility. I personally thought this Electric Guardian didn’t last, and Eon already took the Orb. She’s totally silent to me. But I did some asking around in the spirit world, and it doesn’t look like she died after all. So…” Star sighed. “I guess it could’ve gone faster, but we didn’t want to send you guys out unless we were totally sure. This time, we are. I know she’s in Nightshade Forest.”

    “Nightshade Forest…” Owen mumbled, rubbing his head. “That sounds… really familiar…”

    “Don’t think too hard, Owen,” Star said.

    “Right,” Amia said. “So!” She clapped her hands together. “Are we ready to go?”

    “I guess so,” Owen said, stretching. He was already recovered from his training with Manny—and he felt quite a bit stronger from it, too. How much stronger, he didn’t know. He’d have to test it out—if this Electric Guardian happened to lash out at him, perhaps that would be his test.

    <><><> ​

    Nightshade Forest was a place where, true to its name, barely any sunlight reached the forest floor. The trees were far apart, but the tops were filled with wide tops and leaves, high above their heads. If the wind blew hard enough, little flickering lights would illuminate the ground, but it would be fleeting. There were simply too many leaves blotting out the sky. Owen and Amia relied on their fire to light the way.

    “It’s really spooky here…” Anam said.

    “Anam, please, you’re the Ghost Guardian,” the Gardevoir said. “Wouldn’t you be right at home here?”

    “I—I guess so, but… it’s still a little spooky! What if there’s a monster hiding in the bushes…?”

    Amia, baffled, glanced at the Goodra, the strongest of their group. “Anam, dear, aren’t… you more likely to be the monster hiding away?” she said. “From what Star briefed us, the strongest Pokémon here are about as strong as Owen was when he last became an Entry Heart.”

    “W-well, um…” Anam said.

    “Actually, yeah,” Owen said. “Anam, we don’t really know what your powers look like at all!”

    Anam gulped. “Th-that’s because… um…”

    “Owen has a point,” Amia said. “As the Ghost Guardian, don’t you think you—”

    “You should not press Anam with such things if it isn’t necessary,” Anam suddenly said, eyes closed. His voice had changed.

    “…J… James?” Owen blinked.

    “I don’t like when they do things like Scary Face,” Anam mumbled., voice back to normal. “It makes my heart go all thump-a-thump!”

    Owen and Amia exchanged an uneasy glance. Owen figured now wasn’t a good time to press the issue, but a new thought crossed his mind. “Do you even have a heart anymore?” Owen said. “Zena mentioned you just got… stabbed while fighting ADAM, and you were just fine…”

    “Metaphorically!” Anam said. “But I guess so… Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid… Are we there yet?”

    “Hmm…” Amia looked at their Badge. “We’re supposed to make it through the halfway point of the Dungeon, followed by three segments of the next part. There, we should see a hidden passageway, invisible to all but the aura eye… That’s what Nevren told us. And from there, we have to see if the Electric Guardian is still present. I certainly hope she is…”

    “I hope so, too,” Owen said. “I don’t want to lose another one just because we couldn’t find them fast enough.”

    They walked for a bit longer. Amia inspected the Badge; it flickered briefly. “We’re in the Deepwoods,” she announced.

    “Mm…” Anam said. “Can you tell Nevren and the others we’re okay?”

    Amia nodded and grabbed their communicator next, speaking into the badge. “Are you there? We’re doing okay. We just made it into the Deepwoods. Does Star or Nevren happen to know where specifically we should be looking once we get to the third section?”

    A pause. Then, Nevren said, “No, only to look for Mystic residuals. It shouldn’t be hard to miss for your current Mystic powers, yes?”

    “Okay, got it,” Amia said. “Um—thank you. I’m going to stop talking to this now.”

    “Of course. Thank you.”

    Amia stared awkwardly at the device and placed it back into her inventory. “That’s still a strange device. Where did Nevren even get the idea for something like this?”

    “Nevren has a lot of crazy ideas,” Anam said. “But they’re really cool, too. Did you know that he’s starting to make these special devices that can keep food cold for a long time? And you won’t even need Ice Types, either!”

    “Oh, wow,” Amia said.

    “Yeah, it’s really cool,” Anam said. “I wish I had his creativity, getting all those ideas…”

    “Nevren’s really like that, huh…?” Owen said slowly, thinking about the Alakazam. “He must have been really creative to come up with me and the others, huh?”

    “Yeah,” Anam said. “I think you guys are really cool, too!”

    “Y-you do?” Owen said. “Even if I…?”

    “Well, once you guys are in control of yourselves… you’ll be all-cool and not scary at all!”

    “Maybe a little scary,” Amia tittered. “Just like your powers, Anam. You can control it, but you’re still scared of your Ghosts!”

    “Th-that’s not fair!” Anam said.

    For just a second, Owen saw little lights in the green orbs that lined the Goodra’s neck and tail. It was as if the spirits within Anam were laughing. The Goodra blushed a deep purple and covered his eyes with his fat antennae.

    A calm silence followed for some time until Anam suddenly stopped walking.

    “Uh—are you okay?” Owen asked, looking back at the Association Head.

    “Um—what’s that?” Anam asked, pointing down the corridor.

    To the normal eye, it was just a hallway. But to the aura eye there was something in the right wall that gave off a faint glow. “Hmm,” Amia said. “So that’s what Star meant. It must be a burrow of some kind.”

    Amia carefully stepped toward the wall and tried to move some of the rocks aside. Her hands passed right through the wall. “Wh—” Amia looked at the others. “It’s… it’s an illusion.”

    “An illusion?” Anam said.

    “Well the Electric Guardian is a Zoroark,” Owen theorized. “They’re great at illusions, and maybe her Mystic aura is amplifying it. Her name was Enet, right? Star mentioned that a while ago. I think. Just a feeling, actually, so maybe I’m not sure…”

    “Y-yes, Owen, that’s right…. I barely remembered that,” Amia said. “A Zoroark…?”

    “We should be careful,” Owen said. “For all I know, she might be able to mess with more than just sight and sound. Maybe she can mess with all of our senses, right? …Guys?” the little Charmander turned around. They were gone. Alert, his tail-flame grew bright. “Oh… good. I hope they heard me.”

    Owen sighed and closed his eyes, trying to focus. It was incredibly dark. If it wasn’t for his tail, he wouldn’t be able to see more than a foot ahead of him, even with the dim, Mystic glow. Still, he had a vague recollection that he wouldn’t need his eyes if he could just use his perception abilities to feel the world around him. It was a shame, then, that as a Charmander, those powers were almost completely sealed.

    The burrow was big enough for even Anam to step through, though he’d need to crouch down for it. That left a lot of room for Owen to walk through the tunnels; he decided, for now, that the best thing to do was go forward.

    What could he do to counteract the illusions? He still didn’t know the extent of her power, but he could at least try to navigate forward again. There was a wall. He tried to step through it—and it worked. Owen smirked slightly. He saw another wall and walked toward it—and then, through it. “What, is it just a straight shot?” Owen said.

    He kept walking. This time, he saw a pit ahead and no other way around. “So, it’s a fake pit,” he said, and kept walking. He stepped on the air like it was solid ground. He felt soil beneath his feet. Another illusion.

    He cleared the pit and advanced. It seemed like a straight line from then on, with a clear exit ahead of him. So, Owen stopped. He looked down at the ground and saw a stone nearby. Gently, he rolled it across the ground. It fell into the floor a few paces ahead. “Figured,” he mumbled. This time, it was a real pit, covered by a false ground.

    Owen tried to hold his arms out to touch either side of the wall, but his tiny Charmander body didn’t have the span to do so. But he knew one of these walls were fake at some part of the hall. He couldn’t risk going too far ahead for just one side, and alternating between the walls would take too long.

    “C’mon, there has to be something I can use in here,” Owen mumbled, rummaging through his bag. He spotted Nevren’s Eviolite and lingered over it, admiring its gentle glint against his tail’s fire. Then, he fiddled with a few seeds, wondering which one would be helpful. None. “Hm?” He pulled out a small bundle of sharp sticks. “Oh, these things,” he said. He never really had to use them, but it didn’t hurt to carry them around to scare off ferals. They doubled as short-lived torches if his tail wasn’t enough. But now? He had an idea.

    He grabbed two of the sticks, holding one in each hand. Then, he stretched his arms out as far as he could. It was just enough. Perfect! Owen held his arms out and dragged the ends of the stick along the right side of the wall, taking tentative steps until he couldn’t feel a floor. He stopped and felt the left wall—and, indeed, the wall was false at a small portion of it, and he stepped through. All as planned.

    Owen then tripped and, in a single misstep, fell forward and lost control of his surroundings. He yelped and helplessly grabbed at the walls, but it was too late—he saw something down below. Spikes, even harder and pointier than the sticks that he had lost the second he fell down.

    Desperate, he turned to his Grass form and tried something new. His claws became vines and latched onto the soft walls, anchoring him in place on either side, dangling in the middle of the pit. He should have done that in the first place, forget those useless sticks!

    The spikes below looked… quite sharp, yet also unused. He gulped and looked up. “H-hello?” he called. “Anybody…?” The walls were soft and absorbed most of the sound. Without an echo, Owen figured his voice wouldn’t carry very far. He was on his own.

    Or, so he thought. Owen? Are you okay? Klent called.

    O-oh! Klent! G-good to hear you! Um… no! I don’t think I’m okay, Owen replied.

    You seem to be… a bit stuck, Klent said.

    Yeah, I think there are a bunch of illusions here. I can barely see now that I’m Grassy. My tail doesn’t glow as bright. But I can’t turn back to normal without losing my vines—there are spikes down there. I’ll get skewered if I fall!

    Only spikes? Klent asked. Hmm… Well… you can try to climb up, he said. But if you fall, you should be okay.

    O-okay?! I’ll look like an Aron’s face if I fall down there! Owen said.

    Well, you’ve already been through worse with Manny, haven’t you? Klent said.

    W-well…

    Just focus, said Klent. If you focus, you’ll be able to take the spikes and then get out of here in one piece. It won’t even hurt. Maybe. Okay?

    I, uh, if you say so, Owen said. It made sense. As a Mystic, injuries weren’t as significant anymore, even if they were mortal wounds. Still, his physical-body instincts were telling him that spikes were bad. He had to push past those. He closed his eyes… slowly, his breathing steadied, and it felt a lot like his pace when he was meditating.

    Now… drop, Klent said.

    Putting his faith in Klent, Owen released the vines and fell. Owen briefly wondered if Klent was just telling him this so he could feel what it was like to die. He tensed for only a moment. And then, he relaxed, in that split-second of falling. If he had to feel that, he deserved it.

    He fell for less than a second and hit the ground. “Uff—” he stopped and didn’t move, hesitant to open his eyes. But he had to. He looked at his chest… no wounds. He checked the rest of him—nothing. “Oh, come on!” Owen shouted.

    It was just another illusion.

    “Okay, now I’m a little irritated,” Owen said, advancing. He felt something strange behind his head and rubbed it. “…That was weird,” he mumbled. It felt like a tingling on his scales.

    A loud crack—and Owen was pushed forward with a searing, powerful explosion. He yelped and tried to turn around, but he only saw a glimpse of what appeared to be a dark, furry creature rushing toward him. Red claws. He knew to duck, narrowly avoiding the strike. “W-wait!” he shouted.

    The creature hissed and turned around, fleeing. Owen turned back to his normal form; the light from his fire revealed that it was indeed a Zoroark. It could have been another illusion, but it was his only lead. He chased after her, careful not to trip over anything along the way. The pit seemed to be a hidden floor of the burrow.

    It was hard to tell what was what—but this Zoroark was still ahead of him. All he had to do was run a little faster, and—

    The Zoroark vanished. “Uh—” Owen was struck behind the head. He fell forward with a grunt, clutching where he was struck. “O-ow! D-don’t do that!” he shouted. “I’m trying to help!”

    Dizzy, he saw her running in the opposite direction.

    “W-wait!” Owen shouted, running along with her. He suddenly fell down and into a pit of false spikes again. Despite this, he crossed his arms for a Protect, but there was nothing to block. It only wasted more time. He scrambled to his feet and turned his arms green, improvising. He plunged them into the soft walls, extending through the soil. “Yes!” Owen said. He felt his arms extend like vines into the walls and out on the opposite side of the hall where Enet had run, blocking her path.

    Good—that meant she wouldn’t be able to advance, and he could try to—

    Enet sliced her claws through the vines, breaking them cleanly apart.

    “AAAAAAAAA!”

    Owen retracted his vines into his arms, only to see that a few of his fingers were missing. “Ohhh, that hurts,” Owen mumbled, holding them under his pits.

    You probably shouldn’t have put pain receptors in those, Klent said.

    I can do that?! Owen said. Tell me next time!

    I didn’t think you’d try…

    Owen whimpered, turning one of his fingers into a vine to grab an Oran from his bag. He popped it in and let the healing aura rush through him—and thankfully, into his fingers, where the tiny things quickly grew back.

    “Thank Anam’s blessings…” Owen mumbled, staring ahead. Enet ran off… How was he supposed to catch up to her now? A Charmander’s stubby legs would never be able to catch up to a Zoroark. All he could do was yell and hope she heard, even in the soft, sound-absorbing walls of her den.

    “ENET!” Owen yelled. “WAIT!”

    Owen rubbed his throat. “I need to get used to yelling more,” he mumbled, coughing. He walked briskly down the hall and over the vines that Enet had sliced through. He turned the corner and saw Enet running right toward him. “Eep—!” He didn’t expect it to be that quick. “Enet, I—”

    Enet pounced on him and bit him on the shoulder. Owen roared in some strange mixture of pain, fear, and annoyance. Reflexively, he brought his arms together before she could do any further damage, sending a shield of light out to push her away. The Zoroark jumped off of him with a rude kick to the barrier and bounded in the opposite direction again.

    “Ugh—she can’t get away,” Owen mumbled. “Enet!”

    But then—to Owen’s surprise—the Zoroark stopped. For a few seconds, she didn’t do anything. Didn’t turn around, didn’t keep running.

    Owen slowly got to his feet, the bite mark Enet left on his ill-defined shoulder simultaneously massive and shallow. It’d heal on its own. “Th-that’s your name, right?” Owen said, tentatively prodding at where Enet bit. Bruised, but that was all. Despite being a Charmander, he was becoming quite durable! He wondered if he should be worried at how he was becoming accustomed to the regular maiming. “Star told me about you, Enet. You’re… you’re the Electric Guardian, right?”

    Finally, she faced the Charmander. The Zoroark stared at Owen with wide, fearful eyes. She was crouched, ready to flee, powerful muscles tense for immediate action.

    Owen stood awkwardly. “Um… so, I don’t want to hurt you, okay? The other two who were with me—Anam and Amia? We, um, we wanted to take you someplace safe. It’s okay. And… it’s rude to bite people.”

    Enet stared at Owen without even an ounce of recognition or realization.

    “Um… Enet?”

    Her ears flicked at her name. Owen, in the dim light, was able to get a better look at her body language. She was panting, anxious, and she couldn’t understand anything beyond her name, based on how her ears twitched at it and nothing else. He saw that sort of stance for her body type often. But it couldn’t be… could it? “Enet… are… are you… are you a wild Pokémon?” he said. Was that even possible?

    But the more he looked, in the silence of her complex burrow, the more it made sense, The Electric Guardian was feral.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2018
  13. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Maybe it wasn't intentional, but I thought Enet's illusions created a neat mix of Indiana Jones and Legends of the Hidden Temple. So, my inner child thanks you for that. Though part of it was mitigated by the action coming to a stop to remind me that, yes, Owen's a Mystic and these silly little traps ultimately don't mean much because he can bounce back just fine. I know we're still in Act 1, but if you are going to keep putting in dungeon crawling treks, I personally think you'll need to find an effective way to set the stakes properly. As it is, the exploration feels unnecessary... and like more time could've been spent on the real conflict: trying to placate Enet. That part kind of feels a bit rushed, though I do think you ended the chapter effectively and that last line is a good wham line. Gets me excited for what's next.

    It's also with this chapter that I kind of myself shrugging at Anam's, uh, "antics," for lack of a better word. I understand he's concerned with his powers, but what made Buu fascinating was that his childish demeanor was frequently accompanied by his overwhelmingly destructive power. Since we've only been told about Anam's power in these 75k+ words, it's reached a point where I've grown a bit apathetic toward him and feel like he's kind of there solely for comic relief, even though I get the sense he really is more important than what you're showing of him right now. Does that make sense? I'm sure this is going to change, soon, but in case it isn't, I thought I'd point it out. Or maybe you'll want to go back to an early chapter and find an effective way to show Anam's power beyond the "blessing" stuff.

    That's all the feedback I've got. Looking forward to seeing how Owen deals with this new development.

    Maybe it's because it's tough to fight the guy you've banged?

    ... um, eww.

    Aww, man, I was kind of hoping you were going with a reference to Gladion's and Hau's first exchange, but you didn't. RIP.

    I guess when it comes to Anam using his slimy body as a piece of luggage... the thigh's the limit! D'oh ho ho ho ho ho!

    *slaps Anam* Wrong type, ya dingus!

    finally, some more furbait!Oh, sure, let's make a Zoroark with OP illusion powers a Mystic, too. Godzilla threshold, be damned!

    Maybe because "Night Shade" is literally just the name of a move? :V

    Not gonna lie, this made me cringe. Hope that's what you wanted.

    Oh, so Anam's one of the Heartless, then? No wonder this story's so convoluted, it's part of the Kingdom Hearts timeline. Damn it, Nomura!

    See? That's much better!

    Man, Klent, you know how to suck all the fun out of an Indiana Jones spoof.
     
  14. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Woops, forgot to crosspost.

    CHAPTER 16

    Yikes, the word nostalgia here adds a lot of depth that hits pretty hard. Good opening paragraph.

    Star's surprisingly, and effectively, tender here. I don't blame Cara for freaking out like this at all, and Star handled that kind of trauma well. Really, for a few chapters after this, Star's shown a different side of her. I don't think we've seen the end of her secrets yet, but she definitely doesn't seem like an ominous, potentially evil figure I'd like to glare at anymore. :p

    Pfft, this is hilarious. I wonder if Valle would even speak up if he saw danger approaching, 'cause, you know, that'd upset his silence. :p

    Right here I put a note in my Kindle that said, "Oh dear dont tell me theyre mutated somehow." Oops.

    I really, really dig this whole mutated pokémon idea, I just want to say. Star and Arceus, the orbs, the Hunters, de-evolution, the appearance of mutated pokémon plus much of the main characters being mutated and just finding out... You handle all these interweaving plot points extremely well, and it's great when ideas like these are interesting on their own, but the execution especially sells them here. I've been enjoying the rollercoaster ride of secrets being revealed and emotions along with Owen... and next up, I wonder how Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi will react. Probably not quite as badly, but. Not likely to be A-OK with it, at least.

    Man, this family tree just keeps on getting more and more complicated. :V

    Well, I wrote other notes about predicting Owen having a mental breakdown, and about Owen asking Zena about his past and getting answers from her. I figured that if anyone was okay with betraying Star's wishes, it'd be Zena. But it was probably for the best that he heard everything from Star directly in the end. Still, I like that Owen's got an assertive and spunky friend by his side. Her character is written really distinctly.

    CHAPTER 17

    Lol, another good opening here. I like the image of lil baby pokémon putting up cute requests on the board like that. ;o;

    Hmm... It just occurred to me that, for all the mourning Owen experiences upon learning his friends are spirits, we don't really get a lot of info about those friends, do we? Aside from Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy, I don't recall details about Owen's interactions with others.

    I'm dying lmaooo

    I'm surprised Star hasn't broken a Divine Promise by now, too. :V

    I guess his meditation came in handy. In fact, now that I'm caught up, I think the meditation has a lot to do with Owen and co.'s progress with taming their mutated selves. Meditation's a form of tuning into oneself, after all, and that's exactly the problem they have when they reach their final evolution stage, so! I can see why Rhys was so persistent about it now all this time.

    I didn't expect Zena to flat out lie to him, that's for sure. She's not really good at lying, though... She needs to take some lessons from Star, her favorite 'mon ever. :V

    So... I'm kind of torn on this part. I do think you've given a lot of good hints before now about them liking to fight, but I'd hardly call it instinct or abnormal. In fact, Owen's first response to a lot of things is not to be defensive or aggressive or anything; he shows compassion instead, a fact that his friends tell him in chapter 21. I've mostly thought of it as an immature mindset focused on fighting and then whining when it didn't happen because they're kids. The only instant of "abnormal" I'd count so far is Owen's fight with Azu.

    Ughhhh Owen noooo poor baby

    Klent's got... a lot of guts to face Owen as easily as he does. I've never gotten the impression he's uncomfortable around Owen, except for when Owen started asking him questions. I hope we get to see Owen and Klent's daughter meet sometime...

    CHAPTER 18

    Ouch, this hit hard. Zena seems pretty susceptible to being, uh, triggered by Owen's mutant side, for lack of a better term? I say this because of her reactions to what Star's done. But I think she does care and love for Owen a lot more than she ever did Star. I'll be interested to see how these two develop in general, really. I SHIP IT, NO SHAME

    D:!!!

    I wonder how Owen would react if Star and co. were forced to put in protective measures... Since they've gathered a lot of Guardians now, and are still working on gathering more, what if Owen evolves in their presence, for example? Do they have a plan for that? But I bet a plan would show Owen and Team Alloy they can't be trusted and emphasize their mutant-ness, so... I imagine not.

    Also... caught up... Did I miss the part about "tomorrow" where Team Alloy found out ore about their mutant-ness, or...? I mean, Owen asked them to wait till tomorrow, but that scene never came? Or did I miss something?

    Finally, Zena lays into Star like she deserves. :V Sorry, Owen, I don't trust her, either. Or Barky. I'd give Star credit for not wiping it all away and not taking responsibility, but, well, I don't know the full extent of what she did. Yet!

    Interesting... Do Amia and them know they can be controlled like that?

    It's super sweet how she calms down for Owen's sake. At any rate, it's good we finally got some answers about Owen's missing memory, addressed from the POVs of both Owen and those keeping the secret.

    Elite Four PMD style???

    Good thing Anam's so jovial, otherwise the world might be in deep **** given how strong he is. :V
     
  15. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    More great insights from Amby, as usual! I'm definitely going to look into some of the things you've said here, particularly with Anam's power and Enet's introduction. And thanks for the reply, dp! I replied to you on bulba, but I love that I've got reminders from you that there are still silent readers enjoying this stuff... I actually got a comment on AO3, of all places, mentioning these forums and that they've been enjoying the rewrite/remaster of the old chapters. So... hello, folks! Glad you're out there!

    ...Okay, back to actually responding...

    I'm glad I was able to get your inner child, despite having never watched a single Indiana Jones film! ...I probably should, huh?

    Yeah, for the most part, I've been skipping past the explorations because they're, well, bleh. We've already seen one in chapter 1 and 2, and that's pretty much all we need for standard explorations. Everything else is just puzzles and fun stuff--and in this case, it's fun stuff.

    Yep, I see your point here. I'll actually add a few little bits here and more in the next chapter to extend the chase just a little bit, since that seems like a bigger thing to deal with. I don't want to extend it too much, but just enough to show more conflict. Maybe show off Enet's abilities more.

    Thanks for pointing this out. I've been pocketing Anam's power too firmly, I think. It's introduced much later... but giving a hint/a taste is warranted, definitely. After the upcoming Special Episode, I think I'll do that.

    Wow, it really is like that, isn't it? Hah! Oh well. I didn't have that in mind when I wrote this, but the coincidence is funny.

    Yep!

    Okay, folks. Just doing some final tweaks, and then I'll finally be able to drop Special Episode 2 - What You Deserve.
     
  16. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    This special episode contains suicide and mild gore. If you've read up to this point in the story, you likely know that such an act is... different in this context, but for those who are sensitive to the issue, this is your warning in advance if you must mentally prepare. If you have any concerns (such as where it happens or other assurances before you can read) feel free to send me a private message here or on discord. Thank you.

    Special Episode 2 – What You Deserve

    He stared up at the clear, blue sky through blurry eyes. Claws dug into the dirt. A little voice echoed in his mind.

    “Hey, Ra, listen. I’m really sorry you’re feeling lonely, and I get it. Can’t you just meditate for a while longer?”

    Meditate. It’s what she always asked for. And for what? For what purpose? He was already strong enough. There was no point… “I have been meditating for centuries, Star. Please… I just… I just need somebody to talk to.”

    “What about your spirits?”

    Ra shook his head, rubbing at one of the giant scales that covered his arms. “It’s not the same… it’s… it’s like I’m…”

    “Okay, okay,” she said delicately. “I’ll think of something, Ra. Just for you.”

    Lightning shattered the sky.

    Four Pokémon, all of Fire, struggled through the unrelenting rain. Thunder deafened all of Nightshade Forest’s inhabitants. Wild Pokémon fled in all directions, all but one. The lightning struck the ground around this lone feral, the strongest of Nightshade. The one that he had been watching grow since it was just a little, talented hatchling.

    Another bolt of lightning struck only a few feet ahead of the feral. She stopped and turned in the opposite direction, fleeing frantically.

    “Ra! STOP!” Star cried, her misty form clutching onto his arm.

    “Your words are MEANINGLESS!” he roared back, shoving her away. He slammed his scaly arms against his chest, causing another thunderous boom; at the same time, the sky shattered again, sending bolt after bolt into the ground. Rain covered the Kommo-o’s scales. Electricity danced at the end of his tail and sparks flew across every large plate of his body.

    He could see them. He could see them through the clouds he conjured. His body vanished into electricity, surging upward and into the sky. The inky darkness gave way to white, blinding bolts.

    From above, disembodied and one with the clouds, the Electric Guardian stared down at the scattering forms of the forest. The fire grew where he wanted it. The ferals fled. The rescuers went in for the weakling stragglers. It was all just a dance of struggle. A dance he had long since overcome—an existence that he wanted nothing more than to abandon.

    Memories echoed in his mind. Words that cut him more than any claw would.

    “Hey, Ra! Look at that little lady, eh? She’s a little uggo, but I think she’s your type. Eh? Eh?”

    Ra wasn’t sure what ‘uggo’ meant. Apparently, Star found someone of his ‘type.’ What exactly did that mean? Another Dragon-Fighter?

    “You understand why I am skeptical.”

    “Ugh, just go in the clouds. Check it out. I bet you’ll like what you see.”

    Ra humored her. He closed his eyes, focused, and turned his body into electricity and created storm clouds above him. He looked down, eyes widening. He wasn’t expecting that—an Aggron? That was his type? That was nothing like his Type! But… now that she mentioned it, there was something more. What was it? Ra looked closer. “Star… her aura…”

    “See, I knew you’d like her! Now go warm her icy heart.”

    The world trembled. A Charmander struggled through the rain with a Bulbasaur over his shoulder, meeting with a Delphox and his team. After an exchange, they separated, the Salazzle of that team advancing further ahead, and the Charmander stubbornly following. Where was the feral? He found it, much farther away, running in the wrong direction again. He sent another bolt of lightning down. That was enough to get the wild Pokémon to scramble closer to his location. Perfect. He ignored Star’s protests and watched his home burn.

    “Ouch!” Aggron flinched away, putting her claw in her mouth as if it would help. “You sparked me! How rude—are you not able to control your Electricity at all?!”

    Ra shrugged indifferently. “I warned you. You should have been more careful.”

    Icy mist frosted the ground around her. “Insolence! What kind of potential mate do you consider yourself?!”

    The ice did not make Ra flinch, even as it crawled over his toes. “A very strong one.”

    The ice stopped. Aggron glared at him, crossing her arms. “Incredible.”

    They found a Jolteon next. Oh, is that what they were doing? Rescuing the Pokémon from the forest? Of course they would. He wasn’t surprised at all, knowing the way the Hearts operated. He watched them try to save the little creature, shooting down more lighting just to spite them. The Jolteon, distressed and burned, burst with electricity in all directions, paralyzing them both.

    Oh, and who was that? Yes, yes. He saw someone. But what was it? It was too difficult to tell from this far up. Should he come closer? No. He saw it now. He saw the little flame on his tail. That flame seemed to appear out of nowhere. Charmander! Another one! It seemed he was catching up to the Salazzle and her stubborn companion. Yet his aura was quite strange. Even from here, he could sense it. What an odd Charmander. Their auras—both of theirs—felt suppressed, but in different ways.

    Where was that feral? There she is. Yes, keep coming. Closer, closer. She’s just what Star deserves.

    They nearly had the Jolteon awake. They were too close to Ra, though. If they got too far into the forest, they would certainly find him. And then what? She might even get a proper minion out of them. That wouldn’t do. Static formed in the clouds, ready to shoot down and into the trees. This time, he wouldn’t miss. The Charmander. That same Charmander that carried the Bulbasaur to safety. That light in his eyes. How irritating to see. He’ll snuff out his aura first.

    Ra took aim. A bolt of lightning went straight for the little thing—but, midway through, by the sheer randomness of electricity in the rain and over the forest, it diverted and gravitated straight for the Jolteon instead. The Salazzle was fried right through her back. Perhaps Jolteon attracted the electricity. How inconvenient.

    His power was fading—he had to land to recover some of his energy. He took a few fleeting seconds to check on the feral. Closer, closer. She was still going blindly in the right direction, right to him.

    Ra landed back in the forest with a rough grunt. “Perfect,” he muttered.

    “Ra, stop this! Why?! What did I do?! I’m just trying to—”

    “You know what you did,” Ra said.

    “I don’t!” Star said. Her tiny, transparent hands grabbed the Kommo-o’s giant scale on his left shoulder. “Please! Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it! Okay? I’ll fix it! I can, I promise!”

    Ra stared at Star, glaring a hole through her head. Thunder boomed above—whether that was from a latent surge of his power or the natural momentum of the weather, he did not know or care. The rain splattered against his scales, drowning out the sound. He could barely hear Star. The rain, too, passed through her body, only briefly slowed by her presence.

    “Please, Ra,” Star said. “You know I can’t read your mind from here. Is this about…?”

    Ra and the Aggron sat next to each other at the edge of the forest in a rare moment of serenity. The Hunters seemed to have calmed their activities lately, and he sensed no odd auras in Nightshade Forest. The sunlight was a welcome sight.

    “I have to comment, Ra,” she said, “For someone who follows Mew, you’re quite Arceus-like.”

    Ra squinted at her. “And that means?”

    “Hmm…” She crossed her arms, making a deep, metallic boom when they hit one another. “Why do you like Her more than Him?”

    Ra twisted his face into one of concentration and uncertainty. “That’s… a difficult question, Step.”

    Step’s frozen face expressed her skepticism through her eyes. “Oh? More difficult than ‘Do you love me?’”

    Ra looked to the ground instantly. “Ngh…”

    If Step’s metallic face was capable of smirking, Ra was sure she would have. Instead, he felt it in her voice. “Indeed. You said I should be more direct. I am granting that wish.”

    Ra taunted Step with his own smirk. “Hmph. How silly. That’s an easy one to answer.”

    “Oh?”

    Ra reached out and grabbed Star’s tiny, transparent body by the chest. His massive claws easily wrapped around her whole form. He pulled her close, staring into her eyes with a gaze so piercing, he was certain it was giving her a headache. “Your incessant need to fix things,” he said, “is itself what must be fixed.”

    He slammed Star’s body into the ground. She cried out in surprise when his claws pierced her gut, cleaving through her ethereal form like pudding. With another swipe, the Kommo-o sliced her aura in half. She evaporated away, returning to Ra as nothing but a blue ember.

    He didn’t spend too long relishing the feeling of finally making Star disappear, if only for a few seconds, on his own terms. Every second counted. Ra closed his eyes, ready to become the clouds for the last time. He could feel his power fading. Everything that kept him alive… fading. It wouldn’t be long now. A sick smirk spread across Ra’s face.

    “Fine,” he said. “I guess this is it, Star. I’m done with this. It’s time I give you someone more… appropriate.” His body crackled again, electrical arcs dancing over his scales. He shot into the clouds and looked down. Still on target. She was coming right into his abode. He had to act fast. He took one last glance at the two Charmander. They were running toward the Nightshade Forest Dungeon. Now, why would they bother with that? They must have been trying to save the doomed in there.

    He felt the smallest ounce of hope that those two would be able to help them. Two Charmander, saving those that got trapped in the Dungeon? The fire would burn them up. But maybe, just maybe… Ra grunted, shoving the thoughts away. He already created the fire. There was no stopping it now. He had already decided what to do. Now, he had to put it to action. He had seconds to spare. Ra fell to the ground one last time and spread his arms wide. Five blue embers shot out in all directions, manifesting themselves into similarly crackling spirits. “Bring her here!” he shouted.

    They all nodded and bolted into the shadows. Ra watched them for a few seconds, listening to the thunder boom. He closed his eyes again, ignoring Star’s pleas to stop. It was too late for that. His power was already waning, and he was surely attracting the Hunters here at the same time.

    “She’s coming,” Ra said. “It’s time… it’s time, it’s time, it’s time…” Despite how long he’d thought about this moment, his heart was still pounding. Something primal, he imagined. Self-preservation. A Dragon’s pride to live through any struggle. But he was past that. He had ascended into being Star’s little demigod long ago. But now, with so much of his power unnecessarily exerted and depleted just for a single freak storm, he felt mortal again. Just a little bit mortal.

    It was wonderful.

    And now, he was ready to take full advantage of his mortality. He closed his eyes and felt the sky charge above him. The world flashed and lightning finally struck him—straight through his spine, into the ground. He collapsed instantly, and his vision and hearing were gone completely. But he could still feel. He felt the pain of the electricity rocketing through him, the charred scales and flesh of his mortal body. The tense muscles spasming from the charge. He grunted and convulsed—somehow, his hearing returned, though not his sight. Or perhaps it was simply too dark to see. He heard his own breathing. It was raspy. He tasted something metallic. Something was partly missing in his mouth. What was it? Oh, it was probably his tongue. He must have bitten it when he had been struck. No matter. He was still alive, and that was irritating.

    Even with his ringing ears, Star’s pleading was the loudest of all. He refused to listen. He couldn’t believe how durable his mortal body was. Could he stand? He heard Star’s voice in the back of his mind.

    He knew physical pain. He knew all sorts of physical pain in his long life. But in his isolation, the few mental wounds he sustained cut deeper than any battle wound. His immortal body healed from those.

    Regrets lasted much longer.

    Step twirled on her feet with newfound grace. She wasn’t an Aggron, but instead a fellow Kommo-o. Star helped teach her how to use her Mystic power to change into something else, just like Mew were capable of. While it was incredibly difficult and taxing to do, especially out of her Type, Step was strong enough to handle it.

    “Ra… Are you sure?”

    Ra nodded. “I’ve never felt so sure about something in my life.

    Step raised a paw to her chin in concern. “Star warned—"

    “Star has been wrong before,” Ra said quickly. “About a lot of things, apparently. So, I am sure. There is no need to concern yourself with a dead god’s warning.”

    She stared at Ra, sighing. “Very well. If you’re so sure… we shall try, just once.”

    “Twice.”

    Step widened her eyes and then smirked. Ra liked her smile in this form. “Twice? How eager. Am I that desirable?”

    “I want two.”

    “Ra, did your Dragon culture never teach you how to speak to a lady?”

    Ra pondered this. He realized his error. “I would like to have two, please, Lady Step.”

    Step’s expression did not change. “You… are hopeless.” Yet she approached him anyway, wrapping her arms around his neck. Their muzzles touched, and shortly after they were cheek to cheek, chest to chest, tails entwined.

    The Kommo-o was still alive. His claws dug into the dirt. He slowly stood up, trembling, shaking with pain and electricity still jolting through his body. His power was almost completely gone. All that was left was the residual power of his spirits. They were persisting enough to guide the wild Pokémon his way. But if he was alive when she arrived, the whole plan would be pointless. He’d have nothing to give her.

    He felt something in his chest. He realized only seconds later that it was his heart, struggling to beat. But it would last too long. His Dragon pride refused to let him die, even now. “Cursed power… even as a mortal, I’m too strong for myself…” he wheezed. “No matter… I only need… to…” He raised his right hand up, claws clenching. “Star…” he said, barely able to hear her begging cries. “This is for you.”

    His claws lit up with blue, dragon fire. His claws lengthened with that blue aura and he hesitated—for just one second, he hesitated. But that was all he spared for himself. He took one last breath.

    A Jangmo-o lay crumpled on the ground with labored breathing and an open wound on her side. The little Dragon tried to move, but one of her legs was bent at an odd angle.

    Ra watched with cold indifference. “You’re still weak. Try harder. Stand.” He cleaned the blood off of his claws with a flick.

    Step—an Aggron again—watched with an open mouth. She shook her head, stepping toward him. “Ra, you’re going too hard on them!”

    A second Jangmo-o stood trembling next to the first, bleeding one. She nuzzled her side desperately, but she only whimpered in reply. She stared up at Ra. “Dad! Stop! Cent’s bleeding!”

    “Pops… it hurts…” Cent said weakly.

    Ra narrowed his eyes. This was the way that his kind trained. Nothing more, nothing less. He wasn’t going to break from tradition. They were Dragons. Such injuries were trivial. “Hmph. I shall not repeat myself.”

    Cent gasped for air. “Kana… I can’t… breathe…”

    Ra shook his head. It looked like he was going to have to be tougher on them. If they were going to be this weak, the Hunters would make quick work of them if they ever crossed paths.

    “Ra, love, STOP!” She grabbed Ra’s arm, holding him firmly.

    Ra stared at Step, baffled, and then looked at his two daughters. Barely, his eyes softened. But what burned into his memory the most was her cold glare. He’d never forget it.

    Claws plunged into his chest.

    “GHHAAAAAAAAUUUU—”

    Ra couldn’t scream after half of a second. The pain was immeasurable. He forgot what it was like to feel that mortal sort of pain. As a Guardian, he always dulled it. But with his powers almost completely faded, he had no such luxury.

    That meant it was working.

    Ra pulled his claws out, convulsing. His mouth tasted nothing but metal. It was too dark to tell what he had pulled out, but it felt very important. He tossed it aside. He wanted to go again. He wasn’t dead yet. He had to keep going. He couldn’t hear Star anymore. He couldn’t hear anything. It was odd. That pounding in his ears had been so persistent seconds ago.

    In that last, fleeting moment, Ra felt something new and warm—no, hot—inside his chest. And it was one of the few things that lit up the stormy night. He recognized that cursed glow. The dim, yellow glow, like his soul—but it was anything but. If anything, it had been his soul’s prison. The Electric Orb. It had returned, no longer finding any use in its host.

    With the very last of his strength, Ra brought his hand into his chest and pulled it out; blood fell away from its smooth surface easily. He gave it a weak toss forward—it was all he could manage—and fell backward with a smile on his face.

    Ra stood in the small den that they called their home. A humble burrow in Nightshade, lit only by Mystic power. Step was opposite to him, by the entrance. Behind her, where Ra could not see but could only sense, were Cent and Kana.

    Ra gulped. “I’m… sorry.”

    Step’s intense glare didn’t let up. “She’s never going to fight again, Ra. You traumatized her. They aren’t like you.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    Step shook her head. “You cannot forget about mortals, Ra. This Guardian business… your silly Dragon traditions… you’ve lost touch with how reality is for them. They aren’t like us, Ra. They aren’t. We’re from another era. We need to acknowledge that.”

    “I’m… I’m sorry.” His voice trembled.

    Step sighed. She turned around. “Ra… I need to go. They can’t see you right now.”

    Kana peeked in from the side to look at him. Ra made eye contact. She quickly flinched and hid away.

    Step turned around. Ra stared at her metal back. “Please… Step…”

    “No, Ra.”

    “Please…”

    Step’s head lowered but she didn’t turn around. “I’ll… visit.”

    First, there was pain. Then, numbness. And after a while, he wasn’t sure what he was feeling. His mind wasn’t working as it should have. With so little blood, he was starting to hallucinate. Strange figures filled his unseeing eyes. He thought he saw Star with her arms outstretched, golden wings waiting to greet him. But he knew those were hallucinations. They weren’t really Star. Because he knew Star. Star was not going to greet him with such a smile.

    And then that, too, faded to black. For a few fleeting, precious moments, Ra didn’t think. He was only there, or perhaps not there, with his final thought being that he had succeeded. And then, like being disturbed from a great slumber, he opened his eyes.

    “Bother me, will you?” Ra mumbled to the world. He lifted his arm. He felt weak all over. Every movement felt like a chore and—in a brief moment of panic—he thought he was alive again. He felt his chest—it was intact, but it felt unreal at the same time. And then he looked down.

    It was his body, still bleeding a bit, though most of it had drained away or pooled in the great hole he had left behind. His body spasmed a few times, flexing the claws. The tail twitched randomly. One arm even made an odd motion toward the chest, pressing down. Ra smirked. Even when he was dead, he still persisted. Or perhaps it was some quirk of the body that he did not understand. He didn’t care to learn. Instead, he looked at his fading claws. Yes. Without a body, his aura was rapidly dissolving. His time was fleeting. But he had to persist. He wanted to see it happen. He had to.

    And so, the bodiless aura waited. He was sure that his solid spirits would be fading soon, too, now that their source of power was gone.

    There she was. Ahh, it was wonderful to see her up close. He never had the opportunity. It was a bit ironic he had to be dead to see her, but that didn’t matter. He looked down. The Electric Orb glowed faintly a few paces away from his body. He saw the fading spirits chasing her down.

    Zoroark were such clever creatures. They made illusions that could fool entire populations, should they become skilled enough. Quite a few precautions were needed just to not be fooled by one. This particular Zoroark was the most talented of all of Nightshade Forest, able to shift whole clearings into her personal darkness.

    But she was also feral. And that was perfect for Star. A well-deserved Guardian indeed. The five spirits were closing in, wise to her illusions. No matter how talented she was, she was still feral, following instincts and easy patterns. He and his spirits knew her habits like the back of their claws.

    Dead claws! Ra felt another swell of spiteful joy at the thought. But he had little time to celebrate again; she was finally here. The spirits drew her straight into the middle of the clearing, and she was running right toward the Orb. Her eyes flashed with interest, and by some intense curiosity, she went right to it and picked it up.

    She promptly collapsed a split-second later, tumbling into the dirt. Ra blinked. He thought it would be a lot harder to coax the feral to touch the thing. Still, that made the rest of their job all the easier.

    “Ra!” one of his spirits said. “You did it?!”

    “Yes!” Ra grinned. “I am finally finished. You may return to the Orb if you wish… but…” he stared at his claws. “But I believe I am ready to leave.”

    “Shouldn’t we help her to the Core?” asked one spirit.

    “What’s there to help?”

    “Star will try to stop her.”

    “And leave the Orb exposed?”

    “There is no telling.”

    Ra growled, thoughtful. Yes. She might try that. “Very well,” he said.

    And while his aura was barely able to hold its form, he floated to the orb and plunged his cloudy arm into it. The rest of him followed.

    “Pops?”

    Ra jolted out of his meditation. His head swiveled around until he saw the Hakamo-o, the between-state from the budding potential of their lowest form and the proud form of Ra’s final stage. His chest rose and he eagerly stepped toward her.

    “Kana! Oh—hello, Kana. How is your mother?”

    He looked to the right for the berries that he’d been saving for when they visited, but then realized, just by the look, that they were rotten. It had been so long… He hoped that Kana didn’t notice. But he followed her eyes. She had glanced at it, but then looked away. How polite of her, ignoring it for his sake. How embarrassing. He should have remembered to replenish it. It was polite to give mortals food, right?

    Kana shifted awkwardly. “Mom’s the same as always… Can’t visit her as much since it’s so cold, but…”

    Ra nodded, clasping his claws together in thought. He nervously picked at his claws, hesitant to ask the next question. So, he substituted it with another. “And Cent, how’s she doing with her hospital work?”

    “Good,” Kana replied simply.

    “That’s good, that’s good.” His throat felt dry. “Will… they be visiting soon?”

    Ra gasped for air that he did not need. He stared into the black heavens. There was no light from that starless sky, but he could still see his arms. They weren’t lit by any mystical glow. The ground itself was aglow with sparks of white electricity coursing through damp, puffy clouds, somehow solid enough to walk on.

    He knew that clouds did not normally operate this way. Yet by Star’s whimsical magic, they behaved as such in this place—the Electric Realm, Thundercloud Temple. Another surge of electricity danced harmlessly past him, lighting up his massive, plate-sized scales from below.

    He watched the surge move across the clouds and toward a great cluster in the center of a lumpy, gray field. White sparks coursed through the strange structure like blood, revealing its building-like architecture. It had five spires—four corners and a tall center—connected at the bottom by walls that formed a square. The Core was in the center of the lower floors.

    “Ra!” a spirit called.

    The ex-Guardian—the very thought thrilled him—spun around, grinning. But it wavered when he saw the huge, shelled Pokémon’s urgent look.

    “What?” Ra asked the Turtonator. His shell was an electric blue with sparks dancing across the edges.

    “We have to help the Zoroark! Star’s trying to stop her!”

    “Oh, perfect,” Ra hissed.

    The Turtonator struggled to keep up, but Ra understood that he’d just have to race ahead. As a reflex, he tried to sink into the clouds as electricity. Then the reality hit him—as he was no longer Guardian, he could no longer Electrify. He was a foreign entity in this Orb, just like Zoroark. He had to go on foot.

    “Why can’t you Electrify?” Ra shouted back to Turtonator.

    “Star’s aura is disrupting it, or something,” he said. “Keep trying! It’ll distract her!”

    “Ngh, so she truly intends to kill her, just to keep her from becoming the new Guardian?” Ra said. “Doesn’t she realize that if the Orb is unguarded, anybody could get it? I at least gave her the charity of picking the forest’s strongest feral.”

    Turtonator puffed a few times, his entire shell wobbling with each step. He struggled over the soft clouds, tripping over himself. “Ungh—go on ahead, Ra! You’re much faster! You—”

    Ra wasn’t even listening. He just kept running.

    “Y-yes, well… don’t worry about me or anything…”

    Ra heard someone stumble toward his hidden abode. He sensed her aura before and used little pulses of electricity to guide her closer. But she was so slow… and her aura, so weak. He stood up with concern when he realized her pace was at half the pace it usually was.

    “Cent… what happened? You look so different!”

    Indeed, half of the Kommo-o’s scales were missing. Large plates, gone. What remained looked faded and ready to fall like autumn leaves.

    “What’re you talking about? It’s called aging, Dad. You should try it some time. Actually, no. Don’t. It’s pretty rough.” She shifted her weight uncertainly.

    “But your scales…! They’re falling away!”

    “I, uh, look, I’m getting it checked, alright? Don’t worry about it.”

    Up close, Thundercloud Temple towered over Ra. The door’s entrance alone was as thick as his body and went across seven of his full arm spans. The entrance also rippled with distorted light—within, it was going to be the Orb’s Dungeon. But it was nothing he wasn’t familiar with. Without stopping, Ra went straight into the temple. The moment he did, the doorway behind him snapped into a wall. Clouds shifted and softened in some places and materialized and hardened in others instantly. His entire surroundings had changed.

    And Ra stopped. “…No,” he said. “What is this? What happened? What—”

    The ground below him swelled. Solid clouds liquefied into some strange, cold mush, electricity coursing through his body. He jumped away, body trembling on its own from the surge. He wasn’t an Electric Guardian anymore—and as much as he liked that, it meant he would be vulnerable to the electricity. He didn’t have time to acclimate to its atmosphere. He was just a normal Kommo-o spirit. He had to be careful. He wasn’t sure what happened to unacclimated spirits that perished within an Orb. Normally, Electric spirits returned to the Core to recover. But he wasn’t Electric yet. Where would he go?

    Still, it was too late to turn back. He was within the Dungeon. The only way through now was the Core. But what happened to it?

    Thundercloud Temple used to be a blessed Dungeon, like all the others in the world, physical or spiritual. Benevolent Mystic energy coursed through it, providing useful boons to travelers such as blessed berries and trinkets. Even in the Orb, such things existed within Dungeons to assist in safe travel. It also helped to stabilize the Dungeon’s architecture in and of itself. Hallways and rooms, connected to one another, leading from one segment to the next. Mystic energy created such layouts so it was easy to navigate.

    But now?

    Ra saw the wall behind him collapse, revealing another room. In it, a great fissure in the clouds revealed a black void below. Ra did not want to imagine the fate of someone who fell into it.

    He sank partly into the ground. The clouds below him softened. He had to move before his fate to the void became a reality. He spun around and ran, realizing that the Zoroark must be in here somewhere, too.

    Thundercloud Temple was a single-segment Dungeon. Apparently, that was how the spiritual Dungeons operated. Intuitively, the Core was near the middle. He looked up. Could the Core be above? Or is it on the first floor? Where were the stairs? The Temple had stairs leading up and down in a multi-floor labyrinth. The path was never the same. He often went into it to clear his head, as the monotony of walking combined with the thought of remembering his path helped distract him from his troubles.

    The ground shook again. He just needed a sign. He closed his eyes, but then realized he had no means of sensing aura anymore. It was as if a part of his vision was forever lost. How can he be dead, yet still feel like a mortal?

    Ra didn’t know what to think of his new surroundings. It was a miracle that he was able to navigate his way to the mountain at all. Waypoints were such a strange, disorienting technology.

    An Aggron glared at him. “You shouldn’t have come to Kilo Village, Ra.”

    “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

    She shook her head. “Love… why would—"

    Ra jumped. “L-love? You called me…?”

    Step answered Ra with a long silence. She avoided his eyes, glaring at the walls of the hospital. “A slip of the tongue.”

    Ra deflated, looking at the opposite wall. “…I just wanted to see her.”

    “And risk your life?” Step asked, glancing out the window as if she’d see a Hunter right there. None came.

    “Her life is worth more.”

    Step grunted, gently knocking her fist against the wall. It felt a fist-shaped dent. She quietly scooted her body so it’d block anybody from seeing it.

    Step sighed slowly, her breath whistling past her metallic jaws. “…You… foolish idiot. You… foolish…”

    “You came, too, you know.”

    “I detest our similarities.”

    After some wandering, being careful to avoid the voids in the clouds and the ground that looked questionably soft, he saw his first sign of life. A Manectric dashed right past him, skidding to a stop. His paws tossed up hazy vapor.

    “Ra!” he said.

    “Where is the Zoroark?”

    “Further in—or further out? I don’t know—the temple, it keeps shuffling. It’s in total chaos!”

    “Why?!”

    “I think Star disabled all of the blessings. It’s not a blessed Dungeon anymore—it’s—it’s just pure chaos! I don’t think it’s even an untamed Dungeon. I think it’s cursed, not blessed! I—”

    The clouds between them shot up, straight through Manectric’s abdomen. It was so quick and violent that it went straight through him, and his front half was separated from his back half. Cyan embers poured from his body.

    He gasped in surprise, but then stared up at Ra. “I last saw her running that way!” He pointed his paw to Ra’s left. “Star’s trying to kill her!” And that was all he could say. The embers overtook him and his body evaporated. The remaining puff of existence flew at high speeds further into the Dungeon.

    He had to follow it—his spirit was being drawn to the Core. If he followed Manectric, he could at least get closer—at least until he was too far to see. Ra sprinted as fast as he could, tripping over softer lumps on the ground.

    Bolts of electricity surged through his legs with every step. He wasn’t sure how he was able to keep walking through it, but perhaps some residual part of his Electric past helped him through the pain. He saw another aura ember move past him and used that as another lead, jumping over a forming fissure before it became too wide to cross.

    “The Dungeon is falling apart,” Ra muttered. He looked back. “No. It’s already fallen. Now, it’s just… shifting…”

    He heard a yelp and knew immediately who it was—the feral. He finally made it. And he saw someone else there, too—an unmistakable, pink figure flying across the distorted halls. The walls parted ways for her easily, and Ra suspected Manectric’s theories were correct. Star had cursed the Dungeon, all to prevent Zoroark from getting to the Core.

    “STAR!” Ra shouted.

    The Mew jumped. “R-Ra?!”

    Ra slammed his fists against his chest. The reverberations weakened his stance—he knew that he’d be more vulnerable to her—but he was going to do it anyway. He was dead. What more did he have to lose? He slammed his firsts against his scales again, sending dragon-enhanced, sonic waves straight for Star.

    She shrieked and covered her ears, wincing in the pain. Ra didn’t stop. He readied another Clanging Scales strike, knowing that this would be the best way to slow her down.

    It did not last. A Psychic blast twisted the air around him and he couldn’t dodge in time. He roared when the ground was taken from his feet, spun all the way around until he was on his side. He was lucky that most of the attack had missed, or his spirit would have been torn apart right there.

    Star floated up and flew away.

    “How dare you… run away…!” Ra said, staggering up. He slammed his fists against his scales again, sending another wave of sound toward Star. It hit right where he wanted and she shrieked, faltering where she stood.

    She turned her tiny head around with wide, angry eyes. The Dungeon walls collapsed around them, becoming nothing more than clouds and fog as the entire floor shifted and shuffled. Ra weakly jumped to a part of the ground that felt solid, even while electricity danced around every part of the cloudy floor. But he didn’t step wisely. He sank through the ground instantly and saw a glimpse of the void below.

    For just a moment, Ra felt fear.

    “Hey, Ra.”

    Ra was lying in the middle of the clearing in total silence. He could only hear Star’s voice, but he knew she was somewhere inside his Orb.

    “Star.”

    “So… I figure you heard the news.”

    Ra’s claws strangled the air. Despite this, he spoke calmly. “With life comes death. It means nothing to me.”

    “Well… okay.”

    Ra grunted. “It’s just fine. I’ll be fine.”

    “Mhm. Sure. So, anyway, Hecto spotted her along the aura sea… so… if you want, I can—"

    “No,” Ra said, no matter how much it pained him to say it. “Send her to Step, first.”

    “You can always just visit her in her realm…”

    But Ra knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t face her again. He understood, now, why she visited so rarely. He did not adapt. His Dragon pride—it was too much for her, and he was too foolish to not compromise for her sake, and for their kids’ sake. This was his punishment.

    “Grab him!”

    A huge hand grabbed Ra by the arm, stopping his fall. The very edge of his tail and the large scales attached to them grazed the blackness below. It evaporated instantly. He jerked his tail up and stared at his savior—an Electivire. The hulking Pokémon smirked and pulled him out of the pit. Just then, a Zebstrika and Vikavolt crackled past them, tackling Star simultaneously.

    “What do you think you’re doing?!” Star shouted. “Do you realize that if she takes the Core, you’ll all—”

    Twin Thunders struck Star; her scream was deafened by the boom.

    Ra stared dumbly at the display. He only broke his gaze when he heard a crowd of shouts behind him. That’s when he realized—his Clanging Scales were so loud that they drew all of the spirits his way. They were all coming to him—all of them.

    Electivire held Ra by the shoulders, shaking the senses back into him. “Find Zoroark. Bring her to the Core.”

    “But you’ll—”

    Go!” Electivire threw Ra into the air with a single thrust. Something held the Kommo-o in place after that.

    “What—?” He looked back to see a Raichu balanced on her own tail for levitation holding her tiny paws toward him.

    “Get her, Ra!” the southern Raichu said.

    He accelerated rapidly over Star and the others. Star glared and held her paw up. Ra felt something squeezing at the inside of his chest, but only for an instant. Seconds later, an Electrode slammed into Star’s back, held in place by a Heliolisk.

    “Run! NOW!” Electrode said and then shut his eyes tight.

    “Nooo, no, NO!” Star said, but Electrode’s body was already a bright white. He exploded, evaporating the spirits nearest to Star, but not Star herself. Ra knew this only because of the pink sphere that enveloped her, protecting her from the blast, though she still couldn’t see through the smoke.

    He smashed through one of the cloudy walls and flew over another void. He tried to get some sort of leverage, but he was helpless in the air. He saw another creature ahead, flying over the fissure. Its ugly face was a relief.

    The Eelektross wrapped around him and pulled him over the fissure with what momentum he had, finally letting go when they reached solid ground.

    “The Core is just ahead. Zoroark is nearby. See her? There!” He pointed a claw toward a black blur rushing past the collapsing halls to their right. “I don’t know how she did it, but she made it through the Dungeon. She’s a smart feral, that’s for sure.”

    Ra nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “Stop Star for me.”

    “You got it.”

    With that, Ra advanced, realizing that, near the Core, the ground felt a lot more stable. Perhaps even the shifting portions of this cursed Dungeon was unable to split apart the Core’s general area. He sighed in relief, realizing this, and focused entirely on chasing after Zoroark.

    A few spirits were still trailing her. It seemed like she was trying to flee but inadvertently wound up going straight to the Core as they wanted. All she had to do was grab it. They’d force the Core to accept her if they had to, even if Star wasn’t going to allow it. That was easy enough. They just needed time for it to happen.

    He heard it again. Shuffling. Weak, slow shuffling, from a fading aura. “Pops…”

    He rushed to the entrance. “Kana…! How did you make it here?”

    “Not sure myself, heh…”

    Her voice was softer than ever. Shaking, even. Her scales were faded, and a few had come off in small patches that never quite grew back. It wasn’t as fast as Cent. No, this was simply age. It happened to the best mortal—death claimed them all in time. All except for Ra.

    “Please, sit down. Don’t strain yourself,” Ra said softly. He helped her to the wall, where she gratefully sank down, breathing heavily to recover.

    “I just wanted to see you. You know, in person. Before I… can’t make the trip anymore, heh. You wouldn’t understand.” Kana rubbed the back of her head. Her arm trembled when it did. It always trembled—it had been that way for three years, now.

    “Kana…”

    Kana shook her head. “Pops… I don’t remember where Mom lives.”

    Her eyes were downcast as if she aware of her own fading memory. Ra knew about it. He remembered how she had gotten lost before. She had wandered all the way to Nightshade as if it was an old part of her memory coming back, forgetting everything else. Ra had asked Kana about her mate—he had died long ago, too—and Kana didn’t know what he was talking about.

    “Can you write down where she lives?” Kana asked. “So I don’t forget.”

    The Core’s chamber of Thundercloud Temple was as it always had been. Clouds formed a great dome within the center of the building. Jittering strings sizzled across the fluffy interior, all converging toward the center, where lightning whipped at everything nearby.

    He remembered touching this Core long ago. He never knew what happened to the last Guardian. Or was he the first? He had been one for so long, he wouldn’t doubt if that was the case. This world felt so young.

    Zoroark entered the chamber. She spun back upon realizing that she was trapped. Ra caught up with the two Pokémon that had chased her inside. First, he looked to the left at a Pachirisu. Then, he looked to the right at an Electric Typhlosion, lightning erupting where flames usually rose.

    “Good work,” Ra grunted. “Now we just need to keep her inside this chamber.”

    Zoroark hissed at the three of them.

    “H-how do we do that?” Pachirisu asked. “We can’t attack her! If we kill her here…!”

    “Her spirit is strong,” Ra said. “Don’t think she will fall so easily.” He held his arms forward and upward, ready for anything she had for them.

    “Stay behind,” Ra said. “Keep an eye out for Star. I will test Zoroark’s strength myself.”

    “D-don’t you die, either,” Pachirisu said. “You aren’t tied to the Core!”

    “I will be fine.”

    Suddenly, countless blue embers flew over Ra and Zoroark’s heads, entering the Core like embers from an exploding fire in reverse. Ra knew that this meant Star just finished dispatching all of the spirits in the Electric Orb. She’d be coming here soon, perhaps even teleporting right inside. Wait. Why hadn’t she done that before?

    Was it the chaotic Dungeon? Was that the cause? Why? Did she make it that way herself? No… Perhaps not.

    Perhaps Ra himself had done it when he died. Perhaps this realm was in chaos because of his own spirit’s state upon death.

    But the reason no longer mattered.

    “Zoroark!” Ra shouted, pointing at her. “I challenge you to a—”

    Something sharp sliced right through Ra’s back. He roared and stumbled forward, staring at the Zoroark before him. The illusion evaporated. He spun around and swung his arm at the true Zoroark, miraculously connecting.

    She responded by crunching down on his scaly arm, breaking right through one of the plates. He, in kind, responded by slamming her against the ground, pinning her down. He didn’t have to hurt her too badly. Just keep her steady. He stared up at the Core, too bright to look at directly. He brought his arm up, ran three paces, and slammed Zoroark against the bright light. Electricity and heat surged through them both. She shrieked and flailed, trying to push Ra as far away as she could, but even though her spirit was strong, Ra’s was stronger.

    Hands began to emerge from the core—countless paws, tendrils, and limbs wrapping around Enet’s body, digging into her fur and into her spiritual flesh. She screamed, breaking away from it with one final jolt. Ra reached out one last time, but Enet snapped down on his arm instantly—and that was the last his spirit could handle. She crunched straight through it, blue fire pouring out of the wound. He staggered back, clutching at the arm. It didn’t hurt—nothing hurt anymore—but he felt his body evaporating. He felt… fleeting.

    No. Not yet. He wasn’t done yet. He focused, and his arm returned to normal. The blue embers faded away, sealed back inside.

    The Core glowed brightly. Two embers rushed past him and into the Core. That only meant—

    “Nice try.”

    Ra suddenly couldn’t feel his lower body. He fell forward, flat on his face, and used his arms to roll onto his back. He saw his lower half still standing, spewing blue fire. It evaporated in seconds, revealing Star at the entrance, her paw still glowing from the aftereffect of a Psycho Cut. How could she use such a technique? Oh, of course. She wasn’t just a Mew. She was the Mew—designer of all techniques.

    Ra knew he was outmatched, but that didn’t matter.

    “It’s too late, Star,” Ra said, using his left hand to point at the Core. “It’s too much to stop, now. They already touched her.”

    Star’s tiny paws trembled, clenched like fists. Ra just laughed. Sliced in half, lying helplessly on the ground before his Creator. Ra never felt so free.

    Zoroark hissed at Ra, rushing toward Star. The Mew flinched but then realized that she was hiding behind her for safety.

    “What will you do, Star?” Ra asked. “Will you kill her? Your own child?”

    “Don’t use that line on me,” Star hissed. “Practically everybody’s my child!”

    “And look at how you treat them,” Ra said, holding his chest mockingly. “I’m so hurt, mother.”

    “Oh, like you’re one to talk,” Star said. “As if you can tell me you never beat up your kids.”

    Ra’s smile was obliterated.

    Star looked down at Zoroark. The feral looked up at Mew with wide, ignorant eyes. She pointed at Ra commandingly.

    Star raised her paw. Pure fighting energy collected at the tip—a Focus Blast. At the same time, countless white filaments of light emerged from her back like wings.

    “You’re really going to do it,” Ra said. “I suppose you’re showing your true colors, now, aren’t you?” he said. “Pathetic. Truly pathetic. Just to keep your precious Orb safe, you’ll obliterate an innocent feral.”

    “One that you tricked into coming here,” Star said, but the energy in her paw flickered.

    Zoroark stared at Star for a while longer, clearly not realizing that Star intended to destroy her.

    “And then what?” Ra said. “The Orb has nobody. A Hunter will get it. Then what? I did you a favor. I gave you a strong replacement.”

    “She’s hardly strong,” Star shouted. “She can’t even talk! What good is that?!” She winced. “I’ll just have to find someone else. I’ll draw in a new hero. I’ll make them a Guardian instead, and we can start from scratch. Easy.”

    Ra laughed weakly. “But didn’t you forget, Star?” he said, pointing at her. “It’s already too late.”

    The Core flashed. Countless wads of electricity and light exploded out from the chamber, surrounding Star from all sides. Zoroark screamed and ran away, but one of the beams of light latched onto her, piercing her through her back. She wailed and tried to slice it off, but it was already a part of her soul. It dragged her to the Core, even as her claws dug into the clouds. She shook her whole body, flailing.

    “STOP!” Star roared.

    Electric spirits solidified around her. Countless Pokémon. Ra knew the name of every single one. He knew their Electric spirits, and he knew the bodies they used to be long before. Some never abandoned it completely. He saw the Electric Typhlosion again, blasting Star with balls of white sparks. He saw a Luxray—long ago, he was a Nidoking, but had since chosen a different form to take, after so many centuries of being dead.

    All of them barraged Star, attack after attack. Ra saw her tendrils of light explode out, piercing through some of the spirits. The air spun with every Psychic blast. Blue embers poured back into the Core, only to be replaced by new spirits ready to fight.

    Zoroark was pinned against the Core by her own link to it. She was sinking, still screaming. Limbs of spirits in the Core grabbed onto her, stroking her fur. Whispers of calm. But she didn’t understand their language. Finally, the light enveloped her completely, and the Core disappeared—absorbed into Zoroark, the new Electric Guardian.

    “Good…” Ra said, closing his eyes.

    Zoroark fell to the ground with a thud, unconscious.

    “And now what… Star?” Ra said.

    The world trembled as if heaving a sigh at new stability. Zoroark’s wild heart, while terrified and confused, was not in pain like Ra’s was. And, indeed, the Kommo-o could sense Thundercloud Temple slowly ease its way back into stability.

    Star stopped fighting the spirits to glare at Ra through the many bodies that blocked her view. The spirits, too, stopped, knowing that their part of the job was over.

    One final Psychic blast eliminated them, leaving only Ra behind. The rest watched from the Core. At this point, only his upper chest, arms, neck, and head remained.

    “I’ll just… kill her now,” Star said. “She’s… she’s asleep. She won’t even know it.”

    “And what then?” Ra asked.

    “I already told you.”

    “No, Star,” Ra said. “You’re just telling yourself that. You’re just upset that I’m leaving… that I’m finally free.”

    “It isn’t like that, Ra,” Star said. “I’m just trying to help!”

    “Oh, and what a wonderful help you’ve been!” Ra said, waving his right arm. “Centuries of isolation and suffering for all! Yes! A fantastic existence!” He let his arm drop. “My lovely Step was right to abandon you.”

    “Just like she abandoned you,” Star said.

    Thundercloud Temple was silenced.

    “…I’m sorry,” Star said, lowering her head. “That… that was uncalled for.”

    “It’s just like you, though,” Ra said, but he couldn’t hide the tremble in his voice. He steadied himself. “Doing something you think would be good right now… not realizing the consequences later. For a Psychic, you have surprisingly little foresight.”

    Ra grunted, realizing that his arms were too weak to hold him up. They were evaporating. Now all he could do was stare at Star with what little strength he had left. He wondered what would happen to him afterward. Still, after everything, he wondered if the peace of oblivion would be preferential. Was that his destination?

    “Star, if you kill this feral,” Ra said, “you’re no better than Arceus. Remember that.”

    Star flinched. The temple let out a final sigh.

    “I have one more thing that I want to ask you, Star,” Ra said, knowing that he’d won. “Something that… you never answered. That you always evade when I ask. The memory is so… faded. But seeing as I’m about to go… I want you to answer for me. Finally, you can be honest. Why I can’t remember. Why this person… is so faded from my mind… and yet… feels so important. Perhaps as important as Step. Yet by what I imagine is a Divine Decree… I am not allowed to remember.”

    Star said nothing, but he had her attention.

    “Where,” Ra said, “is Yveltal?”

    Based on how Star didn’t react, Ra knew she was expecting this question. His vision was fading. He felt oddly tired. His mission complete, he actually felt rested. At some point, his eyes had closed, ready for an eternal nap.

    “Ra…” Star said.

    One last annoyance, he figured. He opened his eyes and glared at Star. “What? Will you answer?”

    Star looked down, flicking her tail thoughtfully. “…I can’t.”

    Ra snorted. “Of course.” And with that, his spirit evaporated completely.

    Ra stood in Thundercloud Temple. Only moments ago, his heart had been filled with more joy than he’d ever felt in decades. Both of his daughters had returned to him, and they looked as youthful as ever. In their prime, even, like a proud Dragon should. But then, seconds later…

    Cent shook her head. “Like, Pops, my mate is waiting for me across the aura sea. I can’t stay. I just came here because… I know you can’t really follow.”

    Ra shook his head in disbelief. Then, he turned to the other daughter. “Kana…”

    But she, too, shook her head. “Dad, I… I can’t just stay here forever. The other spirits might be happy, but I don’t want to lose myself here. I have to go.”

    Ra stepped forward, but both his daughters just turned away. They couldn’t bear to look at him, but Ra just wanted to see their eyes one last time.

    “Mom already said bye,” Kana said. “She’s glad that we can move on. But, Dad…”

    “Please… there has to be some way,” Ra said. “What—what about your children? My grandchildren? Can’t—can’t I see them?”

    But Ra knew the answer. He was never allowed to see them—not him, nor Step. And he shouldn’t. They shouldn’t know about this Guardian conspiracy. They should live normal lives. They should never know he exists…

    Cent sighed tiredly. Ra thought, for a moment, that they would actually stay. But then she said the one thing he didn’t want to hear—the same words that he’d heard so many decades ago. The empty promise.

    “We’ll visit.”

    Where was this?

    Ra recognized it, vaguely. He couldn’t move. He lacked a body to move. All around Ra was a great, endless expanse of darkness, populated only by the gentle glow of countless auras, all moving in one direction toward a great, dim light.

    The aura sea, Ra said. So… that’s where we go. Even if a spirit dies… we still can’t rest. We go right here. We all go… right here.

    The faint glow of the outer spirit world beckoned him. He let the flow take him, for he knew his daughters would be waiting.

    But then the flow changed, just for him. He bumped past a few spirits, falling through their fire. He heard their thoughts. Terrified thoughts, confused thoughts. One was whimpering that it still burned. The other one was nothing but a series of hisses and growls.

    A great, gray figure stood above the sea, staring at Ra with his one eye.

    “Hello, Ra,” the Dusknoir greeted.

    Hecto… Ra said.

    “I am fortunate to find you in the sea. Star warned me that you would flow here soon.”

    Then perhaps I should have stopped thinking.

    “Perhaps, yes,” Hecto said, “if your desire was to evade my eye.”

    Hecto held out his massive hand, grasping Ra’s flickering soul within it.

    Where are you going to take me, then? Ra said.

    “Star requested I send you somewhere specific,” Hecto said. “The typical afterlife is not a location suited for one such as yourself.”

    This was the second time that Ra felt fear this night. That fear was snuffed out with spite and anger. So that’s how it is? he said. Such a place truly exists after all…? When Hecto did not reply, Ra continued to speak. Know that she’ll never be happy with what she’s done to me. I’ll never give her the satisfaction that I’ll suffer. I’ll take whatever eternity you give me, and I’ll take it with nothing but eternal hate. When I’m free, I will do more than kill her, Hecto. I’ll find everything in my power to ruin her, the same way she did for us. To all Guardians. To this whole world. The world you claim to watch over. You are a blight. You and that despicable Creator.

    Still, Hecto said nothing.

    I should have sided with Arceus and the Divine Dragons, Ra finally said.

    Hecto’s one eye did not blink, but Ra was out of words to say. The Dusknoir turned, pointing Ra toward some black void in the sea. “Good luck, Ra,” Hecto said, and then pressed his hand forward. Ra flew through the sea, far, far away from the flow of the many spirits that made their transitions into the next world. He was away, now.

    Ra cursed Star all throughout the void.

    Ra stood outside of his den, walking deep into the clearing. The once clear sky darkened with lumpy clouds. The world roared. “You did this to me.”

    “No—Ra, that’s not what happened!” Star said. “I wasn’t trying to—"

    “You… RUINED my life…!”

    “I—I had no choice! I was just trying to help! I—"

    Ra shook his head. “I’m done.”

    “D-done? R-Ra! Wait! What are you doing?”

    Ra held his arms out. The lightning crackled along his scales and between his claws. “The forest will burn… and with the last of my power… I’ll lay the Orb bare.”

    “Gnnkk—!” Ra gasped his first breath. A horrible coldness pierced his throat. He struggled to his feet. He could barely stay up. All he could see was a gray darkness. Hard snow and heavy winds slammed against his scales, freezing him to the bones. He took a single step and that was too much.

    “S-so this is my eternity, is it… S-Star…” Ra said, looking at the black sky. He wandered through the snow even as his scales became coated in a thick layer of ice. His limbs froze up. Every step chipped away at the ice layered upon his cold form. “I will… for all of my existence… devote every second… to…”

    He collapsed. The snow billowed over him, covering his body. His spirit wanted nothing more than to move, but his energy was gone. Everything was fading again. Step… Kana… Cent… Ra said. I’m… sorry.

    It all faded…

    “I found him!”

    Ra’s eyes shot open.

    “Oops. I think he’s frozen already.”

    “Don’t just stare at him—help out, Sis!”

    “R-right, sorry. MOM! We found Dad!”

    Icy hands wrapped around both of his arms.

    “Okay, one, two—three!”

    They lifted him up. By some miracle, he could still see. Tears froze painfully against his eyes. He couldn’t speak.

    Two Kommo-o tilted their heads at him. They were see-through, like glass. Closer inspection indicated that it wasn’t glass—it was ice, like living sculptures. “I think he’s out of it,” said the left one.

    “Where is he?” a booming voice called.

    Ra knew the voice, but he also knew the sound of her heavy, slow steps. He saw an Aggron in the same style as his daughters, see-through and glimmering in the dark. Her steps pierced through many feet of snow without effort. Her solid eyes softened upon seeing the helpless, frozen Dragon.

    “Unbelievable…” Step said, putting a hand to her forehead, making a dull tok noise. “Star told me that I should be expecting you. I didn’t think she meant it like this.”

    “St… ar…” Ra said.

    “Yes, Star,” Step said, crossing her arms irritably. “I thought she meant you were going to try to visit at the same time as Kana and Cent.” When Ra didn’t reply, she went on. “This is more than a visit, I imagine.”

    “Uh, Mom, I think he’s an icicle,” Kana said.

    Cent tapped her claws on Ra’s cheek. Solid. “Yeah, he’s frozen.”

    Step sighed, this time using both of her hands to cover her face. “What a fool… what a mess…” She groaned. “You’re helpless without me.”

    The statue of Ra did not reply.

    “Come. Let’s take him to the Core so he can acclimate,” Step said. She turned around, walking through the snow of the Ice Realm.

    Kana took the front, while Cent took the rear, making sure they didn’t accidentally break some part of their father’s frozen spirit along the way. He was so stiff that it actually was much like transporting a statue.

    “Mom?” Cent said. “I guess we can visit a little more often, but… are you gonna talk to Dad more, now?”

    “I doubt I have a choice,” Step replied.

    “Yeah, but,” Kana interrupted, “we mean more like… are you two… gonna be together again?”

    “Again,” Step said, “it is not like I have a choice.”

    “But you do,” Cent said. “You can just tell him to go. But… you aren’t.”

    Step pressed on without a change in expression. “We’ll talk,” she said. “If he chooses, I will allow him to… stay. Perhaps… it is time we reconnected.” She looked down. “After all, there is… nothing separating us now, is there?”

    Step looked back at Ra’s desperate expression, frozen in time. She sighed. “You look disgusting when you’re weak,” the Ice Guardian said, knowing his spirit could still hear her in some small way. “When you attach to my Core, I expect you to be stronger. Like you used to be.”

    They climbed a small hill and slid down. Snow collected over Ra’s eyes, blinding him. He only heard the howl of the wind and the sound of her voice.

    “Star came here only moments ago to tell me about your arrival,” Step said. “I’ve never seen her so shaken.”

    Despite being unable to see, Ra could feel her smile.

    “I liked that.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2018
  17. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I am being super slow reading this. I'm gonna post reviews up to where I've read so far, which is the first six chapters!

    Chapter 1

    Owen getting called a kid when he's a late evolver? Hmm... I wonder what it is that's stopped him from evolving, then? Hopefully the eviolite that Nevren gave him will come in handy. (I'm almost ten chapters into this story atm, and I'm still wondering what on earth happened in the prologe, and whether it has something to do with Owen's late evolution!)

    Gahi, Demitri and Mispy are an interesting trio, and it's neat they share Owen's late evolution issue.

    The huge snorlax throws yet more suspicion in the air. Something weird is definitely going on!

    Chapter 2

    Nasty aerodactyl is nasty. A real hearken back to the outlaws in the Explorers series. Thank goodness Team Alloy came to Owen's aide.

    I already like Rhys, and the odd familiarity Owen feels to him and Team Alloy is pretty weird. Hmm... That pink cloud, too.

    Owen's secret home... his parents are definitely worried about something.

    Chapter 3

    Well, at least Rhys seems to take Owen seriously about that cloud thing.



    I don't think that was the answer Owen was expecting.

    Also, I'm glad Owen called out that song and dance to get into Hotspot Cage as silly. Yeah... I don't think I'd dare do that, either XD

    His parents didn't seem as worried as he thought they would be, either! I wonder if Rhys was the one who posted that little notice about Owen's mishap?

    Okay, so Rhys's bag and Anam are glowing now? All this glowing... I'm really curious as to why Anam would glow, though. It's not pink like that cloud.

    Owen's score was top notch! I wonder how strong he'd be if he'd fully evolved?!

    Chapter 4

    The description of how water dungeons make things difficult for Owen is pretty cool. The fire trap technique he's learned is really neat, btw =D I don't think I've mentioned that yet.

    Those watery pokemon sure are ominous. I don't think they're ghosts D=

    And yay, Owen get's accepted into the Thousand Hearts!

    I initially got the impression that the Espurr was talking to Owen in his sleep. It seemed odd that she would then attack him. I'm not sure if it's her anymore or (cough-Mew).

    Just something I noticed:



    In the next chapter, Owen describes her attack as incredibly strong. Is this an oversight, or is Owen just playing down his strength to his friends?

    Chapter 5



    Listen to Rhys!



    For goodness' sake. I said 'listen to Rhys'!!

    So the espurr has a name, and Rhys is rather familiar with her... Interesting.

    This conversation with James and Anam really throws some questions into the air. Like... why aren't Owen and his friends meant to be together? Is it just because they are really strong, or does something keep happening to them during all the calamity with those mutated pokemon things?

    Ooh Rhys tricks Rim. That can't be good D=

    And Owen meets Mew!

    Chapter 6

    Mew is a lot more playful than one would expect. Mind you, it is in the anime, too, so...

    I'm glad Owen's alive and has made it back in one piece. Albeit... altered.



    Not gonna lie, was expecting a leaf blade. But this is like... a billion times better!
     
  18. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Thanks for the reviews, @DeliriousAbsol ! I looked into that one bit you mentioned about Rim's attacks being mentioned as both strong and weak, and I'm eventually going to post a revision that better clarifies that while it felt intense, it felt like she wasn't going all-out.

    Anyway! Onto the next chapter after a very heavy Special Episode. Hopefully this will bring things back to the usual tone.

    Chapter 26 – Isolation

    “Enet… that’s your name. Right?” Owen said, careful to not speak too loudly. The Electric Guardian, feral? A wild Pokémon? How was he supposed to work with that?!

    The Zoroark stared uneasily at Owen. The Charmander was never good at reading wild expressions. Was she afraid? Happy? Defensive? Angry? It could be anything. Their culture was entirely alien to him, if he could call it a culture… Maybe it was just instincts. Oh, if only his perception wasn’t so dulled as a Charmander. Maybe he’d get a better clue. He just had to guess. How would wild Pokémon normally behave?

    Owen took a careful step forward. Perhaps not the best move, Owen considered. He saw the Zoroark tense and he reversed. “S-sorry,” he said. “Enet?”

    Her ears flicked.

    “I’m… I’m a friend. Oh, um…” Owen carefully moved his arms. Enet watched every movement, especially when he put them into his pouch. Slowly, making sure he made no sudden movements, he pulled out an apple. Enet lost her tension when she saw the red fruit, but still stared uneasily.

    “Here,” he said. Gently, he rolled the apple toward her. It stopped a few inches from her feet. Without taking her eyes off of him, she reached down and held the apple, tentatively sniffing it. She took a bite and lost sight of Owen for only a split second. She immediately looked back at him; Owen sensed her aura flare with panic at just that moment. When Owen didn’t do anything, Enet’s tension faded slightly.

    He took another step back, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. But what would she be afraid of? She was at least thrice his size… Maybe it was his flame. But if he transformed now, it would just startle her.

    “I—I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said. “I’m here to help. Okay? Enet?”

    “Enet…” the Zoroark finally repeated.

    Oh, thank goodness, she can actually talk! Owen tried not to look too excited externally.

    “Y-yeah, Enet,” Owen said. “Do… do you know that’s your name? Enet—if you know that, and you can say your name—does that mean you can actually talk?” It wasn’t so helpless after all. Still, she was definitely wild to an extent…

    The Zoroark took a long time to answer. She was halfway done with the apple. “Talk…” she said. “No.”

    “I—I mean, you can kinda talk,” Owen said.

    Enet growled.

    “S-sorry, I didn’t want to patronize or anything…”

    Enet growled more.

    “Wh-what?” Owen squeaked. “I—I’m sorry!”

    Enet chomped on the last of the apple and turned around in a huff. She started to walk away.

    “E-Enet?” Owen said. She wasn’t watching him anymore—did she feel safer? “W-wait!” he called, walking after her, just fast enough to keep up, but not get closer.

    The walk was surprisingly long. The Zoroark made specific turns; they seemed random, but Owen had a feeling she knew where she was going. Every so often, Owen spoke up, but Enet would usually only reply with a huff or a growl. It wasn’t until at least several turns that he actually got a meaningful response.

    “Um… so you’re… the Guardian? Electric?”

    Enet huffed and flicked her tail. Little sparks flew from her fur.

    “Wow! Yeah, that’s it alright… cool… I’m the Grass Guardian,” Owen said. “See?” He waved his hand, turning it green. Enet wasn’t even watching, and more silence ensued between them. “Um… do you like apples?” Owen asked.

    “…Apples. Good.” Enet said.

    Owen thought he’d hallucinated the response. It took him a few seconds to come up with his own. “Okay, that’s good. Apples are good.”

    “Good.”

    Owen nodded. “Um… how… much do you know? How to talk?”

    “Words.”

    “Y-yes, you know words,” Owen said.

    Enet growled at him again.

    “Wh-what?”

    “Not stupid,” she said.

    “Oh!” After that, Owen nearly said, ‘So, you know that word,’ but managed to save his own life by refraining. Instead, he said, “Sorry.”

    They made a few more turns. The cave was getting even darker. How deep did this burrow get? The ground was starting to feel compact, like rocks…

    “Do, um… are you… wild? Um… always wild?”

    Enet took a bit of time again, but then she shook her head. “No.”

    “Oh, so you used to be… not wild?”

    “No,” Enet said.

    “Um…” Owen hesitated. “So… you’re wild?”

    “Yes.”

    “Always wild?”

    “No.”

    “But you used to be wild… wait… um…”

    Enet snorted, impatient. “I know words.”

    “Oh, yeah. Yeah, you do,” Owen said. It took a few seconds for him to realize what Enet meant. “Actually, about that—who taught you…?”

    Enet waved her arms around, briefly shifting her appearance until she resembled a Mew. Then, she reverted back to normal. Owen made a mental note that this Zoroark’s illusions were well above average.

    “Oh! Okay, okay, I get that,” Owen said. “Star taught you word—wait… s-so you really were wild when you got the Orb! That’s… that’s crazy! How did they accept—”

    Enet was growling again. Owen recognized this as her way of saying he was saying too much, or speaking in a way that she didn’t understand.

    “S-sorry. Um… so… when you got the Orb… they let you?”

    “No.”

    “Oh. How did you?”

    “I fought.”

    “Oh.” Owen supposed he should have expected that response. “You fought off… the Electric Spirits? Or… the old Guardian? Or…?”

    Enet shrugged. “Fought. Scary.”

    How strong was Enet? Owen hesitated, wondering why she was afraid at all. Or was it just her spirit that was powerful? “So, you took the Orb by force? From who? Who had it before?”

    “Who?”

    Owen paused. So, the Orb was abandoned, or otherwise alone, and Enet found it. It seemed like when she touched it, the electric spirits tried to drive her away, but she was too strong. That seemed like a reasonable story. A powerful, wild Zoroark. “Wow…” Owen said.

    “Why… follow?” Enet asked.

    “F-follow? Oh, sorry, I… I wanted you to come with me.”

    “To?”

    “My home,” Owen said.

    Enet scoffed. She flicked her hair against the Charmander—the sheer force and weight of just that brush and the odd, teal bangle that kept it all together nearly knocked the tiny reptile over.

    “No,” she said.

    “Why?” Owen asked. He briefly wondered if offering more apples would appease her. Infinite apples for the feral? They were very food-driven, after all. But given how she reacted when he insinuated she wasn’t smart, she’d probably take it the wrong way if he offered her food. He tried a different strategy. “Isn’t it… lonely?”

    Enet flinched.

    Owen saw that as progress. If she wanted companionship, they had lots of that. He could only imagine what it would be like to be isolated like that, just like all the Guardians. He saw hints of that damage from Zena. But for Enet—even if it didn’t look like she was Guardian for very long—she didn’t even understand why. She was just a feral. Didn’t she want to be with a pack?

    “No,” Enet said. “Not lonely.”

    But it wasn’t going to be easy, it seemed. She was stubborn. Leave it to a feral Guardian to be that way. “Enet…”

    “No!” Enet growled. She spun around and pointed at Owen in an accusatory fashion, eyes narrowed dangerously.

    Owen let out a small “Eep—!” and stopped right when her claw poked at his scales.

    “You’re… small!”

    Owen’s eyes maximized. Despite the claw only brushing his chest, it felt like he’d been stabbed in the heart. “I… I’m small?”

    “Too small!” Enet said, sticking her nose in the air. She crossed her arms and turned around. “Want better.”

    The confidence drained from Owen like blood. Flustered, he tried to salvage what he had left. “I… I mean… I mean, why…? My home is… big! Lots of friends!”

    “Bigger friends?” Enet asked.

    Owen stared down. “Y-yes. Bigger friends. Wait. Um—Enet?” Owen looked up. “Did you see… a Gardevoir and a Goodra?”

    Based on the blank look she returned, Enet didn’t know what those species were.

    “Um, big, purple, slimy. And another one, blue, with a fin, here…” Owen held a hand to his chest to mimic Amia’s chest-fin.

    “Oh,” Enet said, nodding.

    “Are they okay?”

    Enet shrugged. “Ran.”

    “Oh,” Owen said. “So, they’re still somewhere in here. But it’s so complex, I dunno if…” He sighed. They were stronger than he was—they’d be okay. Hopefully they’ll find their way out. “How come you can’t come with me because I’m small? To my home?”

    Enet glanced back, staring at Owen like he was stupid.

    “What?” Owen said. “Our home is nice. You’ll be safe.”

    “Need better father,” Enet said.

    Owen blinked twice. “What?”

    “Need big, strong dad.”

    Owen’s arms dropped from their fin-pose on his chest. His heart skipped a beat. The flame on his tail flashed white. “W-wait! N-n-n-no, no, no—no! I wasn’t—that’s not—NO!” Wild Pokémon—why didn’t he realize it before? “I don’t want to be your mate! I want to be your friend! In… your… pack!”

    “Pack?” Enet said, flicking her ears again. “Still too small.”

    “Oh, come on!” Owen begged. What ego he had left was now smaller than he was. “Others in the—uh, pack are a lot bigger, though! And stronger! We’re Guardians, you know?”

    Enet considered this, but then stopped. They reached what appeared to be a dead end, but the cave had opened up into a small cavern. Owen recognized it as her home, though there wasn’t much to it. A few fruits and berries, a nest, a small collection of water in a hollowed-out Aspear berry, and mysterious bones. Owen eyed one of them, praying to Mew that those weren’t Charmander bones. It was hard to tell. No, don’t be silly—they couldn’t be! Charmander didn’t live in Nightshade. The darkness was just getting to him. Something about a Zoroark’s den made his flame’s glow a lot less impactful on the walls.

    “Stronger?” Enet said, breaking Owen out of his trance.

    “Yeah. And Star’s our friend, too,” Owen said.

    “Star…” Enet said softly. “I miss Star…”

    A full sentence! Owen thought. “She’s really nice, huh?” Owen said. “Actually… would you like me to try to summon her?”

    Enet growled slightly.

    “T-to… see her? Want to see her?”

    Enet watched.

    “I can bring her right here. Now.”

    “You can?” Recollection flashed in her eyes. The Zoroark made a motion with her claws. To her chest, and then pushing her hands outward in a spreading motion. “Like…?”

    “Y-yeah! I think! A summon!”

    “Call… summon,” Enet said, nodding. “Yes. Summon.”

    “Okay. Give me a second, yeah?” Owen sat down, crossed his legs, and closed his eyes. He channeled his aura and went inward, feeling for his Grass Orb. There. Star…? Star, are you there?

    A few seconds passed.

    She’s coming, Klent replied. She must be in another part of the realm.

    Oh, okay. Thanks, Klent.

    How are you doing, Owen? Klent went on. Feeling… small?

    Not funny.

    Don’t worry! Amelia chimed in. When you evolve, you’ll only be half her size!

    You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?

    The Jumpluff and Lilligant laughed to one another. Owen heard the chuckles from the other spirits, too, and his tail flashed white from his embarrassment again. Despite this, the Charmander’s mouth twitched to a small smile. He never heard Amelia laugh like that before. Fine, fine. You win.

    Eventually—Enet was running her claws through her hair to pass the time at this point—Owen heard Star’s voice. Yo. Found her?

    Yeah. Enet wants to see you. She’s… a little… wild.

    Yeah, she is, Star giggled. She’s got a wild personality, huh?

    N-no, I mean, she’s literally a wild Pokémon. She can barely talk!

    What…? Star said. Again? …Hm… well… okay. You want me to come over?

    Yeah.

    Okay.

    A pinkish mist blew from Owen’s chest, forming into a cloud that was barely discernable as a Mew-shaped nebula.

    “I guess it’ll do,” Star said, looking at her paws. “Not bad, Owen. Manny must’ve boosted your power a lot.”

    “Th-thanks,” Owen tittered. “Anyway, um… Enet, you—”

    Enet swatted at Star, passing right through her.

    “Hey!” Star said, swatting back. The mist made a small gust of wind that barely moved the Zoroark’s fur. “Stop that! I’m not something to smack around!”

    Enet flinched and looked down.

    The nebula floated in silence, spinning around the Zoroark to get a better look. “Enet,” Star said. “It’s been a while, huh?”

    Enet nodded. “Long time…” she said.

    “You were isolated for so long, you must’ve… forgotten a lot that I taught you, huh?”

    “Forgot?” Enet said.

    Star sighed, but then looked at Owen. “A long time ago, the old Electric Guardian… kinda got sick of being Guardian. He just… gave up and withdrew into the Orb, leaving for the spirit world. In other words, uh, died. Enet came over after a while, and… touched the Orb, and then we met.”

    “Yeah, I figured out that much,” Owen said. “But what happened after? You… taught her how to talk?”

    “Pretty much,” Star said. “Taught a lot of things. I’m good with wild Pokémon. And sapient Pokémon. I mean, I’m good with pretty much all life. Y’know, comes with the position.”

    “Yeah, right, right,” Owen nodded. “But… Enet forgot?”

    “Something must’ve happened to scare Enet off. She wasn’t the most experienced Mystic, and she must not’ve been able to meditate her way back into the spirit world. And then… I mean, time washes away quite a bit, y’know. She must’ve… regressed.”

    Enet growled. “Big words.”

    “I know, I know,” Star sighed. She looked to Owen. “Believe it or not, Enet never liked big words.”

    “I… I believe it.”

    Enet nodded.

    “But I guess now we’re back together. Hey, Enet…” Star said gently. “Do you want to come with us? It’s safer, and it’s a lot better than living here, I promise.”

    “But…” Enet paused. “You said… to stay away.”

    Star winced. “Y-yeah, I did,” she said. “But we had a change in plans. Now we can stay together. How about that, huh?” The misty Mew held out an incorporeal paw.

    Enet stared at it, but then stood up. “Okay,” she said. She swatted at Star’s paw and turned around. “I need… time.”

    “Oh, to get your things?”

    “…She has things?” Owen said.

    Enet circled around her little alcove and picked up two items. The first was a fresh-looking Sitrus Berry. The second was a shiny rock with flecks of something turquoise—some kind of lucky stone. However, Owen’s extensive knowledge of Dungeon texts recognized that it had no use in a Dungeon or in battle. It was just pretty.

    Owen paused, thinking. That stone reminded him of something, but what was it?

    “Hey, Enet,” Owen suddenly said. “I have a pretty stone, too.”

    “Y-you do?!” Enet said. “Show me!”

    Owen giggled and dug through his bag. “Look!” he said, pulling out Nevren’s gift. “It’s a raw Eviolite for Pokémon like me. Apparently, it taps into the latent evolutionary energy that’s stored inside of us, and makes us stronger using that! It’s awesome! At least, that’s what I read about how it works.” Seeing that she didn’t understand what he said, he added, “It makes small Pokémon stronger!”

    “Wow…!” Enet said. “Then, you… super strong!”

    “Aha ha… ha…”

    “Uh,” Star pointed, “that’s not an Eviolite.”

    “…It isn’t?” Owen said. “But I felt so much stronger…” And he read Dungeon texts. He knew what they looked like, and he certainly could feel the effects on his suppressed aura.

    Star shook her head. “That’s an Everstone-Eviolite amalgam… thing.”

    “Wh—but…! But it doesn’t look like an Everstone at all!” Owen said. “Wait—Everstone…. But isn’t that what keeps me from evolving!?”

    “Yeah, and yet you still evolved,” Star said. “…But then again, both times you evolved, you didn’t have your bag with you, right? You dropped it when you were running off in a fit the first time, and then the next time, you were fighting Azu unequipped. Huh.”

    Owen stared at the stone, then at Star. She was right. But if that was the case, did that mean—

    “S-so… so this is what’s keeping me from evolving?”

    “Your aura must be getting to that point where even a reset won’t keep you down,” Star hummed.

    Enet growled.

    “Sorry, Enet,” Star sighed. “Owen goes crazy if he evolves. So, we keep him like a Charmander. But that might not last, looks like…”

    “W-well, I’ll just… hang onto this,” he said, clutching the bag close. “I don’t wanna…”

    Star smiled sadly. “Hey, don’t stress,” she said. “You’re still a Charmander. And you’re fine as a Charmeleon. And… I dunno,” she said. “Maybe next time you’ll make it.”

    Owen felt less sure.

    “Well, anyway,” Star shrugged. “Let’s go back. I can sense Anam panicking at a dead end, and Amia is still lost. Let’s find them and head back, alright?”

    “R-right.” Owen looked down at the Everstone-Eviolite. As he followed the Mew and Zoroark, he kept the bag clutched a little bit tighter to his chest.

    <><><> ​

    “Aw, hello there. Welcome to Sugar ‘n Spice.”

    The Salazzle leaned over the counter, eying her new customer. Sugar tilted her head at her odd silence.

    It was an Espurr with three large, brown bags filled with fruits, meats, and other groceries and treats. Since her arms were so tiny, the bags merely floated behind her, leaving her tiny paws free to point and gesture. Not that she did. She instead stared at the air in front of her.

    “Um… are you okay, Espurr?” Sugar asked. “Are you looking for Spice? She’s out doing Heart business today. Just me.”

    Rim’s huge eyes stared at the wall behind Sugar.

    The Salazzle shifted uncomfortably, but kept up her smile anyway. She couldn’t hide the nervousness.

    Rim’s eyes glowed bright. Sugar flinched, readying for some sort of Psychic blast—oh, she knew it was rude, but Psychics always got her on edge.

    Rim pointed a paw at the wall.

    “Y—yes?” She nervously looked back. “Oh.”

    The wall was the display of all the menu items they had—all the little sweets and snacks that made Sugar ‘n Spice one of the most popular treat stops in all of Kilo. Little symbols of light appeared on many of these menu items in units of five. Others went as high as twenty.

    “Wow, talk about a big haul,” Sugar said. “You got it. Just give me some time to gather them all up!” She slipped inside the back room, memorizing the order.

    Rim stood in place, closing her eyes. Her paws trembled against each other. She breathed slowly. In, out. Sigh. Breathe.

    “Okay!”

    The Espurr jolted and nodded at Sugar.

    “Aw, hey, no need to be shy. I don’t bite, much.” She winked. “Anyway, that’ll be fifteen thousand. A bit pricey, but you ordered a lot. At least it’s a nice, even number.”

    Six coins appeared in front of her—one black and shiny like obsidian, and five white, shimmering coins. “Ten, eleven, twelve… yep,” Sugar nodded. “That’ll be all. Thanks for your business!”

    The boxes of treats floated over to Rim and slipped neatly inside the least full bag. She left; once she rounded the corner, Sugar deflated.

    “Ugh…” She clutched her chest. It felt as if the wind had been taken out of her. “Creepy little thing.”

    Just then, Spice entered the store, looking a bit worse for wear.

    “Oh, Spice,” Sugar said. “How’re you doing? Oof, you look rough. Why don’t you rest up in the back room?”

    “I’ll do that,” Spice mumbled, tossing her bag behind the counter. It was quite light. Sugar knew that meant her team had to use quite a bit of their equipment during their mission—or they outright got ejected from a Dungeon. “That’s the last time I do anything down south. That place is savage. And creepy.”

    “Creepy, huh? Sounds like you got near the Abyss.”

    “Don’t even say the name,” Spice shivered. “I think I saw a demon.” She tossed herself into the back room, moaning out a frustrated sigh into the pillows. “Stupid little outlaw…”

    “Outlaw?” Sugar said.

    Spice clawed her way back to the front room, sliding on a set of pillows across the marble flooring. She rolled onto her back. “Sugar, look at my chest. Do you see anything?”

    “Aside from the usual?” Sugar asked, pointing to the awful lighting scar.

    “Yes, do you see any slashes or gashes? I don’t know if scars can get scars, but that Aerodactyl did me in good.”

    “W-wait—Aerodactyl?” Sugar said. “You mean—”

    “Yeah, him,” Spice growled. “With Anam and James gone doing who-knows-what, we’re getting a little careless. Nevren’s doing what he can, but we’re a little short staffed on leadership. Maybe we just weren’t as organized as we could’ve been, but the guy ran off. Our team was sent to chase him down, but you know what? He’s too clever! Chased him south. Then he tossed poor Leo straight into the Abyss.”

    Into the crater?” Sugar said. “Is he okay!?”

    “Somehow,” Spice said. “We found him dazed and confused in a cloud of darkness further west. No clue how he got there. It’s a demon, I tell you! They tampered with his—something. He’s getting checked at the hospital now, just in case, but he says he just remembers falling, and then… not falling. And then whispers. And then… apparently a warm, fuzzy hug.” Spice shivered. “Ooh, just the thought is creepy.” She paused. “And speaking of creepy! That Espurr! Did you just sell her a bunch of chocolate?”

    “Oh, Mew, she was so weird. Not a peep! She just pointed and put little numbers on each item she wanted. Gave me coins and left, but… I don’t want to discriminate, but that Psychic was… not settling well with my Poison half.”

    Spice sighed. “I just don’t want to think about it,” she said. “It’s all back to my sensitivity. That Espurr, the Abyss… even those two Charmander that came in. Something was up with them.”

    “What? You felt something from them, too? Wait—is this that same vibe you keep saying you feel from the Association Head?”

    “Yeah, that slimy purple wad, too,” Spice said. “They all feel… weird. I don’t like it. And I dunno if it was one or both of them, but those Charmander—cute, sure—gave me an odd feeling, too.”

    “Weren’t those the same two you met back during the Nightshade inferno a year ago?” Sugar asked.

    “Yeah, but… I don’t think I felt anything back then. Or maybe I was just too stressed to feel it.” She shook her head. “Whatever. I’m just gonna nap. That alright? I’ll help out when I’m rested.”

    “Sure, Spice. Rest all you want.”

    “Mn.” Spice pushed herself and her pillow-bed back to the back room. Her nightmares were filled with whispers and slime.

    <><><> ​

    “Hey there, welcome to—oh, hey, Rim!”

    A Smeargle waved his brush of a tail at the Espurr, who gave him a little smile in return.

    “Hello,” she whispered.

    “Here ya go,” Smeargle said, flashing a paper toward Rim, about as large as her head. “Look good to you?” he asked.

    It was a realistic, colored painting of a blue Gardevoir. Rim nodded.

    “You know, this one brings up some old legends down south. They say that there was once a Gardevoir whose talent for fire became so strong that her hair became the same color as blue embers. The hottest kind! Well, except for purple… and clear… uh…” Smeargle rubbed his brush under his chin thoughtfully, accidentally painting it blue. “Oh, right, uh, sorry. Anyway, I’ll take the other half of your—oh.” The coins appeared in front of him. “Alright. Here ya go.” He handed the paper over; it floated toward Rim and into her bag, slipped in neatly and carefully.

    Another paper floated toward Smeargle—a handwritten note. “Oh, your next order? Same style, I take it.”

    “Mm.”

    “Right, right… huh… okay. Okay, yeah, I think I can do this one, easy. If you want it to be realistic, I think you’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning, though. Getting a little late.”

    “Mm.”

    “Okay, so, let me just reiterate. Looks like this time you want me to draw a Joltik… with little pink wings?”

    “Mm.”

    “How big? Like, as big as the Joltik? Or even bigger?”

    Rim held her little paws out. “Joltik,” she said. Then, she increased the distance between her paws by a little.

    “Oh, okay. A little bigger?”

    “Mm.”

    “You got it. Should be easy.”

    Just then, something buzzed inside Rim’s bag—this one was wrapped around her neck, much smaller. A tiny, gray Badge slipped out.

    “Rim,” the Badge said.

    Rim glanced at Smeargle and gave a little nod, stepping outside. Smeargle went back to work without a second thought. A small pile of coins appeared in front of Smeargle again—the first half of his commission.

    “Eon?” Rim asked, rounding the corner.

    “Come back home and drop off your things. We found one—the Electric Guardian. Turns out she was in Nightshade all along after all. Zoroark are really clever, huh?”

    “Zoroark…” Rim repeated.

    “Make sure you configure your aura for Signal Beam,” Eon said. “But… be careful. Owen’s there, too. And the Goodra. You should do this one… alone.”

    “Owen…” Rim frowned. “Okay.” She slipped the communicator back into her bag. In a flash of light, she disappeared for home.
     
  19. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 27 – Lakeside Chat

    Owen was able to locate his mother and boss without incident. They found Amia at a dead end; she had been running her hands along the walls in an effort to find hidden pathways. She just happened to not find the one that Owen found to get to Enet. The same could be said for Anam, who, while lost, was much easier to track down. He left a trail of slime wherever he went, likely because he was becoming progressively more frantic at being unable to find anybody. He was usually cleaner—though it wasn’t a very high bar.

    Then, during their search, they ran across a patch of black fog running through the walls. It was like smoke, but it had no scent, and it was too dark to be simple fire smoke of the forest. It was ominous, in a way—looking at it gave a chill down Owen’s spine.

    Enet hissed.

    “Wh-whoa, whoa, it’s okay, Enet,” Owen said, patting her thigh—he was too short to hold much else. “That’s just James! He’s one of the spirits for Anam, the Ghost Guardian.”

    “Yeah, it’s f-fine,” Star said, floating ahead.

    The Decidueye appeared from the shadows with a nod. “I apologize for frightening you,” he said.

    Enet growled.

    “Use easy words, James,” Star said.

    “…I beg your pardon?”

    Enet snorted.

    “Enet’s wild and isn’t exactly good with words,” Star said. “So… talk with… small words.”

    “Small words,” James repeated. “Hm. Okay. I will… try.”

    “Where’s Anam?”

    James turned around. “Ahead,” he said. “He is…” it looked as if James was struggling to find simple descriptors for his status. “…Lost. This place is… easy to get lost in.”

    Enet stuck her nose up proudly.

    “Guess she’s good at making this place, um… confusing,” Owen said. “Right, Enet?”

    The Zoroark nodded. “Very good. Lost easy.”

    They continued through until they found what felt like fresher trails of slime. Owen grimaced slightly. “Does he always get like this when he’s lost?” he mumbled.

    “When Anam panics… he does… become less tidy with himself,” James said.

    “He’s gross?” Enet said.

    “N-not gross,” James said, puffing out his feathers slightly. “He’s a Goodra. He can’t help it.”

    Owen slipped forward and narrowly kept himself stable. The slime was definitely fresh.

    “He is more goo than dra,” Amia giggled, gingerly stepping over the trail of goo.

    “H-hello?! Is that you guys?” the helpless Goodra called.

    “Oh! That’s him!” Amia said.

    Curious, Enet picked up the pace and ran along the hall—but then slipped on some of the slime puddles in the dirt, tumbling to the ground.

    “E-Enet!” Owen rushed to help, and the Zoroark growled at the floor.

    “Gross,” she muttered.

    “Y-yeah, a little gross, you…” Owen pulled his hand away from her. The slime was a bit warm in the underground cave. A thick strand of connected his hand to her fur. “Ugh… Anam, seriously?”

    “O-oh, Arceus, I missed you guys!” Anam wailed. The messy thing ran toward them. Before they had time to protest, he picked Owen up, squishing the Charmander’s body against his chest. “It was so scary! You just vanished and I couldn’t see even your auras!”

    “P-please… Mom… hebb…!” Owen begged.

    “Anam! Can you calm down?! Look what you’re doing to Owen!”

    “Wh-what?!” Anam looked down. Owen’s head and shoulders were lodged inside his chest. He screamed panicked bubbles out through the base of Anam’s neck. “O-oh, s-sorry!” Anam said, tugging him out by the torso.

    Owen gasped for air. “Why are you like this!?”

    “I—I just like it like that! I, um…! Um…!” Anam looked down. He was dripping all over Enet, who irritably got up and tried to brush herself off.

    “Stupid,” Enet muttered. “I’m gross.”

    “I think it’s gonna take days to get this stuff out of my scales,” Owen mumbled, running a claw through the ridges of his arm. Each line gave a little glob of slime that dripped to the ground.

    “S-sorry…!” Anam said, hiding behind his antennae.

    Amia sighed. “Why don’t we just take a visit to the river first and wash off?” she said.

    “R-river?” Owen said worriedly.

    “Oh, Owen, just go to your Grass form and it won’t be so bad, hm?” Amia offered.

    “Oh, yeah, good idea,” Owen said.

    <><><>​

    It took a while. Eventually, they emerged from the cavern. They walked through the dark forest with their designated native leading the way. Enet sniffed the air, flicking her ears. “…Smell,” she said. “Water.”

    “Water, huh?” Owen said. “So, a river? Is it… moving?”

    “Mm…” Enet nodded. “Yes.”

    “Cool!” Anam said. “Let’s go! Race you to—”

    “W-wait!” Amia said. “C-can you let us wash up first? So… so the water doesn’t… get…”

    “Oh,” Anam shrank back again. “Y-yeah… okay. S-sorry…!”

    “Oh, it’s okay,” Amia sighed, patting the Goodra’s shoulder. She winced when each pat left a trail of slime between her hand and his body. She tittered. “I—I’m going to head in!”

    The water was hard to see in the darkness of Nightshade’s trees, their tops so thick and crowded that it indeed always looked like nighttime. If it wasn’t for Owen’s tail or their natural, Mystic glow, they would’ve been almost completely blind. Amia gently waved her hands in a forward motion, creating a sun-like orb above them, shining down. The river was clear and calm, perfect for washing off—though it was also bitterly cold.

    “O-ohh…” Amia shivered. “I—I s-suppose if there isn’t m-much light… it would be quite cold…!”

    Owen dipped his foot in. Even as Grass, he could barely handle it. “C-can’t we… w-we use our Mystic power to stop feeling cold?”

    “Oh! G-good idea…!” Amia said. “Just f-focus, and…!” She closed her eyes and breathed slowly, dulling her sense of temperature. “Uhn… that’s better,” she sighed. “But I do miss the cold, now, in a weird way.”

    “I don’t,” Owen said, slipping into the water next. “Ahh… feeling clean again,” he said. “Y’know, this water isn’t so bad now that I’m a Grass Type, compared to having my tail get doused. It reminds me of taking a bath with Passho Powder so the water doesn’t make me want to die.” He gently lowered the flower inside and pulled his tail forward, inspecting the petals. He supposed they were quite pretty, even if the Fire in him didn’t like it. Perhaps it was beautiful in its own way. He wondered how he would fare if he was in Zena’s position, as the Water Guardian. What would his tail look like then?

    What would Zena look like as a Grass Guardian? Distracted, Owen’s head filled with images of what he and the other Guardians would look like if they had different Orbs in them. Owen wouldn’t have minded the Dragon Orb. The Dark Orb also sounded interesting. What would he look like as a Dark Type? He glanced at Enet. Dark Types were always so cool—imagine, a Dark Charizard! Mm… Nightmander… no… that won’t work… how about… Gloomander? Twilizard! Owen’s mouth spread into a grin. “That’d be awesome…”

    “What was that, dear?” Amia said.

    Owen flinched. “Did I say something out loud?” he said.

    Amia giggled. “What were you thinking about, dear?”

    “Uh—nothing. Just what I’d look like as a Charizard and Grassy. Maybe my flower would get bigger?”

    “Oh, that’d be so pretty,” Amia said, grinning.

    She knows you’re lying, Star said from within Owen’s spirit realm.

    Then I’m glad she isn’t pressing, Owen replied back.

    C’mon, what’re you really thinking? I’m curious! What’s so awesome?

    Nothing, nothing! Just, uh, you know. What I might look like if I had an Orb that wasn’t Grass. Like… Dragon, or Dark.

    Star scoffed. What, the Types you think are cool?

    N-no.

    You’re a bad liar.

    Enet jumped into the lake, splashing water in all directions. She shook out her fur underwater, and a little tingling ran across Owen and Amia’s bodies.

    “E-Enet! W-w-watch o-out f-for y-your E-Electricity!” Owen said.

    “Huh?” Enet asked, shaking out her fur again. She ran her claws through the matted clumps, heaps of mud and grime sinking to the bottom of the river. Brown streaks trailed from any part of her that made contact with the water’s surface. She dunked her head in again, electrifying the other occupants once again.

    “E-Enet!” Owen begged.

    “O-oh, le-let her w-wash up, O-Owen,” Amia said. “Th-think of it a-as a little—th-therapy!”

    “Bad—th-therapy!” Owen shook his head.

    Anam giggled and plopped down a few feet downstream, sighing. Thankfully, the electricity faded after the third wave of shaking by Enet. The furry Pokémon tended to her fur with her claws next to get the rest of the mud and slime out of her. She pulled at the little bangle; Owen watched curiously. With a little squeeze, it snapped open, sending Enet’s fur in all directions behind her. She dipped into the water, freeing all the dirt from her deep mane, holding the bangle in her claws while she bathed.

    Amia sat and enjoyed the river’s gentle current, not making an effort to wash. After all, she just bathed in intense fire or lava most of the time. Meanwhile, Anam rotated his body left and right, sending little ripples around him, giggling. Owen was positive that his body was swelling slightly from all the water he was absorbing.

    Behind Anam, out of the water, James watched with a little, happy glint in his eye.

    Owen relaxed and looked at the sky next. “It’s a little spooky…” Owen said, admiring the black forest. “But I kinda like it here, in a way, too, y’know? In… in a… it’s a cozy kind of darkness, I think. Uh…”

    “You don’t have to force it, dear,” Amia said, giggling.

    Enet surfaced again, looking significantly smaller now that the water weighed down her fur. Her eyes were covered and she giggled, trying to brush it away.

    “You’re right at home in the dark, aren’t you, Enet?” Amia asked.

    “Dark!” Enet agreed. She kicked her legs until she was at the river’s edge.

    Anam finally dipped his body further into the water, near the deeper center of the small river. He stopped once only his head was above the surface, enjoying the cool feeling that seeped into his slime. He sighed, looking a bit less solid, lounging. Owen briefly worried if Anam would wash away completely into the river.

    “Anam,” Amia said, “I was chatting with Zena a few days ago. She told me that you reminded her of an old friend of hers. Did you know that?”

    “Huh? She knew another Goodra?”

    “No, no. Actually, she didn’t tell me what species she was—but it was an old friend from a long time ago,” Amia said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think she’s around anymore…”

    “Oh… that’s too bad,” Anam said. “Oh! But what if her friend paid visits to the Water Orb?”

    “Oh, that’s true!” Amia said. “You know, maybe that’s it! We could ask her,” she said.

    “A-ask about a dead friend?” Owen said. “Isn’t that a little…?”

    “Well, it isn’t as bad if they could’ve been visiting, right?” Amia said. “If they were friends, they definitely would have!”

    “Oh, I guess so.” Owen wondered what sort of friend Zena would have known in the ocean. What sort of Pokémon was a water-dwelling, gooey creature, but not a Goodra?

    Enet tilted her head.

    “Oh, um,” Owen nodded at Enet. “One of our friends, Zena. She’s really pretty, um, a Milotic, and she was really lonely.”

    “Lonely?” Enet repeated. “Guardian?”

    “Yeah! The Water Guardian,” Owen said.

    Enet nodded. “I was… lonely,” she admitted. “A little…”

    “I’d bet,” Owen said. He felt a presence calling on him from within; he focused and summoned Star as a pink cloud again.

    “Yeah,” Star said. “Enet might’ve gone a little crazy for a while from the isolation. But I still don’t know why she…. Enet,” Star said. “How come you forgot to meditate?”

    Enet shook her head. “Got… scared,” she said.

    “Scared…?” Star said. “That was a long time ago. You got scared and just couldn’t remember how to meditate? What scared you?”

    Enet glanced away. “…Monster…” she said.

    Owen and Amia glanced at each other, then to Anam, and then at Star. The Ghost Guardian stopped his playful twirling to listen.

    “Monster?” Star repeated. “You mean…?”

    “Someone with… weird… strong…” Enet said. “Chasing me…”

    “Sounds like a Mod,” Owen said, glancing at his claws. “…So, they were around that far back? How long ago?”

    “Enet went silent seasons ago,” Star said. “Enet, did they ever show up after that first time?”

    Enet nodded.

    “When was the last time?”

    “Few days…”

    “A few days ago? Okay, and before that?”

    “Few days…”

    “And… before that?”

    Enet paused. Then, she shrugged.

    “Ten days? Twenty?”

    “Mnn… forty,” Enet said.

    “Forty, huh,” Star said, nodding. “That’s kinda a weird gap, but then again…”

    Suspicious, Owen said, “How much is forty, Enet?”

    Enet held up seven claws—the six on her paws, and then lifted one of her feet for the seventh. “Ten,” she said.

    Owen sighed. “So, seventy,” he said.

    Enet flinched and went back to tending to her fur, mumbling something incomprehensible to herself.

    Owen went on. “Sounds like they were quiet for a while, but then suddenly they started getting active again. D’you think the others have a story like that?”

    “No, none of them do,” Star said. “But Enet wasn’t exactly well-hidden. She could’ve been wandering around her burrow being wild, and then she got spotted.”

    “Hmm…” Owen sighed. “Well, Enet? Who is it that keeps scaring you, then? Do you remember anyone specifically? …Enet?” The Charmander turned back. Enet, despite being drenched, looked a bit puffy, sparking with small arcs of electricity. Owen kicked his legs to slowly drift away, hoping he hadn’t upset her too much by correcting her math.

    But then he followed her gaze, which was locked right onto something. She had the look of a wild Pokémon that was about to get into a fight.

    “YOU!”

    The voice came from behind Owen, right where Anam had been sitting. The location combined with the harsh tone was so startling that the Charmander could only stare with wide eyes to verify the source.

    It was Anam. His eyes were fierce, staring in the same direction that Enet had faced. No. Those weren’t Anam’s eyes. And that wasn’t Anam’s voice. It was deeper and feminine. Where did James go? Owen’s eyes darted around—curse his lack of perception as a Charmander—and he spotted a black cloud in the trees behind them. It transformed back to James a split-second later. Motion in his peripheral vision drew his attention back to Anam—or whoever it was that now had control over his body.

    A close inspection—now that she was moving to the shallower part of the river—revealed a slightly thinner Goodra. And solid. Her eyes and expression… the fierce hatred was something that Owen thought was physically impossible in Anam’s body. But that wasn’t Anam anymore, was it?

    Black smoke enveloped Goodra’s right hand.

    Owen followed the arm’s direction. There, just beyond the river’s edge, Owen saw a pair of huge, glowing, purple eyes in the trees.

    Goodra fired a black sphere of mist from her hand into the trees, right toward those purple eyes. They vanished in a blink, but the black sphere detonated anyway. A sound—a combination of a deep, deep boom, a whistle like wind through a cave, and the shriek of some ethereal creature—shook Owen’s chest.

    The tree that the wad of darkness hit exploded violently in a cloud of splinters and blackened leaves. The plume of pitch-dark smoke that followed seeped into adjacent trees, rotting them instantly. They collapsed under their own weight with thunderous creaks.

    Amia was out of the water by now, head alight with fire around her fists. Enet was nowhere to be seen.

    “What?” Owen mumbled. “Where’s—”

    Rim appeared behind them. Goodra immediately blasted a smaller, half-charged sphere of rot toward the Hunter. She disappeared in another flash. Amia jumped away, floating a few feet above the river. Standing on an invisible platform of her own Mystic power, she realized that Owen was too slow—and too inexperienced—to think to do the same thing. He got caught up in the blast and shouted in surprise. The shockwave made his feet skid backward. Despite this, he could still stand.

    He grunted, trying to bring his arms up to remain guarded, but something felt odd when he tried. Owen looked down out of reflex and gasped.

    His hands were black. Scales fell off like dust, revealing dark, coagulated blood underneath. He didn’t feel anything. The flesh died so quickly that his body didn’t even realize what had happened. “What—” Owen said, but then he was hit with an intense, yet dull pain in his wrists. His breathing quickened; desperately, he searched for his bag near the riverside before that pain became all he could think about.

    Goodra searched for Rim, but she had vanished again, just like Enet had. Then, the Ghost Guardian caught a glimpse of Owen and his rotting hands. Her eyes flashed green. Suddenly, she clutched at her face, grunting.

    “No—no, stop—I hurt Owen—stop—” It was Anam’s voice again. Then, it became feminine. “No! We have to find the Hunter! Owen will live!” Back to Anam. “Please—I can’t kill the forest—I can’t hurt them—stop—STOP!” He flailed his head. His horns thrashed, cutting the air.

    “Here, Owen,” Amia said quickly, pulling out an Oran Berry for him. Owen reached out but then worried that if he tried to hold anything, his fingers might give way. Amia nodded and brought it to his mouth directly. With a chomp, he took down half of it and then bit at the remainder. He jerked his head back and opened wider, managing to toss the rest of the berry into his throat by some bestial nature deep in his mind.

    Owen puffed a small ember toward Amia in thanks. The pain had clouded his mind so much that he was focused only on making it better. At least some small part of him still recognized the Oran as the key to healing. Warmth spread from his throat to his chest, and then out into his hands. The dull pain gave way to a numbing tingling; color returned to his remaining scales, but it wasn’t enough to completely heal it. His hands trembled when the healing faded. It still felt bruised, and the scales were paler than the rest of him, like some sort of scar.

    He looked back. “Anam?” he said.

    The Goodra was shaking, too, clutching at his chest with his arms, practically hugging himself. Eyes shut tight, black smoke swam beneath the surface of his skin like underwater currents. Slowly, the black underflow through his body died down, and Anam was back to his normal, lavender color. “Thank you,” Anam said quietly to himself.

    Owen sighed, but his hands were still trembling with a dull pain. What was that power…?

    A hissing crackle split the air further upstream. Something shrieked within the forest from that same direction.

    “Enet!” Owen yelled. Without thinking, he ran toward the noise. Amia and Anam struggled to follow, but the thick forestry slowed them down. They couldn’t risk burning the forest away—it had barely recovered from the last one in another region—and Anam likely didn’t want to risk letting whatever it was that had possessed him before take control again. They had to struggle on their own.

    That left Owen, transitioning into his Grassy form, to rescue Enet on his own.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2018
  20. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    It may not seem like I'm getting any reviews here, but I've been getting a bit of chapter-by-chapter feedback from others in private. Thanks to all who have been doing that! In the meantime, here's the next installment...

    Chapter 28 – Evolution Gambit

    Owen passed by a tree that had been so badly twisted that the top was touching the ground. Light shined through the gap it left in the canopy, revealing the colorful, fungus-plagued ground he stepped over. His hands, still partly rotten from Anam’s strange death fog, felt like they were being constantly prodded with tiny Poison Stings.

    “Enet!” Owen yelled.

    Amia ran after him, followed by Anam, sluggishly squeezing through the forestry.

    Owen felt the presence of another Psychic blast coming his way and rolled; a rock behind him twisted into rubble. “She means business, huh—?”

    “Enet better be careful—where’d she run off to?!” Amia said. “Enet!” She tripped over a vine. “Oh, sh—sugar lumps—” She closed her eyes, scanning for Enet’s aura while she tried to stand.

    “Wait! But why is she even using Psychic on Enet?” Owen said. “She’s Dark, so—Psychic won’t exactly do all that much!”

    James emerged from Anam’s body in a black cloud and followed Owen, leaving Anam and Amia behind. “She is trying to disrupt Enet’s illusions,” he said. “The light is something that Enet isn’t used to. It’s very likely that if this forest becomes too bright, she won’t be able to hide. Rim will likely then use another attack. We must hurry before—”

    And just then, Rim sent a strange light directly at something in the shadows. Enet yelped in pain and scrambled into another bush. It must have missed because she wasn’t dead yet.

    “Ngh—that’s not good,” James said. “That was Signal Beam—Enet isn’t going to handle a strike like that!” He spotted the Espurr in the trees. James immediately brought a wing forward and made a motion as if drawing from a string; a feather formed from black smoke, and he tugged on a string that appeared from the aether. A second later, he fired. It went straight for Rim. She vanished before it could connect, the feather piercing through the tree behind her.

    “Ngh, it’s never that easy, is it?” James muttered. “We must hurry!”

    “O-okay,” Anam said, falling over another boulder. Countless forest mushrooms floated through Anam’s body from his constant tumbles.

    More trees fell. Rim was locked onto Enet, no matter how much the wild Guardian tried to maneuver through the darkness. “Help!” Enet finally cried.

    That gave her away. Rim fired another Signal Beam.

    “No—!” Owen said, and then thought fast. His Ember wouldn’t block it, nor would any of his projectile strikes. They were all energy-based, and signal-beam might go right through it. But what if—

    Owen opened his mouth and launched a vine from his throat. It extended out and he felt his stomach drain as foot after foot of the vine spilled from him, but then realized by some instinct that he was reaching the end of how far he’d be able to extend it. It wasn’t going to be enough.

    And in that desperate moment, Owen’s teeth enveloped with fire. With wits, instinct, and just a touch of desperate insanity, he chomped down on his own vine, simultaneously searing and cutting it while it was still being launched. It was fast enough that it kept some of its momentum, but the horrible, searing pain that surged through Owen made his vision fade halfway. His blood tasted like grass.

    The tip narrowly intercepted the blast, and thankfully, the vine neutralized the attack completely. Owen, feeling significantly lighter, rushed toward where the blast had been aimed and found Enet cowering under a bush. “Are you okay?” Owen asked.

    Enet whimpered, holding her arm. It looked like she had been grazed by the previous attack. Fur was missing on the arm and the skin beneath was partially charred.

    “Just stay by me, okay?” he said. The Charmander immediately stared up at Rim, clenching his fist. His mind was racing with possible ideas on how to take her down—any way at all that could break through those defenses of hers, but she just seemed so insurmountable. He couldn’t even get a scratch on her before, and Rhys didn’t stand a chance, either.

    If he struggled against Rhys, then what chance did he have against Rim? At some point, strategy could only take him so far…. Her barrier was the first problem. He could feel it, even from where he was standing. If he got too close, he’d run into that bubble of force; projectiles of any kind would be affected the same way.

    He looked back at Enet. “I’m small, but I’m strong,” he said. “I promise.” Owen then looked up at Rim, waiting for her next move. He didn’t spot a single mutant yet—Rim must be going on her own this time. Perhaps she realized that sending her soldiers wasn’t going to do the trick for someone clever like Enet.

    Owen was unnerved at Rim’s lack of action.

    The Zoroark sniffed, but then nodded. “F-fight!” she said.

    “Yeah, I’ll try that,” Owen muttered. He straightened and stared at Rim. “…H-hey! You better… leave us alone!” he shouted.

    He knew that Rim was calculating her next move. She had the luxury of time—she could wait as much as she wanted, and they wouldn’t be able to escape. But something just wasn’t right about this. There was that inkling in the back of his head again. That this wasn’t just some coincidence that Rim found them, no—that there was something else going on. None of this felt right. She could have blasted them by now. Why did she stop?

    That didn’t matter. She also wasn’t leaving. He had to scare her off somehow. He needed a boost—and he really only knew one way to get that. He glanced worriedly at Enet, but then at Rim.

    Two lines of thought clashed in Owen’s mind in the frantic silence. How did Rim find them now, of all times? And now, why was she stopping, after she was one blast away from killing Enet? What changed?

    Something clicked in Owen’s mind. A haphazard answer to both questions.

    He glanced down at his bag for a split second and then looked at Rim again. “Hey! You know what…?!” He dug through his bag; Rim leaned forward curiously. Owen pulled out his Eviolite-Everstone amalgam. That was when Owen saw it—her eyes, those huge eyes, bulging out just a tiny bit more.

    Owen threw the stone behind him. It hit the ground softly and rolled on the grass, landing a few feet behind Enet. “Now what?!” Owen shouted at the Espurr.

    For several agonizing seconds, they were completely silent. Enet had her eyes locked on Rim. Owen felt the unstable power coursing through him—if he moved too much, he might evolve right then. Amia and Anam were slowly catching up, struggling through the thick underbrush. Anam struggled the most and was far behind the Gardevoir; he tried flying over, but that just spattered him against a tree trunk that blended in perfectly with the darkness.

    “Mn…” Rim finally hummed. She looked up, and then closed her eyes. A swirl of light enveloped her, and then she disappeared.

    “Teleport…” Owen muttered. She was gone, but the tension didn’t fade. It was a hot, tight feeling in his chest. “Oh—” He held his head and a bright light surrounded him. “Oh, w-wait!” he said, but then felt the power of evolution take hold. It was too familiar for him. No Pokémon should have to experience more than two of these, and how many times did he go through it? At least a hundred… This time, he was aware enough of the process to feel his body shift and change, bones lengthening, scales softening and hardening. It wasn’t painful, but the fear that accompanied the transformation made it much worse than Owen had hoped.

    He saw black sparks fly out of his body. He never understood what those were. Normal evolutionary light had no such darkness. It always felt like a part of him was being unchained, like a weight lifted from his spirit. He didn’t like what he felt when that weight lifted. He focused—he had to stay calm. Stay calm. Don’t let it take over. He was Owen. He will remain as “Owen.”

    When the light faded, Owen sighed softly and stared at his claws. Charmeleon again… But he still felt that power rushing through him. It was flowing, building, ready to burst. The tension just didn’t stop!

    “H-help!” Owen shouted. “I—I think I’m—”

    A light enveloped Owen again; Owen’s fear tripled. Would this be all he could remember? His last memory?

    Amia readied a special aural strike for when he evolved. That’s when Owen realized what his choice would be. Lose his memories all over again, or lose himself forever.

    Owen was trying to resist it—but it was just too strong. What if he just didn’t evolve? That would be so much easier. Just so he could be himself for a little while longer. But it was a futile battle. He couldn’t keep it bottled up.

    Would this be it? Would he even be able to revert back with the help of others? His Mysticism was a lot stronger, after all. What if he didn’t go back? What if Amia’s seal didn’t work? What if he was crazy forever?

    Blackness danced around his arms and chest. The last of whatever energy it was that sealed him away was rapidly fading.

    Forgetting everything, Owen’s eyes squeezed shut and he screamed. His mind became a muddled mess of wordless fear. His very spirit struggled to hang on to what sense of identity it had left, some primal fear that he would disappear taking over. That “Owen” would—

    The light suddenly stopped. Vanished. No black, no white. Just his red scales. Owen felt the energy sink away. Down. Deep down, sealed within.

    And for some reason, he felt something hard and cold on his back. He heard his heart and felt it threatening to burst from his chest. His legs felt like they’d give way at any moment. His arms trembled. Breathe, breathe, Owen thought, trying to steady himself. He thought back to his meditation.

    The object on his back followed his spine and touched his right shoulder. He finally had enough composure to figure out what it was and brought his hand back to grab it. He found Enet’s paw instead. The unexpected feeling startled him enough to shout, “Enet!” He spun around.

    Enet shoved the thing back against Owen. He finally grabbed it. Heavy and round, and a bit rough against his claws. He stared dumbly at the Eviolite-Everstone. His fire—which had been a fearful white—slowly settled down to its warm orange and red.

    “You… need this?” Enet asked curiously, looking down at him. The Zoroark was still much larger than him.

    “I… yeah,” Owen said. “I do need this. I… I guess it scared Rim off, though, so that’s good.”

    Owen’s legs finally gave out. He collapsed to a kneel, putting his free hand to the ground.

    Amia finally breathed. She rushed to his side to keep him from collapsing completely. “Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “Owen! Don’t do something so reckless! What if…!”

    “We would’ve died if… I mean…” Owen looked took a second to gather himself. “I’m just glad that I’m not crazy.”

    “Y-yeah!” Anam said. “But… don’t throw it away again! You evolved so fast!”

    “Mhm,” Owen said. “I think… if I ever throw that stone away again, I’ll evolve,” he said. “I’m… am I really that unstable?”

    “Unstable isn’t the right… word,” Amia said. “Maybe you’re… just…”

    “It’s too much power to contain,” Star said, summoned by Anam this time—and therefore, she was only slightly transparent. “I… don’t really know what’ll happen if you…” she trailed off. “Owen, what did it feel like when you were evolving? Were you… angry? Or…?”

    “No,” Owen said. “When I was evolving… I just kept feeling afraid. I kept trying to remember who I was, and who was important to me… but…” Owen trembled. “I—I was just s-so…”

    Owen felt something huge and warm wrap around his body. He abruptly looked up and saw a Magmortar holding him firmly, pulling him close.

    “Dad…”

    “It’s okay, Owen,” Alex said. “It’s okay. It’s okay…”

    “I thought I’d forget you…”

    Star spoke delicately. “…And did you?”

    Owen shook his head. “I—I don’t know, Enet got to me before that happened.” He moved to a sitting position, still too mentally weak to stand. He rubbed his eyes with the back of the hand that held the stone. “So, I didn’t forget anything. I was just…” Owen’s voice caught in his throat. “I—c-can I talk later? I n-need a second. I’m f-fine. I just…”

    “Hey, take all the time you need, buddy,” Star said, looking up. “I don’t think Rim’s gonna bother us for a while.”

    Owen took a few minutes to contain himself. During that silence, Anam settled next to a rock with James. The two of them helped pluck out mushrooms and other forest debris from Anam’s body, tossing them into a pile for the ferals to enjoy when they left.

    Alex refused to let Owen go. He had his cannons wrapped in an X over Owen’s chest, and the Charmeleon happily sat in his lap without protest, occasionally leaning against the left one. Amia sat nearby, rubbing Owen’s shoulders. Every so often, the Charmeleon let out little whimpers, wiping his eyes. He refused to acknowledge that he was crying.

    Enet prodded at Owen’s other shoulder. He glanced at the Zoroark. “Enet?”

    “Gift.”

    Enet had an Oran Berry in her paws—how she got it, Owen had no idea. She was so lithe and silent that he didn’t even realize she had left. The thought surprised him—he was usually so aware of his surroundings as a Charmeleon. Perhaps the shock, the distractions, and the fact that he had just evolved dulled it more than usual. His breathing eased at the theorizing, feeling just a bit more relaxed.

    She bumped the berry against his snout, narrowing her eyes. “Gift,” she repeated impatiently.

    “Oh—sorry,” Owen said. He took the berry, gulping to clear his throat of some invisible obstruction. He finished it in two bites. The warmth was concentrated in his belly and radiated out through the rest of him from there.

    “Better?” Enet asked.

    He wasn’t—he didn’t feel particularly injured from the fight. This was a mental wound. But Enet perhaps didn’t understand that, so he gave her a smile. “A lot better,” he told her.

    Enet stared at Owen with an unsatisfied frown. She squeezed under Alex’s arm—he protested weakly, but figured she didn’t mean any harm. She squished herself between the Magmortar’s right cannon and Owen’s body, wrapping her arms around him until he sank into her fur.

    “Not better,” she said, snorting. “Hurt.”

    “Enet—what’re you—?” Owen said.

    Enet made a strange sound between a growl and a purr, shoving the thick, red hair on her head into Owen’s face. Owen winced—it was still a bit damp from the river and smelled of mud and mushrooms—but his position made it very difficult to fight against it.

    “What’s she doing?” Amia said.

    “Aww,” Star said, leaning forward in the air. “She’s trying to hide him in her fur like a little hatchling.”

    “I’m—not a kid—!” Owen protested, hand bursting out from the fur.

    Enet growled and shoved Owen back inside. The Charmeleon relented in a huff, but after a few seconds in the darkness, he started to enjoy it. It insulated him like a warm blanket. His father’s solid body behind him, and the thought of everyone else around him, felt better than even the most persistent Protect.

    Owen wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but at some point, Amia spoke up.

    “Anam,” she said. “What… happened back there? At the lake?”

    “Huh?”

    “Your… your voice changed. I don’t know who it was, but it definitely wasn’t James. It was… it almost sounded feminine! Did one of your spirits possess you?”

    “Mm…” Anam held the side of his arm. “They wanted me to attack Rim… but I knew it might’ve hurt you if I did… m-my power is really, really scary.”

    Owen felt a phantom pain in his hands. They always heard that Anam was the strongest Heart, but they never saw him attack. The most they saw was that ‘fun’ sparring match against Roh when climbing Manny’s spire. And even then, that was just Anam’s raw power—not his Ghostly powers. Even on missions, when he went on them when no other Heart could accomplish some task, he usually just hugged his enemies into submission, or otherwise found some nonviolent way to subdue them. He always said his actual fighting would hurt them too much.

    Owen believed him. Even now, it felt like his hands were tingling from some strange rot, even though that pain was gone. Like his very aura was still healing from the blast.

    “I’ll be more careful,” Anam said quietly. “Sorry, Owen…. Does it still hurt?”

    “No,” Owen lied. “But, uh, it goes away, right?”

    Anam nodded. “You’ll be okay. Um—actually, let me help.” He slowly stood up, picking out the last mushroom from his arm. Enet hissed and shrank away, wanting nothing to do with his slimy body. Owen moved forward and politely held out his hands.

    Anam closed his eyes and waved a slimy finger over both, mumbling something under his breath. A little, golden light sparked from his finger toward Owen. His claws reflexively clenched from the burst of energy, but the pain went away instantly.

    “There,” Anam said. “I’m sorry…”

    Owen shook his head. “It’s okay,” he said. “You were trying to help scare Rim away. But I guess that wasn’t enough.” He sighed, looking into his bag again where he had placed his sealing stone.

    “But Rim ran away when I threw this away. Why did she run? What if… I’m strong enough to…?”

    “As a Mod Charizard?” Star said. “I think you’ll beat her. Mmmaybe. That’s why she ran. But to be honest, Anam could’ve, too. Again, maybe. To be honest, she’s been getting stronger, too, with the whole Psychic Orb thing…” Star shook her head. “No telling. But one thing I’ll say is that you’d be way more mobile than Anam. That’s probably why she didn’t run away.”

    “Hm,” Owen said. He somehow doubted that, looking at Star carefully.

    “What?” Star asked.

    “I don’t think you’re right.” He looked down. “I’d just go crazy. I feel like there’s more to it. If I evolved completely… I wouldn’t be strong enough, would I? I’d just be undirected.”

    Star said nothing, like she was trying to find her words.

    “Good thinking on stopping that,” Alex spoke up, looking down at Owen with a wide grin.

    “More like good thinking for Enet keeping me from going too far,” Owen said, smiling at the Zoroark.

    “I did good?” Enet asked.

    Owen giggled. “Yes!” Finally finding the energy to get out from his father’s embrace, he stood up, tail burning as bright as the light in his eyes. He balled his claws into a fist. “Now—how about we go home? Wanna come with us, Enet?”

    “Yeah!”

    “Oh!” Anam said. “That’s right! Um, actually—let me go and tell Nevren!”

    Thoughts rushed back to Owen in an instant. The other answer to the questions he’d asked himself during that tense silence against Rim. Nevren.

    Anam found the communicator. “He should know that we got Enet safe and—”

    “Wait,” Owen said. “Don’t tell him.”

    “D… don’t?” Anam said. “Why?”

    The Charmeleon hesitated.

    “Owen?” Amia asked.

    Owen looked at her. He saw recognition in her eyes. She understood. He was planning something or thinking about something troubling him. Problem solving—Owen was remarkable at it, mapping things out at a pace that would make anyone’s head spin. It was just a part of how he was created—how he was designed… but that was just for the surrounding area. It had nothing to do with logic. He didn’t have a talent for that, did he? What if he was just mistaken? Paranoid?

    “…Never mind,” Owen said. “I just wanted to make sure Rim wasn’t still around, but I can’t sense her.”

    “Oh, okay,” Anam nodded. “Good thing you did. That’d be bad if I told him we were fine and then she attacked!”

    Owen nodded, but then glanced at Amia pleadingly. The Gardevoir nodded again, assuring him silently that she would ask for the real answer later.

    “Nevren! We’re okay!” Anam said. “Rim tried to attack us, but Owen scared her off!”

    “O-Owen did? How? Did—is he okay?” Nevren asked.

    “Yeah! He evolved to a Charmeleon, but that’s it! He almost evolved into a Modizard, but then Enet stopped it! It was so cool!”

    “Modizard…?” Owen grumbled. “Can we stop making combo-names of my species…? Grassmander, Charmelon, Florizard… isn’t that enough?”

    “Char… melon,” Amia said. “Who told you that one?”

    Owen’s face flushed. Nobody had. “Uh—Mispy did. But she probably doesn’t remember anymore.”

    “Ah,” Nevren said. “Very good. Return with Enet so we can have another Guardian on our side, safely.”

    “Got it!” And with that, Anam shoved the communicator into his chest. “Let’s go!”

    <><><> ​

    The whole town was having dinner together in the square—it wasn’t anything grand. Most of it was actually centered around those who had to eat—the three others that were part of Owen’s set, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi. Owen, for the sake of nostalgia, got himself a small portion and excused himself to his room to unwind—nobody really protested, after what he went through. He made a glance at Zena and they briefly locked eyes. The Milotic nodded, quietly waiting in line to get a small portion for herself to enjoy. She’d follow him after.

    “So, he scared off Rim by evolving, and threatening to evolve a second time?” Demitri said. “Now I really want to evolve! …But stay sane.”

    “Mm,” Mispy nodded, bobbing her leaf. “How much longer?”

    “I’m not really sure,” Rhys said, crossing his arms. “Hrrmn… well. I suppose that—ngh!” Rhys abruptly turned around, feeling something brush against his back. Enet flinched and stepped away. “Ah—Enet, is it…?”

    The Zoroark stared at Rhys warily.

    “I think she’s nervous about your Type, Rhys,” Amia said delicately.

    “Ah, I see…” Rhys said. “I apologize, Enet. Would you like me to keep my distance?”

    Enet nodded.

    Rhys flinched. He usually got a polite ‘no, it’s okay’ response, but Enet just wanted him gone. “A-am I truly that intimidating?”

    “Don’t use too many big words, Rhys,” Amia said. “She isn’t very good at speaking our language yet.”

    Enet growled.

    “I—I see…” Rhys said. “I’ll… I’ll just speak with my students.” He shuffled off.

    Amia sighed. “Poor guy,” she giggled. “Oh well. She’ll warm up… won’t you, Enet?”

    Enet shrugged and eyed the food.

    “Oh! D’you want to eat? Well—go, eat! You can!”

    “I can?” Enet asked uncertainly. “But…”

    “Oh, it’s for everyone! Please, Enet, go eat! It looks like some of us went out to gather some food for everyone, so it should be just fine.” Amia nodded. “Oh, that’s right!” she said, slapping her hands together. “Zena!”

    “Y-yes?” Zena said, jumping at the sudden attention. She had been only seconds away from leaving for Owen.

    “The friend you mentioned to me,” she said. “The one that you said Anam reminded you of. What species was she?”

    “Species…” Zena said. “Friend…? What do you mean?” The Milotic blinked curiously, as if she didn’t know what Amia was talking about at all.

    Amia blinked. “What?”

    “You said something…” Zena said. “That Anam reminded me of someone?”

    “…I did?”

    Rhys, in the middle of walking away, stopped and glanced at the two. “Is something the matter?” he asked. “Amia, you were just asking Zena about a friend she mentioned—that Anam reminded her of.”

    Zena and Amia both looked at Rhys dumbly. “What do you mean, dear?” Amia asked.

    “I…” Rhys blinked. “…What? Do you not remember? Zena?”

    “I do remember someone that Anam reminds me of,” Zena said. “But I can’t remember what she looked like… Are you sure you asked me about her?”

    “I think I did…” Amia said.

    Suddenly alarmed at the rapid forgetfulness of the two Guardians, Rhys said, “Are you two all right? Your memory problems are even more concerning than Team Alloy’s.”

    Amia crossed her arms, pursing her lips. “Goodness, that’s confusing. It was during dinner some time ago. Oh, that’s right! You did tell me the species!” She said. “It was a Lugia!”

    Rhys’ paws barely flashed with the blue flame of aura, but he masked it before anybody noticed. “Ah, I see,” he said. “That’s—quite an extraordinary Pokémon to be friends with, Zena. How in the world would you forget that? Have you met her recently?”

    “I haven’t,” Zena said. “You’re right. I can’t believe I forgot about her. She was such a wonderful friend…. But I didn’t find her in the spirit world at all. Yes, now I remember.”

    “How long have you been away, Zena? Perhaps she’s still around,” Amia said. “Ohh, we should go searching for her! A Lugia! That’d be hard to miss!”

    “Hrm,” said Rhys. “Well, another time. It’s late.”

    Amia nodded, but then spotted Enet scarfing down her meal. She giggled; seeing the wild Pokémon indulge warmed everyone’s spirits. With the dinner get-together lively, Amia took the opportunity to slip away and find Owen. “Oh, Zena?” She realized they were going in the same direction.

    “Oh, I’m sorry—I was going to eat with Owen. Is that a bother?”

    “No, no, not at all! I’m glad he’s making new friends,” Amia said. “Please, come with me.”

    Once inside her home, she summoned Alex, and then gently knocked on the wall of Owen’s room before stepping inside. He was almost finished with his small meal. “Owen, dear?” Amia said.

    “Oh, Mom, Dad,” Owen said. “Hey, uh… Sorry, I was just thinking. The noise gets distracting. Oh—Zena. Yeah, hey.”

    “Mm.” Zena gave a polite nod. “Are you feeling well?”

    “Not really,” Owen said with a nervous titter. “I kinda almost died and also almost went crazy back there. I think I’m a little shaken up.” Owen held out his right hand to demonstrate. It still trembled a bit. The stew in the Aspear bowl in his left hand shook as well. “I’ll be fine. To be honest… I don’t think I was in any danger against Rim… but Enet was. And… and when I almost evolved again…”

    “All the way to Charizard?” Zena said worriedly. “Why, you left as a Charmander!”

    Owen tapped at the bag around his shoulder. “Nevren gave me an Eviolite, but it was actually also an Everstone. When I tossed it away, I…”

    “Oh,” Zena said. “If you tossed it again…”

    Owen nodded. “But… Rim barely tried to attack me. She was going after Enet, but not… me. I think that’s something that was bothering me, too. Why…?”

    “It’s okay,” Amia said. “You were very strong, Owen. And you’re safe now. I don’t know why that Hunter is acting the way she is, either, but… you should just relax.”

    Owen relented, nodding. It was just going to get him more worked up.

    Zena slithered closer to Owen and wrapped around his bed, holding her bowl of stew in her ribbons. She looked to the Charmeleon, then at his parents, almost as if asking for permission.

    Without thinking, Owen leaned back, using Zena’s coils as a rest. “I definitely need a break,” he said. But he still seemed troubled, and he knew that the three with him would pick up on it.

    “Owen, you wanted to say something before we headed back,” Alex said. “What was it? I saw from Amia’s eyes—it was like you…?”

    Owen nodded, but he stalled for time by finishing the last of his stew. “…You can’t tell anybody else, okay?” Owen finally said. “Not yet. I don’t even know if I’m right or not, I just… it’s kinda just this feeling I got when I pieced things together in my head. The way everything is starting to kinda slide into place and all that.”

    “Slide into place,” Zena repeated.

    “How Rim is getting to these places so fast, and how she just follows us so easily,” Owen said. “The way she reacted when I was evolving, and that stone that’s keeping me from evolving completely. All of that, and everything before… I think… I know what it might be.” He looked down at the stone in his hand—the gift he was given. “I don’t… know if Nevren’s being honest with us.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2018

Share This Page